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

Categories
Animation Dance Features Live Action Movies Music

Coppelia

Directors – Jeff Tudor, Steven de Beul, Ben Tesseur – 2021 – Netherlands, Germany, Belgium – Cert. U – 82m

****

People in an idyllic town must thwart the nefarious plans of a mad scientist in this extraordinary amalgam of dance, live action performers and animation – out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 1st

This isn’t the first movie to combine live action with animation nor will it be the last and while it has numerous echoes of movies intentional or otherwise, it’s very much its own vision. First and foremost a dance piece but far from mere ‘filmed dance’, it will appeal as much to admirers of the twin arts of cinema and animation as to devotees of dance. Being entirely devoid of verbal language, it’ll attract lovers of silent cinema too. (One can imagine the film shown mute with a live orchestra playing the score.)

The lack of verbal language means that the characters are never named (just like in a ballet where you’d refer to a cast list in an accompanying programme) although tags for a number of them are obvious – several shop owners include a bicycle repair man (Daniel Camargo), a florist, a hairdresser (Jan Kooijman) and a baker of bread and cakes (Irek Mukhamedov) while a dance studio hosts a ballet teacher (Igoné de Jongh) and her child student troupe.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Ninjababy

Director – Ingvild Sve Flikke – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 tbc – 103m

*****

An artist draws constantly, her life punctuated with animated inserts, as she finds she is pregnant with a ninjababy – out in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 10th. Also free to watch on All4 for 26 days from Friday, March 11th

Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is the messy one, Ingrid (Tora Christine Dietrichson) is the tidy one. They share a flat. All this is apparent from Rakel’s simple, sketched black lines on white background, animated plan of their flat. That opens this essentially live action film, which is thereafter punctuated by animation either in similar inserts or apparently drawn into the moving live action images e.g. on light areas of wall (this may be a special effect, but it’s an extremely low tech one).

Ingrid thinks something is up with Rakel – the larger breasts, the vast quantities of fruit drink consumed – could Rakel be pregnant? Do a test. Positive. To the abortion clinic. Sorry, 26 weeks and the legal limit is 12. That’s Mos-Aikido (Nader Khademi) off the hook, the sex with him (and it was good) was more recent.… Read the rest

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Animation Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Escher: Journey Into Infinity (Escher: Het Oneindige Zoeken)

Director – Robin Lutz – 2018 – The Netherlands – Cert. PG – 81m

*****

The life and work of graphic artist M.C. Escher is explored through his own images and words (read by Stephen Fry) – on UK/Ireland digital download platforms from Monday, October 18th – iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Curzon Home Cinema, Google and Microsoft

Maurits Cornelius Escher’s words at the start of this film suggest a production doomed to fail: “I am afraid there is only one person in the world who could make a good film about my prints: me.” Sadly, since Escher passed away in 1972, we will never see that film. Happily, Robin Lutz has proved Escher wrong by making this one. And so too has his collaborator Stephen Fry whose voice-over for the English language version, recorded in under three hours at a London dubbing studio, is nothing short of inspired (of which more later). He must have done some serious preparation beforehand.

For the uninitiated, Escher (1898-1972) is the Dutch graphic artist whose prints famously include Ascending and Descending (March 1960), the impossible staircase which keeps going up and up, or down and down for people travelling in the opposite direction – as it goes round and round in a square.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

The Sparks Brothers

Director – Edgar Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 140m

****

The rollercoaster career of musical duo Sparks with its successful hits and intermittent lapses into obscurity – out in cinemas on Thursday, July 29th

There’s a story about John Lennon phoning Ringo Starr to say, “you won’t believe what’s on television – Marc Bolan doing a song with Adolf Hitler.” This was Sparks’ auspicious debut on BBC music show Top Of The Pops in the early 1970s playing what is probably their best known track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a broadcast estimated to have reached some 15 million people. Everyone was talking about this the day after – that’s mentioned here, and it’s something I myself remember from my own school days: the lively energetic singer (Russell Mael) and the suited, almost motionless, keyboard player (Ron Mael) with the slicked back hair and the Hitler moustache. The Hitler appearance may not have been deliberate, but that image of the duo – the extrovert and the introvert – has become the band’s enduring media image over the years.

