Dumbo

Director: Ben Sharpsteen

1941

One of Walt Disney’s early films (the 4th in what now numbers 50 animated feature films) it is the only film where the protagonist doesn’t speak.

Dumbo is not one of my favourite Disney films but it does still have that magic that ensures its longevity – I know that when I eventually have kids I m going to make sure they watch all the Disney classics. There is a timeless feel to all Disney films and Dumbo is no exception.

I love that the states of America have their names on them identifying them. It’s a simple thing but one that I think adds to the charm of the film.

There is something beautifully sad about Mrs Jumbo, she is a gentle giant, and they have managed to capture how cruel people can be to those who are different (despite the fact that the ‘people’ in question are actually elephants!)  the other elephants are such shallow, snobby gossips with no regards for others feelings.

Dumbo is adorable much in the same way Disney’s other mute character, Dopey, is. You can’t help but feel for them both. Watching Dumbo play with his mother, in their brief time together, is wonderfully touching and makes his removal all the more distressing. Despite being human I found myself sympathizing with Mrs Jumbo rather than the humans.

Although this is a children’s film there are actually a couple of important messages contained within the story – namely, anyone can overcome adversity if they refuse to give up, and don’t judge someone on how they look.

Joshua Klein says “Dumbo is still awash in sentimentality, but the anthropomorphized leads – Dumbo, the outcast baby circus elephant whose giant ears and clumsiness make him the object of ridicule, and Timothy, his worldly rodent companion – lend themselves to some joyfully chaotic action as well as some creatively rendered circus sequences.” (172, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) the circus scenes are beautifully created, especially the first time we see Dumbo as a clown, which is equally beautifully chaotic as only a troop of clowns can be.

The pink elephants sequence is psychedelic and actually borders on frightening at times yet you can’t help but admire the skill of both the artwork and the animation. The gang of birds are brilliant – a group of black Southerners this time around instead of Liverpudlian like the vultures in The Jungle Book (1967, Wolfgang Reitherman). They add to the already eclectic mix of music with (undoubtedly) the most famous song in the film – “When I see an elephant fly”. Timothy is as loyal a friend as you could have, standing by and protecting Dumbo and even shaming the crows for making fun of him. Everyone deserves a friend like Timothy!!

I started by saying it’s not on of my favourites but I do find it an endearing film and one that surprises me with the level of emotion every time I watch it.

Casablanca

Director: Michael Curtiz

1942

Now before I start I should probably say that I have a bit of an issue with a lot of the ‘classics’ in that I think the majority of them are highly overrated (especially Citizen Kane but that rant will have to wait a while!) As such I have never really understood the appeal of Casablanca or what gives it the longevity that it has, and therefore disagree with Kim Newman’s opening statement that it is ‘the most beloved Academy Award Best Picture winner of all” (178, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) … and don’t get me started on the wisdom of the Academy’s decisions or we could be here forever! So let’s get down to it.

I can’t deny that Humphrey Bogart is an incredible actor and definitely made the film noir genre his own – indeed I have found that he is usually my favourite part of any noir film. While Casablanca is technically not a film noir it does share a number of the elements that define noir – the chiaroscuro lighting, the use of flashbacks, voiceover, the anti-hero.

There are a number of memorable performances; Bogie is enigmatic and classic as Rick Blaine and Peter Lorre’s Ugarte is suitably slimy and sly as befits a hustler. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa glows, a testament to the magic of the lighting that is so common to Hollywood’s golden era. Bogie’s Rick may be a bit of a cynic but he makes such a sacrifice that he confirms Renault’s view that he is a ‘rank sentimentalist’.

Released one year after the Americans’ entrance to World War II and set around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor (the catalyst for said entrance) Casablanca is surprisingly neutral with regards to the ongoing war. Newman says “Made before the war was over, it dares to leave its characters literally up in the air or out in the desert, leaving its original audiences and the many who have discovered the film over the years to wonder what happened to these people (whose petty problems don’t amount to “a hill of beans”) during the next few turbulent years.” (178, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die). I can understand why they left the film the way they did but to me it just has an unfinished feel to it.

