Saturday, November 21, 2009

Eric Reviews Everything He's Ever Seen (Numbers 700, 720, 740, 760, and 780)

So I can't keep up with this series. So what? You aren't trying to review every movie you've ever seen, are you? Well? Are you? And if you are, are you managing to write five reviews daily? You are? Jeez... this really isn't going as I planned. This batch is a good batch. I either remember a lot, or nothing, about each of them. Guess which is which and you win a prize.

700. Cats Don't Dance (Directed by Mark Dindal)

I don't remember anything about Cats Don't Dance. Okay, I remember the lead was a cat, and he had a cat love interest with white fur, and there were other animals, and a whale? There may have been a stage production there were planning. Or it took place in a dance hall. I think it was set up to take place in the 1920s. 

I've read up on it, and have concluded Cats... Dance was a musical, and it was set in the late 30s.

I distinctly remember playing it on TV and being disinterested. Un-enthused to have it in my home. It didn't terrify me, and it didn't satisfy me, so it's joining the ranks of animated 90s movies I shouldn't have bothered watching in the first place. They are stacking. 

What? I can't remember it. I really can't. I can't think of two good things to say about the movie. This could be the least worthwhile review I've yet written, but that's the cost of seeing movies once or twice when you were seven. Me, not you.

720. James and the Giant Peach (Directed by Henry Selick)

This isn't Tim Burton's James and the Giant Peach. I've heard people get mixed up over this, and I'll set that straight right here and now: Henry Selick directed James and the Giant Peach, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline, and Tim Burton did not. Henry Selick, who may have the worst haircut in the movie world. Trust me. Find a picture. Any picture will do. I think he's worn his hair in the same style since the 80s. The same terrible style. 

I used to fancy myself an artist. I drew constantly. I knew I was going to be an animator when I grew up, and have a very popular television show on Nickelodeon, or better: Cartoon Network. Then the world beat me down. My doodles were called 'no good' and 'dirty rotten' by my peers, and I figured out on my own that I have no eye for consistency. I gave up. But when James and the Giant Peach came out I was fully on board the animation train, and Had to see it not for the story, but for the character designs. Lane Smith, children's book illustrator, was concept designer behind James and his talent has no boundary between two- and three-dimensions.

Not much of the story has stayed with me. The opening live-action with the cloud rhino killing off James' parents is what I recall most vividly, because it was the scariest. Next would be the underwater scene with the ghost pirates, but that's because that scared me, too. I don't know if I liked the movie for anything other than the awesome artwork and animation if the only parts I remember terrified me. That's okay, because at six I didn't need an engaging story to keep me engaged. The scuttling and bouncing clay bugs were entrancing purely through physical presence. 

740. The Bothersome Man (Directed by Jens Lien)

The Bothersome Man exists in a weird split between soul-crushingly depressing and hilarious. It's surreal, about a man finding himself in a generically perfect, inescapable purgatory. Everything he could want is at his fingertips, but lacks the soul he was familiar with in the real world. The world is a bit like that in Wristcutters: A Love Story, with grays and blues and whites assisting in the cleansing of joy from the environments, but the tone of the film is much more contemplative, less silly. The style works wonders with the story.

The comedy is dry and much of the time subtle. Many of the gags are visual, but never slap-sticky. Small looks and barely perceived hand motions carry the brunt of the jokes, with dialogue finding it's wit with convoluted explanations and misconceptions. The direction is fantastic, as it melds dark, gloomy material with a cheekiness that keeps the film causing laughter instead of sobbing tears, which would not be hard to see happening in the hands of someone other than Jens Lien. 

For a film with such little ever really going on, and lengthy segments without dialogue all of the actors are still personable and charming. The titular bothersome man plays the role so earnestly, and believably. Every time he makes a new discovery it felt like he really was unraveling the truth behind a horrible mystery. Does that make sense? It felt like he truly had been set in purgatory, and he went about his days naturally with cameras rolling.

I watched The Bothersome Man because my Mom happened to have it home from the library. I knew nothing about it before watching, aside from my Mom telling me I might like it. A very pleasant surprise. Another of Norway's little gems. You know Norway and its gems. 

760. A Very Long Engagement (Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

When I press people to think of Jean-Pierre Jeunet they normally wind up mentioning Amelie, or how great of a disaster his Alien was. What I wish everyone would be thinking about every moment of their day is Jeunet's 2004 film A Very Long Engagement, one of my top ten favorite films, and in my top five favorite wartime movies. I think it overachieves at every aspect of filmmaking. It has incredible cinematography, every shot is gorgeous, the universe is crafted perfectly, crisp pacing for a film over two hours long, wit-filled writing, performances with so much love and heart put into them I'd be hard pressed to find a single character I didn't like, even if they were meant to be hated, and such a touching, convoluted-yet-satisfying story that by the end of it, after all that time, I wanted the engagement to have lasted much longer. If the film had lasted for six hours it would still be too short.

One of its greatest accomplishments is how many genres it straddles, and how well it straddles them all. At the start I thought it was going to be a sweet fluffy romantic drama. Then it bares its fangs and turns into a dark comedy. It morphs again into a war epic. Then again into a murder mystery. Never does it lose its emotional core, and none of the films components feel at odds with the specific styles, constantly changing though they are. There really is enough to stretch into five separate films, but Jeunet is smart, and balled them all into one. And it's amazing. More than a five on a five star scale, much higher than a 10 if rating from 1 to 10. 

780. The Bicycle Thief (Directed by Vittorio De Sica)

Gigantic props to The Bicycle Thief for making Italian sound like the ugliest language on the planet. When Lamberto Maggiroani isn't busy chasing after bicycle thieves or failing at menial tasks his ears are filled with the sound of exasperated, shouted Italian voices. So on top of watching the plight of a man I didn't care about do things I wasn't interested in I had to listen to what hell must sound like. 

Probably more disagreeable than my opinion of The Deer Hunter is my vendetta against The Bicycle Thief. I've watched it twice and haven't had a change of heart, big or small. I dislike this movie. It isn't a passing sort of "didn't care for it," it's a very angry "why does everyone care about this so much?" I get that it's an unflinching look at post-war Italy, and the use of non-professional actors portraying such realistic problems was revolutionary at the time but I don't see how that should give it a free pass into Classics territory.

This is a personal problem. Thousands of Thief defenders will proudly stand beside the story, the acting, and the lot of it. I don't like any of it. The main character is a dolt. Sure, times are tough for him, but times are tough for everyone, and times are tough for much more interesting people. The guy is a failure as a sign paster, and as a father, but mostly as a character I could pay any serious attention to. The story is powerful, sure, and the family's livelihood is at stake, but I didn't see it told in a way I could support. 

I haven't seen any other Italian neo-realism, so I'm not sure if I'd have a problem with the entire genre, or just this film. Maybe my sensibilities were unable to compromise in the face of De Sica's. It could be that I'm unfeeling for idiots and their impressionable children. I could ponder my distain for The Bicycle Thief all night, and hear perfectly reasonable arguments for the film for a month yet I still would not be moved. I don't like The Bicycle Thief.

 - Eric T. Voigt, XOXO

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