A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 460 – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been trying to whittle down the remaining list of movies we own that I haven’t seen. When we started this project it was a vast number. I think I’d seen maybe 60% of what we owned. And when we started out I wasn’t paying particular attention to distributing what I’d seen and what I hadn’t evenly amongst our days. Now I make an effort. And out of the 150 or so movies left, there’s a 20 movie gap in favor of what I’ve seen. So I think I can afford an old favorite or two before we go popping in things that will make me angry or annoyed. And tonight, after a long day of prodding HTML into shape at work, I needed an old favorite. Something comforting and familiar and fun. This fit the bill perfectly.

We actually purchased this after we purchased the remake with Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore. While I’d seen it numerous times – enough to know most of the songs by heart and have some lines in my daily reference lexicon – we hadn’t ever gotten around to buying it. This happens in our collection. It’s led to some awkward holes. I mean, we still don’t own Clerks for some reason I can’t fathom. So strange. But I purposefully set out to get this after be got the remake and I realized I didn’t want to watch it without watching this first. I’ll get to talk about the remake tomorrow but tonight belongs to the classic.

I don’t recall when I first saw this movie but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t at home. Perhaps at a friend’s house at a sleepover or something. I really don’t know. What I do know is that I was utterly captivated by Gene Wilder in it. And that I had a Grandpa Joe of my own, and missed him terribly by the time I saw this movie (he died when I was very young) and while he didn’t really look anything like Jack Albertson, I couldn’t help but connect them in my head. So I loved this movie and not just for the wonders inside Wonka’s factory. I mean, I loved those too, but the set-up drew me in first. Charlie with his impoverished life where a loaf of bread means a feast, suddenly winning one of five rare chances to go inside a magical candy factory? That’s a great hook!

Now, I’m going to admit something that’s as close to heresy as I can get in my profession: I’m not really all that enamored of Roald Dahl. I’m sorry, okay? I like my fantasy with a little less whimsy. They’re fun stories and all, but there was always something about his books that didn’t quite click for me. The movie adaptations are hit-or-miss. I really love this movie but I’m not at all fond of James and the Giant Peach and I could take or leave The Witches. So going into this movie it’s not that I have any particular love for the book. It’s just that I really enjoy the performances of the cast here. Gene Wilder deserves special mention and I’ll get to him in a moment, but really, I love all the children who play the five lead roles. Only one of them (Julia Dawn Cole, who played Veruca) seems to have kept on in the acting business, but they all did lovely jobs here. And of course Jack Albertson was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.

But then there’s Gene Wilder. The thing I truly love about Wilder is his ability to portray quiet wildness. He can give a perfectly reasonable look, sitting as calmly as you please, and still give the impression of barely restrained glee or panic. It imbues this particular character with an unpredictability that really suits him. And while the IMDB trivia claims that Wilder made Wonka unpredictable on purpose, I think he couldn’t have helped but do so. The combination of the character with Wilder’s strange calm energy was going to work towards that anyhow. It was an excellent bit of casting and I honestly don’t know if anyone else at the time could have made Wonka as iconic as Wilder did. I can picture other people in the role, but not playing it the way Wilder did and it’s the performance choices and the energy that make the character for me. Which in turn is what makes the movie for me.

Not that there’s not plenty more to enjoy about the movie. It’s just that without Wilder as Wonka I think it just would have been fun but not necessarily magical. It would have been a nice little children’s fantasy musical with a whole lot of candy and that would have been that. Perfectly enjoyable. But it turned out to be more than that. To be honest, I could do without a couple of the songs. Cheer Up Charlie slows the movie to a crawl for me and it could be excised and I’d never miss it. I mean, the songs aren’t the highlight of the movie for me. They do keep the pace up in many parts, and a few of them are pretty good earworms. I’ve Got a Golden Ticket will get stuck in my head whenever this movie crosses my desk at work. The various Oompa Loompa songs have some great little snarky lines in them. But the draw for me is the build-up to the factory tour and then the reveal, Wonka included.

I do enjoy the sense of humor this movie has. It’s really pretty sharp in places, meant as much for adult amusement as for kids. The whole bit with the search for the five golden tickets that will allow the finders to tour Wonka’s factory? It’s a great bit of worldbuilding and the way it’s done, with high-priced auctions and kidnapping with Wonka bars demanded as ransom? Brilliantly over the top. And it very neatly establishes Charlie as quite set apart from everyone else. He’s not opening hundreds of Wonka bars to look for the tickets. He opens a total of four over the course of the movie. And this is in a world where Willy Wonka and his mysterious factory have casino owners forging tickets to get a peek.

