Nova Seed Review (2016, Nick DiLiberto)

vlcsnap-2017-04-19-15h22m43s767

Over the last ten years, 1980s nostalgia has seemingly invaded various aspects of pop culture, with many iconic 80s TV shows, movie franchises and video games receiving remakes and reboots designed to appeal to the original fans and reach a new audience.  This fascination with the 80s has also inspired many artists that create works that are intentional throwbacks to that era and are designed to feel nostalgic whilst also having an identity of their own. These include video games such as Hotline Miami (2012), Shovel Knight (2014) and Hyper Light Drifter (2016), films such as Drive (2011), Turbo Kid (2015), Kung Fury (2015) and It Follows (2014) just to name a few examples.

 

On April 23rd, 2016, at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival, saw the premiere of the Canadian animated film, Nova Seed. It was produced by Gorgon Pictures, and is the feature length debut of Nick DiLiberto, who had previously has previously worked on the short films Vampires (2010) and Medusa (2010), and was an animation director on cut scenes for the video games Asura’s Wrath (2012) and Mass Effect (2007).

vlcsnap-2017-04-19-15h34m49s539.png

The story takes place in a distant post-apocalyptic cyber-diesel-steampunk world, akin to Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), with civilisation at the verge of collapse, thanks to the tyrannical Dr. Mindskull. The film starts in a coliseum where a human gladiator fights the “Golden Demon Beast from Hell” a Neo Animal Combatant (NAC) called Lion Man, who pretty much looks like Lion-O from Thundercats (1985-1989). He then brutally defeats his opponent and attacks the spectators. Having proved his strength, the Lion Man, like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), is tasked with a mission by the government to fight against Mindskull, a decision that is met with much scepticism and concern. Whist infiltrating Dr. Mindskull’s lair, The Lion Man discovers a pod with the titular Nova Seed, utilizing the Girl in a Box trope.

She is an unconscious female being who has the ability to create flora and fauna. The Lion Man rescues her and runs away across the “Toxic Wastes”, in an attempt to save the world from the reign of Dr. Mindskull.

 

While there is some world building done to present various ideas and concepts, the film is mostly devoid of dialogue and over-explanatory exposition found in Hollywood films. Instead, the film is a science fiction action adventure that slowly reveals remnants of the past through visuals, which works given the short running time of 60 minutes. Television news broadcasts do a good job at highlighting the collapse of society and moving the story forwards. The cast of characters are well presented though little scenes highlighting their personality, and much like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the film does a good job at presenting their motivations through expression and visual storytelling, rather than dialogue. The pacing is also solid with a lot of interesting and dynamic story revelations, handled with care and good timing, keeping the viewer engaged.

 

However, while the running time allows the film to never outstay its welcome, it left me wanting more. So it would have been much appreciated to have added another 15 to 20 minutes to flesh out certain aspects of the world and certain characters to make Nova Seed’s narrative feel a little more complete.

vlcsnap-2017-04-19-15h23m28s462.png

The film was crafted almost entirely by animator and director Nick DiLiberto over the course of 4 years, and the film ended up having around 60,000 frames of animation, giving the film an in-house personal touch. The film’s designs and animation are like a mix between Fire and Ice (1983), Heavy Metal (1981), The Maxx (1995), Aeon Flux (1991-1995) and Kaiba (2008). The animation is wobbly and imperfect, and gives the film a playful loose quality. This creates a refreshing feel that provides a nice change of pace from the overly shiny and polished, yet forgettable and bland styles of the big corporate juggernauts. The character designs are very vibrant and colourful, with Dr. Mindskull looking like a more twisted Rene Laloux take on Skeletor. The environments are dirty, grungy, yet also have a lived in quality that is coupled with beautiful landscape shots that make the world feel tangible and believable.

One thing to note is the level of violence, with some sequences that are quite unflinching in terms of brutality and intensity. This is evident within the opening ten minutes, which tell you that the film is gonna be quite the ride. If this film gets a UK release, I wouldn’t be shocked if it got a 15 rating from the BBFC.

vlcsnap-2017-04-19-15h33m21s628.png

The soundtrack was composed by Canadian Musician Stephen Verrall, in his first movie score. It is a mix between Vince DiCola’s soundtrack for Transformers: The Movie (1986), and Vangelis (Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire), with a bit of Detroit techno and synthwave thrown in for good measure. It does a good job at creating an ambiance and atmosphere for the the world, while also working as a stand alone listening experience outside of the film.

The voice acting is done by a team of 6 people, including the director himself and his brother, Joe. It is an amateur cast, but they do a solid effort at making the characters believable, and honestly, it lends a nice home made touch that works for the film and provides a change from listening to the same overused voice actors. The recording as well is a bit rough around the edges, which actually makes it quite charming, even if its mixed a bit quiet sometimes for the dialogue to be really clear.

