Annecy 2017: Funny animals & an unlikely pair

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

A marvelous animated collaboration inbetween Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert, titled The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales premiered at the 2017 Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France. The film is a collection of short stories comprising of a fox, a duck, a lizard and a stork. The longest story, and by-far the most moving one too, has been allocated to the fox, who one day while out looking for food comes across some baby chicks that he must look after; the fox immediately switches from his major naturalistic desire to eat the chicks, to a loving and doting parent instead.

The other animals have rather equally interesting experiences of their own: a lazy stork hands over the task of delivering a baby to a rabbit, pig and duck and the lizard is a random figure, versed in Mandarin. Humorous and intelligent, the choice of animation for the movie is a mix between sketches and something primarily off the nineties, which makes the film even more of a curiosity to want to appetite. It’s the all-out adventures of a range of funny and neurotic animals running around though, which delivers, each story (complete with a lively music score as an accompaniment) just brilliantly.

Rating: 9/10

A Slient Voice

A Silent Voice is an adaptation of a seven volume manga series into one full feature length film. That thought alone suggests it’s an impossible task but the movie, which also premiered at Annecy (2017),  shouldn’t be expected to be an animated play-by-play of a comic novel because what it is, is a rendition of the key elements of the manga of the same name by Yoshitoki Oima. The movie opens with an attempted suicide by a boy called Shoya Ishida. Shoya tries to take his own life by jumping from a bridge – he’s a bully who in class use to terrify a young deaf and mute girl called Shoko Nishimiya.

Shoya doesn’t have any friends in school because of his bullying ways, and Shoko has a similar disposition herself: she is always at the receiving end of other kids’ jokes. Shoko hopes for forgiveness from Shoya and in pursuit of that the two become friends, and even wooing is thrown into the picture for a very unlikely pair. It’s a relationship filled with hurt, sporadic comic moments fetched by Shoko’s newfound friend, Tomohiro Nagatsuka, but pushed together by loneliness, and yet what is striking throughout it all, is how different Shoya and Shoko are from each other; Shoya can only communicate with the help of sign language, so her life is quiet but the isolation in school for Shoko, makes him look like he’s always yearning for, at least, a chance of redemption for his previous acts and an exit from this prevailing state of quiet loneliness.

Rating: 7/10

Amazing Spring Sounds

Bruno Mars ’24K Magic’

Bruno Mars’ new album is a fresh take on sounds of the nineties – in the R&B department. Inspired by songs from the decade, which Mars classifies as the kind of songs all the girls in school would love to listen to, which he would belt out once upon a time in his life, 24K Magic is a good follow-up to Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010), Unorthodox Jukebox (2012) and his dubious collab Uptown Funk (2014). It’s largely a party anthem, and a glorious party anthem, centered on R&B, which is really hard to find. Expect the expected though, with audacious lyrics and new tracks stylistically springing off hits by Boyz II Men and Michael Jackson.

Rating: 4/5

Harry Styles ‘Harry Styles’

Harry Styles’ debut album, since One Direction went on hiatus, was his one chance to carve out something entirely different: a solo project, which would be just as magical as the songs his band is recognized globally for. A mix of rock – particularly, the Los Angeles rock anthem variety, and ballads, it’s very different material because the music is more mature than before in Harry Styles.

The opening track Meet Me In The Hallway, is expressively about a singer/poet from the 11th-13th centuries who travels to and fro from the south of France to the north of Italy, to entertain the rich + a lot more of similar bases, like the big rock anthem Only Angel, where Harry sings of a woman who’s a devil between the sheets and how he thinks he might just like that he cannot take her home to his mother because she loves to wear mini skirts – fascinating…a really fascinating invented tale in the lyrics for Only Angel.

Everything, surprisingly, is an exploration of rock in the album, as often a departure from a prominent pop band grows into for a young star of Harry Styles’ stature. In fact, this might just be the biggest indication of a conscious switch from pop to rock for the British star but it would have made for an even better album to have the sounds mix with pop, as much as well.

