Archive for the Fantasy Category

Maleficent

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 5, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Robert Stromberg.
Screenplay: Linda Woolverton.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Kenneth Carnham, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt.

I had wings once, and they were strong. But they were stolen from me

Better known for his visual effects supervision on such films as “Life of Pi“, or more significantly, as production designer on “Oz: The Great And Powerful” and winning consecutive Oscars for “Avatar” and “Alice In Wonderland“, Robert Stromberg now delves into his first directorial outing with a reimagining of the classic fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty“. Much like the aforementioned “Oz“, the characters from this well known children’s story are playfully recreated in a lush and involving fantasy and with Stromberg’s expertise who better to take us on that journey?!…

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The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on January 9, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellan, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, James Nesbitt, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Sylvester McCoy, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Cate Blanchett.

Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous…

Now a year down the line, the residing question of whether Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt “The Hobbit” into a trilogy was a wise choice or not, has become a little easier to answer. I’d have to say, that he can probably feel somewhat vindicated as his vision seems to be working. That being said, there’s still an abundance of padding and repetition going on in this second instalment – just as there was in the first – but Jackson has definitely improved here by ironing out the creases a little more.

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Big Trouble In Little China * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70′s & 80′s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouth, wise-cracking truck driver, who, while helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find his kidnapped girlfriend, is drawn into a world of centuries old Chinese mythology. Not before long, he’s battling evil spirits and two thousand year old sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) intent on lifting an ancient curse and ruling the universe.

When released in 1986, Big Trouble In Little China received a very poor reception amongst cinema goers. It was a box-office bomb which greatly harmed the reputation of Carpenter (he went back to making independent films after this) and, to some extent, it’s star Russell. The fault of this doesn’t lie at their feet, though, but actually at the feet of the studio who simply didn’t know how to market it. In some ways, this is understandable as the film refuses to be pigeonholed. In the same breath, it can classed as a Kung Fu movie, a Western, a Fantasy, a Horror and a Romance. In essence, it’s all of these things and it’s also not without moments of Comedy. Carpenter delivers an unashamed homage to B-movie filmmaking and incorporates everything he possibly can. This may not work for some but over the years, this has gained a strong cult following, of which, I’m proud to say I’m a member. It has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek and it’s aided immeasurably by Kurt Russell’s riotously entertaining surrogate of John Wayne. His performances have rarely been pitched better or his lines as endlessly quotable. Russell’s embodiment of Jack Burton has to be one of the most enjoyable and buffoonish characters that cinema has to offer and had the studio had their way, it would have been Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson in the role. Thankfully though, it wasn’t, as Russell absolutely nails it – in a style not unlike both of the aforementioned actors – and he and Carpenter skilfully orchestrate their gags on the cultural differences between the East and the West. Burton is very much like Indiana Jones (minus the intellect), as he battles his way through an underworld of the fantastical and the magical where he crosses paths with demonic and monstrous adversaries. If the film sounds over-the-top, that’s because it is, but it’s also a highly imaginative and energetic crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully witty and adventurous, and one that sees Carpenter at his most gleefully entertaining. He crafts just the right balance of humour and action and his abilities to turn on the horror aren’t amiss either.

Mark Walker

Spirited Away * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on September 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong.

Having co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 and directed 11 films himself, the highly unique animator Hayao Miyazaki has unfortunately announced his retirement. The forthcoming “The Wind Rises” will be his last venture, so it now seems like a good time to look back at arguably his best film.

Chihiro is a 10 year old girl who is moving to a new neighbourhood when her father decides to take a short cut and gets the family lost in an abandoned theme park. Helping themselves to food that’s on display, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and it soon becomes clear that they have stumbled into an alternate reality. Chihiro is then forced to find a way to free herself and her parents and find a way back to the human world.

Quite simply, Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” is a triumphant, fantastical, masterclass. Not only is his hand drawn animation as gorgeously refined and refreshing as ever, but his storytelling incorporates everything from the mythical to the magical, taking us on a truly breathtaking visual and intelligent journey. As his later film “Ponyo” would channel the likes of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid“, here, Miyazaki has undoubtedly crafted his version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and it’s in this similar realm of imagination that he is able to flourish. We are introduced to a myriad of fantastical figures from Gods, Spirits and Witches to a Sea Dragon, an enormous baby and strange little coal miners, known as “Sootballs”. Despite the rich hand drawn animation, though, it’s not all played for fun. It’s a rights-of-passage tale about the progression of a child to adulthood while finding the time to comment on the economic downturn of Japan and the increasing loss of it’s culture to the western world. It’s this very complexity that makes this Miyazaki’s near masterpiece. The only issue with the film is that it’s overlong, resulting in periodic disengagement – especially for younger viewers. It’s runs just over the two hour mark and this is with several parts of the story cut out- the original version of Miyazaki’s story would have run over the three hour mark. That being said, this is still one of animation’s true classics and thoroughly deserving of it’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002.

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A breathtaking tour de force from one of the finest and most imaginative storytellers that animation has ever seen. Sadly, there will only be one more outing from Miyazaki but thankfully we’ve had to the pleasure to enter into his creative genius at all. Such accomplished cinematic experiences will be sadly missed.

