Thursday, January 9, 2014

MirrorMask

What do you get when you combine Neil Gaiman, a writer known for his dark urban fantasy imagery and quirky sense of humor, Dave McKean, a long-time Gaiman collaborator known for his beautifully creepy illustrations, and Jim Henson Pictures, a studio owned by a company famous for its innovations in puppetry? MirrorMask! Does this film effectively utilize the talents and resources of these creators?  This very important Scorecard holds the answers.

  • A film written by Neil Gaiman, designed by Dave McKean, and produced by Jim Henson Pictures? Hello high expectations! = +15pts
  • Helena operates her sock puppets with her feet, the way sock puppets were always meant to be operated. = +10pts
  • Wait, it’s another story about a person with a strange, potentially exciting life who just wants to be normal? DAMN YOU, INTERESTING LIFE! = -5pts
  • Hello, obvious foreshadowing. We wonder if something is going to happen to Helena’s mom after Helena wishes harm upon her. = -5pts
  • A fake-looking soundstage. = -4pts (For setting the tone for the film’s visuals.)
  • MirrorMask was originally conceived as a Labyrinth knock-off, so there must be contact juggling! = -3pts
  • Pingo the Clown is absolutely committed to his art, never dropping his communication-by-whistling act even when backstage and discussing important matters with his boss. The world needs more professionals like him.= +6pts
  • What is this circus’ target demographic? The audience is full of smiling kids, and yet the performers’ costumes wouldn’t look out of place in a Jan ┼ávankmajer film. = +8pts (For the performers' willingness to alienate every demographic in pursuit of their art.)
  • Look circus folk, while we admire commitment, when a member of your troupe collapses, it’s ok to cancel the performance. The show needn’t always go on, proverbs be damned. = -4pts
  • Helena’s apartment building looks like it barely survived a nuclear war in Eastern Europe. Remind us again why Helena wants to live in the real world? = +3pts (For the effective juxtaposition of the kooky circus world and the drab, mundane, real world.)
  • The fact that Helena is comfortable giving her mother a get well card with such an ugly drawing of her does more than words ever could to tell us how strong their relationship is. Truly, this is an example of “show, don’t tell” at its best. = +6pts
  • Wait, now Pingo the Clown decides to communicate through words? What happened to your devotion, man? You used to be about the art! = -7pts
  • Oh no, if the circus doesn’t get back up and running soon the bank will…zzzz… = -5pts
  • Hey, a crazy-ass dream sequence that makes no sense, but is visually interesting. It’s been too long since we’ve had some off-the-wall visuals, and frankly, it’s about time. This real world BS is boring. = +4pts
  • Helena, when a creepy stranger wearing a mask in the middle of the night asks for your name, you might want to be cautious about giving it out. Are you not familiar with a little concept called “stranger danger”? = -5pts
  • Hey, what’s that creeping darkness in the background—HOLY SHIT IT ATE THE VIOLINIST!  = +3pts
  • Finally, we enter the kooky other world, and not a moment too soon. No one comes to a Jim Henson production for bank woes and health scares. = +8pts
  • Wait, is this world… greenscreened?! Why would they do this? It’s Jim Henson Productions! We demand creepy puppets and cheesy sets. = -15pts
  • Ok, fine. Those sphinx designs with the not-quite-human faces are creepy. But imagine if they were creepy puppets! = +4pts
  • Bad sphinxes! Books, much like fish, are friends, not food. = -4pts
  • Shadows are not the opposite of light, MirrorMask. It’s like you don’t even care about the laws of physics, by which all films are bound. = -5pts
  • Books in this world will literally take you places. Or a place…as they only go to the library. = +2pts
  • Suddenly, Helena is all-too-eager to prove her juggling skills to a strange man in need of a juggler, forgetting her earlier motivation of wanting to escape the circus life. = -4pts
  • Dave McKean is a great artist, and the background really is beautiful, in a deranged sort of way. It’s just too bad that Helena and Valentine are so poorly digitally integrated into it. -7pts
  • We understand that a half of a brick and a chicken aren’t exactly high on the list of “things that are likely charms,” but if you don’t know what the charm looks like, maybe you should be a bit more hesitant before ruling them out, Mr. Majordomo. = -4pts
