James Cameron took the reigns of Alien from Ridley Scott for Aliens, a sequel that perhaps could be used to define a great sequel. Aliens takes the brilliant approach of modifying the genre of the first film from a straight horror to action horror. I know some just say straight action but that undercuts the sequences, so expertly crafted by Cameron, that are so genuinely unnerving. It has to be said that this easily Cameron's best screenplay. Cameron takes off what was previously established in the first film and brilliantly builds off of it in new directions through the introduction of the space marines including a far less deceptive robot, as well as in terms of expanding the xenomorphs through the addition of a Queen. The success of the writing goes beyond concepts though. There is so much life in the well drawn characters with so many unforgettable lines throughout. It is also worth mentioning, which so many seem to forget, is the film builds Ripley's arc from sole survivor to true hero in such believable and effective fashion, aided of course by Sigourney Weaver's great performance. Of course the whole cast is great, including the sometimes derided Bill Paxton who deserves all the credit for his "game over" adlib. There is such a vibrancy in the characters, that some actually went onto define a certain types in later films, like Jenette Goldstein's Private Vasquez. The action and the effects both come together, yet never for a moment do they override the emotional connection to the characers. The film is one of the best sequels ever made as it successfully takes the franchise in a new direction into a different genre while making an almost equally captivating film in that alternate genre.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Looking at Alien is quite something as it might be the most overachieving film of all time. Just in terms of its central idea it’s a monster in a house thriller, but the house just happens to be a spaceship. The film knows no such simplicity, even though the plot itself does technically hold true to that form. The screenplay though isn't simple. I don't just mean that in the twists and turns, which should not be hand waved as the several twists in the film are some of the most effective twists you'll see in any film. It also cares so much for character. Although most of the characters are going to be killed, they are not just there to be killed. We learn about each of them as people, and there is real dynamic across the crew. Of course this is helped greatly by the film having one of the greatest ensembles of all time. There is not a wasted performance everyone adds something extra with how honestly they inhabit their characters in this film. Then there's every technical element of the film all utilized brilliantly by Ridley Scott's masterful direction. His vision takes the film to even greater heights as it crafts this world that is terrifying, awe inspiring, and lived in all at the same time. Alien as a horror film is encased in the atmosphere of a cold space, underlined with a tension and scares that few films can emulate, whether it is Dallas's lonely walk through the air vents or Kane's rather unhealthy meal. As a horror film is arguably the greatest of all time, yet it is also simply one of the greatest films of all time as well.5/5
Thursday, November 10, 2016
The English Civil War has the material for what seems could be a masterpiece, well Cromwell's not quite that. I won't disparage the film too much though because that does not mean it's bad either. The film reduces some of the complexity, the religious element is underplayed here, to make it more about a struggle for freedom in a more general sense. This makes Cromwell a fairly straight forward figure, as man who wants to do what is right, and Richard Harris plays him as basically a reluctant hero. The more interesting character is in Charles I played with great nuance by Alec Guinness. The depiction of the war it has a bit of fun with the parley, and the battle scenes are effective though not awe inspiring. The best portion of the film is actually after the war is over and the film allows for a bit more complexity as the winners struggle to decide what to do. We also get the most emotional scenes through Guinness's portrayal of Charles as a good man, but a bad leader. Cromwell is a good film, but I do hope they'll make a great film out of the events some day.
Diamonds Are Forever marks Connery's not so triumphant return to Bond. I mean Connery's there but he might as well not be at times. He's very detached most of the time, which means he's only still better than Roger Moore in all of his Bond films. There isn't anything inspired about this effort and there is a lack of fun for the most part. This Blofeld has nothing to offer, and though Charles Gray isn't bad in terms of his performance. The film is in particular a let down when one considers its predecessor On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which only major fault was Bond himself. What probably stands out most in this version is Jill St. John, just because she offers a lively presence compared to Connery's low energy one, and the ridiculous stereotype hit men after Bond throughout the film mostly because of just how over the top they are. There are worse Bonds, but this is not a very good one.