Once inside the factory is where the real fun starts. I figure most kids who see this would like to be let loose in the garden at the start of the factory tour. Who wouldn’t want to pluck a gummi bear down off a tree or eat peppermint grass? It just seems like so much fun. So much horribly unsanitary fun. Not that anything in the factory is supposed to be at all realistic. After all, this is a place that churns its chocolate by waterfall. It has hallucinatory boat rides and coat hangers shaped like hands that actually grab your coat. Safety precautions? Who cares about safety precautions when there’s lickable snozzberry wallpaper?

Now, I will say that the villain arc and the way it figures into the ending only sort of works for me, but I’m okay with it overall. I mean, it’s not so huge a part of the plot that enough time is devoted to it that I feel could have been better spent elsewhere. The movie shows us just enough of Charlie’s life beforehand and the world he lives in, then jumps into the wondrous factory and all that it contains. The villain arc is more a tool than a plot and I can deal with that. It doesn’t detract from the fun or the magic, and those are what make this movie enjoyable. It had been some time between when I’d last seen this and when I first saw the remake, so I’m curious to see how the remake will hold up tomorrow after having so much fun watching this tonight.

June 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 214 – Over the Hedge

Over the Hedge – September 30th, 2010

We watched today’s movie early. Like, as soon as we woke up. Early. This is because today is a busy day. A friend of mine is in town for a single day and we’re meeting for lunch in Boston, and then back home and then out to Boston again for the Ig Nobel Awards this evening. We didn’t want to count on being able to fit a movie in between lunch and the Igs so we grabbed something short to put in this morning and watched it as fast as we could. Which, given that we can’t watch it on fast-forward means it took a little under 90 minutes. That’s how movies work.

I’m not sure what prompted Andy to buy this movie in particular. I mean, it’s not that I object to it (we’ll get to things I object to and I will make myself very clear), it’s just that it’s not a Pixar movie. It’s Dreamworks. And while we do own a fair number of Dreamworks Animation movies, Pixar’s the studio that gets the release = buy Pavlovian response in our household. So I’m not sure what it was specifically that made him pick this one out of the list. Was it the 3D animation? Was it the cast? Was it something he heard from someone at work? Was it that it was on sale during a store closing and he figured why not? I don’t know. I’ll ask when I’m done writing.

First, let’s talk about some issues I’ve got. So. This is a movie about a bunch of forest animals who, upon waking up after a winter’s hibernation, find that their little nook of forest has been hemmed in by a hedge and surrounded by suburbia. At a loss for what to do for food, they end up listening to a con-man raccoon. Now, I prefer to think of the character of RJ as a modern trickster in this tale. Tricksters have a long history of animal representation and raccoons seem tailor made for the role. But that’s not a problem. That’s a good thing. My problem is in how very much of a sledgehammer the movie is on issues of modern human consumerism. Of course there’s the junk food RJ tricks the animals into stealing for him. That’s a major part of the plot. But the entire suburban landscape is built specifically to make the point that we’re all filthy piggish primates. I get it. I do. The Homeowner’s Association president griping at someone that their lawn is a half inch too high, the cracks about SUVs holding only one person, the lawn gnomes. I get it, really. But I guess that’s the movie’s schtick, so that’s how it was going to be.

My other issue is Stella. Or rather, how Stella is dealt with by the movie. There are several characters in the film. There’s RJ, the trickster raccoon, who cons Verne (turtle), Hammy (squirrel), Ozzie and Heather (opossums), and Lou and Penny and their three kids (porcupines), and Stella. She is a skunk, and sure that makes sense, given the whole backyard vermin thing the movie has going on. But she’s a shy skunk who hides behind a shock of hair and is totally self-defeating. Why not make her confident? There are two female animals in the main cast, and the porcupine kids are far more visible than either of the parents. Stella’s really it, and then they do this whole Miss Congeniality meets Warner Brothers makeover on her and suddenly she’s not shy anymore! I will, however, give the movie credit for giving Wanda Sykes as Stella some great moments after the makeover, turning it a little on its side. But I still think it could have been handled better. The trouble is, I wouldn’t expect it to be handled better. It would be nice, but it’s predictable that it’s not.

