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Animation Movies Shorts

The Very Hungry Caterpillar And Other Stories

Director – Andrew Goff – 1994 – UK – Cert. U – 35m

*****

VHS tape review from What’s On In London sometime back in the mid-1990s, republished here to coincide with the sad news of writer / illustrator Eric Carle’s death at 91.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories is based on the stories of German writer / illustrator Eric Carle and genuinely manages to make infant learning a fun experience. The title story, for instance, traverses days of the week, basic numeracy and simple sentence structure at the same time (“On Monday, he ate one apple, but he was still hungry. On Tuesday, he ate two pears…”) aided by a Roger McGough voice over that would stand up pretty well as a pre-recorded audio cassette in its own right.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The film has further fun still with the animation medium. The caterpillar is cleverly reconceived as a series of joined-up flat shapes, while the cut-out animation techniques used prove not only the perfect vehicle for Carle’s material, but are imaginatively used which renders them watchable over and over again by adults and children alike.

Other Carle stories featured include The Very Quiet Cricket and I See A Song.… Read the rest

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Undergods

Director – Chino Moya – 2020 – UK – Cert. N/C 18+ – 91m

**1/2

Overlapping narratives unfold within a mysterious city which resembles something out of Eastern Europe – in cinemas from Monday, May 17th

In a grey urban environment resembling an unspecified city somewhere in Eastern Europe or possibly Russia, two lorry drivers go about their daily routine of picking up corpses from the street. These two characters form the frame story of what is to follow, although exactly what that is isn’t clear from the narrative’s meandering nature. There are stories within stories wherein the character you think is the main character is suddenly usurped by a different character. Several times over.

That’s a pity because they are potentially very interesting stories, so it’s frustrating to see them consistently half-baked. The anthology film is, after all, a tried and tested format and this film attempts do something radical and new with it. The problem is though, to make that form work you really need to understand its rules before you play around with them, break them, or abandon them altogether. This film seemingly lacks that understanding, or thinks you can throw away the framework and everything will still somehow work.… 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)

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 Movies

No.7 Cherry Lane (Jiyuantai Qihao)

Director – Yonfan – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12A – 125m

*****

The tutor of an 18 year old girl falls for her mother who hired him against the background of the 1967 protest marches in Hong Kong – sumptuous Closing Gala film from the recently wrapped London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

Insofar as this is like anything else – which it really isn’t – it’s like a reworking of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) filtered through In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Oh, and it’s 3D rendered then 2D animated. Broadly speaking, The Graduate is about a young man seduced by a much older, bored housewife before later becoming romantically involved with her daughter. In The Mood For Love is set in early 1960s Hong Kong and includes a sequence on a sloping pedestrian street where a man passes a women walking in the opposite direction, the whole thing charged with a sense of romantic longing. There;’s a similar scene in No.7 Cherry Lane, although it’s considerably less central to the plot than the one in In The Mood For Love.

Yonfan, here making his first film in ten years, would certainly agree that filmic and literary references abound in the film.… 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.

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Features Live Action Movies

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 201m (263m)

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, August 10th 2020, 263m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 252m version released on DVD 2004.)

This review of the 201m theatrical version was originally published in Third Way.

A much shorter review appeared in What’s On In London.

A pre-screening article on The Lord Of The Rings appeared in Sussed in 2001.

Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings is a labour of love by a brilliant academic obsessed by myth and language better at creating an alternate world than at story construction. Nowhere in the trilogy is this more evident than in The Return Of The King. Frodo’s trip to Mount Doom to unmake Sauron’s One Ring builds up incredibly to a climactic pivotal event running little more than a paragraph. This is followed by another hundred pages or so tying up loose ends, including a sequence in which evil wizard Saruman turns the Shire into a post-industrial dictatorship that’s trivial compared with the geographic enormity of what has gone before.

