Movie Minute

Because I haven’t seen a new release in a couple weeks, I’m presenting for your consideration short reviews for a few films I have seen recently. These are not new releases, and vary in how old they are. Maybe one of these could be the perfect film for a sweltering hot summer day!

As you like it

As You Like It (2006) dir. Kenneth Branagh

As You Like It, an HBO movie from Hollywood’s favorite drama nerd director, has three things going for it. One, a marvelous ensemble cast, the majority of which is grossly underused. Two, a setting that distracts you from the oddly-paced story. And three, Bryce Dallas Howard, who has an energetic charm that keeps you from thinking too much about how terrible her disguise as a man is and how much of her role has been cut.

Those positives are about it. The biggest problem with As You Like It is that it doesn’t feel whole. Howard’s Rosalind does not seem to have the starring role she should have, and David Oyelowo does not get near his due with his Orlando. Branagh seems to try and make the minor characters have equal roles with Rosalind and Orlando, and in doing so creates a play that has no central storyline to hold on to. It is spread thin. Even similar plays like it, such as A Midsummer’s Night Dream, still have major and minor characters. This adaptation of As You Like It does not seem to have this distinction. And while the aesthetics of Japan are a unique addition, it is simply one more task the film cannot take. It buckles under the weight of its underdeveloped ambition and does not leave any strong impressions in its wake.

Bridge-of-Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015) dir. Steven Spielberg

A Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Coen brothers collaboration is no joke, yet Bridge of Spies was relatively neglected when it came out. While this story of an American insurance lawyer negotiating the trade between two Americans and a Russian spy during the Cold War did win Mark Rylance an Academy Award for his supporting role, it is nowhere within anyone’s list of favorite Spielberg movies. That makes sense when you take into account Spielberg’s resume, but does not when you take in its fellow movies of that year. Bridge of Spies is small and mighty, and it succeeds not only because of the talent involved, but because of its message. It might be one of the most patriotic movies ever made, while also being incredibly sympathetic to our country’s enemies. The film’s message is about everyday men and women who work hard and do their jobs. While these jobs might not always be noble, human dignity and the work we do are inseparable to many, especially in the context of our western ideals. It shows that our justice system is dependent on the people who run it, and when those people fight for ideals, we become more of the nation we inspire to be. A well crafted story with thoughtful themes makes a film worth watching, and maybe makes it worth being on a favorite list of some kind.

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The Wind Rises (2013) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Set in the early beginnings of World War 2, The Wind Rises is the loosely biographical story of aerial engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a plane used by Imperial Japan during the war.

It goes without saying that the Studio Ghibli work, lead by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, is stunning. The film could be watched on mute, and the visual experience would be on par with its greatest contemporaries.

But don’t turn off the sound, because the story is just as worthwhile. There is something very disarming about being an American, watching the story of Japan’s entrance into World War 2 through the eyes of a civilian who just wants to make the world a more beautiful place. Jiro sees airplanes as one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and only wants to make them better. This intrinsic desire to make beautiful things is a message that should resonate with everyone. As a Christian, this desire is near the core of my belief, because it reflects on the nature of the greatest creator of them all.

More than what Jiro does, though, is who he is. Jiro is one of the best heroes I have ever met, despite what he creates being used in horrific ways. The love story between him and his wife, Nahoko, is a touching story of sacrifice and care, one of the best I’ve ever seen on film. Jiro is who we should aspire to be, and his personal integrity and strength defies all politics, all sides, and all situations we find ourselves in. If we all carried ourselves like Jiro, the world would be a better place.

-Madeleine D

Pete’s Dragon: A Rewatch

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I’m not reviewing the newest Pete’s Dragon remake.

Sorry. Here instead is a rewatch of the original!

I must confess, before anything else, that I am quite partial to this film. It’s been an important film to the Dorst family for a while. When my dad was a kid, he watched it with his family. When my sister and I were little, we watched it, too. We’re very defensive about it, and it gets quoted a lot in our household.

However, I’m going to do my best to put that aside and review the film for what it is- a heartwarming, wholesome and sweet film that, while it is no Citizen Kane, is too much fun to pass up.

