You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2010.

The beginning of the end, and what a beginning. Harry, Hermione and Ron are off in search of the Horcruxes, which, upon their destruction, would weaken Voldemort and allow our heroes (well, Harry) to finally defeat the evil wizard.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to go. The movie is one extended road trip, as our heroes constantly move around, staying ahead of Voldemort’s snatchers while trying to figure out how to destroy the Horcruxes (no easy task, mind you, even with three more needing to be found).

The movie ends with the death of a somewhat major character (I don’t think he’s had an appearance since early in the movie series, in the books he’s played something of a more prominent role), and with Voldemort seemingly victorious. It’s a perfect spot to end the first part, with our heroes at their lowest and the villain at his highest point.

This also makes the decision to split the final novel into two films, as controversial as it was, quite brilliant. Each of the main characters grow as they should, and each minor character get enough of a throwaway moment to help us remember what significance they had in the overall Harry Potter lore. It encompasses as much of the book as possible in its 150-minute length, both in actual events occurring and references to events that happen while the heroes are on the run (which also makes this the most faithful to the books since the Chamber of Secrets). David Yates, the director of Order of the Phoenix and the Half-Blood Prince, does a great job with the material this time around (HP5 was too plot driven, HP6 was essentially an extended prologue where nothing happened except for the final scene). His character moments are spot on, and his action pieces are fierce and breathtaking. The only way to top this is with the final part, and that’s promising to be the best of them all.

As always, Emma Watson is the best of the trio, though both Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint manage their roles well.  They’ve grown up quite well, and it’ll be sad to see them go in July.

Quite good, reaching the ranks of Prisoner of Azkaban and the Goblet of Fire.  Must see (if you haven’t done so already).

B+

Note: I honestly don’t know who to tag for this beyond Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, given that almost every major British thespian makes an appearance in this film.  I suppose I’ll stick with the majors ones, but there are a whole bunch of people scattered throughout (if you can spot them that is).

I sort of have a confession to make.

I don’t think I’m moved very much by movies anymore.  Well, the dramatic stuff, mainly, which I think mainly has to do with the fact that not many characters are so fleshed out to make me actually break down into a sobbing mess when something truly dire happens to them.  There are a couple – Never Let Me Go, Farewell (seriously, just a couple) – that did in fact move me because of the predicaments of the characters (the former being the search for humanity in cloned people, the latter in the midst of Cold War Russian).

Part of the problem too, as I watched Waiting for “Superman”, is that I see too many documentaries, and they involve actual, real life people, who live and breathe just like everyone else does.  There’s no fictionalizing them.  They’re us, probably a month or a year before we see the film, but they’re still us.  (I realize that I probably mentioned this fact before, but it’s always important to remember that and to keep it in mind, simply because it is the truth.)

Documentaries have done that all year to me, and Waiting for “Superman” is no exception, especially when it focuses on a few families who rest their hopes in a lottery.

Guggenheim’s premise is simple: why are public schools failing all over the country?  The problem is very complex, spanning a variety of areas that involve a child: poverty and low-income families; teacher’s unions and the use of tenure to keep bad teachers in teaching positions for life; bad teachers period; and, government bureaucracies.  The solution to the problem may seem simple, looking at each example above, but it really isn’t.

Guggenheim searches for a solution, but mainly comes to the conclusion that good teachers who genuinely care for the students and teaches like they should are the answer.  There’s more to that, obviously, but it’s where the solution starts.  There are good teachers in public schools, but there are also bad ones, and there is such a gap in knowledge that American students are falling far behind the curve compared with the rest of the world.

Breaking up the teacher’s unions is another solution, but also impossible (not even improbable, just impossible).  The teacher’s unions are there for a reason (to prevent unfair firings and help provide fair payment for the teachers), but have gotten extremely powerful since their inception, providing to both the Democrats and the Republicans in elections.  Michelle Rhee, selected to be chancellor of the D.C. public school system, introduced controversial measures to help the failing schools in the capital.  She knew that the problem was bad teachers, but couldn’t get past the union without trying something gutsy.  The idea of incentive-based raises while losing tenure made the unions balk and prevented a vote from occurring.  (Following up, Rhee and the union agreed to a contract wherein raises were granted based upon student achievement, but seniority was weakened and teachers lost a year of tenure so evaluations could occur.  Rhee resigned the post last month.)

