Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988) Review

Well it's finally Christmas Eve and last year I reviewed a Christmas classic in the form of The Muppets Christmas Carol that I still believe is the best Christmas film but, hey, that's just a tradition in my house (gonna watch it again tonight so...yeah). There are so many other Christmas classics that bring the Christmas feeling...I've said Christmas way too many times already. I think the other classics include It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and White Christmas...so let's review Die Hard.

New York City Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is invited to an Christmas party by his ex-wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) in the Nakatomi Plaza in LA. It's not going to be good though as a group of German criminals led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) arrive at the building and hold everyone hostage. McClane manages to slip by them which leaves him on his own. McClane is now one man against 12 armed criminals.

If you haven't ever seen this film, you will probably be surprised to hear that this is very much a Christmas film. It actually makes for some nice memorable Christmas moments such as the "Now i have a machine gun" scene. The soundtrack also offers some Christmas tunes that work surprisingly well considering that this is a violent action film. In addiation to this, the film does get a lot of humourous moments that are probably one of the man reasons that people rewatch this film year after year. It's easily one of the most iconic action films and lines such as "Yippee Ki-Yay, motherf**ker" will stick with you for ages. Of course, these moments don't detract from the great action scenes.

Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are great. Sure, Rickman's accent seems to disappear as the film goes on but he still does a good job as the villain who works great opposite Willis as John McClane. Willis absolutely owns the role and proves that McClane probably couldn't be played by anyone else. The two are very enjoyable to watch as are the side-characters. Reginald VelJohnson and De'voreaux White make for likable characters that contact with McClane that you do get attached to (well, VelJohnson as Al Powell anyway).

Die Hard is definitely worthy of being a Christmas classic. Sure it does the action genre justice with great action scenes and hilarious one-liners with memorable original characters played by great actors, it also offers some Christmas imagery with a very Christmassy soundtrack. Well, that's it for Christmas season this year so it's back to normal films again after Christmas. I hope you have a good Christmas (or other Holiday if that's not your thing) and I'll see you afterwards.

With great action, humour and acting, Die Hard is a surprise Christmas classic that I plan on watching every year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988) Review

I'm going to find myself reviewing some version of A Christmas Carol, aren't I. I reviewed The Muppets Christmas Carol last year and now find myself looking at a more modern interpretation of the story (well...more 80s version). Scrooged is probably the most unique of the adaptations since there is no Ebenezer Scrooge, no Jacob Marley, no Tiny Tim and so on. It uses it's own characters and setting however it loosely follows the story. Does it still work though? Let's find out.

Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is cynical, selfish and all round unpleasant president of a television broadcast company which is currently planning their adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Frank is met by the ghost (or rather, zombie like corpse) of his mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) who warns him off three ghosts coming to visit him over the course of the next couple of days. Frank reluctantly goes along with it as the ghosts try to make Frank a better man.

The most notable thing the film offers, probably a result of it's Oscar nomination, is how good the make-up is. The ghosts become memorable as a result (Ghost of Christmas Past and Lew Hayward look especially good). I also love the design of the Ghost of Christmas Future which has the traditional Grim Reaper look but with a TV screen for a face for sake of irony and uniqueness. It also is quite freaky at times. For example in the original story, Marley just spoke to Scrooge but here, Hayward scares the life out of Frank. It's much darker than any interpretation that I've seen yet...which makes the film much more memorable.

Bill Murray is his usual self in this film so that should give you a good idea of what kind of performance he brings but I can't get enough of Bill Murray so I'm fine with it. One of the most memorable performances in this film is Bobcat Goldthwait as one of the workers Frank fires in the first scene. He was very enjoyable to watch along with the actors who portray the ghosts. The humour is good but I think it isn't really a film for all audiences. I can see some people thinking it's a pretty stupid movie but I enjoyed it enough.

Scrooged is an interesting interpretation on the classic story and lends itself to great make-up work, good humour and an enjoyable cast. While I can't really recommend it to everyone, I will say that if you enjoy Bill Murray's other works such as Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day (both of which I have previously reviewed) then I would say have a look at this one. Well, join me on Christmas Eve where we take a look at our last Christmas film this year...and it's freaking awesome.

