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I'll start this review by saying I'm a huge fan of animation as a cinematic medium. I have a collection of Disney DVDs, including 1937's Snow White, 1999's Tarzan and many classics from the years in between, and I regularly enjoy Warner Bros, MGM, Universal Studios and Fleischer cartoons on Youtube. In its century of existence, I think animation has proven itself as a perfect medium for humour (As shown by cartoons like Looney Tunes and the work of Tex Avery in particular) and, more arguably, storytelling. Animation gives the creator(s) of the work far more power over the visuals that tell their story than live-action filming does, and I feel that auteurs such as Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki have proven this by, well, being auteurs. This huge visual freedom it lends the animators is what makes it such a good storytelling medium. Most Disney and Miyazaki stories just could not be told as well any other way.
The same is true of Up, the latest in a long line of Pixar masterpieces. Up adheres to all of animation's finest traditions and discards the more recent tropes of Dreamworks movies and their ilk that leave a bad taste in this reviewer's mouth: it is entertainment for young and old alike, it creates laughter and tears in its audience with equal skill, and there are no incongruous celebrity voices or pop-culture references in sight. Up does not feature Robin Williams as a talking squirrel saying "That's no Moon! But I'll make it an offer it can't refuse and meet its little friend!", before running into a tree and making a funny face. It appeals to both adults and children through being a genuinely excellent, powerful film instead. Unlike many of The Walt Disney Company's own releases this decade, it does the signature on its cinema poster and DVD box and deserves to stand beside all of Walt's finest achievements with its head held high.
Up follows the story of Carl Frederickssen, an elderly man who travels to South America aboard his house, to which he attaches thousands of helium balloons. His reasons for doing this lie with his wife, Ellie: during the open of the movie, we see how these two met as children, and in the following 10 minutes we are treated to a montage of their life together. This opening packs the movie's most powerful emotional punch, and made me cry in the cinema for the first time in years. I do not feel I am exaggerating when I say it is one of cinema's most powerful scenes.
If, like me, you're a fan of the films of Disney and/or Pixar, Up will satisfy you in every way. It has a good story, brilliantly told, wth tons of genuine emotion along the way. The animation is impeccable, by both artistic and technical yardsticks. Looking back on 2009, this was my favourite movie of the year by some distance. In the future, I think it will join Wall-E, Pinocchio, The Lion King and Spirited Away as a movie I will show others to say "this is why I love animation, and why you should too".
I apologise for the perhaps over-long and over-zealous review, but I think this movie deserves it.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Original Recording Remastered)
The Beatles - CD
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Here we have the most influential band of all time, at their most creative period, creating music for an album that was specifically intended to be as inventive as possible. That the results are entrancing should be of no surprise to anyone.
For many, this album evokes happy memories of the sixties, and of the summer of love in particular. A product of its time it may be, but Sgt Pepper's magic is still just as potent today. Listeners who weren't born yet when the Beatles were rising to fame, recording this album or breaking up (Like this reviewer, for one) can still be just as enchanted by its genius.
What is so great about Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? It is a spectacular collection of great songs, which encapsulate the Beatles at their best.There's not a filler track in sight; each one is worth listening to. And the band innovated in any way they could. Singing into pipe organs to add effects to their voice; compression, decompression and all other manner of audio jiggery-pokery; playing six grand pianos at once... Becoming a studio-only band let the Beatles record their music however they wanted, and this unleashing of their imagination adds immeasurably to the album.
The central concept of the album (Innovative then, much-imitated now) is that the Beatles are the titular fictional band, playing a show. They introduce themselves in the opening song, which famously segues into the next. Playing them straight through shows the album's genius: alone, each song is worth listening to. Played in sequence, they form an incredible audio ride, a mindblowing trip through the Beatles' imagination.
As long as there are pairs of ears willing to listen to it like this, the greatest album of all time will continue to weave its spell.