Focal Curve

Cube, Thirteen Conversations, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Cube

The plot: A group of people wake up to find themselves trapped in a mysterious cube-shaped maze laden with deadly booby traps.

This was some obscure Canadian movie that was released direct to video in the US, where it built a minor cult following. I saw it a few years ago on the Sci Fi Channel and was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t suck. Each member of the group brings some particular trait or talent to the table, forcing them to work together to escape. Naturally, tensions rise, bickering ensues, motives are questioned, alliances form and betrayals are committed. It’s a fresh spin on the old Lifeboat scenario. The dialog is fairly mediocre (you… MURDERER!) and the performances nothing spectacular, but the star of this movie is really the setting. A sequel was made which I haven’t yet seen (and which I expect isn’t as good) but that’s a subject for a future Netflixing.

Rating: 3 stars

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

The plot: Several people’s lives interconnect through various changes of fortune.

And that’s the One Thing: fortune, both good and bad. The movie is about luck, destiny, the whims of the universe. How your life can be going along a certain way for a while and one minute, through some unforseeable fluke, it all changes. It’s an episodic anthology-style movie, which can be hard to pull off, but this one does it well. I didn’t actually keep count of the storylines but I’ll take their word for it that there are thirteen. It’s a quiet movie, nicely subtle with good performances. A cocky young lawyer accidentally runs down a pedestrian with his BMW, and in a dazed panic drives away, only to be wracked with crushing guilt over what he has done. A middle-manager at an insurance company, who has put in the best years of his life in his crappy job with nothing to show for it, grows to resent the happiness of one of his employees and makes it his mission to “wipe the smile off his face.” A young lady with undying optimism gets run down by a hit-and-run BMW and barely survives, coming out of the experience with shattered faith and heaps of angst.

The film hops around in time and from story to story with enough grace that I didn’t feel disoriented, though some stories get much more detailed treatment than others. I went into this knowing nothing about the movie, and came out of it with a new outlook on life’s frequent curve balls. I recommend it if you’re in the mood for some nuanced human drama.

Rating: 4 stars

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

The plot: There’s a new vigilante in town taking out Gotham City’s crime bosses one by one, and Batman it taking the blame.

I loved Batman: The Animated Series. The art deco styling and the moody grit were perfect for the character, making it one of the better animated series to come out of mainstream America in the past decade. The movie is equal in style and quality to the tv series, which quite frankly is a bit disappointing. TV animation is a rushed corner-cutting affair, considering the thousands of drawings required for a 22-minute episode. But a feature film usually has a bigger budget and a much longer production time, giving the animators the luxury of detail. Mask of the Phantasm, however, looked and felt just like the TV series. It’s good, but not especially impressive.

Rating: 3 stars

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