Rewind Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

The film begins poignantly focused in on Rufus Scrimgeour’s (Bill Nighy) eyes as he declares with voice aquiver that “Dark times are ahead.” It is an apt tone-setter for the remainder of this film that David Yates, who has been at the helm since The Order of the Phoenix, steers into previously uncharted territory.

The film absolutely has to be applauded for resisting facility and showing remarkable restraint and patience with its storyline. When it was announced that the film would be told in two parts, of course, it smelled like a money-grabbing marketing ploy, which has apparently worked, however, once the decision was made it had to be made to work aesthetically and it has.
The young wizarding triad finds itself out of school with no mentor left to find horcruxes, fractions of Voldemort’s soul stored in object that they must destroy, which could be anywhere. Where does one start and how does one remain safe amidst constant threat? This film deals with that. They meander about and in fact hide out much of the time trying to gain knowledge from afar. It’s, to deviate momentarily, one of the lasting images I have of the book, their hiding in the forests and the countryside and this film does deal with that to a great extent.

Yet the information flow is deceptively consistent, it could seem not much is happening but there is a rather even pace being employed throughout, in which, they are slowly acquiring the knowledge they need to better face Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010, Warner Bros.)

With the characters out of the shelter of their ivory tower, one that was hardly impenetrable but where their whereabouts were almost always known, there will not be a tale going from one high-impact incident to another. Yet this film contains more genuine scares than your average horror film because of the suddenness and ferocity with which attacks to occur. Very quickly they find no place is safe.

Yet it does set the table extremely well, which there is room for in a series. For the next installment is surely to be full of fireworks.
It’s a tremendously human tale in which we see these characters, whom we’ve watched grow up, changed and stressed and furthermore we see actors, whom we’ve watched grow up and improve, flex their muscles and deliver their most solid, rounded and complete performances to date.

The rest of the cast as per usual is due their kudos. Firstly, there is Ralph Fiennes who makes tremendous use of the very small allotment of screen time he has. Rhys Ifans is wondrous as Xenophilius Lovegood, first as the tree from which Luna fell not far from and then as a frantic desperate man. Helena Bonham Carter continues to take Bellatrix Lestrange to heights which I thought weren’t possible. Then, of course, there’s Alan Rickman who continues to be deceptively simple in his brilliantly deft performance of the complicated Severus Snape. Also, Michael Byrne as Gellert Grindewald, the elder version, ought not be overlooked for his deliciously creepy short stint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010, Warner Bros.)

It is quite possible that in a film with seemingly fewer effects shots than most throughout the series that the CG here is the best it’s ever been. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the work done on Dobby who in this edition is one of the most stunningly realistic CG-creations ever.
There is of course the matter of the ending of the film to discuss. Much of the Harry Potter film’s success has, I feel, hinged on the endings. Some of them have been a bit too languid on the last shot. Thankfully none have gone Return of the King. The ending of this film is sheer perfection. If you are going to have a bifurcated tale the first half clearly needs to be apparent defeat for our heroes and a moment of triumph for the villain. You could not imagine a more gloriously chilling conclusion than what does transpire in this installment.

As a kind of aside the film introduces the concept of the Deathly Hallows early and then enters with an explanation late, with a very ingenious and creative animated sequence. It may be the most prominent use the title object in the series in a while. I loved The Half-Blood Prince but who he was and his connection to Harry did become sort of an afterthought considering all the other events that needed to come to fore.

It’s very strange to try and assign a numerical value to any film, as some that don’t receive a “perfect” score stay very near and dear to me, it’s even more difficult for this one. In the end the function of this installment is to inform and make the next one possible. To that end it does the job brilliantly and thus it shall be a 10 for that reason and because I did enjoy every minute. Whether that ranks it amongst the year’s best remains to be seen.

10/10

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Don’t You Recognize Me: Andrew Lincoln

Don’t You Recognize Me? will be a sporadically posted theme wherein I briefly highlight an early role of a now well-known actor. Typically, it will be one where I didn’t immediately make the connection, hence the title.

This one wasn’t a realization I came upon unassisted, thanks to a tweet by Richard Roeper for that assist, but first a little back story.

As of this writing, I have now read, through trades, the equivalent of the first 102 issues of The Walking Dead in comic book form. When I do read it, it’s been in binge mode. So I held off on starting the TV series until this year. I started watching the series in early January and am now current.

