Posts Tagged 'harry potter and the deathly hallows: part 1'

IT ALL ENDS: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Deux Review (and series retrospective)



In case you hadn’t heard, it’s all ending.







The Harry Potter behemoth has endeth, at least in theaters. At least for now. Like I’ve said a billion times, I’m not a “real” Harry Potter fan. I’ve only read the first 3 books, and honestly, that was so long ago that I’d need to read them again before I started the Goblet of Fire book. One day down the road, I’ll probably sit down and read the books, but probably not anytime soon. I think the entire world could use an extended Harry Potter vacation once this movie dies down. The previous movies didn’t really inspire me enough to want to immediately dive into the books, and The Deathly Hallows won’t, either.

In terms of wrapping up various plot elements and storylines, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 certainly does that, but as we’ll discuss, I feel it does so far too quickly in some cases. Regardless, as an “ending” to a series, it satisfies all the basic requirements from a storytelling standpoint.

Having just rewatched Part 1 and now seen Part 2, I really just wish they’d had the balls to make one Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a gigantic 3 hour, 15 minute movie. A true epic. At the very least, Part 2 should have been as long or longer than Part 1. Currently, Part 1 is 150 minutes long (that’s 2½ hours, noobs) and Part 2 is 130 minutes long. That split should have been 130/160 or thereabouts. I did enjoy Part 1 more the second time I watched it (it looks amazing on Blu-ray), but I still feel it’s very different than the previous 6 movies, and it should’ve been shorter so that Part 2 could be longer. It just seems logical to me that Part 2 should’ve been longer, ESPECIALLY given that it’s the last movie in the series.

Where do the Deathly Hallows movies rank for me among the entire series? It’s tough to tell. For a long time, I said Goblet of Fire was my favorite Potter movie, then I rewatched Prisoner of Azkaban this past winter and really enjoyed that one (Azkaban seems to be the unanimous “best in show” amongst movie geeks, Potter diehards and critics, but that’s never been a foregone conclusion to me). I also like the original film a lot. Chris Columbus is a fairly….we’ll call him “non-visionary” director to be nice, but he did a wonderful job introducing moviegoers to this fantasy world back in 2001 and should at least be given credit for that. So the short answer is that Deathly Hallows (both films put together) is among the top 3 Potter movies. If I were to watch them all in a row, I might end up putting Part 2 as #1 in the series, but again, I need to watch some of the others again to have a definitive favorite. If I were to choose a “least favorite” from all 8 movies, it would probably be Deathly Hallows: Part 1 or The Chamber of Secrets. But even with Chamber, I haven’t seen it since it first came out (in 2002), so maybe that opinion would also change upon further review. Long story short, I have no idea in what order I’d place these movies.

Honestly though, in the end I really don’t care enough to rank them all. I really LIKE the entire Harry Potter series. I don’t love it. I like all of these movies, but none of them were truly great on the whole. The only consistently great thing about all the movies is the craftsmanship that went into them, but we’ll get to that. I think Part 2 is good enough to consider for Best Director and Best Picture nominations (and even potentially some of the supporting acting categories) at my own awards come January, but it’s unlikely they’ll make the final cut given how backloaded this year appears to be. Miserable 2011 remains wide open for the taking as far as awards season goes.

That’s the big picture. Now let’s bust out the magnifying glass and get our hands dirty, shall we? As always with the Potter series, my opinions are based on what we’ve seen in the movies only. If I criticize something that’s addressed properly in the books, goodie for the books. I’m talkin movies, baby.

WHAT I LIKED

The cast. Duh. Almost every noteworthy British actor has been in at least one of these films, and almost all of them are here in one capacity or another. With regards to our trio of heroes, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, they are each as good as ever. I say that as a good and bad thing. It’s good because they’ve been consistently solid over a 10-year span, which is amazing in itself, but none of them have any truly great dramatic moments, even in this, the finale. There are hero moments aplenty, but nothing that required any of them to really stretch, and I was disappointed by that. The movie goes through the key beats, but doesn’t take any great risks with any of the characters. It’s frustrating. I think Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are pretty good actors, but it’s impossible to determine from these movies what their true range is. I’m just guessing though, that in 50 years, when you look back at each of their careers, you won’t list any of the Harry Potter movies as their best work. Hopefully not, anyway. I know that sounded like faint praise, but most of the best lines and individual character moments in these movies have gone to the professors or villains or other student characters.


Ron is no longer impressed by your evil.

It was good to see Ralph Fiennes finally get some serious screen time, and his Voldemort is certainly a worthy villain, but I still feel there was potential for more. I also wish Voldemort were more hands on. He prefers having other people do most of his dirty work, and even when it’s time for him to kill Snape, he has the snake finish him off. Man up, son! If it’s so important that Snape die (as you’ve just spelled out in your exposition), kill the fucker yourself! Voldemort is a villain, but we’re never made to truly despise or fear him through any of his direct actions. Truly terrifying villains do their own evil in critical moments. The best recent example of this is Heath Ledger‘s Joker in The Dark Knight. In that film The Joker kills almost everyone that opposes him himself, which makes the audience fear him and puts us on edge whenever he’s on screen, because what will he do next? You never really get that sense from Voldemort, and I really never have. He pops in and out of the earlier films, but is never the primary antagonist until this last one. It’s like the Potter movies were a video game, and Voldemort is the Big Boss at the end of Level 8. He’s looming over the proceedings, making quick sneak attacks or talking shit, but you don’t actually get to fight him til the end. I’m not a fan of that. It would have been much cooler to me if he and Harry had had another epic confrontation in at least one of the earlier films. He inspires fear in his fellow bad guys just because he’s the most powerful among them, but how often is that power truly put on display in any of these movies? I’d argue very rarely (though his 1 vs. 1 with Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix was pretty epic). Voldemort is a good villain, but definitely not a great one. People fear him more on reputation than actual deed, which works much better on the page than it does on the big screen (take note, screenwriters). In movies, we have to see people do things to understand what they’re capable of. Voldemort fights Harry man-to-man (or man-to-teenage boy) at the end, but that’s about all the fighting he does in the movie. He comes in at the very end of the Hogwarts devastation after his minions have done the heavy lifting. Anyway, I’m off point a bit, but I got my Voldemort “Like” and “Didn’t Like” out of the way.

