viernes, 30 de julio de 2010

Review #36: Alice in Wonderland (1951)



Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Starring: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Verna Felton, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna and J.Pat O’Malley

Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske

Released by: RKO Radio Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures

Synopsis: English girl Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) is bored of her life and wishes to be in a world where animals wear clothes, flowers sing and there’s a lot of wonder of discover. Soon her wish is made a reality when she follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole. She discovers that Wonderland is both a marvelous and a terrifying place to be in, where everyone is truly mad.

Review: Unlike the previous classic Disney film I reviewed, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland is a movie that I actually grew up watching. It was one of my favorites as a kid, but as soon as the newer Disney films came out in the 80s and 90s I nearly forgot about it. Years later, as the world entered a sort of Alice craze where everything from new movies to videogames were created based on the Lewis Carroll stories (just recently, Tim Burton directed a new 3D Alice in Wonderland movie, for Disney as well), I re-discovered the film and fell in love with it all over again. But what is perhaps fascinating is how despite Disney’s take on the story being very episodic and lacking genuine drama, the movie is beloved among both movie and Disney fans.

The Alice stories are very painful to adapt simply because they are really random encounters filled with surreal humor and witty dialogue. The original novels lack some emotional strength as well as a clear motivation for the characters to exist in this world. But what it lacks in grounded narrative it makes up in unforgettable characters that both haunt and delight us, hence why despite the hurdles that come in adapting a story as confusing as Alice in Wonderland many people have tried to create their take on it, Disney included. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is brilliant on this regard. It’s true that the plot is just a series of events that are loosely connected by the fact that Alice is discovering them as she is traveling through Wonderland, but again, what wins here is how visually creative these scenes are.

You have the Cheshire Cat, voiced by Sterling Holloway, that at first looks and sounds trusting as he helps Alice out during the first half of the plot, but he completely delights himself in anarchy as he embarrasses the Queen of Hearts and puts Alice’s life in danger. Speaking of the Queen, she is grander than life and magnificently voiced by Verna Felton. But unlike other Disney villains, she strikes a near perfect balance between humor and menace. Her mannerisms, speech and presence are quite hilarious, but cross her and she will have your head due to a dangerously short temper. Again, you will delight in seeing her antics, but realize that she is the kind of person you would never want to be around with.

Alice, voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, is perhaps one of the best Alices presented on film, all because of Walt Disney’s insistence of authentic childhood innocence in his films. She has been criticized for not being the best singer, but in all honesty, it works. Sure, at times her singing sounds a little awkward, but that’s what I expect from a little kid that is trying to express what he or she feels through song. She is stuck in a fantastical universe that doesn’t make sense and will likely kill her, but is still a wonder to behold. The singing might be on the same caliber as Cinderella’s Ilene Woods or even Paige O’Hara’s Belle (Beauty and the Beast), but this is the sort of story that doesn’t need an epic sense of song just to express an emotion. Really, this is Alice in Wonderland we are talking about, not Othello.

One of my favorite characters in the film is the Mad Hatter. I am not alone on this as there are many that love the film just for this character, and there are many reasons why. Ed Wynn, in my humble opinion, may be one of the more underrated comedians yet. A lot has been said about the Marx Bros., Charlie Chaplin and even Jerry Lewis, for example, but little about Ed Wynn. In every movie he is in he manages to steal the show with performances that are very over the top, flamboyant and simply unforgettable. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is no exception. He has so many great lines that it has burned onto our minds. I will dare to try anyone that doesn’t understand what a UN-birthday is, especially one that doesn’t break out into song about it. In many ways, the Mad Hatter captures the hilarity of Wonderland, perhaps more so than the original book, and has quickly gained a fanbase beyond the film.

Going back to the original narrative, Disney’s version has been heavily criticized for not being 100% accurate. In some cases, Disney added certain elements that weren’t in the original story, such as the doorknob as well as the singing flowers. As I just explained, Alice in Wonderland is simply a hard story to adapt into a cohesive narrative. Even Tim Burton tried his best when he turned the story into a “hero reborn” tale in which Alice now must become Wonderland’s savior and defeat the Red Queen in his version of Alice. This route was taken because the emotional connection isn’t there, a problem even Walt Disney pointed out long after the film was completed. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland didn’t exactly set the box office on fire in the same way that Cinderella did a year prior. The most common complain, besides the adaptation issues, is that the movie was too manic for its own good and audiences didn’t quite care for the characters and their world. Many saw it as just a series of crazy jokes that had too little substance as a serious film.

