Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2

I’m a strange breed of muggle. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter films, most in the cinema. I’ve read all the books. Hell, I own them. Double hell, I was first in line queueing up outside Morrison’s on the morning book 7 was released. But I wouldn’t call myself a Harry Potter fan. So why have I kept with it? I read the first book in school, and found the wizarding world to be quite wonderful, a dream of a place to escape to. Granted, by the time the much darker later books came along I became much happier that this world of dictatorial terrorists with almighty magical powers didn’t actually exist (or so I’m led to believe) but back then it was nothing short of fun, and the fact that I was of a similar age to the protagonist when the books were released made it all the more so.
The books were perfect for film adaptations, and the stylistic choices throughout the series have been close to faultless. Most of the negative aspects, other than the questionable acting abilities of the children early on in the franchise, can be blamed on the books being too labyrinthine to be condensed down into a 150-minute movie, and there are arguments to make as to whether each book would have been better off as a TV series, but it’s doubtful they’d have received such a hefty budget or impressive cast, or made nearly as much money.
Of the films, part 3, Prisoner of Azkaban, is widely regarded as the best, with director Alfonso Cuaron unleashing the franchise’s dark potential, redirecting away from Chris Columbus’ more child-friendly first parts, but personally I prefer part 4, Goblet of Fire, because it’s easily the most fun and structured, following the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and it has dragons in it, which are awesome. Parts 5 and 6 are, in my opinion, the weakest, with my reasoning being that I can barely remember anything that happens in them other than some character deaths and casting decisions, but the final films really kick things into gear.
Many have questioned the decision to split the final book into two halves, citing financial gain as being the true reason, but having seen the results I approve of the choice. Whilst the earlier books could stand to lose some of the lesser plot points without the plot suffering, the amount of closure given in the finale could not have been achieved with a similar level of editing. Whilst the total runtime for the final two films could have been a little shorter than the 4½ hours achieved here, getting it down to a length the core Potter audience would be willing to sit through without complaining would have resulted in almost catastrophic levels of cutting.
The most impressive aspect of the film franchise has always been the cast. Whilst the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, were never expected to be incredible actors (and, for the most part, lived up to this promise) the film studios ensured this wouldn’t be a problem by surrounding their stars with almost every British actor working today, with more added every film. To list them all would be senseless, but the fact that, Richard Harris’ untimely demise notwithstanding, every actor returned to their roles for every subsequent film shows that the films must have been great to work on too.The Deathly Hallows alone saw the inclusion of Bill Nighy, David O’Hara, Rhys Ifans, Ciarin Hinds and Nick Moran into a cast already including the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith, and the fact that so many notable actors returned for such minuscule roles is incredible. Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Emma Thompson are barely on screen, but the fact is they are.
Part 7 is the only one of all eight films not to feature Hogwarts, the wizarding school where our young heroes are taught, and therefore doesn’t feel like part of the Potter pantheon. Freed from the structure of lessons, Quidditch matches and Harry being picked on by Slytherin, the film feels a little meandering, as Harry, Ron and Hermione scour the country looking for a series of magical Maguffins, horcruxes, that for one reason or another must be destroyed to help bring down the evil Lord Voldemort. The film opens strongly, with Harry’s escape from his home assisted by his wizarding friends transformed to be replicas of him, but it’s not until a later infiltration of the Ministry of Magic that any more excitement is had. There’s an awful lot of tension and relationship issues, exacerbated by a locket that builds negative feelings in whoever wears it (so… put it in a bag rather than wear it?) and a particularly cringeworthy scene wear Harry attempts to alleviate some tension by dancing with Hermione in a tent, but it feels empty without the action-balance provided by the second film. The brief animation, depicting the origins of the Deathly Hallows that grant the owner power over death, is easily the highlight of the series in total.
If watched as one long film, the two halves join together to form a perfectly balanced picture, with the final hour-long battle a rewarding epic culmination after a mammoth build-up, so if watching make sure to set aside the best part of an afternoon, however just watching part 8 alone is also acceptable. The infiltration of Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringott’s vault, with Helena Bonham Carter gleefully impersonating Emma Watson, is tremendous fun (there’s another dragon!) and now they’ve got all the teenage angst and worrying out of the way it’s time for good and evil to get scrapping. The finale is equal parts devastating and spellbinding, as the regular cast is treated with a sporadic survival rate, literally anyone is up for the chop, up to and including Hogwarts itself, as various sets we’ve grown to feel at home in are burned to the ground. Some aspects of the battle feel crowbarred in – Mrs. Weasley’s showdown against Lestrange, Ron and Hermione’s inevitable kiss – but for the most part it’s a cinematic marvel that doesn’t disappoint.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Choose life: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 : Choose film 7/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2: Choose film 8/10
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Far From Heaven

