Nightmare Before Christmas – When is a Christmas film not a Christmas film?

Merry Christmas, Buttercups!

This is one of my most favourite films and up there as my favourite Christmas film and for those of you who want to argue with me… It is a Christmas film. All you have to do is read the title.

The reason is one of my favourite films is the music. I loved this film as a child but it wasn’t until I was an adult where I feel in love with the songs. What I fell in love with was the punk rock covers of all the songs. Especially, the Fall Out Boy version of What’s This – which is easily the stand out number of the entire film although Oogie Boogie’s number comes a close second and Kidnap the Sandy Claws a likely third.

It’s a common misconception that Tim Burton directed this film. He did not. Tim Burton wrote the story that this film was based on but the director was Henry Selick – he went on to direct Coraline which has a similar tone and style.

There are several simple themes behind this film. First it acceptance. That is the overall theme of the piece because it is only through Jack’s acceptance of himself that he can return to Halloween town and right the wrongs Oogie Boogie has set in motion to kill Santa Claus.

There is also the voyage of discovery that Jack goes on when he stumbles across Christmas town. Obviously this could be a simple metaphor for pushing beyond the things you known and your own comfort zones to find something better than you could ever imagine.

This in turn leads to something that I think is extremely poignant and very apt for today’s world and that is that messages can be twisted. Watching the town hall scene shows how someone with a new idea can have it hijacked by the people around them who can only think one way. Think of anything you have ever said that was taken in away that you were not intending it to be taken – an offhand comment that someone thought was sarcastic or a compliment that someone took as an insult – the reaction to what you have said shows more about the listener than it does the speaker. It also shows just out of touch Jack is with the rest of the townsfolk. He’s is unhappy with the way things are but no one else is. So they take his idea to try something new and apply what they already know to it.

The film does give credence to the old idea of a changed being as good as a rest because by the end of the film Jack is back to his good old Halloween loving self.

But like I said earlier the main theme of this movie is self acceptance. It’s also a message against the coveting of what other’s have. The problems only begin because Jack wants what he sees in Christmas town. If he doesn’t covet what Santa Claus has the film never happens. But accepting that he is good at scaring people and that his true place is in Halloween Town is the key to saving Christmas and himself.

Throughout the film, Sally moons over him from afar and mostly Jack is oblivious to her, focussed as he is on his work of decrypting and copying Christmas, but by the end of the film he is receptive to her and the credits roll after we see Jack and Sally embracing. This is the pay off to a subtle message throughout the film. He throws himself into his work and by doing so he doesn’t realise that he is losing the essence of himself.

It may be a dark film but unlike Coraline it’s openly a kid’s film. It may be concerned with monsters and things that go bump in the night but it isn’t scary. It is beautiful, thoughtful and charming. I watch this film every year and it is one of my favourite Christmas films. There is only one film I love more than this. It was a pity that I couldn’t get the connections to line up to do it this year but that only means I get to look forward to doing it next time round.

So with that in mind. I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and see you in 2018. Let’s hope that year isn’t as strange.

RTJ

Advertisements

Coraline – Not Your Typical Buttoned Down Kids’ Film

What’s up, Buttercups?

Well, if this film is anything, it is creepy as hell. It deals with some mind bending issues of loss, alternate worlds and the notion that doing anything to make someone else happy is actually kinda disturbing when you think about it in any type of detail. It is also an allegory for the proverb of “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Sure that other side is twisted, but this is based on a Neil Gaiman book and what else would you expect from him?

First things first, It is not your typical kids’ film. Of that you can be damned sure. The colours are muted and downplayed, there is very little in the way of conventional childish humour and the story elements aren’t exactly child friendly – considering we end up dealing with a massive spider made mostly out of sewing needles who kidnaps children.

That being said…

Okay, being honest, I had no idea where I was going with that. Coraline is a quirky film. It is the first 3D stop motion film and that can be confusing to your eyes. There are times when the stop motion is obvious and others when everything seems so smooth that it’s hard to believe that it isn’t all computer generated.

The first thing you should notice is the difference between the two worlds. The waking real world is boring, dulled palettes where Coraline is the only bright colour on the screen at many times. Then there’s the world she finds herself in at night which is colourful and vibrant, whether it’s real or a product of her subconscious. In the real world her parents are distant, busy people with who pay her little attention. In the dream world, they are attentive, engaging, loving and, at times, just as goofy and quirky as she is. The colours are brighter and the neighbours are more interesting than their real world counterparts.

It is a world designed as the perfect trap.

In essence, it is a story about looking closely at something and the old adage: If something seems to good to be true, it probably is.

There are also subtle hints that nothing good is ever free and that things come with a price. When Coraline’s Other Mother (Both mother’s voiced by Teri Hatcher) says that to stay in the dream world with her other family Coraline (Dakota Fanning) must give up her eyes and have buttons sewn in place instead. Coraline must give up something to get something. Nothing is without a price.

Now – it’s never implicitly stated – but I feel that this is on a par with Coraline giving away her soul. After all, eyes are referred to as the windows to the soul. Then again, maybe I’m just being morbid.

But considering the main plot of the film becomes Coraline trying to help three Ghost children all taken by the Other Mother… I wouldn’t be surprised if my guess was close to the mark.

It is, ultimately, a story about choices. Whether we’d like to be comforted with a lie or take strength from what is real. It is a perfect metaphor. Do we blind ourselves to the danger around us because of the promise of what we have to gain is so alluring or do we struggle to do the right thing.

