Tag Archives: alan arkin

Dumbo (2019)

Since the original Dumbo is only 60 minutes long, it was inevitable that Tim Burton’s 2019 update would veer from the scant story line of the first.

Max Medici (Danny De Vito) is the owner of a rinky dink circus where little Dumbo is born and immediately considered a monstrosity, despite the fact that our eyes tell us that between his big, sad, blue eyes and his soft, floppy ears, CGI Dumbo is perhaps even cuter than his hand-drawn cousin. A couple of kids, Millie and Joe Farrier, befriend Dumbo and together they discover he can fly. Their father Holt (Colin Farrell), a former trick pony rider and current one-armed vet, cares for the elephants but isn’t particularly warm to them, or to his own motherless children. When Dumbo’s mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is in the middle of an incident, she is labelled ‘mad’ and sold away. This is the straw that broke the circus’s back. It gets eaten up by a new amusement park called Dreamland, owned by Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and featuring the beautiful Colette (Eva Green).

As you can tell by cast alone, all the trappings of a Tim Burton movie are there, but sadly, almost none of the magic.

MV5BMTk3YzY3NmEtODExNy00ZGY5LTk3ZGYtMGUxOTlmN2Q2MTcxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5MTY4MTU@._V1_The first thing working against it, at least in my mind, is a circus scene in the movie Big Fish. It’s only a small part of the movie but it’s completely wonderful. Shouldn’t the wonder just multiply when set entirely at the circus? But no. Things start off relatively well at DeVito’s flea circus, but once it gets swallowed up by the soulless Dreamland, things go off the rails.

Second, I despised seeing Dumbo ridden. Dumbo is a flying baby elephant. Isn’t that enough? But no: 2019 needs to subjugate his whimsy by physically climbing aboard. It also doesn’t help that the sight of Eva Green on Dumbo’s back is some of the worst CGI work in the movie.

Mostly though, the movie just doesn’t feel coherent. Dumbo isn’t really even the star. Burton decided against the whole talking animal schtick, and while that makes sense for a live-action remake, it means a lot of improvised human characters and actor egoes who need screen time and dialogue and character arcs.

But when Dumbo himself is on the screen, the movie puffs its little chest and feels bigger for just a moment. Dumbo is irresistible, particularly in his clown makeup. My heart practically grows arms that yearn to embrace the poor little guy. Unfortunately, this little heart of mine just can’t quite make its way to liking this movie. It has everything going for it but the sum isn’t more than the parts. The sum is messy, and a little cold. Burton’s Dumbo is BYOH – bring your own heart.

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Noel

This movie’s got more Oscar winners and nominees than most, so I can’t quite figure out how I’ve never heard of this movie before. Alan Arkin plays a creepy cashier who’s obsessed with Paul Walker, who plays a cop who’s crazy-jealous over his super hot girlfriend, played by Penelope Cruz, who thinks she may be pregnant with her crazy-jealous boyfriend’s baby and she’s feeling so insecure she confides in a lonely woman played by Susan Sarandon, who’s completely alone for the holidays other than her comatose mother and a complete stranger she meets while visiting another patient, played by Robin Williams, who’s an ex-priest having a crisis of faith.

penelope_cruz_noel_still_2004_OGXxLss.sizedThis holiday movie has something for everyone: spirituality, homophobia, reincarnation, crippling depression, dead babies, and more. But in its heart of hearts it’s really just about a bunch of people who don’t want to end up alone – on Christmas, on their deathbeds, in the world just generally. Some of us feel encumbered by all our obligations to friends and family over the holidays but others are completely bankrupt when it comes to people who care, and for them, the holidays can be really, really hard.

If you’re one of those people, maybe opt for something a little more cheerful. And if you’re already feeling cheerful, why bring a good mood down? This is possibly just too depressing for Christmas fare, and that’s not even counting the fact that it stars two men now dead in real life, one of whom also expires on camera. It’s a real corker! Contrived doesn’t begin to cover it; Noel is a stocking full of sadness hung by the chimney with despair. But it does have Penelope Cruz dancing around in lingerie, so.

 

Going In Style

Am I having a senior moment?  For the life of me, I still cannot remember the name of this movie without looking it up.  I can always recall the “Going” part but then it gets muddled in a lot of different ways – “Going Out In Style”, “Going All The Way”, “Going Out On A Limb”, “Going For Broke”, and on and on.  I mention that because the first impression given by the title, i.e., generic, forgettable, and lazy, is a good summary of this film.  Along those same lines, with how generic it is I am not one bit surprised to have just going-in-stylediscovered this is a remake of a 1979 movie starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg.  I guess I am about 65 years too young to remember that one, even though I was alive when it came out.

