Way late review: Frankenweenie

Guts. That is what it takes to make (not to mention fund!) a black and white stop motion film dealing with the death of family pets. A real pick me up if ever there was one. Leave it to Tim Burton with Frankenweenie to pull off the impossible. It’s been a while since he last tapped into his dark quirky style and made it work.

Victor Frankenstein is a loner. He’s not unhappy. He enjoys spending time with his dog Sparky, making movies and doing science projects. When Sparky gets hit by a car and dies Victor’s world takes a dive. Inspired by his science teacher’s lesson on electricity and lightning, Victor digs up Sparky and brings him back to life thanks to some ingenuity on his part and the town’s constant evening lightning storms.

It wouldn’t be a Burton film without a plethora of odd characters. Mr. Rzykruski’s, the science teacher, makes a lasting first impression as he takes some of the magic and myth out of his students’ misunderstanding of lightning. The scene is magical thanks to screenwriter John August’s punchy dialogue and Martin Landau’s creepy over-the-top delivery. Not to be outdone by her teacher, a strange little girl with beady bugged out eyes and her cat, who shares the same comical feature, make every moment of screen time entertaining. Our initial introduction to the girl and her cat are when she stops Victor to explain how her cat sometimes leaves a present in the litter box in the shape of the first letter of a classmate’s name. The gift is meant to indicate something significant is going to happen to that person. After the cat leaves a “V”, it’s not long before Sparky is dead.

Like many Burton films, Frankenweenie obsesses over the odd, even taboo subjects. This time around it’s death with a side helping of science. Thankfully, Frankenweenie sees death as it should – sad and tragic. Too many films, whether aimed at children or adults, try to put a happy spin on life’s end. Celebrate, don’t mourn at funerals. Frankenweenie will have none of that. Where it missteps is in the end where it sends mix messages to kids about both death and science. As long as your motives are good, science and our applications of it follow suit. Just as the movie says, science is neither good nor bad, but to think that good intentions equals positive results is ridiculous. There are times our best intentions produce terrible results, and sometimes the opposite is true. The lesson taught about death is ultimately puzzling, thanks to an ending which tries to redeem a situation that should be left as it is. I’d say more but – spoilers.

Aside from some thematic problems, Frankenweenie is a lot of fun in the final act. There are endless references to classic monster movies, making the action sequences all the zanier. What was once a relatively somber film turns into a bit of a thrill ride.

I’m not sure who Frankenweenie is for. I guess it’s geared towards kids but the style and subject matter don’t fit that demographic. My seven year old enjoyed it but then she also enjoys quite a few old black and white monster movies. Regardless of who the movie is targeted at, the daring style of a stop motion, black and white feature film gets paired with a solid story and some good characters, which has been missing from Tim Burton’s movies in the past. The magic is back.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MquUxWXEOLU[/youtube]

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Way late review: The Queen of Versailles

There were many dynamics at play with the 2008 market and housing crash. Talk of greedy bankers, incompetent credit ratings agencies, spineless politicians and policy makers have been and continue to be the focus as we get some (small) distance between the events that resulted in a near economic collapse. Missing in all of this is the consumer side of the equation. Main Street. The innocents. You and me. Except we’re not so innocent. Money was (is?) cheap and our desires for more and more rarely subsides. Taken to the extreme this vicious cycle of cheap money and an endless appetite for more results in a couple like David and Jackie Siegel. Timing is everything. Lauren Greenfield happened to already be filming the Siegels building the largest single family home in the United States when everything came crashing down. The result is The Queen of Versailles, a documentary capturing the story of the little guy through the eyes of the biggest of the little guys.

David and Jackie Siegel came from modest families. David built his timeshare company, Westgate Resorts, from the ground up. He employs thousands of people in order to sell mostly middle class families on renting a dream they can’t afford to own. Westgate builds incredible resorts on money they borrow from banks, then they sell mortgages on the rooms for a week per year to families who could never afford such luxurious vacation pads otherwise. Those families pay a monthly amount over many years to pay for a vacation stay once a year for the rest of their life. One room in a resort essentially provides 52 mortgages. Westgate then turns around, bundles these mortgages and sells them as investments. At one point, David Siegel’s son is on screen pumping up his sales staff. He tells them that they are saving lives. He equates timeshare sales people to doctors, nurses, firemen, etc. He does this with a straight face as he rattles off some study which shows people who take a week vacation once a year live longer than those who don’t. Even houses made of cards need someone to care for them. In this case care comes in the form of twisted logic.

