Sunday, 4 September 2016

BIG REVIEW: Potter Marathon Part 2: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (AKA Deus Ex Maphoenix)

Note:  This post WILL contain spoilers for the above film but not for the films and books that follow (mainly because I haven’t seen/read them yet so can’t ruin anything.)  Out of basic decency I request that you avoid further spoilers in the comments so not to ruin the series for anyone who is watching along with us or, more importantly, me.  You have been warned so no complaining!

One film down, seven to go and we approach the second film in the series with trepidation. The last write-up took far too much time and effort and not just for you poor readers. I spent an ungodly amount of time trying to copy-type it from crumpled beermats I found stuck to my person the night after watching the first film as part of a Harry Potter drinking game of my own invention (basically you put on the film and then you keep drinking until it makes sense or goes away.)

Attempting this game with Michael Bay's Transformers movies 
is a very bad idea.
So I have promised myself that this write-up will be shorter and more straight to the point. I can only hope that Chris Columbus will copy this sentiment with the script for today's movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (or, as I'm sure it must be known in America based on the last film, "Speccy Kid and the Room of Stuff")

Wait... I just checked the runtime and this thing is 3 hours long!  Jesus Christ. This thing is 10 minutes longer than the film of Cloud Atlas and it was trying to tell six separate stories set centuries apart and linked only through an overarching theme of karmic resonance.  This thing is 15 minutes longer than Boyhood and it told the story of a young boys entire childhood and burgeoning adulthood and took the entire 12 years depicted to film. How could you possibly need all that runtime just to tell the story of some kids going to magic school. Sigh... okay let's do this.

Unlike the rather magical opening scene of the first film, this one starts fairly mundanely with Harry sitting in his room at home reminiscing about the previous year while looking at cheesy photos. He also has his (fully grown) owl Hedwig with him who is kept in a tiny cage that he can't even spread his wings inside of. I assume this is just to remind Harry of all the animal cruelty he is missing out on until Hogwarts starts up again. One thing that concerns me is that Dumbledore and Hagrid have previously been shown to know quite a lot about Harry and his past and yet, despite clearly knowing he comes from an abusive household, they are happy to send him back there until they've finished enjoying their summer holidays.  No wonder he takes it out on the owl.
Although Dumbledore is otherwise committed until the end of the ZZ Top European tour.
The Dursleys (Harry's stepfamily) are preparing for a visit from The Masons: Uncle Vernon's boss and his wife.  (Amusingly Mr Mason is played by none other than Bishop Brennan from Father Ted.  Sadly this appears to be only a brief appearance and he doesn't call Harry 'you little bollocks' once) Meanwhile Harry is moaning about the fact that he hasn't received a single letter from any of his friends all summer. Harry hides in his room sulking to avoid ruining the important dinner and is shocked to find Dobby, a house elf, hiding in his room.
Aaaaaargh! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it with fire!
Ignoring the fact that he looks like a terrifying abomination, I have actually been looking forward to Dobby being introduced since he is responsible for the inspiration behind one of the most loveable characters on Peep Show. Although, to be honest, that's a small selection group as most characters on that show are bastards. (If you don't already love Peep Show, your homework is to click this link to watch the first series legally for free. If you have watched it but don't love it, your homework is to cover yourself in gravy and run around a lion enclosure shouting "Tasty treat time, Simba" until you are no longer able to dilute the human gene pool with your shameful existence.)

So Dobby (after breaking into Harry's house) admits that he has been watching Harry for a while and knows all about him. He then admits that is was himself who stole Harry's mail in order to make him feel unwanted. After that he tells Harry that he must not go back to school and must stay locked in at home all year to avoid the danger outside. When Harry tries to question this, Dobby gets upset and starts violently self harming. This was the point when I started to suspect that Dobby might have been based on one of my ex-girlfriends.  Harry tries to decide what to do about what Dobby is telling him. I could think of a few solutions and all of them involve the words "restraining order."
Pictured: The most effective form of restraining order.
Most annoyingly Dobby seems to be incapable of using the words "I" or "you" and only ever refers to Harry as Harry Potter and himself as Dobby. I understand this is supposed to be cute but it switches from endearing to extremely annoying in about the time it takes to bludgeon a house elf with a shoe and stuff it screaming into a trash compactor. If there's one thing that The Mogul hates, it's people who talk about themselves in the third person.

Harry is determined to ignore Dobby's warnings and go back to school anyway, so the creepy little shit decides to take matters into his own hands and ruins the dinner party, blaming it on Harry. Uncle Vernon is not happy and bans Harry from going back to Hogwarts. He then keeps him prisoner in his bedroom in order to stop him from trying to go. Things seem hopeless for Harry and just as it seems like they can't get any worse, he peers out through his (now barred) window and witnesses something truly terrifying.
Gingers at the window! Gingers at the window!
Thankfully it's just Ron and his creepy twin brothers coming to rescue Harry from this prison. He escapes through the window and disappears into the night in Ron's dad's magic flying car.

