Slumberland

Release: Friday, November 11, 2022 (limited) 

👀 Netflix

Written by: David Guion; Michael Handelman 

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jason Momoa; Marlow Barkley; Chris O’Dowd; Weruche Opia; Kyle Chandler; India de Beaufort 

Distributor: Netflix

 

**/*****

Slumberland is another one of those adaptations where ignorance really is bliss. You could watch this entire spectacle of Look How Much Money Netflix Has and have no idea it is actually inspired by an early twentieth century comic strip created by famed American cartoonist Winsor McCay. That’s because this expensive-looking but cheaply told fantasy adventure merely uses the iconic weekly sketch as a springboard for Jason Momoa-related shenanigans and a whole boatload of pretty but vapid CGI.

Comparisons are almost rendered pointless given how little the Netflix original, directed by The Hunger Games helmer Francis Lawrence, actually resembles the comic. The latest attempt to adapt the property is a visual adventure that flits between wild dreamscapes and waking-world tediums. The premise is loosely based on the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland and its protagonist’s penchant for drifting off into crazy adventures only to awaken in his own bed in the final panel of each strip. Here the vignettes are discarded in favor of a simple tale of a girl trying to reunite with her father in her dreams.

In a gender-swapped role newcomer Marlow Barkley inhabits the lead character of Nemo with natural confidence. She starts off the movie living an idyllic life just off the mainland in a lighthouse with her father Peter (Kyle Chandler), who regales her nightly with tales of his adventures at sea chasing after elusive magical pearls. This all comes crashing down when Peter one day does not return and Nemo is forced to move to the city with her socially awkward uncle Philip (Chris O’Dowd), a doorknob salesman. We come to learn Peter and Philip were once thick as thieves, having epic adventures as kids. But after a fall-out Philip retreated into himself and has since lived a dreary and robotic existence.

As a story about learning to deal with grief and accepting change Slumberland has the potential to be a real winner, especially when you have a good lead performance from Barkley that helps foster sympathy. There are a couple of poignant moments along the way but whatever sense of growth and maturity there is supposed to be takes such a backseat to the eye-popping landscape across which Nemo traverses — at first accompanied only by her plush toy pig, creatively named ‘Pig’ (parents should not be surprised to see this one pop up on Christmas lists this year) and, eventually, the colorful and buffoonish outlaw Flip (Momoa), who has been in Slumberland for so long he can’t remember who he is in reality.

Not that he seems to mind. In the dream world there are rules and Flip seems to have violated several of them simply by hanging around and crashing other people’s dreams. Agent Green (Weruche Opia), representing the Bureau of Subconscious Activities, is determined to lock him up once and for all, giving rise to a cat-and-mouse action caper inside a dream-state (something that sounds way more interesting written down). Momoa is clearly having a field day going full-blown Johnny Depp, his garish wardrobe a combination of Captain Jack Sparrow and something out of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. He brings an energy that may wear a little thin after two hours for the older-than-pre-teen crowd, but also makes such a routine plot feel somehow more exciting.

The world-building is undoubtedly picturesque, despite some awkward moments where you can actually see the actors standing on their marks on a big slab of concrete in a sound stage. Away from these, Slumberland unfolds into a vast network of surreal imagery and outlandish ideas in which nuns fantasize about being salsa dancers in rooms made entirely out of butterflies and Canadians are reduced to dreaming of geese the size of small airplanes. At its center, the Sea of Nightmares — a dark and forbidding region concealing the very pearls Nemo’s father had been describing. Pearls that give the possessor whatever they desire. And as we learn along the way, the alluring gems aren’t the only thing that actually exist in the real world.

Despite some genuinely nice moments, you can’t help but feel like Lawrence misses the opportunity to extract a more interesting plot out of such an idea-rich concept. To his credit he isn’t attempting to remain faithful to the comic. It just would have been nice if what he chose to do instead was something more inspired. As a visual director, it sort of makes sense what he does with Slumberland but his flashy approach doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest movie. 

Next-level waterbed

Moral of the Story: I would describe it as Inception for kids, but that might oversell the amount of thinking this movie requires. Elements of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland combine with the modern slickness of Stranger Things. The selling point is not the comic strip (Winsor McCay doesn’t even get credited) but instead Jason Momoa, who gets along great with kid actors apparently. If nothing else it’s nice to see him playing to a younger audience. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Did you ever figure it out? What the lighthouse is for?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Welcome to Thomas J!

