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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore

Director – David Yates – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 142m

***

In the 1930s, Newt Scamander, Albus Dumbledore and others attempt to prevent the despotic wizard Grindlewald from seizing power in a wizard’s election in J.K. Rowling’s third Fantastic Beasts movie – out in cinemas on Friday, April 8th

It’s difficult to know where to start with the third of J.K. Rowling’s self-penned Fantastic Beasts productions. A plethora of characters who apart from a few main ones quickly get confusing, some genuinely fantastic beasts as you would hope and some truly great underlying ideas poorly served by a narrative that doesn’t seem to understand basic storytelling in cinema. Perhaps if I’d immersed myself in all the books and films and whatever else is out there, it would make more sense (and no doubt this is what much of the dedicated fan audience will do), but as a standalone film, even one that’s a part of an ongoing saga, it makes little sense, although certain sequences are terrific.

The big ideas here are built around a creature called a Qilin (pronounced chillin) – a beast borrowed from Chinese and Far Eastern mythology – specifically an orphaned newborn Qilin that looks a lot like a golden version of Bambi, a resemblance underscored by the fate meted out to its mother in the opening reel.… Read the rest

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Minamata

Director – Andrew Levitas – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

A dramatisation of celebrated photographer W. Eugene Smith’s investigation of Japan’s Minamata environmental atrocity in 1971 – out in cinemas and on digital from Friday, August 13th

This feels like a Hollywood actor-led project with laudable aims which comes unstuck somewhere in the execution. That said, there’s still much to admire.

Minamata is the name of a Japanese coastal town which became synonymous with Mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso chemicals factory in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Following a celebrated career as a war photographer in WW2, W. Eugene Smith photographed the series Country Doctor for Life magazine, now recognised as a landmark in the medium of the photo-essay. In the early 1970s, he and his Japanese-American wife Aileen were introduced to the town of Minamata and its dark secret, and collaborated on a photographic book about it. When we meet him in 1971, played by Johnny Depp (from such films as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2005; Sleepy Hollow, 1999; Edward Scissorhands, 1990, all Tim Burton) he has his own darkroom in a New York loft and has clearly seen better days as he is constantly on the whisky and amphetamines.… Read the rest

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Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Director – Tim Burton – 2005 – US – PG – 115 mins

*****

UK release date 29/07/2005. Currently screening on Netflix

An adaptation of Roald Dahl’s eponymous 1964 children’s book previously filmed under the title Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971), this also marks the second collaboration of Burton with screenwriter / adapter John August. The duo previously made Big Fish (2003), which film had all the desired Burton trademarks (larger than life, nonconformist outsiders, sense of wonderment, distinctive and zany visuals) while sidestepping the flaws (narrative incoherence, weak characterisation) which beset many of the director’s previous films. They’ve repeated the trick with Charlie, elaborating upon and extending Dahl’s original text without ever compromising it. Lead actor Depp is something of a Burton regular having previously appeared in Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, current critics’ favourite child actor following his terrific turn in Finding Neverland, Marc Forster, 2004) lives with a family (Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor and grandparents including David Kelly and Liz Smith) so poor they live on cabbage soup in the shadow of the Wonka Chocolate Factory. Mysterious, reclusive owner Willy Wonka (Depp) closed it years ago following his celebrated recipes’ theft by rival confectioners and hasn’t been seen in public since.… Read the rest

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Sleepy Hollow

Director – Tim Burton – 1999 – US – 15 – 105 mins

***

A nineteenth century policeman must solve a series of gruesome murders allegedly by a headless horseman wielding a sword – in cinemas from Friday, January 7th 2000.

Tim Burton’s last few movies have been a real treat, but this adaptation of Washington Irvine’s classic American tale is a disappointment. Murder scene-hardened, late nineteenth century policeman Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to isolated hamlet Sleepy Hollow to solve a mysterious series of murders. As the locals and his own eyes keep telling him, the murderer is no mystery but a headless horseman riding around decapitating victims with his sword.

Splendidly creepy visual designs from regular collaborator Rick Heinrichs (Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993, Edward Scissorhands, 1990) looks as good as any previous Burton, if not better. The proceedings can commendably be accused of neither gratuitous gore nor shirking the necessary quantity or quality of decapitations. But Sleepy Hollow has major flaws. Namely, that one doesn’t feel for Ichabod Crane the way one felt for Johnny Depp playing prior Burton protagonists Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood. Crane is supposedly a nineteenth century investigator who uses twentieth century investigative methods, yet Burton never properly gets to grips with this essential background material.… Read the rest

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Edward Scissorhands

Director – Tim Burton – 1990 – US – PG – 105 mins

*****

Burton’s first post-Batman outing is essentially a fairytale set in the modern world.

A rare fusion of big budget American Studio movie and highly personal vision, Tim Burton’s first post-Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) outing is essentially a fairytale set in the modern world. Its environment is a pastel-shaded suburbia inhabited by gossipy women, largely absent men (they’re at work during the day) and equally absent teenagers (away on a camping trip). This is clearly not so much a naturalistic representation so much as a paradigmatic equivalent, which is probably just as well since at the end of one predictable street is an equally unpredictable, gothic mansion towering into the heavens.

As Avon Lady Peg Boggs (the versatile Diane Wiest) traverses this route, she wanders about first the magnificent castle grounds – adorned with exquisitely sculptured bushes – and into the creepy interior where she finds Johnny Depp’s Edward, the boy previously described in the film’s frame story by an old aged Winona Ryder as “a boy who had scissors for hands”. He also has numerous tiny gashes on his face, to which Peg painstakingly proceeds to apply her craft!… Read the rest

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Edward Scissorhands

Director – Tim Burton – 1990 – US – PG – 105 mins

*****

PLOT

An old lady tells her grandchild a story: “there once was a man who had scissors for hands.” His name was Edward (Johnny Depp), and he lived in the old mansion on the hill where an inventor (Vincent Price) was refining him into a real boy. But before the inventor could add the final touch – replacing the scissors with real hands – he died.

Meanwhile, Peg Boggs the local Avon Lady (Diane Wiest) is doing her rounds when she calls at the spooky mansion to discover the strange boy with the cut face who she makes up and brings home – to arouse the curiosity of the bored, local housewife community.

Edward soon demonstrates amazing creative abilities, carving hedges into statuesque forms and cutting hair on dogs and humans in unique styles. Housewife Joyce (Kathy Baker) is smitten with lust for Edward – with catastrophic results – while the boy himself falls hopelessly in love with Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), who is taunted by her boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall). Disastrous consequences follow.

OPINION

Having delivered a Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) far more satisfactory than anyone dared hope, and taking the inevitable (after all the hype) fortune at the box office, director Tim Burton is given free rein to do whatever he wants.… Read the rest