Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
It's been twelve years since the books first came into my life, and ten since they first came to the big screen. Now it's all over, and it is with a sense of poignancy that I come to write this review. More than half my lifetime spend becoming a huge Harry Potter nerd, memorising both books and films, dreaming of playing Quidditch and duelling Death Eaters, and more than anything hoping that the films would remain strong till the end - Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Half-Blood Prince (2009) being the only ones which weren't.
Sad, I know, but being seven when the first book was read to us in class, and eight when I began working my way through the next three books, and then rereading them constantly as I waited for the final three to be first published, Harry Potter has been a huge part of my life for so long. The books may have ended four years ago on Thursday, but I never felt it was truly over till the films were, and now it is. If you haven't seen the film, or the first part of the finale (2010), or even read the book, you may want to stop reading after this paragraph as this review will contain spoilers!
The final film, this really is the best in the series. A visual beauty with substantial amounts of character development, poignant scenes, a dark feel, powerful imagery and underlying meanings, a fully consistent screenplay and just about every actor in Britain giving it their all.
After breaking into Gringotts to steal a Horcrux, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts, and there the final battle against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his armies will take place. True colours shall be revealed as the battle takes many casualties, and only either Harry or Voldemort can survive. But with Voldemort in possession of the all-powerful Elder Wand, all odds seem against Harry.
Throughout the visuals of the film are spectacular, especially the special effects and general imagery. The first major piece of special effects is the trip into Gringotts, all images of which are bold in design, and the cinematography of which is well edited (particularly in the cart ride) to make this one exhilarating part of the film. In Gringotts the boldest image is by far the dragon and its fight for freedom in the end dominates this part of the film thanks to its superb design, and the fierceness which is brought to it.
From here the visual effects and imagery of the film get even better, and in the final battle we are offered an incredible feast of fantastic visual effects, which are explosive - the Death Eaters destruction of Hogwarts; dominating - the giants fighting for Voldemort, over twenty feet tall and brutal in design; well edited - the destruction of the Covered Bridge by Neville (Matthew Lewis) and Seamus (Devon Murray), as well as an incredible final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, which will have you on the edge of your seat, thanks to the editing, effects and pacing of it; bright and dazzling - the various spells cast by both defenders of the castle and Death Eaters, in particular the most powerful of Shield Charms cast by Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) and Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), and an incredibly powerful Patronus cast by Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds); bold - McGonagall (Maggie Smith) bringing the Hogwarts statues to life so they can defend the castle, in a moment only heightened in power by Alexandre Desplat's excellent score; and altogether spectacular - especially, for me, the scene where Goyle (Joshua Herdman) casts Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, killing himself, and nearly killing Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco (Tom Felton) and Zabini (Louis Cordice), in a scene which will have the viewer on the edge of their seat thanks to imagery that also really gets the adrenaline pumping, thanks also to the very bleak situation.
Other powerful imagery comes in the form of the Gringotts dragon, which Harry, Ron and Hermione ride to escape Gringotts. The dragon, who had been kept shackled in the bowels of the Gringotts tunnels for many years, really fights for its freedom, and in design is (despite being scarred) rather beautiful and graceful, and is a wonderful image of a longing for freedom.
At the end of the day, many of the supporting characters don't get a vast amount of screentime, but despite this several of the supporting characters get substantial amounts of character development as their stories peak. Two of the best examples of character development, in my view, come in the forms of Molly Weasley and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs).
Molly, who has been little more than a housewife and loving parent, both to her own children and to Harry, finally gets some substance and development in this film, which begins with the death of Fred (James Phelps), where in a heartbreaking scene we see just how much the death of a son can grieve a mother, and when Molly finally kills Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) during the climax, we see just how much grief can change a person, and how much it has changed this character, into a fierce, gutsy woman who holds nothing back when she duels, as Walters plays her with passion.
