Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review


Moonrise Kingdom was enchanting and lovely, but strangely juxtaposed with a serious atmosphere of two mentally troubled children as protagonists. Directed by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, it was almost slightly Dr Seuss-ish aesthetically with the bold block colours. Uncomfortable in places (I found it more than a little troubling to watch 12 year olds kissing and talking about erections in their underwear), quirky and pretty unpredictable in how funny it was. Unexpectedly violent at times, but humorously so.

Did everyone act well? I suppose so, yes, in a strangely monotonous way (bar Edward Norton). The cinematography and artistic elements were carefully and beautifully executed, as I'd heard they were. Particularly the scenery and the weather.But I did find the setting claustrophobic and oppressive at the same time in how tight knit the community was. Despite how idyllic everywhere looks, you wanted them to get away…

I also liked the ‘Coping With the Very Troubled Child’ book shot. Special mention to the kitten, I couldn’t control myself squealing when it came on screen. Some parts were surreal and made no sense (particularly the lightning teleportation), but I'm so pleased that no one died and nothing unpleasant happened to the kitten.

The soundtrack was amazing, particularly the main theme/score. Also, I found this film very inspirational for friendships/possibly future relationships… running away on adventures through forests and being artsy with people is the best. I have a real hankering to paint watercolours, put flowers in peoples' hair and send secret letters after seeing it.

As a film it was recommended as being cute, artsy, uplifting, and it definitely fit the bill.

Overall rating: 8/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Maleficent (2014) Review

Spoiler warning!


Maleficent was a truly brilliant film, a complete subversion of all the cliche Disney tropes. While I think she is a good actress from what I've seen (mainly being Girl, Interrupted and Salt), I wouldn't say Angelina Jolie's acting was phenomenal. But, they crafted a well thought out and sympathetic redeeming of Maleficent's character, and I'm not sure who, or how they could have done a better job theatrically. In comparison to Charlize Theron's evil queen from the Snow White and the Huntsman, aesthetically they are at a match - the costuming was beautiful. Particular moments that I thought were emotionally moving were both, the scene where Maleficent awoken to her wings having been taken, and also Jolie showed her resentment for the baby very well/humorously.

There is most often a good reason behind villainy that's always left not expanded upon. So, I've been looking forward to this film for some time, given it elaborates on Maleficent's previously very one dimensional back story. For the first of hopefully many more villain protagonist orientated films, this was delivered fantastically and fit in well with the original story canon. I don't buy the whole 'audience gain pleasure from familiarity', good vs. evil formula, which is why I often lean towards indie and horror in search of films. Not for predictability in genre, but for films from more obscure perspectives. Hannibal: the Beginning is a mediocre example of this.

The special effects in Maleficent were very LOTR-esque, I noticed, although very impressive (the light shooting up into the sky looked identical to Minas Morgul.)

The only element that caused internal debate for me was why the director chose to make Maleficent the one who decides to put Aurora in a death "sleep". Merryweather was the one who lessened the severity of the curse in the Disney version, and, if Maleficent's desire for vengeance was so strong, I don't think she would show King Stefan or his offspring any leniency. She originally wanted Aurora dead, right out. But then, I also agree with the concept that Maleficent's 'evil' nature and villainy is not as dichotomous as cinema portrays and she probably might have some compassion left to entertain toying with King Stefan. There's also the "true love doesn't exist" cynicism present to consider - much down to personal beliefs, but it certainly has a resonance in the context of the rest of the film. I also agree with Jolie's statement in one of her recent interviews with Buzzfeed, that innocent bystanders often taken the brunt of vendettas, and I personally would have liked to see King Stefan suffer more. Not his wife, or his child. The way Maleficent was portrayed as a guardian, or 'fairy godmother' given how inept the fairies were I found to be realistic and believable - I seem to remember the fairies as bumbling and irresponsible.

