Thursday, 28 April 2011

This is how you start a movie

Tarantino VS the Coen brothers = Art have posted this gallery of artwork inspired by the works of both Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. There's something about picking a side and bizarre revelations between the two realized in painterly form - all the usual fluff - so I'll avoid all that and just say; "Check out this cool fan art!"

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Thunder-balls to it.

This is the latest in a series of monthly pieces on the James Bond franchise, as part of The Incredible Suit's  Blogalongabond. For more info, check out here, and here. For my prior entries, click here.

The pre-credits sequence to Thunderball is of particular note in the Bond canon, and functions as a nice (and not at all flimsy) analogue for the movement of the film as a whole. After the highly entertaining Goldfinger, a successful Bond film on all accounts that found the series finding its feet, Thunderball casually opens with Bond attending the funeral of a Colonel Jacques Bouvar, coolly revealing to his assistant that Bouvar was responsible for the deaths of two fellow British spies. However, when he notices the oddly composed behaviour of Bouvar’s widow, Bond makes his way to the Colonel’s stately home and confronts the “widow” before ripping her blonde wig off; it is of course none other than Bouvar, who then engages bond in a no-holds-barred brawl, complete with sped up footage and jerky frame shifts to aid the action. So far so good, and with Bouvar now eliminated, Bond has to escape from the SPECTRE operative’s mansion without being gunned down by a heavily armed security force. And so, making his way out onto the balcony he...straps a turtle-shell/helmet to his head and a cumbersome metal rig to his back, before jetting off into the sky like something out of a Gerry Anderson feature, a shot of his super-imposed bust wobbling against a blue sky looking markedly like “The Hood” leaving a secret volcanic base. Bond’s final coup de grace is, upon landing next to his Austin Martin DB5, to spray the machine-gun toting enemies with high powered water jets. Thanks, Brain!

Unfortunately, the film’s main plot functions in a similar way, seeming to follow one established path before unconvincingly hopping on to another, finally degenerating into something slightly absurd and a lot more boring than it should be. Things seem to pick up again after Tom Jones’ admittedly underrated theme song, with James recovering in a posh health clinic complete with self-assured female physicians to be sexually assimilated. Whilst there, Bond rather randomly bumps into Count Lippe, a slimy little man who we immediately know is going to be bad news even without having a strange, silent man wrapped in bandages for a neighbour. Along with Mr. Angelo’s puzzling, slightly surreal presence, the whole scenario in the health clinic, complete with Lippe’s night time stalking, has a sinister feeling to it that is unfortunately lost once the plot starts proper; it turns out that Bond’s coincidental meeting with Lippe and Angelo is the pivotal clue for a global nuclear threat from SPECTRE etc etc., and oh look, Mr. Angelo without his bandages looked a hell of a lot like Francois Derval, a pilot on the stolen bomber – how convenient! Maybe Bond should go have a talk with his civilian sister in Nassau to see if she knows where some bombs are being hidden. As absurd as this is, she is of course involved, and after a few belaboured plot turns, Bond gets to come face to face with the actual villain of the film, Emile Largo.

To argue that the plots of the Bond series aren’t contrived will always be a losing battle, and Thunderball does try to address the coincidental nature of Bond’s findings by having him sent out as one of many 00- agents following a plethora of leads, but even so, it’s just so daft. The fact that Derval’s apartment is mistaken for that of Mr. Angelo, despite Angelo’s assuming of Derval’s identity being known only to SPECTRE is just mind bogglingly lame as a way of establishing to the audience that we’re about to enter identity crisis territory, and is one of a number of such moments in the narrative that function as very superficial markers for exposition and plot development that just don’t hold water under scrutiny. Admittedly, the film’s penchant for absurd revelations has its charms with the story’s more interesting identity crisis; the constant shape-shifting of Felix Leiter from film to film. Felix’s false introduction as a villain works only because the audience actually won’t have a clue that this time, Rik Van Nutter, is our favourite CIA partner to Bond.

The whole sorry affair is finished off with a prolonged underwater battle and weary climax aboard Largo’s ship (this is worth drawing attention to largely because it led to the name of a far more interesting work; Mr. Bungle’s album Disco Volante). By the time Bond (yet again) finds solace in a boat/rubber dinghy/barely dressed woman out at sea yet again, it has become obvious that Thunderball is disappointing not because it is a bad Bond movie (we’re not in the Moore era yet), but because, after the delights of Goldfinger and From Russia with Love, it’s just blandly pointless. Even a controversial, rival 007 remake in the form of Never Say Never Again, despite offering Kim Basinger and a daring game of 3D battleship, fails to ignite any fire in the core story here. Perhaps the addition of ninjas in You Only Live Twice will spice things up a bit. Oh, and an autogyro called “Little Nellie”.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Sorry gang..

