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Archive for January, 2017

Alice in Wonderland

I’m going to look at three different versions, the old Disney cartoon, a miniseries made in 1985, and a movie from 1999. The first is a classic and maybe the least accurate as far as Lewis Carroll’s original book goes. But it’s visually appealing, and the characters are so well-known at this point that it’s hard to imagine them any other way. It’s mostly just animated weirdness but well-worth the trip. The second version is a parade of famous comedians, actors, and singers playing even the least familiar characters from the story. It’s like a variety show that’s trying to tell a story. It’s a little jarring when the movie introduces a real jabberwocky to chase Alice. The lights go dark, and a storm comes up out of nowhere to accompany this frightening looking monstrosity. It’s probably meant to be like a nightmare, but it feels very strange after all the lighthearted singing and dancing. A lesson about dealing with your fears is shoehorned into the plot but doesn’t really seem to get properly resolved. It’s a cute if slightly overlong version of the story. The third movie also forces a lesson on poor Alice, this time one about performing for others when you don’t want to. The movie hits many of the same notes, plot points, and characters as the second one but in a somewhat more subdued and less musical manner. There are a few notable famous faces, such as Whoopie Goldberg and Gene Wilder, and it feels less like a big spectacle and more like a proper retelling of the story. All three of these movies are worth watching, but if you have a lack of patience, you might skip the second, and if you prefer more energetic entertainment, you might skip the third.

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A Disney classic with impressive-for-its-time animation and an amazing performance by Robin Williams as the Genie. There really isn’t much more that needs to be said about it. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re probably not going to. The humor is bouncy and fun, the whole look is visually pleasing, and the music is memorable. Of course, I’m talking about the first one. I could touch on some of the complaints about it, but the one that would ordinarily resonate with me the most – that Princess Jasmine doesn’t get enough screen time or dialogue and isn’t independent enough as a character – actually doesn’t sit well with me. This isn’t a princess movie, like “Snow White” or “Brave.” It’s about Aladdin. His name’s in the flipping title. If she has less to do with the story or isn’t well-defined as a character, that’s fine in this case. I could make the same argument about Disney princess films, and it would fit some of them and make sense, but this isn’t one of those. Jasmine’s choice in the end to marry Aladdin (I don’t consider that a spoiler, since it would be extremely unusual for the princess not to choose the main character in a movie like this.) is a little eye-rolling. The Sultan could have changed the kingdom’s law so that she didn’t have to marry anyone, but I guess the movie needed to remain traditional in order to give the main character his happy ending. And now I’m just nitpicking at plot holes. It’s a pretty great movie. The sequels are, of course, less so, but that’s to be expected with sequels. Both had lesser animation, but they were direct-to-video, so again, that’s to be expected. Robin Williams did not voice the Genie in the second film, which was slightly disconcerting, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. His replacement did an excellent job at the weird-voices act. The main villain returns in the first sequel, as the title implies, and chaos ensues. The second sequel goes a bit off the rails and sends Aladdin on a quest to find his long-lost father, a character never described or considered important before. I think most of the audience probably assumed he was dead before it was revealed that he was out there somewhere. This is also the movie where the complaints about Jasmine actually become accurate. Not only does she have insanely low screen time, she also has a complete lack of personality and serves as nothing more than support for Aladdin, his female “yes man.” Just because the movie’s not about her, that doesn’t mean she can’t have character. The villainous parrot Iago got more character development in the first sequel. But beyond that, the sequels are pretty good, and the first one is pretty awesome.

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Fans of Disney and classic cartoons will already be familiar with this two-story “movie.” The first half covers part of the tale from the book “Wind in the Willows”, and the second half tells the story of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Both classics and both entertaining. The animation is, of course, well-done, and the voice acting is splendid, particularly Bing Crosby’s narration of the Ichabod portion. He inhabits not only the all-knowing voice of the storyteller but also the singing voice of Ichabod himself. Both stories are full of action and mayhem, and both are ridiculously silly in their own ways. Mr. Toad is a classic ne’er-do-well character, the trigger for all the trouble and all the plot in his story. Ichabod isn’t a real hero, either, but at least he has an enchanting singing voice. Toad gets a proper ending, even though he doesn’t really resolve anything or make any personal changes. He has no real character arc. Ichabod doesn’t either, but he gets a more dubious ending as his punishment, something that leaves more up in the air for the audience. Both are lighthearted tales with flaws that can be ignored. For instance, both rely on old stereotypes to populate their towns and main casts. From the Holmes-ish British intellectualism of Rat in Toad’s tale to the insufferably indecisive and manipulative nature of Katrina, Ichabod’s love interest, it would seem that Disney simply wanted to take a few shortcuts, rather than explore their characters. Since we’re talking about a short cartoon meant largely for children, that might not necessarily be bad, were it not for the fact that every single female in Ichabod’s tale is giggly, brainless, and/or disposable. And there aren’t any women at all in Toad’s story. The stories themselves are entertaining, however, and the music is catchy and fun. It’s worth a look if you have an hour to kill.

