Ice Age 4 – Review

Ice Age 4 – Continental Drift (2012) 

Directed by Steve MartinoMike Thurmeier. Starring Ray RomanoAziz AnsariJoy BeharPeter DinklageAubrey GrahamQueen LatifahDenis LearyJohn LeguizamoJennifer LopezHeather MorrisSeann William Scott.

On its fourth outing the saga begins to feel a little bit tired, the formula is wearing slightly thin and as the subtlety and freshness are obviously long gone, it all begins to merge into one.

There is nothing really wrong  with Continental Drift, but for the first time I felt slightly too old for this type of fare and I almost wished I had a child with me so that I could enjoy the film a lot more than I really did.

The film starts off with the wrong foot straight away, introducing us to so many different characters that at some point I thought I was going to get lost. It’s obviously trying to pull together all the threads from the various earlier episodes, but by doing that not only it delays the actual story, but also it makes it feel clunky, chaotic, crowded and a bit confusing, and given its target audience that is inexcusable (you may argue that the target audience probably watch the previous parts almost daily on DVD and they are not lost at all…).

However once the plot gets going, it all runs quite smoothly, without too many surprises but also without anything offensive or boring.

This is old-style storytelling for kids and there is nothing wrong with that. The baddie is vicious enough, the hero is brave, the music is fitting for the adventure it’s depicting, and just in case you get bored, you can always count on the interludes with Scrat (though, I must say, even those felt slightly re-hashed from the past).

The animation has advanced a bit from the previous instalments, but it’s in the details more than the actual design and film-making. And while the 3D, as in most animated films, works rather well,in the end  it’s just as un-memorable and unimaginative as the rest of the ride.

But I shouldn’t really criticise it: I guess this is what people want from an Ice Age movie: the familiarity, the cosy feeling that comes being together with some old friends, the easy laughs (fewer out-loud ones I must say), the cute animals and at the end of the day even if you feel you’ve seen it all before, your kids will probably love it.

6/10

Howl – Review

Howl (2010) 

Directed by Rob EpsteinJeffrey Friedman. Starring James FrancoMary-Louise ParkerJon HammJeff DanielsTreat WilliamsDavid StrathairnBob Balaban.

I went into “Howl” really wanting to like it. Maybe because I had heard it was a film that tried to do something different, or maybe because I’ve always liked Allen Ginsberg’s poetry or maybe even because in the last few months I have started to think James Franco is one of the most interesting new actors around.

On paper this sounded like the dream film for me. However, leaving the theatre I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment for the failed attempt that it is.

In the end “Howl”  is just a bit of a mess… I can now see why it took so long to be released here in the UK (they’re probably hoping to cash in on the back of James Franco’s notoriety with 127 Hours).

The film is essentially a biopic, not of a person, but of a poem (That by itself is a pretty new concept). How did the poem came about, when it was written and the controversy it caused… And obviously the poem itself.

The directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, are mostly known for their documentaries The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet. In fact this film too was originally intended as a straight documentary. The decision for the change was due to fact that apparently there is very little material  of Ginsberg himself as a young person, during the time Howl was conceived.

This a certainly not a very conventional film: apparently every word and every scene has been drawn from existing material, whether from interviews, accounts, articles, court transcripts and so on. It follows several different strands and jump through several timelines. A real collage of different stories each with their own different style, pace and music and all put together sometimes in a seemingly random fashion: almost like a film within a film… within a film.

There are several different sides to the film.

There’s Ginsberg himself, beautifully and carismatically played by James Franco, as he’s being interviewed by a faceless reporter. This section has a sort of late 60s look in its greenish-tinted color However as he talks about his life, there are flashbacks to his life, all filmed in black and white. These are the ones who feel more superficial, even though are potentially the most interesting one and certainly the most cinematic ones. Unfortunately they’re too sporadic, too brief and the constant interruption and voice over  somehow alienates its audience and makes it really hard to emotionally engage with any of it. In the end, I can’t help feeling that this part only really scratches the surface.

The other layer in the film is the obscenity trial which in 1957  tried to ban the publication of the poem and prosecuted its publisher. This is the most straightforward part of “Howl”, filmed like a court room drama and focusing on the arguments between the prosecutor (played by David Strathairn) and the defense lawyer (Jon Hamm), though the testimonies of a series of  mainly pompous and prejudiced witnesses from Jeff Daniels to Mary Louise-Parker. It is in a way the most engaging and interesting part of the film too also it shows you how far away that 1957 now is.

Finally, there’s the poem itself: some of  which is performed by James Franco in a club to a group of people in complete awe, but most of it is depicted with semi-abstract animated pieces peppered throughout the movie.

