2013 Holiday Viewing Log

The end of the year for any movie watcher typically puts you in scramble mode. Regardless of what kind of movies your trying to watch: new releases, classic cinema or Holiday-themed films.

Therefore, rather than have both the Year-End Dash run overly-long, I figured it’d be good to siphon off the holiday-themed offerings. If any films are new and holiday they will link from the other posts to text here.

For a reference to what my ratings mean, go here.

The Christmas Ornament (2013)

TheChristmasOrnament_0001U

The first thing that needs to be said is that the initial offerings are all Hallmark originals for the holidays. On the rare occasion these can surprise. Those found in these reviews here are not the case. Furthermore, what’s not included here was one that I could not finish watching due to how insipid, and in the end, predictable it was.

All these three have their moments, but ultimately fall short. What’s pleasant in this tale are some of the performances and that some of the obvious realizations are not held off for too long. Certain factors that I thought would only come in to play late are out fairly early here. Other than that nothing special.

5/10

Pete’s Christmas (2013)

petes-christmas-hallmark-channel

This film does feature a Groundhog Day like tale that is unusually, in a good way, heavy in montage and features a good cast Bruce Dern, Zachary Gordon, Bailee Madison and Peter DaCunha. However, given its trappings it doesn’t do anything to special with the formula and does, sadly, meander a bit through the second act taking too long to figure out what its ultimate path was aside from trying to improve how setpieces and tropes are handled.

5/10

Christmas Star (2013)

Catch-A-Christmas-Star-Hallmark-16-550x494

This may not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to my tolerance for Hallmark’s formula, but it was the low ebb prior to having to call one quits early. Essentially what you have in this film is an unrealistic and highly predictable scenario, inadequate performances save by one given by the youngest cast member (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), uncomfortable staging and glacial plot movement and add to that, for the most part, really grating country music stylings. It just fails in nearly all aspects.

2/10

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a better film than its predecessor. This was something I rather anticipated, however, I don’t believe its to the detriment of this installment that it is second. There is not too much shorthand used and the narrative is accessible enough that that much enjoyment will not be stripped away if you are walking into this one cold.

This film benefits from a more unified and less episodic plot than did its predecessor as well. Not that it still doesn’t reap the benefit of humorous and well thought out subplots but they weave their way into the larger narrative with more finesse than prior. These tales like Chirag’s invisibility, the new girl, the teacher with a vendetta, are all well-handled and add to the film but do not ever threaten to overtake the film from what the central conflict is.

The conflict being that of sibling rivalry, which is handled very well because you see a relationship in stasis go from just about as bad as it can possibly get to become rather functional. It also contains the peaks and valleys that are requisite for such a struggle, and even more of a credit to the film it goes from being borderline cartoonish in its animosity to being rather real and honest in the handling of the themes of both resentment and insurmountable hatred that sometimes accompany such relationship, especially when the age difference is large.

These discussion points come first to illustrate that despite its varying brands of humor, there is a point to be made in the film and its not just mindless and “low-brow” comedy. As for the comedy, it does do a wonderful balancing act again. As this is a home-based tale, there is more parent-child and husband-wife comedy than before.

Again the Steve Zahn brilliantly plays a dad who wants to be as hands off in parenting as he can and also is a typical guy in some regards and not just your typical distant patriarchal archetype. He is countered wonderfully by Rachael Harris. They are funny enough, however, the comedic quotient in this film is amplified greatly when you consider that the talented and previously under-ultilized Devon Bostick gets to step to the fore in this film. He is astonishingly good in this film and rarely delivers a line that doesn’t elicit some sort of response whether it be a laugh or one that connects dramatically.

Zachary Gordon’s character Greg is somewhat mellowed this time around not as hellbent on achieving popularity and other superficial means of acceptance but glimmers of that self appear even in a more rounded character that he creates just as easily, if not easier than he did before. His honesty in situations that in tandem can be seen as absurd are what carry the film and make it something you can connect to sympathetically rather than watch as a disinterested observer.

This film moves along at a very healthy clip, not only are there some fun and creative editing choices like “Disappointed” montage for Mom but things cut swiftly within scenes such that the whole things seems like its done in a blink and not in a disappointed I-Can’t-Believe-They-Call-That-A-Feature kind of way but in a fun and escapist, easily re-watchable way.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
allows the narrative, characters and young performers to grow and evolve from where we left them and you can call it an experiment if you like, but if you do it is surely a success. Those who were there are better, more confident and comfortable in their roles and those who are new like Peyton List, who carries off the important role of Greg’s love interest with uncanny ease, blend in perfectly.

