Thursday, 26 August 2010

Probably My Only Post This Month

Things are hectic right now so Splice has been relegated I'm sorry to say.

I just wanted to post that you should go see Inception (incredible thriller that plays with the conventions of the genre but also works on whatever philosophical level your mind wants it to), Toy Story 3 (yup, it may be the best of the three), Black Dynamite (spot on Blaxploitation spoof that'll probably go over anyone who doesn't get what it's spoofing's heads. See it if you can as showings are limited), and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (a visual and audio experience that has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and ignore the fans of the graphic novel snivelling about it, it's a blast). After a fallow period four of 2010's best have come out in a few weeks.

Reviews will possibly follow at some point, maybe around DVD release dates.

I also saw Death Note 2 and it was good, although maybe not as good as the first one.

Next up Death Note 3, Triangle, and The Girl Who Played With Fire plus hopefully Lebanon if the DVD frees up.

Hopefully be back on the Splice trail soon. For now, toodles!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Aye-Or-Naw-O-Meter: July 2010

Time for another quick roundup of some of the films I've been watching this month and whether they're worth watching, aye or naw.

The Prestige: Aye

Seriously, how good a filmmaker is Christopher Nolan? The Prestige somehow passed me by and until now was the only one of his films I hadn't seen. Put simply it's fantastic. Like his other films it's complex and all time bendy and it would be unfair to spoil it in any way. Just see it.

Be Kind Rewind: Naw

Be Kind Rewind is a great idea and is at its funniest when the guys are making their little ramshackle spoofs but sadly it's nowhere near as funny or engaging when they're not. It would have worked best as a series of short films released on the internet instead.

Meet The Fockers: Aye

Formulaic, enjoyable sequel that promised little to a formulaic, enjoyable film that promised little. Cracking cast and funny. Nothing more and nothing less.

Black Christmas (original 1974 version): Aye

Arguably the first slasher flick, pre-dating Halloween and using the same first person killer perspective, this is disturbing if a tad cheesy. In fact if you're looking for a film that is referenced by Scream more than any other it could be this thanks to the crank calls and a number of other spoiler type things. A good Halloween watch or a great Bah Humbug Xmas film.

Up In The Air: Aye

Ruud saw this in Toronto before its release and reviewed it here. Seeing it now post-Oscars hype it's difficult to see why this got so many five-star reviews and acting nominations. Don't get me wrong it's a good film and worth seeing but too much of it feels been-there-done-that. Clooney essentially plays himself and I can't quite work out what was so special about Vera Farmiga's performance. Anna Kendrick, or the one with the boobs that the wee twat doesn't fancy because he'd rather be with the suicidal chick who clearly hates him in Twilight, is fantastic though and her nomination was correct. It sounds like I'm pure ragging on this and that's not fair. It's well written and directed and anything that features J.K. Simmons is always worthwhile, it just isn't as good as you've been made to believe. Approach it like that and you should find a lot to like.

Youth In Revolt
: Aye

Michael Cera starts out playing that role he always does before subverting things as his own maniacal alter-ego when he meets a girl who wants to fall for a bad guy instead of the spineless tube he is. Often hilarious, almost always slightly surreal this plays a bit like a teen Fight Club. Some of it doesn't work, and it certainly feels a little too disjointed, but enough of it hits to make it worth seeing.

The Science Of Sleep: Naw

My second Gondry film of the month and his second miss. This is really dire, a lucid dream movie that just doesn't click at any point. There's some really interesting visuals but quite simply Gondry isn't a storyteller and until he starts working with good scriptwriters again his movies are going to be avoided by me.