Jackie got a computer engineering degree and went to work for IBM out of school. Her achievement was short lived as she decided there was little glamour in writing code so she decided to marry money instead. After being in an abusive marriage, Jackie found David via a beauty pageant. The two have six children plus one adopted niece on Jackie’s side of the family. The former beauty queen and her husband decide they need more room with such a big family so they go about building a 90,000 monstrosity of a home inspired by Versailles and the finest buildings Vegas has to offer. In the process of building their dream house the economy comes to a screeching halt.

What starts off as a tale of decadence turns into the story of just what the housing market crash looked like, from the top of the food chain to the bottom, all through the eyes of a difficult to like billionaire couple. The lack of money flowing freely means David Siegel is suddenly underwater on his prized property in Vegas. He personally backs every loan the company takes out which means he is liable for hundreds of millions of dollars. And since he’s saved nothing, he and his family’s life of continued luxury is at severe risk. The trickle down impact of this is seen in one of the family’s nannies and their driver. Both depend on the Siegels for paychecks and as the banks lay the hammer down on the timeshare mogul, the ability for David to pay a household staff dwindles. Layoffs at Westgate come fast and furious, with thousands losing their jobs. No one is safe. Yet through it all, Jackie is shown to be both aware yet oblivious all at once. On the one hand she is quick to recognize a childhood friend’s desperate need for money to catch up on mortgage payments and writes a check on the spot. On the other hand, she continues to spend money like there is no tomorrow. She’s shown in one moment to be completely cognizant of her drastically downsized staff’s struggles and in the next she humiliates them with some offhand comment like, “Well, at least you won’t have to clean this place”, referring to her version of Versailles going up for sale.

As the film progresses, David’s patience grows shorter. He spends every waking hour puzzling his way out of massive debt. His dream house is on the market for a mere $90M. His company is shrinking. The banks want him to liquidate everything but the shirt on his back. And to top it all off, his family is driving him mad with their lack of awareness of what is happening to them. Towards the end of the film David’s nearly non-existent patience is put to the test by his family and he loses it. It’s an amazingly intimate moment which shows just how fragile the mortar is which holds the Siegel household together.

The Queen of Versailles profiles a hard to empathize with couple who are caught in the tangled web of a market crash. What could have been a condescending look at how the mighty fall, director Lauren Greenfield finds the deeper story by also exploring the stories of those around the Siegel family. No one will shed a tear for Jackie and David Siegel, but most will admit to an uneasy feeling that the beast they attempted to ride is the same one that many of us tried to hang onto, if only to a lesser degree.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

[netflix:70229267:img:false:end]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYOnT3Gqe9U[/youtube]

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Way late review: Mr. Mom


What ever happened to Michael Keaton? The man was a comedy goldmine in the ’80s. There was Gung Ho, Dream Team, Beetlejuice, and then there was Mr. Mom, a movie embracing its time wholeheartedly.

Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) is the stereotypical family man in 1980’s USA. He has a wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), and three young children. Caroline stays at home and Jack works at an auto factory as a manager. All is well until Jack loses his job in a down economy. He has no luck finding work so his wife decides she’ll take a shot at going back to her old career in advertising. Being a man of great pride, Jack puts a 100-to-1 odds bet that Caroline will not find a job before he does. Of course, our man loses – in more way than one. On top of being unemployed he gets to take care of the kids and household chores. Comedy ensues as even the simplest tasks like dropping kids off at school gets him scolded and yelled at by other parents for “doing it wrong”. Grocery shopping doesn’t go any better as aisle after aisle gets destroyed and Jack’s baby goes missing.

Michael Keaton pulls comedy gold from a fairly standard story. His facial expressions and delivery of lines command laughs when there would normally be none. Going from the proud father and husband to the loser who dreads his new life as a stay-at-home dad and finally back to a man with a purpose, complete with references to Rocky is all I need for an easy watch that provides some comedic relief.

