This week: animation! With Sky Cinema officially launching it’s animation channel on Now TV and the ongoing digital film festival Screen Anime updating its monthly selection, this weekend is a perfect occasion to explore the different corners of a medium that, far too often, doesn’t get paid its dues.
Among the newest titles to stream this week are a mixture of films animated via 3DCG or more traditional 2D. Chief among them: the final film in the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy from Lilo & Stitch director Dean DeBlois, as well as the latest from Masaaki Yuasa, maybe Japan’s busiest animation director (having directed three feature films and four television series in the past three years alone).
While the new Dragon film is more ostensibly a family film (though its appeal will reach all ages), Yuasa’s work is aimed a fair bit older, dealing with the complications and dissatisfactions and melancholy of adulthood through a colourful, freeform style.
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There’s also some recent hits by way of Spike Lee’s Oscar winner BlacKKKlansman, and Aneesh Chaganty’s innovative mystery thriller Searching (rather surprisingly, the first mainstream Hollywood picture headlined by an Asian American lead).
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How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - Sky Cinema and Sky Cinema Pass on NOW TV
The How To Train Your Dragon series has impressed with every instalment, with emotional maturity and charm to match its visual splendour (with help from visual consultant Roger Deakins) and sense of adventure. Director Dean DeBlois' final instalment in his hit animated trilogy follows Hiccup as he searches for a hidden dragon utopia, in order to protect his close companion Toothless and the dragons of the rest of his Viking clan.
The previous instalment dealt with heavy loss with the surprising and tragic passing of Hiccup’s father, and the emotional stakes for this last film rise to meet its predecessor, continuing as a coming-of-age tale that makes no pretences about the kinds of sacrifices that come with time. This isn’t to say it’s a dour experience, as its sequences of dragon flight and fights are astonishing to watch, and the central [companionship] between Hiccup and Toothless remains as heartwarming (and heartbreaking) as ever. Bolstered by great vocal talent from all corners, it’s not one to be missed.
Also new on Now TV: The Lego Movie 2, Good Boys
Ride Your Wave - Screen Anime
The year round, online anime film festival Screen Anime has been gradually winding up with a mixture of hidden classics and newer, high profile releases, with audience watchalongs and director Q&As to accompany them. Last month featured Makoto Shinkai’s international smash hits Your Name and Weathering With You in one gorgeous, melodramatic double bill. This weekend brings the addition of the latest feature from the eclectic and versatile Masaaki Yuasa, Ride Your Wave, available for the first time in the UK since it aired at film festivals in late 2019 (you can also watch Yuasa’s prior feature, the sweet and funny Little Mermaid homage Lu Over The Wall).
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Following an aspiring firefighter and a surfer as they fall in love and suffer through tragedy, it’s something of a more melancholic tale for the Japanese animator, but it’s also one of the strongest new rom-coms of this year. It’s a story of romance, grief and moving on, built with astonishing and unique visuals that Yuasa has honed to perfection in the last few years. I challenge you to get the film’s theme song, “Brand New Story”, out of your head after watching this one.
Also new on Screen Anime: Lu Over The Wall, Mai Mai Miracle
BlacKkKlansman - Netflix
Before Spike Lee took on American Imperialism in his elegiac Vietnam drama Da 5 Bloods, he needled at America’s white supremacist roots in BlacKkKlansman. Starring John David Washington, the son of Lee’s longtime collaborator Denzel and a rising star in his own right, the film looks at how the history of American pop culture, film specifically, enabled the rise of the Klu Klux Klan in the modern day while dramatising the story of real detective Ron Stallworth, who posed as a Klan member over the phone.
As with many of Lee’s late career films it mixes his knowledge and skills as a sort of video essayist with sometimes forceful, didactic dialogue as his characters argue their ideologies with each other. That said, the dialogue is spoken with expert sharpness by Washington and his co-star, the brilliant Adam Driver - handling Lee’s idiosyncratic comedy with ease and charm. Some have (rightfully, considering the current moment) accused Lee of going too easy on the deeply embedded racism of the police force (though it is made clear that there are officers amongst the KKK), perhaps carrying his critique a little too short.
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But it’s worthy viewing for Topher Grace’s sinister, mannered performance as David Duke, illustrative of the fact that racism is often masked by politeness and civility. In evoking the history of cinema itself as a tool wielded against African Americans, Lee calls out the complicity of Hollywood, as he did two decades ago in the abrasive, but underrated Bamboozled.
Also new on Netflix this week: Searching
Clouds of Sils Maria - MUBI
Olivier Assayas has a history of making smart, elusive films when it comes to the relationship between performer and the silver screen. His earlier film Irma Vep was almost winking self-parody, poking fun at the pompous French director directing the legendary Maggie Cheung (best known for In The Mood For Love, among countless other classics), performing as herself as she signs on to a chaotic film production. Clouds of Sils Maria is similarly self-reflexive in its examination of celebrity culture, starring Juiette Binoche as an actress who undergoes a midlife crisis when asked to play the older role in a revival of a play that launched her career 20 years prior.
Taking her former role is a young actress whose star is rising following her role in a superhero movie, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Her whipsmart assistant Valentine only exacerbates the issue, played with cool aloofness by Kristen Stewart (a performance that landed her the honour of being the first American to win a Cesar Award). Heady, but rewarding viewing.
Also new on MUBI this week: The Heiresses, Hausu