REVIEW: Moana

27 11 2016

My first film in theaters, officially, was Disney’s “Pocahontas” as an impressionable young 3-year-old. But the first movie I really remember seeing was another animated gem from the Mouse House – “Hercules.” I distinctly remember the energy of the sneak preview crowd, the toe-tapping jams and the inspirational journey of a hero finding his place in a cosmic plan.

Nearly 20 years later, I found much of those same elements at work in the latest Disney animated feature, “Moana.” (It’s probably no coincidence that the two films share the same directing pair, Ron Clements and John Musker.) Both films thrive on theatricality, creativity and sincerity. Their stakes might tip towards the fate of entire civilizations, yet they never lose track of their human factor: a longing for self-actualization that unites us all.

This story of a young Hawaiian chieftess, Auli’i Cravalho’s titular character, seeking both her higher calling and salvation for the villagers that count on her shares a similar mythic dimension as “Hercules.” In a sign of evolution for the studio, though, they take the time to learn and care about the culture in which they place their narrative. From tattoos to topography and language to lore, Disney portrays Hawaii’s traditions respectfully and without exoticizing. There’s more to this Hawaii than one might gather from dinner theater at a resort, in other words.

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REVIEW: Welcome to Me

8 05 2015

Welcome to MeSeeing as how she got her start on “Saturday Night Live,” Kristen Wiig is certainly no stranger to satire.  While her work on that topical comedy show often brilliantly pointed out human error and ridicule, most of it pales in comparison to her scathingly incisive new film, “Welcome to Me.”  Eliot Laurence’s script cuts deep to probe some of our society’s deepest insecurities and fears.

He pinpoints that these collective anxieties find assuaging in the self-help gospel preached by daytime talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey.  Take away the free car giveaways, though, and the program really just sold herself as a product.  (Who other than Oprah has ever graced the cover of O Magazine?)  “Welcome to Me” takes this narcissism to its logical extreme, following Wiig’s Alice Klieg as she uses her millions in lottery earnings to mount a show about her, for her.

Her talk show/broadcasted therapy session is not made by her, however.  To get on the air and look impressive, Alice requires the talents of producers at a local television studio.  At Live Alchemy, she finds the perfect blend of dead airspace, crushing company debt, and morally bankrupt executives willing to indulge her every desire.

Led by the slimily obsequious Rich (James Marsden), the station caters to each of Alice’s increasingly bizarre whims, even when they cross the line into literal slander and figurative self-flagellation.  It’s not hard to imagine similar board room meetings taking place at E! debating the Kardashian family.  Alice suffers from a clinically diagnosed personality disorder and manifest her symptoms rather clearly, yet no employee seems willing to protect her from herself so long as the checks keep cashing.  Consider it a less violent first cousin to “Nightcrawler” (or dare I even say, the golden goose that is “Network”).

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