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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Review: Coriolanus

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Coriolanus

Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.

10/10

Reviews in the Gray Area 2012

Last year I posted an article of this type as well, you can read it here. Essentially what the Gray Area is with reference to this site are films that were out in 2011 that I could’ve gotten to see and just didn’t get around to. They always exist and it’s usually the awards season wherein I will view a vast majority of them, should others come along the way throughout the year I will add them here but this particular post should be active through the first quarter of the year or so and then gradually grow inert. So while I can’t include these films in either last year’s BAM Awards or this year’s and they remain in the gray that does not mean they do not deserve some sort of attention.

For an indication of what the scores mean please refer to my rating scale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Focus Features)

Had I not read that Thomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed this film I would’ve figured it out at some point and that’s due to the film’s pace and construction. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy story to convey on the screen. It’s the type of film that has to put forth a very difficultly-attained and nearly intangible fascination that is usually the sole purview of spy capers and whodunits wherein you must be simultaneously enthralled by the intrigue of the narrative and rapt by the film such that you can keep pace with it, on a mental level. I specify that pace because the temporal pace of the film is rather interesting. In a film such as this it’s information that’s flying at you tinged with foreboding and a sense of a gyre closing such that the story cannot speed along at a brisk 90 minutes but must unfurl at a more leisurely 120 yet also still have enough incidents within it to hold that bifurcated attention it’s worked to create. The film manages that easily and keeps the pace rather steady and the facts quick in coming. Even when in flashback sequences, which there are many, though the cuts may be quick the information does not overwhelm. That is not to say that a second viewing wouldn’t make the film more enjoyable or that nothing will be missed, I certainly can’t guarantee that as the film does play things close to the vest often but it does easily connect a lot of seemingly disparate incidents such that a vast majority of facts, and how the conclusion that occurs is reached, becomes clear. In the end whatever vagueness the film may have is not something one can find in anyway distasteful as it recalls to me Bergman’s quote:

I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically… I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.

I have always taken that to mean that he wanted people to be moved one way or another by his work and if you’re actively trying to piece this film together and succeeding or failing it won’t bore you to the point of indifference I feel and I think it’s riveting.

9/10

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (20th Century Fox)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, which I believe in, I will say “Yes, I am a Chipmunks fan.” These characters without question are divisive. There is no middle ground it seems you love them or you hate them. Being a fan I was surprised to have liked the first film (just barely) and very sorely disappointed in the second installment. Where I feel things went wrong the second time around wasn’t in the introduction of the Chipettes but in doing so spreading itself too thin amid myriad conventional plot devices. That’s not to say that this installment breaks ground with some unconventional plot machinations, however, it does combine a few old hat techniques creatively and it focuses heavily on the Chipmunks and the Chipettes and on their character. Furthermore, while maybe having fewer musical cues than before it functions more like a musical than the prior two installments seeking emotional veracity in spotting songs rather than literal locales. By having the Chipmunks and Chipettes pushed to extremes and assuming different characteristics than expected this is the first tale of the three that feels fully realized especially since it restrains Dave, who was overly-involved in the first two. It’s also interesting that Cross’ somewhat listless turn is somewhat elevated by his recent ranting.

7/10

Coriolanus

Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.

10/10

Review- Wrath of the Titans

Sam Worthington in Wrath of the Titans (Warner Bros.)

The first film in this newly reborn series was passable, but barely. There was a rote nature to it that held it back from being all it could have been. While this film doesn’t maximize the full potential of Greek mythology, it does implement its gods and demigods in a much more enjoyable fashion than the prior installment did. What minor stumbles occurred in this installment were more just missteps than an over-aching approach that was slightly off, so the end result is very enjoyable.

To start with the elements that are slightly off: one of my pet peeves that makes suspension of disbelief rather difficult in many films, (and it is truly a question of accents more so than performance) is the unwritten cinematic tradition in the US has stated that British accents substitute for foreign tongue when the film is shot entirely in English. The first installment adhered to said rule, so it was fine. Here it is sketchy. Sam Worthington is speaking with a full-on Australian accent. While I applauded the decision in the Narnia series that took Caspian from sounding Castilian to using his natural voice, it’s more forgivable in a fantasy, and at least in the Narnia series there was a conscious attempt to make the Telmarines sound like they were from another country in a fantastical realm, hence the affectation. Here there’s no basis in logic for the switched accent.

Yet, despite that distraction, the performances are good. Worthington is slightly more engaging than before; Fiennes and Neeson are allowed to strut their stuff more than they were. Meanwhile, Rosamund Pike adds a much needed tough-girl factor and John Bell, as Helius Perseus’ son, gives an effective performance which acts as Perseus’ catalyst in part.

The beginning of this film means well by establishing that Perseus has had it with the gods and their games and he should be reticent, however, the stakes introduced are far too high for him to ignore. We end up knowing he’ll resist but concede to the quest so the first act is rather bereft of tension. To the film’s credit, tension does come eventually but this beginning holds it back, and despite all the past experiences he has seems uncharacteristic.

Once the obligatory resistance is overcome the story really kicks into high gear and becomes very entertaining indeed. There is an ease with which the story flows in this installment that was not quite as present previously.

Similarly, and this is crucial, several different mythical elements are introduced in this film, and barring the occasional bit of expositional dialogue, they are folded into the mix much better. This more seamless blending of mythological tropes makes the story far more engaging and enjoyable than the predecessor.

I can’t speak for the 3D as I did not see it as such, however, the effects work is definitely an upgrade and when you consider the fact that much bigger creatures, both in stature and importance, are tackled than this is also a very welcome change.

The score of the film also does its part to churn the film along while adding the necessary tension to the mix.

The new incarnation of Greek Myth films has not yet been perfected but this most certainly is a step in the right direction and very much worth checking out.

8/10