Qalupalik Review

Preface

During one of my first year university projects I had to research different ancient myths and stories. During my various searches I came across the Inuit legend of Qalupalik, a creature that lives in the sea and would take away children that would not obey their parents. I did some further reading and found there was a short film based on the legend, so I watched it and decided it was a fun one to review.

Review

Qalupalik (pronounced Ka-lu-pa-lik) stars Sam Tutatunak and is written, animated and directed by Ame Papatsie. The film follows a young Inuit boy named Angutii, who doesn’t help out around the camp. One day he is taken by the Qalupalik whilst playing on the shoreline.

Qalupalik is a traditional stop-motion film, and it’s art style is visually striking. The director Ame Papatsie (who is also the sole animator on the film) swaps between very bright blues, browns and whites for the human world and dark blacks and blues for the Qalupalik’s underwater world. It’s a very distinct change in the scenery but never feels jarring.

The animation is achieved through various techniques, sometimes small cut-outs are used to create a character while other times entire sections of cloth are used to be the underwater sea. These changing methods, while seeming odd the first time they are used together add to the odd quality of the Qalupalik’s surroundings and the wide open spaces of the Arctic Circle.

The main characters Angutii and his father have no facial features, each one is just a plain cut-out shape. The only character that has any definition is Qalupalik, with blood-red eyes, a pimpled face and large fangs, it highlights her grotesque features by giving none of the other characters any particular look. While the fact that we have no real connection with Angutti or his father because they are just a bland shell, it’s a perfect way for the film to say “This is Qalupalik’s film, we are going to focus on her.”

The sound design also helps characterise Qalupalik as a fabled monster. Whenever the film lingers on her, we hear a sound of wind chimes or a constant clinking, similar to Predator in… well, the film Predator. It’s creepy and unnerving to hear an unfamiliar sound being used as the call of a movie monster and is stays with you long after the film has ended. In conjunction with the sound design, the music that accompanies the film is spectacular. Inuit chanting is used at the beginning and the end of the film, making the film and the story feel much like a special ceremony that we get to look in on. Elsewhere, heavy bass drums and wooden sticks help build tension as the Qalupalik swims through the sea, and wind pipes play whenever Angutii looks out across the shore, highlighting his increased loneliness once he has been taken by the Qalupalik.

The narration, by Sam Tutatunak is a great addition to the film. Tutatunak’s deep bass voice adds to the feeling that this is a cautionary tale, told by elders to the young people of the tribe so that they are not taken by the Qalupalik. It’s got a nice ethereal quality, which also heightens the otherworldliness of the Qalupalik. The only real downside with this is that Tutaunak’s narration doesn’t contain any emotion, but it fits the story as a retelling of past events rather than a running commentary.

In conclusion, Qalupalik looks unlike any other film I’ve seen. It’s an interesting way to tell a story we’ve all heard a version of a thousand times before and has a great sense of knowing how to visually create a brilliantly grotesque monster.

Score: 7/10 Definitely one to watch if you’re interested in art or animation.

The link to the film is down below.

https://www.nfb.ca/film/nunavut_animation_lab_qalupalik

Inside Out Review

It’s been two years since Pixar’s last release, Monster’s University. I somewhat enjoyed the film, but many people I talked to felt that the film had let them down, citing it as second weakest in Pixar’s vast back catalogue (because nothing can be weaker than Cars 2). Can Pixar turn around this minor hiccup and remind us what they are capable of with Inside Out?

Inside Out stars Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Richard Kind and is directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen. The story follows Joy (Poehler) and Sadness (Smith) as two of several of the emotions of a young girl, Riley as she is going through her stressful teenage years.

Pixar films always seem to have some deeper meaning behind them, putting them leagues ahead of any other computer generated kids movies. Whether the subject is single parenting (Finding Nemo) conservation for our planet (Wall-E) or doing what you love despite whatever stands in your way (Ratatouille), Pixar have nailed the idea of having a message for their (normally) younger audience. Inside Out is no different. The film tackles some really heavy subjects and even gets seriously dark just past the halfway point. And amazingly it does so without ever becoming po-faced. The film goes through some of what according to main character Riley seems to be her whole world collapsing, only to find that with the old stuff going, it means better stuff can come along.

The cast is one of the standouts of the film. Amy Poehler does her usual cheery self as the emotion Joy, but through her long tiring journey through Riley’s mind, she becomes worn down and beaten by Riley’s descent into uncertainty, leading Poehler to show some great variation from her typecast role. Phyllis Smith as Sadness is brilliant, and has some of the most powerful scenes in the film, such as the finale where she is in control of Riley, giving Inside Out one of the biggest emotional punches of Pixar’s entire works. A role for Richard Kind as another central character (that I’m not going to spoil here) is a great addition to the film, and really hits home a few of the central themes about childhood memories and loss of innocence.

