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Author: Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I recently completed my masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.
Editorials

5 Documentaries To Watch On Netflix

March 13, 2019
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Who doesn’t love a good documentary? They offer informative and intriguing glimpses into the world that surround us. But the best documentaries are not just talking heads reciting information at you. The best documentaries are the ones that take you on a journey and leave a lasting emotional impact on you.

And with Netflix having a treasure trove of documentaries available at your fingertips, today I’m recommending five documentaries, both films and TV series, for you to queue up and watch as soon as possible.

Five Came Back

Netflix has created many engaging original documentaries, but today I am giving special mention to two. The first being Five Came Back, which chronicles the lives of influential filmmakers William Wyler, George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Huston and John Ford, and the film industry that surrounded them, before, during and after World War II. Beginning with the first rumblings of the second world war and how Hollywood dealt with it, to many of the men seeing active service. Through their involvement with American propaganda and how the war impacted their careers after coming home. The series is a gripping and intensely personal character study of how the directors’ wartime experiences shaped them and their films. All the men’s stories are captivating. Their personalities are conveyed so well through archival interviews and insight from modern filmmakers, who share common traits, that you forget the documentary’s retrospective nature and become completely absorbed in the experience. The use of music and the directors archival battle footage makes the series as gripping as any war film and shows that art isn’t merely escapism. It helps us process the world around us. And is essential to the healing process of both artists and society.

Five Came Back Poster (2017)

Planet Earth

This entry can apply to any of David Attenborough’s documentaries. Many are available on Netflix and all are worth watching. But for the definitive Attenborough wildlife documentary, look no further than Planet Earth. Being one of the world’s foremost natural historians you know that Attenborough knows what he is talking about when it comes to the subject matter and he delivers information in a way that is easy for all to enjoy. His smooth and authoritative voiceover invites the viewer in and makes the information easily digestible, which would be enough to recommend a documentary alone. But when combined with some of the most stunning wildlife footage ever captured, that gets up close and personal with the storied lives of earth’s tiniest insects, most feared predators and even endangered species from across the world. It makes for the definitive wildlife documentary series.

Planet Earth BBC Poster (2006)

Senna

I’ve never been a big sports fan but I love sports documentaries. Because the best sports documentaries help you understand and empathize with the people who participate in these global events. And one of the best examples of this is Senna. Senna tells the story of Brazilian Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna. From how he won the F1 world championship 3 times in his careers through to his tragic death in 1994. What makes this documentary stand out is that it’s made up entirely of archival and home movie footage/voiceover about Senna. Which gives the movie an authentic feeling as everything is rooted in recorded history. What is truly impressive is how the film builds such a comprehensive picture of Senna, his life and his mindset while also being as thrilling and engaging as any fictional sports movie. Proving that learning about history doesn’t need to be boring and that real life really can be just as exciting as fiction.

Senna movie poster (2010)

13th

Now for my second Netflix Original choice. 13th is a film that looks at the history of the USA and posits that slavery never actually went away. Though ownership has gone, the USA’s judicial and governmental system is still so poisoned against minorities and black people in particular, that many are now locked up and used for free labour for having the audacity to defend themselves and demanding a fair trial. From that description, it’s easy to see why 13th pushed so many people’s buttons. It is not an easy topic to think about, nor should it be. But the film delivers this difficult subject matter in a way that is easy to understand and showcases some truly disturbing material that has resulted from this oppression, but in a way that feels purposeful rather than exploitative. It is a polemic but it is incredibly successful at being one and at best stimulates a conversation that is worth having. As a good documentary should.

13th Netflix Poster (2016)

Paris is Burning

Finally, we go for an older documentary which is altogether more uplifting though in places no less sad. Paris is Burning documents the New York underground drag scene at the end of the 1980s. Looking at the competitions that bring the community together and the personalities of the contestants that take part. Paris is a fascinating time capsule. Although it could be looked upon as a glorified home movie, it holds significance because of what it represents. It is a glimpse inside a culture that, at the time, was very marginalized. As a result, the unprofessional and grainy presentation makes the film feel real and reflects its underground subject matter. It also doesn’t coyly skirt around discussions of transvestism, racism and homosexuality within the 1980s either. Focusing on how the community formed itself under the oppression, brutality and indifference of the culture. And although the subjects have their doubts about themselves and their place in the world, you ultimately come out feeling uplifted, for the film’s celebration of love and beauty in a marginalized group.

Poster for Paris is Burning (1990)

So there are five documentaries available on Netflix to get you into the world of non-fictional entertainment. Of course, there are many other documentaries available on Netflix. Both old and recent, and covering a range of different subjects. Do you have a favourite Netflix documentary you would like to recommend? Then please mention it in the comments. And help us discover more real-life stories to treasure.

Reviews

Retro Review: Alien

March 5, 2019

Today we are looking at another significant film celebrating an anniversary. As this year Ridley Scott’s Alien turns 40. Alien has become a phenomenon over the past 40 years. Spawning one of the most iconic horror movie monsters, heroines and one of the best sequels ever made. But 4 decades on, has Alien aged well? Or has the franchise it spawned eclipsed the significance of the original film? Let’s find out.

The story

While heading back to Earth the crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from cryo-sleep by the ship’s computer to investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby moon. During the mission, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a creature, which attaches itself to him and incapacitates him. Against officer Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) wishes, Science Officer, Ash (Ian Holm) lets him back onboard.

Eventually, Kane is freed from the alien’s grasp. But the lifeform left inside him by the alien kills him by erupting from his chest. Now, with an alien loose on the ship, the crew must find a way to survive. Will they stop the alien? And is the alien the biggest threat to the crew?

What did I like…

You can accomplish a lot with a simple idea. The concept of a monster on the loose in a confined area killing people is nothing new. But Alien presents itself so well that the unoriginal premise never impacts it.

Firstly, Dan O’Bannon’s script is a marvel of showing without telling and natural characterization. The Nostromo crew aren’t action heroes but everyday people who just want to complete their job and go home. Actions define these people. Rather than being handed information we discover more about them and their world through their interactions. The space setting also makes most of their lapses in judgment feel warranted and serves the narrative. Because running away is impossible. Thus, when the alien begins stalking the crew, the film becomes tenser because we relate to and fear for these people. And dread is built effectively because of what is left to the imagination. The alien itself is constantly changing and the company the characters work for is just a vague entity hanging over them, playing on our fears of the unknown.

The acting of Alien also works with the writing to create a believable world in an unbelievable situation. The actors use understated and restrained delivery to sell their characters. Even their hysteria feels natural and not forced. With each actor adding something to their performance that makes them feel unique. Whether it be Sigourney Weaver’s hard attitude, John Hurt’s everyday charm or Harry Dean Stanton’s goofy obliviousness. Many of the characters are memorable. Even if the writing was not strong these actors would still be able to carry the film.

Alien Cast
Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien

And then there is the production design and direction. The first thing most people think of when they think of Alien is H. R. Giger’s legendary creature design. Which evokes many subconscious fears. But it becomes scarier because we rarely see the whole thing on screen. Instead. we see close-ups or out of focus shots of it in the background. Again playing up the idea that what we don’t see is scarier. And the gothic, mechanical set design heightens the tension. We watch as the clinically clean safe rooms slowly change to unnerving mechanized monstrosities. With the direction letting atmosphere grow naturally through long shots and attention to editing. Allowing us to get use to the safety of certain things before slowly breaking them.

