Archive for category Film

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – HOMEWARD BOUND: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

Screenshot from Homeward Bound

Someone get this girl some friends.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey – (1993)

Director: Duwayne Dunham
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, Don Ameche
Screenplay by: Caroline Thompson, Linda Woolverton

I profusely apologize for the late posting of this entry. It was supposed to be uploaded a week ago, but last minute events held me up in preparing for my trip out to LA. To wit: it’s not that I didn’t want to continue this feature, it’s simply that the webtoon pitch and work has kept me overall very busy. That, and the fact that Homeward Bound is incredibly boring.

NOSTALGIC LENS: Homeward Bound is one of those “kill time in school” films – you know, the ones where the teacher shows it to you at the end of the day when classes are over and you’ve learned everything you could for the day, which manages to produce a short,  safe, kids-friendly, 90-minute tale that does the bare minimum to warm the heart. (There are a few films that fit this list which I’ll be rewatching) While I remember mildly enjoying this film, I can’t say it particularly warmed my heart or left any lasting impression. I thought they fought a bear in this movie.

DOES IT HOLD UP: They don’t fight a bear. They fight a cougar. And they don’t really fight the cougar, because it’s painfully obvious that the cougar and the canines are in completely different spaces. It’s an editing trick. See, cause what you do is cut different frames of differently shot scenes, so it makes it seem like they’re in the same space. Movie magic!

Homeward Bound is a fucking slog. It’s a film that exist simply to exist. It certainly doesn’t have the heartwarming eye for detail and endearing elements like Babe, and yet, doesn’t inspire anger and hatred like the horrible Theodore Rex. It’s just a boring, run-of-the-mill glacier of a film, with predictable beats and nonsensical moments, and forced conflicts to make what should have been a 22-minute episode of a PBS show into a full-length feature.

Due to a huge and “incredible” eye-rolling predicament, the pets of the Seaver family – one Chase, Shadow, and Sassy – believe themselves to be abandoned at some farm when they’re placed there for a week for some reason or another. They manage to break out of their pen and find themselves trucking across through the wilderness to find their way home.

The only thing about the film that’s kind of interesting is the decision to make the pets unable to understand their human owners. This language barrier lays a somewhat plausible base in which all this could happen. But the “comedy of errors” set of coincidences that keep this film moving is so ridiculous that it drives you crazy. A local farmer misinterprets a note that the animals are fine. Chase goes nuts when some doctors help him, prompting an extra forty minutes of movie when they “escape” the very help they seek to find. There’s a random scene where a disheveled Sassy is nursed back to help, only to never be referenced again. And so on.

The writing’s filler. The acting is between bland and awful (I’m looking at you, kids). The cinematography of some of the outdoor scenes are nice, but hardly anything special. A competent cinematographer SHOULD be able to film visually striking outdoor shots. And, as alluded above, the editing is atrocious. Here’s every single complaint, in one deliciously full ten minute clip:

Beyond that, though, there’s nothing else about this film worth talking about. It certainly won’t wow or impress adults, and it barely passes the mark for “talking animal” films. Keith Phipps over at the AVClub wrote quite on point about how dogs make bad actors. The more you think about it, the more you realize that these trained creatures are really simply reacting to cues off-screen, and only the top notch editors, voice artists, and directors can really pull it off. Homeward Bound, by merely being adequate, ultimately fails.

IN A NUTSHELL: Yawnfest. Homeward Bound is as boring as the actors clearly are. I know teachers are killing time, but Jesus, you’re also killing excitement.

NEXT UP: Casper

Share

,

4 Comments

Thinking vs. Entertaining: Just Kiss and Make Up

I saw Inception three weekends ago and, for the most part, it rocked. In fact, I mentioned on a comment board that Inception “(intellectually) rocked.”

Inception Movie Poster

It got me thinking, and I’m not talking about the multiple layers of what was a dream and what was real in the movie. It got me thinking about the oft-debated role of entertainment in the world today, of the power of pop culture and the supposed responsibility it has towards the viewing public at large. Should it be a purely-entertaining spectacle, a visual and narrative means to appeal to the “lowest common denominator” (a phrase which I loathe to the core, in that it belittles the worth of the average person – to the point that they lash out into, oh, let’s say, Tea Partier-like mentalities)? Or should it be a thought-provocative, challenging piece of work that really forces its audience to ponder the world around them?

After hits like Inception and The Matrix, can it be both?

