Friday, April 25, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Lists 2: The Streets

Scene/Unseen - Topic: Baby Movies
My Pick:

Otesánek [Little Otik] (2000)
Jan Svankmajer is a unique visionary whose very distinct approach to stop-motion animation redefined the genre. The Czech animator's richly textured worlds full of animal bones, prosthetic eyeballs, and grotesquely appealing food, like Bosch paintings come to life, have been wowing film festival & arthouse theater goers for decades, and even if you've never seen one of his animated shorts or feature length movies, you've definitely seen work paying homage to it. As Svankmajer has shifted from his short pieces to making full movies, his approach to stop-motion has also shifted from being the focus of his films to being utilized primarily as special effects in live-action stories. The change has had mixed results. Although I prefer Svankmajer's more heavily animated work, his most successful marriage of the two mediums was 1996's Conspirators Of Pleasure, an extremely tactile film about human fetishes, with the actors themselves shifting from naturalistic performances to being simple marionettes for Svankmajer to drag across his stage. For 2000's Little Otik, Svankmajer used his animation much more sparingly and really only to bring the titular character, a tree-monster, to life. The story is about a married couple, unable to have children of their own. In order to ease his wife's grief, the husband cuts & varnishes a tree stump into the shape of a child for her to expend her nurturing energy on. Of course the tree-child comes to life and begins to exhibit an unholy appetite which the parents dutifully try to abide as it continues to grow out of control. Little Otik is a funny and absurd, little horror film that feels quite a bit like early Sam Raimi & Peter Jackson films, and perhaps my only real dissatisfaction with it is that it lacks the distinguished individuality of Svankmajer's earlier work. So I recommend Little Otik for this topic but I urge everyone to check out Alice, Jan Svankmajer's faithful but unique 1988 adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, or a collection of his short works to get the true flavor of this amazing animator.

Filmspotting - Topic: Top 5 Anticipated Summer Films
Honorable Mentions (AKA Stuff I'll see at some point):

Standard Operating Procedure May 29 2008
- I know everyone holds Errol Morris up as the quintessential documentarian, but I actually think he should bear a lot of blame for the tabloid news approach. He always approaches his films with strong biases, and sometimes his footage isn't even strong enough to support his agenda. Still, the fact that we're already 4 years beyond the Abu Ghraib scandals, and yet we have been exposed to so little of the facts, makes this a pretty important film.

Iron Man May 2 2008
- Iron Man didn't seem like a character that Hollywood could get right. It seemed like a huge excuse for a synergistic melding of CGI overkill and a bunch of next-big-thing teen actors. The trailers, leaking over the course of what seems like 2 years, really put those fears to rest. It looks like they nailed Iron Man, the armor and Tony Stark. Yet, the endless stream of promotion for this project has taken its toll and i'm not expecting to be surprised any more.

Mister Lonely April 30 2008 (limited)
- The new film from Harmony Korine (Kids, Julien Donkey Boy, Gummo). I've heard that this is a terrible mess, but that's almost what I expect from Mr. Korine. I expect it to be angsty and difficult for the sake of being difficult, but I expect to walk away with a big ball of ideas to play with for a while. The film, about a Michael Jackson lookalike who meets a Marilyn Monroe lookalike & spends time with a Charlie Chaplin lookalike and a Shirley Temple lookalike, sounds deliberately weird but also full of strange potential. At the very least, I doubt I'll be able to predict the ending.

Son Of Rambow May 2 2008 (limited)
- A long time ago I heard about a group of young kids that had remade Indiana Jones & The Raiders Of The Lost Ark shot for shot with a home video camera. Apparently it took them a really long time, and they sort of grew up during the process, despite also threatening to cut their lives precipitously short by reenacting all of the stunts themselves too. I've really wanted to see the movie ever since I heard about it, but it seems I'll have to settle for the fictionalized story of a bunch of kids remaking Rambo: First Blood instead. The buzz has been very good and it is a great premise that should deliver atleast a few Stand By Me moments.

Speed Racer May 9 2008
- This looks fantastic & terrible at the same time. The effects really look trippy and out there, and I think I'll probably drool on myself for minutes at a time while I take in all of the swirling camera shots & flashing lights. The Speed Racer story, even the slightly more complex, original Japanese plot, was pretty stupid and since this is a film aimed at the youngins, I'm not going to worry about caring about anything beyond the visuals.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull May 23 2008
- I grew up with the Indiana Jones movies and between all of the birthday parties that rotated Time Bandits & Raiders Of The Lost Ark I probably managed to see the 1st film, without exaggeration, 50 times, and loved it. But I can't say that the 2nd or 3rd films held up to much scrutiny and my estimation of Harrison Ford certainly hasn't been on the upswing. Like all of the terrible Star Wars prequels, this is prerequisite viewing, but I can't say I'm expecting a lot.

