Sunday, January 29, 2012

"The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" - a classic Disney movie review by Robert Steven Mack

There are, indeed, so many films out there made and ultimately forgotten. Throughout the twentieth century, films were a primary medium that audiences would appreciate time and time again. Going to the movies was a pleasurable past time people would enjoy for whatever reason or occasion with only one motive in mind: to be entertained.

Hollywood was astounding back then, perhaps even more than it is now. A legend of glamour and big names, stars socializing in the nearest cafe, directors shouting furious directions to create their newest masterpiece; producers working hard in their expensive offices, on packaging their newest blockbuster. Parties were being thrown night after night in celebration of completed films, stars returning from vacation and such. Writers busily typing on their type writers surrounded by sheets of paper that would soon become the biggest epic of the year, film noire, western or whatever other classic genres were being produced. Not that any of this had any relation whatsoever with reality. But it's still nice to reminisce...

In the 1940's, Disney was commissioned to make a variety of rather not so extravagantly budgeted "package films." They consisted of several short stories compiled into one 75 minute film. The last of these was a film produced in 1949 and told the stories of Kenneth Graham's "The Wind in the Willows" and Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, respectively, and among the voice cast classic character actor Eric Blore to voice Mr. Toad. That film was called "The Legend of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." With Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) as narrator and a lively, well-portrayed voice cast, this feature beautifully portrays the classic tale of a wealthy and free-spirited Toad whose mischievous acts and carelessness eventually get the best of him, with only his best friends to help him sort out the trouble and chaos he managed to conjure up.

Telling the story with fun, wit and charm, as well as the devises that give it a dash of the rather "large scale picture" as you might call it. The events that occur in the story are placed precisely in a manner that every moment counts, such as when Toad finally feels he has gone too far, and when McBager shows up on Christmas Eve with news that no such crime was ever committed by Toad and that they must take the real law breakers to justice in order to prove Toad's innocence. Dynamically told with all the proper ingredients, it is apparent that this film had the right minds working on it. If there was ever a film to watch based on the "Wind and the Willows," then believe me when I say: this is it!

In classic Disney fashion and ingenuity, the story of Ichabod Crane was brought to viewers in America. It was told and sung purely by Bing Crosby. The animation is timeless, the music is fitting and pure, and Bing Crosby was perfect to tell the story. A story with humour, love, and trickery this film reveals from when Ichabod Crane, a strange but good-natured fellow, first comes to town to when the town bully stories catch up to Ichabod when riding through the woods on an eerie Halloween night and chased by the Headless Horseman. That scene in particular is engagingly told and displays what all lead up to that moment in Ichadbod Crane's life: the foolishness and the superstition in one combined together in a most frightening manner. The infamous chase and the rest of this story is beautifully animated and vividly told.

A film for all ages, but one perhaps a viewer could only fully understand at the right age, yet it still something for the youngens. Moreover, it bridges English stories with American fables and legend having Basil Rathbone telling the Wind in the Willows with all the English dignity and intellect and easy-going Bing Crosby sing and tell The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or Ichabod Crane. It is one of the most dignified, fresh, and ingenuitive films by Disney I have ever seen! A rare treasure among the world of animation, this is some of the best story- telling I have ever come across.

Copyright 2012 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hugo - a contemporary film review by Robert Steven Mack

It is always a pleasure to go to a movie theater and see a movie that brings pleasure to the viewer and therefore not end up bitterly disappointed. And it is of particular pleasure to perhaps both of us to go to such a theater and for the first time see a masterpiece of such magnificent extreme proportion that you are ranting endlessly about it the next day.

You never know quite what to expect when going to your local theater to see a film; at least I don't. And what do you go for? To be entertained. Sometimes your hopes are high for the film you are about to see, for whatever particular reason, and sometimes they may be not that at all. Perhaps, there have been time for you when, throughout the whole popcorn-buying session prior to the films start when you on-goingly think nervously to yourself, "maybe this isn't such a good idea." I do that often!

Some films you know, deep down - by instinct, that they are good; but which is of course counter-acted by the nervousness of experiencing the unknown. And I had plenty of reasons to be worried about when I was about to see Hugo after a long and forbidding wait. First of all, I had never seen a film by the great Martin Scorcease and I hoped dearly that he wasn't another one of those "visionary" directors. Second, I am definitely the type to doubt a lot of good things; and third, I know what modern movies can be like. But to accurately describe what the experience of watching the movie was like, I must translate to you these three words: I was captured!

The film Hugo, is based on a very interesting book by David Selznick he published on January 30, 2007. The book, encompassing the experience of that of both, a silent motion picture-goer, and a fascinated reader using a great story, pictures, and somehow a little something for anyone. The book,taking place in the roaring twenties, is about a boy named Hugo, who secretly lives as an orphan in train station in France taking care of the clocks. In his vast pastime, he steals the mechanic pieces of toys from a nearby toy shop at the station to use to put fix a mysterious Automatrom, the only thing he has of his beloved dead father. An elder toy maker, an adventure hungry girl, and Hugo's beloved Automatrom lead him, and those around him to discover something fantastic about the early twentieth century filmmaker, George Melies.

The film, enjoyable from the start, was faithful and close to the book in most respects and had an absolutely enchanting pace to it. One of the characters was missing - but good riddens 'cause he would have slowed down the film considerably anyways. In addition, there are few other minor things switched and tweaked, but all for the better. Otherwise, the film did a fine poetic job of capturing the essence of the book on screen.

Although I am not familiar with much of the cast of Hugo, they each delivered a meaningful performance and captured their characters to make up the large scale story being told. Asa Butterfield is moving in his role as Hugo, the boy who secretly lives within the walls and clocks of a train station in Paris. Chloe Grace Moretz also did a fine job in playing Issabelle, the girl who befriends him on his journey. Also taking part in this pleasing epic are Sir Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies, the great pioneering filmmaker, Helen McCrory as his wife and actress, Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector, Jude Law as his father, as well as Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, and Christopher Lee. A marvelous British cast that will make the experience so very magical for those who attend.

The music contained about the most charming score I've seen for a movie since that of High Noon and and the illustrious Ben-Hur. A definite sub- cross between the two. The visual effects and cinematography are to die for, but completely unpretentious. They are splendid! Martin Scorsese beautiful poetry on film is probably the most moving and gratifying film experience you can find within recent years. It is perhaps so above the normal mediocre twenty-first century film that it may even be able to stand in the crowd of the past cinematic splendors of yester-year as its own unique film experience. The movie is filled with sub-plots and gives deep character insights not offered in the book. In this way, one may argue that it is similar, cinematically to that of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Hugo clandestinely watches life in the train station from his view within the walls and the sub-plots and nooks and crannies the film offers grow to the point in which it actually becomes a central part of the story.

The dream sequence might be a bit scary (nothing too bad-just a bid startling) and children at younger ages really shouldn't see it; you need to understand it to appreciate the film. Otherwise it's a lovely film. After all,the dream sequence is to add emphasis on certain story elements which one should respect.

If the Oscar Award for Best Picture were up to me I'd award it to this film basically because it, in my mind, deserves it, along with many more Oscars. Martin Scorsese has produced a work that is that of a a modern Hitchcock (forgive the reference) and a true classic; a treasured product of our time.

Martin Scorsese has brought to us an intriguing, visually and emotionally satisfying drama about an adventure inside a train station with an occasional soothing comic flair. A truly powerful movie.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)