March to Disney: Old Dogs

On occasion there will be a film that gets steamrolled by the critical mass and it really shouldn’t be. On a rare occasion it will be a film that is actually quite good, more often than not it will just be a decent film that’s just very harshly thrashed about and doesn’t really deserve it. Old Dogs falls into the latter category.

Don’t misunderstand me – the film isn’t great. It’s passable and ultimately disposable entertainment but for what it was, a simple family comedy, it’s fine. Most important, considering that it’s a comedy, I laughed quite a bit. The critical reaction I am sure are coming in response to things within the tale that are cliché like getting caught in the animal enclosure, the overly-aggressive game of ultimate Frisbee, being strapped to a jet pack, playing tea, the unwilling babysitter and other conventions. However, they are put together interestingly and cut together quickly and the execution of all these things you’ve seen is above average and typically humorous.

The one part of the film that was wholly unsatisfying was when Dan (Robin Williams) was being taught how to play by a friend of Charlie’s (John Travolta). The friend is played by the late Bernie Mac which makes you wonder how long this film has been in the can. This is the most difficult and preposterous part where Williams is turned into a “human puppet” so he can play with his daughter, thankfully the mechanism breaks and Williams is allowed to take the scene over as his normal charming self.

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One also need not be concerned with pacing in this film as the bulk of the story is almost immediately taken on. You witness the usual formula for Dan and Charlie at a pitch, this usually involves Charlie telling one embarrassing story about Dan and softening up the client. What is unexpected is that this story which is cut to with frenetic pace actually factors into the plot so almost immediately there is pertinent information conveyed.

This being a Disney film there is the compulsory family content aside from the silliness. In this case it was Dan trying to connect and reconnect with his kids. It was surprisingly rather effective and really what held the story together. There’s certainly nothing new under the sun in this film but it a film that achieves its modest goals and one can’t fault it for that. There is also commitment from all involved to their roles especially in the smaller roles played by Seth Green and Justin Long.

The film actually manages a few sight gags, which is rare, after Dan and Charlie take the wrong medications and while some of the CG went a bit far the mesmerized images were rather humorous as was the scenario.
Should family fare over the next few weeks prove insufficient you should give this a chance. It’s a funny little movie with something for everyone.

6/10

Thankful for World Cinema- La Cage aux Folles

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

La Cage aux folles

It is impossible for me, having been exposed to The Birdcage first, to not compare the original and the remake. Almost from the word go I sensed a great disparity between the two films even though the remake ended up being and uninspired copy and paste writing job. The first thing that lends itself to creating a different tone is the music composed by Ennio Morricone. The music in The Birdcage by Mark Mothersbaugh and Jonathan Tunick is forgettable seeing as I’ve seen the remake three or four times and can’t remember a single note while I’ve seen the original once and can still remember Morricone’s score.

Ennio Morricone’s gentle music takes us into a world that we shouldn’t be afraid of. The key word to thinking about his music is sensitive. It exudes softness, tenderness which is aped by the action and the actors who are not ridiculous characterizations but with real people and real emotions. Due to the fact that all scenes include practically the same dialogue it is a huge complement to Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault that they made their characters more three-dimensional and real than Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

The American interpretation of this film is also vastly different than the French. Due to the fact that this film deals with homosexuality, which is a topic that still is tinged with taboo here Americans have to turn the film into a farce of a farce. In other words the movie has to be ridiculously over-the-top to be accepted. The pathetic part of the remake is that it perpetuates stereotypes and while the stereotypes do exist (for how do stereotypes come into being?) by merely making them more human we can see beyond a stereotype to the person portrayed. A perfect example of this is the opening scene. They are the same in both films. Renato (Armand in the American version) tries to get Albin (Albert) onto the stage to perform his act. In the American version Nathan Lane makes his character seem like a whining melodramatic pain-in-the-you-know-what because of this the scene is very funny but emotionally superficial. In the French version practically the same dialogue is spoken but because of the way Michel Serrault delivers his lines and because of the more subdued expression he has on his face the words take on weight. They have meaning they come across as real concerns for the relationship as opposed to a paranoid delusion and an excuse not to go on stage. It made me believe the affair was a possibility all over again and made me forget about the son and his impending marriage.

The deception of the possibility that Renato is having an affair is aided by the son’s appearance. In the American version he was clean-cut and Ivy League here the son in full 1970s look, long hair included.

 La Cage aux folles in 1978, even in France, was a more progressive film depicting a gay relationship, a gay couple who had raised a son and how the couple still had to pretend in certain social situations while longing to be completely honest. By 1996 in the United States homosexuality was not such a hot topic of controversy yet a slapstick-esque context is the only way the mainstream will be able to accept gay characters. Dramas about homosexuals are sole dominion of the art houses.

This is a film that does something very difficult to do. It takes a situation that is rich with comedy and imbues it with humanity and warmth. Making this a layered comedy which is something rare regardless of the country the film is made in. La Cage aux folles is a really fun film which takes a serious look at human relationships and society’s perception of people’s lifestyles without putting any one down or getting preachy. It’s a lot of fun.

10/10