Monthly Archives: December 2005

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

Given my present aversion to the Hary Potter books, I wasn’t particularly interested in this film when it appeared. However, on the strength of several recommendations, Alex and I went to see it yesterday. First comment: they’re not kidding about the 12A rating. Alex has probably seen more (and more varied) movies than your average 4-year old, and so is not too easily shocked by cinematic peril, but this one was pushing it. The showdown with Voldemort at the end was really quite intense.

With this one, the series has hit a turning point: the comedy is gone. This is a serious film. For the first time, Harry and his friends have to deal with the world as grown-ups rather than as children caught up in some great adventure. In fact, three of the main techniques the previous films used to create comedic tension have been thoroughly excised:

  • The Dursleys are gone–thank goodness. There is no funny opening sequence to generate artificial sympathy for poor downtrodden Harry, or to poke fun at the clueless Muggles. There are a few laughs later on, but they are kept to a bare minimum.
  • There are no classroom sequences or midnight explorations of the school to create an aura of magic, and to emphasize just how different the wizarding world is. Hogwarts has become the background, rather than appearing as a character itself.
  • The tensions and rivalries are now no longer between Gryffindor and Slytherin, or between the kids and the teachers: they are now between the main characters themselves. Harry, Ron, and Hermione argue and fight and hurt each other. In the end they are still all on the same side, but their relationships have taken a leap forward into adulthood.

I felt the acting was up a level, and I loved Brendan Gleeson as MadEye Moody. Special effects were very well executed, and I’d actually go as far as saying that the scene with the dragon is the best chase scene of any film I’ve watched this year. The only thing that let the film down was the revelation at the end, which unravels the purpose of the whole plot. Why do villains make things so difficult for themselves? If all they’d needed was a drop of his blood, surely they could have… Oh well.

The film’s greatest trick, however, was to rekindle my interest in the Harry Potter series. I’m not sure if I’ll go as far as reading book 6 (at least until number 7 is out, too, and I can finish them off in a single shot), but the next film is certainly something I’ll be looking forward to.

Star Trek: Nemesis

Tired and dull. The entire Star Trek franchise needs to take a break for a decade or two and let some other SF series refresh the genre. Maybe then they can come back and approach the same universe with a different slant.

Stephen Baxter – Timelike Infinity

For a story involving the overthrow of an alien race’s occupation of Earth by means of wormhole-facilitated time travel, this is remarkably flat. Lots of grand cosmological speculation and enough hard-SF tropes to choke a monkey, but I found the characters unsympathetic, and I never felt engaged in their struggles.

Blind Horizon

A man (Val Kilmer) is shot in the head, but survives–barely. When he wakes up from his coma, he finds himself in a backwater New Mexico town with no memory of who he is, or what he was doing there. He does, however, have the strong feeling that something bad is going to happen–something involving the President of the USA. The film follows him as he tries to piece the fragments together, aided by the town sheriff and his fiancée. Nothing, of course, is what it seems, though.

I saw the trailer for this on the Bubba Ho-Tep DVD, and it looked good. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t match up to expectations. Val Kilmer is quite engaging as the amnesiac Frank, but the plot wastes too much time noodling around in blind alleyways (like the story line involving the deputy sheriff and the people-smuggling). The climax is confusing (who is on which side?), and the final scenes are hopelessly clichéd.

Transporter 2

My first thought after seeing the original film was, “wow, that was quite cool.” My only thought after seeing this sequel is, “wow, that was stupid.” Not dumb. Dumb doesn’t know any better. Stupid is deliberate. Someone intentionally gave the green light to this screenplay, and I hate them for it.

The start of the film is actually quite promising: a fight scene in a garage re-introduces us to Frank (Jason Statham) as he deals with a gang of car jackers who have the temerity to tackle his pristine Audi. Good fun. His current job has him acting as chauffeur for the son of an important US government official. In taking the kid to a doctor’s appointment, Frank promises that he won’t let him come to any harm (I can sympathise with the fear of needles). The bad guys (inevitably) attempt to harm him, and Frank rescues the kid in spectacular fashion. Good use of an oxygen cylinder. But holy crap does it go downhill from there.

There’s this thing called suspension of disbelief, see. For the purposes of watching some entertaining action, I’m willing to put aside the fact that I have a degree in physics, and just roll with the heroic stunts and intricate set-pieces. An action hero should be tough, and I want to see them take more of a beating than an ordinary human could withstand. I want to see them punch villains so hard they fly through windows, and drive cars so radically that a fleet of cops can’t catch them. That’s good. But there are moments in this film that can only be explained by the fact that Frank, The Transporter, is, in fact, a superhero. He has driving superpowers. Perhaps he was run over by a radioactive 5-series when he was a kid. I dunno.

The first film was interesting because in addition to the external conflict between the bad guys and the good guys, Frank was also dealing with an internal conflict: he is a man bound by rules he has imposed upon himself, yet his sense of honour forces him to break those rules. That’s where the heart of the first movie lay. The car chases and fight scenes were excellent (the one with the oil in the garage is particularly memorable), but they were the seasoning on an already perfectly cooked steak.

In Transporter 2 Frank is, to all intents and purposes, invulnerable, invincible, and immune from self-doubt. Even his fucking car doesn’t run a single scratch, despite crashing it through concrete barriers and using steel scaffolding for brakes. In the first film he got mad about the damage to his Beamer. Here, there is nothing. No emotion, no interest. No soul.

The villain’s plan to infect the kid’s father (important government official, remember) with a virus, is stupid. There must be thousands of ways to target a public figure with a deadly virus, yet he chooses the riskiest and least certain one. He also has no intention of providing the antidote to any of the infected parties, so why does he have it around in the first place? Answers: a) so that Frank has something to chase after, and b) he’s stupid. And the plane crash? OH MY GOD MY HEAD JUST EXPLODED.

I’m dead. The only reason my ghost has returned to write this is to rant about one final piece of unforgiveable dreadfulness: the villain’s prowess as a martial artist. In his introduction scene, he is shown practicing kendo, and he is clearly a world-class swordsman. Action movie logic dictates therefore that the hero and the villain must end up battling it out with sticks and swords and anything else long and pointy they can break loose from their immediate surroundings. But does either of them pick up any weapon other than a gun before the credits roll? No. Bad film, no donut.

The only reason I’m giving it half a star is for the fight scene with the hose pipe. That was pretty cool. But not worth sitting through the rest of the movie, especially seeing as I’M DEAD NOW.

Nanny McPhee

Much less sickly sweet that you might imagine from the trailer. What you don’t get from the trailer is that there is actually a love story involved, and that this is the main plot line. What happens to the children is all really in support of the fairytale servant/master romance that takes place. It is too caricaturish to weigh in as a true classic, but it’s amusing, touching, and definitely worth a watch.