Hertford, Connecticut; 1957. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is at the heart of her picket-fenced community, her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a successful businessman and her two young children are little bundles of perfection, with her daughter wishing to one day grow up to be just like her mother, though her son is a little foul-mouthed (“Ah jeez” is not the kind of language Cathy tolerates).  But beneath the surface of floating dresses and pristine curls, all is not well. It’s clear from Cathy’s expression that, though her friends must all put up with their husbands’ occasional demands for intercourse, Cathy has no such problems, for Frank hides a secret; whenever he is ‘working late’ he tends to be frequenting a bar aimed only at male patrons that want to get to know each other a little better.
Todd Haynes’ movie lovingly recreates an idealised vision of 1950s suburban middle America (“Aw shucks” is uttered in the first four lines, and “jeepers” and “swell” aren’t too far behind) although the rampant sexism and racism would be more than frowned upon today. When Cathy shows sympathetic tendencies towards her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert, 24‘s President Palmer) she is the subject of mild ridicule and is frowned upon by the society that used to hold her dear. Haysbert is good in another of his solid, decent, all-round nice guy roles, but Dennis Quaid continues his run of being the worst thing about a film. I’m sure in his youth he must have done something to earn a reputation as an actor, but I can’t for the life of me think what it is, I’ve only ever known him as the worst thing in bad films (Flight of the Phoenix, Smart People, The Day After Tomorrow, Vantage Point).
The era is seamlessly recreated, to a point where the film could easily have been made in the 50’s – in which case it would probably be hailed today as a classic. Moore is the best thing in it, so much so that at times she barely seems to be acting, so great is the level of repression she must convey. She received an Oscar nomination for her troubles – Nicole Kidman must have been really great in the Hours to beat her.
Though at times it feels like nothing really happens, that is surely the point. This is more a study of the prejudices of the era – Frank’s grand social indiscretions can be brushed under the carpet or cured (a doctor has a 5-30% success rate for curing homosexual urges) whilst Cathy’s much lesser faux pas sees her outcast from all around her. The plot and script are a little hokey, but the performances and overall feel stay with you after watching this subtle piece.
Choose film 6/10

Edward Scissorhands

First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been in hospital for an operation on my nose (inspiring this Top 5). Also, apologies if the posts over the next few days are a little off, I’m on a veritable Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster of meds, but I’ll try and keep everything as on topic as possible.
Johnny Depp successfully accomplished the transition from TV heart throb to serious movie actor with this, Tim Burton’s fourth directorial outing, leading to at present a further seven collaborations between the two bizarelly-haired gentlemen. Depp stars as Edward, the creation of a reclusive inventor (the legendary Vincent Price, in an all too brief cameo in his final film role) who remains incomplete after the inventor passes away. Edward looks human enough, but where five-fingered appendages should be on the ends of his arms, there are instead a multitude of blades, knives and scissors. After being discovered living alone by Dianne Wiest’s kindly Avon lady Peg, Edward is brought into the ‘normal’ world of 1950s suburban American.
As much comedy is made from Edward’s physical impairment as possible, with his blades coming into contact with waterbeds and hindering his ability to get dressed, pick up a glass, open a door or touch his face, but he shows an aptitude for carving meat, topiary, hairdressing, dog grooming, paperchain-cutting and being used as a kebab skewer. This does bring up the subject of exactly how Edward had survived alone in the castle before his ‘rescue,’ but as this is essentially a fairytale, minor plot details can be smoothed over.
As ever, Burton shows a deft hand with his casting. Depp is wonderful as Edward, showing childlike wonder at the new world around him, and expressing true depth of emotion from behind a stark appearance, all pale face, scars, bedraggled mop of hair and tight plastic and leather bondage-inspired clothing, and with minimal dialogue. Winona Ryder is cast against type (in that she wears colourful clothing and has blonde hair) as Peg’s cheerleader daughter Kim, and Alan Arkin and Wiest are wonderful as the parents welcoming Edward into their home. Anthony Michael Hall as Kim’s brutish boyfriend is more of a stretch though; the nerdy Breakfast Club star cannot be taken seriously in a bad guy role.
The film is lighthearted and entertaining, and has some genuine comic moments. The bookends of a clearly aged Winona Ryder are more obvious than the supposed narration reveal of the Notebook, but this features one of the greatest and most memorable character creations of cinema, and some fine acting too.
Choose film 7/10

