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The Hogfather – How to Assassinate a Meta-Real Mythical Man

Terry Pratchett Hogfather 2006 Film Movie Review

Released: 2006
Runtime: 185min
Rating: PG
Cast Includes: Ian Richardson, Michelle Dockery, Marc Warren, David Jason, Tony Robinson, Terry Pratchett.

I’ve not attempted to write a Terry Pratchett based review before, although being one of a legion of fans (some newspapers claimed his books were amongst the most stolen from bookshops in the UK afterall), I could have. I’ve always been off put. Why? Apart from the author Craig Shaw Gardner who seems to be Pratchett if you mistakenly pick up one of his books (understandable given the iconic coverart by the same illustrator Josh Kirby), there’s no other I’ve come across who can make the metaphysical so mundane and lifelike/relatable whilst maintaining the magic and yet… Hilarious. Even when it also includes masses of social commentary and examples of the ironies of humanity’s ways of living or ‘quirks’. I basically find that unless you read the books and enjoy them it’s hard to read a review and appreciate his style, many reviews focus on the plot and hence have a hard time conveying the spidery web subtly/balance of character arcs or they discuss the social discourse so losing the dew drops of humour that stick delicately and sometimes explode on the strong web, and then of course there’s the spinning/mastery of storytelling.

So anyway I thought perhaps a film would be more accessible to people who haven’t been blessed or converted by his work yet 😉 and for hardcore fans (how can you not be o_o) something else to devour since we love devouring anything Discworld related unless of course you’ve already seen the film and so you are honour bound to agree with me or at least pretend to. *Cough*

WHAT THE HECK IS A HOGFATHER?

I won’t go into the cultural heritage but imagine Sinteerklass I mean Santa Claws, oops I mean Santa Claus(!) and then superimpose the jolly Father Christmas I mean Father Time, oops I mean Mother Time and the ‘Blackness [of] Time’ and ‘life/death’ combined with the earliest forms of worship using representative adjectives such a bears, boars, big cats, the colour red, the feeling of joy, the expansiveness of size etc… Ok gone too far back in the timeline; keeping it male and generally associated with the supposed primitiveness of early ‘Man’ picture a wild boar running, generally aggressive but protective (and kinda cute in a creepy way). Then for want of a better word the development of the ‘caveman’ standing finally on two legs, and with such a creature comes humanity’s cult of blood (lineage), death and reincarnation/the cycle of life and you have the Hogfather. A metamorphoses of spirit and animal and all the awe inspiring associations we have about ourselves simply because we exist with the privilege of being self-obsessed ignoring our surroundings creating such a strange thing as boredom. Fast forward in time, stick him in a symbolic red suit with faux fur trim and bigger in girth, and because we’re greedy, mean little bastards really, make him shower us with presents or lumps of coal.

AND SO IT BEGINS

The film that is. Creation existed way before Sky satellites!

Film producers have had just as hard a time trying to adapt his books as I’ve had waiting to write a review, there were a handful including animations but to be honest they weren’t that great (*shh don’t tell rabid sub-sections of fans I said that*). ‘Terry Pratchett’s Hogather’ (2006) was the first big budget and really cool version, at last, a mere 23 years after the first book and long after loads of people decided to put down their pitchforks, hammers, guns and so forth long enough to decide that they could agree on something and be followers of. Sky rubbed their hands gleefully at being the Ones to air the 3hour film in two 1.5hour parts and at Christmas!

As the film starts viewers are treated to a cosmic montage showing our tiny yet very interesting place in space, replete with deep voiced male narrator and soul stirring music; we knew it was going to be something epic.

We’re introduced to the Great A’Tuin, a goddess culture representative, predominantly Asian (Indian and later Japanese), of physical manifestation and indeed its vehicle. Yes, the idea of a giant turtle swimming through space with another/other form[s] of creation on its back has been around for ages (except as usual for those ancient scientific religions – yes I just put science and religion next to each other without nuclear war – it’s combined with math[mat/mother]ematics.

Great A'Tuin Discworld

Great A'Tuin Turtle Elephants Discworld

Whilst she (let’s not start the “it’s all matter of perspective” but wink wink it’s feminine debate) is traversing space on an interesting cycle of her own, she’s currently carrying 4 giant elephants in classical person-holding-water-vase pose, because they are holding a flat-ish plate (Discworld) of um a ton of water, bits of land and weird, wacky critters such as animals; some of which form guilds for commerce, trades, politics and you know, the well being of society through community control and specialized tyranny. Unfortunately this melting pot includes a liberal surplus of bodies, a high demand for goods and services but a narrow supply and distribution of said wants and needs.

That brings us to Ankh-Morpork the quasi Egyptian-pig sounding strangely similar to London, twin city of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork separated by a gloopy, polluted river in between. A city containing it’s very own tower of Babel I mean ‘Tower of Art’ in the Unseen University [of magic], guilds galore, rich and poor, a ‘benevolent tyrant’ as its political head (trained at the Assassin’s Guild of course) and all the ‘pig [supposedly] sausages-inna-bun’ you can eat courtesy of its very own ‘Only Fools and Horses’ beloved con-artist bootlegger.

Now let’s move to a very unique young lady named Susan Sto Helit, not unique in that she’s an offspring of a demi-being, or that she has two-toned hair (hey we’ve all been there right?) but odd in that she’s pretty, pretty clever, tough, amazes others and yet has somehow found herself as a teacher/governess, and funnily enough it suits her o_o who’d have thunk it?

“And then Jack chopped down what was the world’s last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant’s children didn’t have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions.”

That’s our Susan alright.

Susan Sto Helit

Susan, like some people I know, has done her best to separate and decline her ‘otherworldy’ familial connections because they’re just so annoying and turn up whenever they feel like it whilst watching her all the time. That’s not to say they’re all bad and it just so happens her grandfather, one of the smaller Death’s of the cosmos is someone you can’t resist, now and then. He’s tall, skeletal, has enchanting glowing eyes, wears a dark robe, carries a scythe and has a blindingly white horse. *Sigh, he’s such a heartthrob!* (I’m serious.) It’s turns out this Hogswatch/Xmas (or perhaps Winter Solstice) he’s going to have to amalgamate with his human roots and take on the hogfather’s (who has gone missing) duties delivering gifts thus unknowingly leaving himself vulnerable. He thinks he’s covered his bases in getting his granddaughter to temporarily fulfill his post but neither of them account for they greys…

I mean The Auditors. An impending, looming, glooming, dooming title if ever there was one, besides breeders and butchers of all life on earth. These shadowy, floaty beings apparently run the universe and have no sense of humour. But why would such self-confessed omnipotent, omnipresent beings need humans, specifically assassins, to get rid of a so-called underling such as Death? The Auditors know all about casual cruelty in the name or order, it was probably them who taught humans in the first place, and admittedly they still ‘guide’ events on Earth um Discworld. Who cares, the Assassin’s Guild are not ones to turn down money and a challenge (most of their members are nobility) and at 3 million Ankh-Morporkian dollars they’re not going to be shown lacking in ingenuity. Bah, I’d be insulted if the bounty on my head was a measly 3 million pounds or dollars!

Enter Mr Jonathan Teatime pronounced tee-a-time-eh for us plebs (his sentiment not mine) and I’m only telling you because he gets mightily peeved when someone gets it wrong and according to him everybody gets its wrong – much like Hyacinth Bucket (bouquet) from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ and we know what she’s like so don’t say I didn’t warn ye. Despite his boyish looks he is cold, logical, unfeeling, uncaring, shit stirring, taking perverse pleasure in other people’s suffering, egotistical and lacking in social ability. In short he’s a psychopath and expects other to respect him with his backhanded complimentary veneer of charm and cheer even though when it comes to those all important questions “have I made the world even in the teensiest way a better place, how have I helped, how could and have I improved, can others trust me etc etc” he adds nothing of worth to the human race and the world wouldn’t miss him. Unsurprisingly he begrudges everything, including his status at the guild, and has already worked on plans to kill the Hogfather, the Tooth Fairy, The Soul Cake Tuesday Duck (Discworld’s Easter Bunny) and even Death.

Jonathan Teatime Villian Hogfather 2006 Terry Pratchett

Jonathan puts together a crew of dastardly characters and misfits to enact out his plan, an ambitious practical illusion to invert the already topsy turvy precarious beliefs of people so that demi-beings and divinities cease to exist, at least in people’s field of sensory perception. He thinks he can kill them and that is the premise of the story, but I think at most he could hide or change them, which would be awkward in a world where multi-species of slowly socially accepted sentience co-exist including humans, vampires, trolls, goblins, dwarves, little blue people, werewolves ad seemingly infinitum and many of those are demi-beings in themselves being cross-breeds with different abilities, some more diluted than others.

So it comes to Death and Susan (her capabilities skipped her human parents altogether and went direct from Death to her) to deal with the terrorist Jonathan, of the nasty ‘looks up dolls skirts whilst sneering’ persuasion.

Death Susan Sto Helit

AND SO IT ENDS

This was a really sleek production, being British based in cast/accents, locations, writing and designing you can see the use of dark and somewhat monochromatic/pale colour which suits the season and many of the environments including the Tooth Fairies, the Hogfather’s and Death’s inter-dimensional abodes. Those are nicely contrasted with the rich red/browns that we cling on to from Autumn past inside our homes and decadent textures depending on one’s class. Many of the characters are very stylised and convincingly so from their attire to mannerisms, something I found slightly lacking in the following Discworld films ‘The Colour of Magic’ (2008, including ‘The Light Fantastic’, also in two parts). The CGI is also miles better in this film, provided by the Moving Picture Company (one of their international facilities being in London), the mix of virtual reality and reality works as effectively as the blend of ‘anthropomorphic’ demi-beings and their effect on ‘real reality’ in the storyline.

The excellent settings allow the characterization and script to shine, the sarcastic, sardonic and sometimes innocent or offhand quips about how weird things are and at the end of the day the shrugging of shoulders ‘that’s the way it is’ attitude. That dark humour doesn’t come through as well in the ‘The Colour of Magic’ in my opinion and the long running time couldn’t manage without feeling sluggish. Here though I felt the length was suitable because it needs to give enough explanation but does it whilst telling the story, and is very faithful to the book so you don’t need to have read the book to understand it nor do you need to read the book thereafter (again, don’t tell the rabid fans I said that… But for my own personal safety – Disclaimer – it’s always a pleasure to read or listen to the audiobooks and Pratchett is the only author whose work I can revisit and still find the jokes funny, I can even find new ones each time!) Whoever did the casting did an apt job of casting for vocals as well since many of the characters are unique in both looks and oratory. All except one though, and the most important one (and his bird)… Here’s a quote from Death and his assistant Albert:

Death: Let’s go sleigh them.
[looks at Albert]
Death: I don’t know if you noticed Albert, but that was a pune, or play on words.
Albert: Ho ho ho sir. [figuratively rolling eyes]

Now whilst the pacing of the delivery was perfect, I would have preferred to hear:

Death: LET’S GO SLAY THEM
[looks wryly down at Albert]
Death: I DON’T KNOW IF YOU NOTICED ALBERT… BUT THAT WAS A PUNE, A PLAY ON WORDS.
[I’M GETTING PRETTY GOOD AT THIS HUMAN LARK, I CAN BE AS AMUSING AS THEM.]
Albert: Ho ho ho sir. [figuratively rolls eyes, eats yet another pie and downs his almost 2000th brandy, sherry or whatever]

You see, Death of the Discworld is a smaller version or one of the many workers of the cosmic DEATH, and as such has a presence that is both absolute and ethereal, a voice so hollow that it’d burst your ear drums if you could really hear it. As it is, if you exist after meeting Death you might only think you heard the hint of a voice after the blood-draining all-too-clear moment you knew at the time when you met Death prior and thought to yourself “oh shit, too late now”. Now that is asking a lot to put into a voice even with modern tech wonders and I felt that Death’s frozen cgi face was difficult enough to portray his thoughts and emotions, and then the voice wasn’t ‘hollow’ enough. He is voiced by Ian Richardson – who was also the narrator, and did a very apt job indeed – and his vocals sound ‘enhanced’ technologically but there’s just something, some spark of life in the death that’s missing. The crow, another of Death’s assistants doesn’t sound right either. I also didn’t like that the Death of Rats (a smaller and specific form of Death that was accidentally created and he decided to leave separate of himself instead of re-absorbing) only gets one scene. On a sidenote – the Auditors sound like something out of Dr Who.

