All posts by mojojohnstone

Beetlejuice – 30 Years On…

In film lore, you can say Candyman five times in a mirror to summon the murderous vengeful spirt. You can say Bloody Mary five times and spin around to summon a wicked banshee. Or you can forget all the spooky crap, say Beetlejuice three times and call the funniest, most unruly ghost the underworld ever produced.

Beetlejuice is the 1988 supernatural comedy directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton like you have never seen him before. An overzealous, over-sexed, suit wearing maniac who unleashes his own brand of haunting on the living world. The weird and quirky film is a must for all Burton fans and is one of his greatest on screen accomplishments with a witty script, superb cast, and some of the most memorable set pieces stop-motion and puppetry every produced.

There's going to be a Beetlejuice musical on Broadway...

When Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) decide to spend vacation at home they expect a peaceful two weeks together. Unfortunately, for them, their car ends up in a river after an accident. On returning home, the pair soon realise they did not survive the crash and are now in the world of the deceased. Hanging around their human home, it is soon sold to a couple of New York yuppies the Deetz (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones). To rid them of their unwanted guests, the Maitland’s call on a wayward ghost Betelgeuse (pronounced Beetlejuice) to perform a living exorcism. But Beetlejuice (Keaton) has eyes on the couple’s young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) and sets about unleashing the dead on the living.

After the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton was sent a number of scripts for his next project. Unhappy at their lack of creativity, he was eventually handed an early script for Beetlejuice. After a few rewrites and adding his own brand of weird the film became the cult classic we know today. Beetlejuice possess (excuse the pun) a story and premise so bizarre it could have been written by Burton himself. Yet this is why it was such a perfect project for him.

For a story that deals with death this is a strangely uplifting tale. Death is just another stage that needs to be worked out and handled but the couple are together and can make new friends. Death is almost humorous in the way it is portrayed here. The dead man with the shark attached to his leg or the man burnt alive who is still smoking a cigarette all mock this next stage of being.

Like so much of Burton’s work the film contrasts the world of the living and the world of the dead. Also another Burton signature is that the underworld is portrayed as more alive and vibrant than the real world. The living world is bland and lifeless while the land of the dead is full of exotic characters and colourful settings.

For this film, Burton drew on his animation background of stop-motion to create the films weird selection of creatures. From the inhabitants of the undead waiting room to the sand worm that awaits the Maitland’s if they leave their human home. The film may not compared to the range of CGI used in blockbusters of today yet the film has a unique and classic look. Many will think of the works of Ray Harryhausen when watching these creatures inhabit the screen (a clear idol of Burton’s).

BEETLEJUICE

For today’s audiences Michael Keaton is remembered for his role as Batman (also Burton films) and his recent star turn in Birdman. Yet the great actor began his career as a famed comedic performer. His later casting as The Dark Knight was met with disapproval and uproar from audiences until the film’s successful release. Despite how he may be seen today Keaton was and is a brilliant comedy talent. With razor sharp wit, charm and perfect timing, he is a humorous force in the little time he spends on screen. His stripped suit is an iconic image and seeing at least one Beetlejuice per Halloween is inevitable.

The film was also a breakout role for the young Winona Ryder as Lydia. Playing the young, unusual Goth girl become synonymous with Ryder in her early career yet her talent soon broke away from these restraints.

Catherine O’Hara, who would later go on to voice Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Mrs Frankenstein in Frankenweenie, here stands out as Delia Deetz. A frantic, image obsessed neurotic step-mother whose disbelief in the ghosts in her house drives much of the films humour.

A quintessential Burtonesque film containing his striking visuals, quirky characters and making the afterlife not a bad place to spend eternity.


Happy 30th Anniversary Beetlejuice! 

Sink – Review

When people think of dramas centred around the working class in Britain, you think of EastEnders, gangster flicks, or kitchen sink dramas. The varying interpretations of working class people on TV and film range from gritty and naturalistic, to stylized and extreme. With new film Sink, director Mark Gillis takes his drama back to the more natural, if darker side of the spectrum.

Focusing on one man, with morals and a good work ethic who finds himself on the wrong side of the system. For Sink, writer/director Gillis has delivered a thought-provoking, raw debut feature. Featuring a strong lead performance from Martin Herdman.

Micky (Herdman), is a down on his luck industrial worker, who struggles to get by after being made redundant. His situation is made worse when his ailing father cannot stay in the care home he has lived in. With the two of them forced into Micky’s small flat and with work scarce, Micky tries to get by while still looking after his father Sam (Ian Hogg), and in recovery son Jason (Josh Herdman). With the system, and, at times, bad luck making things harder, Micky turns to other options to support his family.

