It’s About Time

Future Thanksgiving

Future Thanksgiving

H.G. Wells’ stories have been adapted countless times from the good, James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933), to the not so good, Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods (1976). My personal favorite movie take on Wells is The Island of Lost Souls (1932). Arguably, however, his most famous novels were War of the Worlds (adapted into okay but flawed films in 1953 and in 2005) and The Time Machine (adapted most famously in 1960 and 2002).

It's right behind me, isn't it.

It’s right behind me, isn’t it.

Originally published in 1895, The Time Machine, like most of H.G. Wells’ books was more a social commentary than straight up science-fiction. If Jules Verne was more about the possibilities and potential of science untethered, then Wells was brimming with parables condemning contemporary mores. In the story we meet the Time Traveler, a turn of the century man (like Wells himself) who gets the opportunity—via the eponymous time machine—to see what the world is destined to become.

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all…

In the future, the Time Traveler encounters two subdivisions of humanity. Evolution has divided the human race into the blissfully ignorant, childish, and decadent Eloi and the subterranean, industrial predators known as the Morlocks. Knowing a thing or two about Victorian classism helps illuminate what the tale is really about. The Eloi are the ultimate conclusion of the aristocracy—they care little and know less and they live lavish lifestyles with no work so they become ambitionless and infantile. The Morlocks are where the workers are headed—spending their entire lives in dehumanizing factories, never seeing the light of day. The irony is that in the Time Traveler’s era, the rich exploit the working class and in the future the rich have become the docile cattle for the cannibalistic proletariat.

While I like and dislike things about both the 1960 and the 2002 versions of The Time Machine, regrettably this cuttingly dark satirical element is never quite expressed in either.

time machine10

I miss you, Lolita.

The Good

The 1960 version of The Time Machine, directed by George Pal (War of the Worlds), stars Rod Taylor (The Birds) as the inventor. His Victorian gentlemen pals think he’s insane when he proposes the impossible idea of time travel. Sebastion Cabot (The Jungle Book) and Alan Young (Mr. Ed) memorably play two of his skeptical friends. It is through Young’s character (Filby), the sensitive and affable bookend, that gives this film the heart it needed.

The time travel sequences themselves are great and wonderfully executed (copious usage of stop-motion and time-lapse photography). The wild plains, vegetation-overgrown minimalist future-buildings, and the Morlock sphinxes are atmospheric and good as well.

Filby and  VOX

Filby and VOX

The 2002 version also has some good points to it. It was directed by H.G.’s great-grandson, Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt), and starred Guy Pearce (Memento). They up the stakes a tad by giving the inventor a deep, personal reason for building the time machine: his girlfriend is killed by a mugger. At first he goes back in time to save her, but he cannot seem to change the past. If he averts danger once she will only be killed in a different way. He then travels forward in time to the future to find the answer to why he cannot change the past.

This premise is actually pretty good. Like the 1960 movie, he stops in the near future first and witnesses the effects of war and progress, but he also meets a holographic librarian (Orlando Jones) who helps provide necessary exposition and some subtle comic relief. The librarian character is totally new and I actually think he services and amplifies the story in an innovative way.

Again, the time travel sequences are really well done (this time with computerized special effects). The impressive images and swelling score captures the breadth of change on a cultural and geological scale.

1.21 gigawatts?!

1.21 gigawatts?!

Lastly, the Time Machine itself. Both films feature similar designs for the title apparatus. Both feature a barbershop chair, home-made doorknob cranks, a spinning mechanical calendar, and a huge disc positioned behind the passenger. Rod Taylor’s machine looks a bit like a steampunk swamp-mobile and Guy Pearce’s incorporates two large, spinning thingies that create a time envelope around the entire machine (looks like a shiny, giant hamster ball). Seriously, both time machine designs are awesome.

The Bad

I insist both films have some great setups and great gadgets and both Time Travelers are played by fine actors and both have at least one solid supporting cast member. Their depictions of Victorian England/New York are well done and the time travel sequences are fantastic. But then we get to the future. Both Time Travelers make a few pleasant and intriguing stops along the way before the year 802,701 AD, but once at their final destination the films seem to be on autopilot.

time machine comparison 2

Everything leading up to 802,701 had been changed or expanded upon from the original novel. The changes were appropriate and added dimension and soul. But Wells’ future loses all social significance in both films and the filmmakers (George Pal and Simon Wells) seem unsure of what to do with the Eloi and the Morlocks and the context of two opposing races of humans where one feeds on the other.

While neither film gets the Eloi or the Morlocks quite right, the 1960 version does come closer. Both versions insist on making the Eloi too human, while the book describes them as nonverbal alien babies with no long-term or short-term memory. But all movies seem to require romance and since he cannot fall in love with a Morlock, the Time Traveler naturally develops feelings for an Eloi girl (Weena, played by Yvette Mimieux in 1960 and Mara, played by Samantha Mumba in 2002). In the 1960 version, Rod Taylor gets appropriately frustrated with the Eloi and eventually pities them and their broken culture. In 2002, Guy Pearce is just innocently learning the ways of a somewhat naive but defined culture that vaguely resembles Native American societies. . . or Ewoks.

Mumba vs. Mimieux

I understand why they humanized the Eloi so much. The filmmakers probably don’t think an audience would go for our protagonist being truly alone with no real good guys versus bad guys. That said, the Morlocks also suck. 1960 has blue, dopey sumo guys with furry arms and lovehandles—but their eyes do glow! They also get killed way too easily to be scary, but at least their design in more interesting than in the 2002 version.

time machine morlocks

The newer movie has boring, beige, gorilla-like Morlocks that are big but not scary. . . until we meet the Uber-Morlock, played by Jeremy Irons (The Mission). Irons is the smartest person in this future and he is able to relate all the horrors of the past few millenia and even is able to answer the Time Traveler’s question. Unfortunately he only has about 5 minutes of screentime and his character feels tacked on (because the movie needed a clear villain).

The 1960 version has a Rod Serling-esque nightmare Eloi harvest. A siren calls the complacent Eloi to parade quietly into the Morlock sphinxes. It is an inbred Pavlovian memory of the air-raid sirens that told their ancestors to flee underground. The 2002 update rips off The Planet of Apes (1968) round up scene. Big guys in suits chase and capture dudes who look like extras from Apocalypto.

time machine12

Stand back. There’s a giant Bugs Bunny around here somewhere.

Ultimately

I actually like both films to a degree. I really do enjoy the George Pal version from 1960, despite a weaker third act (that is somewhat resurrected through Morlock massacre and Filby’s adorable conclusion back in the past). The structure is good and it’s a very well done science-fiction film that just loses its way ever so slightly after 802,701 AD. It’s a solid movie that might underplay the social satire and not do justice to the Eloi or the Morlocks, but it makes up for it with great characters, atmosphere, and pleasant bookends.

And that's how I did it.

And that’s how I did it.

The Simon Wells 2002 adaptation has a solid and thoughtful beginning and setup that unfortunately devolves into a weak action movie after 802,701. It royally screws up the Eloi and removes the darkness from the Morlocks (with the exception of the added Jeremy Irons character in the homsetretch). It doesn’t totally work, but it doesn’t totally suck either. It just can’t consistently deliver the goods the way it should.

For all their flaws, both movies have some charm, pleasing eye candy, and add some of their own intriguing elements to Wells’ original novel. The Morlocks as depicted in Wishbone were better, but I’d still recommend checking out these guys again.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” August 30th, 2013.

