Thursday, December 20, 2018

I'm Dreaming of a Netflix Christmas

It's time for another review of original Netflix Christmas movies!

Our first review will be The Holiday Calendar which stars Kat Graham aka Bonnie (aka the witch) from The Vampire Diaries as Abby a photographer who dreams of one day owning her own studio where she can work on selling her own photos instead of just taking photos for people's passports and Christmas cards which she only does "to pay the bills." Well, that job not only helps her pay those bills, but it helps her afford a super nice apartment! Seriously, for a girl who's moaning about not having enough money to pay the rent for an open space she wants for her own studio, she sure has a beautiful and spacious apartment with some super nice furniture. Though her dad is a lawyer, so I'm sure he's helping her with some funds. Her parents don't approve of her photography passion and want her to find a "real" job. Her dad wants her to work at the law firm like her older sister does. 

In the first minute of the movie we are introduced to Josh. At first I thought he was her brother, but he is introduced as her "oldest friend." They have a very sister/brother relationship, you know, goofing off with each other, but there will be a romantic relationship between them later on which I just don't see because he is always so goofy around her and they act more like siblings than a romantic pair. In fact, I didn't have any reason to suspect that they liked each other that way until Abby starts dating someone and we see Josh get jealous. I guess that's our cue we're supposed to be rooting for those two to end up together at the end. (Spoiler alert: they do). Josh is a successful travel writer and has been all over the world living this wonderful and fabulous life, making some major bank as we will find out later. 

Abby's gramps (played by Ron Cephas Jones aka Randall's biological father on This Is Us) gives her an antique advent calendar (in the shape of a house) that belonged to her (now deceased) grandmother and Gramps tells her Grandma wanted her to have it. I remember having advent calendars when I was little. It was fun to see the little surprise behind the door when you opened it; I remember one year there were little pieces of chocolates behind each door. (I'm pretty sure my mom got my brother and me each our own that year so we wouldn't fight over who got the chocolate piece that day!) When Abby takes it back to her (beautiful and spacious) apartment, she tries to open a few of the doors, but they won't budge, so she just assumes her gramps gave her a piece of junk. That night (which is the first of December), the clock strikes midnight and the calendar glows and the first door pops open to show a small wooden pair of black boots. The rest of the figurines will be more related to Christmas/winter such as a Christmas tree, candy cane, nutcracker, ice skate, snow flake, etc. Though I guess you could argue that black boots are what Santa wears. 

So the point of this calendar is that it is possibly a magic calendar. Each item of the day correlates with something that happened to Abby that day. For instance, the first day with the boots, Abby also receives black leather boots Josh bought for her in Italy. Even though this is before she starts dating the other guy, this is probably the first clue that Josh is into her. A guy does not buy a girl Italian leather boots (which you know cost a couple hundred bucks!) if he is not into her. This is the only instance of the calendar where there seems to be an eerie connection, but honestly, everything else just seems to be pure coincidence. I mean, everything is generic Christmas stuff, so of course you are going to encounter a Christmas tree or candy cane or a snow flake. There is nothing magical or supernatural about this calendar at all as Abby seems to think. (Hmm, I think she spent a little too much time in Mystic Falls!)

The second day the calendar reveals a Christmas tree and that's how she meets Ty (played by Ethan Peck aka Gregory Peck's grandson) who she will eventually start dating. They have a meet cute when she knocks the tree off of his car, then the next day when her advent calendar reveals a nutcracker, she finds out that his second grade daughter is a nutcracker in the school Christmas pageant. This has to be the smallest town ever because when Abby and Ty (Tabby!) go on their first date, who should walk up and see them when they share their first kiss? That's right, Josh. What are the odds of that? We see a montage of Tabby going on all these wonderful and magical dates and of course each one correlates with what little trinket the calendar reveals. When it reveals carolers, they are serenaded by carolers at a restaurant; when it reveals a wreath, Ty gifts Abby with one; and when it reveals a reindeer they go on a horse-drawn carriage ride. Eh, close enough.

Everything seems to be going great until Abby has a date with Ty on the same day that she promised Josh and another friend that she would go see A Christmas Story with them. Now what she should have done is canceled the date with Ty since she made the plans with her friends way in advance. But she assures her friends she'll be able to make the movie since it starts at 3 and the date is in the early afternoon. Ty doesn't tell Abby where they're going and he takes her to a soup kitchen, which seems a little weird for a date, especially a surprise one. While Abby is talking to some of the regulars, she learns from two guys that Ty often brings the women he's dating to show them what an altruistic person he is. Abby is late getting to the movie theater and it's sold out and Ty reassures her that her friends will understand because she was doing something much more important. Abby tells Ty about the calendar and when he mocks her about it, she breaks up with him.

There's a few more mishaps and misunderstandings between Abby and Josh (because they can't get together just yet since we still have half an hour left), but eventually they get together AND Josh pays for the studio she's always wanted since he's done so well as a travel-blogger or whatever he does. Abby also displays her photos and they get lots of attention and her parents tell her they were wrong about not backing her dream. We see Abby and Josh in their new studio one year later hosting a Christmas party (with some terrible hip hop "Christmas" music) and when they tell their guests they have an announcement to make, I'm thinking they're going to announce they're engaged, but nope, all they say is, "Merry Christmas!" Seriously, you're hosting a Christmas party and your big announcement is "Merry Christmas!"? Lame.

Before they end up together, there is some Inception-style flashback Abby has of the calendar and all the little trinkets and everything that had corresponded with it and realizes the fate of the calendar was pointing her in the direction of Josh this entire time. Remember when she thought the Christmas tree she knocked off Ty's car? It was actually her own Christmas tree she was hanging out by with Josh that same day! Or something like that.

So here's a fun little Easter egg (Christmas cookie?): there's one scene where Abby is about to watch something on Netflix (again, shameless promotion) and these are the movies/shows that are on her list: Christmas Inheritance (what a coincidence as you will soon see!), The Kissing Booth (SO terrible!), Set it Up (haven't seen), Glow (still need to see the second season), and Stranger Things (always a good choice). What, no A Christmas Prince of The Princess Switch?

Speaking of Christmas Inheritance, that is exactly what my next review is. It came out last year and it's about a spoiled party girl named Ellen Langford who's the heiress to her dad's gift business. Yes, that's right, a gift business called Home & Hearth. What does a gift company sell? Little trinkets? Kitchen gadgets and appliances? Jewelry? Bath and body supplies? Clothes? All of the above? I mean, literally anything you buy and give to anyone is a gift.

To teach her a lesson about where she came from, her father sends her to the small town of Snow Falls where he's from (she lives and works in NYC) to deliver a box of letters for Santa to his former business partner. She only has $100 with her for a 24 hour trip and can't tell anyone who she is, so she uses the alias Ellie London. Apparently the folks in the small town would know her name, but they wouldn't recognize her. Which is kinda weird if you think about it because you think they would know what the daughter (who appears on social media all the time) of one of the citizens who went on to have great success would look like. As soon as she gets there she doesn't have any cell phone reception, yet there is an Apple store in this really tiny town.

Ellen thought she would only spend a night at the Inn and give the letter to Zeke, her dad's former business partner, but he isn't there and there's a huge snowstorm that keeps her trapped there for a few days so she has to work as a housekeeper to pay for her room. Ellen already has a rich and handsome fiance back home who's a douche, but you know that's not going to last because she meets Jake, the owner of the inn and when they don't get along at first, you know they're going to end up together at the end. (Spoiler alert: they do.) Jake has this (unintentionally) hilarious backstory where whenever he hears "Silent Night" it makes him angry. This is because his ex (who's from NYC so when he finds out Ellie is also from there, he immediately  dislikes her) broke up with him at a restaurant while that song was playing. He must really hate the holidays because you can't escape that song. Can you imagine if Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" was playing? Now that's a Christmas song you can't escape around the holidays!

So Jake thinks Ellie is just a spoiled rich city girl and blah, blah, blah, but he has a change of heart when she shows her compassionate side: letting the homeless man in during a bad winter storm, making Christmas cookies with And McDowell who runs the local bakery, and gathering nice items for the silent auction. This is how I know the small town has an Apple store because she persuades the guy to donate a computer. In the end she proves to herself she can handle the business (which she will inherent) and find the true meaning of Christmas. She breaks up with her douchy finance and ends up with Jake. There's even a cheesy line where he says, "Is this the part where we're supposed to kiss?"

Oh, and Andie MacDowell sings "Silent Night" at the end and it doesn't send Jake into a rage because he's in love now! Thank God for that! 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Elf Discovery

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Peter Dinklage
Released: November 7, 2003
Viewed in theaters: November 8, 2003 and November 28, 2003

I know what you're thinking: How could I have this movie blog for nearly ten years (!!) and have never done a review on Elf, one of the most beloved Christmas movies of our time and a movie I've mentioned on several occasions (especially around this time of the year) as being one of my favorite holiday films? Well, the truth is, I DID write a review for this movie back in 2009, the year I started this blog. But it was a terrible review and only about two paragraphs long. Yeah, my early reviews are pretty terrible. I wouldn't recommend going back and reading them; seriously, don't. So I just deleted that one. But, shhh! Don't tell anyone! It will be our little secret.  So now I'm giving this beloved Christmas classic the review it deserves.

