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.
by Walter Chaw I recall Luc Besson confessing that his The Fifth Element was based on an idea he'd had as a child; I'm going to wager the same is true of his dreadful Lucy. It's a pre-pubescent boy's fantasy of cool: a mash of silly pop-science buoying a beautiful woman's mutation from impossible party girl into deity through the agency of stem-cell-related drug abuse. The good news is that South Korean superstar Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy) gets a mainstream American debut in a juicy role that nonetheless feels like a wasted opportunity (see: Beat Takeshi in Johnny Mnemonic). The bad news is Lucy is prurient pap that pup-critics will declare proof of "vulgar auteurism," no matter the redundancy and ignorance of the term itself. Perhaps fitting, then, that the only defense of a movie this obnoxious and wilfully dumb is a term and movement founded on the same principles. I've defended Besson in the past--I'm an unapologetic admirer of Leon/The Professional and The Messenger (and Danny the Dog, which he produced, is a peerless statement on the relationship between Western and Asian action stars). But Lucy is reductive, sub-La femme Nikita effluvia that takes a premise niftily played-with in Ted Chiang's beyond-brilliant 1991 short story "Understand" and grinds it into a grey paste.
by Bill Chambers Napoleonic quickdraw Sam--who went by several aliases, such as Chilkoot Sam, Seagoin' Sam, and, most popularly, Yosemite Sam--was story man Mike Maltese's burlesque of the Missouri-born Isadore "Friz" Freleng, who appeared often as the butt of in-jokes in Warner cartoons, some of which Freleng himself made. Freleng subsequently became the character's custodian, and he was the only one foolhardy enough to give this most hostile and venal of Bugs Bunny's adversaries a solo outing, rising to the challenge not by neutering Sam, per se, but rather by identifying Bugs as essentially extraneous in their conflicts: Sam is already his own worst enemy. In Honey's Money, Sam plays a kind of Bluebeard who marries a rich widow to take advantage of her millions (his plans for the money include tearing down orphanages and old-age homes as well as dismantling the police force); one look at her gorilla features almost sends him out the door, but as soon as she mentions her bank account his wilted bouquet is not-so-subtly erect again. Unfortunately for Sam, "Honey" expects him to keep house and be a playmate to her overgrown son, Wentworth (one of Looney Tunes' patented sweet but not-so-gentle giants, voiced by child actor Billy Booth), whom Sam repeatedly schemes to murder, just to make life easier. At the end, suitcases in hand, Sam walks out on his new bride because his self-respect is worth more than material wealth...only to turn around because, no, it's really not. From concept to execution, Honey's Money is captivatingly perverse (or perversely captivating), though the corner-cutting animation--a harbinger of Freleng's '60s work in television--and inelegant shift in focus from Honey to Wentworth make Sam's first and last starring vehicle an uneven one at best. Alternate Audio (Blu-ray/DVD):CARTOONRESEARCH.COM editor Jerry Beck interviews the great June Foray, who used her "Marjorie Main" voice for Honey. Beck's geeky line of questioning about recording for Warner Bros. alas squeezes Honey's Money itself out of the conversation. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Volume Three [Blu-ray]|Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Two(Running Time: 6:20)
Picture “American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers = yay “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers = barf “Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers = okay “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers = ugh “The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers = whatevs “Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers = yay “The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers = lol “Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers = lol
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Clive Owen, Chris Cooper screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum directed by Doug Liman
by Walter ChawThe Bourne Identity is a composition of gestures stripped of romance and presented in their barest forms. It is the most cannily cinematic film of the year and one that, during its first half-hour, boasts blissfully of but one minute of dialogue. The picture recognizes that Matt Damon is best as an everyman with potential by presenting him as a character born at the age of thirty-three. And the Oedipal detective story that forms the centre of the tale ("Who am I?") is so ripe for examination that it may flower in time to be as debated and revered a fantasy as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (which likewise features the murder of The Father prior to a kind of manhood and subsequent mate choice). Very loosely based on Robert Ludlum's novel of the same name, indie punk Doug Liman (director of Swingers) has constructed a parable of self-discovery that can as easily be read as a subversion of the conventions of the thriller genre, a discussion of the ways in which the audience participates in the process of genre fiction, or as a science-fiction piece in which strangely robotic über menschen run amuck in a technocratic world metropolis.
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Some kind of as-yet-unclassified spin-off/rip-off hybrid, Annabelle is a prequel to The Conjuring's prologue that recycles said prologue for the purpose of reacquainting viewers with its title character, even though Annabelle is in fact an origin story. The Conjuring, of course, purports to be based on the actual exploits of the paranormal researchers fictionalized in Poltergeist, which was shot by Matthew F. Leonetti, brother of The Conjuring's DP John R. Leonetti, who moves into the director's chair with Annabelle, a movie that arguably owes less to The Conjuring (despite labouring to evoke it) than to the malicious clown doll from Poltergeist. That low-frequency thrum you sometimes hear on its soundtrack is Hollywood getting ready to fold in on itself.
by Bill ChambersRabbit Punch's simian pugilist "Battling McGook" returns in Bunny Hugged as wrestler "The Crusher," such a fearsome opponent in the ring that his challenger--Gorgeous George parody "Ravishing Ronald," who's introduced with a bang on the J. Arthur Rank gong (suggesting a subtext of British politesse vs. American might) and hilariously announced as "a denatured boy"--is rolled out on a platter. When the Crusher uses RR's hairnet to turn him into a human punching bag, mascot Bugs Bunny ("It's a living") takes matters into his own hands. The prototype for a certain pyramid-shaped beefcake in which director Chuck Jones specialized, the Crusher is unique among Bugs's antagonists in that he serves as some kind of Toon reckoning, completely pulverizing Ravishing Ronald, who holds up sad little "S.O.S." signs, and violating the first rule of Bugs Bunny cartoons, which is that the house always wins. Bugs ultimately triumphs, natch, but the outcome looks bleak until he stops trying to outmuscle the Crusher and turns theirs into a battle of wits. While the violence in Bunny Hugged is mildly traumatizing, perhaps giving it the potential to turn children off the supposedly imitable behaviour of Golden Age slapstick, the enduring appeal of this one is that it's Revenge of the Nerd. (The image of Bugs proudly flexing a drooping arm seems almost pandering these days.) Dynamic character poses throughout. Alternate Audio (Blu-ray/DVD): Sound effects and Carl Stalling's score are isolated on a second track. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Volume Three [Blu-ray]|Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Two(Running Time: 7:15)
Tackle Happy (The Origins of "Puppetry of the Penis") **½/**** Image B Sound B- Extras C- directed by Mick Molloy
by Bill Chambers A name actor once dropped trou' in front of me, under non-sexual circumstances I dare not elaborate. I buried my face in my hands and this only inspired him to taunt me further with his manhood. "What's the matter? It's just a dick," he said. The more I think about it (not that I've been dwelling on it), the more sage his plea of innocence becomes. Penises are obnoxious, and sometimes none too innocuous, but all in all, they're not the least bit sacred. Compare the western cultural reputations of the vagina and the penis: on stage, the former gets a pretentious monologue performed by everyone from Glenn Close to Alanis Morissette; the latter gets a puppet show.