Movie Reviews

Paul’s reviews of “The Boxtrolls” and “Tusk”

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“The Boxtrolls” (2014)

If you’ve read my blog long enough then you know how much I enjoy animated movies. It could be hand drawn, computer generated, stop-motion or claymation. So long as it has some grasp of imagination, creativity and still tell a well-rounded and fascinating story, it is a worthwhile experience. The problem is when the film fails to give the audience a story that is worth watching.

“The Boxtrolls” was created by Laika Studios, who have before brought us “Coraline” and “Paranorman,” both of which are wonderful at balancing that carefree child attitude with terrifying surroundings. While “The Boxtrolls” has an inspiring balance of computer generated imagery and stop-motion, it fails to deliver on every other level and leaves a bittersweet taste.

In the town of Cheesebridge, the townsfolk must continue to deal with the same haunting problem: The carnivorous boxtrolls who hunt at night. The leader of Cheesebridge, Lord Portley-Rind, decides to hand over the task of dealing with these monsters to Mr. Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), who may or may not have plans for these creatures, if it means that he can get his hands on Portley-Rind’s fancy white hat.

This film, much like its predecessors, looks beautiful. The animation is flawless, from the small little details of the city, to the large mechanical beasts that Mr. Snatcher uses. Not to mention, the world of the Boxtrolls is intrigue, detailed and makes perfect sense. They fully use their boxes to blend into their surroundings and are fascinated with machines and wish to build. The scenes where the Boxtrolls are in their home, building up to make a society, are the best scenes in the film.

Where “The Boxtrolls” falls apart is everywhere else, in particular the story. There are so many clichés and repeated scenes from other films that I could predict exactly how the film would go after just twenty minutes. The Boxtrolls aren’t actually monsters, just misunderstood, and the humans are the real monsters by hunting them down and not caring about anything other than themselves. We’ve heard this so many times before that its just eye-rolling by now.

This is made even worse when you realize that the characters development is more flat than the animation. Outside of the main character, a boy who thinks he’s a Boxtroll, no one changes over the course of movie. The villain is obsessed with getting a white hat, for vaguely explained reasons, the love interest insists on telling gory descriptions to stories, and Lord Portley-Rind is the worst offender of all.

One of the main lessons, I think, is that adults are supposed to set a good example for their children to help raise them. Except that Portley-Rind never comes to this revelation. By the end, he is still a greedy bastard who cares more about cheese than the safety of his town and is extremely hesitant to give up his white hat just to save his daughter. Far too much emphasis is put on that white hat without giving the audience a good reason to care about it.

“The Boxtrolls” is a sad movie. I don’t mean that it’ll make you feel sad, but that there was so much effort, dedication and passion put into this film, only for it to be so forgettable and disappointing. On the one hand, the animation and detail is stunning. But on the other hand, the story is bland at best and infuriating at worst. If you wanted to see this one, wait for a DVD release.

Final Grade: C-

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“Tusk” (2014)

I’ve never seen a Kevin Smith movie before today. Now that I have, I’m glad “Tusk” is the only one.

Going into this film, I knew that it would be disturbing and off-putting. In fact, I expected that and wanted to see it more than anything else. But what I got was something far more over the top and unnecessarily disturbing that I left feeling disgusted for all the wrong reasons.

After traveling up to Canada to conduct an interview for a podcast, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), finds out that the man who went to see had killed himself. Desperate for material, he finds an extravagant letter exclaiming about stories at sea and Wallace immediately wants to meet this man. He travels to a nearby town and meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a disabled old man who seems to have a fascination with walruses. As the night goes on, Wallace dozes off until he is face down on the floor and Howard stares over his body, ready to enact his plan.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I adore transformation stories. Tales of people turning into something that is either unhuman or far removed from what they once were are adventures that I can’t get enough of. Movies like “Black Swan” and “The Fly” best personify this, as they show the descent into madness and how their mentality slowly turns to match their new bodies.

“Tusk” may try to be like that, but does not come close to what it aspires to be.

Rather than seeing Wallace lose his mind and sense of self, we get to see Howard torture him and mutilate his body to be the perfect specimen. All the while, Howard reflects on his life experiences and how other people beat him, used him and violated him. That the only compassion he ever received in life was from a walrus, which he in turn does unspeakable things to.

If the film is not attempting to gross you out with what happens to Wallace, then Howard’s stories and justification for his actions are making you feel uncomfortable. I understand this is what Kevin Smith was attempting to do, but I feel that he overdid it.

If you are attempting to gross your audience out and make them feel disturbed by what they’re watching, then you need the right dose of it. It takes the right amount of sanity and insanity to pull something like that off. If you overdo that, it ceases to be entertaining and enters the realm of torture porn.

That’s what “Tusk” feels like. That you are watching someone get brutally beaten and you didn’t ask for that. Some might enjoy how disturbing the movie can be and others will argue that being disgusting is exactly what Kevin Smith attempted. However, “Tusk” has far too much of that and it comes across as unnecessary. Overall, an unpleasant experience.

Final Grade: D

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