Saturday, December 20, 2014

Annie [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

BET coverage
Ebony (R. Mays) interview w. Jamie Foxx (T. Lewis) cover article interviews [1] [2]

I honestly didn't expect to like Annie [2014] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Will Gluck along with Arlene Brosh McKenna based on the stage play by Thomas Meehan [IMDb] based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray).  When I was a kid growing-up, I didn't much like or even have interest in the original stage musical.  Even at 10 or 12 I had a remarkably similar view of the musical as I later had of the musical Les Miserables [2013] -- I basically found it to be poverty porn: "Oh look at how much the characters suffered (and AT A TIME SO FAR, FAR AWAY), but the Actors SANG SO WELL (or NOT SO WELL or WHATEVER ...)."

So I went to see the remade / updated  Annie [2014] (the lovely, precocious African American 10 year old Quvenzhané Wallis playing the precocious starring role previously played by lovely preccocious white/redheaded vaguely Irish looking girls) in a matinee, going to see it only _because I felt I had to_ for the sake of the credibility of my movie review blog... :-)

I left already liking the new film, and liked it EVEN MORE when I got home and rented the canonical 1982 film version (the one which starred, among others Carol Burnett as the evil, self-serving/scheming orphanage running Miss Hannigan).

Why the change?  Well, I found the updating of the story both BRILLIANT and WORTHY of the story -- the new version setting Annie's story, not during the Great Depression (FAR FAR AWAY...) but IN THE PRESENT DAY.  And then, if one is going to move "Little Orphan Annie" to the present day (while STILL SETTING IT IN NEW YORK), IT MAKES A LOT OF SENSE to change her from a precocious curly red-haired vaguely Irish-looking girl living in a Depression Era orphanage to a precocious, yet still big / curly-haired African-American girl living in a CONTEMPORARY "FOSTER CARE" situation. 

Then the rest of the characters in the original story translate VERY WELL into the new.  Cameron Diaz' drunk, sulking, scheming "I could have been a star" Hannigan making a few extra bucks by taking-in kids as a "Foster Mom" is a brilliantly dead-on updated version of Carol Burnett's character in the canonical 1982 film version).  Jamie Foxx' telecom billionaire Will Stacks (running in the current version for NYC mayor) is a similarly brilliantly updated version of the Depression Era Oliver ("Daddy") Warbucks tycoon played by Albert Finney in the 1982 film, though much of Daddy Warbucks' privileged / "evil" default tendencies get shifted to Stacks' "I get paid to do the things that you can't" campaign manager credited in the new film as simply "Guy" (played by Bobby Cannavale).  Then Rose Byrne does a wonderful job in the current version of playing Grace, Stacks' personal assistant, whose role is an updated version of Daddy Warbuck's assistant Grace Farrell played (and danced ...) in the 1982 version by Ann Reinking.   Stack's driver Nash (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) played a pretty good updated version of "Punjab", Daddy Warbucks' driver (played by Geoffrey Holder in the 1982 version).

Then some of the scenes in the updated version, which more-or-less follows the trajectory of the original, are again brilliantly inspired.  In both the current and the 1982 versions, there's an episode in which Annie wants to go to the movies.  In the 1982 version, Daddy Warbucks makes a call and RENTS OUT THE ENTIRE RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL so that HE, Annie and Grace could go to see a movie (which turns out to be some appropriately sappy 1930s melodrama).  IN THE CURRENT VERSION, Annie convinces Stacks to take HER, her other foster home friends and Grace to see a sappy Twilight-like film apparently starring Mila Kunis in a Bella-like role,  Ashton Kutcher as the Twilight-like Edward (or perhaps Jason)-like "lizard-man hunk" (with Rihanna and Scarlett Benchley playing assorted, "moon and fish goddesses").  It's simply PRICELESS to watch Billionaire Stacks, there, popcorn-in-lap, TOTALLY DISORIENTED in a theater FILLED WITH SIGHING 10-12 year old girls (and Grace) holding-onto EVERY WORD and EVERY GLANCE in this very contemporary "sappy melodrama" involving an "impossible romance" between the Twilight's Bella-like character (played by Mila Kunis) and her "lizard man" beau ;-).  [Actually, to my Czech ears, the plot of this Twilight-like "water saga" seems VAGUELY like the libretto of Antonin Dvorak's opera about the "water nymph" Rusalka [wikip] [YouTube] ;-)]

So folks, what I would suggest to skeptics here is to go see BOTH the current updated version of Annie and then come home and RENT the 1982 version.  I think that most would honestly appreciate what was done here.  The updated version honestly came across to me as FAR MORE REAL than the DEPRESSION ERA version (set again, at a time SAFELY "far, far away...")

And finally to those who would find some of the messaging in the current version to be uncomfortably "Liberal" ... remember that THE ORIGINAL was UNABASHEDLY LIBERAL / pro-FDR.  Indeed FDR and Eleanor WERE EVEN CHARACTERS in the play (played in the 1982 version by Edward Herrman and Lois de Banzie respectively). 

So I found this film far, far, far more engaging than I ever thought possible prior to seeing it, and as I did in the case of the "crazy" (DaVincian airship filled) updating / re-imagining of The Three Musketeers [2011] some years back I APPLAUD THE COURAGE AND CREATIVITY OF THE SCREENWRITERS and FILM MAKERS HERE.  Awesome job here, simply awesome.  And again, I didn't even really want to go see this film!

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