By Robin E. Simmons


Petes Dragon1PETE’S DRAGON

“But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Disney has had great good luck mining it’s own archives to redo, reboot or upgrade its more familiar animated titles of the past. 1997’s rather bland, childish — and not in a good way – “Pete’s Dragon” gets refurbished with a furry beast and a fine live action cast that includes Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and newcomer Oakes Fegley as Pete. The end result is a warm, satisfying family film that hits all the right notes.

Elliot the dragon has no scales but has instead a furry coat. He’s like a big bumbling plush toy lumbering around in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. But thankfully, it all looks amazingly photo-realistic and the shaggy-haired Elliot is not so much a monster as he is a big cuddly puppy. The idea of a lonely kid befriending an alien being whether it’s “E.T” or bigfoot “Harry” (remember “Harry and the Hendersons”?) may not be original, but is nevertheless a perfect template for this emotional story that respects the intelligence of its audience young and old.

Petes Dragon2The audience I saw it with was packed with young kids and families. And from their reaction, they loved the movie. Genuine family films that can entertain ages 7 to 70 are probably the rarest of all films. Writer-director David Lowery says when he came on board the project Disney made it clear they didn’t want a faithful remake of the original. What they did want was a movie about an orphan boy named Pete and a dragon. The end result is a surprisingly emotional film top-loaded with whimsical and fantastical elements and the result is pure magic. I was kind of surprised at the lack of jokes but it was refreshing at the same time. Most welcome was the uplifting and upbeat nature of the story. Redford, who plays old woodcarver Mr. Meacham who regales local kids with tall tales about a fierce fire-breathing dragon that lives deep in the woods that are dismissed as fiction has been reported saying it was the upbeat tone that attracted him to signing on to the film. We live in dark and dangerous times and movies like this so filed with wonder are nice if all too brief antidotes to the hostility and violence the media so vividly reports happening in our world. This wonderful family film is exciting, sad and fun in just the right proportions.


Last Days in the DesertLAST DAYS IN THE DESERT

Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia is the son of beloved Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez who wrote the landmark 1967 novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Garcia’s wonderful film is rich with the poetic and mystical tone no doubt inherited from his immensely gifted father.

The film follows Jesus as he wanders the wilderness so he can be tempted by the devil before beginning his earthly ministry. Ewen McGregor plays Jesus as well as the tempting demon. During his desert sojourn, Jesus comes across a family troubled by “father and son” issues that resonate with the Him. The cosmic metaphors are profound and intellectually engaging on a surface level as well as theologically.

Although I doubt this unexpected film was intended as an overt “faith based” film meant for a conservative religious audience, I found it to be as secular as sacred. The movie triggered a lively discussion among those I saw it with. All agreed the film was visually stunning, but some were confused that this Jesus did not have all the answers the troubled family he encountered might have desired. Nor did He perform miracles when they might have been most welcome.

I was transfixed by this beautifully crafted film shot with a painterly eye by master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“The Revenant”) in the dramatically wrinkled, sun-bleached rugged terrain of Anzo-Boreggo Desert State Park. There’s a sublime visceral connection between the stark canvas of the story and the raw, minimalist lives lived on it. This singular film is a timeless tone poem that’s much more than an account of a ragged Holy Man’s search for meaning in the wilderness. On a deeper level, I think it’s about the humanity of God.

McGregor delivers a stand-out performance that will be long remembered and not just when “Jesus movies” are discussed. The haunting, evocative score was composed by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurrians.

There are no extras on the disc and, surprisingly, this great looking title is not available on Blu-ray. DVD. Broadgreen Pictures.

11-22-63 Franco11.22.63

I grew up in Dallas and went to Dealey Plaza the night after JFK was shot. I well-remember the blood red moon hanging over the skyline and the sound of weeping and the vast blankest of flowers and scribbled hand-written notes strewn on the infamous grassy knoll near the base of the Texas School Book Depository.

I was fascinated by Stephen King’s bestseller and the resulting nine-hour 8-part TV series.

Imagine having the power to change history.

You will be hurtled deep into the unpredictable darkness of the American dream. James Franco stars as Jake Epping, a high school teacher at a loss with his life, who wants to make a difference and do something meaningful. Encouraged by his ailing friend (Chris Cooper), Jake journeys back in time to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. We travel into the world of 1960s Texas as Jake explores the multiple mysteries surrounding the alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. But Jake’s mission faces threats not only from Oswald, but from Sadie, a beautiful librarian he falls in love with, and from the Past itself — which doesn’t want to be changed. 11.22.63And if the past doesn’t want to be changed, it will push back – often violently. This rewarding and epic emotional thrill ride raises all kinds of questions about the arrow of time and the nature of reality. Warner Bros Home Ent. Blu-ray.