I grew up roughly during the last dozen years of Apartheid, in a country that lived up to its tradition of supposed neutrality covering up business connections to an unsavoury regime. I faintly remember people boycotting Granny Smith apples and, somewhat less faintly, Eddy Grant’s song “Gimme Hope Jo’anna”. What I remember most from those times, though, is Cry Freedom, a 1987 film that zeroed in on the human cost of Apartheid: the exile of a liberal, middle-class white journalist and his family from their chosen home of South Africa.
Oh, and there was also something a corrupt, racist police apparatus torturing and killing the black activist and community leader Steve Biko.
In the past I’ve called Hirokazu Koreeda’s films “gentle”, which is perhaps a misleading term. It makes the director and his works sound soft and pleasant and, well, sort of nothingy. Which is giving both them and the adjective short shrift – these days especially, both on and off the screen, we could do with more gentleness. It also suggests that it’s easy to underestimate Koreeda and his films, because doing what he does – and, more importantly, doing it well – is exceedingly challenging. Koreeda’s films have an uplifting humanity that is sadly rare, not just in cinema.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the most likeable films in recent years. It’s definitely the most purely fun film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since, well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. It is funny, it has personality, and it is eminently quotable. Almost every scene has at least one great line, and that’s not even mentioning the visual humour the film excels at. It’s almost impossible not to like the movie.
Reader, I liked it – but I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.
Guardians Vol. 2 does so many things right. It takes the fun ensemble of the first film and builds on it – and this extends to some of the henchmen, sidekicks and minor characters from the first film. It avoids the mistake common to the MCU of generic villains who are uninteresting as characters and who don’t reveal anything about the protagonists either (even if Marvel does return to the well of daddy issues a bit too often, perhaps). Visually it continues the trend of Dr. Strange of making these films look good instead of mediocre and blandly competent, and there’s genuine wit to some of the film’s humour. Continue reading →
I’m a big fan of Laika. No, not the space-faring dog so much as the animation company responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman and, most recently, Kubo and the Two Strings, one of my favourite films of 2016. Their loving dedication to the art of stop-motion animation tends to combine with their ability as storytellers and their oddball imagination to strange and wonderful effects, making their films distinctly different from Pixar’s beautiful but more sentimental fare, and elevating them far beyond other contenders with their well-rehearsed snark and pop culture references. I’d avoided The Boxtrolls to date, mainly because I’d heard that it was distinctly lesser Laika – and now, having caught it on TV, I would probably agree that it’s nowhere near the top of my list of Laika favourites, but it is still a great example of the company’s craftsmanship. The film, loosely based on Alan Snow’s 2006 children’s book Here Be Monsters!, combines the early Victoriana of Charles Dickens’ novels with the dark and sometimes gleefully gruesome humour of Roald Dahl – and hinting at even darker and more surreal entertainments such as the films of Monty Python.
It’ll soon have been a year since I got my Oculus Rift and joined the small but growing ranks of people who don’t care how stupid they look wearing VR goggles. Even after all that time, and hours spent exploring a virtual reality that thankfully doesn’t look anything like The Lawnmower Man, the tech still can leave me awestruck, and the latest instance of this is when I finally checked out Google Earth VR (which doesn’t officially work with Oculus Rift, but hey, the internet isn’t just full of porn and cat videos, it’s also where you’re likely to find a solution for each and every one of your tech problems.)
One of the first things I did: I went home.
Okay, no: first thing I did was be a virtual tourist, as one does.
This hasn’t happened to me in a while: the night before I was about to finish Night in the Woods, a Kickstarted game by indie developer Infinite Fall, I was lying in bed, already sad because I was going to have to say goodbye to a bunch of characters I’d grown to love. Irascible punk crocodile Bea, manic fox Gregg, and his boyfriend Angus, the laconic bear that’s really the heart of the group. And, yes, Mae the cat, though she makes it oh so difficult to love her.
Remember that film that followed a boy growing up in an economically precarious environment, that took us from the boy’s childhood through adolescence to early adulthood? The film about a boy whose father was (largely) absent and whose mother struggled with her situation, with getting older and feeling that she hadn’t done a good job of being a parent? That was told in relatively plot-free, naturalistic episodes that mostly began and ended in medias res? The film that most critics loved and that was nominated for most major awards?