Satoshi Kon Collection Review

Preface

I get asked a lot why I chose the name The Student Film Review. For me it was a simple choice; I was a student and I was reviewing films, it was a perfect fit. I wasn’t reviewing films from a student perspective, it was just the period of time in my life when I was reviewing movies. But this collection, I’m reviewing films which are very much tied in with my studies, these are the films that I’m researching for my dissertation.

Satoshi Kon was a visionary director. Over ten years he made four films, each unique and outstanding in their own rights. He pushed animation and anime in new directions, focussing on much more adult and mature stories than his contemporaries. If Hayao Miyazaki (the head of Studio Ghibli) is the Walt Disney of anime, Satoshi Kon would be the Alfred Hitchcock or Terry Gilliam. His films became some of my favourites, so I chose him to focus on for my final university work. And now onto reviews.

  • Perfect Blue
  • Millennium Actress
  • Tokyo Godfathers
  • Paprika

Review

Perfect Blue

The first of Kon’s four films, the story focuses on pop singer Mima who takes a drastic career turn to become a risqué actress. She starts to receive death threats from a fanatical fan/stalker and hallucinates monstrous visions and nightmares.

This was both my first Kon film and my introduction to anime, which was an odd experience to say the least. The animation is a bit low budget, with some definition on large sections of crowds missing, but it holds up enough for the film. And while the English dub was a bit jarring at the beginning, it actually added to the weirdness of the film. What got me hooked was the clever and mind-bending story. We go from dream sequences to rooftop chases, song and dance numbers to viscous and bloody murder with a screwdriver, before landing on not one but two rape sequences. It was definitely a jarring film to be introduced to, but a memorable one. Fans of Darren Aronofsky, this is a film to check out. The latter director bought the rights just to restage a number of scenes in his film Requiem For A Dream, and the whole film is the basis for Black Swan. For anyone thinking that anime or animation is for children, this is one to change your mind.

Score: 9/10 Dark, twisted and baffling, but entertaining.

Millennium Actress

This was Kon’s second film and it shows how versatile a director he was. While Perfect Blue focused on dark and warped versions of celebrity, Millennium Actress is much more light-hearted, with a love for Japanese history, both real and cinematic. The film follows a documentary filmmaker and his assistant, who are interviewing a famous actress from the Golden Age of Cinema. As she tells them the story of her life, the group are transported back through time and relive the important moments of her life.

The time-travel gimmick can sometimes make this film even harder to follow than Perfect Blue with its dream-within-visions sequences. We’ll be in a train in the 1930s, but the characters will get off and the film will be back in the 1500s, without even a mention that we are in a new time period. The story though isn’t as interesting as Kon’s first film. The film is about a woman trying to find her first love amid all the time travel, but it isn’t that compelling. We don’t get any time to know with the man that she is chasing, which is kind of the point, but it leaves the film with nothing to aspire to. He’s an empty vessel, purely there to move the story on. And after the first couple of time swaps, the story potters about for a while until the big reveals start happening near the end.

Score: 7/10 One of the history buffs and romance fans, but not one of the best.

Tokyo Godfathers

Probably Kon’s most accessible film, as it features none of the trippy mind-bending weirdness or the adult themes of his larger body of work. The story follows three homeless people in the middle of Tokyo, who find a baby dumped in the street on Christmas Eve. The three band together to go find the child’s parents just in time for Christmas.

While the film is the most “normal” of Kon’s, it’s still deals with big ideas. The main theme is family; our three leads have each been thrown out or left their families for different reasons, and over the course of the film they seek to resolve and contact their families. The most interesting of the three is Hana, a transgender nightclub singer, whose desire to be female leads her to running away with the baby so that she can feel “motherly”.

The film is the most comedic of Kon’s four, but the humour can sometimes come off as forced. Take in the meandering story and very contrived plot (people meeting over and over again in one of the largest cities in Japan), it requires you to leave plausibility at the door. Kon’s fantastic camerawork and editing though make it still enjoyable to watch from a technical aspect. And it’s a Christmas film, so why not watch it next year rather than Die Hard for your alternative Christmas movie night?

Score: 6/10 Probably the weakest of the bunch, but still a good watch.

