Sink Into a Trippy High School at Row House Cinema

The Pittsburgh premiere of offbeat cartoon "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" is the local film event of the week.

photo courtesy row house cinema. © GKIDS

Animated features have seen a boom in narrative depth throughout recent years, with Disney’s stories and creations catching up to the imagination of sister studio Pixar (and also-rans Dreamworks and Illumination Entertainment occasionally finding a gem, too). Yet as the stories’ diversity has increased, the look of animation has largely homogenized.

That may be the chief reason that “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” which today begins an exclusive local run at Row House Cinema, is so striking: It looks like nothing else. Entirely hand-drawn and frequently impressionistic, with styles and tones shifting from scene to scene, the film couldn’t be farther from the polished perfection of the Mouse House — thus serving as a particularly fine alternative to mainstream cartoons.

Our protagonist is Dash, a fictionalized version of the film’s writer/director (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). He’s an intrepid, if slightly amoral, reporter for his high school’s newspaper; as sophomore year begins, however, a budding romance between his comrade Assaf (Reggie Watts) and Verti (Maya Rudolph), the paper’s editor, threatens his primacy among the paper’s staff.

A resultant outburst lands Dash in hot water; upon breaking into the school’s records to clear his name, though, a larger problem emerges. An almost-finished addition on the school’s roof will compromise the building’s structural integrity, Dash discovers, which is particularly bad news; the school is located on a cliff. And the cliff is located atop a fault line. (So that should explain the film’s title, if you hadn’t guessed it already.)

The film contains elements of the prototypical teen drama, sure, but only in service of an oddball disaster flick. It’s a daring and delightful combination made better by the atypical style (as well as a great voice cast, which also includes Lena Dunham, John Cameron Mitchell and Susan Sarandon, among others).

“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” has all the makings of a cult classic, and a theatrical release in Pittsburgh (particularly early in the run) for a true indie such as this is rare. In something of a slow weekend, this is unquestionably the film to see.

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The intentions were pure and ambitions grand in the making of “The Circle,” starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. The film, based on a lauded novel by Dave Eggers and directed by James Ponsoldt, follows Watson as she begins working at a seemingly benevolent, fictional tech giant; nods to Google, Facebook and Apple (particularly in the form of Hanks’ casually dressed CEO) are hard to miss.

Some of the sequences are undeniably interesting and hint at more rich narrative territory; at one point, an updated “Truman Show” breaks out, as the implications of livestreaming an entire life via social media are explored.

Unfortunately, “The Circle” doesn’t have anything groundbreaking to say. Perhaps it’s due to the speed with which technology, particularly via social media, has advanced in recent years; when Eggers was writing the book five years ago, the idea that our technology was keeping holistic tabs on us at all times was troubling. Now, it’s just a fact of life.

The performances are fine — John Boyega, Karen Gillan and Bill Paxton (in his final role) all turn in solid work — but there’s a tonal muddiness and a narrative limpness to “The Circle” that keeps it well outside the realm of particularly loaded scifi. It’s nothing you’ll hate, but nothing you have to see.

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The Montage: It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year, the spring edition of Drive-In Super Monster-Rama at the lovely Riverside Drive In in North Vandergrift. I’ll finally get my chance to see “Motel Hell” tonight, alongside four other creepers; another quartet, headlined by “Child’s Play,” screens tomorrow night. Try the buffalo-chicken pizza. Details here … Critical raves surrounded the unusual monster movie “Colossal” upon its limited release last month. The film stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis; it’s playing this week at the Hollywood Theater as well as Regent Square Cinema … Readers in my exact age bracket are familiar with the ’90s family favorite “The Sandlot,” perhaps the most perfect baseball movie ever made. (OK, not that, but still.) It’s this week’s retro choice at AMC Waterfront 22 … No time like the present (seriously): Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” will be revived Tuesday night at the Tull Family Theater.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner