Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

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Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heyday Films

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Julie Walters, John Cleese

Director: Chris Columbus

Synopsis: Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for his 2nd year, but a terrifying entity is attacking the students, causing chaos for the school and its teachers.

Review:  Given the immense popularity of these books before these movies were made, it was almost something of an inevitability that Warner Bros made quite a healthy profit on their investment to acquire the rights to these movies. The Philosopher’s Stone raked in close to a billion dollars against a budget of  125 million dollars, and set the scene for the next chapter in this franchise, and the magical world that the first film set up so beautifully is gratefully kept going in this instalment.

With Steve Kloves again penning the script with Chris Columbus again taking on directing duties, it doesn’t take long before things at Hogwarts begin to go a bit awry. Dark, creepy sinister voices, writing on the wall in blood, students being petrified, giant terrifying looking spiders. This may have been a children’s book, but there are themes present in this movie that are certainly much more adult, and it isn’t afraid to go in dark places. There is a considerable shift in tone, an ominous presence is lurking in the shadows at Hogwarts, something the plucky trio of Harry Ron, and Hermione must put all of their skills and their plucky second year wit to the test to solve.

Columbus once again delivers his great vision for this magical world and it is once again beautiful to watch Hogwarts brought to life. There are considerably more effects involved here, including the quite brilliant flying car vs the Hogwarts train sequence. The Quidditch is also a lot much more enjoyable to watch here. Having spent the first movie setting up this world and the characters, the main focus is on the story and the ensuing crisis that Hogwarts finds itself in in this particular school year. There are some slower moments in this chapter, but having introduced this world and all of its magical qualities, there is time to build and develop these, particularly the relationships between the central trio of Harry Ron and Hermione, who all remain excellent in their roles. In addition, Tom Felton who was perfect as the sneering bully Malfoy, somehow manages to make himself even more unlikable than in the first movie.

Likewise, everyone who was present is also on stellar form, and a number of new additions who also made their mark on the franchise, namely the sinister father of Draco Malfoy, Lucius played by Jason Isaacs. Like his son, he’s a cold and unlikable presence, like father, like son. Replacing the late Quirrell in the Defence Against the Dark Arts Post is Gilderoy Lockhart, a bumbling idiot and a man who seems to be more interested in his fame and appeal to the ladies than his job as a teacher at Hogwarts. Last but by no means least is Dobby, a house elf who while at first seems incredibly grating and annoying, is ultimately a strong willed elf who wants to aid Harry in his quest, any way he can, even if some of his methods are somewhat perplexing.

Chamber of Secrets doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, but it is still an entertaining ride in this brilliant magical world. Columbus deserves enormous credit for bringing together this remarkable universe to the big screen for its first two films, and for casting just about the perfect actors for every role. The film does lose some of the magic that the first film had in in abundance, but it remains a solid presence in the Harry Potter universe and ensures the spell of the franchise remains .

Despite boasting some cool moments and visuals with a darker tone than the first movie, Chamber of Secrets is not quite as enthralling as its predecessor, with some slow moments bogging it down.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Image is property of Defender Films, Piki Films, Madman Entertainment, The Orchard, Vertigo and Sony

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Film Review

Cast:  Sam Neill, Julian Dennison

Director: Taika Waititi

Synopsis: In the heart of the majestic New Zealand landscape, a national manhunt is launched after a mischievous teenager and his grumpy foster uncle, run away into the forest.

Review: The incredible and quite breath taking New Zealand countryside has certainly featured on the big screen before, most notably in Peter Jackson’s tremendous Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as his not-quite-as-tremendous-but-still-great Hobbit trilogy. It’s quite fitting then, that New Zealand born director Taika Waititi, in his latest film, a character makes a quite brilliant reference to the former trilogy, as the main characters find themselves in a very similar situation to one in the Lord of the Rings, but this is by no means a similar movie to the aforementioned trilogy.

There are no rings or orcs to be found here, instead we have Ricky Baker (Dennison) a troublesome teenager who has been given a chance for a new life with new foster parents. All appears to be going well, yet due to various circumstances, Ricky and his “uncle” Hec (Sam Neill) begin an adventure in the New Zealand shrubbery. All the while, the duo become the centre of a massive manhunt in order launched by the authorities in order to bring these two home, and a hilarious and very heartfelt adventure begins.

