REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 [Review]

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first released upon audiences in 2001, some four years after the book was published. Now, ten years later, the series has finally come to a close - with the screen adaptation of a book (or half a book) that is also, fittingly, four years old. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has been the centre of a media circus for months now, with all the talk raging around the actors and actresses and how they feel about the saga ending; what they will do now and where they will go. And yes, while it's all very sad for the cast and crew to have to leave the cosy home of Leavesden Studios and brave the big wide world all over again, the final Potter film means a lot more than that to a different group of people.

I am of course talking about the audience; from those who camped for three days straight in Trafalgar Square for (probably) the very last time you'll see Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson walking down the red carpet together, to those who simply cosied up with a book every night and eagerly anticipated each new release, a generation of fans have grown up with the boy wizard. To see it come to an end meant no disservice could be done to the series - one of the primary decisions behind splitting the seventh book into two parts. A lot rests, then, on this film. Part 1 was released to widespread critical acclaim, after the misery that was Half-Blood Prince, and a steady stream of trailers have built up a solid base of hope that director David Yates will deliver. And deliver he has.

From the opening scenes at Shell Cottage right through to the final, inevitable battle between Harry and Voldemort, Part 2 is a whirlwind ride of magic and mystery that doesn't give you a second to breathe. Unlike Part 1, however, this feels less like a montage of disjointed events and more like a fluid, fluent piece of art. Breathtaking CGI and action sequences collide with gut-wrenching emotional jaunts; if you've been following the series all the way through, you'll be lucky to leave the cinema without shedding a tear (manly or otherwise). These are the characters we've spent the last decade getting to know; the characters we've seen blossom from quivering, pyjama-clad eleven year-olds into mighty, fearless warriors (here's looking at you, Neville Longbottom). To see them taken away from us is disturbingly upsetting, particularly as we're talking about fictional characters here. But that's just testament to the strength of the storytelling, and indeed, the integrity of the transition from book to film.

Part 2 begins with a daring raid on Gringotts Bank in search of another Horcrux, one of the elements of Voldemort's soul that must be destroyed in order to finally defeat the Dark Lord. One treacherous goblin and a dragon ride over London later, and it's off to Hogwarts for one of the greatest battles in cinematic history. Fire, brimstone and ash dart maniacally around dozens of Death Eaters, students, teachers, giants; even the giant spiders are back for one last attempt to eat anything in their way. Alongside this, of course, is the continued search for said Horcruxes, the remainder of which, inevitably, lie in the school itself. Harry's quest is satisfying - staying remarkably true to the book, quieter moments intersect with the constant attack on the senses of the battle itself. But still there is no sign of things slowing down, as the plot moves at a remarkable pace. Unlike the earlier books where secondary plot points could be omitted, most everything in Deathly Hallows is crucial to the story - and thus most everything has been replicated in visual form here to some extent, perhaps excusing the rapid speed at which the film travels. At just over two hours, though, this is in fact the shortest of the Potter outings - and it's worth wondering whether an extra ten minutes or so might have helped to calm things down.

But then that might have been missing the point. The battle of Hogwarts is an incredibly climactic point of the novel, and it seems Yates has attempted to replicate this on screen, with mostly success. While the ultimate climax doesn't follow the book word for word, it's satisfying enough to please fans, if actually slightly anticlimactic in execution. Similarly, key character deaths are glossed over fleetingly in places. While still emotional, one can't help but think they could easily have been done better with thirty seconds more screen time. Luckily, such emotions are enhanced by the actors - and what fine actors they are.

Since the first Potter film, the three main stars - Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) - have come a long way. Part 1 alone is proof enough of that; Part 2 only exemplifies matters. Finally the kids get a chance to shine (it's just a shame they had to wait until they were adults). But the unexpected star of the show is none other than seasoned villain Alan Rickman, once again resuming his role as the most complex character of the lot, Severus Snape. Now Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Snape spreads tyranny amongst the youngsters with the help of a couple of Death Eaters. But as his story unfolds throughout the film, we witness truly the motives and background of one of the greatest fictional characters of all time; yet no other actor could have displayed more testament to his prowess. If the rest of it left you brazenly unflinching, prepare to break out the tissues for The Prince's Tale.