The film begins with easily one of the darkest Disney scenes ever. The Gogans, a nasty family, have adopted Pete (Sean Marshall,) a young orphan, and are trying to find him after he runs away. They sing a lovely song about how they’re going to brutally murder him. You thought Bambi was bad.

This scene of the Gogans hunting down Pete and singing about working him to death is disguised with slapstick and mud-pits, so everybody wins. They eventually leave, and Pete comes out of hiding. We discover he has a dragon with him- an animated dragon named Elliot- who can turn invisible at will. He’s big, green, pink, friendly, and best of all, doesn’t act like a dog. That’s something I like. The filmmakers decided to take the time to decide what a dragon would be like, and didn’t just give it the personality of a dog, unlike more modern Disney fare where all the animals act like dogs (Maximus the horse from Tangled, Sven the reindeer from Frozen, etc…).

Pete and Elliot rhapsodize their love for one another in a song, then Pete decides to head to the nearest town, Passamaquoddy. There, Elliot causes mischief and scares the local drunk Lampie. Pete gets upset with Elliot, but later in a cave they make up. Meanwhile, Lampie (Mickey Rooney) goes around to the local bar, yelling about the dragon. His daughter Nora (Helen Reddy) comes and gets him. They go back to their lighthouse, where Nora finds Pete. She invites him inside, and she learns about his abuse.  Nora doesn’t believe in Elliot, but she wants to take care of Pete, so she humors him about his ‘dragon.’ About the same time, Dr. Terminus and his “intern” Hoagie, con artists pretending to sell miracle cures, arrive in Passamaquoddy. When they hear about a dragon, they get interested and team up with the Gogans to snatch Pete and Elliot.

Dr. Terminus’ first scene (and really, let’s be honest, every one of his scenes) is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinematic history. Jim Dale kills it as a whimsical, memorable, yet still subtly menacing villain. All the characters in the film shine, because they’re allowed to be big and bold. The film is a musical, and it has all the sensibilities of one.

Another standout in the cast is Nora, one of the most underrated film role models I have ever seen. Films today are so focused on making their female characters strong physically that rarely do they give these characters mental strength, and more importantly, acknowledge and appreciate that type of strength. Nora is kind, wise, compassionate, while at the same time also being brave, determined, and smart. She works hard and never lets people take advantage of her or the people she loves. Helen Reddy, who was mainly known as a singer at the time, is fabulous in the role, and her singing shines.

Pete’s Dragon is a movie all about love. The love between Pete and Elliot. The love between Nora and Pete, Nora and Paul, and Nora and Lampie. The film ends happily because all the characters find a home with love in it, and it succeeds, not in a Pollyanna way, but because it earns its happy ending. The characters go through hardships, but endure. The optimistic outlook on life is a nice reminder in an age that is obsessed with darkness and gritty realism, and it’s only accentuated with the bright settings, jokes, and of course, Elliot. The animation for Elliot holds up surprisingly well, and even if some effects are outdated, the timeless setting of Passamaquoddy makes up for it.

The film, however, isn’t without its flaws. The plot sometimes drags. The slapstick can get old. The musical numbers can feel long when the actors are just standing and singing them. In case you need to take a break during the film, I’ve helpfully listed the soundtrack below and what purpose each song serves, so you know what you can miss.

The thing is, Pete’s Dragon doesn’t need a remake. It doesn’t need a reality check because it uses its fantasy-reality mix perfectly, not only on the animation but the story. Real life magic is around us, and while in this story it takes the form of Elliot, in our world it takes the form of love. How can it get any better than that?

Soundtrack:

“Happiest Home in These Hills” – Child-labor laws song

“Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)” – Actors attempting to interact with animation

“I Saw A Dragon”- The waste of good beer ft. Nora

“Passamaquoddy” – Before we had the FDA….

“It’s Not Easy”- Emotional bonding

“Candle on the Water”- Oscar please!

“There’s Room for Everyone”- Strangely timely song about how we should all just care for one another

“”Every Little Piece”- The PETA song

“Brazzle Dazzle Day”- This seems like a rather informal adoption, but okay

“Bill of Sale”- Don’t peeve off Nora

“Brazzle Dazzle Day (Reprise)”- Mary Poppins ending song

-Madeleine D