Rewind Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the rare film that can keep the energy, verve and humor of an animated short through the course of a feature film. It is also a prime example of the modern equivalent of irreverent humor which would be better described as “random,” which would be typified by television programming such as Family Guy and the works of Dan Schneider such as iCarly, The Amanda Show, etc. The film manages to be consistently funny in an off-the-wall kind of way, which is quite difficult.

Yet simultaneously it also managed to have the things you needed to move the story along and not just the novelty of the science. There was the love interest which was instantly established with witty dialogue which shows that Sam Sparks and Flint Lockwood are meant to be as she instantly realizes the purpose of all his wild inventions. There is of course the inevitable moment where Flint’s success breeds blindness and slight megalomania and causes him to mistreat his love, but what is refreshing is that their parting doesn’t unnecessarily extend the film. As might happen in reality the reconciliation happens nearly without words needing to be exchanged and there is no undue, overly-long apology.

The father-son dynamic is also an underpinning of this humorous and whimsical tale that doesn’t in and of itself add itself as an obstacle but rather adds texture to the tale and also serves as the device that makes Flint realize that his invention that has been causing it to rain food has gone wild.

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What drives Lockwood to lose perspective is pressure applied by Mayor Shelbourne, given life by Bruce Campbell in a very good role, who wants to use the machine to make Swallow Falls a tourist attraction and in the process he becomes morbidly obese. It would be a new claim to fame for the sardine fishing island which displaces ‘Baby’ Brent, the sardine mascot, who in his-mid thirties coasts on that fame and is one of the funniest characters in the film voiced by Adam Samberg of SNL fame.

While typically a voice cast should be invisible, meaning anonymous or unrecognizable in the part, the standout was someone who was distinctive and recognizable but yet managed to play a character and not a caricature. The local police officer Cal Devereaux played by Mr. T, yes that Mr. T, was one of the better characters and the funniest performance – and he didn’t even have to say “I pity the fool.” However, most of the cast was invisible as mentioned, case in point Neil Patrick Harris was Steve the monkey with the thought-translator strapped on which was just a small example of the random humor as well as Flint saying what he’s doing, vocalizing a fake score, or a face in the crowd saying something wild like “I’ve got a macaroni on my head” when that is the case.
The only thing in the film that gives you pause is that the camera man, Manny, is a walking deus ex machina. When someone capable of being a doctor and flying a makeshift plane is needed we learn that the man who has been there but unseen can do both these things. Even though it allows for one very good joke about how he was a doctor in Guatemala it was somewhat odd that he also had emergency supplies on him and then was also able to fly. In a film this irreverent it takes a lot to say “come on” but that did it.\

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With the pervasiveness of 3-D it hardly ever seems worth mentioning. In this film, however, that is not the case and it in fact enhanced the experience especially the scenes within the machine-turned-meatball which were rendered much more realistic and interesting due to the fact that they were in 3-D.

All in all it is a very enjoyable experience that far surpassed this critic’s expectations and speaking as one who was unfamiliar with the tale it is likely to entertain most.

8/10

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Review: Bloody Knuckles

Bloody Knuckles is the kind of movie where pulling together a coherent review from the seamless insanity it is will prove quite difficult. However, I will do my best to convey to you all just how fantastic this film is.

Firstly, I try to avoid like the plague hyperbolic superlatives upon first viewing a film that I may lament later. Yet there are two such thoughts that came to mind with regards to this one that with further reflection seem to prove to be more and more true. Firstly, it is the best satirical horror/comedy since The Stuff (1985), and in a more unique feat it’s the best film featuring an anthropomorphic severed hand I’ve ever seen.

Bloody Knuckles tells the story of an underground comic book artist, Travis (Adam Boys), who believes no one deserves to be untouched if they’re fit for satirizing. After lampooning a local crime boss, Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak). He is then targeted, and has his right hand amputated forcibly. Depressed he thinks he will never draw again until he gets an unexpected visit from his hand!

Bloody Knuckles (2014, Artsploitation Films_

The teaser of the film sets it up beautifully and my word the song choice for the opening title sequence is inspired (I will not spoil it). It’s a song that works twice as well if you know it but still fits regardless.

Next there is through the course of this film one friend who cam to mind who I would recommend it to (and did), and one person I would want to screen it for (and I hope to).