Rating: 4/5

Linkin Park ‘One More Light’

Linkin Park has gone in a brand new direction from the previous amazing genres it had placed itself in as a band – rap metal, alternative metal and alternative rock. The latest album is a cleaner pop adventure, filled with melodies and sounds, which sound more contemporary than before. It’s a shocking move away for the band towards something a lot more experimental but it really is still far greater sounds when the band sticks to what it’s known to do – what it does best, which is brilliantly chart in nu-metal, instead.

Rating: 3/5

 

The Founder

McDonalds is one of those fast food joints which can easily be termed as an American classic. Born out of the ingenuity of two brothers Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman), it’s hard to escape its presence around the world. In John Lee Hancock’s (Snow White and the Huntsman and The Blind Side) latest film, The Founder, a failing salesman with a Prince Castle milkshake invention he wants to sell catapults an already successful business venture into a profitable franchise financed by middle class money (in front of which, the scenario is caricatured so that Ray is the founder of McDonalds) at first, and then into this huge independent fast food corporation, but at the expense of growing into a dishonourable businessman.

A captivating tale about the global origins of a hamburger shop
A captivating tale about the global origins of a hamburger shop

The film starts out heartwarming: when you meet an overtly-curious Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) drive out to pay a visit to a drive-in, which has placed an enormous order of milkshake makers, it’s not hard to see what might follow, despite the comfortable life Croc has been leading so far, with his wife, Ethel because Croc’s professional experience, at this point in time, is limited to being just a plain sailing travelling salesman often down on his luck. After getting a mini-tour from the founding brothers of McDonalds, at dinner, Ray convinces the two to franchise the joint, so long as both Maurice and Richard name-stamp all future changes that are about to follow. Up until here and especially when Ray struggles to franchise the joint amongst people with wealth (in the fifties) – which is similar to the experiences that had put off Maurice and Richard from the idea of franchising the joint once before, Ray comes across as a somewhat simple and hardworking businessman, struggling to make business ends meet. It’s hard to not root for Ray here but pretty soon the ugly side of the business world takes over and Ray goes from a struggling business person to a financially struggling person. Ray finds success here too, after some time and begins to offer a real estate investment window for new McDonalds franchises – it brings in more company income and follows through with the McDonalds brothers vision of the quality of milkshakes never getting compromised, in spite of initial troubles for Ray in that food department.

With Ray’s newfound success in business, he eventually reduces the quality of the milkshakes that are offered, buys out the hamburger shop and never honours the founders with their business royalties because the agreement to sell involved no contract. What is extraordinary about the movie is Robert D. Siegel’s unique script – the lengths to which a businessman can go to call an American hamburger shop his own, when he never invented it, is a morally-corrupt moment, in an otherwise inspiring film. But I liked that the spotlight is placed on the corporate universe in a honest manner because business dealings aren’t always about honesty, they are also about manipulation; naturally in a business environment, not everyone’s moral compass always functions correctly, even though what they really should be doing is prop up some moral boundaries instead. The squeaky clean image of the corporate world gets tarnished magnificently in the film – it’s not just suits and boring ties, it’s also about an enduring amount of real success, which Ray manages to bring to McDonalds on a global level.

Rating: 8/10

My Life As A Zucchini

An orphan called Zucchini looks like a potato with blue hair. He is made of Play-Doh and Zucchini likes to roll his big owl-like eyes at life’s little moments. My Life as a Zucchini attempts to part with good wisdom over serious (and relatable – well, for me) episodes. I liked how it takes a subject so rarely explored – the lives of kids in a home, and then makes it both endearing and fun. Splashed with colours and funny-looking children, the French movie looks set to be a rare classic, where animated films are concerned.

