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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blackfish (2013) - review

A several ton creature leaps out of the water, flies high in the air then crashes into the water creating a wave big enough to splash and soak several rows of audience members.  Few, if any, theme park experiences can produce such awe as the killer whale show at Sea World.  Little to the audiences knowledge, even though the show tells you about the playful, happy lives of their whales, all is not well at the marine park. 

In recent years, the parks have been in the spotlight after the much publicized attack during one of the family oriented shows.  Long time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged under the water by a whale named, Tilikum, held under water until she drowned.  The rest of the staff was helpless, unable to do anything but wait for the whale to release the trainer's body, which did not happen for quite some time and only after it had dismembered and caused great distress to the body.  Sea World dimissed it a tragic case of trainer error, a rare incident.  The doc reveals the incident is not isolated and makes a case for it not being trainer error at all.

The whale, Tilikum, has a sketchy past - from bites, aggressive behavior to three deaths.  The film educates the viewer about the intelligence and emotional complexity of the creatures and uses that as the basis for the argument that these "incidents" are often not accidents, but rather the actions of a highly intelligent creature that has been held in captivity for way too long.

Why keep it as part of the act if it is putting trainers in danger?  The simple answer is what you would expect, money.  Tilikum, as displayed in somewhat unsettling detail, is used to breed other killer whales - a multimillion dollar business.  When there is no logical answer, the real answer is usually money.

The doc may be a bit one-sided (most docs are.)  Seeing that Sea World was unwilling to be interviewed for the film there is not much of a counter argument.  Since its premiere at Sundance, the doc has lead to terrible press for the amusement parks and the cancellation of several musical acts that had scheduled performance there.  Since then they have purchased several full page ads in national publications refuting some of the claims of the film.

It is hard to watch this film and not be affected.  I have viustied the park numerous times over the years.  Can I take my family to see a show that provided me with so much joy during my youth?  That's something I will need to answer for myself.  Like an effective documentary should do it has me thinking, questioning and discussing.

8.5 out of 10

Find it streaming on Netflix

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Joyeux Noel (2005) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #3

Plot: On a Christmas Eve during World War I opposing German and French troops put the war on hold to celebrate Christmas.

Review:  As a war movie it is not as brutal as it could be, less blood and violence than you may expect which works perfectly since I am watching it as part of a Christmas movie fest.  The film focuses on a pair of lovers that were pulled into the war, literally right off the stage at their theater.  The film is a bit slow as it builds to the moment the warring armies decide to take a timeout.  I am not sure how historically accurate the film is, but the simple idea Christmas can unite people allows me to enjoy it no matter how true it is, fable or fact.  7.5 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:  Not your typical Christmas tale, there are guns, bombs and fatalities.  Still, the spirit of Christmas shines through when the make shift Christmas celebration with enemies occurs.  The message behind the film is pure Christmas.  B-

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  When the soldier starts singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) and the troops go silent, the chills kick in hard.  B

Memorable Lines:

We were talking about a cease fire, for Christmas Eve. What do you think? The outcome of this war wont be decided tonight. I don't think anyone would criticize us for laying down our riffles on Christmas Eve.

Did You Know?:
This film is dedicated to the soldiers who fraternized on Christmas 1914 in several places on the front. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Elf (2003) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #2

Plot:  After accidentally being picked up by Santa during his rounds, a human named Buddy is raised an elf in the North Pole.  Upon learning that he is not an actual elf he travels to Manhattan to find his real father, who just happens to be on the Naughty List.

Review:  Director, Jon Favreau's goal was to have Elf be one of those yearly holiday TV movies and I think most people will attest that he succeeded.  What makes the film works on many levels is it made by someone that understood the make up of the holiday classics that came before it.  By combining some of the classic elements with some new Elf comes across like an extension of the holiday films/specials we grew up on, making it very accessible.

This can be seen throughout the film, the elf costumes are exact replicas of those worn in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," the sets and claymation also borrow from the style of the classic holiday TV specials.  Even though it was a new story, upon first viewing the film already felt familiar.

As a comedy the film succeeds at delivering laughs to a broad audience - the combination of sight gags/physical humor and clever plays on fish-out-of-water humor work well with young and old.  Whether Buddy is eating an overflowing, disgusting plate of pasta covered in candy and syrup or shouting out congratulations to the diner that makes the "World's Best Cup of Coffee" viewers will be having a great time watching what he will do next. 