It’s a funny, fun, must-see.

10/10

Rewind Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used, on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

With reports already abound that the writers are and have been crafting a sequel since before the premiere the makers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid seemed like they would be getting off on the wrong foot by immediately violating one of my recommended cinematic resolutions (A piece I wrote at the start of that year urged studios to wait on sequel announcements). This is not the case, however, as for the most part there are few missteps and many, many positives in this funny family film that really is likely to please the whole family.

The first thing this film does right was to not fall into the in-and-out no one gets hurt motto of family-friendly filmmaking, which means they were unafraid of a slower pace which feels longer than it is and tells a lot of story. Even better is that you don’t really feel it at all because there’s plenty story there and no filler.

What allows this film to so easily tackle the extra running time is not only the fact that it takes a diary approach, starting just before the first day of school in September and going until the end of the year but also that employs a narrator, the protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), that not only moves the story along but at times talks to the camera directly, which is to this day a hard feat to pull of but it’s well done here.

This is the kind of film that doesn’t work at all unless its young lead is spot on in such a way that you not only identify with his situation but at times feel for it and this accomplished with deft and ease by Zachary Gordon. If Greg Heffly is misplayed at all, considering the story elements, he is not a sympathetic character but he adds to it a naive sure-headedness that make him readily identifiable to most audience members. Similarly, Robert Capron as Rowley easily becomes either like we were at that age, unwilling to grow up and unashamedly himself, or just like someone we knew- together they make this movie happen.

Kudos are also in store to director Thor Freudenthal not only for a second consecutive well-handled and non-condescending family film (Hotel for Dogs) but also for allowing some reality into the equation when dealing with Junior High School. Few films ever, whether through storyline or casting extras older, realistically depict the chasm in maturity that exists not just amongst kids at the same grade-level but between the 6th and 8th grade- you may never feel that extraordinarily short again as you do that year and this film finally addresses that other realities that are typically glossed over by other projects.

Another positive is the realism of the cheese metaphor. In the tale there is a piece of cheese stuck to the blacktop of the playground and it mysteriously never gets moved and it develops this aura. Stories develop and those who touch it are cursed. The flashback sequence describing the history of the cheese is a great subplot and also when it becomes crucial at the end as it is a great metaphor for the triviality and randomness about what is perceived as good and bad by peers in school. It is truly a wonderful touch.

The only slight issues this film suffers from is in the two-pronged rift that occurs between the two friends, it’s not so much that the rift happens because you kind of see it coming but it’s how they happen. First, there is a disagreement when Greg and Rowley are trying to collaborate on a comic strip for a school competition the reason it’s sort of an issue is a matter of personal preference. Basically, it’s an argument between Greg and Rowley where the film seems to want you to take Rowley’s side but in this viewer’s opinion Greg was right on that one- Rowley’s strip is funny in context of the film but taken out of the film Greg’s is better (Note: on re-views Rowley’s has become funnier in its un-funniness and the sequel deals with the joke better). Where Greg isn’t right is when he betrays his friend, of course, and here is where the moral of the film will come in. However, their rift gets prolonged because of how Greg handles his mistake after the fact, lesson learned ultimately but movie slightly lessened due to it- not to say that Rowley should’ve immediately forgiven it, but it was a sorry apology attempt.

Another way in which this film excels, however, is that the secondary characters do show some reality even if they are not as well-sketched as the leads. There is the Gym teacher showing favoritism in a not over-the-top way to his better athletes. Then there’s Angie (Chloe Moretz) who sits on the sidelines most of the time because she realizes how futile being popular and accepted at this level is if you’re not you. Even Greg’s parents just in how they react to one situation, Greg’s fight with a girl during The Wizard of Oz, is real and happens. Mom is disappointed and can’t even talk to him and dad says to Greg “I thought she deserved it.” Then there’s Greg’s older brother Roderick who never changes and always treats Greg poorly but is a proponent of a theory many know well “Just blend in.”

Ultimately, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a very enjoyable, insightful, thoughtful and funny film about an under-represted (in a realistic fashion) subset of the population on film.

8/10

Book Review- The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

You never know what you’re going to get when you purchase a book that ties into the release of a film that purports to be a diary or some other kind of making of chronicle. Some I flip through are quite flimsy (like alleged shooting scripts with too many photos and goofy formatting), some are quite great (like the Hugo companion). Usually, the book being written by the author of the adapted book is a good indicator.

