Throwback Thirty – Oliver and Company (1988)

30 years, 30th birthday, animals, animated, animation, anniversary, bullshit, Dickens, Disney, dogs, film, film blogger, film blogging, film reviews, films, meh, music, musical, TBT

oliver_poster5_star_rating_system_2_stars I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch.  It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.

TBT – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney, films, fucking creepy, fucking funny, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, pirates, TBT

It’s weird to think, especially after just watching Dead Men Tell No Tales, that Johnny Depp was nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar for the first POTC film. Yep, Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow was deemed so brilliant and original that it earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination. I guess it’s difficult to think about this now, particularly considering that Depp and Disney are basically just flogging a dead horse with every new outing for the pirate Captain. Sparrow no longer feels like a breath of fresh air but a pathetic attempt to cash in on families and super fans. I guess it’s not just the character either. Back I 2003 I was a huge fan of Johnny Depp. The man was the indie darling who had done so much great work with Tim Burton. His Keith Richards impression single-handedly made pirates sexy again and made it okay for men to wear eyeliner. He showed that he had what it took to be a big Hollywood star and that he could bring in the big bucks. Since then he’s gone further and further off the rails. Look at the films he’s made over the past few years. Loads of over budget passion projects, major flops that he should have passed on, and lots of other forgettable roles. Of course, there’s the accusations of domestic abuse on top of it but it’s not like that’s stopped him. He still managed to land a role in the Fantastic Beasts Franchise and is set to star in the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express even with that cloud over his head. I’m not about to make any moral assumptions about a man I’ve never met but it just sits ill with me that he got no negative feedback from it. Anyway, with this in mind, I think it’s time we go back to a time when Johnny Depp was still an actor that you could love.

Nobody ever expected Pirates of the Caribbean to be a success. I mean, let’s face it, a film based on a super old theme park ride was starting off in a bad way and then there’s the pirates. Prior to its release, there hadn’t been a decent swashbuckling adventure in forever. Then you had the fact that Johnny Depp wasn’t the bankable star back in those days. He was an indie kid who was never expected to be able to carry off a huge blockbuster. Nothing about this film was really playing it safe. Even Orlando Bloom, fresh off his LOTR popularity, was a risk in the lead role. However, as we all know now, the film became on of the highest earning films of 2003. It was loved by audiences and praised by most critics. My friends and I certainly adored it. I mean we were mostly 15 year old girls so the sight of Johnny Depp in eyeliner was something we could all get on board with. This and LOTR definitely helped me become pretty obsessed with men with facial hair.

So the film that was expected to flop ended up creating 4 sequels; most of which made an awful lot of money at the box office. However, none of those films captured the brilliance and fun of the first. The sequels tried so hard to be different but, in doing so, managed to steer away from what made the first one so good. Everything just became bigger, bolder and longer. The plots became even more of a stretch and the characters got lost in the action. Plus, Captain Jack, by then a money making machine, slowly started to edge away from the pack and become more prominent. He’s always been best as the comic relief that works alongside the lead roles. That has never been more apparent than when rewatching the first one.

After all, that film is still incredibly entertaining after 14 years. It is essentially the story of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabth Swann’s (Keira Knightley) turbulent romance, which has to overcome other suitors and a bunch of cursed pirates. When Elizabeth is kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity by the Captain of the Black Pearl (Geoffrey Rush), Will teams up with recently captured Captain Jack to track the ship and rescue her. Turns out, the crew stole a chest of Aztec gold that has left them neither alive or dead and unable to enjoy any of life’s little pleasures. In order for the curse to be lifted a blood sacrifice must be made by all of the crew. Unfortunately, the pirates sent one of their crew to the bottom of the sea before they realised. So they’ve been searching for his child ever since. That’s where our lovebirds step in.

