E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – 30th anniversary Review

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Dee WallaceHenry ThomasPeter CoyoteRobert MacNaughtonDrew BarrymoreThomas C. Howell

(OUT ON BLURAY on the 12 NOVEMBER 2012)

(CONTAINS SPOILERS… (though, if you have not seen this film yet, you should really stop wasting time on this silly blog and go and watch it right now!)

As I am writing this, ET is 30 years old (You probably thought it would be more, judging by those wrinkles on his face…). Exactly 30 years ago (on the 26th of May 1982) ET: The Extra Terrestrial was being premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in front of audiences and critics. Little did anyone know that this tiny little film, with a relatively low budget and a cast of unknown was going to become the most successful film in history.It stayed on the top of the chart for 16 weeks in a row and remained among the top 10 films for an astonishing 44 weeks, grossing around $800 millions (and if you adjust it for inflation it well above both Titanic and Avatar).

ET-mania was about to start and take over the world. Never before (and since) an image from a film like the one with a bicycle flying over the moon has been more instantly recognisable (Marilyn’s skirt blowing in the wind might be  just as iconic, but not many people will be able to tell which movie it is from). It eventually became Spielberg’s trade-mark and the logo of his Amblin Entertainment. But before the myth, before the merchandising, and the hundreds of “phone home” spin off commercials, ET is simply a great story and the perfect family film, a rare breed which today seems to apply to Pixar films only. It is a masterfully crafted modern tale which has all those trademarks that today are recognised as Spielberg’s: broken family, kids on bikes, sweeping music, beautiful visual, big emotions, laughs and tears within minutes from each other, flares on a lens, and course great action. This is quintessential Spielberg!

We all know the central plot about an alien left alone on Earth and befriending a child. But it so much more than that. It is obviously a rite of passage, it’s about growing up, and responsibilities. It is a story about the divorce of two parents and a child left alone dealing with it. It’s about family and friends, and what it is we call home. This is Spielberg’s most accomplished film, maybe just because it is his most honest and personal: the director is talking from his own experience as a child of divorced parents, looking for his own voice among his siblings and searching for somebody to talk to and to help him growing up.

The film is sometimes accused (by sniffy narrow-minded people, mainly) of being too sentimental, but the sentimentality in ET comes from being truthful to the kids and to their emotions. It’s never cheap and it’s not as obvious as might think or remember. ET for example is not the classic cute teddy bear, in fact it’s quite the opposite: it’s gross, slimy, really quite disgusting if you think about… and yet the film manages to make us all fall in love with him.

Spielberg gives an honest and authentic depiction of children both in normal and extraordinary situations. This is a man who not only seems to understand children perfectly , but at his heart is a big child himself. And so, when Elliott sees the alien for the first time, after the first moment of terror, what does Spielberg makes him do? He makes him go to his own room to show him his toys. When the older brother Michael steals a car to run away from the police he realises he doesn’t really know the way because “mom always drives me there”.  

These are beautifully observed moments where the kids feel real, from the way they talk, play and generally behave. The film is like a time-capsule of kids in the 80s and yet it works on kids today just as well. These are no actors, these are how kids would really react if an alien came to stay with them!

Spielberg not only directs his children actors like very few directors can (getting some truly astonishing performances from both Henry Thomas and the precocious Drew Barrymore), but he also uses all the tricks in the book to make us feel even closer to them.  And so he decides to shoot three quarter of the film by keeping the camera at ET’s level (which is also the children’s height) thus never showing us a grown-up person right till the final act, when ET’s (apparent) death forces Elliott to grow up.  The mother is the only one “allowed” inside this children’s world and consequently she’s the only one whose face we are allowed to see right from the start. Everybody else, just like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon is filmed from below the waist. And yet the way this device is carried on is never showy, never intrusive, never feels forced on us, nor it’s comic in any way. In fact, never for a single moment we stop wondering “Why can’t I see their faces?”. Each character has his own sound, or his own trademark: a sleeve rolled up along the arm, some key dangling off a belt, a flashlight, a scalp. We know exactly who everybody is, even if we never see their faces, but our attention is so completely focused on the kids and ET that we just don’t even pay notice the others.

It is a true masterpiece in film-making, technically perfect, beautifully staged, designed and edited. And every single element of film-making,  from the cinematography, to the special effects, from the directing to the acting, all come together to, let’s put it blandly, manipulate our emotions so well that it’s impossible to resist. And so, 30 years later , we still fall prey of its spell and there we all are, laughing with it, as ET and Elliott get drunk, or as Gertie shouts when she sees the alien for the first time, or even as ET hides in the cupboard among the stuffed animals and pretends to be one of them to the unsuspecting mother. And then a moment later, we find ourselves crying our eyes out as ET’s conditions slowly deteriorate, or as the kids give him the last goodbye by the spaceship…

I have rarely witnessed such a waterfall of tears in a movie theatre like I did all the times I have seen this is a packed cinema. I must have seen ET more than 10 times at least in a theatre… And yet, it doesn’t matter how many times I have seen it, it still gets me every time: I still cry at Elliott screaming to his lungs “He came to me” while the inert body of the alien lays on that cold medical table as the doctors try to revive him and the tears helplessly roll down little Gertie‘s cheeks. Just looking at the picture here on the left still gives me goose-bumps. My heart still leaps up during that final chase sequence as those bicycles take off into the sunset . And was there ever a more powerful final close-up  as the on the one on Elliott as the spaceship flies back home to the soaring music of John Williams? Ahhh… I was almost forgetting the music.

The score by John Williams is perfectly in tuned with Spielberg’s visuals and it hits all the right notes to make us feel completely helpless at their complete mercy. And there we are, going through every single emotion in the book: excitement, fear, horror, desperation, happiness. Just like in Star Wars it’s hard to imagine how this film could have been so successful without John Williams‘s contribution. Just think about the first 10 minutes of the film, which do not have a single line of dialogue but just rely uniquely on the music. It would be inconceivable for any family blockbuster today (Only Pixar’s Wall-E, which owes a great debt to ET, attempted it).

It is a film made to be experienced together with your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your loved ones, your friends. It is a film that must experienced, however cheesy this may sound (I’m ready to take the hit!), with your heart more than your brain. Leave your cynicism outside the door and try to learn again how to be a kid.. and if you really can’t, well I’m sorry about you, but then at least just marvel at the film-making skills on display here.

Spielberg has never been so perfect.

