Deck the Halls (2006)

Director: John Whitesell Cast: Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristen Chenoweth, Kristin Davis

Popular local figure Steve becomes frustrated when a new neighbour, Buddy, moves in across the street and rivals him for the title of the town’s “Christmas guy”. Buddy is determined that his house is so lit up with Christmas lights that it can be seen from space, however Steve won’t let that happen.

While Deck the Halls will never quite become a Christmas classic, it’s an enjoyable if perhaps low-quality watch. Overall it’s a pretty rubbish film by usual standards, but I did enjoy it and I certainly felt Christmassy watching it. I laughed out loud a few times, and while much of the comedy is basic slapstick it’s not too over-the-top. The plot is a classic Christmas movie setup, with the two main characters learning some life lessons and everything ending up right in the end.

There are certainly better Christmas films out there but this is worth a watch, and I would probably watch it again (although it won’t be an annual feature of my Christmas viewing list). It’s lightweight and family friendly, so good for a cosy December evening in.

2.5 stars

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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson

The first of the notorious Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace kicks off Anakin Skywalker’s storyline that sets him on the path to becoming a Jedi, and ultimately a Sith. After a chance encounter with two Jedis on Tatooine, Anakin is taken to start training as a Jedi himself.  Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine plots to take over the Republic by provoking (and this is the really thrilling bit) trade disputes.

When I first saw this at the cinema as a kid, I loved this movie. Obviously now, however, my cinema palate has matured and I can see that it’s actually pretty rubbish, but to be honest I have to give it credit for giving me the same enjoyment that I had when I first watched the originals. The plot and particularly acting (with a couple of exceptions- more on that later) is pants but generally speaking the film does embody classic Star Wars elements- the sound effects, the screen wipes, the aliens, and it’s actually cool to see Yoda et al before the events of A New Hope.

I’ll start with the bad points to get them out of the way. My main issue is that I just can’t find it believable that the Anakin from The Phantom Menace goes on to be Darth Vader. Obviously there are two more movies before he finally gets there, but there’s just no hint at all of his susceptibility to the dark side, or to be honest even his Jedi skills. Qui-Gon just “senses” that Anakin is really powerful- but as a viewer I just can’t join the two together. Sure he’s a good pilot, but so is Han Solo and I don’t think his flying reflexes are evidence enough of his so-called powers. It makes the leap into the next instalment, Attack of the Clones, unconvincing as he’s basically had a total personality transplant. Darth Vader is such an iconic character and the whole point of the Star Wars saga is effectively the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but this movie just doesn’t build him up enough to become the badass but ultimately heroic character that we see by Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to tell if it’s the script or the acting that makes it not work (probably a combination of both), but either way Anakin is a let-down.

Other minor problems include the cringe-inducing script- the original trilogy is full of excellent lines that have become iconic in cinema, but can anyone remember anything from this? There’s also Jar Jar Binks- arguably the most universally hated Star Wars character but aside from his general grating personality, he doesn’t bring anything to the plot really so is surplus to requirements. There are a couple of casual racist stereotypes too, in the form of the trade federation reps and the Gungans. Finally, just the bad acting in general: too much stilted and unconvincing delivery, and I think the abundance of characters put quantity over quality.

The other main issue people have with this movie is the plot. Yes, it’s pretty dull but actually as a Star Wars fan I do think the events of this film are important. It paves the way to how we end up with the Rebel Alliance and the events of the original trilogy, and given what I’ve said above about the Anakin story-arc, the Senator Palpatine/Emperor story-arc actually works well in the prequel trilogy and is one of the trilogy’s overall redeeming features. As a kid I had very little idea of what was actually going on, but now as an adult I watch it thinking “ah, so that’s how that happened”. Perhaps it’s fair to say the key points are there but the execution fell short of the mark.

To end on a high note, the positives. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are super cool and it was good to have some context for Obi-Wan’s and Darth Vader’s relationship. While the script is terrible, both Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor manage to salvage their characters and they’re easily the highlight of the movie. (Mace Windu- Samuel L Jackson- is in this, but he doesn’t really get going yet until the next episode.) Darth Maul is also awesome, and while he only gets about three spoken lines (probably best given the rest of the script) he has some seriously cool moves in the final fight scene.

