My toy soldiers would have been screwed, they would have been dealing with magical barbarians and giant robots!
Nice mixture of short films and features this week,
Species (1995, Roger Donaldson, United States Of America) **1/2
Species is at its best when it revels in its cheesiness. Unfortunately it’s not at its best too often. Instead Roger Donaldson tries to present Species as a serious film most of the time, and that’s just not what Species is, or should be. When Alfred Molina is being a dork, or Forrest Whitaker is completely misrepresenting what an empath is, or when Natasha Henstridge is naked, that’s when Species is being cheesy and having fun. The rest of the time it attempts to be a serious piece of science fiction. However, held under any sort of microscope Species shows all of its cracks and warbles easily.
Le Mélomane (The Music Lover, 1903, Georges Méliès, France) ***1/2
It’s always a lot of fun watching Georges Méliès play around with the cinematic form. There’s comedy to be found in Le Mélomane, and said comedy hides the experimentation taking place. Monsieur Méliès seems to be most concerned with editing, and using editing to manipulate the image on screen. Not only is he a master at editing in a technical sense, but his edits aid the story. His films are short, and Le Mélomane is no different, but there’s more to take away from a three minute Georges Méliès film than most blockbusters these days.
Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye, United Kingdom) ***
The technique Len Lye uses to produce his film is impressive. Using various tools and instruments to scratch lines into film stock that move in rhythm with an African drum beat is bound to impress even the most cynical mind. However, the final product as a film was less impressive than said technique. I appreciated the effort it took to make the film, but the longer the short went the more I wondered why it was still playing. It’s not that long as is, but Free Radicals does overstay its welcome and dilute the impact of its technical prowess.
Scotch Hop (1953, Christopher Maclaine, United States Of America) ***
A slice of life documentary, but a slice of life that is foreign and interesting. Scotch Hop plays like a sort of travelogue, but it offers insight into Scottish traditions and how they have been carried over into modern life. I was reminded of Chris Marker’s work, particularly Sans Soleil, but I enjoyed Scotch Hop more because it was presented in a more palatable chunk of time and ultimately it was more insightful.
Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante, United States Of America) ***1/2
Joe Dante is possessed with the ability to take any premise and make it loads of fun. I know there are some who don’t like the word fun as a descriptive used in relation to a critique of a film. It’s hard to think of a better word to describe a Joe Dante film than, well, fun. Small Soldiers is no different, it’s fun from the word go. The story is predictable, and character development need not apply, but neither of those elements are warranted in a film like Small Soldiers. There’s lots of cool action, gallows humor, and an energy about the film that is infectious. In short, Small Soldiers is another brilliantly madcap product from the mind of a director interesting in making fun movies.
Monsters (2010, Gareth Edwards, United Kingdom) ***
A strong premise that wobbles as the film meanders. I was drawn into the world of Monsters, and that was where Gareth Edwards showed the most promise as a filmmaker. He takes a minimal budget and crafts a completely believable dystopian vision. The little details make the world of Monsters shine, such as animated commercials telling kids how to put on their gas masks. I liked the characters of Andrew Kaulder and Samantha Wynden, but as the film progresses they are lost in the literal darkness of the film. The message, or theme, of Monsters was present from the start, but at the end it feels like being hit on the head with an anvil sized theme. When the film finally finishes the punch of the initial premise has dissipated to the point where the film whimpers off the screen.
The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! (1988, David Zucker, United States Of America) ***
The seriousness of Leslie Nielsen and George Kennedy is what sells this movie. I’ll be honest, I didn’t laugh as much as I remembered laughing when I last watched it years ago. The humor is too on the juvenile side for me, and far too often. But, it has flashes of brilliance, and moments where it’s really funny because of how serious the actors are next to farcical satire. It helps that The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! is very short, because if it were any longer this film would be entering mediocre territory.
After Porn Ends (2010, Bryce Wagoner, United States Of America) ***1/2
A surprisingly adroit documentary, one that avoids exploitation and instead focuses on honesty. There are a number of people who make up the porn industry, and what they do after porn is just as varied. What Bryce Wagoner’s film does is to allow its subjects to tell their stories. It doesn’t judge them, nor does it look to be salacious. These are interesting people, with interesting things to say and lives led. Mr. Wagoner keeps his camera on his subjects, providing just enough old footage so we know who they were before they left porn. His camera shows that there are no saints or demons in porn, only people living their lives and dealing with the decisions they’ve made.
Three pretty great films were up for consideration this week, and those three films easily stood out from the rest of the pack. Of those three it’s Joe Dante’s slapstick and dark comedy infused story of toys gone wrong that wins the prize. Small Soldiers takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!