WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 46

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 46th WWW:

1) Kiki's Delivery Service:
There's always a certain magic to the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, so it surprised me that this classic coming-of-age story about a young which was the most normal out of all his films that I've seen. There were no weird creatures or devices or morphing or journeys to other dimensions. Other than flying on a broom and being able to talk to her cat, Kiki doesn't seem to have any other magic powers. But that's probably the point. At 13, every young witch leaves home to find a town to call her own, and Kiki chooses one near the ocean. Along the way, she runs into another young witch who questions her specialty, a question Kiki cannot answer. But, after a kindly woman who runs a bakery hires her as a delivery girl, she soon begins to find her place. After initially rejecting the advances of a young boy in town, she even begins to open up. There aren't a lot of major crises in this film, beyond juggling her delivery deadlines and making time for a social life, but it's still well-animated and has enjoyable characters. I usually watch Miyazaki films with subtitles, but went with the American dub this time around. Not surprisingly, Kiki's cat, voiced by the late Phil Hartman, was probably my favorite character. The animators showed a great understanding of the range of personality in feline body language, equal to their portrayal of the human characters. In the end, a story about a teenage witch is surprisingly ordinary, but with still leave you with a good feeling.

2) Defendor:
Defendor lies somewhere between the low budget Special, a low budget film in which Michael Rapaport gains either special powers or the delusion of such abilities from his medication, and this year's big budget Kick-Ass, in which a kid who's read too many comic books decides to put on a costume and fight crime, which goes about as well for him as you'd expect. In Defendor, Woody Harrelson plays the simple Arthur Poppington, who works with road crews by day holding up “stop” or “slow” signs, and dons a helmet and facepaint by night as the titular vigilante, losing his temper with anyone who doesn't pronounce the intentional “o” in the name. As Arthur, he's gentle and easy to like. As Defendor, his gruff Batman impression does little to intimidate the bad guys, or cause police to think much of a menace to anyone other than himself. His weapons of a choice are a club, handfuls of ordinary marbles, and the occasional small jar filled with angry wasps. That last one proves surprisingly effective more than once. When we first meet Defendor, he's rescuing a young prostitute named “Angel”(Kat Dennings from an abusive client, a crooked police officer played by Elias Koteas(best known to comic book fans for his portrayal of Casey Jones). Koteas makes a great villain, and does an excellent job making his character unlikeable. There's no question that Harrelson is the star here, though. Despite a rough childhood, in which his drug-addicted mother left him to be raised by his grandfather, he still grew up an idealist, thanks to the very comic books which would later inspire his double life. He sees something in Angel that she doesn't yet see in herself, and wants her to find a better life and not share the same fate as his mother. Defendor gets in the way of the police more often than he helps, and this is no superhero movie; he gets hurt, a lot, as would any ordinary person trying to take on the bad guys by himself. But therein lies the heart of the movie, knowing when we should take action to defend those who can't defend themselves. Somehow, the piece manages to reach a conclusion that's both very sad, and very inspirational. I probably wouldn't have seen this one in the theaters, but as an independent film and character study, it's more than worth renting.

3) The Box:
I can't decide if this was a bad movie, or simply went over my head. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a young married couple, affecting bad Southern accents that took me out of the film within the first few minutes, until I got used to it. She's a teacher; he designs polymers for the space program. We learn that she limps due to an unlikely tragic oversight at the hospital in her youth that cost her a few toes. They have one son, and the typical financial woes of anyone in their situation. But then a mysterious stranger sends them a strange package, a box with a red button concealed under a locked dome. Frank Langella soon shows up, an enigmatic burn victim with a difficult proposition. He leaves a key which will unlock the dome so they can press the button. Should they press the button, someone will die somewhere in the world, someone they don't know. In return, they will receive a briefcase with one million dollars. They have 24 hours to decide what to do with such a moral dilemma. It's actually a fascinating premise, based on a short story by Richard Matheson, that was also adapted once before into a Twilight Zone episode. And I think this is where the film starts to fall apart. The Twilight Zone-like atmosphere is great, and they do a great job making it into a period piece set in the 1970s. But a short story adapts better to a single episode of a television show rather than a two-hour movie. Once we learn the couple's decision, the plot meanders for a bit. The suspense remains, and you're on edge waiting for the next development or revelation. Langella is wonderfully creepy, but it would almost be better if the movie didn't eventually spoonfeed you his true status, especially since there's some ambiguity. Is this science fiction? Supernatural? What does it all mean? There's not a lot from the source material to sustain the remainder of the film, and while the concept had a lot of potential, the execution seems to fall short of its full potential. I can think of a few classic science fiction films which dealt with similar subject matter in a much better fashion. It's certainly worth renting for Langella and the atmosphere, even if the plot ends up being a little unsatisfying. I'm not sure if this did well in theaters, but the no-frills DVD which lacks both a commentary and special features to shed light on some of my questions, makes me suspect it was not a box office smash. If anything, I should try to read the original story, or track down that Twilight Zone episode.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Post a Comment

<< Home