The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Director: Henry Selick Cast: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, Ed Ivory, Ken Page, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix

The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, becomes tired of doing the same thing every year for Halloween. He stumbles across Christmas Town and is taken in my its magic, and decides to take Christmas into his own hands this year. However, it doesn’t go quite to plan and he needs Santa to save the day.

It’s one month until Christmas everybody!!! And that means I’m back onto my annual Christmas Crackers series- which in 2016 included a grand total of one whole review, so if I can beat that I’m doing a good job. Anyway, I thought I’d start with A Nightmare Before Christmas as, to be honest, it’s pretty early in the year to go full-scale Christmas so this Halloween/Christmas crossover is a good compromise.

As far as Christmas films go this one’s not really particularly Christmassy, which was a bit of a let down, but like I say it’s still early so I’m willing to let that slide. Plus, if you usually hate sickly-sweet Christmas films then maybe this one’s for you. I did enjoy it and it’s not too Tim Burton-esque compared to some of his other seriously weird stuff (he was the writer for this), in that it’s not hugely creepy or sinister, which does certainly make it for family appropriate for this time of year. The animations are very cool, and there are lots of little details with the characters and the sets which are fun to spot. Plot-wise it’s fairly predictable, but it’s not very long and it kind of makes a nice change to not have too much squashed into one film. The blossoming romance between Jack and Sally is a little forced towards the end and the plot would have worked without the romantic angle- but still, it’s a festive film to you kind of need something like that. But really the film is about the animation and design, which is top-notch.

I liked this more than I thought I would and it works as a family film as it’s not quite scary enough to put off kids. It’s worth a watch as it’s fun and a bit different from your usual Christmas film, but just don’t save it until Christmas Eve.

3 stars

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The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn

In present-day 1980s, when a boy is sick in bed his grandfather tells him the story of The Princess Bride, a tale set in the distant country of Florin. Buttercup is separated from her true love, Westley, and is forced to wed the sneaky Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley won’t rest until he’s got Buttercup back.

Although I’ve read the original book of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, I’d just never got around to watching the film. I had heard mixed things about the film but as someone who has read the book, I think that definitely helped me to appreciate the film more as all the strange jokes and non-sensical moments make a lot more sense with the extra context that the book provides. My brother hates the film and hasn’t read the book, and I have a feeling he doesn’t like it because you can understand the jokes a bit more if you know the tone and style in which the book was originally written. It’s an obvious thing to say and this applies to most films, but I would certainly suggest reading the book first if you can.

The book and film are made to be a spoof of traditional romantic adventure stories, and I love the way all the sets and costumes look a bit crap because it adds to the fun in a very camp sort of way. If you don’t know it’s a spoof going in I think it would look like just a terribly made film, but with that in mind its general low-budgetness is all part of the joke. The script is very over-the-top but the actors get the delivery just right, in the sense that it’s not overtly comical but there’s a clear underlying sense that nothing is being taken very seriously.

The film is a cult classic from the golden-age of cinema, and I can see how a lot of people would have serious nostalgia for it. Although The Princess Bride pre-dates myself, it has a lot of actors in it that I recognise from other stuff I watched growing up and even now, so it does have that nostalgic value.

This is definitely a family film and is very easy to watch and chuckle at. Don’t expect anything ground-breaking or Oscar-worthy, but if you want a film that can guarantee satisfaction all round, The Princess Bride is a good shout.

4 stars

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits

A few years into the Clone Wars and Senator Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) is about to take over the galaxy. His final part of the plan involves luring Anakin to the Dark Side to take on as his new apprentice. Meanwhile, the rest of the Jedi continue to fight the separatists across the galaxy.

Last one of the prequels, and I’d say arguably the best (which by no way means it’s a great film, but it’s all relative). Most of the tedious Anakin whinging is out of the way and he finally gets around to some action- even if it does involve being duplicitous with the Jedi and killing children. By far, by far the best part of this film is the last half hour or so. We finally get around to seeing the ultimate events that lead to the creation of the best villain in movie history (a known fact), Darth Vader. There’s a bit at the end where they show infamous Darth Vader helmet finally being put onto Anakin, and he breathes through it for the first time with that legendary sound effect- absolute gold.

