If there’s one thing that never gets old it’s Nazis, and I mean they never get old!
A lot of short films this week equals a week where I watched a lot of movies,
Halloweentown (1998, Duwayne Dunham, United States Of America) *1/2
Usually direct to video from Disney equals a bad experience. Halloweentown doesn’t live up to its potential but I was surprised at how much potential there was to be found in some of the ideas behind the film. The action is stupid, the acting is bad, and the dialogue is terrible. But there are some decent costumes, and some good ideas at play, and that kept me going through all of the bad aspects of the film. I wish there was more to the good ideas though, and that said ideas didn’t get bogged down in so much stupidity and awfulness.
An American Tail (1986, Don Bluth, United States Of America) ***
An American Tail is simplistic, but it’s very charming and universal. The story is universal because it can, in its own unique way, apply to anyone who has immigrated to America. The promise of a better life, the struggle with the realization that the better life isn’t completely true, the loss of family, and so on. This is backed up by wonderful animation from Don Bluth, his usual well rounded style is full of detail and life. Don Bluth made a career out of movies that were very similar in style, but when his style produces such quality work as An American Tail I welcome his approach.
The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946, Robert Clampett, United States Of America) ***
There are ingenious moments in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, and watching Daffy Duck do his thing is always fun. I especially liked the Dick Tracy tie in, and the way that one particular villain erases Daffy off of the screen. The animation was very good as well, nice and clean with a detailed look and rounded lines. The Great Piggy Bank Robbery is fun, and well made, but it’s also missing that extra something to put it among the greats of Looney Tunes. The story itself is most at fault, because it’s too ordinary and never goes beyond being just a bit of fun.
Popeye The Sailor Meets Sinbad The Sailor (1936, Willard Bowsky & Dave Fleischer, United States Of America) ***1/2
Willard Bowsky and Dave Fleischer’s short starts off incredibly strong. The deep voice of Gus Wickie as Sinbad the Sailor booms through a delightfully boastful number about his many conquests. That’s followed up by the arrival of Popeye the Sailor and his compatriots. Up until that point the animation has been pretty great but it had been somewhat static in its presentation. When Sinbad sics a bird of prey upon Olive Oil the animation perks up in the form of a point of view shot from breath the flapping wing of said bird of prey. The usual Popeye antics follow, and while they are fun the best of Popeye The Sailor Meets Sinbad The Sailor is found in Sinbad’s song and the often brilliant animation.
The Skeleton Dance (1929, Walt Disney, United States Of America) ***
A cute short, but no more than that. Obviously the animation is innovative in structure, but it’s very plain in style and serves a cute observational story. It’s tough to see what skill Walt Disney showed as a director because while the animation was varied it followed a very basic structural outline. That’s honestly about all I have to say about this particular short, outside of the animation style there isn’t much in The Skeleton Dance to discuss.
Snow-White (1933, Dave Fleischer, United States Of America) ***1/2
A surrealist adventure that reminded me of another 30s animated short, Porky In Wackyland. The animation is very good, although it does suffer from static moments that do haunt much of Dave Fleischer’s work. The portrayal of the evil queen is a bit on the nose, if you’ll pardon my pun. The real highlight of the film that ranks as one of the greatest animated sequences of all time is Cab Calloway’s jaunt through a weird underworld/mine as Koko the Clown. That’s when the short moves from odd to completely surreal and it never looks back. Snow-White is short enough that the good non-Koko parts are swiftly elevated by the tremendous Koko parts.
Bedazzled (2000, Harold Ramis, Germany/United States Of America) **1/2
Elizabeth Hurley is great to look at and Brendan Fraser brings surprisingly good comedic timing to his part. Other than that Bedazzled is a confusing film, a comedy that isn’t always funny and that tries to shoehorn in an existential message about the good in all of humanity that falls completely flat. If Harold Ramis had played the film as a straight comedy (having not seen the Dudley Moore original I’m not sure how the story in that one compared to this version) I would have liked Bedazzled more. The film really plays up the relationship between Miss Hurley and Mr. Fraser, and it is a fun dynamic. Actually, if not for the out of nowhere somewhat serious ending I definitely would have liked Bedazzled more because I was enjoying myself before the ending changed how I felt about the rest of the film.
Minnie The Moocher (1932, Dave Fleischer, United States Of America) ***1/2
Allow Cab Calloway’s intoxicating vocals and his orchestra’s enticing riffs to carry your mind away. The animation will take care of what is left of your brain. Minnie The Moocher is essentially an experimental video, a chance to watch and marvel at the variety that animation can bring to the field of motion pictures. In a short eight minutes Dave Fleischer manages to present quite the exotic animated treat, a surreal film where the animators aren’t afraid to try anything with their pencils. The music is a great boost to the animation, you might say that Mr. Calloway and Mr. Fleischer are a match made in a weird and distorted heaven.
Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs (1943, Robert Clampett, United States Of America) **1/2
There are certain movies that are tough to judge because of their content. Then there are movies that are tough to judge because of the historical context of their content. Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs is a movie from category number two. On the one hand it’s portrayal of a group of people, in this case African-Americans, is abhorrent. The sad thing is I don’t believe said portrayal was intended to be racist. But what was meant to be funny and to in a small way highlight the idea of “black” music that was becoming more mainstream in the 40s ends up very, very racist. What makes Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs so hard to judge is that it is such a well made animated short. The animation is outstanding, and the music sounds wonderful. The story is a classic but with a spin on it and that is where the film starts to get into trouble with the racism. At the end of the day I can appreciate the craziness of the visuals of Mr. Clampett’s film and I can acknowledge the loveliness of the animation. At the same time I cannot get past how racist the film is and how it piles on said racism from start to finish.
Billy Madison (1995, Tamra Davis, United States Of America) *
I had memories of liking this film a lot, I guess I grew up. It’s so stupid that it’s insulting and it’s almost never funny. Chris Farley has a few funny moments and Norm MacDonald is good for at least one funny line, but that’s about it. The character Adam Sandler plays is such an unlikable git that the movie made it impossible for me to get on board. The film is also hurt because the character of Billy Madison isn’t just childish he’s probably mentally retarded and the film is making fun of him. Billy Madison, the movie, is mean spirited, stupid, and very unfunny, nothing like I remembered.
Der Fuehrer’s Face (1942, Jack Kinney, United States Of America) ***1/2
Pure propaganda, but some of the most finely made propaganda I’ve ever come across. The animation is clean and fluid, and the colors are quite radiant. Donald Duck is, well, Donald Duck and that is of course good for a few laughs on its own. The film is honest about what it is, it’s not trying to hide how pro-America it is or how anti-Nazi it is. Der Fuehrer’s Face looks great, it’s funny, and it manages to be a quality work of art as well as a well made propaganda film.
Little Rural Riding Hood (1949, Tex Avery, United States Of America) ***1/2
Tex Avery has a way of making subversive films that on the surface don’t appear to be all that subversive. On it’s surface Little Rural Riding Hood is just a story of two cousins and how they go ga ga over women. At first Little Rural Riding Hood even seems mean spirited with it’s depiction of the rural cousin. However, once the city cousin sees the rural Red Riding Hood and loses his marbles it becomes clear that Mr. Avery isn’t making just a surface cartoon. Rural or city, all guys go crazy over ladies, refinement does not matter. And if it’s a Tex Avery film that means that the subversion is in service of some great animation and laughs.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1953, Ted Parmelee, United States Of America) ***1/2
The story is just as great as it always is, if maybe a little better with James Mason providing the narration. With the story being a proven variable it’s up to the animation to either sink or swim this short. There’s a particular shot of a mangled door frame reaching to the full moon that emphasizes how great the animation is in The Tell-Tale Heart. The animation consistently has a surreal and washed out drab style that helps to accentuate the story. Fans of the classic Edgar Allen Poe story will really enjoy this version, if they haven’t seen it already that is.
The Client (1994, Joel Schumacher, United States Of America) **
The neatest of movies, The Client fits every character and every scene into tidy little boxes. The acting is par for the course, showy and attention grabbing to try and distract from the fact that the story leaves a lot to be desired. The Client creates a world in which the whites are as white as can be and the blacks are so black that a mere glimpse at their faces lets you know how evil they are. The film is so straight forward in its presentation that it’s boring. The actors mug their hearts out and the lead kid is super precocious, yet he’s never interesting and the film is flat.
The Godfather: Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola, United States Of America) ***
There’s an inevitability to the final film in Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy. Michael Corleone is a man shuffling towards the end, and there is no hope of things ending well. This is set against the usual machinations of a film where the mafia is glorified. While I am still uneasy with said glorification, I can’t deny the impressive nature of the production and the way that the lives of these characters draw my interest. It helps that Andy Garcia is magnificent in his role, outshining everyone else in the cast with ease as the youth so full of vitriol that he has no choice but to slowly morph into the emotionally distant Mafioso. The cast is also where the biggest misstep takes place, and to the surprise of no one that misstep is Sofia Coppola. She has a blank face, and a blank presence that renders all of her scenes a moot point. This becomes a major problem when the climactic scene of The Godfather: Part III hinges on her character and her performance. That scene lacks the impact it needs and it brings all the impressive production of the film crashing down. I’m happy that The Godfather: Part III was much better than I had been led to believe, but it’s still well below the other two films in the trilogy.
Océans (2009, Jacques Cluzaud & Jacques Perrin, France/Spain/Switzerland) ***1/2
A lot of people know that I used to be very anti-documentary. Well, times change, and so do people. I’m still not one hundred percent on board with documentary film making, but there are certain documentaries that are now able to pierce my anti-documentary armor. Océans is one such documentary, and it does so because of its beauty. The narrative is not the driving force of Océans, in its stead the force is the visuals and the splendor of the oceans. The medium of film allows for such visually magnificent movies to be produced, and there wasn’t a second of Océans where I was not glued to the finely detailed visuals that the film had to offer. Océans is a beautiful film, there’s no two ways around that, and I was more then willing to allow the films visual splendor to pull me under.
Lots and lots of great movies this week, along with a few good ones and only a couple of stinkers. The shorts really stood out this week, but among those there was one short that stood out more than the rest. Donald Duck is the man and Der Fuehrer’s Face takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!