Posts Tagged Film

CHILDHOOD REVISITED: CASPER

Casper Screenshot

Child porn and necrophilia all in one, kiddie-friendly package!

Casper – (1995)

Director: Brad Silberling
Starring: Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Malachi Pearson
Screenplay by: Sherri Stoner, Deanna Oliver

Cartoonists Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo created a phantasmagorical little boy in the 1930s named Casper, a friendly ghost who refuses to eschew the rules of the metaphysical, opting to try and befriend the mortal instead of haunting or scaring them. First as a children’s book and then as an animated cartoon, Casper’s foibles center around his attempts to communicate with people who consistently, automatically freak out and run for the hills. It’s a simple enough premise, mixing the whimsy of idealized Halloween with the creepy comradeship that the macabre can bring, all presentable for the young. And it worked; cartoons of the youthful spirit were created well into the 60s; even today, there are a ton of direct-to-DVD and simple cartoons out there. All of which were more or less spring-boarded by the 1995 film. Hope the re-watch won’t be horrifying! Etc.

NOSTALGIC LENS: I was quite effected by the film when I originally watched it, and I remembered it being surprisingly dark. It’s a difficult line to walk, trying to make a film about death and “what happens next” for kids, who certainly don’t do too much thinking about it. Still, I remember it being fun and chilling, impressed by the ghost effects, and quite enamored by the story. Boy, was I in for a trick-or-treat! Okay, I’ll stop.

DOES IT HOLD UP: When I re-watched this, my immediate first thought was, “This HAS to have been written by two writers.” Sure enough, two names appeared under the Written By credit, and it makes sense. It’s was like watching 2 separate movies in one, barely connected by a thread. One wanted to write a goofy kids film about a young specter wanting to meet a real girl and go to a school dance. The other wanted to write a dark tale of a loss, control, obsession, and shades of abuse. Instead of trying to fuse these ideas together, they just mixed and matched sections of each screenplay and plopped out a finished product. Scenes are starkly black and white in tone, instead of the smooth gray it should be.

Widower doctor (Bill Pullman) and his daughter (Christina Ricci) constantly move from place to place as the former seeks to “communicate” to his deceased wife, and the latter rolls her eyes, or something. Meanwhile, lonely ghost Casper tries desperately to befriend anyone brave enough to enter his haunted mansion, only to be scared off by his triple ghostly companions (or more accurately, owners) of Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso. MEANWHILE STILL, Cathy Moriarty and Eric Idle are two typical corporate-types who want to destroy the mansion for generic money-making scheme #8, but end up discovering a secret within the house, so they switch to generic money-making scheme #14.

Sounds messy, right? It is, but not overly so. It’s more or less three ideas told in five-to-seven minute chunks, and the ideas themselves are simple enough so it’s easy to follow. Also, the direction and editing is clean and straight-forward. Nothing special, nothing exciting, but just passable enough so as to not call anything into question – if you’re a kid.

Older viewers, however will call shenanigans on the parts that seem especially off-putting or nonsensical. For example, an early sequence has Pullman fighting the goofy ghosts with a plunger and vacuum cleaner. Funny, silly kids’ stuff, right? Well, after trapping the ghosts in the vacuum, the following scenes act as if THAT NEVER HAPPEN. Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso are suddenly freed and out and about – without any indication on how or why they were released. The idea, that Pullman is trying to talk these ghosts into “moving on,” is never exactly relayed to the trio of spooks. We’re supposed to assume this.

Balancing the dark with the goofy is never easy, but in Casper, the “dark” borders on horrifying territory. Watching Casper being physically abused by Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso comes off disturbing, not cute. A scene where those three basically ridicule Pullman’s dead wife is starkly cold. The worst thing, though, comes from the film’s attempt to utilize a piece of dialogue that works in the thematic sense throughout the film. The line? “Can I keep you?”

My “rival” is dead correct – that line is just fucking creepy. It doesn’t even really make sense. Part of me thinks its a child’s mistaken approach at romantic terminology (he sees it like one sees a pet or a toy), but the line directed at a young Ricci by a DEAD thing makes it come off much more terrifying.

There are some really nice moments, though. Casper recounting how he died is pretty heartfelt, an interesting approach to something that probably didn’t matter to the original run. And these final scenes are surprisingly dramatic: live-Casper and Ricci’s dance is cheesy good in the 90s sense, but Pullman’s revisit by his wife is actually quite powerful:

Beyond that though, there’s a lot of random moments, including the stuff with Moriarty and Idle, which doesn’t serve too much purpose, and is resolved in a silly way (there’s actually a weird moment where Casper and Ricci run from the ghost version of Moriarty, only to come back. Inexplicable.) Casper’s dual-narrative doesn’t exactly fuse together all that well, but it has moments of liveliness to combat the incomprehensible dread.

Oh, and Dan Aykroyd makes an early appearance as a Ghostbuster. That was kinda cool.

NEXT UP: Heavyweights

Share

, , ,

2 Comments

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