Archive for the Adventure Category

Spirited Away * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on September 3, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong.

Having co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 and directed 11 films himself, the highly unique animator Hayao Miyazaki has unfortunately announced his retirement. The forthcoming “The Wind Rises” will be his last venture, so it now seems like a good time to look back at arguably his best film.

Chihiro is a 10 year old girl who is moving to a new neighbourhood when her father decides to take a short cut and gets the family lost in an abandoned theme park. Helping themselves to food that’s on display, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and it soon becomes clear that they have stumbled into an alternate reality. Chihiro is then forced to find a way to free herself and her parents and find a way back to the human world.

Quite simply, Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” is a triumphant, fantastical, masterclass. Not only is his hand drawn animation as gorgeously refined and refreshing as ever, but his storytelling incorporates everything from the mythical to the magical, taking us on a truly breathtaking visual and intelligent journey. As his later film “Ponyo” would channel the likes of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid“, here, Miyazaki has undoubtedly crafted his version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and it’s in this similar realm of imagination that he is able to flourish. We are introduced to a myriad of fantastical figures from Gods, Spirits and Witches to a Sea Dragon, an enormous baby and strange little coal miners, known as “Sootballs”. Despite the rich hand drawn animation, though, it’s not all played for fun. It’s a rights-of-passage tale about the progression of a child to adulthood while finding the time to comment on the economic downturn of Japan and the increasing loss of it’s culture to the western world. It’s this very complexity that makes this Miyazaki’s near masterpiece. The only issue with the film is that it’s overlong, resulting in periodic disengagement – especially for younger viewers. It’s runs just over the two hour mark and this is with several parts of the story cut out- the original version of Miyazaki’s story would have run over the three hour mark. That being said, this is still one of animation’s true classics and thoroughly deserving of it’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002.


A breathtaking tour de force from one of the finest and most imaginative storytellers that animation has ever seen. Sadly, there will only be one more outing from Miyazaki but thankfully we’ve had to the pleasure to enter into his creative genius at all. Such accomplished cinematic experiences will be sadly missed.

Mark Walker

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy with tags on March 15, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elijah Wood.

When news of an adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived, I have to admit that I was very eager to see it move along briskly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Production was so slow that original director Guillermo del Toro had to leave due to other commitments. Although this was disappointing news, all was not lost as “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson returned to the helm to assume control of this prequel. Expectations were high and it left the overhanging question as to whether he could emulate his past successes. Well, it’s certainly not without it’s flaws but again Jackson has delivered another indulgent cinematic experience from the treasured quill of Tolkien’s world.

The Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor has been taken over by the fearsome dragon, Smaug and a plan is set to reclaim it and the treasures lost. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit who finds himself thrust into this quest on the recommendation of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Smaug is not the only thing that stands in their way, though; a malevolent presence is at work in middle-earth which could affect all of them.

After a brief introduction to the plight of the dwarves and a devastating introduction to the dragon Smaug, we are taken straight back to the Shire where the whole story of the Hobbit adventures originated. It’s here that we’re reminded of the twee environment in which these little halfling’s reside and with Jackson calling the shots, you know straight away that you are in comfortable hands. Gandalf and Bilbo’s first meeting is addressed and the rest of the main characters are rounded up before the film begins it’s “unexpected journey”. When I say this, though, it sounds like the film gets straight down to business and gets the formalities out the way. It doesn’t. Jackson takes his time in establishing the set-up and he chooses to flesh out every detail. As a result, it becomes apparent that the film isn’t flowing as easily as it could do. Things do pick up, though, and it’s very difficult not to get swept up in the sheer visual masterclass that’s delivered before your eyes. It’s absolutely breathtaking to observe and none more so, than when Jackson begins to deliver his highly impressive, action set-pieces. From a confrontation with campfire Trolls to battling Rock monsters and giant sweeping eagles, they’re all absolutely astounding and thrillingly executed. However, despite the excitement, what these moments lack is the ability to feel like the characters are in any real danger. Maybe this is because I had read the book beforehand or maybe it’s because the set-pieces only served to instil some excitement before taking a break and doing it all over again. There is a feeling of repetition to the film and, dare I say it, a feeling of tediousness. Jackson’s decision to flesh out this short children’s novel into a trilogy of films – that will no doubt run between two and three hours each – seems wholly unnecessary but I suppose time will tell on that. As it is, though, this film is certainly overlong and it, simply, didn’t need to be. Some scenes are laborious and you can’t help but get the feeling that Jackson should just move it along. On the other hand, I found it hard to deny how much fun I was having. Much like “The Lord of the Rings“, it’s aided by very strong performances; McKellen is his usual reliable self as Gandalf and although I wasn’t convinced with the choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I have to admit that he slotted in very well indeed. As for the dwarves, well, out of the whole thirteen of them, only a handful actually stand out. The one that really rises to the surface is that of Thorin Oakenshield and Richard Armitage plays him to perfection – channeling an Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen charismatic presence. He’s so commanding that it’s hard to accept that he’s only a dwarf. Another highlight from the performances is seeing Andy Serkis reprise his role of Gollum. Once again, the go-to guy for motion capture brings this complex little character to life.
The ingredients are all here and it certainly looks like there’s more mileage in these characters yet. I just hope that Jackson knows when to trim the edges next time round.

