#242 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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76 Minutes

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, Caroline Thompson

Cast: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara

Storyline: “Jack Skellington, king of Halloween Town, discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t quite understand the concept.” IMDB

Disposition

Brit Boy:

I’m not sure how, but I have managed to travel through life thus far without having seen this movie, released in 1993 looking back I guess I was too busy partying in my first year at University to go to the movies. Never-the-less I have heard great things about this movie and I am looking forward to watching it.

American Girl:

I have seen this movie before, many times.  “Jack Skellington” is one of my favorite Disney characters and I still regret not buying a pair of “Jack” pajamas I saw on a trip to Disneyland many years ago…  I have not watched this movie recently, so I am looking forward to sitting down with it again with a more critical eye.

Were they like these?

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Set the Scene

I am about six months pregnant, as my fiancé and I snuggle up on the sofa to watch this movie.  We were trying to wait for a time to watch it with all the kids, but life with six kids (and one on the way!) is VERY busy.  So we decided to watch it together one night once all the “children were nestled all snug in their beds”….

In a way I’m glad that we are watching this alone (shhh… don’t tell the kids), as its always nice to watch films with a fresh pair of eyes and without the constant dialog of questions one gets from our little monsters (like the maintenance of the Halloween theme…. ☺ )

Final Cut

This movie is dubbed as a “Fantasy Musical” and was released in 1993 (wow, I feel old now, I swear it was released only a few years ago)…  Granted after all that time, it still fails to disappoint!  Tim Burton was able to capture such a timeless feel with his characters, including the lanky Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, and the whimsical rag doll Sally.  This movie is made with the use of stop motion photography that I am guessing was pretty cutting edge when this was released over 20 years ago.

American Girl, I hate to burst your bubble but stop action cinematography has been around for a while, I know we have been on a hiatus since our last blog posts but King Kong used this in 1933. The difference I think though is in Tim Burton’s cinematography, at no point do you feel that you are watching something that you are not wholly part of. From the very start I was dragged into the bizarre world of Jack and Sally.

Brit Boy you are correct!  I should have remembered about King Kong considering we only recently reviewed that movie as well.

The storyline itself is nothing spectacular, albeit a cute play on the famous book “The Night Before Christmas”.  It is also quite ingenious to have a movie covering two major holidays (thus capitalizing on profits generated at both Halloween and Christmas).  It is still a well-written story, no major surprises, and pretty standard Disney fair.  What makes this movie so special however are all of the extras.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas originated as a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982, while he was working as an animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The poem can be found here:

All of the characters are so distinct and seem as standalone works of art.  They include such detail.  (Which is probably the reason Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise is still top selling at the Disney store.  In fact, I even saw some items depicting Jack Skellington at Target this year around Halloween.) Tim Burton however didn’t just stop with the characters; the scenery, town, “props”, all have the same level of detail.  It is a visual masterpiece.

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I think this is an instance where watching this in Blu-Ray definitely enhanced the enjoyment of the film. Even though we were watching the 20th Anniversary addition there was never a feeling of this being dated in fact it was as bright and colorful / gloomy and dark as if we had seen it at the cinema at its release, maybe even more so.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the soundtrack!  The songs are beautifully done and have become very recognizable through the years.  “This is Halloween” is probably the most well known and a must play for any Halloween party.  

I agree the score is especially wonderful, it is interesting to note that for the special release of the soundtrack in 2006, Marilyn Manson covered this song.

This movie definitely deserves a spot on the list.  Tim Burton isn’t lacking a single element and it is definitely not your standard animated feature.  In fact, I would say despite its PG rating that it appeals more to an adult audience.  If you have not had the chance to see this movie you are definitely missing out, and should add it to your must see list around Halloween.

I certainly will be watching this again (maybe even with the little monsters). It’s one of those timeless films which could certainly become a staple in our house come the holiday season (whether that is Christmas or Halloween).

Footnote – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

Sir Richard Attenborough and Tim Burton have both won British Film Institute Fellowships, in 1992 and 2012 respectively.

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Nightmare Before Christmas Poem

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Original Poem) – Tim Burton

It was late one fall in Halloweenland,
and the air had quite a chill.
Against the moon a skeleton sat,
alone upon a hill.
He was tall and thin with a bat bow tie;
Jack Skellington was his name.
He was tired and bored in Halloweenland

“I’m sick of the scaring, the terror, the fright.
I’m tired of being something that goes bump in the night.
I’m bored with leering my horrible glances,
And my feet hurt from dancing those skeleton dances.
I don’t like graveyards, and I need something new.
There must be more to life than just yelling,
‘Boo!'”

Then out from a grave, with a curl and a twist,
Came a whimpering, whining, spectral mist.
It was a little ghost dog, with a faint little bark,
And a jack-o’-lantern nose that glowed in the dark.
It was Jack’s dog, Zero, the best friend he had,
But Jack hardly noticed, which made Zero sad.

All that night and through the next day,
Jack wandered and walked.
He was filled with dismay.
Then deep in the forest, just before night,
Jack came upon an amazing sight.
Not twenty feet from the spot where he stood
Were three massive doorways carved in wood.
He stood before them, completely in awe,
His gaze transfixed by one special door.
Entranced and excited, with a slight sense of worry,
Jack opened the door to a white, windy flurry.

Jack didn’t know it, but he’d fallen down
In the middle of a place called Christmas Town!
Immersed in the light, Jack was no longer haunted.
He had finally found the feeling he wanted.
And so that his friends wouldn’t think him a liar,
He took the present filled stockings that hung by the fire.
He took candy and toys that were stacked on the shelves
And a picture of Santa with all of his elves.
He took lights and ornaments and the star from the tree,
And from the Christmas Town sign, he took the big letter C.

