TBT – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

alan rickman, Daniel Radcliffe, films, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, Maggie Smith, meh, review, TBT

I’m so far behind my schedule today that I’ve left myself with no fucking time to do anything. I’ve left this to the last minute as I tried to get everything else done. I’m also tired so I can’t promise this will be the best thing I’ve ever written but I’m determined to get it done. After all, I sat through one of my least favourite Harry Potter films in order to have a subject this week. I’d have to say that my least favourite in terms of both book and film is Goblet of Fire but, thanks to their childish nature, I’ve never revisited the first two stories for years. I saw the first film at the cinema with my family for my mother’s birthday. I was 13 years old and completely obsessed with the books. I remember leaving the cinema feeling disappointed with some differences but, ultimately, I loved it. I mean it was faithful to the book and that was all that mattered to me. Let’s be honest though, that’s all that mattered to anyone.

The Philosopher’s Stone was the biggie. It was the book that let us enter into Harry Potter’s world and the film was the finally put that world on the big screen. There was a lot of pressure on it as the book’d had become a sensation with adults and children alike lapping up every word JK Rowling was writing. The writer was also incredibly protective of her books as she was still in the process of writing at the time and didn’t want to jeopardise her later books by giving the rights away. Thankfully, the films were made and they were a huge part of all of our lives for 10 years. We grew up with the child actors who took the massive roles. So it’s weird to go back and see where it all started.

The Philosopher’s Stone is a very faithful adaptation of the first book. It sets out everything about the wizarding world but with much more haste than the book. Sections are shortened or deleted to save time but there’s nothing really vital missing. For my own part I always wished the centaurs scene could have been more book-like but that was mainly down to my fondness for that part of the book. In real terms, the main criticism I have is that some explanations seems rushed, such as Hagrid introducing Harry to his wizarding heritage, but that probably has something to do with my familiarity to the book. All of the key points are there but it just feels more brusque that it should.

It’s not the story that I really have a major problem with when I rewatch this film. It’s the acting. I’m not a massive fan of Daniel Radcliffe in any of these films but he’s particularly annoying in these films. He’s young so it’s not exactly fair to call him that but I think Harry’s character in these films is just too vague and undefined. There isn’t really any proper characterisation for any of the major characters and there is a lacking of development. Even the background characters seem more gimmicky that real. Other than his overall look, I’ve never been a fan of Richard Harris’ Dumbledore if I’m honest as Michael Gambon really captured the darkness that’s hidden at his core. He feels too Disney for my liking. Alan Rickman is incredibly hammy in the first few films and Maggie Smith is just whittled down to that one withering look. It sees like a waste of good actors.

Then the main trio all seem too confused by who they are trying to be. Ron seems as though he belongs in Eastenders rarther than Hogwarts, Harry is just forgettable, and Hermione is the worst kind of smart girl stereotype. Watching these films just makes it more apparent how useful age and understanding is for actors. The older and more comfortable the main actors got then the better their characters became. The first two films don’t feel like Harry Potter films because the character’s feel like strangers.

Still, there is something great about revisiting this film. The Quidditch scene, though it seem aged nowadays, is still one of the best scenes. It’s fun and exciting seeing this amazing sport come to life before your eyes. The tests that need to be passed to find the Philsopher’s Stone are also well adapted in the film and the game of wizards chess is still incredible. Still, this feels like a long and slow film. It takes ages to really get going and it isn’t quite magical enough to make it work. I kind of see this film in the same way I see the Beatles if I’m honest. Everyone says that The Beatles invented popular music as we know it today and that they’re one of the greatest bands of all time. Now, I understand that they were important in the 60s but it’s not the 60s anymore. If I listen to their music now it just feels so juvenile and simplistic. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened the door to some great films but, if I’m honest, it’s lost its sense of importance and achievement as every new film was released.

TBT – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

alan rickman, films, in memoriam, Morgan Freeman, review, swords, TBT, unintentionally funny

So it’s been four throwback Thursday’s since Alan Rickman died and I’m still remembering him through his classic films. I was only planning to do this for a month to properly mourn his passing but I’m tempted to continue indefinitely until I get all the good ones. There are still a few to chose from and I’d be keen to rewatch them. This weeks film is one I haven’t seen in a long time and was both a fantastic and awful thing to do to myself. Watching the film was fucking hilarious because it has not aged well. The major consequence was having the fucking abysmal Bryan Adams song ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ in my head all day. I’ve never wanted to bash my head with a frying pan more than I have today.