A little less plodding and bit more urgency will be required for the second instalment if this trilogy is to truly find it’s feet. That being said, it finishes strongly and if Jackson can keep that momentum going then this could yet turn out to be a very successful return to middle-earth.

Mark Walker


Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on February 21, 2013 by Mark Walker


Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgees, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Keith David, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou, Gary McCormack, David Mitchell.

Recently, Yann Martel’s novel “Life Of Pi” made it to the silver screen after an exemplary adaptation by director Ang Lee. However, the novel itself had been deemed ‘unfilmable’ beforehand. There are many literary works that have come under this assumption and David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas is another. The reception of this film has been very mixed but, give or take, the odd discrepancy and noodle scratching moment, this is an impressively successful endeavour that proves, once again, that the ability to transfer page to screen is entirely possible and vibrantly alive.

1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home, fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that leads to the cosmos…
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with one another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.

What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That’s exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular, hugely ambitious and visual, storytelling adventure. It’s so vast and labyrinthine that it’s hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It’s difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that’s going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life’s conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it’s entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it’s elaborate tapestry but it’s a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second – throughout it’s almost three hour long running time – then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it’s been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film’s for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.

I don’t know why I’d choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until – aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again… Catch ya further on down the trail“.

Mark Walker


Life Of Pi * * * * *

Posted in Adventure, Drama with tags on January 13, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Ang Lee.
Screenplay: David Magee.
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Guatam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu.

The amount of times that director Ang Lee has delivered fresh material is testament to his bravery and skill as a filmmaker. He pushed genre conventions with Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain“, delved into the prose of Jane Austin with “Sense and Sensibility“, as well as, a meticulous take on Rick Moody’s “The Ice Storm” – and these are only his adaptations. He has challenged numerous genre’s from martial-arts (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“) through comic-book (“Hulk“) to war and romance (“Lust, Caution“), among others. This time, Lee attempts an adaptation of Yann Martel’s ‘unfilmable’, bestselling novel and it’s another remarkable achievement.

On a huge freighter, leaving Pondicherry, India for Canada, a zoo keeping family are going to sell their animals and start a new life. Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is the zoo keeper’s son and after the ship is sunk in a storm, he finds himself adrift on the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat. He’s not alone, though. He shares the boat with a Zebra, a Hyaena, an Orang-utan and “Richard Parker” – a 450-pound Bengal Tiger. Somehow, he must find a way to survive.

