Thursday, 8 December 2016

Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas





The Nightmare Before Christmas (3D)
Cert: PG / 73 mins / Dir. Henry Selick / Trailer



Two things I always seem to forget with The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1) that it's a Disney production and 2) that Tim Burton's name may be attached*1, but he didn't direct it. While I've watched the film many times over the years, it's not one I break out routinely each holiday season, and this was the first time I'd seen it in a cinema. And because my local was presenting a one-off showing of the 3D version rather than a weekly-run*2, it was absolutely packed, which always adds a new element to a familiar home-viewing movie.

And while I never forget how much I enjoy this movie, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the amount of textured detail in the models. Years of over-merchandising and pop-culture appropriation seem to have persuaded my memory that the film is closer to 2D cell-animation somehow, even though I know it isn't. ILM's 3D conversion is absolutely gorgeous, offsetting and complementing the deliberately framey nature of the character movement. The (original) camerawork is stunning too, with cinematographer Pete Kozachik treating the film as an expansive live-action feature.

And in addition to the numerous visual homages (I noticed a reference to Hammer's The Creeping Flesh for the first time, this evening), there are also some bizarre moments of cross-reference foreshadowing on display, too. It's the film that keeps on giving, whether it knows it or not…

Echoes of the past; Visions of the future - The Creeping Flesh, Suicide Squad, Star Wars The Clone Wars…

I'd also never noticed before how much Chris Sarandon's dialogue-track for Jack Skellington riffs on Gene Kelly's in Singin' In The Rain in terms of delivery and timing. But the thing which perhaps stood out most tonight was Danny Elfman's music. Far stronger and more fluid than his regular film-scoring work, The Nightmare Before Christmas's structure, recurring themes and motifs make it more than just 'a musical', to the point of almost being a re-engineered operetta. Musically, the film tells a far more nuanced story than the fast narrative pacing allows, because when you watch the movie from a more orchestral point of view, it just underlines how damn short the whole thing is. To the point where the ending feels both rushed and tacked on. The central characters have just about enough room to grow, but any themes the story was trying to develop are lost in the edit. I suppose it's too much to ask for an extended cut from Burton or even re-imagined version from Laika Studios at this point, so probably best to enjoy the film for everything it brings rather than those it couldn't quite manage ;)

Serious question, though: If the icon-bearing trees we see in the film's introduction/overture are the doorway into each magical realm, how does Jack come across the circular clearing during a lengthy walk instead of emerging from the door of the Halloween-tree?



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, The Tim Burton Films.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you can, yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That's entirely possible.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film features the voices of the droid RX-24 and Fode, the Podrace announcer.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 A bit like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" or "Peter Kay's Car Share", yes. *looks into camera*

*2 The only screening of the film was at 20:15 too, meaning there were almost no little-ones present. Of course for a 1993 movie, this is borderline nostalgia-programming now anyway, but we still got pre-trailer ads for some new type of colouring pencil, Play-Doh, Haribo and… a Black Sabbath tour-promo. So at least one advertiser knew who was going to be in the room tonight.



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: Sully





Sully
Cert: 12A / 96 mins / Dir. Clint Eastwood / Trailer



The new Clint Eastwood directed movie, Sully - the story behind airline pilot Chelsey Sullenberger and the famous forced water-landing in 2009 whereby he successfully prevented any fatalities - is currently sitting at an 85% critics' approval rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience response slightly higher at 87%. I only mention this because if you want to read something reassuringly positive and uplifting about the film, that's where you'll find it…

Fresh from failing to adequately depict or explore PTSD, Uncle Clint manages to take another remarkable story which would have made a fantastic documentary, and instead fashion a mawkish, simplistic and completely patronising TV melodrama. Naturally, in addition to several depictions of the forced landing in question, the film also features two exquisitely CGI'd sequences of a passenger jet crashing into the New York skyline in a ball of flames and seared flesh, just to show that our heroic captain is having 'episodes' after the incident and absolutely not at all to be exploitative and dramatic about an event where everyone actually survived. Dear me no, no. Dear me, no.

