Posts Tagged ‘animated film’

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PERSEPOLIS (2007)

June 22, 2008

Persepolis Review


Matt:

Length: 95 min

Précis: Creative and likeable “coming of age” story set against Iran’s modern history.

Review by Matt:

Persepolis is an animated cartoon version of Marjane Satrapi’s popular autobiographical graphic novels about growing up in Iran.  You might already be dubious, especially if you prefer the cinema to be a place for an entertaining escape and have been burned before by contemporary Iranian films (many of which are fine films but, oh so painful!) Don’t worry, Persepolis filters this potentially depressing subject through Marjane’s idiosyncratic viewpoint and tells a story with a refreshing wit and whimsy. Iran’s modern history, dominated by the deposition of the Shah and the consequent rise of the current fundamentalist regime, becomes the backdrop to a personal tale about rebellion against repression and the search for identity. It’s a touching and funny story whose messages are universal.

The story begins when Marjane is a small girl living with her family during the last days of the Shah in the late 1970s. It’s evident from the start that she’s a feisty non-conformist, obviously influenced by her liberal family, some of whom are even imprisoned as dissidents. Part of the delight of these early scenes is the way events are filtered through Marjane’s childish viewpoint. A story about the Shah, for example, unfolds on the screen as an animated fable. As she becomes older and the regime more repressive, Marjane’s indomitable free spirit leads to trouble and a self-imposed exile to Europe. More animated adventures confront her there, but special prominence is given to her search for identity as an Iranian living in the west.

There is a lot of enjoyment to be found simply in the film’s style of storytelling. The animation is almost anti-Pixar in its grey, un-glossy, two-dimensionality. Yet it is used creatively and evocatively, sometimes reminiscent of German expressionism, and it is ideal for animating flourishes from Marjane’s active imagination. Marjane also has an uplifting joie-de-vivre that shines through the oppression; she’s the kid who would sneak into backstreets Tehran to buy contraband Iron Maiden tapes, or who just has to ask the fundamentalists insolent questions about God.

The film’s autobiographical frame means that personal experiences trump political comment, but a humorous personal account is quite an interesting way to look at a foreign history and culture, and of course it makes the politics easier to swallow. A lot is said about indoctrination and martyrdom, for example, simply by Marjane’s brief encounter with her young cousin, who has been promised a key to a Heaven full of women in exchange for military service. Some of Marjane’s other digressions seem a bit indulgent and the film meanders slowly for a while, but Persepolis maintains an entertaining ability to poke fun. The focus on everyday details of life also reminds us nicely that people everywhere are really the same – even if they hail from the ‘axis of evil’.

It’s not a surprise that Persepolis has become so popular. It scooped the Jury Prize at the Cannes festival in 2007,  was nominated for the Best Animated Feature at the 2008 Oscars, and is still touring the world, having just played at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival. It’s a likeable, unexpected gem that celebrates strength and spirit and proudly represents everyday people faced with dark times. Marjane Satrapi produced Persepolis outside of repressive Iran – she now lives in France. We’re lucky that protestations from Iran have been ignored and that we get the chance to see this exile’s unique picture of life in her former home.

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BEOWULF 3D (2007)

December 7, 2007

Beowulf review
Beowulf

Matt: Two stars
Tracy: Two and a half stars

Length: 113min

Taglines:

Pride is the curse.
Survival is ruthless.
Evil breeds pain.

Précis: Rare chance to see something sucking in spectacular 3D!

Review by Matt:

Originally a pre-10th century poem on a parchment, the classic tale of ‘Beowulf’ has been transported into the 21st century as a spectacular 3D film. Spectacular looking only though. Sadly, Beowulf the film is just gloss, gore and paper-thin drama, inflated into a cinematic spectacle. If this film was retranslated back into poetry, it would be doggerel for some student revue rather than an epic worthy of its home in the London museum.

Cinematically at least though, Beowulf is a rare experience. The use of ‘performance capture’ technology means a cast of famous and recognisable actors appear on screen as their digitised doppelgangers. Unfortunately the zombifying effect of this process sucks some of the emotion out of their faces, which could have been useful for, say, emoting. Ray Winstone supplies the frame and voice for Beowulf the great Danish warrior. The computers have shaved him down, sucked his fat and beefed him up, but they don’t hide his rough cockney voice – “cor blimey, I’ll have that bleedin’ monster’s loaf, eh guvners?” (those might not have been the exact words he used). Angelina Jolie appears as a seductive water demon. She didn’t require quite the extreme CGI makeover that Winstone needed, but it’s still been used to sexualise her – Jolie’s demon gets around in a naked, neutered body with built-in high-heeled feet (how inconvenient – she can never stop and kick them off to run like most Hollywood heroines would). She ices it with an out-of-place Russian accent and a lot of pouting. Anthony Hopkins is a tired-looking King Hrothgar and Jon Malkovich is instantly recognisable as a pathetic courtier, whose voice somehow seems even more Malkovichy than ever.

Don your 3D glasses and these characters are suddenly thrusting all kinds of phallic objects out of the screen and into the theatre. Yet, despite our hero’s novel decision to battle monsters in the nude (please see Eastern Promises for what really happens when you fight in the nude), none of these items is an actual phallus (leading to Tracy’s disdainful summary of the film: “Bah, my $17.50 might have been worth it if they’d shown a giant 3D penis!”). In fact the film is weirdly timid. It goes to lengths to conceal Beowulf’s bits – so much so that it looks like a Simpsons-style visual joke. As is often the case in these Hollywood movies, this coyness is ironic considering there are no qualms about splashing blood and gore all about the screen. These blood splattered action sequences are pretty stunning though. Flying dragons crash along cliff faces, the enormous, gruesome Grendl throws body parts around and roars in the flickering darkness – it’s all absorbing stuff.

But, ultimately we have to put the visuals aside and say: what the hell was going on in this film? I don’t mean the plot; there’s no mystery there. No, I mean the utterly wayward tone. In one sense Beowulf is a film that moralises about lust and greed. On the other hand it is obviously making the audience into voyeurs and trying to titillate. One minute it presents dialogue that needs a serious atmosphere otherwise it will appear risible; yet the next minute a naked man is literally bursting his body out of the eye of a giant monster and bellowing “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, gouger… I AM BEOWULF!”

I get that writers Neil Gaiman (who wrote one my favourite series of graphic novels – Sandman) and Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) have tried to modernise the story. They’ve made Beowulf a fallible anti-hero. They’ve made Grendl a pitiable monster who’s only disembowelling the Kingdom’s revellers so they’ll stop inflaming his nasty headache (if only he’d thought of earplugs). They’ve twisted the plot to squeeze out some themes about human weaknesses. But could these themes have been more sophisticated than “moral men are corrupted by women’s sexuality”? The women’s roles are terrible! Perhaps the Queen’s most of all, who is ‘inherited’ into a servile marriage and proves her worth by dutiful acceptance. That’s regression, not modernisation. Beowulf 2007 has just ended up as a post-modern melange that is all froth. You’re not going to be deeply touched. It’s like medieval MTV.

If they were going to ‘modernise’ Beowulf by making it a show about buff and semi‑nude dimwits strutting along the coast in ancient Denmark, maybe they could have called it Beowatch.  It is not quite as empty as Baywatch. but Beowulf does seem to have taken large dollops of Baywatch’s macho posturing and exploitive perving, transported them to ancient Denmark, and transformed them into amazing 3D.  Maybe we should at least be grateful it doesn’t feature a big 3D David Hasselhoff as well.