The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXVI – Kneel Before Breen

I watched more movies because I’m stupid. Ordered, as always, worst to best.

This list contains a perhaps uncharacteristically high number of what would traditionally be labeled as “bad” or “so-bad-it’s-good” movies. I take movies very seriously. Not all movies—or even all bad movies—are created equally. As subjective a scale as it may be, I have tried to rank the films (good and bad) by genuine enjoyability. For this reason, we must look beyond the technical aspects to the deeper things within.

21. The Wizard of Paws (2015) was a stupid decision. Talking magic dog and a kid reeling from the death of his dad or something. We didn’t finish it. It was perplexing, upsetting, and awful, I’ll give it that, but, as you will see, there are far better bad films out there. Just wait.

20. James Franco directs and stars as infamous bad movie icon, Tommy Wiseau, in The Disaster Artist (2017). Like many folks, I have a long, torrid, personal relationship with The Room. From my first viewing of it years ago and finding everything Wiseau had ever done to some awkward, fresh-out-of-college attempts to pitch a series with him, we go way back. That said, turning the celebrated bad movie into a standard Hollywood comedy about making a bad movie in Hollywood has risks. It has its moments, but it will never be as entertaining as The Room and that’s probably obvious. However, it also falls short of being as interesting or revealing as Rick Harper’s documentary Room Full of Spoons. And for movies about making movies I think it’s hard to compete with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood or Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion. You can tell they love The Room, but this one feels more geared toward James Franco and Seth Rogen fans rather than The Room aficionados.

19. Re-watching Peter Yates’ sword and sorcery and science-fiction epic, Krull (1983), reminded me why I remembered it and why I hadn’t watched it in so long. Really good start and moments of fun, but ultimately a bit of an aimless slog. With an impressive budget, this space-fantasy misfire boasts some wonderful sets and visuals, yet these high points are dashed by weak leads, a dopey story, and every single scene going on for way too long. Krull could have been as fun as Flash Gordon but, in its attempts to take itself more seriously and mimic Conan the Barbarian (and failing), it falls short. Despite being geared to adults craving high fantasy, Dark Crystal is more grownup than Krull. Watchable, but meh.

18. One of the last cel-animated feature films for Disney (and one that apparently tanked so hard they put all focus onto CG features after that) was Treasure Planet (2002). The environments, atmosphere, and animation are fluid and beautifully rendered. A lot of the comedy doesn’t quite work, but it’s a beautifully realized adventure story that, while not be perfect, is still a lot of fun. It’s Treasure Island in space. Kid me would have loved this. The Ice Pirates is another pirates in space movie if you need more.

17. Star Wars: the Last Jedi (2017) is another Star Wars movie. This is a series that continues to draw me in with its nostalgia and continues to be alternately interesting and disappointing. Mark Hamill gives probably his best performance as Luke in this one, despite his misgivings about the script. You’ve already seen the movie by now. It’s a bit of a mess. As a Star Wars film or just as a film, it just doesn’t feel complete or focused. Like The Force Awakens, it at least looks good and it’s not completely devoid of entertainment value. Just not something I feel the need to see again.

16. You really couldn’t ask for a more uninspiring title for a movie about hitmen (and women) than Hired to Kill (1990). A bro-y mercenary guy (Brian Thompson) assembles a crack squad of mercenary ladies to pose as fashion models so they can go kill somebody in South America for some reason. It’s stupid and laden with cringeworthy machismo, but the villain being played by a blatantly drunk Oliver Reed really bumps this one up.

15. Wolfgang Petersen (NeverEnding StoryDas BootAir Force One) directs the sci-fi flick about overcoming your intergalactic differences, Enemy Mine (1985). Unwieldy double entendre title and out-of-place attempts at wacky hijinks aside, this space version of John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific is actually pretty good. Dennis Quaid (the human) is serviceable, and Louis Gossett, Jr. (the hermaphroditic alien) puts more effort in than what might be required. The makeup and special effects are pretty good and it has some solid scenes between the two uneasy allies. It suffers from some awkward tonal shifts and a lagging pace, but it’s worth a look. Or just watch Hell in the Pacific instead with Toshio Mifune and Lee Marvin.

14. I never saw Bad Santa (2003) before. It was funny. It had a good cast. I liked the story. Director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost WorldCrumb) has an eye for oddballs and misfits. Billy Bob Thornton is an alcoholic burglar who poses as a mall Santa Claus. He’s bad. Get it? His reluctant relationship with a socially inept boy (Brett Kelly) is the heart of the movie. Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, and John Ritter round out the cast of funny people.

