Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mr. Holland's Opus Review by Briana Alessio

In order to accurately state my true feelings on the film, there are many spoilers in this blog post.  I normally try to refrain from mentioning too many when I blog, but in order to get my point across about certain topics, main plot points must be revealed.

This is a heartwarming drama from 1995 starring Richard Dreyfuss as a music teacher who aspires to be something more.  This is the story of a man who has a loving, supportive wife but he wants to change the lives of those he teaches.  At first, we are presented with a class of students who find it basically meaningless to memorize definitions from a textbook.  Mr. Holland soon realizes that he must take charge and teach in a manner which will interest THEM as well as himself.

From the beginning, we see Holland’s thoughts play out (no pun intended) and as he is seated at the piano, he jumps up to conduct the background music.  At this point, we see the meaning of music in this film and in this character’s life.  Music is not just a thing which exists in life; it drives HIS life which empowers him to feel greater than himself. 

I had seen this film previously but I had forgotten that it takes place at an earlier time period.  The first few minutes will lead you to believe it’s 1995, when it was filmed, but as we pan to a scene of Holland pulling into the school with “1-2-3” by Len Barry playing in the background, we can figure out that this takes place in the 1960s.  If the song did not give it away, then the skirts on the young ladies and dress shirts on young men would have been enough.

The cast is multi-talented.  Glenn Holland is played by none other than Richard Dreyfuss (and honestly, I do not know who else could have pulled off this role as remarkably and gracefully as Dreyfuss) who is well-known for starring in a large number of films including Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Iris Holland, Glenn’s wife, is played by Glenne Headley.  She has appeared in many television shows and films including the popular USA Network shows Monk (which unfortunately no longer airs) and Psych.  Jay Thomas plays witty coach Bill Meister.  He has also been in many television shows and films, including a portrayal of the Easter bunny in The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.  Olympia Dukakis plays the warm hearted Principal Jacobs.  Dukakis has appeared in a multitude of films and is a spectacular actress; she starred in one of my most favorite films of all time, 1987’s Moonstruck.  Alicia Witt plays the outcast turned mayor Gertrude Lang.  Witt played Zoey Woodbine in the TV series Cybill  and Cheryl in a few episodes of Friday Night Lights among many other shows and films.  We also see a great performance by William H. Macy, as well as by future stars Terrence Howard and Jean Louisa Kelly.

Mr. Holland’s Opus is directed by Stephen Herek.  Herek directed the live action version of 101 Dalmatians, as well as The Three Musketeers (see my last blog post), The Mighty Ducks, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead among many others.  He is currently in production of three other films as well.  The mix of songs in this film is brilliantly put together and much enjoyed.  From the London Metropolitan Orchestra’s “An American Symphony (Mr. Holland’s Opus)” to Mr. Holland’s emotional dedication to his son through “Cole’s Song”, every melody brings a piece of warmth to the screen.

There are many dark elements to this film.  We see some emotional, controversial conversations and desperate lack of communication between Mr. Holland and his deaf son.  We also see the possibility of a friendship turning into infidelity, although that topic is so lightly touched upon that it is not worth dwelling on.  Moments like these do not mean that this film is entirely of a serious tone.  There is a moment after one of Mr. Holland’s unsuccessful days of teaching where he feels hopeless and his wife says to him “I made us $32 today.”  He responds with “Big deal, I made 32 kids sleep with their eyes open.”  For me, this was a laugh out loud scene.  Another occurs during Mr. Holland’s summer job as a driving instructor, as he finds out his wife has had their baby.  He is roaring through the city’s streets with two driving students in the car as one yells, “This is a one-way street, Mr. Holland!”  They are scenes which my explanation of does not do justice for.

There are powerful scenes throughout the duration of the film, two of which I will mention.  Mr. Holland believes he cannot communicate with his deaf son and he basically refuses to learn for a long while.  It is not until an altercation exists between the two which causes him to readjust his thoughts.  One day when his father gets home from work, Cole asks him why he is upset.  Mr. Holland shows him through his broken sign language that John Lennon has passed away, followed by informing him he would not understand.  Cole flies off the handle, deservedly so, and scolds him through sign language that he does understand but that his own father will not take the time to understand HIM.  This is a very gripping scene.  Also, there is a point made in the film when a certain statement is made twice under very different circumstances.  The line “your best is not good enough” is expressed both to Glenn from his wife Iris, and to the school board from Glenn pertaining to the removal of music education.

