Monday, April 28, 2014

On My Way

Woman navigates tricky later-in-life experiences. Is it Gloria? Thank God, no. I was actually a little surprised The Boy was amenable to seeing another one of these films, but On My Way starring Catherine Deneuve is a much better film (critics be damned).

Writer/Director Emmanuelle Bercot gives us everything Gloria did not: Bettie (Deneuve) is an aged former beauty queen and a widow who's made a shamble of her life by pining for a married man who, she learns at the beginning of the movie, has impregnated a young 20-something.

Bettie goes for a drive across the French countryside where, apparently, it is nigh impossible to buy cigarettes. Her restaurant is a shambles: She's disorganized and clearly not a business woman and, oh yeah, she leaves it to go for this long drive (but we'll cut her some slack). She lives with her mom, but they're not exactly friendly.

Soon we discover that she's virtually completely alienated from her daughter, who's interviewing for a job and needs to her to drive across country to be there by the next morning so her young son will have someone to watch him until the son's paternal grandfather can take him.

The kid turns out to be something of a brat, damaged by the fractured family structure. Further, the grandfather seems to be an asshole, too. Bettie's being approached by the organizers of the beauty pageant she didn't win 45 years ago to make a calendar, and can't even commit to that.

So, why did this work so well for us while Gloria failed? Well, first you actually get the backstory. Not all at once, mind you, and the first versions are often lies. Bettie is fond of telling the story of her husband's death: He was with his mistress when he started choking on a chicken bone, the doctor who came to his aid was the mistress's husband. The doctor was also Bettie's lover.

French, right?

There's also the whole story of how Bettie ditched the "Miss France" competition. She seems like a flibbertigibbet but by the end it turns out there's a lot more to the story than she ever lets on.

Everyone's human. They all have a right to be pissed off and upset—but they're also all abusing that right, and as the movie makes clear, the abuse of youth, love and sex is older than any given generation. In a that's-so-French moment, there's not even any real pieties like "Gee, maybe the next generation won't be this foolish." Nope: It's just assumed that people will be foolish with love and sex until their youth fades.

So, yeah: The characters develop and are interesting. It's funny in parts, touching without ever getting maudlin, earthy and romantic, oh, and despite old people having sex, the director felt no need to show us graphic sex scenes between septuagenarians.

Critics like this a lot less than Gloria, and per Rotten Tomatoes, audiences liked it slightly less. I'm gonna guess that's because there's a lot more pandering to the sort of audience that goes to see these films. (Gloria is portrayed as a somewhat noble character, while Bettie is more of a fool.)

Deneuve is wonderful. Bercot is arguably brutal in her portrayal of her, posing her in ways that seem geared to evoke the Deneuve of the '60s which, no matter how well preserved she is, she cannot possibly compete with today.

I thought that added an extra layer of poignancy to the proceedings but I note that The Boy, who knows nothing of her and hated Gloria, had much good to say about this outing.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

My stepfather said, "I saw the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel and it looked like Edward Norton was doing the exact same lines he was doing as the Scoutmaster in Moonrise Kingdom." I told him I didn't know how to tell him this but, not only that, TGBH also has Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, an elaborate open set that the camera dollies through, sideways, etc. etc. etc.

In other words, it's a Wes Anderson film.

The Flower, The Boy and I really liked Moonrise, so hopes were high for Budapest, and it did not disappoint. My stepfather was finally compelled to see it by James Lileks appearing on the radio and saying it was the best movie he'd ever seen.

Well.

The story is that of M. Gustave, the ultimate concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, an aging man in an aging hotel, in a fictitious eastern-european country in a fictitious time between World War I and World War II, when a party that is not the Nazis but similar in tactics and aesthetics, who is willed a priceless painting by an aged dowager he used to service.

He has sex with all his friends, you see.

Hijinks ensue as Gustave and his apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori, in a breakout role) flee the officials and search for clues that will clear Gustave's name and land the perpetrators behind bars.

It is, of course, odd, but it transcends its own oddness (unlike some of Anderson's earlier efforts). Much like Moonrise Kingdom, the characters feel real, even when they're practically fairy tale archetypes. The fantasy setting (the unnamed country, the pseudo-Nazis, the exterior shots done with the tilt-shift lens) allows Anderson to tell his story in a familiar milieu without having to cheapen history.

