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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2D) (2011) July 20, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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At last, 10 years after the first film and 4 years after the book series ended, the Harry Potter film franchise is no more.  As expected, there was a ridiculous amount of anticipation for the eighth and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (let’s call it DH2), and though I consider myself only a moderate fan of the series (both book and film), even I was very excited at the prospect of watching the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort on the big screen.

It’s not often that a franchise lasts for this many number of films and manages to maintain a certain level of excellence all the way through.  So is this final film the best of the lot?  Kind of.  Not really.  Yes and no.

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to review this film is because it’s impossible to view DH2 as a standalone film.  You can’t even really lump it with DH1, which I thought was nothing more than a pretty set-up for the grand finale.

In terms of excitement, DH2 is undoubtedly the best of the series.  After a small but slow build up at the beginning, the remainder of the film races at you at full blast.  It’s everything you could have expected from a finale that has been gradually building up for 10 years.  The extended siege on Hogwarts rivals some of the biggest fantasy epics in cinematic history (some may disagree but I think that includes Lord of the Rings).  It’s thrilling, visually stunning and wonderfully executed (thanks to director David Yates) and acted (especially Alan Rickman as Snape, who really held this franchise together for all these years).  Heck, even the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson put on quality performances (a far cry from their debuts).

Accordingly, in a way, I guess you could say that splitting the final book into two films was justified (apart from financially), because despite the 130 minute running time, DH2 was never boring (unlike DH1).

On the other hand, DH2 wasn’t a complete story, and as such, must be viewed in light of everything that came before it.  If you haven’t read the books, seen DH1 or even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you can forget about it.  I’ve read all the books and seen all the previous films but even I struggled at times to remember/piece together what was going on.  Characters came and went without introduction and the majority of the secondary characters were reduced to fleeting cameos.

Of course, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone because of the marvellous action and special effects — despite some frightening scenes for the kiddies — but I believe to appreciate everything and feel the full emotional impact of the finale you have to be a ‘true’ fan (ie, one of those hardcore nutters that dressed up and camped outside the cinema).  Hence for me, a mid-tier fan, DH2 couldn’t have been more than just a ‘very good time’ that was fun to experience but lacked a deeper connection.

This is why I still think the franchise would have been better served had DH1 and DH2 been combined into one kick-ass 3-hour+ epic that got rid of all the fluffy ‘time fillers’ so we could enjoy the full story of the Deathly Hallows in one sitting (I know some places screened the two films back-to-back, but the combined running time of 4 hours and 36 minutes is waaaay too long).

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed DH2.  Despite its shortcomings — some unavoidable and others not — this was a fitting conclusion to a magical, consistently high standard film franchise.

4 stars out of 5

PS: My favourite book and film of the series is still the third one, The Prizoner of Azkaban.

PPS: I intentionally watched this one in 2D, and I’m glad I did.  I’m at the point where I am starting to wonder whether I should even consider watching a 3D movie ever again.  Dark, uncomfortable, and most of the time 3D adds nothing positive to my film experience.  I don’t get the fuss.  And judging from this article, looks like I’m not the only one.  That said, I am surprised by the number of people supporting 3D in the comments section.

PPPS: A bit of a spoiler, so read on only if you’ve seen the film or read the book.  Remember how the book had this controversial ‘epilogue’?  Well the film includes it, and as expected, it also sucked.  One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

Movie Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) March 5, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an all-time classic.  Animated garden gnomes are deliciously cute.  Elton John’s music is sensational.  James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are both likable Brits.  But the culmination of all of these things, Gnomeo & Juliet, is one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.  And it’s in pointless 3D.

I had reasonable expectations for this one for the above reasons, and the fact that the promotional campaign made it look like a fun, funny, musical spectacular with an all-star voice cast (including, apart from McAvoy and Blunt, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan!).

