Alice in Wonderland

Posted on January 12, 2011. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

I know how much Ross and Ross need their regular updates of why Tim Burton is amazing so I couldn’t watch this movie without putting a few words online for their benefit.

Once again we have the holy trinity of Burton, Elfman and Depp which is usually a good indicator of a decent movie, and while this one did get some stick from the usual naysayers I think it’s a well made film.  Elfman’s unmistakable score brings you straight into (W)Underland with the trademark ethereal quality that he does so well, and the film looks quite spectacular, with an amazing depth I’m sure was intended to heighten the cinematic 3D but leaves the 2D version just as impressive.

Rather than a remake of the various other Alice in Wonderland films, Burton has gone for a sort of Return to Oz style movie, with a more grown up Alice returning to the place she thought she’d made up in a dream.  What I enjoyed most about the film was that as well as taking parts of the original Alice books (including Through the Looking-glass) a substantial proportion of the plot comes from the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky.  It’s  one of my childhood favourites and makes a great basis for a film, weaving in nicely as a prophecy of Alice’s return.  Essentially, what Burton has made is Alice in Wonderland 3; the one that comes after the two books.

Alongside Depp, there is a huge ensemble cast of talented, predominantly British, names including Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whiteouse, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee…oh and they had to get Helena Bonham Carter in there somewhere.  The best performance though is from Mia Wasikowska as Alice, who captures a kind of restrained sense of adventure and our heroines “muchness.”

The live action has all been overlayed with CG and retouching, meaning it blends seamlessly with the entirely CG characters, to the point that it wasn’t until halfway through the film I remembered I was watching a half-live half-cartoon movie.  The slightly strange appearance of the Underland inhabitants fits well with the dreamlike quality of the film, as well as making it undeniably Burton to look at.

Even though I’m an infamous Burton fan, I went into this film with low expectations after reading a lot of bad reviews.  I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised, finding the film orignal, beautifully designed and, most importantly, entertaining!

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The 12 films of Christmas, Part One:The Build Up

Posted on December 2, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Once again, I’m being entirely unoriginal here, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t have some kind of Christmas post on here?  Everyone has their Christmas traditions, and among mine are a certain set of films which absolutely must be watched before the big day.  Some start to get you in the mood in the early days of December, others are the full on Tinsel and Fairy lights, perfect for Christmas Eve.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting my festive favourites, split into three groups depending on when I reckon is the best time to watch them, starting with the ones which aren’t necessarily all about Christmas, but have just enough jingle bells to remind you it’s getting close.

So it’s December. The shops have been playing carols since August but you’re still not quite there with the Christmas spirit yet.  Now is the time for the build up films, the ones that don’t hit you over the head with festive cheer, but start to remind you why it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.”

To start you off: The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’m never quite sure when to watch this film.  Too Christmassy to watch at Halloween, a bit too cynical to watch at Christmas.  In the end I’ve decided it fits nicely into the end of November and beginning of December; the perfect film to remind you that the season has begun.

I’ve written about Nightmare before, but for those of you who don’t know it’s a cult classic Burton film telling the story of Jack Skellington the King of Halloween town.  By accident he stumbles into Christmasland, where “absolutely no one’s dead” leading him to try and recreate the magic back home.  Poor Jack gets it a bit wrong though, and it’s up to Frankenstein monster Sally to show him what Christmas is all about.

The film is full of Christmas spirit, but it’s also full of goblins and ghouls meaning it’s not the DVD you’ll be reaching for on Christmas Eve.  Whatever the time of year however, it’s a brilliant movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet and are still waiting to be caught up in the yuletide fun, this is definitely the place to start.

Die Hard (no, really)

You might be wondering what I’m getting at here, but I refer you to the quote: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.”  Any excuse to watch this wicked film is fine by me, and in my book a film which takes place on Christmas Eve is a Christmas film.  OK, so it might not exactly be brimming with the joys of the season, but at its heart it’s a film about a guy trying to get home to see his kids for Christmas.  There’s just the issue of a few German terrorists to get past first.  Not you’re typical seasonal fun granted, but a brilliant film in it’s own right with just enough holiday spirit to get you on your way.

