Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Strawberry Mansion

Directors – Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney – 2020 – US – Cert. 12a – 91m

*****

A strange and compelling tale, at once whimsical and terrifying, of a tax inspector sent to audit an artist’s dreams – out in UK cinemas and on demand Friday, September 16th

Nothing can prepare you for the experience of watching this extraordinary film. A man sits in his strawberry-coloured kitchen. In his strawberry-coloured fridge are strawberry-coloured boxes of food and strawberry-coloured cartons of drink. A knock at his door opens to reveal billowing clouds floating into the room like fog. It’s his friend who has arrived with a golden bucket container of fried chicken pieces and a bottle of cola. They eat and enjoy.

If you think this is weird, the scene turns up on the man’s video alarm clock. And the film has barely got started. Our hero’s work today involves a long drive to a lone house in the middle of a field. At the door, James Preble (Kentucker Audley) announces to the elderly occupant Arabella “Bella” Isadora (Penny Fuller) that he’s here to audit her dreams. As government legislation of seven year requires. She has over 2 000 VHS tapes, but it seems she hasn’t yet got around to fulfilling the legal requirement of the latest software.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Directors – Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 127m

*****

A warm and compelling look at the life of writer Kurt Vonnegut, the influence upon him of the bombing of Dresden, and his decades-long friendship with director Weide – out in cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday, July 22nd, BFI Player Rental from Monday, August 22nd

Read my shorter review for Reform magazine.

The documentary Weide eventually made about Vonnegut took him the best part of four decades to complete. Weide opens with a statement about Vonnegut walking in the woods, feeling a tree and seeing the bombing of Dresden before it occurred. There seems no reason to doubt Vonnegut. He was unstuck in time, jumping around the years and decades. Weide first contacted him in 1982, never imagining that it would take him anything like as long to complete the film as it did. He starts looking at interviews of himself (“who wants to see a documentary in which a filmmaker appears as himself?”, he asks) – defined by where they were shot or what shirt Weide was wearing at the time.

Whatever else Vonnegut and his writing are, they are not conventional.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Deer King (Shika no Ou: Yuna to Yakusoku no Tabi, 鹿の王 ユナと約束の旅)

Directors – Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**

The conquerors of a foreign land succumb to a mysterious plague there – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 27th

This starts off with clearly epic intentions by throwing line after line of convoluted plot at the viewer in rapid fire, confusing intertitles. The kingdom of Aqifa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol until the Black Wolf Fever prevented Zol from entering Fire Horse Territory. Today, the Black Wolf Fever is believed a thing of the past. Okay, got that? If not, you’ll be in trouble because the narrative is all about Zolians, Aquafaese and wolves and while the images are often ravishingly beautiful to look at, visually arresting eye candy in background or character design is never enough of itself to propel the story forward.

It continues piling on plot information like this for about half an hour. To make matters worse, an insistent cod-Gaelic score is overlaid over the images much of the time, and it seems composed to draw attention to itself rather than advance the story in any way.

Aquafaese toil in a salt mine (someone happens to mention some time afterwards that the mineral being mined is salt, otherwise you wouldn’t know) under sadistic guards while in the depths wolves attack and infest the slave workers whose skin comes out in purple blotches before they die.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Directors – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara – 2001 – Japan, US – Cert. PG – 106m

*****

Earth (and its attendant spirit Gaia) have been attacked by aliens, its human and animal populations decimated, its cities deserted – review originally published in Ad Hoc magazine, 2001

The first computer-generated movie to dispense with real live actors in favour of their computer-generated counterparts – at least as far as the visuals go – Final Fantasy The Spirits Within proves as radical a departure as the first animated feature Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), the convincing computer-generated characters of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and the first computer-animated feature Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995).

The lead heroine’s hair and the creases in the characters’ clothing both convince utterly. The characters’ movements are taken off real people and fed into a computer by a process known as motion capture, which also provided the incredible moving freeze-frame moments in The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999).

