Movie Review ~ Rebuilding Paradise


The Facts
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Synopsis: A moving story of resilience in the face of tragedy, as the community of Paradise, California, a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ravaged by disaster comes together to recover what was lost in the devastating wildfires in 2018 and begin the important task of rebuilding.

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: As anyone that’s gone through a tragedy like a death of a loved one can tell you, the hardest part is often not while you are in the immediate stages of grief.  Yes, those first hours, days, weeks, when you’re living in the shock of the loss is painful and puts you through every kind of emotional ringer there is…but that’s just one part of the process.  The second wave comes when all those people that came to your side when the tragedy occurred go back to their lives and continue on where they left off.  You’re left broken and needing to find your way in a new normal and everyone else goes forward…seemingly unchanged in your eyes.

It can also be that way for major events like national disasters.  Hurricanes, floods, riots, school shootings, fires, you name it.  We watch these monumentally life-altering occurrences happen, often from the peacefulness of a comfortable safe distance, and send our prayers and good thoughts along with everyone else.   The news media covers the destruction and its immediate aftermath but rarely do they stick around to show what really happens to the individuals and communities at large that are left picking up the pieces of a life shattered.  New cycles of news take over and televisions are changed to new channels while webpages are updated with the latest celebrity gossip.

On November 8, 2018, the town of Paradise was overcome by the raging wildfire that resulted from faulty electrical work from power company PG&E (anyone familiar with Erin Brockovich should remember that infamous corporate magnate) and much of the community was lost.  A total of 85 people were killed, 50,000 residents were displaced, 100,000 acres of land were destroyed, and 18,000 structures in a town that had existed over a century were wiped out.  This was all broadcast for the world to see and the footage is as horrifying to watch today as it was two years ago.  Also paying attention was Hollywood director Ron Howard (Parenthood) who had a family connection to the town.

Partnering with his old friend producer Brian Grazer and National Geographic Documentaries, Howard had camera crews go into the town and pick-up where the news crews left off, capturing the efforts by the town to get back on its feet.  The resulting documentary Rebuilding Paradise is a strong, if occasionally rote and repetitive, testament to the strength of spirit represented in the town. What Howard and his crew captured over the course of a year isn’t your standard fix-all approach with an end result of complete reparation by the time the credits roll.   Instead you see the ups and downs of the townspeople as they work through their own personal turmoil and a series of frustrating roadblocks preventing them from returning to the town they loved.

If I’m being honest, it took a while to find a groove with the documentary and I wasn’t quite sure why.  The opening ten minutes are fairly spectacular viewing, even if they depict the terrifying real life Camp Fire that engulfed the city and destroyed the lives of its residents.  It’s no surprise the director of Backdraft was able to cut this sequence together to be an effective and breathless opener…but it sets a strange edge at the beginning the rest of the documentary struggles to contend with for the remainder.  Despite the occasional personal story that hit a chord (no spoilers but some truly unexpected events happen during the time the cameras filmed) the subjects chosen to be focal points don’t quite grab you.  Even the people being followed don’t seem to always like having someone tagging along with them – it’s an awkwardness that never goes away.

What I do applaud the documentary for (as well as Howard and the producers) is that is shines a light not just on the aftermath of this devastating event but on the importance of judicial follow-up on failure and exposing companies for less than honest dealings.  I imagine an entire documentary could be compiled on the PG&E section of the film alone, but Howard wisely keeps the heavier government business out of the mix and gets back to the more personal stories that have a greater impact on Rebuilding Paradise.  Though it starts to feel ever so padded as it comes up on the 90 minute mark, there’s enough goodwill built by the filmmakers to keep you engaged and eventually more than a little enraged when you realize how all of this could have possibly been avoided.

The Silver Bullet ~ Paradise (2013)

paradise

Synopsis: After surviving a plane crash a young conservative woman suffers a crisis of faith.

Release Date: October 18, 2013

Thoughts: Not to be confused with the 1991 drama starring Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (which I review here), this is the first film directed by Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and it seems very much in line with her past work.  I was a big fan of 2011’s underappreciated Young Adult so am interested to see what Cody has up her sleeve…especially since this isn’t a cast I’d normally be knocking down the theater doors to see.  The last time Julianne Hough and the supernaturally annoying Russell Brand teamed up we got the 2012 musical disaster Rock of Ages but here’s hoping that the welcome presence of Nick Offerman and Oscar winners Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and Holly Hunter (Copycat) counter-balance the players.  Cody’s first directing gig has been long in the making (I’m still holding out hope she gets her Sweet Valley High re-imagining off the ground) and I want to believe that the wait will be worth it.   