Hello everyone.  I thought I would tip my readers off to something subtle going on here. My blog is changing. I’m finally re-branding.

I know, I know. It’s been Digital Shortbread for over half a decade now.

Risk much? Yes. Yes it is.

Work much? Yes, yes it also is.

Worthwhile?

I’ll leave that one open-ended. But I’m excited about this new journey through film, everyone. I really am. I’m psyched on the new theme, too. WordPress offers us SO many cool options. For those curious, I’m now surfing the ‘Hemingway Rewritten’ theme. A change of theme means a change of a lot of things, so you’ll have to pardon my dust as I try to assimilate the entire site to Thomas J. That means newcomers are probably going to stumble upon remnants of the old — the Digibread Awards being a big one (don’t worry, I’m not scrapping those posts) — and some things are going to look out of place for a while.

But this is it. I’m doing this. This is the future of film blogging for me. For the time being my URL will remain the same, but it will soon change to reflect the blog’s new identity. I’m not sure if that will screw with everyone’s WordPress reader or if people are going to get confused but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I hope you are going to come along for the ride. Please, tell your friends, family and your pet raccoon about the news!

Boyhood

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

I know my refusal to get up out of my seat even after almost three consecutive hours of sitting — in considerably cramped quarters, I might add — is pretty weak testament to the fact that Boyhood just may be one of the coolest films this reviewer has had the privilege of watching. Saying I didn’t move after the film ended is not a very flashy statement and it probably won’t help sell a lot of tickets, I’ll admit. Instead it’s one that might even lead readers to think I just got stuck in the chair or something. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I have seen that before, actually; people just lying there comatose while the credits rolled — sigh. What are they paying for?

If I had fallen asleep here, I would have just paid to sleep through a rare kind of cinematic event. Foolishly, I would have muted a voice I, as something of a nit-picky consumer of media, have been needing to hear for awhile. A voice that’s already too hard to hear when the Michael Bays and Brett Ratners and M. Night Shamalyans of the world won’t hush. Indeed I would have, in effect, slept through another chance to grow up once more, to do it all over again.

Wait, I didn’t mean I slept through my childhood the first time, just that I would have been. . . . . oh, never mind. You know what I mean. And you know what else, even if that opening line isn’t all that attention-grabbing, hey at least I’m being honest! I remain unable to leave this film behind, physically or psychologically. Yes, I might still be in denial. Yes, I’m still in the theater a week later. Yes, okay, that’s a lie.

But here’s something I can’t lie about: Richard Linklater’s much-anticipated project no longer exists in mythology. It’s now out there, ready for public consumption, even if its distribution will only allow the public to ingest it in nibbles.

Should I be surprised, though? Maybe it is fate that Transformers: Age of Exstinky debuted to some 3,000 theaters all crammed to the brim like cans of sardines while this astounding feat of cinematic beauty has slowly earned the right to open in front of less than 1,000 indie crowds over the past month and a half. Seems to me the public always picks its battles quickly, and in this example it’s one between films with short skirts versus those with long-winded explanations. And it’s so totally a one-sided affair, too. An overwhelming number of times the former emerges victorious. Visual stimulation is easier to accomplish — not necessarily cheaper to produce — than ones of a conceptual or emotive nature. After all, even despite dismal reviews that caucophany was the fourth installment in a series that has seriously lost its way but is still earning money. Lots of it.

Boyhood is a rare film for many reasons, but chief among those has to be how faithfully it adheres to the typical viewer’s own experiences. (Unless, of course, you’re an alien.) Never before has the line between fiction and reality been so flirtatious, so challenging to define. Character names and relationships are afforded the protection of fictionalization, and thank goodness too because that’s one of perhaps two things distinguishing proceedings from home-video footage (the second element being a distinctly more expensive piece of equipment used in filming). Production values exist on a level liable to boggle the mind if one is not careful. And hopefully, if one is not passed out in their seats.

We first meet Mason as his diminutive frame sprawls out upon a patch of brilliant green grass — eyes wide and full, ingesting every ounce of the sky above. Already he is engaged in a process we, the mere spectators, have been practicing for some time: being aware of his surroundings. (Later, finding a way to blend in.) While it’s a bit disconcerting never being able to pinpoint the precise moment we become aware of our own presence, there certainly becomes a point where its clear cynical men have abandoned the nescience of true boyhood. Such abstraction may not occur to every viewer, but it’s one of the more breathtaking developments over the course of these fleeting minutes.

