‘Just keep swimming…’
Ahh Christmas. For most people it is a time for family fun and love to all men. For me it is a tumultuous trudge from one pint of Guinness to the next as I struggle with ongoing weight issues, shitloads of Christmas films and desperately trying not to ruin the festive season for my loved ones. Thank God there is some respite in the form of the wonderful Christmas TV schedule. Here is the best Christmas TV of 2016.
Title: Marcell The Shell With Shoes On
Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp
Length: 3 minutes
Despite my undying love for films, we have now reached a stage where the quality found on TV is actually far superior to 90% of offerings churned out on the silver screen. Since running through my top ten favourite shows of 2015 in November, I have discovered a plethora of other top notch shows. Here are ten of them:
Really weird film… even by Alice in Wonderland standards.
Being unfamiliar with Czech director Jan Svankmajer’s previous work and also a bit patchy on surrealist cinema in general I didn’t quite know what to expect when I sat down with a pint of Doncaster’s finest ale at Phantom Cinema’s latest screening.
Svankmajer had made a number of celebrated short films during the 60’s and 70’s before he made his first feature film in 1988, Alice, a surreal and nightmarish take on Lewis Carrol’s classic novel. Svankmajer rejected the idea of Alice in Wonderland as a fairy tale and instead saw it as a ‘realised dream’ and it is this theme that creates such a memorable adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.
Alice definitely won’t be for everyone as Svankmajer continually uses extreme close ups and jarring sound effects to drive home what Alice is experiencing, but as in the novel Alice remains calm and almost nonplussed during the most frightening sequences. Indeed we see a lot more of Alice herself than in any other reworking and ironically for such an unconventional take on the story in this respect Alice is probably the most faithful to the source material. In recent adaptations such as Tim Burton’s, Alice has become almost a bystander in her own story with the Cheshire cat (notably absent here) and the Queen of Hearts taking centre stage but this is not in keeping with the original book which went into great detail about how Alice felt about each new development in the strange world of Wonderland.
Svankmajer’s take on Wonderland itself is completely unique. Gone are the colourful and beautiful landscapes, replaced instead by industrial house hold items and grey rooms lit by a single hanging light bulb. It is here where Alice is at its most dark and grotesque and the seamless mixture of stop motion animation and live action only adds to the dreamlike sense of unease and confusion.
The stop motion animation is something commonly used by Svankmajer in his other works and it is really impressive in Alice – once again proving that just because new technology exists it isn’t always the most effective method as Wes Anderson’s brilliant use of stop motion animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox also attests to.
For all the innovative use of animation and sound and also the imaginative concept and fantastic ending Alice is a success because it goes back to the roots of what made Alice in Wonderland so magical in the first place – Alice herself – the dreamer not the dreamed.
This article first appeared in Doncopolitan magazine:
Dreamworks jewel in the crown.
Despite enjoying huge commercial success with the Shrek and Madagascar franchises plus box office hits like Monsters vs. Aliens, Dreamworks animation still has to hide their envious glances towards Pixar as they have have tied massive profits with universal critical acclaim and adoration.
While Shrek is a decent film and there have been a couple of others on the Dreamworks roster that I have enjoyed, How To Train Your Dragon is the first film that I have loved as much as some of Pixar’s output. In Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and Christopher ‘McLovin’ Mintz-Plasse director Dean DeBlois has assembled some of the finest comic actors currently working today with Gerard Butler adding his gruff, more dramatic voice to sweeten the pot.
The beauty of Pixar is the emotional attachment they make you feel about futuristic robots or lost clownfish and I can safely say I was with Toothless the dragon all the way through this movie and it’s hard not to root for any character played by Baruchel.
Dreamworks output before and after How To Train Your Dragon has been patchy and inconsistent but this is a film to rival anything that either Disney or Pixar have released. Don’t wait five years to see it like I did.
IMDB TOP 250 #150
Alice in communist wonderland occupied by ghosts.
It is difficult for me to talk about this movie with any confidence as I know absolutely nothing about Japanese animation at all but I can safely say Spirited Away is an innovative, unique treat even when compared to its Western counterparts. The only other animated film to better it in terms of imagination and sheer genius is WALL•E and while I hold the Toy Story series in the highest regard, Spirited Away is more ambitious.
While I have always praised the Pixar films for being just as accessible for adults as they are for children, Spirited Away takes this concept to the next level. Much more Return to Oz than The Wizard of Oz, closer to Pan’s Labyrinth than to Labyrinth, Spirited Away is a dark and adult film with a feel for the grotesque unmatched in animation since Ren and Stimpy. It is definitely weird, as is the (cliched) expectation for all Japanese cinema, but crucially it never feels over the top or odd for the sake of it. Instead this is high art rendered in animation and disguised as a children’s fable.
In fifty years time when people ask what was the greatest animated feature of the 21st century the answer will be WALL•E but Spirited Away will be a close second.
Rat becomes chef.
Ratatouille, whilst not in the same league as the Toy Story series or the special genius behind WALL•E, is still a brilliant piece of cinema and became an important turning point in the Pixar series.
Ratatouille marks a departure from films meant for kids but with adult elements (the still superb Finding Nemo for example) into films that appeal just as much to both age sets (Up and Wall-E followed). In short Ratatouille was a bold move for Pixar.
Obscure food references, the name of the film itself (which had to be spelt out phonetically on the poster), a nod to When Harry Met Sally (made in 1989) and just generally poking fun at the French will all go over the heads of kids watching but this bravery pays off in spades. Like every Pixar film Ratatouille is funny, clever, visually stunning, warm without using cheap sentimentality (take note Disney), and a joy to watch. Ratatouille is further proof that there is a strong argument for the Pixar series to be the best film series ever made. I loved it.