22 September 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

I've noticed lately that this blog is getting into much more eclectic fields lately.  A Monster in Paris isn't exactly mainstream faire... Lupin III, the Oregon Trail Wii game... it's almost as if I'm just trying to find targets that haven't really had a review yet.  It's not exactly that, but it does make the job somewhat easier.

In the introductions on these Too Late Reviews, I at least try to show the angle which I will be attacking the movie from.  This way, you know that I'm putting a spin on the source material that you may not have thought of, or one that may have been at least lightly explored but not really fleshed out.  It's odd, in that the Too Late Review that I try to write for you, the readers, is one that is new content, or at least content that I haven't seen too much of before.  I hope that using my fifteen or so years of experience with deeply analyzing text stories, trying to get into the head of writers to craft jokes based on what they write, that it translates into being able to show another side of a movie that you may not have seen before.  So, to sum up... this movie really has no reviews, so that allows me to write about it in the broadest terms possible rather than to go at it from an obtuse angle... a pleasant change from some of my reviews.

Of course, the audience for Mystery Science Theater 3000 is old and getting older.  There's still the newer Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic where you could pick up an Imagine Dragons reference or a Demi Lovato namedrop, but the old series is what we started dealing with here on A MSTing For All Seasons and I'm not sure if any of the youngin's really will come for that.  So, I must admit that it was odd for me to have learned that the story behind the movie Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a recent story aimed at young adults.  I suppose that I myself am late to the party.

For this movie, Wikipedia's couple-of-paragraphs allow me to lean on them slightly, so please excuse me if there's much missing from the plot synopsis.  As always, Spoiler Space ahead.

Jeremy Fink's thirteenth birthday is coming up soon.  He and his friend Lizzy are in the lobby of their New York apartment building when Jeremy receives a package from Lizzy's father, the mailman.  In the package is a box, marked for Jeremy to open on his thirteenth birthday.  In the lid is carved "The Meaning of Life", ostensibly from Jeremy's father -- who passed away five years previous due to a car/pedestrian accident.  The box is a heavy wooden box that is locked with a total of four locks, but with no keys.  So now, Jeremy and Lizzy have to find a way inside.

Lizzy is a planner and schemer, and she figures out a seven- or eight-step plan to try to open the box.  None seem to work, even going to the locksmith, so both Lizzy and Jeremy try to go to the law office that had included a letter with the box to look for the keys.  After tossing the place, they get caught by security and sent to the police department.  The detective offers both children a way out, through community service by helping Mr. Oswald.

Mr. Oswald is quite the eccentric, an antiques dealer who will be retiring soon.  He has the kids picked up in a limousine and explains to them what he wants them to do... namely, delivering items that were pawned by their previous owners so that the owners could do something greater with their lives.  Accompanying each of the pawned items (example: telescope pawned by astronomer) is a letter describing why each was pawned.  Jeremy and Lizzy learn quite a bit from each of the persons they make deliveries to, my favorite being the old astronomer.  When Jeremy learns about why the astronomer pawned his telescope, he tells the astronomer that it just raises twenty new questions.  The astronomer comments to Jeremy that being able to keep asking questions even into old age is a rare gift, and one that he should always continue.

There are times that both children feel let down... at one point, Jeremy trashes his pet project, a time machine that he wishes he could use in order to bring back his father.  He laments the fact that circumstances weren't even slightly different in one scene of the movie, which brought back memories to a far more tedious scene played out in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (covered in previous review on this blog).  His friend Lizzy tosses the pieces after Jeremy's fit of anger.

At the end of the movie, Mr. Oswald is grateful for the help that both children provide and offers them anything that they could want in his library/study area.  Lizzy takes a porcelain doll, and Oswald produces a suitcase full of keys to Jeremy.  Jeremy takes it gleefully, and then tries to unlock each of the four locks on the box with the myriad keys.  They find three keys that fit, but not the fourth... meanwhile, it's 2AM on Jeremy's birthday, so he finally gives up and goes to sleep.

The next day, during the birthday party, Jeremy receives the old telescope as a gift and then opens another box... it's the key to his old time machine, which just so happened to be the fourth key to the box.  He opens the box and receives a heartfelt letter from his father.

