Chris Butler and Sam Fell's animated feature ParaNorman is in the class of recent "children's" films that aren't really for youngsters. They're actually for adults with unresolved Daddy or Mommy issues, memories of classroom bullying or the sudden death of a loved one that open up torrents of regret. Child actor Kodi Smith-McPhee (The Road and Let Me In) voices the title character Norman, a reclusive boy who sees and talks to ghosts (yes, he sees dead people). This gift -- and not his spiky hair or lugubrious manner -- has turned him into an outcast at home, at school and on the streets of his little New England town that was cursed after torching an innocent girl as a witch back in colonial times. The colonists' horrible deed comes back to haunt them every year as the disquieted spirit of the murdered girl comes to raise hell. Despite the spooky goings-on, the story is chockful of important stuff about intolerance, mob rule and familial dysfunction, most of which will fly over the heads of the young ones in the audience. Smartly, Fell and Butler, who wrote the screenplay, wrap the lessons in beautfiully construted scenes that pop even in tired old 2-D, which will delight the rugrats and not get in the way of their parents' appreciation of the film's wholesome message. Recommended.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
In celebration of S.C. Pride weekend I would like to recommend Paul Bogart's Torch Song Trilogy, the film version of Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award winning stage play. I hate this poster but think the 1988 film is pretty nifty though a bit dated. Fierstein is like caviar -- delectible in small portions but, unfortunately, he only comes in gallon-size drums. The film, which also stars Matthew Broderick, Brian Kerwin and Anne Bancroft, is froth and a little fury and includes some fun drag numbers featuring Harvey, Cats' Ken Page and the then ageless, now deceased, Charles Pierce. Oh, about the poster, everyone in it has been pinched and powdered from hell to breakfast and the marvelous Miss Bancroft looks all "good-googly-goo," like she's been goosed. In all it's pretty life-affirming but ham-fisted in places.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Martin McDonagh's unsettling funny though dyspeptic second feature, Seven Psychopaths is a comedy despite the outrageous amount of blood spilled and spewed. Hundreds of gallons, it seems. Seven Psychos is the tale of a half dozen murderous head cases -- played with quizzical insouciance by A-list wackos Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waites among others -- who cross paths, leaving mounds of bodies at every intersection. It is often shockingly hilarious, that is, it often feel it shouldn't be. McDonagh, who also wrote the script, has set the proceedings in Los Angeles for the most part and Joshua Tree National Park for the final showdown. He gives his cast free rein to ring every drop of subtlety from the contentious encounters and the unspeakable events that follow. You can imagine McDonagh winking knowingly at the audience, even though his performers give absolutely nothing away. The work of the cast is overwrought and as broad as the Mojave Desert but I really enjoyed the film, as I did McDonagh's earlier feature In Bruge, which like Seven Psychos featured some inspired work by Colin Farrell. In the latest, Farrell plays a blocked screenwriter trying to finish the script for a film titled Seven Psychopaths. Yes, it's a wormy contrivance but in the end it works surprisingly well. Recommended.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
The beauty of Ben Affleck's Argo is not just in its stunning period perfect cinematography but in the tautness of the film's storyline. As the true tale of a CIA operative's plan to lead six American foreign service workers out of a revolting Iran in 1980, Argo lays out with crystal clarity what was at stake and builds the dramatic tension strategically until the picture's breathless finale. Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA Moses who is the brains behind the scheme to smuggle out the workers, who were hiding in the home of the Canadian ambassador. He plans to pull them out disguised as a Canadian crew for a sci-fi adventure movie. The idea is absurd but it's greenlighted by Langley and off we go to Tehran where the streets are overlfowing with hatred of all things U.S. Watching the whole affair would be nearly unbearable if Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio had not concocted a delightful parallel storyline about Hollywood finagling and Tinsel Town shenanigans. Brilliant. Argo (the name of the fake film and the real operation) was an incredible mission, sure to fail, and Affleck captures masterfully the confusion, fear and frustation of that operation and of that turbulent period in American history. Quite an achievement, I must say.
Monday, October 8, 2012
End of Watch follows LAPD patrol officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) as they get drawn deeper and deeper into each other's lives and into the orbit of a brutal Mexican cartel. The heart of this film (and it has enormous heart) is the devotion these guys have for each other and for the women in their lives (Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, both splendid). Gyllenhaal and Pena invest their characters with emotional intelligence and sincerity and deliver two wonderful performances for a story that isn't really that complicated. And maybe that's why it's so good.
Dreadful things are foreshadowed early on, but Ayer keeps the story locked down pretty tightly, so the last 10 minutes are unexpected and riveting. The film's epilogue is especially affecting, as well. Recommended.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
My problem with Hayden Panettiere? She was orders of magnitude too slutty for Heroes, her relationship with her creepy, controlling murderous father in that series was waaaay beyond Electra complex, her fairly spectacular beauty seems to be matched by uncharted denseness as evidenced in this quote from her Heroes days: "I hate how people say I'm growing up fast." Honey, they were talking about your bust. And now she's starring as a slutty country singer in an ABC series named after my favorite film. WTF?
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Yes, Rian Johnson's Looper could easily be the new Blade Runner. It's kinetic and violent and prophetic and masterfully directed and acted. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as an assassin who conducts mob hits at the gate of a time portal through which the unfortunate victims are shoved from the year 2072 back to 2022 where Joe the Looper waits, blunderbuss in hand. This way, there's no body to connect the mob to the hit. It's an intriguing idea made even more so when Joe the Younger faces his future self (Bruce Willis) at the portal, kills him and then doesn't and thus begins the journey along the Moebius strip that is this film's twisting narrative. Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, has crafted a world that borrows a bit of the yin yang / future-retro of Mad Max and the grimy dystopia of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The film is arresting and absorbing in its imaginative detail, even down to Gordon-Levitt's uniquely Eurasian features being molded to reflect more of Willis's, except (spoiler alert!) Gordon-Levitt has attached earlobes and Willis does not. It's not enough to derail the story but for those fixated on continuity issues (like me) might find it a bit of a distraction.
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