Harry spends the summer at Ron's house which is much more comfortable considering that his parents are Educating Rita and Patrick Nice. Just before the school year starts back the whole family decide to go shopping for supplies.  To get to the shops they use something called Floo Powder which basically allows them to teleport to anywhere they say (which raises the question of why the bother to own a car at all?)  Stupidly Harry mispronounces Diagon Alley as 'diagonally' which causes him to be launched in the wrong direction.  Good thing they weren't planning to travel to Arsoli in Italy or, say, the Butt of Lewis.

Ron once accidentally ended up sending himself
here while secretly watching an obscure Sky channel
at exactly 12:05 one night
They end up in a bookshop where there is a book signing by a pompous celebrity wizard called Gilderoy Lockhart; played by Kenneth Branagh who appears to have taken a break from Shakespeare to tackle Britain's actual most popular writer. We later find out that he is the new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher. I can only assume that Dumbledore saw him starring as the child-snatching nutter A.O. Neville in Rabbit-Proof Fence and decided that he was exactly the sort of person who would fit in well at Hogwarts.

In the same scene we are also introduced to Lucius Malfoy, the father of everyone's favourite snivelling little shit, Draco. We can instantly tell that he is evil because he has long platinum blonde hair and Rowling appears to have colour-coded her characters for ease of recognition (Black hair = Troubled by destiny, Ginger/Auburn = Stoic and likeable, Bottle-blonde = Privileged and evil.)

Where could she possibly have got an idea like that from?
We can see from Lucius' Aryan looks, sneering disdain for those less well off than himself, his love for (currently historical) maniac Voldemort and his talk of "pure-blood" wizards that Rowling appears to be setting up her villains to be ersatz Nazis. An interesting approach, and commendable since children are never too young to be taught about systematic genocide. Though  to be honest, I can't help wondering if this is just an attempt to cover up the horrible racist "jewblin" situation she implied in the last film.
Never forget!
While here in the bookshop Gilderoy, the celebrity guest doing a book signing, pulls Harry up on stage with him to pose for a photo together and then gives him a gift of all his books. 'You can't even go to the bookshop without ending up on the front page' sneers Draco.  Well he might be a smarmy little Nazi prick but the kid does have a point.  We get that Harry is supposed to be special and unique but seeing literally every single non-villain character constantly kissing his ass doesn't make him the most sympathetic of protagonists.  I'm starting to feel bad for being so hard on Hermione at the start of the last review.  Sure she's annoyingly smug sometimes but so far she does seem to be doing most of the thinking for our heroes and only Harry seems to be getting all the praise for it. Maybe wizard society is as naturally sexist as it is racist.
Glass-ceilingus Leviosa!
Soon after this Harry and the Weasleys head to the station in order to get the train to Hogwarts. When they get to the station they all run through the portal at platform 9&3/4. Well I say all, but Harry and Ron quite hilariously run headfirst into a brick wall instead. I'll be honest, I laughed. Few things are as amusing as excited children concussing themselves. Although they were pushing their luggage ahead of them so Harry's owl seemed to take the majority of the brunt of the crash. I'm really starting to feel sorry for that bird. Interestingly enough, the real Kings Cross station now has put up a sign for the fictional Platform 9&3/4 so that extremely hopeful Harry Potter fans can now give themselves head injuries recreating this scene while desperately trying to get to Hogwarts. I take this as an explanation for the quality of the reams of Harry Potter Fanfic available online as it certainly reads as if it was written by people suffering recent brain damage.

Stuck on the wrong side of the portal, Harry and Ron decide to travel there in Ron's dad's magic flying car.  Realising that they might be seen by Muggles they press a button which makes the car completely invisible while it flies.  This is the kind a fun magical stuff which could only exist in an imaginative fantasy series like this or a really fucking terrible Bond film.
Never forget!
The flying car sequence is actually pretty good fun as Harry, Ron and (again!) poor poor Hedwig completely lose control of the vehicle, barely avoid being hit by a train and eventually get it smashed up by an angry tree.  This leads to Harry and Ron being threatened with potential expulsion from Hogwarts.  Not because they almost derailed a train which could've lead to the deaths of countless innocent children but because they allowed some Muggles to witness their magic.  Apparently the greater crime is not mass culpable homicide but revealing the wizard world to the normal, ugly British public.  This is where I start to have issues with the mythology of this series.  I understand that the wizard world is supposed to be a magical, exciting alternative to everyday life but surely as moral citizens they have a duty to, say, introduce the wider medical community to their miraculous healing spells, or use their abilities to prevent wars or end famines?  Meanwhile, fellow wizards might be incapable of stopping a powerful sorcerer like Voldemort but surely a less magic but well trained military operation could simply Seal Team Six his ass?  This insistence on cutting themselves off entirely from the rest of the sane world makes even the good wizards seem like a bunch of luddite, regressive, reactionaries dooming themselves due to a misplaced superiority complex.  

This seems especially bizarre when you consider the Ministry of Magic requires a whole department for trying to work out simple concepts like rubber ducks even though more than half of wizards apparently have at least one Muggle parent.  How cut off from reality are these people?
Harry, can you explain to me how to use a fork, or a toaster or
what fire is?  I put the first thing in the second and now the third
one appears to be attacking the whole kitchen and my legs.
We see the kids taking their first Defence of the Dark Arts class held by Gilderoy Lockheart.  He quickly reveals himself to be the kind of dangerous narcissist who put self promotion above education standards to a degree almost approaching Michael Gove levels.  This class ends when Gilderoy releases a bunch of pixies in the class and then runs away when they start attacking everyone.  (Well I say everyone, it's mainly Neville again.  I'm starting to suspect that Hogwarts keep Neville around as a sort of Miner's Canary and it'll take his death before they bother to put in any safety regulations for the other kids)

Later that night Harry is awoken in the middle of the night.  There is a strange whispering voice repeating over and over 'Harry Potter I'm going to kill you' which no-one appears to be able to hear. Luckily Harry can hear this so I know this was actually part of the film and not just me mumbling to myself again in frustration.  Harry follows the voice and it leads him to a dead cat and a message scrawled across a wall in blood stating that the eponymous Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Finally some darkness!  The first Harry Potter was surprisingly creepy near the end (especially with Harry face-melting his enemy at the climax) so I hoped that this would continue the trend but this is the first real inkling so far.  Well at least the plot seems to be actually starting now at, what, about an hour into the film.  Most kids films would be into their third act by now.  Wait... what's that?  The cat's not dead, it's just 'petrified.'  So where did the blood come from.  Was someone just carrying around a bucket of blood so they could write this message and then decided to attack a cat with magic afterwards?  Surely a more threatening villain would be ruthlessly efficient enough to just smash the cat into the wall repeatedly until the spatter resembles words.  Or multiple cats, crammed into the brickwork in some gory, mewling mess that roughly looks like letters.  That would properly fuck those kids up.  (Although this may explain why my series of children's novels were never published.)
Apparently there isn't a market for 'Little Suzie and the
People Who Fucking Deserved What They Got.'
Dumbledore promises that the cat will be saved which seems to briefly suggest that Hogwarts is beginning to show some concern for animal welfare.  This doesn't last though.  Literally the next day we see Harry and Ron in a class where they are told to turn live rats into water goblets for some unknown reason (is there some sort of glassware shortage in the wizard world?)  Everyone laughs at Ron because he messes up his spell and only half-changes his so it rolls around flailing it's tail wilding and screeching in panic.  Ha ha Ron!  You're supposed to make their mouths disappear too so you can hear their screams of pain and existential terror.

We have no mouths but we must scream!
Soon after we get yet another Quidditch match.  Before the match we see the team captain talk about how they are going to train earlier, harder and longer than ever before to become the best team they can (despite the fact than only Harry actually seems to effect the game in any way.)  I feel sorry for this guy putting in the effort and fighting hard for the full length of a match only to have the final result decided at the last second by factors entirely out of his control.  Although he is Scottish so I'm sure he's very much used to this.

Despite my hatred of the sport (especially it's, ugh, real life version) I have to admit that the Quidditch sequence was pretty damn good.  It was exciting and action packed.  I do have to wonder why no-one stopped the game once it became clear that a rogue 'bludger' was clearly trying to kill Harry.  Everyone is equally uninterested when Draco is thrown from his broom in a way that suggests serious internal injuries, including his own father who just sighs disdainfully.  With family like this, no wonder he's turning out such an insufferable little dipshit.  Harry breaks his arm during this incident and Gilderoy attempts to fix it.  Although his spell only makes it weird and floppy in a surprising and effective bit of body horror.  Harry is taken to the medical centre to wait for his bones to grow back.  It's a group ward, obviously, because leaving a teenage boy alone with soft hand that he can't feel anymore is a recipe for disaster.
Dear god, Potter.  At least wait until I've left the room!
While in hospital Harry is visited again by Dobby who must love having Harry alone in a place he can't escape from.  Dobby admits that it was him who closed the portal in the station to prevent Harry travelling.  It was also him who caused the tree to smash up the Weasley car and the bludger to attack Harry during the game (because of course it was!) Then Dobby gets overemotional and starts brutally beating his own head off the wall.  Seriously Dobby is the most terrifyingly stalkerish character I've seen in a kids film since that hebephile vampire guy in Twilight.  Are kids really into these creepy abusive characters?  This can't bode well for the future.
This man has 5 UK Top Ten albums.  Sigh...
Interestingly Dobby usually only starts self-harming when forced to say something bad about his masters however he also does so this time whenever asked who is plotting against Harry.  I don't think it would take great genius to put two and two together here.  Still somehow Harry doesn't pick up on this 'coincidence.'

