Wilder's Movie Review: A Panda and a Beaver

By: Dwayne Wilder
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“Awesomeness.”
 
I am excited because I get to preview a movie that doesn’t come out until Thursday!
 
“Kung Fu Panda 2” will open a day early to get a jump on the Memorial Day Weekend, but I saw it last Saturday at an advanced screening.
Let me elaborate……………………….!
 
KF Panda 2 is the sequel to Dreamworks’ 2008 KF Panda, an animated hit about a panda bear learning kung fu. This is one of those rare times when the sequel is better than the original. The 2008 film was good, but nothing spectacular. It was a novel idea that allowed Dreamworks, the Steven Spielberg studio, to keep pace with Disney/Pixar in the animated film race. With the voices of Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, it did well enough to warrant a second feature film.
 
The duo is back, along with the rest of the “Furious Five,” kung fu animals/insects/reptiles who guard a mountain valley in China. Po, the panda bear, now firmly entrenched in the role of ‘The Chosen One,” is minding his own business, which is as much eating as it is training/guarding, when Master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman, summons him.
 
A new threat has arisen and may spell the end of Kung Fu, according to the Shifu. Po protests, but joins with the Furious Five to take on the threat, a ruthless peacock named Lord Shen.
 
The story is better than the first film as it is interspersed with a subplot of Po’s past. These flashbacks have everything to do with the current action and they are given at perfect times to keep this superior film moving to conclusion.
 
The characters are better developed; the humor is just right and not overpowering and the ‘cartoony’ texture of the flashbacks are a perfect contrast to modern day animation. That same styled current animation is top-notch as well. It is just as good as the gold standard: Pixar; and I don’t say that lightly!
 
Director Jennifer Yuh does a good job with the actors and the voices. She also takes a sweeping approach to the storytelling, which makes the tale seem bigger than it is, but that’s a good thing! Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger are to be commended for an excellent script. The story of Po and how it relates to the action of the characters is so simple, but is told so well that it seems “awesome!”
 
Of course, Jack Black is the voice of Po. He is calmer in this second go-round; and it helps the plot. He still is his manic self but his quest for ‘inner peace’ is part of the character and dictates a different view. Angelina Jolie is the voice for Tigress, who is the ‘toughest’ of the Furious Five. She is given a bigger role in this film and that helps get the audience involved in the story.
 
Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen are the monkey and mantis, respectively. They both are good in their voice work and expressions.
 
I’ve mentioned the peacock, Lord Shen, who is wonderfully voiced by Gary Oldman. I can’t think of a better villainy actor to do the villain voice! He is both menacing and sympathetic to watch. In addition, Jean Claude Van Damme is the voice of one of the Kung Fu masters, Master Croc. It is nice to see what he is doing nowadays!
 
This PG rated movie is 90 minutes long and I didn’t look at my watch once! It has martial arts action and mild violence. And everyone will love the musical rabbits!
 
After the screening was over, the audience of about 300 clapped………..Wow! That just doesn’t happen any time if at all! That simple act shows the caliber of film we witnessed.
 
To me, there is no better review than a random audience showing praise for a movie!
 
                                                                        *
 
It’s hard to watch “The Beaver.”
 
But I am recommending it for when you are truly ready to view mental illness. This Jodie Foster directed film stars Mel Gibson as Walter Black, a disturbed middle aged man who must come to terms with his life. Foster also stars as his wife, Meredith.
 
Due to a series of profound events, Walter subconsciously decides to distance himself from his problem by using a discarded beaver puppet to speak his maligned persona. Gibson gives the performance of his life in this incredibly difficult role.
 
I would guess that his own troubles away from the screen gave Gibson plenty to choose from as he delved into such a complex character. He nailed it!
 
This 90 minute film debuted in early May and went wide release May 20. Foster does a great job directing Gibson and the small cast in this intimate episode in a family’s life. Foster also shines in her role as the loyal, but ultimately realistic wife and mother who must live this transformation with Walter.
 
I applaud writer Kyle Killen because the story is told concisely and is a true view of one aspect of mental illness. Puppets are used in some therapies but mostly for children, so the basis of this film is on the verge of flimsy, but stick with it and a satisfying ending will emerge.
 
“The Beaver” isn’t a comedy although there are a couple of funny lines. Do not go thinking it’s a ‘normal’ drama. This brilliant movie is an Oscar maker in so many ways.
 
Basically, it’s a five person cast that brings this story to life. After Walter and Meredith, the couple’s two sons, played by Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart, are the most effected by their father’s new found ‘answer.’

Yelchin is wonderful as the teenage son who has watched this man go from okay to bad to worse to ‘beaver.’ He may get one of those nominations! Stewart is incredibly cute as the young son who only knows that he loves his dad. You will fall in love with him as well.
 
The fifth character is Yelchin’s love interest, another teen with a secret that really brings the story together. The young woman and classmate is Norah, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and her depth makes her a wonderful supporting character.
 
This $19 million film is rated PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference.
 
Mental illness is never an easy subject; it isn’t easy to watch much less understand, but “The Beaver” gives us an insight to what the mind might do and a person’s struggle against it.

Some don’t like to discuss the concept; in fact, two women walked out of the theater after about 20 minutes. I believe they didn’t like the film because they saw the puppet as literal when it is suppose to be an extension of Black’s consciousness.
 
Understanding the story from that point of view makes “The Beaver” the second movie (after “Win Win”) that I believe will be part of next February’s Academy Awards.
 
An unorthodox method of shedding light on a tough subject makes an excellent film.


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