Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sightseers Review

UK 2012
Director: Ben Wheatley
Certificate 15   88m

Ben Wheatley makes unsettling films. The slick sadism at work in 2011’s Kill List shocked and bewildered audiences when it shed all guises and revealed itself not to be the kitchen-sink gangster flick, but all-out horror, eerily reminiscent of creeping paranoid thrillers like The Wicker Man. In Sightseers, Wheatley tells a story just as sadistic and with just as much suburban paranoia of the country and just as much unflinching violence too, only this time it is very funny.

Tina (Lowe) is a 34 year old who finds Chris (Oram) coming between her and beige homelife with Mom when he proposes to take her caravanning in the West Midlands. It is clear that Tina is not on amicable terms with her mother, and a lot of past guilt (for the death of a beloved pet) is thrust her way as she is swept off her feet by Chris’ not all-that-honourable beardy advances. However, Chris’ rugged worldliness and promises of the Pencil Museum, The Tram Museum and the Yorkshire Downs get the better of Tina and she tears herself away from Mom, grabs her knitting, some pot-pourri and jumps into the car with Chris as they tow his caravan into the wilderness.
Their first day is of course, disastrous. Chris is distracted from enjoying their visit to the vintage tram museum by a littering oaf, and Tina finds herself wrought with guilt when Mom calls from home, feigning distress and illness. All these worries are dwarfed, however, when their caravan runs into, over and some way through an unfortunate, not entirely undeserving, passer-by.
As the couple trek across Yorkshire, more seemingly accidental tragedies occur, as pagan rituals, omens of past wrongdoings, and perpetual boredom play on their minds. Tina's doubts grow and she begins to fear how far she will go to stay with Chris, as his fierce affection for the country is revealed. She is, however, adamant, that their moral slips not ‘ruin the holiday’.

So far, so spoiler-free (I appreciate how awkward the synopsis is there but it’s hard to review this film without giving too much away. There are plenty of surprises too good to spoil here).

The film is both very funny and disquieting. Never does the comedy come for free though; with each fatal blow to their unsuspecting victims, Tina and Chris pay with fissures in their relationship, morality and sanity, and we are made to feel the full force of these consequences.
It does not begin with obvious laughs either, but with a tableau of Tina, modestly dressed in straight unfitting jeans and a plain black sweater reaching out to her mother for understanding, who is in a muted malaise at the prospect of losing her daughter, who she is only too quick to remind, remains her only company. The fact that the comedy has such realistic and honest undertones makes it all the more unsettling and hence curiously British. The home-grown feel stems not just from the imagery of caravan sites and the suffocating overcast weather, but Tina’s attitude that is desperate to make the best out of a terrible situation.

Alice Lowe plays Tina with a knowing yet honest detachment. She emits the sort of na├»ve steadfastness of someone struggling to do the right thing. I’ve long been a fan of Lowe's television appearances since her brilliant performance of Dr Liz Asher in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and am delighted when she pops up on comedy shows such as The Mighty Boosh, Snuff Box and This is Jinsy. With Sightseers she proves not just to have formidable skills as a comic performer but also those of an accomplished dramatic actor. That Tina unsettles, moves us, and get the biggest laughs is remarkable. The film's parched wit keeps it on the outskirts of believability too. The layers of authenticity and melancholy in Tina make the horrific tragedy all the more disquieting and frankly believable.

Steve Oram (who also wrote the screenplay along with Lowe and Amy Jump) plays Chris’s frankness remarkably cautiously. There is something distant not just about Tina's, but our relationship with him too; Oram’s briskness keeps the barrier up. Their relationship is not perfect, and nor are their social or financial circumstances. Chris works as a sort of one-man mob authority on all injustices from class war to naive city-dwellers' preaching of National Trust guidelines, bringing, as he sees it, balance to the universe through perverse but ‘necessary’ methods. The uneasy truth, however, is we begin to justify the ends their victims meet and along with Alice struggle to find a way out.

Through the laughs, violence and crumbling central relationship, the film manages to sustain another unsuspecting character, the countryside. Its eerily beautiful quality is credited in strong part to cinematographer Laurie Rose, who shot Wheatley’s last two features, and in a somewhat suburban allergic reaction, almost causes things go downhill. That their spirits are linked to the surroundings is a curious genre device, one that crosses the comedy into horror, and something that is quintessentially Wheatley. In lesser hands, pillow shots of creeping fog on the Yorkshire downs or hail battering the surrounding scenery would come off as cynical or clunky. However, Wheatley manages to infuse them with meaning to the spirit of the characters with brio. It’s a testament to the producers, who include the formidably successful Nira Park, that such personal touches of Wheatley’s remain.

