Shorties #12

It's the last week before the Oscars, so what better time to take care of some of the dribs and drabs of entertainment? A few of these had been on my radar for quite some time, while a couple essentially fell out of the sky. How did they stack up? Let's find out!

#1: Trollhunter: This is one of those fall-out-of-the-sky titles. I was hanging out with Kyle, looking for a suitable movie to pair with a booze-soaked evening. He suggested this 2010 Norwegian movie, which is styled as a found-footage documentary about some university students discovering, then assisting a grizzled man who hunts down trolls. Yeah, that's a perfect flick to take in when you're knocking back a bunch of cocktails. I'm not usually a big found-footage fan, but it worked well in this framework. The monsters are treated as realistically as possible; you could actually see events unfolding in just such a way if trolls were proven to exist. Lots of commentators compare this movie with The Blair Witch Project, but I had zero interest in that film, whereas this one was intriguing, probably because a wholly Non-American production helped sell it an an otherworldly, dark fairy tale. (Grade: B)

#2: A.C.O.D.: I'd been wanting to see this 2013 movie ever since I first heard about it. The cast has a ton of people I love, and as an A.C.O.D. myself, I was interested in the direction the story would take. Well, all that glitters... Given the talent of the people involved, this was fairly disappointing. Adam Scott does his best to hold together the plot with his usual bemused straight-man charm, but the characters around him are extremely underwritten. Everyone in this movie is pretty two-dimensional, and for a comedy, it didn't deliver a lot of laughs. It wasn't a bad movie, and there were a few wry smiles to be wrung out of it, but the kindest adjective I can apply to it is "mediocre". (Grade: C+)

#3: Kings of Pastry: This 2009 documentary was one I've had my eye on for a while. It follows a disparate group of French pastry chefs, all of whom are competing to attain the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France award. It's a grueling, three-day test, and top prize is only given to the absolute masters of their craft. One of the most refreshing things about this competition is that it's not a zero-sum game; any amount of the chefs may be given the prize, from zero to all of them. That removes the need for puffery, ego, and acrimony. Everyone wants everyone else to do well, including the judges. They're as bummed as the contestants if something goes awry. And there is plenty to go awry, from melting chocolate to delicate sugar structures shattering. Watching the chefs try to move these sculptures from one room to another is more tense than any "CUT THE RED WIRE" scene I've ever seen. I wish the movie had dug a little deeper into the chefs' lives away from the contest, but as a whole, this was a very worthwhile watch. (Grade: B)

#4: Wanderlust: Wet Hot American Summer is one of my favorite movies. So I'm always curious to check out David Wain's other projects, even though none of them has ever even come close to clearing the bar that movie set. The 2012 movie Wanderlust can now join that list of mild disappointments. As with A.C.O.D., I really enjoy a lot of the cast (Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, Michaela Watkins, Lauren Ambrose, etc.), and was more than willing to give the movie a shot, despite its lukewarm reception when it came out. Lukewarm is about right. Where Wet Hot American Summer skewers the '80s summer camp aesthetic, Wanderlust targets hippie communes. An uptight couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) stumbles across one, and learn valuable lessons about loosening up and obsession with material goods. Along the way are poop jokes, drug jokes, and sex jokes, all of which are fine if done cleverly. This movie is content to point at a guy's dick and call that a joke. It wasn't a bad movie by any stretch, but if you haven't seen it, you're not missing anything if you skip it. (Grade: C+)

#5: Ready, Okay!: Here's another example of a property pointing out a situation and calling it a day, rather than digging into it. In this case, though, it's the much more serious matter of school shootings. This 2000 novel by Adam Cadre starts off well, with all sorts of foreboding about the violence to come. The character work is terrific as well. The protagonist Allen is believable and relatable, and his peers, from friends to family to acquaintances to foes all come off as individual points-of-view, rather than melding together in one mass, as is sometimes a problem in sprawling casts. I could feel myself steeling, trying to brace for what I was sure to be an explosive third act. When it finally does come, though, it's treated with a shrug. And once the horror is over, no attempt is made to explain or even explore the situation. It may as well have been a local news segment. Though I have no complaints about the writing style, this book would have benefited from a deeper look into its characters' motivations. (Grade: B-)


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