Monday, 21 March 2011

DVD: THE ILLUSIONIST

Elliot Hyams gives a standing ovation to the latest offering from the visionary artist behind Belleville Rendez-vous.

Sylvain Chomet is a filmmaker who can be described in many ways, artist, storyteller, musician, animator, magician; it is hard to put just one label on what it is that this exciting young talent does on screen. Chomet burst onto the international scene in 2003 as the writer/director of the feature length animation Belleville Rendez-vous, in an era seemingly dominated by the C.G.I style of Pixar the film showed that nothing can match up to the beauty of hand drawn animation. But it was more than just the striking visuals of Belleville Rendez-vous that helped to set it apart from other animations of the modern era, it featured a fantastically touching story about a grandmother’s search for her kidnapped champion cyclist grandson, a story that managed to convey depth and emotion without ever using one single line of dialogue. It was Chomet’s inventive use of sound design that needs to be seen to be believed that allowed the film to appeal to such a wide international market.

Tragically despite the wide acclaim of Belleville Rendez-vous Chomet’s second feature length film The Illusionist received only a small cinema release last year, making it almost impossible to find. However this classic has now been released on DVD and for those who missed it on the big screen it has certainly proven to be worth the wait. The film is adapted from an autobiographical screenplay written by French magician Jacques Tati. Tati’s script tells the sad tale of a magician during the dying days of cabaret. Replaced by pop bands and television the magician leaves the theatres of Paris in search of work in Scotland where he befriends a young girl who believes that the aging performer truly is blessed with magical powers. The script sat untouched for decades until it was discovered by Chomet, who saw in it the opportunity to explore his own world of magic, using an art form that like cabaret has seen itself phased out by flashy young upstarts.

Like his previous feature The Illusionist relies more on visuals and sound to tell the story than dialogue, characters speak in garbled Scottish accents or mumbled French that again serves to offer a film that has no real borders. Once again Chomet has created a beautiful world, eschewing the highly stylized look of Belleville Rendez-vous for a more naturalistic approach that still manages to carry the unique style of a Chomet animation. Like its predecessor The Illusionist is a deeply touching film, however this is mostly definitely a story aimed at adults rather than children. It deals with themes that at times are often heartbreaking and complex, and introduces us to a host of characters who are suffering as the magical world in which they exist falls into decline. Some have called the film depressing, but they are missing the point, The Illusionist manages to cover the whole range of emotions within one film. You will laugh, you will cry, and it is a testament to Chomet’s skill as a storyteller that he can make you feel these emotions in such quick succession with hand drawn characters who deliver performances that would put most of today’s actors to shame. For anyone who is lucky enough to see this film there can be no doubt that sometimes, magic truly does exist.

Review by Elliot Hyams

FILM: DRIVE ANGRY

Elliot Hyams buckles up for the latest offering from the man who makes bad acting look easy, Nic Cage.

Last year a viral video named Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit appeared on YouTube highlighting the strange acting style of the Oscar winning actor. Over the years Cage has garnered an almost cult like status for giving terrible performances in a string of increasingly dire films, to the point where one can’t help but wonder if it’s all some sort of genius Andy Kaufman style joke that the rest of the world has yet to cotton onto. From the Wicker Man, to Ghost Rider, to Bangkok Dangerous it often feels as if Cage doesn’t even bother to read the scripts he is sent before signing on the dotted line. Yet despite this there are moments of genius, such as Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart and through it all Cage remains a likable figure who this month returns to our screens in Drive Angry.

Cage plays Milton, a man who has escaped from hell to seek revenge on the leader of the satanic cult that sacrificed his daughter and now intends to do the same with his infant granddaughter. Milton is aided in his mission by the beautiful but tough Piper, played by Amber Heard, and pursued by The Account, a demon posing as an F.B.I agent, played by Prison Break’s William Fichtner. Drive Angry starts as it means to go on with Milton escaping from a vision of Hell as a flaming prison city in a classic car and proceeding to rid several Satanists of their body parts via the means of a large shotgun. This film has it all, car chases, cool one liners, shoot outs, and gratuitous nudity all presented in 3D, it is also one of the most ridiculous films ever made. In fact this film is so bad that one can’t help but wonder if it was an intentional decision on the part of director Patrick Lussier to create such a farce just to see if he could get away with it.

Lussier tries to compensate for the clich├ęd riddled script by piling on countless overblown set pieces, including a mid-sex shoot out stolen directly from the far superior Shoot ‘Em Up. Nic Cage is actually fairly underplayed in this film, mostly grunting and shooting people, which is a shame as it is actually a lot more fun to watch him ‘lose his shit’ and he is at his most boring when in ‘bad ass action star’ mode. The true star of the film is Fichtner, he seems to be having a lot of fun in his role, accepting the film for the nonsense it is and delivering ridiculous lines like “Jesus? A carpenter, who actually preferred short hair.” with the campy glee that they deserve. Drive Angry is a terrible film that should be avoided at all costs. Whilst there is a certain amount of silly fun to be had, the viewer soon becomes exhausted by the sheer stupidity of it all, and all the car chases and shoot outs in the world can’t suppress the feeling that Milton should leave the poor Satanists alone and start hunting down the makers of this film before the inevitable sequel happens.

Review by Elliot Hyams