Review - Frankenweenie

9/10

2012 has been a very productive year for director Tim Burton. It has only been a couple of months since his Dark Shadows came out. His latest flick, Frankenweenie, however, is different in various aspects. Those who are familiar with Burton’s work might know that this is in fact a remake of his own short film with the same title of 1984 which was shelved by Disney because it was too dark and which resulted in Burton being sacked. The old short was a live action film, but for this year’s Frankenweenie the director returns to his beloved stop-motion animation (Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride). Both versions are in black and white.

Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is somewhat of a loner. He has no friends and spends most of his time working on science projects and movies in the attic of his house. Even his own parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) do not really understand him all that well. His best friend is his dog, Sparky. On one day Sparky is run over by a car while trying to catch a ball. Victor, devastated by the loss of his beloved pet, decides to bring his dog back to life using the teachings of Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau) and the power of lightning. 

There is no doubt about it that this film is far better than the very disappointing Dark Shadows. Frankenweenie is better in all aspects. It is way funnier and it is a lot scarier, but most of all it is very, very beautiful. It would not be entirely fair to compare these two films with each other, though. It is probably much more useful to take ParaNorman for comparison. Not only are both films stop-motion animated, but they are both about a misunderstood child who is confronted by death. Frankenweenie contains even more noticeable references than ParaNorman. When watching the film, note the names of side characters, animals, buildings, shadows etcetera. All these references added to the fun greatly.

Just like ParaNorman, I would not recommend watching Frankenweenie with young children. It is far too dark and scary for that. Some people might find the last quarter a bit over the top. I have to admit that it is at least a little odd. I do not want to give too much away about the plot, so let us just keep it at odd, but hilarious. You will know when you see it. Even this part of the film, however, keeps its emotional beauty.

I had huge expectations of Frankenweenie and I am very happy to say that director Tim Burton did not fail to meet these for a second time this year. It is very soothing to know that the animated film is not completely in downfall. While Pixar has started making films which are not so good, Laika Entertainment and Tim Burton just made two of the best animated films in years. Thank you for that!

Top five - When trees attack

In one of the final scenes of ParaNorman, Norman and his gang get attacked by trees. This made me think of other films with a role for nasty bits of flora.

5. Every tomato in John De Bello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

Mutated tomatoes kill people! Start fearing your ketchup…

4. Apple-throwing trees in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Dorothy (Judy Garland) quickly finds out that the apple trees in the land of Oz are not very nice. They are not all that dangerous, but they are very mean and they slap little girls and throw apples at them. Naughty trees!

3. The Whomping Willow in Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

This tree on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has a real bad temper. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his carrot-topped friend Ron (Rupert Grint) find out the hard way in the second installment of the Harry Potter franchise.

2. Treebeard and his gang in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) flee from Saruman (Christopher Lee)’s orcs to the dark forest of Fangorn, where they are picked up by Treebeard. He and his ent friends are not violent of nature, but you do want to keep them on your side. Otherwise, you are going to get trouble. Ask Saruman.

1. Sexually harassing trees in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981)

Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) gets raped by vines. This is probably the most infamous case of angry trees ever.

Not so honourable mention: The Happening (2008)

How did M. Night Shyamalan fuck up his career as a movie director so bad? This is terrible. Because I do not want to spoil the movie for people out there who want to see this, I am not linking a video.

BEWARE OF SPOILERS - BEWARE OF SPOILERS

The trees spread some kind of toxin which makes people suicidal.

Review - ParaNorman

9/10

Production company Laika Entertainment, which has given us Henry Selick’s Coraline, return with their second feature film, ParaNorman. For his directorial debut, Chris Butler, also writer of the film, joined forces with Sam Fell, co-director of Flushed Away and The Tale of Desperaux. Like Coraline, this is a stop-motion animated picture and it also came out in 3D. The story is not unlike the 2009 hit either, being very dark but also very vivid and funny.

Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old boy in the small town of Blithe Hollow. Apart from his new friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), he has no friends and everyone finds him weird because he claims he can see dead people. He is avoided by all the inhabitants, he gets bullied at school by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and even  his parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) and his older sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick) think he is weird. One day, his outcast uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), tells him about an important yearly ritual which Norman has to continue after his uncle’s death. This should prevent the wrath of a witch, who cast a curse over the town when she was condemned hundreds of years earlier. He gives his word, but soon he loses control and that is where the zombies come in. Together with Alvin, Courtney, Neil and Neil’s brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), he has to save his town from destruction.

