I have been to see two films at press screenings over the past two weeks and, while they are two very different movies, I thought I would review them in the same blog post. First up is Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now unfortunately with each Potter film that has been released, they make less and less of an impact on me as a viewer. Harry Potter is one of the few modern film franchises that seems totally impervious to critical response. As I write this, Deathly Hallows Part 1 racked up an opening weekend in the US of $125m and made over £18m just in the UK. So the audience for Potter is so huge around the world that it wouldn’t matter if every critic, every magazine and every newspaper slated it. So I am going to present my thoughts here knowing full well that it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, adapts the first half of the final Harry Potter novel. School Hogwarts plays no part in this story as villain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has his firm grip on the magical world and so The Deathly Hallows deals with Harry, Hermione and Ron attempting to avoid his agents while working out a way of foiling the evil magician’s diabolical plans. There are several problems with this film and the most heinous crime it commits here is that there is no concession to anybody who hasn’t lived and breathed Harry Potter for the past decade. Alright, this is the seventh part of a film series but anyone who isn’t conversant with the canon or the characters would not understand or really care if they sat and watched this film. Additionally, the opening sequence, where Moody (Brendan Gleeson) alters the appearances of several of the other characters to look like Potter so that Voldemort’s agents are thrown off the scent, is a nifty idea but one that is thrown away after the first 15 minutes and replaced by what feels like hours of turgid dullness with Harry, Hermione and Ron wandering through the forests and fields of the country, while all of the grand battles and action seems to occur off-camera. Two-and-a-half hours is a long running time for this, especially when a large proportion of this feels like filler and time-wasting. There are a couple of nice scenes, namely the chase at the beginning and the animated sequence where we learn what the title means is visually very impressive. But perhaps the other scenes were more powerful on the printed page but it slows the pacing down significantly. If all of the key plot moments occur in the second half of The Deathly Hallows, then Part 1 cannot work as a film in its own right. If you are a Harry Potter obsessive, then you would have seen this film already and if you are not a fan or interested in the genre, then you won’t see it anyway. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a very frustrating film…
Megamind is the latest animated film from DreamWorks and stars the voice talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. Megamind takes the Superman story (alien gets rocketed to Earth from a dying planet) and turns it a little bit on its head. Megamind is the lifelong nemesis of square-jawed Metro Man but when he gets his wish and wipes Metro Man out seemingly for good, his life becomes meaningless. So he sets about creating a new superhero adversary for himself but that’s when things start to go wrong. Ferrell as Megamind is extremely good and Pitt ( Metro Man) and Fey (as reporter Roxanne Ritchi) are very talented vocal foils for him. The animation here is fantastic, using 3-D to very impressive effect. The flying sequences are particularly effective but the whole film utilises the format very cannily. Its script is funny and sharp where it needs to be and its mild subversion of superhero and comicbook tropes make it a much cleverer film than you might expect. Its running time of 95 minutes means that it never outstays its welcome and holds your attention throughout. Dreamworks has been one of the only animation houses to truly challenge Pixar’s dominance of the modern market and Megamind is a worthy addition to that canon…


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October and November have been interesting months. Apart from going to New York in October, I got to meet Michael Moorcock in London (something which I’ll save for another post) but I also was lucky enough to go to an event at BAFTA in London to commemorate the reissue of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the critical reaction to which caused Powell to stop making films in the UK. It is 50 years since its release and it is coming to Blu-Ray after a cinema rerelease on November 19th. The event at BAFTA was introduced first by Professor Ian Christie, who used to work at the BFI, Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Powell’s widow, and finally by Martin Scorsese, who has been instrumental in getting the film rereleased over the past three decades. I go to lots of press screenings and press events but this was different as it was a BAFTA event and so it was a little bit more exclusive. Even though we didn’t get to speak to Scorsese, it was fantastic even to be in the same room as him and I did get a couple of really good shots of him in the BAFTA cinema. Peeping Tom was definitely a film ahead of its time as it deals with voyeurism and lack of privacy in modern society and watching it now is a wonderful time capsule of London in the late fifties. Karlheinz Böhm or Carl Boehm as the central figure, Mark Lewis, the man obsessed with photographing the world around him, is suitably creepy while Anna Massey as his girlfriend, Helen Stephens, is very watchable on screen. Powell’s direction is very assured and the script and plot still have something to say even five decades after its release. If anything, what it has to say is even more relevant now than it was back in 1960. Peeping Tom is a great social document and, if you are able to catch it at the cinema when it gets rereleased from 19th November, it’s recommended. A must for serious cinephiles…


The last month has been crazy so this is the first chance I’ve had to put a post up about the London Film Festival, which ended at the end of October. Because I was freelancing and then away, I didn’t go to many films this year. The LFF, unlike Cannes and Toronto, is not a film market and one of its main purposes is to showcase film for the cinemagoing public. It has also created buzz for a number of significant British films the last few years: Slumdog Millionaire and An Education were helped by their showings at the LFF. It is a fantastic festival and I look forward to attending it each year.
The first film I caught was The King’s Speech, a drama starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter and directed by Tom Hooper. Now Firth, while a likeable actor, usually just bumbles through his roles but here as the future King George VI, afflicted with a terrible stammer, he is playing against type. Geoffrey Rush plays antipodean exile Lionel Logue, who is brought in by George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, to try to help him overcome this problem. Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth is actually quite good, acting as a decent foil for Firth. TV veteran director Hooper (Cold Feet, Elizabeth I) brings an assured touch here, humanising the Royals and with a perfect eye for period detail, thanks to Eve Stewart’s sumptuous production design, lifts The King’s Speech above more than just the usual Royal-focused film with an eye to attracting American audiences. Rush is superb as the man who becomes George’s friend, determined to help him out despite the protestations of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King George himself. Guy Pearce, who plays Edward VIII, the monarch who resigned and went to live with Mrs Wallis Simpson, makes his role go a decent way and his arrogance is a nice counterpoint to George’s warmth. There is talk of Oscar nods for The King’s Speech and it would certainly be warranted…
Next up is Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder. This is a film that has attracted much speculation and divided audiences who have seen it. Portman plays Nina, a classical dancer who is offered the role of the prima ballerina in a new production of Swan Lake after their principal dancer Beth Macintyre (Ryder) leaves. Vincent Cassel is svengali Thomas Leroy, the head of the ballet company, who isn’t convinced that Nina is capable of playing both the White Swan and the more evil counterpart, the Black Swan, in Swan Lake. So Nina becomes obsessed with trying to pin down the other role, with her life seemingly falling to pieces around her. Black Swan looks incredible, dark and menacing, but the problem here is that Portman’s Nina is an obnoxious, narcissistic and unsympathetic character, so when the film ends on a low note, because the audience can’t empathise with her, it leaves you feeling quite cold. None of the other characters are particularly likeable either with Cassel a bit of a shit who had a fling with Beth before the company got rid of her and only Lilly (Kunis), who befriends Nina, comes across as remotely human. So Black Swan works as a technical exercise and there’s no denying Aronofsky’s prowess as a director but it’s clinical and rather portentous in places with a protagonist that you never really get to care about.…
Finally there’s 127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle with James Franco, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn. Boyle is an incredible director, able to turn his hand to everything from hedonistic drama (Trainspotting) to post-apocalyptic zombie horror (28 Days Later). He is a very stylish director who knows how to entertain his audience. 127 Hours recounts the true-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) an American adrenalin junkie who decides one weekend to take a biking, hiking and climbing trip out to the middle of nowhere in Utah but comes unstuck when he gets trapped in a canyon when a rock falls and pins his arm. It’s interesting that 2010 has seen the release of this as well as Buried but the two films are approached in a very different way. Only Danny Boyle could make a film about a man trapped in a canyon for several days and still make it entertaining. 127 Hours looks fantastic with the Utah scenery captured incredibly on camera, thanks to the cinematography of Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle (the latter he worked with on Slumdog Millionaire). James Franco, on who this film stands or falls, is also pretty convincing as he transforms from a man only interested in making himself happy to someone a little more aware of his friends and family. Boyle could have made a crowdpleasing followup to Slumdog after the worldwide success of that film but it is to his eternal credit that he picked what comes across as a very personal project. The world of modern cinema would be a poorer place with Boyle making films in it and 127 Hours is an engaging, tense and ultimately uplifting movie…
I was lucky enough to go to the press conference for 127 Hours so here’s a few shots from that…


As promised, here’s a small report about our day in Brooklyn. After the New York Comic Con, it was nice to have a more chilled-out time. So we left about 11am and took the subway to near the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge. Then we decided to walk over the East River on the bridge. The weather was fantastic as it was a sunny day with piercing blue sky and it took about 45 minutes to walk the bridge. Andy C has a friend Jonathan Barkey who is a photographer and lives in Brooklyn Heights the other side of the bridge. So once we met up with Jonathan, he took us around Brooklyn, to Governors Island across on the ferry and to Park Slope, Prospect Park and ending at Brighton Beach and Coney Island. I had only been to Brooklyn once years ago and so we got to see loads of places that were totally new to me. It has a very different feel to Manhattan: the pace seems to be slower and it has a vibe all of its own. Governors Island, which isn’t in Brooklyn, was interesting as I took some intriguing photos looking out to the Statue of Liberty. Jonathan was a decent guide and I think because he is a photographer too that he knew what would interest us as visitors. So here’s a selection of photos I took that day on the bridge, the perfect antidote to the more stressful days that preceded it. The next post will include photos taken in the rest of Brooklyn…