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It all began so easy With bricks upon the floor Building motley houses And knocking down your houses And always building more.
The doll was called Christina, Her under-wear was lace, She smiled when you dressed her And when you then undressed her She kept a smiling face.
Until the day she tumbled And broke herself in two And her legs and arms were hollow And her yellow head was hollow Behind her eyes of blue.
**************** He went to bed with a lady Somewhere seen before He heard the name Christina And suddenly saw Christina Dead on the nursery floor.Louis MacNeice: July, 1939.
I can't shake longings for Wilder and tangerine faces...
Director Tim Burton has come a long way since his first job as an animator for Disney in the early 1980's. He made several animated shorts, none of which were deemed suitable for children - an early indication of Burton's dark outlook. However, his hard work and talent did not go unnoticed. His subsequent directorial work on Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) cemented his role as an experimental and visionary director/producer. Nobody else, therefore, was surely more suitable to adapt Dahl's much-loved novel, and nobody else was surely daring enough to attempt a re-make of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, directed by Mel Stuart), that enduring classic starring Gene Wilder as Wonka.
Burton's repeated use of Depp in previous films (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow to name just three) indicated him to be an obvious and, it could be argued, perfect choice to cast as Wonka. Depp is by far the best thing about this film. His character's whole persona - the costume and body language, the tone of his voice, his pithy lines delivered in a contemptuous and yet charming manner, are all presented in such a way to add up to a well deserved challenge to Wilder's crown. But does he steal it? I'd say he doesn't. For someone that grew up with Roald Dahl's novels and film adaptations, Wilder IS Wonka. Trying to ignore my obvious bias, I believe Depp does put up a good fight, and perhaps if the parents of the four terrible children had shown more spark, or been actors of a higher calibre, his comic moments would have had much more impact.
Burton's other muse, Helena Bonham Carter, is mis-cast as Charlie's mother. Her lines are delivered distractedly and with the air of someone very aware of her status in the film industry. Thankfully her role is quite minor and doesn't impact negatively upon the film. Freddie Highmore is fairly insipid, yet not offensive in his role of Charlie. The same description can be applied to David Kelley, who plays his Grandpa Joe. With the exception of Augustus Gloop, whose role is comparatively minor, the four ticket-winning children do not live up to expectations or standards set in the '71 Mel Stuart version. They simply serve to mildly irritate and disappoint, particularly Veruca and Violet. But I doubt anyone could match Julie Dawn Cole, the original Veruca.
A certain amount of furore has surrounded Deep Roy, the 4ft 4" tall actor who plays every single one of Wonka's all-singing, all-dancing Oompa Loompas. He also plays Wonka's therapist and, in a tongue-in-cheek moment, appears briefly on the closing sequence where he is revealed to be the narrator. The effects used to re-produce Roy as every single Oompa-Loompa I believe detract from the film. When viewing scenes, surely it's preferable to be absorbed and involved than to be distracted by special effects and wondering 'how/why did they do that?' Additionally, Roy's scenes are the only ones to feature music - there is no Wonka or Grandpa Joe breaking into song and dance in this adaptation. All we get here are the Oompa-Loompa's didactic lyrics, which unfortunately are drowned out by below-par sound editing.
In an unprecedented move, Burton and screenwriter James August have given Wonka a history. Christopher Lee, who is sadly under-used in this film, plays his father, and we get to find out exactly why Wonka is such an enigma. I won't reveal the outcome, short of saying it's pretty unsatisfying and takes away Wonka's mystery - the very thing that makes him appealing. Claims have been made that this adaptation follows Dahl's novel much more closely than the 1971 version, of which it does - everything is followed almost to the letter. Unfortunately, the Wonka/father storyline clearly undermines any attempt the film has made to stay true to Dahl's novel - should Dahl had wished there to be a father figure, he would have included that in his book. However, certain artistic license is always taken when adapting books and plays to the big screen, and this creativity is needed to keep images and story lines fresh and to prevent any static grounding.
As regards the imagery of the film, well, it's a Burton film and true to form we aren't disappointed. Typically, we enter and leave the film during gentle snow-fall. The poor Buckets' house leans pitifully to one side and almost makes you shiver when Charlie climbs into bed underneath a gaping whole in the roof. Colour is suitably hued down apart from certain scenes in the factory where the vibrant colours bring the songs and sets to life - the Chocolate Room and the Boat Ride come alive, and the Television Room almost blinds. The only fault I could find, and it is minor, is that at certain points of the Chocolate Room scene, the chocolate river where Augustus Gloop meets his untimely suction looks more like brown water than creamy chocolate. Apart from the afore-mentioned poor sound editing of the featured songs, audio here is of a top standard. Sound effects are clear, no dialogue is gone unheard and the musical score is in keeping with the tone of the film.
