It’s Friiiiidaaaaayyyyy!!! And you know what just occurred to me? There’s a lot of stuff out and/or coming out right now. I just saw an awesome movie last weekend (review coming soon), I’m seeing what I suspect shall be another awesome one tonight, Mockingjay is out next weekend, The Babadook will (hopefully) be available soon…It’s a busy time, y’all. Hence why I’ve decided to do these next two films in Duet form. Let’s get right to it!
The Book of Life
Synopsis: “Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The intricate, vibrant, beautiful animation. It’s undoubtedly inspired by El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), and I love seeing a movie—especially a kids’ movie—pay homage to the holiday. There’s a spooky reverence to El Día de los Muertos (because, after all, it’s a time to remember loved ones who have passed away), but there’s also a wonderful, cheeky liveliness to it. Though the film’s animation (and story, for that matter) does have some of the former, it does an especially good job capturing the latter, and, for a kids’ movie, that’s exactly what it needs to do.
- The use of modern songs. Would you believe me if I told you that The Book of Life uses songs from Mumford & Sons, Radiohead, and Biz Markie? Because it totally does, and I found that kind of awesome.
- The voice cast. I’d never paid much attention to Diego Luna, but he’s pretty adorable as sweet, singing dreamer, Manolo. Zoe Saldana is just as spunky in animated form as take-charge Maria. Channing Tatum clearly has some fun playing fame-hungry meathead, Joaquin. Plus Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Gabriel Iglesias, Ice Cube, and…Cheech Marin?! Where the heck has he been keeping himself? Anyway, it’s a lively bunch, and they’re all solid voice actors.
The Low Notes:
- It’s not a film that will entertain all age groups. I know it’s an animated movie, so to a certain degree that’s to be expected, but with all-around awesome films like The Lego Movie and How to Train Your Dragon 2 for competition this year (not to mention Big Hero 6, which I also hear is fantastic), it definitely makes this one pale in comparison. It lacks both the humor and emotional resonance of its more successful predecessors.
- It’s a pretty predictable story. Again, kids’ movie, I know, but I’ve come to expect a lot from the ones I get excited about! You know exactly what’s going to happen and exactly what every character is going to say. Fun for a kid who hasn’t seen many movies, sure, but grown-up movie aficionados might find themselves fidgeting and a little bored.
- Diego Luna, bless his heart, is not the best singer. He’s straining on some of these tunes, and it shows. He’s not terrible—just not great. It’s a shame, too, because these renditions really are cool. I just wish they had a better singer attached…
The Staccato Version: The Book of Life is a fair bit of fun with gorgeous animation, cool music, and a great cast. Plus, I really do think it’s awesome that a lesser known holiday (outside of Hispanic countries, that is) is getting some much-deserved attention. Unfortunately, this film is also extremely predictable and lacks the emotional residence of some of the stronger animated films this year. Adults won’t enjoy this nearly as much as kids, and that’s a shame.
My Grade: B
Synopsis: “In the aftermath of his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a young man awakens to find strange horns sprouting from his temples.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- Daniel Radcliffe as leading man Ig Perrish. I love Radcliffe, and I love Harry Potter, too, but it’s always great to see a child actor grow up and successfully break into other things. Radcliffe is a talented guy, and he proves it here. Ig could be a pretty unlikable character, but Radcliffe portrays him in a charismatic way that makes you like him. Plus, there’s this one scene where he’s reading a letter that will break your heart.
- The twisted humor. The horns that Ig sprouts from his head have a weird, messed up effect on people, but it often makes a scene pretty hilarious. The things some of these people say and do…it’s just wonderful. Two groups in particular to watch for: the reporters and the cops. I definitely laughed.
- The visuals. This film isn’t a visual masterpiece or anything, but what it does have, I liked. The horns themselves, for instance, are very cool—particularly as they get bigger (because, yes, they grow). The swarming snakes are also effectively unnerving (especially toward the end…yikes), and the effects go a little crazy toward the end…but no spoilers. Also, for some reason the lighting struck me in this one. I just thought it was really pretty.
The Low Notes:
- The rushed childhood flashback. Fair warning: I’ve read the book this is based on (which is by the awesome Joe Hill), so I will be “that person” comparing the movie to what I read. Sorry. But, yeah—like the book, the film flashes back to Ig’s childhood. Unlike the book, however, the flashback is really, really brief. When reading Horns, I was kind of thrown when the flashback stuff started, but ultimately I was glad for it because it establishes Ig’s relationships with some of the more important characters—particularly his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple), and his best friend, Lee (Max Minghella). It’s harder to understand the significance of these relationships in the movie because they’re so damn rushed, and that makes me sad.
- Tonally, it’s all over the place. Admittedly, the book’s like that, too, but the book has much more focus and a heck of a lot more time to set just the right mood for every part of the story. Plus, I’d say the book is more of a horror-drama with liberal splashes of humor. The movie tries to have an even balance of all three, but it doesn’t always work, and it makes the overall tone downright bizarre. You might not be sure quite how to feel by the end.
- Sorry to be this person, but…it’s not as good as the book. So much is lost in the translation from page to screen. However, I can’t decide if it’s better or worse that I went into it having read the book. Part of me feels like I was able to connect with it more because I was able to fill in the blanks with the book, but another part of me kept getting miffed at all the stuff left out. It’s a confusing and awkward place to be…
The Staccato Version: It’s probably safe to say that you haven’t seen anything like Horns this year, but whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing ultimately comes down to your tolerance for the bizarre. If you love the weird stuff and/or are a fan of the book, I don’t doubt that you’d enjoy Horns. Heck, even if you’re a Radcliffe fan you’d probably be glad you saw Horns. As for the rest of you, I’d say tread carefully. However, I can wholeheartedly recommend the book, which is pretty freaking great.
My Grade: B