Friday, May 25, 2012

Donnie Darko (Kelly. 2001)

"28 days... 6 hours... 42 minutes... 12 seconds. That... is when the world... will end."

Richard Kelly is a jag. If this statement upsets you I would recommend just skipping over my review of his “best” movie, the inescapable Donnie Darko. I first saw this movie when I was at the impressionable age of 15 and, I have to admit, I thought it was the deepest, coolest movie that I had ever seen. I immediately went out to the Mattoon mall and bought a copy on DVD. In what would turn out to be one of the better things that has ever happened to me, I allowed one of my female friends to borrow the movie in an attempt to trick her into thinking I was a super deep Freshman. Not only did she hate the movie, but she also lost my DVD copy. #thingsthataregood. 

Fast-forward almost 8 years and I have only watched Donnie Darko one other time since my initial viewing.  Let me tell you – I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. Long story short, this movie sucks. It is an awful, self-involved excuse for non-secular storytelling that only leaves unanswered questions behind because Kelly had no idea how to actually answer any of them. The action plays out in a dark universe in which the teenage title character is visited by visions of a demonic sounding man in a horrifying rabbit suit who relays a timeline to the end of the world. Seems legit, doesn’t it? Kelly succeeds at building up the audience’s interest in his captivating characters and minimalist take on the obligatory love story, but he is a writer/director who lacks the ability to take advantage of the good things around him. 

The best of those good things is the man playing Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal . In this role he is able to avoid the usual teen-angst clichés that ultimately ruin “darker” teenage dramas. He is curious, obviously disturbed and emotionally unstable – but he is not an unhappy child. He manages to gain the attention of Gretchen, played by the strikingly irresistible Jena Malone, and even begins a rewarding romantic relationship. Of course, nothing can be that easy when a filmmaker is trying as hard as Kelly to be smart and cool. There are times in the film that would lead the audience to believe that Donnie is a genius. Or is he a troublemaker? Maybe he is a troubled genius. Or something like that. You never really find out. 

You are shown that Donnie is prescribed medications that he usually ignores, sees a therapist regularly and has a chronic issue with sleepwalking. A jet engine falls through the ceiling into his bedroom, but he is not hurt because, for no apparent reason, Donnie wakes up safely on a golf course after a spell of the walkies.

Donnie begins an infatuation with time travel and worm holes as per a suggestion from Frank the demon rabbit-man that leads him to realize that an important scientific work on the genre was written by the neighboring, and now senile, “Grandma Death”. This little twist in the plot is accompanied by an ever-growing mountain of questions that should be answered by the end. Instead, it just…happens. Nothing is accomplished. Nothing is answered. I’m not even sure if anything is ever ASKED! 

Aside from the truly awful plot, Donnie Darko does have some working aspects. Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell and Maggie Gyllenhaal are all great in their respective roles as child molester, mother and sister. Maggie and Jake are real-life siblings, and their chemistry in the dinner table scene brings a much needed comedic break to the tedious action. 

Aesthetics are undoubtedly Kelly’s strongest skill as a director. His use of darkness, settings and color are all on par with some of the greatest filmmakers in history. There is a genuinely eerie look and feel to Donnie Darko that is left unfulfilled by the nonsensical screenplay. Sometimes it is okay to emphasis style over substance, but a director has to be willing to admit that that is what he is doing. Directors from Terrence Malick to Ingmar Bergman have made movies with a “find your own meaning” mentality attached, but their movies at least provide some kind of psychological closure for the audience. They may not answer their own questions, but they give a base for the viewer to stand on. Kelly’s screenplay has no bearings. It is out on a limb from the start and remains there after the tree has been chopped down by its own devises.

Donnie Darko is a movie that blatantly refuses to answer any of its own questions. But please do not get this confused with surrealism. Surrealists will admit that they are asking silly questions. Richard Kelly thinks that his movie is important. In reality, it is nothing. I will admit that the Director’s Cut does explain a few more things, but it also adds a plethora of its own nonsense. I am hoping for a day when Kelly will just come out and admit that he has no idea how to write an ending. 

Even after all of this negativity I have not yet gotten to the part of Donnie Darko that I hate the most. I am aware of the significance she had on production and distribution, but Drew Barrymore is unrelentingly awful as an overly-concerned martyr of an English teacher. I challenge anyone to watch the scene in which her character is fired by the principal and tell me that they believe a word of it. She almost singlehandedly ruins the miniscule shred of believability that the rest of the cast is so brilliantly fighting to keep secure. 

