Monday, June 18, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Fantasy: #7 - Harvey (1950)

Crazy guy with a 6-foot tall invisible rabbit friend. Sound familiar? No I'm not talking about Donnie Darko, which is a fantastic movie by the way, but I think it took a few plot points from Harvey (1950). There are some major differences but the main plot point is pretty much the same except that Donnie Darko is rather morbid, in stark contrast to Harvey.

Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd whose best friend is a 6'3.5" invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood doesn't have a job (it is implied he's inherited some money from his late mother) but he goes down to the bar everyday with Harvey and has a drink or two. He is very friendly, generous, kind, and sociable, he's pretty much the perfect stranger. His sister Veta (Josephine Hull) is stuck in the harshness of reality and rather dismayed at her brother's condition and tries to get him committed to a sanitarium. Hilarity ensues when she is taken in as the crazy one and Elwood continues on his day oblivious and simply content with everything in the world. 

I'm glad you never get to see the character Harvey, I think it would tarnish the film a bit. You do get to see that he looks like but that doesn't really ruin things.

This has now become one of my favourite movies. I can't really describe why exactly, it's just so enjoyable to see a character like Elwood, who is pleasant, agreeable, patient, and generally everything many people in today's society aren't. I'm not sure if it's because I just enjoy older movies but I'd definitely suggest you watch Harvey (1950) for a pick me up. It may be in black and white and a little goofy but unlike the Donnie Darko viewing experience, you actually feel good afterwards. Just my opinion on that one.

Notes: 
- Harvey is described as a Pooka, a creature from Celtic mythology.
- Despite being 6'3 himself, Jimmy Stewart always seems to look up at Harvey throughout the film.
- In the film  Josephine Hull plays Veta Louise Simmons, Elwood's older sister. In fact Hull was 31 years Jimmy Stewart's senior and roughly the same age as his mother.
- Harvey has the ability to stop time, but doesn't seem to use it in the film (except at the end, if you really think about it)
- The story of Harvey was originally a play of the same name which was later written into a screenplay by it's playwright Mary Chase.
- Very recently it has been revived on Broadway with Jim Parsons playing the role of Elwood.



Friday, June 15, 2012

Snow White & the Huntsman vs. Mirror Mirror

This year we have seen the release of two very different takes on the classic story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I'll be comparing the two and tell you which one I liked best, although it won't be hard to tell which.

A lot of people give Kristen Stewart a bad rap for being in the Twilight movies and being a terrible actress. Now she's no Meryl Streep, honestly I might even pick Amanda Seyfried over her, but she isn't nearly as bad as people think. It's mostly just blind following and people jumping on the "I Hate Twilight" bandwagon. I've never seen any of the Twilight films so I couldn't tell you of her performances in those movies but she does a decent job here. 

I very much enjoy the path they took the story on in this version. It is a darker tale and I believe deserves to be treated as such. It is very gritty and looks like it more closely suits what people of the time might have looked like....dirty.

The film itself is visually stunning. The effects and the sets are beautiful and I think they did a great job casting the roles. Yes  Kristen Stewart is pale and has the dark hair to contrast it, but that is exactly what the role of Snow White asks for. Chris Hemsworth does a great job as the Huntsman, cynical and drunk exactly what he should be. Charlize Theron does the Evil Queen justice and is charming in a twisted and malevolent way. My favourite part surprisingly enough was the casting of the dwarves. You may recognize the voices of some of the dwarves because they are some pretty big names. In no particular order: Beith (Ian McShane), Muir (Bob Hoskins), Gort (Ray Winstone), Nion (Nick Frost), Duir (Eddie Marsan), Coll (Toby Jones), Quert (Johnny Harris), Gus (Brian Gleeson). If you haven't seen any of the first five dwarves listed before, you really need to get out more....or I guess stay in.

The action wasn't quite as epic as I had hoped and the ending was kind of weird but overall I enjoyed it a fair bit, I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to watch it again but if it was on TV I wouldn't change the channel.


Unlike the film outlined above, Mirror Mirror is very childish and comedic. There is basically no seriousness involved at all which is a stark contrast to both the original and Snow White and the Huntsman, but it does go well with the Disney version. 

I like Julia Roberts but I can't really get on board with her as the Evil Queen. Really she's not really all that evil, she's vain and insecure and just has the means to kill people. Lily Collins has been described as like Audrey Hepburn but with the eyebrows of Liam Gallagher. I like her, she brings a nice positiveness that Kristen really couldn't have. She's enchanting and fits the Snow White specs perfectly. Armie Hammer plays Prince Alcott and he may be tall and handsome but I just don't like him. After watching The Social Network and his protrayal of the Winklevoss twins, he just kind of irks me. The dwarves are exactly that (hope that's not offensive), there is no camera trickery or CG faking, these guys are actually that short. 

The action is rather pathetic but it's basically a kids movie. So not much else to say about that. The strong point for Mirror Mirror was the costume design. It definitely brought some fun and Alice in Wonderland-esque feel to it.

The ending is just odd. I mean it's formulaic in some regards, they all live happily ever after. Except for the Evil Queen....who dies. Sean Bean appears at the end as Snow White's father, the King. After Snow White and the Prince get married she goes into some Bollywood style number that has some vague semblance to being relevant.

All in all it was mildly entertaining but I would reserve it mainly for children. On the bright side, Sean Bean wasn't killed in the making of this film.

The Decision:
It's pretty clear that in my opinion Snow White and the Huntsman was overall a much better telling of the Snow White tale and had better acting and action. I have to give the costume design to Mirror Mirror but that can only go so far. But to be quite honest out of the Disney version, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror Mirror, do you know what I'd rather watch?

