Do pigs dream of escaping domestic drudgery and letting their inner diva run free? Can porcupines rock their inner Chrissy Amphlett every chance they get? And is it possible for the son of gorilla career criminal to ever been anything more than a deeply-reluctant getaway driver?
If these and many other anthropomorphic musings have ever crossed your mind, then Illumination’s Sing, a cross between The Voice and a vaudevillian talent contest, comes loaded with plenty of answers.
Granted none of which will challenge or delight you in quite the same way as the thoughtful insights provided by Zootopia and Moana, both of which were standout animation features in an extraordinary year for the genre, but which come loaded with the a giddy musicality that will have you leaving the cinema with a big grin on your face.
Cleverly, Garth Jennings, who wrote and directed Sing, loads the films with a gamut of songs that span the decades from Irving Berlin (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance”) to Lennon/McCartney (“Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight”) to Taylor Swift’s ” Shake It Off” and give the movie a groove its narrative sometimes fails to muster.
That’s not to say it’s not a delightful storyline – it’s well nigh impossible not to root for the likes of Rosita the Pig (Reese Witherspoon), mother to 25 piglets and wife to a disinterested workaholic husband and Meena (Tori Kelly), shy teenage elephant with a yearning for singing but not the nerves to carry her confidently onto the stage.
But it’s hardly desperately original, with the talent quest announced by struggling theatre owner and sweetly-persuasive huckster Buster Moon (Matthew McConnaughey) in a bid to keep his theatrical impresarios ambitions alive, is something we’ve seen a thousand times before.
Still, a slow middle section aside when the individual struggles of each of the animal contestants in Buster’s singing contest come to the fore in a bid to help us understand how big and indeed necessary their dreams are, Sing takes a well-worn concept and gives its some giddy joie de vivre that will have you wishing every single one of them can walk away with the prize (mistakenly listed as $100,000 after Buster’s aged secretary Mrs Crawly, played to absolute dithering perfection by Jennifer Saunders, puts in two too many zeros).
Of course, nothing quite goes to plan with the original American Idol-esque whittling down to one triumphant singer giving away to a musical talent show from which you could well argue everyone realises their own dream of artistic fulfilment if not fame, as well some relational reconnections that make all the trials and tribulations of the lead-up to the show all worthwhile.
If that all sounds quite adult in concept, then it is; Jennings invests the narrative of the film, which comes in at a hefty 110 minutes which may test the attention spans of some children, with some deep existential angst, of the kind that children won’t identify with but which many of their accompanying adults will find themselves nodding in agreement with, perhaps wishing they had some avenue to realise their long-dormant dreams.
Take Rosita for instance. A talented singer with a mean sense of rhythm – one scene in the film has her dancing up a storm in a supermarket to the Gypsy King’s “Bamboleo” to the rapt appreciation of the one employee on duty – she is a devoted wife and mother who finds herself rediscovering a yearning for music that she had long since put aside.
Happily subsuming her own dreams and ambitions to that of her family, she discovers that she wants more, much more, when Buster’s flier slaps itself against her kitchen window when she’s trotter deep in washing up.
Other characters have a similar story – Ash (Scarlett Johansson) yearns to be the singer/songwriter rock chick her musician boyfriend won’t full allow her to express, Johnny (Taron Egerton), who sings sublimely, believes he has it in himself to be more than a member of his father’s gang, and even diminutive busker mice Mike (Seth MacFarlane), criminally minded though he is at times, is a big old softy underneath all that manipulative bravado.
Alongside all this deeply serious thwarted ambitions are the big splashy musical numbers, visual gags and yes even fart jokes – it may not sound sophisticated and alongside the likes of Zootopia it probably isn’t, but it left a cinema full of young children laughing like fiends – that the trailer suggests will be present and accounted for.
Sing is a defier of its trailer in many ways, investing a cute sweet realisation of musical dreams for a bunch of appealing anthropomorphic animals with way more gravitas and emotional meaning that you might expect.
And that, alongside the musical numbers which dazzle and impress in equal measure, is the making of Sing.
It may not be especially original nor daring in its animation ambitions – in stark contrast to the characters who give it vivacity, depth and a sense of appealing fun – but it is well-rounded and impacting, all too aware that pretty much everyone has dreamy big and not quite made it.
Sure that won’t apply to the kids who watch it – they’re well catered for with fun songs and epic song-and-dance numbers that will leave them entranced – but it will to the many adults who will go the movies with them, all of whom will wish they had a Buster Moon in their life, and a stage, all the world aside, upon which to strut their long-sublimated stuff.
Another year, another deluge of TV shows delivered on multiple platforms that can be watched night and day, in single episodes or a hygiene-challenging bingefest of epic proportions.
As ever, I am torn between the giddy delight of countless, immersive options straddling an enticing array of genres and a deepening panic that I will never have the time to watch every single show I would like to, and that even foregoing sleep and work wouldn’t afford me the time to watch everything.
Quite how the TVerati on Twitter manage to watch everything they claim is beyond me – either they’re lying (which isn’t a nice thing to say about lovely, enthusiastic people and quite possibly libelous) or more likely, they have found a way to clone themselves so they can be in 20 different places at once and still find time to be with their significant other, friends, and take the occasional shower.