The sound design and foley was handled by Jeff Styga and Ben Spiller, who both previously worked on the video games Watch Dogs 2 (2016) and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015). Its quite clean sound design with lots of use of quirkier sounds and at times even human voices used to punctuate the action. This gives the film’s sound a playful and creative quality.

vlcsnap-2017-04-19-15h31m34s106

For a feature length directorial debut, Nick DiLiberto has done a really solid job with Nova Seed, creating memorable visuals and ideas, with nice character and world designs. He has created a small but well chosen team to handle the soundtrack and sound design. While it has some kinks that could be ironed out, the film overall left me excited to see what DiLiberto comes up with next.

 

4/5

Advertisements

Editorial: My most anticipated animated films of 2017

We have just entered the seventh year of the 2010s, and so thus far, it has been a pretty flourishing and fruitful era for animated cinema. 2016 was a pretty solid year for animation, with films such as Zootropolis, Anomalisa, Your Name, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings and The Red Turtle paving the way for a hopefully equally strong 2017.

While most lists will be covering the usual Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks fare, I thought it would be good to compile a list of my 5 most anticipated animated films that are a bit off the beaten track. I hope you find out about some titles you weren’t previously aware of.

Lupin the Third: Chikemuri no Ishikawa Goemon (Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood)

a0e9877d4faa8a64caa756106a2756b3

Lupin the Third is one of the most iconic and influential franchises in the history of Japanese pop culture, debuting as a manga series in 1967 by Kazuhiko Katou, best known under his pseudonym, Monkey Punch. As the series has grown in popularity, it has had various anime adaptations, including 5 TV shows, 9 theatrical films, over 20 TV specials, some OVAs and even a few live action films for good measure.

The series is oft-considered an amalgamation of James Bond, Robin Hood, Ocean’s Eleven and Loony Tunes all rolled into one, focusing on a group of thieves, including dashing thief Lupin the Third, the sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, the femme fatale Fujiko Mine, and the samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII.

A stellar line up of directors have put their stamp on the franchise, showing different sides to the storylines and characters. These directors include Osamu Dezaki (Black Jack, Rose of Versailles) Masaaki Osumi (Moomin, La Seine no Hoshi), Gisaburo Sugii (Dororo, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie), Shinichi Watanabe (Excel Saga, Nerima Daikon Brothers), Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill), and those two Ghibli legends, Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, The Wind Rises) and Isao Takahata (Tale of Princess Kaguya, Grave of the Fireflies). The most recent director who has put his stamp on the series is Takeshi Koike (Redline, World Record), who directed the TV show, Lupin the Third: The Woman called Fujiko Mine (2012) and the movie, Jigen’s Gravestone (2014).

I have been a fan of Lupin the Third ever since I discovered it through The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), a wonderfully made adventure film that featured excellent animation, likeable characters, great action scenes and a brilliant soundtrack by Yuji Ohno (Captain Future, Space Adventure Cobra). In this film, he’s portrayed as a gentleman, whereas in most other depictions, such as The Mystery of Mamo (1978), he’s shown to be a bit of a cheeky playboy who has a funny haphazard quirkiness to him.

Takeshi Koike’s third project, produced by TMS Entertainment (Akira, Golgo 13) and subtitled Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood, and focuses on our titular samurai as he is branded as a traitor when he fails to prevent the assassination of the leader of a criminal syndicate for whom he was serving as a bodyguard, and is seeking revenge.

The goon targeting Goemon and the gang is “The Spectre of Bermuda”, known for a high body count. Judging from what I’ve read, it sounds like it will have a Chambara feel to it, with stylish sword play and over the top violence. The portrayal of Lupin and the gang this time seems a lot darker, being reminiscent of the Osumi episodes of the 1971 show, with more of a focus on the underground and violent nature of crime.

It was recently released in Japanese theatres on February 4th, 2017, with no word on an English release yet. I expect Discotek Media to release it, given the amount of support that has been shown through loads of DVD re-releases and sets for the franchise.

I’d recommend giving the series a try if you’re a fan of Cowboy Bebop or even James Bond. If you want to dip your toes in the series, a good starter point would be Castle of Cagliostro or the 1971 TV show, thanks to contribution by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

Mary and the Witches Flower

806bb7e2174eb1ca39ec9f5c2ee35cb9.jpg

On August 3rd, 2014, after making 21 films, Studio Ghibli, perhaps the most internationally famous Japanese animation company of all time, announced that they were taking an indefinite hiatus from making feature films. This was after Hayao Miyazaki retired and their latest films receiving acclaim, but fairing very poorly at the box office. This move upset many fans, who now doubted if the spirit of Ghibli would live on.

