Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have becoming increasingly known as the filmmaking team of unintentional nightmares. However that is certainly not the case when the highly influential cult classic Edward Scissorhands (1990) is involved.
Influences haunt the film throughout, the first straight off the bat as the creation by the The Inventor (awesomely Vincent Price) of Edward openly suggests Frankenstein, both in Mary Shelley and numerous other iterations. The grandmother relating the kid the film in the form of a bedtime story recalls The Princess Bride (noting that is a trope with origins far longer than that book/film). There is a Blue Velvet (1986) era Lynchian sheen to the hyper-suburbia settings. It takes a lot of storytelling skill to be so openly influenced by greats that have come before, but to never feel derivative or lesser as a result. Like a great musical cover, homage such as this, whilst not necessarily surpassing the source, can provide something different and equally worthwhile. This even extends to the central character of Edward, who evokes the character of Pinocchio, with his exaggerated boyishness and the sense that while close, he’s not quite human.
Living in an age of films with exhausting, lengthy set-ups (hell, that’s the entire function of some films), this sort of floors you with how quick it gets rolling. Edward is on his way home with his adoptive family within about the first 15 minutes. From there, a lot of the early joy of the film comes from the domestic minutiae, such as Edward attempting to put his pants on. Throughout the entire film, but especially in these parts, Johnny Depp gives a performance with a physicality that borders on slapstick. Happily, going back 25-odd years means that the performance is not weighed down by his atmosphere sucking shtick. The other lead, Winona Ryder gives what is also probably the best performance of her career. She brings a whimsy and teenage hard-headedness to her role and quickly accelerates the strong bond between her Kim and Edward, which does not really get going til a fair way through the film.
For a relatively modern film, Edward Scissorhands has exceptional reach. The film is a big (borderline obsessive) touchstone for the goth and emo subcultures, as well as being a formative film for a huge range of people outside of that. Given I don’t and never have belonged to either of those subcultures, I won’t presume to know the entire connection. Part of it would be the presentation of notions of ‘right’ and how that does not always represent the nicest or most humane thing to do. But I would also guess the fact that the film is something of a portrait of an outsider plays a major role. The film both works and doesn’t on this front, with Edward’s difference accepted and feeling slightly exploited throughout. Though what it does capture very well is how if you’re different, any mistake will have you judged completely, through the prism of magnifying and demonising one’s quirks.
There is something distinctive about the aesthetic design of the film. Sure there is a dash of the Lynchian as I mentioned earlier, but Burton possesses that and turns it into something of his own. Predominately this is achieved by splashing light gothic elements and tone throughout the visual look, providing an old fashioned contrast to the sheen. This combination suits the character of Edward perfectly. Even the casting seems to tap into this vibe, especially that of Vincent Price, who cooped up in that scary house on the hill, channelling Dr Frankenstein, functions as both an aesthetic choice and smart piece of casting. Throughout, the filmmakers seem to be toying with the look of it all, the house on the hill for example looks intentionally fake. This toying with form, across a range of the aspects of the film, is something Burton seems far beyond now. On some rare occasions, the film does feel a little over-stylised. But unlike Burton’s later films it never feels as though the showy style has become the point of the film, the attention to story and emotion is never overwhelmed. Danny Elfman is a composer indelibly linked to Burton’s work. I can’t say I have seen all of the films they collaborated on, but I struggle to imagine any of the scores being better than this one. Like so much else in the film, there is a playful interaction with something of the past, in this case classical music. The result simultaneously evokes the suburban and just as importantly deftly emphases that light gothic sensibility which makes the film so unique.
Verdict: Tim Burton is so often a maligned filmmaker that it is genuinely illuminating to go back and see what made him a visionary in the past. As far as film fables go, Edward Scissorhands is a genuinely great piece of cinema, whimsical yet laden with meaning. As strange as it is on some levels the film has such a huge following, it makes a whole lot of sense on plenty of others. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: A Tribute to Dennis Hopper: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Live Tweet Review: Batman.