Mark Walker

Waking Life * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Fantasy on July 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, David Sosa, Alex Jones, Otto Hofmann, Lorelei Linklater, Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater has always been an interesting director; he’s ranged from his debut independant hit “Slacker” to refreshing 70′s nostalgia in “Dazed and Confused”, through anti-corporate polemic “Fast Food Nation” and cult sci-fi “A Scanner Darkly”. He’s effortless in his range and always involving, but none more so than this unsung gem.

A young man (Wiley Wiggins) walks through life as if in a dream. He talks to a variety of people about the meaning of life and the purpose of the universe, striving for answers as to his direction and his place in the cosmos.

Waking Life is the type of film that’s hard to put into words. The striking visuals are most certainly noteworthy and Linklater’s exploration of the bigger questions in life will only appeal to those who invest and bring something to the film themselves. It has many insightful philosophical ramblings and monologues on the nature of our existence; the purpose of our being; the difference between our dream state and waking life; whether dreams can be controlled and how much they have to tell us.
Using an animation technique called ‘rotoscoping’ – which he later used to equally excellent effect in “A Scanner Darkly” – Linklater works with a medium that allows him to fully explore his ideas and theories in capturing a perfect representation of the dream world and has crafted a highly innovative and wonderfully surreal piece of work. Throughout the journey he discusses essays by paranoid science-fiction writer and philospher Philip K. Dick to lucid dreaming and poses deeply involving existential questions. These questions are never answered fully, teasing us to get involved in the process, question ourselves and become part of the protagonists hallucinogenic, dreamlike trip.

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A very intriguing and visually inventive film that isn’t afraid to wear it’s philosophical heart on it’s sleeve. Rarely are such movies delivered where they appeal to both the eye and the head. An existential treat.

Mark Walker

In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Pan’s Labyrinth * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War with tags on March 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece.

Following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves to a rural town with her pregnant mother (Ariadne Gil) to live with her Fascist military stepfather (Sergi López) who is determined to weed out resistance fighters to Franco’s dictatorship. It’s in this remote town that Ofelia meets a faun in the centre of a labyrinth who tells her that she is a princess. However, to claim her rightful place in this magical land she must perform certain gruesome tasks to prove her royalty.

It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.
To embody the young protagonist, we are gifted an outstanding performance from Ivana Baquero who carries a heavy weight on her young shoulders and does so, with a skill beyond her years. Sergi Lopez also provides marvellous support as the bestial Captain Vidal who’s a smouldering villain that’s on a par with any of the war genre’s nastiest characters.
It’s very difficult to find criticism in this film as there simply, isn’t any. The only one that stands out is in the film’s title. It’s slightly misleading as “Pan” never actually features here. The original international title translates as “Labyrinth of the Fuan” which is probably the most pedantic gripe you’ll ever hear from me.

A stunning piece of work that’s both beautifully and horrifically executed. Modern masterpiece is a term that gets brandished around too often these days but this is one that’s certainly deserving of such praise.

Mark Walker

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy with tags on March 15, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elijah Wood.

When news of an adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived, I have to admit that I was very eager to see it move along briskly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Production was so slow that original director Guillermo del Toro had to leave due to other commitments. Although this was disappointing news, all was not lost as “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson returned to the helm to assume control of this prequel. Expectations were high and it left the overhanging question as to whether he could emulate his past successes. Well, it’s certainly not without it’s flaws but again Jackson has delivered another indulgent cinematic experience from the treasured quill of Tolkien’s world.

The Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor has been taken over by the fearsome dragon, Smaug and a plan is set to reclaim it and the treasures lost. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit who finds himself thrust into this quest on the recommendation of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Smaug is not the only thing that stands in their way, though; a malevolent presence is at work in middle-earth which could affect all of them.