Dakota Fanning was a good cast for Coraline. There is a bratiness to her but it comes from being largely ignored and having to find ways to entertain herself. Teri Hatcher is amazing as the dual roles as her Mother and Other Mother. The dull almost bored inflection versus a voice that is full of fun and always laughing at the beginning. She also does creepy and menacing amazingly well for an actress who has never really been cast in the role of a villain before. John Hodgman also does and amazing job of playing the two sides of Coraline’s Father.

When looking at the tone of the film and the dulled colour palette and the stylistic feel of the film and then considering it is directed by Henry Selick – of Nightmare Before Christmas fame – it’s goes a long way towards explaining things.

It is a brilliantly made film but the odd placement both age-wise and genre-wise made it hard to market. The animated nature of the film definitely was designed to appeal to children but then the subject matter and the darker nature of the film mean it is definitely not suited to a family audience with young children.

The sound design is as quirky as the rest of the films stylistic choices. There are scenes with no music, just the background noise and sometimes with no noise at all. Then there are odd moments with a single instrument playing that you’d never imagine trying to hold a scene together. For example there is a garden scene in the Other world where Coraline’s Other Father is riding a grasshopper lawn-mower type contraption and underneath the whole scene is a bass guitar. Just a bass guitar. It works to underpin the strangeness of everything in the other world. Where toys can talk and snap dragons actually snap.

This is another film that I should absolutely love and yet I don’t. I love certain aspects of the film but maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t commit to being one thing and therefore waters itself down too much. Maybe that is the problem I have with this film. I think it is another case of someone taking an idea that shouldn’t be for children and trying to make it child friendly. That has very rarely ever come out as something good. It mostly makes things hard to watch.

RTJ

The Brother’s Grimm – A scam as old as time

The Brother’s Grimm – A scam as old as time

What up, Buttercups?

So, this is an odd one. It has a premise that has been used a lot, especially in conjunction with the supernatural. It’s almost become a trope. Their are fraudsters who come face to face with a very real threat and need to overcome it. This premise has been used across the genres but mostly it does tend to stick in the supernatural/horror genre. This is also one of the first instances of fairy tales being twisted a little darker… Or in this case having them returned to their original dark state instead of the sanitised version that Disney has been pushing for years.

Think of films like; The Last Exorcism (phony preacher “casts out” a demon from a girl only to discover the demon is real)

Scooby Doo (the gang think the monsters are men in masks only to find out that monsters exist)

The Three Amigos – and A Bug’s Life, they’re are basically the same movie – (real threat is addressed with performers who think it is a show only to use the showmanship to drive off the threat).

This film does end up running in that vein. The Brother’s Grimm, Jacob (Heath Ledger) and Wilhelm (Matt Damon), move from town to town scamming money from the locals until they are called in on a case that turns out to be real. They’re dysfunctional brothers. The opening scene shows us that they are poor and suffer in the cold. Where a young Jacob sells the cow for “Magic” beans something his older brother does not let him forget.

All the fairytale highlights are hit along the way. We have a girl in a red hood running through the forest being chased by a howling wolf, there are witches and trolls who live under bridges. There are a lot of fairy tale names dropped, almost casually but always with a sort of tongue-in-cheek, nudge in the ribs way. Almost as though the film is trying to be clever but wants us to get the jokes so has to keep nudging us to make sure we’re paying attention. Sometimes it’s funny other times it’s deeply insulting.

It’s a very stylised film, something we should expect from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. It almost feels like it was co-opted by Tim Burton, or that the style is meant to ape his. There is a dark filter laid over everything in the city and any shots of the countryside of the woods are all slightly coloured lending to the feeling of unreality. Everything in the opening scene is a varying shade of dark and grey. The first feel blossom of colour is the red of the girl’s riding hood.

While the visual style may invoke memories of everything that Tim Burton has ever touched. There is a sense of fun that doesn’t usually come from Burton movies. A sense of the real world being boring and life only making sense when you embrace the absurd, yes but there is an enhanced sense of the ridiculous, an almost sketch like quality that could be a hangover from Gilliam’s hay days in the Python crew.

The plot of the film doesn’t take long to kick in. We have the main point of the case they are assigned within the first twenty minutes. The pacing is good. There isn’t a lot of bogging down with exposition which, in a film like this, would be so easy to do. That characters don’t have to spell out their motivations. Wilhelm wants to make easy money as is willing to even cheat his own friends – or at least take advantage of their stupidity – to make more gold. Jacob is still very much in love with the stories of his childhood.

There is a lot of conflict between the brothers. Wilhelm still holds Jacob responsible for what happened to their sister when they were young. This is mostly brought out in the many jabs he makes about beans. Even their personalities are a deep contrast with Wilhelm being slick and glib and a natural conman playing off against the quiet, pious and bookish Jacob who forever looks unsure about the world around him.

I love this film for one simple aspect. Not that the stories are real but it’s almost the other way around. That the stories aren’t coming to life, but they were alive and these fairy tales are actually histories inspired by the true events. I like this little turn about. It’s not exactly unique but at the time it was still a fresh take on “How do we transfer fairy tales to the real world?”

Honesty is a big part of the film. For much of the film the only people the brothers are honest with is each other. They lie and deceive the villagers and put on a show in order to swindle them out of their money.

There is also a theme of belief. When it comes to films that involve the supernatural there always is. There is the warring beliefs of Christianity and the older Pagan religion. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Christianity, but then the history of any religion isn’t exactly a spotless one. I love the contrast between the brother’s attitudes to what is going on. Jacob instantly accepts what he is seeing as fact vs Wilhelm trying, with increasing desperation, to find a logical explanation for how you could fake the things around them. They have their own specialities and they stick firmly in their own lanes.

Lena Headey does an amazing job of being an aloof and rather snappish huntress Angelika. She does have a good track record with playing strong women and this is no exception. Looking back this could actually be the first of the strong female roles she took. Considering the film was seemingly solely sold on Matt Damon and Heath Ledger’s popularity.

The biggest thing I take away from the tone and feel of this film is that it feels very much like a tribute or follow up to Sleepy Hollow. Almost as though if they could have gotten Johnny Depp for one of the brother’s they would have. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had been originally chosen to play Wilhelm over Damon.

It’s a very comedic film. It’s not witty and the dialogue isn’t sparkling. Most of the moments come from slapstick jokes that are tired.

There are scenes that don’t need to be in this film and after a quick start it gets bogged down much too easily. That is my one big complaint with this film. That after a flying start things slow down and I can see why this film always gets overlooked. For a two hour film it feels about three hours long.

It should have been a better film. It is disappointing. They took a scatter gun approach to the mentions, trying to shoehorn in every single Grimm’s fairytale they could in some way or form. The brotherly arguing doesn’t appear until halfway through the film and is then very formulaic. The climax offers a little closure as the brother’s put all their show boating skills into action and there is even a joke about true love’s kiss bringing Wilhelm back from the dead.

Considering the heights of the careers that Ledger, Headey and Damon have… this can’t help but feel like a misstep for them. It’s definitely worth another watch, but mostly just too see how far many of the actors have come since making this film.

RTJ

10 Things I Hate About You – How to teach sneakily teach Shakespeare to teenagers

What up, Buttercups?

This was a film that, for a long time, I never understood. I’d never studied the Taming of the Shrew so I had no idea what it was about. That didn’t stop me loving it when I first watched it way back when on cable TV. I liked it because it had Joseph Gordon Levitt in it and I’d liked him in 3rd Rock from the Sun. This was the first film I’d ever seen Heath Ledger in.

After studying Taming of the Shrew for GCSE English (I was accused of cheating because my Shakespeare work was so much better than the rest of my coursework) I saw the play in the movie. I saw the themes and the plot points and the characters all tweaked for a teenage audience. Although when we tried to watch it in English the video didn’t work and we ended up watching Blade 2 for an hour.

Personally, I would have liked watching Shakespeare much more.

The story, trying not to give out spoilers to those few luckless or ignorant souls who haven’t yet watched it, is simple. It’s ultimately a love story. There are obstacles and the few stubborn Hollywood tropes that dog Rom-Coms and refuse to die. There’s the new kid at a school – Cameron (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt), The bumbling dork – Michael (David Krumholtz), the jerk – Joey (Andrew Keegan), the bad boy with a heart of gold – Patrick (Heath Ledger), the bitch – Kat (Julia Stiles) and her cute little sister – Bianca (Larisa Oleynik).

The heart of the film is in the interactions between characters. The premise is simple enough. Cameron and Joey both want to date Bianca. But her father (Larry Miller) refuses to let her date unless her older sister Kat is dating, playing off the fact that Kat is an independent bitch that has a habit of emasculating men and therefore is mostly undatable. Michael comes up with a plan to have Joey pay Patrick to date Kat so that he can date Bianca, all the while Cameron will actually be dating her.

Of course, Kat finds out and that leads to tension between her and Patrick. Joey finds out that Cameron and Michael have played him but, because it’s a teen film, everything works out well.

Like I said, the film is all about interactions. Those connections between people is what makes this film. The spokes of the wheel all attach to Patrick. He’s the centre of the film. Cameron is our way into the film, we follow him into the school and Michael explains everything to him and in turn, us. But once the premise is established – the romance blossoms between Patrick and Kat – Patrick becomes our surrogate.

The theme of the film isn’t just about love. There is a love story. But the theme of the film is acceptance and independence. Kat is independent. She knows what she wants and she knows her mind. She walks a hard line on the path of Feminism, she’s not worried to voice her opinions. She’s strong willed and refuses to accept compromise in most cases.

Even though Patrick is initially paid to date her, he accepts her for who she is and when he opens up to her about his ‘missing year’ she accepts him for who he his. Yes, there is some manipulation on his part, he uses the bands and books she loves to get into her good graces but in the end he does genuinely caring for her.

Looking back, it’s hard to look at the kitsch-ness of this late ‘90s film and not be charmed. From the flashing of the detention teacher to break Patrick out to him singing on the steps. There’s the paintball fight and for a lot of the film Kat feels like she is only ever a moment away from saying something that will make you look at life through a completely different lens or,if you’re a man she is angry with, making you feel about 2 inches tall.

Bianca is sweet, so is Cameron. Michael even finds himself a love interest in the form a of a Shakespeare loving girl he sweeps of her feet with verse. This film does a great job of making rational decisions concerning who gets paired up. It doesn’t force anyone to fundamentally change who they are (aside from getting Patrick to give up smoking) to be with someone else. The two badasses get together because they recognise and equal in the other person. The two sweet hearts get together and the two geeks get together.

None of the girls in this film are the Manic Pixie Girl stereotypes you see in a lot of Rom-Coms. If you don’t know what that means… two things. Firstly, congratulations! You lovely naive innocent you. Secondly, it’s a girl who is the opposite of our main character who makes them better by being in their life, who makes their life more interesting (read difficult) and is the driving force for change within the main character. For examples of the Manic Pixie Girl Trope (I’m guilty of writing her in my own work.) look at films like Along Came Polly, Papertowns and – to a lesser extent – Ruby Sparks. All films where a free spirited girl brings our protagonist, usually a guy who is deeply unhappy with some part of his life, out of his shell and helps him achieve his true potential. Even 40 Year Old Virgin has one.