......Die Hard because it's always an appropriate time to watch Die Hard.

Notes:
- In both films the Evil Queen dies, as per the original story, but their fates aren't quite as brutally torturous as the one devised by the Brothers Grimm. In the original story the Queen is punished by being forced to wear burning hot iron shoes and dance until she dies. You have to hand it to them, they really knew how to write an ending.
Lily Collins is in fact the daughter of musician Phil Collins.
- British model Lily Cole has a cameo in  Snow White and the Huntsman as Greta.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Fantasy: #8 - Groundhog Day (1993)

Bill Murray at his finest. He teams up with writer, director, occasional actor, and good friend Harold Ramis. Andie MacDowell is Bill's lovely co-star who is charming and enchanting. 

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a bitter meteorologist and has to go to a small Pennsylvania town to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. When he finishes his report he wants to get back to Pittsburgh as soon as possible but is snowed in and has to stay the night. The next morning he finds himself reliving the same events as the day before, simply because the day is repeating itself. After early concerns of the endless time loop, he has some fun since there are no consequences. However, as the loop continues and from the wisdom of his news producer Rita (MacDowell), he begins to soften and starts to help people and better himself. After a great evening with Rita, he wakes to find that tomorrow has finally come and he has become a changed man.

Wouldn't it be awesome to have a day repeat, so that you could perfect the day's events? As appealing as that sounds in certain cases, it would take the fun out of the surprises that life throws at us. They aren't always good surprises but we learn and grow from them. Bill seems to get a kick out of the whole infinite loop thing though so it's endlessly entertaining.

Groundhog Day (1993) is pretty cheesy with the goodness and morality that comes from it but it provides a lot of humour along the way, thanks to Ramis and Murray. You can't go wrong with #8 on AFI's Top 10 Fantasy list.

Notes: 
- Andie MacDowell has some great genes. Have you seen her daughters? Simply stunning.
- Chris Elliot plays Larry, Phil's cameraman, and he is a great supporting actor. He's never really had much in the lead role department though. You can see him as Lily's father Mickey, a recurring role on How I Met Your Mother.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Fantasy: #9 - The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

This is the kind of film I always wanted to see more of but had never gotten around to.

Described as the Prince of Thieves, Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks) has his way stealing at will from the townspeople around Bagdad. One day when trying to steal from the palace, he falls in love with the Princess (Julanne Johnston) and decides that she is the true treasure. Impersonating a prince he wins he heart and her hand in marriage but decides to confess to her his real identity. Despite this revelation she still loves him and he is a changed man, but is caught by the palace guards. She saves him and gains time so she won't have to marry any of the other repulsive suitors. He goes on a perilous quest in order to obtain the rarest of treasures to win the hand of the princess.

It seems that Disney's Aladdin lifted a lot from this original film, the 1940 remake, and of course the collection of stories, Arabian Nights.

Be weary, this film isn't for the average movie-goer. It is a silent, black and white film that is 140 minutes long. It's a tad difficult to get through in one sitting especially since you can't just listen to the dialogue to get the gist of the plot, you really have to watch it. Just because I watched it doesn't necessarily mean you should, but I do have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. The special effects are hilarious but for the 20s I'd have to say they were pretty awesome.

I would only recommend watching The Thief of Bagdad (1924) to those that have the time and willpower to sit through a 2½ hour silent picture. I would however recommend anyone to watch at least one silent film of the era (The Artist (2011) may be good but doesn't count in this case) to see how film has evolved and what the "talkies" were born from.

Notes: 
- Out of the 100 films included in AFI's 10 Top 10 List, The Thief of Bagdad is the oldest. It is one of two silent films on the list (I think), the other being City Lights (1931) starring Charlie Chaplin.
- To give you an idea of how old this movie is, the handsome leading man Douglas Fairbanks, was born in 1883. He also died the year World War II started.
- This was a big career step for Anna May Wong who played a Mongol slave girl. Wong was the first Chinese-American movie star.

Friday, June 8, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Fantasy: #10 - Big (1988)

It's been a little bit since I've done one of these so I'll try to catch up. We have (finally) come to the second genre in AFI's 10 Top 10 List. Here we start with Big (1988), one of many great movies from the amazing Tom Hanks

Tom plays Josh a 12 year old boy who, with the aid of a machine featuring Zoltar, wishes he was 'big'. In the morning he is shocked to find out he is in a 30 year old body. He attempts to go about the life of a 30 year but being rather inept at just about everything that an adult does, he seems to succeed. Funny how that doesn't work in real life... Anyway he gets involved with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), an executive at the toy company he now works at, and he gets entrenched deeper and deeper into the life of the adult he has become. He starts to miss life as a kid (who wouldn't?) and returns to the machine that turned him big and returns things to the way they were. 

Not really important to the overall plot but Robert Loggia plays Josh's boss at the toy company. I love his supporting parts in film but for those that do not know who he is, Family Guy can help you with that.

There were apparently a lot of age-changing comedies made in the 80s but I've never seen them so I'll recommend this one. If you're not into older movies (80s movies = not that old) I'd opt for 17 Again (2009), the only decent one I've seen since Big. 

Notes:
- Directed by the wonderful Penny Marshall
- For fans of the movie 13 Going on 30 (2004) starring Jennifer Garner, this movie is exactly like that but with a few expections:
         - It's from the male point of view
         - Unlike 13 Going on 30, our protagonist does not travel into the future
         - It doesn't suck 
- This movie marked Tom's first nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards