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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.

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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.

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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

Coraline

Be careful what you wish for, because it might just
KILL EVERYBODY!!!

dir: Henry Selick

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.

It was a sweet relief to have all my fears allayed. Coraline isn’t a perfect flick, either in its story or its rendering, which is a mixture of stop-motion ‘solid’ animation and computer generated imagery, but it’s so goddamn close that the distinction becomes purely academic. Neil Gaiman, as with any of the greats when it comes to working in the areas of fantasy or what are often derisively dismissed as children’s fairy tales, understands the deep psychological underpinnings of what he’s working with, in the way that the Brothers Grimm and the creators of mythology throughout the ages have always understood. It’s not just childhood fears that these people have to approach and understand: they have to know the different motivations and intensities of feeling that children possess and most of us adults have forgotten. When people like Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman get it right, they forcefully remind us again.

Of course there are similarities with other tales, from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli stuff to Alice in Wonderland to more ancient stuff, but I should really learn to stay on message and deal with the subject at hand without feeling the need to start enumerating everything else I’ve ever thought of in excruciating detail.

What I absolutely loved about Coraline the most was the fact, which seems really obvious on the surface, that Coraline makes choices and has to act in order to achieve anything in this story. She’s not just a character that stuff happens to until a cliché ending where every bit of a status quo is restored. She’s a bit of a brat who almost gets everything she could ever have wished for, only to realise that if she doesn’t work really hard, everything will become terrible forever for a lot of people, especially herself.

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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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