Harry Potter: a brief review…

As Cartman said so eloquently, “Yes I’ve seen the Terrence and Philip movie – who wants to touch me? I said who wants to fucking touch me?!” The good news first – there is very little bad news at all. It’s an honourable, faithful and entertaining translation that only falls down in a few areas, and not enough for it to spoil what is essentially one of the best children’s films I’ve ever seen. Make no mistake – this is a film for kids, but nonetheless it’s a slice of tremendously good fun that I’d defy anyone not to enjoy a bit.

You couldn’t get a much more faithful adaptation than this. Almost every scene from the book appears to be in the film – which may explain its 2 1/2 hour running time. Whether or not you can effectively fit every sub-plot of the book into two and a half hours must remain a resounding ‘maybe’ – because some scenes (particularly the earliest ones) seem to have been trimmed to within an inch of their lives. But nonetheless they are almost all there – which means there is time to explore Diagon Alley, go to the zoo with the Dursleys, travel on the Hogwart’s Express, see the Great Hall’s roof sparkling like the night sky, go into the Dark Forest, visit Hagrid’s cabin and take part in a Quidditch match. And there’s also time to give even the less important characters a bit of a personality – from the man at the wand shop, to Neville Longbottom.

The adults are all actors of a distinguished British calibre – and as such seldom disappoint. Particularly impressive are Hagrid and Professor Snapes – Alan Rickman re-establishing himself in my eyes as the most astonishingly cool creature in creation. The children are more wooden – but perhaps you’d expect that – they are (ater all) really quite young. Ron is a comic genius – the boy’s timing is astonishing – but Hermione’s played at a slightly more hysterical level than one might like, and Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry can border on the plank-like. But by the end of the film you’ve bought into the whole thing so heavily that you barely notice, let alone care.

The films one failing might be it’s special effects. Harry’s new world is such a spectacle of the impossible that barely a scene goes by without some kind of CGI work having to be put together. And sometimes the strain (and cost) of maintaining such a level of wonder shows. An early scene in which an animal turns into a human has clearly been done on the cheap, and the Quidditch match alternates between extraordinarily expensive and not entirely convincing CGI players and old-fashioned (fairly obvious) misdirection. Look out for a clunker of a crash, where the broomstick-flyer falls a good few feet completely behind a fabric curtain. And one might quibble about the unnaturally even ground in the Dark Forest, or the Centaur that escaped from Shrek.

Again, there’s so much to like about the film that you can forgive it it’s minor failings – and I personally could quite cheerfully have watched yet another twenty minutes or so without getting bored. Close your eyes and jump in – you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Design Film

Antitrust Antivert…

Antitrust Antivert: As I said earlier I went to see Antitrust this evening. What I didn’t say was that it actually was really quite poor. However, there were some incredibly (unintentionally) funny bits. By way of an affectionate tribute to the film, combined with some good old fashioned advertising, I present you with the Antitrust Antivert:

A tremendous amount of thanks to Lance Arthur for the code, and to him and Simon for playing my ‘build something cool in an hour and a half, ending at 1am GMT’ game, that has caused me to release lacklustre product and have a couple of minor caffeine related heart-flutters. [Simon’s project]

This is very much only the beginning of the advertising campaign. If you would like your image to be included, then find me a good quote about the film and chuck me a photo and I’ll assemble an ad for you as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you want to include the ad on your site, then just insert the code below:

<script language="javascript" src=""> </script>

Using IMDB to predict the 2001 Oscars…

Hypothesis: 1) The Oscars are essentially a populist enterprise that reflect the basic passions of the audience rather more than (perhaps) they should. 2) The IMDB is a similarly populist enterprise. 3) It might be plausible to compare the top rated films on the IMDB with previous “Best Film” nominated movies. 4) If there was a significant degree of similarity, then we might be able to predict the 2001 “Best Film” nominations.

Let us first turn to the nominations for last year’s Oscars. These were: American Beauty (winner), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider and The Sixth Sense.

The IMDB ratings for the same year are as follows: American Beauty (winner: 8.7/10, 31532 votes), Toy Story 2 (8.3/10, 9645 votes), The Sixth Sense (8.3/10, 26850 votes), The Matrix (8.3/10, 39617 votes), Fight Club (8.3/10, 20546 votes), Being John Malkovich (8.2/10, 13311 votes), The Green Mile (8.1/10, 12928 votes), Magnolia (8.1/10, 10177 votes), The Insider (8.1/10 10177 votes), The Straight Story (8.0/10, 3243 votes), The Iron Giant (7.9/10, 3812 votes). All of these films are in the top 100 films.

