Film review by Jason Day of The Lego Batman Movie, based on DC Comics characters and the children’s toy bricks.
Director: Mike Newell. BBC/Lipsync/Number 9/Unison/iDeal Partners Film Fund. (12A)
Producers: David Faigenblum, Elizabeth Karlsen, Emanuel Michael.
Writer: David Nicholls.
Camera: John Mathieson.
Music: Richard Hartley.
Sets: Jim Clay.
Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Sophie Rundle, Ewan Bremner, David Walliams, Jessie Cave, Tamzin Outhwaite, Olly Alexander, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Toby Irvine, Helena Barlow.
A perverse destiny is spread before the innocent young blacksmith’s apprentice Pip (Irvine and Irvine) when he is one day called upon to go and play at the mouldering house of Miss Havisham (Bonham-Carter), a middle-aged and dotty woman, and her haughty adopted daughter Estella (Barlow and Grainger). Through a series of meetings, he becomes dissatisfied with his lot in life. He is therefore delighted to receive news as a teenager that he has come into a handsome annuity. Believing Havisham to be his benefactor, he travels to London, forgetting his nearest and dearest Joe (Flemyng), his true and faithful father figure, to pursue the life of a gentleman. It is a decision that has devastating ramifications for all around him.
There have been umpteen adaptations of Dickens’ perennial psychological classic stretching right back to the silent era. Writers and directors of the past have cleverly dug beneath the surface of Dickens’ warped epic to tease out the subtleties and nuances to bring an individual stamp to bear on their own productions (the recent BBC TV adaptation for instance used actress Gillian Anderson to spine-tingling effect as a child-like, whispering Miss Havisham, sexual thrall to Douglas Booth as an impossibly beautiful Pip).
As time goes by, it should come as no surprise that such literary liberties will inevitably thin, if one wishes to remain faithful to the original text.
This is writer Nicholls and director Newell’s problem – how to reinterpret Dickens’ text to make it live again when so many good ideas have already been pilfered by other artists, and still keep this as a recognisably Dickensian product (2012 being, as many of us know, the bicentennial of the author’s birth). The solution they come to – don’t reinterpret it too much, but push that bit further with the performances from a terrific cast. And, in that regard alone, this is a successful approach.
Fiennes is a terrifying Magwitch. The opening scenes capture the full shock and violence of that first chapter when he grabs Pip, menaces him and turns him upside down. Only Fiennes could then portray him later as a pentetant man, humbled by Pip the gentlemen, his very own creation and self declared son. He delicately and rather weirdly strokes Pip’s handsome face, half in possession and half in love it seems.
Bonham-Carter seems slightly subdued in what should be the strongest part. She plays Havisham as if she is a little lost. Possibly this was the whole point of the characterisation, but the mind games she plays with Pip and Estella seem weaker as a result. What is obviously child abuse in the novel seems more like an old girl being a bit daft and having a wild eye moment in her wheelchair. None the less, she has some fun being horrible, with her pantaloons on full display for the children playing cards in front of her.
Coltrane is a strong and quite manly Jaggers, contrasting with the wonderfully supercilious and aggravating Walliams as Uncle Pumblechook who declares “Why are the young never grateful?” as a table of older diners gorge themselves ahead of the hungry, scrawny young Pip. Here is a man who would gladly sell any relative, no matter their age or infirmity, for an extra rung up the social ladder.
Newell indulges in some nice visual touches – the gloominess of the early scenes is of course almost a cliche in Dickens adaptations, all running shadows and silhouettes. There is a ready intimacy in the medium shots of the actors faces (made more obvious in the hyper sexualised turns from Grainger, who practically loses her character’s ice cool demeanour as she pants after Irvine’s sulky, testosterone fuelled Pip). The Judge at Magwitch’s trial sits almost three stories higher than the defendant, a symbolic image if ever there was.
All in all, an entertaining adaptation, it suffers only from not being especially distinguished.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Warner/Legendary/Thunder Road.
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Polly Johnsen. Writer:David Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Javier Navarrete. Sets: Charles Wood.
Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, John Bell, Lily James, Sinead Cusack.
Now living the quiet life as a fisherman with his 10 year old son, half mortal/half God Perseus (Worthington) is called upon one last time to save irreligious humanity when his father, the great God Zeus (Neeson) is captured by his other son, the jealously enraged God of War Armes (Ramirez). Perseus has to rescue Zeus, with the help of warrior Queen Andromeda (Pike) and comic foil Agenor (Kebbell).
Clearly out to best Clash of the Titans in terms of audacious spectacle and popcorn munching fun, director Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles and, in the near future, the remake of teenage mutant Ninja Turtles) is clearly in his element with this sand and sandals daftness.
Topping the original was always going to be a foregone conclusion, given that Clash was such a wooden, serious and dull affair, itself eclipsed by the equally leaden but splendidly crafted 1981 film, the one with the memorable stop-motion special effects from Ray Harryhausen.