Although many of the repertory characters are there, this is a much larger cast than we're used to for his films, and to his credit they all end up seeming like they were born to play these roles: Jeff Goldblum as the good-hearted lawyer, Willem Dafoe as the evil assassin, F. Murray Abraham as senior Zero, Jude Law as his interviewer, Tom Wilkinson as the older Jude Law (?), Harvey Keitel, Leya Seydoux are all looking at home here, regardless of the size of their roles. Saorsie Ronan (How I Live Now, which I reviewed but blogger seems to have eaten) is a delight here as Zero's love, Agatha.

Then, of course, we have Owen Wilson (Anderson's original screenplay collaborator), Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, and of course Ed Norton, none of whom really have a big role, but whose presence lends a charm of its own.

There's an odd double (triple?) book-ending here, with the movie starting by having a young girl place flowers on a statue dedicated to "the author", which then leads to a flashback to the '80s, where the author is narrating the book, which then flashes back to the interview the author had to with the aged Zero, and then most of the movie takes place in Zero's (Abraham) recounting of the tale to the young author.

That was the only part that felt quirky for quirky's sake, but I think it may reflect Anderson's journey to the material, which was inspired by the writings by Stefan Zwieg, who himself died in 1942.

It's funny: I'm so used to seeing the best of our directors become more self-indulgent with age and turn out worse movies, it's very refreshing to see someone like Anderson (whose movies could be argued started out rather self-indulgent) increasingly hone his craft to make better films over time.

I don't know about "best movie ever" but we liked it a lot.

The Lunchbox

A woman makes a special lunch for her increasingly distant husband, only discover it never made it to him, but instead to another man, with whom she strikes up a relationship through messages passed in The Lunchbox.

Writer/director Ritesh Batra brings us a subtle epistolary love story that is especially quaint for being conducted via the dabbahwalas—messengers who deliver lunches to working Indians—rather than via email/chat/Twitter/whatever.

First, isn't it amazing what you can do when you when your minimum wage is 28 cents an hour? You know what they're not doing in India? Looking to find robots to replace low skill jobs.

Anyway, food is a critical part of this love story, so it wouldn't work in another medium.

The always sensitive Irrfan Khan (The Namesake, Slumdog Millionaire) plays an older man retiring from a clerical job he is very efficient at, and dealing somewhat hostilely with his young replacement. Nimrat Kaur plays the young mother who cannot seem to kindle her husband's interest.

Well, you know. Nimrat Kaur as your neglected housewife...well, okay, I suppose I've had to believe less plausible things. (She's lovely, of course, but they've anti-glammed her.)

Anyway, the movie shows how the relationship between Khan and Kaur affects their "real life" relationships and how their bond develops.

There's not a whole lot to write about it: It's a simple love story, simply told. My mom, who doesn't go to a lot of movies, was taken by the premise and went out to see it. Of course, what she wanted was the dabba itself, the neat little circular container that separates different kinds of foods.

The Boy enjoyed it, and that's my usual sign that my own enjoyment isn't just a matter of my advancing age. Heh.

Jodorowsky's Dune

What if? What if instead of Star Wars, an amazing, mind-bending Dune had appeared in the mid-'70s? That's the teaser for Jodorowsky's Dune, but it's not really what the movie's about—I mean, really, what're they gonna do, make an alt-history of the '80s and '90s where...uh...one movie was a bigger box office hit than the other?

No, obviously what we have is a movie about how this amazing this movie never got made was, er, would've been. I quipped after seeing it that it was such a great and amazing story, I'd hate to ruin it by actually seeing one of Jodorowsky's movies.

Jodorowsky is an artist (still living) who was...well, I'm not sure, exactly. A performance artist, perhaps? He put on plays, I think, and had some success. And then he got into movies. And he had some success there. And then he got it into his head to make a Big Movie.

I don't mean a big budget movie, though it certainly would've been that. He wanted to make a film that was a religious experience.

From the clips they showed of the movies he had done prior to this, there were strong religious overtones, mixed with a '70s pop-art sensibility that, while quite de rigeur back then, I think we can all agree was really, really ugly, not to mention pretentious and usually shallow and nihilistic.