Predictability is really the big issue. There’s not a whole lot unexpected in this movie. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe someone who hasn’t seen the Futurama episode “Three Hundred Big Boys” would have been caught by surprise by the ending. Maybe the anti-consumerism stuff wouldn’t be as much of an anvil to a kid? I’m not sure. It’s certainly fun, even if it is easy to figure out just what’s going to go down. The point of the movie doesn’t seem to have ever been to bring something totally new and never seen before to the theater. It’s not trying to be revolutionary. It’s a movie about animals kids will recognize doing funny things and looking at our world from their perspective. It’s the sort of trickster tale I like best, where the trickster plays his jokes and gets a laugh, but then has to deal with some consequences. It’s slapstick and silly and it takes good advantage of having a great voice cast with people like Allison Janey, Gary Shandling, Bruce Willis and the fantastic William Shatner (he plays one of the opossums and gets to very dramatically fake his own death a lot).

I really did enjoy the movie. I wish it hadn’t tried to bludgeon me with a message and done something more original with Stella, but beyond the message and the makeup, it’s a silly movie with a lot of good solid jokes. There are puns, verbal jokes, referential humor and plenty of physical laughs. The animation is pretty and the facial expressions on the animals are great, especially Hammy the squirrel. I did enjoy Tiger, the cat who lives in the house the animals infiltrate, and not just because my family did once own a cat similar to him, who was convinced he was a fearsome outdoor beast until he’d get outside and OMG MUD. I liked the porcupine kids and I’ve always loved Allison Janey. Message aside, it’s a fluff piece, but fun nonetheless.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 200 – The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story – September 16th, 2010

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have never read through the book this movie is based on. I hate admitting things like this because I pride myself on being a bookworm, even as a child. I don’t know how I missed it. I don’t know why. I loved the movie and I devoured books by the shelfload. We had a wonderful little independent children’s book store near us when I was a kid. How did no one ever hand this to me? How did I not find it myself? I know why I haven’t picked it up as an adult. It’s long. A fast reader I may be, but with as many new books as come into my workplace, I just don’t always have time to pick up something that I know the general gist of already. So I never have. I am duly ashamed and will rectify this forthwith.

Looking at this now, I believe this was my first experience with meta-storytelling. It’s a story about a boy reading a story which then refers back not only to the boy but to the audience watching the boy reading the story. No wonder I’ve got a thing for that sort of stuff now. Hurrah for non-comedic fourth wall breaking! The reader of the story is Bastian, a young boy whose mother has recently passed away and whose father wants him to buck up and get back to real life. Bastian’s a bookworm and daydreamer at heart and as such is a perfect target for bullies. While hiding from them he finds a book. A special book. The Neverending Story, a beautiful book just begging to be read. And so he grabs it and runs, hiding out in the attic of his school building and reading it.

One level in and you have the story Bastian reads. It’s about the world of Fantasia, and the many and varied creatures and people who live there and the lands that make it up. It’s about how Fantasia is being destroyed by the Nothing, a force that wipes out everything it touches. It’s about a quest given to the young warrior, Atreyu, to find a way to cure the mysterious illness that is killing Fantasia’s Empress. And as Atreyu struggles his way through the Swamps of Sadness and meets a Luck Dragon named Falkor, contends with the two magical gates before the Southern Oracle and meets the Nothing’s harbinger, Gmork, Bastian (and us, the audience) is drawn further into the story and thus, the world. Eventually we all become aware of each other as the movie comes to its climax, which is part of the whole draw of it to me as well as being part of the story’s conceit.

Fantasia as a fictional world is one of those concepts that made complete sense in my head. The idea that there was a world out there where everything you imagined came into being if you truly cared about it? That was a wonderful thing to me. I remember, after watching this movie, sitting in my room or the back yard by myself for hours, coming up with people and creatures and places to populate Fantasia with. I’ve always loved the first scene at the Ivory Tower, where many of the peoples of Fantasia have sent representatives to petition the Empress for help against the Nothing. There are some fabulous creature concepts on display there and I wanted to think of something worthy of a place like that. Of course I’d never actually set foot there, but in the movie that’s not the point. The point is that Fantasia isn’t a place to travel to on foot, it’s a place to explore in your mind.