There’s no denying that the first film in the franchise is the best and most entertaining. It may have its flaws but it is the most consistent of the 5 films. I’ll admit that it goes on too long and there is a lot of unnecessary time getting to know supporting characters. I mean I love Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce but really don’t think they needed as much screen time as they got. There is too much bloat in this film and the narrative could definitely have been streamlined. There is also a problem with the swashbuckling side. It’s hardly the most exciting sword fighting that we’ve ever seen on screen. It needed to be more spectacular. Instead it’s just forgettable.

Still, there are moments in this film that are just superb. Elizabeth’s first night on the Black Pearl has one of the most entertaining sequences of the entire film. It’s also lovely to go back to a time when Geoffrey Rush actually seemed to be having fun in this role. I know his Captain Barbossa has died numberous times by now but it was just sad looking at how tired he looked in Dead Men Tell No Tales. In Curse of the Black Pearl Barbossa is a terrifying villain who you love to hate. But this film is in no way too scary for its younger audience. Yes, there are a lot of skeletons and references to death but there is much more in the way of humour to keep them on board. After all, this film was all about Johnny Depp unveiling one of the greatest pirates that we had ever seen on screen. Captain Jack is charming, sneaky and hilarious. It’s a shame he’s been worn so thin by every subsequent film that he’s become a sort of parody of himself. Rewatching Curse of the Black Pearl was a bittersweet experience because it reminded me how good this franchise can be but also showed how far it had fallen. I hope Disney have the good sense to just leave it be now but, if history has taught us anything, I highly doubt it.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

bullshit, Disney, fucking awful, fucking ridiculous, fucking stupid, Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, pirates, sequel, unnecessary sequel

Let’s be honest, even leaving the possible domestic abuse to one side, Johnny Depp has well and truly gone rogue in recent years. No offence to the man but he’s kind of a walking parody of himself these days. I mean I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the actor genuinely believes he is Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s the only thing that explains the fact that he won’t stop making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Watching the 4th film was painful enough; those fucking mermaids man. Then we have to suffer the indignity of a 5th. It just stinks of desperation. This has been a dying franchise since the 2nd film because, let’s face it, there was only so far you could go making films based on a fucking theme park ride. Yet, Disney keep flogging that dead horse and are back with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A film that, for some unknown reason, was renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK. Now, it was bad enough that I actually watched this film but to have to watch it with this god awful title? That’s too much. So I’m defying my geography and referring only to the superior title. Salazar’s Revenge? For fuck’s sake, that sounds like a really terrible soap opera or something. This is the POTC movie that, basically, nobody asked for so to give it such an underwhelming name for its European distribution just seems like a super bad idea. Although, with the news that a 6th film is dependent on DVD sales it may actually pay off for us in the long term.

It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. There are those who have slowly but surely grown sick of the same Captain Jack Sparrow shtick that has become so tired and predictable over the last 4 POTC movies. Then there are those with brains so tiny that they’d be endlessly amused just from looking at their own hands. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film wowed audiences in 2003 very little has changed about the character. There has been little, if any, development over the span of 4 films and he feels less like a character than a series of mannerisms at this point. We saw, from the disappointing On Stranger Tides, that Jack cannot hold a movie on his own so, to try and reinvent the wheel, the franchises 5th outing is going back to its roots. We see the return of original stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as well a carbon copy of the plot. All wrapped up in a package that is nowhere near as polished as any of the Gore Verbinski’s three films. So, it was never going to go well.

The powers that be have clearly decided that too much of Captain Sparrow can be bad thing and have, once again, placed him as second fiddle to a couple of bright young things. In this case it is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), offspring of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist on a quest to complete her father’s work. Just like the first film, Will and Elizabeth 2.0 are both searching for some sort of mystical McGuffin (in this case it’s Poseidon’s trident) that will, supposedly, solve everyone’s problems. To do this they must ask for the help of everyone’s favourite rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). At the same time, Jack is trying to outrun an old enemy (Javier Bardem) who is seeking both bloody vengeance and an end to his death curse. There’s also the inevitable appearance of the British navy who decide to get mixed up in everything. Dead Men Tell No Tales is clearly trying to recapture the excitement of the first but the ride isn’t as much fun this time round.