An amazing animated tale
An amazing animated tale

In this tale of an orphan boy, Zucchini, who is nine years old, befriends kids in the same boat as him who all have had difficult pasts, and to make matters better the group all have the same day-to-day worries as any other kid in town – how to roll as a gang through it all. Zucchini comes to the Fontaine household after he kills his mother by accident during one of her anger-filled outbursts, whilst drunk.

Over there, he find friends: Ahmed, Camille and Alice. The four kids aren’t that much different from each other even though upon first look you would like to think otherwise. Camille, the latest addition to Fontaine saw her parents get killed and commit suicide, Ahmed’s father is in prison for looting a shop, and Alice’s father had to be taken away for his bad nature.

There is also a bully around by the name of Simon that the gang tries to keep off their tracks at the orphanage, who, in reality, is a sharp contrast to Raymond – the nice policeman, with a moustache. It is only because of Raymond (he hides the fact that Zucchini accidentally killed his alcoholic mother) that Courgette even found a space to call home in Fontaines.

Zucchini develops an infatuation for Camille, who speaks her mind and loves footie (love it! – sometimes more than the character of Courgette) and this actually is a little bit of a ‘love at first sight’ scenario because Zucchini develops romantic feelings for Camille, the moment he meets her. Camille and Courgette even spend some time thinking about how to continue to be together when they are no longer together at Fontaines’. The snowy atmosphere in the film is one of the nicest things, I feel and the movie really does have a great story.

Rating: 8/10

Jackie

Jackie is a tribute to the steeliness with which the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (also known as Jackie) manaevoured the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy, when the two were out on a trip in Texas. Dressed in a pink Chanel suit and a pillbox hat of the same colour, the young First Lady’s choice of attire on that day has since then evolved into one of the most memorable fashion reference points in history, particularly for the sixties. In the film, Natalie Portman stars as Jackie and it is directed by Pablo Lorrain; the film is quite dramatic in places and more often than not it is emotional and historically-evocative.

Natalie Portman portrays 'Jackie'
A class act in fashion

Portman looks very much like she is keeping up appearances for her role and it is tough upon first sight to strike a chord with it because I think the most endearing quality of a biopic is the level of realism that can be sourced and splashed on screen. That nature of the film acts as a major drawback because Portman doesn’t convince enough as Jackie and it almost throws off a very good script off it’s tracks. The story is, first and foremost, about an interview given to LIFE magazine soon after the sudden death of her young husband, during which she is rather easily irritable and even flat out tells the unknown reporter (for the magazine) that he cannot print segments of it.

Jackie comes off as a woman that you cannot help but sympathize with. She divulges that the ‘Camelot’ remarks surrounding the presidency was a pure marketing pull and nothing else, and she always has to have a sense of higher duty: whether or not she is on the other side of Atlantic and projecting a classic American culture because once she did use to be the First Lady or if she is at home in the United States managing to keep the whole story of what transpired on that tragic day the least bit sensitive that is possible. The film is watchable for that new angle on a remarkable political figure, and then there are also the breathtaking costumes.

Rating: 6/10

Miss Sloane

Miss Sloane is a thrilling tale of a lobbyist called Elizabeth Sloane. The film is directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and the cast involves Jessica Chastain, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterson, Mark Strong, and John Lithgow amongst others. It is an angular story somewhat on a selected range of day-to-day work that Sloane does, hinged on subjects such as senator connections, the probable imposition of tariffs on palm oil and downright harassment of people lower than her in life.

Sloane sports copper hair, pale-as-a-ghost complexion and a steely demeanor – at first sight, it’s hard to imagine Jessica Chastain playing the role because she stands out so much from what comes in your mind as to how a steely woman would look like but the story carries itself so effortlessly, everything blends in absolutely perfect. Sloane has foresight, she knows how to win at guessing games and directing her winning points according to her well-pinned-out guesses, and is so robotic at times, nothing ever earns her surprise.

