Archive for the Family Category

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on August 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Shaun the Sheep Movie photo starrating-4stars.jpgDelightful confection about a sheep who simply dreams about having a day off at the farm. Shaun (Justin Fletcher) is the de facto leader of a flock of sheep. He hatches a scheme so they can have a break from their daily routine. Naturally things don’t go quite as planned.

Despite the title, Shaun the Sheep is actually an ensemble piece. There’s the oblivious bespectacled Farmer (John Sparkes). His odyssey after accidentality winding up in the Big City is just as important as Shaun’s narrative. There’s the rest of the flock too, some of whom get distinct personalities. This includes Nuts, Hazel, Shirley, the largest member and little Timmy, Shaun’s nephew. There’s Bitzer the Sheepdog, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Gromit, another Nick Park creation. Bitzer is loyally devoted to the Farmer and the calm yin to Shaun’s wild yang. Their adventures allow them to meet a variety of animals including Slip, a lovable little stray dog with the longest eyelashes ever. But it’s not all fun and games. They must contend with Trumper (Omid Djalili) an animal control officer who is the traditional nemesis of any stray pet.

Shaun the Sheep is the sixth feature from Aardman Studios and based on the BBC television show. The production almost exists in another world apart from other animated films. However the visual and comedic stylings are very much in line with the British animation studio’s other pictures. Located in Bristol, they are best known for using stop-motion claymation techniques. The company first gained fame with several shorts starring the adventures of Wallace & Gromit. In 2000 they released their theatrical debut with Chicken Run and it was a huge success.

Shaun the Sheep is warm, clever, witty, hilarious, touching, sweet, cute.  I could go on. A delight for those who appreciate a whimsical romp. It’s refreshingly slight clocking in at a mere 85 minutes. For those whose tastes run toward more electrifying fare, this placid tale may seem a bit soporific. There’s nary a word of spoken dialogue. Everything is expressed through gestures and vocal cues. I, on the other hand, truly appreciated this undemanding tale’s lighthearted take. It’s rather impressive how much story be conveyed through mutters and grunts and baas and bleats. As such, witty sight gags abound. Gentle G rated humor references Inception, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver and The Terminator. Stick around for an end-credits homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Early on, the sheep lull Farmer to sleep by continuously jumping over a fence. But my absolute favorite interlude is a disguise sequence where the sheep dress up as humans and go out to a fancy French restaurant. It’s so visually brilliant it could only be described as Chaplin-esque.



Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Minions photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt was only a matter of time before the Minions, those breakout stars from the Despicable Me movies, got their own picture. You already know whether you’re going to enjoy this. If you appreciated their antics in the aforementioned films, then you should find this to be the bee’s knees. On the other hand, if you walk in begrudgingly detesting those lovable rapscallions, then you’ll undoubtedly just go on hating them with clenched fists and a closed heart. Theirs is a physical comedy part of a rich tradition that is an evolution of slapstick and farce. Buster Keaton begat The Three Stooges who begat Jerry Lewis who begat Benny Hill who begat the Minions.

The word evolution is particularly apropos in this case. Minions commences with the very dawn of time. Starting as single-celled organisms, we see the Minions evolve through the ages. In every era they unceasingly serve a litany of only the most despicable of masters. From Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula to Napoleon, they go through one boss after another, accidentally killing off each one due to their own clumsiness. Our proper adventure begins when the Minions (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) find themselves without a master to serve. Then one Minion named Kevin decides to change things. He has a plan to find a new master. He’s taking two buddies, Stuart and Bob. These three, who bear a striking style similarity to Gru’s 3 daughters, travel cross the ocean. They visit New York City first – circa 1968 or 42 years B.G (Before Gru) – before winding up in swinging mod London.

The setup lays the groundwork for a nonstop silly fun fest. Granted, the Minions are not known for their sophisticated wit. In fact most of their communication is a dialect that is mixture of English words peppered with foreign phrases. It’s a creative amalgamation of vernacular where syntax is key. Humor is derived from being able to interpret their Minionese within the right context. Although you don’t understand the vocabulary, you feel what they’re saying. It’s not hard to grasp. Kids in particular appreciate their lighthearted ability to adapt to whatever situation they must face. It’s an admirable quality.