He picked up everything that sparkled or glowed.
He even picked up a handful of snow.
He grabbed it all, and without being seen,
He took it all back to Halloween.

Back in Halloween a group of Jack’s peers
Stared in amazement at his Christmas souvenirs.
For this wondrous vision none were prepared.
Most were excited, though a few were quite scared!

For the next few days, while it lightninged and thundered,
Jack sat alone and obsessively wondered.
“Why is it they get to spread laughter and cheer
While we stalk the graveyards, spreading panic and fear?
Well, I could be Santa, and I could spread cheer!
Why does he get to do it year after year?”
Outraged by injustice, Jack thought and he thought.
Then he got an idea. “Yes. . .yes. . .why not!”

In Christmas Town, Santa was making some toys
When through the din he heard a soft noise.
He answered the door, and to his surprise,
He saw weird little creatures in strange disguise.
They were altogether ugly and rather petite.
As they opened their sacks, they yelled, “Trick or treat!”
Then a confused Santa was shoved into a sack
And taken to Halloween to see mastermind Jack.

In Halloween everyone gathered once more,
For they’d never seen a Santa before
And as they cautiously gazed at this strange old man,
Jack related to Santa his masterful plan:
“My dear Mr. Claus, I think it’s a crime
That you’ve got to be Santa all of the time!
But now I will give presents, and I will spread cheer.
We’re changing places I’m Santa this year.
It is I who will say Merry Christmas to you!
So you may lie in my coffin, creak doors, and yell, ‘Boo!’
And please, Mr. Claus, don’t think ill of my plan.
For I’ll do the best Santa job that I can.”

And though Jack and his friends thought they’d do a good job,
Their idea of Christmas was still quite macabre.
They were packed up and ready on Christmas Eve day
When Jack hitched his reindeer to his sleek coffin sleigh,
But on Christmas Eve as they were about to begin,
A Halloween fog slowly rolled in.
Jack said, “We can’t leave; this fog’s just too thick.
There will be no Christmas, and I can’t be St. Nick.”
Then a small glowing light pierced through the fog.
What could it be?. . .It was Zero, Jack’s dog!

Jack said, “Zero, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

And to be so needed was Zero’s great dream,
So he joyously flew to the head of the team.
And as the skeletal sleigh started its ghostly flight,
Jack cackled, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas, and all though the house,
Not a creature was peaceful, not even a mouse.
The stockings all hung by the chimney with care,
When opened that morning would cause quite a scare!
The children, all nestled so snug in their beds,
Would have nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads.
The moon that hung over the new-fallen snow
Cast an eerie pall over the city below,
And Santa Claus’s laughter now sounded like groans,
And the jingling bells like chattering bones.
And what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a coffin sleigh with skeleton deer.
And a skeletal driver so ugly and sick
They knew in a moment, this can’t be St. Nick!
From house to house, with a true sense of joy,
Jack happily issued each present and toy.
From rooftop to rooftop he jumped and he skipped,
Leaving presents that seemed to be straight from a crypt!
Unaware that the world was in panic and fear,
Jack merrily spread his own brand of cheer.

He visited the house of Susie and Dave;
They got a Gumby and Pokey from the grave.
Then on to the home of little Jane Neeman;
She got a baby doll possessed by a demon.
A monstrous train with tentacle tracks,
A ghoulish puppet wielding an ax,
A man eating plant disguised as a wreath,
And a vampire teddy bear with very sharp teeth.

There were screams of terror, but Jack didn’t hear it,
He was much too involved with his own Christmas spirit!
Jack finally looked down from his dark, starry frights
And saw the commotion, the noise, and the light.
“Why, they’re celebrating, it looks like such fun!
They’re thanking me for the good job that I’ve done.”
But what he thought were fireworks meant as goodwill
Were bullets and missiles intended to kill.
Then amidst the barrage of artillery fire,
Jack urged Zero to go higher and higher.
And away they all flew like the storm of a thistle,
Until they were hit by a well guided missile.
And as they fell on the cemetery, way out of sight,
Was heard, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good
night.”

Jack pulled himself up on a large stone cross,
And from there he reviewed his incredible loss.
“I thought I could be Santa, I had such belief”
Jack was confused and filled with great grief.
Not knowing where to turn, he looked toward the sky,
Then he slumped on the grave and he started to cry.
And as Zero and Jack lay crumpled on the ground,
They suddenly heard a familiar sound.

“My dear Jack,” said Santa, “I applaud your intent.
I know wreaking such havoc was not what you meant.
And so you are sad and feeling quite blue,
But taking over Christmas was the wrong thing to do.
I hope you realize Halloween’s the right place for you.
There’s a lot more, Jack, that I’d like to say,
But now I must hurry, for it’s almost Christmas day.”
Then he jumped in his sleigh, and with a wink of an eye,
He said, “Merry Christmas,” and he bid them good bye.

Back home, Jack was sad, but then, like a dream,
Santa brought Christmas to the land of Halloween.

The End

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#243 Let The Right One In (2008)

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115 Minutes

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Writer: John Ajvide Lindqvist (Screenplay and Novel)

Cast: Kåre HedebrantLina LeanderssonPer Ragnar

Storyline: “Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl.” IMDB

Disposition

American Girl:

I am a little confused, because I think I have seen this movie before. It is either this one or it’s American copycat version “Let Me In”. I believe they both came out within a few years from each other. Either way, I remember enjoying the film and story line. It is definitely a new take on the much overdone vampire plot line. Last time I had watched the movie by myself. I was eager to watch it after someone had told me about how good the book was. This time it will be nice to cuddle up with my guy because I do remember that it can be quite scary!