13. This next one is in the same wheelhouse as Samurai Cop and Miami Connection. Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) is the movie the biggest meatheads in your high school would have put together. Hilarious amounts of unjustified nudity, over the top nonsensical violence, thinly veiled homophobia, misogyny, and overall amateurishness, make this schlocky low-budget action flick a must-watch. Its incompetence make it a little hard to follow, but it has enough laugh-out-loud moments that I have to recommend it.

12. More aliens! I sought this one out after The Nightmare documentary piqued my interest. Christopher Walken is suffering from selective amnesia after aliens probe him in Communion (1989). This was actually better than I was expecting. It’s a little cheesy, but the performances and ominous surreality elevate it into something genuinely fascinating. Communion is a movie that treats its “out there” subject with refreshing compassion.

11. Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) is a very well-crafted sci-fi rumination on what it means to be human yada yada yada. I’d hate to spoil anything, but it is more than Act II of 2001: a Space Odyssey. Sam Rockwell gives an amazing couple of performances here. The Clint Mansell score is also pretty good.

10. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) turn their documentarian eye toward religion once again. Hasidic Jewish community of New York City are the focus of One of Us (2017), and it is every bit as upsetting as Jesus Camp. The Hasidic community has a lot in common with the Amish. For all the piety and devotion to tradition, there is also a controlling insularity that seriously hinder development and impede escape. Watch this with Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie and then take a long moment and seriously examine your own religion and the walls it may also have.

9. Monsters again. I was honestly expecting C.H.U.D. (1984) to be another so-bad-it’s-good creature feature, but, to my surprise C.H.U.D. (aka Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) simply delivers as a movie. It’s got a solid cast you care about, gritty and atmospheric locations, and surprisingly human portrayal of the homeless. There are reports of disappearances in the sewers and only one cop (Christopher Curry), a homeless preacher man (Daniel Stern), and a photographer (John Heard) seem to be interested in uncovering why. Kim Griest and George Martin also have fun roles. Despite the films intentional lack of closure, C.H.U.D., while maybe no They Live or The Stuff, is well worth a watch. Weirdly, the monsters themselves are the weakest element in the movie.

8. Wadjda (2102), directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, is a Saudi film about a little girl who wants a bike in a culture that forbids girls to ride bikes. Simple setup. Waad Mohammed gives a natural performance as the title character, Wadjda. Traditions and culture can be stifling and the filmmakers understand that all too well. The characters’ struggles are real and by the end, you really, really want her to get that damn bike.

7. Too cultural? Not enough monsters? What if we combine the two? Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Yokai Monsters: One Hundred Monsters (1968) is everything. A little more Kwaidan than Hausu, but great fun all the way. One hundred Japanese ghosts and demons come together to thwart the bad guys. Also there are samurai. Wonderfully fun practical effects and puppetry give the production a very unique feel. I’ll be watching this one again soon.

6. Let’s stay in Japan a half tick longer. Woman in the Dunes (1964), directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara (The Face of Another), is the story of an entomologist (Eiji Okada) who winds up trapped in a hovel buried in the sand with a strange widow (Kyōko Kishida). That’s all you need to get started. Sumptuously photographed. Beautiful and compelling.

5. You may think I’m insane, but holy hell, was Chopping Mall (1986) a lot of fun. It was everything I wanted in a movie about mall security robots that get struck by lightning and become evil and go on a murder spree against some unsuspecting teens. I laughed out loud. I cheered. I yelled at the screen. Chopping Mall knows what it is and is having a blast doing it. We are at maximum cheese here. Get ready for gleeful, creative violence, hammy acting, and a killer synth-pop score by Chuck Cirino.

4. Under normal circumstances this would be a B movie. But not so. Dear Guillermo del Toro, please, continue to make adult fairy tales. The Shape of Water (2017) goes right alongside Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Sally Hawkins gives a captivating performance as the mute cleaning lady who falls in love with a South American fish man and possible god (Doug Jones) while working at a secret underground government facility . The style, quirkiness, and danger are balanced very well. Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlberg provide great support. The Shape of Water is beautiful and brimming with imagination and tenderness.

3. OK, so after The Shape of Water I developed a slight crush on Sally Hawkins and was recommended Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Hawkins plays Poppy, a spunky primary teacher exploding with positivity and charm that can come off as annoying to folks like her tightly-wound driving instructor (played by Eddie Marsan). Optimistic, genuinely funny, and affectingly human, Happy-Go-Lucky is a breath of fresh air. I absolutely fell in love with the character of Poppy and her hopeful worldview. Maybe you will too.