Their business takes them to something called Villain-Con in Orlando. The city is presented as swampland in 1968 but it’s perhaps no small coincidence that the studio responsible for this, built a resort there in 1990. Villain-Con is clearly based on San Diego’s Comic Con but functions as sort of a delegation for the most evil supervillains ever assembled. Look carefully and you’ll notice Dr Nefario from the previous films. Gru and his mother are there too. With a nod to female empowerment, the undisputed leader in the field is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the baddest criminal of them all. With her perfect 1960’s flip, she recalls Mary Tyler Moore. Her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) suggests Ringo Starr…or is it Pete Townshend? I’m not too sure. The rocking 60s soundtrack features both The Beatles (“Got To Get You Into My Life”) and The Who (“My Generation”) so I suppose it could be either. Which leads into my next point.

On the surface Minions is silly fun, but the narrative highlights a lot of delightful in-jokes that should entice hip viewers. Kids won’t get them and frankly many adults won’t either. The floor in Scarlet Overkill’s abode resembles the carpet in The Shining. Stuart greets the fire hydrant he fancies with “Papagena” which sounds like nonsense unless you realize it’s a character in The Magic Flute. Kevin whistles a tune from Mozart’s opera later. Scarlet Overkill’s bedtime story about a big bad wolf is underscored by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. But it’s not all classical music. Baby boomers should dig the 60s fan service. Minions pop up out of a manhole cover just as the Beatles are crossing the street à la Abbey Road. The minions sing “Revolution”, the “Theme from the Monkees”, and “Hair”. They watch TV while flipping past The Saint, Bewitched & The Dating Game. Alas there are instances where toilet humor shows up like an unwelcome house guest. In those brief moments, taste takes a regrettable detour. However, more often than not, Minions is a feast for savvy pop culture aesthetes and their children as well.


Inside Out

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family on June 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Inside Out photo starrating-4stars.jpgPixar’s ode to the emotions of a little girl, Inside Out is a sophisticated journey into the physical expression of the psyche. Sounds pretty philosophical for a cartoon, right? However Pixar brilliantly distills the idea into an interpretation that is surprisingly lucid.  It manages to be gracefully enlightened in what it conceptualizes too. OK but just how many emotions are there really? In the 4th century BC Aristotle came up with 14: Anger, Calm, Friendship, Enmity, Fear, Confidence, Shame, Shamelessness, Kindness, Pity, Indignation, Envy, Emulation, and Contempt. Whew! That’s a lot of characters. Experts say it’s your facial muscles that tell the real story. As a result, many scientists have since agreed to reduce the core number all the way down to 4. Well Pixar chose 5: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and then granted Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) their own separate entities.

In the physical world, a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is born to a loving mother (Diane Lane ) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota. When her dad gets a new job, the family must relocate to San Francisco. Moving is a particularly troublesome experience for the by now 11 year old: new home, new school, new people. On the outside, we see the facial expressions that belie her feelings. On the inside, we see the emotions argue, persuade, pressure and praise in the “Headquarters” of Riley’s mind. Joy is an effervescent pixie with a haircut to match. She is most often in control of Riley’s memories which are housed in glowing color coded orbs. Each one the shade of their overriding emotion. The spheres considered the most relevant are known as “core memories”. These power five “islands” in Riley’s subconscious, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality.

Then one day, Riley’s emotional world falls apart. Everything comes to a head on her first day of school. Sadness is a blue bespeckled awkward girl with bad posture. Sadness inadvertently touches a happy memory and turns it “sad”.  So Joy tries to eliminate the negative recollection.  Complications arise causing Riley’s 5 core memories to get knocked from their container. Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked through a tube and displaced along with Riley’s essential thoughts into the far reaches of Riley’s mind.  Disgust, Fear, and Anger become the de facto masters at the control of decisions that could ruin her life.

