Tangled

I’ve been tough on animation over the last year. I admit it, I have high expectations and little has come close to meeting them in this genre in the mainstream for a while (Despicable Me, Megamind, Legends of the Guardians).

Tangled comes close… I would probably watch it again, grudgingly. There are some great moments and they didn’t shy away from some darker aspects of life and people. And, the animal companions don’t talk! OK, the horse is a bit too dog-like and a bit to anthropomorphized, but otherwise was a horse. The chameleon was surprisingly emotive and amusing … and rather long-lived, but you can logic that one out for yourself.

More often than not, they treated it like a movie, allowing for a few brilliant moments, such as Rapunzel’s first moments out of the tower and the denouement, which probably saved the movie for me as a whole. These are a wonderful departure from the treacly sweet stuff that has been coming out of late. They even reference other films for fun, as varied as Sleeping Beauty to Indian Jones.

On the other hand, the story itself reverts to silliness in a bad way a little too often and the plot has holes and leaps and issues, even while managing some clever through-lines. So what you end up with is an infantilized 18 year old girl, acting like a child (mostly), traipsing through a dangerous world but rarely ever in real danger. And, of course, who sings. In other words, you get a kid’s story with just enough moments for the adults to keep them interested. On a less annoying, but obvious note, watching it in 2D, you could see the 3D moments that had been created just for that purpose. Nothing awful, but I noticed, which means I was pulled out of the story.

This isn’t an Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Iron Giant, or even a Chicken Run. It’s just gorgeous animation and some fun twists on an old tale. Far from a classic, it is still better than most I’ve seen recently in this category.

Breaking Glass

Many, and I do mean many, years ago I saw this film and it lived on in my memory as something amazing. I haven’t seen it since it was released back in 1980, or nearly so. On rewatch, what I realized is that it was the soundtrack more than the story that got me. Then again, I was amazed at how much of the film was still in my mind, particularly the finale.

The story picks up post-punk and into new wave in the UK. The music is all original and the story is a tad less so. However, despite some of the weaknesses of how it depicts the rise and tribulations of Breaking Glass the band, and the members, when you get to the final scene, which had been seared into my memory nearly perfectly, the movie crystallizes.

Just to add small drinking game value to the viewing, there are some notable smaller roles to watch for (in ascending difficulty of recognition) by Jonathan Pryce, Jim Broadbent, and Richard Griffiths.

Despite the poor quality of the print that appears to be available, the 93 minute investment for anyone who likes that era of music and wants to see a take that does ultimately pay off well, is time worthwhile. If you just want the music, you can’t go wrong with the soundtrack either, if you can still find it. If you were into disco and dance music, I forgive you, but we probably shouldn’t be talking, so we’ll just leave it at that 😉

Lo

Let’s be clear, this is not a big budget or even slickly produced indie film. It is more of a glorified student film with some good make-up and a lot of dedication. But it is at times funny and at times grotesque. More often, it is just an engaging, filmed play about a guy trying to win back a girl… from hell.

The production values are in-your-face ragged and woven into the film in clever ways to excuse the lack of sets. The demon make-up, in some cases, is really quite good. The performances are mixed… and sadly, that is also true of our leading man. Then again, in the ouvre from which this piece is birthed, his slightly-over-the-top 70s horror approach isn’t entirely out of place.

At 80 minutes, it is definitely not a waste of time, but it is also definitely for those that like low-budget horror or experimental theatre. It would be fun to see what this crew could do with a little more support and time.

The Machinist

This was my second viewing of The Machinist, which technically makes this a 4 star by my own definitions, but it really made it back to screen for me so I could show it to someone else who’d missed it when I saw it in the theater. The posted rating is a much better representation of my experience, which was a slightly stronger than normal 3 stars.

Part of the issue is that Bale’s extreme loss of weight, the real claim to fame of this film, is distracting … in the extreme. It is meant to be provocative, but my head kept wondering about the damage he was doing to himself rather than its meaning for the character and his journey. At that point, it isn’t serving the film. I had the same reaction the first time I saw it in its original release. In addition, the mystery is just not that mysterious. I had wondered how rewatching it would be, knowing the answers and not having to care about the reveals, but didn’t find it to make much difference. In some ways, the clues were just so obvious the character had to be willful stupid to miss the point. And he was. Often.

