Victor Garber

Bob’s Broken Sleigh (2015)

bobs-broken-sleigh

Throw Bruce Greenwood and Victor Garber in a movie and I’m sure to watch it, even if it is a below-average animated TV Christmas special. Greenwood, sounding like he could run a small time crime ring, voices Fishface, a gnarled puffin who’s so bad he doesn’t even get coal in his stocking. He’s made it his mission to ruin Christmas and enlists the help of two dim mini-puffins. His plan is to steal Santa’s sleigh and prevent him from delivering presents, thereby ruining the lives of little children, and presumably animal children, everywhere.

Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Bob (Cole Howard) is having a rough time. He’s a magic-less elf and tries to compensate with nifty inventions, none of which turn out quite as planned. He’s even been relegated to reindeer poop duty – he’s the “poopervisor” – because there’s not much else he can do to help with the holiday preparations. All this has made him the butt of elf jokes. When he tests out a new engine for the sleigh just two days before Christmas, he ends up crash landing somewhere far from the North Pole.

There he discovers a talking trout named Fluffy, snootily voiced by Garber. This landbound, fur-lined vest-wearing fish has some airs, and I’m surprised he doesn’t smoke a pipe as well. The two partner up and try to get the sleigh back in time for Christmas Eve. Along the way, they meet Blue, an easily frightened furry creature, and Wupsy, a cheery cat with an overactive whip of a tail.

The animation is not much to celebrate, and the filmmakers use whatever is the equivalent to green screen. I tend to knock off points when animated fantasies don’t make an effort to create a unique magical world (talking animals don’t count). Even if it is in the details – a sprawling toy production line or cute and cozy elf hole, it helps the movie stand out. Bob’s Broken Sleigh is lazy with its backgrounds, which might as well be pulled from a clipart catalog.

They make up a few points with messages about appreciating others for their differences and about believing and trusting in yourself and your abilities. There’s also a good lesson about respecting everyone, something that seems lost on many of these not so holly, jolly elves. The overriding message, however, is that Christmas is all about the presents. Yes, that’s right, kids. Without the sleigh, Santa can’t deliver toys, and if children all around the world wake up present-less on Christmas morning, they’ll be in such a state of despair that it will destroy the Christmas spirit, possibly leading to the cancellation of Christmas – forever. Not exactly uplifting, especially since I just finished watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which does a lot more to get you in the holiday mood.

Released: 2015
Dir: Jay Surridge
Writer: Michael Shear, Samantha Shear
Cast: Cole Howard, Bruce Greenwood, Victor Garber, Raini Rodriguez, Michael Adamsthwaite, Colin Murdock
Time: 47 min
Lang: English
Country: Canada
Reviewed: 2016

Annie (1999)

annie 1999

I think we can acknowledge that any musical starring Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, and Kristin Chenoweth will be worth watching, even if it is a sanitized version of the beloved Annie. As this 1999 TV adaptation shows, the sum of its talents can overcome the Disneyfication of what could be a darker production. The studio’s sugarcoated fingerprints are all over this one in order to make it as family friendly as possible, giving the movie a cheery glow but also leaving it a little hollow.

One change I did like was Garber’s interpretation of Depression era gazillionaire Oliver Warbucks, who is more sad than he is gruff. He doesn’t try to bark his way through the first act, and it’s easy to see why people would be drawn to him despite his standoffishness. When he embraces Annie (Alicia Morton), the orphan who he invites to his mansion as something of a Christmas publicity stunt, you know that she is what he’s been looking for all along. Unfortunately, Warbucks’s repressed romance with his secretary Grace (McDonald) remains that way for far too long and is awkwardly shoved in just before the movie ends. That makes McDonald’s performance, which is technically brilliant as always, fall a little flat. She is certainly the calming mother figure to Annie and the levelheaded assistant who keeps the household grounded, but she has little of the vibrancy that makes her character stand out.

Miss Hannigan, the owner of the small orphanage that Annie stays at, has the opposite problem of Warbucks and comes off as pretty tolerable, though not nice, despite Bates’s best efforts. You can almost hear the director telling her, “Mean, but not too mean,” in every scene. Hannigan ends up stomping around and looking really pissed off about her lot in life, but she’s not the abusive chain-smoking drunk she is in other versions. I don’t know that she warrants the intensity of hate she gets from her charges.

Morton’s casting really seems to dictate the tone. She’s a much sweeter, more cherubic Annie, and when she threatens to knock some sense into one of the girls who’s caught bullying another, it’s not quite clear who will end up on top. In other productions, I’d cheer for Annie because she’s the scrappy and precocious underdog. In this movie, I’m rooting for her because I just want someone to protect her.

