Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

Released: February 18, 2005. Directed by: Wayne Wang. Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Dave Matthews. Runtime: 1hr 46 min.

One of my childhood favourites, Because of Winn-Dixie depicts the positive effect a dog can have on one’s life. In particular, it’s about India Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), a 10-year-old girl who meets a smiling, stray Picardy Shepherd in her local supermarket – the Winn-Dixie.

She names the dog Winn-Dixie in the heat of the moment – claiming the dog to be hers to save him from the pound.

Opal just moved to a small-town Naomi, Florida – a town so small, the main Church is in a convenience store. She’s struggling to fit in and also struggling to communicate with her preacher father, simply called Preacher (Jeff Daniels), who has been depressed since his wife left him when Opal was three years old.

With her trusty pooch Winn-Dixie, they meet a cast of eccentric characters across town where together, they bring joy back to Naomi.

I think the film works best because of its charm. The plot isn’t the most original, it’s basically Opal going around to the town’s characters, trying to make friends and learning lessons. It’s kind-of like a throwback to the fantasy genre of going from an amusing encounter to the next, without all the fantasy.

Winn-Dixie

Winn-Dixie and AnnaSophia Robb in Because of Winn-Dixie (Source)

The film’s frame is the aspect of the narrative of Opal coping with her mom leaving. Even after seven years, we’re catching up with her at a time where she thinks of her mom a lot because she’s so lonely. It enables poignant exchanges between Opal and the preacher – which are often heartwarming or heartbreaking, and sometimes simultaneous. The sentiment is always in the right spot, regardless.

The character also calls for AnnaSophia Robb to have a lot of maturity as a performer in her first film role on the big screen (before this she was on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh and the titular role in TV movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday). Robb is completely up to the task, where she’s moving when she has to be, naturally funny and she has a good narration, to boot.

Antagonists include Mr. Alfred (B.J. Hooper), the trailer park owner of where Opal is living, who doesn’t allow pets and wants Winn-Dixie gone. He also doesn’t allow kids, but made an exception because Preacher is the… well, the preacher. I guess they couldn’t think of a better name for him.

But since it’s a family flick, there’s not much conflict – besides just coping with life. There’s also not much conflict because everyone opens up to Winn-Dixie. How can you resist that dog’s smile?

But since it’s a relatively weak-plotted family flick, there’s not a lot of conflict and everyone eventually opens up to Winn-Dixie, because how could you resist that smile?

The characters that author Kate DiCamillo created are well-sculpted, and that’s what really sets the film apart. From Dave Matthews’ singing pet shop caretaker Otis, to Eve Marie Saint’s librarian Miss Franny and Cicely Thomson’s Gloria Dump, they all have entertaining stories and are portrayed well by a talented cast.

Winn-Dixie is just a funny and enjoyable family film, notable as AnnaSophia Robb’s first film and for its emotional range, even though many of the lessons in the film are literary in scope. They just don’t feel like something that would happen naturally in real life.

This is particularly notable with the ‘littmus lozenge’ plotline and the story about its creator – a Civil War soldier who came home to his entire family dead, and made the flavour of his candy kind-of like his life: sweet and sad.

When Opal goes around giving her friends this candy, it’s cheesy but sweet. It makes people think of their sadness, like the amusing reaction of Elle Fanning’s Sweetie Pie Thomas, where she spits the lozenge out and says, “That tastes bad. That tastes like not having a dog.”

It enables moments that got a few tears out of me because a good, emotional screenplay – and it helps characters make a bit more sense.

It’s a creative, occasionally feel-good family film, especially after getting past any melodrama it might have. Most importantly: The film entertains.

3 outta 4

 

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The Longest Yard (2005)

The Longest YardReleased: May 27, 2005. Directed by: Peter Segal. Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds. Runtime: 110 min.

“The Longest Yard” follows Paul Wrecking Crewe (Adam Sandler), who, after being charged with Grand Theft Auto, finds himself in a Texas prison. Everyone takes their football pretty freaking seriously there. Crewe was charged for throwing an NFL football game, which was pretty important since it seemed everyone had bets on the game. (The storytelling isn’t good enough to remember what the stakes were in the game, exactly.) There wasn’t enough evidence to prove his guilt, but everybody still hates him. Once he gets into the prison, the Warden (James Cromwell) coerces him to coach a football team composed of convicts to face off against the Guards of the prison in their first game of the season.