In terms of humor it is quite funny. It’s Silly, vulgar, and with a message not unlike Kevin Smith’s films. I nearly laughed through the last scene based on one joke alone.

Bloody Knuckles (2014, Artsploitation Films)

Yet even with all the irreverence to be found in the title it is also a tautly structured gem. The horror and superhero elements on point; circles closing, left, right, and center. Not only that but with silly gags the temptation to go off on a tangent can be huge. This film does not do that instead it features well thought out, useful, illuminating subplots.

Bloody Knuckles has to be considered among the best of the year, and it likely to make quite a bit of noise at the annual BAM Awards. It’s a brisk rollicking good time that doesn’t play it safe and is all the more hilarious, thought-provoking, and intriguing because of it.

10/10

Mini-Review- Spud 2: The Madness Continues

Spud 2: The Madness Continues is a follow-up to the film Spud. Like the cinematic predecessor before it this one is also based on a novel by John van de Ruit which tells a coming-of-age tale at a boys boarding school in South Africa. While the first film takes place against the end of apartheid and is very much Spud’s tale, the sequel begins to tell the story in the immediate aftermath thereof and is more an ensemble piece than the prior film.

It is the nuclear subplot in the film that is the most effective. In John (“Spud” Troye Sivan’s) home where his mother (Julie Summers) is insisting she wants to move to England for she feels she cannot adapt to the new South African reality, whereas Spud and his father (Aaron McIlroy) are perfectly content where they are.

While the romantic storyline is followed up from the first film and some good growth is shown there the film essentially ends up being too sporadic. Again there is a schoolyear-long structure to the story. The major difference here is that the flow is not nearly as good. That and the other members of the Crazy Eight (Spud’s group of friends) get more screentime in less substantive and interwoven manners than in the first installment. Add that to the emergence of the Normal Seven (A group of first years who are singled out and hazed for their normality by the Crazy Eight). Then when you add the late-game re-emergence and lessening of The Guv (John Cleese) the attentions are divided and the plot spread thin.

There are some laughs and good times to be had but eventually the trudging narrative does wear a bit. A misstep in the follow-up in a series is not unusual. With a third film released in South Africa in November and hitting iTunes globally this year hopefully the series concludes on a better note.

4/10

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: The Snubs – Defunct Categories

Introduction

Oscar Envelope

Film is an ever-changing artform, so it stands to reason that the awards that Hollywood created to help celebrate the industry should evolve. It’s more apparent when you realize that the Oscars began when the industry was in flux as sound was in its infancy.

Film has twice adapted itself in competition with other media arts. Synchronized sound came on the heels of the popularity of radio and a shift in aspect ratio, away from 1:33 to widescreen formats was introduced to distance itself from television. The same competition with television helped push films away from black and white film and towards color. With just these technical changes its natural that some award categories would fall in an out of favor over time, some aren’t so obvious. Some, surprisingly, should have never left. I will discuss the categories that are no longer around.

Best Picture, Production and Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production (1929)

Sunrise (1927, 20th Century Fox)

The Academy Awards began with two different iterations of Best Picture. In 1929 the winners of these two respective categories were Wings (Production) and Sunrise (Unique and Artistic). My interpretation of these trophies is that one is more akin to a PGA (Producers Guild of America) award. Whereas, the logistics, accomplishments and merits of the production are highly impressive and well-executed even if the picture mat not be the best overall. Unique and artistic would then be a more narrative-award with special emphasis on creativity. This is a distinction that could’ve proved highly useful in later years. Imagine if it had been around in 1998 (the first year that jumps to mind) give Production to Titanic and Unique and Artistic to As Good as It Gets or L.A. Confidential or Good Will Hunting. Or earlier maybe How Green Was My Valley could get Production and Citizen Kane can get Unique and Artistic and everyone can leave the former alone already, and stop hating it for something that’s no fault of its own.

Ultimately, I understand how the two awards would forever cause confusion and why they needed merging, but it is interesting to consider.

Best Director, Comedy Picture and Dramatic Picture (1929)

Frank Borzage

The Golden Globes still have Comedy/Musical and Dramatic categories for Films and Actors, but not directors. The directing job is highly different in both aspects. Are comedies far too overlooked when it comes to award shows? Yes. Does each year really merit having both categories? Probably not, and surely enough it was not a category the following year.