It is the film’s grounding in reality and the mundane, then, which why it works as well as it does. It knows where to tow the line between tragedy, horror and comedy, fearlessly dancing between without hesitation. When we are not being battered with laughs in grossed-out dismay we are trundling eerily into Chris and Tina’s psyche, and the film becomes something that carries pathos. Don’t be fooled by the colourful poster, this isn’t an easy ride.

Nationwide from November 30th

Friday, 14 August 2009

Ponyo Key Animation Credits

After some rummaging and what not, I've compiled this list of genga (key) animation scenes and their credits for Ponyo, out today in the US or something. I'm still immensely frustrated at its UK release being delayed until February now, but ho-hum.

I've tried to make the list as accurate as I can, but some parts are still unclear, as the sources I used mentioned vague scenarios and scenes rather than specific shots. Whoever really knows or is more familiar with the animators mentioned here than I am, feel free to change or correct or make things clearer than I have. I may just rewatch the scenes myself and try to figure it out.

My two favourite scenes were by Shinij Otsuka (when Ponyo escapes her bubble in Fujimoto's room, up until emerging from the 'Pangea' room riding a fish), and Makiko Futaki/Niki's triumphant scene of Ponyo running the waves chasing after Lisa's car.

Atsuko Tanaka -- Opening scene with the jellyfish and sea creatures

Inamura Takeshi --- Fujimoto's appearance

Akihiko Yamashita -- The trawling rubbish net

Inamura Takeshi -- Finding Ponyo, Fujimoto's minion waves attacking Souske

Katsuya Kondo -- Running with Ponyo up to the garden

Yamamori Eiji -- Watering Ponyo up until Lisa driving away from Fujimoto on the road

Megumi Kagawa -- Kindergarten, Kumiko, Sunflower House scene (i realise this is very vague)

Konishi Kenichi -- Ponyo's struggle in the bubble, with Fujimoto (Fujimoto driving away and the "Ham?!" scene perhaps)

Yamada Kenichi -- Fujimoto and the crabs

Mariko Matsuo -- Sousuke sulking with the ice cream in the car, Lisa's wild driving. Sousuke putting the bucket in front of the house.

Shunsuke Hirota
Shogo Furuya -- both responsible for Ponyo's little sisters helping her escape the bubble, Ponyo pleased with her teeth. In the 'art of' book, it explains how this scene required two people to animate, one pass for the basic movement, and a second to flesh out each little sister and give them distinct movements and personalities.

Shinji Otsuka -- Ponyo's metamorphosis, escaping Fujimoto's room, causing all that havoc, up until Ponyo leaving the 'Pangea' room.

Hiromasa Yonebashi -- Ponyo's escape to the surface, sisters transforming. (Possibly until the end of the scene with Koichi noticing Ponyo, though once again it's not made clear)

Akihiko Yamashita -- Lisa driving her car through the storm

Makiko Niki/Futaki -- Ponyo running on the waves, chasing Lisa's car (I get the feeling Makiko's scene ends with Ponyo falling into the water)

Shinji Otsuka -- Ponyo reuniting with Sousuke (you can see this scene being corrected by Miyazaki in a documentary clip), the house in the storm

Kurita Tsutomu -- Lisa showing Ponyo the soup (mug or ramen isn't made clear)

Noboyuki Takeuichi -- Sleepy Ponyo eating ramen

Hiromasa Yonebashi -- Granmamare approaching Koichi's ship and the conversation with Fujimoto.

Yamamori Eiji -- Sousuke finding Lisa's car and crying. Ponyo looking sleepy in the road (I think this means her collapsing back into fish form)

Konishi Kenichi -- Souske running over the fence to Toki, being pursued by the waves.

Yamakawa Hiroshi -- Granmamare talks to Ponyo

Takeshi Honda -- Old ladies rejoice, Ponyo's farewell to her sisters, ending scene.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Jack and Betty Forever

This is a very odd little book. I found it for 50p in a Japanese bookstore in London, with the intention of buying it for the creepy cover. Imagine my delight upon beginning to read and discovering that the indecipherably weird tone not only continued in the text, but reached something so sublimely strange that it would lead me to scan these pages and tell the world about it.

