Friday, 28 June 2013

Pixar - Worst to Best

'Pixar? What is that?'

Said no one ever. When it comes to Hollywood animation, Pixar are the king of their craft; ever since they released the legendary Toy Story in 1995, they have had a huge influence on the evolution of computer animation and its dominance in modern cinema. With fourteen films produced since their inception, Pixar have since become one of the most commercially successful studios of all time. They've won tons of accolades and the love of many fans and critics and none of these are awarded without thought - the studio deserves all their praise and continues to be the best of the best. So, with their latest hit Monsters University out now, let's take a look back at their filmography; from the worst to the very best...

#13 - Cars 2 (2011)

You saw this coming from a mile away - but the truth is inevitable. Cars 2 was gorgeously animated and occasionally funny, but in the long run it failed to prove itself as anything more than a way to expand its monetary powerhouse of a franchise. I for one enjoyed the first Cars; it was funny and had a heart, but Cars 2 lacks such care for its characters. Mater is the star of the show for no logical reason and his irritating voice and exaggerated idiocy becomes too much within minutes. He's possessive, weird and completely insecure, and this paves the way for a forced and poorly constructed moral that also feels rather condescending. Even die hard Pixar fans have trouble liking this film and I am no exception.

#12 - Brave (2012)

You'll probably find this to be another obvious choice, but it should be noted that I actually really like Brave - and so this is where films aren't at all bad but just not my top favourites. Brave is one Pixar's most appealing films when it comes to visuals; the studio completely rewrote their animation software to create the most complex and realistic graphics possible and this worked to great effect. The story is a little too predictable and sometimes hollow, but it has a heart and an endearing moral alongside plenty of comedy. Not stellar, but still very good.

#11 - A Bug's Life (1998)

If you ask someone to name a random Pixar film, it's likely A Bug's Life will be the last thing they'll say. While it is a pretty forgettable effort from the at the time young studio, it is in no a way a failure; beautiful cutesy visuals help to create a humanoid insect world that isn't utterly terrifying and the script is packed with witty dialogue and a decent level of complexity. It's not a masterpiece, as the story is a little bit bland, but it can't not be enjoyed.

#10 - Cars (2006)

Ultimately seen as the first less than spectacular Pixar film, Cars almost broke the studios line of critical acclaim - fortunately it was still seen as a good film in the eyes of most critics and its sequel ended up being the true offendor. The story of Cars isn't where it slips up; it's the world where it all happens. The fact that automobiles are the living entities is a difficult concept to digest and raises many awkward questions. If you look past this, you'll find Cars is a fun and likeable movie with plenty of jubilant characters; not to mention stellar visuals as usual.

#9 - Up (2009)

When the story for Up first got announced, I was somewhat challenged. It sounded absolutely absurd, but Pixar's ingenuity and stellar execution turned the premise into an enriching animated flick with comedy, genuine emotion and stunning visuals. I sometimes struggled to fully connect with it outside the beautiful first 10 minutes, but the comedic timing is gold and there's still a loving and powerful theme flowing throughout the creative story.

#8 - WALL•E (2008)

What makes WALL•E such an appealing film at first glance is the sheer ingenuity of its premise; Pixar have created an unusual but interesting world to develop a romance but, believe me, it really works. The film contains substantially less dialogue than other Pixar flicks but never was I bored or uninterested in what was unfolding on screen. With the cute protagonist rarely speaking, comedy is created through plenty of witty slapstick and visual gags but is thankfully balanced with the emotional resonance of the plot. A brilliant effort and one that's exceptionally heartwarming.

#7 - The Incredibles (2004)

Though unusually violent and long for an animated film, Pixar's first step into the superhero genre never fails to impress on a visual and narrative scale. The titular heroes themselves are explored flawlessly as they struggle to cope with the pressures of society - and this is joined by some thrilling action sequences animated with suitable intensity. Its runtime is never bloated or dull, and so we have another winner from Pixar.

#6 - Finding Nemo (2003)

Finding Nemo is undeniably one Pixar's best known films and one that any random person could name if asked. It was a major hit when first released, earning over $850 million worldwide which for a while made it the highest grossing animated film of all time. It was no different in the eyes of critics either - scoring 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and 89% on Metacritic and loved by audiences of all ages. A story of love and the courage it fuels, Finding Nemo is a powerful, charming and equally funny adventure across a stunningly animated ocean and anyone who dislikes it has no place in modern society.

