Classic Movie Review: The Rules of the Game (1939)


Title: The Rules of the Game
Release Date: July 7, 1939
Director: Jean Renoir
Production Company: Nouvelle Édition Française
Summary/Review:

Released just months before the outbreak of World War II, The Rules of the Game is a scathing satire of the decadence of France’s wealthy elite.  Director Jean Renoir (son of the artist Pierre-Auguste) uses innovative techniques such as deep-focus cinematography to depict the ensemble cast playing out overlapping conversations and plots at the same time. Before I even looked it up, I could tell this movie influenced the work of Robert Altman.  In fact, Gosford Park is pretty close to a remake.

The film begins with aviator André  (Roland Toutain) completing a transatlantic flight and declaring his love for Christine (Nora Gregor) in a radio interview. The whingy man-baby then has a temper tantrum that she has not come to greet him at the airport.  Christine, it turns out, is married to Robert, Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio), a French aristocrat (as an aside, I could’ve sworn the French nobility was eliminated well before 1939, but maybe someone more knowledgeable in French history could clarify this for me).  Robert, in turn, has a mistress, Geneviève (Mila Parély).

All of these characters, as well as Octave (played by the director, Jean Renoir), a mutual friend of André and Christine travel to Robert’s estate in Sologne for a weekend of parties.  Christine is accompanied by her maid (Paulette Dubost)  , who is married to the gamekeeper Schumacher (Gaston Modot), but more devoted to Christine.  Schumacher catches a poacher, Marceau (Julien Carette), but Robert is impressed by his skill at killing rabbits and hires him on the spot as a domestic servant.  Octave and Marceau are similar in that they’re both comical figures, outsiders, but in ways more morally-centered than everyone else around them.

At the estate, there are masked balls, performances, and a very grim rabbit hunt around which various romantic liaisons take place.  There are declarations of love, heartbreak, arguments, fist fights, and ultimately the threat of using firearms (sometimes these things are happening at the same time with deep-focus tricks).  Not surprisingly there is also a murder, albeit one due to mistaken identity.  The way the elite carry on, not allowing the tragedy to affect their emotional display and continuing to play “the game” shows their moral callousness.  This is a brilliant film about awful people.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)


Title: Make Way for Tomorrow
Release Date: May 9, 1937
Director: Leo McCarey
Production Company: Paramount
Summary/Review:

I’d never heard of Leo McCarey before, but he directed two films in 1937, and they’re both masterpieces of film-making.  While The Awful Truth is an improvised screwball comedy about a wealthy couple, Make Way for Tomorrow is a drama more grounded in the Great Depression reality of the time (but also highly relevant 82 years later).  McCarey won the Best Director Oscar for The Awful Truth, but in his acceptance speech he stated he deserved the award for Make Way for Tomorrow.

The movie begins with an elderly couple, Bark (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi) calling 4 of their 5 adult children together for a family meeting in their home. Bark informs them that since he’s been unemployed for several years, he’s been unable to make payments on their family home and the bank has foreclosed.  None of the children have room to take in both parents, so a plan is made to split them up for the time being with the hope that Bark will find work and they can reunite at a new home. At his advancing age, though, this plan seems overly optimistic.

Bark sleeps on the couch at the city apartment of his daughter Cora (Elisabeth Risdon), and spends days at the store of his new friend Max (a warm and heartfelt performance by Maurice Moscovitch as a Jewish immigrant shopkeeper).  Meanwhile, Lucy moves into the suburban home of her son George (Thomas Mitchell) and daughter-in-law Anita (Fay Bainter), taking an extra bed in the room of her teenage granddaughter, Rhoda (Barbara Read). The first half of the movie plays as a comedy of manners and focuses on the generation gap.  The children can be cold and clearly see their parents as an intrusion, although they are also sympathetic characters.  Lucy and Bark can be annoying in their own ways.

After several months pass, Cora decides that Bark would be better off living with the unseen fifth sibling in California, justifying it on the basis that the warmer climate would be better for his health. Meanwhile, in one of the more heartbreaking sequences, Lucy preemptively volunteers to move into a retirement home knowing that George is planning to ask her to do so.  The second half of the film takes place over a single day in New York City when Lucy and Bark reunite before Bark’s train departs to California.

