Four years of college, and three years of university devoted to studying film, two years of working as a lighting tech for a small film crew and it was all because of one man; Tim Burton. Without Tim Burton I wouldn’t give a crap about films I would just be like most other people; instead I’m an obsessive compulsive movie fan who writes a film blog that nobody reads.
When I was younger I’d watch the odd movie or two, but it wasn’t something I’d go out of my way to do; it was just a distraction. But then I ran into ‘Beetle juice’ (1988), ‘Batman’ (1989), ‘Batman Returns’ (1992), and ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993), and suddenly movies became important to me, albeit as long as they had the name Tim Burton attached. I noticed that there was something different about his films; they were dark, twisted, and embraced the strange and macabre. Having always been a fairly dark soul I latched on to them and started to find out about the man that made them. I learnt that he was a fan of old horror films; so I also started to watch old horror films. From this I learnt about German expressionism, film noir and who Vincent price was. I was hooked; and have been ever since. To the point that when I got to college I was ahead of the game as I knew all the basics of film theory.
So it’s with a heavy heart that I’ve watched his career proceed, it’s been a while since he released a good Film and even longer since he released a great film. His last few efforts have failed to hit the mark. It’s true that the Tim Burton I love was still present in his last few efforts; but only in rare flashes and the briefest of glimpses. However I preserver sticking with him, watching his films religiously whenever they are released, so it was with my usual hopes that I went down to the old picture house to watch ‘Frankenweenie’. And my dedication was proved worthwhile. ‘Frankenweenie’ is old school Tim Burton, this is Ed Wood and Beetle Juice Tim Burton, pure malevolent playfulness mixed with deep postmodern homage to the people and films that made him who he is.
‘Frankenweenie’ is a remake of sorts, of an early TV special that Tim Burton did based on James Whales Frankenstein movies, if you’re interested in seeing in it’s on the ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ special edition DVD along with another excellent early work ‘Vincent’. With this film he’s expanded his thirty minute TV special into a full blown animated masterpiece. Young Victor Frankenstein lives in New Holland a suburban nightmare straight out of ‘Edward Scissor Hands’ (1990). He’s shy and withdrawn and his only real friend is Sparky a small lively, dog. One day Sparky is run over so Victor using the power of electricity brings him back to life. Several of his classmates find out how he did this and set out to bring back various other deceased critters. Only their experiments don’t quite work as well as Victors, unleashing monsters on the town.
‘Frankenweenie’, is just pure unbridled fun, it’s full of quirky interesting characters, there’s a Japanese kid who ends up unleashing Gamera, one who looks like Igor, and another who bares more than a passing resemblance to Boris Karloff in his Frankenstein makeup. In fact this entire movie is packed with references to classic horror films Mr Rzykruski the science teacher is clearly modelled on Vincent Price and don’t forget the glorious Black and white photography and the strong use of horror tropes in the visuals. But even if you aren’t able to read these references and have never seen any of the Classic Universal Horror films, it doesn’t matter because these are extras Tim Burton hasn’t hung this film on the fact that it’s homage to the movies he loves. This film is clearly all about the main story. And it’s a beautiful story, about friendship, being yourself, and exerting your individuality. There’s some genuine dark humour Mr Rzykruski explaining what happens when you are hit by lightning is a stand out example, and some genuine moments of pathos. Mixed in with Burton’s gift for the bizarre, just wait until you meet Mr Whiskers owner. Who is clearly modelled on staring girl from Burtons Melancholy death of Oyster boy.
I love this film and I can see it becoming a massive cult hit, while managing to do decent trade in the normal world. Which is a good thing because I think more people need to see films like this; Films with heart, films that are so lovingly created that they can’t help but turn out this good. I’ve been waiting for the next great Tim Burton film for a while and I can honestly say I’ve found it, I’m not going to suggest another film in this ones place because; it needs to be seen, it’s simply that good.
I can’t help but feel a little guilty as I’ve spent the best part of a month bad mouthing this film, even though I hadn’t watched it. My initial dislike for Sinister went so far that when I invited my friends to come see it I simply asked if they ‘wanted to see a shit film’. How glad am I that I was proven wrong. My erroneous initial impressions of Sinister were born from a trailer that succeeded in making it look like every other waste of time modern horror film. I’m looking at you House at the end of the street (2012), which incidentally was the first place I ever saw the sinister trailer. In my defence I still think the trailer for this film sucks, I can’t see the bit with the kid coming out of the box without thinking of the zombies from deadly premonition. Which wasn’t a quirky, unique, and interesting game, it was just crap.
Even when this scene plays out in the actual film I don’t like it, it’s something I’m forever going to hold the trailer responsible for. I must have seen it about 20 times since they started airing it. This is why I tend to get to the cinema in time to miss them; I’ve been misled by the bastards to many times.
