Finally opening this weekend in limited U.S. release are two films Walter Chaw and I, respectively, loved on the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (Canada: March 27) and Ethan Hawke's Seymour: An Introduction (Canada: next week, March 20). Don't miss them.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly & Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 **/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C- starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris directed by Sean Anders
by Bill Chambers The Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber To opens with Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas emerging from twenty years of catatonia. As the trailers were eager to give away, he's just been playing an elaborate hoax on best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), but still: point taken. To put things in perspective, more time elapsed between Dumb and Dumber and its sequel than did between The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, and the popular form--along with the popular taste in--movie comedy has changed significantly in the interim. This is the Rip Van Winkle of franchises, squarely un-hip no matter how evergreen is its scatological humour; the filmmakers, ultimately to their credit, value tonal continuity with Dumb & Dumber over blending in. With a plot revolving around a McGuffin that felt rickety when the first one did it in 1994, the picture embraces the quaint charms of the old school to ironically novel effect.
Im Toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin ***½/**** directed by André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer
by Bill Chambers A significant source of Blind Spot. Hitler's Secretary's power is the au naturel form it takes. There are no re-enactments, there are no such visual cues as photographs or stock footage; there isn't even any underscore--only the talking head of Traudl Junge, who, with her rotating cluster of sweaters and ascots, is the film's aesthetic. Directors André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer (Heller interviewed, Schmiderer shot) either believe Junge to be so compelling a presence as to challenge the need for newsreel aids, or fundamentally appreciate that they risked depersonalizing Junge's fresh, intimate perspective by going the History Channel route. I only skimmed the press notes (which are rather regrettably written: "Like Adolf Hitler, [Heller and Schmiderer] were also born and raised in Austria," begins an introduction to the filmmakers) to keep from cheapening Blind Spot's enigmatic approach--that ambivalence--for myself: The film casts a spell as fragile as that of an ILM spectacle.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is a trio of movies Walter Chaw reviewed on the festival circuit: '71, Everly, and The Duke of Burgundy, which has finally come to Toronto. Meanwhile, I covered Maps to the Stars at TIFF '14; it makes its U.S. theatrical bow today.
by Walter Chaw Unsentimental and terrifying and set against lovely, John Constable-esque watercolour backgrounds, Martin Rosen's adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down arose in that extended lull between Disney's heyday and its late-Eighties resurrection. (This period also saw, in addition to Rosen's film of Adams's The Plague Dogs, Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn and Ralph Bakshi's most productive period, which included 1978's The Lord of the Rings.) Watership Down points to the dwindled potential for American animation to evolve into what anime has become: a mature medium for artistic expression of serious issues. A shame that this flawed piece is possibly the pinnacle of animation's ambition on these shores, Richard Linklater's Waking Life notwithstanding.
*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Kimbrough screenplay by Clay Tarver & JJ Abrams directed by John Dahl
by Walter Chaw John Dahl's latest foray into knock-off B-movie territory is Joy Ride, a film that indulges an awkward dedication to hiding the face of its villain (which results in the biggest cheat of the film at its conclusion), presents predictably misogynistic victimizations for both of its female characters (followed by weak-wristed salvations), and demands an ironclad suspension of disbelief that the bad guy is omniscient, omnipresent, and only ruthless when there isn't a long speech to be made. The joyless Joy Ride is a leaden collection of cheap thriller clichés redolent with the flop-sweat stench of stale desperation and clumsy sleight-of-hand, a stultifying series of promising set-ups with threadbare pay-offs. The film drives home its cautionary message against childishness with an increasing immaturity--it's the equivalent of burying a toddler up to the neck for throwing a tantrum, and though it will predictably (and fairly) be compared against The Hitcher and Duel, the most telling stolen moment in Joy Ride is a cornfield intrigue that substitutes the evil crop duster from North by Northwest for a rumbling semi tractor-trailer that somehow locates its prey in the dead of night amongst concealing stalks.