Paprika

Kons’ last film before he died in 2010, Paprika is his most well-received film. The story is about a machine called the DC Mini, which allows people to enter other people’s dreams. Its purpose is for psychotherapy, but a group of criminals steal it for nefarious ends. A group of scientists have to band together to find the DC Mini and save the world from total destruction.

The set-up of Paprika might seem familiar. That’s because, just like how Perfect Blue was remade into Black Swan, Paprika was remade into Inception. It’s not just in the vague story beats either; the rotating hallway, the shattering glass wall, the dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams idea (Inception went three dreams deep, Paprika goes five deep), it’s been lifted from Kon’s magnum opus.

The film is ten years old, but the animation is superb. Crystal clear and meticulously detailed, Madhouse, the studio behind it, outdid many similar animation at the time and works being done today. The crazy dream sequences and editing quirks (such as jumping through paintings and billboards and into another scene) are feats to be admired. It’s a film that is also in love with filmmaking as an art, with sections detailing Filmmaking 101 such as the “180 Line” and recreating famous films within characters dreams. With the addition of the darker themes and intriguing story of Perfect Blue but the brighter colours and cheery aspect of Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, this is the culmination of Kon’s work and is surely his best.

Score: 10/10 Will blow you away with its fantastical approach.

The YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting did a fascinating breakdown of Kon’s editing and visual style. It’s a great watch, even if you don’t know his work.

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Kubo And The Two Strings Review

For all of the shoddy sequels and comic book movies this year, animation has been on point. With Disney’s excellent The Jungle Book and Zootropolis, Studio Ghibli’s final film, When Marine Was There, and the incredible Anomalisa, 2016 is looking up in terms of animation. And now, a new one, Kubo And The Two Strings.

Kubo And The Two Strings stars Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara and is directed by Travis Knight. The film follows Kubo (Parkinson), a young boy who must find a set of magical armour bequeathed to him by his samurai father, while being chased by evil forces.

The animation is some of the best of this year, which is really saying a lot. Laika, the team behind Kubo, is the same team that made ParaNorman and Coraline, two recent greats for animation buffs. The level of detail and the production design is part of the reason to go see Kubo right away. The incredibly smooth stop-motion animation, along with the 3D printed faces turns even the small down time in between the big action set pieces into a jaw dropping display of craftsmanship, you completely forget the massive human effort it took to create something so magical. One of the first big fights in the film includes what is apparently the largest stop-motion character ever animated. Be sure to stick around during the credits, which includes a “see how we did this” behind the scenes moment that shows how ridiculous the task must have been.

Kubo is heavily influenced by Japanese folklore. While the story is a grab bag of several different legends and tales, it’s more in the mood rather than the plot. Little wisps of fog coat lakes, half forgotten statues to Shinto and Buddhist religions are throughout the land, it does a good job of creating a world, and not just a succession of places in a line. The music helps settle us into the world, with the strings of Kubo’s guitar, along with flutes and chimes constantly coming and going from the film, highlighting some scenes as being instant favourites of the year so far. The plot though is very by the numbers. A little boy finding magical armour and defeating dark gods, it’s a story that’s been told before (mainly Legend Of Zelda). The story has a few twists that might be easy to figure out for the older viewers, especially reveals about Kubo’s companions Monkey and Beetle, but overall it’s more a dressing than the central point.

Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are excellent as Kubo’s friend Monkey and Beetle respectively. Theron is doing her usual badass performance, with McConaughey playing a bit against type as the rather slow-minded Beetle. Ralph Fiennes does his sinister charm in a small role as Raiden, and Rooney Mara, playing dual roles as a pair of evil witches is remarkably menacing for how little she is on-screen. Art Parkinson though as Kubo is who deserves the high praise. Most notable as Rickon Stark from Game Of Thrones, the young actor carries the majority of the first act mainly by himself.

I always feel that when animation goes dark, due to it being animated, it adds to the scariness. Kubo And The Two Strings is rated PG for “mild fantasy violence and scary scenes”. The scary scenes are mainly supplied by Rooney Mara’s excellent twin sisters (who never actually get names), who appear at night in a swirl of black smoke. Their black robes and their constantly smiling facemasks add a genuine deal of creepiness to the film, and leave a distinct impression that will be remembered long after it’s finished.