What softens the story’s edges are also what end up making this film fun to watch though. Cumming and Chenoweth give their characters, scheming thieves in cahoots with Miss Hannigan, a cartoonish sheen that makes their song and dance pop. I admit I couldn’t stop thinking of Cumming as the Emcee in Cabaret, a decidedly different role in so many respects, but the actor has perfected all variations of slimeball. He along with a scene-chewing Chenoweth have way too much fun being bad, giving the audience license to join in.

It’s this use of Broadway talent that lifts the picture from the confines of TV. Because of the format, the choreography looks a little boxed in at times. Most of the scenes take place in large rooms, which keeps the action from weaving through sets and in and outdoors. Visually, for example, “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” doesn’t quite achieve the grand scale the song suggests and has to make the most out of Warbucks’s foyer space. But McDonald’s singing, and Morton’s, gives the number extra height. Even without star wattage, however, the wonderfully diverse orphans carry off “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” with a joyous kick.

“It’s a Hard Knock Life” by Alicia Morton and the Orphans:

“Tomorrow” by Alicia Morton:

“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” by Audra McDonald and Alicia Morton:

“NYC” by Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Alicia Morton, and original Annie, Andrea McArdle:

“Easy Street” by Alan Cumming, Kathy Bates, and Kristin Chenoweth:

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” by the Orphans:

Released: 1999
Prod: Craig Zadan, Neil Meron
Dir: Rob Marshall
Writer: Irene Mecchi
Cast: Alicia Morton, Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Andrea McArdle, Sarah Hyland
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: ABC
Reviewed: 2016

You Again

you again

If Mean Girls shows that high school bullies eventually see the error of their ways, You Again shows that they unsee them upon graduation and that a woman’s habits are with her to the end. This may be true for some of us and it’s not a very uplifting thought, but then again, this isn’t a very uplifting movie. With its attempt at humor and sentimentality, the film fails as a comedy and as a meaningful reflection on change and redemption.

Three generations of women are bound by their natural inclination towards bitchiness. Marni (Kristen Bell), the youngest, leaves high school with gaping emotional wounds. We first see her during the filming of a video time capsule, cornered as JJ (Odette Yustman) leads a savage band of popular kids to torment her. In a Blair Witch-style confessional, she gives a trembling account of their abuse. The pimply, bespectacled braceface gets the last laugh though, transforming, as all high school dorks do, into the fresh, plucky vice president of a major PR office not more than a decade later.

Just as Marni’s tucked away the past, her mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) phones with news of her brother’s (James Wolk) engagement, and his fiancée is none other than her old nemesis. Now going by Joanna, the former bully has turned Mother Teresa, overflowing with sweetness and compassion for the underprivileged. But what is more shocking to Marni is that Joanna seems to have no recollection of her. Nor does anyone else in her supposedly tight knit family recall the person who treated her so cruelly.

Much of the plot hinges on this incredulous detail, which, if you’ve lived in a town as small as this one purports to be, is pretty far-fetched. Marni suspects that JJ’s still lurking behind Joanna’s candy coated smiles and plays a desperate game of “is she or isn’t she” before the wedding goes ahead in a couple days. Gail thinks her daughter’s overreacting, until Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) shows up and dregs up bad memories from her own high school days. Ramona’s professional and financial success only enrages Gail further. The two engage in some passive aggressive, and some outright aggressive, behavior as they variously try to reconcile and take revenge for the past.

There are no fresh ideas here, and most of the laughs depend on clichés recycled from reunion and wedding movies – embarrassing videos, food fights, people getting thrown into pools. Even Betty White reappears as a caustic version of every other role she’s done lately. While the main cast do more than phone in their parts, they don’t go out of their way to make their characters very memorable.

It’s a tough task though as, despite what Frozen’s Elsa advises, these women just can’t let this shit go. Everyone is at one point bully or bullied, with no one taking the grown up stance of moving on or at least approaching the situation without flinging invective, or porcelain, at one another. The only way they can heal is to have a complete meltdown. There’s something to be said about the lasting and harmful effects about bullying, and Bell handles a moving scene in which Marni confronts Joanna. But this doesn’t sit well in a movie where even grandma squirms in rage over being wronged by another woman fifty years ago. Like mother, like daughter might seem like a joke but it strikes me as condescending. We can be grateful that You Again underperformed or else audiences would be hit with a sequel about Marni’s daughter trying to make it through high school hell.

Released: 2010
Prod: Andy Fickman, John J. Strauss, Eric Tannenbaum
Dir: Andy Fickman
Writer: Moe Jelline
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Billy Unger, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber, James Wolk, Betty White, Sean Wing, Cloris Leachman, Patrick Duffy
Time: 105 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015