View Full Version : The Book of Life (Jorge R. Gutierrez)

Henry Gale
10-10-2014, 03:27 AM

IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2262227/) / Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Life_%282014_film% 29) / Letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/film/the-book-of-life-2014/)

Henry Gale
10-10-2014, 03:45 AM
Cute, often gorgeously animated and mostly fun stuff. The portion in the Land of the Remembered (seen on the poster above) is the clear, awe-inspiring, exquisitely dream-y and recommendation-worthy aspect of it, but even it comes a bit too late and happens a bit too briefly. I guess anything else would feel like too much of a retread of something like Corpse Bride's dual world structure, but the amount of live-action Henson, Miyazaki and Gilliam homages (ranging from spiritual to completely lovingly overt) it fits into those portions make it something I would absolutely have watched for more than a feature length, regardless of how little plot might have actually fueled its visual wonder.

It's a lot of hit and miss stuff, from the comedy (some are clever lines, a lot of Gabriel Iglesias and Ice Cube in Eddie Murphy Mulan-mode, to the music (there's a few gorgeous new Paul Williams songs, and then there's mariachi versions of Mumford & Sons, Radiohead's "Creep" and Cheech Marin singing Biz Markie's "Just A Friend" for a few seconds), but the animation and general amiable energy of it makes it worthwhile overall.

As producer, Guillermo del Toro's scattered inspirations and passions all seem to be sprinkled through this, and not all of them jell all of them time, but like the man himself, his charms and worldly sensibilities make it just unique enough to stand out. A nice, unconventional Halloween movie for American kids, likely letting them see the world a little differently than their western views of the yearly celebration and life and death philosophies often do from Hollywood.

** / 6.2

10-18-2014, 03:31 PM
I went in to this film last night with no idea what I was getting into, so everything was new.

The good: the art direction was vibrant, alive, ridiculously creative, and really brought to life all that is good, real, and vital about Mexican culture. The music was great, with its Latin riffs on popular American songs.

The not-so-good. I'm really getting tired of the old girl as object of desire to be fought over trope. Sure, she could fight for herself to a certain extent, but that seemed more an afterthought as a means of appeasing the girls watching the film, and in the end, she was little more than a damsel in distress. C'mon guys. This is the 21st century.

3.5/5.0 stars.

11-02-2014, 08:32 PM
Some spoilers below. But I won't spoiler-tag this. Look upon all my words.

That this is fun cannot and should not be denied. The fim's vibrance and visual splendor is infectious, as is its overall sense of fun (despite a breakneck pacing seemingly common to children's films today that almost left me breathless). With that said, I have a few problems with this. One is aesthetic. One speaks to what bac0n is talking about as regards the film's engagement with gender.

Visually, I have to take some issue with three-dimensional characters that have been meticulously crafted to resemble real world material artifacts (most characters look like beautiful wooden toys with textures and playfully loose articulated joints connecting discrete blocks), but still have smarmy Dreamworks/Disney smirks fluidly squirming around both sides of their face, shifting their weight around the face several times a line, seemingly paying no respect to the surfaces they appear on. This is something that's been bothering me with three-dimensional animated films for a while on a general aesthetic level (it bothered me in Frozen, too), but the clash between the material design and weight of the characters' bodies struck me as exceptionally discordant. In truth, I could say this habit of the animation is reinforced in the breathless, jabby nature of the dialog (and the film as a whole), which I think could benefit from some breath and space. I don't mean to say I want them to necessarily have flappy ventriloquist dummy mouths, but I do feel like aesthetically, that could've worked out better.

The other major sticking point for me is the film's ultimately conflicted and bungled attempt to grapple with issues of gender and sex. Essentially, though the film may try to qualify this, we still have a fairly simple story where two bros compete for the hand of the passive girl, who's a prize (and in this one, a prize upon which deities wager on the fate of the spiritual realm). The bros represent qualities that will be valorized or demonized, and the one with valor will have to win (though the primary quality of the less-good bro--his strength--will be at least as fully realized in the more-good bro). The film tries to mount some resistance to this, imbuing the girl character with vocal resistance to being figured as a prize to be fought over. These reality-checks and assertions of agency on the part of the beautiful, idealized female character (she quite literally has it all, except for social agency)--to be honest--made me fantasize about a resolution that might resist the bet by the meddling deities by having her choose a fate that was not defined wholly by marriage to one or the other. Imagine! This is a fairy tale, I suppose, and it ultimately delights in reinterpreting these things in a contemporary idiom, but any verbal resistance, it seems to say, is necessarily token.

The girl has to sexually submit herself to a guy she doesn't want to be with to save her town. That ends up getting undone, of course, but that is still a thing that the film puts the audience through. The logic of it seems too perverse to actually put in dialog with some of the other things that happen. The resolution is too unmessy and conventional given what we've been told about these people.

I actually think the film is a bit weaker for the resistance to the narrative it ultimately succumbs to. She seems to be romantically uninterested in either of the bros at first, so the rather uncomplicated Grand Romantic Gestures (the problem with them before was they're not the right ones, the film ultimately says).

The problem might be that it attempts to map specific personalities onto characters that function best at their most abstract. In the plot's most romantic moments, they are assembled with enough flair and skill to be truly beautiful and moving. The better-bro's (sorry, it's been a couple weeks, I don't remember names) personal struggle against familial expectations and nonviolence is a compelling story that works in the specific and probably works stronger when considered apart from its connection to the central romantic plot. The romance between the bickering deities worked better for me probably because of its necessarily inhuman (but oh so urgently human, as the best stories about our gods work) and further symbolic remove.