I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they’re great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough. You’re out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you’re strung out on bedspreads Ken. That’s serious.

No one will ever confuse Mr. Mom with great social commentary. We’ll save that for Hulk Hogan. No, Mr. Mom delivers laughs in what is now a classic ’80s family comedy. Hard to beat.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=solr1W5idNY[/youtube]

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Way late review: Dial M for Murder


Having been scarred by seeing the most terrifying scenes of The Birds at a young age, I’ve mostly avoided Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Nothing personal, it’s just the thought of those feathered killers that kept me away. After many years I think I’ve finally recovered and am able to take in the renowned filmmaker’s archive. Since it was on Netflix streaming, I decided to watch Dial M for Murder.

Tony (Ray Milland) is a former tennis star whose wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly) is cheating on him with an American crime writer Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony finds this out and decides he’s going to kill his unfaithful wife. The deceit within deceit proceeds with no shortage of twists for which even I, a Hitchcock newbie, am aware are a hallmark of the prolific director.

Everything takes place in one setting which means it is heavily dependent on the acting. Fortunately, the acting is top notch, not annoying as this period of films (really anything before the late 60’s) tends to encourage. Annoying only because the times change, not because it was terrible acting. If we could take back some of today’s best performances and show them to those in the ’50s the audience there would probably wonder if our men and women in front of the camera are even attempting to perform.

Not being the biggest crime and mystery film fan on the planet, I found the constant twists and turns to be a bit tiring towards the end. That’s me, but my eleven year old and seven year old children were fascinated by it all. Even though they struggled to keep up with the fast talking English accents, they were glued to the screen. In fact, my daughter asked me if she could watch the first part of the movie she missed. Who knew that Hitchcock films would appeal to grade schoolers in the year 2012?

Dial M for Murder feels more like a play than a film due to its single setting. Nonetheless, it holds up with compelling performances and a story that begs you to hang on until the very end. Plus, there are no killer birds stalking people in this one. That’s a bonus for my fragile psyche.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoPceh_qiP0[/youtube]

Way late review: Footnote


When a son walks in his father’s footsteps it can be a point of pride or sadness for the father. Depending on whether the father is satisfied with his own life dictates his reaction to his son following in his footsteps. But what about the father who is proud of his accomplishments and has a son who not only follows in his footsteps but eclipses his accomplishments? And what happens to their relationship when all of a sudden the father receives an award the son covets? Enter Footnote.

Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) researches the Talmud. Scratch that. He picks through every version and copy he can get his hands in an obsessive compulsive manner in the name of scholarship. He dives into the minutia of ancient texts and rarely comes up for air. His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), is a professor at the same university in Jerusalem but his studies are more popular, well received, and recognized. Eliezer is bitter of his son’s fame and respect by the community they’re both a part of. He even goes as far as to ridicule their academic community as a way to make himself feel better about never receiving the accolades he feels he’s earned. Uriel does his best to placate his dad by giving him credit at acceptance speeches and elsewhere. This only embitters Eliezer all the more. He doesn’t like being patronized.

A bitter father and son relationship does not sound like comedy gold yet the story is told with much wit. The music sets the tone early as a classical comedic soundtrack. Even the sour faces Eliezer makes are funny as everyone around him celebrates his son’s accomplishments. His disheveled look among the well dressed awards crowd is meant for laughs, as Eliezer is denied access back into the event while numerous other more finely dressed participants stroll through the door. Not even security is buying Elizer as anything but an old man who wants to cause trouble.

The one sided bitterness changes quickly once Eliezer gets a call telling him he’s being awarded the Israel Prize, the one prize alluding Eliezer for the past twenty years. He finally obtains it and in a moment the tables are turned. The son is back at the footstool of the father. The same father who would only begrudgingly acknowledge his son’s work, let alone achievements. If this was the entire story it would be an entertaining look at how the relationship evolves between these two men whose lives revolve around a religious text neither appears to have fully grasped. However, there is a major twist which causes awkward conversations and difficult decisions. Once this twist occurs, the film shifts suddenly from light comedic fodder to a darker introspective piece. It’s as if two films were smashed together, both very good but also very different.