Brit Boy:

Well I had never heard of this film before and I must admit I am very wary about watching it because it’s a foreign language film (can I say that??). Its not the fact that I have to watch the subtitles or listen to the script in a language I don’t understand (I do believe that’s what is sometimes missing from today’s films is authenticity, the Gestapo speaking in German rather than a dodgy American accent). It’s the fact that rightly or wrongly I associate this with the “Arty” crowd, as I get older I get more tolerant of people but I just don’t want to feel I have to like something because it’s trendy. I guess this doesn’t put me in a good space to watch this, also the cover tells me this is the “best vampire film of all time”, so its got a great deal to live up too…..

Set the Scene

Following the Wrestler and another successful blog post I managed to persuade American Girl to curl up once again and watch this next movie. As you can see our expectations are quite polar so I am quite excited to see who is right and whether it is as good as its billing and position on our list.

Final Cut

Originally the settings on our DVD were incorrect and English voices were dubbed over the characters voices. Brit Boy and I quickly changed the settings so that the movie displayed subtitles enabling us to hear the original voices. If you watch this movie, please use subtitles, it is worth it! Something definitely seems to be lost in the “dubbing” process…

Yes I know…. my masculinity has been put into question by my oversight in the technology department, but in my defense the default DVD setting was for English. American Girl is right, the dubbing process definitely removes a large part of the movies soul, so watch those subtitles people!! Unless you want to be reminded of 70’s episodes of Monkey Magic or The Flashing Blade…. Oh wow, now I’m getting nostalgic, maybe a complete change of direction and a youtube search is needed……

Anyway, back to the movie. This movie is filmed very dark, giving it a constant sense of foreboding. It is always grim and depressing. The male lead, Oskar (played by Kåre Hedebrant), is a bullied and troubled young boy, probably around the age of 12. Kåre plays this role perfectly, complete with his poorly cut hair and awkward mannerisms. Oskar befriends a young girl named Eli (played by Lina Leandersson). who moves into the flat next door with her father. Eli is a hauntingly beautiful young girl, clearly wise beyond her years. Eli and Oskar begin to develop a friendship.

The plot moves along very slowly, it is definitely not an edge of your seat horror film. In fact, I would consider it more of a psychological thriller. There are many dark underlying issues which the film touches on just briefly enough to make the audience feel uncomfortable. What is the real relationship between Eli and her father? Is there incest involved? Why is Eli’s father killing so many local people? Is Oskar a young psychopath himself or is he merely troubled from years of bullying? Why does Oskar’s mum seem completely unaware of the torment her son endures? These are just a few of the questions I found myself asking, some of which were answered throughout the movie, some which were not.

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I completely agree this is definitely not a horror film, however I think that may have been an incorrect assumption on our part rather than a mis-leading promotion about the film. Having said that I’m struggling to really remember a vampire movie which is 100% horror, most of them these days have been thrillers at the most. I’m back on a tangent reminiscing about “Lost Boys” now.… I did love the way this was filmed, again watching this in Blu-ray on our nice big TV really accentuates the director’s intent. It wasn’t filmed like a fly on the wall documentary in the way “The Wrestler” was, but it also had a habit of pulling you into the scenes whereby you were a close observer of the action. I guess a bit like Scrooge when he watches his Past, Present and Future unfold in a Christmas Carol.

I am a fan of psychological thrillers. However, after watching this movie for the second time, I found myself not scared at all. In fact, at times I was almost annoyed. There are many early scenes in which Eli’s father is in the process of a murder when something disrupts him in almost a comical fashion. Personally, I don’t want comedy interlaced with horror. Those two elements just don’t seem to go together and it often killed the “scary” mood for me straight away.

I too wasn’t scared but I was disturbed several times, particularly when it came to the bullying of Oskar. This was played brilliantly by Kåre and he conveyed the impotence of the situation incredibly. With regard to Eli’s Dads murderous comedy moments, although not laugh out loud funny they did bring a rye smile to my face (this may be the British Black Humor in me), he too almost exhibited a similar level of impotence as to the situations which were unfolding.

I did enjoy watching the budding relationship between Eli and Oskar develop throughout the movie. Both characters seemed to desperately need each other. There was a real sweetness between the characters. I loved the simple scene where Oskar let’s Eli sneak into his bedroom window and she curls up naked behind him telling him “not to look at her”. And he does just that. He doesn’t look, instead he just lies there in bed with Eli curled up behind him. It showed such a simple level of intimacy between two very dark characters which is such an unusual contrast. Maybe, this is one of the elements which made this movie so highly rated. The constant contrasts involved. Darkness and Intimacy. Love and Hatred. Comedy and Tragedy. Survival and Death.

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I think that’s a great point American Girl, this was a very innocent portrayal of their relationship, especially as one can assume that Eli in her vampiral life has been exposed to much more horror and tragedy than young Oskar. I think its a real testimony to the direction that she In fact almost appears more innocent than Oskar in some scenes.

I really enjoyed this movie and although I wouldn’t rush out to watch it again it is another great addition to my library and it has made a lasting impression on me. I find myself sitting here writing this remembering several very memorable scenes and loving the direction and cinematography. I think it’s worth noting that I do not feel compelled to join the art scene and watch Hungarian masterpieces about Cheese making, but I don’t feel threatened by “Foreign language” films anymore and do feel it has allowed me to broaden my appreciation of film in general. This film deserves a place on the list and I look forward to our continued journey.

