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3/10
Terrible Film
14 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The length and terrible quality of the fifth book were always going to be huge hurdles for the film makers to overcome. However, the fourth film had succeeded, despite all the cuts, and the Lord of the Rings films had proved that big books can be turned into films successfully, so I was hoping against the odds.

Unfortunately, the film fails in every possible way. The acting quality from the opening scenes is downright appalling. The Dursleys, and even Daniel Radcliffe, are just downright dire initially. Mrs Figgs is cringe-worthy and the Dementors look very cheap and unconvincing after the third film's quality.

Despite all the fuss made about the casting of Tonks, she's barely in the film at all. Many of the significant issues that help build up to the final confrontation and its consequences are cut. Some cuts do make sense, others definitely do not (such as the Sirius/Snape antagonism that Harry feels directly contributes to Sirius' fate).

I've always been a fan of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore - Richard Harris pulled off the grandfatherly side of Dumbledore but completely failed to portray the crazier, darker side. Gambon has always pulled off Dumbledore's crazier, darker side very well while still covering the grandfatherly aspect. However, in this film, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith... all their performances fall flat. As do the children. It took me a while to grow into Luna. At first, I thought it was awful. In retrospect, I think she gets better as the film goes along.

The only two who consistently acted well were Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman, but since their roles in the film were vastly reduced, they don't have much screen time. The dreams were hit and miss - the suspense and eeriness were very good but if you haven't read the books, they'll be confusing and not make much sense - and this isn't plot-related confusion.

The film's final confrontations were absolutely great. Ralph Fiennes makes an excellent Voldemort, his scenes were therefore very good.

Bellatrix was absolutely awful. She didn't come across as crazy and dangerous, she came across as drunk. It was less Harry Potter and more Practical Magic. Not good.

Everything felt disjointed, rushed, superficial. Too much got left out and what was left in was handled poorly. The end result is a film that looks like it's full of plot holes, continuity errors and lacks any emotion at all.

I knew it was a bad sign when the people leaving the screening before my showing were looking bored and restless - few smiles, little conversation about what they'd seen. No real interest. When I left the cinema after my showing, the word I heard my fellow cinema goers using most was "empty" - the film felt empty. I use the word "hollow". This film lacks any kind of a soul.

There's a terrible thread of Charlie Chaplin/Chevy Chase-esquire humour running through this film that is absolutely inappropriate to the storyline. Some humour is appropriate and genuinely raised some chuckles in the cinema. But the rest cracked no smiles and often some embarrassed shifting in the seats from people. For a story that's getting darker and grittier as it progresses, watching Filch and Malfoy reduced to Charlie Chaplin and Chevy Chase comic pieces was downright appalling - and ruined the mood of the film.

Oh, and the forecasts in the background at the start of the film bizarrely give out American weather temperatures. Why wasn't this caught? It's a British story, temperatures should be given in Celsius. It stood out like a sore thumb (British forecasters do sometimes *additionally* give Fahrenheit temperatures for the older generations but never at the expense of forgetting Celsius).

Lupin's role was vastly reduced in this film - I have no idea why they removed him from the initial rescue group and gave all his lines to Moody - especially as the film doesn't bother explaining why Harry is so comfortable with this Moody after all his problems the previous year. The book used Lupin to ease the transition for Harry, but he doesn't appear until much later - and even then is barely relevant to any scenes. Tonks and Kreacher had blink-and-you'll-miss-them roles and Sirius' family lineage was hardly explained at all. There's absolutely no hint of Tonks' relationship - you see her mother's scratched out name on the family tree in Sirius' home, but no reference to Andromeda being Tonks' mother. Therefore, if there's going to be any speculation in the sixth film about Tonks grieving for Sirius, it's going to come out of the blue to people who haven't read the books.

On a more positive note - the film does get better as it goes along, although that just takes it from "mediocre" to "okay". There are some great scenes, there is some great humour and there is some very good acting - but it's so haphazard and patchy that the film overall cannot be rated much above "terrible" - at best, I can say it's the worst film so far.

The scenes where the children are practising DAtDA in secret are very good - the patronus charms are very beautiful, and there's some interesting Harry/Ginny foreshadowing. The much-touted kiss between Harry and Cho lives up to expectations. Considering the youth of the actors concerned, it is set up very well.

