Monday 29 September 2014

The Belated Birthday

It recently came to my attention that I missed the tradition of writing a birthday post on my 20th birthday some three weeks ago. While it's not record breaking news, I still want you all to bow before me and wish me a happy belated birthday. I am that important.

Well, I got some clothes and stuff, but my main present was back in July - when I went to see The Lion King on stage with my family, who paid for the expensive ticket. It was quiet birthday in terms of gifts, but it became brilliantly memorable when me and my girlfriend won free tickets to Thorpe Park, with a date chosen at random. It just happened to be my birthday, so we made last minute plans to go there and, with twenty two rides done in just a day, it was certainly a good time!

Now, wish me a happy belated birthday or I will kill you. Understand? Good.

Have a great day.

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Best (or worst?) Disney Deaths

We tend to think of Disney as child friendly, but compared to their competitors in the past like Don Bluth and even Dreamworks, they mastered a superb art: portraying disturbing things without outright showing them. One of the best examples of this is almost every Disney character death; some are incredibly gruesome and others freaky, yet they're portrayed in subtle ways to still make the films open to child audiences. As proof of my words, let's take a look at some examples...

Watch the films in question before reading, but to be honest if you haven't already then shame on you!

Tarzan - Kala and Kerchak's Baby

A Disney death that not a lot of people may remember is that of Kala and Kerchak's son at the beginning of 1999's Tarzan. Wandering off in the night to chase a frog, the little chimp encounters the notorious leopardess Sabor, who chases her prey across the jungle, quickly catching and killing it. Nothing is shown outright; the chimp is seen running, and the shot above ends with Sabor jumping in front and then into the bushes. As a kid I'm thinking 'oh no, Sabor is chasing the little guy into the jungle!'. It's only as a teenager that I realised the bushes cover the chimp in her mouth, and that she is carrying it off to rip it apart for dinner. Damn, Disney.

The Lion King - Scar

Moments before fighting his nephew Simba, Scar betrays his hyena followers by blaming them for Mufasa's death and the subsequent downfall of the Pride Lands. When Scar loses the battle, he is relieved to see his hyena subjects before him; that is until they admit to hearing his betrayal and surround him with ravenous hunger. We see Scar beg for mercy as the hyenas close in, but Disney once again convey a frightening death with effective censorship. The camera soon pans up, and we only see the hyenas pounce on Scar in the form of their giant shadows as they maul him alive. My child reaction? Yeah, the hyenas destroy Scar! My adult self then understands how gory and shocking this death really is in theory, but Disney portray it in a stylistic way to once again make it family friendly. Or at least as family friendly as this kind of death can get...

Tarzan - Clayton

Back to Tarzan - quite easily one of Disney's most dramatic films to date. The villain Clayton proceeds to fight the titular hero amongst the jungle treetops, but is soon trapped in a mishmash of vines. He mindlessly slashes his way out but cuts one too many; the vines are unable to support his weight and so he falls and falls, until a vine coiled around his neck tightens, effectively hanging him. Much like with Scar's death, an extremely violent and disturbing scene is conveyed with shadows - after a shot of the vine straightening and the sudden absence of Clayton's screams, a torrential storm begins - lightning strikes briefly illuminate the jungle, revealing a silhouette of Clayton's hanging corpse. Yikes.

Tangled - Mother Gothel

A dying Flynn Rider slashes Rapunzel's hair, destroying its healing abilities which Mother Gothel exploited to remain permanently young. With Rapunzel's hair gone, Gothel begins to wither and decay. Her skin wrinkles and her hair turns grey as she slowly dies - a shot of a broken mirror obscures her disturbingly pale face, and she soon covers it with her hood. She continues to rot away, tripping out the window and turning into dust by the time she hits the forest floor. Without being too violent, this death is still extremely frightening as we see Gothel morph into an frail ghostly figure; it's like something straight from a horror film. For kids!

The Princess and the Frog - Facilier

The magician Doctor Facilier needs to round up the souls of New Orleans to pay back a debt to his voodoo masters, but when Tiana destroys the talisman that's essential to Facilier's plans, his friends on the other side take him as payment instead. A huge voodoo mask opens up and reveals a green realm within. Shadows then grab Facilier by his legs, and despite his pleas for mercy, he is dragged away into hell and silenced forever. After everything fades away, all that's left is a gravestone with his screaming face attached. Not a physical death and certainly not a gory one, but still pretty freaky, especially when the voodoo shadows throughout the film were already scary as can be anyway.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Frollo

One of Disney's most epic deaths is that of Frollo, Quasimodo's evil mentor in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After chasing Quasi and the gypsy Esmerelda into the titular cathedral, Frollo leaves Quasi hanging for dear life at the edge of the balcony while he swings to a nearby gargoyle. Balancing on the stone and preparing to behead Esmerelda, Frollo stumbles and comes face to face with the gargoyle's frightening stare, before it breaks off and plunges him into the lava below. As a kid, this death seems badass - the asshole Frollo falls into a sea of lava and gets what he deserves. But as an adult you start to understand just how scarily symbolic this scene is, referencing hell and Satan himself, sending Frollo to a place where he will pay for his evil deeds for all eternity.