Make no mistake, Fiennes definitely brings a lot to the role, and has the most fun with it in this movie. I was happy whenever he was onscreen. I really liked the forest scene when Potter finally confronts Voldemort face-to-face. When it first seems as though Potter won’t show up, Voldemort seems genuinely sad when he says, “I thought he would come.” Awww.


“AHHBLOOBAKADOOBA!!!”

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore. I was wondering how they’d bring him back for this one, and I’m really pleased with the way it was done. We get to learn some new details about the motives of his actions in previous films, and I found that whole sequence of Harry viewing Snape’s memory fascinating. That “Wizard Heaven” scene with Harry near the end is also excellent, because the focus is primarily on the writing. I like how the movie uses death as a major theme, and I thought it handled that theme both delicately and profoundly, with Dumbledore acting as Harry’s sort of Grim Reaper. I wasn’t expecting that.

Dumbledore has some wonderful dialogue in this film, and Gambon is up to the task in delivering it perfectly. As a writer, this line was especially meaningful to me,

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Ain’t that the truth?

The visual effects. As always with this franchise, the effects are nearly flawless. Whatever these movies cost, you can always be sure every penny of it is on the screen. I’ve nominated 5 of the first 7 movies for Best Visual Effects at the my own awards, and this will likely make it 6 of 8 total. Special kudos go to the Gringotts dragon sequence (the moment where it busts through the glass dome of the building and takes a moment to enjoy the fresh air was absolutely wonderful- it’s little moments like that that elevate good effects work to the stuff of legend), all of the work done on Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, and pretty much every second of the final battle scenes. I particularly enjoyed the look of the evil giants. Very cool stuff. The thing I found curious, though, was that ILM was not involved with any of the effects on either Deathly Hallows film. They had been the primary effects company on every Potter flick until this one. I’m sure I could do some research and find out, but I wonder why they weren’t involved with the finale. They were probably too busy creating all those spikey gray robots for Michael Bay‘s movie. Special shout out also to visual effects supervisor Tim Burke, who has worked on every Potter movie but the first one, and also supervised the effects on Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator, Hannibal and Black Hawk Down. I’ll be very interested to see what Burke does next now that Potter is finished.

Eduardo Serra’s cinematography. Gorgeous wide angles, closeups only when they’re needed, an excellent sense of mood in the visuals. I don’t see how this movie could’ve been photographed any better.

-All the other technical aspects. The sound design is superb, and of course, as always, the production design, art direction, costumes and makeup are A++. These movies are a wonder just to look at. They really ought to keep some of these sets in place (many of which have been standing since the first film) and save them as tourist attractions. If I were in England for a week, that’s something I’d want to see. Production designer Stuart Craig should get a Knighthood for his work on these films. He was a damned good designer before the Potter series, but has done nothing but these movies for the past 10 years; a remarkable achievement.

Alexandre Desplat’s score. Desplat [IMDb] is one of the most overused composers in Hollywood right now, and though he’s done a lot of good work, he didn’t seem capable of the kind of grand, thematic score a movie like this demands. His score for Part 1 was downright mediocre, so imagine my delight when his work on Part 2 was actually damned good! I was hoping for it to be a tad more epic/grand, but it’s an excellent score by any standard, and in my view the best work he’s done yet. There were a couple of very good new motifs in this film. Of course, when compared to The Great One, John Williams, no one really measures up, but I was glad to see Desplat bring back some of Williams’ Potter themes on this one. I just wish they’d had one composer through the entire series. It’s one of the only areas they weren’t able to stay consistent. For example, I can’t help but imagine what would have been had Howard Shore done the music for this entire series like he did for Lord of the Rings, or if Williams had at least come back for the final film. A boy can dream, can’t he?

For today’s Recommended Listening, here’s my favorite track from this score, called “Courtyard Apocalypse”, as performed by the almighty London Symphony Orchestra. I’m sure you can guess what scene that title refers to.


-Last but certainly not least, the fine direction of David Yates. Yates, previously known only for directing various British TV series, has directed every Potter film since Order of the Phoenix, and he’s been steady every step of the way. He’s a natural at big budget effects filmmaking, while showing equal skill at handling actors of all ages. You rarely get both qualities in a director, and more recently you don’t seem to get either. It’s tough to tell how much of his own visual style is in these movies, but the visuals in all 4 of his Potter movies have been a sight to behold. British directors are awesome, I think it’s just that simple. I’ll see pretty much anything this guy does next, but first he’s said he’s taking a long holiday (British speak for vacation), and no one can begrudge him that. I’m always relieved when directors this good are given considerable clout. It’ll be interesting to see how he wields it going forward.


WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

The run time. As I explained above, I think the runtimes of the two films should have been reversed, so that key moments in Part 2 could have been stretched out, or rather given the time they deserved. Where the runtime most affects Part 2 is in the handling of the deaths of some memorable secondary characters. The two that stick out most to me were the deaths of Lavender Brown (Ron’s jealous, obsessed girlfriend from Half-Blood Prince played marvelously by Jessie Cave) and Fred Weasley (played by James Phelps). Brown of course had a major role to play in Half-Blood Prince, then in Part 2 she appears in a couple scenes (with no lines), and is killed off as a footnote. Fred Weasley’s death is much more egregious, primarily because we don’t even see it occur. This is a character who has appeared in every single movie, a character (along his twin brother) who audiences have come to love. Not only do we not see him die, but the scene where we see his body laid out on the floor, with the other Weasleys mourning him is way too quick and kind of dismissive for such a popular character. At the very least, he should have had a really good death scene, with the other twin seeing it and avenging him, or something like that. But no, here, it’s…we see the twins just before the battle, we see him dead, family has a quick cry, and we’re moving on. We lose track of a lot of the main characters during the final battle. What was Ginny doing the whole time? This is Harry’s future wife, and she has about 2 minutes of screen time in the final movie. FAIL.