Anyway, while in the hospital, Harry hears the teachers confirming that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and that the pupils are in danger.  Suspecting Draco to be responsible, Harry, Ron and Hermione meet up in the bathroom to devise a plan to catch him out.  While in there they meet Moaning Myrtle.  Myrtle is a shrill ghost of a teenage girl who is aggressively self-loathing and flies wildly around shrieking endlessly about her self hatred.  Remember when I said that I was pretty sure Dobbie would be my least favourite character in the whole series?  Yeah.

Also she looks almost exactly like Harry Potter in drag.
Either she is supposed to represent Harry's repressed feminine
side or the costume department were just hungover that day.
So our heroes plan to disguise themselves as members of House Slytherin in order to spy on Draco Malfoy and try to find out what is happening.  Harry and Ron decide to make themselves look like Draco's henchmen Crabbe and Goyle.  Luckily for them Crabbe and Goyle are fat and, in JK Rowling's world, fat kids are so stupidly obsessed with food that, even when already carrying an armful of treats, they will still stuff their face full of cupcakes that are levitating in the air as if possessed by Pazuzu.
Your mother stuffs cakes in Greggs!
So once Harry and Ron have successfully roofie'd Crabbe and Goyle (I'm not going to question how they already had access and knowledge of magic Rohypnol since the film seems to think that is normal in wizard circles) they meet up with Hermione to drink the disgusting looking Polyjuice potion to change their appearance.  The transformation sequence is actually pretty clever and effective and soon Harry and Ron are off spying on Draco with new faces.  This is a pretty good bit of luck for the actors playing Crabbe and Goyle as it means that they would be technically correct if they told people they played Harry and Ron in the movie.  I'm sure that fact really boosted their success later in life.
The plan doesn't succeed in revealing much other than that Draco isn't involved in the plot. Although it could be worse.  Hermione's attempt to join in backfired when she accidentally used cat hair causing her to turn into a real life Furry.
This one scene guaranteed that poor Emma Watson would be harassed
by even more weirdos on the internet than she already was.
Shortly afterwards, Harry finds a soggy book lying on the floor of a toilet cubicle and takes it home, probably assuming it's a copy of the Sunday Sport as it usually is in public bathrooms.
Britain's classiest newspaper
The book turns out to be a diary written by a student from 50 years ago called Tom Riddle. Realising that the diary dates from around the same period as the last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, Harry hopes it may help to understand what is happening (To be honest, by this point I was hoping it would hold the whole screenplay for this film so we could finally get some forward plot momentum).

So Harry gets sucked into the book (both figuratively and literally) and finds out that it was Hagrid who was accused of releasing the monster from the chamber.  Before he can do anything with this information he is called away to discover that Hermione has now also been petrified after looking at the creature.
This is how I looked after being forced to watch
an episode of Mrs Brown's Boys.
Harry and Ron then sneak out to speak to Hagrid to see if he can shed any light on the situation. Before he can talk to them, Dumbledore, a fabulously sneering Lucius Malfoy and the brilliantly named Cornelius Fudge arrive and promptly arrest Hagrid and discuss Dumbledore's resignation as headmaster.  Before leaving, Hagrid hints to the boys to 'follow the spiders' to learn the truth.

So the boys follow the spiders off into the forest at night where they meet up with Aragog, the gigantic spider that Hagrid had been expelled for owning.  There they discover that Aragog was not the monster from the Chamber and that Hagrid was innocent but not before the creepy crawly decides to feed them to his army of children.  I'm not sure what Hagrid was trying to achieve by sending two young boys off into a forest at night to meet with a family of giant man-eating spiders? Man, he really wants those kids dead.
You're a dinner, Harry
Luckily they are saved by Ron's (now sentient) car which drives in to their rescue.  I'm kinda surprised that Ron's car remains so loyal to him after he climbed inside it, drove it recklessly around and got it battered up.  Especially considering that Hagrid's 'loyal pet' Aragog (whose life he saved) just tried to reward him by eating his friends alive.

Harry and Ron go to visit Hermione again at the hospital and very conveniently find a piece of paper screwed up inside her fist.  (Seriously, she's been comatose for a few days and no-one has even attempted to remove the paper in her hand yet?  The medical standards of Hogwarts are almost as bad as their educational ones)  The paper confirms that the monster is a Basilisk and Harry deduces that coincidentally the entrance to the Chamber must be in the bathroom that a good third of this film seems to have already been set in.
'When you've gotta go, you've gotta go.'
Shortly after Ginny Weasley (Ron's little sister) is kidnapped and the teachers plan to close the school, putting the obviously incompetent Gilderoy Lockheart in charge of catching the monster. Harry and Ron try to recruit him to help catch the basilisk but find him packing his bags to flee the school as soon as possible.  It turns out that Gilderoy is a complete bullshit artist who has no actual useful skills and that his entire success and celebrity is based off of plagiarism and him taking credit for the work of others.  His only actual achievement is his magical ability to silence criticism against him and once given any actual responsibility he instantly folds under pressure and attempts to run away.
I'm not sure what this picture is doing here
So naturally Harry and Ron get hold of Gilderoy, bring him to the bathroom and fling him down a dark hole into the sewers.  Although this is also the door to the Chamber of Secrets so they end up following him once they know it is safe.  Once in the sewers, Gilderoy unsurprisingly instantly turns on them but his spell backfires, causing a cave in which leaves Harry alone in the chamber.  It's in here that Harry finds Ginny unconscious and meets the spirit of Tom Riddle who reveals himself to be none other than Voldemort himself.  Dun-dun-dun!