In short, Kubo And The Strings is one of the best of the year and one that will be enjoyed both by young and old. Go see it now while it’s still in cinemas, then go push it on all your friends. You will not be disappointed.

Score: 10/10 Genuinely awe-inspiring.

Finding Dory Review

Oh for goodness sake, let the sequels end! “But this is different,” I hear you say, “it’s Disney/Pixar”. And yes, before they became the super-media conglomerate that eats up every single other piece of entertainment, Disney and it’s younger creator Pixar crafted some excellent contained movies. Which they are now soiling with unnecessary add-ons like Cars 2 and Monsters University (admit it, you completely forgot they made Monsters University). But let’s dive in (pun intended) once again for Finding Dory.

Finding Dory stars Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence and Ed O’Neill and is directed by Andrew Stanton. The film follows on one year after the events of Finding Nemo, when Dory (DeGeneres) remembers her parents, she sets off to find them, with Marlin (Brooks) and Nemo (Rolence) in tow.

While I was on-board for the sequel, the story is rather boring. In Finding Nemo, Marlin was unsure of how to reach Nemo, and that’s what made the story exciting. In the sequel, we are pointed to exactly where Dory’s parents are at the beginning of the film, so it just gets tiresome after the fourth or fifth time Dory goes in the wrong direction. Even in a 90 minute film, this feels like extraordinary padding. To the end of the film I was really getting angry at the drudging story, but then during the final twenty minutes, the film pays off for one beautiful scene, before heading back to trudging boredom for the finale. And sure, it’s nice to go back to these characters, but there aren’t many memorable new ones. But stick around until the very end credits and you may see some familiar faces.

The film is a lot lighter on jokes than previous Pixar films, and most of the good ones were shown during the trailers. The majority come from the duo of Dominic West and Idris Elba as a pair of “geezer” sea lions (who were shown, but only one moment), who switch from stretching out in the sun to barking at trivial things. They are one of the funniest things in the film but are only in the film at the very beginning and at the very end.

Since the whole film is set at an aquarium, you would think that you would get some lovely shots of thousands of fish swimming around the giant tanks. Sadly not so. We may get one or two fleeting glimpses of shots similar to the school run at the start of Nemo, but most of Finding Dory is set in bland white corridors and darkened storage facilities. With Pixar being one of the biggest animation houses, I would really want for something a bit more stimulating than nondescript buildings.

Maybe Pixar spent the entire budget on the short film before, called Piper. It’s another animal based story, of a small bird learning how to hunt for food in the sea. It’s almost photo-realistic, like a nature documentary, but with some silly human qualities added to the birds to make them more relatable I guess.

But I can’t deny, the music is what pushes the film along. Thomas Newman returns once again, and basically does the same thing he did for Nemo. It’s sad when the best thing about the new film is something that was perfected back in 2003, but it’s great to hear Newman’s signature style in a cinema sound system.

To finish, Finding Dory was just like every other sequel this year, really, REALLY not needed. And Dory continues the trend of Pixar properties of having a really good first film and a quite boring second attempt (Toy Story being the only exception). I would say let’s learn from our mistakes, but heck, we’re all going to go watch Incredibles 2 aren’t we?

Score: 5/10 Fleeting moments of greatness, let down by a wilting story.

Angry Birds Review

It’s been a while getting here. I’ve missed every other time to see Angry Birds but after much deliberation I would endeavor to see it. I can’t be a proponent of video games to films and not see what is ultimately one of the most well-known franchises and multimedia enterprises make it’s first steps into Hollywood.

Angry Birds stars Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Sean Penn and Peter Dinklage and is directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. The film follows Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Gad) and Bomb (McBride) as they try to save the eggs on their home-world, Bird Island, from an invasion of Pigs.

Back in February I went to see the remake of Point Break. I came out of that screening with a desire to stop reviewing films. How does this link to Angry Birds? I came out of that screening shaking with rage at what I had made myself endure for the good part of ninety minutes.

