Character Profile 1: Lisa Simpson

Today I thought I would start a new series on the blog where I profile characters in television and movies that mean a lot to me.

There is nothing in television or movies that has consistently brought me more joy than The Simpsons.  Yes, I realize its glory days are behind it but I still enjoy the show.  It still makes me laugh and I’ve been watching it since it premiered in 1989.  Think about that! The show has been on the air and part of my life for 25 years! Wow! It’s brilliant, funny, satirical, smart, beautiful, creative and full of heart.

The Simpsons has many great characters but my favorite is Lisa.

lisaLisa is a great character for so many reasons.  I love her sincerity.  She so wants the world to be a better place and unfailingly believes in other people.  A great example is an episode called Lisa and the Old Man  where she even believes that Mr Burns can change and become a good person.

lisa and mr burnsAnother great Lisa episode is called Make Room for Lisa where she gets a chance to go inside her father’s head and realizes how much he tries to do to make her happy.  It’s sincere and funny and just everything I love about the character.

219. Make Room For Lisa

Lisa is really the moral compass of the show and there are many great moments of her standing up for what is right whether it be vegetarianism, environmentalism, feminism or just being honest.  I love Lisa gets an A where Lisa gets distracted from her studies with a video game and cheats on a test.  Her guilt at her unearned A eats at her and is a wonderful episode.

Lisa.gets

She is also by no means a perfect character.  She is easily influenced by the desire to have friends and be accepted (who can’t relate to that?).  Some of her best episodes are when she finally feels accepted like in The Summer of 4 ft 2.  This is where the Simpsons go to the Flanders beach house and Lisa decides to put a new image to be accepted by the new kids.  To her surprise they love her and Bart gets very jealous eventually exposing the real Lisa to the kids.  It’s a great Lisa/Bart episode and one where she is in the end actually accepted.

summer_of_4_ft-_2_46In an episode from just last season Brick Like Me, she gleefully spends time with her Dad putting together Legos (she’s still a little girl on the show) until some friends come along and she drops him to go see the Hunger Games.

simpsons2Other episodes I love for Lisa are Moaning Lisa where she finally finds someone who understands her (and her music).  Who can’t relate to that desire to be understood by someone?

moaninglisaI love The Secret War of Lisa Simpson where Bart get’s sent to military school and Lisa sensing a better education decides to join him.  At first marginalized because she is a girl Lisa is forced to overcome sexisim, loneliness and bond with her brother in a new way.

screen-shot-2012-02-22-at-1-05-21-amLisa the Vegetarian is also a winner where Lisa realizes she doesn’t want to kill animals and eat them.  At first she wants to bully people into seeing things her way and then she realizes she needs to let others make their own choices.

Lisa_the_vegetarianMy Sister, the Sitter is another great one where Lisa tries so hard to be a good babysitter but Bart is insulted to have his younger sister babysitting him so he makes it difficult.  If there is anything great about Lisa it’s that she tries so hard at everything.

My_Sister,_My_Sitter_88Probably her most iconic episode is I Love Lisa in which Ralphie Wigham falls in love with her after she gives him a train valentine. Her temper (another great character attribute) gets her into trouble here.

i_love_lisa_77Lisa can also be jealous, which is terrifically demonstrated in an episode called Lisa’s Rival in which a girl comes into town who is smarter, prettier and even plays the saxophone better than  her.

lisas_rival_25Mostly I relate to Lisa because of her affection for people and the way she sincerely bonds with others, wanting the best for them.  It’s a tribute to the show and Yeardley Smith’s great vocals that such a depth of feeling can be developed in such short period of a 22 minute episode.  One example is Lisa’s Substitute where she gets a new teacher who inspires her and Homer almost ruins it.  The ending is perfect and makes me tear up every time.

screen-shot-2011-07-24-at-12-31-38-pmThere are so many episodes I could list where I love Lisa.  She is a wonderful creation and is perhaps taken for granted a little bit by even Simpsons fans who tend to focus on Homer and Bart.  Without her the show would have lasted a couple seasons.  She is the heart and soul of the show, and I just love her.  Tip of the hat to Yeardley Smith for brilliant vocal work creating a character I love so much.

What are your favorite Lisa moments?

And for some reason people are always surprised to hear I love The Simpsons.  Yep, this Mormon girl loves The Simpsons!

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Into the Woods: A Review

into_the_woodsHollywood’s latest stab at the Broadway musical adaptation, Disney’s Into the Woods, is mostly great, even brilliant, except when it isn’t.  I’ve rarely left a movie feeling more befuddled and mixed in my responses.  One side of me loved it and another was very frustrated.

In fact, if you had asked me at the 1 1/2 hour mark what I thought it would have been an enthusiastic A+ when it seemed like everything was ending and happy and then it took a turn.  In the movie’s defense the play takes that same turn but it felt like one ending too many and honestly it was a part of the play I was hoping would be omitted or glossed over.