What I do not like…

But while the elements work together overall there are still hindrances that prevent the movie from being perfect. The film effectively builds atmospheric tension, but several jump scares are used at random points. Seemingly just to remind the audience that they are watching a horror film – which feels cheap.

Some could also argue that the characters feel a little underdeveloped. Because the script focuses more on their actions relating to their current situation many could claim that we don’t get to know the characters as individuals. We don’t get to learn all their facets as we have become used to in films. Which will be distancing for some. Also, while the actors mostly do a good job Tom Skerritt is a weak link. Unlike the rest of the cast, he feels ill-suited for his role as leader. He never leaves an impression, coming across more as whiny than as authoritative.

Finally, there are some lapses in logic that can take some audience members out of the experience. Some are relatively minor annoyances such as Ripley risking her life for Jonesy in the finale. Which doesn’t sync up with her previous characterisation as someone who puts survival first. But then there are bigger questions. Such as: if the company wanted the alien why did they entrust the job to space tuckers rather than a group of marines or people who would be more prepared to deal with the alien? And, Ash’s presentation in several scenes make his treacherous intentions too obvious to ultimately be surprising.

Verdict

Despite its hype and long legacy, Alien is still engaging all these years later. It does rely too much on jump scares. Some characters can be seen as underdeveloped. Tom Skerritt offers little to his part. And the plot requires the audience to suspend their disbelief a lot. But these flaws never damage the movie too much.

The characters are relatable people doing a job beyond their capabilities. And the film creates effective tension by keeping certain plot elements vague and unseen. The actors are also very natural in their roles making them easy to believe and giving them an innate likability. And it’s all played out against some of cinemas best production design. Which combined with the slower direction and pace creates a palpable atmosphere. It’s easy to see why everyone gravitated towards it. A genuine classic that deserves revisiting.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Alien (1979) Trailer
Reviews

Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

February 26, 2019

Five years and several spinoffs after the surprise hit of the Lego Movie we finally have an official sequel. So its time to see if the Lego Movie 2 can prove people wrong a second time. Can the sequel live up to the standard set by the original? Can everything truly be awesome again? Well take a seat on your double-decker couch and come with me on this journey to find out.

The story

Five years after the defeat of Lord Business, the Lego world is at war with the inhabitants of the Systar system. A race of Duplo aliens who are bright, colourful and worst of all covered in glitter. Their constant battles with the Lego world force the residents to become hardened and grittier, except of course for Emmet (Chris Pratt), who is still his old peaceful and lovable self. When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps his friends to attend a ceremony hosted by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), Emmet must journey to the Systar system with the help of Rex Dangervest (Chris Pratt again) and his Raptor helpers to save them. But what is Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi’s plan? Do his friends really need saving? And what is happening to the beings whose minds control this universe?

What did I like?

It was always going to be difficult to make a sequel to The Lego Movie. The first movie was a well-told self-contained narrative that, despite its flaws, managed to be the best version of what it wanted to be. A smart, funny and sometimes poignant ode to childhood innocence and its value in the modern world. Since then the spinoffs largely traded charm for brand recognition and heaping’s of self-reference, so things looked bad for the sequel. As original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are only writing this time and with the final twist of the first movie it makes it difficult to view this story in the same way as we did before. But with all those points against it, Lego Movie 2 manages to be a decent sequel.

One of the movies best points is that it continues with the thread that the first movie left us with. Now that we know this universe is an extension of children’s minds, the film focuses specifically on issues relating to children interacting among themselves in a way that feels like it’s written by children rather than adults. The blunt and overblown character names, the visualizations of girlhood and boyhood culture and the way the characters act feel very real as extensions of the child characters. Unlike the first one, it’s clear that this film is aimed more at a child audience than a family one. But the film captures a child’s mindset well and keeps the thematic meat of the story easy for kids to understand without talking down to them. Eventually resolving with a good moral lesson that nicely ties the Lego characters story to the real world.

The film also continues to be hilarious and thoughtful with its characters. All the older characters get their time to shine, Will Arnett’s Batman continues to be the standout, and some are updated in interesting ways. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), having learned to accept Emmet’s world view in the first movie, must learn to accept who she is and how that makes her special. Emmet is sent on an unexpected journey where he learns what it means to be “strong” and Batman must learn to let go of his self-imposed loneliness in order to be happy. Just like before the voice actors strike the perfect balance between serious and self-parody, making the jokes funnier. And all the new characters bring a new perspective or flavour of humour to the table, Rex Dangervests’ chatty Raptors being my favourite addition.

The movie continues the Lego tradition of being a technical marvel. The animation is incredible, and the colour scheme is a feast for the eyes. Also, the music is just as catchy as ever, the lead song (Catchy Song), even plays up this angle for laughs. Musical numbers are even included along with the new songs to ensure that boredom is impossible. Overall a very entertaining experience.

What did I not like?

While the film is good, there is nothing about it that has the same wow factor as the first. It feels like a classic case of sequelitis. The second film goes bigger with its scale, music and message but ironically it feels like less is at stake than the first film. Mostly this is due to a lack of focus. Rather than focusing on Emmet as the centrepiece and letting the other characters grow around him, we focus on several characters at once. This means that we lose the impact that comes from spending time developing a single character. The bigger set pieces, musical numbers, and live action segments just feel like a diluted experience from the first film; their sparse use in the first film made them feel impactful, but now they feel overdone.

Along with that, the characters, despite being fun and interestingly updated seem inconsistent or ill-fitting to this story. Wyldstyle fits as the film is a call for acceptance of feminine culture, but other characters feel out of place. Batman’s learning to accept people is the same arc he went through in the Lego Batman movie. Making his addition feel obligatory rather than organic. Emmet’s arc of becoming tougher also feels out of character. In the previous film, he saw a world-ending conflict where one of his friends died but he kept his innocence, only fighting others briefly to get to Lord Business. It feels bizarre that he begins considering toxic masculine bravado as a way forward. And the other returning characters just seem to be here for callbacks and references, which is disappointing considering how well these characters suited the previous film’s narrative.

Finally, the movie has many inconsistencies that minorly compromise the film. For example, the inhabitants of the Systar system act differently from scene to scene. Some display a teenage level of development and others act like babies which doesn’t sync up with how the sister character acts in the real world. The film also tries to wrong-foot the audience by passing off the conflict as the brother’s fault. But Emmet tries to make peace with the Systar system at the beginning, but they open hostilities through their threatening behaviour. And the obviously deceptive way the Systar characters act throughout the movie only serves to setup the twist. But, upon second watch the Systar characters suspect behaviour feels pointless. And only there to force conflict. These inconsistencies may feel minor, but they add up. Eventually serving as a reminder of how much better the first movie worked as a whole.

Verdict

Despite my complaints Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not a bad movie. It keeps up the original’s standard for sound and animation. The characters are still incredibly funny, and there is a refreshing moral that is communicated to its child audience in a way that treats them like adults. The only problem is that being a sequel it is impossible to avoid comparisons to its predecessor. And under that light the movie just falls short. The inconsistencies of this movie remind you how much care and attention was given to the first film. The characters are being made to fit the narrative rather than the narrative being made to fit them and no matter how big or lavish the musical numbers and set pieces, they never equal the simple charm of “everything is awesome”.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Lego Movie 2 Trailer (Warner Bros.)

Read our review of the original Lego Movie

Reviews

Retro Review: The Lego Movie

February 21, 2019

February Half Term is here so it’s time to enjoy some family time at the cinema. With The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part looking to storm the box office this half term, lets first take a look back at the original movie. Which proved all naysayers wrong and went on to become a box office smash and spawn a franchise of Lego spinoff movies. But half a decade later, does the first movie still hold up?

The story

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a normal, generic Lego construction worker, happily going through his life conforming to the will of big businesses. But when he follows resistance fighter and master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) off the beaten track he ends up fused with the legendary “piece of resistance”. This apparently means that he is the legendary “special”, prophesized to bring down Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and bring peace to the universe. The only problem is Emmet really isn’t special. He is not creative, does not possess the skills of a master builder (people who can build anything from everyday materials) and doesn’t wish to get involved. Never the less he is pursued by Lord Business.

While on the run Emmet must work with many colourful characters to find a way to stop Lord Business from freezing the world forever with his superweapon, The Kraggle. Can Emmet defeat the enemy with nothing to work with his but his everyday knowledge and fondness for double-decker couches?

What did I like?

The Lego Movie’s success really did come out of nowhere. Upon release, everyone thought it would just be another cash grab. With a celebrity voice cast collecting a paycheque. An inconsequential story and brand recognition placed above creativity. But the Lego Movie dashed all of those presumptions.

Firstly, the film looks amazing. The colour scheme is vibrant and full of variety making it an absolute joy to look at. The film also shows great affection for the Lego fanbase by having many of the characters move at a lower frame rate to give the illusion of stop motion animation, similar to Lego online videos. Which elicits plenty of affectionate charm and admiration for its creativity, backed up by gorgeously flowing animation.

Then there’s the sound. The voice cast is uniformly terrific. Everyone brings perfect comedic timing to their roles, Will Arnett’s Batman and Morgan Freemans Vitruvius being particular highlights. Each character’s voice suits and parodies their archetypes simultaneously. For example, Will Arnett’s send-up of Christian Bale’s Batman voice is made funnier through his self-aware smugness. So, the well-written jokes have extra layers to unpack through their delivery and timing. The sound design is also fantastic. The score is also beautiful, often adding an OTT silliness to the proceedings. Great thought is also put into sound details such as how walking, construction and fights sound in this Lego world. And all capped off with “Everything is Awesome”. A song that ridicules and celebrates corporate pop music in a way that ensures you’ll never forget it.

As well as looking and sounding amazing, The Lego Movie’s characters are all unique, funny and offer something to the story. Emmet makes for an easily likeable protagonist, being the only down to earth person who just wants to be nice. Wyldstyle, despite her hostile introduction, shows herself to be a strong person who takes Emmet’s self-lessness to heart and unites the world. And the supporting cast all offer different flavours of critique on “adult” perspectives or showcase the joy of childhood wonder. And the story offers different things to different generations. The simple nature of the story makes it easy for children to follow and the satire easily engages the adult viewers. And by the end, despite the cynical nature of some of the jokes, it brings both audiences together. Showing that sometimes we need to let go of adulthood for a while and be children again.

And that is the ultimate key to why The Lego Movie works so well. It blends adult craftsmanship and satire with childlike joy and enthusiasm in a way that feels complementary rather than derogatory to the overall experience. Ultimately showing that despite our cynical nature, we all have the potential to be special in our own way.

What I do not like?

However, amongst the achievements of this film there are a few missteps. The biggest problem being the way it represents women. There are only two prominent female roles in the film. Unikitty is repressed and Wyldstyle has penis envy. The twist does explain these choices and the characters never feel insulting or malicious. However their roles are still unflattering.

Lastly, some of the humour is a little too reliant on self-awareness or referencing popular culture. Though not a terrible source for jokes, most are even executed really well, their occasional overuse becomes tiresome. At some points, it even becomes alienating to people trying to become absorbed in the world and the story. The constant fourth wall breaking draws into question how invested we should be in characters who have no regard for the narrative. Though these moments are usually well delivered and spaced out enough to not be a huge issue.

Verdict 

While occasionally too self-aware, lacking a decent female insight and an overreliance on reference humour, The Lego Movie is a great family movie that deserves revisiting. It finds unique ways to appeal to both children and adults without feeling overstuffed or disingenuous. It includes a fantastic cast inhabiting interesting and hilarious characters in a beautiful world that clearly had a lot of passion behind it. And every time you return there’s something new to chew on. The Lego Movie is a testament to the power of imagination and storytelling and for me, the best animated film of the decade so far.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Lego Movie (Trailer)

The Lego Movie is available on DVD and digital stores.

Editorials

How Cinema Attendance Hit Record Levels In 2018

February 7, 2019

In a world of streaming and affordable home media, the death of cinema distribution is often talked about. A belief that many would agree with. After all, why go to the cinema when you can watch a film multiple times at home for a fraction of what they would pay going to see those films at the theatre?

It’s therefore interesting that according to the UK Cinema Association, UK cinema attendance in 2018 was at its highest since 1970, with 177 million admissions. This is impressive considering all the factors going against cinema in 2018, including a boiling summer and competition from the World Cup.

UK Cinema Admissions (UK Cinema Association)

But why did cinema attendance decline during the 1970s? And what was it about this past year that encouraged people to return in larger numbers? Well, join me as we dive down the rabbit hole and try to find out.

1970: Starting to decline

1970 was the year the UK saw the general release of many perennial favourites, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Kes and many others. It was also the year when cinema audiences began to decline dramatically in numbers, going from 193 million admissions in 1970 to 176 million in 1971. By the end of 1980 admissions only reached 110 million.

Many blame the expansion of television and the video recorder for the decline. And with Hollywood going through major changes at the time due to several large flops, the big crowd-pleasing spectacles that had been largely used to showcase its superiority to home viewing quickly dropped off. These pictures then took a back seat in the UK, replaced by a mix of personal and experimental projects that appealed to niche audiences as well as television adaptations and sex comedies. From there although attendance was not always in continual decline, and tentpole blockbusters returned, the audience figures never reached the numbers they once had – until 2018!

In 2018 attendance numbers rose with huge hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia Here we go again, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther.

The biggest UK film hits in 2018

2018: What has changed?

There are of course many factors that could have contributed to the rise in cinema attendance. Some insiders put it down to the value of the cinema experience. Going to the cinema is not just about the film anymore, it’s about the communal experience. The ability to buy food, drink, alcohol and enjoy a film with your family and friends on a large screen with luxury seating without having to spend as much as you would for a night at the opera or a football match.

The number of venues dedicated to showing films across the UK is also growing, in different geographical areas. This means that it is easier for audiences to get to cinemas, no doubt helping to encourage repeat visits.

