This Week In Cinema: December 11-17, 2011

Gromit sure does take a lot of crap, but I guess that’s why he is the perfect embodiment of man’s best friend!

I watched a lot of movies this week, which is unusual for me lately, so don’t get used to this Herculean output,

Kiwi! (2006, Dony Permedi, United States Of America) ***

The animation is a bit rough, and so is the editing. But, within this three minute short there is a hefty message that is delivered with gusto. When that kiwi finally achieves his life long dream it is a great moment. It’s quickly followed by a bittersweet but poignant ending. Rough around the edges, but pretty darn good on the whole, that’s Kiwi!.

Tma/Svetlo/Tma (Darkness/Light/Darkness, 1990, Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia) ****

I don’t know why but this was my first film from Jan Svankmajer. After one film I can see why he has garnered such a surrealist reputation. Maybe I’ll end up thinking differently as I discover more of his work, but in the present Tma/Svetlo/Tma is a magnificent piece of film making. The stop motion animation is impressive in its own right, but even more impressive is the ideas the film explores. Pan Svankmajer, in my mind, puts forth that man is nothing more than the sum of his parts. In fact, when our parts are taken as a whole humanity is restricted by its natural surroundings. As far as surreal works go Tma/Svetlo/Tma was certainly a great one.

Powers Of Ten (1977, Charles & Ray Eames, United States Of America) **1/2

The educational importance of Powers Of Ten is without question. My interest in its subject matter is also without question. That does not mean that education and interest met to produce a documentary that was interesting to watch. Powers Of Ten is an example of a movie that belongs in the physics classroom, because outside of its educational goals it doesn’t serve much of a purpose for me. I’m sure that as is usually the case with documentaries I will be in the minority, but Powers Of Ten simply was not a movie that interested me in its form, or artistic merit.

A Matter Of Loaf And Death (2008, Nick Park, United Kingdom) ****

I’ve recently become a fan of the Wallace And Gromit series of films, and I know I am late to the party. I believe that with A Matter Of Loaf And Death I have now seen every entry in said series of films. I came away from this film heartily thinking of it as the best entry in the entire series. The broad laughs are present, the wit and smart humor are present and the animation is still top notch. What really impressed me about A Matter Of Loaf And Death more than in any of the other Aardman Animations production was the wit of the script beyond a humorous aspect. The references to other films and to events in the world are sharp in this film. The entire film is sharp and on the money in every respect.

The Santa Clause (1994, John Pasquin, United States Of America) ***

The Santa Clause is a really good uplifting movie. There’s really nothing all that wrong with the film’s more juvenile and cheesy moments, they just didn’t always appeal to me. John Pasquin and company have delivered a movie with a very positive message, lots of imagination, and a film that is a plain old fun time. I was afraid that The Santa Clause would not hold up to my fond memories, but it held up quite nicely.

Mickey’s Trailer (1938, Ben Sharpsteen, United States Of America) ***1/2

Good old fashioned Mickey Mouse fun. The Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy act like a pack of dopes and the audience laughs right along with their zany antics. The animation is really good, but it’s mainly the funny and endearing actions of characters who I happen to love that made Mickey’s Trailer a blast to watch. Very light on story, but not light on the funny situations, Mickey’s Trailer is another great short from Disney.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Burny Mattinson, United States Of America) ***1/2

The classic tale with with Mickey Mouse and a few other Disney characters thrown into the mix. It’s a simple concept and the payoff is simply a pleasure. It’s a trimmed down version of Charles Dickens’ story but that’s for the best I think because the short running time helps this version to maintain a succinct and brisk feel. What can I say, I love Mickey Mouse and I really like seeing him, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, and more having fun with such a classic tale.