I fully understand how unhip I seem in writing anything negative about a movie with such loyal fanboys. Honestly, I have a strong admiration for any living person who can sit through a movie that lacks even the most forgivable traits of re-watch-ability. “You’re just not smart enough to get it” says the large man in the Babylon 5 t-shirt. I assure you that there is nothing difficult about Donnie Darko. And if you actually watch the film from a critical standpoint you will realize that you have, in fact, been dooped. 

I first saw Donnie Darko when I was 15 years old. I loved it. I have a feeling that the 15-20 age range is where the lore of this lives. I thought liking it made me look smart. As it turns out, it is not a very smart movie. Rather, it is a movie that is severely damaged by a maker who refuses to admit his own shortcomings. I have no theory as to why it has become such a “cult classic” – maybe it was just the right movie at the right time. Does that make it good? No. It makes it Human Centipede

Donnie Darko: D 

*NOTE* Though it will annoy Shelby Larrick - I feel the need to point out that I have met Jake Gyllenhaal. And his teeth are very yellow. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shane (Stevens. 1953)

"A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that."

Earlier this month I posted a review of the much loved dark British comedy Withnail and I in which I described a drinking game that famously goes along with the movie. Though I am probably not the first to think of this, I have a feeling it would be very easy to make a drinking game out of the classic western Shane. All you need to do is take a drink every time a character in the movie says “Shane”. Doing this would make watching some scenes unbearable – which is why I wouldn’t recommend playing along. Some movies, like Withnail, might benefit from a few drinks. Shane is a movie that needs to be soaked in by the viewer. It has underlying complexities that we do not see in most other films of the western genre.

I can vaguely remember watching this movie many years ago with my entire family. My father is a loyal fan of the western genre, and Shane has long been one of his favorite films. Because of this previous experience some scenes were vividly foreshadowed in my mind before I saw them on the screen. I have never forgotten the classic scene in which Shane (Alan Ladd) struts up to the bar of the local shop and saloon and asks the bartender for a “soda pop”. It may be a complete subconscious experience, but I have called soft drinks “soda pop” for most of my life. I am forced to wonder what influence this movie had on my vocabulary.

The film follows a family of homesteaders who live in the Wyoming territory and make a humble living tending farm. The nuclear family consists of a mother (Jean Arthur), a father (Van Heflin) and a dough-eyed little boy with an infatuation for shooting guns (Brandon De Wilde). One day a weary stranger rides into town looking for a drink of water. The camera immediately notices that he has a shiny six shooter strapped around his waist. The stranger’s name is Shane. Due to an interruption by the inflammable Ryker gang, cattle ranchers who want sole possession of the territory, Shane flashes his shiny gun and the audience knows as much about the character as they will ever learn. He is a gunfighter. And he has taken a liking to this family on the range.

Alan Ladd is perfect in the title role. His sculpted hair and charming looks seem to be that of a typical 50s western star, but the implied mysteries behind the character do not falter at the hands of his appearance. Who is Shane? Why does he travel from town to town? After a homoerotic scene involving a tree stump, he agrees to stay on the farm and work for the father, Joe Starrett, for no pay. He just wants to settle down and have a life. The young boy, Joey, takes a strong liking to the newly hired help. His mother warns him that Shane won’t be around long, but that probably makes the hero worship even stronger for the boy.

It is quickly explained that the leader of the Ryker gang, Rufus, is an old cattle rancher who is willing to bully the settlers off of the land he desires. The rest of the “sodbusters” seem willing to allow Ryker to bully them and force them to move, but Joe Starrett is able to raise moral by promising that something will be done. This culminates in a fist fight between Shane/Joe and the entire Ryker posse. Do not get the wrong idea; this was already a bubbling situation. Shane knowingly stirred the pot in the previously mentioned “soda pop” scene, and the Ryker’s knew he was potential trouble.

Something that makes this western seem a little different than the others I have seen is that the bad guys do not start out inherently evil. Rufus Ryker was one of the men who originally navigated and settled Wyoming. He helped fight off the Indians (right or wrong) and made the land a place that could be settled. Of course, the town is nothing more than a hotel, general store/saloon and another unexplained building. He is not really fighting for much. He feels entitled to the land that he helped pave. In some kind of way he is not wrong in that feeling. Rufus even offers Shane and Joe, on separate occasions, positions to work for him and make more money while driving the other settlers away. They both decline the offer – which forces Rufus to make a bold declaration of war in the hiring of his own gunfighter, Jack Wilson.