On the other hand, the rise could be a result of Hollywood using their old hits formulas with a new approach. The big hits of 1970, M*A*S*H, Love Story and Airport all had pre-existing fanbases, all being based on novels (some specially written to drum up interest for the movie) and stars with name recognition. Airport having Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, M*A*S*H having Donald Sutherland and Love Story having Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. Hollywood often used these tactics in the past, but these films also covered a range of genres: disaster, romance, war/comedy and demonstrated an attempt to appeal to different tastes. Airport focused on Hollywood spectacle, Love Story on personal character drama and M*A*S*H on anti-establishment humour rampant at the time. Helping to attract different audiences.

All these elements can be seen in the big hits of 2018. The genres range from musical to superhero and biopic. And all demonstrate a commitment to bringing in broad audiences through either brand recognition or having a big name attached to the project.

But these films also tackle modern issues that help them appeal to different audiences. Instead of focusing exclusively on white straight men we now have stories about black superheroes, LGBTQ icons and women exploring their sexuality and coming to terms with their own identities. With a lot of money spent on these projects, it must be an attractive prospect for underrepresented groups to see representation on the big screen. All the aforementioned films are also rated 12a. And with cinemas being more easily accessible it makes it easier for every member of the family to watch these diverse tales. The issues of today are being told with old school Hollywood spectacle, which seems to have struck a chord with people, regardless of your opinions on the films.

A long way to go

But despite rising attendance figures, these must be viewed within context. Comparing the populations of the times the average person in 1970 would have visited the cinema around 3.5 times a year. In comparison the higher population the average person will only visit the cinema around 2.7 times a year. Which makes a difference when considering box office takings


UK population estimates and projections, 1951 to 2041 (Office for National Statistics )

With the average ticket price in the 1970s being £6.83 (45p, adjusted for inflation) the total box office takings of 1970 reached £1,318,190,000. Beating 2018’s takings of £1,277,122,327 despite the higher average ticket price and higher number of cinemas.

The average viewer just does not visit the cinema enough to equal the 1970 numbers. So, if cinema is to return to the high attendances it once had, there is still a long way to go. And with the predicted continuing increase of the population, cinemas will need to do all they can to encourage visitors to return or attendance will continue to fall. This could result in cinema closures or another rise in the average ticket price.

What now?

Despite this, the high attendance figures of the past few years indicate that if cinemas continue to appeal to audiences, through showcasing big films that can be viewed by diverse audiences at affordable prices, then maybe we will reach the attendance figures of cinemas heyday again.

Editorials

Disney Strikes Back: Disney+ Breaks The Internet

January 29, 2019

It truly is an exciting time to be a film viewer with so many streaming sites vying for our attention. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and so many others are competing to be your go-to entertainment streaming service. And soon another company will join the streaming wars. Disney announced last year that at some point in 2019 it will launch its own streaming service, Disney+. Many have prophesized that the entertainment behemoth could give Netflix a run for its money. So, today we are going to ask, what effect Disney+ could have on the streaming landscape. Will Netflix be able to compete with a company as giant as the house of mouse? And what could this mean for the future of film distribution?

What is Disney+ offering?

Disney+ is stated to be a child-friendly streaming hub for all of Disney’s owned films and TV shows. These include properties like Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic. Hulu will broadcast the more adult-oriented content owned by the company. So far, the service has not set a price, but has promised that it will be cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+ also plans to host exclusive content. These include Star Wars: The Mandalorian and a series based on Marvel’s Loki. It will also be the first place where all the latest Disney films become available.

How will this effect the industry?

Disney+ could herald the beginning of the next generation of streaming. With the studio’s pedigree and the exclusive big names they have, including Star Wars and Marvel, it seems likely that the production value of their exclusives will be high, with both properties usually focusing a lot on spectacle. And if the service becomes successful with a cheaper price, other streaming companies will have to step up their game. Perhaps lowering their price, offering new selling points or allotting higher budgets for their new projects. Competition breeds creativity and Disney+ seems poised to encourage that.

It is also interesting that Disney does not intend to dismiss cinema distribution. Allowing films to run their course in theatres rather than exclusively releasing it on Disney+. It is interesting that despite the rise of streaming, cinema exhibition continues to generate over £1 billion in revenue each year. And this display from Disney reinforces the importance of cinematic distribution. Therefore, cinemas will still benefit from the income that big releases bring to them. As well as allowing a broad audience to see the films before it becomes exclusive and potentially allowing platforms for smaller films to be seen by a larger audience.

However, if Disney+ is successful it’s not hard to see other big studios forming their own streaming companies to retain distribution rights. Meaning that a movie will run its course in cinemas and then become exclusive to that studio’s website. Customers will thus lose the variety of current streaming sites. Instead, they’ll have to sign up to multiple companies, with different prices to find what they want. This isn’t a particularly consumer-friendly environment to encourage. Plus with the four highest grossing movies of 2017 being produced by them, it’s not hard to see why Disney wants to keep using the cinema box office.

Netflix Vs Disney+

And with Disney+’s announcement, many saw it as a direct challenge to Netflix’s hold on the market. With a cheaper price, a large back catalog as well as original programming and exclusive retention of its latest cinema releases, many predict that Disney+ will be a great Netflix competitor. However, this judgment seems rash. It is exciting to see what Disney will bring to the table. And the more family-focused content of Disney+ makes it unique amongst current streaming companies. Which mainly focus on offering content for different age ranges. But ultimately it is hard to see Disney+ felling Netflix completely for one simple reason, a lack of variety.

The reason platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have succeeded is because they provide a vast range of content for all ages and interests. Genre cinema, documentaries, critically acclaimed work, schlocky trash, foreign language cinema from all over the world, kids films and the latest blockbusters are all available on those platforms. And not everyone wants to watch a Disney show or movie when they get home. Some people want to watch an adult-oriented comedy or violent action films, not exclusively family-orientated films.

Just look at the domestic box office figures for Disney’s releases last year. Their box office takings are incredibly sporadic. With some projects earning hundreds of millions while others never reach the hundred mark. Fatigue can set in easily when there is little room to breathe between brand projects (comparatively speaking). Even big-name brands don’t guarantee success, see Solo: A Star Wars Story for proof of that. Disney+ will undoubtedly have a big fan base to rely on. But the limited audience range and content makes it seems more like an Amazon Prime add on than something you would exclusively pay for. 

Disney at the 2018 Box Office

What does the future hold?

Ultimately these judgements are merely speculation and we will find out what happens when Disney+ launches later this year.

It will be interesting to see how established companies will deal with the challenge posed by Disney. A healthy dose of competition is sure to produce a good amount of change. Both in business and in the products produced. And the retention of cinema distribution will give faith to cinemagoers and smaller filmmakers looking for potential platforms to reach a wide audience.

But it is also hard to not be pessimistic about what this could do to the industry by promoting insular distribution rather than reaching the widest possible audience. Overall this feels like something being done for business rather than art. And even devoted fan culture can get burnt out when given too much to chew.

Editorials

5 Underappreciated Films From 2018

January 19, 2019

We are still in January and most of the films currently in the cinemas are holdovers from last year. So I’m here to showcase five films from 2018 that didn’t get the appreciation they deserved.

In the year when superhero movies, Bohemian Rhapsody, Disney and the battle between A Quiet Place and Hereditary ruled the conversation, these are the films that got a little lost in the shuffle and deserve their time in the spotlight.