The main problem lies in the fact that, the more you examine the plot the less it makes sense. I mean how does Salazar know that Jack’s compass holds the key to his escape? Why, when they do escape, are they unable to step on land? What exactly is Barbossa’s motivation for anything? Why the fuck do British sailors go after the trident? There is so much included in the plot that, when you think about it, doesn’t add anything to the narrative. David Wenham turns up as the face of the British Empire but he has absolutely no impact on anything that happens. This film isn’t a well-crafted masterpiece but is just a series of events that come together to make the ending possible in the most dramatic way. Things need to happen so we can have the cycle of double-crossing that has become a requirement in this franchise. It’s just the most convenient and laziest way of making the story work.

Which, I guess, really isn’t a problem in itself. It’s just that there isn’t enough to distract us. Johnny Depps’ Captain Jack has become super irritating in the past few years so no amount of his weirdness is enough to keep you on board. Even Javier Bardem, who is the greatest Bond villain of recent years, doesn’t feel as invested in the character of Salazar as he should be. The character may be a triumph of CGI but he never feels like the most terrifying of foes. Of course, there are some fine action sequences at the start of the film but as time moves on these become more absurd and confusing. An early sequence that sees Henry save Jack and Carina from being executed is a fabulous sequence in the same vain as the Gore Verbinski era but it quickly just descends into madness. The final showdown is just a mess of CGI with no elegance or coherence.

I was genuinely shocked to discover that this film is actually the shortest in the franchise. It definitely felt longer than any of the previous films. Watching it from start to finish seemed like a fucking marathon. There simply isn’t any life in this franchise anymore. Or at least in the franchise as it once was. I think the days of Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impression are well and truly over. If this is going to continue, and really I don’t think it should, there should be a change of direction. People will try to defend Dead Men Tell No Tales as being mindless entertainment. I defy that statement. This film isn’t mindless entertainment: it’s just mindless.

TBT – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

animated, animation, childhood favourite, Disney, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, music, musical, rom-com, romance, TBT

I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.

Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.

There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.

But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.

It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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I won’t say that I was predisposed to hate this film from the moment it was announced but I was always incredibly sceptical about it. The original animated version of the story is my favourite Disney film, one of my all-time favourite animated films, and, quite probably, one of my all-time favourite films… ever. It is superbly animated, well voiced, and pretty much perfect in every way. I love it… even with its questionable view of a woman’s role and the dodgy central relationship. As long as the pictures are so pretty I can work with it. So, it was always going to be a tough sell when it was being remade starring one of my least favourite actors ever. No offence to Emma Watson, who is a fantastic, intelligent and brilliant woman, but I just don’t think her acting has ever been anything to get excited about. So to have her taking the role of the Disney Princess that I idnetify most with kind of pissed me off. Especially when the audio of her ‘singing’ was finally released. Not the finest actor and in need of autotune to get through the songs? Who decided she should play Belle again? Anyway, I needed to see this film before I decided whether I disliked this film or absolutely detested it. So I did.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t hate this film as much as I thought I would. I mean, I can’t say with any honesty that I loved it but there were parts of it that I thought were really well done. By the end I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story and wept with as much joy as I would have with the original. However, that could have something to do with the fact that this film is basically the same as the original animation. Remember that shot-for-shot remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn? Remember how necessary and wonderful everyone thought it was? No. Well, Disney clearly decided that it was a workable concept and did exactly that with Beauty and the Beast.

Which I guess would have been easier to take had it not been for the amount of hype that had been built up about it being an updated and modernised retelling. From director Bill Condon rabbiting in about LeFou’s “gay moment” or Emma Watson promising we’d have an empowered and feminist Belle, the stage was being set for an incredibly forward-thinking release from Disney. It all sounded too good to be true… and it turned out that it was. That “gay moment” that caused such a stir? Turned out that was a couple of blink and you’ll miss ’em moments where LaFou acted a little bit camper than normal. His sexuality was never explicit and it was definitely not a defining moment in Disney’s history. This wasn’t something worth shouting about. It was positive, maybe, but it needed to be more obvious to count.

