More than 20 years ago, I sat in Stan Brakhage’s office at the University of Colorado, handling original frames of 65mm IMAX film stock that the avant-garde filmmaker had hand-painted with swirling layers of colour. He explained that IMAX had commissioned him to create an abstract film specifically for presentation on the huge screens of their theatres. It was a great idea, and I wondered when the film had screened. Never, Brakhage told me. The IMAX people eventually lost interest in the idea, and “Night Music” was shown instead in 16mm prints, drastically reduced from the large-gauge film stock. Although IMAX were bold enough to approach Brakhage in the first place, the company got cold feet when it came time to actually exhibit non-narrative cinema—even for only 30 seconds!—for a paying audience.
I review Clash of the TItans (the golden oldie, not the screwy newie) on Blu-ray Disc at FilmFreakCentral.net:
Clash of the Titans saw Ray Harryhausen’s special-effects efforts reach a technical apex, with his glowering, snake-haired Medusa and smoothly articulated Pegasus winning deserved plaudits. But the old-fashioned filmmaking style felt dated at the time—consider that this po-faced sword-and-sandals adventure arrived in theaters on the same day as Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of this unfailingly earnest film’s crisis in tone—and it proved to be Harryhausen’s swan song.
Wes Anderson’s films have always featured a kind of play-acting, from the cops-and-robbers shenanigans of Bottle Rocket to the spiritual tourism of The Darjeeling Limited, with his characters trying on different personas for size. Maybe that’s why Fantastic Mr. Fox, itself a new kind of persona, fits so clearly and cleverly into Anderson’s body of work, which helps make it such an unexpected joy from start to finish — the director’s best since Rushmore. A typically easygoing Anderson cast, anchored by a nicely understated George Clooney in the title role, inhabits a world of talking animals who are almost, but not quite, human. With a lo-fi stop-action style that well suits the Roald Dahl vibe plus an uncompromised deployment of the director’s stylistic trademarks, Mr. Fox simply follows that golden rule of great kids’ movies by declining to pander to anybody’s idea of what a kid should or shouldn’t find amusing. Helped along by a suitably droll screenplay, everyone involved exudes heaps of effortless cool — this film is the kind of suave you get when you’re having just huge amounts of fun.
Because Pixar is known for so reliably hitting balls out of the park, every time, it’s hard to think of what possible angle to take in a review as its latest slugger, Up, trots merrily around the bases of the multiplex, dances its way toward the hefty box-office returns that await at home plate, and basks in the warm glow of the adoration of millions of fans. For three years now, there have been stories in the financial press alleging that Pixar’s latest is due to underperform because a) nobody wants to see a silent movie about a lonely robot; b) children don’t want to play with plush rats; or c) nobody loves old people and fat kids. That’s one reason why it’s such good sport to watch the movies rake in the dough year after year.
This Henry Selick stop-motion fantasy is the story of young Coraline, a girl just moved into a multi-family house with her busy parents. Coraline is peeved that her parents don’t have extra time to spend on her, or on the formidable task of homemaking, and she’s more than a little lonely. When she explores the house, she finds a portal into an “other” reality where her other mother seems eager to dote on her night and day, fixing up calorie-rich breakfasts and keeping her dorky other father at bay. But the other world isn’t as lovely as it seems — Coraline’s other mother is scheming to trap her in the other world, where she will sew up Coraline’s eye sockets, replacing them with buttons, and hold her captive.
My review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is online at FilmFreakCentral.net:
Anyone over the age of 12 will quickly detect the distinctly secondhand elements comprised by Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a journey into George Lucas’ ever-dorkier galaxy far, far away that panders relentlessly to the tween demographic so prized by the Lucasfilm empire. This is clearly a Star Wars movie, borrowing design elements, stylistic tropes, and even specific camera angles and editorial strategies from the live-action films. But the kid-friendly strategies sink it—even the Knights of the Old Republic videogame is a more rewarding endeavour.
Chicago 10, a documentary about the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and subsequent jury trial of eight protester defendants, is a bracing combination of archival footage and contemporary animation. The archival sections speak for themselves — the colorful footage of groovy, loose-lipped protesters with a flair for the theatrics filling Lincoln Park is not only historic, but can be interestingly contrasted against the less colorful demonstrations of today — but the interspersed animated sequences are something unusual. Working from stranger-than-fiction transcripts of the (sadly unphotographed) courtroom proceedings, writer/director Brett Morgan has assembled an all-star cast of character actors (Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, etc.) to portray that world-class cast of characters (including Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther Bobby Seale), animated in a rotoscoped style reminiscent of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.