Friday, February 24, 2012

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Movie Review

Iconic movies are really fun to watch, especially if they were released before your time. When I first saw movies like Psycho (1960), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Rocky (1976) a whole bunch of cartoons that parodied them suddenly became much funnier. That’s essentially what happened when I finally got around to seeing Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). The parodies that referenced these movies were funny, but the movies themselves were fantastic.
Everyone at school loves Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick); he’s one of the coolest seniors, and everything seems to go his way. One morning in the spring, he decides to take the day off. Using some elaborate schemes, he fakes being sick and convinces his parent to excuse him from school. Ferris talks his pessimistic friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), who actually is sick, to join him and get Ferris’s girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) out of school, too. The three take Cameron’s father’s prized car, a red convertible 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, and spend the day roaming around Chicago. The three visit famous Chicago landmarks such as the Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a game at Wrigley Field all while dodging Mr. Bueller who is innocuously going about his job. Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), the suspicious Dean of Students, knows what Ferris is like and is bent on exposing his antics. Ferris’s sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), is sick of Ferris getting away with everything and also wants to expose Ferris to their parents. Mr. Rooney and Jeanie both threaten to ruin Ferris’s last fling with friends before they graduate and go to different colleges.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has all the quintessential aspects of a generic “teen movie.” It glorifies young people; they succeed at nearly everything they do and outsmart the adults who should be much more intelligent and experienced. Like a lot of teen movies, the adults in Ferris Bueller are one-dimensional and don’t try or want to understand the cool and trendy teenagers. The Adults basically exist to prevent teenagers from having fun. Ferris’s parents, however, really do show a genuine concern and love for their children. I thought that was refreshing; a lot of movies aimed at a kid or teen audiences depict parents as stupid, aloof, or even antagonistic towards their children.
Everyone in the movie loves Ferris Bueller. Even his enemies (like Mr. Rooney and Jeanie) admire him and want him to fail out of jealousy. Ferris breaks the fourth wall several times throughout the film to speak to the audience about his plans and thoughts. The things Ferris says to the audience are often insightful about the nature of people and the world. It’s a bit uncharacteristic for a teenager to be as intuitive and perceptive as Ferris. Heck, I want a friend like Ferris Bueller!
One of the most interesting aspects of Ferris is he is the mentor archetype; this type of character usually does not appear as the main protagonist. Other mentor archetypes include Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980); Alfred from Batman Begins (2004); and Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (1984). These characters play an important part; they teach and guide the hero so the hero can succeed. Ferris is knowledgeable and insightful enough to have this role and he desires to impart this knowledge and spiritual insight to Cameron. Cameron is trapped within his own misery, and kept there by an oppressive father. Ferris takes it upon himself to show Cameron that life is what you make of it and that Cameron’s illusory limitations are imposed by an authority figure that can’t hold Cameron back much longer. Ferris even acts as a mentor to the audience when he breaks the fourth wall, imparting advice to the viewers as well.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is at its core a very fun and light-hearted film. It also touches on deeper subjects of fulfillment and responsibility. It revels in youthful enthusiasm of the world, shows fun characters taking their first steps into the maturity of adulthood, has plenty of laughs, and includes a musical number featuring Twist and Shout by The Beatles. What’s not to love? It remains a favorite to many people. It’s certainly worth watching at least once, maybe even worth getting a copy for your collection.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tangled Movie Review