A Prophet: Aye

Now this is French cinema at its finest. No wanky twoddling about here. A young Muslim is sent to French prison on a six year sentence. We follow him as he rises from absolute nobody to the man. There's a lot of religious symbolism, but it wouldn't be a meaningful prison movie without that now would it? Assured direction, phenomenal performances and an engaging story make this a must see. So see it. You must!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Aye

Here's another one of those movies where everyone talks weird and you need to read what's going on for two and a half hours. As such seeing it at the cinema was pretty much a non-starter thanks to a lack of screenings. Shame as it's a cracker and a film that does a great deal to show that not all Swedish films are metaphor filled snooze-fests about death and shit. In all honesty this is the sort of thing Hollywood could turn out, and now they are with David Fincher attached to direct. It's a very dark thriller with lots of sexual issues, so right up Fincher's street. I'd say catch the original now but unlike most remakes this probably won't be a disaster. Still it's great so get it watched.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

UK Film Council... no more. It would seem that the Tories axing a project that brought money into the UK at a time like this seems pretty dumb, and there will no doubt be many more stupid things in the months and years to come from that bunch of diddies, but Time Out argues it could mean a greater role for the remaining BFI or the creation of a new body.

As long as we continue to see films like In The Loop it doesn't matter what the group is called so fingers crossed the right decision is arrived at and British filmmakers aren't made to suffer.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Splice's Greatest Film's Ever Made To Come Out In The 90's (The 1990's)

#11 Toy Story 2


As I said in the previous instalment of Splice's Greatest... I went back and watched the Toy Story films in anticipation of going to see the third one. Both are 90's films and both deserve to be on the list.

40 Words Or So

Woody and Buzz are now best friends but when Woody attempts to save a fellow toy at a yard sale he is stolen by a toy collector. It turns out he's a rare plaything and he completes the set of dolls made to tie in with an old TV show. Buzz and the gang set out to save him, only problem is he may not want saving...


For many Toy Story holds up as a perfect example of a sequel that's better than its predecessor. It certainly has an even weepier "emotional moment":

Wipe it aff yer cheek there big yin.

Simply it isn't a better film than the first one. Background reading reveals that after A Bug's Life John Lasseter decided to take a holiday, leaving the team to do the sequel. Somehow they made a balls up of it though, so pressed for time Lasseter resumed control and somehow made a brilliant film regardless. The main difference though is that things feel a bit looser. This is probably down to the time constraints. Whereas the script for the original was honed to perfection, Toy Story 2 had a massive overhaul less than a year before it was released.

It still gets so much right, from the little knowing winks based around jokes in the first one to the emotional depth of the story. In fact Woody's predicament is arguably of a weightier nature than either his or Buzz's first time around. The biggest problem is that the secondary rescue story story feels rushed, although it does have some great set pieces:

These mainly occur in Al's Toy Barn where we're introduced to how toys live in there. But there isn't really a sense of danger, such as that provided by Sid in the first one. He kills and maims toys, Al just collects them to sell to the Japanese.

In the end Toy Story 2 is still a fantastic film, indeed it's a worthy successor to one of the finest ever made and great proof that sequels can be a good thing. It just can't quite live up to its earlier counterpart. But then, not many films can.

The 100 List (Where and Why)

There was a time that Toy Story 2 would be sitting right there behind the first one. In fact there would have been a wrestling match in my mind whether it should be sitting above it. Watching both again after a while away set me straight on this. The second one is great but has fallen in my affections in a way the first hasn't.

1. Toy Story
2. Braindead
3. Hudsucker Proxy
4. Grosse Pointe Blank
5. Tremors
6. Toy Story 2
7. Cube
8. Galaxy Quest
9. White Men Can't Jump
10. Groundhog Day
11. Porco Rosso

Monday, 19 July 2010

Splice's Greatest Films Ever Made To Come Out In The 90's (The 1990's)

#10 Toy Story


With Toy Story 3 coming out it's time to look back at the first ever feature length movie to be created entirely on computer.

40 Words Or So

Woody is Andy's favourite toy. But on his birthday the kid gets the coolest new toy on the market, Buzz Lightyear who supplants Woody in his affections. Jealousy runs rife and Woody and Buzz end up in deep trouble thanks to Buzz's commitment to his mission. Oh, the toys come to life when the humans aren't around, did I mention that?


