Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

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“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

Ah, Merchant and Ivory! Whenever I hear those particular names, my mind usually generates images of Britons in Edwardian dress, strolling along a London street, across a wide lawn or even along some city boulevard in a country other than Great Britain. In other words, the images from their movie, “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” usually fills my brain.

Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory produced and directed this adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, which first hit the theaters in Great Britain during the early winter of 1985. Four months later, the movie was released in American movie theaters. Forster’s tale is basically a coming-of-age story about a young Edwardian woman, who finds herself torn between her superficial and snobbish fiancé and the free-thinking son of a retired journalist, whom she had met during her Italian vacation. The movie begins with the arrival of young Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Barlett to a small pensione in Florence, Italy. Not only does Lucy have a reunion with her family’s local clergyman, the Reverend Mr. Beebe; she and Charlotte meet a non-conformist father and son pair named Mr. Emerson and his son, George. The Emersons agree to exchange their room – which has a view – with the one occupied by Lucy and Charlotte. Lucy becomes further acquainted with George after the pair witness a murder in the city’s square and he openly expresses his feelings to her. Matters come to a head between the young couple when George kisses Lucy during a picnic for the pensione‘s British visitors, outside of the city. Charlotte witnesses the kiss and not only insists that she and Lucy return to the pensione, but also put some distance between them and the Emersons by leaving Florence.

A few months later finds Lucy back at her home in Windy Corners, England. She had just accepted a marriage proposal from the wealthy, yet intellectually snobbish Cecil Vyse; much to her mother and brother Freddy’s silent displeasure. Matters take a turn for the worse when George and Mr. Emerson move to an empty cottage in Windy Corners, she soon learns that both George and his father have moved to her small village, thanks to Cecil’s recommendation. With George back in her life, Lucy’s suppressed feelings return. It is not long before she is internally divided between her feelings for George and her growing fear that Cecil might not be the man for her.

What can I say about “A ROOM WITH THE VIEW”? It was the first British-produced costume drama I had ever seen in the movie theaters. Hell, it was the first Merchant-Ivory production I had ever seen . . . period. Has it held up in the past twenty-eight years? Well . . . it is not perfect. The problem is other than Julian Sands’ performance, I cannot think of any real imperfections in the movie. A view have pointed out that its quaintness has made it more dated over the years. Frankly, I found it fresh as ever. Who am I kidding? I loved the movie when I first saw it 28 years ago, and still loved it when I recently watched it.

One would think that the movie’s critique of a conservative society would seem outdated in the early 21st century. But considering the growing conservatism of the past decade or so, perhaps “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” is not as outdated as one would believe, considering its Edwardian setting. Mind you, I found some the Emersons’ commentaries on life rather pretentious and in George’s case, a bit long-winded. But I cannot deny that their observations, however long-winded, struck me as dead on. More importantly, Foster’s novel and by extension, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay, makes Foster’s observations more easy to swallow thanks to a very humorous and witty tale. Another aspect that I enjoyed about “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” was how Foster’s liberalism had an impact on the love story between Lucy and George. I find it interesting how Foster managed to point out the differences between genuine liberals like the Emersons and pretenders like Cecil Vyse, who use such beliefs to feed his own sense of superiority.

While watching “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, it seemed very apparent to me, that it is still a beautiful movie to look at. The movie not only won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; but also two technical awards for the movie’s visual style. Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar, Elio Altamura served as the team for the movie’s art direction and won an Academy Award for their efforts. The art designs they created for the movie’s Edwardian setting is stunning. I can also say the same about the Academy Award winning costume designs created by Jenny Beavan and John Bright. Below are two examples of their work:

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And Tony Pierce-Roberts earned a much deserved Oscar for his beautiful and lush photography of both Tuscany in Italy and various English locations that served as the movie’s settings.

One of the best aspects of “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” has to be its cast of entertaining, yet flawed characters. First of all, the movie featured rich, supporting characters like Lucy’s charming, yet gauche brother Freddy; the very verbose and open-minded Reverend Beebe; the always exasperated Mrs. Honeychurch; the indiscreet and pretentious novelist, Eleanor Lavish (in some ways another Cecil); and the snobbish and controlling Reverend Eager. And it is due to the superb performances of Rupert Graves, the always entertaining Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, the even more amazing Judi Dench and Patrick Godfrey that allowed these characters to come to life.

Both Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations for their unforgettable performances as Charlotte Barlett, Lucy’s passive-aggressive cousin; and George’s brash and open-minded father, Mr. Emerson. Charlotte must be one of the most fidgety characters ever portrayed by Smith, yet she conveyed this trait with such subtlety that I could not help but feel disappointed that she did not collect that Oscar. And Elliot did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Emerson with the right balance of humor and pathos. Daniel Day-Lewis did not earn an Oscar nomination for his hilarious portrayal of Lucy’s snobbish and pretentious fiancé, Cecil Vyse. But he did win the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor. Although there were moments when I found his performance a bit too mannered, I cannot deny that he deserved that award.

The role of Lucy Honeychurch made Helena Bonham-Carter a star. And it is easy to see why. The actress did an excellent job of not only portraying Lucy’s quiet, yet steady persona as a well-bred Englishwoman. And at the same time, she also managed to convey the character’s peevishness and a passive-aggressive streak that strongly reminded me of Charlotte Barlett. The only bad apple in the barrel proved to be Julian Sands’ performance as the overtly romantic, yet brooding George Emerson. Too be honest, I found a good deal of his performance rather flat. This flatness usually came out when Sands opened his mouth. He has never struck me as a verbose actor. However, I must admit that he actually managed to shine in one scene in which George openly declared his feelings for Lucy. And with his mouth shut, Sands proved he could be a very effective screen actor.

Looking back on “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, I still find it difficult to agree with that blogger who stated that it had become somewhat dated over the years. Not only does the movie seem livelier than ever after 28 years or so, its theme of freedom from social repression still resonates . . . something I suspect that many would refuse to admit. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, along with Oscar winner screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala created a work of art that has not lost its beauty and its bite after so many years.

“LES MISERABLES” (2012) Review

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“LES MISERABLES” (2012) Review

There were a few movies released in 2012 that I was very reluctant to see in the theaters. One of those movies turned out to be “LES MISERABLES”, the recent adaptation of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1985 stage musical of the same name. And that musical was an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.

Directed by Oscar winning director Tom Hooper, “LES MISERABLES” told the story of early 19th century French convict Jean Valjean released from prison on parole by a guard named Javert in 1815. Nineteen years earlier, Valjean had been imprisoned for stealing bread for his sister’s starving family. Because of his paroled status, Valjean is driven out of every town. He is offered food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne, but steals the latter’s silver during the night. Valjean’s former prison guard, the police captures him. But the Bishop informs them that he had given the silver to Valjean as a gift. The former convict eventually breaks his parole and Javert vows to capture him. Eight years later, Valjean has become a wealthy factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Some of Valjean’s factory workers discover that one of their own, a woman named Fantine, one of his workers, has been sending money to an illegitimate daughter named Cosette. Fantine uses her salary to pay an unscrupulous innkeeper named Thénardiers, his equally shady wife and their daughter Éponine to take care of Cosette. However, Valjean’s foreman dismisses Fantine and she resorts to desperate measures to support her daughter by selling her hair and teeth, before becoming a prostitute. Javert, who has become the town’s chief inspector, arrests Fantine for striking an abusive customer. Valjean saves her and has her hospitalized. He also learns that a man believed to be him, has been arrested. Refusing to allow an innocent man to become condemned in his place, Valjean reveals his identity during the man’s trial. Then then returns to the hospital and he promises the dying Fantine that he will look after Cosette.

Javert arrives to take Valjean into custody, but Valjean escape with a jump into the local river. He then pays the Thénardiers to allow him to take Cosette. The pair elude Javert’s pursuit and begin a new life in Paris. The story jumps nine years later in which the grandson of a wealthy man and student and named Marius Pontmercy becomes involved in a growing revolutionary movement following the death a government official sympathetic to the poor named Jean Maximilien Lamarque. He also falls in love with Cosette, much to Valjean’s dismay, who believes he is an agent of Javert’s. Meanwhile, Marius is unaware that Éponine Thénardier, the daughter of Cosette’s former caretakers, has fallen in love with him. Most of these storylines – Valjean’s reluctance to acknowledge Cosette and Marius’ love; Éponine’s unrequited love for Marius; and Valjean’s problems with Javert, who has joined the Paris police force, culminates in the long and detailed sequence that features the June Rebellion of 1832.

After watching my DVD copy of “LES MISERABLES”, I cannot deny that the movie has some great moments and struck me as pretty damn good. The sequence featuring Fantine’s troubles greatly moved me. After winning an Academy Award for her outstanding performance as the doomed woman, Anne Hathaway had expressed a hope that one day the misfortunes of Fantine would be found only in fiction in the future. That is a lovely hope, but knowing human nature, I doubt it will ever happen. And watching Fantine’s life spin out of control, due to the narrow-minded views of society and male objectivity of her body, I think my views on human nature sunk even further. Some critics had the nerve to claim that Fantine’s situation was something from the past and could never be considered relevant today. I am still amazed that adults – even those who considered themselves civilized and intelligent – could be so completely blind and idiotic. Even Valjean’s attempts to make a life for himself, following his release from prison struck me as relevant – echoing the attempts of some convicts to overcome the criminal pasts and records in an effort to make a new life. Usually with little or no success, thanks to the chilly attitude of the public. Hugh Jackman’s performance beautifully reflected the struggles of many convicts – past and present – to make new lives for themselves – especially in the movie’s first half hour. Although many people tend to view the police officer Javert as evil, I suspect they view his villainy as a product of any society that creates rules – at times rigid – to keep the general population in check. While watching “LES MISERABLES”, I realized that I could never view Javert as a villain of any kind. He merely seemed to be a foil or object to Valjean’s chances for a new life. More than anything, Javert seemed to be a victim of his own rigid views on good, evil and upholding the law. Russell Crowe did a beautiful job of expressing Javert’s inability to be flexible in his views on morality . . . even when his own flexibility comes to the fore when he allows Valjean to finally escape in the end. And it is a shame that he never earned an Academy Award or Golden Globe Award nomination.

“LES MISERABLES” has a running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes. Yet, only 50 minutes of the film focused on Valjean’s early years as an ex-convict, his tenure as mayor of Montreuil-sur-Merhis, Fantine’s troubles and young Cosette’s time with the Thénardiers. The rest of the movie is set in 1832 Paris, leading up to the outbreak of the June Rebellion. And if I must honest . . . I found that a little disappointing. Mind you, not all of the 1832 segment was a waste. Thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction, the segment featured a well directed and detailed account of the June Rebellion – especially from Marius Pontmercy, Valjean and Javert’s viewpoints. It featured more fine performances from Jackman and Crowe, as Valjean and Javert continued their game of cat and mouse. It also featured an excellent performance from Samantha Barks, who made a very impressive film debut as Éponine Thénardier, the oldest daughter of Cosette’s cruel caretakers. Many filmgoers and critics had complained about the romance between Cosette and Marius Pontmercy, claiming that it seemed forced. I do not know if I could agree with that assessment. I thought Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne did a pretty good job in conveying the young couple’s romantic interest in each other. The problem with their romance centered on Cosette’s character.

I realized that Seyfried did all she could to infuse some kind of energy into the role. I could say the same for Isabelle Allen. Both Seyfriend and Allen gave first-rate performances. Unfortunately, both were saddled with a one-dimensional character. At times, I found myself wishing that Éponine and not Cosette had ended up with Marius. In fact, I felt the movie could have explored Cosette and the Thénardiers’ relationship with a little more depth. As for the Thénardiers, they proved to be the story’s true villains. Unfortunately, Helen Bonham-Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen injected a little too much comedy into their performances. The couple came off more as comic relief, instead of villains. And I blame both Hooper and the screenwriters. Cosette and the Thénardiers were not the only problems. Although I had complimented Hooper’s direction of the June Rebellion scenes, the entire sequence threatened to go on and on . . . almost forever. I ended up as one relieved moviegoer when the sequence ended with quick violence and Valjean’s rescue of Marius. I have a deep suspicion that “LES MISERABLES” was really about the June Rebellion. Many claimed that Hugo was inspired by his witness of the insurrection. Which would explain why the story’s earlier period between 1815 and 1823 were rushed in a span of 50 minutes or so. Pity. Other moviegoers complained about Hooper’s constant use of close-ups in the film. And I have to agree with them. For a movie that was supposed to be a historic epic wrapped in a musical production, the balance between wide shots and close-ups somewhat unbalanced. During Valjean’s death scene, he envisioned not only the long dead Fatine, but also the insurrectionists who had fought alongside Marius before getting killed. One of those insurrectionists turned out to be Éponine Thénardier. Only she had died before Valjean had arrived at Marius’ barricade. So . . . why was he experiencing images of her?

I could comment on the singing performances of the cast. I thought they had more or less did a pretty good job. Many had criticized Crowe’s singing, but I honestly felt nothing wrong about it. Hathaway’s acting during her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” impressed me a lot more than her singing voice, which struck me as pretty solid. I had expected Jackman’s singing to knock my socks off. It did not quite reach that level. Like Hathaway and Crowe, his acting impressed me a lot more than his singing. Both Redmayne and Seyfried sang pretty well. So did Helen Bonham-Carter and Cohen. But the one musical performance that really impressed me was Samantha Barks’ rendition of “On My Own”. The actress/singer has a beautiful voice.

I liked “LES MISERABLES” very much. The movie featured fine performances from the cast. And Tom Hooper did a very good job in directing the film, despite the many close-ups. And I do believe that it deserved a Best Picture nomination. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy musicals very much. But I simply could not endure a musical that not only featured songs, but dialogue acted out in song. It stretched my patience just a little too much – like the drawn out sequences leading up to the violence that ended the June Rebellion. I would like to say that I regret missing “LES MISERABLES” in the movie theaters. But I would be lying. I have no regrets . . . as much as I like the film.

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

I have never been a diehard fan of director Tim Burton. Honestly. In fact, I can only think of one or two of his movies that really impressed me. Okay, I can think of two . . . before I saw his latest opus, “DARK SHADOWS”

The last Burton film that really impressed me was his 2007 Oscar-nominated film, “SWEENEY TODD”. I did not love it. And I have no desire to see it again. But it did impress me. So, when I discovered that he did a big screen adaptation of the 1966-71 ABC television series, I reacted with mild interest. I have never seen the old television series. And to be honest, I have no real desire to watch it. It was the humor featured in the trailer for Burton’s new film that led me to see it.

“DARK SHADOWS” told the story of Barnabas Collins, the 18th century scion of a wealthy Colonial family, who is transformed into a vampire by a scorned lover named Angelique Bouchard, who also happened to be a Collins family servant and a witch. After transforming him into a vampire, Angelique led a lynch mob that captures Barnabas and buries him alive in a chained coffin in the woods. Two hundred years later in 1972, a group of construction workers accidentally free Barnabas, before he feeds on them. He later makes his way back to the Collins manor and finds it inhabited by his mid 20th century descendants; family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, her 15 year-old daughter Carolyn Stoddard, Elizabeth’s brother Roger Collins, his 10 year-old son David; and their servants who are caretaker Willie Loomis and David’s governess, Victoria Winters, who is a reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love, Josette du Pres. One last occupant is David’s live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman.

Barnabas convinces Elizabeth of his identity when he reveals a secret room behind the fireplace. The room contains a vast treasure that can help the Collins family restore the family business. However, Elizabeth makes him promise to never reveal his identity as a vampire to the rest of the family. All seemed to be well for the Collins family, until Angelique, who has used magic to extend her life, discovers that Barnabas has been released from his coffin. Angelique has also used her own fishery business to bankrupt the family. Upset that Barnabas has returned, Angelique tries to win back his affections through sex. However, Barnabas makes it clear that he does not love her. And Angelique goes out of her way to ensure the destruction of Barnabas and his immediate family.

“DARK SHADOWS” is not perfect. I am quite aware that it is not ensemble piece, despite the likes of Michelle Pfieffer and Helena Bonham-Carter in the cast. I also realize that is basically about Barnabas Collins. But I do believe that two or three supporting characters were barely used in the story. And those characters proved to be young David Collins, Dr. Julia Hoffman (portrayed by the marvelous Helena Bonham-Carter) and Roger Collins, portrayed by the woefully underused Jonny Lee Miller. And I wish the movie had explained how Angelique managed to survive and not age for two centuries. From what I had read, this was never explained in the television version either. I also found the revelation of Carolyn Stoddard as a werewolf near the end of the movie, very contrived. Either screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had failed to hint this revelation or I simply failed to notice any his hint(s). And I also found the movie’s pacing slightly uneven three-quarters into the story. I suspect that Burton and his screenwriter, Seth Grahame-Smith, were in such a hurry to get rid of Roger Collins and Dr. Hoffman that the pacing somewhat became off-kilter.

But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy “DARK SHADOWS” very much. First of all, I was dazzled by Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. He gave it a rich, blue-tinted look that really contributed to the film’s setting and tale. This was especially apparent in the prologue that introduced the Collins family’s American origins and Barnabas Collins. Delbonnel’s photography also enhanced Rick Heinrichs’ production designs. Heinrichs did a beautiful job in re-creating both the mid and late-18th century Maine, along with the same location in 1972. And I feel he was ably supported by Chris Lowe’s art direction team, John Bush’s set decorations and Colleen Atwood’s beautiful costume designs.

Although I was somewhat critical of Grahame-Seth’s screenplay, I do not believe it was not a complete waste. In fact, I thought it was wise of him to center the main narrative around Barnabas Collins. The latter’s attempts to assimilate into the early 1970s had me shaking with laughter. And Grahame-Seth was wise to not only enrich Barnabas’ love for Josette du Pres and later, Victoria Winters; but also his concerns for his family. Family seemed to be very important to Barnabas, which allowed Grahame-Seth to focus more on Victoria and the Collins family . . . even Roger. Barnabas’ concerns for his family also made his conflict with Angelique Bouchard even more pressing. I am also glad that both Burton and Grahame-Seth’s portrayal of Barnabas was complex. They allowed him to feed on other human beings without labeling him as evil. Barnabas feeds on the blood of others to survive, just as we humans feed on other living beings – both animals and plants. He does not like feeding on others anymore than he likes being a vampire. There is no taint of one-dimensional morality that has marred television series like “BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”“ANGEL” and “CHARMED”. Several critics and many of the old television series also criticized Burton’s film for not being a close adaptation of the show. I find their criticisms a little irrelevant, due to the fact that I have yet to see a film adaptation of a television series to be that particularly close to its original source.

The cast for “DARK SHADOWS” is first-rate. Even those performers forced into roles that were not fully explored did a great job. It was nice to see Burton’s willingness to use again, actor Christopher Lee, who had a brief appearance as the top fisherman of Collinsport, Maine. I have never seen Jonny Lee Miller portrayed such a negative role like Roger Collins. And despite the minimal exposure, he did a great job of expressing Roger’s shallowness and lack of concern for his son and other members of the family. Helena Bonham-Carter was hilariously entertaining as young David Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, who developed a crush on Barnabas. It wsa nice to see Jackie Earle Haley again, who was also rather funny as the Collins family’s caretaker, Willie Loomis. I wish I could say something nice about Bella Heathcote. But her performance as Victoria Winters struck me as a little too ethereal and . . . wooden. Gulliver McGrath gave a sweet performance as young David Collins, but he did not strike me as particularly memorable.

For me, the best performances came from lead actor Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green and Chloë Grace Moretz. The latter has certainly grown a lot since I first saw her in “KICK ASS”, two years ago. I find her take on the fifteen year-old Carolyn Stoddard to be very eccentric (in a positive way). She also seemed to be a younger version of Michelle Pfieffer, who portrayed her imperious mother, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. I thought that Pfieffer was spot on as the indomitable matriarch of the Collins family, who hid her ruthlessly passionate and maternal nature behind a reserved facade. Eva Green nearly scared me out of my wits with her frightening portrayal of Angelique Bouchard, the witch who developed an obsessive love for Barnabas. Apparently, Angelique’s love and hatred proved to be so strong that she continued to slowly destroy the Collins family, long after Barnabas was locked in a coffin. Johnny Depp has portrayed some memorable characters over the years. But I must admit that his take on the Barnabas Collins character has proven to be one of my favorites. The man was superb. I could describe his performance with as many adjectives as possible. But it would take a great deal of my time. All I can say is that I believe he was perfect.

I realize that “DARK SHADOWS” has disappointed many fans of the old 1966-71 television series. And I must admit that I found a few aspects of Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay rather questionable. But “DARK SHADOWS” proved to be an entertaining movie thanks to Tim Burton’s direction, the story’s concentration on the Barnabas Collins, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and the excellent cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp.

FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

Below is my ranking of the eight movies in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise, based upon J.K. Rowling novels:

FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

1. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) – During his third year at Hogswarts, Harry becomes acquainted with creatures called the dementors and a past mystery regarding his parents and an escaped prisoner by the name of Sirius Black. Alfonso Cuarón directed.

2. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” (2010) – In this first half adaptation of Rowling’s final novel, Harry and his friends begin their search of the Horcruxes, objects that contain parts of Lord Voldemort’s soul. They are also forced to evade the evil wizard’s forces as the latter assume control of the wizarding world. David Yates directed.

3. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) – David Yates directed his first HARRY POTTER movie in which Harry Potter and his friends deal with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge. They also become acquainted with the Order of the Phoenix, an old organization revived to deal with the new threat of Lord Voldemort.

4. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002) – Harry Potter returns to Hogswarts for his second year, when the school is beset by a strange monster with a link to the school’s Chamber of Secrets. Directed by Chris Columbus.

5. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone” (2001) – Harry Potter is introduced into the world of magic for the first time as he enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chris Columbus directed.

6. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) – During Harry’s sixth year at Hogswarts, he is assigned to discovered the deep secret of the new Potions teacher and stumbles across a mysterious Potions book labeled the property of the Half-Blood Prince. Romance also fills the air. David Yates directed.

7. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” (2011) – In this continuation of “THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I”, the three heroes, along with the staff and students of Hogswarts have their final confrontation with Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Directed by David Yates.

8. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005) – Harry is manipulated into participating in the Triwizard Tournament as a last minute contestant. Mike Newell directed.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II” (2011) Review

 

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II” (2011) Review

When I had first learned that Warner Brothers Studio and the producers of the HARRY POTTER franchise planned to divide the series’ last novel into two movies, I had harbored strong doubts against this plan. Then I saw “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I” and my doubts were erased. I thought for sure that they would be able to pull this off. And after watching the last movie in the movie . . . I have changed my mind again. 

