Day 13 – Polar Express (2010) U

Today I watched the Polar Express, this is a film that I already owned but never got round to actually seeing, although I’ve always wanted to see it on stage.

The story is about a young boy who has started to stop believing in Santa, on Christmas eve he hears what he thinks is Santa’s sleigh and gets up to see what it is, ripping the pocket of his dressing gown at the same time. It turns out to be a train to the North Pole, and although he nearly decides against going the boy jumps on the train just in time. On the train there are other children and he gets talking to a young girl and a know-it-all boy, they stop for another child who originally decides not to get on although when the train starts to leave he changes his mind and is able to get onto the train as the emergency brake is pulled. When the other boy misses out on hot chocolate the girl decides to take him some but leaves her ticket on the seat, the boy tries to give her back her ticket but loses it in the wind. When the conductor learns that her ticket is missing he takes her away, and on top of the train, the boy finds her ticket and follows wanting to make it up to her. On his way he meets a hobo who says he’s the owner of the Polar Express and the king of the North Pole, he then helps him to follow the conductor and the girl, on ski’s across the train. When they get to the tunnel the boy falls into the coal pit and the hobo disappears. Once he gives the girl her ticket the train goes over ice and almost falls through before arriving at the North Pole. When they get to the North Pole the boy and the girl notice the other boy (who we learn is called Billy) hasn’t got off so they try to persuade him to go and see Santa, unfortunately he hits the kicks the brake for the carriage which means they get lost in the maze of the North Pole and the Elf town. On their way back to the town centre they fall into Santa’s sack and Billy finds a present for himself, they eventually land in the centre and Santa arrives, only the boy can’t hear the bells like the other children, nor can he see him due to all the people in front. When one of the bells falls off Santa’s sleigh he picks it up and decides that he does believe in Santa, when he says those words out loud Santa appears next to him and gives him the bell as the first gift of Christmas. They then get back on the train and go home when the boy discovers that the bell has fallen out of the hole in his pocket, he wakes up the next morning to find the bell under the Christmas tree. Just as the credits start he says that although his friends stopped being able to hear the bell ring he never did.

 

I’m sorry for the long synopsis, I know I’m normally able to keep it short but there was a lot happening in this and I felt it was important to get it all in. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I enjoyed it.

The only person whose name you get told is Billy and I like that, there’s no need to know the main characters names because it means they are every boy and every girl. It makes it feel like that could have been you, which I enjoyed.

The animation was good and was based on the actors in a studio, this means that it captures the actors image and they do a good job of it, but I found the kids a bit unbelievable, they were all nice enough but they didn’t feel real.
Although I think that’s down to the script more than the acting, it puts the children in such wierd situations that they are never going to feel real. This may seem like an odd critism but I’ve always thought the strength of a writer is shown when the characters seem real no matter how odd the situation and that just didn’t come through here, which is a pity.

Overall though I enjoyed the Polar Express and I won’t hesitate to watch it again, the music was good even though it was slightly repetitive and the story was a good mix between being simple and being complex.

Sorry I’m a few minutes late, I’m going to stop starting to write these reviews at 11, and stop getting distracted by my book. Honest

Rea

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Day 12 – The SNowman and the Snowdog

So I thought I’d watch another of Raymond Briggs Christmas films, and watch the sequel to the Snowman, which is the Snowman and the Snowdog. I also thought I’d continue it because it’s short and I am running out of time in the day (I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t be late again – I’m trying!)

 

This story starts with a young boy and his mum moving into a new house (the house from the Snowman) with their old dog, the young boy finds a picture of James and The Snowman and when the snow falls decides to make him again as well as a snowdog (with socks for ears). O course at midnight they come to life and after the snowdog gets used to being alive and the snowman sees the photo of him and James, they go off to the yearly party at the North Pole. On the way to the party the snowman loses his nose and they have to land to look for it, they find an old plane and decided to fly the rest of the way in that. At the North Pole Billy and his snowdog get into a sledging race and only just win beating many other snowman and some penguins. Father Christmas gives Billy a present and they fly home. Once home Billy opens his present to find a collar which he puts on the snowdog and he changes into a real dog just like the one that Billy asked Father Christmas for. In the morning the Snowman has melted again but the dog is still alive.

It’s a story written for the 30th anniversary of The Snowman and it feels right, they pay homage by having Billy make the snowman the same way as well as seeing the motorbike and lots of other small features in reference to the original film. But it also feels like it can stand up on its own, the party is different and the sledging race is good fun. I cheered when Billy beat the penguins and ignored the part of my brain that reminded me that penguins live in the South Pole.

