Thursday, 10 April 2014

Out Of the Oscar Coma: Short Reviews

Every year after rocketing through all the films I can on the Oscar ballot, I slip into an 'Oscar Coma'. I avoid too many films to catch up with some television instead. This means that very little happens on this blog. But do not think I have been sitting by doing nothing. To prove that, have some small reviews to keep you all going.


The latest Disney animation about two princesses, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa has magical abilities that allow her to conjure ice and snow. On the day of her coronation, Anna gets engaged to Hans (Santino Fontana), a man she has only just met, and Elsa cannot hide her powers any more. She is run out of her kingdom by her own people and hides away in a castle of ice. With the help of ice loving Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, Anna goes in search of her sister. There's also a snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad) and some trolls who have raised Kristoff.

Whilst the animation and concepts within the film are incredible, the rest just is not quite there. There are plenty of minor issues that could easily be solved but instead leave questions unanswered. With songs thrown in with little reasoning - the trolls tell us that Kristoff is a fixer upper, a pointless song - and with a plot that rattles by with the speed of a cheetah, the film cannot afford to waste time with such meaningless songs. It is not that the songs lack quality, they lack value. Similarly, the rest of the film is enjoyable but entirely superficial. It ticks all the boxes on the mainstream check list - attractive protagonists, catchy songs, visually engaging animation, silly jokes - but it is all surface level. With minimal plot, the most character development happens in one song: Do You Want To Build A Snowman. After this, what could have been bold statements by Disney about sisterly love, anxiety, being who you are, and the dangers of judging others fall away into the distance and become dots on the horizon. But it is fine because the trolls are adorable, right?

Catchy, enjoyable, but lacking in any real depth. So much potential in the first twenty minutes. Such a small outcome.

Best Bit? Do You Want To Be A Snowman is one of the most moving openings to a film in a long time. Two entire characters summed up in a couple of minutes.

The LEGO Movie

Another big animation, this time coming from Warner Brothers and is completely made from LEGO. Not stop motion, mind - computer animation of LEGO. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a perfectly average LEGO man when he gets mistaken for the most extraordinary person alive. He gets roped into a society of 'Master Builders', the LEGO characters who can build away from instructions. These people include Batman (Will Arnett), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and the girl who discovers Emmet, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). However, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the evil tyrant that rules the LEGO world, forbids the making of LEGO structures without instructions and has evil plans to solidify his universe with 'Kragle'. Emmet, as the 'Special' must use his abilities to stop him. Unfortunately, he does not have those abilities.

The LEGO Movie created a stir prior to its release with its hilarious trailers featuring every character under the sun. It does not disappoint. Scattered with laugh out loud moments but between, the chuckling will not rest. Highly inventive, literally using one of the world's most popular playtime toys as the driving force of a whole plot. There is no way you will not find yourself wanting to dig out your old LEGO box when the credits roll. Maybe it is a huge advertisement, but it never stops being entertaining for the entire family. Feel no shame watching it without kids, this film is made for everyone. And guaranteed you will not be able to get Everything is Awesome out of your head for weeks.

A strangely philosophical escape from reality into a childish sense of joy. Hilarious and gloriously entertaining.

Best Bit? The meeting of the Master Builders in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Hilariously constructed with cameos from your favourite characters and voice actors alike.

The Act Of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar nominated documentary asks government protected Indonesian killers who committed mass murders 50 years ago to reconstruct their killings in any film genre they want. This includes gangster films, art films, and musical numbers. The result is a brutal truth exposing the atrocities that happened decades ago in a country that flies relatively low on the Western World's radar. Do not be mistaken by the pastel colours on the poster. It is far more  disturbing than that, a point which the trailer makes very clear.

This is one of the finest documentaries in years. Challenging, powerful, shocking, and hard to watch. Anwar, the killer we follow, is a horribly likeable character, dancing on rooftops whilst describing the brutal ways he tortured and murdered people. Perhaps more disturbing is the idea of him being hailed as a national hero for his 'crimes'. As he says himself, crimes are decided by the winners and he is a winner. What The Act Of Killing does is open the viewers' eyes to the darkness in the world, and the horrors of seeing your own dark past in front of you.

Hard hitting and eye-opening. A masterpiece.

Best Bit? Is there a best bit in something made to expose darkness? There's certainly something heartbreaking about the end.