strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
I've been writing up reviews of films seen at the Cottage Road cinema's classic film nights here for a while, but last night the Hyde Park Picture House offered an equivalent of its own: an evening of 1940s cinema. I went along with [ profile] planet_andy, [ profile] big_daz and [ profile] ms_siobhan - who had really thrown herself into the spirit of the evening by taking the cinema management's encouragement to dress in period style to heart. She wasn't the only one, either. I'd say there were probably about 50-60 people there, of whom at least ten had taken the opportunity to dress up, and some of whom had really gone to town. Unlike at the Cottage Road cinema, we didn't get any dodgy vintage adverts at the start of the programme, but we did get two short films before moving on to the main feature.

19a. Listen to Britain )

19b. 6 Little Jungle Boys )

19c. Perfect Strangers )

Anyway, a very enjoyable evening all round; and capped off by a jolly nice late dinner in Hyde Park, too. Posters outside the cinema promised Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth, complete with a new musical score, next Saturday night - but I can't actually see anything about that on the Hyde Park Picture House's own website. Still, if it's on, [ profile] ms_siobhan and I are going. Anyone else?

Edit: The Last Man on Earth is now on the official Hyde Park Picture House site, too - so definitely a goer!

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strange_complex: (Kida Atlantis meep!)
I watched this on Saturday evening while staying with my sister, largely on the basis that we all fancied a quiet night in with the kittens, and she happened to have it recorded on their hard drive. And it's a good thing that we had the kittens to distract us, because the film itself was dire.

It's not that I am simplistically anti-Disney. I love The Little Mermaid for its bright optimism and sing-a-long soundtrack, and love Hercules for its witty, knowing take on Classical mythology. I also saw the first Mulan film with my sister when it first came out, and we both thought it was all right - typically Disneyfied, obviously, but nicely drawn and with at least a moderately feminist message.

This, though, is a straight-to-video sequel, and it shows. It looks cheaper, the songs are dreadful, there's barely any plot, and in fact most of the film really just consists of the characters being goofy or starry-eyed. There were also parts of it that I found grossly culturally offensive - particularly the song Like Other Girls, sung by three princesses who are being sent to marry three princes they have never met in order to cement a political alliance.

The essence of this song is that princesses have to be dutiful and do things that they don't want to do, whereas 'other girls' get to be free. Freedom includes eating cakes, running around, getting dirty, not worrying about manners, not being fussed over by nurses, and (the bit that really shocked me) not wearing pinchy shoes. Yes, that's right people - not wearing pinchy shoes.

In an effort to check whether this really was as culturally insensitive as I thought it was, I tried to work out when the Mulan films are meant to be set - i.e. were they really situated in a world when ordinary Chinese girls enjoyed almost total personal liberty, and princesses merely had to wear slightly pinchy shoes? It's not as simple a question as I thought. Apparently, the story of Hua Mulan, on which the films are based, first emerged in the 6th century AD, purporting to tell a story set in the 4th century. So far, so good, as actually the practice of foot-binding did not emerge until the 10th century. Maybe 4th-century princesses really did just wear slightly pinchy shoes?

But the story was also significantly re-worked during the Ming Dynasty (spanning our late medieval to early modern periods), by which time foot-binding certainly was practised. And in any case, the story as presented by Disney is clearly basically a fairy-tale, set in a Chinese equivalent to the generically 'olden times' which also form the setting for most of our European fairy-tales. The princesses singing the song are portrayed as belonging to a highly traditionalistic society, and surely it ought to occur to any western viewer with the slightest grasp of Chinese culture that that might well include the practice of foot-binding?

So I don't think it is appropriate to present cheap and cheerful songs featuring such princesses aspiring to a 21st-century western model of personal freedom, implying that this is something they might be familiar with, or indeed that even while they don't have it, the worst of the impositions which they have to put up with is having to wear slightly uncomfortable shoes sometimes. It seems to me a total denial of the culture the film is supposed to be portraying, to the point that it becomes grossly offensive, and you may as well not bother attempting to show a different culture at all.

OK, so it's a straight-to-video Disney film, and I should have known better. I doubt any of you are in much immediate danger of accidentally falling into the trap of watching it. But this one really is particularly well avoided. I've had the displeasure so that you don't have to.

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on computer, thanks to [ profile] innerbrat.

A cracking evening's viewing. OK, so the animation was fairly basic - but in some ways, lowish production values rather suit Terry Pratchett. His books are about finding the profound in the mundane, and his characters for the most part humble, ordinary folk. So something big and flashy and pretentious might have seemed rather at odds with the story.

Last night, Semillon Chardonnay in hand, I even started having thoughts about how, since much of the story in Wyrd Sisters is about plays and players, and their plays hardly have the highest production values either, you could even see the slightly ham-fisted character of the animation as a deeply symbolic meta-narrative parallel for the offerings of Vitoller's strolling players. This morning, I'm not so sure, but... it's a thought.

Pterry's story-line was followed fairly closely. I remember thinking this didn't work so well for Hogfather over Christmas, but it seemed much more effective here, perhaps because the adaptation was much shorter (2h20). I was a bit confused by the range of accents apparently encountered in Lancre, especially since the three witches themselves seemed to 'ail from Zomerzet way, and I've always considered Lancre to be at least northern (Lancaster, very hilly) and possibly Scottish (Macbeth references in Wyrd Sisters). Still, Nanny Ogg does work quite well as a Somerset lass, I'll grant.

And of course, importantly, there was the added joy of Christopher Lee as Death. Nothing much to say here really - he was obviously perfect for the part, and he got it just right. Yay!

