Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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I think it's a real shame that Antz will always be compared with "A Bugs Life", and it is purely coincidental that it came out within a month of this equally brilliant animated film about an ant colony trying to get by amidst the challenges faced by such a minuscule race of creatures. Personally I enjoyed both films, but felt like this had a far more compelling take on the entire concept of the life and times of an ant colony, the hierarchy felt more intricately thought out, and a definite, believable and meaningful history between the various members of each social class was well presented. Above all though it's a real underdog story, and in many ways I feel like Dreamworks managed to outplay Disney/Pixar with regards to the narrative and character development, however sadly the latter seems to be far more beloved by audiences than the former, in spite of both being equally revered by critics.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, the fifth instalment of the Harry Potter series is a far more faithful adaptation of the source material, and whilst, like in the previous film, obvious cuts will have been a necessity given the vastness of the book, this one makes absolutely the right calls with which scenes to reduce or cut completely. One thing this franchise has done remarkably well is casting, all of the new additions were perfectly cast, in particular Evannah Lynch as Luna was phenomenal, and George Harris portrayed Kingsley Shacklebolt to a T, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Imelda Staunton, who couldn't have been a better Umbridge if she tried; fantastically condescending and frighteningly one-dimensional, Staunton has managed to perfectly capture how truly detestable a character Umbridge is. In terms of the director, ditching Mike Newell was the right move, David Yates was a far more competent choice with regards to adapting a novel to the screen, and he certainly didn't disappoint, showing exactly why he is BAFTA winning and Emmy nominated. In spite of the obvious sacrifices that had to be made, Yates manages to masterfully squeeze as much information as he could into some very clever and well directed newspaper transition scenes, just enough so that we get sufficient details without losing focus on the heart of the narrative, which is well paced and far more fluid. There were a couple of noticeable changes from the books, however these were very minor and did not distract from what is a very good adapted screenplay, probably the best adaptation of the longer HP novels (4-7).
As a film in and of itself it's pretty good, however as part of a series, with established characters and, furthermore, rather comprehensive and detailed source material, it is by far the weakest of the franchise, and it all falls down to the director; Mike Newell was not a good choice to direct this film, and whilst visually everything about the film is wonderful, his seeming indifference towards the source material was extremely noticeable by way of far too many liberties being taken; certain characters were completely reimagined, and others (pretty important ones at that) were omitted completely, though screenwriter Steve Kloves should also shoulder some of the blame for that. Additionally irrelevant plot details were given undue attention, whereas those perhaps most important were rewritten or just omitted due to having directed all of the attention in the wrong areas. Of course it would have helped a great deal if Newell had actually read the book with any degree of care and attention, as he admitted he had not prior to starting production, but in particular Dumbledore's character assassination is one thing that I, along with millions of other HP fans, will never forgive director Newell. When you adapt written word to the screen, big or small, you MUST pay due respect to that source material, otherwise you are simply displaying apathy towards the fans, and essentially presenting the notion that you think that you're above the author in some way, and that is the big mistake director Mike Newell made in this film. It isn't all doom and gloom though, performances al around (even from Gambon) were very strong, Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter is absolutely sensational, and Brendan Gleeson as Moody was another perfect cast. The narrative is far too episodic comparative to the fluidity of the previous three films, however as stated earlier the visual effects, the dragon in particular, were utterly fabulous. From an objective point of view, this is a good film, however in consideration of how much it strayed from the source material, and as a fan of said books, it falls flat in comparison with most of the other entries in the series.
You have to hand it to George Lucas, he listened to fans' criticisms of episode 1, and really toned down the amount of screen time Jar Jar Binks received in its follow-up, playing only a minor supporting role (albeit one with a great deal of relevance to the narrative). Now that's out of the way, I can start by saying that Attack of the Clones is a definite step up in quality from its immediate predecessor, in spite of the comparatively exorbitant CGI budget clearly set aside, this is probably the Star Wars film with the least amount of practical effects in favour of more computer generated ones. That said though, it really expanded the whole universe even further, introducing more new races, new planets & systems, and a menacing new villain in Count Dooku, expertly portrayed by the late, great Christopher Lee. The pacing of this film is far better than Phantom Menace in many ways as well, and additionally we are treated to further tie-ins to the original trilogy. And truly the pièce de résistance is the action set pieces we are treated to, not only do we have more Jedi knights than ever, altogether as well as in one place, but probably the fight that, more than any other, made 12 year old me grin from ear to ear like an idiot for the duration, in getting to see Yoda finally show off his sabre skills. That fight between Yoda and Dooku is one of those moments in cinema that I will always remember, because it was so out of left field to see the usually stoic and slow-moving Jedi master show everyone else up! Now the big, glaring downside to this film, which is the writing, proving that Jonathan Hales should never write another script for the rest of his career, because my GOD some of the dialogue in this film is dreadful! Not only that, but the on-screen romance between Anakin and Padme is one of the worst in film history, the poor dialogue aside, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (improved as she may have been) just aren't convincing as a couple, the former in particular coming across as whiny, as well as a bit creepy in his pursuit of Padme. So this film has a lot of the positives of Phantom Menace, as well as a lot of the same problems, poor writing and not particularly thrilling acting performances by the primary cast.
Just for the record I should state that this is by no means a great Star Wars film, however (and it's a big however) it does not deserve the barrage of hate that so many fans so consistently bestow upon it, yes there are elements that leave me wanting a little bit *cough*jarjar*cough*but it is a fairly well constructed narrative, albeit with slightly uneven pacing. The big positive from the first of the prequels is that the action scenes are pretty darn good, especially the lightsaber duel between Kenobi, Jin and Darth Maul, accompanied by one of the two or three best pieces of music ever composed for the franchise in "Duel of the Fates", if you hear that piece during the third act and don't immediately feel pumped, you're enjoying Star Wars all wrong. That aside, I actually find the world building in episode 1 really interesting, the world before the fall of the republic is so different, we are introduced to new races and creeds, whilst retaining elements of familiarity for fans of the original trilogy. On top of all that, but the blending of practical and CGI helps to retain the feel of the original trilogy, and I much prefer puppet Yoda to the updated version in this film. Now I've got all the positives out of the way, one can't help but feel like the actors weren't really that interested in the roles, either that or the director/writers didn't want to make them sound like they wanted to be there, with the exception of the infallible Ian McDiarmid, who is such a presence whatever role he plays. Natalie Portman is pretty wooden as Padme Amidala, Ewen McGregor, usually a top notch performer, gives a stiff performance as Obi-Wan, and Liam Neeson gives off as much personality as a wamp rat. In short, Phantom Menace gives us great continued world building, beautiful visuals and edge of your seat action, but the flat, unengaging acting is often what lets it down, given how much personality is so abundant in the original trilogy.