#5 - Toy Story (1995)

Sure Finding Nemo is iconic to Pixar, but obviously it can't top the unbeatably renowned Toy Story - the very first CGI animated feature film to ever hit cinema screens and one with tons of interesting merits to its backstory. Innovating animated films in terms of storytelling and computerisation, Toy Story was met with huge box office and critical success when released in 1995 and to this day, alongside its sequel, is one of few films to have a flawless 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. All these accolades don't go undeserved: Toy Story is both hilarious and emotionally satisfying, and while its animation can be a little rough, the innovation it pioneered still makes it beyond impressive.

#4 - Toy Story 2 (1999)

A film also able to boast a stunning 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Toy Story 2 is arguably one of Pixar's best films in the eyes of many audiences and for good reason. Like its predecessor, the film truly gets you to care for plastic toys and opens your eyes to a fantastical world where they do come alive and they do feel emotions - paving the way for some powerful themes and morals. It never fails to make you laugh or cry, and so deserves its place as one of the company's best films.

#3 - Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Though the film is critically acclaimed, I still hear some people say Monsters, Inc. doesn't focus on its characters enough and renders them a little too flat. To these people I say: hahaha no lol. Monsters, Inc. is overflowing with creativity from beginning to end, based in a wonderfully unique and clever premise full of loveable characters. Goodman and Crystal perform their central roles with sheer excellence, and the bond developed between Sulley and human child Boo makes an already enjoyable film even more exceptional. An under-appreciated classic whose prequel I'm dying to see!

#2 - Toy Story 3 (2010)

If someone asks you if you were excited as hell for this movie and you say no - you're lying. Simple as that. Originally planned to be written and animated by Disney's short lived Circle 7 Animation studio, Toy Story 3 fell back into the rightful hands of Pixar when they were finally purchased by the house of mouse in 2006. Everything was redone from scratch and moulded into the final product we have today. Toy Story 3 is emotional, hilarious and sometimes very dark, balancing these factors flawlessly to develop a worthy conclusion to a much loved series. It being the first animated film to top $1 billion worldwide is no surprise - it was hyped and loved by any worthy moviegoer.

#1 - Ratatouille (2007)

It may seem like an odd choice as my favourite Pixar film, but I can't help but adore the 2007 hit Ratatouille. Though it scored one of the lowest ever Pixar opening weekends, the film went on to top $600 million worldwide and received glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike. It's a bravely unique tale set in France, where Remy, an ordinary garden rat, dreams of becoming a chef - though of course this is no easy feat for an animal seen as a disgusting pest. His dreams take him on a magnificent and vibrant journey, told with great characters, memorable dialogue and some of the best animation from the studio. My only grudge is how hungry it makes me when I watch it - but we can brush that aside as the film is simply excellent. 

So there you have it - you owe it to yourself to see every film on this list, and though I have yet to see Pixar's latest summer hit Monsters University (sucks to live in the UK), I can only hope it meets my expectations and lives up to its predecessor (or successor?)'s standards! Until next time, thanks for reading!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Making of NIGHTMARE - Part 1 - A Dream Journal


It has been over a month since I uploaded Nightmare to Youtube and while it has failed to reach the success of The Attic (which topped 1000 views in its first month), it has still been a success in my eyes - besides, do views really matter? No! It's the feedback people give and the outside recognition that really matters. The comments have been very positive, with praise aimed at the script, storyline and haunting atmosphere, and the criticisms mainly pinned on the poor camera quality and iffy acting. Once again, I am very pleased for the honesty my viewers have shown and this will only help improve future projects!

As with The Attic, Nightmare has an interesting and extensive history of planning, writing and other pre-production aspects that helped mould the entire film into the final product. Over the next few blog posts in this series, I shall be exploring the making of my most recent film. And, as you'd expect, the conception and writing is where we begin...

I was determined to make Henry a much different character than Joseph from The Attic.
The story for Nightmare is based on a short film I produced in 2010, titled Night Terrors. The film was made for a film competition at my school - I was one of two participants, because my school was shit and nobody felt creative. The film lasted five minutes and involved a young man experiencing a nightmare involving a strange black figure that murders his friend. The following scene takes place in reality and the black figure begins to haunt the boy before once again killing his friend, mirroring the disturbing events of his dream. The concept of nightmares bleeding into reality is nothing new but I had always been greatly interested in how it could play out and the reasons behind it. Nightmare was originally going to adopt the same title as its miniature predecessor but I felt the one word title sounded more sinister and eerie - Night Terrors sounded too try hard when it comes to fear factor. My goal was to pen a 45 page script and have a final film equal to the run time of The Attic. 

The concept of Henry's childhood abuse is inspired by issues personal to me and those I love - I was not abused as a child, but the true influence behind it I cannot divulge for personal reasons. It was something I thought would add a lot of emotional complexity to the story and would propose a more unique, personal approach to horror filmmaking. After The Attic succeeded in crafting a thrilling horror atmosphere which rested on a simple narrative, I wanted Nightmare to have a more explorative storyline that made you like and appreciate the characters and one that organically linked to the scary atmosphere. I knew the childhood abuse of Henry and the demonic entity that haunts him had to converge to make the story flow well with audiences, but finding a solid method to do this was very tricky. I eventually decided to have his parents abandon him to keep him away from the cursed family and ultimately save him. People ask me - why didn't his parents just send him away? Why didn't they leave him with someone else? Films like the recent The Amazing Spider-Man show such things and the main character always longs for the truth behind his parents as he cares for them. Henry had to be different - his parents abused, mistreated and hurt him to their disgust to keep him away from the family. They treated him so badly under false motivations so that he would want to stay away. Abusing Henry and causing him to instigate his own departure from home by calling the social was crucial to their goal as they wanted him gone and to never want to come back. And it worked.

Writing believable dialogue sure isn't easy. Some of the conversations scenes, in hindsight, don't feel too polished.
What also made Nightmare such a dramatic change from The Attic in terms of writing was the greater focus on dialogue to develop the characters and the narrative. The Attic only featured basic dialogue during the conversations between Joseph and Mike over the phone which wasn't so difficult - Nightmare features it more often than not and people will be surprised on how tricky it is to write natural dialogue that you'd be comfortable saying. Dialogue has to sound like the character is speaking on instinct - not reading a complex script. It's hard to write lines that provide exposition and act them in a natural manner, but I think in the end I managed to find a comfortable style even if some of the lines in the final film could've been further polished. The emphasis on the demon repeating its iconic dialogue was to enforce its loss of humanity and to simply make it easier to understand as its voice was admittedly quite distorted.

There isn't much else to say in the way of writing - Nightmare took in total about two months to finalize and didn't dramatically change much during the process. Unlike The Attic, which went from a complete mess to the acclaimed final product, the finished film of Nightmare is very faithful to the script. There are only some minor changes, such as Henry confronting Bill in his room over the door being open - originally this was meant to take place in the kitchen and was moved to avoid disturbing other people in the shared house. Otherwise, the script did not change an awful lot, and the only major things to discuss were the new challenges previously mentioned.

So thanks for reading, and until next time! I shall elaborate on the filming process in the next part!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Movie Review - Man of Steel

Ever since Nolan finished his work with the incredible Dark Knight trilogy and began, alongside David S. Goyer, to spearhead the new direction for Superman's return to the big screen, fans have been overwhelmed with excitement and hype; will this be the best Superman film ever? Will it make up for the more than disappointing Superman Returns from 2006? Well, after over two years of anticipation, the finished product has finally arrived to underwhelming reception - but I would like to be everyone's beacon of hope and assure you: Snyder and Nolan have done the man of steel justice without a doubt.

Sent to Earth from his dying homeworld many years ago, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is alienated from society due to his superhuman abilities which he attempts to hide from those who disdain him. After years of searching for his own origins, Clark stumbles across the expansive Fortress of Solitude which seems to finally store answers for where he belongs. His powers are recognized as a source of hope and good for the world - leading him to become the mighty hero Superman and stand against one of his own, the menacing General Zod (Michael Shannon), whose arrival at Earth threatens the very existence of humanity and its homeworld.

Man of Steel is incredibly explosive and action packed - its gargantuan $225 million budget is exploited to create incredible battle scenes and truly make you believe a man can fly. The production design is beyond exceptional - everything from Superman's actually cool costume (without red pants!) to the magnificent portrayal of Krypton benefit the film hugely. Everything is filmed in a handheld and actually solid fashion; fight scenes are never clustered onto badly framed shots and the film puts a strong and gorgeous emphasis on lighting and expansive locations. Viewing the film in IMAX is a massive importance - while the 3D is conservative and often pointless, the stunning quality of visuals and sound really add to the experience. Well, sound less so, as the somewhat repetitive soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is drowned in overly noisy smashing during the admittedly enjoyable battle scenes.

But sometimes Man of Steel is a little too determined to be easy on the eyes (albeit not the ears) - the characters suffer a tad, although the story at least makes a strong effort to inject depth and focus. It usually works, as Clark Kent is a likeable character portrayed brilliantly by Cavill, and his transition to Superman is handled in a way that prevents pacing issues. Clever use of flashbacks help us to explore the character without a boring wait for his alter ego to show up, and his development is shared equally alongside love interest Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is a little bland but still likeable. It's a shame the focus on the antagonistic Zod wasn't as ideal; he's a little dull and Shannon really overdoes the sinister act at times. He still makes for an intimidating villain, but more could've been done to polish his character.

