Paddington Review

PaddingtonDog

The adaptation of nostalgic material has been painful for so many reasons. There’s nothing quite like watching your childhood memories be painfully cashed in on, as you sit there and watch a new generation of children experience a hacked version of your favourite children’s tale. But there’s also no better feeling than to watch someone get it – truly understand the source material. It’s similar to any adaptation, with the exception being that some are bringing things to a wider audience, and others are putting their own unique spin on it. Fortunately, Paddington is an adaptation more than worth visiting.

I dreaded the first trailer for Paddington, and everything leading up to release made me think it had no chance of being anything of merit. I am the audience that would watch the film for nostalgia’s sake, begging that they got everything right. This is a movie that does exactly that. And it does it with an excess of charm and wit. From the opening scene which helped remind me of everything that made Paddington Brown a staple of my childhood, to the comically dark antagonist of the film, I was smiling ear-to-ear.

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From Up on Poppy Hill Relays the Struggle for Identity in Post-war Japan

From Up on Poppy Hill Japanese Poster

From Up on Poppy Hill Japanese Poster

TitleFrom Up on Poppy Hill
Genre(s)Animation, Drama, Family
Director(s)Goro Miyazaki
Release Year2013

Studio Ghibli is the best animated company out there right now, consistently providing the best in hand-drawn animated films since Castle in the Sky. However, it has become apparent that Hayao Miyazaki is where all the talent resides in the film studio, not to say that other directors have not had success, but that Miyazaki seems to be where all the more imaginative films stem from. His films fall less on the realistic side and more into the surreal and fantastical. Then you have the other films in the Ghibli canon like From Up on Poppy Hill, which places Hayao’s son Goro Miyazaki in the director’s chair with a script co-written by his father and Keiko Niwa (who co-wrote Goro’s debut Tales From Earthsea with him). This film grounds itself in the past, as a 1963 Japan prepares itself to host the Olympics and a backdrop of post-war change lingers throughout the nation.

The plot is extremely simple, with Umi Matsuzaki (Masami Nagasawa) slowly falling in love with Shun Kazama (Junichi Okada), as they work with the rest of their school to fix the school’s clubhouse and save it from being demolished in preparation for the Olympics that are coming to Tokyo. The plot is not what matters here though, but the cultural significance of the questions it raises. The school is being demolished because it represents the past, something which the government wants to transition from, but the students feel there is room for the past in this changing world. The clubhouse represents Japan’s own past, and the demolition of it would wipe years of memories away, and represent the degradation of Japan’s history and culture. Meanwhile, as the struggle to retain elements of the past continues, Kazama is at odds with himself as he tries to find out the identity of his real father. This creates an internal conflict as Kazama wonders who he is. Subsequently, the film uses Shun as a representation of Japan’s hunt for its own identity.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

Oz: The Great and Powerful Is All About Looking Great, Not Being Great

Oz: The Great and Powerful Poster

Oz: The Great and Powerful Poster

TitleOz: The Great and Powerful
Genre(s)Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Director(s): Sam Raimi
Release Year2013

From beautiful landscapes to a big name cast, Oz: The Great and Powerful had all the promise of a wonderful visit back to the land of Oz. Even from the opening moments of the film and the transportation from Kansas to Oz, the film still had me by the hooks, and I felt like maybe my worries of the film being another Alice in Wonderland debacle could be put aside. James Franco’s character, Oz, is immediately unlikable but there’s an element to him that makes the audience care about him: he has aspirations. He’s in this magical world which immediately impresses with its visual style, and there’s a nice cast of supporting characters that add humor and charm to the overall film. Yet, Oz: The Great and Powerful still winds up being almost as lifeless as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland remake (comparisons are difficult not to make), resulting in yet another aesthetically brilliant film from Disney, with no real soul to it.

Oz: The Great and Powerful begins in a very unique way: we’re shown our aspiring wizard perform “magic” at a carnival in Kansas, all in black-and-white and a full screen aspect ratio. Oz is a womanizer, a liar, an egomaniac, and selfish, but he truly does want to be a famous magician. However, his reasons for doing so are not because his father was a magician, or because he made a promise to a dying loved one. Rather, it’s merely for fame and fortune. After another performance ends badly, he is eventually swept away by a tornado, escaping a crazed girl’s boyfriend in a hot air balloon. That tornado takes him to the magical world of Oz, where he is met by Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who tells him he is the wizard who will destroy the evil witch and bring peace to their land. Of course, Oz is reluctant to help, but with the promises of riches, he’s in.

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Wreck-it Ralph wrecks the curse of video game movies.

Wreck-it Ralph Theatrical Poster

TitleWreck-it Ralph
Genre(s)Animation, Comedy, Family
Director(s)Rich Moore
Release Year2012
IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes84%

If I’m not watching films, writing, at work, or at school, I’m probably playing video games. Growing up, it was the escape from reality that I would crave, which I now only moderately indulge in. The stories can be on par with many films we see nowadays, examples including Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, and Heavy Rain. The odd thing is, never has this medium been able to be successfully adapted to a movie with its original source completely intact. There are movies like Scott Pilgrim vs The World and The FP which have borrowed elements from gaming culture, but never truly adapted an entire game properly. But even the former is an adaptation of a graphic novel, so the gaming material has been pre-chewed for easy development. With Wreck-it Ralph though, it’s the closest movies have gotten to creating a delightful game adaptation, while still not actually taking a real property and wholly adapting it. It borrows elements from many other pre-existing games which will please many gamers, but it creates a handful of original properties to incorporate within its universe that feel like games I’ve played many times before. Beyond the many references to other games and elements of gaming culture, there’s a deeper appreciation that can be had if you can get past the typical beats of any other animated film, and some forced moments that could have easily felt more natural.

Wreck-it Ralph tackles the issue of bad guys in video games through its protagonist Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly. He has one role in the game Fix-it Felix Jr, and that’s to wreck a building and try and stop Fix-it Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) from being able to fix the wreckage. It’s essentially an iteration of the Donkey Kong arcade game from the ’80s, which is clever because Donkey Kong was the bad guy in that game and later became the flagship star and good guy of the Donkey Kong series. That is exactly what Ralph wants to do: break convention and be the good guy for once. To do this, he jumps through a few games, and many mishaps occur in his plot to become the good guy. It’s a very typical film once you get past the video game references and unique story, but because it utilizes unique elements from games like glitches, hidden levels, and different genre elements, it manages to be engrossing, albeit very predictive.

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Review – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Theatrical Poster

TitleCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Genre(s)Animation, Comedy, Family
Director(s)Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Release Year2009
IMDB7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes86%

Pixar has been the staple of animation, with their films always being lauded as better than the previous ones (in terms of animation, Cars 2 and Brave were not better than the rest of their films, I know). Dreamworks Animation has definitely been doing an excellent job at rivaling Pixar, but one company has been out there attempting to do some excellent work and that’s Sony Pictures Animation. While not boasting the most films in their repertoire, they’ve done some huge films like The Smurfs and Open Season, and more recently The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Arthur Christmas. Their animation is almost always great, but the films themselves rarely end up critically praised by viewers, often becoming more like kiddie fare than anything else (with the exception of the two recent efforts mentioned). A film that perhaps doesn’t receive the amount of appreciation it should is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs that came out in between two straight-to-DVD releases, and may very well be one of the best animated films released, topping the animations of even the behemoths that are Pixar.

Based on the children’s book of the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs follows Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), a guy who just wants to make his town, once famous for their sardines before the cannery closed down, famous again. From a young age he has invented many devices that always went wrong in some way, whether it be a hybrid animal of rat and bird (“Ratbirds”), a hair-unbalder, or shoes that simply spray on your feet. His most recent invention mutates water into food, showcased in the raining of cheeseburgers. The premise is ridiculous, and the fact that Flint figures out a way to make it rain whatever food he wants is hard to believe, but this movie relishes (no pun intended) on its absurd plot. The humor is very much an encapsulation of the style used in Saturday Night Live skits, and the film even hosts three cast members from the show (Hader, Andy Samberg, and Will Forte) who lend their voices to this hilarious film. The movie is never afraid to shy away from a joke that the audience might not get, referencing other movies in its animation, or even just making callbacks to previous inventions or situations in the film (the “ratbirds” make a recurring appearance throughout).

This can all be attributed to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who both wrote and directed the film, and who I first enjoyed with this year’s 21 Jump Street, a film that definitely owes a lot to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ visual direction and absurd humor. The two are powerhouses when it comes to this style of comedy, but they are also able to write a cohesive story that can be both ludicrous and heart-warming at the same time. Flint is completely and utterly selfless, never doing anything for himself, and although him and his father (voiced by James Caan) have a hard time bonding, you can tell there’s a relationship there that is waiting to blossom again. Even the romance sub-plot between Flint and Sam (Anna Faris) is handled well, only coming to the forefront of the film in one memorable Jell-o sequence, allowing the film to satisfy the basic Hollywood film tropes while poking fun at those same tropes.

