Tag Archives: Aardman Animations

Early Man (2018): Timeless Humor

Directing his first film in over a decade, Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit) and the wonderful team at Aardman Animations (Chicken Run) have created another hilarious stop-motion romp. Set in the Stone Age, the story follows Dug (Eddie Redmayne; The Theory of Everything) and his fellow cavemen who are forced out of their valley by a Bronze Age nobleman named Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston; Thor). Desperate to get his homeland back, Dug bets Nooth that his tribe can beat Nooth’s all-star soccer team. If the cavemen win, they can return to their valley, but if they lose they will be forced to spend their lives working in Nooth’s bronze mines.

A cast of prominent British actors has the time of their lives doing the voicework. Redmayne as Dug is an eternal optimist whose springy voice implies he always has another idea up his sleeves if things don’t work out. His resilience is as charming as his naivete, but the real standout has to be Hiddleston. Lord Nooth gives him the chance to be the villain Loki (his character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) never could be. He is deliciously evil, savoring every injustice he can create and every piece of bronze he can swindle. Yet, his ludicrous scheming is kept light by his blatant incompetence and his fear of how the Queen will react to his actions. He is the epitome of the likable, but bumbling villain, perfect for an audience to laugh at, but not with. Topping off the performances is a variety of vaguely European accents. Ricocheting between western European countries, the cast’s adopted speech only heightens the farcical plot and adds to the film’s absurd tone.

Lord Nooth is probably Hiddleston’s finest role yet.

Early Man is filled to the brim with inventive humor. Unlike most animated films, Park doesn’t rely on desperate fart jokes to get a laugh out of his audience. He uses the Stone Age setting to create ridiculous situations with the peak being a gargantuan, man-eating mallard duck and then mines the culture clash of the cavemen entering the Bronze age. There are setups with characters using ancient technology for modern communication, particularly a running gag involving a messenger bird, that are priceless. As the soccer match ramps up there is also a surprising amount of sports related humor. Subtle digs at prominent real-world teams and a caricature of sports commentators are welcome additions that even non-soccer fans will enjoy. Aardman’s humor goes beyond single jokes. Each scene is packed with unexpected sight gags that make the film worth a second viewing. It has the rare combination of both quality and quantity of jokes that will keep audiences of all ages laughing.

The simple plot may be a slight disappointment to some. While Park takes advantage of the humor that the Stone Age brings, the film quickly and unexpectedly turns into a sports movie with an unusual backdrop. The beats leading up to the soccer match follow the expected tropes including a training montage, a struggle to perform, and a new member that motivates the team. It’s impossible to not wonder what zany situations the cavemen could have faced if Park had leaned further into the prehistoric setting (more man-eating mallards would have been appreciated), but there is plenty to love about the story that is present. Despite its familiarity, it’s the unique spin Park adds that prevents it from becoming cliché. Under his direction, and with the work of his stellar animation team, Early Man is a consistently hilarious, beautifully crafted, and uniquely Aardman take on the sports movie.

4/5 stars.

Top Films of 2015

Yes, I realize it’s almost halfway through 2016 already, but I wanted to be thorough and make sure I watched as many of 2015’s output before finalizing my list. The year end onslaught of Academy Award-ready films can be difficult to keep up with when you have another full-time job to attend to. Without further ado, here are my favorite films of the previous year.

11. Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Immaculately detailed and expertly choreographed, Shaun the Sheep is yet another great stop-motion film from Aardman Animations, the makers of Chicken Run. The film pulls from the best silent movies to produce an endearing, slapstick comedy with endlessly entertaining visual gags.

10. Predestination

presdestination1“What if I could put him in front you, the man that ruined your life?” Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent traveling through time with his recruit Sarah Snook to prevent the bombings of a terrorist known as “The Fizzle Bomber”. The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead makes use of the strong performances from its leads to explore the nature of cause and effect. Predestination is fun, twisty sci-fi at its best.

9. The Gift

The directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton is a psychological thriller masquerading as a horror film. After Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) move to Los Angeles they run into an old friend of Simon, Gordo (Edgerton), who begins making unannounced visits and giving overly generous presents. Slowly the relationship dissolves and the past between Simon and Gordo is brought into question. Edgerton’s film draws heavy influence from Michael Haneke’s Caché in that it focuses on the guilt and repercussions of the past. Does time really heal all wounds? The Gift has a response to that question.