Man of Steel is jam packed with intense action, likeable characters and solid performances. It lacks positivity at times and leans towards a depressing vibe a little too much, but what it does it does very well. Never has a Superman film in the past been able to capture the chaotic nature of the protagonist's flight and combat until today and Singer's effort from 2006 is not even in the same ball park. It is sure to divide fans in areas and a lot of work could've been done to polish some of the dialogue and focus in Goyer's script, but Snyder's stylish direction allows the film to become a hugely intense and emotionally satisfying summer hit.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Nintendo E3 2013 - My Thoughts

In 2012, Nintendo had the chance to deliver a stunning E3 conference and gain a hat trick with their previously outstanding 2010 and 2011 shows. With their new console, the Wii U, due for launch soon, many new titles to announce and dozens of new games for their 3DS handheld system, 2012 was set to be a memorable E3. And it was - for all the wrong reasons.

Never before had I been so bored and disappointed during an E3 show. The conference was sluggish and dull, showcasing boring titles that we knew were coming and offering nothing remotely exciting. With Nintendo suffering some hefty financial issues during 2013, the decision has been made to abandon their typical conferences in favour of a live Nintendo Direct stream showcasing their newest announcements, followed by booths available at the convention centre. The stream concluded earlier, so I've once again decided to post my thoughts on what was shown. Let's begin...

Pokémon X and Y took the spotlight as the show began. The new trailer depicted a better view of the intense, dynamic 3D battle scenarios and confirmed that the elusive Sylveon Pokémon is indeed part of the new Fairy type - a decision I feared would be true and one that I'm not 100% happy with. I had always hoped Nintendo would develop a Solar or Light type to contrast with the mysterious Darkness type, and the choice to have a Fairy type seems a little odd and random. The trailer also showed a new mode called Pokémon-Amie which lets you play and bond with your Pokémon characters. It looks okay but overall the trailer wasn't very enthralling and left me a little underwhelmed.

Next up was Super Mario 3D World, the next installment the main 3D Mario series. Unlike past console iterations, Mario 3D World does not utilize the gameplay mechanic of collecting stars, but instead acts as a sequel to 2011's Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS. The game seems to offer linear but complex levels that conclude with a traditional goal post that up to four players can race towards. The new cat suit is also introduced, appearing to give Mario the ability to run quickly on all fours and climb up walls with ease. The game looks visually stunning when it comes to artistic and technical appeal, and I can't wait to get my hands on it in December.

Mario returned again with the next announcement: Mario Kart 8, the eighth installment to Nintendo's acclaimed kart racing franchise and the second to follow the sporadic numbering format the series adopted with the 3DS iteration. Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 have produced their glorious HD lovechild; returning are bikes from the excellent Wii installment alongside the hanggliders and underwater driving sections from the 3DS game. One of the biggest new additions is the insane, F-Zero-esque track design which features loops, inverted stretches of road and numerous twists and dizzying turns. I've always enjoyed the Mario Kart series, even the more simplistic 3DS version, so hopefully the Wii U's visually gorgeous effort can deliver something truly great.

The presentation also had a strong focus on upcoming third party titles, including Batman: Arkham Origins, Disney Infinity, Rayman Legends, Scribblenauts, Sonic Lost World and...Just Dance?  Anyway, the third party lineup looks reasonably strong, especially when you consider the Wii U can now get the latest HD titles that the Wii missed out on during its prime. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was also previewed in its glorious HD makeover, even if the footage shown was a little primitive and boring. Still, it looks set to be a strong addition to the Wii U's upcoming library, and the new game mechanics Nintendo are set to install should hopefully improve it further.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze came next, acting as a successor to Retro Studios' Donkey Kong Country Returns from 2010 which recently saw a pointless 3DS port. The game uses very similar gameplay mechanics and employs a stronger focus on dynamic camera angles during gameplay, enriching the experience and focusing strongly on the beautifully crafted 3D backdrops. It may look a little familiar initially, but Retro have never disappointed - so this is sure to be an absolute gem if it lives up to the standards of its predecessor.