Apologies for not updating with my usual regularity this past week. Unfortunately, You Killed the Car will be running at half-speed for the next month or so as I work towards completing my university exams. Things should be back to their former glory at the start of June, but I will still update when I can; tomorrow will bring the latest entry in the Blogalongabond series, and the next Short Stuff  article is in the pipeline (hint, it's still Maya Deren. I'm regretting the choice only slightly...).

For now, here's some wonderful hand gestures from David Lynch accompanied by a badass speech. Those fingers are spreading Silencio magic all over the crowd.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Scream 4 Review

In this cinematic landscape of easy rehashing and derivative “reboots,” horror movies are perhaps the most frequently raped genre of them all, something the original Scream made a clever piece of meta-cinema out of, kick-starting a trend of self-conscious slasher films that, fifteen years on, we’ve never really left; remakes of Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th,  A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, etc., etc., forever and ever, may not offer the witty repartee of Wes Craven’s original look back at Slasher cinema, but they certainly plunder from the same well with a very different cynicism. As a result, it would be easy to see Scre4m as conclusive proof that the series had caved in not only to the conventions it originally mocked, but the new, broken rules it had unwittingly set in motion also. Thankfully, that’s not (entirely) the case; Scre4m is a fun, if admittedly pointless, return to the franchise that, whilst still stuck in its own moment, offers the series’ trademark snappy dialogue and flashes of delicious black comedy.

Its fifteen years since the original Ghostface massacre, seen in the original Scream, and, whilst watching the latest Stab movie based on those events, a pair of Woodsboro high school girls are savagely murdered by a new wearer of the mask; just in time for Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) return to her home town to promote her new book. The attention of the killer quickly comes to focus on Sidney’s young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), targeting her friends and loved ones in a manner that mimics the pattern Sidney first found herself entrapped in all those years ago. Whilst sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and former journalist Gale Weathers Riley (Courteney Cox) attempt to crack the case, Sidney must help Jill and friends Kirby (Hayden Panetierre), Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) stave off the attacks of a killer who’s following the rules of a reboot, kicking things up a notch and recording the whole thing.

It’s a pretty daft and transparently contrived plot that exists mainly to propel the film’s latest stab (LOL) at a commentary on horror cinema, encapsulated in the movie’s heavily meta opening sequence; a sequence so wonderfully playful in its self-parodying that the film never really offers anything to top it for the rest of its argument; references are made to a post-Saw environment, but the film continues to follow its well-trodden path of knives and chase sequences up flights of stairs, the plot’s mirroring of the original film steadily setting it up as some sort of shrine which the rest of the movie proceeds to worship right up until the end credits. The moments where Ghostface strikes are further diluted in feeling rather incidental against the film’s clear priority of flagging up, and then sending up, rather broad genre conventions, and are finally left for dead in relying on tried and true scared tactics that, meta or not, read as simple clichéd. Thankfully, the cartoonish characterisations and back-and-forth dialogue from the series’ best moments are still on form, and still feel fresh a decade and a half later; Hayden Panettiere and Nico Tortorella are particularly engaging as newcomers to the franchise, whilst Courtney Cox’s snarky bitch Gale continues to own the scenes she’s in.

Scre4m’s worshipping of its more innovative source material ultimately wins out, for better and for worse, and whilst the film offers a wonderfully nasty endgame twist, it doesn’t have the conviction to see it through to its conclusion, instead opting for the rather sentimental message that “originals are always best;” in a rather more insidiously cynical move that maintains the status quo and ensures further pointless sequels may be delivered down the line. If you’re a fan of the originals, or fancy watching a horror film that actually feels moderately intelligent and fun in this world of soulless James Wan productions, Scre4m is a good watch. Like so many impromptu returns to established franchises, its existence defies logic. But at least this time, the experience is enjoyable.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'Norwegian Wood' Review

If Kafka on the Shore is anything to go by, Haruki Murakami’s writing doesn’t exactly make one think, “Hey! This elliptical narrative heavily dependent on an internal voice and concepts incredibly hard to translate outside of the medium of prose would make a great movie!” Indeed, Tran Anh Hung’s adaptation of Norwegian Wood is only the second film inspired by the author (the first being Jun Ichikawa’s quietly devastating Tony Takitani in 2004), and the first to derive from one his novels. Having not read Norwegian Wood, I can only approach this adaptation as a work in and of itself, and whilst some have criticised it for offering only a shallow summation of the source material, as a film, it is an effectively haunting example of a “young male narrative,” that has a strong relation to the works of Wong Kar-wai.