The legend of Robin Hood is one that has understandably struck a chord with people’s imagination. A brave archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and still manages to save the damsel in distress: he’s exactly the kind of guy young kids grow up wanting to learn about. It’s no wonder, then, that he has a long history with films. He is surrounded by excitement, romance and morality. Still, there had been better versions of his tale before and there have been better since. It’s certainly weird watching Kevin Reynolds 90s modernised version in the wake of the BBCs recent television series starring Jonas Armstrong.

It’s not possibly to say that Reynolds’ film stands the test of time and looks more outdated now than some of the earliest films about the eponymous hero probably do. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves takes the story that we are all so familiar, a band of outlaws taking money and distributing it to the poor, and tries to sex it up. Robin (Kevin Costner) is joined by Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor Robin helped escape from prison and who has vowed to save Robin’s life in return. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) becomes more than just greedy and has turned to the dark arts to attempt to take the throne from the departed King Richard. Newly returned from the Crusades, Robin finds his father dead and vows revenge on the Sheriff and those who helped him… whilst still trying to woo the lovely Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is one of my ultimate guilty pleasure movies. There’s so much to dislike about it but it’s so fucking awful that it’s something you can’t stop watching. I mean the performances and the script are pretty horrendous and often verge into unintentionally funny. The scenarios are just bizarre at times and the references to other movies is just weird. The fight scenes are so confusing and badly directed that its difficult to see what’s going on. The costume design is just misjudged and the sets are inconsistent. It can also boast one of the most annoying songs in film history, probably tying with Armageddon for first place. It’s a terrible song and you can see why Reynolds kept it out of the film as much as possible.

It’s also an incredibly dark film: both literally and figuratively. Literally, because most of the action takes place in a fucking forest or a castle lit only by candles. Figuratively, because it’s really ducking gruesome for a family film. There’s so much death, torture, sex and devil worship on display and that’s before you get to the final act which is just a lengthy scene of attempted rape intercut with classic one-liners from the Sheriff of Nottingham. The film has a really weird tone which doesn’t work at all with the hero as we know him. Overall, is a totally misjudged and badly made film but I fucking love it.

When it comes to our hero, Kevin Costner is particularly dull and decides to go against the norm and play him as an introspective and quiet hero rather than the dashing and sassy man in tights he usually is. He even forgoes the wacky hat and joyful demeanour for a brooding look. Costner really never quite gets the tone of Robin right and, because of Costner’s insistence that we get some backstory to Robin’s life, he is a man wounded by his experience fighting in the Crusades. I much preferred the fox in Disney’s version. At least he always tackled his crazy schemes with a fucking smile on his face.

Then there’s the underwhelming love story that really only takes place because it has to. Maid Marion, on the whole, isn’t that abysmal and has some real moments of brilliance. She isn’t the shy and retiring type when we first meet her and can actually hold her own in a fight. That is until she, very quickly, falls in love with Robin and becomes the helpless damsel who needs to be rescued. Still, Mastrantonio comes across much better than fellow American Christian Slater who plays outlaw Will Scarlett. All three actors struggle with attempting a British accent but Slater fails to convince as an Englishman on so many levels I’m kind of embarrassed for him. Plus, he has one of the least secretive secret histories of any movie character to date.

So, why, I hear you cry, do I love this film so much? For the same reason anyone does. Alan Rickman. Rickman is in a completely different film to anyone else. Rickman actually has fun with his role. He’s anything but subtle but that’s what we need. He delivers every line perfectly and it’s always dripping with venom. This is Rickman at his most venomous but, it’s important to note, he’s also incredibly funny with it. To say he’s the best thing about this film isn’t saying much but he’s no doubt the reason people come back to this film so often. It’s Rickman’s film and he fucking smashes it. 

TBT – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

alan rickman, Martin Freeman, sci-fi, TBT

Continuing to remember the dearly departed Alan Rickman, I look back to another of is recent films that showed off his humour. Before I get into it, I have to be honest with you: I haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I know it’s probably part of my ticket out of geekdom but I’ve never got round to it. My father’s a fan of Douglas Adams and it’s something I’ve always felt I should have read. It’s not something I tend to broadcast and I know enough Adams’ quotes to be able too hold my own should the need arise. However, that doesn’t escape the fact that I never got through the book. I tried, God knows I did, but it wasn’t something I ever finished. I don’t understand why because I managed to get through fucking Tolkein which is much more of a struggle.

So, when this came out I was pretty much going in blind. I mean I knew the basic plot but had no real clue about the intricacies about the narrative. Still, I know enough about Adams to understand the whole thing is based around a twee, Britishness and humour that most Hollywood audiences aren’t ready for. Was a big movie production really the best place to translate Adams’ ideas onto the big screen?