Written and directed by Mark Gillis in his feature film debut. Gillis is better known for his smaller acting roles on British TV and film. Previously he directed short A Quiet Drink before moving into features.

The film acts to simply follow in its subject tale. We meet Micky as his life becomes all the more difficult. Finding work, taking care of his father and supporting his son build more and more pressure. The film shows at every turn that our system can act as punishment to those who need help. Despite clearly wanting full time work, the industrial workforce has disappeared and Micky is a casualty.

Viewers will feel frustration wanting the films lead to catch a break. Once he succumbs to bad decisions, the film turns into a tense waiting game to see if he will pay for his choices. Alternatively, can the character live with himself if there are no consequences?

What the film and story does so well is question, and indeed display, that good morals and a strong work ethic are not always enough to survive. When immoral decisions are not only your last options, but prove more successful, what does this say about our system?

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This is not all doom and gloom though, with the film displaying characters inside and out the system that help. The friendly neighbour, the job centre worker that cares or the teenagers that assist a lost man.

The obvious comparison will be the works of Ken Loach. The social realism dramas of his early years right up to I, Daniel Blake. He portrays the lives and struggle of working people in Britain with a gritty and natural eye. Handheld camera, diegetic sound and a constant scenic reminder of its London setting. At times, the film can feel a little heavy handed but it finds its feet quickly.

Leading the film with a natural performance is Herdman. He plays Micky as moral, strong but slowly cracking under the pressures of his world. He is supported by a strong cast who all aid or hinder Micky’s journey, including the actor’s own son as Jason.

A simple yet heartfelt and honest look at the current state of English working class population. The performances and natural tones make Gillis a director to look out for.


Sink is out in cinemas Friday!

Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Review

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature film from Japanese animation house Studio Ponoc. The studio aims to continue the East’s artistry of traditional animation through its work. With a selection of well established animators and based on a British short story, interest in the studio and project was high.

The film, centred on a young girl whisked away to a magical world, and had all the makings of something enjoyable. But sadly the film is a dull, uninspired waste of its animators talents. For a studio that has the alumni of the great Studio Ghibli, this work does not justify that comparison. Whilst there’s some stunning art here and there’s a strong start, the film winds up being dull and the dubbed version has a grating, mismatched English voice cast.

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Mary is a young, insecure and clumsy girl that is sent to stay with her grandmother over summer. Without friends and in constant embarrassment of her curly red hair, she tries to occupy her time with chores. When her efforts cause more chaos than help, she ventures into the forest and discovers a hidden broom. With the broom and the aid of a mysterious flower, she is whisked off to a magical school for witches in the sky. Although she finally feels as though she’s home, is the school really all it seems?

The film is the feature film debut of Studio Ponoc which was founded by Ghibli lead animator Yoshiaki Nishimura in 2015. The studio had previously only worked on adverts but has many past Ghibli animators on its team.

The film starts off well enough; A young girl escapes a burning building on a magical broom. She is pursued by other flyers when she falls, losing both her broom and seeds that grow into magical flowers. Years later we meet Mary, who stumbles upon the broom and flowers. Once she is taken to the school, the narrative falls. It relies on used scenarios and over-the-top characters that add nothing to the story. It repeats itself and becomes too predictable to hold the audiences attention. In terms of tone, it is not clear if this was aimed at a young audience or it wanted the mass appeal of something more classic. It fails on both with a messy final outcome.

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In spite of the flaws, Mary and the Witch’s Flower does have some phenomenal animation, with some moments looking like photography. Hand drawn is not used enough these days in feature work but here it beautifully creates characters and settings.

As is the case with many animations that are dubbed from their production language, the film feels as if it has lost something in translation. Voices do not suit their characters and scenes feel stunted in places; no more so than the broom keeper Mr Flanagan voiced by Ewen Bremner. They give off no real emotive range despite having the talents of Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is too whimsical to have wide appeal. Despite some beautiful animation, the film never takes flight.


Mary and the Witch’s Flower is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

The Happytime Murders – Review

Puppets may be more associated with the kid friendly, family adventure section of the entertainment world, but they also go very well with cheeky humour as well. From stage show Avenue-Q, to series Mongrels and the occasional in-jokes of The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, the small, cute and cuddly creatures work greatly when juxtaposed with dark humour. So when Brian Henson (and The Jim Henson Company), announced a new puppet/live-action project with an edge, I was excited. We have The Muppets and Sesame Street taking care of the young ones but this would be exclusively for us grown ups.

Sadly, despite the talents of Henson’ s creature workshop and Melissa MaCarthy as star, The Happytime Murders is lifeless and forgettable.