The overall tone was touching, and the readjustment of ideals in regards to 'happily-ever-after's', was a refreshing departure from stifling perspectives of one track formulas to happiness, and moral stereotypes of character. As argued in Gilbert & Gubar's 'Madwoman in the Attic' essay, the more breakthroughs regarding character tropes, the better, particularly with female characters and their fictional expectations. The subversion of 'true love's kiss' was fantastic. No, I don't believe this is pushing the lesbian front - I think the patriarchal damsel in distress and true love reliance concept is ridiculous. If love was ever at it's strongest or most sincere, it would be familial/maternal. While of course love isn't necessarily always present in a familial environment, but that brings us onto another debate entirely.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Friday, 30 May 2014

Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (2014) Review


The Wind Rises was a very engaging and moving film with a bittersweet ending, despite the fact I have no specific interest in planes and watched this film on recommendation. Not what I was expecting from the select films I had previously seen by Miyazaki. But then, I’m no die hard fan to make any real comparisons with all of his works. A friend of mine did note this was much more mature in content, how kiss scenes were featured and a very implicit reference to sex. I noticed it was much less whimsical and fantastical in nature compared to Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, (the latter only viewed in part, as I fell asleep). We also watched the dubbed version this time, as opposed to subbed - and the voice acting was better than I expected.

This film was apparently based on a true story and dedicated to an aircraft engineer who was an idol of Miyazaki’s. I found the tender moments in the film were created distressingly well, despite the fact it was animated - I’m sure quite a number of the people in the cinema were crying by the end. Felt a little bit cheated we didn’t see more development in the relationship between Jiro and Nahoko, the ending seemed quite abrupt. But I’m sure all that been garnered from drawing it out, is sadness. This negative feeling seemed to be deliberately (but not so successfully) countered by Caproni’s oddly upbeat last words in the final scene.

Ultimately the film had a… deeply sad resonance, Jiro seemed too absorbed in his work to truly value what time he had left with his fiancĂ©e. As with all Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises was wonderfully drawn and animated but it was a touching departure from the fantastical nature of his other works. To bring in another recent viewing, there was a similar lack of closure at the end of watching a recent screening of The Name of the Rose. The plot of the film was intertwined with/centred around Adso’s deep feelings for the peasant girl, her survival despite everything, only for him to only leave her behind at the end and never even learn her name. Cue renewed appreciation for cheesy Disney films and happy endings.

Overall rating: 6.5/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Le Roi et l'oiseau (1980) Review

Some of the fantastically surreal and egotistical aesthetics of the film, with the statues of the King.

Le Roi et l'oiseau, or, the King and the Mockingbird (or the Shepherdess and the Chimney-sweep), is a French 1980's animated film based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Given there is a robot involved for a good portion of the film, this did throw me off a bit as I'm quite sure there are no stories regarding robots written by him. This film was viewed on recommendation of a friend - primarily as not many films have taken my interest at the moment. So, instead of being exposed to nothing at all like a stubborn horror fan, I have elected to viewing recently a mix of innocently whimsical and general foreign cinema.
(Being located in York where an independent cinema is accessible has been really great for spontaneous film screenings of obscure animations and foreign film such as this, but, I shall get back to my review.)

The King and the Mockingbird was overwhelming and basic all at the same time as a narrative, given how extreme the events of the plot progressed to be. One segment included lions waltzing in couples to classical music, while a mockingbird convinced them why they should storm the king's castle for 'scaring away sheep'. Couple wants to fall in love without any issue, but the King gets in the way - there is the plot in it's entirety. Along with many other surreal elements, such as the real King being replaced with the portrait painting king (it's not explained what magic is existent in this world, but apparently portraits and statues can come to life). The Mockingbird serves as a gaudy and pantomime-ish narrator who lost his avian wife to the King's hunting habits.

