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The Spirit * Frank Miller (2008)

Both the box and the story are much alike the magnificent “Sin City“, “the creators” are the same, but strangely enough, this time it is Frank Miller who does the “Sin City” comic who puts somebody else’s comic to film. Since “Sin City” 2 and 3 are in the make, I wondered why Frank Miller would make another such film and if it woud be as good. Well, “The Spirit” is again a great watch! It has a bit of the “Sin City” style but “Sin City” is more shot like you would see a comic with different perspectives and more contrast. A superhero cop hunts for “the octopus” (the greatest part of Samuel L. Jackson since “Pulp Fiction”) and his assistent (Scarlett Johansson is an unusual part) who of course has bad plans for the world. A slightly thin story backs some great fighting scenes, wonderfull humour and magnificent visuals. The novelty may be gone, but if you like “Sin City”, you will like “The Spirit” as well.

Beowulf 3D * Robert Zemeckis * 2007

BeowulfIt seems that the filmindustry has come up with something to get the audience back from their supersized tvs and dolby surround sets: the 3D movie. Because of the theme I was interested in this film and also I was curious how far the technique of 3D film actually is, so we went to see the spectacle of “Beowulf”. Let me start with the film.
The version of Zemeckis stays much closer to the 8th century poem than “Beowulf & Grendel”, which is a big plus. Beowulf comes to help king Hrothgar who has problems with a man-slaying monster which is much closer to the description in the classic epic than in the other film. The fight with Grendel is rather short and some details are nicely introduced to the film. The killing of Grendel doesn’t solve the problem, since his mother comes to take revenge and it is with the introduction of this mother, that the story begins to show adaptations. Instead of a fierce, man-eating monster, the mother of Grendel has become the beautiful, naked (but sexless) Angelina Jolie who seduces kings and has great riches. Beowulf goes to fight her like in the story, becomes king when Hrothgar dies and builds a massive castle. None of this comes from the poem. The drinking cup that unleaches the dragon (see later) got a big promotion too. What Zemeckis does use and very well, is Beowulf’s fight with the dragon, a part of the story that is completely left out in “Beowulf & Grendel”. Also the end follows the poem, so inspite of a few (rather big) adaptations, this new version of the Beowulf poem is fairly true to text.
Next, the film. Instead of red and green coloured glasses, you now get glasses that slightly shift your view in order to bring the two layers of film together. This produces amazing depth! I was impressed how clear this 3D looks and how much depth can be made with this technique. What is less impressive, is that everything is ‘animated’, so even though in the characters you can clearly see Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich or Anthony Hopkins, they all come from the computer obviously. What I found most strange is that the character such as Beowulf, Wiglaf of Grendel’s mother is amazing in detail, while Unferth and sometimes Wealthow look like clay figures. It is af if there was not the time or the money to make everything equally perfect. What is a big pro of the computer technique is that Grendel is brilliant. He is big, ugly, drewls and bleeds all over the audience and at least is able to eat a man in a few bites (the fact that Grendel is turned into a pityfull creature is an adaptation, but does add something to the film). As for the rest, the film is obviously made to be a 3D film. I wonder what it looks like in the normal version, because scenes in which the camera slowly moves backwards through a forest, or into the mead-hall from above or a warrior pointing his spear towards the audience will look silly if not in 3D. The 3D here and there has Disneyland things just to show it is 3D, but in many cases, it really adds an extra layer to the film experience. When Wealthow almost falls down the way too high castle of Beowulf, the depth is amazing and especially with the extremely carefully constructed fight with the dragon is impressive (I think this scene used most of the budget). In normal scenes with people in a hall, the 3D is a nice extra, but it really shows its value in fighting scenes (men and rubble being thrown into the audience, the extreme depth of a cliff that the dragon flies over, etc.).
Because the best effect is produced when looking through the classes in a particular way, I had to keep my head quite still and eventually I got a bit of a headache. There are also some elements can have to be improved (try working with real actors please!), but overall, for the first 3D film that I see, I am really impressed and it surely is a technique to develop further in order to give cinema a new impulse.
Conclusion: a 4 out of 5 for the film (story) and a 4 out of 5 for the filmimg. If you want to see “Beowulf”, be sure to see it in 3D!

The Rise And Fall Of The Fool’s Ark * Dadara & Jesse vs Lamb & Hipoptimist (2007)

Many years ago, the Dutch artist Dadara was quite popular. His weird comic-like paintings were well appreciated. Recently I heard about this film of Dadara and decided to watch it. “The Rise And Fall Of The Fool’s Ark” is a 50 minute film combining ‘real filming’ with animations of Dadara, either mixed or separate from eachother. The film is about a group of people who build an ark because all fun and colour seems to leave earth, which is taken over by “greymen”. With Dadara’s strange characters and some weird ideas, this results in a very amusing film with some very critical parts on modern society and a simple (or silly?) message. Definately time and money have been investigated in the film. A real ark is built, many greymen have been made and the animations are sometimes elaborate. The film is not a film in the sense that it has a plot, conversations, etc., but rather it is a film with music on the background and sometimes text flying through the screen (which are not be best parts of the film btw.) The result is humorous and amusing and surely worth the watch.

