In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

In the Heart of the SeaHerman Melville (Ben Whishaw) has become preoccupied with the story of the Essex, and, convinced that the only way to rid himself of his latest obsession is to commit it to the page, travels to Nantucket where he has arranged to speak with the only surviving crewmember. Reluctantly, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) recalls his experiences as a cabin boy (Tom Holland) under novice captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his rather more experienced first officer, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Fast foes, the pair are determined to be rid of one another as quickly as possible, and in their haste steer the Essex into unfamiliar waters after hearing tales of a bounty of sperm whales in the remote Offshore Grounds. In so doing, however, they ignore another rumour, of an enormous white whale intent on destroying any ship that crosses its pod.

Prior to the release of the first trailer, buzz for In the Heart of the Sea was relatively positive. Ron Howard had just made Rush with Chris Hemsworth, a compelling sports drama with a charismatic lead, and had put together an impressive cast for their next film together, the story behind one of the greatest American novels ever written. The trailer changed everything, however, as discussion soon turned to the famous white whale, and how poorly rendered it appeared in the various effects shots that dominated the footage. For while Melville’s novel might have been a treatise on race, religion and revenge, in which the whale is as much metaphor as monster, Howard’s adaptation seemed to be positioning itself as a disaster cum survival movie in the blockbuster, in which the whale attacks were the main draw. The only problem? It didn’t look as though anyone involved had ever seen a whale before. Had Moby Dick already sunk its own adaptation?

It might come as something of a surprise, then, but In the Heart of the Sea isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. It’s no classic — nor is it even another Rush — but there is more going on than anyone had any real reason to expect. For one, the narrative device employing Herman and Nickerson is not only a more substantial part of the movie, it is also one of the most memorable. There is never any threat that the story won’t be told — history tells us otherwise, as does the poster for the film — but it makes for engaging drama nonetheless. With Michelle Fairley providing support as Thomas’ wife, the trio quickly build an uncanny rapport that foregrounds their subplot against the rather more more straightforward main narrative. Hemsworth is compelling as ever, but his characterisation — and his conflict with Pollard — is so by the numbers and predictable as to nullify any perceptible dramatic tension. There is a slightly unreal aesthetic to the film, and whether or not the performances are meant to ape that quality, their rivalry does feel a little cartoonish at times.

In context, meanwhile, the whale doesn’t look any more realistic, nor do the pods of regular-sized sperm whales that feature throughout, but Howard finds other ways of provoking a visceral reaction. The film doesn’t shy away from the butchery and barbarism of the whaling industry, and there are a number of shots demonstrating both the hunting and harvesting of these animals that really gets beneath the skin, no pun intended, and leads to some pretty interesting places. (When it is revealled that oil can now be extracted straight from the planet, you really fear for our poor little world.) Tom Holland is exceptional throughout as the young Nickerson, but never better than when forced into the carcass of a freshly harpooned whale and told to extract the more hard to reach pockets of oil from its depths. It’s an upsetting scene, and Thomas’ own tumult is plain to see. That is to say, then, that the whale’s retribution feels perfectly justified, leaving the real horror to come from the survivors’ own treatment of one another. Life of Pi and Unbroken didn’t shy away from desperation, but even within the boundaries of its 12A rating In the Heart of the Sea really makes you question not just the value of survival, but the very essence of humanity.

Not swashbuckling enough to compete with Star Wars, and not substantial enough to convince as any sort of counterpoint, it’s unclear exactly which audience Howard is fishing for. Like Blackhat, another of Hemsworth’s 2015 efforts that suffered a similar issue, however, it might yet make its bounty back on DVD. By the power of Thor — and Spider-man, too — if nothing else.