In 2016, Ghibli worked on The Red Turtle, being the company’s first international collaboration, which ended up winning a few awards and receiving glowing praise, some of which came from Miyazaki-san. If you didn’t catch my review of this film, here’s the link to it.

https://theanimationcompendium.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/the-red-turtle-review-2016-michael-dudok-de-wit/

On December 15th, 2016, fans were surprised and excited at the announcement of a new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower, from former Ghibli film director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty, When Marnie was There). Being produced by former Ghibli film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo), and based on British children’s book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, it is being made at a brand new company made up of ex-Ghibli animators, Studio Ponoc, which is the Croatian word for midnight. Any fan of Ghbili’s catalogue of films should keep a close eye on this studio. Given that many companies are focusing on CG animation for ease of access, seeing Ponoc continue to keep hand-drawn animation alive is quite reassuring.

It follows a girl named Mary, who after being sent to her great aunt’s house, gains magical powers, but only for one night. This film looks like a mix of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, and it will be released in Japanese cinemas this summer.

Altitude Film Sales (Moonlight, Green Room) have secured the international distribution rights to Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and are intending to release it in cinemas this year.

Godzilla (2017)

godzilla_polygon.jpg

Godzilla is one of the most recognized and celebrated monsters in cinematic history, with the big G turning 63 years old this year. There have been 29 Japanese movies since 1954, with 2 American adaptations, cartoon shows and video games that have starred the atomic breathing beast.

With the success of the latest Japanese entry, Shin Godzilla, directed by Hideaki Anno (Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan live action films), Toho have hired Polygon Pictures (Tron: Uprising, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter) to produce the first ever anime film instalment in the franchise. It only took the better part of 6 decades for this to eventually happen, given The King of the Monsters has had tons of homages and references in various shows, but the prospect is certainly exciting. It is worth mentioning however that Godzilla did previous have an anime excursion in the form of the educational OVA series, Godzilland (1994-1996).

tumblr_inline_nsdz73bcfo1rrfnse_500
(I have a feeling he won’t look this cute in the new version.)

Godzilla (2017) will be directed by Kobun Shizuno (Knights of Sidonia, Soul Buster) and Hiroyuki Seshita (Ajin, BLAME! The Movie), with the screenplay being overseen by acclaimed writer Gen Urobuchi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Thunderbolt Fantasy). Not much about the film has been shown, outside of some concept art, but it certainly seems promising, with futuristic spaceships, primordial forests and space exploration to hopefully be present in the plot. Only thing I’m hoping is that the human characters are hand-drawn, as CG in anime always tends to be low frame rate and look a bit uncanny and off-kiltler for my liking.

Godzilla (2017) hasn’t been licensed for a Western release yet, though given the crew behind it, I’m sure it’ll get licensed.

The Breadwinner

breadwinner_e

Cartoon Saloon is a relatively new studio, formed in 1999 and are based in Kilkenny, Ireland. They have released films such as The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014), both of which are based on Irish folklore, and have received acclaim for stunning animation, touching storylines and having an imaginative flair that is quite refreshing. They are certainly positioning themselves to be a studio to look out for in the future.

Their newest outing, The Breadwinner is based on a 2001 children’s book by Deborah Ellis, and is directed by Cartoon Saloon’s own Nora Twomey, co-produced by Tomm Moore and would you believe it, Angelina Jolie. The story is based on Ellis’ own conversations with Afghan children in refugee camps, and tells the tale of Parvana, a young Afghan girl who must protend to be a boy in order to help her family survive.

It promises to be both enlightening and touching, and if Cartoon Saloon’s previous efforts are anything to go by, the visuals will be subtle and stunningly presented. It will be released sometime later this year and distribution will be handled by GKIDS in America, and StudioCanal in Europe.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl & Lu over the Wall

nightisshort_yuasa_b 29bbe5004d162fc7a86f83d722de9ccf1487080956_full

OK, so I’m cheating a bit here, but I really wanted to talk about both of these new films from one of my most respected anime directors, Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Ping Pong: The Animation). I do hope you understand.

First of all, I’ll talk about Yuasa’s new collaboration with Tomihiko Morimi, Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Yuasa previously adapted Morimi’s novel, The Tatami Galaxy, a psychological dark comedy that was acclaimed for sharp humour, thought provoking dialogue and quirky characters. Night is Short, Walk on Girl takes place in Kyoto, and follows a misguided romance between a black-haired girl and her admirer, and promises to be a surreal, psychedelic and unique story, including side characters like the Underpants Leader, the God of the Old Books Market, and someone who proclaims to be the mythical creature, Tengu.

The character designs are beautifully handled by Yuusuke Nakamura (Tatami Galaxy), with a soundtrack by Michiru Oshima (Full Metal Alchemist, Ico) and will be animated by Yuasa’s own studio, Science SARU (Space Dandy, Garo the Animation).