Once (2006) was one of those strange films for me, where a bunch of people I respect all recommend it to me, and yet I still can’t get enthused about checking it out. Tis probably time I learned my lesson, because I often end up being a big fan of such films, and this is no exception.
I knew that this film had a small budget, but this is truly micro-budget stuff and it is so invigorating to see a film like this have such a monumental following. This is not a particularly nice looking film. It often looks quite cheap and digitised, which is a further testament to how the filmmaking on display has connected with many, many people. Given the way it combines love story and musical though, perhaps the following is not such a surprise. The non-professional actors do occasionally stick out. But as soon as another song is weaved seamlessly into the film, you will stop caring. And reflecting back on the film, the acting is not something that negatively impacts on being able to appreciate the film.
Of course such a focus of the film is the music and there are some great tunes right from the start. Not the usual catchy twee rubbish you are used to from films musicals either. The songs are genuine too, not looking to subvert anything or be ironic at all. The opening stages of the film are so music heavy that it almost functions like an ambitious music video. The frequency tapers off, but the way that the songs naturally land as part of the narrative means they never feel like they stick out or that the director felt it was time to squeeze another one in simply for the sake of it. The more scripted aspects of the film did feel a little clunky and even trite initially. But as the story progresses and goes a bunch of places, both wholly expected and totally not, these sequences bothered me less and less. The basic plot points are quite stock standard, but the thematic and psychological approach taken to them separates Once from the pack.
Verdict: Once feels as much like a concert film as anything else, which is no bad thing. The film starts slow but as it grows into its unconventional storytelling, you will gladly go along for the ride. Especially as the really beautifully done musical interludes come thick and fast. Pint of Kilkenny
Always one of my bigger months in terms of viewing numbers, this January was no different. It’s a pretty wide range this month, with a couple that would end up on my end of year lists, some acclaimed art house entries that fell a little flat for me, a bunch of disappointing horror flicks and plenty more. Actually this month is notable for the fact that I suspect it is the most ‘not worth watching’ films in a single month. Take a read and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Zombeavers (2014), Jordan Rubin – My expectations for a film for that title were utterly sky high. And it at least partially delivers. The opening is exceptional. Bloody, funny, silly 80s inspired slasher riffing. It’s set on a lake of course and toys with slasher convention such as the use of killer’s eye view. It does taper off a little, but there are fun and very funny moments at regular intervals.
- The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014), Peter Jackson – I do think some of the derision aimed at this film is a bit premeditated. This is flawed and not as good as the second film. But it’s still really excellent large scale fantasy filmmaking to be thankful for. The main issue is that it feels like the stakes in this are the lowest of any of the Middle Earth films. But the main battle, which is basically what the film is all about, is pretty innovative and exhilarating with some definite shocks in there too. I definitely did not see some of the deaths coming.
- Starred Up (2013), David Mackenzie – A very matter of fact British prison film. Like any great prison flick, it illustrates the various power structures that are inherent in the institutions as a concept. Young lead Jack O’Connell is really good, bringing the requisite muscular intensity to his role. Ben Mendehlson though steals the show a bit. He’s fuckin explosive here. It’s a relatively lean film, without a strong plot. But the themes of power and father/son relationships negate the need for one. Gritty.
- Community Season 4 (2013), Dan Harmon – I think this is a bit of an underrated series overall. The supposed down-points are not quite as pronounced for me as others. Tis nice to see Gillian Jacobs’ Britta back at the forefront a little more, just as she was right back at the start. The casting throughout is excellent, with people like Ken Jeong and Jim Rash doing stunningly hilarious work. It brings major laughs, but is whip smart as well, both inverting and conforming to the structure and norms of a comedy series.
- Big Hero 6 (2014), Don Hall & Chris Williams – Disney are just miles out in front of Pixar at the moment and are crushing them with a really diverse range of stories. This is a wonderfully geeky adventure story, with some really heavy moments thematically. Mortality and power are both explored on a number of occasions. It balances fun and depth well, assisted by a supporting cast of fully formed characters. Both a superhero film and an exceptional adventure tale.
