Monday, October 5, 2009

Random thoughts on recently seen fantastic (or not) movies

Just starting with a handy reminder that it's Pumpkinhead and Cocoa Cats season. If you are a Beer Snob and you also enjoy Peeps, good luck finding these.

Coraline - Funny story. Right before I was about to settle down and watch "Coraline", some friends called and asked if I wanted to go see "The Orphan" with them. I declined. I dislike horror movies. They returned and we shared opinions of the films we'd seen.
Turns out that "The Orphan" did not contain anything half as creepy as "Coraline".
"Coraline" is an amazing film, especially from a technical standpoint. (Stay tuned after the credits to see a behind-the-scenes look at one of the cleverest effects.) It is definitely worth watching. During the day. With all the lights on.
Because, you see, Neil Gaiman wrote this story after he discovered a direct mainline to every child's (hell, every person's) creepiest and most Freudian anxieties. (And by "Freudian anxieties", I don't mean "the whole thing is about sex" [which isn't even really what Freud was all about anyway], I mean "I had to read Bruno Bettelhelm's The Uses Of Enchantment in Psych 101 and I can't UN-read it".) In a decade or so, expect to hear the kids whose unsuspecting parents rented this for them saying to each other, "Remember 'Coraline'? Holy s**t, that movie messed with my head as a kid!" (See also my generation's "Return to OZ", "The Mouse and his Child", "Watership Down", and so on and so forth. Mind you, I'm not saying it's a bad thing for a kid to get freaked out by a movie...)

Night Watch / Day Watch - A pleasantly confusing dark fantasy film in two parts. It goes in some refreshingly strange directions. The second film is actually better than the first and is that rare sequel that actually rewards you for paying close attention to the first film. I highly recommend it...
But ye gods, that ending. :(
SPOILER TIME I'm not really cool with long movies that end with the hero going "I wish none of this had ever happened." And then they cut back in time to the beginning where the events of the story were set in motion, only this time they don't and the characters just go home or something instead of on the adventure. So, in short, the entire movie didn't happen.
That's an acceptable ending to, say, a twenty minute episode of a Disney Afternoon series. It's a giant middle finger in my face when it's used to conclude a four-hour-long fantasy saga that I might have been little more emotionally invested in.

Blade Runner: the Final Cut - Every few years or so, you need to watch an older movie to remind yourself how awesome it is, and this new director's cut of "Blade Runner" is the perfect excuse. This is a gorgeous film and if you have somehow never seen it, you've got to go add it to your queue immediately. It's astonishing how well this movie has aged; it's twenty-seven years old and it looks better than some movies made last year. The city in which "Blade Runner" is set is still one of the best fictional cities ever created and I'm fairly certain it was all created with practical effects. It make a huge difference when things that cannot exist in reality occupy physical space. (Yes, I know how weird this sounds coming out of an animator. Once again, I do not dislike CGI. When it's used intelligently and not with and attitude of "ooh shiny, we're using CGI!")
The script is fabulous as well, but this was the first time it struck me how deeply depressing the theme of this movie is. (Sometimes third time's a charm when it comes to finding a work of fiction's Big Theme.) More observant viewers have probably noticed this before, but this was the first time I realized that "Blade Runner" is all about death. More specifically it's about how utterly horrifying it is to be a human, because it means that you're terribly aware of your ultimate demise. Heavy stuff to have in my head right before bedtime after two glasses of White Zinfandel. Anyway, "Blade Runner". Still one of the best fantastic fiction films ever made.

Dark City - It doesn't look like it from here, but I actually gave this and "Blade Runner" a lot more "room". Once again, great fantastic fiction film, great-looking fantasy city for a setting, smart, imaginative story - and another depressing theme.
This time, it's another reason why it's utterly horrifying to be a human: the unreliability of memory. You may remember that awesome place you spent your early childhood with crystal clarity, but what if you go back there and it's not there anymore? How can you ever convince people it was ever there in the first place? And as you get older, how can you form any meaningful new memories at all if everything and everyone seems to change so fast? And if you can't trust your memory, can you ever really trust yourself?
Now, "Blade Runner" dealt with this idea a little as well - in one particularly sad scene and not much else after this. "Memento", another film I adore, dealt with this very extensively. But "Dark City" takes this in a very unusual direction, and if you haven't seen this film yet, go for the director's cut. It lets the story unfold on it's own. The theatrical version (stop me if you think that you've heard this one before) had an opening narration that just explained the whole mystery right up front so the audience wouldn't be scared or confused. 