Sinister centers on Ellison Oswalt; a washed up true crime writer, who moves his wife and two children into the house of a murdered family, the only survivor seeming to be their missing daughter. While moving in he finds a box containing an 8mm projector and a set of home movies all with seemingly innocuous names. After watching them he discovers that they are the recordings of several other murders, all perpetrated by the same killer. As he digs into these crimes things start to get strange, his son sleepwalks, the projector turns itself on at night, and strange noises can be heard in the attic. These events don’t just leap out at you they are slowly built up. This slow burn technique makes Sinister one of the most suspenseful films I have seen in a long time, the only other film I can liken it to is the excellent Woman in Black (2012) which also used the same techniques. There are some truly shocking moments in Sinister, but it never stoops so low as to rely on blood and guts to do so. Anyone can show a teen being hacked apart with a chainsaw, nod and a wink to Rob Zombie. But it takes a true master to realise that depriving your audience of the gory details is by and far a worse thing to do to our delicate nerves.
Sinisters writer C Robert Cargill has said that he came up with the idea for this movie when he had a nightmare after watching The Ring (2002) and to be honest I spotted this influence a mile off. Which is interesting because I can also see The Ring’s influence in Woman in Black (2012) the only other good horror film released this year (Cabin in the woods is not a horror film). I think it’s the detective element of these three movies that makes them so successful, because we are tied to a protagonist who knows as little as we do. Making this a true journey into horror, and Ethan Hawke plays the part perfectly, he does an excellent job as a man both scared but desperate to get claw some sort of fame back after the two flops he has just produced, ignoring the dangers that most normal people would have walked away from a long time a go. I can’t recommend this film to true horror fans enough, because this is a Horror film; not a slasher, psycho, or gore movie but a horror film in the truest sense; it tries but unnerve you with atmosphere, not with the threat of violence. Yes violence is the pay off because ultimately in a horror film death is the final threat, but this film is about the journey not the destination, unlike so many cheap gore movies fooling themselves into believing they are horror films.
If your unable to get to the cinema to see Sinister or just want to wait for the DVD release then in the meantime I don’t think you could go to wrong if you got yourself a copy of Woman in Black, or if you want a classic Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento a true master in his day.
It’s been three years since Public Enemies (2009) and Johnny Depps excellent turn as legendary criminal John Dillinger, but at last it seems that the period crime film is making a return. First with Lawless and then eventually with Gangster squad which is currently being held in limbo thanks to the nutcase who shot up the Dark Knight Rises premier earlier this year. (Gangster Squad you see features a shoot out in a cinema as its climax, just another reason to hate that douche)
Lawless is the tale of the Bondurants, three bootlegging brothers who operated out of Franklin County Virginia during prohibition, their budding romances well at least for two of the brothers, And their run-ins with the law. Or more accurately with a corrupt special deputy who tries to get them to pay most of their earnings over to him. After having enjoyed years of being able to operate unmolested they take exception to this and to the men from the city turning up to oppress their entrepreneurial enterprise. And its this central theme that makes me like Lawless so much. I hate authority, and I hate it when authority tries to tell me what to do. Lawless is about the small fish standing up and fighting back against authority, no matter what happens to the Bondurants they pick themselves up and keep on going, and eventually win out over the men from the city. Nothing makes me happier.
About the only downside to lawless is the fact that Shia leBouf features quite prominently, but he’s playing a young cocksure kid who keeps causing trouble for his brothers, which is pretty much the role he always plays in one form or another. And as he’s had a lot of practise he pulls it off with aplomb.
Lebouf aside the rest of the cast put in some magnificent performances; especially Guy Peirce who gives us a master class in villainy, as the dandified Charles Rakes, an amoral tittering monster, and someone you will have no difficulty hating. Also of note is Tom Hardy as the guttural Forrest Bondurant who manages to convey entire conversations in short grunts, which for me was an inspired piece of characterisation. He plays the role like a large slumbering beast. He only speaks when needed and only acts; usually in great flurries of violence, when it’s absolutely necessary. And this film is violent, not action film violent but realistically violent. There are moments while beatings are being dealt that I flinched. These men operated in a dangerous industry and the brutality of their world is clearly displayed here, its part of who they are and an important part of understanding who the characters are, but more importantly I feel as though it’s never glorified violence.
Overall Lawless isn’t perfect. It features it’s fair share of clichés, and little niggling elements that some may not like, an obviously sacrificial character, hooker with a heart etc. But I personally can’t fault it. It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a good crime film, and Lawless has filled a gap for me that I didn’t realise was there until something this good turned up.
If you’re not interested in watching the antics of a couple of moonshining good oldboys, but still want some period crime, then give The Untouchables (1987) a go instead. See what was going on in the cities while the Bondurants and their ilk were keeping America wet.