As the film opens we are given glimpses of wild animals roaming around their habitat. Although subtly handled, it works an absolute treat in establishing it’s use of 3D. I’m not a fan of this new viewing gimmick we’ve had thrust upon us but in the hands of Lee it is used to it’s best and fullest potential. Visually it’s astounding (and it only gets better as the film progresses) and along with Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo“, it’s the best use of 3D I’ve seen yet. After this brief introduction, Lee gets down to the story. He builds slowly; introducing his protagonist’s curiosity of life and religious beliefs and does so with a lightness of touch and humour that makes him instantly endearing. Cleverly, Yann Martel’s story makes a point of incorporating many religions. Our protagonist doesn’t follow one particular belief but encompasses many, which is very important for the film to work on it’s spiritual level and not ostracise the audience. It’s these very beliefs that are questioned when the story of survival takes place and it’s here that Lee pulls an absolute mastery in his use of CGI. He skilfully combines the beauty and ferocity of our natural world and even though his palette is vast, he focuses it, mainly, in limited space.
When getting down to the bare bones, this a story about life, spirituality and metaphysics but ultimately, it’s a story about storytelling itself and the infinite possibilities that lie therein. It manages that rare balance of being both literal and symbolic and Lee and screenwriter David Magee’s biggest achievement is immersing the audience into this odyssey and allowing a freedom of choice in how it can be perceived.
Ang Lee has always been a director that has commanded respect but he has surpassed himself here. This is one of the most challenging book-to-screen adaptations ever made and it’s also one of the best.

Wondrous and awe inspiring storytelling is a rarity these days but this film certainly achieves that. Not that I ever really lost it but it has a vibrancy and depth that reaffirms my belief in the magic of cinema. Quite simply, it’s a film that’s bold and breathtakingly, beautiful.

Mark Walker


Raising Arizona * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Comedy with tags on December 24, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Trey Wilson, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, Randall “Tex” Cobb, T.J. Kuhn, Lynne Kitei, M. Emmet Walsh.

In 1984, “Blood Simple” was released and it marked the debut of a certain couple of siblings named Joel & Ethan Coen. It’s was a marvellously dark and twisted, low-budget, modern noir and put their names on the film industry’s map. You’d think that once a particular, successful, style has been established it would be wise to stick with that winning formula but the brothers’ sophomore effort went in an entirely different direction and they delivered a wickedly, wacky and hilarious comedy, proving that their talents are comfortable in any genre.

H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is a repeat offender for petty theft and can’t quite keep out prison. It’s in the slammer though, that he meets his sweetheart Ed (Holly Hunter), the police photographer, and not before long the unlikely pair are hitched, on the straight and narrow and ready to start a family. Problem is, Ed finds out she’s infertile and deeply longs for a baby. It just happens around this time that local and well-known furniture salesman Nathan Arizona’s wife has just given birth to quintipulets. H.I. & Ed decide that having four babies is more than anyone can handle and decide to kidnap one for themselves. It’s here that all sorts of problems begin for H.I. & Ed as they try to keep their new family together with escape convict friends (John Goodman, William Forsythe) paying a visit and a rogue bounty-hunter biker (Randall “Tex” Cobb) on their trail.

The first and still one of the best of the Coen brothers’ comedies. This was the film that proved that the siblings could do zany and outlandish comedy with absolute ease and consummate skill. It also allowed them to show off their ability to film with such a kinetic energy and an introduction to their (ever growing) catalogue of zany characters. The performances across the board are outstanding with special mention going to the two leads; Nicolas Cage is marvellous as the hen-pecked, buffoonish, human form of Woody the Woodpecker and Holly Hunter is equally as good as his neurotic and controlling spouse. Cage has become a bit of laughing stock in the film industry these days but back in the 80’s and early 90’s he delivered some memorable roles. This is certainly one of them. What a joy it would be to see him reprise these type of roles and what a joy it is to watch such a sharp and exciting comedy from quite possibly the most consistant filmmakers around today. If ever there was a film that could be labeled as a live-action animation, this could possibly be it. It’s not just the work in front of the camera that excels though; behind it, cinematographer (and future director himself) Barry Sonnenfeld does some sublime work. He assembles some very fine action set-pieces and keeps the camera moving at an almost unbearably frantic pace. Roger Deakins has now established himself as almost another Coen sibling with his consistently reliable work on their recent films but he wasn’t always the man to bring their vision to the screen. Sonnenfeld was. Another frequent collaborator is the always reliable Carter Burwell who infuses all the mayhem with a pefectly fitting score that brings the whole package together.

Quite simply, this is how comedies should be made. It has a little of everything and it shows exactly why, I regard the Coen’s as the most consistently surprisingly and creative filmmakers we have today.

(This review was part of a “double take” with Eric who runs the IPC blog. To read the post in full and get his alternate take on it, please go here.)