However they manage it, I am in awe of them.
To keep my TV viewing sanity I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I can only watch so many TV shows in a way that will be even halfway enjoyable and so I have jettisoned such waxed lyrical about shows as Westworld in favour of some established favourites and some tantalising new shows (or at least new to me).
So without further ado, here are the main contenders …
Such an insanely clever show! Possessed of a quirky premise – driven New York lawyer Rebecca (Rachel Bloom who co-created the show) grows disillusioned and moves right across the country to West Covina California in pursuit of her lost teenage love Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a tremendously witty, clever engaging show packed full of deliciously satirical musical moments.
Even as my interest wanes in The Walking Dead, which displays a deplorable lack of through narrative and reason for being beyond brutal violence on repeat, its television progeny continues to impress with nuanced writing, great characters, a slower, more contemplative pace and a willingness to entertain the notion that humanity can be better, even as the world ends around it. It still needs to move the franchise’s lack of an ongoing mission, a reason to be, but as it stands right now, it’s a damn sight better than its progenitor show.
Five seasons strong – sadly the next season, which begins in January and is only 13 episodes long, will be its last – Grimm is a fascinating mix of police procedural and fantasy drama that pits a police detective Nick (David Giuntoli) and his friends against an array of evil Wesen, human/animal hybrids who can move between both states and are the basis for many myths and fairytales. Unlike many of his Grimm brethren, Nick is friends with many good Wesen, which fits with the show’s message that times are a-changing and old traditions don’t have to dictate current practices. Thoughtful, action-packed and fantastical, Grimm has it all.
I am a history buff and a lover of fantasy so it stands to reason that I would love a show that expertly combines the two. Based on the books of Diana Gabaldon, Outlander moves between modern Scotland and its 18th-century counterpart as Claire (Caitriona Balfe) does her best to forge a life split between two men and two timezones. It’s sometimes melodramatic but always infinitely watchable with an attention to detail on every aspect of its production that impresses at every turn.
If anyone ever tells you a sitcom can’t be nuanced and subtle, and silly and over the top all at once without compromising either aspect of the show, then point them to Mom. The story of recovering mother and daughter addicts, played by Alison Janney and Anna Faris respectively, Mom by Chuck Lorre, is silly, sweet, touching and deeply heartfelt in equal measure, a funny show that is equally good at making you think and think hard.
Before you stifle a yawn at the thought of yet another aliens-invade-the-earth show, have a watch of Colony, which takes this well-worn premise and makes brilliantly incisive political and social commentary out of it. It’s action-packed and tense yes but not at the expense of exploring the many ways in which a captive population copes with their loss of freedom and the threat of imminent death – some collaborate, some resist and many stand inertly in the great middle, uncertain about which way they should go. It’s brilliantly clever television by any yardstick.
Life and its curveballs hey? Here are uptight socialite Grace (Jane Fonda) and hippy-chicky Frankie (Lily Tomlin, barely-acquaintances, let alone friends, thrown together when their husbands, colleagues at a law firm, declare that they are both gay and in love with each other. Not quite what the retirement doctor ordered right? No, it is not but over two seasons so far the show has sensitively and hilariously explored how you move on from a seismic life event like this and begin to craft a new life from the ruins of the old.
From Tina Fey (30 Rock) and starring one of my favourite comic actors Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is Looney Tunes hilarious moving from heartfelt to daffy to OTT surreal and usually in one scene. Armed with a killer theme song and a strong sense of its TV self, the show is that rare sitcom that is original, meaningful and bubble gum candy fabulous to watch.
Honestly, I just wish this show would settle on a timeline and be done with it – I can tell if I’m coming and going sometimes. But that aside, it’s a highly engaging show that is as much about the bonds of family and friendship as it is about the various villains and baddies The Flash aka Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) must fight off week to week, all of whom, like the titular superhero himself were caused by a massive radiation blast.
Time travel sucks me in every time and as a fan of the original movie starring Bruce Willis, everything about this superlative TV adaptation impresses. The characters, for such a full-on fantastical premise, are wholly believable and authentic, there’s plenty of rumination on humanity’s flaws, foibles and good points and some gripping, edge-of-your-seat action. 12 Monkeys is that increasingly common beast, the movie-to-TV adaptation but it is in that rare echelon that nails it every freaking time.
It’s all too easy watching the plethora of police procedural and crime shows on TV to assume that everything is black and white clear cut in the world of justice. But we all know it isn’t and so does The Night Of which examines what happens to one young man, Nasir Kahn (Riz Ahmed) when he makes some very poor decisions one fateful night. While we all want to do if he did or didn’t do it, we are just drawn just drawn into the fallibilities of the system of a whole which is nowhere as squeaky clean or virtuous as many other shows would have you believe. This is gripping HBO drama of the highest order.
This year’s certifiable watercooler hit, Stranger Things is not just about what happens to one young boy who disappears one night from the streets of small town America but about worlds and realities well beyond our own, all told in a story full of Spielbergian, ’80s flourishes. It’s dark, gripping and uncertain but wildly addictive as we grapple with what happens when life upends everything we know.
