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.

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