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Rango

Rango

I think Johnny Depp's aging okay, for such an old man

dir: Gore Verbinski

I guess it was inevitable, but it still comes as something of a surprise. Considering the extra cost slapped on tickets for 3D flicks at the cinema, one day a studio was going to decide that it was a safe bet to make a CGI animated flick for adults.

I don’t mean like a 3D porno CGI animated flick for the cinemas, which would probably be as eye-gouging as it sounds. I mean a flick that has all the cutting edge visual effects stuff, but a screenplay no kid on this planet could give a fuck about.

Rango is as much Western homage as it is a testament to the power of Johnny Depp. To a lesser extent, it’s also a testament to Gore Verbinski’s sway, being able to convince a studio to sink a shitload of money into something kids would find duller than vegetables and algebra.

Rating:

The Illusionist (L'Illusionniste)

dir: Sylvain Chomet
[img_assist|nid=1372|title=And stay out of my goddamn hat, you puffed up rodent!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=252]
The Illusionist, not to be confused with the flick of the same name that came out a few year’s ago with Ed Norton as a weirdo with a beardo, is the fourth film we can believe that Jacques Tati wanted to make but never got the chance to.

Who’s Jacques Tati, I hear you ask, already overwhelmed with irritated yawns before finishing your own thought process? Well, he was a French guy who made some films that pretty much tried to outdo everything Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton did, except he did it about thirty years after they did it, when colour and sound existed in cinema as well.

Jour de Fete, Mon Oncle, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, Traffic – these are famous flicks to film wankers, turtleneck wearers and chin strokers the world over, but they might not be common currency amongst most people. Sure, I’ve seen them, but I am a film wanker who strokes his chin ever so definitively, though turtlenecks are a bridge too far.

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Toy Story 3

dir: Lee Unkrich
[img_assist|nid=1326|title=He's an Intensive Care Bear|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=252]
Yeah, I know, it’s hardly brand new fodder worthy of reflection and critique. But Pixar flicks are the pinnacle of the animated heap: every release is an event, they make more money than Jesus, and nobody does it better.

And I love their flicks with a passion, the kind of passion most other people reserve for quaint garden gnome collections or pointless sports results. Thus, reviewing their latest gift to us, the luddite, barely computer-literate, unwashed masses, is less of a necessity than an obligation.

Toy Story 3 is as great as any of the other flicks in the series. Ranking them is pointless. You could point out that yet again the technical expertise envelope has been pushed even further out, with computer-generated animation second to none, but that misses the point. These movies are beloved not because of the quality of the graphics, but because of the quality of the story-telling, and the deep nostalgia they inspire in adults.

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Up

dir: Peter Docter
[img_assist|nid=1146|title=You beautifully hideous old man|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=655]
Yes, so Pixar have yet another film out. Hooray. And it’s the usual synthesis of state of the art computer animation and interesting story telling with decent characters.

You know what? They’re spoiling us, and we don’t appreciate their stuff anymore.

Like a kid you give new toys to every other day, at first they might be appreciative and surprised, independently of how great they are. Eventually this feel of being entitled and owed kicks in, and new baubles and trinkets are greeted mostly with a shrug.

It’s shameful to admit that I often feel that way with each new Pixar release. With only one exception that I can really think of, each of their flicks has given me great pleasure, especially with repeat viewings. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, a solid kid’s flick is one you can play for the millionth time without wanting to frisbee that copy of Finding Nemo into the stratosphere.

Pixar do have the touch, despite now being a fully fledged vassal state of the Disney empire. The quality of their flicks and their storytelling has not yet diminished.

Rating:

Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians

But who guards the guarded
against the Guardians?

dir: Peter Ramsay

Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy just like this one except it smelled a little bit like juniper berries, I watched a film at a mysterious place called a cinema. That film was called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah, I knew it was Christian propaganda going into it. Yeah, I knew it couldn’t really be that great, considering the source material. But it did have Tilda Swinton in a key role, and that’s almost enough for me to justify watching any flick.

In this movie were four kids going on adventures. Three of the kids were painful to listen to and even more painful to watch trying to act. I didn’t mind it too much, this being a childish fantasy, after all, and one of the first books I can remember reading all on my own.

The moment that had me standing up in fury and yelling at the screen as if the actors themselves could hear me, and the director, the assistant directors and their assistants could hear me too, was the moment where Santa Claus comes out of nowhere and gives the kids all the tools they’ll need to beat the evil Snow Queen.

I screamed “Oh come on! It isn’t ludicrously far-fetched enough already, you’ve got to drop that fat fuck Father Christmas on us as well? Give us a goddamn break!”