This is something I both agree and disagree on. I understand how the film’s lack of a serious narrative could be a turn off for some filmgoers. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland doesn’t strive in trying to bring us complex characters whose daily situations are portraits of our own reality. It just wants to be wacky, fun and crazy. Those wanting something more out of their movies are of course expected to not like this. But we don’t always go to the movies to be enlightened by the basics of character psychology. We also want to have fun, and this is where the movie really triumphs. There’s a sense of fun and excitement throughout the movie thanks to some creative pacing and wacky characterizations. Disney employed his best animators as well as the greatest voice actors that expressed this sentimentality the best. Even if Walt Disney never thought much of it for the reasons I just mentioned he was in the end creating a masterpiece in fun storytelling.

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland simply dazzles in terms of animation. After Cinderella, Disney would employ s style of animation in which the character design would be split between realistic and cartoony (something that was first used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but would be refined throughout the decades), and Alice in Wonderland may be the best film that displays this animation concept. Alice is the only character in Wonderland that has been realistically designed, while everyone else are cartoonish in design. This is very appropriate, especially if you take into consideration the original Alice in Wonderland illustrations that presented cute Alice interacting with grotesque characters. The color and overall design of the world is fantastic. The setting truly influenced the look and feel of the film, and this is thanks to the talents of Mary Blair, a Disney artist whose unique visions of color and character design made a huge impact on the Disney films from the 1950s. Alice in Wonderland may be the best of her career thanks to a great feeling of whimsy and eye-catching color.

I’ll be frank; in terms of soundtrack, Alice in Wonderland is mainly catchy. In comparison to the other Disney films that came before and after Alice the music lacks the presence that made said films shining examples of music driven stories. This is ironic, considering that out of all the Disney films, Alice in Wonderland has the most songs ever written. Note that many of these are mainly short shanties and rhymes the characters sing whenever they are introduced, and only a handful of songs are full compositions. That’s not to say that the soundtrack is bad, though. “In a world of my own” perfectly conveys Alice’s desire to live in a world she can be happy in. Like I explained earlier, Kathryn Beaumont wasn’t hired as a professional singer, and yet she did her best anyways. The other songs that stand out for me are “Golden Afternoon”, such in many different musical styles by the flowers, “The Un-Birthday Song” by the Mad Hatter and “Painting the roses red” by the playing cards. They are catchy and they best convey the wackiness of the character. In many ways, the soundtrack is a lot like the movie: it doesn’t try to strike an emotional chord with melodies that reflects on the character’s emotions, but it sure is fun to hear them. Not everyone will accept this, but the songs in Alice in Wonderland are still above other musical efforts.

Overall, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland isn’t the best or most loyal adaptation of the story ever created. Such was its critical reception that people have been led to believe that the film is poor in quality. On the contrary, the film is excellent thanks to its bright and colorful settings and truly outrageous characters, and despite its rough beginnings the film has gained a very loyal following that can’t get enough of Alice’s journey through wonderland. I am sure one of them!

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



Review #35: Love Affair (1939)



Love Affair (1939)

Starring: Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer

Directed by: Leo McCarey

Released by: RKO Radio Pictures

Synopsis: Swinging French bachelor and painter Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets an American singer named Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) on a cruise liner sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Soon these two very different people will find that they have one thing in common: their blossoming love for each other.

Review: While I tend to avoid being rant happy in my Filmstrip Memories reviews I must state the following: modern romantic films are in the gutter in terms of storytelling finesse and creativity. Many of them focus on snarky, hateful relationships that lead to an unconvincing happy ending, often lacking the passion needed for this sort of story to work. So it’s a great pleasure to have found out about Love Affair, a romance film that combines all the best elements of a romance story, making it one of the best ever filmed.