Perhaps the most charismatic person in the film is Geoffrey Canada, an activist and educator who decided decades ago to help get kids to college with the best education possible.  He’s extremely vocal about the need to reform the education system.  In Harlem, he runs a charter program that gives each student the individualized education, as well as the broad education they need to become successful in life.  The model is extremely successful, with the charter encompassing 97 blocks in Harlem, with possible expansion across the country.

That also seems to be part of Guggenheim’s solution – charter schools – but the only way to get there is through a lottery (required by law when there are more applicants than there are spots).  Each of the families highlighted in the film take their chances on the lottery for each prospective program, knowing that the chances of success or failure for their children depends entirely on luck.  Of the five who are shown, only one gets in straight away, while a second is wait-listed (and he had the best odds out of the five).  Their pain is shown, but each is a small part of a larger whole, with every other family that didn’t have their story told.  Each family has a kid who wants to be a doctor, a vet, a lawyer, or any other professional that can work and be successful.

That is probably what’s most draining about the public school system: that kids with their ideals and their future ambitions are left to rot because of teachers not doing what they’re paid to do.  Guggenheim offers some well rounded solutions, and a lot of it comes down to us as individuals and what we can do to change the system.  Eye opening and insightful, just the way it should be.

A-

What is love, you ask?

Heck if I know, and neither does Charlyne Yi, I think.

She wouldn’t have made a documentary if she weren’t in pursuit of the answer, right?

Well, for herself, she really doesn’t, even with her real-life relationship (at the time) to Michael Cera.  In pursuing a documentary about love, the pair create a fictional portrait of their budding romance.  They enjoy the company at first, but after a while, between the camera crew constantly hounding the pair and Charlyne flat out saying that she isn’t in love, they split up, only to seemingly reconcile at the end (at least, that’s what the puppets describe for us in a genuinely hilarious ending).

It all seems deceptive too, given the fact that Charlyne interviewed couples, either married or with each other for years, to get a glimpse at what love is.  The highlights of this documentary involve those couples – all real, all very much in love – and how they described meeting each other, or just dealing with different moments in their lives, done to the tune of arts and crafts.  There are bold moments, crazy moments, and touching moments to be found.

Part of how this works comes from Charlyne herself: she has a rather disarming charm that allows her to get people to talk to her.  She’s humorous as well, in a happy, optimistic way (and somewhat self-depreciating, but it’s actually not so bad compared to other comedians).  Her relationship with Michael Cera was engaging as well, even if we know, for the film at least, it was fake.  It was probably their actual relationship that made this work better than it should.

This was on Starz On Demand, I believe.  It’s short (only 88 minutes), and it’s a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.  Don’t expect to get an answer to love – the whole overriding message, if there is one, is just to go find it on your own – but you’ll appreciate the moments of love that you find, especially during those real moments.

The Millennium Trilogy concludes, and by the end, it’s a somewhat mixed bag.

Credit where credit’s due: Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander continues to be the biggest draw for the film.  Sadly, she isn’t given too much to do – this being in terms of her hacker skills – but the physical transformation involved with the character alone is worth the price of admission.  The courtroom scenes that show her wearing a completely over-the-top goth outfit highlights that the most.

Out of the three films, Hornet’s Nest does the best job at adapting the book, getting rid of all the extraneous subplots, but also adding elements from a few of those subplots to make things somewhat different between mediums.  The office staff for Millennium is wisely reduced to four, keeping to a core set of characters and giving them enough development to move the film forward.

The film itself picks up right where the previous one left off: Salander is sent to a hospital, recovering from her wounds; her half-brother is on the run, having killed one police officer and severely injuring another one; Mikael  Blomkvist is on a trail trying to clear Lisbeth’s name; and, a secret police group is working to silence everyone, in one way or another.

