Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Short review of Ponyo

I’ve loved Hayao Miyazaki’s exquisite anime creations since catching Princess Mononoke by chance on a damp October afternoon in 2000.  I was entranced by this window into another culture’s legends.  Since then I’ve watched all his films and I’m continually impressed by the creativity Studio Ghibli cram into each creation. 

Ponyo is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  When a fish-girl is rescued by a boy named Sosuke and christened Ponyo, she decides that she wants to become human to be with him.  She escapes from her overbearing father and accidentally releases his stored magic into the ocean, endangering the entire world.   This film is simply magical, especially in the sequence where Ponyo rides the rising waves from her home to Sosuke’s island which is a leaping, soaring masterpiece of hand-drawn animation.  Although it's technically a kid’s film, Ponyo will delight the young and the young at heart in equal measure.

Rating ****

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The King's Speech is Alright

I have written two reviews of The King's Speech for other blogs.

The Kings Speech at the re/action blog.  All long and serious like.

The King's Speech at Screen 150.  All short and a bit frivolous, with a silly hand drawn picture from me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Duel of Directors

There are some directors who never really break the boundaries of their chosen genre.  Consider if you will the varying outputs of the Andersons.  Wes Anderson rarely leaves the quirky ground he has claimed for himself in The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and The Life Aquatic.  Paul WS Anderson on the other hand has almost exclusively confined his output to videogame adaptations such as the Resident Evil franchise, the dire Alien vs Predator and the epic Mortal Kombat (not actually epic).

However, there are others who do bravely switch between genres and often generate quality whatever pool they are paddling in.  I've chosen the four best examples of these mainstream style-hoppers and selected what I consider to be their best film in a number of categories.  The winner is the director with the highest number of stars awarded.  So, going toe-to-toe are Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle and Stanley Kubrick.
Blade Runner (1982)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) ****
Sunshine (2007)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) *****
Gladiator (2000)
Amistad (1997)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Legend (1985)
Jurassic Park (1993)
E.T (1982)
Millions (2004)
True Story
White Squall (1996)
Munich (2005)
127 Hours (2010)
Spartacus (1960)
Robin Hood (2010)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) *****
Trainspotting (1996)
Thelma & Louise (1991) *****
Catch Me If You Can (2002) ****
Shallow Grave (1994) ****
The Killing (1956)
A Good Year (2006)
1941 (1979)
A Life Less Ordinary (1997) ***
Dr Strangelove (1964) *****
Black Hawk Down (2001) ****
Saving Private Ryan (1998) *****
Full Metal Jacket (1997) *****
Alien (1979)
Jaws (1975)
28 Days Later (2002)
The Shining (1980)
Body of Lies (2008)
The Color Purple (1985) ****
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) *****
Lolita (1962) ****
37 stars
48 stars
33 stars
47 stars

Spielberg by Amir Taqi

So the victor is the mighty Spielberg (although to be honest, Kubrick managed only one star less despite having 3 fewer films in the list so it could be argued he's the better director).  A purely imaginary trophy is currently winging it's way to Hollywood-land with Mr Spielberg's name badly inscribed by my own fair hands.

(In case your wondering Paul WS Anderson with Shopping, Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Alien vs Predator & Death Race would have scored a paltry ten stars)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Top Ten Films of 2010 Part Two: Five to One

Welcome to the second part of my review of 2010 in movie-land.  Find Part One here.   In this installment I will unveil my top five films of 2010 plus the ten worst dismissed in three words each.

5  The King's Speech
At first glance this film seems the type of Oscar-desperate snoozefest I can't stand.  Intense and wordy, packed with character actors and a main character with a disability or disfigurement.  It's the type of film that the Academy voters seem unable to ignore.  However, the film is a well crafted, well acted and genuinely uplifting tale of the reluctant king with a stammer overcoming his shortcomings with the help of Geoffrey Rush's unconventional speech therapist.

4  Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Edgar Wright's first 'Hollywood' movie was clever, inventive, fun and unique.  As a result it bombed at the cinema on both sides of the pond (let's not forget that the execrable Clash of the Titans was the 10th highest grossing film of 2010 - we should be ashamed of ourselves). However, it's insane (if imperfect) mix of stunning visuals, clever flourishes, nerd-friendly gaming references and kick-ass fight scenes should ensure it has a lasting cult appeal.  This battle of the bands fight scene between the eponymous hero and the villainous Katayanagi Twins is a work of visual genius.

3  Toy Story 3
Second best kids film for adults in 2010 or the second best grown up kids film in 2010 - I'm not sure which. Either way, Pixar carried on it's golden run with the simply wonderful Toy Story 3.  The last story of Buzz, Woody et al was funny, exciting and capable of making grown men cry (or at least get a lump in their throat).  While it doesn't scale the emotional heights of the gorgeous Up or reach the comedy plateau of The Incredibles it's still the type of movie Dreamworks wish they could make.

2  Inception
Right,  it's about dreams within dreams OK?  It's not as clever as some people said it was, but it was definitely more exacting on the brain than Clash of the Titans.  Christopher Nolan took a break from making Christian Bale gargle gravel in a cape to encourage Leonardo DiCaprio to look suitably haunted as dream thief extraordinaire Cobb.  The supporting cast were top class (including one of the final appearances by the late Pete Postlethwaite) and the special effects were spectacular.  Watch this impressive gravity defying fight scene then watch the equally impressive how-they-did-that.

1  The Secret of Kells (click here for the gorgeous trailer)
I know this choice seems willfully obscure, but it is genuinely my favourite film of 2010.  Technically it was originally released in 2009 but Secret of Kells got a limited cinema release in 2010 so it counts.  This animated adventure tells the story of a young monk called Brendan whose life changes for ever when he meets Aiden of Iona who is creating the magical Book of Kells. Set against the constant fear of Norse invasion this beautifully drawn fairy tale does not dwell on any religious material (The Book of Kells is probably the most famous illuminated Gospel in the world) and follows Brendan as he ventures from the safe walls of the abbey.  He encounters dangers but also experiences the wonder of the forest as he meets the magical sprite Aisling and battles the fearsome Crom Cruach before facing the ultimate threat as the Vikings arrive at Kells.  Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the film is animated in an unusual manner somewhat reminiscent of the Kells illuminations.  This is technically a kids film but tackles some dark moments (the Vikings in particular are faceless, blood-drenched shadows) while holding onto a sense of fun, wonder and delight at the world that sticks with you long after the film has ended.  It was rightfully nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Oscars and you should definitely seek out this little-seen gem for yourself.
Turkeys of the Year in 3 Words
Knight & Day - Lots of Teeth
Jonah Hex  -  Josh Hates John
Salt - Angelina Try Harder
Clash of the Titans - Giant Scorpions Suck
Burlesque - Cher Looks Old
Hot Tub Time Machine - Men Get Wet
Legion - Angels Gone Bad
Sex & The City 2 - Sand and Dresses
Skyline - All About CGI
The Wolfman - Hairy Let Down

Monday, January 03, 2011

Short Review of the Expendables

Review of the The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone 2010)

I have always had a soft spot for 80/90's action movies. Cliffhanger, Total Recall, Die Hard and Predator are classics of the genre. They haven't aged well seeming overblown and surprisingly over-violent even to our jaded modern palate. But just when you thought the days of Timecop and Cobra were gone, Sly Stallone gave us something that no-one asked for: 2010's third elite-team-of-super-soliders movie.

It's worse than you can possibly imagine. The script is appalling, the action sequences are badly choreographed bloodthirsty nonsense and the performances from the unnervingly teak-muscled old geezers would shame a plank of 2x4 . Witness this sparkling interplay:

Arnie: “Whhyyyyy doooooon't weeee haaaave dinner”
Sly: “Sure, when?”
Arnie “Innn a thowwwwssannnnd years”
Sly: “Too soon”

I really wanted to like this film, but the wit and fun of the A-Team movie easily overshadowed the wheezing efforts of Sly, Dolph & co.

Rating *