3-Stars

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Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge Of TomorrowFollowing a devastating meteor strike, an alien parasite has invaded Earth and made short work of the human race. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a media officer for the military, is summoned by his superior (Brendan Gleeson) and informed that he is to follow the last regiments into battle. Unwilling to comply, Cage attempts to blackmail him, but this quickly backfires as he is branded a deserter, demoted to private and left to deploy with everyone else. Five minutes into battle, however, his regiment is overwhelmed and William Cage is killed, only for him to wake up hours earlier ready to live the day again. Through innumerable repetitions of D-day, Cage learns that the aliens have the ability to time-travel — which explains the speed with which they have overwhelmed humanity — and that by inadvertently killing an ‘Alpha’ he has inherited that ability. Seeking tutelage from Full Metal Bitch, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a soldier familiar with the phenomenon, Cage learns to control his newfound power and plots to use it against the enemy.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, All You Need Is Kill, but subsequently renamed Edge of Tomorrow for its theatrical release, Doug Liman’s latest film is a melting pot of influences and a hodgepodge of homages to other, often better movies. Take the time-travel mechanics from Groundhog Day, the creature classifications from Starship Troopers and the creature designs from Grabbers and you have Edge Of Tomorrow, not so much a derivation as a two-hour-long sense of deja vu. You’ve got the grass-roots perspective from Battle: Los Angeles, the aesthetic of The Matrix (the real world sections, anyway) and the foghorn cues from Hans Zimmer’s Inception OST. Some have suggested that Edge of Tomorrow is really a video game movie at heart — that the resets aren’t anything to do with time-travel but rather a return to the last save point as in most platformers — but really that’s ascribing it an originality that it simply doesn’t have.

What is remarkable about Edge Of Tomorrow, however, are the characters that inhabit it. As with The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith and even Jumper, Liman has used cliché and contrivance to establish a familiar world only to have his audience view it through rather less familiar eyes. Jason Bourne wasn’t your typical secret agent, the Smith’s were more than just spies and David Rice wasn’t predisposed to use his superpowers for the betterment of mankind. Similarly, Cage isn’t your usual grunt, but instead a cowardly officer who — given the chance — would sooner betray his country than defend it. As character arcs go it is perhaps not the subtlest, but Cruise nevertheless succeeds in making it compelling. It’s Blunt who really shines, however, as someone who once had great power, has been shaped by it, but now must watch powerlessly as someone else seizes her destiny. She too is painted in relatively broad strokes — from Full Metal Bitch to sensitive love interest in the space of a day — but it’s just enough to set Edge Of Tomorrow apart from the norm.

While it’s easy enough to invest in the characters, the plot is somewhat harder to crack. The alien invaders are shown to be incredibly effective killers — with or without the upper-hand afforded them by time-travel — but you get very little sense of how they actually operate. These things bury under-ground, roll over-ground, can swim, and are able to fire projectiles; on the off-chance that their enemies manage to defy the odds and win the ‘Brain’ can simply reset time, having learnt their strategy and reformulated their tactics accordingly. Cage, and before him Vrataski, inherited this ability when they killed an Alpha, though the latter ultimately lost it when it — whatever it might be — left her bloodstream. It’s not entirely clear how she knows this (surely the only way to be sure would be to die and then not wake up again) or how it then entered Cage’s bloodstream (we only see the Alpha’s blood spatter his face), you just have to take the script’s word for it. The biggest problem is the ending, however — “How can they possible get out of this one?”, you might find yourself asking, after the fact, because thanks to scrappy editing and incomprehensible plotting it’s likely that you’ll never be quite sure of that either.

Edge Of Tomorrow is perfectly good fun, with some colourful characters and a time travel device that Liman gets a few good laughs out of. Expect any more than that, however, and you are bound to be disappointed. The film makes about as much sense as its title — either of them.

