Fight Club

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

At the end of the 20th Century, men have lost there sense of place in the world. With no real sociological problems to concern them, the American working class males wander through life in a daze, controlled by their jobs and their society-spawned desire for the perfect magazine lifestyle. One such man (Edward Norton) finds solace from his insomnia in support groups for people with terminal illnesses, with this contrast to his own lack of problems finally allowing him to sleep at night. However, his world is rocked by the existence of Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow group-attending faker, and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a rather bizarre fellow with a penchant for soap, explosives, splicing pornography into family films and, of course, beating the crap out of other consenting men.
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Les Miserables

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has worked his last day of nineteen years of slavery, all for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, and subsequently  trying to escape. Upon his release he is informed by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) that he will be on parole for the rest of his life, so Valjean flees and tries to make a life for himself anew. Some years later, Valjean has become a successful businessman, but Javert remains on his tail, which distracts Valjean at a key moment, which in turn dramatically affects the future of one of Valjean’s employees, Fantaine (Anne Hathaway), and her young daughter Cosette. Some years later, and on the eve of the French Revolution, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) becomes the object of affections of Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young but prominent revolutionary, who is himself adored by Eponine (Samantha Barks).

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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

Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

I’ve mentioned before in the review for Chicken Run that British animation company Aardman do enjoy filling their films with parodies, puns and homages, with this picture proving no exception. From faithful pooch Gromit having a degree from Dogwarts university, power tools made by Botch and scenes stolen from the likes of King Kong and An American Werewolf in London, the gags come thick and fast, unashamedly crowbarring in references to other rabbit-related movies (a shop called Harvey’s, Bright Eyes playing on the radio).
However, endless jokes are not enough, as the predictable (if enjoyably surreal) story of a man (Wallace, voiced as ever by the dependable Peter Sallis) and a rabbit swapping physicalities and personality traits after a bout of brainwashing goes wrong leaves too many loose ends and plays plot points signposted in neon letters as twists and shock reveals. A game British cast (Helena Bonham Carter as vegetable mimicking Lady Tottington, Ralph Fiennes as the blunderbuss wielding diminutive Victor) are solid, but not quite enough to warrant repeat viewings.
Choose life 5/10

A Room with a View

Featuring an unexpected amount of penises for a period film (or any other for that matter), this tells the story of Helena Bonham Carter’s upper class Lucy Honeychurch, who finds herself having to choose between two suitors; her betrothed, oily, irritatingly snobbish Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis, over enunciating to grating effect) and Julian Sands’ playful, liberated yet of a lower social standing George. Obviously Lucy will choose the less pretentious and by all means friendlier George, overcoming the general repression of the times (a break-up is ended with a simple handshake), but the supporting cast makes this a worthwhile watch, from Maggie Smith’s unobtrusive Aunt Charlotte, Dame Judi Dench’s romance novelist, Simon Callow as the local vicar (and owner of one of the aforementioned phalluses) and Denholm Elliot as George’s forward thinking father. With so much talent surrounding them, it’s no wonder Bonham Carter and Sands struggle to shine, proving themselves to be merely audience ciphers.

Choose film 6/10

Sweeney Todd

Who could resist a film featuring Alan Rickman singing about marrying his adopted daughter! Me, it turns out. Many have criticised the picture for being too gory, although its hard to see how Tim Burton could have avoided the flood of viscera required to depict the story of Sweeney Todd, a barber who murders his clientele by slitting their throats in a specially designed barber’s chair (That I must say did appeal to the mechanical engineer in me), only for their innards to be baked into pies served in the shop below the barber’s. So, instead of toning down the gore, Burton embraces it, commencing the show following a trickle of blood, luminous red against an almost monochrome London, as it drips, seeps and oozes through cracks, down gutters and into the sewers. It is clear from this opening that those of a weaker disposition should stick to a more family-friendly film, such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
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The King’s Speech/12 Angry Men

I’m still working on the full list, its quite long so may take a while to sort through any duplications, but suffice to say I’m thinking I’ve bitten off slightly more than I can chew, as I haven’t heard of many of the 1001 Films to See Before You Die, let alone seen.

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