Bats, Bots and Kung Fu Pandas

I am proud (and, yes, chuffed) to present my first guest blog ever. Lisa O'Reilly is my friend, my pal, my buddy and my niece.

All of her life, she has been intrigued by animation and movies and she has carried this through into young-adulthood by professionally studying animation. Her guest post is sparkled with some of her own drawings - of which I am a great fan.

Click on the artwork for more... artwork and ... enjoy!

Greetings fellow cinemaphiles!

Looking at the assorted movies in this summer blockbuster season, it’s been a pretty good year. Over the course of this review I will be discussing three of the biggest movies out right now. I’ll do my very best not to be boring in any way while I’m at it.

Dreamwork’s latest foray into the realm of 3D-animated family-orientated feature films.

Kung Fu Panda’ is the story of Po, the only panda with aspirations to Kung Fu fighting. As enthusiastic as he is, his loud mouth and excessive bulk already cause problems for him with his warrior heroes and their master.

If things weren’t difficult enough, a powerful criminal kung fu master has escaped from prison and is heading right for them!

In light of all these challenges, can Po become the kung fu legend he’s always dreamed of being? …or perhaps the question is how?

One thing that Dreamworks has always been able to fall back on with their 3D animations is parody. Be it in the form of ‘Matrix’ movie moments, pop song musical numbers and barbed dialogue on other pop culture references.

While this method worked in their past movies like ‘Shrek’ and ‘Shrek 2’, other movies started to falter. ‘Sharktale’ focused so much on the celebrity actors that voiced the characters even to the point of caricature, and in the end necessary depth and characterization was completely lost.

It might as well have been shot with the real actors in a live action movie after all. Only with their last release with ‘Over The Hedge’ did Dreamworks show any improvement.

I’ve at least got this to say to Dreamworks; Congratulations, you’ve finally got it!

Rather than being a parody of Kung Fu films, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is a delicately crafted homage to them. No silly pop songs, no pop culture references and no bloody ‘Matrix’ moments are featured anywhere along the story. Instead, we get sweeping, colourful landscapes, a stirring oriental soundtrack, cleverly-paced fight scenes and clear, funny comedy.

The characters themselves are handled with far more care. Po, voiced by Jack Black, is particularly well-rounded and while he is was clearly inspired by the man, he avoids becoming a caricature of Black himself.

Above all else, you can tell the creators of this movie wanted to tell a good story and tell it well.

A Final Note: Apparently, some genuine martial artists have reportedly been insulted that the protagonist, who is a fat panda that says “Awesome” a lot, could do all he does in the film and as a result the movie sends out a bad message to kids about the kung fu lifestyle. Which is a little weird to me, since I didn’t sense some kind of ‘message’ during the film when I watched it. Really, does there have to be a ‘message’ anymore?

There’s only three things I have to say to this, which are:

1. Kung Fu fights are really cool and fun to watch, especially in this film.

2. It’s a CG animated film about talking animals that occasionally defy physics when they fight. Suspend a little disbelief here people.

3. Pandas are awesome. Full stop.

This is a good film. It’s a good animated film. It’s a FUN film. Certainly worth a look for anyone. Prepare for Awesome-ness.

(And for Pete’s sake, be on time for the beginning and try to stay during the closing credits. They’re both very pretty!).


Pixar can do no wrong. It’s a fact. It can’t be done. Not even ‘Cars’ can slow them down.

WALL-E follows the story of the last robot left on Earth, after all human life has left for space to get away from the immense amount of garbage and worldwide pollution. Over the last seven hundred years, Wall-e has developed a little glitch. A personality. Not to mention a habit of hording anything he finds particularly interesting, like rubber duckies and Zippo lighters.

However, even with the company of his loyal pet cockroach and beloved videotape of ‘Hello Dolly’ Wall-e has started feeling a bit, well, lonely. Until everything changes with the arrival of new robot on the block, EVE, who appears to be looking for something…

I don’’t think I should elaborate on what happens in the story, because it’s better to be surprised. There is so much happening in this film.

With such a small voice cast and a rather minimum amount of actual dialogue, Pixar has made an unquestionably unique move with ‘Wall-e’. So much effort has been put into the task of making a human connection with a character that’s essentially two eyes and no mouth, but they did it, and you do. It truly shows how simple body language can trump over words.

‘Wall-e’ has already gained the label of being a masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why.

Both my parents have seen ‘Wall-e’ and admitted it was not at all what they expected.

I would like to stress that this is not like any other animated movie released in a long while. There’s none of that Dreamworks clinging-ness to celebrity and parody, or Warner Bros. funny-gag-a-thon, or Disney’s confused descent into depressing mediocrity. Although Disney is involved with this film…

Masterpiece or not, Wall-e is a simple movie with some truly beautiful moments. Go see it, it can’t hurt. (Hang around during the closing credits, they’re fantastic!)

By the way, be sure to be on time for the Pixar short film ‘Presto!’ shown before the movie. It’s loads of fun!

Go see this movie.

No, really. Go see it. In the cinema, especially, that’s the best.

Chris Nolan had said with ‘Batman Begins’ that he wanted to totally reinvent Batman movies for the better after all the campy rubbish that came before it and after Tim Burton’s two gems. He’s done it. Forget the past movies and even the comics. This is a new breed of Bat.

The story follows Bruce Wayne, who is growing conflicted over his double-life of being the Batman. Especially since many copycat vigilantes are appearing in the wake of his efforts.

However, since the crime rate has dropped significantly, it looks like it’s time for the normal good guys, like famed attorney Harvey Dent, to be taking over.
Then the Joker makes himself known.

This. Film. Works. On so many levels.

A cleverly paced story with great set pieces and many neat twists.

A beautifully theatrical and dramatic soundtrack (no silly rock music moments, thank you).

