Dec 30, 2014

Holiday Movie Marathon: Annie

Winter Break can be fun.  The kids are out long enough for travel.  There are some BIG events to celebrate - for us the includes two birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's Eve/Day.  But it also can be trying for parents as they deal with the roller coaster of emotions from their kids.  There is the massive high of Christmas, followed by the doldrums of the week after Christmas, followed by the excitement of staying up late on New Year's Eve, followed by the crabbiness from staying up late.  That all culminates with the depressing realization that school is about to start.  I find it humorous that this actually worked its way into a traditional Christmas song.  "And mom and dad can't hardly wait for school to start again," snuck into It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. 

To combat that second week complaining and boredom, I decided to take the kids to catch up on all the movies we have not been able to go to this Fall.  There was a glut of family-friendly films that were released in November and December.  We just haven't found the time or resources to attend.  So this week is our Holiday Movie Marathon.  It doesn't have to be a "holiday movie."  It just needs to be a movie that came out over the holiday season.  The tentative lineup is as follows: Annie, Hobbit 3, Big Hero 6, Penguins of Madagascar, and Night at the Museum 3.  If I can find a way for Heather and I to see Mockingjay, that would be great.  Since I have been a horrible slacker at my writing, I figured I could use this marathon to force myself to post.  So we'll kick things off with Annie.

I used to say I hated musicals.  But that isn't really true.  I don't mind good musicals.  I know some people gripe about the unrealistic elements of this genre: people busting out in song everywhere, everyone knowing the dance moves, stuff like that.  Basically all of the stuff Patrick Dempsey's character said in Enchanted.  The way I figure, my favorite movies are usually superhero or sci-fi films.  Am I really someone to complain about realism?  My shelf of movies include talking raccoons, guys in iron suits, a billionaire dressed like a bat, and multiple science-ignoring spacecrafts.  I think I waved bye bye to realistic a long time ago.  I love Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera.  I have enjoyed Frozen, Chicago, Enchanted, The Muppets.  So we will get that out of the way.  I think some older musicals are just stupid.  It isn't because they are musicals, per se.  It is because they try to find ways to shoehorn weird musical pieces into films where they don't belong.  Take the entire NYC scene from Singin' In The Rain - one of the weirdest scenes in all of moviedom.  Another example would be from White Christmas, where they are rehearsing in Vermont and they do the double shot of the Minstrel Show and the weird dance number.  It was like they said, "Hey there is this cool song, but it doesn't make any sense.  Any way we can come up with a dream sequence or a hallucination scene?"  (Kind of like Glee, when they had Mr Schu with a high fever.)

I have seen the "original" Annie, with Albert Finney and Carol Burnett.  It was good.  I'm not super attached to it or to the story itself.  There are some very recognizable songs that are pretty cool.  And It's a Hard Knock Life made it possible for both the Jay-Z rap AND the Dr Evil/Mini Me version of that rap. So you've got that going for the movie.  My kids like the older version, which they saw after they saw the previews of this new version.  But I wasn't going to be offended that this new movie came out.  It was a movie that could be remade without too much discomfort.

I really liked the new Annie.  It was a fun movie.  You know how some movies are exciting and some are intense and some are thought-provoking?  This movie was fun.  I felt good watching it.  I like movies like that once in a while.  Sure, I also like the darker middle child of trilogies, where hope is lost and the movie ends with great gravitas.  But I appreciate a good fun movie.  This is probably why I am such a big fan of the Oceans Eleven series.  They are enjoyable to experience.  Annie was similar.  I know that some people have jumped onto the portrayal of foster families and how we see orphans in today's society.  But I will let people better versed in those topics debate.  For me, I know that not all foster kids go through the pain that Annie experienced.  But I'm sure there are also some who have it much worse.  However, the movie was not a dramatic examination of the foster system.  Annie's situation was bad enough to make her move to the upper crust sufficiently inspiring.  But it wasn't traumatic.

The two things I most appreciated about the movie were the cleverness and the music.  I really like a clever movie - one that rewards the viewer for paying attention to little details.  This can be through running gags or hidden visual gems or throwaway lines.  Annie was well stocked with these elements.  There were references to the older movie, to the silliness of musicals in general, to our society's infatuation with technology and social media, and even to the behind the scenes people (Will Smith and Jay-Z produced the movie - remember that when Jamie Foxx's Will Stacks is giving a speech early on in the film).  And there was a running gag about how Cameron Diaz's foster parent used to be in C+C Music Factory - you have to keep your eyes peeled for just how many nods to that concept were made.  The kids didn't pick up on all of these things, but Heather and I did.  It is kind of like how Pixar and Dreamworks will sneak in adult jokes for the parents.  They were significant enough that it amplified the enjoyment factor.

The music was the other main attraction.  They kept the original songs, but revised them to a modern audience.  I really like the new adaptations.  But there also were several new songs that really fit into the culture of the movie.  I actually had a hard time remembering which songs were pre-existing and which were new.  I'm sure Jay-Z being involved in the film didn't hurt.  But the biggest star of the film had to be Sia Furler.  She goes by Sia as a musician and her song Chandelier was one of the biggest pop hits of 2014.  One thing I can say with confidence is that she is a very talented musician.  Her voice is fantastic and powerful, and she does contribute it to several pieces.  But her ability to modernize the music, but also to bring the nostalgia to the newer songs impressed me.

Great music wouldn't be anything without great performances.  I wasn't that impressed with Rose Byrne's voice.  And Cameron Diaz was comically over-the-top most of time (I hope that was intentional).  For the first hour of the movie, I was afraid that Annie would make the same mistake with Jamie Foxx that Enchanted did with Idina Menzel.  (I am still bitter that Idina never sang in that film.  Why?  WHY!?!)  But then Foxx got his chance.  It really isn't surprising that he did a stellar job.  I mean, he played Ray Charles and has had a very respectable music career.  I was impressed by the emotion he conveyed as well.  Every time he sang was a treat.  But the overwhelming star of the movie was Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie.  This little girl is someone to keep your eyes on.  She already has an Oscar nomination under her belt for Beast of the Southern Wild - a movie I am now ten times more likely to watch on Netflix thanks to Annie.  Wallis is such a mature actress for someone so young.  She brings such amazing emotion to her performance.  And she is a dang good singer.  For a movie like this to work, the child actor has to be something truly special.  Wallis certainly fits that bill.  I really hope she is able to translate this to a successful career and is able to avoid the trap so many child actors fall into.

As far as appropriateness for kids, I was very pleased at how Annie was able to pull off its PG rating. There was one character that drank a lot.  The cursing was very minimal.  There was not a lot of sexual content.  There was hardly anything remotely violent.  And one thing I really appreciated was that Annie herself was not snotty and disrespectful to adults.  There was some of that behavior, but it was so mild compared to television shows like Jessie.  Annie's attitude towards life was so positive that it was enough to convey any "superiority" to adults without an overdose of snark and sarcasm.  Overall, I felt Annie was a real success.  It was a good remake and a positive, enjoyable movie.  I have no problem recommending it, purchasing it, or buying the soundtrack.  And I look forward to seeing where its star goes in her career.