I could keep this review fairly short. The movie is awesome! This has to be the best animated film since Pixar’s Toy Story 3 in 2010. First of all, it is a beautifully animated flick. The production design, the cinematography and the stop-motion animation, which suits no worlds as good as the grim ones, are absolutely amazing. A scene that stands out is the final confrontation, which combines the old technology of stop-motion with modern, high-tech special effects. The 3D is flawless, arguably the best I have ever seen in a film, though Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin will not be far off. The characters are all beautifully designed, in the same caricatural style as in Coraline, and especially the looks of the undead in ParaNorman are fantastic.

The only negative aspects I can point out are the morals the film preaches. There are many and they are all so obvious that it is simply distracting. I found the rest of the story very good, being amusing and relevant and alternating hilarious moments and scary ones at a perfect pace and timing. The characters are nicely introduced, they are relatable, even the witch and the zombies, and all the voices fit the characters excellently.

ParaNorman also combines a lot of elements out of the history of the horror genre. The settings are very much alike the German expressionalism of the 1920’s and it contains Hitchcock’s sense of humour, wit and irony. Even his dolly zoom is used on various occasions. There are some explicit references as well, for instance, the films Norman watches, the ringtone on his phone, Neil’s mask when he stands outside and tons and tons more. Jon Brion’s score, which also resembles the soundtracks of various horror subgenres, completes it all.

The combination of breathtaking animation, settings, visual effects and 3D and a fun story with its heart at the right place, makes ParaNorman an incredibly good film. I myself am not a great supporter of 3D, but this film is actually worth the couple of euros more . What are you waiting for? Go!

Review - Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

8/10

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel Headhunters (Hodejegerne) is a showpiece of Scandinavian film. The Millennium series, which resulted into David Fincher’s American remake The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, aside,I do not suppose that a lot of people are familiar with Scandinavian cinema. I think there is a lot of potential to be found there, though. The film follows in the recent success of the ‘Scandinavian noir’ genre.

We follow the renowned headhunter Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who lives a double-life. His extravagant lifestyle is too expensive, so, together with his partner Ove (Eivind Sander), he steals paintings in people’s homes. When his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) opens an art gallery, he is introduced to the former CEO of a Dutch technology business Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). When he finds out the man possesses a real Rubens painting, Roger chooses Clas as his new target, though he is not at all an easy one.

Headhunters is great because of a number of things. First of all, the film has a lot of suspense. It is very unpredictable and the screenplay is very intelligently written. The tension is built up very good, so I think no one will find it the film boring. At times, the story takes drastic twists. Just when you think things are going well, everything goes terribly wrong once again. Both the hunter and the pray are very intelligent, which makes the conflict even more interesting. Whenever Roger thinks he outsmarted Clas, the former CEO shows that he cannot be outsmarted.

Furthermore, the acting is very good. I had no problems to sympathize with protagonist Roger Brown, even though he is a criminal. Clas Greve is such a likeable character until he shows his true colours, at which point you start hating the guts of him. Headhunters is also a very bloody and gory film at times, but this always goes together with a dark sense of humour. This approach does the film a lot of good.

Apparently there is an American remake of Headhunters in development. There is no need to wait for that, though. This movie is perfectly fine as it is. It has a great story, good acting and the character development is fine. At times you will find it gross and at other moments you will have a great laugh. But, in the end the film is a pure thriller, and it achieves its purpose so brilliantly that you will not have enough edge on your chair to sit on.

Top five - Incredible physical makeovers

Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? Look at Bane! Look at him! He is huge! Here are five actors who gained or lost a bunch of kilos/muscles for a movie role.

5. Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky Vanmarsenille in Bullhead (Rundskop) (2011)

For the leading role in the Michael R. Roskam’s Bullhead, Belgian rising star Matthias Schoenaerts gained an impressive 27 kilos of muscle.

4. Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro gained 27 kilos during production of Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese shut down filming for four months in order for De Niro to transform from muscled boxer Jake La Motta to obese retired Jake La Motta.

3. Vincent D’Onofrio as Pvt. Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Vincent D’Onofrio gained 31 kilograms to become fatty private Gomer Pyle, who loses his mind in bootcamp in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket.

2. Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist (2004)

Christian Bale did something completely else. He lost 28 kilos for the leading role in  Brad Anderson’s The Machinist, only to gain around 45 kilograms in the five months following the film’s production in order to take on the leading role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

1. Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Look at this guy! Look at him! How did this happen! How did a tiny guy like that turn into a huge monster like this?! Tom Hardy here gained a motherfucking 90 kilograms of muscle for his role as terrorist leader Bane in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. 90 KILOS! WHAT?! That is more than I weigh!

EDIT: Fuck the internet. The internet lies all the time. In interviews, Tom Hardy revealed that the main reason why he looks so amazingly big, is because of the medium of film. He actually gained a (still rather impressive) 18 kilos. That is not even close to the numbers 5, 4 and 3 in this list. Down to 5 with this one.

Not so honourable mention: Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003)

Of course, being ugly and all is not part of this list. That is done with make-up and prostheses. South-African beauty Charlize Theron, however, gained 11 kilos for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ biographical drama Monster. I do not mean that this is necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it cannot be easy for a thin actress and model to gain 11 kilos and the role did deliver her an Academy Award. Still, it feels a bit like slapping God in the face, so yeah. Charlize is on the bottom.

Review - The Dark Knight Rises

9/10

It is finally here! Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment of his The Dark Knight trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is the film I was most looking forward to this year and, boy, is it good! It must have been enormously hard for the writers, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, to come up with something worthy enough to follow the previous episode, The Dark Knight. Not often do we get the chance to see a superhero movie that, from the start, was supposed to be the conclusion of a franchise, which makes this film unique already. 

It has been eight years since District Attorney Harvey Dent was killed. In order to maintain Dent’s image as the White Knight, Batman took the blame for his death. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become something of a hermit, only remaining in contact with his loyal servant, Alfred (Michael Caine). When Wayne finds out about the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who wants to destroy Gotham, he ultimately has no other choice but to return as Batman and try to save his city. As always, he can count on Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) for all the gadgets he needs and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) as inside man with the Gotham Police Department. Rookie Detective James Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and sneaky thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) will also try to help in every way they can, while the new CEO of Wayne Enterprises Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) delivers something of a love interest for Bruce Wayne.

It goes without saying that the action, the special effects and the whole setting are absolutely excellent. I would rather elaborate on the impressive character development and acting. Except for one, all the newly introduced characters are extremely good. Bane is huge, terrifying and, although I have heard a lot of people complaining about his voice, I found the contrast between his body and behavior and the way his voice sounds very good. It helps alienating him, which makes him even scarier. He is clever, strong, aggressive and brutal. Of course, Heath Ledger’s Joker was a lot more impressive, but nevertheless, Bane is one of the most interesting villains in superhero film history. Both are fairly different, of course. Joker is like a mad dog who wants to see chaos, while Bane is a real terrorrist, trying to subject Gotham to his power.

Detective James Blake is the young blood needed badly in a completely disoriented Gotham. No one stands for his own beliefs anymore, except for the troubled Gordon and Blake, who is the personification of hope. Catwoman is also a fantastic character. Her introduction scene, right at the beginning of the film, is great fun and it sets the tone for the entire role. The chemistry between her and Batman is vivid, though not romantic. That is what Miranda Tate is for, which brings us to the one unconvincing character. Marion Cotillard again failed to impress me in an English-speaking film. I hated her in Inception and I hated her now. Furthermore, the character is very poorly developed. Both her introduction scene and the romance between her and Bruce Wayne, actually everything, about Tate is superficial and transparent. It would not do the film bad to cut her role out entirely. 

It would not be a Nolan brothers production if there were not some kind of ethical problems in the film. The Dark Knight Rises questions what a man would be prepared to do in life threatening situations. The movie shows that collectivity and the urge to do good are the greatest powers to overcome close to anything. 

Just like in the previous films, the soundtrack was written by Hans Zimmer. His music is always a bit overwhelming, which suits the films he scores perfectly. The chanted songs as heard in the trailer are quite epic, but the scenes that had the greatest impact, are the ones in complete silence. These function as the calm before the storm.

Nolan did his best to make The Dark Knight Rises a good conclusion more than a sequel. Multiple references to the other two installments of the trilogy, help achieving that. Although there are a few flaws, some greater than others (*Marion Cotillard fuck-up*) the story is very well-written. It is an enormously satisfying close, which will leave no one untouched. Although this film is not nearly as good as Nolan’s second Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises is an amazing film that will have no problems to get into the top ten of the all-time world-wide box office. 