Overall I think this movie definitely deserves a spot on the list. The acting by Kåre and Lina was superb. Especially considering both actors are quite young and dealing with such dark content. The script, directing, cinematography was all perfect for the tone of this movie. While watching this movie, there were parts which I did not remember at all. I also remember that the ending was quite a bit different from what I could recall from the last time I watched. This caused me to do a little research and I discovered, that originally I had actually seen the American version of this film, “Let Me In”. While I definitely enjoyed “Let the Right One In”, I think I may actually have preferred “Let Me In”. I know this goes against what many of the critics say, and in part I may prefer “Let Me In” because it was filmed with a larger budget. Overall I feel that “Let Me In” went places that “Let the Right One In” did not. “Let me In” seemed to be much darker, and with less of the comedic element. In addition, I felt more drawn in. However, I should mention that both movies are great in their own rights. I wouldn’t pick one over the other, instead, I would suggest to watch both.

Let The Right One In

Let Me In

Maybe we should review “Let Me In” in order to provide an up to date contrast…..

Footnote – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

Tomas Alfredson directed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” the winner of 3 Richard Attenborough Regional Film Awards: British Film of the Year, Best British Film Star (Gary Oldman), and Best Screenwriter (Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan).

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#244 The Wrestler (2008)

The_Wrestler_poster

109 Minutes

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writer: Robert D. Siegel

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Storyline: “A faded professional wrestler must retire, but finds his quest for a new life outside the ring a dispiriting struggle.” IMDB

Disposition

American Girl:

I know very little about this movie, and I have never seen it before.  I recall that it may have won some awards.  I think Mickey Rourke is the lead actor, but in the few preview pictures I have seen in relation to this movie he looks unrecognizable to me.  This could have a large part as to why he may have been up for an academy award!  (I am sure Brit Boy will figure out if this movie was actually up for any academy awards, and we can determine if it is all just a figment of my imagination….)  Needless to say, I am looking forward to watching this movie.  I get a bit excited whenever a movie I have never seen makes the list…

Brit Boy:

Your memories do not fail you yet again American Girl, “The Wrestler” was nominated for 2 academy awards in 2009 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Rourke) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Tomei). Although neither won losing out to Sean Penn (Milk) and Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona), it’ll be interesting to see if either of these films make the list. Whilst trawling through data on the 81st Academy Awards I find it interesting to note that Robert Downey Jr., also missed out on an award this year for his role in Tropic Thunder (all be it to the late and extremely great Heath Ledger), why is this interesting? Well just because Downey Jr. and Rourke appeared together the following year in Iron Man 2 (one of my favorite films, in spite of its flaws…..)

I had watched this film a couple of years ago and remember the bleakness of the cinematography but not much else, I was intrigued to watch this again with a fresh viewpoint.

Set the Scene

I am actually now living in Michigan with Brit Boy, and we are expecting our first child together.  The cross country move and current children have preoccupied a lot of our time recently so we have not devoted the time to our blogs that we use to.  Now that things are calming down and settling back into a routine in our household, Brit Boy and I decided to curl up and watch this movie together one night.  It still seems such a luxury to actually watch a movie with him, it’s the simple pleasures in life sometimes….

Final Cut

When the opening credits begin my first thought was that it seemed really dated and cheap! Not knowing what this movie was actually about it put me off slightly, however, looking back it fit the tone of the movie perfectly.  The movie is about a has-been pro-wrestler, who was on top of the world in the 1980’s.  It takes place 20 years after Randy, “The Ram’s” golden years and those 20 years have clearly not been kind to our lead character.

The opening credits for me brought back exciting memories of watching the stars of World Of Sport Wrestling duke it out on a Saturday afternoon in the 80’s, my favorite being Big Daddy and his nemesis Giant Haystacks. Then more recently (ok American girl it was the early nineties…) watching the WWF with the Ultimate Warrior (not sure if Randy the Ram was based upon him or not), the British Bulldogs and many more of the American Wrestlers. I loved the soap opera style to this wrestling and was instantly sucked in. I even have some trading cards hidden away somewhere…..

The Ram has a series of ailments, including a hearing aid, heart problems, pains throughout his body, and he’s on a cocktail of narcotics which he obtains illegally.  He lives in a trailer which he can be barely afford and his only “friend” seems to be a stripper at the local bar, Cassidy (played by Tomei).  While Randy can’t seem to make ends meet to afford a place to live, he does manage to always come up with the funds for his $60 private lap dances from Cassidy.  It is all incredibly depressing.

I agree it is depressing but it also shows the stark reality in which some of the stars from yesteryear have had to live, a time when stars were idolized rapidly and massively but also dropped by the wayside just as quickly without the financial safety net.

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Through it all however, there is an endearing quality about “The Ram”.  He does seem to be a giant screw up, but underneath it all I feel there is a good guy, as evident by the fact that all of the neighborhood children are constantly clamoring for his attention.  At points throughout the movie we are introduced to The Ram’s estranged daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood).  Throughout it all, as a viewer I wanted Ram to turn around his life. To end up happy, to find a way out of the “wrestling” lifestyle. Unfortunately, it never really got there, and yet again, I think I kept waiting for my Disney ending (which never came).

The cinematography was just as amazing as I remember, using a fly on the wall documentary style you really felt you were following around the incredibly lovable but severely flawed Ram. From his day job (in order to pay rent) to his regular Saturday night bouts with his compadres of yesteryear in sleezy social clubs or school gymnasiums. The wrestling was certainly real and not glamorized in any way, I’d always known that wrestling was a “show” but this really gave clarity to the whole industry and made me respect some of my childhood heroes even more, for being the athletes and above all performers that they were.

