Archive for the Fantasy Category

Big Trouble In Little China

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

“Like I told my last wife, I says, “Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.”

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70’s & 80’s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon. Continue reading

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

Waking Life * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Fantasy on July 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, David Sosa, Alex Jones, Otto Hofmann, Lorelei Linklater, Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater has always been an interesting director; he’s ranged from his debut independant hit “Slacker” to refreshing 70’s nostalgia in “Dazed and Confused”, through anti-corporate polemic “Fast Food Nation” and cult sci-fi “A Scanner Darkly”. He’s effortless in his range and always involving, but none more so than this unsung gem.

A young man (Wiley Wiggins) walks through life as if in a dream. He talks to a variety of people about the meaning of life and the purpose of the universe, striving for answers as to his direction and his place in the cosmos.

Waking Life is the type of film that’s hard to put into words. The striking visuals are most certainly noteworthy and Linklater’s exploration of the bigger questions in life will only appeal to those who invest and bring something to the film themselves. It has many insightful philosophical ramblings and monologues on the nature of our existence; the purpose of our being; the difference between our dream state and waking life; whether dreams can be controlled and how much they have to tell us.
Using an animation technique called ‘rotoscoping’ – which he later used to equally excellent effect in “A Scanner Darkly” – Linklater works with a medium that allows him to fully explore his ideas and theories in capturing a perfect representation of the dream world and has crafted a highly innovative and wonderfully surreal piece of work. Throughout the journey he discusses essays by paranoid science-fiction writer and philospher Philip K. Dick to lucid dreaming and poses deeply involving existential questions. These questions are never answered fully, teasing us to get involved in the process, question ourselves and become part of the protagonists hallucinogenic, dreamlike trip.

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A very intriguing and visually inventive film that isn’t afraid to wear it’s philosophical heart on it’s sleeve. Rarely are such movies delivered where they appeal to both the eye and the head. An existential treat.

Mark Walker

In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Pan’s Labyrinth

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War on March 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

20130328-121736.jpgDirector: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts”

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece. Continue reading

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *

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

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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

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Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

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

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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

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Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Fantasy with tags on December 21, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Benh Zeitlin.
Screenplay: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander.

2012 has been a bit of an underwhelming year at the movies for me. So many films have promised so much, yet failed to deliver. It’s encouraging though, that one of the art-house films of the year comes along and restores your faith in creative and original cinema. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” is exactly that type of film.

Based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar, this tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) a philosophical little girl who lives in a rundown Louisiana town called “The Bathtub”. It’s a bayou steeped in poverty, yet brings a certain freedom to the villagers. Their freedom is compromised though, when a storm floods the entire area and kills the livestock, forcing the community to flee their homes in search of pastures new.

As we are introduced to our young protagonist Hushpuppy, we see her building a nest for a bird and before long we witness her holding small chicks to her ear to hear their heartbeat. In her own words “Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.” This is a child that’s completely in touch with nature. It’s this very understanding and connection with nature that makes her such a sweet and appealing character and one that’s a real pleasure to share her journey with. That journey takes shape in her struggle for survival and a sense of belonging, as her home is destroyed in a storm, leading her on her life-affirming travels that address the nature of family, community and the refusal to be defeated or succumb to the norm. This is a film about culture and the automatic assumption that those who live a different lifestyle (even impoverished) need to be helped or changed into a mainstream or industrialised way of living. Ultimately though, it’s a right-of-passage story about bravery and survival and an allegory for climate change.
It’s strikingly shot throughout with the camera rarely staying still, adding that all important, stark sense of realism, required for the material. This is a film that’s filmed from a child’s eye view and young Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only 5 years old at the time of filming) is absolutely outstanding in the lead role. This young, untrained, actress should not be overlooked when the awards are being dished out. Fine support also comes from Dwight Henry as her defiant, stoic and seemingly harsh father Wink. To think that these two performers had never actually acted before is astonishing. They both deliver some of the best work all year. There are also shades of director Terrence Malick (“The Tree Of Life“) and his fascination with flora and fauna and it also adopts his scrutiny of such things. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin who’s not afraid to infuse his story with surreal and highly effective visual moments of mythical wild aurochs who pursue Hushpuppy on her travels. It manages that rare ability to balance fantasy and reality and does so with such poetic flair. There was a moment in the film where I thought it was losing it’s way and rushing towards it’s conclusion but this was short-lived; it soon got back on track and finished with absolute aplomb.
Throughout the soulful journey, we get to know and love Hushpuppy and in her moment of self-assurance she informs us “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub“… How could we ever forget?