I would be shocked if there's anyone out there who has never seen this movie. It's not just one of the funniest holiday movies I've ever seen, but one of the funniest movies I've seen, period. I'm sure I have seen it well over ten times (possible even more!) and I still laugh at certain scenes even though I know what's coming up. I can pretty much recite the dialogue verbatim and have used many of the lines in my own life. Who haven't we called a "cotton-headed ninny muggins"? And while there are many important things in this world that I SHOULD know, but don't, I can proudly recite the four main food groups of elves: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. Because God knows when you're going to need to know that! (By the way, wouldn't candy canes and candy corns be lumped in with candy? Why do they get their own special group? I kinda get candy canes because they're synonymous with Christmas, but candy corn is more of a Halloween confection. If you really think about it, elves only have one major food group and it is SUGAR! We know Buddy LOVES sugar! I love the scene where he pours syrup all over his spaghetti, then  crumbles a Pop Tart over it.)

It's fun to see the North Pole and Santa's workshop in the beginning of the film. I loved the way they created the North Pole; it's very reminiscent of those classic holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. You could have almost had a spinoff movie just based on that. Not only do you have Bob Newhart as Papa Elf (hmm, I guess The Smurfs don't have a trademark on that!) and Ed Asner as Santa and all the other elves, but you have Leon the snowman, the Arctic puffin, and Mr. Narwhal. The North Pole seems like this wonderful place to visit, however, I don't think it would be such a great place to work! Seems like those elves aren't getting a fair deal; not that I think they really care as they all seem to really love what they do. I love that the head elf tells them that Christmas was a success and that it's time to prepare for next year. It's literally Christmas Day and now they have to get ready for next year. Do they not even get a week off? I suppose when you have to make toys for all the kids in the world, you're going to be pretty busy and won't have any time to rest. Like in The Christmas Chronicles, this also seems to be another Christmas movie where kids only get one present from Santa as we see there's only one toy described next to their names in Santa's naughty/nice book. But to be fair to Santa, if you have to make every single kid in the world several toys, that could take quite a long time as I'm sure making all those kids ONE toy takes plenty of time as it is!

The elves kinda seem to be jerks because they shame Buddy when they learn he's only built 85 Etch-a-Sketches, making him 955 off pace. I remember having an Etch-a-Sketch as a kid. Come to think of it, was it even possible to draw anything but a few squiggles? I love that Buddy draws the Mona Lisa on one later when he's preparing for Santa's visit to the department store ("SANTA! I know him, I know him!"), but there's no way anybody could ever do that, right?? I think the worst part of being an elf would absoluetly have to be testing the Jack in the Boxes. I would be like Buddy, cringing ever time the creepy figurine would pop up and it would be even worse if it popped up later than expected. Jack in the Boxes are the devil's toy!

When Buddy learns he's actually a human and not an elf (took him awhile to figure that out and he only found out because he heard the elves talking about it), he decides to trek to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan) who's on the...DUN DUN DUN....naughty list. I love how immediately after we're told this, we cut to a scene where we see Walter, who works at a publishing company, telling a sweet frail old nun he has to take back the books because they missed the payment and the nun says, "But the children love the books!" They're really showing us this guy is a real a-hole!

Will Ferrell is infectious and has a childlike earnest as Buddy that you can see why he's so likable, but you can also see why people would get impatient with him! A few years after this movie was released, I wrote a Harry Potter fanfic called Hogwarts' Next Top Witch (obviously a parody of America's Next Top Model) and there's a chapter where Harry, Ron, and  Ron's dad go to Harrods and I blatantly stole a lot of things out of Elf  (don't worry; I gave the movie credit) when Buddy goes to Gimbel's: I had Arthur go through the revolving door about four times just like Buddy; I had him eagerly except passion fruit spray, spraying it in his mouth just like Buddy; I had him afraid to go on the escalator, again, just like Buddy; and I had him push all the buttons on the elevator, just like Buddy does when he pushes all the elevator buttons when he's at the Empire State Building. ("It looks like a Christmas tree!)  I told you I blatantly stole a lot of lot of things from Elf while writing that chapter! I visited New York a year and a half after Elf was released and I'm sure I mentioned something about that scene when we went to the Empire State Building. I have a feeling there's no way you could do that as they have people who work there manning the elevators, right? I don't remember for sure, but they must so people can't mess with the buttons. My friend and I once did that at a hotel in Denver (but there was, like maybe ten buttons instead of the 100 or so buttons the ESB probably has.) We also didn't do it while someone was in the elevator with us, but when we saw someone was getting on the elevator as we were exiting, we sure ran as hell!

I love when Buddy first meets Walter dressed in his green elf uniform and yellow tights and Walter tells him, "You look like you came from the North Pole" and Buddy's eyes light up and he replies, "That's EXACTLY where I came from!" Also, when he meets Walter's wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and his son, Michael (Buddy's half-brother) and Emily asks him how long he'll be staying at their house, Buddy replies, "I haven't thought about it, but I was thinking forever." Hehe. That is the worst answer any house guest could ever give you!

Another great scene is when Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) is taking a shower in the Gimbel's restroom (do most department stores have a shower? Maybe it's just for employees) and Buddy is right outside and starts singing along with her. Normally this would be a totally creepy scene, but because it's Buddy and he doesn't know any better, it comes off as completely innocent. While it is cute that he falls for Jovie because she's wearing an elf uniform, it is a little weird that she falls for him since he has the mind of a child. It's like in Big when Elizabeth Perkins falls for a twelve-year-old who looks like a thirty-year-old Tom Hanks. But Jovie is important to the story because it is the mantra Buddy supplies her with, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear" that she uses when she gets all the people to sing Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town so Santa's sleigh can run on Christmas spirit. I'm not ashamed to tell people that I cry during Elf, especially during that scene. That scene gets me every time. EVERY TIME!

And of course another great scene is when a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage plays Miles Finch, a popular and highly-regarded children's author who has agreed to write a book for Walter's publishing company. Of course Walter's worst nightmare comes true when Buddy ends up coming in the room and is excited to see another elf and asks Finch if Santa knows that he's here. Rightly this should make any small person angry, but Miles, as we already saw in a previous scene is very high maintenance and thinks himself to be the greatest children's author since Dr. Seuss. He already has a very high ego so when Buddy calls him an elf, it really irks him and he dares Buddy, "Call me elf one more time!" and when Buddy declares, "He's an angry elf!", Miles runs across the table and kicks him in the chest. I loved that Buddy was certain he was a South Pole elf.

Lots of great scenes and great actors with great Christmas music makes this film a Christmas classic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Netflix Christmas

It's December. You know what that means...Christmas movie reviews! I'll first begin with a couple of Netflix original Christmas movies that were released just this year. It seems like Netflix loves to churn out Christmas movies.

We'll first begin with The Christmas Chronicles which stars Kurt Russell as Santa. It also stars Oliver Hudson and Kimberly Williams-Paisley (mini Nashville reunion!) as the parents of the two kids we follow, Teddy and Kate. When the movie opens we see a montages of Christmases the family has spent together from 2006 to 2017. In the current day, we find out that their fire fighter father is no longer alive and later we will learn the he died saving a family from a fire. Teddy and Kate seemed to be close when they were younger, but have seemed to drift apart. Well, what does Kate expect? Her brother is a teenager...why would he want to hang out with his little sister who is between the ages of seven and eleven years old? (I seriously have no idea how old she is). It is implied that they drifted apart after their father died. Tell me if you think this is weird: they used to call each other nicknames (and will resume calling each other once they inevitably reconcile at the end of the movie (like you didn't know that was going to happen!)) Kate called her brother "Teddy Bear" and Teddy called his sister "Kitty Cat." Is it me or do those sound like nicknames significant others would give each other, not siblings?

Kate is recording a video message for Santa (so that's what the kids are doing these days) and Teddy is about to let her in on a devastating truth, but he doesn't have the heart to disappoint his little sister, so he tells her, "There is no.....chance he's gonna watch your video." Kate wants to hang out with her brother, but he just ignores her and goes to hang with his hooligan friends. Kate follows him and records him helping his friend steal a car. She uses this as blackmail to get her brother to help her with finding out if they can catch Santa in the act. While reviewing some old Christmas footage, she sees a red-sleeved arm reach towards the Christmas tree. She is convinced it was Santa and wants to set up the camcorder, that night, which is Christmas Eve, to record him. She tells Teddy she'll destroy the incriminating tape if he helps her. Yes, that's right, it is Christas Eve and Kate was just recording her video message to Santa. No kid would ever procrastinate when it comes to telling Santa what they want.

Sure enough, they catch Santa and unbeknownst to him, end up in his sleigh. This is actually the first Christmas movie where the dangers of hypothermia and hypoxia are brought up when riding in Santa's sleigh. Of course you're going to get cold if you're several miles up in the sky going really fast. When Santa sees that there's two kids, he loses control of his reindeer and Kate is flung out of the sled and starts falling. Of course, Santa saves her, but you think that would have been the most traumatizing thing that has ever happened to her and she would just want to go home, but no! She wants to help Santa! His sleigh has crashed and he has lost his reindeer. The two kids from Massachusetts find out they're now in Chicago....(wait, why did Santa go from MA to Chicago without giving any presents to all the places in between?)

