Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Treat your friends like your enemies and your enemies like your friends"

Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Robin Williams, Joan Cusack, Michael Gambon, Robin Wright, LL Cool J
Released: December 18, 1992

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration (lost to Howards End)
Best Costume Design (lost to Dracula)

I said I would have another holiday movie review for you and I have delivered on my promise. Well, sort of. While Toys begins and ends with a Christmas song called The Closing of the Year (a song that I love, love, love and is probably one of the only good things about the movie!), the rest of it really has nothing to do with Christmas. It's been at least a decade since I've seen it, so please forgive my memory. You would think a movie that came out in December and has TOYS in the title would have something to do with Christmas! So I'm glad I at least gave you a true Christmas movie review with the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Next year I will just have to make it up by doing THREE Christmas movies! 

I really don't know how to describe this movie. It is a flustercluck, for one thing! I feel like I am doing disservice to the late Robin Williams by this being his first movie I reviewed since his passing. I will have to make that up by watching and reviewing one of his better movies in the future. This one is just  weird with plenty of moments where you might go, WTF? 

Williams plays Leslie Zevo and Joan Cusack plays his sister, Alstatia (I'm still not sure how you pronounce that!) Their father, owner of Zevo Toys, a company that manufactures and sells toys, dies and his brother (Michael Gambon) takes it over. Why his brother, a stern, no-nonsense general, is the beneficiary of the toy company and his fun-loving and child-like son is not is because he doesn't think Leslie could be a successful leader. 

Mr. Zevo must have made a fortune selling his cheap toys because his children live in a house that pops out from a story book (and there's even a dollhouse replica in the living room) and they have their own butlers, maids, and Leslie drives a Cadillac. Mr. Zevo even has his own wind-up (life size) ambulance to take him to the hospital for God's sake. I have no idea how he made such a fortune selling such crappy-looking toys, but it apparently worked so well that he was able to afford tons of workers who just sing and dance to a song called "The Happy Worker" (sung by Tori Amos) while they wait for large, colorful machines to spit out toy parts so they can assemble them. He can even afford to pay some guy whose job it is to hold a "Ducks Crossing" sign so people stop to let TOY duckling cross the street, I am not kidding you. The movie never states when it takes place. I was thinking maybe it was the '50s because most of the toys are those plastic wind-up toys of yore, but MTV and video games are also featured so therefore that makes it in the "present" day...or at least in the '80s as I was listening to a podcast (How Did This Get Made?....I highly recommend listening to this one, it's from September 2013) and they mentioned it took Barry Levinson ten years to write it! 

Another way they waste money (but still seem to have overloads of it!) is that they make a lot of joke toys (large attachable ears, fake vomit, hand buzzers, smoking jackets (those are jackets that literally smoke), etc...) and they pay people to research them. There is a really long scene where Leslie and the others are wearing white lab coats while going over different kinds of fake vomit and they are taking it seriously! Now the joke is that while they are discussing vomit, the room they are in is getting smaller because the General needs more room for a project he is working on. I don't understand the appeal of any of the toys that are created at this place. I can't see any kids wanting to play with them. The only visual appeal to the movie is the house they live in and the rolling green hills where they live. (Which I thought was filmed in England, but that was actually filmed in Rosalia, Washington.) 
Levinson must have had his heart set on very particular actors because this family doesn't make any sense at all. The General has a British accent, but everyone else is his family is American. They do sort of address this by him blaming his father for raising him in Britain and that's why he sounds different from everyone else. His (now deceased) wife was a Jane Fonda lookalike and yet they have a son named Patrick who looks like LL Cool J.... I'm guessing he was adopted? And then there's Alstatia who is just an odd character. She eats sandwiches with vitamins or applesauce (ugh!) only between the two slices of bread. Patrick makes a comment that she always looks the same age whenever he sees her. We later find out (spoiler alert!) that Alstatia is a robot that Leslie's dad had built for him because his mother died when he was young and he wanted to make sure Leslie had somebody to take care of him. So many questions! Why did Leslie's father make his son a grown up sister? (Remember, Patrick commented how she never ages, so it wasn't like Mr. Zevo built a robot every year to grow up with Leslie). And why is he selling all these crappy, cheap toys when he can make robots that look like real human beings? Just think how much richer he could have been...and he made a fortune selling crappy toys and paying his employees to pretty much do nothing! 

