Just under a year ago, I remember a hangout with some of my best friends. We decided to watch a movie in the backyard with the big screen. The movie chosen beforehand was Hocus Pocus, a movie familiar to many 90s children like myself. I had revisited the film at least once before as an adult, and was sadly underwhelmed, for the nostalgia did not hold up. Yet I care for my friends and wanted to have a good time, so I persisted.
As I looked back at Roger Ebert’s review of the original, he said it was “like attending a party you weren’t invited to, and where you don’t know anybody, and they’re all in on a joke but won’t explain it to you.”
Sometimes, I really can walk into a movie with high expectations, but in the case of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, can you blame me?
Afterall, it isn’t easy getting a score of 98% on Rottentomatoes with over a hundred reviews (not to mention a 92% audience score with over 500 reviews), nor to be a film based off of a series of short films. Add in the fact that the film is literally about a living breathing Shell trying to find his family and it is no wonder one could consider this film nothing short of a long shot.
Right from the get go, we see in the opening credits that Lightyear is not at all related to the semi-kooky but lovable Buzz we have seen grow since we first met him over a quarter century ago. Instead, it is the movie that would become the favorite of young Andy back in 1995 (when the original Toy Story was released.)
Well, I knew I was not likely to get any call backs to Buzz being called “Mrs. Nesbit”(“DO YOU SEE THE HAT?”), but oh well. A framing device is a framing device.
From all the stories and photos you mom put on social media, it did not take me long to realize you and your younger brother Lenny had a blast during your first ever trip to Disney World.
This, of course, has been a bit of a family tradition going back long before you were even born. It’s been nearly two decades since I was last there: Pirates of the Caribbean was not even a movie yet. It was also brought to my attention that, before you guys left, you and Lenny watched most of the Disney classics to prepare you. Take it from me, that is a lot of movies for two brothers who are only five and four!
This time of year, we normally get some original Netflix films that are not worth mentioning (such as the atrocity that is Thunder Force, a movie I detested so much I keep forgetting it is not called Thunder Rush). That irrelevant film took the superhero premise and made a family film that was not fun for anyone in the family. Thankfully, that film will be forgotten once families discover a film that was made for any member of the family: The Mitchells vs the Machines.
The first time I discovered Remember the Titans was not until a year after its release, but it was just at the perfect time.
I was in 8th grade, so I would always be sure to hang out at the Friday night high school (DGS Mustangs!) football games with my friends. As a senior who played center, my older brother Adam would normally have some of the players over on weekends . It also helped that it was the year the school won it’s first (and so far only) State Championship in football. The second to last game of that season is still the best football game I ever saw, professional or otherwise. It was also when a player on the team had died the previous summer in a road accident. There are a lot of parallels between that time and this film (other parallels to be mentioned later).
As we reach our teen years, world events start to play a bigger part in our lives in the classroom.
When I entered middle school back in 2000 (!), more people were talking about the election, only to be followed a year later by the 9/11 attacks. I can only imagine what the talks will be like with young people now regarding the COVID-19 pandemic (especially those like my brother Jackson who are in the graduating class of 2020). These were evident in my mind as I was watching Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants, a reflection of his own childhood during World War II in France.
Malle’s film (which translated is “Goodbye, Children”) focuses on the new semester of a Catholic boarding school, told mainly through the eyes of young Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse). About the age of 12 or 13, Julien is one of the brighter students of his class, yet still prone to cracking jokes and causing mild mischief. As any child would be at that age (regardless of when they lived), he acts tough around his friends but is still vunerable around his mother (his father is always at work).
Things change in the semester when a new student arrives: Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). As is the case in all schools in society, he is picked on from the get go. He becomes Julien’s bunk mate, and eventual academic rival. It is only when a secret begins to be revealed that the two become eventual friends.
As stated before, this is a reflection of writer/director Malle’s own childhood (he is the Julien character). It is therefore evident that all minor details are completely accurate. The trading with the kitchen assistant Joseph (Francois Negret) of his mother’s jam for stamps, talking about the latest books read, smoking in secret, deep conversations (“I’m the only one in this school that thinks about death.”, Julien says), and the countless times of not paying attention in class (admit it, we all are guilty of this at least once in our childhood).
I truly admire how Malle takes his time to even mention world events. Though it can be rather easy to guess what time the film takes place in (mainly due to the production and costume design), it is not until around the 40 minute mark when kids even mention Hitler. Why is that? Simple. The movie is not about what is happening outside the school, but what is happening inside.
Parents, it is rather somewhat surprising to learn the film is PG. I would say it is one of the more “hard” PG films I have seen. That is not to say there is visible nudity/sexuality or anything. The boys basically talk about it a lot (as many are prone to at that age), not to mention the casual swearing all boys that age tend to do. The whole subject matter of the film makes me feel it should have been PG-13.
All the events of the film lead to a brief moment where one of the boys makes one simple, fatal mistake. Some viewers may be prone to accusation, wondering how he could do such a thing. While that reaction to accuse is understandable, we need to stop and think: How many mistakes as kids did we make that we regretted afterward? I doubt anyone would be truthful if they did not say at least one.
