Movies: The Book of Life
Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
This is basically the book version of the okcupid blog. Each chapter analyzes social-network data -- mostly okcupid data -- to study things like how people of different races describe themselves, the likely prevalence of closeted homosexuality in various parts of the country, or how mob-mentality attacks fester and erupt on twitter.
This was fun to read, but I finished reading the book four days ago and I can remember almost none of it beyond a vague, "you can do interesting analyses with social-media data". The writing was pleasant, the statistical tricks were entertaining, but the conclusions just flitted by, never really landing.
The Book of Life
This is the recent animated film produced by Guillermo del Toro and themed around the Mexican Día de los Muertos celebration.
This was odd. The Book of Life is not a great movie. It's a pleasant-enough, Dreamworks-y bit of CGI. But I cried during it, a lot. I guess even four years later, themes of death and family still strike a deep chord.
But like I said, it's "Dreamworksy". It has cute pop-culture winks. It has good, but not great, animation. People make the DreamWorks face. And it also does that curious thing where the empowered female heroine (who is never the lead, heavens no) is good at everything, strikingly beautiful, witty, ambitious... and gets relegated to sitting around and getting prize-won by an Average Dude. You hit a point where you ask yourself, "wait, why can't we just watch a story about the awesome lady being awesome?"
The humor has its ups and downs, working best when it's character-based (the diminutive abuela who is unfazed by everything) or when it's brief and surreal (Chuy the pig leads a pig rebellion), and worst when it's a rib-nudging, "YOU RECOGNIZE THIS POP-CULTURE THING, AMIRITE?" (Ice Cube quoting "Today Was a Good Day").
The art direction is stunning. The Day of the Dead imagery gives the film a unique (for animated features) style, and it's great to see something besides Grim Fandango take advantage of that. Beyond that, the animation was... good enough. It tried really hard, but it has this sort of "more is more" mentality that you might associate with, say, the Star Wars prequels. When absolutely everything is happening onscreen, it turns into unmemorable noise.
The story works well enough. All the moving pieces come together properly at the end, but the storytelling, too, suffers from the 'more is more' problem: there's a vigilante bandit army AND a supernatural couple making bets AND a love trianlge AND a family conflict about Manolo's line of work AND AND AND oh god you're not bored are you wait wait here's more plot PLEASE LOVE ME.
And in order to make this crazy plot-jigsaw come together, Joaquín has to start out as a callow, arrogant jock -- as the villain and the rival for the love-interest prize -- and then later, turn out to be a decent human being. And so you can see the screenwriters awkwardly backing into... actually giving Joaquín a meaningful arc. It's like the writers throw up their hands: "Hell, I dunno. Maybe Joaquín, like, overreaches somehow in the battle for María's hand? And then... jeez, um... some niggling piece of self-doubt leads him to re-evaluate his easy reliance on magic to get ahead? Okay, *then* we get Joaquín helping out in the last battle. Okay, *sigh* that works."
And now we hit the point of "hey, why can't we watch just a movie about the guy for whom adversity actually leads to personal change?" It's frequent with these "plot bloat" movies that you find some loose thread, some errant that doesn't hew religiously to convention, and wish you were watching more of that.
The Book of Life is a pleasant movie, and I'm glad it exists. No, it's not as good as Pixar. But it's fun, and it's pretty, and it takes place in a world we haven't seen before in film. And I suppose it showed me that I have a lot of raw nerves that still haven't quite healed.
For next week: I'm still watching Deadwood. I'm still watching Sleepy Hollow as my "watch while exercising" show. I'm now reading a book about kickstarter projects, as well as SuperFreakonomics (so far, zero mentions of Rick James). Oh, and I finished The Spy Who Came in from the Cold -- I'll write about it next week.
 I was really happy to see them animate all the guitar-playing correctly.
 Further clarification: if this were an 80's John Hughes movie, he'd be played by James Spader. If this were a Disney movie, he'd be Gaston.
 Yes, the movie *tells* us that Manolo has finally learned how to be himself, but I never completely bought that.
 ... though these days, nobody is as good as Pixar, including Pixar.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none