I have watched Casablanca a number of times now and I still can’t see what makes it so beloved by so many people. There is a tragicness to the relationship between Rick and Ilsa which I suppose is the force being the enduring fascination with the film. Maybe I’m just not enough of a romantic to understand it. To me there are more romantic films out there. Though it cannot be denied that it is one of the most quoted (and misquoted – Play it again, Sam) films of all time.

The Big Sleep

Director: Howard Hawks

1946

The chiaroscuro lighting, so directly linked with the genre of film noir, is flawless creating beautiful shades of light and dark. I always find noir visually pleasing although the plots often feel quite contrived and convoluted to me.

As with all film noir there is a central theme of corruption and deceit. “The Big Sleep is a reference to death and indeed death pervades the movie.” (Joshua Klein, 216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The murders are numerous and stack up quickly, generally immediately after providing some piece of information. As do the plots with various parties conspiring in blackmail schemes. It all seems a bit too much for me personally – there is too much going on which just adds to my whole ‘noir is convoluted’ theory.

Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe never loses his cool – he is always in control of every situation in this increasingly complicated story. He is the epitome of a private ‘dick’ in his sharp suit, fedora and trench coat.

The sexual tension between Bogart and Lauren Bacall is palpable. Indeed as Joshua Klein says “when they’re on screen together, the detective story fades to the background.” (216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die). The femme fatales are always incredibly and effortlessly glamorous and self-contained. The lighting makes them almost glow – something that never happens with the male characters. And this is no except for Bacall’s Mrs Rutledge. Despite being strong female roles the very nature of being a femme fatale means a happy ending is rarely, if ever, guaranteed.

Klein states that “Hawks exploited the sexual tension, adding extra scenes with the two actors and stressing the innuendo-laced dialogue, particularly racy (especially an exchange about horses and saddles) in light of the era’s Production Code.” (216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I think this ‘innuendo-laced dialogue’ gives The Big Sleep a surprisingly modern feel.

I like that Marlowe has almost a nervous tic (despite the fact he never appears to be nervous) where he rubs the lobe of his ear, it adds to his personality. In some ways it almost mirrors Carmen’s habit of unconsciously biting her thumb. The mysterious Shawn Regan is never seen but often mentioned and appears to be central to the plot, at least in Marlowe’s mind.

While there are elements of The Big Sleep that I enjoyed, particularly Bogart’s performance and the lighting, ultimately I was left both bored and confused by the film. And I found the ending somewhat lack lustre.

Harry Potter (Films 5 – 8)

SPOILERS

I’ve said it before but I’m gonna say it again …

Don’t read if you have not seen the films (where have you been all this time if you haven’t?!?!?) and don’t want to know what happens. I gave you fair warning you only have yourself to blame if you continue to read on from here.

And apologies for the rather long blog.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Director: David Yates

2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix continues the evolution of the series. Harry has become the surly teenager who is angry at the world. In some ways I’m surprised it has taken him this long considering how much he has gone though in his life already. As with the other films we have new characters introduced (not all are spot on though). Imelda Staunton has definitely got the mannerisms of Umbridge down to a tee and comes across as this sadistic woman in a pink casing, despite not looking right in my opinion – nowhere toad-like enough for me. Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) is a welcome addition and one that brings a lightness to an increasingly dark film. She is beautifully quirky, even by magical standards and I love her for it.

I love the formation of Dumbledore’s Army as it shows the students we have come to know and love take an active decision to fight for something, despite the danger inherent in making that decision. They have the feel of an underground resistance group and could be seen as the younger Order of the Phoenix … indeed many of the members of Dumbledore’s Army will go on to become part of the Order.

The Ministry of Magic is gorgeous with all that stunning tile work. The climatic battle between the Order and the Death Eaters in the Ministry is epic! I love the way that the Order are symbolic of the light with the whiteness while the Death Eaters all in black are their polar opposite. Seeing Dumbledore battle Voldemort is magnificent – he actually becomes the great wizard everyone says he is rather than this genial old man and you can see how uneasy Voldemort is around him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sees David Yates take the helm and really launches the final section of the franchise. Yates is a director who really understands how to use moments of silence, something that he continues to do in the following films. However the first time we see this is at the moment of Sirius’ death, which is so much more heart-breaking than Cedric’s as once again Harry is losing a family member and father figure.