Directed by David Yates, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” picked up where “PART I” left off – with the trio seeking refuge at Shells Cottage, the home of the recently married Bill and Fleur Weasley. Despite this, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger continue their search of horcruxes, a group of objects that Lord Voldemort used to store his soul in order to ensure his immortality. After conversations with wand maker Mr. Ollivander and a goblin and Gringotts bank employee named Griphook, the three friends travel to the bank in London to get their hands on another horcrux, stored there by Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange. After destroying the horcrux – Helga Hufflepuff’s cup – the trio is betrayed by Griphook, before they make their escape from Gringotts and London via a dragon imprisoned in one of the bank’s vaults. Harry, Ron and Hermione eventually make to Hogsmeade. They are briefly offered refuge by Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, at the latter’s tavern. Neville Longbottom arrive and lead the trio to Hogswarts Castle. Before long, the school’s inhabitants are engaged in a major battle against Voldemort and his Deatheaters.

As much as I had enjoyed “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I”, I now realize that it had ended too soon. By ending the 2010 movie with Dobby the House Elf’s death (along with Voldemort’s discovery of the Elder Wand), screenwriter Steve Kloves was left with the Gringotts Bank sequence before allowing the Battle of Hogswarts to take over the rest of the movie. And if I must be honest, I found this heavy emphasis on the battle very disappointing. The film’s title should have been“HARRY POTTER AND THE BATTLE OF HOGSWARTS”, instead of the “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II”.

There were scenes in “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” that I enjoyed very much. Severus Snape’s death and memories of his past proved to be just as poignant as portrayed in the novel. Alan Rickman probably gave his best performances in the entire franchise. And he was ably supported by the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe. Another sequence that I enjoyed featured Harry’s discussion with Albus Dumbledore in the afterlife, following his “death” at the hands of Voldemort. It was another poignant scene made enjoyable by performances from Radcliffe and Gambon. The kiss exchanged between Ron and Hermione was very memorable – especially in comparison to the slightly disappointing kiss shared between Harry and Ginny. I also enjoyed the sequence featuring the Malfoys’ (Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory and Tom Felton) ultimate rejection of Voldemort in order to preserve their hides.

However, I have two favorite sequences from the movie. One featured the trio’s confrontation with Draco Malfoy and his two friends – Gregory Goyle and Blaise Zabini. Thanks to Yates’ direction, Mark Day’s editing and the visual and special effects teams, this was an exciting sequence. But my favorite is the Gringotts Bank sequence in which the trio attempts to find the horcrux stored in Bellatrix Lestrange’s personal vault. Again, the crew did wonders with this sequence, which was capped by an exciting escape on the back of an imprisoned dragon. This last scene really blew my mind and I believe that Yates and the crew really outdid themselves. The sequence also featured a first-rate performance by Helena Bonham-Carter, who had to portray Hermione . . . impersonating Bellatrix. The actress deserves a Saturn Award nomination for that scene alone.

But as much as I had enjoyed the above mentioned sequences, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” proved to be a disappointment for me. My main problem with the film is that it fulfilled my worst fears about the movie – it nearly became all about the Battle of Hogswarts. The movie brought back bad memories of the Battle of Helms Deep in “LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS” and the two major battles featured in “LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING”. The photography shot by cinematographer Eduardo Serra not only reignited bad memories of the second and third “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, but also “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”. The movie’s photography possessed that grayish tinge that I found very unappealing. I also recall one scene in which Neville Longbottom found himself facing a large number of Voldemort’s combatants at the end of the castle’s bridge. I never realized there were that many Death Eaters in the Harry Potter universe. It looked . . . exaggerated. As much as I like Neville, I found the entire sequence featuring the hunt for Voldemort’s pet snake and horcrux, Nagini and Neville’s killing of it very contrived. Yes, I am aware that Neville did kill Nagini in the novel. But I do not recall Rowling resorting to contrived delay tactics featuring the attempts to kill the snake. By the time Neville killed Nagini – seconds before Voldemort again used the Elder Wand on Harry with fatal results – I realized that I no longer cared. While everyone else cheered, I rolled my eyes in disgust.

For me, the worst aspect of “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” was that it failed to continue the strong narrative that began in “PART I”. I got the feeling that screenwriter Steve Kloves, along with Yates, decided to dump the story’s narrative by the wayside and focus at least 85-90% of the film on that damn battle. “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I”introduced a hint of some kind of scandal in Albus Dumbledore’s past. This was apparent in Harry’s conversation with Elphias Doge and Molly Weasley’s Aunt Muriel at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. In “PART II”, the trio met Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, who made ominous hints about the late headmaster’s dark past. But this storyline, which had a lot do with how Dumbledore came into possession of the Elder Wand (one of the Deathly Hallows), was dropped the moment Neville made his first appearance. The jettison of this storyline also robbed moviegoers and Harry on the lessons of desire for power . . . and the fact that respected idols and authority figures also have feet of clay. And it seemed to make Ciarán Hinds’ appearance in the movie a complete waste of time.

Speaking of wastes of time, if you blink, you might come across some of the franchise’s past supporting characters who barely uttered a sound or two in this film. The movie featured appearances by Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), Gemma Jones (Madam Pomfrey), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley) and Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout). At least Julie Walters had her moment in the sun, when she killed Bellatrix Lestrange. Gary Oldman and David Thewlis (Sirius Black and Remus Lupin), along with Geraldine Sommerville and Adrian Rawlins (Lily and James Potter) had a line or two to spout, when Harry used the Resurrection Stone. Audiences also learned that Lupin had become a father . . . as an afterthought. In the novel, the Slytherin students had refused to defend the castle. I had hoped that Kloves would reverse Rowling’s narrative and have them take part in the school’s defense. Instead, Kloves’ script had Minerva McGonagall order all of the Slytherins to be locked in the dungeon before the battle. How disappointing, considering Snape and Slughorn’s willing participation in the war against Voldemort. By the way, I saw that Dean Thomas made it to Hogswarts before the trio. In “PART I”, he was reported on the radio to be on the run from Snatchers. Why did he decided to return to the dangers of Hogswarts . . . before the battle?

I have another question . . . when did Harry realize that he had become the Master of the Elder Wand? Following Voldemort’s death, he told Ron and Hermione that Draco Malfoy became Master of the Elder Wand, when he disarmed Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower in “THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Harry became the master when he disarmed Draco at the Malfoy Manor in “PART I”. How did he find out? He had overheard Voldemort’s conversation with Snape in which he learned that one has kill the current Elder Wand master in order to become one. How did Harry find out that one can also become master by the disarming of a wand?

Earlier, I had stated that “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I” should have ended a little sooner – with the Snatchers’ capture of Harry, Ron and Hermione. I usually dismiss other people’s attempts to rewrite movies already filmed and released. But now, I find myself doing the same. After watching “PART II”, I realized that if “PART I” had ended with the trio being captured by the Snatchers, “PART II” could have featured the Malfoy Manor sequence, Dobby’s death and the Gringotts Bank sequence before the film moved on to the Hogswarts battle. I would have also preferred if Kloves had allowed Mr. Ollivander to reveal more about the Elder Wand; and Aberforth Dumbledore to reveal more about his older brother’s past.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II”. I really do. I enjoyed “PART I” a lot. And there were scenes in this last film that really impressed me. But as a whole, this last movie in the franchise proved to be one of my biggest disappointments from the summer of 2011. Pity.

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

Inspirational movies have been the hallmark of Hollywood films over the decades. They especially became popular between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. After the mid-90s, I never thought they would become popular again. But the recent release of the historical drama, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” proved me wrong. 