Lewis Black as Anger is the funniest character in the film, with several of the best lines, including one about the destruction of pizza by San Francisco. His regular flame-ridden explosions are a main highlight of the film, with each one being a new, nearly foul-mouthed tantrum over the minutest things. And as always, it’s nice to see Kyle MacLachlan back at The Student Film Review after his stint in the David Lynch Collection. He, along with Diane Lane, play the respective parents of Riley, each with their own set of emotions, playing up each of their identities and traits, with jokes coming from miscommunication and styles of parenting and discipline.

The script, like many other Pixar works has jokes for all the family. While the slapstick violence was enough to make the children in the viewing I was in laugh, the biggest laughs came from the parents at the more adult jokes. Brazilian fantasy men, an excellent riff on Hollywood (with subtle hints to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Polanski’s Chinatown) and a recurring joke about catchy advert jingle, with the latter accompanied by Anger’s frenzied outbursts, Inside Out is several degrees smarter and wittier than many films recently that have been pegged as “comedies”.

As the standard of Pixar films, Inside Out has its pre-film short animation, this one called Lava. A love story that is set over millions of years, Lava tells the story of two volcano islands falling in love with each other. While the animation and design of the islands is stunning, reminiscent of some of the exquisite design in Surf’s Up, the faces of the islands looks a bit awkward and creepy when they are smiling. The accompanying song (which oddly enough is named “Lava”) however is beautiful, and captures the feeling of the tropical islands with its ukulele infused melody and sounds of waves.

In conclusion, Pixar have once again made a film that anyone of any age can enjoy, with a strong a great message for the audience, let your emotions run free. Inside Out is going to be the blockbuster of this summer.

Score: 10/10 One of Pixar’s greatest, deeply moving and deeply profound, while still being funny as hell.

Song Of The Sea Review

Song Of The Sea has been gaining traction in the past few months. Originally being shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and then being nominated for Best Animation at the 2014 Academy Awards, it has only started its public cinema run in the UK. Does it live up to the hype?

Song Of The Sea is directed by Tomm Moore and stars David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flannagan, and Lisa Hannigan. The story follows Ben (Rawle) and his mute sister Saorise as they go on a mystical adventure filled with Irish folklore creatures in a bid to find out what happened to their mother, who disappeared the night Saorise was born.

Song Of The Sea deserves its nomination for Best Animation at the Oscars. The 2D animation is striking and beautiful with subtle hints of Studio Ghibli’s more esoteric works, the cartoon designs from The Legend Of Zelda and the cutout silhouettes from Wes Anderson’s films. It can’t be stated enough that the film is mesmerising and I can’t think of an animated film so recently that the animation on its own blew me away.

The story is heavily rooted within Irish folklore with selkies, fairies, giants, and the odd animal deity coming in and out of the film to either help or hinder our protagonists. This is where the animation shines, giving us these fantastical creatures that wouldn’t look anywhere near as good if it was all CGI. Even the homes and houses of these creatures such as the selkie underwater neighbourhood or the owl house that features later on in the film are lovingly put together with some standout scenes and sets.

Even so, the story is a very clichéd and overdone one; a story of young child going off on an adventure and trying to find an absent parent. It is a story that Studio Ghibli has been doing variations on for a while, but here in Song Of The Sea it is beautifully told and has several emotional punches. There was around three times where I welled up due to the story and portrayal of the characters with the last ten minutes serving a real emotional blow that is sure not to leave a dry eye in the cinema. It is a story that everyone can relate to, whatever age they are.

The film is full of great Irish actors. Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan are both excellent in their dual roles, playing both the father and grandmother of Ben and Saorise as well as the films interpretations of the Ancient Irish folk heroes. Two small roles for the Irish comics Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny as two parts of a trio of musical playing fairies are fun to watch and to listen to. But the greatest praise must go to David Rawle for his portrayal of the young boy Ben. For a young actor it is a challenge to carry nearly a whole film on his own, but Rawle manages to do it with a sincere and heartfelt portrayal of an older brother trying to help his younger sister.

The score, created by Bruno Koulais and Kila (with many songs being sung by the voice cast as well), is near constantly played throughout the film, but it never gets old or repetitive. Apart from the odd verse nearly all of the songs are sung in Irish which adds to the ethereal quality of the film. The best song though is the lullaby rendition of the main theme that plays over the credits. It is well worth staying through the credits just to hear this amazing song which is sung by the French singer Nolwenn Leroy.

In summary, Song Of The Sea is a great-animated feature, beautifully crafted and heartfelt in its story and characters. This is definitely not one to miss.

Score: 10/10 Destined for classic status.

Alois Nebel Review

Preface

I was once doing some research for my film studies course and came across a film trailer for a Czech film called Alois Nebel. I noted it down for further research later and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I was looking through my old work and came across the name once again and so decided to try and find a copy to watch. And now, the review.

Review

Alois Nebel stars Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludvikova and Karel Roden and is directed by Tomas Lunak. Based on the comic book trilogy of the same name, the film follows train dispatcher Alois Nebel during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, where hallucinations of the dark past he witnessed seems to seep into his present.

