Review: The Iron Giant

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The Iron Giant is movie I knew very little about until it was brought to my attention recently.  I knew I had heard of the movie before, but even those memories are extremely vague.  It may have been featured in a preview for a VHS or DVD I watched in the early 2000’s.  When it is discussed nowadays, it is usually attributed to being an animation masterpiece which has a massive cult following.  So, being the animation lover that I am, why am I not as familiar with this film?  Well, for one thing, this movie was released by Warner Bros., a studio whose animated films toward the end of the 20th century were known for being mediocre or just plain bad. It also released in the late 90’s, a time when Disney essentially monopolized the animation industry. This movie was likely swept under the rug by most viewers, as it didn’t receive any box office success. 

It is easy to say I went into this movie with a completely open mind, with one exception: Brad Bird’s name on the poster.  Anyone who knows Brad Bird knows he is an animation miracle worker.  With that, I was really excited. 

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

What surprised me the most about The Iron Giant was how laughably simple the story is.  A mysterious object from outer-space lands on earth, which turns out to be a massive "Iron Giant".  It crash-lands off the coast of rural Maine, where it is discovered by a boy named Hogar.  Hogar immediately befriends the Giant, but quickly learns he’ll need to hide it from the rest of his town, and a government agent who wants to see it destroyed.  The rest of the film is just that:  Hogar tries to corral the Giant into a hiding place while trying to outrun the government, and eventually the military, so they don’t blow it high and dry.

This story has been done a thousand times before. It is essentially E.T. meets any 1950’s alien invasion/giant monster movie.  But, what makes it work is just how much effort is put into it.  Everything from the writing, the characters, the animation; it all pieces together to make a well crafted film that is a love-letter to classic movie tropes while managing to become a classic in and of itself. 

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

The biggest reason this story is so well handled is the emotion it manages to express with such simple characters and writing. The characters in this movie are so lovable and enjoyable to watch.  Hogar is a typical kid who gets really moody but has a good heart. There is a beatnik he hangs out with who is really fun. His mom is really fun. There is the government agent who acts like he knows what he’s doing, but really he just wants approval from his boss and is willing to be a total asshole in order to get it.  It is the breed of a perfect villain you just love to hate.  But where the film really shines is the Giant itself.  The Giant has such a range of emotion for a big hunk of metal.  The way he moves, uses facial expressions, and subtly shares his feelings can be really heartwarming or heartbreaking.  Centered around the Giant and Hogar is a real emotional struggle which deals with some heavy issues, especially for an animated movie.  Hogar has conversations with the Giant about topics like death, the afterlife, and the idea of a soul, if people have them. 

What makes this movie most unique is hands-down the animation. It has a distinct design where I could look at any screenshot and say, "That’s The Iron Giant."  All the colors are subdued, it uses very smooth lines, and has an overall dark art style for a whimsically spirited animated movie.  The way the characters move feels so natural and human.  What they absolutely nail is the lighting effects; this has some of the best lighting effects in an animated film I’ve ever seen. You see, The Iron Giant was made in a time when traditional animation was dying out, but was also making a ton of innovations.  Some could argue, however, that this animation style is a bit dated.  It combines a lot of CG with 2D animation. This was early CG, so the final product doesn’t always flow together.  But, the clash is really what gives the film such a unique look.  It isn’t necessarily trying to be a spectacle, rather innovate and tell a great story; all the more reason why this movie has gained such a cult following.  

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

The film as a whole also takes full advantage of its setting.  This movie is a love-letter to 1950’s nostalgia, both in film, popular culture and small-town vibes. There’s an ambient feeling of the atomic age, the characters have a total hatred for the Russians, and the entire conspiracy of the Giant lends itself to the question of whether we are alone in the universe, a hot topic during the era. 

Despite very cartoony animation, I was surprised at how the film has a very adult spirit.  The voice actors in this film do an outstanding job, like they are really acting in the roles of these characters.  It feels like genuine acting, like the cartoon characters have a life to themselves and aren’t just moving drawings.  The dialogue is also very adult for an animated film, but can be extremely funny at times.  Some of the dialogue I imagine would completely go over a little kid’s head, but it also goes to show why this movie has stuck with people for so long.  I could easily see teenagers and adults putting this on and having a good time with it. 

