Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

I feel like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride doesn’t get nearly enough love and praise for what a wonderful film it is. The acclaim and lasting impression really stuck to Burton and Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and rightly so, but this is every bit as inspired, packed with catchy tunes, casted with beloved actors and filled with gorgeous stop motion splendour. Plus it’s the keystone Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter outing for me because even though we only get their voices the animation is tailored to each respective essence and we feel their physical presences heavily in spirit.

Depp voices Victor Van Dort, a spindly, nervous creation who’s about to be pressured into one of those delightful old arranged Victorian marriages by his domineering parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). The bride to be is Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) and wouldn’t you know it they actually do fall in love despite circumstances, which is a nice subvert of the trope that I enjoyed. There’s always gotta be a third though and she arrives in the form of the titular Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter), a deceased girl brought back to life when Victor practices his vows in the local cemetery. This sets in motion a chain of fantastical, macabre, adorable and altogether brilliant set pieces, musical numbers, fight scenes, rich and thoughtful character relations and visual genius like a big old animated Halloween parade.

The cast is stacked too, full of beloved Burton regulars like Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley as Victoria’s crusty, aristocratic parents, Christopher Lee as a cantankerous undead vicar, Richard E. Grant, Michael Gough, Deep Roy and Danny Elfman himself as a rambunctious spooky skeleton called Bonejangles who fronts an undead jazz band. Hell there’s even a worm that looks and sound like the great Peter Lorre which I couldn’t tell if was done deliberately but if so bravo. This thing doesn’t even breach ninety minutes but it’s so full of life, death, colour, incident, song, music, dance and joy that it seems way longer than it actually is. It’s also got a grounded maturity in the way we see this completely ridiculous yet somehow very touching love triangle unfold, and by the end you really feel for Carter’s Corpse Bride and empathize with her situation. A technical marvel, a beautifully told tale and one of Burton’s very best.

-Nate Hill

Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon: A Review by Nate Hill


Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, although pretty darn stylish, is just cursed with being the least engaging and unique Hannibal Lecter film out there. It’s not that it’s a bad flick, but when you have Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal and the far superior Manhunter to compete with, you’re trucking down a rocky road. The strongest element this film has going for it is Ralph Fiennes, who plays the hell out of the role of Francis Dolarhyde, the disturbed serial killer also known as the Tooth Fairy. Previously played by an introverted and terrifying Tom Noonan, Fiennes gives him a more rabid, haunted vibe and steals the show, but then he always does. Edward Norton is a bit underwhelming as FBI behavioural specialist Will Graham, sandwiched between William L. Peterson and Hugh Dancy’s modern day, definitive take on the character. Graham has the tact and luck to ensnare notorious cannibalistic murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins purrs his way through a hat trick in the role), whose help he subsequently needs in pursuing Dolarhyde. Harvey Keitel clocks in as rock jawed Jack Crawford, Graham’s boss and mentor, solidly filling in for far mor memorable turns from Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Farina and Scott Glenn. All the scenes with Dolarhyde fare best, given some truly impressive rural cinematography that sets the mood for the killer’s twisted mindset nicely. The cerebral jousting between Graham and Lecter only half works here, dulled in comparison to the crackling exchanges that Jodie Foster masterfully handled with Hopkins, who was far, far scarier back then. Emily Watson lends her doe eyed presence to the blind girl that brings out the only traces of humanity still left in Dolarhyde, Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up as bottom feeding tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, and Mary Louise Parker, grounded as always, plays Graham’s wife. You could do worse in terms of films like this, but in the Lecter franchise it falls pretty far short of any of the other entries, save for the few inspired moments involving Fiennes. 

