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25 reviews in total 
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25 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Much better than I was expecting, 22 November 2009

I just saw this at the WFAC. I must say that I wasn't expecting much out of this film. It's a good thing that I went to see it anyway, because it turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival. The closest equivalent to what "Sita Sings the Blues" was last year; though the two films are in many ways quite different, they share between them a wacky sense of humour and a refreshing inventiveness. The story of the film is insane and has to be seen to be believed. This is the kind of story that, as a kid, you wished existed somewhere. It starts out with a cowboy and an Indian accidentally ordering 50 million bricks for the birthday of their roommate, Horse, and goes from there to a visit with the Atlanteans, the centre of the earth, and giant robotic penguins.

The animation in the film is just as entertaining. I'm sure that some would call it crude, but the fact remains that it's very expressive and perfectly suited to this story and these characters. The French-language voice acting is also great.

The film has no great moral or lesson to teach us, but I think it is no less of an achievement to make something that's genuinely funny. The only thing I thought a bit strange was that it seems to go on for a little longer than it felt the natural ending point of the story should be.

This film is in the running for the animated feature Oscar this year, but probably won't be nominated; it's too low-profile and somehow I think that the animation style could offend some of the Academy professionals. But who cares about what the Academy folks think? If you want to watch something fun (even better if it's with friends), I'd highly recommend it.

Star Trek (2009)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A film of its era, 4 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This new Star Trek film uses a fast pace and dense cinematography to keep the viewer from realizing that there are several plot-holes that crop up throughout the story. The creators clearly hoped that by keeping things moving fast enough and constantly engaging the viewer's emotions, the viewer would not have the luxury of figuring out that the actual story doesn't work. In this, it is a product of the dominant film-making school of this era. Suitably, that is also one of the main themes driving the film: Emotion is good, as Spock's father tells Spock at the end. Unless the emotion belongs to someone who destroys planets out of revenge, of course. So the film is not very interesting, unfortunately, on the intellectual front, in contrast to the series.

But it does succeed on a number of other levels. The actors generally did a good job - I have few complaints there. I think that Chekov's Russian accent might have been a bit overdone.

Here are the flaws in the story that I noticed:

1) Two ships and a supernova get sucked into a black hole. One ship comes out in the past, the other comes out 25 years later. Where the enormous supernova goes is left unanswered. Somehow a black hole distinguishes the matter of the two ships from the matter of the supernova? One ship decides to wait 25 years for the other ship to come out; how its crew knows WHEN the other ship will come out or if it will come out at all is left unanswered.

2) The planet-drilling needles can be destroyed just by firing a few laser beams from a small ship, yet none of the planets under attack do anything about them except panic.

3) Kirk becomes captain after provoking Spock to an extreme emotional response, which disqualifies Spock from being captain. However, in the ensuing fight, and in his conduct before that, Kirk is shown to be far more emotional and violent. Yet he takes over the captain's chair, and nobody objects. After what had just happened, the whole crew and Spock had a very good reason to dislike him, yet they all become pals a short time later.

4) The monster chase on the ice planet strains all credibility. Just everything about it.

On the whole, it was an okay experience. It's not a badly-made film at all, but it aims at mainstream sensibilities. I always thought that the low budget of the Star Trek TV series forced it to be interesting from a story point of view. With a high-budget blockbuster movie, there is a shift of priorities towards eye candy and action. There is enough of the core spirit left for it to be called "Star Trek", but I'd rather watch the TV episodes.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A good, poetic introduction to Russian animation, 17 January 2009

This documentary film is a good introduction to Russian animation for those who are not very familiar with it. It covers a number of the more famous films and artists while also spending a lot of time on Russian culture itself and on what was behind the films that they made. It is indeed poetic, and the films that are covered are excellent. Despite that, I did find some flaws in this film.

First of all, while the material and interviews are excellent, I felt that the film as a whole lacked a solid unifying theme, and so by the second half was beginning to feel stretched out. There feels just a bit too much randomness in the overall edit, as if the directors couldn't quite decide where to go and simply decided to put in their favourite footage without worrying too much about direction.

