Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians


  • Released Internationally on 21/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/11/12

Preview (first published 01/11/12 in VIDA Magazine)

This looks like the clear winner for children this month, and may even carry through until the festive season. The animation team at DreamWorks, who have brilliant films such as How to Train Your Dragon to their name, have turned their attention to children’s author William Joyce, who also has experience in film and animation. He is working on a series of books about the Guardians of Childhood - an Avengers-like gathering of famous names including Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Sandman (who takes care of dreams) and Jack Frost (Chris Pine). They all team up to protect children when Pitch (the nightmare king, voiced by Jude Law) threatens to take over the world. So there’s a fair bit of magic and wonder involved, which allows the animation teams to run riot. This should be fun, but even more so if you’re still at that wonderful age where you believe.



Review (29/11/12)

This delivers as expected, with stunning visuals and animation, right from the first few minutes. After a brief prologue introducing the central, misunderstood character of Jack Frost, the film launches into full festive mode, and despite being set around Easter time, provides enough north pole material to feel like a festive holiday treat. The ‘guardians’ all get ample screen time, but are slightly different to their usual self. Alec Baldwin provides a deep Eastern European accent for Santa Claus, who also sports heavily tattooed arms. But otherwise it’s business as usual, from tooth fairies to Easter bunnies to the lesser known Sandman. It’s a testament to the animation team at DreamWorks that the latter is probably the most memorable character, despite not uttering a single word throughout the film.

Jude Law’s villain draws heavily on Hercules’ Hades, and probably deserved a better ending. The film also seems to be cramming too much into one short film at times, and risks losing the plot in the second half. Worst of all, however, it somehow misses out on that extra something, that magical spark, that made recent gems like How to Train Your Dragon and most Christmas classics so heart-warming and special. The ingredients are all there, but something hasn’t set. Or maybe I just dampened my sense of awe when I found out the secrets behind the tooth exchange system and Christmas presents. Either way, young kids should be suitably blown away, and this should serve as a wonderful holiday treat.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


  • Released Internationally on 11/10/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/11/12
Preview (first published 01/11/12 in VIDA Magazine)
Based on the track records of those involved, and initial reviews, this looks like it will be one of the main films we’ll be hearing about come Oscar time. More importantly, though, it’s a high profile adaptation of a fascinating true story.
Back in the late seventies, there was a hostage crisis in good old Iran, during the course of which six American diplomats in their late 20s and early 30s were successfully rescued. But rather than politicians sitting around a boardroom table, this rescue involved the Canadian government lending a hand and working with the CIA to create a fake film company and purported production of a film named ‘Argo’, to act as an elaborate cover for getting the diplomats to safety under false identities. So not your average day in foreign affairs.
This is the third film directed by Ben Affleck after his brilliant Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He starred in the latter, and he again he takes on the main role here as a CIA identity expert. He also produces, along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who together have already given us a few gems, including another period political thriller Good Night and Good Luck. The cast also includes John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, The Artist), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, Edward Scissorhands) and Bryan Cranston (star of TV hit Breaking Bad).
So it seems like the good story is a given, and with these sort of artists it should be a well-told one. Plus everyone loves a bit of international espionage, and the period setting should add an extra layer of class. Let’s hope this is as good as Munich, although if all turns out well there should be a much lower body count.