Throughout the prequels Obi-Wan has got increasingly more annoying, with a ton of stupid one-liners and generally not really doing much of note. However his character brings it back at the end as he starts taking things seriously and takes it upon himself to watch over Luke after being saddened not to be able to save Anakin from the Dark Side. The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is a little long, but it’s actually almost moving to see them part ways- far more so than Anakin and Padme. Speaking of which, Padme ends her character arc on a terrible low point, having been a pretty strong female character in The Phantom Menace. She pretty much spends the whole film crying and just “loses the will to live” at the end- that’s her actual cause of death, what an anticlimax… However, the whole Anakin/Padme relationship has been unconvincing right from the start, so to be honest at this point who cares. It’s all about Anakin and Obi-Wan by the end.

Much like with Rogue One, as a Star Wars fan some of the best parts of this film were the nods to the original trilogy and how it sets up the following films in the Star Wars timeline. Towards the end of the film everything falls in the place, and fans will find themselves saying “ahhh, so that’s how that happens”. Although generally speaking the prequel trilogy has a lot of pointless plot points, finally we get to the real substance of what is effectively a Darth Vader (and Darth Sidious, to a lesser extent) origins story.

It’ll never be a cinematic masterpiece and is by no means on a level with the original trilogy, but it contains all the elements you need to nicely lead you into Rogue One/A New Hope and is good for providing context. If you only watch one of the prequels, watch this one for sure (and save yourself from much pain and suffering by skipping the other two).

3 stars

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz

The films I sit through for the sake of this blog, I tell you. Set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is now well into his Jedi training under the guidance of Obi-Wan. After an attempt on Padmé’s life Anakin is tasked with guarding her, while Obi-Wan goes off to find the perpetrators and discovers a clone army in the making. Also the one where Obi-Wan hates flying and Anakin hates sand.

Easily the worst of all the Star Wars films, it’s hard to find any positives. If you thought the acting was bad in The Phantom Menace, think again. To be fair, the actors are again not helped by a poor script and jumpy storyline, but the outstanding characters by a long distance are Mace Windu and Count Dooku- Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee respectively (who can basically do no wrong in my eyes). Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber just about saves us from oblivion.

In terms of relevance to the Star Wars story arc, this is the film where we start to see Anakin’s temptation towards the Dark Side. As I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, the Anakin in this film is pretty much a completely different person. I know people can change a lot over 10 years but this is just taking the biscuit. And why does he suddenly have a thing for Padmé? There was no inkling in that in the previous instalment, yet right from the start of Attack of the Clones it’s integral to the storyline. It just doesn’t make any sense I tell you!!

Plot continuity/realism aside, I do appreciate that his love for Padmé is vital to his eventual downfall. However, I can see much more evidence of his move to the Dark Side when his mother is killed by Tuscan Raiders and he slaughters the whole group of them in revenge. His anguish regarding his mother makes far more sense than his out-of-nowhere passion for Padmé, and therefore it’s more convincing in showing and explaining his downfall.

As for the rest of the film, not much else happens to be honest. It’s hard to follow who’s doing what and where and why and working on behalf of whom. Basically, the film takes more than two hours to show that: 1. Anakin is being drawn to the Dark Side (could be done with that one Tusken Raiders scene, 10 minutes tops); and 2. Palpatine is pretty much manipulating everyone to take over the Republic and become Emperor. While The Phantom Menace is quite good at kicking off the storyline that leads to the creation of the Empire, Attack of the Clones doesn’t really advance the process at all. In summary, most of the events of this film are basically irrelevant.

Is this film worth watching? To be honest, no. Even an avid Star Wars fan like myself can skip this one and won’t miss much of the geekery associated with the Star Wars universe. Don’t waste your time by putting yourself through the struggle of watching Anakin describe how much he hates sand.

1.5 stars (that extra half is for you, Mace Windu)