Well, let’s talk about the good things because there are a lot.  Most importantly the singing.  It is uniformly great.  There is no Russell Crowe or Pierce Brosnan to suffer through.  They all sound Broadway level quality. Some we knew could sing like Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia, Prairie Home Companion), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), and Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).  Others were not familiar to me as singers but do very well like Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

I have no complaints about the singing and that is saying something because Stephen Sondheim’s music is no easy task to perform.  He is extremely challenging to sing because his musicals aren’t all that melodic and he loves minor keys and strange chords and key signatures.  On the Steps of the Palace changes keys like 4 times in 1 song.  It’s extremely difficult but they all did a great job.

The cast was also uniformly strong in their acting of these fairytale roles.  Meryl Streep is great, and Oscar Winner Colleen Atwood deserves another for the amazing costume and makeup.

witch and rapunzelJohnny Depp was actually very good as the Wolf.  It is the best I’ve seen him in since Finding Neverland.  It is another fairytale like creature but in small doses I didn’t mind it (I’m so sick of Johnny Depp/Tim Burton pairing).  He’s only in the movie for 2 or 3 brief scenes but he does them very well.

wolf and red ridingAnna Kendrick is also good as a very modern version of Cinderella. She can’t decide whether she wants to be a princess or not which is a clever take on the story.

cinderellaChris Pine and Billy Magnusson are also hilarious as the two princes’ singing the play’s best song Agony.princes

Like I said if the movie had ended at 1 and half hour in I would have been thrilled with it.  It’s a tacked on 2nd act in the final 30-45 minutes that begins to lose me.

I don’t want to spoil anything but basically Into the Woods is a combination in one movie of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Into The Woods 2014 Cast1The new characters are The Baker and The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt and James Drenton) who get told by The Witch there is a curse on their family and they must bring her back 4 items from the Woods to break the curse.  Naturally each of these 4 items are a part of the 4 fairytales.

But the last third of the story that narrative is kind of abandoned and we get a bit of a disaster/fight the giant sequence where people die, are unfaithful and everything gets very serious.  It just bummed me out because we were on such a high and then ended on a semi-high.  Still good but not as excited as I was at 90 minute mark.

Oh well.  What I did like I really liked.  The look of the film is dark but with a certain cheerful spooky feel to it.  Tracy Ulman is fun as Jack’s Mother and it’s fun to see her back on screen again.

The CGI looks fine because most of it is in the dark at night and I find darkness a bit more forgiving with CGI.

Basically I really enjoyed it until that last third.  It’s a joke it got a PG rating when you have multiple characters dying, 2 being eaten, feet getting severed, characters blinded, and a woman who is unfaithful to her husband.  Stupid MPAA. If I had kids those would all be points of concern.  I mean I don’t want to be explaining to my little child why the Bakers Wife is kissing another man.  I wish they had toned that part down from the original play. I haven’t seen the play in probably 10 years so I couldn’t remember.  I just hate it when you feel like everyone in the movie is a jerk. Need someone to root for.

Well, I can’t really give much else away without spoiling it.  Just keep in mind- I liked it, except that last 1/3rd when the personalities and tone shift.

Still a definite recommendation based on the great singing, costumes, and an overall entertaining movie

Overall Grade- B

Jeremy Jahns and I are on totally the same page on this one

Anticipated Movies of 2015

I’ve divided my choices into 3 categories- so excited, cautiously optimistic, will probably suck but maybe?

So excited!!!- I’m on board and anxiously awaiting these films

Star Wars: The Force Awakens-

The trailer blew me away.  I trust JJ Abrams to redeem the franchise.  Don’t let me down!

Avengers: Age of Ultron-

I also trust Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel.  After an amazing 2014 with Guardians and Captain 2 I’m expecting great things.

Song of the Sea-

Technically a 2014 release but doesn’t come to my theater till February.  So excited.  It looks stunning and I’ve loved everything Cartoon Palooza has done to this point.

Mission Impossible V-

Ghost Protocol was the strongest of the series so I’m optimistic about 5 even with the director change. Cast is all back and it should be a fun spy movie.  Hopefully more Ghost Protocol and less MI 3.

 

Pitch Perfect 2-

Original was one of my favorite comedies in the least 5 years.  Acapella was a big deal at my college so I loved the music and the trailer looks decent.  I just want to laugh and hear some good acapella. Elizabeth Banks is directing this one so that is promising.

Tomorrowland-

Great teaser trailer, have no idea what it’s about I’m intrigued. You add the words ‘directed by Brad Bird and starring George Clooney’ and I’m on board.

Inside Out-

I was intrigued by trailer 1 but trailer 2 blew me away. I am so excited to have 2 original Pixar movies in 1 year but Inside Out excites me the most! Wahoo!