Short answer: of course not. Financially-speaking, it’s impossible. You need the best screenwriters, the best directors, the best action-choreographers. You need to spend time tweaking the script to have all the depths necessary to push narrative boundaries, yet maintain enough comfort food (action! explosions! hot womens!) to keep regular audience members entertained all the way through. It’s known as a high-concept film, and you can’t finance all of them at such a high level of quality. That kind of money just doesn’t exist.

Yet, even with small budgets, I would think a certain amount of intellectual-to-entertainment value could be maintained. Look, I’m all for explosions, fart jokes, gratuitous sexual scenes, and all those silly moments films and TV shows have to hook viewers. I’m a guy. But it doesn’t take a million dollars to put all of that into a framework or layer of content that seeks to say something about the world or human nature. Even if it’s nothing new or ground-breaking, a form of entertainment can really hit upon a certain truth that affects its viewers at a deeper level, even if that depth is skin deep.

Part of it is on audience members. Alan Sepinwall is partially credited for the new wave of TV criticism that focuses on close analysis of television shows, which corresponded perfectly with this “golden age of TV” that we’re apparently experiencing. There is much to be said of the kinds of great, heavy moments that TV is indeed producing, but let’s not be coy – these shows are also immensely entertaining. Breaking Bad has all the rich, wonderful elements worthy of dissecting: issues of identity, influences, family, violence, and so on. But it’s also the most entertaining, exciting, balls-to-the-walls hour on television today.

Sepinwall’s style of analysis is approachable and clean, and has been embraced by so many critics and spread across so many fields; video games and comics and music now have episodic, closer readings of their contents, as well as still maintaining their basic core. In time, cartoons of every level will begin to have something like that (outside of Pixar films), something that I’m hoping to be a part of. [Hint, hint.]

I digress. Part of the sudden fall of the indie wave in the post-Tarantino landscape was because of the number of boring indie films. These filmmakers lacked the training and experience to maintain clear pacing and exciting stories (melodramas can be exciting!), and only get caught up in their intellectual exercising. Contrast that with the vapid yawn-fest of this summer’s flock of movies – all spice, no substance. And financially, it showed.

(Note, I’m still believe there is a place for fun, silly movies like The Expendables and deep, thematic movies like There Will Be Blood. There’s always room for both types, and depending on the mood I’m willing to watch them both. However, in terms of increasing the quality to the current-television, 90s-animation, or 80s-comics level, it’s possible to do both.)

Education and critical thinking don’t have to be pretentious, maudlin, platitudinous acts. Which classes do you best remember in high school and college? The lame ones? Or the ones where your teacher or professor tried to bring life into the curriculum? It’s not that average audience members ignore smart material. It’s simply that you can’t present just the smart material. You need to jazz it up. It has to be presentable, fun, and engaging. It’s something schools should be trying, and it can’t stop once you reach the theaters.

With this new wave of TV, and the sad summer save for the hits like How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, and Inception, entertainment, even high-budget summer blockbuster, will hopefully try to be smarter, more grounded with its stories, and really seek to prefect that blend of high-octane excitement with narrative substance.

Share

, , ,

2 Comments

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – CATS DON’T DANCE

Cats Don't Dance Screenshot

Aren't only dogs supposed to do this?

Cats Don’t Dance – 1997

Director: Mark Dindal
Starring: Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy, Natalie Cole
Screenplay by: Mark Dindal, Robert Lence, Roberts Gannaway, Cliff Ruby, others

The Netflix blurb described Cats Don’t Dance as a “nostalgic animated version of classic MGM musicals.” That got me pretty stoked. As a youngin’, I had failed to make that connection since, while I was aware of the existence of musicals, I didn’t quite grasp their impact and significance in the overall development of American cinema and stardom. Also, watching a non-Disney animated film is always a treat, since you get to experience different themes, ideas, and movements. And, let’s be honest: Disney wouldn’t have released a film like this with such a lame title. Cats Don’t Dance? Really? The furry version of White Men Can’t Jump? Not exactly the warmest sounding title around.

NOSTALGIC LENS: I remember going to see this film by myself. It looked like a fun and eccentric romp through some crazy sets, and it was. Just TOO eccentric. Everything was going so fast and moving in blurs, harsh cuts, and speedy camera tricks that I had no idea what was going on. I remember none of the songs or secondary characters, save for the big-ass butler and really, really stupid ending sequence that actually irritated me, even in terms of cartoon logic. I’ll save that complaint – if it still holds – for the write-up.

