Before Ghost In The Shell, Dragonball (fucking shudder) and a host of other attempts at making anime content work as a live action film, there was Aeon Flux, a supremely weird dystopian Sci-Fi palooza that should have just been the first and last of it’s kind, ground zero for moving forward, lesson learned in terms of knowing that such specifically artistic material just *doesn’t* translate at all beyond the original animation versions. You’d think they would have learned with this one, but nope. Charlize Theron can practically carry any material on her own, she’s just that dynamic, and when supported by an impressive vessel of visual effects and a clinical, sleek stylistic palette she’s even better, but this beast has no heart beating at the centre of all that, and it shows. Theron is Aeon, a powerful assassin working for the Handler (Frances Mcdormand), assigned to bring down a dangerous regime in a utopian city where humanity’s last vestige of populace exists following some viral plague decades before. Of course nothing is as it seems and when she gets to the man behind the group (Marton Csokas) she discovers all kinds of secrets. There’s plenty of inventive future-world action, including a neat sequence where Aeon sends in wicked fast micro-bot marbles to blast through a door, and interesting aerobics courtesy of a character played by Sophie Okenodo, who has hands instead of feet, an anomaly the film finds little time to coherently explain. Even less explained is the sudden appearance of Pete Postlethwaite as someone who resides in a giant floating thingy far above the city, kind of like the man in the moon in the midst of chemotherapy. It all makes not a great amount of sense, through no fault of it’s own. That goes back to my thoughts at the beginning of the review though: Sometimes, a specifically drawn or written anime saga is just too much in it’s own abstract, perfectly balanced embryonic harmony, and trying to shunt it along into the very different realm of live action storytelling just isn’t possible. That’s certainly what has happened here, and with pretty much every other attempt I’ve seen to adapt the medium.
Disney/Pixar’s Big Hero 6 is the perfect example of what we should expect from animated films: dazzling, imaginative, passionate fables set across times and dimensions with no shortage of expanse or varied themes and visual splendour. It does seem that with each new outing (they’ve recently outdone themselves with Inside Out) they reach further for the stars and pull something out of the hat with qualities that somehow get better and better each time around. 6 is a miracle of innovation and future-house scientific pyrotechnics, a story that calls on everyone who ever wanted to try their hand at robotics, engineering or dazzling computer tech to take a look at the images on display here. In the futuristic metropolis of SanfranSokyo, the search for scientific progress and new discoveries reigns supreme, free from other pesky constraints like the R word (the way it should be in every society, tbh), and everybody is a pseudo Asian American brainiac devoted to brilliant new ideas and ingenuity, basically one giant year round science fair that doesn’t quit. Young Hiro (Ryan Potter) worships the endeavours of his prodigy of an older brother, who whips new inventions out of his sleeve every day, until one of them garners the attention of a shadowy arch villain, hijacking it for himself, resulting in his bro’s death. Left behind for comfort and companionship is giant Michelin Man robot Baymax, an adorable fatso who uses his Inspector Gadget level itinerary of utilities and rotund charm to befriend Hiro, while coaching him through the dangerous waters of seeking revenge. He’s joined along the way by many friends with voices from TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell and more, blasting off into one of the most visually stimulating Sci Fi adventures the world of animation has ever seen. Every kind of tool, gizmo and tech marvel is on display somewhere, and not just plonked in there as Dr. Seuss-ical sideshow diversions either, everything has a logical and specific purpose to fit it’s garish appearance and style. Baymax is the highlight, a big baby with a heart as big as his waistline who knows just when to lay down the comic relief when things get heavy. They do get heavy too, this is a mature film that treats subjects like loss, anger and moral corruption seriously, it’s a fantastical world inhabited by humans that couldn’t be more real or fleshed out, a recipe that Pixar has been perfecting for sometime now, since the first human leading characters showed up in The Incredibles. The Sci Fi is laid on thick enough for any geek to run with, and we’re reminded of everything from Stranger Things to Astro Boy and more with this package. If Pixar plans to keep climbing uphill in terms of quality, this is one hell of a brilliant plateau, and I can’t wait to see where they ascend too from it on rocket powered boots of inspiration and magic.
Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is slightly flawed Sci-Fi heaven, a film that could have easily been perfect if it weren’t for a few snags, chief among them being over-length and lack of clear plotting. There’s so much going on in the realm of visual and auditory stimuli though that one can let oneself just get wrapped up in the pure music video style rhythm of it. Speaking of music, the film only really exists to serve the absolute banger of an electronic score from M83, a gorgeous album packed with sonic synths, beautiful thundering beats and celestial interludes complete with angelic vocals from Susanne Sundfor. Kosinski pulled a similar stunt with Tron: Legacy, hiring Daft Punk to whip up a soundtrack that outshines the actual film itself, and while that’s certainly the case with Oblivion as well, there’s much fun to be had in other aspects, particularly visually. Tom Cruise is Jack, steward and caretaker of a small piece of the earth’s surface after an alien ambush forced most of the human race to run off to one of Jupiter’s moons. Collecting data and doing routine scope checks on his sleek hover bike, he’s a curious fellow who begins to see the lapses in logic and believes there’s something else at play other than survival, a notion that his partner (Andrea Riseborough) and dispatch handler Sally (a sly Melissa Leo proves that one can still be effective when skyping in one’s performance). Jack is haunted by visions of a beautifully mysterious girl he’s never met (Olga Kurylenko) and pursued by dangerous surface dwelling scavengers led by Morgan Freeman and Jamie Lannister. The film’s story is a cool one indeed and has a whopper of a twist, but the pacing and exposition just can’t seem to get itself out of a slight muddle and impart these events to us in a clear, unhindered fashion, a kink that no doubt could have been worked out with a little more time spent in the editing room. The aesthetic production design is a wonder, calling to mind everything from Half Life 2 to Portal while retaining it’s own unique, modernized look (I want that glass sky pool/deck so bad). It’s all about that score though folks, and it’s an album for the ages, bringing to life a film that otherwise just wouldn’t have been as memorable.
And now for something completely different…
Frequent visitors of this site would be aware that I normally present interviews with industry professionals. This time I’m bringing you creative artists of another kind, but by no means obscure. Beneath the mainstream exists a glowing furnace within which indie artists radiate.
It is a swelling talent pool that, occasionally, the bright lights of the ‘big industry’ illuminate. Still, by and by, these artists go on creating and growing stronger; reaching out through new emerging markets till, eventually, one day they explode onto the main stage with their incredible and fresh storytelling.
These new voices often pay homage to those titans which have preceded them, and whose work has permeated dreams – both theirs and ours, whether it be in a literary way, or cinematically inclined. Whatever fuel it is that is seeing them blaze new trails, these artists are here to stay. In this episode we talk about the influences, the methods and the talents in their arsenal. If you’ve not heard their names or yet discovered their work . . . soon, you shall.
I hope you’ll listen and be as intrigued and inspired as I.
YOU CAN LISTEN AND MARVEL HERE:
Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a spectacular howling good time, a 50’s inspired gumball machine packed with schlock, satire and more star studded send ups than you can shake a stick at. It’s so silly and overstuffed that one just has to give in to it’s fisher price brand of mayhem and just watch the wanton hilarity unfold. Martians are indeed attacking, and they’re evil little rapscallions with giant brains, buggy eyes and lethal ray guns. Humanity’s best are left to fight them, and let’s just say that’s not saying much with this bunch of morons. Jack Nicholson does a double shift as both the hysterically poised, rhetoric spewing US President and a sleazeball casino tycoon. Annette Bening is his hippy dippy wife, while Rod Steiger huffs and puffs as a war mongering potato head of a general. Over in Vegas, prizefighter Jim Brown and his estranged wife (Pam Grier) fight against hordes with little help from obnoxious gambler Danny Devito. Pierce Brosnan is a bumbling tv expert who sucks on a pipe that he apparently forgot to fill or light, a subtle yet precious running joke. The only people with sense are trailer dwelling youngster Lukas Haas and Natalie Portman as the President’s daughter, and the method they finally find to destroy these nasties has to be seen to be believed. The cast seems padded simply so we can watch famous people getting dispatched by slimy aliens, and also contains Tom Jones as himself, Lisa Marie, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Barber Schroeder, Sylvia Sydney, Martin Short and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua (don’t ask). There’s little story other than Martians attack and kill shitloads of obnoxious people, but therein lies the big joke, and it’s hilarious. Aaack !
