25 March, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

Slowly catching up. Here is what I watched in…
November 2011

The Incredibles. (on DVD)
This is probably my favourite film ever. Why? Because it brings together all the stuff I love. Comics, animation, adventure, action, fun. It has a great look, design and style and it's wrapped in a story that really touches me: trying to be a good dad and husband while still being true to what has driven you since before those things came along and you fell in love with them.
One of the most impressive things about The Incredibles is how rich with amazing detail it is, lots of stuff that could easily have been cut for time and budgetary reasons but are there and enhance the experience and story so much. There's an amazing attention to detail for setting of scene, mood and place, an incredible sense of and importance placed on pacing and timing. A great and correct amount of time is taken to really convey what's going on, not only in the action, but emotionally as well. All this attention to detail is vitally important to audience's initial viewing but only becomes consciously apparent after watching numerous times.
I love this movie so much, and it's so close to perfect, that I'd kill for more, while at the same time desperately hoping they never make a sequel. I'm sure that it could never satisfy as well. You never know though, with Brad Bird at the helm again Pixar may be able to do what it did with Toy Story and make a superlative follow up.
The animation is amazing, the acting (both from the animators and the voice actors) is fabulous, full of subtlety when needed and great, clear, bold action when required.
I watch this about once a year, including a sit through of at least the Brad Bird commentary as well which is full of great insights into its making and storytelling.
I find it interesting that The Incredibles gets away with having two prologues, two climaxes, and one epilogue. That's pretty ballsie I think, showing a real confidence in the strength of the story and characters. Taking particular notice of these parts of the film this viewing, Bird certainly pulls it off without any question of how necessary these all are. Usually I scratch my head wondering at the need to have prologues particularly, or their clumsy employment for lazy exposition, but not here.
One gripe for The Incredibles? Well for sure it's not perfect, but in multiple viewings, this is the only thing that still really bugs me. The tale is beautifully heartwarming in the familial relationships and especially the marriage relationship, and in the main cast's personalities, but ironically very cold otherwise. There are very few "people" in the movie past the "golden years" prologue. Even in crowd scenes there's a sparsity of any other people. There's some, but not many or enough. To the point that it kind of sticks out as obvious when the man in the bleaches in the epilogue's scene with Dash competing at the track-meet. It seems almost weird that there's a bystander singled out for some acting.
Other than that it's hard to fault this movie.

The Iron Giant. (on DVD)
I certainly love great hand-drawn animation, and this is one of the greatest. This is probably the third time I've seen this and after having a steady diet of 3D animated movies lately it's so nice to see some old-fashioned painted backgrounds again, simplified but well-designed and constructed characters and sets, and excellent cartooned acting and action. (Yes, I know the giant himself is CG.) I very much enjoyed looking at the superb line drawings rather than realistically lit CG puppets, with rubbery, wet, finely textured lips and subsurface-scattered skin. This is a fine example of all the things that make a great hand-crafted animated motion picture.
The Iron Giant has fantastic acting, both from the animators as well as the voices. It was a huge surprise for me the first time I saw this that Jennifer Aniston plays the mom. She's so great here that I didn't even realise it was her! Her best role ever? The character played by Harry Connick Jnr. is superbly realised through the animation and voice also. Too cool!
Despite all the sci-fi trappings and action, this is a really nicely paced exploration for a number of the characters finding/deciding for themselves who they are, not who others want them to be or think they are. It's one of the few problems that I have with this film that the theme as described above is really quite obvious enough through the natural progression of the plot and dialogue of the characters that I found it unfortunate it was deemed necessary to actually have one of the characters state it outright at one point in the last act. There was no need to drop that anvil on our heads.
Regardless of that, this has aged incredibly well, and probably deserves annual viewing.

Immortals. (at the movies)
This is an interesting and somewhat original take on the ancient Greek myths that centre around Theseus. That new approach to the myths, for me at least, made for an extra layer of intriguing mystery that even the most extravagant retelling otherwise wouldn't have been able to muster. Other than that though, I found this a pretty forgettable film. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.
Immortals had that staged and cold quality from being set in front of green screens too much. In fact some of it had that old, filmed on a stage, ready for a matte painting to be dropped in, feel: locked off camera, multiple shots from that same camera, and you can almost tell where the boundaries of the physical set were. Then again, maybe this was done on purpose as a stylistic decision to echo the feeling of those old mythological sword & sandal films where that sort of photography was necessary due to those very matte paintings and stop-motion animation shots being comped in.
That cold feeling remains throughout though even despite being heavily colour-graded into warmer bronzes. And of course it's going to get all the comparisons to 300 due to the heavy colour grading and green-screening. Why wouldn't it? It certainly feels to me to be cut from the same cloth.
The other very interesting stylistic choice in the art direction was a deliberate underplaying of the depiction of the Greek gods. Instead of opting for something that is much more elaborate, we were treated to very simple and stylish costuming. With the portrayal of their superhumanity, again a very simple technique was employed to nice and again understated effect.
Overall, I'm not sad I saw this movie, but I am glad I didn't have to pay for it, getting complimentary tickets instead.

Arthur Christmas. (in the cinema)
I really enjoyed this, and I think it's certainly a worthy addition to anybody's list of rewatchable Christmas movies. The story is funny, and it has quite a cast of very likeable and humorous characters all of whom have just enough flaw and history to make them well rounded and interesting as well. Design, animation and acting are all very good, though one of the few gripes I have is actually with one of the actors. I really felt that Hugh Laurie was miscast — he did a good job, but I don't think he was right for the part.
The story starts with what I believe to be a unique new take on the Father Christmas mythology which in itself is funny, engaging and quite necessary for a modern audience. It then carries through with the main plot, which is predictable from all the way out in the cinema foyer if you were to even glance at the movie posters. The great thing about this movie though, even considering the fact that the final outcome for our hero Arthur is so obvious and predictable, is that the journey to that predictable point is such fun and very charming. There's possibly one dead point near the end of the second act, and one superfluous and lightweight plot thread that should have been excised completely for both brevity and clarity, but otherwise it's a thoroughly enjoyable ride to Arthur's destiny. Do watch this next Christmas if you get the chance.


  1. Probably? PROBABLY deserves annual viewing??? Iron Giant most definitely deserves annual viewing!

    As far as the Brad Bird movies go, The Incredibles is indeed a masterpiece - in fact I paid full price to see it at the movies 3 times in only 10 days, and have watched it countless times since - but so too, have I watched the Iron Giant countless times, and what it has over the Incredibles is heart. It has more heart than a truckload of Phar Laps. I cry every time I watch it.

    Not that the Incredibles doesn't have heart, it does. Just not a truckload of Phar Laps' worth. Maybe more of a ... trailer of Phar Laps. ;)

    Anyway. As you were. You have good taste. I haven't seen Arthur Christmas but very much want to.

  2. Hah! Of course you're right. Iron Giant is definitely worthy of annual viewing. Thanks for taking the time to pull me up on that. :) Wonderfully visual metaphor you used too! And nicely Australian.

    Keep on keeping on Caanan!