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

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Ninth Gate – When Alexandre Dumas isn’t sexy enough for your movie

What up, Buttercups?

Ninth Gate. I never thought this film could be any more controversial than having Roman Polanski at the helm. But here we are.

I chose this film because it has such similar material as Horns and they are both adapted from novels. Horns, it turns out, a little more closely than Ninth Gate. There are lots of sections from book in the film that are almost scene for scene but it’s the main plot that is almost completely different.

The film chooses to focus on the three books and the illustrations drawn by Lucifer. Whereas, the book it was based on – The Dumas Club – is all about a single handwritten chapter of The Three Musketeers.

From the introduction of Depp’s Corso we are shown that he is a manipulator. He fleeces a couple out of a collection of very rare books and even though you may not know the exact value of them you can see by the reaction of the books original owner – a stroke riddled old man who can verbalise anything, but his good eye and hand clench at the injustice of it all – that he is being less than honest with the value of the books.

There is something charming about him though. A glibness we can’t help but smile at and wish to emulate. He is more reserved as his characters go. These were the halcyon days before he was cast as Jack Sparrow and everything seemed to blur together into one rum swilled mess that became his career since.

There is very little music in the background. It is a start film that makes sparing use of what soundtrack there is. But that plays into the tone of the film. The dialogue is rich and feels beautifully lazy. Especially at the beginning. Almost as though we are floating on a river of words.

There is no forced repartee between characters. It is all about power and who has it. There are multiple games of cat and mouse being played. Levels upon levels and it is wonderfully intricate. Corso is a man who does not have many friends. In fact all the people he interacts with within the film are either clients, business partners or want what he has. In this case; The nine gates of the kingdom of shadows, a rare book that in the right hands is supposed to summon the devil. In the novel however they are after the single handwritten chapter of The Three Musketeers which, lets face it, makes for a less compelling movie. He is a mumbling, charming bookworm. There is nothing about him which suggests he is not an expert on every book he ever lays eyes on.

You’d rather have a sickening satanic cult following you trying to steal the pages from a book to summon the dark lord they serve over a group of obsessives who have a club dedicated to Alexander Dumas. It’s not quite as sexy is it, even if the film is otherwise beat for beat exactly the same as the novel.

I mentioned earlier that the music in this film is very sparse. It’s used almost as a clue to viewers that something is about to happen. It is delicate and subtle which is unusual, especially in a film that is booked as a thriller and a mystery. Especially given it’s satanic twist. But the soundtrack was never going to be this film’s centrepiece. It was always going to be about the visuals.

Thankfully… Those are beautiful. And there are not an abundance of pentacles or pentagrams scattered around every room. For those who don’t know people who study paganism or practice Wicca are very sick of Hollywood using the pentacle as the standard symbol for “Oh shit! Devil worship is going on!” It predates the crucifix as a religious symbol and is used for protection… as anyone who has ever seen any episode of Supernatural will know.

The mystery takes about 35 minutes to properly get started but once it does it keeps the pressure up. Once all the key pieces are in place there is no let up. Corso is dragged into the thick of the drama whether he likes it or not.

One thing this film does differently from other Hollywood mysteries is that it doesn’t spoon feed you a massive dollop of exposition. It is given to you in drips and drabs and you have to do your best to assemble the pieces yourself.

It’s one of the only films I know that gives up exposition via throwaway line. It was tried at the very end of Guardians of the Galaxy but it came out a little clunky. Mostly because I think it was designed to set up things for the sequel. Whereas, here there is no need for sequel bait so the line can happen naturally and still feel like a badly timed joke at someone else’s expense.

I think the biggest change from the book to the screen, aside from the complete eradication of Dumas Club, is the notion which is almost spelt out in the book that the girl who ends up protecting Corso is, in fact, the devil. It’s never explicitly stated but then sometimes subtlety is the better weapon. Strange things happen around her and there is a long story she tell which ends with her crying and telling Corso about how the devil just wants to go home.

That might not be enough to be concrete evidence but I’ve seen fan theories based on less. I’m sure you’re all now thinking of the stupidest fan theory you’ve read recently based on a single frame from a single scene in and taken out of context.

I think as this film is all about layers and subtext and hidden meanings I like that there is a specific hero centric villain. A woman wants the book that her husband sold before committing suicide. Then there is the new owner who wants to know if his book is authentic so that he can make contact with the devil. Neither are plotting to overthrow the world. There is no grand scheme to resurrect Satan and end life on earth as we know it. It is a bunch of petty squabbling between super rich bibliophiles.

As it is Corso is hounded not by agents of some eldrich order trying to start or stop the apocalypse. He is hounded by a woman who wants to have the book back so that she can take part in her yearly orgy.