It’s 1967, and whilst student riots unites the attention of the global youth, Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is struggling with his one personal problems; his best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) has inexplicably committed suicide, leaving behind his life-long love and fellow friend to Toru, Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). Whilst Watanabe’s own affection for Naoko grows, the death of Kizuki seems to have left deep mental scars, resulting in a disconnection from the world around her. As Toru sleepwalks his way through university, he finds himself frustrated on all sides; as well as Naoko, a burgeoning relationship with the headstrong Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) is blocked off by her having a partner. Attempting to find satisfaction in casual encounters with his philandering friend Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama), Watanabe struggles to find out what exactly it is he wants out of life, and who in turn may help provide that for him, all against the soundtrack of the sixties.

Whilst this might sound like a fairly standard coming of age story, the strengths of Norwegian Wood lie in its creation of a distinct, melancholic atmosphere well attuned to the bridge between adolescence and adulthood. Watanabe’s dilemmas feel real, and are aided in the fact that, unlike similar films that devolve into idealistic male fantasies of escapism and sexual wish-fulfillment, Watanabe’s indecision hurts the women who in turn hurt him. No one is perfect, and everyone wants something they can’t quite reach, epitomised in a universal desire for a sexual experience that is liberating rather than destructive.

By and large, Watanabe’s internal voice is allowed to manifest itself through the film’s largely efficient, though sometimes (blindingly) obvious emphasis on the surrounding landscape; what begins as an uber-cool production of 60s brown leathers and pastel blue shirts comes to finds its voice in unlit, silent rooms as the grey sky rolls across outside. Like Ichikawa’s film, Norwegian Wood finds its expression through a strong aesthetic emphasis, but while the urban minimalism of Tony Takitani resulted in aloof emptiness, Norwegian Wood’s fixation with the natural world – even indoors, through natural lighting – offers it a rawness that is more in line with the hyperbolic perspective of young people. At its weakest moments however, this prioritising of the visual over the verbal makes it feel like the film’s dragging its heels a little too much, and is sometimes over-reliant on Jonny Greenwood’s fittingly melodramatic score to push things along. Indeed, the film’s soundtrack from start to finish is of note, focusing more on Krautrock than the Beatles-centric additions the title may suggest. More films should make use of Can; it would immediately make them about ten times cooler (I am not a fat fifty-year old who hosted a pirate radio station in his hazy youth, honest (at least not yet)).

Despite facing the monolithic task that lies in adapting Murakami, Anh Hung’s film certainly works in itself, and features strong performances from its principal cast. How close it is to the novel’s achievement is unfortunately a question I can’t answer, but if, like me, you’re interested in Norwegian Wood as an example of Japanese cinema rather than as a representation of Murakami onscreen, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Also, if you're a fan of trailers that completely misrepresent the film they're advertising, you'll love this one. All it's missing is a guest spot from Jason Schwartzman:

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

My Cinematic Alphabet

I saw this cool idea on Split Reel and decided to give it a go; an alphabet of films! Scouting around I've found out the idea originated over at - please do check out both sites, they will be worth your time. I've tried to avoid films I've already shown clear love for on the blog as much as possible (sorry Ferris, sorry Ripley - by proxy, Deckard ain't at 'B' either) as well as other exceptionally obvious choices.

These lists are a lot of fun to read through, so if you give it a go and have twitter, make sure to tag it #CinematicAlphabet so it can join the rest!

A is for American Graffiti

B is for Blow-up

C is for Clerks

D is for Donnie Darko

E is for Eraserhead

F is for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

G is for Ghostbusters

H is for Hannah and Her Sisters

I is for If...

J is for Jane Eyre (1944)

K is for Kes

L is for Leon the Professional

M is for Metropolis

N is for Nosferatu

O is for Oldboy

P is for Police Story

Q is for films about royalty or an anomalous feature about Mods on scooters. No dice.

