film review

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

On the run up the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald I’m rewatching and reviewing all the Harry Potter films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as they’re films that made up a big part of my childhood but I’ve never reviewed them before.

Orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers he’s a wizard and joins the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes new friends and rivals and learns that there’s an evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s hard to talk about the Harry Potter films individually when you’ve seen the entire series and have read the books. You know where all these characters end up and The Philosopher’s Stone sets up so many character arcs and mentions so many people or items that will become more important later on in the grand scheme of things, and it does it all so well. With hindsight I appreciate The Philosopher’s Stone a lot, it’s a perfect introduction to this whole new magical world, taking the time to explain things while still having a compelling mystery at its core.

While he’s learning magic and potions, Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) who soon become his best friends. When they’re not in classes the three of them stumble across a massive three-headed dog and soon get involved in a secret hidden in their school. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone works so well because one of its main story elements is the adults don’t or won’t believe the children, so they are the ones who have to go on a potentially dangerous adventure to save the day. Everyone has been a child so it’s a situation we can all relate to.

The main young trio Radcliffe, Grint and Hermione Watson give fine performances but it’s the adult cast that’s built around them that manages to be great but at the same time never overshadows their child co-stars. Richard Harris as Dumbledore is brilliant, he’s wise and calm but it’s clear he’s powerful and respected. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane, as Professor McGonagall and Hagrid respectively, both bring warmth and humour to their roles. It’s Alan Rickman as Professor Snape that really stands out though. He plays Snape with such nuance that he’s an intriguing character from the outset.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is so bright and colourful which you appreciate more when you think about how dark, both in tone and colour palette, the latter films get. While some of the special effects have not aged so well, the Quidditch match is still thrilling to watch. The score is beautiful, and it’s funny going back to the beginning because these musical cues have become so iconic, and who knew this music would be here to stay.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great family film. It’s funny, exciting and has a compelling mystery at its heart. It’s a great starting point for adapting the books. 5/5.

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REVIEW: The Predator (2018)

When a lethal alien creature crash lands on Earth, a ragtag group of soldiers must fight to survive.

The Predator starts off well with the opening sequence of sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encountering the predator for the first time. It’s an exciting scene that shows how deadly the Predator is and what humans are up against. McKenna takes some of the creatures’ tech and mails it to his home as he thinks no one will believe him. There his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) opens the box and starts playing with it, putting himself and everyone around him in danger.

The actual plot leaves much to be desired with the films own established logic frequently being ignored. For instance, bullets are seen to have little to no effect on the Predator, but these characters still keep shooting it. It also tried to fit in a lot of scientific reasoning as to why the Predator had come to Earth, connecting it to some of the previous films while doing so, but it didn’t really work nor was it needed.

For an action/horror film, there’s a lot of jokes in this film, and barely any of them land. Every single character’s defining trait is “they’re funny” which not only makes it hard for any of these characters to stand out, but when the film tries to have a serious moment between characters it doesn’t work. There’s one moment where something happens that I expect was supposed to be sad and poignant, but people laughed. Sterling K. Brown plays the government bad guy and he’s supposed to be intimidating and scary but because he’s cracking jokes in every scene he’s in, he just doesn’t feel threatening.

The action is generally well shot and exciting and there is a lot of blood and gore as the Predator violently kills just about anyone it encounters. However, the editing was a little odd and inconsistent at times. People and cars move between shots and are suddenly in different places making some sequences hard to follow.

The Predator is an easily forgettable film. Even while writing this review, I was struggling to remember anything that really stood out, both positive and negative. It’s mostly fun, though Tremblay’s character having autism and it being used to further the plot in a stereotypical way is problematic, but it also has nothing to make it memorable in terms of the genre or of the franchise it’s a part of. 2/5.

REVIEW: 5 to 7 (2014)

Twenty-four-year-old aspiring writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) embarks on a relationship with thirty-three-year-old Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), the only catch is she is married with two young children and they can only meet between the hours of 5 to 7 each evening.

5 to 7 is a sweet romantic film that is elevated by the performances and chemistry between the leads. Brian could easily be an annoying would-be writer, putting off going to law school in order to “follow his dream”, but Yelchin has this effortless charm that makes Brian an idealistic romantic. Arielle is the more complex and interesting of the two of them, she’s up front with what she wants and the rules of their relationship. Seeing Brian and Arielle’s relationship grow is surprisingly beautiful.

Glenn Close and Frank Langella are Brain’s parents and while they aren’t in the film much, when they do make an appearance, they are hilarious, Langella especially. Their reactions to Brian and Arielle’s relationship is very realistic as they care about their son and don’t want him to get hurt, but can also see that he’s happy.

The directing, cinematography and music is all top notch and the film shows New York City at its most picturesque.

5 to 7 is unexpectedly lovely. The way the story unfolds as these two people fall more and more in love is both touching and wistful. 5 to 7 is an intriguing take on love, and how there can be so many different types of it and you can encounter it when you least expect it. 4/5.

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) have been dating for over a year, and when it’s Nick’s best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore, it’s the perfect chance for Rachel to meet Nick’s family and friends – what she doesn’t expect is for them all to be super rich and famous!

Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s big, bright and full of over the top characters and settings, and somehow it all works.

Singapore with all its people, buildings and food looks stunning. The film captures the extravagance of these characters lives, showing all the glitz and glamour but still being able to shine light, however briefly, on the characters more hidden sides – one of Nick’s cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot with her dissatisfied husband (Pierre Png) that’s heart-breaking.

Rachel and Nick are a believable couple as their chemistry is fantastic and they actually talk about the problems they encounter – though both of them don’t always understand what the other could face because of their relationship. Rachel’s main adversary is Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s glamourous and reserved mother. She wants the best for her son and see’s Rachel as an outsider and a distraction, both because of Rachel’s status in class, and the fact she grew up in America. As Eleanor’s disapproval becomes more obvious, Rachel must decide whether to fight or give in to the almost insurmountable pressures she and Nick are under. While Eleanor is the villain to Rachel’s hero, the film never fully villainises her, instead being sure to show Eleanor’s side to things and making her sympathetic in her own way.

The whole cast is brilliant and while the romance is the main focus, the film showcases some brilliant relationships between women. There’s Rachel and her best friend from university Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who is hilarious and supportive, Astrid is one of the few members of her family to fully accept and like Rachel straight away, and Rachel and mother (Kheng Hua Tan) have one of the best mother-daughter relationships, and while her mother is from China, even she doesn’t quite get all the ins and outs of high Singapore society.

Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, romantic film with engaging characters you root for. Everything works, the opulence, the music and the cast. It’s a delightful film that’s pure escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that. 5/5.

You can read my review of the book here.

REVIEW: Life Partners (2014)

Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gilliam Jacobs) are best friends who are just a little co-dependent. Their relationship is tested when Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody) and has a serious boyfriend for the first time.

Life Partners is a great take on female friendship and the ups and downs of a friendship as you go through different life events. While the same age, Sasha and Paige are at different stages of their lives. When Paige meets Tim and starts to think about settling down, Sasha is still going out and dating girls who are younger than her and, more often than not, still live with their parents. And it’s not even their relationships that are different, it’s the career paths – Paige is a lawyer while Sasha has been a receptionist for years, so she can focus on her music. These are two very real and relatable women and their friendship is relatable too.

Both Sasha and Paige have their flaws and seeing them begin to recognise them and try to change or apologise, was lovely to see. The script is funny and heartfelt and allows these two female characters to be layered and their friendship is never stereotypical.

Meester and Jacobs have great chemistry, as do Jacobs and Brody, meaning that when Tim comes into the picture, you root for him because he makes Paige happy but can see how insecure he’s making Sasha at the same time. Life Partners has a great balance of romance, humour and drama that makes it feel very true to life.

