Tag Archives: simon pegg

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who just burns out. One day he’s fine and the next he’s lost patience with his patients’ whining, with his hum-drum relationship, with his life in general and cannot shake that faux-naive question right there in the title of the movie: is he happy?

hectorhappinessSo off he goes, without really doing much self-examination, to “find” happiness, because maybe it’s hiding in China! He’s going to Eat, Pray, Love himself around the world (or, you know, pit stops in Africa and America, which is pretty much the world, right?) having crazy adventures and learning lessons (and just in case you missed those lessons, which are always stated clearly, they’re also written down AND illustrated! Stick, meet head).

I sort of liked the premise of this movie, because, spoiler alert: most of the Assholes (the exception being Sean) are also therapists, and what mental health professional doesn’t wonder about some magic formula for happiness? But none of us have ever gone on a worldwide treasure hunt for it, and I feel I could have saved Hector a lot of frequent flyer miles if only I could tell him: happiness is a choice you make right here at home.

But anyway. Hector’s not really trying to save his patients from unhappiness, he’s trying to heal himself (he just may not know it). So he must encounter lots of heavy-handed obstacles and predictably overcome them (with banners of terrible self-help platitudes earned like badges), and then mawkishly relive them just to drive the point home.

The movie is well-cast: Simon Pegg is affable, Rosamund Pike is fairly ill-used, the wonderful Toni Collette pops up all too briefly, Christopher Plummer provides some laughs late in the film, and Stellan Skarsgard, whom I love without ever understanding why, provides a bit of a counter-balance to Hector’s gung-ho naiveté. But none of these people can save the movie from itself, or from its patronizing tone.

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls really seizes the opportunity to create a universe unlike any we’ve either seen. It’s a bit more macabre than we’re used to in a children’s movie, dark and gritty, but immersive and satisfying in its stop-motion animation.boxtrolls

In the town of Cheesebridge, an evil exterminator vows to kill off every boxtroll, spreading lies and ugly myths about them to win public approval (“Hide your delicious babies!”). The boxtrolls live underground, basically in hiding, clothed (or disguised?) in cardboard boxes, where they use pilfered materials to build all sorts of magical things. They only come out at night to snatch unused, unwanted things, but to do so is to put themselves in peril of being caught. Their number dwindles steadily until a young boxtroll named Eggs discovers you can go out into the light, and he must try to rally the timid boxtrolls into standing up for themselves.

The boxtrolls don’t speak, but that doesn’t stop them from each having a unique character (not unlike the Minions, come to think of it), or from communicating what they feel. The humans in the story are a sorry lot – sure Mr. Snatcher, the dastardly exterminator, is evil, but the others aren’t much better.  The troll “monsters” are eminently easier to root for in their sweetness and earnestness. There is also real sorrow here, and stabs at profundity. One human wonders if the boxtrolls “understand the duality of good and evil” while murking up the concept himself.

We have come to expect big things from the animators at Laika (think Coraline) and this film looks just as cool, and even more textured. And I love seeing an animated film where the little girl is not sexed up, and isn’t even crazy skinny. She has little girl proportions! Disney, you’re totally busted: turns out it IS possible to make a girl who looks like a girl. And if you stick around after the credits, you’re in for a treat: there’s a bit of existential animation that’s enlightening and entertaining.

A little slow to start, it’s still a solid movie that will capture children, especially those inclined to gross-out jokes (so, pretty much all). But this was a competitive year in terms of animation, which is great. Everyone’s bringing their A game. It’s just that movies like Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie earned an A+.