Heartwarming, uplifting and not without it’s moments of pathos. This is a film of purity and truth and one of the years very best.

Mark Walker

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Ted * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy with tags on December 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Seth MacFarlane.
Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Mila Kunis, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Joel McHale, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth, Bill Smitrovich, Bretton Manley, Sam J. Jones, Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, Ted Danson, Ryan Reynolds.
Narrator: Patrick Stewart.

After many years of success with the hilarious animated sitcom “Family Guy“, it’s creator Seth MacFarlane finally ventures into his first feature film. It shares little in common with the aforementioned show except the same brand of lewd and crude humour, so any familiarity with that show will stand you in good stead in what to expect from this.

When John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) was 8 years-old he wished that his beloved stuffed bear would actually come to life and never leave his side. One stormy night, his wish comes true and Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) transforms into an actual walking, talking, bear. 25 years later though, John isn’t really moving on his life and his lifelong friend is getting in the way of John’s relationship with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). Decisions have to be made, which could separate their childhood attachment forever.

Now let’s be honest on this one and face the facts straight up; without the gimmick of a weed-toking, talking, teddy bear this film wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as it is. The profanity of it’s cuddly protagonist is the very basis on which this film relies on it’s entertainment and for the most part, it works. The jokes don’t always hit the mark but on occasion it delivers some outrageously hilarious moments. MacFarlane seems to be aware, that the more you keep up a rapid fire of jokes the higher the likelihood of some of them sticking. He delivers a relentless fighting scene that will bring reminders of the long-winded dual with the chicken in recurring “Family Guy” episodes and the rest of the film is peppered with in-jokes to films and popular culture of the past, as well as incorporating “Flash Gordon” star Sam Jones in quite a prominent role that’s filled with self parody. Some of these jokes will be wasted on younger viewers or anyone unfamiliar with MacFarlane’s TV show but one thing’s for sure, the same brand of risqué humour can certainly be relied upon and the bonus of it coming in the form of an innocent, cuddly looking, teddy bear make it all the better.
The only drawback, is it’s stumble towards it’s conclusion where it succumbs to formula and loses it’s way slightly but it’s the performers that keep it consistently entertaining; Wahlberg is an actor I find it hard to warm to but he delivers some fine comedic work here and the always reliable Giovanni Ribisi adds just the right amount of darkness to the proceedings. Ultimately though, the star of the show is MacFarlane. His voice talents really bring Ted to life and his controversial and observational humour is ever present and welcome.

I wouldn’t go as far to call it comic genius but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Like it’s title character, embrace it and it’ll bring comforting rewards.

Mark Walker

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Ruby Sparks * * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on December 12, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris.
Screenplay: Zoe Kazan.
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Chris Messina, Elliott Gould, Deborah Ann Woll, Toni Trucks, Aasif Mandvi, Alia Shawkat.

After 6 years, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris deliver their long-awaited follow-up to the brilliant “Little Miss Sunshine“. It would seem that the director’s were in no rush to emulate their previous, Oscar winning, success; preferring instead to wait for the right script. It would also seem that that time has now come and it’s, certainly, been worth the wait.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is struggling writer who once wrote a ‘genius’ novel when he was 19 years old. The trouble is, he’s now struggling for material and suffers from writer’s-block. On the advice of his therapist (Elliott Gould), he begins to write about a girl that has been appearing in his dreams: Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). The next day, Ruby becomes a real person and they both strike up a beautiful and loving relationship. What Calvin then realises is, that if he can will her into existence by writing about her, then he can change her at any time and make her do what he wants by writing more.

Not many films built around romance have had the audacity to explore the very nature of love itself and the stipulations that seemingly come with it. It’s a genre I’m not fond of but that’s only because most are catered for the masses. This film dares to explore the complexities of a relationship and the stipulations that both sides make. It questions whether we can really love a person, wholeheartedly, without their indiscretions ever becoming irritating or intolerable. It also addresses the nature of dominance within a relationship and how that, in itself, is destructive.
Therein lies the beauty and honesty of this film; it’s not afraid to pose these questions and it’s also not afraid to explore the darker elements to it’s premise or get it’s hands dirty when it needs to. After a gentler, more romantic-comedy beginning, filled with wonderful touches of light and observational humour, the denouement takes a brave, impressive and twisted dramatic turn, that shows the darker side to the fantasy. Wisely, the film’s fantasy premise is never explained. This may irk some viewers but really, the film wouldn’t have gained anything by trying to break it down. Quite frankly, it just wouldn’t have worked but that’s testament to the filmmakers, the terrific ensemble of actors and most importantly Zoe Kazan’s highly original screenplay as they all have you believing in them, even when you know you shouldn’t. Once you’ve accepted the premise, you can sit back and enjoy the excellent performances all round; Dano, once again, displays his more than capable acting chops with a character that is often, and cleverly, likened to writer J.D. Salinger and wonderful comic-relief comes in the form of Bening and Banderas as new-age hippie parents. The biggest surprise is from the screenwriter and eponymous Zoe Kazan though; she brings a real warmth and creativity that manages just the right balance and allows her to flit in-between moods with ease. Without such an endearing and understanding performance, the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.