Then there’s the whole feminist thing. Emma Watson didn’t turn Belle into a feminist; she’s always been one. The original film showed Belle pushing out against what was expected of a woman in her town and wanting knowledge and freedom. She stood up to the Beast and saved her father. The only real addition this time is that she makes her own version of a washing machine. Emma Watson celebrated the fact that Belle was an inventor herself this time but we really see little evidence of this. She does one thing and it’s actually a bit of a dick move on her part. She puts her machine into use and effectively stops anyone else doing their washing in the shared fountain. There could have been a much more empowered ending to this film where Belle, who sang of wanting adventure, didn’t just settle into marriage with a man who had locked her up only a short time before. There has been no attempt to add anything to Belle’s character in the slightest and, if you ask me, the change from animation to real-life has only made Belle seem like more of a brat.

It’s something I never thought when watching the original film but Belle is kind of a bitch. I mean she openly sings about her “provincial town” and the “little people”, which in this situation comes across as being massively negative, Yes, the townsfolk don’t seem to want to befriend Belle but she doesn’t really give them any reason to. She despises them and the lives they lead, It’s horrible. And I think a lot of that has to do with Emma Watson’s acting style. She doesn’t come in all bolshy and brash. She’s polite, kind and well-spoken. It’s not her difference that causes people to turn away from her but her attitude towards others. She talks about the Beast being “mean and course and unrefined”, well up until that point so was she. It’s stays so faithful to the original that it highlights flaws that we never saw in the first place.

The film is most unsure when it is recreating well-known moments. The scenes featuring the songs from the previous film all seem a bit awkward and kind of like those fan-made remakes you see on YouTube. Nobody seems quite comfortable, least of all Emma Watson, and it all feels a bit too uncanny. The songs focusing around real-people are clumsy and don’t flow as well on screen. There is too much going on and the direction seems to work against it. Then the big CGI filled ‘Be Our Guest’ was just an over-the-top extravaganza of computer imagery. It tries so hard to recreate the original whilst also proving that technology has moved on. It’s just a bit of mess.

As is most of the characterisation. It attempts to give them some adedd depth and backstory but it’s not always successful. Emma Thompson sounds like she could be a fine singer if she wasn’t also attempting to sound like a Cockney. It is something that Angela Lansbury managed effortlessly in the original but causes Thompson to spend most of her time “sing talking” instead of actually singing. The only word I know to describe it is the delightful German word “Sprechgesang”. Ewan McGregor, who we know is a great singer, also suffers due to his sketchy French accent. Luke Evans is a remarkable singer but fails to get to the funny side of Gaston and, instead, focuses solely on making him menacing. The original film was so great at mocking his masculinity to make him see even more pathetic. Here, he’s just a one-dimensional villain.

Of course, the worst offender of all is still Emma Watson who, as lovely as she may be in real life, just shouldn’t have played Belle. She’s too timid and doesn’t give the character enough stage presence. Yes, she has the beauty down and she loves books but very little else stands out about her interpretation. It’s Hermione Granger but less of a badass. Then there’s the singing. It’s not that she’s a terrible singer by any means but that Disney have decided to autotune the fuck out of her vocals. She’s not got the strongest voice (especially in a cast featuring the likes of Audra McDonald – who is criminally underused by the way) but it’s a sweet and delicate one that would have been more than up for the task. But that wasn’t good enough. So now it just sounds shit and it’s not her fault. They wanted a big name, I get that, but if they wanted a perfect singer too then Emma Watson wasn’t the girl for them.

