Tuesday, January 27, 2015

3 Short Paraghraphs: Whiplash

2014, d. Damien Chazelle

If someone told me that a movie about jazz drumming would be one of the most thoroughly invigorating, engrossing, and intense movies of the year, I wouldn't believe them.  In fact, that's exactly what happened, over and over again.Word-of-mouth kept spreading for months (from Sundance and beyond), about this film before I decided to pay attention and ultimately put it on my to-see list.  The more I heard people mention it, the more anxious my desire to see it became.  Amazingly enough, I never saw a trailer for it, and most of the reaction to the film was "it was amazing, just go see it".  I went into it virtually blind, armed only with the knowledge that the always great J.K. Simmons was playing a hardass in it, which in its own way, is enough of a sell.  I can't recall seeing Simmons in a single role where I wasn't fully engaged with his presence.  He's a fascinating actor, with a likeable droopy face, a smooth but deep baritone voice that just tickles the ears, and presence.  He's not "leading man handsome" but he's the type of character actor that will make a film worthwhile.  Here he's just one component of an astounding production.

I hesitate to say too much about Whiplash, as it truly is a film best discovered.  I'm not afraid that spoilers will ruin the film -- it's far too well made to be ruined by such triviality -- but there's a delicious sense of "where is this going" throughout the entire picture that one would definitely miss out on were they to know all the beats.

To summarize justly, Whiplash finds a dedicated first year music student (Miles Teller) brought into the school's prestige jazz band under the dictatorship of Simmon's brutal and abusive conductor.  Teller's sole desire is to be one of the greats, to be remembered as such.  He looks to the likes of Buddy Rich as the level he wants to reach, and he has a real ego about what his place in the world should be.  Teller's drive and dedication puts him at odds with Simmon's teaching style and the two mentally clash in a completely epic manner.  The grand moments of the film put Teller behind the kit and Simmons behind the podium, but the quieter character moments are pretty great too.  Slight asides show that outside of the band Simmons is a charming, friendly, likeable guy.  Teller, meanwhile, is harsh towards the accomplishments of his family as they settle for mediocrity while he strives for greatness.  Likewise his focus is so all consuming he has little time or attention for anything or anyone else, alienating himself, which he accepts as the price for greatness.  After a summer of some of the greatest science fiction and action movies seen in a long time, it's a huge surprise that Whiplash matches them all in intensity.  It's truly a thrill-ride unlike any other.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inter-Reviews: Interstellar and The Interview

Interstellar - 2014, d. Christopher Nolan - in theatre
The Interview - 2014, d. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg - youtube

This is really two separate reviews of two movies paired up into one post merely due to the commonality in their names, and the fact that I watched them on the same day.  I won't even try to create any tenuous connections to join them.

It seems that people these days have difficulty discussing a Christopher Nolan film without prefacing it with a discussion about Nolan himself.  He's the king of the cerebral blockbuster, the big budget genre film that's never solely centered around big action sequences or special effects.  Oh sure, he's a master orchestrator of both, but they always serve a purpose in advancing the story.  Likewise his films are never solely focussed with a particular characters journey, although the central characters typically have a journey to take, but the characters, and their journey, are typically intertwined with the film's conceit.  It is this conceit, however, that is always Nolan's focus, and the conceit is almost always one that's elaborate, requiring exploration, and sometimes, explanation.

That last point is many people's problems (and I've had many debates over Nolan's films in the past), that his exposition-heavy dialogue often takes them out of the film, and Nolan's tendency of over-explaining feels unnecessary at best and condescending at worst (I'd hazard a guess that there's some studio exec note saying "can you explain what's happening here? I don't get it").  Beyond that, some feel that his stories are dispassionate, cold, and emotionless, despite attempts at displaying emotion.  They're technical marvels, even his harshest critic can't refute, but, they'll continue, they're hard to connect with.

To some degree, I agree.  His films are on some level autistic, in a way: capable of marvelous things, but sometimes difficult to engage with on an emotional level.  It's often like they've learned how to fake their way at showing human emotions to fit in, but they're also a little beyond their ken.  I don't mean to be glib, mean or disparaging, I honestly have to wonder if Nolan is on the spectrum himself (and perhaps that's why he writes with his brother, to add in the emotional element).  Yet, even if the films don't exactly know how to emote love , it doesn't mean you can't love them back, admire their skill, and be impressed with what they achieve.  If Nolan's films are a little cold (and consistently so), so what? Are they not still impressive? Do they not still engage in a way unlike anything that's come before?

Interstellar, of any of his films, does have the most heart to it.  David broke down most of the story beats in his review, and as he noted the first act is consumed with establishing the decaying world, showing what remains of humanity, coping, finding normal as the threat of worldwide famine looms over.  This is shown through Matthew McConaughey's retired space shuttle pilot, Cooper, and his family.  He runs a farm growing corn (pretty much the only sustainable crop, though under constant threat of disease), and his teenage son, Tom, has taken being a farmer to heart.  His tween-age daughter, Murphy (the absolutely astounding Mackenzie Foy of Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), has her head in the sky, interested in space, science, astrophysics, all the things her father used to do.  Through them, we witness everyday life in this world, with glimpses of the past, and warnings of what the future brings.  It's pretty dire, but the life continues, society continues, in a diminished capacity but it continues.

The opening act is intercut with talking head moments talking about life as we see it on screen.  It's unclear if these are Ken Burns-style interviews regarding the dust bowl of the 1930's or if these are snippets from the future, detailing what we see on screen.  They are an intriguing element, but they dissipate quickly from the storytelling structure and in hindsight feel a bit out of place (their relevance loops back in at the end but it still makes for odd structure early on).

Noticing anomalies in gravity, Coop and Murph are led to a secret facility where they discover that NASA is alive and well, and they need Coop to fly their space shuttle through wormhole to another dimension where potential life-sustaining planets may exists (other missions have already gone, but data can only be sent through the wormhole, not received.  Cooper must leave his family in order to save them, something Tom accepts but upsets Murphy greatly.  Cooper promises to return but they both know it's highly possible that it's a promise that can't be kept.  The emotional tie, that connection, fuels Cooper throughout the film, informing not just his decisions but how he views others decisions.