Hamlet 2 August 22 2008 (limited)
A snooty farce in the style-of but not by Christopher Guest in which a high school drama teacher creates a musical sequel to Shakespeare's masterpiece. Sure, why not, variety is the spice of life.

The Top 5:

5. Pinneapple Express August 8 2008
The Judd Apatow machine is on the march, and despite the rising backlash against films like Knocked-up & Superbad, it never seems to impact the next model he rolls out. I have to admit that I've enjoyed all of the films he's been involved in (40 Year Old Virgin probably the least), even the ones where he just gets associate producer or some other bullshit credit. With Seth Rogan writing and starring along with James Franco, it seems that this will be a reunion of sorts for Freaks & Geeks, Judd Apatow's short lived TV series that felt a lot like a Wonder Years for the 80's. On top of that, David Gordon Green is directing, and he earned himself a lifetime double-check ticket on all of his projects after he delivered the wonderful George Washington in 2000. It's amazing to me that I'm anticipating a comedy after spending at least a decade dreading the genre.

4. Wall-E June 27 2008
I love Brad Bird, probably even more than the hype machine that attributes all of Pixar and the Simpsons's brilliance to the man, but before there was Brad Bird, Pixar's golden boy was Andrew Stanton. Stanton was the main architect for all of Pixar's early features including Toy Story, Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo..., the movies that built Pixar's reputation for funny films with an emotional maturity. I think I saw the teaser trailer for Wall-E over a year ago, but I still remember it being simple and brain-meltingly cute. The whole thing looks like Short Circuit meets ET, but luckily without Steve Gutenberg or Drew Barrymore. I trust Stanton & Pixar to do it with heart and simultaneously blow my mind with the visuals.

3. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army July 11 2008
I wrestled with putting this in my honorable mentions because even though Hellboy & its spin-off comic B.P.R.D. have been unwaveringly my favorite comics of the last 10 years, I was underwhelmed by the first movie. The film tried too hard to make Hellboy into a cape & tights superhero when the comics treated him more like Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes. It followed a lot of Hollywood conventions for blockbuster films and didn't trust in the beautifully paced graphic novels on which it was based. Everything points to this movie being more of the same with a bit of a "and-the-kitchen-sink" mentality thrown in, since the first movie was only mildly successful and there's certainly no promise of a Hellboy 3. There have been some promising rumblings though. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has hinted that this film will feature more of the old folktales & mythology that Mignola often sources to create his comic. Director Guillermo del Toro has also been improving his craft exponentially and defining a style for himself that will match the Hellboy universe well. So even though I might not make it out on opening night, I'm definitely eager to see if this succeeds.

2. The Dark Knight July 18 2008
On the other hand, I'm really excited for the new Batman film. Something like 6 months ago, long before Heath Ledger's untimely death, somebody leaked 5 minutes of this film featuring Ledger as the Joker doing what the Joker does. It was awesome. It really delivered on the premise of a naturalistic Batman movie in which the world was real but haunted by larger-than-life heroes & villains. I enjoyed Batman Begins, more than I thought I would, but just those 5 minutes topped it in my estimation and I can't wait to see the rest.

1. Choke August 28 2008
Behind Survivor, Choke is my 2nd favorite Chuck Palahniuk novel, one in which his style and subject work well together and he delivers a compelling ending. The story is hard to sum up in a few sentences, but features a young, disillusioned man who finds peace by making himself a victim for others to save. It's as cynical and funny as Fight Club and should make for a great film. Sam Rockwell stars in the big screen adaptation helmed by actor turned 1st time director Clark Gregg.

Non-Summer movies on my radar:
Blindness September 26 2008
James Bond 22: Quantum Of Solace November 7th 2008
The Curious Case OF Benjamin Buttons December 19 2008
Vapors ? 2008


pipecock said...

blindness and iron man look dope. i cant believe youre not down with the temple of doom, that shit is ill. the third one was still fun too, though not as good as the first two. it had some choice quotes though, like almost anything sean connery said and especially the "he chose poorly" bit. im really not sure about speed racer nor harmony korine's joint, but i will be checking out the rest of your top 5 aside from hellboy.

andrew. said...

the Indiana Jones movies were fun enough, as i'm sure the new one will be, but neither of the sequels lived up to the 1st movie and i have a sneaking suspicion that Spielberg, while still a master craftsman, has become too much of a soccer dad (see: swapping walkie talkies for guns in updated ET) and is going to miss the mark when trying to relate to the humor & sense of fun of younger generations, just like his good buddy George Lucas.