Most importantly, it is a family film that can be enjoyed by young and old - no questionable content, no fast forwarding needed.  Nothing is worse than a holiday film that loses focus on who its audience is.  Too many "Christmas" films are focused on delivering a preachy message than entertaining the audience.  Others themes are so far removed from the spirit of the season, you wonder why it was a Christmas movie in the first place.  Favreau finds a great balance - delivering a good message while making sure that when all is said and done you finish with the warm holiday feel.   9 out of 10

Christmas Spirit Grade:  A
From the opening credits Favreau captures what a holiday film is all about and keeps you wrapped up in that warm feeling throughout the entire film.  It is full of classic Christmas songs, a visual style that evokes the Rankin and Bass classics, a Christmas romance, a sing-a-long, and best of all a redemption story (my favorite.)

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  B+
Even after seeing Elf about a dozen times, I still find myself choking up and getting the chills every time the group sing-a-long of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" produces enough Christmas Cheer to send Santa's sleigh flying through the sky.  Honestly, the choked up feeling usually start when Zooey Deschanel finds the courage to start the sing-a-long and stay that way until the credits start rolling.  Makes it tough to join in the sing-a-long when you are worried about blubbering in front of your kids.

Memorable Lines:
You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa.

The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.

What's more vulnerable than a peach?  (not that well know, but makes me laugh every time)

Did You Know?:
The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

When this screenplay was written in 1993, Jim Carrey was attached to star in the lead.

Favreau wanted to rely on as many “old techniques” of filming as possible to preserve its nostalgic feel. One of the simpler tricks involved the elves’ diminutive look.  Favreau used an old movie trick called “forced perspective” to make the elves appear smaller in the presence of Ferrell, Asner and the other human-sized actors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #1

Plot:  The musical, which takes place the year before the 1904 World's Fair, follows the Smith family sisters through a series of life lessons.   The family is preparing for their reluctant move from St. Louis to New York City - while doing so, the two oldest daughters seem focused on one thing, getting some men to propose to them.

Review:  This wonderful slice of American "life" never feels authentic, but then again, that's not why you watch musicals.  The musical numbers carry much of the load and the there is enough charm to keep your interest even when the thin plot is at its thinnest.  You would expect the biggest draw to be Judy Garland, and she does deliver a great performance, but it is her youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) that steals the show with her awkward-yet-cute delivery.  This film can be watched an enjoyed by all, if you can handle musicals.  7 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:    C-
Although, it did debut the classic holiday song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," this is not much of a Christmas film, more of a film with a Christmas portion.  Then again, shortly after Garland sings the iconic song, Tootie goes nuts and starts smashing her snowmen with a stick.

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  C-
Tootie's tear filled eyes during "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" may pull at the heart strings - otherwise, the saccharine sweetness of the entire film puts a protective glaze on your emotions.

Memorable Lines:
Agnes Smith: And then he burns the cats at midnight in his furnace. You could smell the smoke...
'Tootie' Smith: ...and Mr. Braukoff was beating his wife with a red hot poker... and Mr. Braukoff has empty whiskey bottles in his cellar.

Did You Know?:
Judy Garland recorded "The Trolley Song" in a single take.
Margaret O'Brien was awarded a Special Oscar for Best Child Actor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FilmSnork 12 Days of Christmas Movies

UPDATE (12/16/2013):  After numerous fantastic submissions I have decided on the following, diverse list of films for the 12 Days of Christmas Movies:

Dec 16 Meet Me In St Louis 
Dec 17 Elf
Dec 18 Joyeux Noel
Dec 19 Christmas With The Kranks
Dec 20 Christmas In Connecticut
Dec 21 Miracle on 34th Street
Dec 22 It's a Wonderful Life
Dec 23 Home Alone
Dec 24 Muppets Christmas Carol
Dec 25 Christmas Vacation
Dec 26 Scrooged
Dec 27 Gremlins

Tis the season for holiday movies.  Love them or hate them, I am going to watch them.

Here is where I can use your help.  I am looking for your recommendations for Christmas movies to watch during the 12 days around Christmas (December 16-25) - ten leading up to it and two after to help ease out of the season.

There are no limitations of the number of type of recommendations you can make - classic, animated, Christmas-themed or simply a Christmas setting.  One request, only recommend films you actually like. This is not an exercise in futility, rather an exercise in joy.  Each film selected will be uniquely reviewed.

-FilmSnork is not dead nor doth he sleep