Tag Archives: Pixar

A flight of films: eight recent reviews from Chappie to X+Y

5 Jul

I love travelling. It’s not so much the exotic food, the stunning landscapes, the interesting people – it’s the seven hours of uninterrupted films on the flight, with even more time now that airlines have started allowing the in-flight entertainment to run before take-off and after landing. I’m just back from Canada with British Airways, which allowed me to catch up on several movies I missed at the cinema. Here’s what’s worth your time – and what’s not:

chappieChappie ***: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was pretty awesome, coming seemingly out of nowhere; Elysium a lot less so. Chappie falls somewhere in the middle. A police robot is given an AI programme and becomes sentient, sadly with a cutesy baby voice at first and some annoyingly twee attempts at learning about human life from the low-rent gangstas who co-opt him into a heist. But though it lays on the sentiment with a builder’s trowel, enough of it sticks to get to you in the end.

ex-machina-movieEx Machina ****: All those years of writing for Danny Boyle have paid off for Alex Garland in his directorial debut: Ex Machina is not just a thoughtful and intelligently written addition to the AI canon, but the performances are first-rate. Like Moon or Her, Ex Machina is a sci-fi film of ideas rather than action scenes and explosions – it shows you what Garland’s Sunshine could have been like without the stupid tacked-on climax.

ExodusExodus: Gods and Kings **: Watching this big-screen spectacle on a seat-back screen, there’s really very little left to enjoy in Ridley Scott’s epic. Christian Bale, as too often these days, seems to have no handle on what kind of movie he’s in. After an hour, I found I was distracting myself by imagining the cast breaking into a song-and-dance of “Moses supposes his toeses are roses/ But Moses supposes erroneously/ For nobody’s toeses are poses of roses/ As Moses supposes his toeses to be”. I switched it off then.

The GamblerThe Gambler **: I love films about gambling. In theory. But in practice, with the odd honourable exception such as Rounders, most of them are witless and clichéd (yes, Runner Runner, I’m looking at you; and Focus, you scrape a “C” on the leads’ charm alone). Sadly this Mark Wahlberg movie, though reaching for something metaphorical, falls into the latter camp. And how can you watch a guy who doubles in Blackjack on 18? And then hits a 3?

gethaGet Hard *: Will Ferrell as a privileged rich white financier being trained by Kevin Hart to withstand being everyone’s bitch in a maximum-security prison? This actually sounded like good brainless airplane fun to me, and I fired up a couple of Bloody Marys in expectation.  It is so, so not. Fun, that is. Brainless, yes. Also abandoned after an hour.

insideInside Out ****: Pixar have done it again. Directed by Pete Docter, the man behind Up, this takes a hackneyed conceit – there are mini-people inside our brains controlling our actions, like in the comic strip The Numbskulls – and gives it heart. There are, apparently, five key emotions warring for supremacy: foremost among them, in a young girl’s life so far, is Joy. When the girl reaches hard times in her teens, Joy discovers that Sadness also has its place, and is better embraced than shunned. Simultaneously simple and deep.

while we we're youngWhile We’re Young ***: I wasn’t sure I liked this for most of the film, but it improves as it goes. A fortysomething couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, both less annoying here than they can be) meet an arty-party young couple who turn their lives upside down. Along the way, it becomes an interesting meditation on truth in life and art. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

X+YX+Y ***: A lovely little film about an autistic teen savant who enters the Maths Olympiad. When I say Sally Hawkins plays the mother, you’ll know exactly what kind of film it will be. Asa Butterfield, who was so watchable in Ender’s Game, plays the troubled young genius who finds the trickiest equation of all to solve is love.