Wilson is not a nice fella. He is a Yankee who badmouths the homesteaders and even goes as far as to blatantly kill an innocent man for wanting some whiskey. This scene has been described by some as the saddest gunshot death in any western due to how inexplicable it is. This may be the moment in which Loyal Griggs won his Academy Award for best cinematography with his steady-cam long shot. The screen acts as a frame and provides an appropriate chilling sensation to accompany the murder. Now Shane and Joe are forced to respond to the killing, of course…

This may seem like a run-of-the-mill western plot, but A.B. Guthrie's screenplay offers some undertones of sexual deviancy. If you pay attention, it is strongly suggested that Shane and Marian (the mother) have a primal attraction to each other. There is even one scene where Marian is bandaging Shane after a tussle where the sexual tension is so thick that I began to audibly giggle. Right before the obligatory final shootout, Marian looks at Shane and asks him – “are you doing this just for me?” This moment alone should trigger a love triangle notion in the audience. For some it seems obvious. Others miss the boat completely.

All of this ends with Shane riding into town and shooting most of the Rykers and the hired gunfighter without much trouble. He is shot in the battle, but he makes it clear that it is not a fatal wound. This is also the moment that the movie is most famous for. Shane knows he has to leave. He attempted a life of noble work, but he ended up falling back into the same killing routine. You have to wonder how many times this exact same thing has happened to the gunslinger and how many more times it will happen in his lone life. As he rides away, young Joey screams the famous line “Shane! Come back, Shane!” But I think even Joey knew that Shane had to leave.

Shane is a western that successfully challenges the conventions of the genre. There is an encrypted love story, a power struggle and a role model type relationship all involved in a seemingly simple story about a gunfighter with a heart of gold. Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur are both pleasures to watch and the amount of genuine emotion in the movie is perfect. 

Shane: A-

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Persona (Bergman. 1966)

"I think I could change myself into you if I tried...."
Ingmar Bergman may be the only director in history who could make a film completely personal while dabbling in the unapologetically surreal. The great Swedish director has said in interviews that Persona was the movie that not only saved his personal career, but also saved his life. It was the exact movie that he wanted to write and direct. “For the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success.” he said of his masterpiece. 

My last encounter with Bergman was the forgettable but also personally charged surreal/horror, Hour of the Wolf. During his nine week stay in the hospital following a nervous breakdown and pneumonia Bergman wrote a movie that was later split into two different films. One of them, Hour of the Wolf, I was not particularly fond of. The other, Persona, dove deep into the idea of the human condition and prevailed as one of my favorite works in world cinema. The story is complex and scarring, but the presentation is done with such a simple aesthetic that testifies to the skill of cinematographer Sven Nykyist.

The idea was to show an audience that images can be created through words. And Persona is a very talkative movie. In fact, little more than talking ever happens. The scenery is kept simple and the actresses, though both breathtakingly beautiful, wear very little make up along with their mostly black clothing. Liv Ullmann plays Elisabeth Vogler – an actress who suddenly went mute during an on-stage performance of "Electra". Though the doctor assures the audience that Volger is both mentally and physically healthy, the actress refuses to speak or move without considerable encouragement. She is paired with a young, naïve nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and together they move to the doctor’s summer home to try and take advantage of the isolation.

Bergman is a notorious repeat-caster when it comes to his leading ladies. Ullmann worked diligently throughout her career with Ingmar, including the aforementioned Hour of the Wolf, and Andersson was practically discovered for her work in the great director’s films. This is an important thing to remember because this specific film meant more to Bergman than arguably any of his other works. He trusted these two accomplished actresses to play their parts with an oxymoronic intense subtlety that captures the audience and never lets them break free. Andersson is responsible for the majority of the dialogue (Ullmann says maybe 15 words in the entire thing) but eventually, as the story gets deeper, it is obvious that Alma is being used as a vessel for Vogler’s thoughts and emotions. 

An obvious exercise in minimalism, Persona features very few props. A letter, some books, a broken piece of glass and a humble setting are the only things I can actually recall seeing during the action. Instead of following the conventional “golden rule” of moviemaking, Bergman chose to use nothing but words to describe, explain, question and expose the complexities behind the philosophy of the human condition. It is worth pointing out that film scholars and critics all seem to have their own interpretation of the plot, but the most striking thing I have read about the film was written by (surprise) Roger Ebert in his “Great Movies” collection. “I understand that the best approach to Persona is a literal one.” he wrote. Everything in the film is somehow explained. Maybe you just have to figure it out….