The Amazing Movie Mash Up Game 2

  • Remember when we did this? The Amazing Movie Mash Up Game? You know the rules, but here’s how Dave started us off:
    “Let’s play a game. Combine movie titles and their plots! For example 301 Dalmatians: A small group of dogs must defend themselves against an invading Persian army that wants to use their spotted coats to make clothes. Or I Spit on Your Grave of the Fireflies: Orphaned after the bombing of Hiroshima, a young boy and his infant sister maim and torture the American soldiers responsible for killing their parents.”
    This time maybe wasn’t quite as classy and epic as its original incarnation, but like all worthy sequels it offers new things for hungry appetites.
    David Halberstadt Ocean’s Thirteen Assassins: Thirteen thieves, led by a battle-worn samurai, go through a series of complicated twists and turns in order to kill the evil casino owner who betrayed their friend.
    Hannah Seven Brides for Seven Samurai: Warriors kidnap promising young women from a mountain village. They sing, they fight, they burn things down. Only three of the marriages last more than a few days.
    Chris Forrest on Fire: Forrest Gump: mentally handicapped ex special-ops, takes on the role as the personal driver for a wealthy family’s six-year-old girl in corrupt Mexico City. When the girl is kidnapped for ransom, Forrest goes on a killing spree, hunting down each person responsible.
    GregoryThe Assassination of Jesse James and the Giant Peach: Trying to escape the tyranny of his two wicked aunts, a wanted bank robber decides to escape to New York City in an over-sized piece of fruit.
    Daros I Know What You Did Last Samurai: Four teenagers attempting to cover up a hit-and-run escape to Japan to train an Imperial Army. They join up with the Samurai villagers and learn about their traditions and codes in a race to figure out who’s killing them off one by one.
    David Halberstadt The Matrix Step Up Revolutions: Neo must face an army of land developing robots in an epic dance-off for the fate of humanity.
    David Halberstadt – The Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is Not Enough: In 1805, a young man just out of the Royal Navy, seeking direction in his life, joins a cult led by a mysterious man who cannot feel pain.
    AllisonBattle Casino Royale: A kidnapped group of Japanese schoolchildren must face off against the world’s wealthiest poker players in a gory televised event where the goal is to avoid being slaughtered by your machete-wielding friends long enough to play one final game of Texas hold’em.
    Andrew Bowcock  – The Jungle 2 Jungle Book of Eli: Tim Allen finds out he has a son named Mowgli (played daringly by Mila Kunis) from the tropics, but when he arrives to retrieve his son he must become mankind’s only hope for surviving the post-apocalypse from marauders and a crazy Gary Oldman. Also, he carries a bible (or something like that) around.
    Kevin  Singin’ In The Rain Man: Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt’s cannibal savant brother swallows three classic era Hollywood movie stars whole. They attempt to make the transition to talking pictures while inside his belly.
    Andrew BowcockHorton Hears a Doctor Who Framed Roger Rabbit Hole: a giant elephant with keen auditory senses picks up on the screams of a dying society (or so he thinks) — which turns out to be just the roaring of the Tardis as the Doctor arrives, placed in a fake scandal with Jessica Rabbit, in order to get close to the foul play surrounding the case of Roger Rabbit. As it turns out, the discovery of genocide of the ‘toons results in the tragic collateral death of a young boy, whose mother Becca (Nicole Kidman), becomes a candidate for Doctor’s new companion, as her son’s death may wreak havoc upon the fabric of the universe.
    Dan  –Secondhand Lion King Kong: An awkward teenager goes to live with his two uncles after his father Mufasa is killed in a freak wildebeest accident caused by a gigantic, power-hungry gorilla.
    Burrello SubmarineXXXcalibur: Vin Diesel is an extreme sports athlete who must take the council of the wise Merlin to embrace his destiny and become a government agent of the knights of the round table.
    Burrello Submarine Alice: Woody Allen directs this nightmarish stop-motion comedy about a horse skull attached to a miniature hansom cab who visits a stuffed rodent who changes her perespective on life. Neurotic nonsense ensues.
    Burrello SubmarineSwimming Pool with Sharks to Cambodia: A sexy crime drama about a naive temp and his sadistic sociopathic publisher in Hollywood enacted entirely by Spalding Grey alone at a desk.
    Dan Dunston Checks Inception: An orangutan causes hijinks in a fancy hotel, only to discover that a rival is attempting to break into his subconscious.
    Kris  Die Hard Days Night of the Living Dead: While attempting to escape from the throngs of obsessive Los Angeles fans, Four “Moptop Kids From Liverpool” take shelter in the Nakatomi B.
    Burrello Submarine – Don’t be a Dennis the Fantômas Tollbooth Menace to Southland Tales from the Crypt Central While You Were Drinking Your Beetlejuice in the Boyz n the Leprechaun in the Robin Hood Mystery Men in Tights: the Wayans Brothers play misfit superheroes in this send up of the classic Hank Ketchum adaptation of the original Mel Brooks 1913 version of the first Star Wars prequel based on the popular horror comic book series that was later adapted into a cryptic science fiction fable about the end of the world wherein the ghost with the most grows up on the mean streets of an animated limerick-filled Los Angeles while it is plagued by a malevolent Irish imp in a coma. It’s silent, but in French.
    Kris The Importance of Being Ernest Goes to Jailhouse Rock: In a modern take on the Oscar Wilde classic, Jim Varney reprises his classic role of Ernest P. Worrell in a film that sees everyone’s favorite accident prone yokel nearly destroy the Broadway adaptation of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ when he leaves the show’s lead, the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator, in traction. Facing both lawsuits and jail time, Ernest’s only option is to take on the role with just over a week before opening night.
    Burrello SubmarineThat’s My Boy in the Plastic Bubba Hotel Rwanda: a geriatric Adam Sandler thinks he’s Elvis and must reunite with his son, John Travolta, who suffers from a rare disease that relegates him to a life inside an oxygen tent while an evil Pharaoh’s ghost persecutes the Tutsis.
    David Halberstadt – Metetropolis: Francis Ford Coppola directs this touching sci-fi drama film about a man who finds his long lost brother’s play and decides to stage it using human-like robots but the working class citizens rebel and the opening night is a disaster.
    Dan Good Will Hunting for Red October Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Never Dies: A janitor at Harvard University is discovered to be a secret genius who left his small, West Virginia coal mining town to build rockets and futuristic war machines. He is then recruited by MI6 to locate a Soviet submarine. He finds the sub, ends the war, and scores a beautiful woman’s phone number.
    Andrew Bowcock The Dark City Knight Rises of the Planet Terror of the Apes: Bruce Wayne wakes up in a strange tub, only to discover that an alien race is experimenting on people researching  intelligent apes who in turn retaliate against their captors by becoming zombies. The alpha-male ape (Bane) is one strong, scary SOB.
    David Halberstadt Batman and Robin Returns Forever: Batman battles villains who get progressively sillier as the movie goes on. Robin joins up with The World’s Greatest Detective but the effect of everybody’s cartoonish wackiness begins to rub off on The Dark Knight as he struggles to hold on to the last shred of dignity he has left. But an even darker enemy looms. One who could break The Caped Crusader’s back for at least eight years: The Bat Nipples.
    Burrello SubmarineJust Because of My Winnipeg Dixie: a precocious pooch’s charms lead to murder in the deep south. Now Sean Connery must film his way out of the saddest city in Canada in time to solve the crime in this ripoff of “Cape Fear.”
    Kris  End of Days of Thunderballs of Fury: Tom Cruise reprises his role as hotheaded driver Cole Trickle, who along with his car’s Owner (Sean Connery), Crew Chief (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Childhood Friend/Pit Crewman (Dan Fogler) are forced to compete in the world’s most deadly Stock Car Race/Ping-Pong Match for the fate of the world against International Supervillain, Thunderballs (Christopher Walken), who gained his power after striking a deal with Satan (Tom Jones*).
    David HalberstadtNo Country for Grizzly Old Children of Men: In a world where women have become infertile and all hope for a future has been lost, Timothy Treadwell takes it upon himself to protect the first baby born in over 20 years but he soon finds himself on the run from the evil Chigurh who chases them across Texas. Ironically, the very baby that he was protecting kills Treadwell in a climactic gun battle… that happens entirely off-screen.
    David Halberstadt – Murderballs of the Fast and the Furious: In this inspiring documentary, a police detective must go undercover to infiltrate a dangerous gang of wheelchair-bound ping-pong players to uncover their secret operation and get revenge on the man who crippled his own father.
    David Halberstadt 50/50 Shades of the Grey: A young woman falls in love with a cancer-stricken wolf in the Alaskan wilderness. They have weird, kinky sex and discuss their differing viewpoints on death.
    Abe About a OldBoy: Hugh Grant stars in this heartwarming comedy about a man who spends his days locked in his room watching television, but when a kid enters his life, he learns to live outside the room and eat live squid.
    Burrello SubmarineLike Practical Magic Mike: outcast witches develop a spell that will make their murderous ventriloquist dummy (played by Lil’ Bow Wow) stop stripping and play basketball really well so they can find love and kill Burgess Meredith all whilst wetting the theater seats.
    Andrew Bowcock Something’s Gattaca Give: A biologically superior Jack Nicholson’s mid-life crisis reaches its peak when he re-connects with his genetically mundane younger brother who prevents him from getting laid and going into space.
    Burrello Submarine Dirty Dancing Harry and the Henderson Potter: the Spanish The Prisoner of Zenda: someone thinks retired secret agent bigfoot looks just like a strange royal so they con him into becoming a cop, but dad won’t let him dance.
    Andrew Bowcock – FitzCarsaldo: A wealthy, hot-shot, opera-obsessed anthropomorphic car gets fed up with his boring peers and convinces jungle natives to help him drag his ship over a hill so he can avoid some dangerous rapids up ahead. He gets a flat tire in the process.
