The Wayward Kite (2017) – Review

By Michelle Sommerville

There are films where all it takes it one look at the title and you just know what it is going to be about. For me, this was not one of those films. Before I even pressed play, my mind was filled with ideas and guesses, and I was excited to see if the truth would come anywhere near. Would it be straight forward, or an analogy for something greater? This was almost swept from my mind at the first display of animation. It was breathtaking, even in its apparent simplicity. It didn’t detract from the story, however, instead elevating it and bringing it to life.

It is not a good day for that poor kite. With a musical accompaniment but no dialogue, the audience follows the exploits of the title wayward kite. Cut off from the rest, it is hit by a vehicle, electrocuted by power lines, falls into a dumpster, and finds itself among the disgusting refuse at the tip. By this point it is little more than mere tatters clinging desperately to its frame. It breaks free of this too, now unencumbered but further weakening itself. A storm and rain threaten a final defeat, but almost through sheer will the kite perseveres.

The story of the film is simple, but can symbolise much deeper meaning. You find yourself questioning how closely you related to an inanimate object and its harrowing plight.

At this point I usually comment on the acting, which feels strange to do in a film like this. Somehow, the faceless kite was able to emote, and was a great leading man or woman.

Let me get one thing straight: the animation was phenomenal. From the first look at the kites at the beginning, I was brought into the world of the film. That’s what you need to do, bring the audience in, and The Wayward Kite certainly did this. Add to this the cityscape and huge advertisement boards, a-mazing!

The transitions were also flawless, seamlessly moving from one scene and setting to another.

Another unmistakably brilliant addition to this film was the emotional classical music accompaniment. It was not what you would expect in a cartoon, but elevated it from a more child-like target audience to those looking for the meaning behind the images.

In the last few years, animated short films have become a hit. Whether this is due to shortened attention spans or some other reason, it bodes well for this work. Already selected to screen internationally at well-respected film festivals, it seems this is only the beginning of success for both this film and its creators.

Not since Toy Story (1995) have I rooted so hard for an inanimate object. It held such personification and emotion. The animation was brilliant and made it an oddly relatable story. I have no idea how they achieved this, and I don’t really want to know lest it take away the magic.

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Oscars 2016 – Academy Awards

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With the Golden Globes done and dusted for the year, we have the Oscars (Academy Awards) to look forward to.

Here is the list of nominees, and my guesses.

Please note, most of these are not the films I want to win, and are merely who I think will win.

Best Actor

Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

My Prediction: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

My Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

My Prediction: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

My Prediction: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Directing

Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G Inarritu (The Revenant), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

My Prediction: Alejandro G Inarritu (The Revenant)

Film Editing

Nominees: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Spotlight

My Prediction: The Revenant

Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War

My Prediction: No guess

Original Score

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Picture

Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

My Prediction: The Martian or The Revenant

Production Design

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual Effects

Nominees: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room

My Prediction: The Martian

Original Screenplay

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

My Prediction: Straight Outta Compton

Animated Feature Film

Nominees: Anomalisa, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep, Boy and the Wild, When Marnie Was There

My Prediction: Inside Out

Cinematography

Nominees: Carol, The Hateful EightMad Max: Fury RoadThe RevenantSicario

My Prediction: The Hateful Eight or The Revenant

Costume Design

Nominees: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road or The Revenant

Documentary Feature

Nominees: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

My Prediction: No guess

Documentary Short Subject

Nominees: Body Team 12, Chau Beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann, A Girl in the River, Last Day of Freedom

My Prediction: No guess

Makeup and Hairstyling

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, The Revenant

My Prediction: Either Mad Max: Fury Road or The Revenant

Original Song

Nominees: Earned It (50 Shades of Grey), Til It Happens To You (The Hunting Ground), Writings On The Wall (Spectre), Manta Ray (Racing Extinction), Simple Song 3 (Youth)

My Prediction: Writings On The Wall (Spectre)

Animated Short Film

Nominees: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay’s Superteam, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow

My Prediction: No guess

Live Action Short Film

Nominees: Ava Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay, Shok, Stutterer

My Prediction: No guess

Sound Editing

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: The Revenant

Sound Mixing

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: The Revenant

 

The Snow Queen (2012) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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With parents taking their children to the cinemas or sitting with them on the couch to watch a film, even children’s animation films need to be created with a range of age-groups in mind. When it comes to The Snow Queen, the film does a good job of entertaining the children viewers, while also including some jokes for the adult guardians. The film is interesting, but I am not sure if it can stand among other notable children’s films like Aladdin, Monsters Inc., and Frozen (which is another telling of the same tale by Hans Christian Anderson).