2012 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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BestOf1

Well, folks…this has been an interesting year for movies.  It’s hard to believe I started this blog a year ago tomorrow…time sure does fly.  I’ve learned a lot in this past year and can see how my review style has evolved over the past twelve months.  I’ve appreciated your feedback, your company, and just your presence in my blog because I’ve used it all to help it get better.  Even if you read this everyday but never commented…I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership has increased every month and it’s thanks to your word of mouth that has helped me get this blog up and running.  Some interesting developments are on the horizon that should make 2013 even more fun for you and me – thank you again for your patronage and keep spreading the news about The MN Movie Man. 

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

And now…the Best/Worst/Special Mentions of 2012.  Keep reading all the way to the bottom for a grand total that made me equal parts embarassed and proud.

Best21

5. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson has been hit or miss for me for his entire career.  For each film I’ve liked there have been two that followed I could barely sit through.  Thankfully, Moonrise Kingdom is one of his best – a richly rewarding work that was as colorfully offbeat as you can be without making a Pee-Wee Herman movie.  Anderson gathered his usual troupe of players, many of whom play against type to wonderful results.  It’s not for everyone but those that like this kind of storytelling will be quite entertained.

4. Silver Linings Playbook – A most unexpected delight from director David O. Russell and an impressive line-up of actors, Silver Linings Playbook was not only one of the best films of the year but also one of the more unpredictable.  It kept changing its course ever so slightly so that you were never quite sure where you were headed.  In a year filled with great performances, the work of Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper should be dully recognized at Oscar time.

3. End of Watch – You missed this in theaters, didn’t you?  Shame on you!  Though well reviewed, End of Watch has come and gone into your local movie theaters TWICE since it was released in September.  The second release was aimed to give some extra oomph for Oscar voters but it may be all for naught as other higher-profile films drew the audiences that should have made this a priority.  Jake Gyllenhaal gives what may be his best performance along with underrated character actor Michael Pena as they play cops in Los Angeles that get on the very wrong side of a vicious drug ring.  The camera work and direction were excellent but it’s Gyllenhaal and Pena who make the dark drama fire on all cylinders.

2. Skyfall – Sorry Sean Connery but the mantle of “Best James Bond” has officially been passed to Daniel Craig.  The long-awaited return to the screen of 007 was an absolute winner from start to finish.  With a new director on board who was willing to push everyone involved to give their best, most timely work – a different kind of spy adventure emerged.  Add top shelf performances from Craig, Judi Dench, and SAG Award nominee Javier Bardem along with Adele’s (hopefully Oscar nominated) classy/classic theme song and you have all the makings for a film that set the Bond bar quite high.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Though I saw this in mid-July, I’ve been unable to shake some of the passages and performances in Benh Zeitlin’s unique film.  Following a father and daughter in a bayou community as they live with the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina, the film is pure magic thanks to Zeitlin’s creative script and the one-two punch of actors Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.  If there is any justice, Wallis will become the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee in history for her absolutely unforgettable performance.  You may have missed this one in the theaters, but it is available now for home viewing through the usual channels.

Honorable Mentions: The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Les Misérables, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Looper, Django Unchained

Worst

5. One for the Money – Katherine Heigl blew her chances at a franchise with the total disaster that was One for the Money.  The first of the Stephanie Plum mysteries, this could have been a real game changer for her career but sadly Heigl is not a good enough actress to carry the film anywhere.  Though it may have worked better as a television series, there is still no good reason why Heigl was given the opportunity to bring Plum to life.  Heigl just isn’t a leading lady as her last five films have proven.  She needs to take a long, hard look at what type she is…I’d vote for the bitchy girlfriend supporting role.

4. Mirror Mirror – The first (and worst) of two disappointing Snow White films this year, Mirror Mirror earns its spot on the list by featuring some of the best looking sets/costumes paired with an absolutely abysmal plot and performances.  Though Julia Roberts may have relished playing someone wicked, she doesn’t have the follow through to make it work.  She looks like she’s having a great time…at our expense.  The truly awful one here is Lily Collins as Snow White, hampered by an unfortunate set of bushy eyebrows and a bad habit of letting her mouth hang open whenever she’s not speaking…she makes the fabled heroine seem like an absolute mouth breathing idiot.

3. Magic Mike – I know I’m in the minority on this, but I found Magic Mike to be a piece of crap.  Even with the pedigree of a good (but inconsistent) director and a buzz-worthy cast, the movie went nowhere slowly.  The most interesting thing about the film was in its origins as a loose adaptation of star Channing Tatum’s pre-Hollywood life as a stripper.  Filled with ugly cinematography, a terrible soundtrack of awful music, and more than a few head-scratching developments that didn’t jive, no amount of bared flesh could ultimately save this film from pole dancing onto my Worst of 2012 list.