In general, the secondary characters are underserviced in both Hallows films. Snape appears in literally one scene in Part 1 and is then a major player in Part 2.
Bellatrix Lestrange (played by the marvelous Helena Bonham Carter), who had been a very good baddie since first appearing in Order of the Phoenix, has a few important scenes in Part 1, then appears in Part 2 basically just so she can get killed. It’s these kind of inconsistencies between the final films that bugged me. My point is that you can’t have a character play a huge role in one movie (i.e. Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody in Goblet of Fire) and then have that character quickly killed off, sometimes offscreen, in the final movie (or in Gleeson’s case, the first 10 minutes of the first part of the final movie). You gotta give them at least one moment of glory. These are problems that could have been rectified with that extra 20 minutes of screen time, which no one at all would have minded (at least no one who has enjoyed all of the other movies).

They brought back pretty much every big-name actor from the previous films, seemingly just so they could say, “EVERYBODY was back for the last film!” Well, that’s great, but simply cutting to them one or two times (which they did with Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney and Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn) doesn’t really qualify as having them all “back”. The only person that got a bump in screen time from the previous few films was Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, which was great. She had been greatly reduced in the past few films, and didn’t appear at all in Part 1. Last, but not least, in Part 2, we don’t see Hagrid at all until the final 20 minutes or so. When, where and how was he captured?

I can’t help but compare certain moments here to how Peter Jackson & crew handled similar situations in The Return of the King, so let’s compare The Battle of Hogwarts to the battle at Minas Tirith, the centerpiece of the final Lord of the Rings film. I’m gonna separate the battles into 3 categories: Buildup & Preparation, The Battle Itself, and The Aftermath. Mmkay? Now, on a scale of 1-10, Return of the King would get a 10 on all 3 fronts (criticize the long endings all you want, but that battle is undeniably one of the best extended sequences of any kind in movie history). In comparison, I’d give Deathly Hallows: Part 2 a 7 on buildup & preparation (it happens a bit too fast, we don’t ever see Voldemort’s army gathering- they just kinda show up at the outskirts of Hogwarts), an 8 on the battle itself (great action and effects, nice busy frames, but points off for losing track of some key characters and dismissing the deaths of others), and a 6 on the aftermath (didn’t like how they handled reactions to the major deaths, and the movie is rushed to its conclusion immediately after the battle is over). Almost every beef I have with the last hour of the movie could’ve/should’ve been solved with another 20 or so minutes of runtime. Part 2 is the shortest film in the entire series by 8 minutes. Boo! Hiss!

-I wasn’t crazy about finding out ahead of time that Harry would be brought back to life after being killed by Voldemort in the forest. Kinda lessens the impact of that confrontation. I dunno if it’s the same way in the book (I’m sure it is), but in general, you don’t want your audience to be more in the know than your characters that deep into the story, especially about something that important. If we didn’t know (or simply weren’t blatantly reminded) that Harry had the resurrection stone in hand before facing Voldemort, you would have at least maintained some level of suspense and doubt, especially amongst those of us who haven’t read the book. And you could have even kept the Harry & the ghosts scene. It would have come across logically as a 17-year old kid knowing he might be going to his doom. Just don’t tell us that he already knows he’ll be brought back to life. Again, the execution of these scenes as they stand was wonderful, but if you simply rearrange a couple of details, it would’ve been more compelling.

-It doesn’t make any sense at all that at the beginning of this movie, Hogwarts is seemingly operating business-as-usual. Apparently, classes are still in session, even with Death Eaters hovering above the premises and evil henchmen on the grounds abusing students. You’re telling me that in the magic world’s darkest hour, with the long-standing headmaster having just recently been ASSASSINATED, with the “Dark Lord” imminently returning and his evil operatives operating a fifth column inside the school, parents are consenting to send their young kids (first-years are mentioned specifically at one point) to Hogwarts like everything is hunky dory? I’m sorry, that’s fucking absurd. That’s not just a plot hole, that’s a black hole of logic.

-This is sort of a non-issue in the grand scheme of things, but for credits sequence geeks like me, it’s kind of a big deal. I thought the series deserved a more fitting final end credits sequence than we get here. Don’t you? Something more than just names over a black screen? I feel really strongly that they should have done a big picture credits sequence at the end of this one. I mean, you’re wrapping up 10 years of movies here. Indulge a little. They did something like this after Return of the King, with those really nice illustrated photos of basically every cast member. What I would have done for Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is something akin to what you saw at the end of Slumdog Millionaire. Of course, it wouldn’t be that flashy, but for all of the kids, I’d have put their names up, and then 3 pictures or really quick video clips; one showing how they looked in the first movie, another from Azkaban or Goblet of Fire, and then the third of what they look like now at the end of the series, so the audience could see their progression. It would have been a cool way to remind everyone how cool it is that all of these kids have been there since the beginning. Then each adult character would get two pictures/clips and the actors’ name, one showing them in a lighter moment, and the other showing them in serious mode. It would be nice recognition for the adults, because I doubt most of the general audience could tell you who Michael Gambon is. Or who Robbie Coltrane played. Yes, that would have added a couple minutes to the runtime, but you’re telling me 90% of the people in the audience wouldn’t stay through the entire picture credits sequence? I say they would. For the diehard fans, and people who have seen every movie in theaters, this would have been a much better final sendoff than the typical, boring end credits that we got. It’s the little things, people.

-Here’s a final nitpick for ya regarding the “19 Years Later” sequence at the very end of the film: Are you really telling me that at age 36, Harry Potter is still wearing the circle glasses? He wouldn’t have chosen a new design that actually made him look like an adult? He couldn’t have undergone some wizard lasik by then and just been rid of the glasses altogether? Hermione doesn’t have a spell for that? Retinus Improvus! There, I just made one up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
8/10 (IMDb), 4/5 stars

Wow. That’s the first movie in a while where the likes greatly outnumbered the dislikes. More of this, please.