Adapting the screenplay from the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, Waititi blends the humour of the story (of which there is plenty) and this is combined with some brilliant acting from the two main leads. It is clear that upon their first meeting Uncle Hec is not exactly keen on Ricky, but through time, they begin to develop a connection and an understanding of one another and the path that lead them to meet. Neill is tremendous but more often than not it is Dennison who steals the show with his obsession with everything “gangster” related, even going so far as to name a dog after a very famous rapper! The chemistry between the actors is tremendous, and the dialogue between them is equally so, and Waititi himself makes a cameo that is a contender for cameo of the year.

As well as the quite brilliant LOTR reference, there are plenty of other superb either visual nods to classic movies, or some rather amusing references to other Hollywood classics packed throughout this quirky picture. The cinematography is also spectacular, with Waititi taking full advantage of the New Zealand landscape in a similar vein to Jackson with both of his Middle Earth trilogies, with plenty of awe-inspiring wide shots that will make the viewer feel like they are in the deep dark wood with the characters. With a great soundtrack to boot, Waititi has crafted a quite brilliant piece of film-making that combines memorable characters with a very genuine, heartfelt story that is hilarious to boot. Given that his next project is a massive Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, namely Thor: Ragnarok, a universe that is known for its excellent use of humour, the director is certainly going from strength to strength. MCU fans can rest assured that this Marvel picture is in very safe and capable hands, hands that might be able to lift Mjolnir!

With a very witty and sharp script from Waititi, excellent performances from the lead duo, fasten your seat belts for a very entertaining romp through the New Zealand wilderness! 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hell or High Water (2016)

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Image is property of CBS Films, Lionsgate, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and OddLot Entertainment

Hell or High Water – Film Review

Cast:  Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

Director: David Mackenzie

Synopsis: Two brothers (Pine and Foster) begin robbing banks in order to keep their finances afloat. However, their crimes soon come to the attention of a Texas Ranger (Bridges)  

Review: Chances are if the premise of a film that is centred on two guys who are resorting to robbing banks as a means of financial support, you’re unlikely to want to see these guys get away with their crimes and you hope that the full justice of the law catches up with them. You think the crooks are the bad guys and the law is the good guys? Well yes and no is the answer to that in the case of this enthralling crime heist movie with a modern Western vibe.

Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) are the criminals in question, brothers who have remained close even after Tanner has had some spells in prison. The pair are in severe financial trouble and so in their desperation, they hatch carefully hatched plans to rob some local banks in order to stay afloat. However their deeds unsurprisingly begin to attract unwanted attention on their part and it is up to a Texas Ranger, played wonderfully by Jeff Bridges to investigate and foil their schemes.

The script from Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote last year’s Sicario, is absolutely tremendous. The winner of the 2012 Black List, it certainly borrows elements from movies in this genre. It is hard to not see the very obvious comparisons to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. That being said, it certainly holds its own as an excellent and riveting piece of storytelling. Though the brothers are far from perfect human beings, one certainly being far more unlikable than the other, it does a splendid job of making you want to root for these guys even in spite of the crimes they’re committing. Even when the rozzers soon start to piece together their investigation, there is a dilemma, as to whether you want the coppers to catch them or hope that they get away and rebuild their lives.

Pine and Foster are excellent in their roles. You buy their chemistry and even though it is clear Toby has a few misgivings with Tanner, their relationship and love for each other as brothers is absolute. Pine in particular has made his name as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but here he arguably gives the finest performance of his career. Yet more could have done to flesh out and give bones to the brothers’ back story, as it could have been touched upon in a bit more detail. Bridges, in a very similar role to his eye patch wearing, half mumbling performance as Rooster Cogburn from the 2010 remake of True Grit, brings his very unique and very funny sense of humour to his role as the Texas Ranger, even if he is a bit hard to understand in places. The back and forth between him and his partner (Gil Birmingham) certainly provides the laughter. Yet it is the leading men who undoubtedly steal the show and don’t be surprised to see potential award nods come their way.

After directing Starred Up, David Mackenzie does a tremendous job of bringing this gritty story from Sheridan’s screenplay to the big screen. The cinematography is majestic with some tremendous wide and panoramic shots of the Eastern New Mexico landscape, cleverly doubling up as Texas. These are fused brilliantly with the scenes that take place in the town. In addition, the bank robbery scenes are masterfully executed, ensuring the tension and suspense is maintained right throughout. The movie does lag in parts as it is a slow paced film, the cat and mouse chase that ensues from the first bank robbery scene combined with brilliant performances and a first rate score. All of the aforementioned elements ensure that the film stakes its claim as an awards contender as awards season starts to come into view.

Tremendous performances from Foster and Bridges, with arguably a career high from Pine, combined with a tense and superbly written script. Come hell or high water, you should definitely see this film!

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heydey Films
Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heydey Films

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart

Director: Chris Columbus

Synopsis: After spending years suffering abuse from his aunt, uncle and cousin, on his 11th birthday, a boy named Harry Potter receives a letter to study at the great Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Review: When one Joanne Kathleen Rowling sat at an Edinburgh cafe in the 1990s, and an idea for a story of a young boy finding out he’s a wizard came into her mind, she probably could have barely imagined the power of the words she was writing, of the vivid and incredible world she was creating. Sure enough, seven books later, the world of Harry Potter had millions upon millions of fans across the globe, and Rowling become one very wealthy lady. Naturally, it was almost inevitable that this world would get brought onto the big screen,  and that journey began in 1998 when Rowling sold the film rights to the first four books for a cool one million pounds. Thus, Harry’s journey from book to screen began.

Like the world of Middle Earth, the world of Hogwarts and all the magic that it encompasses is so vast and so rich in detail, even if a viewer has never read Rowling’s brilliant novels, the magic on screen is enough to ensure the viewer is consumed by this world of magic and all that it is has to offer. The place of Hogwarts has so much history and so much backstory to it, it is a world that is immediately enthralling. Director Christopher Columbus brings it all to the big screen, and all of those incredible places the wizarding world has to offer. With a screenplay by Steve Kloves, the filmmakers checked with Rowling to check that everything was correct, and while there are some omissions and changes in certain places, it remains as faithful as it can to its source material, which does pose some problems, but these are not enough to drag the movie down.

Right from the off, Rowling insisted on British actors for the characters, an insistence that resulted in Steven Spielberg passing on the opportunity to take on directing duties. Yet whoever made the final decision on the casting of these characters deserves enormous praise, as the casting is just about perfect. While Daniel Radcliffe may have been a little bit rusty in certain places, he carried the enormous burden of the role very well. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were also excellent choices. The chemistry between these three actors simply had to be perfect in order for the franchise to succeed, and thankfully, they did. Similarly, casting Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, the late Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, and Robbie Coltrane as the lovable Hagrid were further examples of particularly inspired casting choices. Looking back, it is quite hard to imagine another actor playing these roles!

With just about the perfect cast, Columbus delivered a truly magical movie that made every fan who read Rowling’s books fall in love with Hogwarts all over again. The set decoration is just beautiful and you’d think that Hogwarts is a place you can visit. Alas it’s not but the Warner Bros Studio Tour near London is about as close as you can get! This is in no small part down to John Williams’s incredible score, and that beautiful theme that instantly transports you to the magical world of Harry Potter. The Quidditch match, Diagon Alley, and that very climatic final battle with the chess board is all beautifully well realised. The first movie in a franchise is crucial to its success, and this ensured the franchise got off to a very healthy start. It’s magical, intriguing, and every Potter fan no doubt left the cinema on cloud nine, while floating away on an imaginary Nimbus 2000!

Philsopher’s Stone provides the perfect introduction to the franchise for old and new fans alike! With wonderful acting, tremendous magical effects, a beautiful score and above all a superb story at its core.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

All image rights belong to New Line Cinema, The Saul Zaentz and WingNut Films
Image is property of New Line Cinema, The Saul Zaentz and WingNut Films

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Film Review

Cast:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen , Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen , Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett , John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd , Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom , Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Bernard Hill ,Miranda Otto, Karl Urban

Director: Peter Jackson

Synopsis: While Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli lead the charge against Sauron and his armies of Mordor, Frodo and Sam continue their quest to destroy the ring and banish evil from Middle Earth, once and for all.

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, SO BE AWARE MY PRECIOUSSSSSS….