And then the mother of all video game announcements - the next iteration of the Super Smash Bros. franchise. The currently untitled (or unsubtitled?) edition will see a release in 2014, and will adopt cel shaded graphics on its handheld version and beautiful HD visuals on Wii U. We know little about the new mechanics as the trailer only depicted a few new stages and the manic fighting gameplay we all know and love, including the welcome return of Smash Balls from Brawl. Newcomers include Villager from Animal Crossing and the highly demanded Mega Man who boasts an array of powerful attacks. The gameplay looks as intense as ever, so let's hope the final product turns out as brilliant as it should be. You better have worked hard on the online, Nintendo.

And so that's my thoughts on Nintendo's E3 direct stream, which they should probably sort out in the future as it kept lagging. The 40 minute presentation wasn't as memorable or exciting as the atmosphere of an E3 conference, but what was announced proved to be incredibly strong and gave me reason to put faith back into my Wii U. Good work, Ninty!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Movie Review - The Hangover Part III

The first Hangover was a unique comedy film that managed to tell a funny and equally intense story with plenty of laughs. Its 2011 sequel was a poorman's version of the very same product, featuring humour on the level of dumb chavs, absurdly graphic jokes and an endless slur of foul language and racism.

And so, to conclude his ambitious comedic trilogy, Todd Phillips has taken a new direction for the epic finale: no hangovers, no weddings, no rehashing. Will his choice be rewarded?

When the childlike Alan (Zach Galifianakis) buys a Giraffe which he then murders in a motorway crash, his friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) decide its time for his mental health to undergo some treatment. During their plans they are attacked by Marshall (John Goodman), a mob boss drug dealer who has a vendetta against the notorious criminal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) whom Alan has been contacting. With Doug taken hostage as leverage, the Wolfpack must unite one last time and hunt down their greatest foe before time runs out.

The Hangover Part III admittedly falls flat when it comes to creativity; it boldly attempts a new direction for the series that was a terrific idea but lacklustre in execution. The story works but lacks a true punch to it - its a simple chase for a criminal, and while it certainly has some nice comical twists, it never manages to stand out in a glowing way. The characters are also a mixed bag in some scenes, with Galifianakis (fucking hate that name) portraying Alan with a comedic appeal but really overdoing his childlike nature, making him often creepy and annoying instead of socially inept. The biggest offender, however, is Kim Jeong as Leslie Chow: the once funny homosexual crook has only built upon his terribly annoying portrayal in the second film, becoming even more obnoxious and reliant on saying 'bitches!' in every sentence as if that's funny.

But if I shunt these grudges aside, I have a lot of good things to say about Hangover Part III. It has been criticised for its intensity and desire to be a dark action thriller but I simply couldn't see this. The film is still full of humour in the form of absurd slapstick and witty dialogue and the narrative embraces its melodramatic vibe, with serious moments being purposely laughable and over the top to lighten the mood. Never does the film feel like its taking itself too seriously and everything keeps moving at a solid pace. The acting across the board is exceptional bar a select few; really the biggest problems are misplaced jokes and a hollow storyline. Hangover III concludes its comedy franchise on a satisfying note, and while it could've been better, it's a huge improvement over its awful predecessor that at least some fans will enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

My Next Film - WANDERING

It's been about a month now since Nightmare was uploaded to Youtube and it has been met with excellent feedback from viewers. Though views have admittedly trailed behind The Attic (which reached 1048 views in its first month), I am still very pleased with the level of positivity when it comes to the film's reception and am very glad you all enjoyed it. And as for those who provided constructive criticism: thanks for being honest and helping me to improve for future projects.

Speaking of future projects, my next film arrives in 2014: it is called Wandering, and will be the final installment to the Black Cloak Trilogy which began with The Attic and continued with Nightmare. The trilogy is much like Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy - well, almost. If you get rid of the jokes, comical violence and pretty much everything else. Essentially, the films are connected by themes and ideas, not storylines.

Wandering tells the story of James Alden whose mother Nicola has recently divorced from her cold husband. Unable to afford their home, she and James move to a small town called Churchwood, where James is immediately put off by the strange locals and sense of unease. When exploring the vast local common, he meets and befriends an estranged hermit named Simon who seems to be at the heart of the commotion - but the events that follow only make him realize the gravity of his mistake.

I can't go into much detail without spoiling, but a 65 page script has been written and filming will possibly start in August. I'm hoping this will be the best film I've ever done - it's scary, reasonably complex and more original than The Attic and Nightmare. Also, it's being shot with a Canon EOS 600D with sound recorded through a RODE Stereo VideoMic Pro. Shitty video and sound quality will now be a thing of the past!

So, you have this to look forward to when the new year arrives. I can't give you a release date, but I'll project an average one of March 2014. I hope you enjoy it when it arrives!