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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (7/15/11)

Movie Poster: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Directed by David Yates
Screenplay by Steve Kloves

Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort
Michael Gambon as Professor Albus Dumbledore
Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

How long is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2? 130 minutes
What is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 rated? PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s All Over

For a month, marquees and enormous posters across the globe have shouted ominously, “It all ends 7/15/11.” No, they weren’t warning of the coming apocalypse (that’s not until next year, you know); they were preparing us for the end of the Harry Potter series. Fans of the wizarding world and the boy with the lightning bolt scar flocked to theaters in November for Part 1 of Warner’s final installment of J.K. Rowling’s wildly successful fantasy novels. The decision to split the movie in two was met alternately with rolling eyes and gleeful squeals – although it seems to be a blatant moneymaking scheme (Summit is doing the same with the last Twilight movie), the seventh book of the Harry Potter series contains far, far too much vital material to squeeze into two and a half hours. Part 1 left Potter fans with an agonizing sense of anticipation, and at last night’s midnight premiere, we finally achieved the climax we yearned for.

First things first: if you’re seeking this review, you should know the final Harry Potter movie will turn your emotions topsy turvy. The movie is everything you wanted and more – but it signals the end of an era. Rowling published her first book fourteen years ago, and as the stories matured, so did the readers. A great many of them grew up right alongside our protagonist Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Some have been avidly watching the series unfold for a decade, and although Rowling’s Pottermore website opens in October and there’s already speculation she’ll write another book set in the wizarding universe, this is the end — of the world she so meticulously constructed, of Voldemort, of Harry Potter’s childhood (and many of ours).

In Part 1, Harry, Ron, and Hermione set off to search for Horcruxes (parts of Voldemort’s split soul) in the English wilds. Meanwhile, they research and discover the meaning behind the Deathly Hallows, a trio of objects that ensure world domination at the hands of whatever wizard possesses them. In the final minutes of Part 1, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) located the all-powerful Elder Wand by removing it from the grave of former headmaster of Hogwarts School Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) – bringing the Dark Lord one horrifying step closer to ultimate supremacy. The second movie picks up exactly where that one left off, and from there it only gains momentum, smacking you with death, war, pain, and perhaps most importantly, love, faith, and loyalty.

Professors McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), and Sprout (Miriam Margolyes) become formidable figures in the war against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The Weasley family experiences a tragic loss, but mother Molly gets her final say (so to speak) against insane witch Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Ron and Hermione, whose love story developed from book one, finally share a passionate kiss. Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who in the sixth book and film murdered beloved mentor Dumbledore, reveals just how deeply he has been entwined in the war from the very beginning, and on which side he was actually fighting. (Rickman wrote a very sincere, gracious letter to Rowling published in Empire thanking her for trusting him with the role – when he took it on in 2001, he had no way of knowing where the character was going, but Rowling certainly did.)

Director David Yates, who also helmed the last two films, has earned his due. Not only is the 3D done correctly (not as a gimmick but to supplement an already beautiful film), but Bruce Delbonnel’s cinematography is brilliant. In a series like this, acting often takes a backseat to the real treat – the fantasy – but the acting leaves little to be desired in the final movie. The extremely talented Rickman finally gets his chance to play a different version of the sadistic professor than the one in which we’ve been invested from the beginning. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, who’ve been playing these roles for half their lives, matured into, if not Oscar potential, then at least decent actors. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a silent, omnipresent character in every book and film, falls victim to the whims of Voldemort and his scraggly, brutal followers – and to see it demolished is both astonishing and heartrending. Although the films have left out a number of important storylines (most notably Hermione’s foiled attempt to start a Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare – S.P.E.W.), they have closely paralleled the books and work fairly well as a standalone series.

In line for the midnight premiere, costumes included lion hats (a nod to Luna Lovegood, whose hat in the films roared), the bleach-streaked locks of Narcissa Malfoy, and dozens of pairs of round wire-rimmed glasses like Harry Potter’s. As always, there were a number of Bellatrix Lestrange lookalikes – she looks most like what we Muggles assume a witch would. A palpable glee wafted through the theater as cameras flashed and 3D glasses shaped like Potter’s rested upon hundreds of noses. Gasps, sobs, and cheers reverberated while sniffles and furtive nose-wiping punctuated the quietest scenes. This is true fandom, and it’s wonderful. Some would see this as insanity, some would laugh derisively – and to that I’d ask, “Well, what are you passionate about?”