I know it sounds like I hate this film but I didn’t. The problem was most of the things I loved about it were bits that were copied from the original so it doesn’t really count. The fact is, there wasn’t enough fresh and new about this remake. It is almost a shot-for-shot reshoot with real characters and CGI. There are actors, like Kevin Kline, who are never used to their potential whilst background characters are over-the-top and distract from scenes. The set-pieces are too brash and confusing in an obvious game of one-upmanship. The problem with this film is that it’s painfully obvious that this was a film made for profit and nothing else.

Top 10 Wen-sday: Top 10 Fictional Characters I’d Invite to Christmas Dinner

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It’s so close to Christmas it’s unreal. In 10 days it’ll be Christmas Eve. I think I’ve just about got my presents all sorted but who really knows. I’m not a fan of last minute shopping but I tend to need little stocking fillers as I go through the month. Still, I’m mostly there. As it’s a time of celebration I’m adding a few additional posts this month. Each year I’ve released a Christmas top 10: My Essential Christmas films and My Least Favourite Christmas films. So I’m planning on keeping them as festive as possible but I’m likely to run out of ideas by next week. We’ll see how it goes. For now, I decided to delve into the world of fantasy dinner party and decide who I’d invite to my ultimate Christmas celebration.
Ten: Brienne of Tarth

My main reasoning for including Brienne on this list is simply because it’s kind of a habit to include her on all of fictional character based lists. It’s no secret that she’s my favourite character in both the book and the show. It’s also no secret that I adore Gwendoline Christie. If Brienne came to my Christmas dinner then I’d spend most of the time just starring at her the way Torumund did at Castle Black.

Nine: Belle

Now I’m not talking about the Belle from the upcoming, unnecessary live action Beauty and the Beast as played by the annoying Emma Watson. Nor am I talking about the Belle on the show I’ve tried so hard to enjoy Once Upon a Time. No, I’m talking classic, animated Belle. She’s always been my favourite Disney princess because she loves books as much as I do. There’s nothing I enjoy more than talking about books and it’s something I don’t really get to do too often. So, I’d love nothing more than sitting in a post-Turkey daze and discussing my favourite novels with Belle. Unlike friends, she might appreciate the Romantic era fiction that I recommend to her. Of course, being so fucking cynical, I’d find her hopeless romantic thing quite annoying but it would be something we could happily debate on.

Eight: Holtzmann

Another of my latest character obsessions. Jillian Holtzmann is the greatest thing to come out of the Ghostbusters reboot and Kate McKinnon is such a fantastic performer. I’d love the chance to meet the Holtz but worry that she would make dinner a little awkward. Not that I don’t love awkward moments but, as a perfect host, I’d have to think about my guests. Still, I love her so she’s coming.

 Seven: Rob Fleming (High Fidelity)

High Fidelity is one of my favourite books and films. I love it. You may remember Rob was featured on my list of Top 5 Fictional Husbands. As such, I’d love to invite Rob to my Christmas dinner. I mean we both a predilection for making Top 5/10 lists so we could definitely turn it into an amusing dinner table game. He’d also know the best tunes to play before, during, and after dinner to keep us all in the party mood.

 Six: Leslie Knope

Re-watching Parks and Rec recently gave me an all new appreciation of Leslie Knope and what a great person she is. She champions women, loves her friends, and won’t back down in an argument. She’s the kind of person I pretend to be but much nicer and much more successful. I’d love to sit next to her at Christmas dinner because, not only would we have a great in-depth discussion about all things, I think she’d share my childish love of the holiday.

Five: Thor

Thor is my favourite superhero. I love all of the Norse mythology and his Shakespearean qualities. He’s so dramatic and literal about everything. I have to admit it would be kind of cool to have him at my Christmas dinner just so I could say there was a real-life God there. Kinda cool, no? Plus, the arms are always a plus. He also seems that he’d be fun to have at a party. Asgardians are basically Vikings and they were kind of up for a good time. Also, how great an after dinner game would it be to try and lift Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir? You’ve had all the turkey so now let’s find out whose worthy.