The only film that the IMDB does not rate is The Cider House Rules, which suggests a certain degree of reliability (although there clearly may be self-reflexive factors in play, as people are encouraged to watch new movies by their Oscar nominations). There are also, however, notable discrepancies between the two lists. It cannot be conincidental that the more artistically challenging and/or violent films fell foul of the Academy. Nor can the exception of genre pieces and/or films ostensibly for children be ignored.

Now let us turn towards the IMDBs recommended films for the year 2000. The most notable difference between the two years from the perspective of the IMDB is that there are simply many many more highly rated films in 1999 than there were in 2000. The list below is the complete list of all films made in 2000 that made it into the IMDB Top 250. There were eight of them, with a top ranking of 45. The previous year is represented by sixteen films in the top 250, of which five are in the top fifty alone. Clearly 2000 was a fairly dubious year for film-making.

IMDB’s top rated films for 2000:

Working on the principles briefly established, ignoring particularly challenging films (Requiem for a Dream), animated / childrens films (Chicken Run) and genre pieces, my predictions for the 2001 Oscar nominations for Best Picture are as follows:

I’ll be down the bookies with a fiver, then.


On watching "The Patriot"…

Hollywood history has had its villains, and they seem to come in blocks. At the end of the forties (with strands oozing all the way up until the present day), these villains were from Nazi Germany. In the fifties, these villains were the Red Menace of Communists at home and abroad. By the end of the sixties, the enemy was becoming (more often than you’d expect) the government itself. By the time we reach the seventies and eighties, if the enemies were anything, it was probably taste. But that’s another story.
But in this – the first year of the new Millennium, there are a whole new batch of bad-guys to hate and fear – the people who may come along while you sleep and replace your children with crude duplicates carved out of root vegetables – the people who wear exotic clothing and move in an almost sinisterly stiff fashion – mindless drones of cruel masters, the menace is now … British …

INTERLUDE: A man and a woman leave the cinema and walk towards their car. The woman turns to the man and says, “I thought that bloody film would never end.” The man replies, “In some of the lower circles of hell, it never will.”

The plot of the Patriot is loosely based upon actual events in the US. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) plays a retired Colonel with an infinity of Healthy, Wholesome Children and a cult of cheery non-enslaved black people who belt out the odd cheery number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Little Mermaid.
The oldest of his Healthy, Wholesome Children is called Gabriel (Heath Ledger) – a headstrong child, but with good moral fibre and teeth. His father – ashamed of his actions in the French and Indian War – decides to sit out the attempt of America to declare independence from Britain. But when Gabriel (who, I should add, resembles nothing more than a claymation duplicate of himself) enlists in the army, only to be captured by evil British Colonel Tavington – a man who subsequently burns down the family home and disposes of one of the middle Healthy Wholesome Children – Ben Martin realises that he has to get involved in the struggle.
Assembling a team of guerilla fighters, Ben Martin gradually takes a more and more central role in defending the good old US of A from the brutish Brits – but will his daughter come around and recognise him again? Will Joely Richardson (playing the sister of Ben Martin’s dead wife) fall in love with him? And will he get the opportunity to run around in slow motion with a huge American flag.
Yes. Yes. And yes, I’m afraid he will.

INTERLUDE: The man and the woman return home to their flatmate, who works in the film industry. She is eager to hear all about the film, as the English villain is played by someone she used to work with. The man and the woman struggle to explain how bad the film is, how it plays fast and loose with history and how Mel Gibson really must have an issue with the British – particularly after Braveheart. Between them the three try out various new names for the movie, including “The Patronise” and “The Pantriot”.

