Pride before “The Fall”

I’ve compared Tarsem’s mixedly-reviewed film The Cell to one of my low budget favorites, Huyck and Katz’s Dead People. (Huyck and Katz would later go on to write Howard The Duck!) Dead People is a movie of strikingly disturbing visuals which fail to be tied together by a plot that is both incomprehensible and banal.

The Cell is similarly full of striking imagery, allegedly in the service of a murder mystery that is so weak, it’s transparently a flimsy excuse for the visuals. It’s the equivalent of the plot in a porn movie.

I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to see The Fall, therefore, but The Boy picked it and Althouse’s review gave me some hope. In this movie, an East Indian child with a broken arm is being told a story by an injured, heartbroken stuntman whose motivation is to entice the child to get him enough morphine to kill himself.

The story is, as a result, disjointed and internally incoherent–but it works this time for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it works as a reflection of the reality of the main story. The man and the little girl both inform the story with their understanding of each other. This is what actually provides a lot of the tension.

Perhaps the main reason, however, is that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, after all, being told to–and envisioned by–a little girl (as opposed to being the inner workings of a serial killer, as with The Cell) and this allows the costumes to be rather outrageous and colorful, with the expectation that the audience will laugh at certain things.

There is a Princess Bride vibe, as Althouse (and I think Ebert) noted, though the suicide/whimsy combination also evoked for me The Little Prince. In fact, this could be a good kids’ movie, except for the fact that the director needs blood to color some of the scenes (which I don’t consider that big a deal) and for the climax, which features a number of deaths that might be upsetting. (There’s a shot, too, where the little girl is watching two people have sex. We don’t see it; we’re watching her watch it, and we hear the sounds.)

But the “R” rating is harsh, to say the least. I mean, I suppose it’s a little intense, adult theme-y and all that. But the MPAA may have been reflecting on Tarsem’s previous film. They do that sort of thing.

Now, as to the visuals themsselves. I am not, like Althouse, averse to CGI. It can be poorly done, and is, a lot. It can be overdone–and is, a lot. But I love Pixar, the first Jurassic Park and movies like Master and Commander, where it’s hard to tell where the CGI is.

But compare, some time, if you can stand to, the first two (recent) Mummy pictures. Both use CGI by the bucket-load, but the first movie is punctuated by actual landscapes that are quite breathtaking, while the second substitutes CGI almost completely for the real world, to its considerable detriment.

This movie forgoes CGI (almost?) completely for real shots of Giza, The Taj Mahal, China, Turkey and so on (all to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony) and it reminds, painfully almost, how superior reality still is to CGI, in the hands of a competent cinematographer.

Moral of the story being: If you’ve got the money, and you’ve got the chops, step away from the computer and shoot reality.

Edit: I forgot to add that the boy really liked it. He does not suffer fools or foolishness gladly, so this tells me the movie walks the fine line very well indeed.

Two Hours In The Uncanny Valley

At the behest of my partner-in-crime, Loaded Questions Kelly, I went to see Beowulf.

There’s a theory called The Uncanny Valley that is applicable here. I quote from Wikipedia:

as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion

In other words, when something is very humanlike, but not quite there, we tend to reject it. One can think of many reasons why a corpse is creepy, but why mannequins? How about a Real Doll? Well, okay, lotta reasons that’s creepy.

Beowulf is two hours in the Uncanny Valley. Better than Final Fantasy, in some ways, and presumably better than director Zemeckis’ earlier work, The Polar Express, which I could not bring myself to watch, Beowulf still had me thinking thoughts like, “Hey, that almost looks like Anthony Hopkins!”

They spent millions creating animated models of Hopkins, Robin Wright (Princess Bride) Penn and of course, Ray Winstone, but they clearly devoted a huge amount of time and energy to the Jolie model. In some shots, from some angles, it’s very impressive. Because the “hits” are so good, the “misses” are terribly jarring, reminding you that, in fact, it’s not Jolie but an amazing simulation.

With Hopkins, you sorta think, “Hey, that kinda looks like Sir Anthony,” but actually, with both him and Jolie, you miss their subtler facial twitches and tics. Maybe Hopkins over-acts in general, but whatever the reason, his model seems flat. Some of the biggest misfires with Jolie’s model is a failure to capture her seductiveness. (Though, in fairness to her animators, I can’t recall a time she’s been a truly evil character, as she is here.)

Winstone and Penn hardly look like themselves, or realistic at all, but that sort of works in their favor. I don’t know Winstone enough by look. And, to be honest, I have a strange sort of uncanny valley feeling whenever I see Penn, especially in Princess Bride. I have some sort of disconnect between my brain being told she’s a beautiful princess and what my eyes are seeing. (Not that she’s ugly or anything, it’s just an odd feeling I get when I see her, which the movie actually recreated pretty well.)

Obviously, I’m rambling about the animation here but that’s because it was always on my mind. As with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Final Fantasy, I’m constantly thinking about the technique while I’m watching it. It’s very tiring. Even the more adventurous animé techniques (like those in Appleseed) usually vanish as the movie progresses.

Not for me. Not with this sort of CGI. (Pixar, no problem.)

I didn’t see the 3D version. This will be the first iteration of a new 3D technique I’ve missed in my lifetime. It usually barely works for me and almost always gives me a headache. Plus, the movies are almost always pure crap. (Exceptions being the original versions of The House of Wax and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Back in my day, they didn’t even try.)


This movie takes the thinly plotted Old English poem Beowulf and, uh, oh, hell, does it matter? OK, basically, the movie takes a straightforward story of a guy who beats the crap out of two evil monsters, and then a third evil monster when he’s old, and turns it into a story about a guy who beats the crap out of one evil monster, has sex with the second, and thereby spawns the third, which then kill each other.

And, yes, if you’re keeping score at home, monster #2 (Ms. Jolie) lives on to, presumably, inspire a sequel.

The whole sex angle is…different. And I guess it adds some depth to an otherwise straightforward story. Though since he ends up dying as a result of his own earlier sin, it takes some of the shine off the story. The story’s Beowulf was not a man with any sort of weaknesses (as pointed out by this review by Dan at Gay Patriot). They foreshadow Beowulf’s fall from grace by showing him losing a swimming contest because he stopped to kill some sea serpents and canoodle with some mermaids.

Of course, when you combine that with Hrothgar’s (Hopkins) previous dalliance with Grendel’s mother, it’s obvious what’s going to happen.

Stupid though it may seem, Walthow’s (Penn) icy perfection made Beowulf’s tryst seem somewhat understandable (even if she and Beowulf weren’t yet involved). Even as an evil water demon, Jolie seemed a lot more inviting than Penn.

Of course, I don’t remember any women in the poem.
I do remember a naked fight.
I would have also sworn that Beowulf wins his last fight through the power of Jesus.

The mind, it plays tricks.

Well, overall, it wasn’t horrible. Mostly not boring. The Boy sez, “It was stupid.”

Look for Crispin Glover as GRENDEL! in an upcoming musical version.