Glad you could make it. It’s been more than a week, and there are plenty of films to get to, so don’t hold it against me as I start with something we haven’t tackled for awhile in this film critic’s blog. It was interesting that the only real children’s or family film that even hit the cinemas during the holidays and new year was Arlo, The Good Dinosaur. Star Wars: The Force Awakens may have been the big film of this past season, and yes it was certainly a film for the family, but not a kids’ flick.
So to start off the year with a couple of flicks in the family section seems finally appropriate. NOT! The moment that Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip commenced, I was appalled. There was a time when cartoon movies that went to the cinema or even straight to VHS/DVD had a bit of substance. Hell, even Lion King 2-1/2 was palatable. But the crude, CG-animation that involves horrid pop tunes and lacklustre, socio-cultural jokes that no child or adult would find overly humorous is deplorable. Is this the trite shite that studio execs and less-than-mediocre animators expect (y)our children to gravitate to and grow up with? Yes, folks it is! Just say no!
Then came Jem and the Holograms, the famed biggest box office disappointment of 2015 in the US. Panned by some critics and yet quite liked by others, this simple and sincere film was greenlit with the best intentions, given some star treatment for a production of this budget (only $5 million), and came and went out of nowhere at summer’s end last year only to be taken out of North American lines within three weeks and put away for overseas hopes. Let’s hope audiences here give the film another go. Based on the mid-Eighties Hasbro television cartoon of the same name, this big screen adaptation really tries to fuse that ‘adventure, music, fashion and fame,’ like the original intro to the animated series used to claim. The plot in a nutshell is about a teenage singer-songwriter named Jerrica Benton who ends up fronting a band that includes her biological sister and two foster sisters. She wows the record-buying public with the help of her late father's projection system, Synergy, which creates a three-dimensional (and seemingly tactile) alternate identity for her. There are rival issues and nefarious powers that be which, of course, try to ruin Jerrica's success, mostly involving their malevolent manager, Erica, played to perfection by the always creepy-fun Juliette Lewis. I simply do not get what turned off people Stateside about this perfectly tame, touching alterna-family film. It is formulaic from time to time and some plot holes should have been better addressed during the editing process, but do not hesitate to see this flick, especially if you were a fan back in the day and have a pre-teen or teenage child now. You’ll be glad you did. ###
Whilst watching Youth (La Juventud), I finally decided what it is that compels me to really cherish the movies of Paolo Sorrentino. His work has been blessed by the same energy, eye and artistry that made Fellini and Allen such cherished figures in cinematic history. This film is Sorrentino’s second foray on celluloid in the English language and after the intense success of his last film, Oscar-winner La Gran Belleza, it could not have been easy to duplicate the success, and in a way, it is that very fact that lies at the heart of this study on ageing and the identity we have with that versus youth. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are best friends in their eighties on retreat in the Swiss Alps whilst planning the next act of their respective careers. What they’re really doing, and what Sorrentino promotes, is an actual study on the way elderly men reflect on life and their past (mis)deeds. Those deeds also cause the passion, pain, and pleasure felt in the here and now. The evocative nature and stunning camerawork that (again) only an Italian or perhaps a Frenchman/woman with that innate sense of wonder, artistry and respect to beauty could muster left me, at times, absolutely breathless. With an added cast of characters including Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda, there is a stunning frailty and realness to this film that will have you thinking about your own life long after you walk out of the theatre. ####
Finally today, another heavy duty great piece of cinema that I am so happy to report on. Having snagged quite a nice amount of awards, nominations (check out out predictions for this year’s Oscars, as well!) and performance attention, this latest entry into the career of comedic writer/director Adam McKay is truly a stellar one. He is best known for his artistic partnership with Will Ferrell, having made three movies together, as well as, having started the Funny or Die! franchise. So watching this latest film, The Big Short, and seeing how different his new work is in comparison to his material, when he was just one of the guys who helped found the Upright Citizens Brigade, was bloody refreshing and so well done! The film tells the true story of the guys behind the unveiling of the fraudulently-constructed housing market which finally collapsed in the mid-Noughties and sent the rest of the world slowly into the maddening recession from which we are all still trying to stabilise. Focusing on weirdo hedge fund manager Michael Burry, played by the equally eccentric Christian Bale, we see how he got wind of the inevitable and tried to cash in by playing a high stakes game of credit swapping, but the banks bought it hook, line and sinker and he actually cashed in to the tune of nearly 500% profit! Enter in stage left stock trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and manager Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), who get wind of Burry’s actions and intend to replicate them, only to find that rating agencies and credit defaults are quickly leading to a loud implosion within the market. Stage right brings in some young investors aided by retired banker Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt and we then get another third addition to the story. Okay, okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. What does this all mean, Corky? McKay knows that the majority of folks won’t even know what a hedge fund and asset protection really means, so he employs the likes of Margo Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez amongst others to explain to the viewer the aspects of these market games. It is hard not to be astounded and disgusted by the ineptitude of these bankers, lending institutions, attorney firms and housing liars which resulted in the world’s economic brouhaha the last six to seven years. This film works on so many levels, because it does its best to show that not only were we all fooled, but so many of those fooled also aided and abetted this situation we are now in. Menos mal that the film is a dramedy, and a mighty superb one at that! ####
Alright young Padawans, go out there and carpe those diems. See you kids real soon, so y’all come back now, ya hear!?