Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Year: 1988
Running time: 92 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O'Hara, Glenn Shadix, Sylvia Sidney

Betelgeuse, ready to bring the mayhem.
Beetlejuice is a bona-fide modern classic, bringing strangeness and black comedy in spades to a tale of an afterlife with as many frustrations and problems as the world of the living ever had.

Happy, sweet and boring couple Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) meet with a tragic accident thanks to a dog who likes walking in the middle of roads, and come to learn that death finds them stranded in their home with only an indecipherable guidebook for help. To make things worse, weird and dysfunctional family Charles (Jeffrey Jones) and Delia (Catherine O'Hara) Deetz and their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), whom the newly-ghostly Maitlands find incomprehensible, move in. Charles has moved out here for some relief from a stressful job, but Delia, an aspiring sculpture artist is aghast, and, with help of her friend Otho, proceeds to completely gut and redesign the house, in the name of modernisation.

Things just get weirder and weirder from here on in, as the Maitlands, looking for help from their book, find they’ve been assigned a caseworker in the afterlife, which appears to be run like the civil service. Juno (Sylvia Sidney) informs them that, basically, if they want the Deetz family out of their house, they will simply have to scare them away. Unfortunately, nobody can see their attempts to terrify. That is except Lydia, with whom they form a bond. After an inspired scene possessing the Deetz family and their dinner guests and making them dance to Harry Belafonte fails to scare them off and only makes them eager to meet them, they take desperate measures and ask for help from the title character, also known as Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton).

Adam and Barbara trying, unsuccessfully, to haunt their house.
Keaton's turn is a comedy whirlwind, full of manic energy, obliterating everything in its path. It moves the film up a gear, from merely great fun, to an unforgettable comedy that ranks up there with Ghostbusters and The Goonies. There is plenty to love about this film – from the bizarre cast of supporting characters to the superb Burtonesque afterlife, but it is Keaton’s turn that stays with you. He’s technically the bad guy, but you can’t help but love him.

Completely bizarre and brilliant because of it, Beetlejuice finds both director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton on top form.

Score: 8/10

A surprisingly mixed bag of other reviews out there for Beetlejuice, from Roger Ebert, who was less than impressed (with the exception of the deliberately overly-whimsical opening - he's well wide of the mark here in my opinion) to Eric at Slant, who loved it.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Cat Returns

Year: 2002
Running time: 75 minutes
Certificate: U
Language: Japanese
Screenplay: Reiko Yoshida
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Starring (voices): Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Aki Maeda, Takayuki Yamada, Hitomi Satô, Kenta Satoi, Mari Hamada, Tetsu Watanabe, Yôsuke Saitô, Tetsurô Tanba 

Haru in a brief moment of quiet reflection.
Studio Ghibli didn't always need to rely on Hayao Miyazaki's genius to produce great work. While The Cat Returns is certainly proof of that, it does feel like a lesser work. Rest assured, however - it is gorgeous, engaging and a lot of fun.

As is the trend with many Studio Ghibli films, The Cat Returns explores a fantastical fantasy world through the eyes of a young girl. 17 year-old Haru (Chizuru Ikewaki) is walking home from school when she saves the life of a cat, preventing him from being run over with inventive use of her lacrosse stick. It turns out that the feline life she saves is none other than Prince Lune (Takayuki Yamada), heir to the kingdom of the cats. In addition to gratitude, Haru is betrothed to Prince Lune and somehow needs to find a way to escape the cat kingdom before she turns into a cat herself and marries the prince.

Haru and her new friend, The Baron.
Helping her in this endeavour is The Baron (Yoshihiko Hakamada), the cool top hat, tails and cane sporting cat and fat cat Muta (Tetsu Watanabe). The Baron and Muta have featured in a previous Studio Ghibli feature (the beautiful ode to the awakening of the creative urge in the young Whisper of the Heart, which is truly impossible for me to recommend highly enough) and it's great to see them again, this time in a much more hands-on (paws-on?) role. The escape is packed full of moments of comedy and breathless action brought to life by staggeringly good animation.

Less sophisticated than most of Studio Ghibli's other output, this is nevertheless another splendid addition to the studio's stellar collection.

Score: 7/10

Opinions of The Cat Returns as a lesser-yet-still-worthy Ghibli release seem fairly uniform across the board - see these reviews from Hannah at T.H.E.M., IGN and Kuma at The Nihon Review.