I think I am still about 65 years too young to find the 2017 version tolerable.  And that’s a shame for three reasons: (a) Academy Award Winner Michael Caine; (b) Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman; and (c) Academy Award Winner Alan Arkin.  I absolutely love each of those old guys.  They are endlessly charming even when they phone it in.  And they are totally phoning it in here, probably because they knew that even at 100% effort this movie would still suck.

If you absolutely have to watch this movie, you will not suffer all that much.   You may giggle once or twice and you will feel good despite your cold-hearted cynicism when [SPOILERS] they get away with the heist [SPOILERS].

But why would you watch this shitty film when, if you want a movie about getting even with those evil banks, you could watch Hell or High Water, which just came to Netflix and is not only a fantastic film, it also has Jeff Bridges in the curmudgeonly old guy role to tick that box.

Or if you want to be charmed by Michael Caine, you could watch any movie Chris Nolan has directed in the last decade (literally).  And for an instant Caine fix while deciding which Nolan film to pull from your DVD collection, I present Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trading Michael Caine impressions in The Trip.

Morgan Freeman?  Since you can catch him in basically any movie ever, it is almost guaranteed that you can be charmed by him in a much better film (but be sure NOT to resort to Ben-Hur).  If I had to pick only one, it would be The Shawshank Redemption – that is peak Mo-Free on display as an old criminal with a heart of gold.

Alan Arkin?  Argo and Little Miss Sunshine.  The perfect grumpy old guy double feature. It’s just so easy to find something better to watch.

That’s the problem with Going In Style.  There are so many superior options, you have to wonder why anyone even bothered, other than Caine, Freeman and Arkin who I hope got paid at least as much as their bank-robbing characters did.  See?  I can’t hold anything against those guys, not even this terrible movie.

 

Little Miss Sunshine

This is my jam. A movie I can watch again and again and it never gets old. It’s well-constructed and absorbing and there’s always some small detail to catch and enjoy.

The Hoovers are having a hard time. Sheryl brings her suicidal brother Frank to her home where he’s scarcely the most damaged. Frank (Steve Carell) has just been rejected by his lover and is suffering from acute profession angst as he watches his rival in Proustian studies get recognized while his own work languishes. Sheryl (Toni Collette) takes him in but barely has a thought to spare for him, poor guy, no matter how fresh the bandages on his wrists are. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) has a self-help technique for attaining success that nobody wants. He’s a loser, and his starry-eyed MV5BNTUyNzk4NjA0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTYzNDA2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1526,1000_AL_confidence is waning by the minute. Their teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence. He can’t wait to leave his family behind to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Dwayne’s grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) has just been kicked out of his retirement residence for selling (and taking) drugs. The family’s a mess, and Sheryl’s beginning to feel emotionally bankrupt, so it’s under these circumstances that the family rallies around its youngest member, Olive (Abigail Breslin). Olive may be an unlikely candidate for the beauty pageant circuit but she’s an enthusiastic one. On a whim, the family decides to leave their troubles behind and hit the road from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California, in pursuit of little Olive’s dream of pageant glory.

Little Miss Sunshine is about dreams, and I guess, their inverse – illusions.  This family of fuck ups needs so badly for one goddamned thing to go right. But for some of us, happiness, or contentment, needs to be found in small moments of unity. Triumph found in trying. Not everyone is a winner at life, and that’s what makes this film so funny, and so heart breaking. It’s what makes it feel real despite some increasingly absurd twists of fate.

Family dynamics are made clear to us during a long scene around a bucket of KFC. My goodness. Toni Collette has long been a favourite of mine but she’s determined with each performance to win me over again, astonishing me with her willingness to let ego go and embrace the honest dregs of each character. Steve Carell was an unknown when they cast him, and producers worried that he wasn’t famous enough to help their little movie along. But in the short time between filming and the movie’s release, Carell burst onto the scene in a star-making turn in the 40 Year Old Virgin, and then introduced himself to all of America as everyone’s favourite boss on The Office. He is quiet and introspective in Little Miss Sunshine, but his underplayed pain and ennui have a presence that take up space in the family’s forever breaking down VW bus. Little Abigail Breslin did not make her acting debut in Little Miss Sunshine (she was in 2002’s Signs) but she did become the first person born in the 90s to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her role; she was 10 at the time. She lost but Alan Arkin won in his category. His snatching of the Oscar from Mark Wahlberg was the only one of 5 categories that The Departed lost that night.

This family’s dysfunction is perhaps a little more urgent and layered than most, but almost everyone can see a slice of their own family somewhere in this script. We laugh, we cry, we have a good time, and we leave better people because we’ve witnessed someone’s pain and empathized.