Irresistible (2020)

Irresistible (2020)

Directed by: Jon Stewart. Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper. Runtime: 1h 41 min. Released: June 26, 2020.

Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a fictional campaign strategist who lost a very winnable campaign in the 2016 election on the side of Hilary Clinton. For his redemption, Zimmer sees an inspiring video online of retired veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) fighting for undocumented immigrants at a town hall meeting in the small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, and Zimmer decides to help him run for Mayor.

On Gary’s first day in the town, he’s not used to everyone’s kindness. He’s there one night and the next morning, everyone knows his name. He doesn’t know how to react, for good reason (but Carell’s reaction is funny). It’s strange. While watching it, I thought their friendliness seems like it could be the set-up for a horror film in a different director’s hands. However, since it’s written and directed by Jon Stewart, it’s of course a comedy and political satire.

Frankly, there’s no satirical edge to this comedy – subtle for much of the film until Stewart makes it clear later in the film as to what he’s satirizing. Politics really go over my head, so to me the film played out like one of Stewart’s opening monologues on The Daily Show – only somewhat funny and I’m understanding the satire occasionally.

I’ve seen a couple of his good monologues when there was absolutely nothing else on TV, but his film lacks the sharpness of them. It’s just flat as it commentates on the media and how governments overspend on elections. The main points are interesting, as are thoughts on the election system in general, but the satire is all so subtle that it plays as a straightforward comedy for most of it.

I am a Steve Carell fan and he plays the role well here, but I just didn’t care about Gary as a person. However, the “relationship” he creates with Jack Hastings’ daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) brings about some refreshing moments when she makes him realize that he condescends to the townsfolk and gestures him to respect them more.

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Steve Carell and Rose Byrne in Irresistible. (IMDb)

This is shown mostly in one running gag that at first appears trivial (and sort-of is) where when he first arrives to town he orders a burger and Budweiser at the town’s Hofbräuhaus and the owner sends a busboy across the street to get a burger and a six-pack of Budweiser from a neighboring restaurant because they don’t actually serve burgers and Budweiser. “They’ve been patronizing you,” she says. Other scenes it actually sticks that he’s being a dick – in one headline he uses the term ‘small minds’ – but since he’s a D.C. elite, and because who Gary is as a person, it really never does stick.

Davis only shines occasionally, mostly shifted to the background in a will they/won’t they sub-plot with Gary as she defends her father occasionally. The always good Chris Cooper is solid as Jack Hastings in an election that really isn’t about him. It ends up being an ego battle between Gary and his arch-nemesis Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), a Republican strategist from the 2016 election who comes to Deerlaken when she catches wind of Gary’s involvement in the election.

The film gets marginally more interesting when she comes into play and that competition between them starts as she represents the current Mayor of Deerlaken, the Republican Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). The two main star’s abrasive banter and butting-heads chemistry brings the film’s only laugh-out-loud moments.

Carell and Byrne are such a strong pairing that I wish they were in a better comedy. I also wish that the film were less about the politics and more about their rivalry and just them sparring with each other. The scenes about their rivalry, and the last 20 minutes which came so out of left field it was sort-of entertaining, were the only parts that intrigued me.

Since it is about an election, it’s of course about the politics as we see the behind-the-scenes of the election, as well, as Stewart casts the likes of Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne in underused supporting roles as experts with analytics trying to win the election. All the behind-the-scenes stuff is just not that interesting and I saw a lot of it done better in Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner. Regardless, Jon Stewart’s Irresistible has some clever moments but they’re not enough to merit the runtime. Like his opening monologues on The Daily Show, it’s all a mixed bag.

Score: 50/100

Money Plane (2020)

Money Plane (2020)

Directed by: Andrew Lawrence. Starring: Adam Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane. Released: July 10, 2020. Runtime: 1h 22 min.

I love heist films so when I heard about Money Plane, I thought it would be some stupid B-movie fun. It is surely dumb, but it’s not fun. The story follows Jack Reese (retired wrestler Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge), a thief who’s $40 million in debt and is hired by Darius Grouch the Third, a.k.a. The Rumble (Kelsey Grammer) – which, frankly, sounds like a better wrestler’s name than Edge – to rob the titular Money Plane, a futuristic airborne casino with millions on board in cash and cryptocurrency, filled with “some of the baddest motherfuckers on the planet” on the plane, as Rumble explains it and tells Jack some of the betting that happens. “You wanna bet on a dude fucking an alligator? Money plane.”