Mark Walker


Fantastic Mr. Fox * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on September 13, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Wes Anderson.
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach.
Voices of: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Helen McCrory, Brian Cox, Garth Jennings, Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson, Jarvis Cocker, Adrien Brody.

Director Wes Anderson’s quirky indie humour and off-beat dysfunctional characters have been very appealing to me over the years. Upon the news that he was adapting a classic children’s novel, using animation, I thought he might have been going a little too far outside his comfort zone and wondered if his idiosyncratic style would actually transfer to a different medium. Thankfully, my curiosity was put to ease as this did not dissapoint.

Based on Roald Dahl’s story about a sly and egocentric fox that always strives for better things for himself and his family, while seemingly oblivious to the dangers his quest for status brings to his family. He sets out to rob the three local farmers Boggis, Bunce & Bean of their possesions and attracts a lot of unwanted attention for everyone in the process.

Anyone familiar with Anderson’s idiosyncratic style will know that, despite this being animation, his approach hasn’t changed at all. It still possesses his wit and charm in abundance. The stop-motion animation takes a little getting used to but once you’ve attuned yourself to it, there’s no let up in the pace of, not just, Anderson’s visuals but also the characterisation and his daring in not being constrained by the medium itself. His eclectic use of music and screen captions are also present, making this every inch a Wes Anderson adventure. Credit must also go the voice cast; each and every single one of them inhabit their characters and deliver the sharp and intelligent dialogue to perfection, bringing the little stop-motion animals to life. These little creatures have more zest and life than most live-action movie characters are ever afforded and they add to another odd collection of dysfunctional family members that seem to be Anderson’s forte and feature regularly in his oeuvre.
For many, this is actually their favourite Anderson film. Personally, mine still sits with “The Darjeeling Limited” but this is certainly one of his finest, eccentric and most unique moments.

Not only does this foray into animation not disappoint, it actually thoroughly impresses. This is how it should be done. A subversive, cerebral treat for adults and children alike. “Fantastic” indeed.

Mark Walker


Brave * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on August 7, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman.
Screenplay: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi.
Voices: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Julie Walters, Steven Cree, Callum O’Neill, Piegi Barker, Steve Purcell, John Ratzenberger.

Ever since “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios have consistently delivered the goods. The only possible exceptions being “Cars” and it’s sequel. On the whole though, they have gained a reputation for delivering high quality and innovative story-lines. However, they have now reached a point where they are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. Nothing but the best is expected. This one attempts to go against their usual standard of storytelling and although some have criticism for it’s change of direction, I personally found it as appealing as ever.

In the Scottish highlands, bold young princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) defies and rejects the services of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who has arranged for her to be married. Merida would rather hunt in the forests with her skills in archery and when her mother refuses to back down on her betrothal, Merida flees from the kingdom where she seeks the help of a witch (Julie Walters). This impulsivity brings a curse upon Merida’s family and one that she must undo before it’s too late.

Not only have Pixar changed their formula in having their first female protagonist in Merida, but they also had their first female director in Brenda Chapman. It was Chapman who conceived the project under it’s original title “The Bear and the Bow” but due to creative differences she was replaced by Mark Andrews. Added to which, Merida was originally to be voiced by Reese Witherspoon, who declined due to scheduling constraints. These post production issues could be the very reason why some critics claimed this film to be uneven. However, one of the silver-linings was the dropping out of Witherspoon as that meant that Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald could replace her. As it is, she’s perfectly fitting. What aids this film immeasurably is it’s authenticity in terms of it’s language and voice cast. It’s predominantly filled by Scottish performers and their delivery is pitch perfect. There are Scottish words and references peppered throughout, that although it’s not a requirement to understand them, the “patter” and idiom are well served and add a very personal touch that strike a chord and deliver many good laughs. Some characters are certainly stereotypical but they’re fun and endearing nonetheless and surprisingly, for a Pixar movie, there’s a lack of furry animals and cuddly toys to grab the attention of children – although Merida’s three little brothers are adorable. What this mainly has, is heart, passion and the welcome change of a leading female character with a strength and independent spirit. The mother/daughter relationship at the films core, possesses a real depth that Pixar are not usually known for. 2009’s “Up” touched upon it but human relations don’t tend to feature heavily in their films. This is a different direction Pixar have taken but it’s not, altogether, an unsuccessful one. Admittedly, the story is a tad light and formulaic and ultimately, it gives way to the films colourful pallet. But what a pallet it is; it’s simply astounding. The whole film is exuberantly done and visually it’s an absolute kick in the eyeballs; from Merida’s flowing, fiery red hair to Angus her mighty Clydesdale steed and the vast, abundant, Scottish landscapes. The attention to detail is near flawless and it marks a highly impressive new achievement in Pixar’s animation.

