The penguins of Madagascar—the characters, not the movie—are amusing in short bursts, the very idea of the small, flightless birds living double lives as secret agents making for an enjoyable subplot in the “Madagascar” series of films. Now, however, the birds have been given their own vehicle, their own storyline. The television series of the same name gave us a taste of how the Penguins stand up to the scrutiny of being primary characters, and now, with their film debut, one comes to realize that it might have been in the best interest of everyone involved to keep them on the small screen, or, if they ever return to the big screen, to remain in the background.
Mike Nichols is dead. What we lose in his death is a man of generosity, of incomparable intelligence and wit, of several dimensions. There were, after all, many sides present in all his work, sides of technical and emotional prowess. Working in the media of both film and theatre, it is, more than anything, Nichols’s compassion that shines through more than anything, his ability to connect with actors and produce, not performances, but embodiments, incarnations of lives past and present. How else can one account for the transformations realized under his watchful eye, the lustrous Elizabeth Taylor turned the chain-smoking, toxic, abusive Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the brash and insolent Dustin Hoffman (the production of “Tootsie” was plagued by bouts of screaming between Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack) turned the shy, scared, humble college student, the boisterous, calamitous Robin Williams playing to perfection the frustrated yet nuanced compassion of Arman Goldman in “The Birdcage.”
With the release of “Dumb and Dumber To” this past week, one cannot help but think back to the film that started it all, the 1994 cult classic “Dumb and Dumber.” Now, to be clear, I’ve seen this movie before, but it was a long time ago, and I hardly remember anything about the plot. The one thing that I do remember after my original viewing is the dynamic between Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. That was the best thing about this film for me. And after watching it again, I found that that is the thing that holds the whole film together: “Dumb and Dumber” is a testament to the comedic gold that comes when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are onscreen together, and I enjoyed every second of it.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is an entirely different beast from the first two films in the series. By straying from the original formula for success, while not a poor film, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” does not do well to keep the series as interesting and dynamic as it had previously been. The film has some incredibly deep and powerful emotional moments, but as a whole it progresses far too slowly to justify having split the final book of The Hunger Games series into two movies.
All film enthusiasts dream about getting to attend a major film festival. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve wondered what it’s like to be at Sundance or Cannes or TIFF, hopping from screening to screening, catching so many different types of films and being able to experience giant world premieres with no expectations. I had only attended one film festival before and it was the Boston Film Festival. A very small event, just a weekend long, showing mostly unknown independent fare with a few larger pictures squeezed in for good measure. It was hardly an event of note, but still an experience like what I had always dreamed of just on a diet level. It felt like a nice precursor to something of a Venice or Berlin level, a preface to an experience I would maybe be lucky enough to have sometime down the line. That festival was over two years ago now, and while I haven’t yet been to Toronto or France or Park City for any of the major film festivals, I did get to jump up to something far larger than the Boston Film Festival.
I doubt even Walt Disney himself could have predicted the weight his name would carry in the film industry decades after his lifetime. On the heels of the critically and financially successful “Wreck it Ralph” and “Frozen,” Disney’s new film, “Big Hero 6,” certainly appears to be advancing a triumphant yearly trend for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ever since “Toy Story” was released in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios had been known as the dominating force in terms of animated features. However, with the recent disappointing releases (in terms of Pixar at least) of “Cars 2,” “Brave,” and “Monsters University,” many fans and critics alike were left scratching their heads. The door has been left wide open for other branches of Disney to live up to the founder’s name. Although the millennium has not nearly produced the sort of quality that their timeless predecessors reached in the mid and late twentieth century, there is no denying that Disney Animation Studio’s legacy is still blossoming. Here are five fairly recent films that prove why.
“I want to be the best in the world”
Identifying a great film is no challenge. Films merit themselves admirable labels based on the positive attributes that critics such as myself assign them in their reviews; subjective observations that over time can build into a consensus which can lead into a legacy. Great films sometimes amount to nothing more than fads – hot commodities of the moment that occupy a significance that only lasts a couple of weeks or months – but others will maintain a presence long into the future. These great films are pieces of work that will linger on as important features worth returning to and studying, with some eventually emerging as pillars of cinema history. Some of these discoveries are made retroactively, like in the case with what is considered the greatest American film ever made, “Citizen Kane,” while others make their historical mark almost instantly, like “The Godfather” and its first sequel. Though what defines the classic and cultural significance of both “Godfather” films and “Citizen Kane” differs in analysis, today there is an absence of argument against the labels of both films; these staples of cinema, and specifically American cinema, each possess the air of a masterpiece, a cinematic scent so powerful it becomes foolish to refute its potency.