Labyrinth (1986) review

Labyrinth (1986) Original

I have to admit something. For a long time, this film didn’t remind me of the babe. You know, the one with the power. What power? The power of voodoo and all that. However, now that my three-year old niece has become a new full-on Labyrinth fan, and can quote it with ease, I can safely and with confidence say that this film does now remind me of the babe. I don’t know if she has the power of voodoo yet. I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s great that she loves the film though, because there is something still adorably fresh and sparkling about Labyrinth, despite (and of course, because of) all the 80’s trappings.

Fantasy and 80’s cinema went hand in hand very nicely – okay, not all of it was great, but it still had sweep, magic, spectacle and imagination, and even though we live in a time where the likes of Lord of the Rings has proved that there is an enormous audience for this kind of thing, there doesn’t seem to be that many great fantasy films out these days. Back then, we had Dragonslayer, Krull, Willow, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, The Company of Wolves, The Princess Bride, Excalibur…. okay, not all of them are classics, but they had a consistency to them. Like one of them, you’ll most like the others. There was plenty to enjoy. Labyrinth, with the exception of The Princess Bride, was the most tongue-in-cheek and funny of the lot. It helped that the script was by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who has a lot of fun playing around with fairytale tropes and standards, with plenty of great sight gags. Director Jim Henson and his team’s brilliant puppetry skills are second to none – we get a totally believable range of characters, beautifully voiced, be they tiny (and very unhelpful) worms, depressed door knockers (these look amazing, the really do look like talking metal – beat that, T-1000) or our main cast of creations, more of which below. The only bum note is a very dated looking sequence where a bunch of fire monkeys try to decapitate our hero – actually, that’s less to do with the puppets than the special effects attempted to try and get them in the same shots as Jennifer Connelly. Yeah, this is one of her early roles – not her earliest, as we’d already seen her as the young Deborah in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, and she’d played the lead in Dario Argento’s bonkers paranormal/telekenetic/simian slasher/serial killer horror Phenomena, and her performance is a straight-up anchor mooring all of the eccentricity around her. Seriously, she’s the only character in the film who doesn’t attempt to provoke a laugh. This is a good touch, stopping the film from going over the edge into outright comedy.

The plot is simple enough – our angsty, and let’s be fair, quite annoying protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is very upset that her baby brother Toby gets all the attention, all the love, all the cute close-ups and none of the babysitting duties. Oh, how she wishes Jareth the Goblin King would take him away. Fair enough. Except he actually does, and the Goblin King is none other than David Bowie in an astonishing wig and very revealing tights. He jiggles his balls about a lot too, but that’s nowhere near as rude as it sounds. Anyway, Sarah instantly regrets her rash decision, but Jareth won’t go back on their deal, not unless she can work her way through the labyrinth that leads to her brother, and in 13 hours too. On her way, she encounters all manner of fantastical creatures, including a fairy-killing coward named Hoggle, a Donkey Kong-like gently beast named Ludo, an idiotic knight called Sir Didymus and his adorable canine steed Ambrosius, the latter shifting from being a real dog to a hilariously fake puppet depending on the danger he’s in. These are fantastic creations, a true testament to the genius of their creators. Oh, and there are songs. David Bowie songs!

And they’re fun, you know? What do you mean, they’re not ‘Life on Mars?’? Yeah, but ‘Life on Mars?’ isn’t ‘Magic Dance’, which is, as you all know, the song that reminds us of the babe. The version on the soundtrack album is better than the one in the film though – I always thought the goblin vocals were a little weak in the film – like, proper crap even. They sound better on the CD, and when they’re totally un-salvageable, Bowie just sings their lines instead. Despite all that, ‘Magic Dance’ is, with the exception of the Bowie-written-but-not-sung ‘Chilly Down’ (the one with the fire monkeys – not great), the least impressive of the songs here. ‘Underground’ is properly fantastic – all six minutes of it. It sounds great blended with Trevor Jones’ score over the opening credits, sounds better a few minutes later as Sarah runs back home in the rain and is your classic example of brilliant closing credits music. It also throws in, convincingly, a gospel element in the chorus, while Bowie even adds the decidedly risque lament ‘no love injection’ into a kids film theme, which I never noticed as a child. The gorgeous, dreamy ‘As the World Falls Down’ is one of the most unabashedly straightforward love songs Bowie has ever created – it was almost going to be a single (a video was made for it) but was pulled at the last minute, which was a shame as it could have been a success. Indeed, this and ‘Magic Dance’ are the two most downloaded songs in Bowie’s entire canon, probably because of their inexplicable absence from any singles compilations since. Anyway, ‘As the World Falls Down’ is really lovely, and it really works in the film too. The dramatic ‘Within You’ (not to be confused with ‘Without You’ from Let’s Dance) works incredibly well as a song in its own right – in the film it’s one of many bravura touches during its wild climax, and you might be too dazzled by all the Escher imagery and baby-in-peril excitement to realise it’s one of his best songs from this era.