The Small One (1978, Don Bluth, United States Of America) ***

A personal favorite of my wife’s, as can be attested to by her balling like a baby throughout most of this one. Don Bluth’s fingerprints are all over this short, from the character design to direct nature of the story. It is sentimental and cloying, but surprisingly it manages to be effective with both of those tactics. I didn’t see the tie in to Jesus Christ coming, but that may speak more to my shortcomings of correlation than anything positive with the film. Still, The Small One makes it’s point about belonging and usefulness in a swell package.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952, Jack Hannah, United States Of America) ***

A simple Disney short, but one that is a lot of fun thank to Pluto. Watching Pluto do his thing is really what this short is all about. He locks horns with Chip and Dale, or I should say they exist and that is enough to get Pluto into a tizzy. Mickey is his usual jovial self, but this is a Pluto centric short and those are almost always about stupid, frivolous fun. Pluto’s Christmas Tree delivers exactly that type of fun, and that made me a happy camper.

Santa’s Workshop (1932, Wilfred Jackson, United States Of America) **

The quality animation aside, this short didn’t do a whole lot for me. It is an exploration of a simple concept, that of a Santa Clause based animated short. The problem is that it’s not much more than a simple exploration. Wilfred Jackson is one of the all time great animation directors, but he appears to be asleep at the wheel. He doesn’t do anything interesting with the animation, the characters, or the songs. Santa’s Workshop is a good example of the quality found in early animation, but as a film it’s mediocre.

The Addams Family (1991, Barry Sonnenfeld, United States Of America) **1/2

I watched this movie so much as a kid that I wore out the VHS tape. I wish those sweet memories were all I had of The Addams Family, but I revisited the film and came away less than impressed. From a macabre standpoint it’s cute until it becomes obvious that the films version of the macabre is simply that which is the exact opposite of what mainstream America would deem normal. The characters, at least from the Addams clan, are all uniformly interesting but we don’t really get to know any of them. The film moves along at a brisk pace, but it moves along so briskly that it’s over before we have a chance to get to know the characters or the world of the film.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Bill Melendez, United States Of America) ***

Cute and a hint of nostalgia. Beyond that I was not awestruck with A Charlie Brown Christmas like I remembered being. Mainly because for as cute as it is I had completely blocked from my memory how mean the other kids were to Charlie Brown and to each other. Don’t get me wrong, even the mean humor is still funny and cute at times, but by golly those kids are really freaking mean and it’s kind of distracting. Oh, and Snoopy is still very, very cool, as is the fact that Charlie Brown is suffering from a full on depressive disorder. Okay, maybe depressive disorders aren’t cool, but the fact that Charlie Brown is in the middle of an apparent major episode of his disorder is odd in a funny sort of way.

It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992, Bill Melendez, United States Of America) **

This was an odd one, for a short film it was very episodic. It was also all over the place, very meandering and without any point that spoke to me. I had trouble paying attention to It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, and that shouldn’t happen in a short about the Peanuts gang. Snoopy is still cool, Charlie Brown is still as depressed as ever, and there are tiny windows into the well known Peanuts humor, but on the whole this was too scattershot in presentation for my liking.

A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark, Canada/United States Of America) ***

Believe it or not but this is the first time I have ever seen A Christmas Story. I don’t know how I managed to avoid this film on TV for oh these many years, or not rent it on VHS or DVD, but I did. I’m sure people thought I watched it, what with the way I say fragile in the same jokingly wrong way as the father. I did laugh at quite a few bits in A Christmas Story but I wasn’t as taken with the film as most folks appear to be. Outside of those few chuckles I didn’t get a whole lot out of the film. I found the narration overbearing and none of the characters were fleshed out so that they mattered to me. Still, I did chuckle enough to like the film, and that’s all that matters I suppose.

Wrap-Up:

A lot of films this week, and the majority of them were good. There were a few in the running for movie of the week. In the end I went with one of the many shorts that I watched, A Matter Of Loaf And Death takes home movie of the week honors over a couple of equally deserving films. A Matter Of Loaf And Death almost made my top one hundred films of all time, and that alone makes this a great week of movie watching. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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