Thus, what surprised me most about Jeff Kinney’s book about The Diary of a Wimpy Kid wasn’t that I liked it (though I have not read the books, only saw the films) but how detailed it is, yet also accessible. Kinney describes much of the filmmaking process through all three phases of production simply yet precisely. However, aside from tricks of the trade, he also makes the journey personal discussing both his journey with the character and the books and then the films. He goes on to include a bit about the affinity and coincidences in chronology that exist between Gregg Heffley and Zachary Gordon, the actor who plays the role.

Here again you also have another author discuss why changes were made to the narrative when transcribing it to the screen and being fully in support of them. However, Kinney has perhaps the simplest, most bulletproof fanboy block of them all “If everything that happened in the book happened in the movie why would you want to see it?” He also talks about the difficulty in casting Gregg because he recognized that the character had to start as severely flawed but still likable and I believe that balance was struck.

Aside from the specifics of the productions, which prove that movie-making is always hard work (as if that needed proving) I really liked getting a glimpse into the creative process, which is shown not just on Kinney’s part but the first film’s director and the young cast (Gordon and Robert Capron wrote essays as their characters, which are dead on). Aside from the insight that illustrate how the film came into being I think this really is a great book for kids. If they already like the series and are interested in seeing how movies are made you won’t find the elements of production explained more directly, plus discussing concepts in conjunction with a film they’ve seen make it easier to learn.

This is a quick, enjoyable read that is worth seeking out for fans of the series or if you’re just looking to get your feet wet learning the basics of filmmaking. The edition I read had some Rodrick Rules content added but it wasn’t a significant amount so I wouldn’t hold out for a second update and just get it now if you’re interested.

Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a better film than its predecessor. This was something I rather anticipated, however, I don’t believe its to the detriment of this installment that it is second. There is not too much shorthand used and the narrative is accessible enough that that much enjoyment will not be stripped away if you are walking into this one cold.

This film benefits from a more unified and less episodic plot than did its predecessor as well. Not that it still doesn’t reap the benefit of humorous and well thought out subplots but they weave their way into the larger narrative with more finesse than before. These tales like Chirag’s invisibility, the new girl, the teacher with a vendetta are all well-handled and add to the film but do not ever threaten to overtake the film from what the central conflict is.

The conflict being that of sibling rivalry, which is handled very well because you see a relationship in stasis go from just about as bad as it can possibly get to become rather functional. It also contains the peaks and valleys that are requisite for such a struggle and even more of a credit to the film it goes from being borderline cartoonish in its animosity to being rather real and honest in the handling of the themes of both resentment and insurmountable hatred that sometimes accompany such relationship especially when the age difference is large.

These discussion points come first to illustrate that despite its varying brands of humor, there is a point to be made in the film and its not just silly comedy. As for the styles comedy it does do a wonderful balancing act again. As this is a homey tale there is more parent-child and husband-wife comedy than before.

Again Steve Zahn brilliantly plays a dad who wants to be as hands off in parenting as he can and also is a typical guy in some regards and not just your typical distant patriarchal archetype. He is countered wonderfully by Rachael Harris. They are funny enough, however, the comedic quotient in this film is amplified greatly when you consider that the talented and previously under-ultilized Devon Bostick gets to step to the fore in this film. He is astonishingly good in this film and rarely delivers a line that doesn’t elicit some sort of response whether it be a laugh or one that connects dramatically.

Zachary Gordon’s character Greg is somewhat mellowed this time around not as hellbent on achieving popularity and other superficial means of acceptance but glimmers of that self appear even in a more rounded character that he creates just as easily, if not easier than he did before. His honesty in situations that in tandem can be seen as absurd are what carry the film and make it something you can connect to sympathetically rather than watch as a disinterested observer.

This film moves along at a very healthy clip, not only are there some fun and creative editing choices like “Disappointed” montage for Mom but things cut swiftly within scenes such that the whole things seems like its done in a blink and not in a disappointed I-Can’t-Believe-They-Call-That-A-Feature kind of way but in a fun and escapist, easily re-watchable way.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules allows the narrative, characters and young performers to grow and evolve from where we left them and you can call it an experiment if you like but if you do it is surely a success. Those who were there are better, more confident and comfortable in their roles and those who are new like Peyton List, who carries off the important role of Greg’s love interest with uncanny ease, blend in perfectly.

It’s funny, fun, must-see.

10/10