As for Bowie’s performance – he’s still got that ever-so-slightly awkward line delivery which we all love anyway because it’s David Bowie and his awkwardness is endearing (prime example – ‘Turn back now, Sarah!’ about ten minutes in). However, he is still a magnetic performer – he’s the only one who could get away with that costume of his. He has a whole sequence where he’s singing to a few dozen goblins and still looks cool. He looks goofy and, in the spirit of things, quite pantomime, but he looks damned good too. He always did, didn’t he? I love David Bowie. Always have, always will.

The film is similar to Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves in that it focuses on a girl on the cusp of adulthood, at a time where one must decide whether or not to put childish things away. While in the other film this process is unavoidable (and treated with outright horror at times, especially at the end), here there’s a bit more resistance to accompany the seduction. One of the best sequences in the film is when Sarah is lost in a masquerade ball, made dizzy by all the debauchery around her and pursued by Jareth – she denies his romantic advances, and considering this is a man approaching 40 pursuing a girl of 15, there’s nothing icky or uncomfortable about this bit (this is her dream, not his). The film ends in direct polar opposition to The Company of Wolves – almost flippantly, you could add, but what’s wrong with prolonging childhood a little longer? Besides, Goblin City’s residents know how to throw a party.

Issues I have with the film? That fire monkey bit. Actually, they’re not on fire, but their fur is all ‘flamey’ I suppose. The Bog of Eternal Stench bit, which is mostly brilliant (you can almost smell this sequence), has a moment where some helpful stepping stones emerge from the bog so that Ludo can make it to the other side in safety. Yet the stepping stones emerged from the bog, and lest we forget, if you touch even a little bit of the bog, you’ll smell bad forever. Ludo walks all over bog-covered steps! If it was one of the other characters, I’d have almost forgiven it, because they’re wearing shoes and could have thrown their offending footwear away afterwards, but Ludo’s barefoot! Maybe he stinks already. I can’t imagine him taking a bath that often, and all that fur must be an absolute nightmare to maintain. Yeah, that’s a real minor nitpick blown up to paragraph-sized criticism, but I can’t ignore it.

Overall, Labyrinth is a splendid, utterly lovable entertainment for girls and boys, kids and adults – it wasn’t a hit back in ’86, but it has become a serious cult film, with a vengeance – in London, there are Masquerade Ball screenings! Put together with The Princess Bride, and you have a double-bill of utterly wonderful, self-aware (but still full of heart) fantasy comedy cinema that’ll have you wondering why they don’t make them like this anymore.

PS: That milk bottle sight gag is so, so, so wonderful.

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Deadpool (2016) review

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SHIT! I sat down in the cinema thinking they were showing Clint Eastwood’s classic fifth Dirty Harry film The Dead Pool from 1989. I suppose it was weird to think that my local enormoplex would be showing a Dirty Harry film, and the joint worst in the series too. Jim Carrey and Guns ‘n’ Roses were in it, plus that bloke from Taken with the special skills set. Plus this really funny/surprisingly suspenseful bit where Harry and his doomed partner (they’re always doomed) are chased down San Francisco by a remote controlled toy car rigged with explosives. None of the above is present in Deadpool, which is the film I actually saw last night. It’s another Marvel universe film, and the Marvel universe is something I never go crazy for in anticipation but always enjoy when the film itself is on screen. The X-Men Apocalypse trailer was on before Deadpool, and I couldn’t deny it all looked very impressive, but it didn’t engage me much – just a lot of foreboding and carnage with yet another slow-motion take on a pop song to add a little on-the-nose irony. Deadpool, like Guardians of the Galaxy, subverts the Marvel universe a little, but unlike that film, this one goes the full distance – no superhero film has ever been this self-referential, right from the opening credits all the way to the very funny post-credits sequence. There’s something quite wonderful about a film firmly rooted in the same universe as the X-Men which gets away with making gags about which Professor X the characters are talking about (‘McAvoy or Stewart?’). Deadpool himself, perfectly played Reynolds (it’s the kind of performance where you can’t imagine anyone else pulling it off as well, and that’s a success in my books) is even described by the villain as ‘relentlessly annoying’, but I liked him. Would I want to be friends with him? Probably not, but I don’t have to be, so that’s okay.