He's off into space on the Endurance with biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway); physicists Romilly (the delightfully understated David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley); and a pair of robots, TARS and CASE.  Both TARS and CASE are ex-military, re-purposed for civil duties since no armies exist any longer.  They look like, frankly, vending machines, 7-foot boxes that seem utterly clunky and impractical, but as the film progresses they reveal their utility, their dexterity.  They're truly like giant Swiss army knives with extremities that extend from every angle, with sub-extremities, and sub-sub-extremities, and sub-sub-sub... you get the picture.  The more of them we see, the more we can appreciate.  Beyond that, they have excellent personality matrices.  TARS, voiced by Bill Irwin (Mr. Noodle from Elmo's World) is the film's scene stealer, has his humour levels set at 85% so he's loaded with wry humour.  The robots play nicely into  the Hal-9000 "malevolent AI" stereotype for humour, but the film pointedly dispels any threat from them at regular intervals.  Through experience, we believe they're always a potential threat, but the reality is they're there to serve, and follow commands.

Once the Endurance is through the wormhole, the crew decides upon their next course of action, which is retrieving the data (if not the crew) of prior expeditions to the potential planets in the new solar system.  The theory of relativity comes into play in visiting these planets.  A few hours within the gravitational pull of one planet could mean the passage of years back home on Earth.  For Cooper, these missions are weighed against his commitment to return to Murph.

Their first venture features the film's biggest set-piece, a marvellously tense and awe-inspiring sequence of man-versus-nature/the unknown best experienced rather than told (and a real highlight of some of the robots' capabilities).  Upon completing the mission, the timeline has a natural fracture between Earth and where the astronauts are.  Coop catches up on years worth of messages from Tom (now played by Casey Affleck), but still nothing from Murph, who, now grown into Jessica Chastain, has become an astrophysicist at NASA, helping Amelia's father (Michael Cain) with Plan B (saving humanity if the search for new homes fail).

Where the first act was fully centered on Earth, and the second primarily on the other side of the wormhole (effectively capturing the distance and isolation of the astronauts from the remainder of humanity), the third act splits its time between the two,   The third act works to varying levels of success.  In space, the Endurance has to choose between two remaining planets, and the vote is between Amelia following her heart to the planet where her lover ventured to years before (and never returned) or to the planet which Doctor Mann's broadcasted signals claim to be a viable candidate.  Amelia's claims that her feelings, her love, the connection she feels that spans galaxies has to count for something, and Cooper, with his own feelings influencing his judgement defers to the cold hard facts.  The reveal of Mann's planet is beautiful, intriguing, and ultimately disappointing, leading to conflict that shouldn't be so necessary in a film that establishes that war has given way to the common need.

Meanwhile back on earth, Murphy struggles to bring Plan B to fruition, as things look ever more dire.  Blight is starting to take the corn crops.  Tom's family is falling sick and medical care is sparse as resources deplete.  Murphy and Tom face conflict as well, paralleling what Cooper faces.  In both cases it's the selfless battling the selfish, but on both sides of each conflict they view themselves as the altruistic ones.

The climax leads the film into it's 2001-like moment.  It's going to either going to fit comfortably or utterly snap the viewer's suspension of disbelief.  I toggled with the latter at first, but settled into it more as it progressed, and ultimately saw its place in the end.  It was indeed unusual, visually unique, and puzzling, but intriguing nonetheless.

There's a lot said about this being Nolan's version of a Kubrick and Spielberg film, but, truly it is a Nolan film through and through.  In many ways it seems like Nolan was intentionally trying to side-step Kubrick or Spielberg, to make and present a film that stands apart.  Although it may not satisfy everyone, it certainly does do just that.


I'm sure we all know the hype around The Interview, the American film about two tabloid TV journalists tasked with killing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.  First there was the Sony Pictures network hack that revealed a lot of sensitive personal information, leaked new movies and scripts onto the internet, and dispensed a lot of juicy emails about the petulance of Hollywood celebs and execs, all in an effort to stifle the release of the movie.  Next there were outright threats of acts of terror against movie theatres that deigned to show this mockery of its glorious leader.  It was a marginal success, with Sony voluntarily pulling the film from distribution (after a major theatre chain pulled out of showing the film).  If there's no such thing as bad press, even if its terrible news, that's one hell of a marketing campaign.

Not even two weeks after it was originally supposed to debut in theatres, The Interview turned up online, and not as a leak as I originally suspected, but as a authorized-by-Sony new release rental on youtube.  Shortly thereafter it started appearing on on-demand networks all over the place and it started setting online rental records, for obvious reasons.  As I said, hell of a marketing
campaign.  I presume Sony thought that the hackers had done all they can do, and acts of violence against nebulous internet entities like youtube are a little harder to coordinate, I'm sure.

Most of the films written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg I have quite enjoyed: Suuperbad, Pineapple Express, and This Is The End have all traded in low-brow stoner comedy quite effectively.  The latter two have presented Rogen and James Franco as a comedy duo, with Pineapple Express being a "stoned and stoneder" modernization of Cheech and Chong, while This Is The End presented a sort of unrequited bromance amid a larger, wilder ensemble in a very meta end of the world scenario.  I'm quite receptive to what they do, (although I do recognize that their coarser, more immature comedy does turn a lot of people off) so I was quite looking forward to the absurdity of Franco and Rogen acting attempting to assassinate the leader of North Korea.  There was genuine disappointment when Sony decided to shelve it, as well as a weird, fevered excitement upon learning of its online release.

Unfortunate then that it was a terrible movie.  It's really not good at all.  It opens strong with Franco's talk show host interviewing Eminem and capturing an off-handed comment from the rapper that he's gay (Marshall Mathers putting in a tremendously casual performance as Franco tries to get absolute clarity on that fact), but it starts to ebb almost immediately after.  Rogen, as Franco's producer, is celebrating his tenth year in the role, and is feeling rather insecure and ineffective in the news business.  In an attempt to gain some credibility he seeks out an interview with North Korea's leader, and to his surprise it's accepted because Kim Jong Un is a huge fan of the show.  The star and producer are then intercepted by the CIA and tasked with assassinating the dictator with a lethal poison.  Of course, very little goes smoothly, as the two are neither trained killers nor spies, and crisis of conscience overtake them both.  Beyond that, Franco's interviewer starts to bond with the leader and actively sabotages the mission.  The main problem here is that it has difficulty telling a story about dumb characters without making it a dumb story.  There a level of suspension of disbelief required that the film never achieves.