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

It’s safe to say I’ve gone long enough without seeing The Iron Giant, so I was glad I finally gave it a watch.  There are so many films like it which had a ton of effort put into them, but simply didn’t get enough attention. Thankfully the Internet and the availability of movies on digital are allowing films like these to be rediscovered and gain a cult following years later.  Overall, I feel the film is fantastic. It was refreshing to see a traditionally animated movie done in a different style by a different studio that really shines.  The characters are great, it takes full advantage of a simple story, and radiates an adult vibe while discussing important mature issues; I would even go as far to say it handles the adult tone better than most of Pixar’s films (I say most!).  Regardless, if you’re like me and haven’t seen this movie, definitely give it a watch.  It’s time well spent on an overlooked piece of animation goodness. 

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; January 2017

The Best and Worst Films of 2016

Greetings readers, and Happy New Year!

2016 has come to a close, and this blog is almost officially one year old.  This year consisted of a variety of content, most of which has been well received.  One of the biggest parts of this journey has been determining what I want the blog to focus around. Given that my content this year has been heavily focused on film reviews, and that it is something I am very passionate about, this piece will be dedicated to the best and worst films of 2016.  This year has seen many great films, many downfalls, and even a few surprises here and there.  With that, this will not be a simple ranking of best and worst films, but the most noteworthy films in unique categories I have chosen.

Now, when I say "Best and Worst of 2016", it means the best and worst of the films that I reviewed.  You see, I don’t spend full weekends going to my local theater and catching all the latest releases.  I see films that I want to see, and some films simply aren’t worth my time.  I’m a senior in high school, and I don’t have time to catch every new release each week.  To add to that, Huntsville is a fairly small city, so limited release movies are rarely in theaters where I live.  I’m sure that there are films out there which are far worse than the "worst" on this list, and the same can be said for films better than the "best" on this list.  These are simply chosen among the films I reviewed on the blog this year, and this is by no means my definitive list of best and worst movies of 2016.

Biggest Surprise: Arrival and Zootopia

Both of these films have something to offer beyond their marketing and trailers, and each in a unique way.  

Disney

Disney

Zootopia is a simple talking animal crime noire movie on the surface, but it tackles a slew of social issues facing the world today.  It sends a powerful message to both adults and children in a very subtle way, all while delivering a beautiful, emotional, and hilarious animated film. 

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Arrival is a sci-fi blockbuster with the powerhouse filmmaking talent of an Oscar winner.  The way it so smartly used sci-fi in a year littered with mindless action blockbusters made it a breakout hit among critics and audiences.  It captures human emotion in such a creative and timeless way that it will surely be a film anyone can relate for decades to come.

The reason these two films are a tie is because they both meet this category's criterion so well—they surprised me.  Both surprised me in different ways which made this decision very tough.  For two films that stood out in a great year of filmmaking, they both deserve this accolade.

Biggest Let-Down: Free State of Jones

STX Entertainment

STX Entertainment

This film was beaming with potential, and could have been one of the greatest films to release this year.  It had great acting talent, and Matthew McConaughey for crying out loud! It also explored a very obscure portion of American history; some Confederates during the civil war who led an insurgence and sided with the Union behind enemy lines.  It was a new angle to a war which has been viewed up until now simply as good vs evil (at least in film), and that no one on either side expressed a little bit of discourse.

What we got was a film with a great opening twenty minutes, and the remaining two hours were nothing but filler with stale acting, a boring story, little to no action, and speech after speech after speech from Matthew McConaughey.  It’s the first film of his in awhile where I feel he brings almost no charm, something he’s known for as an actor. To his credit, he doesn’t have good writing or good characters on his side, either.

Free State of Jones is watchable, but it is a film which I walked out of feeling depressed, disappointed, and wanting.  Thus, it is 2016’s biggest let down for me.

Best Superhero Film: Deadpool

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Marvel properties undoubtedly topped the list of superhero flicks this year.  Though Marvel Studios rolled out many great products like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, I believe the honor of best superhero film goes to Deadpool, a movie whose rights belong to a different studio entirely.