There seems to have been something of a decline in “girl movies” over the past couple of years. I haven’t seen as many movies with female protagonists. It makes me wonder if some writers are afraid of incurring the wrath of feminists if they use a young woman as a dainty, ladylike hero. Tiana in Princess and the Frog (2009) was a workaholic, resolute on making her dreams come true herself. She was a delightful and refreshing character, and I hope she helped set a standard for female protagonists and other “girl movies.” I think it is thanks to Tiana (and a few other independent-minded Disney Princesses) that we were given a complex, compelling, intelligent, and self-sufficient protagonist in Disney’s Tangled (2010).
The infant Rapunzel, born to a king and queen, received healing powers from a magical flower at birth. Baby Rapunzel is kidnapped by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Gothel knows that the flower’s magic now resides in Rapunzel’s golden hair. To use this magic and remain young, Gothel locks Rapunzel in an isolated tower and raises the baby as her own. Years later, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now a teenager, and her hair has grown 70-feet long. She has been held in the tower all her life, and is naturally curious about the world outside. One day, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) scales the tower while escaping the Royal Guard after stealing some of the crown jewels from the castle. Rapunzel strikes a deal with the charming thief to act as her guide and take her to see where the floating lights come from that she has seen every year on her birthday. Flynn tries to steer them away from the Royal Guard and other thugs he’s crossed while Rapunzel agonizes over disobeying Gothel by leaving the tower. When Gothel discovers Rapunzel is gone, she unfurls a deceitful plot to lure her back with a guilt trip rife with lies and plans to lock Rapunzel up for good.
Tangled is mostly character driven, and it has some great, fun characters. Rapunzel is bright, talented, cute, and independent. She has been lied to and manipulated all of her life by Gothel into being afraid of the world and distrusting of people. When she plucks up the courage to leave the tower, she is tormented by inner conflict; she is overcome with the joy of adventuring beyond the tower and experiencing new things, while also being overwhelmed by guilt and shame from disobeying Gothel whom she believes is her mother. In fact, the only real reason Rapunzel thinks she needs Flynn is because of the “dangers” Gothel warns her about; ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals, snakes, and the plague. As she grows to realize the world isn’t as she was taught it is, Rapunzel’s self confidence and independence blossoms, making her all the more interesting.
Gothel was a really good, nasty villain. Most villains are undoubtedly bad, but Gothel is downright evil. I kept expecting her to whip out some magic spells or a hidden power of some kind, but she didn’t. All she had was lies, deceit, and manipulation; but these were used so well that she was still a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Tangled is also humor driven. This movie is absolutely hysterical! Every character, even the villains, get funny lines. The humor is very diverse; puns, jokes, exaggerated expressions, and plenty of slapstick is delivered at regular intervals. In one scene a horse from the Royal Guard has a short sword in his mouth by the hilt and is attempting to attack Flynn who is defending himself with a frying pan; Flynn quips, “This is the strangest thing I have ever done in my entire life!”
The art direction in this film was gorgeous. A lot of the scenery and architecture had Germanic-Gothic influences; everything from the Royal castle, to the town’s buildings, to the style of clothing the characters wore. Not only did it give the movie an old romantic fairy tale quality, but it also heralds back to the German setting where The Brothers Grimm originally found the classic story of Rapunzel.
Tangled is a CGI animated feature, and while the characters did have some very cartoon-ish qualities in their movements, they also seemed to have very natural movements that fit within the setting. All the characters had very large eyes that reminded me of Anime characters. One of the more interesting scenes is near the end when Rapunzel has returned to the tower, and she is piecing together subtle little clues around the tower coupled with the information she has learned outside. The way they visually depict Rapunzel’s thought processes without dialogue and without a flashback slideshow was really interesting. Not only did this develop the plot, but it still depicted Rapunzel as an intelligent young woman; not a naive ditz who must rely on others to solve her problems.
Tangled was a great movie that had progressive attitudes about female protagonists, fantastic animation, fun characters, a good story, and was highly entertaining. I’d recommend this to anyone; young girls will like the princess fairy tale, young boys will enjoy the action scenes, teens and adults will enjoy the story, and everyone will enjoy humor and the musical numbers that are hallmark of Disney classics. I’m sure that Walt Disney would have been proud of this production. I want to get a copy of this for my personal collection; it is certainly one worth owning.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snatch Movie Review

Snatch (2000) showed up in the mail from NetFlix the other day. I don’t remember ever hearing about it. I have no idea how it got onto my queue; it wasn’t even on my movie list. It was directed by Guy Ritchie, who directed the recent Sherlock Holmes movies (2009, 2011) with Robert Downey Jr., which I liked. Snatch had Brad Pitt in it, so I decided to give it a shot.
Set in the London underworld, unscrupulous boxing promoters, violent bookmakers, a Russian gangster, incompetent amateur robbers, and a supposedly Jewish jeweler fight to track down a priceless stolen diamond. Turkish (Jason Statham), an unlicensed boxing promoter, and his accomplice Tommy (Stephen Graham) get drawn into the world of match fixing by the notorious Brick Top (Alan Ford). Things become complicated when the boxer they had lined up gets hospitalized by Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt), a “piker” (slang for an Irish Gypsy) who comes into the equation after Turkish tries to buy a trailer off the Irish Gypsies. They then try to convince Mickey not only to fight for them, but to lose for them too. Whilst all this is going on, a huge diamond heist takes place, and a gang of motley characters enter the story, including 'Cousin Avi' (Dennis Farina), 'Boris The Blade' (Rade Serbedzija), 'Franky Four Fingers' (Benicio Del Toro), and 'Bullet Tooth Tony' (Vinnie Jones). Things continuously get worse and it all boils down to the money, the guns, and the stupid dog.
 Snatch is a crime movie. There really isn’t a protagonist in this film; it’s all about a large number of deceitful characters with Dick Tracy-like names fighting, crossing, double crossing, and triple crossing one another as they all compete for the big diamond stolen at the opening of the film. The story line gets so complicated that it’s difficult to follow and keep up with who is allied in any given scene. There’s quite a bit of humor in this movie, usually caused by the characters themselves getting mixed up over who they are trying to rip off.  If the characters can’t even keep up with the story, how is the audience supposed to? Each scene is pretty well done, and usually funny, but the way the scenes are strung together seems a bit awkward. I suppose the chaos, confusion, and resulting humor was the focus of this film, rather than the story. If that is the case, the movie achieves this quite well.
Brad Pitt has been great in most everything I’ve seen him in, and he really steals the show in Snatch. He plays an Irish Gypsy who talks fast and mumbled with an almost unintelligible thick accent that is an odd blend of Irish and British. That’s pertinent to his character, since Gypsies are fast talking con-men; the less you understand about the bargain, the easier it is for them to twist it to their advantage. It’s a running gag throughout the film that when Mickey says something, the other characters haven’t got a clue what he just said. You can’t really appreciate Pitt’s hysterical lines and accent without actually seeing the movie itself. Here's a clip to help illustrate:

