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Rating History

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Just three years after the 'Harry Potter' books ended, the end of its film franchise is upon us in two halves guaranteed to maximize profits. Or indeed to squeeze the most from a material that could not possibly be edited. Fans of the book should not be disappointed - nor fail to grasp a plot utterly unattainable to all unfamiliar with the book.

With the Order of the Phoenix's loss of Dumbledore coupled with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his band of not-so-merry men on the up, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two friends: Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), are left with the task of locating and destroying the remaining horcruxes, burdened by Harry's decision to embrace the prophecy detailing him as the only-hope of stopping Voldemort.

As a stand-alone film, 'Part 1' possesses enough to seemingly justify its very existence without ever justifying its length. With such a wealth of material left to cover, David Yates' film is sufficiently dark in atmosphere and content to convey the conflicts to those unfamiliar with the book, including two splendid set-pieces: one an animation of the tales of the deathly hallows, the other an extended search involving the three friends in the guise of three others in polyjuice potion in the midst of the Ministry of Magic.

That said, the true brilliance of the film (and there is brilliance) is from the book. Whilst this is not being leveled as a criticism of David Yates' vision, the film is very much a film for the book-lovers and as one, I'd argue it makes a number of the wrong choices. The sequence at Godric's Hollow lacks the all-important inclusion of Voldemort and the flashbacks and Dumbledore's scheming and the removal of his Sainthood is only touched upon in the part of The Deathly Hallows designed to do it. These are perhaps the two greatest losses of a film which has chosen the right chapters only to miss the right bits in them to choose.

Instead, the few action sequences allowed are overly short and the franchise's weakness is allowed precedence. Teenage angst is in full-view as Radcliffe woodens and cheeses his way through the lead, once more failing to really make Harry Potter more than a cliched stock character. Watson is well-used as the unrealistically-attractive bookworm and Rupert Grint encapsulates his role in the franchise to date with one line: "yeah, I'm still here". Where the hallows could be introduced or something dramatically worthwhile occur, we have an unbearable dance between Harry and a downhearted Hermione. It speaks volumes that as the nation's favourite magical franchise is once again released, its brightest shiners are Helena Bonham Carter doing a Helena Bonham Carter, an under-used man with no nose and a computer-generated, show-stealing elf in a pillowcase from which one of the greatest tearjerkers in cinema originates.

A film designed for those who know its plot, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' fails to move away from the teenage angst of the last film, leaving us at times literally waiting for Potter to work it out where any number of relevant, more entertaining events could have taken its place. Relying on this part to set-up the back story and the second to deliver it, there simply is not enough introduced in any detail in the two hours of this part for the next to make sense at this stage. Yet Yates' direction is fantastically grim and contains several moments of shining brilliance at beginning, middle and end to keep a lagging attention in-between feel as though it endured some workout. Dobby rightfully earns the national attention devoted to him, sadly appearing another talent to show Radcliffe how it's done.

Dr. No
Dr. No (1962)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

It seems very easy to forget that James Bond films are actually intended to be serious films, given their formulaic creation and their stranglehold on the dreaded daytime TV film slot normally reserved for the waning embers of Dick Van Dyke's career. With this in mind, it has been my decision to avoid any criticism of them, but having found Roger Moore eyebrow his way through an entire afternoon for about three week straight, I have decided to venture into the murky realm of Bond matched only by any results of a Bond STD test, choosing one film from each Bond's repertoire to stand for their time.

It has only been recently become apparent to me how practically impossible it can be to find a Bond to match Sean Connery and the first few films that are credited to him. Writing now, as a member of the I-pod generation, the influence and impact of Connery is something I can recognize but never grasp entirely, hence the choice of 'Dr No' to represent Connery's Bond years. As the first, Connery wore the world's first televised digital watch and introduced the series' trademarks with a style and believability that can easily be taken for granted today, including the iconic soundtrack, 'Bond-tastes' and watched as Ursula Andress became the 'benchmark' (for want of a better word) for the franchise's Bond girls that demanded as much attention as Bond himself.