The film was obviously written as a response to Dennis Rodman visiting North Korea and chumming it up with Kim Jong Un and standing up for him.  The film finds Franco falling under Jong Un's sway, sharing an interest in fast cars, driving tanks, drinking martinis, listening to Katy Perry and towing around their bisexuality.  The film posits that Jong Un is very charismatic, sensitive, intelligent and duplicitous, and after chumming around, befriending the dictator, Franco is reminded who the man is when he launches into a tirade at a dinner party, and starts to see through his mask of sensitivity and deception.  That mask is then served up in the actual interview, and, after its deluge of dick jokes, the film suddenly finds its moral high ground, reminding the audience that, oh yeah, Jong Un is a horrendous human being.  It also broaches what's happened in North Korea in the past 60 years, but only in a very general, haphazard way, as if Rogen and Goldberg read a Wikipedia article on the country and felt that was enough to get the point across.  Randall Park, who plays Jong Un, indeed is the highlight of the film.  Whereas Franco and Rogen have a well-honed buddy shtick at this point and don't really add much new to it in this outing, Park compliments, enhances, and interferes with their dynamic with undeniable charm and energy.  It's a great performance that the film doesn't quite deserve.

More interesting than entertaining is how the film deals with bisexuality, Franco's in particular.  It's the meta element of the film, but for a couple of years now, Franco's sexual identity has been questioned in the media, given a lot of the projects and documentaries he's been involved with.  In a sketch on Saturday Night Live, which he hosted this past December, he played a troll who stopped a young couple from crossing the bridge he lived under.  To pass he needed a kiss, and performer Kyle Mooney, the male of the couple, stepped up and made out with Franco intensely for 20 seconds.  After letting the couple pass, he was advised by his friend that he made out with the man-one, and he said, "Well, I guess I'm bisexual."  I know it was just a very silly sketch, but it seemed very much like a subversive coming out, certainly in the Franco style.  Couple that with the obvious bisexuality of his character in The Interview, and I'm getting the distinct hint that Franco's saying something.  That SNL skit, by the way, was not making the man/man makeout the butt of the joke, instead the joke was more directed to the fact that the Troll had a buddy staying with him and that she was subverting the whole troll cliche.  Meanwhile The Interview likewise wasn't making a joke out of bisexuality, and though it didn't have the courage to address it head on, it subliminally was calling for acceptance.  It's a deep layer in a shallow film that truly makes me wish it was a smarter movie.  It's structured very much like a 1980's-style comedy, painted largely with broad strokes and immature gags (it's perhaps the modern Spies Like Us, and equally poorly received).


2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful) -- cinema

Really? This is his only film since Biutiful ? I am surprised because that Javier Bardem movie was a solid, if not widely seen, followup to Babel. I guess I cannot fault the man for taking his time between movies, but I am surprised the machine would allow him to. Perhaps he is successfully working outside the machine? This movie proves he definitely has an opinion about said machine.

Birdman is a wonderful, eclectic, intricate view of being relevant, whether you need to be and what it means to not be. Michael Keaton, who I was surprised was not providing some auto-biographical writing to the movie, plays Riggan Thomson, the well known star of a superhero franchise called Birdman. He gave up the series after movie 3, but they are still the only thing people know him for. Insert long drawn out comparison between Keaton as Batman to Riggan and Birdman. Drawing those lines is easy, but the relevance he feels is much more pronounced. It doesn't help that the voice of Birdman is in Riggan's head, all gravel and cigarette smoke.

Iñárritu does his best Alfonso Cuarón imitation, building long running, almost seamless single camera shots. Black spots, shadows and swinging doors allow us to jump from key points to key points, letting the camera stop following one person and on to another. The scenes are lovely, focused on walking, ever forward with dialogue often being dragged along.

Edward Norton is the self-considered relevant actor who provides much of that introspective dialogue, counter spinning Keaton's banality. He hates Hollywood, hates Thomson's popularity, screaming "This is my town!" while not being recognized by a single person on the street.  Emma Stone is Sam, the neglected daughter seeking yet denying her father's attentions not hearing herself saying out loud that the only bad thing he really did was not be there and spending her entire life trying to tell her she is special. And there are the actresses (!!) and the frazzled producer; Zach Galifianakis playing wonderfully against character. Everyone is hinged on Riggan's production of a play, for one reason or another. But none so much as Riggan himself, desperate to tell the world and himself, he is a relevant actor, not just a washed up celebrity.

Is Riggan relevant? Should he go back to doing billion dollar box office sequels? Should he persevere through this small play in a small theatre to impress, really, no one but himself? Definitely not the critic who has decided to hatchet his play without seeing it. She hates Hollywood dunked in her small Broadway theatre. Should he try and be more relevant, more Twitter or more YouTube? And in the end, what does any of it matter? Without trying he gets the video, the Twitter trending, but doesn't even notice this relevance.

We all struggle with a certain amount of relevance in our lives. Are we relevant at work, at home, to the people who read out Facebook feed, to our peers in our social circle, to our peers in our career path, to our city, country or world at large? Have we done something that matters, will we be remembered for that video that got 300,000 hits or the painting we showed at the local gallery or the one book we published or the promotion we got at work or ... or ... or. The movie doesn't make the decision for us, but offers countless kernels of truth. Everyone has a point but no one's, not even the loud voice in Riggan's head, is the one certain truth.

In the end, this states one clear truthful thing. Anyone has the ability to be relevant, to someone, at some time or another. Make the most of it. Or ignore it and move on.

Friday, January 23, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: The Rover

2014, David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) -- download

Back in the days when we rented videos in big boxes, we were watching Mad Max, the original one, the one where Mel Gibson' character was still a cop, the apocalypse setting was still pretty hazy. The one thing for sure was that there was an energy crisis and society was falling apart. In The Rover, there is an economic crisis and again, society is falling apart.  And since the both are set in Australia, in the rural outback where life is already spartan, the comparisons must be made. But these are very two, if both very violent, different movies. But again, the apocalypse, the collapse is pretty hazy.

Based on a story by Joel Edgerton (yeah that Joel Edgerton) this movie centers on Eric (Guy Pearce), a man who wants his car back. A handful of thugs running from a botched job steal his car. He goes after it and nobody gets in his way. Eric doesn't look like the rest in this hillbilly sans hills land, nor typical violent anti-hero with his dress shirt and shorts and ... sandals? Guy Pearce is perfect, dialed down in fury & fatigue and scary as hell. But he softens slightly as he picks up Rey, the challenged younger brother of one of the thugs, who was left for dead. Rey knows where they will go, with Eric's car, so he is forced to come along.