1.)  The composer Michael Kamen was so inspired during the making of this film that he started a non-profit organization which would provide musical instruments to underprivileged students. 
2.)  Every person in the film who portrayed a deaf individual was deaf in real life.
3.)  The song young Gertrude Lang learns on the clarinet is "Stranger on the Shore" by Acker Bilk.
4.)  In the film, we see Mr. Holland’s appreciation of John Lennon.  During his opus at the end, we hear the very last note is the same piano chord as one which is struck in The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
5.)  An actress by the name of Katee Sackhoff appeared as a child extra in the film.  She claims to have hated it but starred alongside Richard Drefuss playing his daughter in The Education of Max Bickford.

My favorite part of this film occurs in the classroom as Mr. Holland is sitting alone with Gertrude Lang.  She is clearly upset at her lack of courage and determination.  He asks her what her favorite feature is about her appearance and she responds by saying her hair, as her father says it reminds him of the sunset.  Mr. Holland responds with “play the sunset.”  She closes her eyes and comes out with a flowing, steady melody.  This is not only a beautiful scene, but a huge turning point for her.  Gertrude is my second favorite character in this.  My first is Cole, the Hollands’ son.  He is misunderstood but has such a wonderful soul.  His character throughout the film is proof that those who are deaf can not only feel the music but they can appreciate music just as much as those who have the blessed ability to hear.

Music inspires many of us and has helped us through many situations in life, whether it be classical, rock, rap, pop, etc.  Perhaps this is why Mr. Holland’s Opus touches my heart in a particular way.  It not only expresses how powerful music is to many people, but it also tells an entertaining story of how a man’s life completely changed due to how HE changed the lives of others.  This is a wonderful story, and a film which I would absolutely recommend to everyone.

My Rating:  4.5/5

We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 99 - Mr. Holland's Opus

This week the DFPP team heads back to high school to hear a famous symphony and discovers that it is possible to lead a fairly normal life and still achieve greatness by touching the lives of others in the 1995 drama Mr. Holland's Opus.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 Blu-ray Review

In Volume 2 of the Pixar Short Films Collection we are reminded of the long standing tradition of short films for Pixar going all the way back to their roots.  I remember back in college going to short film festivals as often as possible hoping to catch the next short from Pixar or various other studios.  That first time Luxo, Jr. hopped around on the big screen, or when I finally got to see Tin Toy and Knick Knack after having only seen photographs. It was amazing.

This blu-ray takes us all the way back to the CalArts days for John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Peter Docter.  We’re presented with some of their student animation projects.  John Lasseter spends some time introducing his work and talking about pencil tests, how he is a classic procrastinator, and his love of bringing inanimate objects to life.  By stark comparison, Andrew Stanton discusses how he’s not really a fan of “magic” and “imagination” in animation.  If you pay close attention you notice a similarity between an early character named Ted and Sulley from Monsters, Inc.

Then there’s the 12 shorts that the blu-ray contains - I was particularly excited to get to see two shorts that I had not yet had an opportunity to watch: Burn*E, and Dug’s Special Mission.  Both of these were great because in the way they tie into their derivative works.  Burn*E is about a repair robot on board the Axiom starship from the movie Wall*E who is just trying to make a simple repair.  While in Dug’s Special Mission we get to see just what Dug was up to before he meets Carl and Russell in the movie Up.

On the blu-ray you’ll also find two shorts from the popular Mater’s Tall Tales: Air Mater and Time Travel Mater.  And one of my personal favorite Pixar shorts, La Luna - a story about a boy finding his own way in the universe.  As well as some other greats like Presto, Day & Night, and Partly Cloudy.  Even if you are a Pixar fan like I am, you probably don’t own all of these shorts, and you’ll also find some interesting material with the Director’s Student Films - I know I did.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 98 - Wreck-It Ralph

This week the DFPP team heads to Game Central Station to find their long lost friend Q*bert and when they do he tells them an amazing story about a bad guy with a heart of gold and a glitchy young racer in the 2012 animated adventure Wreck-It Ralph.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brave Blu-ray Release Review

Long before it came out I knew that the Brave Blu-ray would be a welcomed addition to my growing collection.  Brave was one of my 3 favorite movies to be released this year.  It’s not really hard to imagine I, a self affirmed Disney and technology geek, might like a digitally animated Disney film that contains within it a few new technical leaps forward.  And on top of it has one of my favorite movie soundtracks to be released in a few years - the spirit of the movie and Merida’s freedom shine through and make it excellent running music.  If you want to hear more specifically about the movie please check out Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 78.

Alone the two shorts on this Blu-ray are worth it, though for different reasons.  La Luna is a short that speaks to me in a very beautiful way, and I’m glad to own it.  Everyone has their own story about finding their own way in life, and this story tells one that is very special and... well... stellar.  The other is title The Legend of Mor’du is one that is purely for the fans of the world and lore of Brave.  Hear the legend of the great black bear told all over again from the perspective of the Witch.  I wonder who’s listening.