With such a heavy watching schedule, I didn’t look everyone up on the IMDb, but Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick, did seem to have a familiar face.

Love, Actually (2003, Universal)

Then late the other night Richard Roeper tweeted a reference to where I knew him from. He was the guy desperately in love with Keira Knightley in Love Actually. Funny thing is now that I did check his IMDb, I see why I missed the connection.

It was literally the last thing I saw him in. Since then there were a few movies I knew of, but didn’t see, and many TV series that are unfamiliar to me. Love Actually was one of my favorite films in 2003 and one I viewed repeatedly, but it’s one film I had to reacquire as it seems to have vanished from my collection. I’ve not revisited it in some time so, in the haze of memory and all the other faces in that film I already knew, he got lost in the shuffle.

So the next time I pop in Love Actually, probably around Christmas, the “Where are they now?” game will be quite the interesting sidebar: Knightley, Nighy, Firth and Rickman have since won BAMs for other works; Thomas Sangster, believe it or not is the voice of Ferb on Phineas and Ferb, Liam Neeson has since developed his badass persona, and of course, Lincoln is on The Walking Dead just to name a few.

It was quite the sudden realization because as soon as I read the tweet I knew the scene in Love Actually referenced and I could see his face, and it crystallized. In the end, the interpretation of Rick on the show is a different one both physically and in some other small aspects. They’re not identical by any means, but they’re both Rick Grimes, which is a testament to both series staying true to their form.

Rewind Review- Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a film that dares you to stand up and walk out of the movie theatre and makes you sorely tempted to take that bet. It’s a film that galumphs along on its over-the-top intentionally goofy and self-consciously stylistic way with complete disregard for respecting its audience either intellectually or emotionally.

The cast of the film is not your typical Burton ensemble in as much as everyone is either miscast or misguided. Johnny Depp is convincing in the part of the Mad Hatter but acting does boil down to choices, as does directing, and most of the decisions made in the film with regards to character were unfortunate. Not quite as unfortunate as Mia Wasikowska as Alice – a young Australian actress with a painful British accent and little to no inflection in her voice in this part ever. Crispin Glover is his usual weird self and poor Mairi Ella Challen, as Six-Year-Old Alice, was woefully misdirected into a modern day rendition of Tami Stronach in The Neverending Story. Depp’s character wasn’t the only one who was steered towards the annoying end of the spectrum Tweedledee and Tweedledum were further there than ever before and the March Hare was so insufferable you hope for a cameo by a steady-handed, sharp-witted, eagle-eyed Elmer Fudd.

Unfortunately, the bright spots in the cast were in the smallest parts like Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and finally Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar. This film goes so far as to waste great talent in small parts like Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky.

Tim Burton’s talents are still readily apparent in this film as are his flaws amongst them are the fact that more often than not he tends to struggle with non-original material, meaning that which he did not write himself. Since Burton has become a Hollywood player his films based on pre-existing concepts like Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been some of his weaker and least inspired efforts in which he seemed to be wandering into the world of self-parody.

The film’s disrespect for the audience’s intellect is most clearly demonstrated by how repetitive the screenplay is. It is impossible to count how many times Alice insists that all the events in the story are part of a dream and that others in Wonderland claim she is not the “real Alice.” Surely there are other things that can be conveyed to reach an adequate running time and certainly kids have seen enough films follow the Rule of Three that you shouldn’t feel the need to follow the Rule of Three tenfold throughout the course of this film.

Another issue with the film was that the 3D was unessential to the film and it didn’t add anything at all to the movie-going experience. With the proliferation of 3D films there is more and more of an onus on these films to make it count and not just make it an excuse to charge an extra $2.50 or whatever the case may be. It’s a similar axiom to when black and white was frequently an option for films, filmmakers were told to “have a reason to shoot in color.” Think about it and have one strong, irrefutable reason you need all the colors of the spectrum. Same thing with 3D – think of one strong reason you need the depth, dimension and jumping out at the audience because I didn’t see it.

The CG and animation was consistently inconsistent. There were some things like the aforementioned Jabberwocky which are quite great and then things like most if not all the landscapes are not great. Some of the digital manipulation was good but some was a little off like when The Red Queen stuck something in her mouth her fingers popped out in a noticeably bad way and Tweedledee and Tweedledum weren’t bad.