The Patriot was released in America some time around Independence Day – which is pretty much what you’d expect I guess. The reviews were pretty average in the US, and worse in the UK.
The problem with the film is that it passes over the opportunity to actually talk about a difficult time in American history – where loyalties were heavily conflicted between royalists and those who supported independence – and decides instead to opt for cheap jingoism, often at the expense of the truth. The “Old World” becomes the repository for all that is bad in the world, and the “New World” the representation of all that is positive.
Now before I go any further, I should point out that I’m not in any way here trying to defend the actions of Imperialist cultures of which the British Empire was one of the most globally successful and brutal. These cultures committed wide-spread atrocities world-wide, taking over less technologically advanced cultures and erasing people who got in their way.
But bear in mind that even in the time that the film is set, many colonial Americans still considered themselves to be, in essence, Europeans – members of the same culture that would be through this war divided into two. These same colonial Americans were systematically involved in the extermination of Native American cultures, they came from the same cultural background as the people they were fighting and they were supported by an anti-royalist French with their own colonial agendas.
It’s very difficult to retrofit modern morals onto period politics with any success at all – but while “No Taxation Without Representation” still works for modern moralists, the fact both Americans and Europeans were still involved in slavery makes the clear moral division a harder one to delineate into a simplistic “goodies” versus “baddies” movie.
But rather than explore this tension, the film instead hides it, characterising the British as child-eating, church-burning, godless deviants, while all the things that Americans today find objectionable about their own past – the things that generate guilt (again, for example, slavery) are also shunted off onto the malevolent European.
Case in point: At one point, the Aardman-animated Gabriel makes a speech to a black slave who is fighting alongside them. He says something to the effect of, “We are fighting against the Old World, and Old Ways, this is the New World, and there will be no slavery in it”. Actual facts – Britain abolished slavery FORTY YEARS before the United States did. And when the issue of slavery was finally to be decided in the US, it became a substantial component in a Civil War.
The Patriot can’t and won’t face up to this fact, and so remains an insult to history and a cheap attempt to depict a difficult and complicated struggle as instead Evil, Corrupt, Power-Crazed, Racist Big Monarchist Bad Guys versus simple decent farmer folk who love black people and freedom and don’t really even WANT to fight and who are actually Australian in upbringing. It’s like a part of American culture is still a teenager, lurking like Bart Simpson in the middle of a calamity, saying to itself: “I didn’t do it!

INTERLUDE: The man and his flatmate who works in the film industry go to Sainsbury’s on Finchley Road in London. Suddenly they notice the evil British star of The Patriot getting some groceries with his wife. The flatmate smiles and chats and says that she’s heard good things about the film, determined not to say anything bad about it until she’s at least SEEN the film. The man stands back, trying to work out why ANYONE would do a film in which they are helping to generate a revisionist view of history which slams their own country. He can’t think of a thing to say…

… so I’ll end with a quote from an article in Salon about the phenomenon of the EVIL BRITISH:
“The prizewinning historian and biographer Andrew Roberts called the film Patriot “racist” in the Daily Express, and pointed out that it was only the latest in a series of films like “Titanic,” “Michael Collins” and “The Jungle Book” remake that have depicted the British as “treacherous, cowardly, evil [and] sadistic.” Roberts had a theory: “With their own record of killing 12 million American Indians and supporting slavery for four decades after the British abolished it, Americans wish to project their historical guilt onto someone else.””


On the world premiere of Snatch…

So I went to the world première of Snatch last night, and I can now give you the low down on the film and the event. Quick bit of preliminary guff first though – I wasn’t actually looking forward to going because I felt under a considerable amount of pressure to like the film, since my flatmate worked on it. I was terrified that I’d have to look her in the eye for months and tell her how much I loved it when I’d been cringing in my seat and squirming with horror. And worse, I’d have to be convincing. As it turned out this wasn’t necessary – thank god.

The movie is similar to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in that it takes place around London’s seedier parts, has a large cast of wide boys and loveable (and not so loveable) gangsters and rogues, has large amounts of stylised camera angles and slo-mo, and almost cracks under the weight of the soundtrack, which is bombastic, ever present and – at times – rather over-bearing. The most obvious difference between the two films is that Snatch is a much darker enterprise – with more violence, more cruelty and a much darker wit.

The first ten minutes are excruciatingly bad. Whether that is to do with the sound levels or the fact that it involves a group of people dressed as orthodox Jews holding up a diamond warehouse while talking about Catholicism is hard to say, but it really is astonishingly poor. But once you’re past that, the film is a success, with Brad Pitt being a particular treat. There has to be a fair amount of comedy in having a $20 million star in a film and not being able to understand a word that he says…

It’s not really a date movie, it may be more of a guy film than a girl film, and it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s one scene with a couple of dogs and a hare that will probably rile a number of people as well. But at heart it really is a good film – and well worth watching.