It is a decent film. The casting is good. Depp gives an adequate performance that only looks better and better when compared to the dreck he turns out in each new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There is an eerie tone set throughout this movie by the lack of any running background score. Almost like the entire film is set inside a giant library. There is action and intrigue and even a little sex all set beside a decent story that was rightly changed by Hollywood. Sadly I can’t see many people lamenting the changes that were made when adapting this from the book. If anybody aside from me actually read the book – it skips over a lot of background behind the Three Musketeers and the subsequent novels and the life of Dumas and how the real villain of the novels is D’Artagnan and the musketeers themselves which wouldn’t have hit with the audience.

So I guess what I’m saying, even though I hate myself for it is… Well done for not making an exact remake of the novel.

Now please excuse me while I go and take a shower. I feel all dirty for admitting that!

RTJ

Horns – What the Devil is wrong with you?

What up, Buttercup?

It’s that time of year again! Halloween and I would be remiss if I didn’t use this time to review some devilish and scary movies.

Let’s address one thing first. Daniel Radcliffe’s accent. American accents are hard to do. Especially if you don’t want to sound like you’re making fun of people from the south. So, what he does is a good attempt but you can tell it isn’t quite right. Although it’s much better than many American actors shots at an English accent.

It is a beautiful film in many ways.

The setting in just gorgeous. All the winding roads in amidst the trees, it has the real feel of a small town in turmoil after a murder.

Ig Perish (Radcliffe) is accused of the murder. There’s just one problem. He didn’t do it. What follows is part horror and part murder/mystery with a little comedy when Ig grows horns that allow him to influence those around him when it comes to living out their deepest, darkest desires.

He decides to use the power of his new horns to track down the man responsible for the murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple).

While this adaptation doesn’t follow the book beat for beat and there are a few alterations in the way the story is told and a few minor details. Otherwise it is a faithful representation of Joe Hill’s novel.

The main theme of which is love. You wouldn’t think it about a film which has a guy with horns on his head but it is about love. It’s also about responsibility, whether actual or imagined.

Ig feels responsible for his friend Lee’s (Minghella) accident in which he loses a couple of fingers thanks to a cherry bomb that Ig trades him in exchange for fixing Merrin’s cross.

The film also touches on friendships and betrayal while managing to offer a social commentary on the nature of guilt and the true value of the notion of innocent until proven guilty.

Trust is a big issue. The horns show Ig what people around him, including his own family, really think about him. The story unfolds around him in stereo, the similar scenes triggering flashbacks that fill in the backstory while he’s trying to figure out what happened the night the love of his life died.

Daniel Radcliffe does an amazing job of playing the heartbroken hero in this film. It’s something we’ve never really seen from him.

There’s one thing about this film that I really hate. All the snakes. I’ve feared snakes for as long as I can remember and seeing that many on screen in one go makes every part of me just contract and want to scream.

I always make a big deal of a film soundtrack. I have a background in music so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. This movie is no exception. Every song is perfectly placed. From the upbeat David Bowie songs that remind us that love can be the best thing in the world to the low, grumbling bass and pounding drums with muttered lyrics as when Ig finally starts to embrace the power of the horns. Even the instrumental pieces are amazingly suited. There are beautiful piano pieces that makes us feel loss and then they’re undercut by deeper, more sombre and menacing pieces that leave us feeling a little on edge.

This adaptation leaves out a few of the more outlandish aspects of the novel, considering that there is a guy who grows horns and begins to control people and have them tell him their darkest secrets, that is saying something. The tree house in the novel is a transitory thing. A place that doesn’t exist in the real world except for a few brief moments. It also skips the tree house’s loop in time. Which I think is beautiful in the novel, but may have been lost on the way to the screen.

The climax doesn’t happen the way it does in the novel. Ig never grows wings or turn into the typical devil vision we see on the screen. But cinema needs to make it’s impact somehow.

Neither does Lee’s backstory. The film makes him into psycho with very little fanfare. The book goes into more detail to flesh out Ig and Lee’s friendship, showing Lee to be manipulative and conniving. It goes into detail about Lee killing his mother or at least letting her die. He uses it as an excuse to gain sympathy and makes a move on Merrin, which she allows mistakenly believing it is just an act of grief and she is trying to help her friend.

It has an ‘happy’ ending in which the lovers are reunited in death – much like in the novel. In short, it is a solid film. It may not be the most faithful adaptation in out there, especially considering the new version of IT in cinemas, but it does keep to the themes of the book. It tells us a compelling love story, a revenge tale with a redemption narrative. Not everything is spelled out for us the way it is in the books and that is a good thing.

It isn’t one of my favourite films and I don’t know why. It has a solid cast, the music is damn near perfect and the story told is one that – baring growing horns and revenging myself upon someone – is something we can relate to. Who hasn’t felt like the world is against them after losing the one they love?

