Saturday, 5 July 2008

FILM: Wall-E

Who woulda thunk that the big Disney film of the summer would offer a genuinely touching love story, rampant satire on such subjects as big business, commercialism and obesity, and offer one of the most awe-inspiring and depressing visions of the future? But then again, this is Pixar, and after Ratatouille dispelled my personal concerns they'd lost their touch (the likes of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles left me cold), Wall-E far exceeded my expectations.

Andrew Stanton's film follows the titular robot, the last of his kind, who has spent the last several centuries clearing up the waste mankind left behind on planet Earth before hot-footing it into space until the cleaning operation is complete (as indicated by some hilarious live-action commercials dotted around the skyscrapers of garbage). Wall-E spends his time compacting and stacking rubbish but, having developed a personality over time, also collects various intriguing nick-nacks and trinkets. Alone on the whole planet, save for an indestructible cockroach, his life is changed when a new high-tech robot, EVE, arrives, and he is instantly smitten. And from that initial encounter begins a bizarre but touching love story before EVE returns to outer space with Wall-E in tow...

It seems the big animation studios have reached a level of technical expertise that means they are no longer playing a game of visual effects oneupmanship, but whereas the likes of Dreamworks relies on big name stars, goofy gags and pop culture references, Pixar stands out from the competition thanks to the wonderful mature story-telling and surprising emotional involvement for a tale ostensibly of a couple of robots. Its not the case where the makers feel like they have to crowbar jokes in for the grown-ups while the kids are enveloped in the garish lunacy and fart noises - Wall-E is universal entertainment of the highest order.

Everything about this film works - the characters, the settings, the narrative drive, the visuals. Perhaps there is a little too much to-ing and fro-ing, it sometimes veers into convention and predictability, and the shift in the story and location may not appeal to those expecting a more abstract experience (as perhaps the trailers may have indicated), but whichever way you cut it - sci-fi epic, romance, action-adventure, slapstick comedy, dark satire - it manages to trump other films, live-action or animated, that purport to even cover one, even two, of those genres. Plus the traditional short animation before the main feature is perhaps the best one yet, brimming with a madcap energy and ingenuity of the very best Looney Tunes shorts. Truly, Pixar spoil us so very much.


Sunday, 8 June 2008


Nearly a decade on, the impact of The Blair Witch Project continues apace with the P.O.V./mockumentary format for horror films especially popular as a cinematic device at the moment, with the likes of Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and now this Spanish flick. But, just as was proved with Blair Witch, a smaller tighter film can make an even bigger splash than its blockbuster brothers, and it is testament to [●REC]'s brilliance that it manages to trump similarly gimmicked pictures of a higher profile and/or from respected masters of their craft. And mark my words, it is one of the best horror films of the decade.

The set-up is simple: local TV presenter Angela (Manuela Valesco) and cameraman Pablo follow a crew of firemen on their night shift. But when they are called to an apartment building, it rapidly becomes clear that this is not an ordinary call-out. Soon, the whole building is sealed off and quarantined, the residents start to panic, the terror builds and builds, and the camera keeps rolling. And therein lies the key aspect to the film's success, in that directors Juame Balagueró and Paco Plaza utilise every trick at their disposal that the fourth-wall breaking camera perspective offers: characters react differently to the intrusion of being filmed, the sound and lighting are crucial mechanics in building atmosphere and tension, and with the one lens the only view available to the audience, we are forced to see what our cameraman sees and venture where he goes, whether we want to or not.

Being as self-contained as it is, the film accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve in its lean running time, with an entertaining opening establishing the nature of the original TV programme and a midway pause for interviews with the residents providing welcome humour and lightness to the otherwise dark and intense horror. And while it takes a little while to get going, once it kicks off, it really kicks off, with the last half-hour in particular offering a barrage of unrelenting thrills and supsense few films achieve in their entire running time. It is kudos to the cast (in particular, the wonderful Valesco) that the fear remains palpable and the terror believable. And as the true nature of the chaos is gradually revealed, [●REC] is elevated to exceptional status.