I can understand how this movie received such acclaim.  It is shot almost entirely in what I would consider a documentary format.  You feel as if a camera is following around this character as part of his real day to day life.  I never felt that the movie was even scripted.  It flowed together perfectly, nothing was glamorized and it all seemed incredibly realistic.  There were actually very few characters in the film which seemed to add to the intensity of Rourke’s character.  This could have been a risky move if Rourke had not done such a brilliant job with this portrayal. If Rourke would have slipped up, no other characters could have shared the burden of the movie’s success.  With superb acting ability Rourke mastered it, and this is one of those rare movies where the actor clearly became the character they portrayed.  Rourke never broke character, which is a credit to not only his acting ability but also the brilliant directing and editing.

You make an incredibly good point here, looking back, there were essentially only 3 main characters to the film (Rourke, Tomei and Wood) however you didn’t need anymore. Their performances associated with the incredible direction of Aronofsky certainly meant that less was very definitely more.

I definitely think this movie deserves a spot on this list.  Did I love it? No.  Do I need to watch it again? No.  All of that being said, I am glad I did watch it.  It exposed me to a subset of sport and even society which I have never experienced before (even in movie format).  After watching it, I care even less about pro-wrestling than I did before.  I also depressingly feel that maybe for some people, you just can’t change your life.  No matter how hard you try.  That you are just well and truly stuck with your past and the present place it has led you to.

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Wow you really are little miss sunshine…. ☺ I disagree here I thought it was an incredibly thought provoking and raw faux documentary which opened up my eyes to the world of washed up and washed out sports stars. I’m sure that North America is littered with such stars scrounging a living from poorly attended signing events and dvd sales from their so-called “hayday”. It made me sad that the media and us as the public have such a flippant disregard for the lives of these entertainers. It hits home all the more after the news a couple of months ago of the death of the Ultimate Warrior from a heart attack. I will certainly watch this film and I salute Mickey Rourke probably not for the last time for being an amazing actor, this film deserves a place on this list and maybe not as low down as it actually is, in my opinion it’s probably only the subject matter which drags such brilliant film down the charts.

“The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.” – Randy, The Ram.

Footnote – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

Marisa Tomei appeared in Chaplin, which was directed by Sir Richard Attenborough.

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#245 Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

125 Minutes

Released: 9th January 2004 (USA)

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Daniel Wallace (Novel),  John August (screenplay)

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup

Storyline: “A son tries to learn more about his dying father by reliving stories and myths he told about his life.” IMDB

Disposition

Brit Boy:

I first watched this film on a flight to Japan soon after it came out, I had heard mention of it in the usual write-ups but had never seen a trailer and did not really know what it was about.  It was something I chose to watch largely because of the ascendancy of Ewan McGregor’s star.  The strongest memory I have is of sobbing hard with tears rolling down my cheeks by the end of the movie, I wonder whether the emotion will get to me again, or was it the medicinal wine I had been drinking on the long flight in order to get to sleep…….

American Girl:

I have never seen Big Fish before. I actually don’t know anything about it. However, one of my favorite movies of all time is Moulin Rouge, so when I saw that Ewan McGregor was the star I was definitely intrigued. After the dread leading up to watching King Kong I was eager to watch a more modern movie. I’d asked Brit Boy about this movie a few times trying to get his take on it, knowing he’d watched it before, but he kept his lips sealed, so for the most part I went into this movie blindly.

Set the Scene

I had just come back from a trip visiting Brit Boy and we decided to once again watch the movie at the same time so that we could discuss it together right after.  With a simple text of “ready?” we both pushed play and virtually snuggled up watching the movie for the next few hours.

I settle down to watch this probably for the last time alone, with American Girl’s long awaited move to my side of the country well underway.

Final Cut

After years of listening to his father’s “fish tales” Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) becomes estranged from his father Ed Bloom (Albert Finney).  When Ed becomes ill, Will rushes to his father’s side in order to try and finally get to know his “real” father before it is too late.  At this point we are introduced to a young Ed Bloom (McGregor) and the BIG fish tale begins…

The style of this movie reminded me a lot of the movie “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams.  It is done in a very fantastical way.  The colors are vivid and bright, the music is flowing and surreal, and while the story has elements of reality, overall you are left constantly questioning what is real and what is not.  This plays brilliantly into the plot of the movie as we take a trip with Ed Bloom down the road of his younger life.  You feel the frustrations and amazement that his son must have felt as you try to decipher fact from fiction.  However, at some point as a viewer I think you finally decide to just give up on trying to figure it out and you allow yourself to sit back and be entertained with the story.

I am not familiar with that movie American Girl, maybe we should add it to the list of extra movies to watch and blog about? Having said that I do agree that the film has a very crisp surreal quality to it, and in a lot of ways reminded me of the land of Oz when The Wizard of Oz transitions to full color. I was once again sucked into this film almost immediately especially when the fish tales begin, it always astonishes me how many big name actors and actresses play supporting roles in this film, (Danny De Vito, Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Buscemi to name a few). A little bit of trivia about this film is it was actually Miley Cyrus’s first film break at 8 years old.

One of my favorite parts of this movie is when a young Ed proposes to his love interest Sandra (played by Alison Lohman).  Sandra’s favorite flower is a daffodil and he delivers a FIELD full of daffodils to her college.  

daffodils1

My favorite flower is also the daffodil, and I thought the scene was beautiful even though completely unbelievable.  This however becomes a theme throughout the entire movie.  It’s not about what actually happened, its about the story, how much it meant.  Ed’s love was real for Sandra, and while he may not have actually filled a field full of daffodils, his love was big enough that in his mind he did actually perform this grand gesture.  Later on in the movie, when Will finally discovers the real story of how he was born by a doctor at the hospital that knows Will’s father closely, he looks at Will and simply says:

“Not very excitin’, is it? And I suppose if I had to choose between the true version and an elaborate one…., I might choose the fancy version. But that’s just me.”

For me there are many vignettes in this movie which make you stop and reflect on life, one of which American Girl touches upon above but it is a strong theme throughout the film and that is the love Ed has for Sandra. Regardless of where his adventures take him he is always working towards being with her or to enhance her life. I loved this quote where he met her first time:

“They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.”

These scenes are too numerous to mention and certainly couldn’t do the film justice without providing major spoilers in this review. Suffice it to say though it was these scenes which touched me in a way I can’t really put my finger on. I think it speaks to me about love in its purest form and finding your one true love (I know I’m just an old romantic…).

I know that for Brit Boy he finds this movie very sad. I however, found it hopeful. I loved the idea that you could look back at your life and indulge in just the right places, to fill in the gaps of the bad, and make the good that much better. While it may not all be true, if it becomes your memory does it matter? This doesn’t mean I will start elaborating on my own life stories any day soon, however, I can definitely appreciate the appeal. Will Bloom starts this movie with a simple quote, and ironically, I feel the movie could have ended with the exact same quote. Each time the story could grow, and change, and become even better than the last. In the end, the story will live on forever.

“In tellin’ the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is tell it the way he told me. It doesn’t always make sense and most of it never happened… but that’s what kinda story this is.”

The emotion I experience is related more to Will’s realization that despite whether the stories are tall tales or fact, his father has such a big heart and lived his life wanting to help people whenever he came across them, he was a very selfless person.

I think this movie deserves a spot on the list but I don’t think I will probably ever watch it again.  It was good for a one time watch, and it is very different from the items on this list we have watched so far.  I am not surprised it fell so far down the list, and I think there are many better movies ahead of us.  However, the all star cast, special effects, acting, and plot definitely earned this film a spot.

I totally agree that this should be on the list and in my opinion probably higher up, but once again we will have to weigh this up against future films. I will watch this again maybe not anytime soon, but I certainly won’t wait the ten years since I first saw it. The strong cast doesn’t disappoint and Tim Burton’s direction and storytelling are as fantastical as always.

Footnote  – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

Ewan McGregor is providing narration to a new wildlife documentary series on the Scottish Outer Hebrides with Sir David Attenborough, brother of Sir Richard Attenborough.

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/ewan-mcgregor-and-sir-david-attenborough-1568016

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#246 King Kong (1933)

King-Kong-1933

100 Minutes

Released: 7th April 1933 (USA)

Director: Merian C. Cooper (uncredited), Ernest B. Schoedsack (uncredited)

Writers: James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay), Ruth Rose (screenplay),

Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy

Storyline: “A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal giant gorilla who takes a shine to their female blonde star.” IMDB

Disposition

Brit Boy:

I don’t even remember the last time I saw this film it was many years ago, I can of course remember the iconic scenes of King Kong swatting away planes gripping the Empire State Building, and the amazing special effects (Was this Ray Harryhausens work?). This scene has been the spoofed by many a media turn and comic with one of the most memorable for me being an advert for Holsten Pils with Griff Rhys Jones, and the incredible Goodies episode with the kitten in London…. (you know the one….)

OK so I’ve done a bit of digging, and Harryhausen wasn’t responsible for the animation in King Kong it was in fact Willis O’Brien, however this did form the dominant inspiration for his experimentation with the stop-motion photography he was later renowned for.

American Girl:

I must admit, it is taking me a bit of motivation to watch this film.  There are so many great movies to watch both new and old out there, one of a giant gorilla carrying around a blonde bombshell is not high on my “must see” list.  Considering we are only getting started on this list, and after having a quick glance at the great movies to come I decide to finally grin and bare it, and at get it over with.  Hopefully it will surprise me.  After reading Brit Boy’s dispo however, I am interested in the “stop motion” effects mainly because my 11 year daughter has an app on her iTouch which enables her to create stop motion projects.  I now have visuals of her trying to create “kitten in London” remakes with our cat Fritzy.  Thanks Brit Boy.

Set the Scene

I was actually flying home after visiting Brit Boy in Michigan for the holidays.  I was trying out my brand new Nook (courtesy of Brit Boy), which was also conveniently loaded up with the next 20 movies on our IMDB list.  It seemed an apt moment to watch King Kong  and definitely made the flight pass quickly (granted I did have moments where I thought my fellow passengers must have wondered what I was doing watching King Kong).

This was a unique role reversal as I was sat in the comfort of my armchair with a chilled Coke Zero and the dog at my feet.

Final Cut

I believe most of you will be aware of the basic premise of this movie (whether you’ve seen the original, the remakes, or any of the numerous parodies), so I will not get into the plot during this review.  After all, according to Wikipedia, King Kong is “one of the world’s most famous movie icons”.  However, it does beg the question how this movie became so BIG and decades later is still a cultural icon. 

The acting ability is not superb, granted neither is the script.  There is actually minimal dialog, and the highlight is probably Wray’s innate ability at screaming.   I am sure this movie had cutting edge special effects for its time, and I believe the focus is more on the use of special effects than on a poignant script.  (Albeit, today there are still plenty of action packed movies loaded with special effects, which do amazingly well at the box office, regardless of a well written script.)  I did thoroughly enjoy the clips of the scenery both of New York, and “Skull Island”.  It was as though I was watching a time capsule.  Getting a real life glimpse of how life (and our scenery) actually looked at that time.