Visually and design-wise, it is a wonderfully moody piece and the acting, for the most part, is uniformly good. If you haven’t seen this and want to see Bale in an uglier version of the character he created for American Psycho or just want to see some of his earlier work before he was a household name here in the States, it is worth your time. Otherwise, it is pretty much up to your mood and curiosity (like do you want to see a 6′ man weighing <120 pounds or is that just not necessary in your life?).

Neverwas

Slow and relentless, the story of Neverwas unfolds inexorably over the bulk of the time. With just enough mystery over the obvious, it pulled me along to what was a fairly inevitable conclusion. But as is often said, it is the journey that matters for the characters.

All in all, an unexpected little film with a great cast (Eckhart, Moriarty, Lang, McKellan, Wm. Hurt, Nolte, Cumming, and others). And specifically, Ian McKellan is, as always, wonderful. You can even see the beginnings of his King Lear as he portrayed it in the Royal Shakespear’s 2009 production. This isn’t a film to plan your weekend around, but certainly worth a watch at some point when you’re curious or in the mood for a psychological fairy tale.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Everyone, at least on occasion, needs a reminder that they aren’t alone and that their problems and fears aren’t as bad as they think. This film does a fabulous job of turning a 16 year old’s angst into everyone’s self-doubts and provides the backdrop to gain perspective. And, it manages to do this without getting too overly sentimental. I suspect, also, that this is one of those wonderful films that will mean different things to everyone depending on when they watch it. I’ve already bookmarked it in my mind to rewatch it again in a year to see what I get from it then.

The main character is played by Keir Gilchrist, from The United States of Tara, and he brings the same wonderful guilessness to this role. You can’t help but feel for the kid or feel kinship with him. We’ve all been there, and through his self-doubt, we get to grow.

While this film isn’t perfect and it relies on the occasional cliche, the telling of the story is engaging and, at times, outright hilarious. And always, it remains honest to itself. In many ways, it is part of a new wave of films from younger directors that have come up with similar approaches in 300 Days of Summer (review on this appears lost), Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and even Kick-Ass, to name a few. Not that any of these are appropriate, direct, references, but it wouldn’t be out of order to watch it as a double feature with any of them stylistically. And, in the cass of 300 Days of Summer, it probably is even thematically well-linked.

I’m Baaack… for now

Recovery and work took way more out of me this week than I expected, and staying awake in a darkened room was not going to happen. So, clearly, not many reviews in the last week and a half. But, doing much better now and hoping to be back to a movie-a-night, or nearly, for at least the next week. After next week there may be some more interruptions due to other obligations and other issues.

I beg your indulgence on the potential gaps in posts through the next several weeks, but I’ll do my best to keep the commentary going. Heck, I enjoy the discussion!

Monsters

I had been hearing about Monsters for many months, and if you haunt AintItCool, you probably had as well. Though there were hopes and, after a long while, a distributor, the big invasion never happened and the movie sort of died quietly.

Much like District 9, this movie has a unique and decidedly independent feel. What does that mean? For District 9, this boiled down to subject matter, approach, and story structure; it still had a ton of action and explosions and a relatively large budget in comparison. In the case of Monsters, certainly lower production values and a smaller cast adds to its indie feel. But, it doesn’t mean it has a smaller canvas… the movie was shot all over Central America and in the US. But more so than District 9,  it focuses on characters rather than spectacle. The movies are really quite different, but the sensibility and how they fill in the world is similar and it is what makes them both great science fiction.

The world we inhabit for the length of this story is set up by some front titles and then we’re dropped into the aftermath of an attack. But rather than focus on the aliens or the blood or the whys or the action, the story immediately becomes a microcosm of two people, around whom the world was irrevocably changed by the events of 6 years ago when an Earth probe broke up over Mexico. We get the world through glimpses in the background, TV stories playing at screen edge, and in watching children play. It is the classic writer’s rule of “show, don’t tell” as well as taking an event and applying to the world to see how it would change.