The backstory from the father is that Jeremy's father went to Coney Island one day when he was thirteen, and went to the psychic to have his fortune told.  The psychic, mean person that she is, told him that he'd die by the age of forty.  Jeremy's father was the type to take that seriously, and in the letter describes how at first he was fixated on the idea of death being a large part of life... until he realized that life is made up of moments, and it matters more the use we make of those moments.  Jeremy's father did mention in the letter that not all of the moments of Jeremy's life will be the important ones, but wished that his son would know and understand when one of those moments would happen for him.  In the box... are rocks.  Meticulously noted are the moments that occurred when Jeremy's father collected each of the rocks, though none of the rocks are actually labelled so that Jeremy knows.

Jeremy then dashes back to Mr. Oswald's house, and learns that Mr. Oswald really is going to Florida.  However, he finds out from the limousine chauffeur that his father was the one that pretty much set everything up.  He met Mr. Oswald in the flea markets, and set about collecting all of the old items that were of importance to others... and asked all those others to make Jeremy's thirteenth birthday such a special occasion for Jeremy.  Everyone, from both Jeremy's mom and Lizzy's dad, through the locksmith, through the detective and the security guard at the law office, and all of the people they interacted with... were all on the birthday surprise.  And now, Jeremy has one more special reason to not only remember his father, but to make his life into one that he wishes to make it into.

Spoiler space over.

This movie had a very simple and beautiful way to tell the audience reading this book that even though each of the moments is personal, that they can still be shared with the person you love.  On top of that, Jeremy's father, from beyond the grave, encouraged Jeremy to make a collection of his own moments that were special.  Love allowed this message to come across to Jeremy, and... well, hey, er....

For a review, this was really a sweet movie.  The same movie watcher can watch the same movie twice and come to two rather radical decisions... in some way, I try to allow for this in my reviews when I assign a number grade to a movie.  I attempt to think about how a movie may work if I'm as ultra-receptive as possible, and then think about the movie in an almost nihilistic MSTing point of view.  I suspect that a few things going on in my life (including the fact that I have children ages 11-10-7-3) allow me to be more receptive to this movie than I may ordinarily be, but in all seriousness the emotion felt eager.  The child actors did a good job of just being children... and if you're receptive to the message, it's a strong and heartfelt one.  Just don't let the tone put you off in the first few minutes... and if you find that it is, just swap out the movie until a time that you're feeling a bit more mellow.  It'll always be there.

I can certainly understand how this could be taken as treacly... I mean, there were some really far-fetched things going on (such as the details shared in the last paragraph of the plot outline, Mr. Oswald's true gift at the end... it would have been so interesting for the gift to have been another, less-famous of the type along with a note telling him to keep searching and to never give up).

But, hey.  This movie sums up in ninety minutes really two of the reasons that I'm doing this blog.  I want to be able to share some of myself with you, which is one of the messages that the father's gift allows to Jeremy.  And remembering your moments (like your favorite movies) and writing them down will allow you to revisit those moments, to give you the feelings and emotions that you once had.  Writing is so liberating in that regard... and through writing, I hope that my emotion shines through even as the movie's does.  I don't wish to lead a life of quiet desperation (in a famous Thoreau quote)... this movie encourages you to make happy memories, and I would be remiss if I didn't do the same.

Final review: 3.2.   I would certainly watch this movie again, especially with my family.

Happy Autumn everybody, and thank you for your patience with us here in the last two months.  I'm still trying to establish a better and easier schedule for me to publish, and I truly hope that all our readers are still enjoying what reviews and articles we're able to post.

01 September 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: Epic

There's more than a little to report as the calendar shifts to September.  Our little blog is about to crest 10,000 hits, which is certainly not exactly a big deal in the Land of Internet... spamlink posts designed to get little ol' me to click on them probably contributed around 350-500 of these hits, so it's really a hollow number regardless.  At the very least, we're getting roughly the same number of legitimate hits per month, 350-500, and I thank you all for reading our musings and reviews.  It's been about a year or so since I started posting more frequently, and I can see that there's interest in the numbers.  Thanks for everyone, you readers are on the cutting edge of this ride and I hope that you all enjoy it.

I'm also typing this on my fixed laptop.  Best Buy *wants* you to buy a new laptop, hence the $300-$700 quote.  HP is at least slightly interested in keeping their equipment running.  $200 later, my screen works and all of the niggling little things (loose battery packs, cameras that don't work, etc.) are taken care of.  It's $200 that I didn't want to spend, but those people at HP managed to turn around my service call in only two days flat... I boxed up the package on a Wednesday, HP received it, fixed it, and boxed it back up on Thursday, and I had it back in my hands by Friday.  Thankfully, HP didn't do a system refresh on it, so I don't have to spend the next two weeks figuring out what software was and wasn't installed.  I'm both grateful and annoyed at the same time... gratenoyed?  ann-ateful?