It’s a happy film, reminding you what happened in the past but not getting too bogged down in it, Billy doesn’t know that he’s not the first child to go on this type of adventure and although there are small references in the house there is nothing else that screams out that it’s a sequel, which I was very impressed by.

The party at the North Pole is brilliant, I want to go. The snowmen are all having fun, the penguins migrate, there are races and presents from Father Christmas that turns snow animals into real animals. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Plus there is still a snowman with a gun on his hip, in my mind the original child still does it every year and taught their children to do the same.

The story is similar, but it would be difficult for it to be different and it’s just different enough that it doesn’t matter. When I first watched The Snowman and the Snowdog, last year I wasn’t sure what I thought but now I’ve had a year to sit on it and I’ve watched it again, I’ve decided that I enjoyed it.
They made a good sequel to a classic and any uncertainty I have about it is mainly because I love the original so much I feel like I’m being unfaithful to it. But teh music is good, the animation is still spectacular and it’s one I will definitely watch again over the current Christmas period.

 

See you tomorrow

Rea

Day 11 – Father Christmas (2008) U

I’m late today and I’m really sorry, but I honestly didn’t get back home until midnight. I was carolling with singing society, carolling with the Brownies, had the singing society Christmas dinner, then went and played techie for the comedy night at the SU.

But I did find the time to watch a film, granted it’s only 25mins long but I did watch it.

 

I knew of Father Christmas before I watched it, at this point I own all of them because I go home tomorrow and lose the DVD rental shop, so I had a vague idea of what it was.
The story is about what Father Christmas does in the rest of the year, he does the gardening, looks after the reindeer and the pets and this year he decided to go on holiday as well. So he goes to France, Scotland and Las Vegas and leaves every time he gets recognised. When he comes back from his holiday he has a huge backlog of letters to deal with and has grown tired of Christmas, hence the song, “another blooming Christmas”. When he gets back from delivering the presents the snowmen have started the party (and the little boy from The Snowman is there as well) and he discovers that he’s forgotten to give two presents. So he has to race off to get them in time before being able to go to bed and sleep.

My best mate watches this one instead of ‘The Snowman’ (Day 2) as they as made by the same people and based of Raymond Briggs’ books. So I expected to see something like the Snowman, but I didn’t and I’m not sure if I liked it or not so I’m going to use this review as a way of working out what I thought.

The animation was brilliant, it’s the same style as The Snowman and I’ve already discussed what I think about that so I don’t want to say it again.

It’s the story I’m not sure about, it seemed to be forced and I don’t like the idea of Father Christmas not liking Christmas. I understand that it’s very busy and there is a lot of hard work involved but the idea of it being a “blooming Christmas” made him feel Scrooge like, “bah humbug” and for Father Christmas that feels wrong.
It also felt like it was trying to be funny, when he lost all his money in Vegas, when he walked around France in a blue stripy top holding a baguette, or when he jumped into a lake in Scotland and then complained about it being cold. It felt like the writers were telling me to laugh and that the fact I didn’t find it funny was my fault, like I was in the wrong. And that annoyed me.

The party scene with the snowmen felt like they were putting it in to remind people that they had made The Snowman, but if they were going to do that they should have made the snowmen look better. Unlike The Snowman film where each snowman was different in this they all looked very similar and not many had individual features.

The soundtrack wasn’t bad, and Mel Smith who played the voice of Father Christmas I think did a good job, he sounded like how you would imagine Father Christmas to sound, deep but with kindness.

Overall I was disappointed with this short film, I know they can do better and they even reminded me of the better film that they made in this one. I’m aware I shouldn’t judge the films against each other but by making a reference of the Snowman it just made me wish I was watching that instead which pulled me out of this one. I’m annoyed that I felt this way because I wanted to enjoy and maybe that’s part of the problem I came into this film with high expectations and as it didn’t meet them I enjoyed it less than I would have done without those expectations.

 

Favourite bit: The fact that James was wearing the scarf he got from Father Christmas in the Snowman, it’s a nice bit of continuity that wasn’t needed.

 

See you tomorrow/today, I will get it in on time, promise. I’m watching the film on my train home

Rea

Day 10 – Christmas Shoes

A new day and a new film that I know nothing about except that it is set at Christmas and is about shoes, but that can be worked out from the title.
I didn’t know what to expect, but what I definitely didn’t expect was to find myself crying at the end. This is not a traditional Christmas film which is all about the spirit of Christmas getting you through the darkest of times, this is a sad film that happens to occur at Christmas which almost makes it worse.