Review (20/11/12)
In a year during which the Avengers assembled, the Dark Knight rose and James Bond came back from the dead, the best and most thrilling film so far turns out to be based on a true story. With Argo, it truly is a case of ‘you can’t make this stuff up’.
The film is chilling from the first minute, with a wonderful opening sequence that draws from the sci-fi storyboards that feature later on to give us a no-nonsense history lesson and set the scene for the hostage crisis. The setting is late 70s / early 80s, but the images are uncannily similar to ones we still see on the news today. The American embassy is taken by rioters, and within minutes we are able to grasp the desperate plight these diplomatic employees face. We then fast forward to 69 days later, when the stalemate persists and the US is getting increasingly desperate in its attempt to get the hostages home to safety. Which is why the ‘Argo’ idea (see preview above) gets the green light.
The film works wonderfully at giving us both the bigger picture but also the personal stories of those six hostages and the man sent to get them out. The whole mission revolves around whether they can find it in them to trust him or not, and for a hugely entertaining two hours so must we. We the audience also get to feel some of that ‘fear of the mob’ that pervades the whole situation, as hordes of unnamed and justifiably angry protesters are heard in the distance. Have you ever felt that awkwardness as you stand there with a customs official leafing through your passport? Or that complete helplessness as some bouncer glances in your direction, and despite you disliking him instantly and having a firm opinion about his level of intelligence, knowing that in this one instant you are completely at his mercy? Imagine that a hundred-fold, and we might be getting close to what these ordinary citizens had to go through.
The period setting is done with great attention to detail, placing us firmly in the immediately post-Star Wars era when such a crazy sci-fi scheme sounded like a good idea. From costumes down to bedroom quilts, nothing is overlooked. The Iran setting is also pulled off reasonably well, despite no film crew having set foot there. Istanbul has to stand in for many Iranian scenes, but this is a minor issue since the film is primarily about people and fear, whatever the setting.
As the film races to its climax, there is some inevitable playing with timelines so as to throw more tension into the mix, but thankfully it manages to steer clear of being incredible. And with so much invested into the hostages, the feelings at the end are well-earned and provide a very emotional conclusion. As with all such films, the true impact of what you have witnessed hits home once the end credits roll, with real-life images alongside images from the film reminding us that these are true stories of true individuals.
Ben Affleck and his team have done it again, and I for one was transfixed by the events onscreen, despite the whole saga having come to an end only a few days after I was born. This film remains extremely relevant in today’s world, but is also a fascinating story. Easily the best of 2012 so far.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012



  • Released internationally on 05/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 07/11/12

Review (07/11/12)

Frankenweenie is a rather odd little gem. As a very personal project by the very unique Tim Burton, it’s his characteristic vision in all its gothic, macabre and irreverent glory. But it remains a fairytale at heart, and features a very lovable dog, albeit recently deceased, at its core.

Burton first made Frankenweenie as a 30-minute short back in 1984, when he was still in his pre-Beetlejuice and Batman obscurity. You can watch it on YouTube if you don’t mind spoiling the surprise. It was a live action short in black and white, and due to its unusual length and debatable child-friendliness, it ended up as a mere extra on the DVDs for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This full-blown, full-length adaptation is done with the same stop-motion animation that made Nightmare so special, and has thankfully been left in monochrome which adds so much to the atmosphere and lends a nod to the Frankenstein films of old. As soon as the playful Disney logo turns grey and dark, and Danny Elfman’s score turns foreboding, children and adults alike should know that they’re in for something rather different.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young, smart and inventive boy, who is a bit of an outcast and prefers to pass the time alone in his attic, inventing. When his beloved dog Sparky dies suddenly, he finds a way to harness lightning and bring him back to life. But inevitably word gets around, and his jealous classmates use the invention on other creatures, with less romantic effects. The story also portrays the fight between progress and tradition, with the Salvador Dali-esque (and Vincent Price-inspired) science teacher (voiced marvellously by Martin Landau), facing resistance from the town locals when he tries to challenge the minds of his pupils.

Nods to other Burton films abound, with the suburban setting being practically identical to that of Edward Scissorhands, and the resurrected Sparky looking uncannily like the Penguin from Batman Returns. And I think I even detected a nod to the old Rankin/Bass stop-motion classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, whose evil Burgermeister is reborn as this town’s mayor.

If you enjoy Tim Burton films, you’ll love this. If you enjoy films that champion the oddballs and the quiet types, you’ll love this. If you want to show your kids something less fluffy and sparkly than usual, here’s a chance to take them on a PG tour of the dark side.