This film was aesthetically seamless. Remote controlled thrones and motor thrones, everything was very rapidly paced and smooth sounding. The simplicity of the diegetic sound effects were very effective - which was shown particularly well in the opening scenes with the King on his throne and his dog.  It was also in a way, uncomfortably seamless, as heights and defiance of physics distress me (curiously), despite employing these aesthetics in my own artwork. Specifically, the King's rocket shaped lift that seemed to continue up without any overhead or substantial supports, like a scene from Where's Ruff's Bone. The Chimney Sweep and Shepherdess characters also had the same face, which was a little bit odd. I suppose the elements of the film were intentionally so ridiculous and exaggerated, it made you giddy. Along with how the King could re-position the trap door to dispose of whoever he wanted, wherever he wanted, in his fantastic palace towering up to the heavens.

The main protagonist I found to be gratingly gaudy and daft, "Don't worry children, daddy knows what he's doing", particularly in how he kept letting one of his children get caught in a trap repeatedly. The final image at the conclusion of the film, is strangely apocalyptic - the destroyed kingdom and barren lands left with the robot used to bring the palace down. There is no doubt, however, this film is intricately, carefully and beautifully animated in how elaborate the setting of the palace is, while the aesthetics are not appealing to me. I think this is vastly underrated and unknown as a children's animation (although, I agreed with my friend this might give anyone that age nightmares). Something that made me chuckle a fair bit was how emotive the lions' faces were, too. Supposedly this film was also one of many inspirations for Hayao Miyazaki and his films. Certainly an interesting watch.

Overall rating: 6/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Thursday, 22 May 2014

I racconto di Canterbury (1972) Review

At university, our module group this term recently got around to watching Pasolini's film adaptation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (very much for educational purposes). Let me tell you, it was shamelessly crass and far more ridiculous than I could ever have expected. I am quite sure everyone was in shock by the end. There was a lot of nudity, which was expected, as the book seems highly sex orientated from what I’d read already. Even the cinematography was oversexualised (particularly the shots of Damian at the feast as he is looking at May) as we analysed in depth for our practice presentation. The overall tone of the film was surreal, lingered on uncomfortable moments with close up shots such as January with his filthy laughter, and mischievously humoured. The January and May segment I thought was the most accurately portrayed to my own envisioning given the cold colour scheme and stony interiors of January's castle (I'd imagine this was possibly reflective of his own impotence contrasted with the warmth of the garden outside).  

Moving on, however, I must confess. When I read in the credits Tom Baker starred in this film, I wasn't exactly prepared for seeing full frontal nudity of him in The Wife of Bath segment, and even now it has burned into my nightmares. Curiously the film is set and filmed in England, the majority of the actors are English, and yet everyone is dubbed over in Italian.

Now if any of you have seen this film already, you will know the end segment is the most visually impacting, where we are taken to a surreal version of hell with multi-coloured winged demons. One is farting out friars from a gigantic anus for an extended period of time (apparently this was in the Friar’s Tale but I hadn’t got around to reading that part yet). Notably, I found this was very much like the animated sequences from Monty Python's the Holy Grail - which similarly are surreal and silly, incorporating medieval artistic elements/illustrations.

But, I racconto di Canterbury didn’t really have the aesthetics I imagined. Some parts did, but on the whole, the mise en scene possessed a very 70's vibe. Particularly some of the haircuts/costume choices for some of the characters. I thought the setting would be more… medieval and darker? than it was. As another observation in regards to differences to the book, It’s also noted the gay sex scene following a subsequent execution by fire on a griddle was an addition by Pasolini, not in the book (supposedly reflective of his own personal life and scandals). Overall I found the film aesthetically did not live up to my expectations (we argued if the stylistic elements of this adaptation were an anachronism), but it was certainly an interesting and memorable take on a good book.

Overall rating: 7/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Crispin Glover's Big Slide Show + Everything is Fine Review

On Sunday 4th of May at the Picturehouse in Liverpool, I finally got to meet one of my long time role models and inspirations, Crispin Hellion Glover (starring in Rubin & Ed, Willard, the new remake of Alice in Wonderland, Charlie's Angels etc.). The evening consisted of a screening of Everything is Fine, a run through of Crispin’s Big Slide Show plus a Q&A session and book signing. The whole event lasted in total, about four hours.