 

Cautiously Optimistic- They could be terrible but there are serious reason to hope they won’t

Jurassic World-

The idea of anyone going back to that island, let alone it actually opening is going to be tough to believe but the trailer looked ok and it has a pretty good cast with Chris Pratt, Bryce dallas Howard, BD Wong and Judy Greer, so I’m hopeful.

Fantastic Four-

fantastic-four-what-s-next-upcoming-superhero-flicks-1-flame-off-what-lies-ahead-for-the-fantastic-four

 

Fox has yet to be able to make a good Fantastic Four movie so we will see if Chronicle (underrated but fabulous superhero movie) director Josh Trank can make it happen. Great cast with Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B Jordan, Toby Kobbell and more. Enough to get me on board.

Minions-

I’m actually not a huge fan of the Despicable Me movies but the part I do like is The Minions so I’m hoping it will be good. Aside from Pixar it’s not looking great for animation.

minions

 

Cinderella-

If a fairytale retelling is going to work for me it is going to be Cinderella as I have already seen it in Slipper and the Rose and Ever After and enjoyed those.  I am very nervous they are going to ruin the mice and after Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland I have no faith in Disney.

The Good Dinosaur-

good dinosaur

I still feel a lot of mystery about this movie.  I have no idea if it is a comedy or drama.  All I know is it is about the world if Dinosaurs had never gone extinct. Good voice cast and I will always be pulling for an original Pixar.

It has gone through development hell with talk of it going way back to 2009 but as many movies have shown production issues do not always make for a bad movie- Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Jaws all had production nightmares and are considered by most as 3 of the cinemas great movies.

Pan-

I’m not the world’s largest Peter Pan fan and it feels a little unnecessary but I liked the trailer and director Joe Wright has made some good movies (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, Hanna, Anna Karenina) where he has made interesting visual choices.

It also has a pretty good cast with Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Garrett Hedlund as Captain Hook and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily (strange casting).

So we will see!

Jungle Book-

2 versions are eventually coming out but I believe only the Disney is coming out next year. Jon Favreau directs and he seems to be able to be successful in just about any genre creating winners in everything from Elf to Ironman so that’s good.

The cast is also very promising with Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Christopher Walken.

I hope they will change that terrible ending.

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel-

I don’t know if we needed a sequel but I enjoyed the first and the cast is back so I’m game.

 

Will Probably Suck But Holding Out Hope

Peanuts-

Mr Peabody and Sherman gave me hope that Hollywood may not destroy the franchises of my youth.  I’m skeptical of the CG transformation but if the writing is good,it could be good like Sherman.

Paul Bart Mall Cop-

I actually though the first one was funny.  This will probably be terrible but I always hold out hope that Kevin James and team will find a way to make me laugh. Cross fingers!

Paddington-

I usually hate CGI live action movies (don’t even mention the Smurfs around me…) but the buzz I’m hearing from youtubers over in Great Britain is really positive.  The trailer looks terrible, so who knows!

What do you guys think? Doesn’t look as good a year as 2014 but I won’t be bedridden in 2015 so it all works out.

Bonus Holiday Review: A Christmas Story

a-christmas-story-2[1]Being Christmas and all I just had the chance to watch the annual favorite A Christmas Story (it is on 48 hours non-stop Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on TBS).

Well friends, I think it is worthy of such a marathon.  In fact, I think it is one of the best portrayals of childhood ever in the movies.  That’s right I will be that bold.

Yes it is funny but it has such heart and I relate to little Ralphie very strongly.

paker-family-christmas-storOne of the great things about it is it is a couple weeks in the life of an ordinary family in the 30s.  When you really think about it they pack a ton of story into one movie.  The main plot is of course Ralphie’s desire to have a red ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas and all the adults in his life telling him ‘you will shoot your eye out’.

ralphi eand gunBut the subplots surrounding the air rifle are many and varied. We have Flick and the ice, Ralphie and his theme, the snow suit, the decoder pin, Ralphie’s Dad and the furnace and dogs, the Chinese restaurant, the pink bunny suit, the major award, Ralphie f-boming to his old man, I could go on.

But my favorite part is a subplot involving Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, the local bully and toadie.  Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, is so good in this scene and as someone who was bullied pretty badly it always gets to me.

It’s a terrific child actor performance and really moving when you think about the kind of trauma such a situation really is for a kid. It is no small thing. I love that Grover says ‘I’m telling my Dad’.  That’s such good writing.