BEWARE OF SPOILERS - BEWARE OF SPOILERS

I would like to elaborate a bit on the character of Miranda Tate/Talia, just because it works on my nerves so much. I think making her the main villain was an extremely bad decision on Nolan’s part. Bane, who up until then was the perfect criminal, suddenly became something of an unimportant tool. That is a shame. His hasty death only adds up to my feeling that he became a sideshow in the final parts of the film.

Also, I would like to call your attention to the ambiguity of the last couple of shots, where Alfred and Bruce Wayne meet at the café. Nothing tells us this is not just another one of those fantasies of the old butler. It is not as frustrating as the final shot with the spinning top of Inception, but nevertheless, it is open to interpretation.

Top five - Carrot-topped heroes/heroines

Pixar’s Brave's protagonist Merida has hair as as ginger as an orange. Though her hair looks absolutely amazing in the film, this list will not include her, because it will only contain the five redheaded heroes/heroines I like best.

5. Peter Pan in Peter Pan (1953)

Disney’s Peter Pan (voiced by Bobby Driscoll) is the hero of Wendy and her brothers’ bedtime stories. On one day, together with her little pixie friend, Tinkerbell, he takes the three children to Neverland for an unforgettable adventure. Peter is a mischievous boy who does not want to grow up. He is funny and smart, but a bit annoying. Fifth place for him.

4. The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2012)

In Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is one of many people/creatures in Underland who tries to help Alice to defeat the Red Queen and restore peace to the land. His orange hair is the result of mercury poisoning, something hatters frequently had to deal with. The Mad Hatter is brave and loyal to the White Queen. He becomes something of a father figure for the heroine, Alice, but most of all he is totally bonkers.

3. Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 and in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Black Widow kicks ass better than the other Avengers characters and she is hot as hell.

2. Hercules in Hercules (1997)

Disney’s Hercules (Tate Donovan) is a Greek god who loses his immortality because Hades wants him dead. The god of the underworld’s plan does not work out perfectly, however, and Hercules keeps his amazing strength. He grows up and when he finds out he is the father of Zeus, he asks for Philoctetes’ aid to train to be a true hero in order to become a god once again. 

1. Ron Weasley in every Harry Potter film

Do I need to tell anyone how awesome he is? I think not. First place for Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint).

Not so honourable mention: Mary Jane in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy

This excuse for a superhero’s girl is terrible. I hate everything about her. There is no chemistry between Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). Just like Tobey Maguire, her acting is horrible, even though Kirsten Dunst is not half bad as an actress. The character is a possessive and irritating bitch.  Everything about her makes me want to puke. I am so glad Marvel decided to reboot the series, this time with good actors.


Review - Brave

6/10

It goes without saying that the newest film of the renowned Pixar Animation Studios was something to look out to this summer. Brave is the first fairy tale the studio has made. The protagonist is a teenage Scottish princess. Holding this in mind, I can’t say I was surprised by the somewhat empty story the film had to offer.

Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is the firstborn of the king of a medieval and mythical Scotland, Fergus (Billy Connolly). All her life her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson) has been training her to be a good and well-mannered queen. Merida, however, has been training her archery skills to the point of perfection, a skill deemed inappropriate by her mother. On the day the three other clans of Scotland, Dingwall, MacGuffin and Macintosh come to present the firstborn of the clan-leaders (respectively Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson) to contest for the princess’ hand, Merida rebels. In all her anger, she recklessly puts a curse on the land.

Let’s start with the main issue. Just like in Disney Pixar’s last film, Cars 2, Brave's story line is simply poor. You will never be amazed by its strength, be touched by its beauty, or be surprised by its plot-twists. There never is real tension and the pace is incredibly low. The movie is funny at times, but the humour is not as smart as in most other Pixar films. These problems might be the result of the creative differences the production team suffered, leading to (first female director of a Pixar film) Brenda Chapman being replaced by Mark Andrews halfway through the production.

So what does this film have to offer? Beauty, of course. The settings are breathtakingly beautiful, and protagonist Merida’s red hair looks absolutely fantastic. The colour scheme of the film is very dark, which makes it quite a scary world, but the lack of tension compensates that greatly. The Scottish voice acting is a lot of fun, as well as the music, except for the songs, which I personally find unbearable to listen to.