The Big Slide Show was a medley of most of Crispin’s written works. It was very disjointed, surrealistic, and seesawing between hysterical and unsettling. I found sections of Oak Mot to be quite unnerving, particularly with the section emphasising on the characters' hands. Crispin's delivery of the slide show I have to commend as it moved everyone to laughter on several occasions, and produced quite a range of emotions. Concrete Inspection was very funny, as was It's an Egg Farm. Another part I found to be excellently delivered was the book (sadly I can't remember the name) regarding a protagonist going to be tried at court after feeding a young boy to a snake.

Crispin’s stories seem to be derived from pre existing novels/instruction manuals. He looks to have blocked out sections of writing to deconstruct/create something entirely new, and drawn over macabre illustrations throughout blocks of text. Someone in the audience made a comparative to Winnie the Pooh with Oak Mot, but I’ve yet to see what the similarities are yet.

Everything is Fine wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, and was far more pornographically explicit than Crispin’s other works that I’ve seen. In hindsight, I think I would have much preferred seeing What is it? given it seemed to have far more focus on artistic elements, as opposed to extensive gratuitous shots of female anatomy. I’m sure there’s some sort of legal implication with showing direct penetration in film? Anyway, in short Everything Is Fine was quite uncomfortable viewing and probably wasn’t the most suitable or relevant way to address society’s lack of questioning in terms of what is taboo, and how it should make us feel.

The Q&A session was helpful in terms of answering my only lingering question, why subtitles weren’t used despite the protagonist being difficult to understand. That was primarily as it would detract away from the notion of the film being a fantasy, and Paul's desire to be easily understood. Crispin went into a lot of dialogue about the background of the film, about the actor Steve who played the protagonist Paul and how he had died shortly after completion of filming. In terms of the film, I personally didn’t really take much from it other than thinking it could have been more substantial story wise. The film, however, was written by Steve, and was in essence a fantasy of his. So I don't particularly attribute this work to Crispin's own personal creativity, or in a negative way. Although it does reflect his more unusual interests blending both controversial imagery and mental/physical disabilities.

I did manage to ask Crispin about who his inspirations were when he was playing the character Rubin Farr. Which, I seem to remember him focusing on the actual look of Rubin which he conceptualised himself, and it sounded to be for another project at the same time he was doing Back to the Future - but it never panned out? And it then became the character of Rubin Farr. However, since I didn’t take down notes I can’t give a solid statement about this.

Crispin himself was disarmingly calm and friendly in person, seemed very interested in his fans which I really admire, and it was amazing to meet him. Despite the feature film not really appealing to my… constitution, I remain a big fan of his writings, aesthetics and art, and his quirkier (non pornographic) films. I managed to buy Oak Mot and got it signed, so I will get around to reviewing that individually at some point.

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Tomie Review (1999)

The other week, I watched Tomie (albeit, half distractedly), and these are my observations of what I did pay attention to. The narrative began very disjointedly, and it was hard to get one's head around until nearer to the end. Comparatively, Audition did a far more successful job of piecing together a confusing story, while maintaining tension. There was definitely a token character in there with her breasts out to reign everyone's attention back in, somewhere near the middle of the film. Well, it was either that or the token lesbian scene. Oh wait, there's both.

Now, I am a big fan of Junji Ito's works, particularly Tomie and Uzumaki. However, I have not read either of each series in their entirety. In Tomie's defense I found it very likely, possibly for safety, that Tomie turned out to be lesbian (or at least leaning towards being) as a character. I can't quite put my finger on whether I believe she has emotions or not, but she certainly has weaknesses in terms of her powers causing men (mostly, anyway) to overpower her in their insanity. As far as casting goes, the actress playing Tomie looked... unusual, but the eyes were absolutely perfect. When I think about the scene where Tomie is trying to force feed Tsukiko cockroaches, I felt she lacked the threatening presence/unnerving quality Tomie might have.

