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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I) (2010) November 24, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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I am what you might call a bandwagon Harry Potter fan.

I have never been into the series as much as the fanatics, but I have followed the hype and read all the books (I think starting from when Goblet of Fire came out) and watched all of the movies.  I thought they were all pretty good, more enjoyable than your average book or film, but nothing I would put in my ‘all-time’ lists.

Nevertheless, I found myself excited to see the first part of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (let’s just call it HP7), directed by David Yates (who also did HP5 and HP6) and with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (who has adapted all seven books).

So far, reviews have been rather mixed.  For Potter fanatics, the first half of this final film is everything they could have hoped for and more, not only because the film is beautifully shot but also because it is more faithful to the source material due to the extra running time.  For non-fans, HP7 probably comes across as a boring (because of the extra running time), confusing (because it assumes knowledge of all previous films/books) money grab (well, because it is).

For me, a relatively minor fan of the series, HP7 leans more towards the former than the latter, even though all the negatives mentioned above are present.  Much like HP6, the film is incredibly dark and bleak (visually, stylistically and in terms of plot), but probably even moreso because Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is finally back and is out to destroy his nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and all those who stand in his way, including Harry’s best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson).  With only half of the book and 146 minutes to play with, Yates has created a finely paced film that is more in-depth than the previous efforts.  There is more time for character development (particularly the relationship triangle between Harry, Ron and Hermoine), and thankfully, the once-were-babies actors have developed into fairly decent thespians.  Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all put in their best performances of the series.

The action sequences are also as good as anything we’ve seen before.  Of course, there’s the marvellous special effects, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that, unlike the previous six films, this one takes place almost entirely outside of Hogwarts, giving us a glimpse into the other parts of the Potter universe.

On the downside, truth be told, there really wasn’t a need to break the story into two parts.  HP7 (the book) was not even the longest of the series, and could have easily been squeezed into a single film with a 2.5-3 hour running time.  This would have meant a faster, more exciting film than what we’ll end up with, without the boring bits in the middle.  Speak of which, there were a few slow parts.  When I read the book, I remembered there was a long chunk where the kids were wandering around the countryside not knowing what they should be doing — I found that a bit slow in the book and it wasn’t that much better in the movie.

Moreover, non-fanatics ought to brush up on their knowledge of the series before watching the film.  If you go and watch the seventh film of a series without having watched any of the preceding six, then you deserve to be confused.  However, even as someone who has seen all the movies and read all the books, I had trouble remembering certain characters and their complex histories.  Bear in mind, the last book was released 40 months ago and the last movie 16 months ago.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!

But perhaps the most disappointing thing about HP7 is the ending, which I suppose was impossible to please fans anyway.  It ends on a relatively tame note that felt somewhat anti-climatic — even though it does promise A LOT for the next one.  For me, it felt kind of empty having gone through 146 minutes and not having even touched any of the really good stuff in the book.

When it’s all said and done, HP7 is another fine addition to what will already go down in history as an excellent, consistently high-quality film series.  It gives the fans what they want, which is lots of Harry and his world, with a bold promise of better things to come.  It is difficult to rate it as a standalone film because it isn’t, but taking all things into account, HP7 is still a enjoyable ride.

3.75 stars out of 5!

PS: Did I mention I’m so glad this movie was only released in 2D?

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009) October 5, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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After missing two preview screenings, I finally got a chance to catch The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second film in the hugely successful Millennium trilogy based on the books by the late Stieg Larsson.  This time, I went into the cinema not having read the book (which I have, but have been too busy to tackle), which got me a little excited because I had no idea what it was about.

At the end of the day, The Girl Who Played with Fire was okay.  It’s not as horrible as some reviewers say it is (like this one that gave it 0/5 stars), though it’s certainly not as good as some others say either (like Ebert, who gave it 3.5/4).  To me, even though it was adequate and engaging for the most part, it was still ultimately a disappointment.

The Girl Who Played with Fire takes begins shortly after the end of the first film, with the titular character, Lisbeth Salander (played once again in a brilliant performance by Noomi Rapace), on a ‘break’.  The man whose life she saved in the first film, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is back at Millennium magazine and looking into a potential article on the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden.  Like the first film, the two main characters carry the film despite leading separate paths, and to be honest, it was almost like watching two separate movies at times.

