Wreck-It Ralph

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Ralph

A very quick review here – something you may have to get used to. They can’t all be 2,000 word essays like the Django one after all. I can hear you say woohoo.

Anyway, brief outline. Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney computer animated film produced by John Lassiter. However, it’s not a Pixar film, which is a bit strange. Pixar is clearly where the comparisons are going to lie, and specifically Toy Story.

Where Toy Story focused on the inner life of Toys when you shut the bedroom door, here we’re dealing with the secret lives on videogame characters (or, more particularly, arcade machines). The world is populated with a mixture of genuine VG characters (Rui and Ken from Street Fighter, Sonic, a ghost from Pacman all make an appearance) and those invented for the film – in the same way that Toy Story had real and invented toys. Our focus is Wreck-It Ralph (if you hadn’t guessed) – the bad guy form the 30 year old arcade favourite Fix-It Felix (invented for the film, lest you be confused).

[Sorry all for all the parentheses there]

Ralph has grown tired of being treated as a bad guy when he’s “off-stage” as well as in the game itself. Like a traffic warden, he’s just doing his job. Or to put it in the terms of the film:

Just because you’re the bad-guy, doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy.

When Ralph is left out of the celebrations of the game’s 30th anniversary he runs off on a quest to gain a medal in another game to prove he can be a hero too. He’s adventure takes him first to a Call Of Duty-style first person shooter (“Hero’s Duty”) and then to a Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game where he meets Vanellope von Schweetz a glitching character who wants to take part in just one race.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining film, good fun throughout, and will no doubt be enjoyed by both kids and the adults who take them (or, like me, go without any). There are plenty of in-jokes for gamers to enjoy, but nothing too nerdy to put off people who don’t play games.

However, the real question is where does it stand against Pixar? That’s always going to be the question with any computer animation. Last year Pixar couldn’t live up to their own billing with the good-but-not-great Brave, but it’s not like any other computer animation stood up to take the top spot. Wreck-It Ralph is a better film than Brave, if only because it doesn’t have a jarring plot twist halfway through, but it suffers by way of comparison to the upper echelon of Pixar classics – the Toy Stories, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E. That’s not necessarily because it’s story isn’t as fun and engrossing, but it lacks the depth of those films. Where the Toy Story films have a variety of things to say about growing up and about our relationships with our families, Wreck-It Ralph is what it is, no more, no less.

Great fun, but not quite great.

8/10 (4 stars)

The Best and Worst Films of 2012

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The best and worst films of 2012

I saw 59 films at the cinema in 2012, plus another 2 that were released at the cinema during the year at home. I also have Berberian Sound Studio on blu ray waiting to be watched. That’s just to give some context. As a disclaimer, there are a few other films that I have not seen which could potentially make it onto the list (judging by other lists I have heard), including the aforementioned Berberian Sound Studio, A Royal Affair, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Life of Pi and You’ve Been Trumped (which is on my Sky+ box).

Neither have I seen The Hobbit, but unless it is significantly different from the Lord of the Rings, I can guarantee that it’s not my thing, no matter how impressive the technical achievement. I admired those films, but I did not enjoy them on any level, I’m afraid.

So just for comparison’s sake here are the top fives from the last few years:

2011
1. Senna
2. 127 Hours
3. Submarine
4. Black Swan
5. Source Code

2010 (exc the Back To The Future re-release, which would be number 1, otherwise)
1. Toy Story 3
2. Inception
3. Kick Ass
4. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
5. Four Lions

2009
1. Milk
2. Moon
3. Gran Torino
4. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
5. In The Loop

2008
1. There Will Be Blood
2. King of Kong
3. The Dark Knight
4. Son of Rambow
5. In Bruges

2007
1. Hot Fuzz
2. The Bourne Ultimatum
3. Enchanted
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
5. This Is England

It’s interesting for me looking back at those (and yes, I do keep track of all the films I see) to see how different the films are from one year to the next. In 2011, for example, there are only 3 films I would call proper blockbusters in my top 20 (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8 and Bridesmaids), with Source Code being mainstream but more low-key and films like Black Swan, The Artist and Tinker Tailor crossing over to have mainstream success while clearly being films with an art-house sensibility. Compare that to 2010, when the top 3 were all mainstream films, 2 of them amongst the biggest of the year.

The point being, it really is a mixed bag, and that I don’t favour one over the other – there is something clearly to be said for documentary, art-house, foreign language and blockbuster films. When they are done right, each can be just as powerful, emotionally and visually, as the other. So, with that in mind, on to the top 10, in reverse order. And, a little like Mark Kermode, I have cheated ever so slightly…

=10. The Raid – The best action movie of the year, fantastically choreographed fight sequences feel almost as bruising to the audience as they undoubtedly did to the performers themselves.

=10. Ted – The funniest film of the year. Seth MacFarlane shows he can do it on the big screen as well as he can do it on the small screen. The plot isn’t the strongest but it’s solid enough to hang a lot of jokes on, a significant number of which hit home, many out of the park.