The thing that struck me when watching Toy Story again was just how tight the whole shebang is. I'm pretty familiar with the film now after about fifteen years of watching it and knowing what's going to happen really helps you understand how well everything in the script works. Everything pays off. If I had to teach a scriptwriting class I'd use Toy Story to demonstrate Sid Field's model of constructing a script. It's got a perfect three act structure (hell it's even got a mid-point incident) and the cause and effect on show is breathtaking. In many ways it's the quintessential Hollywood script.

Why am I banging on about the structure of the film? Well there really isn't much more to say about Toy Story is there? The animation still looks great, although in light of recent films it's starting to get a touch rough, and of course we all know that it marks a watershed moment for the industry. Hindsight shows us that of course the Toy Story effect wasn't entirely a blessing, as anyone who sat through A Shark's Tale will tell you, but beyond the impact of how the film was put together it marks a special moment because it's Pixar's first full length film.

In many ways that is the most important thing about Toy Story. It introduced us to a way of film making that hasn't been bettered by any other group in the fifteen years since. It encapsulates everything that is the Pixar way, not only visually but emotionally as well. No matter how incredible the visuals, hilarious the gags, tightly plotted the stories, the thing that stands out about Pixar's films is heart. Look at those glorious moments, WALL.E flying through space with Eve, Carl seeing for the first time what was in the latter pages of his wife's scrapbook, or of course Buzz attempting to fly to prove he is indeed a Space Ranger and not a lowly toy:

Pixar cared about us feeling something watching Toy Story and set about achieving just that by making a movie worth caring about.

The 100 List (Where And Why)

It can't really go anywhere else but top spot so far can it? Beyond the almighty technical achievement this is an incredible film. The script, acting, humour, animation, and emotion are all pitch perfect and it's the most important film on the list so far. It kick starts what is arguably the greatest run of films to come from a single studio, it's even arguable that they haven't topped Toy Story.

1. Toy Story
2. Braindead
3. Hudsucker Proxy
4. Grosse Pointe Blank
5. Tremors
6. Cube
7. Galaxy Quest
8. White Men Can't Jump
9. Groundhog Day
10. Porco Rosso

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Rich Hall's The Dirty South

Just a quick post to say that I watched this excellent documentary from the droll comedian the other night. It explores how the American south has been depicted by various media, mainly focusing on Hollywood's negative stereotypes about the place.

It's well worth checking out, as anyone who saw his earlier Westerns film will know, and it further sets Hall out as a genuinely interesting writer on film, amongst other things.

The Dirty South can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer here (UK IP address needed) until 25th July 2010.

I recommend you do.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Coraline & Fantastic Mr. Fox

I'm sure we all know by now how wonderful Up is but 2009 saw some other equally majestic, non-CG animated films. Here's a quick look at a couple I've just went and caught up with on DVD:

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Roald Dahl's book was one of my favourites as a kid. As such watching a movie based on it, however loosely, contains a certain element of nostalgia. Wes Anderson, long a director obsessed with the artifices associated with storytelling, understands this so the decision to make Mr. Fox's escapades as a stop motion film is a master stroke. The animation is deliberately crude in an attempt to capture the feel of the era that gave us shows such as Bagpuss and The Clangers. Anderson has shown himself to be a bit of an Anglophile in previous films so even with an American cast this has the quirkiness you'd expect from those shows. For me the book is linked to a time when programmes like this were amongst my favourites, right before the American series like Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came along. As such the film evokes fuzzy feelings for me of a time when sweeties cost peanuts and were bigger then your hand and summer seemed to last for three years. Fantastic Mr. Fox isn't just a great film for kids, it's a fantastic one for those who remember what it's like to be one.


