WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 50

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 50th WWW:

1) Monsters vs. Aliens: B.O.B.'s Big Break:
I certainly loved Monsters vs. Aliens, and this prequel focusing on Seth Rogen's gelatinous B.O.B., Hugh Laurie's Dr. Cockroach, and Will Arnett's Missing Link trying to escape government captivity and outwit General Monger(Kiefer Sutherland was equally enjoyable and well animated, if not better animated. I didn't get the full benefit of 3D because neither my current polarized glasses that theaters now use nor my childhood red and blue lensed glassed worked; this one needed red and green lenses apparently. But the disc included a 2D version, so all was well. My main complaint about the short, which can't be blamed on the filmmakers, is that it is so short. It seemed a waste of a Netflix spot for a disc with a 13 minute cartoon, even if it did include a game and 3 karaoke songs performed by the animated characters. Netflix has been adopting an even more disturbing trend these last few weeks of sending “rental” versions of movies, which include only the film with a few trailers and language options; no commentary, and no special features. I can't blame them if Monsters vs. Aliens released its bonus content on a separate disc, but it is annoying that they're not offering bonus content with anything now. As for the short itself, it focuses on a plan gone awry, in which Dr. Cockroach tries to turn B.O.B. into a bomb and instead gives him telepathic powers. Rogen is funny as ever as the dimwitted blue blob, while Sutherland's R. Lee Ermey impression still has me double checking the credits. And even in 2D, the animation is ridiculously good, reminding me that this current 3D fad is only as good as the content it's enhancing. There's a scene in which the monsters are hurling bits of B.O.B. at the general, and the rendering that must have gone into all the reflections and transparency of these gelatinous spheres is insane. I loved the quality of the content, even if I was a little disappointed in the quantity.

2) My Neighbor Totoro:
This classic Miyazaki film had the potential to be a real tearjerker, but ended up being a wonderful celebration of youth and imagination. A father moves to the countryside with his two young daughters, while his wife remains in the hospital battling an unspecified illness. After encountering “soot gremlins” and being told by a local little boy that their new house is haunted, the girls are only more curious. The younger sister ventures in to the woods after following two rabbit-like creatures, and encounters a much larger version inside a large tree. She names it “Totoro” based on the sounds he makes(provided in the American dub by Frank Welker in a rare instance of improvement over the original Japanese audio track). Later, the older sister and the father find the little girl asleep in some tall grass, with no evidence of what she saw. The father tells the girls that the creatures were probably forest spirits, who will only be seen if they want to be seen. Eventually, the older sister meets Totoro as well, and the film is pretty open about whether these are spirits or merely the girls using their collective imaginations to deal with a difficult situation, the possibility that they might lose their mother. The forest spirits are definitely charming, while the Catbus, literally a bus with the body of a cat, is a little freaky, a mix between the Chesire Cat and a caterpillar. I later read that his design influenced the look of Appa, the six-legged flying bison from Avatar: The Last Airbender. There's one scene that parents might find awkward, in which the girls are shown bathing with the father, but that may be attributed to cultural differences. At no time does any part of the film feel less than innocent. As usual, Miyazaki and his animators show that they understand children, and these girls seem authentic, with a range of emotions, from glee to wonder to fear to bravery. This film gets how children view their world, and see things we as adults have discarded. Real or imaginary, we'd all benefit from a friend like Totoro.

3) Backdraft:
Even before a fire inspector portrayed by Robert DeNiro or a pyromaniac played by Donald Sutherland describe it as such, fire genuinely feels like a living animal in this Ron Howard classic. It really feels like a ravenous entity, lurking behind closed doors waiting to consume all in its path. William Baldwin plays Brian McCaffrey, the younger brother of Kurt Russell's Stephen McCaffrey, trying to follow in their father's footsteps(Russell also portrays the father in the film's opening sequence). The elder McCaffrey brother wants to keep an eye on his younger sibling and protect him, and he's tough on him for many reasons. Fire has taken much from him, and his career has even separated him from his wife and son. Brian eventually has enough, and takes a new job as DeNiro's assistant, on the recommendation of an old girlfriend(Jennifer Jason Leigh). Together, they begin to find that a lot of the fires that have claimed lives with backdrafts, explosions resulting from a door being opened and introducing oxygen into an airtight environment with a dormant flame, are part of a larger conspiracy. Even when I thought I had it all figured out and knew who the villain behind everything would be, there were still a few pleasant surprises. More importantly, this film is a celebration of the risks firefighters take when they enter an inferno to save lives. The little jets of water from their hoses seem puny when buildings are crumbling and fire is spreading across every surface. They are also fiercely loyal to one another. “You go...we all go!” is a motto heard more than once as they pull or attempt to pull brethren from the brink of certain doom. This is one of those movies that everyone has seen except for me, and I'm glad I finally got a hold of it on DVD.

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



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