The Boxtrolls (2014)

The BoxtrollsReleased: September 26, 2014. Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning. Runtime: 96 min.

For the kids, The Boxtrolls is a colourful animated film that they will remember fondly for a crazy hermit who repeatedly says “Jelly!” For the adults, it’s a clever political satire of the power one man can have over a small populous by planting a single idea in their heads.

Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townspeople of Cheesebridge that boxtrolls are a monstrous race that eat children and steal cheeses, and that’s not okay in a town called Cheesebridge. When a boy is stolen by the boxtrolls, a city-wide curfew is put in effect. Rumours fly that the boxtrolls ate the father’s bones. Snatcher uses this as an opportunity to spark a paranoia of the unknown.

In reality, they’re a misunderstood, harmless race that steal what they need, like tiny men from The Borrowers. Their appearance is reminiscent of the annoying Crazy Frog, and their timid personalities are much like turtles (the box is their shell). The logo on the box they wear is also their name. There’s a boxtroll called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) boy who obviously doesn’t look like the rest of his people. When Snatcher is hired by the town’s mayor (Jared Harris), Eggs tries to stop the numbers of his people from dwindling.

Snatcher’s malicious intentions find reason in motivation: To get a white hat that indicates prestige and privilege. Ben Kingsley offers memorable moments as Snatcher, a creepy, embodiment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s villainous Child Catcher. He is perhaps out-starred by his three amusing sidekicks who are trying to snatch the boxtrolls. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost voice a pair who bicker about whether they’re on the good or bad side of the situation. Tracy Morgan portrays the other sidekick, a sadistic Mr. Gristle. The villains use a local heartthrob, Madame Frou Frou, as a channel for propaganda.

When we get to the human “good guys,” things get less interesting. The supporting Winnie (Elle Fanning trying her best) is an uninteresting and mild brat. Her father (the Mayor) is too obsessed with the town’s main export, cheese, to pay attention to her. Cheese’s prominence in the screenplay is strange, one character even compares it to a mother’s smile on a warm spring’s day.

The character of Eggs at the film’s heart isn’t captivating. He leads a story of finding belonging. He’s at his funniest when at a public and prestigious dance. Otherwise, much like minions in Despicable Me, the boxtrolls steal the spotlight with their creative language and antics. They’re diverse (one has a pair of dentures) and amusing, particularly Shoe and Eggs’ caretaker, Fish.

The Boxtrolls boasts detailed animation and a unique visual style. For all of its faults – it’s both sporadically gross and boring – it works just fine. It will keep children entertained and it’s clever enough for adults.

Score: 63/100

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The Watch (2012)

WatchThe Watch

Release Date: July 27, 2012

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Stars: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill

Runtime: 102 min

Tagline: Got protection?

In the town of Glenview, Ohio, Evan is the store manager of the local Costco. He is guilt-stricken after his night watchman, Antonio Guzman, gets mysteriously murdered in his store. Because of this, he constructs a neighbourhood watch with middle-aged Bob (Vince Vaughn); the guy with all the mental problems, Franklin (Jonah Hill); and the British dude whose parents couldn’t give him a logical name, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). Their initial purpose is to protect the neighbourhood from the baddies and instil justice wherever possible and find the killer of Antonio; but their purpose soon alters into being protectors of the whole earth, who must stop a gang of skin-stealing aliens from taking over the entire planet as we know it!

This little gang might as well be the alien-versing version of the Ghostbusters, but they don’t have a catchy jingle or cool gadgets. Excluding that cool orb they acquire from the opposing side. The aliens might as well be the other-worldly weird country cousins of Leatherface who take the body’s skin instead of just the face. So, it’s Alienbusters vs. Alien Leatherbodies. That sounds promising, or maybe even a little, dare I say, scary; right? Wrong. The only thing scary about this feature is its staggering waste of potential.

Do any of you remember last year’s surprise British hit, Attack the Block? I’m convinced Stern, Rogen and Goldberg were inspired by that flick to make a more successful American alien comedy. If this is the case, it was an ambitious idea at best, but the end product is not rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the two writers (Rogen & Goldberg) involved in this project, but it simply isn’t in the right hands.

Maybe don’t allow Akiva Schaffer, director of SNL digital shorts and Hot Rod, direct this film. Next time, get someone with a bit more experience in directing: Jay Roach, a man who has dabbled in directing comedy (Austin Powers franchise, Meet the Parents and its two sequels) and producing science fiction (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). And get some funny consultants, maybe Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith. Then again, I don’t have any power in Hollywood. I just enjoy my crude humour to be usually funny. And the laughs it does offer are limited and far between each other.

The premise of this is promising: mashing a good old sci-fi story of protecting the world from invaders with a great buddy (plus a few) comedy sounds great. It doesn’t turn out to be as great. In fact, it doesn’t really even turn out to be good. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into the story, as it only offers a few original ideas. The actors on their own are usually funny (Vaughn, Hill, Forte and frequent TV actor Ayoade in particular, sometimes Stiller), but when they come together, all of them don’t look like they’re having the most fun in the world. Or in the galaxy. Ayode looks like he’s having a blast most of the time; Forte is making the best of an unfunny character; Vaughn is trying to make the best of it; and Stiller and Hill (who is probably the funniest of the bunch) look like they want their freaking paychecks already. Well, boys, while watching The Watch, I often just want the end credits to roll.

In a nutshell: The Watch wastes the opportunity to do something with a nice but not original premise. The writing, character development and some of the actors wanting to be done with this project don’t complement the initial good idea at hand. The end product offers something to be desired in both the comedy (there’s only a few laugh-out-loud moments) and science fiction departments. It really is not as good as you’ll want it to be.

45/100