Hopefully the first of many episodes over the years, the boys discuss some of their favorite Christmas themed episodes of television. The audio jumps a little, but we can all still have a good time, right? Visit literallyanything.net to give it a listen!
I'm okay with calling this a PG movie. I know that G doesn't exist anymore and I usually fly off the handle about how "G" should still be a thing. But the movie is about dead people. I didn't think that the movie was necessarily scary at any point, but my kids who get scared at everything wanted me to hold them for some parts. The spirit animal was a little much, but nothing that most kids wouldn't be able to handle. Yeah, I agree. PG.
DIRECTORS: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
I rushed out to see this with my kids because I heard that Disney was pulling the "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" stuff after people were complaining about it. I liked it. My kids really liked it. Yesterday, my mom calls to tell me that they are going to put the Frozen stuff on ABC. Whoops. Ah well, my kids loved it and I was SuperDad for a little bit. But people also told me that this was the best movie ever. (I teach high school. They are prone to hyperbole. They also occasionally read my reviews, so we'll see how this plays out.) My big thought about Coco? The movie is really really good. I would even go as far as to say that Coco is great. But is it as amazing as people say? Probably not.
Coco succeeds in a couple really good areas. It presses some really impressive buttons and does that well. I've come to expect as much from a Pixar film. Pixar does everything that other animation studios are doing, but somehow does it better. The one thing that Pixar has always crushed, even with their movies I don't like (I'm looking at you, the Cars franchise!) is the visual element. Coco is an extremely gorgeous looking movie. A lot of this comes from the use of color. As a celebration of the Day of the Dead (which I'm not as knowledgeable about as I should be), the color scheme should be bright and vibrant. Pixar captures an idealized version of the color scheme associated for this holiday. Think about Christmas lights and Christmas trees in movies. The mundane is shaded with gray while Christmas-y things tend to have a magical glow. The colors are perfect. Honestly, Coco could be for Dios de los Muertos what every other Christmas movie is for Christmas. (That sentence, folks. *mimics delicious food gesture*) (There's no term for a visual gag.) But adding to the color is the scope that Pixar and the directors gave to the movie. The devil has always been in the details for Pixar movies. Look at the single universe theory that is in Pixar movies to show how much attention they paint to their environments. Coco, outside of the world of Wall-E, might be the largest impressive environment that feels real somehow. The City of the Dead seems like a real world. It might be odd that there is a class struggle in the afterlife, which is kind of a bummer the more I think about it. But that also makes for compelling settings. Seeing the difference between Hector's slum and de la Cruz's massive stadium / home looks gorgeous. Both have been given equal consideration to detail. I kind of want to beat myself up, but all of this is part of the impressive world building that goes into these movies. Seeing clips of de la Cruz's films just shows how much detail goes into these films.
The movie also really hangs on having a great twist. Coco got me really cocky about thinking that I figured out the twist of the movie. But thank you, movie, for being slightly smarter than I am. (I know lots of people figured out the final twist of the movie. I'm proud of you.) I figured out a lot of the twist and rested on my laurels. Then there was a twist that was just staring me in the face that I missed. Geez, good for you movie. It also helps that the twist was not just there just to have it, but it makes the movie have such a better emotional resonance. For the most part, the relationships of the characters (for the most part) is heartwarming. There are some odd choices, but the relationship between Hector, played by Gael García Bernal, and Miguel is pretty fantastic. But there is a bit of a problem that people noticed in Frozen first. I liked this problem in Frozen better, but I have a problem with it in Coco. It is the idea that a character that seems moral the entire story becomes evil to both extend the plot and reinforce the theme. The message of the movie is very pro-music (I'll get to that in a bit), but that would make the movie too easy. (I'm trying to stay spoiler free, so just see the movie to see what I'm talking about.) So a character's backstory had to be intentionally misleading to make the story work. It's very much a Hans in Frozen situation. We know that Anna can't end up with Hans, so he has to hard right turn and have his background misleading. I defended it with Frozen, but I don't like that it is now a trope. Regardless, the resulting bond that comes between Hector and Miguel is pretty fantastic.
