Disney films are just as famous for their live action features as they are for their animated masterpieces. True to form, Saving Mr Banks (2013) is bursting with big names and stellar performances that will surely win big this year during Hollywood’s film industry awards season. Tom Hanks is the final decision of casting for Walt Disney in this period drama and it’s hard to see how any other choice would have been as perfect. Tom Hanks is that kind of character actor that does family friendly charming and easy to watch suave without being overtly stylised. Playing the infamous company director seems to have come easily to Tom Hanks. He fits effortlessly into the role, but that’s not to say that mimicking the much adored creator of everyone’s favourite cartoon mouse went without its body of research. Meryl Streep was initially down to play P. L. Travers the author of the Mary Poppins novels, but Emma Thompson landed the part and has left her stamp on the behind-the-scenes storytelling drama.
Author Laura Shearer
The Planet in Focus Films Festival is run by Canada’s leading not-for-profit environmental media arts organisation. Formed in 1999, its aim is to raise awareness through film and it showcases work from filmmakers in Canada and worldwide. Salmon Confidential is a Salmon are Sacred production (salmonaresacred.org) and the documentary serves the purpose of drawing the publics attention to the problems facing wild salmon production in British Colombia.
The cinema expose of the year, that wasn’t really an expose for those familiar with animal welfare movements. Animals in captivity have been the subject of many exploration documentaries and one that always comes up trumps as the most memorable is The Cove (2009). The documentary follows the work of Richard O’Barry, the original Flipper the dolphin trainer turned animal rights activist. When he saw the potential of the growth of the performing dolphin industry and the largely negative impact it was having on the quality of life in captivity for marine animals he began a crusade to stop the artificial impulse of support for capturing marine mammals. He’s now banned from entering Japan by authorities for his film footage and guerrilla war tactics for interviewing and spread of the word on what’s know as the cove. O’Barry witnessed the mass capturing and slaughter of dolphins in an annual event by Japanese fishermen out to get good revenue for selling the dolphins on as performing animals to sea themed parks around the world. The rest of the catch are slaughtered and sold on as mercury damaged ‘whale’ meat that’s widely sold and eaten by the Japanese public unaware of its origins. The documentary is a fantastic but graphic watch that really serves the purpose of alerting the masses to where performing ocean mammals come from. Blackfish is surely off the back of the success of The Cove and the global demand for revelations behind the corporate masks of Seaworld and attraction parks that keep Orca whales.
Horror films have a long history as a form of entertainment and the strength of the genre stands the test of time. It’s not just around Halloween that we settle down for a good fright, evidently we love the thrill of a healthy scare and enjoyment spans a vast array of audience demographics. What seems to remain a key element is the inclusion of characters that present either the attraction of ability to relate and stereotype, or the escapist release of imagining far beyond the social norms. The necessity of including or actively excluding the male or female gendered character in a horror narrative can set up the audience demographic, but can also provide the horror genre with a conscious form of narrative evolution. In a genre that continues to morph to deal with societal impacts, looking at one particular trait can unveil what some might call a truer map of genre progression.
The Bard’s plays are taught the world over on educational syllabuses and academics spend their lives dedicated to the study of his works. Due to the constant popularity of Shakespeare’s works, there are theatre productions appearing in many transitional forms. The same can be said for the films that take their basic narrative structures from Shakespeare’s plotlines, but offer contemporary social issues and settings as their focus (10 Things I Hate About You). A common format of adaptation is a mixture of the original play script within a contemporary environment (As You Like It), using the language as it was first written. This is often almost compensated for by lavish sets and opulent drama styles (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet). We’re now used to event screenings, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s upcoming production of Richard the Third starring David Tennant, being beamed into local cinemas offers an entirely new perspective on adapting for the screen. Here a live or recorded from live viewing of the play performed on stage is what we’re watching in the cinema, not necessarily a feature film as such. I’ve no doubt that Shakespeare’s works will continue to be adapted for film for years to come, but so far as those already released are concern, these make my top ten.
When Pacific Rim was initially announced all I could see were transformers style robots fighting and I remember grumbling about another Michael Bay blockbuster for the summer. I’m not a Michael Bay fan, just in case you thought I was getting out the credit card to pre-book the IMAX in 3D. There’s petty little than he makes that holds much cinematic value for me, his wow-factor just doesn’t wow me and his choices in narratives are partly what I hold as responsible for my seasonal swaying away from the multiplex. Things going smash aren’t what I go to the cinema for, but wait Pacific Rim is no Michael Bay project…suddenly I’m stopped in my tracks after seeing nothing by robot imagery for months. Guillermo del Toro is directing this mush? Hang on, was that a Godzilla I just saw in the trailer? Get me a ticket!
Director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Cabin in the Woods) takes on the challenge of adapting one of the world’s most well known and loved playwrights William Shakespeare in feature film form. Given the many diverse styles of adaptation for the screen format, Much Ado about Nothing still finds a way to create a new evolution on the adaptation route. Using the original play script and language as the backbone of the film is common, but here it’s the focus of the feature. Everything revolves around the spoken word and instead of relying on a visualisation of the speech for the audience to comprehend the plotline and thematic content; the emphasis is placed on who is speaking and what they’re saying. This format is much in the style of the early performances of Shakespeare’s work at the Globe Theatre in London. With minimalist props and visual hints the audience is strongly encouraged to understand the power of the spoken word and a well trained actor’s influence.
In a highly competitive animation feature film industry, recently coming up trumps alongside the masterful giants Disney and Pixar, Dreamworks is now one of the key players. In the stakes of big production values each studio has a recognisable style that’s quick to spot in the imagery of the feature and often in narrative layout, both largely obvious to audiences within the opening few seconds of the teaser trailer. For me the striking uniqueness of Dreamworks’ animated films is the attention to detail in the smaller background characters, the jokes aimed at the broadest of audience demographics (i.e. slapstick usually features for the youngest targets, witty puns for the adults and cultural or social references for the teens). Without being too niche on topics for narrative or sticking with singular audience targets, Dreamworks has cemented the family market as a clear favourite in my books.
Ever had small side thoughts about finer details while watching a film? Then this is exactly the type of documentary you’ll enjoy. Stanley Kubrick’s iconic thriller The Shining gets a reworking by five theorists in Room 237. What develops as an incredibly interesting documentary that in five parts, presents five separate theories on the greater meanings of The Shining and the film’s contents.
Director Sarah Polley is most widely known as an actress (Splice 2009, Dawn of Dead 2004) and in her native home Canada for her political activism. Her first film Away From Her was academy award nominated for screenplay, and her second film Take This Waltz premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Stories We Tell is her third film and first documentary feature, which after a premier at Venice Film Festival was awarded the prize for best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Critics Association. Polley is said to be a critics favourite for her sensitive portraits of conflicted young women in independent films, so it’s no real surprise that her documentary is an exploration of the search for the truths behind her biological paternity.