The scenes of them together enjoying one another’s company for the first time in months, with another separation hanging over them, are beautiful and tear-jerking.  They decide to skip meeting their children for dinner and instead visit the hotel where they’d spent their honeymoon 50 years earlier, eventually staying for dinner and dancing.  The people they meet – who can see them as humans, rather than problems – treat them with respect and listen to their stories attentively.  And then it all ends with Lucy seeing Bark to his train, both of them knowing that they’ll likely never see one another again, but neither wanting to admit it.

This is an incredible film that deals with serious issues of aging and how our society seems to have no place for our elders.  It’s remarkable for a Hollywood film to not fall into traps of sentimentality or melodrama. It certainly doesn’t have a happy ending, although Bark and Lucy’s last day together is nevertheless joyous.  Moore and Bondi seem so natural in their roles it’s almost as if they’re not acting, although they were both experienced actors, and neither of them was actually elderly.  Moore was 61 and Bondi was 48!  Bondi and Bondi’s makeup artist each deserved an Oscar.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz


Author: Tony Horwitz
Title: Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide
Narrator: Mark Deakins
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2019)
Other Books Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

A few months ago when author Tony Horwitz died, I learned that he’d recently released this new book of his unique blend of history, travel, cultural exploration, and literary journalism.  When I saw that his final work was based on following in the footsteps of one of my favorite historical figures, Frederick Law Olmsted, it seemed as if it was targeted at me.

Olmsted is best known for innovating the field of landscape architecture and designing some of America’s most notable city parks and park systems, college campuses, hospital grounds, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Midway Plaisance, and the grounds of the US Capitol.  Prior to his career in designing parks, Olmsted worked as a journalist, and much like Tony Horwitz, he traveled to places and wrote about his experiences. From 1852 to 1857, he traveled through the American South submitting his dispatches to the New York Times.  In 1861, just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, his writings were compiled in the book Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom, which remains a significant first-hand document of antebellum Southern society.

Olmsted was anti-slavery, a moderate position at the time compared with abolitionists who wanted to immediately free all enslaved people, and in some cases extend the full rights of citizenship to the freed African Americans.  Anti-slavery advocates, which included Abraham Lincoln and other early Republicans, sought to prevent the expansion of slave-holding to new territories and carry out gradual manumission.  Olmsted believed that practice of slavery was inefficient and had a deleterious effect not just on the enslaved people, but on the white society as well.  A goal of his travels was to meet with Southerners, civilly exchange views, and convince them of the error of their ways.  Olmsted would be disappointed, finding Southerners entrenched in their beliefs and uninterested in civil discourse on the matter of slavery.

Tracing Olmsted’s route through the South in 2015-2016, against the background of the contentious presidential election leading to Donald Trump’s victory, Tony Horwitz would also find a deeply divided America.  Some of his encounters with Southerners who supported Trumpist ideology and believed in all manner of conspiracy theory are deeply disturbing.  More disturbing still is that many of these same people treated Horwitz warmly and were happy to speak with him, as long as he hid his own political views.

The travelogue is interesting as Horwitz first journeys down the Ohio River through West Virginia on a ship towing a coal barge, offering insight into a tedious but dangerous job that some “country boys” have found as a source of income in an economically depressed region.  His next river journey is on board a luxurious replica paddle wheeler with stops at historic plantations where the tour guides tend to ignore the enslaved people who made them possible.

In Louisiana, Horwitz is joined by a friend from Australia who is literally nearly killed by the artery-hardening Southern cuisine.  They also enjoy the bizarre Mud Fest, where monster truck drivers come together to drink and drive their modified vehicles through a giant mud bog for a week. Nearby, they visit the site of the Colfax Massacre of 1873, where 150+ black men were murdered by a white militia organized to reverse the reforms of Reconstruction.  To this day an historic marker on the site only recognizes the deaths of three of the white aggressors.   Continuing on his own across Texas, Horwitz tries and fails to debunk a conspiracy theory about a compound of Islamic extremists and participates in the Battle of the Alamo reenactment, oddly set against the background San Antonio’s tourist trap attractions.