A frequent problem most love stories face is that there’s so much that you can do with them. You either tell a very tragic and dramatic love story that takes place in an epic moment in time (Titanic, Gone With The Wind), tell a very social heavy story that deals with the intricacies of common human drama (Love Story) or make it all a joke in which people get confused as to who loves who or that they are too prideful to admit they are in love (The Philadelphia Story). This can lead to a creative rut in which the writers find it difficult to tell a story without running into a few issues, one of them being that every idea has been done, and you either play with the ideals established before, or you try and create a unique spin on it. This is where Love Affair comes in.

Love Affair is a big melting pot of romantic ideals. Michel Marnet, played by Charles Boyer, is the typical charming playboy that quickly wins the heart of any woman that crosses his path, while Terry McKay, performed by Irene Dunne, isn’t so quick to accept him. And yet despite these characters being classic archetypes there is a lot of complexity to them. For all his charm Michel is at heart a romantic that hasn’t been so successful but doesn’t stop him from enjoying life, while Terry isn’t as strong as she lets out to be during the first scenes of the movie, but is far from a needy woman. These characters are very multi-faceted, and the story knows how to use them.

The plot is fairly simple to comprehend. It’s a “love conquers all” story in which the relationship of the main characters is tested throughout the plot. But rather than just go through the phases of the romance it takes its time in showing us how they grow as a couple, starting off as enjoyable acquaintances and ending in an inspiring affair. The performances in the film are very honest and sincere, making the viewer believe in their passion and cheer for them when it all works out. I won’t yield any spoilers, but let’s just say that the ending to this story is considered to be one of the most moving ever shot on film.

That’s not to say that everything is smooth sailing for the characters. As is the norm in these stories a lot of obstacles will come their way. Some of them are rather simple like pride and confusion, others are far more complex like ending a previous relationship in pursue of another one. But what I mean is that it isn’t a web of confusing side stories and characters, a common problem seen in any kind of love story (film, stage play, book, etc.). Regardless of how the story ultimately is, Love Affair remains engaging, whether you are watching a common scene or a scene filled with intense human drama.

But the one thing that surprised me the most about the film is how epic it feels despite being a seemingly simple story. The film starts on a cruise ship that is traveling the Atlantic Ocean. This gives the film the opportunity to show us very beautiful locales that enhances the mood of the film. The French village the characters visit is simply beautiful, and it becomes a very vital plot point. So not only is it beautiful to look at it serves as a gateway into the emotions of the characters. The last half of the film takes places in New York City. As clichéd as this setting may be it certainly is a very fitting way to end the romance.

The film was remade in 1957 as “An Affair to Remember”, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Between the two films there are no major differences in plot. The film is shot in widescreen and in color, and some scenes were slightly altered, but overall there’s no real difference. In fact, the same script was used in this film. In my honest opinion, the acting in that film is not as moving as in this film, but they are indeed rock solid. Which movie is the better one is all a matter of personal preference. Both films still retain the sense of an epic romance story despite the story basking in its simplicity.

Love Affair has quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies as well as romance stories. It proves that a lot can yield from a fairly straightforward story, and that it all lies in how that story is told. In this case, it uses exotic locales as well as the honesty between the two characters to give the audience a romance they will never forget.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



domingo, 25 de julio de 2010

Review #34: E,T, the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)



E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Released by: Universal Studios

Synopsis: A young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) feels lonely, angry and confused after the painful divorce of his parents. In this state of mind he discovers a little alien which he named E.T. Unbeknownst to Elliot and his family, their friendship yields an unforgettable series of adventures that will literary defy gravity and overcome the cruelty of man.

Review: Unlike many of the films I have reviewed at Filmstrip Memories, E.T. is a movie I grew up watching. I simply loved this film as a child, and in my search to find the greatest movies ever made I decided to watch this once more from an adult perspective. Does is still have the magic I remember back in my childhood or has E.T. lost some of its appeal? The answer is a little bit of both.

