Hannah and Her Sisters

Alright folks!  Tyler here with yet another review for the 2011 Summer Film Challenge (yeah I know it’s gone longer than summer).  This time I get to critique the second and final Woody Allen film of the Challenge:  Hannah and Her Sisters.  It was interesting and fun, yet I really wasn’t wowed by it.  So, let’s get into it.

This one is going to be a bit short, simply because I don’t really have that much to say about it.  It was an incredibly well done slice-of-life film which I really appreciated as a look at real life.  On the other hand, I don’t really feel like it stood out in any prominent way.  It just seemed like a fun film that was enjoyable and a window into seemingly real people’s lives. Not much more.

As far as the acting goes you can’t possibly go wrong with a Woody Allen picture.  Each player was interesting both as the person they were creating as well as for who they were themselves.  What I mean is this – it was cool to see the character Carrie Fisher made in the story itself, AND to see her acting post-Star Wars era.  I have seen each actor or actress in other films and it was interesting to see them as such normal people.

What I spent most of the film trying to figure out was this: what connects the three stories in the film?  They were all about people living life but each one was interconnected with the other two in some way.  The conclusion I came to is that each story involved Life and Love in various forms.  It was interesting to watch how each person tried to find meaning in their life and to achieve happiness by themselves.  Yet, it was when they came together (both emotionally and in each other’s physical presence) that they discovered they were truly happy.  In essence, it all works out in the end when you have friends.  Or something like that 🙂

Overall, I would say that it is an okay film, but it’s not particularly interesting or engaging. It explores a new avenue of film but really just lacks that “Umph” needed to make it stand out from all the rest. Any audience could enjoy Hannah and Her Sisters, but I highly doubt I will be looking back to this film for any reason anytime soon.

One final note:  Woody Allen = Wittier Rick Moranis  🙂

Overall Rating:  6//10

There you go!  Sorry to any serious Woody fan’s out there but I “calls ’em as I sees ’em”.   Let me know what you thought of the film in the comments below and I might be persuaded to reconsider.

As we approach this Christmas season I want to thank you all for your readership and encouragement over this year.  It has been a great start thus far to this and my Art of the Trailer blog and again I thank you for stopping by to check out my reviews every once in a while.  I will be taking a break for the holidays to enjoy time with my friends and family, as I hope you will be doing as well.

When I come back at the start of next year, you can expect at least 2 new reviews from the Summer Film Challenge.  Most likely it will be a Coen Bros. film and maybe another Kaufman flick if I can muster the determination for it 🙂  Anyway, thanks for stopping by, check out my review of the new Men in Black 3 this Friday on Art of the Trailer!

To you and all those you hold dear, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I will see you all in 2012.  God Bless!

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The Beauty of Kells

I recently had the immese pleasure to finally see the film that snuck up on the 2010 Best Animated Film Oscar category:  The Secret of Kells. At the time I was torn between the nominees, having seen Coraline, Up, and Princess and the Frog.  In the end, I sided with the winning film, yet had I known of this film and taken the time then to partake of it, I would have shifted allegiance here.  Please know that I am a huge Disney fan and a bigger Pixar fan, but this film was absolutely beautiful.  It pushed the lines of artistic expression, giving us something new and fresh, and most importantly it gave me a wonderful display of non-American storytelling.  Lacking most of the Classical Hollywood stylistic element, The Secret of Kells stands out as a beautiful work of art that was a joy to watch.

First a little history:  The film tells a dramatized and stylistic version of the creation of the Book of Kells, an Irish national treasure that today resides at Trinity College in Dublin.  The Book itself is an Illuminated Gospel book written in Latin (it reflects the Vulgate in that sense).  Created in 800 AD by Celtic monks, it was most likely formed at the Island provence of Iona off Scoland’s coast. Just as the film says, it was written there and was moved to the Abbey of Kells where it resided for most of the medieval period.  Viking attacks might not have required this move, but they almost certainly influenced it as it was in the last decade of the 8th century that they began their pillaging.

It was at the Abbey of Kells that the illumination of the manuscript happened, thus the work being labeled after it.  It follows the traditional guidelines for an illuminated text, particularly the Insular Art style which was most common in those Island states.  Primarily composed of circular and spiral (or triskelion) motifs, the Insular art formed the first letter of the first sentence of the page as well as adding borders and frill to the work.  It was designed to do for the gaze what the words did to one’s reason – guide them to God.  As mentioned previously, the Book now resides at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.  It stands as proud testament to the rich history of the Celtic lands as well as to the rise and growth of the Christian faith and Scholasticism in the first millennium.

