Meewella | Critic

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QuickView: Little Women (2019)

“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”

Jo March

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.


QuickView: This Is The End (2013)

This Is The End quad poster

“A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? Actors. They’ll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there’s room, you guys will come.”

Jonah Hill

If Ocean’s 12 was an excuse for Clooney and his actor friends to hang out at his Lake Como villa, This Is The End dispenses with the pretence entirely as Seth Rogan, James Franco and friends play themselves riding out the apocalypse at Franco’s house. The main cast toy with their public perception, though the film’s best conceit is the suggestion that, if the Rapture were to occur, no one at a Hollywood house party would notice. Most of the cameos are fun but forgettable, the standouts being those who play against type — a shameless Michael Cera and a violent Emma Watson. One imagines the general lack of female presence is a product of the fraternal nature of the friendship group behind This Is The End, but the near total absence of women is disappointing and to its detriment. The script is peppered with hilarity and entertaining moments strung together by lazy writing and tired gross-out humour. Comedies like this typically lose traction the longer they run but, despite frequently lagging in the middle and perhaps aided by a wafer-thin plot which requires little conclusion, the film closes surprisingly strongly, leaving a better overall impression than I would have expected halfway through.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

director: Alfonso Cuarón
starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis
running time: 141 mins
rating: PG

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanWith a new director at the helm, the third installment of the Harry Potter series is adapted from the longest of the books thus far, and yet has the shortest running time. These changes result in a more streamlined movie that marks a serious step up as the boy wizard franchise graduates from kids’ fare to serious film.

Sirius Black [Gary Oldman] has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is headed for Hogwarts. Harry [Daniel Radcliffe] soon discovers that Black was a close friend of his murdered parents, and is believed to be the one who betrayed them to Lord Voldemort. With Hogwarts school under guard by Azkaban’s Dementors, Harry, Ron [Rupert Grint] and Hermione [Emma Watson] must unravel the mystery of Sirius Black as Harry’s life appears to be in grave danger…

People will say that under Cuarón this is the darkest of the three movies. While this is true, the change is also due to the stylistic change in tone of the third book, making it a good time for a directorial switch. While Cuarón is now known for his recent darkly humourous road-trip movie, Y Tu Mama Tambien, he is no stranger to children’s cinema, having directed the 1995 remake of A Little Princess. Here he weaves together atmosphere from both to create a more mature product than the previous two installments. His greatest skill is in crafting a far more realistic world by keeping the camera moving and circling around characters and sets, where Chris Columbus tended to keep it still. Using a palette of less vivid colours and shooting his leads in casual clothes rather than the familiar school robes creates a stage that is closer to reality, and somehow more disconcertingly weird as a result. Atmospherically, he is spot on.

Sirius Black has escaped from AzkabanThe performances of the main cast of child actors has improved considerably. Their maturing performances make their emotions far more believable and their dialogue does not seem as strained as before. The same cannot be said, however, of some of the smaller roles, which now stand out more strongly as a result. Watching Oldman and Thewlis (as new teacher Professor Lupin) are a delight to watch. The franchise’s strength lies to no small degree in its ability to attract such strong talent, and they are able to make average dialogue flow with flair. My only gripe regarding Lupin is really with Rowling’s writing. I just wish she had been a little less pretentiously self-indulgent in naming him, for it took me preceisely two-and-a-half seconds from his introduction to guess his true nature (having not read the book). But this is not, however, a fault of the film. Michael Gambon steps in as headmaster Dumbledore, replacing the the late Richard Harris so deftly that those unaware of the change may well miss it. Finally, this film’s extended sequences with divination Professor Trelawney [Emma Thompson] were undoubtedly energetic but for the most part served only to irritate me.

Professor Snape tries to protect the childrenAzkaban is blessed with wonderful special effects which are also integrated with more subtlety than before. The most impressive is undoubtedly the Hippogriff, a fusion of horse and eagle, which is lifelike not only in its feathered appearance, but also in its fluid movements which are both equine and birdlike in equal measures. Beyond this, it also conveys thought and emotion through its facial expressions and stance. The Dementors are very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings‘ Ringwraiths, but are a creepy presence throughout. Especially well captured by Cuarón is the visual interpretation of their ability to drain happiness from their victims.

Although the pacing is generally tight, it does still lull occassionally, making Azkaban still feel overlong like its predecessors. The time-jumping is handled well, if in somewhat routine fashion, but serves well bearing in mind that younger viewers must be able to follow it easily, and it should provide some discussion for them afterwards. Character development is limited here, with little other than a tentative, if predictable, start to a possible romance between Hermione and Ron. It should be noted that both Harry and Hermione do come across as much stronger characters in this film, especially in Hermione’s confrontation with Draco. The problem is that Draco now seems so weak that it’s difficult find him intimidating at all, let alone understand why others would follow his lead.

Still suffering from a few flaws of its predecessors, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban marks a real progression for the series, and highlights the difference that can be achieved through the interpretation of a new director. Maturing performances from its equally maturing young cast aid the final result, making it far and away the best yet, and promising more enjoyable fun in the coming films.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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