Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Boxtrolls (**1/2)

Directed by Graham Annable &Anthony Stacchi


The work from Laika Studios - the only major animation studio focusing exclusively on stop-motion animation - is unique in a very charming way. They have not given in to the cheaper, less labor-intensive, more popular trend of CGI animation. This makes their films stand out. The images being recorded are real as opposed to the wonder of digital recreation that comes from Pixar and the other major animated film studios. Whether one is better than the other is up to each individual person's discretion. After the wonderful Coraline and 2012's Paranorman (which I did not see), their latest film is The Boxtrolls. Like their previous films, The Boxtrolls shares the love of the grotesque and the absurd, an obvious Tim Burton-inspired string of images that can be beautiful and horrifying at the same time. The film itself possesses an allegorical screenplay (written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava) based on a Alan Snow children's book called Here Be Monsters!, that does its best to stay low-brow for the children and metaphorical for the adults. What we get is a film equal to some of Tim Burton's more uneven work, a movie with a central conflict between its story, its audience and its choice of images.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Art and Craft (***1/2)

Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman & Mark Becker


The new documentary Art and Craft delves deeper into the subjectivity of art appreciation than any other film I've seen in a good long while. What makes art, in all its forms, so fascinating to the human race are the relationships that we develop with a painting, or a rock n' roll song, or a movie. We connect to these pieces, the bonds forming are often stronger than most marriages; how we feel about art usually says a lot about how we feel about ourselves. Art and Craft, in simpler terms, is also a story of two men who love art, and showcase that love in completely different ways. Through these men, Art and Craft showcases the tenuous connections that we make to inanimate objects, our obsessions with things created by strangers. It also is a bitingly funny glimpse of a true eccentric, a uniquely fascinating man who brings new meaning to the term "art appreciation". The documentary has a terrific "stranger than fiction" feel to it, brought to life by the people in front of the camera. Frantically told and balanced in a disciplined way, Art and Craft is amongst the best documentaries of the year.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You (*1/2)

Directed by Shawn Levy


They say authors shouldn't adapt their own novels. The connection to the story is too strong, and the author will feel too loyal towards things that work very well in one medium, and not very much in another. In the case of Jonathan Tropper's script of This is How I Leave You - based on his own novel of the same name - one would hope that it isn't exactly representative. I haven't read the novel, but I would hope that it has more nuance and charm than the film it eventually became or else I'd have a much lower opinion of the book-reading public that would make something like that a best-seller. It's the story of the Altmans, a family comprising of four adult children suffering through various but equal levels of distress, as well as a spotlight-hogging, pseudo-psychological mother with an addiction for breast augmentation, and a dead patriarch. It's rich soil for drama, but director Shawn Levy (known for the Night at the Museum films and last year's The Internship) chooses instead to brush the films with several strokes of broad comedy and takes a talented cast of actors and directs them all as if they're each starring in a completely different movie. It's the first R-rated film that Levy's ever directed, but it doesn't seem like he yet knows the difference between a film for adults and a flaccid movie with the word 'fuck' in it. It's an adult movie that the whole family can enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (***)

Directed by Craig Johnson


There's a measure of unhappiness that's displayed in The Skeleton Twins that's hard to pull off in most movies. The kind of depression that comes with everyday life, that's easy to dismiss when watching from the outside. Midway through the film, a character played by Bill Hader recites to his sister - played by Kristen Wiig - of his long-held belief that all of the social classes of high school become inverted in adulthood. The bullying jocks will end up never leaving home, settling for mediocrity in a podunk town, while the freaks and geeks of the same school will end up becoming the true success stories. It's a myth that we all like to tell ourselves to make up for our adolescent fear of not being popular, or not fitting in. In a monologue of heartbreaking frankness, Hader explains that not only is this theory not full-proof, but quite often the opposite is true: the ones with the least ambition are able to find the easiest path to happiness. Craig Johnson's latest film is an excellent dissection about realizing that there's a difference between being unique and being special, that ideals can only take you so far and that everybody in some form or other is living with a bit of disappointment with how their life has turned out. After all this, if I also told you that this movie is also a successful comedy, you probably wouldn't believe me.