2. Silver Streak (1976), starring Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Patrick McGoohan, and Jill Clayburgh is one of the great train movies. Directed by Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws, The Man in the Glass Booth), Silver Streak plays like a sexy hybrid of North By Northwest and The Taking of Pelham 123. The chemistry between the actors is brilliant (no wonder Wilder and Pryor would go on to do three more movies together—all of which fall short of this perfect flick). A book editor (Wilder) is taking the Silver Streak from Los Angeles to Chicago when he meets a beautiful woman (Clayburgh), witnesses a murder, and gets thrown from the train again and again trying to save the girl. On one of his detours he meets up with a thief (Pryor) who becomes a friend and help on his mission. I had seen this movie years ago, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time. Also features Ray Walston, Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers, and Richard Kiel.

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  1. OK. Let’s break the world. My absolute favorite movie screening was a drunken double-feature of two Neil Breen films. I had previously reviewed Double Down and found it to be something special, but in context of Breen’s entire oeuvre, it has catapulted in significance. We hunkered down with our mellow selves to enjoy Fateful Findings (2012) and I Am Here …. Now (2009) back to back. Then a week later we polished off his canon with Pass Thru (2016). Honestly, if you love strange, incoherent, singular visions unimpeded by studio demands or audience expectations and drunk on their own delusional obsessions and ham-handed messages, then please, for the love of everything, watch Neil Breen. Breen eclipses Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen (Birdemic) in a way that is should be impossible. 

In a way he is a miracle. A gift given by the gods of film. Breen is driven by several passions and you can begin to assemble a fairly probable biography of the writer/director/actor/producer/caterer/music-picker-outer/etc. from spotting repeated motifs and child-like fixations in his work. I could explain the shenanigans that go on within the meticulously constructed worlds he builds in each movie; their flaws, their quirks, their incomprehensible plots, their Tim and Eric-flavored acting, but Breen truly must be seen to be believed. No other person has given me more joy in recent memory, which maybe is sad. Maybe it’s crazy. But I believe in Breen and cannot wait for his new movie, Twisted (which you can help make happen here: https://www.gofundme.com/Twisted-Neil-Breen-Film).

Not all movies—or even all bad movies—are created equally. The films of Neil Breen feel like anthropology classes. They are an intense, intimate character study of the filmmaker himself. They contain endless mystery and questions and I mean this with no irony: I fucking love them.

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THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXII – The Quickening

Movies again. Further down you go on the list, the more I liked it. What did you see?

Salomè (1972), directed by Carmelo Bene, is an Italian is a neon arthouse extravaganza featuring raucous debauchery in King Herod’s palace and vampire Jesus. Apparently I have an artsiness threshold because I could not finish this one. I can’t even review it because I didn’t watch enough of it to make any sort of assessment. But I include it here because, although it may not have been my cup of tea, it sure was weird and people, at minimum, should know this thing is out there. I’m sure it’s for someone, but I guess I wasn’t in the mood for psychedelic ass slapping.

Italian schlock cinema is notorious for ripping off other films, but perhaps O.K. Connery (1967) is remarkable in how brazen it is. Sean Connery’s brother, Neil Connery, plays the brother of the famous fictional secret agent, James Bond. I genuinely felt bad for the goatee’d Neil as I’m sure he’s been compared to his brother outside of this travesty of a film. It’s a bad 007 knockoff, but I will admit to liking the theme song.

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I got on a weird Soviet fantasy flick kick and watched Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1961). Directed by Aleksandr Rou, t’s based on a collection of short stories by Nicolai Gogol. I enjoyed the charming innocence of the stories and the dated special effects. There’s a romance and some comedy and a few fun creatures. I wish I had been able to find a cleaner copy.

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Purveyor of big-titted camp cinema, Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), and legendary film critic, Roger Ebert (Siskel & Ebert), worked together in 1970 to bring to life the legitimately bonkers musical satire Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. This is one wacky movie with insane melodrama and hilariously awkward dialogue delivered with incredible earnestness and ineptitude. This is a cinematic endurance test, but the zaniness and relentlessly disorienting editing make this oddity anything but boring.

