In theaters: I'm not one of those people who remembers the Beauty and the Beast animated classic with any real fondness - I just wasn't the right age - really, I barely remember it at all. So the live action blockbuster wasn't going to be a game of comparing the two for me (though others did fill me in). It did highlight why I much prefer live action to animation as a medium though. Not simply because it's a conversation from the latter to the former, but because there's still a lot of animation IN IT. Therein lines its greatest weakness, actually. Oh, the objects are fine, and though on the baroque side, rather effective, but the Beast and the wolves are subpar, a far cry from Disney's latest Jungle Book. You always know you're looking at CG. The live action elements, however, impressed me with their choreography and acting, and there's a tendency in live action, perhaps because you're dealing with real actors, to give the characters a sounder psychology so as not to be, wait for it, cartoonish. Well, that's one of the film's best traits, making the love story more believable, giving Belle more agency, and actually affording LeFou a proper arc. Some have reported annoyance at the "autotune" in Emma Watson's voice. I don't really hear it, but this does hark back to older musicals where the voices are visibly dubbed as opposed to recorded on set (which has perhaps started to become the new standard, explaining the ire?). Anyway, surprisingly funny and at times touching, despite the so-so CG.
Makoto Shinkai (5 cm per Second) does it again with Your Name, another gorgeous anime about love across great distances, this time with the intriguing premise that the two teenage leads are body swapping across space-time, literally, if I may use the Western term here, soul mates. The small town girl dreaming of the big city, and the city boy haunted by the ghost of a girl he has never actually met, their situation rife with both comic and tragic possibilities, but hopeful opportunities as well in the greater scheme of the universe. Despite advertising the Japanese, subtitled version, our local theater nevertheless showed the English dub. It's good, but since the director worked intimately with RADWIMPS on the score and soundtrack, and these were replaced as well, I think it may be worth checking out in the original language sooner than later.
Netflix: Hadn't seen TRON in years, but watched it in preparation for its much later sequel, and it stands up. The CG effects may look primitive, but the conceit that we're inside 1980s video game graphics makes them work anyway, and given this was made in 1982, they might even have you going "how'd they do that though?". Is this the first film with digital sets? Now, it's not a particularly deep story, but rather a reason to enter a fantastical world. Despite the technological trappings, it IS fantasy (this isn't how computers work), the modern-day equivalent of Wonderland. Our hero (Jeff Bridges as Flynn, not, surprisingly enough, Bruce Boxleitner's Tron) essentially discovers this new world along with the audience and that's where the interest lies rather than in the plot. Kind of wish Flynn's insolence had translated to his virtual self more though. As is, the film's characters don't have a whole lot of dimension, which makes the graphic-heavy third act start to feel tedious. But still a remarkable technical achievement and quite watchable family fare. And Moebius designs!
TRON Legacy updates the virtual world - obviously, there have been upgrades with our graphics processors since then - but I'm most impressed by how they turned every single bit of the original's live action story into part of a greater mythology. Missed opportunity though: The company and Dillinger's heir don't really have to do with anything nefarious going on in the virtual world, which seems a waste (no Cillian Murphy avatar, for example). Instead, Flynn's now grown-up son heads into the machine to find his long-lost father and must fight Flynn's corrupted avatar Clu and defend a spontaneous A.I. who might be the key to... well, here it gets a little zen trippy, à la Matrix Reloaded, and one feels that perhaps, that whole plot line is just there to set up future films. But overall, an enjoyable adventure that gives more depth to this world, with good action and great effects, even if they aren't as groundbreaking as the original (hard to say that about something today). There is a CG "young Jeff Bridges" that looks like a cut-scene video game character and about as distracting as the more recent Rogue One Tarkin, and while it works okay for Clu, flashbacks to Flynn aren't so forgiving. Maybe that was trying to break new ground, I just haven't seen it achieved properly yet.
Liked Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows, and with him doing Thor: Ragnarok, it was time to take a look at Hunt for the Wilderpeople. In brief, pretty wonderful. This is the story of young delinquent boy sent to live with foster parents in the wilds of New Zealand, who ends up running from the law with his curmudgeony "uncle" (Sam Neill) as an Ahab-like social worker tries to get him back into the system and likely, juvenile hall. Quirky and funny, it features what you might call the extreme viewpoint of a child, especially in the characterization of the adults, who seem strange, unknowable and/or unfairly antagonistic. The ridiculous national manhunt acts as a backdrop to a grand adventure in New Zealand's beautiful natural world, and the bond between boy and uncle is forged without resorting to overt sentimentality. Everything is at once odd and real. Waititi is a director worth keeping tabs on.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is a documentary about the Internet from Werner Herzog, who acts as our wistful narrator and interviewer. Herzog isn't all that interested in the "hard" documentary, so he focuses on the oddities of the his subject and of the people he puts in front of the camera. We're at the fringes so we can talk about the philosophical implications of the Web more than its historical and technical aspects (though those are certainly touched on as well). This documentary essay equates the Internet with God, the Devil, abstract interconnectivity, and never with any real authority. It provokes thought, but doesn't deliver answers. Herzog is a master at asking strange questions that take the experts out of their comfort zone and musing about things they might not have even thought of before. It makes for an experience that's far less dry than you would have expected from the subject matter, but it's also rather meandering... which might be part of the point, when you think about how the Internet works.
I never actually watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 through the 90s, but now that they've put select episodes on Netflix AND the new Kickstarted series' first season, I've given it a go. Maybe because I have no nostalgic connection to the original, I find both versions of the show only mildly amusing, but a good way to watch horrendous old movies while working on other things. As a completist, I feel like I have to cover these movies here (even if people talk over them), but I don't want to devote an entire capsule review to any of them. So whenever I've seen enough to fill a tapestry (as above, so 5 or 6), I'll drop one-line reviews on This Week in Geek. Here we go. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is a deathly dull devil worship film with unfortunately memorable villains (because they are so badly designed) and a hackneyed twist ending; it's like something you would make in your back yard and indeed stars its own crew. Catalina Caper AKA Never Steal Anything Wet (1967) is an inept beach movie where they make you believe this odd girl is a mermaid or something (never pans out), and the dancing teens are a distraction for the nominal plot about a stolen work of art (forgotten for the length of an act and a half); drivel. Eegah (1962) has the distinction of starring Richard "Jaws" Kiel as a gigantic caveman living in the California foot hills, but that's its only distinction; there's no tension seeing as he's friendly, and the characters do whatever they do based on an aimless script rather than human motivations. Denmark's Reptilicus (1961) is an okay Godzilla rip-off, inferior in every way to the great kaiju movie though perhaps on par with the lesser Gamera movies; worthy if only for the animation on the scene where the creature eats soldiers. Finally, Cry Wilderness (1987) is an insane flick where a kid is friends with a poorly-realized Big Foot and after running away from school, hangs out with animals and the spirits of American Indians, with some of the campiest acting ever brought to bear; a mess that has to be seen to be believed.