I mentioned that Elisabeth Vogler was an actress who now refuses to verbally respond to any person. Why? Though it may not ever be conventionally explained, it seems that she is protecting herself from the things that challenge her. Rather than lying, she remains silent. Instead of accepting the evils in the world, she passes them by without conversation. She does not want to deal with death, fear, despair or any negative emotion. And, Lord knows, it doesn’t seem like she can handle love.

Her nurse, Alma, is initially very chatty. I mean, Vogler is silent by choice. Who better to have listen to your stories than a mute? After spending a night drinking and babbling Alma confesses to an infidelity. She graphically describes an orgy that she had on the beach with three perfect strangers – one female and two (very) young males. She details the intense orgasm and tells Vogler that it was her first feeling of true happiness. In a bit of a TMI moment, the feeling of having a stranger’s sperm rush into her body is presented with the beginning of streaming tears. This orgy, and subsequent abortion, has led her to doubting everything that she thought she was. Her actions do not match her mental self-image. How can she not control who she is with what she wants to be? Most of what we think as being “self-genuine” is actually just what we perceive to be our personal morals (whether or not we act on them), is it not? 

Even as a seemingly traumatized mute, Vogler is a stronger person than Alma. Her constant refusal to speak eventually causes Alma to have a nervous breakdown and threaten violence toward Vogler. Is the actress silently judging the past sins in Alma’s life? Yes. Though she is more emotionally stable than Alma, she is not any better of a person. When threatened with boiling water she finally breaks down and speaks – “No! Don’t do it!” Is there anything more to these words? Does she only want to remain unburned, or is she sending a deeper message? No! Don’t attack my choices! Leave me lie in my own silence! I don’t want to be challenged! Perhaps that is the point Alma is missing?

My favorite moment in Persona is the famous double monologue near the end of the film. In a moment of intolerable cruelty, Alma berates Vogler with the story behind why the actress cannot handle having a son. She accuses her of running away from her responsibilities and hating her deformed child. This is the first mention of her son being deformed, and because this speech is done as a close-up on the accused, it is an unforgettably tense experience. Then Bergman flips the camera and has Alma give the exact same, word-for-word speech but this time with the camera focused on the speaker. I think he chose to do it this way because he wanted to stress that the power behind Vogler’s soul and persistence was beginning to consume Alma. While giving the speech a second time, a dark shadow can be seen over one side of her face. This is symbolism 101; she is conflicted. The shadow is then replaced with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it juxtaposition of the two faces, Alma’s and Vogler’s, again followed by a complete molding of the two faces to create one. 

What is this meant to symbolize? I have read a few things that seem reasonable, but I want to take a shot at it myself. I think Alma was initially enthralled by the silent Vogler. She even admitted that she may not have the mental capacity to handle the actress. After days of self-reflection she discovers that she cannot forgive herself for her past sins. Alma begins to see the world in the same standoffish way that Vogler sees things. In a moment of panic she screams "I'm not like you. I don't feel like you. I'm not Elisabeth Vogler!” She is becoming the patient. She doubts her persona – bingo, title! 

Like in Fellini’s 8 ½, Bergman gives the audience a moment of obvious self-reflection. There is a brief show of the director and cinematographer lowering the camera and boom microphone and literally filming the action. I think Bergman wanted to remind the audience that this is his personal achievement. There is something undoubtedly autobiographical about Persona. Ingmar Bergman may be the only person who can tell you exactly what it is. Too bad – he’s dead. Leaving this work behind is a puzzle to cinephiles that insists on a deeper meaning but may only be a surface level experiment. Persona is nothing if it is not enthralling. I loved it. 