While a lot of the references and the bands and music from this film will make no sense to anyone who doesn’t remember the nineties (last year was the first year that kids leaving secondary school wouldn’t have been alive before the new millennium, feel old now?”). The message of self-acceptance, that being you is a good thing and that being with someone else should not mean you have to change who you are, are very much still valid.

It’s an odd film that both plays too and swerves different tropes. In fact the tropes it does keep are almost so far over the top that they’re parodies of themselves, as though way back in the halcyon days of 1999 this film was already thumbing it’s nose at the established way of shooting high school films.

If nothing else this is the film is was a launching pad for a lot of stars. To some extent or another, from Heath Ledger, who went on to win an Oscar and give one of the greatest character performances ever committed to film, but I’m biased and I will be covering that at some point… like next week.

RTJ

Bad Words – The High Road Not Taken

What up, Buttercups?

The only reason I watched this film is because it starred Jason Bateman and I love Jason Bateman. Outside of Arrested Development I think he is a criminally underused actor. That being said… This film is also his directorial debut and as debuts go. He couldn’t have picked a more challenging production.

To begin. His character (Guy Trilby) is deeply unlikeable. He is a man in his forties competing in Spelling Bees against children. He is rude, sarcastic, insensitive and plays dirty. Worst of all is that for most of the film he shows no remorse. Through voice over sections we gather that there is a master plan – not that we know exactly what it is until the very end – but he also alludes to the fact that he’s not doing this because he doesn’t know better. He does know better but he is pigheadedly choosing to be the asshole in this movie.

He uses the rules technicalities that he has memorised – due in part to having a photographic memory, which isn’t made a big deal of thankfully – to get into the competitions with the soul goal of getting to the televised finals.

Along the way we see what depths he is willing to sink to tilt the competition in his favour. From handing a young boy a pair of his girlfriend’s panties and telling them that he needs to return them to his mother, to putting a blob of ketchup on a girls seat to convince her that her period has started live on national TV. He does all this and we should hate him.

And yet… and yet.

You feel, or at least I felt, some form of affection for Guy. His mother has just died and imparted to him the name of his father who has been absent all his life. Not only absent but of his father who didn’t recognise him because it would have been bad for his image. We come to understand that behind the wall and the faced of being a total asshole, he is just a damaged kid who finds himself understanding all the things his mother did to him and why and wanting his father to pay some form of attention to him.

There is also a buddy comedy element to this film when Guy befriends fellow competitor Chaitanya (played to annoying and sometimes heartbreaking perfection by Rohan Chand). Together they cause all types of nuisance – including putting a live lobster in the men’s toilets and Guy paying a hooker so that his young friend can see his first boobs – all the while there is a plan under the surface for Chaitanya to betray Guy in hopes that them being friends will make it harder for him to beat the kid.

Kathryn Hahn plays a reporter who is sponsoring and following Guy’s story as he tries to wreak havoc. She also doubles as his love interest.

It’s through the climax of the film that Guy realises what he wants from life and stops pushing people away. He accepts the friendship of Chaitanya – the ending of the film is Guy helping him with a bully problem in a way that only guy can – and his burgeoning relationship with the reporter.

It almost feels like a new take on a coming of age movie and the Guy Trilby at the end of the film is a much more emotionally stable and mature man from the rude, sarcastic individual we first meet.

There are, of course, characters who take exception to what Guy is trying to achieve. Mostly these are parents who feel he should not share the stage with their child and even though they have a point. We – I – don’t agree with them. Bateman in this does what Bill Murray did before him in Ghostbusters; he makes someone who should be totally unlikeable and makes us empathise with them.

Allison Janney has a superb turn as a dedicated organiser of the Golden Quill Spelling Bee who stoops to fight fire with fire by meddling with the list of randomised words to make sure that Guy gets the hardest words consistently – side note; watching Jason Bateman casually spelling… ahem… floccinaucinihilipilification is a sight to be behold, yes I did have to look up how to spell that..

The theme of this film is responsibility. Gut takes responsibility for his actions. In fact, in many ways he is the most responsible person in the film. You have his reporter girlfriend who is enabling him to take his revenge, you have to contest officials who break the rules to try and manipulate the outcome, you have Chaitanya who is being openly manipulative in accordance with his father’s plan for befriending Guy so that they can use his friendship as a weapon. There is Dr Bowman (the wonderful Philip Baker Hall) who tries to intimidate Guy into quitting the contest, belittling him and saying he won’t amount to anything.

It’s a twisted way of looking at it, but Guy with his simple plan of ruining the first televised finals of the Golden Quill in response to his father abdicating responsibility for him may be childish and petulant but he makes no illusions that it isn’t. Out of all the upstanding and admired adults in the film… Guy is the most honest.

It’s a film I’m happy to have in my collection and I watch it whenever I need to feel that little thrill of rebellion. I’m sure there are movies that do it much better, but I doubt there are many that are as funny and as smart as this film.

RTJ

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – Turns out even Padme was strong with The Force.

What up, Buttercups?

