Tag Archives: 500 Days of Summer

‘Elf’ (2003) – 9/10


I rewatched Elf the other day, so decided to review this as I have not had chance to watch many new films (I broke my laptop and am too busy to go to the cinema – you’ve got to love the holidays).

I want to start off by saying that this is not just my favourite Christmas film, it is my favourite film period!! So I might be biased with my review (so take heed)!

‘Elf’ (2003) is a film about a baby, living in an orphanage, who accidentally gets taken to the North Pole by Santa Claus when he slips into Santa’s bag trying to attain a Christmas present. Consequently, an elderly elf adopts the baby, names him Buddy (Will Ferrell) and takes care of him as if he is his own. Buddy grows up believing he is an elf, but one day overhears a couple of elfs saying that Buddy is in fact a human (which explains his drastic difference in size to them, as well as his perceived clumsiness), and so decides to travel to New York in order to find his biological father, a business man named Walter Hobbs (James Cann).

The reason I like this film so much is because it has every factor I like/hope to see in a film. Firstly, it is a Christmas film. For some reason, I love Christmas films. I do not necessarily love Christmas the day itself, but rather I love the build up and anticipation of it. I love the ‘magic’ of Christmas that is captured in Christmas songs and movies. The excitement, the nostalgia and the ‘spirit’ that these films and songs somehow magically capture is just beautiful/evokes emotions in me that make me love this time of year. ‘Elf’ nails this. It obviously features Santa (Edward Anser), a toy store  (Gimbels), features a singing duet (between Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel), and stars an Elf (Will Ferell) – but it also features a Christmas message (‘the best way to spread holiday cheer is singing loud for all to hear’), and of course spreads the importance of family.

Secondly, I think the plot is genius. It’s a simple story, but is told from the perspective of a story within a story. The film is narrated by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), who recounts Buddy’s story up until present day. I won’t give much away about this (for those who have not seen the film), but it is very cute how the plot is tied up. It is simple yet effective (and not too cheesy).

Thirdly, I like the animation in this film. The film mainly relies on forced perspective (to make it look like Will Ferrell is massive in comprison to the ‘elves’ he works with in the North Pole), but it also has stop motion, which works perfectly. The dynamic between real life and this style of animation works really well (which is mainly down to the sets used/the entire mis-en-scene of the film). The emergence of actors with animation is seemless.

Finally, the cast is strong, as is the directing, editing and script – which makes ‘Elf’ such a stand-out film for me. This film has some of my favourite actors involved, and they are all hilarous. I love Will Ferrell. Everything I have seen him in  (apart from maybe ‘Bewitched’ (2005)) has been excellent. I really like comedy films, and his style of humour – this dry/slapstick style – is right up my street. I also like Zooey Deschanel (who plays a similar cute role in films like ‘Yes Man’ (2008) and ‘500 Days of Summer’ (2009)),  James Cann (who played Sonny in ‘The Godfather’ trilogy), Peter Dinklage (who plays just as a commanding role as when he plays Tyrion in ‘Game of Thrones’), Mary Steenburgen (who features alongside her husband Ted Danson in one of my favourite American sitcoms ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’), and Jon Favreau (who also directs this) – to name but a few… All these actors execute the script brilliantly (which is written by David Berenbaum, and full of sublime one-liners), which is set against a feel-good score (composed by John Debney), that neatly ties up all the great aspects of this movie.

This is my favourite film. I can watch it repeatedly anytime of year. It is my favourite genre of film (a Christmas rom-com), has my favourite style of humour (a ridiculous hybrid on slap-stick) and is edited together brilliantly. The cast is strong, and the sets, animation and overall cinematography makes this film timeless/it has fared well!! I think it’s one of the best ‘modern’ Christmas films. I once did not get a job at a cinema for saying this was my favourite film (as most people there named art-house/blockbuster films as theirs) – but maintain that this is still my favourite. It’s so simple yet well crafted. I read somewhere that Will Ferrell turned down $29million to do a sequel , and rightly so. This is timeless and should be kept as it is! A must see, family feel-good Christmas film starring Will Ferrell dressed as an Elf – what more could you ask for?