The film’s weak attempts at comedy have more life than the film’s action scenes (strange for an action film), but everything here is boring. With its small budget, there’s nothing really high-concept about this film; and first hearing about it, its concept reminded me of the 2012 film Lockout, the one on the space prison. However, that film had a budget of $20 million which allowed it to feel authentic, and here, I think the entire budget was spent on Kelsey Grammer and Adam Copeland.

About its “high-concept,” there’s nothing futuristic about the Money Plane other than it’s an exclusive casino in the sky. It just looks like a normal casino on a plane. The sets here are awful and they have the same production value as a 70’s adult film, complete with the similar lighting. At no point is it convincing that this is actually filmed on an actual airplane, especially when Jack and his heist crew members Isabella (Katrina Norman) and Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr.) exit the plane and the plane door’s open to just darkness and there’s a wind machine going. This film would be equally awful if it were set on the ground, and the only reason it’s a casino in the sky is to make the premise more ridiculous and so it could have this title.

The title is why I wasted my time on this and got my attention. The fact that it’s directed and co-written by Andrew Lawrence is why it got my curiosity. He was on on the 90’s sitcom Brotherly Love with his brothers Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World, The Hot Chick) and Joey Lawrence (TV’s Blossom) who also have supporting roles in this film. Andrew Lawrence acts as one of the heist crew members, Iggy, who’s the tech guy on the ground during the operation, but he gets little to do. His acting is stronger than his writing and directing here, though. The action scenes are sloppily shot and choreographed and so awkwardly directed – especially an awkward fight scene in the cockpit with Jack and the co-pilot – and the writing is terrible, from the dialogue to execution of the concept. The blame isn’t solely on him, there, co-writing this with Tim Schaaf, but you can tell where Lawrence wrote his own voice in, like when he comments on his own premise when Jack explains the Money Plane plan and Iggy says, “It’s insane, I love it.”

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Kelsey Grammer in Money Plane. (IMDb)

The concept really is insane, and this film could be watchable with a larger budget and someone who could legitimately direct action. As it is, the project feels amateurish. The writing hurts the film the most as none of the characters are interesting and the heist itself is one of the most boring heists I’ve seen, devoid of any tension as the script mostly just wastes time with the betting games and the heist is basically just Isabella, disguised as a flight attendant, searching for the vault room. There are also a couple fights but it feels so uneventful. It’s such a wasted opportunity, especially when it’s pitched as a casino filled with very dangerous criminals and the criminals are more annoying than threatening and barely feel like legitimate threats to the characters. They’re barely involved in the story as villains except for one boring fight – and most of the criminals are just there to play the casino’s stupid games. The plot tries to add in some double crosses during the storyline but you can see everything coming a mile away.

Some of the writing is so stupid it’s kind-of funny. I enjoy the fact that Jack is a former poker player who has accumulated $40 million in debt playing high-stakes poker and now he’s robbing an airborne casino where he does, for one scene, play poker. We learn all this in an exposition-y scene with Jack and his best friend Harry (Thomas Jane in a bit role) and there’s this whole thing about Jack trusting his instincts. “Ever since I lost that hand, I don’t know if I can,” says Jack. About Adam Copeland, he seems like he’d be fine in other things like TV’s Vikings, but here his character is just so boring, defined solely as a family man trying to do right by them. Kelsey Grammer at least puts more into his performance because he’s just totally chewing the scenery in every scene he’s in, but the dialogue is so awful.

Anyway, Andrew Lawrence’s direction of just about everything from the action to basic conversations feels awkward, and as a poker enthusiast I found it sloppy when he actually showed us Jack playing a hand on the Money Plane. Remember, Jack is established as a strong poker player, but when he semi-bluff shoves against two opponents, it’s no wonder $40 million in debt. Still, on the plane it could just be an expensive punt so we can stop playing cards and get into the heist of the film, but I’m still undecided.

