Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Case for Harry Potter and the End of the Magic

I always come out of the end of series like Harry Potter, one that I have followed since the beginning, with a sense of sadness.  It’s the end of things as they were.  The stories may be retold, additions may be added, but any of these will be still different.  Such remakes and re-imaginings may even be superior, but the memory of the original will remain.

So, it comes to the review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  The kids from the first film have now all grown up into… older kids.  While the acting ability of most of them remains dubious, the fact they have been these characters for so long means that, for me, their occasionally unconvincing utterances and failures to emote actually are what the characters themselves would be and would do. 

But this is the final Harry Potter film, and with Part 1 setting the groundwork so that only the big confrontation between Harry and Lord Voldemort really remains to be told, there isn’t really a great need for acting or characterisation.  This one is about fighting.  The final battle.  Who lives, who loves, and who dies.  And, in these regards, the final film does not disappoint.

No whizz bangy effect was spared in this.  I saw it in 3D, which meant there were some really neat scenes that leapt out at me, but most of the time things seemed as two dimensional as the characters and acting – though they were still spectacular nonetheless.  I loved the shield that was thrown up over Hogwarts, the unchained dragon and the revisits to some sets from earlier films.  The only real cringes came from (sorry) the kidult actors, with Neville’s rousing speech affecting my stomach more than my heart and Harry’s final revelations all being dealt with in an almost emotionless manner, with no sense of surprise, range, joy, relief or… anything. 

The mature actors do add an air of respectability in the thesping stakes, but they aren’t really given a lot of chance to up the acting factor this time around.  I was thrilled when Maggie Smith’s McGonnogal took charge, though she then faded after a very small (almost sub-molecular) joke.  Meanwhile, Gambon and Rickman go through the motions and let everyone in on the plot before it is back to magic blasts and exploding polystyrene. 

And as an episode of “Splode!”, this Harry Potter film is brilliant.  People get their just desserts; others die tragically.  The hallowed halls of Hogwarts are blown apart and scattered around, though I really wished someone would coordinate the running of the students so they all went in ONE direction, ideally to somewhere fairly safe – evidently, the school’s staff did not really find it necessary to teach children that running up into tall towers in the middle of a bombardment is not really the best survival tactic.  And the ending is as clunky as the one in the books, so book purists will not be disappointed in that respect.

All up though, it is a visual rather than emotional experience.  While I personally am sad to see the end of the series, I can’t say that it was the film that brought about this nostalgia.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’s strengths and failings are keeping in line with the rest of the series, I suppose.  So this film cannot be described as a disappointment, just as I fear I can’t describe it as a triumph.  I can however describe it as an ending.  Good bye, Harry – thanks for the ride.

Verdict: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a visually spectacular film, and happy to be so, having dealt with the need for real story and character development in the previous instalment.  I was not convinced it was that much better in 3D, but I must say that this is a film that deserves a big screen viewing.  5.1 out of 7.2.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Case for Morning Grumpiness

1) I realise how much of a Teletubbie I look like in my onesie (a tragic tale that may end with Facebook photos...)

2) That some "expert" opinion, especially by seemingly smug people, can be completely wrong (the full tragic story is here):

3) That there are some links between Rugby World Cup issues that, to me, seem pretty obvious:

Verdict: Not the best start to the day, but it should get a little better when I get dressed.  Plus What Now seems to be doing a retrospective today, which may be amusing.  5 glimmers out of 10.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Case for DCM 2011

The final book fair of the Wellington season came early this year.

It also came with the usual trimmings: a bit of rain, a milling herd of rabid Wellington book fiends, a man with a microphone calling out directions and telling people to switch their cell phones on (honestly), and then, once through the long lines, it was time for a hot drink and a catch up with other hardy souls that had braved and survived the experience.

As per usual though, a few photos of the event.

Verdict: I actually ended up getting quite a few books at the Downtown Community Ministry book fair this year.  Sure, it was at times a bit too overwhelming, and Microphone Man was expected but never really that welcome.  Still, I have enough books to last me until the book fair season starts up in 2012, and that's the most important thing.  6.5 bags of books out of 10.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Case for Salvation on the Small Screen

After 10 years, guilty pleasure Smallville has come to an end.

Why was it a guilty pleasure?  Because it was actually pretty terrible.  Season 10 in particular decided to go all “inspired by” and produced episodes that were pretty much rip offs of the Matrix, 300 and the Hangover.  No superhero or tweenage drama cliché was left unturned.  But still, I was addicted.

Why?  Well, that’s a good question.  I was always a huge fan of Chloe, played by Allison Mack, with her perky charm and unrequited love for Clark Kent (Tom Welling), and Michael Rosenbaum (as Lex Luthor) managed to match Michael (General Lane) Ironside’s ability to chew scenery – pity the two never met and had a chew-off, though in comic book logic, if two such powerful characters showed up together, the cosmos could have come to an end.  The series also had a general good charm and sense of fun, plus it played with the DC superhero Universe with which I have a bit of familiarity, and that got me through the first few seasons.  Then Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) showed up, with their contracts stating that Durance had to appear in at least one bondage or skimpy outfit per season, while Hartley had to appear shirtless in at least one scene per episode, and the show took on a whole new level of campy insanity.

One thing Smallville got very right was casting and guest stars.  From the start, Terrance Stamp (who played General Zod in Superman II) was brought in as Kal El’s dad and Annette O’Toole, who played Lana Lang in the movies, came in as Martha Kent.  Of course, good old boy John Schneider was also on as Jonathan Kent, and the incredible John Glover brought in a mad sense of menace as Lionel Luthor, but there were other castings that harkened back to Super-series of earlier years.  As the series progressed, Christopher Reeve showed up as alien-admiring Dr Swan, upon the actor’s death Margot Kidder made an appearance as Dr Swan’s assistant, and even Teri Hatcher took a break from the Housewives to make a cameo as Lois Lane’s mother (and if you don’t know who they played in the movies and in Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, well, shame on you).

And yes, through it all, it was fairly bad.  Still, it didn’t mind mocking itself and, if you could hang around long enough, it had a pretty good sense of humour.  Plus the nods to the rest of the DC Universe were pretty cool (Booster Gold…), especially for a bit of a fan like me, even if the final wrap up episode kind of just… ended.

Nonetheless, I will miss this indulgence.  I could dwell on the fact that a show like this survived 10 seasons when far superior fare like Firefly was brutally cut down with barely a season under its belt, but then that would just depress me.  More.

Fare thee well Smallville.  Superman, I will see you in the funny papers.

Verdict:  I can’t rate it terribly highly as it was pretty terrible.  But I loved (in a "I know its bad for me addiction" kind of way) Smallville nonetheless, and my Saturday night catch ups from the late night screening the night before will be missed.  6 seasons out of 10, for sentimental reasons.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Case for More Kung Fu

I remember a few years ago going to the first Kung Fu Panda movie and being presently surprised by its awesomeness.  So it was without hesitation though a little bit of trepidation that I sorted myself out to see the sequel.

My fears were misplaced.  But then, how could any movie of this ilk go wrong when it enlists the vocal aid of martial arts legends like Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Jean Claude van Damme?

Holding it all together and bringing it all to life is Jack Black as the main panda.  He has some wonderful support from the other characters, but really, without him, the film would be pretty hard to imagine.  He’s zany and lovable, enthusiastic and unstoppable – a much more amusing and less irritating Shrek in a way.

The story for the sequel is not the usual “loses way; finds way” kind – this one starts a completely new adventure, with China and Kung Fu itself under threat by an evil peacock and his cannon of doom.  More typical of a sequel, Po (the Panda) learns a bit about his origins and about himself, and there are some definite moments in which I found myself getting a bit teary-eyed, but then, I can be a sucker for that kind of thing.  From time to time.

The animation is great too.  Sure it is not a Pixar production, so I wasn’t left in awe about the movement of each follicle of fur, but it is so smooth and clean and juxtaposed by the “imaginary” cartoon animation that it engrossed me nonetheless.  Of course, some of that animation looked like it would be lifted directly from the film and tied in to the inevitable video games based on the movie, but then, it was an inevitability that some of the chase scenes would feel like they were created specifically for that gaming purpose considering (the cynic in me says) that they probably were.

No matter.  There is very little to complain about in the movie.  I would not necessarily recommend bringing a baby into the theatre (as a few people did in our session, the wailing cries of the kids giving away their positions), but the adults chuckled along with the movie – myself included.  And the final scene indicated another sequel might be in the works.  If so, I can only hope that it is as good as this effort.  Touch wood.

