Thursday, 25 March 2010

UK Premiere of Chris Morris’ Four Lions at the 16th annual Bradford International Film Festival.

The UK premiere of Four Lions was attended by three of the lead actors, two of the writers, and the writer-director/spiritual father of the project: Chris Morris. When introducing the film he explained that prior to the first screening for friends and family his wife told him: "Even if it's really shit, well done; you’ve made a film". This caused the first eruption of laughter with many to follow throughout the evening.

Morris explained that holding the UK premiere in Bradford felt like a spiritual homecoming for the film; many of the cast are from Bradford and a great majority of the research was compiled here. Except the extremist parts, he explained jokily and not being one to shy away from controversy added “that was in Blackburn”.

The film itself can be approached from two angles; as a comedy and as an important contemporary cultural text. As a comedy it succeeded beyond expectations. Part of the pleasure surely came from the spectacle of the event; a sold out screening with cast and crew present along with regional cultural references that resonated infectiously with many in the audience, but this can take nothing away from the many levels of comedy at work within this film. There were elements of overacted screwball comedy; there were underplayed facial expressions and reactions that added a wealth of character and personality to the comedy; further still, there were elaborately constructed situational set pieces. All these elements along with explosively dynamic dialogue that was well delivered combined to send the audience into tears of laughter.

In a separate issue to the comedy there was the cultural commentary, which is always going to draw attention when it is such a taboo subject as Jihad: a word that is often avoided at all costs. The film unapologetically offers a plethora of questions around motivation, meaning and justification which it never falls into the trap of giving patronizing, melodramatic answers to nor does it preach any solutions.

The many characters were all utilised to give different points of views and different perspectives; the main protagonist Omar (Riz Ahmed) was fully fleshed out, with the other characters used to offer differing ideas and obviously the above mentioned comic relief. Omar’s brother for instance had such a minor part but raises questions around what he considers a true following of Islam, which he promotes as peaceful, but is then exposed as intrinsically sexist due to the way he practically locks his wife in a cupboard. That being said, Islam itself was to a large extent sidelined and the film much more overtly dealt with identification and senses of belonging for a demographic that has partial but not complete grips on the many angles of where its identity is created; this includes Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the Caucasian convert amongst the group.

Four Lions is easily funny enough to reach a very wide audience, where viewers will be left without answers and therefore forced to discuss these issues, which are too often brushed under the proverbial rug.

Post film Q&A

Questions were asked by the Festival’s artistic director: Tony Earnshaw, who stumbled into a little trouble when he got one of the actors’ names wrong, to which Riz Ahmed sarcastically replied “well yeah, we all look the same”.

Morris answered that no subject is taboo in comedy; it is not the subject matter that is important, it is getting the comedy in that subject matter right.

With regards to his inspiration, he explained that it came from almost ten years ago when the massive questions were raised around a so called ‘war on terror’; people soon became tired and underwhelmed with the generic, repetitive and emotionless response by the mainstream media. Morris added that Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005), which was a dramatic film with terrorist themes had one scene in it that had an element of humour and this was enough to tell Morris that this project would work.

With regard to criticism, both from the Muslim community and victims of terrorism: Morris anticipates that he will get more criticism from people thinking that other people will be offended than he will from people that are actually in a position to be offended under the criteria that the people complaining set out.

The structure of having three writers was championed, having the ability to bounce ideas off of each other and stop each other straying down routes that are not going to work. Further to this there was the ability of the actors to then improvise, adding their experiences as British-Asians. That being said, Arsher Ali who plays Hassan insisted that the script was so well researched that there was little need to apply this freedom.

In reference to the film functioning as a buddy movie, Morris said that from the research he had conducted he understood that within these extremist cells: "the dynamics of the group were more about group love rather than outward hatred".

Regarding an American response, Morris explained that he has learned that you cannot generalise the audience and that both Sundance and South by Southwest received the film openly.

Many in the audience were disappointed that the Q&A session was never opened to the crowd; this was an ironically safe move by the festival considering the controversial nature of the film and its willingness to ask questions. If there were questions open to the public in the later showing, that would be convenient as I was informed that there was no space for press in this screening as we were moved to the earlier one.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bradford International Film Festival - The Shine Short Film Award

Below is a list of the films that were entered for this year’s Shine Short Film Award at the Bradford International Film Festival. I must say right from the outset that my expectations were not only exceeded but completely annihilated; I expected that one may blow me away and most to be unimportant or actually offensively bad. I don’t see why I had to have such a negative outlook, but they really exposed me for the idiot I am. I have left a little of my musings on each one along with which one I think should win come this Sunday. I wanted to get this up and give anybody who has seen them chance to comment before the award is announced on Sunday. I have included a link to the synopsis as I neither have the space nor the time to go through them, plus this is really intended for those who have already seen them.