From day one, through four directors, seven novels, and eight films, the world has watched in awe as spells were hurled, broomsticks flown, ultimate evil overthrown. We witnessed magic come to life in a fictional universe in which kids have agency, epic battles are fought not with nukes but wands and dragons, and real teenage life marches on in the face of adversity. It’s been a trip, and it may not be over yet, but it’s certainly bittersweet to know we’ll never wait with bated breath for another midnight premiere of a Harry Potter film. Those who love the movies and/or the books will feel elated, triumphant, saddened, and most importantly, thrilled that we got to be a part of it all.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (11/19/10)

Movie Poster: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Directed by David Yates
Screenplay by Steve Kloves

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange
David Bradley as Argus Filch,

Running time: 146 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
[Photo by Jaap Buitendijk]

Wizards at war: seventh Harry Potter film is not an uplifting holiday classic, but it certainly won’t disappoint avid fans.

An hour before the midnight premiere of the anxiously anticipated seventh installment of the Harry Potter films, a teenage girl makes an entrance: she’s wearing a gray sweater vest, a pair of thick, black-framed glasses, and a bike helmet with a stuffed lion strapped to the top (which avid readers will recognize as an adorable attempt at a Luna Lovegood costume). Others file in behind her clad in maroon-colored robes, plaid skirts, and Gryffindor scarves. The air is rife with the telltale sounds of unabashed fandom: “I brought Star Wars gummies!” cries one girl, while another squeaks, “Do you think they’ll show a Narnia trailer?” Midnight screenings of epic franchises have become a time-honored tradition for the young and fanatic (like this reviewer), and they always provide a great opportunity to let your geek flag fly. What better opportunity to express your love for an artfully rendered fantasy unlike anything we’ll ever experience in our mundane day-to-day lives? (Apparently none – Deathly Hallows broke the franchise record for a midnight opening with a whopping $24 million in box office earnings).

With the Potter books, J.K. Rowling fashioned one of the most intricately detailed fantasy lands in popular culture: a world adjacent to but concealed from normal British life, a universe in which witches and wizards matriculate at the vast castle that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is based upon the last book in J.K. Rowling’s ubiquitous series (unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re surely aware of this). Due to the last book’s length (800-some pages) and the importance of the series finale, the movie is split into two halves, the next to be released in July, 2011. The first few films in the series feature young witches and wizards learning how to make objects float, how to avoid passing out from the mandrake’s scream, and how to fly on broomsticks; it was all quite adorable and fantastic. Not so in the last few movies: as the material got darker and more mature, so have the films. The Death Eaters are out for blood, and the benevolent wizard populace experiences great losses. Even the films’ coloration under the latest director, David Heyman, has grown gloomier. The wizarding world is at war, and the seventh movie’s material is no picnic.

Led by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the Death Eaters are out of hiding and inside the Ministry of Magic. Homicidal double agent Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), insane Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter in fine, crazy-haired form), and the Malfoy family (each of whom look the worse for wear) are among Voldemort’s beloved servants—but the Death Eater storyline doesn’t take up much space in Deathly Hallows. Instead, the film follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they take to the British forests to evade capture while searching for Horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort’s split soul). As the trio flits across the dismal, bitterly cold English countryside, Ron and Hermione, at odds throughout most of the films, fall for each other. The Horcruxes prove more difficult to destroy than anyone thought, and the characters snap and squabble under stress. Members of the Ministry produce Nazi-inspired propaganda about the evil of Muggles while they interrogate and torture Muggle-borns and half-blood wizards. Readers of the books will find little to quibble with in the seventh movie; almost every plotline from the book translates directly into the film. Unfortunately the previous three or four films dropped an integral arc involving house elves, and to pick it up in the seventh film cheapens the character (though many would argue that the movies’ squeaky version of Dobby was obnoxious from the start, and they would not be wrong).