The thing that I didn't really get was the music attachment. I love the theme of music being important. I love the arts. The idea of a pro-arts movie for kids is great. But there was a bit more "tell" and not enough "show." I get that Hector loved music and the entire point of him hanging out in the afterlife was so that he could play music for the rest of his life. But the emotional weight doesn't fall on music as much as the movie says it does. Rather, the movie hangs on the family aspect, which is really how the movie started. The movie starts with a history of why the family hates music so much. But the family is very close. They watch out for one another and they are sensitive about music to not upset the matriarch of the family. Admittedly, these scenes are some of my favorite in the movie. In the afterlife, this emotional connection is maintained, if not heightened. Everyone honestly cares for Miguel, but don't want to see him lead the life of a musician. They are wrong, of course, but the message of the movie at the end isn't the importance of music. The movie, at the end, is about the importance of family. Focus on the family is a great theme, but the movie told me something different for the majority of the movie. There is a bit too much of a "cake-and-eat-it-too" situation to the movie. This is a really minor violation, but it also stops the movie from being absolutely great for me. When the movie wants it all, the story kind of suffers. I never really got the notion that music really takes an importance in this world outside of Miguel telling me that music was great. Even Hector's love of music is a really background idea. Again, I'm avoiding spoilers if I can, but Hector's reasoning behind hiding his music is noble. But then why focus on the importance of music if it is just going to be buried in the long run.
I liked it a lot. The kids are probably going to get this movie eventually. I know them. Despite being terrified by everything, they are going to watch part of this movie a billion times. I think there is also terrifying about seeing slightly scary things on a really big screen. Regardless, the movie is pretty great. Go see it, but don't set your expectations irrationally high.
PG! I found a PG! It is the most appropriate MPAA rating I've ever seen. It is entertaining for adults while being live action. I know there were a couple people really fighting for a PG-13 simply because it is live action and it stars Will Ferrell. No! It is a Christmas miracle! PG for all!
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
I have nothing to add to the great discussion. I don't want to write this. I had an insanely busy week, but that busy week just happened to have three movies in it. It sounds like I'm a hypocrite about my time, but it just happened to work out that I watched three movies in a week when I had little time to just relax. I'm not minding, but writing a review for Elf, a movie that everyone's seen, seems like a bit of a burden. To Mr. Favreau and everyone involved in this movie, if the tone feels a little off, realize that you made a fine film and I'm just dragging my heels about writing. While I love writing, the only way to get great at writing is writing when you really don't want to write.
Elf kind of is a special movie. Again, I'm preaching to the choir. Everyone knows this movie. But what makes Elf kind of special is the fact that it is a deep movie disguised as a dumb movie. I know, I just reviewed the final movie in the Apu Trilogy. Yeah, Elf isn't that. But many of the Will Ferrell comedies are entirely carried by Ferrell's charisma. It's why, when many people don't like Will Ferrell, that often means that they can't like anything that he's in. So much of these movies rest on Ferrell to carry the movie. Elf goes beyond that. Elf is a strong premise that is simply amplified by its lead actor. I'm going to go into why Ferrell is the perfect Buddy the Elf, but I want to look at the emotional strength of this movie. The movie plays such tribute to Christmas movies of the past without becoming slavish to those movies. The surreal nature of the opening even has claymation for goodness' sake. The tone of that opening scene wastes no time establishing how far this movie is willing to go in the long run. Considering that the bulk of the movie is set in Hollywood New York (I acknowledge that few films capture the reality of New York, but it gets as close as it can in a Christmas themed movie), it is sensational that the North Pole can be portrayed so well. This might be wrong and I'd love to have a discussion about it, but I don't think any other movie has captured the magic of the North Pole. It's that hint of irony that Favreau paints over the film in the opening sequences. Most, if not all, other movies that have Santa's workshop ask their viewers to suspend a lot of disbelief and act like we're not supposed to see the faults in the production. Favreau, instead, goes to an absolute absurd level of detail and scale that it actually seems magical. He never shoots for reality. This isn't Asgard, but rather a world that follows none of the same rules as settings seen in most movies. There is a joy and mirth infused into those choices, especially when it comes to the color palate. Bob Newhart, sitting in his little rocking chair, quickly develops the movie into what it is meant to be, a loving parody of Christmas movies. The only odd casting in this sequence is Ed Asner, who does a fine job, I suppose. But he also doesn't match the level of commitment. While it is okay that I recognize Newhart, his part doesn't have a mythic element to it. Ed Asner just kind of reminds me of Ed Asner in a Santa suit. But he's fine, I guess.
Ferrell is where the movie really works. I'm about to wax poetic about the talent of Will Ferrell on a blog where I try to watch pretentious Criterion crap, but he really is a smart actor. He commits himself to bits where people draw lines. Ferrell is a physical actor, perhaps a lesser version of a modern day Chaplin. Ferrell doesn't do the choreography of Chaplin, but he shares with Chaplin an understanding of what his body is projecting at every moment. A major joke in Elf is the massive presence that Buddy has, juxtaposed to both the elves of the toy shop and the grumbliness of New York. Ferrell has it in him to seem out of place where ever he goes and he makes that joke work every time. Much of it is carried by the costume itself, but even when Ferrell is dressed in a suit and tie (Is one of the jokes how ridiculous that suit was because I kept questioning how he got that ugly outfit?), he manages to show that he does not belong in this world. Because Ferrell has that spatial awareness, there's never a moment that is wasted. He uses his massive appearance at all times and that's pretty impressive. But that guy is committed to his character. Honest to Pete, I can't think of many people committed to a role on the level that Ferrell does in everything. I saw The Disaster Artist this weekend as well, and Franco did an amazing Tommy Wiseau. But that was based on something. Ferrell created Buddy out of nothing. It could, perhaps, be written as simply unbridled enthusiasm as a character, but Buddy has his own set of rules. Admittedly, much of that had to come from Favreau's script, but I have to believe that Favreau wrote the part of Buddy for Ferrell. I can't see another actor even getting close to the level of commitment that Ferrell gives to Buddy the Elf. The movie works better because of him.