The story is as hackneyed and generic as it can possibly be. It’s your usual redemption narrative, which is completely out-of-place. It takes so long to get going, never has an hour and a half film felt SO BLOODY LONG. I didn’t think Angry Birds had a story, but that goes to show that you can make a movie out of anything. That doesn’t mean you should make the movie though.

The voice cast is fine, but half of them sound like their phoning it in. Sean Penn’s entire role is grunting, which is a waste of his talent. Peter Dinklage sounds like his going through the motions, I think he was just brought on to add his name to the poster to boost ticket sales. Granted, they don’t have much to work with; jokes about excrement and other slapstick humour is abound, none of it is of merit or memorable. “But it’s a kids film” I hear you say. Okay, the film does have a U certificate, but what child will understand references to The Shining? Or constant sexual innuendos? Or bad language, usually replaced with the word “clucking”?

That’s not even the worst part. The final straw that broke me was the blatant advertising in the middle of the film. As soon as the Birds find Piggy Island, they start using the catapult to fling themselves into the Pig Castle. Before our trio of heroes can be shot by the catapult, around five to six birds are shot first, each displaying their special abilities. These are the birds that you need to spend real-life money to acquire in the game. It’s pandering to the child audience who are in the theatre, “Hey, buy our game, but if you want the rest of these cool birds, getting mum and dad to buy them for you”. Product placement is nothing new in films, just look at any number of James Bond films. But James Bond has an age certificate. And the things he peddles (mainly watches, alcohol and cars) are not being sold to children or being advertised to children. What Angry Birds is doing is shady and exploitative.

And do you know what the worst part is? This is only the start. Did you know Fruit Ninja just got greenlit? Tetris is also in development. The film industry is getting hold of widely known properties and trying to put a narrative to them when they have no backbone to support a narrative. Battleship, Ratchet And Clank even Warcraft, all films that tried to put a narrative on things that have no narrative to begin with. You might call me a hypocrite; I promote video games as being the next great medium that cinema can link with. But the thing is, there are great game stories (I’m not going to go into here). These are just brands that are being stretched into hour and a half adverts.

Bringing it back to Angry Birds, it is honestly one of the worst things I’ve seen this year. Point Break may have made a hobby that I love doing waver, but Angry Birds needs to be called out for the abomination that’s it’s pushing into cinemas.

Score: 1/10 The apotheosis of terrible filmmaking.

Warcraft: The Beginning Review

Video games have never had their day in cinema. While some come close (Silent Hill and Tomb Raider 2, in my opinion) none have ever had widespread acclaim. Now Duncan Jones, director of the fantastic Moon and Source Code is trying his hand at adapting the massively expansive World Of Warcraft to film. Does it change the idea of video games films or is it another sad, failed attempt?

Warcraft: The Beginning stars Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer and Paula Patton and is co-written and directed by Duncan Jones. With the Orc home-world dying, the Orcs come together to take the human realm of Azeroth for their own by force. But a young chieftain (Kebbell) wants to try and live peacefully with the humans. He tries to link up with the commander of the human army (Fimmel) in an attempt to save both his race and Azeroth.

Let’s begin with the good. The art direction for Warcraft is one of the best things about the film. While it has diluted the vibrant colours of the original world and added a more realistic look to the characters, the creatures that inhabit Azeroth are an impressive technical marvel. The detail and nuance, especially of Orc protagonist Durotan (played by Toby Kebbell, who played Koba in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes) is great and shows that Jones has a care for the series. He wants to make a good film and will not settle for poor digital effects.

The merging of CGI and live-action is also another good point of the film. The characters blend seamlessly through built sets and then into green-screen battles, with very little slip-ups that break the immersion. Some of the cinematography as well, particularly the opening, an over-the-shoulder battle between Orc and Human is very nicely shot.

Sadly that’s where most of the good ends. We have to talk about the bad stuff.

The script is the biggest weak point and it brings down the rest of the film. While the film does try to set up its own new mythology and franchise, a lot of it will be confusing to people who don’t know the games, such as myself. It’s a lot of new places and people; The Fell, The Horde, The Alliance, Stormwind etcetera. It’s all dumped on us through exposition in the first half an hour and before we’ve got to grips with it our main characters are already flying away to mountain-top fortresses and we are completely lost.