Okay, it might not reach the heights of the “Toy Story” trilogy in terms of imaginative storytelling but this is visually beyond anything Pixar has done before. At one point in the film, a character lifts up his kilt and playfully exposes his arse to another clansman, taunting him with the words “Feast yer eyes“. These are the very words that I would choose to recommend this sumptuous film… “Feast yer eyes” indeed.

Mark Walker


Midnight Run

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime with tags on July 31, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Martin Brest.
Screenplay: George Gallo.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, Wendy Phillips, Richard Foronjy, Robert Miranda, Jack Kehoe, Tom McCleister, Lois Smith, Tracey Walter, Philip Baker Hall.

“Here comes two words for you… shut the fuck up!”

Many films have tried (and failed) to combine the genres of action and comedy. They were particularly popular in the 80’s with the most successful being Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs and Michael Ritchie’s Fletch and four years before this film, director Martin Brest had already delivered one the decades best in Beverly Hills Cop. With the studios churning them out to this day, this still stands as the finest of it’s kind and still the one to beat. Continue reading

My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on July 19, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Paul Butcher, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker.

Anyone familiar with the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki will be aware that he takes you into a fantasy world full of imagination and delight. I’ve managed to work my way through a lot of his film’s but this one had always eluded me. However, maybe it was my anticipation for this that left me feeling more underwhelmed than I normally am with his films.

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei Kusakabe (Elle Fanning) are two young sisters who move to a rural house in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Upon their arrival, they begin to explore their new surroundings and find that there are strange little creatures who inhabit the old building and further exploration into the forest brings them closer to a giant furry sprite named Totoro, who they go magical adventures with.

Miyazaki’s film takes it’s time to get going. It starts off positively and there is an early introduction to his fantastical nature but he never fully explores it. It was more of a human drama than it was a fantasy adventure. However, no-one does it quite like Miyazaki and his film’s always possess a refreshing vitality. This still delivers on that front but isn’t as accomplished as “Spirited Away” for example. I think the main problem rests in the pace of the film; it too lethargic for children and a little too heavy on the drama. The fantasy element is wonderful when it gets going but it’s not explored as in-depth as I would have liked, leaving my concentration to wander. The fact that this is included in the IMDb top 250 is high praise indeed but it shouldn’t be held any higher than “Howl’s Moving Castle“.
I also found the English language version a little off-putting. I mean, how hard can it be to add dubbing over hand drawn animation? It’s not as if there should be a problem with lip-syncing but for some reason, this didn’t seem to fit. Speaking of the animation though, it is quite exquisitely crafted and proof that Miyazaki has been at the forefront of hand drawn material for quite some time now.

Not as entertaining as I would expect from Miyazaki but still a wonderfully endearing and affectionate tale from the hand-drawn Sensei.

Mark Walker


Chronicle * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on June 26, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Josh Trank.
Screenplay: Max Landis.
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood, Rudi Malcolm, Luke Tyler.

Shaky-cam, found footage film’s have now become the rung on the ladder for budding filmmakers. Hardly a year goes by now, without at least one popping up on our screens. “The Blair Witch Project“, “Cloverfield” and the very successful “Paranormal Activity” are the most notable. This one though, is the most impressive.

Three teenage friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find a hole in the ground, in the middle of the woods. They go down and find a strange illuminated entity. When they emerge, they find that they have telekinetic powers and capabilities. As their great powers grow though, things start to get drastically out of hand.