Snatch is rated R for strong violence, language, and some nudity. The nudity is fairly covert, taking the form of “adult” playing cards in one scene. The violence wasn’t very graphic; most of it takes place off screen leaving us primarily with blood splatter images. I have not seen a movie drop the F-bomb this frequently since I saw Apocalypse Now (1979). This didn’t bother me much since I hear it at least as often at work, but it will likely offend some viewers who are not inundated with profanity on a regular basis.
Snatch was not really bad for a movie, just convoluted and a bit tricky to follow. I’m really not sure where the movie was trying to go; even the closing scene seemed like it was going to lead into another scene, but it ended instead. The humor seemed to be the drive in the movie, and it was pretty hilarious. I can’t really recommend the movie though. After the movie I was left thinking, “Well, what was the point of that?” It’s worth a few chuckles, but that’s all.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hairspray Movie Review

I’ve heard that Hollywood musicals are making a comeback, but the only recent Hollywood musicals that I can think of are Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) and Across the Universe (2007). The other musicals that have hit theaters are movie versions of Broadway musicals; not true Hollywood musicals. Hairspray (2007), directed by Adam Shankman, is based off of a Broadway musical, which itself was based off of a non-musical movie by John Waters. This third telling of the story is teeming with energy and fun.
In 1962 Maryland, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is brimming with joy as she wakes up for school, singing “Good morning, Baltimore!” Tracy is an overweight teenager who knows all the latest dance moves. She and her friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) live for the moment when school lets out to race home and watch “The Corny Collins” show, the local teenage TV dance show, with their favorite dancer Link Larkin (Zac Efron). Tracy’s mother, Edna (John Travolta), doesn’t approve of the show. But when tryouts for the show are announced, Tracy’s father, Wilbur (Christopher Walken), tells her to go for it and reach for the stars. Initially turned down by the TV station’s racist manager, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), Tracy’s dance moves later catch the eye of both Link Larkin and Corny Collins (James Marsden). When Tracy makes it onto the show, she begins a crusade to end the show’s “Negro Day,” hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), and fully integrate the show with black and white dancers. The Von Tussels fight tooth and manicured nail to keep the show a “whites only” program. Equal rights, gaining self-respect, social change, and overcoming racism and bigotry are all tackled with catchy musical numbers and energetic dancing.
This is Nikky Blonsky’s very first movie. In fact, she went from working at a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream store to starring in a major motion picture with big name actors. She does a fantastic job for her first role. Hairspray is a deliriously fun, happy, and energetic movie, primarily because Nikky Blonsky was at the heart of the film. She’s positively adorable, and exudes happiness and joy throughout the film. You can’t help but get swept up in her optimism and smile along with her. No wonder Link fell head over heels for her.
The all star cast was fantastic, but John Travolta was particularly interesting. Holding true to tradition, Edna Turnblad is played by a man. It was unexpected to see the masculine Travolta playing a woman, particularly a heavy set one. He even manages sound like a woman when he speaks. Edna is an insecure woman who is hasn’t left the house in years because she is self-conscious about her weight, but she has a big heart and is every bit as endearing as Tracy. I don’t see many John Travolta films, but this seems to be a very counter typecast role for him, and he does a great job. I have to praise the costume designers, too. Travolta’s hourglass-like fat suit was pretty convincing.
The art direction was fantastic. The set designs were amazing; they really pulled off the feel of the early 1960’s. This was before The Beatles, Vietnam, and the hippie movement, so most things looked clean and sensational; a lot like they were in the 1950’s. Clothing, color schemes, hair styles, cars, even large outdoor sets really made it feel like we are stepping back in time. Everything was stylized with lots of glitz and glamour, just like many graphic designs were in the early 60’s. Television was influential in that decade and was often visible in the background or was the focal point transitioning between scenes in this movie.
Lastly, the music in this movie was enjoyable. The opening number really draws you in and then doesn’t let go. All of the songs are engaging, the upbeat songs, slow songs, exciting songs, and romantic songs; all of them are memorable and fun. In many musicals there are story and character development interrupted by everyone bursting into song and dance. This is highly unrealistic, by any stretch of the imagination. But in the context of Hairspray, it seems much more natural since music and dance are major components to the plot and characters. I’ve seen some musicals where the songs are so similar to each other in terms of tempo, beat, and rhythm that it seems like you’re listening to the same song for two hours. Not so with Hairspray. The songs remain diverse and fun. The music doesn’t really let you go until after the grand finale. Even then, you’re still so engaged that you want to listen to the songs during the closing credits.
I love Hairspray! It’s so much fun to watch! It has good characters, great actors, fun songs, great art direction, clever humor, and a good story about overcoming discrimination in terms of race and appearance. Hairspray is a good selection for a family movie night; I think it’s worth owning. I have a copy of Hairspray on Blu-Ray on my movie shelf. I pull it out to watch after a rough day and I feel much better afterwards. You can’t help but feel happy watching it.