Death Albert Terry Pratchett Hogfather Film 2006

That said their antics and conversations whilst acting as the Hogfather are sufficiently entertaining and we get to see other funny characters like the less efficient members of the City Watch (police force) trying to arrest Death in a department store for taking over their grotto and giving kids what they really want instead of what their parent’s want, and most eyebrow-raisingly for not being the real fake Hogfather (an employee dressed as the Hogfather).

Back in the assassination plot we meet characters like Violet one of the workers of the Tooth Fairy, so a tooth fairy herself but not THE Tooth Fairy (like with Death there’s far too many creatures on this planet/Discworld for one archetype to deal with, delegation became necessary) and her soon to be love interest Bilious the ‘Oh-God [I feel sick] of Hangovers’. Whose pitiable health the wizards of the Unseen University attempt to fix with their ‘we try not to meddle and mess up everything anymore but we’re not very good at that [so give us unlimited budgets and status to placate us]’ method.

Hogfather Violet Tooth Fairy Jonathan Teatime

Terry Pratchett Wizards Unseen University Bilious Hangovers

The musical score is impressive and when coupled with vast scenes and various climates is what I already called epic – so nowt more need be said on that other than it’s orchestral/electronic and there’s no singing (or dancing) theme tunes (something I don’t mind and saw a bit of in the final Discworld movie ‘Going Postal’ (2010) but wouldn’t have worked here). Add to that well timed sound effects and you’ve got top notch quality.

All round, top notch quality. And perfect for the ‘festive’ time (especially if you liked The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)).

Happy Hogswatch. Ho, Ho, ho. Or Humbug! *Shrug* 🙂

Susan Sto Helit Bone Castle

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Scrooge (1935) – A good man of business does not a good man make

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Director: Henry Edwards
Distributor: Paramount Pictures (US, original version)
Runtime: 78 min

I hazard to guess that like many people I’ve seen and read multiple adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843)’ but inspired by a similar story in the film ‘The Cheaters’ (1945)’ I decided to watch the earliest ‘talkie’ film of this tale i.e. the 1935 version.

I’m not usually a fan of stories where characters start praying on their deathbed aka seeking redemption and/or solace too little too late but Dickens’ knew how to tell a poignant, moral social commentary enough to melt people’s hearts and get them thinking in and from the days when even on a superficial level many didn’t pretend to care about the poor, poor children or orphans. Looking at budgetary cuts orphans still get a rough deal but this being an xmas tale allows for festive disposition to help the cause of general sympathy, perhaps.

Note – I doubt I could write a review on par or worthy of the novella itself as it is so crisp and quoteworthy that it’s text is its own testament. Therefore I’m not going to try and live upto its elegance of phrase and take rather a casual, semi-ironic tone.

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must but why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…”
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it since. It is a ponderous chain!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
“Business!” Cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” [sarcasm]

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

A successful man called Jacob Marley died leaving his partner Ebenezer Scrooge to continue the business of money lending. It’s cold but even the temperature has difficulty stifling the activity of London; fog, darkness, begging and repossession can’t stop people shopping for and looking forward to eating at Christmas but Scrooge is determined that it’s a poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket once a year. Much to the detriment of his wretched clerk Bob Cratchit who like his boss works until a late hour by candlelight in a premises that seems colder on the inside than the outside, but unlike his boss he’s keenly aware of the misery and frozen room, reprimanded for wanting a bit of coal to feed to the dwindling fire and generally threatened with losing his job for even an excess word.

Scrooge is hassled as modern people would consider it by travelling charity fundraisers and his sentiments about money to waste on idle people, prisons and poor houses reminds me of David Cameron and his usual mixing of migration and employment issues to blame low income people for being poor. Too bad we can’t use ice money like they do in the stop motion animation ‘Jack Frost’ (1979) (and in which Jack Frost falls in love with a girl called Elisa, *wink wink* Frozen/Rise of the Guardians fans.) After he manages to get rid of said collectors (oh the irony given he’s quick to repossess from debtors) he’s then accosted by his nephew who lets his uncle’s insults slide like water off a duck’s back and insists on extending an invitation to his Christmas party. He is strenuously declined of course. Following this Cratchit is allowed to go home finally after being told he’s always too quick to finish work, that the clock is fast, that begrudgingly he can have the whole day off tomorrow and to be back all the earlier the next day (when most of us would be bloated with indigestion on Boxing Day).

It’s ironic that Scrooge considers his all too merry nephew ‘poor’ and buying things he can’t afford getting each year older and not a penny richer yet when you look at his home, friends and celebration you see that they know not the meaning of poor and in a sense why Scrooge (and many people) consider being poor criminal since the Cratchits are abject poor. They manage just enough optimism for their residence not to turn into a likeness of derelict living but it’s not far off (I’ve lived in many and known others who’ve lived in such hovels/squalor).

How rich a man Scrooge is and surely that entitles him to contentment and cheer that other people seem to have but don’t deserve given that they are poorer than he, he’s earned his ennobled place in the world and to keep Christmas or not as he pleases, unlike other people and their familial ilk. So then why does the cold but not cheery atmosphere of his counting house follow him home, dark and desolate, dare I say waiting to decay? Many a wealthy employer or benefactor is stringent with their dependents/employees (Lowood Institution from Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ (1847) anybody?) And then ‘justifiably’ indulgent or keeping up appearances elsewhere as expected but not Scrooge, he’s as miserly as they come and is it any wonder that his name has become synonymous for skinflints and those lacking in empathy?

Later that night he is visited by a ghost from his past and three spirits representing the past, present and future. His memories and snippets of the future are shown to him sparing no expense on their mission to prove that he is not actually incorrigible. Being one of many people who can dish it out daily yet barely able to take the tiniest portion of his own medicine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow and so he eagerly and readily seeks a remedy to his own dis-ease.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

HOW WELL DOES THIS VERSION TELL THE STORY AND HOW WELL DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER VERSIONS?

I’m partial to Black and White (B&W) films from 1935-45 but realize that the lack of colour could put some people off. I’d say bear in mind the social importance of films from that era, even though they were post-Code they still imo had the spirit of Pre-Code (approx 1930-1934) films. In short Pre-Code refers to a period between silents and talkies, where they had the initial ‘freedom’ of saying what they wanted before being subject to censorship regulations. I find films released up until the end of WWII to be surprisingly and refreshingly progressive, White women’s roles for example were less stereotypical and clichéd then they became post-war, they were allowed to be ‘normal’, witty, assertive, sharp, caustic or even intelligent, they didn’t have to fit have to be cookie cutter lookers, wives, mothers or secretaries on film at least. Asian and Native American actors were still pretty non-existent but there were a few notable Black actors allowed in main roles though those were very stereotypical, ‘Blacking up’ White actors lasted until the 1980’s but background extras could still actually be non-Caucasian. Storylines were a lot more telling as well, e.g common reference to masonic lodges and their influence in society and the impressive ‘House of Rothschild’ (1934) which I doubt could be re-made today without being whitewashed and heavily streamlined. It’s still a propaganda film but movies from that era were better at showing the motivations and complex nature of characters better than post-war to today in many respects though of course there have been landmark films in between particularly on the social diversity side but not necessarily historical accuracy. In that regard I can’t stress the importance of B&W films as part of our cultural consciousness despite our advances in technology which make them seem superfluous to many. I find that what they lack in technicolour, dolby sound, surround cinema sound, CGI, HD and 3D they make up for in rich content or at least a good laugh Wilde and Wodehouse style in the ‘screwball comedies’ genre.

That said from amidst the versions of A Christmas Carol I’ve come across this 1935 one and the 2009 CGI animated one (ultimately a vehicle for Jim Carrey) are the most detailed and faithful but the modern version lacks in many ways from the audacious ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’ title reminiscent of how they’ve edited their name onto the Muppets franchise (slap in the face to Jim Henson and team imo) to its feeling of slowness! The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is still my favourite with their unique characterization and a bit of silliness. The only benefit of Disney’s 2009 rendition I thought was the ode to old films in the long opening sequence with production credits, the taking of the tuppence off the eyes of Marley’s dead body and his dramatic spectre.

Where modern version benefit from special effects (sfx) the 1935 version has to rely on its script, which thankfully is taken from excellent source material anyway, and ambiance. That’s not to say there aren’t sfx, stunts and stunt-people have always been a major part of productions and we’re treated to the glowing figure of Christmas Past and the looming doom that is Christmas Future but unfortunately we don’t see the ghost of Jacob Marley. We hear his voice, those iconic lines, the rattling of chains and slight clanking of burdensome money boxes but interestingly enough all we ‘see’ of him is the point where he is supposed to be standing/floating – in front of a door. Very significant. I’m not sure whether I would have preferred an sfx apparition or more flesh and blood but spectral human but I did miss seeing him. The portrayal of Scrooge’s memories is distinctly kept as visions of the past by adding a frame/border to the film rather than being immersed in and almost re-living it, a technique ubiquitous in modern versions, I preferred them separate.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Additionally it seems to take him longer to realize that people will actually be happy and benefit from his material possessions when he dies than it does in other films. Overall it is a film that would work better if watched at night I feel, it’s not one of the clearer B&W movies out there and is quite dark visually but still… I prefer it to the remastered colour version where scenes were cut. There are moments in the initial scenes that seemed to suffer some sharp editing leaving the dialogue feeling a little stunted but it makes it way steadily thereafter. It also shows corpses, something usually omitted.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Despite this being a relatively short film we see more of misty London and the people in it than in many others, both before and after Scrooge’s transformation; even with these scenes it is well paced and contrasts social strata whilst highlighting Scrooge as a loner – although seemed to confuse or ignore the difference between loneliness and solitude with the latter not being a bad thing nor the same as being anti-social. On a lesser note in later years I’ve noticed the dialogue subtly changed to favour concise delivery and cultural understanding of terms – subtle, not detrimental but still noticeable when watching this.

THE ACTING AND SOUND

Scrooge is portrayed by actor Seymour Hicks (having also played him in the earlier 1913 version) who does grim and nasty well, not so convincing as remorseful and repentant but well enough at joyous and seemingly grateful. His nephew Fred (played by Robert Cochran) steals his thunder despite having shorter appearances and I like that he’s shown as amiably optimistic and exuberant rather than quite brash as he’s seen in some later films. Then there’s Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) who seems a little more outspoken and brave than modern counterparts, just a little but it makes all the difference and I found myself smiling at his small ‘affronts’. Strangely enough as a ‘sophisticate’ – a term used by the stirring narration/emulation of Jacob Marley by Mr. M in the film ‘The Cheaters’ (1945) – I usually find myself fond of and sad about but a tad ‘used to’ Tiny Tim. He and Scrooge’s ex-fiancée Belle are endearing characters but they can be hammy and sickeningly sweet and that’s coming from someone easily tearstruck by the suffering of others, I get through tissues… This film however moved me on Tiny Tim’s part again and somehow made it personal. He reminded me of someone I loved and lost, who was killed on 13th December 2009, with whose death much of me died too and since numerous enemies have made sport reminding me of and re-enacting using innocent animals as representatives to keep the memory/feelings as fresh as possible. So it’s no understatement that this film with its obviously predictable storyline somehow managed to be evocative. He’s less of a central character here but more believable.