Top 5… Movies About Noses

All being well, yesterday I’ll have had my nose broken. Fear not, it’s intentional, I’ve had a deviated septum corrected, so hopefully I can breathe properly (I’ll let you know), so what better way to celebrate my own nose being fixed (or at least made less faulty), than to look at some of the best films that heavily feature someone’s schnozz.
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Unlisted: The Cabin in the Woods

Five college kids head for a vacation in a deserted shack (or cabin) in a remote forest (or woods), with no-one around for miles and a very creepy basement. So far, so Evil Dead. Or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or… well, you get the point, but the fact this is written and produced by Joss Whedon, and co-written and directed by Drew Goddard, one of the men behind Lost, should tell you that this is no ordinary textbook horror.
The recent years have seen the horror genre be evaluated, analysed and turned on its head, with the likes of Wes Craven’s Scream franchise and Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, and also imbued with a greater sense of comedy, for example Shaun of the Dead and Severance, to name two prime British examples. Cabin in the Woods takes these films and goes much further, leaving you rethinking every slasher movie you’ve ever seen.
I’m going to do my best to not reveal spoilers here, but if you’re trying to avoid them then chances are you probably aren’t reading this. The trailers have been criticised for perhaps showing more plot than is strictly necessary, revealing that there is more to this cabin than meets the eye, but I personally feel this is essential for the trailer (though it could have been hinted at more subtly) else the only trade the film would have made would be from the slasher fans willing to pay to see them at the cinema, of which I most certainly am not. My only trailer annoyance was the use of a scene or two from the third act that, though I’d only seen the trailers once, still stuck with me and left me waiting for them, over-thinking the plot as I went.
The performances are all wonderful, particularly practically unknown Tim De Zarn as the token redneck doomsayer the kids encounter on their way, and there’s some casting coups for fellow Whedon-ites in Dollhouse’s Amy Acker and Fran Kranz (whose Topher Brink is, occasional Firefly cameo aside, the best thing about Dollhouse) as well as Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins.
I have very few faults with the movie. One came because I’m a film nerd, and caught the signposted closing cameo from a recognisable voice, and the third act feels a little off the rails at times, but in an exhilarating, thoroughly entertaining way, although I did question why exactly that big red button was there. I look forward to pouring through the features when it’s released on DVD, and it’s the first film in a while that I’m actually considering going to the cinema and watching again. Go see this film, it’s truly wonderful, especially if you’ve ever seen a film with a cabin and some woods, and chances are you have.
Choose film 9/10

Satantango

Aisha’s away for the weekend and I’ve got no other plans, the hotbed of social activity that I am, so I’ve made the most of a fairly sunny weekend by staying in and watching the longest film left on the list, Satantango. At 7 ½ hours long, it rounds out the top 5 longest films (though technically two are TV series and one is an eleven-part serial) on the List, which between them have taken up over 48 hours of my life that I’m never getting back. I doubt it’ll come as a surprise to many, but of the 14 films over four hours in length of the List, all of them are from Europe, and only one is in English (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet). More than half of them are French. America doesn’t start to get a look in until Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America (227 minutes), but it’s got a lot around the 3-hour mark instead. Also, of the 4-hour-plus films, three of them are Holocaust-related documentaries. Yay.
So, Satantango. I’m going to try and make this review be not entirely about the length of the film, but it is bloody long. And needlessly so. Many of the sequences involve nothing happening – the first 9 minutes follows cows wandering around in the mud, later a child walks purposefully towards the camera for what seems an eternity – so that whenever a conversation occurs – other than some sporadic narration, dialogue doesn’t kick in for about 15 minutes – it comes as a shock.
The film sees the inhabitants of a run-down Hungarian village. The villagers have a large sum of money they wish to share out, but some want to leave with more than their fair share, whilst others wish to wait for a man believed dead to arrive, with the possibility of making even more money with his help. This is only the central structure of the plot, for there are several detractions, but no real motives or details are ever expanded upon. We see the same events through different viewpoints, at one point witnessing a drunken dancing session (at least 10 minutes long) from the perspective of a young child outside the window, and then later we’re shown it again, longer this time, but from inside the room. This new vantage point offers nothing new, and just serves to make me wish to never hear an accordion ever again, for the same short tune segment is repeated over and over and over again for the entirety of the dance.
This is, however, a great achievement in terms of direction and cinematography. Much of the film takes place in long, unbroken shots, the aforementioned dancing, for example, which at times are truly breathtaking, and others thoroughly unimpressive due to the lack of anything happening onscreen (it’s a completely unbroken shot! Of someone sat down!).
Though I was never bored, and I was also far from entertained or engaged. The large gaps of nothingness allowed my mind to wander and expand upon what I was watching, and also gave me time to jot down the improvements I’m intending to make to the site over the next few weeks. It did, however, feel like an arduous watch, something I had to work at to pay attention, and after seven hours I’d hoped for a satisfying conclusion to make it all worthwhile, a reward for the patience and sacrifice of time, but alas I was left wanting.
Choose life 5/10