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I've just been out to see the above with [ profile] nigelmouse, at a fabulous cinema called the Hyde Park. Leeds City Council inform me that it was originally built as a hotel in 1908, but became a cinema in 1914, and has been one ever since. It's a real treasure, and I could quite understand why [ profile] nigelmouse said he often goes there as much for the cinema as for the films.

The film was very much worth it in itself this time, though. It uses a new animation technique, which involved filming the action with live actors, and then tracing over some, but not all, of the frames with animation, and using a kind of 3D equivalent of tweening to fill in the rest. The effect was really quite trippy - movements were realistic enough to make you expect full realism, but still unnervingly not-quite-real, while in some shots it was entirely clear that you were watching an animation, and in others (especially long shots), the line between animation and live action became very thin.

And all of this fitted in very well with the subject-matter of the film - a world of drugs paranoia and double-identities. Much of the story, in fact, is seen through the eyes of a character who is suffering increasingly impaired mental faculties through drug-use, and is hallucinating and confused. Whilst the viewer is allowed to work out what's actually going on by the end of the film, for much of it we're as confused about the nature of reality as he is, and the animation style adds a lot to that.

Definitely worth seeing once: probably even better a second time when you can benefit from being clearer about what's going on than the main character is.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Last night we celebrated Halloween Proper by going to see The Corpse Bride, me with A Bat On My Head again (although I did very thoughtfully take it off while in the cinema). It was delightful, in every way an animated Tim Burton film featuring legions of the dead, tragic lovers and cold-hearted parents should be delightful. And Christopher Lee! Wow. *wide-eyed admiration*

Of Tim Burton's offerings this year, I think I liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory better overall as a film, but I liked Christopher Lee much more in Corpse: perhaps precisely because he was playing an animated character, forcing a concentration on his voice. And did Tim Burton know what that voice counts for! Quite deliberately, we heard it booming out in disapproval and exasperation significantly before we set eyes on the character it belonged to (Pastor Galswells), demanding our attention and making us sit up straight in our seats. From that point in, the character really stood out for me as a brilliantly gruff authority figure, with Christopher Lee milking it for all it was worth. And his utter dismissal of Victoria when she turned to him for help was just the icing on the cake.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter were fab too, of course, as was Richard E. Grant as the slimy, pompous Barkis Bittern and a much-beloved Michael Gough as the wizened old skeleton, Elder Gutknecht. But I think the greatest thrill for me (besides, Mr. Lee, natch) was the performance of some chap I'd never heard of called Enn Reitel as the worm who lived inside the Corpse Bride's head. It's obvious from his IMDb page that he specialises in vocal work, and his brief for Corpse was clearly to sound as much as he could like Peter Lorre. Which, given that the real thing can no longer be had, was most effectively done, and suited both the Burtonesque context and the character of the worm beautifully.

On the other hand, Danny Elfman is just not as good as writing songs as he once was. Or ever was? No - I swear some of the songs in Nightmare Before Christmas were ace. But Charlie was disappointing musically, and so was Corpse. Pity, but not enough to spoil them.

And so Halloween is over, and November begins. Good luck to all the writers out there who are starting NaNoWriMo, and the painters who are starting NaPaPaMo. And may I wish a Happy All Saint's and Happy Diwali to everyone.

Corpse Bride bits about to be cross-posted to [ profile] christopherlee_.
strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Went to see Howl's Moving Castle (the subtitled version) last night at the Phoenix, despite the hideous cold and the loooooong day. It was certainly worth going to see, if only because, having read the book, I was curious to see how it would translate into anime. But definitely odd.

Overall, the film had most of the episodes, characters and plot elements that the book does, but they had been put together in such a different way that the effect was rather like looking at a familiar scene through a warped stained-glass window. Or perhaps like one of those things in the Times where they take a familiar English idiom, and put it through Babelfish a couple of times, to get something like 'They cannot inform an old dog of new turns'.

This isn't surprising when you take a story written for British children by a quietly imaginative and wickedly humorous Welsh woman and turn it into an anime film, though. The changes do have their own kind of charm, and I found the visualisations of the kingdom of Ingary really delightful.

My big difficulty, though, was the character of Howl. In the book, he's endearing because, despite being rakishly good-looking and a powerful wizard, he's also very young and uncertain of himself. In fact, he's basically a troubled teenager (although supposed to be in his 20s). He's sulky, self-absorbed, thoughtless, directionless, undisciplined, cowardly, vain and lazy. Yet he's also spontaneously kind and generous and secretly unhappy about his own short-comings. And alongside all that, he's very human and vulnerable: he gets drunk, he has a cold, he argues with his family, he gets frustrated, upset or afraid. And all of this is both why Sophie (and a high proportion of DWJ's female readers) falls in love with him, and, more importantly, why she doesn't realise she has until almost the end of the book

In the film, this complex cocktail doesn't come across at all. Film!Howl just seemed like something out of a slightly unsettling fairy tale, and certainly not human in the least bit. He throws some of the same moods as book!Howl, but they're meaningless - they don't add any extra depths to his character, but are just things he does, which are forgotten the next minute. And Sophie is bowled over by him after their first meeting! She may be slightly scared of him at times in the film, but never annoyed or exasperated with him, and so again it seems vapid and meaningless when they fall in love, rather than the cumulation of a long drawn-out process of development for their two characters.

In the end, the most important thing the film did for me was to make me go home and start reading the book again. I'd always meant to anyway, because I've yet to encounter the DWJ book which didn't reward at least one re-reading. Not perhaps quite what Hayao Miyazaki may have intended. But no complaints here.


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