This isn’t the worst of the prequels but also I’d say not the best. In terms of storyline it’s good for Star Wars nerds for the general context/history of the Republic and the Empire, but for those who are lukewarm towards the originals I would say probably best not to bother as it won’t add anything for them.

2 stars

All Eyez on Me (2017)

Director: Benny Boom Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Dominic Santana, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh

Long time, no activity on ScreenSnap. Apologies for the hiatus- it’s been a hectic few months but what better way to ease back in than to review the biopic of one of my all time fave humans, Tupac Shakur. All Eyez on Me follows the story of the legendary rapper from his early childhood to his death in 1996, exploring the relationships and experiences that made him who he was.

As I’ve mentioned, I love 2pac and I was excited to see how his life would be represented on screen. On the whole, I was pretty pleased- people often underrate what a good writer and poet he actually was, (by tarring the whole hip-hop genre with one brush) and the movie did a good job of showing these aspects of his life, for example exploring his time at the Baltimore School of the Arts. For someone watching the film who didn’t know much about his life, I think this part would surprise them positively and I was glad they showed these more unknown bits.

Unfortunately though, the structure of the film made the whole thing a bit bitty and I felt like some scenes that could have gone somewhere were cut off, while other scenes lingered for too long. The first half of the film is structured mainly with flashbacks, with the present being an interview with Tupac while he’s in prison. Then once the flashbacks catch up with the present (prison), the rest of the film just follows a linear timeline. This felt a bit random- I felt it should have been one or the other, and it meant that the flashbacks were shorter and ended just as they were getting interesting, while the second half of the film felt like it went on and on. Consequently, some parts were missed and others were too over-the-top.

The stand-out character was Afeni, Tupac’s mother, and I was pleased that they did spend quite a bit of time exploring her story and their relationship, as this was essential to understanding the person that Tupac became. I was definitely most convinced by the performance of Danai Gurira (of The Walking Dead fame), who played Afeni. Following Straight Outta Compton, in which all the characters were cast superbly and the actors captured their characters almost flawlessly, All Eyez on Me wasn’t quite as good at this. The guy who played Tupac looked almost exactly like him and captured his mannerisms pretty well, but the others just weren’t quite as good. After watching Straight Outta Compton I came away amazed at how well they managed it, but this one didn’t have quite the same effect.

I would recommend this to people who already know a bit about Tupac and who are already fans, but generally if you’re not interested already it will probably be quite boring. As far as biopics go, I don’t think it would convince people to find out more about his life or music (whereas I thought the opposite about Straight Outta Compton). A solid effort but nothing outstanding. The soundtrack is pretty good though.

2.5 stars

Jingle All The Way (1996)

jingle-all-the-way

Director: Brian Levant Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jake Lloyd

A father wrapped up in his work forgets to buy his son the one gift he wants for Christmas, leaving him only Christmas Eve to track it down. However, it turns out everywhere is out of stock and he’s not the only one looking for a last minute gift.

Another year, another addition to my seasonal Christmas Crackers series, this time featuring the thrilling combination of the Terminator and young Anakin Skywalker. Let’s just say T + AS does not equal GA (good acting). Having said that, literally no film ever made can be worse than The Santa Clause, last year’s Christmas horror, so it’s not all bad.

First things first, before whiney Jake Lloyd desecrated the Star Wars universe with his incessant moaning, his whinging actually makes him an ideal casting choice for this role- the classic demanding child growing up in a world of consumerism who only wants material objects to make him happy. There must be a Christmas lesson for him to learn in there somewhere! And there is. I don’t think it would be classed as a spoiler to say that by the end of the film both father and son learn that Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but about family.

Poor acting aside, I did laugh a few times in this film. It’s quite slapstick which produces a few amusing moments, plus I did laugh at the (unintentional) dry delivery from Arnie. It’s not a Christmas classic, but I didn’t hate it and if it was on telly on a free Saturday afternoon next December, I would probably watch it again.

This film gets no points for things like originality, acting or cinematography but it’s mindless and inoffensive, plus it’s Christmas and at this time year people will watch anything. Worth a go if you’ve already watched all the classic seasonal hits and need something else.

2 stars