9. On playing games in the cinema…

9 On playing games in the cinema:

The period before the movie begins is possibly the most important part of the film-going experience. At least two-thirds of the fun of two-thirds of the films lies in their anticipation – in finding odd little bits of gossip or pictures or finding a way to sneak into a preview screening. Everyone knows this, which is why trailers are such fun. I remember still the experience of seeing the Mission Impossible 2 trailer for the first time and the collective intake of breath that was heard across the theatre. And the film, well that was pretty lame.

But the moments before a film need not only be a passive experience, which is why I have decided to finally let people into the world of pre-movie games that I play in the cinema EVERY TIME I GO. [This is not a joke]

  • Game One – guess the product.
    This is not a game for the Americans amongst us, as I believe they don’t get adverts for cars and soft drinks before a movie starts. For the rest of us though, the game consists of being the first one to name the product that the advert is selling. Strategy and discipline are all important, as advertisers get more imaginative and yet still trickier. Using this time in order to point out logical inconsistencies or weirdnesses in the adverts is also considered appropriate during such matches. Adding dialogue when the soundtrack lulls (as in the Guinness advert with the surfers and the Leftfield soundtrack – at this point shout “bad pants!” if British) is a crucial way to increase camaraderie in these competitive times.

  • Game Two – name the film production company or distrubutor
    Times have changed since the hayday of this game, but the spirit remains the same. Those little bits at the beginnings of movies and trailers which spin around with a little jingle and resolve themselves into the name of the film company or distributor are just begging to be placed into a game. Watch for tricky ones: Tristar and Columbia are very similar (evil Sony), while Mandalay and Centropolis are incredibly simple.

  • Game Three – name the trailer
    Very much like “guess the product”, only with films, this game includes the possibility of scoring extra points for naming the movie before the trailer has even started. Take for example The Perfect Storm, Mars Attacks! or The Matrix – these have such distinctive Warner Brother’s logos beforehand that both production company AND film can be named at the same time for a double whammy!

But with all these games finally completed, sit back and relax, because you must be completely silent before the film actually begins…!


The Movie Therapist…

Listen very carefully, my friends, for this is the most important thing I have ever had to tell you. This concerns the wonders of Movie Therapy. For years I laboured under the misapprehension that when one was miserable one watched a sad film. Slowly over the years I began to realise that this wasn’t the case. So here are some of my recommendations for handling emotional instability through Meme Therapy…

The immediate temptation when one is in this kind of mood is to go and see some form of romantic comedy. The phrase “comedy” is the killer here, creating the impression that you will be invigorated and cheered up by the story. Unfortunately this is simply not true when you are feeling lovelorn – instead you are likely to find your own situation even more pitiable and begin to hate and resent the film itself.

The best solution in these circumstances is to see a film that makes you feel powerful and pro-active, rather than one that makes you feel inadequate. Action films are always relatively good, but don’t choose anything with particular lulls in it as these are likely to result in a loss of interest (Pulp Fiction has too large a range of emotional responses for example). A strong figure to identify with style and panache always helps. The Matrix is great for this kind of thing.

Another way out of the impasse is to watch a terrifying film which fills you with adrenaline. The original Halloween is particularly good for this, Scream is OK, but Scream 2 is hopeless.

If you are of a slightly more cynical bent, you can scrabble a certain amount of pleasure and bile out of a black comedy. This is not recommended for those unfamiliar with Meme Therapy as you are prone to savage eyebrow movements and attacks of biting satirical wit.

Recommendations: The Matrix, A Bond Film, Terminator 2, Scream, Halloween. [Cynical Bent: Fight Club, Cube]

There are several forms of anger. If you suffer a form of frustrated anger with an authority figure or the like that you are unable to do anything about in person, then again a decent action film with a strong villain is ideal. However, the most elegant solution to this kind of problem is an anti-establishment comedy which ridicules a figure who represents your enemy rather than destroys them. For anger generated by job pressures, one of the many 80s comeuppance films (Working Girl, Wall Street) work very well.

Anger against a partner is the only time when you can effectively watch a romantic comedy, but be careful that you choose the time well as the experience of watching the film will either cause you to forgive your partner and be sensitive and loving for a while, or you will immediately dump them to be with someone you think you can be sensitive or loving with. Be careful, romantic comedies are dangerous things.

Recommendations: Working Girl, Wall Street, Mallrats, When Harry Met Sally, One Fine Day, The Matrix.

That’s all for now. Remember these are not general film recommendations, but ways of dealing with and alleviating emotional difficulties that you might be facing. Go with my love, my children.