Then the Basilisk attacks but before Harry can be killed by it's fatal gaze, Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes flies in out of nowhere and rips it's fucking eyes out.  This seems awfully convenient.  If the bird knew how to get into the Chamber all along surely it could done something to help before now.  (Maybe, like Dumbledore, it simply doesn't give a shit about any of the kids not named 'Harry Potter') This scene of talons clawing at eye sockets seems a bit brutal since it followed over two hours of fairly tame drama.  I kinda feel sorry for the poor blind monster (although I suppose it never has to worry about being made to watch 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets' now).

The sorting hat (which Fawkes also brought with him produces a sword that Harry can use to fight the beast. (I won't query why the sorting hat - a sentient being - is inserting sword in itself or how the phoenix knew that Harry would be there and need a sword.)  After awkwardly climbing into a corner of a statue for some reason (seriously Harry, your fighting tactics are as poor as Ron's chess skills) Harry luckily manages to stab the snake monster through the mouth killing it but not without first sustaining a potentially fatal bite wound.  Pulling the poisonous tooth from his arm, Harry then uses it to repeatedly stab Tom Riddle's book killing his evil spirit by effectively wiping him from history.
I attempted this move in real life and am now banned from Waterstones
Harry then curls up on the floor next to Ginny expecting the Basilisk poison to kill him when Fawkes flies over to him and begins to cry.  The phoenix's tears drip into Harry's wound and instantly heals it.  Yes...this really happens.  Then we see Fawkes picking up Harry, Ginny, Ron AND Gilderoy (yes, a small bird carrying three children and a fully grown adult man at once) and flying them out of the Chamber and into the nights sky.  That's some proper cop-out bullshit right there.  I'd call this a Deus Ex Machina ending but that would do a disservice to people who slap on a fake beard and get lowered onto a stage on a cloud shaped cherry-picker.  That would still be a more satisfying conclusion.  Although to J.K. Rowlings credit this frustrating plot twist may just be a clever reference to fantasy history since Lord of the Rings features the characters being carried to safety and home by giant eagles who were inexplicably absent earlier when the same characters took three whole books to walk there.
Want a ride? Fuck you. Pay me.
After the climax of the film we get a scene where Dumbledore sums up the plot to Harry and Ron and eventually a particularly unhappy Lucius Malfoy.  After this meeting Harry accuses Lucius of being behind the plot (no shit, Sherlock) and then tricks him into freeing Dobby by getting him to ask Dobby to hold a book for him which has one of Harry's socks hidden in it. (Short version, wizard law is fucking weird.)  Angry at this humiliation, Lucius attacks Harry but is defended by Dobby who is now free to slap his former owner around as much as he likes. (I'd celebrate this moment of justice and emancipation if Dobby didn't goddamn terrify me so much).  One thing I noticed though is that, when attacking Harry,  Lucius utters the word 'Avada' before being cut off.  I've heard from my HP loving friends (Harry-fans? Potterphiles?) that 'Avada Kedavra' is a 'killing curse' and causes instant death.  So am I right in saying then that this film ends with a man quite clearly attempting to murder a child in public and no-one caring that this happened?  Come on, wizards, what kind of horrifying dystopia are you living in?  Honestly if I received a letter from Hogwarts on my 11th birthday I would've burned it for my own safety.  I'd rather have gone to school in the one from Dangerous Minds.
Admit it.  You only know this film exists
because of 'Gangsta's Paradise'
Finally we get to the last scene where all the characters are reunited in the Hogwarts banquet hall. Here we learn that everyone who was previously petrified as been cured and will be back to annoy us in the next film.  Also Hagrid has returned to his job and everyone has a good old laugh about him being kept in prison unnecessarily long due to Ron screwing up the delivery of his release papers. Ha ha ha! Imagine the horrifying traumatic abuse he might have suffered over those few extra days that he'll never be able forget. Ha ha ha!  There is a big celebration and the credits roll as the whole school whoops and cheers (not least because Dumbledore has decided to scrap all exams for the rest of the year)
Woo! Yay! None of us will ever get in University!
So to sum up: I'm not a fan.  I went into this film marathon expecting to hate the series but I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the first film 'Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone' that I found enjoyable. 'Chamber of Secrets' however was everything I'd feared.  The plot was painfully slow and sluggish and the film seemed to last a lifetime. I suspect that Chris Columbus has again made the mistake of confusing an accurate adaptation with a good one.  A film requires more judicious editing than a novel does. The acting from the kids is getting slightly better though and Kenneth Branagh steals every scene he's in with his pompous ludicrousness.  Also the spirit of Tom Riddle makes a suitable creepy villain (even if he does take most of the film before appearing) and sets the tone for Voldemort's eventual return in the flesh.  Overall I enjoyed a couple of scenes here but felt this was much more of a slog than the previous film.  I've heard the there is a distinct tonal shift during the next film 'Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban' which continues for the rest of the series. I really hope that is true as otherwise I may end up feeling like I'm trapped in the titular prison myself.