Eric makes a choice when he is forced into the chase. He kills someone without mercy, without thought. In this enigmatic action we brand him a killer. And he is very good at killing and continues to do so. Its chilling, sometimes hard to swallow. This is the guy we are supposed to root for? Not really. In a monotonous way, as the two drive across the flat flat dusty roads of rural Australia, we learn miniscule notes about this man -- he is trained in shooting, he likes dogs, he has lost hope. Conversely Rey, who never stops talking, is chipper and engaged, and goes from captive to leader, taking the two to a final meeting with Eric's car. I will not spoil the ending, but, for me, it all made sense in one final scene, one of understanding and acceptance and loss.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Horror Down Under

The Babadook, 2014, Jennifer Kent -- download
Housebound, 2014, Gerard Johnstone -- download

And yes, New Zealand is considered part of the Down Under colloquialism.

The Babadook is getting a lot of acclaim out there in the wide world, not only as a horror movie directed by a woman but also being a fresh, bright spot in the genre of horror & suspense. Amelia is a single mom to the little terror Samuel. They have a good relationship but you can see immediately, he is a bit of a handful, the nagging, always talking, rather lonely weird kid who leaves his mother's nerves always a bit on edge. And thus the book Mr. Babadook is introduced into their lives, one of those stylish artsy children's scary books about a creature in the closet, knock knock knocking to be let in. Its fucking terrifying!

But to be honest, to me it was just an averagely enjoyable scary movie. Sure, the depictions of the monster are just downright, creepy, icky and actually chilling. The nails on chalkboard voice, the loud hammering is eerie. But the remainder, the tale of a woman beset by insomnia and the stress of single motherhood is rather ho-hum. Sorry, maybe not so politically correct of me to not be impressed, but I found myself more annoyed by the kid then impressed by the story telling.

This struck me as a movie to be credited as a good horror movie by people who believe horror sucks. All the scares are familiar, dancing between reality of her mental breakdown and the unreality that there is really a monster in the house, a very real supernatural danger. Questioning that is nothing new in horror, but I admit, it was very very artfully done in this. In many ways, I cannot credit this as being a extremely innovative horror movie, but it was a very well done one. It was one that ends with well that was OK.

Meanwhile the ending of Housebound had me exclaiming, "That was pretty darn good !"  I may have been a bit more expletive. But truly, it was a darn good horror come comedy. Getting comedy in your horror is a very down under thing. Starting with my introduction with the gleefully gore filled Peter Jackson movies (think Dead Alive or The Frighteners), it was very apparent that heavy dose of uncomfortable guffaw is popular in their horror cinema.

Housebound is about a young woman, Kylie, confined to stay with her mom, after being caught in a hilariously botched ATM robbery. You may think that she doesn't want to stay with her embarrassing mom just because of the obvious reasons, but really its because their house is ... haunted !  Well, sort of. Apparently there was a murder in the house and the spirit is still creaking, knocking and grabbing, since our main character was a kid.

Things dance along forcing Kylie to investigate the murder, first stopping to suspect the creepy guy next door. He is classic bad guy, normally filling in the job of scaring college kids on their way up to the cabin, but spending the rest of the time in his hoard(er) filled house. But no! It was his even creepier, small animal killing adopted son! But no!  You get the point. Every time we think we know where the movie is (typically) going, we are pushed in another direction. It was so much fun building scenarios and immediately dumping them as more clues and misdirections were tossed in our laps.

This is how I like my innovative horror. You can do the typical, the familiar but you have to do something new with them. And if not particularly new, at least fresh enough to have me guessing and laughing or jumping along with the characters. The acting may have been middle of the road, but the story was just fun.

This was the pick between the two, though hearing the cackle of the Babadook is still enough to give me chills.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Kite

2014, Ralph Ziman -- download

I have a thing for movies about violent young women. I blame Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, my first exposure to a foreign language film. Or maybe his follow-up Léon, otherwise known as The Professional. But I am not alone here; its a pop culture character trait for pretty young things with big guns to appeal to men. The trope considers it Small Girls, Big Guns and its a very big thing in Japanese anime (see Gunslinger Girl as an extreme example), so its not surprising this movie is adapted from such. And while I have seen the anime Kite, I am not sure I can include it in my like category.

The original anime holds the core story -- a very young girl observes the murder of her parents and is taken under the wing of one of the investigating detectives. He raises her as a killer, so she can eventually find and assassinate her parents killer. The anime was much more insidious, having the detective Akai also use her as a (underage) sex slave, which is not present in the live action movie. That's not surprising; can you imagine how that would go over with American audiences?

The movie has Akai played by Samuel L Jackson, in one of his typical over the top cop roles, loudly dressed, loudly acted and doing his own branch of insidious. Sawa is played by Selena Gomez lookalike, India Eisley, last seen in an Underworld movie. It all takes place in a world not quite our own, I envisioned it being the strange pseudo-Europe of the Blade and said Underworld movies.  Its the latest dystopia of post financial collapse (also used in The Rover) that allows lawlessness and corruption to go unchecked, lending itself to ultra violence and kids carrying guns.

Its a stylish violence movie, set entirely in filthy streets showing us only violent people or the people abused by both criminals and the system. Sawa and her head exploding bullets, killing her way up a food chain of bad guys that Jackson gets to see eliminated without a trial. *SPOILER* Of course, he initiated it all, having murdered her parents to begin with, so she ends her spree with him.  But no, its not as stylish as Besson, nor sex-ified as it could have been. In another age, this would have been more indie feeling, honing its story and style down to something more meaty. Unfortunately, its really just grade C violence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Under The Skin

2014, d. Jonathan Glazer - netflix

(Hey! Spoilers ahead!)

It's astonishing to me that this is only Jonathan Glazer's third film in 14 years, astonishing and a little saddening.  Sure, Glazer has a whole other astounding career as a music video and TV commercial director, but his cinematic hand is so refined that every year that goes by without another Glazer production is a genuine loss for cinephiles the world over.  Sexy Beast marked his auspicious arrival in 2000, a decidedly lower-key British gangster movie that seemed almost a pointed counterpoint to Guy Ritchie's hyperactive, darkly comedic genre pictures.

Beast had elements of music video composition (the opening sequence, playing to The Strangler's "Peaches", followed a giant boulder rolling downhill past a sunbaked Ray Winstone, into his hillside swimming pool) and photography, all established within its opening minutes, but beyond that Glazer drew out astounding performances,  a career resurrecting one for Ben Kingsley (about as far away from Gandhi as you can get).

