Tag Archives: Movie Review

The Boxtrolls

BoxtrollsThe Boxtrolls is quirky, funny, dark, and a little disturbing in all of my favorite ways. I enjoyed it, but I can see lots of places where folks might not think it’s their thing. Then again, there are probably other folks who will love it a lot more than I did. It comes in just a hair below my Threshold of Awesome.

It’s dark for a kids’ movie, but it’s definitely a kids’ movie. You can tell because all the adults are either evil, disinterested, or too stupid to help, leaving our young heroes in charge of fixing things themselves. A trope, yes, but handled in ways that I found very satisfying.

Did I mention that this film is beautiful? Oh, my. I don’t even know where to start. Even the ugly bits were beautiful. This is one that I may want to own on Blu-Ray just so I can freeze scenes and stare deeply into the designs. On that note, though, the poster above does it a great disservice. It hints at some of the energy of the film, but fails completely to catch the spirit or the beauty of it.

The Maze Runner

Obligatory Disclaimer: The Maze Runner is based on a novel written by my friend James Dashner. I have a policy about reviewing books, which basically says I only write a review if the book is one that I can recommend. Movies, though, I’ll review if I’ve seen it and have something to say.

TheMazeRunnerWith that out of the way…

The Maze Runner (movie) is a pretty good character drama with science-fiction thriller elements in it. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome. 

Why not? Well, because it’s not my kind of story. And here’s where my policy kind of trips me up — I think that The Maze Runner (movie) is a very faithful adaptation of Dashner’s best-selling novel, but the novel itself isn’t really my thing, mostly for stylistic reasons, and now I have to tell you about a book I don’t actually love.

I think that the conceit of the maze itself, in which a tiny community of young men and boys is trapped at the maze’s center, is super-cool and very engaging. The film brings the maze to life in ways that fans of the book will probably love, and though the events of the book are necessarily compressed, the film gets those right, too.

But I don’t love the style of storytelling in which volumes of new information are dropped on the reader or viewer right at the end. Sure, in real life there’s not much foreshadowing for things that are unexpected, but that doesn’t satisfy me in a book or a movie. I want “surprising yet inevitable,” not “whoa, where did THAT come from?” I like the final twists and reveals to be easily explained in one or two sentences in which everything comes together, rather than long explanations which raise as many questions an they answer.

I also love settings that fully explore the ramifications of their “what ifs,” and The Maze Runner doesn’t really do that. There’s a little bit of a Lord of the Flies feel to the glade in the center of the maze, but the glade is nothing like what I imagine an all-boy subsistence community to be like, especially not with the arrival of a girl.

But hey, I had the same problem with The Hunger Games, and those books and films have entertained a lot of people. Your mileage may vary, and now you have one of the key points of variability.

The New Doctor’s New Clothes

So, the emperor is basically naked.

It took me two seasons of on-again, off-again viewing to figure it out, and it pains me greatly to say it because he’s been such a fun emperor in times past (and times future!) but, oh my, that’s pretty naked.

Further stretching the metaphor, his outfits have ranged from simple-yet-serviceable to extravagant-and-exhilarating, I have adored many of them, and envied not a few! Lately, however they seem to run somewhere between threadbare and last-year’s-fashion. Very recently I began to worry that the Emperor’s Clothier might  have a supply-side problem.

Nope. Or rather, yes, the clothier has a problem. He’s not supplying any clothing at all. The Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. And in case you haven’t closed the loop already, what I’m saying is that the season 8 premiere episode of Doctor Who, “Draw Breath,” starring the brilliant and versatile Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the nigh-immortal, eponymous time lord, was awful.

I don’t mean to imply that those who loved it are somehow blind to the emperor’s nakedness, but let’s crank up the A/C a bit and see whether this supposedly well-appointed fellow shivers, and okay, maybe I AM implying something.

Also, I’m declaring this metaphor broken. I don’t have an A/C knob to turn up, and I don’t know what Doctor Who would look like with the metaphorical shivers.

I can, however, list some of my complaints:

SPOILER ALERT

(and with that out of the way…)

The conceit of “Deep Breath,” (Season 8 Episode 1) was that the Doctor experiences emotional distress when he regenerates, because all of his friends can no longer see him, the real him, through the new skin. This is a GREAT IDEA. And then it got told in the most ham-handed way possible, so that this truly touching bit of human truth gets lost as it knocks about in re-hashed robots, other people’s trademarks, and the requisite eye-candy dinosaur.

