Archive for the Animation Category

A Scanner Darkly

Posted in Animation, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on May 31, 2016 by Mark Walker

 
Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, Melody Chase, Alex Jones, Lisa Marie Newmyer, Turk Pipkin, Steven Chester Prince.

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?”

(This review was a piece that was originally involved in The Decades Blogathon hosted by Mark of Three Rows Back and Tom of Digital Shortbread. These guys are two of the finest around and I wholeheartedly recommend their sites if you don’t know them already. You can check out their sites and all the Blogathon entries from the links above.)

In 2001, director Richard Linklater delivered a little-seen, gem of a film called Waking Life. Many didn’t pay notice to it which is one of many a film viewers biggest mistakes. Granted, the philosophical material may not have been everyone’s idea of entertainment but this film pioneered a filmmaking technique that, simply, shouldn’t have been overlooked. Linklater approached Waking Life with an animation method called “Rotoscoping”. Basically it was animation added over live actors and it’s a process that can be painstaking to deliver. The results were hugely effective for the material and, five years later, he decided to use the technique again on his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid science fiction novel, A Scanner Darkly. Once again, the results are very impressive. Continue reading

Song Of The Sea

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on February 26, 2016 by Mark Walker


Director: Tomm Moore.
Screenplay: Will Collins, Tomm Moore.
Voices: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan, Lucy O’Connell, Jon Kenny, Pat Shortt, Colm Ó’Snodaigh, Liam Hourican, Kevin Sweirszcz, Will Collins, Paul Young.

“My son, remember me in your stories and in your songs. Know that I will always love you.”

After receiving an Oscar nomination for his exquisitely animated film The Secret of Kells in 2009, director Tomm Moore achieved the same again with his unique style of animation for his follow-up, Song of the Sea. In the first instance, he lost the Oscar to Disney’s Up and the second time around Disney prevailed again with Big Hero 6. However, it’s still good to see Moore’s films challenge such big hitters. Continue reading

Waltz With Bashir * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Foreign Language, War with tags on September 8, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ari Folman.
Screenplay: Ari Folman.
Voices: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Ori Sivan, Dror Harazi.

The Israel & Palestine conflict never makes an easy topic for discussion and tends to bring passionate opinions to the surface. As a result, it’s difficult for anyone approaching the subject. Here, however, we are given a film that wisely doesn’t address the politics of the conflict, choosing instead to focus more on the atrocity and brutality of war.

On realising he has no memory of serving in the Israeli Army during the First Lebanon War in 1982, Ari Folman tracks down his old buddies to hear their stories of the conflict, and try to solve the mystery of his own psychological blindspot.

Thanks in large to it’s strikingly powerful artwork, this is a documentary that’s one of the most original of it’s kind. It consists of a serious of investigative interviews with director and war veteran Folman and his comrades who served with him during the conflict. Like the stories they relate, the interviews are also included in the animation and had this been done otherwise this may not have held our interest as much as it does. It helps bind the film into a coherent and visually stunning experience. Having served as an Israeli soldier, Folman wisely doesn’t justify his actions – if anything he abhors them. As he pieces the stories together, the revelation of his deep rooted memories are harrowing and it’s no wonder he developed temporary amnesia. He psychologically blocked his memories due to the atrocities and sheer brutality of the massacre – that he was involved in – of Palestinian men, women and children. Despite, this heavy subject matter, amidst the backdrop of war and barbarism, there are still many scenes of such power and surreal beauty.

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Deservedly Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film, this is a provocative, gruesome and visually stunning movie, that captures an eerie and haunting feel throughout. Within it’s shocking delivery, it carries a very important anti-war message while echoing the work of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Absolutely superb and quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Mark Walker

Spirited Away * * * * 1/2

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

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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.

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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

Frankenweenie * * * *

Posted in Animation, Family, Horror with tags on March 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Tim Burton.
Screenplay: John August.
Voices: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, James Hiroyuki Liao, Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker.

Tim Burton has occasionally been involved in animated movies throughout his career, having served as producer on “The Nightmare Before Christmas“, “James & The Giant Peach” and “9“. However, the only time he’s actually been behind the camera on any of them was “Corpse Bride” in 2005 and his animated short in 1984 “Frankenweenie” – of which this is a feature length expansion of. Some may feel that he’s treading old ground here but there’s no doubt that this is still a highly successful endeavour.

Victor Frankenstein is a lonely young boy who’s best friend is his energetic dog, Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated but he refuses to give up hope of spending time with his beloved friend again. Inspired by his science teacher, he decides to rig up a laboratory and harness the lightning to bring Sparky’s corpse back to life. His attempts are successful but it soon causes havoc within his neighbourhood.

Burton has came in for a critical panning from many people of late (myself included). The major issue being his seeming inability to change his idiosyncratic style. With this latest venture into stop-motion animation, he has answered his critics with aplomb and it makes you wonder whether he even should change his approach when the results can be as good as this. Here, his gothic idiosyncrasies are entirely suited to this homage to director James Whale and his classic horror movies “Frankenstein” and it’s follow-up “Bride Of Frankenstein“. He also throws in some references to horror stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price and includes a whole host of quirky characters – the one that stood out for me the most was ‘Mr. Whiskers’; a cat who can predict the future of others by the shape of the shit left in his litter tray.
Burton’s decision to film in gorgeous monochrome also adds to the proceedings, meanwhile, giving Mary Shelley’s classic literary tale his own spin and he (and us) has a lot fun in doing so. It also has a similar off-key suburban setting like Burton’s earlier film “Edward Scissorhands” and shares the same balance of that film’s darkness and humour. Younger children may balk at the unravelling of the darker tale but older kids and adults can revel in it’s decent into a reanimated, monster B-Movie which is entirely fitting and in doing so, never loses it’s sense of fun or feeling for the macabre.

A lot of animated films these days have an appeal for children and adults alike and the balance that Burton achieves here is proof that that’s not about to change anytime soon. One of 2012’s very best animated films and one of Burton’s best for quite a while.

Mark Walker

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Fantastic Mr. Fox * * * * 1/2

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

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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

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Brave * * * * 1/2

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

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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

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