    Andrew Bowcock MatchPointStick Men Who Stare at Goats in Black Swan Narcissus: An OCD con-man takes up tennis in England, contemplating the murder of his secret lover’s significant other. In order to get away with the crime with ease, he receives training from army vets who claim to have paranormal powers. Meanwhile, his lover (a schizophrenic ballet dancer) grows increasingly paranoid, and decides to skip town and join a convent in the Himalayas, but that goes terribly wrong and leads to her suicide.
    Nate A Clockwork Orange County: An overachieving high schooler mistakenly enlists in an ultra-violence gang.
    Nate The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Duckling: An emotionally abused swan joins with a posse of outlaws searching for Confederate gold.
    Nate The Emerald Forrest Gump: A mentally challenged war veteran is abducted by an aboriginal tribe on the edge of an Amazon rainforest. His love, Jenny, spends the next 10 years searching for him.
    Nate – The Shawshank Raid: Redemption (A SWAT team becomes entrapped in a high security penitentiary full of decent, patient men.
    Nate Se7en Brides for Seven Brothers: A group of singing backwoodsman are hunted by a religiously motivated serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his inspiration.
    Burrello Submarine – The Pink Cadillac Man Who Fell from Deep Rising River Runs Through It Came from Outer Space from Earth Girls are Easy A Night at the Phantom of the Operation: Endgame to Remember the Titans A. E.: Lost horny aliens are stranded and trying to fix their spaceship, but they need to sell 12 cars to an integrated high school football team who are also cannibals. When the Marx Brothers sink the Titanic on it’s maiden voyage to Montana it’s up to aliens to spread rumors in school to figure out which one of their corporation’s employees is betraying everyone to a tough bail bondsman. The irony is that the aliens started the corporation. As the ship sinks a ravenous monster begins devouring the passengers. Also Earth is destroyed in the beginning.
    Burrello SubmarineThe Descent of a Woman in Lizard’s Skin I Live in Fear In: a blind Al Pacino, deathly afraid of an impending nuclear war, takes his Italian family into cave where he dreams he surgically replicates his dead wife out of cave-dwelling mutants.
    Burrello SubmarineThe Bridge Too Far on the River Kwaidan: Sean Connery tries to stop Alec Guinness from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge replica he built in WWII Germany by telling him ghost stories.
    David Halberstadt Susturbira: A teenager under house arrest spies on a neighboring ballet school and witnesses a horrible, brightly colored murder. He soon suspects that the school is actually run by a coven of witches.
    Burrello SubmarineAnd the Band’s Visit Played Onibaba the Silverado Globe: gay Egyptian cowboys in haunted space Poland get lost and have to live several generations before AIDS finally kills the demon possessed Israeli mask. Also Kevin Costner plays a Japanese guy.
    David HalberstadtNew Year’s Valentine’s Day: A bunch of actors you know hang out and get paychecks.
    Burrello SubmarineLawnmower Man with the Golden Gunga Din-dza-dzatoichi: the Blindside Swordsmanitou: James Bond is stranded on a racist planet that doesn’t see an Indian waterboy as an equal so he corrects their misconception by tormenting them with a centuries old sword-wielding Native American spirit he captures in virtual reality. Can he get back to Moscow in time for the swashbuckling finale?
    David HalberstadtMy Neighbor Totorobocop: Two young girls move to Detroit and have adventures with a robotically enhanced police officer.
    Burrello Submarine Everything Putney Swope Together: when her baby dies the CEOs ironically hires her to run the company, but her black American ideas tainted by her recent loss swiftly change the tone of network television.
    Burrello Submarine The Shadow Warriors of Virtue of the Interview with a Vampire Batman Return to Rhinoceroz: Bruce Wayne hires a destitute Alec Baldwin (with an uncanny resemblance to the Caped Crusader) to take his place not realizing he is the Shadow and also requires human blood to live. Dwight Frye plays a persecuted simpleton who gets trapped in a film world somewhere over the rainbow where perfectly ordinary people are transforming into cantankerous pachyderms in an unwieldy flashback social satire about kangaroo ninjas.
    David HalberstadtBaby’s Grand Blow Out of the African Villiage Queen of the Damned: After her baby is kidnapped on the moon, and with only a sound recording as evidence of an inside job, a plantation owner hires a surly boat captain to track her baby to a small town filled with alien children who play vampire-raising rock music.
    David HalberstadtThere Will Be Blood Diamonds are Forever Young Gunzatoichi: the Blind Swordsman Who Wasn’t There Will Be Blood: Prospector Daniel Plainview finds an immaculate diamond and special agent James Bond, who has recently awoken from a 50 year cryogenic sleep, must enlist the help of Billy the Kid to protect the diamond from a murderous cult of telepathic aliens, led by the blind barber and prospector Daniel Plainview… …
    Andrew Bowcock The Rescuers Falling Black Hawk Downfall Underworld: Two adventurous mice think their albatross friend is bringing them to Australia, but it turns out he’s a disgruntled middle-aged bird on the edge of sanity, and ends up crash landing in Somalia where after surviving a bloody firefight they all encounter a goofy submarine crew who turns out to be a secret vampire society harboring Hitler.
    David Halberstadt The Moone: Sam Rockwell plays a lone astronaut working on the moon. He is nearing the end of his three year job but it turns out that he is not alone. He discovers that another version of himself has come from an alternate dimension to kill him so he can absorb his energy and grow stronger.
    Burrello Submarine Used Cars Too Mr. Wong Foo Thanks for Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sexy Beast of Yucca Flatland That Time Machine Forgotten Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams That All That Money Can Good-Buy Mr. Chipsmunks: a cryptic and violent anime documentary that takes place in a dinosaur and Nazi-filled future in a lesser dimension about a radioactive Ben Kingsley that terrorizes three drag queens after they make a deal with the devil to explain their nightmares regarding a Chinese Boris Karloff selling secret agent automobiles while their rodent trio counterparts reflect back on their years as they approach retirement and end their lives as ejaculate.
    Burrello SubmarineSchindler’s Lisztomania: a sexually charged psychedelic retelling of the courageous acts of a horny musician in Nazi Germany.
    Burrello SubmarineHoward the Westworld Duck Soup was Wonderful Life of Piano Tuner of Earthquantum of Solaris Stood Still Smokin Aces Ventura: When Harry Foxy and the Brown Met Salem’s the Lottery Ticket, Take the Moneyball and Blade Running Manhattan Murder by Death Becomes Her Mystery Science Theater 301 Birth of a Dalmational Lampoonmee Who can Totall Recall His Blast from the Past Tree of Life of Timothy the Big Soylent Green Mile You were Sleeper Hollow Man with the Golden Children of the Damned Pride of the Yankees Largo Western the Front Christmas Mr. Hugo’s 2 Holidays in Paris, Texas of Thunder-the-Birds Are Gone Fishin’ with the Wind: A wise-cracking cocaine-addicted space waterfowl who is also a vampire, recently appointed head of state, is sentenced to a life in prison (for pecking children at a birthday party) by a racist judicial system of Jewish mathematicians on Christmas Eve. He befriends a large, gentle Thai gentleman who is magic and likes to mock schlocky movies. His aging silent mentor proves he can still stick it to the man as long as they are only automata replicants who may or may not be secret agents. Gort must wander through the wilderness to convince his wife living in black and white New York City that she is no longer living underground with robot cowboys who can’t dream about life in the Civil War south. Alone on a boat with only a tiger and a bilingual Lou Gehrig, cannibal soccer player Chevy Chase must lose the lottery to stay alive or come back as a host to haunt marching band cellist, Bruce Willis, who is plagued by memories of an overbearing father who came from the garden. An invisible African horseman with no head makes racial stereotypes of the Senate on a daytrip to the beach before attacking Persia against the council of shell-shocked WWI vets who stalk Georges Melies from future LA Chinatown. Meanwhile a subterranean death tournament wherein an astronomical number of spotted pure-bred gangster puppies must survive a typhoon and overcome hallucinations surrounding past lovers who formerly starred in Lethal Weapon II-IV. And a racecar driving cowboy Eddie Murphy uses computers to prove that you can in fact have sex with marionettes and still be friends.
    Burrello SubmarineMosquito Ghost Rider: after a horrific accident Harrison Ford rides a motorcycle to South America where he tries to construct a giant ice machine to keep his skull from continuously catching fire.
    Burrello SubmarineThe Motorcycle Diaries of a Mad Anne Frank Woman: Tyler Perry presents the true story about Che Guevara rescuing Anne Frank and then riding around on bikes deciding what life is really about.
    Burrello SubmarineThe Great White Noises Off: Michael Keaton is an African American boxer whose in-the-ring persona is comically at odds with who he is behind the scenes. Also ghosts.
     Burrello Submarine Angel Heart of Glass: Robert de Niro is hypnotized into thinking he is Satan. As a result of this movie Bill Cosby never speaks with Werner Herzog again.
    Burrello SubmarineCaptain Horatio 400 Hornblows: a troubled youngster embarks on a high seas adventure of petty thievery during the Napoleonic Wars.
    Burrello SubamarineThe Secret Window of Walter Mitty’s Arietty Garden: in a chilly English castle, orphan Danny Kaye daydreams he is haunted by a rogue band of diminuative people who accuse him of stealing their story about the Laws of Attraction.
    Burrello Submarine The Abduction of Zach and Miri Make a Big Green Porno: amateurish juvenile soccer player and secret agent, Taylor Lautner, is kidnapped by an irrationally drawn Isabella Rosselini who insists on filming giant puppet bugs mating with the lad in order to make some extra cash before the big game.
    Burrello SubmarineMetropolistan: in a densely envisioned dystopic future a heavy science fiction epic parables the class divisions and the alienating treatment of workers in Weimar Republic Germany as realized by a bunch of preppies dressing in fancy clothes and talking to each other in different social settings.
    Burrello Submarine Poprika: Robert Altman weirdly creates a Japanese animated musical about a beloved sailor man who gets trapped in a colorful dream world of Carrollian proportions.
    I got a little carried away. Also everyone else got bored with the game.
    Does anybody else wanna add some titles in the comments section??? Come at me, bra.
    Long live Movie Nerd-dom.