In films four (2005) and five, it was clear that Lucius was wholeheartedly loyal to Lord Voldemort, but in film seven we first start to see how much he truly fears his master, and in this final film he continues to be a nervous wreck of his former self, and in the end turns his back on his master for his family, which is a major contrast to the former Lucius and shows just how much fear and love can change one's views and loyalties, in a moving performance from Isaacs.
Other characters, such as Neville, are also given substantial development. Neville has come a long way from that tubby little first year in the first film (2001), who struggled with simple spells, and in this film we see just how much his hate for the Death Eaters, in particular Bellatrix, has motivated him and driven him to be a courageous, fierce fighter, thanks to some very moving dialogue and a very confident and strong performance from Lewis.
The rest of the cast also put their all into this film as well. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson started out in the first film as not brilliant actors, but with each film grew in confidence and, as a result, talent. In films five and six, however, the three just seemed unbothered as they had made their millions, and their performances went down hill. In this two part finale, however, they are back on their strongest form yet, putting every ounce of energy and passion they have into making three strong, confident, leading characters, and the amount of raw emotion they display is moving.
The adults have always been the strongest part of the cast, even if they have often been underused. Smith, who has been underused since film three (2004), gives a fiery and determined performance as McGonagall, as well as sympathetic in the right places, and one is really drawn in by the grit and passion with which she goes through the film. As Kingsley, George Harris gives a very authorative and confident performance, making the Head of the Order of the Phoenix a brilliant and powerful leader. As Voldemort, Fiennes gives one of the best performances of the entire series, making the Dark Lord cold, sadistic and chillingly so, and the perfect antagonist for the series. Once again Bonham Carter draws us in as Bellatrix, making Voldemort's leuitenant deliciously sadistic, cruel, and even psychopathic.
Davis is also strong in this film, having been seriously underused since the first film, as his acting talent provides the role of one character who is surprisingly important, Griphook, whom he makes cold and sly, the kind of character who sends a shiver down the spine, and the supporting role of Flitwick, whom Davis makes a tiny dueller with a huge heart filled with courage and a brain of battle tactics and logic, and also uses his small stature as comic relief in a couple of moments. Out of a large number of supporting stars though, Alan Rickman is the strongest as Snape. In the character's early scenes Rickman makes Snape as cold, heartless and sinister as ever before, but in the later scenes we see Snape's full story as questions about his past and his loyalties are answered, and Rickman gives one of the best performances of his career conveying truly moving and touching emotions that really bring great poignancy to said scenes, and will move even the most hard hearted of viewers.
As for the screenplay this is the best in the series to date, and is consistent throughout. From the opening of the film there is a sense of darkness and bleakness for the Wizarding World created, partly because we know Voldemort has the Elder Wand as the footage of him stealing it from Dumbledore's tomb is reused from Part 1, and also because of the depiction of Hogwarts. The students are marched in blocks through the courtyard as if they were prisoners being marched back to their cells, and the happiness that once filled and surrounded Hogwarts has gone under this new regime, and with Dementors surrounding the grounds Hogwarts has effectively become a prison. This is a very effective way of depicting how the Wizarding World has become subject to the misery caused by Voldemort, as even Hogwarts, once considered the safest place possible has become subject to the Dark Lord, and it is such a shockingly dark contrast to the Hogwarts we had loved from the start.
The screenplay manages as well to really tug at the heartstrings with some truly poignant moments. Harry discovering the truth about Snape is the most poignant scene of the entire series, partly due to some really emotional dialogue, partly due to the moving score by Desplat, but mostly due to Rickman's touching and emotional performance. This scene is only slightly more moving than Snape's death scene, which hits hard thanks to the emotions displayed on screen, and heightened by Desplat's score once again. Other moments of poignancy come in the death scenes of Goyle, Fred (James Phelps), Remus (David Thewlis) and Tonks (Natalia Tena), although the death of Goyle is the only one which is actually seen.