Overall, this film is a huge disappointment - even if you go in not expecting much (and I wasn't expecting much at the outset). If you haven't read the books, this film will be a mess. If you have read the books, you'll only be aware of just how big a mess the film truly is.
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Black Beauty (1994)
3/10
Awful
19 February 2006
Well, it's taken me many years to get around to seeing this film. I love animals, I enjoy animal stories, and there are many, many good actors in this cast.

I grew up on the book. It's a truly amazing story, and a wonderful look at both the animal cruelty of society in the Victorian era, but also at the growing social awareness of animal rights as well, and the very practical knowledge of people who genuinely know about animals - that an animal always provides its best when well treated, and thus mistreating animals is actually cutting off your own nose to spite your face.

In fairness to the film, this message does come across. And that's why I didn't give it 1/10. And, given the little material they have to work with, the actors do their best.

What mystifies me, however, are the amount of critics and fans who think this film is true to the original story. It captures the GIST of the original story, and concentrates on the theme of animal cruelty that the original story is all about - but that's all it does. It makes alterations to the original story that make no cinematic sense and - for me at least - made a wonderful story yet another formulaic irritation. As brilliant as the actors are in other films, they couldn't fix this story. I was never emotionally lost in the film, the way I was in the novel. I didn't care about the people or horses at all, and considering the story was originally designed to make people care, that's a brutal failure on the part of this film.

Sadly, it is the best Black Beauty adaptation that exists, but it's an appalling shadow of the original book. Read the book and love it, but this film does not do the story justice and makes some ludicrous deviations.

What a waste of well trained animals, beautiful scenery and good actors. The film is incredibly disappointing. I recommend Black Beauty lovers stick with the novel and avoid buying this film.
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Batman Begins (2005)
9/10
Excellent film - an amazingly mature and adult handling of a comic franchise
6 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I've grown up on the 60s comic series (and liked it while a young child at least) and all four previous Batman films. To say I was leery of another Batman film was an understatement, especially given the farce that Batman Forever and Batman and Robin became. I didn't even like Batman Returns.

Then I saw trailers that suggested the whole thing was jumping on the "eastern zen is k2wl" bandwagon so many modern Hollywood films do to death, and I got even more jaded.

The film, however, is stunning. From the flashbacks to young Bruce's life and the loss of his parents (what a great kid they found to play young Bruce Wayne), to the entire search for a way to fit into a world that seemed to have rejected him because he had rejected it. They handled the eastern teachings sensibly - with less emphasis on mystical idealism and much more on learning how to define your enemy to gain power over him, so he cannot have power over you. Everywhere through the film, you have the little gems of wisdom from even the bad guys that gradually weave together to create the final "Eureka" moment when Bruce realises why his "symbol" should be a bat. And I really do like how much of the wisdom he ends up drawing on for his final metamorphosis actually does come from his enemies, and not from his friends. With hind-sight you can see how his youthful confrontation with Falcone is a major determination in the path he takes to creating the Batman persona.

In the end, the film shows that it's not so much the death of his parents that makes Bruce create Batman - it's the consequences that happen when you stand up to your enemies that makes Bruce create Batman. You see how the idea that making yourself a mystery to your enemy to defeat him, needs to be taken to the extremity of creating a theatrical persona in order to affect the masses as a whole, in order to work at all. This film therefore takes an act that is so often treated as comic and insane (dressing up in a mask and a cape) and turns it into an act of rational desperation. Everything from the need for a vigilante to fight back, to the need for any vigilante to hide his identity, to the importance of "slogans" (using an ideal to fight an ingrained fear), to the technology used in the film (restricted, state-of-the-art military-spec equipment), is done as intelligently, thoughtfully and sensibly as possible. Even the humour is adult and gentle, instead of comic.

And the relationship that builds up between Gordon and Batman - from the first appearance as Gordon as he offers a moment of kindness to the newly orphaned young Bruce Wayne, to their initially wary, mistrustful alliance to fight back against Falcone and a sense (from Gordon especially) that this endeavour might not work at all, to the end of the film where there's a very real sense of respect and hope between them, is one of the most gently compelling adult relationships I've ever seen in any film - one you'd expect from a carefully developed drama than a film that is, in essence, based on a comic strip series.

This film is dark, it's sensible and it's mature. But what really makes it work is a very subtle - and very, very tiny - hint of hope for a better future that is gently threaded through even the darkest moments of the film. This film works because it's subtle, and it never goes overboard in any aspect - from humour, to technology, to romance, to fighting the good fight and dressing up in a mask - everything has the touch of understated intelligence instead of melodramatic comedy. It's an excellent film.

