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

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


Viewed – 03 February 2012  Blu-ray

In the run up to the awards season, this has become one of the most talked about movies around.  With a heavy weight cast of top British thesps and a gritty cold war storyline, this is the movie many people are putting all their hopes in.  Call it this years The King’s Speech, if you like.  Adapted from the novel by John LeCarré … Gary Oldman stars as a former M16 agent who is persuaded by an old friend to come out of retirement in order to investigate the possibility of a Russian mole in the organization.  The movie jumps back and forth between time lines and shows us the history behind such suspicion after former boss John Hurt sends field agent Mark Strong to Budapest in hope if discovering the identity of the mole from a Russian contact.  In the present, Oldman must piece the clues together and line up the suspects, whilst uncovering a wealth of shady dealings.

For such a talked about movie, I admit to finding it extremely difficult to follow.  It is told in such a vague and scatter shot way, that I kept hoping for a narration to fill me in on who is who and what’s what.  But no, this is the sort of movie where you the viewer are left pretty much in the dark, and everyone on-screen seems much more well-informed.  Sometimes people would say things and the other person would look shocked, whilst I would respond with ‘huh?’.  I don’t know.  Other movies have played the trick of showing you something, making you believe its one way, then later revealing it wasn’t quite what you thought.  That can be cool, but here it was simply frustrating.  Gary Oldman is very good as the veteran MI6 agent ‘Smiley’ but doesn’t ever really have a moment to stand out, neither does John Hurt, who apart from an acceptable performance, is barely in it.  I actually warmed much more to underrated actor Mark Strong, as I felt his story was the most intriguing, but like everything here, it never really delves enough to totally satisfy.

Tomas (Let The Right One In) Alfredson’s direction, on a technical level is sublime and very stylish.  He makes the mostly London-set locations look gorgeous, and there’s no doubt he’s a genuine talent.  However the material he has been given is confusing, a little too sure of itself and ultimately … boring.  Really, when a movie can be summed up as two hours of stiff upper collar British chaps sitting in rooms looking confused, that can’t be good, can it?

Verdict:  2 /5

Brighton Rock


Viewed – 23 July 2011  Blu-ray

A remake of the 1947 brit-gangster movie of the same name, replacing Richard Attenborough with relative newcomer Sam Riley, and transports the story to the 60’s Mods & Rockers era.  Pinkie Brown is a small time hoodlum who is involved in the murder of the man responsible for his bosses’ death, and attracts the attention of not only the cafe owning friend of the victim (Helen Mirren) but also an innocent waitress, Rose who happened to be the last person to see the victim alive.  Pinkie chooses to go after the young waitress and ask her out in an attempt to keep her from going to the police, but his violent background and those close to Rose conspire to come between them.

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Alien


Viewed – 17 May 2009  DVD

Director’s Cut

In 1979, following George Lucas’ crowd-pleasing space opera Star Wars two year’s previous, Ridley Scott unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences the complete polar opposite to that film’s feel-good showmanship – a dark, claustrophobic sci-fi horror that went on to become a classic.  Spawning 3 sequels of varying quality, with James Cameron’s epic ALIENS the obvious high point, this smaller, gentler paced film had an intelligence and realism that was fresh, exciting, and genuinely terrifying.

AlienPic2

Viewed today with much more jaded eyes, as a horror fan burned out on the torture-porn of Saw, Hostel and their like … the subtle qualities of Scott’s film are somewhat subdued, but I still admire it as a lesson in slow-burning shocks, that many have imitated but few have got quite as right as this.  Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley, a character that has become an icon in sci-fi horror and probably her finest role to date, who is surprisingly, to anyone more familiar with the sequels, more of a secondary cast member with at the time Tom Skerritt and John Hurt taking top-billing.  The premise is simple – the crew of a mining ship is awakened from sleep by a distress call, and so they have to investigate and unwittingly bring on board an alien life form, that soon begins to pick off the crew one by one.  Classic horror set up, a cliché by almost anyone’s standards, granted, but as with any classic film the concept is not necessary what makes it work – more how the story plays out and the skill of the director and cast to suck you in and make you grip that seat.  Ridley Scott is at the top of his game here with expert camera work, some stunning set design and alien make-up effects inspired by artist H R Giger’s weird paintings, and perfectly timed shocks that should still make you jump even after your umpteenth viewing.  That’s not to say this film is perfect, as theres some shocking moments of character stupidy, and one plot hole involving the sudden huge size of the alien that is never satisfyingly explained.

Unfamiliar am I with the differences here between the director’s cut and the original, apart from the fact this version is six minutes shorter than the original, but what I have sat through remains tight, atmospheric and gripping cinema … that is easy to recommend.

Verdict:  4 /5

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


Viewed – 11 June 2008  Cinema

How long has this taken to arrive?  I was just a young teenager when the supposedly ‘Last Crusade’ reached the cinema.  Perhaps it was with the success of the recent Star Wars prequels that made George Lucas & Steven Spielberg choose to resurrect a franchise that for some, seemed dead in the water.  I must say though first off – how pleased I am that they did!

Of course I had my doubts – Harrison Ford is no longer the Hollywood heart throb he once was (kind of), and he’s no spring chicken either, but even though at first I though Indi looked in need of a zimmer-frame, I should not have worried as swept up I was in the quest to return a sacred crystal skull back to its rightful place and keep it out of the hands of ruthless KGB agents (headed by a very camp Cate Blanchett).  Along for the ride is the wise choice of latest hot-property Shia LaBeouf, who impressed me both in the Transformers movie and Disturbia – and thankfully is not playing the same nerdy idiot he was almost becoming typecast as, but has a quality of James Dean here, even if his own comedy talent overshadows such possibilities.

Action-wise we are treated to bike chases, explosions, shoot outs and even a nuclear bomb in one of the films best gags.  Yet for me the overly comical script seemed layed on a little too thick, causing the film to fall into the territory of farce, and whether or not it was intentional, some scenes look set on a made up stage than say the big budget locations of past films (even the opening and closing credits look like they’re off a cheap Saturday afternoon adventure flick).  But saying all that, there is enough excitement, great lines and likable characters to keep things running along, and yes – it at times gets very silly indeed…but hey, what were you expecting?  Doing a new Indiana Jones was always a dodgy idea – so perhaps the comic-book approach Lucas & Spielberg have taken has proved to be the best thing in the end.

Verdict:  3 /5