Archive for October, 2010

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Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

October 26, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

 

This wasn’t by any means the best Harry Potter film as the book, which is one of my favorites from the series, bounces through a lot of details and the movie simply wasn’t able to cover them all.  There was plenty of teen romance in the book but it focuses a lot of the Harry, Dumbledore, and Voldemort relationship and delves much deeper into Voldemorts past.  This area is glossed over in the film.

The story is likely the weakest part of this film.  As I’ve hinted at, the book revolves strongly around Dumbledore showing Harry everything that he has found out on Voldemort in his attempt to find a way to stop him.  The film covers several of these areas, but doesn’t delve as deeply into Voldemort’s back story trying instead to bring forth the romance that blossoms between the various characters, Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny.  This is somewhat cheesy in the book, but is balanced with the quite suspenseful and thought provoking parts about Voldemort.  In the film the balance is disturbed and the cheesy teen romances are made even cheesier.  They are splitting the last Harry Potter film (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) into two films, and that really should have been the case with this film as well.  Then they could have maintained their balance.

The performances are on par with the other performances.  Emma Watson as Hermione does a great job, and might be the one of the main three characters who won’t always be known as for playing their Harry Potter character.  Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint both are fine in their roles, but their acting ability is not on par with Watson’s.  Alan Rickman is brilliant, as normal, as Severus Snape and Helena Bonham Carter does a great job being very creepy as a LeStrange.  The performances in these films don’t change from time to time, which is nice, and there hasn’t been much issue with continuity and the characters which  makes the whole series come together nicely.

Visually this film was well done.  It is hard to do all that poorly with a budget the size that it was, but the shot selection is very solid in this film.  David Yates, the director of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as well as the last two films, does a good job getting the feel for these worlds, and not making it purely a kids world like it is in the first couple of films, but bringing in some of the darker elements of the books.  The scoring is beautiful as well and again has the benefit of borrowing some from the previous films.

Overall this film is worth checking out, the Harry Potter films in general are worth checking out, especially as a fan of the series.  Yes, they won’t meet the standards of the books, but it is a rare occasion when they actually do meet the standards.  This film is a bit hokeyier than some, but that can be overlooked and still allows for the film to be enjoyed.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: B-

Overall Grade: B

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Law Abiding Citizen

October 20, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen

 

I was never all that interested in seeing this film because I was quite confident that I knew exactly what was going to happen from seeing the trailer.  But I do try and watch every film with an open mind, and so that is what I did with this film.  It is an intense action-packed legal thriller, for lack of better description, but, unfortunately, it comes off feeling, as one of the people I saw it with put it, a Law and Order version of Saw.  It is predictable, and not nearly as smart as it thinks, and while I can understand how come some people really like it because you can get sucked up into the intensity and action and “righteous rage” that this film forces down your throat, it just leaves you with a hollow feeling when you’ve finished watching it.

The story starts out being very straightforward and not pulling any punches as you “see” the brutal murder of the main character’s, Clyde’s, family in front of him.  It then jumps to Nick Rice, the lawyer on the case, making a deal with one of the murderers, the worse of the two, in order to get a death row conviction on the other criminal and Clyde’s taking issue with them offering the one killer a deal.  Then jump to 10 years later when the death row conviction is being carried out, and the lethal injection goes wrong and the evidence points to the other killer.  The other killer is “saved” by an anonymous phone call which leads him to Clyde who is impersonating  a cop.  Clyde then starts his “righteous revenge” on everyone in the trial all as an attempt to prove that everyone should be prosecuted and get what they deserve.

What doesn’t work in this story is that, while you aren’t supposed to feel complete sympathy for Clyde, you can feel almost none because of the actions that he takes, and the whole message seems forced and contrived with how they reach it.  Also, the whole idea of the film is that the judicial system has too many loop holes and criminals can go free (which is unfortunate and sad) but Clyde has to break out of prison to actually get his revenge on everyone, therefore defeating much of his message because he can not deliver it from within the confines of the system and doesn’t apply the same rules to himself as he wants applied to everyone else.  Even if he doesn’t care if he gets death or not, he still doesn’t abide by the rules he wants to force into place.  It also doesn’t work because Clyde, to get all his devious and destructive ways was someone who he should hate.  He was a “brain trust” killer for the government, he could figure out ways to kill people without being seeing and would perform hits, basically, for the government.  So he was taking it to the opposite end, being judge, jury, and executioner all by himself (or based off of the information that others gave him).