The Fall - I had no idea what this was about and was pleasantly surprised. The fantasy sequences are very well done and, refreshingly, consist almost entirely of practical effects. The framing story is actually done very well. (Personally, I think the "amazing fantasy adventure is actually just a story being told to/read by some kid" is one of the laziest storytelling tropes of all. If your movie isn't "The Princess Bride" [which basically parodies the concept] or "The Neverending Story" [which gets downright meta with it], don't bother.) It helps that the little girl character is a genuine honest-to-goodness little girl. Everything's new to her; she asks questions about things that adults wouldn't even worry about and the concept of personal space is as alien to her as the concept of personal property. It's incredible how much of a difference this makes.
Incidentally, while this film is by no means okay for young children, it is rated R in America for reasons I can't fathom.

The Bear - I was vaguely reminded of this film by "The Fall"; both films contain nightmares that remind us that stop-motion animation can be the creepiest film technique and both films just step back and let their characters act natural. In "The Fall", we finally get a little kid who acts like an actual little kid. In "The Bear", we have animal characters who act like genuine animals.
I hadn't seen this movie since I was very young and I only remembered being vaguely creeped out by it. The dream sequences notwithstanding, I think I understand why: the bears don't talk. There isn't even a narrator. There's no reassuring human voice calmly putting the animals' behavior in terms we can understand. There's hardly even any music. The film feels practically like a documentary rather than the fictional drama it is and the effect is amazing. It's a stunningly beautiful film and really demands a cleaned-up DVD release.
Incidentally, this film is rated G for reasons I can't fathom. Weird.

Now, of all the rescued LaGremlinLand articles, the following has been postponed and rescheduled the most. It's probably the one I feel the most "meh" about:

Never Mind "Another Brick in the Wall-E", Here's "Little Davey in Slumberland"
(Modified from a feature originally posted at LaGremlin Land on 6/4/02.)

This is pretty awesome for something I stumbled upon by accident in college. (As with all former LaGremlin writings, no drugs were involved. Except coffee. Lots of it.) While this isn't going to be the next "Dark Side of OZ", it might at least be the next "Siamese Fantasia".
That is to say, we're gonna talk movie/CD syncs.

What You Need: The CD "Before These Crowded Streets"; the movie "Little Nemo in Slumberland" (sadly, it is very hard to find a good copy these days, but every video store used to have one); a CD player that lets you repeat a CD without screwing up. (I'm a traditionalist here. I'm sure a Magical Tiny Machine That Holds Music would work too.)

Plot Summary: (well, you aren't going to be able to hear the dialogue) For whatever reason, this movie is fairly obscure unless you are a Miyazaki completest. I'm a "Nemo" cheerleader. There really are some fantastic visuals in this movie. The animators managed to get the look of McCay's illustrations spot on. This Total Media Bridge review sells the film very well; I'd thought I was the only one who liked it.
Nemo is a perfectly normal kid by day, but every night he has very strange dreams. After the circus arrives in his hometown, his dreams become more intense until finally the people in his dreams invite him to visit their world, Slumberland. There, Nemo must aid King Morpheus in protecting Slumberland from the Nightmare Demons.
Goaded by a nasty little green gnome/clown/thing named Flip, Nemo learns that Morpheus has a demon imprisoned beneath Slumberland. They accidentally allow it to get loose and kidnap the King. Now Nemo and his friends must journey to Nightmare and save him.

How to Do the Sync: Set the CD to repeat and pause it. Start the video. The Tokyo Movie Shin... Shaw... Somethingorother title card will appear. Un-pause the CD when the red "V" part of the "M" in the studio logo starts to fly offscreen. If you're doing it right, Nemo's room fades into focus when Dave begins to sing in "Pantala Naga Pampa". Enjoy.


Zachary said...

I watched Blade Runner a long, long time ago. I need to see it again. The only thing that holds me back is the director's cut's stupendous length. Isn't it like three hours long or something? This is something I'll have to watch on a lazy weekend.

Coraline might be my favorite movie of the year. It's basically perfect in every way. I especially liked how the tunnel to the other world opens up.

If you haven't seen it already, I recommend "The Mist" starring Thomas "Frank Castle" Jane. It's an adaptation of an older Stephen King novel, one that doesn't involve psychics or carnivals. I thought the creature effects were excellent, and some of the larger critters have a real Lovecraftian air about them.

Good underlying themes, too.

Trish said...

Funny thing about this director's cut: it doesn't feel long at all. I'd say it's about the same length as the original director's cut; it's just much cleaner.