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Very beautiful in its simplicity, 20 September 2014

Not Pixar at their very best, but a very impressive early effort. The animation on the clown is a little rough especially to how the rest of the animation looked and I personally think the short could have been a little longer. But for such an early Pixar short Red's Dream does look great and holds up really well, the most striking being the noir-ish opening sequence that could have easily won an award on its own. Also loved the bright and atmospheric colours, the meticulous detail given to the rainfall and even by the look of his design you immediately connect with Red. Red's Dream has an intimate music score and sound effects that are subtly used but authentic, the rain falling actually sounds like rain falling. The story is very simple but Red's Dream is an example of simplicity done right, it has a lot of charm as well subtly moving and hauntingly moody. It sustains the short length beautifully and doesn't feel rushed. The characters are also simple but immensely likable too, you'd never think that you'd fall in love with such a simple object like an unicycle but you certainly do with Red. To conclude, not among Pixar's best but a beautifully done short that is proof of not doing an awful lot but still be good. 8/10 Bethany Cox

One of the best versions of Alice in Wonderland, 20 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Alice in Wonderland is a classic, it may be oddball and episodic in structure but the atmosphere, humour, colourful characters and Carroll's way of words(like his poetry, logic and paradoxes). As someone who likes most of the versions of Alice in Wonderland- and Alice Through the Looking Glass as well for that matter, another classic that has even more colour, eccentricity and kookiness- I was hugely impressed by this version, even though it is not without its flaws. The live-action book-ending scenes were conceptually intriguing- always is interesting to see how Lewis Carroll(or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson came about writing Alice in Wonderland- they were for my tastes too tediously paced and stiffly acted, the actual story not beginning until ten minutes in when it easily have done so sooner. Though credit is due for reinforcing the idea that Carroll did base his characters on real-life people which no other version of Alice in Wonderland did. Wasn't entirely crazy on the character designs for the Caterpillar, Mock Turtle and particularly the Duchess, Caterpillar didn't really look like a caterpillar, Mock Turtle was a touch too creepy and the Duchess's ugliness was taken to extremities.

However, adaptation-wise it is possibly the most faithful version along with the 1999 and 1985 adaptations and on its own terms it's also up there with the best along with Disney's and the film from 1933. The stop-motion visuals look pretty incredible even now, the sets are both magical and with an abstract, surreal quality, particularly good are the beach after the pool of tears scene and the wonderfully weird origami-like field of grass, though the design of the White Rabbit's house and Queen of Hearts' garden deserve a mention too. Most of the characters are designed superbly- it was clear how much effort and detail went into these visuals- the White Rabbit, the Dodo, Queen of Hearts and Cheshire Cat being particularly noteworthy. But that doesn't mean that any less detail went into designing the minor characters because they were just as impressive, especially the fish footmen. The score is beautiful and whimsical, and while not as memorable as the ones from the Disney and 1933 films(and Mock Turtle's song is slightly overacted) the songs are very pleasant melodically- the operetta-like style they were written in was personally quite appealing- and most admirably includes the dialogue and poetry of the book. Certainly better than the hit-and-miss standard of songs of the otherwise very good 1985 adaptation.

The writing is one of the best things here, there is a weirdness(which is needed really because the story itself is weird, and I mean this in a good way) and creepiness in abundance but also the whimsy, eccentric humour, oddball charm and Carroll's use of logic(done in a twisted way like in the book) and paradoxes. This version is also the most successful of all the adaptations of the book to actually feel like a succinct story that flows seamlessly from one scene to the next instead of being episodic, which is remarkable for a story that is as acknowledged early on in the review episodic structurally. It was good too to have it as just Alice in Wonderland instead of incorporating elements of Through the Looking Glass. The characters are still as colourful as they ought, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and the scenes with the Queen of Hearts being the most entertaining. Carol Marsh is very charming and winsome as Alice and carries the film beautifully, some might say she's too old but actually that's a fairly insignificant issue really considering that only the 1985 and 1999 versions have Alices being Alice's age or close to. The Wonderland characters are very well-voiced though that for the Duchess wasn't to my tastes, too pantomime-dame-ish.