Verdict - It's easy to be over-picky when comparing a film not only to a novel, but also to an earlier, much loved and highly-established film adaptation. However, faults notwithstanding, this is watchable fare that should appeal to all ages. Is it a classic? No.
A meandering, multi-genred film that ultimately rewards
Yogen begins with a tight sequence full of foreboding. A married couple with their young daughter are driving home from vacation when the father, Professor Hideki Satomi, needs to send an email. To get an internet connection they stop at a phone booth, and whilst waiting for his email to connect Hideki receives a shocking premonition. He discovers a newspaper depicting his daughter Nana's death: she dies in a car explosion, alone, after an impact by a lorry. He spots the date - it's today's - he sees the time - it's now - it happens right behind him, his wife Ayaka having tried unsuccessfully to release Nana from the back seat. This opening is suspenseful and subsequently sets a high expectation for the rest of the film.
We now travel three years into the future where Hideki and Ayaka are divorced, their marriage not having survived the horrific experience and aftermath of Nana's death. Their continuing relationship is explored with surprising depth: no character is wholly blamed for past events and both leads are written believably and with sympathy. Hideki soon becomes haunted with other premonitions, and with his ex-wife's help finds some answers about his own fate and others. This leads to the most disappointing part of the film, the meandering middle section, where audiences fidget and become eager for a pay-off.
It's worth the wait. With a journey into hell, one shocking sequence in particular and some genuine 'jump' moments, Yogen also manages to incorporate familiar concepts from films such as Groundhog Day and The Butterfly Effect. Despite this, the premise still feels fresh and the last twenty minutes deserve full attention.
I wouldn't classify Yogen solely as a horror, as the conventions of mystery, thriller and even some romance are also apparent. This film relies more on character development and a well thought-out (albeit sometimes slow) script than cheap shocks or blood and gore. With strong acting (most notably the stressed-out and suitably skinny performance from Hiroshi Mikami as Hideki), nicely crafted sequences and a pervading score, this film is predictable and unpredictable in equal measures. Admittedly uneven, if a viewer has enjoyed films of a similar premise, they can be confident Yogen ultimately delivers and entertains.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Much more than a female version of Big...
The body swap genre has been done before, and to much success, but the sweet nature of this film cancels out any lack of originality. Jennifer Garner, transported from a 13 year old girl into her 30 year old future self, gives a thoroughly appealing performance which is backed up with strong support from the likes of Mark Ruffallo, Judy Greer and Andy Serkis. Greer in particular is very well cast, she displays subtle but perfect comic timing, some of it improvised (watch out for the Bambi line towards the end of the movie).
The main surprise with this film is its emotional punch. The importance of family and the importance of staying true to yourself is filtered into the plot without being too sentimental or cloying. By the time the more emotional scenes come around, you might care so much about the characters that you cry along with them. Unashamedly girly, this is one to watch if you fancy a feel-good film that dares to go a little deeper.
Honogurai mizu no soko kara (2002)
Simple, suspenseful, and engaging.
Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) is an out of work, divorced proof-reader embroiled in a custody battle with her ex-husband for their six year old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). Eager to demonstrate she can take care of herself and her daughter, despite past mental health problems, she gains new employment and moves into a far from ideal, but cheap, apartment and deigns to settle in.
These plans are in jeopardy when the apartment appears to be not all as it seems. Strange damp patches begin appearing on the ceiling, a child's bag keeps appearing inexplicably, there appears to be no other tenants in the building and the people in charge have no regard for Yoshimi's complaints regarding repair. Even the tap water in the apartment is strange, and contains oddities that revolts. Ikuko begins to act strangely, and the custody battle is put into further danger when she begins disappearing at strange hours and plays with an imaginary friend.
Without giving too much away, there's some genuinely creepy moments contained in this film. The pattering of feet in the apartment above and quick flashes of an unexplained presence should give a hint that there's no blood and guts contained in this film - and it's all the better for it. The score puts you on the edge of your seat and there's an overwhelming sense of evil and malevolence, however I can't stress enough that there's no real evil in this film. Everything is explained, perhaps explained too much - there was no need for a 'ten years later' epilogue but perhaps this was an aim to redress the balance of despair. You'll either laugh or cry at the climax, but it won't disappoint.