R is for Rosemary's Baby

S is for A Serious Man

T is for 2001: A Space Odyssey

U is for Up

V is for Videodrome

W is for Walkabout

X is for X2

Y is for Young Frankenstein

Z is for ZOO

(Z was...hard)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

'Source Code' Review

Duncan Jones’ directorial debut, Moon (2009), whilst a great revival of “hard” Sci-fi on the big screen, was nevertheless a little lacking by the end. Anchored to a fairly simple hook upon which the Twilight Zone style plot could unfold, its ingenuity was marred by a running out of steam as it neared the finale. This is a niggling detail in a film that was largely great, and despite its similar Twilight Zone script and central conceit, is something Jones’ much-hyped step into Hollywood, the reality-bending Source Code, doesn’t suffer from. A mainstream thriller that has all the hallmarks of an audience-friendly film without dumbing itself down, this is a welcome return to the smarter Hollywood cinema that isn’t afraid to work with its audience as people rather than mere ticket-buyers, laying out a puzzle for them to tackle that proves engaging.

This puzzle begins with the awakening of army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a train bound for Chicago – despite being stationed in Afghanistan. As he tries to get his bearings, the woman across from him, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) keeps bugging him as if she knows him, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s inside the body of one Sean Fentress. Before he can come to grips with this however, the train blows up, and Stevens finds himself in another odd situation; trapped in a capsule under the scrutiny of Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and a Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). After a few preliminary tests and a cryptic reminder to “find the bomb, find the bomber”, he’s back on the train all over again, with eight minutes before it blows up. And so it continues, as Colter tries to simultaneously piece together the source of the bombing within the “source code” and the reality of his own situation entrapped in this repeating scenario.

The stage is thus set for a brisk quest for answers, that treats its admittedly dopey plot elements sincerely without coming across po-faced. This is fun, frenetic stuff that asks you to get involved in the growing mystery along with Colter, and whilst the keener eyed viewer might start putting things together fairly quickly, there’s enough ambiguity all round to keep things fresh for the duration of the piece. Besides, part of the fun is seeing whether you were right in your assumptions after all. Colter’s situation is, at its core, markedly similar to that of Sam Bell (Moon) as the vulnerable man without answers, but Jones clearly knows what he’s doing with this type of narrative, allowing it to become a tightly controlled vehicle for Gyllenhaal’s style of charisma to take lead. Whilst this largely works a treat, every so often we’re reminded that Michelle Monaghan is actually rather charming herself, and the lightweight nature of her character comes across ever more jarringly as events reach a crescendo.

As a genre piece that clearly works within mainstream conventions without utterly submitting to them, this is however a rather small fault in a film that could easily have proven to be a marked disaster. This is by no means “classic” cinema, nor will it win any awards, but so what? It’s the first instance of unabashed, sincere fun I’ve had in the cinema for a very long time, and is a refreshing change from the usual Sci-fi inflected popcorn movie that is often sanctimonious or just plain dull (I’m looking at you Adjustment Bureau). With the film’s premise resting easy on the strong shoulders of Gyllenhaal and Farmiga, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment. Far from a dud, Source Code is a great example of Hollywood cinema set around a “ripping yarn” that we really need more of.

Friday, 8 April 2011

'Essential Killing' Review

We take context for granted in narratives. “Who is this?” “Why is this happening?” “What caused this story to be?” – these are the questions  we’re, often unconsciously, asking when we watch a film, read a book, listen to a story, and they’re normally answered quietly and without drawing much attention to themselves. So when these questions aren’t answered, what we’re left with is a bit startling. We either have to go along with what we have, stripped down (or overtly complex) as it is, or we start filling in the gaps for ourselves. One road leads to a new, personal involvement in the storyline (this is the stuff videogames get by on), and the other leaves us distanced, the narrative aloof. Jerzy Skolimowski’s latest, Essential Killing, seems to be pushing for the former, but leaves us with the latter. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does hamper the emotional impact of a story that waves various loaded themes in a face at the outset, only to disregard them in favour of something more abstract for the rest of the film.

It all kicks off when an isolated fundamentalist (possibly), played by the cherub faced Vincent Gallo, is apprehended in an unnamed Middle Eastern country for, albeit reluctantly, blowing some US soldiers to smithereens. After a gruelling “quarantine” session of water torture and sensory deprivation (hello obvious Guantanamo reference), he is transported to another prison unit in an unnamed Eastern European country. As luck would have it, however (or not, depending on how you see things – but more on that later), the truck veers off the snowy road and crashes, spilling its cargo. Gallo’s terrorist is the only one healthy enough to escape. Alone in the icy woodlands of a country he doesn’t know, equipped with only the prison uniform the US Army dressed him in, Gallo’s man engages in a quest to survive by whatever means necessary.