No horror film since Ringu has left as indelible impression on my mind as [●REC]. And as the experience will no doubt be diluted by the upcoming sequel (from the original makers) and American remake (with the more generic title of Quarantine, complete with spoilerific trailer, though with the likeable Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter in the lead role), anyone with even the slightest interest in horror is strongly advised to catch [●REC] as soon as possible, in all its raw, disturbing and thrilling glory.


> > > Official Site, IMDb

Sunday, 16 March 2008

FILM: Son of Rambow

2008 may very well be the year in which the main cinematic trend was in putting the camera in the hands of the characters, for them to document (Cloverfield), to make movies of their own (Be Kind Rewind), or do a bit of both (Diary of the Dead). So, from creative duo Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith (aka Hammer & Tongs - music video directors and the team behind the big screen The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) comes Son of Rambow - arriving off the back of Sylvester Stallone's own fourth outing as the (almost) titular character. You couldn't really have picked better timing.

It's the early 80's, and a chance encounter between young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), from a deeply religious family of Plymouth Brethren members, and school tearaway Lee Carter (Will Poulter) leads them into an unlikely friendship of sorts. When Lee enlists Will to become the stuntman in the film he's making for BBC's children show Screen Test, a chance viewing of a bootlegged copy of First Blood sets Will's fervent imagination alight and so begins the filming of 'Son of Rambow'. But religious commitments, bullying brothers and the arrival of the French exchange students, notably the super-cool Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk), threaten the shoot - will the Son of Rambow get the bad guys and ever rescue his father?

As with the aforementioned Be Kind Rewind, Son of Rambow is not a straightforward film parody; while the big laughs are similarly found in the moviemaking process, Jennings understands just like Michel Gondry that a 90 minute YouTube pisstake does not a good film make, and what Son of Rambow pulls off is building up the touching relationship between the two main protagonists. Both Milner and Poulter live their roles, delivering fine complimentary performances that allow them to behave just like, well, kids (rather than the wooden cue-carding or creepy adult-like delivery of other child actors). And while there are the inevitable dips into the formulaic (the customary falling-out, the confrontations between religious values and just being a kid, dealing with family problems), they mostly manage to steer away from the saccharine sickliness of many a Hollywood effort.

But where it best succeeds is in recreating the combined thrill and tedium of your childhood years: watching films you were far too young to see, sitting through seemingly endless Geography lessons, the countless near-death/serious injury dares and stunts you pulled. The film's best scenes are saved for Didier and his amassed posse of younger wannabes (think Rufio and The Lost Boys from Hook), leading to a chance visit to the sixth-form common room, a fantasy nightclub of Depeche Mode dance routines, popping candy and Coca-Cola combinations and temporary tattoos. When Didier volunteers himself to become the star of our heroes' film, it's both strangely beautiful and downright hilarious.

With so much going on with periphery characters hither and thither and the backstories for both Will and Lee to be thoroughly explored, there are times when the narrative leaps about just a little too much during its rather short running time (at least in this day and age), but it doesn't collapse under its own ambitions thanks to spirited performances, ceaselessly creative sequences and its genial feel-good nature. Jennings' eye for cinema has been well-honed throughout his career, but for only his second feature film, he displays a heart and joyful playfulness that shows real confidence in the material (loosely based as it is on his own personal experiences growing up).

It's perhaps the most accurate portrayal of kids as they really are (cussing, obnoxious, violent; but still just kids) since The Goonies, and deserves to be a big family film hit - only the most uptight and ignorant of parents would prevent their tykes from seeing children their same age swearing and getting into scrapes like they no doubt do every day. Perhaps it would make a good double bill with This is England? Or Rambo? Either way, it comes highly recommended. Skills.


> > > Official Site, IMDb