With excellent performances all round, and a great mixture of humour and pathos this is one of 2012’s genuinely surprising highlights. Like “Little Miss Sunshine” before it, this is a real treat.

Mark Walker

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Wanted * * * *

Posted in Action, Fantasy with tags on November 25, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Timur Bekmambetov.
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan.
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Marc Warren, Common, Kristen Hager, David Patrick O’Hara.

Action is not normally a genre I’m drawn to but when it’s done without reservation, I can completely enter into it. I, normally, find that the genre always goes a little too far. That being the case, if your going to go far you night as well go all out and be as innovative as you possibly can. This can certainly claim to do that.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a bored and downtrodden office worker who gets bullied by his boss while his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. His life is a shambles. That is, until he is approached out of the blue by the mysterious Fox (Angelina Jolie), a highly trained assassin who is part of a secret society called the Fraternity. Wesley’s father was also a member and now that he’s recently deceased, Wesley is heir to the skills of a master hitman and the Fraternity bring him onboard.

In his first English language feature, director Timur Bekmambetov brings the similar style from his Russian vampire movies “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” and proves that he’s a director that can certainly stage an action scene or two. There are cars that do 360 degree flips, people that leap from skyscrapers, bullets that collide with each other mid-air and even ones that bend round corners, buy hey, it’s based on a comic-book by Mark Millar (also responsible for “Kick Ass“) so anything goes right? The action scenes are sublimely hyper-stylised and delivered with a breathtakingly fast pace. It also stages a lot of the action in glorious slow-motion, encapsulating the moment and allowing the audience the wallow and appreciate even further.
To begin with, the film may instil a certain deja-vu as it borrows heavily from “Fight Club” in it’s premise of a disheartened man, in a dead end job, that finds a new lease of life. Mainly what it incorporates though, is the balletic skills of Hong Kong action maestro John Woo and the gravity defying works of “The Matrix“. Quite simply, it’s ludicrous stuff but riotously enjoyable all the same.
McAvoy struggles a little with an American accent but for the most part he’s good and his performance captures both a sense of humour and an impressive and convincing action ability. A heavily tattooed and vampish Angelina Jolie also gets her fair share of action moments, all-be-it, without much in the way of dialogue. As good as they are though, this is not a film that spends a lot of time or focus on character development. It’s an action movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything else and is all the better for it.

Visually astounding with a breakneck pace that rarely let’s up. It’s exciting, innovative and enjoyable, but most of all it’s fun. Exactly how an action movie should be delivered.

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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Mirror Mirror * *

Posted in Family, Fantasy with tags on August 6, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Tarsem Singh.
Screenplay: Jason Keller, Marc Klein.
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Michael Lerner, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Sebastian Saraceno, Ronald Lee Clark, Mare Winningham, Sean Bean.

Former music video director Tarsem Singh has steadily built a reputation for himself in creating feature films with high visual flair. For anyone that’s seen “The Cell” or “The Fall” then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. This film follows a similar visual path but is so ponderous in the script department that it’s sleep inducing.

In a stolen kingdom, Snow White (Lily Collins) lives with her wicked stepmother (Julia Roberts) but when she attracts the attention of a handsome young prince (Armie Hammer), her stepmother banishes her. In the forest, she finds the company of seven dwarves who rally together to help Snow White reclaim the throne.