All in all… it’s something I’d definitely watch if it came on TV and there was nothing else to watch, but I’d flick through the other channels to make sure there wasn’t anything else first.

RTJ

What If? – A Handy Guide to Escaping the Friend Zone

What up, Buttercups?

If there is any film that goes above and beyond in getting an actor out of all preconceived notions about what they can and cannot do. This is it. Daniel Radcliffe was best known for being Harry Potter. Let’s face it that’s going to follow him around for the rest of his life. He’s done other things, of course, but this is one of the first roles he’s played since the wrapping of the Harry Potter franchise that didn’t see him dealing with the supernatural or any type of magic, real or illusion.

He plays Wallace. Who we’re introduced to as a slacker type living in his sister’s attic and helping to look after his nephew. Of all my favourite misdirections in cinema, this is up there as my favourite.

Wallace meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party thrown by his college room mate Allan (Adam Driver). There is instant, undeniable chemistry. There is also an obstacle. Chantry has a boyfriend in Ben (Rafe Spall), so Wallace decides to try just being her friend.

The dialogue in this film is exceptional! It gives Joss Whedon a run for his money in the witty back and forth department. There is so much chemistry between all the cast Adam Driver and Daniel Radcliffe act like they are best friends in real life.

The premise of the film is that friendship makes the perfect foundation for a relationship.

We watch as Wallace struggles to be noble while being faced with the woman that he desires. It’s one of those rare occasions that we find ourselves struggling between the conflicting ideas of wanting Wallace to get the girl and being true to his whole ethos of being her friend. Especially when Chantry’s boyfriend Ben leaves the country for six months for work.

The beautiful thing about this film is that there isn’t a defined bad guy by Hollywood’s trope standards. If this film wasn’t made independently Ben would need to be shown to be some sort of bastard to Chantry. The audience would need to be shown some reason, even if Chantry is unaware, that leaving Ben is the best thing for her. This would probably be him cheating. In the film there is only a hint of something untoward happening while he is away. That’s it. Just a hint. Other than that he tries to be the best boyfriend that he knows how to be. He is selfish and career driven but he’s not a “bad” guy.

Another point that would have made Hollywood not consider making this – and another reason I’m so glad it was an indie film – is the humour. It’s not situation based. It’s not based on some precariously stacked card castle of lies. There is very little physical humour. So many of the laughs come from dialogue. It’s something that mainstream Hollywood would label witty and then stick in some back draw somewhere.

The humour comes from so many directions. It is a superbly irreverent film and Adam Driver is the golden beating surreal heart of it. He is self-indulgent and sarcastic and caustic and it is so disconcerting to be belly laughing at the man who would then go on to play Kylo Ren. Radcliffe brings some stoic British wit and witty banter to the role, everything out of his mouth feels so smooth and organic. Zoe Kazan once again proves that she has a flair for playing quirky, funny women. An affinity for the independent girls who seem to always find themselves with the wrong man.

There are amazingly deep moments placed throughout the entire film but everything is undercut with humour. Even the heart-to-heart conversations between Wallace and Chantry are tinged with humour. The scene where Wallace and Allan trade advice is possibly one of the best of the film… but any scene where Wallace and Allan are together is amazingly funny.

Things change between Wallace and Chantry after a night spent on a beach after a misguided session of skinny dipping orchestrated by Allan and his new wife Nicole ( ) that leaves them naked huddled by a fire with only a single sleeping bag. That is actually the turning point for the entire film and for a while everything seems to be falling apart. Not just for Chantry and Wallace but for Allan and Nicole.

It’s a film of dualities. While trying to be friends Chantry and Wallace fall in love. That while trying to keep her relationship with Ben alive, Chantry discovers that it wasn’t what she thought it was. Wallace takes a path to run away from the pain in his old life and that thrusts him into a painful situation he wasn’t expecting but that working through the pain can often lead you to the best parts of life. If he hadn’t stuck out all the awkward, heartbreaking moments with Chantry then he’d have never got the happy ending he was so sure didn’t exist.

The core message in this film is that unexpected things will happen. That you never know what is around the next corner and its only by walking around it that you find something amazing. Wallace starts off hurt by an ex who cheated on him and then spent a lot of time trying to avoid anything like that.

It’s a hopeful film. It’s a film that suggests that change isn’t always the scary thing we think it is. We only ever see ourselves as worse off coming out of a relationship but this shows us that it can get better, that leaving a bad relationship gives us a chance to find something so much better. I think that is a lesson that many people could stand to learn.

RTJ

Ruby Sparks – Not so much Weird Science as Weird English

What up, Buttercups?

This is another one of those films that I absolutely love but can’t believe it’s a bigger deal.