Thunderball, as opposed to You Only Lives Twice, stands right as a real middle of the road Bond film. Connery is good not great, the set pieces are pretty good, and the story more than serves its purpose. It's one where nothing about it stands out to the point that you'd ever say that was the best of Bond, but it's a film where you can watch it with ease. It's has enough entertaining Bond spectacle to be sure. Bond films can be more with a more devoted Bond, and a better villain. We don't get those here, but sometimes enough is enough.
You Only Live Twice was the first last Sean Connery Bond film, an odd statement but true due to Connery retiring three times from the role before it permanently took. You Only Lives Twice has several of the earmarks of a lesser Bond. Connery isn't exactly giving it his all, the action set pieces are not all that spectacular, though not bad, and the majority of the film is going through the motions. The one part of the film that seems against this is our Blofeld played by the very talented Donald Pleasance, even though he's good, he's also barely in the film. It's a film that is easy enough to watch, but honestly the most memorable part of the film, outside of Pleasance, is the worst part of the film. That being the bizarre sequence where Bond goes undercover as a Japanese man through some terribly unconvincing makeup that apparently is just as unconvincing to the film's villains.2.5/5
Monday, November 7, 2016
The second half of Deathly Hallows is also the final installment of the series. Now first with the negative, this film unfortunately struggles with a few elements from the book. The final battle is such a cluster that certain character deaths seem but afterthoughts. It also has that downright abysmal epilogue. The unambiguous epilogue itself was poorly conceived to begin, and it is worse in the film due to some very distracting attempts to age the young cast, past those problems though the rest of the film is pretty great. It is thrilling in its initial scenes with the raid on the bank, it is downright heartbreaking as we find out the truth behind Snape all along, and it is rather inspiring as certain character finally get their due particularly one Neville Longbottom. David Yates work does not disappoint for the most part nor does the work from the legion of British thespians particularly Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith. It is conceivable that a stronger finale could have been crafted; however this is still a worthy end to the series.3.5/5
Ah the film that began the breaking of single novels into multiple films. Now this might have led to a very problematic trend I would not say that it is completely unwarranted here. It would have been best to just make a Lord of the Rings length finale, but as it stands the two films are warranted in that I would argue there is not filler material to be found. This film standing as the first of the series conclusion though does reveal a few problems one in faithfulness to the source and unfaithfulness. For example in terms of unfaithfulness the film completely ruins Peter Pettigrews's final act by reducing it to a joke. In terms of faithfulness the film ends on what should be the emotional devastation of the death of a character, this is somewhat diminished by that character having been reduced in the previous adaptations lessening the impact of his demise, having said all that this film does have much to offer. Again David Yates's direction is on point and is particularly effective in creating a real feeling of paranoia as our heroes seem as alone as ever. This film makes use of its additional time in the time in the woods, which is essential to the final bonding of the central three, as well in its animated sequence depicting the Deathly Hallows. My personal favorite moment is when the three infiltrate the Ministry of Magic with a downright brilliant performance by David O'Hara as Harry in disguise. This film shows the end result of a natural progression made by Yates to a darker film as the danger is more real than ever in this film. It might not be a wholly satisfying film on its own but it is a satisfying first half of one.3.5/5
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is an entry where the end begins, and the actual terror of our main villain becomes evident. The film itself is again well directed by David Yates though has a certain mix in terms of various elements. Now problems here simply comes in the child performances as the relationships advance but are hindered by a few things that prevent them from resonating as they truly should. One part is the adaptation which hinders the characters of Ron and Ginny. Both are underdeveloped due to Steve Kloves's fascination with Hermione, to the point that he takes all of Ron's good lines and gives them to her, and boils his character done to saying "bloody 'ell". The problem continues though as the proper pairs just don't quite have the chemistry unfortunately. Now this aspect of the story still is not terrible by any means. Where the film does excel is following Harry and Dumbledore as they try to quietly defeat Voldermort by deciphering the man's past. There is a real sense of urgency and power to these scenes as we and Harry see Dumbledore in a darker shade. The growing sense of dread is felt, and Voldermort comes to life most as a villain when we do not even see him. The film ends with a key moment to the series as a whole. In this adaptation it is a bit of a mixed bag. The moment itself has the impact it should but the aftermath seems rushed in order to keep the film's run time down. It's a shame as this is one point in the series where they would have earned taking their time a bit. It doesn't ruin the film, but it keeps it back all the same.3.5/5