3-Stars

Calvary (2014)

CalvaryWhile holding confession, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is sentenced to death by an unseen man seeking revenge for past injustices at the hands of the church. Lavelle has been given a week to live, but rather than give the man’s name — which, importantly, he knows — to the police or flee the country — though the thought does occur to him — he simply goes about his religious duties as usual. His parishioners/the chief suspects include a shady butcher (Chris O’Dowd), a shady doctor (Aidan Gillen), a shady squire (Dylan Moran) and a kind-hearted cannibal (Domhnall Gleeson).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Calvary — the not-so-surprise movie at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival — is an Irish black-comedy, with elements of both tragedy and drama. It’s from John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh, and is cut from the same cloth as both In Bruges and The Guard. Whereas those films centred on hitmen and police officers respectively, Calvary concerns itself with the priesthood: specifically Brendan Gleeson’s Father James Lavelle.

Though perhaps similar in disposition (it’s still Gleeson, after all), Lavelle is almost the polar opposite of his character in The Guard. He’s essentially a good man, though undoubtedly conflicted and naturally wracked with Catholic guilt. Gleeson is once again terrific, and here treads the fine line between cynicism and scepticism with surprising ease; he’s a man of faith, but is quite happy to be flippant about it. This ties into another key difference between McDonagh’s films: whereas The Guard was a drama undercut by humour, Calvary is essentially a dark comedy run through with real human hurt (the opening line, for example, shocks you into laughing, but really isn’t very funny at all).

Calvary is sensitive and occasionally even stirring, but it is just sardonic enough to steer it clear of mawkishness. Lavelle’s relationship with his estranged daughter — even his friendship with his dog —  makes a real impression, and his inevitable confrontation with his would-be killer is genuinely emotional. The satire is just as effective, with the film commenting on everything from the country’s economic downturn to cover-ups and corruption within the Catholic church. It’s a story of sin, sacrifice and redemption, but one that is strikingly short on miracles. If only McDonagh had been more careful with his casting, it might have been a decent mystery too.

Calvary isn’t as entertaining as The Guard or In Bruges, but then it isn’t trying to be. This is a much more meditative movie, and is ultimately sharper and more scathing than either of its predecessors for its lack of a disarming punchline  — its message will stay with you long after the jokes have faded from memory.

4-Stars

 

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (2012)

Like all good pirates, The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is completely useless, but that doesn’t stop him and his motley crew of sea cucumber-alikes, walking coat-hangers and fish in hats from entering Pirate of the Year, the seven seas’ most coveted prize for budding buccaneers. Up against the likes of Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), The Pirate Captain finds himself out-gunned and out-looted as he is forced to consider other ways of claiming the title. When an encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) aboard a sinking Beagle alerts him to the value of his not-a-parrot pet dodo, The Pirate Captain plans to use his promised scientific riches to finally win the prize. That’s if a crusading Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) doesn’t catch them first.

After experimenting with digimation in last year’s absolutely lovely Arthur Christmas (and, er, 2006’s  not-so-lovely Flushed Away), Aardman Animation return to their humble, stop-motion beginnings in the vein of earlier classics Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Thumb-prints firmly reinstated, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! adapts the first two instalments in Gideon Defoe’s acclaimed series of children’s books for the big screen. Given its subject matter and child-friendly tone, immediate comparisons with Disney’s live-action Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are perhaps inevitable.

Inevitable but unnecessary, it seems, as The Pirates! couldn’t be more different from its Caribbean forebears; childishly simple, consistently witty and effortlessly charming, Aardman’s trademark stamp of quality instantly marks it apart from the convoluted, humourless tangle of faceless plotpoints that Pirates of the Caribbean has become infamous for. Boasting the depth of humour and attention to detail that makes Aardman releases so inherently rewatchable, The Pirates! is a joy for all ages, from beginning to end, not unlike February’s similarly delightful The Muppets.

Written by Defoe himself, The Pirates! is an absolute treasure trove of sharp, smart wit and ridiculous asides, picking and choosing only the best lines from his source novel, leaving just enough room for the talented voice-cast to stretch their comedic muscles. The dialogue, erudite and quotable as it may be, is still only half of the story, with the true joy of any Aardman animation being the painstakingly perfected sight-gags that pepper just about every scene, lying in wait of their inevitable discovery, even if its not until the second or third viewing. With the astonishing amount of work that goes into even the slightest of interactions (the film itself took approximately five years to finish), the filmmakers by now have slapstick down to a fine art.