Four: Buddy the Elf

I don’t know about you guys but I always feel that Christmas Day is kind of let down after the endless weeks of lead up. I’m not saying I’ve ever had a terrible Christmas Day but we’re always just so exhausted we end up eating and lounging for the entire day. What we really need is an injection of Christmas spirit. And who has the largest supply of that round here? Buddy’s love for the holiday is contagious and he’d have no trouble getting everyone up around the piano for a sing song. With Buddy at your house, every Christmas can be like the ones you see in every American sitcom’s Christmas special. Plus, you know, the candy.

Three: Tyrion Lannister

Despite everything the Bible tries to tell us, Christmas is basically about excess and over-indulgence. It’s about spending too much money, stuffing your face, drinking too much, and basically letting go. Who embraces these ideas more than anyone? Yes, the self-titled “God of tits and wine”. To re-appropriate Ke$ha for a second, the party don’t start til he walks in.

Two: Newt Scamander

Not only would the addition of Newt to the party mean guaranteed Eddie Redmayne but it would also mean some fantastic stories. Newt has travelled all over the wizarding world and met some of the most amazing creatures. He’d be able to fill the time with so many exciting tales. There’s always a boring lull on Christmas Day when you’re eaten too much but there’s a few hours before Doctor Who is on. Newt would be the perfect person to fill the silence. Hell, if we’re lucky he might even get his Niffler out… which, as I’m writing it down, definitely sounds like a euphemism you might come across in the wizard world. Hey, Newt, how’s about you let my play with your Niffler.

One: Sookie St. James

This is the second time this month that Sookie has been in the number 1 spot of my top 10 list. Maybe she’ll be the new Brienne? Anyway, I think Sookie would be a great person to invite to dinner. Not only would she definitely bring something scrumptious to eat but she’s just such lovely human being. Why would you want to spend this holiday with people who were anything but nice? My only doubt would be the fact that she would clearly be silently judging everything that was being cooked for her. It would take about five seconds of her being in the house before she was “fixing” everything that was being made in the kitchen. Still, what a meal we’d get in the end.

Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie, CGI, Disney, fairy tale, meh, review, rewriting, witch, women

Wicked has an awful lot to answer for these days. The novel that created a back-story for the Wicked Witch of the West and went on to become a runaway success as a stage show has started something of a trend in Hollywood. After last year’s disappointing Oz: the Great and Powerful attempted to explain the origin of the great wizard, Disney have set another much loved family film in their sights. Their big live-action blockbuster Maleficentis the long-awaited rewriting of Sleeping Beauty (1959) from the perspective of the terrifying and terrible witch whose spell sent Aurora to her rest. 