The acting performances in this film were average.  Jamie Foxx, as Nick, does a good job and gives a solid performance.  Gerard Butler is the “star” of the film playing Clyde, and while he does have a sinister and evil vibe to him, the actual performance isn’t anything to write home about.  The rest of the cast plays very secondary roles, and no one really jumps out as being all that great.  This film is much less about the acting (or story) then the intensity that they create in the film.

Visually it is fairly disturbing and fairly strong.  There isn’t anything that blows you away with how the film is shot, but there are a couple of maybe intentional homages to Alfred Hitchcock and The Godfather.  Hitchcock was known for not showing the actual violence and killings and simply showing it through shadows or implying when it happens, and in this film, F. Gary Gray, the director, does something similar, avoiding showing the most gruesome scenes, but telling you exactly what happened in them.  He does, however, so much more than Hitchcock ever would have.  In terms of The Godfather, there is one point, early on in the film, when Clyde is killing off the second murder, that the story is juxtaposed with Nick’s daughters cello recital, I couldn’t help but think the whole time I was watching that it was fairly similar to The Godfather where it juxtaposes a baptism with the murders of all the heads of rival gangs.

Overall this film isn’t a bad film to watch, however, it isn’t anything all that special, and there are better revenge flicks out there.  It preaches it’s message way to much, and it pretends to be much more righteous than it actually is.  The fact of the matter is, Clyde is a sick demented character who pretended to have a point to his revenge but in reality there is no way that it was anything beyond revenge that would drive a person to become like Clyde.  I’d primarily say skip watching this film because there are better revenge films out there, and there is no other unique feature that makes this film worth checking out.

Entertainment Grade: C+

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: D+

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Disctrict 9

October 1, 2010

District 9

This film is very well made in terms of the technical aspect, however, came across to me as heavy handed in how it presented the message against racial discrimination that it so heavily propagated.  This in turn removed a fair amount of the enjoyment factor from watching this film.  However, there are some good performances and in theory it is a very interestingly done film.

The story starts 20 years ago when a Prawn ship stops above South Africa.  No first contact is made until humanity breaks into the ship and finds the prawn living in terrible conditions, many near death.  The prawns are giving spots to live on earth and are watched over by a governing body known as MNU.  The integration of the prawns into society does not work extremely well and they are discriminated against and violence and tensions rise between the prawns and the humans.  So MNU comes up with a solution, take all the prawns to their own separate location away from the humans.  This relocation is to be led by Wikus Van De Merwe, but things go violently wrong as the eviction notices are served and Wikus finds that he needs to change his standing on how to handle the prawns.

The problem I have with this film, and with Crash which is similar in how it allows the viewer to think about the message it presents, is that it tells you what you must think.  It is very inflexible in its story and once you have figured that out, there is no real interest in the story because you can accurately predict everything that is going to happen and what emotions are going to go along with it.  This just removes much of the joy from watching the film.

The acting in this film is done primarily by unknowns, and for the most part the performances are simply average.  There is only really one to highlight and that is the main character Wikus.  Sharlto Copley gives a very good performance as Wikus Van De Merwe.  He comes across as someone who is very much out of his element most of the time and very much behind the regime as they try and force the prawn to move.  His change is gradual as to how he reacts as his views on the prawn change, and it isn’t a forced sudden revelation.

Visually is what makes this film work as well as it does.  Neill Blomkamp combines some very good CGI with a gritty world.  This film shows that sci-fi doesn’t have to take place 1000 years in the future and many galaxies away, but it works right now.  The time period doesn’t matter to have a sci-fi element to it.  The prawn themselves are very well created as they aren’t terrifying aliens or cliche looking aliens.  They simply are a race that looks as confused and fragile as the human race often looks.  The style that the story is told in is an interesting one, and one that works quite well.  The beginning and end of the story are done in a much more documentary style (this continues for a while at the beginning and only the last few minutes at the end) but regular filming is insert in between these bookends as well as during them every once in a while.

This could have been a really good film but it was too predictable in its story telling and too forceful in how it presented its ideals.  Visually it should be recognized as being a good film and Blomkamp, a relatively young director has a bright career ahead of him.  It is a film that is worth watching and that many will appreciate for the message that it presents, but it isn’t presented in a style that I feel would best suit its message.

Entertainment Grade: C

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B-