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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 Movies

Lightyear

Director – Angus MacLane – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 107m

**1/2

Stranded on a hostile planet, Buzz Lightyear sets out on a series of missions which eventually lead to his first confrontation with the evil Emperor Zurg – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event on Friday, June 17th, and opens in UK cinemas the same day.

A caption at the start explains that this was the favourite film of child protagonist Andy (from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise) and the reason he got a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. Other than that, though, this is a completely separate and self-enclosed film.

As the literal meaning of its title implies, Lightyear delivers a narrative that races through vast periods of time at a stretch, so that we and ace space pilot Buzz Lightyear (voice: Chris Evans) and his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voice: Uzo Aduba) land their spaceship on an unexplored planet which turns out to be populated with hostile life-forms, specifically (1) plant tendrils which burst out of the planet’s surface and try to drag anything they can back under the ground and (2) giant, flying bugs.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Detention (Fanxiao, 返校)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, February 21st

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Chinese Odyssey (Sai Yau Gei, 西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven 3D (Da Nao Tian Gong, 大闹天宫)

Directors – Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang – 3D Restoration, 2012 (originally Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) – China – Cert. N/C PG – 92m

****

The Jade Emperor assigns the Monkey King to a series of lowly Heavenly positions to keep him out of trouble and mayhem ensues – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, the Monkey King Sun Wokong breaks out of the rock in which he’s been imprisoned to realise he needs a decent personal weapon and talk the Dragon King out of his prized, giant Golden Ringed Wishing Staff, shrinking it to manageable size. The latter complains to the Jade Emperor, so to keep him out of further trouble Monkey is named Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven and assigned to a series of lowly Heavenly positions in charge of first the stables then the Queen’s peach orchard.

Upon learning that the Queen and her companions are unaware of his title and have failed to invite him to their upcoming banquet, Monkey turns himself invisible, causes the guests to fall asleep and takes the food back to his Fruit And Flower Mountain home on Earth to distribute it among his boy monkey subjects.… Read the rest

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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

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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.

Categories
Animation Features Movies

SCOOB!

Director – Tony Cervone – 2020 – US – Cert. PG – 93m

****

Available on VoD from Friday, July 10th and BD/DVD Monday, September 28th

I grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons which would play in, if I recall, the 5.20 slot on the BBC. Some were better than others. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-70) was one of the better ones. It had five memorable characters who each week would investigate some mystery suggesting monsters or the paranormal for which there would always turn out to be a rational explanation as the perpetrator was unmasked at the end, usually with the words “and I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t have been for you kids.”

The original cartoon TV series (1969-70) has spawned numerous spin-offs over the years including a so-so live action / special effects theatrical feature Scooby-Doo (2002) and a sequel. Which brings us to SCOOB!, an animated theatrical movie once again bringing the franchise to the big screen.

It starts off with a couple of tried and tested big screen adaptation tropes. One, taking one of the characters and having them somehow meet up with the others for their first adventure. Two, an origin story.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 (2002) – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 225m

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, July 27th 2020, 235m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 225m version released on DVD 2004. Original theatrical cut: 199m)

This always had the problem that it’s the second film in a trilogy. If you think you might want to watch all three, you’ll watch the first movie. If you want to see how the story ends up, you might possibly jump straight in at the last movie (although to be honest, you’d be better watching the first movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and then if you like it the other two as well.)

That said, both this second movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers and the third film The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King deal with the problem of opening the film admirably, in both cases doing so in creative ways. This one leaps back to Gandalf being dragged down a chasm by a Balrog in FOTR and then, once we think we’re getting closer to finding out what happened, has Frodo waken from a dream.… Read the rest