REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) warnings of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) return are ignored as the Ministry of Magic sends Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. With her failing to teach them how to defend themselves, Harry and his friends’ band together to learn how to fight, as darkness grows

As I was rewatching this film, I realised that now I’m in the latter half of the series, these are the films I haven’t seen as many times and don’t necessarily remember everything about them. As I said previously, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite and I’ve probably watched that film the most out of all of them, but I’ve also ended up seeing pits and pieces of the first four films on TV, as those are the films seem to be on TV the most. Anyway, onto the review.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first film in the series that David Yates directed, and he goes on to direct the rest of the films in the series. It’s a film that’s a lot darker in tone. Harry is having nightmares after seeing a fellow student killed in front of him and he’s feeling isolated especially as Dumbledore appears to be avoiding him. The colour palette of the film is colder too, everything seems slightly blue which is especially noticeable in contrast to the previous films where scenes at Hogwarts seem so full of warmth.

The scenes where Harry is teaching his classmates is wonderful. He’s so encouraging and it’s fun to see these kids skills progress – when Neville (Matthew Lewis) masters a spell everyone is so happy for him. Together these young people have made a supportive environment, which so many of them need when there’s outside forces working against them – including Umbridge.

Umbridge is a brilliant character and one of the most evil villains in the series. She’s a bureaucrat on a power trip, convinced she’s right and is better than everyone. Seeing other teachers disapprove of her, even in small ways, is great as it shows that the teachers are human too.

The Order of the Phoenix is full of highs and lows. When there’s action set-pieces they are well-shot and exciting, but as there’s so much talking between characters, sitting around a table discussing what they should do next, the film can be slower and less interesting at times.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a lot darker and is full of new information that helps make the threat of Voldemort and his follows more real. The finale is a bit lacking as due to the script, and Goblet of Fire’s script as well really, characters aren’t utilised enough so when tragic things happen, it doesn’t have as much of an impact as it should. 3/5.

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REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A short story about a woman who’s staying in a crumbling old mansion for three months. While her physician husband is out of the house almost every day, she spends her time in the room with yellow wallpaper. She becomes almost obsessed with the sinister patterns of the wallpaper as she struggles to deal with her nervousness and loneliness.

I listened to The Yellow Wallpaper on audiobook and it was narrated by Harriet Walter. I shan’t lie, the only reason I borrowed this book from my library was because of its title. I’m taking part in the A-Z Reading Challenge where you read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet and I needed a book that started with “Y”. But I’m happy I borrowed and read it as it was a very interesting read.

Told via the unnamed woman’s diary entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is a weird and creepy short story. At the beginning of the story the woman is very anxious and potentially has postnatal depression as she mentions she and her husband have a baby, though it’s mostly looked after by her husband’s sister, so she can rest. She’s jittery and spending so much time in their bedroom with the yellow wallpaper has her unsettled.

The way the wallpaper is described makes it sound like it’s alive, but only she can see what is trapped inside the patterns. She has been isolated by the people who are supposed to care for her and because of that it makes her anxieties worse and perhaps makes her slowly lose grip on reality.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a captivating and creepy gothic short story. The way the story progresses, and its ambiguous ending makes one unsure whether or not it is a “proper” horror story, but there’s certainly some horrifying imagery in it. 4/5.

REVIEW: Lizzie (2018)

A psychological thriller about the murders on the Borden family in 1892.

I had never heard of Lizzie Borden or the murder of her stepmother and father until earlier this year. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was something I was just oblivious to, or if it’s a story that never really became well known here in the UK.

Chloë Sevigny is captivating as Lizzie Borden. There’s a simmering rage beneath almost everything she does that you cannot look away from. This rage is because of her father (played by an icy Jamey Sheridan) who controls everything she does and belittles her interests.

Lizzie forms a friendship with the family’s new Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart), with her Lizzie finds comfort in an otherwise cold home. The romance and tension between Lizzie and Bridget is electric to begin with but it’s unfortunately lost as the film progresses. More could’ve been made of their relationship but both Sevigny and Stewart give powerful performances.

Costuming and set design are both beautiful and haunting in equal measure, making this relatively small budgeted film look lavish. Lizzie is a film which seems to fall into a lot of the negative stereotypes of period-dramas, there’s lots of scenes of characters walking slowly down hallways or staring at each other across tables. In some scenes this builds the tension, but in others it seems to be dragging everything out when you’re waiting for the violent act to finally arrive.