With so much on offer it might seem a little ungrateful to be left still wanting more. There are so many fantastic characters worthy of attention that a great number unfortunately find themselves sidelined as the filmmakers focus on Hugh Grant’s admittedly brilliant Pirate Captain. Every moment that’s not packed with pithy rapport and ingenious Easter eggs – and, I can’t believe I’m even complaining about this, there are a few – seems wasted, the genteel musings a couple of soiled pants short of comedy gold, while the likes of Salma Hayek and Lenny Henry are squandered in the merest scattering of scenes. With talk of a sequel and a handful of books yet to adapt, however, there is a very good chance that this might one day be put right.

Another classic from the British masters of animation, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is everything you could possibly wish from Aardman Animation and more. As with The Muppets, however, such ageless charm seems to have come at a price, with the appreciative smile adorning audience’s faces rarely developing into the hysterical laughter that the premise perhaps deserves.

The Raven (2012)

Out of ideas and low on money, Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) splits his time between fighting for the front page and vying for Emily Hamilton’s (Alice Eve) hand in marriage. When a murder is committed in the style of one of his stories, Poe is embroiled in a police investigation as Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) faces an ever-mounting influx of bodies. Poe cooperates in the inquiry, forced into action by the abduction of his future fiance during one of her father’s (Brendan Gleeson) annual masquerade balls. With instruction to fictionalise the police’s findings in a series of episodes to be printed in his usual newspaper, Poe tries to piece together the killers clues taking cues from his own collected works before the allotted time runs out and Emily disappears forever.

It’s not difficult to imagine the thought process that likely spawned The Raven; it is in fact the culmination of a number of contemporary cinematic trends. Following the likes of Journey to the Centre of the Earth and, more recently, John Carter in disregarding the fourth wall in order to immerse a literary giant in their own mythology, James McTeigue’s The Raven sees Edgar Allan Poe play protagonist in his piece de resistance, albeit one that should never make its way into his official bibliography. Discontent with merely pandering to one zeitgeist, the filmmakers have sought further inspiration elsewhere, throwing a cape around Poe’s neck and reimagining him in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, as a kooky genius as happy to brawl as he is to spout prose.

Unlike the director’s previous effort, the now iconic V for Vendetta, McTeigue’s The Raven comes not from one of Alan Moore’s esteemed graphic novels, but a screenplay from Ben Livingstone and Hannah Shakespeare. Rather than delighting in sharp satire and rhetorical revelry, The Raven lumbers under a mis-mash of lifted verse and fatuous fabrication that is far more smug than it smart. The dialogue is at times unspeakable, consistently evidenced by John Cusack’s uneven delivery. With the sole exception of a reasonable rendition of the poet’s masterwork, and the film’s namesake, very little of Poe’s genius makes it onscreen – an oversight that McTeigue thinks he can compensate for with a novelty fireproof racoon and a few trillion ravens.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, for I have glazed over the film’s greatest flaw: Cusack. Like all of his films, The Raven has at its centre a black hole of truly staggering proportions. Nothing escapes the crushing density of the actor’s wilting persona, as both the wobbly wordplay and jarring physicality only serve to highlight Cusack’s crippling lack of diversity, and, for that matter, charisma. With his drone voice and expressionless face (not to mention that ridiculous haircut), you are faced with a character who is simply there, constantly, exhibiting little agency as he fauns half-heartedly over Alice Eve’s unforgivably vacant Emily or stands in the corner while Brendan Gleeson struggles thanklessly with an impossible accent. It is only Luke Evans who demonstrates any hold over the audience’s attention, as he tries to ground the tumultuous tone with what amounts to the film’s only passable performance.