Syndrome Be Damned

Director Duane Graves put together a pleasant little film portrait of his close friend in 1999. This documentary does not boast a large budget, sleek editing, beautiful high definition photography, or even a hard-hitting political message. It merely presents his friend, Rene Moreno, as a focal point for our attention. Duane Graves is simply an amateur filmmaker who recognized an interesting subject when he saw it, and Rene Moreno, in addition to being a fascinating microcosm for the Down Syndrome community, is just a natural-born entertainer. This is Up Syndrome (2000).

There exists a mythical bond between Duane and Rene. They met when they were both younger. Duane’s mother told him that Rene had Down Syndrome, which baffled the young Duane because Rene didn’t seem down at all, he seemed happy. This is a fine beginning as it reveals the innocence that can destroy preconceptions about Down Syndrome. Duane got a camera as a present and together with Rene, made several horror home movies and their friendship grew. The documentary picks up again with Rene at age 23 in the summer following his graduation. Rene Moreno is a resident of San Antonio, Texas, a die-hard Spurs fan, and employee of the local grocery store. And Rene can really tell a story.

The film does not have a plot, but rather it presents a collection of mini-scenes and moments. Rene tells the camera important things about himself and shows us the things that matter to him. We become attached to this unpretentious, charismatic individual and we come to realize that we enjoy listening to him and spending time with him. He eagerly awaits the arrival of his sister’s baby so he can be an uncle. He humorously impersonates the kids from his class at school. He shoots off fireworks on the Fourth of July. He demonstrates some pretty slick bowling moves as well as karate punches on an unassuming reclining chair. He strums guitar and sings. He recounts the funeral after his grandfather died. He informs us that his girlfriend has broken up with him. He is saddened when he loses his job and cannot find another one. He prays over lottery tickets and asks God for a job. And he longingly stares into the darkened windows of his old school building and reflects on all the teachers in his yearbook he misses.

Rene Moreno’s desire for independence and to help and have belonging is an important one. He does not want his mother to think of him as a baby forever. Rene wants to grow up. This dilemma is a significant issue because sometimes society appears unwilling or unsure of how to help integrate people with learning disabilities into the working world. Are Rene’s ambitions too big? What are people like Rene supposed to do after their school career comes to a close? Sadly, many people with Down Syndrome and other problems are left in limbo and this is something that is given a very personal, human face in Up Syndrome. Rene Moreno demonstrates humor, imagination, affection, innocence, pride, and joyfulness, but there is an important social issue beneath the surface.

