Lita On Film

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

In Film Reviews on July 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The eighth and final installment of the massive “Harry Potter” franchise hit theaters this Friday and has already racked up an all-time box office record, beating “The Dark Knight’s” previous mark by a cool $10 million. It’s easy to see why: how many other film series inspire their audiences to line up days in advance for midnight tickets, and to dress up like their favorite characters? Not since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or even “Star Wars” has a story this epic been committed to film.

All that being said, and being a true Harry Potter nerd myself, I have to say I was mildly disappointed by “Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” Perhaps it was because I was surrounded by disruptive, giggling teenagers who were not as reverent of the story as those of us who grew up with it; perhaps it was because there was simply no way that anything could live up to my—and many fans’–totally outsize expectations. But after the first half hour or so, which features a magnificent sequence involving a dragon, the film starts to move at what feels like an artificial speed.

The bulk of the story centers on the epic battle for Hogwarts, in which all the characters we’ve grown to know and love fight to the death against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his band of evil Death Eaters. But hardly any time is devoted to any of the characters except Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). Even when several prominent characters are killed in battle, we get a quick glance at them but nothing more; it feels like director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves were given a strict time limit to adhere to, and had to cut out most of the emotional heart of the story in order to meet it (indeed, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is the shortest of the films, at a mere 2 hours, 5 minutes). Having everything move along so briskly made it difficult even for seasoned fans like myself to really connect with the story, and made it impossible for newcomers to appreciate the gravitas of each magical creature or mysterious incantation whipping by on screen.

 

The performances, at least, are excellent as always; brief appearances by Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane among others keep things interesting, and the three young heroes are earnest and sincere enough to make even the craziest plot twists seem plausible. In fact, as many have pointed out, the most amazing part of the “Harry Potter” series has been watching Radcliffe, Watson and Grint grow from children into young adults. There is a flashback near the end of “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” to the very first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” in which we see the three friends meeting each other for the first time; their transformation is nothing short of magical.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is currently in wide release.

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This Week’s Netflix Recommendations

In Netflix Recommendations on July 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm

1.  “Dahmer”

Long before Jeremy Renner netted an Oscar nomination for his star turn in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” he took on the role of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, whose claim to fame was that he not only seduced and murdered his male victims but cut up, stored and ate them as well.  In this surprisingly restrained though undeniably disturbing film, Renner brings everything he’s got to the role.  Though “Dahmer” definitely has its share of shortcomings, they’re really due to its script more than anything else; Renner’s performance is admirable, and a must for anyone wanting to watch his evolution as an actor.  Available on Netflix streaming!

 

2.  “Let Me In”

Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) directed this remake of Thomas Alfredson’s seminal vampire film “Let The Right One In.”  That combination–I loved “Cloverfield”–is enough to put this film squarely at the top of my queue!  It’s only an added bonus that the two child stars are played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was riveting in “The Road,” and Chloe Moretz, recently of “Kick-Ass” fame.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve got a good enough feeling about it to recommend it anyway.  Available on Netflix streaming.

 

3.  “Darkon”

For those of you not looking for vampires, dismemberment, or cannibalism, here’s a slightly more family-friendly flick for your queue.  This fabulous documentary explores the lives of several live action role-players (the activity is referred to as LARPing) who have created their own fantasy kingdom, complete with Tolkien-esque history, topography and political machinations.  The line between “real life” and their shared fantasy world slowly blurs as the film goes on, and the portrait the film paints of its subjects is nothing less than fascinating.  A must for anyone who enjoys the LOTR or Harry Potter films a little more than they really should.  Available on Netflix streaming.

“Carnosaur 2” director to reboot “Wolf Man” (again)

In Film News on July 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Moviehole is reporting that Louis Morneau, whose past directing credits include “Bats” and “The Hitcher 2: I’ve Been Waiting,” among others, is going to direct another remake of Universal’s classic “The Wolf Man,” scarcely a year after Uni’s last effort at reviving the franchise was widely panned.

Despite considerable star power (Benicio Del Toro starred, supported perhaps more than he deserved to be by an earnest Emily Blunt and an over-the-top Anthony Hopkins), last year’s “The Wolfman” received no less than a critical drubbing.  Though around the time of its release Universal was reportedly already planning a sequel, this tepid reception made them rethink their strategy.

