• Film reviews

    #502 – Alice’s Birthday (2009)

    Alice’s Birthday (2009)

    Film review #502

    Director: Sergey Seryogin

    SYNOPSIS: Alice Selezneva has just failed a history exam at school, but things are looking up, as a friend of her Father’s Gromozeka, has arranged a trip for her birthday to the planet of Koleida with a research expedition. The planet once had a flourishing civilisation, but a space virus wiped it out centuries ago. Alice decides to use the expedition’s time travel machine to go back in time (along with Professor Rrr, another member of the expedition) to save the planet’s population, not knowing the virus is still alive in the present and approaching the camp of the expedition…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Alice’s Birthday is a 2009 animated sci-fi film, which is a re-imagining of the popular 1987 film Lilac Ball and the original novel. The film starts out introducing Alice, an energetic and mischievous girl who fails a history exam after causing chaos in the classroom. She meets up with her Father’s friend Gromozeka, who has a surprise for her upcoming birthday: to join a research expedition to the planet Koleida, where a flourishing civilisation was wiped out by a space virus centuries ago. The film, as mentioned is a re-imagining of the film Lilac Ball and it’s original novel, part of a series of adventures starring the character of Alice. The series was quite popular in the Soviet Union, and so this film is riding a little on that nostalgia bandwagon. However, it certainly stands as a film in it’s own right too, as the story deviates from the original film a fair amount, and being an animated film, has a lot more freedom to bring the futuristic world to life. The story itself flows pretty well, being split into a fairly typical three-act structure that has a good amount of variety, humour, action, and even some scary dark moments. The essentials of the story are things that you have probably seen before involving time travel and trying to change to change the course of the future in time, but it is still entertaining enough to watch.

    Alice is a very typical lead for these types of films: adventurous, mischievous, and a typical kid which it’s young audience can identify with. Her character has a wide range of emotions and relationships with other characters, so she feels like a well-rounded individual with enough spirit and energy to be her own person. One notable difference in the rest of the characters form Lilac Ball is that the animated medium gives a lot more freedom to give the aliens a more alien design; in Lilac Ball, the characters which were aliens in the novels were re-imagined as mostly human; in the animated Alice’s Birthday, the aliens aboard the research expedition are all shapes and sizes, and though we don’t hear from many of them, their unique appearances make the film colourful and interesting. There is some weird comments near the beginning of the film, which seem to suggest there’s some discrimination against aliens on Earth, but it’s not really brought up again or addressed, so that’s a bit odd. The minor characters, like Professor Rrr and Gromozeka have a very specific role, and you know what to expect when they’re on screen, which is comforting. On a more novel note, the commander of the expedition is voiced by Natalya Murashkevich, who played Alice in Lilac Ball and the 1984 mini series Guest from the Future, which is a nice nod to those productions, and reinforcing the idea that there is a bit of reliance on nostalgia for this film, even though the target audience is obviously a generation that will not have seen those originals.

    The animation is fairly fluid, and the characters and world are colourful and animated enough so that it feels like things never really stand still. This is good in the action scenes, but it becomes a bit more choppy when the characters are moving more slowly. I’m not sure how this compares to other contemporary Russian animation, but it feels like a mix between modern productions, while also having a bit of that Soviet-era aesthetic within it too. Again, maybe that’s part of the nostalgia effect the film is riding on. There’s some musical numbers which are a bit generic, but again, perfectly serviceable for a children’s film. Overall, Alice’s Birthday creates a colourful and energetic world for it’s titular character to be her adventurous self: the designs of the aliens and the futuristic setting are fun, varied and interesting. The story is a little formulaic being a very typical time travel scenario, but it is still made entertaining by having interesting, individual characters, and expressing a variety of emotions throughout the different scenes. A decent children’s film, which also banks on some nostalgia for a beloved character for adults too, although they probably won’t find too much appeal in the content of the film.

  • Film reviews

    #421 – Evil Bong 2: King Bong

    Evil Bong 2: King Bong (2009)

    Film review #421

    Director: Charles Band

    SYNOPSIS: Alistair McDowell visits his three former roommates after one of them tells him they’ve all had strange things happening to them. Alistair surmises that they are all suffering from side effects of smoking from the evil bong that they previously destroyed when it attempted to steal their souls. They contact the delivery man who delivered the bong, who tells them that the bong originated from a tribe located in the Amazon, and so the group head into the rainforest to find answers and try to cure themselves from the side-effects which have afflicted them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISEvil Bong 2: King Bong is a 2009 comedy horror film and the sequel to the 2006 film Evil Bong. The film starts off with Alistair visiting Larnell at his new apartment. Larnell remarks that he hardly recognises Alistair; a sly reference to the fact that it is a different actor playing him than the first film. The reason Larnell called Alistair over is that he and his roommates have all been afflicted by strange changes: Larnell’s libido has gone into overdrive, Bachman has developed narcolepsy, and Brett has become morbidly obese, adding strain to his relationship with his girlfriend. Alistair guesses that it must be a side-effect of them smoking from the evil bong of the first film, and tries to learn more about it. The only lead they have is the delivery guy who delivered the bong, who they arrange to come round. He tells them the stories that he himself was told when he picked up the package about how the owner picked it up when he was serving in the Amazon with the peace corps. With this in mind, the group (including the delivery guy for some reason), head to the Amazon to find the tribe and get some answers. As with the first film, the film’s plot is fairly simple. Most probably because this is designed to be a film that you watch while smoking weed yourself. There’s more of a plot than the previous film though, and everything is simple enough to follow, so that’s a plus. 

    The group arrive in the Amazon where they meet a scientist who has discovered a new type of marijuana that has extraordinary medical properties. When the group smoke this, they are cured of the afflictions of the evil bong. However, another of the scientist’s plans to use the new weed to sell it on the streets and become rich. He reforms the evil bong from the first film with the fragments that Larnell saved, and encounters the tribe alongside a more powerful bong called King Bong. When this new bong takes the delivery guy into his inner realm, the group decide to go and save him, with the original evil bong supporting them (apparently she is King Bong’s ex; don’t ask me how bong relationships work…). The climax is pretty similar to the first film, with the group venturing into the inner bong world where people are tricked by illusions that the bong creates. There’s nothing too spectacular about the finale, and it is resolved in the way you’d expect. The characters are pretty much the same from the first film, and the new characters add very little outside of the typical roles they fill.

    Like the first film, the budget for this film is spectacularly minimal, but it does do a bit more than it’s predecessor by doubling the amount of settings from two to about four. The “Amazon” is clearly just some woods, and the bong world has nothing remarkable about it. I think the film flows better than the original, and has a few more laughs, but overall any improvements are minor. It’s not any worse, but not too much better. Like the first, you’re only going to find some value in this if you’re already high and can ‘enjoy’ the imagery and simple gags that won’t go over your head. Overall, Evil Bong 2 is a mild trip that is slightly better than the original, but still doesn’t live up to the ridiculousness of the premise that the title provides.