Any two and a half hour movie might test audience attention spans, but screenwriter Steve Kloves, who’s stuck with the whole series, manages to keep the plot moving swiftly despite a few jerky moments. A pall seems to hover over characters’ heads, even though Kloves interspersed hostility and tension with a few comical scenes. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra makes the most of the gorgeous English cliffs and forests on which the protagonists take shelter, languishes on fantastic wizarding homes and villages, and uses fisheye lenses to make the Ministry even more foreboding. Visual effects by Motion Picture Company leave a little to be desired—Voldemort’s snake Nagini is undeniably spooky but doesn’t quite look authentic, and the two house elves might have looked better. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have grown into their characters, and though the performances aren’t Oscar-worthy, they’re pleasantly good. Grint’s comic timing and simple grin provide comic relief while Watson and Radcliffe play earnest. The movie earns its PG-13 rating: multiple characters are badly wounded, and there’s an unexpectedly sexy kissing scene. Both films were meant to be in 3D (damn you, Avatar, for bringing this plague upon on us), but Warner Brothers announced a few short weeks ago that Deathly Hallows: Part 1 would be released in 2D. It certainly looks none the worse for it. The movie ends on a particularly disheartening cliffhanger, and no one will leave the theater feeling uplifted. But let’s face it: if you’re reading this review, you’re probably already invested in the series and know what you’re getting into.

The first Potter film, Sorcerer’s Stone, released nine years ago, three years after Rowling published the first book. Bite-sized Brits Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson were around eleven years old, had no acting experience, and basically carried the movie on cuteness alone (although the presence of veterans Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, and the late Richard Harris didn’t hurt). In the following five movies, the world watched them grow up—we heard Radcliffe’s and Grint’s voices deepen at puberty and saw their limbs extend through gawky teenager-hood; we watched Watson gracefully age into the unbelievably composed young woman she is today. The last films, though eagerly anticipated, are bittersweet for those of us who have been paying attention for the last ten years. Some people grew up alongside these kids, and almost anyone who’s seen the films or read the books has found himself suddenly invested, soldiering on for the next installment. As the end of the series draws near, we’re already mourning the loss of the world to which many are so devoted (and grieving over a number of major characters in advance).

Those unacquainted with the books or films won’t be rushing out to see Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Cast and crew made Deathly Hallows one of the most satisfying in the franchise, but at this point the Harry Potter films are comparable to nothing else but each other. Those who are invested will probably love it by default. It will not disappoint, but it will leave you longing for more. July can’t come soon enough.

Movie Review: Nightmare on Elm Street (5/1/10)

Movie Poster: Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by Samuel Bayer
Screenplay by Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer

Jackie Earle Haley – Freddy Krueger
Kyle Gallner – Quentin Smith
Rooney Mara – Nancy Holbrook
Katie Cassidy – Kris Fowles
Thomas Dekker – Jesse Braun
Kellan Lutz – Dean Russell
Clancy Brown – Alan Smith

CLR Rating: 1/5 stars

Movie Still: Nightmare on Elm Street

Katie Cassidy as Kris, Thomas Dekker as Jesse and Rooney Mara as Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street
[Photo by Peter Sorel]

Unnecessary Remake
Leeches All the Fun from the Original

The man with knives for fingers is back for his ninth jaunt on the silver screen in twenty-five years, and this one is the least satisfying. With a select few exceptions (Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead, 2010’s The Crazies) horror remakes are mostly pointless cash cows, but with Jackie Earle Haley donning the grotesque mask of Freddy Krueger, audiences had high hopes for this one. The original films, featuring characters created by horror maestro Wes Craven, were chock full of fantastic gore, creepy imagery, and some silliness to lighten it all up. Unfortunately, the new Nightmare on Elm Street will leave even those uninitiated to the original films wanting.

In idyllic suburban paradise Springwood, Ohio, bleary-eyed teenagers band together to fight the man who’s haunting their dreams, a horribly burned creature with blades on his fingers and a striped sweater. As he picks them off one by one in their sleep, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to get to the bottom of Fred Krueger. Without revealing too much, Krueger’s past relationships with the kids is one of the movie’s biggest flaws. True evil doesn’t need an intricate back-story, but writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer chopped together bits and pieces from the original and made Freddy’s vendetta even more personal. Instead of clarifying things, this serves to narrow Krueger’s killings to a small, specific group of kids who were his “favorites” in life. The filmmakers tried to emphasize Krueger’s child molester background, and though this adds a new ick factor, we don’t need it pounded into us that, yes, Krueger was a creep in real life and continues to be in the afterlife.