10/10

Check out other related reviews: Super 8, Raiders of the Lost ArkWar Horse  and the Adventures of Tintin

ET The Extra Terrerstrial is out on the 12 November on AMAZON UK

OSCAR Winners 2012

The Oscars played it very very very safe this year (well..  this year and every year in fact!): the biggest shock was probably the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning best Editing (quite unexpected, especially because the editors had won it last year with The Social Network). Hugo went home with most of the technical awards, best scripts awards given to Woody Allen and Alexander Payne and the big ones (film, director, actor) went to the Artist as expected… And the Artist for Best music too. Meryl graced our screen once again with her class and beauty and her oscar is one of the most deserved of the year. She is the embodiment of greatness! And finally, Spielberg got home with no award, however he got a big thanks from Octavia Spencer.

Check out my post of Oscar Snubs

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann  (WINNER)

The Descendants (2011): Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011): Scott Rudin

The Help (2011): Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan

Hugo (2011/II): Graham King, Martin Scorsese

Midnight in Paris (2011): Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum

Moneyball (2011): Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt

The Tree of Life (2011): Nominees to be determined

War Horse (2011): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)

George Clooney for The Descendants (2011) 

Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011) (WINNER)

Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)

Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011) (WINNER)

Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)

Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)

Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010) (WINNER)

Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)

Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)

Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)  (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Directing

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)  (WINNER)

Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)

Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)

Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011/II)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius

Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo

Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen  (WINNER)

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash  (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): John Logan

The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon

Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris (2010): Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli

Chico & Rita (2010): Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Jennifer Yuh

Puss in Boots (2011): Chris Miller

Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski  (WINNER)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Bullhead (2011): Michael R. Roskam(Belgium)

Footnote (2011): Joseph Cedar(Israel)

In Darkness (2011): Agnieszka Holland(Poland)

Monsieur Lazhar (2011): Philippe Falardeau(Canada)

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi(Iran)  (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Artist (2011): Guillaume Schiffman

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Jeff Cronenweth

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Richardson  (WINNER)

The Tree of Life (2011): Emmanuel Lubezki

War Horse (2011): Janusz Kaminski

Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius

The Descendants (2011): Kevin Tent

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter   (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): Thelma Schoonmaker

Moneyball (2011): Christopher Tellefsen

Best Achievement in Art Direction

The Artist (2011): Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan

Hugo (2011/II): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo  (WINNER)

Midnight in Paris (2011): Anne Seibel, Hélène Dubreuil

War Horse (2011): Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anonymous (2011/I): Lisy Christl

The Artist (2011): Mark Bridges

Hugo (2011/II): Sandy Powell  (WINNER)

Jane Eyre (2011): Michael O’Connor

W.E. (2011): Arianne Phillips

Best Achievement in Makeup

Albert Nobbs (2011): Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, Matthew W. Mungle

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin

The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland   (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (2011): John Williams

The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource   (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): Howard Shore

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Alberto Iglesias

War Horse (2011): John Williams

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie(“Man or Muppet”)   (WINNER)

Rio (2011): Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett(“Real in Rio”)

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson

Hugo (2011/II): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley  (WINNER)

Moneyball (2011): Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, Ed Novick

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin

War Horse (2011): Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive (2011): Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Ren Klyce

Hugo (2011/II): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty   (WINNER)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
War Horse (2011): Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, Alex Henning  (WINNER)

Real Steel (2011): Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, John Frazier

Best Documentary, Features

Hell and Back Again (2011): Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011): Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011): Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel

Undefeated (2011): Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin, Rich Middlemas  (WINNER)

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement (2011): Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin God Is the Bigger Elvis: Rebecca Cammisa,
Julie Anderson

Incident in New Baghdad (2011): James Spione

Saving Face (2011/II): Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid- Chinoy   (WINNER)

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen

Best Short Film, Animated

Dimanche (2011): Patrick Doyon

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011): William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg  (WINNER)

La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa

A Morning Stroll (2011): Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe

Wild Life (2011): Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

Best Short Film, Live Action

Pentecost (2011): Peter McDonald

Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren

The Shore: Terry George, Oorlagh George   (WINNER)

Time Freak (2011): Andrew Bowler, Gigi Causey Tuba

Atlantic (2010): Hallvar Witzø

Oscar Biggest Snubs

Oscar’s 2012 Biggest Snubs

Yes, it’s that time of the year again,when newspaper and magazines are covered not only by the news of the movies that got nominated for the most prestigious Awards, but also the mentions of the ones that didn’t. When those golden statuettes are handed over to the makers behind the “Artist” (Let’s all face it: it’s going to happen), some big names are not going to be there among the audience. In fact, some truly deserving movies have been absolutely snubbed! Social networks like Twitter or Facebook all had their chances to raise their concerns about what’s gone unnoticed by the Academy. Most people seem to have been raging especially about one absence:  Ryan Gosling. Obviously writing and complaining about all this could seem a pretty pointless exercise… But not necessarily… The history of the Oscars is full of great snubs (and consequently people going up in arms against the Academy), but it’s also full of strange victories which might not have been particularly deserving, if it wasn’t for the fact that they happened to follow some great snub (most notably: Whoopy Goldberg missing out for “The Color Purple” and the following winning for “Ghost“, or even Martin Scorsese’s constant snubs over the years and his recent win for “The Departed”, just to mention a few). It is well known that Oscars are not aways given to the most deserving film (or person).In 1994 Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption both lost out to Forrest Gump. In 1998 Saving Private Ryan was shockingly beaten by Shakespeare in Love (cute film, yes, but Oscar worthy?)In 1989 Driving miss Daisy won over 4 more deserving films “Born on the Fourth of July“, “Dead Poets Society“, Field of Dreams, “My Left Foot“…  And back in 1980 Ordinary people won over both Elephant Man and Raging Bull. Many of those movies that today we consider masterpieces never got an Oscar: Taxi driver, Goodfellas, Apocalipse Now and Citizen Kane are just 4 of them… And I could go on forever. But the travesties don’t stop with Feature of Films. When it comes to awarding actors and directors it is just as bad: Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, David Lynch never won. Ralph Fiennes lost in the year of his brilliant performance in Schilndler’s List and somehow Marisa Tomei won as a supporting actress for My Cousin Vinny” (yes, I am not kidding!). Ok, let’s stop here, before I get a heart attack…

This is my list of the 10 biggest snubs for 2012. Let me know if you agree.

