Annie

annie

2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Will Gluck

Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Caleeb Pinkett, James Lassiter, Lawrence “Jay” Brown and Tyrone “Ty Ty” Smith

Screenplay by Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson

Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray and the stage musical “Annie” by Thomas Meehan

So how did I end up seeing ANNIE you may well ask. Especially as I had no burning desire to see the movie in the first place. Having to listen to “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” for the past two weeks didn’t help either. Not that I don’t mind listening to Patricia sing. Not at all. She has a delightful singing voice. But hey, listening to to two weeks of anything puts a damper on my enthusiasm. But the real deal breaker was the name of Jamie Foxx’s character.

“What’s wrong with his name?” Patricia wanted to know.

“It ain’t Daddy Warbucks,” I replied. “And if it ain’t got Daddy Warbucks then it ain’t ANNIE far as I’m concerned.” What can I tell you? I’m a traditionalist. If I’m going to see a movie based on Little Orphan Annie, I want to see Daddy Warbucks as well as his loyal bodyguards Punjab and The Asp who were in the 1982 movie with Punjab played by the late great Geoffrey Holder. However, in our PC mad world today, I knew there was no chance those characters would be in the new movie. So I was prepared to be disappointed.

My interest was piqued by the very clever opening scene in a classroom which believe it or not, reminded me of the scene in “Django Unchained” where Jamie Foxx and Franco Nero meet briefly and there is a subtle passing of the torch. The same thing happens here where there is a subtle passing of the torch from the classic Little Orphan Annie to the Annie of the 21st Century (Quvenzhane Wallis) Things like that will earn my respect for the filmmakers and what they’re doing as they’re demonstrating their respect for what came before in their acknowledgment of the source material.

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Ten year old Annie Bennett is a foster child living in Harlem with four other foster children. Their foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated and bitter alcoholic who continually rebuffs Lou (David Zayas) the owner of the corner bodega who has a massive crush on her. Annie never gives up hope that her real parents will one day return for her and she spends her days singing and bringing good cheer to all. Her ability to brighten anyone’s day is put to the test when she meets Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) billionaire communications mogul. Stacks is running for mayor of New York but his disastrous campaign is in the toilet and about to be flushed for good. All that changes when he rescues Annie from being hit by a truck. Stacks’ campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) sees this as the perfect opportunity to improve Stacks’ image with the people as he’s an unlikeable workaholic germophobe. Stacks’ assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) arraigns for Stacks to become Annie’s temporary guardian.

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Being no fool, Annie agrees to help improve Stacks’ chances of being elected mayor if his bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will use the resources of Stacks’ communications empire to find her parents. Guy arranges all sorts of public outings for Annie and Stacks, making sure to take advantage of social media to turn Annie in a star and Stacks’ public image rapidly improve along with his chances of actually winning the election.

All this is well and good but slowly Annie, Stacks and Grace come to realize that maybe the family they all are looking for and desperately want is right in front of them. Stacks discovers that he and Annie have more in common than he would have believed. Meanwhile, behind his back, Guy hooks up with Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme that will make the both of them very rich. But will also destroy the relationship and trust that has grown between Annie and Stacks.

ANNIE is not a movie made for cynics or for those of you who insist on your movies being dark, depressing and realistic. This is very much a Musical in the tradition of classic musicals. Even down to the fact that everybody in the movie understands that they live in a musical universe where it is normal for people to break out in song and dance to express how they feel. There’s never any doubt that there’s going to be a happy ending and no matter how bleak things seem, nobody stays worried for very long because there’s another song to cheer them up.

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From start to finish the movie is owned by Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s just as captivating here as she was in “Beasts of The Southern Wild” a movie I totally loathed but loved her performance. Her Annie is funny, twice as smart as any of the adults in her life, compassionate, loving, generous, gutsy and resourceful. In other words, she’s a movie kid. But Quvenzhane makes Annie believable. She never steps over the line and makes Annie an adult in a kid’s body. At the right times she reminds us that for all her smarts and confidence, Annie is still a kid. It’s a wonderful performance that is complimented well by Jamie Foxx’s performance. In between the songs Foxx shows us that in a lot of ways, Stacks is still a damaged kid himself.

Cameron Diaz comes close to stealing the movie as Miss Hannigan. Her incarnation of the character is not as depraved or as insane as the Carol Burnett version. Diaz’s Miss Hannigan is more sad and pathetic and we never fear that the girls may very well come to harm at her hands. Unlike the Carol Burnett version who seemed as if she’d actually strangle one of the orphans in one of her drunken rampages. I’m glad that Rose Byrne is in a movie where she gets to use her own voice and doesn’t have to use an American accent. She and Quvenzhane have a nice number together; “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” It’s not a show stopping number like “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow”  but it is quite charming and cute.

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So should you see ANNIE? I say yes. I have a great affection for movies that are designed to do nothing but make you feel good and for two hours put a smile on your face. ANNIE does that. It’s not High Art or innovative filmmaking and it doesn’t have to be. It knows what kind of movie it is and its content to unashamedly be that kind of movie. It’s nothing but pure family entertainment and if that’s what you’re looking for then enjoy with my blessings.