My second "complaint" (though it probably would have little affect on someone unfamiliar with the subject) is that the material covered, while good, does not give an accurate impression of the sheer scope of ideas of Russian animation. It focuses almost entirely on the more popular works of the Soyuzmultfilm studio, though even there, it misses some very big things along the way. Aleksandr Tatarskiy (who directly taught nearly 60% of the Russians in animation today) and Pilot Studio (the first private Russian animation studio, which he founded), for example, are barely given any mention at all. Neither is mentioned any animation from other Soviet republics, some of which was very famous, nor what existed before Soyuzmultfilm's founding in 1936.

The focus of the film seems to be a relatively small, though mostly representative, selection of films from the Soyuzmultfilm studio, the atmosphere in which they were created, and what the people from that old school are doing today and think about where the art form is headed. One gets a sense that the directors are more akin to fans of Russian animation rather than researchers, so what emerges is a somewhat unfocused but sincere film about the films that they love best.

Having said that, there is a lot of interesting material in here. We are given tours of Garri Bardin's and Yuriy Norshteyn's studios (and see a very short segment of the unreleased "Overcoat"; Akaky Akakievich looking for fleas in his tattered coat).

I seem to have bought the last existing DVD copy of this film with English subtitles, so unless it is re-released, good luck finding it...

8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Sad and powerful, 12 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a film about what the Inuit lived like before the arrival of Europeans, and what happened after they arrived to one small community, through the eyes of the survivors. This is not some grand epic, but rather a slow and very intimate story which is filled with great sadness. At first, we hear that the story is being narrated from the point of view of one grandmother (Ningiuq) to her husband at some point in the future, which gives us a sense of comfort that everything will turn out well in the end.

Ningiuq is the main focus of the story, as well as her grandson Maniq. The first part of the film starts in a pre-contact Inuit village, and lets us meet all of its colourful characters. What struck me during this part of the film and what followed was how much I could relate with everyone. It is such a human film, much more so than most films nowadays.

***SPOILERS begin here***

One man tells of how his family met some people in strange boats far away from the village who met them and offered to trade metal needles (far sharper than anything the Inuit own) in return for sleeping with their women. The women wanted the needles...

In any case, winter is coming on, and provisions caught over the summer must be dried. Men from the Inuit village transport Ningiuq, her best friend Kutuujuk and her grandson Maniq over to an island where the three of them will dry the fish that the village has caught over the summer. Before he goes, Maniq's father hands him his harpoon and tells him that when he gets back, he will take him hunting for the first time. On the island, Kutuujuk gets ill and dies. Maniq becomes proficient with the harpoon and even catches his first seal. Ningiuq and Maniq wait for the boat to come, but fall is closing in. Finally, unable to wait any longer, they take their canoe and start the journey back themselves.

A horrible sight meets them back at the village. A European disease has broken out, and no-one is left alive. They decide to go back to the island where they stored some food, taking two puppies with them. Though their tent has broken down, they find a cave where they shelter through the long winter. Ningiuq sings songs and tells stories to Maniq, and Maniq dreams of making the two little pups his sled dogs. Ningiuq says that she knows of a beautiful place to the south where there are many people and children, but that the path there is long and very difficult. They are attacked by wolves, and Ningiuq is wounded. Towards the end, the film gets slower and slower, and Ningiuq begins repeating the same things to Maniq ("you're my grandson, you're so skilled, and I love you very much"). Finally, we see her talking to herself (but as if she were talking to her husband) and realize that her narration throughout the early part of the film was not from some comfortable happy ending, but from this desperate, lonely and not very hopeful situation.

Does the wonderful place in the south really exist? Will they ever get there? That's beyond the scope of this film, which is about the journey and not the destination.

***SPOILERS end here***

The acting and direction here are fantastic, and indeed it's one of those films that really gets you deep down. The music is a bit hit-and-miss, and I felt that the song which plays at the beginning and end ("Why Must We Die?") beats you over the head with the point a bit too much.

I think that most people will like the film, though. The one snag is that it is sometimes very slow, which is something that I've seen in all the Inuit films - the sense of pacing is just much slower in general than in the modern West. But at least it is slow and intimate rather than slow and aloof. I could not stand it if it were the latter.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
One of the first examples of Soviet animation, 8 June 2008

This film is fairly well-known among historians of Russian animation for being one of the first to be made in the Soviet Union. Well, not exactly the first; there was one lost film released in 1923 and nine in total from 1924. But it was the "biggest" early animation project, running about 32 minutes. The film is in three acts of 10 minutes each. It starts with a description of how evil capitalists are hurting China, goes on to show an example of uprisings in the countryside and cities which are mercilessly crushed, and finally shows how communist ideas make an impact among the population, and how China finally recognizes the Soviet Union and begins trading with it. The final scene sums up the message of the film by telling its viewers to sympathize with the plight of the Chinese peasants and "stand by them".