I’m not a massive fan of superhero movies and quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of seeing them everywhere I look. This film could probably fall into that category but what this has in it’s favour, is a fresh delivery and a real sense of originality.
First off though, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the premise. I found it hard to believe that an awkward, hormone-raging teenager would actually decide to record everything he does on a video camera. To say the least, it stretched credulity. However, the filmmakers are wisely aware of this. They don’t pretend to just pass it off. What they do, is admit to it regularly throughout the early stages of the film. There are constant, self-conscious reminders of people unhappy with it and as result the protagonist takes a bit of a regular beating – but then you would probably do the same if someone had a camera stuck in your face all the time – so the self-conscious aspect pays off enough to keep your disbelief suspended. It even attempts to toss in some philosophical theories that tie-in nicely with the story. This may come across as a bit too ambitious for some but writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank are not arrogant in their delivery. They don’t explain in detail, leaving it wisely up to the intelligence of the audience to notice the references themselves. It’s a clever piece of subtlety that raises this film above the normal standard. One particular mention is of Plato’s allegory of “The Cave” which is entirely fitting for the unravelling of the story. It also explores the different nature in individuals and manages to incorporate a deep sense of ethics. Altruism and Hubris play a big part in the unravelling of the characters and with the level of intelligence and philosophical undercurrent, this is a welcome modern take on the superhero genre.
As the story progresses, the standard shaky-cam approach is gradually abandoned in favour of a
more ambitious style. In keeping with the plot, more inventive and convincing ways are delivered, freeing it from the shackles of it’s particular sub-genre.

A highly creative and ambitious endeavour that has set a benchmark for film’s of this type. It’ll be interesting to see if this style of filmmaking can actually be bettered after this.

Mark Walker


The Hunger Games * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on April 9, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Gary Ross.
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jacqueline Emerson, Paula Malcomson, Dayo Okeniyi, Jack Quaid, Leven Rambin, Willow Shields.

Gary Ross has been involved in films for quite some time now. He received an Oscar nomination for his screenwriting duties on the Tom Hanks movie “Big” in 1988 but this is only the third time he has directed a film, following “Seabiscuit” and his very impressive debut “Pleasantville“.

“Capitol” is a wealthy city in a post-apocalyptic North America (now called “Panem”). It rules over the rest of the impoverished nation. In order to be perceived as generous, they hold an annual gladiatorial tournament called “The Hunger Games“, where the country’s youngest inhabitants are randomly selected to fight to the death. Only one can remain alive and receive their riches. After her young sister is selected to compete, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a defiant and accomplished survivor volunteer’s to take her place.

If you’ve seen the Japanese film “Battle Royale” or the Sci-Fi/Actioner “The Running Man” then you’ll be on familiar ground with this one. It’s basically the same premise. Considering the subject matter, director Gary Ross does well to tone down the violence on this one though, making the story more accessible to a relatively younger audience. After all, it was based on a best selling teen-novel by Suzanne Collins – who also co-writes the screenplay here. It’s starts very strongly in it’s introduction to a bleak futuristic America. The wealthy are all greed infused with bad tastes and flamboyant styles while the poor have to feed off the land and strive for whatever scraps they can (No change there then). Ross captures the divide admirably though and takes his time in building up The Hunger Games’ rules. It’s all about the entertainment for the well-off and it’s broadcast across the nation as an immersive reality TV show, meaning sponsors, trainers and promotors are all involved. Amongst the highlights of these are a shaggy Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, mentor to the contestants and a ruthless Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the gamemaker who oversees the action – sometimes manipulating it – by order of Donald Sutherland’s dubious paterfamilias President Snow. The real anchor though, is Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, there may be similarities with her Oscar nominated performance from “Winter’s Bone” but that’s no bad thing. The film relies heavily on her and she’s more than able to carry it. It does, however, go on too long and becomes a tad formulaic in it’s finale. The obvious set-up for part two doesn’t appeal either but other than that, this is a decent film.

Don’t let the fact that Suzanne Collins’ books were aimed at teenagers, put you off. This film manages to work on a level that will appeal to many.

Mark Walker


The Big Lebowski * * * * *

Posted in Adventure, Comedy with tags on March 12, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazarra, David Thewlis, Jon Polito, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges, Aimee Mann, Mark Pellegrino, Philip Moon, Jack Kehler, Jimmie Dale Gilmour, Leon Russom, Ajgie Kirkland, Asia Carrera.