Brave is not a bad movie, it is just not as good as it should and could be. It is too dark for young children and too simplistic for adults, whereas films like Toy Story 3 and Up were perfect for every age. It is a shame that the last two films by Disney Pixar were not good enough. We can only hope that the studio’s next movie, Monsters University, brings back the inventiveness we are used to from them. 

Review - Snow White and the Huntsman

6/10

Snow White and the Huntsman is the second loose adaptation of the fairy tale, as collected by the brothers Grimm, in just a couple of months time. Whereas Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror, starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, was a funny and ludicrous comedy, Rupert Sanders’ directorial debut Snow White and the Huntsman approaches the story in a completely different way, making it a more action and fantasy-based movie. All in all, both films are very different, so let us not think too much about the other film.

Stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron) imprisons Princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) after killing King Magnus (Noah Huntley) on the very night of their wedding. On the day that the Magic Mirror declares that Snow White is the fairest of them all and explains to the queen the secrets of immortality, the young princess succeeds to flee the castle and to flee into the Dark Forrest. Ravenna sends a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find the princess but as soon as he has Snow White in his hands, he turns against the queen and together with seven dwarfs (among who Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones and Nick Frost) and Snow White’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), they recruit an army to take down Queen Ravenna’s reign.

As I said before, the film is a fantasy film. The magical world that was created for the film is fun and pretty. At times it is scary and dark, while at other points of the story it is breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes it made me think of “Underland” in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland of 2010. Both films make great use of CGI technology to create a wonderful, though noticeably troubled world. The action scenes are rather disappointing, though. They are hasty, poorly written and even more poorly filmed. I find the shaky cam effect, which Sanders chooses to use, hard to reconcile with.

The biggest problem of the film lies in the casting. Jeanne d’Arcesque heroin Snow White is portrayed by teen idol Kristen Stewart. I have yet to see a role of her which is not bad and this is no different now I have seen Snow White and the Huntsman. She acts with little attempt to convey feelings to the audience. It has been widely known that Stewart really has only one facial expression and her role as Snow White fails to escape the reputation of her infamous “stone face”. Charlize Theron looks like she escaped the theatre. She is constantly yelling and everything she does is just a bit too much. Sam Claflin is also not convincing. The only decent performance is Chris Hemsworth’s. There is nothing to complain about there and his Scottish accent is great fun. A couple of dwarfs are not bad either. They are supposed to bring a funny note to the story and in my opinion they succeed fairly good.

All in all, the film was not entirely bad. If you succeed to look beyond the bad acting, it is not a bad film, with beautiful visual effects and an acceptable story. Snow White and the Huntsman's dark approach is interesting, but it never really gets exciting. As to be expected, there is a romantic dilemma for Snow White, which is a real shame. I do not see the point in all those teen movies seemingly 'needing' some sort of romantic tension, as it only drags most of them down. The film would be better if the role of childhood friend William was scrapped, just as The Hunger Games would be a better film if the role of Gale was left out. To conclude this review, it has been announced that a sequel will be made, also directed by Rupert Sanders. I, for one, am completely against it. Fuck you, big studios!

Who am I?

  • Name: Jonah Simanjuntak
  • Age: 19
  • Height: 180 cm (5’9”)  
  • Weight: 85 kg (187lbs) [losing weight]
  • Relationship status: In a relationship with http://prinsessmeerkaas.tumblr.com/
  • Birthday: August 7th
  • Favorite color: Green
  • Favorite bands: Muse, Blood Red Shoes, Arcade Fire and actually too many to name all of them
  • Last song listened:  The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade - The Joy Formidable
  • Favorite movie: Tie between Inception, Pulp Fiction, The Prestige, 50/50 and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
  • Last movie watched: Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)
  • Favorite book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Last book read: Marat/Sade - Peter Weiss (play)
  • # of siblings: 2 sisters and one brother, I am the youngest
  • # of pets: None
  • Best school subject: English lexicon
  • Mac or PC?: PC on my computer, Linux on my laptop
  • Cell phone type: HTC Wildfire S
  • Current shirt color: White shirt with Gremlins on
  • Gamer? Moderately
  • Day or night? Night
  • Summer or winter?:  Spring
  • Most-visited website? Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, IMDb, Wielerflits.nl
  • Celebrity crush: Olivia Wilde
  • Biggest turn on: Good taste in movies and tattoos and piercings

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