While E.T. may have been presented as a child’s film, it certainly isn’t exclusive to that demographic. Never does E.T. tones itself down for the sake of its audience, and isn’t afraid to give is a raw look at some of the darkest moments in our lives. When the film starts we realize that not everything is OK at Elliot’s house. He isn’t a happy child and his mother Mary (Dee Wallace) is still heartbroken due to her divorce. It doesn’t help that Elliot doesn’t get along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). On top of this, when we first meet E.T. we see him struggling to escape, being left behind and be chased by secret agents. This is even more aggravated near the end of the movie when the agents do capture E.T. and nearly kill him.

The film had guts in showing us an imperfect reality for the characters, and in turn created a believable universe with identifiable characters and causes. But for all its darkness the film does have a heart of gold. This is presented to us in form of Elliot and E.T’s friendship. More than once the film slows down to give us a look at how this relationship develops, and for me at least these are the best moments in the movie. This is strictly because Spielberg gave us a different look at human/alien relations. Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave us a peaceful and suspenseful look at alien encounters. E.T., however, takes it on a much deeper level.

Elliot treats E.T. like a child would treat an unknown animal. There are no ill intentions in Elliot’s heart, just curiosity and wonder towards the alien creature. The same can be said about E.T. . The film constantly reminds us at E.T. is a scared alien looking to find a way home, and thus when he encounters Elliot for the first time he experiences sheer horror. Thanks to the film’s pacing, though, we get to see that bond evolve from horror to a beautiful friendship.

And this is why E.T. has been as successful as a family film regardless of its very dark story. The movie knows what it means to be a child constantly surprised by the ups and downs of everyday life, and for kids this made for an enjoyable experience that they could easily relate to. It also never forgets to inspire the imagination of its viewer, giving us unforgettable and simply magical scenes like the flying bike ride in front of the full moon.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is also a film filled to the brim with symbolism. For years film experts have discovered that E.T.’s story is similar to that of Jesus Christ, killed by the cruelty of man, but brought back to life by the love of a child. The film’s theatrical posters also make reference to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Finally, the whole story could be seen as the autobiography of Steven Spielberg. Many of the scenes in the movie were inspired by events in the director’s life, such as the scene in which Elliot pretends being sick just so he can stay at home. Most importantly, the friendship between E.T. and Elliot was inspired by an imaginary character Spielberg created when his parents divorced in 1960. These elements add a lot of unseen depth to the film, which has elevated it to masterpiece levels.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, however, is not a perfect film. This is something I discovered while watching the film again recently. The acting, while really good, tends to be melodramatic to the point where it’s manipulative. For example, the first dinner scene with the family in which Elliot reminds his mother about the divorce. The reactions in this are clear, but over the top. The melodrama is increased further by John Williams score. Don’t get me wrong, though. The movie does feature a very beautiful soundtrack that truly does help in telling the story. The problem is that at times Williams goes for a very strong and loud score in scenes that don’t need it, like Elliot’s first search in the forest. It’s not as bad as in other movies, but the odd placement of music makes for some unnecessary drama.

I should note that the version that I saw was the 20th Anniversary Edition. In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film in 2002, Steven Spielberg went back to the film and altered its special effects while including scenes not seen in the original version. The new effects consist of alterations done to E.T.’s facial expressions. Expressions that weren’t possible in 1982 are now possible thanks to the aid of computer animation. One scene included in this version gives us an additional glimpse at Elliot and E.T.’s exploration of everyday life. In my honest opinion, the film already worked fine without these new additions. The CG effects just makes the issues stand out more, and the new scenes do add some more stuffing to the story, but none of it was necessary.

In many ways, E.T. the Extra-Terrestial is a lot like our childhood memories. We often forget about the flaws and issues we experienced, but keep with us the moments that made us grow as human beings. E.T. is a great film that inspires people with its message of love and friendship, ideals that are universal, no matter whom you are, where you come from or even if you are from this galaxy.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



Review #33: Tootsie (1982)



Tootsie (1982)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Terri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durney, Bill Murray, Geena Davis and Sidney Pollack.

Directed by: Sydney Pollack

Released by: Columbia Pictures

Synopsis: Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is a talented actor that simply can’t find a job. In lieu of this predicament, he does the unthinkable… He becomes Dorothy Michaels, a soft spoken actress that quickly dominates the soap opera scene with her strong personality and charisma. But, will people begin to suspect who she really is?