Review: The journey to bring The Lord of the Rings to the big screen was one that started all the way back in 1995, and that reached its conclusion in 2003 with this closing chapter of this masterful trilogy. You just did not want it to end, but all good things must come to an end, and there isn’t a better way to close the book on this epic masterpiece than to go and make what is without doubt, one of the best films ever made, and quite possibly the best film of the 2000s. New Line Cinema rolled the dice with Peter Jackson and this adaptation and this gamble paid off big time, with three tremendous movies making one of the best trilogies of all time.

With Saruman and his armies now vanquished, the Iron Fist of Mordor and Sauron’s flaming eye is now firmly focused on Gondor as he bids to topple the world of men once for all. Yet in his path stand the rest of the Fellowship with Pippin and Merry following their victory over Isengard, who briefly rejoin the rest of the Fellowship to celebrate, but that joy is short-lived as the enemy prepares to strike. Gandalf and Pippin depart for Minas Tirith to help Gondor prepare for the imminent war and the rest of the Fellowship to mobilise Rohan and its armies for the grave and massive incoming army that is about to descend on the world of men. Sauron moves to conquer all and only it is in the hands of Frodo and Sam, aided by Gollum who all the while is growing ever more deceitful and treacherous, to stop Sauron consuming Middle Earth in darkness.

Throughout the near ten hour run time of the entire trilogy (not counting the extended editions) Peter Jackson threw some terrific action sequences upon the audience. You thought the Battle of Helm’s Deep was outstanding and a wonder in terms of film-making, the battle of Pelennor Fields is somehow almost on another level. Trolls, Catapults of severed human heads flung at the walls of Minas Tirith, Nazgul, Oliphants, this battle has just about everything, and it’s a cinematic battle of immense quality that could and should certainly stake its claim as one of the finest ever put to screen, featuring among other things, Legolas take on an enormous oliphant all by himself, which leads to one of the best one liners ever said by the great Gimli son of Gloin.

Given the stakes in the movie, the tone is considerably darker here, and this is noticeable from the very beginning with a rather twisted tale of how Smeagol was transformed into the creature otherwise known as Gollum. This dark tone is a recurring one throughout the film’s run time as Sauron’s power seems to be unstoppable for the Fellowship to contain. All the while, the Ring is taking a heavy toll on Frodo as he and Sam move closer to Mount Doom. All the while Gollum, purporting to lead them to Mount Doom, is scheming to try and take the ring back again. The script weaves between the different story lines as brilliantly as it can. Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh again wrote the screenplay and it was this screenplay that won the trio a well deserved Oscar for their efforts. Indeed the film swept the board at the 2004 Oscars, winning all of the ELEVEN Oscars it was nominated for, setting a record in process, jointly tying with Titanic and Ben-Hur for the most Oscars ever won.

Although no one was nominated in any of the acting categories, everyone on screen gives utterly tremendous performances, right from those who were introduced to us in Fellowship and Two Towers, to those who were introduced in this concluding chapter. Of the new cast, John Noble’s Denethor, the father of the late Boromir and Faramir (David Wenham) certainly makes an impression, and quickly becomes a very dis-likeable man due to his mistreatment of Faramir, who he views in a considerably lesser light than his brother. The extended edition of Two Towers introduces the audience to Denethor but it’s here where he shows his utter contempt for Faramir. Viggo Mortensen shone as Aragorn in the previous movies, but here he really steps up to the plate as he accepts his true destiny, to become King. Also deserving of praise is Miranda Otto as Eowyn. “I can fight,” she says in Two Towers before the Wolves of Isengard attacked, and boy was she right. She certainly showed a woman can fight and own a battle scene just the same as a man. Sean Astin and Elijah Wood are also tremendous but Astin in particular really shone as Sam battles to support Frodo who is becoming corrupted by Gollum’s influence.

There really is no shortage of superlatives that can describe The Lord of the Rings trilogy in all of its magnificence, but Peter Jackson could and should remain immensely proud of what he and his team brought to the big screen. If Tolkien could see what Jackson did with his beloved book, he would surely be thrilled that his masterpiece was brought to life in such spectacular fashion. If you count the extended edition, these movies are just over eleven hours of pure cinematic joy, spectacle, drama and emotion with so many wonderful and brilliant characters. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has cemented its status as one of the best that has ever been put to screen with three perfect movies that have secured their well deserved place in the record books, and will hopefully be adored for generations and generations to come.

The third chapter in a trilogy can so often be a huge let down. Not a chance of that happening here, this is pure cinematic perfection and glorious entertainment, the trilogy took its well deserved crown. One trilogy to rule them all!

