I like Giant Robots and I like Guillermo Del Toro, so I really wanted to like Pacific Rim; but there’s no getting around it, the movie is a god-awful piece of crap that can’t even be enjoyed on the level of a cartoon, because all of the Robot fights — every single one — take place at night in a monsoon and it’s impossible to see what the heck is going on. Del Toro should be ashamed of himself for getting involved in this thing — it is an astonishing waste of his talent. It does manage to hit Every Single Standard Hollywood Plot Point, and Every Single Tedious Cliche in the book, even giving us a happy romantic ending under conditions where such a thing should have been patently impossible. A couple of the actors — especially Idris Elba — make the best of some deeply hackneyed material, but that doesn’t give me back the two hours of my life that I wasted on this dreck.
On the other hand, Tim Burton (whose visual talent is typically only matched by his inability to tell a story) may have given us his best movie with Big Eyes. No doubt but that Burton has honed his skills since the early days, but I believe that working with a True Story has at last brought him down to earth and into the minds of his characters… at the very least, it’s forced him to reign in some, though not all, of his excesses. Amy Adams gives a supple performance while Cristolph Waltz, who amazed in Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem, attacks his role with a knife, fork and relish. If, in the sixties and seventies, you just thought all those paintings of the big-eyed waifs were so tacky that they achieved a kind of greatness, you may be interested to learn that there is a fascinating story behind the art that plays on the themes of dominant and submissive personalities, self-esteem and self-worth, on identity and on the still-changing role of women in our culture. At the same time it plays into all of Burton’s strengths as a champion of pop-art. The final courtroom scene, which like the rest of the movie compresses reality without distorting it, is a triumph. Who would have thought that those tacky paintings would one day make you cheer?
Paperhouse is one of those dark-horse movies that builds its reputation over many years and becomes a classic on video and in the art houses. Today, it’s impossible to find a negative review of the film: I tried. Roger Ebert raved at the time, and now years later his voice is just part of the chorus. And yet, much as I wanted to like this picture with its stark design and its dream-world theme, I found my heart sinking the further I got into it. I did not like the big-eyed waif of a boy in the window of the house: not as a plot element nor as an actor. I did not like the mother. I did not like the script. I especially did not like the little girl in the lead role, who comes off as a brat and a pain in the ass, and who has none of the appeal of, say, Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz (she’s forty-one now? Are you fuckin’ kidding me?!). The “climax” of the movie consists of her running from one side of an island to a lighthouse at the other side… and running, and running, and running, and running, until I finally hit the fast-forward button (but not before shouting at the screen, “Fer crine out loud! Somebody take a pair of scissors to this thing!”). A movie about dreams and their impact on, and connection to reality should not be boring: and I found this to be a real yawner.
A lot of movies by Hayao Miyazaki have passed before my eyeballs in the past few weeks, with more to come, and all I really have to say about them is, “Doesn’t this guy ever make a bad movie?” I don’t think so. Arietty, closely based on Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers although re-set in contemporary Japan, is another gentle, lovely, remarkable picture, essentially co-directed by Miyazaki and his son. What’s especially pleasing about it is the ending, which avoids all the Hollywood cliches and leaves the characters with large and vital unanswered questions, though looking ahead with hopefulness.
“The Crimson Pig” — Porco Rosso — is still his best movie, though. Just sayin’. It’s the Casablanca of animated films.