Fanny, Annie and Danny


Fanny, Annie and Danny

Jill Pixley and Jonathan Leveck ponder the joys of family gatherings.

(2010) Dramedy (Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

To utilize a bit of a Dickensian mash-up, Christmas can be the best of times and the worst of times. Family get-togethers can be lovely and heart-warming – depending on the family. Some families should never get within a thousand miles of each other.

Fanny (Pixley) is a developmentally challenged woman living in a group home. She works for a candy factory and is obsessive-compulsive about washing her hands. She also practices her recorder at six in the morning, which really annoys her fellow residents in the home. She mostly keeps to herself, losing herself in her beloved horse books.

Annie (Pollack) is in the midst of planning her wedding, 18 months hence, to Todd (Frangione), a good-hearted stoner who has yet to find a job that isn’t beneath him. Annie is a bit of a Bridezilla, obsessing over details of her wedding to the point where a little valium might not be such a bad idea. However, any suggestions in that arena would most likely be met with shrill disapproval. She works as a dental assistant for Dr. Bob (Schwantz), whom she makes uncomfortable not only for her attempts to manage things she shouldn’t be managing but also for her perhaps inappropriate affections.

Danny (Leveck) is a successful band manager who makes a little extra by skimming off of his fledgling bands. When the accountant mom of one of them discovers his chicanery and proclaims he owes the band twenty grand, he flees Los Angeles for a family gathering at Christmas, one he has studiously refused to attend for years.

Edie (Keen) is the reason why Danny has stayed away. Overbearing, abusive and controlling, Danny (whom she calls “Dan-Dan”) is the apple of her eye; her other children (particularly Fanny) and her husband are merely worms in the apple. She screams at her family in a voice undoubtedly roughened by years of smoking, drinking and screaming at her kids. For Edie, her way is the only way – any other suggestions to the contrary can be shoved with all due haste where sunlight can’t be found.

Ronnie (Killingsworth) is a Vietnam vet who sometimes likes to look through his pictures of his years in the military that he keeps in a tin box in the shed. He is a bit broken, possibly afflicted with some mild dementia but remains kind-hearted despite constant bullying by his wife. Generally, he just tunes her out as much as possible.

Edie is preparing the “perfect” Christmas dinner – which is held a week before Christmas because the actual holiday itself stresses Edie out too much. Fanny’s candy factory is closing and the kindly owner (Darragh) has given Fanny a $9,000 severance check which she is supposed to deposit in the bank, but she misses her bus and arrives after the bank closes. Devastated by her loss, she goes to her sister’s house only to find Annie out. Todd instead feeds her a couple of beers (not the best idea for someone taking medication) and listens sympathetically to her story. Annie’s arrival, however, signals the end of any sympathy – Annie has a distinct lack of any compassion where her sister is concerned, possibly due to having to care for her for too long.

All this is going to come to a boil when the family arrives at the home where Edie rules. Annie will attempt to curry favor from Danny in direct competition with Edie (who doesn’t appreciate anyone coming between her and her son) and Ronnie will discover his wife’s ultimate cruelty – and Fanny will wash her hands of all of it.

This is the third feature of San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker Chris Brown, who is also an accomplished songwriter and wrote the songs for the movie (including the oddball Christmas songs that Edie forced Danny to sing with her). Incidentally if you can find his album Now That You’re Fed and particularly the song “All My Rivals,” do go for it, the music is amazing.

He also wrote the script and collects a group of characters who pass through our gaze generally undetected when we see them on the streets but once you get to know them, you find them anything but bland. In that sense, they are very realistic – think of all the people you pass by without truly seeing them. We are all visible to the naked eye yet invisible to the gaze of others. Brown captures that aspect of our society very nicely and it adds to the realism of the film.

Pixley does some amazing work as Fanny to the point where you wonder if she might not have some of the issues she’s portraying. She’s that spot-on in her performance. Frangione also does an exceptional job, taking a character that is not necessarily sympathetic early on and in a matter of a minute or two makes him so. To Brown’s credit, he doesn’t write Todd as a Cheech and Chong clone but imbues the character with a personality that is more than a guy who smokes dope. Not all stoners are all about the dope.

The movie succeeds in painting a picture that is both funny and tragic. The children are all scarred by their mother’s behavior and while at times you want to punch Edie in the face, she is also ultimately a victim of her own behavior and if you look past the ugliness, you see someone who has been bitterly disappointed by life. The movie is compelling from the opening moments to the shocking last scene. It is not always easy to watch a family implode but Brown makes it funny and sad, like seeing a car full of clowns in a head-on collision with a semi.

