Saturday, November 21, 2015

James and the Giant Peach Review

James and the Giant Peach (1996, dir Henry Selick)

Roald Dahl seemed to understand children. His novels speak to them, both exploring the darker side of life that they are unwilling, or unable to speak about to adults but also to that sense of wonderment that the world has to offer one who has only a minimal experience with it. The best adaptations of his work capture both things and cater to the child watching and not to the adult. This is not to say that adults can’t enjoy those works, but that it’s not the adult that matters.

James and the Giant Peach tells the story of James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) who is living comfortably with his father and mother in a small cottage by the sea. They picnic, find shapes in clouds and talk about visiting New York City on his birthday. It is in the cloud shapes that the narrator tells us, with the image provided by the clouds themselves, that James life changes when his father and mother are tragically killed by an escaped Rhinoceros.

We are propelled forward in the story and James now lives with his Aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) who treat him very poorly: He is forced to sleep in a leaky attic, made to do all manner of chores and tasks, and fed fish heads and bits of food that he rescues from the garbage. Spiker and Sponge are detestable Ms. Lumbley and Ms. Margolyes play them in such a way as to not simply make the characters cruel, but downright loathsome.

While rescuing a spider a strange old soldier (Pete Postlethwaite)  finds James and gives him a bag of crocodile tongues. The soldier warns him not to spill the contents of the bag and that they will bring him happiness and adventure. Shortly thereafter James trips, spilling the tongues on the ground next to an old dead peach tree below his aunt's house.

A tree near where the tongues spilled grows a giant peach and Sponge and Spiker proceed to sell tickets for the public to see it. After the crowds have left they send James out to pick up the garbage around the peach. He decides to take a bite of peach and as he does one of the lost crocodile tongues burrows its way into into the handful of peach and is eaten by James. Spiker and Sponge come looking for him and he crawls into the hole  in the peach that he had made. He transforms as he crawls into the peach from a real little boy to his stop motion counterpart and soon discovers giant magical bugs inside.

The bugs: Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), Mr. Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfus), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Earthworm (David Thewlis) and Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes) quickly become James’ friends. They cut loose the peach from the tree and then set out to go to New York City.

The movie, like many stop motion films seem to, is a musical. With only four songs, and the closing credits song “My Name Is” sung by Randy Newman, it barely qualifies. Unlike the musical numbers for the film the Corpse Bride, I didn’t feel the songs detracted from this film.
The acting is ok: Paul Terry is charming as James, and both actress playing Sponge and Spiker are perfect. The voice acting in the rest of the film isn’t bad by any means, but isn’t particularly great either, the actors (all of whom are fantastic actors in their own right) just didn’t fully click with me.
The animation is wonderful though. I love stop motion and if the entire film had been stop motion I would have been pleased. It’s not however, but what is there is great. I would love to see more from Henry Selick as he seems to have a knack for stop motion films. Stop motion seems to be going through a small resurgence and I hope with the technological advances made with computers adding the effort of the puppeteers we will see more of them in the years to come.

The live action sequences are very surreal and this fits the film and the story well. There’s never a full sense of time period, but one get’s the impression that it’s long ago. There’s also a dream like sense to the live action sequences.

The question is: should you watch it? Yes. Absolutely! Mr. Dahl’s stories are magical when done correctly and that, to me is in always in disregard to the adults that might be watching. James and the Giant Peach is a magical film for children that adults that haven’t forgotten their inner child can enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Episode 13: Stanley Kubrick

Episode 13: Stanley Kubrick
Hosts: Frank Shaw
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

Frank's flying solo this episode. John is recouperanting from some illnesses and sadly couldn't join in on the festivies this time. So listen to Frank talk for an hour about how awesome Stanley Kubrick is. It'll be fun!

No real links this time. Just a run down of Stanley Kubrick's filmography and a suggestion on a couple of documentaries to watch.

 1999 Eyes Wide Shut

 1987 Full Metal Jacket
 1980 The Shining
 1975 Barry Lyndon
 1971 A Clockwork Orange
 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey
 1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
 1962 Lolita
 1960 Spartacus
 1957 Paths of Glory
 1956 The Killing
 1955 Killer's Kiss
 1953 The Seafarers (Documentary short)
 1953 Fear and Desire
 1951 Day of the Fight (Documentary short)
 1951 Flying Padre (Documentary short)

and now for a couple of documentaries you should check out.

2001 Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures 
1996 Cinefile: Stanley Kubrick – The Invisible Man 
2001 2001: The Making of a Myth 
1999 Steven and Stanley, Remembering Stanley Kubrick: Steven Spielberg
2007 Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick 

I've seen all of the above documentaries, and they are all worth checking out if you have further interest in the man and his films.

As of right now A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey are available to stream on Netflix.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Yet another week with no review.

This week there is no written review.