Although Dark Water contains some plot filler - obviously written in to pad out the original short novel - the sub-plots give a distinctly human feel to the film, despite the very un-human presence that threatens to ruin both Yoshimi and Ikuko's lives. I haven't seen the 2005 re-make and don't intend to, this version is more than enough.
Ruang rak noi nid mahasan (2003)
I do like a suicidal man with an ordered wardrobe.
Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) is a depressed, introverted Japanese man living in Bangkok with suicidal fantasies. He is not so simple as his quiet demeanour hopes to portray. His past is complicated and therefore he controls his present state with an OCD-repressed lifestyle. His clothes are colour co-ordinated, his socks ironed and folded, and his books are stacked so neatly there's an urge to reach into the TV and throw them around the room just to set the sterile organisation off-kilter.
The dream-like unreality of Kenji is punctuated by his meeting of Nid (Laila Boonyasak) and her subsequent departure. Her sister Noi (played by Nid's real-life sister, Sinitta Boonyasak) is suddenly in his life, and her home serves as an escape for a disturbing event that happens in Kenji's apartment. Their personalities are as contradictory as they are complimentary - she is as messy as he is organised, as free as he is controlled. He brings her life into order and she brings his into disarray.
The developing romance between the two is difficult to categorise. Kenji imagines on occasion that Noi has become Nid; it's almost as if Noi is the next best thing and he doesn't appreciate her for herself. This is however usurped by the ending, of which I won't give away. That has to be down to individual interpretation and perhaps can't be seen definitively anyway.
Director and co-writer Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's portrayal of a Japanese man and Thai woman's blossoming relationship is illustrated with their stilted dialogue - it veers from Thai, to Japanese, to halting English. Their mis-understandings of language are juxtaposed with their understandings of each other. There is nothing so clear as body language and this film relies heavily on the physicality of the two leads, both of whom give near-flawless performances. Asano in particular cannot be helped being taken to the viewers' heart; it's obvious here why he has such a high status in Japan. Boonyasak is not so sympathetic, but she is perhaps not meant to be, and she serves her purpose well.
There's some brilliant comic moments peppered throughout, but the poignant moments counter-balance these well. The ending gives some insight into Kenji's past but must be viewed more than once to appreciate. This is not a simple or straight-forward film, but nor is it complicated or pretentious.
Last Life in the Universe is difficult to sum up without mentioning its imagery, of which you have to see for yourself to appreciate, or describing it with the words 'beautiful' and 'subtle' - I almost managed it.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Depp and his stiffy.
The plot here is definitely secondary to the stylistic value of this animated film, but I'll give an explanation anyway. Johnny Depp's Victor Van Dort is a hapless, affable though well-intentioned young man who is being co-erced into an arranged marriage by his parents to Emily Watson's Victoria Everglot. Victor and Victoria meet accidentally and it's a joining of kindred spirits (pardon the pun) so they are keen for the marriage to go ahead despite the bullying from their respective parents.
The marriage rehearsal does not go well, however, and Victor is forced to promise to get his vows perfect before the big day. And, as all good plans in spooky films go, a late night stroll through the woods is in order. The climax of Victor's finally perfect speech sees him place the wedding ring jubilantly on a twig - a twig that's shaped strangely like a skeletal human hand.
The earth shakes and up rises Helena Bonham Carter's Corpse Bride: she's blue, she's half skeleton, she died in mysterious circumstances, and she also believes Victor's vows to be sincere. A curse made in her grave takes effect... Victor and the Corpse Bride are man and wife. This is when the fun starts.
Burton's films are so striking in their visuality that there's never any doubt you're watching one of his films. Corpse Bride is no exception; the whole film is a feast for the eyes and the senses. The set pieces during the musical numbers are outstanding and some of the characters' body shapes are mildly disturbing (in a good way). Depp and Bonham Carter are endearing in their roles, particularly Depp - you'd be hard pressed to guess the shy, bumbling Victor is voiced by a movie legend, and Bonham Carter even gets to sing a little. I wonder, did they record their dialogue, along with Deep Roy (who played the Oompa Loompas in Charlie...) during a lunch break whilst filming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Of course, as with most films, there are some minor disappointments in Corpse Bride. The plot is somewhat clichéd and predictable. It also finishes rather abruptly. There are some extremely child-friendly characters, namely the Maggot and the Black Widow Spider which seem only to be there for mild amusement (extremely mild from where I was sitting). And whilst the set pieces leave nothing to be desired, the songs and lyrics leave a lot.