Unlike American animation of that time, Soviet animation of the 1920s up until 1936 took its inspiration from avant-grade revolutionary posters (American animation was inspired by comics). The film's visual style is very dramatic (i.e. capitalists have enormous bellies, fat, jiggling cheeks, and even fangs). Symbolism is everywhere (near the end of the film, capitalism is represented by a huge black spider sitting on China). At the same time, the portrayal of the Chinese countryside in the middle of the film is rather naturalistic and peaceful. The film uses the "cutout animation" style; everything consists of moving pieces of paper. This method allows a far more interesting visual look than cel animation would have, at the expense of some mobility. However, the animators are very creative with how they use it.

Although some sections of the film are quite interesting to watch, it is not nearly as fun as the directors' earlier and shorter 1924 film "Interplanetary Revolution". There is less activity, and less humour (by design, this film was meant to be educational). However, I don't think that I can really judge the true quality of the film; the version of the film that I watched (Films by Jove) had a clean but very dark image, sometimes so dark that I couldn't see anything on the screen. Moreover, the music chosen to accompany this silent film seemed very inappropriate most of the time; the striking images and often-frantic activity on the screen demanded a similarly striking soundtrack. Instead, there was a Chinese string instrument and flute playing very slow and seemingly aimless music that did not correspond at all with the activity on the screen. All in all, it was difficult to get a picture of what the film was like when the reels were brand new and the music more fitting.

6 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Nothing special, 21 November 2007

When I saw this at a film festival recently (it was packaged along with some other films), I had no idea that Bjork did the voice of the main character. Besides that bit of star power (and I don't think it matters for an animated film, anyway), there's nothing special about the movie. Its message is simplistic and it is conveyed gracelessly, so it simply bored me (the whole film climaxes with the very deep observation that "kids grow up and become teenagers"). The characters are all clichés. The whole story is cliché. The humour is usually predictable and lacks subtlety. The animation and art design is more cheery than it is good; expect to see lots of exaggerated movements and "wacky" shapes but little soul. It is also just not structured very well; it starts off with the story of a boy living with a wild boar in the forest who somehow becomes a psychologist later in the film. The finished film would work just as well without this introduction, because it doesn't relate to anything that comes after; it just seems like a random unneeded back-story.

It is a generally harmless film (except maybe for the scene of Anna's parents "getting freaky") but I don't really think that there's any reason to see it; it's not that good and it doesn't offer anything new.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Movie-making by committee, 14 August 2007

Most of the jokes fell flat, as did most of the sentimental scenes. It was disjointed. But there were some nice action scenes, and it worked just enough to make me not sorry that I paid to see it on the big screen.

Those are my impressions in a nutshell. More words? OK...

There are really two big problems with The Simpsons Movie. The first, and more important one, is that it has no coherent, well-planned script. The creators apparently finished enough scenes which were eventually cut out to make a whole other film, and were removing and adding stuff until the last minute. This is a poor method of making sure that your film has a flow rather than simply a progression of events. Unfortunately, The Simpsons Movie's scenes often have no bridge between them, especially in the beginning, before the plot really gets going. One funny scene ends and another begins, and you get a weird sense that they could've switched their order around and no-one would've noticed. They're there more to show a joke than to fit into the bigger picture. Of course, this makes the plot not very coherent either. I really got the impression that any single 10-minute stretch of the movie could've been replaced with something completely different and still make as much sense as it did before.

The second problem is that the movie makes some attempt at developing the Simpsons' characters and actually having a sort of moral. It only half-works, because you don't really get a sense that the Simpsons are real. In order for the comedy to work (which is the main focus of the film), many of the characters act like caricatures. It is therefor hard to relate to them when the film suddenly turns around and says "nope, these folks are real, you're supposed to cry now". The TV show has a similar problem. And, to be fair, so do some very fine comedy films like "Hot Fuzz".