Monday evening the new episode will release, a solo podcast with Frank rambling about Stanley Kubrick.

Friday a written review of James and the Giant Peach (directed by Henry Selick) will release.

December: The Nightmare Before Christmas and Jessica Jones.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review of Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride (dir. Tim Burton, Mike Johnson. 2005)

Tim Burton is known for making quirky, darkly humorous films. Some are heavier on the quirky portion: like Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure and Big Fish. While others are more ensconced in dark humor: like his Batman films, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd. Corpse Bride fits somewhere in between: It’s definitely dark, considering the plot and the tone the film sets within it’s animated world. But it’s not sinister in any way (few of his movies are) and has a cheeky feel to it that both embraces the dark elements, while injecting an anachronistic humor into them.

The story is of a young man named Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp), whose parents have arranged for him to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). Her parents have only agreed to the marriage to this young man of “new money” because their own fortune has waned and they’ll soon find themselves in the poor house. They are dismissive of Victoria’s nervousness and concern for love (“What does love have to do with marriage?”) citing that this is likely the only way they have of becoming wealthy again and what she wants doesn’t matter.

Victor and Victoria meet each other for the first time just before the wedding rehearsal, where Victoria peeks in on Victor playing the piano. They timidly fall for each other before they are interrupted by Victoria’s parents. During the rehearsal, Victor falls nervous and is unable to speak his lines, he fumbles the wedding ceremony and is chastised by Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee). Victor goes to the nearby woods where he practices his lines, becoming more confident and more smitten with Victoria as he does. When he finishes the last line he thrusts the wedding band, which he had fumbled and dropped during the rehearsal, confidently onto what appears to be an extended branch. The branch turns out to be bony hand of Emily, or the Corpse Bride. She accepts his vows and takes him to the underworld where the dead reside.

The film follows some fairly standard tropes from there: Victor tries to get back, and manages to return long enough to speak to Victoria before being whisked away to the underworld again by Emily. Victoria’s parents arrange a new marriage to the sinister Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant), who originally appears during the wedding rehearsal and looks so sinister as to only be lacking a neon sign around his neck stating that he’s actually the villain. Victor resigns himself to stay with Emily agreeing to make their marriage official. The underworld returns to the surface to perform their wedding ceremony, which will kill Victor in the end after drinking a poisoned wine. During the ceremony Emily realizes that Victor and Victoria belong together and refuses to go through with it stopping Victor from drinking the wine. Barkis crashes the party and it’s revealed that he killed Emily years ago for her dowry and that’s what he intended to do to Victoria until he found out her family was penniless. He ends up drinking the wine while mocking Emily and dying, being pulled into the underworld by the other dead for his punishment.

I am mixed about this film. It’s definitely a children’s film, and should be taken as such, though the themes are more mature though in many ways cliched. The overall tone of the film, the notion of love at first sight, and love despite being forced into the marriage predominate. As do the ideas of willful misunderstanding. Individually all the pieces are that make up the film are good: the voice acting is solid. The animation is fantastic! The music by Danny Elfman is great.

However the movie hovers between a musical and nonmusical, and that’s one of those things that bug me. At first blush, it seems like a musical, the opening song gives it that drive you’d expect, but then another musical number doesn’t happen for some time. In total the film only has four musical numbers. I am not opposed to musicals, and in fact find myself occasionally enjoying them. I can’t help but feel the sort of limbo between musical and nonmusical this movie finds itself in ultimately weakens it. The songs that are there are good and I honestly think it would have been better served as a full fledged musical. Overall it comes across as a half-hearted attempt and just falls flat.

My other issue is with the plot. It’s just not remarkable. I know it’s based on a Russian folktale and is ostensibly a children’s film. Neither fact has any bearing on my thoughts of the plot. I suppose the cliched themes metioned above may have something to do with my issues, but over all just don’t find it that engaging. I think it could have been better served by being a television film or as I stated above, being turned into a full fledged musical. The cliched themes would have fit better, and the musical numbers would have helped keep my attention focussed.

Now with that being said, you may get the impression that I disliked this movie. That is not the case; I actually do like it, it’s just not as memorable as some of Tim Burton’s other work (both written and directed). If you are a fan of animated movies you should absolutely watch this (if you haven’t already). And if you’re a collector of such films then it’s definitely one you should have.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Episode 12: In the Flesh

Episode 12: In the Flesh
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Contributing Guests: D'Artagnon Wells
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

This week we're joined by D'Artagnon Wells to continue our discussion on zombies. We talk primarily about In the Flesh. But other topics the crop up this episode are The Walking Dead, iZombie, Allan Moore, Firefly and the unsung heros of film and television: make-up artists and lighting designers.

Not many links this week:

Here's a link to the Daily Dot on an article detailing In the Flesh's demise.

AMC has picked up The Walking Dead for a season seven. 

And here's a link discussing what's going on with BBC 3.