Nobody was certain what to expect from Glazer's follow-up, but I doubt Birth, 4 years later, was exactly what anyone had in mind.  I was a methodical and tense drama about a woman coming to terms with the death of her husband, and his possible resurrection inside the body of an 10-year-old boy.  The film was positively Kubrickian, in both the meticulousness of the direction and the somewhat unruliness of the story.  It scaled back on the music video elements, straying away from the mixtape soundtrack, instead accompanied by a lavish score by Alexandre Desplat.  Again the opening sequence is a marvel, melding music and imagery, a 2-minute tracking shot of a man jogging through central park in the winter, before cutting to the title card.

From there it's a slow burn through Nicole Kidman's internal distress.  The film requires that you to buy into Kidman's reaction to this young boy claiming to be her husband, especially that her emotional attachment to him at this stage is clearly unhealthy but still honest.  Where Sexy Beast's fantastical elements (the boulder, the heist) are subversive and only marginally weird, certainly not enough to distract from the central emotional conflict, Birth puts the fantastical as the center of the conflict and asks you to believe in its reality, at least enough to question it.

Under The Skin, Glazer's long-awaited third effort, has equal parts that Kubrickian meticulousness and a fascinating improvisational stream.  This one abandons emotional conflict almost entirely (at least until the third act), and instead just asks you to embrace its weirdness, its fantasy.  It seems that no Glazer film can open without a brilliant opening sequence, and here it's a marvel (embed of the video was disabled) of lights and darkenss, circles and halos, eyes and irises, all underpinned by an audiocollage of language and noise and Mika Levi's haunting, screeching score.  It's as bold a title sequence as that of Gaspar Noe's Into The Void or David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: bracing, daring you to continue.

What follows has no clear intention, nothing is spelled out.  It's all intonation and what you take with you.  On a seamlessly white stage, Scarlett Johansson strips a dead woman of her clothes and puts them on.  She gets into a white van and scopes out the streets of Glasgow for, essentially, a victim.  Once she finds her mark, a man with little connections, no real kids or family to speak of, she takes them back to a deserted barn.  Once inside the extremely black room with its glossy black floor, she seduces them.  They follow her breadcrumb trail of clothing, disrobing themselves, stepping forward into darkness, unable to take their gaze off her, unaware of their sinking surroundings.  We learn what happens to these men.  Why?  That's never the clear part, but it's also not really relevant.

There's an extremely potent allegory at play here, as Johansson, in her beefy, bulky white van cruises the street for prey, one cannot help but think of how uncommon it is that a woman is the predator in this manner.  Even though we know she's an alien -- and in that there's the unknown of what she actually is, or what she's capable of -- we still can't help but feel that she's vulnerable just because she's a woman.  Glazer shot these scenes with hidden cameras, with Johansson approaching men on the street (but first waiting for them to be alone or at least distantly separated from a crowd) and conversing with them.  It was a bold choice that is equally distracting and effectively unsettling.  It takes three rounds of abductions before the audience can ease into Johansson's identity as the predator, then feel some sense of anxiety for the fate of the men, but even then it's only because at that stage her victim is a young, shy, lonely man with facial neurofibromatosis.  At that point as well, Johansson's alien is starting to find some connection to humanity, and it lets the man go before it flees into the Scottish Highlands, away from it's motorcyle-driving handlers.

In the Highlands it's greeted with kindness and hospitality by a bachelor, who gives it shelter and food.  The unease of vulnerability is still there, for both of them.  Will ScarJo's alien return to its mission and take advantage of this stranger, or is the stranger taking advantage of the attractive, mysterious woman through the guise of kindness.  Much has been made in advance of Johansson's nudity in advance of the picture, however the sort of defining moment, as the alien examines its female form in the mirror, the film presents Johansson as, plainly, a woman.  In the moment, she's not a superstar, not a pique specimen of femininity or attractiveness, not an object of sexual desire, but rather a representation of the female form, of the human body, of flesh and skin and what it looks and feels like to be alive.

As the creature experiences things for the first time with the samaritan, it also experiences genuine attraction, and, for the first time, it willingly engages, not seduces, only to discover that it is not a whole woman.  It panics and flees into the woods, eventually finding a trail, only to come across a logger with a less than comforting disposition.  It finds a hiking shelter where it curls up to sleep.  It awakens to find its being molested by the logger and it flees, only to be savagely pursued.  It's that undercurrent of fear that permeated the film from the onset, that in spite of the creature's predatory nature, as it's in the skin of a woman, an it exists in a world where its viewed as prey.  The logger, tearing at its clothing also tears at its skin, revealing its inhuman blackness beneath.  The allegory that rape is dehumanizing in full play, but the ultimate denigration, the logger, in abject terror of what he's encountered, douses the alien with gasoline and sets it aflame and walks away.  It's a vessel for his pleasure and disposable when of no use.  It's a sickening moment that the film ends on, watching the creature burn in the snow, any trace of humanity burned away.

The film is one of perpetual unease, a moody (or perhaps moodless) art-piece that isn't so much a story as a concept, a 2-hour art installation about male sexuality in its various forms - primal, tender, brutal - masquerading as entertainment.  For those receptive to such things, it's a must-watch.  For those looking to be engaged more directly, you know, with dialogue, and plot, and action, well, it falls far away from the conventional.

(Read David's take)

Monday, January 5, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: As Above, So Below

2014, John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil) -- download

Found footage. So overused these days that even I am tiring of it. In addition to the gimmick, you have to have a hook. What if it was taking place in the actual Paris catacombs? As in those actual tunnels beneath Paris that are filled with the bone remains of millions of people? But not just tunnels of bones, but the adjacent curving paths rarely traversed by people, and definitely not tourists? Add in a bit of medieval mysticism concerning alchemy and treasure troves worthy of Indiana Jones, and maybe you have something intriguing? Passably, but barely, yes.

Scarlett is not your average archaeologist. Her intro finds her in Iran climbing around in caves that are about to be dynamited by the government. She seeks a mythical statue that has some connection to her father's legacy. Of course, she finds it just before she and her GoPro camera are blown into dusty bits. Our first hint that she is not your average archaeologist is just how blasé she is about them blowing up priceless history. Quickly we discover she is more about her own ideals than any connection old stuff has to history.

Scarlett leads the team into the tunnels, led by a Parisian tunnel rat known as Papillon. He knows which tunnels to go down and which ones to avoid. He also is very aware there are weirdos all through the tunnels, not just your run of the mill occultists. What he doesn't know is that they also connect to some sort of alternate reality Hell, like Silent Hill or Grave Encounters. A Hell that punishes you for things you don't really deserve to be punished for, if you feel the least guilty. As a thriller, the movie is actually serviceable with some real scares and the claustrophobia of the catacombs. As a horror its just inexplicable mysticism for the sake of it without any real weight, considering some characters actually escape by just climbing... out. Points for a great poster though.

