Tuesday, July 14, 2015

DVD(s) of the Week: Bernie, Malificent, The Book of Life

It's DVD Round-Up time! Over the last few weeks we've watched more movies that I've easily found time to write up, so it's time that I come up to date with a quick summary. A couple of them have been kids films, and one not, so it's an eclectic mix. I'll start with the best this time, and move down, so, here we go. 

Richard Linklater is one of those filmmakers I keep forgetting that I like. I've enjoyed pretty much every film of his I've seen, and they are varied and interesting, but somehow don't quite manage to seek him out as much as I should. Bernie is a black comedy starring Jack Black, Shirley Maclaine and Matthew McConaghey, based on a newspaper article about a man who was so popular in his home town they had to put him trial for murder somewhere else otherwise he would have simply been acquitted out of hand. 

There is a clever strucural gimmick at work with Bernie where you very rarely see any of the internal lives of the two main characters, Bernie himself and the woman he first befreinds, and later murders. Shirley Maclaine plays the latter to the hilt, a real monster of a character whom the town hates and, it seems, reciprocates, contrasted to Jack Black's gentle Funeral Home worker. With most of the scenes shot from the outside, and talking heads of the townfolk giving our only context, it plays the build-up to and aftermath of the killing more as farcical tragedy than anything else. It's funny, and clever, and warm, and I'm surprised it flew so low under the radar on it's release.

The Book of Life
Kids animation away from the "big names" can be a spotty afair, as budgets can be tight, and lets be honest; kids animation can attract some lazy "oh it will do" filmmaking at the best of times. The Book of Life boasts Guillermo Del Toro as a producer and is rooted in the tradition surrounding the Mexican Day of the Dead. It's framing narrative is a bunch of unruly schoolkids being told a story of a rivalry between the  two rival rulers of the underworld, manifesting as a bet over which of two freinds would marry the pretty local girl, with a healthy dose of subplot about choosing your own life and destiny.

Aside from a big eyebrow twitch about the main female character being literally the prize, I enjoyed this a lot. It's got a lovely animation style, with all the characters looking like wooden puppets as the story is told, and some exuberant design down in the Land of the Dead itself. Especially the Vengeance of All Bulls, which looked properly badass. It does take a while to get going, however, and  my reservation about it's female lead never quite went away, but it certainly kept both kids (surprisingly) entertained over a wet afternoon.

It's interesting how Disney are updating their old animated properties into Live Action, presumably as a way of keeping their massive range of traditional princesses around yet trying to free them of come of the more traditional tropes of those classic movies. Probably the boldest so far (unless you count "Can we Make Alice in Wonderland actually bloody terrible?") is Malificent, which flips the script and tries to make her out as the hero of the tale. It's a patchy attempt, if I'm honest.

Clearly a lot of money was spent bringing the world of Malificent to life but they also managed to graft on some really generic guff about a human kingdom and a fairy kingdom. And then they added some more guff about Malificent being a wronged woman out for righteous revenge, except that the revenge is targetted not at the perpatrator of that crime but at his daughter? Not, with all that power, him? Odd. I wonder if it was going for a more feminist narrative by making Malificent the central figure, but scorned woman redeemed by surrogate motherhood tropes are hardly new or progressive, and it started to annoy me that Aurora's actual mother hardly got any lines of dialogue as her father sells her to one man, who then loses her daughter for her. 
So in the end Malificent is just a bit of a mess. A properly dark fairy tale which charts her fall from innocent to agent of vengeance could have been interesting,  and still within the Sleeping Beauty framework. But I'm not sure what Malificent wanted to be (other than a vehicle for Angelina Jolie, who does good work dominating in the central role) and so it ends up being sort of nothing of much note.