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Director: Fernando Cortizo
Release Date: October 31, 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

O Apostolo2012 was a good year for stop motion animation fans: no less than four stop motion features were released that year. In March we had Aardman’s ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’, followed by Laika’s ‘ParaNorman’ in August and Disney’s ‘Frankenweenie’ in September. Least known among these was the last release, from October: ‘O Apóstolo’ from Spain.

Somehow, stop motion feature film makers seem to favor horror-inspired plots, and ‘O Apóstolo’ is no exception. However, unlike ‘ParaNorman’ or ‘Frankenweenie’, ‘O Apóstolo’ is not a lighthearted family film. Instead, it’s a dark gothic thriller, and it succeeds surprisingly well in maintaining a high level of suspense throughout most of the picture.

Both the film’s theme and setting are typical Spanish: the film is drenched in a catholic atmosphere, and it’s set in a remote village on the road to Santiago de Compostela, famous for its numerous pilgrims. We follow the thief Ramon, who has escaped from prison to turn to this village to collect a treasure his cell mate has hidden there.

We soon discover that there is something terribly wrong with the little village. Its inhabitants seem to lure innocent pilgrims, and try to keep them there. It remains long unknown why, keeping the suspense at a high level. And even when the obligatory explanation of the events comes, the makers present it elegantly: the explanation, despite being long and quite absurd, is beautifully done in 2D animation with quasi-medieval designs, accompanied by a song.

Luckily, the film also has its lighter moments, mostly in a subplot, involving a particularly unsympathetic archbishop, who goes on his way to invest the loss of pilgrims. It’s soon clear that the film makers have plotted a punishment for this haughty, selfish character.

Apart from the gripping plot, ‘O Apóstolo’ excels in gorgeous production values. The little village and its sinister forest surroundings are conceived with stunning detail. They are as rich as any life action background, and contribute highly to the dark and creepy atmosphere. The puppets are designed less originally than the other features mentioned above, but retain a certain realism, which makes it possible to relate to them, especially with the main protagonist, Ramon the thief. The sole exception is the priest, whose appearance is too absurd and too sinister to blend in. It’s a pity, because his dominant presence casts a shadow on the more underplayed (and underdesigned) other village characters, whose threat is much more subtle, and therefore more disturbing.

In all, ‘O Apóstolo’ easily draws you in. It is without doubt one of the most original and best animated films of 2012. It definitely deserves to be more well-known.

Watch the official trailer of ‘O Apóstolo’ and tell me what you think:

Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Stars: Graham Chapman
Rating: ★★★

A Liar's Autobiography‘A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman’ is a film adaptation of Graham Chapman’s own nonsensical autobiography.

At first the film appears to follow Chapman’s book closely, using his own voice over from a audiobook recording. In fact, apart from one song all of Chapman’s vocalizations are by Graham Chapman himself, using various sources. Other former Monty Python members provide some voices, too.

The film adaptation of Chapman’s book is excellent, perfectly blending his dry humor with tongue-in-cheek images. However, the film makers want to make the film a biopic, leaving the book half way and adding some chapters of their own. At this point the film starts to drag. It becomes less humorous and more wandering, with lots of images drenched in sex and alcohol. And so, the film fades out ingloriously, leaving less an impression than it did when it started.

‘A Liar’s Autobiography’ was made by no less than fourteen different animation studios, and the overall array of styles is refreshing and at times mesmerizing. At the same time it can become a bit tiring to watch a changing of style at every scene, and sometimes the design is subpar, or downright ugly. The result is a moderately entertaining film that remains shallow and unmoving, nonetheless.

Watch the trailer of  ‘A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Don Hertzfeldt
Release Date: August 24, 2012
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

t's Such a Beautiful Day © Don Hertzfeldt‘It’s such a Beautiful Day’ tells about Bill, a man with some kind of terminal disease, which affects his memory. The film uses an episodic, non-linear narrative, and at times feels as confused as the protagonist’s mind.

Hertzfeldt uses some unconventional ways to tell his story. He himself tells us the story in a dry, matter-of-factly, slightly worrying voice over, which makes the sometimes poignant episodes even more gripping. The images themselves are very simple: the people in the film are no more than stick figures. But because of Hertzfeldt’s perfect sense of timing, these simple images are richer than many more elaborately drawn animation films. The stick figure images are interchanged with 8mm-film-like live action fragments of details in streets, trees, the sea etc. Hertzfeldt’s basic screen is black, in which often more than one of his images is projected. This technique harks back to the silent era, and gives his film a timeless look.

Hertzfeldt uses all these techniques to tell a fragmented, associative narrative, which is rich in detailed observations on daily life. The scenes motivate the viewer to try to connect the presented information into an overall story. The scenes are often comical, even hilarious, with Bill watching a man with a leaf blower as a particular highlight. As often, however, the scenes are moving and very emotional. Throughout the feature the deterioration of Bill’s mind becomes clearly visible, and when he decides to take a walk around the block, the result is as funny as it is painful. The most beautiful part, however, is when Bill celebrates life, paying attention to details that normally go unnoticed. The film’s finale, too, is no less than glorious.

‘It’s such a Beautiful Day’ is a compilation of three short films released earlier: ‘Everything will be OK’ (2006), ‘I Am So Proud of You’ (2008), and ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ (2012). To compile these into one feature is a very logical step. In fact, watching them together as one continuous story actually makes much more sense. The result is one of the most original feature films ever made, and also one of the most moving. An impressive effort by any standard, and especially when considering that this is a one-man-project.

Watch the trailer of ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ and tell me what you think:

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