This short film is not on IMDb, so it seems not to be regarded as a film, but maybe as a very long videoclip. Personally I think it is a short film, so the review belongs in this section.

Maaz * Christian Volckman * 1999

This short film (10 minutes) is an earlier experiment of the Frenchman Volckman and his crew. It comes as extra on the “Renaissance” DVD (see elsewhere). “Maaz” is a great-looking experiment with real actors and real stages, but with heavy digital workings and surroundings. Bright colours, strange effects, but not really a story. The result is a dream-like atmosphere (or maybe more like a nightmare) and something quite new in filming and therefor a reason to see sometimes. I have no idea if the film can be found another way than on the “Renaissance” DVD, but that film is worth the buy as well, so no worries. There seems to be no poster, so I just picked an image from the internet for the purpose.

Renaissance * Christian Volckman * 2006

“Renaissance” is a beautiful French animation film completely in black and white in hard contrast (“with no grey tones”). However the film is great to watch, the story isn’t too appealing. In a near futuristic Paris a cop is looking for a kidnapped young, female scientist and he discovers an enormous conspiracy. The creators of the film wanted to make something in between an action film and animation. The first result was a short film somewhere just before the year 2000 (if I remember correctly), later this was worked out to a fulllength film. The aim succeeded. Sometimes the film is obviously an animation (looking a lot like a comic), sometimes the characters seem to have been played by real people (as they were). The film is somewhere between a film noir (much black), a police thriller and let us say “Sin City” (the box also mentions “Metropolis”). A very nice experiment to see.

Les Triplettes de Belleville * Sylvain Chomet * 2003

Strange, this film was anounced quite largely, but plays in only five cinemas in the Netherlands and as it seems only for two weeks. As you can see from the poster, this is an animation film and it is French. Not really my kind of film, but enough people who wanted to see it to form a group of seven (all family too).

“The Triplets from Belleville” opens with al old-fashioned and hilaric piece of black and white animation which proves to be a tv-show. Then you see the main charactors, a young boy (in the front on the bike) and his grandma (with the umbrella). The boy is a sad boy, but when he grandma finds out he likes bicycles, he is delighted and soon trains himself into the “Tour De France”. There he gets kidnapped by a couple of square guys and shipped to “Belleville” (America) where he is exploited. Grandma goes after him with their dog in order to save him.

You can already see the way of drawing, simple, effective and funny (especially the maffia and the waiter). The film is not a chain of jokes and not so silly that it is only for children (as a matter of fact, there were only older people watching). No overtly hilaric animation, just something completely different an nice to see some time.

(Frank Miller’s) Sin City * Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez (2005)

Sin CityWhen I heard about this film I immediately wanted to see it. It was out of the cinemas before I knew it and we are still waiting for the DVD release. Good that a friend has an import!
I suppose you heard all about the film, if you haven’t seen it yet. One thing is certain, I had high expectations of the film, but it is even better than I hoped! The film is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s own comic. I didn’t know about this, but this man made more films out of comics. Also I don’t know the comic, but that isn’t needed to enjoy this film. Quentin Tarantino is guest director by the way.
I thought that “Sin City” was a film with comic-elements, such as in “The Hulk” (which I haven’t seen), but this isn’t really the case. The film is actually shot the way one would make a comic and this really shows. This makes it obvious that a film and a comic are made from completely different viewpoints (both literally and as a manner of speaking). A comic has a ‘hero’ with his face right in the camera talking, a very simple shot of a driving car, shots in which a lot of perspective is put, surreal stages and characters with very distictive features such as a grim man with a square face or a woman with a superb body and a very outspoken haircut. It is really nice to see this made into a film.
Sin City is a dark city where corruption is the rule. The film consists of three storylines that here and there cross eachother. They go over in eachother abruptly which made me rather confused about whether or not the characters are the same or if the stories have something to do with eachother. In the first story “Hartigan” (Bruce Willis) is the only clean cop left in town. He wants to save an 11-year old girl from the hands of a cannibalistic maniac, but runs right into a massive corruption scandal and lands in jail. Then almost unnoticed we go to the story of the grim and hard-to-kill walking tank “Marv” (Mickey Rourke) who falls in love with a woman who gets killed while he was laying in bed with her, so he has to hunt supernatural enemies and eventually the most powerfull man of Sin City in order to get revenge; this is definately the most ‘comical’ part of the film with flying persons and weird characters. Then we have the story of ‘the old town’ where the police left the maintaining of the order to the beautiful prostitutes-warriors of the old town; a man named Dwight ends up in old town and a cop gets killed, which is a serious problem so he has to get rid off the bodies; this results very surreal scenes and stories. All the sudden we are back with Hartigan, is he the other characters? Did he dream the other two stories while in the hospital? Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn’t really matter.
Shot is moody black and with with great ‘comical’ high contrasts here and there. Only four colours are filled in: red, green, blue and yellow adding to the atmosphere. “Sin City” truely is a great visual experience with uncommon stories, viewpoints, special effects, etc. Nicely dark, sometimes pretty grim and bloody/extreme with a descent sense of humour. The total atmosphere and (as far as I know) sheer originality of the film really makes it by far the best film that I have seen in recent times!