Despite any technical accomplishment or other cases of slight brilliance it is all washed away by the absolutely underwhelming and unsatisfying emotional experience that this film is. It is a homogenized sequelbot, patent pending, which smashes two books together and focuses on minimalist story and nonexistent character development. It plods along so superficially that you actually become bored which is something that was once seemingly impossible with this tale.

If you want a truly different and unique take on the tale of Alice in Wonderland visit Amazon and Netflix and give Jan Svankmajer’s Alice a chance rather than this. You won’t regret it, “Said the White Rabbit.”

2/10

It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated

Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall in Cleopatra (20th Century Fox)

“It’s a an honor just to be nominated” is a phrase that’s such a truism that it rings empty and hollow. In fact, you hardly hear it anymore, however, I do believe actors when they do say it. The fact is there are only so many Oscar nominations to go around such that many very, very talented people never even get so much as nominated. While some have one standout performance that grabs everyone’s attention. Below you will find a list that could be longer of some notable actors who never even were nominated for supporting or leading actor/actress prizes.

Pictured above is one of the more unfortunate cases: critics at the time and film historians agree that Roddy McDowall was a virtual lock for Best Supporting Actor in Cleopatra. However, a clerical error submitted him as a lead. Fox tried to rectify the mistake but the Academy wouldn’t allow it thus McDowall was not even nominated. An ad taken out by Fox apologizing for the oversight and commending McDowall’s performance was a poor consolation prize at best.

Best Non-Oscar Nominees

1. Christopher Lee
2. Bela Lugosi
3. Boris Karloff
4. Vincent Price
5. Edward G. Robinson
6. Mae West
7. Michael Keaton
8. Peter Lorre
9. Mel Gibson
10. Sonia Braga
11. Alan Rickman
12. Fernanda Torres
13. Roddy McDowall
14. John Barrymore
15. Joseph Cotten
16. Errol Flynn
17. Bob Hope
18. Lloyd Bridges
19. W.C. Fields
20. Lon Chaney, Jr.
21. Victor Mature
22. Conrad Veidt
23. Peter Cushing
24. Donald Sutherland
25. Eli Wallach
26. Robert Blake
27. Malcolm McDowell
28. Kurt Russell
29. Martin Sheen
30. Christopher Lloyd
31. Jeff Goldblum
32. Steve Buscemi
33. Kevin Bacon
34. Vincent D’Onofrio
35. Marilyn Monroe
36. Jean Harlow
37. Rita Hayworth
38. Myrna Loy
39. Hedy Lamarr
40. Tallulah Bankhead
41. Maureen O’ Sullivan
42. Betty Grable
43. Jane Russell
44. Jeanne Moreau
45. Barbara Steele
46. Mia Farrow
47. Margot Kidder
48. Jamie Lee Curtis
49. Meg Ryan
50. Ellen Barkin
51. Isabelle Huppert
52. Shelley Duvall
53. Madeline Stowe

Review- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

It’s not easy to see a series you love come to a close. It becomes more difficult when you happen to be traveling when that final chapter receives its worldwide release. The difficulties I encountered trying to obtain tickets to a Harry Potter screening in Brazil may make an apropos footnote in another post but here they serve the purpose of stating that: it was hard to say goodbye and therefore it seemed almost fitting that it was difficult for me to make it to my first screening of the film.

While I stand by what I wrote in my series of articles entitled Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy, hindsight has been beneficial in my viewing of the Harry Potter series; some have aged better than others but I believe, more so with this series than others, that the whole is truly greater than the sum the parts. Only now having seen it all can I truly see the enormity of the series. Whereas in each individual installment there was nitpicking to be done, or ignored, and the franchise became the Susan Lucci of my personal awards, The BAMs, now that it’s at its conclusion I can say it’s the greatest film franchise I’ve beheld.

Now what of this installment, you ask?

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Warner Bros.)

