Finding Neverland

London, 1903. Acclaimed playwright J. M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) has just written a play, Little Mary, but unfortunately it hasn’t done too well. When his maid cuts the review from his newspaper, Barrie spies Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four young boys playing in the park and soon begins spending a great deal of time with them. He finds their exploits to be inspirational, and indeed they inspire within him the idea to write a new play, one that children can enjoy as well as adults, about a boy who never grows up.
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A Nightmare on Elm Street

I can only imagine Hallowe’en parties in 1984, but I’m guessing quite a lot of people were dressed up in a battered fedora, red and green striped sweater, poorly applied ‘burned’ make-up and a glove with cardboard blades glued on, for if anything has endured from Wes Craven’s multiple-sequel spawner, it’s Robert Englund’s nightmare-stalker Freddy Krueger.

If it’s true that a horror movie lives or dies (generally by running upstairs instead of out the front door) by it’s killer, then there’s no surprise that this franchise is still going. I haven’t seen the 2010 reboot and I’ve only heard bad things, but I’m intrigued to see Jackie Earle Haley’s take on the former child murder released from prison on a technicality but burned alive by the parents of Elm Street. Krueger is an icon from horror history, up there with Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and the Guy in the Scream mask, making up the B-team behind the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. For Krueger, you see, is unstoppable. He’s risen from the dead to take the children of those that murdered him, but he does his killing in the one place he cannot be caught; the children’s dreams. This is a genius conceit, but also the film’s biggest let down.
If you want to terrify your audience and instill in them genuine fright once they have stopped the film and gone about their daily lives, you scare them with something ordinary. A situation they themselves will find themselves in on a regular basis. Hitchcock did it in Psycho with having a shower. Craven did it with going to sleep. There’s nothing you can do about it, eventually you’ll have to go to sleep; quite often it happens without you even planning to. And once your head is resting gently on your pillow, all you can think about is that maniacal laugh echoing around the walls. That tapping at the window, surely that’s just the branch of a tree blowing in the wind, it couldn’t possibly be the knifed glove of the man out to rip you to shreds? When asleep you’re at your most vulnerable. It can happen anywhere – at home, school, prison, hospital, and there’s no way to defend yourself (short of Inception-style techniques, crossover anyone?) and Craven knows this. In his world, a glass of warm milk is as deadly as any conventional weapon.
But the fact that Freddy exists in dreams, can defy physics by being everywhere at once and can take on any form he chooses to terrify you the most, makes him almost less scary. There’s a sense of inevitability. Much like in Ring, once you watch the tape, you’re going to die. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You can’t kill Freddy in a dream, you can’t stay awake forever, there’s really only one possible outcome. Yes, in this film and the ever diminishing sequels they find loopholes to temporarily get around the issue, but I’ve always found these to be annoyances and cop outs from the original story. I’d forgotten the ending of this film when I saw it, and I was almost incredibly annoyed at the backdoor excuse they try to use.
It’s a good, solid horror film, and is much more effective if you never, ever watch the sequels. Whilst they have some inventive kills (hearing aid? genius) and increase the comedy quotient, Freddy becomes a watered down pantomime villain, whose incessant survival becomes more grating the more films you watch. But here his terrorising of four teens (including a 21-year old Johnny Depp in his movie debut) is played largely for tension and scares, though there’s a few lull-in-the-score moments that are clear setups for something to jump out and grab our virginal heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).
There are moments of black comedy – a cop telling a paramedic “you don’t need a stretched, you need a mop,” and the kills are satisfyingly gory. Nancy looking in the mirror got a laugh out of me, as at the time of the film’s release Langenkamp was, you guessed it, 20 years old. The image of Krueger’s hand emerging from between the legs of a girl asleep in the bath is more than a little terrifying.
Choose film 6/10

Edward Scissorhands

First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been in hospital for an operation on my nose (inspiring this Top 5). Also, apologies if the posts over the next few days are a little off, I’m on a veritable Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster of meds, but I’ll try and keep everything as on topic as possible.
Johnny Depp successfully accomplished the transition from TV heart throb to serious movie actor with this, Tim Burton’s fourth directorial outing, leading to at present a further seven collaborations between the two bizarelly-haired gentlemen. Depp stars as Edward, the creation of a reclusive inventor (the legendary Vincent Price, in an all too brief cameo in his final film role) who remains incomplete after the inventor passes away. Edward looks human enough, but where five-fingered appendages should be on the ends of his arms, there are instead a multitude of blades, knives and scissors. After being discovered living alone by Dianne Wiest’s kindly Avon lady Peg, Edward is brought into the ‘normal’ world of 1950s suburban American.
As much comedy is made from Edward’s physical impairment as possible, with his blades coming into contact with waterbeds and hindering his ability to get dressed, pick up a glass, open a door or touch his face, but he shows an aptitude for carving meat, topiary, hairdressing, dog grooming, paperchain-cutting and being used as a kebab skewer. This does bring up the subject of exactly how Edward had survived alone in the castle before his ‘rescue,’ but as this is essentially a fairytale, minor plot details can be smoothed over.
As ever, Burton shows a deft hand with his casting. Depp is wonderful as Edward, showing childlike wonder at the new world around him, and expressing true depth of emotion from behind a stark appearance, all pale face, scars, bedraggled mop of hair and tight plastic and leather bondage-inspired clothing, and with minimal dialogue. Winona Ryder is cast against type (in that she wears colourful clothing and has blonde hair) as Peg’s cheerleader daughter Kim, and Alan Arkin and Wiest are wonderful as the parents welcoming Edward into their home. Anthony Michael Hall as Kim’s brutish boyfriend is more of a stretch though; the nerdy Breakfast Club star cannot be taken seriously in a bad guy role.
The film is lighthearted and entertaining, and has some genuine comic moments. The bookends of a clearly aged Winona Ryder are more obvious than the supposed narration reveal of the Notebook, but this features one of the greatest and most memorable character creations of cinema, and some fine acting too.
Choose film 7/10