Films of this period usually have a suitable score with emphasis on the melodramatic/driving parts and this is no exception, it was really in those parts that I noticed the acoustic side. I’m not adverse to hymns in general but I didn’t appreciate hearing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and thrice at that (once acoustic). It’s not what I would consider a typical musical but I did feel the need to turn the volume down during the singing. Overall the sound was clear enough for me, it’s not scratchy and doesn’t jump except in those early scenes where it felt like some parts were left on the cutting room floor.

FINIS AND ADIEU

Personally I wouldn’t give him another chance (given the amount he’s had per person he’s hurt and hurt to such extents) but what better motivator is there than the idea of personal gain to get people to treat each other better.

“You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused”

One of the best and earliest films of this classic and thus far still pertinent story, I’m not always of the ‘oldest is the best’ persuasion but the shoe fits here at least for those who wouldn’t find it too much of a culture shock between old and new filming. For those that haven’t read or seen the story at all, it transitions very well between vying emotions and attitudes of different people but the overarching theme is to show the more unlikely, startlingly quick and apparently permanent change of a person’s personality, even in extenuating circumstances (when push comes to shove via existential forces in this case) but it does so with the cheer necessary for the festive feeling of this time of year and wraps things up conveniently and nicely. I actually think the ending isn’t as clever as the rest of the writing but it’s a happy ending and who doesn’t want one of those? 🙂

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Nim’s Island – There are many types of hero and heroic deeds

Nim's Island

Directed by: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Released: 2008
Runtime: 96min
Rating: U

Having seen this recently and thinking I’d write about it today when I had some time to think I then realised that today is:

Day of the Imprisoned Writer
National Philanthropy Day (USA)

And thought ‘how fitting’.

One of the characters in this film is an imprisoned writer, though not in the traditional sense and seemingly of her own edifice but the root of her conditions are also linked to society. More on that later.

Day of the Imprisoned Writer is about authors who are likely to be/are persecuted for their work, all over the world political writers to poets are in danger and punished in many ways from surveillance, experimentation, imprisonment and death. PEN is an international organization that attempts to bring awareness to these issues and support such people.

http://www.pen-international.org/
http://www.englishpen.org/

‘Freedom to write, freedom to read’ – always check for the logo in books and if interested perhaps petition your favourite publishers to become PEN partners.

Looking at other reviews on this film it seems I’m in them minority in liking this film, perhaps because in this case I’m willing to overlook the ‘unrealistic’ plot (unusual circumstances are not usually a problem for me anyway) and plot holes because of the sincere (to me), witty storytelling and spirit.

Striving to be who you are, what you need to be and what you want to be

We’re treated to an animated (graphically) introduction by 11-year old Nim on the importance of stories in our lives and the loss of her mother:

‘That’s all my mother is to me now, just these stories…

‘The Oceanographer and the Great Blue Whale.’

Once upon a time, the oceanographer went out on the wide-open sea to find out what was in the stomach of the great blue whale. As my mother was staring into the mouth of the whale a mysterious ship came out of nowhere. It was called The Buccaneer Ship. It got much too close and it frightened the whale and the oceanographer was swallowed and taken by the sea. Dad felt that we should sail the ocean and look for that blue whale that, someday, that whale would bring her back to us. I think he just missed her. We both did.

By my 4th birthday, we had sailed around the globe, twice… Then one day, we found it. Our home.”

I think that really sets the scene for the film in addition to the opening line from her father:

“If we take care of our island Nim, our island will take care of us.”

Nim’s father is a marine biologist and following the death of her mother they decide to find a secluded, special place where they can live freely and peacefully – they are as self sustainable as possible but periodically a ship comes with supplies for things they can’t make/find themselves.

They are the only humans on ‘their’ island in the South Pacific and it truly makes a beautiful, charming and enchanting setting for the film. Nim is obviously home schooled and like those who in my own experience have had the benefit of such education is more able than her peers [would be] as well as more creative/having advanced vision (such as students from Steiner Schools). Her and her father’s lifestyle is mix in that they’ve gone ‘back to nature’ but with access to computers/electronic tools and seem to have found genuine contentment. Therefore they are very protective over their environment and Nim particularly wants to keep it just for them, perhaps she feels that any ‘trespass’ would disturb their balance, whilst I can understand that I do think that part of it is based on fear and the film illustrates it as the feeling she has under extreme duress.

Her father is obsessed with finding a rare/hypothetical plankton that he wants to name ‘Protozoa Nim’ (protozoa – being simple and/or single cell organisms, essentially containing apparently earliest traces of life), it seems to be his life work and so he goes off on one of his trips to find one, this time his gut feeling will win out, surely… He tries to get Nim to accompany him because he’ll be gone for two nights but she’s determined to stay and guard her sea-turtle friend’s birth since the previous year only one of the eggs survived. Nim has numerous animal friends including Chica the turtle, Fred the bearded dragon lizard who rides on her shoulder, Selkie the sea lion (I like that name since Selkie is the Celtic and old English word for seal or more specifically seals that shapeshift into humans/humanoids) and Galileo the pelican – all of the animals have helped her growth as a person and education in fundamental ways.

Nim's Island Film Review

Photo credits to: outnow.ch/Movies/2008/NimsIsland/

Nim is one of those children (modern and/or free spirited) who calls her parent by their name instead of title i.e. ‘Jack’, a practice which for all intents and purposes suits her practical nature, can you imagine trying to find your parent in a crowd by calling ‘Mum!’ ‘Dad!’ And having probably half the crowd turn to you in askance and not just because you’re a shouting fool 😉

Nim's Island Movie Review

On the other hand, in San Francisco, a very famous author called Alex Rover (Nim’s favourite author) writes about a protagonist of the same name; a fearless, brave and quintessential adventurer, the exact opposite of the author. The real Alex is agoraphobic (doesn’t like to leave her house, scared of travelling) and germophobic but thanks to technology doesn’t have to leave her precious and sanitary house. Interestingly enough and perhaps strange to some but Nim refers to her and Jack’s situation as a ‘scientist’s life’ which I can understand in old science, having understanding yet living harmoniously but Alex’s lifestyle is far more the modern scientist, clinical and sterile. How are the characters connected? Alex is able to write her novels by communicating with others and their research and so writes to Jack but she’s on the cusp of serious change whether she likes the process or not.

During Jack’s trip a storm breaks and in the bleakness that follows all he and Nim have are faith and determination. Additionally one of the bain’s of water expanses aka a cruise ship has decided the island will make a great excursion destination, and we quickly see how a pristine island looks as a tourist beach. Can Nim save her island from mass tourism and successfully reach out to those she loves at the same time?

“The world was designed to help people find each other” – Anita, ‘Read or Die’ (anime)

Especially with the internet.

When the ship comes into sight Nim feel’s the paradise is being invaded and is reminded of the story of her mother and the blue whale so she embarks on a mission to make the island seem unattractive and offputting. Jack is AWOL so she has to grow up some more but unfortunately gets injured, how is she going to manage and how can Alex help her?

The setting of the story was probably easier for many to watch as a fantasy but the onset of events (which I won’t describe) were probably harder to believe or stay with for many but I saw them as symbolic for transformation, doing what has to be done and ‘character development’ (which so many find important).

Like some authors I’ve come across Alex’s fictional character is a form of alter ego, semi-visceral, ethereal and acts either as a ghostly presence or conscience/mirror; he urges Alex to be more like him, more like the hero she and other others need/want her to be. Ironically her writing is so pervasive that people think her the living embodiment of the protagonist i.e. that she is a he and real rather than image. She shows the greatest growth in this film, not only does she have to persuade everybody that she is indeed ‘the’ Alex Rover, a writer, but she also has to become the adventurer they expect. Her journey to find Nim is the most fantastic and each stage sees her dropping or losing boundaries/trappings/crutches, layer after layer she escapes/lets go of inhibitions, fears, doubts and perceived safety nets, risking it all, for what? A dream? A stranger/girl across the ocean who admires and needs her and feels inexplicably connected to? Her challenges are both physical and mental, striving for something spiritual. She’s going for what seems impossible.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

Jack is also trying to get home to Nim, despite anything and everything that happens he is sure, failure is not an option.

The ties that bind together the storytelling

This seems to be the area that really let people down and incurred a mixed/negative reception. There are some scenes that are ‘too much’ such as the lengths characters go to, I think they fit in with the target audience of the film and the genre(s). Another criticism some have is the use of sfx/cgi e.g. with the animals, being a person that doesn’t support the use of animals I have no problem with having to animate/accentuate their behaviour and I thought their antics/assistance delightful, I would have had problems with the mass lizard catapulting scene otherwise (reminding me of an old film where they ran over a goose’s tail and practically through other birds and numerous other examples).

Our neurotic author garners disdain as well since she really does throw herself in at the deep end pushing her limits in a way that most people wouldn’t/couldn’t but the drama in this film allows for that – she loses everything to gain everything.

Water is symbolic of transformation (and indeed purification, as is fire), travel and doors/portals hence space (the cosmos) is often referred to as a sea/ocean and death as a river so I find it fitting that so much happens in the water, because of it, it’s changing (violent/peaceful) nature and them living on an island. Apart from the volcano scenes I liked the underwater ones the most, not quite as awe inspiring or even transcendental as other films – even the old film She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) – but still perfectly representing both the force; attraction/repulsion between bodies e.g. the distance, and pull/barrier between people.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The soundtrack isn’t too obvious but noticeable in a background enhancing way, at times raising in crescendo but never taking over and is purely instrumental (I think it’s quite precarious determining suitability for vocal or even pop songs in films, and the inclusion of those would have lightened the mood a tad too much here).

There are many great quotes although I’ve tried to limit them to the most poignant imo to save the significance for if/when you watch it 🙂 and if little else the script does credit to the film in conjunction to some of the acting which is quite hammy and akin to gesticulating whilst talking. I liked that and thought it added a comic element making the whole thing more watchable and maintaining good pace. Jodie Foster is a fine actress and hasn’t failed to impress in the films I’ve seen her in, I’m used to her playing serious and sometimes gritty roles but here she has an element of physical comedy, ‘lighthearted’ yet dramatic grandstanding with underlying gravity – a type of acting I mostly remember her using in Bugsy Malone (1976) but there as a cynical minx, here it was gratifying to see her play a themed character again and so well (and as an adult rather than child creepily playing sexualized adult). Gerard Butler plays both Jack and the fictional Alex, doing so quite convincingly though both are gregarious. He doesn’t feature as much as Nim and the real Alex but at least he changes his accent between roles and I liked hearing a bit of ‘Scottishness’ from him! Abigil Breslin does a heartfelt job as Nim, a girl who is not really alone and yet is quite solitary and scared; strong yet vulnerable and the obvious hero of the story who is fighting desperately hard to save the island, its inhabitants, the people she loves, herself and the entire environment of ‘home/safety’.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The End

I can relate in ways to all of the characters and think that viewers can do the same particularly with Nim and Alex – even if it means having to remove their circumstances first to try and understand what they’re going through. If that is still too unlikely at least we can look at Nim’s Island as a ‘decent fantasy flick’ although to many ‘nothing special’. I don’t think it has to be different or benchmark to be special, I can see why people expected an immersive/grandiose epic given the cast/setting/current standards but like the film Bridge to Terabithia (2007) I think this story is more about the characters involved and what they go through internally/how they feel though BoT also emphasized how we can affect/effect the environment around us and is more ‘slice of life’.

I haven’t read the book by Wendy Orr or seen the sequel but I am interested now due to this film. I appreciate the way that Nim and Jack’s surname is ‘Rusoe’ like Robinson Crusoe and hence linking to Swiss Family Robinson however those are more serious and survivalist, the latter being academic and in the storytelling the thematic difference being that those stories were about people lost/travelling to a strange place(s) whereas Nim’s Island is already home and is ultimately a ‘feel good’ film despite the hardship.

Sometimes the unlikeliest of people become/have to be heroes because even the strongest of us need help, who will save the heroes if the people they care for don’t respond?

‘Be the Hero in Your Own Life Story.’