Night is Short, Walk on Girl will be released in Japanese cinemas on April 7th, with no English release date as of yet. Here’s hoping it gets picked up for an international release.

The second film, Lu over the Wall, also produced by Science SARU, is an original script penned by Yuasa, and as such, is his first original feature length film, with character designs by manga artist Yoko Nemu (Pandora, Gozen 3-ji), music by Takatsugu Muramatsu (When Marnie was There, Hime Chen!) and art direction handled by Kouji Oono (Wolf Children, Usagi Drop).

The story focuses on a middle school student named Kai, who lives in a countryside harbour whose life changes when he meets a mermaid named Lu, slowly forming a bond which allows him to grow and slowly open up about his feelings. The story sounds like a cross between The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Your Name and Ponyo with Yuasa’s fantastical and quirky animation style for good measure.

Lu over the Wall will be released in Japanese cinemas on May 19th, a month after Night is Short, Walk on Girl. No one as of yet as licensed this film for a Western release, but hopefully it’ll be released in the West sooner than later.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV review (Takeshi Nozue, 2016)

vlcsnap-2017-03-05-21h37m02s149

The Final Fantasy series is one of the most successful franchises in the history of video games. Because of their early titles reviewing poorly and selling even worse, the original game released back on December 18th, 1987 for the NES was intended to be Square’s last game. It was a surprise success that lead to dozens of follow-ups, spin-offs, remakes, re-releases, radio dramas, manga, cover albums and more fan-fiction, fan art and cosplay then one could ask for. Because of the series being lauded for complex rewarding gameplay and exploration, memorable characters, epic worlds, great stories, fantastic soundtracks, thrilling plot twists, stunning production values and an absolute cornucopia of pretty boys, it only seemed natural that the world of Final Fantasy would adapt perfectly to cinema… one would hope.

Like many other video game franchises that have been adapted onto the silver screen, Final Fantasy hasn’t had the greatest track record, with the first being a 4-episode Original Video Animation, Legend of the Crystals (1994), a distant sequel to FFV that featured underdeveloped characters and dumb attempts at comedy.

Whilst this was a relatively obscure release, seven years later, Square Pictures unleashed series creator Hiranobu Sakaguchi’s cinematic debut, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). Featuring an all star cast including Steve Bucemi (The Big Lebowski), Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice), James Woods (Videodrome) and Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) , it was the first feature length CG animated film to attempt realistic looking character models, though the story was more Ray Bradbury through the guise of Robert A. Heinlein then one would expect from the franchise. As a result, the film lost over $100 million, making it a total box office bomb and lost SquareSoft more money then any previous undertaking, forcing them to merge with Dragon Quest developer, Enix, to stay afloat.

The next attempt at a movie took the safe route by making a feature length sequel to the highest selling game in the series with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), directed by character designer Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts). Being part of a series of Final Fantasy VII related spin offs, Advent Children was very popular and sold incredibly well on DVD, to the point that it was re-released with extra scenes in 2009. It has been met with a largely mixed reception, with the soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu and visual presentation being met with high praise. However, it has faced criticism for being an unnecessary sequel containing sloppy writing with many plot holes, in addition to poorly written dialogue and inconsistent characterization that often undermined a lot of the development from the original game.

This brings us to 2016, with Final Fantasy XV suffering many delays, changing directors and being in development for a decade, Square Enix decided to release supplementary material to familiarize fans with the world and the backstory. This included Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, a 6-episode online distributed anime series, and the third feature length film in the franchise, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, directed by Takeshi Nozue, who had previously worked on cut scenes for Final Fantasy IX, X and XIII, and produced by XV’s director, Hajime Tabata.

vlcsnap-2017-03-05-22h02m16s580.png

For generations in the world of Eos, the kingdom of Lucis has been protected by a crystal in a never ending war against the militaristic empire known as Niflheim, who are slowly taking over the world’s nations, thanks to their unsurmountable technological advances and power. Lucis responded by forming a magical barrier created by the power of the crystal, causing Insomnia to remain untouched by the Niflheim’s forces. Meanwhile, Noctis Lucis Caelum was sent to Tenebrae to recover from an injury with the help of his father, King Regis, whom were greeted by Lunafreya Nox Flueret and her family. The Niflheim forces appear in Tenebrae in a coup de tat against the Lucian bloodline, Regis and Noctis escape the attack, resulting in Luna and her family being taken hostage by the empire.

Cut to 12 years later, Niflheim and the forces of Tenebrae fight against Lucis, due to Tenebrae’s apparent betrayal by their ally, as high ranking military officer Ravus blames the king for his mother’s death. Regis forms a group of knights dubbed the Kingsglaive, made up of refugees from the overthrown nations, who fight using magic against enemy forces.