But there’s clearly more to it than that: V for Vendetta was many things, but beautifully acted wasn’t one of them. Considering the wealth of prefabricated fiction at his disposal, McTeigue somehow manages to fumble the one thing his movie should have had going for it: Poe’s atmosphere. A steady stream of increasingly unwelcome ravens and disastrously unconvincing bursts of fog do little to compensate for the lack of interest and tension elicited by the film’s pace and plot. Despite a few grisly murders (including one which was executed to greater effect in the Saw franchise, of all places), there is little threat as it becomes increasingly clear our heroes are largely safe from harm. I don’t wish to understate just how tedious this mystery is; it’s 111 minutes and feels considerably longer. Murder, he wrote, at his own leisure. Angela Lansbury could have solved it in a quarter of that time.

Derivative, cynical and perilously overblown, The Raven has none of the finesse or force of Poe’s eponymous poem, dazzling only when Cusack puts pen to paper and lets the calligrapher do the talking for him. As if in answer to the Mad Hatter’s own ravenous riddle (printed 20 years before the poem itself), McTeigue assures us that this raven at least is as wooden as any writing desk.

Films of the Year – 2011

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but one year ago, in a fit of madness, I started a blog. In deciding to name that blog popcornaddiction, I hoped to convey not only a truth about my unrecommendable diet, but also aspects of my palette that were decidedly more cinematic.

I like my movies big, brash and full of the kind of high-octane emotion that leaves women crying incoherently on the floor and men spitting loudly into telephones. Although I like so savour masterpieces and worship at the feet of the auteur as much as the next person, my tastes are predominantly more mainstream. Having worked in a seven screened multiplex for most of my university career, I love nothing more than to have my blocks busted and popcon flicked by the latest tent-pole release.

I realise that this probably makes me less of a critic, and more of a drooling fanboy, but this is my blog and while I do pride myself on relatively broad horizons I have no intention of pandering to some ideal that dismisses 3D and thinks children’s movies are just for kids. As such, my favourite films of the year are unlikely to be representative of other bloggers, critics and journos, and for that I do not apologise. Other opinions are available, but in my own personal opinion they are wrong; X-Men: First Class was fine, Drive was perfectly alright and True Grit was, well, a bit rubbish actually For me it was a year notable for the welcome return of Scream, a surprisingly decent Footloose remake and – don’t judge me too harshly – the ludicrously entertaining Fast Five. In that vein, my pick of the year’s best are as follows:

10. The King’s Speech

I know The King’s Speech has undergone a bit of a kicking since its January release, but still, it won an Oscar didn’t it?  Tom Hooper’s film, which starred a stutteringly brilliant Colin Firth and a surprisingly sane Helena Bonham Carter, proved as profoundly moving as it did achingly funny. Aided ably by Geoffrey Rush’s elocutionist, the filmmakers managed to tell a grand story against a grandiose backdrop while maintaining a humour and humanity which managed to charm even the Fuck Police. A compelling script, subtle direction and triad of exceptional performances conspire to create one truly unforgettable movie with magisterial presence and timeless elegance.

9. Life in a Day

Life in a Day – the cinematic experiment executive produced by both Ridley and Tony Scott – is an extraordinary and ambitious insight into a day in the life of the human race. Compiling and consolidating over 4,500 hours of amateur footage, from 80,000 submissions and 140 nations, director Kevin MacDonald has created a coherent, compelling and delightfully accomplished snapshot in time, an invaluable time-capsule to chronicle the YouTube generation. Babies are born, deaths are mourned, teeth are brushed, animals are slaughtered, rituals are practised and crimes are committed. Thrilling, you might easily scoff. But it is.

8. Midnight in Paris

Having come to terms with the fact that I might never ‘get’ Owen Wilson, it certainly came as a surprise when a collaboration with Woody Allen had me drawn swiftly to my senses. Leaving the cinema at midnight, in Nice, I was utterly enchanted by this tale of nostalgia for some ever-changing Golden Age. Midnight in Paris tells its story with a verve and emotionality that handles the rampant nostalgia with expert precision, boasting enough wit, charm and cameos to keep even the stubbornest Francophile entertained, quickly atoning for the bloated pictorial prologue that precedes it.