In conclusion, a very good film and one of the best versions of Alice in Wonderland as an adaptation and on its own merits. It is in need of a restoration though. 8/10 Bethany Cox

Here's to hoping that this abomination doesn't produce any offspring, 20 September 2014

Jurassic Shark is every bit as bad as the other reviewers have said, it is a classic example of how never to do a low-budget movie and quite possibly the worst shark movie ever, and there are some terrible ones out there. Any redeeming qualities? No, apart from that the most inspired the movie gets is its catchy title and the attractive girls but even they're wasted. Visually, while there are some cheap-looking low-budget movies out there Jurassic Park really takes the cake complete with repetitive and very incomplete camera work and editing, murky lighting and truly dreadful special effects on the shark and the dinosaurs. The shark constantly changes size and looks like it was made of wood and cardboard and the dinosaurs look as though they would belong in a badly rendered video game from twenty years ago. They have no menace or even personality to speak out, and even worse the shark is severely under-utilised. The attacks, the way the shark behaves and deaths scream of you've-seen-it-all-before quality(and that's even in other shark movies) and are high on predictability and low on tension.

Along with the very pedestrian and stiffly choreographed action, with the sound quality constantly fading in and out(that for the explosions sounding like they were on mute), the scenes with the shark and dinosaurs are so haphazardly shot with countless continuity errors that they were not easy to make out at times, scenes that can only be possibly enjoyed if you like unintentional humour. I can do, but not in movies this ineptly made. The dialogue sounds awkward and improvisatory constantly with very little cohesion, with the actors not knowing what to say and how to say it.

The story is a complete muddled mess with elements of Jaws, Predator and Jurassic Park but with none of the suspense, thrills or entertainment, often feeling like three or more different stories going on at once and like the movie didn't know what to do with itself. It is an incredibly dull story too, mostly due to the complete lack of elements to make a good creature feature but also how much repetition there is, another shark movie to have constant repetition was Shark in Venice but Jurassic Shark manages to make the continuity in that movie tolerable in comparison. The human characters are uninteresting and annoying, the villains being way over-used and lacking in menace(shameful considering that they have more screen time than the shark). The acting aside from the special effects is probably the worst thing about the movie, the villains are so over-the-top pantomimic that they feel like they belong in a different movie and the girls are attractive but very vapidly acted. But most of it is wooden and completely lacking in emotion with absolutely no chemistry between them, how are we supposed to care about them when they show a complete indifference to what's going on and to each other. All in all, an abomination on every level. 0/10 Bethany Cox

A pioneering film but also a good film in its own right, 20 September 2014

The Jazz Singer is a historically important film for being the first use of sound- though the film is one that is part silent and part sound- and being the first successful talkie. But it's also a film that is more than just a curio. Because while it is very of the time, and has some crude lighting at times and has some broad over-acting(particularly Warner Oland, who I feel is more suited in comedy than in drama, Eugenie Besserer is guilty sometimes of stock gesturing), it is still a good film in its own right. The Jazz Singer is well-shot and has production values that still hold up reasonably well. The songs are terrific, especially Toot, Toot Tootsie, My Mammy and Blue Skies(also have a soft spot for Mother of Mine), and the use of classical music is well-done, Bruch's Kol Nidrei stands out as being utilised very touchingly(the oft-repeated Romeo and Juliet Overture while an amazing piece had times where it was a tad out of place). What was also great was how remarkably rich the orchestra sounded. The story is sentimental, but not overly-schmaltzy and certainly not crude, it still comes across as very moving and powerful especially in the depiction of Jolson's love and devotion for his mother. Some have called The Jazz Singer out for being racist which I don't agree with, any scenes that may give off that vibe are barely seen here and when they are it's shown in an optimistic light and came across as being more reflective of the time it's set in rather than trying to intentionally offend. The Jazz Singer is notable for its historical importance and its music but it's notable also for the very charismatic and immensely charming lead performance of Al Jolson, he also sings his songs with a lot of emotion and spirit and has an interesting if personable quality to his voice. May McAvoy is touching, as is on the most part Eugenie Besserer, while Otto Lederer is both amusing and likable. Watch out too for William Demarest and Myrna Loy. Overall, a pioneering film of historical significance but also a good one. 7/10 Bethany Cox

The trumpet shall sound with The Pink Panther, 16 September 2014

A very entertaining Pink Panther cartoon that while not one of the classics is to me one of the better ones pro-1975(a point where the series started to get a little hit-and-miss). Don't expect much new from the story, though actually the ending was a nice surprise, but to be honest that is true for a lot of the Pink Panther cartoons and they still manage to be fun regardless. Some of the backgrounds though are a little flatly coloured and simplistically drawn, the series also did have a simple animation style that was part of its charm but some of the backgrounds here in Pink Trumpet did look a touch scrappy (still better than those from some of the 1976 cartoons though). And the cartoon does take a little too long to set up, at first it felt like I was watching a different Pink Panther cartoon. There are some nice vibrant colours though and the characters are very well-modelled especially Pinky. The music is still very rhythmically driven and slinky while also energetic, the pre-1975 cartoons had more subtle scoring and while the compositional style is very different the scoring has its charms still. Pinky's practising music was quite catchy rhythmically. Pink Trumpet is crisply paced and while it's a scenario that has been done a fair few times the gags are very funny, especially the one with the Little Man trying to fill the trumpet with water from the hose (some very clever character animation on Pinky can be seen in this gag). The ending was surprising too, and actually despite what Wikipedia says Pink Trumpet didn't to me feel like a partial remake of Pink Tuba Dore, similar scenario with a role reversal maybe- with Little Man being disturbed rather than Pinky- but the pacing here is different (not quite as energised) and has a notable absentee in the dog. Pinky is as ever likable and amusing and you do have to feel sorry for the Little Man in a situation where pretty much anybody would in a way be rooting for him seeing as a lot of people have been through it. In conclusion, very entertaining. 8/10 Bethany Cox

The budget may have modest but the overall film is anything but, 16 September 2014

And that is meant in a favourable way. Seven Men from Now may be modest in budget, simple and short but not once does it feel simplistic or cheap. If anything the most remarkable thing about it was the depth of characterisation and how compelling the story was is as good as any film bigger budgeted and twice as long. The modest budget doesn't show either, the settings (ones that actually look like they're outdoors) have much colour and atmosphere and made terrific use of by the cinematography, which has a lot of grace but some of the camera work is quite inventive as well. Budd Boetticher's direction is efficient and lean, the characters are likable and flawed rather than black and white(even the villain has moral ambiguity which I liked) and the acting is fine too. In particular Lee Marvin as a villain where you feel the menace and the cunning but you also find yourself caring for him. Randolph Scott is a charismatic lead with a purposefully stoic presence (without ever being one-note) that is alive to nuances. Gail Russell is touching and like Scott her acting is remarkably subtle and dynamic. Add to that a rousing score that still allows the drama to speak, a script that's sharp, to the point and surprisingly meaty (none of that skim-the-surface, shallow stuff here), blistering action (especially that terrific final showdown) and a well-paced and engrossing story that allows you to engage with and relate to the characters, and you have a truly great film that makes the most of its budget and much more. Don Barry to me didn't quite fit his role in the same way that the others did, more to do with how atypical type-wise it was and that it didn't seem in his comfort zone, other than that the problems here were barely any. 9/10 Bethany Cox

David Lynch at his most bizarre but that doesn't in this case mean that's a bad thing, 16 September 2014

Lost Highway is not Lynch at his most accessible, that would be Blue Velvet followed by The Elephant Man and The Straight Story, and I would put those films as well as Mulholland Drive (one of his most polarising along with Eraserhead) as better films of his, but while it has divided and will divide viewers I did love the film. Lost Highway does occasionally get confusing (particularly from a psychological stand-point) as a result of trying to have too many ideas, which does seem to be what the main complaint is against it, but for me there was very little wrong (as a bit of advice it is a good idea to be acquainted with Lynch's style first with The Elephant Man or Blue Velvet being the best place to start). Lost Highway looks amazingly stylish, the cinematography some of the best of any film personally seen in a while, the colours are expressive and bursting with colour and hypnotism and the images are surreal but impeccably hypnotising. Lynch's directing is highly accomplished if not quite some of his best directing like Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet. He also does a great job in not making Lost Highway too formulaic (there is a sense that formally and structurally that there was a fair bit of re-invention involved), in fact it was one of the freshest and most unique psychological mystery thrillers personally viewed. Like Eraserhead, Lost Highway is basically an atmosphere/mood piece and it works amazingly as one. It may be Lynch at his strangest but that made the film even more fascinating to watch, no matter what you think of some of the story the impact the atmosphere has in the film cannot be denied. The thriller elements are enough to set the pulse racing and the mystery elements while made obvious about half-way through have a lot of suspense. Bill Pullman's exemplary here, some of the best work he's ever done even, and standouts too are Patricia Arquette at her most sensual and Robert Blake at his creepiest. The music score is incredibly haunting with fitting use of pre-existing songs and while spare the dialogue doesn't stick out like a sore thumb too much. All in all, a bizarre film but with the mood it has and how well-made and directed it is it is a very compelling one too. Not Lynch at his best but around the top end of his filmography. 9/10 Bethany Cox