In the middle of a big battle, Nyx Ulric is told to retreat by his superiors due to Niflheim’s firepower, the Diamond Weapon. However, against his orders, Nyx saves Libertus Ostium from being killed by Cerberus. Nyx continues his duties as part of the unit by being a security guard within Insomnia.

Throughout the film, the story is presented through an omnipotent perspective, presenting the conflicts within the Kingsglaive, the Lucian Royalty and the Niflheim Empire, concurrent with the beginning of the game. The film firmly fits within the genre trappings of Science fiction, fantasy and action cinema.

The best aspects of the story are that the political intrigue within the Lucian dynasty is quite fascinating, and some of the world building does make the viewer want to explore Eos when the play the game… and that’s all I have to say regarding the positives.

With a screenplay penned by Takashi Hasegawa (Round About Midnight), one of Kingsglaive’s biggest problems is that the characters are either their just to be cannon fodder without much exploration or complete idiots that have motivations that make no bloody sense.

For example, Ravus witnesses the death of his Mother at the hands of General Glauca, and despite being clearly shown that the empire killed his Mother and thus forcing the Lucian royals to flee, when he’s an adult, he blames Regis for his Mother’s death and wants revenge. This attempt at creating a morally ambiguous character completely backfires due to a motivation that makes no sense, and feeling more like a plot device then an actual character.

Another example of a poorly handled character is Crowe Altius, a mage who is sent on a mission to rescue Luna from Niflheim and bring back her to Lucis. Before she leaves, they make sure to remind the audience that she is like a little sister to Nyx and Libertus, though they seem just as unsure as the audience as to why Crowe is given this task. In the midst of her mission, before she is able to accomplish anything, she’s found dead in the trash. Not only is her death poorly handled, as the film expects its audience to care and feel sad for a character they literally know nothing about and cements that she exists solely to give Nyx and Libertus a motivation. So the surrounding war, the destruction of their homeland and tensions between higher ups isn’t enough to motivate them, but the death of a vapid doll who they feel is their own property is the catalyst that gives the two men a reason to fight… uh… hmm… progressive much?

Princess Luna, the main female protagonist in the Final Fantasy XV world, came across a passive prop existing as the clichéd damsel in distress, and apparently has the intellect of a goldfish. While it is hinted that she is an oracle of some kind, the film never takes time to show any of her abilities. In one scene where Nyx and Luna are flying around in a ship whilst Lucius is under attack, with Luna wanting to go straight to Regis, Nyx tells her not to go, and Luna replies with “Not all miracles are made by magic.”, a phrase she constantly says throughout the story. She then takes a leap of faith and jumps out of the ship, determined that she will make the landing. Then Nyx just comes out and saves Luna before she possibly dies, not only making both characters look like complete idiots, but also undermining the belief Luna preaches throughout the film.

In a franchise renowned for well written and realized female characters, that include Tifa, Celes, Rydia, Rosa, Faris, Terra, Aerith, Garnet, Rinoa, Yuna, Ashe,  and Freya, Crowe and Luna feel like a massive step backwards in terms of female characters. There have been summoners, commanders, soldiers, farmers, mages and freedom fighters… and Kingsglaive just has female characters that are there to be dragged along as props, or as plot devices to be killed off, giving male characters a reason to take action.

For a film that’s just shy of 2 hours, it honestly feels like it should have been another hour longer, to allow more depth to the characters and for certain revelations to feel properly built up instead of rushed. This mainly comes down to overuse of exposition, where characters tell each other things about themselves rather then actually presenting them, similarly to the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Because a lot of the characters are movie-exclusive, and thus won’t appear in the game, it’s hard to get invested in the cast when most of them have a lack of screen time, minimal development, or are so poorly written that seeing them killed off can only be a good thing.

Another issue the film has is having too much exposition, leaving the viewers often baffled and confused, which isn’t helped by dull poorly written dialogue. This issue is presented within the opening, where the film apparently expects you to have read at least 50 Wikipedia articles or have watched and read every bit of promotional material for the game to understand what’s going on. It was clearly trying to evoke the introductory sequence to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but without giving the audience a reason to care about the world or the ongoing conflict.

Overall, Kingsglaive clearly feels like content that was cut from the game, as it probably would have worked effectively as a 4 to 5-hour long prologue to allow players to explore the world and be able to feel more immersed into the story.

vlcsnap-2017-03-05-21h56m24s405

The visuals in Kingsglaive are certainly worthy of praise, with them being handled by Square Enix’s internal animation studio, Visual Works (Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts) and have been overseen by animation director, Hirotaka Sawada (Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny, Final Fantasy XII). Visual Works’ previous outings in creating cut scenes for video games make them a perfect fit for making animated features, given their crazy attention to detail and always pushing the limits of what CGI can achieve. The kingdom of Lucis, the forests of Tenebrae, the battlefields, the cafes, outskirts and the inside of castles all are exceptionally crafted thanks to the work of Shigenori Suzuki (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia: Final Fantasy).

