The Boxtrolls – Travis Knight and his crew at Laika should probably get used to the phrase “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” While the Academy will and should always appreciate the work that has gone into the company’s elaborate stop-motion fantasies, the ancient Oscar voters are still too stuck on notions of cute animals and fairy-tales to fully appreciate the off-kilter, amicable nightmares for brave children that are the company’s reason for being.
The Boxtrolls flirts with cuteness but never quite gives into it, in its tale of a boy raised by underground dwellers who speak in grunts and live in discarded cardboard cubes. On the streets above, in an absurdly rickety town perched awkwardly upon a mountain, the aristocracy obsess over cheese, while unsavory social climbers stoke the fires of prejudice against nonhumans. The climax involves a giant steampunk mech. Elle Fanning’s English accent really isn’t very good – why not cast an actual English girl if the voice is what matters? – but it’s a tiny off-note in a symphony of mirthful mayhem.
If you don’t have a 3D TV or any other Laika movies, just a couple extra bucks will buy you a disc with all three of their stop-motion features to date (not counting anything from the Will Vinton era that they’d rather you stop associating with them). Totally worth it.
Lucy – Scarlett Johansson basically becomes Tetsuo in what amounts to a low-IQ, high-energy rip-off of Akira. Accidentally dosed with drugs that unleash her brain’s full potential, she first gains all the skills of a superhero, and later becomes a sort of ultimate organic computer that finally figures out time travel. It’s nuts, but if you don’t require your movie plots to hold up under scrutiny, it’s also really fun. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s also a big part of why she was asked to do Ghost in the Shell.
Annabelle – A sadly stupid movie about a creepy doll whose demonic owners periodically show up to play with it. The movie wants to be Rosemary’s Baby so badly that it names the lead characters after Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, but it winds up being so much closer to The Room of doll movies that it even apes some of that cult classic’s set-ups. Still, it did well so there’ll probably be another one.
The Zero Theorem – Terry Gilliam returns to future dystopia with a shiny, happy world that a bald Christoph Waltz wants no part of. Instead, he works at home to try to balance an equation that will explain existence. Anyone who does in fact work at home alone will relate strongly to the heightened depiction of it here, from the hallucinations and flights of fantasy to the desperate attempts to connect…and the online porn. But enough about me. If you get it out more, it may not be quite so on-the-nose.
Love Is the Devil – Darkly surreal biopic of the artist Francis Bacon, who created many nightmarish paintings that all go unseen onscreen because his estate wouldn’t endorse the film. It’s worth watching anyway, and now comes with Daniel Craig on the cover – even though Derek Jacobi is the star of the movie – because Daniel Craig is famous.
The Pirates – South Korean action-comedy about swashbucklers in pursuit of a whale that has swallowed a valuable royal scroll. Sounds like fun.
The Atticus Institute – I would be perfectly happy if I never again got any press releases for low-budget horror movies about exorcisms and/or demon possession. You?
My Winnipeg: Criterion Collection – I’m mostly familiar with director Guy Maddin as the eccentric director of pseudo-silent films, sometimes with live concerts, and other times featuring ballet versions of Dracula. Tasked with making a documentary about Winnipeg, he cast another actor as himself, wholly invented a thing or two, and came up with a most unusual “docu-fantasia.” I haven’t seen it, but while Maddin’s movies can be tough sits, they are always unique and memorable.
Mule – a TV repairmen who finds himself in the role of drug mule must keep himself from taking a shit until his name is cleared. Hugo Weaving costars in a movie that I’m told was originally pitched as “The Tupper Adam Story.”
Anything good that I missed?