I found myself cringing at the (very short) clips and even now I cringe at the ambition of creating a sci-fi film as a religious experience—although it suddenly strikes me that Star Wars, Star Trek and the ilk are religious experiences for many, they weren't intended that way—but a funny thing happened while listening to Jodorowsky: He didn't seem to be a man of pretentions.

He seemed positively down-to-earth. He had (has, even) tremendous ambitions which he expressed in very interesting and winning ways. Typically, the ugly, pretentious art of the '60s and '70s came from a malignant place: A rejection of bourgeois values like beauty, craft and talent.

Jodorowsky showed none of that. It was all vision, all uplift, all positivity. In fact, the common theme of the film is him enlisting acolytes in this happy cult, and then letting them go wild with their own ideas.

This film documents, oral history style, how he gathered around all these amazing and bizarre talents and created a book of shot-for-shot storyboards of Dune, which I'm actually not sure he ever read. He hadn't read it before deciding to do the movie, and some of the creative people attached never did read it.

Who did he bring on? Well, Dan O'Bannon and H.R. Giger—and if you know your movie sci-fi those two names together rings a very big bell—illustrator Chris Foss, Orson Welles, not to mention Salvador Dali and his muse. The documentary is just a wealth of great stories: Brilliant young people getting together and dreaming a movie into existence.

Well, almost.

In the end, the studios demurred. They loved the concept and the book, but didn't trust Jodorowsky to direct it. Not that that didn't stop sci-fi movies borrowing images and concepts from that book for the next two decades. (The sort of borrowing that, in some cases, should've probably led to some lawsuits.) Most notably, O'Bannon and Giger went on to give us Alien, launching Ridley Scott's star and influencing sci-fi ever after.

Even if the film had been greenlit, it's almost inconceivable to me that it would have actually been made: The budget they wanted was about $15M. Well, say what you want about George Lucas, but he's a genius at getting results on a low budget, and it took him $17M to make Star Wars. And he wasn't working with Welles and Dali.

And, frankly, the vision of Star Wars was in trying to make SFX that didn't suck, not in trying to make a mind-bending philosophical film. (Quite the contrary, Lucas was hearkening back to old serials.)

Yet, it's sort of hard not to feel a little sad that it never was to be. I think it would've been great, whether a great disaster or a great success, it would've made a mark.

So, using the three-point documentary weighing scale:

1) Topic matter: Great fun if you enjoy the creative process and/or remember the '70s.

2) Presentation: Just so. No padding I recall, which is nice. Lots of stories, told by the people involved and on the periphery. The late Dan O'Bannon only appears as a pre-recorded interview, sadly.

3) Spin: Little to none apparent. I've heard people say this smacks of "mockumentary", but I don't think so. No one is made to look bad or awkward: it's just an audacious story. You can't tell it without the golden poop.

The Boy, who isn't actually big into the moviemaking process, and who probably recognized only Dali and Welles, well, and maybe Giger, found it to be very entertaining.

A breezy sub-90 minutes. Check it out!

Ernest and Celestine

Ah...finally, the last of the Oscar films: Ernest and Celestine, the delightful french story of an orphan mouse girl (all mice may be orphans, I'm not sure) in an underground mouse world that send their kids out to scavenge in the above world (populated by bears) to fetch their children's teeth.

The mice, you see, use the teeth to replace their own teeth, which are crucial to the mice's survival.

The bears, meanwhile, tell their children about the tooth fairy, but actually freak out at the presence of mice.

So, there's some tension.

Celestine isn't meeting her tooth quota, but in her attempt to nab a tooth, she's spotted, and ends up trapped in a trash can overnight.

Meanwhile, Ernest is an artistic, if somewhat lazy, bear who lives out in the woods and discovers himself out of food. He heads to the city to busk but after having no luck finds himself picking through garbage cans.

Thus, Ernest and Celestine meet. The relationship gets off to a rocky start with Celestine having to convince Ernest to to eat her but, as you might imagine, it improves from there and they become friendly.

Of course, their problems get worse at that point, because they live in a society where associating with the other species is treason.

This movie is really, really cute. It's saved from going overboard by being also very clever and having just the hint of fairytale style edge. The animation style is traditional, 2D minimalism, showing just enough in each frame to tell the story, like a child's picture book, and using the medium for some charming sight gags (such as when Ernest paints the car to camouflage it).

