Tag Archives: Film review

FILM REVIEW of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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This long-awaited spinoff from the Harry Potter franchise with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and David Yates, director of four HP films, at the helm has finally hit the screens. And we were in the cinema last Friday at 10 am to see it. Was it worth the anticipation?

fanbeastsOh yes. Rowling made the smart decision to take the time and place well away from Hogwarts and has set this adventure in New York during 1926. So we are treated to wonderful 1920s fashions, vintage cars and New York in its heyday before it became gridlocked by traffic. Into this setting shuffles a very diffident Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander fresh off the boat from England, clearly not comfortable dealing with New Yorkers. He is carrying a rather battered suitcase – and it is when the contents of said suitcase inconveniently escape that it all starts to kick off. At the worst possible time, too. For there are increasing tensions between the Maj and Non-maj communities, forcing Madam President of the US wizarding world to get ever more hardline in dealing with forbidden interactions between the two.

There is much here that is comfortably familiar for HP fans – intriguing settings, quirky characters fanbeasts1both human and otherwise, fantatical/wrong-headed/power-grabbing antagonists and plenty going on. With the cream of British actors appearing in the extensive cast lists over the years, the acting quality has always been very high – and Redmayne’s portrayal of a shy, sensitive soul fascinated by magical creatures and scoured by years of bullying and/or misunderstanding certainly ticks that box. He is ably supported by Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, along with Katherine Waterston as Tina, a witch-policewoman and her memorably beautiful mind-reading sister, Queenie, played by Alison Studol.

fanbeasts2We see the divided nature of the society, with feelings running high as something large and lethal is laying waste to buildings and killing people. The MACUSA, (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) are in a spin with Chief Investigator Percival Graves desperately trying to track down the cause of all the damage. The special effects are amazing – seeing swathes of New York come crashing down in showers of rubble was impressive, but more so was watching them magically go back together again.

All of the above are fabulous – the film wouldn’t be what it is without those components. But for me, the scene stealers were those fantastic beasts. Vicious, naughty, lovelorn or despairing – the creatures look wonderful, the special effects are amazing and I found myself with tears in my eyes over a creature that doesn’t exist at the thought of its extinction… Redmayne’s interaction with them is impressive – he must have spent hours chatting to and stroking green screens, but it was certainly worth it. Halfway through, I recall gripping Himself’s hand and hoping the film wouldn’t end for a very long time and the last time I felt like that about a movie was during The Fellowship of the Ring. Both films took me to another time and place, making me both laugh and cry during the journey and providing me with plenty to think about afterwards. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of the film Home

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I was delighted when the trailers started appearing to see another major family film featuring a science fiction theme. As a solid fan of the genre, anything that helps it break out into mainstream has to be a good thing. So when my grandson came to stay last week, I took him along to see it.

ohandtipWhen Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME.

The cast is stellar – Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory stars as Oh, while Rihanna, Jennifer Lopaz, Steve Martin, Matt Jones and Dominique Monfery all very ably support him. The dialogue is sharp and humorous, with the main characters well depicted. Oh and Tip are both misfits in their own environments and their developing relationship has plenty of edges that provides interest and conflict while they are trying to flee/find family/save the planet. So far so good…

However, if you’re sensing a big BUT, you’d be right. If scriptwriters are going to use a science fiction theme, then it behoves them to ensure the plot is at least tight enough to pass muster at the very first sitting. And unfortunately Home can’t even pass this undemanding test. When the Boov alien nation decide to settle on Earth, they scoop up the whole of humanity and dump them in circular settlements in the middle of Australia in small, colonial-style houses jammed very closely together. And two weeks later, there doesn’t appear to be any breakdown in law and order, or unrest – everyone is just aimlessly wandering around. Neither is there any kind of aggression towards the Boov in the form of armies mustered to prevent them from moving into the human cities they have so recently hi-jacked.

Really?

I know it’s a film largely aimed at children – but this isn’t so much a plot hole as a gaping chasm. Most of the film, I ohandpigcatfound myself wondering what exactly would really happen if an alien species suddenly turned up and actually shunted our whole civilisation onto one continent in very crowded conditions. I’m betting that two weeks later, everyone wouldn’t be merely wandering around, looking a tad aggravated… And as for everyone happily co-existing afterwards – nope. Absolutely not. Reckon the Boov would find themselves the target for a huge amount of hatred.