As a saga, Inside Out is The Incredible Journey or it’s Fantastic Voyage. Joy and Sadness must navigate their way across this bizarro world back to the command center. Indeed navigating the subconscious mind is pretty surreal. It’s not unlike the Beatles trying to get to Pepperland in Yellow Submarine. Inside Out isn’t anywhere near as psychedelic, but it still includes the realm of Abstract Thought, an Imagination Land, Dream Productions, and a dizzying labyrinth of Long Term Memory. Denizens include a clown, a unicorn and Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from early childhood. Voiced by Richard Kind he is a cotton candy colored creature that fuses the trunk of an elephant with the tail of a cat and the squeal of a dolphin. A fun loving fellow wearing a porkpie hat and a purple bow tie, this hybrid creature is one of the more surreal entities on the Pixar roster. Anyone remember Jeremy Hillary Boob? That’s another reference to Yellow Submarine, a character that was also a bit of a nowhere man. Now a forgotten friend, Bing Boing consistently radiates joyful exuberance, although his selfless act later in the narrative has an elegiac quality.

Inside Out is a dazzling manifestation of the emotional mind, both visually and aurally. Last time director Pete Docter and composer Michael Giacchino collaborated, it earned them both Oscars (for Up). It could easily happen again. Pixar has long been the animation studio that combines the weight of poignant drama with dazzling visuals. Inside Out’s greatest gift is the presentation of the psyche as a landscape for which thoughts and memories are accounted and sorted. I realize Pixar didn’t invent this construct. The early 90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head (It followed Married… with Children on Sunday nights) did a variation on this theme over 2 decades ago. But Pixar gets credit for expounding on the abstraction in a way that makes you question the way you experience your own life. The “Personality Islands” are a nice touch in making concepts tangible. That’s just one example of an idea that could be taught in the field of psychology.

After a series of perfectly adequate films that began in 2011, Inside Out is a welcome return to cinema par excellence for the Pixar studio. First and foremost, the adventure is an affecting story. Anthropomorphic emotions in red, yellow, green, blue and purple hues articulated as individual characters we can embrace. Joy and Sadness are the real stars here. They dominate the narrative with their odyssey back to the central hub. Call it Journey to the Center of the Mind. However Disgust, Fear and Anger all have their their moments too. Every emotion is key to a well adjusted human being. Pixar staddles the line between presenting it all as something a young child can comprehend but allowing just enough depth to captivate the adults in the audience. It’s still pretty straightforward, but there’s beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. Inside Out makes it all seem effortless.


When Marnie Was There

Posted in Animation, Drama, Family with tags on June 13, 2015 by Mark Hobin

When Marnie Was There photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe difference between what this chronicle suggests it might be, and what it truly is, are night and day. Anna Sasaki (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 12 year old girl that has yet to find her place in this world. An orphan, she is being raised by loving foster parents Yoriko (Geena Davis) and her husband. Unfortunately Anna still suffers from the emotional scars of the past. “I hate myself” she cries out early on. Indeed she begins from a very dark place. Her reclusive state lends the narrative a grim context not often associated with animation. One day at school she collapses from an asthma attack. Her parents decide to have Anna spend the summer with her aunt (Grey DeLisle) and uncle (John C. Reilly) in Kushiro, a seaside town with fresher air. There she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie (Kiernan Shipka).

When Marnie Was There has similar national ties that sort of make it a spiritual successor to The Secret World of Arrietty, a 2010 Studio Ghibli film. The story also began as a British young adult novel.  This one published in 1967 by author Joan G. Robinson. Studio head Hayao Miyazaki had it among his recommended list of 50 children’s books. The same director of Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, then adapted it with help from Keiko Niwa and Masashi Andō, into a movie of the same name.

When Marnie Was There is an extremely slow saga but I am reluctant to call it plodding. I admire the gradually unfolding nature of the drama. Its reflective nature allows the viewer to kind of luxuriate in its mood. This is a plot that earns its drama from the heartbreaking turmoil of a teen going through adolescence. At first you want to embrace Anna. She feels isolated and alone. Yet she isn’t beyond reproach for her current circumstance either.  Anna is rather nasty at times, calling one of her new friends a “fat pig” out of nowhere. However Anna responds differently to the beautiful blonde Marnie, a friend her own age who lives in the dilapidated mansion across the pond. Except it isn’t in ruins whenever she visits her. At night there are even parties where Anna is invited to attend disguised as a flower girl. “You look like a girl from my dreams” Anna confides in Marnie.  Does Marnie really exist or is she merely a figment of Anna’s imagination?