It's barely over an hour, too, and moves at a breakneck pace.

The Flower loved it, naturally, but The Boy also loved it, which is saying something. One of the producers, Didier Brunner, was also behind The Secret of the Kells and The Triplets of Belleville, but I'm not sure what the common theme is other than "ability to get Oscar nominations".

(On a tangent, four years later, having finally seen Monsters vs. Aliens, I think I like The Secret of the Kells.)

Actually, if there is a commonality between the three movies, it's that they have just the right style of animation for their story. The big American animation studios look for stories to tell in their animation style (now almost exclusively CGI), whereas these guys seem to be looking for the animation style that's right for the story they want to tell.

It's a good thing.

The real tragedy here is that this should be a moderately large hit, perhaps skewing too young and not being edgy enough to be huge, but with proper distribution at least should get $30-60M box office—a goal they can't make when being shown in less than 40 theaters. Sadly it has made only about $250K in the US (and about $5M worldwide).

Although the English version has the celebrity-voice disease, they are at least celebrities with noteworthy voices: Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Lauren Bacall are all featured, though the film is ably carried by Whitaker as Ernest and young Mackenzie Foy as Celestine.

The Wind Rises

The "Best Animated" feature of the Oscars is, weirdly, the one category where popularity reigns over the arty and obscure. Or maybe it's not so weird in a town of childless pedophiles. Of the five animated films nominated, you got one Disney, one Dreamworks, and one from Illumination.

Despicable Me 2 was decent, especially for a sequel. As beloved as Frozen is, it's kind of a mess of a film. (The Boy pointed this out: the tonal shifts from deadly serious to goofy snowmen or inexplicable troll creatures are jarring.) When I mention to The Boy that The Croods got an Oscar nomination, he yells "F*** The Croods!"

Yeah, we have opinions around here. One of which is that Monsters U, was far better than those three films. Bu The Wind Rises and Ernest and Celestine? Much harder to say.

The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki's latest "last film" capping a 20 year dedication to retiring eventually someday, and it's some ways it's diametrically opposed to his previous last film, Ponyo. If that film skewed young, this one isn't really for kids at all.

The Wind Rises is the story of the aeronautic engineer who would ultimately design the planes that would be used to attack Pearl Harbor and host the kamikazee.

Wait, what?

Yeah.

It's the '30s, so there's tuberculosis. And lots and lots of smoking. I haven't seen this much smoking in a cartoon since Fred and Barney were shilling for Winston.

Content aside, this is very much a Miyazaki film. The story concerns young Jiro, who loves airplanes and has a real skill for building them. Apparently they were making Japanese planes out of bamboo or rice or something, and Jiro, who has great ideas, is sent around the world to learn more techniques. Ultimately he brings honor to Japan's air force with his novel design approaches.

Jiro is a combination of two actual Japanese engineers, necessarily, and whatever the actual history, the movie is a vehicle to express Miyazaki's take on the tensions between technology and industry, and of art and reality.

A lot of people will say this is a different film for him, but it's really not: His films are always about these themes. Which, hey, beats making movies about daddy issues. (kaffkaffTimBurtonkafkaff)

In this case, the opening is a delightful, traditional introduction to a boy who wants to fly but has poor vision. In his dreams, he lives in a world with amazing aircraft built by Italian aeronautic engineer Gianni Caproni, who tells Jiro he couldn't fly either, but encourages him to build airplanes.

This dream world is very Miyazaki, and Jiro and Caproni continue their relationship throughout Jiro's career, discussing the art and science of plane-making, along with the consequences of developing beautiful, powerful things that you know must eventually be turned to evil.

It's a theme Miyazaki clearly feels deeply, and because of the realisticness of the scenario, I think it hits home here more than it does in movies like Princess Mononoke. There's also the contrast of the real world where people fall in love and grow old and have victories and failures and get sick and die. It's not all just beautiful creation.

Miyazaki's poetry and pacing is in full flower (not at all like someone who needs to retire, anyway), so if you like that, there's nothing to be disappointed in here.