In the book when Crabbe was killed by the Fiendfyre (a role taken over by Goyle in the film, after actor Jamie Waylett was sacked due to drugs charges) the moment he dies is not there in black and white, but we knew he died as he never made it out the Room of Requirement. Showing Goyle fall into the flames was a good decision in my view, as the fear and horror in the faces of Draco, Goyle and Zabini as Goyle falls to his death are quite gut-wrenching, and you end up looking to Goyle as a tragic character, dead at 18, having been Draco's crony his entire life, unable to say 'no', so that when he finally did it killed him.
The deaths of Fred, Remus and Tonks are cut out, but we do get the moments when Harry, Ron and Hermione discover their deaths. The amount of heartbreak clear in the faces of the entire Weasley family over the death of Fred is particularly moving, and it is a clear image of how war can hit any family hard and leave any family grieving. The deaths of Remus and Tonks hit hard as the scene shows their bodies lying side by side, and a moment of poignancy is created as you think of the little time this couple had together, and the tragedy that this loving pair less than a year into marriage died together.
In the book McGonagall informed Slughorn that they would "duel to kill" in order to defend Hogwarts. In the film we see just how strongly that was meant. When Neville destroys the Covered Bridge, Scabior (Nick Moran) and several Snatchers are on it, charging after him and towards several other students, and end up falling to their deaths. This is a true depiction of how much the desire of the Hogwarts staff and students to be free of Voldemort, and how it has really become a case of they will do anything to defend Hogwarts and show Voldemort's armies that they are no pushovers in their fight to defeat them.
Another commendable quality about the screenplay is that it makes the dire epilogue - set 19 years later that sees Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) see their various children onto the Hogwarts Express - as bearable as it could possibly been. The epilogue is unnecessary in both book and film, and it would have been better to scrap it altogether in the film, but its one redeeming feature is that it makes us feel slightly nostalgic of that first journey the Hogwarts Express took on screen a whole decade ago, by simply reusing John Williams's score from the first film. It is anti-climactic, but it was done as best it could be, and surprisingly injected a positive emotional response.
All in all the film is not perfect - is there such a thing as a perfect film? - and it isn't 100% loyal to the book, as adaptations never are, but it is a powerful conclusion for the highest grossing franchise in history, and really closes the series with a bang in what is genuinely the best in the series to date.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Tom Felton, Warwick Davis, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Bonnie Wright, George Harris, Jim Broadbent, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Evanna Lynch, Kelly Macdonald, John Hurt, Domnhall Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Clémence Poésy, Devon Murray, Alfie Enoch, Joshua Herdman, Louis Cordice, David Bradley, Guy Henry, Nick Moran, Dave Legeno, Natalia Tena, Emma Thompson, Jon Key, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones.
Within the next four and a half hours I will have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and naturally I am really excited!!! I would have seen it on Friday were I not in Devon and the nearest cinema a 75 minute drive away. I am also slightly sad as this will mean Harry Potter has concluded. Although the books concluded almost exactly four years ago it never felt like the true end as there were still more films to go. Ah well, random moment of glee over, time for dinner, then time for the film!!!!!
When 17-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks to live with her dad (Billy Burke) she falls in love with the mysterious Edward (Robert Pattinson). Later, she discovers his secret: he is a vampire. This results in her being hunted by James (Cam Gigandet), another vampire, who is ruthless and longs to kill her, so it is up to Edward's family to protect her.
The Twilight Saga has fast become the 16th highest grossing franchise in history, with the second (2009) and third (2010) films grossing almost $710 million and just over $698 million respectively, and with a two-part finale (2011/12) still to come, but they have not had the same critical acclaim as other high grossing fantasy franchises such Harry Potter (2001-11), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3), and haven't even succeeded The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-) in the critical acclaim department. The series huge fan base - mostly teens who love a bit of romance - is there, but there is a reason why the films of this franchise have failed to even surpass The Chronicles of Narnia in terms of quality.