Great performances and an intriguing story of a father-son relationship carry Footnote through a first half which provides many laughs and a second half which expresses the deep hurt a long and painful father and son journey inevitably delivers. An original film told in an originally, if not jarring manner. Refreshing.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dwe7GR9kO4[/youtube]

Way late review: We Bought a Zoo

I’ve seen about half a dozen Cameron Crowe films. One thing they all share in common is they tend to be easy watches. Even when I’m not in love with the film, there is something soothing about Crowe’s approach. We Bought a Zoo is a fairly harmless film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Perfect material for Crowe to throw his personally curated soundtrack at, assemble an all-star cast, and churn out a likable, if somewhat forgettable, film.

Benjamin (Matt Damon) lost his wife about six months ago. He has a young daughter, Rosie, who reminds him of his wife and a teenage son, Dylan, who reminds Benjamin of himself. Dylan is angry and hurt over the loss of his mom. His behavior at school results in expulsion and puts the pressure on Benjamin to find a new school for his suddenly troubled teen to attend. House hunting time. The search for a new home leads Benjamin to a perfect house out in the Southern California country side. There is one catch. The sale of the home is contingent on the new owner taking care of the zoo that sits on the home’s property. That gotcha clause doesn’t deter Rosie from falling in love with the animals as they walk the grounds. Dad is an adventurer at heart, wants to make his daughter happy, and thinks his son may enjoy the change of pace. He buys a zoo and the challenges of funding and running the venture ensue along with the on-going struggle to come to grips with life after losing a wife and mother.

The plot may seem eye rolling, but no one can blame Crowe or anyone else involved for making up the core premise. We Bought a Zoo is based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee. I have my doubts that Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan tunes accompanied the real life story. I also doubt the zoo keeper was a gorgeous blonde with a raspy voice like Scarlett Johansson. The facts have all changed right from the start with the true story set in the UK while this one is in Southern California. None of this matters. What does matter is the characters are engaging enough and the story moves along at a steady pace as to forget the trite scenes of emotional tug-of-war the premise nearly demands. The soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.

We Bought a Zoo is one of those films I could probably pop in and pickup at any random point. There is nothing outstanding about it. The cast is enjoyable, the pacing is good, there are some humorous scenes and not too many cringe worthy ones. The music is hand picked from the past and sometimes a little too spot on. In other words, it’s a Cameron Crowe film. And that tends to mean I like it more than I thought I would.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUdX47LtXpw[/youtube]

Way late review: Gremlins

A classic. Gremlins is so much fun that even when there is an (odd) quiet moment of contemplation it is filled with a dark sense of humor:

Kate: Now I have another reason to hate Christmas.
Billy: What are you talking about?
Kate: The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney…his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

I’m still not sure if writer Chris Columbus was trying to add a somber moment or one of the more slyly written pieces of comedy. I tend to think the latter. It’s become my favorite scene not starring a gremlin or Gizmo in the 80’s icon.

I’ll take the nostalgia hit on this one and keep on going. The film holds up, as my seven year old daughter and eleven year old son can testify. They both love and hate this film. They hate the scary hatching of the gremlins after the multiplied Mogwai eat some nasty looking fried chicken after midnight. The scene with the mom discovering she’s in a house full of green devils scares them every time but they also find themselves laughing and cheering as mom disposes of each one in her own determined and creative manner. For each moment my daughter hides her eyes, she can’t help but peek, lest she miss the next funny, action packed sequence. My son yells at the characters for foolishly not realizing their demise is only footsteps away; footsteps the characters take because curiosity is not just for cats but also for the bulk of comedy/horror film casts. Of course, we all cheer when Gizmo finally gets his chance to mimic Clark Gable in To Please a Lady and takes the Barbie mobile for a spin in order to hunt down the leader of the pack, Stripe.

The numerous gags and references to past films makes Gremlins feel like a bit of an homage to cinema all while being an action packed comedy. Director Joe Dante’s love letter to cinema is a lot different than say Martin Scorsese’s with Hugo. Call me silly, but I much prefer the antics of Dante’s Gremlins. They just don’t make movies like Gremlins anymore, which is a shame.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoK0BzYUTrU[/youtube]

Way late review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

Pleasant surprises come when expectations are low. Movies aimed at kids today are a mixed bag. Pixar has a solid record of rising above the fray. Then there are atrocities like The Smurfs. Some might blame the bad films on trying to turn questionable source material into cinematic gold. If that’s the case, I hear the Harry Potter books are pretty good. The films? That’s a tougher call. Enter The Spiderwick Chronicles, a film I originally mistook for a Harry Potter wannabe. My mistake.