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Tad, The Lost Explorer – Professor Jones oops ‘Professor Stones’

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review

Release Date: 2012
Rating: PG (a few tongue-in-cheek moments)
Language: English (originally Spanish)
Runtime: 92min
Director: Enrique Gato
Cast Includes: Kerry Shale, Ariel Winter and Cheech Marin.

Ever dreamt of being an intrepid explorer, a thrill seeking danger junkie, treasure and glory hunter?…

Thanks to Indiana Jones, the Thousand and One Nights and a bunch of other classics and epics many of us probably have and still do to varying extents and this family friendly film speaks to that escapism but is convincingly warm too.

Introducing Tadeo Stones aka ‘Tad’ a construction worker whose about to lose his 7th job this year, he’s always wanted to be an archaeologist and akin to ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (1947) he can lose sight of reality whilst daydreaming but they won’t be dreams for much longer.

His friend Professor Humbert explains to him that 500 years ago when the Inca’s were being conquered by the Spaniards they asked ‘Mother Nature’ for help and were told to take their gold to Paititi. Once there they were given a magical, golden statue ‘the golden Indian of Paititi’ which gave the bearer(s) immortality (you’d think people would get over that idea but thankfully this film shows it’s not as it first might appear). All very El Dorado (hence I’ll bypass the use of ‘Indian’ which is insulting to native Americans and actual Indians) though bear in mind that Paititi is also a legendary lost city.

Then in a journey the spans from Chicago to Peru (Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines) Tad and his faithful dog take the place of the professor, meet a lady, her father, parrot, hustler, a celebrity and a shifty organization all on the hunt for the treasure and race for their lives.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review

THE STORY & ITS PLAYERS

Being an action movie it has to have wanderlust; a goal, a journey and a PSA (public service announcement) aka a dream, a convoluted set of events and a happy or at least a satisfying ending.

The theme of this movie speaks to me; archaeology, history, myth and truth wrapped in mystery but it’s also a parody/spoof and I love those too. It has many odes, most noticeably to the Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Tomb Raider franchises but there are other modern cultural references throughout. It starts out in the usual fashion of films in this target bracket, a bit boring but laced with eyebrow raising fun moments like an Uncle Sam poster morphed into a call for potential archaeologists instead of soldiers and ‘patriots’ to Tad finding a Coca-Cola bottle at his work and going to the Metropolitan Museum to have it authenticated and I have to say that I related to Tad’s Egyptian hieroglyph printed blanket. Once the main cast is introduced the ball really gets rolling, even though the death defying action sequences are already well underway (and very impressive).

The Good

Tad Stones
The supposed ‘nice guy finishes last’ syndrome and fanboy to boot. A homely ‘bricklayer’ dubbed ‘monkey’ by his idol, he haplessly ends up living his dream on the run from the big, bad guys with guns of the Odysseus group in a conspiracy to steal the long lost treasure. He falls in lust or we’ll be nice and call it love at first sight for Sara and doggedly stands by her and her father in daring rescue, all whilst hiding his identity. He finds that his construction skills come in very handy. Kitted out like as the adventurer archetype he’s actually given Indiana’s hat to wear (sans the whip, gun and obnoxiousness) though he doesn’t recognize the namesake.

Sara Lavrof
A typical modern heroine; attractive, clever, a bit cynical/sharp and trying to improve a situation. She became an archaeologist to spend time with her father Professor Lavrof and subsequently got engaged to Max Morden (celebrity), both of whom are workaholics after big finds and having little time nor seemingly care for much else. She calls her father ‘Professor’ as they don’t really have a familial relationship but that’s about to change and her knowledge leads to the right locale of Paititi. Like Lara Croft she’s invested in the practical and recommended robust boots/socks combo but doesn’t see how that protection should also apply to the rest of the body which is instead kitted out in a vest and short shorts.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Sara

The Professors – Lavrof and Humbert
Stereotypical aged profs i.e. they could be more beard than man if left to their own devices; portrayed as benevolent and esteemed (the film leaves out a predisposition to pubs). They found half of the key to Paititi 30+ years ago and Lavrof has finally found the other half. We only see Humbert at the beginning of the movie as he is quickly displaced by Tad and sent off to hospital but what we see of his colleague Lavrof is a man who cares for his daughter, doesn’t like his soon-to-be son-in-law and doesn’t want Odysseus to get to the lost city.

The Bad

Maximillian ‘Max’ Modern
With a name like Maximillian how can you not be chiselled and conceited? Ok, ok so Greeks and Italians can have very long names and if you go by the meaning of names that’d make it hard to define a personality but this is film of predictable characters. Basically he’s the world’s most famous archaeologist, not critically renowned but commercially popular and so generally deemed a himbo. He also happens to have dastardly plans and profitable intentions when it comes to his alliances.

Odysseus (à la Ulysses)
A shady organization trying to find Paititi, it is due to them that Tad ends up on the quest instead of Professor Humbert and they also abduct Professor Lavrof using Sara as a hostage to get him to translate the directions/riddle to the lost city. They’re military in structure, resources and tactics. We don’t really learn anything else about them other that they don’t acknowledge much in the way of limits.

The Comic Relief

What is a good, decent or semi-decent stereotypical animation without its supporting cast of loveable and inevitably funny/cool characters who would steal the show given half the chance and tend to have their eye on lucrative spin-offs.

101 ways to avoid dying in horrible, miserable and excruciatingly painful ways… AKA Freddy
Also called the walking shopping network Teddy is exactly that; the jack of all trades ‘guide’ with a large and interesting to say the least looking family which he constantly refers to as his reason for making money. His clothing is impossibly filled with all manner of items that presumably fell off the back of a lorry and he aptly sells Tad a ‘Swiss pincher with a thousand uses’ (instead of a Swiss army knife) for which one can only find out its uses through use and guessing since no manual or logic is forthcoming. Perhaps needless to say, he has some of the best lines in the movie, oh and he likes soap opera.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Freddy

I’m so cool, I don’t need to waste words on you… AKA the mute parrot
Reminiscent of an ‘Angry Bird’ Belsoni (not sure of the spelling) portrays his super coolness with verve and style, from being a brave defender to playing poker I can only imagine what he’d be like with vocals. This bird has what it takes.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Parrot

You know it babe. Had to use this pic – credit to blu-ray.com

I’m sweet and loyal and will pee on you… AKA Jeff the dog
A cute, loyal dog and Tad’s companion. Not much to say about him really other than he fits right into the supporting cast and is a ‘good/brave/loveable dog’ helping his friends and he and the parrot play off each other well.

I’m a man called a mummy, wrapped in swathes and can’t technically be alive since that’s a contradiction in terms.
He’s guarded the treasure for 500 years, is a chief mummy of mummies and has interesting and funnily enough easy to understand pictorial instructions for the various traps and ways to generally incapacitate, maim and kill people (mainly the latter) inside the ruins he protects. He and his legion are apparently immortal and want to be left in relative peace away from presumably hordes of screaming tourists, business tycoons, government agencies and all those who’d just love to stampede and probably concrete the jungle to make it into a circus.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Mummy

AESTHETICS

First let’s get the CGI issue out of the way; obvious cg movies (as opposed to those with cg elements that blend in) don’t appeal to everyone in fact some are put off (a tad like superhero blockbuster movies) and I have to say that like any other technique or even genre not all movies are created equal and interestingly enough I find I tend to prefer ones made in certain countries. As a general rule Canadian, French and French-Canadian cg animations make the top of my list for their artistic quality, fluid finesse in production and of course their storylines. The US take the second spot on the list. Hey I like many of their movies and tv programs too, they are undeniably impressive in visuals and sound but as the years go by I find them increasingly generic and whilst emotionally manipulated still lacking in depth. Tad, The Lost Explorer however is a Spanish feature and like Russia they don’t to my knowledge have many cg features but what they do produce is well done and spirited hence this film can easily hold its own amongst the US saturated market. It also managed to achieve that on the relatively tame budget of 8 million euros in contrast to grotesquely expensive costing a plethora of arms and legs to make US peer films. Yet it doesn’t suffer in animation quality, score or vocals in comparison.

It does have a technical quirk in its storytelling e.g. instead of doing the “I was born, I grew up and moving right on” opening the film shows Tad growing up from wide eyed youngster into detached but not yet disillusioned man in a more old fashioned animation, flash sequence. The same is done in a sort of film reel when highlighting the accolades of Max Morden, mixing styles makes a nice refresher.

In this type of movie the timing of the score is important and it uses an interesting mix of dynamic orchestra, songs with vocals and… Pop songs. For example you will hear a snippet of One Direction in this film and to me it seemed out of place but at least it was lively. The dubbing is very well done and believable, I didn’t notice the mouthing and voices to be out of sync and the lines were delivered with good pace and passion.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately this is a story about a bumbling fool with transferable skills getting the girl, packed with clichés and predictable but a very watchable feel good movie that unlike many others of its ilk grasping, headlining and producing shiploads of merchandise for our attention – this one wasn’t relegated to background noise and actually did pick me up from the crummy mood I was in. To reiterate; it did so on a relatively low budget, no massive ‘star’ vocals and without lowering one’s intelligence too much but stretching it just enough so that it can bounce back without depreciating its value. In one word: Result.

Rate: 4/5

Recommendations

The obvious ones have been mentioned but perhaps some lesser known:

I.Q film 1994I.Q (1994) – A romantic comedy where scientists Albert Einstein, Nathan Liebknecht, Kurt Gödel and Boris Podolsky try to help a mechanic win the affection of Einstein’s neice Catherine (Meg Ryan) by passing him off as a scientist too and to separate her from her fiancé (Stephen Fry).

Relic Hunter tv series 1999-2002

 

Relic Hunter (tv series 1999-2002) – Sydney Fox (Tia Carrere) is pretty much a female Indiana Jones; lecturer and adventurer but with a campus secretary and expeditions assistant.

Phi Brain

Phi Brain (anime series 2011-13) – an intense series with many psychotically intelligent characters trying to solve dangerous puzzles, many situated in historical and/or purpose built architecture.

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The Boxtrolls – Takes Living in a Box to Another Level

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review

Release Date: 2014
Rating: PG
Language: English
Runtime: 96min
Productions Company: Laika Entertainment
Cast Includes: Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead-Wright

On the surface this is a children’s film, though perhaps one that’s better appreciated by adults in its detail, a paradox of subtle and flashy styling but not really knowing whether it should have been a none-too-deep action caper or a crafty look at cultural prejudice. It went for both and lost something along the way, visually enticing but weak in its storytelling. Still, one for people who like dark/black humour or just those with/related to kids who like a bit of a thriller.

Who are the boxtrolls, what are they?

Vermin, dangerous, dirty; they’ll kidnap your children and kill them.

Will they?

They live underground. Lock your doors and windows, don’t go out at night, they lurk in the shadows.

Do they?

Ten years ago in a town called Cheesebridge sometime in the Victorian era a scientist and a baby went missing, the scandal has since come to be known as the ‘Trubshaw Baby’. Much like the Pied Piper of Hamelin (the fictionalised accounts not the theories) something had to be done. Cue Archibald Snatcher the rat err scratch that the boxtroll catcher (akin to the child catcher re: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) who makes a deal with the mayor Lord Portley-Rind, membership to the council in exchange for boxtroll extermination.

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review, Archibald Snatcher

Ten years later the boxtrolls are still little trolls that wear discarded boxes as clothing, hide in them like turtles if necessary, and have a habit of taking metal things left outside that aren’t so discarded even if they’re nailed down. One however isn’t very troll looking, in fact he’s very boyish looking and like every other troll he’s named in conjunction with his box, in his case that’s ‘Eggs’. Eggs is the adoptee of Fish and both are greatly upset and confused over the ever dwindling population of their peers. Where are they are all going and why does the town/city hate them so much?

On the journey to discover the answers to those questions and also who he is – he is a troll, how can he not be, he’s not a boy (hey says) – he uncovers some sinister secrets, some dastardly plans and a girl called Winnie who doesn’t seem very nice either.

