9/15: Kid-Thing (2012)
“In which Larry the Cable Guy does Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Inasmuch as attributing Larry the Cable Guy to anything can be a compliment, that is one. Kid-Thing follows the misanthropic adventures of Annie (Sydney Aguirre) as crank calls mechanics and pedals her bike on her way to small-time convenience store robberies. Annie’s lashing out might undercut sympathy for her character, but her malicious behavior seems like the only thing her inattentive farmer of a father (Nathan Zellner) has ever given her. When Annie sheepishly wanders over to a playground of children, her obvious desire for companionship is met with obstinate name-calling and derision from the other kid-things. So when Annie whips handfuls of sand at her taunters, she’s transformed from a monstrous tomboy into a pitiable product of her callous, Appalachian surroundings.
Kid-Thing tries Annie’s stunted empathy against the plight of an old woman trapped in a well, which is as supremely bizarre (and a little creepy) as it sounds. Dropping in sloppily made PB&Js and stolen Capri Suns, Annie keeps in contact with the phantom wails of Esther via walkie talkie, providing her with enough care packages to stay alive but never running for the “adult” help that can only hope to lift the woman out. It’s a frustrating back-and-forth, but Kid-Thing makes it clear, with a particularly “arthouse” ending, that Annie really just wants a friend. Her intentions, like the Zellner Brothers, are well-meaning; they just come in an unsavory package.
9/16: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
The obvious metatextual conceit in Roger Rabbit dissects recognizable noir tropes but less obviously, cinema, in its broadest strokes. The Raymond Chandler-esque Los Angeles is diametrically opposed to the zany ‘Toon Town.” Big shot producers and hole-in-wall waitresses feel like cut outs instead of characters — cut outs consistently put through the rigors of animated obstacles. The blending of both worlds invites moments of inspiration — in particular, Bob Hoskins’ Eddie feigning dishwashing with a Roger Rabbit still handcuffed to his wrist — but Zemeckis’ L.A. can’t help but feel far more dull than Toon Town by comparison, and the injection of a Disney reference here or a Warner Bros. reference there begins to feel like relief instead of a treat.
Despite leaving such an indelible and horrific pockmark on my adolescence, Judge Doom is the real problem here. Hoskins’ boozy PI and Jessica Rabbit’s (ridiculously) booby femme fatale fit right in with Roger Rabbit’s noir-gone-bonkers mold, but Judge Doom, with his bugged out eyes and helium cackles, invalidates the need for our antiheroes to pursue this mystery’s oh so very obvious puppet master. The design would work were he only a Toon, but the tracking of Eddie’s detective work feels arbitrary, driven by a mystery that seems to have solved most of itself in the first half hour.
9/17: This is Martin Bonner (2013)
What’s noteworthy in This is Martin Bonner, Chad Hartigan’s strong if not spectacular indie drama, is how well it uses its tight focus. Hartigan centers his story on Paul Eenhoorn’s titular character, a recently moved volunteer coordinator and divorcee, as he works to recapture the cozy rhythms of his previous life — a life he maintained before he moving to Nevada and meeting Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette). Hartigan’s neatly staged long takes and symmetrical arrangements imply Martin’s a tidy man who appreciates daily rituals of making dinner to old LPs and visiting the same coffee shop for breakfast each morning.
Travis, an excellent Arquette as a mopey ex-con with a second chance, jostles Martin’s routine when he repeatedly turns to him for guidance, help, and in a particularly stressful sequence between Travis and his estranged daughter, social rescue. Hartigan finds connective parallels between two relatively singular men in their gradual readjustments to new circumstances. That both find something in one another that’s never reduced to a feel -good friendship is in keeping with its tepid aspirations. Acceptance, rather than outright transcendence, is at its heart.