Perhaps one of the more interesting parts of the book is the Texas hill country where German immigrants settled before the war, and Olmsted found a community he thought could serve as an example of Free Soilers in the South.  150 years later, the German community persists – albeit in some cheezy ways – and Horwitz describes a part of Texas that doesn’t fit my preconceived notions of the state.  Horwitz travels by mule, a humbling experience, in the west of the Texas.  He concludes his narrative along the border with Mexico where he interacts with both the border patrol and the mixed American and Mexican communities.

In many ways, Spying on the South is a sequel to Horwitz’s best book Confederates in the Attic.  It’s also more somber and unsettling.  20 years ago one could chuckle at Confederate devotees as a dwindling number of hobbyists devoted to living in the past.  Today that same energy has been channeled into a dangerous movement that has reached its political ascendancy.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories


Author: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Title: Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories
Narrator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Baron Vaughn, James Urbaniak, Kimiko Glenn, Colman Domingo, Natalie Morales,  Raúl Esparza, Will Brill, Stephanie Beatriz, Emma Galvin, and  Nicholas Gonzalez
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2019
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories focuses on love, and the deep emotions and tragedies that go with it.  Bob-Waksberg is noted as the creator of BoJack Horseman, and his stories have the same mix of melancholy with the fantastical and a wry optimism.  He also enters his stories in creative ways such as a bulleted list, a missed connections personal ad, travel articles, and instructions for the party game Taboo.

Standout stories include:

“Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion” – a parody of the Wedding Industrial Complex where a couple’s attempts to have a simple wedding are upended by their families’ insistence on keeping with their culture’s traditions of slaughtering goats and exchanging commitment eggs.

“The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Important New York City Landmarks” – a guide to the city where every landmark reminds one of a moment in a past relationship.

“Rufus” – written from the perspective of a dog who relates a story that touches on his man’s new boyfriend, a relationship that ends partially because of his man’s devotion to Rufus (although Rufus is not aware of this, he just wants the door to be open).

“You Want to Know What Plays Are Like?” – a woman caustically reviews a community theatre performance, slowly revealing that the playwright is her brother, and discovering that the story is based on their family’s tragic past.

“More of the You That You Already Are” – narrated by a man who works in a presidential theme park dressed in a large-headed mascot costume of Chester A. Arthur as he struggles to keep his job as management begins replacing cast members with genetically-modified mutant Presidents.

As weird as this all sounds, these stories are clever and heartfelt.  It’s definitely worth a read, or a listen.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

TV Review: Good Omens (2019)


Title: Good Omens
Release Date: 2019
Creator and Writer: Neil Gaiman
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Production Company: Narrativia | The Blank Corporation | Amazon Studios | BBC Studios
Summary/Review:

Having finished re-reading the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel Good Omens, I binged the miniseries adaptation on Amazon Prime. It’s largely entertaining, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching it, but it’s a bit disappointing based on the source material and the talent involved in producing the adaptation.

The strength of Good Omens is the casting of David Tennant and Michael Sheen as the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale who team up to try prevent Armageddon.  The miniseries increases the focus on these two characters and their centuries-long friendship, which is a good decision because they are talented comic actors who fill their characters fully.

Unfortunately, the adaptation is almost too faithful to the book. Several scenes feature dialogue word-for-word from the book.  There is a lot of heavy foreshadowing of gags to come, and excess narration from Frances McDormand as God.  While the authors of the book enjoyed digressing into silly tangents featuring supporting characters, the straight adaptation of these scenes to tv just don’t work as well.  There’s too much icing on the cake!

Good Omens the novel was published in 1990.  While the tv series is not a period piece set in the 90s, there’s only a slight effort to update the story to the present day, so it comes off feeling dated.  I think the satirical take on pop culture tropes was groundbreaking in 1990, but has become commonplace in the ensuing decades, so that Good Omens the tv show is the victim of the success of Good Omens the book.

