Saturday, March 8, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
20 YEARS OF THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Writing my last article on Jurassic Parkwas a pretty daunting task. But writing about The Nightmare Before Christmas has been. . . intimidating to say the least. This piece was suppose to be written several weeks ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it until now. As I write this, I am surrounded by all things Nightmare. Posters, snow globes, statutes, and marionettes decorate my room. And the other half of my collection that includes dolls, action figures, and pins are all in boxes in the attic of my house. I own four different versions of the film on home video. As you can tell, this movie means a lot to me. And in order to even scratch the surface as to why, I have to start at the beginning.
It was the year 2001. I was around nine years old at the time living in Orlando, Florida. If one were to describe my interests at nine years old, they wouldn’t stray too far from my now twenty-two year old interests. I was obsessed with Batman, comic books, movies, the Universal Monsters, and the Disney Villains. I had a pretty extensive VHS collection (when those were still around) and, for whatever reason, I decided to pop in the Nightmare Before Christmas.
Actually, it wasn’t for whatever reason. I had recently rented Tim Burton’sEdward Scissorhands from Blockbuster and it changed my life. Its vision, its music, its acting, all seemed to touch me in a way no other movie had before then. For the first time, it wasn’t just a movie that I loved, it was a movie that I became a part of. Almost as if the movie was specifically speaking to me.
Like all things that I am interested in, once I’m hooked, I’m hooked. I did research after research on the films and life of Tim Burton. And the one that just so happened to own at the time was Nightmare.I had had it since it came out on VHS, but I never really went back to it. It was only untill I was nine that I became addicted to it. Now, I watch it twice a year. Then, I watched it nearly every single day. There was a Disney Store and a Hot Topic (don’t judge me) at my local mall and I bought every single piece of merchandise that my allowance could afford. I remember going to the movie section of the Virgin Megastore (RIP) at Downtown Disney and seeing the Special Edition version of the film on VHS. What was so special about it? It not only contained Burton’s first short films (which, at the time, was like finding the Holy Grail or Atlantis to me) but it also contained a making of documentary at the end. A documentary that I would watch over and over with my mouth open on how this movie was made.
For those of you that don’t know, stop-motion might be the most underrated form of animation we have. A painstakingly slow process that involves figures (or “puppets” as they call them in the business) of the characters and sets and moving them inch by inch while taking still photographs of the movement. For example: if I wanted to make a characters‘ arm move upwards, what I would do is move their arm an inch, take a picture, move the arm an inch, take a picture, move an inch, take a picture, and so on and so forth until the action is completed. When the pictures are sped up, it gives the illusion of movement. Stop motion is a medium that isn’t quite live-action, nor is it quite animation. Which, come to think of it, is very much like the film itself.
When people ask me, “is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?” I respond with, “both.” Tim Burton first conceived the idea when he saw a department store switching out its Halloween decorations to its Christmas decorations. It’s such a simple idea that its surprising that no one had thought of it before. Create a world (or worlds) were both the spirit of Halloween and Christmas exist. From there, he wrote a poem that involved a doodle that he had drawn for years. The character of Jack Skelington technically made his introduction in the form of a tiny head on the top of a carrousel that the titular character fromBeetlejuice uses to torment the residents of a house. The poem is about how Jack, the “king of Halloweenland”, has grown bored of his surroundings and his job scaring people. Walking through a forest, he discovers a portal to the world of Christmas. In love with this new found world, he decides to kidnap Santa Claus and take his job. Bringing his version of Christmas to boys and girls around the world. He learns that his version of the holiday, is in fact, the wrong one. And that all he had to do was just be himself and not try to be something he is not.
With a few changes by screenwriter Caroline Thompson, the story of the film is very similar to that of the poem. Disney’s company Touchstone Pictures decided to distribute the film thinking that it would be too scary for kids. Despite his name in the title, Burton was too busy filmingBatman Returns to direct the film. Burton chose stop motion director Henry Sellick to do the job. You may be familiar with Sellicks’ work by confusing it for Burtons’. James And The Giant Peach and Coraline are both his and both are brilliant. Even though Sellick was in the directing chair, Burton worked very closely with his long time collaborator, Danny Elfman on the music.