Twins Jared and Simon move to a spooky old house, previously owned by their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick, with their older sister, Mallory and mother. Jared is upset about the move and angry with his mom. He blames her for breaking up the family while Simon, Mallory and mom know the truth. Dad ran off with another woman. Before there is any time to settle into the home strange happenings occur which lead Jared to discover Arthur Spiderwick’s book. The tome details Arthur’s findings of magical creatures all around him, some good and some evil, like the ogre Mulgarath. If the book falls into Mulgarath’s hands it’s game over. And that sets the stage for the rest of the movie which includes some fairly intense chase scenes, jump scares, and even a little blood drawn – a bit surprising for a modern children’s PG movie. The story moves along at a quick pace with good enough computer animation and child actors who aren’t annoying.

There is just the right amount of comedy relief provided in the form of Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen) a friendly bird eating hobgoblin and Thimbletack (Martin Short) an odd, small creature who turns into a nasty little green monster when he gets upset. The humor from both the animated characters comes in the natural rhythm of the film, though one could argue that the end of the final showdown is anti-climatic with its comedic result. My kids loved it. I think the lightheartedness provided a needed break from the edge of the seat intensity.

Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun action packed kids fantasy movie. The plot is relatively simple which enables a fast paced story set in a magical world full of adventure and danger. And the danger feels refreshingly real as there are consequences and scares as a result. Add some well timed laughs and it all adds up to an entertaining family film.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrCAa7ivzPo[/youtube]

Way late review: Big Miracle

Finding films the whole family can watch is a challenge, especially when that family includes a first and sixth grader. In my weakest moments I’ve blacked out and woken up having finished films like True Grit and Rise of the Planet of the Apes with both my kids sitting eyes wide open by my side. Clearly, I’m next in line for father of the year. In my desperate attempt to strike the balance between age appropriate yet interesting films I gave Big Miracle a spin.

Based on the true story of the rescue attempt by various groups in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. government of three whales trapped in the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska, Big Miracle is a big mess. The film initially centers on Adam Carlson (John Krasinski of The Office fame), a TV reporter who wants to make it big but instead finds himself doing special segments on avocados in the tiny town of Point Barrow, Alaska. Everything changes For Adam when he breaks the story of three gray whiles trapped in the freezing waters of the Arctic. The whales make for national coverage. I suppose the media ran out of shark bite stories.

In place of a fun look at the many different people and interests represented, we get characters like Drew Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, Rachel Kramer. Maybe it’s harsh but nonetheless true; Barrymore’s best work happened thirty years ago on the big screen. She is now relegated to playing odd characters who should get laughs (if nothing else), but in place of laughs we get aggravation – and lots of it. In fairness, Barrymore was at least playing a character in the story. John Krasinski played the role of Jim Halpert, Dunder Mifflin’s practical joker salesman, perfect. Too bad he was supposed to be Adam Carlson, a small time TV reporter stuck in the middle of nowhere Alaska.

In addition to a Greenpeace activist and Alaska TV reporter, the film includes native whale hunters, a big mouth oil exec who could care less about whales or pretty much anything but oil, worldwide media, the National guard, the President of the United States (a bad impression of Ronald Reagan), a Soviet icebreaker crew, and two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their amazing de-icing machines. All that sets up a perfect screwball comedy but the ensuing antics are never screwy enough. What should be a briskly paced film full of colorful characters in conflict with one another bogs down into forced melodrama with awkward attempts for laughs. The result is an unevenly paced film with an unbalanced, yet ultimately bland tone. My daughter was asleep before the half way mark. I was (and still am) jealous.

Even though there would seem to be little in the way of bright spots, the story had its moments. There were times where Ted Danson, as the big oil exec with an over the top personality, was genuinely amusing. The two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their de-icing machines also added some sincere yet lighthearted moments. The shots of Barrymore diving into the arctic waters and swimming beneath the ice with the whales made for a pretty amazing scene.