Mouth movements spouting pre-recorded speech doesn’t quite come off every time while the facial expressions haven’t quite managed all the subtleties of human visages. Most of them, true, though not quite all. But then, the computer technology here is way ahead of another of this year’s animation highlights, the cartoony Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jensen, 2001).… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Mad God

Director – Phil Tippett – 1987-2021 – US – 83m

*****

A man in a gas mask descends into a dark, dangerous world on a mysterious mission, encountering strange creatures, humanoids and societal constructs along the way – stop-frame epic 34 years in the making as of Tuesday, June 28th, has become the most watched premier of 2022 on Shudder, where it plays in both the UK and the US from Thursday, June 16th; also plays London’s Prince Charles Cinema Tuesday. July 5th to Friday, July 8th

My immediate reaction after watching this was two-fold. On the one hand, wow!!! On the other, how on earth do I put the experience of watching this into words? Mad God definitely has a structure, yet what’s amazing about it is the visuals, the animation, the effects. Even though I’m familiar with the work of its director Phil Tippett (as one of the heirs apparent to stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen in the world of visual effects – career highlights include RoboCop, 1987; Jurassic Park, 1993, Starship Troopers, 1997) this film is something altogether different (even if its roots can be seen in his VFX work).

Following the destruction of a tower resembling Babel in a black cloud, and a lengthy quotation purporting to be from Leviticus 26, a man in gas mask and protective clothing descends into the bowels of the world on a mission, the exact nature of which is never revealed.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

a-ha The Movie

Directors – Thomas Robsahm, Aslaug Holm – 2021 – Norway, Germany – Cert. 12a – 108m

***

The rise and career of the enduring, three-piece, Norwegian band a-ha – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

Norwegian trio a-ha are arguably best known for two songs. They swept to fame on the strength of their first hit Take On Me, which features extensively in this documentary. They were later asked to do the title for Bond movie The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987), which gets only a few minutes screen time somewhere in the middle here, so I’ll get that out of the way first. The band write their own material and found themselves having to work with legendary Bond composer John Barry as their producer on this gig who, as they saw it, was used to having musical input and getting his own way. They talk about recording the song in such a way as to get round him.

Perhaps what this best illustrates is that musicians (artists, composers, bands) often work and operate within their own sealed worlds and if they have to work with rivals, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance, it doesn’t sound a good experience for either party.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

The Bad Guys

Director – Pierre Perifel – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 100m

****1/2

A group of criminal animals led by a wolf mastermind pretend to go straight to pull off their greatest job ever – animated feature previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st

It sounds a near impossible feat to pull off, yet The Bad Guys manages to successfully parody the meanness and violence of the gangster movie genre in a children’s animated film without any of the meanness and violence normally associated with that genre. It opens with two guys (well, a wolf and a snake) hanging out in a restaurant shooting the breeze. Yes, there’s only the two of them, but anyone who knows their gangster movies will immediately think of the six guys sitting around a restaurant table at the start of Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1993) and to underscore the point, the characters are called Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake (along with, when we meet them shortly after, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark). They’re animals, but they could just as easily have been colours.

As his animal type suggests, Mr Wolf (voice: Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

White Snake (Baishe: Yuanqi, 白蛇:缘起)

Directors – Amp Wong, Ji Zhao – 2019 – China – 99m

****

A young man falls in love with a demon resembling alternately a woman and a giant snake, in this Chinese animated feature – now available on Amazon Prime

Conceived as a prequel to China’s White Snake legend which has spawned numerous adaptations including Green Snake / Ching se (Tsui Hark, 1993), this computer animated Chinese epic concerns demon sisters Blanca and Verta (voiced by Zhang Zhe and Tang Xiaoxi) who look to all intents and purposes like beautiful women but are actually demon snakes in disguise – a white snake and a green snake as you might guess from their names. With her power and form enhanced by her sister’s gift of a green hairpin, Blanca leaves the demon world and visits ours for a showdown with a human General trying to prove his worth to the Emperor by dabbling in occult rituals involving snakes. When the showdown doesn’t go as planned, Blanca finds herself alone and suffering a complete loss of memory as to who (and indeed what) she is.

She awakes in a small, human, rural village where the local economy is built on catching snakes for the General.… Read the rest