Film Review: Missing Link (dir by Chris Butler)


The year is 1886 and Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is the world’s greatest adventurer.

Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Actually, Sir Lionel may have made a name for himself and gained some popularity as a result of his many adventures but his fellow explorers and adventurers don’t take him seriously.  They view Sir Lionel as being little more than a self-promoter and they’re largely unimpressed with the all the time that he’s devoted to searching for mythical beasts like The Loch Ness Monster and lost lands like El Dorado.  Sir Lionel desperately wants to join the London-based Society of Great Men but the snobbish Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) refuses to accept his application.

When Sir Lionel receives a letter from someone in America who claims to have tracked down the legendary Sasquatch, Sir Lionel and Lord Piggot-Duncey make a bet.  If Sir Lionel can prove that the Sasquatch exists, he will be allowed to join the Society.  Sir Lionel heads off to America while Lord Piggot-Dunceby promptly hires an evil bounty hunter named Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  As Lord Piggot-Dunceby explains to his assistant, Mr. Collick (Matt Lucas), the world is changing too quickly.  If Sir Lionel isn’t stopped, people might start to believe in things like evolution or women’s rights.

When Sir Lionel arrives in America, he promptly starts searching for the Sasquatch and, amazingly enough, it doesn’t take him very long to find him.  It turns out that the Sasquatch — who Sir Lionel names Mr. Link — not only speaks remarkably good English but he’s also the one who wrote to Sir Lionel in the first place.  As played by Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Link is a rather laid back and good-natured Sasquatch.  In some ways, Mr. Link is surprisingly worldly and, in other ways, he’s rather naive.  He takes everything that he hears literally, which poses a problem since Sir Lionel has a tendency towards sarcasm.  It also turns out that Mr. Link is lonely but he thinks that he might be related to the Himalayan Yetis.  And Mr. Link thinks that Sir Lionel is just the man to help him get from America to Asia!

Sir Lionel reluctantly agrees.  Accompanying them on their journey is Sir Lionel’s former girlfriend, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana).  And pursuing them, every step of the way, is Lord Piggot-Dunceby and Willard Stenk.

Missing Link is an enjoyable and undeniably cute stop-motion animated film.  It was produced by Laika, the same animation outfit that previously gave us Kubo and The Two Strings.  While Missing Link is never as memorable or emotionally resonant as Kubo, it’s still a good-hearted film and entertaining enough that an adult can watch it without wanting to tear their hair out.  Blessed with impressively detailed animation and the comedic vocal talents of Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Zach Galifianikis, Missing Link has enough funny moments and clever lines that most audiences should be able to overlook the fact that the story itself sometimes feels a bit haphazard in its construction.  Much like the Sasquatch at the center of its story, Missing Link is a rather laid back film.  If Kubo was a carefully-constructed work of art, Missing Link feels like it was almost thrown together at random.  The film is at its best once it reaches the Himalayas, where the humor becomes very barbed and Emma Thompson steals the show in a sharp-witted cameo.

I enjoyed Missing Link.  It’s just too sweet-nartured not to like.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #57: Saturday Night Fever (dir by John Badham)


Saturday_night_fever_movie_posterHere’s a little bit of trivia about the iconic 1977 film Saturday Night Fever.

First off, according to the imdb, Saturday Night Fever was the first mainstream Hollywood film to ever use the term “blow job.”  That actually took me by surprise.  I mean, with all of the risks that the major studios took in the 70s, it still took them until 1977 to have someone say “blow job” in a movie?  But somehow, it seems appropriate that it would turn up in Saturday Night Fever.  We tend to think of Saturday Night Fever as being a movie where the soundtrack is nonstop disco and John Travolta dances in that iconic white suit.  But actually, Saturday Night Fever is a film about four guys who neither understand nor respect women.

When Tony (John Travolta), Joey (Joseph Cali), Double J (Paul Pape), and Bobby (Barry Miller) go down to that disco, it’s because they want to get laid.   Joey and Double J take turns having sex with insecure Annette (Donna Pescow) and, afterwards, Tony scornfully ask her if she‘s proud of herself.  When Bobby discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant, he is so terrified of having to be a father that he becomes suicidal.  As for Tony, he looks down on the women who are so eager to dance with him.  When he enters a dance contest with Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), he can’t handle the fact that she wants more out of her life than just being his latest partner.

So, it makes sense that this would be the first mainstream movie to feature someone talking about a blow job because that’s what these boys are obsessed with.  Sexually primitive, hypocritically puritanical, and emotionally repressed, a blow job is all the intimacy that these boys can handle.

Another piece of trivia: while John Travolta was always the first choice for Tony Manero, several actors were seen for the roles of Joey and Double J.  At one point, both Ray Liotta and David Caruso were nearly cast in the role of Tony’s friends.  Imagine this: in some alternative universe, while white-suited John Travolta rules over the dance floor, Ray Liotta and David Caruso are standing in the background and cheering him on.

Of course, if Liotta and Caruso had been cast, it would be a totally different movie.  Whenever you watch Saturday Night Fever, you’re surprised by how much John Travolta totally dominates the film.  Even though the film devotes a good deal of time to Annette, Stephanie, Bobby and to Tony’s brother who has recently left the priesthood, Tony Manero is the only character that you remember.  That’s largely because Travolta is the only one of them who gives a truly memorable performance.

In theory, it’s easy to laugh at the thought of Travolta in that white suit, striking a dramatic pose on that cheap-looking dance floor.  But then you watch the film and you realize that Travolta truly did give a great performance.  And, to your surprise, you don’t laugh at Tony with his white suit because you know that the only time Tony has any control over his life is when he’s dancing.  He may work in a paint store.  He may regularly get slapped around by his family.  He may not be very smart or sensitive.  But when Tony’s dancing, he’s a king and you’re happy that he at least has one thing in his life that he can feel good about.

Even if he is kind of a jerk.

Of course, it helps that Tony is a really good dancer.  There’s actually a lot more going on in Saturday Night Fever than you might think but ultimately, it’s a dance movie and it’s one of the best.