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” told the story of Great Britain’s King George VI’s difficulties with a speech impediment and his relationship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped him overcome his stutter. The movie opened with George VI (then Prince Albert, Duke of York) at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth by his side. There he gives a stammering speech that visibly unsettles the thousands of listeners in the audience. After nine years of unsuccessfully finding a speech therapist that can help him, Elizabeth recruits Australian-born Lionel Logue to meet him. The two men eventually bond and Logue helps the Duke of York overcome the latter’s stammer during a series of crises that include the death of George V; his brother, King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson; the abdication of Edward; the Duke of York’s ascension to the throne as George VI; his coronation and the start of World War II. Also during this period, both king and speech therapist become close friends.

What can I say about ”THE KING’S SPEECH”? I cannot deny that it was a heartwarming tale about the growing friendship of two men from disparate backgrounds. Seidler’s script was filled with wit, charm, warmth and pathos that filled the heart. The cast, lead by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, did great credit to the script. There have been complaints about the film’s historical accuracy from both the media and historians. And there is a good deal of the story that is historically inaccurate. George VI and Lionel Logue’s collaboration began as far back as 1926, not 1934. And the king was also pro-appeasement in the late 1930s. In fact, the majority of Britons during that period were pro-appeasement. What historians fail to realize is that appeasement was popular due to a lack of desire for another war against Germany. World War I had traumatized a generation that included George VI. One also has to remember that ”THE KING’S SPEECH” is a drama based upon historical fact, not a documentary. One would know by now that complete historical accuracy in a work of fiction is rare. It has been rare for as long as there have been fictional work based upon history. And to be honest, I do not believe that the movie’s fiddling with historical fact has not harmed the story.

One would think that I consider ”THE KING’S SPEECH” to be one of the best movies this year. Frankly, I find labeling what is ”the best” rather subjective. I did enjoy the movie and it made the list of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2010. However, I must admit that I do not consider it to be a particularly original film. One, it is one of those inspirational films that moviegoers tend to love – movies like ”SEABISCUIT””CINDERELLA MAN” and the 1976 Oscar winner, ”ROCKY”. And if I must be brutally honest, there was nothing original about ”THE KING’S SPEECH” – even for an inspirational film. I already have a nickname for it – ’ROCKY in the Palace’. Another problem I have with the movie is that I was not that impressed by its visual style. I found Danny Cohen’s photography rather pedestrian. And Eve Stewart’s production designs and Judy Farr’s set decorations were very disappointing. Only the movie’s exterior shots prevented ”THE KING’S SPEECH” from becoming another filmed stage play. And the actual sets struck me as very dull. My hopes of a rich look at London and the rest of Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s fell short. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the movie’s uninspiring visual style. It only had a budget of $15 million dollars. I suspect the producers had very little money to work with.

With a few exceptions, the cast turned out to be first-rate. Colin Firth gave a superb and complex performance as the insecure sovereign with the speech impediment. I am not that surprised that he managed to earn nominations and win a good number of acting awards. Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed Lionel Logue, gave a first-rate performance filled with a great deal of sly humor. Also, he and Firth generated a strong screen chemistry. Helena Bonham-Carter was a charming and witty Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. However, I would have never considered her performance worth of any acting award nomination. She was simply portraying the “loyal wife” schtick. I was surprised to find Guy Pierce portraying the love obsessed and selfish Edward VIII. And I must he was very subtle and effective in revealing the man’s less admirable traits. The movie also benefitted solid performances from the likes of Michael Gambon as King George V, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, and Anthony Andrews, who was surprisingly effective as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

However, there were some performances that I found unsatisfying. Being a fan of Jennifer Ehle, I was disappointed in the limitations of her role as Logue’s wife, Myrtle. She hardly had a chance to do anything, except murmur a few words of encouragement to Logue. Her only great moment occurred in a scene that featured Myrtle Logue’s realization that the King of England was one of her husband’s clients. Seeing Ehle and Firth in the same scene together brought back memories of the 1995 adaptation of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I also had a problem with Eve Best’s portrayal of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Her Wallis came off as more extroverted than the divorcee in real life. And I hate to say this, but Timothy Spall’s interpretation of Winston Churchill seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal. Every time he was on the screen, I could not help but wince.

In conclusion, I enjoyed ”THE KING’S SPEECH” very much. Despite its lack of originality, I found it heartwarming, humorous, and dramatic; thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction and Seidler’s writing. And aside from a few performances, I was impressed by the cast, especially leading men Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I would never consider it artistically worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining.

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As an extra treat, below is a video clip featuring a speech given by King George VI at the an Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, Scotland; 1938.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

I have been a major fan of J.K. Rowling’s ”HARRY POTTER” novels as much as the next person. But I would have never become a fan if it had not been for the movie adaptations of the novels. Mind you, I have not harbored a high opinion of all the movie adaptations. It has been a mixed bag for me over the past nine years. Of the seven movies that were made, I have a high opinion of at least four of them. And the most recent movie – ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” – happened to be one of them. 

I never thought I would think highly of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. When I had heard that Warner Brothers planned to split Rowling’s seventh novel into two movies, I did not think it was a good idea. And I felt it was an attempt by the studio to get as much profit from Rowling’s saga as much as possible. Being a steady fan of the franchise, I went ahead and saw . . . and thanked my lucky stars that the movie had not been shot in the 3-D process. Not only did I develop a high opinion of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”, I fell in love with it. Considering the number of complaints I have heard about the movie, I suspect that many would be surprised by my opinion. But I did. I fell in love with that movie. And considering the detailed nature of Rowling’s novel, the decision to make two movies from it may have done justice to Steve Kloves’ screenplay.

Directed by David Yates, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” told the story of Harry Potter and his two close friends – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger – and their efforts to elude Lord Voldemort and his Deatheasters throughout Britain, after the latter assumed control of the wizarding world following Albus Dumbledore’s death in ”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Not only did Harry, Ron and Hermione do their best to elude Voldemort and the Deatheaters; they had to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes – objects or receptacles in which Voldemort had hidden parts of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality. Harry had destroyed Voldemort’s school diary in ”CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. And before the start of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, Professor Dumbledore had destroyed another – Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. There remained five horcruxes for the trio to find and destroy. But as fugitives within Britain’s wizarding world, their task proved to be difficult.

As I had stated earlier, I ended up falling in love with ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. But this feeling did not blind me to its flaws. And it had a few. One, what happened to Dean Thomas? For the first time in the saga’s history, he had a bigger role. At least in the novel. He failed to make an appearance in this adaptation. Mind you, his lack of presence did not harm the story. But it would have been nice for Harry, Ron and Hermione to encounter at least one fellow Hogswarts student (other than Luna) during their adventures. And poor Dean Thomas had been sadly underused since the first movie. Two, I wish that director David Yates and editor Mark Day had chopped some of the scenes featuring the Trio’s ”Winter of Discontent”. I could understand that the three friends would endure a great deal of despair over their situation and the state of the wizarding world. However . . . was it really that necessary to endure so many shots of Harry, Ron and Hermione staring into space, looking depressed? These scenes nearly bogged down the movie’s middle section. The Dursleys barely made a presence in this movie. Worse, Kloves had decided to delete Harry and Dudley’s goodwill good-bye. Who became the new owner of Sirius Black’s home, Number 12 Grimmauld Place, following his death? Since ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” movie failed to clear the issue, I had hoped this movie would. It never did. I had also hoped that ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” would clear reveal the identities of the two other horcruxes that were revealed in the sixth novel – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. The only thing that Kloves’ script did was mention that the Trio did not know about the cup, the diadem and two other horcruxes.

Despite these annoyances, I still love ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. The only HARRY POTTER movie that I love more is 2004’s ”HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. There had been complaints of the movie’s dark tone. Personally, this did not bother me one bit. In fact, I reveled in the story’s darkness. Other HARRY POTTER have ended on a dark note. But the story’s dark tone was not only well handled in Rowling’s novel, but also in Kloves’ script. Why? Because it suited the story. Aside from the ”Winter of Discontent” sequence, the rest of the pacing for ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” was well handled by Yates and Kloves. The movie also featured some outstanding sequences. Among my favorite were the following:

*Lord Voldemort’s murder of Charity Burbage at the Malfoy Manor.