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‘Snowden’ (2016) – 6/10

Today I watched ‘Snowden’, which is a biographical political film documenting the NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden’s life. This is a German-American produced film directed by Oliver Stone (who directed films like  ‘Platoon’ (1986) and ‘JFK’ (1991), as well as numerous political documentaries), and written by Stone and the cinematographer Kieran Fitzgerald. The narrative is based on the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

The film’s plot documents Ed Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life between 2004 and 2013. This begins with his days in the U.S. Army, in which he wants to help the Special Forces, but is discharged after an accident, so has to serve his country in other ways. Consequently, Snowden applies to work with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and is hired by Deputy Director Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) despite him not completely passing his tests, due to the need for extra people in, what O’Brian deems as, these ‘extraordinary times’ (i.e. post 9/11 terrorist threats).

The film then documents Snowden’s career and work leading up to and becoming recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA). His story about working here is intermingled with the story of him becoming a whistleblower, as in 2013 he meets documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in Hong Kong, who, along with Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), help Snowden release classified information that Snowden has acquired regarding illegal mass surveillance conducted by the NSA, which makes him disillusioned about his past work and the Secret Service in general.

Firstly, I want to say how amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as Ed Snowden. His appearance right down to his voice are impeccable. Up until now, I think I have only ever seen him in rom-coms like ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999) and ‘500 Days of Summer’ (2009), in which he usually plays cutesy, ‘nice guys’, who are most often than not too nice. In ‘Snowden’, however, another side of Gordon-Levitt comes into play. He portrays Snowden, who is a highly intelligent human-being, whose morals and ethics are being tested when it comes to his job with the Secret Service. This puts him at odds with wanting to serve his country, and inevitably puts his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsey Mills (Shailene Woodley) on the rocks through the frustrations of not being able to speak about this. I thought his acting was very believable, and could definitely imagine him as Snowden, as he was able to express and communicate across the feelings of isolation and frustration in a seemless fashion. I thought he was very engaging, and look forward to seeing what else Gordon-Levitt has to offer in the future.

Secondly, cinematically certain scenes in this film were just beautiful. There was a scene in which lights representing how the internet connects people across the world together spread into a diagram, which the camera panned out of whilst the image faded into the iris of an eye. This was flawlessly edited, and was a symbolic moment for a discovery that Snowden makes. Entire scenes like this made the impact of technology, used for surveillance purposes, seem daunting in the beautiful techniques used throughout the film. These special effects enhanced the meaning of the story, of the actual impact that technology and surveillance has on the world, of which most people are seemingly unaware.

In terms of the cast, as mentioned above, I thought that Gordon-Levitt was a perfect choice for Snowden. He did the story justice, as did the 3 main journalists (Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson). I like the fact that they were not preened and make-up heavy or stylish. It gave the film the documentary look it needed, and helped emphasis that the narrative is based on real events. However, I did not think that Shailene Woodley worked well as playing Lindsley Mills (Snowden’s girlfriend). I thought that she acted well, but for some reason I still associate her with playing teenager and coming-of-age films (like in ‘The Fault in our Stars’ (2014), despite her being 25 years old now… I was not captivated by her performance, and she did not bring enough to the role, which was especially evident against Gordon-Levitt’s strong performance. I feel that she was cast wrong.

Although I enjoyed the film, I felt that the film itself was not quite captivating enough… I could not quite put my finger on what I did not enjoy. I found it was quite long, but on reflection felt that nothing could have been cut, as it would not have made sense otherwise. Similarly, cutting anything would have detracted from the film’s collectic style – parts are told from Snowden’s perspective, others are told from an interview style, and then the present time film is played out – which works well. I liked that real news footage and clips of Snowden are used, which again emphasis that this story is real.

I think the thing I did not enjoy was that this was supposed to be a political thriller, but it just was not gripping enough. I think had certain scenes been more fast-paced, the music made more intense, and a stronger female lead been cast, then this would have given this film the extra ‘umph’ it needed.

Overall, I liked ‘Snowden’. It was a very informative film told in a interesting way (through multiple layers of storytelling). I would definitely see it again, if only to help me digest more of the information that is exposed (as I find America a fascinating place) but would not choose to watch it repeatedly. I think that the film was not gripping enough – the plot, the cinematography and Gordon-Levitt definitely held this film together… also, the ending was a bit cheesy. It was cleverly done, but I am not sure it was necessary. The way the film ended on Snowden’s message of ‘I don’t have to worry about tomorrow because I’m happy with what I’ve done today’ came across like an inspirational laptop ad… I feel that it could have ended without this and just summarised with words detailing what has happened since Snowden has divulged the secrets of the NSA to the general public. ‘Snowden’ had very strong elements, it was just undermined by other factors that, and if different, could have made this into a very engaging political thriller. As it stands, it is just a very interesting film with a strong lead – well done Joseph Gordon-Levitt!!!