Happy Feet

Mumble the penguin leaps for joy in Happy Feet

 

 

A CGI animation featuring penguins which comes along in the wake of March of the Penguins, so it’s probably pushing at an open door. And unlike a lot of animated films about animals, this one sets its stall out really quickly. Emperor penguins, it seems, all have a special song that they use in courtship. Except for one, the hero of our fable, called Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who has “happy feet” instead – he’s got the sort of dance moves you might expect from Sammy Davis Jr. His mum thinks it’s cute, his dad thinks it’s suspect whereas the stern community Elder, Noah (voice: Hugo Weaving), takes the view that it’s Mumble’s difference that has caused fish stocks to dwindle – and so banishes him. And off the sorry little fellow hops, eventually taking up with another band of penguins, with Mexican (surely not) accents, who see Mumble for what he is, rather than what he isn’t. He’s different, get over it – the entire thrust of the film. This message is stated, rather than insisted upon, this understatement matching the eco-message, which is simply delivered rather than hammered home. The voice talent is strong – Nicole Kidman all breath as Norma Jean, the mother of Mumble who fell for his dad, Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman with Elvis “uh-huh”) after he sang her Heartbreak Hotel. Robin Williams sets hyperactivity on fire in two roles, plus narrator (agnostics might find this an overload), while Brittany Murphy voices Gloria, the girl penguin too spooked by Mumble’s difference to find him attractive. But she’ll get over it, won’t she?

It’s a fast-moving package of song and dance aimed as much at the mums and dads (Earth, Wind and Fire, Beach Boys, Queen, Gypsy Kings on the soundtrack) as the kids (Pink, TLC, Gia Farrell) and at first it looks like a surprising change of direction for director George Miller, though if the Mad Max films weren’t energetic pop videos in look and choreography, then what were they? And he directed Babe too, let’s not forget.

Most of all though, amid the punchily delivered song chosen for their hooky tunefulness, and the wisecracks and pop-culture references, this is first and foremost a really well animated film, with some real standout sequences, such as one where the near-anatomically correct penguins swim underwater in what looks like ballet, synchronised swimming and Busby Berkeley all combined.

Happy Feet does have its periodic attacks of the cutes, but it’s so tightly packed and freshly executed that you might not notice.

 

Happy Feet – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maniac

 

 

In deep, deep, deep homage to 1980s horror, here’s a pungent, standout film that’s entirely enjoyable as long as you love seeing women’s scalps being removed – a quick razor to the forehead and they peel straight off, it seems.

A remake of William Lustig’s 1980 film of the same name, 2013’s Maniac makes one crucial and utterly transformative change – the point of view is through the eyes of a seriously disturbed serial killer (is there any other type?).

Directors and stars are what reviews usually concentrate on but the key players here are writers Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, whose Switchblade Romance in 2003 proved to the world that the French were adept at producing gut-shuddering horror if they wanted to.

They’ve done the same here, turning Frank, the 1980 villain of the piece (now played by Elijah Wood) into a Norman Bates figure, a psycho bent out of whack by a mother more interested in sating her libido than bringing up her child, who would be watching while she went at it.

Now older but still tormented by images of his mother being done every which way by strangers, Frank constructs his ideal, more virginal, women from shop mannequins which he’s tastefully accoutred with real female scalps.

Into this scenario arrives one day Anna (Nora Arnezeder) a blonde photographer, kittenishly cute, pretty as hell, her nipples tantalisingly visible through her T shirt as she makes Frank’s accidental acquaintance. He’s smitten, as were a good number of people in the audience when I saw this film last night. And from here springs the drama – is he going to fall in love and reform, or is his psychotic tendency going to get the upper hand?

As I said, we’re deep in the 1980s here – all men are rapists/killers, the city is evil, there’s a Basket Case grungy unwholesomeness to everything. On top of this there’s the soundtrack, by some French guy called Rob, a mix of early John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder, those soundtracks that Goblin did for Dario Argento. Over the end credits I think we heard Goldfrapp in their electropop phase. You get the picture. But the soundtrack is more than just an accompaniment to the film; it’s as integral to the film as the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was, perhaps more so, bringing a bright unnerving jollity to proceedings, though there’s bubble and trouble down in the bass.

The film is aiming for classic status, clearly. I mean mannequins, a Tooth Fairy-style collector of bits of women, overtones of House of Wax, all rewrapped in a subjective point of view. Here director Franck Khalfoun comes into his own, keeping things fast-moving and moody, though he cheats a little here and there. There are a few too many conveniently placed mirrors allowing us to catch glimpses of Frank. And our plucky madman also has convenient flashbacks, imagined idealised moments with the lovely Anna, plus out-of-body moments when he’s doing the actual killing.

I suppose if you’ve gone to the expense of hiring Frodo, you might as well get some shots of his face, or else what’s the point? To his credit, Wood does a lot with very little here, mumbling and muttering, lots of heavy breathing but he doesn’t overdo it. Which is crucial, because the last thing the writers/director of this singular movie want is for audiences to start identifying with the bad guy.

After three Lord of the Rings films and now a third of the way through appearing in three Hobbit films, Wood is clearly in Tolkien disavowal mode, repositioning himself away from the Shire by effectively saying “I’m bloody horrible, me.” He is. The middle-aged hardened film reviewer sitting next to me frequently had to put his hands over his eyes as Wood’s Frank did his stuff. This is probably not your ideal date movie.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Maniac – at Amazon

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