Jin-Rô * Hiroyuki Okiura * 1998

Animation has never been really my cup of tea, yet I do like the “Animatrix”. This film was on MTV a while ago and I decided to record it. “The Wolf Brigade” is an animation with quite life-like images and it plays in an apocalyptic future where the Brigade is a para-police-unit to avoid terrorists from disturbing society. The masses are not too happy with the reign, so anti-governental groups flourish. When one member of the Wolf Brigade sees a teenager girl blowing herself up in front of him, he has second thoughts about his occupation. Then he runs into an almost identical girl.
“Jin-Rô” has a nice, quite typically Japanese, dark atmosphere and a story critical to our nowadays society. The images are quite realistic and the makers sure had an eye for detail. All this makes “Jin-Rô” almost like watching a ‘normal’ film. I enjoyed it, maybe I should see some more “anime” to get to know the genre better.

Casshern * Kazuaki Kiriya * 2004

However this film may be ‘the Japanese Sin City’ (it is also a film made of a comic), the approach is quite different. Still, also in “Casshern” there are computer stages, weird colours, etc., but the persons look more human than in “Sin City” and “Casshern” is a lot darker (yes, a lot darker than “Sin City”), but also a lot more ‘bombastic’. I don’t quite follow the logic in the film (do Japanese have another sense of logic?), but the story is something like this: in the future Asia has conquered the European lands and formed a big empire. There is rebellion in one of the European parts of “Eurasia” and an ongoing war. A professor discovers a new gene-technology that should make it easy to ‘repair damaged soldiers’, since he can breed hands and limbs, etc. This experiment runs out of hand and mutants walk out of the laboratory. These mutants call themselves ‘neo-sapiens’ and decide to take revenge on the human race. A massive war with some ‘supernatural’ elements is caused.
The film begins a bit dreamy with bright colours and a strange atmosphere that reminds me a bit of the Japanese film “Dolls” (reviewed elsewhere). The war scenes are very grim and depressive (but not too good) and especially when the war between the mutants and mankind begins, the film gets very dark. The director obviously wants to show the crazyness and futility of war and to show that the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is not as black-and-white as you may think. As in other Eastern films there are long ‘philosophical’ scenes about why mankind always makes war, etc. The film is sometimes quite realistic, here and there you get 2-dimensional comic scenes, but most of the time there are over-the-top stages with bright colours, comic action and weird characters. The film is overwhelming, but with the grim atmosphere not a pleasant watch. Also with the confusing story (who is who, what is happening?) I definately need to watch this film again, maybe it will make a bit more sense. But “Casshern” (which means ‘guardian angel’ by the way) surely isn’t the average film and also I think it is not (like “Sin City”) for the big audience. Watch it and be surprised by the weirdness of Japanese filmmaking!

The Animatrix * various * 2003

I have had this DVD in my hands several times and I was not the only one doubting whether or not to see this film. I can tell you: I don’t regret I did!

Already a nice surprise was that before I started to watch the films, I quickly jumped through the extras menu and heard that it were the brothers Wachowski themselves who had these films made. No cheap spinoff without consulting the creators of The Matrix trilogy. The brothers Wachowski wanted an animated version of their stories and asked nine prominent Japanese “anime” artists to make a short film. The brothers wrote the stories and came with suggestions, but still left the artists very free to fill in the rest. The result is nine animation films of about 10 minutes each, in different styles and treating different aspects of the world of The Matrix. The first film is an extraordinary realistic part much like the first film. The rest is quite typical Japanese “anime” with a lot of Buddhistic and “Matrixal” symbology. You will get the story of the time before the first film and different aspects of the concept of The Matrix. The extra information is very nice. Also you will get insight into the “Enter The Matrix” computer game, but that is not really my cup of tea.

So, if you like The Matrix, just have a look at this. The atmosphere of the animations is very close to that of the first film and they are done by the best artists and this definately shows. Also if you (like me) normally do not watch “anime”, this “Animatrix” is still a pleasure to watch.