Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 is the first part of the 7th and final chapter in the Harry Potter series.


We quickly meet Harry Potter (again played by Daniel Radcliffe) in his England ‘muggle’ house as he is to be escorted to the safety of the Burrow, by the heroic Order of the Phoenix. Hogwarts is now host to the evil Death Eaters led by the villainous Lord Voldermort, who do their best to dispatch our hero along his way. Escaping the chaos and destruction that the Death Eaters bring to their supporters, Ron Weasley ( played by Rupert Grint), Harry and Hermione (played by Emma Watson)soon choose to go their own way, constantly disapparating to areas throughout England on a quest to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes ( physical objects that aid Voldermort’s immortality) before the evil Wizard can kill Harry and come to his full power. Wackiness this-way ensues....................


Last year’s Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince ended with a quest being set up, giving birth to a new trilogy of films in the Harry Potter series. Whereas each previous part started with an introduction of a plot, a year in the life of Harry and his friends and then a quick resolution of the storylines mentioned at the movie’s / books beginning, The Half-Blood Prince positions Harry on the path to his ultimate showdown with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In other words, this is the start of the end and what we all have been dying to see for so long!

The Half-Blood Prince went a way to take us off of the beaten track that has set up the Harry Potter series: we usually are introduced to Harry in his muggle home, again returning to Hogwarts to learn more about being a Wizard, his mysterious past and overcoming another obstacle, most usually Voldermort’s attempts to get his groove back, all in time to go home at year’s end. At the Half-Blood Prince’s end, all bets are off and Harry and friends decide not to go back to Hogwart’s but instead to go on a mission to find Voldermort’s magical devices and destroy them, giving them a chance at ultimately defeating him.

This premise was enticing as it moved our heroes away from an environment that they, and we, have gotten comfortable with. Done with English private boarding schools metaphors and allegory, this movie chooses to showcase themes of maturity and being able to finally put theory into real-world practice: metaphors of the machinations of war during WWII brings up the atmosphere and tension of a thriller. However, in the execution, we get a road movie reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, complete with a shared object of evil power, worn around our characters’ necks that force them to turn on each other during their journey to destroy it.

In relation to script, Alfred Hitchcock invented a script-writing term for an arbitrary object to kick his protagonists and antagonists into action: a MacGuffin. A MacGuffin was usually something that the antagonist needed to complete their evil scheme and one which the hero must then stop him from getting. The first Mission Impossible movie was criticized for having a too convoluted plot, where the 2nd was given a MacGuffin which was cheekily constantly explained throughout. The third film went further and referenced their MacGuffin in theory only, never revealing what it was to the audience! The movie admitted that it was only a plot device to what the audience really wanted to see anyway: action action action and Maggie Q. Harry Potter 7.1 however relies on no more than 7 Macguffins, with two previously being dispatched in HP6. The story is basically a treasure hunt for our young heroes whilst avoiding the attacks of their enemies.

Another lazy script-writing technique is, when one is facing writer’s block and just cannot move their story along, they kill a character to send a shock-wave through the remaining character arc / storyline like the butterfly effect. This usually progresses the story through a myriad of new threads, setting up questions such as who killed the character and why? What sort of affect will this have on the characters and their situations and so on.

JK Rowling has done this since Harry Potter 4, and doesn’t slow down. Admittedly, a big theme of the Harry Potter series is death, what with Harry’s parents being killed by an evil wizard who wants to kill he-who-lives. However when a minor character is reintroduced to a series just to be killed-off is cheap and reeks of bad television.

That all being said, the acting and characterization in this film is great. The Hermione character hits her stride after leaving me cold in a few of the previous instalments. Emma Watson has now found a middle-ground between early adolescence and just being a brat. Harry is great as always and Ron gets a few good laughs as well. The relationship between our three heroes is well balanced out. Of note is a particularly poignant scene with Harry and Hermione dancing in the face of misery and death: not in a romantic moment at all, but just two very good, old friends being there for each other in a moment of crisis.

The look of the film is fantastic. Whereas the earlier Christopher Columbus directed films have a classic, stage and CG feel, the introduction of Alfonso Cuarón in Prisoner of Azkaban gave the series an organic, natural feel: glows from wands where not overly dramatic but looked like moonlight, and Hogwart’s surrounds were rich and atmospheric. The Goblet of Fire added wands which fired off naturalistic, organic hot and cold lava which splurted and spilled plenty o’ magic about.

David Yates joined the series in Order of the Phoenix and has kept these stylistic choices, whilst getting our characters out of their school and their uniforms, placing them in the cold, dark and mysterious UK woods, country-side and beaches. The action is great and intense, melding a lot more of the real world with its magical set pieces (such as a shoot-out in a London cafe) than any other of the instalments. This feels like a gritty Harry Potter movie that we can empathise with, away from the magic of Hogwarts and into our world.


All in all, a very solid first part to a complete movie which fans of Harry Potter will lap up. Hopefully the mechanical set up will give way to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion to a film series that surprisingly still has a massive fan base. 4 out of 5 wands.

If you had to click on any of the links in the plot section of this review, chances are you will have trouble keeping up with the goings-on in this particular episode as it references close to all previous adventures. A solid Potter knowledge is required and expected with this outing!

See what Margaret and David have to say and check out the trailer!

Luke McWilliams December 2010

Toy Story 3 Review

Toy Story 3 is the third and apparently final film in Disney/ Pixar's Toy Story series. Interestingly the editor of the first Toy Story, Lee Unkrich, stepped up as co-director of the second movie and is the director of this one.


We meet the usual team during an exciting imagination/playing sequence with their young owner Andy. Soon enough, we discover that Andy is now 17, and has neglected playing with his toys for years, instead choosing to leave them in his toy-trunk. Whilst packing up his belongings before moving on to college, Andy separates his toy collection by choosing to bring Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) to college with him, packing up his other toys into a plastic bag to be taken to the attic to go into storage,. In the shenanigans however, Andy's mother makes the mistake of throwing the bag of toys out with the other trash, where literal death-defying wackiness ensues.


Disney is best known for their fairy-tale/princess stories (starting with Snow White in 1937) and their journey home stories. The Toy Story series have done much with themes of abandonment, the journey home and growing up.

In 1942 Disney introduced the film Bambi which is famous for its ‘Bambi moment’ – Bambi and his mother are racing from a hunter to the safe and secure surrounds of the forest. After making the distance, Bambi turns to see where his mother is only to be informed by his father that “your mother can't be with you anymore". Finding Nemo was chock-full of these moments, with the main character’s mother and entire family being wiped out in the first few minutes of the movie, and going so far as to giving Nemo a physical disability along with the requisite large, emotive ‘Disney eyes’. Toy Story 3 takes all of this contrived, sad and sorrowful elements and ramps it all up to factor 10.

I do not like to be emotionally manipulated in this way and therefore did not connect with the movie at all. Where there is an inherent sadness to the beauty of the Shrek series as they deal with themes of discrimination, prejudice and love, simply taking a character away from its family to explore child abandonment issues is upsetting and ultimately lazy. To the detriment of characterization the toys are given several arbitrary obstacles to overcome while on their journey home, which we have seen countless times before from Disney, let alone the Toy Story series themselves.

As in the basic story structure, there is the introduction of the stories’ characters and storyline. The second act deals with the characters arcs while adding in obstacles and plot complexity with the third act bringing all of these story threads to a resolution. Quite literally, the structure can be seen as birth, life and death. Most movie trilogies based on the arche-typical hero’s journey follow this, none more so than The Matrix trilogy that explores the literal birth, life and death of its protagonist Neo, and...I guess...the Bible as well.