*The Order of the Phoenix escort Harry to the Weasleys’ home, the Burrows.

*Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding at the Burrows to London.

*The attack upon the Trio by two Death Eaters at a London café.

*The Trio steal Salazar Slytherin’s locket from Dolores Umbridge at the Ministry of Magic.

*Ron’s departure from Harry and Hermione, following a vicious quarrel between him and Harry.

*Harry and Hermione’s narrow escape from Godric’s Hollow.

*Ron’s reunion with Harry and Hermione and his destruction of Salazar Slytherin’s locket (a horcrux).

*Xenophilius Lovegood’s (and Hermione’s) narration of Peverell brothers and the Deathly Hallows.

*Dobby’s rescue of the Trio, Luna Lovegood and Mr. Ollivander from the Malfoy Manor.

Of the above scenes, at least three of them stood out for me. One of those scenes was the quarrel that broke out between Harry and Ron during the ”Winter of Discontent”. I found it ugly, brutal and emotional, thanks to the performances of the three leads. They really made this scene worked and for the first time; it occurred to me that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had really grown in their skills as actors. Hell, in this scene, they gave the best performances in the movie. Another scene that really stood out was Xenophilius Lovegood’s narration of the bleak tale regarding the Peverell brothers and the three Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility). What made this sequence unique was that it was shown via some visually stunning animations designed and directed by Ben Hibon. But the one scene that really impressed me was the Ministry of Magic sequence that featured the Trio’s retrieval of Salazar Slytherin’s locket from the odious Dolores Umbridge (now head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission). From the moment that Harry, Ron and Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to transform into three workers from the Ministry of Magic (Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri), until their escape via apparition; the entire scene was a fabulous ride filled with tension, humor, chaos and adventure. I would rate it as one of the best sequences in the entire saga.

I had already commented on the marvel of the three leads’ performances. For once, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were the ones to give the most outstanding performances; instead of a supporting cast member. But there were other excellent performances. One came from Tom Felton, who continued his ambiguous portrayal of Hogswarts student Draco Malfoy that began in ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Another came from Ralph Fiennes, who gave a better performance as Lord Voldemort – especially in the opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – than he did in both ”THE GOBLET OF FIRE” and”THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. In fact, I could say the same about Helena Bonham-Carter, who seemed less over-the-top and a lot scarier than she was in her previous appearances. Rhys Ifan was deliciously entertaining as Luna Lovegood’s equally eccentric father, Xenophilius. And I have to give kudos to Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri did a great job in conveying their adolescent characters (Hermione, Harry and Ron) through body language – especially since the three leads added their voices. And in his few scenes, Alan Rickman was his usual superb self as the enigmatic Severus Snape. A good example of how ambiguous he could be can be seen in the sequence featuring the death of an old friend of Snape’s – Charity Burbage. All you have to do is look at Rickman’s eyes and face.

Considering that this tale has no choice but to end happily in ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II”, I could assume that”Part I” might prove to be the darkest movie in the HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, Yates and Kloves might prove me wrong. But despite a few flaws, I believe that ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” is one of the best movies in the franchise. I have not truly enjoyed a HARRY POTTER this much since ”THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. And I can thank director David Yates, screenwriter Steve Kloves; and the three leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Excellent job, guys. Excellent job.

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

I never understood director Tim Burton’s decision to name his latest film, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. I mean . . . why did he do it? His new movie was not another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, ”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It was a sequel set thirteen years after the original story. So why use the shortened version of the title from Carroll’s original title? 

Many of you might be wondering why I had just made a big deal about this new movie’s title. For me, it represented an example of what I consider to be the numerous missteps that prevented me from embracing Burton’s new movie. Before I continue, I should confess that I have never been a Tim Burton fan. Never. I can only recall two of his movie that knocked my socks off – 1994’s ”ED WOOD” and the 2007 Golden Globe nominee, ”SWEENY TODD”. I wish I could include ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” in that category, but I cannot. The movie simply failed to impress me.

As I had stated earlier, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” was a sequel to Carroll’s original story. Thirteen years after her original adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has become a nineteen year-old young woman on the verge of accepting a wedding proposal from one Hamish Ascot, the son of her late father’s partner, Lord Ascot. Unfortunately, Hamish is a shallow and self-absorbed young man with very little character. Salvation arrived during Hamish’s very public marriage proposal, when Alice spotted a familiar figure – the same White Rabbit who had previously lured her to Wonderland – scampering across Lord Ascot’s estate.

History repeated itself when Alice fell down into the rabbit hole. However, she soon discovered that Wonderland (orUnderland) had changed during her thirteen years absence. The Red Queen had managed to wreck havoc and assume control over most of Underland, thanks to her new ”champion” – a dragon known as the Jabberwocky. Only the realm of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, has remained beyond the red-haired monarch’s reach. However, that situation threatened to change if the White Queen fails to acquire her own champion. A scroll called “the Oraculum” predicted that Alice will not only be the White Queen’s champion, but she will also defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. But due to her stubborn belief that Underland was and still is nothing but a dream, Alice was reluctant to take up the mantle of the White Queen’s champion.

Judging by the plot I had just described, ”ALICE OF WONDERLAND” should have been an enjoyable movie for me. Granted, Linda Woolverton’s script seemed like a typical ”slay the dragon” storyline that has been used in numerous fantasies. But it still had enough adventure, intrigue and personal angst for me to find it appealing. So, why did it fail to light my fire? Production designer Robert Stromberg created an interesting mixture of Gothic and animated styles for the film’s visuals in both the England and Wonderland sequences. Anthony Almaraz and his team of costume designers created lush and colorful costumes for the cast. And Dariusz Wolski’s photography brought out the best in the movie’s visual styles.

”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” could also boast some first-rate performances from the cast. Johnny Depp gave a wonderfully complicated performance as the Mad Hatter. His Mad Hatter was an interesting mixture of an extroverted personality and pathos, punctuated by bouts of borderline insanity. The Red Queen might possibly be one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s best roles. She struck me as the epitome of childishness, selfishness and cruelty. Crispin was slick, menacing and subtly funny as the Red Queen’s personal henchman, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway’s delicious portrayal of the White Queen reminded me of a Disney princess on crack. I really enjoyed it. Both Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James (who were both in the 1985 miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”) gave solid performances as Alice’s potential in-laws – the kindly Lord Ascot and his shrewish and bullying wife, Lady Ascot. And Alan Rickman gave voice to the Blue Caterpillar in a deliciously sardonic performance. Despite my positive opinion of most of the film’s technical aspects and performances, it still failed to impress me. Why?

First of all, the movie rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska as the lead character, Alice Kingsleigh. I understand that Ms. Wasikowska has recently received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a suicidal teen in HBO’s ”IN TREATMENT”. It seemed a pity that she failed to be just as impressive as Alice in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Some people have labeled her performance as ”subtle”. I would call it ”insipid”. Or perhaps just plain boring. I swear I have never come across such a bland and boring performance in my life. No only did Wasikowska managed to make Alice’s battle against the Jabberwocky seem dull, she still came close to putting me to sleep in her character’s moments of triumph in the movie’s finale.

