Got a few DVDs this week, including Ex Machina, Mr. Turner, and The Walk (see below).
In theaters: The completely delightful Zootopia creates a world of cartoon mammals where, long ago, predators and prey buried the hatchet in the name of civilization. Lots of world-building backgrounds a story that's by turns uproariously funny, sweet and touching, and exciting like the best buddy cop movies are. And surprisingly complex in its politics. Because at first, it seems to be about sexism in the workplace, with a (female) bunny wanting to join the police force even though it's normally populated by "tough" animals like rhinos and bears. Her struggles are ones we recognize. But then it turns even more into a repudiation of the politics of hate by making the characters and audience assume the predators are committing crimes based on a biological imperative, and it's suddenly also about racism, both subtle and overt. In the end, we're left with this year's Inside Out, a beautiful-looking animated fable about the dilemmas of our time, set in a fascinating fantasy world you want to visit again.
DVDs: Robert Zemeckis' The Walk is the true story of Philippe Petit, the French funambulist who illegally walked the wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the early '70s. This unusual heist movie - and it's definitely built like a heist film more than a biopic - is at times over-narrated, but the story it tells is important, I think, acting as a eulogy to the towers, and reenacting the tale they USED to be known for. Bittersweet, yes, but a little wonderful. Still a steadfast opponent of the 3D revolution, I didn't see this film in theaters where it seemed to play exclusively in that fomat, but The Walk is probably one of those films that is actually worth seeing in 3D. Except, I'd still say it's not necessary, because 1) the "fly at the screen" 3D moments annoy me, and 2) even though I'm in no way afraid of heights, I've known the touch of vertigo, and even sitting in my living room watching on a flat screen TV, I still squirmed in my seat during the high-wire final act. A thriller in the best sense - i.e. THRILLING - regardless of the film's flaws. I don't remember the last time Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a misstep (oh puns...); his energy is perfect for this, and his French accent is actually pretty legit. Not perfect on all line readings, but on most. I guess that's something only a native French speaker would comment on. Sorry/je m'excuse. The DVD includes a simple making of featurette, not great. I suppose if someone wants more, they'd have to find the documentary "Man on Wire".
Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars has made many pine for the days when he was doing squishy horror flicks, but if a constipated Julianne Moore farting on toilet isn't Cronen-squish enough for you... I still recognize the Cronenberg of old in his most recent films, is what I'm saying, and Maps may not be Existenz, but it's definitely up the block from his Crash. But also Magnolia and Mulholland Drive (two places probably on that "map"), with interweaving stories set in the grimy Hollywood underbelly, not to be a satire of that world, necessarily, but as a setting that pushes the theme to extremes. The title is well chosen. This is about people seeking celebrity, and by extension, recognition. Being it, dealing with it, merely being close to it... and like children and animals that crave attention, it doesn't need to be the positive kind. Part of that obsession "to become" manifests as an Oedipal or Elektric need to replace one's parent, and the dissatisfaction of the child who "becomes" an adult in turn with what the parent has given. And in this ugly world of discontent, the parent-child relationship is one of use and abuse. And stellar cast, of course. Cronenberg fans might want another Videodrome, but I think his mature films are more ambiguous and deep. The DVD includes the scriptwriter's commentary, and interviews with cast and crew. Some small tidbits besides as well.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an amazing black and white indie, shot in Farsi, nominally about an Iranian vampire girl preying on people in "Bad City", a dilapidated industrial wasteland. But she's perhaps the least malicious vampire in this world. The film is about vampirism, of all kinds, set in a landscape being sucked dry of oil, a treasure that in no way trickles back down to its inhabitants. There's the pimp/dealer who preys on his clientele and his underlings, the junky father who's draining his son of money, the powerful effect of isolation and loneliness on the human psyche, etc. And somehow, a sweet and chaste romance blooms between the "Girl" and the story's male protagonist, who is at the center of the film's moral dilemmas, and who must make a decision in one of my favorite climaxes of any film I've seen in a while, elliptical and understated (and well supported by the film's pretty great cat actor). This is definitely a slow-paced, and at times artsy film, but not a boring one. Its inventiveness belies the fact this is director Ana Lily Amirpour's first feature, and goes well beyond its Buffyesque idea of an apparent victim actually being the badass or monster, though that subversive feminist idea (i.e. that the film actually ISN'T about the anxiety of walking home alone at night after all) is definitely in there, and explored interestingly (throw in the wearing of the chador, etc. for even more depth and texture). The DVD includes deleted scenes that restore much of the transgender cowgirl material, a still gallery, and a really very charming Q&A wit the director, hosted by cinema legend Roger Corman.
A Knight's Tale was sold as a sort of anachronistic musical, à la Moulin Rouge, but it certainly doesn't do enough of that, and indeed, the modern music and the princess' haute couture looks merely distract from what was, at its core, a pretty good "peasant to knight" story, wrapped in the tropes of a sports movie (unusually, jousting). And as a sports movie, it works! So I do wish they'd used modernisms the way Shakespeare in Love did, to name a good example, where the historical period is well rendered, but it's obviously about show business. Or in this film's case, about sports culture. I feel like A Knight's Tale does a lot of research into its main subject matter, and even goes so far as to set it within the months where we have no record of what Chaucer was doing so he could be a part of it (and Paul Bettany in the role, turning the Canterbury Tales' poet into history's fight fight promoter, completely steals the show), and then throws it all away by trying to appeal to a mainstream audience. Either it should have gone for it, or left those elements out completely. But still fun. The DVD includes a making of feature and lots of featurettes besides on every aspect of the story and production - cool stuff - and a music video (the We Are the Champions cover). #OscarPoolResult: Yeah okay, keeping it.