Category Archives: Now Showing

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER

Producer:  Paul Tibbitt and Mary Parent
Director:  Paul Tibbitt and Mike Mitchell
Writer:  Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Jill Talley, Mr. Lawrence, Clancy Brown, De Bradley Baker, Carloyn Lawrence and Matt Berry 
Studio: Paramount Pictures 

B+

There’s more than a hint of Chuck Jones and Jay Ward in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” the second feature drawn from the long-running Nickelodeon TV series. Combining the anarchic zaniness of Looney Tunes with the inside-joke abandon of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the movie improves on the previous installment and should amuse most adults while predictably enchanting the series’ kid fans.

For those unacquainted with the show, the script thoughtfully lays out the basics upfront, in the form of a story read, in one of the segments that mix live-action with animation, by a pirate named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) to a flock of seagulls from a magical book—an ex-library book, we see in an inspired sight gag, previously checked out by the likes of Davey Jones and Blackbeard. The tale he relates explains how the nefarious Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) goes to extraordinary lengths to steal the secret recipe for the Krabby Patties that short-order cook SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) serves up in Mr. Krabs’ (Clancy Brown) Krusty Krab shack. Plankton’s elaborate schemes result in a tussle over the prize with SpongeBob, the outcome of which is in doubt until the formula simply vanishes.

That leads all the residents of Bikini Bottom to turn on Plankton, and the underwater town itself to experience an abrupt Armageddon, suddenly turning into a primitive dog-eat-dog society in the absence of the delicious patties. But SpongeBob, who knows Plankton’s innocent of this crime at least, rescues him and together they’re off the find the missing formula. And here the picture, which has already been pretty surreal, goes fill throttle in that direction as the unlikely duo use a hastily-constructed time machine in their quest. It takes them, among other places, to a space observatory where a talking dolphin named Bubbles controls the movement of the planets, while in one especially outrageous sequence Plankton sneaks into the napping SpongeBob’s very brain, which proves a veritable cornucopia of candied delights. Ultimately, however, they, along with Mr. Krabs, his dour clerk Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), SpongeBob’s pal Patrick the Starfish (Bill Faggerbakke) and Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence), wind up in the “real world,” in another sequence mixing live action and CGI animation. There, transformed into an oddball team of superheroes, they work to retrieve the recipe from the villain who’s stolen it.

That final confrontation, it must be said, goes on too long, and despite Banderas’ enthusiastic work, it gets a mite tiresome. The transformation of the Bikini Bottom characters into superheroes, moreover, has a predictable feel to it—kids like superheroes, so let’s give them some even in a “SpongeBob” movie. But even at these points when the movie is at its weakest, it maintains an easygoing, anarchic vibe that makes it easy to take.

The voice work, of course, is fine—after all, these folks have been working on their characters for years, and have honed the sound down to a fine art. And while Mike Mitchell’s direction of the live-sequences is a tad pedestrian (as, frankly, are the visual effects in them), Paul Tibbetts keeps the animated ones percolating nicely, with very few wasted minutes thanks to editor Phil Meheux. Visually the picture follows the TV formula, except in the live action-CGI scenes. Bright colors dominate, and the character animation is typically flat and sketchy. Nor does the 3D format contribute all that much to the effect. But one doesn’t expect artistic mastery in a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon any more than one does in “South Park.”

All in all, “Sponge Out of Water” is a breezy, colorful, giddily zany return trip to Bikini Bottom, and if the side trips above water don’t quite match the undersea action, they’re still pretty amusing.

MOMMY

Producer: Nancy Grant, Xavier Dolan
Director: Xavier Dolan 
Writer: Xavier Dolan 
Stars:  Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Patrick Huard, Alexandre Goyette, Michele Lituac, Viviane Pacal, Nathalie Hamel-Roy
Studio:  Lionsgate

B+

You can call Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” a domestic drama, but that would hardly suggest the ferocity of this film about a high-energy but lower-class Montreal woman, her turbulent teen son, and the mousy neighbor who befriends the pair. It’s a small-scaled soap opera on steroids, a portrait of familial crisis so pointed and wrenching that though nearly two-and-a-half hours long, it rarely fails to engross—and to an extent—exhaust.