Todd Komarnicki's screenplay*1 clunks from one scene to the next, with characters either narrating exactly what's happening on-screen or just verbally spouting their inner monologues full of clichéd platitudes to fill the gaps. Overall, it's Aaron Eckhart who manages to escape with the most dignity, starring as Sully's co-pilot with the fewest lines in the script. And don't let the reviews kid you, Tom Hanks' performance in this film is in no way special or extraordinary; he just plays Tom Hanks With White Hair, metaphorically phoning in his performance (unlike Laura Linney as his wife, who literally phones in hers). Meanwhile, the dastardly crash-investigation team smirk and twiddle their moustaches for two and a half acts before Mr Eastwood stops one beat short of sending a silver-service butler into the courtroom to announce "And now ladies and gentlemen, some humble-pie of truly epic proportions is about to be served!". All that remains is a closing-credits sequence whereby the actual real Mr Sullenberger is reunited with his actual real passengers in an aircraft hanger for forced jollity all round. Like the film hasn't already shown the guy going through enough without having to appear as himself in a bad version of his own worst day.

I'm very much aware that due to its content and tone, Sully is a sort of cinematic sacred-cow. I don't care, this is a terrible movie and it needs to be called out. The film doesn't celebrate Chelsey Sullenberger, it patronises him to within an inch of his life, and Clint Eastwood couldn't direct traffic on a one-way street.

Anyway, if memory serves, Denzel Washington did pretty much the same thing, but with a crushing hangover to boot. I think we all know who the real hero is here…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Biting the inside of your own cheek to avoid shouting at the screen for an hour and a half.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Yeah, the four (four) flight simulations we're treated to at the film's climactic courtroom scene work so much better on the big screen.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
According to the folks over at RT, yes.
Obviously, I beg to differ
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not even Eastwood's best as a director, and that's saying something.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Y'know what? I might, a little bit…


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Sam Huntingdon, who was also in Fanboys alongside Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ray Park and a metric shit-ton of Star Wars references.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The poster cites this as "The untold story behind the miracle on the Hudson". Untold story. It's based on Sullenberger's own book. That's where we are before we've even sat down in the auditorium...

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review: Office Christmas Party





Office Christmas Party
Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. Will Speck & Josh Gordon / Trailer



Okay, much like the film itself, this review of it will feature some unnecessarily bad language; sporadic and largely inoffensive in the grand scheme of things, but acting as a lexical placeholder so that nothing more meaningful has to be written. Like I said, as per…

INT. DREAMWORKS SCRIPTING OFFICE. DAY.

TWO DISHEVELLED MEN SIT OPPOSITE EACH OTHER AT A LARGE DESK.

BOB: So Terry, we're making progress here, finally. Our seasonal comedy has got eight producers, six writers and two directors working on it, as well as a crowded cast-list, over-headlined by supporting actors. You've had four weeks to come up with a title, what have you got?

TERRY: Well, just erm… how does this grab you?

TERRY slides a note over the desk to BOB.

BOB: …how does what grab me? This is a sheet of paper with three words written on it. In fact, this is the sheet of paper I gave to you a month ago with the broadest possible outline for the movie scrawled over it. That's my writing. It just says "Office Christmas Party". That's when you asked what the film was about and I had to distil it as much as I could because I was on the phone to the distributor at the time. That's the setting of the film, the background, the concept. Where's my fucking title, Terry?

TERRY: …it's the simplification of-

BOB: I'll tell you what's simple, Terry. YOU. You've had a fucking month to think of a zippy title to attract the 25-35 crowd, high on Christmas cheer and the 'fuck it, it's December, let's go out watch a movie and get hammered' spirit which comes of working with people you hate for the other eleven and a half months of the year and you've done precisely fuck-not-nothing! As a title - an actual film title - "Office Christmas Party" is perfunctory, reductive and unimaginative. It shows complete contempt for an audience that we think needs everything spelling out for them, in the largest letters and lowest-common-denominator sight-gags. In fact, I'd bet a pound to a fucking penny that presenting this in a title-sequence will consist of one shot with the text laid in a single line across the screen in Helvetica bold, solid white, belying any irony while displaying the total lack of imagination that's gone into the whole, sorry project…

TERRY: I've read the script, Bob. That title works.

BOB: …Yeah, fair point. Scotch?


The chosen title, and perceived logic behind it*1, tells you all you need to know about the film.

And y'know what? The film's not awful. It's just a series of disparate sketches, some far more successfully executed than others, awkwardly tacked together with a screenplay so mechanical it makes Optimus Prime look like something you'd buy at the Deli-counter. If you like people swearing, people falling over, people over-acting drunk/high, too many dick-jokes and the occasional boob, this is your film. Sure, you can get better elsewhere, even with the same overall lack of dignity, but Office Christmas Party is a movie every bit as forced and clichéd as the workplace gatherings it claims to be satirising.