Tarsem approaches the old fairy-tale of “Snow White” in an impressive and innovative way by adding a bit of feminism into the mix. It’s a welcome female spin on the fairy-tale structure by having no heroic prince and making Snow White less of a damsel in distress and focusing more on her strengths. It’s a good idea but sadly, that is where the new and improved story ends. The delivery is so painstakingly slow and dull that any positives are soon forgotten about and there’s absolutely nothing else in the script that’s noteworthy. This is a real shame as on the surface of it all, Tarsem has put the work in and his creative visual approach is as apparent as ever. However, with a story lacking in any form of excitement or wonder the superb visuals get bogged in a very tedious affair. It also doesn’t help that the main focus is not on Snow White but on the evil Queen. Now this might have sounded good on paper but to deliver the goods on-screen, you need an actress that has gravitas and one with unquestionable ability. That actress is most certainly not Julia Roberts. She is given a juicy dual role and one that she could really have shown her range but, quite frankly, she blows it. Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of her. I did like her in her Oscar winning role in “Erin Brockovich” but I struggle to think of any other memorable performance. This is proof again, that Roberts is highly overrated. Armie Hammer, on the other hand, adds a good bit of comic relief as the bumbling prince and Lily Collins makes an admirable Snow White; the least said about the dormant caterpillars that rest on her brow, the better though. Two words spring to mind – tweezers and pluck.
Overall, a very disappointing modern take on an old classic and no matter how good it’s dressed up, it’s ultimately hollow underneath it’s elaborate accoutrements.

Rich in detail but poor in delivery. In this version, Snow White might not eat the poisoned apple and slip into a coma but the audience certainly do.

Mark Walker

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My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2

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

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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

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Sin City

Posted in Crime, Fantasy, Film-Noir with tags on May 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller.
Screenplay: Frank Miller.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Jamie King, Carla Gugino, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Nicky Katt, Marley Shelton, Tommy Flanagan, Frank Miller, Rutger Hauer, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen.

“This is blood for blood and by the gallons. These are the old days man, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They’re back! There’s no choices left. And I’m ready for war”

Director Robert Rodriguez is a real mixed bag for me. Most of the time, I either find his films childish or over the top. This, however, is far from childish but so wildly over the top, it’s hard not to like it. It’s based on the adult comic-book by Frank Miller (who serves as a co-director) and is by far Rodriguez’s finest film to date.

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Basin City is the film noir community that plays host to three hardboiled comic-book tales. “The Hard Goodbye” has Marv (Mickey Rourke) an brutish ex-convict who avenges the murder of prostitute Goldie (Jamie King) that he had fallen in love with; “The Big Fat Kill” where private detective Dwight (Clive Owen) finds himself helping hookers fight mercenaries from the red light district and “That Yellow Bastard” sees disgraced cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) protect dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) from a psychotic sadist and sex offender (Nick Stahl).

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This film may be, unashamedly, computer enhanced but it doesn’t diminish it’s highly visual approach. It’s shot in true noir style with wonderful touches of vibrant colour throughout it’s monochrome palette. It also has the downbeat voiceover that most film’s of the genre indulge in. It’s quite simply, a stunning piece of work. Comic-book adaptations have taken to our screens on a regular basis but Rodriguez has probably been the most faithful to his source material. This is as close as I’ve seen in a page to screen transfer. Rodriguez has retained the look and feel of this fantasy world, practically word-for-word, and I can only assume that having it’s creator Frank Miller on board is a major merit. Like a lot of comics it’s most certainly a boys-own adventure; All the guys look tough and talk tough and most of the gals dress in dog collars and S&M gear. It could be deemed insulting or exploitative towards women but it’s written purely as fantasy and works an absolute treat. I’m a big fan of film-noir but you’d be hard pushed to find it done in such an audacious way. Into the bargain, Quentin Tarantino ‘guest directs’ a scene and we are also given a huge cast of familiar faces. All of which, are superb. The real standout though is a comeback performance by Mickey Rourke. He’s as brutal and relentless as they come – “… they should’ve shot me in the head and enough times to make sure” – and he’s unlike most comic characters you’ll find yourself rooting for. I’ve always been a fan of Rourke’s and this is one of my favourite performances from him. It’s great to have him back. Ultimately, it’s the look and feel of the film that possesses the real power though. It’s very hard not too be drawn into this visceral and uncompromising neo-noir.

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Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is in the works and if Rodriguez and Miller can recreate their true visual spectacle and technical achievements, then we could be in for another treat.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Robert Rodriguez scored Kill Bill: Vol. 2 in 2004 for $1. Quentin Tarantino said he would repay him by directing a segment of this movie for $1. Tarantino, a vocal proponent of film-over-digital, has said that he was curious to get hands-on experience with the HD cameras which Rodriguez lauds. When asked about his experience, Tarantino merely replied, “Mission Accomplished.”