A ton of notable actors from the UK in the US appear as supporting cast and cameo roles.  These include Nick Offerman, Anna Maxwell Martin,  Jon Hamm (as the Archangel Gabriel, a role greatly expanded from the novel, and one of the strongest parts apart from Tennant and Sheen), Miranda Richardson, Michael Mckean, Bill Paterson, Mark Gattis, David Morrisey, Derek Jacobi, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Josie Lawrence.  Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these performances, but it often feels as if the creators of the miniseries weren’t ambitious enough to go beyond eliciting the reaction of “hey, there’s that funny actor I like doing something funny.”  No one really inhabits their roles the way that Sheen and Tennant do.

There is some promise in some of the lesser known actors, for example, Adria Arjona as Anathema Device.  She seems to be weighed down by having to do nothing more and nothing less than what was written for her character in the book.  Ironically, Anathema’s character’s life was defined by following the predictions written in a book by her ancestor, so it’s sad that Arjona was similarly constrained.

Okay, this sounds like a bad review.  But, again, Good Omens was a perfectly fine show to binge over a few days.  It’s only six episodes long, which may actually be one episode too long for the material, but nonetheless a worthwhile enjoyment.

 

Book Review: Good Omens


Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Title: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
Narrator: Martin Jarvis
Other books read by the same authors:

Pratchett:

Gaiman:

Publication Info: Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, 2009 [originally published in 1990]
Summary/Review:

Several years ago, I read Good Omens, and hearing the buzz about the new tv series adaptation, I thought it was worth revisiting this book in audio format, charmingly narrated by Martin Jarvis.  This was the first book I read by either author at the time of my previous reading.  It is no less than a satirical fantasy about the Apocalypse.  More specifically, satire of the religious beliefs around the End Times mixed with satire about quirky, middle-class English life (the biggest flaw of this book is that it can get bogged down in the “quirky, middle-class English life” bit, past the point of being funny).

The main characters of the book are the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who have formed a partnership over the eons due to their both liking humanity for their own reasons, and thus wishing to avoid the end of the world.  Early in the novel, the son of Satan is born, and due to a mix-up by the Satanic nuns at the hospital, the baby is mixed up with another baby.  11 years later, when the Apocalypse is too begin, the child groomed to be an Anti-Christ is an ordinary boy, while Satan’s actual son is Adam Young of the Oxfordshire village of Lower Tadfield.

The plot shifts among  several characters. Aziraphale and Crowley trying to sort out the mix-up without getting in trouble with their Higher Ups (and Lower Downs, I suppose for Crowley?). Adam and his gang of friends Them get into esoteric mischief as Adam becomes aware of his powers.  Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Death, Famine, and Pollution (who took over from Pestilence after the invention of penicillin) assemble and ride, picking up some Hell’s Angels along the way who give themselves names of things that annoy them. And Anathema Device is a witch who knows everything that will happen because she is the descendant of Agnes Nutter, a 17th century witch who wrote a book of accurate, but highly specific predictions. She is brought together with Newton Pulsifer, a nerdy bloke who seems to stumble into becoming one of the last Witchfinders for a paycheck.

A lot of it’s corny, and as I’ve said, sometimes the jokes are belabored.  Nonetheless, it’s a clever and funny work of two of the great fantasy writers of our age.

My original review from 2004:

A very silly book about the Apocalypse run amok. Sometimes the tongue-in-cheek writing style got a bit annoying, but there were always some clever bits to redeem it. While mostly a parody of Apocalyptical legend, there is also a strong undertone about good & evil and faith in a higher being. For all the comic cynicism, the message about God here is surprisingly positive.

Favorite Passages:

It is said that the Devil has all the best tunes. This is broadly true. But Heaven has the best choreographers


Crowley thought for a bit. “You must have had records,” he said. “There are always records. Everyone has records these days.” He glanced proudly at Aziraphale. “It was one of my better ideas.”

(As someone who works in archives and records management, I’m particularly amused that a demon invented records.)


The small alien walked past the car.

