Thursday, July 26, 2007

24th July 07 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Five films down, two to go in this bumper series based on the ludicrously popular books. This time Potter is Mr. Moody, has a shorter hair-cut and still fiddles with his wand (huh huh). Originally it seemed the further into the series we went, the darker it was getting, and the quality was improving to the point where I nearly understood what all the fuss was about. Alas, number five tries to keep it gloomy, but trips up some point after the opening sequence (which was good) and settles on general mediocre.

Director David Yates is a newbie to the series, having several episodes of The Bill on his CV. Of course, we all have to start somewhere, and though there are Fincher-esque camera moves through windows and walls (was half expecting a coffee-pot handle too), the use of clich├ęd lightening flashes/storms to signify something poignant/shocking gave everything a bit of a cheapo feel. The acting didn’t help. I’m sure they’re very nice people, but most of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a school production. Characters stand patiently, waiting to deliver their lines on cue, and the main cast must have had the “breathing heavily” acting lesson, as it was used to convey fear, anger, pain and general dismay. Probably joy too, only no one got to use it because everyone’s so bloody miserable in this one.

I feel like I’m being super negative, so let’s put some good points out there. The visual effects are as always stunning, and thankfully less in-your-face than the previous film (which had a “Look at the effect! Look at it!” mentality). Imelda Staunton is amusing as the prissy new teacher employing rule after rule, and some neat methods of school punishment. And there is a dark thread running throughout, with Potter a bit miffed that he has no family, and struggling to cope as big bad Voldemort tries to break into his mind.

But for a film lasting over two hours, it’s surprising how very little actually happens. My Potter advisor, whom I regularly annoy by not being bothered to read the books but still questioning what happens, has told me that this is one of the weaker books, but that the film also misses great chunks of detail (one of the pitfalls of an adaptation). Still, to a non-reader the plot comes across as patchy and inconclusive, with supporting characters drifting in and out. There’s also a formulaic feel starting to creep in. Adults talk about Bad Stuff but keep it hidden from Potter (to be revealed at the end). New teacher is employed at the school who seems a bit dodgy (dodginess revealed at the end). No one believes/likes Potter (to be rectified at the end). With the film versions having to forgo the smaller details, there needs to be a bigger differentiating factor to make them worthwhile. Sadly, number five lacks it.

Since the interest of seeing Potter’s world being brought to screen has waned, a ‘so what?’ factor has started to creep into my mind. Battles always feel wrapped in cotton wool, and even when a character dies with potentially devastating effects for the Pottster, the incident is under-played. While I’ve no doubt the popularity of the books will propel the final duo of films, my attitude to the franchise is that of indifference. I was initially going to give this a CF0, but having written such an unenthusiastic review I’ve convinced myself to lower it to a CF-1. Besides, as far as book-adaptations go, my attention is firmly on a little girl called Lyra. And her big fuck-off armoured bear.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

18th July 07 - Die Hard 4.0

Tis the season of grizzly actors returning to their action flicks of yore, with Brucie joining the likes of Stallone (Rocky and the upcoming John Rambo) and Ford (going back to Indiana Jones - he’s 65 years old for Christ’s sake!) As a series, Die Hard never really surpassed its original (an absolute classic) so I questioned the need for a fourth instalment with a more ‘mature’ John McClane. To justify this new one, they needed to do something spectacular. And they don’t disappoint.

Ignoring the weaker UK title of 4.0, this fourth instalment of McClane’s antics as a one-man crime-fighting lunatic asks the question ‘live free, or die hard’? What it should be asking is ‘how much blood can McClane leak before he really needs a wash?’ Within the first thirty minutes, John’s been aggressively shot at, exploded, run over and hurled from a speeding vehicle, leaving his head a criss-cross of oozing grazes. “It makes me look sexy,” he quips, limping away from the third (of many) head-pounding action sequences. It also makes him look well ‘ard, and proves that this guy in his fifties can still kick ass, and quip-ass.

This film is absolutely jam-packed with insane yet deliciously enjoyable stunts. Baddies are flung every which way, cars roll through the air (just brushing the last remaining hair on Brucie’s head), helicopters are taken down by flying cars and a lorry battles against a jet. A lorry verses a jet! Come on!

The crazy old-school action sits alongside a modern, relevant plot involving technology being hi-jacked, with some good digs at the dodgy nature of the news and the general reign of fear it produces. Mirroring that is the double-act of Brucie’s haggard cop and newbie Justin Long (the dude from Herbie and Dodgeball), a hacker inadvertently caught in the mayhem. Long is surprisingly likeable and riffs with Brucie well, injecting humour amongst all the carnage. And the big bad is played by wide-mouthed lovely Timothy Olyphant (Bullock from the brilliant Deadwood) who hams it up nicely with a mix of scary and witty.

Of course, being an action film there’s no real shortage of silly. McClane is near-enough invincible, repelling bullets and avoiding death when it’s shoved in his face every five minutes. His daughter is perhaps unnecessarily shoved in to add to the people he has to rescue, though she at least puts up a bit of a fight instead of being the token woman.

As the plot involves ‘technology’ and ‘hackers’ there are also the inevitable Hollywood scenes of people using computers in a naff way. I know nothing about hacking and the like, but I’m fairly sure it involves a little more than typing quickly on a keyboard. Otherwise I’d have cracked a dozen networks already just by writing this review. What can they possibly be typing in those situations? They say “I’ll get you a map up of this place”. And type: get map up of this place. There, easy.

But Die Hard isn’t about making complete sense or tying in with the laws of logic. It’s about big, bold fun, and number four hits the nail on the head. It’s 130 minutes of daft excitement and giddy enjoyment, and swings in with a CF1. It would’ve made an extra point if Brucie was wearing his vest.

Friday, July 06, 2007

4th July 07 - Shrek the Third

It seems to be a summer of thirds. Spider-Man. Pirates of the bloody Caribbean. And now Shrek.. When Shrek first emerged it surprised us with its smart little digs at popular culture, adult humour mixed with child-friendly fun and nice messages about being yourself. The second film built on the first, with extra celebrities, some more nice messages about being yourself, and a giant gingerbread man. Number three sees Shrek worrying about entering fatherhood, another quest type adventure. And some nice messages about being yourself.

This time, as well as baby-fear, Shrek must find the rightful king of Never Never Land, while dealing with Prince Charming harbouring a bit of a grudge. As with the previous films there are some neat little pieces. A trip to a ye olde university is done with a wry smile, and there’s a nod to the ‘WAG’ culture with a gaggle of catty princesses.

Laughs can certainly be found, but they are a little more isolated than usual. Indeed, the whole film feels very familiar, but sort of empty. It’s like they knew they had the formula right, so there was no further effort put in. The plot and jokes seem to be going through the motions. Silly things happen just for the sake of it (Donkey and Puss-in-Boots swapping bodies, for very little reason and very little effect) and less time is spent with the fun ensemble of fairytale characters.. The whole film feels a bit like my attitude when trying to park in a small space at Tesco. It’s all pretty much in there, so sod it - that’ll do.

Not that it isn’t still entertaining and fun. You can watch with a smile throughout, and any film that has a gingerbread man shit a jelly-tot in fright wins stars in my book. But low marks for effort. We know they can do much better (although I’m aware some people hate Shrek’s green guts…) Shrek doesn’t get any extra CF points, and almost loses one for being a little vacuous ( the fact I can’t find anything else to write about must demonstrate this). But for being entertaining, with enough laughs to have me leave with a smile, Shrek scrapes in a CF0. Really, though, the last few films have had such low ratings I’m dying for something half decent. Is that a bald man in a vest I spy…