Also using model-based stop motion animation is Coraline. Things are far slicker here though, in fact at times you'd swear this was CGI. This is down to the astonishing work of Henry Selick and his team, a group that can genuinely be called genius. This is truly an incredible piece of work. Much like Fantastic Mr.Fox it's as much a film about being a kid as it is one for them, only this time it's based around the fears you have. This is a horror/fantasy and it's safe to say it'll probably disturb young children. That's not necessarily a bad thing in these days of mollycoddling our kids. When I was younger I used to secretly love being scared, in fact monsters and ghosts were what I loved most even if the concept of them terrified me. Coraline plays on this. The fantasy world is thrilling, the creatures scary but it's almost shot through with emotion and humour. Quite frankly it is a wonderful film.

Both these films were nominated for Best Animation at the Oscars. As worthy a winner as Up was it would have been great to see one of these filmmakers picking up the award, surely Pixar have enough little gold men cutting about their studio. In an age where virtually all animated films are made on the Google box it has been refreshing to watch two old-fashioned, yet completely original pictures. And just like Pixar's output they succeed mainly because no matter how great their style is underneath there lies not only an engaging story but tonnes of heart. Like the best animation they don't treat the young audience they're primarily aimed at as naive and foolish, and in turn become great films for us older ones too.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

CT 10: Danger On Tiki Island (Live)

Welcome to Tiki Island, dangers include a mutated Mr. Hanky, some touchy feely trees, and a touchier, feelier nymphomaniac. Please mind your step or you may trip on a midget. As breaks go it's up there with a weekend in Blackpool. As films it's about the level of, well, other Cinematic Titanic fare.

Much like the previous two CT releases, East Meets Watts and Alien Factor, Danger On Tiki Island is a recording of the group performing live. And like those two it's a fantastic installment of the series, further proving that the shift to live DVDs was a wise move. As enjoyable as the studio ones were, and it's certainly sad to lose the style and storyline of those, the live ones feel far fresher.

The movie of course really helps in proceedings. Any film that features a slightly racist vision of island life, an eccentric recluse surrounded by miniature servants and a woods alive with killer trees is ripe for riffing. And riff the Titans do. There are a few dead spots during this one that stop it from being as tip top as the previous two but thankfully they don't derail the thing. Plus there's an added level of dirtiness to this one thanks to the horny wife of the old professor. She really tries to pump everything that moves, leading to the notion that she definitely thought about doing the jobbie monster when she comes face to face with it.

A nice little touch on this DVD is the first Cinematic Titanic extra feature, a short documentary that interviews the Titans before the recording of the live show. It's a welcome, fun little addition.

You can buy Danger On Tiki Island here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Splice's Greatest Films Ever Made To Come Out In The 90's (The 1990's)

#9: Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992)


So I went and explained myself here as to why this took so bloody long and why I didn't go with the films I'd initially promised. Anyway on with Porco Rosso, one of Mayazaki's lesser known films. After watching Ponyo I got in the mood to go rewatch something else by the great man.

40 Words Or So

Cursed, pig-like pilot does battle over the skies of war period Italy with air pirates and a dashing nemesis who may be able to steal the heart of his true love.


Much like many of Miyazaki's films it's not really about the plot. Like Ponyo and My Neighbour Totoro, Porco Rosso is just happy to spend time in the world of the film with the fantastic characters. Hell, the reason Rosso is now a pig is never actually explained. The difference with this one in relation to those two is that this is Miyazaki making a film for grown ups, not because it's full of violence or profanity but purely because it's about aeroplanes and love and all those things kids aren't quite interested in yet. I suppose you could say this is the one for dad.

As such it's become a bit of an underrated gem in the Miyazaki canon. It has less magic than Totoro but also less action than Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. In fact apart from the pig shenanigans and air pirates it's probably the great man's most grounded (pardon the pun) work. The world is a lot more real than in, say, Spirited Away and yet still feels wonderful. Indeed it's a beautiful place and animation wise it ranks as one of Studio Ghibli's finest. Sadly it seems the things that make it so special are also what have left it ignored, even amongst fans of the director and studio. Even if you're not, or have never seen any, give Porco Rosso a go.

