Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Houses of Cards

By an odd coincidence, all three of the movies I watched last week are built on shaky structural experiments.

Appleseed (2004, directed by Shinji Aramaki) is an experiment in combining the visual hand-drawn aesthetic of traditional animation with 3-D CGI and performance capture. It has some cool action sequences punctuated by long stretches of so much talky exposition that it makes one want to scream. The story, such as it is, surrounds the integration of the next generation of artificial humans with the original model. There are cyborgs and warrior chicks aplenty here. For the most part, I'm not very impressed by the amount of CGI and motion capture in this, even if it is mostly made to look hand-drawn. Disney and the Fleischers experimented with rotoscoping almost eighty years ago. Disney never made much use out of it because he thought it looked wrong. There's a reason that classical animators exaggerated movement and anatomy, and one misses it here. Only the robots seem really, ahem, animated. Ah, well. Mostly sterile, but okay if you have a fetish for mecha, I guess.

Passage to Marseille (1944, directed by Michael Curtiz) is just a mess. It has a great cast--Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Claude Rains--but it also has an arcane flashback within a flashback within a flashback structure that short circuits any kind of narrative motion. Bogart plays a hard boiled Devil's Island escapee who becomes a pilot for the Free French. That sounds pretty good on paper. Sydney Greenstreet is the evil Vichy lackey commanding a transport boat. That sounds good, too. But none of it coheres because you lose track of how everything relates to each other chronologically. I mean, it's watchable--there's always something interesting going on, and Curtiz was a great director for creating cinematic unreal estate--but, sheesh, what a waste of a great cast.

Melinda and Melinda (2004, directed by Woody Allen) is one of Allen's bifurcated movies (kind of like Crimes and Misdemeanors). It tells two versions of the same story, one tragic, one comic, with two different casts except for Rhada Mitchell, who plays the catalyst in both halves, and occasional other characters, who cause the stories to intersect. But really, none of this matters, because it's the framing material that the movie is REALLY about. It's about two playwrights basically bouncing ideas off of each other at dinner, with the comedy and the tragedy as the ball being bounced between them. As a result, one gets the feeling that we're watching Allen detail and deconstruct his writing method. He even puts a version of himself in the movie--played by Will Ferrell of all people. This all might be very interesting, I suppose, but it's not much of a movie. Also, Allen's stock New Yorkers make me want to take him on a drive out through fly-over country to find new (arguably less self-involved) characters to play with.

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