Jackson and co-writers wisely omit that sequence; indeed, in its last weeks of post-production his The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King has chopped its scenes of Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengard – on the grounds that it slowed down the start.… Read the rest

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The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Extended Edition)

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Extended Edition)

Director – Peter Jackson – 2002 (2001) – New Zealand – Cert. PG – 229m

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, July 24th 2020, 227m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 218m version released on DVD 2004. Original theatrical cut: 178m)

It’s a very different thing writing about a new movie which you’re watching for the first time and an old movie with which you’re familiar. Even stranger when the movie concerned is an adaptation of a book with which you’re equally familiar. Odder still when the property exists in its original form (which was actually a side project of something else, Professor J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle-earth project) but also in a highly regarded 13 x 1 hour BBC radio adaptation skilfully adapted by Brian Sibley.

Although it’s Tolkien’s material, for me it’s as if The Lord Of The Rings existed somewhere out there and Tolkien wrote it down in book form (Where does artistic creativity come from? Discuss) after which Sibley successfully wrote it down in radio drama form and Jackson and his two screenwriting collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens turned it into a movie trilogy.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Invention For Destruction (Vynález Zkázy)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1958 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 82m

*****

Blu-ray/DVD on sale for a bargain £10/£5 until 21.07.2020 at Arrow Video’s Second Run Sale.

Review originally written as an entry for

the Aurum Film Encyclopedia: War (series editor: Phil Hardy).

Sadly, the book was never published.

Vynález Zkázy

aka

Invention For Destruction,

The Invention Of Destruction,

The Deadly Invention,

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961, US version)

KRATKY FILM PRAHA | STUDIO LOUTKOVYCH FILMU GOTTWALDOV

Feature length trickfilm adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Une Invention Diabolique is less about war itself than its causes – specifically scientists who work without regard for how their experimental research will be used by others. Professor Roche (Navrátil) is kidnapped from a sanitarium and taken by clipper (towed by a prototype submarine invisible from the surface) to the island of Back-Cup where mysterious captor Count Artigas (Holub) invites him to continue his research – a task the childlike scientist is happy to undertake. The professor’s travelling companion, research assistant and the film’s narrator Simon Hart (Tokos) wants by contrast to escape and warn the world of Artigan’s plans to attack using a giant gun.

Zeman shoots his film with an all-encompassing diversity of live action and animated techniques, mixing actors, natural history photography and studio sets (augmented by drawings of set sections matted into his locked-off frame) on the one hand with live action and stop-frame puppetry, animated models, drawings and any other method you care to name.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Journey To The Beginning Of Time (Cesta Do Pravěku)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1955 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. PG – 86m

*****

Blu-ray/DVD on sale for a bargain £10/£5 until 21.07.2020 at Arrow Video’s Second Run Sale.

I’ve written about the pioneering Czech director Karel Zeman in these pages before regarding his 1961 film The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (BD/DVD, cert U, 85 mins). The latest of his works to see a release in a beautifully restored version is 1955’s Journey To The Beginning Of Time (BD/DVD, cert PG, 86 mins) in which four young boys go back in time to find a trilobite and see numerous other prehistoric beasts on the way, realised by an astonishing array of animation and special effects techniques.

The film flows very naturally and has a commendable awe of the created world. The subtitled Czech version is the one to watch first. The disc also includes the surprisingly effective US dubbed version with its different opening sequence at the American Museum Of Natural History and a different closing sequence with stock footage of volcanoes and a gratuitous voice-over about the Genesis creation myth.

Trailer here:

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2019 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

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Animation Art Books Features Live Action Movies

Harryhausen The Lost Movies

There’s nothing else quite like the filmography of stop-frame animator and special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013). A new book, Harryhausen The Lost Movies, is an undeniable treasure trove for those familiar with his films, which include such gems as Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C. and incorporate fantastical, stop-frame animated creatures and additional bravura special effects into live-action movie narratives.

Compiled by documentary film maker and author John Walsh from over 50,000 items in the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation archive, this coffee-table book sets out to provide an overview of the film maker’s oeuvre through his various unmade projects, lavishly illustrated with photographs and drawings.

I review Harryhausen The Lost Movies for All The Anime.