Jack’s bluff – he has a pair of fours on a dry board – gets called by a cowboy named JR Crockett (Matthew Lawrence who looks like Yosemite Sam here) and it’s the one somewhat funny thing in this film as he slams his hand on the poker table and says, “God damn it, thanks for making me feel alive, I call.” The drama in the hand is made more boring because the dealer doesn’t make them show their hands until showdown for ultimate drama even though they’re all-in.

The Money Plane is established as a legitimate casino that has an emphasis on rules – where The Concierge (Joey Lawrence) shoots a man in the back of head when he catches him cheating – and when I’m a viewer who knows how poker tables work, it’s annoying because that feels inaccurate to not show hands as soon as everyone’s all-in. I know I’m being nitpicky of a dumb B-movie called Money Plane that’s ridiculous through and through. To quote Andrew Lawrence’s own character T.J. Detweiler from Disney’s Recess, this film “whomps.”

Score: 25/100

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Directed by: Elise Martin. Starring: Betty Denville, Sean Kilty, William Paul. Runtime: 13 min. Released: May 8, 2020 (on Vimeo).

Note: Since this was a short film/indie film request, I won’t be giving this a score, as hopefully the review will just speak for itself.

The zombie horror-comedy musical Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films of 2018, so when I heard about the short film Dearly Departed, a 13-minute haunted house musical that blends comedy and romance, I knew that was right up my alley.

The film follows Vera (Betty Denville), an ordinary girl who happens to be living in a house full of spirits, and must learn to balance her relationships with her alive boyfriend, Fred (Ashton Spear), and the home’s ghosts, Billy (Sean Kilty), Kirk (William Paul) and Cara (Olivia Warren). Since it’s only 13 minutes long, I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but I enjoyed trying to guess what direction the film would go in, like if the ghosts would try to break up Vera and Fred or not. How they feel about the relationship is explored, but writers Jess Bartlett (also credited as producer and hairstylist) and Elise Martin (who also directs) take this in a fun direction.

It’s interesting watching Fred throw a wrench into this unique household dynamic by immediately suggesting Vera find a new home. He questions why she needs all this space, gesturing to empty chairs that we know are occupied by the abode’s ghosts. There’s not enough time to explain exactly why Fred, a realtor, is so insistent on getting her out of this home, but it drives the main conflict as he tries to get her out of the old and into the new.

Obviously, Vera doesn’t want to leave her friends, and the ghosts don’t want her to leave, either. “This house ain’t a home if we’re trapped here on our own,” the ghosts sing at one point. The home as a setting is perfect for the film’s vibe. Its vintage style is kind-of spooky because it could plausibly be haunted, perfect for a haunted house comedy that doesn’t flirt with horror but has a dark side.

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Sean Kilty, Olivia Warren and William Paul in Dearly Departed.

The concept for this film is strong and it’s a delightful musical, and I haven’t even talked about the music. There are three original songs nestled into the 13-minute runtime that drive the story. The first song, “My Heart,” is a peppy and hopeful song of new love, reminiscent of fairy tales like Cinderella, complemented by lighting and birds tweeting outside. The other songs give it a run for its money, too, and while everything complements each other, from the cast to the direction, the music is the glue.

It brings it all together because a musical is only as strong as its music, and that’s what makes Dearly Departed a winner. Kudos to Robbie Cavanagh and Demi Marriner for creating these catchy tunes. I loved the riffs and the lyrics worked well, letting the story flow and there’s a nice sense of the characters from the songs. I benefitted from multiple viewings to really listen to the music when it relates specifically to the story.

Impressively, this was made as a graduate project for University (with the help of a Kickstarter campaign), but it feels like it’s made by a professional team. Elise Martin’s solid direction helps with that, as does Elliott Howarth’s cinematography. There are some great shots here and I like the aesthetic, and the VFX work (by Nicholas Bendle and Harry Clarke) is strong, too. Martin directs the musical moments well, and the dialogue here still flows well when the characters aren’t singing.

I said earlier that Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films from last year, and I go back to the “Turning My Life Around” scene quite often whenever I need a smile. I can see myself going back to this film for a similar reason. Truthfully, my third watch of this was because I just needed a smile and I’m happy to report it worked.

The film is available now to watch on Vimeo here.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Directed by: James Bobin. Starring: Isabela Merced, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: August 9, 2019.