Friday, January 2, 2015

I Saw This!! The "I've Been Busy With Other Stuff" Edition

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our all-too regular feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. Now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all. And they can't do that, can they? 

In this edition of "I Saw This!!" Graig covers: 

Snowpiercer - 2013, d. Bong Joon-ho - in theatre
A Most Wanted Man - 2014, d. Anton Corbijn - in theatre
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - 2013, d. Adam McKay - netflix
Gone Girl - 2014, d. David Fincher - in theatre
The Way Way Back - 2013, d. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash - netflix
50/50 - 2011, d. Jonathan Levine - DVD
Penguins of Madagascar - 2014, d. Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith - in theatre

ok here we go

Snowpiercer was a very hotly anticipated feature here at camp Disagree.  David had been monitoring and keeping me appraised of all the ins and outs of the Weinsteins' mishandling of the feature after they acquired the domestic distribution rights.  The film was a smash hit in Korea (where the director hails from) and France (where the source graphic novel was created) and many other places around the world, but the Weinsteins thought that this film wouldn't be palatable to the American market as is and spent a lot of time and money tinkering futilely with its edit.  They were right, though, this is not a film for the general American audience's tastes. But at the same time director Bong Joon-ho's vision is so distinctly his own that you can't successfully tinker with it...there's no American mass-appeal to be found here.

The plot plays out sort of like a video game, as our protagonist (Chris Evans) leads a band of tail-dwellers on a mission to get to the front of the train and take control.  Each step forward reveals a different environment and a different battle.  One is a locked room, another an exposition step, another a brutal melee with axe-wielding guards, and yet another in a classroom.  Everyone on the train is a survivor of an unclear apocalypse which has thrust the Earth into an uninhabitable ice age.  The train, Snowpiercer, contains what remains of humanity, but in spite of the communal struggle for humanity to survive, the class system still exists.  The rich live further up the train, with more space, better food, a comfortable life, while the tail-enders live in cramped quarters, eating rationed black gelatin bricks, and are at the mercy of the front-end establishment.

What makes Snowpiercer so unpalatable to the common North American audience is its tone.  It's an absurd premise which the film takes seriously enough to present its class-struggle allegory, but at the same time the film is all too aware of its ridiculousness and it plays into it with extreme absurdity. Primely, Tilda Swinton represents the voice of the establishment, a wildly cartoonish, buck-toothed, coke-bottle glasses-wearing, Yorkshire-accented matron who proclaims to have the people's best interests at heart in the exact same sneering tone as when she's punishing them (for their own good).  She's a delightfully evil beast.  Meanwhile, the reveal of what exactly that black gelatin brick is made from is comically horrifying, as is Evan's big end monologue revealing his horrifying history (I had to decide whether this speech missed the mark dramatically or was intended to produce awkward chuckles.  I settled on the latter).  The big fight, taking place in the middle of both the film and the train is a brutal marvel, complete with it's unexpected pause in the film's most brilliant moment.

All that said, I was obviously quite impressed with Snowpiercer -- it's an incredibly well made, often visually stunning movie -- but I wanted to love it more.  The anticipation I had leading into the film wasn't met with disappointment, but at the same time I don't think I was ready for what I got.  I had read the graphic novel prior to its release, and it's a rare film that improves upon its source (Le Transperceneige is equally a class allegory, but its journey from the back to the front is a lot less adventuresome, and the characters of the book have no real personality are are only really there as a givers or receivers of exposition...still an interesting book but not as engaging as the film.) but I certainly wasn't prepared for the tonal juxtapositions and the more extreme elements of it.  I think I need to see it again.

(David's Take)


I find Cold War era espionage romantic and fantastical, while modern-day espionage is frightening. The modern spy war is more of a one sided effort, with intelligence agencies looking to root out not other spies, but potential terrorists who have infiltrated general society with intent to kill and disrupt everyday life.  This leads to uncomfortable extremes, losses of civil liberties, invasion of privacy, and perpetual surveillance, and that's just for the people who aren't suspected terrorists.

The recent adaptation of John LeCarre's Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy was a brilliant bit of Cold War espionage storytelling.  I went into this adaptation of his novel A Most Wanted Man hoping for more of the same, only slightly disappointed to find it set in the modern day, but otherwise intrigued by the similar themes of political in-fighting that get in the way of agencies effectively doing their jobs, and the turns and double turns of supposed allies that wind up wearing away at the soul of people trying to do the right thing.

Philip Seymore Hoffman, in one of his final roles, surprisingly adopts an accent for the role of German intelligence agent Gunther Bachmann.  He's witnessing the degradation of his department as American intelligence has more and more influence on his ability to do his job, and this current case, following a suspected terrorist illegally immigrating from Hungary, he clutches onto as his last gasp of relevance.  The suspect, Issa Karpov, is potentially innocent, but also potentially very dangerous, and the film yields most of its tension as it attempts to navigate whether Karpov is a victim or a cunning deceiver.

Director Anton Corbijn came to cinema from music videos, like David Fincher and Spike Jonze, but unlike his contemporaries, he doesn't have a distinctively unique style.  He's a steadfastly solid storyteller, but his visual aesthetic is very grey, grainy and dull.  His previous film, the slow-burning George Clooney-is-an-assassin vehicle, The American, dabbled in espionage elements but not nearly to this same level of complexity.

A Most Wanted Man is potent and intense, but at the same time, unfortunately unmemorable.  Hoffman is Hoffman, reliable as always, even in a suspect accent.  Rachel McAdams' accent falters at times (why they didn't just cast a German actress -- Franca Potente maybe? -- I don't know) but she performs well, showing both fear and resolve.  Grigory Dobrygin is amazing as Karpov, providing the perfect amount of nervous energy that could either signify his guilt or innocence.

A slight spoiler: the film ends on a significant down beat, which is entirely apt for Corbijn's cold and dreary production.  Hoffman's unflinchingly dour grimace finds him (and the audience with him) hoping for any shred of victory, but there's a sad-sack, Charlie Brown-ness to him that you just know means he's never going to get ahead.


