At the Movies: Inkheart, City of Ember
I know that movies are generally Holland’s purview, but I saw two movies this weekend–one, in a fit of heretofore unparallelled decadence in a THEATER–and I thought that I would say some things about them.
The first was Inkheart, which was based on a book that I was familiar with from my days as a bookstore inventory clerk.
Weirdly, I was not familiar with this film as a result of any kind of promotional material–no trailers, no posters, no anything. It was purely happenstance that I saw it at all.
It feels like Inkheart maybe will slip through the cracks this year, which is a shame because it’s a wonderful little film. I don’t know what the deal with Brendan Frasier is–maybe he just likes doing crazy kids movies? Maybe he’s got a lousy agent? Who knows? Anyway, Frasier somehow manages to walk that line between “taking the situation seriously” and “ironic awareness of how silly everything is,” AS USUAL. I’m not kidding, because this seems to be his most powerful talent–a combination of sincerity and lightness that means he can star in a movie about a man that can bring books to life by reading them aloud and you, in the audience, kind of sit there and say, “Well, okay. That seems pretty reasonable.”
Inkheart is actually full of pretty talented actors, including Dame Helen Mirren as a batty, bibliophile aunt, Jim Broadbent as a daffy fantasy writer, and Andy Serkis as a villain who’s equal parts evil and hilarious.
Good job on casting, Inkheart guys, which, as they say, is about 90% of the work. The other 10% is cinematography, and the lush landscapes of the Italian alps didn’t do you any harm there.
Just good. A good fantasy romp through a gorgeous castle with talented actors tackling a bizarre and interesting script. There are some weird pacing issues–the movie is paced like a book, which has a kind of constant “and then this happens, and then this happens” feel to it that is distinct and, while not inherently bad, a little un-movie like. And there are some weird existential questions that you get to by the end–questions about fate and destiny and reality–that the movie brings up, but kind of never bothers addressing.
Of course it’s a kids’ movie, so you know that when the author shouts to an antihero character “You don’t have to be selfish just because I wrote you that way!” it means that somewhere at the end, the antihero is going to have to face some kind of choice where he will undoubtedly demonstrate that this is clearly the case: everyone has control over their own destiny, etc etc. You don’t go to kids’ movies in order to engage in complex philosophical questions about moral ambiguity–you accept that the natural moral order of this universe is one with a clear delineation bewteen right and wrong, and you go from there.
So. Inkheart is a fine little film, and I would recommend it for anyone that has kids, for anyone with ten bucks to burn on a lazy Saturday, or anyone with a Netflicks queue.
AT THE MOVIES PART TWO:
The City of Ember:
I saw this one over the weekend on DVD, and I am also pleased to recommend it, if for no other reason than that the whole thing is completely gorgeous. It’s not just art direction (which is superb), but the direction as well–Gil Kenan (who also directed Monster House) takes full advantage of every inch of beautiful, underground retrotech set design.
I’m calling it “retrotech” because I know that people are getting pissed off about the “steam-” and related “punks.” You’d call something like City of Ember “electropunk,” which does sound more and more like a musical style, and not an artistic aesthetic. But if you had to design a future world that still ran on electricity and where everything, including your miner’s hat, had to be plugged in somewhere, City of Ember is what you’d get. It’s like a future world that they had to build using no piece of technology discovered after 1980.
Interestingly, City of Ember has a similar problem to Inkheart when it comes to pacing: the natural condition of a book is one in which action is distributed relatively evenly across its length, while the natural condition of a movie is to have most of the action bunched up in two packages: one at about forty or fifty minutes in, and then another around the ninety or a hundred minute mark. I want to stress again that I don’t think it’s bad–it’s just weird to watch a movie that’s paced that way.
Definitely get this one on your Netflicks queue. It’s got Bill Murray in it and Tim Robbins and Martin Landau, there’s a giant monster mole-rat, and kids whose performances are not just servicable but enjoyable (good on you, Harry Treadaway and Soairse Ronan). Also, it looks really, really cool.