I did like the look of this Santa. Because he's played by Kurt Russell, he's more of a "cool" Santa (and we'll get this more in a later scene when he sings a blue-sy Christmas song with a bunch of convicts at a jail. Don't ask). He's not your typical "jolly fat Santa." Everything that is usually a snowy white is matted and gray (like his hair and beard and the fur trim on his coat. It looks like he's wearing a reindeer pelt around his neck...which is a bit messed up if you think about it! He also tells the kids he doesn't say "Ho, ho, ho" and that's "fake news." Ha-ha!

Santa tells the kids if he doesn't get his sleigh up and running in half an hour, then half the continent won't get their presents. We learn that it's important for Santa not to miss Christmas because, according to him, all the wars that have ever started were started the years he missed Christmas. WTF? Good job, Santa. So you're the reason for every single war that ever started! He tells them, "People need Christmas to remind themselves of how good they can be." This line and a following scene made me think this movie was going to be different that what it turned out to be. When they enter a restaurant, Santa knows the hostess (because he knows everyone) and that she wanted to be a fashion designer (because he knows what everyone wants), but she never had the money to pay to attend Parsons. I thought this movie was going to go an altruistic path and Santa and the kids were going to grant wishes for people they met along the way. For instance, giving the waitress the tuition money for Parsons. But alas, the movie doesn't go in that direction. Santa needs to fix his sleigh and find his reindeer and bag of toys so Christmas can go on (and so everyone doesn't wake up to World War III in the morning!)

They need a ride into the city (where the reindeer are) and Santa ends up stealing a car (it's okay because the car itself was stolen by someone who's always been on the naughty list). Kate finds and coaxes the reindeer out of hiding and she and Teddy fly them away while Santa is taken to jail for grand theft auto. That's when he sings with the other convicts.

Meanwhile, the siblings have discovered the bag of toys. It looks like a normal bag, but considering it's holding all the toys for all the children in the world, it turns into a Mary Poppins bag that can hold just about anything and everything. Kate crawls into the bag and is able to crawl further and further until she's in this black hole of gifts flying around. I laughed when an actual car is circling around her. This vortex takes her to the North Pole where she meets some interesting elves. They don't look dissimilar to the House Elves from Harry Potter. This movie was produced by Chris Columbus who also directed the first two Potter movies so maybe that was the inspiration. Also, there's a scene where the two kids stop outside a church to hear a choir and I'm pretty sure it's the same church from Home Alone, but we only see the exterior of it.

I need to touch on a minor fashion note for a sec: Kate wears this purple coat with a hood...and also a winter hat with a pom pom. (The winter hat is really cute by the way, it looks like a lot of confetti has been sprinkled on it; I would totally wear that hat). But what is the point of wearing a winter hat when your coat already has a hood attached to it? Seems a little redundant, no?

When Kate is in the North Pole she comes across a huge area filled with drawers upon drawers where Santa has apparently kept every single letter that every single child has ever written him. First of all, even though they only show us the "P" section (for Pierce, the surname of the kids) and even though what we see is pretty impressive, that thing would be MUCH bigger. Also, why does Santa save every single letter from the previous years? I understand why he would keep the letters of the current year, but why is he hanging on to Teddy's letter from, say, 2006? Also, does he keep all the letters from adults and senior citizens who wrote them when they were kids or do those get tossed when they reach a certain age? Does this mean Santa Claus is a hoarder? This is all very confusing.

So Kate convinces the elves to fix the sleigh, Santa is released from jail, and the kids help Santa deliver his presents to the rest of the continent because he's unsure if he will have time to do it himself. As a tearful Kate tells him, "There can't be Christmas without presents!", Santa tells them he'll be able to deliver the gifts twice as fast if he's not carrying his bag (and the movie has already established he's pretty fast when he is carrying his bag) and Kate will be the one to call out the names and addresses and throw the gifts to Santa while Teddy takes the reins, literally. It seems in this world kids only get one gift from Santa which seems pretty bogus to me. Can you imagine if you only got one present from Santa as a kid? Oh, man, I would be so ticked. We see a montage of all the cities they visit and this is the order they go in after they're done with Chicago: St. Louise, New Orleans, Denver, St Paul, Calgary, Anchorage, Honolulu, Vancouver, Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, L.A., and San Francisco. Is it me or do some of these seem out of order? Shouldn't Honolulu be your last stop? Why did he hit Seattle before Boise? I think Santa needs to learn some U.S. geography!

Teddy's letter to Santa was that he wanted to see his dad again and for a moment I was thinking, is the movie really going to go there? Are they going to bring back the kids' dead dad? No, he gets an ornament and when he puts it on the tree he sees a reflection of his dad who tells him he's proud of him. The movie ends with Santa back at the North Pole and he's with Mrs. Claus, who is played by, of course, Goldie Hawn. I should have seen that coming! And that's when I realized that Oliver Hudson is Kurt Russell's stepson. Now where was Kate Hudson's appearance?

This movie was fine, but nothing I would put in my must see movies to watch every holiday season. It's probably going to get lost in the slew of Christmas movies Netflix already has out and no doubt will keep churning every Christmas.

Speaking of the slew of Christmas movies Netflix churns out every year, our next Christmas movie  review will be The Princess Switch which stars a double dose of Vanessa Hudgens. Seriously, whoever pitched this to Netflix must have just finished watching The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan version) because there are too many similarities. Vanessa plays Stacey, a baker from Chicago who finds out that her sous chef and best friend since high school, Kevin, and his daughter, Olivia (also Stacey's god-daughter) have enrolled her in a fancy schmancy world baking competition that takes place in the fictional country of Belgravia which I'm sure is near Genovia and Andovia. Hell, I'm sure they're all the same country! And don't worry, I'll get to A Christmas Prince in a minute. I was listening to a podcast review of this movie and someone called it "Bel-mashed potatoes and gravia" which made me laugh so hard.

We find out that Stacey recently broke up with her boyfriend of three years and just wants to mope around, but when she runs into him on the street (literally like two minute after she leaves the shop) and finds out he's seeing someone new, she changes her mind and decides to go to Belgravia with Kevin and Olivia. There seemed to be some hint that Kevin was into Stacey, but Stacey didn't reciprocate those feelings. As the movie progresses this seems more evident and it's clear that Stacey has put Kevin (who looks and sounds a lot like former POTUS Barack Obama) firmly in the friend zone. Olivia really wants her dad to get together with Stacey and even tells him that she wishes "they were a thing." Kevin tells her that they've been friends since high school and if sparks were going to fly, they'd know by now. To which the little brat replies, and I'm not joking, "You're not trying hard enough." Oh, no you did not, little girl! Stop trying to meddle in your dad's personal relationships.

They should have just called Belgravia "Christmasville" because that's what it is. Everything is decorated for Christmas, there are carolers, a Santa village, an ongoing performance of The Nutcracker, gingerbread making hut, etc. While Stacey is touring the studio where the competition will be filmed and held, she runs into Margaret Delacourt, the Duchess of Montenero (another fictional my computer automatically changed it to "Montenegro" the first time I typed it!)  who is set to marry Prince Edward, the Prince of Belgravia (who is played by the guy who played Gunner on Nashville...seems like everyone on that show is finding their way to Netflix Christmas flicks! Can't wait to see Hayden Pannetierre in the next one!) Oh! Did I mention they look exactly alike? Except that Margaret has shorter hair and some faux British accent going on. (Just like in Lohan-style Parent Trap!) Surprise! She's played by Vanessa Hudgens too!

There is somewhat of a (super lame) explanation of why the girls look so much alike. Margaret's great-grandmother's cousin ended up in the United States and his daughter married someone with the surname DeNofrio which is similar to Stacey's last name, DeNovo. So that would make them, what? Second or third cousins? Even if they were related, they wouldn't look exactly alike. Who has ever heard of identical cousins? At least in The Parent Trap, they're identical twins.

Margaret's only wish it to be a real girl and she wants to switch places with Stacey for two days so she can see what it's like to be "normal". She assures Stacey that Edward won't even be in town and the only thing she'll have to do is have tea with his parents. Stacey agrees to this and the only person who knows about this is Margaret's assistant. However, Olivia quickly figures out Stacey's not really Stacey when she can't do their complicated handshake (another bit taken from The Parent Trap). And also the fact that when Margaret makes breakfast the next morning, she burns everything, something Stacey would never do. She agrees to keep the secret, though.

Guess what? Edwards doesn't go out of town and ends up staying in Belgravia. Ruh-roh! Also, guess what? Stacey falls for Prince Edward and Margaret falls for Kevin. Insert groan here. There's a close call where the two couples almost run into each other at a toy store but the crisis is averted by the kindly man who keeps appearing throughout the film at just the right time and seems to know everything that is going on, almost like he has magical powers. You would think his character is going to have some kind of revelation in the end, but nope.