When Marnie Was There never fulfills on its grand promise of something profound. Anna and Marnie strike up a friendship and their interactions allow the previously withdrawn Anna to open up. The two frequently abscond away together in clandestine meetings that suggest a rapport that is far more intimate. It reaches an apex when a jealous Anna questions Marnie about dancing with a boy. You’re certain that something more will come of this. But nothing does. Later there is a scary interlude that resembles a Gothic tale involving an old abandoned silo that terrifies Marnie. More suggestions of something grander than what is actually presented. The denouement ultimately ignores all of these plot threads and settles into a resolution that doesn’t effectively address the issues with which this poor kid is struggling. She was really messed up and the reveal is totally disconnected from what this girl had been feeling. Sill, the picture is too visually hypnotic to ignore. The soundtrack, both the music and the sounds of the environment, create a lavish atmosphere that is spellbinding. I liked When Marnie Was There. I just didn’t love it.


Song of the Sea

Posted in Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Song of the Sea photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThe setting is Ireland but this period piece sort of exists in a magical land that seems almost otherworldly. The environment relies on folklore as it concerns the ancient legends of the selkie, mythological creatures that live as seals in the sea but become human on land. Song of the Sea is the second film from Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore, the creators of The Secret of Kells. Like that film, it received a nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This fantasy involves a little girl names Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) who lives in a lighthouse by the sea with her brother Ben (David Rawle). Six years after the child’s birth, their father (Brendan Gleeson) still laments the loss of their mother (Lisa Hannigan). Saoirse herself has yet to utter a word. But they have other issues. After the girl is found sleeping on the beach one night, she and her older brother are sent to live with Granny in the supposed safety of the city. The story is fashioned as an epic journey where Ben and Saoirse must embark through a mysterious world of Giants, Rock Fairies and an Owl Witch to get back to the sea. The latter creature is named Macha and her ability to turn people to stone has foreboding qualities. At one point the two become separated. Young Ben’s journey to find her is rather touching.

This mythic tale stars two kids and is pitched at a young audience. However this unfolds at a much slower pace than the cartoons of today. The narrative is more of an experience. It’s quiet and gradually takes its time to unfold. That’s fitting given the bewitching atmosphere of the production. It’s a gorgeous, hand drawn delight that is rich in color. The minimalist design is made up of visually bold shapes. Their simplicity is extremely pleasing to the eye. The soundtrack is haunting which evokes an ethereal mood. Irish singer Lisa Hannigan contributes several exquisite melodies including the title tune. She also happens to be the voice of the mother. With Hollywood studios dominating at the multiplexes these days, Song of the Sea is a beautiful anomaly amongst the current computer graphics landscape. Young children and animation fans will be enchanted alike.



Posted in Adventure, Drama, Family, Fantasy on March 13, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Cinderella photo starrating-4stars.jpgDisney has created a mini industry over the last 5 years in adapting fantasy into live action films: Alice in Wonderland, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficent. They have all achieved remarkable box office success. You wouldn’t think that adapting a fantasy would be difficult. After all, these stories have stood the test of time. While each version has had their moments, they’ve always fallen victim to traps of our current age that keep them from feeling like a timeless work of art….until now. The funny thing is, Cinderella should have been the most difficult to adapt. No Disney princess has been more harshly condemned than Cinderella. The criticisms by now legendary: “She’s one-dimensional.“ “She’s bland – too passive.” “She’s reactionary – waiting around for her prince instead of actively doing something to improve her situation.”. And yet the character endures. With Cinderella, the studio has for the first time, created a work that not only respects the classic fable, but still manages to enchant a contemporary audience.

Kenneth Branagh has accomplished something that is revolutionary in 2015. He doesn’t re-invent the fairy tale. He doesn’t modernize it. He doesn’t try to inject winking irony into the proceedings. Those maneuvers, while in vogue, have always negated the original text by descending into camp. Along with screenwriter Chris Weitz, Branagh has done a most inconceivable thing. He somehow cherishes the heart of the 1950 Disney animated movie while elevating the character into someone to admire. That one’s noble heart and unyielding virtue can itself bring reward. If after watching Cinderella, you still think its moral is that lonely girls who wait, will one day be rescued by a handsome prince, then you haven’t been paying attention.