Endlessly ravenous or so it appears, they stalk you like the paparazzi after a film star, eager for anything you wish to discard especially if you’re eating hot chips (fries) on a sunny summer’s day.
They are cute and annoying all at once but did you know they terrify the hell out of Yoda?
Ah-huh, the very being who stands in awesome command of the Force, who can stare down a Sith Lord at 40 paces and drill the basics of being a Jedi Knight into one over-eager young farm boy from Tatooine by the name of Luke Skywalker, is scared of seagulls.
Not irked, not mildly fearful, terrified, especially when they come for his knees (yes, all appearances to the contrary, he apparently has them).
It’s all revealed in Bad Lip Reading‘s musical take of that iconic scene on Dagobah which is given a whole new revelatory, not to mention, damn near hilarious, spin.
Oh and sticks? They’re the children of logs. Just sayin’ …
I have loved reading books since before I can remember.
Whenever it started, and I suspect it was on the many nights when my mum or dad would read to me when I was toddler, I fell in love with the written word, loving the way words sounded, the way linking them all together create cadence and meaning, and how stories could take you deep within themselves and whisk you off to worlds far beyond your own.
I never really lost that love of writing or reading, although my enjoyment was severely tested during the uni years when it became a utilitarian thing rather than a pleasurable one, but by and large books remained constant and well-loved companions through the ups and downs of life.
And so it has continued through into this year, a year in which a great many horrible things happened both to the world and to me but in which books kept me going, giving much needed escape and solace when nothing else really worked.
Juggling movies, books, TV shows and music, not to mention social outings means that there is never enough time for reading but I made a concerted effort this year to read more, getting through almost 40 books, a near record for adult me.
So here are my 10 favourite books for the year, titles which affected me greatly, read beautifully and said a great deal and which remain on my shelves long after the lesser loved have more onto that great second hand bookshop in the sky (or King Street, the main shopping drag near me).
Martha Lost only knows life at Lime Street Station in Liverpool, having been abandoned there at the lost property office as a child. Despite her tough start in life and a foster mother who is cruel and capricious, Martha is joyously upbeat about life, if a little naive, a positive outlook that soon sees her surrounded by a ragtag band of lost souls and in with a very real chance of finding her mother. It’s a quirky, playful book in many ways but also deeply meaningful and emotionally resonant and a joy to read.
I love books about quirky characters. Even better are quirky books about offbeat characters who meet an alien, fall in love and had a ret hot go at changing the world for the better. And better than that? If they’re superbly well-written too by an author with an eye for investing a crazy situation with real humanity and emotional authenticity. This book has it all.
Coming out is never easy. Admittedly some people just burst out of the closet but people like Simon (and me for that matter) take their time, navigating as best they can the tricky web of relationships and expectations that make declaring your sexuality to the world (an odd thing in itself to be honest) nervewrackingly problematic. Becky Albertalli captures it all perfectly with wit, wisdom, insight and grace, giving anyone who has never had to come out a sense of what it’s like and hopefully those who need to but haven’t yet done so the courage to embark on what can be scary but ultimately deeply-rewarding journey.
I am not usually one for horror or even horror-lite elements. But Who’s Afraid? by Aussie author Maria Lewis? is so beautifully-written, distilling so perfectly what it is like to discover that there are parts of you that you never knew existed and which have a very real chance of throwing your carefully-mapped out, happy life well and truly off track, that you can help but get swept up in this amazing, transglobal late coming-of-age tale.
There’s a new wave in apocalyptic fiction that says that the end of the world may not necessarily be quite as final as we think. That’s based on the idea that humanity is innately adaptable and optimistic, that we do give a damn about our fellow man, and that even in the most trying of circumstances such as flood, famine, war etc that good can prevail. Not for all people but most. Heller’s The Dog Stars rides this wave with gritty, poetic aplomb, admitting there is hope even when it seems to have died off along with most of the human race.
This is a beautiful, exquisitely lovely, deeply meaningful book that resonates with the most poetic of explorations of the human condition and how we all need to be inexorably, intimately connected to one another, whatever form that may take. it is honest about the vicissitudes of life but couches them in the wider context of life, offering hope that even the bleakest of lives can have belonging and restoration and a sense of place and time.
When I first realised that The End of All Things was the sixth book in Scalzi’s Old Man’s war series, my heart initially sank, pondering how long it would take me to read the five other books preceding it. While I have no doubt it would be well worth my time reading those five books, and I will at some point, the joy of this book is how brilliantly well Scalzi brings a stray reader like myself up to speed without burying me in catch-up exposition. That he manages to do this and tell an enthralling story into the bargain, speaks to how talented a writer is and how good a piece of sci-fi this book is from start to finish.
I love Miranda Hart. She’s funny, goofy, pitch-perfect honest, the kind of person you want as a friend and the star of one of my favourite sitcoms Miranda. And it turns out she really loves her doggy Peggy, even going so far as to write a book about how much she loves her. Thing is, while she acknowledges how annoyingly gushy owners can be talking about their pets, and she is, she most definitely is, she’s also self-deprecating and honest about pet ownership, giving us some pretty raw and reveal biographical reveals too.