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Coraline

dir: Henry Selick
[img_assist|nid=1154|title=Be careful what you wish for, because it might just KILL EVERYBODY!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=292]
You don’t know how wary I was going into this. Genuinely scared. Not scared in the sense that I was scared about what would happen in the story, or about some of the imagery. Sensitive little tulip that I am.

What I was most scared of was the prospect of disappointment. I love the works of Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick so much that the potential for failure seemed very high. Gaiman has written so much incredible stuff, including Coraline itself, and then there’s all the Sandman stuff, and American Gods, and and and…I need to curb the fanboy enthusiasm. Selick made James and the Giant Peach, and Nightmare Before Christmas, both of which I love, and is probably one of the (last) greats in the field of this old school style of animation.

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Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora)

The Sky Crawlers

Huh? Wuh? Buh? Zuh? Kuh? Muh?

dir: Mamuro Oshii

Now, I’ve watched some weird and slow things in my time, but this, this here Japanese animated movie is by far the most recent.

I can’t pretend that I am in any way even remotely an expert on the Japanese art form known as anime. I’ve watched some of it, I know there’s plenty more of it out there, but I can’t even pretend that I’m an authority. Very far from it. And though I’ve also watched a lot (and by a lot I mean hundreds at least) of Japanese films, again, I can’t pretend to be some sort of smartypants pontificating scholar on the Japanese visual arts.

The main reason isn’t because of any special, new-found caution on my part, or a reluctance to sound like an arrogant jerk. If you’ve read any of my reviews thus far then you know I have no qualms and zero problems with that. The truth is I simply don’t get, most of the time, the Japanese.

This is not going to be some anti-Japanese tirade, so those of you who might have come here through some ill-advised linkages on some Blood & Honour or Stormfront White Power pages will most likely be deeply disappointed, you dumb fucking racist crackers. Remember, White Power is pronounced “Waaah-eeet Paaaarrr”. And stop fucking your sisters as well. It does no good for your gene pool.

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Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

dir: Ari Folman
[img_assist|nid=141|title=Doing the genocide dance|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=220|height=326]
Animated movies don’t usually tackle genocide, massacres and the delayed effects of traumatic memories on people as their main themes. They’re usually about the virtues of being yourself, or about believing in yourself, or about what it would be like if dogs, cats and robots were lucky enough to have the voices of celebrities.

Israeli director Ari Folman has made something quite unique here, in that it is a documentary about his lack of memory about something he was involved in, and it is an animated documentary, at that. How many animated documentaries can you think of, off the top of your heads?

None, because there aren’t any. It really is quite remarkable. The animation itself is straightforward and comparatively simplistic, in that this isn’t something you’re watching because it’s a technical marvel. But it serves the story perfectly, because it doesn’t distract from the telling of the story; it facilitates it. For a completely rendered version of what happened, it approaches a kind of truth many if not most documentaries lack.

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WALL-E

dir: Andrew Stanton
[img_assist|nid=122|title=WALL E ponders the existential stupidity of Rubiks cubes|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=469|height=305]
For some people, WALL-E represents a welcome return to form for Pixar, putting the now Disney owned company back at the top of the computer animated movie pile. For others, it’s just a continuation of their general excellentness, with WALL-E only representing the latest in an unbroken stream of quality products pumped out by the Dream Factory.

And for others, it’s just a movie. A very well animated one, but a movie all the same. I have to admit to being something of a Pixar devotee, so the arrival of their flicks tends to pique my interest greatly. WALL-E's good reviews raised expectations even higher.

But they weren’t too high. I didn’t really expect this flick to be a revelation, because long ago, around the time of Cars, I realised that Pixar’s movies would remain distinctive, and look cutting edge whenever they were released, but that being utterly blown away would be unlikely. Computer animated movies are a dime a dozen these days, the stunning visuals have become commonplace, and the quirky stories about being free to be yourself or stopping to smell the roses are becoming pretty clockwork regular as well.

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Persepolis

dir: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
[img_assist|nid=16|title=Arguments with God|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=280]
Persepolis is an animated movie about the life of Marjane Satrapi, a French-speaking Iranian woman who grew up in the 70s / 80s in Iran and Europe. That might not sound like a particularly riveting choice of subject matter, but this is a fascinating life story told well with evocative handdrawn 2 dimensional artwork. Seriously.

As such, it’s probably the only animated movie about Iran many people will ever hear of during their short lives, and probably one of the only ones that tells the story of both the impact of the Shah on Iranian society, and the subsequent Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq in the 80s. As well, it tells it as a bitter-sweet work of art combined with a woman’s tale of coming of age in difficult circumstances.

No other film, animated or otherwise, in this century or any other, in French or any other language, is going to have a character deliver a rendition of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger with as much conviction and as much hilarity as what occurs in the middle of this movie.

