When I die I’d be cool with someone embalming me and using me for a stop-motion animated film. What, is that weird?
Things start off rocky, but they end great,
Dehraadun Diary (2013, Milind Ukey, India) *
I still don’t have a firm grasp on India cinema, and Dehraadun Diary is yet another example of that. I did not get this movie, I understood the motions, I understood what was happening in terms of the plot, but never did I understand this film in terms of filmmaking or storytelling. There’s no tone to Dehreaddun Diary, it’s as if the director simply vomited out all his emotions and mashed them together into one incoherent mess. The acting is some of the worst I’ve sever seen. I’m gonna stop there, Dehraadun Diary is a terrible, terrible film, that’s all I have to say.
Sirius Remembered (1959, Stan Brakhage, United States Of America) ***1/2
Sirius Remembered comes off as a macabre exercise in grief. At least that’s what I thought at first. The more I thought about it my mind changed. Stan Brakhage isn’t being macabre, at least not entirely, in Sirius Remembered. He’s using his vehicle, his camera and editing skills, to celebrate the life of his dog. The edits and camera movement superimpose themselves over the image of Mr. Brakhage’s decomposing dog, in effect giving life to his dog once more. Sirius Remembered is a celebration of life, not of death, and the power of film to remember life that has been taken away.
Lion Of Oz (2000, Tim Deacon, Canada) **
It’s hard for an animated film to overcome animation that ranges from mediocre to subpar. It’s even harder for an animated film to overcome badly written characters. It’s darn near impossible for an animated film to overcome both mediocre animation and badly written characters. Lion Of Oz is a movie that can’t overcome its glaring faults, its subpar animation and badly written characters drag it down from the start. My daughter laughed a few times, but even her patience with the film waned the longer it went on. There’s no reason to visit this part of Oz.
Jens Pulver: Driven (2011, Gregory Bayne, United States Of America) ***
An intimate portrait of a former champion as his mixed martial arts career nears its end. That’s what Jens Pulver: Driven wants to be, and at times it is exactly that. The intimate conversations with Jens Pulver about his past, his family, his career, those are the best moments in the film. Unfortunately the documentary adopts the style of a build-up picture. But, it’s building up to an event that it can’t deliver on. Not just the actual fight footage, but the fact that this is nowhere near the final bout of Mr. Pulver’s career. That leaves the film feeling emotionally dishonest in its finale, and that works against the more intimate nature of the film.
Goon (2011, Michael Dowse, Canada/United States Of America) ***
If not for Seann William Scott I’m not sure that Goon would even be a decent movie. There’s nothing horrendous about the film, outside of the performance of Jay Baruchel that is, but the film as a whole is rather milquetoast. Enter Mr. Scott and his charm, charisma, and ability to make people like him. His Doug Glatt is simple, and very effective because of his simplicity. He’s nice, he’s a good guy, he’s someone to root for. Sometimes in a sports movie that’s all one needs, someone to root for. Goon builds off its lead performance, and because of Mr. Scott the film ends up being better than it has any right to be.
Sharknado (2013, Anthony C. Ferrante, United States Of America) ***
A terrible movie that goes for the gold with great gusto. It’s a treat to watch a movie that knows it’s horrendous and maximizes all of its efforts towards being as horrendous as possible. Terrible acting, nonsensical plot, bad CG, a girl who wants to sleep with one dude in the beginning of the film and then his dad at the end of the film in what is supposed to a touching and tender moment, yep, Sharknado has it all. The Ferris wheel sequence almost seems too good, and then it hits a building and the awful CG reminds us all that we’re watching great cheesy terribleness.
The Three Lives Of Thomasina (1964, Don Chaffey, United Kingdom/United States Of America) ***
A charming feature that works well within its run time. The production design is what stood out to me the most, from the costumes to the sets I was mightily impressed by how handsome the production design was. The message of the film is a decent one, the acting is pretty good across the board, with the kids being especially likable. The characters do feel somewhat shallow, but ultimately that isn’t a major detriment to the film. The Three Lives Of Thomasina is much like it’s main cat, adorable in a peculiar sort of fashion.
Moznosti Dialogu (Dimensions Of Dialogue, 1983, Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia) ****
Discussion is the life blood of life, in all its many forms. We are who we are, and we do the things we do, because of the people we talk with. Jan Svankmajer’s short film is about the beauty of discussion, the ability of discussion to empower us, and the tendency for discussion to destroy us. The puzzle of discussion is presented in stunning stop-motion animation, with a vibrancy and a dullness that work together instead of canceling each other out. Ultimately, Moznosti Dialogu is nihilistic and cannibalistic, but so is humanity, and that’s as sad as this film.
Mest Kinematograficheskogo Operatora (The Revenge Of A Kinematograph Cameraman, 1912, Wladyslaw Starewicz, Russia) ****
Stop-motion animation has never been done better, and that’s high praise indeed. The level of detail on display, the way the beetles are melded into the background and their surroundings, it’s all very astonishing. From a technical standpoint Mest Kinematograficheskogo Operatora is fine, fine stuff. Then there’s the story, which is simple, to the point, and complements the animation wonderfully. There’s a bit of god’s hand at work in the story, but in the end it’s mainly a film about the beauty of animation being used to relay a truth of human relationships, and some comedy to boot. Of course, there are those who would say, “why is this animated” and that just makes me shake my head with sadness.
That Darn Cat! (1965, Robert Stevenson, United States Of America) ***
Surprisingly adult at times, but funny throughout. As I’ve come to expect from a Disney Films live action film from the 1960s there is plenty of charm on display here. There’s also plenty of chemistry between the actors, and that really helps the film. The adult nature of some of the film actually manages to mesh well with the more family friendly fare throughout. Having a cute cat take up a lot of screen time certainly doesn’t hurt. Overall That Darn Cat! is a lot of fun, much more than I thought it would be.
World War Z (2013, Marc Forster, Malta/United States Of America) ***
Intense film, and very well structured. What most impressed me about World War Z was how despite its run time it is very lean and to the point. There is some exposition, but the film always quickly gets things going again. There’s a sense of dread throughout the film, and well filmed action makes up a good portion of the film. World War Z also works very well as a horror film, as it builds to lots of suspenseful moments and delivers in said moments. The zombies themselves also really help to sell the film, as they are portrayed more as weapons of brutality than any other zombie I’ve seen in film form before. Didn’t know what to expect from this one, but I ended up having a great time watching World War Z.
First week back for this column, and a nice variety of movies. The short films were king this week, but nothing even comes close to touching Mest Kinematograficheskogo Operatora as the Russian film easily takes home movie of the week honors and moves into my top twenty of all time. Until next week, watch more movies!