The Other Side of the Wind

Netflix scored big hits this year with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and positively received seasons of Bojack Horseman and Daredevil. They also acquired the rights to many interesting films like Cam, Roma and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. But two films among their catalogue definitely deserved more attention, this being one of them. The Other Side of the Wind did garner attention before it’s release as the final film of legendary director Orson Welles. Since then it seems to have had little discussion, which is baffling as it’s a posthumous credit from a revered director. Other side of the Wind is a scathing look into the life of a well-regarded filmmaker, as well as the people and media landscape that surrounds him. Alternately, a fascinating semi-autobiographical glimpse into Welles life and opinion of himself. It’s an interesting look at the origins of archive footage and a cinematic trip through a haze of egos and scorched refined visuals. While not the next Citizen Kane it is still a satisfying film that adds a great epilogue to the tale of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures.

Poster for The Other Side of the Wind (lastpodcastnetwork)

Apostle

Here’s the second Netflix release you should all check out. The director of The Raid brings us an effective horror story about a man going to find his kidnapped sister. But his life is put in danger when he learns the secret of the island she is on. That summary sounds generic for a horror movie, but Apostle does some things so well that it’s easy to forgive a lot. It’s a film of two halves. The first half is incredibly tense, as our hero sneaks around investigating the island. In the second half, the film goes nuts as the blood flows and surprise reveals pile up. For this reason, it’s understandable why the films second half may lose some people. After such effective tension building, the change to blood and gore and the introduction of fantastical elements, feels somewhat disappointing. But the first half is so well done that I’m willing to go along with it. It is still very entertaining. And it’s refreshing to see a horror movie made with genuine passion. Sometimes enthusiasm is enough.

Netflix’s Apostle Poster (bloody-disgusting.com)

Knife + Heart

I am not surprised this movie was underappreciated. Knife + Heart had a limited release at film festivals so general audiences will not have seen it. Even when I saw it, it divided the audience. The plot concerns a gay porn director trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. While her crew are killed off by a masked figure. That description alone indicates this movie will not be for everyone. It’s a movie that deals with frank depictions of sexual themes as well as (depending on your interpretation) showcasing a conflicting attitude towards its characters sexuality. It’s also a movie that goes for dream logic and magical realism over cause and effect reality. Which some viewers may not like. It’s destined for cult stardom. Some will love it others will detest it. For me, it was a one of a kind experience. It showcased great affection for a cinematically underrepresented group and I saw nothing like it all year.

Opening to Knife + Heart (variety)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Of all the listed movies, this is the most difficult to watch. Tigers Are Not Afraid tells the story of a girl who loses her mum in the Mexican drug war. She receives a piece of chalk which she believes will grant her wishes. She then uses these wishes to help her and several other children made homeless by the feuding. But all her attempts to help have dire consequences. I saw this movie listed at several horror festivals this year and heard buzz about it from the community but no one else. Having seen it I understand why. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to showing the impact that the drug war has on the Mexican people. Even children aren’t safe. Because this movie deals with such a sensitive and relevant topic it is not likely to be for everyone. Some may find the movie to be in bad taste or just too much to handle. But, like the movie shows, sometimes we need stories like this to help us process the world around us.

Tigers are not afriad poster (molinsfilmfestival)

The Hate U Give

My favourite release of last year was a film that I knew nothing about going in. I saw no trailers; none of the actors on talk shows and no one I knew was talking about it. But when I emerged from the cinema I felt so drained and excited. For the first time in a while, I felt the power of cinema. I cared about the fates of all of the characters. I never knew where the story was going. There were moments that affected me on an emotional and physical level and I felt like I was watching something important. This film speaks so much to this generation and this point in time that it is truly a feat. Because of this I want you guys to experience the film the same way I did. Don’t look up anything about it. Just know that the story concerns a teenage girl named Starr trying to navigate the ups and downs of growing up in modern America. It’s a film that deserved way more than it got and one that I will continue to fly the flag for as long as I can.


Amandla Stenberg in the poster for The Hate U Give (ComingSoon.net)

Thus ends my list of five little seen gems from last year. I hope that you will check all of these out and hopefully you will find at least one that you enjoy as much as I did.

What was your favorite underappreciated 2018 movie? Let us know in the comments. I look forward to seeing the underappreciated gems that this year will bring us.

Reviews

Review: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

January 12, 2019

A new year is upon us, and very little is out in cinemas at the moment. So it’s the perfect time to catch up on films that passed us by last year. So, I watched a Netflix title I had long been interested in. And because the animated Disney film holds a special place in my heart, I decided to review Andy Serkis’ much delayed Jungle Book adaptation, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.

The story

Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is left alone in the wild after the tiger, Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) kills his parents. The panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) brings him to a wolf pack for protection. He, the wolves and Baloo the bear (Andy Serkis) agree to raise Mowgli as their own and protect him from Khan. As he grows older though it becomes clear that Mowgli will not survive in the wild. But he is too accustomed to jungle life to live as a human. With, a human hunter stalking his friends in the jungle and Shere Khan out for blood, can Mowgli find a way to survive and bring peace to the jungle?

What did I like?

Firstly, I will briefly contextualize this review by sharing my thoughts on Disney’s live-action version of the Jungle Book. Because the Disney version had a large impact on Mowgli’s production and the audience reactions that accompanied it, so I think it bears commenting on. Personally, I found the 2016 Jungle Book disappointing. The cast was great and the mix of CGI and live action looked amazing, but the 2016 Jungle Book was a supposedly dark adult movie, that clogged up the runtime with constant references to the original movie, including bizarre out of place musical numbers and lacked any sense of threat or growth for the main character.

Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016)

The Disney versions success delayed Mowgli’s post-production, with Netflix eventually claiming the rights to the film. Personally, I think this helped the film. After the safe blockbuster Disney film, I found myself craving something different. As Netflix is less restrictive (according to Serkis) this allowed the film to be just that. Different.

From the beginning this film sets a bleak tone. We see Shere Khan attack Mowgli’s parents and later threaten to kill him. Only deterred by the ferocity of the wolf pack banding together. This version is not about the Bear Necessities. This version is about survival and how harsh and unforgiving the world can be. Make no mistake; this is not a film for young children. This movie contains blood, violence that affects even the younger characters and scenes that seem ripped straight out of a horror film. There are light moments that allow respite from the horror and give personality to the characters but importantly these moments do not detract from the overall tone. They do not overstay their welcome and the brevity feels like it fits each character’s personality. It is a taxing experience but a well-done and worthwhile one.

The film’s also well crafted. Quickly absorbing us into this world. The film tells a classic underdog story. Mowgli is an outcast in both the human and jungle world but he has strong ties to them both. So he tries his best to live life his way, but the ferocity of man and nature constantly beat him down. Giving us a hero that we can easily root for and a good challenge for him to overcome. All of the supporting characters are engaging, have their own show stealer moment and feel integral to the story. And the animation used to bring the world to life looks mostly stunning.

Finally, the acting from everyone is great. All the voice actors add so much personality to their characters. Christian Bale’s Bagheera feels stately and wise, which greatly contrasts with the savage nature he tries to keep covered up. Andy Serkis gives his Baloo the temperament of a drill sergeant, an incredibly refreshing take on the character. And Benedict Cumberbatch instils terror every time Shere Khan is on screen. With his growling, angry inflections adding so much menace to him.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)

What I do not like?