I should as well mention here that my theatre audience (Toronto, on a Tuesday a few weeks after the movie's premiere) was depressingly quiet, and there was only a bit of laughter. This seems to be one film which benefits greatly from being seen with an appreciative crowd. Unfortunately, after you take the appreciative crowd away, the film doesn't have enough merits to really be enjoyed by one person.

Oh, it's alright. As I mentioned before, there are some really impressive action scenes, and some jokes actually DO work. But I think it's closer to being an "ok" movie than to being a "good" one.

8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
One of the funniest and most fulfilling films I've seen., 13 June 2007

This film has an ingenious structure - it begins with an old Pomor seaman telling tales in a little fisherman's cabin to his few companions. The place is somewhere near Arkhangelsk, in the far north of Russia by the White Sea. The time is indeterminate - partly in the past, partly in the "present" (anachronistic touches abound). The tales which he tells were originally written down by folklorists and writers Boris Shergin and Stepan Pisakhov at the beginning of the 20th century.

This is some really well-written stuff. What's more, it is absolutely hilarious. Our narrator speaks in a colourful northern Russian dialect which is very difficult to translate well into another language. He describes ridiculous stories about the "daily lives" of the villagers living in Russia's far north. For example: the daily run of the "icebergers"; people who harvest icebergs. The penguins who come up north to make some money in the off-season. The bear who sneaks into their village to sell kvass.

As the evening grows late, the stories become a little more serious... and the last story of the night is incredibly moving, far more than what you would expect. By the time the film is over, it becomes clear that it is not simply a funny collection of tales, but a veritable masterpiece. Everything comes together to an extremely satisfying conclusion.

The animation in the film is on a tighter budget than a typical western feature film, but the skill level of the artists shines through. The character animation in particular is very good, and the background art is typical of Russian folk illustrations.

Overall, this is an excellent film. Watch it if you can find it anywhere!

15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
What an incredible film, 28 April 2007

This two-part film is fantastically-made, beautifully-acted, and has a wonderful musical score. But more than anything else, it is eye-opening and heart-breaking. The unbelievably difficult life that Andersen led is portrayed here in the form of long flashbacks; the film moves back and forth in time, more or less chronologically, between Andersen as a kid, as a teenager/young man, and as an adult/old man. Sometimes, Andersen's fairy tales take on a life of their own and seem to intrude into the real world. There are sequences where Andersen's shadow comes to life, where a prince comes to a princess in the form of a pig-keeper, and where Andersen himself is transported into the future. In that sense, it goes a tiny bit beyond being a biography. But as a biographical film, it is brilliant.

What is most impressive here is the acting - the actor portraying Andersen does a painfully, amazingly good job of portraying the "ugly duckling" that the real historical Andersen was. For those not acquainted with Andersen's biography, it may be a real eye-opener. A lot of the time, it is not an easy film to watch. But it is clear that the people working on it worked with the highest level of artistry. I think that it's an extremely fitting tribute to Andersen's legacy, and a very faithful retelling of Andersen's life story - not getting every single detail right, but exactly on the mark in the general feel.

The film is not for everyone, though - first of all, it's absolutely not a family film, strange as that may sound. There are some disturbing scenes and female nudity. Also, bullies (whether kids or adults) will think the film stupid and annoying, just as they thought Andersen when he was a child. If someone finds horrifying the thought of seeing a film about a very awkward, "ugly duckling" of a person, and laughs at weird people rather than sympathising with them, this film is not for them.

If you want to see a film which is true to the spirit of Andersen, however, you're in for an amazing delight. While it is often a sad film, it is also a very colourful one and a very good one.

Maestro (2005)
6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A funny, well-crafted film, 13 February 2007

This is funny, well-crafted, computer-animated short film that'll give you a good laugh if you watch it. You can find it for free online (and legally) by searching for it at the "Portable Film Festival".

The fact I'm giving the film a 6 does not at all mean that I disliked it - as another user said, the film moves in a very deliberate way to a funny conclusion that you the viewer will probably not expect. It's definitely worth a look.

The thing is, that's all there is to it. The film sets its target low and does a great job of achieving it, but it's still a low target. I'm not sure that it has enough in it to deserve an Oscar nomination (especially when exemplary artistic masterpieces such as Aleksandr Petrov's "My Love" were left out of the list). It's a fine film that's worth watching, but it's still only based around a rather short, simple joke and doesn't aim for anything higher.

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