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My local multiplex makes me cry

I recently looked on the website of my local multiplex to find out when Drive was showing and was horrified by its absence on the list of films. After drying my eyes and several hours of comfort eating I decided to pick myself up and go to see The Debt. Today I sat down and opened my laptop with the intention of writing a review for The Debt, but my concentration very quickly lapsed and I found myself thinking “what’s the next thing I should see at the cinema?” So again I looked on the website of my local cinema to find the following films are showing (split into two very imaginatively named categories):

Films I have a problem with:

Johnny English Reborn – we already had Austin Powers so I don’t know why we needed the original never mind a sequel. 3D and 2D Lion King – I don’t have a problem with cinemas showing classics, however, I don’t like that they have retrofitted The Lion King with 3D in order to charge customers extra. Moreover, when you have 2D and 3D versions, they take up screens that could be used for other films. 3D and 2D The Three Musketeers – A tired-looking adaptation of Dumas’ classic which is currently sitting at 33% on Rotten Tomatoes from a director who boasts a lowly average of 27.8% on the same websiteDon’t Be Afraid of the Dark – An averagely reviewed remake of an old movie starring Katie Holmes (I didn’t realise Tom and the Scientology clique were still letting her act) and written by Guillermo del Toro (so maybe it is worth watching). Abduction – Tim Robey of The Telegraph calls this “the least thrilling thriller of the year.Friend With Benefits – Quite well reviewed rom-com. Crazy, Stupid Love – Decently reviewed rom-com. What’s Your Number – Poorly reviewed rom-com. Rascals – Apparently it’s awful. 3D Shark Night – Clearly a terrible movie and trying to reproduce the success of last summer’s Piranha 3D but failing.

Films I do not have a problem with:

The Inbetweeners Movie – Incredibly successful movie version of the popular TV show. Warrior – Rocky meets The Fighter with MMA.  Midnight In Paris – Woody Allen films are usually worth seeing. I like Owen Wilson too. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Great film – read my review. The Debt – Pretty decent, read my revie… oh yeah, that’s where this all started, now back to my point.

So as you can see,  this list has some good in it but contains an awful lot of crap. My main issue, therefore, is with the rather gaping omissions of the 3 movies which I was REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO; namely Drive, Melancholia and Tyrannosaur. This is why I’m crying.

The Harry Potter saga: Was it any good?

The movie adaptations of JK Rowling’s beloved books began almost 10 years ago with HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Since then we’ve seen another 6 films released, over 1000 minutes of screen time and one of the most successful movie franchises in history. Now, with the new Harry Potter film coming out this summer (UK release date: 15 July 2011) I ask were they any good? And will it be worth battling through the crowds at your local multiplex to view the last instalment?

1: The series started off with Chris Columbus at the helm and a veritable who’s who of British actors representing the various witches and wizards. Much of the casting is solid with Robbie Coltrane putting in an inspired performance as Hagrid and Alan Rickman providing an appropriately slivery Snape. Unfortunately the film is far too faithful to the book and this leaves it looking and feeling wooden, uninspired and lacking imagination. Books and films are different: they need different emphases and pacing. But this film is timid and just goes through the motions. So, despite the hype surrounding the film, it was painfully boring.

2: Moving on to the second film (HP and the Chamber of Secrets): same problems, slightly better cinematography (darker, Hogwarts feels like an old creepy castle instead of a cartoon castle), a few jokes to break up the boredom, but all in all an overly long and equally timid adaptation of the book. In addition, the second film marks the point at which Daniel Radcliffe’s lack of charisma and acting ability begin to be a problem.

