Friday, December 15, 2017

Festive Scene Friday! Arthur Christmas: The Elf Battalion

I often here people bemoan, especially at this time of year, that there are no modern classic Christmas films, with Elf and Love, Actually, both released in 2003, being the ones brought up as the last "good" ones. Whenever this occurs, Arthur Christmas is my go-to response. If you're not familiar, it's Aardman's 2011 computer-animated release centring on the family lineage of the Santas and how they function in a modern world. Jim Broadbent voices the current Santa, Imelda Staunton is his wife, Bill Nighy is his retired father Grand-Santa and his two sons are ambitious, career-hungry Steve (Hugh Laurie) and clumsy yet enthusiastic and endearing Arthur (James McAvoy). When Steve's military-style technology loses track of one present at the end of Christmas Eve, Arthur takes it upon himself - with the help of Grand-Santa, a single reindeer and an elf from the wrapping division (Ashley Jenson) - to return the gift before its intended recipient wakes up.
Arthur Christmas artwork from, uploaded by AndyForman001
There are many scenes I could highlight here - the African exploits, the family board game, the climactic Cornwall-set chase - but instead I'm picking the film's opening scene, which really introduces us to the world and exactly how Santa and his team of elves manage to pull off the seemingly-impossible mission of delivering so many presents to so many children in such a short amount of time. Take a look:

To date this is Aardman's only fully computer-generated animation, whereas previously they worked within the stop-motion realm, painstakingly modelling endless figures and scenes, and imbuing them with life through the arduous animation process. Trying out this more digital approach does definitely lose something - the style is a little less charming, feels a little more processed - but it also allows for far greater scope and scale, and that's no more evident than in this opening, with hundreds of elves descending from Santa's mile-wide ship to deliver thousands of presents simultaneously. There's so much going on so quickly in every frame here that I honestly don't blame them for eschewing the more limited stop-motion format.

The intro answers a lot of questions as to how Santa might work in the modern world, tackling such issues as children in hospitals, sleeping in vans, apartment blocks and houses that don't have traditional fireplaces. Of course there's a lot of nonsense here with regards to the wrapped presents - for some reason the fully-functioning yet entirely encased slinky bothers me more than the inflating bouncy castle - and I love the homage to possibly the greatest scene from the greatest feature Aardman released, the train chase in The Wrong Trousers. Oh and for some reason the sleeping dog being left a gift-wrapped bone warms my heart to no end.

What's your favorite modern Christmas movie moment?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Favorite Scene Friday! Deep Blue Sea: Enough is Enough

I've made no secret of my belief in the fact that Jurassic Park is the greatest movie of all time, so it should be no surprise to learn that I also love some other films that have taken more than a little inspiration from it. Deep Blue Sea follows an almost identical template - a skeleton crew of scientists, trainers and visitors are trapped in a remote, water-surrounded facility when, during a storm, a combination of human error and digestion-based natural instincts cause the crew to rapidly diminish in number whilst trying to safely find a way home - oh, and they both feature Samuel L. Jackson. The main difference between Deep Blue Sea and Jurassic Park - other than the abundance of giant brainy sharks instead of lysene-deficient dinosaurs - is that Deep Blue Sea is more often ridiculous, and potentially the pinnacle of this nonsense is the subject of today's FSF.

Deep Blue Sea wallpaper available on AlphaCoders from darkness

It's easily the most famous scene from the film. In fact, it's a scene I'd seen before I'd even heard of the film itself. It's the kind of film where someone will show it to you by skipping just to this scene, and ending it right afterwards. And yes, that's exactly what happened to me. It took me a few years to actually watch the rest of the film and, whilst I highly enjoy the various scenes of shark-spearing, helicopter-exploding and bird-eating, it's still this scene that stands out from all the rest. Prior to this point the pressure in an underwater shark research laboratory has potentially been compromised and the few remaining survivors - shark wrangler Carter (Thomas Jane), scientist Susan (Saffron Burrows), terrified marine biologist Janice (Jacqueline McKenzie), skittish engineer Scoggins (Michael Rapaport) and corporate executive/avalanche survivor Russell (Samuel L. Jackson) - are coming to blows over their best course of action. There are deadly sharks on the loose and their submersible is damaged, so the best means of escape seems to be climbing up an elevator shaft, but opening the door to the shaft could drown them all. Anyway, here's the scene:

Most of this is Russell's monologue. Sam Jackson has had a fair few phenomenal monologues in his time - Pulp Fiction of course springs to the forefront of my mind - so there really is no-one better to deliver these lines. Granted I could have done with the occasional "motherf*cker" thrown in here and there for good measure, but I'll take what I can get. What I really love about this scene though, and what makes it genuinely annoying that so many people see or hear about it before seeing the film as a whole, is that the end of it comes as a surprise. The scene itself is a cliche - the characters are panicking and heading in different directions, so one member, generally the most senior, makes a rousing speech to bond everyone together to face the climax as a team - but what breaks it from the mould is as Russell comes to the end of his speech and begins laying out his plan of action he is violently taken out by an appalling CGI shark emerging from the very pool Russell is suggesting they seal up. His body is dragged back into the pool which, after a little churning, becomes a bloody hot tub of commotion. We witness the reactions of the other characters and, unusually for this sort of film, we're as surprised as they are. Not only is it a shock that someone got taken out mid-motivational speech, but that person was Samuel L. Jackson, the biggest name in the film and one of the first character we met. As the outsider to the facility he has essentially been the audience surrogate so far, the character we've clung to during his tour and introductions to the rest of the characters, and now he's nothing but chum.

Deep Blue Sea is a film full of decent character deaths - very few characters actually survive the film - but Russell's demise is easily the most memorable and iconic, despite chronologically falling in the middle of them all. It almost feels as if the entire film has been created around this moment, and if it means getting to witness a scene like this then as far as I'm concerned that's a pretty great reason to make a movie.

What's your favorite Samuel L. Jackson movie moment?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Favorite Trailer Friday! Nightcrawler

While this might be the shortest clip we've ever featured, I think it's more than worthy. In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a thief who develops a taste for late night freelance photojournalism.

Dan Norris via AMP

In this teaser alone, Gyllenhaal is fantastic. He manages to be charming, creepy, and frighteningly intense in less than a minute. If his character seems like a "hungry coyote", that's exactly what he was going for.

Obviously central to this teaser is his speech. Gyllenhaal apparently memorized the entire film like a play, which, I guess you'd have to if you've gotta say this particular spiel over and over again. The teaser itself is special - it's got footage of his speeches from the movie, but it also has some stuff shot just for the teaser. He never sits behind the news desk like that or talks directly into the camera. After seeing this teaser, you just have to wonder what the hell this movie is. It does a great job of hinting at the kind of demented tone but doesn't tell you too much.  Gyllenhaal would go on to win awards and nominations for his role and director and writer Dan Gilroy nabbed an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.

What's your favorite scene from Nightcrawler?