Here’s the bittersweet finale of Desplat’s fantastic score:
 

A DECADE OF POTTER

I have called The Lord of the Rings trilogy the greatest accomplishment in cinematic history. What I mean by that is that not only was it the most difficult adaptation to get right perhaps EVER, but that they shot them all at once over a 3-year period, and that they all turned out as masterworks is astonishing (the extended cuts are among the greatest films ever made, in my view). Seriously, check out the documentaries on the Extended Cuts and you’ll understand what I mean. On a “degree of difficulty” scale from 1-10, having those films turn out the way they did is an 11.

As far as degree of difficulty, I might have to put this decade’s worth of Harry Potter movies in second place all-time. That doesn’t mean I think this is the second-best series of movies ever (I don’t), but the fact that this has been relatively smooth sailing from a production standpoint is a frickin miracle. There are literally hundreds of things that could have derailed this franchise over the years, or at the very least forced it to lose a lot of momentum. They only had to recast a couple of parts (one, Dumbledore, because Richard Harris died in 2002 after playing the role in the first two films), none of the kids ever quit (I believe they were originally all signed up for the first 4 movies, then all had to be re-signed after Goblet of Fire), none of them ever had a drug problem or had to leave the movies and go to rehab for an alcohol addiction (though Mr. Radcliffe has recently come out saying he had a drinking problem, but has been sober since 2010), and you never heard about anyone in this cast or crew being difficult on set or making egotistical demands. In fact, when the movies were being made, you never really heard anything about them until it was time to reveal the first trailer. This kind of good fortune is unheard of in the movie industry. Just ask the people who made Citizen Kane, Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Titanic, or just about anyone making a high profile, big budget movie in the past 50 years. It ain’t easy to make one, let alone 8 in a row. Hell, even a movie coming out next year, Men in Black 3, has had serious production problems since day 1.

Warner Bros. has kept this train rolling, and a lot of credit has to go to producer David Heyman, who has overseen every Potter movie, and who I believe is the one who first showed interest in turning the books into movies in the late 90’s. All told, there was never more than 2 years between movies, an amazing logistical feat. Then you have Steve Kloves, who wrote the scripts for every movie but Order of the Phoenix (where he was unavailable due to a scheduling conflict). How does one choose what to include and what to exclude from these increasingly massive books? And when do you rearrange the sequence of events, or place certain events in different locations? And how will that go over with the fans? The fact that Kloves was able to handle that with such consistency for 10 years is quite impressive, no matter what you think of these movies as adaptations. Most movies this big have 3 or 4 writers (sometimes more who go uncredited). J.K. Rowling never actually wrote any of the scripts, but every indication is she happily cooperated with Kloves and the filmmakers every step of the way, even telling certain actors what their characters’ futures held before the books came out so they could take that information into account for their performances. Pretty damn cool.

Consider also that these kids (all of whom are still under 22) have now been involved in 8 movies that cost $100 million or more. That’s something the majority of actors and filmmakers twice their age can’t say. That takes a hell of a lot of mental and physical toughness. The combined production budget of all of these movies is well over $1 billion. Really, after all this time and fame and money, all before the age of 21, it’s a miracle these kids are still sane. And imagine if one director had made all 8 movies? I don’t think even Peter Jackson would have survived that. I can’t express strongly enough how surprised I am that Dan Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint seem to have turned out so well after all these movies. Kudos to Chris Columbus and his casting team for making such solid choices from the beginning. Not only did they fill the main parts with good actors, but it seems like they’re all good people as well.


OH, HAI!
U IZ GROW’D UP!?


I won’t call her “hot”. How about “insanely cute”?

OH, HAI, Luna!

So I can’t pick a favorite movie just yet, but who are my favorite Harry Potter characters? That’s easier to do. Of the Big Three, Hermione is easily my favorite. I feel like she was the most fleshed out character in the series. She had the most personality and some of the best individual character moments throughout. I like Ron, but he was mostly one or two notes, either the loyal friend or the comic relief. It’s funny, because Harry Potter himself is not a very compelling character, and easily the least interesting person of the three. Really, “chosen one” characters are rarely that interesting aside from the fact that they have the most world-changing potential or inherently have the most skill or power amongst their peers. As far as being strong, three-dimensional characters, The Chosen One rarely fits that bill. He or she is usually introduced into a story as a necessity in defeating an imminent evil. They usually don’t have to grow or change much as people or adapt to their new hero roles. They were born for it, so they just end up doing it. That’s pretty much Harry Potter in a nutshell. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Frodo, for instance, is a normal guy who has to adapt to being The Ring Bearer. Luke Skywalker is the son of a Chosen One, but he has to learn all his powers and adapt to being the only Jedi in existence after Obi-Wan and Yoda die. Other characters I loved; Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch, pictured beautifully above), because I love characters who speak their mind plainly, and because she seems to not have a filter. I was a big fan of Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), but she never got the screen time she deserved. I’d also have to go with Mad-Eye Moody, Hagrid, and the Weasley twins. I really like a lot of these characters. Credit to Rowling for coming up with so many characters and giving each of them their own voice.

I’d actually be interested in seeing a movie about Albus Severus Potter one day down the road. What is the wizarding life like for the son of the Chosen One? Is it a big budget spectacle where he faces new evils and does heroic deeds like his father? Or is it a low budget drama where he grows up as a rebel, feeling a sense of entitlement because of who his father is, commits crimes while in London, then he knocks up an older girl at Hogwarts (or Ron & Hermione’s daughter, which REALLY fucks everybody up), and overdoses on some experimental hallucinogenic potion? I’d pay to see that movie, wouldn’t you? Albus Potter and the Gryffindor Gangstas. Coming Summer 2015.