Each film sees the main trio grow in strength but none more so than Daniel Radcliffe who not only copes admirably with the increasing pressure of carrying the juggernaut of a film franchise but also puts in an outstanding performance every time.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Director: David Yates

2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince sees the darkness level jump up once again. It no longer feels like a children’s film which reflects the audience growing up alongside the films. The London shots that whiz by when the Death Eaters are kidnapping Ollivander and destroying Millennium Bridge are brilliant. And ground the wizarding world alongside ours.

Jim Broadbent as Slughorn is wonderfully eccentric – exactly what a retired professor should be – and provides many comedic moments. I’ve said before that Yates understands how powerful moments of silence can be – he also understands the importance of balancing out the story with perfectly timed humorous moments in order to stop the darker moments from becoming overwhelming. Rupert Grint has excellent comedic timing, honed throughout the films but especially in the scenes when under the effects of a love potion gone awry.

The budding romance between Harry and Ginny annoys me but I think that is because of all the core characters she is the only one they got wrong. She isn’t nearly fierce enough to do the Ginny from the books justice and in no way is a rival to Mrs Wesley in the films. Tom Felton really comes into his own in Half Blood Prince but then it is fairly Draco centric. Having said that he gives a really powerful performance that moves Draco on from just your standard high school bully. You really feel that he is conflicted in where his life is taking him.

Seeing Voldemort’s history through the pensieve is illuminating and done extremely well visually. As much as I dislike Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore his death is incredibly moving. Once more Yates employs moments of silence masterfully really allowing the emotions and the moment to sink in, another father figure taken away from Harry! The moment when the entire school removes the Dark Mark by raising their wands in silence is one of the most poignant and memorable moments of the entire series.

I do have an issue with the climax of the film as I think it differs too much from the book. In the book when the Death Eaters breach the castle the core characters (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna) along with members of the Order all fight to protect the school. However in the film it is just Harry alone who goes after the Death Eaters, which just feels wrong to me. So much of Harry’s strength comes from the fact that he has people willing to fight with him and for him out of love as opposed to intimidation and fear like Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Director: David Yates

2010; 2011

They definitely made the right decision to split the last book into 2 films. This way they really did the final installments in the franchise justice. If they had tried to do just 1 film so much would have been cut out that the story wouldn’t make sense. The first film (and indeed book) to break away from the formulaic structure surrounding the year at Hogwarts and I find it rather refreshing. It is very much an adult film now rather than a children’s film as the franchise started out.

As with past films the new additions slot in well with those already established albeit briefly in some cases – Bill Nighy’s Rufus Scrimgeour. Part 1 and indeed Part 2 are filled with poignant and moving moments. Seeing Hermione effectively removing every trace of herself from her parent’s life in order to protect them is heart-breaking. How many of us could make that sacrifice?

The scene with the 7 Potters is just fantastic – excellent acting from Radcliffe coupled with flawless CG creates one of the most memorable scenes for me (not just within the Harry Potter films but films in general!) I think they gloss over the death of Mad Eye a little bit, especially as he is such a powerful presence. All of the scenes with the Weasley twins cause me to well up and yet at the same time they still manage to provide much-needed comedy moments – especially George sticking his toothbrush in the hole where his ear used to be for safe keeping!

The pace of Part 1 is quite different to all the previous films and while some may argue it didn’t need to take an entire film I disagree. I think its important that the quest element was given enough time to set both itself and the rest of the story up properly. The changing relationship between the main trio is actually quite satisfying as it shows they are all growing up and nothing stays the same. You can really feel the tension between Ron and Harry during their stand-off in the tent which is a testament to both the writing and the boys’ acting.

The loss of Dumbledore is palpable especially as Harry begins to question how well he knew Albus and the task set before him. The wedding of Bill and Fleur provides a light-hearted moment in a film that has very few. Rhys Ifans is perfect as Xenophilius Lovegood … just so fantastically eccentric, it’s clear where Luna gets it from.

There is a lot of body swapping in both films which really highlights just how much the main 3 have developed as actors and how well the entire cast works together. Everyone’s morals are questioned – how far are they willing to go in this war and where to draw the line. I would have loved to see the change in Kreacher and his attitude towards Harry, Ron and Hermione.