Unlisted: Chocolat

That’s right, some weeks I don’t go to the cinema or watch a new DVD release, I’ve got a fairly large and ever-increasing stack of non-List DVDs I either haven’t seen before or haven’t really watched properly (I have films on in the background a lot, especially when I was at university) and this regular feature gives me some motivation to get through them.
Just in time for Easter, and after a messy, sticky but god damn delicious bout of chocolate egg making, we sat down to watch Chocolat, a film that’s been on my radar ever since it was discussed with much vigour in the disappointing Paul Rudd vehicle I Love You, Man, as his character’s favourite film. Just like when I rushed out to watch Point Break on Danny Butterman’s recommendation (I’ve been known to enjoy Bad Boys 2) I was more than a little disappointed, as I went in with higher hopes than I probably should.
Chocolat sees Juliette Binoche’s master chocolatier opening up a cocoa boutique in a sleepy little French village, just at the start of lent. The villagers initially shun her temptations, before gradually growing to accept them and their delicious ways, assisted by her worldly knowledge, kind soul and the fact that some of her products act as an extreme aphrodisiac, an aspect that was severely underused, and could have led to a much more light hearted and entertaining piece, as at one point it seemed to be heading towards.
Overall, the tone was far too unbalanced; whimsical at times and overly serious at others, and the myriad of diversions – Alfred Molina’s stern mayor attempting to My Fair Lady Peter Stormare’s abusive barman, Binoche’s unfulfilling fling with sailing drifter Johnny Depp – leave the palate tempted but wanting for more depth. The outer shell is sweet and smooth, but alas where a rich praline centre should be there is nought but a hollow cavity. Everything looks delicious though, and I picked up a few tips for my own chocolate making.
Choose life 5/10

Platoon

Charlie Sheen is Chris Taylor who, after dropping out of college because he wasn’t learning anything, volunteers to fight in the Vietnam war, amongst recruits including Keith David, Forest Whittaker, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon and a young Johnny Depp. The platoon is split, with half drawn to Willem Dafoe’s free-thinking, laidback stoner Sergeant Elias, with the rest, including brown-nosing Sergeant O’Neill (John C. McGinley), prefer the ethos of scarred Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who counts success by how high the bodies are piled, rather than whether peace has been achieved.
There’s an interesting film buried in here somewhere, but it either follows Sheen’s naive, error-realising private or the conflicts between the two sergeants and their unrespected, inexperienced Lieutenant (Desperate Housewives’ Mark Moses). Some gripping moments stand out – a night ambush, and the colour slowly fading back in after a white-out napalm drop – but the rest is underwhelming and littered with trite or cheesy dialogue and 5-cent philosophising: “We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was within us.”
Choose life 6/10

Public Enemies

Michael Mann likes the central plot of Heat – expert cop and master thief and their teams on a destructive path towards one another with disregard for their personal lives – that this is the third time he’s made it, after the TV-movie L.A. Takedown, the DeNiro/Pacino classic and now this depression-era take, pitting Johnny Depp’s public enemy number one John Dillinger against Christian Bale’s FBI man Melvin Purvis (whose name is almost an anagram of Mr Evil Penis, but is one for vermin pelvis). (For all I know this is also the plot of Miami Vice and the Last of the Mohicans, I haven’t got round to watching them yet but it seems unlikely.)
The parallels with Heat run deep – the first criminal act, an opening prison break, is almost botched by a trigger happy accomplice soon removed from the group – but the key difference is the pivotal central scene where our two leads meet. In Heat, DeNiro’s thief McCauley and Pacino’s cop Hanna share a mutual respect, that they are dealing here with the other side of their own coin, a talented man with opposite morals. Here, Dillinger and Pervis despise one another, disgusted that they are within the other’s presence or mentioned in the same breath. This complex central relationship was key to the layered texture of Heat, and its absence is felt.
Depp has always been better at characters (Scissorhands, Sparrow) than he has emotions, and Dillinger is bland and lifeless in his hands, yet still more likeable than Bale’s cold, business-like Pervis. DiCaprio would probably have been a better fit for Dillinger, but as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover appears here as Billy Crudup this would have made DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood’s current biopic of the man problematic.
All this in account, this is still an entertaining action/crime movie, with plenty of period gun porn for those that way inclined. Mann’s attention to detail is perfect, and there is some of the best comedy ever seen in a 1930s set cop movie – see Dillinger wondering around the offices of the FBI department out to catch him, casually asking the score of a sports game. Smarter and more thought provoking than most gun-happy movies, this is definitely worth a watch.
Choose film 7/10

Sweeney Todd

Who could resist a film featuring Alan Rickman singing about marrying his adopted daughter! Me, it turns out. Many have criticised the picture for being too gory, although its hard to see how Tim Burton could have avoided the flood of viscera required to depict the story of Sweeney Todd, a barber who murders his clientele by slitting their throats in a specially designed barber’s chair (That I must say did appeal to the mechanical engineer in me), only for their innards to be baked into pies served in the shop below the barber’s. So, instead of toning down the gore, Burton embraces it, commencing the show following a trickle of blood, luminous red against an almost monochrome London, as it drips, seeps and oozes through cracks, down gutters and into the sewers. It is clear from this opening that those of a weaker disposition should stick to a more family-friendly film, such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
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