Toy Story 3 then explores the theme of death head on: the toys make their preparations as they head ‘up to the attic’, their choices between certain death during their many trials along the way, up to a very upsetting scene reminiscent of Bosch’s and Dante’s hell. The toys, like Nemo, are constantly in harm’s way or are under oppressive authority like the patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, complete with a child-friendly lobotomy scene. It is as if the writers of the Final Destination film series have gotten their fatalistic hands on the script at some point. The toys are only having a good time when the credits are rolling. The only reprieve from all of this misery, sadness and facing one’s mortality is a Spanish dance sequence that rips of Shrek’s superior Puss in Boots.


Whereas Shrek has a great time whilst dealing with his issues, Toy Story will have you feeling like rubbish and your children screaming.

It is a shame that the company that brought us the beautiful and genuinely moving Up and The Incredibles, a children’s movie with a classic 50’s cool look that dealt with strong themes of family and personal sacrifice better then the Fantastic Four movies, would serve up Toy Story 3.0. Following the adventures of Buzz Lightyear or having a bit more play-time reminiscent of the opening sequence would have been a much more enjoyable way to go.

It has been 15 years since the original Toy Story and the animation, 3d model rigging and texture have come a long way. To watch the original after this is almost an assault on the eyes as the stock-colour looks garish in comparison. The same expertise and attention to detail is given to live-action movies and for this technical marvel I give TS3 2 monkeys-in-a-barrel out of 5.

It should be noted that currently the movie is highest-grossing film of 2010. It has surpassed Finding Nemo to become Pixar's highest ever grossing film, and also has surpassed Shrek 2 as the highest-grossing animated film of all-time worldwide. It is also the first ever Pixar film and animated film in history to make over $1 billion worldwide. It is currently the 5th highest-grossing film worldwide of all time. Not surprisingly, it is rumoured that there are new adventures to be had with Woody and his fellow immortals.

Check out the movie at Rotten Tomatoes and watch the trailer!

Luke McWilliams December 2010

Machete Review

Machete is a 2010 action exploitation B-movie homage, co-written, produced, and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis. This movie is Danny Trejo’s first (and, let’s be honest, probably last) starring role, and has an all star-cast including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan  Rose McGowan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, and Don Johnson.




We are introduced to Mexican Federale Machete, who is on a mission to rescue a kidnapped girl in Mexico. During the rescue attempt, he runs into a corrupt Chief as well as the powerful drug lord, Rogelio Torrez (played by Steven Seagal), who do their best to dispatch our hero. Three years later, Machete aimlessly roams Texas as an illegal immigrant, until businessman Michael Booth hires him to assassinate the corrupt Senator McLaughlin (played by Robert De Niro ) who holds a hard stance on illegal immigration for $150,000. Aided by Mexican illegal immigrant advocate Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and hampered by the likes of immigration officer Sartana Rivera (played by Jessica Alba) wackiness ensues.......




In 2007, Rodriguez released Planet Terror alongside Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof which together made Grindhouse: a double-billed 70’s style exploitation film. The film was released in America on the Thanksgiving weekend and bombed as a result. The two movies were then split and released to the overseas DVD market, which did not help the films at all.


Whereas Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof  was more akin to the exploitation films of old in regard to script style and themes, Rodriguez simply threw in a zombie film he was working on at the time and labelled it Planet Terror. What the movie lacked in 70’s exploitation beats, it made up for in style: the colour turns red in anticipation of violence, the film jumps with action hits, such as punches and kicks, and there is even a missing reel between acts 2 and the final confrontation. Rodriguez  even went so far as to drive the film stock around his studio car park to get authentic scratches on the frames!


Of note is that Grindhouse  showcased many fake trailers influenced by exploitation films, such as sexploitation movie Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, the slasher Thanksgiving, Hobo with a Shotgun and, of course, exploitation movie Machete, which follows a Mexican federale who gets hired to do a hatchet job for the U.S. government for relatively low pay. The trailer’s plot alone was more in line with the exploitation movie that Rodriguez was attempting to emulate at the time, with themes of prejudice, racism, and Mexican US politics thrown into the mix. The relationship between illegal Mexican immigrants within the US is a staple of Spaghetti westerns and of Robert Rodriguiez’s earlier Mariachi Trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, Once upon a Time in Mexico which were influenced by Chinese action films Hard Boiled and The Killer), where Rodriguez reportedly got the idea for Machete in the first place.


