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.)

Review- The Tree of Life

Brad Pitt and Laramie Eppler in The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

In a recent review, I forget which, I was tempted to discuss the importance a title can play in a film but I didn’t because I thought in that case it’d be a bit too trite. Specifically mentioning how a title can pull everything together and put it all in focus when things seem a bit disparate. This is quite true of The Tree of Life. Before having seen this film I actually hadn’t heard (or recorded to memory) that this was a notion in many philosophies and religions and about the interconnection of all living things. However, even if you walk in without that knowledge, as I did, the film makes that very clear in its shots and edits.

Which leads to the editing of this film, I believe that aesthetically and technologically we’re approaching an edited film that can more accurately reflect the inner-workings of the mind than ever before. In some cases better than novels if you think about it because novels capture inner-monologue and describe in an abundance of words what a quick series of images can convey. This is brought up because this film is essentially a mindplay and it’s the closest to seeing thoughts projected on a screen as I’ve seen. You really go on a journey through these disjointed images and while it does take a while to get into it there will come a point when it clicks.

You can truly experience this film and more so in the front row. Yes, it’s where I normally sit and many have an aversion to it but this is where the images are bigger and the film really does feel like it’s thoughts happening in front of your eyes at times.

The reason it takes a little time to get into is that in the beginning of the film no scene starts in a conventional way and dialogue is chasing imagery left, right and center. This is the scatter-brained portion of the film once the protagonist starts to ruminate on the film’s central question: “What’s my place in this world?” it gets less scattered.

There are two extended sequences that break out of the box and go through time and space from The Big Bang to evolution to vistas of the world as it is today, along with a frame of the very Beginning I believe. These sequences are what draw this film comparisons to 2001, which aren’t unwarranted but aside from these episodes it’s a much more grounded, soul-searching and personal tale than Kubrick weaved.

After the first such episode the flashbacks get less choppy and more contiguous and aside from the editing style the narrative gets rather straight forward and very interesting. As is true with memory this film calls up things that are highlights but not all of them and leaves room to speculate and reflect on what we didn’t focus on the first time, which makes this film a prime candidate to be re-viewed.

It’s this personal approach throughout that connects you to the film. Even with the unusual structure and editing and amazingly ambitious scope it’s still about one man, and thus all men and we learn about him and his upbringing and see what torments him and what he’s seeking to reconcile.

There has been an awful lot written about the fact that this film uses religion as a story element like that’s akin to having plot holes or no conflict, in other words, it was reported as a negative coming out of Cannes. Don’t worry I’m not about to soapbox my religious views on anyone; people doing that is one of my pet peeves. What I am going to say that it’s a bit ridiculous that it’s practically verboten for a character in a piece of fiction to have religious views according to some. This is a story about a man who is having an existential crisis and is trying to figure out what his role is and his mind wanders from the dawn of creation to everywhere in between. It’s perfectly natural for him or his mother to be asking God “Why this or that?” Furthermore, if you still need a little more justification I’ve got it: not only is our protagonist a child of the 50s but this is a person who has found no answers yet, no peace at some point, no matter how devout he is or isn’t he might’ve turned to faith.

The bottom line is artists do put their views and ideas into their films but they’re not always literal. So just because a film mentions God or invokes religion in anyway does not make it preachy. This is ultimately a film about coming to terms with your past and those you’ve lost. I’d almost go so far as to say this movie is as much about preaching Christianity as The Exorcist is. So enough.

As is to be expected the cinematography in this film is absolutely breathtaking. So many of the shots look like paintings almost and all are beautifully composed. This is a must-see for students of the craft.

The acting in this film is also very strong. As an audience member it takes a while for you to feel it but as more pieces of the narrative fall into place you really start to see how wonderfully everyone did. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt’s characters are as different as night and day but they play them equally well. Hopefully, Fox/Fox Searchlight push for Brad Pitt come awards season. He’s one of Hollywood’s biggest names and he’s proven he’ll take a risk and go out on a limb and this might get him his statue. Equally compelling but more surprising are the performances of the three newcomers as the kids particularly Hunter McCracken who plays our protagonist Jack as a boy. His burn is the slowest and most explosive in the bunch and his performance rivals that of Pitt.

