I reviewed The Congress for The Skinny.
The Congress hinges on big ideas, but falls apart under light scrutiny; your enjoyment of it will depend on how much you care about the actual mechanics of the world it creates. It starts out as a live action satire of Hollywood before becoming an animated sci-fi about a mind-altering drug that allows you to literally live your dreams. This shift in tone and genre is jarring at first, but soon a grander scheme appears, revealing The Congress as a treatise on choice and freedom.
I reviewed The Boxtrolls for my animation blog.
The Boxtrolls tells the story of a young boy who grows up with the titular cardboard-bound monsters, and how he has to save them from a band of troll-catchers who have convinced the town that the harmless creatures are, in fact, evil. But it’s also about a city obsessed with cheese, a class system based on hats and a girl who is obsessed with death and violence. It’s gross, silly, sharply satirical and is actually for children. It must be a Laika film.
Laika, the animation studio behind under-appreciated marvels Coraline and ParaNorman, are exceptionally hard workers. Animation is a time consuming process that requires a near miraculous attention to detail, but stop motion animation, the process of taking 24 photos of precisely positioned models for every second of film, is a doubly difficult discipline. Every minute of footage you see contains 1,440 photos, so The Boxtrolls, their latest film which runs at 100 minutes, is 144,000 photos long, each one moved ever so slightly to create the illusion of life. Any stop motion film even existing is reason, therefore, for celebration. Laika go the extra mile by making each of their films immensely imaginative and distinctively theirs, making each new release something to be greatly anticipated. Yet there is a sense with The Boxtrolls that the animators are fed up of going unnoticed – some early promotional material focussed on how much work they put in, while a hilarious mid-credits sting shows the animators at work. They want people to see what they do, that they are hard workers.
I reviewed Dreamworks’ latest for my animation blog.
The first How To Train Your Dragon film ended on a surprising note for a big studio animation in that the main character lost one of his legs. Contrary to just about every other animation out there, the action sequences in the spectacular finale had actual consequences. It’s a bold move, and was one of the many elements that made it stand head and shoulders above everything else Dreamworks animation – and most other CG studios – has released. There is a scene in the middle of that film’s stunning sequel that takes such consequences to a new level that is, again, completely surprising for studio animations of the CG era. This is just one aspect of the first film that has been carried over into the second film, not in a lazy, same-but-bigger approach, but in a way that it keeps everything that made the first so good, all while telling a different story. In that sense, it’s up there with Toy Story 2 & 3 as one of the best animated sequels ever.
I reviewed Stations of the Cross for Kamera’s Edinburgh Film Festival coverage. For more Festival reviews, visit kamera.co.uk
Matt Zoller Seitz recently argued that film critics should spend more time talking about a film’s form – that is, ‘the compositions, the cutting, the music, the décor, the lighting, the overall rhythm and mood of the piece.’ Seitz contends that ‘refuse to write about form and you might refuse to engage with the heart of the work.’ With Stations of the Cross, and the critical response that this astonishing film demands, Seitz may find the engagement with cinematic form that he pleaded for; it is a film that it is impossible to discuss without mentioning how the film is made, so powerful is the use of cinematic technique and so inextricably and harmoniously linked are the themes with its form.
I reviewed Medeas for Kamera as part of ongoing coverage for Edinburgh Film Festival.
The great American wilderness is almost unimaginably vast. Emptiness stretches into nothingness, hills roll into mountains, and only a hardy few venture out there to live. Those that do find themselves tested by its unforgiving barrenness and the sheer isolation that comes with it, and it is this test that has fascinated so many American storytellers. Willa Cather and Walt Whitman both wrote about the pioneers who first stepped into that landscape, while more recently, visual filmmakers such as David Lowery and Kelly Reichardt have been drawn to the isolation of the great big nowhere. With Medeas, Andrea Pallaoro joins this great tradition of examining life on the edge, and the result is a film that is startling in its beauty and brutality.
I wrote a piece about the theology of Noah for the blog Think Theology.
Perhaps all you have heard about Noah, the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, is the storm of controversy that has greeted its arrival in America, with accusations levelled against it that it is anti-Biblical, trying to push an environmentalist agenda and that generally Christians should avoid seeing it at all costs. On the surface, the claims against Noah make some sense. Aronofsky draws on the Book of Enoch heavily – Nephilim feature as ‘the watchers,’ fallen angels here rendered as rock giants (??); the renovation of the earth is a major theme in both – as well as Jewish tradition alongside the account as described in Genesis. The most egregious reinterpretation is that instead of Noah receiving direct instructions from God to build the ark, Methuselah gives him a hallucinogen which gives him the idea. Scattered throughout the film are lines and ideas like this that are bound to make a Christian shift uncomfortably in their chair. Look beyond this, however, and the controversy is, for the most part, misplaced.