Also like the first film (and the book), this one is also what I would consider a ‘slow burn’.  Actually, the pace is probably even slower.  I don’t have a problem with that, but to me, the plot was not as exciting as what I had expected.  Instead of a slick detective adventure into the seedy underworld of sex-trafficking, The Girl Who Played with Fire is really a more personal tale about Salander’s past.  Even when there were murders and a couple of mysteries involved, it never escalated into the adrenaline-pumping thriller I hoped it would be.  It remained mildly interesting but the story simply plodded along with a few unsurprising twists and left me feeling a little empty by the end.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still an above-average thriller, but that’s all it is.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but is it wrong to expect more out of a film based on the biggest selling books in the world right now?

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse July 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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Twilight hype continues to rage around the world with the release of the third film in the “Saga” — Eclipse.  I just went to see it with my sister who is visiting from out of town.  She’s not a Twilight “fan” per se, but she was excited.  I on the other hand, having read the book at the beginning of the year, was a little more ambivalent about the whole thing, but still wanted to see it.

Well, the third instalment of Twilight fever was a bit of a “meh” affair.  It picks up where the second film left off, with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in blissful love with her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and neglecting her werewolf best friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has a hopeless crush on her.  But all is not well because people are dying under mysterious circumstances in Seattle and it appears Bella is the ultimate target.  Who could it be?  Trust me, it’s bleedingly obvious.

Director David Slade (who directed the impressive 30 Days of Night and the excellent Hard Candy) probably did all he could with this one.  While it contained the most climatic dramatic and action sequences of the series thus far, Eclipse had me yawning and laughing (at the unintentional humour) more regularly than I should have.

The novel version of Eclipse is referred to by many Twilight fans as the best of the Saga, though I personally thought it was very long and not much happened until the very end.  Plus that Bella is really annoying!  So to be honest I thought the movie was better than the book because it only took up 2 hours as opposed to a couple of weeks and still managed to essentially cover all the main points of the novel.

By now we’re all familiar with the core characters and their traits, so we don’t find out anything new about them.  What we have is more of the same old from the last two films (sexual tension and corny dialogue), but even more dramatic and intense.

Bella continues to be torn between two “men” who love her and can’t decide what she wants to do with her life.  I’ve been a fan of Kristen Stewart since Into the Wild, but there’s no denying that she was irritating in this one.  Her acting was better (she showed more range than that singular “I’ve got something stuck in my throat” expression) but it didn’t make Bella a more sympathetic character.  There were many whispers of “slut” throughout the cinema during a couple of scenes!

Rob Patz’s Edward Cullen takes a bit of a back seat in this one, even though he has more screen time than in New Moon.  He is still disgustingly sweet and overprotective, but he felt strangely hollow.  It may have something to do with the constant strain on his face and in his voice.  Give the poor guy some metamucil.

Again, it’s up to Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black and his ripped bod to save the show.  Lautner has some horribly melodramatic lines, but to his credit, he manages to pull most them off without generating laughter.  He’s the only central character out of the three to develop any sort of connection with me.

The returning cast (such as Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning, Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz etc) do a solid job with their smaller roles, and it was good to find out the back stories of some of the vampires and werewolves through flashbacks.  However, the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard as the villain Victoria was a terrible choice to replace Rachelle Lefevre.  She has the same long red curls but has zero menace.  A real disappointment considering what a fantastic actress she is.

To sum it all up, Eclipse is a passable effort for the third film of a blockbuster franchise.  Nothing about it is great, but I can’t exactly point to anything that was done too badly.  It gives fans what they want — which is more mushy stuff between the three leads, plus more vampire/werewolf action — but it’s unlikely to turn non-fans into new fans of the Saga.

3 stars out of 5

PS: It was interesting to see several characters sporting Justin Bieber haircuts.

Game Review: God of War III (PS3) July 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews.
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I just finished playing the third installment in the now-legendary God of War franchise brought to Sony’s PS3 by Santa Monica Studio.  It was a rushed effort because I bought the game in Hong Kong for a friend, who was kind enough to allow me to “test” the game for him first.