Crescendo Pierre Terade, Didier Woldemard - France

The overall message was one that I very easily ascribe to: fuck the narcissistic alpha male and fuck the system (the colourful language here is necessary to capture the rage within the lead character). By killing her abusive narcissistic boyfriend and taking over his drug trade, it could be read that she will simply become a new version of him, thus creating a cycle, but I think this would be a reductive stereotype that drug dealers = bad. I would also argue that the film takes the same stance as me by showing the individual buying the drugs in the middle of the school to be an upstanding member of society, not the clichéd council estate dwelling drug user. For me it showed that this was the only way of her establishing her own agency and caring for her child, bearing in mind the film showed how the state had already foiled her efforts to make a so called ‘honest’ living.

Death of a Double Act Christine Entwhistle - GB

From the best of the bunch to the worst of the bunch. In a very strong programme this film seemed out of place. Its message was admirable and its reveal toward the end gave it something interesting to say but its delivery was not enjoyable to watch at all. If it was mourning the death of a certain type of performance, what was shown onscreen did nothing to justify its preservation.

La Preda (The Prey) Francesco Apice - Italy

If my gut instinct didn’t tell me that Crescendo was the pick of these films, then La Preda would have been a really strong contender. It is a beautifully shot film that also managed to conjure up a tremendous amount of suspense in such a short amount of time. Not only that, but it portrayed some very complex relationships and asked enough questions to leave you thinking, whilst also offering a whole tale.

The Man With All the Marbles Hans Montelious - Sweden

This film was easily good enough to prove its worth in this collection of shorts, but didn’t quite reach the quality of the best ones. Watching the two brothers face off, both with the marbles but more importantly through their sharp wits and dialogue made for an enjoyable watch.

An Ode to Modern Democracy and the Hairdresser Matt Strachan - GB

A very fun little film that showed an unspoken truth: that it is the semi-skilled, working, everyday person with real character and a real attitude that makes a difference in the country. Not simply the bland, unoriginal world leaders who feel the need to have the same boring and adequate hair cut to fit perfectly into their uninspired existence.

Toshi Jon Gilbert - GB

This film was carried by the underplayed performance by Kentaro Suyama as Toshi. This is not to take anything away from the rest of the film; the script was well written; the directing brought everything together nicely and the tale was well paced, but it was the tremendous central performance that really made it stand out.

Under God Richard Farmer - USA

This film started stronger than it ended; it lost credibility for me when the computer – when asked is there a god? - said ‘there is now’. The rest of the film was stylised but plausible and was asking some interesting questions as to whether a world leader should choose science and knowledge or military might, therefore the implausible answer given by the computer was at odds with this. And undermined everything else it was trying to say.

When the Hurlyburly's Done Alex Eslam, Hanna Maria Heidrich - Germany

This film had a very high production value and maybe it is just my disposition, but along with this production value I fear (though unfoundedly with no evidence) that there was a large budget. I also fear that this may give the film an advantage over some of the other films, yet I thought it was a lot more style than substance. I felt that many of the other films asked more questions and had more interesting things to say. That being said, if it is a talent of the filmmakers to have gone out and secured this many sponsors and this much funding, then maybe they do deserve something for it.
I anticipate that this film will win the prize for its high production value.

Yellow Cake Nick Cross - Canada

It was fantastic to see an animation in here and this was indeed a strong animation; better than most animations in fact, that you would see at an animation festival. The film perfectly portrays the kind of class struggle, oppression and absurdity that dominated the 20th century and through a rampant western consumerism still exists by economically holding developing nations to ransom. The animation style was fitting; a pastiche of the western animation style of early Hollywood, which would have no issue portraying Bugs Bunny shooting Native Americans by the dozen.
I hope that this condensed summary of my thoughts sheds some light on the state of this competition. I cannot stress enough that this was a very solid line-up of short films and my hat comes off to the Festival organisers.

I thought I would make a list of preference just to see where the prize goes to and where that film places on this list.