I totally had no idea I was going to do this film. I’d intended to go from Hook onto something else by Robin Williams. There was a lot too choose from and it all would have been amazing because that was the type of man he was. He did amazing things so I’d have been spoilt for choice. Even if I’d chosen to do the one I really wanted to which was one of his weirder outings. I may come back to it at a later date, but this film gives me a chance to do something a little different and gives me other options to review including one film by Jason Bateman that I think is critically overlooked. But this film is the one I chose because it dovetails beautifully with a lot of the themes from Hook, but we’ll get to that later.

The scenario for this story is a simple one. Mr Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is dying. He knows this because he bought a lifetime supply of a certain pair of shoes and he’s down to his last pair. He owns a magical toy shop and runs it with the help of Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman). They get audited by an uptight tax man whom they nickname The Mutant (Jason Bateman).

During the film we find that the store has a mind of its own and doesn’t like that it’s owner is going to die. The toys begin to rebel and his employees try to give him reasons for him to live.

Nothing changes the outcome and Mr Magorium does indeed die. We are treated to a lovely, touching death scene. It’s very beautiful. He throws a paper aeroplane and from it’s tail there comes a starry sky that flows around the room leaving him sitting in the middle of the starry field as he gets ready to go.

It’s a part of the main theme of the film. Acceptance. It is one of those themes that I love but always leaves me a little teary. It’s the same when I watch Meet Joe Black. There’s something noble and beautiful and moving and amazing about someone facing death with that stoic, peaceful peace that is something we can only hope to emulate when we finally go.

After his death the store goes through a period of mourning. All the colours drain out of the place and none of the toys come to life like they used to.

Molly has been left a simple wooden cube. But it is a simple test that helps her understand that there is magic in her too.

This is the second theme of the film. That there is magic in all of us. It’s a lovely thought. Molly is a musician, she has such potential but is suffering from musical writer’s block. She is comfortable in her role at the Emporium and there is nothing pushing her to finish her first symphony. It’s only after Mr Magorium dies that she is allowed to step into the forefront and discover just how inspirational she can be and how to let the magic flow through her. She is always playing flat surfaces as though they are pianos. This is the form her magic takes with the store coming to life around her as she conducts and unseen orchestra.

The Mutant is high strung. He is the adult of the film. There are moments where he loosens up, a particularly great scene where him and Eric (Zach Mills) – who is very fond of hats – play around with several hats creating a scenario where a king sends his court jester off the fight a dragon.

The Mutant has his own theme in this movie. He is the workaholic, the dour presence that misses all the incredible things going on around him in the store because he doesn’t believe in things he cannot see. He believes in the numbers and that’s all. It’s through his time at the store and his time befriending Eric that he learns to embrace the wackiness that life sometimes throws at you. That there are times when it s okay to have fun and embrace the everyday magic. This is where it clearly crosses over in tone with Hook.

It is a film about belief. Not in magic, but in the possibility that you are magic. That you are capable of being magic. Where that is in the ability to create music. Your whimsical choice to express personality through your hat collection or, in the Mutant’s case, that magic can be done and that not everything has to have a boring adult explanation.

I first watched this many years ago and at the time I didn’t think much of it. I liked Dustin Hoffman and I loved Justin Bateman. It was only a few years later that I had gone through it a few more times that it began to recognise the themes in the film and it really began to hit the right notes.

It’s a happy chirpy film for the most part, but there are definitely deeper philosophical points in there too. Margorium talking about how Shakespeare ends King Lear with the simple words “He dies.”

It’s a beautiful movie. That is meant for kids but with enough big moments that us adults get to wondering about the meaning of life and wondering if we’re still capable of making magic.

RTJ

Hook – The Dangers of Growing Up

What up, Buttercups?

Let’s face it. Being an adult sucks. Adulting sucks. There are bills and worries and stuff you have to do and everything, in short, sucks. Yet, we spend most of our time as children wishing we could hurry up to a point where we’re the ones who make the rules and we can do what we want, not realising that our parents are replaced as the rule makers by other people who are even more powerful and, in some cases, a lot less benevolent.

I can’t help but love this film. I remember watching this as a child on VHS. The story of how we got is was weird. McDonalds did a weird promotion where you could buy videos from them with meals. Or something. We got videos from them during this offer. The first was The Addams Family and Hook was the second.

Watching it as a child a lot of the themes of the film went over my head. I think that is something that happens a lot. All I knew was that I had watched Peter Pan and this had some of the same characters in. It took place in the same Neverland and it had Captain Hook in it.

It was also the film that set off my long time love of everything Robin Williams. It’s something I still have and part of the reason no matter how good the live action remake of Aladdin that Disney have in the work is, I doubt I will ever watch it. I’m tired of their rehashing of my childhood.

Still. Hook. Firstly, I’d like to address the fact that it took some real balls to hire Dustin Hoffman to play Captain Hook and then make him virtually unrecognisable. The casting of this film is wonderful. From Robin playing the uptight Peter to Bob Hoskins as Smee and Maggie Smith as Wendy. Maggie smith who looks as vibrant today as she did almost… wow, 25 years ago.

Okay that’s depressing.

It is clearly a film of two halves. You have the first section where Peter is obviously not the perfect father figure. There is even a suggestion that he favours his younger daughter over his son. Which is actually a convincing plot point. Those of us who have siblings will always swear blind that the other one is our parent’s favourite and parent’s, let’s face it, we’re right.

For example; a valid point which Jack brings up is that Peter went to his daughter’s play – the play performed is Peter Pan. So, is he there for his daughter Maggie (who is playing the role of her grandmother Wendy who is acted in the film by Maggie Smith, how’s that for a meta in joke?) or to watch the story of his younger years? – but he missed Jack’s baseball game. How many of us can relate to our siblings getting attention or presents which we didn’t?

