These days, the idea of the Auteurist Studio, the group whose very name is a stamp of quality, vision, and depth, is probably closer to becoming mainstream than ever before. It probably started around Pixar’s mighty ascension to the throne of North American animation studios, a position it has held ever since. (By the way guys, wanna hurry up with The Good Dinosaur? People are getting worried.) And Marvel Studios, a group barely old enough to drink out of a big boy mug and watch Toonami, is trouncing major studios with such regularity, that those studios are visibly starting to panic. Laika, an animation studio famed for being the only mad bastards mad enough to still do stop-motion feature films, has been gathering a lot of attention and seem to be the next in line for the coveted Auteurist Studio badge.

Boxtrolls posterWhile Laika’s first full-length film, Coraline, was generally well-recieved, I think a lot of people really sat up and took notice, myself included, with their last film, Paranorman. Now let’s get this clear: I fucking LOVED Paranorman. Not just because they made it bloody impossible for me not to identify with the main character, but also because of how refreshing I found its emotional honesty, rounded and interesting characters, and well-delivered message. So, when I went in to their new film, The Boxtrolls, it was with hopes so high, you could see the curvature of the earth by standing on top of them. Of course, this means that when I left The Boxtrolls somewhat disappointed, it’s hard to tell if it was because of Laika, or me.

The film takes place in the mythical town of Cheesebridge, the streets of which are haunted nightly by a group of creatures called boxtrolls: small troll creatures that wear boxes and collect old junk. When a human child is abducted by the boxtrolls, the villainous Archibald Snatcher uses it as a pretence to begin rounding up the boxtrolls in a bid for a place among the town’s governing elite. Years later, the child, now named Eggs, meets Winnie, the daughter of the town leader, and embarks on an epic quest to discover his humanity, rescue his kidnapped boxtroll dad, and put a stop to Snatcher’s… Well, snatchings.

Now, while I’ll admit up front (in the middle of the review) that I did like The Boxtrolls, pretty much everything it does well, Paranorman did better. While Paranorman’s hero had personality and charm, Eggs feels like a non-character in a film that really should be about him. Similarly, Winnie has almost no personality to her name besides a love of all things gross and gory, which feels so pasted on, that you can practically see the glue sticking out the sides. Sure, it’s nice that she has something that makes her unique, but it never really feels like a fully-realized part of her character, or something with an origin and a purpose in the actual story. We’re really meant to be paying attention to Snatcher, who comes off like a sneering Snidely Whiplash ripoff. Sure, his goals could be seen as a criticism of the pursuit of social status and prestige, but whenever you ask the film if it wants to explore that, by maybe giving Snatcher an interesting backstory or deeper motivation, it cheerfully replies, “No, but there’s this great bit about how he’s allergic to cheese, but still really likes eating it! Does that count as depth?” Everyone around the periphery feels similarly bland, even Snatcher’s cronies, voiced by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Tracey Morgan, who routinely wonder if they’re actually the bad guys, almost as though some last-minute redemptive side-change is coming.

Everyone and everything just feels shallower than I would have liked, devoid of the interesting personalities and ideas that made Paranorman so great. Maybe I am making Paranorman into something more than it actually was, in my head, but that doesn’t change the fact that none of the characters or situations in The Boxtrolls really held my attention all that well.

Boxtrolls insert

Where it does stand out, at least, is the animation, which contains some of Laika’s best work yet, some of the best and most elaborate stop-motion ever put to screen. The animation is so good, in fact, that the film’s early trailers and one scene during the credits directly references how impossibly hard the animators worked to get everything looking the way it does. Everything is richly detailed and the movements are fluid and lifelike, to the point that it’s almost too good at times. Some scenes might as well have been CGI, for how smooth and precise it all is. I actually found myself wishing it had more imperfections and flaws at times to emphasize further the hand-crafted nature of the animation.

The Boxtrolls is a really solid family film; one I’d happily recommend to anyone looking for something to plop in front of their tykes to stop their screaming for a second, and that doesn’t make the parents want to start screaming themselves. But while Paranorman felt complex and interesting and emotionally honest, The Boxtrolls feels hollower by comparison. Not one of the characters is going to stick with me, most of the gags incited little more than a chuckle, and it feels more like it’s coloring inside the lines than its predecessor. It delivers more of what we’d expect, with fewer “Oh my God they did that!” surprises to anger uptight parents. It relies too much on cliches and stock characters, and comes across as more of a manufactured product than I had hoped. It wasn’t the movie I wanted it to be, and while that is a very personal criticism, I’ll remind you that when I talk about a movie, I talk about my own impressions of it, rather than feigning objectivity. I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed Boxtrolls and will continue to, but my enjoyment, for one, was tainted by the thoughts of what could have been.