Going off that, I love how the filmmakers tell this story with Illumination as subject AND as the medium of the storytelling. The movie really is a piece of artwork which is a wonderful realization of the magic and beauty of that form of illustration.  The director Tomm Moore did a fantastic job of crafting the visual style to literally reflect the content and story, and Cartoon Saloon – who produced the animation itself – obviously did their homework and created a gorgeous narrative picture.  While I was watching it I couldn’t help but be drawn to recall all of my favorite Cartoon Network shows (Johnny Bravo, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, Sheep in the Big City, etc).  I did a bit of research and found that Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack was a prominent influence on this film.  The stylisms and minimalist focus are clearly evident in both Tartakovsky’s Futuristic Samurai show and in The Secret of Kells, and beautifully juxtaposes the ornateness of the illumination.

Another element I loved about the story telling was the distinctly non-Hollywood themes and structure.  One of the first title cards clearly states that this is a “France-Belgium-Ireland” production and the elements of those cultures show themselves proudly.  What was particularly cool was that it didn’t follow the typical Three-Act structure.  Rather than having clear turning points of each plot point, the film fits more into the classical “fable” structure – narrative focused on a moral point. The intent is to teach lessons rather than to be the most realistic and true to life.  It was refreshing to take in some non-American storytelling after a long semester of studying just that.

What also was really neat about the foreignness of the film was the diverse history from which the story draws.  While the United States have been getting better about learning world culture, there is still a vast amount of it that we don’t normally get.  So, learning a bit of the history of old Ireland along with some background on the growth of my own religion was absolutely fantastic.  But what struck me as the greatest thing was that the filmmakers pay homage to the traditional beliefs of Old Ireland while still showing the blessings of Christianity.  Aisling, the woodland faerie who aids Brenden, acts as a symbol for the ancient Celtic Mythology and the former beliefs.  While the Book of Kells is a version of the Christian Gospels and it is supposed to come and “bring light to the darkness”, what the filmmakers beautifully do is allow the girl to continue existing.  She is not eliminated  tramped over, or made into a villain, but rather stands simply as a reminder of the times gone by. This wonderfully depicts a rising of a culture not on top of the other so as to squash it out of existence, but rather as the next step in our journey towards truth.

Finally (and how could I not make note of this), the music is absolutely amazing!  The themes for both Brenden and Aisling were both beautifully incorporated into the distinctly Irish score. I loved hearing the Celtic guitar pieces and the hauntingly sweet song Aisling sings to Panger Bum (the cat) struck a chord in my soul and gave me goosebumps.  Overall I would say the score is just as beautiful as the visual style and plot, and would highly recommend you look it up on iTunes sometime.

Overall this was a gorgeously crafted piece of art that I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND to anyone. While I don’t know that younger audiences would appreciate the reasoning behind some of the moments and styles, I think they could still enjoy the narrative and the artwork, as well as the fun and engaging characters.  This film rightly deserved it’s nomination amongst the Academy Awards Best Animated Feature list and, were it not placed amongst such tough competition, I would nigh on say that it should have won said Oscar.  The Secret of Kells was a beautiful film that was an absolute joy to watch and I really hope you take the time to stop and enjoy this wonderful piece of art.

Final Rating:  10//10

From the Book of Kells -- Celtic Chi Rho: A Symbol for Christ

Hope you enjoyed this review of The Secret of Kells.  Speaking of animated movies set with Celtic Backgrounds – shameless self-promotion – check back tomorrow on the Art of the Trailer for my review of the trailer for Brave!  Until then, let me know what you thought in the comment below and I will see you tomorrow!

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Der Philm ish Okae-Dokae!

My family has a long held tradition of every Thanksgiving holiday going out to see a movie with our cousins, aunts, and uncles.  Unfortunately this year I was not able to make it back home for the holiday so I wondered if the tradition would die with me this year.  However, and only by the grace of God, my new “California Family” (i.e. – my girlfriend’s fam) took me in for the break from school and aided me in continuing the legacy.  It was mutually decided that The Muppets was a great family film that we could all go see and enjoy together and thus my Thanksgiving movie-going tradition was kept alive.

But enough about me:  It’s Time to Play the Music!  It’s Time to light the lights.  It’s Time to get this review started about The Muppets – so right!  (sorry…)

I am going to try to be brief with this and keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so expect lots of [spoiler] blocks throughout. 🙂  In absolute short:  I loved it but it has some problems.  It was hilarious and played beautifully on the themes and formulas of the previous films.  The plot was great, the jokes funny, and I left the theater feeling all the catharsis I hoped for. However, some elements of the story and the telling of it were just off (but more on that later).