The rest of the story feels like a grab-bag of clichés of fantasy storytelling and other fantasy-based films. You can see its influence, (Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit and Dawn of The Planet Of The Apes are the main ones) and since it’s just wanting to set up a new world, it falls back on the tired stereotypes of not just fantasy films but also storytelling in general. It’s such a bog-standard story, you can see the twists and turns from a mile off and with the ten or so main characters, none of them are ever developed well. The best is Kebbell’s Orc Dorutan, mainly through his family interaction that opens the film. Even at two hours, it feels rather empty; characters are dropped rather anti-climactically near the end and since Jones wants it to be a trilogy, we have a lifeless ending.

I found myself really wanting to like Warcraft. After ten years of being in development, and Blizzard Entertainment even turning down legendary hack Uwe Boll’s bid to the rights, the story of Warcraft as a film should have a happy ending. But sadly we haven’t made progress with games based films, and as someone who loves games as a medium and as an art, it makes me weary. But we still have Assassins Creed in December, let’s hope it finally changes, right?

Score: 5/10 The fans are the ones who will get enjoyment.

Friend Request Review

I wasn’t looking forward to Friend Request. I remember seeing the trailer and shaking my head in disbelief at how poor the film looked. But after doing an entire module on horror films this university year, I thought I may as well go along and see how it delivered.

Fried Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers and Connor Paolo and is directed by Simon Verhoeven. The film follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) who after an altercation with an odd girl, Marina (Ahlers) at school is harassed online by a supernatural presence.

When I first saw the trailer, all I could think was Friend Request was going to be a cheap rip off of last year’s cyber-themed horror film Unfriended. Unfriended‘s gimmick was that it all took place on a computer screen and I thought this looked like it was just going to take the themes that Unfriended had done and redo all of them. And for a while, I was right. The film takes the idea of online/social media addiction as being the cause for why the characters don’t just switch off their laptops and phones, it creates a downward spiral. But slowly, Friend Request tips it’s hand and reveals a much more thought-out and interesting back story, it’s just hidden behind stupid jump scares and loud noises.

The film works when it’s giving us glimpses of how and why the hauntings are happening. While eventually it does turn into an exposition dump, in the beginning Friend Request manages to only give glimpses at an explanations, making the audience piece the puzzle together by themselves. We have links back to old ritualistic cults, orphanages, mutilated children, your staple horror clichés, but it somehow works. It’s a mash up of Ringu meets M.R. James and manages to be a horror film with gothic sensibilities. It falls down when it panders to the mainstream horror crowd by throwing a face up accompanied by loud musical sting like the score writer has just fallen on every note on his keyboard. It didn’t need these moments, the films was spooky enough as it was, it’s just cheapened it by having easily telegraphed moments of “be scared because NOISES!”

Following on from the gothic themes in Friend Request, the film does boast some rather well done animation sections. Marina, the girl with a mysterious past who sets the plot in motion is an artist and puts her creations online. At certain points the film enters these animations and they actually add to the sense of uneasiness. They are stylistically similar to The Judderman or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Is was an interesting deviation whenever the film would enter animation but unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for the second half, being dropped after the first half hour.

There are some other faults with Friend Request. All the actors, who despite playing sophomores all look over thirty, it’s quite funny. There is also a side-plot about a couple of police detectives who are investigating the odd disturbances. It could have been an interesting theme, similar to Arbitrage, to see two detectives trying to pin down what it actually that is that is stalking the students, epically once the stalking moves from the supernatural into something a lot more concrete and human. But once more, it get’s dropped before it is fully explored, with both characters leaving at the moments where they could have added something more to the story.

And just a small thing to finish, the ending is actually really imaginative as well as being a sequel bait to a franchise. However as soon as you start thinking about it, it doesn’t hold up to much logic, even in a supernatural horror film.

To wrap up, Friend Request wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When it’s going good, it’s actually quite interesting and effective, but it’s push to go for the wider audience mean that that goodness is usually squandered by silly jump scares. It’s not as good as Unfriended and it isn’t as clever as Cyberbully (two films that do the cyber-horror genre well), but if you’re looking for a spooky film to watch in the cinema, then this will do.