In short, the episode squandered a brilliant character insight that can ONLY be executed on when  a new Doctor arrives.

I knew I was in trouble when the Doctor was ranting about the bedroom, and I thought to myself “sleeping in a bed would be more enjoyable than this.” Sure, I was tired, but I’ve stayed up late watching recorded programming on many a night.  That, by the way, was about the time that Sandra stopped sitting up straight, and opted to lie down on the rest of the couch. Wise woman.

There was clever dialog scattered here and there throughout the episode, but it felt like shiny bits of pretty wrapping paper taped haphazardly to an anvil–the anvil being the cluttered, confused plot and its numerous call-backs to episodes I have enjoyed. Being reminded of a fun thing is not the same as delivering a new fun thing.

Back to the new metaphor: with enough of the shiny bits you can convince folks to admire the wrapping, but when this bundle gets launched from the satellite on its way to my TV screen it is supposed to glide in, not lithobrake into the Yucatan and kill off the dinosaurs.

(It was a big anvil. Made of old stuff. And there WAS a dinosaur. And another metaphor snaps from over-extension.)

The dinosaur! It featured prominently in the adverts and teasers, but it was too big to be believable. Sure, it HAD to be too big because Moffat needed it to cough up a Tardis, but if you’re going to blow the CG budget on something that shiny, you should at least use it to good effect. The dinosaur coughs up the Tardis, bemoans its lonely fate (as translated by The Doctor, who speaks the language of grossly oversized tyrannosaurs), and then burns to death. End of dino.

Another squandered opportunity. The dinosaur could have been used to point up the “see beneath the skin” conceit, but only if it did more for the plot than deliver the Tardis and then turn into a greasy, burned clue.

On to the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (aka lizard lady, the maidservant, and the Sontaran): I like these characters. Strax delivered some of the best comic relief in the episode, even if doing so did ding his character a bit. Using the relationship between Vastra and Jenny to discuss non-traditional familial relationships was clever, but felt really forced. Maybe that’s the sort of thing that they’ll do better in future episodes, but I don’t think I have any future episodes in me.

Why not?

One word: Daleks.

The teaser for the next episode showed Daleks. Honestly, I don’t care about Daleks. I understand that it might be too expensive for them to just discard a bunch of props because the writers have moved on to new things, but every time they come back to Daleks I feel like I’m supposed to be surprised and terrified and thrilled, but all I really am is bored. Very bored. And disappointed.

So I’m done. At least until someone who is NOT a hard-core fan comes to me and says “hey, you know what? This one episode from the middle of Season 8 is huge fun. Capaldi chews scenery like an Eeetabrox, and oh, the Eeetabrox are these really cool, brand new aliens….” and then I’ll tune the person out while making a note to myself of the episode number.

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I can’t really say that I enjoyed Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but I paid attention all the way through. This was one of those films which proved objectionable pretty quickly, but which was chock full of visual and structural storytelling techniques I wanted to absorb.

SinCityDameToDieForI guess my experience was a little bit like stepping up really close to a painting in order to see the paint rather than the picture.

Regarding the picture: the movie earns its R rating with violence, nudity, language, and drug use. The final line of narration tells us that Sin City leaves its stain on everyone, and that pretty much summed up my experience.

Regarding the paint: Structurally, it’s a neat sort of palindrome. Story A begins, Story B begins, Story C begins and ends, then Story B ends and finally Story A ends. Visually, it is brilliantly composed. We move freely from hyper-realistic black-and-white scenes to heavily stylized silhouette animations, and we cover lots of middle ground as well. Each shot works in very strong support of the story. And as stories go it’s horribly dark, and it’s never actually happy, but it’s powerful and well told.

I saw the 3D version, and I think the 3D added a lot. Looking way up as naked Josh Brolin gets blown through a window, and then tracking him down… well, the 3D really sold that for me.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was not really that much fun for me, not in the usual sense, but I reveled in the art. It clears the Threshold of Disappointment, but only barely. I may study stills or scenes from it at some point in the future, but I never actually want to watch it again.