With Cinderella free to just be what it is, the production can concentrate on making the story seem magical again. This is, after all, a fairy tale. It takes what the audience is familiar with and utilizes our modern age to make it better. One of the high points is the magical appearance of her fairy godmother played by Helena Bonham Carter. It’s nice to see the actress look beautiful in a fantasy again. Her pre-ball interaction with Cinderella is a pure delight.  Watching the pumpkin become a coach, mice become horses and lizards become footmen is a marvel of CGI that feels like just the right amount to dazzle the eyes, but not so much that it descends into a garish technological spectacle. The magic continues as Cinderella makes it to the reception at the castle. As Cinderella, Downton Abbey’s Lily James suggests a young Jessica Lange, particularly in her gorgeously made up face. The set piece at the ball is a sumptuous parade of choreographed dancers who spin and turn in unison. The party scene a dazzling display of color and merriment that is every bit as wondrous a moment as you can imagine.

Cinderella is comprised of a cast that perfectly interprets the individuals in the fairy tale. The script preserves the basis of these people while expounding upon them to give motivation for their behavior. The King (Derek Jacobi), The Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård), the Captain (Nonso Anozie), the wicked stepsisters (Holliday Grainger & Sophie McShera) all have a depth to them. And what would any great drama be without an entertaining villain? Cate Blanchett makes an iconic Stepmother. She does an admirable job of portraying the exaggerated portrait of a hissable villain – yet believably rooted in the attitudes of a jealous adult who would put her own selfish desires before that of a child.

Cinderella has done the unthinkable – preserved the spirit of the original tale, while promoting an empowering message. Actress Lily James is a fetching heroine – a creature of integrity. The ”love at first sight” relationship between the Prince and Cinderella is kept simple, but clarified in a way to make it more commendable. You understand why Cinderella and the Prince are drawn to each other initially when they meet in the forest under more modest circumstances and then again at the ball. It is her selfless personality that is emphasized. When the Prince (Richard Madden) talks of the mysterious girl he met in the forest, his desire is motivated by Cinderella’s words. There is more to their relationship than mere beauty. The poor girl that has been treated like a maid in her own home, has finally felt what it’s like to be a princess. At the beginning of the story, Cinderella’s mother imparts these words of wisdom on her deathbed: “Have courage and be kind. Where there is kindness, there is goodness and where there is goodness, there is magic.” By holding fast to the notion that Cinderella is first and foremost the epitome of virtue, they have fashioned a heroine of female empowerment that is laudable simply because she is a compassionate human being. The concept is revolutionary.


McFarland, USA

Posted in Drama, Family, Sports with tags on March 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

McFarland, USA photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgMcFarland, USA would seem to be your standard run-of-the-mill tale about a rag-tag band of underdogs that nobody believed in, only to come from behind at the end to prove everybody wrong. To a certain extent that would be true. The difference is in the fabrication; how well the piece is put together. McFarland is indeed really good. What separates this from a lesser film of this sort is in the sincerity of the story. There’s an honesty to the performances that draws you in to the plight of these kids. Let’s start with star Kevin Costner who plays a world weary coach that is on the outs, trying start a new life with his family. Compare that to the athletes who attend a school that has never excelled in athletics. That is until they decide to add cross country to their roster of sports. The young actors have a lot of heart. The script allows enough time to detail their individual stories. It gives us a reason to care. Their separate goals but shared ambitions unite in a very appealing way that adds weight to this chronicle.

Despite utilizing the conventional plot points of the sports drama, McFarland, USA doesn’t suffer for it. On location shooting in Kern County, California, imbues the production with a grit that it wouldn’t have if it been filmed on a Hollywood lot. The Latin tinged soundtrack with a score by Antonio Pinto additionally adds to the chronicle’s credibility. Spanish guitar pops up in several compositions. The townspeople are portrayed by people who don’t look like they were hired out of central casting. Some would even appear to be genuine citizens of the town. Kevin Costner and Maria Bello are an exception but that‘s perhaps a concession to box office. He and his family provide an interesting contrast to the townspeople. Granted the idea of a white savior to these economically disadvantaged teens could have been a cliché. I would argue that it is his down and out coach that is more “saved” by these students.