7. Thor

The first of two fledgeling Avengers to receive the big screen treatment this year, Thor was always a much more intriguing prospect than July’s Captain America movie. Trapped in development Hell for years, it was always going to be a difficult endeavour breathing cinematic life into one of Marvel’s most outlandish properties, made ever more unfashionable with Christopher Nolan’s recent reign of darkness. With director Kenneth Branagh (an inspired decision on Marvel’s behalf) refusing to shy away from the goofier aspects of the character’s mythology, Thor is a very different – a very necessarily different – superhero movie. And it is all the better for it.

6. The Troll Hunter

Following a slight case of found-footage fatigue – hot off the tails as we are of REC and Cloverfield – you could be forgiven for thinking the genre overcrowded and the format flagging. Rather than feeling tired or derivative, however, The Troll Hunter is an engaging and innovative return to form for a technique caught up in an endless cycle of American remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels. Thrilling, funny and absolutely breathtaking, The Troll Hunter is an unmissable piece of stand-out cinema from director André Øvredal’s. Even if I’m still not entirely sure what it’s called (The Troll Hunter? TrollHunter?).

5. Melancholia

How many times has the world ended now? Ball-point figure? While we have seen it attacked by aliens, riddled with comets, conquered by apes, ravaged by virus and infested with zombies, I for one can’t say I have ever seen the end of the world through recognisably human eyes. Or through the eyes of anyone eighteen or over. While it is undoubtedly not for everyone, Melancholia is a masterpiece in mood and menace, building to a sense of completely hopeless acceptance as Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland’s characters deal with the inevitable apocalypse in different and yet wholly realistic ways.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

To say I cried at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II would be an understatement of Grawp-like proportions. The biggest compliment I can bestow on this final chapter is that it hit me like a bat-bogey hex. It is testament to not only the work of Yates and his team of filmmakers – Alexandre Desplat, I love you – but the underestimated talents of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that a story so high on Pumpkin Juice should ever deliver an emotional punch of such ruthless affect. As we leave Hogwarts for the last time – awash with rubble and barely recognisable – it is with the utmost closure on what really has been the motion picture event of a generation. I’m welling up again just thinking about it.

3. The Guard

I don’t really like comedies. I tend to find studio offerings like Tower Heist and Just Go With It too broad to make anything approaching an impact, while this year’s Bridesmaids embodied everything that isn’t funny about genre maestro Judd Apatow’s sense of humour (except the bit where they all shat themselves, LOL). John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, as with his brother’s sister movie In Bruges, however, managed to deliver solid, hearty laughs without ever resorting to the ruinously try-hard schtick that plagues most contemporary comedy. Lampooning cop shows, subverting comedy conventions and gently poking fun of Irish culture, The Guard was unarguably the most fun you were likely to have in the cinema this year.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Something has happened. Something bad. Lynne Ramsay’s Kevin is – almost from birth – a truly terrifying creation. Ezra Miller’s performance is cold, calculating and counter-intuitively compelling; he is perfectly horrifying without once raising his voice, jumping out of the shadows or making that petrifying clicking noise attributed to cursed Japanese children. From its matter-of-fact title to Ramsay’s bi-linear adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel, this is no-frills masterpiece-making at its most devastating. There is no period dress, no operatic over-emotionality and no delusions of grandeur, just an exquisitely unrelenting build-up of tension that deserves – heck, demands – your recognition. All of it.

1. Super 8

Super 8 has it all: production values, solid stakes and performances that more often than not leave you utterly speechless. The film – both within the film and the feature itself – is as fun to watch as it looked to make, the nostalgia and unreserved love that has gone into each frame making it onto the big screen. In a sea of superheroes and sex-comedies, Super 8 is a breath of old air; compelling, heart-stopping and packing some seriously impressive performances, J. J. Abrams’ latest is the best Spielberg movie Spielberg never made. And then some.