The weirdest thing is that it features a cast you've enjoyed elsewhere struggling through the half-written script as if they're reading it for the first time, playing themselves all the while. Kate McKinnon, TJ Miller and Karan Soni coast on the charm they've accrued this year in much better movies, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston continue to be stuck in the rut of mediocrity to which they've become accustomed, while genre-regulars Jillian Bell and Rob Corddry lend the kind of screen support that will do them no favours in climbing higher up the ladder. At least Olivia Munn is moving in the right comedic direction. Just.

Not without smirks and a couple of guffaws, just nowhere near enough to cover the cracks which make up the entire rest of it. While it pushes (way too) hard for the happy-everyone ending, the film doesn't even try to tug at the audience's heart-strings. This, I suppose, is a blessing.

For best results watch once only and in An Advanced State Of Refreshment™.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of thing that Universal usually wheel out at this time of year. Even though this isn't Universal's. Sure feels like it, though..


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No, this is a £3 DVD from Asda while you're picking up pizza, some beer and a bottle of cheap vodka.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Nope.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This movie stars that Jamie Chung, and she was in Suckerpunch with Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 and the choice of typeface as well. I'm not making that shit up. Bizarrely, the title-shot in the film uses Helvetica whereas the poster uses Arial. That's how little effort has gone in, here.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: Elstree 1976 (second-pass)





Elstree 1976 (second-pass)
Cert: 12A / 101 mins / Dir. Jon Spira / Trailer



The boy, it appears, does have patience after all. After missing its appearance at the 2015 LFF and catching it on VOD instead, I've finally managed to see the Star Wars documentary Elstree 1976 in a cinema as part of its nationwide screening-tour, which included a Q&A session with the director Jon Spira, composer Jamie Hyatt and the hero of the battle of Yavin, John Chapman.

There's not actually too much more to add to my first review of the film; it's an intimate, charming and utterly fascinating look at some of the lesser-known faces of 1977's A New Hope, presented in the form of intercut interviews with former cantina aliens, X-Wing pilots, stormtroopers and more. I'd previously mused that a film this niche would perhaps go right over the heads of a 'civilian' audience, but that's exactly who was present at Oxford's Ultimate Picture Palace this evening. Unlike the recent Gary Numan doc, these weren't particularly fervent Star Wars fans, or even documentary fans, just a selection of punters curious enough to want to look through the window into another world, and this film held their attention throughout, even when I could sense that they were a little lost by the minutiae of the GFFA. It was interesting to see which aspects of the cast's reminiscences resonated with them, as well as the parts which were perhaps too inaccessible (they seemed to find Boba Fett actor Jeremy Bulloch's description of all the pens he carries for signing different items highly amusing, for some reason. Even after the man tells the tale of the time his silver marker leaked all over a poster which had already been signed by many other performers. I was wincing through that section (as was Jeremy, recalling it), but presumably this doesn't sound like a big deal to the The Normies?).

A thing which did surface more the second time I watched it was the borderline transient nature of the convention/autograph circuit, which was underlined by John Chapman speaking afterwards. Elstree 1976 is already a sincere study of the scene, but it's definitely not a 'look at what these movie extras are doing these days'. It's more look at what they were doing then, a snapshot taken when the documentary was made. Several of its stars have since moved away from the circuit, having either scratched that itch or just gotten tired of the hierarchical politics surrounding the whole thing. The film makes no judgement of either the actors, nor the fans who adore them, but nor does it take issue with them stepping back into the relative obscurity of regular life. This is a film about ordinary people that celebrates their ordinariness.

If you like old-school Star Wars, you'll enjoy Elstree 1976. Otherwise you're probably going to be like the couple sat behind me who didn't appear to know what the film was about (at all) before it started, despite being interested enough to have bought tickets to watch it. Which I suppose is fair enough if you're the proprietor of a cinema...



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The decent bonus-documentaries from the old days which actually used to impart something about the production of a film, rather than those ones you get now which are basically a showreel of the cast and crew all saying how wonderful it is to be working with each other and little else.

Meow, I know
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, despite initially missing this at the 2015 London Film Festival, I've finally got to do just that. So for me, yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, previous bugbears still upheld.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In the director's case, we'll wait and see.
He freely admitted in the Q&A that this level of intricate fandom wouldn't really work with any other series or franchise, so I shall watch Jon's career with great interest
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Mind, who's the performer inside the Stormtrooper suit who goes tumbling off the Death Star gantry where the Wilhelm is used? That's what I want to know…



Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The entire featured cast was in Star Wars.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.