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Showing posts from December, 2017

You've kept him alive so that he can die at the proper moment.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2010)
(SPOILERS) The final Harry Potter is somewhat better than I recalled, but it still counts as a disappointment following a significant run of quality since David Yates took over on megaphone duties. I was put in mind at times of the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix capper, in which much of the running time is given over to uninvolving battle action featuring characters we wonder why we should care about. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’s particular saving grace is the resolution of the Snape arc, but it isn’t enough in a movie that feels long and bloated despite being the shortest in the series.

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

Has it ever crossed your brilliant mind that I don't want to do this anymore?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
(SPOILERS) I get the impression this sixth instalment might not be the most obviously crowd pleasing in the Potter-sphere – among fans, rather than critics – but my second visit only reconfirms it as right up there in the top tier. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is certainly atypical, eschewing action for the most part (there are a couple of quidditch interludes, but they’re almost apologetic) and showing a keen aptitude for something the series has previous shown inconsistency towards: intrigue. For much of the running time, this is more like a spy movie – of the Le Carré, rather than Fleming variety – as characters surreptitiously keep close tabs on other characters, trying to puzzle out who is doing what to whom and when. And then, on top of that, it does a remarkably proficient job of developing the increasingly hormonal youngsters’ affairs of the heart.

Who wants to watch me take off Snivelly's trousers?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
(SPOILERS) The beginning of the homogenisation of Harry Potter, assuming you didn’t think he was a wholly homogenised product to begin with. And by that, I’m not necessarily levelling a charge –Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is qualitatively second only to Prisoner of Azkaban at this point in the running – but rather pointing out that David Yates has been the appointed ship’s captain ever since, even into the new prequel quintilogy. It means you’re going to get a reliably similar result, fine if you adore what’s on offer, so if you’re looking for a different take, spin or insight into the source material, your luck’s out.

When it comes to the Dark Arts, I favour a practical approach.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
(SPOILERS) Significant, ante-upping events occur in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but so much of the movie is filler, or prelude, that it would have taken a director truly worth their salt to make it seem something more than it was. Mike Newell wasn’t that director. The best you can say about his work is that it’s serviceable, efficient, and you wouldn’t know his ballpark hitherto resided mostly in romcoms. He plays with the second unit and the effects department surprisingly well, never a given in the history of journeymen embarking on spectacles beyond their ken (see the Bond movies for much of their history), and as an actor’s director, pulls decent performances from all concerned. But you’re never in doubt where the joins between the overarching plot and incidentals lie, making it less successful and engrossing than its predecessor.

He will return tonight! He who betrayed his friends - whose heart rots with murder! Innocent blood shall be shed and servant and master shall be reunited once more!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
(SPOILERS) Now, this is more like it. If the first two Harry Potter moviees are exhibits A and B in examples of stolid, unremarkable translations of text to screen, Alfonso Cuarón contrastingly takes full opportunity to inject personality and style into Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s helped not inconsiderably by a much more intriguing, effective storyline, one that incorporates the fake-out red herrings device of Philosopher’s Stone much more deftly and which utilises a time travel subplot in a manner that doesn’t feel like a cheat.

I shot him with a small revolver I keep near my balls.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
(SPOILERS) Yes, another Shane Black screenplay set at Christmas, and as per usual, it’s in the trappings not the content – aside from lost characters finding themselves, or others, during the season of goodwill. And Michelle Monaghan looking very fetching in a Santa hat. One wonders if this collection of moviemakers would get together in the current climate, since Joel Silver, Robert Downey Jr and Black all have some form of ignominy attached to their names, of various orders of seriousness, and the material itself is particularly focussed on the Babylon of vice that is Hollywood. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is crude, gross, profane and very, very funny. It may be Black’s debut as a director, but thus far he hasn’t bettered it (not that his later movies are anything to be sneezed at, mind).

We’re not in a prophecy… We’re in a stolen Toyota Corolla.

