Posted tagged ‘Film Review’

The Chipmunk Conundrum

May 17, 2010

Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Rated PG/ Running Time: 92mins

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel/ Rated PG/ Running Time: 88mins

And now we hit the point where I have a crisis of confidence.  I tried to avoid the following.  I wanted to procrastinate until it was forgotten.  However, I made a promise to my kids.  I will just apologize now, because I told them we would discuss “Alvin and the Chipmunks”. 

Unfortunately after two weeks of banging my head against the keyboard, I came up with only one true statement, “Alvin and the Chipmunks is a movie, one that my children have watched many many times.”   I can add that it is a popular series, with the two movies grossing over $800 million at the worldwide box office.  That level of success should make it easy to write a few intelligent paragraphs on The Chipmunks cultural significance.  However, I’m not that good.  So, on that note, I relinquish control of this essay, turning to higher authorities, Amanda (age 4) and Colby (age 6).

Colby:  “I like when Alvin throws the Wii at the TV.”  “I love when Dave slipped on the skateboard.” 

The Chipmunks are Alvin, the troublemaker, Simon, the brains, and Theodore, the naïve.  They sing and make records with a chap named Dave Seville, who acts as their guardian and manager.  They harass him and wreak havoc on his belongings until he snaps and delights the audience with his trademark bellow, “AAAAAAAALLLLLLVINNNNNN!!!!!”  The second movie, “The Squeakquel”, didn’t add much to the formula, just The Chipettes, the female doppelgangers of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. 

I mentioned they break things, right?  Destruction of property permeates all cartoons and slapstick comedy.  Watching animated chipmunks destroy a kitchen is another example in this long tradition.  It would be easy to say only kids want to destroy, but who are we kidding?  Breaking things is very cathartic.  Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to do it in everyday life.  So we need the movies to let us vicariously destroy. 

That’s also the reason so many kid’s movies have potty talk.  The movies are filled with words that kids know they can’t say, and parents know they can’t stop them from saying.  My wife says that nothing lights up my daughter’s eyes more than when she says the word “butt”.  Nobody needs to watch a chipmunk discuss bodily functions or lament the fact that he was “dutch ovened”, but potty talk is inevitable.  I may not like it, but since I can not completely suppress it, a movie like this gives the kids a relatively innocent outlet.

Amanda: “I like when they dance.”  “I like the concert” 

The music is the essence of the Chipmunks’ popularity and what differentiates them from other characters.  They recorded their first novelty song, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”, in 1958 and it has been in heavy holiday rotation ever since.  That means their high pitched versions of popular songs, TV shows, and movies have haunted the childhoods of people aged six to sixty.  They are the first introduction to pop songs for many kids.  In the late 70’s, they taught me about Blondie and Billy Joel.  However, The Chipmunks are one of those things that we definitely outgrow.  Today, nostalgia alone can’t keep me from covering my ears when they come on the radio. 

Amanda and Colby:  “I love love love this movie.”  “It’s cool.”  “It’s so cool and awesome.”  “It’s funny”  “So funny”  “The other one’s so funny too.” 

That pretty much sums it up doesn’t it?  The kids love it, it does not matter one bit if I like it or not.  What about quality?  With summer around the corner, the blogs are full of articles seeped in anger over needless sequels, remakes and reboots and the audiences who mindlessly accept whatever is doled out.  My answer to all of this outrage, does it really matter?

I am not apathetic.  I concede that seeing the resources thrown at some of the crap out there can be frustrating to a struggling filmmaker with a truly marvelous idea.  But, I also live by a few rules.  One, if something is really good, it will be found.  Two, if for some reason it is not found, don’t make excuses, make it yourself.  Three, and perhaps most important for your sanity, no matter how much you complain you will not get rid of the crap, kids love crap.