I’ve been a fan of the God of War series since the original, and I had a great time with the sequel, both on the PS2.  God of War III is the first of the franchise to appear on the significantly more powerful PS3, and it really shows.  I really can’t say enough about this game because it lived up to all my expectations and more.  Without a doubt one of the most impressive games I’ve ever played.

I had my doubts about God of War III when I first placed the game in the console.  Unlike most other games, there was no grand pre-game intro to demonstrate the prowess of the PS3.  Instead, all you got was the protagonist Kratos’ massive and familiar head.  When I started a new game, that was when the cinematics began, and while it was pretty, it was nothing I hadn’t seen on the PS3 before.  And when the gameplay finally began, it felt very familiar as Kratos wielded the same weapon (but with a different name, ie the Blades of Exile) he had in the two previous games, and the enemies (a few skeleton dudes) weren’t anything new.

This raised alarm bells and had me thinking — were they just milking another title out of the popular franchise with basically the same game but on a next-gen console?

Let me assure you, those doubts were soon put to bed for good with the first boss fight against Poseidon, which effectively takes place on the body of a colossal Titan (Gaia).

(For those unfamiliar with the God of War series, it’s immersed in Greek mythology and is about this guy called Kratos, a warrior who is tricked into slaying his family and turns out to be the son of Zeus.  He’s an ugly anti-hero hero of few words and no mercy, and the whole series he is fuelled by a desire for revenge against the Gods that destroyed his life.  The stories from the three games are linked.)

And so began an eye-opening adventure that took the franchise soaring to a level I had not experienced before.  What the makers of God of War III have done is taken all the best elements from the first two games of the series and charged them up with the PS3 engine, AND added incredible new elements with ingenious innovation and creativity.

Let me try and break these down one by one.

(to read on click on ‘more…’)

(more…)

The reason why (some) movie reviews suck February 8, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Social/Political Commentary.
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Last year, I lamented the tendency of movie reviews to reveal too much about the plot (see here), to the extent to which you wonder whether there is a point in watching the movie at all.

Below is a classic example why so many movie reviews these days suck dogs balls.  It’s from a reviewer at the Sydney Morning Herald, just one of the most respected papers in the land.

The movie reviewed is Law Abiding Citizen (which I recently reviewed here).  If you don’t want to know everything about the movie, stop reading NOW!

Here are the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the review:

“His wife and young daughter are murdered during a brutal home invasion that opens the film. The killers are quickly caught but Jamie Foxx’s Nick Rice, a gung-ho young assistant district attorney obsessed with maintaining his 95 per cent conviction rate, isn’t convinced he has enough evidence to see the case through. As a result, he makes a deal. The cockiest of the two killers gleefully consents to testify against his accomplice in return for a reduced sentence.”

“Ten years pass and we pick up the story as the less-fortunate crim is being executed by lethal injection. It’s an inordinately grisly scene, since the drugs don’t work as they should and he dies in agony. The other killer, however, is already basking in his freedom – but not for long. Clyde is waiting for him.”

These two paragraphs are enough to ruin the film, but the reviewer doesn’t stop there.   This is then followed by stuff like:

“Clyde arranges a DVD of the operation to be sent to Rice’s home, where his unsuspecting young daughter happens to see it.”

“…Clyde is incarcerated for his act of revenge. Not that he calls it revenge. In his view, he’s on a crusade aimed at the legal system itself. Consequently, he’s determined to kill everyone who’s had anything to do with his family’s murder case.”

“The casualties are now mounting at a steady rate as Rice and Irish actor Colm Meaney – cast as a strangely laid-back detective – try to work out how Clyde is managing these multiple murders from his cell, deep in solitary.”

“At one point, the forceful African-American actress Viola Davis ( Doubt) storms in to do a cameo as the mayor, a political powerhouse with a firm belief in the motivational effectiveness of verbal abuse. She’s entrusted with the film’s silliest line.”

That’s like 90% of the movie, right there.  And about half of the review.  I understand the need to give a bit of background, but what is the point of a review like this?  And why is the Herald hiring writers who basically ruin the entire movie for potential viewers?

Dogs balls.

[PS: for the record, the reviewer gave the film 1 star]

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