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix marked the first Potter film directed by David Yates who went on to direct the rest of the series. It must be said Yates seems to find just the right balance in his work. He might not be as daring as say Alfonso Cuaron but he's never as standard in the way of a Chris Columbus. He has a vision for the material, and that vision just often seems right. There is a definite atmosphere created through his work, and has a real eye for giving each new setting a different life while still feeling like part of the same universe. Now having said all that it does not mean the man's incapable of a wrong choice, far from it, but he has a good grasp on the world. This film I don't think offers the most compelling narrative all in itself. There is a certain sense of filler as much of the story is devoted to a training montage. It is mostly building a storm for the last two entries, made three by the films. What does make it stand out is through its terrific alternate villain in Dolores Umbridge played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton. She's a delightful fiend, though the film is not nearly as thrilling when she's off screen. The character relationships are a bit static here, and the scenes of the Death Eaters seem more like a warm up. That can be said for much of the film as we receive no major resolutions outside a death that always felt a tad haphazard to me. Nevertheless as entry that is the series itself turning its wheels a bit, it is still a rather entertaining film.3.5/5
Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire once again changes directors this time giving Mike Newell the chance to offer his own unique vision for the wizarding world. Unfortunately his vision is well kind of odd. There are some choices here that just kind of boggle the mind. I suppose they begin with the long haircuts on the boys, which I don't know what that was meant to add, but it does not add much. The strange choices do not end there though as we are given the infamous moment where the kindly Dumbledore interrogates Harry about his name coming out of the Goblet of Fire by physically assaulting him and yelling in his face. I have to imagine that was Newell, and not Michael Gambon since that moment goes against everything else we've seen from the character up until that point or after it for that matter. Then there are the little things like the horribly awkward transition to a rock band during the ball scene which caused me to think another film had been spliced in the first time I saw the film. I could go on, but I'll just also mention David Tennant, yeah what was that exactly? That's not to say this is a terrible film. Technically speaking this one where they take out quite a bit of unneeded fat from the novel, I don't think we really needed 12 years an Elf randomly thrown in there, and there is fun to be had from the Harry Potterverse's version of the Olympics. There's Brendan Gleeson as the teacher who seems to take a liking to Harry, Gleeson is always a good thing. Unfortunately the missteps do overwhelm to a certain degree diminishing the effect of certain moments that could have been highlights of the series. The return of Voldermort in particular, though while not bad, potentially could have been something unforgettable in say with Alfonso Cuaron at the helm. The film perhaps indicated where a director could go wrong, and perhaps that contributed to why we'd get a single vision for the rest of the series.
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban marks the third installment in the series and a major jump with Alfonso Cuaron taking over the reins from Chris Columbus. Cuaron is another league as a filmmaker and it shows from early on in the film. The atmosphere is far more palatable than ever before, which is especially important given the sense of paranoia created by the central plot of an escaped fugitive as well as due to the ghostly dementors. Take just for example the first scene where the black dog appears. The sound design, the editing, the music, everything comes together in creating a real sense of fear. The film goes beyond anything seen in the previous two just in sheer filmmaking and that is because of Cuaron. There is a real fascination with the world itself that Curaon creates, even with the overarching darker tone, as he takes times for this smaller moments of beauty, that are the signs of a great director at work. The story is at its most gripping here as Cuaron executes pivotal scenes so well, particularly the time bending climax that could have been blundered severely in the wrong hands. Now as excellent as Cuaron's work is for the most part the film has a few missteps. The work from the kids still leaves a bit to be desired unfortunately in some pivotal moments such as when Harry finds out what he believes Sirius Black did. There is also the introduction of Sirius Black, which despite being played by Gary Oldman, comes off as a bit much in order to create a fake out. These missteps are few and can be overlooked in favor of the greater achievements of the film.4.5/5