In that iconic opening shot, Mason’s already sponge-like, absorbing and observing things about his environment, about the kinds of things kids his age do. He’s learning his family is also not the most traditional one, but he won’t understand why for another little while. Neither will we.These are the kinds of things real people grow up having to cope with, rather than worrying about when the token girl will pop up “on screen” and “become central to the plot via some contrivance.” That sugarcoating just won’t ring true here. And yet, Mason’s going to be a hero all the same for walking through this. Although enigmatic from the get-go his charm is not instantly earned. Particularly in the early years, Mason doesn’t feel as though he’s made of the stuff of even the most transparent of cinematic creations.

There’s something more organic about Coltrane’s presence. Whether this comes down to a particularly subtle acting style on his behalf or a sensationally perceptive script could be debated until the cows come home. Or at least, you know. . . until the absentee father does. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two somewhat illustrious names in the industry, help ensure some of the film’s emotional gravity is not lost on slightly inexperienced actors. But this casting is about as extravagant as Boyhood becomes and it is not to suggest Coltrane doesn’t have to sweat the big stuff. Oh, how he does. But rather than sweating, Coltrane remains graceful, poised. He simply becomes what is asked of him.

Meanwhile, more identifiable ‘performances’ can be found with Hawke, as he embraces the opportunity to portray Mason Sr., the biological father whom Mason and Samantha only see on the odd occasion. A very fun Ethan Hawke provides charisma and energy where these kids really require strong parental support (every hard-working mother in the room should be able to empathize to great depths with Arquette’s brilliant performance); gifts where they need valuable lessons.

Ah, but he comes prepared with a few of those, too.

Mason Sr. is a great guy, but perhaps not so much a competent father figure. All of his wisdom is imparted on-the-go. A scene in which he’s delivering the birds-and-the-bees speech takes place in a public setting and he’s even considerate enough to include both kids in the discussion. That kind of awkwardness only manifests itself in reality. There’s no way this scene is actually scripted. . .is there? Could it be? That’s just one example, albeit a particularly strong one. If I were to name some others we could be here all night and day.

As per the lyrics: “let me go. I don’t want to be your hero. I don’t want to be a big man. I just want to fight with everyone else.” Indeed. Ever the idealist, I didn’t want to get out of my seat because I wanted those pangs of nostalgia to never subside. Best part of all, my refusal to move is merely unique to one particularly reactive moviegoer. Linklater easily could have groped for sentimentality but where he avoids forcing saccharinity, he’s unable to escape effecting profundity.

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5-0Recommendation: Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Immense in both scope and ambition, Richard Linklater’s project is also intensely personal. His name ought to be crowned among the greatest directors of all time. With a single movie — although it would be a bit dismissive to label this just another title to add to the stack — I feel he has earned that right. A labor of love it may be, but this is also one of the most important and significant films ever released. I urge you with something akin to desperation, to treat yourself to this marvel.

Rated: R

Running Time: 165 mins.

Quoted: “Why are you crying?”

“Because I don’t have all the answers.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Remember Blockbuster? Yeah, it’s still around

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Today’s Throwback post is just a wee bit different. Instead of ranting/raving about a movie from yesteryear, I’d like to go back and revisit some of the old avenues of moviegoing, during a time when I didn’t go to the theater as often (primarily because I was in school. . . well that, and I probably couldn’t get into most movies that were any good at the time because I was underage).

The thought dawned on me a little while ago about how little I so much as even think about renting movies from places like Blockbuster and whatever chains are still around in “fierce” competition with it. I still don’t have a Netflix account, but I’ll be looking to get one soon so renting films will be THAT much more convenient. With that said, I want to go back to a time and place where all we had were the stores to go buy/rent/check out stuff that’s just come out on DVD/VHS. In the process, I’m probably going to be very nostalgic and reminisce quite a lot — by definition that’s what this thread is all about — so I apologize if this becomes too emotional for anyone. . . .

