Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone


Viewed – 25 December 2016  Blu-ray

I finally did it.  I watched a Harry Potter movie after years of declaring it wasn’t my thing.  But really, what self respecting movie fan can hold his head up amongst other movie critics without watching this much admired and acclaimed franchise?  Over the next few weeks I thoroughly intend to pass judgement over all eight movies … but for now I’ll let you know my thoughts on the very first.

Harry Potter

Harry is a young boy who is given to his aunt and uncle when a baby, following the untimely death of his parents.  His aunt & uncle however are cruel and unloving towards him as he grows up and fuss and gush over his cousin instead.  Yet one day a letter arrives declaring that young Harry has been accepted into the wizarding school of Hogwarts.  So Harry is soon whisked off into a fantasy world of goblins, witches and magic that will change his life forever.

Robbie ColtraneDespite my years of reluctance I’ll admit I was very quickly absorbed in author J K Rowling’s world and certainly admire the wealth of imagination and sheer ‘wonder’ on display.  Think a cross between Tim Burton, C S Lewis and Roald Dahl.  I was also impressed to discover a who’s who of British acting talent, from Dame Maggie Smith, John Hurt, the late Alan Rickman and especially a wonderfully cast Robbie Coltrane.  It also has to be said this is a gorgeous looking movie that despite being over fifteen years old now, hasn’t aged and with high production values that include superb set design and for the most part, quality CGI … I came away rather impressed.  The plot is mostly an introduction to the world of Harry Potter and perfectly sets up the movies to come and I certainly enjoyed the whole school term structure and learning to be a wizard thing.  Harry for the most part is a bit of a celebrity throughout and mainly carries the story by being at the centre of different situations rather than being all that heroic or skilled as a wizard (at this stage).

Some of the child acting leaves a bit to be desired however, especially a young Emma Watson who’s delivery of lines and general personality screams of trying a bit too hard.  I’m sure she improves though.  Yet Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry is quite the discovery – occasionally a bit uneasy with some lines and situations but really makes the character his own and is likable and generally convincing.  A climactic encounter let’s the side down a tad, with a dodgy CGI sequence.  Also, with a majority of the run time focusing on setting up such a world, the ending felt a bit rushed and forced-feel good.  But I still had a great time with this and feel a bit silly for missing out all these years.  Roll on Harry Potter 2.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Alan Rickman has died


Really sad to hear the news of the passing on Thursday of one of the great British actors.  For me he will be always remembered as the best Die Hard villain ever … snappily dressed terrorist / thief ‘Hans Gruber’.  I have also enjoyed him in several other movies including Dogma, Galaxy Quest and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

It’s actually come as a bit of a shock the same way as it did from hearing about David Bowie…and both were the same age when they died…spooky.

My thoughts as always go out to those closest to him.

has gruber

R.I.P.

Gambit


Viewed – 23 June 2013  DVD

An interesting one, this… A remake of a 1966 comedy that starred Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine, boasts a screenplay by none other than Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit, Fargo, The Big Lebowski) and this time stars everyone’s favorite Englishman, Colin Firth.  Firth plays Harry Deane, an art curator who is planning on double-crossing his mean spirited boss (Alan Rickman) by conning him into buying a forgery of a Monet painting.  Roped into Harry’s nefarious scheme is Texan cowgirl PJ (Cameron Diaz).

gambit

I am not familiar with the original movie, but this was a fast, funny and sharp caper comedy in the style of 50s / 60s British movies like The Italian Job.  Firth is perfectly cast despite being obviously stereotyped, and Rickman is clearly having a ball as his pantomime villain boss.  Less effective is Diaz, seemingly wasted as a cartoon-like cowgirl with a grating Texan accent and zero depth.  The script, showcasing the Coen’s brand of oddball characters and snappy dialogue zipped by at a good pace though, with all three leads proving fun.  For this kind of material, over familiarity reared it’s head from time to time and for a Coen’s script, the comedy whilst effective, seemed a touch too farcical for such talents.