Back to Burton for: Edward Scissorhands

It’s the story of where snow comes from. What could be more Christmassy than that?  The film documents roughly a year of Edward’s life, but the final showdown takes place at Christmas and it’s those scenes which stick in most people’s memories.  Another sensational film, this tells the tale of Edward; a boy made by an inventor who died before he could finish, leaving Edward alone in an empty mansion with metal shards instead of hands.  Both hilarious and tragic, Edward is a beautiful film with an equally gorgeous soundtrack that will start to stir up warm fuzzy feelings you never knew were there.

And finally, the first of the real Christmas films: Love Actually

Stop rolling your eyes like that.

For some reason a lot of people don’t like this film, but as far as I’m, concerned Richard Curtis can do no wrong, especially when you’re looking for some festive schmaltz.  This film was made for the build up, as that’s exactly what it’s about! Travelling from mid November to Christmas Eve, it juxtaposes the stories of a great ensemble cast, whose lives all intertwine as they try and make it to the big day.  Stand out performances include Emma Thompson’s perfectly British “Joni Mitchell” moment and, of course, Bill Nighy singing “Christmas is all around.”

If you’re looking for your Christmas spirit, look no further than Love Actually.  It’s got everything you need to get you in the mood, with enough different types of character to be sure of having someone there you identify with.  Of the four on this page, it’s the one film you can be absolutely certain I will watch before Christmas. It just has to be that way.

(Yes, it's blurry. But I couldn't resist a screenshot of that moment.)

Hope that starts to get you in the mood. Part two coming soon.

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Mars Attacks

Posted on July 7, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Another one of those films that everyone is supposed to have seen, and as a big Tim Burton fan I thought it was about time.  Mars Attacks is a clever pastiche of B-Movies, taking on the well used alien invasion plot with a Burton twist.  Not one to be pigeon holed when it comes to genre, Burton pitches it somewhere in between horror and comedy, with the aliens somewhat gruesome experiments raising more of a laugh than a gasp (who wouldn’t find Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on a chihuahua’s body funny?)  This kind of horror comedy was visited again by Burton 3 years later in Sleepy Hollow and to an extent in Sweeney Todd.  It’s clearly something he likes.  The main difference for Mars Attacks is that he steps out of his usual Gothic world into the (far more colourful) world of Science Fiction.

The CG effects may look tired when compared to what we have today, but the design of the aliens is now iconic and with good reason.  Their scrawny bodies and swollen heads encompass all the usual alien steriotypes but with an added factor that makes them that little bit creepier.  Mars Attacks isn’t suposed to be a scary film per se,  but there are a couple of classic “jump” moments to keep the audience on thier toes.

As usual, Danny Elfman puts his unmistakable stamp on a Burton film with his soundtrack, recognisable from the first chords, and the opening credit sequence is typical Burton, where we zoom around one or more objects in extreme close up, following a path which eventually reveals what we’re looking at.

The film is loaded with stars.  Cameos include Danny DeVito, Michael J Fox and even Tom Jones.  Cameos might not be the right word though, as no one really lasts that long in this movie, although Tom Jones does make it to the brilliant end scene.  Nearly every face on the screen is recognisable, meaning you don’t get that usual problem of being able to assume the famous guy wont die till the very end.  Jack Nicholson plays a great American President, complete with tear-jerking speech about the need to work together and learn from eachother despite our differences.  Unfortunately for him, the aliens seem to be immune to pathos.  Alongisde our rousing speech, Burton adds other nods to the classic Sci-Fi genre, with obvious parodites of Alien, The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds.

The film dots about a lot, and there’s not a lot of time to get to know anyone in much depth, but I don’t think thats what he was aiming for.  It’s almost like a series of sketches drawn into a movie, but not in a way that feels hollow.  To be honest, I’m still not sure what my final verdict on this movie is.  It’s defnitely a good film, I’m just slightly unsure if it deserves the status its been elevated to.  Maybe I prefer Burton in the Gothic where he fits so perfectly, and maybe that’s why Mars Attacks seems to stick out as a departure form the norm for him , but I would recommend it to any Burton or Sci-Fi fans.

Oh, and is it just me, or do the aliens really sounds like the Smash robots?

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Burton+Depp+Elfman=Gothic Genius

Posted on February 3, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Most people know that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have collaborated on a lot of films, I can count six but I’m sure I’m missing some .  Often forgotten though is the addition of the incredible Danny Elfman-composer of The Simpsons theme tune, but also author of a number of Burton’s scores.

