Dancers, Penguins, Defiance: Movies and TV viewed this week (#SFWApro)

LABYRINTH OF DARKNESS: Jiri Barta (1978) is a collection of cartoons by  Czech filmmaker Barta in which a thief becomes a medical donor, a piece of wood sprouts wings and an architect designs a building—none of them bad, but for my taste none of them rose above “nice job” either.

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THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (2014) were the breakout stars of the original Madagascar (all rights to image with current rights holder) so it’s not surprising they wound up with a feature of their own. This retells the quartet’s origins (“Gunther, give them a nudge.”) and pits them against a deranged octopus kidnapping penguins in a revenge scheme (because his popularity as a zoo exhibit couldn’t compete with cute flightless fowl) not to mention North Wind, a rival team of trouble-busters. Good fun if you like the Penguins (which I do). “We’ve faced long odds before but they’ve never been longer—or odder!”

Salma Hayek plays EVERLY (2014), a hooker who tried turning informer on her boss only to have it go sour. Now she’s trapped in a luxury apartment by waves of bad guys and unless she can outgun them her mother and daughter are probably dead meat. I like Hayek and the enclosed-and-trapped premise could have been interesting, but the end result was dismally stock and dull. “I was taken against my will to be someone’s slave.”

FRANCES HA (2013) is a quirky indie wherein a marginally successful dancer in the Big Apple has to deal with everyone in her circle moving on with relationships and careers while she seems mired in perpetual poverty, joblessness and couch-surfing. This worked for me even though I concede Roger Ebert has a point about the implausibly happy ending. This might double-bill well with Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture for another intellectual woman coping with a mid-twenties crisis. “This makes me feel like a bad mother in 1987.”

SOMEWHERE (2010) stars Steven Dorff as an actor on a PR tour when his ex drops off daughter Elle Fanning, possibly for keeps. I like that contrary to the usual cliches of sudden parenthood, Dorff never matures or curbs his party lifestyle; otherwise Dorff’s listless approach to everything from publicity to strippers made it impossible to get into this (as some critics pointed out, Sofia Coppola’s Hollywood perspective may make this realistic, but being realistically bored isn’t that interesting).

After two seasons of DEFIANCE I watched the first DVD of SyFy’s third season and lost interest. The hook was watching the science fiction elements against a city background where they just added to the complicated politics; after the destruction of New York last season, the first few episodes felt like a generic post-apocalyptic setting which was way less interesting. Likewise the alien radical militant pulling a Death to Humans purge is much less entertaining than if he’d been trying it within the restraints of Defiance politics. So goodbye, never to be finished (I did watch other TV this week, but it’s all seasons in progress so no reviews yet).

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