But somehow, Gnomeo & Juliet turned out to be painfully unfunny and entirely uninspiring.  How could this be possible?  The garden gnome jokes were essentially exhausted in the first few minutes, and the rest of it was repetitive and unclever.  Yes, the garden gnomes were cute, but that alone wasn’t enough to carry the film.  I actually had a couple of micro naps during the film, which has not happened since Van Helsing.

Worse still, Elton John’s music was criminally underused.  How they managed to screw up something with so much potential is beyond me.

The worse part is probably the lack of heart.  I wasn’t moved at all by the story or the characters.  Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks are light years ahead when it comes to creating a cartoon that connects with audiences.

And yes, once again the 3D served no purpose other than to rip people off.

1.5 stars out of 5

Stop this 3D madness! December 13, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Technology.
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I’m so sick of watching a promising trailer for a new film, only to see in big letters at the very end, “Coming to you…in 3D”!!!

Here I go again.  I have been consistently vocal in my objection towards this current tidal wave of 3D films hitting our cinemas.  Sure, there are some movies that provide an enhanced experience in 3D — for example Avatar, or dare I even say Resident Evil: Afterlife, but ther vast majority of 3D films out there charge a hefty premium and give you a shitty time with the uncomfortable and darkening glasses and pointless 3D effects.

Worst of all, 3D films aren’t discounted at all, even on cheapo days, and even those that use movie money have to pay a few dollars extra.  For instance, if you go watch a 2D movie on cheapo Tuesday (in Australia), you can catch a film for around $10 (or less if you use movie money on any day of the week).  But if you watch the same movie in 3D, you can fork out up to $24 for an adult ($17.50 + $3.50 for 3D + $1 for Vmax + $1 for internet booking) and $19.50 for a child.  Enough said.

I thought after films like Clash of the Titans (where the 3D actually made the film worse) , the backlash against 3D will make studio execs think twice before making their latest release in 3D, but it hasn’t appeared to slow the trend at all.  According to this article from the Economist, 3D is relatively inexpensive, adding only a 10-15% to the cost of production, with a huge upside and low risk of piracy.  No wonder they’re even trying to re-release a bunch of old films in 3D to cash in.

Much of the blame of course rests with moviegoers that continue to go to 3D movies.  These days I choose 2D whenever the option is available, but I admit there have been times when I have wondered: will the 3D finally be good this time?  Needless to say, it never is.  I’m a frequent visitor to the cinema, but with a lot of people or families who only go a handful of times a year, 3D can seem like a real treat, especially if you haven’t experienced it before.  So I guess as long as people keep paying up to 240% the price of what they ought to be paying, the 3D rush will continue.

It was interesting, though, to see this New York Times article that discussed the backlash against 3D films in Hollywood.  Perhaps it is filmmakers who will take the charge to stop this 3D madness.

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife (3D) (2010) October 19, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, but I must confess that only two posts after I savaged 3D movies (again!), I found Resident Evil: Afterlife (3D) (let’s just call it RE4), rather enjoyable.

Now, it may be because I’ve been a huge fan of the series since it was still a video game.  It may be because I love zombies and mutant monsters.  After all, I’ve watched and liked (to varying degrees) all of the RE films, even though I know it’s not entirely logical.  I don’t pretend the movies are good.  I just like them.

With that in mind, I rate RE4 as one of the better films of the series.  It’s exciting, explosive, slick and outrageous.  And Milla Jovovich certainly gives Angelina Jolie a run for the coolest ass-kicking heroine on the big screen.  Sure, it takes itself a little too seriously, but not all zombie films need to be horror flicks.

RE4 takes place almost immediately after the previous film, not that I can really remember.  Jovovich returns as Alice, the only human who has successfully absorbed the T-virus.  Ali Larter also returns as Claire Redfield, even though she is a much weaker supporting character than I would have liked.  I really liked the casting of Shawn Roberts as super villain Albert Wesker, who does a great job of reminding fans of the character from the video game.

