Tag Archives: catherine o’hara

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I was babysitting my nephews this weekend, and after dinner we got a big bucket of popcorn, drinks in spill-proof containers, and crawled into bed to watch some “scary” Halloween movies together. Brady is newly 8 and Jack is 5 and two thirds so I didn’t want anything that was inappropriately scary, but I wanted to give them a taste of Halloween and who better than Tim Burton to do just that. We watched Frankenweenie, a favourite of mine, and Jack now has some very pervasive ideas about reanimating dead pets with electricity. I suggested to him that this was something that might only work in movies, but no, he assured me, this was not so. Apologies to my sister’s dog, whose corpse may suffer any range of indignities.

Interestingly, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t go over quite as well. It wasn’t too scary for them, but it was perhaps too boring. The fault is perhaps mine: they watched it fairly attentively until Herbie The Wonder Dog came up for a cuddle, and then they discovered some of the tricks he was willing to do in order to earn popcorn treats. So that did pull them away from the movie a bit. They were also taken by surprise by its ending – not the content of it, but the timing. And though I hadn’t remembered it being rather short, it is – only 76 minutes, and that’s counting credits. So we may have to try again next year to really give it a fair shake because this movie is quite beloved and dare I say almost cult-worthy…although, is that just among adults?

Jack Skellington (“Is he made of sticks?” Jack asked, and I didn’t exactly want to say bones, so I called him a skeleton and that seemed to appease him) is the pumpkin king, a resident of Halloween Town, where every year they put on a lavish but repetitive display of ghoulish horror. Jack Skellington is bored. So when he finds a clearing in the forest with portals to other holiday towns (and don’t you wish we’d gotten even a glimpse of some of the others?) you bet he opens up the most alluring and steps into the wonder of Christmas Town.

Now, very likely there are residents of Christmas Town who are every bit as bored of doing the same old thing every year as old Jack Skellington is, but we don’t hear from them. Instead we watch Jack’s eyes go round as he is mesmerized by all the merriment. When he eventually returns home, he conscripts Halloween Town’s citizens to put on their own Christmas…but a bunch of ghosts and monsters don’t quite pull off the winter wonderland of Jack’s vision. And the ways in which they get it wrong are quite endearing. Until they kidnap Santa Claus (Sandy Claws, as they mishear the title) and Jack steps into the role clad in trim red velvet suit. (“I’d punch him right in the nose,” says little Jack, quite perturbed by the Santa imposter).

Tim Burton has said that it was a shopping mall that sparked the idea for the film – watching as the Halloween merch gets taken down the day after the holiday and immediately replaced with Christmas stuff (of course, that was back in the 90s when we still had a modicum of decency…today both holidays exist commercially in tandem, as early as August).

Our kids may not have been big fans of the film, at least not yet, but there’s something about it that appeals to many others. Matt, Sean and I are headed to Disney World in a few weeks and we’ll witness Magic Kingdom go from Mickey’s Not So Spooky Halloween to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, literally overnight. And the great thing is: Jack and Sally, rarely seen in the parks otherwise, make special appearances over this holiday time. Disney Land’s Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare before Christmas makeover, and you can purchase specially themed ears to match, and treats too of course, because Disney is a master at getting you to part with your money.

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Beetlejuice

A young couple, spiky-haBeetlejuice-beetlejuice-the-movie-32800707-500-700ired Alec Baldwin and plump-lipped Geena Davis, get into a car accident and come home depressed and sodden, their vacation off to a bad start. And they don’t know the half of it!

A handbook for the recently deceased mysteriously appears in their home and they get to wondering if maybe they didn’t survive the crash after all.

First rule of death? You can’t leave your house. First rule of real estate? When the previous owners die, a new family will move in (cue: pale and deliciously high-strung Catherine O’Hara, creepy as ever Jeffrey Jones, and strange and unusual Winona Ryder). The ghosts of the old owners plus the thoughtfull new owners makes for a very crowded house. We all know that if you want to rid a house of ghosts, you call an exorcist – but what if the ghosts want to rid a house of the living?

beetlejuiceBefore he was Birdman, even before he was Batman, Michael Keaton was Beetlejuice, the afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist. Free demon possession with every exorcism! Keaton goes all out in this film, and he’s the absolute stand-out, despite the fact that he’s in all of 17 minutes on-screen. He’s ghoulish and manic and clearly having a lot of fun leaping into improvisations.

Makeup artists Ve Neill, Steve LaPorte, and Robert Short won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Makeup for their work on this film. Watching it now, it feels a little dated, but that’s nothing in comparison to the weird, stop-motion stuff that Burton dreamed up for the afterlife.

beetlejuice-2-michael-keaton-winona-ryderI was a kid the first and last time I saw this, and I had to work hard to convince my mom to rent it for my little posse of pony-tailed friends. Beetlejuice was perfect sleepover fare: creepy, with the illusion of the illicit, but overall harmless fun with an inspired Calypso soundtrack perfect for sleeping bag shenanigans all night long. Rewatching it now, I have a new appreciation for how dark and funny it is, and for the formidable Catherine O’Hara, whom I always love, but who rarely looks as stylish as she does in this movie.

