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My Week(s) in Movies (7/9–8/7)

August 7, 2011

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 — (Reposted, with some revision, from the Down in Front forums; spoilers for film and book alike — skip to the last two paragraphs for spoiler-free summation.)

A lot of critics thought that this was a tremendously satisfying action finale, with the Battle of Hogwarts and the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort being everything the last 10 years have been building to. And… no. The action sucked, frankly. To start with there wasn’t enough of it. This was the final chapter and yet it’s the shortest one. Give us a three hour movie and let’s have a full hour of that be the Battle of Hogwarts a la Helm’s Deep. The movie feels like it’s building to do exactly that, and the tension built in the run up to the confrontation is perfect. But then we spend all our time with Harry and the next time we see the battle, it’s winding down and the castle is in rubble.

I want to SEE the wizards tearing the bitch up. I want to see a battle between students, swirling smoky Death Eaters and Aurors all up and down the tower of the moving staircases. We’ve spent seven movies establishing (and altering) the castle geography, let’s do this thing. Show me the last stand of good against overwhelming evil, not just the aftermath. The castle and cast of characters feel small to me, we see so little of either.

And the little action we do see is lame. Remember the scene where the trio were running through the courtyard battle in order to get to the boathouse? If ever there was a place for Yates to channel Cuaron and bust out a balls-to-the-wall one-er, that was it. But no. Cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut.

Mama Weasley vs. Bellatrix is hypercutty crap with no sense or flow. It literally looked like the filmmakers just had them their wands around willy nilly and then through cutting and VFX made it look like a fight. I’ve never been impressed with the wand action in Yates’ POTTER and this movie didn’t improve things at all, if anything it backslid.

Likewise the big castle-hopping final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, while I don’t mind in principle the departure from the book, it was barely interesting at all. They’d sling balls of light at each other or cross the streams for a bit, then go running or apparating someplace else, where they’d do it again. The crazy tentacle shit Voldemort does with his cloak is the most creative battle magic in the entire series, and that’s sad because it’s not even particularly well-done or clever, it’s just at last something different from the other stuff.

I also think Yates has a bit of a tendency toward melodrama, to the point that it actually undermines the impact of the scenes he’s trying to play up — see my opinion of Sirius’ death.

Likewise, Voldemort’s demise here. In the book, his death happens so fast that it takes the onlookers several seconds to process and accept that it actually happened. It’s also a clear case of his killing curse rebounding on him, a poetic bookend to when the same event started this whole epic tale.

In the movie, Harry pushes the killing curse back towards him and, despite the spell being green, it may not even be clear to the audience that it is a killing curse. I could imagine many viewers thinking he simply disintegrated because Nagini, his last Horcrux, was just destroyed. And then he disintegrates all slow and dramatic and we get the point long before it’s over.

Maybe it’s just my sensibility that I like an occasional “big moment” that’s sudden and jarring rather than drawn out and dramatic (I had a similar problem with several moments in RETURN OF THE KING), but… agh.

That all being said, the parts that do work — almost any bit that isn’t action — really work. Helena Bonham Carter as Emma Watson as Bellatrix is a real treat to watch and there’s some great humor elsewhere throughout, which I’ve always found missing from the films.

They cut out a ton of setup from HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (more memories re: Riddle’s past) that entailed determining what each of the Horcruxes were. There was also a passing reference to the diadem in the Room of Requirement (just referred to as a “tarnished tiara” as I recall), which did not appear in the film. How are we going to handle that now? How does he find them? …well, Harry’s one too, right? Just have it be that he can hear them. Also Luna. The Lovegoods are always on about wacky legends. Great, elegant solutions. Well-played Kloves.

They fucked up the setup with Snape pretty hard by relegating him almost entirely to the background in the latter films, but they paid it off as well as humanly possible given that, and I was moved by the final reveal almost as much as I had been in the book. Rickman plays the anguish to perfection.

(Though as a side note, it went by fast so I can’t be sure without seeing it again, but I’m almost certain that in the flashback scenes with the young kids, Lily’s eyes were brown, and James’ eyes were the same blue as Harry’s. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME SECOND UNIT CASTING THE ONE THING)

For all its quirks and foibles, the film series stands as a unique and remarkable achievement in cinema that has never been done before and probably never will be again. Even LOTR, for all its scope and scale, isn’t 8 films over 10 years with the same cast throughout, aging with the characters in essentially real-time. It’s movie history, and well worth studying for a variety of reasons, and there are some bits it gets really right. But I came out of DH2 with an almost resigned feeling of “Well, that’s that done then,” which is a far cry from the deep satisfaction I felt when I finished the book.

With all the cards at last on the table, I see myself re-reading the book series periodically throughout my life, and continuing to extoll it to new readers, but revisiting the films only rarely, if at all.

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES* — While at Comic-Con, neither of us especially sober, my buddy Travis whipped out his iPad and played me about five minutes of this film.

Folks, I’m here to tell ya: don’t do that. Friends don’t let friends watch UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES under the influence.

Not that being sober helps tremendously. Uncle Boonmee is dying of kidney failure, and one night while staying at a farmhouse he owns, his dead wife appears at the dinner table, and his son — who disappeared more than a decade before — also joins them, because he just happened to be in the area, and also he’s a Sasquatch with glowing red eyes now.