A good friend of mine passed away in mid-2013, the year Anchorman 2 was released.  I mention this only because the first Anchorman was one of his favourite films.  It was a quote machine from which we, and other friends, used to pull from liberally, surpassed perhaps only by The Big Lebowski.  When the media hype for Anchorman 2 ramped up prior to its Christmas release, I felt no small sense of anticipation, but also a great deal of sadness.  The first trailer I saw in a theatre made me laugh and cry in equal measure.

Successful comedies are tremendously difficult to go back to the well to.  More so than any other genre, a great comedy is generally lightning in a bottle.  Subsequent episodes lose a lot of the element of surprise.  The characters become known commodities, the actors more famous, the direction a little more assured and adventurous, and more money is thrown into the mix.  There's not a great deal of successful comedy sequels out there.  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has in its core a great reason for existing, a great plot premise that justifies another outing, but it's bloated run-time, its over-reliance on stunt casting, and it's increased budget all hamper it from approaching the original in any meaningful way.

The story takes place a decade after the original, in the early 1980s.  Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his co-anchor/wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are San Diego's premiere nightly news team, but when Veronica is chosen to replace the evening news anchor, Ron is apoplectic, and duly dismissed.  Their marriage falls apart and Ron falls on hard times and dishevelled hair.  But a stranger susses him out, offering him a position on his new 24-hour news channel, the first of its kind.  Ron re-assembles the team: Champ (David Koechner), Brian (Paul Rudd), and Brick (Steve Carell) all game for a new adventure following Ron's lead.

They struggle with finding a home in New York and at the 24-hour station, pulling the 2AM-5AM overnight slot, until such time as they discover, essentially, the "Fox News" formula of "News Reporting" which is full of open ended questions and speculation rather than any true journalism.  Amid all the off-kilter silliness, there's actually an interesting skewering of modern day television journalism.  It's unfortunate though that the filmmakers chose not to do a full lampoon (though that's been done elsewhere, like Sports Night and The Newsroom [Ken Finkleman's Canadian programme, not the Aaron Sorkin HBO show]) choosing some ridiculous side-plots and diversions, which, while fun, don't lend the movie a whole lot of coherence.

I liked Anchorman 2, but not tremendously so, and I wasn't so entertained that I felt the pull to revisit it over and over to catch those wildly quotable lines like with the first film.  It has its moments (the "Ron goes blind" diversion is probably my favourite part of the film), but the battle royale (a repetition of the first film but amped up tremendously) feels shoehorned in, bloated, and it stops the film cold, and Brick's romance with Kristen Wiig doesn't yield the laughs that it should (Brick should be a punchline machine, not a focal character).

(Warning: Spoilers)

Gone Girl feels like lesser David Fincher, clever pulp fiction that surprises in many ways upon first viewing, but would likely yield diminishing returns upon repeated viewings.  Yet, this is a story that requires the guiding hand of a master director, someone who can navigate the viewer through it's many twists, and manipulate the actors through their varying depths in order to tell the story in such a way that it's not mere pulp, in such a manner that it transcends simplistic labels.  Fincher is an exquisite craftsman and despite the genre trappings of its story, it's a masterpiece of storytelling execution.

The opening act of the film is told by cutting between the present, in which Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) discovers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has gone missing, and the past, as narrated by Amy from her journal.  Initially, those flashbacks feel off, with florid dialogue and almost to surreal details of their courtship, marriage and subsequent relationship troubles.  It's only the reveal at the end of the first act, that Amy has faked her own kidnapping, that the journal's authenticity is called into question.  Meanwhile, Nick is immediately thrust under suspicion, and through the film's first act his innocence is brilliantly called into question.  The story tricks from novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (brilliantly adapting her own material like no author previously has) as well as the visual cues from Fincher and Affleck all build a wonderful tension surrounding Nick, especially as the media begins to weigh in and crucify him.  Is he a brilliant mastermind, or a victim of a smear campaign?  Where most stories would draw this tale out over the film's entirety, by revealing the truth at the conclusion of the first act provides the film a who other, more satisfying direction.

The first act feels almost like a film in itself, but the second act negotiates wonderfully Nick and Amy's separate lives. Nick has to handle the media (a particularly spiteful news channel host, played with full Nancy Grace gusto by Missi Pyle), his sister (marking the brilliant arrival of Carrie Coon), the detective investigating both him and the disappearance (a wonderful Kim Dickens), a secret lover, Amy's Family, and the search for Amy.  To help, he enlists a notorious lawyer (a surprisingly phenomenal Tyler Perry) who is a master of navigating the police, the media, his clients and their families.  Amy, meanwhile, has changed her hair, put on weight and disappeared into lower income middle America, quite please with herself, waiting for the right moment to reinvent herself.  Unfortunately, some things fall out of her control, like desperate neighbours and Nick's brilliant turn facing the media.

The third act weaves a cat-and-mouse tale as Nick tries to negotiate all of Amy's various traps, with the Detective likewise starting to find the cracks in Amy's plans.  Amy starts weaving her own plan by way of an old flame (Neal Patrick Harris) that take a supremely brutal, although perhaps not altogether unexpected turn.  The film's epilogue is a stroke of brilliance, flipping the sensibilities of the opening act cleverly on their head.

The undercurrent of the film teeters perilously close to being dangerous, an anti-woman screed, particularly harmful in a #gamergate environment.  However, with such amazing supporting characters from Coon and Dickens, it holds fast as a singular tale of a particularly brilliant and manipulative person, one who is quite obviously sociopathic.  She reminds me of Alice Morgan from the first season of Luther, which is a disturbing new archetype if more of these types of characters start popping up in the wake of Gone Girl's success.

(Note: now that I've written all this, I want to watch the film again, flipping the sentiments of my opening paragraph on their head)


I think pretty much every fan of  the TV series Community was surprised to see our own beloved Dean Pelton, Jim Rash, up on stage at the 2012 Academy Awards accepting an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Descendants, alongside writing partner Nat Faxon and director Alexander Payne.  We put people into boxes -- actor, writer, singer, cartoonist, whatever -- and it sometimes takes doing something extraordinary to help them break out.

The Oscar win gave Rash and Faxon their opportunity to break out of their expected comedic actor molds (Faxon has cropped up in numerous sitcoms and comedy features over the past half-decade) and to not just get another screenplay produced, but also sit in the director's chair.  The Way Way Back is the amazing result of that, a coming-of-age movie that embraces all the tropes but handles it with even more maturity.