The Snow Queen: The only thing preventing the evil Snow Queen from completing her act of covering the whole world in ice, is Master Vegard. When he and his wife disappear, Kai and Gerda (Vegard’s son and daughter) find themselves in an orphanage. Before long, they are found by the Snow Queen’s servant troll Orm. A fight ensues, and Kai too disappears to the Snow Queen’s palace. With Orm and her pet weasel Luta in tow, Gerda ventures off to find her brother, and save the world.

Let me begin by saying: This is not a rip-off of Frozen. The Snow Queen is a Russian computer-animated children’s film that was released back in 2012, and is a telling of the Hans Christian Anderson classic tale. As it was originally a Russian film, it has recently been released in English, but the timing is interesting. There have been a lot of films like this that have come out since the massive world-wide popularity of Frozen, and its release does seem to be piggy-backing on that success.

The story is a little hard to follow at times, but, for the most part, it is entertaining. There are some funny moments – especially lines from Orm the troll – so you are sure to give at least a couple of chuckles.

The animation style does differ slightly from other animated films out there, but that isn’t a bad thing. The characters still aren’t overly life-like, but then again, trolls aren’t life-like either.

The film stays quite true to the original story, and that is primarily what these projects are about. It does bug me when the stories are drastically changed, because they could just as easily have created a whole new story and not used a known-name to get their film made.

There have been mostly positive reviews from Russian viewers; but American reviews haven’t been as good, being mostly of mixed opinions.

There are two sequels in the works – The Snow Queen 2 and The Snow King – so you are probably going to hear quite a bit more about it if you hadn’t already. The film is worth watching if you like the classics, but don’t expect it to be as good as some of the earlier 1990s Disney films.

3 out of 5 stars

Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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So, it turns out that Disney are not quite done with this franchise. This is a spin-off to Disney’s Cars series, and a sequel to Planes, released in 2013. I know this is not targeted towards my demographic – early 20s – but I am really getting sick and tired of these computer-animated kids films that are the same thing over and over again. They might entertain the little kids, but they are a far-cry from the old Disney films that entertained numerous generations and are still enjoyable today.

What began with Dusty Crophopper learning to overcome his fear and racing around the world, is now the famous air racer joining a team of aerial firefighters. Together, they battle massive wildfires and learn about themselves, and what a real hero looks like.

It takes a special actor to bring a character to life with only their voices. They cannot convey anything through body movements or facial expressions, making it a job for a talented selection. Though the children in the audience will not be able to pick-out the names of the actors voicing their loveable onscreen characters, the adults will find a large number of them recognisable. The cast list includes Dane CookEd HarrisJulie BowenBrad Garrett, and Teri Hatcher.

For films to be truly successful, they need to be relatable to kids, parents, and grandparents. If it can do that, it has a better chance at having longevity. Planes: Fire and Rescue had a couple of instances that seemed to be targeted to the adults in the audience. These were mostly comedic one-liners, but might not be enough to compensate for them being dragged along by their kids.

The film’s story is quite general and not complex, though some of the fire scenes and topic might be a bit intense for the younger children watching.

Especially with some recent animated children’s films, it feels more like a marketing opportunity than a film with meaning. It has been pointed out that Planes: Fire and Rescue has a theme reminiscent of ‘the little engine that could’ and perseverance, but it feels kind of flat. As per usual, the shops will be releasing a plethora of toys, bed sheets, and everything else imaginable. They have already announced a video game based on the film to be released on a number of consoles.

The response from critics and audiences have been mixed. The majority of the reviews agree the little kids will fall in love with the characters and be dazzled by the animation, but also that it is not a film for anyone else.

If you have to take the kids to the cinemas, Planes: Fire and Rescue will keep them entertained, and you can be sure they are not being subjected to coarse language and inappropriate themes.