Because the world of Final Fantasy XV is a mixture of the real world and a traditional fantasy one, there’s a contrast with characters wearing fashion designer suits in a world full of fantastical castles and realistic architecture. This immaculate attention to realism can break immersion when there is product placement with characters looking at Samsung Galaxy smartphones, logos for American Express, All Japan Airlines, Uniqlo and probably the most shameless example, a scene where two characters are talking to each other in a car that honestly felt like an excuse to give Audi a corporate blowjob.

The motion capture, with the character models handled by Yusuke Suzuki (Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts), is pretty damn good for the most part and shows how far CGI has come in depicting realistic designs, though they still suffer from the uncanny valley effect plaguing all realistic looking CG characters. They don’t look very stylized, will likely date quickly, and the effect of trying to make clearly animated characters look real just feels off. At least in Advent Children, while the character designs were fairly realistic in terms of build, they still had a stylised look to the faces, avoiding the problem of the animation dating quickly.

This is not helped by poor lip-syncing, with mouth movements not matching the audio, as the 3D scan actors are not the same as the voice actors, creating a feeling of awkwardness. Seriously, if your going to a motion capture animation, allow the voice actor to be involved in the 3D scan process, to end up with better lip-syncing and to have more natural mouth movements.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children used the advantages of animation to create action sequences that were dazzling, well framed, over the top and had a kinetic quality one would find in wuxia films, except with pretty boys wielding spiky hair and giant swords. By far the worst part of the cinematography in Kingsglaive is unfortunately the action sequences, as they go for the style of action one find in films such as Taken 3, with hectic shaky cam, poor framing and incomprehensible editing, which is very disappointing.

For example, there is a 10 second shot of Libertus fighting a monster on the battlefield, and there’s 16 cuts, making it hard to understand what’s going on. In the same scene, where Nyx is fighting Cerberus, there is around 28 cuts that have poor framing and is so incomprehensible the viewers are likely to be baffled. In the medium of animation, using shaky cam for action sequences is quite frankly a stupid idea, since there are limitless possibilities to creating great action set pieces, as shown in films such as Sword of the Stranger, End of Evangelion, Redline and Akira.

Another issue with Kingsglaive is the editing, handled by Keiichi Kojima (Final Fantasy XIII, Front Mission Evolved) with scenes constantly cutting to black, 46 times in total, making it feel more like a modern movie trailer and gives Kingsglaive the feeling of a poorly strung collection of cut scenes that so happens to have been released in cinemas.

Its almost as if the editors just recently discovered how to cut and fade to black in Adobe Premiere, meaning the editing lacks flow, structure and overall feels amateurish.

vlcsnap-2017-03-05-19h11m50s267.png

The score was composed by John R. Graham (The Forger, Bitch Slap), with additional tracks by Yoko Shinomura (Super Mario RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles). While a few tracks such as “Prologue”, “Luna” and “Somnus (Instrumental version)” do stand out and have effective composition, a lot of the score sounds like temp music one would hear from a Hollywood superhero blockbuster. Perfectly fine and suits the film, but is not very memorable and feels a bit safe. Compare this to the soundtrack of Advent Children, which featured the work of famed series composer Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy I-X, The Last Story), featuring strong use of piano, strings, violin and chorus that results in nice melodies and haunting cues that stand out, such as “The Promised Land”, “Divinity II” and “Cloud Smiles”. It probably helps that the Advent Children soundtrack featured remixes from the original game. There is one scene that does feature the Final Fantasy Opening Theme that feels weirdly placed in the background during a crowd scene.

The voice acting in Kingsglaive is a bit of a mixed bag, with famed actors such as Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad, Eye in the Sky), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300) and Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Les Miserables) acting as the lead characters, whereas many of the minor characters are voiced by people known for working on anime English dubs, such as Wendee Lee (Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Fushigi Yugi), Dan Woren (Persona 3, Bleach), Jamieson K. Price (Planetes, Metropolis) and Michelle Ruff (Your Name, Sailor Moon). The acting all over the place, with some of the acting coming across as pretty decent and well acted, while others don’t fare so well.

For example, Sean Bean’s performance as King Regis is very commanding and fitting of the character, giving his character a sincerity and authoritative quality that makes him a convincing ruler. It’s a shame that he isn’t playing Regis in the game, acting is some of the best in the film. However, in the case with Libertus, voiced by Liam Mulvey, his performance felt very cringe worthy, often sounding like he has something in mouth, always out of breath, and whenever he tries to do a dramatic scene, comes across as forced and unnatural.