K-Pax is a beautifully told, warmhearted film that despite being mildly frustrating in it’s persistent ambiguity, is no doubt a better film for never really drawing a line and stepping to one side of it. Kevin Spacey is charming and sad as a mysterious man called Prot. Prot lives in a psychiatric ward and claims to be from a distant planet (named K Pax, naturally) in a faraway galaxy. Jeff Bridges plays the kindly therapist assigned to take care of him and eventually coach him out of his delusions. But are they delusions? Prot boasts uncanny, impossible knowledge of the solar systems and beyond, and won’t budge on a single detail of his story, which is not characteristic of someone suffering mental illness. Is Prot really who he says he is, or simply a man with a past so deeply traumatic that he’s spun this web of science fiction around his pain and nestled into it like a cosmic comfort blanket? This is where the film refuses to delineate or choose, which is either it’s one fallacy or it’s strongest, bravest creative quality, I haven’t decided yet. It’s interesting that they’ve casted Bridges because there’s a noticeable vibe akin to John Carpenter’s Starman here, which he starred in. Spacey and him are pure magic, navigating their scenes of dialogue like a dance of light, showing kindness and compassion in a situation that breeds confusion and fear. The supporting cast is peppered with talent including David Patrick Kelly, Mary McCormack, Aaron Paul, Alfre Woodward and Bill Lucking, but it’s Bridges and Spacey’s show all the way, and they turn the script they’re given into spun gold. Not to mention the crisp, brilliantly lit cinematography courtesy of John Mathieson as well. It’s one thing to come across intelligent science fiction, but when a film has the emotional heft to back up the tech and brains, you get the whole package, and this one delivers.
Immortal: Ad Vitam is comic book based high fantasy that wasn’t handed a budget big enough to sustain it’s visual dreams, and sadly as a result is the oddest looking thing ever, like a cross between a screensaver and an early 90’s video game cut scene. Set in some distant surreal future where ancient Egyptian gods (who may just be extraterrestrials) rule over a stylized New York City full of mutant humans, it’s a striking yet incomplete vision. When god Horus is sentenced to die, he descends from a giant floating pyramid in the sky and searches for both a male human host to carry his essence and a female one to bear a child, continuing his holy lineage in case he gets caught. Or… something like that, it’s a weird ass movie. German actor Thomas Kretschmann plays Nikopol, a prisoner who escapes cryo-incarceration after a ward malfunction, now on the loose and playing host to Horus, who’s thoughts he can hear in his head. A rogue doctor (Charlotte Rampling) has discovered a girl (Linda Hardy) she deems a genetic anomaly, also catching Horus’s attention. Now, the creator of the comic book, Enki Bilal, is also credited as director and seems to be adapting his own work, but it’s a shame that he didn’t strive for proper funding in order to sell the visual effects, because as it is now I can’t even give the film a decent rep simply based on the kindergarten level CGI that permeates the whole thing and pulls you right out of the story. It’s sad because the story has such promise, it’s really a creative blast with some unique ideas, and the human actors hold their own, especially Kretschmann, but they’re afloat in a pixelated, ill rendered botch-job of a visual palette and it’s quite a drag to have to sit through. Some of the cityscapes look reasonably polished, but as soon as we zoom in and see gods or human/animal splices walking around it’s cringe time. I will say that effects aside they’ve created a terrifically eerie atmosphere though, truly otherworldly, dreamy Blade Runner style aura that helps quite a bit. Perhaps one day they can go back with money, a team and fix all the potholes so one can truly enjoy this potentially great film. Until then, it’s a bit hard to take seriously as a whole.