Wrapping things up, the only place I feel Warner Bros. fucked up with this series is in the quality of the DVD and Blu-ray releases. I only own a few of the movies, but most of the special features are either lackluster or aimed primarily at children. There’s nothing for a geek like me to dig into; no hour-long documentaries, no commentary tracks, and very few deleted scenes. Maybe they do have stuff like that and they’re just sitting on it for a huge box set release sometime down the road, but I’ve heard nothing to that effect. And why didn’t anyone think to do extended cuts? I hate to compare Potter to Lord of the Rings again, but how many additional copies would they have sold of each movie, with 30+ minutes of completely finished, fully integrated new scenes? Come on. Shit, Warner Bros. owns New Line, which released the Lord of the Rings extended cuts. After those were so popular, nobody thought to do something similar with Harry Potter? With all these fans clamoring to see more stuff from the books that wasn’t included in the theatrical releases? I immediately thought of it years ago, yet I don’t have a job at Warner Bros. Marketing. What’s wrong with this picture?

I hope somebody writes a really good behind-the-scenes book about how this all came together, with a bunch of cool facts, photos and anecdotes that people haven’t yet heard about. I’d buy such a book the day it came out. That’s all I got at this point, or all I care to discuss anyway. I hope all the Potter diehards out there are able to cope now that it’s all over. There’s still two more Twilight movies coming, right? Right? Bueller? Not the same audience? How would I know.

If you’re wondering, yes, this was a pain in the ass to write. I’ve been working on it on and off for two weeks. It probably would have been much easier if I were a Potter diehard, but I’m not. The reason I wanted to be so thorough is because I deeply respect the work done by everyone involved with these movies. Like I said, the fact that they pulled this off as smoothly as they did is something that may never happen again, so even if you’re sick of Harry Potter and happy beyond words that the movies are over, you need to at least be able to appreciate the simple fact that it happened in the first place. Would you rather a franchise like THIS has eight movies, or a “franchise” like Saw or Final Destination? I’ll take 8 Harry Potters over 8 thousand shitty Scary Movie spinoffs like Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie or Vampires Suck any day of the week.

Finally, congratulations to Warner Bros. and the thousands of hard-working people involved in making these movies the global phenomenon they are. Your success is well-deserved.

LINKAGE:

There have been endless amounts of Harry Potter retrospectives on all manner of websites these past few weeks. I have neither the time nor the desire to seek out all the good ones, but here are a few tidbits that I’ve stumbled upon in my travels that I think are worth your time to check out.

-Here’s an interesting breakdown of where all the Potter money has come from. It’s estimated the franchise (books, movies, TV rights, video games, merchandise) has brought in $21 billion total. [HOLY $HIT]

-Here’s a cool set of “then and now” photos showing the progression of most of the Potter kids through the years. [Yahoo!] Really, just search “Harry Potter kids then and now” for about a trillion galleries like this.

-Also, take a look at the domestic box office of every Potter film listed on one page. Interesting that it’ll be the first and last movies that made the most. Actually, I guess that makes sense. [Box Office Mojo] Those are some frighteningly high numbers. Even more frightening? Avatar‘s worldwide gross (close to $2.8 billion) is more than the domestic grosses of the entire Harry Potter series. I’ve just gone cross-eyed.

-Film School Rejects did an amusing, but also mostly accurate list; “7 Reasons Why Hogwarts is the Worst Cinematic School Ever”. [FSR]

Now, related to that list, can I toot my own horn here for a moment? I’ve been knocking the logic of the Potter universe for years on most of those points. Here is what I said in a Livejournal post 5 YEARS AGO, on March 8, 2006, in a post called “I bet Harry Potter gets attacked in the 5th year, too!”:

I have a fundamental issue with J.K. Rowling’s storytelling, as should you.  And it’s this…when is Dumbledore gonna wake the fuck up?  Every single year, there’s a massive conflict at the school involving Harry Potter which places every student and teacher’s life at risk, yet each year they go in all happy dokey like nothing’s wrong and it’s gonna be a swell year of peace and prosperity and learning at Hogwarts.  You’d think by now this kid would be in protective custody.  Or they’d send him packing because he’s such a massive insurance risk.  At the very least, enrollment at Hogwarts should be down.  Shit, you send your kid there and he or she could be killed because of Harry Potter’s feuds.  This kid could get my kid killed!  Over a stupid lightning bolt on dude’s forehead!  I ain’t sending my kids to Hogwarts!  Fuck that.  The point is that the good guys in the Harry Potter world play on the defensive constantly.  This is bad battle strategy at the very least.  They just sit there and wait for trouble to come to them, no matter who it puts in danger.  Dumbledore even says it, “Dark times lie ahead, Harry.”  SO!?  DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!  God forbid Dumbledore prevent something from happening.  No no no, he’s gonna wait until his students are attacked.  Think about it.  In Star Wars, the Rebels attack the Death Star (twice!).  The Jedi try to find out who the Sith are and understand they must be destroyed first.  In Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits take the Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it.  They don’t sit around and wait for Mordor to come get it.  The good guys have to take the fight to the bad guys, because the bad guys aren’t gonna quit.  You can win the battle, but they’re just gonna regroup and come back at you.  And eventually they’re gonna win, or at the very least do some major damage.  You can’t just sit there and assume “Oh next year’s gonna be nice and quiet around here.”  Are you kidding me?!”

This is me doing a curtsy.

-Another important series has recently come to an end, this time on NBC. That would be Friday Night Lights, one of the best TV dramas of all time. I thought this was the type of show that could have run for 8-10 seasons, but because of poor ratings, it lasted only 5 (and we were really lucky to get the 5th). Its fans, myself among them, are passionate, and for years we’ve been telling anyone who would listen to check out the show and be converted. Well, it’s over now, but every season is available on Netflix or for purchase, so I’ll now ask you all one more time to do yourselves a favor and give it a chance. Most of the seasons are HBO-length (13-15 episodes), so if you got into it and really loved it, you could probably finish the entire series in a week, week and a half.

For people like me, who don’t even try to get into most TV shows unless they come recommended by others, it was a refreshing breath of fresh air. It’s not a cop show. It’s not a medical drama. It’s not a legal drama. It’s not a generic romcom. It’s not shot in L.A. completely on soundstages. It’s REAL. It’s also not a sports show, if that’s what’s held you back from giving it a chance. People who don’t care about football love this show. There’s typically only one football scene in each episode, and the discussion of football is always secondary to the personal conflicts between the characters.