It’s been 55 years since Disney first introduced audiences to the villainous Maleficent in their animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty and apparently they have decided it was time to rewrite history. In their big live-action blockbuster, the company are willing to let us into the untold story of the fairy who quite probably dominated the nightmares of young children the world over. After all, until Frozen came out last year and blurred the lines, the distinction between good and evil was always crystal clear in the studio’s offerings. Maleficentcontinues the trend by recreating one of the ultimate forces for evil as a much more ambiguous being.
We first meet the titular fairy as a young girl (Ella Purnell) whose main concern is keeping the magical inhabitants of her home happy and safe from the humans who are intent on regaining their land. Unfortunately, Maleficent meets a boy and… well you can guess the rest.  Quickly Mal is swearing vengeance in a scene played out pretty identically to the original film. The new King’s (Sharlto Copely) first born daughter will, on her 16thbirthday, prick her finger and fall into an eternal sleep.
Aurora (Elle Fanning) is sent into hiding to be watched by three good fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) but in the film’s big twist it is actually Maleficent herself who must protect the child to ensure she survives to the age at which the curse will strike. Quite frankly, the plot from this point is stupid, lazy and dull. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for the underlying feminist message at the core of Maleficentbut I have to admit that it feels pretty outrageous to take this character and make her a mothering presence in Aurora’s life.
I mean this is a character whose name literally means she is capable of producing evil and she is only ever seen doing one bad deed. This is not the original story being told from a different viewpoint this is a different and much less interesting tale. I can only assume that the main character’s name was bestowed upon her as some sort of ironic nickname (you know like really tall people called Tiny and stuff) because the fairy we see on screen is anything but malevolent.
She is, however, magnificent. This marks Angelina Jolie’s first appearance on screen in about four years and she cuts a striking figure thanks to her fetish horns, huge wings and Lady Gaga inspired cheekbones. Jolie is the perfect actress to bring Maleficent to life but the script doesn’t give her anywhere to take the character. No matter what you may have thought about his reimagining of Alice in Wonderland back in 2011, it’s easy to see that this actress, in this costume would have been better off in the strange and darker hands of Tim Burton. The script places its main character in a spectator role and gives her no spark, humour or intensity to make her anywhere near as memorable her animated predecessor. Quite frankly, it is only because the supporting characters are even less inspiring that Maleficent doesn’t disappear completely within her own film.
I understand what Linda Woolverton is attempting to do with the script and the character but there is just little to get excited about. Something that is most probably indebted to the likes of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is just a horrible imitation (and I didn’t even really enjoy reading TBC at uni). The narrative is patchy and full of contradictions and plot-holes. Woolverton also places too much importance on unnecessary references to the original story. If she were so intent on rewriting the tale as a whole then why bother shoehorning in Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) for a whole four minutes or whatever?
I also can’t help but feel that certain clichés just weaken the intended feminist message at its heart. I mean if you wanted to highlight the importance and strength of female relationships then why have every event hinge on the title character getting her heartbroken? I realise “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” but the image of a powerful woman threatening a child because a boy didn’t love her enough isn’t something I feel too comfortable with.
As someone who was really looking forward to this, I found almost everything about the film was disappointing. The cast just don’t have the energy or material to give the audience anything at all. Elle Fanning is horribly forgettable and Sharlto Copely has an insufferably terrible Scottish accent. There is the brief respite in the interaction between the good fairies but you will still have the unshakeable feeling that in the hands of better filmmakers even this could have been more joyous.
That’s not to say there is no fun to be found in Maleficent. Director Robert Stromberg is better known thanks to his production design on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great and Powerful. This is his first time in the director’s chair and you can tell. Part of the reason the production doesn’t seem as slick as it could have is because Stromberg appears to be creating it from the viewpoint of a production designer. The magical world he has created is incredibly detailed and offers the same disappointing lifelessness that caused problems in Oz. There is so much going on visually that is feels as though you are sat starring into the sun and waiting for your eyes to adjust. I can’t say I was a complete fan of Stromberg’s reliance on CGI to create some wonder in his story, especially when it came as the expense of his characters and narrative. Even the positive themes that Copely is ultimately trying to convey are pushed to one side in order to sneak in another human/fairy showdown.

Stromberg owes an awful lot to Angelina Jolie for making this film such a success. It her resilience and sheer determination that ensure this otherwise flaccid representation of a well-known character is even the slightest bit memorable:  if only her role had been given even half the amount of planning as her costume had. If Maleficentis supposed to be the truth behind the lies at the heart of Sleeping Beauty then I for one would much prefer to continue living in ignorance. 

Frozen (2013)

animation, Disney, family, fucking beautiful, Kristen Bell, musical, review

When the first teaser trailers appeared for Frozen way back when I wasn’t convinced it would be my kind of thing. When it comes to animated films I’m not likely to get as excited about Disney’s offerings as I am about the work of other studios. Though I’ve been a fairly loyal fan since my childhood there can be no denying that they don’t always offer the animated prowess of their sister studio Pixar or the originality and intelligence of Ghibli. I find it hard to mention any recent Disney film that I have got really excited about. I enjoyed Wreck It Ralph but the idea was greater than the execution. However, these days you can’t really go anywhere on the internet with somebody mentioning this supposed ‘game changer’ and its Oscar nominated song ‘Let it go’. So, once again, I bowed to peer-pressure and checked it out.