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The Happytime Murders is set in a world where puppets and humans live side by side but definitely not in harmony. Puppets are considered lower class citizens by human everywhere. When Private Investigator (and a puppet) Phil Phillips is hired to find the sender of threatening letters, he stumbles across the murder scene of a former TV bunny. Phil believes someone is taking out members of former TV programne The Happytime Gang. When Phil teams up with his ex-police partner Connie Edwards, (McCarthy) the pair stumble on a plot bigger than just murder.

The film is directed by Brian Henson, Son of Muppet creator Jim Henson. Brian has a long history in puppetry  but also directed arguably the greatest Muppets outing, The Muppets Christmas Carol.

In terms of story, this is pretty standard for a cop drama: Ex-partners reunite on unsolved case and uncover their backstory in the process. It’s not original but for the concept it’s the humour you turn in for.

The film has two major problems. Firstly, it’s not funny. A few quick gags here and there but neither the premise nor the script is good. Soon into the film it’s clear it relies on characters and puppets telling each other to “f-off” as it’s main source of humour. This wears thin quickly.

The second problem the film has is that it does not know what it wants to be. Is it pure slapstick or a cop buddy story? The film never decides which route to take so is painfully stuck inbetween. The inconsistent tone, alongside bad humour makes the film a complete mess.

The talent of the puppet makers is still seen here. The range and look of the creatures is still what you would expect from such a company. Less lively than the companies previous film efforts, perhaps to make them fit in against their human setting. Yet in trying to make the puppets more human, they have diluted the fun and energy puppets usually bring to a project.

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The cast is led by Melissa McCarthy. There is no doubt that McCarthy is a talented actress, with brilliant comedic skills but this absolutely wastes her in every way. She has no real story or script to work with. Also the jokes around her appearance also reflect a major problem with the film industry. McCarthy is a very pretty actress, yet not being slim seems to pigeonhole her for fat or manly jokes. Nether are accurate and neither work as comedy in the film.

Phil Phillips is voiced by puppeteer Bill Beretta, who fails to inject any life or charisma into his character. Small roles from Elizabeth Banks and Maya Rudolph add nothing to the film. No amount of on screen talent could save a bad script.

A dull and lifeless film that wastes the talent of its actors and puppets makers.


The Happytime Murders is out in cinemas now! 

Nappily Ever After Trailer

Any woman will tell you that our hair is a big deal. Linked so tightly to the concept of femininity, it is something most women use as a way of expressing themselves. For Black women, our hair (yes the chick writing this has an Afro) is even more closely linked to our identity and sadly our natural hair is still something many women struggle with. Portrayed in media as unattractive, unprofessional and something that can literally hold us back. Many women with Afro hair feel the overwhelming pressure to change their appearance to a more euro-centric look. In the new Netflix original movie Nappily Ever After, we meet a woman whose lifelong struggle with her own hair, finally gets the better of her.

Nappily Ever After introduces us to Violet Jones, a woman who has always aimed to be perfect. From a young age she began to ‘fix’ her hair and strived for constant perfection. When the night she believes her boyfriend is going to propose to her ends differently, Violent begins to lose her usual level of control. One night, she does the unthinkable while drunk and cuts off her hair. Now without her long hair to hide behind Violent must look at the emphasis she places on her hair and really learn to just be herself.

The film is based on the best selling book by Trisha R. Thomas of the same name. The film is another example of Netflix creating more diverse content and with a cast that includes Ernie Hudson, Lynn Whitfield, Ricky Whittle and Lyriq Bent. With the movement for Black women to embrace their natural hair at an all time high, the film will be a welcomed and relevant story to many. To those not in the curl club, just watch for the cute female empowerment feels.

The film will be released on Netflix this September.

11-11: Memories Retold Story Trailer

Aardman Animation may be known for their Claymation creations, but to mark the one-hundred year anniversary of the end to the First World War, the studio have ventured into games. In conjunction with DigixArt and presented by Bandai Namco, the first story trailer for 11-11: Memories Retold has launched.

Released on the 9th of November, the game aims to bring to life both sides of the War through two central characters. Kurt, a German Soldier looking for his son who is missing in action. As well as Harry, a Canadian photographer who soon realises the harsh realities of life inside the trenches. The two characters are voiced by Sebastian Koch and Elijah Wood respectively. The plot revolves around the two playable leading characters and how they their lives and those around them are effected by their encounter.

The trailer looks to have more of an emotional narrative feel than your run of the mill game release. If those hearing Aardman’s name were expecting funny creatures, they will be disappointed. The CGI visuals of the trailer and game reflect those of a textured painting. Gamers will feels as if their characters are ripped straight from a canvas.

The game will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on November 9th. What do you think of the trailer?