Which leads me to tonight's review.  I'm at least as current as it gets around here, reviewing the movie Epic, which was released in late May of 2013.  The movie is based on a book by William Joyce, which I had never read before anyway... you're getting nothing but critique without the Harry Potter-ish book insights or complaints.

Spoiler space below:

In some indeterminate forest, there's a fight in the air between little skull dudes on larger black birds (ravens?) and little dudes in green armor, riding ruby-throated hummingbirds.  The little skull dudes -- "Boggans" -- always seem to outnumber the green armor dudes -- "Leafmen", but the Leafmen manage to make up for it with better tactics and the ability to take out multiple Boggans.

One of the Leafmen is woefully out of place, Nod.  He pulls multiple Beetle Baileys and is ultimately kicked out of the Leafmen ranks for not being a team player by another of the protagonists, Ronin.  Ronin carries himself rather like a stereotypical Japanese warrior, between the kendo-style armor (without faceguard), the katana blade, and the hand holding the blade, where one thumb is enough to expose the blade to show that "he means business".

In the world of us regular-sized people, Mary Katherine (MK) is being dropped off at a solitary house in the woods.  Her father Bomba has wired the whole forest for sound, trying to keep an eye on the little people with all the cameras he's rigged in the forest.  He's meticulous, keeping a map of all the contacts, and even has a miniature display of Boggan armor.

Back to the little people, the Queen of the Forest has to hand her powers over soon.  She helps everything to live, while the Boggans derive the power to decay from their leader.  The night that the story opens is the important one, as she needs to pick a pod in order to transfer her power, and the pod has to bloom by the light of the full moon on the summer solstice.  (Time to set up a new system, Queenie.)

Meanwhile, MK finds that she's not crazy living with dear obsessed Dad after a short time and ends up writing a goodbye note.  She packs her bag and calls the taxi to depart.  However, the little three-legged, one-eyed dog escapes the house, and MK chases after it.

As the queen and the Leafmen come back from pod-picking, they get ambushed by Boggans.  The Queen ends up shot through the chest, and at the same time MK and the dog bust onto the scene.  MK happens across the odd little panorama, and the queen's magic ends up shrinking MK to little-person size, with instructions on how to deal with the pod.

From here, Nod, Ronin, MK, and the two slug pod caretakers end up on a whirlwind adventure, getting instructions from one of the oldest trees in the forest via a caterpillar, to losing the pod, to infiltrating the Boggan headquarters, to almost getting caught by obsessive-compulsive Daddy, to almost failing when the pod is to be opened via the moonlight.  MK figures out why the Queen used her magic to call MK into the land of little people, as she serves as the conduit to her father who's able to deal with the Boggan menace and save the day at the end.

Refreshingly, the story ends as Nod and MK share one last kiss, and she returns to full size.  She realizes her dad isn't a complete kook, definitely wants to stay by the forest so that she can talk to Nod via the forest webcams, and finds out that her place in life is in the forest.  (For the time being, at least.)

Spoiler space over.

It's quite a bit up there, isn't it?  Originally, I was going to just shrug my shoulders and give up, because the screenwriters packed in a lot of stuff into the movie, including frogs, vast multitudes of talking plants, all the odd mythos that I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with, and so on.  This is a movie that you can't just get up to refresh your drink or go get some popcorn... either you're going to miss a portion of a fight sequence that you need to keep up with what's going on, or you're going to miss a plot point that will be important at some time in the future.  This movie is dense.

Our family bought the movie and decided to have a family night watching it, and I can tell how the movie was with the reactions of our children:

11-year-old: mostly interested.
10-year-old: at times, dozed off.  Other times, watched.
7-year-old: as interested in cuddling as in watching the film.
3-year-old: playing on my legs like a jungle gym.

When the ten-year-old talked to us after the movie, he expressed interest in watching it again.  I asked him why, as we had watched it last night, and he mentioned that he was asleep through a few portions but wanted to see them in context again.

So, I suppose that this will be the basis of my final grade for this movie.  The action sequences are typically fun if a bit dizzying, the plot is dense and dizzying unless you're really giving some attention to the movie, and if you do it does feel like you've seen a long, twisty-turny story.  This movie is not a pass-the-time movie, it's a "give me ATTENSHUNS! nom nom nom" movie.  The only issue is that you have to keep yourself interested in the movie to keep going forward, and if you lose focus.... you're in the net, watching the other tightrope walkers try to balance their way across to the denouement.

Final review: 2.3