There's a really stupid scene where Kevin, Olivia, and Margaret-as-Stacey are painting ornaments in Chistmasville and Margaret has painted a heart on hers and claims, "Christmas should be about love." Kevin tells her that he's never seen her so sentimental and she actually has the gall to reply, "Maybe you don't know me that well." Yeah, no s**t. Of course he doesn't know you BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT WHO HE THINKS YOU ARE! And I'm guessing the real Stacey would never draw a heart on an ornament and get all sappy because he does know her. Duh!

Then we have another stupid scene where Stacey-as-Margaret is attending some royal soiree with the Prince and she is invited to play the piano as the Duchess is known for her remarkable piano playing skills. Of course Stacey doesn't know how to play the piano, not even the simple repeated four notes to "Carol of the Bells" when Edward suggests they play that as a duet. She blames it on "stage fright," but gimme me a freaking break! An accomplished pianist would be able to play four simple notes to a well known song. Yet nobody seems to find this very odd.

The best part of the movie (and when I say best, I really mean worst) is when Kevin and Margaret-as-Stacey decide to watch A Christmas Prince because that's Stacey's favorite Christmas movie. What the huh? That movie has only been out a year and it's her freakin' favorite Christmas movie? Seriously? SERIOUSLY? A Christmas Prince? Has this girl never seen Home Alone or Elf or It's a Wonderful Life? Has she never seen ANY Christmas movie if A Christmas Prince is her favorite? No shade to A Christmas Prince, but, c'mon! We even see them turn on the TV and scroll through the Netflix movies. Shameless promotion there, Netflix. However, I think they could have gone with two other options. The first is that they could have promoted the sequel to A Christmas Prince, which I believe was released a week or two after this one. They could have Margaret-as-Stacey say that she loved A Christmas Prince and that she's so excited to see the sequel and they could even show a little clip from the movie. But personally, I think they really missed the mark by not combining the two worlds together and having them exist in the same universe! Hello, Netflix! You could have had Vanessa Hudgens x 2  and her two beaus attend the wedding of whatstheirnames in A Christmas Prince 2 and you could have whatstheirnames attend Duchess Vanessa and Prince Edward's wedding at the end of this movie! I have no doubt that Belgravia and Andovia are right next to each other. There could even be a crossover movie called The Christmas Princess Switch. Obviously I am a genius! Whoever missed this at Netflix really dropped the ball. A missed opportunity in the Netflix universe if there ever was one.

When it is revealed that the girls have been impersonating each other, neither man is upset in the slightest that they've been deceived for the last two days. In fact, Edward proposes to Stacey and they get married at the end of the movie (which is about three minutes away from that point, although in the course of the movie it's the next year.) It is just ridiculous that she agrees to marry someone she's only known for TWO FREAKING DAYS!! I guess she really wanted to be a Princess! I must say, their wedding cake is on point. Even though they don't mention it, I'm sure Stacey made it. Who the hell makes their own wedding cake, especially one that elaborate? Who has time to when they're planning a wedding? And they all lived happily ever after. I especially love how Olivia wanted her dad to get together with Stacey, but is just as content with her dad getting together with Stacey's doppelgänger.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My 12 favorite Disney Renaissance songs

With the recent release of the "live action" Lion King trailer, I was inspired to make a list of my favorite Disney songs from their animated movies. I'm only doing songs from movies that came out during the Disney Renaissance era which are the movies that came out from 1989-1999. I'm doing this for a few reasons:

1) This is the era of Disney I grew up with and I am very familiar with these songs and own most of the soundtracks, so therefore I already had the songs available!

Yeah, that's pretty much the only reason. I do have a few of the older well-known songs but, honestly, they wouldn't even make my top 12 anyway. And the only songs from the 21st century animated Disney movies that I can remember liking are "Let it Go" and a couple from Lilo and Stitch.

It was difficult ranking these (believe me, I did a lot of switching around before I settled on my final list) and I still had to leave out a few that I really like but just didn't make the final cut. So don't get mad if your favorite isn't on here! I'm sure it would have been #13!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Remember My Name

Director: Alan Parker
Cast: Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, Anne Meara
Released: May 16, 1980

Oscar nominations:
Best Editing - lost to Raging Bull
Best Score - Michael Gore (won)
Best Original Song - Michael Gore and Leslie Gore for "Fame" (won)
Best Original Song - Michael Gore and Leslie Gore for "Out Here On My Own"
Best Sound - lost to The Empire Strike Back
Best Adapted Screenplay - Christopher Gore (lost to Bo Goldman for Melvin and Howard)

I wonder what Freddie Prinze Jr. thinks about this movie. Because his dad is sure mentioned often throughout it. I've heard of Fame, but I've never seen it until now. The closest comparison I can come up for it is Center Stage or Camp. This is about the New York City High School for the Performing Arts (a bit of a mouthful for a school name!) that focuses on the arts such as acting, dance, and music for young students. We start with the auditions so presumably it's very prestigious to get in, but don't let that fool you...this is no Julliard. First of all, a lot of the kids who made it weren't that great as it feels like they will take anybody and it seems like this school is way overcrowded, so I don't think they're very exclusive in who they choose! We see a lot of different kids auditioning and literally everyone but one makes it into the damn school! I guess they had to have somebody not make it so we get a scene of what that looks like. 

It doesn't surprise me that this was a TV show in the ' ran for six seasons. I've never seen one second of it so I don't know anything about it, but I assume it was a precursor to Glee with all the singing and dancing. The movie follows a handful of students through all four years of their high school career and even at a little over two hours long, there still seems to be a lot of unanswered questions. There's just too many characters and subplots to squeeze into a 2 plus hour movie. The movie does a good job of showing how gritty New York looked in the late '70s.

Let's meet all the characters we follow, shall we? Most of them intermingle with each other. There's Doris, a meek, shy girl who auditions by singing. She's okay at best, but her mother is crying during her audition, I mean tears are streaming down her face like her daughter is freakin' Adele or something. I know she's her mother, so of course she's going to think her daughter is the next big thing, but my God! Her reactions is ridiculous! When we first meet her, Doris has the worst hairstyle I have ever seen in any movie, ever. Her hair is curly, she has bangs, and she's wearing pigtails. It's like, no, honey, no. All three of those should never be on one person. This movie was filmed in 1979, so of course we're going to see a lot of atrocious hairstyles and clothes. Her hair does get a little better once she starts school. Speaking of people with bad hair, she meets Montgomery (played by Paul McCrane, the only member of the young cast I was familiar with...he would go on to have a pretty good TV career; he played Dr. Romano on ER and Jack Bauer's brother on 24), another acting student, who has this curly red mop on his head that looks good on nobody. Later on in the movie, it gets a little more manageable but I guess they'e trying to tell us the people with bad haircuts are the ones with no friends? Doris meets Montgomery on the steps outside the lunch room and they bond over being the only students not in the lunchroom at the time. Seriously, that lunchroom crowd was ridiculous. This school is obviously overcrowded (as they will literally let anybody in!) and maybe this was before schools divided lunches into groups, but every freaking student at this school eats lunch at the same time (and they only have a half hour!) From Doris's pov, we see how crowded and chaotic the cafeteria is. The musicians are practicing their instruments, the dancers are stretching, the actors are rehearsing, there are students reading or working on homework (how can they even concentrate, I don't know!), but most of them are just talking and horsing around. This is one of about four or five dance/song numbers where a little ditty is sung about the lunch lady and the food she serves. Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds. Doris can't move an inch without bumping into somebody so that's when she goes out in the hall and sees Montgomery on the steps and they become friends. They practice acting exercises with each other and this includes a scene where they're walking down a busy street and Doris is pretending to be blind and is holding a walking stick while Montgomery is assisting her. Someone puts a quarter in a cup she's holding and she offers to buy Montgomery a cup of coffee...with a quarter! Well, we have certainly come a long way since 1980!

Rounding out the acting posse is Ralph Garci who embellishes his resume. He's the jerk of the group and at a stand-up comedy routine (where he is painfully unfunny...and I don't think that was supposed to be intentional!), he claims he is a "professional asshole." I always assumed Fame was a light-hearted song and dance movie, but this movie gets dark. Ralph has a little sister who gets "attacked" by some junkie. Whether that means physically or sexually or what, I don't know, but that was a place where I didn't expect the movie to go. He starts dating Doris and they go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Doris, who has always been shy, is super proud of herself when she goes up front to dance to The Time Warp...where there are about fifteen other people up there dancing too. Not that big of a deal, Doris, excuse me, Dominique. She wants to change her name to Dominique DuPont to sound young.

The acting teacher tells that that 50,000 people call themselves actors, but only 500 make a living at it. He wants his students to think of their most painful memory and give a monologue about it. No, thank you. Montgomery talks about his sexuality and comes out and Ralph talks about when his idol, Freddie Prinze, died. This is about one of four mentions when he's mentioned. Well, at least in 19 years he can see his son star in She's All That! Apparently he went to the school they attend so I guess this is a real school? I should mention this happens before his sister is brutally attacked.