It looks good and offers good humour with Bill Murray's typical performance.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nativity! (Debbie Isitt, 2009) Review

With the excellent film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I needed to see more films starring Martin Freeman and, what with it being the Christmas season, I found a film that seems to fulfill this. Nativity is a Christmas film starring Martin Freeman so I figured we should take a look at this one. It only seems right to take a look at a Christmas film that deals with the Nativity...kind of the point of Christmas, isn't it. Well then, let's take a look at Nativity!

Coming up to Christmas, Primary school teacher Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) is assigned the task of working on the school's performance of the Nativity. In addition to this, the class assistant, Desmond Poppy (Marc Wootton), arrives and proves to be a opposite to Paul's strict disposition. Things get worse though when Paul tries to impress his rival Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) by claiming that Hollywood producers are arriving to see the performance. Poppy spreads the word which puts all the pressure on Paul and his growing lie.

This was definitely the surprise Christmas film for me. Seeing all the adverts, I really didn't think much of it but after watching it, it's good. Not amazing but good enough to be a Christmas classic I reckon. Martin Freeman offers one of his more emotional performances that is surprisingly touching that ties into Paul's quite heart-breaking backstory which is accompanied by Ashley Jensen carrying over her skills from Extras. Other actors might not be as good but Freeman and Jensen hold the film up. Even the children actors do a good job of making the children unique and memorable.

I must say it is refreshing to see a Christmas film that doesn't focus on the commercial side of Christmas and focuses more on what the whole point of Christmas is. Christmas specials such as The Vicar of Dibley and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'em do focus on the Nativity but I haven't really seen a film focus on it (some recommendations of more of these would be appreciated). It is an engaging film as well considering that it does draw you in. That's always a plus.

Nativity! may not be the best Christmas film ever but it was a pleasant surprise and has made it as an annual viewing for me. Martin Freeman makes the film with a surprisingly strong performance accompanied by Ashley Jensen. The children do a good job while other characters aren't necessarily as good as the leads. Love Actually still stands as the best Christmas film with Martin Freeman but this still has its place among the Christmas film collection.

The acting is good and it's definitely a feel good film. There are still a few minor complaints but still a good Christmas film.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013) Review

Christmas film interruption time as we take a look at yet another 2013 film...I'm really flying through these this year. Last December saw the prequel of the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which, while it was a good film, didn't really compare to the original trilogy. It's been a year since then and we can now return to Middle Earth to witness The Desolation of Smaug.

On the quest to the lonely mountain, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) Throrin (Richard Armitage) and their band of Dwarves must pass through the Mirkwood Forest and reach Lake-town without the aid of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and face the judgement of Elven warriors. From Lake-town, Bilbo must prove his worth as a burglar and reclaim the Arkinstone from the Arkhenstone from the clutches of the beast that took over the mountain, the ferocious dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

THIS is what I wanted from the first Hobbit film. Action sequences have always been a highlight in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the battle of Helms Deep is one of my favourite action scenes in any film) and the first Hobbit film never had any one action scene that stuck out. There were memorable scenes such as the Gollum scene but not nearly as many as old trilogy. The Desolation of Smaug fixes this and ups the ante. Since the introductions were done previously, we get more time for the journey and action. The barrel scene that was featured in the trailer is more amazing than you could possibly imagine and any scene with the eponymous Smaug is absolutely brilliant. These are scenes that are truly worthy of being associated with The Lord of the Rings.

I have to wonder what people's reaction to Martin Freeman being cast as Bilbo was. I bet they couldn't see how brilliant of a performance he would deliver in this film. While you could accuse him as just being a hobbit version of John Watson in the first film, Freeman proves his acting abilities in this one. This film adds much more emotion (the scene with the ring in Mirkwood Forest is really well acted). Other actors such as Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage also do well, even though McKellen is downplayed a bit in this one. The actor that truly blew this one out the water though was, just like Star Trek Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch. His voice combined with Smaug's design is worth the price of admission alone.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was the film we've been wanting sine these prequels were announced. If you loved the original trilogy yet felt let down by the first Hobbit film, this one will hopefully fix everything. The acting is amazing, the action scenes make the film, more emotion makes more a more engaging experience and Smaug is one of the highlights of this film year. Well worth the price of admission.

Fixes all the problems with the first film and expands upon these elements even further.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Santa Clause (Josh Pasquin, 1994) Review

Continuing with Christmas season, we looked at a film that had one of, if not, the best Santa Claus in any film in the form of Douglas Seale in Ernest Saves Christmas so let's look at a film that has a kind of unlikely person to play Santa: Tim Allen. Buzz Lightyear himself takes to the sleigh in a film with a pun in the title...I don't even know what to make of that...

Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is a disgruntled single father whose life changes completely when he accidentally kills Santa Claus. Donning the iconic clothing, Scott takes it upon himself to finish the job only to find himself taken to the North Pole where he is officially inducted as Santa Claus, whether he likes it or not. His son Charlie () tries to convince everyone that his father really is Santa Claus however this only worsens the relationship between Scott and his ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson).

This is definelty one of those Christmas films I watch every year. Sure that doesn't mean it's that good but it is good enough to watch year after year. The charm of it comes down to Tim Allen. While bad Santas are becoming more popular, I feel that Tim Allen was the first (well, after A Christmas Story) but since the whole film is centred on him, it does do a good job of showing his progression as Santa Claus. While Tim Allen is memorable, the other actors are pretty forgettable (except maybe David Krumholtz and Peter Boyle).

What is good, however, is the imagery. The set pieces, specifically in Santa's Workshop, are really impressive and just fascinating to look at. Even the imagery of the real world is nice. The scene where Scott enters the houses when delivering presents looks really nice and definitely captures the look of Christmas. Sure the plot is a bit predictable and a bit bland and, yes, that is a big flaw but that doesn't stop this from being a annual viewing for me.

The Santa Clause has it's flaws and feels a bit clunky at times as a result of a basic story and unmemorable actors but the great lead with Tim Allen and nice iconography makes for a Christmas classic. Not the strongest classic, mind you, but still worthy of a watch this Christmas. I guess Christmas is time of no movie shame considering that I watch Jingle all the Way...aw well.

While Tim Allen is good in the role and has very nice iconography, everyone else is a bit bland the story is pretty basic. Still a Christmas classic though.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ernest Saves Christmas (John R. Cherry III, 1988) Review

It's time to review some Christmas films. Really, I would've started earlier but I was watching new film after new film and I like to review new films as soon as possible. With those out of the way (even though there might be more on the way...I'm looking at you Mr. Banks.), we can take a look at some more Christmas films and starting it off is one that few of you have probably seen but...well...I don't know to be honest...

Ernest (Jim Varney) is a bumbling yet good hearted man who gets caught up in an adventure when he winds up with Santa Claus' (Douglas Seale) magic sack. He attempts to give the sack back however Santa is too occupied with trying to find his replacement after doing the job for too long. If Ernest and Santa fail at finding the successor, Christmas will cease to exist.

This is definitely one annoying film. I can see many people disliking Ernest for being stupidly obnoxious and giving no room to the camera (seriously, his face gets too much close up time) and others will find the tag along kid while it uses a plot that leaves you wishing you were watching The Santa Clause. While others could argue that Ernest is meant to be annoying, I actually do like him just because he's a nice guy at heart...an annoying nice guy but still somewhat likable but these moments are few and far between...and this seems to force the kid in. I do like the scene when her story arc finishes but it takes a while for her to actually do anything substantial.

However, when this film gets something right...it gets it right (boy, that was redundant). Douglas Seale is easily one of the best Santa Clauses you will ever see in a film. Just imagine the Sultan's voice from Aladdin as Santa and you get the general idea. He makes this film and is the primary reason that this film is worth watching. In fact, this film does leave me with a nice Christmassy feeling that does make me want to rewatch the film...once you get through the awkward camera angles. I did find myself laughing at times but this isn't exactly a comedy masterpiece.

Ernest Saves Christmas is definitely a mixed bag (or sack as Santa goes about saying). On one hand, it's annoying and has so many elements that were unnecessary yet on the other it does a good job of portraying the spirit of Christmas and has one of, if not, the best Santa Clauses in any film. Do I recommend it? Yes and no. Watch it for Douglas Seale but don't come crying to me if you get freaked out by Jim Varney's face up close. Honestly, this would be on my Christmas annual watch if the DVD wasn't so hard to find...although now I've found it on demand, this is official part of my Christmas line up. Arthur Christmas is one I hope to check out soon too.

Somehow this film is both annoying and stupid and also good hearted and captures the spirit of Christmas.