This film is about the lives of two families, one is slowly falling apart due to the dad working all hours, breaking his promises to go to different things and putting his priority on making money to make the family better instead of spending time with his wife and his daughter. The other family have just learnt that the mum has got a heart disease and is going to be lucky if she lives to see Christmas. The two families lives become entangled as the mum (Kate) from the first family takes over the other mum’s (Maggie’s) job at the school running the school choir. Maggie’s son remembers that her heard his mum say that she used to have a pair of dancing shoes that made her feel like she could do anything, so he decides that for Christmas he has to get her a pair of shoes because he wants her “to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight”.

That small summery should give you some sort of idea of what kind of film this is, and I’m glad to say I enjoyed it. It would be easy to make a film like this too cheesy or too sad or not sad enough. But they didn’t, while there weren’t any funny or laugh out loud moments there were times when the two women were just discussing life that made me smile; as they moaned about normal human things while they both tried to ignore Maggie’s illness.

I was honestly surprised when I checked and saw this is a U, not because there are moments that I think kids shouldn’t see, but because when they are talking about death and what death means for the family, or when Maggie has her breakdown about how she doesn’t want to die, the writers do an amazing job and make it real, rather than just someone on a screen. The U rating, I think, lulls people into a false sense of security that it’s ok to just let the kids watch while the parents go do something else. I cried; age 20 I cried about an on screen death when I had 90 minutes to get to know these characters, it’s incredibly powerful writing and I would have probably given it a PG rating as a warning to parents more than anything else.

The acting in this film by the son is impressive, normally kid actors annoy me but this one was good. Especially considering the stuff he was asked to do, so well done him.
On that note most of the other acting was good as well but he stands out.

 

Favourite moment: When Maggie asks her husband to dance with her and he picks her up and slowly waltzes while they are both crying about what is going to happen.

Best acting: the husband and son as Maggie dies, it’s beautiful.

 

See you tomorrow for a happier film

Rea

Day 9 – Comfort & Joy

After a stressful day trying (and succeeding) to finish my philosophy essay I was glad when I had the time to just put today’s DVD on and enjoy a good film.
Comfort and Joy is not a Christmas film, it just happens to be set at Christmas. Christmas is not t he important part of this film, it’s about finding out who you are.

Jane is living a successful life although she doesn’t like her job, it pays well and she’s content to live her life with no kids and even though her and her boyfriend have nothing really in common. On Christmas Eve she drives home from work and gets into a car accident. She wakes up to find it’s Christmas Eve 10years later, she’s got married to someone she’s never seen before, has two children and a completely new life, one she would never had chosen for herself.
The film is about Jane spending Christmas day with a family she can’t remember and trying to work out who she is in the process, as her parents keep complaining about ‘Old Jane’ and saying how much they like the ‘New Jane’ that she has no memory of.

The level of acting isn’t amazing but even the kids were pretty good, although they weren’t required for them to do anything more than being happy on Christmas day and a bit confused by the way their mum is acting.

Because of the simplicity of the story it allowed the writers to explore each character a bit and that meant they all felt real. The mother was a bit stereotypical with the way she continually put Jane down but apart from that it felt like I was watching a normal family; the grandparents were continually baiting each other, Jane and her husband Sam are just trying to make the world better by helping one person at a time, while the two kids are just good happy kids who are enjoying Christmas. They felt like the kind of family I could find in most households.

It’s not the best film by miles and I’ll probably forget all about it in a couple of weeks time once I’ve finished this project, but I honestly believe that it’ll make you smile. It’s not all about using the Christmas spirit to make life better for someone, ‘Comfort and Joy’ is more about just learning who you are and it happens to occur at Christmas.
The only problem I had with it was the end, when she woke up again in the original car crash 10years earlier and Sam is the person who comes to check up on her, and Jane remembers the couple of days she spent in the ‘future?’ which of course causes them to get together and get to the point that Jane saw. This seemed like the easy way out, but because it was such a simple story line I don’t know if the writers were able to find another way of dealing with the ‘problem’ of her missing memories. Personally I think it would have been nicer to show a couple of hints of her memory coming back and end it in the later timeline with the two deciding to just do their best to get through this mad situation.

 

Favourite moment: I like the way they dealt with the memory loss because as an audience we are also missing those 10years, we see Jane go home from work in one car and then see her waking up in another with a man worried about her who claims to be her husband. It would have been easy to get it wrong but they didn’t so kudos to them.

Best bit of acting: The four of them going skating on Christmas morning and Jane enjoying herself even though she doesn’t know anything about her children or her husband and being surprised when she finds herself enjoying it. There’s nothing said in that scene but it’s full of laughter and Jane’s worried look is soon replaced with a smile.