It’s hard to sum up or rate a film like this. One thing I will say for sure is that while I despise the notion of “important” films in theory but I cannot deny them when I see them regardless of proclivities. Having gotten that out of the way I do like this film and I do consider it important. Would the flow of it work better for me if I saw it again? Perhaps. Would the story hit home harder with all the puzzles solved? Maybe. It’s hard to gauge a film when you’re in awe of so many achievements on a technical and structural level but in a narrative are left to ponder where it falls on the scale. So I will caveat this, pending re-view I rate this film:

9/10

However, please note that even without being re-seen time is the ultimate judge and I have had films rated 9 slide up before.

Review- Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog in Chavet cave. (IFC Films/Sundance Selects)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is Werner Herzog’s meditation on the cave art which was discovered when the Chauvet cave in France was first unearthed in 1994, a sight that is seen by a privileged few human eyes. Meditation is an apt word for it also, for while these examples of cave art are the best preserved, some of the oldest and most detailed we’ve found there’s still plenty about them shrouded in mystery which scientists of varying disciplines are trying to piece together.

This lack of certainty with regards to the subject leads this to be a documentary of a more poetic nature, which makes Werner Herzog the perfect director to tackle the subject. Herzog has shown in his documentary work not only the ability to write illuminating narration and deliver it exceedingly well but also to make almost any subject fascinating, render it in an interesting fashion and find an emotional angle in which to attack it.

The attack in this instance is somewhat deterred by some production restraints that are placed on the film by the curator of the cave. While perhaps there’s too much time dedicated to discussing them they do have bearing on the story in two manners: firstly, it’s a Herzog documentary and whether you like it or not he will be involved in it. He’s not one to distance himself from his subject. Second, it does illustrate the efforts that researchers are taking to maintain the pristine conditions of the cave so they can continue to study it without any more degradation than necessary.

Despite lighting limitations there are many wonderful images captured within the cave and as any true artist would Herzog uses the limitations to his advantage. One prime example which you see frequently is the camera hardly moves, the light pans over to it; the light level changes, shadows emerge and then fade to black. It makes the transition more natural than it would be with ideal lighting conditions and its exploited well.

Heightening the poetry and emotion of the piece beyond what it should realistically be expected to achieve is the music. The scoring of this film echoes a timelessness and a message being conveyed across the aeons that is difficult to communicate in words.

While the film isn’t as tightly edited as it could be there are sequences within in it that are like pieces of music themselves with crescendos and then silences and then the extended montage of just cave images that they were able to shoot closer since research for the year had been concluded.

The interviews are also pivotal, thankfully they weren’t too numerous if anything at times an intercession was lacking but the positive that came from them was that they were revealing attempts to elucidate the impossible.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams owes much of its success and some its struggles to its subject matter. The subject matter couldn’t be more interesting: it’s a fascinating examination of unanswerable mysteries of a bygone era and the dawn of man. However, much is unexplained, which allows your imagination to work and that’s good but leaves you in search of some closure. Regardless, Herzog does add a nice button connecting the cave to the modern day in a very creative way and it’s a film well worth seeing.

8/10

Review- Bridesmaids

Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in Bridesmaids (Universal)

Timing is an interesting thing and I think if I sat down to write this yesterday it might’ve been rather uninteresting, however, today is when I’m writing this and it’s after having read a very interesting New York Times article about the “Jokeless Comedy.” Bridesmaids is mentioned there and it fits the more character-driven mold Sternbergh makes reference to.

As with any approach it has its pros and cons and some cons can be avoided entirely if executed perfectly or very, very well. While it is very funny and enjoyable Bridesmaids doesn’t hit all the marks perfectly.

One of the best parts of the film is through these ladies, even in their silly exploits, we find quite a bit of commentary on youth, parenting, marriage, self-pity, jealousy, etc.

The script which is co-written by star Kristen Wiig is rather strong in building its protagonist and breaking her down. We are also very tenuously able to laugh at her misfortune without feeling sorry for her. This is made more difficult by the fact that it seeks sympathy and not pity but it succeeds.

It will never be a fault of a film if they attempt and take the time to build character and this film does. This films builds it and builds it well but the only sin that can be committed is building too much. The over-building and a montage too many happen in Act II making it a bit too long. Not too much of the information is redundant but some of it is.

