Monthly Archives: July 2014

Harry Potter 3 & 4 Review(s)

I’m lumping together my reviews of the third and fourth Potter films because these two are so similar, despite having different directors.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is clearly where the film series changes course and becomes a series for teens, not children.  The filters, colors, lighting, and overall tone of the film is changed to accommodate this, and its sequel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is about the same way in terms of tone and mood.  As pointed out by Cinema Sins, Goblet of Fire starts with a shot of skulls in order to make the movie seem less child-oriented.  This sadly takes away the childlike wonder that the first two films captured so well, and I think that the tone of the series did not need to change to the degree that it did.  Perhaps it was Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón who decided to make the change, or perhaps it was the producers and the studio, but I do wish Goblet director Mike Newell had tried to bring the spirit of the first two films back.

Alfonso Cuarón is known as a good filmmaker from a technical standpoint, and I can see why since his movies do look cool and have impressive cinematography.  However, I don’t think he was really quite right for making Potter films.  The movie is slow, and it doesn’t get all that interesting until the end, at which point the plot gets so complicated that the movie makes a number of errors in an attempt to express it well (and the aforementioned Cinema Sins video shows this well).  Mike Newell made the series even darker, and made a film that has the most whiny-teenager drama I’ve seen in a Potter film so far.  He brought on board a new score composer to replace John Williams, so a little more of the charm was lost.  It is really rather strange though that I thought they were directed by the same person, until I looked it up, because their styles seemed pretty similar.

Both of the films introduce interesting new characters, such as Professor Lupin – a very likable character that is played perfectly, as is Sirius Black.  Sybill Trelawney and Peter Pettigrew are each annoying in all the ways they should be for the sake of the story.  Alastor Moody is done brilliantly, particularly from a writing standpoint, but also in terms of acting.  Sadly, journalist Rita Skeeter did not get horribly murdered slowly and painfully as I had hoped she would, but in my opinion, she’s worse than Voldemort.  The depression of seeing the performer of Twilight’s Edward as a significant actor in a Potter film is balanced out by the joy of seeing David Tennant in a wonderfully evil role.  However, all of the new characters means that time is taken away from important characters like Hermione, whom I find more interesting as a character than Harry or Ron at this point.  This is probably because I find her more relatable since she seemed to have feelings of inadequacy as a child that she handled by becoming more knowledgeable about magic than everyone else.

Still, I really want to see the rest of the series, so I guess they must have done a lot right after all.

10 Harry Potter 3 & 4

Her Review

Her is one of those movies that I have a very difficult time expressing my feelings about.  An interesting story that is told well, Spike Jonze’s drama brilliantly takes a just-barely-science-fiction concept and brings it to life with interesting visuals/cinematography and a cast of great actors.  The music, as strange as I find it, is not too unpleasant, and matches the story and visuals well.  The characters are very likable and believable, as are the scenarios presented, despite the fact that these events could not take place today.  It can be just a tad slow at times, but at other times it has viewers on the edge of their seats.  It is really a delight, up until the end.

This is clearly a difficult story to end.  From the beginning, it is pretty clear that there is no easy way, if any way, for Samantha to get a physical body, and it is also clear that she is a much, much faster thinker than he, so logically their relationship is bound to get extremely complicated.  This results in an ending that I do not particularly enjoy much.  In fact, I felt kind of disrespected as an audience member by it.  Still, in order for me to feel that way, the characters have to be especially real to me, so I suppose it all goes to prove that one can easily believe in these characters and relate to them, so the movie clearly did that very well.  This film will leave an impact.

09 Her

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review

The second installment of the Harry Potter series is certainly just as good as its predecessor.  It is a bit darker and scarier, and sadly features a little bit less of Hermione.  It is very clear in this film, perhaps more than in the first Potter film, that every single scene in this is important, and every character that has a speaking role has some important function in the plot.  Everything is done carefully and with purpose.  Because the film is very much a mystery story, one’s mind is actively involved in sorting out the characters and the plot, even during the slower part of the movie.  The CGI is far, far better this time around though, which is nice.  As far as the rest of the film goes, what I said about the first Potter film still mostly applies, so I don’t have much more to say about this movie, other than the fact that I now have to see the next one.

