Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Viewed – 16 May 2020 Blu-ray (A-Z Collection Challenge)

I had put the Harry Potter franchise on hold for a while now but having reached ‘H’ in my A-Z challenge I thought it was a good idea to pick up where I left off. This fifth entry in the celebrated saga has Harry returning to Hogwarts and facing a backlash following his involvement in Voldemort’s apparent return and the death of Cedric. With suspicion surrounding him and school headmaster Dumbledore, a new professor is brought on who proves a bit of a tyrant. However a secret society turns to Harry to investigate Voldemort’s plans and hopefully prevent a war.

The world of Harry Potter is again enchanting and imaginative. This entry reunites us with many likeable characters including Ron Weasley, Hermione and Hagrid. Imelda Staunton is also fun as villainous professor Delores Umbridge … however, the plot spends far too much time with this character wrecking havoc at the school and less on the Voldemort plot, leading to a deja-vu showdown against the dark lord that we’ve pretty much had in various guises for five movies now. Despite the stakes raising each time, it’s on a whole a concept that feels stretched out and repetitive. With that said, production values, atmosphere and effects work are all still great, and that showdown familiar as it is, is pretty bad-ass.

Radcliffe is on a whole, likeable but far from a gifted actor (even at this stage), his line-delivery particularly lacking emotional weight. Co-stars fair better, especially Emma Watson and Michael Gambon. However like most of the movies thus far in this franchise, there’s little that propels the story forward and is bogged down in unnecessary world building and throw-away side plots. I like this world and these characters quite a bit, but whilst this entry was indeed fun in places it was also quite underwhelming.

Verdict: Good

Tau


Viewed – 14 July 2018  Netflix

Another Netflix original movie that caught my eye.  This sci-fi thriller is about a girl named Julia, who goes about earning money by pick-pocketing and swiping goods off  people in night clubs then selling them to the local dodgy backstreet dealer for a small cash return.  However, one night she is kidnapped from her apartment, and wakes up strapped to a chair inside an elaborate high-tech house, run by a genius yet unhinged scientist and his advanced A.I.

Tau

Mika Monroe is an actress with the typical Hollywood good looks but often brings a vulnerability to her performances, which worked well in movies like The Guest and especially It Follows.  Here she’s initially all attitude, but delivers a more complex character arc on realising the best way to deal with her situation is to befriend ‘Tau’ the house’s A.I. (voiced recognisably by Gary Oldman).  It’s this relationship that forms the heart of the movie and less the battle of wits between Julia and the scientist, mostly because it doesn’t bring much to the table and that troubled-genius-shtick was done far better in Ex Machina.

The movie has some hit and miss effects, with the robotic security guard pretty well done, but some A.I. drones that look a little naff.  Add to this some alarming jumps in narrative that come out of nowhere towards the end (hand surgery…) and an ending that leaves far too many questions.  Yet I was still impressed how affected I was with the character of Tau to the point of really feeling sorry for it, and yes the movie borrows heavily from better movies but still manages to create an enjoyable 90 minutes regardless.

Verdict:  3 /5

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Viewed – 31 July 2014  Cinema

The last reboot of the fabled POTA saga was a refreshingly different take on the mythos, letting us in on a backstory that was only ever hinted at in the classic movie franchise.  It was the Apes movie we as cinema goers deserved, further pushing from our minds Tim Burton’s earlier, ill-judged remake.  This follow-up starts ten years after the events of the first, where we meet a group of surviving humans (lead by Gary Oldman), living in a tower in a destroyed and mostly abandoned San Francisco.  The virus that spread at the end of ‘Rise has wiped out much of mankind all but for a few immune who hope to take back a world that seems to have left them for dead.  Their only chance is to travel through the red forest to the Hoover Damn, where it’s power could reignite hope.  Only problem is a tribe of scientifically-advanced apes, lead by Caesar (Andy Serkis) stand in their way and want nothing more to do with humans.

DAWN-PLANET-APES

Again this is a visual tour-de-force.  The mostly CGI apes have become even more convincing (albeit for a couple of moments) and small little details in their expressions and varied personalities all help create characters that look and feel alive.  Caesar this time has an adolescent son  and a new born baby to worry about as well as growing tension amongst his tribe as humans begin to invade their territory … who does he side with and who does he trust?  It’s a strong message and also a worryingly believable concept if our closest relatives were to suddenly ‘evolve’.  Good support on the human-front comes from the recognisable but name-escaped-me at the time Jason Clarke (Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty) and also Oldman who regrettably didn’t go psycho bad-guy on us … but was decent regardless.  But this clearly was about the apes, and for a movie to be so convincingly carried by CGI characters, despite the performances that exists underneath all the techno-wizardry, is a revelation – especially when at times it really affected me emotionally (Caesar’s relationship with his son ‘bright eyes’…).  To back up the performances, we have several action sequences even if the movie lacks a rival to Rise’s Golden Gate Bridge stand-out scene – but this time around I found this more a character-piece, and we do get a great villain, whose identity I won’t spoil for you.