Irene Cara plays Coco, an up and coming dancer/singer. Obviously Irene Cara is probably best known for singing "What a Feeling" from Flashdance which is an amazing song. She also sings the title song from this movie, which, I admit, is catchy, but it is so outdated with all the synthesizers. It also won the Oscar for Best Song over "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton which I think is ridiculous. You never hear "Fame" anymore on the radio, but they'll still play "9 to 5". I think the Academy was on the wrong side of history with that choice. Another song from Fame was also nominated, so I'm surprised they didn't split the votes.

Bruno Martelli, a music student who likes to play around with electronic music (and carries all these bulking machines and amps around all the time...imagine what he could do in the day and age with a Mac!) is the one who created the music and his father, a taxi driver, stops in front of the school and blares the song from the speakers on top of his cab. All the students come out and start dancing and singing....there must be about 200 of these idiots stopping traffic in the middle of the day as they jump up on cars and are just in the way while they get honked at. This scene infuriated me. I absolutely hate when there's any traffic and if a bunch of effing teenagers started streaming out of their school and onto the street and were holding up traffic because they had to dance to a song....I'd be running them over. There is no need to hold up traffic in a busy city. Absolutely ridiculous. This one guy in a truck yells "Move your f*cking parade!" and I was totally on his side.

Coco meets this sleazy guy at a diner who recognizes her as a dancer from some Broadway play and tells her she could go on to better things because she has a "beautiful face and a delicious figure"....eww....He wants to invite her to a screen testing and, seriously, how naive is this girl? Of course he ends up being some amateur porno director and just wants to film her with her top off....which she does, while crying the entire time.

Leroy is a character who originally wasn't auditioning. He was there to help a friend who was...she's literally the only person who doesn't get in and she is pissed when she finds out. I don't blame her, I would be pissed too if everyone else who auditioned got it and they danced just as crappily as I did! My gaydar was pinging hard on Leroy...he was wearing these short shorts and this weird cropped vest and in another scene he's wearing a crop top with his name on it. However, all the women were falling over themselves for him while he was dancing..he was rubbing his crotch, then his butt. Seriously, is that supposed to be a turn on? It's really gross. His audition scene is the only scene Debbie Allen is in. She was much more of a bigger component on the TV show. (Janet Jackson was also on the TV show). Every girl seems to be in love with him and he gets a rich girl named Hilary pregnant and she has to get an abortion. It was obvious they cast the girl as a dancer first because she was a great dancer, but a terrible actress!

Leroy clashes with an English teacher named Mrs. Sherwood played by the late Anne Meara (aka Ben Stiller's mom). She doesn't like him because he brings his "ghetto blaster" (her words!) which are headphones with what looks to be a turn table on his desk. Seriously, these late '70 kids had it ROUGH! And I thought having a discman was a pain in the ass! She tells Leroy that if he can't pass his academic classes, he can't dance. We find out that he can't read...but since he can dance, he can get in! There is one crazy scene where Leroy gets super mad at Mrs. Sherwood, calls her a f**king b*tch, then proceeds to go out in the hall and start breaking all these glass trophy cases...and NOTHING HAPPENS TO HIM! No suspension, no being expelled, nothing. It is absolutely asinine. This school is way too tolerant of their students. Later on, they will come to an understanding, although it will take a few more screaming matches to get there.

Then we have another dancer, Lisa, who is always being chastised by the dance teacher for "not sweating enough" and while she enjoys dancing, isn't ambitious about it enough to make it into a career. The teacher tells her she's not a good fit for the class and while at a subway station, Lisa is about to walk in front of an oncoming train, but at the last minute just kicked her dance clothes on the tracks.

I think I mentioned everybody. As you can see, there are a lot of characters and some get a lot more screen time than others.

The movie ends with the graduation ceremony where we the final song and dance scene.I assume it's the graduation ceremony, but nobody is wearing their robes and caps. I guess there was a re-make of this film in 2009 which I had no idea. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bubble Girl

Everything, Everything
Director: Stella Maghie
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose
Released: May 19, 2017

This is a subpar movie based on a mediocre book. The only reason I was aware of the movie is because I read the book. The only reason I read the book is because I read the author's other book called The Sun is Also a Star which I really liked and that's why I decided to check out her first book. I wouldn't say Everything, Everything blatantly rips off from The Fault in Our Stars, but there are a lot of similarities. They're not just both young adult novels about two teens meeting and falling in love, but in both books the teens have medical issues, it's just one of then who has a health problem in this story while they both had cancer in Fault. 

Maddie (Amandla Stenberg) is an eighteen year old girl who has SCID - severe combined immunodeficiency. If you've ever seen the Bubble Boy episode of Seinfeld then you know what it is, although while Maddie isn't confined to a bubble, she is confined to her house in Southern California (which is really nice since her mother is a doctor). Everything in the house is always kept clean,  the door is air-locked, her nurse is the only person from there outside who is allowed in and she has to wash her hands thorougly before coming into the main part of the house. Despite her mother (Anika Noni Rose) being a doctor, she sure does have a lot of free time to spend with her daughter. True, technically her daughter is her patient, but something tells me she doesn't get paid for taking care of her. They spend a lot of times playing games and watching movies. In her free time, Maddie reads a lot and posts book reviews online. She takes online classes for school. She's into architecture so she builds a lot of intricate models of different buildings. I guess when you're confined to staying indoors, there's only so much you can do. 

Things get more interesting when a new family moves in next door from New York and a romance soon blossoms between Maddie and the boy, Ollie (Nick Robinson). Of courser their bedroom windows face each other and Ollie writes his phone number on the window so they can start texting each other....although they use IM in the book, which is a little surprising since the book came out in 2015. Does anyone remember IM? I used to use it all the time and now I wouldn't even know how to get it on my computer. I will say the movie was clever in how they filmed the text conversations. There are a lot of these sprinkled throughout and instead of just having the literal text come up on the screen so we can read what they're talking about, they have Maddie and Ollie having a dialogue in one of Maddie's models. 

I feel like if most teen guys found out that the girl they had a crush on was confined to living indoors forever and wasn't allowed to touch other people, they would find someone else, but not noble Ollie. He likes Maddie and thinks she's beautiful and he is going to pursue her. There is absolutely no chemistry between the two actors so I never bought they had this great romance. While her mother is at work (finally!), Maddie convinces Carla, her nurse, to let Ollie come over. She tells him as long as they keep a distance between them. Now does Carla stay in the room to supervise the two teens madly in love with each other (and she knows how Maddie feels about him)? No, she gives them their privacy and of course they end up standing only inches apart from each other. They end up kissing the next night when it's Carla's day off of work and Maddie's mom is at work. 

In the book, there is a whole thing about Ollie's father being a drunk and angry all the time because he was fired from his previous job (the reason they moved) and taking it out on Ollie's mother. This is barely glossed over in the movie. When Maddie sees Ollie's dad pushing around Ollie, she runs outside to help him. (Really? What does she think she is going to do?) She's only outside for less than a minute and it's her first time being outside since she was diagnosed with SCID as a toddler. Between that incident and Maddie's mom finding something that Ollie left at the house, she soon finds out that her daughter has had company over and fires Carla and hires a new nurse who is super strict. Not only is Ollie forbidden to step foot in the house again, but Maddie must cut all ties with him and can't even text or speak to him on the phone anymore. 

She decides that she would rather live her life despite all the consequences than not live her life at all and buys two airplane tickets to Hawaii (she applied for a credit card online). She chooses Hawaii because she wants to see the ocean. Uh....she even mentions earlier in the movie that she only lives three hours away from the ocean and has never seen it. Exactly! Why are you wasting your money on plane tickets to Hawaii when you can literally take a day trip to see the ocean? She talks Ollie into going with her and he agrees. Of course he is concerned about the health risks, but she sells him a lie that she's been taking these trial pills and they've been helping her. 

We get the obligatory montage of them in Hawaii doing all the cliche Hawaiian things: going to the beach, cliff diving, dancing at a luau, roasting a pig, eating a pineapple, walking through a volcano - well, maybe not all of those were shown, but we see Maddie having a great time as she experiences being outside for the first time. The next morning after a cringe-worthy sex scene (they didn't even show anything, but it was still super uncomfortable - probably from the lack of passion since it was like platonic friends having sex...ewww), Maddie feels faint and is rushed to the hospital. Her mother is called and rushes to her side.

When we see Maddie wake up, she is back in her bed at home. Not sure how long she was in the hospital, but it was probably for a few days. Maddie knows she must break up with Ollie for good because it's not fair for him to be in a relationship with her. Her mother supports her decision and tells her she's doing the right thing. 

I think now is a good time to go into spoilers, so if you haven't read the book or seen the movie and really care that much, then be warned! SPOILERS AHOY!