I also just LOVE his mother in these scenes played by Melinda Dillion.  When she smooths things over with Dad and squeezes his arm it is such a touching moment between mother and son.

ralphie upset

Like Home Alone Christmas Story is a movie that takes children seriously.  Perhaps it is partly the dry wit yet warm narration that endears us to the story, helps us get inside the head of Ralphie but he is never treated like an idiot for being a kid.  In fact, he is often the smartest one in the room.

a-christmas-story-530fp121010

There’s a real innocence to the picture that I love.  I mean who can’t relate to betting your friends to do stupid things or that first time your parents catch you saying a naughty word?  Most of us can.  Most of us had Mothers who bundled us up too much for the winter and fathers who had their eccentric ways. christmas story stickI feel like a modern movie would put in a lot more silliness and be less grounded.  We’d get strange pets and falls into swimming pools (and that slapstick can work as we see in Home Alone so it just depends).  But Christmas Story has such heart and it at least rings true for the childhood in me.

soap christmas storyIt’s so well written too.  The narration is done by Jean Shepherd who wrote the book the movie was based on and I have to tell you I’ve read the book and not near as funny or endearing as the movie. But his commentary is very well written and exactly what an adult would say when looking both cynically and nostalgically at his past.

But there are lots of little moments in the script that are brilliant.  For instance, Ralphie is approached by The Wicked Witch while waiting to talk to Santa.  He looks at her and says ‘go away.  I’m thinking’.  That is totally the kind of kid I was.  I was social.  I had friends just like Ralphie but I also had a contemplative, independent streak.

ralphieI also love the moment when Randy is upset over the bullying incident and the Mom finds him hiding in the dresser set.  That’s just the kind of thing my sister would have done (My Dad was a total softee but if something big like that had happened she would have hidden away).  I love that the Mom brings him his milk in the cubbard and let’s him stay there. Perfect.

Old-Man-Admiring-Major-AwardThe major award also totally rings true for me.  My Father is a very passionate excitable guy.  If he won a major award he would probably be equally excited.  It’s those simple things in family life that can be the most humorous when looking back on them and that’s essentially what the narrator is doing.  It’s hilarious and just lovely.

ralphies-bunny-suit-pajamas-from-aunt-clara-4The pink bunny suit is also hilarious.  How many of us also got that one gift from a distant relative that we didn’t want to wear?  I certainly did.  It’s a funny well written scene that most of us can empathize with. Love it.

I love it is Father who gets him the air rifle.  It shows he is listening all along and shows a tenderness we hadn’t gotten since then.  What a lucky kid Ralphie is to have such a wonderful family!

christmas story parentsFinally, I love this movie because it is set in Indiana and shows the tough but sweet side of my Hoosier friends.  Even Ralphie’s fantasies feel like the kind of daydreaming a kid would actually do.  It all just works for me.

I love it.  It makes me cry throughout and laugh.  It is a wonderful movie and I’m glad it gets seen by so many every Christmas.

hqdefaultralphie slide

Overall Grade- A+ (Great writing, acting, heart, humor. Perfect)

It’s amazing it was directed by Bob Clark who helmed such classics as Baby Geniuses 1 and 2 and the Porky’s movies which are so lame and crass.  I guess it’s the 1 hit wonder of directing.  Wonderful job!

The abhorrent sequel recently produced one of the Nostalgia Critics best reviews.  (language warning)

Bonus Holiday Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

wonderful life title cardWell, I didn’t want to leave off Christmas with a grumpy post and AMC really ticked me off this morning with their colorized Miracle on 34th Street.   Thankfully I was able to have a positive experience at the movies today (and it was definitely NOT COLORIZED!!!).  Cinemark has what they call Cinemark Classics and 3-4 times a month they air a classic movie usually for just a day or two on one of their screens.

This year I was able to see Ghostbusters in September which was a delight and today I saw the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Check out the website for all their listings and participating theaters.

http://www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series

It was such a neat experience to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen and I found it more emotional in the theater.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because I was completely focused on the movie with no electronic or otherwise distractions.

I think most people know the story of It’s a Wonderful Life so I won’t go deep into it. Basically it’s a about a man played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart who has never gotten to choose his life (or so he feels).  Life presented him with the right and wrong thing to do and no third choice, so he is left to dream about adventures and freedom.

wonderful lifeThis picture was actually taken at the theater (don’t worry I was very sneaky and had the light on my phone completely off).  George has seemingly always make sacrifices others did not have to make and we get to see his entire life story as told to his guardian angel Clarence played wonderfully by Clarence Odbody.

In his life he is constantly saving people.  He saves his brother from drowning as a boy and he sacrifices hearing in one ear.  In an especially touching moment he saves his employer Mr Gower from accidentally poisoning a patient when he is grieving over news.  Mr Gower slaps him hard and the child actor is very good in the scene, really showing the pain in his ear and the love he feels for this man.

mr gowerGeorge gives up his trip to Europe when his Dad dies.  He gives up college to keep the villain and town Scrooge Mr Potter from taking over the Savings and Loan operated by his benevolent father.  He gives up leaving again to get married and then he gives up his honeymoon to save the Savings and Loan from the run on the bank.

potterLionel Barrymore is excellent as Mr Potter who actually gives reasons for his unfeeling ways.  Reasons you might hear in politics and business today but on a small town level George knows people need a home and a chance and he sacrifices again to give that to others.