Elfman is no stranger to song writing. Before doing movie scores, he was the lead singer of the band Oingo Boingo. He has written songs for other Burton films, but none come close to the brilliance of Nightmare. From the unbelievably catchy This Is Halloween to the sad lament of Sally’s Song, the scope of the songs of the film are that of a Broadway musical. I’m actually astonished that Disney hasn’t set up a production on the Great White Way already. Even though he is not the speaking voice of the character( that would belong to Chris Sarandon of The Princess Bride), Danny Elfman is the voice of Jack as far as I’m concerned. Elfman can capture the sadness and torment of the character in one song, and belt his enthusiasm and blind optimism in the next. He embodies the character so well in his voice that he has been linked to the Pumpkin King for the rest of his career. Other than Elfman, you have a number of great singers as well. Catherine O’Hara’s soft voice can tell you so much about Sally with saying so little. And Ken Page’s bombastic tones makes Oogie Boogie a truly threatening villain.
When the film was released in 1993, it was met with moderate success. But has since garnered a huge cult following. So much so that it has become a gold mine of marketing for Disney.
But back to the question that stumped me about writing this article. Why do I love this movie so much? Well, I love its world, its music, its characters, its heart. But most of all I love it because it made me want to be a filmmaker. Like how Star Wars affected some people, The Nightmare Before Christmas gave me the love for the medium that set me on the path that I’m on now.
As I look at the picture of Jack and I that was taken on my recent trip to Disneyland, I can see that same nine year old boy that sat in front of his TV smiling. A long time ago, longer now than it seems. In a place that, perhaps, you’ve seen in your dreams.
Monday, September 16, 2013
20 YEARS OF JURASSIC PARK
I think there are four films that showcase the brilliance of Stephen Spielberg. Jaws shows us that he is a master of suspense. E.T. shows us that he has an incredible understanding of what childhood is that most artists that tackle that subject never come close to.Schindler’s List shows us that he is capable of being a “serious” filmmaker. AndJurassic Park shows us that he is one of the greatest movie magicians of all time. That’s really the only word that I can come up with to describe JP. It’s simply a magical movie that Hollywood seems to be incapable of making at this point in time.
When one looks at the actual script,Jurassic Park is (like the book) B-movie material. If it was made thirty years earlier, it would have been the type of film that you would see at a drive in. But Spielberg is the key reason why the film works so well. Even though he was filmingSchindler’s List while editing Park, the film is the combination of all those elements that I listed above. It has the terror of Jaws, the heart of E.T., and the complete understanding of the craft thatList has. Speaking of B-movies, Jurassic Park is very much in the same vain asIndiana Jones and Star Wars. Not just in the sense that Jones and Park share the same director, but they are all properties that started out as a love letter to a certain pulp genre. Taking the best elements of said genre and elevating the material using the filmmaker’s gifts. JP is a harkens back to the films of Ray Harryhausen and other giant monster movies (the doors to the entrance of the park is a nice wink to King Kong). But timing is everything. And JP was made when the planets were perfectly aligned.
I feel that characters are the most important part of any story. I mean, yes story is the most important part of any story. However, the way characters action and reaction to are the things that are happening that dictate the story. They are who the audience is going to pay attention to. Not the machinations of the plot. There are a lot of problems with JP2, but I think the biggest one is not having Doctors Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. They aren’t just cyphers for the audience, they are fully realized people that have a personal connection with one another. The reason why we love them is because of the talents of Sam Neil and Laura Dern. These two actors give the typical leading man and his girlfriend heart and depth that makes you believe that they are paleontologists and that their mixed emotions on this “biological preserve” are real.
Jeff Goldblum will always be Ian Malcolm in my eyes. The Han Solo of the movie, he works not just as comic relief, but as the philosopher of the story. Telling the audience and the characters why this park should not exist and why it could be potentially dangerous.
In the book, park founder John Hammond is clearly meant to be a classic mad scientist. So much so, that he dies horribly by the end of the story. Instead, the great actor Richard Attenborough plays him as a much more sympathetic character. And for the better. I much prefer the scientist and grandfather that has good intentions but ends up realizing how wrong he was as oppose to the Dr. Frankenstein of Crichton’s novel.