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Finding Nemo: the co-writer’s commentary to ten top scenes

12 Nov

An incredible amount of detail goes into writing animated films, particularly at Pixar: years of rewrites, then more rewrites when the voice artists are signed. David Reynolds, co-writer of Finding Nemo, gave a Page To Screen session at the London Screenwriters’ Festival in which he talked over a screening of the film to give some fascinating insider insights into its creation:

1062590_1386881790830_410_2301. Marlin shows his wife Coral their new home. Andrew Stanton had written the original scene – they’re on the edge of the reef and Coral was so happy about their new home and Marlin was nervous. I said, what if we flip it? So that Marlin proudly says, “Did I find you a house or did I find you a house?” So now, when the barracuda comes, it’s his fault. That’s why he’s so nervous [for the rest of the film].

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2. “You’re a clownfish, right? Tell us a joke.” Albert was hilarious, ad-libbing this really bad joke for five minutes. They originally had William H Macy who’s a fantastic actor and who was getting the laughs, but it just wasn’t working. So they got Albert Brooks instead, and he did some improv in a recording studio and was just great. So they said to me, take the script and rewrite every line to suit Albert Brooks. But one of the keys we learned early on was that Albert Brooks could not be allowed to be funny, after that opening. His son has been kidnapped, and I said you can’t stop and tell a joke.

15903. Marlin tells Nemo not to swim out to the boat, and Nemo says “I hate you” just before being captured by a scuba-diver. The inspiration for the film was that Andrew kept saying to his own son “don’t climb on this”. He said, “I loved him so much I didn’t want to be a kid, I wrapped him in blubble-wrap.” And when Andrew was growing up he had a fishtank, and always wondered what the fish were doing. The last thing Nemo says to his father is “I hate you.” When he finally comes back, that’s the first thing he addresses. Apparently, boys watching the film are like “He’ll never find his son” whereas girls were like, “the Dad will find a way”.

review-finding-nemo-3d4. They meet a fearsome shark called Bruce, who luckily is trying to give up eating other fish. The Pixar guys are movie junkies, they take a day off when a new James Bond movie comes out. It gets kind of geeky, but yes, Bruce the shark was named after what they called the mechanical shark when making Jaws.

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5. They’re trapped by a submarine, and the diver’s mask they are chasing falls into a chasm. We just kept pushing the story, one impossible obstacle after another. Any one of those problems should have stopped him, but he’s looking for his son, so he just carries on.

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6. They meet a school of fish that make shapes, with the voice of John Ratzenberg.  John Ratzenberg is the Pixar good luck charm. John Lasseter will not make a movie without him, he’s superstitious that way.

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7. The turtles take Marlin and his friend Dory surfing a current. Crush the turtle was voiced by Andrew, the director. We had wanted Sean Penn to do that voice from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He came in and saw the movie at Pixar, but he wanted too much money, or something like that. We all thought Andrew was the better voice anyway.

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8. Nemo is imprisoned in a dentist’s fish tank. Everyone at Pixar had this little joke on me: they wanted to surprise me at the premiere. They secretly recorded this bit, about a kid in a dentist’s chair, where the dentist goes, “Well well, if it isn’t little Davey Reynolds.” I was sitting in the premiere, and when that comes up I go “Whaaaat?!” And they all turn round and go “Gotcha!”

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9. Dory, the fish with a hilariously short-term memory, is the first to find Nemo. “Really?” she says with delight, when he introduces himself. Then, “that’s such a nice name”, obviously having forgotten their whole quest! I snuck into a movie theatre showing the film and sat at the back, and at that bit I held my breath: could we pull this joke off again? The audience loved it.

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10. They all live happily ever after under the sea. There was a point in the animation where they created sea flow and coral that looked so real, it was like a nature documentary. So they had to mess it up a bit. They didn’t want it to look real, but with cartoon fish!

If you liked this post, check out Joel Eszterhas’s commentary on Basic Instinct, and Joel Schumacher’s top ten scenes from The Lost Boys.

Shock around the Troc: Picturehouse announces huge Trocadero development

19 Sep
Trocadero rooftop

Rooftop bar planned for the new Picturehouse Trocadero

Wow. Today’s online Standard has broken the news that Picturehouse cinemas will be taking over the Trocadero Centre on Piccadilly Circus, and from the drawings and plans, it looks ace. I particularly like the rooftop bar, with a view of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament.