Lizzie is an interesting film with a lot to say though it never finds the balance of what it wants to be. It’s a family drama, a crime thriller, and a lesbian romance, but it never gives any of these elements the time to be fully fleshed-out. The performances of its leads are better than the script their given, making Lizzie a straightforward and unremarkable retelling of this classic case. 3/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The Triwizard Tournament, a competition between three champions, each from a different school, has come to Hogwarts. From the Goblet of Fire Viktor Krum (Stanislav Yanevski) from Durmstrang, Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts are all chosen to compete. But when Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) name is also pulled out of the Goblet of Fire, he must join the champions in braving three dangerous tasks.

The Goblet of Fire starts with a bang and the pace never really slows down. This film expects you to know about Quidditch, magic and who these characters are. It does flesh out the world a bit as it takes the time to introduce you to the unforgivable curses and show why they are so unforgivable, but besides from that it’s a very fast paced film that fully immerses you into the magical world.

Like it’s predecessor, The Goblet of Fire is darker and more grown up. Our teenage heroes are definitely teenagers as there’s angst, miscommunication and hints of romance. When Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, Ron (Rupert Grint) is hurt, jealous and moody about it all as he’s sick of being what he feels to be Harry’s sidekick. I know all this from reading the book but due to it being an adaptation, in the film Ron unfortunately comes across more of an unlikable and petty guy.

The Triwizard Tournament itself is very exciting. The three tasks are very different, and they show off different magical creatures we haven’t really seen before, and spells and potions. The special effects are fantastic too which definitely help make creatures like dragons and merpeople threatening, and in some cases, pretty scary.

I’ve always found the ending of Goblet of Fire pretty jarring. Something incredibly tragic happens leading to Dumbledore giving a solemn speech that’s really affecting but in the next scene, all the school kids are smiling and laughing, and the film ends on a light-hearted note. You almost get whiplash from it all.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a little uneven in terms of tone but it’s a fun, exciting time. It’s a film with a final act that changes just about everything for Harry, his friends, and the wizarding world as a whole, and that builds the anticipation for the next instalment. 4/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Jessica Jones Vol. 1, Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier and FABLES: Cubs in Toyland

Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth

Newly released from prison, Jessica Jones has got a lot of problems. Her latest client wants her to investigate her husband, who thinks he’s from another universe, and Jessica’s own husband, Luke Cage, wants to know where their daughter is. Jessica’s got a lot on her plate when a new threat appears, one that wants to destroy all heroes.

I liked how this book managed to keep Jessica Jones and her story relatively grounded, while still having cameos from other superheroes like Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman and Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. It made Jessica and her PI business a part of the wider superhero world, but it also shows how Jessica is constantly fighting against the title of “hero” and being a part of that world.

Jessica and Luke’s relationship is strained, but I did enjoy seeing it and I hope they can work things out. Jessica has given a lot up to do what she thinks is the right thing, and it’s meant keeping a lot of secrets from the few people she cares about.

The main story in Jessica Jones Vol. 1 was interesting but I wasn’t that scared or intrigued by the main villain as I couldn’t really get their motives. This might have been something

I liked the art style in Jessica Jones, and I loved the monotone colours, it really set the tone of the story. While I didn’t love this comic, it does enough to make me want to continue the series to see how Jessica can possibly sort her life out. 3/5.

Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier by Matthew Rosenburg, Travel Foreman and Rachelle Rosenburg

The Black Widow is dead, but someone is killing her old enemies one by one. With a broke heart and a bloody trail to follow, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is looking for answers. The only place he might get them is from another of Natasha’s ex-boyfriends, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Solider. Will Clint and Bucky be able to trust each other enough to get to the truth, or is the truth deadly and out to get them?

I really enjoyed this. It’s a sequel to everything that happened with Secret Wars, Captain America apparently being an agent for Hydra and a lot of bad stuff happening, but you really didn’t need to know any of that to read and enjoy this comic. I only knew the concept of Secret Wars and haven’t read any myself, but this book does enough to give you all you need to then enjoy these characters and their interactions.

I’m a big Clint Barton fan and I really enjoyed how he and Bucky interacted. It was great how in the fist issue it’s told from Clint’s point of view and then the second issue is from Bucky’s, giving you an insight into both of their minds. They both don’t like each other but they have a common goal in finding out what’s going on with Natasha’s past. They have some really funny moments, and Clint is his idiot but capable self which I loved.

I liked the art style and the colours too for the most part, though some facial expressions were a bit overexaggerated for my taste. Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier is a really fun, character-driven mystery and I’d love to read more about Clint and Bucky’s reluctant partnership. 4/5.