So while the relationship between Tip and Oh works well, as soon as the film’s focus widens out to the broader storyline the whole narrative fell apart. There was simply none of the rigour shown in the wonderful Wall-E, which held together any way you looked at it. I found myself watching the beautiful graphics and superb acting – while trying to work out why all this effort and talent was being expended on a broken-backed story that didn’t work.

My other gripe was the other character – Pig-Cat. It is, apparently, perfectly acceptable to allow your cat become obese – and if not, then WHY does the main character possess an overweight cat glorying in the name of Pig? A whole range of activities such as running, climbing and jumping suddenly become a problem for obese cats, along with a shortened lifespan and constant health issues, which means this is just cruelty. I fail to see any merit in normalising the unacceptable practise of overfeeding pets to the point of injuring them, by featuring a fat cat in a mainstream family film.

But as far as I’m concerned, this is just another aspect of the sloppy, lazy thinking behind this lame project, which with a bit of extra effort could have been superb. Shame on you Dreamworks. You’re better than this.
4/10

Film Review of District 9

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district 9While my friend Mhairi Simpson was laid up after coming off her bike last week, we had the good luck to encounter this film, courtesy of the good ol’ Syfy channel. As Mhairi hadn’t seen it, I was very glad to have an excuse to watch it again.

Released in 2009 by TriStar Pictures and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this science fiction thriller is set in the very near future, when a huge space ship appears in the sky over Johannesburg in South Africa. And just hangs there. Three months later, a task force eventually breaks into the ship to find it contains around half a million sick and starving aliens. Transported to a camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the aliens are provided with food and the most primitive, rudimentary basics required for existence and left to get on with it. They do.

Living in squalor, they barter whatever they can for tins of cat food and pieces of meat. Inevitably, illegal interest in their technology is centred around their impressive weaponry. Despite the fact that humans cannot activate these lethal pieces of kit as they are keyed to alien DNA, a Nigerian crimelord based in the centre of District 9 is busy building up an arsenal. He is convinced that if he consumes enough alien body parts, he will eventually be able to activate these guns which will give him an unassailable advantage in the human criminal underworld.

The years wear on and the alien population continues to grow, despite their revolting living conditions. Ill educated and brutalised by their bleak existence, the aliens – or Prawns, as they come to be known – don’t make comfortable neighbours and the humans living alongside them become increasingly vociferous in their complaints. So some twenty years after they first appeared, a scheme is hatched to move the aliens on from District 9, where they have been living, to District 10 – a barren hellhole right out in the bush. The move is to be overseen by a tough military organisation, the MNU, who go in mob-handed with an enthusiastic Afrikaner office jock by the name of Wikus van de Merwe played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley. However, things don’t go according to plan…

The timeline is fractured, with much of the backstory very effectively told as a documentary, first of the alien roundup and then of the unfolding events. The wobbly camera-work, abrupt stops and various narrators giving their thoughts and opinions on what occurred is very cleverly interleaved with the visceral action.

It doesn’t take a genius to quickly realise that this film is more than just an escapist junket about yet another alien visitation. The district9.2proposed clear-out of District 9 is based on the forced evictions and removals of whole populations, both during the South African apartheid years and since, when in an attempt to dislodge some of the shanty towns that had built up during apartheid, the government have resorted to the kinds of tactics shown in this film. The less than subtle nod to recent history – District 9 in reality was the infamous District 6, where 60,000 blacks were forced to move out – gives the action extra emotional punch. This is echoed in the haunting soundtrack, which plays as aliens are shown scrabbling around on rubbish tips…

However, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is just some neo-political rant about man’s inhumanity to man. This film also produces plenty action-packed chases, fire fights and destructive explosions to keep the most avid action-junkie satisfied. I loved the ending – which managed to be moving and tie up the main story arc, while conveniently leaving the door open for the sequel. And if this team get together to produce said sequel, I’m definitely going to be right up at the front of the queue to see it at the cinema. An intelligent, thought provoking science fiction thriller that exposes humanity’s greed and brutality in an entertaining action-fest doesn’t come along every day of the week…
9/10

