movie thoughts: ParaNorman (2012)

ParaNorman_posterIt’s always nice to be surprised by a movie.  When I picked up ParaNorman, I expected a quality film (the reviews had been very positive plus it was from the people who made Coraline) but what I didn’t expect was how sophisticated the story would be.

Norman can see and talk to ghosts.  He lives in Massachusetts in the fictional town of Blithe Hollow, which like most New England towns, has a past full of Puritans and persecution.  The town celebrates it’s most well known historical event – the hanging of a witch and the so-called curse she put on the town.  Now it’s up to Norman to stop the witch from causing the dead to rise.

But the story if far more than just a “walking dead for kids” tale.  As we start to learn more about Norman and the town’s past, it transforms from a zombie flick to a story about bullying and how our reaction to that shapes who we are.

ParaNorman was overshadowed by other summer releases and I think many of us missed it’s theater run, even though it was well reviewed.  But I think this is a movie that will gain a cult following among those who find it.  It has a wide age-range appeal (though we were a bit concerned by some of the random sexual things – like Neil freeze-framing his mom’s aerobics videos, though I’m sure jokes like that will fly over  young kid’s heads anyway.) and it is a movie the entire family can enjoy.  It is much smarter and more satisfying than Frankenweenie, another stop-motion “scary” movie for kids.

And, yes, it is all stop-motion, an art form that I am glad has survived into the new century because it is so beautiful and fascinating and cannot be beat.  It’s worth watching just for that.

Pick up ParaNorman on blu-ray.  It is a gorgeous movie with lots of humor and heart and just enough horror to spook the kid in all of us.

movie thoughts: Argo (2012)

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You know a book or a movie that is based a true story is good when it gets you on the edge of your seat.  ‘Argo’ does this and more.

I was not very familiar with this piece of history.  I vaguely knew about the hostage situation but I had never heard about the six Americans that fled the embassy and holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s house.  Or the CIA operation to bring them home alive.  And maybe you don’t know much about it either so that is all I am going to say about the plot.  I went in to the film knowing less than this and I it was so enjoyable to see a movie I knew nothing about.

Ben Affleck has matured into a fantastic director and a great actor.  The cast he assembled for this film just knocks it out of the park.  The script is perfectly balanced — if the story had been all tension with no let-up I don’t think it would be nearly as engaging as it was.  The movie has you biting your nails at one moment and then you’re giggling and then you’re gripping your arm rest…

I was also relieved that the scriptwriter didn’t pull any punches.  They break down the cause of the unrest in Iran right in the beginning and it’s clear the US made some big mistakes.  The movie isn’t about apologizing for those mistakes or spinning the facts, it just presents them to help give viewers some context.

I am rooting for the entire cast and crew of ‘Argo’ – it deserves the Oscar nod.  This is a great piece of dramatized American, Canadian and Iranian history.

Short Version: GO SEE ARGO NOW!  It’s worth seeing in the theater, if only to give you the same claustrophobic feeling the hidden embassy employees must have felt.

movie thoughts: The King’s Speech (2010)

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  Not too many uplifting films end with the first days of World War II, yet the dark cloud hanging over Europe is not the primary focus of “The King’s Speech”.  The larger than life figures of Hitler, Stalin, and Churchill are barely mentioned.  Instead, the story focuses on the shy prince who only wanted to stay in his brother’s shadow, but was instead forced into the public eye.  A man who stammered in his speech because he had been raised to be unsure of himself, which went against everything a royal child should be.  And the story of another man from another land who helps this very British prince find his voice.

Colin Firth may have won the Golden Globe (and deserved it 100%) but the thing that makes “The King’s Speech” so watchable is the entire cast.  Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth, Albert’s wife, a strong woman in her own right who worked hard to support her husband.  Geoffery Rush as Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who knows there is more to the stammer than just a “mechanical problem”.  And even the true supporting actors who play minor parts but major roles in the lives of Albert and Lionel.  This entire group, along with some beautiful direction, keeps the viewer engaged in an historical drama that, according to Colin Firth, even the British citizens know very little about to this day. 

I’ve seen the movie twice now and can safely say this is a five-star movie, with everything coming together in perfectly.  Whether you see it on the big screen in a full theater (and both showings I’ve been to have been full) or wait to rent it and watch it at hope, you’re going to cheer for Bertie and Lionel. 

movie thoughts: True Grit (2010)

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  Have you ever noticed that some of the goofiest people can create some of the most serious art?  As though finding the humor in life has also helped them hone their skills when it comes to pointing out life’s injustices and cruelties?  I think Joel and Ethan Coen have proven that they are beyond talented when it comes to visual storytelling – be it Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, No Country For Old Men, or True Grit, they have matured from cult filmmakers of weird movies to creators of new classics.

True Grit is so well put together.  For those of you that don’t know, the story is told by Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl who has set out to find her father’s killer.  Her father was shot down hired hand Tom Chaney who then fled, leaving the jurisdiction of the small town and going from the local to the federal “Wanted” list.  But Mattie knows that this means no only could he escape justice for all his crimes, he would defintely escape justice from the one crime she cares about.  Mattie wants him dead, and she wants to shoot him.  So instead of waiting around for the law to catch him, she hires a man she is told has “true grit” and can get the job done – Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  She meets a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) also looking for Chaney, but she dislikes him from the start and refuses his help. 

The movie is fantastic all around.  Hailee Steinfeld, who pays Mattie, is amazing.  Perhaps it’s because she actually is 13 years old…or maybe it’s because she hasn’t had braces yet so the adorable little gap is still visible in her teeth…or maybe it’s that her eyebrows are just a little bushy, like any kid’s would be.  But she felt very real in her acting.  You like Mattie right from the start, even if she is head-strong.  She is her father’s daughter and she arrives in town to collect his corpse with only the thought of revenge on her mind.  You’re not really sure if you want to root for her, to encourage this behavior, but it’s hard not to want to follow where she goes.  And the Coen’s were careful in their writing of the script – we follow only Mattie and see only what she does.  It let’s us have little surprises along the way and perhaps helps the audience believe in her innocence a bit more. 

Bridges and Damon are great on screen together.  I really don’t want to say too much about it.  I felt myself mesmerized the entire film, it had great moments of action, suspense, and even a bit of humor.  I had never read the book or seen the original movie so I had no idea what to expect.  The movie was not overly graphic (and they had their chances).  It was intense but never obscene.  I’m not saying you should show it to your 9 year old, but I think a family with teenage kids could all sit together and enjoy the 2 hours of storytelling.  Mattie is a great heroine in her own right and this feels like the kind of movie that if it’s on TV and I flip by, I’ll stop and watch it. 

I hope it takes home a few Oscars.