Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nosh 45: 'Moana', 'The Eagle Huntress' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

NOTE: The next Nosh will be on Dec. 30, 2016.

APPETIZER: Reviews of Moana and The Eagle Huntress
There are probably fewer than 30 talents of real genius who have significantly swayed the history of movies, and of those the biggest global impact came from Walt Disney. The “Mickey Mouse man” was busy theme-parking his vision, before dying in 1966. In the last 50 years many permutations followed, some merely dull and corporate. But the challenges of UPA (Mr. Magoo, etc.) and Pixar and Japanese animé were absorbed, and as more than a rising profit stream came to extend and enrich Walt’s legacy. The empire can still flash some magic.

Proof positive is the extravagantly vivid and colorful Moana. Moana (voice actor: Auli’i Cravalho) is teen princess of a Pacific isle, a sort of toon-merged Hawaii and Tahiti. She discovers the mythic roots of her culture, to save her people with the aid of a  super-dude, Maui (voice: Dwayne Johnson). It’s like Gidget joining Fabio for a glorious adventure, festooned with big-eyed people, fantastic seas, sinister coconuts, a volcanic villain and a tropical ecology of creatures (including a stunningly dumb chicken). Though hyperactive and a bit exhausting, like many big-time animations, the film is delightful.

Also beautiful, with startling waves of surprise, is perhaps the ultimate delivery of an enduring Disney specialty: water, fluent in epic variety. Of course, since big cartoons now mostly try to be musicals, songs sound like auditions for Polynesian Idol. This is very much a corporate package (four directors, eight writers, 90 or so principal animators). But since Lin-Manuel (Hamilton) Miranda helped craft some funny lyrics, it's entertaining. And it is hard to imagine anyone over the age of five who won’t find their imagination surfing the pleasures.  

The Eagle Huntress
Stretching the fabled arc of her talent, Jennifer Lawrence is again marvelous in The Eagle Huntress. No, wait, let’s revise that. The star of Otto Bell’s documentary is Mongolian tribal girl Aisholpan Nurgaiv, 13 during filming. If not the Lawrence of her country, nor of Arabia, she deserves her rising fame. Aisholpan is the first female to become a champion eagle hunter. That is, she uses a big eagle (caught by herself on a mountain ledge) to hunt small game, while riding a shaggy horse across vast steppes.

Her father, who is also her trainer, firmly ignores the elders, weathered old coots facing this upstart eaglet. One harrumphs, “While men go eagle-hunting, women are at home preparing tea.” When not at school or helping around the yurt, the cheerful, full-faced girl wins a competition against 69 experienced males. With her dad, she then heads into the wintry wild to gain her first true kill (a fox). This is far beyond picturesque. Simon Niblett’s terrific imagery, the exotic power of ways both earthy and aerial, and Aisholpan’s brave charisma are inspiring. Not even Great Genghis himself, lord of the horde, ever imagined this: Mongolia, feminist frontier.

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Top Non-Cartoon Creature Movies: Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard, Balthazar (donkey), Ken Loach’s Kes (hawk), Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion (horse), Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (dog), Chris Noonan’s Babe (pig), Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (bears), Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (dog), John Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz (birds), Colin Gregg’s We Think the World of You (dog), Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars ( monkey), Masanori Hata’s Adventures of Milo and Otis (dog, cat) and Cindy Miehl’s Buck (horses).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Though he often visited Paris and made a great movie there (The Trial, 1962), Citizen Welles had very mixed feelings: “Do you remember what the Seine was like, when you could stroll along it with your girl? I’ve been asked to write some little thing in Paris Vogue, about why I love Paris. When I could walk on the sidewalk in Paris, I loved it, but now I have to climb over automobiles. Taking down Les Halles (market) was the beginning of the end. The new one is already falling apart. It looks older than Notre Dame!” (Welles, talking to Henry Jaglom in My Lunches With Orson).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The fancy-dress dance is an unforgettable scene in Alice Adams: “In a splendid shot (director  George) Stevens pulls the camera up high among the columns. We see Alice below, alone on one side of the room, across from the babbling in-crowd. She fidgets, quavers, powders her nose. ‘The scene of social humiliation is peculiarly American,’ Andrew Sarris commented, ‘in that it reflects the tensions created by social mobility, but no actress ever suffered more beautifully through the trauma.’ And no other film era had so many snobbish swells, daffy debs, playboy puffins.” (From the Katharine Hepburn/Alice Adams chapter in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)  

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Aisholpan Nurgaiv with bird and father, The Eagle Huntress (Sony Pictures Classics 2016; director Otto Bell, cinematographer Simon Niblett).

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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