It’s a complex tale of love obsession and the unhealthy behaviours we develop as packaged into a simple love story that is anything but usual.

It carries on the theme from last week of creator/created and the dynamic writers create with the people who populate their novels and heads.

It centres around Calvin (Paul Dano, who is criminally underused in my opinion) a writer who had success at a young age and has now retreated somewhat from the spotlight. He’s struggling under the expectation of a crowd who wants more from him than he thinks he can give them. Which is something that everyone who has stumbled onto greatness experiences. There are crowds of people waiting to see if it was a fluke or if they are genuinely as amazing a second time around. It’s a phenomenon so common it has a name; Second Novel (or Album for musicians) Syndrome.

From the very beginning we are shown that Calvin is deeply uncomfortable with people. To be honest, can we blame him? All the people around him are there to praise him, make money from him or some way exploit his status. They aren’t there for him but for their idea of him and it’s something he knows he will never live up to.

After a visit with his therapist (the superb Elliott Gould) he is challenged to write about a stranger seeing his dog and liking him just the way they are. This leads him to write about a growing relationship with Ruby Sparks. To his shock Ruby (Zoe Kazan also not as widely used as I think she should be) manifests in his life as a real person.

There is a level of wish fulfilment in this movie through Calvin’s relationship with Ruby. In many ways she is the perfect girl for him because she is exactly what she ants her to be. That changes because that is how things happen in the real world.

The film is almost a re-imagining of Frankenstein. We watch along as the creator stops being enamoured with his creation and begins to wish to tweak it.

That is exactly what happens. We watch as Calvin uses his writerly gifts to make changes to Ruby in the ultimate show of an abusive relationship. She wants space to do her own thing, he makes her depressed without him. When that begins to bother her, he writes that she is deliriously happy.

There is one vastly disturbing scene in which Calvin proves to Ruby that she is something he created by making her do demeaning things while he sits at his typewriter.

It’s a case of power corrupting and of humanity not knowing what we want or wanting what isn’t good for us.

Through his relationship with Ruby we watch Calvin change, first for the better and then for the worse. There is an understanding that goes through my head whenever I watch this film. If being with someone can bring out the best in us – a love story cliché we can all agree – then the prospect of losing someone would surely have the opposite effect and bring out the worst.

But watching it happen is something different.

It is a masterclass of relationship storytelling. Everything that Calvin loves about Ruby to begin with are the things that ultimately begin to drive him crazy. Watching the film back several times I realised that Ruby doesn’t change until Calvin does. They are mirrors for each other.

It happens first over a trip to meet his Mother (Annette Benning) and Step-Father (Antonio Banderas) who both live a carefree life. While the rest of the family are having fun, Calvin isolates himself to try to read a book. He’s scornful of Zoe wanting to spend time with people who are not him.

All through the first section of the film Calvin makes a big deal about how shitty his previous relationship was. How emotionally isolated he felt but watching him through this relationship with Ruby we come to understand that Calvin is his own worst enemy.

Considering it was billed as a rom-com this film is packed with a surprising amount of thought-provoking moments. The themes of creator and created pop up as well as control issues and abusive relationships, trust, love and growth.

We go from having sympathy for Calvin to feeling happy for him with Ruby to disliking him and then back around once he has his epiphany and releases Ruby.

Aside from an amazing story (Written by Zoe Kazan) Ruby Sparks boasts a stunning soundtrack. So much of Calvin’s early character development is set against some beautiful background score that underpins the frustration he’s feeling at not being able to write. You have a building, swelling score that then stops dead the second he sits in front of his typewriter and it is all too easy for us to imagine that the words, the ideas and stories he had in his head all vanished the second they saw his typewriter. The themes surrounding Ruby’s creation are soft and haunting and all the beautiful sounds we’d only hear when we were falling in love with someone. The soundtrack makes very little use of established pop culture songs but the ones it does use underpin the scenes they are in.

I love this film it’s not as addictively re-watchable as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. That being said I do recommend at least a second or third viewing. It took me that long to realise how far in advance Ruby’s arrival was announced.

It is full of solid performances and I honestly think the only thing holding it back from being a bigger hit was the fact that it was mis-advertised as a light-hearted rom-com. There’s no real comedy here. There are a few laughs and a couple of quirky scenes, but aside from that it is an unashamed romance that looks into the very real problems in what is, essentially by the end of the film, a made-up relationship.

RTJ

Stranger Than Fiction – Or The Secret Conscience of Writers

What up, Buttercups?

Now, I mentioned last week that I don’t like Will Ferrell movies. He oversells everything until it almost becomes a parody of itself… Except this one. I love his film. I think it is honestly one of the most underrated films.

