For a well-deserved break from reality, instead I spent my Sunday morning enjoying thirteen cartoon shorts from around the world.
“The Spinning Top” – dir. by Shiva Momtahen
An ornately told tale from Iran about an enthusiastic child who ends up trading his ability to sing and shout for a spinning top. The animation is distinctly non-Western, and beautiful. The little boy in question travels within an ever-shifting frame of stylized flowers as he encounters the quilt man, pool man, and the salt man. The up tempo feel is brought down to earth when the salt man takes away the boy’s youthful vigor, leaving only the memories within the top.
“Kkum” – dir. by Kim Kang-min
This is the only foam-imation I’ve ever seen, and accompanying the weird look achieved by animating its weird narrative about a young man who is protected by his mother’s dreams with polystyrene. Four dreams in particular–“Fire,” “Insect,” “Pumpkin,” and “Corpse”–are highlighted, each heavily symbolic and lovingly rendered in Styrofoam. The short ends with the mother advising her son (grown, with wife and child) not to go out that day; the grateful lad thanks the heavens for the meticulous fence his mother has constructed around him.
“There Were Four of Us” – dir. by Cassie Shao
By a whisker, this was the strangest short of the crop—both to listen to, and to look at. The sound is purposely muted, as if one is listening to the dialogue (actually, mostly monologues) through a telephone propped against an old tape recorder. The visual element, however, practically shouts from the screen. What is going on here? There are too many clues, too many things going on, to be certain; the final shot suggests a hospital. And the garbled vocal exposition suggests a mental one, at Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS→
PLOT: An aspiring teenage punk in 1970s London meets a cute girl; only catch is, she’s an alien.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This light-hearted artistic fling between the offbeat talents of director John Cameron Mitchell and writer Neil Gaiman meets its quota of whimsical sweetness, but falls short in terms of weirdness.
COMMENTS: I was completely alone in the theater on a Monday night screening of How to Talk to Girls at Parties. When I bought my ticket the high school cashier on a summer job assumed I was asking to see Life of the Party (ouch!). Hopefully, the empty seats were just a sign of distributor A24’s compromising to commercial realities—better to suck it up and slot this curio’s release in the heat of summer up against Han Solo and the Avengers than to let it slink off to video unscreened—and not a sign of total lack of public interest in the project. While Girls is not a must-see cult hit, it’s not a waste of time, either; at the very least, it’s an unconventional offering that could find a future Netflix audience of adventurous youngsters.
Girls is a period teen romantic comedy with the slightest tinge of punk and sci-fi flavor, more Earth Girls Are Easy (or even Splash) than Liquid Sky. Around the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977), a trio of socially inept teenage punks stumble into the wrong party in Croydon while on the prowl for girls. While the fat kid and the self-appointed pick-up artist wander around scoping out the shapely bodies in tight latex unitards doing Cirque du Soleil acrobatic routines to whalesong electronica, the sweetest and most talented, Enn, stumbles upon a newly “manifested” alien Zan (Elle Fanning, who, God love her, is still seeking out the weirdest roles she can find rather than settling for a part as a minor X-Man character). After Enn explains the basics of his punk philosophy to the girl, Zan seeks, and is reluctantly granted, a dispensation to experience human life for 48 hours (“do more punk to me,” she croons to Enn). The remainder of the plot arc is easy to guess: the mismatched pair court, with the normal teenage social awkwardness amplified by an alien culture clash, while Zan’s “colony” (whom Enn and friends believe to be a cannibalistic California cult) pressure her to get her back into the fold. There’s some mild weirdness along the way: an out-of-place (and not-too-effective) psychedelic music video when Zan improvises a punk number onstage (“we must have been dosed,” Enn reasons); perverse alien sex practices better left undescribed; a conception scene with eggs like yellow party balloons and sperm that looks like a 3D model of a rhinovirus; Nicole Kidman as bitchy aging punk godmother Boadicea; and an underwhelming punks vs. aliens showdown that might have been huge if given a proper B-movie treatment. Overall, the movie has a good-natured, unthreatening-yet-rebellious spirit, and some eye candy in the costuming (each of the alien colonies sports its own sartorial theme). Still, the reveal of the ultimate nature of the alien cult(s) suggests many potentially more interesting stories than the John Hughes-y tale that actually unfolds here.
