Movie Reviews

Paul’s Mini-Reviews #8


“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)

A little known fact about this film – Though Tim Burton seems to take full credit for “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Burton did not direct it. That honor goes to Henry Selick, who would go on to direct “James And The Giant Peach” and “Coraline,” another fantasy stop motion classic.

And yes, I would use the word “classic” to describe “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” A classic movie, in my opinion, is a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of film that continues to entertain audiences long after its time in theaters. There is nothing else like it, and you can show it to your grandchildren as their faces light up like yours did.

The world of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is reason enough to watch the film, as each major holiday has their own town, where it is perpetually that holiday, including Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and of course, Halloween and Christmas. The citizens of these towns reflect their holiday, as the state of mind and goals of the creepy creatures of Halloween town see everything as a scare, and unpleasant and creepy is good. Anything that doesn’t belong to their way of life is strange and unacceptable to these ghouls and witches.

I just wanted to visit every one of those worlds and see how their land differs from ours. I’m sure some people would have fun in St. Patrick’s Day Land, while others could get lost in Valentine’s Day Land. Wonder if they’d consider a Baseball Opening Day Land (yes, people were talking about making that a national holiday).

The animation in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is befitting of a Rankin/Bass claymation Christmas special, like “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” while still having the creepy factor of any Tim Burton production.

Ultimately, that is what “The Nightmare Before Christmas” feels like – Tim Burton’s take on the classic Christmas tales, adding an odd and foreign flavor to something that we already loved, in this case everyone’s favorite holiday. The animation makes this film timeless, as we watch the backgrounds twist and turn to the characters demands and bring Halloween Town to life.

Final Grade: B+


“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1955)

It is interesting to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s films out of order and find out just how much films like “The Man Who Knew Too Much” pails in comparison to some of his other work, especially “North By Northwest.”

That is not to say “The Man Who Knew Too Much” is a bad film, just that everything this James Stewart-Doris Day thriller attempted to do – Average man caught up in a murder scandal, attempting to out run the police, while trying to stop a crime that might soon be committed – was done so much better in Hitchcock’s other films.

Part of the reason for this is that “North By Northwest” had extravagent set pieces and outlandish sequences that heightened the suspense of every scene, building up to a climax atop one of the nation’s most recognizable landmark. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” has two noticable locations – the Morrocan desert and a theater. The other factor is that many of Hitchcock’s films had a great sense of humor, where the characters could chim in with a funny quip right on the spot, mostly due to the comedic background of actors like Cary Grant. James Stewart, as great of an actor as he is, does not have the best comedic timing, leaving many of his jokes in this film a bit flat.

Not to mention, the first half hour of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” features mostly sight-seeing and James Stewart trying to get accustom to the Morrocan lifestyle. It isn’t until the movie is a fourth of the way in that something interesting finally happens. However, once it gets to that point, it does a great job at building up suspense and Stewart and Day give some heartfelt performances.

Overall, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” feels like a dress rehearsal for “North By Northwest.” Exotic locales, a story that takes our protagonist all over Europe and Africa, and a Hitchcock pace and atmosphere that we’ve all come to know and love. It is certainly worth checking out, if only to watch James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock collaborate.

Final Grade: B-


“The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)

Without even looking at the crew of this 1942 adaptation of the novel by Booth Tarkington, you can tell that this is made by the same people as “Citizen Kane.” From the dramatic camera angles, to the lighting of indoor scenery, to the way the characters talk about life as if everything they say must be grandiose and dramatic. Orson Welles’ fingerprints, much like “Citizen Kane” are all over this film. This gives “The Magnificent Ambersons” a charm that is hard to match – the look that is stunning for 1942, and a longing feeling for times that will never come again.

I would best describe “The Magnificent Ambersons” as Orson Welles recapturing his childhood, and showing the nostalgia for America before the turn of the 20th century. A time when horse-drawn carriages were the best way to get around, and people made time for everyone because there was nothing else to do. The film brilliantly captures how the world was forever changed when automobiles were created, and how it was leaving those who refused to change and others who prospered behind in a big cloud of exhaust and fumes.