Only 9 out of 10 for the coverage of the Water Board drama - the only unsubtle handling of suspense in the entire film. And Christian Bale is slightly weird as Bruce Wayne - but this is instantly forgivable when you see the way he shines through as Batman.
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Cypher (2002)
10/10
Very Good
2 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I hadn't heard of this film when I hired it out, and only picked it up because my local video shop was doing a 3-for-2 offer but I'm very glad I did.

It's hard to describe the film without spoiling the plot - and I'd certainly recommend people thinking of seeing this film NOT to watch the trailers first. Anyone who has seen the film will understand why I say that.

It's the future. Morgan Sullivan is a sales rep. He has a boring job, a boring CV (resume), a boring home, a boring (and domineering) wife and a boring lifestyle. He's an average Joe who dreams of a different world. One involving excitement and escapism. When megacorporation, Digicorp is hiring new personnel, Sullivan jumps at the chance for a new life - his new job is a cover for corporate espionage, he's hired to spy on rival corporations, and it seems as though his dreams of a new, exciting life are becoming reality.

Instead, what becomes painfully real to him is just what the reality of being a corporate spy entails - being used as a pawn in the game of corporate politics and being kicked off the chess board when the game's done. Permanently.

At first, Sullivan thinks he has just one problem - getting out of Digicorp alive. But into his life walks the mysterious and alluring woman, Rita Foster, everything Sullivan has been dreaming of in his classic fantasy woman - witty, sharp-tongued, elusive and playing hard-to-get. She also has all the answers he needs to survive, if he can only convince her to help him. Revealed as a spy by rival corporation Sunway's security system, he finds himself forced into the life of a double agent and suddenly he's even further away from getting back to the mundane existence he so hated as he realises he's the pawn in a war being fought on three fronts - between rival corporations Sunways and Digicorp and murderous mercenary Sebastian Rooks, the boss of Rita Foster, who was hired by both companies to work against the other but is ruthlessly using both corporations for his own ends.

Tumbling between all three powers, Sullivan finds himself fighting for the right to control his life, as all three groups seem bent on using him and killing him when he's done. With the questions piling up and and the only person capable of answering them refusing to deal directly with him, Sullivan has to decide who he can really trust before it's too late. The wrong choice will destroy him.

This is a slow moving film. It's seen entirely from Morgan's perspective and relies heavily on character portrayal, setting and mood (lighting/music/camera) for enhancing the storyline. There's very little real action until the last half an hour of the film and there's a lot in the start of the film that makes you wonder what the heck the film is all about and why you're sitting there watching it. Once you've finished watching the film, however, everything makes sense and you have to watch it a second time to spot exactly what's going on when and how it all ties into the ending. There's a lot of themes in this film that throws up the concept of a chess game, and that's the best way to describe the film. It's a chess game being played out between Digicorp, Sunways and Sebastian Rooks. Each group thinks its secret weapon is Sullivan and the ones who seem to have all the answers are also the ones with questions of their own. Are there any good guys in this film? The deeper into the mess Sullivan sinks, the more it seems the answer has to be no.

In the end, the film is about two main questions: What happens when you don't know who you are and what your place in the world is? And what lengths are you willing to go to for a cause you truly believe in?

It's an excellent film but requires attention to detail and possibly extra viewings to get the full experience. There are twists in the film, so avoiding spoilers on the film will definitely give you the best experience when watching it. I usually pride myself on uncovering plot twists before they happen (such as Usual Suspects, for example) but I only worked out the one twist moments before it was revealed on screen, and the second twist I didn't see coming. Three days after hiring the film, I went out and bought it. The DVD extras are actually quite annoying, but the film itself is worth rewatching multiple times.
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Still Crazy (1998)
Very Good
7 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this when it first came out, and could barely remember it except for the fact I enjoyed it and that Bruce Robinson's performance really stood out, enough for me to remember his character five years later when I could barely remember anyone else (doesn't help that we watched the film first time round as part of a midnight marathon of films so I was spaced out from lack of sleep).

Then I got my hands on the DVD and watched it... and found myself wondering how I could have forgotten it.