Can Eggs save his friends and family, can he prove everyone wrong? (Will the town stop lauding street theatre and music hall?)

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review, Cheesebridge

Cheesebridge

People vs Boxtrolls simplified to Us vs Them

Remember The Wombles and The Jungle Book? The boxtrolls are a quiet though not quite unassuming species, like those furry recycling critters they collect items and make castles (not really, but usable and inventive items) out of other’s trash. They’re furtive and timid; scared of humans, scared to be seen and scared to stand up for themselves even if good at stacking up together (*ahem*). They have however one human member.

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review

This is a US production with a very British feel. The characterisation is very clear cut and cliché down to their pun-full names; the trolls are misunderstood, hunted and abused – that much we get, people do that to everybody and everything. That they’re all meek and frightened with every last fibre of their being is a bit dubious, no blame there just a little cynical. Enter one generally clueless, mild mannered and nice boy and then one very attention starved/needy, rude, forthright girl. They’re both the product of their environments and too young to have developed much from their initial personalities but one thing they have in common is determination and interest in finding out just what exactly is happening to the missing boxtrolls, even if her interest is macabre…

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review, Eggs, Winnie Portley-Rind

An interesting switch of archetypes here; the usual light saving/defeating the dark but in actuality the illuminated one is not the better one/not representative of better things aka the White Hats are not the good side and yet it’s another one of these major films asking us to embrace monsters by not judging books by their covers ‘they’re not the evil aliens you think they are’ style.

There’s much in the way of offbeat satirical humour for example Archibald’s assistants Mr Trout, Mr Pickles and Mr Gristle engage in ironic, philosophical musings about life and their place within it whilst carrying out dastardly deeds in the employ of a dastard. In contrast the boxtrolls (Wheels, Sparky, Socks, Clocks, Bucket, Specs, Fragile, Sweets, Oil Can, Knickers, Shoes and Fish) don’t speak a language I recognize and whether gibberish fabricated by the producers or actually constructed and encoded they’re enigmatic in sound when expressing themselves to each other but subdued in mannerism the rest of the time.

Elitism is further highlighted through what looks like a Masonic order in the town/city, one aspect being its White Hat, Red hat system. The White Hats are the deciders, the owners, the pillars of society, the old and nobly titled money. The Red Hats are not ‘have nots’ but still not quite there. Archibald is desperate to be a White Hat and Lord Portley-Rind doesn’t really want him but new money must be acknowledged even if condescendingly once it’s proven itself useful if not worthy. In our reality the term ‘White Hat’ is usually an opposite to ‘Black Hats’ and more recently ‘Grey Hats’ i.e. the ‘good guys’ (people investigating and raising public awareness about issues – not supposed to be Masons or members of any Order, theoretically), the ‘bad guys’ (people working in black markets, secret services/organisations, the ethos of business over the lives of others) and ‘the in-betweeners’ (whistleblowers, insiders, people who were on one so-called side and decided to or at least appear to change sides, or people who provide a platform for any side). Funnily enough to finally prove one’s eligibility in the film (after status and means) one must know one’s cheese. No pun intended. Seriously, you have to be a real cheese whizz I mean connoisseur. Now I’ve been to a cheese exhibition and I’ve been downwind of it and on top of the already ‘fragrant’ Thames it was not something I’d choose to remember but these guys adore eating cheese copiously. Perhaps a nod to Wallace and Gromit, perhaps highlighting that cheese (and wine) are still currencies in some places and investments in many others but either way if you want to be one of the big boys you’d better like it. Unfortunately for Archibald it doesn’t like him.

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review, White Hats

Here the White Hats change sides, dark becomes light after the film has shown the former White Hats to be a sham/lording it up over the poor and the previous lord wears a lesser Red Hat. (Though interestingly the Portley-Rinds are Red haired, and former White Hats.)

Aesthetics

This is a stop motion animation and as such holds a certain charm for me, it could be said that since the advent and progression of CGI it’s been rendered unnecessary but digital art is also massively time and energy consuming, plus they can be complimentary. The movement of stop motion characters/backgrounds can be clunky and the overall style thought of as childish but I think this film has managed a good level of fluidity and I challenge anyone to think about the film Coraline (2009) and consider it puerile (both Coraline and The Boxtrolls were produced by Laika studio). Interestingly the first stop motion animations that come to mind are The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Trapdoor (1984-86) and Corpse Bride (2005) all horror fantasies but then you have Wallace and Gromit (1990-present) and it’s spin off Shaun the Sheep (2007-present) so the genre is pretty varied.

The most striking thing about the film is the level of detail, from the faces and expressions on the characters to the finer points of their clothing and their surroundings. The architecture is stunning; cobbled streets, dingy at night and in the poorer parts to gauche and eye opening/brow raising at the cheese buffets. The colours are not always bright but they are vivid and every scene lavish in their own way. There’s even an ode to steampunk in the plot, though I think it steals the show and to its detriment.

The accents are believable given the cast features many British actors. The most notable being Ben Kingsley in a nod to German brethren in a Brit version of the classic rat cum child catcher aka Archibald Snatcher and he voices the villain with zeal. I’m usually adverse to big names in animations unless they can enunciate and convey character through voice alone and obviously he can. At least it’s not a big name cast in general though a few are recognizable. Even with a US actor in the leading female role (Elle Fanning as Winnie Portley-Rind) the vocalisation is an accomplishment of distinct tones and personalities.

The Boxtrolls, Animation, Film, Review

Conclusion

For me it’s not of the utmost importance that a plot be complex or for characters to undergo deep and meaningful development. As long as the story is well told and the characters suit it then I’m not too bothered but even taking into account the age rating and general target audience of this film (kids and their guardians) the plot isn’t portrayed as well as it could have been. If it wasn’t for the impressive visuals and quirkiness of the characters it would be another ‘can’t be bothered to watch but ok as background noise’ movie. It feels like the plot is secondary to the dressing making the film feel shorter than it is (although that’s better than making it feel longer and dragged out). The focus is overbalanced towards the action and gags hence becoming formulaic. The action seems more for the children as it’s not palpitating enough for older more desensitized people and the dialogue of the adult characters could potentially go over the heads of youngsters due to the time period, class differences and colloquialisms. However there’s enough [silly and oddball] humour to bridge the gap e.g.

Winnie: [sees Eggs rubbing his crotch] No!… You don’t scratch there in public. That’s why they’re called [whispers] privates.

Or

Winnie: You’re the worst pickpocket I’ve ever seen. Here [Gives Eggs a coin]. Buy a book on how to be a better thief.

Or

Mr. Pickles: We’re exterminators! Of justice!
Mr. Gristle: We exterminate justice!

I haven’t read the source material i.e. ‘Here Be Monsters!‘ By Alan Snow so can’t say how faithful it is to the text but as a standalone product it’s a decent flick with the parts I didn’t like so much almost compensated for in other areas but ultimately I think it came down to style over substance. Despite having sufficient surprise elements and emotion those things just felt forced. The plot had promise, lots of themes to work with: slavery, classism, demonizing due to looks, fear and mutual complicity in oppression/suppression, being raised in a different social/cultural group, elitist ‘in the club’ rituals/traditions – easily dismissed as hard going for a children’s film but there are many such films that have managed it (some with a lot of flair) and many children living in such conditions and a Victorian setting usually implies some kind of child abuse (Charles Dickens anyone?) If they hadn’t compressed feelings that arise from those themes into sporadic moments/sequences the film would have been better. As it is they created a beautifully detailed environment that promised something special but didn’t quite deliver.

Rate: 3.5/5, I can’t give it a 4 because ultimately I didn’t find the storyline passable and to be honest, boring overall.

Recommendations

Over The Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall (mini-series 2014) – this was a unique fairy tale featuring some very well known talent, in strange melodic/mesmerizing pace. Two brothers go trick or treating only to find themselves in another world where a woodsman carries a soul in a lamp, pumpkins live in a town, a bluebird talks and they sing songs about molasses. Folksy meets old school Mickey Mouse/Betty Boop – it has a niche and surreal feel that reminds me of the elaborate yet creepy world of The Boxtrolls.

3 Pigs & a Baby

Unstable Fables: 3 Pigs & a Baby (film 2008) – a funny, fractured fairy tale where a baby wolf is left on the doorstep of the three little pigs and they do their best to raise and love him as their own. He grows up believing he’s a pig but with puberty comes changes and bad crowds. Can he resist or make peace?

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Fist of the North Star – “Animals don’t negotiate!”

Fist of the North Star Film

Eh what’s that? You think I’m reviewing that cult classic film animation or anime tv series? Sadly this is a film only review of the live action version released 9 years later in 1995… Yeah live action versions of cartoons usually need masses of CGI to be passable, this was too early for that and so falls into the same vein as “who sponsored a sequel, and another, and another for that film!?!?

Why did I watch it? Well you know, it just happened to be there. Why was it made? I dunno, to cash in? To see what too much makeup and prosthetics look like? To give the finger to the fans maybe. Basically it was made and I’m reviewing it, so there.

A little backstory

For either FotNS fans or newbies there’s little point in me explaining or referencing the manga or animated versions much because the people in charge of this didn’t really seem to care, that said the viewer needs to know at least the basics so here we go:

The film is set the very first part of the comic – the world is a post-nuclear/apocalyptic wasteland, most of the animals have died including the people but those left seem to be immune to what would likely be megatons of radiation. Their version of acid rain smokes hence digging for clean water is extremely important. As usual the class system has remained intact; there’s a tyrant, his army and the rest i.e. the poor slaves who are typically the targets of raids of the military/thugs who think everything/one is up for grabs and ‘jollies’.

The masses are trying to form a rebellion but they lack cohesion, resources, health and are constantly beaten down. The tyrant has a ‘vision’ that he’s trying to build, he’s already got a city, headquarters, lackeys, a kidnapped queen, amazing fighting skill and is the icon of the Southern Cross (the southern lands and name of his fighting style) but there’s someone out there that threatens him… Someone from his past, his ex-best friend, also the holder of the Fist of the North Star – a legendary style that allows the user to manipulate pressure points and cause internal organs to explode.

That’s basically it and that’s more than enough really but the execution is dire. To me it’s firmly in league with Masters of the Universe aka He-Man (1987) and Flash Gordon (1980) but those were ok for their time whereas this was made much later and didn’t learn the lesson, much like wardrobe didn’t think twice when they put George Clooney in a Batman suit that wasn’t right for him.

Everything that could go wrong…

“The Fist of the North Star and the Southern Cross should never fight. (Otherwise the ‘balance’ is upset.) The teaching is true.”

But.

And that’s a big ‘but’! In the very beginning we see the old master of the FofNS shot dead without any kind of fight by the tyrant which was really an anti-climatic way to start off but it gets worse…

The Tyrant – Lord Shin (played by Costas Mandylor) – decides he can circumvent the teaching by shooting the master Ryuken (played by Malcolm McDowell) and then taking the fight to his best friend, the disciple. He also decides he’s going to kidnap Julia, his best friend’s girlfriend because apparently he’s in love with her too.

But first, what is with his makeup!?!? I mean seriously, and it’s not just him – almost the whole cast look as if they’ve been smothered in foundation and then left in a sauna. It’s distracting. It’s bad enough that at times people’s faces and bodies look like the department bought way too much latex and just had to use it all in one film but Shin in particular looks like they plastered on his foundation. Even his foyer portrait looks overdone and if the humungous statue of himself in front of his castle was in colour it’d probably look caked as well. Additionally he and the rest of the cast have blinding teeth, even the poverty stricken ones. Only some of the thugs give Queen Victoria or Captain Jack Sparrow a run for their money but I presume that’s more to do with making them as ugly as they are in personality.