Perhaps you've already figured out the little plot twist. To me it was clear that there was nothing wrong with Maddie and she never had SCID. This is the most obvious when she rides on a plane from L.A. to Hawaii and is perfectly fine. Planes are just metal tubes filled with germs...they have to be a literal death trap for someone who really does have SCID. There's also the fact that she spent all that time outside on the beach and she's touching Ollie a lot. True, she does get sick, but her doctor in Hawaii tells her it's because her immune system is underdeveloped from not being exposed to outside elements her entire life. She never had a life-threatening illness. So while I did correctly predict that much, I never in my life suspected that her mother was purposely lying to her daughter for her whole life and keeping her from leaving the house. Maddie realizes this when she ransacks her mom's office looking for any documentation about her illness, but can't find any at all. Maddie's mom confesses that she had a scare with her when she was a baby and while everything was okay, she was convinced that something was wrong with Maddie and she had to protect her from everything, especially after her husband and son were killed in a car accident. (Again, something that is featured more prominently in the book and glossed over in the movie). I don't know if we were suppose to feel any sympathy for the mother (probably not since Maddie didn't seem to), but she is cray-cray! She treated her own daughter as a prisoner, never ever letting her leaver her own home! They never mention the M word, but her mother totally had Munchausen's right? I'm surprised Maddie didn't realize it being a movie buff and all. Surely she's seen The Sixth Sense, right? 

One thing that doesn't make sense is that Carla tells Maddie that she always suspected that something may be up and that she thought that Maddie may have never been sick. (Though to be fair, that might just have happened in the book and not the movie; I really can't remember if we get this scene in the movie). So if that's the case, why didn't she alert the authorities? I suppose she didn't want to step on any toes, but she's a nurse and probably never saw anything really truly wrong with Maddie, so you would think she would want what's best for her and that would probably mean not being cooped up in her house all day, no matter how amazing her house is. 

In the book, we see Maddie's mom going to a therapist and trying to get help, but that doesn't happen in the movie. Instead Maddie flies to New York (where Ollie has moved back to with his sister and mother) and they are reunited. I guess Maddie is going to live with him and his family now? Or are they going to get their own apartment together? Yeah, they don't really tell us what's going to happen to them, just that they're back together and we're supposed to be happy for them. So...good for Maddie, I guess? She isn't sick and she no longer has a relationship with her crazy psychotic mother. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My Pet Raptor

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J.A. Bayonne
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard Howard, James Cromwell, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum

Spoilers ahoy!

I know the new Jurassic World movies get a lot of flack, but I still enjoy them. I think they are much better than Jurassic Park's two awful sequels, but that isn't a very high bar to cross! Look, there are a lot of stupid things in this movie that don't make any sense at all, but we'll cover all of those. As you may remember, in the previous Jurassic World, which only took place three years prior, many people were killed after everything went to hell at the dino theme park. The park is gone, but the dinosaurs still roam the island where there's a volcano that's expected to erupt "at any moment." Hang on one second. Nobody checked with a geologist first to see if opening this park (that was only open three years before the volcano would erupt!) on this island would be a good idea? (Obviously, it was NOT a good idea with or without a volcano!) So even if dinosaurs hadn't gotten loose and killed a bunch of visitors, both people and animals would have died in the inevitable volcano eruption. That's really reassuring.

There's a global debate over what should be done about the dinosaurs. Do they deserve the same recognition as other endangered species? Should they be protected from the volcano or left to die on the island, as Ian Malcom (in a cameo reprised by Jeff Goldblum) suggests because they should have never been cloned in the first place. Of course Ian Malcolm is going to be against the rights of the dinosaurs. He's had two harrowing experiences with them. (Though I don't believe that The Lost World or JPIII are canon in this rebooted Jurassic universe, but correct me if I'm wrong).

Our two heroes from the previous movie, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) go to the island to help an operation get the dinosaurs safely off of it. I understand why Owen is there because he has a relationship with Blue, one of the raptor he raised and trained in the previous movie. By the way, while I remember one raptor (there were four total) being killed in that movie, I don't remember two more also being killed, but apparently Blue is the only living raptor left. (Hmmm, I went back and read my review for that movie and I do mention only one raptor remains alive). It's a good thing Blue was the one who lived because she seems to have the best relationship with Owen. We see training videos of Owen working with the raptors when they were babies and Blue is the only one to show any sign of empathy. When Owen sees what would happen if he was vulnerable the other raptors try to attack him, but Blue tries to comfort him. And, yes, it is very cute. It doesn't make much sense for Claire to go, but ironically she is the one who has to persuade Owen to help her rescue the animals, namely Blue. When did Claire become such a bleeding heart for these animals? She never seemed to care much about them in the first movie; she only cared about the profit they brought in. But in this movie she is all about their rights and saving them. I will say she does seem more soft-hearted towards the herbivores, though!

Hey, that staff looks familiar!
She is recruited by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who is - get this - the partner of John Hammond. Uh...why were we never told this in Jurassic Park? Because they just made him up for this movie, that's why! He and his assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) have a plan to move as many species as they can to another island. However, while Lockwood's intentions are pure, Eli's are not and right when we met him I knew he was going to be a bad guy. In fact, a lot of the predictions I made about this movie came true, that's how transparent it was. He wants Claire and Owen to help him because Owen is the only one who can get Blue. Eli has plans to create a new dinosaur using Blue's DNA and the DNA from the Indominus Rex, which, you may remember, was the genetically created dinosaur from Jurassic World who was the one who started all the havoc and was eventually done in by the T-rex. The movie starts with two guys locating and collecting the remains of the I-Rex underwater. They and the little bubble contraption they're in are swallowed whole by the mosasaur, the huge aquatic dinosaur that makes a great white look like a guppy. When one of the men is trying to communicate with them, telling them he is going to shut the underwater gate, he (obviously) gets no reply. This guy has to be the stupidest person in this movie (although he has some contenders!) because when the other men on the truck are waving and screaming at him, he shouts, "What is going on? I can't hear you!" Uh...what do you THINK is going on? Let's see, you're on an abandoned island where dinosaurs are roaming freely and people are frantically shouting at you and telling you to get on the truck. Seriously, you would have to be a moron to not understand that there is probably a big dinosaur with big teeth somewhere in the area, and sure enough, the T-rex is right behind him. The other men make it to a helicopter and are able to fly away and they send down a rope to the man who manages to climb on it, just barely missing the chomping jaws of the T-rex. As they were flying over the water, I knew right away that the mosasaur was going to jump up and grab him, but I also thought he was also going to take the helicopter down with him, but it manages to fly away. I did re-watch the trailer and that scene is in it, so maybe subconsciously I must have remembered that, but I honestly didn't know it was in the trailer. There is another scene from the trailer that I remember vividly and I'll talk about that when I get there.

What is it with the new Jurassic movies creating new species of dinosaurs? Are the dinosaurs that actually
roamed the earth not scary enough? Do we need something more ferocious than the T-rex? It used to be that the velociraptor used to be the true villains of these movies, at least the first movie. I remember them in TLW, but don't think they were as prevalent and I'm sure they're in the third movie, but I don't remember anything about that movie (which is probably for the best!) But in these new movies, they have decided to make raptors friendly and cuddly pets. Okay, maybe not quite, but they have strangely become dinosaurs we're rooting for. They're still dangerous, but if you're Chris Pratt or a friend of Chris Pratt's, then they will not try to kill you. I guess this is why we need new dinosaurs to be the Big Bad.

This new dinosaur is to be called the Indoraptor and Mills has plans to create it to be trained and used as a weapon for military combat. This was brought up in Jurassic World by that movie's bad guy played by Vincent D'Onofrio and I was thinking to myself, Wait, where is he? before I realized, that duh, he was the bad guy in that movie, so of course he had a vicious death! Let it be known that if you are a bad guy in the Jurassic movies, you will get a horrible, gruesome death, although still not as  horrible and gruesome as the woman who worked for Claire and watched her nephews when they came to visit the park.

A paleo-vet working on her very first patient
Claire and Owen join a team led by a man named Wheatley (Ted Levine). He is a terrible character, pulling the teeth out of sedated dinosaurs to make a necklace and just treating the animals inhumanly all around, so you know he's going to get a horrible death. (Spoiler alert: he does!) There are two new characters who are brought in to help Claire and Owen. They are really there to serve a purpose: when the movie needs them, they show up, when they aren't needed they conveniently find a way to get a rid of them (and no, I don't mean they get eaten by dinosaurs...since they are on the good guy's team, they don't die). They are tech nerd Franklin (Justice Smith) who is there to help them with anything computer related and Zia (Daniella Pineda) is a paleo-veterinarian  who has never seen a dinosaur in her life...huh? She is there to help Blue who gets shot by one of the men who is there to aid in the capture the animal.

The volcano erupts and our heroes manage to make it on a boat that has secured many, but not all of the dinosaurs. (I actually have no idea how many dinosaurs were on the boat and how many were left on the island to perish). There is a really sad scene of a brachiosaurus bellowing and crying as she is being swallowed up by smoke and fire. Wasn't that how Little Foot's mother died in The Land Before Time?  If a baby brachiosaurus had come up to her, I surely would have lost it! (Although, technically, Little Foot and his mother were apatosauruses, which are (I think?) the same thing as a brontosaurus? IDK. It's a good thing I'm not a paleontologist! We do see a mother and baby triceratops which share a very tender Dumbo-esque moment which is very cute.

