Saturday, March 30, 2013

West of Memphis

This afternoon I saw West of Memphis, a documentary about the West Memphis Three.

I've been obsessed with this story since I first saw Paradise Lost and its sequel a few years ago. For those not in-the-know, the case went something like this in 1993: Three boys dead; three other boys wrongly accused of their murders; (presumably) one killer still roaming free. Thanks, Arkansas.

With support from stars like Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, and the relentless persistence of Damien Nichols' (the only accused on death row) wife Lorri, the three were finally released in the summer of 2011.

I'll confess that I didn't know what an Alford Plea was until the three wrongly accused entered theirs to gain freedom. I cried tears of joy upon seeing footage of their release, and cried some more today as I watched this chapter play out.

What's new in this film? The compelling evidence against one of the stepfathers who was never even interviewed at the time of the murders.

Also new? Footage of the WM3 outside of prison walls, carrying on with their lives as they should have been allowed to in 1993.

I'm still digesting all that I saw (many of the graphic crime scene photos were almost too much for me to handle), but I can safely say that anyone interested in the case or curious about the holes of our justice system that can let something like this happen should watch it.

It's nothing short of riveting.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Croods

Today I saw The Croods, starring the voices of Emma Stone and Nicholas Cage.

Grug (Cage) Crood is just like any other father—he loves his family, acts as the breadwinner and is fiercely protective of his children.

Eep (Stone) Crood is just like any other teenage daughter—she hates being cooped up, is curious about the unknown and enjoys the company of cute guys.

The unique thing about this bunch is that they're prehistoric. They're cave-people who don't know how to advance past their hunter-gatherer stages because they refuse to explore the unknown.

There's an old saying that goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and the same could be said for Daddy Crood's philosophy. He means well, but doesn't let his family outside the cave once the sun goes down because "new is bad."

Eep challenges that rule by sneaking out as often as she can, and one night encounters Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a boy her age with a pet Sloth named Belt (who functions as one too). Because of her rebellious actions, her family must follow her, and the places they go are frightening and wonderful all the same.

Basically, the feature is a parable about the importance of keeping an open mind and taking risks (just in case they're worth it). The story—like the main family—is simple, but that's okay because of the audience it's targeting.

I had the pleasure of seeing the film with a 6 year-old boy and a 3 year-old girl. Both were absolutely silent and engrossed as the action played out.

If they weren't bored, I can't imagine many of the adults were either (I know I wasn't), and at the end of the day, the storyline preaching was minimal. This is a character-driven jaunt, starring fun, familiar voices, set in a time our evolution often causes us to forget.

It will remind you not to be afraid of the new—and not to forget how far you've come, either.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Last night I saw Oz the Great and Powerful, starring James Franco and Michelle Williams.

The story serves as a prequel to the legendary Wizard of Oz; both are based on the classic children's books by L. Frank Baum.

Oscar Diggs (Franco) is a common con man in turn-of-the-century Kansas. We see moments of compassion/conscience hit him (a young girl asking for the power to walk again, etc.), but they're only moments. He's clearly someone who has survived on his looks and clever charms, and shows no signs of stopping.

When a tornado (of course) lifts him up and out of his circus life, and catapults him into the perimeters of the Emerald City, things begin to feel familiar—in a good way.

He first encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), along with Finley the monkey (Zach Braff), who becomes his personal assistant. There is the usual talk of wicked witches and a horrible sequence where an entire village has been wiped out by their evil. It is at this time he helps China Girl (a creepy, large-eyed CGI porcelain figure) to walk again by gluing her legs back together. He will pretend to be The Wizard of Oz to gain all of the riches of Emerald City.

But it's not until he encounters Glinda (Williams), the luminescent good witch,  that things actually begin to happen.

Not to say the lead up to this moment isn't entertaining (because it is), but for what is assumed to be a kids' movie, it does run a bit long.

Anyway, the battle between good and evil ramps up, as does the chemistry between Oz and Glinda, and the culmination is a satisfying sequence of events featuring classic elements of the beloved 1939 film (which sort of make you want to run home and watch that one again).

I enjoyed Oz a great deal more than I thought I would. It stays faithful both to the original source text and the more famous film in the same series. And it does so using the appeals of James Franco and Michelle Williams, who are always a pleasure to watch.