Back to the plot – didn’t anyone teach this guy that you’re unlikely to win fair lady’s affection by almost killing her lover let alone whilst restraining her and doing it in her face and forcing her to say she loves you instead? Bad form dude. Totally. Then making it worse by repeatedly telling her over the years that everything you’ve done is for her and in her name by sticking up posters of her image under the banner of ‘progress’, even when she’s constantly rejecting you and your stupid plans which are really an excuse to get your badly made up face all over the place.

The good guy – Kenshiro (Ken played by Gary Daniels) – loner who wanders about hunched in a ragged cloak, immune to the acid rain, has terrible scars on his torso from where Shin beat him, is generally miserable and who can blame him? He’s gentle, kind, has the ability to fight and heal but there are constant close-ups of his ‘baby blues’ trying to look innocent resulting in an almost cross-eyed effect, he’s slightly open mouthed half the time and very slow to deliver his lines. Wooden about covers it. Much of the acting in general can be described that way with the rest being hammy instead, you know those retro Chinese movies with the bad dubbing and part of the fun is watching their mouths out of sync? This is not fun. And they’re speaking English in the first place.

He’s haunted and hounded by his dead master who wants him to acknowledge his destiny as the bearer of the FotNS and whose not shy of possessing others to convey the message, even a buried skeleton.

Fist Of The North Star Kenshiro Ken

The damsel in distress – Julia (played by Isako Washio) – is surprisingly enough the best acted part and the studio did a good job in making her stand out from the rest; she comes across as pure and light but also aloof and timid/frightened though defiant at the same time. She’s mostly dressed in shades of White, delivers her lines in decent time and gives off the aura of the feeling she wants to portray effectively enough even without words. She basically misses Ken and her freedom.

Interestingly enough for all the graphic violence and implied rape in this film her relationships with Ken and Shin are remarkably chaste; her memories with Ken show them sweetly and he evidently appreciates her presence, and despite Shin’s usual ‘if I can’t have you nobody will, especially not him’ and ‘you’re my bird in an ivory tower’ mentality he isn’t ever shown as wanting to force/manipulate her to bed him, but just because it’s not shown…

Fist of the North Star 1995 Julia Shin

The targets/poor people – There’s a mix of people of various ages and colours but they are generally seen as wanting to make things better for themselves whether by rebellion, learning to fight or peace treaty. The title of this review refers to a line one of the leaders uses when she argues against trying to assert their rights peacefully and via mutual agreement – when beings are seen as livestock, property, ‘useless eaters’, ‘sheeple’ etc then they are disposable if not recyclable and so they have no place or right to speak let alone argue because they don’t matter and their perspective isn’t worth much.

Fist of the North Star 1995 rebels leaders

There’s no point in life without freedom.
Freedom means nothing without life.

Most of the film takes place in the slums, it’s strange because the areas and inhabitants are obviously destitute but sometimes the setting in particular looks surreal – a little too camera ready. Other than that the characters are well portrayed from the big brother and little sister (who is blind here but if I remember correctly deaf in the anime) who are struggling to stay alive and the brother teaching others to fight to the three leaders trying to help in their own way. Ken heals the little sister’s eyes and then can somehow hear her when she’s in trouble. He feels guilty – he opened her eyes only to see what?

Fist of the North Star 1995 Brother Sister

The military – Shin’s men – they don’t look like ordinary soldiers, mostly they look like grossly disfigured bikers but it’s their characterization that is the most realistic part of the film for me and the reason I’m giving it two stars instead of one. Their behaviour is nothing short of psychotic and parasitic and accurately portrays people who like to fully control and torture others particularly in the ‘second/successive wave(s)’ of war/battle i.e. after the main conquest is (officially) over and most of the people disarmed and in disarray making those left easier prey to hurt at leisure and for those new(ish) to the winning side it means an opportunity to get their taste of ‘battle’ too. They run rampage through the slums, chase, trap, beat, rape, gang rape, repeatedly rape, set alight, maim, drown, take foodstuffs etc alongside destroying shelters/homes, drinking and trying out new ‘toys’. The only thing missing here is going home as heroes and pretending they never acted dishonourably especially as ‘blowing off steam’ is normal and if they do it to each other it’s ‘occupational hazard’ or if they can’t re-integrate ending up homeless or institution/hospitalized.

Any positive features?

Umm… Umm… The music. Yes the soundtrack is pretty decent but given it’s an action film that’s to be expected but still it’s no magnum opus, it just keeps pace with what’s going on and doesn’t stand out. However, in an action film particularly a fighting flick you’d also expect good fight scenes no? No. Not in this one. There’s one decent fight, otherwise the film is badly choreographed; people react too fast, they move out of the way sometimes launch themselves out of the way or act as if they’ve been struck when they obviously haven’t – that’s partially the camera’s fault but what’s the sound department’s excuse? Why are the sound effects off as well? Even the 70’s action shows got the ‘POW’, ‘WHAM’ et al in the right places. I don’t expect someone to get hit or fall and hear the thud in slow mo. In contrast when combatants are visually hit, like with Ken’s signature pressure point combo, he may as well be hitting a sand bag with a feather – I don’t know if that’s to make the effect of the organs then bursting more gross but it looks and sounds um, put it this way an air kiss would be more meaningful.

That’s not a bad thing par se, I’m not into gore let alone realistic gore but I admire precision and flow in the contortion fields aka gymnastics, dance, yoga and martial arts and whilst the ability is there it’s not well portrayed. The only fighting that is believable are the times Shin’s men are ravaging the people and quite frankly if that were any more realistic it’d be even harder to watch.

Comparisons

Mad Max (1979)
Another post-apocalyptic setting but more deserted and on the road. A gang dominance movie whether official or outlaws. Former policeman turned vigilante Max is out to get those who killed his family.

American Streetfighter (1992) (yes I saw that too, yeesh)
Also starring Gary Daniels – the plots are totally different – AS is about a guy from a bad crowd trying who later becomes a businessman in Hong Kong but has to go back home to the US to save his brother from another bad crowd and drug trafficking. His ex helps him and it pretty much all about the fighting but the bad: choreography, dialogue/dubbing, styling etc is all there.

Recommendation:

Mortal Kombat (1995)
It has all the cheese and hammy acting of martial arts movies of this type, it doesn’t follow the source material, Sonya is crap in it, the volume is too low when some of the characters speak although the quips are the best part of the dialogue anyway and the music is the best thing in the film but the locations are stunning and most of the fights are pretty darned watchable. It’s one of those films you shouldn’t really like, but I do 😉

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Does ‘One True Love’ Exist And What Happens if You Lose It?

5 centimeters per second

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007, rated U) was an animated movie written, produced and directed by Makoto Shinkai (The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 2004) comprising of three segments to tell the story. This has been a difficult review to write, I’ve cut/pasted bits all over, re-worded, deleted, re-written etc; at times I doubted my diction was up to par to do it justice.

PLOT

Episode 1 – ‘The Chosen Cherry Blossoms’

Life is a series of moments strung together, and I think about you.

Every moment is an eternity, will it always feel this way?

A young boy and girl say goodbye after watching cherry blossoms fall and float in the breeze, the girl is moving away. Goodbyes are hard and she crosses the railway tracks before him whilst he’s stuck behind the barrier, she says she hopes she’ll get to see the cherry blossoms with him again as they fall, at 5 centimetres per second. A train separates them as passengers go on their journeys unaware of the emotional exchange they’re intersecting.

The first six minutes follow the boy’s life in school after she’s gone and is narrated by her reading letters she’s written to him. It’s then his turn to narrate from his point of view, he’s older now but the deep bond he shared with the girl when they were 13 years old still remains. His family is going to move and he’ll be even further away from her so they decide to see each other one last time before the distance gets too hard. He embarks on the train journey in the midst of a snow storm but to what end? To get some answers regarding how they feel, is it the end, are they finally saying goodbye or will it confirm something else?

5 centimeters per second

Episode 2 – ‘Cosmonaut’

Long distance relationships are hard – but there can be distance even when you’re near.

Life goes on?

He is in the new school and has taken up archery, he’s doing well seems focused and has also caught the eye and young heart of a girl whose hobby is surfing. Much of this segment features her narration; she feels like his puppy and has all the hallmarks of young, unvoiced and unreciprocated love – more of a crush/infatuation. They get on well but he doesn’t see her ‘that way’ and she knows that he’s looking past her at something or someone she can’t and indeed shouldn’t compete with.

It’s time to think about university and both of them are unsure about what they want to do with their lives though he knows he will returning to Tokyo, she sees him writing messages on his phone his phone quite often and he wonders when he started writing unsent texts.

They’re stopped mid-path by a lorry, but unlike in Episode 1 both characters are on the same side, and the NAS(D)A lorry is travelling at 5 kilometres per hour to the launch facility nearby.

5 centimeters per second

Episode 3 – ‘5 Centimeters per Second’

Cherry blossoms, snowflakes.

Yes it does, no it doesn’t.

Back in Tokyo cherry blossoms (the first one looking like a heart) fly through his window, in the moment it takes for the curtains to billow he’s no longer in the room but out to the tree and fork in the road and then at the train tracks where he was in the beginning. A fated meeting?

The main characters are older now by at least three years and this segment is very dark.

5 centimeters per second

COMMENTARY

There’s something so slow yet well paced about this movie and so touching/reaching that it pulls you in and immerses you in a sort of sad nostalgia, I think anyone whose had a long distance relationship that didn’t work out will understand it even more. It falls into the ‘slice of life’ genre so it’s a simple, straightforward story but highlights all the poignancy of everyday life that we easily take for granted or on the flipside get too involved with and caught up in. It’s very much a journey or a reminiscence of smaller journeys making up the life story of the two main characters Takaki (boy) and Akari (girl) and to a smaller extent Kanae the ‘other girl’ (one of) who has a crush on Takaki.

Every day most of us we go through the motions of a routine but when do we stop noticing the detail of the things around us?

Episode 1 was literally like having your eyes opened to your own world around you (if you’ve lived in a city or big enough town) with the breathtaking use of photographic imagery for everyday objects and sometimes places blurred in with more obvious digital drawing, it’s not a case of cartoonish characters on a realistic background but a flow of ‘real’ and surreal, the characters would be wearing a realistic watch, sitting on highly glossy chairs but the blackboard would look drawn and then all the scenes are highly contrasted with light and dark emphasizing brightness from the sun or fluorescent lights and the shadows cast.

The episode opens with a traditional Japanese scene with a cherry blossom though the tree sits in a fork in a road, the backgrounds are lush and beautifully drawn yet punctuated with the stark modern school and then train station. The film as a whole takes the opposite stance of the norm, instead of showing the audience what’s happening by playing out scenes it cuts from picture to picture with one or a few representing a whole scene and is mostly narrated by the inner voice (in the mind) of the protagonists – that allows for the plot to move as we’re shown snippets of one scene after another, like flashbacks and yet it’s not like watching a slideshow – too much life has been breathed in for that. The characters and most importantly their memories and feelings are real. I haven’t seen this technique used in many films or series and where I have it’s usually a voice over the film moving at regular or speeded up pace but here the team behind this have done something different – they’ve managed to show the characters living and critiquing their memories and current situation whilst almost putting the audience in their place at times. They’ve done this by focusing on background images and highlighting them.

When Takaki goes on the journey to meet Akari we go through every moment with him and the artistic visual style broadens to include scale – we see things from his perspective, the platform, pylons, the inside of the railway carriage, the jarring of the steps/connections in between carriage as the train moves – everything is so real and not seen as insignificant, these are things we see and mentally process continually but highlighting them here forces us to stop, slow down and take in the amount of time we are spending (usually in a hurry). Other moments we see the scene from above looking down, or down looking up and most importantly for me were the times when the ‘camera’/’lens’ angle moves from close up suddenly backwards taking in the rest of the scene or vice versa along with Takaki’s words or feelings showing us how big or how small his is/we are in the bigger picture. For example he/we can be alone so full of feeling and then bam the picture zooms out to show a large, seemingly empty space not devoid of objects or cold, wind, snow but of other human life and yet full of his pain.