The boat is sailing back to the California coast where Lockwood's massive mansion is located. This house makes the house in Home Alone look like a shack. It's a residence, museum, and laboratory all combined in one huge building. There's also an underground system of cages where they keep the dinosaurs in. They have come to the building to be auctioned off.

A man named Eversol (Toby Jones) is heading the auction and he has brought a bunch of his wealthy clients from all over the world to the mansion to bid on the dinos. What exactly do they plan to do with these dinosaurs? We do hear that one man wants to buy a baby triceratops for his kid. (And major points to that kid if he names his new pet Cera). What happens when that baby grows up? I suppose a lot of these people are going to exploit these animals and have people pay to see them. We know the theme park in Jurassic World was open for ten years, but I always imagined that not even one percent of the world's population ever got to see it because the tickets had to be astronomical, not to mention the flight to Costa Rica. So there's probably a huge mass of people who have never even seen a dinosaur (like the veterinarian who has specialized in dinosaurs!) I do wonder about the one man who wanted to buy TWO carnivores. There's something shady with him. Also, how do these people plan to take their new pets home? How does the man from Indonesia plan to take his ankylosaurus home? (The one he got for a great deal for only ten million dollars. Seriously, does that seem pretty cheap to you for paying for a dinosaur? I know the ankylosaurus might not be as well known as the T-rex or a stegosaurus, but it was still an extinct creature brought back to life! Even the 21 million that was paid for another dinosaur (was it the allosaurus?) still seems quite low.) I would love to know who would have bidded on the T-rex and what they planned to do with that monstrosity. However, before we get a chance for her to be put up on the bidding block, all hell breaks loose.

As a "special treat", they bring in a prototype of the Indoraptor to show prospective buyers. It is not for sale as it still needs to be tweaked by the geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong). The Indoraptor looks similar to a raptor, but is bigger, as we will later see the two fighting each other. It is supposed to follow human command, which I find laughable because this thing does not look like it's very obedient! All the dinosaurs are brought out in cages and this one is snarling and snapping at the bars. Eversol demonstrates the effects of the new species by pointing a laser at some poor guy sitting in the front row (and he looks a little nervous!) The dinosaur locks on to him and when a trigger sound goes off, that is his signal to attack. I really thought he was somehow going to get out and kill the guy (not to mention everyone else in the vicinity), but that doesn't happen...yet. He does try his darnedest to get out! Even though this is only a prototype and not ready to be put on the market ( I don't think it will ever be ready!), it goes to an Eastern European guy for almost $30 million. I want to know what this guy plans to do with that creature!

This is around the time Owen makes a distraction by unleashing a
stygimoloch, a human-sized
 dinosaur that starts butting into people. Everyone runs out and the Indoraptor is left alone in its cage where Wheatley sees it and decides to sedate it and get one of its teeth for his necklace. In one of the stupidest scenes in the movie, as Wheatley is attempting to pull one of the teeth, we see the dinosaur open its eye, then close it again and almost smile in a cartoony way. It literally made me groan out loud. Why do we need that scene? Of course we know the dinosaur is still awake and is pretending to be out. Of course we know that this character, who has already been established to be a villain is going to get a horrible and gruesome death at the hands (or should I say teeth, haha) of this evil and terrible creature. We don't need the cute hints that this Big Bad is about to strike. It's so dumb. Well, of course Wheatley realizes the dinosaur is not out and gets his arm bitten off before being killed. The Indoraptor gets out of his cage where he kills and attacks Eversol in an elevator. There were about four other people in there as well and I assume they probably got it as well. I feel bad for them because they really didn't do anything wrong...

So now we have this creature (said to be the scariest in the Jurassic franchise...don't they say that with every new creature they create?) loose in the mansion. The only bad guy still alive is Eli and he has smothered Lockwood with a pillow. As with every movie that preceded this one, a child comes into play. This time, it's a young girl named Maisy who is the granddaughter to Lockwood. She spends most of the movie whispering, "Grandpa, Grandpa!" We assume she's the daughter of Lockwood's daughter who was killed in a car accident. But then we soon learn that she is not his granddaughter, but rather a CLONE of his daughter and Hammond cut his ties with him because he thought what he did was "unholy". Yeah, cloning humans...probably not a good idea. I mean, look how it worked out for Michael Keaton in Multiplicity.

Claire and Owen join up with the girl and they all get chased by the Indoraptor around the mansion. Supposedly this thing has a keen sense of smell, but somehow can’t sniff its prey out when they’re all literally right below its nose. I know she’s just a scared little kid, but Maisy does something really stupid that puts her as another contender for the stupidest person in the movie (though, she is a clone, so at least she has that excuse!): she runs away from Claire and Owen (who has a gun) and hides under the covers in her bed. Like that’s really going to help you. Also, her room is easily three times the size of my apartment. The shot of the claws reaching towards her in the bed is the one I remember from the trailer and I remember thinking, How is she going to get out of this one? I knew she was going to be okay because while the kids in Jurassic movies come very close to their demises, they never get killed off. At the very last second, Owen comes in with his gun and shoots the Indoraptor, but it doesn’t seem to affect it and when he runs out of bullets and is about to be cornered, who should come in and save him? Blue, his trusty pet velociraptor. I saw this coming a mile away. The two dinosaurs fight and the Indoraptor ends up falling into a glass ceiling and impaling itself on the horns of a triceratops model. 

Meanwhile, the other animals are dying from a poisonous gas that has been let lose and Claire wants to free them, but doesn't  know if she should, but Maisy steps in since they’re clones like her and they also are alive. Mmm, I don’t know if that was such a good idea, but I did feel bad for the dinos, so I may have done the same thing. We see them all running out of the building and of course Eli gets his comeuppance when he gets eaten by the T-rex. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the T-rex eat anyone: I don’t think she had any human snacks in Jurassic World. It looks like the next movie is going to be about all these dinosaurs running amok on the West Coast and I’m sure plenty havoc is to be had. It also looks like the T-rex made her way to a zoo because she is shown roaring at a lion who roars back at her. Please…that lion would be shaking in its fur! 

Throughout the film I noticed some callbacks to the first movie. When they return to the island and are looking at the brachiosaurus in awe (the first dinosaur that dinosaur vet Zia has ever seen) is very similar to when Alan and Ellie see the brachiosaurus (in fact, it might even be the same one). The scene where they’re running away from the erupting volcanos and all the other dinosaurs join them reminds me of the scene where Grant, Lex, and Tim are running away from the flock of Gallimimus. The scene in this movie is a little more alarming because not only are they trying to not get struck by hot spewing lava rocks, but every type of dinosaurs is running in their direction: not just ostrich-sized ones. It’s really a wonder nobody got trampled on. And the scene that gave m a real flashback to Jurassic Park was when Maisy, who is running away from the Indoraptor, gets into a dumbweighter and is desperately trying to shut the door and manages to pull it down a second before it reaches her. This obviously reminds me of the scene from the original movie when Lex gets into a pantry with the same kind of door and wants the raptor to come to her to get it away form Tim, but she can’t shut the door and it ends up attacking her reflection. 

I did learn some new things from this movie: I learned about dinosaurs I’ve never heard of before like the aforementioned ankylosaurus, and stygimoloch, the baryonyx, and the carnotaurus.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tribal Lines

Dances With Wolves
Director: Kevin Costner
Cast: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A.  Grant
Released: November 21, 1990

Oscar nominations:

Best Picture (won)
Best Director - Kevin Costner (won)
Best Actor - Kevin Costner (lost to Jeremy Irons for Reversal of Fortune)
Best Supporting Actor - Graham Greene (lost to Joe Pesci for Goodfellas)
Best Supporting Actress - Mary McDonnell (lost to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost)
Best Art Direction-Set Direction (lost to Dick Tracy)
Best Cinematography (won)
Best Costume Design (lost to Cyrano de Bergerac)
Best Editing (won)
Best Score - John Barry (won)

This is one of my mom's favorite movies, if not her favorite. I don't know what her favorite movie is currently, but at the time of its release, Dances With Wolves was definitely a favorite of hers. In fact, I made her guess what my next film review would be, telling her it was one of her favorite movies. Dances With Wolves was her second guess, after Legends of the Fall, which I didn't even know was one of her favorite movies!

I think my dad bought the VHS (which was on two tapes since it is a three house movie!) for my brother and me to give our mom for Mother's Day or her birthday. And even though, I swear, she was always watching it (though it may have seemed that way to me because it was so long), I had never seen this movie in full, only bits and pieces. My mom claims she had no idea Kevin Costner directed this movie, though I think she probably just forgot because she did admit it's been awhile since she last saw it. She's seen it several times and, as I told her, it says "Directed by Kevin Costner" right smack dab in the middle of the screen during the opening credits. It's kind of hard to miss!

If you remember (and you probably don't because this was eight years ago!), I posted my thoughts on seven Best Picture upsets and Dances With Wolves was one of them, winning over Goodfellas. Even though I prefer Goodfellas, I don't mind it losing to Dances With Wolves (unlike, say, Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain, just to give an example!) because it does feel like an Oscar-winning movie: it's a sweeping epic that's three hours long. It does have that feel of an Academy-Award winning movie. However, and I expressed this in the video, I think it is ludicrous that Kevin Costner won Best Director for his first movie (he's only directed two other movies besides this one: The Postman, which I've never seen, and Open Range, which I remember liking) while Martin Scorsese, well already an established director by then wouldn't win an Oscar for Best Director for another sixteen years! Sometimes the Academy is really stupid.