When I worked with children with special needs I recognized the problem that Up Syndrome pointed out. In a school environment everyone is encouraged to learn and interact and play and develop, with some kids’ curriculums even tailor made just for them based on their abilities. The school is safe and full of growing, but what happens next? Duane’s documentary is a fascinatingly intimate one-on-one with Rene Moreno, but he is mostly left to his own devices as his schooling is done and he attempts to acclimate to life outside. After a much enjoyed class reunion where Rene gets to see many of his old friends back in school and dance with everybody, we wonder what adjustments all of these other young people are having to make too. There is not enough support and encouragement beyond the school system to help people like Rene become happy contributors to society and culture. Don’t think they can contribute to society or culture? Then consider celebrated artist Judith Scott, she was deaf and had Down Syndrome and her story can be seen in the 2006 documentary, Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott. Scott’s incredible sculptures are compelling and very evocative and representative of the separation and longing she felt for her fraternal twin sister. Scott’s work provides a unique insight as to what the world looks like from a completely foreign perspective. People with Down Syndrome are valuable and important too. Duane Graves certainly believes that, and Rene certainly is a ball of life to contend with. Sadly, according a 2008 UK News article, research states that “92 percent of women who receive an antenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome decide to terminate the pregnancy. This proportion has not changed since 1989.”

Perhaps there is a fear. Perhaps we do not know what to do with these people. Rene Moreno might be limited in some ways, but aren’t we all? Tough issues, but the film remains as optimistic as its subject. When the film takes the time to show Rene discussing his understanding of death and considers his own death in the future, and then goes on to show him reveling in playing cop in a parked car in the garage and using his hand as a gun (complete with exciting sound effect track!), we, the viewer, get the full spectrum of human emotion. Rene Moreno is a dynamic ball of entertainment and his comfortableness with his friend Duane Graves as director allows us to get closer to his soul than we might have been able to with someone else at the helm.

Towards the end of the film Rene becomes an uncle and shares a precious moment holding the new baby. The tenderness is magical. After all the small moments and big moments that we have shared with Rene Moreno it is time to say goodbye. We have gotten a glimpse into Rene’s world. What defines a human being’s worth? Just the limits of his intellect? Certainly not. I smiled and laughed along with Rene and Duane as they joked around with each other and I thought about some of Rene’s faith and philosophical advice. As the curtain closes on this charming little movie, Rene takes a moment to tell us, “No drinking and no smoking.” So what is there to be down about? I’d say Duane Graves’ life has been brought up from his friendship with Rene.

http://www.trisomyfilms.com/links.html

http://www.screenjunkies.com/

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” May 13, 2011

The Other Toy Story

Nighty night.

Nighty night.

Jiří Barta is renowned as a master of stop-motion animation. He is hailed alongside fellow Czech animator, Jan Švankmajer. He has also had a dickens of a time getting a new movie made, but he has finally done it. Jiří Barta’s latest creation, the feature film In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today? (2009) (aka Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny?) [update: recently released on DVD in the US with English dubbing under the title Toys in the Attic], is a wonderfully imaginative fairytale adventure. I was blessed enough to see it for the LA premiere at the Silent Movie Theater for their animation festival.

Scenes from Golem.

Scenes from Golem.

Some of the most innovative animators in the world seem to be coming from Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Eastern Europe. Names like Yuriy Norshteyn (Tale of Tales), Alexander Petrov (The Mermaid), Karel Zeman (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne), Ivan Maximov (From Left to Right), Jiří Trnka (The Cybernetic Grandma), George Pal (Tubby the Tuba and Puppetoons), Jan Balej (One Night in One City), Ivan Ivanov-Vano (The Battle of Kerhzenets), Jan  Švankmajer (Dimensions of Dialogue), Władysław Starevich (The Mascot), and Barta are all names to look out for. If any of these names are mere foreign words to you, then you definitely need to check out some of their brilliant work.

Stop-motion rat corpses. Seriously.

Stop-motion rat corpses. Seriously.

In the Attic represents Jiří Barta’s return to stop-motion animation after several years of trying to get his failed Golem project off the ground (and the small amount of footage he did produce for Golem is nothing short of staggering). Barta has achieved much recognition for his enchanting short animated films (many of which can be seen in the excellent Barta DVD compilation Labyrinth of Darkness), but has completed only one previous featurelength movie, The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1985). Unlike the dark, gnarled near-nightmarescape of Pied Piper, however, In the Attic is a far gentler film and made to be appreciated by children.

Check out Pied Piper, it is also quite good.

Barta’s newest movie is a richly textured, quiet, and tranquil story punctuated by some fun action and brilliant cinematic innovation and magic. At heart In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today? is a light rescue movie filled with fun characters, exciting peril, cross-country journeys, and wild vehicles. It is the story of old toys in an attic and although the subject matter might remind you of Pixar’s Toy Story, the dazzling inventions will hearken back to Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit adventures, while the style remains more reminiscent of the opening of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and some things dreamed up by the Brothers Quay or Švankmajer. In the Attic might remind you of all of these things, but it is all Jiří Barta.

Choo choo.

Choo choo.

The story is simple and sublime and despite being geared at children it does have some potent anti-communist political themes. It takes place, quite aptly, in an attic—the rest of the title comes from the recurring gimmick of the characters rolling the dice every morning to decide whose birthday they will celebrate that day. Buttercup is a sweet little doll who lives in an old trunk in the attic along with her friends; the sleep-loving Teddy, a tattered stuffed bear; the quixotic Sir Handsome, a battered and delusional marionette; and the feisty Schupert, a ball of clay with a pencil nose. She cooks and cleans for them and the boys go off to work on the railroad or fight inflatable alligators and all is idyllic tranquility (so women’s lib). Indeed, I was beaming with delight and my smile could not be suppressed by the sheer cuteness of the whole spectacle.

Buttercup.

Buttercup.

Naturally, conflict must enter in on the scene and disturb the quaintness of it all (unless you happen to be Hayao Miyazaki, who doesn’t seem to require villains to tell a great story). A mechanical tube with a human-like eyeball spies the peaceful lives of the attic denizens, reporting back to its master via an old television set that is obsessively monitored by a ruthless, old, cigar-chomping, golden bust with Hunter S. Thompson shades and an entourage of bugs and mismatched bits of rubbish. The tarnished voyeur spies Buttercup in her tatterdemalion serenity and concludes that he must have her for himself. Perhaps he thought of it himself or perhaps the nasty earwig with spectacles and a Dalí mustache who whispers wicked things into the head’s ear put the idea in his brain.

The puppet master?

The puppet master?

The evil golden head deploys hordes of beetles to terrorize poor Buttercup and hires a house cat to don clothing and trick the doll girl into stumbling into his bent corner of the attic. Once inside the land of evil, Buttercup is placed under arrest until she agrees to wed the head. She is forced to clean out the furnace all day and all night while the head’s cronies only dump more soot and ash on top of her whenever she gets done. Buttercup remains defiant to all of the head’s advances.

The dark part of the attic (a la postwar East Germany).

The dark part of the attic (a la postwar East Germany).

Back on the other end of the attic, Sir Handsome and Teddy discover their beloved Buttercup is missing. Together they start on a quest to bring her back from the land of evil. A brave lady mouse—who runs the attic radio—tinkers together to construct a flying machine out of an old vacuum cleaner and other discarded junk. She and a plump piglet toy band together with all of the other little toys and scraps (mostly wooden chess pieces) and fly out to meet Teddy and Sir Handsome who are already well on their way.