Whilst 'Dr No' does not personally stand as the greatest of Connery's outings ('From Russia With Love' standing as the greatest Bond in my estimation), I cannot think of another film that has done as much for as many genres as Connery's then controversial first appearance and kick-started the spectrum of Bond films. Under Connery, the world witnessed the first ('Dr No'), the most intelligent ('From Russia With Love'); standing as an exemplary thriller amongst other films and not just in comparison to the series, and the most 'classical' Bond ('Goldfinger'). Despite introducing Bond and its checklist, Connery should not be criticized nor mistaken for introducing the 'Bond' genre, proving equally adept with the thriller-oriented plots of 'Dr No', 'From Russia with Love' and the 'Austin Powers' targets 'Goldfinger' and 'You Only Live Twice', where perhaps the acting range was never necessary but managed to make gold paint, Pussy Galore, volcano lairs and auto-gyros tangible (ish).

Connery's Bond isn't my favourite, but his series was genuinely created with a level of intellectual decorum which suddenly went AWOL with his final departure. Carrying a presence which no other James would match for a long while, Connery's role is equally the one which I can understand most why men would would want to be, admittedly with slightly more real hair. His performances were far from flawless, but the difficulty of his successors to match his reputation and the marker laid down pay testament to the one who, for a little longer at least, has every right to hold the title of THE Bond; the right man to introduce Bond at a time when his relevance has never again been at such standing.

Avatar
Avatar (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

With comparisons to 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars' alongside its famous titanic budget, 'Avatar' was never going to receive an easy entrance; evidenced by the marmite, black or white response from those that had made up their mind to love or hate prior to experiencing Cameron's creation. I cannot claim impartiality- I love it, but at least I entered indifferently before leaving speechless.

'Avatar' is the end result of 15 years of detail and creativity, a reported $300 million budget and numerous technical inventions founded purely on the basis of the demands of 'Avatar.' As a cinematic experience, it is $300 million dollars, 15 years and numerous technical devices well spent.

Unsurprisingly general American response has been less favourable than others, possibly due to the strong anti-US policy sentiments. Crippled ex-marine Jake Sully is drafted in as a genetic substitute for his deceased brother: a scientist on the Avatar programme situated on the luscious planet of Pandora working simultaneously with the morally vacuous army and businessmen in search of 'Unobtanium'. His conscience nestled inside a specially grown Na'vi, Sully is allowed access into the peace-loving indigenous community under the tutorship of the beautiful Princess (in all effects) Neytiri with the initial intention of seeking a mankind-preferable end to a tense standoff.

The plot and characters have been the main focal point for the majority of criticism which; although not entirely justified in my opinion, is justified in its existence. Admittedly the plot is hardly original and the Native-American allegory not subtly carried, with room for several characters to be further developed and rectify their slightly hollow depth alone. In spite of these flaws and my subsequent second-thoughts, I stand by assertion that 'Avatar' should be considered easily within the most exalted of cinematic company.

Whilst the plot has attracted rightful scrutiny, the storyline itself is masterful; fast-paced without being brutally unrelenting, placated by some more tender, developing and revealing moments which are by no means awkward.'Avatar' has been branded as repeating the fundamentals of 'Dances with Wolves' and 'Pocahontas' in space with aliens, lacking in originality and citing all possible Hollywood maxims stressing the need for the new and original. For one thing, 'Avatar' was envisioned and founded long before 'The Last Samurai', but more importantly lies the logic of these criticisms themselves. Look deep enough into any story, as 'Avatar's' haters have done, and you can find links between every plot somewhere. It seems unfair to criticize 'Avatar' as a flawed film for utilizing a plot that worked in the past where 'The Lion King', one of the greatest films ever, is an adaptation of 'Hamlet'. 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' is a much older maxim-'Dances with Wolves' was a fantastic plot which didn't break so why criticize 'Avatar' for employing a plot which has worked in the past and works with what Cameron was trying to achieve with 'Avatar'?

As with the criticism of the plot, so the criticism of the characters has been blown out of all proportion. True the secondary characters could be developed more (Sigourney Ross' role could be more gutsy but would then run the risk of being lauded as too similar to Ripley in 'Alien') and alone are slightly hollow, but the answer to this is within 'Avatar'. 'Avatar' is not about one individual, its a story about an entire race's struggle centered around a fairy tale love story. As with his behemoth 'Titanic', so has Cameron once again managed to capture the pure essence of 'Romeo and Juliet' that is so appealing as the basis upon which such imagination and contrast is grounded. With such foundation, it is thankfully never in question that 'Avatar' is so much more than a tourist trip through an impossibly beautiful world punctuated only by the need for some epic, high-octane action sequences. James Horner's typically beguiling soundtrack mirrors the marriage of tenacity and tenderness in the film combining the power of choral, orchestral and synthetic pieces.