Deadpool had almost everything going against it; an R-rated comic book movie starring a somewhat obscure superhero released in early February and distributed by 20th Century Fox.  But, this would go on to be many moviegoers’ favorite superhero movie of 2016, landed one of Marvel’s biggest releases ever, and became the #1 grossing R-rated movie ever. 

What puts Deadpool on top is its simplicity.  It is not a massive comic book movie with over a dozen characters, trippy action sequences, extensive lore, and iconic locations.  It’s a small film that takes place in a bad neighborhood in Vancouver of all places.  It utilizes grounded action sequences with lots of practical effects.  This grounded feel is much thanks to the director, Tim Miller, a genius in visual and practical effects.  The R-rating allows the film to explore areas where other films of the genre cannot with PG-13.  It allows a full range of emotion, comedy, gore, and crude humor, which, like it or not, makes the film feel more real and genuine.  I can’t believe I’m saying this about Deadpool, but the film feels more personal to me than other films of the genre this year for these reasons, making it my favorite superhero film of 2016.

Best Animated Film: Kubo and the Two Strings

Focus Features

Focus Features

2016 was a great year for animation lovers like myself.  At the end of the day, the accolade for 'best' goes to Kubo and the Two Strings.  The film shows what Laika is truly capable of from both a story and creative standpoint.  The way the film captures family conflict feels more genuine than the likes of Disney, and the simplicity of the story makes it all the more relatable.  The stop-motion animation is stunningly gorgeous and makes such an arduous task seem effortless on the big screen.  It is birthed from strenuous work on behalf of a creative, persistent team, which makes it deserving of the title of 'best'. 

Worst Film: The Accountant

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

*Ben Affleck's expression in the still above perfectly describes this movie. 

Of the movies I reviewed this year, the ones competing for this spot were Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad (I was too nice to this film in my review), Hail, Caesar!, Free State of Jones, and The Accountant.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are far worse films which received a theatrical release this year, but among the ones I saw, The Accountant ranks the worst.  

At the end of the day, every other film on the 'worst' list at least gave me something memorable. The Accountant has nothing; no substance, no charm, not a hint of life in it.  The acting is rubbish, the plot is confusing, there isn't a single action scene to redeem itself, and it’s a total waste of good actors.  It has the perfect premise to be a good action thriller, but foolishly throws that opportunity out the door because it is so haphazardly mishandled. 

If you want to hear more about The Accountant, you can read my review, but among the films I saw this past year, it is without a doubt the worst. 

Best Film: Manchester By The Sea

Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios

This hallowed spot was a race between La La Land, Arrival, and Manchester By The Sea.  All of these films are great, human, and unique.  What made me toss Arrival was the fact that Manchester and La La Land both feel more grounded than the sci-fi drama. If you read my La La Land review, you would know that I feel it has a few flaws.  Had these flaws been absent, it definitely would have been my favorite film this year, but that position has to go to Manchester By The Sea, instead.

Manchester By The Sea is an utterly human character study of Lee Chandler, played by the now honorable Casey Affleck.  Affleck’s powerhouse performance feels so natural, it is as though I’m watching human interaction as it naturally plays out.  Kenneth Lonergan genuinely captures trauma in his directing and writing, as it is the epicenter of the film’s story.  It is a film about life itself, and appropriately feels like stepping into the life of its main character. The film has no strict three-act structure, no definite climax or resolution, and is open to interpretation of it’s preceding and succeeding events.  This only adds to the life-like feeling which radiates from the film. The aesthetic of the film compliments Lonergan's genius with rich cinematography and music.  Though it deals with emotionally heavy issues, it is one of the most charming movies I've ever seen because the audience can connect with the characters like they were lifelong friends. It is because human nature is captured so elegantly in great performances, writing, and directing, that it is my favorite film of 2016.


Looking back at all the films I reviewed made me realize how many movies I saw this year, and how much this blog really pushed me to get out and see more movies.  With 2016 behind us, there are many more exciting stories to look forward to in 2017 which I can’t wait to discuss with you all.  If there is a film you would like me to review at my discretion, remember you can make requests by emailing me at the address provided in the Contact page. 

Thank you all for reading this year! Be on the lookout for more content to follow very soon.  

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; January 2017