*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras D starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Bob Hoskins screenplay by Kevin Wade directed by Wayne Wang
by Walter Chaw Less another version of the Cinderella story than a remake of the dreadful Ever After, Wayne Wang's Maid in Manhattan (why Wang is trying to make the same kind of magical Manhattan love tripe as Nora Ephron is only the first of the film's head-scratchers) manages ill-advisedly to remind of the Ally Sheedy vehicle Maid to Order whilst degenerating into the sort of dead-eyed quasi-political femi-bullshit tailor-made for divas in decline looking for a reason for their existence other than as subject of the next blaring headline. Ironic, then, that the central issues of the picture are resolved through snapshots of fake magazine covers.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians ***½/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras A story by Bill Peet, based on the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, Clyde Geronimi
by Bill Chambers 1959's Sleeping Beauty and 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (hereafter 101 Dalmatians) make for an illuminating double-bill; the latter could even be construed as a Godardian rejoinder to the former. An anti-auteur of these movies, Walt Disney determined their outcome by divesting resources from their development--including his own expertise--and pouring them into his personal Taj Mahal, Disneyland. This deprived the expensive Sleeping Beauty of the talent that may have been able to crack its deceptively-simple fairytale formula and transcend the limitations of a graphical style inspired by medieval tapestries. When the film barely broke even, Disney decided his next animated feature would adapt a property with some grounding in contemporary prose and cost a lot less, leading to the shuttering of the ink-and-paint department and a vigorous embrace of Xerography, whereby the animators' pencil drawings were photocopied directly onto acetate rather than delicately retraced and refined by hand.
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands screenplay by Jeremy Leven, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks directed by Nick Cassavetes
by Walter Chaw Ah, Nicholas Sparks. I once saw an interview with Nicholas Sparks in which he accused literary critics of envying his success, thus shedding light on the consistently bad reviews he's gotten throughout his career while failing to explain why he got terrible reviews for his debut novel as well. Nor does this explain how it is that someone who's barely literate himself could have understood his critics enough to feel offended--after all, Sparks's admirers certainly aren't reading the reviews. In fact, that movie executives appear to be among Sparks's biggest fans (The Notebook is the third faithfully awful adaptation of a Sparks opus--two more to go) says a lot about both movie executives and Sparks's books.
**/**** Image B Sound A Extras B- starring Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors screenplay by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich directed by Roland Emmerich
by Bill Chambers Spawning a television show and solidifying the Hollywood career of German director Roland Emmerich, 1994's Stargate was the last movie to get the memo that Abyss-ian water walls and morphing technology no longer evoked World's Fair awe. These special effects are merely the epitome of Stargate's second-hand wonder; part of the film's value as a curiosity piece is its New York street-merchant vibe: like peddlers of the Rolux watch or Parda handbag, Emmerich and co-producer/co-writer Dean Devlin are selling us an approximation of a blockbuster by a licensed hitmaker, and we excuse them the same way we allow for the smudgy print of carbon copies or the colour bleed on VHS dubs. It must be a human impulse to absolve a facsimile of its absence of novelty.
by Walter Chaw Stop-motion animation studio Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman) continues its winning streak with the perverse, lovingly-detailed The Boxtrolls, which nails the company's developing penchant for inserting a sting of relevance on the trailing end of assorted Nick Park-ian silliness. It's basically the usual kid-flick moral of not judging lovable books by their horrible, green, warty covers, but there's also a little bit about the danger of starting wars based on black pretense for unsavoury purposes. Likewise buried in the puns and gross-out gags are a class melodrama, a deep criticism of the ruling class, and a fairly disturbing aside about anti-intellectualism and the misuse of technology. It's Schindler's List in the sense that even that film was Spielberg's own remake of E.T., substituting the industrious, wizened space goblin for Ben Kingsley; The Boxtrolls isn't as effective a Holocaust/Łódź ghetto allegory as the hotel-clearing in Babe: Pig in the City, but no question the aim of its villains is ultimately genocide.