Satrapi transformed the story of her life into a graphic novel previously, and this is essentially a bringing to life of that graphic novel. Named after the ancient Persian capital, it gives the lucky viewer a glimpse into Iranian life that would rarely be seen otherwise.

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Ratatouille

dir: Brad Bird
[img_assist|nid=749|title=Rats cooking in kitchens is hardly new. It's corporate strategy at that place ruled by the Colonel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The Pixar name still means something to audiences. They’ve made so many great computer-animated flicks that discounting them because of missteps (Cars) or being purchased by Disney for something obscene like 7 billion dollars and the kidneys of several thousand Asian children, seems wrong.

I’m reassured by Ratatouille, in that even if it’s not breakout tremendous like The Incredibles, or consistently entertaining and engaging like Finding Nemo, the Toy Stories or even Monsters Inc, it’s still pretty damn good and still several million miles ahead of the drek like Shrek and the other crap pumped out by Pixar’s rivals.

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Simpsons Movie, The

dir: David Silverman
[img_assist|nid=780|title=The fire burned my bottom|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=253]
Well it’s about bloody time. The series has only been running for 18 years. So grateful should we be that they took the time to put together a cinematic version of the popular television animated series. Because, you know, there aren’t enough movies to watch as it is.

The Simpsons Movie arrives in a form that is unsurprising, with a running time of what three episodes would be like run back to back, with no profoundly earthshaking or universe-altering message. It has plenty of chuckles in it, doesn’t vary from the known Simpsons universe that much, and delivers exactly what long term fans would expect.

Long term fans aren’t the ones who have been saying since the fourth season of the series that it has jumped the shark or sold out a long time ago. I’m not necessarily talking about the Comic Book Guy-type fans who know everything about every episode and feel personally offended when an episode fails to live up to their expectations.

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Happy Feet

dir: George Miller
[img_assist|nid=844|title=I tell you what, this movie didnt give me happy feet after watching it, more like angry liver|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
Enough, already. The success of Pixar’s movies and the Shrek monstrosities has led to an incredible and totally fathomable explosion in the amount of computer animated movies stinking up the cinemas. A bunch of years ago there’d be one or two over the course of the year. In 2006, there were about twenty of them.

It was inevitable that computer animation would replace traditional hand drawn animation and that it would start garnering a greater share of studio and audience attention. And that’s not because it’s any cheaper or quicker to produce, because these flicks cost multi-millions to make and take many years to complete. But being able to point to the advances in animation techniques is the selling point itself. The stories certainly aren’t improving along with the programming. So much money is being invested in these things, so much money is at stake, so the stories are getting more and more bland and safe as their producers become even more risk-averse than previous.

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Cars

dir: John Lasseter
[img_assist|nid=888|title=Cars. Lots of Cars.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=440|height=324]
The title doesn’t lie. It really is about cars. Imagine a world where the only organic matter is plant life, and everything else is cars. Even the flies are tiny cars.

But for all intents and purposes, the cars are people. Not Soylent Green. People. The windshield is their eyes, the radiator grill at the front is their mouth, and they talk, drive around and even fall in love.

They can also be arrogant, ignorant, dopey, loving and nostalgic about the past. Especially a past where people took the time to just slowly drive around, instead of racing everywhere at top speed. They also had small town values, and loved, I dunno, a shiny chassis, a good paint job every once in a while, and a nice tune by James Taylor or Randy Newman.

In short, these are cars that aren’t really imagined to be that different from the people sitting in the audience: smug, comfortable, middle-class consumers.

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Renaissance

dir: Christian Volckman
[img_assist|nid=887|title=Black and white bang bang|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=196]
Whilst the French aren’t world renowned for their animation, at the very least they’re not seen as slouches in the cinematic department. France is one of the few countries whose homegrown films compete well with American product in French cinemas, and whose films export fairly well for the arthouse market across the world.

When The Triplets of Belleville came out in 2003, it reminded people not only that France could produce movies that weren’t solely dependent on lecherous older guys lusting after beautiful and super-slutty, irrational, younger women, but that animation wasn’t totally dependent on computer-wielding nerds, a la Pixar, Blue Sky or WETA Digital.

I’d heard a little about a new French animated flick that was about to come out, and for reasons that seem perplexing to me now, I was excited about it. What little I’d heard referred to the animated movie being a sci-fi detective story with Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell influences, rolled up in a high-tech black and white anime style.

So, when free tickets to a preview screening were offered, I snapped them up. After sitting through it, I wanted to demand my money back.

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Robots

dir: Chris Wedge & Carlos Saldanha
[img_assist|nid=917|title=Wow, so life-like, so real|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=345]
For every great idea, person, creation, there is not just its probable opposite, but also its poor cousin. The lame pretender to the throne, the wannabe, the also-ran. It incorporates enough elements of the quality version to be recognisable, but leaves out the essentials that make the great one great.