Visually the film is good. A dark quality is brought to it successfully by the bold make-up used to make the vampires really stand out with a ghostlike feel to them, while their superhuman speed and strength is given some bold work by the visual effects team, who successfully use CGI and sharp editing to make it very eye-catching and really stand out as you watch the film. Most of the film's flaws and drawbacks come from the screenplay, which is very poorly written, offering a number of supporting characters who are given the bare minimum in terms of development, and also some events which just seem to be dragged out, with really simple, poorly written dialogue. The other flaw is the cast, with Pattinson and Stewart both giving noticeably wooden performances, and the poorly written romance between the two being especially forced with no genuine feel to it. The supporting cast generally give poor performances that lack enthusiasm as well, but they are playing underdeveloped characters, with not a vast amount of screentime so we are more willing to be forgiving, while it is harder to be accepting of the two poor leads.
A poor start to the franchise, it may have generated a huge fan base, but it is far too flawed to be taken seriously and just can't even hold a candle to other major fantasy franchises such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Cam Gigandet, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Greene, Kellen Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Rachelle Lefèvre, Edi Gathegi, Michael Welch, Anna Kendrick, Sarah Clarke, Gil Birmingham, Christian Serratos, Gregory Tyree Boyce, Justin Chon.
People's Choice Awards: Favorite Movie, Favorite On-Screen Team (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner).
Saturday, 9 July 2011
A year into World War II, Home Guards are formed all over Britain, and local bank manager George Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) is in charge of the Walmington-on-Sea Platoon, in what proves to be a long, tiresome journey to get them kitted out and ready to take on any Nazis who turn up in their town.
Three years and three incredible successful series of the British sitcom (1968-77) meant that this film should have been a guaranteed hit with the nation. Alas, the simple and beautifully funny formula of the series could not be replicated for this very disappointing film. The first half shows the forming and training of the men, and my goodness it was not worth watching. The pilot episode (1968) showed the Platoon being formed and the first series (1968) saw their training begin, as well as their being kitted out and recieving weapons.
What we are offered here is basically an initially dragged out version of the forming, which takes everything that happened in the pilot, and adding a couple of scenes - such as the volunteers initially going to the Police Station to register before Mainwaring takes over - which are quite frankly pointless, plus fifty volunteers instead of the fifteen to twenty in the series robs the message of the series, which was that every small town had people defending it, fighting to protect their homes from Hitler.
After a dragged out forming we get a rushed training, which shows the men being kitted out with uniforms and weapons. It is so fast that there's barely any opportunity for getting in some comedy, and any chance of humour is wasted as there are no comedic qualities due to the rushing of the training, therefore lack of set-up for a laugh. Plus the fact it is done with so quickly means the magic is again lost as the charm of the first series was the fact that it showed just how foolish, and occasionally succesful you can be when improvising with weapons.
As for the second half, it all becomes far too frantic and over-the-top to be funny, and it is also inconsistent, with Mainwaring and the Platoon going from bumbling fools to very crafty and successful have-a-go heroes. Attention will be lost as one watches this film, and it is not exactly difficult to lose said attention, in this very unfunny comedy, which retains no charm of the TV series.
On the one and only upside, the actors put a lot of effort into retaining those same magical qualities that their characters have in the series, and do a good job when one thinks of the poor material that they had to work with, sometimes retaining the magic, but failing to more often than not. The charm and strong comic timing that Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, James Beck, Arnold Ridley, Ian Lavender displayed throughout the series is here occassinally, but with poor comic writing to work with it is very patchy. They are the only characteristic of the film that even comes close to being reminiscent of the series, but they can't come close to saving the film, and we are just left with a hugely disappointing attempt at a comedy.
Stars: Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, James Beck, Arnold Ridley, Ian Lavender, Bernard Archard, Derek Newark, Bill Pertwee, Frank Williams, Edward Sinclair, Anthony Sagar, Pat Coombs.
Sunday, 3 July 2011
First things first, the teaser trailer for Brave (2012), Pixar's next feature film, came out with Cars 2 (2011)...