Deadpool has been in a Marvel film before – X-Men Oranges: Wolverine (sorry, can’t pronounce it any other way), and in a rare case of continuity, was actually played by the same actor as we have here, the endearingly unlucky Reynolds, who, bless him, has not had a run of successful breakout vehicles. Green Lantern (which I can’t be bothered to see) was his most notorious flop, but here he’s finally made the film to hit the big time, and it really has. Records broken and all that. It’s one of the few Marvel films to be rated R in the US, which I would say is the equivalent of our 15/18 here in the UK, except it isn’t. R-rated blockbusters were everywhere in times of old, but now everything’s PG-13, which I would say is the equivalent of our 12a here in the UK, and it is. Even the kind of films that used to be PG are now PG-13. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a PG back in 1981. It would never get passed as that now. Never, ever. The majority of blockbusters have that middle-ground, PG-13/12a feel which isn’t one thing or the other, just a kind of ‘let’s please everybody’ approach. So Deadpool is an R, and a ’15’ in the UK, and its success hopefully means that we’re due a comeback for adult blockbusters. Oh wait, did I say adult? Because Deadpool is properly juvenile. An adult film for teenagers. And adults who like films like that. I’m one of those people. Deadpool is not gross-out – we’re not talking Marvel meets Scary Movie, but there are a lot of sex gags. In fact there are a lot of gags, full stop. This one makes Guardians look like Ingmar Bergman. The problem with a torrent such as this is that there’s more opportunities for flat jokes, and it’s true that Deadpool, with its title character’s stream of naughty observations, fourth-wall asides, insults and whatnot, does miss the mark more than a few times. And when a joke falls flat in the cinema, you know how much that feels awkward. However, two thirds of the jokes are great, and you know what? That’ll do. Deadpool is funny stuff.

The plot? Same old. Deadpool might be giving the Marvel universe a wedgie but it isn’t reinventing the wheel. Also, since the two Kick-Ass movies, the notion of a comic book movie that doesn’t care about taboos is no longer as jaw-dropping as it might have been. Deadpool doesn’t have the boundary-pushing, gleeful shock that Kick-Ass delivered, but, and this is a big but, it does have a lot more warmth and heart than Matthew Vaughn’s film. Yeah, there are moments where, behind the mask, I felt sympathy for this guy. The action scenes are pretty excellent, though the violence, which at the start of the film is outstandingly, hilariously vicious and unexpected, soon becomes a bit numbing to the point that by the end of the film all the stabbings were just that. More stabbings. It took a severed head being lobbed at a bad guy to get a reaction during the ending. I don’t know if what I just said is a criticism of the film or me. Supporting performances are good – Morena Baccarin’s prostitute girlfriend who can tell the difference between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back references errs a little close to wish-fulfilment fantasy, but her and Reynolds’ chemistry is sweet. Ed Skrein is solid and entertainingly nasty as ‘the British villain’, there’s a funny ‘CGI character’ sidekick and Gina Carano certainly knows how to kick proper arse as his henchperson (‘henchwoman’ sounds weird, sorry), but this is Reynolds’ show all the way. Despite feeling as though a tighter, more focused sequel would improve the many positive things on show here, this isn’t one of those annoying origins/set-up first instalment movies that feels like nothing more than a trailer for a further film. It’s a satisfying, entertaining Marvel film in its own right. Nothing is left unresolved, there’s no annoying loose-ends, no sense of feeling teased. Deadpool is Deadpool, and Deadpool is fun. I did feel old when the brilliantly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead shoots down Deadpool’s Alien 3 reference though.