Review: Tootsie has been hailed as one of the greatest comedies of all time. Dustin Hoffman’s inspired performance in drag has won the hearts of critics and film audiences alike, and it’s constantly parodied and referenced in the modern media. To me, though, Tootsie is a tad overrated as a comedy as I feel it’s more of a character study film than a full blown comedy. The idea of Dustin Hoffman in drag may inspire laughs in the same manner as Robin Williams’ “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Billy Wilder’s classic “Some like it Hot”, but Tootsie aspires to be something more than that.

That’s not to say, though, that Tootsie isn’t a great film. Tootsie is a film that works thanks to great performances, especially Dustin Hoffman as both Michael Dorsey the struggling actor and Dorothy Michaels the inspiring actress. He is very believable in both roles, giving us a confident but not cocky portrayal of a man who just wants to get ahead in life, but there are far too many obstacles to overcome. When playing a woman he does a surprisingly convincing job thanks to his mannerisms and vocal tone. Both characters, however, undergo a similar personal transformation. As a man he learns to love and appreciate the affection of a woman while as a woman he learns that it’s not easy being part of the opposite sex due to all the baggage that comes with it (such as sexual harassment in the workplace as well as gender discrimination). It makes for a fascinating character study that’s handled very professionally.

The biggest problem here is that he does too good of a job. At times Dustin Hoffman does such a great job in either role that the supporting characters get overshadowed. Jessica Lange is a decent love interest that is believable as the best friend and the lover. It’s just that she doesn’t stand out very well due to the fact that Dustin Hoffman steals the show in this. Much to my surprise, Bill Murray plays Michael Dorsey’s roommate and best friend. He is not overly comedic, but he doesn’t have to. He provides the right amount of support so that Michael Dorsey as a character can vent his frustrations on him.

Charles Durney as Les fares a little better, mainly because he falls in love with Dorothy without knowing who she really is. His performance is very earnest due to his character being a lonely widow. Once again, this is seriously presented rather than being part of the grand comedy.

The story is very solid, managing to hit the right tones and giving us enjoyable characters. The problem is that at times it takes itself very seriously to the point where it forgets it’s supposed to be a comedy, and this is where my problems with the films begin. We see him undergo through a transformation that makes him realizes that being a woman has its virtues as well as its challenges. Sure, there are a couple of awkward scenes that are ripe for comedy gold picking, many caused by the gender change, but it’s all about character growth than it is about the comedy. This is continued all the way till the end. It makes a very feministic statement about equal rights and love. The comedy could come from the fact that this is all expressed through a man that is disguised as a woman, but once more, Tootsie takes itself very seriously and thus any comedic value is lost.

As an example of what I am talking about, let’s compare this to “Mrs. Doubtfire”. In that film, Robin Williams is also an actor that dresses in drag in order to get what he wants. But rather to look for a job, he is trying to see his kids more often after a painful divorce process separated them. Throughout the movie we see a lot of funny scenes caused by the difficulties of being a believable woman, but it can be very sad and heartwarming when it needs to be, giving us both moments of high drama as well as great comedy. Tootsie could have been a lot like this, but instead it decides to go down a far more serious road, which isn’t a bad decision but when this has been hailed as the greatest comedy ever made you are bound to be disappointed.

Finally, I can’t talk about Tootsie without mentioning the make-up effects that transformed the Oscar winning actor into a believable woman. It’s true that what truly makes the character so convincing is Dustin Hoffman himself, but on a visual standpoint he truly does look like a woman. This is thanks to small details that complete the package, such as using the actor’s unique physique to make him into a middle aged woman, using dresses that cover up most of the most telling parts (like arms and the Adam’s apple). It might be weird to be praising such a technical aspect in a comedy film, but this is very important considering the subject matter and the basic premise.

In spite of its flaws regarding themes, Tootsie does a good job with its story. Never in any way does it feel very preachy but still manages to get the point across. It makes the characters far stronger and memorable, and handles its cross-gender subject with finesse. It is a film worth watching, even if in my honest opinion it is not the greatest comedy ever made.