He is beautifully restrained, not gurning or making outlandish gestures. The closest he comes is in a single scene where he destroys a lamp.

The story follows Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) as he begins to hear someone narrating his life. His works for the IRS and is thrust into an audit of the opinionated and rebellious baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who hates him for no other reason than because he is a tax man.

With the help of Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), Harold manages to identify that Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing his story. Which spells disaster for him because she only writes tragedies where the hero of the story always dies.

What comes next is a madcap dash to stop her from killing him while trying to live the best life he can right up to the end.

At its heart, this is a love story.

First, you have the love that blossoms between Harold and Ana.

It starts off cantankerous and spiky as it sometimes does in rom-coms but by the end it transforms into something sweet and moving. Ana brings out something in Harold that he’s missing for most of the movie and – unlike many run-of-the-mill Hollywood Rom-coms – Harold’s previous relationship isn’t made out to be the cause.

In fact there’s barely a mention of his previous relationship. It is reduced down to a single throw away line about him being engaged to an accountant who left him for an actuary.

That’s it.

Next is the love the writer has for Harold.

This is harder to quantify than the other because it’s so rare to find it in film. The closest comparison I can think of is between Ed Harris and Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.

It’s the love the creator has for their creation. Yes, Karen is planning Harold’s death. But throughout the process of the film we find that she wants his death to have meaning and for the time leading up to it to be beautiful.

She cares for him even though she’s planning his death.

The film is also about life. About how fragile and fleeting it can be and how we should seize every moment and live it to the fullest. It is only when Harold finds out that he is going to die that his life begins to live. Before the revelation of his death he has one friend. A man he works with. Everything else is routine and precision, from the way he brushes his teeth to the way he gets to work. He lives his life by the numbers as it were.

The literary theory behind it all is interesting too. There is a session between Harold and the professor early on where they are trying to determine what type of story Harold is in. The scene itself is funny as you have Will Ferrell being the straight guy for the zany questions asked by Dustin Hoffman.

The seemingly random events that are thrown in to create the death only make sense when you watch the movie again. These disconnected scenes are scattered throughout the film and are used as a lovely metaphor for how the creative process can sometimes work, piecing together separate parts of the world into something new and amazing.

It starts with a side-by-side shot of a boy receiving a bike from his dad and a woman circling Jobs in a newspaper. From that single subtle seed which makes no sense unless you know what’s coming next blooms the rest of the film.

Both the boy on the bike and the woman make appearances throughout the film. Each time edging closer and closer to spelling out the ending that Karen has in mind for Harold.

This film is what happens when Death in the Final Destination franchise stops fucking around and becomes an artist.

The character development doesn’t feel forced. Harold questions his life not because the plot demands him to but because it is a very human response to what is going on around him. If a narrator suddenly started talking about you, describing in incredible detail all the things you were doing and was always right – even about the deepest, darkest thoughts you told no one else about – then told you were going to die. Wouldn’t you re-examine everything in your life and take a few more chances? Do the things you’d always wanted to do but put off because there was always going to be more time?

It is an amazing film, a masterpiece of subtlety and completely underrated. Before going back to watch it before writing this review I hadn’t seen it in months but watching it always inspires me. It may be a few more months before I watch it again but I guarantee it that when I do I will be inspired again.

It is one of those rare films which set a light off in the back of your brain and makes you want to create something beautiful.

Megamind – One Head is Better When Blue

What up, Buttercups?

I’d like to start with a qualifier. I dislike Will Ferrell films. There. I said it. Most of his comedies are way too over the top. If you have to oversell something to make it funny then surely that means it wasn’t funny enough to begin with.

That being said… This film isn’t terrible. It’s actually a great take on superhero movies and a lot of the tropes that Hollywood still uses. It turns a lot of them on their heads in away that is smart and genuinely funny. Plus, you can’t hate a film that actually made Will Ferrell turn up to a convention dressed as Megamind, blue paint and all.

The origin story an amazing send up of Superman’s. The opening is a perfect display of dichotomy of what happens when the option of being good isn’t an option. From the start we see Megamind shoved into the role of villain not because he wants to be but because when you share a school with an actual hero with superpowers who does everything he can to upstage you, what other choices do you have left? Do you blend in with the crowd or do you stand out in the only way left to you?

Let’s face it, it wasn’t like Megamind was every gonna fit in. He is blue after all and, realistically, humans don’t have the best track record when it comes to dealing with aliens – if our films are anything to judge by – or people with different coloured skin.

So the deck was stacked against him, even before MetroMan (Brad Pitt) and Megamind ever come to blows as hero and villain.

The film tackles a few issues. Dreamworks always does good work when it comes to theme of acceptance – all you have to do is watch any Shrek film, every single one of them is about acceptance in some form or another.