Score: 6/10 It’s been done better, but for now it’s sufficient.

Ratchet And Clank Review

With Warcraft and Assassins Creed coming out this year, I think 2016 will be the year when we have a genuinely great video game based film, rather than just something that fans (or in some cases nobody) enjoy. But right now, we have another video game based film to review, Ratchet And Clank.

Ratchet And Clank stars James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson and is directed by Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe. The film follows space mechanic Ratchet (Taylor) and robot Clank (Kaye) as they team up with the Galactic Rangers to stop Chairman Drek (Giamatti) from destroying the universe.

I was a fan on the Ratchet And Clank games and purely as a fan, I got enjoyment out of the fan service in the film. Most of the voice actors for the characters in the games; James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward (Captain Quark) and Armin Shimermann (Doctor Nefarious) appear and add to the sense that this was made with the fans in mind. The film also has jokes linked in with the games, with gags tied in with spiritual sequels Jax and Sly Cooper.

Despite being a 3+ game, the Ratchet And Clank series had some very adult and clever humour. The film has some great moments but sadly falls down a lot. There are jokes aimed at movie fans, with references to other films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Kubrick’s 2001 and also has jokes riffing on that state of montages and sequel baiting in films. The best are a pair of jokes about the Wilhelm scream and nerd culture. Apart from these flourishes of brilliance though, the humour tries to appeal to the younger demographic with slapstick and low brow jokes for most of the running time, making the large part of the film incredibly boring.

The animation in the film varies in quality immensely. Ratchet is a Lombax, a cat-like creature, and has some good design, but others like Captain Quark just look like plastic models. The animation looks like they seem to skip a couple of frames and reuse sections of it, which speaks to either laziness on the part of the animators or problems with the budget. Maybe they spent all the money on getting Paul Giamatti, John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone to record bit parts in the film. In a year where we’ve had great animation such as Zootropolis or The Jungle Book, you really have to step your game up in terms of quality.

To be honest, the film may be called Ratchet And Clank but a more apt title might be Ratchet: The Movie (Featuring Clank When It Can Be Asked). The dynamic of the film and game is watching these two characters interact, but quite quickly Clank is pushed off to the side with Rosario Dawson’s character Elaris as tech support while Ratchet joins the rest of the Galactic Rangers. It feels rather like a waste of a good starting point and of talent to have these two characters and then do nothing with them.

In the end though, I was just bored with Ratchet And Clank. From the witless script that only had a few great jokes, to the generic story and clichéd side characters, the waste of a good property and the poor animation and design, it’s just a sad finished product. It’s not the worst video game film (which is Silent Hill: Revelations) and isn’t anywhere near the best (which for me is Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Silent Hill), instead it’s just average.

Score: 4/10 Might be just one for the fans.

Zootropolis Review

After the runaway hit of Frozen back in 2013 and their collaboration with Pixar on last year’s smash Inside Out, it was going to be a big ask for Disney to top themselves in 2016. Their new film, Zootropolis is out this week, so how does it compare to what some people are considering to be the best in Disney’s line-up?

Zootropolis stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and JK Simmons and is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Zootropolis (also known as Zootopia in other places) follows Judy Hopps (Goodwin), the first rabbit police officer to be hired in the city of Zootropolis. She has to team up with the fox con-artist Nic Wilder (Bateman) to solve a missing mammal’s case.

The film has a great cast, with the previously mentioned Idris Elba and JK Simmons, but also has great actors and comedians in the smaller roles. Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate and Tommy Chong are good actors, and a small role for Shakira as a singing gazelle, but the standouts are Goodwin and Bateman. The main duo have a great chemistry as Hopps and Wilder and bounce off each other well in the downtime between them.

As usual with Disney films, the animation is one of the film’s strong points. All of the characters in the film are mammals, and while they are not photo-realistic, the attention to detail is superb. You can make out the individual hairs of Hopps and Wilder (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous Disney fox) and each animal’s animation structure makes it a joy just to watch them move around the film’s sets.

The city of Zootropolis is nicely designed, even though we don’t get to see a lot of it. It calls to mind Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, with high skyscrapers and bridges connecting them all together. The city is split between different climates; the arctic tundra, the desert and the rainforest. Throughout the film we travel to the different sections of the city and just like the animation, it all looks grand.

The jokes are good, but I feel that Zootropolis might be found to be boring by its younger audience. I was in a packed theatre, filled with both kids and adults, but on average the adults were laughing more than the kids. The slapstick was enough to set the kids laughing, but these were few and far between. Of course, with Disney you get your adult aimed jokes; we get a spectacular Godfather spoof with a possum who looks like a rodent version of Marlon Brando, a sly dig at Frozen‘s inescapable hit song (now I’ve reminded you of it, it’s going to be in your head for a while) and a Breaking Bad reference (complete with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman), but every time I found myself thinking, “kids won’t get this reference”.

Come to think of it, I think it might only be the anthropomorphic animals that make it kids based. Zootropolis has PG rating for “mild threat” and even at points it made me jump. Several big predators turn “savage” and start attacking other smaller animals, clawing them and leaving them with scars, and even nearly killing some. I know that Disney is seen as a kids company, but it’s great when they go dark and they definitely go further out than they have before in Zootropolis.

Just like previous Disney films, Zootropolis takes an overarching theme and litters the film with subtext. I won’t spoil the main points but the film would be a treat to analyse; feminism, transgender themes, immigration and race are all explored within the film. Disney likes to touch upon topical subjects and transposes them to an animated feature for it to be easily taken in by an audience and just like the older Disney films, Zootropolis will make you think long and hard on its themes after you leave the cinema.

In the end, Zootropolis is good. It isn’t on an Inside Out level of greatness and it might bore the younger viewers, but it does stand up on its own as a good film.

Score: 8/10 A solid Disney entry. Just be wary of taking viewers who might be too young for it.

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie Review

Peanuts is one of the most successful comic strips of all time. I had got the anthology for one Christmas, and I remember reading it from cover-to-cover in a matter of days. And while there have been many animated versions, the last one was over 35 years ago. Can Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie replicate the success of the original works?

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie stars Noah Schnapp, Alex Garfin, Bill Melendez, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and is directed by Steve Martino. Based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the film follows Charlie Brown (Schnapp) and the rest of the Peanuts gang, as a new student, The Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) joins their class in school.

When I heard that Peanuts was going to get a feature film, I was a little worried about how they were going to adapt it. I was concerned with how the filmmakers would be able to get child actors to portray some of the most recognisable and beloved characters in all of comic books (despite the plethora of characters under Marvel and DC). Luckily, the film uses the original Schulz designs, with the film working on a 2D plain. Credit to the animators and Art Director Nash Dunnigan, who manage to recreate the hand-drawn style of the comics into CGI, without anything being lost in the process.

It’s not just the art style that has been replicated in the film either. Several of the scenarios and settings from the comics, such as the skating pond, Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatrist booth (where some of the funniest lines of the film are) all feature in the film. It’s a treat for anyone who loved the comics, despite what age they are.

The jokes try and compete with the layered jokes of Pixar but not enough of them deliver enough for the accompanying adult audience, instead just focusing on the younger viewers. Some of the jokes, such as the previously mentioned lines in Lucy’s psychiatrist booth or an extended joke of Snoopy parodying The Great Escape are the standout moments, but most of the time the jokes are varying forms of slapstick, which does get old after a while.

My problems with the film however, rather overshadow what mostly is a good film. The BBFC rated the film as a U, with their comments being “no material likely to offend or harm.” This is the crux of the problem that I had with Snoopy And Charlie Brown. Despite the original comics having deep and complex philosophical, psychological and sociological tones, as well as kid-aimed films of recent times (see Paddington and Inside Out) featuring some heavy subjects, they are nowhere to be seen in the film. This really hurts Snoopy And Charlie Brown, as what used to be a sometimes-serious lineage is diluted into safe, lowbrow humour.

My other problems with the film come from its story content. While the film is just over 90 minutes (an average length for a child-aimed film) but most of the film is devoted to Snoopy writing his novel about The Red Baron, which descend into noisy explosion ridden dogfights (the airplane kind), instead of sticking with the much more interesting and engaging Charlie Brown story. While The Red Baron was a consistent recurring character point in the comics, it really doesn’t add anything to the overall film apart from a dash of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

In summary, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie will probably delight the younger audience, but for anyone over the age of five or six, it won’t stand up with the best of the kid’s movies (basically everything Pixar bar Cars and Cars 2).

