Bubba Ho-Tep: Now you’re just being silly

[Screenshot]Bubba Ho-Tep is a deeply silly, deeply campy movie. Bruce Campbell is typecast, but he’s typecast well. He manages to resist the urge to say “Hail to the King, baby!” for upwards of ninety minutes, and runs well with the outrageous material he’s given. Weirdly, I don’t have much else ot say about this film. It’s a lot less funny than something that silly would be expected to be, although at times it’s very funny. But in terms of unabashedly wacky movies in which Elvis plays a role, I wouldn’t rate this as highly as, say, Six-String Samurai. The affectations are basically budget-film, and work OK: It’s only on reflection that it seems pretty low-key special-effects-wise. Basically, as to whether you want to watch this movie, the critical question is how you feel about Bruce Campbell, because it’s a very Campbell picture. If you like him, you’ve already seen it. If you don’t like him, you certainly don’t want to. If you’re OK with him but not a fan, well, then, I’d have nothing much to say except that it’s pretty funny, but not as funny as the concept would seem to suggest.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


ハウルの動く城 (Howl’s Moving Castle)

[Screenshot]That I would eventually see this movie was a foregone conclusion. It’s Hayao Miyazaki; how could I not? And because it’s Miyazaki, there are a couple questions we have answered right away, to wit: is it whimsically charming? is the English dub adequate? does it involve a teenage girl flying? In recent films he’s also shown a fondness for brassicoform magical creatures: can we add this to the Miyazaki-tropes list? It’s kind of a disappointment to me that I have absolutely nothing constructive to say about the characters or the plot: it’s basically the usual Miyazaki story, in which love and determination overcome an evil enchantment in a land of greedy warring factions, but it’s a testament to his skill, and the skill of evertyone involved in this production that the basically familiar plot and characterization do not detract particularly from this story’s appeal. The art is absolutely lovely, with breathtaking urban and pastoral scenes, and the eponymous castle as an incredibly detailed and endearing monstrosity. The storyline is fleshed-out, if unoriginal, so despite the essentially formulaic creation, it’s an absolutely delightful movie. As for voice-acting, Ghibli films generally deserve at least some commentary on that point: English-language voice-acting is one of the best fruits of the Ghibli-Disney collaboration, and the acting on Howl’s Moving Castle meets the fairly high expectations. My main quibble is that Emily Mortimer’s English accent is much more pronounced than Jean Simmons’s, which jars since they theoretically play the same character. Others may find Billy Crystal’s clownish Calcifer distracting, but I liked him, but then, I also liked the equally controversial choice of Phil Hartman for Kiki’s Delivery Service.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Serenity: Let me down easy

[Screenshot]I really wished I could like this one, and at the same time knew it couldn’t possibly match my expectations. What can you possibly put into a movie based on a series whose cancellation left far too many cliffhangers and still satisfy everyone? Weirdly, Serenity seems to have taken the worst possible route, in some ways, as it didn’t explain much of the actual mysteries of the series and still manages to feel rushed. Part of what is not explained is the relentlessness and the purpose of the blue-handed doctors (we get a first-order approximation via the Operative, but why not tie it into something familiar?) or Shepherd Book’s extraordinary privilege with the Alliance (hinted at in the a couple of episodes, and completely discarded in the film). The one mystery we do get fully explained is not one which was a burning mystery in-story. It didn’t texturally feel like the series, either, and didn’t really seem to give the actors much of a chance to play within their roles—hell, two of the characters barely appear in the film, and a “Mr. Universe” whom the crew presumably knows but who never appeared until he was convenient materializes. Most of the appeal of the series, to me, is in the character interplay, and none of the characters really seem to have come through in Serenity. In the end, it comes out to be a fun action movie featuring characters I’ve seen before, but, y’know, for my 2 hours, I’d rather watch two episodes of the original series, where we get to see everybody at their best. Maybe “Shindig” and “Ariel”. Those two were awesome.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Network: Prognostication

[Screenshot]This cutting satire would have been effective even if it weren’t prophetic. Television attracts satire—I think fondly of Max Headroom, which, weirdly enough, is not on DVD—but this is a far less over-the-top satire. It’s surprisingly human and fairly subtle. There are over-the-top moments, but they worked in-story (I was rather taken aback by the set they devised for the new show, but it’s actually pretty restrained by modern standards). It’s things like this that actually make this film seem better and better as we get closer to what it spoke of: the 70s saw the twilight of basically straightforward professional no-nonsense Walter Kronkite types, and the rise of who knows what. Well, Paddy Chayefsky knew, apparently. The Howard Beale show is downright informative compared to what you can see on Fox News nowadays. Anyways, my comments don’t do it justice, and as mentioned previously, I’ve let my fresh thoughts sit in my brane too long, until they got all stale, so I’m sure there are brilliancies I forgot to mention. So watch it. Laugh because it’s wacky; cry because it’s true.