The General wants to make war toys and video games to train kids for war in the's so weird. And then there's a toy war with the General's toys against the Zevo Toys. It is the stupidest thing! There was a funny line where Leslie says, "Let's fight fire with marshmallows!" because all the General's toys come equipped with guns while you just wind up the Zevo Toys. He does give an amusing speech to his "troop" of toys where he begins with, "Four stores and many Christmases ago..." the speech has some clever dialogue, but it goes on way too long. And another question concerning Alstatia, why didn't they use her in the toy war since she is a freaking robot and can just be rebuilt. I guess since we find this out AFTER the toy war (I cannot believe I just wrote that!) ended, they didn't want to ruin the surprise for the viewer. 

While this movie is called TOYS, it is not for children! Not just because some innocent toys become victim in the toy war, but because Robin Wright plays Leslie's love interest (she was hired by his father the day before he died because he wanted them to get together, which is really creepy if you think about it) and there is a really awkward scene between them where you can't see it, but you  can hear it because the General has his men spying on them and her bra is covering the small robot that is their eyes. And they have one conversation and are pretty much in love the next scene, it is so ridiculous and stupid! 

This entire movie is ridiculous and stupid! The only good thing about it is the "Closing of the Year" song. And that's the only Christmas thing related to it! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Classic Remake

Miracle on 34th Street
Director: Les Mayfield
Cast: Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, Richard Attenborough
Released: November 18, 1994

Last year I reviewed the original Miracle on 34th Street for my holiday movie review. I wanted to review this remake at the same time, but last year, for some reason, this one seemed to be difficult to find. So that is why I am reviewing it this year and I do plan on having another holiday movie in the near future.

In this version, Mara Wilson plays Susan, the young girl who is skeptical about Santa Claus being real. This is because her mother, Dorey (played by Elizabeth Perkins), told her he wasn't. Although she does talk like an adult, I didn't find Wilson's Susan as irritating as Natalie Wood's Susan. The most annoying moment for Susan in this movie is when she tells her mom's boyfriend, Bryan (played by Dylan McDermott), that she's trying to cut back on sugar when he offers her a candy cane. But that's not as bad as original Susan telling Kris Kringle that she refuses to pretend to be an animal because she's a girl and she can't have an imagination! Ugh!

The movie is very similar to the original and starts out with Dorey firing the Santa at the Thanksgiving Day Parade because he is intoxicated and hiring a man who calls himself Kris Kringle (played by Richard Attenborough) who happens to be available and tells him to be "himself." He is so good at the job of portraying Santa that he is hired as their Santa at the department store she works at, Cole's, which is a fictitious department store. Now if you remember, the original was set at Macy's, but apparently Macy's did not want any part in this remake so they didn't get their permission to be used. Ouch. And just like the original, Santa tells parents where they can find toys if they can't find them at Cole's or where they can find toys for cheaper if they are too expensive. The rival store in the original was Gimbel's; the rival store in this one is called Shopper's Express. Shopper's Express, really, writers? Couldn't think of anything more original?

Alison Janney has one scene where she plays a shopper who asks the manager if he knows that his Santa is telling customers to shop at other department stores. She has a very strong Brooklyn accent (I'm guessing...I'm not very good with East Coast accents, but whatever it is, it is very exaggerated. I did find one source saying that her character is from Long Island). I wasn't really aware of her until 1999 when she was in Ten Things I Hate About You and American Beauty, and of course, probably best known for The West Wing when it premiered that year, so it was amusing seeing her in a small role five years before she become really well-known. Speaking of people who were in this movie before they became more known, Jennifer Morrison from the TV series House and Once Upon a Time plays an elf at the Cole's Santa display. She was probably around 14 or 15 at the time and I didn't even recognize her and it wasn't until I was looking through the cast on IMDb that I saw her name and looked up to see who she played.

In my review of the original, I questioned whether or not they had any scenes where there is actual proof that Santa IS actually Santa, but even though he owns a Santa suit, claims his name is Kris Kringle, and gives an explanation of how he can visit every child in one evening, there is no proof that this movie takes place in a universe where Santa Claus really does exist. And tell me, why would he be giving advice to parents on where to find toys for his children when his elves make them, hmmmm?