With Salander on the sidelines, it’s up to the conspiracy plot to move things forward.  It does work to an extent: the cat and mouse game is exciting when things happen, but the “things happen” part is few and far in between.  Between the occasional spurts of action are long bits of exposition.  They advance the plot, but the exposition weighs everything down, especially when the plot needs to be explained.  Also, being a plot driven movie, characters are often left as mere caricatures and ciphers.  Blomkvist and Salander get the most character development, but that’s also because they got it two films ago (Erika wasn’t even properly named in the first film, only in the credits).

Also, and most damning – especially to the fans of the books – is the reason why Blomkvist and Salander don’t talk to each other for long periods of time, if at all after the first film.  I tried recalling why, in the movies, Salander completely dismisses Blomkvist.  I know what occurs at the end of the first novel that does this, but because of the need to cut out certain subplots and character traits (like Mikael’s promiscuity), important things get left out.  Granted, no one knew that these films would become as massive as they eventually did.  Something could have been done to address that particular point; their meeting at the end of this movie doesn’t hold up because the catalyst is never introduced, and various things that characters say along the way holds no weight or bearing because of the lack of a catalyst.

That said, I realize two things: I read the books and I’m comparing the two together unfavorable, and I need to find someone who hasn’t read the books to watch the movies and decide what they think about them.  I decided long ago (back when I wrote the review to Dragon Tattoo actually) that I need to objectively keep the novel and film separate.  By now, that certainly hasn’t happened, hence the need for someone to view just the movies objectively before reading the books.

As for the film standing alone, it’s slow, it’s pondering, but it’s acted well despite the lack of character development, and Noomi Rapace still remains a great draw as Lisbeth Salander.  It does wrap up the trilogy effectively, but by this point, it’s mainly for the fans and for crime genre lovers.

C+

I explored aspects of this film – primarily, the idea of the hereafter or afterlife in general – in a post on my personal blog.  Obviously by reading this, I don’t find much credence in the societal ideas of the afterlife, that being Christianity and Islam (the movie also disposes of them as well).  Rather, the afterlife, if there is one, is rather muted, to the point of nonexistence.  People would argue against a notion, either because they’ve experienced the afterlife first hand from a near death experience, or because people need the afterlife to know that their loved ones aren’t living in hell or eternal darkness.

The film presents the afterlife in the question of whether one exists, and arranges its characters and plot lines as such.  George (Damon) has a gift – or curse, as he sees it – that allows him to find people in the afterlife by touching people with his hands.  He worked as a psychic before becoming overwhelmed by what he saw, and realizing that he would never have a normal life because of his abilities.  Marie (France) was on vacation in Thailand when a tsunami strikes (the movies incorporates actual real world events quite well) and left her nearly dead for a short amount of time.  It was enough to let her wander in the hereafter, and after this experience wishes to understand more about the afterlife.  Lastly, Marcus and Jason are twins in London, helping their mother try to recuperate from a drug addiction.  Jason dies after being struck by a car, leaving Marcus distraught and lost, trying to figure out what he should do with himself after his twin brother’s death.

If there’s anything that’s clear in what I wrote before and what should be expected, it’s that there are no definite answers to what the afterlife is.  That, to me, is a very satisfying presentation.  Life isn’t easy, which is why we have these notions of a beautiful afterlife, to give comfort to ourselves once we die.  The film understands this with several of the characters (both main and supporting) having to deal with the effects of losing a loved one and hoping to reconnect with them in some way.  Some are able to move on (George’s first reading, the one shown in the trailer, does it just to see if George is the real deal or not), while others, not so much, often to crippling effect.  How we deal with death often defines us as well for the majority of our lives.

Focusing on the movie as a movie, it by and large works.  The final act is a little too tidy in bringing the plot lines together, and the pacing is occasionally slow.  The ending is also low key, especially compared to the grandness of the opening minutes (the tsunami mainly), but it works because it closes out that portion of each character’s arc.  The acting is fine throughout, though the McLaren twins are rough at times (this isn’t the first time Eastwood has used young non-actors: see Gran Torino).  And the film is hopeful too, imploring action over inaction, forwardness over being stuck in time.  It’s challenging and mature, as all films should be with this subject matter.

B+