It’s been said Andy Serkis, who also played Gollum in the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings, as Caesar really should nab himself an Oscar, and with such a layered and powerful turn, I can’t disagree.  This was a brilliantly-conceived and intelligently put together sequel to a genuine surprise of a reboot … and I for one can’t wait for what comes next.

Verdict: 5 /5

RoboCop


Viewed – 11 February 2014  Cinema

Yes I had my reservations going into this.  Remakes… will Hollywood ever just leave things alone?  But I digress.  This new version of the 1987 classic action-thriller stars relative unknown Joel Kinnaman as ill-fated gutsy cop Alex Murphy hot on the heels of a drug kingpin.  Yet after disaster strikes, leaving him in critical condition, the shady robotics company Omnicorp come up with the idea of turning him into their new machine on the Detroit mean streets … that’s right, RoboCop! 

Robocop

Michael Keaton (yes…Michael Keaton!) plays a business man who following a law prohibiting machines being aloud to enforce the law on U.S. soil, turns to a scientist (Gary Oldman) who may just be able to put a friendly face to his master plan.  Co-starring Jackie Earle Haley as a weapons tech guy whose a bit of a nutter himself, and the delectable Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch) as Murphy’s wife – this has some good star appeal.  With a more family-friendly rating we’re not going to get the hardcore bloodshed of the original (and it tells) but this does go for a very different flavour, focusing more of the Murphy attempting to hold onto who he is (or was) rather than the sleaze and excess of the Paul Verheoven movie.

Action is fairly frequent, with some decent effects (the robots look great) even if the training, testing and development of RoboCop seems to go on forever.  Also the lead bad guy is a no-name charisma-free presence that can’t hold a candle to Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Bodikker.  Thankfully then, the movie chooses to focus more on OmniCorp and the morality than the drug dealers.

When switching off from the original this can be enjoyed quite easily on its own merits as a slick, imaginative and fun experience, filled with good performances (even Kinnaman in a tricky role) and some star names (Samuel L. Jackson crops up as a media guru – even if he’s not exactly stretched).

Likable, lightweight but worth seeing.  Definitely in a lower league, but a nice tribute all the same.

Verdict:  3 /5

Leon


Viewed – 08 February 2014  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

I remember seeing a trailer to this way back when and going fairly blindly to see it in the cinema.  Me and a friend of mine were blown away by it, and it quickly became one of our all time favourite movies.  The story of twelve year old Mathilda (a brilliant debut from Natalie Portman) who in the aftermath of her family being wiped out takes refuge in the company of the shy, illiterate hitman who lives down the corridor (Jean Reno) … a friendship blossoms and soon she’s hatching a plot to take revenge.  Gary Oldman is a corrupt DEA agent who cracks pills between his teeth and listens to Beethoven whilst killing people who rip him off – and orchestrating all this with finesse and skill is French new-wave director Luc Besson (Nikita, The Fifth Element) to a soundtrack by Eric Serra.

Leon Natalie Portman_edited

This is a movie that has it all, great performances from the street-wise but naive Portman all cocky but falling apart at the seams, to Reno’s subtle and convincing portrayal of a child in a man’s body who just happens to know how to kill.  Then there is Oldman, in possibly his craziest but most memorable role (get me eeeeeeeeeeverybody!!!) as well as a very good supporting turn by Danny Aiello.  Then there is Besson … arguably his finest movie, with such poetic, ice-cool camera work enhanced by an amazing soundtrack and moments of slick action executed with the utmost style and panache.  This may not be an action-heavy movie (it really only has two scenes here) but the tension that builds up, and the great performances throughout, peppered with well judged humour and such emotion … this is one of the few movies I would genuinely call a masterpiece.

This 20th Anniversary Edition by Studio Canal boasts a decent HD image quality that has some vibrant colour and good detail, especially in close-ups.  Softness rears its head in places but overall this is a very pleasing presentation.  For this movie too the 5.1 DTS Master Audio Soundtrack is excellent with a really immersive soundstage and great clarity throughout.  The Blu-ray houses both cuts of the movie and although I chose to watch the tighter Theatrical Version, I would recommend fans check out the extended Director’s Cut for such extra scenes like Mathilda’s Russian roulette scene, the extra hits that Leon takes Mathilda on and a few more moments of Mathilda’s inappropriate advances towards her hitman friend (!).  Extras however are poor, with just two interviews and a noticeably absent Besson, Oldman or Portman with no commentary, something Besson never does anyway – so no big shock there.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5