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New films: A Moviebriefs Roundup of Four (good) New Films

Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi

“Boxtrolls” is the latest animated film from the studio behind “Coraline” and “Paranorman” and is the most fun release of the week. It’s also one of the few kids’ films of the last couple of years that actually has some good messages and genuine heart to it, along with the usual hijinks.

A small town with a love of cheese is also the home of an underground species of troll who, as the title might suggest, wear old cardboard boxes. They scavenge at night for bits of machinery they might recycle for their mechanized underworld. A classic children’s villain, who wants to join the town council, runs an extermination company and convinces the residents that the trolls are dangerous so that he might round them up and gain favor. Meanwhile, the boxtrolls have been raising a human boy who, naturally, thinks he’s a boxtroll.

It’s animated using stop-motion, and so it has a slight jerkiness to the motion that might surprise kids raised on the smooth execution of Pixar and Disney films, but this is a delightful tale told delightfully and deserves to be seen by assorted ages. The cast is unnecessarily stellar for a film in which many of the voices are so heavily accented and probably barely recognizable for many, and some known actors have so few lines one wonders why they were hired. But such is the business of film and the end result is too pleasant to spend too much time lamenting the details.


The Equalizer
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, an ex-government operative of some kind and a roll pioneered on the smaller screen by Edward Woodward, who appeared in the late 1980’s TV series of the same name. Fortunately, and unlike several other shows of that era that have been rebooted for the big screen, this one hasn’t been transformed into a comedy – this is a hard-hitting action movie and it’s well put together, if a little too long for its material.

Washington’s McCall is a guy who has disappeared into a quiet life, working at a store that’s a clone of Home Depot and trying to help some of the folks around him in modest ways. But he’s a man of considerable talents and also a man that can’t stand to watch injustices play out in front of him, in particular a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) who frequents his favorite diner. But the folks she’s working for aren’t just locals, as McCall discovers after he pays them a visit.

This is essentially a transition story for the character that folks who remember the TV show are already familiar with. It’s not the agency background that explains how he acquired those skills, but it’s the story that explains how a retired agent becomes a fix-it guy for those who need the kind of help they can’t otherwise find. For Washington, it’s reminiscent in both tone and opportunity of Liam Neeson’s role in Taken, with the re-launching of an action career as he’s about to turn 60.

As mentioned, it could have run a little faster and there’s perhaps too much quiet setup at the start of the film, and a few too many, repetitive directorial flourishes as we’re shown how McCall sizes up a situation and analyzes how he’ll solve the problem in front of him. It’s one of those things that’s somewhat cool once but after a while the slow assessment gets in the way of the resultant action and just causes you to wonder why somebody hasn’t shot him yet. However, it’s a decent film that establishes the character well and will likely leave people wanting more – despite the standard problem with films and characters of this type, that there’s no real sense of suspense or jeopardy.


The Skeleton Twins
Directed by Craig Johnson
My Old Lady
Directed by Israel Horovitz

There are two more films opening this week that don’t really have any specific connections but which share several characteristics that make it worthwhile to discuss them together. Both “The Skeleton Twins” and “My Old Lady” are films that are likely to catch people by surprise, in that both have casts that are likely to suggest much lighter fare than is being delivered. “…Twins” stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, both of Saturday Night Live fame, and “…Lady” stars Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, and Kristen Scoot Thomas.

When I watched the first film, I noticed several people walk out and also heard a couple of women at the end talking about how it wasn’t what they expected (“I didn’t think it would be that dark – they were both on Saturday Night Live!”). It’s a good film but it’s certainly not a comedy – telling a story about actual twins who come together after ten years of estrangement, after each has either attempted or at least considered suicide.

Similarly, the Smith/Kline dynamic of “My Old Lady” could easily suggest the witty banter of a film like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” especially if one reads the synopsis about an American who inherits a French apartment only to find that there’s an old woman living in it. But this is another dark family drama with more than its own fair share of suicide. It’s also an interesting lesson in how different such things as real estate transactions can be in different countries, with France offering a kind of private reverse mortgage option in which an investor can buy a home at a reduced price and then pay the occupant a monthly stipend until they die. It’s good for the buyer if the occupant dies quickly and good for the occupant, in multiple ways, if they live a long life. Smith’s character is 92 and counting…

The family dynamics in both films, and the dark struggles of the characters, are deep and profound and well acted. Both are worth seeing but neither should be mistaken for anything other than some emotional heavy lifting.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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