1. Crescendo
2. La Preda
3. Toshi
4. Yellow Cakes
5. When the Hurlyburly’s Done
6. The Man with all the Marbles
7. An Ode to Modern Democracy and the Hairdresser
8. Under God
9. Death of a Double Act

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Un prophète (A Prophet) Jaques Aidiard (2009) – The definitive gangster film for a post credit crunch world

All posts may contain spoilers - accept this post as my views that are open for discussion, it is not a review and should only be read if you have seen the film. For synopsis or ratings see Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. One person's opinion or rating is pointless; these sites take their ratings from a collective and will give a better and more fair view of the general acceptance of this film.

I know it’s not the first film I have seen in 2010 but Un prophète really does set the precedence for the year. I very much doubt there will be a better film than this released any time soon. The film straddled the genre line perfectly and included enough elements for it to be unmistakably part of the relatively niche prison film genre or the much more commonly recognised gangster film genre, yet at the same time it flaunted certain elements in order to really make a point. This is the whole point of genre being formed and the reason that genre in cinema is so important. Not so that lazy writers and directors can churn out ‘sure fire’ predictable hits but so that geniuses and directorial wizards like Jaques Aidiard can subvert certain mythologies in a recognisable and engaging format. It was from Steve Neale that I learned the importance of this repetition and variation. This film could well have been used to prove his point as to why the variation from certain expectations can be so impactful and carry so much weight and significance.

Postmodern Identity (not attached to grand narratives)

Malik (Tahar Rahim) has never – despite society’s efforts - assigned himself a specific identity; he doesn’t consider himself Arab, he definitely isn’t Corsican and he didn’t consider himself particularly French. He repeatedly and unashamedly insists that he works for himself whenever his allegiances are questioned. He is the capitalist dream! But not the overbloated capitalist dream that created characters like Scarface’s Tony Montana. This Montana-esque capitalism is that of overindulgence and greed, which is the same capitalism that has recently brought the global economy to its knees. Both Montana and the greedy capitalism he embodies survived on an ever-expanding need for power and status which ultimately and inevitably leads to a dramatic crash, which is realised in this film through Cesar’s Corsicans. This is why Malik is so timely, arriving after last years implosion of this bloated capitalism but still championing capitalism’s individualistic qualities and a postmodern identity unassigned to any grand narratives. He does not have that essential character trait of the genre: the greed for power and status. An important illustration of this is when one of the muslim inmates asks Malik what he wanted (in return for a favour). The inmate asked if it was reputation he was after, to which Malik replied “do I look Corsican?” This was the film showing clearly that this old way of thinking is outdated and would only result in his demise. Just as it did with Cesar, the Corsicans and by symbolic extension the old systems so prevalent throughout modernity, concluding in the current financial turmoil. This character has respect for other people (who deserve it), for friends, for family and he lacks the greed for power and pig-headed pride usually assigned to the protagonist of the gangster genre. He knows who he needs to please or appease to get to where he needs without this pride getting in his way; hence he is polite to the guards and has no qualms with authority. Cesar (being the epitome of the outdated and soon to crumble system) does not understand why Malik still makes coffee for the Corsicans even though he has access to much higher places in the criminal, hierarchical food chain. It is this unrelenting emphasis on pride that is going to leave the old gangster behind and simultaneously it is this refusal to conform to these hierarchical systems that allow Malik to adapt to the changing multicultural world of postmodernity and therefore this is why he is the future.

Not only is this character at odds with the usual Gangster protagonist but so too is the overall theme of the film. An almost essential part of the gangster genre - the punishment of the lead character for working outside the system - is completely absent and a common element of the prison drama genre - the portrayal of authority and the system as relentlessly grim and unfair – is also not an emphasis. Yes it shows that the guards are a little crooked but it doesn’t show them as the caricatured tyrannical fascists usually seen in the genre. The film shows that the system is not going to get you everything but it doesn’t show it to leave you with nothing. When his friend Ryad (Abel Bencherif) was out in the real world he got a job and rehabilitated fine, or at least could have. This would be ok for some and he admitted in his letter to Malik that the outside isn’t fantastic but it is better than life inside. The main problem was that he couldn’t use his real identity: he could not use his Arab name when working at the call centre. Again this may be fine for some but the world that this film is promoting is one where individuals are completely free to have their own identity, not in any way feeling obliged to use one ascribed to them by others (this oversimplifies where people generate their identity but there is not the capacity to open this Pandora's box at the minute). So this isn’t good enough for him and he turns to crime. The usual gangster film message here would be ‘right if you cannot conform you will die’ and although this character does die, it was not due to his illegal activity but due to testicular cancer, which he would have suffered from no matter what. (I understand that some may read this as a biblical or supernatural punishment)