Honolulu (1939)
Not a great film but a pleasant way to pass the time, 16 September 2014

Honolulu's not perfect (in my opinion), starting with a rather ridiculous story with a tired scenario that can get confusingly told in places. It was unevenly paced, some parts were fine, others were rushed and others were pedestrian. George Burns doesn't really have a lot to do and was a touch bland, and his chemistry with Gracie Allen while pleasant could have shone more if they were on screen longer together, Allen's chemistry with Eleanor Powell fares much better. Honolulu is still a pleasant film though, that is not among the best film musicals but a long way from the worst. The score is lush and while the songs are not the most memorable set of songs from a musical they are still very good and well-placed, the title song, the Hawaiian Medley and The Leader Doesn't Like Music particularly good. Honolulu does have some witty dialogue, with Robert Young having some lovely comic moments, and the shipboard costume party was a lot of fun especially to see what the characters dressed up as. Terrific also was the choreography, the best being the hula dance(you'd be hard pressed to find a sexier one on film), Powell's homage to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the tap/skipping-rope routine, the last one possibly being the most complicated- a lot of people would find it impossible to do- but danced effortlessly by Powell. And despite the black-face in the Robinson homage causing alarm bells for some who are yet to see it there is nothing really offensive here, although the rather stereotypical and out of place Chinese valet character played by William Fung will not work for some. The direction is pedestrian at times in the non-musical scenes but is very efficient mostly while the performances are good too, Gracie Allen is adorable and very funny and Robert Young is charming and quite gifted in comedy. But Honolulu is Eleanor Powell's film, she radiates the screen and generates warmth and ease, plus her dancing is just incredible (easily among the best dancers on film). Overall, not great but pleasant entertainment. 6/10 Bethany Cox

Not without its moments but very lazy and charmless on the whole, 13 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return judging from the terrible reviews was a film that I watched with low expectations, but as a fan of animation and think the voice cast to be very talented the film did deserve a fair chance. There are worse animated films out there and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return isn't from personal view as terrible as has been said but it is not a particularly good film either and one of the weaker Oz incarnations(with only 1978's The Wiz being worse, the best of course being the timeless 1939 MGM classic), even when judged on its own merits rather than a direct comparison. There are a few glimpses of good detail in the animation, like the rainbow, Dainty China Country, Wiser's chest and the grainy colour for the tree. Toby Chu's score is pleasant and whimsical in the way that most of the songs are not; When the World is a catchy and beautiful song and by far the highlight of the soundtrack; credit should go to the writers for trying to give Jester a back-story(the closest we actually get to learning about the characters) and Toto is adorable and entertaining, the only character who is really likable. The voice cast are a mixed bag, with Martin Short the stand-out, he may be on autopilot at times and has lacklustre material but his maniacal and sometimes amusing voice-work is the most enthusiastic of the whole cast. Megan Hilty, Hugh Dancy, Jim Belushi and Kelsey Grammar are perfect as well for their characters too.