Persona: A

Monday, May 7, 2012

Withnail and I (Robinson. 1987)

"We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now"

In my readings I have found that Withnail and I is the subject of a conceivably impossible drinking game. The point of the game is to watch the film and try to go drink-for-drink with the title character, Withnail. Though movie related drinking is always fun, I fully suggest that nobody play along with Withnail. For him, drinking does not seem much like a game – but rather a profession. The drink intake looks something like this: nine glasses of red wine, six glasses of sherry, one pint of cider, one pint of beer, two shots of gin, thirteen whiskeys and a shot of lighter fluid. Sound like a game worth playing? Sounds more like death…

Drugs and alcohol could have very well been billed as the stars of this dark British comedy. They are seen in almost every scene. The film takes place in London in the 1960s and follows two out of work actors as they struggle with sobriety, coherency and bill payment. Withnail and “I” are roommates who decide to take a break from the city and borrow a remote cabin from Withnail’s flamboyantly gay Uncle Monty. Though the intentions were to relax and free their minds, the vacation turns out to be a horrible experience filled with pouring rain and little more than rabbit food. Everything is made more complicated when Uncle Monty arrives in the middle of the night and decides to stay with them. He, naturally, takes a liking to “I” and hilarity ensues. 

The story takes a backseat in importance to the mythos of the leading title character. Withnail is played by the creepy looking Richard Grant with so much dark enthusiasm that it allows his presence to steal almost every scene. He is a pompous, arrogant drunk who refuses to do understudy work yet demands the finest wines at any establishment. His obsession with finding the next buzz or high could make him a non-compelling cliché, but his deep sense of entitlement brings the audience in a bit more than that. Withnail has a sense that everyone in the world is against him. He uses the f-word an unruly amount of times, and never relaxes from any sort of stimulant. Grant handles it all perfectly- never breaking character or admitting to the ridiculousness. He just is….Withnail. And as a character, he is unforgettable. 

A lot of his intrigue has to do with his unadulterated rage toward most things in life. Everyone knows that person – the pompous for no reason blowhard who turns into the Incredible Hulk when he/she’s angry-drunk. There are very few glimmers of humanity in the eyes of this type of person. Look at the picture that accompanies this blog post; that is the happiest Withnail (on left) looks in the whole movie. Does that seem like a good sign? 

I have read that writer/director Bruce Robinson based the character of Withnail off one of his old London roommates. If this is the case then I feel endlessly sorry for the director. Then again, I suppose that would make him the “I” in the title. In the film, I is played by Paul McGann and has an equal willingness to turn any time into drinking time. Yet he establishes a much more respectable rapport with the audience. He sees things with a bit more calmness and understanding. That is until the well off Uncle Monty demands to have his body sexually. No spoiler intended – but that was by far the funniest scene in the film.

And though humor is probably not what you’ll remember from Withnail and I, Uncle Monty still works as one of the shining characters in the film. Richard Griffiths is a British character actor who noticeably came from a background of acting on stage. His presence in the action is almost as large as his frame. He is an open and forceful homosexual who refuses to believe that I is not interested in him sexually. Every action, line and moment that he has is laugh-worthy. He is used as the antithesis of Withnail. 

Not every movie about drugs and alcohol has the ability to make them look as great and awful simultaneously as Withnail and I. The film reminds the audience that the 60s were a time of great highs, but that those highs were not always set amongst San Francisco sunshine and rainbows. The darker side of the brighter side of the 60s is celebrated in this movie. It has quotable lines, memorable characters and an unabashed willingness to push the envelope. Roger Ebert has Withnail and I in his collection of “Great Movies”. I would put it one full rung lower in a hall dedicated to “Pretty Good Movies”. 

Withnail and I: B

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau. 1927)

"This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time"

The story being told in the all time great Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is so thick with fable that the meaning can easily be lost on an audience. I will be honest, I do not really care much for the story. It is all too simplistic and lacks the development that a movie needs to make me care about the characters. All in all it is a story about love overpowering lust. The problem is that everything happens so quickly and without consequence that believing the story is nearly impossible. Perhaps that is why Sunrise was not a box office success; though I have a feeling "talkies" had more of an impact in that department.

The aforementioned story follows three primary characters: the Man, the Wife and the Woman from the City. Remaining unnamed is supposed to give them a sense of the "every-person", but the lack of conventional character definition leaves much to be desired. The Man is having an affair with the Woman who convinces him to drown his wife in a lake so he can move to the city and be with her. The Man timidly agrees, but he retreats after seeing the fear on his wife's face at the pentacle moment. It took attempted murder to convince this man that he actually loves his wife?! Dude...

Of course, as soon as she gets back on shore she runs away from the Man. I mean, he tried to kill her for crying out loud. But apparently all it takes is a little persistence because he eventually - and through no convincing actions - is able to get his wife to love him again. After a long day of attempted murder and rekindled feelings, the couple's boat is overturned and the Wife is thrown overboard, presumably dead. The Man, feeling the intense irony of the situation, refuses to give up hope. The Woman tries to convince him to let his wife die, but he....strangles her....nice guy, huh? He finds his wife. Happy ending.