For every Kubrik there is a Spielberg. For every Tilda Swinton there is a Cate Blanchett. Each Russell Crowe spawns multiple Colin Farrells. And, in the animated feature stakes, Pixar has its pretenders in the form of the companies that make their magic for the likes of Fox and Dreamworks SKG.

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Incredibles, The

dir: Brad Bird
[img_assist|nid=965|title=Ayn Rand oversaw the whole production, no doubt. Objectively.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=686]
I don’t think Pixar know how to make a bad movie. Really, even if they’d wanted to, I don’t think they could manage it. They just wouldn’t know how to be mediocre. Perhaps they need to take notes from Disney. Now there’s a creatively and intellectually bankrupt company still churning out sub-standard product at a rapid rate. There’s your business model worthy of emulation.

Calling Brad Bird the director of something that would have required the supervision and input of countless bazillions of people seems somehow deceptive, but he must know what he’s doing and not just be Steve Job’s footstool. Whilst watching The Simpsons the other night (one of those rare times when I only get to watch one Simpsons episodes in a day as opposed to three) I noticed his name in the credits, and then again after watching King of the Hill last weekend. So he knows about conventional animation as well, not just this fancy-shmancy stuff.

Now that computer animated movies rule at the box office, every studio is trying to pump them out quicker than you can say ‘Bandwagonesque’. And of course as you’re saying it remember and cherish the Teenage Fanclub album from the early 90s that shares its name. Ah, the early 90s. When flannel and dewberry bodywash reigned supreme, but not usually on the same people.

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Steamboy (Suchimoboi)

dir: Katsuhiro Otomo
[img_assist|nid=963|title=No, I don't have any idea what's going on, either|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=380|height=222]
This is a highly anticipated animated film for many people, and not just for dope smokers either. See, it’s been so long since Akira first came out that the stoners that predominantly constitute its fanbase have worn out their VHS copies and are in desperate need of something else to tickle the fancy of their THC-addled cells.

Taking over a decade to create another full length feature which is thus far the most expensive in anime history, you’d be entitled to think that Otomo would have had the requisite time and money to craft a story entirely to his liking, something else with the potential to infect pop culture consciousness and monopolise the television at parties like Akira did.

To the credit of the people involved, they’ve started with an insane bunch of ideas and produced an impressively incredible-looking animated feature. Unfortunately, the whole production is deeply flawed by having an absolutely terrible story.

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Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikushi)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1072|title=Chihiro, my hero|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=381]

The great difficulty in reviewing one of Miyazaki’s animated movies, compared to just watching them, is that the temptation to reel off superlative after superlative usually proves too great for the humble reviewer. Also, Miyazaki is revered to such a degree as the reincarnated Japanese alternate reality Walt Disney that everything he touches is tainted with greatness in the eyes of reviewers, humble or not.

The high praise makes latecomers come to his films with an insane level of expectation, which usually results in bewilderment when they see something like this, Princess Mononoke or My Neighbour Totoro which are different but simpler stories than what they could have expected.

Well, I’m neither a worshipper nor much of a reviewer, so it’s as easy for me to reel off expletives and superlatives as it is to watch one of his flicks and to sit there, thrilled out of my goddamn mind.

Rating:

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1085|title=Lets fight this out, girl on girl|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
1997

In an ideal world, people would be watching the animated films produced by Studio Ghibli, especially ones produced by Hayao Miyazaki, every day of their lives. Most of the channels on TV would play the films one after the other. Other channels not playing films like Spirited Away, this one, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbour Totoro, Porco Rosso, or Laputa: Castle in the Sky would be running documentaries about the films, or about Miyazaki, or just a parade of interviews with people, Nihonjin or otherwise, saying how great he is.

Sure, most of the interviews would amount to giggly people saying “Um, oh gosh, he’s like, so great, he’s like the total best, um, like, I totally love him,” except it’d be in their chosen language. Swahilis chanting his name, Laplanders and the headhunting tribes of the Papua New Guinea highlands: all united in their adoration of the master of animation.

I know how ridiculous it is to speak about how great Miyazaki’s flicks are. To people who can’t stand animated flicks (like a good friend of mine: the Courageous Canuck Big C), all this blathering is meaningless. If you can’t get into animation, then you’re not going to get why he’s so good at what he does.

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Grave of the Fireflies

dir: Isao Takahata - 1988
[img_assist|nid=1082|title=Just looking at this image makes me tear up|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=324]
For all the pop culture popularity of Japanese animation, it still has a pervasively negative reputation. The main reason for this being, of course, the relatively small percentage-wise amount of anime that seems to be exclusively created for the purpose of creating violent stroke material. Anyone confused as to what I mean by ‘stroke material’ should know that I’m not referring to people having aneurysms or lapsing into comas.

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