Genre deviation

All the way through this film - due to genre expectations - I was expecting the fall that always comes after the rise. I was very empathetic towards and attached to the character of Malik, so much so I was getting upset in anticipation for his demise along with being annoyed, thinking that he did not deserve it and that it would undermine everything else the film was trying to achieve. It shows that he never chose this life, that he ended up there as a product of society; he had no parents, grew up in juvenile centres, we never know why he was imprisoned but it really doesn’t matter, he was always going to end up there. The usual conventions - seen in many prison dramas - see the protagonist going to jail for something petty then ending up having his time extended, getting hooked on crack and ultimately probably dying, miserable and alone. The message being that the slightest deviation from the system’s laid out (legal) path will result in your horrific demise. I cannot help but think that there were certain scenes and plot points that played on these expectations, like when he took some heroin; I thought ‘oh here comes the fall’ but no, he never became a hopeless addict, just tried it out then got on with his life. These scenes were put in purposefully to flaunt how it was subverting certain genre elements, as rather than this predictable plot Malik did the opposite: he went in as nothing, with no family, he could not even read or write. He came out with friends, a family, fully literate, could speak additional languages and had a firm grasp of economics; he had a full life and he got all the way through his sentence without extension even getting time back in the form of early parole for good behaviour. He never got sucked in by any of the grand narratives that his identity could have latched onto; none of the racial/social identities nor the religious ones. He didn’t find Alah, which I was worried about as this would have destroyed the idea of staying unattached to grand narratives that I saw as being so important during this film.

Choosing family

The very important thing that rounds off the points made above (of Malik being a new breed of gangster protagonist and therefore avoiding the rise and fall) was at the end of the film when he left the prison. He chose to go to his family, the family that he had inherited from his friend (in effect the film here even destroys established notions of how important the biological part of family is). Yes it showed the support that he had from the criminal underground in the form of the cars full of his outside contacts but he barely acknowledged them and when he found out that his friend’s wife came on the bus, he could have easily arranged them a lift home, but chose to get the bus with her. This to me really rounded off the fact that everything Malik had done during the course of these six years was a sort of self-defence and necessity for seeing him through his sentence, but now, rather than chasing an insatiable need for power and status he still realises what was important to him, which he identified in a discussion at some point during the film as being happy and making his friends happy.


Usually at the end of one of my posts, I try to briefly go over any gaps, flaws or disappointments no matter how vague they may have been. I’m afraid that with this film - at least at the minute - I cannot, I guess that means I think it was flawless.

In Summary

This is a landmark film in terms of the gangster genre but also contemporary filmmaking in general; that an international film can make such an impact on a genre dominated by Hollywood in the past. It is more current and progressive than any gangster film of my generation. I cannot really comment on something like The Godfather’s statements on society at the time as I was not around at its release and although I can read around it I can never fully feel a part of that time. This film, due to the reasons outlined above, mainly surrounding the state of capitalism is a true sign of our time. It does not disavow the need for a free market but it greatly criticises the way that these systems - and the whole of society along with it - has been twisted by certain controlling powers. This film champions the importance of the individual and the importance of respecting people on your own terms. Malik was a prophet but not one assigned to any religion (though I’m sure religions could claim him) but to the world in general. He came and cleansed an already decaying system, leaving it open for whatever is to come. The way he left with his family at the end shows that this cleansing was his job, his purpose, he completed it and now he is leaving it to others to sort out, pick up the pieces and maintain. Despite the constant tension, threat of peril and scenes such as the razorblade extraction practice, this really is a feel good, uplifting film.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Star Trek - J.J. Abrams (2009)