Review of the film The Time Traveler’s Wife

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Released in the summer of 2009, The Time Traveler’s Wife is based on Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling book of the same name, which I felt was an interesting, nuanced examination of a much hackneyed subject. There was a lot of anticipation around the film, given Brad Pitt’s involvement as one of the producers – especially after the postponement of the original release date back in 2008.

time traveler's wifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife follows the fortunes of Clare, (played by Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Eric Bana) after they meet in a library. However, this is far from being an everyday romance. Henry has a genetic condition causing him to travel in time – which makes it sound far more sedate and orderly than it turns out to be… Whenever he is stressed or upset, poor Henry is yanked out of his life and deposited elsewhere, minus his clothes. And that initial meeting in the library isn’t your average girl meets boy and falls in love, either. As their eyes meet, Clare lights up in delighted recognition – it turns out that she’s known Henry since she was a little girl as he regularly turned up in the meadow behind her house all through her life during his time-travelling episodes… Loving Henry comes at a very high price, however. They never know exactly when Henry will disappear – or reappear. And then there’s the unpleasant fact that Clare has never seen him any older than his early 40’s…

Throughout the film, Bana and McAdams both give solid performances and as the story winds to its climax, there are moments of real emotion. The fading palmprint of Henry’s hand on the window, near the end, is powerful and moving. However I did feel the script didn’t really give these two very capable actors a chance to really dig deep. Somehow the dialogue managed to slide over the surface of the huge subjects tackled in the film and the book. The odd touches of humour were effective, and I did wonder whether the screenwriter was hankering to turn this into a classic romantic comedy. He certainly did a real makeover on Henry, who isn’t nearly raggedly fraught enough as he finds himself continually sliding into another timeline, away from the family he loves. The supporting cast all do an excellent job and I particularly enjoyed Fiona Reid’s splendid portrayal of Clare’s tactless mother, while Ron Livingstone’s performance as Gomez is entirely satisfactory, given the limited scope of the role.

The cinematography is accomplished, with a deft use of lighting to underline the increasing sense of crisis, with the film’s settingstime traveler's wife.2 staying very true to the book. In fact, I was surprised at just how faithful the film was to the fragmented storyline – and here, for me, lies a major problem. I found myself continually recalling scenes from the book that underscored a particular emotion or issue touched on in the film. Like the book, the film skips between different timelines. However, unlike the book, we do not have the benefit of the strong narrative voice to steer us through, while the few grey hairs Bana displays to give us a clue as to which Henry we are watching are not a sufficiently strong visual prompt. I didn’t get confused, but I have a hunch that is because I’d already read the book. I believe that a voiceover a la Benjamin Button by either Henry or Clare would have given the viewer a much better sense of the timeline and a sharper feel for the characters.

While we get the odd nod to one of the issues raised by the book – ‘I never had a choice!’ McAdams yells as an infuriated Clare – the film seems too intent on conveying a classic Hollywood ‘love conquers all’ message. Whereas the book was far more interestingly ambivalent, particularly at the end.

All in all, while The Time Traveler’s Wife certainly doesn’t deserve the panning it has had from certain directions, neither is it the real masterpiece it could have been. The limited emotional range of the screenplay and reliance on old Hollywood clichés ultimately sold the actors and the audience short.
7/10

Film review of Star Man

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I dipped my toe into the past when I sat down to watch a re-run of this 1984 offering which I recalled blew me away when I first watched it. This American romantic science fiction film, directed by John Carpenter, tells the story of an alien who has come to Earth in response to the invitation found on the gold phonograph record installed on the Voyager 2 space probe. Problem is that his space ship is shot down and he finds he is being pursued by legions of police and a rather grim Robert Phaelen as Major Bell, whose single aim is to neutralise any threat from the visiting alien.