REASONS TO GO: No matter how bad your family dynamics are, you’ll feel better about them after seeing this family. Organic performances and a clever script.

REASONS TO STAY: Mama Edie is such a horror show that people might actually cringe.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of foul language and a bit of drug use.

HOME OR THEATER: Look for it at a festival near you.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: More from the Florida Film Festival

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Hop


Hop

When Willy Wonka sees this, he's going to be contacting his attorneys.

(2011) Fantasy (Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hugh Laurie (voice), Hank Azaria (voice), Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Tiffany Espensen, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Hefner (voice), Coleton Ray. Directed by Tim Hill

While Hollywood has produced its share of Christmas movies, Easter movies have not been quite so plentiful. Perhaps because Christmas is all about birth and Easter is all about death; opposite ends of the life cycle. Indeed, Easter time seems to be a time where movies like The Ten Commandments have held sway.

However, here’s one about the Easter Bunny which fills in some of the mythology. The Easter Bunny (Laurie) is the latest of a 4,000 year line (I know, I know – the screenwriters are a little deficient on math) and is eager to pass on his Eternal Egg – a kind of scepter that I the key to the Easter Bunny’s magic – on to his son, E.B. (Brand).

The problem is, E.B. has dreams of his own – he wants to be a rock and roll star, a drummer to be exact (and we all know that nobody thumps like a rabbit). Of course Dad finds this out and gets into a row with his son, forcing E.B to travel by convenient interdimensional transportation tube from Easter Island to Hollywood.

There he runs into (literally) Fred O’Hare (Marsden), the ne’er do well 30ish son of Henry (Cole) and Bonnie (Perkins). Henry is very hard on his son, and the parent in me says with good reason as Fred is directionless, living at home and turning down job after job a “bad fits.” In the meantime his over-achieving sisters, Sam (Cuoco) – the older sister, and Alex (Espensen), the younger – have become the apple of their parent’s eyes, while their son is in danger of becoming a disappointment.

While Fred continues to find himself, E.B. manages to get himself an audition on a talent show hosted by the venerable David Hasselhoff (playing himself) and is finally on the road to fulfilling his dream. Unfortunately, Pink Ninjas – the personal guard of the Easter Bunny (why he would need one is anyone’s guess) – are after E.B. to haul him back home in time for the ceremony in which the mantle is passed from father to son and Fred continues to create a further rift in his family dynamic. In the meantime Carlos (Azaria), an oversized chick and the Easter Bunny’s #2 is plotting a coup. Fred and E.B. ultimately discover that they are good for one another and that destiny can sometimes be a good thing.

This is a mix of live action and CG animation, and of late that has been a very, very bad thing indeed (think Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield). For whatever reason, studios seem to think that these sorts of movies should be completely dumbed down for kids. Personally, I don’t get it – we give children these sophisticated and clever fully animated movies that both kids and their parents can enjoy but when it comes to live action it becomes an endless, tedious Nickelodeon original episode.

Marsden is horribly miscast here. Not only is he much too old for the role, you get the feeling that he’s taken Botox in order to keep the smile frozen on his face because, left to its own devices, that face would be left in a frown of disdainful disgust. From being Cyclops in the X-Men franchise to this? A very sad fate indeed.

The animated portion, provided by the same people who did Despicable Me is the movie’s highlight. Their Easter Island settings are magical in the same way Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was decades ago. I could have spent a good long time exploring the candy factory of the Easter Bunny and do some taste testing of my own.

Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as reasons to see this go. The script is most decidedly unfunny, falling flat in nearly every attempt at humor and the story lacks tension. It just seems to meander a bit until coming to a painfully obvious conclusion.

There should be magic in a holiday movie and there just isn’t enough of it here. I think of something along the lines of The Polar Express when it comes to digitally enhanced holiday movies and Hop just doesn’t compare. You may wind up being dragged to a matinee for this movie this weekend. For once it will be the parents kicking and screaming when they are taken someplace they definitely don’t want to be.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the Easter Island backdrops are very nice.

REASONS TO STAY: Desperately unfunny, panders to the lowest common denominator, treats audiences like idiots – need I go on?

FAMILY VALUES: A bit of poo-poo humor here but nothing to get concerned over.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Browning doesn’t have a line of dialogue (despite being the lead character) until nearly twenty minutes into the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the digital imagery should be seen on a big screen and if you have little ones, you’re going to be dragged into the theater to see this anyway so might as well enjoy it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Fanny, Annie and Danny