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is maybe too arty and winky to laugh out loud at for its entire run time. Enter Neil Breen. Neil Breen is the writer, director, producer, and star (in addition to credits for “music department” and “production design”—which might explain why there are so many bleached human skulls and leg bones along the roadside of the Nevada desert) of Double Down (2005). And this perfect storm of incompetence, naivete, and delusional hubris is just what makes this one of the best movies you could ever see. Self described as an “edgy action thriller”, most of the film is spent observing a paunchy, uncomfortable middle-aged man skitter around the desert and pretend to type on five laptops (plugged into nothing) as he eats cans upon cans of tuna fish while his nonsensical inner monologues try to explain what the hell he’s doing. Haunted by his past and obsessed with what comes after death, he plans some sort of biochemical terrorist attack on Las Vegas. He writes himself to be the smartest and best at everything but the script’s betrayal of how little the writer actually understands regarding how the world functions is just adorable. It’s like if Donald Trump made a movie.

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Back on the Soviet fantasy wagon is Viy (1967). Based on another Nicolai Gogol story, the plot concerns a recent seminary student, Khoma, who ends up killing a witch, whose father makes him stand vigil alone, praying over her corpse for three nights. Each night, more menacing things happen to haunt Khoma. Flying coffins and goblins abound. I’ll admit it’s a little slow, but the ending was crazy enough for me to recommend. The special effects are, again, very dated, but I found the quirky and charming. There is also a more loose adaptation of the same story made in 2015.

More Fun:

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When I first saw Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) I was perhaps too young to appreciate it. It freaked me out to be honest (as did the show. Chairy?! Come on! Nightmare fuel.). Having since matured, I decided to revisit the quirky road movie of the weird man-child’s quest to find his stolen bicycle. While I may not have the same nostalgia many associate with Burton’s feature directorial debut, I can finally say I get it. The character (played by its creator, Paul Reubens) is annoying and the world he inhabits is a plastic, colorful explosion of 80’s tackiness. The story is episodic and the humor very odd. But it’s subversive and great too. Glad I gave it a re-watch.

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Not sure many have heard of Tom Schiller’s Nothing Lasts Forever (1984). Produced by Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live), this never released oddity stars Zach Galligan (Gremlins) and features Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mort Sahl, Imogene Coca, Sam Jaffe, and Futurama’s Lauren Tom. Designed to emulate the cinema of the 1930s and utilizing copious amounts of stock footage, it follows one young man’s saga to become an artist. At turns cutting and funny, at others rather slow and aimless, it doesn’t always work, but it’s good-natured oddness and cast make this Guy Maddin-esque journey of self-discovery that takes you from New York City to the Moon and back worth a look for the curious movie consumer.

 

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The Raid (2011) is an Indonesian martial arts action thriller about cops trying to get a bad guy in a very tall building. That’s all you need as an excuse for the impressive fight choreography that follows. The best action movies sometimes have the simplest setups. A few twists and turns keep things interesting and absurd amounts of shooting and punching keep it exciting throughout.

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Iconic entertainer Josephine Baker stars in Princess Tam Tam (1935), a French melodrama that would probably be considered culturally insensitive today, but is charming nevertheless—thanks to Baker’s infectious exuberance. A French novelist takes a shine to a free spirited but uncouth (by Parisian standards) Tunisian girl named Alwina (Baker). He takes her back to Paris and tries to introduce her to society as Princess Tam Tam. Think My Fair Lady meets Dersu Uzula (but instead of an old Siberian mountain man, it’s a vintage Manic Pixie Dream Girl). Baker dances and sings and exhibits a wildly playful and extremely likable screen personality (more than can be said of much of the rest of the film). It’s occasionally stilted, but it has some great moments peppered throughout.

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Here’s the Jim Henson Company and cult filmmaker Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (1990). Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) stars as the leader of a coven of witches that meet at a hotel to plot to kill children…by turning them into mice. Irritating child acting aside, this is a lot of fun. This is one of those kid’s movies that’s not afraid to be scary. And the grotesque makeup and ghoulish transformations certainly work well, as does the puppetry. Co-stars Mai Zetterling and Rowan Atkinson.

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Cult filmmaker John Carpenter (The Thing) directs the Lovecraftian thriller, In the Mouth of Madness (1994). Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) stars as an insurance investigator sent to track down a Stephen King type author in a fictitious town where evil lurks behind every corner. The film, while imperfect, boasts some fine atmosphere and Lovecraft inspired creatures. I quite enjoyed it. Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, and Charlton Heston co-star.

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Beautiful Girls (1996) is a sweet little movie featuring Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Natalie Portman, Michael Rapaport, Mira Sorvino, Lauren Holly, Rosie O’Donnell, Martha Plimpton,  and Uma Thurman. Old high school friends meet again in a snowy Massachusetts town for their school reunion. It’s a quiet slice of life built out of good feelings, love, and wistfulness, but more than anything it’s just a pleasant experience to spend some time with these characters that somehow all feel familiar.