Now, lest you think I’m saying this flick is perfect, it isn’t. Some of the dialog is painful and one moment should have been utterly rewritten as it became a polemic. And the sad part is that the movie, which is really more a metaphor, had and was making its point, but the writer and the director didn’t trust us to understand. In doing so, one of the most powerful moments and views in the film is deflated into a teeth-grinding exchange between our two characters. Despite the gaff, the general intent and success of the film is also what great science fiction can do… provide perspective and make you think about the word in a very different way by giving the reader/watcher distance from today.

So, if you’re in the mood for something a little different and not full of a lot of explosions and special effects, but you want some good story telling and to see something in a way it is rarely presented, check it out.

Life intervenes

This past week has been … interesting.

On Wednesday I slipped in the shower performing a spectacular 1/3 back flip to clip the bottom edge of my skull on the lip of the tub. I didn’t see stars, but my fingers did go numb and then tingly for a very short bit. Unfortunately, that aspect of the fall determined the next step (according to the on-call nurse Eve spoke to first), which was call 911 and get me in an ambulance. This was not the news I wanted to hear, but I knew better than argue and, frankly, I wasn’t feeling that great.

About 5 minutes later 2 EMTs showed up. Followed by 4 firemen. Followed by 2 ambulance drivers. My only thought, as it was 6am, was, “thank god no one turned on their lights and sirens.” I was determined to not need a backboard and was allowed to walk out of the house, but had to get on the gurney for the trip. Getting onto the gurney I remarked, “You know guys, this was not on my bucket list.” I actually got a laugh. Yes, folks, I’ll be here all week.

So an ambulance ride later, while watching my neighborhood recede in the back window during rush hour, I was in the ER. And about an hour after that, all was thought to be fine. No obvious concussion. No obvious brain bleed. I was allowed to leave. So, what do I do? I get Eve to take me to work for 3 meetings I didn’t think I could miss. Nope, I wasn’t really thinking clearly yet. So I did the first 2 meetings and in the middle of the third, I about collapsed and had to cut it short.

Next was the pharmacy for meds to keep my muscles loose. Then home, where I stayed for the rest of the week working from there as I was able. The meds made that part rather easy. Everything was pretty shiny. As of today, I’m trying to get off everything, but Tylenol. So far, not so easy, but we’ll give it a bit.

So, haven’t been watching much in the way of movies as turning out the lights would put me to sleep, and I really hate watching a movie with the lights on. Hoping that we’ll get to the 3 queued up films this weekend, but Dragon Age 2 released this week. It is in our hot little hands, and it is demanding to be played. So, we shall see. Just thought I should cover the gap in movie review coverage for this week. I’m way off my game, but I’m getting better fast.

Shameless (BBC) Season 1

This was a tough one for me. As much as I truly enjoy Skins (UK version) and The Misfits (which few in the US have seen), I found this utterly unappetizing. All the more surprising to me as it was highly praised by BAFTA and recommended by friends and family.

So, what is the difference here with other similar shows of self-destruction and less-than-proud families? I think, mainly, that despite there being a couple of characters I was sort of interested in, none made me care enough to come back. I just don’t enjoy mocking people or watching people mess up their lives due to stupidity. That just angers me, especially when you don’t see any changes in them over time; I didn’t see that possibility in most of the family members in the show. They all just get by in their own ways. They are fiercely independent and strong, but they are also in their own way and proud of it. That last bit is probably what soured me the most. Perhaps there is a change coming, certainly there was potential, but it looked so far off that I wasn’t willing to sit through the pain of getting there with them.

While well acted, directed, and believably written, you had to have a train wreck mentality to enjoy it. And, I feel compelled to add, if you are going to have nudity in a show, make it worthwhile! Just, yikes! Some folks really will watch and enjoy this series for reasons I’ve mentioned and others I probably don’t recognize. You may even be one of them and that’s OK. This was not a pleasant experience on any level for me and it didn’t get me past the first episode.

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…