But once we get caught up to the date middle aged George’s stupid uncle has lost the deposit all $8000 of it.  This means bankruptcy and possible warrants for embezzlement. It’s all too much for George and he has a breakdown and wonders if he is ‘more valuable dead than alive’.

video-undefined-1A466D7F00000578-219_636x358Stewart is completely convincing as he unravels and reaches that point of no return.  As someone who has had a nervous breakdown (but not suicidal) it feels totally authentic.  The sense of panic and fear in his voice I totally buy.

Just then Clarence comes and decides to teach George what life would be like if he had never been born.

clarenceIt is true that the alternate reality of life without George is pretty stark but it is a fable and I can grant it some dramatic license. (I have pretty healthy self esteem but I don’t think if I hadn’t been born that my hometown would be a den of sin and debauchery…ha).

pottersville2pottersville_470The filming of director Frank Capra and cinematographer Joseph Walker does not get enough credit. The starkness and grittiness of Pottersville verses the light and warmth of Bedford Falls is gorgeous.

Stewart is so good in the many roles he is required to play. In one movie he is young, a dreamer, tough, panicky, frustrated, angry, desperate, drunk, joyous, an engaging father, annoyed, in love and everything else.  And he is equally convincing in every scene.

Its-A-Wonderful-LifeHim and Donna Reed have wonderful chemistry and the dialogue between them is as good as any romantic comedy at first and then confrontational while deeply caring later.  It feels like a real couple.

bedford fallsIt’s just such a joyous picture.  It reminds all of us that we are not alone and that more people love us than we realize.  It can be easy to feel alone in this world but I think if we all got a picture we’d be surprised how many people are praying and worried about us.  And if we are alone we may be Ebeneezer Scrooge’s and not letting them in (It’s a Wonderful Life is kind of the flip side of Christmas Carol when you think about it).

It’s easy to feel cynical about movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Modern life can seem so much more complicated with texting, facebook  e-dating and all kinds of impersonal relationships. But this year I saw Boyhood and found myself thinking about It’s a Wonderful Life while watching that movie.

patricia arquette What moved me most in Boyhood is kind of the same thing that moved me in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Like George Bailey, the mother character Olivia played by Patricia Arquette, never really has a moment to commit to her life.  The Ethan Hawke character gets a chance to go to Alaska and decide to be a father and to live a particular kind of life.  Olivia has 2 kids and just has to live and like George she isn’t given a lot of choices, and sometimes the ‘lesser evil’ proves to be a nightmare.  At the end her son is moving away to college and she starts to cry and says ‘my life is over’.  It feels like a similar moment to George Bailey realizing all the sacrificing has been for what to be left alone.

But there is redemption, maybe not as dramatic as in Wonderful Life but she has lived a good life.  She has raised two great kids and done the best she could and realizes she has friends, if only in her children.    I was really moved today when I saw the note from Clarence to George.

failureI think that is the message from Boyhood and It’s a Wonderful Life- no man is a failure who has friends and has loved people as best as he or she can. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true.

At Christmas those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice and life recite the scripture ‘greater love hath no man than this that he lay down His life for His friends’.  That is the message of It’s a Wonderful Life, of Boyhood and of Christmas.  Life is precious because of who we can love.

I know it is just a blog and I know it is just movies but I hope you have sensed my love for stories and life.  Roger Ebert said it best:

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

So in that spirit Merry Christmas friends and fellow-journeymen in life and a Happy New Year.   It is a wonderful life.

Colorized Rant

Ok guys I’m upset! Those who read my Scrooge Month got a clear idea of my feelings on the colorization of Black and White movies.  So imagine my shock when I DVR’d the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street on a major channel, AMC, and what do I see but the colorized version.  AMC should be ashamed of themselves!  I’m serious.  Putting out an assault on an artists vision as if it was the original property on national TV is worthy of the strictest censure.

Why do I hate colorized movies so much?  Well, here we go.

The Michael Bay’s of the world consider film a product but I think of it as art, especially how the movie looks.  People could be painters, sculptors or dancers and they chose to work in film.  We would never take a bronze sculpture and tell the artist he should be using jade or an oil painting and force it to be in watercolor.  Most of the history of film has had color as an option (Gone with the Wind is stunning color cinematography and that’s in 1939) so these artists made a choice to film in black and white.