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Image is property of New Line Cinema, The Saul Zaentz and WingNut Films
Image is property of New Line Cinema, The Saul Zaentz and WingNut Films

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Film Review

Cast:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen , Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen , Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett , John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd , Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom , Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Bernard Hill ,Miranda Otto, Karl Urban

Director: Peter Jackson

Synopsis: Continuing the journey as the Fellowship breaks apart, as Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mordor to destroy the Ring. The trio of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make a stand against Sauron’s puppet Saruman and his armies who seek to destroy the world of men.

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING SPOILERS! YE BE WARNED!!!!

 

 

 

Review: The middle mark of a trilogy, sometimes one  that tops its predecessor in glorious fashion, improving every element and every aspect. Or a miserable failure that is often lost in the movie wilderness, never to be spoken about again. Okay there might be middle ground between these two, but in the case of the second chapter in the trilogy of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings, neither really applies. The first film was a masterpiece in fantasy storytelling, with wonderful characters and a superb adventure that kept the audience glued to the screen for three and a half hours, and that trend continues on into The Two Towers.

The story picks up immediately after the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. The Fellowship itself has disbanded, with the death of the heroic Boromir and after Gandalf fell into shadow. Frodo and Sam continue onto Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Merry and Pippin are captured by Urak Hai and the remaining trio of Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn set out to rescue them. With three strands of the story line, the trilogy continues to thrill in all of its spectacle and brilliance as our journey into the wonder and yes indeed terror of Middle Earth continues as we explore new parts, in particular the land of Rohan and their battle to stop the treacherous White Wizard, Saruman from exterminating the world of Men.

Fellowship introduced us , for the most part, to our key characters. However, this chapter adds some new and important characters into the picture. Namely, Theoden (Bernard Hill) his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Faramir (David Wenham) and of course, the creepy and sinister Gollum (Andy Serkis). All of these new characters are key additions to the story and all are portrayed excellently, with Eowyn giving the series a strong and very capable female warrior, a rarity in Middle Earth sadly. but the most stand out of all of these is Andy Serkis’ motion capture portrayal of Gollum. Gollum is one damaged and wounded creature, and Serkis generated quite the buzz with his performance, with there being talk of a potential Oscar for his work. Gollum’s arrival splits Frodo and Sam’s relationship in half, as Sam harbours strong suspicions of Gollum’s true motive. All the while, the burden of the Ring is really eating away at Frodo and taking a severe toll, thus meaning Sam needs to come to the fore, and he does so brilliantly. The acting from Astin and Wood goes up a gear here, but Serkis absolutely steals the show for his work as Gollum.

On the other side of the world, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimili, aided by a rejuvenated Gandalf the White, are preparing for the fight to stop the villainous Saruman to wipe out Rohan via a considerable army of Urak-Hai. They’re a very unlikely trio but they have great chemistry between them. Through this we are eventually led to the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and what simply is one of the best and most epic battle scenes ever put on the big screen, though some great action scenes do come before it. Whilst at the same time packing humour aplenty with the increasingly amusing relationship between Legolas and Gimli which culminates in a battle within a battle, to get the most kills. It is uproariously entertaining whilst at the same time very gripping, edge-of-your-seat action.  Yet for all those epic battle scenes the scenes with Merry and Pippin and Treebeard, their Ent, tree like companion, can feel very slow and tedious at times. , However while it maybe slow to sit through these scenes, the pay off is certainly worth it.

The cinematography, visual effects and score remain as brilliant as they were in the first movie. The respective story lines do have some satisfying conclusions and the film closes at a perfect point to set it up for the concluding chapter to this magnificent trilogy. The prospect that Lord of the Rings could have been only two films is one that does not bear thinking about, as who knows what would have been butchered from the story to make it into two films. Luckily for us all it did not come to pass and we got our trilogy. For some, Two Towers marks the low point of the trilogy, but it does not bring the movie down at all from being the awesome and thrilling adventure that it is. There are some great pay offs in the respective arcs, but there is enough hanging in the balance to draw the viewer back. Jackson pulled it out of the bag again, and in spectacular fashion my precioussssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

Though not as action packed as Fellowship wasit provides more character development, more heart, and with one of the best battle sequences ever put on the big screen, the journey continues in majestic and magnificent fashion.

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