When the credits rolled there was a decent amount of real footage and photos from the event. It became clear then, Big Miracle would have made a much better documentary. In the hands of the right director a documentary could have captured the real tension and drama in the story. Plus, there would be no need for mundane performances. The real people couldn’t be anymore stale than the performances given by much of the fairly well known cast.

Big Miracle had promise being based on a true and somewhat bizarre story. Filled with conflicts between all the various people involved, the film could have been a decent little comedy. Unfortunately, we are put through an experience much like that of the whales. We’re stuck in a frigid film and the highlight is getting just enough decent moments every so often to keep us going. Those moments make for an almost tolerable experience. Almost.

[xrr rating=2/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKiqttTnUwI[/youtube]

Way late review: The Elephant in the Living Room

Everyone probably remembers their first pet. That first little komodo dragon, lion cub, spider monkey, puff adder. No? Me either, but there are far more people in the United States who know first hand what it is to own an exotic animal than should. In many states it is not illegal and in some regulations are near zero. The Elephant in the Living Room tackles this fascinating topic, educating on the problem while delving into the complicated issues that arise when people make pets out of wild animals.

Filmmaker, Michael Webber, takes us through the labyrinth that is exotic animals as pets. Our tour guide for most of the film is the confident yet understanding police officer, Tim Harrison. In southern Ohio, Harrison handles endless cases of wild animals turned pets going back to their roots. Owners who lose control of their dangerous friends or simply turn them loose after they realize what was once a cool little jungle cat, alligator, or other wild animal is no longer so cool when it can eat you and your family. There are reports of lions, cougars, bears, and more on the road terrorizing people in their cars. People call about non-indigenous venomous snakes slithering into their garages. One call is from a father who reports that his children have been playing with some sort of python. Harrison comes to the house and finds not a python but one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.

There are no shortage of amazing stories of fatal attacks, near fatal attacks, and close encounters with animals that should be anywhere but in residential neighborhoods. Harrison educates on the problem by browsing one of the popular publications that advertises exotic animals for sale. There he reads endless ads for all sorts of creatures, many of which are listed as free to a good home. The worst kept secret in this dangerous market is that large, dangerous animals can be had for nothing. While some may pay five hundred dollars or more for their pure bred puppy of choice, a lion is free of charge. Harrison and Webber show the insanity of these markets up close by sneaking in cameras to two large shows. One is a reptile show with endless tables packed with reptiles from all over the world, most venomous and in plastic containers you’d expect to purchase food in. The other show is in Amish country, where every type of large cat, primate, and other furry critters are sold to the highest bidder as if they were bidding on livestock. These are legal markets, yet both the sellers and buyers feel the need to keep the cameras away. Speaking of buyers, many of them at the reptile show were children. Mom and dad purchased Johnny an eight foot python that will easily grow to be twice that size or a baby alligator that will one day grow larger than any member of the family.

Once the problem of exotic pets is hammered home from numerous directions, Webber focuses on the story of Terry Brumfield, a man who got in a car accident and whose back and neck are severely damaged. Brumfield struggles with depression. His cure was procuring two lion cubs. The cubs, one male and one female, grow up and Terry finds himself very much attached to the big cats while also struggling to contain them. The male lion escapes one day and terrorizes motorists on the highway. Brumfield is threatened by the law but somehow keeps his lions. Harrison tries to help Brumfield, who feels as though he’s in a no win situation. He doesn’t want to the give the lions up but he doesn’t want them to get out and hurt people. In a surprising turn, Harrison and Brumfield develop a friendship. It is there that we see these two men sharing both a love for animals and conflicted consciences. Harrison knows these lions need to be in a sanctuary where they can run and not be in danger of harming themselves or others. Brumfield has raised the lions since they were cubs. They are his lifeline. Losing the lions means losing life to Brumfield. Their story develops and takes some twists along the way that are fascinating and heartbreaking.

What could have been not much more than an issue documentary turns into a rather sophisticated look at two men involved in the thick of the topic. The human story is what ends up driving the film home and puts it over the top of an already solid educational look at the problem of exotic animals as pets problem in the US.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGXLsvZHouA[/youtube]