Pillows bloom and rise out of old dressers and steadily rise only to link together and snow on them like big, fluffy clouds. The cat opens up a wardrobe unleashing an inundation of blue sheets, cloaks, and fabrics to represent a terrible flood for the traversing toys. Most of the perils are truly imaginative and, yes, adorable.

What fun.

What fun.

At last our heroes meet up together, but then are plagued by more moth-eaten horrors sent by the golden head in the land of evil. The golden head has spies everywhere and will not tolerate simple toys trespassing on his side of the attic, nor will he risk Buttercup’s emancipation before he can brainwash her and make her his. Don’t worry. Things get hairy, but it all works out in the end and Barta has more animation tricks up his sleeve to share before this delightful excursion comes to a pleasing finale.

The Head.

The Head.

Jiří Barta’s In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today? is a beautiful film with much to love and to look at. It is sweet and charming and full of imagination and quirky gimmicks—like Teddy’s vanity when he shines his nose and brushes his teeth incessantly or Schubert’s battle to stay in one piece during a rainstorm on the roof—and the entire family is sure to enjoy it. I do admit that I love the Toy Story movies, but there is a big difference between these films and much of it has to do with the animation style. The slick and beautiful computer generated world of Toy Story is colorful and complex and it reminds me of certain toys I had growing up, but In the Attic is rich like a quilt made by your great-great grandmother. The characters of In the Attic feel like toys that always were. Where Toy Story’s characters are more like adults who understand the preciousness of the love of a child and depend on it yet banter and reason like grownups, In the Attic’s characters are independent and have the personalities and subtleties that only a child would give them during playtime. In addition to actually being three-dimensional they behave as I would imagine toys would behave had they lives outside of a child’s imagination.

Teddy brushing his teeth.

Teddy brushing his teeth.

All in all In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today? is a rare treat. It’s a completely innocent child’s fairytale full of adventure and friendship. It’s rich in nostalgia and imagination and it’s really cute. As I sat in the theater and let the simple, dully colored, tattered figures do their dance, I wanted to believe in this attic universe. It felt like how I always imagined my grandfather’s basement to be when I was a kid. His basement was full of old gadgets, toys, objects, pictures, and furniture and I always suspected that whenever I turned off the lights that it had a mind of it own.

Schupert.

Schupert.

Although still not available on home video, I have since emailed the production company of this film and they have responded with hints of an English dub for re-release for British and American theaters and possibly a subsequent DVD/bluray release. Let us hope that we may soon obtain copies and curl up under an old blanket by the fire and watch it with our families. [Update: yeah, scratch all that. It’s out now].

Top 1o Reasons to See In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?

1. It’s an adorable movie the whole family can enjoy.

2. It marks a legendary animator’s return to his craft.

3. They travel by land, air, and sea on their quest.

4. The mechanisms and social structure designed by the characters in the film are really clever and fun to watch.

5. It has deeper political themes instead of tired pop-culture references for the adults in the audience.

6. Jiří Barta fashions an entire world with its own rules and it is a pleasure to admire.

7. It’s got it all: damsels in distress, heroes, villains, monsters, adventure, inventions, and comedy.

8. If Švankmajer’s Alice was too dark or weird for you then this is a good alternative.

9. Teddy’s cheeks when he smiles are so freaking cute!

10. There is a weird thing with a pocket watch toward the end that is amazingly cool.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” Dec. 13, 2010

Generic Belgian Boy Sleuth and the Quest for the Implausible Rube-Goldbergian Action Set Pieces

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)When I was a kid I loved The Adventures of Tintin. Hergé’s colorful, mystery-filled world was the perfect amalgam of The Hardy Boys, Johnny Quest, and Emil and the Detectives. I always preferred the boy reporter, Tintin, to Johnny Quest because of the cool time periods and atmosphere. The jury’s still out on whether Snowy is better than Bandit. It was everything a young boy loves: action, adventure, danger, mystery, and rapidly shifting exotic backdrops. Both the comics (published between 1929 and 1976) and the animated series from the early nineties are excellent fun.

Indiana Jones director, Steven Spielberg, it would seem should be the most logical choice to bring the beloved character to the big screen (with aid of one Peter Jackson). Sitting in the theater I can see where people might have some quibbles with the film adaptation. It is jam-packed with wild action sequences and gun play and explosions and very little character development and some of the old-timey flavor and sensibilities might not be what modern audiences are craving. Like most things, there are positive things about Tintin and then there are negative things.

For those uninitiated into the world of Belgian artist Hergé’s Tintin they might not experience that same surge of nostalgia. A film should not be dependent on that surge, especially for a character that might not be as familiar in the United States. Tintin is a flat character. He always was. Even in the comics. One is meant to be experiencing the adventures through Tintin’s eyes. He is a blank cypher so we can more readily assign our own personalities to him. It works in the comics when you’re a kid. This idea may not work so well on the big screen. Despite Tintin’s apparent innocuousness and infernal purity he still looks good on screen. Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Munich) plays the evil Professor Sakharine but his motivations are silly and he’s not a particularly memorable screen villain. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) are the bumbling identical detective set of Thomson and Thompson and they play the parts very true to the source material but they do not add much new. Fortunately not all of the characters are so bland. Andy Serkis (The Two Towers, Topsy-Turvy) gives an extremely enjoyable and kooky performance as Capt. Archibald Haddock.

The animation is incredible. I don’t generally like motion-capture films (with the exception of Gil Kenan’s Monster House) and I am not a fan of the current 3D trend, but most of my misgivings regarding motion-capture are gone for Tintin. The photo-realistic textures donned upon Hergé-inspired cartoon features actually work well and gone are the glassy-eyed stares that gave everyone the willies in Robert Zemekis’s Polar Express. The colors pop and the world looks sharp and clear. There is a healthy balance between characters who look real and characters who look like cartoons. Visually it all works. With animation the camera is able to go places and do things that would never be achievable in a live-action film. This glorious freedom of the camera unencumbered by logistics of any kind enables the filmmakers to film the action in incredibly new and exciting ways.One big complaint is that there is too much action. It is a smoke screen to disguise the thinness of plot and absence of engaging personalities. The action does become rather exhausting after awhile and towards the end of the movie I was wanting it to wrap up so I could go home. Instead of mood and solid atmosphere we get action. Instead of a clear objective and understandable character motivations we get action. It’s pretty much wall to wall action once it gets going. It reminded me of the first and last 20 minutes or so of Temple of Doom in that regard. I generally see 3D as a gimmick for rides and shows at Universal Studios or Busch Gardens so I treat The Adventures of Tintin as a big, long, exciting ride that features some of my favorite characters from my childhood. I do feel that although they really wanted this ride to be worth the cost of admission the spectacle does go on about ten minutes too long. I wanted a more satisfying and final conclusion.

So what do I really think about The Adventures of Tintin? I liked it. Thank God it’s not a pop-culture onslaught reboot like The Smurfs and such. It stays extremely true to its source material and would be a good escape for children young and old. Although it’s not nearly as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), in many ways it is everything Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was supposed to be but just outright refused to deliver. Perhaps Tintin is Spielberg’s apology and way of saying the whole Crystal Skull business was all George Lucas. For all its faults and limitations The Adventures of Tintin is a fun adventure that hearkens back to classic action-mystery stories of childhood yore. I don’t think Hergé would have had many objections to the film. I hope kids will like it. It’s about time American kids got a little bit more exposure to culture.