FABLES: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Gene Ha

Theresa has a lousy toy boat that she doesn’t really like but it talks to her, encouraging her to run away to a land that she can be Queen of. Theresa travels to Toyland, where broken-down playthings dwell. Wooden, metal, plastic or stuffed, they’re all looking for a queen to fix their bodies and their realm. But these toys are broken in more ways than one. As Theresa’s family search for her, including her wild brother Dare, what will become of her when she discovers the truth about Toyland? And what will staying in that realm cost?

This graphic novel has been sitting on my shelves for years. A friend bought it for me for Christmas one year, but I had never gotten around to reading it as it’s Volume 18 in the Fables series and thought I wouldn’t be able to follow the story without reading the previous 17 volumes. Recently I did some googling and as everyone seemed to say this was a standalone volume I gave it a go.

I do agree it’s a standalone. I could follow the story and the various characters and their relationships easily enough, though there were the few odd moments that seemed to be tied to the larger story that I was unaware of.

The magic system and how all the characters are versions of the classic fairy tales is interesting. Cubs in Toyland was surprisingly sinister and dark at times – these weren’t the fluffy Disney-versions of the fairytales we all know. There were some bloody and violent moments too, which were even more disturbing as they featured young children.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much of a connection to the characters as I hadn’t read the previous volumes, or maybe just the story wasn’t for me, but I did find Cubs in Toyland a bit of a slog to get through, especially the last 40 pages or so. I just didn’t really care to find out how the story would end or if Theresa would be OK. 2/5.

REVIEW: Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

When all the identities of MI7 Agents are revealed in a cyber-attack, the government is forced to recall retied agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), who is the only agent left that might be able to find the hacker.

This is the third Johnny English film and to be honest I have a bit of a soft spot for the series, mainly because of the memories I have of who I was with when I saw each film.

The plot is simple, future events are signposted incredibly obviously, and the villain is so obvious it’s almost painful, but a convoluted plot is not what you get with these movies. There is fun to be had though – a virtual-reality-induced escapade across London is innovative and funny.

It’s Rowan Atkinson’s physical humour that is the best thing about this film and the character, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it. there’s a scene where English has taken some adrenalin drugs and Atkinson’s body movements, alongside the different songs playing was brilliant. English’s incompetence that verges on accidentally brilliance is charming albeit predictable, but Atkinson makes it fun.

Johnny English Strikes Again is family fun for all ages. The showing at the cinema I was at had grandparents with young grandkids, and people of all ages between. It’s nice to watch a film that’s silly and fun without violence and sex-references (thankfully the mysterious Ophelia played by Olga Kurylenko is not set up as a love interest at all) and it’s an easy-watch with its less than 90 minutes runtime. 3/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

It’s Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts and it brings a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis). But there’s danger for Harry as convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is coming after Harry.

I will preface this review by saying that not only is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban my favourite book in the series, it is also my favourite film. So potentially this “review” is a little biased.

There’s a lot of new, and important characters introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban. Both Lupin and Black have history with Harry’s parents, giving him an emotional connection to them both. The Dementors are also introduced and they are some scary creatures that from the outset you can see the affect they have on people. They can suck the soul out of someone and with their black cloaks and hooded figures, they are very much like the grim reaper.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, there’s some dark and scary imagery in this film. In one of the first scenes where Harry is near a park, the creaking sounds of the swings and the roundabout moving in the wind instantly shows what sort of tone the film’s going to have. There’s some beautiful imagery in Prisoner of Azkaban too, the scene where Harry’s flying on Buckbeak the Hippogriff is stunning and the scenes with the Dementors circling Hogwarts as plants wither and die as they pass over them is incredibly eerie yet beautiful.

Everything about Prisoner of Azkaban is more mature. The young cast have grown up a bit since the last film and are more assured in their performances. The tone of the film is darker, gone are the bright colours of the previous two films, instead the landscapes are more muted and Quidditch is played in the rain.

There’s a lot of little things that I love about Prisoner of Azkaban. Like there’s a few scenes of Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), Neville (Matthew Lewis), Seamus (Devon Murray), and Dean Thomas (Alfred Enoch) hanging out and having fun which makes them all feel like actual friends who’ve known each other for a few years now. I like how when the kids are wearing their uniforms, they aren’t all neat and tidy anymore, instead ties are loose, shirts are untucked, and sleeves are rolled up, making each character feel like a real teenager at school. Everyone’s hair is perfect book-hair too.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is brilliant as it has both a sense of wonder and an underlying layer of threat. It’s funny, the characters are becoming more well-rounded and the performances are getting better and better. It’s such a great film, and while there are changes from the book, it’s a great adaptation as it keeps the heart of it. 5/5.