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By far my favorite premise for a movie on this list. In Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament (2015) God is a grouchy old fart with a wife he dislikes and a headstrong daughter. They live in a crappy apartment in Brussels where he capriciously manipulates the lives of tiny mortals. When his rebellious daughter, Ea, sneaks into his office and onto his computer she decides to text everyone on Earth the dates of their deaths, plunging the world into a chaotic existential crisis. She then escapes to Earth and enlists the aid of a homeless man as a scribe to write a Brand New Testament. If Jesus rewrote the Old Testament, Ea is determined to one up her big brother. The story is a series of episodes surrounding Ea’s new disciples and the rules of physics and nature she eschews.

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From Lethal Weapon to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, writer/director Shane Black knows how to make a solid buddy action comedy. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star in The Nice Guys (2016). And it is loads of fun. A broke gumshoe (Gosling) – and his daughter (Anjourie Rice) – and a brutal enforcer (Crowe) find each other at adds as they unravel a murder mystery set against the backdrop of gaudy 1977 Los Angeles. The dialogue crackles and the plot allows plenty of room for comedy and danger. Kim Basinger and Keith David co-star.

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Frank Oz deserves more respect as a comedy director. More than a celebrated member of the Jim Henson Company (famously voicing Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Grover, Yoda, and more), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Little Shop of HorrorsWhat About Bob?, and Death at a Funeral are just a few of the gems he directed. In & Out (1997) tells the story of a high school English teacher (Kevin Kline) in a small town, days before his wedding (to Joan Cusack), who is outed as gay by a former student (Matt Dillon) on national television. While it may not be as progressive as it was 20 years ago, it does give the always enjoyable Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) a chance to play another high-strung character. It’s the sort of positive, feel-good comedy I sort of miss and the social commentary is handled with the right amount sensitivity to balance the broader comedic strokes. Maybe it just hit me at the right time, but I really liked it. Co-stars Tom Selleck, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, and Bob Newhart.

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Debonair Carey Grant (North by Northwest) and titillating Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) star in Charade (1963), directed by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain). When Regina Lampert (Hepburn) returns from a ski trip  to discover her husband has been murdered and that the killers and the CIA (led by Walter Mathau) are after a missing $250,000, she becomes entangled in one of the more stylish comedy-romance-thrillers this side of Alfred Hitchcock. Mrs. Lampert must locate the money, avoid getting murdered, uncover hidden identities, and look fabulous doing it while she seduces a mysterious American (Grant). If you love classic Hollywood (and I find it hard to dislike Audrey Hepburn or Carey Grant and their very specific styles for line delivery) then check this one out. It’s colorful, suspenseful, and sexy. Also features James Coburn and George Kennedy.

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Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) writes and directs the truly brilliant and chilling horror/satire Get Out (2017). Brimming with cutting racial commentary and a mounting atmosphere of suffocating paranoia, this is a perfectly pitched and very prescient horror. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to the country to visit his white girlfriend’s family. Subtle and not-so-subtle racist comments are made with seemingly good intentions, but there’s something off about all the black people in the house and Chris, though trying to keep calm, is getting nervous. Turning important social topics into an effective genre film is an excellent way to communicate to a general audience. And it handles its subjects with great intelligence. It’s a perfect execution of its premise and talking points. See it in theaters. Also stars Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lil Rel Howery, and Stephen Root.

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic fable gets a respectful retelling and a built-in sequel in computer and stop-motion animated film The Little Prince (2015), directed by Mark Osborne. I could gush about the brilliant character design and clever architecture of the adaptation or the clever art direction and sensitive performances, but I was perhaps most touched by its thematic depth and wealth of imagination. The story follows a young girl (Mackenzie Foy) who escapes her mother’s rigidly organized plans for her life by befriending an old aviator (Jeff Bridges) who met the Little Prince many years ago. At each encounter the old man reveals more of the story and ruminates on life and its meanings. The movie also goes beyond the original narrative and embarks on a quest to figure out what happened to the Little Prince after his final meeting with the snake. Somber and adult while also also being playful and childish is a tight rope to walk, but the filmmakers succeed here and deliver a thoroughly beautiful and emotionally resonant work of art. The voice cast also includes Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Paul Rudd, Bud Cort, Albert Brooks, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti, and James Franco. Osborne is supposedly adapting Jeff Smith’s graphic novel, Bone, and I hope it is a success.