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PG

118 Minutes

 

Django Unchained

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2012

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Reginald Hudlin, Stacy Sher and Pilar Savone

At the end of the day after we’ve finally put to bed all the complaints about Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word ‘nigger’, the stylized ultra-violence and placing the story of DJANGO UNCHAINED in the pre-Civil War, slavery infested American South ultimately it comes down to one thing: is DJANGO UNCHAINED a movie worth your time and money seeing? I think it is. And I recommend it highly. But you have to keep in mind that I’m a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan and so I tend to overlook a lot of the flaws in his movies. And they do have flaws, as do all movies as there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. It’s just that Tarantino gets so many things right in his movies I’m totally willing to cut him much slack on those flaws. And I just love his attitude about making movies. He just goes ahead and puts it all out there, manically throwing in so many influences from so many things that you can’t rightly point at a Tarantino movie and say that it’s strictly a crime story or a revenge drama or a war movie. And in the case of DJANGO UNCHAINED it’s a spaghetti western, a comedy, a romantic quest, a revenge saga and a surprisingly honest look at slavery as it existed in the period before the Civil War. That honesty comes with a whole lot of brutality and pain and Tarantino doesn’t turn away from it.

DJANGO UNCHAINED has nothing to do with the classic 1966 spaghetti western “Django” save that the protagonists share the name. There is a subtle passing of the torch in a nice little scene between Jamie Foxx and the original Django, Franco Nero himself but it’s not at all necessary to have seen the earlier movie. This new Django is a black man, a slave with no future save to work and die. But he’s given a new life when he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a dentist turned bounty hunter. Schultz is hunting three men who have sizeable bounties on their heads. He’s never seen them before but Django has. Schultz makes a deal with Django who is frankly bewildered by this loquacious, articulate white man who treats him with respect and speaks to him as an equal. If Django helps him find the three men, he’ll give Django his freedom and part of the bounty money.

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During the course of their hunt for the Brittle Brothers, Schultz teaches Django how to shoot and how to track men as he discovers that the ex-slave in his words is “born for this line of work” and shortly the two men are full partners in bounty hunting. Their friendship grows such a degree that Schultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife Brunhilde/Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separated from her husband and sold to Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) master of the fourth largest plantation in Mississippi, Candyland. Candyland is famous for the Mandingo fighters Candie trains and it’s by pretending that they are interested in buying one of his fighters that gets Django and Schultz inside Candyland. But due to the suspicious nature of Candyland’s majordomo Steven (Samuel L. Jackson) the partners may not make it out alive, much less accomplish their mission.

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I have to admit again that I’m a sucker for the reckless operatic nature of any Tarantino film and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no different. It looks and feels like a big movie should and it has the acting power to back it up. And in addition, Tarantino has put away his toolbox of his usual stylistic visual effects to just tell his story and trust the strength of that story and the performances to back it up. Christoph Waltz I fell in love with five minutes into the movie. At first I thought it was a little risky for Tarantino to put the beginning of this film on his shoulders the way he did in “Inglourious Basterds” but Waltz quickly establishes that this is a totally different character and does it very well with a quirky edge that is both very funny and very dangerous.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson appear to have some sort of private side bet to see who can out-ham the other in their scenes together and I mean that in the best possible way. They’re having fun with the material and their characters and it shows in their outstanding performances. I’ve never been much of a Jamie Foxx fan but I liked his performance a lot here. His transformation from raggedy slave to professional bounty hunter to avenging angel is thrilling to watch. And I thought it really refreshing to have as a protagonist an heroic black man who is motivated by the love he has for his wife and wants her back. It gives the movie an emotional core that puts it on a level above a simple revenge or hunt for gold plot.

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If there’s anything in the movie I can point to and go, “say wha now?” it’s Kerry Washington’s performance in the movie. Not that it’s a bad one. Or even a good one as there simply isn’t enough there for me to say one way or another. Considering that it’s her character’s plight that gets the story going, Kerry Washington has surprisingly few lines and even fewer scenes. Oh, trust me when I say that she works with what she’s been given but it just struck me as odd that more wasn’t done with her character.

What else? There’s the parade of familiar and not so familiar faces in the movie. I didn’t recognize Lee Horsley, Tom Wopat, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini or James Remar. But I did recognize Dennis Christopher, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins and James Russo. And I most certainly did recognize Don Johnson and Jonah Hill in an absolutely side-splitting scene  involving The Klan and a discussion about the proper way to cut eyeholes in a hood that is hilarious enough to be worthy of Mel Brooks.

Two more things and I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. The language is extremely raw and graphic and ‘nigger’ is used freely, often and by every member of the cast. If you are offended by the word then I strongly urge you to give the movie a pass. However, if you can accept the usage of the word considering the period of American history the movie is set in as one where the word was used commonly, fine. Mind you, I’m not condoning or condemning the use of the word. But I do consider it my duty as a reviewer of the movie to inform you that the word is used and used a LOT.

The violence. I’d heard a lot about the violence in DJANGO UNCHAINED and maybe I’ve become desensitized due to all the violent movies I’ve seen but I actually didn’t see anything in DJANGO UNCHAINED I hadn’t seen before. The gunfights are obviously inspired by Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and there are some grisly scenes of mayhem and torture that actually could have been worse if Tarantino had lingered on them. But he stays on the shot just long enough for you to get the idea and then he cuts away to let your imagination fill in the rest.

So should you see DJANGO UNCHAINED? Chances are that if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan you’ll already made up your mind to see it and if you’re not then I doubt anything I’ve said here will change your mind. But for me, it’s another home run for him. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t enjoyed and I immensely enjoyed DJANGO UNCHAINED.

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Rated R

165 minutes