Eat Pray Pilgrim Expendables (Weekly Links)

Scott Pilgrim, or the Young Harpo Marx Story

Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week. Yeah, I wrote nine reviews. Come on, man! Nine reviews.

Eat Pray Love. “Aren’t those Hindu wise men adorable!”

The Expendables. “Tricked-out seaplane.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. “Love in Toronto is really complicated.”

Life During Wartime. “Scream-inducing black humor.”

Get Low. “Tall tale from the old, weird America.”

Tales from Earthsea. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” books constitute one of those sci-fi sagas that fans perpetually wish might get a decent movie adaptation. And surely some enterprising moviemakers could take a stab at turning their fantasy worlds into the next “Lord of the Rings” or “Narnia” series.

In the meantime, here is “Tales from Earthsea,” a somewhat left-field attempt at the subject. It’s an animated version produced by Studio Ghibli, the home of the visionary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Oscar-winner for “Spirited Away”). Miyazaki’s son, Goyo, directed this project. The movie has all the signposts of fantasy: dragons, warriors, and witches, and a wanderer with a magic sword moving through the land.

The young hero, Arren, has mysteriously killed his own father and absconded with the sword; he meets a powerful mentor-knight named Sparrowhawk. They are trying, I guess, to find some explanation for why the earth is bereft of magic. The movie’s best character is a very narrow witch, who skulks about and occasionally takes liquid form. In the final sequences, the witch goes full-bore evil, resulting in the kind of nightmare images that will undoubtedly freak out young kids who unsuspectingly see this movie.

The film really seems to be about death; Arren can’t reconcile the reality of death with a reason for living, and there’s much talk about the meaning of life in the shadow of the inevitable end to it all.

Yes, well, it’s not exactly “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” is it? “Tales from Earthsea” is handsomely drawn and, every once in a while, bursts out in a bit of visual poetry. But overall it’s a bummer. The one thing that distinguishes Goyo Miyazaki from his father, more than the absence of much-needed humor, is pace: this film trudges along from one thoughtful scene to the next. At some point, it doesn’t matter what your ideas are–if you don’t have a sense of rhythm, a movie will lose its way. And this one goes flat, no matter its good intentions.

Note on distribution: I saw the film in a Japanese-language, subtitled print. The movie in circulation is dubbed with English-speaking actors such as Timothy Dalton and Willem Dafoe, which will likely make it easier to enjoy the animated world on display.

Wah Do Dem. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

By most accounts the story behind “Wah Do Dem” is one of those irresistible independent-movie tales: filmmakers Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner won a couple of free tickets for a Jamaica cruise, concocted a storyline around a voyage, and bought a couple of tickets for an actor and a soundman.

Have digital camera, will travel. The resulting 76-minute movie feels as improvised and loose as the process of making it apparently was—but in a good way.

Sean Bones plays Max, a young Brooklynite who gets dumped by his girlfriend just before their scheduled cruise. For reasons I don’t know, she is played by the singer Norah Jones, in an almost subliminal appearance. Max goes on the cruise by himself, and experiences the oddness and wonder of being at sea on a floating hotel. In Jamaica, his adventures begin when he leaves his backpack on a beach while swimming—his backpack with his passport, money, and ticket.

You see where this is going? Maybe, maybe not. Stranded on Jamaica, Max passes through a dreamlike few days of wandering, meeting characters and seeing the island from the ground up. What I like about this is that the makers of “Wah Do Dem” don’t sentimentalize Max’s situation. Being adrift on Jamaica is neither magical nor nightmarish, but somewhere in between; some of the natives are friendly, some aren’t.

However low-budget the filming process was, the movie looks good, and you feel as though you’re tagging right alongside Max, without a roof and sometimes without shoes.

The secret weapon is the soundtrack, which features some original melodies and some reggae classics. A judicious use of John Holt’s “Ali Baba” is just right, and there’s an onscreen performance by the Congos that creates a spell. This movie feels like one of Richard Linklater’s early efforts, a loose structure that allows for breathing room and a different kind of movie reality. I have no doubt that some viewers would find it intensely boring, because it feels as though the plot got left behind at the dock and the movie’s waving around untethered. But if you’re inclined to wandering, “Wah Do Dem” creates intriguing room to ramble.

The Extra Man. “Gives Kline an absolutely splendid part.”

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle. “The kind of scenario that might be dreamed up by a bored janitor on the job.”

I spoke with Steve Scher on KUOW’s “Weekday” about the idea of wishing some actors would hang it up before their careers go sour: listen here. The movie bit kicks in at the 15-minute mark.

Sunday afternoon I talk on the subject of Alaska in the movie imagination, in a Magic Lantern lecture at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. 2 p.m.; it’s free. More info here.

Next week: the release of issue #7 of Rotten, the zombie western with a dose of political bite.