Western civilisation for all its remarkable achievements likes to keep things nice and tidy. You live, you idea, you break, you heal – we adore black and white moments, hate abiding in the grey. But life is way more messy, complicated and obtuse than we give it credit for and Gusking dives headlong into this abyss of intangibles, wondering what might happen if there were children who could not only remember past lives but remember them so vividly that they won’t be able to live their current life until they make peace with what came before. It’s gripping, deeply emotional and richly-told, challenging our convictions on the way life manifests with every glorious page.
Barney is a loser. Actually to be fair he isn’t really, simply being as flawed and incapable of hitting all the marks he wants to, much like the rest of us. It takes pretty much of this beautifully-written, very funny book by self-published Melbourne author Guy Sigley, for Barney to realise that too. He is, as I note in my review, an everyman, just like you and me, and that’s what makes this wonderful book so fantastically relatable and a joy to read.
I know they say you can’t choose a book by its cover but we all know and often it pays off. To help you “superficially” (and successfully) pick your next great read, Paste Magazine have gathered together their 30 Best Book Covers.
But because Aussie covers differ from US covers, here is my pick for the year:
As we wait for the second half of season 7 of The Walking Dead to shuffle onto our screens in February next year, you wish to spend some time re-living the far away days, at least as far as storyline and still-present staff members are concerned, of season 1 and 2 when life was Negan-free and by comparison, relatively-less deadly.
But still not completely free of perils and pestilence as Cinefix’s The Walking Dead entry in their 8-bit Cinema series makes all too clear.
Drawing on ye olde gaming technology, in a process Cinefix calls “gamifying”, fans are presented with the events of the first two seasons and some pixellated walkers who are no more fetching in digital form.
It’s the stuff of retro nightmares, my friends, and it’s yours to enjoy until the real non-pixellated walkers and humans make their apocalyptically all-too real return.
It is quite literally the soundtrack to my day, adding lustre to the banality of commuting, providing melodic breaks to otherwise frantic work days and making parties, dinners and just time alone that much richer with atmosphere-enhancing tunes.
And unlike many people my age who long ago gave up on listening to new music – not judging at all; that’s simply how it is – I love coming across new artists with great exciting genre-pushing which manifests in obsessive following of music blogs and the acquisition of CDs (yes I still buy select ones!) and downloaded songs.
Needless to say that the average year includes lots and lots of news songs but there are a number in particular, 16 to be exact, that have cut through some very pleasurable clutter and risen to the top of the iPod heap.
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses
I discovered New Yorkers Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance known collectively as Bob Moses on The Ellen Show and their song “Tearing Me Up” immediately grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. A slow-pulsing, growling affair of a song, it’s full of unrequited loss and messy intentions and sounds like it.
Sydneysider Phebe Starr writes powerful, well-nigh anthemic pop that cuts through to your soul. It’s deeply melodic, emotionally-resonant and deeply, intensely listenable. “Feel Your Love” is a perfect exemplar of her style and add some punch to some quite inert weekdays.
I love ’80s-inspired music – I am a child of my time – especially when the artist has taken it, reformed as they see fit, thrown in some driving beats and used their powerful voice to push all the emotions in the world through its brief 3 minute timeframe. St Lucia, originally from South Africa, is a talented man who has done all that and more in the infinitely listenable “Help Me Run Away”.
Oh my lord but I loved this song from the moment I heard it and to my unending frustration it took months for it to reach iTunes Australia. But I was happy to wait because I am firmly against downloading songs illegally, not for some holier-than-thou reason but simply because I value the music that artists like Texas native, Bayonne and I want them to keep making it. It was well worth the wait with the hypnotically-beautiful tune transporting me to dreamy, mystical landscapes far from the everyday every single damn time.
This is a brilliantly, danceably infectious song, much like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams that lifts your spirits, sets your feet to moving in gleefully joyous directions and makes your day undeniably better. It’s been the song to lift me up after the many times I got pushed down this year and I don’t care what the music snobs say – this is crazy good stuff.
This song was actually released way back in June 2015 but I only came across it this year during one of those down the music rabbit holes that YouTube is so good at engineering. Driven by dance beats and some absolutely powerhouse vocals, this was an instant favourite that has stayed near the top of the pile since I first heard it a few months back. And the clip is a ton of fun, very much in keeping with this amazingly catchy song.
“You might think that a song like “Fading” is going to be all ambient lightness and fey sensibilities but Two People, which consists of Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough, fuses a percussive intensity with an insistent late night vibe that grabs your attention from the word go.
“Chilled though the melody may be but with guitar loops and a consistently rising intensity, this is one song that refuses to go quietly into the good summer night, either musically or lyrically.”
Hailing from Perth, Western Australia, Louise Penman (who provides the soulful, deeply-emotive vocals), Matt Mclean and Brendan Walsh, have delivered up a hauntingly evocative song in “Capture”. Reminding me of Chairlift at times, there’s a edge to their prettiness, a dark and sombre undertone to the song which is quite beguiling. All of which makes the song the kind of emotionally-immersive tracks that I love to get lost in and stay in for a good long while.