Also, why did the sticker in Ernest's car say "Keep the Christ in Christmas" if it's a film about Santa Claus?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, 2013) Review

Yes, 3 2013 films in a row. We're doing so well but I imagine that's it because I've got to start looking at Christmas films now! So now we have a sequel to a film that seemed to divide people (I got people both loving and hating it). While I enjoyed it, others certainly didn't so is the sequel going to change anyone's opinion...probably not.

Facing the repercussions of her actions from the previous Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is met by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) before she and her partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) set off on the victory tour. Snow fears Katniss' actions may end up causing a revolution and makes sure that Katniss does not make the same mistake while keeping the revolution down. To make matters worse, Katniss and Peeta are thrown back into the next Hunger Games for a special event known as the Quarter Quell that allows winners to return to the games every 25 years. Now Katniss has to survive, protect Peeta and decide whether to restore peace or defy President Snow.

While I initially was wondering whether I thought this was better than the original or not, I came to the conclusion that, while it is superior to the original, it is not enough to shift it to a higher score...confusing I know. All the elements that made me enjoy the first one are still present however there are certain elements that are reduced while others are increased. The first 10 minutes has terrible pacing which made me realise that not enough time is spent with Katniss and Peeta enjoying their victory...if they would (they probably wouldn't any way) and certain side characters that I enjoyed in the first are down-played (Toby Jones has one scene!). 

However, Donald Sutherland is given more screen time and owns every scene he is in along with the addition of Philip Seymour-Hoffman, who is always great to watch. Jennifer Lawrence also gives a much more emotional performance even though Josh Hutcherson is downplayed much more than in the original. It's also good to see more traps featured in the actual hunger games with new tributes to enjoy (much more likable that in the first one). It is definetly smarter than the first film however, outside of the games themselves, it does feel different to the first which is preferable in my opinion.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire subtracts a few things that I enjoyed from the first but makes up for these lost elements with new and/or expanded material. Yes, it is better than the first but not by enough to warrant a higher score. So while it may appear the same, it isn't. It is better...just not by much. The characters that aren't shafted to the side are more developed with stronger acting and new actors do offer great new material the franchise and has an ending that left me wanting the next films. It's definetly more engaging than the first but I doubt it'll sway anyone's opinion. Just more for the fans.

An enjoyable flick from start to finish that makes me remember why I enjoyed the first film

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013) Review

And now for another film up-to-date film. Hopefully I can score a hat trick and deliver 3 new films in a row. So I read all the reviews, saw all the hype and finally decided to watch the box office smash that is Gravity. The director also caught my interest as his previous works include my favourite Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mama Tambien, a film I looked at for Film Studies. It was also good to see a trailer not give much away although, having watched it, there wasn't much they could get away with in the trailers without ruining anything. So let's take a look at what seems to be set up as the best film this year.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts out in space on a mission which is both Ryan's first and Matt's last missions. Things go wrong though when a Russian missile strike on a satellite causes loads of debris to start circling Earth's orbit. The debris destroys their ship and Ryan and Matt are left alone in space. With oxygen running out and no radio signals, the two must rely on their wits to survive the horrors of space.

This film is absolutely beautiful. In every sense of the word. Not just down to how amazing the visuals are but the subtle writing, astounding performance from Sandra Bullock, wonderful soundtrack and just having the Earth looming over every shot creates a feeling of awe and is a marvel to watch. Sandra Bullock delivers an amazing performance which almost guarantees her an Oscar and I wouldn't be surprised if George Clooney is nominated too since he delivers some light-heartedness to the film. Even the cinematography is great as it makes the film look grand and epic even when it's a close up shot (also fun to see the first 10 minutes be one continuous shot).

This is exactly the sci-fi film that I've always wanted to see. A film that focused on realism (...for the most part, isn't that right WALL-E?) as well as the isolation in space. 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably the closest we've come to this but I'm sure all of you saw the ending and thought "....what?" (I get it the ending...I think). It's almost a peaceful film as some scenes leave you with the silence of space. It's serene. The great cinematography helps accompany this as well as an amazing soundtrack. 

Gravity is easily the best film I've seen this year. Everything is amazing from the damn good performance from Sandra Bullock to the excellent cinematography. Do yourself a favour and watch this ASAP, it deserves every star that it's received and I'm sure I could connect that line with space but...I'm not that smart. Hopefully the next review of mine should be ANOTHER 2013 film! Yay for affordable cinema!

Believe the hype. Gravity is as good as you've heard. Film of the year by far.