Seriously, think bouncing castle, but with the characteristics of Jell-O. Then refuse to bounce in anything not made of gelatin.

What really makes this movie excellent though, is the animation. There’s so much happening on screen at various points in the film, that it’s hard to believe how it was achieved with such fluidity and detail. To be honest, the art style wasn’t for me when the movie came out, and that’s why I was never really interested, but once you get used to how the characters look, you’ll forgive their very animated looks and only watch the animations. For a movie where food rains from the sky, it is very important that it contain some incredibly gorgeous shots. But there’s even small little details like Flint’s hair blowing in the wind when someone makes a lot of movement near him, or just the way the clouds move and keep their shape that make the film so beautiful to look at. It’s hard to remember a time when I was so engrossed by a film’s animation, with perhaps the only other really well-animated film coming to mind being Rango (once again, not a Pixar film, but incredible nonetheless).

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a visual masterpiece, that may not be the deepest of films, with it still catering to a family friendly audience, trying to walk the line between adult and childish humor, but there’s something so endearing about the movie. The tale of a selfless hero is always one to enjoy, but it really is the art style and animation that make this film the whimsical experience that it is. Whether this is my favourite animated film, I do not know, but I would be hard-pressed to find a movie that has more beautifully animated sequences than this, and I definitely look forward to Lord and Miller’s upcoming Lego film as well as anything else they attach themselves to.

Overall: Recommended

Review – The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green Theatrical Poster

Title: The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Genre(s): Family
Director(s): Paul Hedges
Release Year: 2012
IMDB: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

**I got a chance to go see this a month in advance of when it actually comes out, which was endearing, but that also means there’s no IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes score yet. Regardless, that just means no chance of influence on my rating, just my own reflection on the film.**

The Odd Life of Timothy Green was not a movie that I necessarily was excited about, but that was partially due to the genre it was. Doesn’t matter if you agree with me, live-action family films are more often than not brimming with cheesy dialogue and corny situations that tend to pull me out of the experience. In the case of this film, it definitely comprised of a lot of these classic family elements that made it hard for me to appreciate fully. To say that this movie has a unique premise is only partially accurate, but it does everything it sets out to do right, despite it’s problems with originality.

The movie stars Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30) who have been trying desperately to have a child but to no avail. The two plant a box of notes detailing what traits their perfect child would have, and soon wake up to find a child running around their house covered in mud. Yes, he grew from a box of notes, and in case you were wondering, he definitely does have leaves attached to his legs. This is about as absurd as the movie gets though, and surprisingly the film doesn’t consist entirely of jokes about how Timothy (played by CJ Adams) grew from a garden. Like Another Earth, the movie doesn’t seem too concerned with it’s own quirk and goes right back into going with the motions, like any other family film. The difference being that this movie has some scenes that are actually pretty heart-warming.

Let’s hope Joel Edgerton manages to jump back into more serious roles after this.

There are some casting choices that I enjoyed in this film, like Ron Livingston as the boss of the factory where Joel Edgerton’s character works (reverse-Office Space), Common as the school soccer coach, and David Morse as Joel Edgerton’s father. However, I really dislike Jennifer Garner, and whenever she tried to be funny in the film, I shut down. Joel Edgerton was fine though, but both their performances felt pretty forced. Adams was good as Timothy though, but he just had to be quirky when necessary and smile when the camera was on him. He really felt a lot like a more conservative version of the boy from About a Boy (both this and that film were written by Paul Hedges), and in fact, a lot of this movie borrows heavily from that film in it’s character interactions. Timothy has a girlfriend who likes him because he’s weird, just like in that film, and there’s a drive for Timothy’s parents to make sure Timothy isn’t seen as weird, just like Hugh Grant did in About a Boy. To be honest, if you really want a family movie to watch that’s more enjoyable, I’d argue seeing About a Boy over this one. However, if you simply can’t stand Hugh Grant, then I’d understand picking this movie over that one.

It’s tricky for me to give this movie a recommendation because it doesn’t do anything new, and has some lackluster performances. However, it does comprise of some scenes that will pull at the heart-strings, and some of the minor character performances are actually not bad even though their characters themselves are fairly generic. I definitely recommend seeing About a Boy over this film, because I feel it does the character interactions much better because of the lead kid in that film doing more acting. But like I said, if you need a family film this summer to go see in theaters, The Odd Life of Timothy Green should definitely suffice. For my taste though, I probably won’t see this film again for a long, long time, if ever.

Overall: Not Recommended