Verdict: Kung Fu Panda 2 brought all the Dragon Warrior powers to bear and delivered a pretty convincing fight to win the “good movie” title on points.  Its not Toy Story, but then few live action films can live up to that high standard of film making, much less kiddie-aimed animation fare.  But what Kung Fu Panda is is an awesome movie, with lots of fun and action and in jokes, and definitely rocked my animated boat (unlike some of the kiddie movie previews we got before the main feature, which made me more inclined to throw myself from that boat and drown myself.  But I digress).  8 noodles out of 10.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Case for Third Generation Transformers

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the story of a guy defending his world and his girlfriend (or should that be the other way around) from a horde of evil mechanical aliens that want to enslave humanity.  And already, there is a problem.

Because of course, Transformers movies, for me at least, should be about, well, the Transformers.  And Transformers: Dark of the Moon starts off that way with an impressive spaceship chase around Cybertron that I am sure would have looked even more spectacular in 3D.  And then the story turns into a re-inventing of the moon race as a trip to really get human hands on some alien technology.  And then it turns to Sam and his girlfriend.  And his job woes.  And his parents.  And the movie's pace turns glacial.

Apparently, Michael Bay wanted this to be a human story rather than a machine story, but the problem with that is that 3D glasses can't make the human characters three dimensional, whereas they can turn special effects into something magical.  For example, while no cliché character is left unturned, Bay has found new ways to visually amaze.  Not only were the action sequences so impressively nonsensical that they would be offensive were this a film that was actually designed to follow some kind of logic (here they can just be enjoyed for the escapist rubbish that they are), but I could also imagine the tenderly filmed arse (and other bodily attributes) of perma-tanned Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in her incredibly short, tight and white outfits might have earned an "R" rating for the 3D version.

The human hero of the film, Sam (Shia LaBeouf), is a tanned man permanently misunderstood, underestimated, a complete klutz, and attracts only the most magnificent specimens of womanhood, even if his only way of expressing himself is through near-hysterical shouting.  All the time.  Speaking of tans though, every (human) character in this film seems to have had the need for several sunbed sessions written into their contract.  John Malkovich tops his own outrageous performance and skin colour with disturbingly white gnashers. 

Of course, for me, the real heroes are supposed to be the Autobots.  They are shown making the world safer by attacking "illegal" Middle East nuclear development sites (the definition of what constitutes "illegal" in this context is left purposefully murky) while keeping an eye out for the evil Decepticons, though they don't really do a terribly good job of the latter.  But then, only Optimus Prime is given anything resembling a character, so when he is not around, the other Autobots just tend to talk sassily to each other and come across as really annoying.

The great Leonard Nimoy takes on the role of Sentinel Prime, and there are a couple of Star Trek references along the way that show that the filmmakers were thrilled to have him on board.  Sentinal Prime is the creator of a transportation device called a Space Bridge which, on reflection and when used, makes no sense whatsoever, though it does create very pretty light effects.  In fact, all the special effects are pretty special, though there is a good whack of (apparently) real stunt work to counter all the digital magic.

But, as much as it looks amazing, after the first fifteen minutes or so, I found myself regularly checking my watch.  The film runs at 2.5 hours, but it feels at least twice that long, with many meaningless slow motion shots and a fairly random visit to a Russian gambling house.  And I never really understood how secret the existence of the Autobots was.  But then, I didn't understand the criminal underuse of Alan Tudyk either.

Verdict:  Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitely not more than meets the eye, but what meets the eye is big, explosive and impressive.  What meets the brain will really depend on the type of person you are, and for me, the overwhelming impression was one being in the back seat of a slow moving autobot and every few minutes and asking "are we there yet?".  6 energon cubes out of 10.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Case for Lips 2011

Once again, I attended one of the Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings at the Embassy Cinema in Wellington.  

This year, I took along a newbie to the cinema experience scene, so we went to the Saturday screening in civilian attire.  It is perhaps one of the few times in Wellington that I felt conspicuous in jeans and a shirt, though at least this year I did not earn the disdain of the lead usherette.

Even with the event running 30 minutes behind schedule, it was another case of staying (relatively) sane inside of sanity, with the packed movie hall shuddering as everyone took a jump to the left.  The audience was respectful of the screen by throwing all the rice, paper and toast everywhere else, and it was an amazingly  friendly and fun atmosphere.  Some of the judging decisions around the costume prize was questionable, but, as they say at the rugby, the movie was the winner on the night - and hopefully the cleaners got a bit of a bonus too:

Verdict: Another awesome screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I am already looking forward to going in 2012.  I was thrilled, chilled and fulfilled.  4.5 creatures of the night out of 5 (subtracting 0.5 for my own lack of costume).