End of Term Report Card:

National Treasures Unearthed: Firstly Kenneth Branagh is pretty brilliant casting as the buffoonish Gildroy Lockheart.  Miriam Margoyles (who is possibly best known for her hilarious interviews on the Graham Norton show) turns up as the herbology professor and Jason Isaacs is suitably condescending as the villainous Lucius Malfoy.  Mark Williams and Julie Walters are pretty much perfect as the kind of thoroughly decent parents who could actually love a kid like Ron.  

We also see the first appearance by Michael Gambon as a younger Dumbledore in a flashback (he would later take over the role full time after the sad death of Richard Harris.  Someone must've left a cake out in the rain.)

And...wait, Dobby is played by Toby Jones?!  I like Toby Jones.  I don't like Dobby.  Boo!

Darkness Meter: The bit with the spiders was nicely creepy and a load of kids got 'petrified' by a giant snake monster but unfortunately they were all recovered by the end of the film.  I suppose it killed Moaning Myrtle in the past but based on the way her ghost acts, she fucking deserved it.  I suppose the appearance of a self-destructive emotionally abusive elf is pretty dark but not in a fun way.  This is a decided step backwards.  There better be carnage next time!

Hogwarts Health & Safety Report: Pretty godawful.  The first class we see at the school is a herbology class where the pupils are harvesting mandrakes, a plant which screams when rooted with such power it can kill and adult.  Although these juvenile plants are suggested to only have the power to shock you into unconsciousness that still seems a pretty big risk to take with children (and when it appears that Neville has fainted due to his earphones slipping no-one seems bothered.  Poor Neville.  The teachers want you dead.)

To their credit the Professors do eventually decide to enforce curfews and consider shutting the school for the safety of the kids but this is only due to a monster which can kill on sight being unleashed in the building (and even then, they wait until it's already attacked three kids before doing anything).

Also they managed to replace the evil 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' teacher from the last film with a self-obsessed buffoon who openly risks the safety of (and eventually outright attacks) pupils for his own gain.  That's a complete failure in basic vetting.  They better get someone more reliable for the next term!

How Annoying is Hermione: Still a bit annoying but but less self congratulatory than in the last film.  Also when compared to continuing hero worship of Harry (not to mention the sheer pain of spending any more time with either Dobby or Moaning Myrtle) Hermione comes off as pretty level headed and likeable.  I think I might ditch this feature.  The girl has proved her worth.  Ron, on the other hand...

Best Bit: The duelling scene.  If only because we get to see Gilderoy absolutely bested by Snape who then sneers at his incompetence.  Alan Fucking Rickman sneering is always worth the price of admission.  I'm so glad to hear he's in every one of these films.  God bless you Alan, you might just get me through this series.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

NEW RELEASE: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

(Director: David Ayer.  Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis)

When the first trailer for Suicide Squad appeared online at the start of this year it provoked an audible sigh of relief among critics and film fans everywhere.  After the grim, turgid self-seriousness that plagued Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Martha it was a breath of fresh air to discover that Warner Bros were capable of actually having some fun with their D.C. titles.  

It has long been accepted that Batman is a character defined by his antagonists. His popularity as a hero has always been supported by possibly the best rogues gallery in all of comics and especially in superhero movies (Just compare the tragic version of Harvey Dent portrayed by Aaron Eckhart to Tommy Lee Jones' cartoonish Two-Face to see how differently well handled villains can affect a movie's overall success).  The idea of a film which could combine the dark-hearted humour of Deadpool with the shameless silliness of Guardians of the Galaxy while using characters lifted from Gotham City seemed like a perfect storm of everything I love about comics and a welcome change of pace from aggressively dull form of D.C.'s last two outings.  I mean just look at that poster up top.  That looks like the sort of perfect marriage of campy nonsense and violence that should be adorning the walls of college halls of residence the world over.  

Next to Bob Marley, Run Lola Run, Che Guevara and Pink Floyd's 'Butts' poster
Sadly, it wasn't to be.  The editors of the trailers deserves some sort of award for their efforts as they have created a three minute work of art far more entertaining than the movie it was pieced together from.  If the film promised by the trailer was music to our ears then sadly the film which I actually saw in the cinema felt like a terrible cover of that music, probably by Limp Bizkit.
The Clown Prince of unlikable douchebags
Speaking of music, the soundtrack to this film somehow manages to be simultaneously great and terrible.  Taking notes from the stellar soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad packs it's runtime with numerous classic songs from the 70s onward.  But unlike with Guardians, none of them feel like an organic part of the film and instead feel slapped on top in an rushed attempt to change the tone to one more lighthearted and fun than what the images portray (this, like many of the films flaws, clearly feel like last minute re-edits borne of studio interference).  Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' plays as the characters insanity is discussed, the 'guess who's back' intro to Eminem's 'The Real Slim Shady' plays as they are released from their cells and even the ruthless team leader, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is introduced to the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy For The Devil.'  This would be painfully heavy handed even in a wittier, better paced movie but in one already beset by clunky, exposition heavy dialogue and simplistic themes it's damn near unforgivable.
If they were being honest, they would've played Cee Lo Green's 'Fuck You'
to the audience over the end credits
Despite this, nothing in this film makes any sense.  Even the whole concept for the Suicide Squad itself is pretty ridiculous.  Amanda Waller pitches the concept for the squad on the fact that this is set in the D.C. universe where the existence of Kryptonians (such as Superman) is common knowledge.  To defend against superheroes, the government (or the police or CIA, it's never really clarified) need an army of superheroes themselves.  So far, so logical.  It falls apart when you realise that she plans to save us all from near-indestructable beings with laser eyes and the power of flight by taking them down with a guy who can climb well and a crazy woman with a baseball bat.

Behold! The awesome power of getting drunk and throwing shit.
 At this point in the film literally only one member of the Suicide Squad, Cara Delivigne's 'Enchantress' is shown to have mind-blowing superhuman abilities and upon her release she instantly turns on her handlers and plans to destroy the world becoming the film's main villain. Somehow the exact same people responsible for this utter debacle are given the job of fixing it.  If the human authorities in the D.C. Universe are genuinely this incompetent all the time it's no longer surprising that Zach Snyder's frowny version of Superman hates us so much.
[snort] Could you assholes not just save yourselves for once? Gawd!
Although the character's powers (or lack of) is the least of the problems the script has with them.  A film can get away with a nonsensical set-up if the action which follows is enough good fun (like, say, the first Matrix film) but it becomes more apparent if what follows is completely unsatisfying (like, say, every other Matrix film).  The main selling point of Suicide Squad as a concept is the idea that the main protagonists are a bunch of unrepentant villains forced to do good against their will.  There's something exciting about seeing our usual heroes replaced by less than stellar examples of humanity (hence the popularity of films like Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Moms, Bad Grandpa, Bad Lieutenant and... um... Bad Education?)  The problem with Suicide Squad is that it spends so long trying to convince us that these 'Bad Guys' are likeable enough that we should be siding with them that it forgets to make them actually bad enough to stand out from any other generic heroes.  
These people have each heartlessly murdered more humans than
the entire cast of Suicide Squad combined.
Will Smith's Deadshot spends so much of his screen time pining over his estranged daughter that you almost forget that he's supposed to be a hit man.  He might as well put down the sniper rifle and fully embrace his boring new role as 'Dadman' (or 'Dad-shot' if you will.)  El Diablo is literally repentant and refuses to fight (building up to him eventually having to, surprising no one, and then realising he doesn't have a secondary character trait beyond pacifism).  Rick Flagg and Katana are good guys throughout (not to mention that Katana only gets about 4 lines, none of which are in English) and Enchantress turns full on villain before she gets to interact with any of the rest of the team.  Killer Croc gets barely any lines or anything remotely interesting to do and Slipknot is out of the film so early that they didn't even bother including him when the characters are given their expository intros (and in doing so telegraphed away what could have been the films only shock moment).  This leaves Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang as the only characters who actually fit the brief suggested by the film's plot and unsurprisingly they are the two most entertaining characters in the movie.  That said, despite his early suggestions of a plot to escape (which he doesn't enact or even reveal) Capt. Boomerang ends up having little to no effect on the plot whatsoever.  Jai Courtney gives Boomerang a genuinely fun air of a total scumbag which suggests that (much like Tom Cruise) he's an actor most associated with blank bland heroes who comes to life when allowed to be gloriously unlikable.

Like when he played a heartless vampire, an arrogant misogynistic speaker
a ruthless hitman or a really creepy Scientologist.
Margot Robbie injects the film with some energy as Harley Quinn but her entire character arc feels completely separated from everything else happening on screen.  So this brings us to The Joker.  Much of the early press surrounding Suicide Squad focussed on Jared Leto's preparation for taking on the mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime and especially on his apparent confusing of the difference between method acting and illegal harassment.  (Say what you will about Heath Ledgers commitment to his performance in The Dark Knight but he never felt the need to mail his cum to Christian Bale just to get into character.)  In fact, based upon this, I had assumed going in the the Joker would be the primary antagonist of the movie.  This would actually make more sense plot wise as it would explain why Amanda Waller felt that criminals would be knowledgable allies and why Harley Quinn would be a useful member of the team.  I can't help but feel that this would make a more interesting film than the one we got which had a villain who felt like a cross between the ones in Ghostbusters and The Mummy Returns without any of the goofy charm of either film.

Much like the film itself, after weeks of hype, Leto's performance simply feels underwhelming.  For someone who was acting genuinely crazy off screen, Leto seems quite boringly normal and unthreatening on it.  Sure he's a violent criminal but nothing in the film suggests that he has the kind completely unpredictable genius lunacy which defines the Joker in all his best outings.  In fact if you were to remove the green hair and pale skin there is nothing to suggest that he's anything but a generic short fused gangster from the Joe Pesci school.  If you were to dump him in, say, The Wire, he wouldn't even come close to being the most dangerous character and you'd just find him an annoyance that you'd hope would catch a bullet from Omar and stop bothering the more professional villains.  

'The guy from 30 Seconds to Mars?  Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-it'
Even his laugh feels forced and weak, a sort of rictus 'Ack ack ack' more reminiscent of the aliens in Mars Attacks! than Mark Hamill's famously unsettling cackle.  After Heath Ledger's hobo-suited psychotic who burns his money because he has simple taste in 'gunpowder and gasoline' and who carries nothing in his pockets 'but knives and lint', a flash suited nightclub impresario with blinged up monogrammed guns feels like nothing more than a harmless self-obsessed little boy.  If anything Leto's Joker feels most reminiscent of a sort of toned down, less frightening version of Uday Hussain in The Devil's Double.  If your character, who is defined as being an  inhumanly insane force of nature, comes across instead as a diluted version of a real life monster then this suggests a serious lack of imagination on the part of the writers.

All of this ends up weakening Harley Quinn as a character by proxy.  One of Harley's defining characteristics has always been her unconditional love for The Joker despite his clearly abusive antics.  When the Joker seems like a fascinatingly inexplicable whirlwind of behaviours then we can relate to how that could be strangely seductive, especially to a brilliant psychiatrist such as Dr Harleen Quinzell.  To replace him with a petty, selfish gangster makes her seem less like a tragic figure drawn towards the darkness which is destroying her and more like a naive little girl who has made some really terrible life choices.

Lower back tattoo at 14, pregnant by 16, alcoholic by 18
starring in 'The Canyons' at 30.
Even if you enjoy the way each of the characters are introduced at the start of the film there is barely anything more to enjoy as none of them get any development as the film continues.  Almost all the runtime is split between Harley, Deadshot and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez).  The way the film ignores more than half the team would be forgivable if it found interesting things for the primary three to do. After each of them gets a pre-credit expository intro, they are then shown in prison having their backstory briefed to lead soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), then while on the mission they each have a moment to reflect on their pasts as they continue their mission.  Later on the characters bond in a bar by sharing their backstories with each other and then later are given a dream sequence where they imagine life if their backstories went differently.  That's FIVE different versions of the same story. There is so many repeating flashbacks that you spend the whole film waiting for the forward story to start and then it's over almost instantly.  

'I'm not ever going to burn things again'
[burns some things]
Can we go home now?
Much like with Batman Vs Superman the constant desire to cut between different timelines and fantasies that it's hard to keep track of the actual present day events and, if stripped of all these extraneous cutaways, there isn't actually much of it (and what there is is painfully repetitive).  Suicide Squad meet some monsters.  Suicide Squad kill the monsters.  Wash, rinse, repeat. To put it simply, there are four different scenes of helicopters making an entrance in this film.  Every one of those helicopters crashes.  Not one character is killed when this happens.  Everything that happens seems to happen twice and never for any actual reason we would care about.  The repetitiveness of it all isn't helped by the fact that the characters barely stand out from each other as they all talk in the same pseudo-badass fronting that you'd expect from 12 year olds acting tough, poor quality NPC's in a First Person Shooter game or a research scientist in the universe James Cameron's Avatar is set in.

'Come at me, bruh! Yer ass is grass! etc.'
Speaking of their miraculous crash survival, for a film named Suicide Squad, you never really feel that anyone is ever at much of a risk.  Despite his brutal reputation earned from films like Training Day, End of Watch and Fury, director David Ayer seems surprisingly shy about killing anyone from his central cast.  The inaccurately named Suicide Squad seem to be least expendable team of apparently expendable soldiers since...well... The Expendables.

The greatest threat these characters face is the inevitable onset of dementia
Ultimately Suicide Squad is a massive disappointment.  From a concept which promised so much there is little to take from this film but a couple of briefly enjoyable sequences and some interesting, well cast but utterly wasted characters.  While it's not as overlong, dull or morally questionable as the last two D.C. efforts, the fact that Suicide Squad fails to find more than a spark of inspiration from such a fun bag of tricks suggests a studio that really doesn't understand what people want from their films.  I wish I could look forward to the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League movies but if Warner Bros struggle to make something enjoyable from a film centered on Batman villains then I genuinely worry how they plan to make a film starring Aquaman watchable.

In short I'm somewhat jealous of the confused cinema attendant who put up the below signage. He's clearly living in a more interesting world than the one the rest of us are in.