But more than that the crucial conflict at the heart of this movie is more of a journey of discovery. It’s Megamind’s search to find out who he is, to redefine himself after beating his nemesis. It always asks an age old question I’ve always had: what do the villains do after they win?

I don’t think it’s a question that many people give thought to, we’re not supposed to, we’re supposed to root for the superheroes. What do the villains do if they win? They’ve taken over the city, the country, the world, the galaxy… then what?

With heroes it is much easier because there are always more villains to fight, more threats to defeat, plans to foil. Megamind shows us a the reverse of this. In one way he shows what life is like if you’ve only had a single dream and you finally get it. It’s a perfect allegory of the old saying ‘be careful what you wish for.’

What do you do when you’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted?

It’s this crises that spurs on the change in Megamind.

It is a beautiful reversal of the line from the Dark Knight ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’ Except, in this case the villain lives long enough to see him become the hero.

It is through his selfish/selfless attempt to create another hero to battle, to give him self back his purpose and give the city back a saviour he inadvertently creates the biggest threat and thus becomes the hero he was trying to create in someone else.

The casting of the film is amazing besides Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt who are solid choices – the scene where Megamind apes Marlon Brando for his stint in the Superman films is a personal favourite – Tina Fey does a great job as Roxanne Ritchie, the reporter who ends up capturing Megamind’s heart. Jonah Hill… Is Jonah Hill. He voices Hal Stewart which is a nod to two different Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan and John Stewart. David Cross does an excellent job of playing Minion. You get the real sense that he and Megamind have spent a long time together, how he wants things to stay the same between him and his best friend. They have in jokes and a chemistry that makes the scene between them where the part ways actually sad.

There are some genuinely stunning musical choices in this film, although sadly I will never be able to hear Mr Bluesky without thinking of Baby Groot dancing.

Jonah Hill’s Hal/Titan performance is subtly brilliant, bringing to bear all the geeky angst and pent-up aggression of someone in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way back and doesn’t handle rejection well. His turn to the dark side is believable and not entirely unsympathetic, haven’t we all felt like destroying the world when someone we care about doesn’t care back?

There are so many in jokes and nods to both Marvel and DC comics its hard to keep track of all of them. They are separated into two different categories; the Marvel callbacks are all musically based, lots of AC/DC which featured prominently in Iron Man films and there are mentions of possible hero hideouts as ‘caves’ and ‘solitary fortresses’ (obvious references to Batman and Superman).

It’s a satisfying film. There aren’t many twists or turns, the plot is lovely and straight forward. While it turns a couple of tropes on their head. It is rather ‘run of the mill’ as Hollywood goes. There is the main plot, the romantic sub-plot and then gradual changes we see in.

It took me a long time get back to re-watch this, but I am glad I did. It’s that type of film where you might not want to put it on, but the second it is you can’t quite look away.

RTJ

Big Hero 6 – Aren’t We All Baymax When Drunk?

What up, Buttercups?

I love this film! Was there ever any doubt that this was gonna be the case? There is so much to love about this film and there is very little to detract from it.

You have an amazing cast of characters – all of whom are voiced wonderfully, we get to hear more than just a dozen lines from TJ Miller which is amazing – living in a beautiful world and cap that off with a touching story about friendship and overcoming loss. Then add superheroes. What more could you want?

Disney really upped their game with this movie. They had the typical “parents are dead in a Disney movie” trope. Which meant that the brothers Hiro (Ryan Potter) and Tadashi (Daniel Henney) were close. It’s what I imagined would had happened in Frozen if the Trolls hadn’t put the fear of God into Elsa about her powers.

They then kill of Tadashi. He is the real catalyst to what happens in this film. Sure, we’re following Hiro and his journey but none of that would happen without Tadashi. He shows Hiro that there is more to life than just being a genius coasting through life on his intelligence and making money hustling bot fights.

It’s Tadashi who shows him the school, introduces him to his idol, helps give him the idea which kicks off the rest of the plot of the film and introduces him to the friends who will become his team. He even instils in Hiro the need to do the right thing. His line “Someone has to help” coming back at the climax of the movie. So as much as Hiro is the hero of the film, Tadashi is a crucial part of what makes that happen.

Aside from Tadashi, Fred (Voiced by T.J Miller) has major input into the course the film takes. He is a portrayed as a comic book geek who wants nothing more than to have superpowers. It’s his insistence, subtle and comical throughout the film, the helps to bond the team together. It’s his love of comic book heroes that, in the end, inspires the team to become what they are.

The second best part of this film – I’ll get to the best and, yes, it is what you’re thinking it is – is that, with the exception of Fred, all the main characters are smart. Hiro is a genius teenager. Go-go (Jamie Chung) is a specialist with speed and is bad ass in her own right. I love that she tells Hiro to “Woman up!” Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr) is amazing with lazers and is sort of the group’s common sense. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a master of chemical reactions and the most sensitive to Hiro.

