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.

Looper Review

*****

Words by Benjamin Pinsent

Science fiction is an interesting genre, it is based around actual science but it is a science that must be explained in the logic of the diegesis of the film. This enhances the reality of the film, even though things like warp drives, teleporters and time travel don’t exist in our reality, the film makes it appear that these fantastical technologies could be created.

Time travel is a whole different kettle of fish: the actual invention of time travel is one thing but keeping track of the separate timelines and paradoxes is something else. If a film does this poorly it can feel bogged down in what seems to be needless complexity. But if it is done right, the result can be a mind-bending ride through the fabric of causality.

‘Looper’ is set in the not to distant future of 2044; 30 years down the line time travel is invented, immediately outlawed and is only used by high level criminal organisations to dispose of a body. These gangs recruit people from their past to kill their enemies: to truly make them disappear, as we are told that due to tagging in the future evidence always floats to the surface. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Joe Simmons a Looper, who comes across his future self (Bruce Willis) who won’t lay down and die, because his life has become too comfortable to let go.

The basic premise is just that, basic. High concept things are mentioned and never explained, 10 percent of the population have telekinetic powers that they use to impress the opposite sex. There are drugs that can be used like eye drops. And last of all there is time travel, which the film goes out of its way not to explain. The weird thing is that the film does not suffer for it, the rest of the story is so absorbing that the audience is left not caring about the many paradoxes and temporal anomalies caused by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt.

The cast is brilliant; Gordon Levitt himself is perfectly transformed into Bruce Willis, in look and mannerism. Young Simmons is a party boy, only focused on the now like his fellow loopers. Seth (Paul Dano) who is only on screen for the first part of the film leaves a lasting impression as an example of what happens when you let your “loop run”.

Willis gives his all as old Joe, who in his old age has simmered down, showing the lengths a man is capable of going for the one he loves. But the stand out of the piece is Emily Blunt, who after all her years in America finally pulls out a convincing accent.

Jeff Daniels also makes an appearance as the boss of the loopers, mixing that sense of humour with violence and anger that Albert Brooks did for ‘Drive’. All the characters play off each other wonderfully; each interaction deepens the character and advances the plot at the same time.

This film is a gift to watch. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin, places everything in a really tight plane of focus. The contrast between the foreground and background gives the film an extra edge. That, coupled with the use of colour, adds layers of meaning to an already thematically heavy movie.

The film represents an advance in the careers of everyone involved: from Levitt to Johnson, who previously worked together on ‘Brick’, to Blunt and Willis, who try things that they aren’t really used to.

It also shows us that a blockbuster can still have something deeper than just great visuals, it can have something to say with out giant robots and explosions every thirty seconds.

From this review and the others that have been written by the likes of the Guardian, one can assume that this is a film that every one must see this year. Rian Johnson promised us adventure with the trailer and he delivered with brilliant visuals, witty writing and a score that can “wub wub” harder than anything Skrillex will put out.

Ruby Sparks Review

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

It is not very often in which you encounter a truly unique film, but, in writer and star Zoe Kazan’s eyes. Anything is possible.

‘Ruby Sparks’ follows “a novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.”

The film stars real life couple, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan as the writer, Calvin Fields and Ruby Sparks. It is directed by ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ couple, Johnathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

This film is truly beautiful, it is clever, heartbreaking and there is something so magical about words, the simpleness of them, creating someone. It is a love story.

Kazan is a master of words, perhaps the most beautiful line from the film is; “Falling in love is an act of magic.” She plays with the audiences’ emotions, toying, often quite literally with the character Ruby herself.

The climax of the film is played excellently, with quick cuts and great use of non-diegetic music. The film is a joy to behold.

Although, you must be warned, this isn’t your typical ‘romantic comedy’, it is so much more than that. It is genre defying and a sight to behold. In the simple act of two people falling in love.

‘Ruby Sparks’ is out in the UK from the 12th October.