My lord this song is SMOOOOOOTH. All slinky, sensuous electro-pop, it’s a hymn to accepting yourself, to let yourself be with yourself and not letting anxiety about anything else affect you. In other words what my therapist calls being “in the moment”. It’s a compulsively chilled piece of music that gets under your skin and trust me you’ll be happy to let his track by the Indianopolis-Indiana-baed BoyBoy stay right there for the duration.
Hearing “Tilted” for the first time, which is as much a serious of intricate, highly-emotive dance moves as it is a captivating song, was a revelation. I came across it by chance on The Graham Norton Show one night and sat transfixed by the smooth, easy-flowing tune that talks about not being quite in step with the mainstream, with the usual way of doing things. I remain transfixed and happily so by this delightfully idiosyncratic French artist.
If you have to break up with someone, and for your sake I hope that never happens, then at least you have the most kickass song since Icona Pop’s “I Love It” to do it with! This song bites and snarls, full of defiant energy that defies the idea that the end of a relationship is the end of everything, and furthermore, that you should go slinking back at the first sign of things looking better. Nope that’s it and Ingrid Michaelson will not be revisiting that piece of heartache thank you very much. Another point of recommendation is the awesome sign language clip that Michaelson created with the Deaf West Theatre Company.
I am sure there will be a collective gasp from the musicerati heard around the world but I have never really been a massive Radiohead fan. I like a song here or there but they never really grabbed my attention until “Burn the Witch” which Pitchfork rightly says possesses a “deep sense of dread and skepticism manifests into the kind of music that is capable of spurring what Yorke would call a ‘low-flying panic attack.'” It’s expansively atmospheric, chill-inducing stuff, a masterpiece of haunting worry and concern that grips you to the core.
“10 Pounds” by Mwansa
“10 Pounds” is an impressive song on many levels.
“Fuelled by Mwansa’s deeply resonant voice, and a meaningfulness that comes from the artist’s quest to invest his music with a thoughtful presence – he got into creating and playing music as a way to deal with the death of his brother – “10 Pounds” is an airy yet gravelly intense exploration of living astride two different worlds, something the immigrant from Africa knows a great deal about.”
It’s been a long time since I listened to any Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) as it was, and might still be, called, but there was something about Atlanta-based Croder whose song “Run Devil Run” was used in a promo for The Flash season 3 that grabbed me from the first HARD and would not let go. This is driving, powerful passionate rock with a message and it gets in and gets in good.
“Brooklyn-based Sleigh Bells (vocalist Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Edward Miller) are one of those bands whose music always marks some kind of impressive progression.
“And the emotionally-powerful resonance of “I Can Only Stare”, the latest single from their forthcoming album Jessica Rabbit (11 November), is no exception blending their trademark intense musicality and pop knowingness with a lyrical profundity and searing melodic follow through that is never less than utterly compelling.”
One of my favourite new TV shows of 2016 is Class, a Doctor Who spinoff about a bunch students at Coal Hill Academy (which appeared in the first Doctor Who episode in 1963) who have to fight all manner of alien threats coming through rips in space and time. It’s brutal, high-octane, emotionally-intense stuff and thus it needs as song as driven and powerful as Alex Clare’s “Up All Night” which as you might suspect is all about being awake through the wee small hours and finding it hard to get to bed. Not a situation I, a veteran “morning person” have ever faced but clearly this artist has and he sets all the emotions and events of the night into this utterly addictive song.
Perfection is a quality much sought after in our world but very rarely realised; however with Moana, a superlative animated feature film by just about any measure, Disney has come impressively close to this well-nigh impossible goal.
Directed by Ron Musker and John Clements, Moana is the product of extensive consultation with Polynesian people and experts throughout the Pacific, the result of a desire to ensure the film accurately reflected the vital culture of a seafaring people who have a long and rich history stretching down through millennia.
Not only is this long held body of belief and custom given its due reverence and respect, but it’s accomplished through sumptuous visuals, beautifully fleshed out characters who come alive in every single scene they’re in, songs that will be in your head for days courtesy of the enormously talented Lin-Manual Miranda and a pleasing degree of wit and plain old goofiness, much of it courtesy of a knucklehead chicken called Heihei (Alan Tudyk) and the chemistry between the two lead characters, Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho) and Maui (Dwayne Johnson).
These two highly-engaging characters are among the best partnerships Disney has ever form on film and it has a history of bringing some pretty winning partnerships such as Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, Dumbo and Timothy, Mary Poppins and Bert, and Timon and Pumbaa.
Starting out, as all good enduring friendships do, on film at least, as highly-annoying frenemies who are almost obliged to work with each other to fulfill a prophecy, Moana and Maui develop a rich and easy partnership, borne literally in fire and the slings and arrows of Kakamora pirates.
It’s a joy to watch the way in which the daughter of a village chief, who is chosen by the ocean itself – who becomes a deeply amusing and meaningful character in its own right, reflecting the Polynesian belief in the primacy of the sea as the giver of life – to return the stone of Te Fiti to its original home, and demigod Maui, who has faced imprisonment on a desert island for 1000 years, come together to work to restore the islands of the Pacific to their original verdant selves.