The glimpse into the past is not one which I relish and does shine a spotlight on how backward  we were both culturally and emotionally (I’m including the UK in this reference even though it is very definitely an American film, as I am sure the mindset was similar if not the same across the pond). The movie was full of racial stereotypes, sexism and idiotic bravado. At this stage I would like to say I am not getting on my soap-box and it did not stop my enjoyment of the film, I was just shocked at how far socially we have come. From the stereotypical Chinese chef with his broken english and thick accent to the “crazy black men” (who happen to be the tribespeople living quite contentedly on Skull Island, until Denham and his sailors turn up).

I completely agree with Brit Boy regarding the cultural stereo types.  I can remember when I was younger and movies/tv were becoming more culturally aware, and shows had the “token” person of non-caucasian descent to represent all diversity.  Now however, almost any program includes a wide social diversity, I am glad we have evolved in this regard.  While I thought Wray was one of the better actors in this film, I was also incredibly annoyed by how her character was portrayed.  Seriously, if a giant gorilla started carrying me around in his hand the second he set me down I would RUN, I wouldn’t wait for group of men to come save me. (As an aside, I do need to get a bit girly for a moment, I just love Wray’s style and fashion in this movie!  I can completely see why this era is making its way back into a modern woman’s closet.  There are many of her dresses which she wore that I would gladly wear today!)

Fay Wray Dress  - King Kong

Fay Wray was really just a dreadfully affected scream machine, I do wonder whether she is just an amazing actress playing the part of a woman off the street trying to be an actress or whether she’s just not got much range. I haven’t ever heard of her since this movie so I wonder whether she is the movie equivalent of a one hit wonder. I will have to do a bit of research on IMDB… Wow ok, so my cinematic education continues Fay Wray has 118 acting credits on IMDB and was a prolific actress especially during the late 20’s to early 30’s now I come to think of it did she ever appear in the old Harold Lloyd short films? (That’s a real blast from the past for me, I remember watching them when I was younger during the Winter evenings, re-runs American Girl…… I’m not that old!!). OK thanks again to IMDB, they did actually appear together in “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” however neither had a leading role, I think maybe she just looked like all of the other leading ladies of the time…. (now who is being stereotypical).

Another shocking aspect of the film was the amount of unadulterated violence throughout, I realize that Kong needed to be portrayed as a “Beast”, but given the level of special effects (I would assume ground-breaking for the time), they didn’t pull any punches. Especially during Kong’s run-ins with various animals and the natives on Skull Island.

I was also surprised at the amount of other prehistoric “animals” which were present in the film and the way in which Kong would “play” with their dead bodies once he had defeated them.  Watching him kill the t-rex by trying to rip apart its jaws was almost too much to bare.

King Kong Fight

Given my zoological background I’ve given this aspect a lot of thought American Girl (no honestly I have), and I think the dinosaurs needed to be Kong’s greatest antagonists because realistically nothing in the natural world could really give him a run for his money.  Apart from humans of course, who eventually put the “Beast” in his place.

I must admit I was impressed with the effects.  The use of the stop motion filmmaking for Kong also gave the giant gorilla a very unique look.  The light reflecting on his fur seemed to give the impression that his fur was actually moving, and it made it even more realistic.  Ironically, I felt some of the scenes looked far more realistic than a lot of special effects produced using the standard “blue screen” in today’s movie making.

I too was in awe of the special effects, and given that the film is over 80 years it has truly stood the test of time. Undoubtedly I will watch this film again, maybe not soon but I think it is very definitely a classic and well deserves its place on the list. I thoroughly enjoyed this blast from the past and cant wait to be exposed to more older films as the list continues.

Overall, I was not a huge fan of the movie, but I understand why it has made this list.  I would imagine this film has been studied in many film classes, and from that standpoint it definitely deserves a spot.  I don’t have the need to ever watch it again, but I am glad that I watched it and got a different take on the “Beauty and the Beast” story.

Footnote  – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

As you are already aware Sir Richard Attenborough appeared as John Hammond in Jurassic Park. Stephen Spielberg (Director of Jurassic Park) requested Fay Wray appear on set to provide coaching on screaming to 12 year old Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy).

http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/10/21/steven-spielberg-jurassic-park-blu-ray/

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#247 Rain Man (1988)

215px-Rain_Man_poster

133 Minutes

Director: Barry Levinson

Writers: Barry Morrow (story and screenplay), Ronald Bass (screenplay)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino

Storyline: “Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt’s father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.” IMDB

Disposition

Brit Boy:

I last watched this film a great number of years ago, I’m guessing when it first came out on video maybe around 1991 / 1992, I didn’t remember a great deal about this film apart from the opening scene where the Lamborghini’s are being unloaded from the container ship to the sound of Iko Iko.

I was looking forward to watching this early Tom Cruise film, not a great fan of his, apart from the incredibly foolish and self indulgent Mission Impossible films (funnily enough Iko Iko was actually used in the soundtrack for Mission Impossible II, this time covered by Zap Mama). I was quite intrigued to see how superficial his contribution was going to be, to a film which won 4 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

American Girl:

I remember watching Rain Man, but it has been many years.  I believe I watched it when I was 13 (about when the movie was probably released).  I remember thinking it was funny, and thinking Tom Cruise was really cute (this was before the whole Scientology thing, and jumping on Oprah’s sofa).  I remember that Dustin Hoffman’s character had some sort of mental illness and that Tom Cruise’s character was his brother.  I distinctly remember Hoffman’s character being able to calculate numbers quickly, and also rambling off when certain airlines had crashed (this could have started my fear of flying, which I have luckily been able to overcome at the age of 35).  Besides these few random tidbits, I remember little else of the movie.  