There have been several rumors going around that they may still make another Friday Night Lights movie, this time with the show’s cast, but I’ll believe that when I see it. However, I fully endorse the idea. Duh, WINNING.

Here’s a pretty cool oral history of the show, with actors, producers and other filmmakers describing what it was like making the show, from inception to completion. A fascinating read for fans, or for anyone interested in alternative filmmaking methods, which was one of the primary ingredients to the show’s creative success. [GRANTLAND]

RANDOMNESS:

This gave me a pretty big LOL last week. George C. Scott watches Jack and Jill trailer:


I had completely forgotten this movie even existed. For good reason, too, it seems. I guess Adam Sandler is long overdue to try the dual role/cross-dressing gimmick. It’s such a fresh angle. When was the last time he made a good comedy? It’s not even worth checking. I guess I just never thought Al Pacino could be so reduced as to appear in one of these Sandler movies. Mr. Pacino, I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

-I try my absolute best to avoid celebrity gossip as much as possible, but…WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, TODD PHILLIPS?!?! This has not been a good year for my favorite working comedy director, creatively, and apparently, personally. I just died a little inside, bro.

On that note, we’re finally finished here.

Movie Extravaganza #2: The Semi Summer Movie Preview

As summer movie season kicks into full gear this weekend with the release of  Thor, I thought this was a great time for another big all-movie post. There’s been some stuff I’ve been wanting to talk about and some recent news worthy of your attention, analyzed for you by two thumbs pointing at this guy. First things first, some very cool new trailers debuted last week. The second (and likely final) full-length trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the second (and much improved) trailer for X-Men: First Class, and the first official trailer for The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. In case you haven’t seen any of them, take a look. I strongly recommend changing the video quality (in the bottom middle of each) to at least 720p to watch them in HD.

I’ve got my fingers crossed so tight on this that my index finger is about to snap, but Shockwave looks great, and there’s a lot of interesting and big stuff going on here, like that cool beacon thingy. And you can’t tell for sure, but I think Optimus Prime‘s trailer (which FINALLY makes an appearance) turns into that jetpack he wears. Just a guess, but remember who called it. On the other hand, I’m a little bothered by the fact that this trailer shows a clip from what looks to be the very last scene in the movie (Prime talking to Sam on a pier or boardwalk, with John Turturro in the wheelchair behind him). A great trailer from a visuals standpoint, but it looks like it gives way too much away. Perhaps more than anything, I can’t wait to find out how Shia LeBeouf ends up with a British supermodel girlfriend who’s even hotter than Megan Fox. I think if the director’s name wasn’t “Michael Bay“, this mightn’t have happened. Just a guess.


OH, HAI. NICE LIPZ.
P.S. I totally buy that you’d fall for Shia LaBeouf.

I’ve been very hesitant on this since day 1 (I’m still not over how bad X-Men : Last Stand was), and the first trailer wasn’t too inspiring, but this second one is a marked improvement. You get to hear more dialogue, and it looks like they’ve properly captured that X-Men us-against-the-world tone. I’m really digging Michael Fassbender as Magneto, too. His delivery of of that line “We already are” is pitch perfect and 100% Magneto. I’m really rooting for this to be very good. If all else fails, I get to look at January Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, which is always satisfying.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was the first movie in the entire series that I didn’t like. I won’t say I disliked it, but I definitely didn’t like it. It sits in this kind of opinion limbo. At the time, I couldn’t even write a review of it, it baffled me so much. I still need to watch it again, but I don’t expect my overall opinion to change. That said, even while I complained about the first part, I said back in November that I expected Part 2 to be amazing despite the problems I had with Part 1. I still hold that expectation. In my dream of dreams, this last one will be so good and so emotionally powerful that it’ll be worthy of Best Picture consideration and perhaps some acting nominations, but none of the others have been serious contenders in those categories, and they’ve been very consistent in quality (one of the series’ biggest strengths), so I doubt this will transcend the others even if it is the best of the decade-long series.

How Green is My Lantern?

Now we move to a brand new trailer that has me going, “Uh oh.” That trailer belongs to Green Lantern, which I am predicting will be this summer’s biggest box office bomb. I’ve been trying, really trying, to get excited for this, but I’m about to give up after this latest trailer. It just looks fuckin silly, doesn’t it? Like all these superhero movies, I don’t know shit about the comics, but surely the Green Lantern comic isn’t this silly looking. Is it? I know this is obvious, but it’s just so…GREEN. Like, really green. Too green. Then you’ve got all these incredibly goofy looking aliens and creatures. And all these goofy looking aliens speak English, and look incredibly goofy doing so. Maybe some super Lantern nerd can explain to me what I’m supposed to find cool about that. Then you’ve got Peter Sarsgaard as the main villain, and he ends up going from a normal-looking scientist to this maniac with a giant (goofy looking) ballooned forehead. It looks like we’re going to see a literal mad scientist in this movie. And that’s supposed to be scary and intimidating? Good grief. I can’t pick out one thing about this movie (other than the chance to see Blake Lively again) that has me excited. And that’s a damn shame, because it’s directed by Martin Campbell, who, granted, is hit and miss, but who just 5 years ago he gave us one of the best action movies ever in Casino Royale. Why he took this project on I’ll never know, but it looks like a massive pile of computer-generated [GREEN] dog doo. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, brah…

I guess the fact that Ryan Reynolds is in it should be a giveaway. This will be his third comic book movie, after the mediocre Blade: Trinity and the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I normally like this guy (he gave one of the best performances in one of the best movies of 2010 in Buried), but he needs to stop it with the comic book movies. The fact that Marvel might give him another movie with the potential Deadpool spinoff is truly terrifying. ENOUGH!