Not Worth Watching:
- Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) Abdellatif Kechiche – The film situates itself firmly in teenhood, but at time does not ring true in that regard (a teenager in France not knowing lesbians exist, really?). The infamous sex scenes are wonderfully shot and it is notable for how realistic they are. The best aspects of the film revolve around intimacy, with Adele’s resultant sexual awakening feels the freshest of anything. Most of the rest is just far, far too talky and the audience is for some reason not privy to some of the most important parts of the relationship arc.
- All is Lost (2013), J.C. Chandor – This is muted, understated stuff for the most part. There’s much to respect: the quiet and solitude of the film, Redford’s piece of singular acting and the procedural focus that the movie takes. But I struggle with these films so reliant on monumentally ill-equipped sailors. This dude can barely even use a radio or navigate using a compass. Overall it’s a frustrating experience, with a few silly sequences betraying the rest of the film.
- Nurse (2013), Douglas Aarniokoski – A Dexter style ‘righteous’ serial killer in the health profession is an interesting horror concept. It is not rendered particularly well here though. There is a certain sexiness to it early on. But the acting, including from the usually decent Paz de la Huerta, is abysmal. Some promising, borderline feminist schlockiness, quickly gives way to awful effects and troubling plot utilisations of rape. Also abandons its premise almost immediately and delivers something much less interesting.
- Tim’s Vermeer (2013), Teller – Think I’m one of the few who did not dig this film. There’s some good stuff here – crippling self doubt of an artist, or a ‘regular joe’ in this case, the intriguing idea of Vermeer using tech and engaging sequences of the painting process. But it’s a pretty ugly film, not at all cinematic in its make-up. The major issue for me though was that I just could not get past the notion that Tim is just a very rich, very privileged dude playing with his toys and stroking his intellectual ego.
- St Vincent (2014), Theodore Melfi – Totally dire. Takes a special brand of material to make such a charismatic cast so overwhelmingly bland. Bill Murray shows occasional glimpses of his spark. But Melissa McCarthy, one of my favourite actresses, is totally wasted. Naomi Watts fares no better, as a Russian sex worker she is face-slappingly awful. It aims for quirky, heartfelt and hilarious. With this script though, it is far away from any of those things.
- Afflicted (2013), Derek Lee & Clif Prowse – Given how strongly it starts makes how poor this film ends up all the more disappointing. The ‘Youtube doco team’ structure and excellent acting early on are both refreshing. But it fails to scare and the life of a vampire aspects feel so sluggish, despite the occasional interesting note being hit as they look for their next ‘fix’. Then horror focused middle section turns into a shitty first person action film.
- The Water Diviner (2014), Russel Crowe – This really is the worst of Aussie film. Bland beyond belief, designed to be as unchallenging as possible. It’s almost uniformly average, aside from the occasional jaw-dropping piece of awfulness. A couple of slow-motion scenes and a comical CG fire fit the bill. For the most part, especially in the early battle scenes, this is a cheap looking film. Actually it reminded me a lot of a mid-90s TV mini-series ‘event’, both in regards to looks and plot.
- The Armstrong Lie (2013), Alex Gibney – Gibney is more or less without peer in terms of documentary making, but even he struggles to overcome the sheer sliminess of his subject. Even now, the introspection of what he has done seems more or less lacking in Armstrong. So whilst we get a solid portrait of a scumbag, one who has no qualms about abusing his power to further himself and a glimpse at just how disingenuous a human being can be, that’s not quite enough. It’s quite staid and uncreative in its construction compared to Gibney’s best, and Armstrong perhaps gets off a little easier than he should have. An unfocused film.
- The Double (2013), Richard Ayoade – This is one of a number of recent films that have just felt like ‘Gilliam-lite’ to me. The worldbuilding here is slack and uninnovative. Jesse Eisenberg plays one of those annoying characters to whom everything bad happens. The doppelganger construct at the heart of the film is a little clumsily handled and is taken the most obvious places. The film also feels a little insincere, filled to the brim with faux quirk. Of note though are the excellent performances from both Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.