DOES IT HOLD UP: I’ll say this: Cats Don’t Dance was not intended for the big screen. It’s a film tailor-made for the small screen – for closer observation. How often do you hear that?

Cats was marketed as a simplistic kids film of colors and frantic movement, talking animals and an Animaniacs-like exaggeration of animation, which simply put, means it’ll keep kids quiet for an hour. The movie, however, is a brightly-rainbow’d homage to not only the MGM classic musical, but the original musical nature of the early black & white/Merrie Melodies era of sing-songy cartoons. It’s a historical piece – a pretty goddamn esoteric one, but the signs are all over the celluloid.

Of course, young kids wouldn’t get it. Of course, parents wouldn’t understand what the film was delineating. The only people that may have been aware of the film’s aesthetic ties may have been historical animation fans, but that requires a clear and free understanding and appreciation of the history of American animation (and film) of a specific time period of a specific genre. That’s a rather egregious disconnect. In that way, Cats Don’t Dance is a failure, since it does little to draw its audience in and clarify its intent.

However, if you ARE aware of all of this, Cats Don’t Dance is a fresh, glorious treat of frantic action, a ballsy film against the slow, straight-forwardness of Disney or Pixar films. It’s tale – homely cat Danny travels to Hollywood to make it as a big time dancer and singer – is so typically cliche of one-third of the plot of most musicals, but that’s the point. Its entertainment draws from the energy of songs that break out of no where, of speedy dance numbers that develop into visual pastiches of its medium, of physical gags no longer utilized save in Spongebob. Check out the first ten minutes:

The simplicity of the opening montage segues into a much more exciting music piece. It’s like we’re going backwards; “Now Our Time Has Come” is such a 90s “hope song,” but “Danny’s Intro” is a play to exploring that new Hollywood space, a Wizard of Oz-like ballad of early triumph. Hello, 50s.

As I mentioned, Cats Don’t Dance homages the animated musical shorts as well. Remember when animated figures would grab random objects in a junkyard or alley and make awesome impromptu music?

I can’t help but think about this notorious cartoon when thinking about this film:

(You may have heard this on a certain South Park episode. Also – my man Tex directed this classic.)

The movie is filled with moments like this, as well as surprisingly sharp jokes about the time period. Sure, some are groaners (Rats being offended by the line “I smell a rat”), but there are some nifty ones, like when antagonist Darla Dimple (an evil Shirley Temple clone) only bites off the heads of animal crackers in front of Danny. (Darla’s offer, though, excites him so much that he starts eating the crackers too. In fact, the entire sequence between Danny and Darla is a lot of fun.)

Which is why the ending disappoints. Musicals, in general, seem to have weak, “JUST WRAP IT UP” type finales that’s all style and no substance. Whether Cats Don’t Dance played to that or not still doesn’t make it any better. Danny’s fight with big brute Max is exciting (and a marvel in animated form), but the ending sequence does nothing to build on that. Darla flicks a number of switches to try and ruin Danny and company’s final number, but it just makes it more awesome. It lacks the pluckiness of Danny’s earlier battle; none of the characters ‘fight’ through the chaos to deliver a great piece. Everything just works out. Ho-hum.

But for one hour, Cats Don’t Dance is a loose, whimsical, enjoyable film, a song/dance “cartoon-cartoon,” and not simply an animated live-action film. (The last animated film to employ such a free-sense of itself? The Emperor’s New Groove.) And it’s surprisingly relevant. Darla essentially screws Danny over; sure, Danny uses his skills and abilities to bounce back and win in the end, but he too had to do some sneaky shit to even earn that right (break into the theater of Darla’s movie premiere.) As much as we’d like to think that our abilities  should speak for themselves, unfortunately in this job market, we may have to get a bit dirty before starting the cleansing process.

IN A NUTSHELL: I found myself really drawn to this film, so much so that I wanted to watch it a second time almost immediately. Sure, it’s flawed, but it’s a movie that’s one of its kind; a film that aims to be more aesthetically informative and historically nostalgic. Does it work 100%? No. But it does make you pine for the days where you can sing-a, along with the moon-a and the June-a, and the spring-a. While avoiding an anvil or six.

EDIT: I should have mentioned that Gene Kelly himself worked as a consultant on the film before he past away, which clearly contributes to the show’s wonderful energy and dance numbers.

NEXT UP: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Share

, , ,

5 Comments