It is written in English, translated from Japanese supposedly, to be read by Japanese people studying English. In the back there is a glossary to explain literary devices such as 'had turned to pudding', 'cowpie' and 'prim and proper'. Probably very useful for the target audience, but in shoehorning as many idioms and colloquialisms as possible into the book, the author seems to have left behind any rational character development, plot, or narrative structure, making for a reading experience that I can only describe as uncomfortably hilarious. There are four short stories in total, but the first is by far the most jarring and interesting. The book's title story, Jack and Betty Forever shows a short meeting between two old friends and how their lives have basically turned to hell and despair since 'the good ol' days'. What follows is a series of uncomfortable conversations and shocking revelations!!


It ends with Jack's dilemma of whether he should invite Betty to have sex with him or not, but in the end thinks better of it, anticipating her response.

He knew she wasn't going to answer, Yes, I want to have sex with you, too.
He smiled forlornly. "It''s nothing," he said.

Monday, 1 June 2009


This Sunday I went to a very special preview screening of UP in London, 5 months ahead of its ludicrous October UK release date. Once again, I was entertained, touched and inspired by a Pixar film. Pete Docter has created a film so different to Monsters Inc. but has once again proven his love for simple stories and burrowing heartwrenching sentimentality into them. It felt, despite the big action that actually takes place, rather subdued and whimsical, mirroring the journey of its elderly protagonist, Carl Frederickson and his struggle. Perhaps it was because of this that the film felt more like something you'd expect to see from Miyazaki than Lasseter's Emeryville castle, taking its time in telling a story and reveling in the wonder of a house attatched to thousands of balloons floating through the sky. Its rather adult and profound message about the expirable nature of humans, but not of dreams was a bold thing to do, especially since kids make up a large number of the audience. The fact that they seemed thoroughly entertained and as moved by the story as I or any other adults in the cinema were proves the creative team's pioneering skills in storytelling. While children may not have been so hardly hit by the painful yet poetic tableaux of an infertile couple's meeting with a doctor, they seemed to understand how much Ellie meant to Carl.

As with Wall E however, the film falls into Pixar's attatchment to the three-act story, and there is a great big finale more in tone with the Incredibles than Ratatouille, which UP seems to share its tone with much more. I'm sure the story wouldn't have worked any other way, and Ronnie Del Carmen's talent as an artist and storyteller is certain, yet it did feel ever so slightly victim to one of Pixar's 'story-think-time' sessions and as such feels more manufactured than the main story deserves. Saying that, I have only seen it once and desperately want and need to see it again.

Finally, a quick word or two on two people that for me really made this film what it is. One, I cannot speak too much about because I know absolutely nothing about music, but nevertheless, Michael Giacchino has made my summer, and millions of others I'm sure, yet they might not know it. I've loved his work ever since I first heard the bizzare yet unbelieveably exciting score on Lost, which defined the show as much the mysteries for me and never failed to make a scene a thousand times more tense or touching. His subsequent and equally brilliant scores for the Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission Impossible III, Speed Racer and even the short credits piece for Cloverfield prove how versataille and talented a composer he is, whilst still keeping his personal touches, such as solo piano, big horns and trumpets. Another reason for my saying the film felt Ghibli at times was that the score reminded me of Joe Hisashi's work, particularly the 'upcoming' film Ponyo ('On the Cliff by the Sea). The tracks 'Flight of Ponyo' and 'Carl goes Up' not only sound similar, but thematically and visually share similarities in the final films. Anyway, rounding it up, the film would be worse off without his score.

And finally I would simply like to thank Lou Romano for the hours of joy i didn't realise he'd been giving me. Since childhood kicks from the amazing style on The Powerpuff Girls, to the Incredibles and now Up, his work mastering colour as a storytelling device is stunning, and I was glad to realise I'd recognised his work as the mural for Paradise Falls in the film. His blog is well worth checking out, especially since the torrent of his work for Up has been uploaded.

The picture here uses the Russian title for the film, which i understand is pronounced something like 'vheer'.

Trey tribute thing

For artfriend and fellow animation/film gabbler, Neil LaLonde, of his frustratingly sexy Black Mango character from his story 'Trey Dangerous'. Watercolour on watercolour paper, found background from design magazine/digital.

Also, woo first post etc. Let's hope I keep updating frequently ey.