A superb supporting cast return from the various films throughout the series; Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney and Jim Broadbent as potions master Horace Slughorn are both present and correct, as is Maggie Smith, reprising her role as Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. In a further surprising turn, Smith's boldness shines through in McGonagall, unrelenting and unwavering, while Ralph Fiennes continues to terrorise as big bad Voldemort, consistently proving his eagerness for the role. It’s been a long time coming that I can say a Harry Potter film has next to no evidence of poor acting - Yates must have stumbled upon his own batch of Felix Felicis during filming.

It’s a satisfying end to the series; breathtaking and unyielding, a visceral and visual assault on the senses, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 leaves us shattered, with a Potter-shaped void somewhere in the depths of our now cold, brazen hearts. A truly defining moment of an entire generation; $6 billion, 10 years and 8 films later, and finally we wave goodbye to Harry Potter.

And what a journey it’s been.

See also: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Dir: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes
Warner Bros Pictures, 130 mins, 15/07/11

Synopsis: The final chapter of Harry Potter is upon us, complete with deadly duels, a full scale battle, dragons, swords and more, as the three leads continue their quest to find and destroy Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes... 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Horrible Bosses [Review]

Having a quick glance around this website, you might notice this review is considerably shorter than most. And there's a very simple reason for that. Horrible Bosses is a comedy film; a comedy not engrossed in subtlety or sophisticated humour, along the lines of Monty Python, but of the more obtuse and exaggerated, the lewd and the loud. That's not to say it takes things over the top; the film in fact manages to achieve that which many screenwriters find so difficult - it is a comedy everyone (of a certain age, of course) can enjoy, without having to resort to jokes about passing wind.

Revolving around a trio of working-middle-class thirty-something men, Horrible Bosses does exactly what it says on the tin - each character has an incessantly intolerable superior; be they a nymphomaniac or a drug-fuelled sociopath, the bosses in question seem to make it their mission to cause our leads as much emotional (or physical) pain as possible. This of course drives the men to decide to brutally murder each other's superiors, as any logical train of thought might. Thus proceeds ninety eight minutes of bumbling hilarity as the office worker, accountant and dentistry assistant attempt to become stone-cold killers.

The acting is fine, but you're not convinced of the plot. More of a B-list cast, the most notable names being Jennifer Aniston (that's the nympho) and Jason Bateman (one of the suffering employees), the three leads struggle to act as though they might be capable of such an atrocity - making the outcome hardly surprising. Yet while it's predictable stuff, you can't help but get swept along for the ride, particularly when it's injected with so much humour. The chemistry between the trio seems unlikely but, somehow, it works.

And sure, Horrible Bosses doesn't do anything revolutionary. But it doesn't need to. It's a daft Saturday night comedy of the best kind - think Superbad, Dinner for Schmucks, etc. That it does manage to make its audience laugh is a clear indicator of success, and success that is due the three leads. While not entirely convincing you of their nature as murderers, their haphazardness does spark its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. And to that end, Horrible Bosses achieves what it sets out to do. Of course, unlike the now classic Superbad, the longevity of the film is doubtful - hardly that memorable, it won't warrant a second viewing. But you'll enjoy it while it lasts.

See also: Superbad (2007), Dinner for Shmucks (2010)

Dir: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell
New Line Cinema, 98 mins, 22/07/11

Synopsis: Three everyday, average Joes decide they hate their bosses enough that they should stop living. And it's all downhill from there...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Cars 2 [Review]

For many years now, Pixar has built itself modestly upon a throne of fervent praise; a throne most warranted by a library of films of the highest calibre. Not so much as a single negative comment can be said about the majority; though perhaps most of The Incredibles (2004), arguably the weakest of the bunch. To be celebrated of the studio indeed was its inherent originality; the Toy Story trilogy notwithstanding (though great as all three instalments were, it was certainly excusable), Cars 2 is the first of reportedly many sequels lined up over the next few years. And while not without its merits, if this is a sign of things to come, Pixar may well have had its day.

