Friday 8 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (12A, 130 mins)
Director: David Yates
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s been ten years, with eight films from four directors, over six billion dollars in the bank so far, and another billion to come with this one. But the Harry Potter saga finally draws to a close, and it’s been some ride, with frequent highs (Prisoner of Azkaban, Half-Blood Prince) and only the very occasional lows.

Has it been worth the journey, the investment? This majestic final chapter proves that the answer is an unequivocal yes, and we’ve been left with an octology the likes of which cinema has never seen, and never will again.

It opens with a very swift recap of how Part 1 ended, as Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) gets his hands on the Elder Wand, one of the three components of the Deathly Hallows that will grant him unstoppable power. But that’s your lot in terms of backstory, and if you haven’t seen every film up until this point, well then you really ought to remedy that before coming anywhere near this, because you’re going to be lost.

Following on from Part 1, Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) are still searching for the remaining Horcruxes, the objects that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and destroying them is the only way to kill him.

One such is thought to be in a vault at the goblin bank, the starting point for a first rate early action sequence involving mine carts and a very angry dragon. To find the others, they need to get into Hogwarts, which is on lockdown, surrounded by Deatheaters and Dementors, with the treacherous Snape (Alan Rickman) now installed as headmaster.

All hope is almost gone, the Order of the Phoenix has been disbanded, and it’s all incredibly grey and mournful. Everyone is putting their faith and life in the hands of Harry Potter, who has grown from a frightened boy to a powerful wizard, attaining an almost messianic status in the process.

The fear was that the ball was dropped in the first part of Deathly Hallows last year, which was all talk and little forward momentum. But with all the moping out of the way in the first part, we’re left with an action extravaganza.

School’s out forever, and this is the final all-out battle between good and evil. Clashes between characters that have been a long time coming prove to be awe-inspiring, and there are consequences and copious amounts of death in a colossal adventure that simply rattles along.

And yet amid all the explosions and wand battles, somewhere in the middle we manage to find time for what will come to live in legend as the signature sequence of the entire series. Giving too much away would be grossly unfair for those who don’t know what’s coming, but just know that it involves Snape, some flashbacks and some home truths, as twists and revelations hit like hammer blows.

What we don’t get too much of is the byplay between the three young leads, but then we’ve had seven films of that and there’s very little left that needs to be said between them, though Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are still terrific. More pleasingly, the great actors who missed out in some of the previous instalments get to show what they’re really made of here, particularly Maggie Smith and the miraculous Alan Rickman.

Spending a decade and almost 20 hours of screen time with these characters has made them part of our lives, a theme that filters into the film itself. The saga has grown in depth and richness from colourful cartoons for children to parables of the bonds of friendship, family and love, until eventually it gets to a point where you realise you don’t want it to end.

And unlike Lord of the Rings, it doesn’t get bogged down in a dozen different finales that feel the need to give everyone a closing monologue. Instead there’s dignity, a quiet grace and a few tears. It’s a fitting culmination to a monumental achievement and everyone involved should feel immensely proud.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Horrible Bosses review

Horrible Bosses (15/R, 97 mins)
Director: Seth Gordon
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

If you ignore the disappointment of The Hangover II, it’s been a rather good summer so far for bawdy comedies. That run is continued with Horrible Bosses, a no holds barred spin on the old Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton vehicle, 9 to 5. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day star as three disgruntled friends who each loathe their respective bosses in the shapes of Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston. All miserable at their work, they hit on a scheme, a la Strangers on a Train, to kill each other’s bosses, which involves the hiring of a somewhat ineffectual hitman (Jamie Foxx). In terms of setting up their situation and antagonists, Seth Gordon and his writers do a cracking job, but what really makes Horrible Bosses tick are its stars. Heightened scenarios are played to perfection by a stellar line up, some like Bateman and Spacey doing their well honed thing, others like Aniston subverting their images with equal success. It’s daft but it’s hilarious, which is what matters most, and it builds with consistent laughs so that, while unquestionably ridiculous, it’s fresh and free enough to forgive. Feeble title notwithstanding, it’s up there with Bridesmaids as one of the year’s best comedies.

Winnie the Pooh review

Winnie the Pooh (U/G, 73 mins)
Directors: Stephen Anderson, Don Hall
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Kids unimpressed with the shiny emptiness of most of today’s animated output should find plenty to please them with this slender but charming big screen return of A.A. Milne’s bear of little brain. Mind you, his animal pals aren’t exactly geniuses in comparison, with know-it-all Owl’s misinterpreting of a note from Christopher Robin forming the bulk of their lightweight adventures that don’t deviate too radically from Milne’s stories - Eeyore’s missing tail being a key subplot, with the morose donkey as usual stealing the show. Regular pit-stops for a mixed bag of songs add little, but the hand drawn animation recreates Hundred Acre Wood in a way that would do E.H. Shepard proud, though the debate over the Disneyfication of Pooh will rumble on and you may want to disregard the fact that he’s voiced like Truman Capote. And though he spends the bulk of the movie thinking about his insatiable tummy and chasing the hunny dragon like some ursine crack-head, he ultimately learns that friendship comes first. He’s that sort of bear.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Witchfinder General Blu-ray review

Witchfinder General (18, 87 mins)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

In the midst of the English Civil War, lawless Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) and his even more brutal accomplice travel the villages of East Anglia seeking practitioners of witchcraft. Apparently doing god’s work, it’s actually little more than a front for their lust and venality, using torture and logic not much more sophisticated than that in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – she weighs the same as a duck and is therefore made of wood and hence a witch. But when one young woman and her priest uncle come under threat, her fiancĂ© (Ian Ogilvy), a soldier of Cromwell, makes it his mission to track down Hopkins.
It’s not the most intricate plot in the world but one rich with atmosphere and texture, one of several films of its time, from Blood on Satan’s Claw to The Wicker Man, that are steeped in folklore and period flavour, and that gleefully utilise the new-found tolerance in cinema for sex and violence. Price is at his most coldly menacing, possibly never less camp, and delivers a superb performance that keeps the film motoring even when it eventually becomes largely a revenge tale solved by opportune fisticuffs.
The Blu-ray provides fine detail in a picture vibrant with colour, while extras wise it’s a step up from the previous DVD release, with the mini-doc on director Michael Reeves bolstered by a commentary, a short film by Reeves and a couple of featurettes, including a delightful appearance by Price on Aspel in which he displays a great sense of humour.

Friday 1 July 2011