Apparently, the result of this brainstorm is an innovative plan to create yet another remake of the original film rather than a sequel to the latest remake (there have already been no fewer than 8, including–sigh–“Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman”).  To distinguish it from last year’s effort, this new film will be called “Werewolf,” perhaps in a departure from the very human-oriented storyline of the 1941  Lon Chaney, Jr. original.

Though Morneau’s CV may make the classic horror loyalists among us more than a little nervous, the fact that he spent time under the tutelage of none other than Roger Corman can only serve to make “Werewolf,” if nothing else, a bit more interesting than its 2010 predecessor.  Here’s hoping for some true B-movie goodness!

Weekend – P-Town 2011

In Film Reviews on July 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

Andrew Haigh’s film “Weekend” is many things: shocking (to straight audiences), bold, honest, tender, brave. I never thought a film that starts in a thumping gay club on a Friday night would turn out to be as amazing and affecting as something by Almodovar or Bertolucci.

“Weekend” follows Russell (Tom Cullen), a young gay man a little uncomfortable with himself, as he picks up and spends a weekend with Glen (Chris New), who rails against the second-class status of gays in Britain and, we soon find out, is moving to the US in two days. Even though they know nothing can come of their brief encounter, Russell and Glen end up, against their best intentions, falling for each other.

Russell and Glen (and “Weekend” itself) are extremely self-aware, constantly questioning their own motivations and how they’re perceived by others (including the audience). There is no sentimentality here, no trying to fit a gay story into a straight paradigm (when Russell follows Glen to the train station to see him off, Glen greets him with “Is this your “Notting Hill” moment?”). But, at the same time, “Weekend” isn’t so cynical that it’s incapable of showing its characters’ feelings for each other. It’s simply unflinchingly honest about their lives—everything from their childhoods to their sexual habits are discussed in detail, with an openness that you’d never see in a typical (straight) rom-com.

This viewing experience was unlike anything I’d ever been to before: there may have been one or two other women in the audience, but I didn’t see any of them. Of course, seeing this film in Provincetown (a gay Mecca) was the definition of preaching to the choir—a moment early on when Glen wears a “Provincetown” T-shirt brought a burst of joyous giggles. But it seemed like the men in the audience were both analyzing “Weekend” critically as well as seeing their own experiences in it. At the end, there was appreciative applause, but it was muted—it was clear that everybody left the theater with lots of food for thought.

 

“Weekend” goes boldly where “Brokeback Mountain” feared to tread. I really hope this film gets distributed in the US—this is a truly wonderful, important work that all cinephiles owe it to themselves to see.

Higher Ground – P-town 2011

In Film Reviews on July 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

“Higher Ground” is a delicate, nuanced tale of one woman struggling to balance her rebellious intellect with her membership in a restrictive Christian sect. Eventually, after 20 years of obedience and indoctrination, she decides to turn away from her faith.

Actress Vera Farmiga (“Up In The Air”) directed and stars in “Higher Ground,” and also co-wrote the script with Carolyn S. Briggs, whose memoir “This Dark World” is the film’s source material. The story definitely feels true to life; the characters are well developed and the situations Carolyn (Farmiga’s character) finds herself in are fully believable. This isn’t some sort of made-for-TV expose—even the church leaders are figured as good, well-meaning people, not as nutty religious fanatics.

 

This lack of hysteria helps the audience identify with Carolyn and with the creeping suspicions that gradually lead to the erosion of her faith; rarely has an American film dealt so honestly with the ambiguousness of religion. Though watching the dissolution of Carolyn’s marriage is painful, her transformation from a frightened young mother to a self-confident, independent woman is sincere and inspiring. While her husband grows more and more dependent on the other men in the church, Carolyn starts spending time at the library, reading poetry and delving into the history of the Scriptures rather than just reciting them. When a friend hands her “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, you want to stand up and cheer. Carolyn’s journey towards freedom and self-determination is nothing less than thrilling.

Farmiga’s direction is assured and keeps the story moving while never tipping into melodrama. In other hands the film could have lost its focus on its protagonist’s journey and emphasized the cult-like church instead—but Farmiga maintains her concentration on her character, allowing everything else in the film to swirl around, but never obscure, her. Just for this, the film deserves praise; the fact that it’s also simply excellent is an added bonus.