2. This Is 40 – A late addition to this list but well deserving of the high placement, This Is 40 was the worst comedy I saw in 2012.  Most frustrating was that it featured two very likable stars in a film I described in my review as “a miserable cinematic mallet to the head.”  That the film could feature such funny people and be virtually laugh free is a gigantic achievement.  Director/writer Judd Apatow has once again forgotten that the first step in making an interesting film is to make it, well, interesting.  It’s a dull, sloppy, crude movie that’s 134 minutes of fights about the same thing and observations on married life/aging/raising kids that were funnier on episodes of Home Improvement.

1. The Apparition – Without question, The Apparition is the worst worst Worst of the Worst in 2012.  Seemingly edited by a rotating group of morons that never saw what the other was doing, the film makes no sense and has terrible acting on top of it all!  Twilight star Ashley Greene should be thankful she made some cash on that franchise because her movie career is over.  It’s a film that should never be heard from again…along with everyone that made it.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: American Reunion, The Vow, The Raven, The Three Stooges, Won’t Back Down

Special

Most Misunderstood

John Carter – I still don’t  get why people attacked this film quite the way they did.  I found it to be an enjoyable sci-fi flick that blended some nice elements from adventure serials of the past.  With parts reminding me of the Indiana Jones films and nice performances from Taylor Kitsch (who struggled through Battleship but did good work in Savages in 2012) and Lynn Collins, the film was a critical and financial disaster.  I just don’t get why it was SO bad…I for sure saw worse big budgeted films this year.

Honorable Mention: Jack Reacher

Worth the Wait

Prometheus – A huge Alien fan, I had been looking forward to the semi-prequel Prometheus ever since it was announced nearly two years ago.  Though it left many with questions that didn’t get answered, I found Ridley Scott’s return to the genre he helped redefine (twice, once with Alien and again with Blade Runner) to be an entertaining ride.  Heck, I saw it three times in the theater and would have seen it again had I had the time.

Honorable Mention: The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

Cracks

Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia)

Kill List

Paradise

Taking Chance

The Intouchables (potential Oscar bait!)

Wolfen

GrandClick HERE for a full listing of films

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 138

Total Movies Seen at Home: 242

Grand Total for 2012 (not couting films seen multiple times): 370

Where I Saw the Most MoviesShowplace ICON (43 in 2012)

Why Haven’t You Seen This Movie? ~ Paradise (1991)

Paradise

The Facts:

Synopsis: An unhappy couple rediscover their lost love for one another when a 10 year old boy comes to visit them for the summer…

Stars: Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Elijah Wood, Thora Birch

Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: An American remake of the French film Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Highway), Paradise was conceived as a star-vehicle for the then-married duo of Griffth and Johnson.  Playing a couple teetering on the brink of separation one can’t help but see some real life parallels.  Johnson and Griffth would eventually divorce (for the second time!) in 1996 but here they play well off each other in a sweet, harmless puff of a film that I’ve always found to be a nice diversion.  While the couple receives top billing, the film unquestionably belongs to Wood as a sensitive boy sent to live with his mom’s friend while the mother gets her life together.  The conceit that the mother would leave her son with people he doesn’t know for an entire summer always was a creaky plot contrivance.  The couple has suffered a loss and if the mother and Griffth’s character were such good friends, she would know that a young boy staying with them that is roughly the same age as their son would have been seems a little rough.

Wood was just starting off in Hollywood and from his performance here it’s easy to see why his career took off.  The acting never seems forced or false and he holds his own, creating a character that’s sensitive and justifiably standoffish.  His developing father-son-esque relationship with Johnson brings out the best in both.  I’ve never found Johnson to be an actor to write home about but he does good work here…his scenes with Wood and Griffith have an authenticity that’s hard to fake.  Griffith’s voice will wear on you after a while but she’s remarkably restrained here…she’ll never be as good as she was in Working Girl but this was a departure of a role for her and ultimately she acquits herself nicely.

If Wood makes a good impression here, Birch walks away with the movie.  Precocious, mischievous, and wise beyond her young years she buddies up to Wood and forms a great friendship over the summer.  It would have been so easy to insert a little growing romance between the two but when Birch pats Wood on the back and says “You’re my best friend”…it’s more of a heart-tugger than any unrequited love that could exist between the two.

With a movie filled with some obvious clichés it’s not surprising that this failed to ignite the box office or gather much praise from the critics but never you mind that.  What you have here is an overlooked movie that has a lot of heart and no major agenda.  Give it a spin.