Most people would point out the kitchen scene involving the Raptors to be the movie’s scariest moment. But I disagree. The most terrifying scene of the whole movie starts with a water rippling in a cup. The tour car has stopped at a huge metal pen. We hear the slow thumps of feet coming towards it as rain falls from the sky. Then it appears, throwing a corpse of a goat down its gullet. If one were to see a T-Rex in its natural habitat, one would probably not think anything of it. But because its standing next to a modern day jeep, we fully understand how terrible this beast is. Stan Winston has created some of the greatest monsters in the history of cinema. But his greatest accomplishment is the T-Rex. Yes, there are moments were it is CGI, but when it is a fully functional animatronic it is astoundingly real. The way it moves its head, the way, it breathes, the way its pupil dilates when light hits it create a special effect that hasn’t been topped sense. Its mighty roar has echoed for the past two decades and its still just as chilling as it was in 1993.
John Williams has (I believe) scored all of Spielberg’s films. They’re one of the great duos of cinema. And the score forJurassic Park is one of his best. From the wondrous almost religious choir that accompanies the first time we see the Brachiosaurus to the epic and awesome trumpets of the climax, it perfectly incapsulates the feeling while watching the film. The feeling of being in a different time and place. A world were creatures long extinct really do walk among us. A world of a great magic trick. Paid no expense.
Friday, April 26, 2013
AN IRON MAN 3 EXCLUSIVE
BY LEIGH KNIGHTS
As I have stated previously in my other articles, being a British Cinema goer can be a frustrating experience from time to time. My American brethren get the majority of big releases before we do over here and that often leaves me green with envy. However, in a change from the norm, I can revel in the fact that us Brits got the brilliance that is Iron Man 3, a week before our friends in The States. What a coup.
I can thoroughly recommend you all to go and see Iron Man 3 when it’s available to you, in my opinion it is a resounding success on so many levels. I really liked the original Iron Man movie but was left slightly subdued after I watched the messy sequel, Iron Man 2. The character of Tony Stark was a huge proponent of the success of The Avengers and reinstalled my passion and desire to watch further adventures of old Shellhead starring Robert Downey, Jr.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me attest that Iron Man 3 is by far the best film in the series. The story is truly gripping, dramatic, heartfelt and offered me many surprises. The pacing of the narrative was a strong element for me, there never seemed to be a slump, even in the quieter character scenes. The action set pieces do not disappoint either. Finally, Iron Man has some truly dramatic heroics to perform in his own movie; a factor that I felt was a weakness in previous entries in the franchise. The finale was a particular standout scene for me that was full of great effects, great battles and awesome heroism. Everything us comic book geeks need for a great Super Hero film.
The standout performance comes from Robert Downey, Jr. A career best turn as Tony Stark. You really can’t take your eyes off the screen when he is on. He is wonderful and elevates everyone else whom he shares the screen with. In the film Tony befriends a child, and it was this relationship, which really stood out for me. Full of humour and charm, the banter these two characters had was completely infectious. The rest of the cast is excellent too, with Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, being particularly engaging. The performances are a very strong factor of this film. You wont be disappointed.
I wont go on to spoil any more of the plot for you, but suffice to say I really enjoyed Iron Man 3 and was completely entertained. I hope that with the recent internet speculation that has questioned whether Robert Downey, Jr will be in another Iron Man film, that he will go on to star in further adventures of Shellhead. He is simply amazing. If this is his last solo adventure, then what a great swansong it is. Don’t forget to stay until the end of the credits. A great little scene awaits you. Now get yourself off to The Cinema and watch this bad boy. It’s bloody good summer blockbusting fun. Long live The Invincible Iron Man.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Confident, cocky, vibrant with pizzazz, these the are words I have equated with the Man of Steel growing up with Dean Caine in the titular role of Lois & Clark until today. Today, we got the 3rd theatrical trailer from WB that features the destruction of a planet, emotional embrace between a surrogate father and son and a man on a journey of self-discovery. Now, if you hadn’t seen this trailer for Zack Snyder’s latest film, would you have guessed that I am speaking of Superman? Those words I used to describe the character are exactly the things that kept me away for so many years. I am and will always be a life long Batman fan and personally I can’t wait for this new interpretation of the Son of Krypton. With the financial success and acclaim of The Dark Knight Trilogy, it’s no surprise that WB let Christopher Nolan and David Goyer reign in this darker toned characterization, and I think it’s about time. Superman has been living in the shadows of Richard Donner’s films for roughly 4 decades and I think that has tampered with its universal appeal. Sure, Superman is well known around the world, but then why isn’t he as popular as some of Marvel’s B rated characters? The answer mainly comes in the form of cinema exposure and finally we will be taken back to Metropolis and discover what makes this Man of Steel so enduring.