 

See you tomorrow

Rea

Day 8 -A Christmas Carol (2009) PG

Today I decided to watch a different version of the Dickens classic, as there are many out there and I thought it would be nice to contrast them a bit. This version is a Disney animated version but made by animating the actors acting on a set.

I’m not going to say what the story is, for anyone who doesn’t know read yesterday’s review.

The animation is very ‘of-its-time’, it’s dated already just three years later, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad animation, in fact it’s very impressive as it mirrors the actors which allows them to do whatever they want to, such as Scrooge flying from the ghost of Christmas Present’s  cape, without taking away from the actors performances. This means the animation still looks human and react in a human way, which it’s possible to do when using normal animation but by combining the animation with brilliant actors it adds that extra level to it.

In contrast to the 1984 version I watched yesterday which spent lots of time at each individual Christmas to try and explore each character and to make Scrooge’s character growth more believable. This version spends a lot less time at the Christmas’ for character moments and is full of a lot more crash, bang and wallop. Ss this one is made by Disney and for children it’s understandable, it’s just a very big difference compared to yesterdays.

The acting was impressive, and it’s full of lets of well known actors; Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman being the main three whose voices you are able to instantly recognise and once you know it’s them you can recognise their faces and their characteristics in the animation.

 

This is a good adaptation of the well known story, especially for children who might not be able to sit through a long film which deals with it in a traditional way. The main problem I had with it, is it was obvious that it had been made for 3D and watching it in 2D took something away from it. Nowadays 3D is more subtle and is about giving scenes more depth instead of having things being thrown out of the screen at the audience, and this was how the 3D was done. When Scrooge was flying you could see that he was supposed to be flying out of the screen, and by watching it in 2D it was clear that it wasn’t meant to be shown this way which caused me to be pulled out of the story. Once I realised that it was made for 3D, I found myself watching the story less and trying to work out how it would have looked in 3D.

 

Favourite moment: Nothing stands out as the best moment, it was a good film and a good adaption but I found myself pulled out of the story too often by the fact that it wasn’t in 3D and I was very aware that this version was not made for me.

Best bit of acting: Jim Carrey all the way though, especially considering he was acting with very little props in a white studio.

 

See you again tomorrow

Rea

Day 7 – Christmas Carol

I obviously knew the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ before I watched today’s DVD, except I’ve never seen this version so I was looking forward to watching this classic story.

I’ll just briefly explain the story for anyone who doesn’t remember it. Ebenezer Scrooge is an old man who doesn’t like Christmas, other people or anything apart from money. On Christmas Eve his old –dead – business partner Marly appears and tells him that he’s going to be visited by three ghosts. Scrooge travels with these ghosts to Christmas’ past, present and future and in the end he changes his ways as he doesn’t want to die in the next year with no one to miss him or care about his death.

The story is a beautiful one, based on the original story by Charles Dickens. Everyone who has seen any version of the film (which I think is pretty much everyone over the age of 15 in the UK) owes it to themselves to read the original text.
Each character is well rounded – apart from Tiny Tim who has always annoyed me with piousness – and due to looking back at Christmas Past it gives you a full sense of understanding of why and how Scrooge grew up to be the man we see at the beginning.

But this is a film review, so I’ll discuss the version that I saw today.  The characters felt real and fully rounded, apart for why Scrooge was so fixated on money. They throw it away in half a line with “I wanted better for us”, but it would have been better if that had been expanded on more into a full line or even two, as this is such an important part of his character.
All the acting is good, apart from the kid actors but I tend to ignore that and keep my expectations fairly low. The acting of Scrooge allows you to follow the change in his character as he is melting from a hard money loving man into a better man who would help as many people as he could and he would become a second father to Tiny Tim. Bob Cratchit – Scrooge’s assistant – is the best in this whole thing, I like his character anyway because of how he deals with working for Scrooge but his acting was very impressive especially in the Christmas Future where Tiny Tim is dead.

That brings me to my next point the way they deal with the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. The best one however was Christmas Future, you never actually properly see it, just the shadow of a death-like figure with ominous music; leaving everything else up to your imagination which is very powerful and allows the character to be very creepy and scary.

 

Favourite moment – everything in Christmas Future, I think the way it’s written is impressive because although you know whose dead they never explicitly say it. And the way it’s acted is brilliant as you are able to see just how much people don’t care about Scrooge being dead.

Best bit of acting – Bob Cratchit trying to be ok in Christmas future as it’s the first Christmas without Tiny Tim.

 

And as Tiny Tim says “God bless us everyone” (excuse me while I go puke at this sappyness)
See you tomorrow

Rea