Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows part 1

Harry Potter has finally grown up. I guess, technically, you can say that he grew up during the third film but its safe to say he became an adult in this film. They waste no time throwing Harry into the thick of a dirty war after the first few seconds. And its not just Harry but his two best friends Ron and Hermione that have finally taken the big leap into adulthood. Especially Hermione who is forced, because of these dangerous times, to erase her parent's memories of her in order to protect them. It's a great scene, unspoken, as she fades from her parent's minds. It sets the tone perfectly for what is to unfold in the next two films. No Hogwarts to shelter them, no Dumbledore to protect them. It's just the three friends against the worst kind of evil imaginable.
This is the 7th installment in the series building up to the big showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).  Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are forced to take their show on the road literally to escape the Snatchers, or Death Eaters, who are killing everyone in their path just to get to Harry. The kids find themselves searching for the three remaining Horacruxes that contain pieces of Voldermort's soul. In the process they learn a little bit about their Hogwart's former Headmaster Dumbledore and his past. They also learn a bit about those Deathly Hallows; which by the way has a pretty great animation sequence to tell the story. Apparently Voldermort is searching for a special wand that can help him kill Harry. The trio are forced to work together to avoid Voldermort and his death squads, hunt the Horacruxes and destroy them and deal with that isolation, jealousy and those ever changing hormones; well they are only 18 after all.
Honestly I believe I enjoyed this film the most out of the series. By breaking the book into two films they are allowed to give more time to the three main characters and it makes for a much better film. The only downside of course to splitting them into two films you make it difficult to have a complete film. I wish I could say that you could watch Deathly Hallows on it's own without the previous films and feel it complete, but that just isn't the case. It's honestly a shame because the film is so solid in performance, camera work and pacing that I just didn't want it to end, but it does and far too abrupt for my tastes. It doesn't have a true ending--it's a cliffhanger, which is to be expected,  but it's not a great one for a film of this scope. I think they could have jacked it up a bit more to give us a spectacular firework show to boost it to the next film, but I just feel they dropped the ball. This is where a trilogy like Back to the Future get's the cliffhanger ideal just right. Say what you want about the Back to the Future sequels with Marty left in 1955, Future Doc disappeared to the Old West and 1955 Doc passed out -- it was a holy crap I wanna see what happens next ending, wonderfully executed. And that's the problem with the Deathly Hallows, where is the holy crap moment at the end to bridge the films. Not that I don't want to see what happens next I really do, but visually the end was a bit of a let down. I won't go into too much detail about it but take my word for it, you'll be like, uh, what--is that it?
But the abrupt ending aside, what happens in the film itself is pretty extraordinary and Director David Yates seems to get the best work out of his young cast. Especially the "Lost in the Wilderness" scenes, which personally didn't work for me at all in the book. In fact the Forest Chapters in the book reminded me of the boring "Hedges" pages from the Fellowship of the Rings. It felt like JK was running us in circles and it was at times a tad boring. But for the Film Yates makes the quiet and the isolation a strength in the film as the kids deal with jealousy, loneliness and true fear. I think this emotional struggle is best realized in a scene where Ron is tempted by the dark side and sees visions of Harry and Hermione making out in what appears to be the buff, yes I said they were nude, it's CGI but still, you see some skin in Harry Potter. Which was completely unexpected. Some of the scenes felt like I was watching Cormac McCarthy's the Road, in tone and visuals. It just really brought a new feel to these films that I never thought they were capable of. They've come along way from the Sorcerer's Stone. There are also quite a few deaths in this film and a couple are pretty big characters from films past.  All of these darker themes have really brought this series from the whimsical magical world to the harsh realities of the real world. Magic is still a commodity but it is certainly a much more dangerous place.

If you haven't seen the other films I recommend you see them soon while you can still catch this one on the big screen, or if you can hold out till the Summer, supposedly they will release it again before the final chapter in glorious 3D. I will warn you if you haven't read the books and if you've been frustrated with the films in the past for not clearly explaining everything, you still may find that frustration when you see this film so beware. It can be annoying at times I truly understand, having read the books, I also get peeved sometimes when they gloss over plot points. But this is just how it is, love it or hate. Nevertheless it's a great experience and keeps you occupied for it's almost three hour running time. It really does suck now that we have to wait six months to finally see the conclusion to the series. Damn Warner Brothers and their blatent milking!!!!

Grade 4 Buckets

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fair Game

Recently I attended a luncheon for charity where three prominent people from the film industry were honored for their work. One of them was director Doug Limon (Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) who seemed to be a decent fellow. He spoke about his newest film Fair Game, the bio-pic about former CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was outed as such by the Bush Administration. He told us that he made the film as a sort of love letter to public service and that he had asked Mrs. Plame, after wrapping the film, after everything she went through if her kids wanted to serve either in Clandestine Services or the military would she try to talk them out of it. He said that she didn't hesitate or waver in her answer she said very plainly that she would be proud for them to serve. Considering the public bashing this woman took during this ordeal I wouldn't have begrudged her at least hesitating on that answer, but she didn't she didn't regret it at all. That in my mind is the sign of a true patriot. Its what also compelled me to see the film. I wanted to see for myself what a love letter to public service would look like. Whether it would preach on the pulpit for one side or would it give a balanced portrayal of these people without distorting the facts. I think it was kinda both, honestly.
Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is an agent for the CIA in a division that specializes in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Her husband former Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) is sent by the VP's office to investigate claims of Yellowcake Uranium being processed for Saddam Hussein in the African country of Niger. After Wilson reports back that the report was bogus the White House continues the drumbeat about Niger alive in the State of the Union address which eventually led us to war with Iraq. Wilson, upset by the lie, decides to write an op-ed piece criticizing the administration for not telling the truth and for his actions the Administration decides to go after Wilson's wife by outing her in a newspaper article. The Wilson's struggle to hold their marriage and their collapsing careers together during the aftermath.
The performances are really exceptional and the chemistry between Sean Penn and Naomi Watts are solid. Naomi Watts will probably be a long shot for an Oscar but I think the Academy should seriously consider her for the nod. The film is at it's best following Valerie as she juggles her very stressful job with being a mother and a wife to a very public figure. The film falls flat when they follow Joe Wilson, especially when he launches his crusade against the administration. This is where the film veers off into pander territory and tends to get preachy. The film also was shot very poorly, good Lord, a person could get sick as the camera bounces around aimlessly from person to person. There were only one or two segments where I felt the camera was stagnant. I'm not entirely sure what Limon was going for here with the shaky cam. It works great for the Bourne movies but not for a drama like this. It just looks really unprofessional, which is sad because I thought the script and performances were so good. Nevertheless I found the film to be very entertaining and I found myself admiring Mrs. Plame for her unwavering ability to keep things level headed even while she is getting death threats. This is truly a woman who is apolitical and was only interested in doing her job to the fullest and most importantly interested in protecting her assets in the field. This is one of those stories that should be burned into the brains of every American that a crime was committed here, whether you agree with Joe Wilson politically or not his wife should not have been considered Fair Game, as Karl Rove famously told Chris Matthews. She was doing her job and lives and careers were lost because of this political action and that should never be forgotten.
Grade: 3 Buckets