Film Brief: Swiss Army Man

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

…essentially the movie is really just two guys talking in the wilderness for 90 minutes

And that’s the problem with Swiss Army Man.  I disagree with the 90 minutes part of that statement, but it’s certainly the case that the filmmakers too quickly ran out of ideas.  Again, I know not everything can be Being John Malkovich as far as inventing new ideas, but still, you have to continue on with your movie.  I can think of a number of interesting ways in which Swiss Army Man might have evolved, but the “Daniels” were content to stop short.

Even so, there’s enough fun novelty for a marginal thumbs-up.  6/10

Comparison Notes: the TV series The Greatest American Hero.  It’s the 4th of July, after all.

Note on the trailer: it gives away too much; watch at your own risk.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Mad Max: Fury Road bears little resemblance to the rough-hewn postmodern indie western introduced in 1979.  The charm of those indie elements is gone, in a way not dissimilar to the progression of the original Star Wars to the more polished versions that arrived later.  Mad Max 2015 is a mostly non-stop bundle of energy, frenetic, entertaining, and, at the end, utterly transient.

Mad Max did not impress me as much as the critics, but I liked it.  It’s straight and to the point, an overt escape film with nothing to complicate matters.  6/10

* * *

FX:  The Verge ran an article showing frames before and after special effects were applied.  The Verge article links to a much more extensive one at fxguide.com, for those interested.  Be aware of possible spoilers.

Mad Max - fx screenshot from The Verge

VOD Log: Big Fish

Big Fish - poster smallBig Fish is sweet, and charming, and lovely.  And dull.  Given the open-ended framework, there should have been much more.  Most major critics were no more impressed than I; Richard Corliss, Time:

Big Fish makes a big push for transcendence, but the strain shows. It’s like trying to push a daydream uphill.

Big Fish - text block

A.O. Scott (with whom I usually disagree), the Times:

But the most curious thing about this magical-realist fable… is how thin and soft it is, how unpersuasive and ultimately forgettable even its most strenuous inventions turn out to be.

Roger Ebert didn’t care for it either.  Big Fish attempts to cast a magical glow in the way that Forrest Gump or The Princess Bride did, but both the story and its ability to awe fall short.  5/10

Comparison Notes: True Stories, Forrest Gump, The Princess Bride

No Escape from Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow hardly lived up to all its hoopla.  I had been looking forward to it since first hearing about it, and was exceptionally curious to see this film that was shot in clandestine fashion within Disneyworld.  I was shocked to find that long-time Disney ally Apple had made it Escape from Tomorrow - poster new smallavailable for rental, and then I steeled myself for an experience that might inflict a permanent scar on my warm fuzzy feelings about Disneyland, those happy memories from childhood.  I need not have worried: Escape does not in any way blemish the Disney image.

In fact, even though there is extensive footage within the Magic Kingdom, it largely rings hollow.  The film does nothing to add a new perspective to the Disney park experience.  Worse, Escape from Tomorrow failed to tap into the mystique at its fingertips: the history, the lore, and the current embodiment of all things Disney and Disneyland.  A holy trinity of narrative goldmines that was all but discarded.

Obviously, entry into hidden spaces cannot be expected; it’s enough of a feat to film within the park, but the former basketball court inside the Matterhorn, the tunnel labyrinth underneath the parks, secret apartments — these are spaces whose very existence should have been used to inspire the twisted fantasy that the movie aspires to.  As for the areas available for filming, maybe spend less time on Big Thunder and shoot instead within Pirates, or do more with the Haunted Mansion.  It’s as if the filmmakers were completely oblivious to most of what the park could so easily grant them.

Escape from Tomorrow - text block red

As for positives, I will say the film had a more professional production polish than I expected.  And there were a couple laughs — but just a couple.  A.O. Scott of the Times:

None of it is as scary or as funny as it should be, and what starts out as a sly thumb in the eye of corporate power ends up as a muddled and amateurish homage to David Lynch.

Muddled and amateurish, yes.  But I don’t see the David Lynch connection.  There was nothing particularly David Lynch-ish about it.  More perhaps like a modern-day, botched attempt at a Twilight Zone episode.  But either way, this movie is a flop.  A critic or two have claimed that Escape from Tomorrow is headed for cult-film status.  I’m not sure about that — there’s just too little here.  The only reason to watch this movie is to satisfy your curiosity regarding its production.  I do love all the marketing graphics that were generated for the movie, including the latest poster (above).

It’s sad that for all the effort these guys put forth, they couldn’t come up with the easiest part: a good story.  3/10

How Divine is Holy Motors?

Holy Motors Still

Holy Motors has received a lot of acclaim in the cinephile world.  I first heard about it from Film Crit Hulk, who put it at No. 1 of 2012, and Hulk wasn’t alone.  It enjoys a 90% Tomatometer score and was in contention for the Palme d’Or.  For me though,… I wasn’t feeling it.

For a good summary of what this movie’s about, read Roger Ebert’s review (he also liked it).  For me, it felt like an extended Twilight Zone episode without a concluding moral payoff.  It is a deeply original and ambitious vision, and I have a great deal of appreciation for it on that level.  At the outset I was fascinated — completely captivated.  But around half-way through I began to feel that an essential personal narrative was missing, that our hero was not experiencing growth in any profound way.  David Denby of The New Yorker puts it this way: “Holy Motors has no motor: the movie keeps starting over again.”

There are some great sequences in this movie.  But, as hard as it is trying to strike great and timeless themes, Holy Motors is on a road to nowhere.  It strives to be a movie entirely about the human soul, while simultaneously soulless.  At least that’s how I felt about it the first time around watching it last night.  I’ve said something else about movies: please give me something memorable.  I won’t be forgetting this one any time soon.  Bear in mind that I didn’t care much for Mulholland Dr. the first time around, so my initial impression can, in rare instances, develop over time.  There were factors in favor of Mulholland Dr. that I do not believe benefit Holy Motors, so I doubt it.  We’ll see. 4/10

* * *

Note: This movie is in French with English subtitles, but there is relatively little dialogue so, as foreign as this movie is on all sorts of levels, its language is the least you have to worry about.

Comparison Notes: Not Recommended: Blade Runner; Recommended: The Skin I Live In, Wings of Desire, The City of Lost Children, Eraserhead, Synecdoche, New York, Antichrist, Breaking the Waves, The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild