February 28, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Male, Group 2

Or, Part Two of "Regression to the Mean" Week. After last night's terrific group of women, last night's show pretty much had to be a disappointment by comparison. Which, in fact, it turned out to be. (And I said, "Oh boy. Right again.") And by the same logic, after the disaster of last night's men, tonight almost has to be an improvement.

At least that's the optimistic view.

The rundown:

Mathenee, "A Little Less Conversation" -- Impressive range, and a fair amount of power in the lower register. Enunciation is weak. Smart song choice for him; it's largely a song about attitude and showmanship, and he's got plenty of those. Solid first impression.

Gurpreet, "Nothing Ever Hurt Like You" -- The finger wagging and the perpetual smile make the whole thing feel a bit cheesy and superficial. It's a harmless enough performance, and it's not painful to listen to, but there's no emotional force behind it, and nothing that'll stick in my mind for more than about ten seconds.

Vincent, "Cause I Love You" -- The runs and falsetto and frills and flourishes are all very impressive, but these things are meant to be ornaments; there has to be some underlying basic thing that is being ornamented, and Vincent's not giving us that. Vincent is all ornament; it's all Worcestershire and no steak, all tinsel and no tree. Love the Drew Carey glasses, though.

Nick, "Say Something Now" -- Very nice, with a well-tuned falsetto. Doesn't seem to have a lot of power, but that may just be a matter of song choice. And while he seems very comfortable on stage, there's not much personality being projected; there's something small about his presence, and it needs to get a lot bigger if he wants to last very long.

Josh, "Better With You" -- He's frequently flat; I can't understand most of what he's saying; and he's having to breathe every two or three syllables. It's the first really unpleasant performance of the night.

David, "Fever" -- Pleasant voice, but the arrangement fights against the sultriness and slow-burn passion of the song, and that's a problem. It's only emphasized by the fact that David's not projecting an ounce of sexy himself; he might as well be singing about labor contracts, he's projecting so little heat. It's also a song that doesn't show off much of a singer's range.

Bryant, "New York State of Mind" -- Quite lovely. Occasionally a bit too breathy in the quieter passages, but it's not as big a problem for him as it's been for a lot of other singers this year. I would point out that unless you are an ASL interpreter, you are not actually obliged to gesture on every single word of the song.

Burnell, "This Time" -- I like his voice very much, but there's something odd about his phrasing that I can't quite pin down. The musical lines are flowing nicely, but the words don't seem to connect properly somehow. It'll drive me nuts until I figure out what's off. I do think he deserves to move on, though.

Lazaro, "Tonight I Wanna Cry" -- Shades of Mel Tillis in the way his speech impediment disappears when he sings. Unfortunately, his singing enunciation is terribly mushy, and this loungy approach to the song is not a good idea. He misses the high note at the end by a long shot, though he eventually does slide up to it before it ends.

Cortez, "Titanium" -- The big notes are fine, and he has an impressive upper register; the rest is a big ol' pile of meh.

So, a big improvement over last week's men. Six or seven of these guys really deserve to be in the top ten men overall, but some deserving singers will be cut because they happened to fall into the more talented group.

Were I a judge tonight, I would certainly send Bryant, Burnell, and Mathenee on to the next round; and I would send Gurpreet, Josh, and Lazaro home. I don't have strong feelings about any of the four in the middle of the pack, but I would probably keep Vincent, hoping that there's a core in there somewhere on which to hang his lovely decorations; and Nick, hoping that he can develop some musical and personality oomph.

And the judges begin announcing their choices. David, no. Bryant, no. Vincent, yes. Mathenee, no. Lazaro, yes (inspirational story triumphs over mediocre talent, I fear). Cortez, yes. Josh, no. Burnell, yes. That leaves Nick and Gurpreet for the last spot, which shouldn't be a difficult choice. And, yes, Nick stays and Gurpreet goes home.

Next week, we get to start voting, choosing five men and five women, with competition shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, and results (and, I assume, some sort of wild card competition to bump the final field to 12 or 13) on Thursday night.

February 27, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Female, Group 2

Week one of Sudden Death gave us an impressive night from the women, a disastrous night from the men, and a promising debut from the new judges, who offered surprisingly constructive criticism. This week, another 20 wannabes put it all on the line with one in-or-out performance.

The rundown:

Melinda, "Nobody's Perfect" -- The arrangement isn't working well; it's choppy and jerky, and it doesn't allow her to show any range or breath control. I suppose she's trying to do that with the abrupt style shift for the last 30 seconds, but it comes off as unpleasantly disconnected from the rest of the performance. She may be a good singer, but she needs to choose material and arrangements that will let her demonstrate it, and she hasn't done that tonight.

Candice, "A Natural Woman" -- Very nice, and it never felt like work. The little growl on "baby" is delicious, and her melisma feels natural and spontaneous, as opposed to mere "let's see how many notes I can cram into this run" athleticism. Not wild about the styling, which makes her look ten years older than she is.

Juliana, "Skyscraper" -- About half of what she sings is nothing but air, and because of that, it's all over the place in terms of pitch. When there is any substance to the sound, it's not pretty, and the abrupt transitions between air and sound (as in the closing "scraper") are intensely unpleasant. Not a keeper, I'm afraid.

Jett, "Only Girl in the World" -- What's interesting about the original version of this song is the energy, the rhythm, the propulsion. And Jett has sucked all of that out, turning it into an outtake from a Steve'n'Eydie Vegas lounge show. The voice is pleasant enough, I suppose, if a bit nasal in spots, but the performance suggests a problematic lack of taste and good judgment.

Cristabel, "No One" -- That odd little Macy Gray-ish squeaking crack in her voice wears out its welcome about five times faster than she thinks it does, and her melisma does feel like notes for notes' sake. But I do like the sound of her voice, and on a night that hasn't been quite so strong as last week's women, this might get her through. (And I remember having a similar reaction to the weirdness of Fantasia Barrino's voice on first hearing, so y'never know.)

Aubrey, "Sweet Dreams" -- There's an odd thing she does repeatedly on the high note in "beautiful NIGHTmare;" she can't quite hit the note, so she goes into breathy head voice, hits the vowel just long enough for us to hear what it is, and instantly fades into silence for the rest of the note's length. She's not hitting those high notes; she's just implying them, and we're convincing ourselves that we're hearing an actual note for the whole duration. It's a clever way to disguise a technical weakness, but it's the only interesting thing about an otherwise bland performance.

Rachel, "Nothing But the Water" -- Someone has told her that she's a country/blues singer, but I don't think she really is. The country twang doesn't come naturally to her, and some of those vowels ("dah-ooon" for "down") are very affected. But she's got a strong, powerful voice, and if she can figure out what she should be singing, she could be terrific.

Breanna, "Bust Your Windows" -- It's pleasant, but it's not memorable, and it's got none of the anger it should have. I don't know the original, but I'm wondering if it was quite so Latin/tango as this, because that seemed an odd fit for the song. On the whole, a decidedly meh performance.

Janelle, "Just a Kiss" -- Started off reasonably well, but her pitch got more frequently out of whack as the song went on. Wasn't horrifyingly bad, and she's the only real country singer we've heard tonight, so she might survive, if only for the sake of stylistic diversity on the show.

Zoanette, "Circle of Life" -- Well, it held my attention. She's got a huge voice, but I'm not sure there's anything to it beyond size. The pitch was occasionally wobbly, and there's no lightness or subtlety in her voice; it's as if someone tried to turn Darth Vader into a pop diva. Is raw power and showmanship enough to get her through on a mediocre night? Maybe.

And there we are. It wasn't nearly as good as last week's female round, but that was to be expected. I only have strong feelings about a few of tonight's singers. Candice deserves to move on; Aubrey, Jett, and Juliana should be given a year's supply of Turtle Wax and sent home.

I'm noncommital about the rest, but I would probably keep Janelle, because she's the only pure country singer in the bunch; Zoanette, for sheer unpredictability and potential entertainment value; Rachel, because of her potential to turn into something amazing; and Cristabel, because that strange voice is still squeaking in my mind an hour later.

And now, let's see what the judges decide:

Zoanette, yes. Melinda, no. Juliana, no, Aubrey, yes. Cristabel, no. Candice, yes. Jett, no. Breanna, yes. Which takes us Rachel and Janelle for the last spot, which goes to Janelle.

Tomorrow night, ten more guys. And just as it was nearly impossible for tonight's women to be as good as last week's, you'd think that tomorrow's guys have to be an improvement over the batch we got last Thursday. Wouldn't you?

February 25, 2013

BOOKS: An Age of Madness, David Maine (2012)

Freud would say I'm a lousy mother. But then Freud would say lots of things. He'd declare me a textbook case, overbearing but emotionally distant, doomed to produce maladapted children. There's even a name for women like me: schizophrogenic mothers. Of course, Freud invented names for all sorts of things whether they existed or not, and then happily accused anyone nearby of doing, or being, or having, most of them.
That's our introduction to Regina, the central character of David Maine's An Age of Madness, and it's instantly clear that while she may not be the most likable person, she's got a lot to say and she's by god going to say it.

Regina's a psychologist, and her bitter, sardonic view of life isn't without justification; her husband died when she was only 34, leaving her to raise their daughter, Anna, on her own. Anna's now 17, struggling to adjust to college life, and doesn't seem much interested in talking to Regina during their rare phone calls.

Regina's finding it harder to have patience with, or show much compassion for, the clients she sees in her private practice and at the state hospital where she works. And she can't figure out why she's finding herself drawn to a new orderly who's fifteen years younger than she is.

The death of Regina's husband is the central mystery of the novel, and it doesn't take long to figure out that we're not being told everything. The structure of that story is a bit formulaic, with a new bombshell detail being revealed at predictably regular intervals. But even when I could see that a new surprise was on the way, the precise nature and details of the revelation still managed to catch me off guard.

Maine's characters are the novel's strong suit. Regina has a sharp and distinctive voice, and Maine's not afraid to let her be unlikable. The principal supporting characters, Anna and Russell (Regina's orderly beau), are equally well drawn, and Maine is very good at letting us see them through Regina's eyes in ways that let us understand how that view might be distorting things.

I'm a big fan of Maine, and while his Biblical novels are still my favorites, An Age of Madness is a marvelous book, and Regina is a crisply defined character who grabbed my attention and would not let go.

February 21, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Male, Group 1

After a reasonably good night from the first batch of female semifinalists, the guys get their shot tonight. Dare we hope for anything as good as Amber or Kree? Probably not, but let's cross our fingers.

The rundown:

Paul, "Tonight I Wanna Cry" -- The big loud notes are pretty. Unfortunately, not much else is. He's falling into the "sincere = breathy" trap, and the sound is so puffed with air that the words are either inaudible or incomprehensible.

Johnny, "I Won't Give Up" -- The upper register isn't bad, but in the opening part of the song, when the pitch is lower, he seems to be always on the verge of running out of breath, and those are short phrases. He hasn't been helped by the show's makeup crew, who have given him the creepy waxiness of the young John Davidson.

Jda, "Rumor Has It" -- I'm not sure I liked it, exactly, but it was interesting in a way that nothing else has been. He certainly takes command of the stage and the audience, and there's personality to spare. Enunciation could be a bit crisper. He might be just a one-trick novelty act, but I'd like the chance to find out. (And during judges' commentary, he becomes the first openly gay Idol contestant to get beyond auditions/Hollywood week; other contestants have come out only after their Idol runs were over.)

Kevin, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" -- It's a pretty enough voice, smooth and silky, but when a man sings this high up, pitch problems are painfully noticeable, and there were a few here. And he needs to learn, I think, to put a little more variety into his voice, some texture or power, so that it's not just a soft cushiony sound, because that risks lulling the audience to sleep.

Chris, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" -- On most nights, that might have come off as filled with personality and flash, but after Jda, the theatricality comes off as rather tepid and ineffectual. His voice is pinched and a bit nasal. And (tonight's biggest problem, and a perpetual flaw in the young singers Idol brings us) I couldn't understand 90% of what he said.

Devin, "Listen" -- If they had beauty pageants for men and the men had to sing cheesy ballads in the talent round of those pageants, this would have fit in very nicely there. And how much reverb was there on his mike? Especially in the opening verse, it was all-all-all echo-echo-echo. But it's been an awfully weak night, and this might be good enough to get him through.

Elijah, "Talking to the Moon" -- He looks like he's in pain when he's singing; if you're doing it right, it doesn't hurt, and it doesn't put that kind of stress on your facial muscles. He doesn't have any volume on his falsetto, and even at his best, he's a whiny imitation Bieber.

(Recurring motif of the night: The female judges, especially Nicki, are drooling over some of these guys in a way that makes even the worst excesses of Steven Tyler look practically Victorian. Nicki has offered to bear the children of two or three already, and the night's not done yet.)

Charlie, "Rocket Man" -- He's a bit self-consciously quirky but if he learns where his range actually is, and stops attempting flashy runs and high notes that he can't quite manage, he could be a fine singer. He sang this tricky melody quite nicely, getting those awkward wide leaps mostly right. Not great, but on what may be the worst night in Idol history, it's good enough.
Jimmy, "Raining on Sunday" -- I almost never use this word, because it's such a judging cliche, but that was karaoke. It's a perfectly pleasant voice, but there's nothing distinctive or interesting about it, and there's so little power to it that the band is drowning him out on what should be the big climactic notes.

Curtis, "Superstar" -- This is not a style I have much use for myself -- the melodrama, the "oh, you KNOW I'm sexy" slinking about -- and I hate this song done this way, but what he does, he does competently.

So, what should the judges do with this mightly slim batch o' pickins?

They should send on Curtis, because his was the only singing of the night that was even close to good. I'd put Jda and Charlie through, not so much because they have great voices, but because they kept me interested and I'm curious to see what they do next. That's about it, as far as being deserving. Force me to pick two more, and I'll settle for some combination of Devin, Johnny, and Jimmy. As for Elijah, Kevin, Chris, and Paul, drop 'em at the Greyhound station and let 'em find their own way home.

And now, the drawn-out reveal of the judges' decisions:

Curtis, in. Jimmy, out. Kevin, out. Elijah, in. Jda, out. Paul, in (by Jimmy Iovine's decision, since the judges were split).

Commercial break. Chris, no. Charlie, yes. The final spot comes down to Devin and Johnny, which is the least exciting head-to-head confrontation imaginable, and Devin gets the final spot. Not the best choices the judges could have made, but then again, there weren't many good choices to make.

February 20, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Female, Group 1

And we're back, for another season of American Idol! It's a 4-judge panel this season (unfortunately), with Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey joining Randy Jackson; and we're stretching the semi-final rounds out for a week longer than last year by starting off with a top 40. Ten women tonight, ten men tomorrow night, and the same thing next week, and we don't even get to vote yet. The judges will instantly eliminate half of each group, and we'll be down to a top 20 in two weeks.

As usual, I'm jumping in to the season at this point; I've seen a grand total of about ten minutes of the audition episodes, so everyone's a mystery to me. The buzz says that the women are particularly strong this year, but let's not get our hopes up too high, shall we?

The rundown:

Jenny Beth, "Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love" -- Yawn. She's like an escapee from a Six Flags park show. It's not horrible (though the low notes in the verses are too low for her to sing), but it's got no personality at all.

Tenna, "Soulmate" -- I can't say that I particularly like her style -- the quiet breathiness, the abruptly terraced dynamics, the "never sing one note when you can sing 18" melisma overload -- but she's got impeccable control over what she's doing, and she's certainly grabbing the audience. And she's doing it with a relatively understated ballad, which is a gutsy choice for an all-or-nothing performance.

Adriana, "Ain't No Way" -- If you're going to end the song with a big note, then by god that note had better be in tune, and she was way flat. And I was sort of with her up to that point. It wasn't exciting (but then, it's not an exciting song), but it was holding my attention. May have killed her chances with the last note, though.

Brandy, "Anymore" -- A bit pitchy throughout, as Mr. Jackson might say, and not terribly interesting, either. Yeah, it's a big voice, but it's on the bland side, the enunciation is a little mushy, and she's not conveying a lick of emotion.

(A side note before the next contestant sings: I almost want to root for her just because of ter name: Shubha Vedula. I can't stop repeating it: Shubha Vedula Shubha Vedula Shubha Vedula.)

Shubha, "Born This Way" -- The arrangement's a mess; her enunciation is non-existent -- I know this song reasonably well, and I had no idea what she was saying most of the time -- and while there's certainly a lot of emotion coming across, that emotion is, weirdly enough, anger. She was born this way, dammit, and I feel like she's ready to kill the bastard responsible.

Kamaria, "Mr. Know It All" -- She's flat a lot of the time, and even when she's not, there's a thickness and a weight to her voice that makes it feel like she is. It's not an attractive sound. And I don't think the song plays to the strengths she does have; she needs something a bit more R&B, I think.

Kree, "Up to the Mountain" -- Now that, boys and girls, is how you hit a big note in tune. The melisma was occasionally a tad overwrought, but she's able to sing quietly with solid tone, unlike many Idol women, who get breathy at low volume. Strong voice, no major technical flaws, certainly good enough to move forward on a weak night.

Angela, "Nobody's Perfect" -- Solid performance. I'm particularly impressed with her wide dynamic range, and with the control she has over all of it. I don't think her look helps her, though; she's tackily dressed and overly made up in a way that says she doesn't trust her voice to hold our attention.

Isabelle, "God Bless the Child" -- Tonight, in the Starlight Lounge, Carnival Cruises is proud to present Isabelle!

Amber, "My Funny Valentine" -- Oh, my, yes. Send her straight through to the top ten. Gorgeous voice, performance that's contemporary but respectful of the song, fine technique -- what more do you want?

So, if the judges have been paying attention, these will be their decisions:

IN: Amber, Kree, Angela, Tenna, Adriana
OUT: Isabelle, Shubha, Brandy, Jenny Beth, Kamaria

Only the first three of those really excited me much, and I wouldn't be crushed if Isabelle slipped in over Tenna or Adriana; the bottom four really don't deserve to move on.

And now, we endure a long, padded series of announcements as each singer is trotted out to learn whether she'll stay or go.

Jenny Beth, out. Brandy, out. Tenna, in. Kree, in. Isabelle, out. Angela, in. Commercial break. Kamaria, out. Amber, in. That leaves Shubha vs. Adriana for the last spot, and did you know that they're best friends (of course they are), and Adriana gets it, which means that the judges got it completely right.

Tomorrow night, the first ten guys.

February 17, 2013

TV: Zero Hour (ABC, Thu 8)

Oh my lord, this is the loopiest mess TV has given us in ages.

A prologue set in 1938 Germany gives us a bunch of Rosicrucians working frantically to finish a dozen clocks. Meanwhile, at a local hospital, we see that a Nazi experiment has resulted in the birth of a baby with creepy silver eyes. The Nazis attack the church, and the clockmakers and priests rush to hide from the Nazis the mysterious something that lies under the cathedral; one of them intones portentously, "It is all up to The Twelve now."

Jump to the present, where Anthony Edwards edits Modern Skeptic magazine. His wife (Jacinda Barrett), who repairs of old clocks and watches, is kidnapped by an international terrorist, who apparently wants the old clock she has just bought. And so Edwards is off to save his wife, with the help of an FBI agent (Carmen Egojo), whose husband just happens to be have been killed by the same terrorist.

The dialogue is one clunky cliche after another. "We're worrying about how she was taken," says Edwards, "and we should be asking why." "Hank, 'why' will drive you crazy," says one of his reporters. And in the starring role, Edwards is a mess, accomplishing the remarkable feat of overacting while being absolutely devoid of personality.

By the time we've gotten to the end of the episode and met the 93-year-old Rosicrucian who made the clock and delivers cryptic warnings of some horrible thing that will happen if the bad guys get their hands on the whole set of twelve clocks, or we find the bunker in northern Canada with the frozen corpse of a Nazi officer who looks exactly like Edwards, or we discover that the terrorist has creepy silver eyes, it's clear that we are in for a conspiracy thriller that's going to make the novels of Dan Brown look like sophisticated literature.

The show might just barely be able to save itself if it gives in to its camp potential and embraces its own silliness, but I fear that it wants to be taken seriously, and as serious drama, it's an absolute disaster.

February 05, 2013

TV: Monday Mornings (TNT, Mon 10)

TNT's medical drama Monday Mornings is a David E. Kelley production based on a novel by Sanjay Gupta. The show's central novelty is that several scenes in each episode take place at the hospital's Morbidity & Mortality conferences, where the surgeons discuss what went wrong in each case that ended in death.

The cast is top-notch. The surgeons include Alfred Molina as the stern chief of surgery (implausibly and delightfully named Harding Hooten); Jamie Bamber as the hotshot young surgeon; Ving Rhames departing from his usual image by playing a relatively sensitive, compassionate guy; Bill Irwin as the asshole veteran; Jennifer Finnigan as Bamber's best friend (and surely inevitable love interest, despite the fact that she's married); and Saruya Rao as the newbie who expresses her insecurity as pushiness.

The most problematic character is Keong Sim's Dr. Park, whose heavily-accented broken English is played for cheap laughs. ("Do you think I should have the surgery?" asks a patient. "Not do, dead," says Dr. Park.")

It's not hard to see what drew Kelley to the project. He's always loved to confrontational courtroom scenes, filled with dramatic monologues, and the M&M conferences are as close to courtroom as you can get in a hospital show, with Molina serving as judge and jury.

The tone is a bit more somber and heavy than is usual for Kelley, and the show could actually use a bit more of his signature quirkiness and humor. (It's a bit frightening to say that, since the danger with any Kelley show is how quickly it can descend into being nothing but quirk.) But the cast is strong, the medical cases are reasonably interesting, and the M&M conferences provide enough of a distinctive twist that I'll keep watching for another week or two to see what develops.

February 03, 2013

MOVIES: 2012 Oscar-nominated shorts (live-action/animated)

This year, the short film categories give us a very strong animated field and a rather weak live-action field.

The live-action group is dominated by films about Adorable Children. "Bushkazi Boys," the longest of the group at 28 minutes, is about two boys in Kabul, a beggar and a blacksmith's son, who dream of being bushkazi players. (It's a sport. Think polo, but with a dead goat instead of a ball.) "Asad" is about a Somali boy who is informally apprenticed to the local fisherman, but longs to join the older boys on their pirate raids. Neither of these has a very interesting story, and both are of interest primarily as ethnographic looks as life in places we don't often see.

Also in the Adorable Children Department, we have "Curfew," in which Richie gets a panicked phone call from his estranged sister, who needs a sitter for her 9-year-old so desperately that she's willing to reach out to her addict brother. The timing is bad for Richie, what with being right in the middle of a suicide attempt and all, but he agrees to help out. Your enjoyment of this one will depend on your tolerate for bratty children and recklessly irresponsible adults.

"Henry" is a Canadian film about a man who is caught in the most horrific stage of Alzheimer's, that period when you're losing all of your memories, but have just enough awareness left to know what you're losing. It has the bad fortune to show up in the same year as Amour, and plays as the audience-friendly, more comforting, lite version of that movie. The lead actor gives a fine performance, though, and I would put my money on this to be the winner.

Best of this field is the Belgian/French "Death of a Shadow," in which a soldier killed during World War I prepares to return to the living after making the final payment on his deal with the devil. The storytelling is a bit murkier than necessary, but the look of the movie is striking, and the story itself is the most interesting and original of the group.

The animated field is a much better group of shorts, and it's interesting that they are all dialogue-free. The biggest response from my audience was for "Fresh Guacamole," which at less than 2 minutes, is the shortest film ever to get an Oscar nomination. It's only got one joke, but its variations on that joke are clever and well-executed, and it's over before it's worn out its welcome.

Least interesting to me was "Adam and Dog," about the developing friendship between the first man and the first dog. It's pretty animation, but there's not much to it other than pretty.

"Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare" follows the TV character through a day at The Ayn Rand School for Tots, and a confrontation with her nemesis, Gerald; it's like a missing chunk of a really good Simpsons episode.

"Head Over Heels" tells the story of a couple trying to make their marriage work despite being pulled in very different directions. The movie doesn't amount to much beyond its central visual conceit, but the final moments, in which a solution to their problem is found, are quite clever.

Best of the field, and I think the likely winner, is "Paperman," a Disney short that played in theaters with Wreck-It Ralph. It's a charming romantic story about a man's attempts to contact a woman after a brief meeting at the train station, and the powerful forces that step in to be sure that true love will run smooth.

As always, the animated program includes a few extra films to pad it out to a full-length show. "Abiogenesis" is a skillfully made look at galaxy-traveling Transformer-esque robots; "Dripped" is a Jackson Pollack homage with lots of visual style. "The Gruffalo's Child" is a sequel to "The Gruffalo," which was a nominee in this category two years ago; like the earlier film, it's far too long and repetitious.