Strings (2004) This Scandinavian/British production by director/co-writer Anders Rønnow Klarlund is a puppet movie like no other. Compared to the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation shows, the filmmakers are not attempting to create semi-realistic settings that mimic the human world, but take an approach in the opposite direction. Instead of attempting to conceal the strings, they become integral to the story, and are a literal and metaphorical element of the characters. The strings not only establish physical boundaries in the puppet world, but reinforce how each individual is bound to one another. With its themes of deceit, intolerance, hate and genocide, it’s definitely not kid stuff, but the film would make an excellent departure point for families to discuss these touchy subjects. Strings is a beautiful, mesmerizing and uniquely touching experience you’re unlikely to forget.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD
Santo Contra La Hija de Frankenstein (1971) Mexico’s favorite luchador is at it again, protecting citizens from those who would inflict evil on society. Although the movie features the legendary monster as Santo’s primary opponent (painted in a surprisingly sympathetic light), the real villain is the daughter of Dr. Frankenstein (Gina Romand). She must endure multiple injections of a life-prolonging serum, and targets Santo for the magical properties in his blood. Once again, the language barrier (the DVD wasn’t subtitled) did little to diminish my enjoyment.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Alice (1988) When a taxidermied rabbit springs to life in the first scene, and breaks free of its glass display case, it’s clear this won’t be a conventional adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. This profoundly disturbing Czech adaptation of the Lewis Carroll story from writer/director Jan Svankmajer, combines live action and stop motion animation. Svankmajer takes pains to make the creepy elements in the source material even creepier as the human Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) interacts with dead animals and nightmarish creations. I couldn’t help but admire it on a technical level, but it’s hard to love. It’s still more enjoyable than Tim Burton’s misguided version, though.
Rating: ** ½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
Cool World (1992) It’s hard to find much to like about this misfire from director Ralph Bakshi, which combines live action with animation. As the result of a cosmic rift of sorts, cartoons and humans (or “doodles” and “noids”) become entwined in a bizarre universe called the Cool World. Brad Pitt stars as Jack, a human cop who keeps the balance between the two worlds by preventing doodles and noids from having sex. The movie invites inevitable comparisons to 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and suffers in the process, lacking the wit or charm of the earlier film. The interaction between the human and animated characters is awkward and unconvincing, and the parameters of the cartoon world are ill defined. Most of the animated characters are generic, full of frenetic activity, but without much purpose. The film’s main focal point, Holli Would (voiced by Kim Basinger) is a hateful, unsympathetic character with a homicidal streak. Caught up in the mix is another human, Frank (Gabriel Byrne), the comic book artist who drew Holli and is subsequently seduced by his own creation. This flick didn’t do much for the lead actors’ careers, and it’s too unfocused and irritating to qualify as much of a cult film.
Rating: **. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming