February Fantasia, or I Never Thought “SpongeBob” Could Look So Good (Compared to “Seventh Son,” Anyway)

Something’s in the air this weekend, and it’s unreal. Truly.

We’ve got three films opening that all take place in the realm of the fantastic: one an enjoyable confection; another a grotesque mess, sans discernible raison d’être; and the third, which I haven’t yet seen*, a bout of Wachowski madness. A smorgasbord of cinematic disturbia! [*NOTE: I saw the film the day after posting this review. My extra notes on the film are at the end of my original entry.]

SpongeBob

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paul Tibbitt, 2015)

I have two confessions to make:

  1. I have never seen a single SpongeBob SquarePants” episode, nor have I seen The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Amazing, given the longtime appeal of the TV show.
  2. I went to college with Jonathan Aibel, one of the two screenwriters of this new film, who, along with his longtime writing partner, Glenn Berger, has written such animated delights as Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda 2, and Monsters vs. Aliens, as well as many episodes of the TV series “King of the Hill.

OK – that’s out of the way. Please feel free to keep those facts in mind as you read my review.

I didn’t love this movie. But I liked it. A lot. For someone like me, unfamiliar with the SpongeBob universe, the movie opens with a beautifully scripted live-action prologue that introduces the pirate Burger Beard as he steals a mysterious book from a booby-trapped island shrine (shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark). Played by a perfectly cast Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In) – William Shatner would have been good, too, if he were younger – hamming it up for all he’s worth, Burger Beard settles down on his ship, book in hand, and starts reading to a resident flock of seagulls. Et voilà! We have a perfect excuse for the exposition that takes us down under the sea to meet SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends, colleagues and, of course, enemies. I learned all I needed to know about that world in a brisk five minutes that was quirky and a lot of fun. Thank you, Jonathan and Glenn!

Soon we find ourselves immersed in the anarchic and silly shenanigans of the town of Bikini Bottom, where SpongeBob lives and works. It’s a paradise where the lives (and eating habits) of the citizens revolve around the delicious burger known as the Krabby Patty. When its secret formula is stolen, that paradise morphs into a fire-torn hell. As one character gleefully states, “Welcome to the Apocalypse. I hope you like leather.”

The movie’s title promises that our little yellow sponge and company will leave their ocean hideaway, and that they do, interacting with the residents of a beach resort in a skillful blend of CGI and live-action footage (directed by Mike Mitchell, he of Sky High fame) as they hunt for their lost formula. It’s all wonderfully entertaining, except when we get sidetracked in a long and completely unnecessary time-travel subplot that involves a British-accented ancient dolphin (the film has second-act issues, for me). Then again, that might be just the kind of thing that one expects from SpongeBob episodes and movies. What would I know? If you know, and like that kind of stuff, then this movie will work for you even more than it did for me.

Seventh Son

Seventh Son (Sergei Bodrov, 2014)

This movie is based on Joseph Delaney’s “Spooks” books. Have you ever heard of them? I had not. This makes me think that studios are desperately scouring the shelves for any multi-volume series that they can adapt into a (hopefully) long-running movie series. Seventh Son, I am sad to report, will most likely not result in such a series. Incomprehensible, with its two big stars doing their own crazy thing, apparently without direction from the formerly interesting Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), the movie lurches from messy set piece to messy set piece without bothering with coherence. Oh, and though there are plenty of nasty white folks, the only people of color in the film just happen to be evil. Seriously – why bother? I guess the CGI looks pretty good, so there’s that. Still, I forgot the entire movie as I was walking out of the theater, so maybe it wasn’t all bad.

We get Jeff Bridges (True Grit)! Julianne Moore (Still Alice)! Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair)! Ben Barnes! (wait . . . who?). The former two are just making up their performances as they go, with Bridges riffing on every other alcoholic hero he’s played. Vikander – lovely – comes away with fewer battle scars, but her part is so severely underwritten that this fact barely registers. Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) is a good-looking lad, but very boring.

And there you have it. I had a lot of questions at the end of the film, but I can’t remember them anymore.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis, 2015)

Haven’t seen it, but based on its reviews, I probably won’t. Then again, the least one can say about the Wachowskis (BoundThe Matrix) is that their movies are usually visually sumptuous. Should I break down and watch it, I’ll update this post, unless it somehow inspires an entry of is own.

[2/11/15: So I saw Jupiter Ascending on Saturday, 2/7/15, and do not have much to add to the plethora of negative reviews that have already been written. It did not do well at the weekend box office, and someone at Variety saw fit to declare that this means that the Studios will now take even fewer risks than they already are. Hmmm . . . maybe, but if one takeaway of the fiasco that is the nonsensical and derivative (of every other space opera) Jupiter Ascending script is that the movie somehow represented the last gasp of originality in Hollywood, then all I have to say is . . . really? Imagine all of the science-fiction films you have ever seen combined into one movie, without the finesse of the worst of them, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect. And it’s not even “so-bad-that-it’s-good” bad. Blah. Let’s hope that even risk-averse Hollywood moguls can do better . . . Better luck next time, Wachowskis . . .]

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