The humor was fantastic!  It had some incredible 4th wall jokes and self-referential humor that are so custom to the Muppet style.  One of my favorite jokes in the film is one Kermit makes directly to the audience referencing their first film – The Muppet Movie.  Just as I hoped going into the film, they paid great homage to all of our favorite Muppet jokes:

  • Great cameos such as [spoiler] and [spoiler], and that one random appearance by [spoiler] 🙂
  • Hilarious music (with not-so-subtle tinges of the Flight of the Concords influence)
  • Self-referential humor (“I just did a song about it…” // “Reciting an important plot point” // The “Muppet Man”)

I really want to talk specifically about some of the jokes so this next section will be a SUPER SPOILER SECTION!!!!  If you don’t want to be spoiled, please scroll past the section between the next two pictures (the un-spoiler section begins after the picture of Chris Cooper).

As is pictured above, the movie does a great job of referencing all of the Muppet hits.  Off the incredible success of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” quartet video on Youtube, Segal and Co. brought back the quartet to do a hilarious literal barbershop quartet version of “Smells like Teen Spirit” while they shave Jack Black!  SO FREAKING FUNNY and a great homage to their own success.  Besides that the best part of the film by far was an out of the blue performance of “Forget you” (safe title there) by Cee Lo Green … wait for it … by Camila and the Chickens!!!  Absolutely freaking hilarious because most kids would recognize the song but not get the real irony of what the song originally was called.  Great move on the writing staff’s part to treat the older audiences to a great joke.

The other great thing about Muppet movies is the incredible cast of cameo appearances by stars as themselves.  Starting back at the first Muppet Movie with Steve Martin playing himself as a rude waiter, the legacy has been carried out into this film beautifully, with great guest appearances by such as Mickey Rooney, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Rashida Jones, Donald Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, and the big surprise – Jim Parsons off Big Bang Theory.  His cameo appearance as the Human Walter for the “Muppet of a Man” song was brilliant!  Also, I can honestly say that I will never be able to look at Chris Cooper in a movie again without thinking of his absolutley ridiculous rap.  Chris droppin’ dope beats, son!

Dat's da Truth!

END SPOILER SECTION

Overall I really liked the film.  However there were a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way and dragged down the quality of the film as a whole.  I will try to present those as spoiler-free as possible because I want you to see if you feel the same way about it.

First:
The songs felt very unmotivated.  I remember in one of the first film classes I took at Azusa Pacific University, my professor told us that if we wanted to do a musical, we had to create a world in which the emotions were so high and blatant that the characters breaking into song is the only possible outlet for their tensions. And The Muppets does do that well generally.  It is a world with Muppets in it; that sort of thing is almost necessary.

What didn’t work was that while the environment allowed for such silliness and outburst, the lead-ups to each song were either poorly done or non-existent. Musical numbers simply spawn out of nowhere which left me wondering “wait, why are they singing?”  It simply seemed that the transition and build up to the songs (particularly at the beginning) just weren’t there which made enjoying the songs much harder than I hoped it would be.

Second:
Trying my best not to spoil anything here – the Muppets do their telethon to raise money and everyone is supposed to contribute an act, including newcomer Walter.  However, he has no idea what to do.  He wonders “What is my talent?”  And the problem is that when he does debut it, it is entirely out of the blue.  Their is no set up for what his talent is earlier in the film. If their was any, you can see that a person paying attention for that stuff didn’t see it, so…  It just made the ending seem very odd.

And speaking of the end, Third:
The ending gets very fuzzy.  Again I don’t want to spoil it, but it goes one way and then turns sharply the other way and then credits role.  And during that credit role, they magically somehow get back to the first way again.  Really vague I know but suffice to say that I was really let down by the ending simply because  it got so convoluted and lost by the finale. Just be warned that it gets weird.

One final note, and this didn’t strike me until much later, but their is absolutely no mention of the man who started it all – Jim Henson.  I don’t know why they didn’t pay homage to the genius who brought us Kermit and the gang, but it doesn’t detract from the film in any way. Just kinda sad 😦

Ultimately, I think this is a perfect example of my big soapbox of film:  their is a difference between being Good and being Liked.  I absolutely loved the film!  It gave me all the catharsis I could ever want for the return of my childhood friends and was a hilarious and wonderful time of family for me seeing it.  However, I think the story and plot suffered slightly and really brought down the quality of the film as stand-alone.  The sporadic and random launches into song, the ambiguous and rushed ending, the general blandness of the story – in any other case I would have been sorely disappointed by this movie.  However, Segal and the filmmakers really scored well by creating fun, lovable characters who really salvaged the movie from ruin.  Definitely take the fam to go see it ASAP and enjoy all of the clever jokes, but be ready for some pitfalls that could really bring the film down for you.

Final Rating:  8//10

Whelp, there you have it!  If you haven’t already, PLEASE check out their amazing marketing campaign (one of the best I have ever seen) and also see my review of the Pig with the Froggy Tattoo trailer on the Art of the Trailer blog.

Still working on some films from the Summer Film Challenge so expect reviews of those up soon and I’ll leave you with my favorite Muppets of all time:

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