After a brief introduction to the plight of the dwarves and a devastating introduction to the dragon Smaug, we are taken straight back to the Shire where the whole story of the Hobbit adventures originated. It’s here that we’re reminded of the twee environment in which these little halfling’s reside and with Jackson calling the shots, you know straight away that you are in comfortable hands. Gandalf and Bilbo’s first meeting is addressed and the rest of the main characters are rounded up before the film begins it’s “unexpected journey”. When I say this, though, it sounds like the film gets straight down to business and gets the formalities out the way. It doesn’t. Jackson takes his time in establishing the set-up and he chooses to flesh out every detail. As a result, it becomes apparent that the film isn’t flowing as easily as it could do. Things do pick up, though, and it’s very difficult not to get swept up in the sheer visual masterclass that’s delivered before your eyes. It’s absolutely breathtaking to observe and none more so, than when Jackson begins to deliver his highly impressive, action set-pieces. From a confrontation with campfire Trolls to battling Rock monsters and giant sweeping eagles, they’re all absolutely astounding and thrillingly executed. However, despite the excitement, what these moments lack is the ability to feel like the characters are in any real danger. Maybe this is because I had read the book beforehand or maybe it’s because the set-pieces only served to instil some excitement before taking a break and doing it all over again. There is a feeling of repetition to the film and, dare I say it, a feeling of tediousness. Jackson’s decision to flesh out this short children’s novel into a trilogy of films – that will no doubt run between two and three hours each – seems wholly unnecessary but I suppose time will tell on that. As it is, though, this film is certainly overlong and it, simply, didn’t need to be. Some scenes are laborious and you can’t help but get the feeling that Jackson should just move it along. On the other hand, I found it hard to deny how much fun I was having. Much like “The Lord of the Rings“, it’s aided by very strong performances; McKellen is his usual reliable self as Gandalf and although I wasn’t convinced with the choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I have to admit that he slotted in very well indeed. As for the dwarves, well, out of the whole thirteen of them, only a handful actually stand out. The one that really rises to the surface is that of Thorin Oakenshield and Richard Armitage plays him to perfection – channeling an Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen charismatic presence. He’s so commanding that it’s hard to accept that he’s only a dwarf. Another highlight from the performances is seeing Andy Serkis reprise his role of Gollum. Once again, the go-to guy for motion capture brings this complex little character to life.
The ingredients are all here and it certainly looks like there’s more mileage in these characters yet. I just hope that Jackson knows when to trim the edges next time round.

A little less plodding and bit more urgency will be required for the second instalment if this trilogy is to truly find it’s feet. That being said, it finishes strongly and if Jackson can keep that momentum going then this could yet turn out to be a very successful return to middle-earth.

Mark Walker

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Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on February 21, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgees, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Keith David, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou, Gary McCormack, David Mitchell.

Recently, Yann Martel’s novel “Life Of Pi” made it to the silver screen after an exemplary adaptation by director Ang Lee. However, the novel itself had been deemed ‘unfilmable’ beforehand. There are many literary works that have come under this assumption and David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas is another. The reception of this film has been very mixed but, give or take, the odd discrepancy and noodle scratching moment, this is an impressively successful endeavour that proves, once again, that the ability to transfer page to screen is entirely possible and vibrantly alive.

1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home, fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that leads to the cosmos…
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with one another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.

What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That’s exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular, hugely ambitious and visual, storytelling adventure. It’s so vast and labyrinthine that it’s hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It’s difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that’s going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life’s conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it’s entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it’s elaborate tapestry but it’s a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second – throughout it’s almost three hour long running time – then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it’s been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film’s for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.

I don’t know why I’d choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until – aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again… Catch ya further on down the trail“.

Mark Walker

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Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Fantasy with tags on December 21, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Benh Zeitlin.
Screenplay: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander.

2012 has been a bit of an underwhelming year at the movies for me. So many films have promised so much, yet failed to deliver. It’s encouraging though, that one of the art-house films of the year comes along and restores your faith in creative and original cinema. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” is exactly that type of film.

Based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar, this tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) a philosophical little girl who lives in a rundown Louisiana town called “The Bathtub”. It’s a bayou steeped in poverty, yet brings a certain freedom to the villagers. Their freedom is compromised though, when a storm floods the entire area and kills the livestock, forcing the community to flee their homes in search of pastures new.

As we are introduced to our young protagonist Hushpuppy, we see her building a nest for a bird and before long we witness her holding small chicks to her ear to hear their heartbeat. In her own words “Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.” This is a child that’s completely in touch with nature. It’s this very understanding and connection with nature that makes her such a sweet and appealing character and one that’s a real pleasure to share her journey with. That journey takes shape in her struggle for survival and a sense of belonging, as her home is destroyed in a storm, leading her on her life-affirming travels that address the nature of family, community and the refusal to be defeated or succumb to the norm. This is a film about culture and the automatic assumption that those who live a different lifestyle (even impoverished) need to be helped or changed into a mainstream or industrialised way of living. Ultimately though, it’s a right-of-passage story about bravery and survival and an allegory for climate change.
It’s strikingly shot throughout with the camera rarely staying still, adding that all important, stark sense of realism, required for the material. This is a film that’s filmed from a child’s eye view and young Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only 5 years old at the time of filming) is absolutely outstanding in the lead role. This young, untrained, actress should not be overlooked when the awards are being dished out. Fine support also comes from Dwight Henry as her defiant, stoic and seemingly harsh father Wink. To think that these two performers had never actually acted before is astonishing. They both deliver some of the best work all year. There are also shades of director Terrence Malick (“The Tree Of Life“) and his fascination with flora and fauna and it also adopts his scrutiny of such things. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin who’s not afraid to infuse his story with surreal and highly effective visual moments of mythical wild aurochs who pursue Hushpuppy on her travels. It manages that rare ability to balance fantasy and reality and does so with such poetic flair. There was a moment in the film where I thought it was losing it’s way and rushing towards it’s conclusion but this was short-lived; it soon got back on track and finished with absolute aplomb.
Throughout the soulful journey, we get to know and love Hushpuppy and in her moment of self-assurance she informs us “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub“… How could we ever forget?

Heartwarming, uplifting and not without it’s moments of pathos. This is a film of purity and truth and one of the years very best.

Mark Walker

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