Monday, January 15, 2007

Kid's movies. Sort of. Okay, it's a weak theme.

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go hereto make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these film, I'm at 1 Brattle film seen and 3 elsewhere, which means 5 "points" total (or 2½, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Updated HBS with a review of Forbidden Planet.

Not a bad start for the first weekend of the watch-a-thon, although I could have done better: I arrived at Kendall Square in time to get a ticket for the only showing of Little Children, but I didn't know this because the showtime wasn't posted inside. Ah, well, it's not like the number counts - I don't think anyone has pledged an amount-per-movie for me yet.

My moviegoing plans for the week look something like this: Miss Potter tonight (I'd go for something later or longer, but I want to see how many terrorists Jack Bauer eats on 24), a wild card tomorrow, Red Doors Wednesday, and The Animation Show 3 (with Bill Plympton in attendance!) Thursday. Not as many chances for Brattle films this year as there were last time, but then again, no life-force deadening Jacques Doillon series to attend because it's for a good cause, either.

(Although that series was busy; I wonder why the Brattle and Cahiers du Cinema didn't do another)

Linda Linda Linda

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagements) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

My insides clenched up a little at the painfully earnest scene that opens Linda Linda Linda: A teenage girl, speaking into a video camera, saying how important this time is and how they'll never leave it behind. It can make a body gag. The good news is that she's not a part of the group we follow for the rest of the movie; even if they feel the weight of what their last school festival means, they're to busy trying to prepare for it reflect.

These girls are in a band, or at least, they're trying to be. The trouble is that as we join them, the band is falling apart: Moe (Shione Yukawa), their guitarist, has broken a finger playing volleyball, which has somehow precipitated a fight between singer/songwriter Rinko (Takayo Miomura) and keyboard player Kei (Yu Kashii), the two who started the band. Rinko quits, leaving Kei, drummer Kyoko (Aki Maeda) and bass player Nozomi (Shiori Sekine) shorthanded. They tell their teacher that they want to keep their slot on stage - instead of playing original materials, they'll play songs by the Blue Hearts - but Kei doesn't think she can sing and play guitar at the same time. Deciding that the next person they see will be their singer, they wind up asking Son (Bae Doo-na), a Korean exchange student who can barely speak Japanese, let alone sing it.

But they get better. In fact, one of the real joys of Linda Linda Linda is that even with just a couple weeks to go, these girls get better not because some adult or male mentor takes them under their wing, but because they practice their hearts out. They sneak around the school so that they can use the pop music club's room after hours, they take a bus to the studio where Kei's old boyfriend works, and they meet up at each other's homes to try and quietly practice rock & roll, giggling at the silliness of the idea. They practice so much that they clearly don't have time to sleep, and that time is not glossed over with montage; we watch them play the better part of a whole song at several points during the movie, each time better than the last.

Full review at HBS.

Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 January 2007 at AMC Boston Common #16 (First-Run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Until about halfway through Pan's Labyrinth, I thought that maybe the R rating and "fairy tale for grown-ups" hype was a little overblown. Fairy tales have always had violent, disturbing components, and in truth this one is probably no worse, in terms of content, but actually seeing it up there is something different.

It's great filmmaking. Ivana Baquero is heartbreaking as Ofelia, and Guillermo del Toro builds both his worlds - the harsh reality of the Spanish Civil War and the fantastic underground kingdom to which Ofelia escapes - in such a way that they intersect; you can see Ofelia moving smoothly from one to the other. It's also one of the best I've ever seen at working the ambiguity of the situation. You hope, especially in the midst of the brutality that Ofelia's facing, that there is some reality to her adventures.

Indeed, I'm not sure whether Pan's Labyrinth is so much a fairy tale as it is a story about a girl escaping into one. Maybe it doesn't matter; maybe all that's important is the ability to believe in magic even when faced with the most brutal realities.

Happy Feet

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 January 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagements) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I wish I'd seen this when it originally came out, near Thanksgiving, so I could make a big show of being thankful for George Miller. He's got high opinions of his audience, even when that audience is kids. Happy Feet could have been yet another one in a series of computer-animated family films that posit a world Just Like New York City only populated by penguins, but instead he drops pop-culture onto the ice and makes it seem like it belongs there.

And how he works with the pop culture is, if not quite cutting edge, a little more creative than the usual puns and obvious inserts. Miller starts off by giving us Nicole Kidman doing her best Marilyn Monroe singing a song by Prince, although Tom Jones's cover is probably the best-known version. It's also being mashed up with a dozen other songs at the same time. It's a hipper tack than usual, more Moulin Rouge than Little Mermaid, and I could see it giving parents fits while kids love it.

What's most amazing, though, is how absolutely surreal Miller will let things get before getting to his fairy tale ending (which itself is a bit on the odd side). There's some heavy-handedness with the environmental stuff, and I don't know if folks seeing this at a venue like the New England Aquarium will be quite so eager to see the penguin exhibit after its take on what such exhibits are like. But it's also got got Hugh Jackman absolutely owning a scene despite the enormous challenge of connecting with the audience via an animated penguin with the voice and mannerisms of Elvis Presley. The critic part of my mind wants to say that this is a hyperactive cartoon desperately stringing flashy scenes together without a real plot, but any move where an actor can manage that deserves some serious respect and even love.

Arthur and the Invisibles (Arthur et les Minimoys)

* * (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2007 at AMC Boston Common #11 (First-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I want to give this film the benefit of the doubt, say that it lost some crucial piece of its soul when the Weinstein brothers got hold of it, likely cut it for time and dubbed it into English. And maybe if Angel-A makes me all excited about Luc Besson again in March, I'll give the HD-DVD a shot, especially if it's got the original French version on it.

But, maybe not. The storytelling is pitched relatively exclusively at the younger set, and as cool as some of the action scenes are (Luc Besson is directing this, after all), the jump between them and the rest of the movie is jarring. The CGI feels a little choppy, too, and the bits where it's supposed to be integrated with live-action are somewhat wanting, as well.

I've been reading that this and Angel-A are Besson's last films as a director, though I hope he continues on as a writer and producer. He's done great work, and it would be unfortunate if this is the last we see of him.

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