  • So far, this chicken seems like the most logical being in the other world. Maybe instead of wasting time trying to wake the queen, the City of Light should start listening to the chicken. = +5pts
  • Withholding ice cream as a method of police interrogation.= +9pts
  • We’re starting to think that no one here, not even Gaiman, knows what the charm’s role or purpose is. = -6pts
  • Crossed eyes are pretty unsettling, and it’s about time someone called them out as such. +4pts
  • Helena not getting suckered in by cool-sounding metaphors that are ultimately meaningless. = +4pts
  • Wait, the librarian doesn’t know what the origin story means either?  Oh, this is bad… = -8pts
  • Why is this film focusing on a quest narrative when it keeps giving us things off to the side that seem so much more interesting?  Like, who are those creepy red-cloaked library assistants with the Eyes Wide Shut masks?  Let’s learn more about them! = -7pts
  • We need more rich people to be like Valentine’s vision of rich people. Eccentricity is fun!  Economy-destroying greed is not. = +2pts (For whimsy!)
  • Helena not being intimidated by what some might see as “the right answer to a riddle.” =  +10pts (For not letting the rules of logic keep you down.)
  • The visible edge of the greenscreen surrounding Helena is surely just a weird side effect of being a human in this other world. = -6pts
  • If masks are faces, and people don’t or can’t take masks off, why would there be a mask shop?  = -10pts
  • This elderly mask shop woman lives with numerous stray, feral sphinxes, and doesn’t give a second thought to the fact that they could tear her to shreds, thus making her the biggest badass in the film. = +10pts for badassery, -6pts for her not being the lead character, net +4pts
  • Elderly mask shop woman is so badass, she was able to obtain the film’s soundtrack. Somewhere, she’s hiding a portal to our world, and we must fear her impending arrival. = +15pts
  • Another deliverer of exposition admits to being full of shit. If you won’t take your plot seriously MirrorMask, why should we? = -8pts
  • For the past few minutes, the film has been building up an attack by the sphinxes and then… Helena and Valentine just leave. Presumably to find the film’s stakes.  = -7pts
  • Oh good, the sphinxes are back… only to hiss and look threatening without actually doing anything. = -5pts
  • Helena is told to get higher, and does not interpret this as a directive to toke up. We don’t know about her, but a little weed would certainly help us get through this.= -4.20pts
  • If you are a gorilla-bird thing and don’t go by the name Bob, you deserve to be smacked. = +3pts
  • Theme of the moment: how not to lose things. = -8pts
  • That is one snazzy hat! Did Valentine have a sudden urge to go shopping in the forbidden Dark Kingdom? = +10pts (For snazziness.)
  • For the creepiest rendition of The Carpenters’ “Close To You” we’ve ever experienced. = +10pts 
  • The film has just confirmed that it has no idea what the MirrorMask is for, to whom it belongs, or where it’s supposed to be located. We might care more if this were more of a surprise. = -4pts
  • Valentine snaps Helena out of her trance by getting her to juggle= +5pts
  • Helena pulling the MirrorMask from out of nowhere after making a wild guess as to its location. =  +10pts (For knowing that we want this movie to end soon.)
  • Time-traveling waiter humor. = +5pts
  • The Dark Queen is just inventing new powers at this point. The only power she lacks is the power to harm or impede our protagonists. = -8pts
  • If nothing else, this film gives us the idea to commission Elon Musk to build us an electric  flying tower. = +12pts
  • Father: “It’s going to be fine.”  Onscreen text: “And they were.”  Audience: “But do we care?”  Final nanobot calculation: “No you won’t.” = -5pts

Total Score = -19.8pts

Available on: DVD, Blu-Ray, Amazon Instant

It’s very clear that some executive somewhere saw the high DVD sales of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, and concluded that as long as this film had kooky visuals, it’d sell. Well, they succeeded at creating some interesting images, but that’s about it. Gaiman phoned in the story, evident in the fact that not even the characters gave much thought to the plot. McKean’s designs were nice, but poorly executed. Worst of all, this movie is boooring. Which, when you factor in the fact that the film has man-eating sphinxes, Carpenters-singing dolls that wouldn’t be out of place at Sid’s house in Toy Story, and a flying tower, that’s saying a lot.

Score Technician: Andrew Daar

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