Iron Robot Transmatrix Short Circuit: Bride of the Judgment Day…the Musical

endhiran8A friend had randomly sent me a link to some wild scenes from a crazy Kollywood  movie (Indian film in Tamil rather than Hindi which would be Bollywood). Instantly smitten with the footage, we sought out the complete movie almost immediately and watched it in all of its absurd 3-hour long glory. This was no pensive and delicate Satyajit Ray tragedy epic. This was S. Shankar’s Endhiran(2010).

endhiran6If you saw Slumdog Millionaire and think you know Indian cinema, guess again. As my title playfully hints, Endhiran (aka Robot) is a bloated, mismatched hodge-podge of the Matrix movies, the Iron Man movies, the Terminator movies and whole mess of other American science-fiction action fantasy flicks. At the time it was the most expensive movie made in India and, although it’s pretty dumb, I found it to be more fun and more innovative than half of the films it was ripping off, and I don’t say this much (as I generally dislike the current gimmick of 3D) but I kinda wish Endiran was in 3D.

endhiran5Where to begin? Popular Indian actor, Rajinikanth, plays Dr. Vaseegaran, a brilliant scientist with good intentions (always), who creates an amazing humanoid robot (also played by Rajinikanth) named Chitti Babu after the famous Indian veena musician. The robot is fast, strong, powerful, super-smart, magnetic, charismatic, knows kung fu, and has the ability to seemingly ignore the laws of physics when the action calls for it. Chitti falls in love with Dr. Vaseegaran’s fiance, Sana (played by the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai), and so the jealous doctor destroys him and then the android’s battered parts find their way into the hands of the evil Dr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa). Things go wrong and the new evil Chitti kidnaps Sana and makes hundreds of deadly powerful duplicates of himself. It is up to Dr. Vaseegaran to rescue Sana, stop Chitti, and set the world right again. It takes the film 3 hours to convey this plot.

endhiran10There are plenty of amusing subplots that happen along the way. Two bickering lab technicians who helped construct Chitti try to play tricks on him. Dr. Bohra tries to disgrace Dr. Vaseegaran. Chitti helps Sana cheat on her doctor’s exam (that actually worries me a little). Chitti has an in-depth conversation with a colony of mosquitoes to prove his love for Sana. He even rescues several people from a burning building (a la Spiderman) but things go wrong when he rescues one girl from the fire who happens to be naked and she runs out in front of a speeding bus to commit suicide out of shame. The little naked girl suicide really kinda shifted the mood of the film for me, but Chitti makes up for it by immediately delivering a baby! Another recurring theme is that Sana keeps getting near-raped by greasy dudes. Really though, all of these minor plot points and small character adventures take a back seat to the fun action sequences.

Endhiran2Rajinikanth does a fine job playing the naive doctor and the charming but rigid Chitti and then the evil Chitti and all his duplicates. At over 60 years old—in addition to having one of the biggest age differences between himself and his onscreen love interest since High Noon—he had to do a lot of running around for these dual roles (and then some). Aishwarya Rai is very lovely to look at and you can tell she seems to be having fun as the much sought-after damsel in distress. But the special effects! I must be honest that the special effects are actually pretty good (much better than a lot of Indian films I’ve seen), but that’s not what makes them so great: it is the imagination they use to choreograph the super-stylized action and effects. Srinivas Mohan, visual effects supervisor, had his work cut out for him as so many scenes are little more than huge kaleidoscopes of digital engineering. ILM and Stan Winston Studios also lent their effects expertise to the film and the results are quite impressive. There is an excellent car chase to rival Matrix Reloaded and a smashing sequence in which the evil Chitti duplicates join together to form a death ball, a giant snake, a drill, and a huge dude (among other things) that might give Matrix Revolutions a run its money. Machine guns, explosions, car chases, robots, sunglasses, talking mosquitos, and Aishwarya Rai are just a few reasons to check this film out.

endhiran4And what Bollywood/Kollywood film would be complete without some wild song and dance numbers? The film travels all over the world for the many zany music video sequences (why they seem to be singing about Mount Kilamanjaro whilst dancing in Machu Picchu is beyond me, but whatever). From an American point of view these sequences can seem like a huge waste of time, but I actually enjoyed them. It reminded me that Endhiran was from a different culture with different values than that of the land that brought us Transformers. It let me enjoy the poofy hair and unusual clothing even more. I liked listening to the music and watching all the wildly dressed extras and extravagant backgrounds. This movie was made to be a show and I’d say they succeeded. One note on all the musical numbers I have comes from cultural ignorance and it is this: if they hadn’t drastically changed the setting for every song I don’t think I would have been able to tell them apart.

endhiranI mentioned a few times earlier that this movie is 3 hours long. At first that number startled us. Having seen the trailer and a few clips I wasn’t sure how such a fluffy action movie could stand to go on for so long. Seven Samurai this was not. Having said that, I will further attest to the miracle of editing. Endhiran is so frenetically cut together that we were all bewildered when we realized that what felt like 15 minutes turned out to be an hour. The pacing of this freight train of a film is vigorous to say the least. It’s also a bit disorienting at times, but I’d say that just adds to the absurd experience of watching this thing. At the end—and it does end well—it felt more like 90 minutes and we found ourselves wanting even more mayhem. What started out as an endurance test for foreign oddity transmogrified into an extremely pleasurable afternoon of entertainment.

endhiran3Top 10 Reason to See Endhiran/Robot

1. Playing a quirky, charismatic, multi-faceted superhero at Rajinikanth’s age earns him mad Ron Perlman Hellboy points.

2. Aishwarya ain’t too shabby.

3. Despite the language barrier it’s got some great super-cool action movie lines.

4. If you’ve never seen a Kollywood/Bollywood movie this is as good a place as any to start.

5. They spent a lot of money on this garbage so help these guys out.

6. Chitti looks like an obscene amalgam of Johnny Cash, Jon Belushi, and Deep Roy. I liked that. Maybe you will too.

7. If you thought you’d seen it all, watch this to get humble again.

8. At times it approaches Kung Fu Hustle status for action ludicrousness.

9. It’s about as action-packed and insubstantial as Tony Jaa’s Ong bak: Muay Thai Warrior so you don’t have to think for 3 whole hours!

10. Robot death ball. Dot!

endhiran11Originally Published for “The Alternative Chronicle” Feb. 2, 2011

The Animated Movies You Didn’t See

A few weeks ago I highlighted a few films that might have been hovering under some folks’ radar: Zazie dans le metro, Brewster McCloud, The Hour-Glass Sanitorium, and Skritek. These films all had a few things in common, one of them being that they were all live-action films. As a huge fan of animators and animation I felt it only necessary to highlight a few great animated films that also might not be as well-known. Today you shall be educated about Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (1973), Dave Borthwick’s The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993), Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), and Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues (2008). Much like my article about obscure live action films where we hopped from France to America to Poland and onward to the Czech Republic, this week we shall also bounce around to different countries as we celebrate the animated movies you didn’t see.

fantastic planet 2

Rene Laloux is a French animator who started out working with mentally ill people, helping them make films as therapy. This feature-length movie, Fantastic Planet (1973), directed by Laloux was a French-Czechoslovakian production based on a novel by Stefan Wul. It is a science fiction film with a very unique style (designed by artist Roland Topor) and full of  bizarre sounds and music (composed by Alain Goraguer). The story follows a small human creature (called Oms in the film), named Terr. Terr’s mother is killed by one of the giant blue humanoid Draags who rule the planet and basically treat the Oms as pests. Terr is adopted and raised as a pet by the young Draag girl, Tiva. He is adorned in humiliating plumage (akin to putting a sweater on a dog) and given a doll’s house to live in and is alternately loved on and mildly abused by Tiva for much of his developing life. Since Oms develop several times faster than Draag’s, Terr soon grows enough to where he can learn from the Draags. Terr wanders the home and studies them and assimilates their knowledge via a headband that is used to teach young Draags. Terr eventually flees his captives and winds up amidst the civil wars of the wild Oms. With some struggle, Terr integrates into their society, but with his inside knowledge and understanding of the oppressive Draags coupled with his bravery, Terr teaches the wild Oms and unites them to revolt.