The journey is long and hard; full of delays, uncertain stops, fear, anxiety, hunger, each leg means compounded time lost – anyone whose travelled at Xmas will probably have been through something similar though in Takaki’s case he isn’t packed in with other stressed commuters. He’s in his own mental world with his body acting as a satellite in this one, such as when you pull the covers over your head, inhabit a cubicle, a tent or flat and yet still manage to hold the illusion of privacy and your own space. This story shows the unification of desolate dimensions through a single person, reaching out.

His voice really adds to the visual techniques, unlike Akari’s whose vocals I found too high and squeaky, his are low, gentle and husky – he never rushes his words and they’re haunted with a heaviness as if each sentence is a labour and he’s tired; he just physically, emotionally, metaphysically wants to reach Akari and is taking one frustrating step at a time. His soft, sad voice matches the movement of the film perfectly and keeps it intimate, we don’t know if he’s talking to himself or the audience but he is close to us, we can almost feel his breath as his voice reaches our ears.

Will he reach that light in the dark he yearns for, that warmth… And then what? After such great expectations can there only be an anti-climax?

Episode 2 – In this episode we are met by Makoto Shinkai’s (director) love of grand and humbling depictions of the sky and the cosmic space beyond, often above water which has always had portal and space connotations. They’re just short of being overwhelming as we’re not seeing them in first person but they are literally works of art, like landscapes of the heavens on film instead of on canvas or even on the sky itself with luminescent designs, varied clouds and mirror like perspectives. We can and do already cause suitable conditions to use the air as a projection screen and given that we can’t see out of our atmosphere if its cloudy and then it’s filtered by ‘Blue’ colour in the day, Shinkai’s versions seem to have more of a ‘truth’ to them in his ability to separate and merge what we consider the sky to be/look like with what’s outside the barrier of our vision and sensory abilities and he seems to point it out by often displaying the sky as fractioned/divided.

5 centimeters per second

5 centimeters per second

5 centimeters per second

The sky and its focus on sunrises and sunsets fits in well with the ‘Cosmonaut’ title of this segment from an interesting triquetra on the school they go to, to the Tanegashima Space Center nearby and a poster in a grocery shop they visit whose brand is ‘ADEOS’ and slogan ‘Watching over the Earth from Space’. Where Episode 1 reached out via trains towards a difficult but achievable goal, this one makes use of roads (Takaki and Kanae ride scooters to/from school) and is reaching our further to something perhaps out of reach or in the realms of fantasy – is it symbolic of Kanae’s feelings and/or Takaki’s and Akari’s drifting apart? Interestingly enough the launch facility nearby is supposedly sending a rocket to the centre of the galaxy – our iconic ‘source’ – how does that fit in with the plot?

Episode 3 – there’s not much to say about this part, partially because the other 2 are 3x as long but also because this is where it ends or doesn’t and is something that the viewer really needs to see for themselves. I will say that I found the moment where he’s in a lift dropping his keys was interesting symbolically but also the whole segment reminds me of The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton’s novel, 1920).

CONCLUSION

All relationships take effort but long distance has its own characteristics; people can often get to know each other at a much deeper level because they have to talk, to describe their thoughts and feelings at length and like when reading a book the person on each side fills in the blanks/the atmosphere as there is little to no body language yet with all the time talking and imagination they can feel closer to you than people in your physical vicinity. It’s just as possible to feel euphoria or depression with or because of someone you’ve never or rarely met in body to those you’re around regularly, particularly if you’re a vivid or poetic personality.

What happens if you’re emotionally invested both in body and mind, physical and virtual/long distance?

This film, including Episode 2, shows what can happen when you don’t communicate or don’t communicate enough. Another possibility could have been what can happen if you sacrifice one dimension for the other i.e. the far away for a closer relationship or vice versa, or even worse juggle both. It didn’t go there, it didn’t ask any questions, it just charted a story as it/that happened. Should Takaki and Akari have tried harder?.. Fear is a difficult thing, hope is a type of fear too and it can ultimately help or hinder us but either way it generally means a long, arduous wait/struggle.

At approx 1 hour in length, Episode 1 lasts approx 25min; it sets the scene and weighs in heavily on our consciousness yet ends in a way that’s just right to flow into Episode 2 which is approx 23min and the final episode approx 8min with the rest being a recap sequence and credits. I’d say that sequence wasn’t necessary even though it shows us a few angles from moments we didn’t see earlier mixed in with ones we did but ultimately it says to me they didn’t know how to end the story. Other than that the episodic style really worked, it was lightly done with a beginning and ending screen in between sections, it was quick but not quick enough to blink and miss it yet effective in its simple Black on White and then inverted White text on Black screen to make its point, almost seamlessly adding a seam between the stream of consciousness that spanned a few years. Turning the page on one chapter and moving to another.

I found the voice acting to be mostly appealing though I’ve always disliked the vocals of the actress used for Akari and from previous reviews readers will recall that I dislike anime in which the actors are bigger than their characters. There isn’t so much a musical score as there are sound effects such as cicadas, birds and traffic; had there been background music it might have clashed with the narration and just been too much with the already heady visuals.

If you’re ‘not in the mood’ the film could easily be labelled as perhaps too brooding and naval gazing however it doesn’t fit into the ‘teen angst’ movie stereotype, it’s far too bleak and at times kind and uplifting for that; bonds like this can happen to anybody at any time of their life, could also be a ‘phase’ that is ‘grown out of’ but then for some people time is just an arbitrary, made up measurement that can’t tame or heal their devotions. It would almost be dreamlike if we didn’t know that we experience similar things, it’s just like a slowed down snapshot of our more ‘adult’ hurried version of life compartmentalizing our ‘inner voice(s)’/narrator as a sort of diary cum checklist. In a sense the film is very mundane and yet there’s little that is mediocre in the portrayal. One of my trademark phrases when I was a teen used to be “existence hangs in the balance of extremities” and the artwork, gallery like flow of the moments, narration and narrative here reminds me of that.

5 centimeters per second

Cinderfella – A Fractured Fairytale Glorious Gender Bender!

Jerry Lewis was one of my favourite comedians as a kid and Cinderfella (1960) was my favourite film of his alongside The Nutty Professor (1963), to me it displayed all his best acting traits whilst taking a well known story and freshening it up. I watched it again recently and it hasn’t lost any of its charm, great for people who like parody or fun and creative family friendly films 🙂 Funnily enough I only ever really liked his solo films sans Dean Martin and that hasn’t changed over time!

Plot

Ok so you know the Disney version of Cinderella (1950) but Cinderfella did more than just change the sex of the main character…

We first see the last will and testament of his father (not mother as you would expect here) being read to the stepmother and her two sons and Fella is apparently in another room looking out at the pouring rain. The Bel-Air style mansion and all ‘worldly goods’ are left the stepmother in faith that she will take care of her stepson… Yeah we know how that goes in fairytales.

Cut to years into the future and we see ‘mother dearest’ using the intercom from her very Disney like bedroom to Fella sleeping in a storage looking room where it looks like items are just there for the sake of it and his tiny mattress doesn’t even fit the bed. Strangely he’s wearing two large rings but those are quickly overshadowed by the speed in which he has to get ready and go to the kitchen to make breakfast for everybody. His place in the family is further exemplified as we see his room is at the end of a very long, lavish corridor but when it reaches his part all the decoration ends! Servants quarters indeed.

Cinderfella bedroom

The usual being bossed about, belittling and lecturing ensues – he can’t do anything right, doesn’t show his appreciation for being ‘given room and board out of the goodness of her heart’, he ‘doesn’t have a cent to his name’, has ‘ordinary blood in his veins’ etc etc. Perhaps luckily for him he actually enjoys housework and fixing things (though he’s not very good at the latter) and all those unkind and deceptive words seem to slide off him, but they don’t.

By this point we’ve already been shown the not-so-ugly but actually very suave, debonair and manicured stepbrothers (one of which could actually be a moving mannequin), and the plot swiftly moves on to the ball the stepmother is holding at the house for Princess Charming (pronounced ‘Charmaine’). Determined everything will go right and one of mummy’s little darlings will marry well. I don’t know why there is a stepmother and not a stepfather but the former are very much embedded as evil characters in Disney-fied fairytales so perhaps they thought they couldn’t change that but I think for a gender bending film they could of undid the prejudice and gone for a villain instead of a villainess.

Usher in the fairy godfather – and whose high pitched yet nasal voice many of us will know from other films – floating on the swimming pool in a classic stripped swimming cozzy and bowler hat, wacky indeed. He’s worried that Fella doesn’t have any ambitions because he thinks one day Fella might be a very important person.

Cinderfella-fairy_godfather

The noblesse oblige ‘do’ they’re holding will cost a bomb and really stretch their assets it seems (though we know what that means for many i.e. their version of being hungry and homeless after over extending themselves are still nice hotels, long visits to friends, lot’s of credit and not really suffering at all) but still it’s imperative that they purloin more funds so they can maintain their lifestyle. Where will these funds come from? Ahh well that’s the problem, this next extortion from Fella won’t be so easy the key is in his memory, his dreams to be exact in which his late father is telling him the location of a secret fortune. How on Earth are they going to get that? They decide to change tactics and be nice for once! Shock! Yes it is, they’re so bad at pretending to be nice it’s cringeworthy; their fake smiles are creepy and it looks like their faces will crack in the effort, they’ve never complimented his cooking so it really affects him and then they try to wear him out as much as possible (even moreso than with his usual chores) by sharing hobbies with him. Does it work? And just how crooked are those brothers!?

Cinderfella fake family

Cinderfella dining room hypocrisy

They’re really being nice eh… Plus his meal is poverty plain whilst they get the full works which he cooked.

Another interesting feature in this film is that the fairy godfather introduces Fella to another of his clients, Disney’s Cinderella! A ravishing and indeed roaring (you have to see it to believe it) Cindy who really makes a great appearance in this tribute movie and gives Fella her support.

Cinderfella-Fella_meets_Cinderella

Time for a ball? Fella is locked in his room and ‘the family’ (very mafia tone inserted there) have hired a fleet of staff to do all the work, that way they won’t be interrupted or embarrassed by ‘that lunatic’. Poor Cinders I mean Fella, will he ever make it to the ball and perhaps even destiny? Will the fake family’s poor attempts at politeness last against their wicked ways?

Acting

Jerry Lewis always seemed to play confused, diamond in the rough and dare I say ‘needy’ characters or characters in need and having seen the made-for-tv biography Martin and Lewis (2002) it seems he was one of those actors that played what he knew best – a version(s) of himself. Needless to say he plays this part very well and in his signature style.

The Wicked Stepmother (played by Dame Judith Anderson) – plays a stoic, refined, cutting, hypocritical, bossy b(r)itch(es) who fawns over her beloved sons very well. Her clear, sharp tones were made for commanding.

Two Tailored Twits, the older brother Rupert (played by Robert Hutton) and the younger Maximilian (Henry Silva) obviously spend a lot of the time in the salon/spa and playing sports with peers; they’re every bit the cocky, pampered, spoiled, spying and demanding duo but just not ugly or uncultured 😉

Princess Charming (played by Anna Maria Alberghetti) reminds me somewhat of Audrey Hepburn and as part of the revamp gets more of an emotional part than Prince Charming. She not only dances and clutches a shoe well but is not just a wooden doll, she tells Fella that she feels, she’s a person and it’s not her fault that people see her as her title/namesake and she’s convincing, she even cries.

The effervescent and quirky Fairy Godfather (played by Ed Wynn the ‘Mad Hatter’ in Alice in Wonderland (1951) and ‘Uncle Albert’ in Mary Poppins (1964) delivers his lines characteristically well and matches Lewis with his own funky facial expressions.

Anti-Feminist? Nah.