All posts may contain spoilers. For a full synopsys see Rotten Tomatoes

Best (by far) of a (very) bad bunch
Best Blockbuster of the Summer (2009) without a doubt. This may well have been the case if it came out any summer, but the feeble competition that it was up against this year really helped. Terminator Salvation was ruined for me by Christian Bale’s ridiculous Batman voice and one dimensional John Conner. GI Joe was actually quite enjoyable for what it was, it’s just that what it was, was a corny action film offering nothing new in terms of character, concept, effects, humour or anything else; it was completely average. Don’t get me wrong, average is better than being dreadful but it didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy. This brings me to one of the biggest Blockbuster let downs I can recall: Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen. It has no soul at all and it is not a good enough excuse saying, “oh it’s only a film, just enjoy it”. Well I can’t! because it is boring, not very funny, the race and gender roles are far beyond forgivable, actually reaching blatantly offensive. This particularly came in the form of the squabbling pair of overtly black stereotyped idiots, a shocking attempt at some kind of streetwise comedy duo. This along with a female lead being completely unimportant and uninteresting; her sole purpose was to look hot (which to be fair she does succeed at) and reaffirm the male lead’s masculinity and central agency. I have no problem with physical beauty (either male or female) but for that to be the only defining feature of an individual is very demeaning. The character of Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in Star Trek smashes both of these simple 'black people = stupid' and 'women = useless' reductions immediately and lacks none of the beauty; she manages to be intelligent, important, absolutely stunning and all this while being black, how does she manage it in Hollywood. (I sincerely hope that the tongue in cheek sarcasm can be read in that last sentence).

Innovative way of rebooting a series
I have mixed feelings towards rebooting franchises like this. Batman was done incredibly well as the previous canon had gone way off the mark and Christopher Nolan brought it back, even surpassing the attempts of one Tim Burton. Although in another similar instance I cannot help but think that there is very little to gain in rebooting the Spider-Man series. The main advantages of rebooting these kinds of series’ are to re-imagine their myth in light of more recent socio-political and cultural settings. Hence the two sets of Batman film series were distinctly pre and post 9/11. The existing Spider-Man’s are blurred, having been created just before but growing through the early stages of a post 9/11 world. This Star Trek film sits alongside Batman in the ‘ready for a reboot’ section of contemporary mythology. This is particularly prominent in this series due to the changing face of masculinity in this era compared to that of the initial Kirk's time. The subtle difference that is held up here is the ‘guy gets the girl myth’. Kirk, despite his efforts and the viewer’s expectations fails to get the girl that he wants. This girl as discussed earlier already flaunts most qualities that would be assigned to women in the Hollywood circles of previous eras. In this scenario it is the one which shows the least sign of classically masculine features that gets the girl, in the character of Spok. Though she does end up with one of the male characters, she still retains her own agency, she is not there merely to prop up anybody’s masculinity a la Megan Fox in Transformers.

The thing that sets this reboot apart from other series reboots is what gives it that touch of class, elevating it to more than a trashy summer blockbuster. This is that it isn’t really a reboot at all; it merely takes the existing canon then uses a time travel narrative device to start again from a certain point. Contrary to usual reboots where the characters are completely revised, this simply takes a point in the existing history and changes it from there giving a real tangible reason for this change to have taken place.

Problem with fate
The only problem was when (original) Spok and Kirk conveniently ran into each other. This probably came from Abram’s fate/destiny pre-occupation but this was not made clear enough and should really have been eluded to a little more in order to not leave the viewer thinking “well that was a bit of an outrageous coincidence”, because then they are out of the narrative and the questioning begins. The film is certainly good enough on the whole to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the character interaction, all apart from this chance meeting.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson 2009)

All posts may contain spoilers

Context: Saw this at a kids showing on a Saturday morning (quid each), with the whole family hoping that Mr Fox crosses the demographics correctly, entertaining my three year old son and four year old nephew as well as me, an established fan of Wes Anderson’s work and my wife who neither loves nor loathes his other films.

The kids: Well by the end of the film the kids were still sat there and hadn’t become bored or restless. My son particularly liked Mr Fox’s whistle clicky thing and attempted to replicate it at every instance. The animation was easily entertaining enough to hold their attention and have them laughing along, commenting and shouting out what was happening on nunerous occasions.

As for me, I was more than happy with the pacing of the film, the characters within and the overall message. Controversial as this may be, I didn’t think too much to Life Aquatic and I still haven’t seen Darjeeling, so after hearing bad things about this one from most commentators at the time of its release, I was apprehensive. The dialogue between characters had Anderson’s stamp all over it and gave all the characters the depth that they required.

I liked the overall theme of the film; the animal characters seemingly representing independent retailers: mere mortals up against the conglomerates realised in this film through the form of the big farmers. All evil in their own right but led by one particular cold blooded, cider brewing machine-farmer. This all sounds very cliché at the minute, which is all fine but things that follow the structure too definitively often bore me a little too much and end up too average. I think this film really drifted from this when approaching its conclusion. Mr Fox wanted out of the life he was in and wanted bigger things; the usual message here would be for this to fail and him to go "oh yeah, everything was fine before and I should go back to that with my tail between my legs". Well this film does neither this nor have his new vision a success, instead a new outcome is reached. The animals live in a new environment: a sewer that can easily be seen to represent a modern urban setting. What this means to me is that individuals/society can rise from a traditional and more recognisably natural level, whilst not succumbing to 'the man'. They can live in a new setting, not growing the way that people envisage they should just because that's how people did in previous generations, being defined by class and the family skill set that you are born into; you can decide who you want to be and create your own little narrative. This does not mean that you have to sell your soul, benefiting only yourself and thus lose your humanity. Nor does it mean that you reject the idea of skilled individuals in a society being masters of their class and contributing together for the benefit of society as a whole, hence the fact that all these tradesmen: the lawyer, the tailor, etc all live in this sewer environment. The part that tops this off, the icing on the cake if you will, is that it does not look down upon the establishment of the farmer (conglomerate) owned supermarket, rather it shows that free individuals can exploit these resources rather than being dictated to by them.

This overall message celebrates the state of contemporary western society rather than being hopelessly and nostalgically conservative. It shows that there are flaws but that this is how we are, we have got to this point by following our hearts, rather than doing what others consider to be the right thing. Just as Mrs Fox condones Mr Fox’s irrational actions that jeopardize the lives of his friends and family; she condones this because she understands that to suppress one's real life is far worse even if it is the safer option.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Hotaru No Haka - Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)– mini review (Not an in depth account, simply my impressions)

All posts may include spoilers – for a plot summary see IMDB


I Went on a bit of a Miyazaki marathon at the beginning of the year. Picking up anything they had in that CEX shop. After seeing (and loving) a fair few of them I saw this film in the same section. It was in a Studio Ghibli box but not directed by Miyazaki; further to this I realised that the 12 certificate was a little higher than the family favourite Miyazakis so I thought it was worth checking out. I knew absolutely nothing about it when I bought it but between buying it and watching it, the film was brought up on the Filmspotting podcast whilst discussing their top five tear jerkers. – Hmmm so it’s gonna be a sad one then?

Depression Session

And a sad one it was. This was one of the most depressing films I have seen... well in a long time and in terms of being uncompromisingly grim, possibly the most depressing ever. Even film’s like Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) had a glimmer of hope that things would be ok.

I loved how much an animated feature could make me feel so strongly about something and I understand that the point of this film was how relentless war is, but watching this was just like watching depression-session-misery-torture.

There was no way of it ending up with any form of hope, joy or optimism. I do not mind something not having a happy-ever-after ending, in fact I’d usually complain when things are too happy happy but I think that the best tear-jerker moments and the ones that have the most impact are those where either unfortunate events - to a certain extent - come by surprise, or more specifically that you know there could be something horrible about to happen but you are still not sure and there is still the chance of everything being alright. The shattering of this built up hope leaves you feeling more vulnerable and therefore increases the effectiveness of the narrative.

By showing you at this film’s opening that the main character dies and joins his little sister in the afterlife, once his mother dies in the opening act you know there really is no way out for the doomed little boy. This does succeed at showing the uncompromising relentless nature of war but it really was tortuous and difficult to watch. In a way I admire the film’s approach but at the same time I didn’t really enjoy it.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Appurushido (Appleseed) - 2004 - Shinji Aramaki

all posts may contain spoilers


This DVD was a Christmas present from my brother in law. To my joy, he took my wife’s approach to buying me a present: walking into HMV, going to the world cinema section and just picking one that looks cool. When I opened it - though I appreciated the gift - I thought I had already seen it... until I realised that this was a new 3D CGI version of the film adaptation of this classic comic book. The story may be the same as the original but I can hardly remember as I was about nine and was only interested in the big robots having guns aspect.