Multiplereviewers have complained that Girls is trying “too hard” to be a cult movie. This criticism comes from a perspective I’m not quite able to grasp; it’s probably a variation on the old “weird for weirdness’ sake” saw. I suppose the complaint is based on the premise that cult movies can only arise by happy accident when the director was actually trying to do something “more authentic”; this can be easily disproven by dozens of examples (including, I’d argue, one from this very same director). Whether you think it succeeds or not, Girls isn’t trying too hard; it’s just trying to be what it is, which just happens to be something a bit different from what critics and audiences expect.
FEATURING: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon
PLOT: A bratty teenager who works as a juggler in her parents’ circus is transported to a devious world of her own imagination after her mother falls ill. With the help of a cowardly juggler, she navigates a crumbling surrealistic city where everyone wears masks in search of a charm that will help bring her back to her own life.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Dave McKean’s impressively out-there creature and set design certainly gives MirrorMask some memorable visuals, the story and characters are lifted right out of typical fantasy stock, resulting in a beautiful but ultimately conventional movie. 366weirdmovies adds: I agree that MirrorMaskshouldn’t go on the List; but, I will admit that when the androids popped out of their pods and gave the heroine a “bad girl” makeover while singing a weirdly harmonized version of the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” I was strongly tempted to nominate it as a Candidate.
COMMENTS: Popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman teamed up Dave McKean, the cover artist for his “Sandman” comics, delivering a script that revisits themes from his young adult book Coraline (which itself draws on archetypes found in The Wizard of Oz and “Alice in Wonderland“) for a movie that recalls the wild, inventive imagery of “Sandman” and his Neverwhere BBC miniseries. MirrorMask is an allegorical adventure about a girl who grows up quickly, redeeming her past selfish actions through new-found respect for her parents and her own talents. It’s a family film, and is at times bogged down by patronizing, simplistic dialogue and obvious symbolism, including a world literally divided by “Light” and “Shadow.” There’s even a girl whose clear displays of “evilness” are fishnet stockings, cigarettes, and (gasp!) kissing a boy.
For all its narrative flaws, the film still charms with the help of a talented cast. Stephanie Leonidas is excellent as Helena, effectively capturing the many moods of a teenage girl while still creating a sympathetic character. Jason Barry works well with his chatty, comic-relief sidekick character, despite the inherent cliches in his personality. But it’s Gina McKee in her triple role as Helena’s mother, the “Queen of Light”, and the “Queen of Darkness” who really Continue reading CAPSULE: MIRRORMASK (2005)→
FEATURING: Dakota Fanning (voice), Teri Hatcher (voice)
PLOT: A petulant little girl finds a parallel universe behind a hidden door in an old house, a world where her parents are more attentive, her neighbors more fascinating, and the entire universe seems set up to pamper and delight her; she can stay there forever, but of course there’s a catch.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I attended a screening with a ten-year old and asked him if he thought the movie was “weird.” His answer: “Nah, not unless you think every fantasy movie is weird.” Smart lad.
COMMENTS: Coraline is a welcome dark fantasy for children, although its themes of evil Doppelgänger moms, frightening buttons, and implied eye-gouging are too scary for very little ones. Since it’s from Hanry Selick, the director of the borderline weird Nightmare Before Christmas, we suspect going in that the art direction and stop-motion animation will be the real stars. Selick does not disappoint, shuffling the viewer through three distinct visual styles: the dingy earth tones of real life, a brightly colored, eye-popping fantasy world, and a sinister, disintegrating universe with an insect trapped in a spiderweb theme. The storyline, and the unexpected scares once the movie shifts from childhood fantasy to childhood horror in the third act, make Coraline more than just eye candy for the kiddies.
Presented in theaters in 3-D, but the novelty doesn’t add anything significant to experience: I would have been just as happy to watch the same moving pictures tell the same story on an unabashedly flat screen. Though there’s nothing really weird to be found here, Coraline, in the best children’s’ movie tradition, is worth a trip even for adult fans of fantasy and pure escapism.