See also: IMDB, Wkipedia.

Time Bandits: Pythonesque

[Screenshot]More Gilliam. Once again I fall into patterns. I’ve also fallen behind in write-ups, so my memory’s starting to go slightly stale. Anyways, good silly fun, which, intriguingly, straddles the line between Gilliam-like nightmare-fantasy and traditional-Python historical sendup. It occurs to me that the Monty Pythons were at their best with the historical satire: their two best films were, and even some of their best sketches (like the Spanish Inquisition running joke) were send-ups of historical figures. The historical satire, alas, is only a small part of this film, and the rest is sort of spotty. Gilliamlike style and set-design, and generally goo acting, but the story sort of weaves drunkenly to a conclusion. I honestly preferred the beginning. There are themes of free-will, good and evil, religion, and technology, but they didn’t actually seem to go anywhere, just jumble up in a hopeless knot. It’s a good film on the basis of Gillima’s unique styling and the sensational Python humor, but the window-dressing for these strong core elements is a bit weak.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Hobbit: Something Thomas Wolfe said

[Screenshot]This was one of my childhood favorites; we had it on a VHS which I did my best to wear out. So revisiting it was simply something I had to do. Sadly, it hasn’t aged too well in my eyes. The most obvious thing I notice now that the animation’s actually pretty crude, one step up from having a stationary cell moving in a quick hop across the screen to represent running. The character designs aren’t too bad, but they’re not too expressive a lot of the time. The backgrounds, by way of contrast, are excellent, and the voice acting is generally sound, so on technical issues this is actually considerably above-average for the generally crude designs of Rankin/Bass.

As for adherence to the story: I remembered some things had been dropped, but I forgot which, There were a couple things I was sure were in this that I was disappointed to learn my mind had edited in later: in particular, the manner in which Gandalf defeats the trolls (clever in the book; completely incomprehensible in the movie), and the entire Bilbo-as-hardline-peace-negotiator plot device with the ransoming of the Arkenstone and whatnot, which I thought one of the more interesting bits of character development. In terms of faithfulness to the story, however, this movie is actually pretty impressive for something coming well shy of 90 minutes, and in one regard it is particularly laudable, namely the inclusion of almost all of Tolkein’s songs (albeit abridged,a nd with new tunes). They unfortunately didn’t keep this restraint for the sequels, and inflicted gems like “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way” on geekyouth. That said, the one original song for this production (“The Greatest Adventure”) is annoyingly folksy and overused, so maybe they were never that restrained to begin with.

As for tone, while this adaptation started out pretty strong and faithful, I was disappointed to feel that, as it went on, I was being subjected more and more to something which felt aimed solely at children. Yes, I know it’s a children’s adaptation, but the original was a children’s book, and somehow it wasn’t quite as juvenile-feeling. Part of it is the extensive explicitness, including the overused narration, I think. Pretty much nothing in the latter half of the story is shown without also being told, at least once, and even though it was simplified, it dodn’t have to feel simplified to the extent it did.

Maybe I should’ve been content with my happy memories. It’s still a fine children’s movie, and I can appreciate it on that level, but going back and looking again has not exactly vindicated my memories.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Léon: Antiauthoritarianism

[Screenshot]I did not know thiat Léon was the international name of this film, nor that it was actually a French production, in spite of the mostly American cast. In fact, I knew almost nothing about this film, save that a number of acquaintances liked it, and it’s been favorably compared to one of my favorite anime series, Gunslinger Girl, which I’ll probably write about later. So, I sort of had to watch this. Probably the best thing about it is Natalie Portman before she grew up and became solidly mediocre. She’s sulky enough that you wish you could hate her but endearing enough to be a sympathetic main character. She’s certainly a stronger character than Jean Reno, who is emotively flat (he has a good excuse, but, still, his performance doesn’t do much for me). Gary Oldman is surprisingly effective too. You’d think at some point murderous psychopaths would get old, but, no, somehow Oldman’s character is transcendantly, chillnigly wacky. Even the revelation of his actual identity (which is not apparent initially), does little to mitigate his off-kilter sadism. So, performancewise, I like the story. Thematically and plotwise it’s solid, but one can sort of see where it’s going and it’s, while subversive, awfully simplistic in its subversion.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.