Summer Wars is a 2009 Japanese anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda who previously made the critically acclaimed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Kenji is a school kid and math genius who is taken by fellow student Natsuki to stay at her huge family home miles from the city to celebrate her grandmother's 90th birthday. However, while there, Kenji is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world called Oz by an artificial intelligence. Oz is the biggest single media environment on the planet, a place where billions of people have accounts and avatars, where governments and businesses have as much a presence as they do in the real world. As the AI gradually takes over Oz, causing world-wide chaos, Kenji joins forces with Natsuki’s extended and connected family to repair the damage done and to find a way to stop the artificial intelligence before it ruins the entire world, both virtual and real.
Summer Wars is an odd film. Being anime that’s kind of a given, I know. But I’ve never before seen a movie that is part smart and affecting family drama, part high school comedy/romance, part virtual reality cyber actioner, part global apocalypse, part conspiracy thriller. But Summer Wars melds all of these competing genres in to a sweet, smart, watchable and winning whole. The animation is great with the beautiful rural backdrops of the family home merging seamlessly with the weird and manga-ish styles of Oz. But what really makes this work is that amidst all the weirdness and cyber action, Summer Wars is at heart a story about family and how families band together in times of need. The story may be bonkers but the characters and their motivations are all down to earth and relatable. You can’t help but cheer Kenji on in his fight as well as feel a longing to be part of a family like the Jinnouchi family, one so big, yet so close and loyal, and governed over by the wise and strong as steel grandma.
Being a tad too long and probably a bit too odd for most western movie watchers, Summer Wars remains a smart, fun and sweetly human slice of Japanese sci fi. 4 (out of 5)
RED RIDING HOOD
Twilight director Catherine Hardwick delivers a good looking film with a good cast including Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke and Julie Christie. But ultimately the film fails because all it is is just another dull teenage love triangle thing with the only interesting plot thread being Amanda trying to figure out the identity of the werewolf terrorising her village. But even that mystery is, sadly, not very mysterious or interesting. Plus the film is not scary at all with the werewolf itself just a large and utterly unconvincing CGI blob.
Now, I love classic fairytales. And I love seeing them reinterpreted. Joss Whedon did some great stuff on Buffy. More recently Steven Moffat has done a great job turning Doctor Who in to a modern fairytale. Unfortunately this particular telling of Red Riding Hood is far more concerned with being a Twilight-esque teen love story than it is with exploring the themes and meanings behind classic fairytales. It just made me want to go watch Neil Jordan's brilliant The Company of Wolves again, a film based on the works of Angela Carter that explored the meanings behind this old story, making it weird, sexually enticing and nightmarishly beautiful.
In the end, Catherine Hardwick's Red Riding Hood is mildly diverting tosh, if only for pretty Amanda and the pretty set designs and photography. But ultimately it's a pointless, toothess, hollow, slice of teen pap that does nothing with its fairytale aspirations. A shame. 2.5 (out of 5)
FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH
It’s easy to forget just what an awesome band the Foo's are, largely thanks to the ridiculously talented, charismatic, down to earth Dave Grohl. Before watching this I didn't know much about the actual band itself, other than it was Grohl who founded it post-Nirvana. I didn't know, for instance, that the first album was the same tape of songs Dave had written and then recorded all by himself before the band had even been formed. He just called the tape 'Foo Fighters' so people wouldn't know it was him. Then when the band was formed and it came time to release and album he just put out the very same tape. Job done. My fave moment in the doc was seeing Grohl on stage at Wembley in 2008 fighting back tears of amazement at how far they'd come as a band. Great stuff. 4 (out of 5)
Liam Neeson goes to Berlin with his wife, has an accident, recovers, but nobody then recognises him to be who he says he is. An impostor is now with his wife, who also swears she doesn’t know him. What’s going on? Cue lots of running around Berlin, car chases and general mystery and mayhem as Liam fights to discover the truth of his identity.
Unknown reminded me of quite a few movies I've seen before. I knew a twist was coming and having seen lots of films like this I managed to work it our pretty quickly, though some of the nuances of what else was going on thankfully remained a surprise. Neeson is great in the lead, and as his unwilling helper, Diane Kruger is pretty good too. As Neeson’s wife, January Jones is lovely and icy (you can see why she was cast as Emma Frost) and veteran actor Bruno Ganz does a great job as an old, world-weary ex-Stazi agent.
Slickly directed with that Euro thriller feel, Warner Bros. and Joel Silver have managed a good impression of a Luc Besson/Europacorp thriller. All in all this is well-made and reasonably compelling tosh. 3 (out of 5)
Post apocalyptic vampire slaying action with Paul Bettany as a rogue warrior priest who heads out of his huge Mega-City, in to the Cursed Earth to rescue his kidnapped niece from a pack of marauding vamps before going on to save his short sighted city from potential vampire destruction. Priest is essentially The Searchers meets Judge Dredd with vampires by way of a Paul (Resident Evil) Anderson film. This is low brow pulp sci fi/horror (nothing wrong with that) adapted from a graphic novel that I’ve never read. The set-up is fine and quite interesting if highly derivative. The FX are pretty good, and the cast, including Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q, all do their bit. This is brainless harmless fun but like Paul Anderson films it tries too hard to be ‘stylish’ (i.e. lots of needless slo mo, editing farts, CGI) instead of being at least a tiny bit smart. Still, it’s miles better than Anderson’s last cinematic abortion Resident Evil: Afterlife and Priest’s director’s own previous effort, the tiresome angel vs. angel flick Legion. 3 (out of 5)