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Epic (2013)

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Fresh off the presses and ready to catch all the cash you can throw at it this half term is Disney’s ‘Epic’…….what, wait it’s not Disney; it’s a DreamWorks film?? Sorry DreamWorks ‘Epic’ which feels so much like a Disney movie I’m wondering if the DreamWorks magic has finally worn off and they have been reduced to producing movies that follow the tired and boring formula that Disney was recently saved from by Pixar.

Epic is about a young girl called M.K who after the death of her mother goes to live with her eccentric scientist father, who’s thrown away his career and relationship with his wife and daughter to pursue his belief that there is an advanced civilization of tiny people living in the forest. So he spends his entire time roaming the land wearing Wayne Szalinski’s (Honey I Shrunk the Kids 1989) magnifying helmet.

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Naturally he is correct. Right under his nose and just out of sight there is a war going on between the forces of good and evil. The powers of growth and putrification, a little like fern gully only the putrification is a natural force as pollution is no longer a hot topic.

Once every 100 years queen of the forest chooses a successor to continue the life of the land and to hold off the Rot, which is embodied by the Boggins; a race of goblin like creatures that are led by the evil king Mandrake. Who looks remarkably like Hades from Disney’s Hercules minus the awesomeness that is James Woods.

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While this is going on M.K gives up on refreshing her relationship with her father leaving him a note telling him as much, she inadvertently lets her fathers dog escape and has to chase him through the woods, just as the Boggins have made their big push to stop a ceremony designed to choose the new queen. M.K stumbles upon the mortally wounded queen Tara who entrusts her with the pod that contains the new queen and shrinks her down to miniature, so she can adventure and caper with the rest of the good woodland folk; in this case the heroic leafmen, and save the day, naturally.

I know that this is a children’s film and I shouldn’t judge it too harshly but I have come to expect more from DreamWorks, they have consecutively shown themselves to be the intelligent alternative to Disney, but now they seem to be loosing their edge. I can only describe ‘Epic’ as being Disneyish, it’s ruled by sentimentality, and has a high schmaltz factor. We have families coming together, lost love, tragedy, and growing to become a better person. Gone is the knowing sense of humour, the post modern nods (bar one scene involving a killer mouse) and slightly risky humour such as Shrek’s (2001) Gingerbread Man Rambo Torture scene. Instead we get a comedy ghetto slug and an Irish snail, whose capering is akin to that of Jar Jar Binks in its level of annoyance. Oh and Steven Tyler playing Mel Brooks as a caterpillar, which totally threw me.

On another note I’m still trying to figure out if the queen was supposed to be black? She has a dark skin tone and Beyonce’s voice but features wise; she looks Caucasian. Also it’s probably fair to point out that she is the only dark skinned character in the entire film; it seems a little odd. I guess no matter what Beyonce does people can’t stop themselves from turning her white (Seriously Google it, they love to Photoshop that girls skin colour).

The action sequences are ok we get an enjoyable bird racing sequence that although short seems to have been directly influenced by the pod race in The Phantom Menace, albeit with a toad replacing Jabba as the races corrupt organiser. ‘Epic’ moves at a fair pace and the action sequences are pretty good to the point that during one of the battles when all the leafmen are pointing their boys at the enemy I was waiting for someone to say ‘on my word unleash hell’ sadly this doesn’t happen. I guess you gotta stay kid friendly.

One problem with this film is that there is a fair amount of back tracking on the narrative with M.K visiting her father’s house twice while in shrunken form, and the queens’ death being played twice. It seems a little lazy as these events happen fairly close to each other.

Ultimately though I will say despite my gripes ‘Epic’ does what it’s supposed to do. There where plenty of giggles ad laughs coming from the assorted children that were in the cinema, although there was also a few unhappy children at some of the scarier moments. And it looks stunning the water and some of the luminance effects where breathtaking to see, but the pretty pictures didn’t hide the lacklustre story. I would definitely say this one is mainly for the kids.

If you are one of those parents concerned about the effects of violence upon a small mind then I’d say yes this is violent albeit mildly. Maybe you should take them to see something a little softer in tone, and more comedy based, such as the excellent Ice Age films.

As a last point I have to give this film honourable mention for actually managing to squeeze in an Apple product; something I’ve been noticing more and more, yet this is the first time I’ve seen an Ipod in an animated feature.

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Triple Xmas

It’s that time of year again. And in the words of Mr Garrison Merry Fucking Christmas.

It truly is the season and all that shit. If you can’t guess I pretty much dislike Xmas I see it as a shrill pointless exercise in capitalism. You can’t deny that the forces of mass commerce have ambushed this secular holiday and caused it to become nothing more than a quest to spend as much as you can, in as short an amount of time as possible. The fact that Facebook lights up with comments about seeing the Coke advert for the first time truly meaning its Christmas proves my point well fuck this holiday and all it’s bullshit. Personally I prefer Halloween; there are no religious connotations, and no obligation to buy people things that they never really wanted. Halloween is a positive force it brings people together to celebrate and generally have a good time, Christmas is just a time for arguments and unhappiness; you force families that have gone most of the year without seeing each other to spend lots of time together, and then you add sweet lady liquor to the equation; you know shits gonna happen. I have an ex-Girlfriend who’s uncle kindly fractured her collar bone and punched her in the mouth breaking two teeth one Christmas day so yes fuck this holiday, but more importantly fuck him, fuck him with a barbed wire dildo.

About the only good thing to come from Christmas are Christmas Movies. We’ve all got our favourite personally I love National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (1989) and of course Elf (2003). A film that has confirmed my personal convictions, having watched it years a go I couldn’t help but say goddamn Jovie’s hot every time she came on screen, only finding out a few months a go that, that was Zooey Deshanel, proving that I have always loved her even before i knew who she was. Having said that I still think New Girl is shit.

