Skip’s Quips: Boy, Do I Miss Wallace & Gromit

Blog Sketch 082813Where have you gone, Nick Park?

It seems like only yesterday I was watching a variety of classics created by this great animator and starring his most beloved creations: the befuddled inventor Wallace and his trusty, whip-smart dog Gromit. There was The Wrong Trousers. Then there was A Close Shave. Heck, I even loved the duo’s earliest entry into cinema, A Grand Day Out.

Sadly, we haven’t seen any more of these brilliant movies in a while. I think that’s a shame.

The pair is as inimitable as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, or Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The few films they’ve starred in are comic treasures, filled with lovingly designed animation and wonderful, witty scripts, along with terrific, iconic characterizations.

I miss them.

Maybe one day Park will revisit these two cartoon stalwarts. I still remember watching them at Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation in New York long ago, relishing their delightful humor. Please grace us with more films in which they appear, Mr. Park. We could use them.

Signing off now …

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Do I Dare Continue to Dislike Dubbed Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Years of watching subtitled foreign films have made me less inclined to enjoy dubbed movies, as I’ve always felt that you lose something in translation when you add voices in different languages to the developments onscreen.

Now, however, I’m not so sure I feel the same way. It’s hard to find certain films with subtitles rather than dubbing, and if the latter is the only alternative to not watching a quality picture, I’d rather view the dubbed flick.

Generally, I don’t find it difficult to follow subtitles, provided they appear clearly and not as white blurs on a white background. Yellow text is always welcome, but that’s not always available. Sometimes I have to take what I can get.

Which is why I’ve started to be more lenient in my tastes when it comes to dubbing movies. You can’t always get what you want, as the Rolling Stones song goes, and often the choices are limited when it comes to available versions of good foreign films. I feel like I’m not as particular as I used to be. Perhaps it’s a result of my old age.

It all comes down to how great the picture is, anyway. The way it appears to me shouldn’t matter. It’s what it is that counts.

Skip’s Quips: Why the Heck Isn’t ‘Stolen Kisses’ Better Known?

Blog Sketch 082813There are famous movies, and then there are infamous movies.

There are also movies by famous directors that kind of slip under the radar, like François Truffaut’s terrific 1968 film Stolen Kisses. I’m not sure why this great picture, one of the most romantic I’ve seen, isn’t up there with The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim in the count of the director’s masterpieces. Once upon a time, it got criticized for not being political enough in an era when riots and protests were filling the streets, but I think with Stolen Kisses, that’s beside the point. It’s only political in its accurate, carefree depiction of relationships, which is, in my humble opinion, revolutionary. I’ve never seen anything else like it.

Everything in this glittering piece of celluloid is superb: the cinematography, the editing (catch the quick, multiple cuts in the scene where Antoine Doinel enters someone’s hotel room and discovers adultery in action), the performances, the script. This is a movie where the filmmaker is in complete control. Nothing is wasted.

I wish I could say that for the host of lackluster movies that appeared in 2014.

But I don’t think we’re going to get a flick like Stolen Kisses again. Perhaps that’s for the better; you can’t repeat such unique magnificence. I would, however, like this film to be upon critics’ lips more often. It sure deserves to be, and I’ll continue to talk about it in the hopes that my wish for it will come true. Certainly, it’s an under-seen movie. Ideally, that’ll change.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: The Horror, The Horror!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I’ve always been afraid of decomposing bodies.

Not that I’ve seen any up close, thank God. I’m talking about in the movies, where they’re as prevalent in the horror genre as chatty friends in terrible rom-coms.

So that’s why I don’t watch many horror flicks. Oh, sure, I’ll turn to them now and then if they’re on TV, but I invariably shield my eyes. It doesn’t even matter if the picture is lousy cinematically; I don’t enjoy watching zombies or any other being made up to have putrified flesh jump out at me.

A long time ago, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark over and over again to make sure I could stand the scene where Indy and Marion are trapped in a tomb with a host of dusty mummies. Nowadays, it seems pretty tame, but at the time, it scared me out of my wits. There’s something about rotting corpses that makes me want to say, “Zoinks, Scoob!” I don’t like ’em.

I’m probably not alone. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s like “Hey, I really enjoy seeing flicks with a whole lotta decomposing bodies.” It’s not exactly an audience-pleaser, is it? Still, some movies can’t do without them, and I suppose they’ll always be a fixture of horror pictures … coming out of nowhere in the dark, with a crash in the soundtrack.

Maybe it’s the jolt I really can’t take. Whatever it is, I’m not down with rotting corpses in my films. You can keep ’em.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Nebraska,’ Montana, Ooh, I’m Gonna Pan Ya

Blog Sketch 082813Actually, I’m not, because I actually liked Alexander Payne’s intimate black-and-white film Nebraska. I just wanted to write a silly headline.

But seriously, folks. This was a pretty good movie. Bruce Dern as the aging, oft-confused, alcoholic father of electronics salesman Will Forte. June Squibb as Forte’s bitter mom. Stacy Keach (!) as Dern’s nemesis and onetime business partner. And they’re all part of a plot to recover a million bucks in winnings that Dern’s character thinks is owed him because he got a “You’ve just won $1 million” notice in the mail.

I think the movie should’ve been a lot more depressing, but Payne keeps the dialogue spare and the direction light. The action actually had movement, a place to go. And yes, there is an arc. So nice job. I’m not a fan of all of Payne’s flicks (I thought Election was particularly mean-spirited), but he’s definitely a filmmaker with destinations in mind and the ability to get there with economy. And although I don’t feel Nebraska is a masterpiece, it’s a smart, small film with a good tale to tell. It works. And it makes for a worthy evening.

On to the next movie.

Please, Hollywood, Never Rerelease These Movies in 3D

Setter’s ‘Spective: The Slo-Mo and the Furious

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I blame you, Akira Kurosawa.

Remember: You started it. Or rather, you helped popularize the use of slow-motion photography in fight scenes–specifically via two different shots of villains dying in The Seven Samurai.

I adore your films, Akira. But I’m not happy with the seeds you’ve sown.

Ok, so you’re not responsible for all that ludicrous pseudo-Spartan posturing in 300. Or the (prolific) guts and glory in The Wild Bunch. But without those scenes in Samurai, we wouldn’t be so deluged with half-speed onscreen violence.

Granted, you used slow motion judiciously–and I think that’s what separates you from the rest. Peckinpah’s technique can hardly be called subtle, but his Bunch certainly packs a punch. Not so much all that silliness in 300, where the idea seemed to be showing how cool it is to kill ancient Persians with as much CGI blood as possible.

And I think that’s where all this slo-mo falls rather quickly on its face.

We’ve diluted its purpose, the whole point of its effectiveness. See it once in a while, and it’s as startling as a flower in snow. Yet watch it over and over again, and it loses its potential impact. Today, it seems to be de rigueur in “action” scenes, as if directors have forgotten how to film normally. So it has become showy instead of telling, obvious instead of shocking.

Frankly, I’d rather see My Dinner with Andre. That’s got more action than any Matrix pose-a-rama.

So Kurosawa, I’m going to take time out from praising you to gripe a bit, though with a heavy heart. Because I know as much as I loathe what slo-mo has become, without it we wouldn’t be what we are today.

Old man Sykes says in Peckinpah’s Bunch: “It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.”

I don’t think it should.