Then there’s several behind the scenes features like Brave Old World which tells the story of the research trip taken by Brave team members to Scotland.  It really shows the love and appreciation of the country that they reflected in the movie.  There are other shorts that go on to discuss things like the relationship of Merida & Elinor, the realism of the Bears presented in the movie, and one called Brawl in the Hall which about the fight scenes in the castle hall and how they were created, what they represent in the story, etc.  Then in Clan Pixar we learn about all the fun ways the Pixar team celebrated the movie like Kilt Fridays and celebrating with Haggis.

There’s also this great piece Once Upon a Scene where we get to see scenes that never made it to the movie brought to life using storyboards.  I’m always a fan of learning about the history of a movie’s production in this way.  There’s extended versions of a number of scenes in the movie.  Nothing too earth shattering, but you do get a really good picture of how a scene progresses over time, and how a few small edits can take something from terrifying to just scary.

There is also an audio commentary track, which I have not had time to listen to yet, by Director Mark Andrews, Co-Director Steve Purcell, Story Supervisor Brian Larsen, and Editor Nick Smith.  Usually there’s a lot of good information inside these and also perspective as to why certain movie elements were presented to us the way they were.  Looking forward to getting around to listening to it.

If all this weren’t enough, there’s a whole second “Bonus” Blu-ray containing still more content for fans to absorb.  Included is the original opening to the movie that was scrapped because it didn’t include the films main protagonist, Merida, though parallels exist.  Also cute is a piece called Fallen Warriors that is just small, seconds long pieces that were cut from the film.  A discussion called Dirty Hairy People which is about the hygiene of the people of medieval Scotland.  Another piece is about the use of Scottish actors as much as possible when making the movie.  Then there’s a piece about Merida’s horse, Angus and another about The Tapestry.

Also provided are all the various domestic and international trailers that were shown in theaters, online, and on television.  However, the most amazing content to be found on the Blu-ray is called the Art Gallery.  Literally hundreds and hundreds of pieces of artwork that were created during the production of Brave.  From patterns used in stonework, to maps of the castles, to design work for Merida, and beyond.  If you watch all the video content first you will realize you saw some of this being created in those videos.

This Blu-ray release is very strong.  One thing I believe is that a fantastic movie like Brave should be made even more fantastic by the content it’s presented with for home ownership.  This Blu-ray release lives up to that, as it’s really a good example of how to properly use the medium to present the owner with some great additional content.  I’ve still not had to time to really explore all of the Art Gallery, there’s just so much there to absorb.  Fans of this movie will be instant fans of this Blu-ray release, and if you’re looking for a family movie to enjoy at home over the Thanksgiving weekend, this is it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 97 - Pocahontas

This week the DFPP team and their friend Rachel head to the New World to seek some advice from a wise old willow and find that sometimes it takes the love of one good soul to defeat the evil that men do in the 1995 animated adventure Pocahontas.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Three Musketeers Review by Briana Alessio

This comedy/drama (dramedy? comma?) from 1993 focuses on the story of, unsurprisingly, the Three Musketeers.  Although this is supposed to be taken seriously, there are many laugh out loud moments, ones which happen quickly so you must be paying close attention.  This is not to say that you will be rolling on the floor.  This is, after all, based on a legendary novel.  However, being a Disney film, there is some fun thrown in to the mix.

In short, three men named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis team up with a young rebel named D’Artagnan to put the evil Cardinal’s plan to kill King Louis on hold.  Alexandre Dumas wrote the original story in the mid-1800s.  Many of us know the story, but if you do not, this is a fun film to watch and catch up with three carefree individuals whose tale has gone down in history.    
The cast is fun, there is no doubt about that.  Kiefer Sutherland portrays Athos.  Sutherland is known for playing the famous Jack Bauer on the long-running series 24.  He is currently in works for starring in the film version as well.  The hilarious Oliver Platt plays Porthos.  Platt normally co-stars in the background of films so he completely deserved a lead role as a Musketeer.  Aramis is played by Charlie Sheen, who is associated for his role in Two and a Half Men starring as none other than a fella named Charlie.  D’Artagnan was portrayed by Chris O’Donnell.  O’Donnell has appeared in many films and television films including giving us the awesome Robin in the 1995 and 1997 Batman films.  The delightfully evil, typecast Tim Curry portrays Cardinal Richelieu.  Curry’s voice has appeared in various animated films and he is also well known for his frightening roles as well.  Many of us appreciate his work in 1985’s Clue and 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island.  Rebecca De Mornay also stars as Countess D’Winter.  She played the terrifying babysitter in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (parental guidance so very much recommended).  To be honest, seeing the names Tim Curry and Rebecca De Mornay TOGETHER almost caused me to not watch this.  That is almost too much creepiness for one film.