The Boy loved it, and picked it as his favorite animated film of the year, and one of his favorites overall. The Flower also loved it but may have been more charmed by Ernest and Celestine.

I enjoyed it quite a lot though it always takes me some portion of a Miyazaki film to stop waiting for the conflict. His movies are about things-that-happen versus, say, the more common villains-and-heroes scenario. The tension is always larger, more vaguely defined: We know there's going to be war, but we're not going to see Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito plotting it.

And when there are villains, Miyazaki saves them rather than killing them. Lady Eboshi (Mononoke) is robbing the countryside of its magic, but does so to provide for her people. The Witch of the Waste (Howl's Moving Castle) is vain and mischievous, but underneath basically harmless. And even Madame Suliman (Howl), who is about as evil as can be is merely robbed of her power over Howl by Sophie loving him. (You can't really mistake Hayao's movies for anyone else's, even his apprentices.)

But sometimes I want the witch pushed in the oven.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Non-Stop

Liam Neeson has quietly emerged as one of the pre-eminent action stars of  the last five years (since about Taken), which is just one of those thing I observe every single time he comes out with one of these movies.

This is the best of the five action movies he's made in the past five years, I'd say, with the possible exception of Taken.

What?

Some sort of controversy?

All right, I'll get to that.

The story is that Neeson, a Federal Air Marshall who's on the edge, man, finds himself on a plane with a terrorist who is one step ahead of him at every step. The opening sequences are great paranoid cat-and-mouse suspense thriller, and Neeson gets deeper and deeper in the muck with every new corpse that turns up.

It's clever, it's entertaining, and it has good emotional depth. (It's also preposterous, of course.) It still wound me up enough to where I was wondering whether Neeson was hallucinating about everything. That, of course, would've been awful, but it was a cool thing to tease.

Of course, it's Liam Neeson, so he's great at eliciting empathy.

Of course, when you get such a masterful set up, the problem comes in delivering an equally impressive villain. And there aren't a lot of choices. Basically, your choices are evil mastermind or ex-military.

Well, judging by the reaction, a lot of people really didn't like how it worked out. And I can see that: It was a clumsily inserted bit of inanity that couldn't decide whether to go Hans Gruber or Magneto.

Honestly, it didn't bother me much. I had already accepted the lax airplane standards. Plus, I lived through the '80s. And the movie is solid up to that point—and after that point, too. Really! The ending is solid.

Still I only buy two or three tickets tops for a flick, and if they pissed off the people who are most likely to go to see this film, maybe they'll think it through next time.

Neeson is, as always, up to the task. Julianne Moore does a good job as the passenger who might just be in on the whole thing!!

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (of the less effective Neeson thriller Unknown and the excellent horror flick Orphan) does a really fine job with the action. But I don't think we're getting a "Non-Stop" franchise.

In Secret

I forgot to review this after seeing it back in February.

It's probably for the best.

The acting is good: Jessica Lange plays a doting mother to weird, sickly son played by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy!), when orphan Elizabeth Olsen comes to live with them. You probably don't know Elizabeth Olsen, but she's the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Elizabeth—and she can act!

Elizabeth (as Therese) gets railroaded into marrying her sickly cousin, and the family moves to Paris to open a shop. The trouble starts when she runs into her decidedly attractive husband's friend (Llewin Davis himself, Oscar Isaacs) and they—shall we say?—"hit it off".

Because this is based on a 19th century French novel by Emile Zola, Therese and Laurent (Isaacs) decide their life would be perfect if they murdered Malfoy.

19th century + French = It doesn't work out well for anyone. Including the audience.

I don't really fault the direction per se. Charlie Stratton whom I know best from the '80s Gremlins knock-off Munchies (not to be confused the Critters or Ghoulies) seems comfortable moving the camera and setting scenes and moving things along. Editing is fine. Music is fine.

But why?

Hey, I have that reaction. I had that same reaction to the last Therese movie we saw. "Is this a story that must be told?"

Or, maybe more accurately: "You're going to pour millions of dollars and months into your life into making something, and you make this?"

So, I guess it's a matter of taste. But, in fairness, that's true of most award-bait movies and I don't know why they get the end of year "boffo!" treatment from critics and the Academy while this is in the dungheap of winter. (Well, I know part of the reason: pedigrees matter a whole lot.)