The film follows Duncan, a quiet 14-year-old who is blossoming in puberty and living completely inside himself.  He's forced to go on a "family" vacation to a summer home with his mom, her boyfriend, and his pretty and popular daughter.  As played by Liam James, Duncan is crawling under his own skin.  His gaze is perpetually to the ground, his face conveying little but utter misery, and his life seemingly outside of his own control.  Pam, his mother (the always awesome Toni Colette) is a dominant presence in his life.  She's a coddler, and Ducan is having trouble breaking free from that, or deciding if he wants or needs to.  Trent, his mom's boyfriend (a great turn by Steve Carell) is already adopting the step-father role whether Duncan or Pam want him to or not.  He's not an outright villain, at least at first, he just seems concerned that Duncan isn't very social, but at the same time, his interactions with Duncan come with no spoonfuls of sugar (the film's opening scene has Trent asking Duncan how he thinks he rates on a scale of 1 to 10.  Duncan says "8" while Trent says "5" and proceeds to explain why.  It's a very judicious scene that allows Trent some level of goodwill while still painting him as a bad guy).

At the cottage, Duncan's mom befriends the party-heavy divorcee next door (Allison Janney, amazing as ever) while Duncan's parental issues gives him common ground with her daughter.  With his mom heavily socializing, Duncan escapes on an old banana-seat bicycle he finds in the garage.  He comes across the vacation town's summer water park, run by Owen (the great Sam Rockwell), a fast-talking charmer who senses the boy's need for escape and gives him a job at the park, helping him come out of his shell.  Duncan leads two lives, his quiet, introverted home life, and his king-of-the-world (at least from a 14-year-old's perspective) life at the water park.  He doesn't want his family to know about his other life, he just wants it for himself, a place where he's given responsibility, he has friends, he's treated with respect, and he even has some authority and control.

Rash and Faxon create a realistic daydream for everyone who grew up like Duncan, quiet and unpopular.  Their direction is supremely confident, if straightforward, giving the entire picture a vibrant life that, even around it's darker, unhappier edges, gives the sense that there' always something brighter around the corner.  Personally, as a step-parent, I was sad to see Trent become more of an outright villain, rather than just a villain-by-perspective.  It's a hard role to embrace, step-parenting, and it really does just seems like he's trying to help Duncan, if in a harsh and misguided way.  But his later actions just dismiss any sense of goodwill the character may have had.  Overall, the films a definite charmer, with a terrific cast (Maya Rudolph, Faxon and Rash all have roles in the water park, and some of the ancillary characters, like Janney's lazy-eyed son Peter and the trio of loudmouthed kids at the park really fill out the world) that is everything I had hoped the disappointing Adventureland (2009) would be.


Today's comedies present a much bawdier version of the double act.  In films mostly spawning from the "Apatow kids" -- those who starred in his short-lived yet beloved TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared -- and Kevin Smith's camp, there's the funny one, who is as often a background character as co-lead, obsessed with sex, genitalia and profanity with no predilection for tact or decorum.  Their outspokenness and profane barbs are regularly surprising since they're so blatantly things people don't say in polite society.  The straight man, on the other hand, tends to be shier, following their more baroque counterpart's leads in any public situation, while at the same time are typically the center of the film, as they are more relatable, and have more "normal" problems with love or career or whatever, which the funny one tends to interfere with (at first) but then winds up helping out with.  Films like Superbad, Chasing Amy, Goon and here, in 50/50, the formula is showing its seams.

50/50 was marketed as a buddy comedy about a young man (Joseph Gordon Levitt) suddenly facing potentially terminal cancer and his best friend (Seth Rogen) who helps him through it.  That's not quite the story, for better and worse, as Rogen's role is background comic-relief-type stuff and not so much faithful companion at every turn.

When Adam learns he has a potentially deadly form of cancer, he finds life radically changing as he sees its potential end.  His distant girlfriend becomes even more distant, his overbearing mother becomes even more overbearing, and his inappropriately outspoken best friend becomes even more inappropriately outspoken.  But Adam finds a bit of sanctuary and camaraderie with two other chemotherapy patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) and an outlet for his true emotions with novice therapist (Anna Kendrick).

As written by cancer survivor Will Reiser, the cancer story is a formidable one, have the sense of authenticity while still managing to be entertaining and not a dour, treacly Brian's Song-type film.  The reality that Adam faces -- not just death, but how others treat him, and how much of a struggle just going about one's day -- is the journey, and whether he dies or survives isn't really at question so much as what does he go through.  As noted, there's not as much Levitt-Rogen bromance as this film was originally sold with, and while there's possibly a more joke heavy/distasteful comedy to be made with that premise, this one balances the genital humour well with the more dramatic moments.

(David Note: David's take!)


My 5-year-old daughter has been having difficulty with the cinema as of late.  When we went to see Muppets Most Wanted, she had an epic freak out and I've only been able to get her to the theatre once since (for How To Train Your Dragon 2), where she made it as far as the lobby before she turned around and went home.  I've been trying to get her out to other films that I've/she's been excited about (Big Hero 6! come on!) but to no avail.  Penguins of Madagascar, having seen the innocuous TV show, I knew would be without any real intensity and no true surprises.  It was a known commodity, lacking in any real art, but also harmless.

The big screen version acts as prequel to the series, I guess, it doesn't really matter.  Penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private stumble upon a plot by Dr. Octavius Brine (an octopus in a wobbly human disguise, voiced by John Malcovich) to kidnap all the penguins of the world and enact his revenge for their stealing of his aquarium/zoo admirers.  It's thin motivation but the film clings to it, presenting a series of ridiculous hurdles for the Penguins to overcome in order to defeat his evil scheme.  Along the way they team up with The North Wind, a superspy organization manned by polar bear Corporal (Peter Stormare), owl Eva (Annet Mahendru), seal Short Fuse (Ken Jeong) and wolf Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), who frankly don't think these Penguins are up to the task of saving the world.

The film is, as expected, passably amusing.  The fast-talking Skipper (Tom McGrath) is quite clearly the front man/penguin of the operation and both his speeches and asides are so mile-a-minute that they're really hard to grasp onto fully.  Skipper has a paternal soft-spot for youngest penguin Private, and he continually underestimates Private's abilities as he primarily admires him for his ridiculous cuteness (at least the film posits that Private is ridiculously cute, I didn't really get it).  So the film feature's Private's journey into self-actualization, becoming a real part of the team, like he's always wanted.

It's modestly enjoyable, and imminently forgettable, but on the plus side, my daughter made it through with no freak-outs and no residual after-effects, so it was a win.


And finally, I finished my book (mostly finished anyway), Quarter City, in December.  Read it on Wattpad, if you like that sort of thing.