Alan Rudolph’s Trixie: A Review by Nate Hill 

What the hell did just watch. Oh boy, what can I say about this one without tearing it a new one. Alan Rudolph’s Trixie is a dud, a paperweight, a misguided, clumsy disaster of the highest order. It has the tonal equilibrium of heart attack on a flow chart, and a troupe of actors who mercilessly embarrass themselves into the ground with work that goes beyond tireless pantomime. It’s sad, because I’ve seen this type of thing work nicely before, with the right amounts of quaint and quirky qualities, but here the mixture tanks in a god awfully messy cannonball of a landing. It tries to be a detective story, but fails to realize that you need some semblance of a  story to care about, and I just…. didn’t care. It’s a slog to get through, a struggle to stay focused on, and basically a big awkward failure on every level. Also puzzling is the fact that cast, all of which are excellent actors who I love in almost everything they do, all made me want to hit them here, and when you’ve got a cast this good, that’s no easy feat. Emily Watson will make you want to tear your hair out as titular Trixie, a casino security guard with aspirations of taking on a big detective case, an irritating Chicago accent and apparantly mild brain damage that causes her to mispronounce every expression, figure of speech and slang term in a fashion that is neither cute nor funny. She’s wooed by Dex (Dermot Mulroney) a goon who works for sleazy land developer Red Rafferty (Will Patton). Soon, through a set of circumstances both inane and cartoonish, they find themselves deep in some sort of backhanded scheme involving murder most foul, tied to a corrupt state senator played by Nick Nolte, who is the peacock of the bunch, sucking all the energy out of the room with dialogue that is literally lifted straight from political speeches from the past. I’m not even kidding, he blusters out platitudes that vaguely have a place in whatever seen is going on, but barely. There’s also a hot young waitress (a bouncy Brittany Murphy), a flamboyant lounge singer (Nathan Lane is excruciating), a washed up pop star (Lesley Ann Down) and a bizarre cameo from Stephen Lang who attempts an accent that made me supremely uncomfortable. It’s weird, cumbersome and altogether pointless as everything it tries: comedy, thriller, romance, whodunit.. all fall miserably flat. Bummer. I’m gonna go make a list of all the things I could have been doing with the two hours I spent on this wreck.



Other than the various physical locations on display during Baltasar Kormákur’s matter-of-fact mountain climbing film Everest, the star of the show is ace cinematographer Salvatore Totino, who clearly went to huge lengths to accurately portray the harrowing conditions that the various individuals faced during that infamous summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Every single shot in this film feels authentic, if there was any CGI used its seamless, and there are some sequences that defy understanding, as it truly seemed that people’s lives were in jeopardy. You also get some vistas of overwhelming beauty, with Everest’s sense of scale never lost on the viewer; this film feels epic in scope yet intimate in the fine details. We’ve seen over the top action films set on a mountain (Vertical Limit) and there have been some great docudramas (K2 and Touching the Void come to mind), but in Everest, the verisimilitude becomes one of the key selling points, with the audience never taken out of the picture due to hokey staging or poorly constructed moments of adventure. Totino’s visceral camerawork covers the action with a great sense of danger and exhaustion, never betraying spatial geography in order to get “a money shot,” always allowing for the natural beauty of the images to take center stage over camera tricks or a generally over-stylized aesthetic. The helicopter rescue sequence towards the end is riveting, with more than one instance of “how is this being done” running through my head while watching, and the last shot of the film has a poetically haunting quality that feels very resonant in light of all that has come before it. Totino’s work is Oscar-caliber, and my hope is that his smart and incredibly composed work gets the attention it deserves.

It’s a miracle that anyone survived at all, and the film certainly reinforces the notion that the will to live is buried deep within all of us, and when put to the test, we’ll do just about as much as we can in order to keep breathing for another day. But hey, when you reach the roof of the earth, you’re bound to face some challenges, if not stare death itself directly in the face. The fact that many climbers lost their life during this particular ascent is no surprise; the details of this story were first outlined in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling novel Into Thin Air. Kormákur and his screenwriters, William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, effectively set the stage during the brisk first act in a very traditional fashion, as we get to know the various people who have decided to pay a small fortune to risk their lives. The cast is led by an excellent Jason Clarke, one of the various group leaders who made it their job to bring people all the way to the top of whatever mountain they were scaling, but who prided himself in always bringing people safely back down. Death hangs over this film, as it does in so many man vs. nature survival dramas, and its inescapability can sometimes feel suffocating and overly sentimental. Not here. Kormákur doesn’t over-play the sudden moments where people meet their fate; they’re simply here one minute and gone the next. Yes, you get scenes were loved ones make their final phone calls, but from what I’ve read, all of this occurred in real life, making these sequences all the more emotionally accessible and relatable. Keira Knightley destroys her one “big” scene, eliciting tears because of how honest the entire moment feels, and because you know that she’s trying her hardest to be strong in the face of all but certain tragedy. Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, and Robin Wright are all terrific in their supporting roles, but it’s Sam Worthington who really surprises during the final act, becoming the film’s heart and soul, handling his scenes with a direct emotional intensity that keeps the film from ever becoming maudlin. Everest gets the job done with class and respect.