One of the main reasons my mom loves this movie is because she loves the Native American culture and thinks she would have liked living in a teepee and being part of that community. I don't know how she would have fared, though, because when we went camping when I was a kid, it was only for a weekend! But we would sleep in teepees and ride horses, so we got a little bit of the experience. Of course we didn't kill any buffalo (although they did serve buffalo burgers at the lodge!); we cooked our hot dogs over a campfire. Not exactly like living like a Native American, but close enough.

Dances With Wolves takes place during the Civil War in 1863 and Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) has badly wounded his leg to the point that it needs to be amputated. He would rather die than lose his foot (I would too; the pain would be less severe!) and tries to commit suicide by riding to the front of enemy lines, but is instead hailed a hero because he is able to distract the enemy (who fail to kill him) and the Union soldiers are able to attack successfully. For his act of bravery, he is given a horse named Cisco and transfer to any station he desires. He chooses Fort Hayes because he wants to see the frontier before it disappears. Before he heads out, he is given medical care and is able to keep his foot. I guess whatever they did to it really worked because it doesn't become a problem again for the rest of the movie. He is then transferred to Fort Sedgewich, which is the furthest outpost. It is located in Colorado before Colorado became a state. I always thought this movie took place in South Dakota (before it became a state), but the majority of it was filmed there. I should note that Fort Sedgewich is very close to the Nebraska border so there being no mountains in the movie is not a problem.

Fort Sedgewich is deserted, but he plans to stay anyway. He keeps a journal and whenever we hear voiceover from Kevin Costner, it's Dunbar reading from his journal. Costner's voiceover in this movie is as good as Demi Moores voiceover in Now and Then, which, is to say, absolutely terrible. He sounds like he's reading from a script (yeah, yeah, I know he's supposed to be reading from a journal, but you know what I mean) and I found it very cringe-worthy. Some actors are very natural doing voiceovers and some...are not.

He has his first encounter with Indians when a few from the Sioux tribe try to steal his horse, but always fail. One of them, who is named Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant) comes all the way up to Dunbar on his horse and announces (in the Sioux language Lakota), "Do you see that I an not afraid of you?" Dunbar decides to pay the Sioux camp a visit to sort everything out which I don't think is the best idea. While they are a peaceful people (unlike the Pawnee who are portrayed as savages, killing and scalping anyone they come across who is not one of their own), they do not trust the white man. On his way to the camp, he comes across a white woman with unruly hair dressed in Native American garb who is bleeding profusely from her wrists. At first I didn't know what was going on, but we later learn that her husband was recently killed so maybe she was trying to kill herself? I was also confused why they cast a white woman (Mary McDonnell) to play a Native American, but she is supposed to be white. We also learn later that her (white) name is Christine and her family was killed by the Pawnee, but she managed to run away and was taken in by the Sioux. Being that she is the only woman in this movie (aside from another (authentic) Native American woman, but she is married), it is pretty obvious there's going to be a romance between her and Dunbar. I'm sure there are other women in the tribe, but we never really see any. They end up getting married. The Sioux believe since they are both white, that's why they ended up together, which is probably true, and probably because she is literally only the single woman in a one thousand mile radius!

Dunbar brings the wounded woman to their camp, but he is told to get the hell out of there. Of course he doesn't understand what they're saying, but he definitely understands the tone and body language of Wind in His Hair. Later, there is a powwow between the main Indians and the Chief, Ten Bears, sends a group including Wind in His Hair and Kicking Bird (played by Graham Greene) - he's the one married to the only other visible woman, to go to the white man and see what he wants. They don't believe him to be dangerous because he hasn't tried to kill any of them and did bring back one of their own. We see a couple scenes of the Indians trying to communicate with Dunbar and while humorous at times (the scene where Dunbar shows them how he makes coffee is amusing), it is also frustrating because of the language
barrier. I must say, for someone who has never spoken Lakota in his life, Dunbar sure learns it pretty fast cuz he is speaking it fluently by the end of the movie. Hell, he's speaking it fluently by the middle of the movie! I'm not sure the movie's timeline, but it can't be more than a year.

To help with the communication, they decide to bring Dunbar to their camp and ask Christine, whose Indian name is Stands With a Fist to help. She is reluctant to speak the white language, unsure if she is able to remember how. She was probably five or six when she was taken in by the Sioux and never used English again after learning Lakota. I also wonder if she remembers that her birth name is Christine. The audience only knows it because we get that flashback scene. We never see her tell Dunbar that she was once called Christine. She is able to communicate with Dunbar, but her English is broken and her language is stilted. It would have to be challenging to be a native English speaker, but yet playing someone who is fluent in another language and English is difficult for them. When John introduces himself, Kicking Bird thinks he said "Dumb Bear" when he said Dunbar, ha!

Stands With a Fist obtained her name as a young girl. There was an older girl who would call her names and beat her, but one day Christine knocked her down by punching her in the chin. She stood with her fist out and asked if there was anyone else who dared to call her a bad name. She probably acquired her Indian name not long after she joined the tribe, but what did they call her before that day? Did she tell them her name was Christine? Also, what did they call Indians before they received their names or were they all born with their given names? There is a young kid named Smiles A Lot. Did he get that name because he was always smiling as a baby? What happens on days when he's not having a good day and not smiling at all? Am I asking really stupid questions? Probably. My Indian name would be something like Spends Too Much Money on Coffee or Irritable Redhead in the Mornings. Yes, I realize those are both about four words too long for an Indian name. If you didn't already know, Dances with Wolves is the Indian name that is given to Dunbar. They have seen him with a (relatively harmless) wolf who comes around to his camp and has received the nickname Two Socks because of his white forepaws. Now I'm sure you're thinking the same thing I am: Why is it Dances with Wolves and not Dances with Wolf when there's only one wolf? (Yes, there is a different wolf at the end, but we never see Dunbar interact with it). Maybe Dances with Wolves just sounds better or maybe if you dance with one wolf, you dance with all of them? Again, am I asking stupid questions?

Dunbar establishes a good rapport with the Sioux tribe. Like I mentioned earlier, he starts to learn Lakota and pretty much becomes a fluent speaker. Buffalo seems to be scarce lately and the Sioux needs to find some before they starve. Now as we all remember from what we learned at Natural History Museum Day Camp (well, this is what I learned when I attended, and by the way, it wasn't called that even though that's exactly what it was), the Indians used every part of the buffalo. Not only were they used for food, but their hides were used to make their clothes and teepees, the bones were made into tools or weapons, and so on. In the middle of the night, they hear a herd of buffalo go roaring past them, but when they go to find them in the morning, the soldiers have gotten there first, leaving a field of dead buffalo, only having taken their hides and their tongue. I understood why they took the hides, but why the tongues? Is that a delicacy? We know it is soldiers who did this because there are wagon wheel tracks. This angers the Sioux immensely because not only are the buffalo all useless to them now, but it is a huge sign of disrespect in their culture. To them, the buffalo is a sacred animal that provides them with many of their necessities. This is just one of the many times Dunbar feels ashamed of his fellow white man. In one of the saddest scenes of the movie, we see a lone baby buffalo bleating pitifully. If you are an animal lover, this movie will break your heart because this movie is not very kind to four-legged creatures! This includes the Pawnee tribe killing their dogs when they attack the Sioux camp and Cisco, Dunbar's beloved horse being shot and killed by the soldiers when Dunbar goes back to Fort Sedgewick to gather some things, only to find it being swarmed with soldiers. They also kill the wolf just to show the audience that these guys are real pricks. I didn't understand why the wolf didn't run away when it was being shot at, because it did take a few attempts before it was actually hit. I don't think Two Socks was very bright!

They don't have to wait too long before another herd of buffalo come their way. This is probably the best scene of the movie, if not the most memorable. There were 3500 buffalo used in the scene, all of them real. The only fake buffalos were the animatronic ones they used for the ones who went down after being killed by either a bow and arrow or a rifle, Dunbar's contribution to the tribe. One buffalo charges after the young Smiles A Lot and Dunbar aims his gun to shoot it, finally getting it to go down just before it reachers the youngster. I read to make the buffalo charge, they had his favorite treat waiting for him. Speaking of treats (uh, maybe), the Indians celebrate by eating the liver (ugh!) of one of the buffalos and they let Dunbar have a bite of it.

After Dunbar aka Dances With Wolves is caught by the soldiers, then freed by the Sioux who ambush the soldiers and kill them, he decides staying with them would be too dangerous because he is now a wanted man, so he leaves with his new wife, Stands With a Fist who goes where he goes. In a callback to the earlier scene when Wind in His Hair announces he is not afraid of Dunbar, he now rides his horse atop a cliff and proclaims, "Dances with Wolves! I am Wind in His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend?" The film ends with a silhoute of a wolf howling.