Unless making an effort to do so, its 'unoriginality' is no more heinous than a host of other works. Development may not be spoken or scripted, but the wonderfully created Na'vi, their expressions, actions and world more than make up for the occasional cliches and clunkiness which Cameron's imperfect writing skills cannot prevent entirely from creeping into 'Avatar'. Despite these apparently fatal flaws, the audience is never left bereft of new information or wonders to marvel at, leaving the audience entertained and emotionally riveted throughout the entire duration of the film.

Almost needless to say, visually 'Avatar' is questionably the greatest cinematic creation, with only 'The Lord of the Rings' for company of modern times, and even the greatest film of our time cannot boast the 3D flawlessness and CGI monster that Pandora is. The Na'vi are worthy receivers of the baton laid down by Gollum and Jackson's King Kong in the department of motion-capture; as utterly believable and breathtaking as the intricate planet Pandora weaved to ludicrous beauty. For a film 'littered with hollow characters', the ability to make the audience fall in love with a ten-foot, blue feline is testament to Cameron. Because one can't help but be seduced by their softly seductive aura. Credit must be given to the casting of Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Zoe Saladana as Neytiri for the central roles they portray which single-handedly atone for the few failings of other characters.

So many critics themselves are scoffed at because of the occasional ability to forget the existence of genre. To criticize 'Avatar' for having neither the plot, character development nor layers of a brilliant political thriller seems entirely unjustified because it isn't trying to be one. What it has works spectacularly with the aim of 'Avatar' as a work of unimaginable visual beauty, imagination and creativity, providing a glimpse (or immersion if in 3D and/or iMax) of a world impossible to resist or deny its epic majesty - intended as a superlative beauty with a high IQ, not an unrivaled genius sadly lacking physically. What Cameron has done in 'Avatar' is introduce a movie as revolutionary to cinema as 'Star Wars' and one then recognizes the oft-forgotten element of true cinema; namely that a movie of the majority of genres exists as entertainment to entice, entertain and absorb an audience, with an unpretentious, solid story and so much to offer at the pinnacle of generic conventions. If the universal adoration and financial gross doesn't prove it, then very little will convince to my opinion that here is a masterpiece which should pass into legend.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Fifteen years after its elder brother introduced computer animation to cinema, animation-leviathan Pixar unleashed the third (and hopefully final) feature-length film in quite possibly the only movie franchise to truly rival 'Harry Potter' for universal adoration and 'The Lord of the Rings' for sheer quality throughout the trilogy. With Best Animated Feature victories perhaps the greatest certainty in the entire history of cinema, 'Toy Story 3' may not pack the character punch of its bigger brother, but posses the power to transport the most stony-hearted through tears to idyllic childhood.

With college looming for Andy, his need for the company of his toys has long since abated. When the dreaded day arrives when Andy is forced to consider their fate, through confusion and desperation, the toys find themselves donated to Sunnyside daycare, seemingly a haven for unwanted toys and the opportunity to be played with longed for by all but Woody, from whom the bond to Andy simply cannot be passed to another. Before too long, the company find themselves in a far from utopian world and Woody feels the pull of friendship as keenly as his bond to Andy.

Written by a collaboration of writers much like the previous two films, Andrew Stanton remains as the credited stalwart writer from the franchise's origin, the script is infused with the customary wit and intelligence befitting Pixar's revolution of the children-adult scripting distance. It may be unsurprising that character depth and development does not equal the immense strength of its predecessors, especially because there could certainly be a case for stating that Buzz Lightyear to be the greatest character of the last twenty years, yet the supporting characters in particular are still blessed with sensationally distinct personalities and variation.

What small character-engagement that's lost is compensated by the addition of new characters and the most ambitious scaling of the franchise, featuring a contender for the greatest escape sequence in cinematic history. Whoopi Goldberg, Ned Beatty and Timothy Dalton are just a few of the new names on show including such personality-rich plastic and fake fur as Lotso-Huggin' Bear and Ken. Sunnyside Daycare is created with such tangible and recognizable colour and contrasting artistry to tease the childhood memories from dormancy and communicate with either the heaven or hell it recognizes, a characteristic of the movie employed simply and to great effect - the movie's tones reflecting the mood and situation of events without the explicitness of so many animated films.