Dora (Isabela Merced), a teenage explorer, is sent from the jungle to the city to try to fit in with others her own age. Soon, Dora leads her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a family friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) and others on an adventure in the jungle to find her parents (Michael Peña, Eva Longoria).

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a delightful surprise and a creative live-action adaptation of the popular kid’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Some of the references that the filmmakers put in to the show – like when Dora will talk to the camera and say “can you say backpack?” and then everyone exchanges glances because she’s literally talking to no one. These meta moments are hilarious and clever.

Isabela Merced is the perfect Dora as she captures her sense of adventure and energy very well. I’m impressed with Merced as an actress because she’s shown she can play to so many ranges, like in Instant Family when she was a moody teenager protective of her younger siblings and here she convincingly plays someone with an endless supply of positivity.

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Isabela Merced in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. (IMDb)

That’s a flaw as the positivity becomes a bit much after awhile, but the writing addresses that and the discussion is refreshing. Merced has a lot of great moments here and a lot of good songs, too. Others in the cast are good, too, like Jeff Wahlberg as Diego and Eugenio Derbez as family friend Alejandro. Derbez shines in different ways in this film and his performance is entertaining.

The film very much feels like a teen movie with Dora’s fish-out-of-water humour getting used to high school, and the jokes never feel lazy. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) as a brainiac but kind-of mean girl works, and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) works for his awkward humour, too, as they’re the ones out of their element when they’re dragged into this jungle adventure.

The storyline and adventure are also well-written. It’s standard in a way as everyone is just trying to find the hidden Inca city Parapata, made solely of gold, but it’s an exciting adventure and one that has enough surprises and enough action to maintain interest. It also has a lot of laughs and one of the best scenes is a hallucination-inspired animated sequence that looks like the real Dora the Explorer show. The film feels like the real Dora, too, even though she’s a teenager, and creative scenes like this is why this is such a delightful surprise.

Score: 75/100

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)
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Released: April 15, 2016. Directed by: Jon Favreau. Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley. Runtime: 1hr, 45 min.

Director Jon Favreau brings his vision of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story of The Jungle Book to the big screen – telling the story with fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

It’s a coming-of-age tale about Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub finding his place in his world with animals in the Indian jungle. In fact, Mowgli is one of the film’s only live-action actors with any substantial contribution to the story.

Seethi is given a high task to carry the film as the only live-action actor. His performance is remarkable, capturing the bravery and charming curiosity of Mowgli, as well as his inventive personality.

He’s the heart of the film and he shows a great maturity as the character. It feels like he’s been performing for years – but this is his first theatrical film, his only prior experience was in a short film called Diwali.

While Seethi is virtually the only live-action actor on display in the core cast – the world between the human Mowgli and the motion-captured, computer-generated animals blend together so seamlessly, it feels like he’s truly interacting with real animals.

The visual effects are flawless and so is the attention to detail in how the animals are rendered. It’s really as great as Life of Pi in terms of creating realistic, visually striking animals. The landscape portrayed is vivid and adds to the film all around. The way the actors capture animals’ behaviour and movements adds a heightened realism.

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Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (Source)

The voice performances for the classic characters are also great. Bill Murray encapsulates Baloo – his laziness is relatable and he’s a fun character.

Ben Kingsley portrays Bagheer, the panther who found Mowgli as an infant in the jungle. He’s also tasked with bringing him to safety to return to his own kind when he is threatened by Shere Khan, the fearsome Bengal tiger. Idris Elba is menacing as the primary villain and doesn’t like Mowgli in the jungle because he is a human and doesn’t trust them. A human gave Shere Khan his scars. This adds a layer to Mowgli, who at times has to question if he could be destructive like that, too.

Also notable is the presence of Christopher Walken as King Louie. He’s changed from an orangutan to a gigantopithecus, to make it native to India. It also gives the scenes with Louie a much grander feel and breathtaking scale because he is so hulking. He’s actually scary here, in a refreshing turn from the original.

His rendition of the original Disney’s “I Wanna Be Like You” serves as one of the feature’s many high points.

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Neel Sethi as Mowgli and Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) in The Jungle Book. (Source)

Murray also sings “Bear Necessities” and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa sings “Trust In Me” through the end credits. That’s it for the songs used from the 1967 animated musical.

