Brain–er, Breathless, 50th Anniversary

The 50th Anniversary of Breathless is this year and, this being a seminal film, it was given a limited re-release so that we could all enjoy its, uh, seminal-ness.

And it surely is seminally. It’s black-and-white, hand-held camera, minimal sets and cast. There hasn’t been a movie this seminal since Blair Witch Project. Which of course was 40 years later. But still.
OK, here’s the thing: You absolutely can see in this 1960 movie the future of the ambitious art film, a style which persists to this day, but dominated cinema more and more till the late ‘60s and early ’70s. A lot of movie critics mourn the passing of this era, which was pretty much done in by Jaws and Star Wars.
Thing is I hate this era of cinema. Hate hate hate it!
But let me explain what this movie is about: Sociopath Michel steals a car then kills a cop who pulls him over. The editing is awfulexcuse me, seminal—to where it’s really unclear what happens in this and the other semi-action scene. He then sort of sulks around, bedding some women and stealing their money, while setting his cap for Patricia, who’s apparently taken by his psychotic ways.
In between ducking cops (in the least suspenseful running-from-the-cops scenes ever), Michel and Patricia have long, meaningless conversations in bed about—well, who really cares. They’re not likable people. They’re not even interesting.
So, I guess there’s the low budget aspect of it. The handheld camera. People praise the acting, but it’s as stilted as Metropolis without any of the charm, scope or aesthetic.
The Boy was meh, but then he was shocked to find out it was only 90 minutes long. “Seemed a lot longer,” quoth he, and I agree. The Old Man and I enjoyed looking at the Citroens. (The Old Man had a couple when I was growing up. Great, unusual cars.)
You know, I’m not the audience for these kinds of movies. This is a movie I think, I dunno, maybe Althouse would like.
It reminded me of music school, where the professors wrote really “inaccessible” music, because if you wrote anything else, people could listen to it and compare it to what’s colloquially referred to as “good music”.
Worse than that, because these guys—and I’m including Jean-Luc Goddard, who directed this film—are so aware of the great art, they’re paralyzed by it. In this movie, Michel idolized Humphrey Bogart, who of course starred in many noir films, which this movie weakly invokes, like a 30-year tenured professor trying to write an atonal fugue in the style of Bach.
Now, it probably is, besides first, best of breed. But unless the self-absorbed, self-indulgent, ultimately nihilistic point-of-view appeals to you, you probably would do well to avoid the subsequent decade-and-a-half of “ambitious art movies”.
But, hey, that’s my opinion. I could be wrong. (With apologies to Dennis Miller.)

How To Train Your Dragon

Back when I was trying to sell kids’ books to publishers, waaaaay back in the ‘80s, the various publishers would send out rules of what not to bother sending. Tops on most of their lists? “DON’T SEND ANYTHING WITH DRAGONS.”