Animation / Action / Spectacle

The combination of 3D CGI and 2D hand drawn features was absolutely beautiful. The ability of 3D CGI animation is far superior - in my opinion - than 2D animation at creating epic and immersive worlds for the viewer to be mesmerised by. One of the negatives of CGI is that faces are often nowhere near realistic enough, destroying the illusion as characters become almost impossible to relate to and identify with. This is remedied in Appleseed by using 2D illustrations and animation to cell shade over the characters. They then have a full 3D presence but all the expression that can be generated from hand drawn features, which is seen most prominently in the eyes of the characters. This 2D element also gives the animation more weight; CGI can often look floaty and lose a lot of the impact that a film like this requires. These animation techniques combined brilliantly with the art direction, pacing, editing and all other aesthetic elements. The result is the creation of a beautifully realised world along with breath taking action set pieces. Just a quick side-note about spectacle and action: Many consider that you can either have narrative or spectacle but I think that that’s a big load of bollocks. There are many films that have proven (in my humble opinion of course) that spectacle, contrary to diminishing narrative, adds to a film’s ability to immerse the viewer, bringing them into the world. I really don’t think that the Matrix would have been as impressive, nor would it be held held in such high esteem if it hadn’t have had its fair share of visual spectacle.

Strong Females

My childhood film watching was always a mix of Hong Kong kung fu films (including Cynthia Rothrock), anime and the usual Hollywood suspects, so I didn’t really notice how absolutely useless women are, according to mainstream Hollywood cinema that is. As I got older and watched less anime and Hong Kong kung fu (on accounts of the videovan-man not coming on our street no more - sad days) I began to understand why feminists were always so pissed off with the silver screen. Why do we so rarely see the type of female characters that are presented in this film in any western production. I’m sure there are many exceptions - Ripley from Alien for instance – but on the whole we don’t get to see these women. Smart and tough, not without beauty and sex appeal but that not being their absolute defining feature. Not unable to fall in love but also not acting in the sole interest of the (apparently) much more important male lead. In this film it is not only the lead character (Deunan) but I was myself surprised to find the Dr Gilliam character - who was built up as being the greatest mind to have ever existed - to be a woman. I should be ashamed of myself automatically assuming that it would be a man but I guess that is the Hollywood brainwashing that my generation (and many prior) have suffered at the hands of.


This may be disputable but I think the Japanese do cyberpunk themes better than any other national cinema on earth. There is possibly a link there with this interconnectedness of man and machine along with the origins of modern videogames being strongly rooted there. In Appleseed, the cyborg/artificially created humans had slight deviations from the usual “oh but if they can think then don’t they deserve life, just like us, blah, blah blah”. The use of reproduction as a narrative tool literally uses castration theory as the major threat or centre of importance as the final threat was that mankind would be made completely infertile, subjecting it to a slow extinction. The film breaks down the essence of humanity and life to the ability to reproduce and that the other (irrational) elements of humanity – love, hate, revenge, etc derive from this reproductive urge.

The balance between dystopic and utopian visions of the future that is often straddled by the cyberpunk genre edged on the side of utopian in this film's instance. After warning of the dangers of such powerful scientific knowledge, it showed that society will ultimately try to coexist, taking the least easy but more human (irrational) path to the future.

Other slight tweaks involve the ‘man-made creations kill humans to protect mankind (Irobot) plot’ being slightly displaced by the same motive coming from a group of chosen human wise men. Also, the Gaia concept, which is frequently present in the cyberpunk genre is seen here but the deviation was that humans had created it. Gaia was its usual self regulating guardian of the earth but it was manmade rather than mysterious and natural.

Plot holes or loose storytelling

There is obviously always the chance - which I am not ruling out for a second - that I am a little slow, but there were a few points where I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or more to the point why it was happening, as if some parts of the plot had been squeezed through in too lean a fashion. For instance, why do the gigantic moving fortresses rise up? Did the elders order this or did Gaia? or did the Army? Or were they simply acting on their own/bioroid behalf? I suspect that problems like this arise in the process of adaptation. In the original comic they may have been fully explained and realised but in the process of cutting corners when translating to screen and coming in at a reasonable time (which this film mostly did really well). In this process, the film not only chopped off the fat of the plot set up, but the muscle along with it.


Action, spectacle and visual ability get a massive tick. Characters were pretty basic but fully engaging, respectable and as I said above the lead going to a female character is something I would die to see more of in Western films. The pacing was brilliant coming in under two hours and having a pretty exciting almost climax before more reveals then an even more exciting final set piece. It played the genre game perfectly with enough familiarity to make it easy to engage with and allow yourself to be immersed at the same time as shedding new light on ideas with variation from the norm.

For some reason I now want to go play some very Japanese games and really cannot wait for the release of final fantasy XIII.