Can a movie be completely predictable and still be entertaining? With McFarland, USA the answer is an unqualified yes. I will admit that the narrative follows the familiar beats of inspirational sports dramas. Disney has made an industry of this genre. Remember the Titans, Cool Runnings, The Rookie, Miracle – they’re all examples of how this subject has been done many times before. In these cases, it’s been accomplished successfully. The variation to formula in this case is cross country track. Okay so that’s a minor difference, but the picture has an authenticity to it. McFarland, USA is an genuinely heartfelt story worth revisiting. I feel compelled to justify why I enjoyed this. Those viewers who already find these traditional tales difficult to enjoy, will not be taken in by this film’s simple charms. However of you’re open to a nicely acted production that makes you feels good, you should give this a try.


The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on February 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpongeBob still matters. Perhaps this movie’s lasting legacy will be that he was the one to finally take out American Sniper at the #1 position at the box office. Granted director Clint Eastwood’s production held the spot for 3 weeks but still you’ve got to hand it to the little sea dwelling invertebrate. The Nickelodeon TV series, currently in its 9th season, has been around since 1999 so the novelty factor is gone. A first feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters in 2004. Now 11 years later we get a sequel that thankfully doesn‘t rely on having seen the original feature. Regardless of what naysayers griped about the supposed decline of the TV show, it didn’t seem to affect reception to the film. A $55 million debut weekend is pretty impressive. Even the final installment of The Hobbit debuted to less.

The plot is totally ridiculous. It starts off in the real life world with a human pirate (Antonio Banderas) who obtains a magical book. As he starts to read we enter SpongeBob’s animated world and begin another story. Fans acquainted with the series will be greeted with familiar elements: the city of Bikini Bottom, fast food chain – the Krusty Krab, his friends: Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks. Arch nemesis Plankton wants to steal Spongebob’s secret recipe for tasty Krabby Patties as per usual. They have a tug of war over the paper containing it and it magically vanishes because uh, because uh, it just does. If you’re asking how or why then you might have an issue with this nonsensical adventure.

All things considered, Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining flight of fancy. I couldn’t follow the story but then again I don’t watch the cartoon. I’m clearly not the target audience. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s just that it’s a really slapdash, haphazard affair. This is one of those films where you must put your brain in neutral and delight in the pure zaniness up on the screen. For example, the absence of delicious Krabby Patties thrusts the town into a post apocalyptic state. The plot includes time travel and meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles. Pharrell Williams contributes 3 songs to the soundtrack including “Squeeze Me” which plays in the background whenever they zip through time. The two worlds, one featuring Burger-Beard the pirate and the other, SpongeBob, ultimately intersect. It spoils nothing to reveal this because the title, the poster and trailer all promise this event. The extended sequence where SpongeBob and his pals take to dry land in the physical reality of real people is indeed enjoyable. I must admit that in the beginning, I was thinking too much for this story. However once I had bought into the craziness, then I was up for anything. That’s when I enjoyed it.



Posted in Comedy, Family on January 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Paddington photo starrating-4stars.jpgA charismatic visitor comes to live with a British family in London and their presence has a positive effect on their world. That’s the story of Paddington Bear, but if you stop and reflect on it, that description could also apply to Mary Poppins. Add the fact that it’s based on a popular series of books and is a live action film incorporating a little animation and the similarities start to get a little uncanny. Ok so it’s not a musical. I suppose the parallels had to end somewhere, but the comparisons couldn’t be more apt because Paddington is a sprightly joy that ranks right up there with the beloved Disney classic of 1964.

Author Michael Bond’s 1958 creation is a sophisticated bear from darkest Peru who speaks perfectly modulated English, eats Marmalade sandwiches and wears a red floppy bush hat. Paddington is the latest from UK based Heyday Films, most notable for producing the Harry Potter series. I don’t know if they want to focus on that kid friendly niche but I’d encourage the idea. They’ve created a most heartwarming children’s adaptation. Paddington is no ordinary bear. He was taught human customs by an explorer named Montgomery Clyde when Clyde was visiting South America. After Paddington’s habitat is destroyed in an earthquake, the young bear is brought by his aunt to a ship bound for London to find a new place to call home. At Paddington station he meets the Brown family and their collaboration begins.