Jon Favreau chose to tell the story of how Mowgli got on his own when Kaa (Johansson) was hypnotizing Mowgli, instead of having her sing the song. The slithering character is seen in only one scene – but she’s memorably chilling.

The choice to cast Johansson and gender-swap the character was to done to add another female to the cast, where the only other primary female cast member is Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha.

It is one of the film’s only disappointing aspects that Kaa only has a small role, almost a cameo – as the more utilized “red flower,” fire to the animals, is more utilized as a villain here. The animated Disney flick basically only mentioned “red flower” in passing, so Favreau was more faithful to Kipling’s use of the element.

The way the story is structured is strong and the narrative is so engaging and entertaining. It also handles the iconic characters so, so well. This adaptation was penned by Justin Marks, who shows a great adapting ability. His two other prior screenwriting credits were a television movie (Rewind) and a video game adaptation (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li).

It might not have songs at every turn, but it handles its own very well as a film with a few violent moments. The third act is a great finale, and the film maintains a compelling pace – peppering comedy, drama and stunning action set pieces throughout. Some of the action even kept me on the edge of my seat at times.

Favreau perfectly finds a difficult balance of capturing the Disney magic, as well as making a mature adaptation that is unique and memorable. I think parents will be bugging their kids to see it so they have an excuse to watch it. And then watch it again. It’s truly great.

Score: 100/100

The Witch (2016)

The Witch (2016)

 

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Released: February 19, 2016. Director: Robert Eggers. Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Inseson, Kate Dickie. Runtime: 1hr 33 min.

Filmed in the small Ontario town of Mattawa, The Witch is an astounding venture into psychological horror from feature debut director Robert Eggers.

The film’s 1630’s New England setting is a perfect fit for the compelling narrative, inspired by America’s first witch hysteria – where dialogue is taken from diaries and folk tales of the time, which capture the time’s essence.

Also capturing the realistic portrayal is the set and production design. Writer-director Eggers seemed to be an asset to the film because he has had experience with art direction, production and costume design. I assume his experience with that complemented his vision.

The time period was perfect for the artistic tale which I saw as an experiment of how fear of something new – witchcraft – can provoke situations to a boiling point.

The feature concerns a Puritan family whose beliefs clash with their plantation. They’re then banished and they move to a farmhouse bordering the eerie wilderness, which is said to be the home of a witch and other strange forces, like creepy hares and ravens.

After the family’s baby Samuel is taken, they suspect their daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) of being impure and practicing the occult, leading the mother to believe they’re plainly cursed.

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Anya Taylor-Joy in the woods in The Witch. (Source)

The matriarch Katherine (Kate Dickie) exemplifies the family’s grief and is a main source of poignancy – adding a family drama aspect. The patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) performs well, attempting to keep his family intact through hectic occurrences.

Besides strong performances, there are also compelling, realistic characters. Eggers uses them to express impurity and insanity and always real, raw emotions.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin shows promise, showing great range when facing extreme accusations from her family. She has a chilling moment when her face drops at her baby brother disappearing in a scary game of Peek-a-Boo. Harvey Scrimshaw also shines as Caleb in a defining scene.

The cast carry it well through horror and wicked family drama. It’s like a derailment into insanity, with threats of black magic. The Woods itself is a notable aspect.

To me, it’s a character in itself – like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. There’s a dread when characters enter the forest. The Witch is not frightening the way modern horror films are.

There’s no reliance on jump scares and it utilizes atmosphere and concept to terrorize audiences. My eyes widened so much, I thought my face would freeze that way.

The score is wholly unnerving. It effectively utilizes music and sound to instill fear into audiences. As the score heightens, some might wait for a jump scare – but it’s all about the discomfort it brings to the viewer, and the fear of the unknown it invites. Mark Korven’s score makes the film what it is – showing that a horror film requires great music to make it stand out.

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Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. (Source

Eggers brings a unique vision to the witchcraft genre. His sense of storytelling and his direction of raw horror is refreshing. While this never made me cover my eyes, I’ve rarely felt so consistently unsettled through something this intense. I think I didn’t cover my eyes was because I didn’t want to miss a frame of the beautiful film.

