A Giant Double Bill

So, I watched two films with Giant in the title. "Aha!," sez me, "that could be a blog post!" And lo, it did come to pass....

The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999) is the tale of a lonely boy who befriends a giant space robot and attempts to help it when he discovers the military want to destroy it. This was Bird's directorial debut following several years working on The Simpsons and, as you might expect from someone with that background, it's a smart, funny and affecting movie. It may come across like an animated version of E.T., particularly with regard to story set-up; visitor from space befriends lonely boy with single mom, boy teaches him to talk and feeds him, forest scenes and sinister government investigators turn up, even Spielberg's trademark back-lighting makes an appearance in cartoon form! Although admittedly E.T. doesn't blow the shit out of as much stuff - he could have put that glowing finger to better use. Then again, maybe E.T. ripped off Ted Hughes' 1968 book The Iron Man, which served as the basis for The Iron Giant. But I digress. This still a terrific film in its own right, with a Cold War setting which helps the sci-fi themes, whilst the film's message is clear but thankfully not rammed down your throat. Vin Diesel's sub-sonic vocal talents are put to good use in giving the robot a voice and the whole thing impressed Pixar head honcho John Lassester so much, he employed Bird to make The Incredibles and Ratatouille for him. One to watch with the family. You might even shed a tear.

In contrast, The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, 2013) is not one to watch with the family, unless you're looking to trouble them deeply. Set in a poor working-class area of Bradford, we are introduced to the hyperactive, rebellious teenager (Connor Chapman) and his soft-hearted friend (Shaun Thomas) as they get involved in scrap metal dealing in order to make some money. What follows is proof that it really is 'grim oop north'. Or more accurately, 'fookin grim oop north, yis bastids', given the impressive array of profanity on display here. With the shadow of Ken Loach films looming large in the background, this is a bleak slice of social realism as we watch both boys attempt in different ways to escape from their hopeless environmental trappings. It's not as overtly political as Loach's output, but if you're not too depressed, you can exercise your brain by pondering if the film's title (borrowed from the short story by Oscar Wilde) is a sideswipe at the Thatcher government or similarly oppressive bodies. Not a happy film then, but Bernard's eye for a shot brings some beauty to the bleakness, whilst the two young actors turn in natural and affecting performances. You might even shed a tear. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe this should be shown to kids to stop them complaining about their lot in life.

Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2015)

What's it about? A young Irish boy discovers his mute little sister is a selkie (half human, half seal) and must help her find her voice in an enchanting Gaelic faerie-tale.

Is it any good? A massive seal of approval for a gorgeous slice of animated folklore. Irish viewers will probably find it particularly lovely, but, like Studio Ghibli (to which this has been favourably compared), its themes and visuals should have universal appeal. In this age of CG-animation, there is something captivating about traditional 2D hand-drawn animation, especially when it is a wonderfully realised as this, with almost every frame infused with Celtic swirls and pleasingly symmetrical compositions. The beautiful, ethereal visuals are perfect for the story which blurs together the real and mythical worlds of humans, giants, faerie-folk and witches in a magical realist parable which explores themes of family, grief and loss, by emphasising the importance of our emotions. It may sacrifice focus for whimsy at times, but if your own emotions aren't stirred by the end, an owl-witch must have them captured in a jam-jar somewhere. Watch it if you've ever believed in faeries, or listened to a sea-shell, or loved a pet dog, or rubbed dockleaves on a nettle-sting. Simply magical.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Oscar nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2015 Oscars and currently riding high with a score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems that no-one is immune to its charms. The future looks bright for Tomm Moore and his talented team at the Kilkenny-based studio Cartoon Saloon. If you haven't already done so, check out their first animated feature, the equally beautiful The Secret of Kells, which garnered their first Oscar nomination a few years back. Or catch their lovely pre-school children's show Puffin Rock on TV. It's fun, even if you don't have kids.

Anything else I should know? Listen out for the distinctive voice talent of Moone Boy's David Rawle, Brendan Glesson, Fionnuala Flanagan and d'Unbelievables in key roles. Also, here's an interview with Moore in which he reveals the inspiration for the film, including his experience of a seal-cull on the West coast of Ireland.

What does the Fonz think? Tá sé an-iontach. Dhá ordóg suas.

Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2014)

What's it about? A morose trio of eco-warriors (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) plan to stick it to The Man by blowing up a dam. But, like, in a really irritating, schmumblecore kind of way.

Is it any good? Not really. It's slow-moving affair which purports to examine the consequences of ones actions, but does so in a very dull way which involves lots of talk about vegetables and fertilizer. Some suspense to be found in the central bomb-planting sequence, but hard to care about any of the characters since they don't really seem like very interesting or nice people. It has been described as an authentically minimalist film, but sometimes less is, well, less.
Watch the Gene Hackman Night Moves instead.

Anything else I should know? Incidentally, I love talking to eco-warriors about the environment and climate change. Makes me feel all warm outside.

What does the Fonz think? The Fonz in on holiday this week so we asked his pet beaver for his opinion.

Slow West (John Maclean, 2015)

What's it about? A naive 16-year old (Kodi Smit-McPhee) searching for the love of his life in 19th century Colorado is guided on his quest by flinty bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender) who has ulterior motives in mind.

Is it any good? It's a slow, offbeat Western but quite a good one, managing to be both realistic and ethereal in its depiction of the odd couple and their interaction with assorted characters throughout the (fairy) tale. Beautifully photographed throughout, it's an elegant looking film which makes full use of the stunning scenery (New Zealand doubling for Colorado) in a sort of melancholy, darkly comic road movie. But for all the European arthouse sensibilities, director Maclean still remembers to finish in the grand tradition of the Western with a climactic shoot-out, which is both exciting and visually impressive. At only 84 mins it could perhaps have afforded a bit more time to lend depth to the characters, but despite the superficiality of the story it still manages to end in oddly touching fashion. Not that quick on the draw, then, but very composed and sure-eyed in its manner.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Much critical acclaim, winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and gathering favourable comparisons with other slightly eccentric Westerns, such as Dead Man and McCabe & Mrs Miller - indeed Maclean cites the hazy atmosphere of the latter as a big influence and homages it directly in the absolutely faaaahbulous fur coat worn by the villainous Payne (Ben Mendehlson). Despite some grumblings about the slow pace, audiences have also generally approved, although those lured by the promise of Fassbender in his underwear have been reportedly disappointed by the baggy, stained frontier long-johns he sports here.

Anything else I should know? Elsewhere, music fans might be interested to know that in a former life Maclean was a member of The Beta Band, who were either a sub-standard Britpop outfit or ahead-of-their-time revolutionaries, depending on your musical tastes.

What does the Fonz think? Slow West, young man.

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

What's it about? Downbeat college lecturer Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees his exact double acting in a film and resolves to find out who he is. Things get a bit weird.

Is it any good? Be warned - Enemy sets itself up as a psychological thriller, but it is not a straightforward film. Events and people depicted may be real or imagined, the chronology is probably not linear, there's recurring spider motifs and the final scene is a genuinely WTF?! moment. Don't expect any easy explanations. But ruminate on it for a while (and it is likely to lurk in the dark corners of your mind for a bit) and it begins to make sense, even if some aspects remain open to interpretation. A gloomy palette and score help create a claustrophobic, uneasy atmosphere which match the themes of oppression and entrapment, also helped by Gyllenhaal's downbeat performance(s). If you're a prospective father worried about commitment, best avoid this. If you are already a father, you'll know all about the spiders already. Or if you didn't, you will after watching this.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Caused no small amount of head-scratching amongst viewers, but there were many favourable comparisons to David Lynch, Orwell's 1984 and the works of Kafka, whilst the recent Doestoevsky adapatation The Double makes for an interesting companion piece. But what does it all mean? Well, neither Gyllenhaal or Villeneuve seems prepared to explain it clearly for us (perhaps they can't?), but you'll find any number of theories on t'Interweb. The most comprehensive comes from this guy, whose explanation runs to 25 mins. Elsewhere, it's always fun to check out baffled viewer comments on IMDB when it comes to this sort of film.

"I would rather sit on a soiled nappy eating raw spinach while watching a infomercial on kitchen Mop's than watch this film again."

"i think some guy who probably thinks he's an artist, knocked up some woman, cant handle any responsibility... so he got drunk and baked then wrote this piece of garbage while taking a dump"

"whatever was going on with the spider just confused me."

Hard to argue with that, but I kinda liked the film.

What does the Fonz think? What a tangled web we weave....