starmanOf course dear Jeff Bridges isn’t remotely threatening – in fact as he first emerges from his ship, he is nothing but a bunch of lights (think the eco-bulb version of the opening credits to Close Encounters of the Third Kind…). The first house he floats through belongs to recently bereaved Jenny Hayden, played by Karen Allen – using the cine film running and a lock of her dead husband’s hair, the light show morphs into Scott Hayden. So a lot of the film’s success hinges on whether Bridges’ characterisation is convincing as an alien inhabiting a human body. The answer has to be overwhelmingly yes. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the performance and in my humble opinion, the fact he didn’t receive it means that he was robbed. Yep – I know that F. Murray Abraham was great as Salieri in Amadeus, but I still think the snob factor presided. Can’t have some old sci-fi film scooping the award, when it’s up against a biopic about Mozart, can we?

It wouldn’t have helped the film if Karen Allen’s performance hadn’t matched Bridges – and fortunately she plays the part perfectly. The real chemistry between them is too often missing in many modern, glossy big-budget productions. It was also interesting to note that the acting was on a smaller scale than we often see these days, going back to the more nuanced sophisticated style of the 1940’s character-led films I still love watching.

So did this thirty-year-old film live up to my memory of it? After having to lie down in a darkened room to recover from the fact that it starman2was thirty years ago when I first watched it – the answer is – yes. Even the soundtrack, often the aspect in 1980’s films that really graunches, works well, particularly at the admittedly really weepy and sentimental ending… But the acting throughout is exceptional and although there are special effects, they didn’t go all out for those – just as well, seeing how quickly they date. This film is principally about the characters and their progression. It is still floating around the various channels on TV and if you enjoy a spot of science fiction, give it a go. It’s worth it just for Bridges’ masterclass in how to act like an alien without any make-up.
9/10

Film Review of How To Train Your Dragon 2

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It’s always fun having the grandchildren to stay – and taking them to see a film is one of the treats I enjoy. So long as they enjoy the experience, too…

how to train your dragon2When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the centre of a battle to protect the peace. This film is set five years after the first hit, How To Train Your Dragon, with many of the characters who featured in that film returning. Hiccup is now on the edge adulthood and his father, Stoick, is keen for him to start taking on some of the day to day responsibilities necessary for running Berk. But Hiccup is absorbed in mapping the world as it unfolds beneath him and Toothless, as they continue winging their way through the skies, skimming the sea.

In common with many modern cartoons, the special effects – particularly the flying scenes are beautiful, as well as exciting. However, unlike the dreadful Planes, this film actually has a strong storyline and characters we care about, so manages not to fall into the trap of merely producing a series of arresting skyscapes and a few set pieces. It doesn’t hurt that the franchise is based on the very successful series books of the same name by Cressida Cowell – see my review of the book How To Train Your Dragon here. While the storyline and the characters don’t follow the same path as those of the twelve-book series,how to train your dragon2.jpg2 there are sufficient similarities that the films can utilise some of the strong main characters Cowell has created.

Hiccup and his relationship with Toothless is central to this film – if we aren’t convinced their bond is crucial to both of them, then the second half of the storyline simply won’t work. And it does… The touches of humour stopped it being too treacly – and the subsequent action then left me a bit poleaxed… Whatever I’d been expecting – it hadn’t been that.

SPOILER ALERT – So… was it a really enjoyable day out? Well, I loved the film and so did Frankie – but Oscar hated it. And if the children in your life have any issues around the loss of a father, I’d think twice before taking them to see it. While the quality of the film is excellent – I wouldn’t have taken the children to see it if I’d been aware of the whole story and who dies near the end.
9/10

Why the Fuss About Frozen?

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Olaf-In-Frozen-Movie-HD-WallpaperAs a doting Granny, who uses the box in the corner of the lounge to recover from the delight of having the grandchildren to stay, I generally snuggle up on the settee alongside them to watch. So over the years I’ve seen a fair spread of animated films on offer – and am frankly scratching my head over Frozen’s runaway success.

