Saturday, 14 April 2012

Guesty's Cult/Arthouse Movie Club

Don't Panic!! Don't Panic!!  

Guesty's Cult/Arthouse Movie Club has return'eth just like the tag line in Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure says 'time flies when your having fun!' although it does also say 'The funniest comedy in the history of history' so who knows?! 

Anywho after a few weeks hiatus we're back and in honour of the new Aardman animation 'Pirates - an adventure with scientists' here at the last picture show we thought that it was about ruddy time we delved into a world less ordinary to take a look at those animation pioneers who like Charlie Sheen just say a massive no to reality.

The first film which I'd like to introduce for your perusal was something that I watched in the little white lies film tent @ The End of the Road Festival, now to be fair this isn't really a film that I would of expected to be showing at a music festival but late one blurry afternoon I litterally stumbled across a little gem called A Town Called Panic (2000) a film which basically shows that plastic toys like Cowboy, Indian and Horse have problems, too. Cowboy and Indian's plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backfires when they destroy his house instead. Surreal adventures take over as the trio travel to the centre of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parallel underwater universe where pointy-headed (and dishonest!) creatures live. With panic a permanent feature of life in this papier mâché town, will Horse and his girlfriend ever be alone?

If you're left just as confused as that plot summary then you should definitely check it out, this film is a great example of how creativity, real creativity and a solid, technically sound script can eclipse the need for effects, giant lighting kits, lingering close-ups on beautiful emoting womens' faces and all of the other expensive cinematic "fundamentals" that can stand in the way of someone with an idea (all be it a weird one) and a hundred Pounds/Euros/Dollars and a fresh independently minded movie. A Town Called Panic is incredibly inspirational all be it on a small-scale – unless I'm mistaken, the total cost for everything that makes it on screen couldn't have been more than a couple thousand pounds – but this animation really does manage to convey a convincing, charming sense of adventure using only wit and effort. It's very d.i.y. to the core, but you cannot really fault it's simplistic and inspirational story.

Renaissance (2006) however sits at the other end of the scale rather than being simplistic it was created over a period of six years, co-funded by France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom at a cost of around €14 million. The final result though is a staggering accomplishment of comic-book style animation, aesthetically pleasing and incredibly similar to what Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller tried to achieve with their 2005 adaptation of Sin City. The difference with this film was that it employed motion capture with live-actors to translate their faces and movements into an entirely animated format. Shot in contrasting black-and-white, the film has the look and feel as if it has been taken directly from the very pages of the graphic novel on which it was based. Directed by French filmmaker Christian Volckman, in his feature-length debut, 'Renaissance' draws significantly from other films in the science-fiction genre, and the tech-noir storyline isn't something we haven't seen before, but, from a technical standpoint, it is faultless

This film is a futuristic story set in Paris 2054 a sci-fiction movie which I believe manages to engage any viewers interested till the end. Despite a standard base plot where an investigation goes far beyond initial expectations, there are some interesting themes which are explored (genetics, absolute power of corporations). We find ourselves following a detective (Daniel Craig) investigating the kidnapping of a young woman (Romola Garai) and his introduction to a medical researcher (Catherine McCormack) in a repressive, futuristic Paris.

The dimly-lit city of Paris in which this is set is strangely reminiscent of Ridley Scott's classic Blade Runner (1982), and some of the technology looks as though it might have been borrowed from Philip K Dick's 1956 short story Minority Report - which was, coincidentally, also set in the year 2054. However, despite this familiarity, Volckman has created an exciting world for his characters to inhabit. Blending classic film-noir and science-fiction, the result is an eye-catching collage of harsh lighting and dark shadows. The dialogue is a little predictable at times, and the story, though engaging, doesn't really offer anything really original except perhaps for the ending, which was to be honest quite a bold twist on the usual formula, but 'Renaissance' is really intended to work best as a visual treat, and that it succeeds in this regard cannot be denied. Although classified as an animated film, this one is obviously not made for children. You won't find here any quirky animal or any stupid family moral. It is far closer to a good film noir.