But I’m not interested in those traditional family style Christmas Movies, what I’m here for is to tell you about the darker choices that are available to you this holiday season. This list is inspired by my first English teacher from High school Mr Spahr who took it upon himself to show his class the first episode of the tales from the crypt TV series called ‘And all through the house’ (1989). If you’ve seen the Tales from the crypt (1972) film you’ll already be aware of what this episode is about as it is a part of that portmanteau movie. For those of you not in the know it’s about a woman who bumps off her husband on Christmas Eve just as a maniac dressed in a Santa suit escapes from a mental asylum. You can guess the rest. They say the things that happen to you as a child influence you in later life. Well I enjoyed this episode so much that I have over the years tried to hunt down as many non family Xmas movie’s as I can. So here they are, in no real order:

Santa’s Slay (2005)

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So it turns out Santa is actually a demon, a demon who foolishly lost a bet with an angel that means he has to be good for 1000 years. Problem is those 1000 years are over and Santa’s out for revenge, so he sets out on a festive themed killing spree. This is a B-movie extravaganza and I’m surprised it got made in this day and age I thought we left these Christmas themed slasher films behind in the eighties. Not that I’m complaining because where else could you say you saw Goldberg (yes the wrestler) dressed as Santa; going on a killing spree. It’s dumb, and it’s stupid but it’s also a lot more fun than the overly twee sentimental sacks of excrement that get passed off as traditional Christmas movie fare.

Silent night Deadly Night (1984)

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This is pretty much the bleakest film on the list; it really is a nihilists dream Christmas movie. The main character as a child witnesses his parents killed by a man in a Santa suit. Then years later is forced to play Santa by his douche bag boss. This sends him off the deep end and he goes on a Santa suited killing spree. I actually love this film. I think it’s probably my favourite Christmas movie on this list outside of Die hard (1988). It’s true it is just a Christmas themed slasher movie, but there’s a slightly deranged fevered feeling to the proceedings that makes it something special.

Also it offers us another chance to see Linnea Quigleys Ta-ta’s which; is always a pleasure.

Black Christmas (1975)

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The original Black Christmas because yes it got a pointless remake is pretty boring; not much happens, bar you get to hear Margot Kidder; the future Lois lane say the word Fellatio.

Once again it’s a simple slasher film albeit a fairly tame one. A killer hides inside a sorority house just before Christmas and between threatening phone calls to the resident’s kills one or two of the girls. To be honest I only mention Black Christmas because it’s the earliest Christmas slasher I could find; that and the fact that I had the misfortune of watching it. Overrated and a little boring I’d miss this one if I was you.

Black Christmas (2006)

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I’m sorry but this films fucking shit, and seriously disappointing, disappointing because the trailer for it is amazingly well realised. You can find it on Youtube; go on and watch it. It’s a gaudy nightmarish vision of Christmas, it presents us with a world dominated by cheap plastic decorations, lit by red and green fairly lights, and in my opinion is nothing short of a conceptual visual masterpiece. But when you get to the film it’s nothing more than a soulless modern slasher film about a disfigured maniac who returns to his old house one Christmas. Finding it has now been turned into a sorority house, he crawls in the wall spaces and kills off the remarkably unlikable girls living there. Seriously leave this and the original version alone; the name black Christmas translates into shit Christmas based slasher film.

Jack Frost (1996)

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No not the one with Michael Keaton playing a dead man who possesses his son’s snowman, this is another Dumb B-Movie. This time about a serial killer called Jack Frost who gets melted by molecular acid and bonds with snow, turning him into a giant killer snowman; it’s almost as if his parents knew this would happen to him when they named him.

This film like Santa’s Slay is huge fun it doesn’t take itself seriously and just let’s itself go with the stupid premise. There’s a fair amount of poorly realised gore and lots of bad acting present, but its well worth seeing if you’re looking for a good laugh, and unusually you won’t always be laughing at the film you’ll be laughing along with it. Also of added note you get to see Shannon Elizabeth’s original nose and a bit of; from the back nudity as she is smothered by an avalanche in the shower; if you want to see her naked just Google her playboy pics, they’re out there.

Die Hard 1 & 2 (1988, 1990)

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Yep these are Christmas movies. I’m guessing I don’t need to explain to you what these are about but just in case I can sum these as easily as this, Bruce Willis killing terrorists at Christmas. More one liners than you can shake a Yule log at and lots of blood……Simply Beautiful.

Bad Santa (2006)

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A Christmas movie where the word Fuck is said 159 times, shit 73 times and altogether there are 300 profanities uttered. For added effect Bad Santa also includes a girl bouncing up and down on Billy Bob Thorton’s cock saying Fuck me Santa over and over again. God damn I love this film, it’s just too funny.

Bad Santa is about two con men who work as store Santa’s so they can case shops before they rob them blind. Billy Bob Thorton is at his misanthropic best, as he curses and drinks his way through the film.

However beneath its misanthropic exterior there is quite a beautiful but never twee story, about the redeeming effects the innocence of youth has on the sour callow character Thorton plays. Bad Santa is a good film; full of laugh out loud moments, if you have enough darkness in you to appreciate it.

Ok so those are the ones I’ve seen but my quest continues as two more potential Xmas master pieces have come to my attention

The reasonably new Saint (2011) which sounds like Santa Slay’s but using St Nicolas instead of the Coca Cola Mascot Santa and another Eighties slasher; Christmas Evil (1980). If I get to watch them in time I shall post short reviews for them so watch this space and enjoy your Christmas break as best as you can.

Frankenweenie

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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.