Tim Burton’s direction of ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” proved to be just as uninspiring to me, as Wasikowska’s performance. Actually, I found myself thinking of the 1992 movie, ”DEATH BECOMES HER”. I was not comparing the visual effects between the two movies. Meryl Streep had uttered a word in the 1992 movie that perfectly described my opinion of Burton’s direction. Flaccid. ”FLA-A-A-A-CI-I-ID!” How did a director with Burton’s reputation managed to take a solid fantasy adventure and make it one of the most boring films in recent Hollywood history is beyond me. His direction lacked any pep. Or spark. I had felt as if I was watching a piece of limp lettuce in action. I even began to wonder if Burton’s dull direction had affected Wasikowska’s performance. Then I remembered that actors like Depp and Bonham-Carter managed to rise above his direction. I might as well dump the blame of Wasikowska’s performance on her shoulders. As for Tim Burton . . . what is there to say? His direction simply disappointed me.

I might as well say something about the movie’s 3-D effects. They were not only disappointing to me, but also a waste of time and the extra cash I had to pay for the movie tickets. I did not care for the 3-D effects in ”AVATARS”, but it was an example of technical wizardry in compare to the 3-D photography shown in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Speaking of ”AVATAR”, I have one last thing to say in regard to 3-D . . . ’Damn you, James Cameron!”. Seriously. I would like to take the man’s head and bash it through a wall for introducing 3-D to the movie going experience. In the two movies I have seen it in, I found it unimpressive. Worse, I had to pay extra movie because movie theaters are more willing to show the 3-D versions of movies like ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”, instead of the 2-D versions.

In short, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” had all of the hallmarks of a solid and entertaining movie experience for me. It was the continuation of a classic fantasy adventure. Talented actors like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover and Anne Hathaway gave first-rate performances. And I must admit that the movie’s production designs and photography gave it a unique visual style. But all of that could not save a movie hindered by pedestrian 3-D effects, a dull and insipid performance by Mia Wasikowska and an even more insipid direction by Tim Burton. Frankly, I think it is a miracle that this movie managed to become a box-office hit.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the new HARRY POTTER movie called ”Half-Blood Prince”. Directed by David Yates, the movie starred Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Sir Michael Gambon:


”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” (2009) Review

When the producers of the latest installment of the HARRY POTTER movie franchise had announced their intentions to push back the movie’s release date from November 2008 to July 2009, a relative of mine had expressed disappointment. My own disappointment was muted by the possibility that the movie required further retakes for improvement. After finally seeing”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, I am beginning to wonder if any retakes had ever been made.

Judging by my words, one would assume that I harbor a low opinion of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Well . . . that person would be right. Because I do have a low opinion of the movie. I am almost inclined to declare ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” as the worst HARRY POTTER ever made. But I believe that it would receive stiff competition from 2005’s ”GOBLET OF FIRE” for that particular title.

Not all of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” seemed terrible to me. One, the movie can boast some of the best acting featured in the entire franchise. Director David Yates seemed to have gone through a great deal of trouble to draw out some excellent performances from the cast. I was especially impressed by Rupert Grint’s lovesick Ron Weasley; Jim Broadbent as the new Potions Master, the eccentric and slightly selfish Horace Slughorn; Michael Gambon as a frighteningly vulnerable Albus Dumbledore; Jessie Cave as the Ron-infatuated Lavender Brown; the always superb Alan Rickman as Severus Snape; and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. I was surprisingly pleased by Felton’s performance as a Draco who found himself recruited by Lord Voldemort to carry out a special task involving Hogswarts and Dumbledore. Felton’s past performances seemed to have been an exercise in adolescent hammy acting that was usually accompanied by sneers. For once, Felton portrayed Draco as a complex individual who may have gotten himself involved in something that was over his head, instead of a caricature of a school bully.

The movie also featured some rather memorable moments for me. Bruno Delbonnel’s photography and John Richardson’s special effects really shone in a sequence that featured the Death Eaters’ kidnapping of wand maker Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt) and attack upon one of London’s bridges. I also enjoyed the humorous scene that featured Slughorn’s introduction into the story. And from an emotional point of view, one of my favorite scenes centered on a quarrel between Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) and Lavender over a hospitalized Ron, recovering from a love potion and poisoned mead meant for Dumbledore. But my two favorite scenes happened to be Harry and Dumbledore’s encounter with inferi inside a seaside cave; and also Bellatrix Black Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Narcissa Black Malfoy (Helen McCrory)’s visit to Snape’s home in Spinner’s End. Although some fans have dismissed the inferi shown in the film as ineffective, I found them creepy. Especially when they attempted to claim Harry’s body for themselves. Dumbledore’s fiery solution to their threat proved to be breathtaking. As stated earlier, my other favorite scene featured the Black sisters – Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy – visiting Snape’s home. Not only did I enjoy how Delbonnel’s photography captured the gloomy and rain-soaked atmosphere of Spinner’s End, I also enjoyed the tense interactions between Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham-Carter and Helen McCrory when the sisters managed to coerce an “Unbreakable Vow” from Snape in order to protect Draco.

As much as I had enjoyed the above aspects of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, there was a great deal about the film that disappointed me. One of the main problems I had was the movie’s pacing. How can I put it? It was too damn slow! I cannot think of the numerous times I nearly fell asleep or squirmed in my seat out of sheer boredom. Perhaps the movie had emphasized too heavily upon the love lives of Harry and his friends and not enough on both Lord Voldemort’s past and the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. Even worse, the movie not only left out scenes important to the saga’s main narrative, but inserted scenes that proved to be irrelevant to the story. I will begin with those scenes featured in the novel, but not in the movie.

Considering that the name of this particular story was ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, I found it odd that screenwriter Steve Kloves had placed such a small emphasis on the title character’s Potions book discovered by Harry. Moviegoers saw Harry use the book to win Slughorn’s favor during Potions class. And in one scene, Kloves allowed Hermoine to express annoyance at Harry’s use of the book. Moviegoers even saw Harry briefly spot the Sectumsempra spell before using it in a duel against Draco. But the movie never hinted any real effort by the friends to discover the real identity of the Half-Blood Prince, as they had done in the novel. And Snape’s identity as the owner of the book seemed to have come out of the blue near the end of the film. Nor was it ever mentioned that his witch mother’s surname was Prince. Hell, that Potions book almost became an afterthought in the film.

I also found myself annoyed that the movie only featured two flashbacks or memories of Voldemort’s past – one in which Dumbledore first met the eleven year-old Tom Riddle, and the second in which Horace Slughorn told an older Tom about horcruxes. As any fan of the HARRY POTTER franchise knows, a Horcrux is a “receptacle in which a Dark wizard has hidden a part of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality.” With part of a wizard’s soul thus stored, the wizard becomes immortal so long as the Horcrux remains intact. For this reason, Horcruxes are typically hidden in a safe location. The literary version of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” allowed Harry to learn about the objects that Voldemort had converted into Horcruxes via the memories of others who had met the dark wizard. In the movie, Harry only learned that the diary he had destroyed in ”THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS”, Salazar Slytherin’s locket and Marvolo Gaunt’s ring were Horcruxes. I can only wonder how Yates and Kloves will reveal the identities of the other Horcruxes in the two ”DEATHLY HALLOWS” movies. What exactly are the seven Horcruxes that Voldemort had created? They are:

*Harry Potter – Dumbledore realized that the boy wizard was a Horcrux right before his death
*Nagini – Voldemort’s pet snake seen by Harry in his dreams about Voldemort in ”GOBLET OF FIRE” and ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”
*Tom Riddle’s diary – destroyed by Harry in ”CHAMBER OF SECRETS”
*Marvolo Gaunt’s ring – found and destroyed by Dumbledore in ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”
*Salazar Slytherin’s locket – taken by Regulus Black and substituted with a fake
*Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem – unbeknownst to anyone
*Helga Hufflepuff’s cup – unbeknownst to anyone

The movies have only revealed the following Horcruxes to the audience – Harry, Nagini, Tom’s diary, Gaunt’s ring and Slytherin’s locket. Of the five, the movies have either skimmed over or never revealed the origins of the ring and the locket. Nor has ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” bothered to reveal how Voldemort got his hands on Ravenclaw’s diadem or Hufflepuff’s cup. Without any additional scenes featuring Voldemort’s past and with Dumbledore dead, I am curious to see how Kloves will allow Harry, Ron and Hermoine will learn about the diadem and the cup in the two”DEATHLY HALLOWS” movies.