Tim Burton has become so much of a cult figure that you can now use “Burton” to describe a genre rather than a person.  The defnining feature in this back catalogue is  The Nightmare before Christmas, a Disney film, believe it or not, which uses stop animation to tell a grinch-like story that is much darker than anything coming out of the studios before (or since).  The iconic character of Jack Skellington adorns the merchandise of many an EMO kid, providing a pretty good example of Burton-design.  Nightmare is also one of the best examples of Elfman’s work, distinct in its use of layered voices which have become a trademark of his composition

jack

Other classic Burton films include Beeteljuice, which I desperately need to see, two of the Batman series and even Big Fish which had a bit of a limp impact on the world, probably because its just that little bit too weird, but its still worth a watch.  The best Burton films though, have Johnny Depp cast in the leading role.  Somehow, the pair seem to bring out the best in eachother, and have often remarked in interviews how easily they can interpret eachothers ideas.

I’m not sure which of these collaborations is my favourite, but Edward Scissorhands has got to be near the top.  Featuring a young Depp desperately trying to shake the “pin up” image, Edward is a twisted fairytale set in an exaggerated steriotypical suburb which is both child-like and intelligent.  Elfman’s score is magical (you can currently find it being sacrificed in the Dancing on Ice adverts) and supports the cinematography of the film perfectly. Like Depp, he seems to know exactly what effect Burton is going for, and produces it to the letter.edward_scissorhands

Creating “kids films” that aren’t quite for kids seems to be a talent of Burton’s, following Nightmare and Edward with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a much creepier version of the story than the original film, but a lot closer to Dahl’s book.  Again Elfman’s score makes the film, taking on the Oompa Loompa songs single handedly by singing each harmony line himself and layering the recording.  Even better, each song takes on a different musical genre- I  particularly love the hard rock cautionary tale to Mike TeeVee.

Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka is also far removed from Gene Wilder’s first characterisation.  Said to be based on Michael Jackson, (take from that what you will) he plays him as a Peter-Pan-boy-who-never-grew-up, and Burton supplies a backstory not given in the book to try and develop this.  Both Wilder and Depp give the character a darker side, but while Wilder’s is a scarier angry side, Depp’s is more naive.

willy_wonka

Elfman also donates his vocal chords to “Bonejangles” the scat singing skeleton in The Corpse Bride the long awaited “sequel” to Nightmare, where Burton returns to stop animation, this time to tell a story of thwarted love and murder (so another one for the kids).  Depp also got in on the act, providing the voice for Victor, our hapless groom.   The film is filled with ghosts and ghouls, but takes a completely light hearted approach to death as shown by the lyrics to Elfman’s upbeat Jazz track  “Remains of the Day”:

Die! Die! We all pass away!

But don’t be afraid ‘cos it’s really OK

You might try to run, and you might try to pray

But we all end up the remains of the day!

The most recent of Burton’s films lacks the last member of the Trinity, but replaces him with the formidable Steven Sondheim, resulting in what might be the ultimate Gothic film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

I was painfully excited about this film being made, as a long time fan of Depp, Burton and Sondheim, and I was not disappointed.  Using practically no colour except red was a master stroke, and the casting was perfect.  At times, I’d argue that Helena Bonham-Carter is somewhat oeverused in Burton films, I’m sure having nothing to do with her long term relationship with the director, but in Sweeney Todd she is the ultimate Mrs Lovett, better even than Angela Lansbury’s Broadway original.lovett

sweeney

I was annoyed by the rumblings of the film being too gory, because to me Sweeney Todd is on a level with Burton’s earlier horror film Sleepy Hollow, where the “horror” part is used more as humour than anything else; done in a stylised way so that it is deliberatley unreal.  All the way through Sweeney Todd there is a dream (or nightmare) like quality which puts it on an ethereal level and therefore removes any realism or true horror.  That’s not a criticism, it’s a clever device by Burton which makes his films so instantly recognisable.

Burton is the master of the Gothic Fairytale.  Of course, the original fairytales were never as cute as one might think, but Burton has created a new genre of dark tales with a true emotional heart.  When Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman are added to the mix, something pretty special is created.  I don’t have time to review them all here (this post is already incredibly long!) but suffice to say that the formula above is pretty much guranteed to give you a great night at the cinema.

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