It quickly becomes apparent that the initial premise has been used merely as a springboard from which the film’s survival horror may thus begin – as a far closer scrutiny is paid to the physical actions and deteriorating state of the unknown man than why he was in the desert or indeed who he even is. The problem with this is, is that by introducing us to this man with such heavy issues attached to him, how are we supposed to feel? I personally found myself sympathising with his position regardless of whether he was a fundamentalist or not, but I couldn’t detach myself from this little piece of volatile context we had for him, no matter how much Skolimowski clearly isn’t interested in the political implications of his character. Some however, might wish he’d hurry up and die. Given the contentious elements brought in from the outset, then, one wonders why Skolimowski had to include this Middle Eastern backdrop at all when it clearly has little bearing on what is an essentialist take on survival in a land unknown.

To move on from this however, and meet the film on its final terms, is more rewarding; Skolimowski characterises the visceral, urgent nature of the man’s predicament through a continued use of steadi-cam that is dynamic without being showy, and a focus on the natural wildlife of the forest feels organic to the situation rather than simply obvious. The man’s ingenuity is frequently arresting, and for the first half of the film carries things along nicely. Unfortunately, by the end, the fact that we haven’t really developed from the initial, hopeless premise, has become slightly tired and drawn out – the exercise is clearly over and simply waiting for the final curtain. The film attempts to make this sense of inevitability part of its core through Gallo’s premonitions in his sleep, and these are effective to a degree, but don’t make the piece feel totally complete; it’s odd to be so markedly looking forward when we have such a tenuous grasp on the present narrative moment.

Gallo’s performance effectively carries this film through its weaker moments; his plight is real (no doubt aided by the fact that he really is running through the snow barefoot, and he really was water-boarded etc etc.), and there isn’t a moment where he doesn’t shine - all the more impressive given he doesn't say a word for the whole thing. Coupled with a disturbing soundtrack and a subtext of guilt and remorse, the whole thing has the effective feel of a slow-burning nightmare, but this simultaneously removes one slightly from the clear relation we’re supposed to have with the man in his quest to survive. Essential Killing is a good film, with some great ideas, but it’s not what it clearly wants to be.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Let's not forget...La Belle et La Bête

Jean Cocteau was that rare thing; an accomplished artist who could transfer his mind with ease, and with vision, from one distinct medium to another. Not content with being merely a poet or a playwright (or even a boxing manager, somewhat bizarrely), Jean Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau was also a bloody brilliant filmmaker, with his 1946 fairytale La Belle et la Bête perhaps being his most exciting work, and is easily one of the best fantasy films ever made. There is a reason Disney’s own take on Beauty and the Beast almost half a century later follows the template of Cocteau’s predecessor so vividly.

If you’ve seen that latter film (and I’m sure you have), you’ll know the basic storyline; pretty put upon girl, princely beast who needs to be loved to be saved, would-be hero chauvinist getting in the way etc. It’s perhaps even more lightweight here, where our Gaston analogue, Avenant, is part of a wider attempt by Belle’s haughty sisters to get the Beast’s riches. They’re a rather stock Fairy-tale family that serve to detract from the magic at the story’s centre, akin to that of the step-sisters in Cinderella or the parents in Hansel and Gretel. The real power comes from within the Beast’s castle walls, both literally and thematically. The growing romance between Belle, played wonderfully by Josette Day, and the Beast (Jean Marais, who doubles up as Avenant in a nice little motif), has a real dynamic to it so that, when trouble arrives near the film’s end, the stakes really feel raised.

Its simplicity gives it a far more folk-like quality than the sweeping epic we have come to expect from the story post-Disney, but this is not to say that the film lacks grandeur; Cocteau’s set designs are beautiful, clearly influenced by his work on stage. The film makes fantastic use of fairly small spaces, loaded however with strong uses of lighting and prop work; Disney’s transformation of the Prince’s servants into household objects isn’t a staple of the tale, but rather an addition originally made by Cocteau, taken from another French fairytale. That Cocteau’s servants have been left only with their hands, however, aids the castle’s intensely ethereal feel, rendering all as a dream, a double of reality that finds its greatest expression in the final shot, mimicking the woodprints of Gustave D’Or to see the whole thing off with a real sense of majesty. In a world where fantasy had seemingly been changed forever by MGM’s The Wizard of Oz some years earlier, La Belle et la Bête has its place as a refutation of the vast explosion of imagination, in favour of something concentrated and controlled. The results really are magnificent.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Whatever Happened to Shermer High?

