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 Way Way Back (2013)

The Way, Way BackReleased: July 5, 2013. Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette. Runtime: 103 min.

As I’m sure you’ve been able to tell; I love coming-of-age movies. Well, I love movies in general – but I find myself really enjoying movies like these. I think there’s something important about finding one’s place in the world; or even if it just means gaining confidence and growing as a person. The latest movie to the coming-of-age summer movie cannon is “The Way Way Back” helmed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Now, it may seem like I’ve seen Faxon through an unfair eye, mostly because I’ve said “who is surprisingly an Oscar winner” time and time again. Is it unfair that I was surprised to hear he has won an Oscar? I don’t think so. If one only looked at his on-screen filmography prior to this, he’s been in such mediocre hits as “Slackers,” “Club Dread,” “Beerfest,” “Bad Teacher” and “The Slammin’ Salmon.” Now, I don’t think any of those scream, or even whisper, Oscar contenders. He just doesn’t seem like he’d be pinned as an Oscar winner. (By the way, both he and Rash have won their Oscars for co-writing “The Descendants.”)

Both have definitely made a splash in the writing department, and this is no different. They’ve grown from being That One Guy Who Shows Up in the Broken Lizard Movies and the Dean on “Community,” to real above-average filmmakers that I love (but it’s not as if I didn’t like them before). I guess you could say, in my eyes, they’ve come of age in terms of their careers.

The story concerns Duncan (Liam James), a fourteen year-old boy who is dragged to a summer vacation spot with his mother (Toni Collette) and her over-bearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan has a rough time fitting in, but he finds a friend in the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) of the Water Wizz water park.

Faxon and Rash design the film like experts. As soon as we’re introduced to the characters, they’re either instantly likeable, or you’ll just as instantly get a bad feeling about them. The only character one will get a sudden bad feeling about is Trent, portrayed by Carell. That’s his purpose. He’s the sort-of character that will be a total dick just because he can. When crappy situations happen, his mindset is to simply forget about them the next day. Carell plays the character well. Take Carell’s Burt Wonderstone and subtract the obnoxious way about him; replace it with the everyday soon-to-be stepfather, and you have the biggest dick in the movie, Trent. He plays a major role in stalling Duncan’s confidence.

Toni Collette’s Pam (Duncan’s mom) is usually likeable. Like most of the adults in the film, they take their kids along with them to this vacation spot. As one character puts it, “it’s Spring Break for adults.” This expresses the selfishness of many adults in the film (save the workers at Water Wizz, but more on that later). They’ll party and have a good time, but they won’t bother to include the children. That is very much the case with Allison Janney’s eccentric performance of Betty, mother of Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Peter (River Alexander), where she constantly points out his horrible case of lazy eye. The actress is hard not to love, even when she’s criticizing a character. It’s the way some mothers do, and it’s downright hilarious for the audience.

Of course, there is Duncan. The hero of the film. He has a difficult time feeling he belongs. He’s awkward and shy, which it seems many can be at the age of fourteen. (Like I was.) But he grows as a person throughout the film and it’s a treat to watch. We get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of adolescence through his eyes, and just like the tagline states, “we’ve all been there.” The ugly is, of course, his stepfather. He’s also the bad. The good is Water Wizz water park and Susanna. (A potential love interest of Duncan’s, and she’s older, to boot!)

He meets Rockwell’s Owen, a person who teaches him that it’ll get better and makes him feel welcome. He offers him a job at Water Wizz, and he slowly gets Duncan out of his shell. Owen is the type of person that can make anyone feel welcome. He jokes about everything. He’s the type of person everybody knows. He could be your uncle (my Uncle Danny in my case), a father or a best friend. Sometimes his constant jokery gets in the way of personal interests (mainly Maya Rudolph’s character), but he’s the type of shoulder everybody needs at some point in their lives.

“The Way Way Back” might not pack the largest emotional punch. It didn’t make me cry, though I was close. Perhaps I wasn’t in the crying mood? Compared to the other coming-of-age movies so far this year, there’s more of a punch than “The Kings of Summer,” but less than “Mud.” More than a few scenes in the film pull at the heartstrings, and this is an uplifting and well-acted tale. It’s entertaining, hilarious and very enjoyable, if a little light-hearted at times.

