Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2

I’m a strange breed of muggle. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter films, most in the cinema. I’ve read all the books. Hell, I own them. Double hell, I was first in line queueing up outside Morrison’s on the morning book 7 was released. But I wouldn’t call myself a Harry Potter fan. So why have I kept with it? I read the first book in school, and found the wizarding world to be quite wonderful, a dream of a place to escape to. Granted, by the time the much darker later books came along I became much happier that this world of dictatorial terrorists with almighty magical powers didn’t actually exist (or so I’m led to believe) but back then it was nothing short of fun, and the fact that I was of a similar age to the protagonist when the books were released made it all the more so.
The books were perfect for film adaptations, and the stylistic choices throughout the series have been close to faultless. Most of the negative aspects, other than the questionable acting abilities of the children early on in the franchise, can be blamed on the books being too labyrinthine to be condensed down into a 150-minute movie, and there are arguments to make as to whether each book would have been better off as a TV series, but it’s doubtful they’d have received such a hefty budget or impressive cast, or made nearly as much money.
Of the films, part 3, Prisoner of Azkaban, is widely regarded as the best, with director Alfonso Cuaron unleashing the franchise’s dark potential, redirecting away from Chris Columbus’ more child-friendly first parts, but personally I prefer part 4, Goblet of Fire, because it’s easily the most fun and structured, following the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and it has dragons in it, which are awesome. Parts 5 and 6 are, in my opinion, the weakest, with my reasoning being that I can barely remember anything that happens in them other than some character deaths and casting decisions, but the final films really kick things into gear.
Many have questioned the decision to split the final book into two halves, citing financial gain as being the true reason, but having seen the results I approve of the choice. Whilst the earlier books could stand to lose some of the lesser plot points without the plot suffering, the amount of closure given in the finale could not have been achieved with a similar level of editing. Whilst the total runtime for the final two films could have been a little shorter than the 4½ hours achieved here, getting it down to a length the core Potter audience would be willing to sit through without complaining would have resulted in almost catastrophic levels of cutting.
The most impressive aspect of the film franchise has always been the cast. Whilst the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, were never expected to be incredible actors (and, for the most part, lived up to this promise) the film studios ensured this wouldn’t be a problem by surrounding their stars with almost every British actor working today, with more added every film. To list them all would be senseless, but the fact that, Richard Harris’ untimely demise notwithstanding, every actor returned to their roles for every subsequent film shows that the films must have been great to work on too.The Deathly Hallows alone saw the inclusion of Bill Nighy, David O’Hara, Rhys Ifans, Ciarin Hinds and Nick Moran into a cast already including the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith, and the fact that so many notable actors returned for such minuscule roles is incredible. Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Emma Thompson are barely on screen, but the fact is they are.
Part 7 is the only one of all eight films not to feature Hogwarts, the wizarding school where our young heroes are taught, and therefore doesn’t feel like part of the Potter pantheon. Freed from the structure of lessons, Quidditch matches and Harry being picked on by Slytherin, the film feels a little meandering, as Harry, Ron and Hermione scour the country looking for a series of magical Maguffins, horcruxes, that for one reason or another must be destroyed to help bring down the evil Lord Voldemort. The film opens strongly, with Harry’s escape from his home assisted by his wizarding friends transformed to be replicas of him, but it’s not until a later infiltration of the Ministry of Magic that any more excitement is had. There’s an awful lot of tension and relationship issues, exacerbated by a locket that builds negative feelings in whoever wears it (so… put it in a bag rather than wear it?) and a particularly cringeworthy scene wear Harry attempts to alleviate some tension by dancing with Hermione in a tent, but it feels empty without the action-balance provided by the second film. The brief animation, depicting the origins of the Deathly Hallows that grant the owner power over death, is easily the highlight of the series in total.
If watched as one long film, the two halves join together to form a perfectly balanced picture, with the final hour-long battle a rewarding epic culmination after a mammoth build-up, so if watching make sure to set aside the best part of an afternoon, however just watching part 8 alone is also acceptable. The infiltration of Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringott’s vault, with Helena Bonham Carter gleefully impersonating Emma Watson, is tremendous fun (there’s another dragon!) and now they’ve got all the teenage angst and worrying out of the way it’s time for good and evil to get scrapping. The finale is equal parts devastating and spellbinding, as the regular cast is treated with a sporadic survival rate, literally anyone is up for the chop, up to and including Hogwarts itself, as various sets we’ve grown to feel at home in are burned to the ground. Some aspects of the battle feel crowbarred in – Mrs. Weasley’s showdown against Lestrange, Ron and Hermione’s inevitable kiss – but for the most part it’s a cinematic marvel that doesn’t disappoint.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Choose life: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 : Choose film 7/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2: Choose film 8/10

