Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dear Jodie - The Lion King

Dear Jodie,

I wanted to LOVE The Lion King, both when I saw it in 1994 and again just a few days ago.  I wanted to LOVE it, but only REALLY LIKED IT.

There was nothing wrong with The Lion King.  The animation was amazing, the story was classic (Hamlet-esque), the actors were . . .

Ah, therein lies the rub.  You said it wonderfully in your review, Jodie.  James Earl . . . Mufasa.  I'll extend that to Jeremy (Klaus Van Bulow) . . . Scar.  I had real trouble getting past that beautiful bass voice of James Earl Jones being that of James Earl Jones, and the reprise of Jeremy Irons' most famous line of his Oscar winning performance in Reversal of Fortune "You have no idea."  Add Ferris Bueller --- Simba -- and it pulled me completely out of the movie (both in 1994 and 2004), except for those amazing scenes you mentioned.

Back in the Golden Age of Disney, the producers rarely used name actors in the roles, much less stars.  They used solid actors whose names wouldn't take away from the characters.  A more modern example is Frozen.  The only actor who I was familiar with was Kristen Bell, and her only vaguely.

As a result, I stayed with the story.

But that's by the way.

I know that I'm being unfair here, but a movie about the circle of life invites comparison with other movies with the same theme.  The movie I'm thinking of (also Disney) is Bambi, a movie I grew up with, a movie that saved the life of a couple of deer the times my father took me deer hunting, a movie that would be on my top 10 movies of all time.

I will say that the opening was brilliant, far and away the best musical number in the movie.

All of this aside, it is not fair that I do not have the same emotional history with The Lion King that I do with Bambi, but that's the way it is.

I have no doubt that I will watch The Lion King again, Jodie.  I have friends with kids who LOVE it.  Hell, I have friends who LOVE it.  I have no doubt I will really like it.

Since my view of the movie has less to do with the movie itself than my own whims and caprices, I'm giving it a solid 8 out of 10.

It really is an excellent movie!  Wonderful opening!  I really liked it!

What did you give it, Jodie?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Jodie - Schindler's List

Father Francis Gabryl
Dear Jodie,

Schindler's List was a difficult movie for me to watch which is why last night was the first time I'd seen it in twenty-one years.  As bad as things looked on film, they were logarithmically worse in real life.

I obviously don't know that first hand, but . . . well, let's say that I began my education on the Holocaust with a substitute teacher in Junior High School back in 1970.  She had escaped from Auschwitz as a young girl along with her brother and told us of her escape. She even showed us the tattoo on her left forearm.

About the atrocities inside the camp, she remained silent, but told us of how she and her brother took refuge in a convent until the nuns could arrange for transportation out of the country and eventually to the U. S. where an aunt and uncle took them in.

An older priest retired from Poland to our parish in 1970. Fr. Francis J. Gabryl (pictured above) had survived both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.  He became a leader in the Dallas Polish-American community until he returned to Poland in 1985.  And, was acquainted with a younger Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla who later became the first Polish Pope, more recently known as Saint John Paul II.

I'll tell you an amusing story about when I went to confession to him one of these days.

I digress!

If someone had told me that the man who directed the Indiana Jones Movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and ET would direct a movie like this, I would not have believed it.

But Steven Spielberg showed great depth, and a more-than-amazing ability to get out of the way of the story he wanted to tell, and THAT is the brilliance of his directing in this film.  Never once does he comment on the horrors of the Holocaust.  He shows them and allows them to speak for themselves.

I love (and hate) this story of how profiteer Oskar Schindler (beautifully portrayed by Liam Neeson), a member of the Nazi Party, slowly changes into a man who spends the entire fortune he made to save nearly 1,100 Jews . . .  known after WWII as Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews).  I love that it happened, but hate that it needed to happen.

To his credit, Spielberg doesn't try to answer the question of the change.  He shows that the change happened, but not the why.  Though the movies shows the line Schindler had to cross in the form of the little girl in the red jacket . . . a red jacket in a black and white movie. You can better answer the why, Jodie, but I see Oskar Schindler as a complex man who, himself, cannot see the change.

In terms of acting I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful performance of Ralph Fiennes as the despicable Commandant Amon Goeth. He played it straight without unnecessary histrionics. He let the actions of the character define the character.  Here, too, Spielberg demonstrates that he profoundly understands the difference between cartoon evil (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and true evil.

I shed tears a number of times during this movie, had to turn my head at others because the many shootings looked all-too-real, and literally spent the last bit of the film weeping.  When Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley in a GREAT performance) presents Schindler with a the letter proclaiming his deeds in saving the lives of so many, and with the gold ring engraved with the Talmudic quotation, "Whoever saves one life save the world entire" I wept!

I also wept at the end as the actors playing the roles of the survivors walk with their real-life counterparts to place stones on the grave of Oskar Schinder, culminating with Liam Neeson placing two roses on the grave.

Oh, Jodie, this movie is a solid 9 out of 10, and one I can't imagine watching again.  Of course, I won't have to.  I'll never forget it!

What did you think?  Please tell me this was not an easy movie to watch!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dear Jodie - As Good As It Gets

Dear Jodie:

Like you I just saw As Good As It Gets once in 1997 and not again until the other night.

Like you there were things I did not get the first time that tolled loudly the second time.

Unlike you, I was 40 when I saw it the first time.

In 1997 the performances, particularly Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear, rang loud and strong. I was not surprised in the least that Jack and Helen won Oscars for their wonderful portrayals, and wondered why Greg Kinnear didn't win anything.

I was surprised that it won Best Picture because the movie, at the time, didn't work for me as a whole. As a Romantic Comedy it didn't completely work for me because I didn't get the Happily-Ever-After feel at the end of the movie. Though Melvin is greatly improved, even, as you mentioned, forgetting to lock the door 5 times, and even deliberately stepping on the crack, I didn't see him "cured."  Even though Carol is more accepting of his fewer and fewer misanthropic slip-ups, I didn't get the feeling that she would be completely accepting of him as an obsessive-compulsive misanthrope.

I didn't get the happy ending in 1997, and that disappointed me.

That was the point I didn't catch until the other night. It wasn't a happy ending.  It was a happy beginning.

The movie, then, is not a Romantic Comedy. It's a movie of the redemption of four people:  Melvin, Carol, Simon, and ... yes, Spencer too.

All four get another chance thanks to . . . Verdell?  Yes, Verdell is the catalyst of the story.

This movie has as much in common with A Christmas Carol as with any Romantic Comedy you can mention.  That was what I missed in 1997.

That is where I caught it just the other night, and was delighted that I did.

If I had any criticism, I would love to have had just one thing (other than the hitting the hands when he missed the notes playing piano) of what made Melvin a misanthrope who wrote 62 romance novels?

I get that it happens.  In the history of music, Johannes Brahms was known in his own time as a "grouch," yet he wrote amazingly romantic music.  Stravinski described Sergei Rachmaninoff as "a six and a half foot scowl," yet Rachmaninoff's music is heartbreakingly romantic.

It's the why I wanted.

I won't ding it much for that, though.

My favorite line of all of the great lines was in the psychiatrist's office. "How can you diagnose someone as having obsessive-compulsive disorder and yet criticize him for not making an appointment?"

Like you, I give it a 9 out of 10.

Thanks, Graham!