This makes the film a bit longer than it should be and not too many laughs are added to the mix because of it. Judd Apatow is attached as producer to this film and another mandate of his lately apparently is that no film shall less than two hours long. This is not to say comedies ought never be that long but the reason so many run 90 minutes is because it works. It’s still just very hard but it’s easier to get your momentum up and keep the laughs rolling if the film is on the shorter side.

The cast of the film is brilliant, which helps greatly. Kristen Wiig does carry the film very well both in dramatic and comedic scenes. Maya Rudolph also does very well and makes a great partner for Wiig. Melissa McCarthy frequently steals scenes but Wendi McLendon-Covey was not to be outdone either.

The film is quite funny but I’d be hard-pressed to call it one of the funnier films in recent years, however, it is definitely recommended.

8/10

Review- African Cats

African Cats (DisneyNature)

Ever since the inception of DisneyNature there has been a social awareness angle to all their nature documentaries due in part to the fact that during these films initial week of theatrical release a portion of the box office has gone support a wildlife conservation fund. This social awareness has in the previous three films crept into the narrative but this film avoids that self-conciousness, which is good. They’ve realized that almost any nature documentary has an environmental aspect now regardless of your conservationist and/or Global Climate Change stance, especially when you release the film on Earth Day.

What’s not as good is that cinematically it doesn’t stack up to prior installments. There are quite a few reasons for this.

It almost goes without saying that the cinematography in this film is great. If you’re making a nature doc and you don’t have at least a few breathtaking shots and a handful of “How’d you get that?” shots you haven’t really done your job. In some cases it could’ve been better in terms of working with the edit and clarifying action and sometimes shots were intimated at by narration that didn’t exist.

The only reason I bring the comparative aspect of it into play is that a) this is the same team that brought Earth to the screen and b) the films in this series regardless of director have shared some similar traits in construction.

One of the larger issues the film faces is balancing the amount of narration to include. It seems as if there was too much included and it makes me wonder is there was more written simply because they knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to be reading it. Many times in the film I mentally omitted extraneous portions of narration. Far too many times for it to not be bothersome.

Aside from the sheer amount of dialogue that was included there were scripting issues such as not naming any of Kali’s, a powerful lion, sons.

Perhaps this decision was made due to the fact that this is a film that was dealing both with cheetahs and lions and there were two rival factions of lions to include. The balancing act between the two, or three really, was quite precarious and the overlap was very minimal. This is unfortunate not only because the cheetah’s tale, which I found to be more interesting, got the short shrift.

This film is at times a moving an intimate portrait of wildlife on the African Savanna that only slightly miscalculated the use of some of its elements. It, while focusing on cats, did manage to include many other species that inhabit the area and convey information about their behavioral and migratory patterns.

African Cats is well worth viewing both for entertainment and altruistic purposes but it just falls short of maximizing its potential.

7/10

Review- Hanna

Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (Focus Features)

It’s really easy to love a film like Hanna. It takes a tale wherein the plot upon final examination is not all that complicated but it is rendered perhaps in the most interesting fashion that can be thought of. While it may not be the most original tale ever told it still bubbles over with freshness and enthusiasm for its subject matter that makes things seem quite new indeed even though they may not be.

It’s a film that also sneakily incorporates foreign languages and many locales within the narrative but due to this being an action film those averse to reading subtitles may be quickly won over and not cringe during these sparsely scattered scenes. The locales also vary but a journey geographically can be a great way to mirror a character’s journey to understanding about themselves and that’s what’s at the crux of the matter here: understanding. Whether it be for the audience or the protagonist we both start with the basics that we need to be allowed to function and move on from there picking up pieces along the way.

New information always clarifies and adds meaning to the tale as well as raising the stakes such that it’s all very expertly done. Yet we as the audience also are taken on a wonderful journey as we not only seek to find Hanna’s place in this international intrigue but also the motives of one Marissa who is seeking to hunt her down.

The film often balances wonderful action sequences and taut dramatic scenes that have an air of mystery about them as well. It paints it characters interestingly but not blatantly. Marissa being an example, her duplicity is underscored by her ever modulating accent. Yet Isaacs is another illustration. In very short order we see him as flamboyant club owner, then informant and then assassin. This kind of building of character alongside the building of the plot is great and rare to find. Add to that a final destination that Hanna must reach and you have yourself a surefire recipe for a great flick.