As odd as it sounds, it's fine for what it is. It's just not something we care for.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Omar

As noted in the previous review for Bethlehem, I got the titles of these two movies mixed up. I think I had them juxtaposed in my mind because Bethlehem is a superior film in most respects to Omar, which not only shows the Palestinians completely manipulated by Israeli agents, it also shows them to be kind of awful all on their own, even in matters not relating to terrorism.

Omar is the hero of our film, and he and his crew are "usual suspects" frequently rounded up by Shin Bet (presumably it's Shin Bet, I don't recall seeing any identification, though), at which point they're interrogated until they give up their friends. Although considerable pressure is brought to bear on them, apparently the smart ones know not to say anything, since they won't be held if there's no evidence.

But then the fun begins: Omar is pressured into becoming a snitch, which he agrees to while never actually intending to follow through. Regardless, the rumors spread that he has turned, making his life increasingly difficult.

The centerpiece of this story is Omar's romance with his girl, and the money he's saved to make them a good life. But as the smear campaign against him ramps up, he's less and less able to convince her that he's not a traitor.

It doesn't end well for Omar, or for the audience for that matter, since the ending (certainly perceived as the only honorable "out" for him among anti-semites) is ridiculous enough to almost qualify as a power fantasy.

Also, while you might be inclined to sympathize with Omar, who's a straight shooter (heh) in his own tribe, his troubles start when he and his pals murder a random Israeli patrolman.

There is absolutely no guilt for this act. The movie barely recalls this seminal act. It's almost as if the filmmakers believe that, "Yes, Palestinians are going to kill Jews, and that's the order of things. It's the Jews retaliating that is so horrible."

Once again, we find ourselves at the brink of a good movie which completely implodes unless you're willing to accept that random acts of violence are a legitimate way of dealing with grievances. But this isn't even one of the better one of those.

Needless to say, I'm glad La Grand Belleza won over this. Actually, all four of the foreign language movies (The Hunt, The Missing Picture, Broken Circle Breakdown) were way out of this film's league.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bethlehem

This was the last of the five foreign-language films nominated for the Oscar, and the last entry we actually saw before the Oscars (not counting the animated shorts). The category was tight this year, way moreso than the English language pictures, with The HuntThe Great BeautyBroken Circle Breakdown and The Missing Picture, all films with greatness in them.

Then there's the Palestinian entry, Omar.

The Boy emerged from the theater saying, "Boy, Palestinians are dicks!" Perhaps not surprisingly, that is the common thread running through Palestinian movies (and Israeli movies sympathetic to Palestinians). I don't think it's deliberate: I just think when your defining philosophy sanctifies the wanton destruction of innocents, well, you are a dick and there's no hiding that.

Omar is thematically similar to Bethlehem, which I would swear we'd seen first though the movie listings seem to suggest the former stopped playing the day before the latter started, and which I also realize now I forgot to review. (I get behind, as you know.)

And now, having written this review, I realize that I have the two reversed. This is a review of Bethlehem.

Anyway, the story is that of a young Palestinian (not named "Omar") whose older brother is a bigwig in a Palestinian, uh, "activist" group who was recruited at a young age by an Israeli agent (Shin Bet?) in the hopes that he would ultimately lead to his older brother, and maybe even serve as a mole inside the more "active" groups when he grew up.

I'm no Jim Bond, but it seemed...dubious to me that the Israelis were going to capture or kill this kid's brother and then have him be gung ho about continuing to work for them.

Super-spy logic often escapes me.

Anyway, like the other Palestinian movies we've seen, it's really very good except we lack whatever it is that makes it possible for one to say "Oh, yes, I can see why you'd blow yourself and other random people up for that." The anti-Israeli squad is out in force, as usual, talking about how this movie shows the crafty Jew manipulation of the Palestinian people which, as far as it goes, is true enough.

The Israelis totally make the Palestinians their bitches. Heh. They know so much about what's going on, they have so many moles, and such good surveillance, the terrorists are in a constant state of paranoia. If they're not actually ratting each other out, they're killing each other because they think they're ratting each other out.

It's plausible that this is supposed to engender sympathy for them, but it doesn't. At least not in me. To suggest that there's something wrong with this is to suggest that Israel shouldn't defend itself. (The point, of course.) "Mind games with terrorists" doesn't even rank next to "blowing up caf├ęs".

