I miss when Disney films had the balls to kill off a character that little kids liked. Think Mufasa from The Lion King or Bambi's mother. Scenes that mercilessly hammer home death's indiscriminate finality and irrevocable permanence -- emotional scarring be damned; the good old days when animated movies carried actual emotional weight.
Now only the bad guys get it, and even then only in the most light-hearted terms of comeuppance possible. And with sequels being a virtual guarantee, forget about a main character getting knocked off. Considering how many questionably survivable situations Ice Age's Manny, Diego and Sid live through in the 4th film of the why-is-it-still-a-thing Ice Age franchise, Continental Drift (admittedly not a Disney film), some part of me had to wish that Ray Romano's sardonic mammoth, Manny, or Denis Leary's curmudgeonly saber tooth tiger, Diego, would have lost their grip on an ice floe or a cliff -- eyes widening in desperation for a few excruciating moments before plummeting into the icy sea never to be heard from again. You know. Drama.
Fur sure. Diego, voiced by Denis Leary, and Shira, voiced by Jennifer Lopez, have eyes for each other in Ice Age: Continental Drift.
Instead, Ice Age: Continental Drift is a suspense-free affair more concerned with propulsive action and episodic, vanilla storytelling than crafting a film with any sense of danger. Its main concern is getting kids to giggle, wide-eyed at a digital menagerie of slapsticky characters getting shot into some kind of space (at one point, literally). No wonder they seemed bored.
Witless squirrel, Scrat (Chris Wedge), inadvertently breaks up the super-continent of Pangaea when he tries to plant an acorn into an iceberg (again), opening a crevasse through which he falls to the Earth's core and reverses its spin, thus creating plate tectonics as we know it (a satirical jab at the absurdity of young Earth creationists -- at least that's how I choose to see it; he passes a dude riding a dinosaur on the way down).
Meanwhile, Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) are dealing with their daughter Peaches' (Keke Palmer) crush on Ethan (Drake) with typical "you can date when I'm dead" protectiveness, though Peaches' best friend, a mole named Louis (Josh Gad), clearly has an interspecies crush of his own. Her friends (voiced by Nicki Minaj, Heather Morris and Ally Romano) think Louis is a loser, cajoling Peaches into inadvertently scorning Louis to his heartbroken face.
All is well until the cracking plates, set in motion by Scrat, sunder Manny, along with his best friends Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (the lisping John Leguizamo) from the rest of their multispecies (read: cultural) herd, setting them adrift at sea while the shifting continent forces the rest of the animals toward a land bridge where they hope the ocean currents will reunite them with Manny and the gang.
Instead, they wind up in the clutches of a band of pirates led by the simian Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage giving great life to an utterly ineffectual antagonist) who either wants to eat the group or conscript them (it's never clear which). Of course, Manny and the boys refuse, though Diego is clearly smitten by Gutt's second-in-command, another tiger named Shira (Jennifer Lopez). They escape, after destroying Gutt's iceberg ship, sending the glowering ape on an Ahab-like quest for vengeance.
The reason Ice Age: Continental Drift exists is because it's a sure thing. CG-animated pabulum with name recognition is a money maker for studios and an easy check for actors, who do a few days work in the recording studio with no need for makeup, costuming or lighting--the heavy lifting being done by banks of hard drives at Blue Sky Studios.
Co-directors Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier (who directed many of the Scrat "shorts") render the lurching, episodic script by Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs with journeyman finesse, exhibiting a decent visual scope and managing to wring a couple wry laughs from the rote, hey-we-needed-to-do-another-movie narrative. It's not awful -- as a bar, Happy Feet 2 was much worse -- and Continental Drift has some decent, if familiar, visuals. But it is been-there, done-that to the point of tedium. With its cacophony of physics-defying action and screeching/soothing characters -- only Dinklage really stands out -- that are desperate to seem interesting and fresh; subtlety and surprise are not options. They really should have killed Manny. Everyone loves him.
It's not without irony that a pre-feature short film, The Longest Daycare, a silent film of sorts featuring Maggie Simpson, turned out to be more surreal and interesting in five minutes than the last eight seasons of The Simpsons, or the entirety of Continental Drift.
Your Sister's Sister
At times during director Lynn Shelton's fourth feature, Your Sister's Sister, I began to wonder if I was in the grip of a female Woody Allen. Her great dialogue and her deft directorial hand, the way she melds the naturalistic performances that she gets from her stellar cast into a warm, tangible slice of life; there's a purity there that sometimes recalls the Woodman's expertise at crafting near-literary, narrative gold from nothing but characters that feel as real as people you know.
Hill Life. Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt ups and downs in Your Sister's Sister.
Sure there's a hook, as with her last feature, Humpday (also starring the charming and burgeoning-on-ubiquitous, Mark Duplass), which finds Duplass and Joshua Leonard as two hetero life-mates who make a drunken dare to film a gay porno flick as an art project. But since then Shelton has graduated from likeable mumblecore comedy -- not as bad as it sounds -- to something that's like a parallel maturation with the Duplass Brothers' own cinematic growth from their indie debut, The Puffy Chair to last year's Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
See all of those movies, by the way.
On the one-year anniversary of his brother's death, Jack (Mark Duplass) attends a eulogy party with his closest friends. The drunken Jack turns it into a critique as much as a celebration prompting his best friend -- and brother's ex-girlfriend -- Iris (Emily Blunt) to suggest that he get some headspace at her father's cabin on an archipelago island off the misty Washington coast. The unemployed, emotionally adrift Jack takes her up on it.
Jack gets to the rain-shrouded, forested isle to find he's not the only one convalescing at the idyllic cabin. Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris's vegan/lesbian sister is recovering from the breakup of her 8-year relationship. After an uneasy meeting, a bout of tequila shots and some commiserating conversation the bruised pair quickly wind up in bed.
When Iris turns up the next day, their secret (which would seem to be the hook) simmers underneath their day-to-day retreat. But when the cat inevitably gets out of the bag their lives wind up entwining in ways that are as ironic as they are -- quite possibly -- wonderful.
And I loved every minute of it.
Writer/director Lynn Shelton's refined and organic sense of character and narrative, combined with Sister's comfortingly enclosed, damply gorgeous setting meld into a vibrant and charming whole; a cinematic film that has the feel of a subtle stage play. The chemistry of the leads and the ease with which they render their relationships elevate already superlative writing into something great.
Mark Duplass is reliably watchable and entertaining. He can play a guy like Jack in his sleep but he never feels like he's phoning it in here, making Jack feel wholly individual. Emily Blunt is luminous and totally charming as Iris, while Rosemarie DeWitt takes a character that could easily be reviled for her choices (veganism being chief among them -- seriously, how does a dollop of butter in some mashed potatoes equal eating terror?), grounding Hannah in a loveable aura of damaged humanity.
It's always a good sign when you walk out of a theater and immediately want to see what you just watched again. Your Sister's Sister earns that highest of compliments.
Your Sister's Sister is playing at Circle Cinema in glorious 35mm and is available On Demand if you can't be bothered with superior presentation.
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