9. Silver Linings Playbook – Somewhere between a romance, a romcom and a serious look at mental illness, this was a surprising treat with Bradley Cooper putting in a great performance. I have to admit that when he first came on the scene I thought there wasn’t much more to him than his looks, but I was wrong. With this and Limitless he has made two very good films and put in two very good performances.

8. The Muppets – a film guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Great songs by Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. Fun for all ages and a great way to introduce kids to the Muppets and have an excuse to go back to the old films.

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene – couldn’t be further from The Muppets and the first movie form the art house end to make it onto the list. A very disconcerting film about a girl who returns to her family some years after leaving to join what at first seems like a hippy-ish cult, but later reveals itself to be something all together more disturbing. Brilliant central performance by Elizabeth Olsen.

6. Holy Motors – A film unlike any other and probably the hardest to describe. I don’t just mean on this list, I mean ever. What’s it about? Erm… Well, who are the characters? Now, you see, umm… A surreal masterpiece. Is it about the history of cinema? What cinema is capable of? What acting does to the soul? I don’t know, you’ll have to make your own mind up.

5. Magic Mike – Soderbergh’s arty take on a sleazy B movie about male strippers. It certainly has something to say about the sex industry and the type of person you need to be make it work for you. It also has plenty of flesh to keep the more aesthetically motivated members of the audience happy. Far better than it really has any right to be.

4. The Imposter – A beguiling documentary/reconstruction of the story of French/Algerian who claims to be a boy who has been missing from Texas for several years. Best not to say any more for fear of giving away the story. Let’s just say that if it weren’t a true story you’d walk out in disgust that any writer could ask you to believe a word of it.

3. ParaNorman – Brilliant stop-motion animation about an outcast boy who can see the dead who becomes his town’s only hope when a curse unleashes zombie hordes. There are enough surprises along the way and a more low-key ending relying on emotion and character is much more satisfying than the usual destruction derby that comes at the end of many films of this ilk. The best children‘s film of the year, without doubt.

2. Looper – Brilliant, barmy science fiction, following in the footsteps of Source Code and Inception as something you go with whole-heartedly but which probably doesn’t make too much sense if you try to unpick it. Rian Johnson shows how brilliantly he can create a world again (after Brick) and Joseph Gordon Levit continues to show how ready he is to step up to A list status (with both Premium Rush – great fun – and The Dark Knight Rises – underwhelming – also out in 2012).

1. Argo – A proper adult thriller, judged to perfection (how many movies were too long this year? A lot, but not this one) and keeping you on the edge of your seat until the last moment. Not only that, a very serious and dangerous true story is given just the right amount of humour in the right places. Ben Affleck is developing into a brilliant director (with Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt already), and he also takes the central role here, playing it to perfection. There were a lot of good or very good movies this year, but this one stood out to me as easily the best.

So, there we have it.

Related to all of this, I have a bit of a new year’s resolution for 2013 and that is to post some kind of review of every film I see this year. They may only be as long as the thoughts above, but some will undoubtedly turn into something much more…

Now, on to the worst films:

5. Taken 2 – Worthless, nonsensical, toned down sequel. That’s nonsensical in a bad way, not in the good way that goes with the original film.

4. The Cold Light Of Day – An attempt to make a euro-thriller in the mould of Taken and Unknown with Henry Cavill (the new Superman) in the lead role. Fell very flat indeed.

3. American Pie: The Reunion – Any smiles to be found in this are over and done with in the first 5 minutes. Incredibly tedious.

2. John Carter – Like the deserts on Mars, this was both massive and very dry. What people who dislike science fiction think of when they think of science fiction. Dull.

1. Dark Shadows – A mess. The tone is all over the place and Burton seems to have taken up the mantra “Tell, don’t show”. One sequence involves a character walking on the beach with Johnny Depp, telling Depp how much her brother has grown to like and indeed rely on him since he’d been staying with them. The brother’s screen time to that point was probably under a minute, and he had shown no sign of communicating with Depp, let alone growing to like him. Disgraceful story-telling like that peppers the film. It might be possible to turn the film into something passable with some judicious editing of the current content, the addition of some deleted scenes and a few reshoots, but as it stands it is just awful. I have not been more bored in the cinema for a long time. It’s even worse than Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

 

Now, some stats – you can probably skip this as it’s really only interesting to me…

This year I only saw 2 documentaries at the cinema, down from 5 in 2011 (3 of which were in my top ten). I saw 4 foreign/foreign language films, plus one that sort of was (more on that later), up from 3 (and a half) the previous year. Out of the 61 total films released in 2012 that I saw (again up from 2011 where the total was 53 in the cinema, plus 4 more at home, so far), I would call 12 of them outright art-house films, with a further 9 being kind of half-way houses between the art-house and mainstream. That leaves 40 mainstream movies. In 2011 it was 10 art-house and 10 half-way. Pretty similar numbers.