This is then reflected and turned on its head when the children are whisked away to Neverland. Captain Hook spends the majority of time wooing Jack. Setting up baseball games and being attentive to his needs and neglecting Maggie.

Visually the two worlds are stunningly different. The real world is muted lots of dour and drab clothes, except for the children. But… once in Neverland it is all vibrant colours. Everything feels more alive. Like you’ve stepped into a place caught in an eternal summer. Where the days are long and filled with adventure and the nights are always warm and filled with star studded skies.

Abig theme for this film is adulthood but moreover it is about remembering what it is to have fun and keeping the eternal spark of youth burning in your chest. Peter forgets who he is when he’s in the real world but by going back and going through all the rigorous training and trails that the Lost Boys put him through he remembers his childhood. Conversely by remembering, he can’t remember why he wanted to leave and is stuck as a grown man in a child’s body. Which is overcome by the remembrance of his responsibilities to his kids.

It’s a film about balance essentially.

Everything has an opposite. Peter has Hook. Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) has Smee. Even Peter’s fear of flying has Hook’s Crocodile. The reversal of fears is cleverly done. Peter being afraid of flying at the beginning of the movie while we all know it was something he was never afraid of before. Goes up against the stuffed crocodile. Which Hook was afraid of but has now seemingly beaten. By the end of the film these the roles are reversed; Peter overcomes his fear of flying and Hook is confronted by dozens ticking clocks and his ultimate run in with the crocodile he thought he’d beaten.

Event he changes in Peter are balanced. It’s only by realising that Hook is being a better father to Jack than he was that spurs Peter to try to better himself and rediscover how happy fatherhood made him which allows him to fly once more.

There are hokey action scenes where children in colourful armour with weapons that shoot tomatoes and eggs and marbles and funny coloured gunge hold out against grown men wielding swords. The only death coming at the hands of Hook. Which actually provides the turning point in the film for a lot of the characters. It’s that moment which shakes Jack out from under the spell Hook has him under.

Imagination plays a big part in the set up to this film. There is of course the food fight scene. Where dinner is a game powered by imagination. You can only eat the food that you imagine to be in front of you. It is a pivotal scene in the film and one that was always a favourite of mine as a child. Watching his building frustration as all the dishes around him are empty yet the child dig in like there is a banquet before him. The verbal show down with Rufio (Dante Basco) which serves as the catalyst for Peter’s imagination to kick back in. Which leads to the food fight and finally Rufio throwing a coconut at Peter which he slices in half with a neat little spin while holding his sword. This in turn leads to the slow trickle of memories that bring him back to being the Peter Pan who ran Neverland.

In essence this film can be completely summed up by my favourite quote from the late great Mr Williams, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” That is the entire film in a nutshell. Not losing the little spark of madness as the mounting pressures of adult life trying to smother it.

RTJ

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – Cartoon Noir

What up, Buttercups?

This film is one of the strangest I’ve ever watched and I love it. An amazing mix of live action and animation. It’s an amazing mix of cartoon characters too with Disney and Warner Bros properties mixing together on screen in a way that has never been seen since to my knowledge.

If you haven’t seen the film. It is a murder mystery set in a world where cartoons and humans live side by side.

I remember watching this first as a child and not understanding much of it beyond the fact that there was a place where cartoons were real and you could interact with them.

At it’s heart this is a film about grief. Eddie Valiant (the late great Bob Hoskins) lost a brother and in many ways that is what makes him the grumpy borderline alcoholic that he is at the start of the film. He isn’t over the death of his brother at the hands of a “toon”.

Underneath the goofy cartoon violence and the intrigue there are racial undertones; with clubs that are “humans only” where the only performers are toons. If you look in the background of Jessica Rabbit’s (Kathleen Turner’s voice) big musical introduction number all the musicians are crows. Then there are all the snide little semi-racist remarks – when Eddie is caught in a compromising position with Jessica he’s asked if he’s “dabbling in watercolours”.

As the film goes along it hits all the typical noir genre tropes. With the drunk detective down on his luck. Even the shadow he casts on his own door being something we would have seen at the height of the film noir craze. Then there is the escalating case where it grows from being a simple case of cheating wife to murder to the plan to wipe toon town off the map.

I talk a lot about the music in films at it’s one of those things that when it is good music can make a film and when it isn’t it can break a film. The music in this film is very reminiscent of the genre it is parodying.

I don’t think that Bob Hoskins gets enough credit for changing his acting style to play alongside cartoon characters. Watching it back, I realise just how physical this role was. The special effects also need to be praised. Part of the reason why the cartoons feel so real is how they interact with the world around them. All the effects need to be practical and knowing that makes me so impressed with the team behind the movie.

Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is menacing as all hell. From his introduction he is sinister and cold and dread inducing. He doesn’t blink and the one time he cracks a smile it feels like his mind is full of bad intentions.

The pacing of the film is nigh on perfect. The action and the slow story sections match up perfectly. There are enough red herrings so that the reveal at the end doesn’t feel forced out of nowhere but isn’t completely insane. The case that killed Eddie’s brother ties into the murder and everything ties up nicely by the end and yet it doesn’t feel contrived. If you pay attention while watching a second time all the red herrings disappear and you can piece everything together all the evidence.

One thing I absolutely love about this film is that it does follow the rules of cartoons, even when they are applied by Eddie. So the film has an internal logic that works. Considering this film has so many cartoons, there are some very dark moments in it. There are a few adult jokes thrown in along the way.