Rating: 3 and a half filmstrips out of 5



Review #32: A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)



A Miracle in 34th Street (1947)

Starring: Edmun Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Harry Antrim

Directed by: George Seaton

Released by: 20th Century Fox

Synopsis: When the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa Claus shows up drunk, kind Kris Kringle (Edmun Gwenn) volunteers to do the job. He does it so well that Macy’s employee Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) hires him to play Santa at the Macy’s store on 34th Street. But little does anyone suspect that the man may or may not be the real Santa Claus. This turn of events takes everyone to court as they begin to question the old man and wonder if he is being honest or is he stark raving mad.

Review: I confess that as much as I love Christmas movies (even some of the very bad ones like “Jingle All the Way”), Miracle on 34th Street was a movie I completely missed. I had seen the 1994 version with no idea that it was a remake of an older film. And thus, springtime be damned, I decided to watch this movie and fell in love with it. Miracle on 34th Street joins the ranks of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” as one of the best Holiday films ever made. This is all thanks to a very simple but highly enjoyable storyline acted out by some amazing performers.

First and foremost is Edmun Gwenn as Kris Kringle. From the minute you see this man you will believe that he is truly Santa Claus, not because of his looks but because of his mannerisms and actions. Unlike other film Santas, Edmun Gwenn plays the role like a kind, sweet gentleman that earnestly tries to win the affections of others. Never does he become too wacky or over the top. He takes the job seriously but never does he overact it. Such effective is his portrayal that when the rest of the characters begin to question his sanity it is them that end up looking bad in the end. In my honest opinion, such a great performance can’t be topped.

Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker does a great job rooting the plot down to reality. Regardless of her role as the stereotypical hard working woman who is too busy to believe in childish nonsense she is very likable and doesn’t take the role to extremes. Even when she herself begins to wonder about Kris Kringle’s life portrayal allows is so that she can understand the reality of the situation and learn from it. She may have a cold heart at times, but never do you grow to despise her. You understand that above all she is a human, and humans in general have the tendency of questioning the unquestionable.

Then there’s her daughter Susan, played by Natalie Wood. She is a six-year old child who is wise beyond her years. But the beauty of her character is that while she is smart thanks to the teachings of her working mother there is a lot of innocence in her, making her a quickly likable character. Her performance is also quite honest, rarely overacted or extremely rehearsed (a common curse many child actors face). Her relationship with Kris Kringle is vital to the development of the plot, and the film delivers in this regard.

Finally there’s John Payne as Fred Gailey, the attorney that decides to defend Kris Kringle in court. It should be noted that while he does take Kris Kringle’s side, the performance is presented in such as way that Fred Gailey doesn’t quite believe Kris is really Santa Claus, but understands that the man is neither crazy nor violent. This brings a fun little mystery to the film regarding who Kris Kringle really is. Unlike other Christmas movies dealing with the figure of Santa Claus this Santa Claus is underplayed as a magical figure and more as a kind old man that loves the Holiday a little too much, but you still accept it anyway. Both Fred Gailey’s train of thought as well as the film’s conclusion leaves it open so that film viewers can decide by themselves who Kris Kringle really was. And this is all accomplished thanks to both a great performance as well as a very tightly written script.

Heck, the movie even avoids making its antagonists very grand stereotypes (a common occurrence seen in movies such as “It’s A Wonderful Life”). Yes, there are some characters that you’ll quickly grow to hate due to how unfairly they judge Kris Kringle, as well as try to manipulate the court system just so they get the desired sentence. But it’s all played in a believable manner. You will see that these men are confused and don’t know exactly what to do with this predicament. Again, the film firmly establishes that these men are to be despised for their actions against the main characters, but hardly do you feel as if they are stereotypical villains ripped out of other works of fiction.

On the technical side of things, despite the film being fairly simple in terms of story and setting it does a really wonderful job of making it all feel authentic. The movie does take places in a real Macy’s store, and seeing the movie made me nostalgic for all the holiday shopping at the grand stores. The Thanksgiving Day Parade, despite how brief it is, is a delight to see, especially if you are a fan of the parade like myself. Even the staged scenes such as the trial are brilliant in their execution. So despite the lack of fancy cinematography and special effects A Miracle on 34th Street dazzles in its very convincing world.

