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Entries in Daniel Radcliffe (3)

Friday
Feb032012

The Woman in Black

Sometimes I wonder how I’d react if I saw a ghost. Mind you, I don’t plan on seeing one any time soon. It’s just that characters in movies always seem to approach a paranormal encounter with curiosity. When they hear a strange noise or see a shadowy figure standing in the hall, they walk towards it with intent to decipher whatever mystery is behind the apparition’s presence rather than book it the hell out of there. Their intense interest is always a bit hard to swallow—I’d be willing to bet the majority of people would choose the latter option over the former—but The Woman in Black takes that disbelief to a whole new level. If the interest of characters in other movies is a bit hard to swallow, watching The Woman in Black is like having a giant jawbreaker stuck in your throat. There’s nothing in particular keeping the protagonist of the film in the old, decrepit haunted house, just some paperwork he could easily pack up and take with him, but he stays there nonetheless and even dares to return after leaving. There are some chills to be had in The Woman in Black, enough that I have no problem recommending it, but its contrivances and liberal borrowing from the book of horror movie clichés will undoubtedly keep it from producing too many nightmares.

The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is sent off to a remote village in London to settle the legal affairs of a recently deceased woman. However, when he arrives, he learns the legend of the Woman in Black, a vengeful spirit who takes the life of a child whenever she is seen in retaliation for the death of her own son years ago. Odd things begin to happen, turning skeptics into believers, and Arthur decides it’s his duty to stop her from striking again.

Like many ghost movies, The Woman in Black hasn’t an original thought in its head. If you’ve seen a good amount of similar films, you’ve seen this one. There’s fog, creepy looking dolls, ghostly reflections, gothic architecture, eerie paintings, cobwebs, creaky floorboards, random birds flying out of nowhere, ominous footsteps from the upstairs hallway and, of course, jittery townspeople who know more than they are letting on. And that’s only the beginning of a list that would undoubtedly bleed over into multiple pages if someone were to take up the daunting task of tallying them off. However, The Woman in Black uses them well. It combines them to an effective degree and the early moments, where it’s more about quick glimpses and what you don’t see rather than what you do, will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Those early moments remind very much of classic chillers like 1961’s The Innocents or the George C. Scott film, The Changeling. It’s minimalism at its finest, using very little to achieve a maximum effect. Unfortunately, The Woman in Black is one of those movies that gets progressively worse as it goes on. It gets far too showy for a picture that initially relied so heavily on the unseen. Those quick, far off glimpses eventually turn into detailed, close-up stares and though the design of the apparition is top notch and frightening, you can never shake the feeling that the film lost faith in itself and decided to amp up the spectacle in fear of losing its audience.

A feeling of disappointment lingers on after the credits roll, but those early images will be stuck in your head for days, and that’s precisely why The Woman in Black is worth seeing. It doesn’t live up to its full potential and it certainly doesn’t redefine the genre, but it will make you glance over your shoulder the next time you’re walking down the hallway and, as far as horror movies go at least, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

The Woman in Black receives 3/5

Thursday
Jul142011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

After ten years and eight movies, it’s all finally coming to an end. Harry Potter is going to be put to rest. Truly one of the most popular franchises in film history, the Harry Potter movies have shown how a franchise should be handled. Not all of the films have been amazing, but all (with the exception of The Order of the Phoenix) have been good. If nothing else, it’s a consistent franchise with more heart, whimsy and fantastic fantasy action than many movies even attempt, much less achieve. And it’s going out with a bang. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is hands down the best in the acclaimed series. It will blow the minds of, and bring tears to, even the most casual fans who have little invested in the story and characters. I joked with friends and colleagues before the screening that if the film was anything less than the best of the year, I would be disappointed. And disappointed I am not.

The film begins precisely where the last one left off. Dobby has just died and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has just found the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence. Meanwhile, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), along with best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), are out to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, each of which carries a piece of Voldemort’s soul. Voldemort will stop at nothing to keep that from happening, which means killing Harry Potter.

