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Entries in Harry Potter (3)

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

Sunday
Feb142010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I suppose we can thank good 'ol Harry for this. Due to the success of the Harry Potter franchise, we now have a countless number of books being adapted to the big screen in an effort to start a lucrative series. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Chronicles of Narnia, Cirque du Freak, all hope to grab that cash from you. While not all were successful, namely the latter one, all shared that same trait. Now we have a newcomer hoping to wedge its way into the fold in the form of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Despite a few problems, it largely succeeds and proves itself as a fun, entertaining fantasy adventure that will tide fans over until the next Potter film.

Logan Lerman plays the title character, a teenager who is about to find out that his entire life is a lot more complicated than he thinks. His father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea, played by Kevin McKidd. Years ago, he came onto land, fell in love with his mother, played by Catherine Keener, and they had him as their child. Now, Poseidon's brother Zeus, god of thunder, played by Sean Bean, has accused Percy of stealing his thunderbolt. He has 14 days to return it or the gods go to war, destroying the heavens and the earth. As a result, Percy is taken to a camp exclusively for demi-gods, kids who are half human and half god, to train. Once he arrives, however, he watches his mother get abducted by Hades, god of the underworld (or more precisely, the Devil). He is played wonderfully by Steve Coogan. So Percy decides that he must get his mother back and treks across America with Annabeth, played by Alexandra Daddario, and his protector Grover, played by Brandon T. Jackson, in search of three pearls that will grant them entry and exit to the underworld.

Phew. You wouldn't think so given the PG rating and marketing towards kids, but this film has a lot going on. On their journey, the kids meet Medusa, battle a 10 headed dragon, and travel down into Hell to confront Hades. I felt like I was watching an epic for the ages, an exciting, scary, violent romp through the best parts of Greek mythology. The funny thing is that despite the kid-centric commercials, this thing is more for adults and teenagers. It features decapitations, a drug induced happiness that is played as cool and the aforementioned descent into Hell. Top onto that the intense battles with all sorts of mythical creatures and you have a film that is actually quite creepy. This thing's scarier than The Wolfman.

Although comparisons are unavoidable, especially given that this director helmed The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, Percy Jackson differs from Harry Potter in these respects. The Harry Potter films are more polished, but Percy Jackson is more fun. This doesn't waste its time in endless set-up with zero payoff (much like the fifth Potter). It's more of a droll, white knuckle action fantasy that moves at a brisk pace towards its conclusion. If you're looking for a better film, go with Potter, but if you're looking for something you can put on and enjoy at any time, Percy Jackson is your best bet.

Still, the film is nowhere near perfect and actually stumbles the most when it tries to mix that drollery with a serious story. The humor rarely works and feels out of place when one-liners are thrown out in the heat of battle. Its tone gets mixed so frequently that I'm not sure one is ever established. For instance, when they first arrive in Hell, they see thousands of tortured souls below them. The visual is haunting. Then they meet the Devil and his, shall we say, mistress, played by Rosario Dawson, and it turns lighthearted with an eerie sexual tension bubbling beneath the surface. The movie would have been helping itself had it gone the full scary route rather than attempting to juggle the two.

Then you have the ineffective side stories about Percy growing up without his father and the kindling romance between him and Annabeth. You see, Percy has been bitter his whole life about his father running out on him and his mother. He was only 7 months old when it happened, so he never even got to meet him and now he's stuck with his nasty stepfather who treats his mom like a piece of meat. The ending tries to resolve these daddy issues and the cheese is stacked up high. The romantic chemistry between him and Annabeth was missing, rendering that moot as well.

If you're looking at the film from an analytical point of view, this is a great story told haphazardly, but if you're looking at it through a normal citizen's eyes, this is great fun. It won't ever reach the success of Harry Potter, but here's hoping it makes enough money to warrant a sequel. Percy Jackson deserves at least that.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief receives 3.5/5