austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

He loves his job

In the evening of Boxing Day we took out a DVD. We'd grown interested in the movie Toys because of its Trevor Horn-connected soundtrack, and I picked up the DVD from the Best Buy $5 bin. Since we figured it as a Christmas movie (I guess the opening action is set at Christmas, although the timeline is a little vague) we were saving it to Christmastime to actually watch. This was our first really good chance to see what is by legend a terrible movie.

It is indeed bad. It is a big, sloppy mess, marked by some compelling set design and camera angles. There are a couple good scenes, and a couple moments where the movie feels like it's getting at something clever or insightful, so that I understand why the movie has avid defenders who insist it's a misunderstood work of genius. I can make out the movie they think is there, but, good heavens is it not there. bunny_hugger and I ended up live-tweeting our experience (``She sleeps in a duck?'') and I needed time to decompress after watching this, the same way watching a really awful Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie --- however good the riffing is --- requires time to recover from.

Why the movie, about a mad general who figures to turn the toy company into a drone-warfare center, goes wrong is hard to pin down, but I'll blame Robin Williams, since he's the guy we seem to be set up to think is the hero. You can play the protagonist in this setup one of two ways, as either an agent of such pure whimsy that dealing with him is like dealing with the fae folk; or the protagonist can be functionally near-identical to the antagonist and just have happened to turn his mania to producing the world's greatest rubber vomit. (Thinking it over, this sounds like he has to be either Doctor Who in the pixie incarnations or in the jerkface incarnation.)

Williams is mostly in fae-folk mode, but he dips into earthy-base mode often and irregularly, spoiling his character. It makes him creepy, and not in the way Gene Wilder's Willie Wonka carried a taste of danger with him; he gets sleazy. So besides a theme that's somehow both obvious and muddled (toys are good, war is bad, but in the climax, toys are used to fend off the war materials, yielding an obscenely protracted scene of cute dolls being mutilated) there's a central character who's tiresome or making jokes like identifying a doll as ``Mahatma Gumby''.

But I understand people who think there's a great movie lurking around here. There are some good scenes, like one in which Williams's character and other toy-factory workers study minutely the ways to improve some rubber vomit while the walls close in on them (as the war department needs more space), or strange interludes that look like tangible nightmares, like a golf-cart ride down an undulating hallway corridor being halted at a toy duck crossing. It gives off a lot of signals of a movie that means something, even if I can't make myself buy that it does.

And I will admit that a movie that digs into your brain so thoroughly isn't without some merit, but, it digs into your brain to sit on it and make you beg for mercy.

Trivia: United States customs agents seized seven thousand pounds of marijuana in 1964. By 1968 seizures grew to 65,000 pounds. Source: Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, Peter Andreas.

Currently Reading: A History of Modern Japan, Richard Storry.

PS: Reading the Comics, January 6, 2015: First of the Year Edition, some comics, for the first mathematics comics post of the calendar year and the fifth mathematics post since the last roundup around here.

Tags: movies
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