Why would they make this choice?  Because it was less expensive in some cases but it also has shadows and movement you don’t get with color film.  It removes distraction and forces the viewer to focus on the images.  Instead of absorbing the color of a jacket, or a person’s hair color we see their face and the wrinkles on their skin and learn so much about who they are. We don’t need to know that the soldier’s uniform is blue.  We just need to see the look of horror on his face.

It would be one thing if an artist approved of their work being colorized but most of these films are in the public domain and are changed without anyone’s consent.  It’s wrong and it deeply offends me.

Turner movies stopped doing the process in 1989 and I thought it had gone the way of the VHS but in Scrooge month I repeatedly came across DVDs that were colorized like the 1951 Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim.  It is routinely regarded as the most well made of the Scrooge movies and rightfully so. The lighting and nuances in the acting is beautifully captured.  Probably its greatest strength is the films artistry so to sully with that aspect belittles the whole film to any other mediocre version.

christmas4 christmas3To me there is just no comparison between the look of the black and white and the colorized.  In the black and white I immediately focus on Scrooge’s eyes where the color I am looking at his cravat and bow tie and how blue it is.  I am also looking at the doormat and his hair.  The eyes are the last thing I look about and you tell so much from Sim’s eyes.

It’s the same in Miracle on 34th Street.  Look at the difference.

christmas5 christmas6In the colorized version what do you see? Well, Catherine O’Hara’s lipstick and her pale skin.  In the black and white we see her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead.  She looks like a mother trying to explain something to her child.  It is so much more pleasant and interesting to look at. In colorized she looks frail and her hair is distracting.  With Kris you are totally focused on the red of his suit and the gold of the chair.  The love and emotion in his face and eyes are completely lost, which is so clear in the black and white.

Even if you don’t mind the look of the colorized it doesn’t tell you anything new that is pertinent to the story.  It doesn’t matter that Catherine O’hara has red hair or red lipstick or that Kris is sitting on a gold chair.  What does it give you to know such things?  It’s certainly isn’t ‘magic’ in my book.

When the movement started it was praised as a way to get children to appreciate older movies by presenting them in color.  Hogwash.  If a child cannot appreciate the black and white Miracle on 34th Street than show them something else. It certainly does them no good to get them attached to a diluted version of the story.  It doesn’t help them appreciate older films because they aren’t really seeing them.  They will no doubt grow to be adults and feel cheated on the thin gruel they were given when such feasting exists. I know I would be.

In my experience kids are actually more accepting of artistic differences in pieces than adults.  I have had many experiences watching Wall-e, for instance, where the artistic choices were hard for adults to accept but kids loved it.

If you feel so strongly about your kids needing to see Miracle on 34th Street in color than watch the 1994 version which is not near as good but at least you won’t be assaulting a classic.

People may claim that television airs edited versions of films for content and time allowances and is that not also altering the creative vision?  That would be a valid point but in that case the versions are provided by the studios with the permission of all involved.  In the case of the colorization a separate entity unassociated with the project takes the film and adds the color without any input from the original creators.  Alterations for content could be seen as a necessary evil when there is absolutely nothing necessary about adding color.

It’s just wrong.  People dedicate their lives to their art and just as we would never change a Picasso or a Van Gogh because we don’t like the style, we should not change these films.  And I can’t believe that a major channel like AMC, which puts out bold artistic content like Breaking Bad and Mad Men would air such a thing.  They don’t even say on their webpage that it is a colorized version.

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Anyway, it just upsets me and I couldn’t believe AMC would air it.  No matter what they do this will always be my Santa Claus and it should be your’s too.

santaSince the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 it has also been illegal for films to be colorized so these are old versions that still float around changed before the law.  Another reason’s AMC’s decision is very surprising.

My Fave Five Christmas Movies

A fun list of Holiday films from Drew’s Movie Reviews.

Drew's Movie Reviews

It’s that time of year again.  Snow is falling, bright lights decorate houses on every street, the Salvation Army bell ringers are outside every grocery store you can see, and TBS is having a 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon.  Yes, it’s the holiday season.  While you and your family are gathered by the fireplace sipping eggnog, sitting at the table playing a game of cards, or whatever your holiday traditions may be, chances are you do so with a Christmas movie playing.  Everyone has something different they like about the holiday season and there are plenty of movies to reflect that.  Here are my five favorite Christmas movies.

Honorable Mentions) Die Hard & Lethal WeaponLethal Weapon movie posterDie Hard movie poster

I have included Die Hard and Lethal Weapon on this list because they aren’t what could be considered “traditional” Christmas movies.  They take place during Christmas (the lowest requirement for a Christmas film) but that’s…

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 Review

tmnt posterI know you have all been on pins and needles waiting for me to review the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  Well, I avoided it for a long time but there’s nothing on TV this week and it was a huge hit in 2014 (I try to see the big hits and I always go to every movie with an open mind, even Michael Bay movies) so I decided to watch it.

