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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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

Pretty Woman (1990)

Director: Garry Marshall Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Ralph Bellamy

After a chance meeting when asking for directions, wealthy businessman Edward hires a prostitute, Vivian, for a week to attend events with him as his plus one. This being a Hollywood movie, they end up falling in love- but will it ever be able to work out between them?!

The answer to the above question is, of course, yes. Despite my cynicism though, Pretty Woman is an enjoyable and feel-good movie with a reliable formula to win over audiences. It’s definitely more rom than com and I could have done with a few more funny moments to improve it, but it’s not sickeningly romantic. Having a prostitute as the protagonist brings a different twist to the classic boy meets girl setup, and it’s refreshing to see her unashamedly flaunting her sexuality rather than the usual timid high-school nerd chasing the handsome sports star scenario. Plus, Vivian would have ended up fine on her own in the end if her and Edward hadn’t got together- she didn’t necessarily need the man to give the story a happy ending nor does she have to change herself to win him over (apart from buying some new clothes). Strong independent woman, amirite? Edward is also an appealing male protagonist: although he’s a successful businessman it’s no secret that he’s lonely and ultimately unfulfilled in his current lifestyle. It’s very easy to root for them as a couple.

Although the storyline is primarily about a man who hires a prostitute for a week it’s mostly a family friendly movie, and while it’s rated a 15 it would probably be suitable for kids slightly younger. In short, I would have no qualms with watching this with my parents so it can’t be that scandalous.

Easy plot, non-stressful storyline, classic 90s fashion, likeable characters- I’m going to hate myself for using this expression but it’s ideal for a “girls night in” (urgh). Plus there’s nothing like getting your own back on someone by buying a sassy new outfit- watch it just for the satisfaction of that classic shopping scene.

3.5 stars

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Director: Matthew Vaughn Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal

In the follow-up to everyone’s surprise favourite film of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy is now a fully-fledged agent but is forced to head to the US after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed. Once in Kentucky, he teams up with agents from Kingsman’s American counterpart Statesman to bring down an eccentric drugs kingpin.

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people were pleasantly surprised about how much they enjoyed the first Kingsman. And while sequels often require lowered expectations, I found The Golden Circle to be a worthy second round. One of my favourite features of the first movie was the way they filmed the action sequences, swapping between fast and slow-motion, close-ups and zooming in and out, and so I was pleased that they’d put a few more sequences like that into  this one- although I think any more would have been overkill and it would have lost its effect. Overall it makes the action look very cool and slick, and it’s fun to see the action in detail rather than just one long shot of the scene.

I think this film is funnier than the first, which means I did enjoy it but I found that more of the focus was on the comedy than the plot. The main villain storyline is good, but I didn’t find it to be the main focus of the film. Rather, the plot was more of mechanism to get in the jokes and action sequences. For example on the surface there’s no real reason why Elton John would be in this film, as plot-wise if he wasn’t in it it wouldn’t really have made a difference, but somehow it works and actually he has some really funny moments. I did well up a little when Eggsy and Harry reunited though (slight spoiler but not really as he’s in the trailer- yes, Colin Firth is not dead) and there was quite a focus on the characters and their relationships, which is something I liked about the first film.

As with the first movie, it’s definitely for adults (a guilty-pleasure James Bond, if you will) so not family viewing, but a great shout for an easy-to-watch light-hearted action movie. I would definitely watch it again, and at the end they set it up for a third movie in the franchise so I’m absolutely looking forward to that.

3 stars