I saw the original “Longest Yard” awhile back. (I should re-watch it.) It’s a very funny movie, funnier than this. This film is a very basic remake of it, but it’s not terrible. It’s quite enjoyable, actually. And there’s nothing better than a remake that has the approval of the original’s starring man. In fact, Burt Reynolds is one of the best parts of the movie. And it’s great that he’s there. Since the target audience is teenagers, they probably won’t even know that this is a remake. 

There are chuckles throughout the movie and it’s pretty decent for a traditional football film. It’s hilarious at times, mostly thanks to Chris Rock and Terry Crews, and often enough, Sandler. William Fichtner plays the main guard who thinks he runs the prison. He’s antagonistical and sends around mixed signals. His motivations are just irritating because he’s a cookie-cutter character. 

The football scenes are fun. It’s amusing to watch this football team of misfits become better and better. It’s even better watching them face the guards in the football game. Some of the background characters are hard to differentiate. They’re either Giant, a Kind Giant, or Faster than Fast, or Cheeseburger Eddie (Terry Crews). But the viewer will probably care about the more prominent characters. I think I’ve worn this movie out (Dang it), so I’ll re-visit the original “Longest Yard”. It’s probably much better, anyway. 

Score63/100

Hide and Seek (2005)

Hide and SeekHide and Seek

Release Date: January 28, 2005

Director: John Polson

Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen

Runtime: 101 min

Tagline: Come out come out whatever you are

Plot: As a widower tries to piece together his life in the wake of his wife’s suicide, his daughter finds solace — at first — in her imaginary friend.

Hide and Seek is too mediocre to star Robert De Niro, but he and Dakota Fanning make it tolerable. One doesn’t really know if it’s a ghost story or just an eerie stalker story, all we know it’s psychological and it tries very hard to be creepy. The flashback dream sequence that De Niro has often is strange, and the party has a cool production like Titanic and even The Shining. This tries hard to please its audience, so much so it has four alternate endings on its DVD. If you don’t like the original ending, you’ll probably like at least one of the four other ones…

The movie is slightly bland and forgettable and sort of just moves along at a slow pace, and the town-folk are rather strange. Elisabeth Shue’s character doesn’t do much for the story, except make the mysterious imaginary friend called “Charlie” angry, making the little Emily angry, in turn. The movie does get saved by a memorable third act, but everything preceding it, is dark, often creepy, but overall boring. The ending is a good surprise, and the movie keeps you guessing.

There are a few okay scares, especially when lights flash on and off. The performances are just adequate, but the talented actors aren’t utilized well. The thing is, the characters are bland and sort-of uninteresting. They’re so lifeless that they couldn’t even care for a cat they might or might not own. The storytelling doesn’t bother to tell us if the cat is a family pet, if it’s a stray, or if it comes with the house. (I’d rather a pool if anything comes with my new house. I’m allergic to cats.) The cinematography is cool and it’s shot in an interesting fashion. The movie isn’t great and overall, it isn’t memorable; but it is eerie enough to (probably) put me on-edge if I ever play hide-n-go-seek again.

52/100

Double Review, TV Films: Terry (2005); Cyberbully (2011)

I know, I know, some of you may be thinking: But TV movies aren’t even real films! I’m going to review them anyway.

Terry

Release Date: September 11, 2005

Director: Don McBrearty

Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Ryan Mcdonald, Noah Reid

Runtime: 120 min

Terry is a fine TV film.

This film is a dramatization of Terry Fox’s attempt to run across Canada. He had lost his leg due to cancer, and he wanted to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. It was called the ‘Marathon of Hope’ and it did really bring hope to the hearts of Canadians everywhere. This made him a national hero, as he has had a great impact on cancer research.

The film is well-paced and raises more awareness for his [Terry’s] accomplishments, and is a great flick that Canadians, and other people of other nations, can enjoy. It’s great to watch around this time of year because it’s around the Terry Fox Run, and just reminds us all of what he has done throughout his life.

Some of it isn’t all that entertaining, but this makes for a really interesting watch. The supporting characters are pretty good, despite having the potential to get on my nerves at the odd spot in the film. The supporting character that got on my nerves the most was Terry’s Mother, because she was just so discouraging to him. It’s obvious where she’s coming from because she doesn’t want to almost lose her son all over again.