As with most of the other Potter films, you will need to be well-versed in Potter lore to fully keep up with what’s going on in The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s a movie that would have greatly benefited from a “Previously on Harry Potter” type of opening, especially since this is the second half of one story, not simply a standalone sequel like the others. From the get go, it’s unclear exactly what is happening, but it never suffers under the weight of its own vagueness. All it requires is a little patience while it settles into its own. Confusion is cleared and the story at hand grips you like none other.

It’s a story that has been building for seven films, all of which left open doors and questions lingering to set up the next movie, but for the first time ever, there’s closure. One of my chief complaints of The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was its abrupt ending. It was a story that was intentionally left unfinished and its lack of any type of payoff was to its detriment, but Part 2 rectifies that with a send-off for the ages. The showdown between Potter and Voldemort is an epic, breathtaking, immensely satisfying finale that leaves no stone unturned. What follows is an endearing and emotional farewell to one of the most charismatic characters to ever grace the screen.

The big climax is not the only reason to watch Part 2 of this story, however. The entire film is brimming with action, contrary to the more talkative Part 1, but it’s not there just to be there like in, say, the latest Transformers film. Unlike that mind numbing movie, the action compliments the story, flowing naturally based on what has occurred up to that point. And in the midst of all the chaos and destruction is a brilliant plot twist that forces Potter to face his destiny, which may mean sacrificing himself to save others.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is dark, scary and more violent than many will expect, but it’s also emotionally resonant and beautifully made. Long time fan or Harry Potter cynic, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and the lights come up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 receives 5/5

Thursday
Nov182010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most consistently engaging franchises in Hollywood. With the sole exception of Order of the Phoenix, I would recommend each and every one. However, all have their faults. While fans and critics alike have praised them as tremendous entertainment, I’ve found most of them to be no more than slightly above average. The newest installment and beginning of the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, is no better and no worse than the rest of the series. For everything it fixes, it breaks something and in trying to keep things fresh, it loses much of its charm.

My confusion began as soon as the movie started. Not being a rabid fan of the series, I’ve only seen the other entries once or twice. I haven’t kept up with its extensive mythology and its deep cast of characters left me more than a little befuddled. When it begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is left alone after his foster parents move out. Hermione (Emma Watson) has seemingly erased herself from her parent’s memories. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is meeting with his gang of misfits to figure out a way to kill Harry. And then about a dozen other characters pop up to rescue Harry and whisk him away to safety. These events happened quickly and I wasn’t sure why, but credit is due to the filmmakers who make the story that follows manageable even for those who aren’t familiar with the prior movies.

Essentially, the story follows Harry, Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) as they attempt to find and destroy a number of artifacts called Horcruxes. However, this plot takes the kids away from Hogwarts and sets them off on an adventure alone. While I appreciate the darker tone of this entry, it’s missing the whimsy of other installments. It has more of a focus on the trio, but part of the fun of the series has always been watching the eccentric teachers and other colorful characters that roam the halls of Hogwarts. This movie has none of them. The large cast of characters that show up at the beginning of the movie disappear until the end (if they even come back at all) and the humor and fun disappears along with them.

What really hurts the movie, however, is its build to nothing. As evidenced by the “Part 1” at the end of the title, this story is being broken up into two movies, so what happens is that it trucks along for two and half hours only to abruptly end without any type of payoff. The setup for the next film is intriguing and I can’t wait to see it, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this story is left unfinished.

As with the previous movies, Part 1 looks good. The assured direction and gorgeous cinematography are wonderful. It carries an appropriately dark, unearthly look. This distinct visual style works wonders for the film and is complimented by an amazing animated segment explaining the origin of the deathly hallows, a welcome change of pace from a scene that would have otherwise been boring exposition.

Although I obviously haven’t seen Part 2 yet, I feel like the two movies will be comparable to Kill Bill: good separate, but something special together. I don’t mind the slow build if you give me a reason for it, but as a standalone movie, which is the only way it can be judged right now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is satisfying, but fails to transcend into greatness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 receives 3.5/5