Apparently there was a glut.
I didn’t have anything with dragons but I sort of thought it was dickish.
Relevance to the movie How To Train Your Dragon? None, really, except that given this is based on a series of books released in the past decade, I guess the ban is up.
Which brings us to the latest venture from the team that brought you Lilo and Stitch. L&S is an underrated Disney film which managed to unselfconsciously break out of the mold of “young person doesn’t meet societal/parental expectations and successfully forges own way in world” that dominated their ‘toons since The Little Mermaid. It also used a lot of Elvis unironically.
This is the story of young Hiccup, a Norseman of some sort, who lives on an average Norseman island except for being plagued by dragons. Swarmed, even. So, the young of the village train to become dragonslayers.
Naturally, Hiccup’s not really up for that. (We wouldn’t have a children’s story if he embraced the slaughter of dragon’s wholeheartedly and was good at it, would we? Not these days!) He’s more of an inventor; and he invents, essentially, a ballista. He manages to hit a dragon—the particular type of dragon so fast and destructive that no one has ever even seen one—and no one believes him.
He stumbles upon the injured beast, though, and discovers something other than the completely unrepentant destroyer of Norse villages he’s been taught to believe. The subsequent relationship is…problematic.
This is a fast-paced, sometimes funny, nice-looking film. It walks the line between too cute, too much Kumbaya, and brutal fairly facilely. In that sense, much like Lilo & Stitch, where Stitch was both cute and a destructive monster, but far less cute. (There is a real villain in the peace, and it’s fairly unapologetic in its scariness.)
Jay Baruchel (best known to me as the skinny kid in Million Dollar Baby) plays the skinny Hiccup while America Ferrara plays his jealous peer, Astrid. Astrid is one of those now clichéd overachieving girls who just wants to kill some dragons and is increasingly pissed off by Hiccup’s strange increasing facility with them.
Supporting characters include Gerard Butler, as Hiccup’s predictably not-understanding father (speaking of clichés, didn’t we just see James Caan do this in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs?); Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jonah Hill (kinda sorta doing Jack Black) as the skinny and fat kid vikings—though at least they made Jonah Hill the skinny(-er) one and Mintz-Plasse the fat one; Kirsten Wiig as the twin of—
Wait. Do you care? Does anyone? Why do they keep putting celebrities in animated films when a professional voice actor is probably going to be better (and way cheaper)?
Are you people actually lining up to see How To Train Your Dragon because Gerard Butler was so hot in 300? What the hell is wrong with you?
Or is it just some Hollywood trend?
I hope it’s the latter. I get why actors like the voice gigs. No makeup, no costume, just hamming it up in front of a bunch of A/V geeks who are probably all starstruck.
Anyway, the movie was a hit with everyone, from the Old Man, to The Boy—who didn’t expect to like it—to both the Flower and the Barbarienne. And me. It’s a solid piece of work. Rewatchable. The Old Man objected to the cuteness of the main dragon, and I could see his point. The dragons were all a hair too cute for me.
Curiously, he preferred Shrek 4, but he’s a definite outlier in that regard.
Interesting side-note: We saw this back in mid-June at the bargain theater and it’s still playing there. That’s a good sign.

Shrek 4: It’s A Wonderful Strife

It’s always good to remember that It’s A Wonderful Life isn’t a comedy. It’s got a lot of funny parts to it—laugh out loud funny, even—but it’s essentially a dark, existential drama by its very nature: A man so overwhelmed that he considers his existence to be a negative to the world. The brooding darkness is essential to the plot.

OK, most of us don’t have to worry about this much. But those of us making kiddie movies based on It’s A Wonderful Life would do well to keep it in mind.
Which brings us to Shrek 4: The Final (Thank, God!) Chapter.
This time around, Shrek signs a deal with Rumplestiltskin (filling in for the Devil) to get one day away from his shrieking brood (triplets). The catch is, he has to give up one day to get it.

That day (unwittingly) being the day of his birth. (This is sort of awkward if you think about it, since Shrek has no parents even worth referencing once in the previous three movies.) And so, Shrek finds himself in Pottersville, in the form of Rumplestiltskin’s witch-laden kingdom, where there’s an ongoing war between the trolls (led by Fiona) and said witches.

It’s not bad. The Barb liked it. The Flower thought it was okay, as did the Boy. The Old Man liked it quite a bit (more than he would How To Train Your Dragon). But it is dark.

I mean, literally. For all the advanced CGI and what-not, the bulk of the movie seems to take place at night. And some place full of ogres.

Yeah, that’s one place where the movie really falls down: It’s A Wonderful Life shows us Bedford Falls, all the places and people who later change due to no George Baily, and despite having three movies behind it, the Far, Far Away of this movie doesn’t manage to invoke any fraction of that kind of resonance.

Which is kind of a shame, since you could have seen Lord Farquat and the evil Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming, and all the other baddies vanquished in the previous films. The setting was always a gag throwaway, but it seems like they could have made some callbacks.

Then again, maybe they did, and I just missed them.

Anyway, this is one of those movies where I’m probably the only one who cares one way or another about stuff like that. The kids liked it, forgot it quickly, and we moved on to the next summer film.