REVIEW: Ernest & Celestine

16 06 2014

Ernest and CelestineIn the effort to engage in the larger cultural conversation about “important” films, I realize that it must seem like I can only appreciate a movie if it tackles topics of great thematic heft or breaks some sort of cinematic mold.  But truth be told, I love a movies like “Ernest & Celestine” just as much because it possesses a remarkable sort of magic.  It has the power to return me to a childlike sense of spectatorship, allowing me a pleasant regression to a simpler state of mind.

The film’s story is nothing particularly extraordinary, but it charms from the get-go.  The indomitably curious mouse Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) wants to know what could really be so bad about the big, scary bears of whom all mice are warned to fear.  This very nearly ends her life when she goes above ground and winds up in the clutches of the hapless bear Ernest (Forest Whitaker).  Celestine doesn’t just convince him not to eat her; she makes him a friend.

Sadly, no one else is willing to accept their unconventional relationship.  It’s unnatural and scary to both species, unwilling to budge from their present ideologies.  And yet, the bear and the mouse persevere, teaching very important lessons about acceptance and affection.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”  That’s a lesson “Ernest & Celestine” radiates with clarity as well as warmth, and I hope children from 3 to 93 everywhere take it to heart.  A- / 3halfstars

REVIEW: The Kings of Summer

23 04 2013

The Kings of SummerRiverRun International Film Festival

More and more, I’ve come to appreciate movies that can use montage to great effect.  Scenes have their own power, sure.  We remember those scenes from our own life; they constitute reality.  But that’s not always how we remember our lives.  We see them in glimpses and flashes, which add up to make truth.

Even though it might not connect at every moment, sometimes a well-edited montage can capture the ephemera of life with such raw power that they tap into and connect with something deep within ourselves.  The most obvious example in recent memory is Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” whose camera floats through life itself and reaches you with evocative imagery (even if its story leaves you unmoved or just plain confounded).  More subtly, films like “Up in the Air” and “The Artist” have caught these moments of fleeting joy in well-cut dance scenes.

The Kings of Summer,” though it features a compelling narrative that plays like “Superbad” meets “Moonrise Kingdom,” is at its best when it captures these brief snapshots of unfettered adolescence.  Though I’m still in the process of moving into full independence, I can look back on the days of yearning for escape from my parents’ house with the slightest bit of nostalgia.  And while the majority of the film is silliness and shenanigans, every once in a while an image would flash on the screen that really got at something subconscious within me.

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11 02 2010

In “High School Musical,” the students randomly burst out in song and dance numbers whenever they darn well please – and it is just a normal high school. Corny? Obviously. Plausible?  Most definitely not.

So you would think that “Fame,” a high school drama set in an arts conservatory, would seize the opportunity to give us what we so desperately want (at least in the eyes of Disney Channel) and deliver rousing musical numbers because we would actually buy it here.

Wrong.  In fact, “Fame” is hardly a musical at all.  Save for its rocking finale and the titular track, there is barely any music scattered amongst all the cliched teen angst that it forces us to sit through (I don’t count listening to Megan Mullally do “You Took Advantage of Me” at a karaoke bar as a “number,” nor the ten millionth cover of “Someone to Watch Over Me”).  And this is a shame because there really is some talent, particularly from the school songbird played by Naturi Naughton (formerly of the band 3LW, which included two of Disney’s Cheetah Girls).  I own the soundtrack – thankfully I didn’t buy it – and it has 20 songs, and I still find it confounding that music plays such a small part.

As for the movie itself, I could not find even the slightest morsel of care for any of the characters, mainly because I knew their exact trajectory from the moment they stepped on the screen.   It’s the same hackneyed teenage drama that Disney Channel has shoved down our throats for years.  At this point, it has gone far beyond old – it’s offensive.  How many times are they going to produce the same uninspired stories?  Equally as important, how many times are they going to subject us to the frustration of watching the same movie again and again?  Even if there was even the slightest tinge of imagination in the writing, it still would have been a stretch for me to feel anything for the characters because the only one that gets a decent amount of screentime is the lovestruck Jenny (Kay Panabaker, ironically a familiar Disney Channel face).

My parents generation loved the original movie and the TV series that it spawned, but I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched why this needed to be remade.  Why bother to make a musical without music?  Why bother to give us another outlandish chronicle of teenage problems? Why bother to “update” a movie when you have nothing new to offer?  C- /