Overall, not the best film, but not the worst, either.

3 out of 5 stars

Crayola Easy Animation Studio – Product Review

When you think of animation, you think of hours of hard work to create simple second-long videos.

Not anymore.

While wandering through Target the other week, I found the Crayola Easy Animation Studio.

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It immediately caught my interest, and with it only costing $29, I figured I would give it a try.

Inside you will find – Manny the Mannequin (with a stand to clip him into), Crayola Twist crayons, a stand for your phone/tablet, and a book full of characters and backgrounds for you to colour-in. You will need to download a program on your smart-phone/tablet, but it’s free.

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Inside the book –

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*Helpful Hint*
I wanted to make something really cool, so I decided to make Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008). Unfortunately, I used other brand crayons as well, and I think that put-off the system, so always use Crayola crayons.

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I’ll take you through step-by-step making an easy short animation.

STEP 1 – Character

Either colour your own character, or use one provided on the program.

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STEP 2 – Background

You can choose a background from the book, use one on the program, or you can even take a photo of your house and your character can be there with you.

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STEP 3 – Actions

There are a bunch of actions you can choose on the program, or you can use Manny to do it yourself. The program works by capturing images of Manny in positions, and filling in the blanks.

It works best if you keep the smart-phone/tablet still, and have Manny facing a window with light.

*Helpful hint*
You’ll have to be patient while capturing the positions, as it needs time to figure out where Manny’s limbs are (through the symbols on his limbs). Here is what happens when it is having trouble:

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To make your character wave, capture Manny in these three positions:

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STEP 4 – Voice

You don’t have to do this, but you can record some audio. I record “Hello” in my best bear-voice.

STEP 5 – Save

It only takes a second to turn it into a video.

And voilà, here is my video:

The Boxtrolls (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.


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From the minds that gave us Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) comes the fantastic new 3D animation film The Boxtrolls (2014). Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, the story follows Eggs, an orphaned human boy who is raised by a society of strange and mischievous creatures called the Boxtrolls, and who must find a way to protect his family from the evil Archibald Snatcher.

No longer are animation films just for the enjoyment of children. I am twenty-three years old, and can say that this is my type of movie.

First of all, you cannot go past the brilliance of the animation. Laika, the American animation company founded in 2005, have created a very distinctive animation style. The generated scenery depth and character expressions are astounding, constructing life-like images of unreal creatures. Laika have found their niche, and would be foolish to change.

Of course, behind the animations are the talented voice actors. Rising actors Isaac Hempstead Wright (Eggs) and Elle Fanning (Winnie, Eggs’ human comrade), bring life to the characters purely through the emotion of their voices. Veteran actor Ben Kingsley (Archibald Snatcher), Nick Frost (Mr. Trout), Tracy Morgan (Mr. Gristle), and many more experienced actors and actresses breathe life into their characters, making each and every one unique and entertaining.

The animation may attract the audience, but it is the script that will keep them in their seats, and entertained for the full two-hours. The Boxtrolls, with their stubby legs and clad in discarded containers, speak their own gibberish language – perhaps an attempt to mimic the success of Despicable Me’s minion-language – and is the only downfall of the film, but it does not detract from the story and underlying moral of the film.

Over the past decade specifically, countries all over the world have focused on the environment and the issue of garbage. Recycling discarded materials into new products is encouraged, and that is where The Boxtrolls comes in. All films have a message within their story, a comment they want to make, and children’s films are no exception. This message might be a bit too complex for the younger children in the audience, but it is just another way in which this movie is appealing en masse.

The only issue that parents or guardians might want to look into before taking their child/ren to see this film would be what some reviews have called “grotesque” scenery. This relates to the sewer locations, and the darkness of the films colouring when below ground. It is nothing harmful, but younger viewers might dislike it.

Animation films, despite the complex and lengthy creation process, seem to be always coming out at the cinemas. New technology leads to new techniques, and we can see the change in animation and story complexity from Pocahontas (1995) to The Lego Movie (2014). The Boxtrolls, though not as esteemed as the previous two films listed, shows inspiring animation, engaging characters and story, and is a film that will entertain all ages.

4 out of 5 stars