Friday, 27 May 2016

NEW RELEASES: X-Men - Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

(Director: Bryan Singer.  Starring:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac)

A couple of weeks ago I read a headline which stated "Comic fans X-static to discover Wolverine appears in new X-Men movie!"  This was a rather silly headline and not just because of the godawful attempt at a pun. (Seriously, I gambit I could forge a dazzler of an X-Men pun in a blink without any of the havoc that beastly attempt caused.) 

Wolverine has featured in at least a cameo appearance in eight films featuring X-Men characters (and as a hilarious meta reference in the ninth: 'Deadpool.')  When you consider that by owning the X-Men series, Fox has the rights to over 240 original Marvel characters to use however they want, the fact that they keep returning to the same one is less exciting than it is a worrying sign that they are either lazy or desperately out of ideas.  To be honest, I'd be more excited to be told that the next X-Men film 'won't mention Wolverine at all' as this would force the filmmakers to focus on a new interesting and coherent story instead of simply trading on previous successes.

Luckily, much like with his brilliant one line appearance in X-Men: First Class, Wolverine is used quite cleverly in a way that is both enjoyable without distracting from the main thrust of the story which he doesn't greatly influence (also, like that First Class cameo, this film uses it's one rating allowed 'fuck' in the dialogue in the best way it could, although in a different scene with a different character).

Sadly not the Kelsey Grammar version of Beast though.
Unfortunately, outside of this scene, my worries that the film may become muddled and unsatisfying in an attempt to reference past glories was somewhat correct.  The film introduces us to some new characters but also many that we have previously seen in other X-Men films even though their appearance and ages here make the timeline of the series into an even more convoluted and contradictory mess than already was (Although  if, like me, you simply pretend that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine don't exist then both this film, and the world in general, make much more sense)

If I keep my eyes closed it's like this shit isn't happening.
For example, there is a popular moment in the original X-Men movie where the team get split up and once some of them re-group Cyclops asks Wolverine to prove that he's not Mystique disguised as him.  Wolverine simply replies 'you're a dick' which is evidence enough for the others to believe him.  However, now due to this film, Mystique has met Cyclops years before the events of that film.  Now she would know exactly how much of a dick he is!

Also a major theme in every X-Men film right back from the first is how human society is being unfair and prejudiced to mutants, treating them as dangerous weapons that need to be controlled rather than innocent people deserving freedom and equality.  When you consider that in every one of these prequel movies the Earth is almost destroyed by the actions of a handful of crazed, evil mutants then each one only makes the case being fought by the mutantophobic politicians in the early movies even stronger.
I can read the minds of every living person on Earth, erase your memories
and brainwash you to do whatever I please but don't worry I've just teleported
into the office of the US President with my team of trained super powered soldiers
to explain that there is nothing to be afraid of.
So to the plot: Barring a squish-tastic pre-credit sequence where mega-baddie Apocalypse is first defeated in Ancient Egypt by some guys armed with some well placed stone blocks (somewhat deflating his threat level when he returns to destroy us later on) the majority of the film is set in 1983, ten years after the previous X-Men: Days Of Future Past and 20 years since X-Men: First Class (apparently all the characters from that film have aged miraculously well and barely look any different since then).

The main story begins when Rose Byrne's character Moira McTaggart goes to Egypt to search for information on the said title character, an ancient mutant of world destroying power (most likely to get revenge on some REALLY annoying neighbours of hers) and witnesses his awakening (which only required a handful of guys chanting together for five minutes but apparently still took about five thousand years to happen).

Posted without comment.
Apocalypse then sets out choosing the most powerful mutants he can find to become his new Four Horsemen to bring about the destruction of all civilisation.  These henchmen consist of Magneto, who has the ability to control metal with such power that he can rip minerals out of the earth and tear down bridges and buildings, Storm who can control the weather to the degree that she can create devastating hurricanes and fire lightning from her hands and Angel who... er... has a pair of wings I guess (which I suppose lets him use all his energy flapping them to keep up with the other two while they levitate effortlessly.)

I'd comment Psylocke's powers but even just after watching
 the film I still don't really understand what they are?
Storm is actually given quite a good introduction as a young, angry, African teenager using her powers for petty theft until she is approached by the titular villain and convinced that she is made for something bigger.  (In an early scene when knife wielding man asks here 'Do you know what I they do with thieves around here?' I almost hoped someone would say the hilariously shit follow-up 'Same thing they do with everyone else!")

I would've liked to have seen more of Storm developing as a character (especially seeing her turning from bad to good while inspired by Mystique who is destined to go in the other direction) but unfortunately the film feels the need to cram in so many characters that each of them feels underserved by the narrative.  

As in previous instalments, Michael Fassbender's Magneto is aptly the most magnetic presence on screen and once again imbues Eric Lehnsherr with both tragic vulnerability and uncontrolled fury.  However by the third act, much like Storm, he spends a long sequence pretty much literally hovering around while the plot goes on around him.

Of course during these scenes Magneto is responsible for much of the massive destruction shown in the trailers but that makes no difference since the actual carnage has little to no emotional effect on the audience.  Whether it's the main characters' total indifference to the thousands of lives ended or destroyed, the lack of a ground POV or simply the fact that the CGI effects used feel too empty and weightless to connect as reality but the scenes of citywide disaster leave very little impression on those watching.  You can't help but get the feeling that you'd care more about the buildings and bridges being tore apart if they were made of Lego.

the horror...the horror...
Magneto's lack of direct conflict with Xavier removes a lot of tension from the film's climax as much of this series emotional power comes from watching these former allies forced into fighting against each other (a theme continued with mixed success by this years other big superhero movies: Captain America: Civil War and Batman Vs Superman: Yawn of Martha)

"I have to save him, he's my best friend"
Batman talking about the guy he literally tried to murder for no
reason one scene ago and has only apparently met twice beforehand.
Instead the conflict of the movie centres on Oscar Isaac's new villain Apocalypse.  Apocalypse is given suitable hype as a truly dangerous force to contend with (it's not like he's named 'Temporary Discomfort' or anything) but he can't help but feel somewhat underwhelming overall.  Isaac is a great actor who can bring quiet intensity to a variety of roles but here he is buried under so much make-up and OTT costuming that he looks like a villain from a 90's kids TV show like Power Rangers.  It could be literally anyone straining to be taken seriously underneath all that face paints.

Oscar Isaac is an anagram of Ivan Ooze.
Coincidence?  I think not!
Ironically, despite Apocalypse spending the full runtime looking like a big blue Robert Z'dar, the producers seem keen to keep the majority of the young sexy X Men looking exactly like their bankable stars.  Although Mystique has previously been shown to be able to look like anyone at any time but having to put effort in to appear as anything other than a Blue Meanie she spends almost the entire length of the film looking exactly like Jennifer Lawrence while giving rousing speeches to teenagers.  Hank McCoy happens to have found a successful cure for this mutant powers so he can look just like rising star Nicholas Hoult and only turns into Beast once he's required to start fighting.

Again, sadly not Kelsey Grammer's Beast.
Despite this nitpicking, there are many positives to be taken from this film. The 1980s setting continues the Cold War paranoia vibe combined with some brilliantly cheesy music and costume choices (at one point one of the young X Men wears Michael Jackson's Thriller jacket, because why the fuck not).  There's another suitably silly slo-mo scene of Quicksilver saving the day, which is a shameless retread of the popular 'Time In a Bottle' sequence from Days Of Future Past but is entertaining nonetheless. 

Ultimately this film's biggest weakness (and most likely the inspiration for the rather unfair drubbing it's got from some critics) is also it's greatest strength.  That being the campy, silly spectacle of it all.  The film is ridiculous nonsense both narratively and visually but yet it is never boring.  The exact details of character's origins and relationships may not be entirely accurate to the source material but you are left in no doubt that what you are watching is an adaption of a comic book (and not the kind that feels it necessary to call itself a 'graphic novel')  Sure the drama is lightweight and there is no sense of depth on a character or thematic level but the action is kept, fast and fun throughout.  Overall, you feel less like you are watching a self-serious modern superhero movie than the latest episode of a lighthearted Saturday morning kids show.  I wouldn't call X-Men: Apocalypse a great film by any means but I know I'd much rather watch it twice back to back than to put myself through the grim, joyless trial that was Batman vs Superman ever again. (In fact comparing the vast difference between the feel of both these films truly reveals the tonal tightrope that the best Marvel films manage to carefully step along)

At one point in the film some of the characters go to a screening of Return of the Jedi and enter a discussion over which is the best Star Wars movie.  'The third is always the worst' they agree.  It's not clear whether this is a coded apology for the terrible original third X Men film (Brett Ratner's totally mishandled X Men: The Last Stand) or simply baiting critics already sharpening their knifes for this one.  Either way it's a fair assessment.  Although the Return of the Jedi analogy seems particularly apt for this film.  There is no doubt that it's quality pales in comparison to it's prior two instalments but it carries itself with enough charm and good spirit that fans will be happy to join their favourite characters on another adventure regardless.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

BIG REVIEW: Potter Marathon Part 1: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (AKA Why state funded free schools are an awful idea)

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!

And thus we begin; with the first film in the series, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (although in The States it was released as Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone since the studio unfairly assumed American audiences would be too stupid to know what a philosopher was.)

Posted without comment
The film begins with the wizard Dumbledore wandering down a regular suburban street.  He then takes a magical device out of his pocket (which looks suspiciously like a cigarette lighter that they borrowed off the crew after losing the real “magical” prop) and uses it to snatch the light out of all the street lamps around him.  Having not read the book I can only assume that this is so they can go about their series-starting mission under the cloak of darkness although I fail to see how magically turning off street lamps will draw less attention to him than, say, not doing any magic and just walking down the street like a normal person.  Also if he was so concerned about ordinary people (or “Muggles” as I have been advised to call them) finding out about the existence of wizards then maybe he should instead consider maybe not dressing like fucking Gandalf for once.

Revealing our secrets could end our world but there’s 
no damn way anyone is touching my pimp-ass beard!
Dumbledore then meets up with a cat that magically turns into Dame Maggie Smith (my third favourite Dame after Dench and Bowie) and then completes his quiet, subtle entrance by meeting an eight foot tall Robbie Coltrane on a flying motorbike.  As you do…

...just an average night around here
Our wizardly trio then reveal that they are carrying a baby with a very distinctive scar on its face. They promptly abandon the baby on a doorstep and disappear into the night, which to be honest is a common way to deal with disfigured children in the UK.


 I’m already regretting this decision
And so, we are first introduced to our protagonist. On the eve of his eleventh birthday, the young Harry Potter is pale, scrawny and bespectacled and looks less likely to grow up into a badass warrior than he is to grow up into Louis Theroux. Although if the film series has a twist ending revealing Louis (sorry…”Harry”) to be an investigative journalist who was only playing along with the magic stuff in order to get the inside scoop on the wizarding world I’ll be mightily impressed.

This still wouldn't be as strange or disturbing 
as the one with Jimmy Saville
It is soon revealed that Harry has been living with his uncle and aunt for the last (and first) 11 years of his life where they psychologically torture and bully him, force him to act as a slave for them and refuse to let him out of the cupboard he lives in when guests are around.  I’m not entirely sure where this segment of the film is set but I’m going to hazard a guess and say Austria.

Don’t pretend you weren't thinking this
We first meet Harry’s cousin Dudley.  Dudley is introduced by a shot of him thundering down the stairs above the cupboard Harry is resting in. Without pausing for breath, as Harry attempts to leave said cupboard, Dudley shoves him back into it and slams the door for no reason other than mindless cruelty.  I like Dudley.  He’s alright.

Soon, Harry starts to receive mysterious letters although his uncle and aunt destroy them before he can read them.  The letters start arriving in larger and larger numbers and Uncle Vernon is forced to nail shut the letterbox to avoid their arrival.  This only taunts the psychotic postman (postwizard? post-owl?) who then floods the house with thousands of letters forcing the family to move away to avoid them.  I understand this scene is supposed to be magical and enchanting but for me it merely brought back horrible memories of the state of my flat.

Although most of mine are from Debt Collectors
Harry and the Dursley’s move into their dilapidated shack in the country but on the first night a large hairy man comes out of the forest, breaks into their home, corners Harry and tells him that he wants to take him away to his secret magic place.  Of course, the hirsute bed intruder is Hagrid, one of our heroes, and Harry is correct to agree to run away from the only home he’s ever known to instead live a life based on the barely evidenced promises of a rather creepy looking stranger with an penchant for breaking and entering.   This is the first of the many Terrible Life Lessons we will be keeping track of during these reviews.


So Harry disappears into the night with Hagrid and the film suddenly jumps forward to London the next day (I assume because a scene set that night in Hagrid's battered van with the blacked out windows was deemed inappropriate for family audiences.)

Once in London, Hagrid introduces Harry to the wizarding community, which at first seems to mainly consist of some old alcoholics and a stuttering fop in a purple turban. Needless to say, they all instantly recognise Harry and tell him how he is very special and that they are honoured to meet him.  They travel through a secret magical passage into a magical street filled with magical shops and magical people and, most magical of all, the only walkway in London where you won't be pestered by those annoyingly cheerful charity muggers.

 Hey man, you look like a cool guy, can you spare a minute? Hey, what 
are you doing with that lighter? These overalls are very flammable you
know. Oh please! Oh god n-Aaaaaaaagh!

So they continue on until they get to the magic bank. The magic bank seems just like an ordinary bank except it's clean, well run and has the staff don't look like they are hiding near homicidal hatred of you beneath Stepford Wife-like smiles. Oh and the staff are goblins.

ALL of the staff are goblins. Now goblins don't feature anywhere else in this film but they appear to occupy EVERY SINGLE banking job in the wizard world as if they were running some sort of international banking conspiracy. For some reason just typing those last three words made me rather uncomfortable. Did I mention that the goblins look just like humans but are depicted as being squat, mean, ugly and all of them have long wispy hair and large hooked noses.

Oh... oh dear god.

Now I'm not suggesting that JK Rowling is some kind of modern day Leni Riefenstahl, or even that she has consciously filled her books with thinly veiled allusions to Nazi propaganda but I think we can agree that, maybe on some subconscious level, she has maybe been listening to a tad too much Wagner. The German composer that is, not the Brazilian X Factor lunatic.

 One of these men composed the stunning Ride of the Valkyries but unfortunately also 
supported the rise of German fascism and the horrifying slaughter that it entailed. 
The other stunningly tried to headbutt One Direction but unfortunately 
was also responsible for the slaughter of Radiohead's Creep.
I have equal admiration and complete hatred for them both.

So while at the bank Harry is told that not only is he a famous celebrity with magical powers, known and loved by millions of wizards everywhere but he is also really really fucking rich. This has to be the most obviously piece of author wish fulfillment since Stephanie Meyer tried to convince her readers that there are men willing to sleep with her.

 Oh the dilemma of choosing between the extremely good looking
superpowered men who adore me for absolutely no conceivable reason

Then a bunch of other stuff happens involving wands, broomsticks and an obligatory cameo from John Hurt and we are on our way to Hogwarts!

So off Harry goes to Kings Cross station in order to get the train to Hogwarts to study how to be a wizard. At first he can't find his train since it's on the seemingly fictional Platform 9¾ but he is thankfully helped out another group of strange magical creatures the world doesn't understand: Gingers.
Although being Wizard Gingers, they actually DO have souls.

Once on the train Harry shares a carriage with another new student (and one of the gingers) called Ron.  I'd describe Ron but that would surely be insulting your intelligence. Even I knew who Ron was and I've been actively avoiding these films until now.

Within minutes of meeting Ron, Harry decides to show off how much richer he is by ordering all the sweets on the confectionery trolley. The boys bond while stuffing their mouths full of assorted sugar including a fully sentient chocolate frog which instantly makes an escape bid to avoid being eaten alive, raising numerous questions about Wizard's utter disdain for animal welfare.

Then Hermione shows up and is introduced in a scene which only lasts about one and half minutes but manages to contain so much smug self-satisfaction that I hoped that Ron would snap and launch her out the speeding train window.

Finally the train arrives at Hogwarts and the students are greeted at the station by... Hagrid? Wait, wasn't it Hagrid who saw Harry off at the station in London just a scene ago? How did Hagrid get here before the train? And if he does have some faster method of getting to the school why did he force Harry to get the train instead of traveling with him? (I guess A Wizard Did It)

So they leave the train station and sail across a short stretch of water to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry which too be honest does look pretty damn magical. I'm a sucker for levitating candles I guess. Once they arrive they begin the sorting ceremony.

The sorting ceremony revolves around The Sorting Hat which is a hat shaped creature which can read the children's minds and thus decide which of the school's four houses they will each attend. Now considering that this film's plot (and if DVD boxes are to be believed, every film's plot) revolves around preventing a secret conspiracy from resurrecting the evil wizard Voldemort, surely a hat that can read minds would be better put to use being put on the heads of the adults instead. Also when the hat threatens to put Harry in the decidedly evil sounding House Slytherin, he manages to convince the hat that he'd rather go to the more noble sounding House Gryffindor. Surely if the hat is so easily swayed in it's decisions then the students are pretty much sorted randomly and the ceremony might as well just be based around a regular non-magical hat filled with bits of paper (which must be preferable since it doesn't involve children inserting their heads inside another living being.)

Most of my "sorting ceremonies" simply involve car keys in a fruit bowl.
This scene also introduces the kids to the teachers at the school who seem to consist of Maggie Smith's teuchter accent, the turban guy from the pub earlier and, most importantly, Alan Fucking Rickman.

I'm going to count to three, there will not be a four.
Take off your clothes.

After some general school scenes we get to a class on broomstick flying which is taught by a teacher played by Zoe Wannamaker. The class consists of the following advice:

"Once you've got hold of your broom, I want you to mount it.  Grip it tight, you don't want to be sliding off the end." innuendo there. The main thing I took from this scene was that it reminded me that I used to slightly fancy Zoe Wannamaker when I was a young boy. Although maybe that was just because convincing myself that I fancied her was the only conceivable way to survive the mind-numbing dullness of watching "My Family."
It's the only plausible explanation for the continued popularity of Hollyoaks
So during this lesson the broomstick ridden by a young boy called Neville goes wildly out of control firing him up and around the sky, smashing into buildings before dropping him from the height of the school towers (luckily having this potentially fatal fall broken by his robe/cape/thingy catching on a pole.)  This scene clearly shows that the teacher of this class, despite having magical powers herself and being responsible for flying lessons, is utterly incapable of stopping her students from falling to their deaths at any point.  The teacher then leaves the kids on their own with no-one watching, still holding their extremely dangerous broomsticks.  When, inevitably, Harry and some smarmy little prick called Draco start messing around at precarious heights they are only stopped because Harry happens to fly past the window of the previously strict Prof. McGonigall. Does she instantly expel them for risking each others lives? Give them detention to teach them the error of their ways? No, instead she gives Harry the chance to join the school's own Quidditch team. Hogwarts appears to have a Health & Safety record on par with the underground science facility in Day of the Dead.

So what's Quidditch you may ask (although if you're really asking that then you're probably reading the wrong article.) Well it's like a version of Wizard football which is particularly notable for making no fucking sense.  

You see, there are 7 players in a Quidditch team. Three are Chasers, two are Beaters and one is the Keeper. I would explain what each of these players do but there's no point since they don't seem to affect the outcome of the game in any way at all. This is because the seventh player (and surprise surprise Harry's position) is a Seeker who's job it is to catch something called "The Golden Snitch" which not only ends the game but also gives your team a scoreline destroying 150 points making everything that happens beforehand pretty much void. I would go into further details about the Quidditch scene in this film (which is actually one of the most exciting, entertaining and well realised in the whole movie) but this illogicality of game rules actually causes me to become angry in ways that few films manage.
And almost of of their titles start with"Star Wars"and end with "Special Edition"
Aaaaaaaanyway, some other important stuff happens before we get to that. Firstly, Harry, Ron and Hermione end up wandering around the forbidden third floor, a part of the building that they were expressively warned was extremely dangerous (although considering the staircases in Hogwarts move of their own accord forcing them into this area, I'd say this is yet another failure of basic Health & Safety in this school and I'll be both surprised and disappointed if it isn't shut down by the end of the series.) While here the kids wander into a room where they are attacked by giant three headed dog made of mediocre CGI. 

Later on, Harry and Ron are sitting eating a meal of what appears to be NOTHING BUT CAKES in the main hall (Hermione supposedly isn't here due to spending the whole day crying in the toilets after Ron called her out for being a smug, patronising bitch. Ha!) when Prof. Quirrel (ie. the turbaned guy) runs in screaming that there is a troll in dungeons before collapsing in the middle of the room. Is he dead? Injured? Bewitched? It doesn't matter. They just ignore him and leave him lying comatose on the floor while the students calmly evacuate the building, possibly trampling him in the process.

Harry and Ron sneak off and run back in to tell Hermione because (obviously!) the troll is now in the girls bathroom. The troll itself isn't very threatening, mainly because it's one of the worst CGI creations I've seen in a major movie for a long time. Honestly it looks like a weakly designed boss from a first person shooter game from the early 90s.

Although sadly not mecha-zombie Hitler from Castle Wolfenstein
They defeat the troll and are rewarded five points each for saving the school (seriously, just five points! I'd hate to see what you have to do to get ten.) The next morning they notice that Prof. Snape (or Alan Fucking Rickman, if you're not a fan) is limping. In true scooby doo style, they deduce that he must have let in the troll in order to cause a distraction to get to the trapdoor under the three headed dog to steal the object that Hagrid took from the bank in the earlier racially insensitive scene (phew!) Of course, three kids wandered into that same room earlier on without anyone noticing so why the troll part was necessary is anyone's guess. During this scene Harry is also given a gift of a broomstick by one of the teachers because, well, he's just better than everyone else and Hogwarts is all about unfairness and favouritism.

Fittingly this leads us into the previously mentioned Quidditch scene which I won't go into detail on since my henchmen are fed up of me reenacting this scene in rage every time I think about it. Lets just say that we find out that a sporting game where all the players and the entire audience are capable of magic and no-one is actively stopping them using spells is about as fairly played as you'd expect. Also, Harry wins the game (because of course he does.)

Later on Harry receives an christmas present of an invisibility cloak (no-one seems concerned that an 11-year old boy keeps receiving anonymous gifts only an adult could purchase. Most schools would consider this "grooming") and uses it to first catch Prof. Quirrel and Prof. Snape having a secret argument and second discover a magical mirror which shows the viewer their utmost desire (something that must need constantly cleaned with bleach considering the number of teenage boys at the school.)

Oh mirror, how did you know!
The kids begin to suspect that the hidden item that the mirror hides is the Philosopher's Stone which now can not only change lead to gold but can also grant extended life. They go out to Hagrid's cottage that night to see what they can find out from him. Quite a lot, it turns out since Hagrid folds under the weakest questioning. If he gueststarred in one episode of The Wire they would have him confessing to all the drug smuggling, the red ribbon murders and all of Omar's hold-ups before he even set a foot in West Baltimore. Again this reflects badly on Dumbledore and his poor judge of character. Not only are at least one of his teachers involved in evil scheming but he has trusted his innermost secrets with a walking spoiler factory.

All of this is spied on by slithering Slytherin (see what I did there) Draco Malfoy who instantly runs off to rat on our protagonists for being out of bed after curfew. The kids are all punished for this (quite satisfyingly this includes Draco because nobody likes a grass) This makes sense at least because in a school filled and surrounded by dangerous magical creatures it would be a major risk to allow kids out to wander in the dark, especially near a terrifying, wild forest. The punishment the kids are given to teach them about safety is detention night the forest ...alone. It's nice to see that Prof. Maggie Smith Mcgonagall has similarly homicidal teaching methods to my own.

Then this happens:
Not Twilight Sparkle! Noooooooooooooooooo!
Yes, that is a picture of a hooded ghoul-like creature sucking the blood out of the throat of a dead unicorn. Fantastic! I can't help but smile at the idea of hundreds of naive little girls (and even more so "bronies") going to see the fun magic movie only to be permanently traumatised by this scene. Awesome. Extra kudos is due as well for the choice to use mainly practical effects in this scene. After a couple of dodgy uses of CGI overload earlier it's nice to see the monster here played by an actor in make-up and a shroud moving slowly to sinister music. As a terrified Harry collapses in the dark before the slowly approaching demonic being there is a genuine feeling of suspense as you wonder how he'll possibly escape this nightmare.

Oh wait, naff CGI saves the day. Out of nowhere a barely rendered Centaur appears and chases off the creature with it's clattering hooves and disregard of real world physics. It doesn't even attempt to rape the villain (as Centaurs are wont to do, I'm told) The Centaur then reels off a load of exposition as if director Chris Columbus was standing just out of shot waving a massive script at him in a desperate attempt to cram as much backstory on the screen before the audience dies of old age or the world runs out of celluloid. Short version; the monster was Voldemort who's not dead but not quite alive yet either and needs the Philosopher's Stone to regain his powers (as if we couldn't have guessed that.) Just to be on the safe side this is followed by a scene of Harry, Ron and Hermione sitting round a fire basically recapping everything we already know but may have missed while napping since this film is almost three fucking hours long. They conclude that they will be safe as long as Dumbledore is around (despite him showing no interest in student safety so far.)

Cue Dumbledore leaving on urgent business. (We didn't see that one coming!) Finally, this seems to be the fabled Third Act which I thought may never come. So after seeing Prof. Snape acting all... Snapey... they decide that he must be planning to steal the Stone that night and plan to beat him to it. 
Pictured: Trent Reznor, the Snapiest singer of all.
First they have to get past Neville who is determined not to have our protagonists ruin his house's points again. So Hermione does a spell which seems to knock him into some sort of coma which seems a bit much considering they probably could have just bribed him or brought him along. Then she magics open the door to the secret room where they sneak past the dog creature and then helps the boys to escape a dangerous plant in a scene that seems like a straight lift of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. For a series called Harry Potter, Hermione seems to be doing most of the heavy lifting so far. I feel a bit bad for being so angry at her smugness before.  As the only remotely competent person in the film so far she's maybe earn it.  Eventually they reach a giant chess board on which they have to win to get through. For extra dramatic effect the pieces once taken are smashed to bits (although they are surprisingly all still here considering that our heroes are not the first people to take this route this night)

So Ron jumps on a knight and starts to play the game. Inevitably it becomes apparent that the only way they can win the game is by allowing said knight to be taken so that Harry can move his piece in for the checkmate. This scene is played out as a noble heroic sacrifice as Ron risks his life for the mission. Of course, no-one considers suggesting that Ron could, you know, jump off the piece before it is taken? Even the player had to physically be on a piece for the game to work, surely it would have been more sensible to climb on the king since it's the only piece that can never be taken.

Pictured: Stupidity.
So Ron gets hurt and Hermione stays with him to allow Harry to go face the final battle with Snape alone. Harry bursts into the room and discovers the magical mirror from before being peered into longingly by... Professor Quirrell? Yes, it was Quirrell all along and Snape was actually defending Harry, a revealation designed to teach kids the important lesson that we should not judge people on appearances alone (even if they dress like Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins)

Who said Grunge died along with Kurt Cobain? 
What's that? Everyone? Okay, fair enough.
Not only that but Quirrell removes his turban revealing that it is concealing the face of Voldemort growing out of the back of his head.
There's nothing nightmare inducing about this at all.
This slightly undermines the last message by instead sending the slightly more Daily Mail-ish message that you shouldn't judge people on appearances unless they are wearing a turban in which case they're probably hiding something.
I knew not to trust that Ghandi prick.
So Quirrell, under to orders from the angry face on the back of his head, tries to strangle Harry but, due to some exposition I can't be bothered getting into, touching Harry causes his hand to burn and crumble away. Harry is horrified seeing this carnage so does instantly does what any other innocent child would do in this situation; he grabs Quirrell by the jaw and melts his fucking face right off! The ghost of Voldemort then leaves Quirrells body leaving Harry to sleep off the joy and excitement of his first outright murder.
So Professor, do you like Huey Lewis and The News?
Harry wakes up the next day in the hospital where he finds a creepy old man sitting on his bed trying to give him presents. Oh wait, that's Dumbledore. It's been so long since he's done anything of relevance (the prologue?) that I forgot what he looked like. He explains that the Philosopher's Stone has now been destroyed for safety's sake but that Voldemort will try to return again through other means (ie. sequel bait.) Finally the film reaches it's denouement at the large feast at the end of the school year when the House points are counted up. At first it seems like House Slytherin has easily won over a rather pathetic score from House Gryffindor. Just as the Slytherin kids start celebrating Dumbledore cuts them off to tell them that he has some last minute points to award. Obviously these go to Harry and Hermione for their bravery the night before and Ron for "best game of chess" (seriously, to the guy who didn't know that you couldn't take the king!) Finally an extra ten points go to Neville who deserves it for having to put up with so much shit from everyone else. Inevitably this puts Gryffindor in the lead giving those kids the happy ending we expected them to get. Is it just me or does this seem like a total dick move on Dumbledore's part. Could he not have just counted in those scores before telling Slytherin they had won. Surely, telling a quarter of your students that they have won a prize only to take it away from them a minute later is nothing but pure malice. No wonder so many Slytherin go on to become evil if they get treated like this all the time. And that's not even mentioning the other two houses who have got punted down from second and third place to third and last. Good God, I sometimes think Dumbledore hates kids even more than I do.

Seriously, fuck you. fuck you. fuck you and especially Fuck you!
So to sum up: I entered this film expecting the worst. I have seen twee sentimental family "entertainment" far too often in my life and I'm not entirely sure why I chose to go through with this marathon of child aimed adventures. However, in truth, I was pleasantly surprised. Ignoring all of the above points and Chris Columbus's cowardly decision to sacrifice pacing and emotional arcs in order to throw as much of JK Rowling's novel at the screen, I genuinely quite enjoyed watching this movie. The kids may have a few films ahead of them before they pick up this acting game but they are well supported by an excellent cast of character actors. Columbus has, for the most part, achieved something quite spectacular in bringing this world to the screen in a way that pleases fans without alienating the rest of his audience.  Bring on round two. I'm ready for you Harry, either I'll see the end of you or you'll see the end of me!

End of Term Report Card:

National Treasures Unearthed: Plenty. This film brought in a stunning cast that would continue the journey through the next seven films. Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Fucking Rickman, Richard Griffiths, not to mention cameo appearances from John Hurt and John Cleese. Excellent.

Darkness Meter: I heard these films get darker and more adult as they go on so I was pleased to find that this first film wasn't all rainbows and lollipops. There wasn't much horror to go with the fantasy until the closing chapters when a very dead unicorn and a possessed screaming cranial deformity reminded us of where this story is leading. A quiet but encouraging start.

Hogwarts Health & Safety Report: Abysmal. Shut this deathtrap down now!

How Annoying is Hermione: Very.

Rules of Quidditch?: Aaaaaaaaaggghhhnnnnneeeuuuurrrrrrrrgh!