Best Title Writing (1929)

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927, First National Pictures)

To be quite honest considering that the industry was already in flux awkwardly transitioning from silent to talkie I’m a little surprised this was a category at the first awards. Granted some were trying to dismiss synchronized sound as a fad, but it was clear it was coming. Some categories held on longer, but silent films in the end virtually vanished quite quicker than black-and-white fare or 4:3 aspect ratio films.

Yes, titles were crucial in the silent era, and silents did win Oscars, but it’s slightly unusual that this was actually a category for one year.

Best Cinematography, Color and Best Cinematography, Black and White 1936-1939 (Special Achievement) 1940-1966

Psycho (1960, Universal)

This split became a mainstay of the Academy for 27 editions of the Awards. This is quite a long time and indicates that despite the business-related impetus for color cinematography the necessity of occasionally going into more ethereal monochrome remained and undeniable siren’s call for filmmakers for many years to come.

As wide as the gap between color productions and black-and-white ones have become they are not extinct as recent films like Ida, The Artist and The White Ribbon indicate. Yet, color cinematography in unquestionably ubiquitous enough such that the split no longer makes sense. It most definitely did at one time: color and black-and-white are two different ways of seeing the world. The reason for splitting the two was due to that and the fact that they were fairly equally split. With little equality superlative black-and-white films do have to compete against chromatic ones be it fair or unfair; it’s just a reality.

Best Effects, Engineering Effects (1929)

Wings (1927, Paramount)

The awards for Special Effects were ones that had many names an iterations before becoming a mainstay. A category for “Special Effects, Engineering Effects” existed at the first ceremonies. They returned in 1938 with and Honorary Award. From 1939 to 1962 Visual and Sound Effects shared an award titled Special Effects. In 1963 Special Visual Effects took over. From ’72-’77 it was awarded under Special Achievement Award. The current Special Visual Effects title debuted in 1995.

However, going back to the original trophy it puts me in a mind that perhaps the Academy does need to encourage and reward different kinds of effects work. Maybe split it between practical and computerized. It actually would encourage creativity and be fair. For example many of the most impressive feats in Inception (like the spinning hallway) were done practically. This could highlight those creative moments but still reward highly-creative, ever-evolving computerized effects work.

Best Writing, Achievement 1930

The Patriot (1928, Paramount)

This was the category introduced for the 2nd Annual ceremonies and for that year only. It was an attempt to transition away from three categories (Original, Adaptation and Title Writing) to just one. The only other award I ever saw merge all screenplays into one category was my own for a while. However, adaptation and original screenplays are games with similar rules but different approaches and need different skills. They should be separately awarded and this change is one that was needed.

The Juvenile Award (Awarded intermittently from 1935-1961)

The Window (1949, RKO)

This is an award I’ve already written about at length here. In that post I chronicled those young people who were honored by the Academy. I also followed-up on that by listing who since 1961 would have earned the honor, or could have, if it was still something awarded. Since my personal BAM Awards have started offering parity (meaning the same categories for mature and young performers) I have become convinced the Academy could fill a roster of five nominees a year for a category with this same concept. The term juvenile may be dated, and have poor connotations now, but the idea is one worth revisiting.

Best Short Subject, Cartoons (1932-1957) Short Subject, Comedy (1932-1937), Short Subject Novelty (1932-1937), Short Subject Color (1937-38) Short Subject One-Reel (1937-1957) and Short Subject Two-Reel (1937-1957)

The Dot and the Line (1965, MGM)

You can almost always look to the Academy for some kind of indication as to what the state of the art at least in terms of trends. One thing that would be apparent to someone looking solely at the Oscars with no other film knowledge would be that short films used to be a much more integral part of Hollywood films than they are now. For six years Live Action films were split into Comedies and Novelties, which featured, as the name implies varied subjects and approaches. Starting in 1937 animated films (then referred to as Cartoons by the Academy) were split off and Live Action films were bifurcated by length either one-reel (about 10 minutes or less) or two-reel (about 20 minutes or less). In 1958 Live Action was introduced as the only short subject category for live action, Cartoons still the term used, and the category changed to Best Short Subject, Animated Films in 1972. It is notable that serials never had a category somehow. Maybe because Poverty Row and “lesser” majors specialized in them.