As for whether Corpse Bride matches Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton's other full-length animation, I'd say it falls fairly short. Corpse Bride is more mainstream and less likely to attract a cult status due to its child-friendly aspects and missed opportunities for spookiness. I felt Burton et al could have got away with a lot more with its PG rating; for a Halloween film the spook-meter is very low.
Overall, Corpse Bride is a must-see for existing fans of Burton. For new fans, it's more of a gentle introduction to his style of spooky animation than his previous works. Watch it if you fancy something a little different.
Lost in Translation (2003)
I think I know what he whispers at the end.
Bob (Bill Murray), a fading movie star, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), an unsettled newlywed, are two very different people, with something very real in common - their loneliness. They inadvertently find each other in a hotel bar in Tokyo, as Charlotte is left alone by her jet-setting photographer husband, and Bob struggles to get through his $2m dollar contract to promote various products with a sense of humour. Although attracted to each other, their growing feelings are not based on lust, rather on mutual respect and understanding. Key scenes in the film display this brilliantly - from Charlotte smiling innocently at Bob in the hotel lift, to Bob tenderly caressing Charlotte's foot in one of the most character-revealing moments in the film.
Bill Murray well deserved his Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a fading film star - a part extremely close to home, perhaps, given his somewhat fading status himself before this film. Johansson gives a sophisticated, heart-breaking performance of 25-year old Charlotte, with a maturity far beyond her real-life 18 years at the time of filming. Her face is one, for some reason or another, you simply have to watch.
Murray and Johansson have amazing chemistry. At times, they only need to look at each other to communicate how they're feeling - in fact, they don't converse that much at all. This is refreshing in a day and age when communication is so impersonal - we rush off a quick phone call, we punch in a text, we fire off an e-mail; when do we just stop, and look into someone's eyes? This theme is made all the more poignant by the surroundings of Tokyo: in a land of technology and new inventions, Bob and Charlotte's quiet inter-play is played out against a background of innovative architecture, flashing lights, and natives enthusiastically absorbed in the latest noisy gadgets.
Some critics and viewers have claimed there is no definitive plot to Lost in Translation. This is perhaps true, but what can be more real, or more plot-inspiring, than human nature? Bob and Charlotte's subtle exchanges are worth ten explosions in some of the more mindless action films. However nor is this a typical will they/won't they rom-com fare - although there are some comedic moments interspersed with serious concepts, LIT doesn't fit neatly into any genre.
Writer and Director Sofia Coppola has created something very special here, and something as close to perfection as a film can be. The imagery is breath-taking and the score perfectly apt. The unpredictable ending will break your heart, and you'll want to watch this film again and again - though you may not quite be able to put your finger on why. However this is again a reflection of life - unexplainable emotions; just like those contained in the film. Watch it.
Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
An inspired expansion on an already classic tale.
Loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones's 1986 novel, this is the tale of young hat-worker Sophie Hatter. When a curse is placed on her by the Wicked Witch of the Waste, she turns into a 90-year old woman. Ashamed of her looks, and fearing she will be of no use to her step-mother in their shop, she flees to the countryside in seek of shelter and to somehow get help to lift the curse.
On her journey she meets a helpful scarecrow (who, incidentally, is a source of terror in the novel) who directs her to local wizard Howl's 'Moving Castle'. This isn't just a name - Howl's castle does indeed move - it hops along on spindly legs, groaning under its weight, and puffs of steam emanate into the surrounding air. Inside, Sophie finds the castle is not all as it seems - it is disproportionately small and shabby, and able to open its door onto four different locations at will. Calcifer, a fire demon, powers the castle and Howl is not quite the evil, girl's heart-eating wizard he's made out to be. Instead he's shallow, vain, tempestuous and, to Sophie's horror, handsome. Sophie makes a deal with Calcifer to break the contract he holds with Howl, in return for her curse being lifted. But will Sophie end up breaking the spell herself, and will Howl in fact see her for what she really is - a beautiful, resourceful young woman, and return her feelings?
World-renowned director Hayao Miyazaki has done a good job here. He has taken great liberties with Diana Wynne Jones's original story, but this is no bad thing in some ways - the film is a pure visual feast. From the Wicked Witch of the Waste's obese puffing up the palace stairs, to Calcifer's near death, and Howl's slime explosion, there are some brilliant images here. The scope and depth of the scenery, the close-ups of Sophie's eyes, and Howl's blond hair have all been obviously attended to with great detail.
I would urge anyone to watch the original film with subtitles. The actors' voices are much more in tone with what's on screen, in particular Calcifer's comical screeching shouldn't be missed.