I have to say it looks like another visual beauty, although fair play, if Pixar offered us a film that wasn't a visual beauty then there would probably be an uproar. And from the premise it seems we are going to be offered another marvellous narrative which will entertain youngsters and draw in adults with the more mature side of said narrative, similarly to major successes Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).
I have also discovered that Newt, which was cancelled over a year ago after being proposed for a 2012 release, was cancelled as John Lasseter felt its plot was too similar to Rio (2011).
The Incredibles (2004) would have the most potential for a sequel thanks to how it ended, plus superhero sequels are an almost guaranteed money maker - Spider-Man 3 (2007) and The Dark Knight (2008) being great examples - but Pixar, especially Brad Bird are refusing to make The Incredibles 2 unless Bird can write a screenplay superior to that of the original, and good on them!
On the sequels front, Tom Hanks has reported that Toy Story 4 is going to be made. Whether he has got his facts muddled and it is a simple case of more Toy Story shorts are going to be made for future Pixar releases has been considered an option, but it could be true, in which case we really must hope that the fourth film will be as strong as the other Toy Story films (1995-2010), although that is a very high standard to recreate.
Cars 2 has currently an RT Rating of 35% from the critics, an all time low for Pixar. Cars (2006) being their worst film, meant that we would always be uncertain about a sequel. It could either be a huge improvement on the original and another in Pixar's recent string of brilliance, or it could backfire, and apparently its the latter. I won't judge though till the UK release on July 22nd.
And on a final note Pixar recently announced an Untitled film will be released on November 27th 2013. Monsters University (2013) was originally slated for November 2012, but was moved back seven months to benefit from the Summer box office - makes sense seeing as Toy Story 3 was a summer blockbuster and grossed $1.063 billion at the worldwide box office - and also because Brave is out in June 2012. Therefore my theory is that this Untitled project will be moved back to Summer 2014, again to benefit from the Summer box office, plus Pixar aren't DreamWorks, they never release more than one film a year, therefore the Cars films have been the only misfires to date.
Friday, 1 July 2011
The film follows sociopathic serial killer Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who kills one group of girls with his reinforced, death proof stunt car, but the following year picks on the wrong group of girls.
This film is easily the worst in Director Quentin Tarantino's career. One can say this is due to the fact he set his standard too high with his first two films Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), but really it is because this is the sloppiest, with the least effort.
The problem is the screenplay, which is two-thirds Tarantino's signature sometimes cocky, sometimes crude, sometimes funny, occasionally charming dialogue. When you put on a Tarantino film, you are not expecting half to two-thirds of the film to be a bunch of people sitting in a bar discussing pointless stuff and swearing unnecessarily, in scenes which have little substance, and don't even do a good job of establishing Stuntman Mike and the type of character he is. As for charm, it works when you have a cool actor such as John Travolta, but when you have Kurt Russell, who gives an effectively creepy performance, it comes out more sleazy than anything. The rest of the cast also drag down the film, but this most likely stems from the fact they were given a poorly paced screenplay with a lack of strong dialogue to work with. The various girls get such little character development in the film that their performances end up being forced, with a major artificial feel. Of all the girls Zoe Bell playing herself is the only one who impresses, in a kick-ass performance, which is made better by the fact she does all her own stunts.
On the upside, the death and car chase scenes we are offered are as gritty and gory as you would wish them to be coming from Tarantino, particularly the first where Mike crashes his stunt car into a car full of drunk women with devastating results. Fast paced and quite well edited, it draws the viewers' attention and keeps said viewer gripped. As for the deaths, Tarantino uses vivid blood reds and crunching sounds to make the deaths gruesome in typical Tarantino style - Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill (2003/4) had already shown him to have a fetish for gore.
Altogether dragged out and poorly paced, a good two-thirds of this film could be cut out and rewritten, but it does have its moments of exhilaration and grit.
Stars: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jonathan Loughran, Michael Parks, Monica Stags, Marley Shelton, Quentin Tarantino.
Cannes Film Festival nomination: Palme d'Or (Quentin Tarantino).