1 ) Ryan Gosling

This is the second time in a row that Ryan gets snubbed by the Academy. Last year for some obscure reason he was not even nominated for his great performance in Blue Valentine ,which was just as strong and powerful,l if not more, than the one by the nominated Michelle Williams (here’s my review of that film). It’s all even more shocking this year, since not only he seemed to be the front-runner with his dramatic (and yet restrained) performances in both Drive and the Ides of March, but also he also showed us his comedic timing with his supporting role in the surprisingly good Crazy Stupid Love.

 2) The Adventures of Tintin. The Secret of the Unicorn

Ok, we all probably agree that this wasn’t the greatest masterpiece of all time: the story felt segmented and slightly anticlimactic towards the end, the comic timing wasn’t always there, and the character of Tintin wasn’t always as engaging as he could have been. But as a piece of animation, it was impressive, rich, inventive and skilfully put together. Instead the Academy chose to ignore Spielberg’s first foray into 3D animation veering towards a much the more restrained and old-fashioned approach of A Cat in Paris  (Click here to see a clip from it) and Chico and Rita (here’s the trailer). While this was surely a choice to be praised and commended for, I’m not sure the same can be said about nominating uninspired filler-films like Kung-Fu Panda 2, Puss in boots. Even Rango, though probably the most deriving one on the US list is in the end rather forgettable.

 3) Drive

In a year of so many average-to-OK films, surely this one should have made the list, not just as a film or for its directing (and of course for Ryan Gosling as I have just mentioned above), but also for its stylish look, sharp and yet never flashy editing (which gave the film an almost palpable tension) and its use of music. Instead, one of the best films of the year  was relegated to just 1 nomination of best use of Sound Editing (a nomination which I always find very hard to distinguish from Sound Mixing. In fact they usually always go together, except in this case where Moneyball was nominated for sound mixing instead of Drive). And while I am at it, I should also mention the non-nomination for Albert Brooks (who many thought was a shoe-in) for supporting actor. All quite shocking, I have to say. In fact, a real shame!… And talking about “shame”…

 4) Michael Fassbender

Whether you liked  Shame or not, nobody can deny that Fassbender’s performance in the film was truly mesmerizing. The entire film focused on Micheal’s face and his body as he literally exposed himself to us. His every single weakness, every single thought and every single body part is there for us to see, as his tortured soul descend more and more towards hell. And even if  Shame was a bit too much for the Academy’s taste, his performances in both Jane Eyre , A Dangerous Method should at least have been noted. One thing is certain: both Fassbender and Goslinghave been the actors of 2012, and yet neither of them appears to be nominated.

 5) Tilda Swinton

Tilda’s haunting and shattering performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin was absolutely astonishing and possibly one of the best of her career. The fact that she’s not even among the list of nominees is nothing short of truly baffling. It seems that the film is another of those “downer” which are usually too harsh, too depressing and basically just not friendly enough to appear next to the word Oscar. In fact, not only Tilda didn’t make the list, but nor the film, nor its director, nor its script, nor the truly terrifying Ezra Miller (as the “Kevin” from the title), not even the ever perfect John C. Reilly (as Tilda’s husband in the film) who’s always getting sidelined, but who sooner or later should really be recognised for his many great characters over the years.

 6) Senna

This wasn’t a big surprise since we already knew that the film had not even made the long-list among the documentaries to be considered for the nomination, but that doesn’t make it any less of a snub. In fact it’s probably an even bigger one! Not that Senna needs any more awards or recognition to prove how good it is.  Made of just archive material and no talking-heads Senna was one  of the most powerful film (not just documentary) of the year not just for the Formula 1 fans but even for people like me who can hardly tell you the difference between a Ferrari and a McLaren. Riveting, inspired, incredibly moving and yet missing from the Oscar 2012.

 7) 50/50

Of course this isn’t masterpiece and some people may argue it shouldn’t really deserve any Oscar, but if the Help is up there, together with Bridesmaids and, let’s face it, Midnight in Paris, why can 50/50 be there as well. After all it was one of the bravest films coming out of Hollywood last few year which not only was able to tackle a subject like cancer with the constraints of a comedy, but it also did it with great respect, incredible taste and yet without hiding away from the harsh reality of the subject matter. Anyone in the film deserved to be at least mentioned: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, acutely observed performance, Seth Rogen‘s honest turn as best friend of somebody who’s been diagnosed with cancer, Jonathan Levine‘s directorial decisions to handle such a delicate subject without any of the lush, or even syrupy and cheesy ways that usually come with such a Hollywood product. Even Will Reiser‘s script (written from his own experience, usually a winner formula for getting an Oscar) was snubbed by the Academy.

 8) Leonardo di Caprio

Leo has never been very lucky at the Oscars. In 1993 was nominated for his greatest performance in What’s eating Gilberg Grape, but lost our to Tommy Lee Jones for the Fugitive (yes, indeed!!), back in 1997 he was the only person in the whole crew from Titanic who was completely snubbed (though he was one of the main reason for the astronomical success of that movie). He also lost for both the Aviator and Blood Diamonds and was sidelined for his roles in Catch me if you can and Revolutionary Road. J. Edgar is definitely not a good film (And that’s why it received zero nominations! Here’s my review), but nor is The Iron Lady (and here’s the review for that one too) and yet that didn’t stop Meryl Streep for being nominated (and hopefully win her 3rd highly deserved Oscar!). Leo’s performance was not just the best thing in the film, but actually very good. Unfortunately it probably suffered too much by all those way-too-many layers of latex of all the prosthetics he was forced to wear, but I would have certainly chosen him over Brad Pitt in Moneyball (By the way, how strange to find Pitt nominated for Moneyball and not The Tree of Life).

 9) Motion Capture Performance

During the recent Oscar campaign Fox has been asking Academy members to consider Andy Serkis’s turn as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as one of the top male performances. However when it comes to Motion-capture technology, it is very hard to tell where does the actual performance come from:is it the actor behind the pixels or  the animator who took the performance and transformed it and enhanced it. It is a fair argument, however the same can be said about normal performances and direction orediting. Was that particular reaction just spot on because of the greatness of the actor or because of the way the director cheated the actor into it and the way the editor was able to smoothly cut it into the film (famously Hitchcock used to have fun in shocking his actresses by unzipping his pants and filming their reactions to be used in his films to be used in completely different contexts. And Spielberg himself told stories of how he got some of the best performances out of children by cheating, playing or even lying to them). Whatever the truth is, you can still tell Andy Serkis out of all the apes in Rise of the Planets of the Apes: his eyes in the film tell a thousand more words than any of the other performances in any other film of the year. It’s about time the Academy starts recognising this new art.

 10) Steven Spielberg

The Academy and Steven Spielberg have always had a troublesome relationship ever since Jaws in 1975 (which was nominated for best film, but not for best director). The biggest snub came ten years later in 1985 when The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars (except for director) and ended up winning none. In 1987 Empire of the sun won none of the 6 nominations (and once again Spielberg didn’t make the list),   Schindler’s list was the game-changer of course and Saving Private Ryan confirmed that things were indeed changing as he won his second Golden Award as best director (however missing out of best film, which shockingly went to Shakespeare in Love). Since then his films have arguably been less good (and this statement comes from somebody who adores Spielberg!!) so it’s not surprising to find the number of nominations and awards getting slimmer and slimmer. Even his 2005 Munich which received 5 nods, didn’t actually win any Oscar. War Horse is certainly a flawed movie, but some of the best sequences in it are good because of Spielberg and not despite of him. Nominating the film and not his director always makes very little sense to me. Even more so, in the case of War Horse (especially when it’s missing out against  In a year when even Tintin missed out on its chance for an Oscar it seems to me that we are going back to the early days when Spielberg was ignored just because it was Spielberg. We may have to wait until next year with the release of his next Lincoln to see whether the spell can be broken (or, somebody may argue, whether he can actually make a good film). If you’re interested,

11) Harry Potter

This has always been something peculiar: not a single Harry Potter movie has ever won an Oscar. Some of you may say “well, rightly so”, but it has to be said that this isn’t just the most successful movie franchise in history (close to 7 billion $ at the time of writing this, in the cinema alone) but it has been quite groundbreaking on the level of care and attention as far as set design, art direction, costumes, and special effects. And let’s not forget John Williams’ classic soundtrack. Were any of those elements any less impressive then the ones in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which actually ended up getting awards left and right on every single instalment?). I would probably take this even further and say that the last few films have even been beautifully filmed and choreographed. recently a lot of fans have been campaigning for Alan Rickman to be nominated for the latest instalment. This is something that sort of makes sense if you have watched the entire series and considered the character that Mr Rickman has been creating throughout the 8 films. Unfortunately Academy awards doesn’t always work like that and to give something to an actor who only appears for a few minutes in a film (even though it has happened before) is something of a rarity. With 3 nominations this year, hopes are still high, but it will be rather shocking if even this film (arguably one of the best!) didn’t win anything.

12) Commedies

This is part of a never-ending debate at the Oscar: comedies very rarely get award recognitions, as if the genre isn’t to be taken seriously, or worse as if comedies were easier to make. That it probably one of the few good things about the Golden Globes, where awards are given to both comedies and dramas (though sometimes the line between them is very hard to define: is 50/50 a drama or a comedy? And what about the beautiful Beginners, incidentally another overlooked film at the Oscars this year). As any writer or director will be able to tell you, it’s a lot harder to make a smart comedy that is genuinely funny and feels fresh than a make people cry with one of those heavy-weight dramas, with period costumes or grand sets. However, once again comedies have been snubbed by the Academy in favours of those typical weepy (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close being the worse offender). And so Bridesmaids got overlooked for the best feature film, and so did My Week with Marilyn, Crazy Stupid Love and of course50/50. Oh wait, what about Midnight in Paris? Well, Woody Allen seems to be the only person on the planet whose film can be nominated for an Oscar, even if it’s only half memorable

here’s the definitive list of all the biggest Oscar omissions and snubs.

War Horse – Review

War Horse (2011) 

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Jeremy IrvineEmily Watson, Niels ArestrupPeter MullanDavid ThewlisBenedict CumberbatchCeline Buckens.

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

War Horse has probably some of the best Spielberg we’ve seen in a while, but unfortunately it has some of the worse too. The result is a strange hybrid of a film that at times showcases true mastery in Film-making (some real craftmanship that very few directors have these days) but other times falls flat (and almost into self parody) with some incredibly misjudged moments and, worst crime of all, (especially for a Spielberg’s film) is actually devoid of any real emotional drive: each set piece works as an individual piece in itself, but as a whole film “War Horse” lacks a certain narrative unity which in the end prevents one for getting completely swept away despite the glorious score by John Williams.

I was ready to let myself go on this one: on paper this is the ultimate weepy! But strangely while I was left admiring the nicely composed frames and the beautiful cinematography, I found myself emotionally detached from the actual story. Whatever happened to that great manipulator of emotions that still makes me cry every time I watch ET? Why was I so underwhelmed and not reduced to tears as I should have been?

Spielberg films his horses just like he would film a human being: close-ups, tracking shots and all sorts of filmic tricks bring them alive as their faces turn to camera and their eyes reflect the light from yet another great vista. He’s so good at making us see what the horses are actually feeling at any point in the film, that he almost forgets to make us care for the actual human beings the populate the rest of the film.

Human characters come and go in this film like bell boys in a hotel and yet few of them really leave any mark. Rarely you really feel sorry for these people when they die (crucially some of them die off camera too!), maybe because they’re so many of them, or maybe because most of these are slightly two-dimensional or maybe because there isn’t enough time to get close to them (However look at  Pixar’s “Up”: we were all crying during that 5 minutes montage scene!). Let’s face it, the real star of the film is the horse and that’s it. We don’t really care about the humans…

I’ll give you an example: At the end of the film (watch out… spoiler ahead) there’s a big reunion moment between our hero, Joey, (and his horse) and his family. It’s supposed to be a bit climatic moment, as the music swells and the cinematography pays tribute to Gone with the Wind itself. The old parents are finally able to hug their son who’s just returned from war. Potentially this is a heartbreaking moment unravelling under our eyes and yet I was coldly thinking to myself: “Oh… I didn’t realise the parents were actually worried and waiting for him… because I’ve never actually seen them being worried while the kid was away. In fact I don’t think I ever even seen the kid being in difficulty during the war. Was he suffering? Was he missing his parents? All he seemed to care about was the horse, and that one seems fine to me”. How could that be the big climatic moment of the film, if I wasn’t really prepared for it by anything I’ve seen so far.

And what about all those people dying? Was I meant to feel something for them? I really didn’t, because I was only given the point of view of the horse. It looked like I was only meant to care about the horse.

Are we all basically just supposed to feel sorry for people dying, simply because they just… erm… die, even if the film hasn’t really made care about them?

The beginning of the film is probably the worst part. It’s a very lengthy first act, which despite continuous nods to Spielberg’s intellectual mentors like John Ford (just to mention one) feels cheap, corny, cheesy, slow and just dated in the worse possible sense. Spielberg may call it old-style film-making, but those words actually disguise some pretty bad and indulgent sequences, with some caricature acting that makes it all look more like a bad episode of “The Little House in the Prairie” than “How Green Was My Valley”.