If the story sounds familiar it is because I suspect L. Ron Hubbard ripped it off when he wrote his acclaimed Battlefield Earth. As the story unfolds and Terr’s journey takes him to many unusual places, we learn more about the history and the cultures of both societies and how they came together. The story of Terr on the Fantastic Planet is really secondary to the style of this film for me though. The movie plays more like a psychedelic nature special or anthropology study. The style is so odd and wonderful and memorable that even if this wasn’t a great movie, I’d still have to recommend it. Some of the best sequences (in my humble opinion) are the moments without dialogue and the weird creatures and bizarre rituals simply carry on. First class animated science fiction fun. The DVD also comes with Laloux’s award winning short, Les scargots (1965).

tom thumbThe next film hails from Great Britain and it is easily the weirdest movie on the list. Dave Borthwick directed one of the most bent interpretations of a classic fairytale you are likely to ever stumble upon. The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993) is a dark and twisted stop-motion animated feature that follows the life of the mute, fetus-like Tom Thumb who is kidnapped by scientists, meets mutated apparitions in a lab, escapes with the help of a cybernetic lizard-monster, meets a settlement of elf-like creatures led by Jack the Giant Killer and (like Terr in Fantastic Planet) uses his understanding of the giants and the elves to try and bring about peace and reunite with his Giant father.

The giants munch grotesque, slippery bugs and terrorize the elf people for sport. Tom Thumb, being the only innocent, might be the only one who can bring peace to the world. The film is much more of a riddle than I have explained, so please watch it. The real pleasure of Tom Thumb comes from the fantastic look of the film and the bizarre humor and fantastically dense and strange atmosphere. It is at times a comedy, a tragedy, an action movie, a spy flick, a film noir, etc. It is a stop-motion film, but only half of the cast are clay puppets, the rest are human performers and they are also manipulated via stop-motion in a slow-going process called pixelation. This process gives the film a very distinct flavor and also allows for the seamless integration and interaction of puppet characters with human actors. Even after seeing it five times the finale still baffles me a bit (see it for yourself). Overall the film is very perplexing and odd, but ultimately a lot of fun and comes recommended for those with a cock-eyed idea of how fairy tales should be told.

Kirikou-and-the-SorceressThe next film is for anyone whose most vivid idea of Africa comes from The Lion King. Although it is set Africa, Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), is actually a French and Belgian production, but the dialogue was recorded in South Africa. The story is based on a West African folktale and follows the saga of a small boy named Kirikou (again, like Tom Thumb in the last movie, the main character is extremely tiny and slightly fetal). Kirikou is born a precocious, curious lad with boundless energy. The tribal village Kirikou is born into is comprised only of women and children because the evil sorceress has allegedly devoured all of the men (who have each attempted to vanquish her and obviously failed). The sorceress has also dried up all of the water in the spring. Since Kirikou is pure-hearted and innocent he seeks to solve all of his tribe’s problems, but they all think he is too young to understand and too small to be able to help. Kirikou decides to do what is right even if no one will believe in him except his mother. Whenever he does something great the tribe praises him, but they soon forget. He saves his uncle the warrior, and he rescues the children from evil enchantment, and he slays the gluttonous creature who drinks all the water, and then he journeys under the ground (to avoid the gaze of the sorceress’s minions) to get advice from his grandfather. His grandfather, who is full of wisdom, gives Kirikou the inside scoop on the sorceress: she’s actually a victim of sorcery herself. With his newfound knowledge of the tribe’s foe, Kirikou again goes underground with the intent to save the sorceress and his village.

Without giving the ending away I’ll assure you it all ends okay, but perhaps not the way you might have expected. The cel-animation is beautiful and stylized and the average movie-goer will probably notice that this particular cartoon has a lot more nudity than your normal children’s movie (nearly all of the characters are naked). The film features many fun, kid-size adventures and acts of bravery and endearing characters full of spirit. It’s a beautifully drawn little film that avoids any pop-culture references or bombastic, hyper-kinetic plot or action that plague so many forgettable American family films. Kirikou and the Sorceress comes highly recommended for anyone willing to give the little guy a chance to prove his mettle.

sitaSo ends our theme of diminutive protagonists on treks through lands of giants. The final film I would like to shine the spotlight on is Sita Sings the Blues (2009) directed by American artist, Nina Paley. The film is a mostly flash animated retelling of the famous Indian epic, “The Ramayana” (told from Sita’s perspective rather than Rama’s). The film really follows multiple stories or rather multiple versions of the same story. The first story is (I think) an autobiographical account of Nina herself as she is pushed away by her aloof boyfriend after he leaves for India. The second story follows the tragic, but ultimately empowering tale of Sita, the wife of Prince Rama. Sita’s story can really be broken up into three stories: first there is a trio of bickering Indian shadow puppet narrators (reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s work in The Adventures of Prince Achmed) who are trying to get the story right; then there are the “Ramayana” characters bound by the words of the narrators and who act out the tale; and finally there are parts of the narrators’ story that stop abruptly and transform into blues songs featuring the voice of Annette Hanshaw emerging from the mouth of Sita. All of the Hanshaw recordings are from the 1920s, giving a very unique flavor to an already unique movie.

Nina’s story (animated in a more contemporary sketchy style) parallels the saga and plight of Sita (whose story is animated like classic Indian art) and the songs of Annette Hanshaw (which are animated in an ultra-smooth, cartoony flash style) provide excellent musical summaries of the emotional state of both Nina and Sita. The style of animation changes for each plotline (Nina, Sita, Henshaw, and the narrators) and although it’s all told rather loosely and bouncily, we are always invested in their struggles. Paralleling a contemporary woman’s struggle with a classic Indian epic and interpreting both through the dulcet tones of Hanshaw’s voice from old ’20s recordings is sheer brilliance. . . in my humble opinion. The animation is clever and colorful, the story keeps moving and is always surprising, and the blues songs are especially enjoyable and experiencing them in this innovative fashion breathes new life into them. Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues is a vibrant tale told with passion and skill and is available almost anywhere online. Another amazing aspect to this already enchanting film is that Nina did it all by herself. Check it out.

fantastic planet

All of these films are wonderful in their own unique ways. I loved every one of them. Whether it’s the strange, Seussian science fiction of Fantastic Planet you crave or the peculiarly dark fairy tales of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb that tickles your fancy, I hope you check them out. Or for those of you fascinated by the cultural fables and folktales of Kirikou and the Sorceress or the vibrant, creative re-imaginings of classic cultural sagas found in Sita Sings the Blues, I strongly encourage you find these films and watch them. If it’s gotta be animation and it’s gotta be something new then please do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some truly original works of art. And don’t forget to also check out The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Brenden and the Secret of the Kells, Robot Carnival, Angel’s Egg, Watership Down, and The Plague Dogs for more brilliant animated films. And keep a lookout for my upcoming articles on George Dunning’s Yellow Submarine, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler and more.

picture references:

galwayafricanfilmfestival.com

insidecatholic.com

senseofcinema.com

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” May 12, 2010