A lot of the final confrontation between Eddie and Doom is setup early in the film with the transferable holes and the punch mallet. As a child one of the scariest things I think I ever saw was the scene when Judge Doom was run over by the steam roller. Then you have the reveal that the Judge is a toon and Christopher Lloyd is unleashed to be as zany and crazed as he wants to be and that is something that is hilarious in its own right.

By the end of the film everything is tied up. Eddie has quit drinking and finally got the closure he needed for his brother’s death, rediscovered his sense of humour and even got himself a love interest… even though the only characters you see him kiss are cartoons.

As I said earlier there are racial overtones to this film but they were lost on me as a child. All I remember was sat watching this one the sofa late at night with my mum and dad. Not understanding a lot of what went on but loving it every time my favourite characters were on the screen. I may have lost the child like wonder I had watching this for the first time but as long as this film brings back those memories I think I’ll watch it again for years to come just to recapture the days of my youth where life was simple. It is a total nostalgia watch for me and I’m okay with that.

RTJ

The Addams Family – The Ideal Family

What up, Buttercups?

I was initially unsure whether to review this movie. It was one of my favourites as a child and I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the memories that I had. Add into the mix that the first scene in the film is about Christmas carollers. But that is the only mention of Christmas in the entire film and considering it ends on Halloween I feel it’s the perfect film to end my run of spooky films for Halloween.

It’s not a horror. That it obvious. It is creepy and funny and amazingly hammy but brilliantly made and just packed full of jokes that I didn’t realise were there as a child. It is a beautifully twisted masterpiece.

And yet. As dysfunctional as the Addams’ are supposed to be. They are actually the perfect family. Think about it. You have a married couple who are still as in love today as they were the day they met. A pair of brothers who are close, even though the audience all sees Gomez as the more handsome of the pair he only has glowing praise for his brother. The children play nicely together and, even though it is obvious Wednesday (Christina Ricci) is the favoured child – or favoured child actress given that she has so many more lines – Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) never feels like he is the butt of any jokes. In fact Pugsley is the straight man to Wednesday’s sarcastic witticisms.

I’m not going to lie, as a child the plot of this film went totally over my head. I didn’t understand what was going on but at the time I didn’t need to. I just knew that I liked the characters and I loved the way they interacted.

Watching the film again as an adult I find myself loving the story as much as I still love characters. Just everything else no makes sense. Watching as an adult brings a whole new level of appreciation.

The story itself makes perfect sense when I look back. A couple of scam artists trying to take advantage of a family tragedy in order to make money. There is a formula to it in the sense that, of course, the villains get foiled and one of the bad guys actually bonds with the family.

You can tell it’s coming, but it never feels forced. The discovery of his charade and crisis it spawns that leads to the rest of the film and finally to the climax is all very natural. The party is a natural setting for things to take a turn.

A corrupt lawyer and a pissed off judge is all it takes to turn everything on it’s head and this is where the beautiful biting satire of the American dream comes in. They spend very little time living ‘normal’ lives and it’s shown as a period of deep despair.

Some of the humour is so subtle and brilliant. No words, just disgruntled looks, wry glances and arched eyebrows. There is even a dancing scene where Fester (Christopher Lloyd) and Gomez (Raul Julia) finish by staring straight into the camera, leaving the fourth wall broken behind them.

The casting for this film was superb. In many ways I think this film defined how some of these actors and actresses were seen for a good portion of their careers afterwards. I doubt that Christina Ricci will ever truly get away from being Wednesday Addams any more than Daniel Radcliffe will get away from being Harry Potter.

It’s one of those films where I feel that the soundtrack is overlooked because it is so perfect. It’s one of those scores that so blends into the background that you actually have to tear your attention away from what is happening on screen to notice it.

The pacing is perfect. If anything this film will always been a little short for my liking. The first act is brilliant, introducing us to the family and setting up the conflict with the lawyer right from the get go. The second act is easily the highlight of the film, where Fester becomes part of the family and it sets up his familial split between his real family and the woman he has known as his mother for twenty-five years. The third act is then ushered in as the plot is uncovered and the family is divided. But it doesn’t last long until Fester’s change of heart comes into full effect and he rejoins his family.

The only complaint I have about this film, which is minor, is the final scene. After the conflict is resolved and the bad guys have their comeuppance and the good guys have won. We’re treated to a jump forward in time. 7 months later. It’s Halloween and the family is altogether and happy and living the blissful life they always have. Then there is a mini exposition dump on us in the form of an explanation that Fester really had amnesia and the story that was told to the family about him being found in a tuna net after a hurricane turns out to have been real. Just that little dump of dialogue and the cut to Fester’s face as he holds his head like he’s only just remembering it… that’s a bit awkward. I’m assuming that might have been a reshot scene injected for the benefit of the audience after test audiences didn’t like the original way the film ended.

Aside from that one, tiny scene at the very end of the movie, it is a perfect film. There may be a few continuity errors. Forinstance the scene at the start of the movie where Gomez and his lawyer Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) have a sword fight is brilliant. With the acrobatics and then the iconic backfilp over the desk into the office chair to catch both pen and sword is something that I will always remember. But after that thing is handed the sword which he scabbards. In the very next scene he is shown upstairs with Morticia (Anjelica Huston) finding an ancient finger trap they’d been looking for. But that is the only thing I can find at fault continuity wise.

Even if it wasn’t. I’m not about to let these little details get in the way of me enjoying a this film. I’ve loved it since I was a child and that will never change.