- See No Evil 2 (2014), Jen & Sylvia Soska – The delightful old school slasher vibe of the first briefly carries over, especially with the morgue setting. However the awful script and acting quickly overwhelms proceedings. The kills are strangely structured too, balance between what to show and what to hide feels out of whack and the attempts to create tension are lame. Given I loved the first film and have heard so many positive things about the Soskas, this was a major disappointment.
- Birdman (2014), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – I liked a lot of the elements of this film. The performances from Keaton, Norton, Stone and I think an underrated Watts are all excellent. The score is innovative, the distorted, old sounding drums were a unique backing to the film and its style. But stylistically I wasn’t moved by it and the faux one-shot technique is barely noticeable. Thematically I could see all the points being made about ego, the plight of the artist and the role of the critic, but they just did not resonate with me. There’s not much of a narrative here either, and what there is just serves as a frame to hang thematic elements from.
If you only have time to watch one Big Hero 6
Avoid at all costs The Water Diviner
Low budget Aussie horror-comedy Wyrmwood (2014) was one of my top 10 anticipated films of the year. Looking to circumvent recent disastrous box-office efforts by Australian films, those behind this flick decided to try something a little different. A one night only (conveniently Friday the 13th) big screen release, to be followed by a presumably a big home formats push.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a notepad to the screening tonight, so this will not be one of my usual rambling epics. But I did want to share some thoughts on the film. Firstly, I do love the fact that they tried something a little different in terms of release. It appears to have worked as well. This was a very busy Friday night in Canberra – it was the Brumbies first game of the season and the booze and food laden Multicultural Fest is a massive deal. However, the screening I attended was totally sold out, indicating there is a strong buzz around the film.
The crowd that was there were totally involved in the film as well. They were really ready to laugh and the film got a great reception. Dare I say, most people liked it a little more than I did. As with essentially all low-budget horror films, the script does have its issues. There are occasional moments where it goes interesting places and builds up some mythology – the biblical explanation for the name is one that particularly sticks in my mind. But there is also plenty of poor dialogue that fails to drive the story as it should. I think that films such as this can get by with an average script, if they have a strong story. But unfortunately, the arc of this film is pretty weak. It’s a pretty stock standard horror-comedy narrative, which gets bogged down by a subplot that leaves one of the most promising characters sidelined for a lot of the film. If only there was more of the mythology that is occasionally hinted at, because it could have really set the film apart from the norm.
All of the performers in the film are clearly having a good time here and it is hard not to go along with their boisterous turns. In fact, strangely for a film at this budget level, I don’t think I could really fault any of the performances. Keith Agius, Bianca Bradey and Leon Burchill in particular excel. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is the production values. There is a great amount of craftsmanship on display. You never really notice the budget at all and the filmmakers obviously targeted where they wanted to use their funds well. The brilliant looking exploding heads and zombie make-up help to immerse you in the film in a way that the story unfortunately doesn’t.
Verdict: In the end, Wyrmwood is a film to be admired rather than outright loved (well for me at least). The filmmakers have done an incredible job to produce this and get it to such a wide audience with the budget they had available to them. Unfortunately the weak story prevents the film from reaching the cult classic heights I had so hoped for. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Christopher Nolan is an exceptionally divisive cinematic figure. But before The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Interstellar (2014) split opinion of him, he was beloved. And perhaps no film was more responsible for his adulation by cinephiles than the non-linear murder mystery Memento (2000).
At its simplest level, Memento is the story of Leonard, a man trying to solve the mystery of who killed his wife. The film is perhaps most famous for the manner in which its non-linear narrative literally unfolds. Leonard, who has amnesia, slowly pieces together what happened to his beloved and records the memories he needs to hold on to in tattoos. This structure, along with the performances, are the chief joys of the film. One issue for me is that both the structure of the film, and the establishment of Leonard as a character, means the success or otherwise of the film is predicated totally on the twist that is obviously coming. In the end it fell slightly flat for me, perhaps because I had seen similar before (though admittedly, they may have been made after this film). Having said that though, whilst the main twist has been seen plenty of times before, there is plenty of embellishment around that which satisfies here.