Perhaps the finest achievement and accolade of to be bestowed upon 'Toy Story 3' should be the manner in which it fitted so comfortably into a tri-film story arc which was I initially believed it was never intended to be, consider the decade-long gap between this and its predecessor ample proof. However, in spite of the enormous changes between the two, the transition seems seamless and I'd be more inclined to consider the distance purposeful instead of ponderous. I want to believe it, because the film is so good.

In 'Toy Story', Pixar created a burr that latched onto all who saw and drew in those that hadn't, one which somehow could not be removed, feasting upon the imagination of children. For people of my age who watched 'Toy Story' at around five and 'Toy Story 2' at around nine, I honestly believe that Pixar wanted their prodigal child to coincide with the growth of their audience with Randy Newman's fun yet echoing and lingering soundtrack in the background. 'Toy Story 3' should mark the end of one of the most rightfully adored film franchises in history, in a way to crack the hardest heart with its technical brilliance, humour and humbling honesty.

Up
Up (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Roger Federer talked of how his dip in form in 2008 was only the result of contrasting to the 'monster' he had created in his magnificence. With perhaps just one exception ('Cars'), Pixar's 'monster' is a true colossus; four academy awards have been won of the seven nominations Pixar's feature films have received, with one nomination per year for Best Animated Film since the category's creation in 2001. 'Up' is the first and only other animated film to have been nominated for both Best Animated and Best Film since 'The Beauty and the Beast', and on the strength of Pixar's latest work, 'Up' should push 'Avatar' and 'The Hurt Locker' for the title of Best Film.

Quiet, shy Carl idolizes adventurer Charles Muntz, a fact that leads to the striking of a lifetime relationship with fellow would-be adventurer Ellie, who promise to travel to Paradise Falls one day. The film's main storyline begins after the death of Ellie and the now-elderly Carl living in the same house amidst a construction site. He ends up in a tussle with a construction worker and the court orders him to leave his house and enter a retirement home. In order to avoid this and fulfill his promise to Eliie, Carl decides to undertake the adventure to Paradise Falls by attaching helium balloons to his house, accompanied by boy scout Russell intent on earning his 'helping the elderly' badge.

Typically creative, 'Up' is yet another example of the animation revolution championed by Pixar. Dripping with vibrancy and warmth, 'Up's' colourful animation is like a honey-cashew; sweet and luscious but with the same meticulous details of wood grain, crystals and weathering details that allow 'Up' to follow the same, supreme animated realism as 'Finding Nemo' whilst maintaining the innocent appeal of caricature. The humans may not be crafted to NASA-levels of biological detail, but the artistic license only makes 'Up' ever the more endearing. The lengths to which Pixar went to capture the mystical aura of Paradise Falls pay dividend. Based upon the tabletop mountains of Venezuela, 'Up' could masquerade as a nature documentary of the concealed world and still be mind-blowing.

Other than its lamp, Pixar has thrived upon the challenge of creating animated films compatible with both the adult and children's audience. 'Monsters Inc.' (both by director Pete Doctor) and 'Wall-E' employed political satire and commentary undertones to generate the adult-attractive depth; 'Toy Story', 'The Incredibles' and 'A Bug's Life' a hidden dream and moral. 'Up' is a shining example of both and with the story of Ellie and Carl, is sure to capture the elderly too. Consumer-driven materialism; honour and duty; parenthood; age and even obesity are poignantly discussed with both clarity and deference throughout.

Ultimately it is the wonderfully constructed characters that stand out as the prize jewel in 'Up's' crown. Carl's internal turmoils are accessible to even the youngest audience member and he would fully deserve to enter the annuls of history as one of the best protagonists ever. Russell's modern-child failings never annoy or tire, furthermore his transition from comedy source to complete character and hero is tender and engaging.

The interaction between all characters and script shifts seamlessly between comedy sequences and heart-to-hearts, courtesy of a script with wit and poise that never relents. Even the talking dogs are a hilariously funny creation on numerous levels of humour.

Capping it all is the purity of 'Up', from the eternal Carl and his love for his deceased wife, to the selfless Russel and his innocence. Behind the peerless script, storytelling, characters and visuals is a Grammy award-winning soundtrack which, alone for the first storyline of Ellie and Carl, sets the tone for the beautiful, funny, poignant and powerful movie with the potential to induce tears in audiences of all ages.