Shorties #11

The end of the year approaches! Lists must be made! Culture must be consumed! Wrapping paper with gold sparkles that fall off and turn my dining room table into a glittering nightmare must never be purchased again! Since the holidays always do such an effective job of draining my bank account, let's dive into a Shorties made up entirely of whatever can be streamed, borrowed, or piggybacked.

#1: Toys in the Attic: See if you can follow me on this one. A strange little stop-motion animation film about toys coming to life when there are no humans around is released in 2009 in its native Czech Republic, gets attention at a lot of international festivals, and is then picked up in 2012 and dubbed into an English by an American woman best known for writing and starring in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 cheesefest, Soultaker. Got all that? The plot is a very spare rescue mission story, wherein the placid Princess Buttercup doll is kidnapped by the minions of a giant head. Her friends, including a teddy bear, an inventive mouse, and a wooden soldier band together to set her free. It wasn't terrific, but I like to broaden my movie spectrum when I can, and it's interesting to see what the current state of animation is in other countries. (Grade: C+)

#2: My Dog Skip: This isn't one I'd watch on my own, but was picked as a good movie-night option when I was visiting family. It followed what I'd call a pretty traditional animal-friend story arc. Lonely child. Bonds with animal. Child blossoms. Animal dies. Audience cries. This movie hit all of those notes, with Frankie Muniz as the adorable child who comes out of his shell with the help of an adorable dog. Other storylines are tossed in as well, from a shell-shocked hometown hero returning from war to evil moonshiners staking out a local territory as their turf. I'm happy it kept my nephew entertained for a couple of hours, but this kind of Hallmark Card entertainment isn't really up my alley. (Grade: C+)

#3: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: I'd heard this 2005 movie talked up in a lot of the corners of the internet, but it never seemed to make its way to the top of the to-watch list, until I found myself in the mood for a good potboiler one night. Like Brick, it's set in the present, but has a very noir-ish style. Robert Downey, Jr. plays a small-time thief who gets caught up in the dirty world of Hollywood secrets, along with his childhood crush, and a gay private investigator, played by Val Kilmer. I am emphatically not a fan of Kilmer's work in general, so imagine my surprise when he was not only acceptable in the role, but good. Really good! That alone was worth the viewing, and while it won't be joining my list of all-time favorites, this movie was a fun way to pass the evening. (Grade: B)

#4: Sound of Noise: As with Toys in the Attic, I wanted to watch this one to see what craziness the rest of the world is up to. OK, ready? It's a 2010 Swedish-French co-production, about a group of renegade drummers who illegally play on non-musical objects, like, oh say...a hospital patient they force into anesthesia. They're pursued across the city by a tone-deaf policeman who was born into a family of musical prodigies, and who can't stand the music that everyone else enjoys. Some Holy Motors-style magical realism creeps in when any object that the drummers have utilized in their city-wide symphony becomes utterly silent to him. It's a nifty little film. I don't know that I'd be able to recommend it to general audiences, but for those of us who like some quirk once in a while, it's pretty damned cool. (Grade: B)

#5: House of Leaves: I didn't realize until I started writing this entry how odd a lot of the Shorties are this time around. I just mentioned a movie about drummers staging a fake bank robbery so they can get a distended bass sound out of shredding money, and now we move on to a book about a manuscript about another manuscript about a documentary about a supernatural house that may never have existed in the first place. House of Leaves (published in 2000 by Mark Z. Danielewski) is the densest book I've ever read. I don't mean that as a criticism, necessarily; it's dense on purpose. The notion of a house that is bigger on the inside than on the inside is academically examined from every angle, which leads to explanations that beget footnotes that beget analytical footnotes about the footnotes. I can't imagine how long it took to write this thing. If you are reading this as a thriller, you'll be sorely disappointed, as anything haunting or scary is completely defanged by walls of text. But if you're reading this as an exploration of psychology, it's pretty fascinating. The manuscript's author may be steadily going mad, and his disorientation and confusion definitely shines through. I'm generally more a fan of traditional plotting, but need to shake myself up once in a while, and this was a good way to do it. (Grade: B-)


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