Best Assistant Director (1933-1937)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

Assistant Directors back at the beginning of the film industry had a far different role than they do as the industry and art evolved. There used to be far more directing for assistant directors. First ADs now are far more administrative and keep the production running, most of their direction geared at background performers. Therefore, its interesting that the Academy once underscored the greater level of responsibility this job had with an award.

Best Dance Direction (1936-1938)

Show Boat (1936, Universal)

There are a few instances of the Oscars highlighting the elevated place that the film musical once held. This category specifically aimed at choreography on film is one.

Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration Black-And-White and Color 1940-1966

Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Warner Bros.)

This is the second of three categories that for year offered two prizes owing to the unique challenges and distinct differences in working in black-and-white and color. In simplest terms in color there are temperature, palette and tone considerations but in monochrome there is a transliteration of actual colors to gray tones for desired effect that must be considered and calculated by all department heads.

Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy (1946-1957) Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (1942-1945) and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942-1957)

 

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Here’s one more testament to the potency the musical once hand in the cinematic landscape of Hollywood’s output. In 1958 the distinction in scoring ended. For 16 ceremonies musicals were a category apart. They were so prevalent, significant, and thought to be so different that it had its own category for scoring.

The issue with genre-splitting is: where does it end? Comedy was excluded for three years, and then added. If musicals had stayed at their zenith would further scoring splits have occurred? Unlikely, but it may have been clamored for. Clearly, the loss of a category did not shut the door on the musical winning Best Score, The Sound of Music jumps immediately to mind, but it’s fascinating that it was a class apart for years.

Costume Design Black and White and Costume Design Color (1948-1966)

Jezebel (1938, Warner Bros.)

If there’s one thing that you can laud the Academy for it’s that there was uniformity in when categories stopped being subdivided by color and black-and-white. In all cases when there was such a division, either from the inception of a category like costume design, or later in the game like with cinematography, that split ceased after the 1966 Awards.

Similar to Cinematography and Art Direction costuming for both media is a different game. Black-and-white requires a more abstract understanding of colors and textures and how they’ll read when exposed. Thus, its a bit more intuitive, at times counterintuitive, and far less literal than working in color. Again the time had surely come for the category to merge due to ubiquity but the task is by no means an easy one in monochrome.

Conclusion

 

Oscars (AMPAS)

In most of the these cases it is just interesting and important to note how far the artform and industry have come. It’s important in aesthetic appreciation to note some things that used to be taken for granted and to acknowledge different trends and forms of the past. However, in some of these cases these categories could still be highly useful and be brought back today.

Mini-Review: In the Heart

Here is the synopsis for this film as listed on the IMDb:

Masha (37) is in an overwhelming relationship with Luuk, father of two and separated. Nothing seems to stand in their way until Luuk turns incurably ill, leaving Masha without status.

What is interesting about this film is the way it plays with the traditional meet-cute formula in act one with a couple that’s a bit more mature. Luuk is divorced with children and Masha has never been in a relationship. The typical romcom plot exhausts most of its plot points in this entertaining, funny and charming first act and then the aforementioned life-changing event alters the path and the genre of the film. This is the film’s strongest and most unique point.

The sequence when Luuk is diagnosed and the immediate fallout thereof is the next strongest section of the film and is ultimately what buoys it over the finish line.

However, the film does lose some of its momentum as it pulls into its inevitable conclusion the button on the story is strong and well-earned, but it does lose a lot of what if could’ve been in getting there.

Much of what slows it down is that the tension amongst makeshift family members ends up being as frustrating for us as it is for Luuk. Which does help us identify with him but it seems that, even as emotional as they are that the ex-wife/girlfriend tension is ill-timed, repetitive and unfortunate.

Kim van Kooten is highly effective in this film and her charms are equally evident in both distinct portions of the narrative. Though his character here follows a similar trajectory as his in Time of My Life Koen De Graeve is wonderful here playing a different kind of man in a similar process.

In the Heart was released in Netherlands in January. Should it hit other markets it is worth looking into if you are intrigued. While I lamented what it could have been it is still an enjoyable experience with memorable performances.

6/10

Mini-Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

This is one of the few true horror/comedy films because of the very simple and ingenious use of perception and knowledge. We know everything that’s going on therefore we can laugh despite how horrific it is that Tucker and Dale and the college kids never understand one another. It also works like horror film with a classic and funny backstory. It’s truly a treat that ought to be seen by fans of both genres.

