The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, episodes 1–13

[Screenshot]My only real exposure to the Sam & Max franchise before now was through the comic books. I get the impression the LucasArts video games are regarded as the canonical presentation these days, so I have no idea how this stacks up to that in animation or voicing. The art and script generally capture the madcap and subversive style of the comic books, though, so from my viewpoint it’s a satisfactory realization of the characters, which is already a triumph given how wholly unsuitable the characters are for children’s television. The plots never seemed to quite gel for me though. Some of that might be length restrictions: each episode runs only about 10 minutes, and they’re all standalone, so it runs roughshod over developments which are never really given a chance to mature in any clever way. I’m conflicted on the introduction of the Geek as a character: as a straight-man she runs contrary as a major character to the general attitude of prior Sam & Max stories, and the gadgeteer angle is unnecessary as well, b ut somehow I ended up liking her character, for whatever reason.

I get the vague impression the computer and console games are the One True Way to experience Sam and Max, but I liked the comic books, and I mostly liked this. Individual episodes may be weak, but like Boston weather, if you don’t like it, wait 10 minutes and it’ll change.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Military Intelligence and You

[Screenshot]This one is probably the result of some drunken bet between filmmakers. Someone probably dared Dale Kutzera to make a movie out of nothing but military training and informational films, and the idea got so embedded in his head that there was nothing to do but to make the damn thing.

It’s not made entirely from recycled footage (that would be a feat); but it’s certainly got a lot of it, enough so to give Ronald Reagan a nonvocal starring role, a neat trick two years after his death. The few original war-room scenes and the voiceover actually manages to lend a plot to a series of scenes which never had one before, which is neat in a gimmicky sort of way. The plot is nothing special, but you have to work with the material you have, which is an awful lot of video of moving tanklines, flying planes, tearful farewells at train stations, and so forth.

As for the original material, it’s sort of hit-or-miss. The screwball comedy works for about half an hour and starts to get stale. The film relies on a lot of deadpan snark (or in the case of the narrator, perky snark), and you can only sustain a comic effect with that for so long.

Kudos to Kutzera for pulling this off in a way that worked and getting it out of his head though. Maybe his next gimmick will be less limiting and allow the original sections to be interesting.

See also: IMDB.

Resiklo

[Screenshot]After seeing Transformers, which was a terrible action blockbuster from a decadent and bloated American industry, it’s kind of appropriate to see Resiklo, a mediocre attempt at an action blokbuster from the fledgling Filipino industry.

It is good clean fun. The plot is fairly standard postapocalyptic fare with a world-controlling government of blatant villains (some of whom are aliens), actually a little bit reminiscent of Tank Girl with the comedy and wacky bits shaved off. Somehow it more-or-less works. It helps that there are interesting bits of worldbuilding: the resource-poverty of the rebels, the existence and nonsecretiveness of human collaborationists. This is all actually relayed very badly, as neither the script nor the acting’s really up to the task, but, hey, at least there’s a good idea here.

The CG is surprisingly good. Its usage is somewhat derivative, but on a technical level it’s fairly solid, with decent mecha models and blaster effects which are at least nontrivial (there’s heat distortion around blaster rays). So all in all, this is pretty satisfactory as a slightly low-budget version of the dull American summer action flick. I have a vague feeling Reyes wanted to make the next Star Wars, which is a laudable ambition even if one falls a fair bit short. And it’s still a better move than Transformers on a fraction of the budget.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

[Screenshot]I was first introduced to this film by accidentally catching the last 15 or so minutes on cable in a hotel some bored evening. The last fifteen minutes bear no particular resemblance to the rest of the film, but they’re definitely curiosity-inducing.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is unmistakably a cult film. It’s nonsensical and largely random. It has gratuitous sex and drugs and violence. It has a director whose career has constantly teetered on the edge of over-the-line. It has a random trivia fact to draw your eye (Roger Ebert, not notable as an actual creator of film, wrote the script).

It is, for all that, actually moderately effective, in its savage way. It’s never clear what if anything they want you to take seriously, but it oscillates between the absurd and the soberingly chilling in an actually surprisingly effective way. The film twists around so much that I’d hate to divulge any of its peculiar developments, but if you like your cinema ultraquirky and aren’t squicked out by depravity, BVD is worth a look.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Transformers

[Screenshot]The bad news first. Transformers is really a quite bad movie. The good news? I dunno, maybe that Michael Bay will eventually wear himself out and stop making terrible films.

There’s too much action, and it’s completely random. The transformers themselves really don’t take center stage except for this ridiculous and incomprehensible clusterfuck at the end of the movie which goes on too long and too complicated. I didn’t think an action sequence could be boring, but my horizons have been broadened. A lot of the transformers, especially in the action sequences and in humanoid form, look the same, which makes the action that much muddier in that last half hour. And the lead up to it really isn’t worth it: wisecracking kid wooing his crush, inexplicably black-hatted government agents, and so forth with very few actual robots being awesome. It’s all very eh and really fails to capture the glamour of the original franchise.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

美麗旳洗衣機/The Beautiful Washing Machine

[Screenshot]OK, I didn’t get this one at all. I expected surreal; I got what I expected and then some. I suppose it’s making some sort of statement about objectification of women and gender roles, but it’s buried under layers of both metaphor and possibly cultural expectations alien to me (Malaysian, specifically). The entire effect is unsettling, because the men in this story are horrible, but it’s not entirely clear whether their horribleness is in any way related to the target of their crudity actually being a household appliance, or whether they’re that awful to women in general, or if their attitudes are representative of typical Malaysian gender relations. In the end, I really couldn’t figure out much of anything about this film, and the pace was agonizing.

See also: IMDB.

Bridge to Terebithia

[Screenshot]Bridge to Terebithia and I have a weird, haunted relationship. I remember being very emotionally upset by the 1985 version as a child (I was a pretty sensitive kid). I have no memories of reading the book, which is odd, since most people of my age and of similar formative experiences have very powerful memories of the book. Maybe I was so skeeved by the movie that I never read the book as a child. I have read the book, though, almost exactly a year and a half ago, on the eve of my departure from San Diego, when I was dossing in a friend’s vacant apartment which she generously let me stay in for the one night when I was without a home. Bits of what I read are hazy, though, so I’m not sure I’m equipped to do the whole compare-and-contrast thing.

So, aside from this roller-coaster ride down memory lane that my own psyche has taken me on, what is there to be said about the new movie version of Bridge to Terebithia? Well, it’s generally faithful plotwise and themewise, which means it hits all the right points: imagination, loss, family, and suchlike. It’s effectively sentimental, teetering but neverf quite falling over the edge of bathos. The acting is likewise pleasing: while Hutcherson’s a bit bland, his character comes aloive through interaction with his family, who really do work, although his elder sisters have a sort of simplistic unmotivated-villain wicked-stelpsister script. AnnaSophia Robb is awesome — maybe too awesome, actually, making her role as a loner a bit unbelievable. One might argue the narration is through Jess’s eyes so she should radiate awesome, and I can buy that (in contrast, ISTR the book hinting at a certain amount of dark loneliness in Leslie’s home life).

As for technical issues, on that point this production’s fine with no complaints. Much was made of the CGI and whether it was appropriate or not, but, hell, it’s pretty obvious to anyone paying attention which parts are fantasy.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.