But others don't make the grade. Lea Michele's singing is amazing of course but her acting is rather unemotive and shrill and Dan Aykroyd and Patrick Stewart are wasted in under-written and dumbed-down roles(Aykroyd also came across as too abrasive and stern for a leader). Bernadette Peters would have been perfect for Glinda but compared to her delicate, benevolent character design she came across as too ambivalent and gravelly voiced(it also sounded like she was trying to put on a part-English part-French accent), while Oliver Platt may be unrecognisable but it did sound like he was channelling Dom DeLuise but wasn't really all that funny in doing so. It's not their fault though, because the dialogue is really inane with a lot of the humour, or what there is of it, very juvenile and forced and the characters are poorly realised, the most entertaining characters being Toto and China Princess and the blandest being Dorothy. Wiser the Owl to me was annoying and too cutesy with the worst of the humour coming from him; Scarecrow, TinMan and Cowardly Lion while having some enjoyable rapport are under-utilised(with an overdone leading-joke too) and little more than stooges and China Princess and Marshal Mallow's romance is somewhat cute but takes up too much of the film and wasn't all that necessary. Personally, also, the villain Jester is over-used and a missed opportunity, with despite Short's voice work, a cool entrance and his back-story the writers didn't seem sure whether to have him as a menacing villain or one played-for-laughs, often he seemed too silly to be a real threat to anyone and his plans seemed in the end under-developed and senseless.

The story didn't come across as very engaging, it meant well but was very charmless and brash and was lacking in any real brains, heart, charm or wonder. It's rather unimaginative and by-the-numbers stuff, as well as being very predictable, complete with an awkward mix of forced humour and a bleak surrealistic in alternative to magical atmosphere which makes one question whether the film had a clear idea at all which audience they were aiming at. There were a few nice details and bright colours but most of the animation was not very good, a lot of the characters are very robotic in movement and very hollow-eyed(ie. Dorothy) and the backgrounds are flat, garish and plastic computer-game looking most of the time. The Kansas scenes and final battle were especially embarrassing with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry suffering the worst of the stiff character designs. And of the songs only one really stood out(When the World), the others were forgettable and badly placed(some like Candy Candy coming right out of nowhere), the Jester's rock-opera-like villain song stylistically out of kilter with the rest of the songs and even the rest of the film too. Well actually Even Then was a nice song but made the mistake of grinding the film down to a complete stand-still. But how can you have Peters on board and not give her anything to sing, it's criminal considering that she has the most experience of any of the cast here in this regard? Overall, one of those animated films that is not completely terrible but from a very subjective personal opinion not good either, there are moments that are decent but much of it is lazy and charmless. 4/10 Bethany Cox

Near-classic wartime adventure drama, 13 September 2014

A very, very good film, I'd go as far to say that its best parts- and there are a great many of them- are great. The Guns of Navarone does plod in the pace a tad at times and some of the camera work and special effects look under-budgeted and silly now compared to the rest of the production values(the script and score were in my view more deserving of an Oscar win, but were up against stiff competition that year). The Guns of Navarone does boast atmospheric scenery, expressive lighting that gives the film a haunting but not obvious look and mostly skilled photography, so while not a great-looking film regardless of some camera work and effects it's a good-looking one. Dmitri Tiomkin's justifiably Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning music score is stirring in the very best of ways and sets the atmosphere and what the characters are thinking brilliantly. It is sometimes used sparingly but that really works here, considering what's going on. The film is very intelligently scripted in a way that's easy to understand and does a great job developing the characters, who are compellingly real, not black and white and are ones that we really get to know, especially David Niven's. It was nice to see the Germans as formidable yet human instead of being one-sided.

The story is told with a great deal of tension, realism and suspense that are maintained throughout the long(two and a half hours) length, some of the many suspenseful scenes being without music or dialogue and just sound effects(nail-biting ones too), The Guns of Navarone really does have to have some of the best use of silence of any film. The story's tone shifts are done smoothly and not in a way that's awkward or bizarre, it has a strong message not done in a over-didactic way and the ending is gut-wrenching. The pace plods here and there but mostly is very efficient and actually with the characters and story being as engrossing as they were the film never to me became a bore. The direction is sympathetic to the action but manages to inject life into the storytelling and sustain the amount of tension and suspense there is, giving it all space to develop. The cast were great on paper and their acting is even greater, the acting honours going to David Niven in a smooth, witty and touching performance as the most interesting and well-developed character of the film. Gregory Peck can be wooden but he's anything but here, he may not pass for British but his command of the screen and his rapport with Niven more than compensates. And you cannot go wrong with Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, James Darren and James Robertson-Justice, all fine here especially a very humorous Quinn. Only Richard Harris disappointed, a little stiff and with a pretty appalling accent. On the whole, while not the greatest wartime drama(the granddaddy of them is still 1930's All Quiet on the Western Front) the Guns of Navarone is great stuff and a near-classic. 9/10 Bethany Cox

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