Liam James may not be the strongest performer out of the bunch (who could be against Rockwell, Carell, Collette, Janney, Robb, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet?!), but he has a timid charm about him. He shows promise, especially because his eyes are super expressive. I’ve always been attracted to Robb’s delicate kindness about her, and the characters she portrays. I want to see more of her.

Rash and Faxon show up in supporting turns as employees at the Water Wizz water park. Jim Rash plays a hilarious germaphobe named Lewis; Faxon is another employee named Roddy, master of the holding technique where he asks hot girls to wait to use the slide. These two truly understand what being a teen is like, because, like everyone else, they’ve been there. Faxon and Rash, and Stephen Chbosky (author, writer/director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), may be their generation’s John Hughes. We’ll see in time.

One last thing. There is a concept of going your own way in this film. Characters are taught to not follow patterns and to choose their own path. There’s a point where characters (minor and major) are trying to pass each other in a water slide. Perhaps this is only boys will be boys tom-foolery. Maybe it’s about doing things differently, not following the norm, and making your own path. I’m not certain; it’s ambiguous and that’s the purpose. I am sure, though, that Faxon and Rash have penned a smart coming-of-age dramedy.

Score90/100

My most anticipated movies of July

Hi everyone, this is my post for the movies I’m most anticipating this month. I’m going to leave out the ones I’m not anticipating (but will be seeing), because who wants to write a paragraph about a movie they’re not particularly passionate about? (I’m talking about you, GROWN UPS 2.) I’ll be writing reviews about those said movies, but that’s for another day – and I love writing reviews. So, that’s good, then. I’ll start with a few thoughts on the movies I can wait for, but I am looking forward to watching.

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Plot: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

I like a good bio pic and a good emotional drama, so I’m intrigued by this. It also has critics raving, so I’m hoping it’s good. I thought Michael B. Jordan is great in CHRONICLE, and I like Octavia Spencer in just about anything.

Red 2 (7/19)

Red 2 (7/19)

Plot: Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

I can mostly wait for this one because I haven’t seen the first. I own it, so I’ll watch that this week or next or something, and then maybe I’ll be a bit more excited about this one. I love a good crime comedy, and the cast intrigues me.

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

Plot: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

I don’t know if this will be a box office hit – but it does look very amusing. I love the first and third MIB movies, so I’m pretty intrigued by this. It looks fun, and Jeff Bridges has many great one-liners in the trailer.

The To Do List (J7/26)

The To Do List (7/26)

Plot: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

This looks like a predictable comedy, but it does look very funny. I like EASY A a lot, and this seems to have similar awkward humour. I’m curious to see how Aubrey Plaza will do in her first leading lady role. (I’ve seen a few episodes of TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s just hilarious.) There are some real laugh-out loud moments in the trailer, especially Clark Gregg’s thoughts on taking the back door.

Turbo (7/17)

Turbo (7/17)

Plot: A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500.

I like the voice cast and the simple thought of Ken Jeong voicing a little Asian grandma makes me giggle. This looks like DreamWorks Animation’s answer to CARS and FAST & FURIOUS, and maybe even RATATOUILLE (instead of rats and cooking, it’s snails and racing). I think the idea’s just as silly as Stuart Little playing soccer, I mean, this little snail is probably going to get run over. I think I’ll enjoy the movie a lot, regardless.

The Wolverine (7/26)

The Wolverine (7/26)

Plot: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

This looks pretty cool. I’m not huge on superhero movies, but I do enjoy the X-MEN movies. I’ll have to have a marathon soon to pump up for this one a bit more. It looks good, but it could be so much better if Darren Aronofsky really did end up directing it. I guess I’m really just hoping it’s better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Now these are the ones I’m really excited for. 