The movie starts off surprisingly strong with a ludicrous rescue mission gone awry. All of the Planet Terror’s B-Movie visual film tricks are here; cut frames, scratches and dodgy colouring, blended with messy ultra violence and contemporary technology. This leads up to a fantastic, highly stylised credit sequence. Soon however, the style is brought down to contemporary digital film. The plot starts to waiver as more and more screen time is given to the villains of the piece, concentrating on the villains inter-relationships, their family and even their personal security. The plot also gets convoluted, as if  Rodriguez was repeating his mistakes made on Once upon a Time in Mexico. It is fun to see Machete when he is on screen, carving up the bad guys, but it is too little at this point. The film’s climax is too messily filmed and chaotic to appreciate and falls flat when compared to the fantastic introduction.


Of note however is Michelle Rodriguez phoenix-rising at film’s end; mustering up images of SS exploitation films and the work of Russ Meyer. Paradoxically, it is good to see Jessica Alba being given a strong character to play, even though her rousing speech at the movie’s climax is a bit of a stretch. In regards to Lindsay Lohan's first performance since her fall from grace.....meh. 




If Machete kept to its B-movie roots already set in the Grindhouse trailer, and just kept the energy and style of its opening, the movie would have been a no-brainer hit. As it is, it is a good bookend to Planet Terror.


2.5 out of 5 machetes


Check out the trailer, see what Margaret and David have to say and check out their interview with director Robert Rodriguez!

Luke McWilliams November 2010

Lost Boys The Thirst Review

Lost Boys: The Thirst is a 2010 horror film directed by Dario Piana.


We are quickly reintroduced to Edgar (played by Corey Feldman ) and Alan Frog (played by Jamison Newlander ) who interrupt a vampire from killing a Congressman. During the chaos however, Alan becomes infected with the Vampire virus.

Five years pass, and we find Edgar in San Cazador, California, facing eviction from his trailer. With no money and no surviving friends to help him out, romantic vampire novelist Gwen Lieber offers Edgar a job for a large sum of money and all the weaponry he wants: find her brother Peter who was kidnapped during a rave in Ibiza, Spain, where DJ X has been handing out a drug called “The Thirst”. From here on in, Vampiric wackiness ensues……………..


The first Lost Boys directed by Joel Schumacher was a surprise 80’s classic, starting the careers of the Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, who, as the Corey’s made a slew of movies together afterwards. It was the first successful horror movie to make the allegory between being a teenager and being a vampire: you never have to grow up, never get old and you can stay out all night and sleep all day – a perfect marriage of immortality and power. Like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, these vampires never grew up, never accepted responsibility for their actions, but still yearned for a family and parental figures.

The design of the vampires has been replicated in every main-stream interpretation of a Vampire since, which you can see notably in Buffy, Angel and Tru Blood.

The Lost Boys sequel, the Tribe changed the location of the movie and made the main vampire clan surfers, repeating the original movie’s beats, without any fun to be had at all. The Thirst goes a little bit further by enhancing the main strengths of The Tribe: specifically Corey Fieldman’s Edgar Frog. A little bit of back-story from the Tribe introduced the notion that one of the Frog Brothers had become a Vampire, and that Corey Haim’s character is turning into one. Of course, due to Corey Haim’s untimely demise, he does not make an appearance in the Thirst apart from flash-back scenes to the original movie that pays tribute to him.

The Thirst is enjoyable if you are a fan of Corey Fieldman. It makes a passing remark to a generation of ravers being 'lost boys' but here is where the allegory begins and ends. This is a fun actioner, aimed at dispatching vamps with cool, albeit cheap, weapons, and not much more. It is unfortunately low budget, however the action sequences and special effects, especially when the Vamps reach their demise, really aren’t that bad, and, when compared to the Tribe, the acting and emotional beats are quite well done. Corey’s grunts and the movie’s humour does elicit laughs.


That all being said, a good episode of Tru-Blood, Buffy or Angel would beat this hands down. This is for nostalgia fans only, which, I guess, includes Corey Feldman fans.

2.5 fangs out of 5.


Check out the trailer and see what Rotten Tomatoes has to say!

Luke McWilliams November 2010

The Social Network Review

The Social Network is a drama directed by Fight Club’s David Fincher based on Ben Mezrich's novel The Accidental Billionaires.



We are introduced to Mark Zuckerberg (played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg) a Harvard University student. After having his heart broken by his girlfriend Erica Albright (played by Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara), Mark ventures back to his dorm room to get drunk, blog about his recent experience and to also create a website with an algorithm provided by his friend Eduardo Saverin (the new Spiderman Andrew Garfield) to rate the attractiveness of female Harvard undergraduates, as you do. The website becomes so popular that the Harvard server crashes.


Mark is punished with six months of academic probation as a result and is hated by the female population of Harvard. However his recent notoriety captures the attention of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Batman hopeful Armie Hammer), and their business partner. Mark accepts a job as the programmer of their website, Harvard Connection. Soon however, Mark develops his own ideas and plans to upgrade ‘FaceMash’ to an internet social networking site called The FaceBook, where wackiness ensues………………………




Hollywood has a tradition of making rags to riches stories which detail the destructiveness the journey to materialistic success can have on individuals and their relationships. Perhaps this may be due to mass-audiences appreciating this type of story to reinstate a general fear of success: I’m glad I’m not a great success as bad things will happen.


It is this quality of focus, determination and low status that draws people to Mark. However, in his drive to connect the world through online social networking, these same qualities, along with his distrustful nature, coldness and social awkwardness are also what drives people away.


 All the characters in the movie are well rounded. Nobody is simply a hero or villain. We see all parties’ points of view equally represented, and can fully empathies with them; from Mark’s girlfriend, to his close friends and even business rivals. Justin Timberlake’s superficial and showy Napster Co-founder Sean Parker is still charismatic and fun, and the twins could easily have been painted as 1 dimensional silver-spoon snootie evil-doers. Instead, their empathy and doubts in their own legal and moral stance adds to the overall texture of this fascinating character study. It is for this reason we are glued to the screen, instead of throwing our hands up and exclaiming; “you all deserve each other” like most audiences to a civil legal dispute.


The film looks fantastic. Like the original Twilight movie, the everyday student life is not sexed-up to look like a modern-day school-based drama TV show. Rather we are locked into the mid-noighties in Harvard. The film looks dark and has an ambience that could be described as thrilleresque, aiding the coldness and detachment the protagonist experiences. Apparently depth of field overuse is the new lens-flare, but this assists in the representation of Mark being kept at an arm’s length from his surroundings and the people around him. 


 David Fincher has a very unique style of film and film-making. He is a genius of camera use (Panic Room’s sweeping camera through rooms and walls, giving audiences a visceral layout of the land), setting (Se7en’s atmosphere of an eroding city in moral decay), style (Fight Club’s neo-noir look: pumped up colours set in dark and grim surrounds) and themes (male relationships throughout his films, including Zodiac and heck! Even Alien 3!). They are all at play in this movie, albeit in an extremely underrated and restrained level. This may be a mark of a matured director, confident that he does not have to make such things front and centre, but having them in the background regardless, holding the movie together as a whole waiting to be appreciated by the observant movie-goer or to those willing to give it repeat viewings.


The movie does subtley reflect on the past decade. In the wake of September 11, the public were treated to a swath of fantasy films (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) or military propaganda movies (Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines). In the wake of the war against terror, which could strike anywhere at any-time, we retreated into our own lives with the use of the new iPod, whose marketing told us to play our own soundtracks to our lives. Little-by-little the public started to communicate again, albeit through the relatively ‘safe’ use of internet social networking sites, most notably Facebook, where one could have control over their chosen / perceived identities and over those who could view them. Of course, a whole generation was raised into this environment who took it as second nature: becoming ‘connected’ through electronic communication devices that intrinsically hold barriers.    


The movie deals with these themes of social isolation by weaving them through scenes showing social networking sites, legal proceedings and parties. It is quite sad to see that the founder of Facebook had to create the world’s biggest party just to get an invite.




Apart from a visually jarring (but still enjoyable) rowing sequence, this movie is a great collaboration of film technique, script, acting and music. A work from a matured director who keeps on learning as he goes – 5 out of 5 friends.


Check out the trailer, see what Margaret and David have to say and check out their interview with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin!


Luke McWilliams November 2010

How to Train Your Dragon review

How to Train Your Dragon is a Dreamworks Animation fantasy movie based on the book of the same name. The movie is DreamWorks Animation's fifth most successful film behind the Shrek film series.




We are immediately introduced to the Viking island of Berk and its inhabitants, including the Viking chief (voiced by Gerard Butler) and his awkard son named Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel), during a siege by dragons that raid the villagers animal stock.


Hiccup is desperate to win his Father’s approval and the acceptance of the village, by attempting to become a dragon slayer like most other villagers his age. Hiccup soon captures a Night Fury, a rare and greatly feared dragon that has never been seen before. However, Hiccup finds that he cannot go through with the deed of dispatching the dragon. Risking the wrath from his father and the rejection of the village, Hiccup chooses instead to train his dragon in secret, where wackiness ensues…………..




The best thing about Dreamworks Animation pictures are their adult oriented storylines. This doubles the movie’s audience while also allowing viewers to see as much, or as little as they want. Opposed to the usual sickly sweet and simplistic Disney films of old, Dreamworks Animation have offered movies with layered mature themes, reaching their audience through the use of metaphor. Shrek served as a fantastic metaphor for the commercialization of fairy tales to the detriment of quality, whilst also delving into themes of prejudice and honest love.


How to Train Your Dragon holds host to themes of destiny, self-confidence, father issues, empathy for your enemy and surprisingly, people dealing with disabilities.

Hiccup’s hero’s journey is given a bit of a jolt as he is trying to live up to his father’s expectations in their island village, turning instead to a discovery of self. Nature overcomes nurture and Hiccup finds his greatest failure, in not being able to kill a dragon, give rise to his inherent strength: his ability to train them instead. The qualities he sees in himself as being negative when compared with others, such as his introverted, sensitive studious habits, actually soon become his tools of his eventual trade.


The theme of empathy has been explored recently with Avatar, which drew from the legend of Pocahontas. In  Dragon however, we are treated to the strengths of stylized cartoon imagery. Whereas Avatar boarded on photo-realistic images of a fantastical land, Dragon’s hyper-stylised characters use extremely simple expressions and characteristics to viscerally communicate emotions extremely effectively. This is a lesson the box-office bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within learned and corrected with their release of Final Fantasy: Advent Children. For this reason, I felt more for Hiccup and his Dragon, both in the dramatic and the amazing flying sequences then Jake Scully in Avatar.




How to Train Your Dragon is an amazing visual experience. Its style is well selected, the geography well established, the dragon construction and the animation detail is amazing. I would have loved to have seen it in 3D just for the flying sequences alone!


Apart from the speedily resolved love interest and the commercial audio-tuned song at film’s end, which also irritated me with the horrible Alice in Wonderland, I actually will be seeing this again. Right up there with the original Shrek, I give this Dragon 4 out of 5 fireballs!


Check out the trailer, and see what Margaret and David have to say!


Luke McWilliams November 2010