From the off, Cars 2 faced difficulties. Perhaps one of the least well-received of Pixar’s films, the original Cars (2006) was criticised for its predictable story and unsophisticated humour, and while in many ways Cars 2 works to right these wrongs, it still falls short in various areas. The first automobile outing was a small-town adventure; mostly enjoyable if slightly clichéd, but revolving around a few central characters. The sequel, however, goes global - in more ways than one. Much as the Star Wars prequels appeared to be created solely for the wallets of Lucasfilm’s glorious empire, so too does the cast of Cars 2, numerous beyond reason, exist apparently to sell toys. And that’s what this movie will inevitably do: sell merchandise. The first film was Pixar’s most successful in that respect, though what good it has done the franchise is debatable - indeed, many have criticised this sequel as no more than Disney milking another of its cash cows ‘till its udders run dry.

Regardless, Cars 2’s plot is undoubtedly - and perhaps inevitably - on a much grander scale than it’s predecessor’s. A World Grand Prix to celebrate the founding of a new renewable fuel source takes protagonist Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) to all corners of the Earth; from Japan to Italy and right back to good old Blighty. Well, actually, that’s the only three places it takes him, but at least it’s across different continents. Allow me to correct myself, however: when I refer to Lightning McQueen as the film’s protagonist, this is simply due to the manner of the first film of placing him on this pedestal. For the sequel, director John Lasseter and his crew decided instead to focus the spotlight on the token imbecilic comedy character of the original: Tow-Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, and all the stereotypical ugly-Americanisation that he puts into the happy-go-lucky truck. But this was a poor decision.

The main plot of the film circles around an MI5 style spy ring of vehicles (perhaps a more apt title for the film would have been Planes, Trains and Automobiles 2), led by one of the many, many new characters - Finn McMissile, in an instantly recognisable turn by Michael Caine. Mater is inevitably drawn into this in all his ineptness, and thus begins an escapade around the world to thwart an evil corporation of, uh, ‘lemons’ (a name attributed to cars with bad engines, and played upon brilliantly in one of the film’s more subtle jokes - look out for the table decoration during a meeting in Italy). But nevertheless, while Cars 2’s plot is ambitious, it doesn’t feel apt for this film. Granted, there’s a Grand Prix going on, but it’s all in the background. Secret agents and the like don’t seem like a natural choice for a film about talking cars. Combine this with the decision to support an entire film on a secondary character, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

It’s lucky, then, that Pixar’s traditional scriptwriting runs much stronger here than the original. The humour is more subtle, or else more sophisticated - watch out for famous London vehicular landmarks such as Tyre Bridge or Big Bentley - while the dialogue is mostly tighter than before. Sadly, stereotypes still abound: the hippy one, the army one, the crazy one - they’re all still present from before, this time joined by a host of international typecasts. But aside from a loosely crammed in plot to give McQueen more screen time - a clichéd quarrel between Mater and the racecar over friendship that screams a carbon copy of the original - the script mostly improves on the first.

As always, Pixar’s animation quality excels, with dizzying visuals and a finely crafted London cityscape for the film’s finale. And sure it’s enjoyable, but while the plot is fairly more unpredictable in places - you won’t see the final twist coming - and the humour more up to Pixar’s usual standard, Cars 2 still doesn’t feel in the same vein as the studio’s usual brand of magic found in classics such as Toy Story (1995), or even the recent surprise emotional rollercoaster Up (2009). Moral stories lie under no subtext or pretence, and stereotypes display little imagination of character yet again. Even despite a slamming by critics, Cars 2 will no doubt become a commercial success, though whether it deserves it is another question entirely.

See also: Cars (2006), Johnny English Reborn (2011)

Dir: John Lasseter
Cast: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine
Disney Pixar, 106 mins, 22/07/11

Synopsis: Racing champion Lightning McQueen and sidekick Tow Mater head overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix. But Mater soon becomes embroiled in the world of vehicle espionage...