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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Just how popular is Edward Scissorhands?

Posted on October 10, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , |

Apparently very.

A long time ago I wrote a post about Tim Burton films and his collaborations with Danny Elfman and Johnny Depp.  It’s possibly not the most interesting or groundbreaking post on this blog, but thanks to the 200 or so people a day who stumble onto my blog after searching “Edward Scissorhands” it’s my most read post by some considerble margin.

Top 10 searches

Edward is an awesome film and thanks for stopping by all you Burtonphiles, hoping you’ll come back for some of the other posts some time. 🙂

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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


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.


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


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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