I've gone and got published on New Empress magazine's blog! It's a little piece looking at just where the residents of Shermer High have ended up now. One day, my John Hughes fetish WILL be overcome. That day is not today.

Check it out, here: While you're there make sure to check out the rest of the site.

For a taste of what's to come in the article over yonder, here's a visual representation of what became of Cameron. The problem of that Ferrari proved to be a bit too taxing on his addled brain after all...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

'Summer Wars' Review

Back in December, I had a brief look at Madhouse Studio’s Summer Wars, a 2009 Japanese anime feature that was to be released in the UK in late March, 2011. As of about a week ago, Mamoru Hosoda’s second feature after the well received The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has become available locally, and so I was quick to see whether the film met up to my expectations (and somewhat lofty hopes). Part sci-fi, part family drama, sprinkled over with the tried and tested themes of a good coming-of-age story, Summer Wars may have difficulty juggling its various components, but when it gives itself enough breathing room the result is a thoroughly charming little film, that is surprisingly moving.

The story centres around self-conscious high school mathlete Kenji Koiso, who in his spare time moderates the virtual reality world of OZ with his friend Takashi. OZ functions as an advanced conglomerate of all the disparate elements computers are used for, bringing together social networking with gaming, news and – most importantly – administration; it effectively functions as a very pretty, highly intelligent form of cloud computing. However, Kenji’s job must be put on hold when fellow student Natsuki offers him chance to visit the country with her. What seems like a great chance to help out the prettiest girl in school turns out to be something of a sham; worried of her grandmother’s ailing health on the approach of her 90th birthday, Natsuki had lied that she had a boyfriend from Tokyo University – the “boyfriend” now being Kenji. The shy young boy quickly becomes overwhelmed with Grandma Jinnouchi’s extensive family, who pride themselves on their Japanese heritage and strong filial community. On top of this, his personal account on OZ has been hijacked by a mystery hacker who is using it to play with the vast properties of the virtual reality program as he sees fit; in turn causing widespread damage in the real world. With neither world allowing room for manoeuvre in the other, Kenji and the Jinnouchi family come to rely on each other to get through the numerous crises in store.

If this sounds slightly bizarre and rather over the top, it is - but by and large it works. Boiled down, the story is essentially one of an outsider entering a family and, in learning about them, helping them help each other – a microcosmic dynamic with a feudal tinge that finds its flipside in the mass social-network of OZ. The message of communication ultimately winning out, no matter how varied  or unlikely connections may be, might seem a little simple, but the film’s playing off of two rather distinct genres allows something a little different to come out along the way that is frequently funny and in its best moments rather heart-warming. However, its juggling act, whilst making for some interesting turns in the story that keeps things moving at a snappy pace, also causes points signposted for development to be neglected, as the film’s tone fundamentally shifts midway from the story of an insular boy living in the Japanese countryside with the loud family of the girl he quietly loves, to the story of a group of men taking on impending global doom within the internet; the strong cohesion between the two spheres we keep expecting doesn’t truly occur until the film’s very end, when the most glaring issue of neglect of all is allowed to reappear in a way that just narrowly avoids being trite.

That said, the film never slips into mediocrity, no doubt aided by Madhouses’ colourful, sharp animation and well-considered art direction; OZ in particularly is strongly realised, though its use of cartoonish characters of all types – and particularly the form of enemy hacker Love Machine – does call back to Hosoda’s earlier work on Digimon, and indeed the basic framework of the battle for OZ is by and large a retelling of the story that made up Our War Game!, rebranded in the West as the first major portion of the theatrical release Digimon: the Movie. Whilst the recycling doesn’t stop Summer Wars from telling a good story, it does leave it feeling a little stale at times. Coupled with the difficulty the film has in balancing its composite elements in the latter half, these issues halt it from being a firm competitor with the best of Miyazaki’s work, but thankfully don’t hamper it from still being a thoroughly enjoyable film with a sincerity in its dealings with family life that is always welcome. If you’re at all a fan of animation, you can’t go wrong in giving Summer Wars a watch.