Frozen, Disney’s 53rd feature film, is another in studio’s traditional yet modern style of storytelling that has become their trademark since John Lasseter made his way over from Pixar. Disney may be well into the technological age with their computer-generated animation but Frozenjust goes to show that the studio still hasn’t given up on its primary principles: namely wholesome family fairy-tales chock full of courage and fun garnished with big musical numbers and charming characters.

Disney has been playing around with the idea of adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queenfor a fairly long time but it wasn’t until Jennifer Lee’s screenplay that they found the best way to translate the tale for its audience. Lee took the decision to rebrand the villainous Snow Queen into an isolated and scared teenager with the power to control ice and snow.
That teenager is Elsa (Idina Menzel) who, after an incident involving her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), is taught by her father, the King of Arendelle, to conceal her powers and hide herself away. When their parents are tragically killed, Elsa and Anna must fend for themselves and Elsa goes to greater lengths to hide her powers from both her sister and the rest of the kingdom. Unfortunately, her skills are revealed at her coronation leading the new Queen to flee the city whilst accidentally enveloping it in vicious winter weather.
Anna is much more impetuous than Elsa and, after hastily getting engaged to a virtual stranger, the youngster instinctively rushes off after her sister to bring her back and fix the situation. On her journey Anna is aided by an ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and a talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). The sisters must battle great obstacles to save each other and their subjects: taking part in the ultimate battle between love and fear. It’s hardly a massive leap from the tales of old but there is something refreshing about the focus on two females.
Frozen contains all of the state-of-the-art and breathtaking animation that we have come to expect from the studio. The frosty landscape is engrossing and shiver-inducing: Elsa makes her magical flakes whirl across the screen; frost collects beautifully on windowpanes and boats; and the ice palace is an awesome glistening spectacle. The focus here has been put more on visuals than narrative but I can forgive the patchy nature of the story when the animation is so wonderful.
Like any self-respecting Disney film, the action in Frozen is occasionally halted to make way for an uplifting song and dance routine. These musical numbers have been written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (known for their work on Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and have a musical theatre style to them. Not only do these moments appear infrequently but they also happen to sound fantastic: at the very least they’re annoyingly catchy. Kristen Bell proves to be a formidable vocal talent and plays Anna perfectly. Unfortunately, she has been overshadowed by Idina Menzel (a Broadway personality) who, in my opinion at least, has been horribly miscast as Elsa. Menzel’s rendition of ‘Let it go’ has been eaten up by audiences but I just found it uncomfortable. The lovely song has become hyperbolic in her hands and sounds very nasally and strained. It is too Broadway (not meant as a compliment I’m afraid) and Menzel is far too mature to play the youthful Queen.
Though this isn’t really Elsa’s film and, after Anna, the key figures are the more high-profile supporting characters of Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and Olaf. Sven defies Disney logic by being unable to speak but, in a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek touch, Kristoff often provides the voice for his friend in their one-sided conversations. It is Olaf, though, that comes out on top here. Despite the annoying presence he had in the endless marketing campaign, the snowman is a naive and caring figure who provides plenty of warm and humorous moments.
Frozen can certainly be classed as a ‘modern’ take on a Disney princess films thanks to its awkward and dorky heroine Anna, its knowing winks to the tropes of the genre and its unrelenting focus on the two female leads. However, I have seen a worrying number of people claiming it is the first major step to a feminist Disney era. Whilst watching the film I found myself enjoying it more than I expected, having long passed the age when I unquestioningly engulf these types of narratives, but I can’t say that I saw it as a major step towards any real gender equality at the studio. Yes, it does portray strong female relationships over the typical male/female ones and I obviously celebrate that. However, there are still enough worrying gender stereotypes to prevent me from celebrating too quickly.