There the usual amount of bickering, belittling and banging together of heads as earnest, determined Moana, committed to looking after her people come what may, and Maui, who originally stole the stone for, it turns out, some good, if misguided reasons, differ over how best to accomplish this goal.
Or in the case of Maui, whether to even attempt it at all.
That they do bond together is, of course, a foregone conclusion but how it comes to pass is a joy to watch, a beguiling blend of slapstick comedy, fierce unyielding clashing of wills and some genuinely sweet, heart-swelling moments that remind you again and again than when Disney are at their best, and they most definitely are in the case of Moana, that they are an emotional force with which to be reckoned.
It’s well near impossible to watch the way in which Moana, a restless soul who has always felt the call of the sea, in spite of her father’s (Temuera Morrison) loving prohibition but egged on by eccentric grandmother Gramma Tala (Rachel House) and Maui, who wants to reclaim his magical hook from the Realm of Monsters where it is guarded by a giant bling-rich crab called Tamatoa, come together without being deeply and irrevocably affected.
Moana is not simply able to tell a magnificently-rich story very, very well, it is able to do so with characters who sing, literally and figuratively, who leap off the screen with such vivacity and life that you can help but fall in love with them as they come to appreciate how much each needs the other.
It’s not cloying or forced or manipulative in any way; rather it feels so innately natural that you come to appreciate how shoehorned many other character partnerships in lesser animated films feel.
The lessons learned too feel authentic, the result of two wildly disparate people coming to understand not only the cultural imperatives of their people, and why they matter so much, but also the importance of friendship, selfless collaboration and tenacity.
At no time is there a sense that any of this lesson-learning is forced and Moana keeps an easygoing, bright, fun-filled meaningful throughout its running time, deftly balancing the lighter and darker shades of its storytelling palette.
The visuals are utterly immersive in every way.
With the ocean playing such a central role in the film, courtesy of its centrality to Polynesian practice and belief, making water move naturally onscreen, long a CGI challenge, was well and truly met and conquered.
There is one scene near the start of the film where a toddler Moana, entranced by bright colourful conch shells that appear after she protects a small turtle’s journey from dune to waves, is first given a glimpse of her future by the ocean which pulls back, Moses parting the Red Sea style, revealing a shimmering blue world that moves around the sandlocked young girl with some luminous beauty that you gasp in wonder.
This commitment to bringing the world of Moana and her people to life continues right throughout the film with the journey into the Realm of Monsters a highlight from an imaginative point of view but also from the way in which it is realised as a world distinct to itself, rich, alive and playing to its own multi-hued rules.
The finale too is wondrous but that is in keeping with superior visuals that never falter, with Moana always retaining a gorgeous sheen that world-builds so perfectly that you never lose the sense of wonder and joy and deep immersion for a second.
Moana is the perfect package – rich, well-sustained narrative, transportive animation, characters with whom you’ll want to spend all the time you can, a deft balance between wisecracking humour, earnest adventure, and meaningful relationship building, and quite possibly the dumbest, silliest but sweetest chicken to ever grace an animated film.
And you can fully expect that come Oscars time this film will be standing front and centre, ready to be rewarded for pretty much every aspect of its production, a powerful, brilliantly-realised evocation of Polynesian culture but also of our shared human need to triumph against the odds in the pursuit of a noble and vital ideal.
2016 was not one of my finest years – but then that was in keeping with pretty much everyone else so let’s just chalk it all up to a malevolent calendar and leave it at that shall we? – with the lowest point being the death of my dad in June.
As you might imagine it was an emotional body blow of epic proportions that I am still recovering from; what got me through much of the grieving, and even helped me to process it, were all the movies I continued to see.
Not all were escapist although in the aftermath of my dad’s passing, those types of films were at a premium; in fact wittingly or unwittingly I ended up in more than a few films where death was a key part of the narrative (which makes sense given its dramatic possibilities).
But each film played its part in helping me heal including Captain Fantastic, Other People and most particularly A Monster Calls, during which I sobbed like a baby, appreciating again through my tears how powerful cinema can be in not simply telling a story but also in the way it helps you process and interpret life.
In light of how important escaping to the movies was for me this year, I have chosen to highlight 20 movies not the customary 10 and as always these choices reflect the Australian release schedule.
A beautifully immersive story of the way life twists and turns in ways that are not always welcome but which we must accept and deal with even late in life. Told in a visually and narratively poetic style, Youth is an elegant, understated but emotionally-powerful meditation on the brevity and complexity of life.
Now this is how you make an off-the-chart great Marvel movie. You throw away the template, even though it has served you well – of late though it’s all got a bit same old same old – mix in some hilarious wit, judiciously-placed vulgarity, hire an actor with the smarts of Ryan Reynolds and have at it. The result is one of the funniest, most clever, meta superhero movies to hit the big screen.
I adore animated feature films. Maybe it’s the big kid in me, maybe it’s the freedom these movies have to go for broke creatively unconstrained by real world logistics or maybe it’s just their sense of fun. Whatever powers it, I love them and Zootopia was far and away the best of the bunch this year. Literate, intelligent, packed full of engaging well-rounded characters and a kickass storyline, it shows what’s possible when a studio, in this case, Disney, is at the very top of their game.