I was distraught the first time I watched Part 1 when Dobby died. Yates handled it extremely well. I hadn’t expected to be as affected by the death of Dobby as he isn’t a human character so was overwhelmed with the feeling put into the scene by all parties involved. He is a completely innocent character who becomes collateral damage in a war between good and evil. It didn’t bode well for how I will react to the numerous deaths coming in Part 2.

The attack by Nagini is terrifying!! Yates found a simple but effective (and extremely stylish) way of telling the story of 3 Brothers and the Hallows. It could all too easily have become a cumbersome and boring part of the film yet Yates neatly avoids that trap. The set pieces just keep getting better and better, more spectacular all leading up to the epic final battle at Hogwarts. The reappearance of Ron resets the balance of the film – they work best as a trio!

I’ve never really been sure of Ollivander. Don’t get me wrong John Hurt plays him wonderfully with a delightful creepiness about him. It’s just I can never tell what side he comes down on. There has always been the sense that he admires Voldemort. Helena Bonham Carter plays Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix splendidly – she gets that touch of vulnerability, or rather nervousness, that Hermione puts on the character due to the goodness inherent in her.

The first set piece in Deathly Hallows Part 2 … the break in at Gringotts is spectacular with an awesome dragon. And it sets the tone for the rest of the film. I love the scene when the trio are trying to dress themselves after having jumped off the dragon. It makes me laugh out loud every time, not because it is an especially funny scene as it isn’t, but because the boys are having such trouble dressing themselves due to being so wet! The music has taken on an eerily melancholy tone in keeping with the film while at the same time retaining those elements that are quintessentially Harry Potter.

The battle at Hogwarts feels like a violation … this place of safety, the home for Harry is being destroyed by the embodiment of evil. Once again Voldemort is destroying something Harry loves!! There are however still moments of laughter to be had and Yates has placed them in just the right places – usually coming from Filch. These humorous moments are much-needed as they break up the tension and provide some light relief.

I love that Neville (Matthew Lewis) has really become a character to contend with. Gone is the chubby, forgetful boy nervous of his own shadow from the early films; instead there stands a hero! And it’s fitting that he gets to destroy one of the Horcruxes after all it could very nearly have been him rather than Harry that was destined to destroy Voldemort. For me the women really stand out in the final installment, two moments in particular. The first when Harry reveals himself in the Great Hall and is confronted by Snape it is McGonagall who takes Snape on. The women are also the first to step in front of Harry, bodily protecting him from the Slytherins. And then the fight between Bellatrix and Molly Weasley – two women both incredibly strong and yet polar opposites of each other in every respect.

I would have liked to see more of the Order appear for the final battle, especially Neville’s gran, but that’s just me. While the battle is quite different from the book Yates has kept the tone and created such a visually dynamic piece that it works splendidly. I do think that some character deaths were swept over too quickly (Tonks and Lupin!) and yet every death was moving … indeed I was distraught when Fred does but then the Weasley twins have always been my favourite characters! The death that was handled beautifully was Sanpe’s. You really felt his love for Lily and it was a heart-breaking scene when you realise he does actually have a heart. I was genuinely moved by his demise. Seeing his history added a greater depth to his character and an insight into life not only before Voldemort but also during Voldemort’s first reign.

When Harry goes to meet Voldemort is one of the most poignant moments in the entire franchise. Seeing the four people he loved the most in the world who were ripped from him by Voldemort there to greet him is beautiful. It’s something we all hope for – that at the end we will once again be with the ones we love.

The defenses around the castle are brilliant and seeing Hogwarts itself coming to its defense is outstanding. The epilogue is okay but that’s all and in some ways seems a bit of a let down after the rest of the film. While it is lovely seeing Harry talk to his son, Albus Severus, and explain about his names the parents hadn’t been aged particularly well and the humor from the books was left out.

There is a greater sense of cohesion or rather continuation with having Yates direct consecutive films. The final few films went from strength to strength and while I still have some issue with the decisions made this is a collection of films that I will never get tired of no matter how old I am or how many times I watch them.

Oh one last thing … Hello to Jason Isaacs!!