A great, great cast. Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, among others…

And the late Heath Ledger.

If anything shows what direction this franchise has chosen, it’s all in the Joker.
Heath Ledger’s Joker is not clownish, nor does he even act much like a terrorist (unlike what many critics have said…). But he is twisted. Gloriously twisted. And funny, for some very wrong reasons (watch out for the pencil trick). You can’t stop watching him, just in case he does something.

If Ledger doesn’t get anything for all his hard work, I won’t be pleased.

Be aware though, this is a long film - almost ‘Lord of the Rings’ long - but with good reason to be. The plot of the movie never flows too fast or too slow, which is essential as far as I’m concerned.
The way I see it, this is such a good movie that it doesn’t even to be considered a comic-book-movie.

How good is this film? The two times I went to see it, NOBODY GOT UP TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, that’s how good it is!

Go see this film. In the cinema. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.

So there you go. Bear in mind, these are all just my opinions, but I hope they help you. I shall close with a bit of advice from some years of movie-going experience.

-Go to the bathroom before the movie! Nobody likes their view being blocked and you might miss something good!

-Turn off all mobile phones and nobody has to get hurt. (this goes for you tweens as well!)

-Beware of “professional” movie critics. Especially those on late night TV shows.

-Beware of newspapers with movie review sections, that is where they wait.

-Watch movie trailers. They can tell you everything you really need to know.

-‘Empire’ and ‘Total Film’ magazines are your friends.

-Go with your gut. If you think you’ll like a film, then why not?

Happy cinema-going!!

P.S. For those who have been losing faith in Disney’s own animated efforts lately (like me), look for ‘The Princess and The Frog’ on Youtube.

My hopes are high!


Fiendish said...

A lovely guest spot - and the accompanying art was (dare I say it?) pretty awesome. Awesome as in, I'm in awe.

*Awe-struck pause*

Anyway, this might have inspired me to go off and write my own Dark Knight review... perhaps...

Jim Murdoch said...

I haven't seen the first two films so I'll comment on the third. If I was to supply a single word to summarise The Dark Knight then it would be 'unrelenting' and, as you've already commented on the length of the film, 'unrelenting' over that period of time can be a bit wearing. I was cautious with this film not to read too much about it beforehand – a mistake I made with Tim Burton's Batman and which spoiled my viewing pleasure because nothing could live up to what I had going on in my head – and this time it paid off because I was genuinely delighted by their approach but, and for a film of that length, it all somehow felt a little rushed; there were no real oases of calm in this piece, the odd mucky puddle perhaps where you could catch your breath.

As for Joker, like the best of comedians, he didn't try and milk his gags. You mentioned "the pencil" and really it's a throwaway, blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment – wham! bang! onto the next order of business. Very unlike Nicholson's – or even Cesar Romero's – take on the character.

It is a dark film, yes, but I also found it a cold film (and not simply because the cinema we were in could have been warmer), emotionally cold and I didn't leave the film thrusting my fist in the air: Yes! The Batman won! Because it didn't feel like he did. Oh, he beat the bad guys, did the right thing and ran off into the night but it was a pyrrhic victory and to say any more would constitute a spoiler and I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the film.

My gut feeling is that this may well be a film that will improve with multiple viewings. The soundtrack by the way is excellent. I listened to it several times before I ever saw the film and it definitely benefits from repeated plays. If I was to describe the film in orchestral terms it is definitely more like Shostakovich's brooding Symphony No. 10 than Beethoven's dynamic No. 5.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Fiendish and Jim.

I haven't seen 'The Dark knight' and it's shaping up to be DVD time before I do get there. I keep trying to force my twelve year old to being me ("I know it's a 15A but you'll be fine..."). I am worried though that I now expect quite a bit from it and that often leads to disappointment.

Wall-E for me was an exercise in survival - we fell into the cinema on a highly-humid evening in Orlando and nearly perished when the full force of the air-conditioning kicked in. The movie, for me, was so good in the first half that the second half couldn't match it. Wall-E himself owed some little debt to Number 5 from Short Circuit but we can forgive that.

Kung Fu Panda is *so* much better than I expected it to be. I expected another, Madagascar or Shark Tale but this is way above those. And the drawing quality in it - wow!.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Nice guest post! I agree with you on Wall-E and The Dark Knight...I've been Resisting Kung Fu Panda, but I guess now I have to see it. I'll wait for cable though...Great reviews!

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Ken, that was exactly the problem I had with Tim Burton's Batman. I had read every scrap of information about for years - and I mean literally years before it was released and there was no way any film could live up to what I hoped it would be like. I don't do that these days.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure that this film would suffer nearly as much as you might imagine when making the transition to the small screen (unless you have a very small screen). It some respects it might actually enhance it.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim, I really prefer to see them on DVD now. DVD is my dream-come-true because the correct aspect-ratio is maintained (Don't ever get me started on aspect-ratio).

Our local cinema screens cannot actually receive the full widescreen image so a few yards of the picture are lost in the curtains on either side. Nobody ever seems to notice except me.

So, yeah, DVD (first night) bag of Malteasers and a coke, dim the lights and that'll do me! :)

Anonymous said...

...this is sooo weird seeing my writing and pictures like this. On a *proper* blog and all. Wow.
Thanks for all the comments. I hope I was at least mildly entertaining, if not helpful.

Ken Armstrong said...

Nothing 'proper' about this blog... 'cheek! :)

I was 'helped', 'entertained' and 'chuffed'.

Thanks mate!! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken, she is talented, I can say that, and I can't talk much about Kung Fu Pandas because I haven't watched it yet... but I would just like to express how I feel about the accompanying pictures/drawings/ They're marvelous.

Thanks for sharing.

Graini said...

I have seen the movies, but the most changes is for bats, seem closer to the real life