Let me start out by saying thank goodness for Marvel and Christopher Nolan because at least boys have something to hold onto and root for.  Without their strong movies all their beloved franchises have been destroyed one by one.  First Star Wars, then they had to suffer Batman and Robin, Daredevil, Spiderman 3, XMen 3, and Transformers.  Believe it or not all these franchises were actually good in the 80’s but many modern adaptations have been dreadful.

The Ninja Turtles is a particularly nostalgic brand for many men (and some girls) my age as we grew up on the cartoon, which was fun, silly and engaging.  Then we had the Jim Henson’s movies which the first two are also a lot of fun.  People love this series.  It’s important to them.

Now producer Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman directing have their hands on it and boy does it suffer.

I will say that this is more tolerable than the Transformers movies as it is only 1 hour and 41 minutes where Transformers is nearly 3 (KMN) but it has so many problems.  Turtle fans deserve better.

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There will be some spoilers in this review so if you want to see it first go for it!

Trailer-

Cast:

Megan Fox as April O’Neil
Malina Weissman as young April O’Neil
Will Arnett as Vern Fenwick
William Fichtner as Eric Sacks
Alan Ritchson as Raphael (motion-capture performer and voice)
Noel Fisher as Michelangelo (motion-capture performer and voice)
Pete Ploszek as Leonardo (motion-capture performer)
Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo (voice)
Jeremy Howard as Donatello (motion-capture performer and voice)
Danny Woodburn as Splinter (motion-capture performer)
Tony Shalhoub as Splinter (voice)
Tohoru Masamune as Shredder
Whoopi Goldberg as Bernadette Thompson

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TMNT starts out with a graphic that feels like a strobe light leading you down to the sewer.  It is a good introduction for a movie that feels extremely schizophrenic. It is edited very poorly and often I was caught in an action scene and left wondering how did we get here and who the heck are they fighting?  There are scenes where characters will just stop fighting and the room will literally freeze so a pun or one liner can be uttered by usually Michelangelo (although sometimes it’s a nerdy comment by Donatello or a grumpy comment by Rafael- these really are the 7 Dwarves of comic books).

For example, there is a long fight scene on a mountain with a semi-truck and 3 hummer-like cars.  I had no idea who they were fighting or how they got out of New York to a place with snow.   It’s especially strange because the main villainous plot has just been laid out by William Fichtner’s character who oddly enough is not Shredder but some sub-villain, and Master Splinter has been taken hostage.  Splinter is then forgotten about for about an hour of the movie as we battle someone in the snow?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s talk first about the look of the movie.  The turtles are motion capture animation and they look like a roids fest at a WWF fight. They in no way look like teenagers or talk like teenagers.  And I thought they looked more like ducks than Turtles (and who knew that turtle shells front and back are bulletproof?). I guess going with a tougher, grittier version of turtles is creative but did they have to make them look so unpleasant?

TMNT_2014_Wallpaper_HDApril O’Neil is played as probably the most unrealistic reporter in movies by the great thespian Megan Fox.  In this case it turns out she has a very close connection with the turtles which she figures out in an insanely short period of time.  I mean if I had lost turtles and was saved from the ‘foot clan’ (as the generic bad guy soldiers are known) the first thing I’d think of is my turtles had been mutated into ninja warriors.  Of course!

fox lightingAll the lighting in this movie feels extremely yellow, like a fluorescent light bulb.  Her lipstick looked ultra pink in many shots and I almost wondered if my TV settings had been changed. There were scenes when it seemed like she had rosacia or was wearing too much blush.  All the human characters looked strange.  I guess at least most of the movie she is properly clothed unlike the women of Transformers.

yellow light Shredder who is such a bad, menacing villain in the show, comes and goes.  And then William Fichtner also  comes and goes.  They are never together but one brief shot in a tunnel that looks cropped together, and yet they are planning this massive scheme for money.  What it screams of is when they first announced Fichtner as Shredder people were upset because he is supposed to be Japanese.  There was a big fan backlash.  My guess is they shot new scenes with a new Shredder and changed things around so Fichtner was this bland scientist William Sachs.  I could be wrong but that’s what it feels like.  It does not seem like these characters are working together.

So here’s the scheme. Tell me if you don’t think of a million other movies and shows that have had a similar mad scientist story-

So Fichtner and Shredder have developed a ‘toxin’ that they want to release out of a building in NYC.  This will render everyone catatonic and then they plan on blackmailing the American government to purchase at high cost ‘the antidote’.  Ah yes, there always seems to be an antidote to all these toxins… I bet you will never guess where they need to get the antidote from- well if you guessed the ‘mutagen’ in the blood of the turtles you would be right.