This was also one of my top horror movies of 2011. Among my comments on it there were:

What separates Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is that it is always both horror and comedy and a smart one at that. It hinges on perceptions, misunderstanding and xenophobic mistrust.

10/10

Review: Bicycling with Molière

It’s interesting, on an ancillary note, to consider the English and French titles of this film. The English title is, of course, the above referenced Bicycling with Molière. The French title is Alceste à bicyclette, which translates literally to Alceste on Bicycle. What this speaks to the relativistic nature that Molière and The Misanthrope has to English-speaking cultures, as opposed to in his native France. In France a mere mention of the name Alceste is already an allusion to Molière, such is his influence in French literature. Here it’s better to merely mention Molière to have a better chance of and audience to know what this film’s driving at based on its title. An analogy would be that if a similar concept would be attempted here a Shakespearean character’s name would be more recognizable such that the Bard’s name need not be in the title.

Yet, even admitting to a bit of cultural myopia on our part this is a film that can connect with audiences regardless of their familiarity with Molière and The Misanthrope in general. Furthermore, you get to see quite a bit of it rehearsed in scenes such that it can definitely intrigue one and whet their appetite for more.

The set-up for the film is that now-famous TV actor Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson) travels to Île de Ré to recruit his friend, now-retired reclusive actor, Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini) to be in a revival of The Misanthrope that he is producing.

Naturally this concept is one that is very conducive to playing with the line that divides theater and film. There isn’t anything very revolutionary done but there are subtle touches. One of which deals with the characters they read and how they mirror Gauthier and Serge in their interactions. While the concept of an alexandrine may be something new to the viewers of this film the way this dramatic/poetic device highlights personality differences between the two not only in their approach to their profession but their overall philosophy. The would-be unprecedented trick of having Serge and Gauthier alternate between Alceste and Philinte it allows even more aspects to be examined and more acting muscle to be flexed organically.

Bicycling with Molière (2013, Strand Releasing)

There is much muscle to be flexed indeed for the actors and both Wilson and Luchini are both fantastic. They have definitive approaches to the roles that have to tackle in reads, but also convey the complexity and humanity of their characters outside the framework of the play. Furthermore, with scenes of Valence’s medical drama on display Wilson shows a third acting style in just one film.

Yet with all that symbiosis and the tackling of a classical work it’s not merely an intellectual exercise. It is billed as a comedy and the humor does translate and comes from the characters and not out of knowledge requisite to follow it. Therefore, there’s a universal commonality that allows the audience comfort, and, should they be interested enough they can look into Molière and his works later.

Due to the fact that it’s the people and not the situations so much that make the film funny, on the flip side because you can understand the characters and they are well-defined the drama makes sense is appealing. This perhaps shows itself best as Francesca (Maya Sansa) is fleshed out. With the presumed performance coming it seems prudent for Gauthier to buy a getaway house. At first Francesca is a brusque, abrasive b-word. Then she opens herself up and connects to each of them on an individual basis and contributes well to the whole.

From the outside Bicycling with Molière may seem like and ivory tower dweller’s delight, but there is an approachability and relatability to the humor that make it a welcome treat for all. The theatrical tricks, TV Drama jokes and the like are just icing on the cake.

8/10

Short Film Saturday- Action Movie Kid: Going to School

Quite often you find a lot of shorts if you merely follow the right people on Twitter. Here’s the story behind this short, and the series it’s a part of, per Charles Webb:

Some days, you just want to see a toddler skydiving. Or, at least, fake-skydiving in a video created by his animation pro dad.

“Going to School” has you covered. It’s the latest installment of Action Movie Kid, a series of videos from DreamWorks animator Daniel Hashimoto, who’s decided to use his son as the subject of his rapidly growing VFX reel.

Enjoy!

Silent Feature Sunday: The Gold Rush (1925)

When I first posted this series part of the idea was to get to watching more silent films. However, that has yet to pan out (yet?). And rather than skipping an opportunity to post one such that its easily accessible where it may not be expected simply because it’d be “Yet another Chaplin film” I posted, I decided to share it.

I keep the spiel simple here. Lost in the debating that film enthusiasts have about Chaplin’s place (read ranking) in film history is the fact that he wrote, directed and even scored many of his films. However, this is not meant to draw another comparison, but rather just something that needs to be noted. The appeal of The Gold Rush is fairly apparent. Enjoy!

The film can be seen at the following link The Gold Rush (1925).