I'm all for artistic vision, and the different ways that novels translate from page to screen. However one major aspect that I didn't agree with in this version was Sophie's differing appearance - when angered, or in a fit of passion, she grows younger before our eyes. She's cursed, not just emotional! If it was as easy as that perhaps she wouldn't need to hang out at the castle mopping Howl's floor.
Don't worry if you haven't read the novel first, but do make a point to do so at some point (anything written by Wynne-Jones is worth a read, for that matter). Although this film does arguably stand on its own merits, to miss the genius of Wynne-Jones's writing would be a great shame.
This film is a good example of well-crafted animation, inspiration and directorial vision.
Lick it up viewer; Lick. It. Up.
Ahhh... the late 80's. When shoulder pads were still in fashion, Winona Ryder hadn't yet been arrested for shoplifting and teen movies didn't solely feature recycled actors.
When teen genius Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) gets bored with the shallow and cliquey lifestyle of the three Heathers; her new-found high school chums, she wishes them dead. She never expects it to happen, but this all changes when she meets Jason 'JD' Dean (Christian Slater), a cool, darkly-dressed rebel who moves around the US randomly with his distant tycoon father.
From the iconic opening sequence to the explosive ending, every scene is darkly comic and dripping with irony. It almost looks over-rehearsed as nearly every actor's performance is flawless. Ryder in particular shines with her angst-ridden 'Dear Diary' entries, and Slater I don't believe has ever again encapsulated such a perfect role in his career to date.
The queen Heather (Kim Walker) really deserved more screen-time. She perfectly represents the bitchy, sneering, self-obsessed High School teen. She even manages to convey vulnerability after uttering the immortal line 'Well f/ck me gently with a chainsaw.' Shannen Doherty starts off with what seems a minor part which gradually builds and lets her have fun with the role. The only disappointing Heather is Lisanne Falk, with whom we don't really connect or care about.
It's hard to find anything to pick on with this movie, but it could have used some smoother editing. The scenes cut to actors in different lighting and obvious passages of time to deliver major lines, and correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think corpses should breathe.
The humour is dark and the plot unbelievable at times, but this only adds to the surreal atmosphere and unforgettable lines. A sexy cast, a great script and director Michael Lehmann's vision makes this a must-see film and a worthy addition to any DVD collection. If you haven't yet witnessed the brilliance of Heathers, rectify this now.
Well, I never Saw that coming.... (contains mild spoilers)
I should mention, before you read on, that I'm not much of a fan of Seven (please don't call it Se7en) which, due to Saw's comparison to the aforementioned, should be some indication I may not have found this as enthralling as other reviewers.
It's an interesting premise. A young photographer, Adam (played by relative newcomer and co-writer Leigh Wannell) wakes up gasping, pulling himself out of a bath in a dark, disused, run-down bathroom. As he struggles to remove the shackle chaining him to the wall by his ankle, the lights flicker on and we realise he's not alone. Surgeon Lawrence (played by Cary Elwes, who I'd always thought was considered quite the thespian) is on the opposite side of the room, also chained, and a dead man lies between them in a pool of blood.
It soon becomes apparent, via clues left and via Lawrence's history, that they have been trapped by Jigsaw - a notorious serial killer who is infamous by not killing his victims directly. Rather, he places them in situations that they must either escape or meet their maker. In this instance Lawrence must kill Adam (with a gun helpfully provided by the corpse) before 6pm or his family will be killed, and he himself will be left to rot. The title 'Saw' comes from their captor (obviously), and also from the possibility of severing their chained feet with hand-saws left, by Jigsaw, in a toilet cistern for them to find.
Other examples of Jigsaw's captures are told in flashback sequences. One particularly vivid situation features a woman who must escape a contraption round her face, that will break her jaw in both directions if she doesn't remove the key for it from her (still alive, but drugged) companion's stomach.
It's a good plot. But it was let down by the acting and sheer implausibility. For example, why oh why did two off-duty policemen go directly to Jigsaw's lair in the middle of the night, without requesting back-up? It's worth mentioning that one of the cops investigating the murders is Danny Glover - I think he only smiles once throughout the whole film. His subtle performance of a good-cop-gone-crazy is a welcome relief after the hammy inter-play by our two men trapped in the bathroom.
There are twists, but don't expect not to get it. Go with your instincts and you'll know what to expect very early on.
Despite some of the most cringe-worthy performances this side of Grease 2, and some unintentionally funny moments, it's a good watch, with some memorable scenes. Just don't expect a horror masterpiece.