Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Boxtrolls Film Review

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There is a certain magical quality that is unique to stop-motion films, undoubtedly connected to the tactile, time-consuming, and subtle manipulation that goes into bringing the characters and their world to life. Of late, US studio Laika has taken the process to new levels through incredible features like Coraline (2009) and Paranorman (2012). Their latest production The Boxtrolls carries on the tradition, using the studio’s funereal aesthetic to spin out a fantastical story that has a lot going on underneath.

Adapted from Alan Snow’s novel ‘Here be Monsters!’, The Boxtrolls takes place on, and under, the spindly streets of Cheesebridge – imagine Roald Dahl’s take on Dickens’ London and you’ll
be somewhere close to the visual and cultural vibe. Cheesebridge is ruled over by the White Hats, a bourgeoisie elite led by the gormless Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), who spends more time sampling rare cheeses than dealing with municipal matters. Down on the cobbles, there is a widespread fear of Boxtrolls, who come up through the sewers at night to rummage through the
rubbish, collecting sprockets, springs, and other bits of metal to tinker together some steampunk creations for their underground world. Led on by the lure of being awarded a White Hat, Archibald
Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) sets out on a mission to destroy the Boxtrolls, and it is up to Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a boy raised by Boxtrolls, to stop him.

The Boxtrolls is a film that is brimming with little details, the sets underground are densely populated by whirring trinkets, and beautiful makeshift instruments. Despite what the humans above might think, the Boxtrolls live a peaceful, egalitarian existence. Each Boxtroll is named after the box they wear (alongside Eggs, we have Fish, Sweets, etc.) and they fulfil roles that serve the greater community. By night they set out to scavenge materials and food, and by day they sleep stacked up together in a perfect example of cosy, cardboard communism. In contrast, the streets above are overflowing with all the travails of modern society – cramped houses that threaten to topple over, populated by people that are living life blinkered to anything other than the fulfilment of their own desires.

That level of detail spills over into characters too. Humans in The Boxtrolls are repulsive in the best possible way. An homage to that visceral and belchy-style of Roald Dahl embodied in books like The Twits, there is enough slurping, bug-eating, and nose-picking to make adults wince and kids laugh out loud. Kingsley’s Snatcher character, all pot belly and gangly limbs, has no doubt secured a spot alongside Cruella de Vil and Lord Voldemort in the pantheon of genuinely creepy childhood villains.

But what is so refreshing about The Boxtrolls is that while delivering a straightforward narrative, it never feels like it relies on stock characters – in many ways Snatcher is the typical evildoer, but we are given enough information to understand his motivations. While the show stealer for laughs is assuredly the precocious Winnie (Elle Fanning), every character on screen has idiosyncrasies that prevent the story devolving into tried-and-tested territories.

The unconventional style of The Boxtrolls will make it will be immediately appealing to some, but those on the fence should be encouraged to take the leap. If children’s films can be read as a
measure of a cultural zeitgeist, then here is one that above all others deserves to be seen. At its heart, it is a film that asks us to question what defines family, individual identity, and ones place in
the society. Make sure to stay with the existential musings through the credits to get an incredible glimpse behind the scenes.

september 18th boxtrolls clipping

Before I go to Sleep Film Review

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Based on a best-selling novel of the same name, Before I Go to Sleep is a grim psychological thriller revolving around the theme of loss of memory. After an accident in which she sustained head
injuries, Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers amnesia, thereafter keeping complete memories only up until her mid-twenties – a decade of her life is a total blank.

Waking up feeling twenty but then rapidly coming to terms with being forty is a horrific fate that we can all empathise with, but things are worse for Christine. She awakes anew each morning to a
house, a husband, and a life that is completely strange – no longer a university student she is now living in the relatively affluent outskirts of London, with her loving husband Ben (Colin Firth), who is the head of the Chemistry department at the local school. Ben has a well-established routine that he wearily delivers over breakfast, which details their meeting, their marriage, and her accident. Once Christine is in a suitable state of confusion, Ben leaves her in the house alone and goes to work.

A phone call from a Dr. Nash (Mark Strong) each morning prompts Christine to find a camera she has hidden in the wardrobe, and reminds her that it must remain hidden from Ben. Furtive self-
shot video diaries are recorded on the camera from previous days and they repeat the message that there are secrets being kept from her, and that she should trust nobody. So begins another day of
mystery as Christine attempts to build on the snatches of digital memory from yesterday to unravel the truth of the situation before sleep wipes everything clear.

Ostensibly, Before I Go to Sleep offers an interesting setup for a thriller, with a dependent protagonist stuck in a bind between two unfamiliar, controlling men who each feed her contrary information. By nature of her accident, Christine becomes the ultimate unreliable narrator and as viewers we remain in the dark alongside her when it comes to the aims of both Ben and Dr.
Nash. Each day that passes is another turn of the screw that tightens dramatic tension, calling into question the sanity of Christine and motives of the other characters around her.

Before I Go To Sleep plays out like a nightmarish version of Groundhog Day, smearing over the snowy white charms of Punxsutawney with ashen London dreariness. To his credit director Rowan
Jeffe manages to nail the right kind of atmosphere, teasing out the tension while maintaining a subtle air of menace that lies beneath the most mundane of circumstance. Firth follows suit with
his performance, skilfully walking the tightrope of ambiguity – we are never quite sure whether his efforts to guide Christine fulfil his best intentions or hers, or whether his outbursts of anger are the natural consequence of attempting to cope with the predicament or if they betray some darker intentions.

As the pivotal piece of the puzzle, Kidman perhaps has too much placed on her shoulders, seemingly never stepping off camera for the entire duration. While her scenes with Firth play out brilliantly, capturing both the tension and tenderness of the situation, there is some jarring overkill in the use of video-diary shots that have a tendency to rapidly cool down what is otherwise a happily bubbling broth of mystery. It is something that could be overlooked if the rest of the film held up, but an unfortunate third act sees the tension and characteristic style descend into the safety of tried and tested genre conventions resulting in a promising, but fittingly forgettable film.

4th September Forget