ParaNorman

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ParaNorman, the brainchild of Chris Butler, who has previously worked as a Storyboard Supervisor on Coraline and The Corpse Bride, is a 2012 stop-motion animation about Norman Babcock, an unassuming boy from Massachusetts, who can speak with the dead. ParaNorman breaks ground all over the place, not least because it is the first ever stop-motion animation to utilize full-colour 3-D printers, but because it successfully blends horror, comedy and a fun, family adventure all into one masterfully-crafted end product.

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The 3-D Printers in action

As is the key with most lasting animations, the title character often determines how successful or resonating the movie will ultimately be with its audience. Here Norman is the perfect hero- he is an ideal blend of the relatable, with an element of the extraordinary, making him likeable and sweet, which cements our desire for him to succeed. Arguably, Norman is the life force of the film, however, the supporting characters are equally as tangible and rounded. Neil, Norman’s best friend, is the perfect antidote to Norman’s understandably pessimistic view of the world, and Casey Affleck, as Neil’s brother Mitch, and Anna Kendrick, as Norman’s vapid sister Courtney, both bounce charismatically off each other brilliantly. Together they bring a lot of the film’s lighter moments, of which there many, within the knife sharp script, with its cutting and insightful wit and gleefully dark undercurrent.

Written with a clear love of animation and a respect for the audience, ParaNorman plays on the edge of ‘child appropriate’ with some genuinely scary and ominous moments. Mortality, persecution, acceptance and forgiveness are all major themes here, which Butler navigates with the expertise and quality of a seasoned story teller. The message never feels forced or trite and even the end showed a pathos and maturity that is often missing from films for adults.  This maturity is built in, none more so than in the aesthetics themselves.

Visually this film is popping candy for the eyes. The stop-motion is incredible, echoes of The Corpse Bride and Coraline are clear to see, however this film is anything but lazy or unoriginal. Direction from Butler and Sam Fell means the animation is woven in with the CGI gracefully and intelligently,and the attention to detail is stunning. They have created a world we recognise that is admirably void of the, sometimes distancing, gloss of most animations. This world is real, dirty, dark and scary and is the perfect back-drop to a wonderful story.

ParaNorman is a breath of fresh air within an orgy of superheroes sequels and a deluge of rehashed ideas. It’s funny, well made, heartfelt and bloody fantastic. If you like film, you’ll love this.

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Argo

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“Argo fuck yourself”

It signifies just how competent Ben Affleck has become as a director that he effortlessly takes on the critically-acclaimed Argo; a big, ambitious, political thriller of a movie. Based on the book The Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez (Affleck’s character), Argo is set around the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and the secret mission to extract six escaped U.S diplomats from the Canadian Embassy, in Tehran, under the guise of a sci-fi movie: Argo.

The star of Argo, it has to be said, was the story itself. I was gripped from the outset. A tangible unease and sense of danger shrouds the drama and my heart was in my throat until the climax. All credit here lies with Affleck as he easily traverses the unfamiliar landscape with the same familiarity and intimacy that he achieves with Boston in The Town and Gone Baby Gone. Affleck has a directorial eye that transcends time and static locations.  The film itself is pacey and most impressively, extremely balanced; Affleck lets the events dictate the tone instead of judging or preaching to the audience; helped by the archive footage woven seamlessly into the drama.  It would have been easy to be patriotic and overly sentimental with Argo, but Affleck never cheapens the drama, which means when the pay off happens at the end it’s easy to feel genuinely elated.

Argo truly is fantastic. I could talk for an hour alone on how much I loved the last shot; a beautiful, simple lingering pan across a set of Star Wars toys, which seemed to symbolise the decoration of false heroes, the idols we hold in esteem above others, and a nod to the role science fiction played in this story. It was distinctly sad and poignant that these were the heroes that the child honoured and it almost felt as if Affleck was alluding to the ceremony at the end of A New Hope; silently saluting yet notably lacking from the protagonists own story.

Argo is an amalgamation of excellent writing, storytelling, cinematography, direction and acting. For a film so appreciated by Hollywood, it is distinctly lacking in that shiny, artificial quality. All credit here goes to Ben Affleck who is directing really brilliant, cerebral movies. I’m officially now a huge fan and can’t wait to see what he does next.