Bright (2017)
(SPOILERS) Is Bright shite? The lion’s share of the critics would have you believe so, including a quick-on-the-trigger Variety, which gave it one of the few good reviews but then pronounced it DOA in order to announce their intention for Will Smith to run for the Oval Office (I’m sure he’ll take it under advisement). I don’t really see how the movie can’t end up as a “success”; most people who have Netflix will at least be curious about an all-new $90m movie with a (waning, but only because he’s keeps making bad choices) major box office star. As to whether it’s any good, Bright’s about on a level with most of director David Ayer’s movies, in that it’s fast, flashy and fitfully entertaining, but also very muddled, mixed-up and, no matter how much cash is thrown at it, still resembles the kind of thing that usually ends up straight to video (making Netflix his ideal home).

It’s Santy Clause… and his elf.

Home Alone (1990)
(SPOILERS) A lot of the goodwill Home Alone engendered was subsequently undone by the ubiquity of Macaulay Culkin, who stopped being wide-eyed and cute at probably about the time the immediately diminishing returns of the 1992 sequel kicked in. But he’s perfectly placed here, in what was the biggest surprise smash of its year (one that included several who-knews such as Ghost and Dances with Wolves), even if its biggest selling point, the Tom and Jerry abuse inflicted on robbers Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern is back ended to the point where you might accuse the trailer makers of wilful misselling.

I'm sorry that I ruined your lives and crammed eleven cookies in the VCR.

Elf (2003)
(SPOILERS) Much as Jon Favreau deserves plaudits for making Iron Man’s success look easy, his achievement with Elf was even more unlikely. A Christmas movie that manages to be sincere without also being mushy, a comedy that’s incredibly silly but doesn’t stray from the point (as Will Ferrell movies have a tendency to do, God bless his freewheeling improv) and a romance that kindles even though composed largely of bullet points (thanks enormously to Zooey Deschanel’s patented manic elfie dream girl).

I’m a symbol of the human ability to supress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the greater part of our lives.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
(SPOILERS) There are sentiments in the original Miracle on 34th Street, but it isn’t weighed down with sentiment, and it has a “serious” message amid the wit and frivolity, but it isn’t overburdened by it. There’s a romance, but it’s breezy rather than stodgy, and there’s an obligatory cute kid, but she isn’t horribly precocious. And, of course, Santa Claus features, but he isn’t impossibly twinkly and ineffectual. In short, Les Mayfield’s remake makes heavy weather of everything that was sharp and inspired about the 1947 movie, and shoots the whole thing through a nightmarish soft-focus gauze designed to add to the viewer’s distress.

Madam, I am not in the habit of substituting for spurious Santa Clauses.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
(SPOILERS) Chances are, if you ask a random person who isn’t twelve years old to name three classic Christmas movies, one will be It’s a Wonderful Life, and one of the other two will be this evergreen tale of upholding the “right” kind of seasonally materialistic values. More recently, Chris Columbus attempted to inject a degree of commentary into his rewrite of Jingle All the Way, and cynicism towards the push-pull of a supposedly hallowed festival providing a chance to over-indulge and imbue kids with the qualities of greed and possessiveness crops up in most modern takes on the subject. Miracle on 34th Street has an especially canny take on the consumerist angle, and an honest one; when it comes to telling the truth about Santa Claus, the answer is whatever is best for business. Even cannier is that it inevitably means it’s also whatever is best for winning votes.

It's the Grinch! Scatter!

Jingle All the Way (1996)
(SPOILERS) During the decade between The Terminator and True Lies, Arnie could barely put a foot wrong commercially, and often critically too (what he did with his hands was another matter entirely…) But then it all went pear-shaped. It would be another decade before he began governating, but movie-wise he made dud choice after dud choice; the best you could say of the best of his output during this period is that it was passable. The worst…. Jingle All the Way is generally regarded as one of his stinkers, a nadir that resulted from going back to a well that had little to yield after a deceptively full first bucket or two (Twins and Kindergarten Cop gave way to Last Action Hero and Junior). The novelty value of “comedy” Arnie wore off quickly, and the shrewd businessman who sought out James Cameron, Walter Hill and Paul Verhoeven was now taking notes from the guy who directed Beethoven. But it’s a Christmas movie, right? Arnie has to have a Christmas movie on …

