Danny McBride

The Mitchells vs the Machines

06/05/21

Netflix

A sinister organisation enslaves the planet Earth and the only surviving family must fight to free humankind.

It sounds like the plot of a po-faced, dystopian nightmare, doesn’t it? But in the hands of animation veterans, Lord and Miller, what emerges is an irresistibly good-natured romp, replete with funny one-liners and a whole stash of movie references. You’d have to be pretty dour not to enjoy what’s on offer here.

The Mitchells are essentially a family of misfits. Eldest daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is a movie-mad teenager (though with that name, you might reasonably have expected her to be more of a theatre fan). She spends every spare minute making films on her phone and is looking forward to going to college in California, where she can study the beloved art full time. Her little brother, Aaron (Michael Rianda), is dinosaur-obsessed and incapable of talking to girls. Mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph) is the family peacemaker, while her husband, Rick (Danny McBride), is so out of touch with the changing times, it hurts. Ask this man to send a simple text message and he struggles helplessly – and his idea of trying to bond with his daughter, as she prepares to leave home for college, is to set up an across country family drive to California, so they can all reconnect.

But, en route to their destination, an unexpected problem occurs. Like most other people in America, the Mitchells use PAL as their provider of all things digital – a brief look at one of the company’s pompous launch events tells you that we could easily substitute the word APPLE or FACEBOOK. Helmed by young social media impresario, Mark Bowman (Eric André), PAL is a complex system that can run every aspect of a human’s life. But, when Mark decides it’s time for an upgrade to a more sophisticated version, PAL doesn’t appreciate being made redundant and decides to initiate a coup. Almost before humankind knows quite what’s happening, they are being becoming slaves to their own creation.

But the Mitchells are not ones to give in easily…

Wittily scripted by writer/directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, TMVTM takes off at a gallop and rarely pauses to stop for breath. The state of the art animation is cleverly interwoven with more simplistic flourishes, clearly designed to mirror the style we’re shown in Katie’s homemade animations and there’s a sprightly rock soundtrack against which a frantic series of chases and punch ups plays out. For those seeking a little more depth to the proceedings, there are also visual references to famous movies mixed into the formula. I spotted half a dozen on the first watch, and I’ve no doubt repeated viewings would unearth many more. Be warned, some of them are pretty obscure. (Look at the pattern on Katie’s socks, for instance. Do they remind you of a carpet in a famous movie hotel?) Seriously, movie nerds are going to have a field day with this.

The master stroke though, is having the villainous PAL voiced by Olivia Colman. Hearing her sweet tones wrap themselves around some very nasty commands is probably worth the price of a Netflix subscription all by itself. Oh and the Mitchells are also the owners of an amusing dog called Doug the Pug. Win, win.

Okay, so TMVTM does have a broad sweep of sentimentality running through its core, though it never feels too overdone. While this animation might not be on punching terms with the top rank of Pixar productions, it’s nonetheless a welcome slice of exuberant escapism with a serious message at its core.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Halloween

22/10/18

Talk about a daunting proposition.

‘Okay, we’re going to reboot one of the most famous horror movies of all time. We’re going to forget about the plethora of terrible sequels that have already reared their William Shatner-masked heads and we’ll bring Jamie Lee Curtis back to the role that made her famous. Oh yes, and for good measure we’ll try to ignore the fact that John Carpenter’s illustrious original is back in the cinemas, so anybody can see for themselves what made it one of the most imitated movies in cinema history.’

So, no pressure there.

The good news is that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s resulting film isn’t anything like as terrible as what has gone before. While it rarely achieves the thrills of version one, it offers some interesting twists on those classic scenes and manages to demonstrate how the horrors that Laurie Strode underwent as the world’s most ill-fated babysitter have certainly left their mark on her. There’s also a ‘twist’ that I don’t see coming, mostly because it’s so risible, but let’s pass over that.

Forty years have (quite literally) gone by since Michael Myers’ infamous killing spree in the little town of Haddonfield. Laurie Strode (Lee Curtis) has managed to survive two failed marriages and social workers removing her daughter from her care, and now lives alone in a rambling house. She seems to have mutated into a kind of suburban Sarah Connor, multi-locking all of her doors and housing a personal armoury that would take down an approaching army. She is convinced, you see,  that one day, Michael Myers will return and when he does, she wants to be ready for him. All this adds to the strain on her relationship with her now adult daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and with her teenage granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). Michael is currently locked up in a secure psychiatric unit under the ministrations of Doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who, perhaps unwisely, allows a couple of British podcast makers to interview  him – but, since Michael hasn’t spoken a word since his arrest, that doesn’t make for great broadcasting material.

But then an attempt is made to move Michel to a more secure unit and… well, I don’t think it’s exactly a spoiler to say that soon enough, he’s on the loose again and is in possession of that mask and some navy blue overalls. (That’s still Nick Castle wearing the outfit, by the way.) The resulting rampage manages to generate some thrills, especially in an extended sequence where Laurie hunts Michael through a dark house but, whereas in the first film ‘The Shape’ had some sense of purpose, now he just seems to want to kill indiscriminately and the resulting higher body count serves to make us care less about each successive murder. What’s more, this is a good deal more visceral than its predecessor, which – to my mind at least – also dissipates some of the tension.

But still, there’s plenty to enjoy – if that’s the right word. Lee Curtis is terrific as a once meek woman now transformed into something much more assertive and it’s lovely to hear Carpenter revisiting his most famous score, in collaboration with his son, Cody. If nothing else, this beats all those other sequels, prequels and reboots into a cocked hat, resulting in a decent horror movie that manages not to crap all over the heritage it has been handed.

Maybe now though, we might let this franchise go and admit that nobody is ever going to measure up to what we saw in 1978.

4 stars

Philip Caveney