The real problem here though, is that both as a remake and as a British comedy (whoever may have written it) it just offered too few surprises, and I would have liked something a little more complex and clever.  Yet still see it if you like the cast and want an undemanding, but enjoyable evening’s viewing – just don’t go expecting anything fresh, new or particularly imaginative.

Verdict:  3 /5

Die Hard


Viewed – 05 September 2009  Blu-ray

This was easily one of the finest action movies of the eighties, a decade that spawned quite a few gems in the genre, including The Terminator, Predator and Lethal Weapon.  This also inspired a slew of copycat movies where everything was nick-named Die Hard on a … such as  Under Siege, Cliffhanger, Executive Decision.  So it was fun to revisit the film that mostly started it all, and with the casting of Bruce Willis, former TV actor, and not the muscle-bound caricature embodied by the likes of Stallone and Arnie, it felt fresh at the same time. 

Bruce plays New York cop John McClane, a likable, street smart eighties character on a par with Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley.  He’s visiting his estranged wife on Christmas Eve during a party at the Nokatomi Plaza, an immense sky scraper slap bang in the centre of LA.  Yet whilst he’s there a group of terrorists seize control of the building, and it’s up to John McClane to save the day.  Watching it now, it feels very cliched but no less fun and still has some stunning moments and nail biting tension, with the charisma of Bruce totally pulling you in.  Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber remains one of the finest screen villains ever, and is every bit Bruce’s equal.  The action is exciting, you route for John McClane as he tries to survive confrontation after confrontation, and the buddy relationship he builds with street cop Al is as enjoyable as I remember it being.  Even the moments of comedy seem well placed, and it still is shot with a style and confidence that helps the film to not have aged too badly.  Looking at this with the memory of the most recent Die Hard, it is still superior and more subtle, with little of that film’s jumps of logic and plausibility.  What helped this work so well is that not once does the film feel like it couldn’t happen.

The Blu-ray is, for a film that is over twenty years old, nothing to write home about, with a rather soft picture that does seem to improve when you take into consideration Jan De Bont’s impeccable camera work.  The sound is punchy and generally pleasing, and as far as extras go we get a very informative commentary from the director and the production developer, some spoof news footage, and well, that’s it.  Sad really when you conisder the otherwise hefty extras package available on the Special Edition DVD.  Overall, this film deserves better.

Verdict:  4 /5

Sweeny Todd


Viewed – 24 June 2008  DVD

I have always been a big fan of Tim Burton.  His dark, tongue-in-cheek brand of comic, goth-horror has always struck a cord with me, and his frequent collaborations with Johnny Depp are just the icing on the cake.  Now we come to his latest effort, and one I was at first appealed by as it looked just as dark and sinister as Burton’s masterpiece Sleepy Hollow.  Then I discovered it was a musical.

Musicals have a hit and miss relationship with me – I am very fond of the likes of Sound Of Music, Evita, Little Shop Of Horrors (!) and even Tim Burton’s own A Nightmare Before Christmas…but I also hate some that haven’t got the right vibe – such as Moulin Rouge which seemed 90% noise and 10% entertainment.  Sadly, this film falls into the latter category, with no memorable numbers, no dancing, no staged choreography…just lots and lots of sung dialogue.  You know when a musical has failed when you actually wish they would just ‘talk’ for a bit instead of singing.  If there was one memorable song, then at least that would be something…but there isn’t.  Maybe I have come into this all wrong though – it’s an Opera, not a musical.  Perhaps.  Thats not what its been hyped up as though.

I will give credit where its due though; Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are very good, and make a very interesting odd-couple, and the story is intriguing with some very macabre twists and turns…oh and as expected, Burton’s sumptuous eye for period set design and camera work are a treat for the eyes throughout.  Really though, why make it a musical, when you have no decent songs in it?  Disappointing.

Verdict: 2 /5