These were simplier times for people who didn’t need much in life, and Welles was one of those people.

However, outside of that and the cinematography, there isn’t much else to “The Magnificent Ambersons.” The story is like any other rich-spoiled brat who gets what he deserves plotline, and very few performances stood out, other than a few scenes with Agnes Moorehead as Fanny Amberson as she breaks down when her life begins to fall apart. The pacing also certainly does not help, as near the beginning it is slow as molasses and then near the end it feels the need to wrap up everything quickly.

Overall, “The Magnificent Ambersons” had many good qualities to it, especially the love letter to the olden days of Welles’ childhood. It is worth checking out just to see how Orson Welles and his crew follow up on “Citizen Kane.”

Final Grade: C+


“El Mariachi” (1992)

Wow, what a way to start out for Robert Rodriguez.

In this homage to Hollywood shoot-em-ups and films cases of mistaken identity, like “North By Northwest,” Rodrguez not only directs the film, but also wrote it, produced it, edited it and did the cinematography for this Mexican gangster flick, on a budget of $7,000. Just about the only thing Rodriguez didn’t do for “El Mariachi” was write the music, which might explain why the film has five different composers.

It is no surprise that after this film, Rodriguez was launched into filmmaker stardom, giving us many big hits like “Desparado,” “From Dusk till Dawn,” the “Spy Kids” franchise and “Sin City,” as well as having an strange working relationship with Quentin Tarantino. This is possibly due to both of their love of excessive violence and the over the top nature of old movies, especially their need to pay homage to that zany violence.

I would describe “El Mariachi” as Rodriguez giving his take on a Hitchcock film, but with the violence of films like “Dirty Harry” and “Robocop.” You end up getting a taste of everything, even if the film does not excel at any one aspect. It is not that “El Mariachi” does anything wrong, but the film does not do anything that stands out. The plot is good, the characters are decently relatable and the action gets the job done.

Though I do respect “El Mariachi” for how much Robert Rodriguez was able to do, and still make a film that turned out alright. Usually a director is also a producer and sometimes a writer, but never the cinematographer and editor as well. Kudos to you, Mr. Rodriguez.

Final Grade: C+


“My Dinner With Andre” (1981)

“My Dinner With Andre” is quite possibly the simplest idea for a film – It is merely two old friends sitting down for dinner, and the conversations they have over the course of the meal.

The topics range from the experiences one of them had while traveling to far-off lands like Poland and the Sahara desert, the New York Theater, the fear of being buried alive and how society has become mechanized. Never at any point during the dinner does this actually feel like a movie, as the dialogue between these two is natural and opinionated, giving their conversations some edge to it. It feels like a casual conversation that eventually turns to a deeper and judgemental subject matter.

However, your mileage with “My Dinner With Andre” will vary, depending on your reaction to Andre (Andre Gregory) and Wally (Wallace Shawn) discussing how people nowadays are automated and tend to live in their own private dream world and that this could lead to the extinction of humanity. Granted, this is just one man’s opinions, but since Andre puts this on a pedestal and swears by it, as if to mock anyone who enjoys electronic devices, that can make the middle of the film grating and eye-rolling.

“My Dinner With Andre” is at its best when Andre recollects about his many fascinating experiences. Without any sort of visual cut-aways or voice over narration, Andre describes the vast Polish landscape and its eccentric theater community, making sure to go into explict detail and analogies as much as possible. Nothing is forced upon the audience, and it feels like we’ve now been apart of that ride with Andre.

Overall, “My Dinner With Andre” feels like I’ve taken part in a long conversation, albiet an often uncomfortable and judgmental one. The conversation does tend to ramble on at points, and does come to an abrupt end, but that is to be expected during any dinner conversation. A unique experiment in filmmaking with an unnusual outcome.

Final Grade: B-


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