The bad guys from Shopper's Express team up with the guy who was Cole's original Santa (and apparently this is the only gig he has....I wonder what he does in the off season?) and it is soooo obvious that they are bad guys by the way they talk and look. The ex-Santa harasses Kris and even makes a comment about him liking the kids a little too much. Whoa, family movie remake of a beloved classic Christmas film, did you really just go there? Kris is arrested for assaulting and hurting the man and is sent away in handcuffs. In the absolute worst scene of the movie and probably the worst scene of just about any movie in history, we see a shot of the ex-Santa who opens his eyes, then winks right into the camera to let all the young kids watching know that he is okay and is faking being hurt. OMG it was sooooooooo bad. SO TERRIBLE. I cringed when I saw that. It just catered to all the little kids out there and apparently someone thought they were too stupid to know that it was all just a set up so they had to have the actor wink into the camera. I wouldn't have minded if he just opened his eyes to let them know he was faking being unconscious, but my God that wink was just truly horrible film making. Seriously, if I were reviewing this movie on a podcast, I would tell everyone that this movie loses a star just for that scene. It is that bad. And the movie actually isn't too bad, but that one little scene just ruins it for me. If you're going to break the fourth wall, you need to be more clever about it and this movie wasn't that kind of movie to do that. Just awful.

Kris is released, but he has to pass a sanity test but doesn't since he still firmly states that he is Santa Claus. Bryan plays his lawyer and must prove that Santa Claus does exist and the man he is defending is him for Kris not to be sent away. This movie was good practice (hehe...pun!) for Dylan McDermott since he would play attorney Bobby Donnell in The Practice three years later. Do you think David E. Kelley took Michelle and the kids to see this movie and when he saw Dylan McDermott defending Santa he knew he had to have his next TV show be a courtroom drama and McDermott was going to play one of the lawyers. Totally fanfiction, I know, but it's amusing to think that's the way The Practice came to be.

I thought it was a smart move when Bryan questions the prosecutor's wife because when asked if she has told her children that Santa is real, she says yes and since she is under oath, admits that it was her husband who first told them that he is real and that the Santa their kids visited at Cole's was the real Santa. Let's be honest: the old man can't prove he's Santa. The prosecutor questions a man who has been to the North Pole and he claims he has never seen any sign of Santa Claus living up there and Kris bursts out indignantly, claiming that of course he has never seen anything because his workshops are all invisible. Please. A reindeer is brought into the courtroom. (Where do they find reindeer in New York? Where do they find reindeer in the United States? Aren't they only native to, like, Norway and the North Pole? My parents visited Norway and my mom said she had reindeer at a restaurant they ate at. I was very appalled. And this was when I was 14 and knew Santa wasn't real and I was still appalled!) Anyway, Kris is asked to make the reindeer fly and he laughs and says they only fly Christmas Eve. Oh, how convenient! I'm not buying for one second that this guy is Santa Claus, but good on him for wanting to make Christmas a wondrous, magical time for children. There is a nice little montage where people all over the city display signs of saying they believe which may or may not have gotten me a little teary-eyed. It was scenes like that that made me like the movie.

The judge receives a one-dollar bill from Susan in a Christmas card with the motto "In God We Trust" circled and comes to the conclusion that even though the court can't prove that God is real with any real evidence, they still believe in him and that means people can still believe in Santa even if there is no evidence (or very weak evidence) that he is real. So he is allowed to be a free man and everyone is happy.

As in the original, Susan tells Kris that she wants a family and a house. She gets this when her mother marries Bryan on a whim (I don't understand why they just didn't get engaged, but whatever) and find out the house Dorey plans on using for a catalog has been set up for them to purchase by Kris. Nothing like paying for your own Christmas present, especially when it's a house! Personally, I thought the house was ugly with its ridiculously slanted roof, but it does have a gingerbread house feel to it so I can see why it was chosen for the movie. Inside, was a different story (hey, I made another pun!) as all the rooms were lavishly decorated. We are left with the implication that Dorey is pregnant as Susan has also wished for a baby brother.

And it's been twenty years and we have not yet seen another remake, but I'm sure we will get another.

Monday, December 8, 2014

That Bitch Ain't Right

Gone Girl 
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle
Released: October 3, 2014
Viewed in theaters:  November 6, 2014

Hmmm....better safe than sorry, right? SPOILERS AHOY! 