The 3rd trailer for the Man of Steel being released this June, takes elements of the entire marketing roll out thus far and bridges the gaps for us to really see what this film will bring. Overtones of the Moses message are clear as we see Kal El being jettisoned from a falling Krypton to Earth. These images are, in my mind, some of the best visuals Zack Snyder has ever concocted. We are then introduced to the footage used in the teaser trailer with a young Clark in the back yard being a kid, aspiring for greatness. The imagery of butterflies should be taken note here. I honestly get the sense that this story will be symbolic to that of a larva becoming a mature, majestic creature ready to spread his wings, much like The Matrix (1999). And if I’m right on that, we can be sure this will be one film we’ll never forget!
The trailer continues into footage from the first theatrical trailer as we see young Clark saving children from a school bus that was sinking in a lake. The next part is one of my favorites where Jonathan Kent reveals to Clark that he is not of this planet. The emotion provided between these two actors is heart felt and truly the substance I’ve missed from any Superman film that has come before. We then are taken back into trailer #2 with Clark searching for himself, however this time we get Lois’ voice over talking about the search for this mysterious savior. This angle is intriguing and something I’m looking forward to see unravel. I always remembered her as a headstrong reporter that liked to be saved by Superman, so the characterization here seems spot on.
BAM. BAM. BAM.
Bombastic action fills the screen as it’s cut to the drums driving the trailer’s score. Could this be Zimmer’s work? I’d like to hope so as I really connected with its triumphant tones in a tribal manner. I think we need this new type of score to separate this film from Donner’s. Nothing against the master, John Williams, but it’s my perception that the tones here are to keep you locked into this Superman story and not one of the past. “I WILL FIND HIM,” is next heard as we are introduced to the villain Zod played by Michael Shannon. Here we get a glimpse at his costume, which is the Kryptonian suit Jor El was wearing when we last saw him and an onyx colored version of Superman’s suit. Quick speed, explosions, meteorites (with a Easter egg) and punches fill out the next few moments in the trailer and I for one am glad we are not being spoiled of any large set pieces here.
The third piece of the trailer is an across the table conversation between Lois and Clark talking about the “S” symbol on his chest. “What’s the S stand for?” “It’s not an S. On my world it means hope” I can only imagine the fans of these trailers and the studio believes that too. The trailer finishes with a punch line! Or a line of punches, rather. This is the first time in a long time that we’ve seen a cinematic Superman punch another character it is GLORIOUS!
Betwixt, ruminating, dark, are the key aspects I have associated with this new take on the 75-year old character, and I couldn’t be more welcoming. I think we are in store for a well-acted superhero tale that is well crafted from beginning to end by very talented artists. Bring on Man of Steel and I applaud the marketing team as this piece towers over all other summer superhero fair.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Abigail Hobbs wakes up from a coma. The FBI use her as a way too find out where her father buried the other missing girls. Graham suspects that the last girl, found impaled on a severed stag head, was not Hobbs’ work. But, in fact the work of a copycat. And that the copycat called Hobbs before his death.
Not a lot happened in this weeks episode, but unlike other shows that suffer from being boring with little going on, Hannibal keeps you engaged with creepiness, smart writing, and great acting.
Through out this episode, we see Lecter react to numerous theories of who the copycat is and what his motives are. Lecter is both proud of his artful murders and yet calmly covering his tracks to confuse the FBI. I’m glad that we haven’t seen him kill a single person yet. We just see the after effects. Filling in the blanks is always more scarier than actually seeing it.
The episode ends with Abigail accidentally killing the brother of one of her father’s victims that has come into her house. Lecter decides not to call the police and instead helps her get rid of the body. The idea of Hannibal taking a fellow murderer under his wing is fascinating. I can’t wait to see what happens next.