Especially considering what’s coming later on, this first part feels like a totally different film. It is all plastered with a constant unsubtle soundtrack, without a single moment of silence, that tells us what we are supposed to think at each given point. Worst of all are the more comical-moments in this first part, which are really unfunny and yet the music make them sound almost as if they belonged to a Lauren & Hardy film.

But just when you think this is getting so predictable and really beyond bad, finally war breaks and the film becomes something completely different, and actually quite good one.

This is the best Spielberg of the best moments Saving Private Ryan (and to a degree the one behind the scenes of both Band of Brothers and the Pacific). There are hints of his genius popping up every few minutes

There are some absolutely beautifully and impeccably crafted and choreographed sequences: some thrilling battle scenes, some great memorable moments (a massive crane reveals the aftermath of a battle and shows us that the casualty of war are not just humans. An execution sequence, seen through a windmill chilling in its beautifully timed production), there are some breathtakingly locations, some wonderful cinematography, and of course a heartfelt score by John Williams (more successful here where it has more time to breathe than it did in Tintin.

One of the most beautiful scene which obviously everyone will remember is when our horse gets trapped in big cluster of barbed wire (amazing special effects by the way. Surely that must have been some CGI work, though I couldn’t quite tell how it was done) and then is saved by two soldiers from two opposite armies: it’s an almost poetic moment which gets away from being panned as a cheap trick and manages to be funny, sad, poignant and tense all at the same time.

There are some great new characters too peppered throughout and there will be moments to leave anyone speechless for their powerful honesty and epic scope.

But unfortunately, despite all these elements and all these little stories, the overall arching narrative  still feels bitty and choppy and even though what’s actually happening under our eyes is so powerful that we could almost forgive anything, the ultimate emotional journey of the main human character, Joey, is not as strong or compelling as the sum of all the other parts and eventually I couldn’t quite connect to him.

What we are left with is a very uneven film which wants to reach everyone (never the terms “a film for the whole family” has been more appropriate and I’m sure everyone will enjoy if not love parts of it) and yet I can’t quite help feeling that if it hadn’t tried so hard to please everyone it probably would have been a stronger film. There were moments I loved and moments I really hated, and if my rating may seem a bit high is probably because after 3 weeks since i saw the film, those great moments in it are still imprinted in my mind.

7/10

Hugo 3D – Review

Hugo 3D(2011) 

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Ben KingsleyAsa ButterfieldChloë Grace MoretzChristopher LeeSacha Baron Cohen.

Accompanied by a series of glorious reviews and voted Best Film of the year by the National Board of Review Hugo has finally hit our multiplex. Obviously the expectations are pretty high!

On paper this has got all the elements to be a true masterpiece. Loveable kids, Paris in the 30s, passion for old movies, a heart-melting story, magical sets, spectacular 3d, an amazing cast… and of course Martin Scorsese himself at its helm. How can it possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately despite all these potentials, the film itself  never really took off for me and for all its good intentions, its great heart and undoubtedly its mastery in film-making, in the end Hugo 3D cannot hide the fact that it’s all over the place and actually just a bit boring.

Yes some of the camerawork is astonishing and Marty certainly knows how integrate 3D into his story, making it more than just a gimmick: right from the beginning we can see the potential as we are treated with a one-shot-wonder which pushes the 3D effects beyond anything we’ve seen before (yes, even Avatar). The camera glides, twirls and swoops across a train station, then jibs up along ladders and flies through giant clock mechanisms. But even this first burst of energy gets a bit tiresome after a while and the film runs out of steam pretty soon after that and not even all those camera swoops, chases and constant music can raise the level of excitement.

The main problem seems to be that Scorsese is so concerned about the message of preserving old films, that he forgets about how to make it an involving and exciting story, and most of all, he forgets who central character should be: the film is called Hugo after all. In fact the most inspired scenes in the movies have nothing to do with Hugo himself but rather with Ben Kingsley’s character, the French magician/film-maker Georges Méliès (yes, the one from the 1902 “Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which you can see below). The scenes around him are probably some of the most inspired… and the best. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing the behind the scenes of such iconic moments in cinema history. There’s a great sense of nostalgia for that comes with them and Scorsese’s attention to details is definitely to be praised. However none of this will probably make any difference to the average viewer who will soon wonder where all this is going and surely will get a bit bored.

It’s hard to tell who is this film aimed at. It is definitely too slow for kids, too diluted for the average person, too rhetorical and over-explicit and a bit silly for the real cinephiles.

Scorsese might have made this film for his kids (or so at least he claims), but it’s clear that he has quite got that open-mindedness about children and that innocence  and sense of wonder (that for example Spielberg has) to tell a story about them which would ring true: both Hugo and Isabel (an unusually wooden Chloë Grace Moretz) speak a language which doesn’t quite belong to them (it’s as if Scorsese himself were talking). In the end it’s clear that the director is much more interested in telling a story about the restoration of old movies, rather than a fairy tale about a kid growing up and finding a family. Funnily enough, even the message about saving old films from the past loses a little bit of credibility (and honesty) the moment in which Scorsese decides to turn Méliès’ movies into 3D.

The fault at the core of all this is that Scorsese is just trying to be too clever and cram too much in it.

In a way he is even trying to make his own “Rear window“, by giving us little stories around the train station, as seen from the eyes of Hugo, just like in Hitchcock’s masterpiece we were treated to glimpses of lives seen through the eyes of James Stewart. However while in Rear Windows those stories where a representation of our character’s state of mind (his doubts and fears about married life) and always seen his own the point of view, here much too often we lose track of Hugo himself and the lives we get too see are completely irrelevant to the central story. Most them even feel a bit misjudged too. Sacha Baron Cohen’s turn as police inspector and his slapstick gags are never really as funny as they should be the romances between the various couples are as moving or even quirky as they should to be and in fact not only they seem to belong to a different film altogether but they also pull the film in too many different directions.

It’s surprising how a film so concerned about the art of storytelling could lose itself so much when trying to actually tell a simple story.

6/10

The Adventures of Tintin – Review

The Adventures of Tintin – the Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Steven MoffatEdgar WrightJoe Cornish. Stars: Jamie BellDaniel CraigAndy SerkisNick FrostSimon Pegg 

I should probably tell you straight away that I have been waiting for this film for about 3 decades! Yes I know, quite a bold statement which may give away my age, but it will also tell you about my level of expectations for this film. If then you add the fact that I’ve grown up watching Spielberg movies back in his golden years (obviously the 80s) and that I’ve also been an avid fan of all Tintin comics ever since I was a little boy, you can probably get an idea of the kind of palpitations I had when I sat into the theatre and wore my 3D glasses. Having said all that I will still try to give an unbiased and honest review as much I possibly can, praising the (many) merits of the film but also highlighting some of the faults which in my option prevented Tintin from being the masterpiece I really wanted it to be.

For a start I was very  pleased to see how respectful Spielberg was with the handling of the original material. After all, this is the man who wanted to turn Harry Potter into an American, combining several books into one (A bad, bad, bad idea Steven!). The story of this film actually combines several of the Tintin books: ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’ (in which Tintin befriends Haddock and saves him from smugglers) and the two-parter ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ (which is the core of the story about the search for the lost treasure). There are also some very small elements and secondary characters from other stories too, but as far as taking liberties that’s where Spielberg stopped. Everything else is precisely how the Belgian creator, Hergé had imagined it: with that same sense of adventure, mystery, intrigue, action and fun. In other words the same mood and atmosphere that made the comics so successful  (at least in Europe) and incidentally, in a way those same elements that were also at the centre of one of Spielberg’s classic, Raiders of the lost ark.  It’s not surprising that Hergé himself, after seeing that film back in 1981 thought Spielberg was the only person who could ever do Tintin justice.

Spielberg pays homage to Tintin’s creator right from the start, not just in the beautifully design title sequence (reminiscent of the one from Catch Me If You Can), where he show us so many elements from all Tintin stories, not just in the colour palette he chooses for the cinematography of the film or in the way each character’s face looks, but he even goes as far as having Hergé himself appearing as a street artist drawing a portrait of Tintin the way we are used to see him in the comics: pure genius!

On the whole I must say that I wasn’t as bothered as I thought I was going to be by the motion capture animation. In fact you stop worrying about it about 5 minutes into the film. The characters look more cartoony than realistic and that helps getting away with the fact that their eyes (especially Tintin’s) are slightly dead. This is first and foremost still an animated film (I can place a bet right now that it’s going to be nominated at the Oscars next year, and probably it’s going to win one too!). One thing is for sure: it does look magnificent! From the moody dark shadows reminiscent of those film noir from the 40s, to the great vistas straight out of a David Lean classic, the impeccable cinematography (Spielberg is even credited as Lighting Consultant) is not just beautiful but impressive and atmospheric.

Spielberg in his first animated venture (and his first use of 3D too!) looks like a little boy who’s just been told he can do what he wants for his birthday: he appears to be liberated from any restriction he may have had on a normal feature film and seems to have a lot of fun in finding new beautifully inventive ways to transition from one scene to the next  in a way you could only do in animation (or with a lot of very expensive CGI): Spielberg’s camera floats, glides, flies, moves through glass, shoots straight into mirrors and gives us views which would otherwise been virtually impossible and yet, most of the times it’s never showy, it’s never forced or indulgent (in the same way,it wasn’t forced in ET, when the camera never showed us any adult – mom aside – for most the film and yet it didn’t make it annoying… In fact most of the audience didn’t even notice).

It’s like watching a master at work who knows exactly where the camera should be at which time. It all culminated with one of the most impressive and perfectly executed chase sequence ever portrayed on screen. Impressive not just because of its pace and its edge-of-your-seat thrills, but also for its meticulously choreographed  technique: in fact it takes place in just one impossibly-long shot, which adds to the tension and to the sense of fun. If you ever wondered why didn’t they just film the whole thing for real, that sequence alone (which by itself is worth the price of the entire ticket) should serve you as an answer.

I just wished that same tension and fun of that sequence had been present throughout the rest of the film. Don’t get me wrong, this first adventures of Tintin is a roller coaster ride like few others. Essentially it’s one action set piece after another, and yet somehow I felt there was a strange tendency to resolve problems much too quickly. It’s almost as if Spielberg was so preoccupied to get us to the next action sequence that he almost forgot how to makes  like the one we were watching. I give you a few examples:  a chase sequence at the front of the film, ends much too soon before it has time to climax. Later on there’s a scene where Tintin has to steal a key from a bunch of sleeping goons. A lot of time is spent setting up the dangers and then just when the sequence is about to get fun, Tintin gets the key. There’s another scene where Tintin faints close to the propellers of a plane and once again he gets saved much too quickly.

Whatever happened to those classic Spielberg action sequences that were so tense despite being so simple? I’m thinking of Indy trying to get the antidote to the poison he’s just drunk as the little bottle gets kicked around a room full of screaming people in the Temple of Doom, or fight sequence by the plane in Raiders, or even the glass breaking sequence in the otherwise weak Lost World? (In fact they are too many to even mention).

The pace of the film is strange and a bit uneven. It has moments of long exposition (this is a fault that comes with the source material to be completely fair), then lots of little short action scenes (as I said, slightly too short to feel important. I would have rather had fewer set pieces but longer in their execution) and sometimes it’s even anticlimactic (I’m thinking of the last 10 minutes of the film for example). I don’t think it’s necessarily an editing problem. Since this is animation, there isn’t a lot of extra material that can be added to add tension to scene.

I  am probably picking needles because as I said before I love these stories (and the story-teller) way too much.

The comedy aspect of the film is a bit of a hit and miss: the Inspector Thompson and Thomson are obviously aimed at the younger crowd, but they’re also the weakest characters (we had a glimpse of that in the trailer itself, as one of them falls off the stairs: a scene which in the theatre where I was, full of kids, was received with dead silence), on the other hand Captain Haddock is perfect. I don’t know whether it’s the script, or Andy Serkis’s performance or both, but most of the jokes around him seem to work perfectly. Same goes for the little dog Snowy who is in almost every scene of the film, even if just in the background licking a massive bone in the desert. The audience I was with seemed to love him and so did I.

And finally Tintin himself which in this whole 3D world is probably the most two-dimensional character. Aside from the fact that he seems to get a kick out of solving puzzles and getting into adventures, we know very little about him. I’m not really blaming Spielberg for that, this exactly how Tintin was in the comics, but I do wonder if some character development would have been really seen as sacrilegious by the hard-code fans. Certainly not by me.

Finally I feel I should say a few words about John Williams score, the first one in years (especially if we dismiss the very forgettable one for the 4th Indiana Jones). There’s a very quirky and weird title music (which never really seem to play out throughout the rest of the film) which is the most un-Wiliamesque theme in a while. It’s certainly not bad, but it feels slightly detached from the rest of the film. The Star Wars title music was never repeated throughout the movies either, and yet it felt part of the score. This title music feels like it belonged to can other film (in fact it felt like a non used cue from “catch me if you can”). It’s hard to review the score, because for most of the film I felt it never really had the time to breathe as much as it should have. The comic cues suffered more than the others (the ones for the Inspectors for example), as they were covered by the dialogue and the rest of the sound effects to the point where I even wondered whether any music was needed at all. In fact on the whole I felt there was way too much music in the film (in fact there was hardly a moment without) and yet it had very little time for the music to shine. Having said that, I was still able to hum some of the Tintin action tunes once leaving the theatre… and that’s always a good sign.

To recap, I think Tintin has definitely legs for a sequel and even more than just one. It is a solid action-packed fun-ride for the whole family which is not as loud, dumb and insulting as some of those Pirates of the Caribbean films were (especially the latest sequels). It’s proper film-making with the heart in the right place.

I’ll be looking forward to the next one, even if I am very aware I have now passed the average age of the target audience…

7.5/10

Check out my other reviews of movies by Spielberg: Raiders of the lost art, ET The Extra-Terrestrial, War Horse

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael GambonRalph FiennesAlan RickmanJohn HurtHelena Bonham CarterTom FeltonJason Isaacs (hello!), Maggie SmithJim BroadbentDavid ThewlisRobbie ColtranGary Oldman.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Watching this film in a packed theatre with some of the most excited audience I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, was as much part of the experience as the film itself. The tension was clearly palpable: cheers,laughter, sniffling and sobs from the crowd seemed to accompany the soundtrack all at the appropriate moments, and yet it was in the most intimate and quiet scenes where you could feel how much the audience was with this film: you could have heard a pin dropped for how quiet everybody was!

For many fans (and let me get this out now: I am one of them), this is much more than just another film in the franchise: it’s the it’s the end of an era, or simply  the end of a journey which lasted for over 10 years (14 if you count the first book, back in 1997).

There are no precedents like this in movie history (the closest thing it can be compared with is the end of a long-running TV series like Friends, for example). There’s a certain poignancy that comes with it, because, as we all know, this is the last one EVER. There will not be any other Harry Potter, no matter what.

The film clearly knows all that and consciously plays to it, tapping into our deepest-self, reminding us about this journey we’ve taken and how we’ve grown up with it. But we are certainly not alone: these films themselves seem to have grown up too: this isn’t your normal dull blockbuster like Transformers, with idiotic one-liner, explosion-galore and music plastered all over (I was actually surprised to see how much restrained the music was on this film, but just carefully used only when it was really needed), this is more of an emotional roller-coaster. It might not be completely appropriate for your average kid (some of the images are pretty strong and after a while I lost the count of how many dead bodies of students I saw…), but if you’ve seen the previous ones, you should be prepared for this too (and if you haven’t, I must ask: what on earth are you doing here?!).

The previously-unknown David Yates has slowly been able to find his own voice with the latest 4 of the 8 instalments, by combining the sense of magic the first 2 films had, the darker tone introduced to us by Afonso Cuaron (with the third episode) but also that more grown-up approach to the story, which has been brewing and growing with each chapter (and book of course).

In fact Yates has also been one of the bravest too, as he has found the courage to actually hack to pieces the overly-written source and actually make a better film (clearly after book 3, no editor would dare to tell JK Rowling to cut anything out). In this last “Deathly Hallow”, he was able to basically stretch the final battle over the course of the whole film, making it seem greater and more epic than it’s ever been in the book (In the end, box office aside, it really did pay off to split the movie in two parts).

Considering the incredible amount of expectations which a film like this can carry and, consequently, the almost impossible task of bringing everything to a close, HP 7.2  does a really good job! Yes, of course there will be some disappointed people, but I think the disappointment will come from the fact that secretly each of us would like this story to go on forever and, no matter what, you can never please everyone.

There are flashbacks and cameos from pretty much every single member of the cast from the previous instalments (I think only Kenneth Branagh was missing), some of whom are unfortunately relegated to just a couple of shots and a single line (there are time where you just wish they had a whole spin-off movie about Snape, as Alan Rickman deserves a lot more screen time). Maggie Smith however manages to make the most of her little screen time and makes up for the fact that she wasn’t around in previous “deathly hallow”. She most definitely steals the show with her “I’ve always wanted to do that spell” and with that smile that carried both pride and embarrassment at the same time, so cute that you just want to hug her and ask her to be your grandmother.

The film is a real feast for the eye. The special effects are the most detailed on any Harry Potter (fair enough it’s been 10 years since the first one!) and actually I have to confess the 3D conversion was probably one of the best one I’ve seen in a while and although it’s not quite the same as actually filming in 3D it makes me rather curious and hopeful for the forthcoming Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately nowadays we are so used to see big battles with thousands of CGI-rendered extras, that focussing on those alone would certainly lead to some disappointment. Once again the film knows this and decides to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the big action scenes are there (in fact, the whole film seems a big action scene!), but as a fan it’s the most emotional moments in the film that stick with you: the death of some of the characters, the overdue kiss, the flashback sequence with Snape and most crucially the moment where Harry is ready to go and die and says goodbye to his friends. I must confess that had be too. Credits to that trio of those not-so-kids-anymore (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who this time clearly show how much they have matured as actors.

Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here: he has a clear understanding of his character as his face shows not just the loss of innocence but also a deep maturity in the acceptance of his fate. Emma Watsons shines with a freshly newly acquired spontaneity: the moment where she kisses Ron is followed by a smile which feels so real that could almost be mistaken for an outtake. And obviously Rupert Grint who’s always been the best of them all and can now relax in his role of ice-breaker with his funny comments in the most tense situations.

As always, if there are faults in the film they are mainly to do with the original source itself and, in this particular case, with the overly long and convoluted plot. Still to this day I have some problems in telling you what a deathly hallow is what its purpose might be… and I am a fan who has actually read all the books and seen most of the films more than once!! I can only imagine what the average viewer will make of it). At some point I almost had no idea what was going on anymore as horcruxes, crowns, snakes and plot twists all got mixed up in my head. Did it matter? Not really… to a degree.

And yet, even though I knew that the stakes were high and I could follow the rough plot (well, I mean, it’s clear enough: good vs evil), I still couldn’t quite grasp exactly how could Voldemort be killed or how was Harry Potter able come back from the whited-out King’s Cross (In fact that was also the biggest let-down of the book as far as I am concerned: it would have made a lot more sense if Harry had died. What a brave and powerful ending that would have been).

On the whole the film is a success. It’s hard to see how it could have been better: it can be argued that some of that sense of magical wonder that some of the previous instalments had, was probably lost here, as it gave more space to its three main characters. The very final scene was unusually underwhelming for these types of films and is a clear example of that as it decided to concentrate more on the faces of our three main characters rather than letting itself go by showing us perhaps an aerial view of the Hogwarts Express leaving with a possible rousing them from John Williams. And yet, Spielberg did manage to do both things in ET, by giving us the unforgettable image of the spaceship leaving a rainbow-like trail but also finishing on a tight close up of Elliot’s face, thus creating on of the most emotional ending of any fantasy film ever!

But these are just small quibbles: either you go with the film or you don’t and I certainly did.

Considering what a massive commercial machine Warner Bros is we must be so thankful for the way the franchise has been handled (it makes me shiver to think that actually Spielberg wanted to shift it all to America… Thankfully somebody had the courage to tell him off for once). Producer David Heyman is obviously a man of heart, who cares for his fans and set out to make the best films he could ever make, playing on the strengths of its (let’s be honest) not-so-perfect source and in the end making it an even better product.

In the end this film must be judged with that same heart and not so much with the brain, taking in consideration the series as well as this ending.

And you know what? My heart can’t stop saying “I just loved the journey, thank you so much for it”.

8/10

 Read my review of Part one

MORE REVIEWS:

green lantern senna INCEPTION Tron- Legacy IRONCLAD

Raiders of the Lost Ark – 30th anniversary Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison FordKaren AllenPaul Freeman

Call me childish, call me narrow-minded, call me a “blockbuster-junkie”, call whatever-you-want, but to me this is the perfect film!

Such a bold statement might require some explanation (which hopefully I will be able to give in this post) and certainly begs the question: what makes a film perfect? And, is this really one?

The answer to the second question is a simple and resounding YES.

I believe a perfect film is one that can be watched over and over again: a film that you never grow tired of and that whenever is on TV and you stumble across it, you end up watching. A perfect film is one of those where you struggle to pick up one favorite scene, because they’re all so good. A perfect film is one of those you really wouldn’t change anything about it and where all its elements (story, direction, acting, music, cinematography, editing and so on) come together in a such a way that it’s virtually impossible to choose one over the other.

Raiders of the lost Ark is 30 years old this month, but still shines as if it were made yesterday… except that it wasn’t because, as we all know “they don’t make them like this anymore“.

I still remember going to the movie theatre when it first got released (Yes, I’m giving away my age: clearly I’m not a teenager!) and being absolutely blown away by it. At the time there was nothing like it  (and arguably, that’s probably still true today).

Ever since then people have been trying to  imitate its winning formula, and, needless to say, most of them failed miserably. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about (and to prove my point), just think of Lara Croft, Prince of Persia, National treasure, The Mummy Trilogy and even those films inspired by the Dan Brown‘s books: well, those are the most successful ones… Enough said. I won’t even go into the list of endless B-movies.

I find quite hard to write about “Raiders”, mainly because I’ve seen it so many times and I know so much about it, that I almost feel compelled to write every single details filling up pages and pages… But don’t worry, I won’t.

Right from the word “go”, from when the summit of the Paramount logo dissolves into a Peruvian mountain (a Visual device which will become the trademark of the entire series), you know you’re in for something which is not only original but clever and handsomely made.

What follows that logo is probably one of the best first sequences of any action movies ever made. The mysterious forest, the haunting music, the bloody  statue, the group of explorers, the old map, the hidden cave, the pulsating tension, the crawling spiders, the giant web, the deadly traps, the decomposed body, the big scares, the golden idol, the sliding  door, the traitor, the whip,  the rolling boulder, the French baddie, the wild Hovitos, the arrows, the chase across the fields, the swinging vine, John Williams‘s “raiders theme”, the snake on the plane, the jokes breaking the tension: and all this is just within the first 10 minutes!!! It is such an incredible edge-of-your-seat beginning that after that the film can afford to launch into a very long scene with some massive exposition

And I haven’t even mentioned the hero himself, Indiana Jones.

Harrison Ford deserves a lot of credits for the success of this film. Who knows what would have happened if Tom Selleck had played the role: he was the first choice, after all (I will be eternally grateful to Magnum PI).

Harrison Ford manages to make Indiana Jones strong and frail at the same time, funny and sad, invincible and weak. Indy is a hero but he gets hurt, tired, dirty and sweaty. It doesn’t matter how far-fetched and over-the-top the action might be, Ford makes it feel real.

Spielberg directs it all with clockwork perfection but he’s also able to improvise on the spot and use it all to his advantage (most famously, the now-classic scene where Indy shoots the sword-man, which as we all know by now, was pretty much improvised on the spot). He orchestrates it all with a mastery that’s never showy and always serving the story and the action as he uses all the tricks in the film-maker book: long lens shots during a chase sequence, a tracking shot across the desert to show the scale of the landscape, a single one-take shot during a drinking competition.

He also knows exactly how to pitch the film: helped by a carefully crafted script, all the improbabilities are always levelled by humour, the action is always counter-balanced by actual dramatic scenes, the magical sense of wonder is always routed to reality and however cartoony some of the characters might be, they’re always incredibly detailed.

Paul Freeman‘s Belloq is not just a baddie. There’s so much more to him: the care and attention he has for Marion, and whole untold back-story and a passion for archeology he shares with Indy are enough to give him more depth and somehow make him more scary. He also gets one of the best lines in the film: “we are only passing though history, this… this IS history”

What started off as a tribute to those Action Saturday Matinee that Spielberg and Lucas loved so much, here becomes a rollercoaster of sheer invention, cracking action and incredible fun. So many scenes are now become classic iconic moments in movie history, whether it’s to do with snakes in  “well of Souls”, or ghost-like creatures during the opening of the ark, running though the streets of Cairo, or fighting with a bald guy by a plane out of control, in a secret chamber underground, or in a massive warehouse with thousands and thousands crates (incidentally, one of the best “last shots” of any movie!!).

This is so much more than just pure escapism: this is a manual of “storytelling with pictures”.

10/10 

Here’s there’s a great fan-made running-commentary of the film. A real work of genius and love for the film made with great care and attention. Well done Jamie!

Raiding The Lost Ark: A Filmumentary By Jamie Benning on Vimeo.

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