Monday, April 13, 2009

One overdone and one under-done

The following is a double review of Monsters vs. Aliens and $9.99.

Life's been busy. Going to the movies has been getting sparse for me lately. In the last month, however, I have managed to see two primary animated features.

I managed to see Tatia Rosenthal's stop-motion feature $9.99 at the MOMA, apparently its New York premier. Like others, I have known of the film from the festival circuit for months. It is an Australian/Israeli film, based on the short stories of Israeli writer Edgar Keret. I have to say, for an animated feature, the writing really stood out. Story-wise, it had the structure and essence of a Robert Altman or P.T. Anderson ensemble piece, one in which the characters are unknowingly connected (think Short Cuts or Magnolia). In this case, the various characters all live in the same apartment complex. And along comes an outsider that connects a few of the characters, in the form of a dead panhandler/angel (played wonderfully by Geoffrey Rush). The story then takes several existential turns.

Animation wise, I am kind of mixed. I know that the budget is about $3 million (not bad for an indie film), but even so, that shouldn't have gotten in the way of design. I was a little put-off by the design of the puppets, which seemed to be going for a near-realistic look. I also felt a couple of characters looked too similar, and thus confused a part of the story. The story seemed to be based on enough stark realism, that I thought the puppets could have taken a more simplistic, yet exaggerated look. And I especially can't stand the tiny add-on mouths, which makes the characters look like they are always puckering.

In the end, I have to say the writing got the best of the movie, which is a good thing, since a lot of movies can fall victim to bad writing. The voice acting also seemed to get the job done without ruining the script.

Next up, I saw Monsters Vs. Aliens in 3-D. At first I wasn't interested, but I thought I might wrong. Dreamworks' last couple features had elements that I consider to be vast improvements over their dreaded, commercialized past. Unfortunately, this film took a few steps downward, mostly due to what was supposed to bring it out on top. The movie has already been reported to have advanced, eye (and paddle-ball) popping 3-D, and I was curious about how far it is being taken.

it is obvious to me that a great deal of time was spent making the animation and 3D as impressive as possible. But in the end, the story suffers from under development. Parts of the story feel rushed and recycled, and it is way too predictable. On the other hand, maybe it was a good idea in the beginning, and the 3-D came later, outdoing the original idea. I only hope that the improvements Dreamworks has been making are not fading away so soon.

Of the all-star cast, the ones who stand out to me are Hugh Laurie and Keifer Sutherland. Laurie does a beautiful turn as Dr. Cockroach, P.D., and Keifer Sutherland does a nice job as (General Patton-like) General W.R. Monger. The rest of the actors just seemed to be tossed on. I am also perplexed as to why Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski were even paid just to play a couple of one-minute characters. Definitally a waste of money.

Any good points? The movie has plenty of funny bits to remain entertaining. One of my favorite bits is a guilty pleasure; the President of the U.S.A. tries to communicate with an alien spacecraft via synthesizer. First he tries the alien signal from Close Encounters, then starts playing the "Foley" theme of Beverly Hills Cop, to which a couple of bodyguards jerk rhthymically. And a few of the scenes involving the alien race seem satisfying.

3-D is something that still needs some improvements. Actually its just the glasses. Hopefully, they will find some way to make 3D glasses that don't tint or darken the viewer's eyes.

I will be back here again soon. In the meantime, be sure to check out my articles for the ASIFA-East Exposure Sheet Blog. Or just check out the blog anyway.


Elliot Cowan said...

Regarding the puppets in $9.99.
I agree.
They were an incredible distraction.
Your suggestion that they could have been stylised some more could certainly have helped.
We didn't care for the painted on skin texture in particular, it made them look like they had a dermatological problem.

Eric Noble said...

Great post. I haven't seen either, but I would like to see $9.99. It sounds good.