A very nice look inside the lives of Washington's elite
A very nice look inside the lives of Washington’s elite

Sloane, despite her favourite lipstick shade of crimson (which she wears a lot) and designer heels, is a frightening woman. I mean, when backed into a corner the woman readily expresses her disdain in a lordly tone. Sloane is a private person but she is not a loner because she does keep the company of numerous male escorts, such as Forde, who she sees a lot of. Nonetheless, friends turn foes for Sloane within an instant if it means that she can professionally get ahead.

It’s naturally a subject of debate: Sloane does not strike as a sympathetic character sometimes unlike Esme Manucharian, a survivor of gun violence, who is forced by Sloane to share her personal experiences with the world. You can see how it would be easy in the film to sympathize with Manucharian because of the kind of life she has had and how hard it must be to feel the same way for Sloane fiercely trying to climb the career ladder, no matter the cost and on her own terms. It’s a no-brainer win for Sloane, for me, there because those are the very qualities that make a woman admirable in the twenty-first century.

Sloane manages to disintegrate circumstances around her, where everything just breaks down and goes neurotic, all thanks to her attitude to life but she doesn’t back down from any of it, even going so far as to look forward to being a powerful threatening force in the world. Sloane is the mother-of-all-characters in the film, and the movie is a deep and very good look at the life of a highly successful woman, who always aims to win.

Rating: 8/10

Florence Foster Jenkins

Set during the Second World War, the film Florence Foster Jenkins charts a story about a novice soprano, who is adamant about pursuing a musical career despite never receiving any favourable judgments over the question of her singing talent. As the founder of the Verdi Club Florence has friends who are sympathetic to her ears, a husband who gave up his faltering acting career to be there for his wife as she pursues her musical interests and is the subject of constant ridicule from commentators in music, and audiences of her performances alike. British director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen) brings the tragic (and sometimes darkly comedic) biopic remarkably alive. The titular character in the film is played by Meryl Streep and the film also pairs Streep with Hugh Grant, who plays St. Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg, who plays Cosmé McMoon, respectively.

What makes the subject of the film interesting is Streep’s strong desires to sing even though she is terrible at it. Bayfield’s money goes a very long way to ensure Streep’s hopes aren’t shattered beyond repair, but in the end a terribly scathing review by the New York Post does do it. Money gave Florence the chance to perform in Carnegie Hall, and her 1944 opera singing episode there turns into a rather memorable figure in Carnegie’s illustrious history for it’s distastefulness and the ruckus of laughter that spread out amongst audiences when Florence had opened her mouth to passionately sing, which really no amount of money could cure.

A nicely comedic tale
A nicely comedic tale

There is very little exploration of the American scene during the war, except for soldiers being part of the audience at Carnegie Hall, which was disappointing to say the least. What was entertaining was how Florence’s marriage with Bayfield is very absurd: they do not live underneath one roof and there is no sex in the marriage because Florence tragically contracted syphilis from a previous romantic liaison. It was interesting how Bayfield simply romps up his masculine sexual urges with a mistress called Kathleen Weatherley because of the absence of a sex life with his wife, but strange how emotionless and accepting Florence is of that. Despite the odd marriage between the two, Bayfield does his part to buy critics and also shows signs of affection towards Florence, albeit rarely.

McMoon and Florence’s friendship, on the other hand, is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs; McMoon is horrified, at first at the level of support Florence has despite her lack of talent in opera music, but a recording tape of her singing manages to alter it. McMoon’s eventual friendship with Florence does nothing for doubts in his mind over her singing ability at Carnegie Hall, however as he confides in Bayfield how pleased he is to be able to accompany Florence in singing in such a distinguished space in New York. The film isn’t melodramatic at all but instead it is an emotion-filled and realistic portrayal of a tale of an aspiring music artist, who wants to continue singing despite her bad reviews, and a kind of soul-crushing criticism she is often subjected to for it.

Rating: 7/10