Their powers are all linked to what they know best and that actually gives them credibility. You feel as though the only thing stopping you from being a superhero like them is the lack of training in your chosen field.

The best part of this film is, of course, Baymax (Scott Adsit). Was there ever any doubt that it was going to be him. He’s a robot but he’s the heart of the film. Everything he does is to help Hiro. That is his whole concern throughout the entire film. All the adventures and hi-jinks they get up to are all in an effort to try and help Hiro get over his brother’s death. Including the darker moments of the film where Hiro tries to have Baymax destroy Callaghan (James Cromwell).

I love that Disney don’t stick to their usual formula of the obvious bad guy but throw a red herring in there in the form of industrialist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk).

This film is superbly paced. There doesn’t feel like there is a dull moment in the entire film and there are three separate montages and nothing feels rushed either. The development of Hiro throughout the film feels organic. It doesn’t feel like it takes place over a few days.

The major theme in this movie is grief and how we deal with it. Sure, there are superheroes and villains but everything is pointed towards the notion that we can’t just retreat from the world because we hurt. It’s only through his actions trying to get over the loss of his brother that Hiro can live up to the expectations that his brother had of him to use his intelligence to change the world for the better.

Loss also plays a major role in the development of the villain Callaghan. He loses his daughter and it twists him to a point where losing one of his students and attacking others mean nothing to him in the pursuit of his goal. This film does a lot to show us that grief is a powerful tool for change, both positive and negative and we see the polar opposites play out on the screen in front of us.

We even see Hiro take a few tentative steps down the path towards being exactly like Callaghan in seeking revenge for the death of his brother. It’s only through the intervention of his friends and the lasting memory of Tadashi that help him come to terms with his brother’s death and turn him. It’s easy to think that if Callaghan had this type of intervention in his own life he’d be different and this film wouldn’t happen.

The main message is: during hard times we need our friends. That it is perfectly okay to need help and those who care about us will always try to find a way to help us no matter what we’re going through. It’s an important message and to have it wrapped up in a film like this makes it the easiest for us to accept because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a friend like Baymax to make us feel better?

RTJ

Serenity – In Space No One Can Hear You Fanboy

What up, Buttercups?

Again we’re back to one of my favourite films. I love it so much and not just because it has Nathan Fillion (it does and he’s awesome). I’ve watched it so many times I can quote it by heart.

You can’t really talk about this film without mentioning the background behind it. Firefly was another Joss Whedon TV series but this one wasn’t as well-received as Buffy or the spin-off show Angel. Now, I could write an entire blog about the problems Firefly had. I will say that there were problems with the network re-ordering episodes and never giving Firefly a set airing time, which made it hard to judge whether the show had developed a fan base.

Right, now the Fox in the room has been dealt with on to the movie which gives us something very few cancelled television shows rarely do. Closure.

Serenity first and foremost is the end of the story that was set forth in the series. Now, with that being said you don’t actually to have watched the TV series to understand the film. There is enough backstory covered so you can watch this film on its own.

The premise, simply put or as simply put as I can make it, is justice. The Alliance of planets, created a scourge in the form of the nightmarish Reavers whether knowingly or unknowingly. River (Summer Glau) is a psychic who knows this secret. Her brother Simon (Sean Maher) rescued her and smuggled her on to the ship Serenity.

Captained by Malcolm Reynolds (the above mentioned awesomeness that is Nathan Fillion) and crewed with what could be a rough version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The strong warrior Zoe (Gina Torres), the thugish Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the genius mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and the ace pilot Wash (AlanTudyck).

It is a masterclass of storytelling and subversion of the usual cinema tropes (as is Wheddon’s way look at Avengers Age of Ultron and how everything about Hawkeye in that film told you he was going to die). In this film the trope dodge comes in many forms but non so overt and in your face as that of Shepard Book (The late great Ron Glass) who knows much more about the alliance then he is letting on. Book has a shadowy past; in every other film would mean that he will spill all he knows and everything that happened to him. But Serenity leaves us guessing.

Whedon, as always, is a master of dialogue. It’s witty and fired like a bullet. There’s dialogue happening off-screen that serves to build relationships and connections between characters and the events of the film. Tying everything into one big, self-contained universe.

This film makes a point of being so beautifully feminist. It is an amazingly brilliant show of feminism in its many forms. All of the female characters are strong in their own ways.

Zoe is an ex-soldier, she is hard, efficient and loyal but with a softer side that you only see when she is with her husband.

Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a companion – this universe’s version of a high end call-girl – she is in control of her sexuality and is the most respectable member of Serenity’s crew.

