adventure

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.

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REVIEW: The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

Orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) who he discovers is a warlock, and in his house there’s a mysterious clock with unknown powers they must find.

When I saw the trailer for The House with a Clock in Its Walls it reminded me of Jumanji (1995) of all things. And after seeing the film I’ll stand by that gut reaction. It’s got the same blend of adventure, scares and great characters and it’s overall just as charming.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is set in 1955 and that 50s aesthetic is a big part of the films charm. The house is eerie with parts of it coming alive – the house is its own character really and that makes sense as such a large part of the film takes place within its walls. It’s a weird and wonderful place, but there’s also a darkness to it too.

Jonathan’s next-door neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) is witch, and a powerful one too, but her powers have been unpredictable for a while. Blanchett and Black are a surprising but great comic duo, they quickly fire barbs at one another, but you can tell that it’s a form of affection for them and they have a deep friendship.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls has surprising number of layers, I teared up a couple of times during this film, and it’s got some great messages about not being afraid of being different. Plus, there’s some unexpected serious moments about the affects of war and these are woven into the story so well that none of it ever feels preachy.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an unexpected delight. It’s funny, charming and has some child-friendly scares. All those elements are so well balanced it makes it feel like an old-fashioned family adventure in the vein of Jumanji, Hook or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s a really great time. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Set in France during the 1620s, young d’Artagnan looks to join the King’s Musketeers where he meets Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Soon the four of them become firm friends and they have adventures across the country as there’s many plots afoot.

Every August Rincey from Rincey Reads on YouTube hosts a month long readalong of a large and maybe intimidating classic. This year it was The Three Musketeers, a book that’s been on my shelves for at least ten years, so this readalong gave me the push to finally read it.

I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations of The Three Musketeers, I saw some of the episodes of the relatively recent BBC series and I’ve seen a whole host of the various films that have been made over the decades. So, going into The Three Musketeers, I could remember bits about the characters, their relationships, and the story but it was really interesting to learn more about them and get the whole story.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Tristam Summers and it was a great audiobook that sucked me in and I’d definitely recommend it as it made the story fly by and wasn’t as intimidating as the physical book might’ve been.

The main plot of The Three Musketeers takes a while to reveal itself, instead focussing on introducing all the characters and their loyalties. I was surprised how much of the focus of the story was on d’Artagnan, especially the first third. He was definitely the main character rather than the titular three musketeers themselves. Athos is the musketeer with the most backstory, I personally found Aramis kind of snarky and frequently hilarious (he’s my favourite musketeer) but he and especially Porthos were left in the background for the majority of the book.

Once everyone’s been introduced the story moves along at great speed. There’s political intrigue with some people supporting the King, or more specifically the Queen, while others stand by the Cardinal who has he’s own goals. He’s a shady character who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere so when d’Artagnan and the musketeers have a mission, they have to very careful as to who they trust.

The female characters aren’t treated particularly well which is a shame and is potentially a sign of the time it was written. Milady de Winter is a fantastic character though and I would read a spinoff or a prequel about her. She’s a spy and an assassin who uses men’s idea of her, that she can be nothing more than a weak, delicate woman, in order to complete her mission and in some cases get away with murder. She’s brilliant and her interactions with both d’Artagnan and Athos were always interesting.

I loved The Three Musketeers. It is a proper action-adventure with some political intrigue and romance sprinkled through it as well. The characters, especially d’Artagnan, ends up in a completely different place compared to where they started, and I could never have predicted where the story goes even though I’ve seen various film adaptations. The Three Musketeers is just a lot of fun. 5/5.

REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

When a volcano on Isla Nublar becomes active, it threatens the lives of the only dinosaurs on Earth. Former park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and raptor behaviourist Owen (Chris Pratt) mount a campaign to rescue the dinosaurs but those funding the expedition have other plans for the creatures.

Fallen Kingdom is a film of two parts. The first is a disaster film and a race against time. The second part is a horror film. The switch between these two elements isn’t exactly smooth and the middle section does drag a bit but when these two elements take their turn being at the forefront, Fallen Kingdom is a tense and exciting film.

The sequence on the island shows off all the dinosaurs in all their glory. The special effects are overall stunning. In some of the wider shots with multiple creatures the effects aren’t quite as great but on the close ups on individual dinosaurs the level of detail is incredible.

When the story moves to the Lockwood Estate, where businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) awaits the dinosaurs, the tension amps up with the introduction of a new creation from scientist Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong). This is when the film turns into a story about a creepy mansion filled with monsters.

The main problem with Fallen Kingdom is the humans. It’s hard to care about them and while I didn’t want any of the “heroes” to get eaten, it was more from the typical desire for the protagonists to succeed rather than any fond feeling I had for them as characters. Claire is a character who’s changed a lot since we saw her in Jurassic World (2015) but Owen is just the same brash guy. There’s new characters like computer tech Franklin (Justice Smith) and veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) who while are pretty two-dimensional offer a new perspective of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately they both are absent for the majority of the third act leaving it to Claire and Owen to save the day again.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has some spectacular set pieces and some generally scary moments. However, the human characters and their often-stupid decisions, let the film down. 3/5.

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

My original review of Thor: Ragnarok from October 2017 is here.

Imprisoned on the planet Sakaar, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) but he must find a way to escape and return to Asgard, where Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, is set to takeover.

Thor: Ragnarok is a weird and wonderful comedy superhero film. It’s bright and colourful, with wacky characters, costumes and settings. It’s very different to the previous Thor films which can be a little jarring but once you accept that it’s showing a different side to these characters, it’s a fun ride.

It’s the characters and their interactions that makes Thor: Ragnarok. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back and once again you’re not entirely sure if he can be trusted, but through his conversations with Thor you see a different side to their relationship. There’s so many moments in this film where you can see their history and how they really are brothers who have grown up together. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is a hard-drinking scavenger and a really interesting new character. Her banter with Thor, and playfulness with the Hulk are unexpected but great. When Thor, Loki, Valkyrie and Hulk (and also Bruce Banner when he makes an appearance) are together, or any combinations of thereof, their chemistry is clear to see.

The action sequences are a lot of fun and exciting. Seeing Thor and Hulk battle is a real joy to watch while the battle for Asgard between Thor, his companions and Hela is one of the best third acts in a Marvel movie. It’s funny, compelling and has a fair few unexpected moments.

There are some uneven moments in Thor: Ragnarok when it comes to balancing the comedy with the drama. Mostly it works, but a couple of times a joke undercuts the emotion of a scene when is a shame.

Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun. It’s bizarre but still manages to have some of the best character development we’ve seen for Thor for ages. It also has more serious themes like colonialism and refugees, while still being very funny. 4/5.

REVIEW: Tomb Raider (2018)

When Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) goes in search of what happened to her father (Dominic West), who’s been missing (presumed dead) for seven years, she ends up on a mysterious island run by mercenaries led by Vogel (Walton Goggins).

Tomb Raider is the latest adaptation of the video game series of the same name. I’ve not played any of the Tomb Raider games since the late 1990s but from my understanding, this film is an adaptation of the rebooted video game franchise, wherein it’s more dark and gritty and grounded in reality.

We meet Lara Croft in this film as she’s striving to be independent and won’t except her father’s death. She’s a normal young woman (though admittedly one who is fitter than most) so seeing her be pushed to her emotional and physical limits as she struggles to discover the truth is great. Lara is capable but she’s also hurting, Vikander plays her complexities brilliantly. Throughout the film you could tell Vikander was doing the majority of her stunts and fights, adding to the excitement.

Once Lara arrives on the island the pace of the film slows down a bit, relying more on the intrigue of what Vogel’s looking for than fast-paced action. That’s not to say there aren’t any action sequences on the island. The sequence with the rusty plane is tense and thrilling, with Lara herself referring to the fact that everything seems to keep getting worse for her. This, amongst other reasons, makes Lara a character you root for.

The thing in the tomb that Vogel and his employer are looking for is a bit on the far-fetched but all the boobytraps are a joy to watch unfold. Also, Vogel’s motivations aren’t that clear and he and his men aren’t fleshed-out villains. There could’ve been any bad guy really, as this was Lara’s, and Vikander’s, movie and time to shine.

While it almost feels strange to hope for a franchise in this day and age, I really hope Tomb Raider is the start of a franchise. Alicia Vikander was a great Lara Croft and as Tomb Raider is Lara’s origin story, it would be great to see Vikander’s Lara go on a proper adventure of her own choosing. 4/5.

REVIEW: Treasure Planet (2002)

When Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers a map to a legendary pirate’s treasure, he embarks on a journey with a crew led by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) to find it. But danger is close with John Silver (Brian Murray) on board.

Everything about this film is wonderful!

Treasure Planet is an adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and it’s a story that works surprisingly well in space with it’s larger than life characters and the action and intrigue. Jim is a great character as his experiences shape him, he grows from being a young rebel dreaming of adventure to someone who puts his life on the line for others.

Jim’s relationship with John Silver is brilliant too. The film does a great job of showing how Silver isn’t a one-dimensional villain and while he may be desperate for treasure, he may also start to care about Jim as well.

The animation style is great as it’s a mixture of traditional hand-drawn and computer animation. The human characters are hand-drawn while more mechanical characters are made from CGI, these two styles along with the gorgeous colours of space makes everything on screen look beautiful.

The two songs featured in Treasure Planet by John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls are fantastic and I’ve been listening to them almost non-stop since I watched the film. I’m Still Here is like a gut-punch when you hear it during the film as you really see and feel what Jim is yearning for. The score is also great and it’s suitably epic and beautiful.

I missed Treasure Planet when it was first released over 15 years ago. I didn’t watch a lot of early 2000’s Disney films – I think I thought I was too old for them – and I’m annoyed at my younger-self as I was missing out on a thrilling adventure with great characters and stunning worlds and technology. Treasure Planet is now one of my favourite Disney films, it’s up there with The Lion King and The Beauty & the Beast for me. Treasure Planet is a great adventure and I loved every second. 5/5.