First of all, Alois Nebel is gorgeous. Instead of traditional animation being used, rotoscoping was employed to create the visuals. For anyone who doesn’t know, rotoscoping is when and animator draws over a live-action performance. It is beautifully created here; it makes the animation look realistic, to the point where some scenes come scarily close to the uncanny valley. There were several times during the film where I forgot I was watching an animation due to the craftsmanship at work.

The animation allows for some beautifully crafted shots throughout Alois Nebel. Sweeping shots of Prague Central Train Station and the fireworks above it on New Years Eve, or wide shots of manor estates during the winter are executed brilliantly, and with meticulous attention to detail. Even Nebel’s small station on the Czech-Polish border is designed to precision, giving the small location so much character.

The animation, along with the stark black and white contrast of the film emphasizes the desolate atmosphere of the Czechoslovakian countryside that we see throughout the film. The opening chase scene in a dense forest, or later in the film where we see the the howling wind accompanied by the falling rain or snow, Alois Nebel is one of the few films that creates a sense of being truly alone, with nothing but nature surrounding you on all sides.

The story is split between Nebel’s present, the 1980s and then ending of the Soviet Union and fleeting scenes of his childhood at the latter end of 1945. You might want to look up on your Eastern European history before you watch, because I became a bit lost at what was happening during the frequent flashbacks. Understanding what is happening in these flashbacks is the key to understanding the beginning, the ending and the strange character known as The Mute, who slips in and out of the story like a ghost.

The film does have its fair share of unsettling scenes. Several brutal scenes of electroshock therapy are explicitly shown during the film, as well as a bloody axe murder during the closing scenes. These scenes however are gone as quickly as they turn up, meaning we only get brief flashes of brutality before we are transported off to the next scene.

In summary, Alois Nebel is a beautifully crafted film. While the story may confuse a few, if you work it out you will find a deeply dark yet human story about a lonely man finding purpose and love in a desolate and chaotic time. If you’re bored of animation being family-friendly films with talking animals as it’s main characters and are looking for something with a bit more drama, Alois Nebel is a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nearly flawlessly created, a great effort for a first time director

Paddington Review

Preface

I don’t even know what type of review this is. I could call it a retro review but it hasn’t even been half a year since the film came out. Since it’s just come out on DVD, it’ll have to be called a DVD Review. Anyway, this film holds a special place in my heart, since it was the last film I saw at the cinema before starting this site. But enough with the attempt at pulling some heartstrings, here’s Paddington.

Review

Paddington is a reboot/re-imagining of the famous literary children’s character from the late 1950s, who after stowing away on a container ship from Darkest Peru, ends up at London’s Paddington Station (hence the name) where the Brown family takes him in.

First off, the cast list for the film is spectacular. Movie 43 may have the biggest names cast list in the history of cinema (which it really doesn’t deserve) but Paddington runs a close second. Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Nicole Kidman are a stellar cast, along with the smaller roles inhabited by actors such as Matt Lucas, Matt King (Super Hans from Peep Show), Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker), Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton, making this film a broad spectrum of great actors. Credit is due mostly though to Ben Whishaw, as the voice of Paddington, who delivers a great balance of old-world naiveté and charm to his portrayal of the famous bear.

Sticking with the idea of Paddington, the CGI and animatronics are stunning, with great attention to detail and technical wizardry, giving us, the audience, a ridiculously lifelike bear, which never falls into the uncanny valley.

The script, written by Hamish McColl is both hilarious and poignant, with several jokes coming under the “Pixar Effect”, being aimed at adults who will have taken their kids to see the film. This has landed the film a PG rating, but don’t be put off, this is still a film for the entire family. Paddington, like McColl’s other notable films, (Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Johnny English 2) has a very British sense of humour throughout, with many of the funnier jokes coming from cutaway gags (such as a more politically correct name for an orphanage still being linked with a gothic setting) and it’s own self-awareness (such as an ever present calypso band playing on the street to camera). It’s these postmodernist flourishes that give the film its charm, and it never becomes a parody of itself.

In relation to the calypso band mentioned, the score, composed by Nick Urata is the best of two styles, the big bold brassy numbers for the comedic set pieces and then a quieter focus on wind instruments and violins for the more downbeat moments, while never feeling out of place. And with the inclusion of some classic songs, such as James Brown’s I Feel Good, Steppenwolf’s’ Born To Be Wild and a hilarious addition of Lionel Richie masterpiece Hello for a brief few seconds, the film’s score becomes one of it’s highlights.

There are only a few small problems with the film. Like Disney’s recent Big Hero 6, the film is only around 90 minutes, probably for it’s younger target audience, but it feels we miss out on some of Paddington just seeing the London that he’s ended up in, rather than the London he believed he was going to. And just a small problem, Madeline Harris, who plays the Brown’s daughter Judy, starts off the film being the typical moody teenager that every parent and older teenager will recognise. In the beginning it just feels forced, but the character eventually mellows out, so it’s not too much of a problem.

In summary, Paddington is a film that anyone can see. With jokes aimed at all audience members without being broad and tame, and a story that doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects like mortality and disgrace, it’s a feel-good ride.

Score: 10/10 Quite possibly surpasses The Lego Movie as the best animated film of 2014.