One of the big hindrances that Mowgli has is the way it uses motion capture. The film uses facial capture technology to record the nuances of the actor’s performances. Later transposed onto animals. While this is an interesting idea, it’s practical use is quite jarring. Because the animal characters look realistic, the combination of an animal’s face with the recognizable features of a real-world actor, creates a striking disconnect that can often take viewers out of the experience.

Star Rohan Chand also shows himself to be the weak link of the film. Not to say that he is wholly bad. He does a good job for a young actor and shows that with more training he will grow to be a fantastic actor. But he is asked to convey a lot. And when he is asked to show raw emotion, he shows his limits.

Finally, the film does have some editing problems. The first half flows smoothly. But just before Mowgli’s jungle expulsion, it feels like significant portions of the movie were cut. Many crucial events are not shown. Such as Shere Khan taking over the wolf pack and Mowgli going to find his friends. We also don’t get enough time to feel Mowgli’s growing fondness for the humans in the man village. So the idea that he is the champion of both worlds does ring a little hollow. And several characters feel like they needed at least one more scene to fully realize their purpose, such as Kaa the snake (Cate Blanchett). The movie is ultimately satisfying but I would love to see a longer version.

Verdict

Mowgli, at it’s weakest, shows some of the hindrances of motion capture. As well as Rohan Chand’s limitations as an actor. And the problems of not giving a project enough time to breathe in the edit. But at it’s best Mowgli is an engaging, thoughtful and terrifying coming of age movie.

Like Watership Down, Return to Oz and Dark Crystal, Mowgli uses traditionally family friendly story tropes to tell a tale for adults. It’s destined to be a film that scars children for life when unsuspecting parents put it on. But it treats its characters and mythos seriously without becoming laughably overbearing. Every one of the voice actor’s performances is amazing and invests so much personality into the proceedings. Although he sometimes struggles, Rohan Chand shows that he has a bright future ahead of him. The story and action is gripping and intense and at the core is a relatable story about an outcast finding his purpose in the world.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Reviews

Retro Review: Black Christmas (1974)

January 2, 2019

And so, Christmas has come and gone. But with everyone still celebrating I am going to use this opportunity to review my favorite Christmas film. A film I watch every year and one of my all-time favorites. But this one contains very little holiday cheer. In fact, as the trailer said, after Black Christmas, those traditions will never be the same again. So, while everyone is partying, I will be listening with dread for every creak on the stairs. Today I look at Bob Clarks, festive slasher classic, Black Christmas [Minor Spoilers Ahead].

The Story

The ladies of Pi Cappa Sig are getting ready for the Christmas holidays, but someone keeps making prank phone calls to the house, setting the girls on edge. But what they don’t know is that the caller is actually hiding in their attic. When he kills sorority sister Clare, the rest of the ladies try to find her. The police also begin investigating the case due to a link with another missing girl. But with everyone battling their own demons and the killer so close, will the girls escape before it’s too late?

What did I like?

It’s hard to review one of your all-time favorite films. Not only do you have to justify why this movie deserves credit as a favorite, but you also must be professional and not gush just because you personally love the film. I say this to give the following review context and state that I tried my best to not be biased.

The main reason I always return to Black Christmas is for the expert way it builds tension and atmosphere. Jump scares aren’t used every few minutes to keep the audience awake. This is a slow burner that uses the Hitchcockian technique of letting us know more than the characters. We know the killer is in the house long before our leads do, so we are constantly on edge. Hoping the ladies realize before another is killed. But it also never drags. From the beginning we are placed in a paranoid state of excitement as we watch the killer break into the house and skulk around upstairs. And Carl Zittrer’s score, though used sparingly, sends chills down the spine due to the angular and off kilter sounds he uses. Making any scene with the killer near, very uncomfortable. So, we are always nervous about what is coming. Lastly, the film remembers a key ingredient that other horror films forget.

It takes time to develop its characters, so we care about them and don’t want them to die. Unlike many slasher films that would later adapt its techniques, the characters in Black Christmas are not simple archetypes. And have multiple layers to them. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is a great lead because she is driven and flawed but never unlikable. Facing a pregnancy, Jess wants an abortion because she still has things she wants to do with her life. This causes her boyfriend, Peter (Kier Dullea) to become angry. He believes she is being selfish and as the film progresses, he becomes more unstable. Giving him ample motive in the characters eyes to be the killer. But you, slowly realize, all he wants is a family, giving him a reason for his madness.

The supporting characters are also quite nuanced. Barb (Margot Kidder), the groups bitchy alpha is shown to have family troubles that impact her emotionally and even blames herself for Clare’s disappearance. Phil (Andrea Martin), although looking like the stereotypical nerd, is just a regular person who acts as a voice of reason for the other characters and she provides some of the most endearingly personal moments in the film. Other greats include the humorous Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon), Sergeant Nash (Douglas McGrath) and Mrs. Mack (Marian Waldman), the house mother. Each character is humanized, and all the performances feel real. Consequently, it becomes easy to invest in them and harder to watch when the killer begins prowling again.

Another reason this film succeeds as a horror film is how it handles its killer. The killer is very much grounded in reality. But what makes him scary is that nothing about him is explained. We never get a reason for why he chose this sorority to attack. And the only insight we get into him are the insane ramblings that we are privy to while he hides in the attic and what he says over the phone. But even that could be lies to scare the girls or the products of a damaged mind. The fact that nothing about him is certain makes him even more terrifying.

The story also features great use of symbolism. The abortion aspect acts as both a reference to the Roe Vs Wade case and ties into the Christmas theme. The idea of birth and family is at the heart of the Christmas tradition. But this film shows that the traditional family way of life is fading. Many of the girls would rather spend time with each other than their families and the unwillingness to accept this is what drives Peter, and arguably the killer, to the depths of despair. But importantly, without reading into it, the film still works as a well told crime story. The characters act in realistic ways, that never contradict their personalities. And everyone is given motivation for their actions, but never are they obviously spelled out for the audience.

What I do not like?

There are things that many may not like about this film. For example, the story has several large contrivances. These include the fact that the police never check the attic for the missing girl and Barb’s false nightmare scare.

Many may also feel the films comedy does not gel with the rest of the film. Because such serious subject matter is juxtaposed with jokes about mating turtles, some may feel the tone is inconsistent.  

Lastly, because of all the films that took inspiration from this movie, the film may lack the bite it had when it was originally released for modern audiences.

But these aspects never detract from the overall experience and in several ways, enrich the experience. The extra comedy makes the characters feel more real. The contrivances are either never big enough to dwell on or draw attention to and enrich other aspects of the story. And although modern audiences may recognize a lot of the film from other places, it is gratifying as a piece of history to see the origins of these clichés and how they are supposed to be used.

Verdict

Some may find certain aspects of the film dated, contrived or perhaps out of place. But Black Christmas (1974) remains a fine example of how to make an engaging and chilling horror film. Relying on suspense, character, mystery and telling an engaging story rather than viscera, jump scares and shock value. It’s a film that, for me, has aged like a fine wine and every time I revisit it during the holidays I always find something new to appreciate and love about it.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

And so that wraps up my Christmas reviews. I hope you enjoyed them and that you have all had a Merry Christmas. Hopefully, these reviews have given you some new films to add to your Christmas rotation. I will be returning in the new year with more retro reviews, so, for now, I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Reviews

Retro Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

December 24, 2018

With the big day fast approaching its time to review another one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. But this is not just any Christmas movie. This is arguably not only the greatest Christmas movie ever, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period. So, join me as we look back at Frank Capra’s seminal classic, It’s a wonderful life.