TOTP 1974

One gets the impression from passing moments in this film that Charlie Chaplin was an equally formative presence for Ron – and though it’s never mentioned, Chaplin made the film The Great Dictator (1940) in which he played a Hitler type despot as well as a Jewish barber unfortunate enough to look like him…but I digress.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Witches Of The Orient (Les Sorcières De L’Orient)

Director – Julien Faraut – 2021 – France, Japan – Cert. U – 100m

*****

A look through a prism of anime and archive footage at the Japanese women’s volleyball team that won the 1964 Olympics – out in cinemas and online in the UK and Ireland on Friday, July 16th

You don’t really expect a documentary about a women’s volleyball team to open with a scene from the anime short Danemon’s Monster Hunt At Shojiji (Yoshitaro Kataoka, 1935) in which the hero, trying to save the damsel in distress from the web of the evil spider witch, learns too late that the damsel is the evil spider witch and has lured him to his fate. Even if the team in question has become known as ‘the Witches of the Orient’. “To refer to people as witches is not very kind,” says Katsumi Matsumura, a surviving member of the team. “But then, witches have supernatural powers. So that suited us fine.”

The nickname originated in the Russian newspaper Pravda when the Japanese women’s team faced the Russians in the 1962 volleyball championships… [Read the rest]

Full review at All The Anime.

The Witches Of The Orient is out in cinemas and virtual cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday, July 16th 2021.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Archipelago (Archipel)

Director – Félix Dufour-Laperrière – 2021 – Canada – 72m

****

A journey along an estuary traversing its archipelago, perhaps real, perhaps imagined, a trip into an obscure territory of the mind – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Official Competition Contrechamp section

Defying easy categorisation, this is a conversation between a woman on a journey and a man trying to convince her of her non-existence. The woman’s shape first appears as a framing device – through the moving shape that defines her we see locations, places and more. Eventually we see her too, as her representation changes from a moving window shape to a simple animated line drawing defining her features against what can be seen through the window of her shape.

Numerous elements jostle for attention as the film proceeds. On one level, it’s a journey along the Gulf of St Lawrence in the French-speaking part of Canada, the estuary of the river which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. A train journey is represented by the view through a carriage window. There are numerous islands, some of which may be real. There are clips from black and white and occasionally colour travelogue documentary films.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Live Action Movies Music Shorts

Blondie: Vivir En La Habana

Director – Rob Roth – 2021 – US – 18m

*****

Watch an incredible collision of cultures as new wave band Blondie tours Havana – from Sheffield DocFest 2021

Shot in several aspect ratios by multimedia artist and Blondie collaborator Roth (Doom Or Destiny music video, cert. 18, 2017; creative director on lead singer Debbie Harry’s memoir Face It, 2019), this is a vibrant, visual account of the band’s March 2019 tour of Havana. There are clips from songs recorded at several gigs here (with Harry sporting a variety of striking outfits) that make you wish you’d been there. For some songs, the band’s sound is augmented by Cuban musicians giving the likes of The Tide Is High a completely new lease of life.

Rather than going the obvious route and simply producing a film of the concerts – which I’m sure would be well-received by the band’s admirers, among whom I number myself – Roth has mashed the digitally produced concert footage up with Super 8 and 16mm footage of both Havana itself and members of the band.

He’s also had a lot of fun augmenting numerous live action shots with 2D animation drawn directly onto the moving images adding another layer to the already complex imagery.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke, 新蜀山劍俠)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1961 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 85m

*****

Available on Blu-ray/DVD and now on BFI Player too.

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

Using not only live action but also every form of animation you can imagine, the 1961 Czech fantasy The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (BD/DVD, cert U, 85 mins) puts the infamous teller of tall tales in the company of a rational astronaut he meets on the moon for a series of improbable adventures. It’s a charming and delightful piece of escapism and a visual marvel from start to finish.

Director Karel Zeman has probably come closer than anyone to filming the equivalent of a moving woodcut and the whole thing is highly inventive throughout, challenging the very idea of what a film might look and feel like. Children and adults alike will be entranced. For good measure, the disc includes a documentary in which students try to recreate some of the film’s spectacular special effects.

Trailer here:

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.