Of course, that is the situation we were left with. Martin Freeman, then a relative unknown outside of fans of The Office, takes the lead role of Arthur Dent, a human whose life takes one unexpected turn after the other. When his home is bulldozed to make way for a bypass, Arthur feels like life can’t get any worse. Then a group of aliens obliterate his planet to make way for a hyperspace expressway. With only his friend, and secret alien Ford (Mos Def) for company, Arthur has to come to terms with a life that is much more complicated than any Thursday ever had been.

His life gets more difficult when the hitchhikers are picked up by the stolen ship involved in the fake kidnapping of Galaxy President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). Luckily though, fellow human Tricia “Trillian” McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who Arthur has a bit of a thing for. The misfits band together to go on an epic journey to discover the answer to life, the universe and everything by first finding the ultimate question.

Now, if this all sounds complicated then it’s probably mostly down to the way I’m describing it. I’m really fucking tired and went out after work which means I’m writing this at the worst possible time with only 6 minutes before midnight. Hitchhikers Guide is actually a a lovely film that brings a lot of the comforting British humour that Adams is so well known for. It’s a bit quirky and weird but, ultimately, it’s watchable, funny and warm.

Martin Freeman is a great addition to the cast as Arthur and plays the hapless hero role as well as he has done before and since. He is joined by a selection of British and American actors who make for a fairly hit-and-miss cast. The American side tend to miss the mark and fail to connect with the Britishness that is required. It’s a poor turn from everyone’s favourite quirky girl, Zooey Deschanel, and Mos Def just looks lost. However, Sam Rockwell puts one back in the American net and plays Zaphod beautifully. He almost steals the show.

However, the scene stealer really is Alan Rickman himself as the voice of Mavin the depressed android on Beeblebrox’s ship. Rickman is perfect in the role and nails the humour. There is nobody who could have done it better. With his distinctive voice and beat perfect comedy timing, this is one of Rickman’s best modern roles.

Director Garth Jennings, a former music video director, nails the necessary camp, shitty BBC production value styling that the adaptation required. It isn’t a polished production because it didn’t want to be one. It ensures that nothing of Adams’s original gets lost in the potential Hollywood sci-fi epic that Hitchhikers could have been. The aliens look like they’re straight off an original series Dr Who episode and the guide itself is a hulking great book voiced by the incredibly British Stephen Fry. It may veer into messy on occasion but for the majority of its run time the film is never anything but intentionally dicey.

I can’t claim that this a faithful representation of the original book but I can say that it’s a fun and heart-warming tale. With a great leading man and some interesting supporting cast, it sums up the British approach to science fiction. It’s something we want to try our hand at but we are always aware of our limitations.

TBT – Galaxy Quest (1999)

alan rickman, films, parody, review, sci-fi, Star Trek, TBT

So, as we established last week, I’m still in mourning over here. Watching Die Hard reminded me of how good Alan Rickman was so I decided it was best to continue to celebrate his talent for the next few Thursdays. Whilst Die Hard and the Harry Potter films are probably his most loved roles and Robin Hood being another memorable and iconic characters, I’m going to focus on my personal favourites. The films I grew up knowing Alan Rickman from. The films that shaped the way I saw the actor. In his life, Rickman wasn’t incredibly happy about being named one of the greatest actors for playing villains. He had a wicked sense of humour and enjoyed playing light-hearted roles as much as the straight ones. This can be seen most obviously in this 90s Star Trek parody.

Everything about Galaxy Quest is instantly so familiar. The outrageous television plots, a science-fiction convention filled with desperate fans in costume and the washed-up actors arguing backstage. Dean Parisot’s send-up of the Star Trek television show and the Trekkie fandom is not meant to be a criticism of a much-loved franchise. It’s actually an incredibly funny homage to a series that has, and continues to, affect the lives of so many people. So good, that Trekkies once ranked it as the 7th best Star Trek film.

Galaxy Quest is set 18 years after a popular science fiction show has been cancelled. The fans have stayed loyal but the stars are now shining much less brightly than they once were. The series hero, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), still insists on taking the limelight and act like the Commander he’s best known as. When Nesmith and his fellow cast members are taken onboard a real-life spaceship they find themselves in an illogical situation where fact and fiction collide dramatically. They must use their knowledge of the show that made them famous, the knowledge of their loyal fans, and their own dumb luck to save a doomed alien race from the deadly warlord Sarris (Robin Sachs).

Suffice is to say, this film isn’t going to win any awards for being surprising or complicated. It’s your basic ‘aliens think a TV show is real so recreate every detail and place the actors in real peril’ narrative but that doesn’t make it any less pleasing. It takes details everyone, fans or not, will recognise about Star Trek without ever verging on the mean. The portrayal of the fans is extreme but it only thanks to the help of the devout that the crew are able to return to Earth safely. Their in-depth knowledge is the key to success ans as such celebrated instead of ridiculed.

