Here are some thoughts on three movies I’ve watched recently:
True Stories – A weird film directed and co-written by David Byrne, who also stars in it as an interactive narrator. Presented as a slice of life in a Texas town, it’s actually based on tabloid stories that Byrne collected while Talking Heads were on tour. As a movie with surreal commentary on technology and commercialism interspersed with music videos, it reminded me a bit of the Monkees’ Head, although it was more coherent. I have to suspect that John Goodman’s character running a commercial to try to find a wife was intended as bizarre back in the mid-eighties, but it’s more or less what people now do all the time on dating sites. I wonder if the character Louis Fyne was named for Larry Fine from the Three Stooges. The film features several Talking Heads songs, some among their best work, including “Love for Sale,” “Wild Wild Life,” “Radio Head,” and “People Like Us,” the latter sung by Goodman in the movie.
I believe the band Radiohead was named after the song, although that’s a very upbeat number, quite different from any of Radiohead’s hits.
Frankenhooker – A very campy movie that Beth remembered seeing in her youth, it turns the basic elements of the Frankenstein story into the tale of a New Jersey electrician whose fiancee is killed by an automatic lawnmower, and he tries to use parts from Times Square hookers to make her a new body. He kills the prostitutes by tricking them into smoking super-condensed crack, which for some reason makes them explode. He is able to restore life to his fiancee, but something goes haywire and she’s only able to speak in phrases that the hookers used earlier in the movie. I know Beth has a real fondness for movies showing New York City back when it was more run-down, and it’s pretty funny in a cheesy way.
The Book of Life – Although this 2014 animated feature received positive critical reviews, I hadn’t heard of that many people seeing it in the theater. I saw some positive comments about it online, however, and figured it was worth a shot. Set in Mexico, the story centers around a cosmic bet made by the two rulers of the dead, the beneficent La Muerte and the nasty Xibalba.
Each one champions a different boy in winning the hand of their childhood sweetheart Maria Posada, daughter of a local general. Joaquin Mondragon longs to be a great hero (and grow a mustache) like his late father, and succeeds thanks to a magical talisman. His rival Manolo Sanchez is an aspiring musician from a family of bullfighters whose father and grandmother demand that he follow in their footsteps. He turns out to be good at bullfighting, but he absolutely refuses to kill the bulls. I really can’t say why Maria has to end up marrying either of her old friends, especially when she’s supposed to be a modern woman who despises traditional sexist notions of courtship. The animation is based on Mexican art, very colorful and with the people resembling wooden carvings. For some reason, the men have rectangular heads and the women round. I liked the designs on the Land of the Dead and on the supernatural beings La Muerte, Xibalba, and the Candle Maker. Xibalba, whose name comes from that of the underworld in Mayan mythology, is presented as rather similar to Disney’s Hades. He has a somewhat sleazy personality, and enjoys making deals and then cheating to get the upper hand. Unlike Hades, however, he eventually works to redeem himself, and reunites romantically with La Muerte. The soundtrack is mostly made up of Latin arrangements of popular songs in English. I have a feeling this film won’t really stick with me, but it was enjoyable enough to watch.