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.