As a child, this movie was to me what the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is to me as an adult. It is the visual representation of a world I wanted desperately to explore. I tried to watch this with a somewhat critical eye and I can see flaws, certainly. There are bits that show the movie’s age. Some of the conceits of Bastian talking to himself in the school attic come off as overdone. But I find I don’t give a crap. This movie is so heavily nostalgic for me and so full of wonder and the memory of being totally sucked into the world that I can’t bring myself to really critique it. I identify so strongly with this movie. Bastian staying at school after it closes, reading through the night because he just can’t put the book down? That was me. My mother was a teacher through my youth and I spent plenty of time in the school buildings she worked in, wandering the halls after hours, or in June after school was out for the summer. There’s something about an empty school that I can’t describe, but this movie has it and I knew it. And I spent many a night reading until the sun came up.

I often get frustrated with my job. I spend a lot of time doing things like teaching the same person how to do email attachments seven days in a row, or cleaning up after a family ignores the no food rule. But at least once a day someone will come in and want suggestions. Whether it’s a kid who hates to read but has to pick something for a book report, or a kid who loves to read but doesn’t know what to pick up next, it’s always a challenge I dive into. I love finding the perfect book to get a reluctant reader to come in looking for more, or a new favorite for a kid who thought he’d read everything worth reading. I love prompting my storytime kids to go wild, whether we’re making beach collages or writing comic books. I feel like I’ve done my job well when the kids I work with get excited about their imaginations. That, to me, is the core of this movie. That’s why I still love it, flaws and all. And that’s why we picked it for a milestone movie.

And also? Apparently I totally married Bastian. Go me!

September 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Hoot

July 14, 2010

Hoot

Amanda needed this movie for an event she’s holding at her library tomorrow, so she wanted to re-watch it before showing it to the kids. Naturally this means that we added it to our collection and we’re reviewing it tonight. I haven’t read the book this is based on, so I’ll leave the comparison to Amanda. In the mean time, how do I feel about the movie?

I’m not blown away. But then again, I am not the target demographic. The movie is very solidly positioned for a middle school crowd, and I don’t really know what appeals to the kids today (with their iPhones and their baggy pants…) I’m not fond of the heavy-handed voice overs that very explicitly describe the plot for the viewer. I’ve always felt that children are perfectly capable of reasoning things out for themselves. You don’t need to dumb things down quite so much. I’m also not too fond of the soft country soundtrack, but that’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else.

I do quite like Tim Blake Nelson as the put upon surveyor who can’t seem to catch the vandals who are for mysterious reasons wreaking havoc on his construction site every night. He’s doing pretty much the same country bumpkin he performed in O Brother Where Art Thou, but it’s such a fun performance that I don’t mind. Then there’s Luke Wilson as the painfully earnest officer Delinko, who’s out to catch the vandals. Of course both of them are really the supporting cast, since the real heroes of the movie are the kids.

The story here is that of young Roy Eberhardt, who is sick and tired of having to change schools as his dad moves constantly from state to state. His latest move is to Coconut Cove, Florida, a little coastal town that seems to be situates somewhere in the keys. When he arrives he is assaulted by a local bully, and intrigued by a mysterious boy who he spots running around town with no shoes. It transpires that the peculiar running boy is a homeless environmental activist who goes only by the moniker “Mullet Fingers.” Mullet, his badass step-sister Beatrice, and Roy all team up together to try and save a colony of protected burrowing owls that have their homes on a lot that is destined to become a pancake house.

I appreciate the somewhat overdone environmental message of protecting weak and endangered animals. And the whole “spirited youths overcome nasty bumbling adults” theme is always fun. But I just don’t know how I feel about the movie as a whole. To my eyes it seems like a blunt instrument. It feels too contrived and simplistic. But then again, I’m not ten or twelve years old. Maybe I would enjoy the movie a lot more if I were. Maybe I’d be all “Ha! Take that, stupid grown ups!” I know that I’d have very much enjoyed the character of Mullet Fingers, who lives all on his own with no school and no parents. He’s like an environmentally minded Pippi Longstocking.

I’m inclined to say I would probably have liked the book more, but as I said, I have no basis for comparison. I just feel like these larger than life characters might have been more believable on the page than they are realized in the flesh.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 47 – Coraline

Coraline – April 16th, 2010

So, a word about this weekend and tonight in particular: I will be visiting a friend for the weekend and Andy and I will be watching the movies tonight, Saturday and Sunday apart. In fact, tonight I watched Coraline on my iPod on the bus and I am now typing this on my phone. Ah, technology. Every so often I realize I live in the future.

