In July I didn’t see as many new-to-me films as I had hoped due to being on holiday for a couple of weeks (see my full list of July new-to-me films here). Nevertheless, I still saw some truly cinematic gems, and have listed my top 5 here:
5) Robot And Frank (Jake Schreier, 2012)
I had seen the trailer of Robot And Frank numerous times before film screenings at the Harbour Lights cinema, but I wasn’t sure what to think of it. However, when I finally got round to seeing it, I fell in love with it. Frank is a grumpy ex-jewel thief, bored of life and of being looked after by his son, Hunter, as if he were a baby. Hunter sends him a robot butler to help with the cleaning and cooking etc and Frank, who very quickly forms an attachment to it, treating it like a close friend, teams up with the robot to attempt a new heist project. The film, whilst dealing with issues such as the loneliness that may accompany old age, and human fragility, remains light-hearted, with comedic brushes stroked through the poignant script, flawlessly written by Christopher D. Ford. Without a doubt, this is one of the films of 2013 to see.
4) Thumbelina (Lotte Reiniger, 1953/1954)
Lotte Reiniger’s stunning animated short based on the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale is one of her most beautiful. Reiniger’s animations are made up of shadow puppets, lit from underneath, and in Thumbelina, it is particularly evident how intricate the puppets are, and how much work goes into every single shot, creating an animation of around 10 minutes. Reiniger, a very German Expressionist animator, is thoroughly underrated and little-known, yet her animation went on to inspire filmmakers from Michel Ocerot, to the animated sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), to the animation found in the Disney films. Reiniger’s film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), was also the first ever feature length animated film, which has become one of the most important animation films in terms of its innovation and influence. You can find a few of Reiniger’s shorts on youtube, or there is a DVD entitled The Fairy Tale Films Of Lotte Reiniger available.
3) Miss Potter (Chris Noonan, 2006)
Miss Potter is a biopic of Beatrix Potter, notable author of tales such as Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten. Children the world over have grown up with her enchanting stories, and the characters were literally brought to life in the film as the characters spark off the pages of her books and drawings, acting as friends for the lonely Beatrix, portrayed by none other than loveable British actress Renée Zellweger. Potter is a woman full of spunk and determination, attempting to build a career in writing in a world that suggests she is destined for nothing more than a good marriage and a future of housework. As the film progressed, I formed quite an affection for Beatrix, whose stories myself I still love now at the age of 21, and I found Miss Potter to be a worthy tribute.
2) Oz: The Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013)
I had heard a lot of mixed reviews on the new take on L. Frank Baum’s tales of Oz, but there is absolutely no denying the sheer scope and visual gorgeousness of this film. Starting in a sepia tone and 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and converting to a full screen 2.40:1 aspect ratio when magician, Oz travels to the enchanted world, Oz: The Great and Powerful mirrors the similar change in the well-known 1939 Wizard of Oz which similarly distinguishes the fantasy from reality through its multi-coloured magic. The film was an interesting take on a classic children’s tale, and worked well as a backstory to how ‘the wonderful wizard of Oz’ came to be. We meet the characters of Glinda the good witch, Evanora, the key antagonist of the film, and their sister, Theodora who sways on the boundary between good and evil. The film is everything you expect a summer blockbuster to be – filled with a notable range of Hollywood actors, visually exquisite and rich in CGI, and heavy in the scope of the film as it is accompanied by a great selection of merchandise, and the film premiere itself even led the stars down a yellow brick road to the cinema entrance. Unlike many blockbusters however, the story worked really well as a fantasy film for a new generation bred on computer-generated special effects, and is well worth a watch, if not for the special effects alone.
1) The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982)
It’s hard not to adore everything about a Jim Henson film – the memorable characters, the original scripts, the intricate puppets, and the animation itself. The Dark Crystal was no exception. I probably saw the film as a child, but as I don’t fully remember, I added it to my list of July new-to-me films. The Dark Crystal was a visually gorgeous film with truly innovative animation techniques in terms of its animatronics, that brought the otherwise lifeless puppets to life, granting them the power to visually express their emotions and personalities. The story focuses on a ‘Gelfling’ named Jen who is determined to return a lost crystal shard to the magical gem which had cracked 1000 years before, in an attempt to restore balance to his world. The Dark Crystal, which explores the idea of good and evil, remains in the memory long after its first viewing, and, despite it being perhaps darker than other childrens’ films, it is a wonderful fantasy film that every child should see.