The buildup: This quietly turbulent coming of age saga spans 12 years (ages 6 to 18) in the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a Texas boy who must endure the difficulties of a broken home, his mother’s attempts to create a new family, a bratty older sister, and the inevitable highs and lows of childhood.
The breakdown: Shot over a 12-year span in real life, Richard Linklater’s ambitious, Oscar-nominated film takes a familiar concept and turns it on its head by allowing us to see the characters truly age in front of the camera and let them evolve over time. Boyhood truly works because it eschews Hollywood exaggeration and clichés and presents a realistic portrait of growing up.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
The buildup: After her mother suddenly vanishes one day, teenager Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) quietly struggles with her unexplained disappearance, her father’s grief, and a lustful entanglement with the cop (Thomas Jane) investigating the case. The film is as much an exploration of parental dysfunction as it is a mystery as flashbacks reveal the troubled life her mother (an unsettling Eva Green) had with her father (a subdued Christopher Meloni).
The breakdown: Writer-director Gregg Araki adapts Laura Kasischke’s best-selling novel for the screen, combining a slice of life approach to a subtly told mystery tale that takes place between 1988 and 1991. While the tone is a bit uneven at times, the understated nature of the well-told narrative gives it a more realistic feeling, and the climax leads to an unexpected revelation. The soundtrack is also refreshing, with Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie (the latter of Cocteau Twins fame) lending an appropriately dreamy score.
The buildup: After her childhood friend Debbie (Shelley Henig) hangs herself without leaving a suicide note, Laine (Olivia) learns that she may have summoned something through a Ouija board. United with her boyfriend, her sister, and Debbie’s bereaved boyfriend, Laine sets to banish the supernatural forces Debbie helped cross over to our world.
The breakdown: Ouija takes the classic ’80s teens battling supernatural forces concept and gives it an up-to-date feeling. Although it offers some decent scares, there is nothing here that has not been seen or done before. But its audience is the young teens who flocked to theaters and reportedly drove up Ouija board sales by 300% last Christmas. Mission accomplished.
The buildup: A large doll possessed by the spirit one of the deceased cult figures that tried to kill a pregnant mother (the coincidentally named Annabelle Wallis) and her husband (Ward Horton) begins to wreak havoc on them once their son is born. Even the support of a local priest (Tony Amendola) and an occult expert (Alfre Woodard) may not be enough to save them from Annabelle’s wrath.
The breakdown: This spin-off of James Wan’s chilling thriller The Conjuring tries to summon up the same sense of dread but falls a bit short. Director John R. Leonetti (cinematographer for The Conjuring and Insidious) manages to provide atmospheric creepiness and some good shocks, and Annabelle certainly is more unnerving than many other possessed dolls despite barely moving. It just needed a meatier script to make it really click.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014)
The buildup: Promising cosmologist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meets the love of his life, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), while they study at Cambridge. But he soon receives a devastating diagnosis: he has motor neurone disease and has only two years to live. With the immense love and support of Jane, Stephen’s mind and scientific viewpoints expand even as his body wastes away, but he battles the disease, exceeds his life expectancy, and becomes the famous author and lecturer people know today.
The breakdown: Based on Jane’s memoir about her life with Stephen, The Theory Of Everything skims through the science to depict the extraordinary courage and resilience of both people faced with daunting circumstances. It is clear that without the sacrifices made by Jane, Stephen could not have soared to the scientific heights that he did. Few movies make me tear up, but this one did only a half hour in. Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-worthy performance is astounding; Hawking gives him a thumbs up too.
A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (1936)
The buildup: A Parissienne family takes their daughter, future son-in-law, and aging matriarch on a country trip that ends up at a rural inn where they have a nice picnic and relaxing afternoon. But two young men have designs on the mother and daughter, distracting the men with fishing activities while putting the moves on their ladies.
The breakdown: Jean Renoir’s 41-minute, black and white film was mostly finished before he left for Hollywood in 1936, and the final form edited together by his production team in 1946 works well. It’s interesting how the city folk come off more like the hicks here. Despite its bucolic setting and seemingly cheerful tone, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface here. The film is ultimately bittersweet at heart. Some have balked at the $40 list price for this release (just wait for a sale), but it does include a lot of extras, including a 1962 introduction by Renoir and an 89-minute compilation of outtakes.
MIMI GIBSON: LIFE WITH LUCKY
Disney’s classic animated film 101 Dalmatians—pitting dog parents Pongo and Perdita against the crazed Cruella De Vil, who kidnaps their brood of spotted puppies to skin them to make fur coats—receives the Blu-ray treatment this month. The Aquarian chatted with Mimi Gibson, who voiced the popular dog character Lucky, about working on this beloved movie.
Did Walt Disney ever come into your recording sessions?
Not that I’m aware. I never met him, never saw him.
Did you do all your sessions alone or did you perform with the other dog voice actors?
We were all in school, doing our schooling on the set, and they would just take us one at a time to do all the puppy voices. Every time we came in, it was like a one-day call and we would do all of the voices, so I didn’t know who I was in the movie until the movie came out. But it was fun doing all the puppy voices, and we did work as a group in some of the crowd scenes.
Lisa Davis, who played Anita, said she got to play with real Dalmatians for inspiration when she was recording her parts. Did you?
No! What the heck? That just made me mad [to find that out]. (Laughs) We were all treated as working actors, and we didn’t get any of that special stuff. That just stinks. Oh well.
Do you still visit Disneyland?
For many years I went to Disneyland every year, and The Art Of Animation [store] was where I could see the 101 Dalmatians clips and hear my voice. That was always fun to visit. I was proud [of my contribution]. I have friends that are Disney freaks, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more solitary. I kind of don’t like crowds anymore.
What’s been your favorite moment on this journey from when the film was originally released until now?
The most fun thing is to tell a six-year-old that you’re the voice of this puppy, and they can’t quite process that. Then I tell them I was a little older than them when I was the voice of Lucky, so they think about it and think it’s fun. They like it. That’s been quite delightful.
Was Lucky the only Disney character you ever did?
I did some voiceover work for Disney on and off. On one thing I discovered I was on the cutting room floor. I did the voice of a little girl they couldn’t understand. She was in a crowd scene for a movie called Toby Tyler, and I had never seen the movie. Howard Green here [at Disney] gave me a copy of it, and I watched it and [found that I] was not in it. But I did a lot of voiceover work when I was a kid.
What is your favorite Disney movie and which character would you like to have played in it?
Bambi. I would liked to have been Flower the skunk. I named a goat of mine Flower. I loved Flower. As a matter of fact, I met the man who played Flower when I was in my 20s, and he was a doctor. That was the only thing he ever did.