This film has such a massive cult following that it has even spawned a traveling, annual festival called “The Lebowski Fest“, at which fans congregate dressed as their favourite characters. It has also amassed a new belief system called “Dudeism” of which you can be ordained as a Dudeist priest. Now, this might be going a bit far but it’s all in the name of fun, of which, this Coen brothers tale supplies plenty of.

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a cannabis smoking throwback from the seventies. He minds his own business, enjoying “bowling, driving around and the occasional acid flashback”. One day, two thugs break into his home and urinate on his rug – “which really tied the room together”. As he looks for answers, he finds that he has been mistaken for his namesake Jeffrey Lebowski, the Passadena millionaire (David Huddleston). Otherwise referred to as “The Big Lebowski”. Looking for compensation for his rug, he pays the millionaire a visit and finds that his absent, trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) owes money all over town – including known pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazarra), who sent the thugs (to the wrong house) to collect on the debt. But the thugs aren’t the only ones who have gotten their Lebowski’s mixed up. A trio of Nihilists threaten “The Dude” for a ransom of $1 million, claiming they will kill his wife. Reluctantly, “The Dude” gets involved, with his crazed Vietnam veteran buddy Walter (John Goodman), in trying to get the bottom of all the confusion. Does this make sense? Don’t worry, “The Dude” doesn’t get it either.

Trying to even give a synopsis of the plot in this complex tale, is hard enough, but that’s to the Coens’ credit in concocting this elaborate modern day private detective story. In the past, the Coens payed homage to crime writer Dashiell Hammett with “Miller’s Crossing” and here, they pay homage to Hammett’s contemporary Raymond Chandler. It has all the elements of a classic private-eye yarn but masquerades as a zany comedy. It’s so much more than that. It’s a film that relies heavily on consistently sharp dialogue and each word, pause and stammer are delivered perfectly by an exceptionally brilliant cast; Bridges is a very fine actor but this is his moment of glory, in a role that is perfectly suited. He has received numerous plaudits throughout his career – for his more serious roles – but this is his most iconic. Coens regular John Goodman is also at his maniacal best as his loyal buddy, Walter. Sam Elliott is wonderfully endearing, as “The Stranger”, in cowboy attire, that narrates the whole wacky tale and a scene-stealing John Turturro is simply unforgettable as Jesus Quintana, a latino, sex-offending bowler. In fact, it’s very difficult to single out a specific performance, there are so many great appearances: from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, Jon Polito and the always marvellous Philip Seymour Hoffman. The entire cast are just sublime and deliver their, razor sharp, dialogue under the most creative guidance from the Coens. It’s not just the performances that stand out though; usual Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins works with a rich and colourful pallet and the choice of music throughout, accompanies the scenes perfectly. I could go on and pick out every perfect detail of this classic but then I’d just be ruining it for you, even if you’ve already seen it. It’ll do no harm to see it again – with a spliff and a beverage – and allow your “casualness to run deep”.

I have tried to find the words that do this film justice but I still don’t think I have. Rest assured though, this is the most enjoyable Coens movie to date and an instant cult classic that wll take one hell of a film to topple it from my #1 spot.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker


The Muppets * *

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Family, Music with tags on March 2, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: James Bobin.
Screenplay: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller.
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Bill Cobbs, Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney.
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Peter Linz.

It’s been a long wait (12 years) since the last theatrical Muppets movie and if this is the best they can come up with in that time, then I think the Muppets have had their day. It speaks volumes when Frank Oz, one of the biggest contributors to the furry little characters, dropped out because he was unhappy with the script.

Gary (Jason Segel) is the Muppets’ biggest fan. On a trip to Hollywood, with his Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), to visit his heroes’ studio home, he learns of a plot by evil business man Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to destroy the Muppet Theatre and drill the land for oil. The only way he can save the day is to find the disbanded Muppets and get them back together for a benefit gig.