Bambi - Bambi's Mother

Quite possibly the most talked about Disney death is Bambi's mother. While her and Bambi graze in a snowy field, her ears perk up and she looks around, sensing danger. Without warning, she quickly ushers Bambi to run to the thicket. The tension rises as Bambi retreats, his mother yelling at him to not look back but to keep running and running. Bambi rushes off to safety, but just as he does we hear a gun shot. He keeps going until he realises his mother is no longer following him. After failing to find her in the isolated woods, his father, the Great Prince of the Forest, appears before him and tells him his mother is gone. The drama here is just perfect - everything from the goosebump inducing chase scene to the eerie sad music to the cries of Bambi as he looks for his mum. A truly manly man would have to punch a wall immediately after watching this scene.

The Lion King - Mufasa

Tied with Bambi's mother, the most heartbreaking Disney death is of course Mufasa in The Lion King. After saving his son Simba from a chaotic wildebeest stampede, Mufasa finds himself hanging before his brother Scar on a cliffside above said stampede below. Wanting to become king of the Pride Lands at any cost, Scar mercilessly throws his brother back into the gorge where he is promptly trampled to death. Mufasa's screams are joined by Simba's as he falls to his death and, when the stampede ends, Simba climbs down to find his father. All he finds is the corpse, which he desperately tries to awaken. But Mufasa is gone - and all Simba can do is curl up beside his father and wait to perish himself. Scar arrives and blames Simba for what has happened, showing absolutely no regret for what he has done, thus making his eventual downfall all the more satisfying.

Disney is fucked up.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 12 September 2014

Movie Review - Aladdin

The second highest grossing film in Disney's 1990s Renaissance era, Aladdin is also one of their most treasured - thanks to its gorgeous visuals, memorable characters but, most importantly, an iconic performance from the late Robin Williams as the Genie.

Aladdin tells the story of the titular peasant (Scott Weinger) who must forage and steal to survive every day in the city of Agrabah, whilst also avoiding capture from the palace guards. His actions bring him to the path of the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) but also the ruthless royal vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), who captures Aladdin, 'the diamond in the rough', to enter the mythical Cave of Wonders to retrieve a very special lamp...

On a visual level, Aladdin is one of Disney's strongest efforts, with a clean and fantastically drawn style that animates smoothly and beautifully. This level of aesthetic care also translates to the soundtrack and vocal performances - the cast all perform wonderfully, and the songs are just as fantastic as Alan Menken's score itself. Of course, everyones favourite performance is Robin Williams as the hilarious Genie; he demonstrates an ability to provide comic relief, genuine emotion, and can flex his voice in a number of ways to craft one of the most memorable characters in Disney history.

On a story level, Aladdin isn't always perfect; it's got some serious plot holes and sometimes lacks basic logic. Its story flaws also render the otherwise intimidating villain Jafar a bit moronic, and his motives and actions don't always make complete sense. The script is packed with heart, but the masters of plot holes Ron Clements and John Musker (seriously, go watch any other Disney film they made) sometimes make the narrative weaker than the visuals and music. Aladdin is still an excellent film in spite of a sometimes weak script, and it's definitely one of the Disney Renaissance's finest.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Movie Review - The Guest

The Guest premiered at Sundance back in January, and has finally seen its nationwide release this month - directed by Adam Wingard of You're Next fame, The Guest is a psychological thriller that relies on its excellent pacing and subtlety to develop an unsettling yet fun experience, in spite of its underdeveloped narrative.

David Collins (Dan Stevens) is a soldier from Afghanistan who, after being discharged, immediately locates the family of his late friend Caleb who died in battle. After ensuring their safety as promised on Caleb's deathbed, he is taken in for a few days as a guest until he can find his own place, but as time goes on disputes and complications arise as to who David really is - and what dark secrets lie in his past.

Adam Wingard's direction perfectly constructs The Guest into a tense and well paced thriller - subtle touches in each scene leave us on the edge of our seats, even if nothing violent or dramatic is taking place. When secrets are revealed and the build up to the climax begins, things get incredibly tense, drawing us into the unnerving emotions of the characters as the plot twists unfold. Fantastic performances across the board make it all the more gripping; Stevens has mastered his well written character, and co-star Makai Monroe is just as superb with hers.

Unfortunately the films storytelling is sometimes a little weak; everything feels a bit vague and while this helps to challenge the audience, it ultimately makes the story a little flimsy with no solid ground to rest on. Leaving audiences to guess important things makes the plot feel a little lazy, and although very brief conversations attempt to reveal crucial plot details, they end up failing miserably - particularly when dialogue is drowned in a loud soundscape. While it makes everything feel a little less impactful, The Guest still remains a cleverly directed and fun thriller; stylistic violence, a fab soundtrack and excellent pacing make it an enjoyable watch in spite of its minor flaws.