So it had a heroine… And? So have a whole bunch of others – Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Belle in Beauty in the Beast, Rapunzel in Tangled, Cinderella… Snow White… But – this heroine is different I heard them rave on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. She isn’t spending her time mooning over some soppy Prince – she’s on a mission to find her sister because it is all about the relationship between her and her sister. Oh really? I felt that strand of the plotline was very much on the edge of what was actually going on within the film. For starters, the real story should have revolved around Elsa, the older sister – the one with the curse, rather than the ditsy younger sister. Watching Anna, scratching at a closed door, whining to be let in had me fidgeting and looking at my watch. Whereas Merida, the feisty Scottish princess in Brave is so much more enjoyable, opinionated and headstrong – and she isn’t flirting with some fur-clad hunk half the film, either.

I also thought there were far too many songs in Frozen and most of them were drearily tuneless. But where I really felt let down, was bravethe absence of originality in the themes. The sister fall out over a man – so much for teaching our youngsters that lurve isn’t the lynchpin of their existence… While Brave examines the relationship between mother and daughter in a far more meaningful manner and we see how Merida compensates after an early close encounter with danger, by proving that she is as fearless and skilled as her father. While her mother, knowing that the price for being a princess is being married off to secure alliances, is trying to mould her headstrong daughter into being an efficient housekeeper and dutiful wife… And may I add – there isn’t much talk about lurve, but a lot about duty and doing what is expected of a princess.

As for the comedy – Frozen comes up with an idiotic snowman whose slapstick capers had the four year old giggling – but the older children weren’t particularly amused. Compare that to the sharply funny dialogue between Carl and Russell in Up, or the bear’s frantic blundering in the castle in Brave. The humour in both films is sharpened by the constant threat, but at no time did I feel that Frozen moved into top gear and that the stakes really mattered. Both Brave and Up moved me to tears at times and also had me laughing aloud, while Frozen did neither. So… maybe it’s just me who was totally underwhelmed by the biggest grossing animated film in history. I’d like to hear from anyone else who has watched this film – what do you think?

Review of Film – Woman in Black

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I’m a fan of the original book by Susan Hill and the successful West End play based on the book, so was a tad reluctant to go along and watch this film. Our experience wasn’t helped by the ‘Potter’ element in the packed cinema, who screeched at every set-piece scary moment. So… the main questions regarding this film have to be – did Daniel Radcliffe pull off his first major adult role since Harry Potter and did Jane Goldsmith’s screenplay measure up to the very high standards set by both the book and play?

daniel-radcliffe-in-the-woman-in-black-2012-movie-image-21-e1325636326516Radcliffe plays young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, still reeling after the death of his wife in childbirth some three years earlier. He is sent off to the depths of Norfolk to Eel House by his grumpy senior partner, with the injunction to sort through the mass of paperwork left by deceased reclusive widow Alice Drablow – with the instruction that if he doesn’t do a thorough job, he needn’t bother returning. Radcliffe’s pale-faced expressions of suffering and terror certainly ticked the box. It wasn’t a part that demanded much else – and his particular skill-set absolutely delivered what was required. Could he have done more? Not as far as I’m concerned. The major sin in this part would have been to overact – and Radcliffe’s pared, mature performance meant that at no time did the mass of over-excited teenage girls burst into laughter.

This version is set in Edwardian times and Radcliffe is well supported by Ciarán Hinds, who plays the local landowner – the only person in this inbred, grimy part of Norfolk prepared to be friendly to the London lawyer. Director James Watkins has fully exploited the gothic creepiness pervading the play, right up to the limit. There are tension-filled shots of macabre-looking toys, smeared windows and dusty corners of this neglected house – interspersed with genuinely frightening glimpses of an emaciated female. The effect is heightened by the fact that we never get more than a fleeting glance. Amid the gloom and cobwebs, the story steadily unfolds until we arrive at the sudden twist ending.

Goldsmith chose to completely depart from the play’s grimly effective climax, and while I was up to that point, quite happy to go along with the genuinely menacing atmosphere that Watkins had crafted, as the end credits rolled, I felt that the last few minutes were a real letdown. A shame – especially for those of us who have seen the play. I’m still trying to work out why a writer of Goldsmith’s calibre chose such a lame option for the finale, but it certainly knocked a couple of points off my final score as it spoilt what was mostly, an enjoyably creepy film.
7/10