Without spoilers, the plot is simple: A rock band formed in the late 60s, peaks in the early 70s. With tremendous potential and a huge following, the band is torn apart by the tragedic death of their lead singer, Keith, by drugs. Two years on, they've got themselves a new lead singer, Ray, whose glamorous, larger-than-life rock-star lifestyle and ambitions clash with the quieter, broodier, more ballard-loving song-writing base guitarist, Les. With Keith's brother, lead guitarist Brian, the acknowledged heart, soul and genius of the band, set to follow Keith to the great rehab in the sky, the band exits the limelight in an ignoble lightning explosion that mirrors the flames that engulf the band from within.

Simmering with anger and bitterness, the band, complete with its two faithful roadies, Hughie and Brian's girlfriend, Karen, seperate and go their seperate ways, never to contact each other again... ... Until 20 years later, the son of the promoter of their last ever gig, approaches Tony, the keyboard player whose life has deteriorated into refilling condom machines in resort bathrooms, and asks Strange Fruit to reunite for an anniversary gig of their last infamous festival. Tracking down Karen, now a frustrated hotel clerk, with a divorce behind her and sulky teenage daughter looking over her shoulder, he convinces her to climb on board. Together, they begin the long, hard process of tracking down the rest of the band members in the hopes of reforming Strange Fruit for one last gig to prove to the world they really did have what it took to be great.

But their unresolved grudges threaten to tear them apart before they can even begin, and when they finally track down the last missing member, Brian, to a single impersonal fax stating he died 5 years beforehand and bequeathed his Royalties to a cancer foundation in America, the band are left with no option but to recruit young and naive guitarist, Luke as a replacement. With time running out, the heart of their group dead and old wounds festering like sores as they career from one disastrous gig to another, can the band really bury the past before the past buries them?

All the way through you can see exactly why the band fell apart and the issues that prevented them from ever jelling as the team they needed to be in order to achieve the heights they all knew they were capable of reaching. But slowly, as the film progresses, you begin to see what brought them together as a band as well. As they struggle to learn how to recapture the glory, they gradually begin to understand what it is they've really lost. You can empathise with all the characters. Bill Nighy produces the best comic performance, but Stephen Rea, Juliet Aubrey and Bruce Robinson reveal the emotional core that shows how these people were so inescapably bound together regardless of whether they loved or hated each other.

This is an excellent film. Worth watching at least once and in my opinion, worth watching multiple times.
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The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982 TV Movie)
Survives The Passage of Time
30 April 2004
Few films manage to survive the passage of time but this film is an excellent example of one that does. The acting, the period setting, the locations and the storyline have all stood the test of time.

I grew up on these kinds of productions and as a bookworm was much more familiar with the novels than with the televised/film versions of classics such as the works of Alexander Dumas, Baroness Orczy, Charles Dickens, you name it. There's a dryness to the Baroness's books that has never impressed me too much as an author (I also don't think much of Shakespeare and Tolkien as far as writing ability goes). Of course, I was always familiar with the 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel but this 1983 production is definitely the most superior telling of the story I've seen.

With background development of the characters, time spent allowing the characters to build up their interactions with each other, humour, action, romance and emotional swings and roundabouts we end up with the Baroness's characters being brought to life in a way even she herself failed to do. Artistic licence has been taken, of course, but in this case, the licence has vastly improved the story, characters and enjoyment. We end up with a production that used its limited budget wisely creating a film that is brilliantly acted, wonderful to watch and beautifully scripted to show us there's actually no bad guys in the film - everyone has a motive and a reason for behaving as they do, from the traditionalistic idealism of the English aristocrats trying to save French nobility to the tormented lovesick zealousness of Chauvelin who really does believe he's creating a better France without understanding that to make a better tomorrow you can't afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. And then there's the great Baron de Batz whose allegedly mercenary reputation at the beginning of the film develops until we see he is a much more complicated individual than he first appears.

The foppish behaviour of Sir Percy is grating initially until it becomes clear that Anthony Andrews does have a good handle on the character and you begin to see the subtle changes that reveal the difference between the real Percy and the prancing peacock that he carefully cultivates for the public arena. Once it becomes obvious that the actor understands the fop is just another of the Pimpernel's disguises, it becomes much more tolerable and fun to watch.

Just one complaint about this film. It's like everyone forgot he had been shot in the arm while running from the Paris guards, including him! :)

I've owned the DVD for nearly two years and still consider it to be the most superior telling of the Pimpernel classic. The series that stared Richard E. Grant has to be the lowest point of the story's long history of telling and retelling but at least this version survives to give us an alternative.