Coming relatively close to L.A. Confidential (1997), Memento represents the golden age of Guy Pearce as a Hollywood leading man. He continues to ply his craft in a range of really good supporting roles, but in terms of carrying a film, he is seemingly not held in the same regard these days. Here, Pearce conveys a man obsessed with routine and structure, two things he considers to be his salvation from the existential weight of his condition. Along with the excellent Carrie-Anne Moss, Pearce also brings a strong emotional core to his character which drives the narrative along and pushes it in different directions. I always like it when a film approaches a genre in a totally different way. Memento is a police procedural encased in a structure you would more associate with sci-fi. It’s a combo that works really well, even making the tired Groundhog Day (1993) style structure feel ingenious. Nolan chooses to start the film with the central mystery (seemingly) being solved and unfolding back from there, which to any fan of crime fiction, immediately invokes our favourite reveals at the end of crime stories. But the director toys with those expectations throughout, always a step or two ahead of us.
Verdict: Perhaps seeing it for the first time in 2014 has diminished the impact of Memento for me. On one level, I don’t quite see the hype. But on another level, this is a very good film, which feels nicely quirky and small in comparison to much of Nolan’s later work. Stubby of Reschs
Nothing gets me excited like a film that has truly split opinions. So by the time I finally got around to watching Snowpiercer (2013) a couple of weeks ago, my expectations were pretty high. I don’t particularly fit into the love or hate camps for this film, but that is not to say that the experience was a letdown.
The film is set in a frigid near-future, where attempts to reverse the effect of global warming have backfired spectacularly. Only a very small amount of people survive, circling the earth perpetually on a train known as the “rattling ark” (a name I love as a piece of imagery, but which is never really utilised as it could be). The class system sees the poorer people contained at the back of the train, with the hedonistic rich folk up front. The rebellious underclass decides to fight back, which involves battling their way to the front of the train to take control. From this initial set-up, there is a charmingly natural video game level style progression along the train. For me, the best moments of the film were the action beats. They utilise the train setting best, as it is in those moments that you really feel the claustrophobic surrounds of the train pressing in on the combatants. The action also gives us the most riotously enjoyable silly moments of the film, such as the set-piece involving a night-vision massacre in a tunnel. Snowpiercer is best when it keeps it simple early, focusing on the journey to the front of the train, rather than as the action reaches the front of the train, where things get a little silly and focused on clumsy attempts at showing the hedonism of the rich.
There is more than a hint of old school sci-fi to Snowpiercer. It opens with images of chemtrails, and the music over the image definitely invokes an 80s Cold War paranoia vibe. Much of the film seems like an affectionate nod to that era of the genre. The presentation of the film, its high-concept construction and especially the class concerns that are so prevalent in much of classical sci-fi. There is little subtlety to how these class themes are drawn. But for the most part they work well, hitting there mark a lot more than the ham-fisted barbs thrown the way of organised religion which just seem a far too simplistic, superficial and tacked on to be at all satisfying.
It is quite strange to consider a film such as Snowpiercer a performance piece, but there are a lot of fantastic talents plying their trade here in what is a refreshingly multicultural cast. Chris Evans delivers a very different everyman hero to his combination of hyper-masculinity, hyper-everyman shtick from the Captain America films. It’s much more of a real character than Cap, with an inherent weakness that bubbles over throughout the film. Tilda Swinton is spectacularly over the top as an early villain, though it has to be said, she feels like she is in a completely different film… almost certainly one directed by Terry Gilliam. Actually the aesthetic of the film overall gradually shifts from a griminess to a rather Gilliam inspired one. There are strong hints of the visual and tonal style of something like Delicatessen (1991) through much of this. Even down to the look and feel of the technology of the film, which is definitely not steampunk, but there are certain parallels to that sub-genre that can be drawn. It became too familiar for me though, distracting even, and left me yearning for the earlier sequences that felt so dirty, decrepit and grimy that they stood out
Verdict: Snowpiercer is at its best when it sticks to the simple action premise of getting from one end of the train to the other. The film makes for a unique experience and one that should be checked out if you have the slightest interest at all. I just found that the stylistic and narrative meanderings lessened the overall film. Stubby of Reschs