Friday, 6 December 2013

Puppet Master; Ted; Moonrise Kingdom; Snow White and the Huntsman

Puppet Master

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I used to look forward to renting films. Quite often I’d trawl the aisles and see lots of juicy looking horror leering down at me, but would have to make do with what me or my friends could get or my family would let me get away with.
Often I’d discover crap but fun flicks, or even decent ones, the likes of The Gate, the Critters films and The People Under the Stairs spring to mind, but I never got round to things like Ghoulies and Puppet Master which spawned numerous sequels.

Puppet Master is very bad. The acting is very poor, the abandoned hotel setting is mainly anonymous and adds nothing to the tension or feel of the film, the POV sequences of heavy-breathing puppets shuffling about at floor-level don’t work and the bloody set pieces are relatively timid for 1989.

The stop-motion used for the puppets is a pleasant change to the CGI that would inevitably be used if this appeared today and there are a couple of inventive moments, a female doll pretending to be sexy (think Gremlins 2 - female gremlin) before vomiting out leeches, and the final sequence of the big baddie being mashed to bits stand out, but are hardly worth sitting through the whole film for.

Besides the general crapness I have a problem with the plot - the original puppet master who has found an ancient Egyptian method for breathing life into inanimate objects - he explicitly states that he’s hiding his puppets back in 1939 to prevent people with bad intentions from getting to them. But then why fashion a puppet with a drill bit for a head and one with a knife and hook for hands?

It’s a shame that it’s so hard to distinguish between crap but fun and just crap in the straight-to-video horror world, and that audience opinion is often wildly fragmented, but in this case it’s hard to see what people could think Puppet Master has going for it.


Despite Will Ferrell cornering the market for films about idiot man-children, the creators of Ted obviously felt they had their own unique selling point with Ted, a boy’s childhood friend brought to life and still around decades later, his foul mouth voiced by Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane, also Ted’s director.

Mark Whalberg plays the grown up boy John, whose wish comes true in the form of his teddy bear coming to life, and he’s proven his comedy capabilities numerous times but something about Ted feels very by-the-numbers.
A man who won’t accept responsibility, stuck in a crap job, hanging out with stupid friends, frustrating his more ambitious and grown-up girlfriend? In Clerks and Mallrats the hook was Kevin Smith’s dialogue, in Shaun of the Dead it was zombies and here it’s a real-life teddy bear.

Ted is at it’s worst when sticking to the formula (‘worst’ meaning ‘okay’) but it shines in the quick little asides it snipes at you from between the scenes that push the plot along, in much the same way as Family Guy does.
One proper scene that pretty much lives up to this is an extended messy party montage that comes about as the childhood hero of John and Ted, Flash Gordon’s Sam Jones, turns up to raise hell with them.

Mila Kunis is given the thankless task of basically being pretty and disappointed in the straight role as the girlfriend. Even though she’s given more to do than in most films of this type with her own plot thread, she still ends up playing the straight role to her creepy boss.

Not as funny as it hopes to be with lots of crass moments, but still providing the requisite laughs, Ted is worth a watch but I get the feeling Whalberg’s comedy chops still have a bit of stretch in them.

Moonrise Kingdom

If you’re familiar with Wes Anderson’s films so far, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t about to challenge your assumptions.

This time around the 50s/60s vibe found in his films is justified by the setting, that sense of place coming through from the sets, clothes and objects in the world, quirky pre-mass production items that have a personal feel.
Again the main characters come from the middle class academic neurotic template; here the leading kids are the same precocious, intellectual outsiders as Rushmore’s Max Fischer, clever and quirky but not really betraying emotions with their face. As with the rest of Anderson’s world the adults are barely capable of maintaining relationships, but the pre-teen couple at the centre of this story make the case for love.

The sets have the doll’s house tableaux quality found in most of Anderson’s films, even the outdoor scout camp is set up in an improbable line, all the better for a steady shot along, taking in all of the detail.

Moonrise Kingdom’s isolated island setting is perfect for Anderson’s carefully constructed world, and the cast are all well placed at bringing his characters to life, with the likes of Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Edward Norton bringing sympathy to characters who otherwise could have been unlikeable.
For those who aren’t already won over by Anderson’s quirky charms this film isn’t about to win over new converts, but existing fans it offers a little more warmth than some of the others.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Ultimately this is a throwaway, forgettable blockbuster by numbers. It would be unfair to criticise the film for being unoriginal, but the formula followed to present it is fairly pedestrian.

This time round Snow White joins a resistance movement with fighting dwarves after the huntsman frees her in the forest, and reluctantly joins her cause against the evil queen.

The effects work shines, with the black magic used by the witch a stand out (though not that of the magic mirror) and a neat hallucination scene (Snow falls on to some mushrooms in the forest and breathes their spores) that manages to be quite alarming within a 12 certificate confines. Additionally a sequence in an enchanted forest with a nature deity is like a Ghibli movie brought to life (albeit via CGI).
The effects success doesn’t end with the overt CGI additions - the photography of the dwarves surpasses anything done in Peter Jackson’s Tolkein adaptations, and each is a brilliant character in their own right unlike in the Hobbit, each fully fleshed out thanks to the acting prowess of Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Eddy Marsan and Johnny Harris. The presence of these characters, and a decent turn by Charlize Theron as the evil queen, help to even out the blandness of Kristen Stewart’s Snow and Chris Helmsworth’s huntsman.

One particular oddity is Snow saying the protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer while still in captivity, despite no other mention of religion in this fantasy world of magic, trolls and fairies, besides a throwaway reference to heaven.

Not great but better than the likes of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland if you’re after that kind of female-led fantasy epic, good enough for a lazy watch.


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