8. Meet the Patels

Meet the Patels is a heartfelt, often hilarious, documentary about the issues faced by 1st generation Americans caught between the culture they experience every day and that of their heritage. Co-directed by brother and sister Ravi and Gita Patel, the film shows Ravi as he takes the plunge into finding a spouse through an arranged marriage. Instead of making this overly serious, Meet the Patels affectionately focuses on the importance of bonds between this charismatic family.

7. 99 Homes

Centered on the 2008 housing crisis, 99 Homes looks at the human cost of financial disaster. Andrew Garfield plays a young construction worker kicked out of his family home by Michael Shannon. What ensues is an unexpectedly tense exploration of both the winners and losers of the collapse. It shows what greed, desperation, and even success can do to the relationships we value most.

6. Spotlight

Spotlight features news reporters tackling a deep rooted problem deliberately hidden by the powers that be. The year’s best ensemble cast featuring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo deal with the struggle of not only finding the truth but clashing with the culture of a city and a religion. Always somber and honest, Spotlight treats its serious subject matter with the respect and attention to detail it deserves.

5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This film follows a boy and his friend as they begin a relationship with a girl who has just been diagnosed with cancer. While it falls into many of the standard Sundance tropes, it elevates above these with the gravity of its subject matter. The main character has to come to terms with his friend’s condition as well as his own changing life. Part coming of age story and part tribute to cinema (the film features “sweded” parody versions of classics a la Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind), Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is an expertly directed film about dealing with loss during adolescence.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller revives his classic franchise with some of the best vehicular combat ever shown on screen. The film is a 2 hour long car chase that uses incredible practical stunts that put the standard CG effects to shame. With breakneck pacing and surprisingly poignant quiet moments, Mad Max: Fury Road is the automobile action movie we’ve been waiting 30 years for.

3. The Tribe

Filmed using only deaf actors signing and lacking any subtitles, The Tribe is an experiment in visual storytelling. At first, the decision seems troublesome as it immediately alienates the audience, but as the film continues the subtleties of each scene begin to tell the story. The gait of a character, the way they stand next to others, or the speed at which they sign all convey the actions taking place. As The Tribe explores an underground crime ring at a school for the deaf, it uses its purely visual approach to wordlessly express complex emotions.

[BS Note: NSFW. Extremely explicit and not for everyone]

2. Wild Tales

Composed of six unrelated humorous revenge stories, Wild Tales showcases scenarios exaggerated just slightly beyond the realm of reality but not out of its reach. The characters, while seemingly normal, always overreact to their situations leading to ridiculous outcomes. The film is bursting with manic energy and earns its laughs through creative set ups. Easily the funniest film of the year.

1. Love

When Gaspar Noé announced his next movie was going to be called Love, I thought the title must be ironic. Surely the man who directed Irreversible and is often accused of nihilism wasn’t actually covering that territory. Yet, that is exactly what he did. Love is simultaneously Noé’s most personal and most indulgent work. There are characters named both Gaspar and Noé with the latter played by him and some scenes are exercises in unnecessary exhibitionism. Most of the news covering the film has focused on the details of its production and its explicit nature, but that is missing the point of the movie. Love, flaws included, is exactly the film Noé wanted to make. It’s a film that explores all aspects of the titular emotion. The spark of a new relationship, the heartbreak that can follow, and, unlike other films, physical desires. In other movies, intimate scenes between characters are unnecessary and voyeuristic, almost like a requirement needed to show how “adult” a film is. Here, Noé builds the entire film around these scenes. The physical contact is an extension of the emotions felt by the characters. With only a few exceptions, they are meaningful scenes that develop the characters and build their relationships. Combined with Benoît Debie’s beautiful visuals and an entrancing soundtrack, the film casts a hypnotic spell, pulling the viewer into the feelings – both physical and emotional – that love brings.

[BS Note: NSFW. Extremely explicit and not for everyone]

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sicario
  • Brooklyn
  • About Elly
  • Steve Jobs