Hogwarts Revisited – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise ever will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will draw to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, as Harry faces off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.

So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…

Returning to Hogwarts after attending the Quiddich World Cup with the Weasleys, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is looking forward to a year without incident. With Hogwarts hosting the Triwizard Tournament, the school welcomes students from the Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic for the duration of the competition. When the time comes to appoint each school’s competitor, however, Harry’s name is called as an unexpected fourth contender. Acting as a binding magical contract, Harry has no option but to enter the competition and compete with the other, older and more experienced students.

Jealous of Harry’s apparently endless fame, Ron (Rupert Grint) severs ties with The Boy Who Lived and refuses to aid him in the tournament, forcing Hermione “I’m not an owl” Granger (Emma Watson) into the unfortunate role of intermediary. Left to overcome a dragon, navigate a lake-full of merpeople and beat his competition to the centre of an enchanted maze, Harry nevertheless succeeds in making it to the Triwizarding cup first. Deciding to share his success with fellow Hogwarts competitor – Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) – they are unexpectedly transported to an unfamiliar graveyard. Revealed to be the doing of one of Voldermort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Death Eaters, Harry watches as Cedric is murdered and his own blood taken to resurrect the Dark Lord. Escaping back to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body, it is discovered that that new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Alistair Moody (Brendan Gleeson), had been kidnapped prior to the onset of the school and replaced by a Death Eater in disguise tasked with leading Harry to the Dark Lord.

Mike Newell took over from Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, his desire to make a traditional British boarding school movie bringing a new flavour to Hogwarts. Cutting out more subplots than ever before – the Quiddich World Cup is introduced but never shown while Hermione’s S.P.E.W. crusade is dropped entirely – the Goblet of Fire often feels rushed and incomplete. Required to introduce an unwieldy number of new characters as a result of the Triwizarding tournament, a number of the film’s cast are sidelined almost completely to make room, this being the first film to skip Harry’s summer vacation at the Dursley’s.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire still has a lot going for it however, the Triwizarding tournament paving the way for some of the franchise’s most thrilling sequences to date. While it has been largely trivial uses of magic which have impressed to date – an enchanted car here, some vanishing glass there – Newell’s fourth instalment provides our first indication of exactly what wizards are capable of. The dragon chase is spectacular, while the underwater sequences are quite simply breathtaking. Furthermore, the inclusion of the Yule Ball casts each of the three friends in a new light, the social awkwardness and teenage hangups proving welcomingly familiar in a world of exploded aunts and talking fireplaces. It is the final reveal of Voldermort which impresses most, however, with Ralph Fiennes breathing some real menace into the character, a brilliantly creepy (and noseless) embodiment of pure evil.

It is testament to Newell – and, by extension, Rowling too – that four movies in the franchise still proves so awe-inspiringly magical. As the winged horses carrying the Beaubaton students glide into view, the boat housing the Durmstrang pupils rises from the depths of the Black Lake and Mad Eye Moody hoists himself into the Hogwarts grounds, Newell’s eye for the epic really comes to the fore. While Fiennes’ introduction of Voldermort is undoubtedly the performance of a half-life, it was Miranda Richardson’s turn as the slimy-sexy Rita Skeeter that really left my inner fanboy aflutter. Tragically left out of the following film, Skeeter is everything I wanted her to be and more.

With so much ultimately lost in translation, Newell’s Goblet of Fire is the easy target for criticism. Frenetic, informal and lovingly lensed – I mean, it’s utterly gorgeous – however, the film serves its purpose in the franchise with such gusto that one small Quiddich World Cup seems a small price to pay. It really is to the credit of producer David Heyman that each new director – a variable about to settle with the arrival of David Yates – has managed to bring something new and important to the franchise. In Newell’s case, that something is a truly iconic villain, the creation of which will undoubtedly stand the test of time as one of cinema’s best.