Doesn’t that scream of 1960’s batman scheme?  It’s right up there with Mr Freeze planning on Freezing all of Gotham if he doesn’t get the diamonds.  They couldn’t rob a bank or extort a millionaire?  This was really the best way to get money for these evil-doers?  It reminded me of in Toy Story when Woodie’s voice box says ‘somebody’s poisoned the water hole’ all the toxin talk would be hokey in a bad Western in 1950’s.

But even an ultra silly plot can be entertaining if it is handled with the right spirit but it isn’t.  What happens with this movie is we get long stretches of fighting (again with and against people we don’t know and often in environments and for purposes we don’t understand).  For about the first 1/3rd of the movie the Turtles are just fighting footmen and we don’t know why?  How do they know about the footmen?  Are they fighting them because they are ‘bad guys’ or is there some other moral reason they dislike them (for example, we know clearly why the Joker hates Batman.  No such illumination here).

TMNT-ShredderWhen we do see Shredder he is such a CGI bore.  He looks like Predator with blades and of course he is a bore because he’s had no dialogue.  All of the evil dialogue has been from Fichtner and yet the Turtles never really fight Fichtner but fight Shredder (again another sign they made the switch late).

The movie also will have a fight, and then a comedic moment, and then more fighting which just screams Michael Bay’ s influence.

Take a look at this scene in the elevator.  They have just been released from having their blood drawn and almost dying. They are about to go up to the roof to face their biggest foe but we get a beat boxing routine followed by a big fight.  Give me a break!

As I said we don’t get to know the Turtles beyond their basic characteristics and the voicework is uniformly awful.   I particularly hated Johnny Knoville as Leonardo.  Tony Shalhoub is Ok as Splinter but he’s in the movie for very little and he looks awful.

tmnt splinterWhoopi Goldberg’s part must have been cut because she’s in about 2 scenes as April’s overbearing cliche of a boss.  I mean she’s an Oscar winning actress so to be in about 3 minutes of the movie is strange.

Will Arnett is also wasted as Vern Fenwick who is April’s pal at work.  He is literally the driver for most the movie and doesn’t even get any good sarcastic lines.  He is about a billion times funnier in the Lego Movie doing similar schtick (just shows what a difference good writing does).

april-vernon-tmnt-rebootMinae Noji plays an assassin character but even reading the Wikipidia I have no idea who she is or why she was in the movie so much.  She just kept popping up in battles.  No dialogue or character development at all.

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It is also really not a movie for kids.  It earns it’s PG-13, is pretty violent, showing turtles and others getting tortured and nearly dying.  And some of the dialogue is too adult like the Turtles seem to only like April because she is ‘smokin hot’.  Upon first meeting, Michelangelo says ‘she’s so hot I can feel my shell tightening’.  I don’ t think such innuendo is appropriate for children.

And the movie is too stupid to appeal to adults and the turtles look so awful that it won’t appeal to nostalgic males.  So who this appeals to and why it made so much money is beyond me?

Especially when you had Edge of Tomorrow in the theaters with the same video game feel but a good script and action that felt palatable and real, characters you cared about.  Why anyone saw this over that quality movie I will never know.   Someone out there explain it to me please?

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Worst of all it isn’t even fun. It’s so hacked together and the plot makes no sense.  And then we end with a damsel in distress hanging from a skyscraper cliche that goes back to King Kong.  Groan.

damsel in distressWe also get the digital read-out clock on the ‘release of the toxin’s’ that has been in every action movie since 198o’s (although they do make a joke about it being 15 year old technology but still doesn’t get a pass from me!).

countdownAnd then we get an ending with the Turtles goofing off and destroying Will Arnett’s car for laughs.  It shows what Michael Bay’s idea of fun is.  Let’s just destroy things and all have a good laugh.  When they are on the rooftop there are shots where crowds of people are outside with debris flying down from the tower.  Why would people be outside?  It reminded me of Amazing Spiderman 2 where there seem to be crowds cheering on everything Spiderman did.

With those crowds the ending seems especially ridiculous where April agrees to keep the Turtles existence a secret despite her top notch reporting ethics.  Groan.  There’s no security cameras in the miles of havoc they have wrecked in fight after fight from mysterious New York mountains to downtown Manhattan?  Nobody has a cell phone or a news camera to catch 4 mutant turtles fighting a giant man in a steel suit?  That’s the kind of idiocy this movie expects people to accept.

And again I wouldn’t care if the movie was fun.  I don’t care that Goonies is ridiculous because it is fun and I like the kids.  Here I didn’t like anyone.  I found them repulsive to look at, their humor juvenile and the fight scenes unending.

Don’t waste your time.  Watch the TV series or the old movie from the 90s.  That will make you smile and you’ll enjoy yourself.  This is just junk.  Again, it is better than Transformers because at least it is under 2 hours but why America?  Why?

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-gets-a-sequelGet ready because the sequel is coming…

Overall Score- D

Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!