This is the more “showy” part of the film and the most “arty” too (in the worse sense of the word) in my view.

There’s a line at some point in the film, during the trial where somebody says “Sir, you can’t explain poetry, this is why it’s poetry”. Well, the film-makers should have probably listen to their own script a little bit more carefully and follow the advice.

The moment the poem is visualized the film fails as it limits it, shrinks it and trivializes it.

In the end the James Franco is the saving grace of the “Howl”. The blend of styles and the several strands of story are just too ambitious. The film feels over-crammed with things and I can’t help thinking it would have worked a lot better if the film-makers had chosen a simpler way to tell the story, without succumbing to arty devices.

6/10

Toy Story 3 – Review


TOY STORY 3 –  (2010)

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Starring Tom HanksTim AllenJoan CusackNed BeattyDon RicklesMichael KeatonWallace ShawnJohn RatzenbergerEstelle HarrisJohn MorrisJodi BensonBlake Clark.

I’ve been meaning to talk about this film for a while, so what better excuse than its release on DVD and BluRay?

We’ve heard so much about this one in the last few months, that it’s hard to come up with something new and original to say. Everybody seems to love it: critics and moviegoers from everywhere. And recently there’s even been a campaign to try to push it as best motion picture for the Oscars.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a resounding 99%, and at this exact moment the film features in the Top 20 favorite films of all times on the Internet Movie Database (also know as: THE MOVIE BIBLE!).

So let’s just start from a safe place and assume that this film is good. Because it is indeed.  The film works on so many levels.

The story about growing up and having to abandon your childhood toys is so universal that it’s hard not to sympathize with it. The film-makers have been very clever to show you the story from all possible point of views: from the toys themselves, who are about to be given away, from the point of  view of the boy who has to grow up and leave of all that child stuff behind, and the from  the mother’s prospective who has to watch her son going to university and leaving the nest. In other words, whatever your age is, you’re pretty much screwed: you’re bound to see some of yourself in that film, you’ll understand all those emotions at stake, and by the end of it you WILL end up crying like a baby!!… Or at least I did, more than once.

Furthermore, this is the third of a trilogy that started over 15 years ago. Pixar is all too aware of how we’ve sort of grown up with these characters and it plays on that to perfection, so that by the end of the movie, it is all even more poignant just because of this attachment over the years.

This is the main power of Toy Story 3. Pixarunderstands exactly what we liked about  the first “toy story” films, what we love about those characters and they give us precisely that. The mixture of drama and comedy. The classic jokes (The whole Ken and Barbie stuff is pretty inspired), the spooky characters (that doll stills gives me the creeps!!), the nail-biting/edge-of-your-seat action scenes (up there with the most accomplished action movies), the beautiful colorful animation, the perfectly pitched score and a story which works for adults and kids.

Being the third of some of the most beloved movies in the history of animation, or generally being a sequel or a threequel (is there such a word?) can be a bit counterproductive and most of the times could end up being massively disappointing. But not when it comes to a Pixarfilm. Somehow we are all come to expect only masterpieces out of that Company. And even though I don’t think this is out there with the originality of the first one, and both in terms of story and script, but it is damn close.

The jokes are a little bit more forced than in the first one, (All the stuff with Buzz speaking Spanish is probably funny once, but it does go on for a bit too long, almost like the joke of the dog with a squeaky voice in “up”) , and let’s face it, the story itself is not too far from “Toy Story 2“. Even the use or the songs by Randy Newman, is used in the same context as the first film… But hey, I’m really picking needles here, maybe because I care so much about Woody and his friends!!

I wish all the films were this good, not just cartoons!!

Of course, the animation has improved massively since 1995 and Pixar has grown up too and understands what animation should really do. In the first Toy story, we were all in awe at the realism of the rendering of the toys themselves and the landscapes and interior of those houses. Yes, within that, the humans always looked a bit like plastic and actually rather freaky. On this one the makers have learnt the lesson and decided to make everything a little bit “less real”  and the humans more like caricatures than real people. So now the final effect is less jarring than it used to be.

So, the question now is: is this the animation that’s going to break free and actually win an Oscar for Best Film? Well, sadly I don’t think we are ready for that yet, though I would really love it to do so. In the same way as the third Lord of the Rings was awarded for the whole trilogy a few years ago, I do think Toy Story 3 should be recognized and awarded for giving us probably the best constantly good trilogy in movie history…  In 10 or 20 years times what film are we going to remember most? “The King’s Speech” or “Toy Story” trilogy.

Enough said.

8.5/10

 Check out my review of Tangled

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