Henry Selick’s James & The Giant Peach is one of those films I watched so many times and at such an impressionable age that it’s been sort of seared into my consciousness like an especially vivid dream. It’s also one of the few adaptations of a book by beloved author Roald Dahl that really captures the magic of the source material. I can think of this and maybe one other film version of his stories that have anything close to that demented whimsical aura his writing had, he’s a bit like Dr. Seuss in the sense that what he did was so specific and special that it’s almost futile to even try to faithfully adapt it. The story is unmistakable: young orphan James (Paul Terry) is out in the care of abusive relatives Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and and Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margoyles), horrible, ugly old cows who mistreat him day and night. One day a mysterious Old Man (Pete Postlethwaite, charismatic and well casted) gives him a little bag of magic radioactive rice kernels, which turn a nearby peach into a gargantuan hideout in which he finds some unlikely friends. Earthworm (David Thewlis), Centipede (a feisty Richard Dreyfus), Spider (Susan Sarandon), Gloworm (Margoyles in a dual role), Grasshopper (Simon Callow) and Ladybug (Jane Leeves) form up the boy’s entomological posse as they roll the giant peach down into the sea and embark on a musically surreal adventure that includes seagulls, undead arctic pirates, a massive storm, musical numbers and one pissed off steam punk mecha-Shark. Selick uses the the same jaw dropping, gorgeous stop motion animation he employed in A Nightmare Before Christmas, and the result is tactile, textured visuals that give all the animated scenes bizarro world realism, I’m not sure if there’s a Blu Ray out there but there really ought to be. This is one visually spectacular piece with a real sense of wonder and playfulness, and although it deviates from the book a fair bit, it still somehow does Dahl proud in terms of style and tone. A treasure .
Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.