08 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Graduate Review

UPDATE 2016-11-25: This is not the final review of this film.  It has been amended with an “Upon Further Consideration” article.  Click here to read the newer review.

Wow.  The 1967 classic The Graduate is quite an interesting film.  It seems to me to be like a play that was adapted to film in the best way possible, even though I know it was actually based on a book, not a play.  While I have not read the book, I can say that the movie’s writing makes the story very interesting, mostly because of the personalities of the characters that experience these events.  While the writing does an excellent job at making Mrs. Robinson devious, Benjamin and Elaine likable, and all of the other main characters interesting, it is the acting that makes these characters so powerful.  After all, any movie that casts Mr. Feeny of Boy Meets World as a father, or just about any role, knows how to pick actors that will be interesting to watch.

The brilliant mix of drama and comedy that ultimately has a somewhat melancholy tone is easy to attribute to just the writing, but one must not forget how huge of a role the directing, cinematography, and music played.  It’s always hard to tell what exactly a director did for a film, but whatever this director did he did right, aside from the fact that the movie could get kind of slow at times.  The music did an amazing job at setting the tone of the film, and Simon and Garfunkel were just the perfect people to do this music.  The cinematography provides viewers with such interesting shots and visuals, symbols and transitions, and much more, which makes the film very artistic and beautiful.  I don’t totally relate to the characters or the story, and the pacing does bother me a little, but overall, this film really, really impressed me.

07 The Graduate

(Moroder’s) Metropolis Review

UPDATE 2017-02-17: This is not the final review of this film.  It has been amended with an “Upon Further Consideration” article.  Click here to read the newer review.

My thoughts about this film are rather difficult to explain.  I feel obligated to call Fritz Lang’s Metropolis genius because it was so historically significant, and it is a very, very good-looking film, especially for its time period.  However, I saw the restoration done in 1984 by music producer Giorgio Moroder, which features an ‘80s pop soundtrack.  Don’t get me wrong, I like ’80s music, and while this isn’t some of the best I’ve heard, it’s not bad, and it fits the film well.  The issue with this is that I know that I did not necessarily see the best restoration of Metropolis that I could have by seeing it this way, and I know that my thoughts of the film were very much effected by the ’80s music score/soundtrack, so I cannot fairly give my thoughts on Lang’s work since I did not see the film the way he intended for it to be seen.  So, the question is, do I critique it as if its Lang’s film, or as Moroder’s adaptation of Lang’s film?  Well, I’ll try for both.

Lang does an amazing job at taking full advantage of what was almost entirely a visual medium at the time by making a film that has its own distinct, gorgeous, and almost believable world, because the sets, props, and paintings used look better than what you get in a sci-fi film today that relies entirely on CGI.  The story of the film was originally written as a book by Lang’s wife, but the two of them worked on the script for the movie together, so Lang was responsible for making the story work as a movie.  Did he do that?  In some ways yes, but just because the film is pretty and has good acting, that does not mean it has the best storytelling, and in this film the storytelling fails a couple of times.  For example, a character is introduced early on in the film and one is led to believe that he will essentially be the sidekick, but shortly after the film gets going, he hardly has anything to do with the plot.  Also, there were times when I had to look up what was happening in the story because I couldn’t follow it, and I wish at certain points there had been better explanations of what I was seeing and why it was happening.  What’s worse is that the movie had times when it would use text to describe a significant event that the audience would want to see, instead of actually showing how the event happened, such as when Maria escaped from the wizard.

Now, I don’t know exactly why Giorgio Moroder wanted to restore this film and add ’80s music, but despite the fact that it doesn’t sound remotely like a movie that could actually sell tickets to the teenagers who listened to the music in the film at the time, it was a cool idea.  As far as his restoration and compilation of the footage goes, it looks good to me, but I haven’t seen any other restoration of Metropolis to which I could compare it.  How good is the music on its own?  Some of it is pretty fun, although I don’t think I desperately need to have this soundtrack.  Does it fit the film well?  Yes and no.  It does a great job of expressing the emotions of the scene, and the instrumental sections of the soundtrack really bring the film to life just perfectly.  However, the lyrics in the songs do not always seem to fit the scene, but this is somewhat understandable because they only had so many songs they could do, so they repeat some songs throughout the film, and that means the lyrics can’t be relevant every time.