Back in early 2013, I read the massively popular book (which I first heard about from the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast as Linda Holmes raved about it several times) which I was fortunate to read for free and without having to wait for it at the library because my mom's book club was also on the pop culture bandwagon and read it for their book club so my mom bought the book and I was able to read it after her. I enjoyed the book, but in a way, I wish I hadn't read it because it would have been interesting to see the movie not knowing what happens because there are lots of twists and turns. Nevertheless, knowing full well what happens, I still enjoyed the film very much and thought the adaptation from novel to script was flawless, although it probably helps that the author, Gillian Flynn, also wrote the script. She is a former writer of my favorite entertainment magazine, Entertainment Weekly and not surprisingly they loved both movie and book. But I think that has more to do with that they're both legitimately good and they're not trying to kiss one of their own's ass. Although that would have been awkward if they had hated the story and had to write a negative review.

Nick and Amy Dunne, a couple married for four years are played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Now I'm sure everyone already knows that Reese Witherspoon bought the rights for the movie and was going to play Amy, but David Fincher said he didn't think she was right for the role and cast Pike instead. Although Witherspoon is the much bigger name (I only recognized Pike from that forgettable Tom Cruise movie a couple years ago, Jack Reacher, in which she plays a forgettable character), I think it was a smart decision. I don't know if Witherspoon could have pulled off ice queen as well as Pike does, and I don't think she and Affleck would have complimented each other as well physically since she is so tiny. Also, having two huge stars might have been a little distracting.  

Luckily Amy is anything but an unforgettable character. She is the daughter of wealthy New York parents who made their fortune writing a book series called Amazing Amy which is based after their daughter and the character grows up with her, except that she always seems to be one step ahead of the real Amy. She and Nick were both writers for magazines and moved to Nick's home state, Missouri, when his mother became sick. Amy is unhappy and bored. She finds out Nick has been cheating on her with one of his creative writing college course students. On the day of their fifth wedding aniversary, Nick comes home to find not only that Amy is gone, but that it looks like there has been a struggle in the house and the police find a lot of blood that has been mopped up in the kitchen. Needless to say, Nick becomes suspect #1 in his wife's disappearance. Now if you hadn't read the book, you would have no idea if he was innocent or guilty. There are little clues that seem to indicate that he is guilty such as he is trying to throw the police off a trail that leads to his father's house that a clue Amy left for him (something she did every year for their anniversary) that leads him there. However, the police on the case (played by Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) are keeping a sharp eye on him and find a journal there written by Amy indicating that she is fearful of her husband and afraid that he is going to kill her. It is found in a furnace, partially burned. Nick is painted even more guilty when he is shown smiling at a press conference held for Amy's disappearance (you have to feel bad for the guy; he was told to smile!) and he is ripped apart by Missi Pyle's Nancy Grace-esque TV national news reporter. He becomes harassed by the reporters and can't leave his house with running into them. Even his twin sister, Margo (played by Carrie Coon) questions whether he had anything to do with Amy's disappearance when she finds out he's having an affair.

Affleck hires a New York attorney who is famous for winning difficult cases for his high-profile clients. He is played by Tyler Perry and so I'll just insert my joke about Ben Affleck really needing the Tyler Perry Hidden Immunity Idol that nobody will get unless they watch Survivor.


I'm sure there's very few people who haven't read the book or seen the movie (or both), but I want to cover all my bases! After all that wondering over whether Nick is guilty or not, we go back to the day of the disappearance, only from Amy's POV because she is very much still alive and driving away from her old life and telling the audience that she has set up her husband to take the fall for her "death". Although maybe I shouldn't put that word in quotes since her plan is to eventually commit suicide and have her body found in the river. However, she keeps putting off that little task. She has gained weight and changed her appearance so nobody recognizes her since she is all over the news. Since deciding not to kill herself, her plan changes. She has money, but it will eventually run out...although it runs out much quicker than she anticipates since she is robbed. She seeks help from an ex-boyfriend (played by Neil Patrick Harris) who has a creepy obsession with her and used to stalk her. We find out that Amy has had other interesting conflicts with ex-boyfriends in her past and that she is a master manipulator. In fact, the more we learn about Amy, we find out she is basically a sociopath. In the end, Amy (after killing Doogie Howser who she blames for keeping her captive and was the one who kidnapped her) goes back to Nick and keeps on manipulating him and they continue being a married couple.  This one is sure to get a few nominations come Oscar season.