The Big Lebowski

I’ve made the point before that the list contains films of three varieties; great, popular and important. The greats arrive via the Empire 5-star 500 list, the popular from the two lists voted by the general public, and the important ones are provided by the 1001 Films to See Before You Die. Many films, though arguably important, aren’t actually very good, so one could argue that they should be remembered and acknowledged for their gifts to cinema, but not necessarily watched, as was the case with the Jazz Singer, marking the introduction of spoken dialogue to the big screen, which nowadays is dull, racist and features too many unnecessary songs. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is also an important film, spawning a cult following so vast there is a fan club (the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers), several books and an annual festival (creatively named Lebowski-Fest, I hope to attend one day). And yet, it does not appear among the important list, appearing here after being awarded a 5-star review and obtaining positions on both nominated lists. This is less a crime and more a cultural injustice, as the impact this film has had on society is measurable from space. Hell, they even played clips of it recently on Something for the Weekend.

So just what is it that resonates so much with the public? Maybe it’s the snappy, endlessly quotable dialogue (“Obviously you’re not a golfer), particularly everything said in the bowling alley. Or perhaps it’s the borderline caricature roster of characters on display, from John Turtorro’s lilac-hued pederast Jesus (whom nobody fucks with) to Julianne Moore’s naked yet cultured Pollock-esque artist Maud and of course John Goodman’s psychotic ‘Nam vet Walter. It’s probably got something to do with the extremely crowded plot that bears little effect upon the characters it happens to. But mainly, it has to be Jeff Bridges turn as The Dude, a man shambling and smoking his way through life, following the flow it leads him on via nihilists, urinating Chinamen, porn moguls and private detectives. That, and it’s the first great film to feature a pot-smoking lead since Cheech and Chong, and one must conclude that many of those attending Lebowski-Fest, drinking white Russians in their dressing gowns and sunglasses have similar feeling towards the weed as his Dudeness.


Me? I love it because it’s a quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It features everything you need to make a great film – a twisting plot, stellar cast (I haven’t even mentioned Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot, David Thewlis, Aimee Mann or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea), terrific performances all round and a cracking soundtrack. The film introduced me to my cocktail of choice – Vodka, Kahlua and milk, easy on the Kahlua and heavy on the ice – and every time I watch it I either see something new or am reminded of a moment of pure gold I’d previously forgotten.
Choose film 9/10

War Horse

Went to see War Horse last night, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting that much, a kind of Au Hasard Balthazar combined with a WWI Band of Brothers, following the exploits of a boy and his horse as they navigate the major events of the first world war trying to find one another. But what I found was an uplifting, beautifully shot old fashioned film that was far more entertaining than I could have hoped.
Though at times the plot gave way for nosebags of sentimentality (this is a Spielberg film, after all), and few of the characters are onscreen enough to leave a resounding impression, though their parts of the story are some of the most touching (hello, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell and Eddie Marsan) every second of footage used is shot so perfectly, by Spielberg’s regular director of photography Janusz Kamisnki, who will surely receive an Oscar nod, if not a statue. The most beautiful moments are those in a far from beautiful setting, with Joey, the horse, jumping over and through trenches on No Man’s Land, only to be ensnared in barbed wire, or a sunset-backlit ride up a distant hill, and the sheer scale of some scenes, with hundreds of extras running from trenches or preparing for war. John Williams’ sweeping score is good but forgettable, and this is hardly one of Spielberg’s best (it isn’t quite the Saving Private Equine I was hoping for), with perhaps not quite enough time focussed on those fighting the war (it’s a good 45 minutes or so before the horse and boy, played by OK newcomer Jeremy Irvine, are separated), this is still a very entertaining watch. I think it’s better if you don’t really care about horses, as I enjoyed it immensely, but my horse-obsessed girlfriend spent at least a quarter of the two and a half hour run time watching through her fingers, so desperate was she not to see anything bad happen to a horse. It’s also remarkable that they made a film whose central character is a horse, yet at no point did I think it would be better if the horse could talk, or had an internal dialogue, even when he makes friends with another horse.
Choose film 7/10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Seriously? Potter? On the list? We live in a world where a Harry Potter film is voted onto a top 500 list and Hitchcock’s masterful Dial M For Murder isn’t? This is considered more essential viewing than Eastwood’s Mystic River? Doug Jones’ Moon? Adaptation? Motorcycle Diaries? Planes, Trains and Automobiles? No? Anybody? Fine.
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