But onto Coraline. We originally saw this in the theater in 3D, so I find it pretty funny that my second view was on my tiny iPod screen. I figure I saw all the amazing detail already, so no big deal, right? And really, the movie was still visually amazing on an itty bitty screen. The animation is absolutely gorgeous and I adore the little things about it as much as the big dramatics. Case in point: the dogs. My mother has two black Scottish terriers and for anyone who has not had the pleasure of personally meeting one, I can vouch for the dogs in this movie being hilariously spot on. Especially their little overbites, which make me laugh my ass off. But then there are the big things, like all the people and the garden and the big climax. It is a beautifully made movie.

Now, being a children’s librarian, I would be acquainted with the book the movie is based on even if I wasn’t fond of Neil Gaiman’s work already. Unfortunately, it’s been quite some time since I read it, so I’m a little fuzzy on details and differences. I know the character of Wybie was introduced for the movie and I know the climax was made all cinematic and actiony for the screen, but the rest? I honestly can’t say. And I think that’s a good thing! Really, even Wybie and the climax work for the movie. Nothing really feels out of place in the world Gaiman originally created.

And what a creepy world it is. Sure, the eyes = soul thing is a bit of a cliche, but the button twist is nicely eerie for a story largely intended for kids. Same for there being a world connected to our own where we could have everything we could want, if only we give up our selves. It’s a “be careful what you wish for” type of story. A cautionary fairytale with a monster who surely wants to gobble you up. So many fairy tales have had their danger and risk sanded away these days, I like seeing something so genuinely nightmare-foddery and dreamlike at the same time.

Overall, I really do like this movie. I have a couple of complaints, like Coraline’s game with the other mother feeling a tiny bit like the beginning of a Zelda game, but they’re minor, all things considered. The voices are marvelous and as I said, the animation is beautiful. And to be honest, I’d watch it for the Scotties alone.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 23 – Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox – March 23, 2010

So, Wes Anderson has always struck me as someone who likes dioramas. You know the things. Kids make them in shoe boxes. But he likes little details and still pictures that have entire stories in them. So really, a movie that’s all stop motion animation is pretty damn perfect. I’m glad to have this one on DVD too, because it means we can pause and look at the details (like the chef Rabbit wearing orange crocs like Mario Batali’s). That was impossible when we saw this in the theater.

Now, this is a Wes Anderson movie, so it’s quirky and full of bizarre moments, but it’s based on a children’s book. But then, it’s based on a Roald Dahl book. So bizarre and quirky is really rather fitting. When I saw the previews for this I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. The idea of a stop-motion animated version of Fantastic Mr. Fox seemed perfect, but I’m always wary of short children’s books being made into full length feature films. It can be a really difficult thing to add enough to the story to get a feature out of it while retaining the spirit of the original. A lot of movies fail, but a few succeed spectacularly (I’ll get to talk about Shrek eventually but I urge people to go find the picture book it’s based on). I’d say Fantastic Mr. Fox succeeds. And given the reactions of the audience I saw it with, it was well received by both kids and adults – at different moments – which is pretty much how I view Roald Dahl’s work.

I really enjoyed the movie. The characters were built up well and the plot was expanded in a way that doesn’t make it something entirely other than what it started as. The original story is a fairly simple one, so it would have been easy to add and add and add until it was unrecognizable, but that didn’t happen, thank goodness. It’s got some great moments, like the scene outside the tree with the Fox family that has a song from Disney’s Robin Hood playing in the background – they’re foxes, get it? When Bean goes nuts in his trailer and trashes it, that there is some amazing animation as well as a great character moment. The weird rambling song in the middle and Bean’s admonishment that his assistant wrote a bad song! And every time the animals eat it makes me laugh.

But now I’m sort of at a loss as to what else to say. If you like Wes Anderson’s stuff, definitely take a look. If you like Roald Dahl’s books, it’s worth seeing the movie. But if either one of them rubs you the wrong way, I’d say let it go. Because the movie is a good marriage of the two styles. Then again, if you’re a stop-motion animation fan, it’s a lovely piece of art in that respect too. And if you’re like me, you’ll end up going through the movie and pausing a billion times to see just what’s been hidden away in the background and edges and places you can’t always see when you’re paying attention to the plot.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments