CINEMA / Amazing what you can do in a fortnight

HOLLYWOOD is all for originality, so long as it's tried and tested. In a town of formula hits, Tim Burton is a one-off. There have been raised eyebrows about the title of his animated movie, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (PG) - especially since Burton only produced the film, and was present for little more than a fortnight of its meticulous two-year shoot. And yet you have only to look at the six-minute animated short that comes with it, Vincent (U), Burton's first film, to see that this Nightmare owes more to one man's bad dreams than to all Disney's fantasies. The story of a boy who wants to grow up to be Vincent Price (who provides the narration), Vincent spindily embodies every feature of Burton's Nightmare style - its spidery drawing, macabre humour and tongue-in-cheek horror. It is Charles Addams with a Poe face.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (based on a children's book by Burton, now in Puffin at pounds 4.99) has the simplicity of fairy tale - albeit with a shading of Grimm. Jack Skellington, the bat bow-tied lord of Hallowe'en Land, whose pin-striped limbs resemble elongated matchsticks, is lonesome and bored. A post-coital tristesse seems to have set in, as the film opens on the day after Hallowe'en - his most successful (ie. most horrible) ever. Moping around the forest, he stumbles upon a Christmas-tree-shaped door in a tree. A few skeletal steps later, after being sucked into a whirling blue vortex of twinkling stars, he is in Christmas-land. Not content with tourism, he usurps Santa Claus, making for a Christmas that is more macabre than merry.

The use of stop-motion animation (more often seen in special-effects extravaganzas) makes for a three-dimensional world, of puppets and sets, more expressive than cartoon drawings. In the film's beguiling opening scene, an introduction to the world of Hallowe'en set to song, director Henry Selick's camera swoops and swirls, as if it were on loan from Brian De Palma. There are grotesque wonders here: an expressionistically slanted graveyard of chilly-grey, crooked tombstones; a chorus of skeletons jiving in unison along the branches of a walking tree; the shadow of a bogeyman over the smooth gold disc of the moon, smiling, to allow his teeth, a flock of bats, to flutter away. This scene leads into Jack's lonely walk on a moon-drenched promontory (''O there's an empty place in my bones / That calls for something unknown''), which, along with his flight with emaciated reindeer over a patchwork quilt of snow-covered houses, provides the movie's most striking image.

All this is magical - but not quite pure magic. The charm is rather calculated. There is a scene where Jack does an experiment on a bauble to discover the secret of Christmas, and the film sometimes seems to have been created in the same suspect spirit, applying science to myth. Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson have flirted with this danger before, in Edward Scissorhands (with its references to Beauty and the Beast et al), but there they seduced us. The Nightmare Before Christmas doesn't have the same dramatic sweep, and its references are often more opportunistic than enlightening. The love interest is provided by Sally - a gorgeous doe-eyed doll, of the sewn-together, Frankenstein type. She pines for Jack, while languishing locked-up in the laboratory of the wicked professor who invented her. She clearly carries a lot of mythical baggage. But it is merely a fashion accessory.

There is also a scene in which Santa is tortured on a roulette table by a figure called Oogie Boogie, a great pea-green sack, voiced by the black actor Ken Page, which the PC may find offensive, and the rest of us plain crass. But these are quibbles in a film that by and large gives Hollywood craftsmanship a good name. It is beautifully detailed (worth seeing more than once), elegantly scored by Danny Elfman (who also sings Jack's numbers), and stamped throughout with the vision of Tim Burton.

To travel complacently rather than arrive at difficult conclusions seems

to be the motto of Nanni Moretti's three-part autobiographical essay, Dear Diary (15). It is a rambling film, in more ways than one, consisting largely of Moretti, maundering around Italy (Rome by Vespa in the first part; Lepari and Stromboli on foot in the second), mulling over contemporary mores, architecture and television. If there is a unifying theme, it is a plea for communication. That may be behind Moretti's yearning, in the first section, to be able to dance - a desire for the communality of the disco floor. He rhapsodises about the film Flashdance, and bumps into its star, Jennifer Beals. It is certainly the moral of the third and most compelling episode: the story of how, suffering from a skin complaint, Moretti did the rounds of Italy's dermatologists, who prescribed skin lotions to no effect, leaving it to the patient himself to work out that his ailment was a side-effect of lung

cancer. Moretti concludes that doctors are better at talking than listening.

That may be true, but it applies to Moretti too. For all his whimsy, he has a closed attitude to life. He confronts a film critic, reading aloud her pretentious reviews, in a scene which has been hailed as a comic coup. But it played to me like an advertisement for philistinism and an assault on free speech. To be as self-indulgent as Moretti (he shoots a long stretch of himself riding his Vespa to Pasolini's grave), you either have to be very witty, like Woody Allen, to whom Moretti is often compared, or have really sharp ideas. Here, Moretti fails on both counts. His film is little more than a doodle.

Sean Connery shows off his golf swing in A Good Man in Africa (15), as he did in Rising Sun. A pitch and putt must be written into the contract these days. He also delivers the line of the film, telling William Boyd's hapless hero (Colin Friels) he has more chance on the PGA tour than in the diplomatic service. But the film doesn't pursue the point, and Friels comes over as bland - a sit-com-poop, not a man who has tragically missed his chance in life. Boyd's novel was largely interior monologue, and it is fair enough that Boyd's own adaptation should go for something different - but not for banal dialogue and creaking-farce machinery. Oddly, the most enjoyable performance is by John Lithgow as the British High Commissioner. An American, he sharpens the traditional caricature of the British toff, and, in the process, looks a lot like Terry-Thomas.

The Cuban Strawberry and Chocolate (18) is a meandering account of the relationship between a naive young communist, who hopes to be a writer, and a flamboyantly cultured, proselytising homosexual. Though the movie is tenderly made, with a feel for the more bohemian reaches of Havana, its mincing hero may end up alienating homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Farewell to the 38th London Film Festival, a record earner ( pounds 384,000 net box office), and one of the most warmly received in memory. Many of the films will be released and reviewed in the New Year. One that might not is Hoop Dreams, an excellent three-hour documentary tracing the lives of two Chicago ghetto boys, from 14 to 18, as they seek basketball stardom. The film is a rare three-dimensional account of African-American lives and a stinging indictment of an educational system which, with its sports scholarships, institutionalises bribery. The BBC will show Hoop Dreams next summer. It deserves more. The grace and skill of the boys on court had the Festival audience cheering. I hope a British distributor will match the courage of the film-makers and their subjects.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own