The movie ended up being successful enough to spawn a cartoon series and whispers of a sequel that remained in the works for years but seemed to die off until they were recently dusted off for us in 2015. It’s been terribly hush-hush, Burton unwilling to confirm except that he’d only consider it if Keaton is on board – and he is, and so is Winona. Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride & Prejuidice & Zombies) has been working on the script since 2012. Chloe Grace Moretz (rumoured to play Winona’s daughter) and Samuel L. Jackson have reportedly already begun filming.

As for Delia Deetz, style icon, I present you:

She wears mostly Japanese designs by Mitsuhiro Matsuda, Issey Miyake, and Comme des Garçons. James Acheson took home the Oscar that year for Dangerous Liaisons, and I can’t argue that, but I do think it’s a crime Aggie Guerard Rodgers didn’t even get a nomination for her work here.

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Jeffrey_Jones_plays_Edward_R._Rooney_in_Ferris_Bueller's_Day_OffAnd while I’m engaging in some movie history revisionism, can we please start a campaign to digitally erase Jeffrey Jones from our favourite movies?  You want to know why he was so convincing as Feris Bueller’s  creepy principle? Because he’s a real-life pedophile. In 2003 he pled no contest to the felony charge of taking sexually explicit pictures of a minor, and possessing child pornography. He’s a registered sex offender. Can we maybe take him out family movies like this one?

 

Movies for Kids That Adults Would Enjoy (Non-Animated)

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Wandering Through the Shelves’ caveat at the end made this a tricky one. There are so many G-rated animated films taht I adore. I really had to dig deep for liv action family movies for me to endorse, especially since I already used up Babe in Live Action Fairy Tale Adaptations.

Home Alone

Home Alone (1990)- It makes it easier when the movie for kids came out when I was a kid. All I needed to do when rewatching it for the first time in twenty years was remember what it was like to be a ten year-old ewatching this for the first time. When I was a kid, I watched it for the sadistic finale. As an adult, I love Catherine O’Hara’s quest to get home to her son and got a kick out of how resourceful Kevin becomes. The casting is perfect from Pesci and Stern to Hope Davis as a French ticket agent.

unfortunate events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)– If my calculations are correct, this may be the last time that the once great Jim Carrey was actually fun to watch. His homicidal master of disguise dominated the previews but the three kids- an inventor, a reader, and a biter- are the real stars. When all the adults are either despicable or clueless, these three take care of each other without ever having to set traps. Although not nearly as dark and unfortunate as Jude Law’s narrator keeps warning us (the parents die in every movie, bud. This isn’t that unusual), SOUE has a wicked sense of humour and genuinely touching moments.

hugo

Hugo (2011)- Does this really count as a kids movie? One of Scorsese’s better post-Goodfellas films, Hugo is pure magic for any age. The scenes in the train station- where people get on and off trains and work in various shops-were especially spectacular in IMAX 3D and scorsese’s love of movies has never been more apparent. Not sure I can picture Hugo as the next Spiderman though.

Home Alone

I thought I was too old to see this movie in the theatre. Now I have probably watched it ten times in my 30s (all by choice). It is somehow a sweet movie despite little Kevin nearly killing poor Harry and Marv (according to some doctor on the internet, they would have died several times over in real life from the injuries Kevin gives them). It is somehow a tale of a mother’s love for her son even though Kevin’s parents are totally neglectful.  After all, if they had just sat in coach instead of abandoning their kids there, Kevin’s parents would have clued into the fact that they were missing their son (and as an added bonus they could have prevented their other kids from terrorizing the rest of the passengers on the plane). It is a story of an old man saving the day on Christmas Eve, but also apparently taking great pleasure in scaring the neighbourhood kids the rest of the year. And be sure not to think too hard about how Harry and Marv ever got away with any of their alleged string of burglaries, when every step of the way they get thoroughly out-schemed (as well as savagely beaten) by a ten year old.

So how have I watched this so often and enjoyed it every time? Because this movie just works. It hits all the right crazy notes. It captures the magic of being a kid at Christmas. It doesn’t worry about justifying its ridiculous premise or anything else along the way. It takes pleasure in ramping up the craziness at every opportunity. It is truly joyful, a live action cartoon, a John Hughes caper to end all John Hughes capers. For accuracy’s sake, I checked the back of the DVD case to be sure that the late great Mr. Hughes had, in fact, written this movie but I was sure he had. It has his fingerprints all over it and that’s a wonderful thing.

Hands down, this is my favourite Christmas movie, for what it is and for what it captures. By the way, don’t bother with any of the terrible sequels, just watch this one three or four times and you’ll be far better off.

Ten wet bandits out of ten.