However, the biggest stroke of genius is casting Wentworth Miller as Chris Redfield, the original protagonist from the first game!  Not that it was a particularly terrific performance or character, but those who know Miller from the TV series that made him famous (and I don’t mean Dinotopia!)  will chuckle at Chris’s predicament and what he has to do in this film.

Truth be told, the plot is virtually non-existent.  There’s nothing particularly original about any part of the film.  But darn it, RE4 is fun and thrilling to watch.  There’s an abundance of super slo-mo fight scenes, explosions and crazy moves, all for the purpose of making the characters look cool.  And they are!

Kudos to the writers who managed to implement some of the other characters from the video games, such as the Las Plagas face-opening zombies, the giant, axe-wielding monster, and those lovable dobermans.  The fight scene with the axe dude is the highlight of the film, easily edging the somewhat anti-climatic final duel with super Wesker.

As for the 3D?  Well, considering how much I dislike 3D films in general, this was one of the better ones.  I’d say the 3D had a ‘neutral’ effect.  There were some scenes that brought out the positives of 3D — the exploding walls, the lethal propellers and the flying weapons — but these only made up a very small part of the film.  For the rest of the very suitable 97-minute running time, we’re left to tolerate the darkening, uncomfortable 3D glasses through the “boring” parts of the film.

Ultimately, RE4 is not a great or memorable film by any stretch of the imagination.  But if you’re looking for a bit of brainless fun and excitement that isn’t completely ruined by ill-advised 3D technology, then I recommend giving it a go.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (3D) (2010) April 4, 2010

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Big action blockbuster and Greek mythology — two of my favourite things.  Put them together, throw in a bit of 3D, and you get Clash of the Titans, the new remake of the 1981 classic.

The story is very loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus, played by Sam Worthington (Avatar), and has numerous and significant differences from the original film.

There’s not much point in giving away the plot, other than to say that the film takes place in a world where humans have full knowledge of the Gods’ existence, and that bizarre creatures and mythical monsters live among them.  And in this world, Perseus, a demigod (ie half-man, half-god), is fated to go up against the Gods and save humanity.

If that sounds silly and cliched, that’s because it is.  Directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk), there is no serious attempt to make Clash of the Titans even a remotely believable film.  It feels like the makers decided that this was an impossible task, and instead went down the full-blown, technology-driven action route.

The result is a pretty exciting experience, albeit one you cannot really feel fully engaged in because of the campness, the laughable dialogue, and the lack of character development.  To be fair, they did try to inject a bit more like into the central characters, but the effect was so poor that it became humorous, and only wasted valuable time that could have been spent on more action.  Speaking of action, I would have liked to have seen less quick cuts and more wide shots, but for the most part it passed the grade.

The special effects were great, but not exceptional by today’s high standards, and the 3D added a little extra, but to be honest not a whole lot more.  I don’t think I would have regretted it had I watched it in plain old 2D.

Sam Worthington, Hollywood’s next big thing, seemed like he had plenty of fun.  There are no pretensions in his performance because he knows it’s all about the action.  He still lacks the “superstar aura” that Russell Crowe has, but maybe he’ll get there some day.  It was great to see Liam Neeson playing Zeus, and especially Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes, playing the King of the Underworld, Hades.  Both inject star power without diverting attention away from the rest of the cast.  They even got Pete Postlethwaite to play Spyros, Perseus’ adopted father!  My only complaint was probably Gemma Aterton’s Io, who was just plain weird.

So Clash of the Titans is unlikely to be remembered as a classic.  There are plenty of things wrong with it.  It’s silly and cheesy and lacks heart.  But for those who like Greek mythology, monsters, sword-wielding action, and don’t need things to be taken too seriously, Clash of the Titans is a fun, exciting popcorn movie for the majority of its 118-minute running time.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: watching Clash of the Titans gave me a new appreciation for films like The Lord of the Rings, films that actually have heart and make you believe in their world while not compromising the thrilling action.]

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