There’s one point where the fairy godfather goes into a diatribe about women; the women who wrote history, the women behind and effected by the Cinderella story, ordinary women’s expectations, follies and all those poor men. However it is ironic like the nature of the film and another twist on ‘his-story’ but also includes some interesting observations about people in general as they are rather than twisted. It’s particularly funny (not if you were in the scene or Fella) though that he says in order to right all the uneven and unfair doings of womankind that the ‘big Him’ in the sky and various societies working for ‘Him’ elected to choose a male example to tip the balance and make up for it but instead of a ‘tall, handsome’ honey that they all wanted the fairy godfather chose Fella instead. “He’s not tall, not handsome, anything but clever” he’s just ordinary – though quite frankly Lewis never really was ordinary in my opinion even as Fella ;-).

An interesting political insert that the Disney 50s version didn’t have and I also liked that in this version Cinderella oops I mean Fella realizes s/he’s being abused, tries to pull her/himself up by the bootstraps taking a cynical tone to stand up for her/himself. That change doesn’t last but it’s ok because the character doesn’t really want to be angry or aggressive but it was needed at the time.

Songs and Music

This isn’t your usual musical, the songs just flow into the filming and some are spoken-sung so it doesn’t feel like you’re being hit full in the face with a big sing-a-long theatre number out of nowhere, they’re shorter too. My favourite is probably the shortest ‘Let Me Be A People’ where he explains that he likes being a regular ‘people’ and feels sorry for ‘persons’ who are people of importance and my second is actually an instrumental that he mimes playing the instruments to in the kitchen (and mime is a tough art to make look interesting!) Most of the numbers have a jazzy feel to them and very much in keeping with their time although I think still have a contemporary feel. Additionally there are a couple of soft, heartfelt songs captured perfectly well with the surrounding visuals and mood.

Aside from the obvious numbers there is a fair bit of lovely classical either as excerpt sound effects or in the background. The big band numbers at the ball are particularly impressive especially ‘that’ scene where Lewis make’s his dramatic debut down the stairs to the shock of all assembled.


That epic stair scene, funky dance and clock striking midnight.

Overall Finish

This film is one of the better produced ‘light hearted’ films of the time in my opinion, everything comes together really well from the score to the costumes, nothing feels too gaudy or out of place – not even Lewis’ kooky, slapstick style! The colour is vibrant and rich, the details are well thought out from fixtures and fittings to entire scenes, the dialogue is clever and moving and the updating of the Disney-version really makes this something worth seeing and remembering. Great film 🙂

Recommendations/Comparisons

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1988) – another revamped version of the story in which Drew Barrymore and Prince Charming’s characters are developed more. The part where Fella tries to act with self confidence reminded me of this film though understandably not to the same extent as this has a more serious tone.

Rags to Riches (1987) – A rich businessman adopts 5 orphans as a PR stunt for a merger and has no intention of raising them but through no fault of their own they end up raising hell for his work but he learns to love them. More of a musical than Cinderfella.

Lastly is a film I can’t remember or find the title for and maybe one of you know it – an old Black & White film in which a young lady wins some money, quits her job and goes to the ‘big city’ to spend it all whilst pretending to be high society. There she meets an annoying bellboy who keeps getting sacked who turns out to be a prince in disguise.

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Favourite 5 Films? Ever!? Pt 5 – Without a Clue, Sherlock and Watson but not as you know them!

Without a Clue (1988)

Rating: PG

Intro

Starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsly Without a Clue is a comedy caper, a parody on the canonical crime fighting duo this film uses role reversal to show Holmes and Watson in a different perspective. Holmes is a fictional character in a work of fiction based on truth and Watson is the author and the detective.

Plot Summary

Dr Watson is a doctor who solved crimes on the sly and writes the popular Sherlock Holmes adventures for The Strand magazine, the only thing is no one is interested in Dr Watson or his opinions unless they are voiced via the fictional Sherlock Holmes who the public believes to be real. Hence he employs an actor named Reginald Kincaid to pretend to be Sherlock in flesh and blood; unfortunately he’s also an avid drinker, gambler and womanizer. His ability to remember his lines is pretty good but he does insist on fluffing them, ad-libbing and mistaking words but manages to save himself through bluffing and bravado, with trusty Watson watching his back and ever imagining stabbing it. Watson wishes he could rid himself of his bumbling Sherlock but is forced to admit he needs him. The plot revolves around the counterfeiting of £5 notes, the rivalry between them and LeStrade/the police and battling an archenemy. Overall is funny, has a touch of the ridiculous, a tad slapstick and a decent armchair detective movie. It’s not laugh out loud but more satire on people’s hypocritical attitudes towards celebrity, in this case pandering to popularity.

Why it is a Fave

I was a Sherlock Holmes fan as a child though the older I got the less I liked him and so have been interested in spoofs and twists on the character/stories such as the recent 2009 blockbuster version for which I was sceptical regarding Downey Jr’s casting thinking he had the arrogance but not the austerity needed for the typecast. Once I saw the film however I was pleased and satisfied that his portrayal and the direction was actually spot on to what I’d secretly thought was Holmes’ ‘realistic’ character all these years, sans the drugs and other fan’s obsession with seeing him and Irene Adler married. Another notable version was The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) which was quite the tale – but how does Without a Clue trump these for me? Well it does and it doesn’t – it’s not as engaging or entertaining as the aforementioned but it’s also not a musical, crude or a gunpowder happy no guts no glory blockbuster. I like my share of blockbusters but satire tends to win my vote.

Without a Clue highlights the difference between detective fiction and crime drama and their respective followings. The former is more personal, based on the individual/detective and their personality, lifestyle/habits/preferences and people around them whereas crime drama is more about the actual case, the technical elements and can be grittier/more gory in presentation. It can be argued that there’s a lot of ‘facts’ and technical presentation of deductions as proof in Sherlock Holmes and at least starts off with physical clues in contrast to other detective driven fiction such as Poirot who starts with psychological analysis, but I’d say that much of Sherlock’s evidence is circumstantial and akin to Poirot is unfair on the part of the author/director to the reader/watcher. Clues and connections are plucked out of the air and the viewer would be unable to deduce them because they are often presented in the same way as an illusionist or stage magician – with shock and awe, and sometimes late in the ‘game’. It’s only really when such detectives apprehend the culprit that their understanding of the case starts to make sense to the viewer and only at times can they work out the mystery along the way with the detective. This sub-genre of crime is character driven and I do prefer it to crime drama but Holmes is not the most likable of characters; pretentious, sexist, brash with those of lesser social class, had a privileged upbringing, can pretty much do as he likes and his only real angst being a big brother complex to which he feels inferior simply because he’s second fiddle even though there’s nothing wrong with admitting someone is better than you if they are and your own character (and/or achievement) is nothing to be sniffed at. He doesn’t really garner sympathy or empathy so of course it’s only with his pairing with Dr Watson that he becomes more than a clever action hero that we are enthralled by, he becomes more ‘real’ or perhaps just more revealing. Through Dr Watson this behind the scenes helper is brought into light/the forefront. It’s this relationship that’s turned on its head in this film.

With Watson as the major brains and Sherlock as a figurehead Watson’s frustration is palpable and probably only too understandable by many who have to put up with others they feel dependent on yet are carrying or assisting significantly but at least in this movie Watson and Sherlock come to terms with each other. Not the usual buddy movie but still one where the characters learn to appreciate each other, though don’t seem to improve!

It’s true to say that I don’t enjoy this film as much as other films I’ve noted in this review but I’m a big fan of detective fiction both as the written word and on screen, and with Holmes being a classic benchmark for a detective, the Holmes/Watson relationship being the cause quite a bit of controversy and speculation on the part of fans and the adventures of the duo being continued by many writers other than Conan Doyle it’s safe to say that the characters hold a fascination for many. A spoof like this speaks to my appreciation of irony in the world we live in and suspicion that Holmes and Watson as they were originally written and perceived may not be in accord.

‘He’s got his hat, he’s got his pipe…but he hasn’t got a clue!’

Without A Clue 1988 Detective Comedy Spoof Sherlock Holmes Dr Watson Ben Kingsley Michael Caine

Well that’s my top 5 film list, it took a while but I finally got there 🙂

Had this been a Top 20 list – these would have vied (and did) for the top 5 spots:

You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
À Nous la Liberté (1931)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Legend of Fung Sai Yuk (1993)
The Incredible Kung Fu Master (1979)
The Never Ending Story (1984)
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Toy Story (1995)
Matilda (1996)
The Truman Show (1998)
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Cool Runnings (1993)
Slayers The Motion Picture (1995)
Detective Conan: Countdown to Heaven (2001)

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Favourite 5 Films? Ever!? Pt 4 – Age of Innocence, Undying Love That Always Cries

The Age of Innocence (1993, remake after the 1934 version)

Rating: U (strangely enough in the UK initially but then changed to 15)

Intro

The Age of Innocence is based on the classic novel of the same name by Edith Wharton published in 1920 and set in the 1870’s taking an in depth look at the closed nature of high society from the angle of star crossed lovers. It was a very wordy commentary or social discourse yet lent itself extremely well to the individual love story it encapsulated and Martin Scorsese et al managed to convey that exceptionally well onto film. A love triangle starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder portray their characters literally entwined in social and internal struggle, wishing for miracles or contriving situations to make/keep them as they want. The only other classic/period film I would compare the intensity to would be Dangerous Liaisons (1988), another film starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

Interesting note – Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Age of Innocence.

The Age of  Innocence Michelle Pheiffer Daniel Day Lewis Winona Ryder Edith Wharton Film Review Martin Scorsese 1993

Plot Summary

A countess does the unspeakable by leaving her unsavoury husband in Europe and returns to the US. Her arrival causes a stir in the social fabric and most of New York’s society bubble don’t want to be associated with such a woman, she has to go back to him they insist if she wants to keep her social position. She pushes ahead with the divorce and to the surprise of both herself and her lawyer they find themselves falling in love. His background means that he has an engagement practically all settled or at least expected and the bride in waiting has the same burden upon her to marry properly and be a good, seemingly naive and innocent, social butterfly of a wife. To make things worse the two women are cousins and neither the countess or lawyer want to hurt her. That said the lawyer is feeling true love for the first time and only now sees the difference between marriage based on strong love and marriage based on duty and kindness. His intended is also in a quandary, if the engagement is broken off her social chances of being proposed to again will fall dramatically and being a spinster or divorcée is seen as almost the death of a woman next to not procreating, and being married even in a bad marriage is seen as the best path. So unlike him who hopes for the situation to choose for him and intends to do his best either way, she takes things into her own hands in a battle to keep her man but by any means necessary and to keep the secrets as long as possible. The countess however is more mature than the other two and knows that even though we are not always be able to choose who we fall in love with and no matter how much you love them you don’t have to stay with them or try to have/keep them unless in extenuating circumstances. That of course doesn’t mean that there’s no pain and tribulation but she’s already gone against society to fight for her freedom and is a scorned woman so knows that no matter what she can and has to stay strong and do the right thing. She doesn’t want to play the ‘mistress’ but is also torn between being near him and leaving and unfortunately for all her good intentions and actions the wheels/cogs of conspiracy against her and her forbidden love are continuously turning.

Why it’s a Fave

You won’t find many romance driven stories in my favourite films but this film is in a league almost of its own. There’s so much angst, passion, frustration and despair – the atmosphere is thick/heavy with feeling and the visuals are bright, heady, vivid and decadent, all under the sombre narration from passages in the book. Every part of the film is emotive and evocative yet carefully controlled, just as all the characters are puppet like and subject to the strings of their society/culture and social/class status their overwhelming emotions are reigned in tightly yet are portrayed with full force. For example, the height of sexual tension in this film is reached in a scene where only a glove is removed yet it’s an extremely tense part and comparable to the erotic aspirations other films go all the way trying to achieve. I mentioned narration before and as another testament to the expert direction/production of this film it manages to include consistent narration, usually a massive faux pas and seen as defeating the purpose of film, yet here it adds to the already rich content.

This film shows that no matter how much you love somebody and even if they reciprocate, it doesn’t always work out, people and their packs can conspire against you being together and win. Sometimes we are left with our imaginings of what might have been.