Like I said, it all seems too simple to work. Sunrise fully lives in an unrealistic fable. But, rightfully so, it is not the story that has made Sunrise a famous film. Rather, it was the visionary work of the famous German expressionist F.W. Murnau and his cinematographer Karl Struss. In the early days of silent filmmaking cameras were bulky and difficult to move from one place to another. The camera itself was manually cranked by the operator which limited movement to little more than still shots. At most, a camera could be hitched to rails and moved horizontally to follow scenes, but an actual overhead shot or "flying" camera was practically nonexistent. 

Murnau was already known in nerd circles for his work in the enormously influential Nosferatu, so when William Fox wanted something big for his new studio there was no better directorial choice. Struss and Murnau worked diligently to create one of the greatest technical achievements in the silent film era and it can be seen in the flowing area shots of the lake and city. Sunrise was also one of the first films (the first according to some sources) to directly record the score along with the action. It is said that the movie was made in the days where silent films had reached perfection, and the duel recording that was the precursor to recording voices served the film by synching the music flawlessly with the action.

It has been said a million times before, but Murnau truly was one of the greatest directors in the silent era. His The Last Laugh used only actions to tell a dramatic story and Nosferatu is one of the most treasured horror films ever made. Sunrise is something different entirely. The film stands as more of a technical achievement rather than an interesting movie. The Academy Awards seemed to agree when they split the first ever Best Picture award into two by giving Wings (1928) the award for Best Overall Production with Sunrise receiving  Best Unique and Artistic Production. It is an incredibly important movie in regards to cinematography and silent filmmaking. And though the story lacks depth, the production is worth the time spent watching....

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans: B+

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heaven amd Earth Magic (Smith. 1962)

No Quote Available

Okay, as a music fan who owns the Anthology of American Folk Music I feel guilty about what I am about to write. As a filmmaker, Harry Everett Smith is a hack. He is credited as being one of the most influential minds in experimental art, but like with another experimental movie-maker, Stan Brakhage, I am not convinced that his supporters aren't just joking around. His most famous film, Heaven and Earth Magic, was originally completed in 1957 and according to some sources ran over seven hours long. Personally, I think my eyes would have fallen out of my head if I had been required to watch this trite nonsense for that long.

Luckily for me the film was reedited in 1962 and released with a drastically reduced running time. At a little over an hour, Heaven and Earth Magic is still extremely unpleasant to watch. It has a strange hypnotic tone to it, but that is not enough to save even the most artistically forgiving audience member from extreme boredom. The film has no dialogue and settles for out of place sound effects to tell a seemingly nonexistent story. It does incorporate an interesting style of animation with nothing but paper cut outs being moved shot-by-shot, but the completely black backdrop reiterates the boredom involved in watching. I cannot stress enough how boring this movie is...

After completing the film, I immediately hit the Google box to try and see if anyone could make heads or tails of what was going on. In reality, I don't believe that even the most hardcore Heaven and Earth Magic supporters have any idea what they were talking about. If you want a decent laugh - read some of the user comments that people make about this crap. If you want a bigger laugh - just read this:

"The first part depicts the heroine's toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land, in terms of Israel and Montreal. The second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Muller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London."

That, believe it or not, is Smith's explanation of his film. I understand that I have no merit to dismiss an artist's interpretation of his own work, but I did watch the whole damn thing yet never really picked up on any of that stuff. I mean, I did see a watermelon. Other than that, this explanation is lost on me. Smith was an eccentric guy. And this is an eccentric movie. But it almost seems like that entire synopsis serves as mental masturbation. Simply put, none of that happens - not even in an abstract way or whatever...

I am honestly dreading the feedback that this review may get, but I am not willing to waffle on the fact that Heaven and Earth Magic is pretentious crap. Is it art? Sure. Is the animation interesting? Definitely. Does the movie entertain? Not even a little bit. Usually, even with some of the really bad stuff, I learn something from watching a movie. After spending over an hour watching Heaven and Earth Magic I learned two things:

1. Harry Smith had a lot of free time. 
2. Jake Ray needs to get a hobby. 

I hated everything about watching this movie. 

Heaven and Earth Magic: F