Though the consequences may not be as severe as those in the film, we still remember them years later. To be clear, I am not talking about the ones we look back on and laugh (none of those “kids say the darndest things” moments and the like). I am talking about the ones that fill you with remorse and that, even years later, you are still not entirely sure if you have completely forgiven yourself.
When the film ends (and we are done dabbing our teary eyes), we eventually remember that to err is truly human. Now to the next part, where to forgive is utterly divine.
At the 92nd Academy Awards, when Bong Joon Ho was accepting his Oscar for Best Director (for Parasite), he paid tributes to each of his fellow nominees. The first (and most memorable) was toward Martin Scorsese, which prompted an unexpected standing ovation. It was clear that Bong Joon Ho was paying tribute to a mentor.
In the filming industry, perhaps no other career is more
vocal of paying tribute to mentors than that of a director. Most (if not all)
have stated they have been in total admiration of a certain director that came
before them, often rewatching their films almost to a degree of pure obsession.
Certain names come to mind: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Scorsese,
Eastwood, Coppola, Lucas, Tarantino, and Spike Lee, to name a few. However, all
the big named directors seem to have one person they all agree on that had
influenced their career. That name is John Ford. Famously, when Orson Welles was
asked the directors he admired most, he said, “John Ford, John Ford, and John
The winner of four Best Director awards (not including two others for short films) and the first winner of the AFI lifetime achievement awards, directors around the world are in some way, shape, and form in debt to Ford. He is most associated with the western. When we envision the old west, it is most likely seen the way Ford saw it. A time long ago, a relic. In a way, it is how we sometimes look at the Bible.
Though I am still in the mist of seeing as many of his films as I can (he made over a hundred, so I got a way to go), The Searchers is more than likely his most well known, and certainty the most studied. David Lean watched it to prepare for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and even a popular song from Buddy Holly was inspired by one of the film’s lines.
Set in Texas, 1868,
the door opens to the great outdoors of the west, as a returning Civil War
Veteran visits his sister’s family. The man is Ethan Edwards (John Wayne, in
perhaps his best role). He is tired and worn (as his face clearly shows), and
wants nothing more than to take it easy. We learn his one main character trait:
he is clearly racist. Not towards African Americans, but American Indians
(mainly the Comanche).
Soon enough, the Comanche arrive, and kidnap his niece Debbie. He sets out to find her, only to realize that those accompanying him (especially the Reverend, played by the great character actor Ward Bond) are slowing him down. The only one truly able to stick his own with Ethan is Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), Debbie’s adopted brother, who Ethan is not fond of at all (Martin is part Indian). Undoubtedly, Ethan is not someone to mess with. There is a moment in the movie where he sees trouble, and just whips his gun out of the cover. That is one small moment when you realize that making this man mad is a death sentence.
Set just after the Civil War, first time viewers may find it strange to know that the quest for Debby indeed takes time. Five years in fact. This is shown in small touches, such as when Martin’s love interest Laurie (Vera Miles) is told she has been written by Martin. Not just one letter, but two letters in one year. It takes so much time that when Debbie is finally seen, she is no longer played by Lana Wood, but her older (and more popular) sister, Natalie Wood. Looking back, you realize that character development sometimes takes a while. How often have we heard (or experienced) times where God works on our character for months or even years?
In my view, there is a certain unique delicacy in a John
Ford film. Each time you see how the camera is placed, you realize it could not
be placed anywhere else. The shots can be put on pause, and you could study each
one like you would a famous painting. In short, Ford was what all directors
strive to be from the beginning: an artist.
While some directors are known for reshooting scenes until they are satisfied (most notably Stanley Kubrick), Ford was not one of them. He was a fan of getting the scene done on the first take (nowadays, this is especially attributed to Clint Eastwood, who has also stated his admiration of John Ford). Perhaps it was because he wanted the first impulse of the actor saying the line to be filmed, or because he was (reportedly) not a fan of dialogue, it is hard to say. The stories I have heard of working with him are, well, interesting, to say the least. The only person who seemed able to stand up to Ford was Katharine Hepurn (whom he became romantic with for a time). Regardless, the overall outcome seemed to work.
Even the comedy of the film is effective. For one reason or another, a vast majority of them involve the character of Martin: Just in the wrong place at the wrong time. My favorite is a fight scene between him and another man trying to win the affections of Laurie. The scene is not as over the top as the fight scene in Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), but it still should make you feel unexpected uproars of laughter. The same can also be said of an very unwanted battle wound for the Ward Bond character in a very unfortunate place. How did he get that wound? If you have to ask, you were not paying attention.
Parents, I am all for kids getting a head start on old classics (especially westerns). Still, it should be noted that the racism of the film is apparent (although what the Comanche do is indeed reprehensible). Still, the film has maybe two or three minor swears, so middle school and up would be fine.
There are certain movies which are blessed to have a great opening shot, or a great closing one. Very few have both, especially when they compliment each other by being virtually the same, like bookends. Just some that come to mind include Saving Private Ryan (1998) with the American Flag, 1917(2019) with a soldier resting under a tree, and Parasite (2019) looking out the window into the street. Then there is The Searchers. After characters have returned, there is only Ethan Edwards left in the doorway. While others have entered, he stands alone, isolated. As he walks away, the door closes on him. Closes on the story. Closes on the old west. Lost to history.