The picture is a charming delight. The art direction is really on point. The Browns live in a gorgeous dollhouse of a dwelling. Mom (Sally Hawkins) & Dad (Hugh Bonneville) with their kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) & Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are an ordinary family in need of some adventure. The bright, cheery comedy remains innocent and doesn’t degenerate into pop culture schtick or cheap innuendo. The production didn’t always seem that way. Paddington Bear starts out with the Browns on kind of a slapstick note when he arrives at their residence and gets ready for bed.  Gags about ear-wax and sticking his head in the toilet after drinking mouthwash were used for the trailer. But they aren’t emblematic of the refined quality of the movie. Although the way the scene ends is funny for its exaggerated spectacle.

Paddington is unabashedly wholesome. That’s not to say the script is schmaltzy. Nicole Kidman pops up as the villain – a beguiling museum taxidermist sporting a blonde bob hairstyle. Her Millicent injects some sinister edge into a story that could’ve been a saccharine tale. An even more fundamental ingredient is our star, an Andean bear. Ben Whishaw is the voice of the CGI fellow replacing Colin Firth, whose voice was deemed too mature. The character, who is the personification of goodness, strikes just the right balance of sweetness and mischief. Paddington’s amusing mishaps often rely on his naiveté. His misadventure involving returning a lost wallet is a humorous case of mistaken identity. It’s too early to anoint this as the best children’s film of 2015, but if this is representative of family entertainment this year, then we’re off to a great start.


Into the Woods

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical on December 27, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Into the Woods photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgA humble baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have longed to have a child. Apparently their neighbor, an ugly old witch (Meryl Streep), placed a curse on his house when the baker’s father was caught stealing from the old hag. The witch is willing to reverse the spell. But only because she wants to be beautiful again. She cannot touch the objects she needs to accomplish this task and so she delegates securing the artifacts to the couple. The witch requires (1) a cow as white as milk, (2) a cape as red as blood, (3) hair as yellow as corn and (4) a slipper as pure as gold. Anyone familiar with fairy tales will recognize these items. Writer James Lapine has interpolated the stories of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) in an altogether new take on traditional fables.

Playwright turned screenwriter James Lapine adapts his Tony Award–winning 1987 Broadway musical highlighting music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. For roughly 75 minutes – 60% of the film – the formula works. The script celebrates classic fairy tales from the likes of The Brothers Grimm with a captivating presentation. The production design is lavish featuring costumes and sets that compare favorably with classic movie musicals. The songs are catchy too. Certainly chief among these is the duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as whiny princes. In “Agony” they lament they cannot be with the women they desire. Pine is typecast as Cinderella’s caddish suitor and he’s enjoyable. “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Who knew Pine could sing? His scene with Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) as they splash amongst the tiny waterfalls of a brook is the musical high point in an opus that has a few. I’ll also include Anna Kendrick’s “On the Steps of the Palace” and Meryl Streep’s “Stay With Me” as well.

Into the Woods is half of a good film. The need to subvert conventional fairy tales exists during the first portion but it does so from a place that uplifts the source material. The take is ironic at times and yet the script still keeps an air of sentimentality that is enticing. Unfortunately the mindset to trash “happily ever after” actually tanks the production in the second half. There is the first artificial ending. It’s optimistic and glorious in a winking way. But then the movie continues on for another 50 minutes and the results are disastrous. As the story carries forward, the wife of the fallen giant is now angry. She terrorizes the countryside looking for the boy (Jack) responsible for the death of her husband. Everything upbeat is subsequently destroyed with little regard for the likable personalities they had originally created. A sample “modern sensibility” is when Prince Charming makes a pass at the Baker’s wife. Ew. It ultimately lumps along to a complete bummer of a conclusion that essentially undoes everything wonderful in the first section. Rarely has a movie gone so quickly from a whimsical delight to a dispirited drag. My advice? Stop watching after the mock ending.  Up until then it’s a really entertaining film.



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