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

Plot: When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

I think this looks awesome. I haven’t seen any GODZILLA movies, but I like a good monster movie. And, this is monsters AND robots. Whoa. It sounds like it could be everything BATTLESHIP and TRANSFORMERS aspired to be. Lots of fun, and well-made. And Del Toro is at the helm! I might have to re-watch CLOVERFIELD and find a GODZILLA movie online this week to get a bit more excited. It seems action-packed, and frankly, I want to see the movie right now, and not just the trailer. But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Idris Elba shout, “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

3. Only God Forgives (7/19)

4. Only God Forgives (7/19)

Plot: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

I love Ryan Gosling and the director, Nicholas Winding Refn, and DRIVE is one of my favourite movies of 2011. The story intrigues me, as well. While critics haven’t exactly been praising the movie, I think it could be pretty awesome. It might be wavering my expectations ever-so-slightly, but I’m still really looking forward to it.

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

I think James Wan is a fantastic director. I’ll have to watch INSIDIOUS to get a vibe of his atmospheric haunting flicks, though. This looks absolutely terrifying, and while I’ll probably be watching the movie through the my fingers, I can hardly wait. Vera Farmiga is great, too. The trailer creeps the hell out of me, and I love it. The true story edge is even spookier – so, I just want it to be July 19 already. It would be great if this will birth a Warren files franchise.

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

Plot: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

I love a good coming-of-age tale. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is my second-favourite movie of 2012. And THE DESCENDANTS is one of my favourite movies of 2011. Two of the Oscar-winning writers from that movie (Nat Faxon, supporting actor in most of the Broken Lizard movies, and Jim Rash, the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY) co-write and direct this one. I love the cast so much. Steve Carrell as a major jerk, Sam Rockwell, Rash in a supporting role, AnnaSophia Robb, and Rob Corddry, Toni Colette and Allison Janney. Suffice to say, it sounds amazing – and I can hardly wait for this to come to my city.

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

Plot: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.

I love the original DESPICABLE ME 2. This sequel looks amazing and hilarious. I can hardly wait for it. I love Gru and the minions, and I think this will be a real winner with a lot of heart and some great action. And new villains, of course. This is not only my most anticipated movie of July – but it’s probably my most anticipated movie of the year. (But, I’ll have to make a list to see if that’s true. I might be a bit more excited for KICK-ASS 2.) I can’t wait to have a second helping of the minion madness, though. Anything under a score of 75 will be disappointing. I hope this is in the same league as the first.

Here’s all of the movies opening in July: http://www.imdb.com/movies-coming-soon/2013-07/

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) Review

Bridge to Terabithia

Release Date: February 16, 2007

Director: Gabor Csupo

Stars: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel

Runtime: 96 min

Tagline: Discover a place that will never leave you, and a friendship that will change you forever.

Jess Aarons (Hutcherson) is a boy who feels out of place, but has a  great artsy talent. He has been training for to become the fastest runner in school, only to be beaten by Leslie Burke (Robb), the new girl in school. Soon, they find common interests and become friends. They create an imaginative kingdom of Terabithia out in the woods, that they escape to every day after school. This newfound friendship teaches him lessons that will stay with him for life.

Bridge to Terabithia is a poignant examination of a great friendship and great imagination. It is fairly slowly paced and can be boring, but it has a few great scenes.

The film is greatly thematic, including ones of imagination, denial,  acceptance and remorse. Apparently the book written by Katherine Paterson, which this was adapted from, was aimed more at a teen to young adult audience, while this is much more for children. It really is a film that can be enjoyed by kids with wicked imaginations.

Some scenes are boring and the plot is just a little silly. The visuals aren’t anything special, when they could have been great. That makes some of this feel like a real wasted opportunity. The beginning and middle act weren’t great, but the third act was emotionally poignant and pretty impressive.

It’s wickedly overacted, but it’s necessary for a film like this. Each actor’s performance is pretty great, because each one does an impressive job in making the viewer feel exactly how the character is. In this way, we can easily immerse ourselves into that often poignant atmosphere and sometimes really relate to some of the characters.

The character of Leslie Burke is nice, because she is just so imaginative and naturally real. She is someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. I also like the character of Jess and Leslie’s parents; and I liked the character of May Belle, Jess’ little sister, because she just really wanted to be included. I didn’t care for a lot of the others, though.

Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison and Lauren Clinton.

The plot can get a little ridiculous and boring, but it’s great for kids with imaginations. It is also impressive that it’s so poignant for children’s cinema. It just felt like a wasted opportunity because I didn’t like the visuals or anything.

64/100