I find humor in the fact that Brit Boy distinctly remembers Lamborghini’s while all I can remember are planes crashing…

All of that being said, I am looking forward to watching it again with fresh eyes and an older (wiser?) mind.

Set the Scene

American Girl and I watched this over another Skype date, this time limiting each other to one glass of red wine each. This meant that American Girl would stay awake during the film, and I would remain focussed, bring on the original Hoff…..

Final Cut / Review

As soon as “Iko Iko” started playing in the opening scene I was hooked!  It had been ages since I have heard this song and it was a real trip down memory lane (granted I am accustomed to the Cyndi Lauper version of Iko Iko and I don’t know who was singing this version but I am sure Brit Boy will figure this out for me).

Its really interesting that you remember the Cyndi Lauper version because to my knowledge (and that of the “all knowing” worldwide web…), she never actually released it. My guess is that you owned her True Colors album (notice I used the “wrong” spelling for you 😉 ). The version used in this film was actually by the Belle Stars. I’m not really sure whether this was actually a hit for the Belle Stars at the time but its certainly the most memorable moment in the film for me.

It turns out that the Belle Stars are a UK Ska Band formed in the early 80’s, Iko Iko reached No. 35 in the Uk charts in 1982 (Pre-Rain Man) and No. 14 in the Billboard Charts in 1989 (benefitting from this film’s release).

As I have already mentioned in my disposition, the opening scene was my most memorable of the film from my last viewing, and certainly didn’t disappoint. Once again I am sucked in by a great opening track and some amazing shots of the Lamborghini Countach dreamily floating across the screen.

rainman_countach_0b

Brit Boy a “Lamborghini Countach”, did you have to google that?  I took a few notes for this film, and my first one states “great opening song, fancy sports cars” but somehow you come up with a Lamborghini Countach….? Boys.

Hmmm…… I’m not sure that one of the iconic modern day “Super Cars” can be classed as mere fancy, but I will let that one slide American Girl.

With only a very vague recollection of the plot and the rationed wine I begin to realize very quickly that I do not like Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), he is a self obsessed, annoyingly horrible individual.

This leads me to some inner turmoil, how much of his character is just Tom Cruise (public persona or otherwise) and how much is actually some reasonably ok acting? Maybe I’m doing Mr. Cruise a disservice, but next to the incredibly outstanding Dustin Hoffman I think anyone would look average. Hoffman’s portrayal of an Autistic Savant, Raymond Babbitt is absolutely sublime and completely believable, I’m not sure of the amount of research that he undertook before taking on the role but if his characterization is anything to go by it was amazingly thorough.

I completely agree with Brit Boy that Charlie Babbit’s character is “annoying horrible” (besides his great 80’s hair), but what shocked me beyond belief was that Raymond was institutionalized just for being autistic.  Being a mother of three kids, I have had PLENTY of friends which have tried to convince me that vaccinating my children can cause autism.  “Autism” is such a hot button word in our society right now, and something many people have to deal with in their daily lives. It is even becoming common in popular media with the likes of Jenny McCarthy and the TV show “Parenthood”.  I must admit that what impacted me the most about this movie is our society’s exposure/acceptance of “autism”.  I do not want this blog to turn political, but I am amazed at how far we have grown in twenty years with regard to this condition.

I feel exactly the same, Autism is nowadays very definitely a socially acceptable condition, and I am truly amazed that it was viewed as an almost untreatable “lock you up” illness as recently as 25 years ago. I’m really proud at how we as a society have progressed, at least with regard to this (don’t get me started about society as a whole….).

The struggles Raymond has with “real life” are clearly epitomized by his reaction to a suggested plane journey by Charlie. Raymond refuses to travel on particular airlines because of the number of fatalities, which leads to a very vocal and heart-rending breakdown. I’m not surprised that American Girl remembers this scene clearly.

I delved into wikipedia with regard Raymonds  statement about Qantas in this scene:

“In the course of the film, it is claimed that Qantas is the only commercial airline that has never had an aircraft crash. While it is true that the company has neither lost a jet airliner nor had any jet fatalities, it had eight fatal accidents and an aircraft shot down between 1927 and 1945, with the loss of 63 people. The most-recent fatal accident suffered by Qantas was in 1951.”

In a bizarre way the airplane scene really does sum up this movie.  While Rain Man is not an action packed, edge of your seat movie, most likely it will resonate with you in some way.  Whether it is a “super car” at the beginning, a great song, or an outburst at an airport, some portion of this movie will leave a lasting impression.  You may not remember everything, but you will remember something.  One thing that can be said for certainty is that Hoffman delivered an outstanding performance.  If you watch it for nothing else, watch this movie for Hoffman’s impeccable and entirely believable acting. There is a reason he is ranked among the best.

This definitely deserves to be on our list, whether it should be higher up remains to be seen, after all I’m sure that many of the films we are yet to see, do not have any Academy Awards, never mind four! I’m really glad that I took the time to revisit this film, and although I had a very melancholy feeling after watching it, I did feel positive, as I’ve stated above, that society has progressed and Autism is at long last accepted.

If you liked this movie there are some interesting factual “nuggets located here.

Footnote  – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

So I did a bit of trawling about, and the connection in this blog to Sir Richard Attenborough, is… that he and Tom Cruise both attended the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

 

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