It is a really fine TV film that has one great performance from Shawn Ashmore, and genuine performances from the rest of the cast. Terry is one of the greatest TV films I’ve seen, one of the finest TV film biopics, and one of the finest true stories of hope I have seen.

 72/100

Cyberbully

Release Date: July 17, 2011

Director: Charles Binamé

Stars: Emily Osment, Kay Panabaker, Meaghan Rath

Runtime: 87 min (without commercials)

Tagline: Words can hurt.

 Cyberbully is an ABC Family television film.

   Taylor Hillridge is a fairly well-liked average girl at her local high school, and she has a solid group of friends. She is sometimes bullied by a group of “popular” females at her school, but that’s just kids’ play compared to what comes next. For her seventeenth birthday, she gets a laptop and she soon signs up for a popular social networking website. Taylor soon gets ostracized by her friends because of the cruel rumours being spread about her, and she soon became a victim of extreme cyber bullying.

Cyberbully is a television film that knows its purpose, and doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a film that raises awareness of the effects of cyber bullying, and bullying in general.

There are a lot of unlikable characters, but they’re necessary. Some of the characters are there to bully, and others to just cause more and more conflict. Though, the character of Taylor can be relatable to young teens and children around the world, because she feels hated and uncared for.

It’s a story that is easily relatable to those who have been previously bullied. It’s a nice story of people trying to forgive, and the story raises more awareness for the general problem and it shows that there is help for it.

Emily Osment has also shown us that she actually has some pretty stellar acting abilities. This film might as well be a statement for her to say, “I’m a former Family channel star, but I’m not disappearing from acting anytime soon.”

The story is pretty good, the pacing is a little off in areas and it isn’t all that entertaining, but it’s a fairly interesting television film experience, that also really isn’t that time-consuming.

The supporting cast also delivers fine performances, especially Kay Panabaker. Actually, that’s the only other notable performance I can think of.

 Cyberbully knows its purpose, and it is a fine television drama. It has an okay plot and okay pacing, but a nice central performance. I wouldn’t pursue to watch it again, but it offers a nice, and interesting experience.

63/100

 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Release Date: December 9, 2005

Director: Andrew Adamson

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, William Moseley

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The beloved masterpiece comes to life December 9.

It’s a pretty great fantasy children’s and family film.

I wasn’t aware that this was actually based upon a literary masterpiece until I saw the film, but I never read the book so I’m not sure how great of an adaptation this is, but I’d think it would be because this is a pretty sweet flick that children will enjoy and some older people.

The Pevensie children are relocated out into the England country to stay at a professor’s mansion to protect them from the dangers of World War II. They are very unaware of the adventure they are about to encounter. When young Lucy finds a wardrobe, she enters it (and later all of the siblings) and finds a magical kingdom called Narnia. Narnia has been plunged into winter for years, as the citizens feel threatened by the White Witch (played by Tilda Swinton) They learn of their destiny with the help of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) a lion who is the rightful ruler of Narnia. They must restore peace to the kingdom of Narnia, and eventually enter a war between Aslan’s army and the White Witch’s army.

Some of it’s moderately boring, and it’s a little lengthy for a film that isn’t completely incredible, but still is good. It’s really a great fantasy film for children, though. I liked it for the most part, as it had some pretty good action sequences, the occasional fantastic moment, and the big war was pretty great (not Braveheart or 300 great, but as good as war scenes can be in a PG film).

It isn’t in the same great franchise ranks as Harry Potter, but it’s enjoyable for a watch (or two, but not necessarily ‘desert island’ movie status) and can be generally memorable. This is really the only film in the Narnia franchise I cared for on a moderately high level. Liam Neeson lending his majestic Irish voice to the character of Aslan was the film’s real masterwork.

The film stars Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Liam Neeson (voice of Aslan), James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Skandar Keynes and Anna Popplewell.

I just think there could have been more action, and just a little less lengthy. I loved it much more on initial viewing, but it still is enjoyable after seeing at my age (of seventeen) after all of these years.

Many adults may enjoy it too, and if you have a kid with a running imagination, it might make a wholesome flick for a family movie night that surpasses two hours. And, this film might be a good tool for babysitters, it should keep the attention of the kids for a near two-and-a-half hour experience.

75/100