Some further observations I made were, the soundtrack at times was extremely quirky and synthy, and reminded me distinctly of the soundtrack of Rubin and Ed. I found the track in particular, Funhouse 2 by World Famous, a Japanese electronic project.  The psychiatrist in the film also carried a very important message. Went along these lines; if you have a past that's a little less agreeable than you'd like, it's behind you and it's only 'your annoying self' left keeping you there. Wise words. However, in the context of the film I feel that it was somewhat ruthless.

Overall Tomie was vaguely interesting, but a bit slap dash and the story did not come together as well as I thought it could have. As a film, it also lacked the eeriness, hysteria and artistic quality of a Junji Ito manga, which Uzumaki seemed to preserve to some extent. This is the kind of project I'd expect to have careful attention paid to artistic direction when translating it into film, given the manga has a very surreal, Gothic and unnerving atmosphere. Could have been done better.

Overall rating: 4/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Horror Stories 2 (2013) Review

Horror Stories 2 is a Korean film directed (primarily) by Min Kyu Dong, consisting of 4 separate horror shorts, very similar to the narrative and style of V/H/S. The first story, 'The Cliff' involving a climbing accident (inspired by a webtoon by Oh Seung-dae) the second, 'The Accident', involving the car crash of three schoolgirls who fail their exams, and the final story 'The Escape', which depicts a version of a popular urban myth in Japan, Another World. These stories are all ventured into by a woman who can contact the dead, who is delving into fraudulent insurance claim cases. Numerous times I've heard that the original Horror Stories is much better, which I shall have to verify at some point.

With Horror Stories 2, I'm quite sure I didn't misinterpret the jovial atmosphere the film has. Especially in The Escape, as the apparent humour was what I perceived to be quite whimsical in its exaggerated nature. Particularly the genitals censored with an emoticon, as shown below. Also, how Byeong-shin shuffles away with his pants around his ankles back to the toilet, (and his general facial expressions throughout the short) after discovering the nature of his family in the alternate universe.

The deepened demonic voices seemed to have a quality of silliness to them too, as demonstrated by the Alternate World mother and the demon woman that came into the lift. While the imagery is no doubt horrific, the ghosts and creatures encountered definitely look nightmare worthy, there is certainly some gleefulness to be taken from these episodes. For example, I found something of a giddy tension during the narrow escape with the family peering in at the window. And how the guilty is taken revenge upon in The Cliff, where we may have first sympathised with the guilty character in question.

On first impression, the emphasis on Snickers bars I thought to be a very obvious and (perhaps) unintentionally amusing focus on product placement at the start of The Cliff. Well, at least the focus on Canon camera directly after the chocolate bar close ups reinforced this idea for me, as opposed to foreboding. Given the mutual fascination with foreign chocolate and sweets every country seems to have, it's hard to tell. Stylistically, segments of The Cliff were very reminiscent of V/H/S in found footage style, especially in the initial montage. The Cliff is in fact the most serious and engaging story of the three, and does convey quite a lot of agitated tension and desolation very well.

The Accident had, more or less, a very predictable twist. This was the least impressive and eventful of the three stories, especially in comparison to The Escape. The Escape was a dramatic ride from start to finish with progressively more insane feats and tasks. Which, despite his horrific trials and unfortunate end, you can't help but laugh at how impossible the notion of escape transpires to be for the protagonist. As is with all horror films, plus the exposition provided that the dead are being communicated with, the protagonists are all inevitably doomed.  Horror Stories 2 does a satisfactory job of elaborating on the fateful journeys in between, in a somehow tastefully ridiculous way. There was nothing I noticed artistically that was noteworthy, by way of soundtrack or cinematography like in Sick Nurses or Tomie (which I also watched recently). However, I thought the film was reasonably well put together, quirky, didn't drag in terms of narrative, and there was a fair share of frightening monsters despite the light-hearted tone. In fact, I sought out this film based on this gif. Creepy indeed.