The end gets me a little choked up. I am a big softy when it comes to Christmas stuff. I don't know what it is. Maybe I just really like Christmas. But that ending is extremely touching. What is it with the obsession in believing in Santa? This might be a look at how I'm a broken individual more than anything that has to do with Elf, but I really like something about the power of belief. Elf taps into that pretty nicely, not through the character that is meant to be the antagonist of that, James Caan, but through his son. Okay, that sentence got away from me. James Caan's character is meant to be the character of skepticism. He is as far removed from Buddy the Elf as any character can be. I think that Favreau wanted the story to be experienced from his perspective, but I might fault Caan for being the weakest element of the movie. He's the Scrooge character, but there's nothing really all that sympathetic about it. Thinking of Dickens's character, we have the advantage of looking back in time and seeing the choices that brought Scrooge to be a bad dude. We don't really have the advantage with this one. Rather, Caan is loved by many. I get the vibe that, at one time, Caan's character was this beloved children's book author. But something had to happen to him. That emotional connection isn't really clearly expressed. Rather, Mary Steenburgen and kid genuinely care for this bad dude. We know that he's a bad dude because he's on Santa's naughty list. But it is the characters around him that do the heavy lifting when it comes to the vulnerability that this movie encourages. Part of that is the fact that James Caan might be way too old to be playing the part he is, but also the fact that the kids seem to have the real advantage when it comes to changing their lives. Caan doesn't make a major leap in the story, so much as he is on the right side of neutral. But then again, Favreau may have been toying with that. In the denouement, Buddy doesn't live with his new family. Rather, he returns to the North Pole, happy to have met his family and his new wife. Man, overanalyzing this movie might have ruined part of it for me. What I'm saying is that James Caan isn't very good in this, but the kid saves it, so who cares?
I really like this movie and I keep forgetting how funny it is. I can analyze this movie until the cows come home and it doesn't change the fact that it does its job. It makes me laugh while celebrating holiday spirit. I still giggle when Buddy gets hit by a car. My wife might roll her eyes at me, but that's okay. I love the movie anyway. Also, I don't know it well enough to get bored by it.
Not rated, but this is again a movie about being a bummer as opposed to anything offensive in the movie. Like, you could show it to your kids. But that only leads to kids having existential crises as opposed to leading a life of crime or having potty mouths. This also super assumes that you could get your kids to watch a very slow movie full of subtitles. This isn't a challenge. Just put on Paw Patrol on the garbage TV as you watch the 4K Criterion of a movie that moves at a snail's pace.
DIRECTOR: Satyajit Ray
So the message is to never leave the people you love alone for two minutes? I'm pretty sure that Satyajit Ray is telling us that our loved ones are going to die if I trust them to leave the house for two seconds. SPOILERS: If you've read my other reviews, you know that death and dealing with death is a common motif for this trilogy, so I guess I should explore that a bit more. But Apu might have the worst luck in the world. Everyone he knows and loves dies when they leave the house for five seconds. The world must be a terrible place for this to continually happen to him.
Now that the series is over, I don't know what to think. These movies are absolutely beautiful. It's odd that I'm watching a monochromatic Indian film because I can't help but look at the environment and reflect on how I've seen it portrayed in other films. India is such an interesting setting for film because its simultaneous beauty and its overwhelming poverty. That poverty always is front and center in the Apu movies. I mentioned that Ray wants to bum out his audience because there's nothing that is fundamentally great about Apu's life. It's really The Book of Job set in India. This is what, I suppose, that I want to explore in this review. I'm not even going to read my other reviews in the trilogy because I might be backpeddling a bit. You can do that and post in the comments, but I do want to explore the nature of suffering. The World of Apu (Sorry, it's easier for me to type) is perhaps the most Western in the series in terms of narrative. This movie has a much more concrete beginning, middle, and end as opposed to the previous films. The other films are simply character explorations. The World of Apu also delves pretty deeply into character exploration, but there is at least a little bit of story going on here. With the change in format, I kind of feel compelled to summarize the plot a bit. (I'm aware that only some of my readers have an intimate knowledge of every Criterion entry). Apu has grown up. He is still poor, but he is writing. He drops out of school because he cannot afford to stay when his friend invites him to a wedding. In a crazy random happenstance, the groom gets heat stroke and cannot marry the bride. Apu, being an eligible bachelor, steps in for the groom because the bride would not be able to marry anyone outside of the designated time. (I learned new things, guys!) The middle part of the movie is their relationship and how it goes from being strained to flourishing. Because this movie is part of the Apu trilogy, the bride dies during childbirth while visiting her parents. The final third of the movie is Apu roaming the wilderness, afraid of meeting his child. Kind of a bummer. But that at least is a story!