This isn't only the best scene in the movie, it may be the most beautiful and wonderful to appear in any of Miyazaki's:

The English dub that's available features Michael Keaton and Cary Elwes amongst others an they do a pretty good job. That's the one that's on the Studio Ghibli Collection DVD released by Optimum.

The 100 List (in chronological order)

1. Grosse Pointe Blank
2. Hudsucker Proxy
3. Galaxy Quest
4. White Men Can't Jump
5. Cube
6. Braindead
7. Tremors
8. Groundhog Day
9. Porco Rosso

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Be thankful for Hayao Miyazaki's staunch support for the hand drawn animation style. Where all around him animation studios turned to the computer to help create their works the Japanese director remained steadfastly traditional. Of course the jump to digital has created some great works, or helped flesh out scenes too difficult to be sketched by hand, but it has also seen a great number of lazy films (I'm looking at you Dreamworks, although they seem to be sorting themselves out slowly but surely). Disney can be seen as one of the worst offenders, shutting down their traditional animation studio on the misguided assumption that Pixar had killed the world's want for such works, ignoring the idea that it may actually be a question of the quality of the storytelling that saw the studio produce flop after soulless flop. It came as no shock then that one of Pixar supremo, and friend of Miyazaki to the extent he's the only person now trusted with the English dubs of his movies, John Lasseter's first moves on taking control of the House of Mouse was to reopen the studio and oversee a return to their roots with The Princess And The Frog. As I said be thankful for Hayao Miyazaki as it is surely his continued success in the medium that allowed Lasseter to do this.

Ponyo is a dreamlike, gentle little film with much in common with what may be Miyazaki's finest film My Neighbour Totoro. Both feature mystical creatures befriending real children and a subsequent search for a missing person. The creatures come from nature, and bring subtle environmental messages with them that thankfully don't overpower proceedings as they threatened to do in Princess Mononoke or Nausiaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. Plot is thin on the ground, rather Miyazaki just seems happy for us to inhabit the beautiful world he has created. For some this may lead to frustration, what with our Western pre-conditioning to want things to constantly happen and move forward in narratives of all sorts. But the world is so enchanting that hopefully it should dispel any negativity. The animation is at all times wonderful, and it is a wonder how sequences such as the tsunami can be entirely handdrawn brimming as they are with such awesome complexity and movement. Under the ocean is a sight to behold, it is always teeming with life and seems to be alive itself as it has eyes and waves appear like giant fish while the on land world has a simplicity to its art style that's actually quite refreshing in these days of unnecessary stylistic clutter. Witness Sosuke's house which looks to have been drawn and coloured with pencils, making it seem almost like the ideal house in a kid's picture of home. And that's the key to understanding Ponyo, this is the world from the perspective of a five year old. Tapping into your inner child is a must.

As with all these pictures the choice lies in whether to watch the English or Japanese dub, with subtitles. I watched the former and it features some big names like Liam Neeson, Kate Blancett, and Matt Damon. The first two appear to have been typecast as the roles are similar to live action stuff they've done and the performances aren't the best. Damon barely features and it seems he's only here to put his name on the poster, although he's perfectly fine in the little he does do. Where the casting does succeed is in the use of comic actors and children. The latter are the youngest in the Jonas and Cyrus clans and are absolutely fantastic giving Sosuke and Ponyo the right levels of childlike wonder and energy. Comedians tend to make really good voice actors and here is no exception as Tina Fey excels as Sosuke's mother Lisa but the highlights are most definitely Betty White and Cloris Leachman as two of the old women at the nursing home, they're joined by a third voiced well by Lily Tomlin, who steal the show with their sheer enthusiasm for their characters. Leachman's line about letting a fish lick her is downright hilarious in construction and delivery.

Ponyo is a little treat. It ranks as one of Miyazaki's lesser works, but put simply a minor film from him still contains more beauty, wonder, and creativity than five years worth of Hollywood output. It is a joy just to spend time in the world Miyazaki and his team has created, one of intertwining simplicity and complexity and there's not a pixel in sight. In that sense it's reassuringly old fashioned. I for one am thankful.