The cinema that was there before was a Cineworld multiplex. It was unloved and dilapidated, with ViewLondon reviews complaining of mice (always a problem in cinemas, mind you, with spilt popcorn etc – that’s why rep cinemas always used to have a cat).

Picturehouses, on the other hand, I love. I live five minutes from the Brixton Ritzy, my favourite cinema ever since I moved to London three decades ago (at least after the Scala closed down). As an Oxford student, I used to haunt the Phoenix and the Penultimate Picture Palace, also both now Picturehouse Cinemas. They cater to an artier, hipper crowd, who (lucratively, from the chain’s point of view) are happy to sit around in the bar afterwards discussing the movie. They have an ace loyalty card that gives you discounted beer and food as well as discounted film tickets.

(Less happily, the Ritzy have a workforce who had been striking, since not enough of that beer money was flowing back to them. Last Friday, staff finally accepted a deal which, while it fell short of the London Living Wage they sought, offered 26% pay rise over the next three years. Just in time for the opening of the miners’ strike film Pride, aptly enough.)

Picturehouse Trocadero

Yet more bar space at the Picturehouse Trocadero

The Trocadero deal is a funny old thing, though. Since 2012, as the Standard strangely did not point out, Picturehouse Cinemas have been owned by Cineworld. So really, the new Trocadero complex is less a grand new development, than a grand new rebranding. With a lot of funky bar space thrown in for those hipster movie discussions.

When the buy-out happened, movie fans were concerned that Cineworld would tarnish the Picturehouse brand, turn these quirky indie-feel cinemas into soulless corporates. On the evidence of the Trocadero development, however, the opposite may be the case. If so, hurrah. A movie example might be when Disney bought out Pixar – but rather than ruining Pixar, installed its supremo John Lasseter as creative head of both.

If all multiplexes could become a little bit more Picturehouse, I’d drink to that. Preferably in a rooftop hipster bar.

The Oscars 2013: And the actual winners are…

25 Feb
Daniel Day-Lewis wins third Oscar for Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis: The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™

Best Picture: Argo With hindsight (and having now actually seen it, which I hadn’t when I predicted Lincoln in January), Argo seems an obvious winner. The Academy rewards films about the movies disproportionately – just look at The Artist. And it has the same message as Zero Dark Thirty – screw you, terrorists, America kicks ass! – without the unpalatable politics. It even has its own catchphrase, “Argo f*** yourself”, which is being repeated in film meetings across Hollywood. Interestingly, truth here is stranger than fiction. The real CIA agent behind the extradition of US embassy staff from Iran deliberately called his fictional film Argo after an old joke: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Argo.” “Argo who?” “Argo f*** yourself.” The title of the movie was, therefore, a barely coded “f*** you” to the Iranians they were duping.

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. I called this one right, not that that makes me Mystic Meg. With a third win, he is now officially The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™.

Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook. I mischievously called for Emmanuel Riva to win, on the grounds that her age is closer to that of most Academy voters, but there has been a growing Cult of Jennifer Lawrence in the last year, her chat show appearances turning into internet memes. She is unstoppably adorable, bizarrely untainted (so far) by Hollywood pretension. Even on the red carpet she was announcing how hungry she was, voicing what every stick-thin actress thought but would never say. Quite apart from her performance being great, people would have voted for her just to see her speech. She didn’t disappoint. After stumbling over her dress, she said: “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell over and that’s embarrassing.”

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained. I don’t quite get this. Waltz was playing pretty much the same character with the same laborious elocution and loquacity as in Inglorious Basterds. Still, I guess they liked it enough the first time to give him an Oscar, so it makes sense to chuck another one on the fire.

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables. Again, you didn’t have to be Mystic Meg to see this coming. Hathaway is evolving into a very complex and credible actress, able to switch effortlessly from frothy comedy to searing drama. [Her alcoholic in Rachel Getting Married was extraordinary.] Her brief role in Les Mis was such a stand-out, she was as firm a favourite to win as The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™.

Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi. Steven Spielberg had an epic subject, a terrific script, and The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™. As a director, all he really had to do was not screw it up. Whereas Life of Pi is pretty much unfilmable, and Lee did a bang-up job.

Foreign Language Film: Amour. If it’s nominated for Best Picture, you can be pretty sure it’s going to win this category.

Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo. It won Best Picture, so it’s going to win this. Sorry, Tony Kushner.

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained. A deserving winner. The problems I had with this film (see bit.ly/YgJfSV ) are down more to direction than writing. This was a big, ballsy piece of work with some unforgettable scenes and dialogue.

Animated Feature Film: Brave. This was Pixar’s blandest and most disappointing movie by far. Maybe Academicians don’t actually watch the cartoons. Mind you, Pirates! was not up to the usual Aardman standard, either, and Frankenweenie was perhaps always going to be too weird.

And the other awards went to….

Production Design: Lincoln.

Cinematography: Life of Pi.

Sound Mixing: Les Miserables.

Sound Editing (tie): Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty.

Original Score: Life of Pi, Mychael Danna.

Original Song: Skyfall from Skyfall, Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.

Costume: Anna Karenina.

Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man.

Documentary (short subject): Inocente.

Film Editing: Argo.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables.

Animated Short Film: Paperman.

Live Action Short Film: Curfew.

Visual Effects: Life of Pi.

Backstage at the Oscars: bit.ly/WjCnhI

Star Wars: Harrison Ford rides again as Han Solo

16 Feb
Harrison Ford in Star Wars

Harrison Ford as Han Solo: “I’ve got a good feeling about this…”

So, Harrison Ford has apparently signed on for a role in the new Star Wars movie. The deal has not yet officially been announced by Disney, which last year bought Lucasfilm to add to Pixar and Marvel in a $15.5bn land-grab, but the Latino Review insists it has triple-checked with reliable sources. Entertainment Weekly, which last year reported Ford was “open” to the idea, Tweeted today: “Harrison Ford deal? My source says not yet. It will not be for weeks and perhaps months.” That sounds like “when” rather than “if”, and implies it’s just a question of noughts on the cheque.

It makes sense. Ford as Han Solo was key to the original series’ success, and not just in adding some much-needed testosterone swagger to the “use the Force” mumbo-jumbo. He also managed to squeeze some humour into George Lucas’s earnest lines. “George,” he famously told the director, “you can type this s**t, but you sure can’t say it.” He ad-libbed several sequences, including one of the best lines: when Han Solo is about to be deep-frozen in The Empire Strikes Back, and Leia tells her she loves him, he replies, “I know.”

If only there had been a few more actors like him in the trilogy of prequels.

I interviewed George Lucas a few years back, for Time Out. I remember being fascinated by his hair, which was like the whippy top of a vanilla ice-cream cone, but I don’t remember much of what he said. He only really became animated when talking about his teenage years. He had a near-fatal car accident which led him to take stock of his life, and get serious. Too serious, perhaps. But it was that love of cars which produced American Graffiti, Lucas’s warmest film and the start of his collaboration with Ford, whom he had met when he was building him some cabinets. Beats auditions.

Some Star Wars fans have expressed reservations about Disney taking over the franchise, mollified somewhat by the recent appointment as director of JJ Abrams, who rebooted Star Trek. But how can it be bad? No one could screw up Star Wars worse than Lucas himself already has in the recent trilogy.

Star Wars is the reason I’m writing about films, and latterly writing films myself. I was 13 when it lifted the top of my head clean off, and I swore during the closing credits that I would devote my life to movies. Later, when I heard that Star Wars was just the first in a projected nine films, I literally prayed to God that I would live long enough to see them completed.

Looks like I may just get the answer to my prayers. And with Han Solo riding again? It’s enough to shake your faith in Richard Dawkins.