The film opens with exhausted Dean (Kellan Lutz) chugging cup after cup of coffee at the Springwood Diner, fighting to stay awake. The blinking neon signs flash red, green, red, green; colors are overly saturated and shadows are deep and long; the “this-is-a-spooky-place” factor is through the roof. The horror tropes are enough to clue us all in to the fact that Dean’s dreaming. The movie continues to dumb down the dream sequences for new audiences, giving them neon flashing arrows that forewarn “hey, this kid’s going to run into Freddy soon.” It doesn’t improve on the first film, whose seamless transitions between dreams and reality made it truly creepy.

The new Springwood is a land of green lawns, money, and white-trimmed colonial houses where teenagers with flight attendant mothers drive brand new VW convertible bugs, wear UGGs, and are generally gorgeous. The original cast included Heather Langenkamp, whose quirky girl-next-door looks were perfect for the role of chaste sweetheart Nancy, and a young Johnny Depp in his first movie role as Nancy’s sweet, obedient boyfriend Glen. The new cast, though not downright bad, is terribly boring. Statuesque, slender blond Katie Cassidy’s role relies solely on her ability to look pretty while crying. Mara, Gallner, Lutz, and the rest of the cast are good-looking, thin, and tedious. Connie Britton, who’s brilliant in TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” and Clancy Brown, a great character actor, play the vengeful parents who doomed their kids to Freddy’s wrath. They’re suitably shady, but John Saxon and Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s original parents were sympathetic and flawed, giving the original movie an adult aspect the new one misses. Finally, Craven’s movies always follow the rules of horror (watch Scream if you want a rundown), one of which is that anyone who has sex dies. Not to complain about lack of sex in a horror film, but part of the fun of the seventies’ and eighties slashers was knowing the promiscuous would get their due punishment. Fans will recognize many of the iconic scenes from the original, with slight, effects-laden alterations that are completely unnecessary.

Finally, let’s talk about Freddy. Jackie Earle Haley is a slight man with a high voice, but when given the right role (such as Watchmen’s Rorschach or Little Children’s Ronnie McGorvey), he can transform into a disturbing weirdo. Unfortunately, the original Freddy, Robert Englund, left a legacy that just can’t be enhanced, and Haley is unmemorable as scarred, baritone-voiced Krueger. Without giving away too much about the way Freddy looks, let’s say the new mask doesn’t improve on the old. The new is perhaps more realistic, but Freddy haunts nightmares because he’s a figment, an ancient evil with a visage to shock even arrogant teenagers—and the realism was never the point.

Strick and Heisserer leeched every bit of humor from the original and quashed it. Part of the fun of the first Nightmare (1984) was Freddy’s over-the-top jokiness combined with his insane brutality. Subtract that predatory gleefulness and you have an unsatisfying flick with a villain as unmemorable as the kind that capers through eighty-minute low-budget slashers that end up going straight-to-DVD. Michael Bay produced the new Nightmare on Elm Street, which is the sixth slasher remake in the last decade with his name in the credits, and as with the others, Nightmare is completely unoriginal and unnecessary. Loud noises, a few good gory scenes, and a pretty, dull cast of characters fuel the new movie, and it’s a real shame. Take it from one who adores horror film: watch the original. It’s far more entertaining.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (11/21/09)

Movie Poster: New Moon

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Directed by Chris Weitz 
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

Bella Swan – Kristen Stewart
Edward Cullen – Robert Pattinson
Jacob Black – Taylor Lautner
Alice Cullen – Ashley Greene
Victoria – Rachelle Lefevre
Charlie Swan – Billy Burke
Dr. Carlisle Cullen – Peter Facinelli
Rosalie Hale – Nikki Reed

CLR Rating: 2/5 stars

Movie Still: New Moon

A Catastrophic Romance Can’t Be Saved by Its Charming Young Cast

In line for the second movie in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight vampire romance saga, New Moon, a middle-aged woman clasps her hands in front of her mouth as if in prayer. “I’m so excited!” she murmurs to her daughter. In the theater, a girl two seats down curls up, removes her shoes, and avidly studies the copy of New Moon in her lap until the lights go down. A horde of ten- or eleven-year-olds doesn’t even bother getting seats, instead flopping on the floor in the front of the theater. When the projector rolls the film, hushed whispers and girlish cries reverberate through the theater. This is the Twilight phenomenon.

Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last two years has surely caught on to the Twilight madness. Stephenie Meyer’s fantasy romance novel Twilight jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller lists immediately upon publication in 2006, and the author followed the original with three more books, causing a ruckus among teenage girls around the world. Her novels follow Bella, a normal teenage girl from a broken but loving family, through her romance with Edward, a 108-year-old vampire in the body of a gorgeous seventeen year old. The books, though terribly written, are a hypnotic and addictive phenomenon. Their appeal lies in the innocent, tantalizing relationship between Edward and Bella. In Meyer’s world, sex before marriage is forbidden, and every touch and kiss is perilous. Her ability to accurately ascribe both maturity and passion to teenagers drew an ardent fan base. Tweens and middle-aged women, calling themselves Twihards and TwilightMoms, latched on to the books with an insane fervor. When Summit Pictures released the first film adaptation in 2008, it caught like wildfire, throwing its reluctant cast into an international bout of lunacy.

The second film takes dreamy vampire love interest Edward (Robert Pattinson) out of the picture—he has to leave Bella (Kristen Stewart) because he figures he’s endangering her, since he can barely contain his bloodlust (emphasis on the lust). In his absence, Bella suffers the horrid agony of losing him, but then befriends Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who becomes her “own personal sunshine.” Jacob just happens to be a werewolf whose sole purpose is to kill vampires. When Edward hears Bella has committed suicide (this is untrue), he decides to off himself as well; the book and the movie shamelessly reference Romeo & Juliet. To do so, he has to anger the vampire royalty, the Volturi, so they’ll execute him. This is as easy as stepping into the sunlight, because Meyer’s vampires don’t melt or burst into flames when exposed to ultraviolet rays; they sparkle. Bella must race to save him from himself, and all ends happily ever after (almost). If it sounds utterly cheesy, that’s because it is.

The script is a disaster, though to be fair, the cast do their damndest to act through terrible lines and preposterous plot twists. Kristen Stewart, a slight brunette always clad in hoodies and Chuck Taylors, is subtle and touching. Bella is effectively a blank canvas upon which teenage girls can project their own insecurities and misgivings, and Stewart possesses a raw vulnerability that makes her character identifiable, though infuriating. Throughout the books and films, Bella is a weak, fainting damsel in distress, and eventually readers and viewers wonder why on earth she’s so important to everyone around her. Seventeen-year-old Taylor Lautner, the caramel-skinned heartthrob who plays Jacob, bulked up until he’s so muscular it’s hard not to gape—especially when the camera lovingly lingers on his physique (to the shrieking delight of women everywhere). Luckily, Lautner is both charming and innocently sweet, and the chemistry between him and Stewart is palpable. Michael Sheen, a Brit with a formidable acting resume, steals the final act as Aro, the Volturi’s powerful leader. Grinning, cheerful, and utterly eerie, Sheen adds a bit of stimulation to an otherwise dull encounter.

No expense was spared in the film’s effects budget, and it pays off. The werewolves take a distinct visual cue from The Neverending Story’s creepy G’mork, and though the fight scenes rely perhaps too much on slow motion, they’re executed masterfully. The soundtrack, featuring emo-pop artists like Muse, Thom Yorke, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Killers, is both catchy and monotonous. Alexandre Desplat’s score, heavy on piano, is melodic and pretty: the perfect background music for a doomed romance. The movie positively drags at two hours eleven minutes; when the kids at the front of the theater start chatting amongst themselves during the “tense” final scenes, something’s not right.

Summit publicly fired director Catherine Hardwicke (ThirteenLords of Dogtown) after the first film, replacing her with Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy). Hardwicke’s Twilight had a shaky, independent quality that gave it a realistic feel, but New Moon feels less authentic and more ridiculous. Though the Twilight books may be a guilty pleasure, the films are proving to be little more than industry cash cows. David Slade, whose last vampire movie 30 Days of Night didn’t fare well in box offices, is set to helm the third installment. Perhaps he can pick up the slack, but in the end, the film’s young and charming cast may be the series’ saving grace. Pattinson and Stewart’s are-they-aren’t-they, tabloid-fed offscreen relationship is perhaps the most interesting result of New Moon, and as they say, that ain’t much.