by Bill Chambers When Bob Clampett left Termite Terrace in 1946, his unit was assigned to Arthur Davis, who had years of experience behind him as the industry's first in-betweener (the person who draws the steps that get a pose from point A to point B) as well as a director in his own right, having helmed a number of cartoons for Screen Gems, where he worked closely with the great Frank Tashlin. (The two migrated to Warner Bros. together.) But Davis's name never became synonymous with Looney Tunes like so many of his colleagues' did, perhaps because his style is so unorthodox as to seem discontinuous with, even supplemental to, the studio's general output. Comparing Dough Ray Me-ow to the previously-reviewed Porky Chops also suggests that it's because Davis did better with characters denied immortality by their one-and-done status. Louie the Parrot and the gloriously stupid Heathcliff the Cat, who has to be reminded to breathe, are like Tweety and Sylvester reconfigured as Of Mice and Men's George and Lenny--a familiar-enough trope/dynamic, unconventionally applied to natural enemies and almost immediately upset by the intervention of a will that makes Louie next in line for a big inheritance in the event of poor, dumb Heathcliff's "disappearance." A clever running joke has Louie's fiendish murder plots inadvertently prevent Heathcliff from committing certain suicide, while the grand finale must be the ne plus ultra of dynamite-as-birthday-cake-candle gags, as the fuse stays lit for two whole minutes--a Hitchcockian eternity. Only the cynical button Davis and writer Lloyd Turner put on it feels rote; from its bulbous, anti-cute figures to its frequent dusting-off of the z-axis, Dough Ray Me-ow is a restless tweaking of the form that explains at once the brevity of Davis's stint as as a Warner director and his current cult reputation. Alternate Audio (Blu-ray/DVD): In a research-dense commentary, CARTOONRESEARCH.COM editor Jerry Beck credits specific animators with specific gestures, trainspots the musical references, and discusses the audition process by which Turner became a writer for Looney Tunes. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Volume Two [Blu-ray]|Looney Tunes: Golden Collection Volume Four(Running Time: 7:04)
Innocence ****/**** written and directed by Mamoru Oshii
SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW **½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi written and directed by Kerry Conran
Le Temps du loup ****/**** starring Isabelle Huppert, Béatrice Dalle, Patrice Chéreau, Rona Hartner written and directed by Michael Haneke
by Walter Chaw For me, the most intoxicating visions of the future are those in which we're drowning in an ocean of our past--garbage, wreckage, Romes burned to a cinder and heaped against the new Meccas of our collective tomorrows. Star Wars proffered a kind of aesthetic of dirt that appealed: a wonderland where the spaceships looked like they'd been flown and there were places like Mos Eisley that reeked of stale liquor, sawdust, and cigarettes. (The distance that George Lucas has gone to disinfect his grubby vision of the future is the same distance that esteem for the franchise has fallen amongst all but the most die-hard chattel.) Among the spearhead of a group of artists who redefined the science-fiction genre in film the same way that Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah scuffed-up the western in the Sixties, Ridley Scott evolved the idea of a functional future, with his Alien and Blade Runner serving as visual echoes of T.S. Eliot's broken stones and fragments shored against our ruins. Terry Gilliam defined the aesthetic when describing his rationale for the look of Brazil (1985): he wanted it to seem as though the whole century had been compacted into a single moment. The timeless "someday soon" that is always just around a corner that never comes.
*½/**** Image B- Sound A Extras B+ starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Erika Christensen, Sean Bean screenplay by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray directed by Robert Schwentke
by Walter Chaw The bad guys have a plan and to pull it off they need only total omniscience and omnipotence, putting Robert Schwentke's Flightplan in the company of hysterical caper flicks like Arlington Road--though it's also the kind of hysterical estrogen melodrama à la Mildred Pierce in which Jodie Foster specializes these days. Between this and Panic Room, it almost seems as if Foster is taking tough maternal roles to protect the over-exposed, maybe-exploited child actress she used to be, to the point where the quality of the project itself comes second.