Stop motion animation was also used in some great films of the 50's, 60's and 70's these movies pioneered the use of animated characters long before the use of CGI. Ray Harryhausen is perhaps the best known animator known for creating weird and wonderful monsters and creatures and stands alongside Willis O'Brien as one of the greatest stop-motion animators of all time, creating fantastic films that have amazed audiences since he began his work, you only to mention the skeleton battles in either THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD or JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and you can visualise the scenes he created in you mind. Clash of the Titans (the original and best version) tells the classic tale of the Greek hero Perseus, and features the final work of stop motion visual effects artist, Ray Harryhausen. It was released on June 12, 1981 and earned a gross profit of $41 million, on a $15 million budget, by which it was the 11th highest grossing film of the year.

When writer-directors Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach got together they brought about arguably their best work Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). This old-school animation based on the novel by Roald Dahl, features George Clooney voicing the titular character, a columnist who can't resist going back to his sly, chicken coop-robbing roots to feed his family when three big corporate chicken farmers threaten to tear down Fox and Friends' home. The setup is again pretty basic, but the content and interaction between the characters is inspiring, witty and most of all fun. Our heroes, made of arts and crafts supplies, feel more alive than most live-action characters. And Anderson and Baumbach, operating outside of their usual wheelhouse governed by all-too-smart, upper-class people with upper-class problems, seem to bring out the best in each other here, making this one of the most underrated films of 2009.

Finally I would just like to touch upon The Nightmare Before Christmas which began as a poem written by Tim Burton when he was an animator at Disney in the early 1980s. Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project, and in 1990, Burton and Disney made a development deal. Walt Disney Productions decided to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner because the tone as with most Burton productions was a little dark for children. The Nightmare Before Christmas was met with critical and financial success.

The story follows Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King – the creative genius behind the holiday of Halloween, designing each year to be scarier and more horrible than the one before. However deep inside he longs for more than the horror and scares of Halloween Town, a longing he cannot understand until he stumbles into Christmas Town and sees happiness and cheer the likes of which has evaded him all these years. Having finally worked out what Christmas is all about, Jack decides to kidnap Santa and make himself the new king of Christmas Town so that he can have the happiness of Christmas all the time. But the others in the towns realise the significant consequences that this disruption of the norm will have as Jack's evil nature proves harder to overcome than he thought.

With both Pixar and Dreamworks currently dominating the world of animation that tries to please both children and adults it is quite easy to forget that over a decade ago Tim Burton delivered a film to the cinema using a much more traditional style of animation and a huge amount of imagination. The basic plot is based around a classic fantasy fairytale but with a uniquely dark heart which gives it a certain edge. Too often films intended for children are soaked in sentiment that simply forgets that they are not stupid and indeed often like a little bit of darkness in a story. The only downside of this darkness is that younger children might not 'get it' and just end up being scared by the Halloween images and imaginative images. Despite this the material will play equally well to adults and children because it neither panders to nor excludes one group over the other at any time. Regardless of the material, the film still manages to come off as charming and enjoyable thanks to a well-written script that never plays for the basic laugh or easy sentiment.

Now some people may come to this with Pixar in their minds and bemoan it for not being hilariously funny from start to finish, but they are missing the point. Overall this is a very short but very enjoyable film that will please both children and adults at the same time (with the same material). Both groups will appreciate the dark fairytale, the clever songs, the darkly imaginative animation and the comic sense of humour, making this a family film that deserves to be remembered even as kids movie get smarter and fancier.

Obviously there's an extensive list of animated films to be found but really what I'm trying to say with this blog is that the creative pioneers are out there and they're doing their utter most to provide thought provoking and interesting alternatives to the standard mainstream animation.

Be sure to check out Episode 13 of the Last Picture Show podcast when we'll be taking an in depth look into the wonderful world of animation.


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