I love that theme of this film is family. I’s obvious, it’s right there in the title, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it like modern Hollywood Blockbusters tend to do these days. It’s secondary theme, if you can call it that, is of finding peace with being who you are. It’s woven through out the films. We see Fester becoming more at home with who he is after being accepted by the Addams’ but we also see the Addams’ struggling to fit in with a world where they obviously don’t belong. The theatricality of the child’s Shakespeare performance and Wednesday’s dodge of stereotypical ‘hero’ for the school bulletin board prove this. They refuse to change for society even though they are looked upon as the weird family.

Whereas if you look at the Alford family. There marriage is dysfunctional, the husband is broke and attempts to defraud Gomez from the moment we lay eyes on him, the son – we only see from a few moments and he is being overly mothered in a horrible fashion – doesn’t have a sliver of personality that either Wednesday or Pugsley has.

We are shown nothing of the “normal” families in the area. There is a scene in an auction where Gomez and Morticia bid on something that they already own. They spend $50,000 for charity and no body notices this, they only pay attention to the fact they’re bidding on something that is already theirs.

It is a very clever satirical poke at society and follows in the footsteps of Tim Burton by suggesting that its at the fringes of society where we find the true stories worth telling. This one just happens to be about a perfect family.

Sleepy Hollow – A Beginners Guide to Keeping Your Head

What up, Buttercups.

Well, I didn’t think that was gonna happen. For those who don’t know, my office software went from working to not working for no reason. It took me all weekend to get it working again but now it is and don’t have to miss posting this.

So, with that being said… on to the film!

There were so many choices for films to choose that connected to the last film in a deeper way than ‘This is also a scary film’. To be honest, my original idea was to go to Secret Window that way I’d have all the works of Stephen King at my disposal… but that was just a little too easy.

Maybe next year.

When you look at this film you can tell almost immediately – without reading the title card – who directed this film. The dark tone and muted colours mean this could only be the work Tim Burton.

It’s another case of Johnny Depp to the rescue, although considering this movie came out before From Hell it would class as the first case of Johnny Depp to the rescue? But it does indeed continue his streak of playing characters who are… Odd by the social standards of the time. Sadly, its one of those things that once you notice its hard to unsee. If this was a CinemaSins video on YouTube (definitely go and watch them, they are great and hysterical) it would probably be called “Johnny Depp plays character ahead of his time cliché!” Ding

Some of the dialogue is a little hokey. Especially some of Crane’s (Depp) dialogue. There is one line that just makes me want to find the screenwriter and ask them if they know how time works. The film is set in 1799. Yet 5 minutes into the film someone says “The millennium is almost upon us.” While trying not to tread on Jeremy’s toes and infringe on the CinemaSins gimmick… “Movie doesn’t know how to correctly age!” Ding. The turn of the century is upon them, the millennium is still a full 200 years away.

People always note that Tim Burton likes to work with certain actors. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter always get named, but what they forget is that he works with a lot of the same people. Most notably Danny Elfman, who does almost all the music for all of Tim Burton’s films. He does a wonderful job in making the score menacing, with a tone and volume that raises and falls. It’s masterfully done.

The casting is superb. It’s only looking back that I notice how many names are actually in this thing! You’ve got a fair number of cast members who went on to be in the Harry Potter franchise. Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Richard Griffiths. There’s even Ian McDermid in a rare role that is not Emperor Palpatine.

As much as I love Christina Ricci – part of me will always think of her as Wednesday Addams – there are a few line readings that come across as flat. I’m more than willing to put that down to playing alongside the sometimes gurning and weirdly inflected performance of Depp.

The dream sequences are odd. They follow in Burton’s trademark steps of always having an unreal world that is more colourful and vibrant than the real world. I don’t like that they tie in this dream world and Ichabod’s past to the case of the Headless Horseman, it feels a little too much like lazy storytelling at times. It feels all too convenient at times. Like they are inserted to move the plot along.

I like the fact that Ichabod, while being a “man of science and reason” still acts scared. He goes from being the stereotypical “there’s no such thing as ghosts and the supernatural” to being a believer after a single sighting. How many people would be the same in his shoes? We are so condition the there actually being a rational explanation that when there isn’t one its almost a cliché dodge. The fact that we are actually dealing with a spirit and not some Scooby Doo villain in a mask.

My only have two complaints with this film. The first is that the plot seems to move too fast at times. Everything seems to speed along as soon as you hit the 45 minute mark. Then at the 90 minute mark there’s a lot of action and much of it becomes very slapstick with the formerly deft Horseman hitting everything that isn’t Ichabod Crane and being flung about like a rag doll.

Christopher Walken does a great job of being the Horseman. He’s always struck me as being slightly sinister. He’s not given much to so in this film and has exactly zero lines…unless you count growling and yelling lines. He is the perfect puppet villain. Silent, cold and ruthless.

There isn’t really a moral to this film. Not that there needed to be one. It’s an enjoyable gothic romp. Back before Burton started letting his imagination twist all the good things in the world. This is how it should be used. The story is twisted and warranted all the dark and hopelessness that he is known for. Although I’ll never forgive him for what he did to Alice in Wonderland.

Another good performance from Depp long before he became drowned in run and irrevocably Jack Sparrow which may or may not have been the best/worst thing to happen to his career.

At 1 hour 45 minutes the film isn’t overly long and there are no parts that feel like they lagged. If anything the opposite is true. If you want to watch a film that makes time fly. This is most assuredly it!

RTJ