JUMPCUT All The Way: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Directed by: Brian Henson
Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire

Written by Lucy Buglass

For many people, the Christmas period is filled with annual traditions. Finding a special film that you make time to watch each and every year is a wonderful thing, and for me, it’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. It takes a Charles Dickens classic and turns it into a wonderful festive affair that’s fun for all the family whilst still sticking to the important messages of the novel.

I’m not a massive fan of musicals in general but it’s impossible to hate such a wholesome and fun film, with musical numbers that will make you want to sing along. It embodies so many great things about Christmas, whilst telling such an iconic story in a unique way. Who would have thought that Gonzo the Great playing Charles Dickens would actually work? Somehow, it does, with Brian Henson directing his father’s beloved puppets in a beautiful and entertaining way. It’s the kind of film that exists to make people happy and carry on the legacy of Dickens’ famous story, and that is a wonderful thing.

Michael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge, embodying a cynical, grumpy old money-lender who can’t stand the celebrations. He turns down dinner invitations and even intends to work on Christmas day, seeing it as just another day to him. Scrooge’s character has been adapted into many different forms, but there’s something about Caine’s version that I adore. Seeing him alongside all the Muppets is such fun, and I never tire of it. I also love the way his emotional journey is portrayed throughout, as he meets the different ghosts and is shown flashbacks and visions of his own life. His emotional range is excellent in this film, showing all the different sides of Scrooge’s personality.

Overall, the film is incredibly vibrant and full of life. Much of this is helped by the presence of various Muppets characters making an appearance, and trying to spread some festive cheer along the way. However, I did love the eeriness of the scene featuring The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as this is the real turning point for Scrooge when he realises how awful he’s been. I liked that they didn’t try to sugarcoat it, yet kept it family friendly at the same time. It’s a difficult thing to pull off, but somehow, it really works. Scrooge is supposed to feel unsettled by the vision of his own grave, and I feel that this really resonates with the audience even in a fun, silly adaptation like this one.

I really hope that The Muppet Christmas Carol continues to delight audiences throughout the years, because for me, it’s timeless. It’s good, clean fun with an important message about being kind and understanding what the Christmas spirit is all about. I firmly believe that this film could charm all the real life Scrooges out there, and just maybe make them love Christmas after all! This is a must-see Christmas film that you can enjoy with pretty much anyone, so you should definitely consider watching it this season.

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REVIEW: King Of Thieves

Year: 2018
Directed by: James Marsh
Cast: Michael Caine, Paul Whitehouse, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon

Written by Cameron Frew

Geriatric Lock Stock.

The Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Box Robbery (there’s a mouthful) is an absolutely incredible story, the kind of tale in today’s age you’d expect to have taken place back in the old days. But, it was in 2015 when a group of rowdy old geezers took the world by storm, carrying off what’s been dubbed ‘the largest robbery in British history’, stealing money and jewellery estimated to be worth over ÂŁ200 million. Quite adequate footing for a feature film adaptation, that’s for sure. Who better to cast than Michael Caine as the group’s charming yet nefarious leader, Brian Reader, too? There’s a lot of fantastic workers behind the project; the director, James Marsh, has shown his competence in the brilliant Theory of Everything and the vastly underrated, real-life heist-of-sorts documentary, Man On Wire. The cinematographer, Danny Cohen, honed his visual glimmer on Les Miserables and IT. But, as you watch King Of Thieves, you realise that, albeit the film is thoroughly competent, it needed a touch of the Guy Ritchie charm a good British heist flick needs.

Caine’s introduction is an emotional leg sweep – we watch as he enjoys an evening out with his wife (with whom he has almost no chemistry, but whatever), with the subtext being that she is heading to hospital the next day. He implores her to have a glass of wine, “for old times’ sake”, but she politely declines. They stroll along the riverside, reminiscing about their relationship, Caine cheekily saying “that creme brĂ»lĂ©e was like losing my virginity”. But, the night turns fatal, as she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, gently stumbling as she goes. Caine’s Reader sits solemnly with a nervous blink, and the combination of all the filmmaking elements in this one, moving little moment make for a fittingly motivating starter-for-10.

Then comes the beginning of the abrupt tonal shifts, which veer from crude, un-PC banter, to dross, boring conversations, to total sadness, often undercut with this obnoxious insistence on hip, nostalgic clips. There’s one moment towards the film’s climax this is used well, but as for the rest, it’s often very jarring and hastily edited. You can understand what they were going for as well – contrasting the shifty, elderly leads and their slow-moving robbery with the lavish, rapid, young style you’d expect in say, The Italian Job, in theory creates quite a pleasing effect, lending more weight to the gravity of how the hell these old men pulled off such a stunt. But you know when you feel the need to explain something, the execution hasn’t been entirely successful.

Alongside Caine is a randy group of ‘pensioners’, featuring the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay (who puts in a tiresome shift as a poorly written snake whose only function is to supply an endless stream of double crosses). There’s also Ray Winstone, who could have been let off the leash a bit more in terms of the supposed craziness his character is famed for; there’s a little glimpse of it in his introduction with a slimy banker, but not much else. Charlie Cox is the token young man, which is a shame because in terms of the real-life story, the character he plays should be the enigmatic, captivating source of all intrigue. But his performance is extremely odd; distant but not so far off all-togetherness that you’d write him off. He never looks people in the eyes, and has a nervous puppy quality (which does make him a target for his elderly compadres later on). Comparably, his work in Daredevilis so much stronger, making this effort inexcusable.

The highlight of the piece is, without a doubt, Jim Broadbent. Not just because you get a glimpse of his peachy arse, but he’s on deliciously despicable form as the relentlessly evil and plain nasty Terry Perkins, a man forever stuck in the shadow of the superior and more naturally commanding Brian. There is a certain novelty to listening to a group of old guys exercising their potty mouths, dropping C-bombs here, there and everywhere, but only Broadbent manages to retain the amusement, and often dread in hearing it. Lines such as “I’ll cut your balls off” and “I’ll do whatever I like to you son, and you’ll enjoy it” are so hilariously out there and funnily enough, all delivered to Cox.

As for the narrative, the first half has a solid momentum to it. You know where you’re headed, so you’re on board for all the necessary, clichĂ©d introductions to the team and the set up for the central heist. This is where the film excels more (other than the incessant quick cuts of Hatton Garden street signs as if no-one is actually paying attention). Yes there’s tropes you expect, but that’s why the heist movie, as a genre, is so popular – there’s always a thrill to seeing a plan coming together. The scoping out of the place is smugly underplayed, as Cox walks Caine through a less-than-complex technical system to get in. While the film does take great efforts to show that despite their miraculous theft, they’re very much men out of time, struggling to fit in with today’s expectancies and shifting standards (both socially and technologically, as some shoehorned gags imply). The stakes simply aren’t raised enough though – Marsh and writer Joe Penhall (whose work on The Road doesn’t exactly indicate the right fit for this type of feature) make it all seem so easy, which may have been the point. But this is where a fresh, vibrant directorial style could elevate it to something more. Look at Snatch, or Lock Stock– their tales of criminal woe are fairly standard, but the writing is biting and bold, and there’s a jazziness to each of them. But as the plot moves past the heist and into the aftermath, there’s too many tangled tones and ideas, overbearing big-band music (from Benjamin Wallfisch, no less), and just a general sense of the whole thing being nothing other than ‘okay’.

An old-fashioned heist flick with a still-game cast that tries to salvage its dullness through tediously expletive dialogue, sorely missing the brass neck of more fun, self-aware romps.

Cameron’s Verdict:

2

 

Which Alfred Is The Best?

Written by Patrick Alexander

Much hullabaloo has been made in the recent weeks, months and years as to where Ben Affleck does, has and will stack up in the overall Batman role sphere. Is he better than Christian Bale? Probably not. He’s got to be better than Michael Keaton, right? A push, maybe. Yeah, but he kicks Val Kilmer’s butt? Definitely. However, forget being caught up in the endless debate over Affleck’s position on Mt. Batmore, inevitably carved out of the wet walls of the Batcave. We’re here today to talk about the butler of all butlers, Albert Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, and where his various portrayals in film and television stack up. 

First, a little history about Alfred. As any comic book nerd will tell you, Albert hails from Great Britain, having been a highly skilled British Intelligence Operative, making him the perfect guardian to protect young Bruce Wayne from the cruelties of a dark Gotham City. Outside of being the most overqualified babysitter and tea-man in the world – from his expertise in domestic sciences to his proficiency with mechanical and computer systems – Alfred always had Batman’s back, even putting his emergency medical acumen to work numerous times to save Master Wayne’s life. So where do the representations of the legendary chamberlain stack up? Let’s find out.


 

bvsalfred

5. Jeremy Irons 
Films: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The latest enactment of Alfred left much to be desired. While his role is scant in the new DC universe picture, Irons does flex his proficiency with mechanical and computer operating systems, helping Batfleck out several times, such as taking control of the Batplane whilst Batman has to skydive smash through a wall to go kick some criminal butts. Irons certainly looked the part as an aged and tired Alfred, ready to give up the reins to his care of Wayne Manor, finding his role rather diminished as Master Bruce had aged gracefully into a Kryptonite induced mid-life crisis. However, there is hope yet for Mr. Irons with ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ pictures in production, and the possibility of appearing in solo Batfleck movies, we could still see Irons and his Alfred ascend this list.


 

Batman_1989_-_Alfred

4. Michael Gough
Films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin

Gough carried nearly a decade’s worth of the Alfred torch, spanning the runs of Keaton, Kilmer, and lastly, George Clooney. Whilst Gough never portrayed the more tactical and eternally youthful former military man version of Alfred, Gough served his role as Batman’s foremost confidant in an ever-changing Gotham universe. The most dapper of this list, Gough seemed to always be there with a joke, or to light up a smoke when Master Wayne needed it most. Despite a heralded four film run, spanning three different Batmen, Gough’s finest hour, perhaps, might have been this 1990’s Diet Coke advert. 


alfred_batphone

3. Alan Napier
TV Series: Batman 

A throwback to the 1960s live action television series that any older American male can remember watching, spliced into the Saturday morning cartoons. Napier’s portrayal might well have been the most savvy in the pre-super-darkness era of Gotham. Napier’s lighthearted portrayal – before Batman got uber-techie – won hearts as Batman and Robin’s main man (servant). During a storied, three season, 120 episode run, Napier had the Batphone on lock down, always promptly answering and alerting Batman to the dangers of Gotham. Indubitably things got easier once they invented sonar tracking devices and advanced communication platforms, including computers, so it’s hard to say if Napier’s Alfred would have made it in the modern era.


Sean Pertwee

2. Sean Pertwee
TV Series: Gotham

Pertwee makes a strong case for the title belt here, combatting his way onto the Alfred scene. The youngest Alfred to date, known for protecting the young Bruce Wayne in the immediate aftermath of his parent’s demise, Pertwee’s protective instincts for young Bruce and his knack for continuously felling the villains of Gotham come in handy, as Bruce has yet to fully realise or actualise his future as the bodyguard of Gotham. The ‘Gotham’ TV series has been praised as a hot new show from Fox, and it’s casting of Pertwee really delivers, from Wayne Manor brawls with former British Intelligence Operative pals (psychopaths), to always putting himself in harm’s way to shield Master Wayne from the lurking evils of Gotham’s craziest menaces.


Michael Caine

1. Michael Caine
Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises

Let’s be honest though, we all know Michael Caine is the greatest of all time when it comes to Alfred. Readily beside Christian Bale’s side through the best installment of the Batman franchise, his fame through association certainly buffers his ranking. Competent in (all too often) medical procedures, Alfred never wavers in his faith of Master Wayne as mainly a confidant and ally in his later years. Despite lacking the fighting ability other Alfreds reveal, Caine had perhaps the most quotable Alfred because he understood his role in Wayne’s life as a father figure better than any other. In ‘Batman Begins’, after the house burns down, Wayne belittles Alfred in a rough way saying: “why do you give a damn, Alfred? It’s not your family”. Caine replies in a manner representative of the Alfred who got it most, “I give a damn, because a good man once made me responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world”. Beautiful, Michael.