Hanna features a much-hyped, and discussed score by The Chemical Brothers. Now ultimately I must say I was won over by this score for two reasons: first, director Joe Wright spotted the film beautifully in terms of where he wanted score and where he didn’t. The opening of the film was quite quiet and there was a wonderful intimacy to it all. Then I did like the music itself is very good, worlds better than was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just got an Oscar for, it really puts the pedal to the metal when it has to and gives an offbeat vibe to this film. It does, however, for one section get too intrusive. Now in my A.I. paper I discussed intrusiveness of score. All are to some extent but there is a line I feel it crossed in her escape where it combined with the lighting and editing just made it too much of a music video feel.

Keeping these nitpicks in perspective, however, I’d always rather see a films whose negative qualities come from it trying to hard rather than it not trying hard enough. And that’s what this film did on two occasions. The second such was a scene where Hanna has just arrived at a room in Morocco and having been sheltered she is overwhelmed by the modern conveniences and their noise and fury and the sequences is overwrought and over-edited. It makes its point but perhaps too emphatically.

Ultimately, it must be said that this movie may be standing tall by the end of the year and these little nitpicks may knock it down a peg or two but it is still a great work. The acting in this film is tremendous and not simply for the fact that nearly everyone had dialogue in a language that is not their own. Many if not all the characters had moments that are memorable. Not failing to mention, of course, a screenplay which gives all these characters chances to have their moments but still telling a good and tight story.

There are rarely action films that both get your adrenaline pumping but also allow and, in fact, require your brain to remain functioning and not take that time off and this is one of those films. It’s as smart and well-told as it is exciting.

9/10

Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a better film than its predecessor. This was something I rather anticipated, however, I don’t believe its to the detriment of this installment that it is second. There is not too much shorthand used and the narrative is accessible enough that that much enjoyment will not be stripped away if you are walking into this one cold.

This film benefits from a more unified and less episodic plot than did its predecessor as well. Not that it still doesn’t reap the benefit of humorous and well thought out subplots but they weave their way into the larger narrative with more finesse than before. These tales like Chirag’s invisibility, the new girl, the teacher with a vendetta are all well-handled and add to the film but do not ever threaten to overtake the film from what the central conflict is.

The conflict being that of sibling rivalry, which is handled very well because you see a relationship in stasis go from just about as bad as it can possibly get to become rather functional. It also contains the peaks and valleys that are requisite for such a struggle and even more of a credit to the film it goes from being borderline cartoonish in its animosity to being rather real and honest in the handling of the themes of both resentment and insurmountable hatred that sometimes accompany such relationship especially when the age difference is large.

These discussion points come first to illustrate that despite its varying brands of humor, there is a point to be made in the film and its not just silly comedy. As for the styles comedy it does do a wonderful balancing act again. As this is a homey tale there is more parent-child and husband-wife comedy than before.

Again Steve Zahn brilliantly plays a dad who wants to be as hands off in parenting as he can and also is a typical guy in some regards and not just your typical distant patriarchal archetype. He is countered wonderfully by Rachael Harris. They are funny enough, however, the comedic quotient in this film is amplified greatly when you consider that the talented and previously under-ultilized Devon Bostick gets to step to the fore in this film. He is astonishingly good in this film and rarely delivers a line that doesn’t elicit some sort of response whether it be a laugh or one that connects dramatically.

Zachary Gordon’s character Greg is somewhat mellowed this time around not as hellbent on achieving popularity and other superficial means of acceptance but glimmers of that self appear even in a more rounded character that he creates just as easily, if not easier than he did before. His honesty in situations that in tandem can be seen as absurd are what carry the film and make it something you can connect to sympathetically rather than watch as a disinterested observer.

This film moves along at a very healthy clip, not only are there some fun and creative editing choices like “Disappointed” montage for Mom but things cut swiftly within scenes such that the whole things seems like its done in a blink and not in a disappointed I-Can’t-Believe-They-Call-That-A-Feature kind of way but in a fun and escapist, easily re-watchable way.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules allows the narrative, characters and young performers to grow and evolve from where we left them and you can call it an experiment if you like but if you do it is surely a success. Those who were there are better, more confident and comfortable in their roles and those who are new like Peyton List, who carries off the important role of Greg’s love interest with uncanny ease, blend in perfectly.