3: HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban – there was a change of direction in the series with this film. Columbus was replaced as director by Alfonso Cuarón and Michael Gambon came in as Dumbledore due to the death of Richard Harris. In addition, Gary Oldman was introduced as HP’s enigmatic, falsely-imprisoned godfather, Sirius Black. All of these moves proved successful and Azkaban was the first film to actually engage with the source material – offering an interpretation of the story and characters instead of providing a pale imitation like its two predecessors. As well as a more engaging story and adopting an appealingly dark feel, this film is well-measured in terms of its rites of passage theme. The kids are growing up and Cuarón handles this appropriately to give the film emotional weight. Another Cuarón success is the wealth of subtext and not-too-showy metaphor which gives the film a sense of depth and richness. HP3: a definite success and probably the best of the lot.

4: HP and the Goblet of fire – Another new director (Mike Newell), so how well did he do? The fourth instalment is a success in continuing the growing up theme of the previous film. It brings in some well-done teenage angst and awkward romance. In addition, the growing sense of dread, fear and confusion both within Hogwarts and in the wider world comes across effectively (maybe a little too much). Nevertheless, Newell is not bold enough and sticks to the book too closely. The film begins strongly – HP’s dream about Voldemort and then the Quidditch World Cup are exciting and narratively useful. (as an aside point – all Quidditch scenes in HP films are terrible. They are badly shot, blurry, boring and pointless). Unfortunately the film dwells on the teenage angst elements for too long – the Yule Ball seems to be given precedence over the return of Voldemort. Moreover, the action sequences are strangely boring. HP’s fight with a dragon and the climatic showdown are both disappointingly pedestrian, although Ralph Fiennes is predictably good as the menacingly creepy Voldemort. This film feels disjointed, with some strange edits and persistence with unnecessary elements. Basically, it tries to do too much and follow the book too closely when the film-makers should’ve been more selective and created a coherent, cohesive narrative.

5: HP and the Order of the Phoenix – as the titles get increasingly silly, the bad guys get worse (or is it better…) Either way, Immelda Staunton is excellent as the sickly-sweet Dolores Umbridge, and Helena Bonham Carter and Fiennes shine as Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort, respectively. For the longest HP book new director David Yates had to be careful with what to include. Certainly on that score 5 is an improvement on 4, with an increased focus on the central HP vs Voldemort (good vs evil) plot-line and a very well executed showdown between Dumbledore and Voldemort. However, because there is less emphasis on many of the characters we have come to know in previous films, the unevenness of the series as a whole becomes more apparent. Lots of the characters and relationships get lost in the rush to the Death-Eater/Order of the Phoenix battle. Chief among these is the Sirius/HP relationship which doesn’t carry the emotional weight it should.

6: HP and the Half-Blood Prince: This one was really quite boring: Too many overlong scenes and lots of inessential fluff which is entirely superfluous to the central plot. That plot seems to consist of the need to extract a memory from Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) in order to confirm something that Dumbledore pretty much already knows anyway. So, all in all, I feel like this is a waste of 2 hours 30 mins. Oh yeah and Dumbledore dies!

7: Part 1: To be honest, it’s just a set-up for Part 2. It felt like the quiet before the storm. There was no Hogwarts and very little from any of the adult cast. Perhaps some more Snape would have been welcome. Some positive stuff: Dobby (always good to watch), the nice little animated explanation of the deathly hallows is a highlight and in all fairness, some of the HP, Ron and Hermione character development is well executed. However, this does drag on. The drained colour gives the whole film the necessary feeling of melancholy and this is topped off by Dobby’s death at the end. It wasn’t bad, but it did feel like a set-up.

There are several problems with HP which run throughout the series:

1. Daniel Radcliffe is an intensely annoying screen presence. Much of the films’ believability rests on his ability to convey longing for his family and later, love for his friends (and in general to be able to act differently in different situations – I think they call it acting). However, Radcliffe seems stuck on one mode: awkward defiance. At best his on-screen transition from boy to hero has been stumbling, at worst it has threatened to ruin the series.

2. Dumbledore always reveals lots of things near the end of each book – to tie up loose ends and keep you in suspense throughout the rest of the book. This doesn’t work with the films.

3. Too many directors – there was no overarching vision from the outset about what the films should look like. Consequently, we’ve ended up with a disjointed and uneven series.

I wait in anticipation for the 8th film!