Overall rating: 5.5/10
Humor value: 6/10

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Review (2013)

First of all, I have a few main issues to address with the Hobbit trilogy as a whole. Whatever features I previously had reservations regarding in An Unexpected Journey, has blossomed into something much worse, while the emphasis on the higher frame rate has been relinquished. Worse, to the degree I would not watch the Desolation of Smaug again, nor entertain seeing the third installment of the trilogy.

It disappointed me greatly to see yet another contrived blockbuster romance between Kili and Tauriel, where it needn’t exist. The almost exact similarities between the Aragorn/Arwen romance in LOTR indicates to me Peter Jackson is attempting to extract a serious trilogy of LOTR proportions, which is far darker than the Hobbit’s original tone.

Evangeline Lily, I've seen somewhere, floating about in a gifset on tumblr, attempting to justify her role as feminist. She states that young women should at least see one woman on screen in 9 hours of entertainment. My response to this is – if you want to represent women ‘correctly’, play a character who is either;

a) Not fitting the stereotype of every bloody female in a blockbuster role serving as soppy romance fodder

b) Actually canon

c) Remember that Galadriel already featured before your character, a non-canon character who was implemented into the plotline purely for commercial success

d) 9 hours is simply not justified by the Hobbit in the first place.

Can I also mention in the heave worthy scene between Tauriel saving Kili (while he was lying on a pillow of... walnuts) that the blade, a Morgul blade, would not have just casually been in the hands of an Orc to carry around. The notion in itself is preposterous, they belong the the Nazgul. And chronologically (in the film) they had all gone missing from their tombs by this time... surely by logic, they would have acquired their weapons anyway? I also love how Tauriel took credit from Bofur and took the Kingsfoil as if she just went and retrieved it herself... you know, maybe Bofur wanted to apply it to his wound.

Dialogue was recycled heavily from both Lord of the Rings, and from the previous Hobbit film, and also I am sure Azog mentioned “We are legion”. Ugh. No one who is interested in the franchise will need memos or extensive exposition on what happened in the last film - put some effort into the script.

Pretty much all the characters focused on deviate away from any actual canon material in the book. Radagast, Tauriel, Azog? Legolas? These people were not even present in the book, certainly not main focuses, even mentioned about except once in total in Azog's and Radagast's case. Inconsistencies with cinematography were shockingly obvious, during the barrel scene there were segments which looked as if they were done on a camcorder.

The Necromancer scene where Gandalf was captured was nothing short of embarrassing (as a fan of Sauron, anyway). In case you didn't comprehend the fact the Necromancer was Sauron, the technique of repeatedly zooming on his silhouette outlined in fire (to comical effect) was implemented, then closely on Gandalf’s mouth as he says ‘SAURON’ with the most emphasis he can muster. I must note, there is not a chance Gandalf could withstand fighting Sauron. So the light orb sequence was also pretty much impossible in being canon. Let alone the fact this wasn't in the book at all.
The exposition was awfully over exaggerated.
As were Thorin and Thranduil’s odd dramatics. It was during the capture of the party in Mirkwood Thorin's character really shines as being awful. It bugs me that the focus of the film is primarily on him. He disregards Bilbo's life and then expects him to save them after he disrespects Thranduil (just as an example). Nice.

On the plus side, I was happy finally to see Smaug, even though it took an entire year longer than expected. Since he fits the tedious stereotypes of ‘excessive monologues are my undoing’ villain, I immediately became very tired of the fact Smaug hadn’t already fried everyone, following Thorin calling him fat. The plotline feels as if it’s just doing the motions. In fact, I can say that for general cinema, I look forward to Maleficent being in the cinemas and seeing a film from the villain’s perspective for a change. Some parts of the film made me laugh, either from how ridiculous certain aspects were, such as Thorin walking away calmly after having his back totally set ablaze by Smaug. but in particular in Mirkwood (generic fight sequences aside) where the dwarves lost their own purses and were losing their minds, I thought was very well acted.

Overall rating: 3/10. Sorry to all of you who are fans. This film is just a testament to how untrue and sacrilegious to the original source material becomes, for the sake of commercial success.

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.