Mixing some Spielbergian heartfelt otherworldiness and some gripping, heart-stopping action, Midnight Special is that utterly-engaging weird beast that manages to be both cerebral and action-oriented, intense and yet joyously offbeat, all while telling an intrinsically rich and human story. Ever wondered if there’s more to life? Midnight Special confirms there’s a whole lot more and then some just waiting for you if you’re game.
Growing up is never easy. But when it’s taking place in a repressive environment where tradition is furiously fighting a rearguard action against modernity and freespirited youthfulness, then it becomes an almost Herculean effort to become the person you want to be. The story of five sisters, each of them dealt with this loss of freedom in their own way, Mustang is an impressive movie on so many levels, not the least of which is reminding everyone that no one should ever have to subsume who they are for mindless adherence tradition, least of all young people who have so much life left to live.
Music and love make the world go around and if you’ve wondered how much the two matter to each other and to optimistic young people everywhere then look no further than this impresively-realised musical from John Carney that reaffirms how powerful music can be in shaping our lives. Songs are never just songs; rather they are living, breathing embodiment of all the amazing possibilities and otherwise in life, something Sing Street gives full vent to it in the most wonderful, engaging of ways.
Unlike many of the misogynistic fan boys who flooded the social media with their regressive vitriol, I had absolutely no problem with Paul Feig re-imagining Ghostbusters for 21st century with an all-female cast. It sounded like a very cool, bold thing to do and it paid off in spades with four very talented women breathing new life into a moribund though still much-loved franchise, creating in the process a movie that more than matches and often exceeds the 1984 original.
An exquisitely-realised piece of animation, Kubo and the Two Strings is an archetypal fantasy journey movie where a hero muct come to grips with his true nature and save the world in an unnervingly short period of time. Combining a mystical sensibility with a lot of humour and some heartfelt humanity, this is one film that understands how powerful animation can be as a storytelling medium.
This was probably the first movie I saw after my dad’s passing that really rocked me to the core. While Captain Fantastic is about a lot more things that someone dying, celebrating family, love, connection and being your own person no matter what society says, the death of a beloved member of the family drives the plot and was damn near inescapable. While it deeply affected me, I was glad I saw it because as the family members struggled to come to grips with the loss of a loved on so did I and that proved to be an immense blessing for me.
My lord but this film is a delight! Funny, sweet and hilariously audacious, it’s all bout the quest to find somewhere to belong, to find your tribe whoever they maybe. The key lesson is that they may not be the most obvious choice and you may have to say, spend weeks in the New Zealand wilderness, to really understand who they are. If you ever feel like you’ll find your own special group of people and be encouraged that can happen while laughing your proverbial off.
Other People is another movie I encountered during my grieving period (which honestly is still ongoing). Funny, charming, dark and clever, it is an honest, no-holds-barred examination of the way death both bonds and reveals hidden faultlines in family. There is one scene in particular that captures in all its eerie weirdness how strange it is after someone has died and life enters this disconcerting limbo state, and it is worth the price of admission alone, if only to reassure anyone who’s ever grieved a loved one that everything they felt is sadly and completely normal.
One of the great downfalls of our society, enlightened though it can be at times, is the assumption that unless you fit into one of a select group of boxes, that your life simply can’t have sufficient meaning or value. The reality is, of course, that there are many people who falls outside of societal norms who live perfectly-fulfilling lives thank you very much, one of whom is the subject of this smart and sensitive documentary. Owen Suskind is proof positive that life comes in many shapes and sizes and that Disney can pretty much fix anything.
I adore films about quirky people who don’t quite fit society’s molds. Possessed of hidden riches and possibilities but stunted by life’s vicissitudes, people like Bella Brown, whose sensibilities recall a similarly delightful misfit, Amélie, have much to offer if only someone will notice and accept them on their own terms while pushing them to step beyond their comfort zone. I saw this movie with some close friends on the day of the US Presidential election and if a feel good movie was ever needed, it was this day. This Beautiful Fantastic fulfilled its role perfectly, a reminder that even in the darkest of times that life has a way of winning through.
Here’s my full review of This Beautiful Fantastic.
What a powerful film. An exquisitely beautiful, emotionally-impacting film about death, loss and grieving and how acknowledging how awful we feel and how robbed and alone we feel is the path to healing. This stands in marked contrast to our Western predilection for smoothing over the rougher, less palatable parts of life and pretending they aren’t there or easily moved through. Death for one is not something you easily dismiss, nor should you, and A Monster Calls give it powerful voice through one extraordinary young boy whose story you won’t soon forget.
A gritty David vs. Goliath tale of two brothers robbing just enough money from banks to hold onto their momma’s farm – not for her sake but for one of the brother’s kids who are given a chance at creating the kind of prosperity their forebears could only dream of thanks to oil deposits on the ranch – Hell or High Water seethes with unrequited aspiration, disappointment and hope, and some of the blackest, most amusing scenes to grace a film in years.