The sound design and SFX are done pretty well, with the sound of wind, the clashing of swords, gunfire, screaming soldiers, vehicle sounds and explosions doing a fine job of adding to the scene, yet never becoming distracting.

vlcsnap-2017-03-05-22h03m41s263.png

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a baffling mess of a film. While the visuals and audio work is beautifully effective,  the movie does a very poor job at getting one interested in playing the game, given its meant to act as a prologue. It has badly written characters with poorly explained backstories and motivations, too much exposition, incomprehensible fight choreography, feels rushed with many plot holes and has incredibly questionable editing. As a prologue, it doesn’t work, making me question if the game will suffer from the same writing problems and inconsistencies that this film suffers from. It had a lot of potential, but it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity, feeling more like an extended trailer for the game that was created from poorly truncated cliff notes. While die-hard fans will appreciate some of the call-backs and references to the games, as a film, it is neither engaging or exciting, and combined with all of it’s writing, editing, pacing and characterization problems, makes the audience feel dumbfounded and frustrated.

2/5

If for some reason, after reading this review, you still feel inclined to see it, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Xbox Live and Playstation Network. The film is also included for free with the Deluxe Edition of Final Fantasy XV.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kingsglaive-Final-Fantasy-Blu-ray-Region/dp/B01H1TZVII/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488751972&sr=8-1&keywords=KINGSGLAIVE+FINAL+FANTASY

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kingsglaive-Final-Fantasy-Aaron-Paul/dp/B01L0GIDRY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1488753273&sr=8-2&keywords=kingsglaive+final+fantasy

http://www.game.co.uk/en/final-fantasy-xv-deluxe-edition-only-at-game-1122796

Phantom Boy Review (2015, Alain Gagnol, Jean Loup-Felicioli)

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-21h28m30s110

Over the course of the past 4 decades, the rise of the comic book superhero adaptation has taken a foothold in cinema. Thanks to directors such as Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Alex Proyas, Lloyd Kaufman, Joel Schumacher, Warren Beatty, Guillermo del Toro, M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan, there have been many different takes on the superhero concept, some being incredibly successful and acclaimed, and some being complete failures on all accounts. In 2008, the same year The Dark Knight was released, Marvel kick-started a franchise of films that would be part of a cinematic universe. Whilst these films have been financially successful and well received, the sheer quantity of them has created an oversaturation of superhero films, with many critics criticising them for being overly formulaic, too safe, lacking memorable villains or dull soundtracks. Another problem with the whole cinematic universe idea is that having to catch up with 13 other interconnected films to understand a relatively straight forward story about guys in tights and spandex may not be sustainable for newcomers.

While a few comic book adaptations that go of the beat and path have been made recently, with films such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Super (2010), Dredd (2012), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and Deadpool (2016) all gaining a lot of attention, the medium of animation has also had its fair share of well crafted and executed explorations of the genre.

Titles such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), The Incredibles (2004) and Big Hero 6 have received acclaimed for taking the clichés and tropes of the genre, and either spinning them on their head or using the power of animation to create unique stories not possible in live action.

At the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015, (2010), the French-Belgium animated film, Phantom Boy had its worldwide premiere. This is the second directorial collaboration titled between Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, the duo who previously worked on the Oscar nominated A Cat in Paris, and was produced by Folimage, Lunanime and France 3 Cinema.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-21h21m47s526

The film follows an 11-year old named Leo, who is suffering from cancer and is trying to recover in hospital, while being visited by his loving family and young sister, Titi. Leo lets her in on a secret, giving her a reason to keep her chin up. As a result of tiredness, due to chemotherapy, whilst Leo is unconscious, gains the ability to escape his body, allowing him to traverse New York City and keep watch of his family.

Meanwhile, a cop named Alex Tanner, has been making the headlines due to preventing burglaries, has been demoted by his boss to guard the downtown docks. Whilst on guard duty on a rainy night, a criminal kingpin known as Broken Face tries to get in contact with the mayor, when suddenly a computer virus causes a blackout across the city, resulting car crashes and affects the dock lamps. After getting in a fight with gangsters, Alex requests backup and spots Broken Face. While chasing him around the docks, Broken Face drops a shipping crate on Alex, resulting in a broken leg, being bound in a wheel and is forced to stay in the hospital and recover. With the investigation work now falling on Mary (Audrey Tautou), Leo and Alex now have to team up together in order to stop Broken Face from taking over the city, before its too late.

Phantom Boy combines elements of film noir mystery, super hero origin myth and family drama to create a film that really stands out, especially in an era where everything nowadays is either a needless reboot or pointless spin-off.