The way cinematographer Jarin Blaschke shoots the feature stuns. Creative angles also make certain images look chilling – even if they would look simplistic in another’s hands. With Blaschke, there’s malevolence in every shot. The nighttime shots frighten, especially when we’re placed in the woods. The way the camera panned into the Woods’ belly was unnerving.

The feature’s main flaw was the way the characters talked – where their dialogue’s meaning was sometimes confusing. I’d likely have to read the screenplay to get the full essence of the themes.

This isn’t for everyone. It’s slow and rewards patient viewers. It’s a treat for genre fans. Though, it isn’t for those who define a film’s scariness through amount of jump scares.

For me, it was an astounding feature debut that immerses, and Eggers’ superbly crafted tale makes it look like he has been scaring audiences for years.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
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Released: February 18, 2005. Directed by: Wayne Wang. Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Dave Matthews. Runtime: 1hr 46 min.

One of my childhood favourites, Because of Winn-Dixie depicts the positive effect a dog can have on one’s life. In particular, it’s about India Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), a 10-year-old girl who meets a smiling, stray Picardy Shepherd in her local supermarket – the Winn-Dixie.

She names the dog Winn-Dixie in the heat of the moment – claiming the dog to be hers to save him from the pound.

Opal just moved to a small-town Naomi, Florida – a town so small, the main Church is in a convenience store. She’s struggling to fit in and also struggling to communicate with her preacher father, simply called Preacher (Jeff Daniels), who has been depressed since his wife left him when Opal was three years old.

With her trusty pooch Winn-Dixie, they meet a cast of eccentric characters across town where together, they bring joy back to Naomi.

I think the film works best because of its charm. The plot isn’t the most original, it’s basically Opal going around to the town’s characters, trying to make friends and learning lessons. It’s kind-of like a throwback to the fantasy genre of going from an amusing encounter to the next, without all the fantasy.

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Winn-Dixie and AnnaSophia Robb in Because of Winn-Dixie (Source)

The film’s frame is the aspect of the narrative of Opal coping with her mom leaving. Even after seven years, we’re catching up with her at a time where she thinks of her mom a lot because she’s so lonely. It enables poignant exchanges between Opal and the preacher – which are often heartwarming or heartbreaking, and sometimes simultaneous. The sentiment is always in the right spot, regardless.

The character also calls for AnnaSophia Robb to have a lot of maturity as a performer in her first film role on the big screen (before this she was on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh and the titular role in TV movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday). Robb is completely up to the task, where she’s moving when she has to be, naturally funny and she has a good narration, to boot.

Antagonists include Mr. Alfred (B.J. Hooper), the trailer park owner of where Opal is living, who doesn’t allow pets and wants Winn-Dixie gone. He also doesn’t allow kids, but made an exception because Preacher is the… well, the preacher. I guess they couldn’t think of a better name for him.

But since it’s a family flick, there’s not much conflict – besides just coping with life. There’s also not much conflict because everyone opens up to Winn-Dixie. How can you resist that dog’s smile?

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But since it’s a relatively weak-plotted family flick, there’s not a lot of conflict and everyone eventually opens up to Winn-Dixie, because how could you resist that smile?

The characters that author Kate DiCamillo created are well-sculpted, and that’s what really sets the film apart. From Dave Matthews’ singing pet shop caretaker Otis, to Eve Marie Saint’s librarian Miss Franny and Cicely Thomson’s Gloria Dump, they all have entertaining stories and are portrayed well by a talented cast.

Winn-Dixie is just a funny and enjoyable family film, notable as AnnaSophia Robb’s first film and for its emotional range, even though many of the lessons in the film are literary in scope. They just don’t feel like something that would happen naturally in real life.

This is particularly notable with the ‘littmus lozenge’ plotline and the story about its creator – a Civil War soldier who came home to his entire family dead, and made the flavour of his candy kind-of like his life: sweet and sad.

When Opal goes around giving her friends this candy, it’s cheesy but sweet. It makes people think of their sadness, like the amusing reaction of Elle Fanning’s Sweetie Pie Thomas, where she spits the lozenge out and says, “That tastes bad. That tastes like not having a dog.”

It enables moments that got a few tears out of me because a good, emotional screenplay – and it helps characters make a bit more sense.

It’s a creative, occasionally feel-good family film, especially after getting past any melodrama it might have. Most importantly: The film entertains.

3 outta 4