‘Kermit’, ‘Miss Piggy’, ‘Gonzo’ and ‘Fozzie’ etc make their way back onto the screen for a new generation of kids, but in all honesty, I think it was more appealing to the parents who will fondly remember these great little characters from the television show “Sesame Street” which first aired in 1969. However, there is such a lack of creativity in this adventure that both generations should be disappointed. Yes, it’s great to see them again but their humour is seriously lacking. There are a handful (if that) of entertaining moments. It starts reasonably well and looks like it will be a good old fashioned slice of family fun but after the first couple of song-and-dance numbers (that aren’t all that great) you realise that this is all you’re going to get. Amy Adams is an actress I admire but she’s given little to do, leaving the limelight on Jason Segel who completely hams it up with some terrible acting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting a thespian amongst a group of puppets but he seemed really self-conscious and out of sorts. The introduction of the latest Muppet ‘Walter’, was a decent device to be reintroduced to the old favourites again but it’s the lack of attention the “Sesame Street” gang are given that ultimately let’s the film down. The jokes are few and far between and the story (co-written by Segel) is weak and sluggish, to say the least. Added to which, the celebrity cameos – that have always served The Muppets so well – are even of a lesser standard. These old favourites deserve so much more.

This has received remarkable adulation since it’s release and I have to say, I sit on the side of the sceptics. A very disappointing reacquaintance that lacks the heart and wonder that these fabulous little characters brought to so many.

Mark Walker


The Adventures Of Tintin * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish.
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Joe Starr, Kim Stengel, Sonja Fortag, Tony Curran.

Herge, the writer and creator of “Tintin” apparently once said that Steven Spielberg was the only director who could truly capture his creation on the big screen. Thankfully for him then that Spielberg has got himself involved, along with visionary support in Peter Jackson.

Uniting elements from Herge volumes ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret Of The Unicorn’, and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, valiant Belgian reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), along with brainy mutt Snowy, is on the trail of a lost family fortune, involving future friend and rambunctious soak Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

I do hope that when (or if) Indiana Jones 5 arrives that Spielberg has a better story to work with. The story here by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish is familiar Indy fare for Spielberg but it doesn’t have enough in the tank to grab you, leaving him to stage one action set-piece after another to keep the excitement flowing. These set-pieces are undeniably exhilarating though and his handle on the animation side is entirely successful. Before him, director Robert Zemeckis tried (and failed) with similar motion-capture animated features “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” but Spielberg and Peter Jackson have cracked it. The motion capture is flawless and every pixel of animation is refined to perfection. The problem that Zemeckis had was achieving believable and realistic eyes in his characters. That problem is now gone here. It’s so good that it’s hard to accept that real actors are responsible for the performances. Jamie Bell is impressive as the eponymous man-boy reporter and Daniel Craig is a delight as the villain Sakharine, but the real treat here is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock the bumbling seaman, complete with Scottish brogue and drunken mishaps.

Classic boys-own adventure and the stuff that Spielberg has been churning out for years. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t hold up to the exquisite visuals and rollicking action but it’s still a treat nonetheless.

Mark Walker


Rango * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Gore Verbinski.
Screenplay: John Logan.
Voices: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone.

When director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp collaborated before they brought new life into the swashbuckling genre with “Pirates of the Caribbean”. This time they bring a different take on animation, with very mixed results.

A pet lizard (Johnny Depp) falls out of a car in the desert, and earns himself a heroic reputation in the makeshift animal town of ‘Dirt’ as gunslinger “Rango”. Dirt’s water-supply is controlled by a turtle mayor (Ned Beatty) and his gang, but Rango rallies the decent folks when it seems the community will be destroyed.

Partly the problem I had with “Rango” was it’s stunningly good opening. For the first 10mins or so it looked like it was going to be something very special indeed but as it progressed it fell somewhat flat and ended up as dry and barren as the landscape in which it was set. The voice cast were impressive, particularly Depp. He has a good range and if you didn’t know beforehand, you probably wouldn’t know it was him. The animation was also very well done but the desert creature characters were so realistic that they were also a bit freaky, leaving them less endearing than they should be, which has you wondering why Verbinski chose the style he did. Choosing the great cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant was a good move though, as the landscapes and western style were brilliantly achieved.

A valiant effort to produce something different but the characters were just a bit too far gone and the story seriously ran out of ideas early on.

Mark Walker