The Dark Knight

What can I say about the Dark Knight that a thousand others before me haven’t? Of all modern films, this seems to be the one pored over most closely and often, heralded as the saviour of the summer blockbuster, superhero movie and crime thriller, all rolled up in the tightest of scripts. So, to take a fresh perspective, I sought out some people who didn’t like the film (thank the lord for the Internet, it makes people who don’t like something so easy to find) and found myself furious after reading just one and a half 1/10 reviews on IMDb. The sheer level of nitpicking and miniscule plot-hole unravelling proves just how far people are willing to go to disagree with the masses and stand out from the crowd, even when the crowd is so undeniably correct.
Not that this is a perfect film. There are flaws, including the Joker’s plan being at times a tad too pre-emptive, some ominous camera angles and music cues hinting unsubtly a character’s true motives earlier than should have been done, and the bit with the cellphones, which is a bit silly, but is that really enough to warrant a 1-star rating? The fact that these reviewers (I won’t give them the satisfaction of names or links, only seek them out to feel the rage bubble inside you) fail to note even one positive point in a movie overflowing with brilliance negates any opinion they deem worthy of sharing. I personally find it impossible to find nothing good in a movie – The Adventures of Pluto Nash is an abomination unto film, yet Randy Quaid is a delight as Nash’s robotic assistant; Big Trouble in Little China is easily one of the worst films I’ve reviewed from the list so far, but it has imaginative (if insane) monsters and mythology, some dialogue that surpasses cheesy to being inspired, and features Kim Cattrall back when she was attractive. Therefore, with such damning reviews as these ‘people’ have offered, they are in fact unwittingly proving how good a film it is.
Leaping from the tantalising springboard ending of BatmanBegins – Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon showing Batman a playing card left as the mark of a new criminal, calling himself The Joker, we dive headlong into a wonderfully executed bank heist, as six masked goons effortlessly separate mob money from the vaults it was stored in. Director Chris Nolan has made no secret that Heat, Michael Mann’s superb DeNiro/Pacino cat and mouse crime epic, was a huge influence on the Dark Knight, and it shows, from a William Fichtner cameo to a central meeting of the hero and villain, even mentioning a cup of coffee.
Nolan wisely improved upon some mild mis-steps made in Batman Begins here, replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhall as love interest Rachel Dawes, giving Batman’s mask a cowl so he can turn his head, and giving Batman himself (Christian Bale, good but no Adam West) a little less screen time, allowing alter ego Bruce Wayne and his various accomplices and nemeses some breathing room. Aaron Eckhart is spot-on as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s shining hope against the mob, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine remain on hand to add a touch of old school class and grandeur as Wayne’s dependable CEO nad curmudgeonly butler/moral compass, but justifiably most of the praise has been directed at the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. A creation for the ages, his layered performance of a truly maniacal genius reveals more with each viewing, and it is unfortunate that the role showcased the true acting abilities of a man previously thought of merely as a rom-com heartthrob only after he had passed. Plus, it gave us all another Hallowe’en costume to use.
Unusually for Nolan, the film is actually quite funny. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute (there’s certainly less than 152 jokes here), the script is still a lot more humorous than you might remember. There’s also absolutely no filler, with every strand being integral to the plot; a true achievement when you consider just how engaging the story is, even when new elements are being added right up until the last few scenes.
As always with Nolan’s films, there’s a couple of cinematography moments that I’d have tried differently (see Inception), most notably the scene where the Joker leaves a hospital, which could have looked truly tremendous had it been one unbroken shot, without needlessly cutting away to some pedestrians nearby, but this is a small matter that is more of a personal niggle than a criticism.
Anyway, for those wondering if they should watch the film again before the upcoming trilogy closer The Dark Knight Risesthis summer, the answer is a resounding yes. Even if you don’t intend to see part 3 (I assume you’re planning on gouging out your own eyeballs, just in case it isn’t any good, there’s no other reason not to see it) you should watch The Dark Knight again, just because it’s probably the best film to have been released in the last 5 years, if not more.
Choose film 9/10