There is something deeply charming about the worlds created by J. K. Rowling. True they are infinitely and mortally dangerous with great evil resident along immense wonder and goodness as Harry Potter demonstrated over and over but there’s also an appealingly escapist edge that makes you want to immerse yourself in and never emerge. Fantastic Beasts, which features the ever-engaging Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a newly-arrived British wizard who arrives in a New York rent by fear and dissension between the No-Maj (Muggles) and American wizardry. What results is a film charged with intrigue and action but also infinite wonder and joy that is pleasing on just about every level.
Here’s my full review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Adapted from Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, Love & Friendship is a brilliant satire of late 18th-century life that rarely stops for a second, driven by the wickedly entertaining Lady Susan herself, played with ingenuious cheeky and calculating charm by Kate Beckinsale in perhaps the finest role of her career. The script is intelligently-written, the performances uniformly excellent and the rapier wit as sharp as it needs to be.
Moana is pretty much the perfect animated feature – memorable, lovable characters, engaging narrative arc that presents an authentic representation of Polynesian culture, infinitely singable songs and charm and humour in abundance. It never flags, never loses focus and maintains its beguiling sense of fun, adventure and meaning right up to its emotionally-pleasing end. This is Disney at the peak of its animation powers.
I have been a dedicated fan of Star Wars since I saw A New Hope in a small cinema in Ballina, N.S.W. as an almost 12 year old. Of course, things change as you get older but the wonder and transcendent feeling of watching a film set in a “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” has never left me. Even when the film is Rogue One and it’s grittier, darker and far more a war film that any Star Wars film I can remember; for all its authenticity about the grim nature of armed conflict, the first of the new standalone films in the franchise – Han Solo’s backstory follows in 2018 and Boba Fett’s in 2020 – is still very much a Star Wars film, full to the brim with epic galactic struggle, wisecracking robots and heroes on a steep upward learning curve. In other words, all the things I have ever loved about this most venerable and still very vital of sci-fi franchises.
The world can be a cruel and nonsensical place much of the time. If you’re financially well-off you can ignore this farcical state of affairs and inure yourself against it to a large extent. But if you’re in a vulnerable position like Daniel Blake, a man who has supported himself all his life but finds himself, post-heart attack in need of State care, there is little to no protection from the idiocy of policies which mean well but end up penalising the very people they are meant to help. I, Daniel Blake is a sobering, deeply affecting tale of what happens when one man finds himself up against the wall and has to negotiate the insanity of system at war with itself.
Like me, you may have felt a little time poor this year. But fear not says Mashable, for one very dedicated cinephile Clark Zhu, a California film editor, has used 262 films released this year to create what the site calls “an epic, eight-minute, five-part trailer.”
It’s my most wonderful time of the year when I can decorate my tree to within one inch of its much-loved life with pop culture ornaments without number – there are a finite number of them but when I start pulling out all the boxes, it sure doesn’t feel like that – sing warm-and-fuzzy festive songs with gusto and when I get to see close friends and family, often in the one wondrous place.
It’s bliss on a stick for me but I get that not everyone loves it the way I do. So don’t worry you won’t get this reaction from me …
And no, I won’t do this to you either …
And I appreciate you might feel like this is the way Christmas actually feels …
Try though to remember that even when everything seems bleak, that there is love, care and friendship awaiting you.
Maybe even love sweet festive love (along with Mariah Carey in The Late Show’s James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke) …
And have yourself a merry little (Grover) Christmas Day …
Thank you so much for reading my blog all year. I have loved writing and appreciate all the support everyone has given me. Now go off and enjoy all those chestnuts roasting, those sleight bells and your favourite Christmas TV specials and movies. Have some festive fun will ya?!
A great place to start doing that is here with Sean Hayes and Scott Icenogle’s latest Christmas extravaganza backed by Barbara Streisand’s delicious take on “Jingle Bells” …
In a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) works to keep his theater from closing down. To this end, Buster and his sheep friend Eddie (John C. Reilly) hold a singing contest to raise money, and the entire town auditions for a part in the show. The leading five are an overworked pig named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) with her pig partner named Gunter (Nick Kroll), an arrogant and gambling white mouse named Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a punk-rock porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a timid teenage elephant named Meena (Tori Kelly), and a British gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton), who wants to sing instead of following his father’s criminal footsteps. (synopsis via Wikipedia)
Irene Cara once promised, and if retro radio stations are to be believed, still does, that fame will give you the opportunity to live forever.
Sing, the new animated film from Illumination Entertainment (Minions, The Secret Life of Pets) makes it clear that it’s not just people who want to stake their lives on that 1980s truism, but anthropomorphic animals too.
Lots and lots of them in fact, all of whom, gorilla or pig, porcupine or elephant have stars in their eyes, and stardust wafting all around them.
It could be the making of them or their greatest loss but either way they’re going to give it a shot, and become the animal they believe in their hearts that they can be.
Whatever happens to these aspirants to fame, fortune and a tabloid story or two, they now have gorgeous character posters that pair them with their human voice counterparts, so while their dreams may not pay off as expected, as least they will live in visual form.
And that’s gotta be worth something right?
Sing opens in USA on 21 December and in Australia on Boxing Day (26 December).