It also boasts a pretty great cast with comic actor Tim Allen excelling in his William Shatner impression. I can’t say I’ve always been a fan of Allen but I love him here. It’s a funny and clever performance. Backed up by some great work from Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. Both offer incredibly funny performances without ever compromising their well-known talent. Rickman in particular shines in every scene and appears nothing but professional. I love him here.

There is a great deal of humour to be found in the satirical look a science fiction television. The film soars when it really delves into the illogical plots of the episodes. The dramatic scene where our heroes are running through an assault course of mechanisms ready to smush them for no other reason than dramatic tension. There have been plenty of attempts to parody the formulas of shows like Star Trek but Galaxy Quest is by far the most successful. It never loses sight of the importance its source material or the people who love it. Yes, it’s the humour doesn’t always land but it doesn’t matter. It’s damn near perfect.

TBT – Die Hard (1988)

alan rickman, bruce willis, Christmas, TBT

One week ago, whilst the world was only just getting used to the idea that David Bowie had died, it was announced that Alan Rickman had died at the age of 69. I was at work when I read the news and I was, once again, legitimately devastated. Despite what I may have said about his character in Love Actually, I loved Alan Rickman. He was one of Britain’s best actors and had such a superb presence whenever he was on screen. The first time I remember him was, really bizarrely, from Truly, Madly, Deeply; a film I’m sure I’ve never watched again nor do I remember why I would have seen it then. Still, until the release of The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 Alan Rickman was always the cellist from TMD to me. Of course, since his death people have been paying their respects online and mostly referencing his two most well-known performances. The first being his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series and the second his first ever film appearance. The role that cemented him as one of the greatest villains of all times in the minds of many cinema fans.

Die Hard has become the action movie against which other action films are judged. It set the precedent for every renegade cop who finds himself single-handedly bringing down the bad guy and getting the girl. John McClane became the guy all other action heroes had to prove themselves. The guy who paved the way for every wisecracking, foul-mouthed badass that came after. It’s no wonder both the film and the character are constantly being named in the top 10 movies/characters of all time lists. Die Hard is the fucking bomb.

Obviously, the many attempts to build off Die Hard‘s winning formula haven’t worked out as well as the original. The film boasts great casting in both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and enough excitement and action to keep everyone on the edge of their seat. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it by now but it never gets any less exciting. My heart still pounds as I worry about McClane’s ability to get out of the situation he’s landed in. It’s a film experience that is as full of joy on the first watch to the last.

Still, there are parts of it that are slightly dodgy. The plot tends to get caught up in a few subplots and spends too long on terrible supporting characters. The film isn’t just all one-note and, between the chaotic explosions and gunfire, there is plenty of breathing space for the main characters to get to the fore. However, in order to have more of this downtime, there are plenty of minor characters that get more time on screen than they really deserve. The underdeveloped and tiresome limo driver, the coked-up businessman and the fucking stupid police chief are all given more screen time than they needed.

Thankfully though director John McTiernan knows what the audience wants and keeps the main plot a fairly standard affair. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has made his way from New York to LA for Christmas in the hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife. He meets her at her office party only for it to be taken over by a group calling themselves terrorists, headed up by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). John manages to keep hidden from the guys with machine guns and starts to fuck up their plans as best he can. A frantic game of cat and mouse ensues.

The intricacies of the plot are neither here nor there really. It doesn’t matter why Gruber and co have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza or what’s happening between John and his wife. All that matters is McClane finding himself having to defend innocent people from a group of ruthless thieves. It does the job. Nothing else is needed but a few blond Germans with a desire to kill and some explosives. Yes, there could have been more but there is enough of the good stuff to ensure the bad doesn’t taint it too much.

Die Hard is the film that made Bruce Willis a star and he certainly flourished in the role. John McClane is a tough guy that always knows the right thing to say. He’s sassy and brilliant. Although, what is a great hero without a great villain. This is McClane’s time to shine but Hans Gruber is the one who comes out as most memorable here. His witty asides and most quotable lines lack the sweary passion of McClane but are still just as wonderful. “Mr Takagi won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” Fucking classic. Alan Rickman is fucking sensational here and plays the character so simply. Yes, a lot of the dialogue is fucking awful but Gruber is enough of a professional to make it work.

Alan Rickman will be remembered for this role and it is quite right too. He is a great actor that was dropped into a fucking crazy narrative. It works on so many levels and Rickman has been left with a legacy as a villain that he himself didn’t appreciate. The actor had so many facets to him but, because he was so good, he managed to create lasting characters that will never leave people. It was a truly sad day when his death was announced and watching this film every Christmas will always be fairly bittersweet now. Happy trails, Han.