“C02 level up 0.5 percent,” it rasped, giving him a meaningful look. “You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 7


More or Less :: Amazon Forest Fires

Statistics cited regarding the Amazon forest fires are not accurate, but the true story is more alarming.

Hit Parade :: We Are Stardust, We Are Gold-Certified

Counting down the artists and bands that got a boost (and those that didn’t) after their performances at the Woodstock festival.

BackStory :: Labor Day Special: A History of Work and Labor Relations in the U.S.

Overlooked history of women, children, and Mexican-Americans in the American labor pool.

Radiolab / Memory Palace :: Memory Palace

I’ve been listening to podcasts for close to 15 years now, and Memory Palace and Radiolab have been longtime favorites.  This special episode of Radiolab features highlights from classic Memory Palace episodes and a new story about scrub bulls.

Hub History :: Mayor Curley’s Plan to Ban the Klan 

Back in the 1920s, white supremacists hoped to expand their operations into Boston, but faced fierce opposition from Boston mayor James Michael Curley.  If only Boston’s mayor in 2019 was not a coward who appeases white supremacists.

Throughline :: The Litter Myth

The history of the successful campaign in the 1960s and 1970s to shift responsibility for environmental destruction from big corporations to individuals, with the help of a fake Native American.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Classic Movie Review: The Awful Truth (1937)


Title: The Awful Truth
Release Date: October 21, 1937
Director: Leo McCarey
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I’ve long been a Cary Grant fan, and this is the film that established him as one of Hollywood’s leading actors for the next few decades.  It’s also unique in that director Leo McCarey didn’t have much of a script and believed in improvising dialogue on the set.  Grant and co-star Irene Dunne rose to the challenge and their performance is comedic brilliance.

Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a fantastically wealthy couple who both believe that the other is unfaithful and sue for divorce.  They also have a custody battle over their dog, Mr. Smith (Skippy, who also played Asta in The Thin Man). During the 90-day period until their divorce is finalized, they each begin dating other people.  And each of them – individually realizing that they’re still in love with the other (and being the only one kooky enough to be their partner) – attempts to sabotage the other’s relationship.

In the first half of the movie, Lucy shares an apartment with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham, making the most of the rare part for a glamorous older woman) and becomes engaged with the sweet but countrified Oklahoma oilman Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy, decades before Trading Places).  Jerry uses visits to Mr. Smith as a means to scandalize Dan and his mother (Esther Dale) and drive them back to Oklahoma.  In the later half of the movie, Jerry dates heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont), and Lucy arrives at their house disguised as Jerry’s sister, pretending to be drunk and implying a working class background, to the horror of the stuffy Vances.

In the ensuing scenes they end up riding on the handlebars of police motorcycles, one of the more surreal scenes of this film, before ending up in a cabin where they reconcile over a long night.  And if you enjoyed the funny dog scenes with Mr. Smith early in the film, this segment has funny cat scenes! This includes a cat holding a door shut with its paw, the other great surreal moment that made me almost choke in laughter.

I can’t find a trailer for this movie, but one of my favorite scenes is embedded below.  Dunne’s expressions of embarrassment as Lucy when Dan makes her perform a rambunctious dance at a nightclub, and Grant pulling up a chair and smiling are absolutely terrific examples of physical comedy acting.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Swing Time


Title: Swing Time
Release Date: September 4, 1936
Director: George Stevens
Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures
Summary/Review:

Having had mixed feelings about Top Hat, I was a bit dubious about watching another Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie. The film starts with Astaire’s character John “Lucky” Garnett attempting to make it to his wedding on time but the other members of his dance troupe sabotage him.  When the wedding is cancelled and Lucky makes his way to New York City to prove himself worthy, he meets Rogers’ character Penny and they squabble over a stolen quarter.  The first 15 minutes or so of this movie is full of cringe comedy that set my teeth on edge.

But it turns out Penny is a dance instructor, and once made aware of Lucky’s dance ability, they are paired up to perform.  Unlike Top Hat, they seem to genuinely like each other early on and scenes alternate among their dance numbers, scenes of gambling (Lucky is a gambler as well as a dancer), and their shyness about admitting they are falling in love (it strikes me that this is also the basic plot of Silver Linings Playbook, although they’re veeeeery different movies. The movie also introduces standards like “The Way You Look Tonight” and “A Fine Romance.”