Liebesman, thankfully, is a man with a good sense of humour and Wrath ticks along nicely with just the right sort of ripe, juicy, Hollywood dialogue that befits a film raiding classical antiquity with scant regard for accuracy or respect.
Casting Nighy, for starters, was an audience pleasing stroke of genius. Nighy, who looks as though he has tottered onto the set still pissed from the wrap party of another film (an update of The Tempest perhaps, set on a council estate in Bury and in which he plays a genial, amnesiac Prospero) plays the God Hephaestus as a sprightly Northerner with poor short term memory but plenty of long term recall for a misspent youth (“Zeus showed me how to seduce Mermaids…handy that!”). It’s a performance that shouldn’t work, it should stand out like a sore thumb unbalancing the rest of the film and scream at the critic to scream at him for doing this…but it actually works splendidly thanks to his pitch-perfect comic timing and the fact that the other performers also belong on another film set (Pike from the hockey fields at an indeterminate but frightfully expensive private school in a generic British period drama; Kebbell from an episode of Eastenders etc).
The jokes continue in the unintentionally, joyously funny dialogue; when Worthington has to square up with his half-brother, amidst dozens of Titans killing hundreds of fellow soldiers, he says to Pike with the utmost solemnity: “Keep them off me”. Neeson and his estranged brother Hades (Fiennes) prepare to confront their all-powerful father by saying “Lets have some fun…like in the old days” (the old, old days presumably). The immortal bros later combine their powers in a Ghostbusters “Cross Streams!” finale.
Worthington’s gruff, whispering monotony contributed in no small part to the snooze fest that Clash became and he seems more tiresome here, so hats off again to the top drawer supporting cast for helping prick the audience’s attention.
Filmed in 3D, the technology is magically realised in a key number of arresting scenes: a roller-coaster ride through the mantle of the Earth with boulders flying straight toward you and a dizzyingly designed labyrinth to Tartarus, the underground prison. Thankfully, the audience is given plenty of time away from these moments to right themselves and avoid the nausea that 3D can create.
(P.S. many thanks to my good friend and classics master Katie Taylor for some helpful comments along the way)!
Director: David Yates
Producer: David Barron, David Heyman, J.K. Rowling. Writer: Steve Kloves. Camera: Eduardo Serra. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Sets: Stuart Craig.
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Helen McRory, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton
Young wizard Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is now a young man and almost graduated from Hogwarts Academy. Along with his friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) he has to race against time to destroy a set of evil pendants and uncovers the most powerful objects in his magical world: the Deathly Hallows.
The seventh of eight films based on author (now co-producer) Rowling’s seven novels about boy wizard Potter (the final book is being split into two movies for ease of adaptation…and to earn a few extra pennies for Warner Brothers before the series takes its curtain call, no doubt) shows a clear progression in terms of stylistic technique and maturity of handling what is essentially ‘young’ subject matter in the best film of the series so far.
It’s certainly a welcome trotter for Potter outside the now redundant confines of Hogwarts, a whimsical school whose cute fixtures and fittings (the animated pictures, endless moving staircases, creepy corridors and ghosts flying around) had long since outstayed their welcome.
We move almost immediately into high gear with some strong scenes of violence for a 12(a) rated movie, opening with a teacher being tortured in graphic fashion (something we return to later on). But this is a pretty grimly plotted outing altogether, death seeps not only into the title but also into every frame (the palate used by the cinematographer is unremittingly grey, drained of colour), even our heroic trio look consumptive.
Perhaps illness also explains their incessantly dull, wooden acting (particularly Watson), but this is a fault inherent in the entire series. It must have been daunting for three actors new to motion pictures to be surrounded by the cream of British Equity slumming it/queening it/lording it over them in often pointless and disposable character roles (Shaw, Griffiths, Walters – you’ve been spotted).
There are, however, performances to savour and they are always the baddies – Staunton isquiet megalomania behind twin-set and pearls and Bonham-Carter sexily sociopathic.
This film suffers from maladies that have also afflicted the other films – there are far too many characters milling around for a sound-bite and far too many new people introduced into this heady mix. There is too much ‘business’ in the writing leaving the narrative jagged (we hurry along from one scene to another and are then jolted into sedantry description) and cluttered. Kloves really needed a red pencil and blue scissors to hack a few situations out completely, particularly as some scenes are superfluous.
One thing Kloves does get spot on, is the humour. The film is frequently very funny and his cast jump at the chance to raise a few laughs, none more so than when, after his friends have cloned themselves as Harry to confuse his enemies, they re-group but wearing each other’s clothes and Harry ends up wearing a bra.
One moment to note, in fact to savour as it is probably one of the most dazzling images captured in modern film – Hermione tells a story about death and three Princes and her narration is accompanied by a beautifully animated story that recalls the Shadow Plays of yore. An incredible moment that knocks the noisy whizz-bang of the other special effects into a cocked hat.