-Can I say that I’m more than a little concerned about the Hangover sequel? In a way, I wish I hadn’t seen that second trailer. Of course it’s funny as hell, and the movie looks funny as hell, but it also displays such an apparent lack of creativity that my confidence in the film is a bit rattled. To start, the fact that they couldn’t come up with a cool subtitle and are just calling it the Hangover: Part II is a bad sign. It just is. You’re telling me Todd Phillips couldn’t come up with a good subtitle to the sequel of one of the most successful comedies of all time? NOBODY in the Warner Bros. marketing department had any good ideas? It’s not a huge deal in the bigger picture, but it’s indicative. When they first announced this sequel was actually happening, I’m on record (somewhere on my MySpace blog) as saying it was a bad idea. For one simple reason: how could anything even remotely that epic ever happen to the same people again? It would just come across as stupid if it did, wouldn’t it? Well, apparently the answer to that question is…easy, just have it happen in a different country. That appears to be the only difference from a narrative standpoint. In this new trailer, one of them is getting married (again), we see that they wake up after another crazy night (again), having no idea what happened the night before (again), and they’ve lost one or more of the people who started the night with them (again). The lack of creativity in that is stunning. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the trailer. Usually, comedy sequels change up the plot a little bit, but this kind of repitition of ideas is normally reserved for bad horror sequels. Is The Hangover: Part II a bad horror sequel? My god I hope not. But right now, the only changes I see are the new location (Thailand) and a different cast member getting married this time. And a monkey. Let’s not forget the monkey.


Ken Jeong, you slay me.

Did Todd Phillips and the cast really do this only for the money? Given what I know of him and the various opinions he’s had recently, I thought Phillips was above that, but perhaps not. Phillips himself (who made more than $50 million on the first movie because of a brilliant contract stipulation) is making $10 million plus 10% of the first-dollar gross on the sequel, meanwhile Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis each got $5 million upfront plus 4% of the first-dollar gross. Those will end up being huge paydays for all 4 of them. That also means a big increase in the budget, because with those salaries, the movie costs $25 million before you even start shooting (the original was made for under $40 million), and once it’s released, Warner Bros. has already forfeited 22% of the grosses. I guess it would be incredibly difficult to say no to such a huge guaranteed payday like that, but I’m hoping there was more effort put into the script than we’ve been shown thus far. If it is just a carbon copy of the original, I will be sorely disappointed. The original Hangover isn’t just one of my favorite comedies, it’s one my favorite movies overall (if you MUST know, it currently sits at #164 on the newly updated Biggie 200 list), and I’ve never been so amped up for a comedy sequel, despite my reservations.

If he exhales, that shirt will explode.

-So I’ve now seen Fast Five in theaters twice (I rarely have the time to see anything twice nowadays), and my love for this movie got me to thinking about how The Fast and the Furious is just about the most unlikely franchise in movie history. I’m fascinated by the trajectory this series has taken since the original came out a decade ago now. No action franchise (or franchise of ANY kind) has unfolded quite like this. Let’s trace the steps, and try to keep up.

You have the original film, The Fast and the Furious (which is loosely based on a Vibe magazine article called “Racer X”), which became a surprise hit in 2001 (grossing $40 million on its opening weekend on a $38 million budget on its way to a $144.5 million haul) and put Paul Walker & Vin Diesel on the map as potential leading men. Then you have a terrible sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, that lost one of those leading men (and the original director, Rob Cohen) because he wanted too much money and basically thought he was above it, and that sequel still manages to perform well ($50 million opening, $127 million total). Diesel and Rob Cohen try to start a new franchise in xXx around the same time to middling results. So a better director on 2 Fast (John Singleton) makes the worst film of his career, but his career gets a bump anyway because that shitty movie is a hit. Singleton, having just made a very good low-budget movie (the greatly underrated Baby Boy) with up & coming singer Tyrese, gives him his first big mainstream starring role opposite the lonely Paul Walker, who badly needs a new street smart, non-Caucasian buddy.

Next, a couple years pass, because they still can’t get Diesel to star in part 3, and they can’t get Walker back either because he, too, is attempting to branch out. But not to be deterred, Universal puts the third movie in motion anyway, hires a new director (Justin Lin, who has directed each movie since) and tries to reinvent the franchise by giving it a new star (Lucas Black) and a new location for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Apparently, hiring an Asian director for the Tokyo-set movie made it more authentic? I dunno. Also, we’re supposed to buy into the fact that because these cars drift around corners, it gives it a cool new twist, as opposed to Americans racing cars in straight lines. So yes, the franchise is now making sequels based on subgenres of street racing. Still with me? More characters are introduced (most notably Sung Kane as Han). Though that movie is just okay, it’s the goddamn Godfather Part II compared to 2 Fast. BUT, without Walker or Diesel’s involvement and the stench still lingering from part 2, the franchise loses some brand recognition, and it opens to a relatively paltry $23.9 million on its way to a franchise-low $62.5 million domestic total. [Also, strangely, we’re now (right now, in 2011) supposed to believe that the events of Tokyo Drift take place AFTER Fast Five. Wrap your head around that.] However, because Vin Diesel has now failed TWICE at starting new franchises (xXx and the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick), he makes a cameo in the final scene of Tokyo Drift, essentially telling us all, “Fine, I admit I don’t have any other other options. See you in part 4.”

SO, Tokyo Drift underperforms, but big studios don’t just give up on sequel-spewing franchises, and LUCKY FOR THEM, after a couple more years, both Paul Walker & Vin Diesel are no longer being allowed to topline movies (Walker because he struggles with that whole ‘acting’ thing, and Diesel because of his ego), and both need big paydays and starring roles to reinvigorate their careers. Fast & Furious is born, with the gimmick being that the entire original cast is back (the other two obviously being Michelle Rodriguez & Jordana Brewster). Brewster probably doesn’t want to do any more of these movies, but she too has not capitalized off the success of the original and has few other options.

By the way, when was the last time a sequel was made where all they did was remove the The‘s from the title of the original?! Again, we’ve never seen this before.