This is not going to go the way you think!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
(SPOILERS) The most interesting aspect of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, particularly given the iron fist Lucasfilm has wielded over the spinoffs, is how long a leash Rian Johnson has been granted to tear apart the phonier, Original Trilogy-lite aspects of The Force Awakens. The resulting problem is that the areas where he’s evidently inspired are very good (almost anything Force related, basically), but there are consequently substantial subplots that simply don’t work, required as they are to pay lip service to characters or elements he feels have nowhere to go. The positives undoubtedly tip the balance significantly in The Last Jedi’s favour, but they also mean it hasn’t a hope of attaining the all-round status of IV and V (still the out-of-reach grail for the franchise, quality-wise). Which is a shame, as thematically, this has far more going on, handled with far greater acumen, than anything in the interim.

What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer? There’s nothing merry in that.

Scrooge (1970)
(SPOILERS) The most charitable thing one can say about Scrooge the musical is that it was bound to happen at some point. It isn’t even necessarily a bad idea. It could work. Indeed, it did work two decades later when the Muppets tried it. Which rather highlights the big problem with this picture; it’s no fun.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

What happens in the alien spaceship, stays in the alien spaceship.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
(SPOILERS) Why do I watch these things? Because I’m an idiot, most probably. This is such an almost surreally odd movie series, attempting to overlay character arcs and motivation, mysticism and religiosity, on a range of Hasbro toys, that part of me would almost like it to succeed. Unfortunately – except perhaps during its first outing – it’s only ever bungling in its application of these ideas and entirely indifferent to its characters, an eye on other franchises (not least Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings) for “mythic” import married to an ultra-juvenile grasp of humour laced with unseemly sexism. Step forward Michael Bay, the Hollywood director out to prove the ‘80s never died. Transformers: The Last Knight may well be the end of the line for his decade-long association with the series, though, even if it isn’t the end of the series itself.

If you die down there, you're welcome to share my toilet.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
(SPOILERS) More of the same really, continuing Chris Columbus’ unswerving mode of following Steve Kloves’ sticking like glue to JK Rowling’s early structural template. Another mystery on the Hogwarts premises (you’d have thought the teachers would try to keep the kids clear of mortal peril until they’d at least graduated) that inevitably ties in to Voldermort. It’s marginally more honed this time, though, which means that when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – even the title is eminently resistible – finally knuckles down, it flows better. Unfortunately, it also has several major red flags to contend with.

After all, He Who Must Not Be Named did great things. Terrible! Yes. But great.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
(SPOILERS) If you want a functional, serviceable, unremarkable version of Harry Potter, look no further than Chris Columbus’ chocolate-box, Hollywood-anglophile vision. It’s studiously inoffensive and almost entirely lifeless. I should emphasise at the outset that I’m not a Harry Potter fan; I don’t have anything particularly against the series, but by and large it failed to captivate me on screen, so I’ve had little impetus to reach out for the novels. However, I was curious to revisit each film successively, having seen them exactly once. Columbus’ offerings are much as I remembered, striking dutiful, overly diligent notes in faithfulness to the author – and fans – but missing out on being anything much more than that, and it’s easy to see, on this evidence, why JK Rowling’s first choice, Terry Gilliam, demurred at the prospect of being tied to someone else’s rule book.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I don't believe in a no-win scenario.

Star Trek The Movies Ranked - Worst to Best
13. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
A grand send-off for Captain James T Kirk, and a stunning translation to the big screen for The Next Generation crew, just that year finishing up their TV voyages. What could possibly go wrong? It was Rick Berman’s idea to pass the baton, which might have seemed like it was soundly underpinning an untested new arena for Picard’s crew but ends up looking eggy for all involved. The only ones who emerge from this disaster with any credit are Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly, who passed (Nimoy’s put-down concisely had it that no one would notice the difference if the dozen or so Spock lines were given to someone else).