The character’s work of each other very well, with Leo being a sincere and caring kid who just wants to help others in desperate times, Alex being a cocky yet humble cop and Mary actually being a surprisingly capable detective. As a villain, Broken Face not only works as an obstacle against the protagonists, but provides a lot of nice humour that often pokes fun at overblown backstories and conventions in comic book films. The tone and the story reminded me of a mix between the pulp detective comic series Dick Tracy and the animated series, Danny Phantom.

If there was anything with the story negative to point, I do think that the film really should been at least 20 minutes longer, so that certain side characters could have had more of an impact, and so that one specific scene could have been better emotionally executed with some more visual storytelling.

Still, even with these issues, the story is fun to follow, with likeable characters, well executed humour and has encouraging messages that will resonate with both kids and adults.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-21h48m00s809

One aspect of Phantom Boy that is certainly going to makes viewers intrigued is the animation and general artistic aesthetic. The hand drawn animation is for the most part, quite naturalistic and focuses on the small movements of the characters, with the odd comedic moment or out of body moment that add a touch of the surreal to the artistry. The sequences where Leo is flying around give of a nice sense of aviation that is akin to Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989).

The character designs have simple outlines with flat shading that is very inspired various artists, such as Moebius, Richard Sala and even Taiyo Matsumoto. The faces are minimalist and have a distorted style, sometimes with feline-like eyes vertical in their heads, and simple lines for noses and mouths. Broken Face has colourful and disjointed quality that is like if Two Face was drawn from the imagination of Picasso. The character designs are a nice change of pace from the overly cutesy and welcoming designs of American animation, going for a rougher, yet more personal style.

Speaking of Picasso, his influence can be seen on the backgrounds, as they take on an impressionistic quality, that adds a dreamlike beauty to the city. New York City has been reused as a setting time and time again for many films, in the case of this film, every bustling street, grocery store, storage warehouse, parking lot, seaside dock and tall cityscape are genuinely luscious and easy on the eyes.

The lighting and cinematography is where some of the film noir influence can be found, starting with a title sequence certainly inspired by the work of Saul Bass, who worked on countless film posters and the title sequences for classics such as The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of Murder and Vertigo. It is often low-key, utilizing stark shadows, low camera angles and the urban setting can be compared to The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and Chinatown. One aspect of shading that I thought was a nice touch is that the outlines of light showing on a character often have an effect that looks like they were drawn in by a crayon, leaving charcoal marks, adding to the hand crafted nature of the animation. The vehicles are done with CG, which the most part blends in well with the hand drawn animation, although can sometimes look out of place.

The simple yet nice character designs coupled with pleasing and surreal backgrounds and a uniquely artistic take on an of-overused setting gives the visuals a very pleasing, refreshing yet old school feel that adds to the film.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-21h06m39s149

The sound design, headed by Loic Burchardt (A Cat in Paris) and mixed by Jean-Paul Hurier (Intouchables, Blue is the Warmest Colour), does a very solid job of getting the viewer immersed into the world. The sounds of footsteps, door slams, the rustling of clothes, rain, punches, objects being touched, glass shattering, gunfire and the wind blowing do a succinct job at matching the images without being distracting.

The French voice cast features actors such as newcomer Gaspard Gagnol as Leo, Edouard Baer (Chicken with Plums, Wild Grass) as Alex, Audrey Tautou (Amelie, The Da Vinci Code) as Mary and Jean-Pierre Marielle (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Micmacs) as Broken Face, all giving in nice performances that makes the audience buy the characters. While it might be potentially quite incongruent seeing characters in an American setting speaking in Parisian dialect, the strength of the performances means you’ll get used to it after a few minutes.

The score by Serge Besset (A Cat in Paris) evokes the jazz noir soundtracks of Bernard Hermann, Anton Karas and a hint of Danny Elfman, with a nice mix of cello, strings, piano, chorus and bells that sells the film noir atmosphere, while also being heroic, mellow, dramatic and adventurous. Given most American superhero films to include music that is not meant to be noticed, and are often bland and forgettable, it is quite refreshing seeing a score done in a classic jazz style.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-21h46m38s732

The current influx of super hero films since the last decade has made a lot of people bored of the same old formulas being milked over and over again. Fortunately, through the power of animation and a rich imagination, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli have created a film that is a hodpodge of different styles and ideas effectively. Phantom Boy has likeable characters, a great visual style with a jazzy score, making the film a successful mix of genres that has an appeal to both younger and older audiences. If you are seeking a film that sticks out from the overdone superhero formulas, while providing a nice, heart-warming story, then this French animated out of body adventure might be what you’re looking for.

4/5

Phantom Boy is available on DVD by SODA Pictures, including both the original French Language track with English subtitles, and an English dub done by GKids, and a making of featurette. It is also streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantom-Boy-DVD-Alain-Gagnol/dp/B01MEENIUW/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1488047257&sr=1-1&keywords=phantom+boy