Terrorist logic also often escapes me.

Anyway, it's a plausible and interesting film, up to the end where, much like Omar, it strains credulity. Although Bethlehem is much better in that regard, because it at least sets up the Shin Bet agent to have the necessary characteristics to do the really stupid thing the plot requires.

Like I said, it's good, but I can't really recommend it. I'll review Omar next, though it's way ickier and the Palestinians are even worse—and it's actually Palestinian (Bethlehem is Israeli).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

We ended up seeing this after dropping The Flower off at a party and so missed a couple of the animated shorts, including the one that ultimately ended up winning the Oscar and the Disney Mickey Mouse short.

We came in at the end of the winning one, "Mr. Hublot" which had a "Despicable Me meets Cyberpunk" feel that was cool, and we saw the Mickey Mouse one at the front of Frozen, and it's cute. It's a fun homage to the old Steamboat Willie era with Peg Leg Pete and, uh, the cow lady and what-not.

After "Mr. Hublot" was "Feral". This was visually interesting as it told the story of a "wolf boy" who's found by a man and introduced to society. No dialog. Distinctive, non-traditional animation style, which was nice and evocative. Ultimately, it got a little too abstract for me to follow, and I didn't "get" the message (or more accurately, emotion) it was trying to convey.

"Possession", the Japanese entry (not nominated in the final five) was also very distinctive, using a CGI technique that I believe is called "cel shading" (after the traditional technique) which I'd only ever seen in computer games before. Anyway, it gives CGI a nice, flat-but-layered look. The story itself concerns a fix-it man who wanders into a haunted house in a storm. The (very Asian) twist being that the house is haunted by things—i.e., stuff that people used for years and years, but discarded.

His haunted night consists of trying to repair or assuage the possessions. A Japanese answer to Toy Story, if you will. This was probably my favorite.

The Boy, on the other hand, greatly favored a silly French short (also not in the final five) called "A la Francaise", which was about chickens in the court of the Sun King. I mean, it was chickens playing the nobility in the court, dressed in silly rococo gowns and doing silly French royal things. One of them is writing about all the stuff that goes on, until a wind carries her pages away and the court begins to read them. Mayhem ensues.

The Boy sez, "It's chickens! Acting like people!" I dunno, sometimes his tastes run to the simple. (In the otherwise dull Gloria, there's a scene with a busker who has a skeleton puppet, which he just adored.) Anyway, funny chickens. Tough to go wrong.

"Room on the Broom" is the longest entry, at 26 minutes, and a little bit too long at that, but one that will probably get a lot of play, having an all-star cast and directed squarely at young kids. Simon Pegg narrates the story of a witch (Gillian Anderson, who mostly has non-verbal expressions) whose familiar cat (Rob Brydon) finds himself with increasing company (a dog, a bird and a frog), all of whom cause increasing difficulty on the overburdened broom, until the whole thing comes to a head with a run-in involving a dragon (Timothy Spall).

Cute, as I said. Mostly entertaining, though I felt it dragged a bit around the 15-minute mark.

There was a Pixar short, "The Blue Umbrella" which was at the front of the snubbed Monsters U, and it's—well, it's meh. It's a love story about umbrellas. As The Boy said, it's basically Pixar saying "We can anthropomorphize" anything. It's sort of reminiscent of last years splendid "Paperman" but while artistically impressive, feeling a little like we'd seen it, and seen it better.

The last short was a very funny Irish entry (also not in the final five) called "The Missing Scarf", which is a simple child's tale, familiar seeming, but which somehow ends up in the complete destruction of everything. It's so very Irish. The animation is a primitive but nice 2D-ish thing that looks sort of like origami. George Takei narrates.

The DVD shipped around to theaters has the shorts being introduced by giraffe and an ostrich, doing a kind of "I worked with [this or that animated character]" bit that's actually pretty funny. For some reason, though, I don't think they sell this so there's not much chance of seeing all these films together.

Which is a shame, because it's kind of a fun way to pass an hour-and-a-half. If you don't like one thing, you only have to wait 10 minutes for the next. And there's a good variety. But there it is. Market realities and what-not.

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