The Story

Clarence, an angel hoping to get his wings, is tasked with saving George Bailey (James Stewart) from committing suicide on Christmas Eve. To figure out how to help him, Clarence looks back over George’s life. He finds that George has always put others before himself. From saving his brother from drowning when he was a child to taking over the family business when is father died. Thus, saving the town from being monopolized by the cruel Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). But because of this he always missed out on personal opportunities. When the threat of bankruptcy emerges, George snaps. Abandoning his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and children, George slowly begins wondering if the world would have been better without him. So Clarence decides to grant George’s wish. Can Clarence save someone who has seemingly given up?

What did I like?

It’s hard to condense all the positive aspects of It’s a wonderful life into a review that doesn’t run on for over 2000 words. But I will try my best.

Firstly, the film has connected with so many people over the years because everyone can relate to the story. Everyone at some point has doubted their place in the world or had to forgo their dreams because life just gets in the way. It’s a story that really grounds the film and helps us easily relate to the situation and the characters. It is not always an easy film to watch, especially when George’s depressed attitude comes to the forefront. Which may hit some viewers a little close to home. But it’s message that no matter how small you think you are, everyone matters to someone, is something everyone wants and deserves to hear, especially at Christmas time.

With it’s grounded story, you would think the supernatural aspect would feel jarring. But it never does. Because It’s a wonderful life both smartly sets up the supernatural presence early on, effectively informing the audience about what is coming and keeps the mystical happenings low-key. The world is re-arranged without George off-screen and the biggest power Clarence exhibits is the ability to teleport by asking his boss for help. Thus, the film can be both mystical and realistic without either seeming to betray the other.

And the story is helped along by well-written characters inhabited by great performances from every member of the cast. No one puts a foot wrong. James Stewart’s George and Donna Reed’s Mary are fantastic leads because they feel like normal people. Everything about them, from their dialogue and the way it’s spoken, to how the actors look at each other and the way they imbue great personality into the smallest gestures, makes them feel like normal people you could see walking down the street. And they wring every ounce of emotion out of all their scenes.

The supporting players are also great. Making the film feel like part of a real community, rather than actors simply playing roles. Special praise goes to Ward Bond and Frank Faylen who provide great comedic relief as loveable cop Bert and taxi driver Ernie. Lionel Barrymore also exudes sliminess as Mr. Potter. Who easily makes you hate every minute he’s on screen. But, aside from when he “acquires” George’s money, he never comes across as cartoonishly evil. He just feels like a man doing all he can to stay in power. And Henry Travers’ Clarence has a sense of childlike hopefulness and absentmindedness. Which combine wonderfully to easily make him cinemas most lovable angel. Even Gloria Grahame’s Violet, who doesn’t contribute anything major to the plot, feels like she belongs in this story. And her playful flirting feels charming, especially at a time where unmarried women were often demonized.

Surrounding a fantastic, relatable story, wonderful characters and amazing performances there is some gorgeous production design. The town of Bedford Falls looks accurate to the times and feels very much like a lived-in world. But also manages to feel timeless because of the lack of technology on display to date the film and the picturesque way it captures the idea of small-town America. And Dimitri Tiomkin’s beautiful musical score perfectly compliments and heightens every scene. With joyful and haunting strings and festive sleigh bells that really give a sense of the characters pain, triumphs and festive mood.

Honestly, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of everything that makes this movie great. But I have to move on. Or else my editor will hate me for making his job even harder at Christmas.

What I do not like?

How do you find fault with one of the most highly regarded movies of all time? Well it isn’t easy, and it makes me feel awful, but there are still minor issues that may bother some people.

One problem is that the films pacing feels slightly uneven towards the end. Because all the action revolving around Clarence and George’s journey to affirmation only comes into play in the third act, the build-up to the climax feels a little rushed. The emotional payoff is still great and the third act is the most memorable part of the film. But the final portion could have used a bit more room to breathe.

Also, some points make the film feel slightly dated. The revelation of what happens to Mary if George was never born is a good example of this. In this darkest possible timeline, where gentle Bert and Ernie are cynical and hostile; playful people like Violet are abused and shoved around, the idea that the worst thing that could happen to Mary is that she is not married and works at the library, feels a little too old-fashioned. And you can look at the Bailey’s family housekeeper and see examples of racial stereotyping.

Finally, the use of banking and building and loans as a central plot thrust may leave some people perplexed at times. Sometimes the minutia of the profession does feel a little inaccessible. However, these scenes never go on too long and you are still able to follow the story. It just might mean you momentarily zone out when talk shifts to banking matters.

Verdict

Despite slight blemishes brought on by age, a finale that may have benefitted from a bit more time and the sometimes impenetrable banking subject matter, It’s a wonderful life is a film that deserves to be watched every festive season. It’s grounded story with a wonderful festive message, loveable characters, flawless acting, production design and emotional score make it a true masterpiece. And it deserves its reputation as the best Christmas movie ever made.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

But…it is still not my favourite Christmas movie. What is? You will have to wait for my next review to find out.   

Editorials

Top 5 Un-Christmassy Christmas Films

December 20, 2018
Brazil (1985)

Debates are currently raging across social media and news outlets regarding a certain movie and it’s status as a Christmas movie. So when would be a better time to run down a list of the 5 most debatable Christmas movies ever?

For the purposes of this list, a Christmas movie is a movie that pays particular attention to the holiday season. And also focuses on delivering the festive message of goodwill. As such, movies on this list don’t pay close attention to the holiday or deliver messages of despair and misery. What a fun way to counteract all the forced gaiety of Christmas time. So for those of you looking to watch something different this year, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s begin.

Black Christmas (1974)

Many un-Christmassy Christmas movies like to use Christmas as an ironic or dark setting. To exemplify their stories horrific or absurd nature. One of the earliest films to do this was the original Black Christmas. Bob Clark’sseasonal chiller tells a familiar story. A group of sorority girls are killed off one-by-one by someone hiding in the attic. But it sets itself apart in a myriad of ways. Not least by how it uses Christmas as its backdrop. When juxtaposed against the snow, lights and carolers, the films violence and adult content becomes extra effective. And the perversion of Christmas iconography like birth, family and having the killer breaking into the house like Santa Claus, transforms the film into both a well-told deconstruction of Christmas mythology and the best Christmas horror film ever. But when watching it, goodwill will be the furthest thing from your mind.   

Gift wrapping gone wrong in Black Christmas (1974)

Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece is a sci-fi reimagining of George Orwell’s 1984, except more concerned with corporate bureaucracy, the power that corporations hold over us and how fantasy is a far more attractive prospect than reality. And it is set at Christmas…I wonder why? Like Black Christmas, Brazil uses the bright trappings of Christmas to accentuate the darkness of its world. But this time with a more darkly satirical edge. Like many of Gilliam’s films, it finds absurd humour in combining jolly childish fantasy with bleak adult reality and both of those things very much fit the Christmas motif. Making for an experience that captures not so much the fantasy of Christmas, but perfectly captures the pain of growing out of Christmas.