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Adventures of Huck Finn

This is the one starring Elijah Wood. It follows the book a bit more closely than most renditions, and that makes it a bit more entertaining and exciting. There’s definitely a lot more going on, and a lot more happens to poor young Huck and his friend Jim. Unfortunately, this does mean that most of the characters are less than fully fleshed-out. Even Huck’s personality isn’t explored as deeply as it could have been. But the amount of exploration that there is certainly leaves an impact. Huck’s personal growth and the knowledge he gains over the course of his journey are plainly visible for those paying attention. Children and less-than-observant adults, however, may overlook it. The acting is impressive, especially for those side characters that aren’t given much to work with, and the whole movie does a good job of presenting the tone and ambiance of its geographical locations. Little is said of the world at large, but that is as it should be for the story. It’s more realistic than some movies that take place in this period but not as authentic as others.  It falls somewhere in a comfortable middle ground, where the audience doesn’t have to worry much about the tale getting too dark but is also presented with some interesting moral quandaries to consider.  There really isn’t much else to be said. It’s a familiar story that has been retold countless times on the silver screen, and this is a good version, especially if you’re looking for something that’s palatable for the whole family.

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Bruce Campbell is a legend to his fans, and for good reason. He’s really only good at one particular character, but he does it so well and makes it work in everything he’s starred in. This show is no different. His performance alone is worth the time spent. But beyond that, the show has many enjoyable qualities. It’s a western with a modern perspective. There are enough sci-fi elements to keep you interested if you don’t like westerns and enough horse chases and gun duels to keep you in your seat if you don’t like sci-fi. The tone is mostly light and fun, and there are always crazy characters running around to entertain you and keep the plot rolling. The show is impressive in its ability to almost always give female characters more of a personality than “needs rescuing again”. It’s sad that this is something unusual enough to be pointed out here, but it’s nice to see, nonetheless. A lot of the women still end up with a serious crush on our titular hero, but there are also a lot who don’t. There’s also quite a bit of racial diversity, including a black costar, although the tired old stereotype of “ancient Chinese advice-giver” is also present. There’s a little something for everyone. There’s the main character’s humor, the fun and exciting action, and a focus on what the future holds and how technological inventions will get us there. Even if you don’t usually like westerns, I can highly recommend this one.

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Adventures in Babysitting

Where to begin? This movie is quintessentially ‘80s, and that’s both a good and bad thing. On one hand, the cheesy humor is generally light and fun and nostalgic for those of us who grew up in this era. On the other hand, some of that humor is crude and politically incorrect. Some of the jokes were particularly misogynistic or anti-gay, producing cringe-worthy moments that actually made the film difficult to watch. And the perspective presented on urban environments and cities is especially paranoid, as if it were a story being told by a nervous white man who’s never even seen a black person except on television. Every place visited by the movie’s main characters feels exaggerated, not for fun but to present the city as a scary place full of thieves and brigands who will knife you for the change in your pocket. Even the good guys tend to have violent tendencies. The nicest guy is a car thief who ends up doing something that would most likely lead to his own death in the real world, but in this movie, he’ll probably be fine. The most impressive part of the whole show is Elizabeth Shue’s portrayal of the titular babysitter. Her acting is commendable, especially considering what she was given to work with. The kids are just okay at best, but she really is the main reason for watching. If you like ‘80s-style humor and have a high tolerance for offensive jokes, it’s worth a look. And if you have a fondness for ‘80s nostalgia or Murphy’s-Law-type humor, it’s worth a look. Beyond that, the inner-city stereotypes and forgettable plot aren’t really worth your time.

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Don’t go into these movies expecting anything like the old tv series. But if you like weirdness and a macabre sense of humor, this is a good place to start. The old series had a focus on diversity and accepting people as they were, an admirable quality and the main reason I enjoyed it. The movies are more about pushing boundaries and finding humor in both normal and dark situations. It’s a rejection of normalcy that is both normal itself and quite satisfying. The roles are well-cast and well-played, each actor perfectly suited to his or her part. Pugsley is the only character without much, well, character, but that may have been intentional. The plots of each movie are different enough from the original to be entertaining, and the first movie in particular is fairly unique. I won’t utilize spoilers in my reviews, unless it is required in order to discuss an important point, but the ending was extremely satisfying. (Yes, I know how old these movies are, but I wouldn’t know where to draw the line.) Speaking of age, some of the jokes are definitely stale and cheesy, but the movies still hold up surprisingly well. It probably helps that the family lives in a sort of bubble of time, their attitudes and views somewhat old-fashioned but still open enough to make them welcoming, like relatives you haven’t seen in decades. Some of this does result in their habits and tendencies being somewhat exaggerated on occasion, but it’s a familiar and comforting sort of caricature. If you like ‘90s dark comedies, the original Addams Family show, or just weird people, you’ll like these movies.

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