There are other deleted scenes that disturbed me. Audiences had learned in the first story,”SORCERER’S STONE” that Snape had coveted the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor for years. Yet, when he finally assumed the position, the movie never gave audiences a glimpse of his tenure in this position. Also, Dumbledore did not put Harry in a body-binding curse and hide him underneath his invisibility cloak. Instead, Harry is instructed to hide when Draco and the Death Eaters make their appearance in the Astronomy Tower, and do nothing. I really cannot see Harry following these instructions. Even if Dumbledore had made them. Even worse, Yates and Kloves also left out the battle between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix, after the former managed to infiltrate Hogswarts’ grounds. Either the director or the producer had claimed they did not want to repeat themselves, considering a similar battle will be featured in ”DEATHLY HALLOWS II”. But audiences will not be able to see this in another two years. I really see no reason why they could not have included this. It made no sense that the aurors posted at Hogswarts would not eventually become aware of the Death Eaters’ presence, especially with Bellatrix Lestrange whooping it up inside the school’s Great Hall. In fact the entire finale left me feeling disappointed. Not only did Kloves and Yates include a scene that featured Dumbledore instructing Harry to hide inside the Astronomy Tower, they deleted Dumbledore’s funeral, yet included a scene in which the students and faculty at Hogwarts had gathered around Dumbledore’s body before paying homage to the dead wizard by lighting up their wands. Let me go on record in stating that this whole ”We Are the World”moment left me rolling my eyes in disgust.

And speaking of inserted scenes, I have noticed several others that were included in the film. One scene featured a flashback with Harry and Dumbledore emerging from the Ministry of Magic, following the battle that resulted in Sirius Black’s death in ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. I can only assume that the flashback was meant to hint Harry’s continuing grief over his godfather’s death. And yet . . . aside from a brief mention by Horace Slughorn, there was no further mention of Sirius. The filmmakers had decided to add this scene, yet did not bother to add a sequence featuring Harry’s inheritance of the Blacks’ home at Number 12, Grimmauld Place and their house elf, Kreacher. A plot point that would prove to be very important in the upcoming ”DEATHLY HALLOWS”. Another scene featured Harry at a neighborhood café, where a pretty waitress manages to catch his attention before Dumbledore made his appearance. Was this scene supposed to be a foreshadow of the adolescent soap operas that permeated a great deal of the movie? Or Harry’s own libido? Well, the topic of Harry’s libido was first approached in ”GOBLET OF FIRE” and continued in ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”, through his relationship with Cho Chang (Katie Leung). In other words, I found both the Ministry of Magic flashback, and café scene irrelevant to the story. Both could have easily been replaced with Harry learning about his inheritance from Sirius. Yates and Kloves also decided to include a scene featuring the Death Eaters attacking and burning the Weasleys’ home, the Burrows, during the Christmas holidays. My question . . . why bother? What purpose did this scene serve other than to include an action sequence in the movie? Neither Ron, Ginny or Harry seemed disturbed by the event following their return to Hogwarts. In fact, audiences never learned where Molly and Arthur Weasley were staying following the fire. And in the end, the sequence only robbed more potential screen time from the more important horcrux storyline.

Another aspect of the movie’s story that annoyed me turned out to be the Vanishing Cabinet that Draco used to smuggle Death Eaters inside Hogwarts Castle. Now, I am well aware that the Vanishing Cabinet played a major role in the story. But Kloves and Yates took it too far. In other words, they gave away the mystery surrounding Draco’s actions before they could surprise the moviegoers. While still in London; Harry, Ron and Hermoine managed to eavesdrop on Draco interacting with the owner of a Knockturn Alley shop called Borgin and Burkes. And instead of following Rowling’s example by maintaining the mystery behind Draco’s actions until near the end of the story, Kloves’ screenplay continuously hinted Draco’s intentions and the cabinet’s magic properties before the finale at the Astronomy Tower. In my opinion, Kloves and Yates could have maintained the mystery, leaving enough time to explore the horcrux storyline via memories of Voldemort.

Although I found myself impressed by the acting featured in the movie, I had a problem with three of the characters. One of the characters I had a problem with happened to be Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Harry’s girlfriend in ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. Or should I say a lack of Cho Chang? What happened between Harry and Cho? ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” never bothered to bring closure to Harry and Cho’s story, after he and Hermoine discovered that Cho had been forced to expose Dumbledore’s Army thanks to the Veritaserum (truth potion) forced upon her by Dolores Umbridge. I had expected to see such closure in ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, but it never materialized, much to my disappointment.

I also had a problem with the characterization of Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), as well as the Harry/Ginny romance. I just want to say that Bonnie Wright is not to blame. She has shown in the past – namely in ”GOBLET OF FIRE” that she is quite capable of portraying Ginny as J.K. Rowling had written her – a lively and sardonic girl, whose outgoing personality made Harry feel relaxed. And then came ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” and David Yates. In both the fifth film and this one, Ginny seemed quiet and . . . dull. Well, at least two scenes in ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”gave Wright a chance to portray a lively Ginny – one that featured the Quidditch tryouts for the Gryffindor team in which she managed to get everyone to shut up, and the Room of Requirements scene that led to her first kiss with Harry. There were times when I suspected that Yates had a view of Ginny as the quiet type and that it seemed to be at cross purposes with Rowling’s portrayal. As for the Harry/Ginny kiss in the Room of Requirements . . . meh. I am not certain if they actually kissed or simply touched lips. Harry’s kiss with Cho in ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” seemed more memorable. Either Daniel Radcliffe found Katie Leung more attractive than Bonnie Wright or . . . you know what? I do not know. I just was not that impressed by the kiss.

Last, but not least, there is Evanna Lynch’s performance as Luna Lovegood. In my ”ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” review, I was very critical of Ms. Lynch’s portrayal of Luna. I thought she came off as too unemotional for my taste. And two years and one movie later, her performance has not improved one whit. I hate to say this about the Irish actress, considering that she is such a major fan of Rowling’s book series. I hate to say this, considering that everyone else seemed to think that she is perfect. I simply find it hard to accept this prevailing view of her performance. Ms. Lynch does not strike me as a talented actress. I’m sorry.

I might as well be blunt. Although I found cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s photography of the Death Eaters’ attack upon London and the Spinner’s End sequence impressive, I hated the rest of his work. I hated that he had decided to use a dark, washed-out tone for the movie, similar to what Roger Pratt had used in ”GOBLET OF FIRE”. For some reason, there seemed to be this idea that in order to convey the story’s darker tone, the film had to look similar to the second and third movies from the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And I am not that fond of those two movies. I also hated both Yates and Delbonnel’s decision to emulate ”LORD OF THE RINGS” again by shooting Dumbledore’s fatal fall in the same manner that Gollum’s death was filmed in ”Return of the King”. I found the whole scene rather cheap, worthy of another eye roll.

I wish I could say that I loved ”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. I wish I could say that I even liked it. I will admit that I enjoyed a few scenes featured in the movie. And I certainly felt impressed by the cast’s performances. But . . . I feel that screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates made some major mistakes with the movie’s plot by leaving out scenes and storylines that were necessary to drive the saga’s main plot. And even worse, they inserted scenes that were not in the novel and – at least to me – irrelevant to the plot. Nor did it help that the movie crept at a pace that nearly put me to sleep, halfway into the film. Honestly? The filmmakers of the HARRY POTTER franchise could have done better than this.