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L’illusionniste * Sylvain Chomet (2010)

The director of “Les Triplettes de Belville” returns with a new full length animation. “L’illustionist” (the illusionist) is about a not too successfull French illusionist who travels to England and Scotland to perform. In Scotland a girl is so impressed by his ‘magic’ that she travels back with him to London. There the two grow apart. “L’illusionist” is a slow and overly sweet film which lacks the weird humour of “Les Triplettes…”. The result is rather dull, perhaps enjoyable for 8 to 12 years old or so. More positive is the artwork. Where characters and scenery are kept simple (like before) there are a few scenes which almost look as if they are filmed.

9 * Shane Acker (2009)

Animation is not really my genre, but what I saw and read about this film, still made me want to see it. Inspite of the fact that Tim Burton produced this film and that it looks quite alright, I did not find “9” too interesting. A quite typical story playing in an apocalyptic future in which man lost the war with the machines, we follow a group of jute-dolls trying to survive. Fighting their mechanical foos with some semi-alchemical symbolism and sci-fi logic, a struggle develops with humour and drama. Not boring, but not too great either.

Best Animation From Holland (2007)

My eye fell on this DVD when I was looking through the library stock. This 100 minutes DVD contains 11 animations spanning over two decades (1984 to 2005 presented chronologically), all award-wining shorts. All animations are simply drawn, one is an early computer animation. Some of the films are funny, some more melancholic. The artists involved are Børge Ring (“Anna & Bella“), Evert de Beijer (“De Karakters“), the weird “Dada” of Peter Kroon in which the number of books a character can carry on his/her had signifies intelligence, Maarten Koopman with his great “Famous Paintings“, Gerrit van Dijk with “I Move, So I Am” in which the painter continuously paints himself, Christa Moesker with the violent little girl “Sientje” very amusing, Paul Driessen with his pretty vague “3 Misses“, Michael Dudok de Wit (“Father and Daughter“), Adriaan Lokman with his 3D computer animation “Barcode” which is dated 9 years after its creation, Rosto with “Anglobilly Feverson” and Erik van Schaaik with “Vent” a funny film about a guy being blown away by the wind.
Some of the films presented are amusing, but this DVD does not make me an animation-freak. Nice to watch something different some time though.

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!