Believe it or not, the film has very little to no flaws. As I just explained, the characters are excellently written despite being archetypes we have grown to know over the ages, and the plot is very basic to follow but does invite people to question all of the character’s ulterior motives. The only flaw to be said against the film is a minor technicality. The film spends most of its time in places that lack the warmth of the holidays, save for the Macy’s store as well as the Thanksgiving Day Parade. By the time the movie does get to a grand holiday gathering the story is over. But again this is a very minor detailed that hardly ruins the film.

A Miracle on 34th Street is a holiday classic that should never be missed. It might not be as magical as over Christmas themed movies, but what it lacks on typical holiday schmaltz makes it up in fantastically written characters, authentic locales and a story that will make you wonder if there is such a thing as Santa Claus.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



miércoles, 21 de julio de 2010

My Apologies


I want to apologize to all of you my dear readers for not updating the blog in the last few weeks. I experienced a problem with my laptop's charger and it's been taking me forever to get a replacement. The computer I am currently using has limited access (as in I am borrowing someone else's in the meantime, and doesn't have MS Office installed), so I can't make updates.

My sincerest apologies for the slowdown. I promise that as soon as I get my charger (which I hope is sometime this week) I will update this blog and keep it up to date from then on.

Hope you use this opportunity to catch up on the other reviews and features previously posted on the blog while I try to fix everything up on my end.

Thanks for your support and patience!



sábado, 3 de julio de 2010

Review #31: Cinderella (1950)



Cinderella (1950)

Starring: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audrey, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis Van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, Lucille Bliss

Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson

Released by: RKO Pictures

Synopsis: The classic of Cinderella is retold through the magic of classic Disney animation. Cinderell (Ilene Woods) a is truly living the life of cinders, but holds dear the belief that her dreams will come true every time the sun rises each morning. One day, just as her hopes are crushed a fairy godmother appears, setting in motion Cinderella’s much deserved new life.

Review: Disney’s Cinderella was a movie I didn’t watch a lot when I was a kid. I had seen some of the classics like Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland and of course the modern animated classics released in the 1980s and 90s. But with Cinderella, if I watched it twice it was a lot. It wasn’t until the film was released on DVD in 2005 that I finally got around to watching it in its entirety and simply fell in love with it. I am ashamed that as both a film and Disney fan I let this movie go unwatched for so long.

Just where do I begin? Cinderella has so many great qualities that it’s hard for me to pick one. The story of Cinderella is one that had been told long before Walt Disney produced his version. By that time, everyone had known of the story of the girl whose life is changed thanks to a glass slipper. Luckily, Disney had experience adapting classic fairy tales thanks to the success of Snow White and the seven Dwarfs. He knew that a straight telling of the story wouldn’t be enough to entertain an audience that had loved Snow White, so on top of the basic story we have these small but very crucial elements that makes it one of the most definitive versions of the Cinderella story. Scenes like how Cinderella’s mother dress gets ripped off by the Ugly Stepsisters and the exciting conclusion make the film very enjoyable to watch while adding depth and drama to the basic fairy tale.

The characters are also great to watch thanks to inspired casting and wonderful development. Cinderella herself is unbelievably played by Ilene Woods. Now, the character of Cinderella has been criticized for being a passive heroine, giving young girls the false idea that if you wait long enough your dreams will come true. While in technicality Cinderella is a tad passive when compared to the Disney princesses that came after she is far more complex than she lets out to be. She is indeed very warm, calm and trusting, but there is a sarcastic side that shows up on occasion as well as an edge that puts her above the likes of Snow White. This is all accomplished thanks to the talents of her voice actress. She expresses class and sophistication while being true to the essence of the character.