The scale is emphasized by Dolan’s decision to frame the film in 1:1 format, which takes the form of a box in which the sides of the usual rectangular image are cut off—the very opposite of letterboxing—and creates a sense of visual confinement (or, if you prefer, intense focus) that broadens into full screen in only a few instances to register a brief, and frankly unreal, change of attitude. The technique is extremely calculated, of course, but it has the intended effect.

As to narrative, the film is at once simple but emotionally complex. Diana “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval) is a widow with a problem—her 15-year old son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), whose ADHD makes him a very loose cannon. Summoned to remove the boy from a juvenile facility where he set the cafeteria afire and injured another resident, she has a car accident from which she emerges bleeding and belligerent, barely stopping to wipe away the blood before moving on to take Steve to their new digs. These opening sequences swiftly paint a picture of a troubled, volatile yet obviously codependent pair trying to get by and get along somehow.

Neighbors soon enter the picture. One is a lawyer down the block who spots Die and tries to strike up a relationship, without much success at first. The other is Kyla (Suzanne Clement), the woman who lives across the street. She’s a teacher on leave, dissociated from her own husband and daughter and suffering from a pronounced stutter. When Die tries—with a monumental lack of success—to home-school Steve, Kyla offers to tutor him, and though his volcanic shifts of temper are a challenge, he seems to make some progress. Kyla’s relationship with the pair appears to help her with her demons, too, and the three become close, even though one can sense they’re always on the edge.

It’s the complicated connections among the trio that dominate the film, which certainly has narrative elements—a major plot point involves Die’s calculated romancing of the lawyer in order to secure his help in defending Steve against a lawsuit, an arrangement that the boy will of course torpedo—but for the most part Dolan’s structure is deliberately ramshackle, mirroring the wild, unpredictable characters themselves. There are long scenes of Steve simply busting out—riding his skateboard, throwing around carts in a supermarket parking lot—and others, like a remarkable one with Kyla, in which his dangerous side suddenly bursts forth, only to be immediately followed by a downward spiral that evinces his vulnerability. Die is given the same sort of treatment, with scenes that show her exuberantly dancing with Kyla and Steve one moment, only to be arguing with her surly boss the next, or confronting Steve about his behavior. The emotions of the film change on a dime, just as those of mother and son do—all to the accompaniment of an eclectic assortment of pop songs, supposedly representing a mix that Steve’s dead father made for him and his mother before his death.

And hanging over the story like a sword is a news announcement that serves as a prologue, informing us that the government has just passed a law allowing parents with problem kids to place them in a state institution without having to go through the court system. The thought thus pervades all that follows: will the time come when Die will finally give up trying to control Steve’s darker impulses and simply turn him over to the state?

“Mommy” is, as the foregoing might suggest, a messy film, but though that might frustrate and annoy some viewers, others will find the very lack of structure a cinematic reflection of the characters’ turmoil. And certainly it showcases astonishingly forceful performances from the three leads. Dorval and Clement take pride of place, operating at two emotional extremes, the one highly extroverted and the other recessive beyond endurance. But it’s Pilon who’s the glue that holds everything together—and whose simmering unpredictability constantly threatens to blow everything apart. His cherubic features can instantly turn into a menacing glare, and yet one still senses the boyish fear beneath the bravado. The quicksilver shifts might remind you a bit of Edward Norton’s chameleon turn in “Primal Fear.”

The crew—particularly cinematographer Andre Turpin—are obviously in complete synch with Dolan’s vision, and though one might complain that at well over two hours the picture is self-indulgent (Dolan did the editing himself), even at that length it rarely feels padded. Bracing and intense even at its most rambling, “Mommy” is a cinematic scream of the primal pain and love shared by parent and child, and it won’t leave you unmoved. In fact, you probably won’t be able to shake it off even if you want to.