River is a psychic and military trained bad ass. In an early scene we see her fighting prowess in a bar, up to an including overpowering and incapacitating Jayne who has the drop on her.

Kaylee is the most ostensibly feminine member of the crew and even she is an empowering feminist force in her own right. She is made out to be pretty, naive and ditzy at times – she is the heart of the crew, a little sister in many ways to them all – she is a genius mechanic, a field that is seen as a man’s world but she still retains her femininity, she’s not a stereotypical tomboy.

Malcolm Reynolds might be the best hero ever created. He’s a faceted and flawed character with a complex moral code. In this film we see him shoot three unarmed men but never lose our faith or liking for the man. He is, essentially, thrown into a situation he didn’t ask for or want and is struggling to do what’s right by the people in his life while playing a role in a much bigger game that he doesn’t understand.

The Antagonist in this film is the government, working through a singular Operative (an impressive, charismatic and powerful performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – another man who can seemingly do no wrong).

It’s a simple plot but filled out with complex characters and big concepts and themes. It touches on freedom, authoritarianism, the right to choose for ourselves, accountability, belief and the evils done in the name of a “Greater Good.”

It provides closure to the firefly story while leaving us with an image of hope that the crew will go on to do more capers, even if we aren’t around to see them.

RTJ

*Note: I won’t usually do this, but considering while I was writing this post the Joss Whedon divorce fallout broke and I felt it was best to address it as a dedicated fan of his work.

While I don’t condone the actions he took (I’m not a cheater by nature and have never understood the mindset needed to be a cheater) I’m confused by the assumption that him cheating makes him a hypocrite to the feminist ideals put forth in his work.

It makes him a bad husband, certainly.

It makes him a human being with all the flaws inherent with that.

While this will certainly tarnish his reputation, it shouldn’t destroy work that he has done for feminism.

Waitress – Seconds? Thanks!

What up, Buttercups?

This film. This. Film.

There are times when I cannot make heads nor tails of it and there are times when I love it intensely. It is a character study on so many levels.

We have Jenna (Keri Russell) the eponymous waitress who has a talent for making pies who finds herself in a life she hates, married to a controlling man she can’t stand.

There is Dr Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion. God can that man do any wrong?) who is new to town and caught up in events and a lifestyle he wasn’t expecting. He is charming in a goofy, bumbling kind of way that only Fillion can pull off.

There’s Jenna’s husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is a controlling, overbearing man who, when it boils down to it, is a man who peaked in high school, married the best looking girl in school and now realises that he has no way of keeping her is to be controlling.

The film is amazing tale of the things we mean to do and the things that just happen. It is about the choices we make and how they always have consequences and life is about how we face them.

The romance between Jenna and Dr Pomatter is something organic and funny and touching. You get a real feeling that neither of them have the slightest idea what they are doing. There is nothing premeditated in their actions, they are just two people caught up in the emotions.

The film closely follows Jenna’s dilemma from finding out she’s pregnant with a baby she initially doesn’t want with a man she cannot stand, the affair she has with her Dr right through to her choices she makes at the end of the film. The choices that up until then she doesn’t feel able to make.

Though she is cheating on her husband, something Hollywood normally shows us in a bad light, we have sympathy for her. We’re shown her relationship with Earl through little cuts and slices that never come out looking good for him.

He is constantly belittling and even openly physically abusive. Then we’re shown a slice of him that cuts right down to the very core. He is insecure. Her realises that the best days of his life are long behind him and the only thing that he has that reminds him of his long ago glory days is Jenna. She isn’t really his wife she is a trophy of his past victories.

The dialogue throughout the entire film is smart and hysterically funny at times. It’s delivered blisteringly fast and Nathan Fillion’s lines are filled with his awesome rambling charm. The man is brilliance incarnate!

There is poetry in this film. Such poetry that comes out of nowhere sometimes and it’s amazingly poignant and brilliant and perfectly timed. Aside from the single massive blast of it in the form of Old Joe’s description of Jenna’s Chocolate and Strawberry pie and the awkward stumbling poems that Ogie (Eddie Jemison) recites.

The biggest expression of poetry in this film are the cuts to Jenna making up pie recipes in her head. The names are always a little on the nose, but that is the point of them. They are supposed to show exactly how she feels. Her recipes are a barometer for her emotions. She’s like every other creator, what we really feel comes out in what we do.

Old Joe (Andy Griffith), crotchety though he may be, is almost a second heart to the film, doling out good-natured advice when it was needed. He is the catalyst behind the changes that Jenna is able to make at the climax of the film. He shares his experiences, both good and bad, with her and passes on his wisdom to her.

There are a few thought-provoking moments. The conclusion that we’re lead to is that happiness is what you make of it.

RTJ