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Opened: October, 1985 (Dallas, TX)

[Store]

Remember walking into that immensely packed store full of shelves that were cluttered with DVD, VHS and video game titles and packages? The smell of all that collective plastic and — yes, the carpets — are forever seared into my nose’s memory. It was the same feeling I believe people get when they enter old libraries — being amongst a collection of creations, some made for informative purposes, some for simple, pure escapism. Blockbuster is hardly as big as a library, but it may as well be the library of home video. The blue-and-yellow partially-ripped ticket graphic that comprised the company logo is one of my favorite logos from back in the day. It still is today, but unfortunately I see fewer and fewer of these signs. This is due to a couple of things changing: chiefly, the way we consume. The advent of Netflix, Redbox and other similarly convenient avenues through which we rent and purchase our movies — hello, streaming — make going to Blockbuster seem like you’re going out of your way to get a movie.

Secondly, these stores have been closing left and right. In 2004, Blockbuster hit its peak with over 9,000 stores in the United States. As of this year, that number is down to 500. I’m sure Knoxville, TN is hardly an exception either. There is still one in Farragut, where I grew up, and I think a few more are dotted around the area but man is it easy to forget that they are there now. While they still have over 2,500 stores worldwide, they no longer dominate the block as they once did. I think I’ve bought more movies from Wal-Mart than I have ever rented anything from Blockbuster. (Sorry, buddy. It’s true.)

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Even despite the store’s prolonged, if not inevitable, decrease in popularity, Blockbuster in the 1990s could have been the last bastion of the “classic family rental experience” (if there is such a thing). I think of it as the kindergarten of moviegoing from which I’d go on to realize how much I love film as a medium and a form of entertainment. When a competing chain (Hollywood Video) was constructed across the street, it got no love from the Little family. We continued to make our trips to the land of blue-and-yellow. (I think that chain is now defunct, as it was bought out in 2005 by Movie Gallery.) Aside from the obvious convenience of being able to order/rent movies online now and at good old Redbox, perhaps no experience can rival what it was like going into a Blockbuster and rummaging around through their seemingly endless shelves, searching for the perfect late-night entertainment (late night at the time meaning, like, 9 or 10 p.m.) The checking out process would rarely finish up without me insisting on buying some candy at the counter to go with it.

Alas, those days are long gone. Despite my fond memories of Blockbuster visits, it’s really now that is the time to rent — rent cheaply and rent a lot! If you’re going to Redbox, you may as well pick up a couple of titles since it’s all of $1.29 (I am irked by the fact that prices continue to go up on these, it used to be $1.09) per day that you keep hold of them. Netflix and other similar online/game console features allow you even more control over how much and what you want to watch on any given evening. If you watch movies on Netflix online, it’s even more portable. Take some flicks to go with you on that long drive back home. Flixter is a convenient new thing I’ve gotten into being an active visitor on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve earned a few free downloads including The Perfect Storm, The Iron Giant, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

I’m certainly not unhappy about the new options we have today. It IS incredibly convenient with the number of different ways you can obtain. . . stuff, and with any luck it can be less expensive at times as well. I know Netflix continues to raise their monthly rates, and the price on Redbox dailies have increased by two dimes but hey, who’s counting. It’s still damn affordable; moreso than the $12 or $15 at the box office for crying out loud. And the best news of all is that stores like Blockbuster Home Video are still around for you to pop in every once in a while to see what you may have missed in theaters, or to see if there’s something random out there you might be bold enough to try without knowing anything about beforehand. This may be one more edge these stores might still have over Redbox et al: diversity. I can’t say for sure, but I know that with each trip I take to Redbox (granted, I go A LOT) the selections seem to be more limited each time. They only seem to hold about 200 or so titles, and I guarantee the blue-and-yellow holds far more than that. There’s probably that many in the horror section alone.

If ever you’re feeling in the mood for browsing a physical library of DVDs, video games and other stuff, the doors to Blockbuster will be wide open — mainly because there aren’t too many folks traveling through them! But there’s no doubt the game has changed for these companies. It’s tough to imagine it getting any easier for them, either.

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But hey, what about you and your relationship with Blockbuster —

What/how was your first Blockbuster experience? When’s the last time you went, and do you remember what you rented? 

How many stores are left where you live? Do you go there at all? 

Do you use other outlets such as Netflix and Redbox? How often do you go out to see movies at the theaters, knowing there’s a cheaper option — renting at a later date? 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.salon.com; http://www.flickr.com