The Three Musketeers is directed by Stephen Herek.  Herek also directed 101 Dalmatians and  Mr. Holland’s Opus among many others, including a film which was once a favorite of mine, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (thankfully, Rebecca De Mornay is not in that one).  The spirited music is a lot of fun.  The end credits include the song “All For Love” performed by Bryan Adams, Sting, and Rod Stewart.

1.)  Sutherland, Platt, and O’Donnell all took fencing and horse riding lessons for six weeks while Sheen was on the set of another film he was in, Hot Shots! Part Deux.
2.)  Curry’s role as the evil Cardinal was portrayed in an earlier version of the film by Charlton Heston.  He would relive another Heston role in Muppet Treasure Island.
3.)  Gabrielle Anwar, who played Queen Anne, was pregnant so her dresses had to be let out.
4.)  Brad Pitt, Billy Baldwin, Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman, and Cary Elwes were all considered for roles in this film.
5.)  De Mornay attended high school & college in Austria, where this film was mostly shot.

My favorite part of this film was how the man with the high pitched voice from the beginning (who had the sword fight with D’Artagnan) repeatedly and randomly spotted D’Artagnan throughout the town.  I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, the manic expressions on his face or the way he screamed his name.  Also, the way he screams after his horse that is running away from him, is also brilliant.  My favorite character in this is Aramis.  I love the way Aramis says a prayer for every man who is knowingly killed, and he maintains such a deep and beautiful soul.

For some reason, in my mind, you are either a Three Musketeers fan or a Robin Hood fan.  I know perfectly well that you can be a fan of both and I don’t know why this ridiculous notion entered my head but this is the way my mind works.  That being said, I’m completely a Robin Hood fan and is therefore relatively unimpressed by the Three Musketeers characters in general.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a fantastic trio.  Their journey is simply not my cup of tea.  I would much rather watch Disney’s Robin Hood (or the 1938 version with Errol Flynn, for that matter).  Now if you will excuse me…all of this talk is making me want a 3 Musketeers candy bar.

My Rating:  3/5

A lively tune…I’m inspired to dance!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 96 - The Three Musketeers

This week the DFPP team arrive in France to learn sword fighting, but discover their teachers are on the run from a creepy cardinal and his one-eyed cronie with their only hope an acrobatic young man in the 1993 action adventure The Three Musketeers.

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

R'coon Dawg

It’s a Mickey Mouse short!  The late 1940s and early 1950s have mainly brought us a slew of Donald and Pluto shorts, with the occasional Goofy thrown in for good measure, but today, we get a Mickey short.  It’s called R’Coon Dawg and it’s about Mickey Mouse…hunting raccoons?  This is a short about Mickey in the woods, and…it’s not really about Mickey at all.  It’s teased with a Mickey title page, but this is a Pluto short in disguise.

Mickey gets introduced early in the short, as a somewhat country sounding voice narrates the story of how hunters tromp through the woods to hunt.  But almost immediately thereafter we are introduced to his hunting dog, Pluto, who is sniffing out the scent of raccoons for Mickey to shoot.  It’s Pluto’s sense of smell, inf act, that provides the majority of the gags in this short.  If that sounds like a poor premise for a cartoon, you may be a regular reader of this site.

It means that Pluto spends most of the short chasing a non-existent raccoon that is a visualization of the raccoon’s scent.  That is very strange to start with, but gets weirder when Pluto spends his time chasing this scent and getting into all sorts of slapstick predicaments without actually seeing the raccoon.  Let me repeat that – he never actually sees the raccoon for most of the short.

When Pluto starts expanding his sniffing capabilities is when we get the very interesting gags.  Because this is the world’s smartest raccoon, Pluto catches the scent of a horse, a frog and more animals, and begins envisioning some amazing animal hybrids that drive him quite crazy.  This is the best moment of the short, where we get to see some very inventive stuff.

The final gag, too, is pretty good, as the raccoon gets away from Mickey (who reappears at the end) and Pluto by pretending to have a baby.  The baby turns out to be Mickey’s coonskin cap that the raccoon stole.  But it serves the purpose and gets the hunters to turn away.  So that’s two good gags in a seven and a half minute short.  The rest is typical Pluto slapstick humor, and that’s not enough to sustain the interest for the viewer.