Santa visits the condemned in jail. Brazil (1985)

The Hunt (2012)

And continuing from Brazil’s use of grim adult reality to offset childhood innocence, comes the ultimate example of how assumed childhood innocence can have grim repercussions on adult life. The Hunt is a Danish film from director Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen. The story focuses on Lucas, a schoolteacher accused of something during the holidays. He then spends the season attempting to clear his name. While also trying to save his relationship with his son and surviving persecution from his neighbours. This truly is one of the most challenging films set at the most wonderful time of the year. Watching a man being driven to near-suicide, for something he didn’t do, by “civilized” people is as far removed from Christmassy as you can get. But the message of forgiveness and the dangers of pre-judgment is one that everyone should hear, especially at this time of year.

The happiest midnight mass ever in The Hunt (2012)

Die Hard (1988)

The movie everyone is currently discussing for its holiday relation. The classic action movie concerns New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis). Who attends his wife’s Christmas party which is later hijacked by “terrorist” Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). The story then becomes pure white-knuckle action as John tries saving the day, while desperately trying to avoid being killed. It is so easy to get absorbed in the action, brilliant acting and dialogue, that Die Hard’s Christmas setting seems incidental. But again the festive trimmings lend extra catharsis to the blood spurts. And the themes of greed and honesty that permeate the film still shows a clear affinity for the holiday. So we may have Bruce Willis instead of Santa. Delivering death instead of presents. But Die Hard deserves to be seen as a Christmas movie. Let it Snow’s presence on the soundtrack also helps.

See a Santa hat. Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas movie

Filth (2013)

Finally, for our list of seasonal antithetical movies, we have the filthiest holiday movie of the century so far. Filth stars James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson. A cop with dreams of promotion, investigating the murder of a foreign exchange student. But he has some serious demons to deal with. Including drug addiction, a disparaging voice in his head (Jim Broadbent) and being separated from his wife and child. Consequently, he spends the Christmas season making life miserable for himself and his colleagues. Pitch black in every sense, Filth is only recommendable to those with strong constitutions. Even seasonal goodwill may not get you through it. This is a film intent on showcasing humanities selfish and destructive side. But McAvoy’s brilliant performance makes it hard to turn away from. If nothing else, this film shows, however bad you think your office Christmas parties are, they could be much worse.

One hell of a Christmas party in Filth (2013)

So, I hope this list has given all of you some new festive treats to check out. To help provide a different perspective on this wonderful time. It may not always be holly and jolly, but all are a great cure for a silent night at home. Happy watching.

Reviews

Retro Review: The Muppets Christmas Carol

December 13, 2018

With the Christmas countdown officially underway, this is the time of year when old favorite holiday movies are wheeled out to get everyone in the festive spirit. For me, there are three movies that I always watch during the most wonderful time of year, and over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing them for you. The first of which is my families Christmas eve tradition, The Muppets Christmas Carol.

The Story

On Christmas Eve, Charles Dickens (The Great Gonzo) and his partner Rizzo the Rat, regale us with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine). Scrooge is an old skinflint who makes life miserable for his employee Bob Cratchit (Kermit the frog). He shuns friendship and family and, detests Christmas, preferring to be alone with his misery. But this night the ghosts of his old partners Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf) visit him. They tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways, eternal suffering awaits him in the afterlife. From there he is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who makes him confront the root of his Christmas hatred. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him what Christmas means to everyone else. And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him what Christmas will be like if he does not change.

What did I like?

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted stories of all time. The tale has been adapted countless times in many mediums and there is a new adaptation at least once every few years. So it becomes hard to stand out. But Muppets Christmas Carol defeats this problem. Not only by remaining mostly faithful to the original text, even cribbing prose from the actual story but also investing the story with both the Muppets trademark sense of humor and a real sense of pathos.

The story is delivered with gusto. All the muppets suit the roles assigned to them. This allows for hilarious sight gags upon seeing how characters from A Christmas Carol were changed to fit the muppets. But it also allows this version to have a broad family appeal. The kids can enjoy seeing the muppets and the parents get to laugh at seeing the muppets in a serious literary tale. Anyone can enjoy it. The voice actors all do great work, imbuing life and fun personalities to their puppets. And the human actors are delightful to watch. Michael Caine is clearly having a blast playing the old miser. Adding great relish to his hateful lines. But what makes it better is that the human roles are played entirely straight. There’s no self-awareness, the human actors play against the muppets with 100% seriousness and that makes it all the funnier.

But remarkably, the cast and crew also know when to tone the humor down. The sequences that need to be scary or emotionally impactful always hit their marks because they are played with 100% sincerity.   

And while the film would deserve praise simply for making a muppet movie both gut-bustingly funny and tear-jerking at the same time, the film also does a lot of other things to ensure that it deserves its place as one of the best Christmas Carol adaptations. The inclusion of catchy musical numbers adds an extra layer of charm to the proceedings. Allowing exposition to be delivered creatively and keeping the films pacing up. The puppeteering is also very impressive and still holds up today. The puppets have many little facial ticks and movements that make them feel like real creatures rather than props. The set design is also spectacular. Recreating the novels Victorian setting very well. And taking influence from German expressionist horror films, which help the place feel oppressive. And finally, the inclusion of Gonzo as the narrator.

While only a small addition, the inclusion of a narrator adds to the nostalgic feeling I mentioned in my overview of the Grinch. It makes the story feel like it’s being imparted by an older friend. Thus making it more personal to us, the audience. The inclusion of Rizzo as an audience POVcharacter furthers this as he, like us, is cynical, constantly trying to disprove Charles and making snide comments. This makes it easy to get invested and gives us a personal sense of attachment to the story. Making it all the easier to return to this version again, and again and again.

What I do not like?

It breaks my heart to find faults in all the movies I will be reviewing this season. But they are never the less there and it doesn’t make melove these films any less.

Firstly, the story is heavily synopsized. While this improves some aspects of the story, which in other versions can be a bit plodding, the flashback to Scrooge’s relationship with his fiancé Belle suffers for it. Because we only have a short time to get to know Belle, we don’t feel as invested in her relationship with Scrooge. As such the reveal that this is the major reason why Scrooge is a loner doesn’t carry as much weight. The actors, however, do a fine job of selling the scene, which does manage to salvage it.

Another problem is the fact that Scrooges change of heart comes a little too soon. In many other adaptations, Scrooge changes gradually, only really cracking when he sees the effect his actions have on Bob Cratchit and his family. But here he seems to be a happier person by the time he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. Which could lessen the impact of the Tiny Tim scene.

Finally, towards the end of the film, the musical numbers stop, and the film just focuses on the action. Which, while appropriate, gives the impression that the musical numbers are a crutch to hold up the first part of the film.

Verdict

Despite its flaws, The Muppets Christmas Carol is, for my money, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale. The acting is so much fun. It delivers the story in a way that is accessible to everyone. It has charm to spare, with its musical numbers, the nostalgic and relatable use of narration to tell the story and the insertion of the muppet’s giant personalities into the proceedings. But it’s also not afraid to let things breathe and get serious when it needs to. If you only see one version of A Christmas Carol this year, make sure it’s this one.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)