Eleanor Audrey is a fantastic Disney villain as Lady Tremaine. One of the best in Disney’s long canon of antagonists, Lady Tremaine is more than just a cartoony villain. Deep down she is a woman of full hatred and envy towards Cinderella, and knows the right thing to do in order to ruin her dreams. Her presence quickly inspires both fear and hatred because of how effective the film uses the character. The Ugly Stepsisters also receive a great presentation on film, being both mean enough that you love to hate them while being very comical and amusing to watch on screen. The mice and birds that hang out with Cinderella are very cute in the Disney tradition of comical sidekicks. But they add a lot to the narrative despite their status as secondary characters. Not only do they provide the emotional support Cinderella needs in her life they help her to try and accomplish her dreams whenever Lady Tremaine and her daughters prevent it from happening.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cinderella story without a fairy godmother, and this version has one of the best. Voiced by Verna Felton, the role gives her the opportunity to back away a bit from all the broad characters she had voiced before. She is very grandmotherly while being absent minded in a cute way. But she plays a big role in the story, and just because she is presented in a humorous manner her impact is less diminished. It is felt throughout the last half of the film thanks to great staging and presentation of the character.

The rest of the supporting cast, such as The King and Grand Duke, are great as well. Though, I can’t say much about Prince Charming. During Cinderella’s era Disney animators had trouble animating male characters, so while the female and cartoony characters received a lot of attention from animators the Prince would always get the short end of the stick, and Cinderella’s Prince Charming isn’t an exception to the rule. Still, he is in the film long enough that you understand why Cinderella falls in love with her.

The animation is simply awe inspiring. While it’s true that Disney would create livelier, more ambitious films after Cinderella it doesn’t cease to impress me how beautiful this film looks. The warm pinks, the cool blues and the simply magical atmosphere gives the film an aura of a fairy tale book come to life. The character animation is no slouch either. Cinderella herself is very beautiful and convincing as a realistic character thanks to subtle details that give her a lot of character, such as the way she dances while getting ready for her day. Lady Tremaine is also great as a realistically designed character thanks to great animated acting as well as usage of color to dictate mood. Of course, the comic relief characters have the bounce these characters are known for, and are very pleasing to watch. Best of all, they fit very well on top of the gorgeous backgrounds. Snow White may have been the first of its kind and Sleeping Beauty as ambitiously beautiful, but Cinderella is a visual, romantic treat, perhaps the best in Disney’s earlier efforts.

With Cinderella being a romantic story music plays a big role in Disney’s version, and it doesn’t disappoint. Ilene Woods was not only a great actress she was a beautiful singer that added a lot of strength to the film’s soundtrack. The first song we hear, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, is very soothing while containing the film’s message in a manner most magical. Then we hear “Sing Nightingale” which starts as a gag for the Ugly Stepsisters but ends in a beautiful melody thanks to a chorus portrayed on screen as Cinderella’s reflection on bubbles. “The Working Song” is the obligatory comic sidekick song, but rather than just amuse us the song works as an explanation of what Cinderella’s friends think of her while they create her dress. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” is an iconic song for all the right reasons. It’s a fun, light and very catchy way of showing us the iconic “getting ready for the ball” scene. Finally there’s “So This Is Love”, a tune Cinderella sings when she meets Prince Charming at the ball. It’s very slow moving and matches the visuals perfectly. It also wonderfully portrays Cinderella’s feelings of romantic love. While not all of the songs have become popular in Disney’s song catalogue, Cinderella has a very pleasing, magical and soothing set of songs that work very well with the story, characters and visuals.

For the last few years, Cinderella has been under a lot of fire because its female lead. Let’s for a moment forget about the controversies, the feminist discussions and everything else associated to the story and the film. Disney’s Cinderella is simply put a great film. The adaption of the classic fairy tale is one of the best Disney has done thanks to it staying true to the original novel but adding scenes that deepen the emotional impact. It has a lot of humor as well as a romantic heart. The animation is very beautiful and the soundtrack is unforgettable. Disney’s Cinderella is a great achievement in film thanks to passion being a key element in its creation. Once again, I regret missing this film growing up. But like the Prince finding the glass slipper, I am more than glad to have found it.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



This review is dedicated to the loving memory of Ilene Woods, the woman that gave Cinderella her heart and soul. She passed away yesterday at the age of 81, enough to have seen the legacy she has left behind. Rest in Peace.