Weekly Mini-reviews: “Blancanieves,” “Turbo” & More

November 10-16, 2013

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Blancanieves | Pablo Berger | 2013 | ★★★★

Just when you thought the battle of the Snow White films was over, along comes Blancanieves, a little Spanish gem that takes this oh-so-familiar story and turns it into one of the most satisfying movie experiences of the year. This film takes the story and sets it in the world of bull fighting and flamenco dancing, where a matador suffers great injuries, and his wife dies due to the shock, but not before giving birth to a beautiful baby girl named Carmencita. He rejects the baby because she reminds him too much of his wife, but wastes no time and marries his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdu in one of the best performances of the year). And you know the rest of the story.

With Blancanieves, director Pablo Berger pays homage to silent cinema, but unlike The Artist, his film feels thoroughly modern and feels less like a novelty, which immediately makes it more timeless. Not only that, but he takes the story back to its darker roots, leaving behind any Disney-isms that we may have expected it to have. That, plus the gorgeously perfect cinematography, costumes, production design, and score, makes Blancanieves a much more rewarding experience than any cinematic version of the tale (including my beloved Mirror Mirror). Simply put, it’s a must see.

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Death Becomes Her | Robert Zemeckis | 1992 | ★★

In theory, a film directed by Robert Zemeckis and featuring Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn as mortal enemies who will do whatever it takes to remain youthful forever and hurt each other should have made, at the very least, for great entertainment. Given the reputation it has made for its self since its release that’s actually what I expected out of Death Becomes Her, but as I watched it, I could not help but wonder why this tends to be so beloved. I mean, the pieces are all there to make for a good film with Streep and Hawn giving it their scenery-chewing best, fantastic makeup and visual effects, great over-the-top costumes and production design, and a director who had proven himself many times to be good at comedy. In the end, while it is somewhat  funny in certain parts and has a clever message, it all feels so lifeless (pardon the pun). There is nothing more to the script than the basic premise, and so after a certain point the joke gets old and  starts to drag. To make matters worse it’s so poorly paced that most of the comedic timing was completely off. I don’t, I guess I expected too much out of it. I wouldn’t say it was a complete waste of time, but it most certainly was disappointing.

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Turbo | David Soren | 2013 | ★★

When it came out in theaters, I read a review that said that Turbo was a rip-off of just about every Pixar film. From the trailers I guessed that it was trying to be some sort of Cars/Ratatouille mash-up, but it wasn’t until I watched the movie that I saw that it indeed “borrows” from every single Pixar film: a kid that looks and acts liked Toy Story’s Sid, the snails working on a “plant” to survive just like in Monsters, Inc., the old-town nostalgia and stereotypical ethnic characters of Cars, a sassy old lady that remind you of Up’s Carl, superpowers from The Incredibles, a couple of relationships between brothers that resembles the father/son and mother/daughter relationships of Finding Nemo and Brave, and many more including dialogue directly lifted from Ratatouille. It’s kind of amazing the depth the writers went to in order to incorporate all of this into one film. This film doesn’t have a single original component, and there’s nothing particularly good about the animation either. In the end, Turbo is passably mediocre, but it was one appearance of a Pixar look-alike to make it into an animated Friedberg/Seltzer film.

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The Way, Way Back | Nat Faxon & Jim Rash | 2013 | ★★★

At the center of The Way, Way Back, there is a fantastic coming-of-age story about a shy young man blooming one summer while living with his possible future stepfather who just so happens to be a total jerk. That story, along with a usually great Sam Rockwell performance really got to me and made the film enjoyable. Sadly, that central story is surrounded by unbearable characters that have almost nothing to do with the story that are just there to add Sundance quirk. Had it completely been about the boy and his adventures in the water park where he gets a job it would have been great. As mediocre as The Descendants was, I know see that Alexander Payne was responsible for any spark it may have had and the reason for its acclaim. This needed someone like Payne to trim the fat and give this film some visual identity. Sadly, now it’s just a missed opportunity.

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