Overall, the original film, from what I could tell, was quite an amazing silent film that actually had some pretty good characters considering that they did not rely much on dialogue or physical comedy to make the characters interesting.  Despite the limitations that come with silent films, Lang made a movie that expresses a good story in a cool way, and he made science fiction history, and film history, in doing so.  Moroder managed to alter this classic in a way that felt very fitting, as if this score was what Lang must have intended because it works so well.  Together, Moroder’s music and Lang’s directing succeed in sucking viewers right into the world of Metropolis.

06 Metropolis (Moroder)

Harry Potter Review

I’ve known for some time now that I would eventually have to start watching the Harry Potter films since he’s had such an impact on geek/nerd culture, and culture as a whole.  I never read the books myself, so it is difficult for me to fairly judge a film adaptation since I have no way of comparing it to its source material, I don’t know who to blame for problems with the story, and I don’t know who to praise for what was done well.  Still, I decided to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone.  I’m very glad that I did.

The story, based on a children’s book, makes the film seem really “children’s-booky,” which helps the film have childlike wonder, but keeps the characters from seeming realistic.  The characters are interesting though, and they are generally performed well, with Richard Griffiths’ facial expressions making the first few scenes in the film almost enjoyable despite how annoyed I was that the “good guys” left the very important baby in the hands of abusive idiots and their beloved, despicable son.  It’s not wise to make the audience this sad and angry at the very beginning of the film, but seeing as how Harry didn’t seem to have much of a personality to make him interesting until the second third of the film, I suppose they had to rely on his awful family life and his mysterious powers to make us interested in him.

Now, I get that there’s a lot of stuff that happens in this story, and the story spends a lot of time appropriately building to a fantastic climax with brilliant surprises, but part of adapting a book to a film is making the necessary changes that will make the story work better as a movie.  In this case, it was being adapted to a family film, so an hour and a half would have been the ideal run time, but this film goes for two and a half hours, which is a bit longer than the average child or preteen can wait for the climax.  Aside from that though, the film probably had the feel that J. K. wanted the story to have because just about every shot felt magical thanks to great cinematography and enchanting music.

Special effects and makeup is an area of film-making that I generally am not too focused on, but in this film I couldn’t help but focus on it.  The makeup looks awesome on the creatures that required it, and many of the effects were really good-looking too… as long as they did not use computers.  Whenever a shot had CGI, it looked like a DreamWorks remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The scene in which they played Quidditch looked like a remake Space Jam but with flying brooms and the cast of The Polar Express as the Looney Tunes.

The movie does leave me wondering about many things that it did not explain well, and there’s not much of an excuse for that since the movie had so much time to explain itself (I mean really, two and a half hours is a lot).  However, it succeeded in making me get so attached to the characters and enchanted by this world that I really want to watch the sequels now, so I guess it did its job.  For this reason, and because John Cleese, I think it’s definitely a film worth watching if you haven’t.

05 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Sleeper Review

Sleeper, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s second film together, is very different from the other films of Allen’s that I’ve seen so far.  A tribute to Buster Keaton, Bob Hope, and Benny Hill, the film takes place in the future, and blends elements of science fiction movies with elements of old silent comedy films.  Much of the film focuses on Miles, Woody’s character, trying to adjust to the futuristic world, complete with robot butlers, orbs that are used to get high, an almost Hunger-Games-like government structure, and a computer with the voice of Hal from 2001.  (Which is kind of awesome.)  However, the film is filled with scenes that have no dialogue and feature great physical comedy reminiscent of the work of Buster Keaton and other silent comedians, to the sound of delightful Dixieland jazz music composed by Allen himself.

While having the dialogue come to a halt like that leaving the audience with only physical comedy to keep them interested is a big risk, these scenes are generally used at times when it seems appropriate for such a scene to take place in the story, and they are built up to and spaced out appropriately.  Overall, Allen once again proved that he is really a comical genius.  It still did not impact me on the same level as Play It Again, Sam, and it did not build as intimate of a relationship between Allen;s character and the audience as his other films had, but it was certainly fun to experience.

04 Sleeper