However, let’s not call “Alvin and the Chipmunks” crap.  Nobody wishes to touch crap, and although box office numbers are not a gauge of quality, they are some measure of popularity.  No one can dispute that The Chipmunks are popular.  They are part of childhood.  Really they are no different than sugar cereals, nutritiously hollow, but oh so tasty.  If your kids live solely on Trix or Fruity Pebbles, they are traveling a road to serious health issues.  If they only watch “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, enlightenment is not at the end of their path.  But that is ok.  Kids can’t only eat vegetables, sometimes they need to be allowed to have ice cream for dinner.  (And for the record, I enjoyed the movies more than I thought I would.)

Whats Your Favorite “Crappy” Childhood Movie?

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The Need for Compassion – “Grave of the Fireflies”

April 25, 2010

Grave of the Fireflies/ Not Rated/ Running Time: 89 mins

“Grave of the Fireflies” absolutely destroyed me.  Every minute of it filled me with dread and sadness.  It touches upon the dark side of life, showing cruelty, alienation, and loss.  It evokes the emotions that we spend most of our lives trying to avoid.  And it should be required viewing for every parent.

The Japanese movie follows Seita, a boy of 14 and his 4 year old sister, Setsuko, during the waning days of World War II.  It is animated, but it is not for children.  Young kids should stay away, not because the images are overtly violent or disturbing, rather the emotions are beyond their comprehension.  

“All war stories are told by survivors,” the director Samuel Fuller once told Roger Ebert.  This is a survival tale as well, but we know within the first few minutes that the children will not survive.  The reasons why the children do not survive make this film vital.  In most films where the audience knows the main character will die, it becomes increasingly suspenseful as the movie progresses.  By the end, we are primed for the moment when the gun goes off, or the accident occurs.  This film offers no easy tragic ending.  Death does not come from a wayward bomb, but from an accumulation of the little acts of selfishness that we commit in our everyday lives.

How often do we put conditions on the love we give one another?  How often do we agree to do something out of obligation and complain about it later?  Early in the film, the children lose their mother and move in with an aunt.  While she accepts them into her home, she refuses to comfort the little girl’s nightmares, belittles the boy for not doing more for the war effort, and doles out meal portions based upon her judgment of who deserves it most.  Despite this, she is no wicked step-mother.  She is trying to survive as well.  Like most of us, she may not even realize that she judges and makes her love conditional.

The children end up alone, forgotten by the world.  Adult selfishness drove them out on their own, but it is childish ego that keeps them there.  The boy refuses to forgive his aunt for her behavior even when their situation becomes so dire that her help is their only hope for survival.  The children spiral downward and all the audience can do is watch as if they are attending a terminally ill relative.  The saddest part is the knowledge that it is all preventable.  All it would take is one person to show compassion to the children or the boy to let go of his ego.

It is difficult for me to connect to a war movie.  I have never lived through a war, so my knowledge comes from the history books and the movies.  Great war movies give you a simulated experience.  But even the best examples, such as the visceral opening invasion of “Saving Private Ryan” or the brutal imagery of “Schindler’s List” will never aptly capture the reality.  The most affecting scene about World War II comes from “The Straight Story”, when two elderly men sit at a bar and tell their war stories.  Both men end the scene crying, overwhelmed by their memories.  The beauty of the scene is its encapsulation of the repercussions of war without focusing on the actions, but rather the feelings. 

The emotional impact of “Grave of the Fireflies” continues to resonate with me weeks after my first viewing.  It has become a touchstone.  It reminds me to be a little kinder, that little actions can have huge repercussions, and to hug my children as much as I can.  There are so many scenes in this film that had me close to tears.  When writing this essay, there were times when I felt a pit in my stomach, choked up from memories of the film.  This does not happen often.

“Grave of the Fireflies” may not be a pleasant emotional experience, but it is powerful and unforgettable.  As parents, we want to teach our kids to be thankful for what they have and to help those in need.  We want them to be compassionate and to remember those who are forgotten by society.    The movie reminds us of the tragic consequences that can occur if we ignore these ideals.  Show it your children as they become old enough, but before that, watch it yourself and remember what is important in life.

What movie reminds you to be a better person?

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