It’s funny, fun, must-see.

10/10

Review- Battle: Los Angeles

Aaron Eckhart in Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures)

As is sometimes the case I will lead with the few negatives I have to say about a film to accentuate the positives afterward. This is what I will do for Battle: Los Angeles because I did walk away very pleased and rather impressed in the end, my tweet reaction being: “An enjoyable theatrical double feature today. Say what? Battle: LA revives invasion films with moments of symphonic brilliance.”

I have found that tweeting a knee-jerk reaction to a film can be quite helpful to the review process it allows you to encapsulate your overall view of the film and then explore why you feel as such later on. It also illuminates that this film ends rather strongly after a rather plain start.

First, this one of the rare films wherein a frame doesn’t really serve the story well. The film starts with footage which is in medias res of the alien invasion and then backtracks to a day before. This does a disservice to the film by dulling some good foreshadowing that is done prior to the attack. The foreshadowing is left without impact due to the fact that the table has been set likely for the impatient audience member.

The other thing that needs saying is that there are a fair amount of cliché used to construct it. There is the character who is handing in his resignation and we view his “I’m getting too old for this crap” scene, there are young soldiers, a teased virgin, one who lost his brother, the tough broad aptly played by Michelle Rodriguez as always. As with anything, however, it all boils down to execution. Cliché without execution in insufferable, cliché that gets stripped down, that eventually leads to individualized characters that you can identify with in a vehicle that works is a whole other story.

What I’m talking about in my tweet is the synergy that exists when the battle really gets underway, a synergy of the cinematic elements such as the edit, the cinematography and score to make the stakes of the tale hit home. One of the traps of the invasion and/or apocalyptic film is that the stakes couldn’t be higher but at times we could care less. This story is one of a more hand-to-hand combat, a more guerrilla style, which lends an immediacy to the tale. Also lending to the atmosphere is that, as much as it can be, this film is a microcosmic tale. You get a sense of the larger destruction around the world and how many major metropolitan areas are in the same boat but the film only shows you glimpses of it. You are watching this small battlefield and invested in these characters and it does affect you viscerally first and foremost.

It being a war movie in essence makes it one of the few cases when wildly flailing handheld camerawork is preferable but in trying to lend this film a modicum of reality it never forgets its intended audience and makes everything visually intelligible, which is no small feat or backhanded compliment, it truly is something to communicate chaos with clarity.

What is also good to see is that the battle is ultimately decided by perseverance and human intuition and there’s no fortuitous break that salvages mankind as there in the granddaddy of invasion stories War of the Worlds. The film also ends on a realistic and level plane. There is the exaltation of victory but no happily ever after moment. Merely we see the characters who survive moving on and we have the knowledge that other cities now have a blueprint to get through this but we don’t see that.

Michelle Rodriguez in another great action performance already got her due in this review, and she seems to get more great turns in the genre than most these days, however, what really carries this film is Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart who if he was an athlete would likely be referred to as sneaky good. He’s the kind who tends to get overlooked but then you see him in something you weren’t expecting him to do and are blown away all over again. This is different than him in The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking or Erin Brockovich. This film also has something a little different than Stunt Casting, for lack of anything better to call it let’s refer to it as Diamond Casting, which means when you spot someone you recognize some one from a long ago film (there’s that glimmer) but you can’t put your finger on a name. Here it happened in a few cases and that would be with Noel Fisher, Will Rothaar, Taylor Handley and Lucas Till. There are also two fantastic performances by young supporting actors namely Bryce Cass and Joey King.

At times it can seem like any alien invasion film coming out can seem most tired but every once and a while one of these films will surprise you. In my estimation Battle: Los Angeles is such a film. It is most definitely worthy of your viewership.

9/10

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Extended Cut Coming this Weekend

Justin Bieber in never Say Never (Paramount Pictures)

As previously reported Paramount is poised to release an extended cut of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never this coming weekend, for one weekend only.

Reports vary between sources about how much content would be added but estimates are between 30-40 pushing the running time over two hours.

