Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, February 06, 2009

This Week's SF&F Movies

SASS*: Good day for Dakota Fanning fans, as she stars in 2 new flix opening today; Coraline’s the one to see 1st; Push is the one where you get to see her.

Rating scale: 9 (superlative) to 1 (execrable)
Short story: 9-7, recommended; 6-4, up to you; 3-1, eschew
Ratings intended for: adult SF&F fans

This Week’s SF&F Movies

Coraline (PG, 1:40, 3D at Point) — 8

Tim Burton’s name appeared in front of 1993’s The Nightmare before Christmas (7), but it was director Henry Selick who did most of the work. Selick’s back with another round of the fiendishly painstaking technique known as stop-motion animation, this time of Neil Gaiman’s novella, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for 2003.

1st off, the film is an absolute visual delight, wonderfully well realized. 2nd, it’s an even richer story than the novella. 3rd, it uses 3D effects tastefully; there are no yo-yos, lances, or pickaxes poking out of the screen at you.

The Jones family is newly moved into the Pink Palace Apartments, and Mom and Dad, both gardening writers, are frantically trying to meet a deadline, so they have no time for Coraline. She pokes around on her own, meeting the eccentric nabors, and eventually stumbles onto a secret door that leads to an alternate universe where her Other Mother and Other Father are much nicer and more attentive. They encourage her to stay permanently, something that will happen if she lets them sew buttons into her eyesockets, just like theirs. At this point, Coraline is understandably totally creeped out and wants to get back to the normal world, but Other Mother is, shall we say, both persistent and resourceful.

The art direction here will certainly go down in the history of cinema as a classic. That the film itself falls a tad short of that pinnacle is due to a slight distancing of Coraline from the audience; she is somebody we watch, not somebody we identify with, and that makes a difference just significant enuf to keep this otherwise excellent effort from a 9.

Push (PG-13, 1:51) — 7

Chris Evans may look familiar to you as Johnny Storm (the Human Torch from the Fantastic 4 films [6 and 5]), but here he gets to play a less cartoony character, Nick Gant, whose telekinetic capabilities make him persona very much grata to a shadowy government agency known only as “Division”, but which to specials like Nick might as well be called the Roach Motel. He’s the mover, Dakota Fanning’s Cassie Holmes is the watcher (precog), and Camilla Belle’s Kira Hudson is the pusher (person who can plant thots and impulses in the minds of others). The problem is, there are even better specials of the same types who work for Division and for the Pop Family gang in Hong Kong (where the entire film is set), and they’re all out to grab the mcguffin — a case containing a syringe full of an experimental drug that will either greatly enhance a special’s powers or prove fatal (almost always the latter). Will our 3 heroes (with the aid of other specials with varying abilities like stitcher and shadow) be able to save the day?

Well, believe it or not, the plot is even more complex than what I’ve just described, and therein lies my primary problem with the movie: it’s too complicated to follow easily. It’s as exciting as Eagle Eye (8), and the ESP effects are done as well as Jumper (5) and more in service to the plot, but it could have been even better if they’d made more effort to let the audience in on the story. Still, not a movie for stupid people, and I appreciate that. Plus which Dakota Fanning just keeps getting better and better — and she was pretty damn good to begin with.

The Uninvited (PG-13, 1:27) — 4
(opened last week)

Teenage girl’s mom contracts some fatal illness, asks to spend her final days in the boathouse overlooking the Atlantic and just downslope from her wealthy writer husband’s mansion on the Maine coastline, has little bell tied around her wrist to summon assistance, much of which is provided by dutiful Anna. One day the boathouse blows up with Mom inside. All this is told in flashbacks after the opening scene of Anna getting out of the asylum where she’s been undergoing therapy for shock, guilt, horrible nightmares, and sounds of little bells.

She returns home and tries to pick up the pieces of her life, but Mom’s old LPN (Elizabeth Banks) has taken up with Dad (David Strathairn) in her absence, and Anna and older sister Alex are resentful. Then Mom starts appearing again, suggesting that there was more to her death than met the eye.

Mercifully few gotcha scenes, some decent acting, and a literate script help, but this film is a good example of a bad subgenre. It’s like saying you’ve got the most neatly shoveled sidewalk on your block. Nice, I guess, but hard for anyone to really care.

Fear(s) of the Dark [Peur(s) du Noir] (NR, 1:22) — 1
(left town last week)

For a long while, we could count on a Tournee of Animation every year; then it was Spike & Mike; then there were a couple of years of Animation Celebration; but it’s been awhile since there was an animation anthology until The Animation Show 4 hit town last year. (No idea about Shows 1-3.) These collections almost always get a 5 from me, because the multiple installments are of wildly varying quality (some gems, some stinkers), and they usually average out to mediocre.

Here’s the exception, a French import done entirely in B&W, with a collection of dark (and in some cases grisly) short features of remarkably poor drawing quality. The last of these is almost entirely black screen, with occasional half-seen glimpses of strange things fitfully illuminated by candlelight. This would be the ideal background on which to project the all-white subtitles, but no, it’s almost entirely silent as well as dark. For the rest of the movie, the all-white subtitles are projected on a background which is itself all white at least half the time. Result: total incomprehensibility.

I got the distinct impression from the parts of the film that I could dope out that I wouldn’t have liked it very much anyway. The subtitles were the killer touch. What could the idiot distributors have been thinking of?

Opening Today, but Apparently Not Here


Still in Theaters

Inkheart — 9
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — 6
The Tale of Despereaux — 6
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa — 4
Underworld [3]: Rise of the Lycans — 3

Mark Your Calendars

Mar. 6: Watchmen
Mar. 13: Race to Witch Mountain
Mar. 20: Knowing
Mar. 27: Monsters vs. Aliens
May 1: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
May 8: Star Trek
May 22: Terminator Salvation
May 22: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
May 29: Up
July 1: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
July 17: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Not Sayin’: The Road

Periodic Rant about the Idiots at the MPAA

The biggest movie last week was the non-genre revenge fantasy Taken, with its stabbings, garrotings, explosions, sex slavery, torture, gratuitous murders, manic car chases against traffic, and widespread splashes of blood. It was rated PG-13.

It opened the same day as The Uninvited (reviewed above), which features grisly fright scenes of decomposing corpses and decapitated bodies, along with teenage girls, drenched in blood, wielding butcher knives. Also PG-13.

But Frost/Nixon, a high-class production which is basically 2 guys having a political conversation in a living room, gets an R.

Question: Can anyone explain this?

Answer: No! Nobody can explain this, because it makes absolutely no sense. The MPAA is a bunch of fucking idiots.

*short attention span synopsis


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