 

Score: 6/10  It’s sweet, but a little too shallow for a recommendation.

Sin City Double Film Review

Preface

Noir films have always been a genre that I’ve loved. From movies like The Third Man to Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, I can’t get enough of the hard-nosed detectives, femme fatales and beautiful black and white contrasts. While there have been several films of recent time to try and capitalise on the noir form, I think there has only been a few to properly do it justice, harkening back to the classical days. Two of those films are, Sin City and it’s sequel A Dame To Kill For.

Review

Sin City

Sin City stars Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Clive Owen and is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, with Quentin Tarantino guest directing. The film follows several characters from different stories of Frank Miller’s Sin City series.

The cast list is one of the film’s strongest points. Playing along with the previously mentioned are stars such as Benicio Del Toro, Powers Boothe, Michael Clark Duncan, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett. Every actor and actress is giving everything they’ve got on-screen, obviously reveling in the noir feel of the film.

I managed to read a few of the Sin City books before this review, and from what I’ve seen, there are several panels that have been directly lifted from Miller’s books and put in the film, giving the sense of the comics coming alive. The film hardly had any built sets, instead using large expanses of green screen to fill in the background of Basin City. Filmed in colour and retrofitted into high contrast black and white, it’s a marvel of cinematic engineering and wizardry and the film looks so much better for it. There are small inflections of colour, such as character’s irises, police sirens and lipstick, making the sometimes juvenile storytelling a lot classier than it should be.

Sin City takes an anthology approach to storytelling, similar to Miller’s original books. The film takes several stories such as The Big Fat Kill, The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard and juggles between them, each one linked with the other through characters and their actions. All stories are filled with sex, nudity, bloody violence and gore and a healthy amount of swearing, marking out Sin City as not one for the faint of heart. Some stories are better than others (I’m in the minority that doesn’t like That Yellow Bastard) but all give us fun characters and action-packed sequences.

In summary, a beautiful tour into debauchery and deceit, even if some characters are reprehensible. Why can’t all comic book films look this good?

Score: 8/10 This is cinema as art.

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

A Dame To Kill For stars many of the same cast, with new additions of Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Josh Brolin, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach, Ray Liotta and Lady Gaga with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller returning as directors.

Just like the original film, A Dame To Kill For takes several of Miller’s stories such as A Dame To Kill For and smaller sections of Booze, Broads And Bullets. Two new stories, The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance were created exclusively for the film, both written by Miller. This marks a problem for the film, as the stories here take place during, before and after the stories in the first film, and even ret-conning a few of them. It’s sometimes confusing, but if you just go with it then you’ll still find enjoyment.

Eva Green absolutely nails it as the title character, Ava Lord. Green plays the femme fatale perfectly, capturing the style of iconic ladies such as Rita Heyworth or Lauren Bacall. Her and Josh Brolin’s chemistry pays dividends, as you totally buy that Brolin’s character Dwight would throw his entire life into jeopardy for one more night of passion with her. Joseph Gordon Levitt also does a good job as Johnny, an original character for the film as a kid gambler who gets in over his head when he cons the powerful members of Basin City out of their money. His story, The Long Bad Night, feels a lot more like a classical noir story, as it doesn’t feature any of Miller’s monster-men or scantily-dressed strippers.

My main problem with A Dame To Kill For though is that it spreads itself too thin. After the first segment of The Long Bad Night and the standout story of A Dame To Kill For, the film seems to lose a lot of its pace with the second part of The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance. The last two stories feel very repetitive as we see Johnny playing cards against the same characters and Marv helping someone storm a mansion for the second time during the run time. There are also many subplots during the bigger stories and many side-characters who don’t add much to the film apart from another big name to the list of great actors.

In summary, A Dame To Kill For isn’t as good as its predecessor, but still has some new stories and characters to pull you back into the world of Sin City.

Score: 7/10 Watch for Eva Green’s standout performance.