…I don’t know what the hell is going on here. But I think I would have loved it if this had been the whole film. It’s MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, except a meditation on death and with a ghost and a Bigfoot instead of a dude called Andre. But the scene actually only makes up a small portion of the film. The rest of it is long shots of just…stuff. Like rivers flowing and cows looking around for minutes and minutes at a time.

I get the idea that it’s still got something to do with reflecting on mortality… and there are some cool kernels of ghost story that I hope to integrate into my own work one day, since they’re so offbeat and interesting and rarely if ever used in Western mythologies… but I don’t know what Boonmee’s past lives have to do with anything, as he never really talks about them except on one occasion when he goes into a cave and he’s struck with the idea that he was born there once.

Oh, and about a third of the way through, in a strange ten-minute interlude completely unrelated to the rest of the film, an ugly princess gets fucked by a catfish who makes her feel pretty. I am not making that up. No idea why it’s in the flick. Maybe… Boonmee… was the catfish… in a past life? I dunno.

And oh by the way, this won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER — After JURASSIC PARK III, and the very low opinions I’d heard of THE WOLFMAN on Joe Johnston’s side, and Marvel’s fixation on derailing the plots of their films by shoving fistfuls of AVENGERS/S.H.I.E.L.D. references into every movie until we beg for death on the other, I had no hopes whatsoever for CAPTAIN AMERICA. Aside from Chris Evans walking around shirtless and/or in tight clothing which, you know, that’ll get an early Blu-ray rental from me, but not a theatrical viewing.

But after hearing such good things about it and seeing its high rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which, I will say, I’m starting to question more after the high ratings for THOR, SUPER 8, and DEATHLY HALLOWS 2), I decided to give it a watch.

And… I thought it was great. It was well-structured overall, with a great performance from Evans — who really brought out both the innocent sweetness and the unshakeable courage of Steve Rogers on both sides of his transformation — and Stanley Tucci in his all-too-brief role as Rogers’ mentor. Hugo Weaving pulled off a role that would normally only be describable as scenery-chewing or mustache-twirling with such finesse that I want him to play every villain ever. Which, he kind of has been in recent years, but I want MOAR.

The VFX work on Skinny Steve was hit-or-miss, but considering that it was largely brute force paint and warping I’m going to give it mostly hit. The important part is that it was necessary to tell the story, rather than just a show-offy “look what we can do!”, and as such it was successful enough to make the character work which, at the end of the day, is all that matters.

They shifted the after-the-credits S.H.I.E.L.D. coda to be the last thing before the credits, so they could cram in a full-on AVENGERS commercial afterward. It makes the movie fall a little flat right at the end to make what was supposed to be a grace note into the final downbeat, but the rest of the movie was fun and entertaining enough that I’m willing to… if not forgive it, just ignore it.

ATTACK THE BLOCK — Monstrous aliens invade a South London housing block — which seems to be the UK equivalent of what we over here refer to as “The Projects.” Weird and fun, a callback to the classic monster movies of the 80s like GREMLINS and CRITTERS. Like SHAUN OF THE DEAD (the director of which helped get this film made and distributed), it manages to be genuinely funny, genuinely scary, and even genuinely emotional all in one package, simultaneously respectful and irreverent toward its inspirations. Considering it’s director Joe Cornish’s feature film debut, there’s some really stunning filmmaking going on here; he’s going to be someone to keep an eye on in the coming years. It’s in very limited release, but definitely worth checking out if it comes your way.

BRONSON* — After Tom Hardy got cast as Bane in DARK KNIGHT RISES, a lot of people went “The pretty boy from INCEPTION and STAR TREK: NEMESIS is playing the man who broke the Bat?” and a lot of other people went “Dudes, watch BRONSON, he’s amazing and also built like a tank.”

They weren’t wrong on either count. It’s one of those performances to which all the cliches like “fearless” and “tour de force” apply. Although there are other characters, it’s essentially a one-man show — the film is even occasionally structured that way — and I was truly just blown away and inspired by what Hardy does here, even knowing nothing about the man he was portraying. I usually don’t like biopics, but this one was so enthralling I can do nothing but recommend it very, very highly.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES — This movie is… kind of amazing. If there was any movie this year I thought was unnecessary and not going to be particularly engaging, it was this one. And yet it had some tremendous performances — especially from the digital apes, and especially from the lead ape Caesar, as performed in pre-VFX by Andy Serkis.

I can’t really explain it without risking spoilers for a film that I think you really just deserve to see on its own merits, and you should see it. You may not be able to imagine how — I couldn’t — but trust me, it’s pretty great as a film in its own right, and could practically stand as a powerful, emotional story on its own. Go check it out. Most of you will thank me.

One Comment
  1. Your assault on Deathly Hallows 2 is so spot on it makes me wonder how Hollywood can screw up stuff the way it does. If a smart guy who loves movies can see where things went wrong, how is it that the writers, producers, and director couldn’t see that?

    Re: Rise of the Apes…. I feel like I already saw that movie. The trailer played before DH2, and it seems to literally tell the entire story of the film IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. It’s not so much a trailer as it is a video summary.

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