Life Partners is a character-driven film about two young women and the pitfalls and confusion they encounter when trying to be adults. Their friendship is at the heart of this film and thanks to a great script and cast it’s a friendship and a story that just works. 5/5.

REVIEW: Chi-Raq (2015)

Fed up with the violence on the streets of her city due to the rivalry between the Spartans led by her boyfriend Demetrius (Nick Cannon) and the Trojans led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) rallies the Spartans’ and the Trojans’ lovers to withhold sex until there is peace.

Directed by Spike Lee, Chi-Raq is a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Whether because of its ancient Greek play roots, or because it’s a musical, the dialogue in Chi-raq has a rhythm to it and often rhymes. In terms of dialogue it reminds me of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in a way, but Chi-Raq is still its own unique thing.

Chi-Raq offers commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement, with names of real people who have been murdered being mentioned throughout, and Americas’ obsession with guns in general. While all the characters are affected by gun violence in some way, it is Jennifer Hudson’s Irene who is at the centre of it all when her young child is killed. She’s in mourning but with the help of Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) she takes part in their own protest against the killing of innocent bystanders.

Besides the broader social commentary, Chi-Raq also has some brilliant female characters and shows off the power of solidarity between women which was fantastic. The heart and soul of Chi-Raq is Lysistrata. She’s funny, strong and determined. She unifies people in a way that no one could’ve expected and Teyonah Parris is magnificent.

Everything about Chi-Raq is big and bold and very stylish. The music and songs are catchy, and the dance routines are often over the top but everything about it works so well. It’s message is obvious but it also manages to be a film that’s fun and full of characters with depth.

Chi-Raq is striking and as about as subtle as a brick to the face but with some incredible performances, especially by its female leads, it’s a funny yet powerful film. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Meg (2018)

A team of scientists exploring the deep depths of the ocean discover more than they bargained for when they encounter a megalodon, a giant species of shark thought to be extinct.

The Meg does take a while to find its feet. There’s a lot of characters to introduce, almost too many to keep track of or care about, which takes time but once ex-deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) arrives things step up a gear. The first half of The Meg is more of a claustrophobic thriller as researchers are trapped at the bottom of the ocean with something attacking their vessel, the second half is more of the fun, action-packed people vs giant shark film you were probably expecting.

Naturally the scenes filmed on boats are a combination of filming in a giant tank with green screen, and being on the actual ocean, and the computer wizardry meshes those two together really well, so you really believe these characters are either going to swim or be eaten. The special effects are also great on the shark, it feels like a real intimidating presence and when a character gets a bit close to its jaws you get worried.

The film really thrives whenever Jason Statham is on screen. The Meg was pitched as Jason Statham vs a giant shark and it certainly delivers that, eventually that is. The action sequences whenever anyone is in the water are tense and while there are a lot of people for the Meg to chomp on, not that many people get eaten. The Meg doesn’t really go in for the blood and gore, which in certain sequences is a shame and makes the deaths somewhat samey and almost dull, but it’s a film that knows exactly what it is and relishes in it.

The Meg does try for more serious and emotional moments and they don’t always hit the mark. That’s not down to the cast, who all look like they are having a great time and do a great job even with some of the cheesy dialogue, but is more down to the pacing and the film trying to overstretch itself beyond the monster movie it is.

I will give The Meg its due for having a more internationally diverse cast than you usually see in a Hollywood film of its ilk, and it has not one but three smart female characters who are all scientist of some description. In the case of Li Bingbing’s Suyin, she is almost a co-lead with Statham and does just as much as him when it comes to saving the day.

The Meg is a lot of fun. There are jokes sprinkled throughout, a lot of which land, and the film generally knows what it is and has fun with that. There are a few typical tropes, for instance the greedy billionaire, but it makes them work. 4/5.