If you have the option to watch only one version of Baroness Orczy's classic tale, then choose this version. It's definitely the superior rendition and stands the test of time. Modern film makers could do with learning a thing or two from this film.
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Amusing film.
28 April 2004
Being native to the general area the film is set in and coming from a family native to the Heads of the Valleys region, I laughed my arse off all the way through this film.

Some Welsh reviwers might not like to admit it but the stereotypes in the film do exist and the depiction of the attitudes, bigotry and humour of people in this region of Wales is actually true (I should know, being native to the area). Those of us in the local area got the chance to have a good long laugh at ourselves and people we know who really are like that (note, most of us aren't like that but we still have these very stereotypes of neighbouring valley communities with whom we are "in competition"). It was certainly an excellent comedy piece. Despite the fact I traditionally dislike Hugh Grant and the films he's in, this film was worth watching. I don't see the film translating too well to people who don't undestand the quirky sense of humour of those of us who live around Cardiff, Newport and the related valleys. We have several hills here that were artificially boosted to claim mountain status, the hill depicted in this film (Garth Hill) wasn't the only example of this madness occurring. It's worth pointing out that this film isn't representative of Wales and Welsh history as a whole. We've got a tribal history and the land is still extremely variable in culture and outlook. I've lived in several different places in Wales - North, South, East and West - and can say with authority that the Welsh people with the quirkiest sense of humour are definitely located in the Heads of the Valleys region where this film is set. Maybe that's why we enjoyed the film when Welsh people in other parts of Wales were insulted? Never mind, some of us got the joke but then, since the writer/director of this film is native to the area himself, I'm not particularly surprised. :)

Don't take the film seriously, enjoy it as a comedy and it's a downright amusing way to pass the time.
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Love Actually (2003)
9/10
Surprisingly Enjoyable
6 April 2004
I hate romantic comedies. I detest them. You can list the actors I avoid watching: Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, Richard Gere, Julia Roberts. Romantic comedies make me cringe and I avoid them like the plague so you can imagine the foul mood I was in when I was forced to watch this film.

And the introductory voice-over by Hugh Grant as we watch an airport full of people hugging made me want to commit an act of violence - either against the people who forced me to watch this film or against myself just to end the torture.

Then the most unbelievably shocking thing happened. Bill Nighy and Gregor Fischer came on screen, mocking one of the most hated love songs in Britain, "Love is all Around" and I found myself getting sucked into the film.

By the time I reached the end of the film I found myself facing the impossible, there was one romantic comedy out there that genuinely is a comedy and actually likeable. No-one was more shocked than I.

Many different kinds of love are covered (although not all kinds), there's 8 storylines and the biggest cast list I've seen in a long time. Somehow, it works. You'd think it wouldn't, I know I certainly didn't.

If you're looking for a full-length story, this is not the film for you. It snap-shots the important events leading to the resolution of the couples involved, nothing more. If you want a classic romantic film, this might not be the film for you. This is funnier than most straight comedies I've seen in recent times, however (I'm just as harsh a critic of comedy films as I am of romantic films).

It's not trying to be the meaning of life, it's not trying to look at the big picture. In fact, it's only trying to do one thing, and that's say positive feelings crop up in the most unexpected places or are more prevalent than people think. One of the storylines, one that is cited constantly in reviews as one of the failed storylines with a sad ending is actually bittersweet. It doesn't end with failure but the failure of one type of love in favour of a different kind.

This film isn't perfect, I'll never find the perfect romantic-comedy because I hate the genre so much, for example, one of the storylines did annoy me intensely and yet ironically still made me laugh in places. However, the flaws in the film are vastly outweighed by positives. It's superficially complicated but is really a very simple film. It makes a statement: "love actually is all around" then shows why it makes that statement and doesn't attempt to do or be anything else.

And like the fact it covers different kinds of love, it covers different attitudes and portrayals of it - so a couple are realistic, a couple are classic fantasy, a couple are pure comedy and a couple are pure rom-com tradition.

I have seen no reviewer give this film a middle-of-the-road review, and I've read many reviews. I think, in the end, Love Actually is up to the individual. It's like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it.

Speaking as a cynical, misanthropic, Marmite-hating, Romantic-Comedy hating member of the human race, I actually liked Love Actually.
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