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Films I Neglected To Review: Pony Men
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "A Brony Tale," "Dormant Beauty" and "Video Games: The Movie."

Since we are at a point where, thanks to the Internet, virtually every piece of obscure pop-cultural detritus can now boast a dedicated fan base of some sort, it comes as no surprise to learn that "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," the fourth iteration of the long-running animated TV series/toy line dedicated to teaching little girls about friendship, teamwork and the importance of convincing their parents to buy them cheap plastic crap, has developed an intense cult following. What is surprising, however, is that a good chunk of that cult following consists of adult males who watch the show and collect the toys with the fervor of a six-year-old girl. The documentary "A Brony Tale"--"brony" being the nickname for such fans--takes a look at this phenomenon through the eyes of several of its adult fans, all of whom stress that it is possible to be manly and still enjoy such a show, and those of Ashleigh Ball, a Canadian voice actress who supplies the voices of two of the show's main characters and who is seen preparing to attend a "My Little Pony" convention where she will see the unusual fan base in person for the first time.

As a quirky little human interest story on a very slow news day, "A Brony Tale" might have been mildly interesting but as a full-scale feature documentary, it is woefully thin stuff. For starters, the film never seems especially interested in really getting into the psychology of this particular subset--there are some vague mutterings about people wanting to retreat to the comfort of something safe and childlike in the face of the traumas of everyday existence but never really delves into why they would gravitate towards this particular property. We are also denied a chance to hear from any of the children for whom the show is theoretically aimed at--how do they feel about going to a convention and jockeying for space with big burly guys? By not including those elements, "A Brony Tale" is a film that will presumably play well for its target audience of the brony elite but others are likely to find it tedious, self-serving and more than a little creepy.

Italian filmmaker Marco Bellochio has never been known for the quiet, restrained touch and that is certainly the case with his latest effort, "Dormant Beauty." Based in part on the real-life case of Eluana Englaro, who inspired a firestorm of controversy in her homeland when, after spending seventeen years in persistent vegetative state, her family made the decision to remove her from life support and let her die with some degree of dignity, much to the horror of others who saw this as nothing short of cold-blooded murder, the film looks at the conflict through numerous perspectives. There is a politician who, for personal reasons, finds himself going against his own party to vote against a measure forcing the family to resume treatment. Then there is his daughter, who is on the opposite side of the issue for equally personal reasons but who also finds herself distracted by a cute guy hanging on the pro-euthanasia side with his increasingly crazed brother. To further complicate matters, there are two other comatose women whose stories are also included--the young daughter of a famous actress (Isabelle Huppert) who has given up her career to care for her child, much to the consternation of her obsessed son, and a junkie lying in a hospital bed who refuses to wake up after being sedated following a suicide attempt with a dedicated doctor keeping a vigil at her bedside.

This is dark and difficult material, to be sure, but Bellochio takes care to handle it in a respectful and even-handed manner--perhaps too even-handed for anyone looking for a one-sided polemic. The writing is strong and sure and the performances are good across the board. The only problem--and it is a big one--is that there is simply too much of it to go around. Any one of the myriad storylines that Bellochio is recounting here could have made for a smart and incisive movie but to try to cram all of them into one narrative is simply overkill. If one of them had been dropped--I would vote for either the romance involving the daughter, the protestor and the crazy brother or the comatose junkie--it would have allowed for the other narratives to have more room to breathe. Still, "Dormant Beauty" is a thoughtful and occasionally provocative drama that stands in stark contrast to most of the fluff playing these days.

With its collection of fascinating characters, spectacular rises and falls and astonishing technological breakthroughs, the history of video games and how they progressed from the humble beginnings of "Pong" to the elaborate console systems of today would seem to be the ideal subject matter for an incisive and entertaining documentary. Alas, that is not the case with the almost embarrassingly shallow and simple-minded "Video Games: The Movie." Instead of trying to lay out the complex and sometimes wild evolution of the gaming culture and its key participants, director Jeremy Snead instead takes an absurdly simplistic approach that offers viewers little more than a rehash of familiar stories (such as the epic failure of the infamous "E.T." Atari game that helped to sink the entire industry in the early 80's following its meteoric rise), vapid interviews that give people like Zach Braff (who was one of the film's co-producers) and Wil Wheaton as much weight, if not more, than the likes of Nolan Bushnell, and a fawning tone that constantly reminds viewers just how important and culturally significant video games are without ever making that case on its own. Essentially, this is a film about video games for viewers who have virtually no working knowledge on the subject but even those people are likely to find it a tedious bore after a while. Actually gamers, on the other hand, will be bored stiff by it and would be better off spending their time and ticket money down at the arcade than wasting both on this.

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originally posted: 07/22/14 02:55:27
last updated: 07/22/14 04:25:34
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