Firstly, the issue of cinematic bifurcation needs to be addressed. When Harry Potter announced they split the seventh book of the series into two films it became the thing to do. Twilight followed suit and it seems The Hunger Games will likely do the same and perhaps some others that I’m forgetting. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that the main motivation to do such a thing isn’t financial, however, there exists in this decision artistic possibilities and responsibilities: the possibilities being to cinematically craft as much of the adapted work as possible and the responsibility to make it vital. I also want to clarify that while there might not be the Shakespearean foresight to make a multi-part work such as Henry IV or Henry VI it also was not a decision made retroactively in the editing room so some jets need to be cooled regarding the split-finale phenomenon.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

All series of films have their own inherent logic and language and thus they develop their own shorthand and therefore the bifurcation becomes much less of an issue. This, of course, does not mean that you could walk in cold to Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and get absolutely everything (an example would be how quick and dirty the Polyjuice potion usage is in this film) but conversely I don’t want to be able to walk into the end of a series cold and be able to watch it without wondering what’s happening at some point because it usually means that at some point the integrity of the series has been compromised.

So yes, this film does stand tall on its own as a self-contained piece of art with the above caveats noted. As the trend progresses other films will have this as a barometer as how to handle this adaptation phenomena. My feeling is that works which have distinct tonal differences in the beginning and the end, as this does, (going from foreboding progressing to all out chaos) will be more successful in pulling off this trick.

What this film ultimately does is deliver the desired conclusion to this mammoth story in the desired fashion. The pace of the film can best be described as a slow but steady depression of an accelerator and a very slow release at the end, which for the narrative being conveyed is just about perfect. Mark Day, the editor who has been the unsung hero of the tail end of this franchise, does his best work in this film. He creates the best montage I’ve seen since Up and perhaps surpassed it.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.)

Much like the pace of the film the tone is also established immediately. In a fashion not dissimilar to the recent X-Men film the film opens with a series of tense, brilliantly acted interrogatory scenes. The heroic triad is immediately gathering information and plotting their next move.

These scenes are also brilliantly and dramatically lit and also establishes the visual motif of camera movement which is not altogether foreign to Eduardo Serra and it just adds that much more tension and gravitas to all the proceedings.

I try and avoid departmental punchlists replete with commentary but the production and crafting of this film make it such that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Alexandre Desplat has quickly catapulted to the A-List amongst film composers and his work in this film is absolutely sublime, it’s omnipresent but not overpowering and over-accentuating the film, it’s there for the taking if you want it and if you listen to it in isolation it’s amazing but in conjunction with the imagery sheer brilliance.

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)

The Harry Potter films have also been through the years a bastion for lovers of ensemble acting, what’s most enjoyable about this film is that there are a number of paired scenes wherein the supporting players really get a chance to shine and have their moment and each one is more staggeringly great than the last. While I’d definitely contend that the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was the showcase for Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, however, it should be noted that it is usually they who paired off with these supporting characters like John Hurt as Ollivander who here is pitch perfect and has more screentime than in the rest of the series combined. There’s also Ciarán Hinds who plays Aberforth. Warwick Davis, who does double duty as Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has a very tense scene as the former and is incredibly versatile. Then you also have among the supporting cast the incomparable Alan Rickman who over the course of eight films has steered his character unerringly along a very subtle and incredible arc.

Alan Rickman in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps what sticks with you most about the film though is the beautiful chaos of it all. The film does not bow down to the artifice of its artform and focus too singularly on any one tragic occurrence and just takes it all in as quick as one might in that moment. Some things just happen and you learn about it when characters do and you don’t know the how and the where just the result.

It almost goes without saying that the effects are outstanding and are the best and most blended of the series. As for the 3D I have not seen it as such but I do want to and have heard that for a conversion it’s a job well done for a detailed summation of that aspect I’d point you towards CinemaBlend who does a great series about the 3D or not 3D conundrum.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

One of the barometers for the Harry Potter films, and for films in general, that I like to use is how is the ending handled. Now not that it’s a make or break but you do want the film’s last moment to leave a good, lasting impression. For example, I think that The Prisoner of Azkaban really dropped the ball with an ending that was tonally discordant when the darker chapters had just begun and a bit more restraint was needed. This film, however, ends perfectly and as I’d expected the epilogue was more effective on the big screen than it was in the book as it seemed to be created for the big screen.

It is my assessment that Harry Potter is the greatest franchise I’ve beheld and it is to my delight and relief that it has concluded with the greatest cinematic chapter it has yet told.

10/10

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)