I don't know what to feel about suffering in these movies. In the first two films, Apu is almost a spectator to his own suffering. He is often too young to understand the full ramifications of these deaths. It is only with the death of his mother in the previous entry that the death becomes personal to him. But that is also an act of selfishness that makes him connected to that death. In this film, Apu's relationship with death is through no fault of his own. He deals with insecurities in a very realistic way and tries to be the best husband he can be. He has abandoned many of those immature habits of his younger self and strives to give his wife all that he can. She dies, like in reality, unexpectedly. With the case of his mother's death, the responsibility to his family is what tears him apart. Rather, this story follows the victim of Apu. I mentioned that I can't help but think of Job. Job does not deserve the misery and Apu has no way to grasp this level of misery. The meandering in the wilderness for years (5? 10?) is not really shown, but it feels like Apu questioning God. The only thing we have insight into is his sadness and the fact that he has abandoned his own life, flinging his precious manuscript away. He has stripped away anything that made him the little boy of the past two films and is almost a husk of his former self. That is where the interesting parallel of his own son comes into play. I don't know if India is exclusively made of suffering, but I get that vibe. His son, whom he doesn't meet until he is five or ten (I'm really bad at understanding this), is rebellious and lives with his grandfather. His grandfather doesn't really seem to love his grandson, but that might be my interpretation based on how brief that sequence is. I do like the idea that the end of the trilogy introduces a child to mirror the rebellious Apu from the first film. That kid also has had a life of tragedy that he can't possibly understand. His mother has never been in his life due to her death and he believes his father to be a strongman from Calcutta. The entry of Apu into his son's life is somewhat heartbreaking because it just shows how not ready Apu is to entering his old role. It takes the husk to begin reanimating to make the story come together.
Again, this is a real bummer of a movie, but like the others in the trilogy, the movie ends with a bit of a silver lining. I have to belief that Ray is an optimist. He knows that terrible things are going to happen (I seem to be backpeddling already!), but that is not a cause for despondency. I suppose, then, that the Apu Trilogy are morality tales. Apu is not a saint. In fact, there are times --realistic times even --that Apu does things that make you want to scream. There are poor choices, but Apu never becomes full on evil. He processes in his own way. Abandoning his son for five years is pretty crappy of him, but that choice comes from a misunderstanding rather than an active avoidance of his son. (Okay, he does actively avoid his son, but there is something oddly innocent about that choice. I'm not saying it is right, but I don't think Apu really gets the logic of his presence.) This child, from Apu's perspective, is imaginary. He even says so. He has never met that child and feels no attachment to him. It is in the arrival of his friend that he even begins to grasp his sin. I find it odd that Ray doesn't let us see too much of Apu's moral crisis. The movie is very slow and there is very little plot. It's weird that we don't see him debating this decision to wander the wilderness. But it kind of works because all of this philosophizing that I'm doing is because I have to speculate based on what little data I have what must have been going through Apu's noggin. I get the vibe that he thinks that his son must be better off without him. I wonder if Apu considers himself a curse on the world around him. Every member of his family dies before their time. Okay, grandma died at a very old age, but he was involved in that death too. What if he is not coming home because he worries, albeit ridiculously, that he will only cause his son t suffer that same fate? Heck, I was wondering it. It felt like Ray was just creating his son make Apu even more miserable. But it was toward the end of the movie and I luckily guessed that Ray isn't that much of a masochist.
The movie is weirdly beautiful in a deeply melancholy way. I can't help but compare Apu to Antoine Doinel. I watched him grow up and become his father. The movies are bummers and I don't know how many times I can watch them, but I am super glad that I have seen them. They seem almost therapeutic for Ray, even though he is only adapting someone else's novels. But that therapy is conveyed in what he does on screen. I don't know if they would help me deal with death, but that's not always what it is about.
The boys are back, looking at their favorite Christmas movies! Are you looking for a happy discussion about Christmas movies? NOPE! It's bleak! Sorry! Regardless, listen to it at literallyanything.net!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.