Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.

*THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPOILERS*

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Up

Year: 2009
Running time: 96 minutes
Certificate: U
Language: English
Screenplay: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Director: Pete Docter
Starring (voices): Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer

Carl and Russell travel to South America in style.
Up opens with ten quietly heartbreaking minutes which left me emotionally devastated on first viewing. Impressionable and enthusiastic youths Carl Fredricksen (Jeremy Leary) and Ellie (Elie Docter) meet and bond over their mutual love of adventure. Growing up together, they find themselves unable to realise their most precious dream of starting a family (although you have to question why they decorated a nursery before finding this out). Ultimately they grow old together and finally the surviving Carl (Ed Asner) struggles on in a lonely existence seemingly bereft of all meaning. The largely dialogue free sequence genuinely has the power to leave you a weeping wreck. The rest of the film, while wonderful, never quite manages to match this perfect opening.

Carl is an old man living this lonely existence when the main plot begins; we find him struggling to prevent developers re-homing him in order to demolish his house and build whatever it is they intend to build. It is true this seems rather clichéd, as is the introduction of our second main character, the young boy-scout Russell (Jordan Nagai) who is clearly going to show the old man there is life after loss. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating Pixar, however. On the morning he’s about to be moved to the retirement home to wait for death, he reveals how he has tied a huge wad of balloons to his house and uses them to drag him and his house away to pastures new. Outlandish, clearly, but the scene is beautifully handled and a joy to watch. Unfortunately, he has taken Russell along for the ride by mistake. The two of them go off on an adventure to place the house on the top of Paradise Falls in South America.

The relationship between the two leads is a slightly unconventional take on the well-established buddy formula (something Pixar is certainly an expert on, having used the idea in different ways in Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars and Ratatouille), and has plenty of room for comedic and emotional elements – when Russell talks about his absent dad in quietly subdued tones, it is almost as upsetting as the opening. There are a few offbeat but engaging and funny plot developments as the pair meet a huge bird who the kid names ‘Kevin’ without realising it is female, and a dog named Dug with an electronic collar which allows him to talk.

Dug introduces himself.
The choice of lead character is inspired brilliance (par for the course for Pixar), because following a man whose life, for all intents and purposes, appears to be over learning how to care for things other than the memory of his dead wife manages to temper the very silly plot points (dogs that fly planes?) with an emotional anchor that allows you to care.

The villain is slightly weak for a Pixar film, but it doesn’t even come close to spoiling the movie, and, thanks to the trademark glorious animation, the moment when the deranged ex-adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) falls to his death from his blimp gives you a queasy moment of vertigo.

Yet another superb addition to Pixar’s CV, Up will devastate you in the first ten minutes and spend the remaining running time lifting your spirits, leaving you smiling again.

Score: 8/10

Matt largely agrees, but Gunther's review is clear evidence that not everybody is such a fan.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Battle Royale

Year: 2000
Running time: 114 minutes
Certificate: 18
Language: Japanese
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Beat Takeshi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto

Shuya and Noriko face the horrifying truth.
Nothing can prepare you for the first time you see this film. It is astonishing. In a future Japan where the economy is broken and kids run riot, a new piece of legislation, the Battle Royale Act, is passed and a randomly selected class of out of control school children get transported to a remote island and are given three days to kill each other off until there is only one survivor, or they all die. Unsurprisingly controversial, it is based on an equally controversial novel by Koushun Takami. The director Kinji Fukasaku was 70 at the time of making, and sadly died three years later, apparently one day into filming (the supposedly awful, although I've not seen it) Battle Royale II: Requiem, which was eventually directed by his son Kenta Fukasaku, who wrote the scripts of both films. Fukasaku claimed he made it in order to warn children not to trust grown-ups. It certainly manages that and then some, but there is more to it than that.

There is little time for character development or back story, but seeing as we've got to get through over forty kids in the running time, most of them would be dead before the back story could get started. Instead of being violence for the sake of violence, there is a fierce intelligence behind the film, which combines elements of love, friendship, paranoia and mistrust, bravery and fear as each classmate makes a decision to either kill themselves, fight for survival or work together. Much like Lord of the Flies (as adapted by Dario Argento), you find yourself wondering what you might do if you were ever forced into such a situation. Would you be the kid who flies into a panic and attempts to kill everyone for fear of dying yourself? Would you form or join a resistance and attempt to overthrow the architects of the game? Would you allow paranoia to cripple you and murder your best friend?

A tight-knit friendship ends badly.
We come to focus on two students in particular, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda), who attempt to work together to find some way to survive.  While they try desperately to stay alive, classmates all around them die in horrific, twisted, shocking and sometimes uncomfortably funny ways. The only character to really get any kind of back story is teacher Kitano (played to wearied perfection by Beat Takeshi), and as we come to learn a little about his home life and his feelings for a particular student he becomes more than a one-dimensional bad guy, more than simply an unfeeling child murderer. He's more like a lonely man who has lost his faith in the system he works for.  And a child murderer.

As we rattle towards the climax and the body count rises the viewer soon finds that they cannot tear their eyes from the screen, continuing to stare in disbelief and beginning to route for their favourite student. Spellbinding.

Score: 8/10

There is a lot of love out there for Battle Royale, including these reviews on  Sound on Sight's and Empire's websites.