The film will include music which is not seen in the current cut, more friend footage and other things which were suggested by fans and already existed but were excised pre-release. What’s perhaps most compelling is that the film will get somewhat reflexive and include footage of fans watching the sneak preview of the film on February 9th, which truly brings the story of the film full circle. Jon Chu, director, in the video embedded below talks about how this film fits the mold being made by the current artist.

Ultimately, it is quite likely that the correct decisions were made for the initial theatrical release as it was quite a successful that told a well-rounded tale and didn’t just shoot concert footage all fancy like but it would be interesting to see what was left out and how an extended cut change things. Again it’s something you can look at a few ways: either crass or a team and crew going the extra step to thank the fans who made all of this possible. With all the suggestions and the technology available (as Chu mentions it’s screening in 90% digitally-capable cinemas) these were easy request to accommodate and documentaries offer more flexibility.

It is also being reported that the film will be released on DVD in August. That has yet to be confirmed by Paramount and clearly details don’t yet exist about it.

Weird Wednesday #2- Guy Maddin

So in digging through Netflix one day I found out that one of the most idiosyncratic, unique and creative filmmakers in all the world, Canadian Guy Maddin, has quite a few films available to stream.

Now it is rather difficult to encapsulate Maddin’s style but I will attempt to do so as to get a brief understanding of who he is and what he’s about in part to understand my disappointment in the first film.

Maddin’s films usually employ voice over, they are typically shot and styled like an antiquated film whether it be a silent, early sound or other classical techniques are employed, the films cuts quickly and chaotically at times like dreams, films may be tinted or in black and white, in terms of cinematography strange angles and overexposed imagery is not uncommon. Story-wise some sort of family drama is taken to the nth degree and the strange is commonplace and treated as such and not exploited. Due to the emphasis on technique and narrative there is usually not a dependence on performance.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs

Pascale Bussiéres, Shelley Duvall, Ross McMillan and R.H. Tomson in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997)

First, a disclaimer: Netflix claims that they stream both this and Archangel as one, they do not. Now the observations I made on Maddin’s usual style are based on viewing many titles long and short. This film is a departure from that formula, however, that is not why it fails to compel in my estimation.

In terms of camera-work and editing the film has a very simplistic zero degree approach most of the time. The camera does not draw attention to its presence, however, the cinematography does manage to be bothersome. You’ve heard of desserts being too sweet, well the same applies for eye candy. The colors are lush the sun-like light is plentiful but the palette is too crowded with brashness and boldness and blown out images such that its hard to look at.

Maddin’s dialogue, as well as his narration, can be quite poetic and beautiful as is evidenced by My Winnipeg, however, while the text of this film on the surface read wonderfully it is rarely performed as such. Furthermore, when your text is quasi-Shakespearean in terms of imagery and few of the actors carry it off convincingly it also becomes an assault on the ears.

Granted there are good performances (Krige and Duvall) and the narrative which starts non-existent does eventually reveal itself, however, it takes far too long and at that point interest has been lost.

Careful

Careful

Now, before proceeding I have included video links to some shorts below which will give you a taste of this man’s style and why it’s so easy to fall in love with it.

Careful is the kind of film that plays right into Maddin’s wheelhouse, for lack of better words this is the kind of film you expect from Maddin. The tale is a strange one taking place in a fictional Teutonic village in the Alps wherein all loud noises are frowned upon lest they cause an avalanche. This reserve permeates the fabric of the city and infiltrates the private lives of its people.

All the families seemingly have skeletons in their closets which are slowly but surely brought to light. However, things don’t play out in a typical fashion. there is heavy usage of tinting, odd angles and a decidedly 1930s approach and technique to all aspects of the film.

The film starts off with the narrator talking over cuts in a mock-educational film wherein life in the town is described. The tale ends up being split into a part one and part two despite only running 99 minutes. Yet with this throwback style the narrative is not reserved as there are severed limbs, murder, suicide, incest and more.

Despite how disparate in quality and style I found two films Maddin is always exciting and is worth getting to know if you have the stomach for his brand of weird.

My Winnipeg (trailer)

Sparky: To the Pier and Back

Maybe the best illustration of how his mind works. A simply concept, shot uniquely and cut frenetically.

Sombra Dolorosa