Spirited Away: An Experience

Words by Oliver Morris

So I have this friend who’s kinda pretentious. He reads multiple translations of Nietzsche, he has aphorisms that he’s yet to write the book for, and he’s a hare’s breadth from wearing an ascot unironically. One day he sent me a picture of a t-shirt which in turn had an image of a strange masked man, or perhaps a strange masked shadow, offering me nuggets of gold.

I had no idea what I was looking at. He explained that it was from ‘Spirited Away’, I said ‘What’s ‘Spirited Away’? to which he promptly organised an afternoon for us to watch it. He sat me down on his beaten up couch, handed me a weird orange flavoured beer, and set put on the original dub with English subtitles.

This was three months ago.

I find it very difficult to explain the stuff that happened in between Chihiro clutching dying flowers to her chest and the moment I was re-awoken by the DVD title screen. Something… happened in the middle. I’ve never been able to place it. I wasn’t just watching Chihiro, I was her in a sense. Everytime Chihiro was fearful, tearful, greatful or brave, I was too.

Everytime she held her breath or held her own, I did too.  And as one, we were thrust into this adventure, overwelmed by this adventure and accepted this adventure. There are moments where I was not in a godforsaken hole in East Hill, drinking warm beer and being subject to derisive analysis by the less insightful guest, and I was there. I was  in the tunnel, on the bridge, in the baths, on the platform or the train. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t animated, or didn’t speak the language. I was there.

I highly recommend anyone who’s never watched ‘Spirited Away’ to turn off their internet, their phone, find a quiet place and just experience it. When the credits finally came to a close, I was catatonic.I had nothing to say, to express because it was all too real, all too quick, and all too much. All I could do was turn to my friend, who had offered me this couch, this beer and this whole different world and say ‘Thank You’.

The Faculty Review

Words by Benjamin Pinsent


Warning: this review contains spoilers.

I am putting in a spoiler free version of this review before we get into the nitty gritty of the film. The film comes highly recommended with some great ideas, well acted scenes, some really funny dialogue and “oh it’s them” moments while watching the film and checking out the crew credits. So watch it and come back to the review.

Right now let’s get started:

High school. We all know what it is, even though we never went (unless you did). England has mostly secondary schools, but due to countless movies and tv shows concerned with high school we can all recognise the clichés. We know the cliques the bullying, the sport and anything else that revolves around attending an establishment tied to the American education system.

The 90’s were rampant with these types of films, from setting classical literature in high school like ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999)and ‘Clueless’ (1995), to Joss Weden’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997). ‘The Faculty’ (1998)is one of those hidden gems that filed out with the rest of the high school craze, hidden amongst the imitators and the bad. But this is probably one the best high school films of the 1990’s.

The film is based around a group of outsiders: a nerd Casey (Elijah Wood), a burn out drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett), a goth Stokes (Clea Duvall), a Jock who quits the football team to focus on his studies, his girl friend and a transfer student, establishing early each character’s status and role in the high school.

However when Casey notices a new species of parasite in the field and that the school faculty start to act weird he deduces that the parasite is an alien race come to earth to take over the planet. The only way to destroy the alien is through the drugs made by Zeke.

It appears on the surface to be another alien invasion/body snatcher film, but it is actually a criticism on the high school class system. The film shows this by using an alien thing that does damage by separating and dividing. The fact that each of the main character represents a different facet of high school life is key. It also promotes the idea of youthful rebellion: the main weapon against the aliens is homemade coke.

The film is a well acted piece the tension at the beginning of the film is amazing as people notice that others are acting weird. In fact it is a well made film that seems to raise up those who live lower down the high school food chain. Stand outs have to be Wood, Hartnett and Laura Harris as the transfer student with a little secret.

That is not to mention all the star talent that went in the film, other than the students were Jon Stewart and Selma Hayak as the Nurse who is always ill. A mention must go to the T2 himself Robert Patrick as the down right creepy football Coach Joe Williams. Robert Rodriguez helmed the project written by Kevin Williamson, the man who wrote meta horror Scream.

There is a problem with the film that not only almost ruins the entire experience but also contradicts the themes of the movie. Over the course of the movie we follow the characters who appear to be comfortable with their differences, it is what saved them from the parasite at the start.

Yet at the end, after the monster is defeated, we learn that they are now part of the school social system that they where so happy to be exempt from: Zeke is a football player, Stokes is dating a jock and Casey is part of the elite. It is an ending that lets down what is an entertaining film that starts as a celebration of those on the sidelines of school life.

I would still watch the film again and again, because apart from the ending, it is a great ride, that really encapsulates the meaning of being an outsider, all be it one that deals with an invasion of alien parasites.

ParaNorman Review

Words by Benjamin Pinsent

Not to be confused with the TV show ‘Paranormal’ or the rapidly tiring ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, ‘ParaNorman’ came from left field for those who were not expecting it, and even those who were expecting it found a surprise as they walked into the cinema.

From the same studio that made ‘Coraline’ (2009), Laika is similar to Pixar studios in the way that they are always creating decent movies and pushing the technological boundaries of their medium. Pixar was the CGI animation studio to get fur to look right in ‘Monsters inc’, then they perfected water in ‘Finding Nemo’.

Laika has advanced the look of stop motion puppets with the largest amount of facial expressions, giving the characters a full range of emotion. It is a definite step up technically from their previous work and Tim Burtons attempts; not only because of the expression, but the look of the puppets. There is a realness to the texture, despite the amazingly weird style of the sets and the puppets, the audience can almost believe that they are really people on the screen.

Well, enough about the technological splendour of the film, what lies beneath the polished exterior of this child friendly zom-com?

It is a surprisingly sweet tale of an outsider quite content with his way of life having all the people a boy could need to talk to, it doesn’t really matter to him that they are dead. It is when his crazy uncle (John Goodman) who can also see ghosts, tasks him with protecting the town that he lives in from a centuries old witches curse that Norman’s life takes a turn for the worst.

Being attacked by zombies Norman must team up with Neil (the school’s resident fat kid and another outsider) the school bully, his bratty teen sister and Neil’s older brother to save the day.

Conventional is not a word to describe this film at all. Norman is already comfortable with his powers and his lot in life. The humour almost broaches the adult at times and the twists will leave you re-evaluating myths about witches and vengeful ghosts. It is a kids movie, but it is one that doesn’t talk down to kids.

This could be considered ironic because the trailers that the film was played with seemed to be very conventional kids fair: with Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’ which is almost a step back interms of technical achievement and ‘Nativity 2’ a film that sees children as types of people with a lesser intelligence. (Although there was a collective squee moment when a trailer for ‘The Hobbit’ came on.)

It is a film with a heart but it is not too sentimental, like Burton’s own attempts to recreate his first stop motion success. The characters feel real, sometimes they act cartoonish, but they are animated bits of plastic and metal. The Characters are brought to life by the talented voice cast, from Goodman bring his Coen Crazy as Mr Prenderghast to Casey Affleck as Mitch, a character who has one of the best end of movie reveals in all of cinema.

It is a film that I cannot recommend enough; it has great animation, a great sense of humour and of self. It should be no surprise when ‘ParaNorman’ receives a nomination for best animated film this year. Please, please go and see it, you don’t want to miss out.