Well, shit. Just a few days ago we were frolicking like cherubs in the Elysian fields of late autumn with wild, pumpkin-spice fueled abandon. But now the cold spectre of winter has sidled up and stuck its clammy, cold hand down our collective pants like an overzealous prom date. Winter, it seems, is here, and summer seems like a distant hope. All we have to nurture ourselves for the next few months in between hunting down our fellow man for nourishment and burning down the public library for warmth is the slew of movie trailers for next year that studios are already pumping onto the internet like a morphine drip. So in this, the first week of another cruel Montreal winter, let’s take a look and get bloody well goofy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2013 was actually something of a disappointing year for me for superhero movies. Oh sure, there were ones I kinda liked, and only a couple I plan to ritualistically burn in effigy on the anniversary of their release. But the trailer for the next Captain America movie gives me some hope, promising lots of things blowing up in slow-motion and Robert Redford TOTALLY not turning out to be a badguy in the end.

The trailer indicates the movie will mostly focus on SHIELD (fuck if I’m gonna type all those periods) extending its power and unleashing a fleet of Helicarriers, presumably to hover over major cities terrifying people into good behavior like giant impractical nannies. Cap objects to this, because Cap is contractually obligated to remind us every few years that he’s actually pretty center-left for someone who wears the American flag.

Not that he really does anymore, his costume’s changed to a mostly blue affair reminiscent of something he was wearing for that time he was actually in charge of SHIELD in the comics. Wonder if that’s a coincidence…..

Excitement Level: 6 Crashing Helicarriers out of 10


grand-budapest-hotel-posterThe Grand Budapest Hotel

If there’s one thing guaranteed to give film nerds a raging film nerd stiffy (which is like a normal stiffy but talks your ear off for hours on end about the hidden meaning behind the can of baking soda in the background of that one scene in The Shining) it’s the release of a new Wes Anderson trailer, and ye GODS this is the most Wes Anderson-y thing ever.

It doesn’t even matter what The Grand Budapest Hotel is about, just look at the cast for God’s sake. Literally every name on the front page of the film’s IMDB entry is a recognizable name. Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, it goes on. And of course Bill Murray’s in it, because OF COURSE Bill Murray’s in it. Between Anderson and Jim Jarmusch the guy’ll never be–


Wes Anderson, you son of a bitch, did you shoot this thing in the Academy Ratio? Oh wait no, you shot this thing in multiple aspect ratios to indicate the time period it takes place in. It took me like four viewings to even notice that most of the trailer isn’t even widescreen. Good God, man, if you’re not careful you’re gonna have a whole lot of film nerds punching holes in their ceilings if you catch my drift.

Excitement Level: No I’m not going to explain Aspect Ratios, I haven’t got all day!


the-boxtrolls-posterThe Boxtrolls

And speaking of things that give nerds raging hardons, how about a trailer for The Boxtrolls, the latest installment in Laika studios’ plan to become the Jesus of stop-motion animation. And the teaser really does put the animation, and the love and work that goes into it, in the forefront, being partially made up of shots of the hands of animators assembling and posing figures and sets.

The cynic in me, the tenacious bastard that he is, wants to see this as a lazy way to crank out a teaser when you’ve finished only a couple of shots of animation. But the well-rounded, optimistic person in me, who spends most of his time shut in a small room in my mind like Harry Potter, sees this as something else: an indicator that what’s coming out is made with the love and attention that we’ve come to expect from Laika.

There’s also this trailer, which both endorses same-sex parents and features the voice of Catbug from Bravest Warriors, so we might as well crown this film “King of All Things Good and Wonderful” right now.

Excitement Level: Sugar peas!!!

The Lego Movie


Nobody was expecting this to look surprisingly good less than me, I mean for crap’s sake it’s The Lego Movie, but damn if I don’t actually want to see this. Part of it’s because it comes courtesy of the masters of “Surprisingly good”, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo that brought us Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street.

But what took me aback more is the animation, which is apparently a blend of stop-motion and CGI, meant to make everything look as realistically like actual Lego figures as possible. All the textures and light effects look dead-on, if you’re the kind of absolute hopeless nerd who’s impressed by that kind of thing, right down to those stiff cloth capes that never, ever look right. There’s so much wonderful attention to detail on display just in the short trailer, like how when one character is supposed to be dramatically flipping her hair, it just swivels in place because it’s still a solid plastic piece, or how explosions and other effects are still made out of Lego bricks if you look closely.

Plus it has Nick Offerman in it, and it doesn’t matter what something is, the promise of Nick Offerman will have me running like Nick Offerman himself to a film role circa 2004

Excitement Level: It has Batman too, so pretty high