There’s more racing (and some terrible use of CGI cars in that dumbass sequence where they have to drive across the Mexican border and UNDER a mountain), but the focus shifts to more of a crime movie then a fast cars/racing movie. More new characters, most notable among them the superthin, superhot Gal Gadot. Paul Walker’s character (I had to look up his character name, that’s how memorable he is) Brian O’Conner goes from cop to criminal, and in doing allies himself with his bitter rival Dominic Toretto. Sad face, as Michelle Rodriguez supposedly dies and says goodbye to the franchise. Fast & Furious returns the series to box office glory (as audiences hunger for more of what they got in the first movie), opening to a massive $71 million on its way to $155 million total. Michelle Rodriguez ironically gets the last laugh, as she co-stars later that same year in the biggest movie of all-time, something called Avatar.

Finally, we get Fast Five, at worst a tie for best movie in the series, featuring an orgy of characters from all 4 previous films, and some new ones to take the franchise forward (Dwayne Johnson as The Terminator DEA Agent Hobbs). It reinvigorates the series again, with the best, most inventive action scenes in the franchise and cool new locations shot in Brazil and Puerto Rico. So even while the cast is familiar, the setting and the action is fresh. That’s smart. At the end of Five, we get bludgeoned over the head with a bonus scene (which brings back a character from way back in part 2!) that clearly indicates part 6 is on the way. This is further guaranteed when Five opens to $86.2 million in its first weekend on its way to becoming the highest grosser of the series.

Hopefully, that didn’t make you go cross-eyed, but it shows just how strange a road this has been for everyone involved. So many things had to happen for the franchise to end up like this or for it to even have extended this long. Other than Saw (which is supposedly done), there aren’t any currently active franchises at movie 5 or beyond, which is incredible given that Hollywood is more sequel-crazy than ever. And like I said in my Fast Five review, I doubt there’s ever been an instance where a part 5 is considered the best of the series. Though none of them have been great (and only the original and Five can be considered “good” in my view), I’m still interested in these movies. I also respect the series in one big sense…it’s 2011, and in an era where most mainstream movies are still almost completely whitewashed, this is the most ethnically diverse franchise perhaps in the history of cinema. And yes, I realize it depicts almost all of its minority characters as criminals and sex objects, but still, I’m glad to see a wide mix of races headlining movies this popular. That in and of itself is a good thing, and perhaps the most fundamental reason I’m into these flicks in the broader sense.

Finally, the new head of Universal Pictures has come out and said that they want to change the tone of the series again for the sixth movie, and they’ll probably be removing the racing elements altogether and making it a pure heist movie. I can get into that, and from what I’ve seen in two viewings of Five, audiences aren’t even close to being weary of these movies. At least this series TRIES to reinvent itself by mixing up the cast and switching scenery, which is the second big reason I give it props. It entertains the shit out of you without trying to be anything more than it knows it is. It’s an honest franchise that doesn’t bullshit its audience, and I think the masses appreciate that. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I am very much looking forward to 6 Fast Six or Furious 666 (or whatever the fuck it’ll be called). And no, there’s no confirmation yet on which cast members are in for part 6, though Dwayne Johnson has come out and said he wants to be part of it. Whether Diesel, Walker or Brewster want to continue remains to be seen, though I don’t see any of them doing much else in the next couple years. I wonder now if any of them even want to.

Apparently, this car fits into Dom’s wallet, because no matter where in the world he goes, the 1970 Charger shows up with him.

-Speaking of Fast/Furious-related items, I’m a little perturbed by director Justin Lin’s choice to follow up Fast Five with the proposed 5th Terminator movie. For some reason, people think this is a good idea, despite the last two sequels both underperforming at the box office (hint hint: we’re not interested unless it’s made by Cameron, a-holes!). And they think it’s also a good idea to bring 64-year old Arnold Schwarzenegger back to play, I dunno, the Terminator sent back through time to kill John Connor‘s grandfather at the nursing home? So, obviously T5 is a terrible idea, but I’m more concerned with Lin’s awful decision-making. Dude needs to fire his agents. He will never have more clout than he does right now, with Fast Five a monster box office hit around the world. He can do almost anything he wants as a follow-up, and he wants to continue making sequels? And not just a normal sequel, he only wants franchises that are at part 5 or beyond, apparently. Come on, man! Have you no creative ambition? No dream projects? No desire to work off a real script? No desire to work with actors who aren’t sleepwalking through the shoot, simply looking for a payday? I don’t know why this pisses me off, but it does. Not only that, but he’s also said he’s open to doing the sixth Fast/Furious movie. COME ON!!! Cuz I guess directing 3 of them isn’t enough. There’s so much more to explore in this multi-layered, richly characterized world. Oh wait, no, there isn’t. It’s time to move on, Justin Lin. You’re that rarest of things in Hollywood…a minority filmmaker with clout! USE IT. This would be like LeBron James coming off his MVP season last year and then, as a free agent, choosing to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In other words, it’s a giant fucking step backwards!

Director Justin Lin with Vin Diesel.
“Hey Vin, wanna just do these Fast/Furious movies together for the rest of our lives?”
“Justin…I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!”

Since most of you won’t get that last reference…

-I admit that prior to the movie version coming together, I’d never even heard of The Hunger Games. But now this is apparently one of the most anticipated movies of 2012 (it’s pretty far down my list). What I find curious is that it’s currently May, 2011 and they haven’t shot a single frame (in fact, the movie is still casting), yet they already have a release date of next March. Unless I’m mistaken, this is going to an effects-heavy project. Going from pre-production to release in 10 months on a large scale movie like this is generally not recommended. This trend of the studios stubbornly sticking to predetermined release dates is harming the quality and potential of a lot of movies. I for one don’t particularly care about Hunger Games (other than my love of Jennifer Lawrence and the fact that I like director Gary Ross), but for such a high-profile project that Lionsgate would like to turn into a trilogy, they seem to be rushing things a bit. Also, the fact that the male lead’s name is Peeta is bit off-putting.

RANDOM AWESOME MOVIE SCENE TIME!

RANDOM AWESOME MOVIE COMPILATION TIME!

“Get out of there!”

For today’s Recommended Listening, here’s my favorite track off the Chemical Brothers‘ fantastic score to Hanna. This little diddy’s called “Container Park”:  


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