I was thoroughly enjoying the movie when I saw that the next number would be called “Bojangles of Harlem.”  I said to myself: “Please don’t come out in blackface.  Pleeeeaaase don’t come out in blackface.”  Folks, Fred Astaire totally came out in blackface, leaving me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Whatever Astaire’s intentions that this was a tribute to African American tap dancers, the fact is that it is nothing but black caricature.  It’s doubly insulting because Bill Robinson, despite all his talents, wouldn’t get a chance to do a showstopper like this in a Hollywood film.  It wouldn’t have been objectionable if Astaire had performed without blackface and the black caricature props alongside some African American performers (which is plausible since he would do that very thing in his very next film).  It’s too bad it’s so racist, because this dance sequence does have a great special effect of Astaire dancing with his own shadows.

It was hard to settle into watching the movie again after this (especially since Astaire doesn’t remove the blackface for the dramatic scenes that follow).  But there is a beautiful number “Never Gonna Dance” where Lucky and Penny dance their sorrow when they believe they’ll be going their separate ways. The conclusion of the movie is kind of odd, because the whole cast ends up giggling uncontrollably as if they were all high, or someone told an inside joke.  Nevertheless this was a pretty great movie with one exception, but it’s a pretty big exception.

Rating: **1/2 (might’ve been ***1/2 without “Bojangles of Harlem”)

 

Movie Review: April and the Extraordinary World (2015)


Title: April and the Extraordinary World (Avril et le Monde truqué)
Release Date: November 4, 2015
Director: Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci
Production Company: Arte France (and numerous others)
Summary/Review:

This imaginative animated film created by a team of French, Belgian, and Canadian filmmakers presents an alternative history of the world with a steampunk vibe.  The prologue of the film shows scientist Gustave Franklin working on a serum to create invulnerable soldiers for Emperor Napoleon III in 1870.  Angered that Franklin has only been able to create talking monitor lizards, the Emperor has a fit that inadvertently causes an explosion killing them both. In this alternate history, the young Napoleon IV signs a peace treaty to avoid the Franco-Prussian War thus maintaining the French empire in Europe.

A montage zips the story forward to 1931, during the interim the world’s great scientists are kidnapped retarding technological development. Relying on steam technology, the French Empire uses up all the coal in the world and then denudes Europe of trees for the wood.  This alternate past depicts a gray world devoid of vegetation and full of polluted air, but filled with fantastical steam-powered vehicles and devices. In 1931, Franklin’s son Prosper “Pops” Franklin, grandson Paul, granddaughter-in-law Annette and great-granddaughter April continue to work in secret on the serum, achieving success, but interrupted by both the French Imperial police and then a mysterious black cloud shooting lightning bolts.  Pops is separated, and Paul and Annette appear dead, leaving April alone with their talking cat Darwin (by far, my favorite character) and the serum hidden in a snow globe.

Whew, that’s a lot of setup in basically the first 15 minutes of the movie, because now the film zips forward again to 1941 for the main story.  April, now a young adult, continues to work in secret on the serum.  Disgraced inspector  Gaspar Pizoni – a kind of bumbling version of Javert – continues to try to track down the Franklins, and blackmails young petty criminal Julius to work for him.  Julius saves and then befriends April and Darwin, ultimately having mixed feelings about helping Pizoni.  They are reunited with Pops kicking off an adventure that reveals the secret plans of the French Empire and the mysterious forces that have kidnapped the world’s scientists.

This is imaginative story which also works as an environmental fable.  It’s also interesting that this alternate history depicts 1941 as a time when Europe is dominated by a French totalitarian government where in reality France was under the thumb of Nazi Germany at the time.  It’s imaginatively animated and a clever story.  The one flaw is that the voice acting feels stilted. If I watch this again, I’d like to find the original French cast instead of the dubbed version, because I think that would work better.

Rating: ****