“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

It is very rare to find a Hollywood action film that features a leading man under the age of twenty (20). But I recently came across one, when I saw Taylor Lautner’s new film called “ABDUCTION”

Directed by John Singleton and written by Shawn Christensen, “ABDUCTION” is an action thriller about a Pennsylvania teen, who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website. Nathan Harper has a recurring nightmare featuring the death of an unknown woman and consults a psychiatrist named Dr. Geraldine Bennett to discover why. One day, Nathan is partnered with his neighbor and fellow classmate Karen Murphy for a school assignment about missing children. When Karen finds a website that shows how the children would look like as adults, Nathan discovers that a young boy named Steven Price would look exactly like him at an older age. Searching in his basement, he finds the same shirt that Steven is wearing in the picture and realizes that he and Steven are the same person. Nathan calls the website’s owner, unaware that he is a Russian terrorist named Viktor Kozlow.

Not long after Nathan’s call, Kozlow sends two of his agents to Nathan’s house. They attack Nathan’s parents, Kevin and Mara, who tell him to run before being murdered and the house is destroyed. Nathan and Karen escape and attempt to call the police, but the call is intercepted by CIA operative Frank Burton, who tells Nathan that he’s in danger and sends a team to pick him up. Before the CIA’s arrival, Dr. Bennett appears and tells Nathan that Burton cannot be trusted and reveals that Nathan’s adoptive parents were CIA agents assigned to look after him. She also reveals that Nathan’s biological father, Martin, is a CIA agent who stole a list from Kozlow with the names of corrupt CIA operatives. Kozlow had created the website in order to locate Nathan and use him as leverage to force Martin to return the list.

When I first saw the preview for “ABDUCTION”, I had assumed it would be another “HANNA” – namely about a genetically enhanced adolescent trained in self defense and to be an assassin. Thankfully, it did not turned out that way. I suspect that many critics would have been more satisfied if “ABDUCTION” had been another “HANNA”. Personally, I found “HANNA” to be a pretentious bore. And the last thing I wanted to see was another “profound” movie about some highly skilled teenager wanted by various governments and terrorists. “ABDUCTION” does feature a hunt by an intelligence agency and terrorist for an adolescent. But this hunt has nothing to do with him being genetically enhanced. Instead, he is wanted as a bargaining chip for a source of valuable information.

Was “ABDUCTION” any good? Most critics seemed to think otherwise. A great deal of negative reviews practically swamped this film. And if I must be frank, “ABDUCTION” is not another “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. However, I do not find this surprising. No Hollywood producer would ever heavily finance an action thriller starring an 18-to-19 year-old star, who is only known for co-starring in a series of adolescent vampire flicks. But I must admit . . . “ABDUCTION” was not a disappointment. In fact, I thought it was an entertaining movie. One, the movie featured a solid story about a teenager being used by the CIA and foreign terrorists, because of his father’s profession. Two, thanks to director John Singleton’s direction, “ABDUCTION” was a well-paced film that featured exciting action sequences and solid dramatic moments. I also have to commend Peter Menzies Jr. for his beautiful photography of Pittsburgh and the area around southwestern Pennsylvania.

Singleton also worked well with a cast that featured solid performances from the likes of Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney and Alfred Molina. Any of these performers could have easily carried this film. But it was all up to the likes of Taylor Lautner and his co-star, Lily Collins, to achieve this task. And while many critics and moviegoers may believe that these two failed, I do not believe they did. Actually, they did a very good job – especially Lautner – in carrying the film. More importantly, both Lautner and Collins managed to create a great screen chemistry. Screenwriter Shawn Christensen could have easily ended this film on an illogical note by allowing the Nathan character to save the day and outwit the highly skilled Kozlow. Fortunately, the screenwriter used common sense and allowed Nathan to receive some much needed help in the end.

Would I view “ABDUCTION” as a potential film classic? No. I would say that it is a near-mediocre film. I say . . .near-mediocre, because I feel that it was able to raise above the line of mediocrity. I would never consider it at the same level as the likes “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. But I must admit that it was a pretty solid action thriller that would be great to watch on a rainy day, thanks to director John Singleton and leading man Taylor Lautner. Speaking of Lautner, he is probably too young to be seriously considered as an action star. But he has the looks, the presence and talent to achieve this goal in less than a decade. Good luck to him.

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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.

Top Ten Favorite ROAD TRIP Movies

Below is a list of my ten favorite ROAD TRIP movies: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE ROAD TRIP MOVIES

1. “Midnight Run” (1988) – Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin starred in this hilarious movie about a bounty hunter who escorts his prisoner from New York City to Los Angeles. Martin Brest directed.

2. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) – Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason starred in this fun and witty tale about two Georgia truckers hired to illegally transport beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. Hal Needham directed.

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – This Oscar nominated film was the second adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about an expedition into uncharted African territory to locate a missing explorer looking for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred.

4. “LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This first of three installments from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga about an epic quest to destroy an ancient and powerful ring is my favorite.Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellan starred.

5. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Frank Capra directed Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in this Oscar winning classic comedy about a runaway heiress and a roguish reporter on a cross country trip.

6. “Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad” – A small group of North Carolina slaves risk their lives for a cross country bid for freedom in Canada. Produced by actor Tim Reid, this excellent television movie starred Courtney B. Vance, Janet Bailey and Glynn Thurman.

7. HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” – David Yates directed the first half of the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s 2007 novel about Harry Potter’s attempts to find the means to destroy Lord Voldemort, while evading the evil wizard throughout Britain. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson starred.

8. “Cold Mountain” (2003) – Anthony Minghella directed this emotional and satisfying adaptation of Charles Frazer’s novel about a Confederate Army deserter’s journey back to his North Carolina home during the Civil War. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Oscar winner Rene Zellweger starred.

9. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) – Walter Salles directed this excellent adaptation of Che Guevara’s memoirs about his 1952 motocycle journey across South America. Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna starred.

10. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed this entertaining comedy-drama about a family’s cross country trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to a children’s beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Oscar winner Alan Arkin starred.

“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.

“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.

“GREEN ZONE” (2010) Review

“GREEN ZONE” (2010) Review

Over three years ago, journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote a book about the early days after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the occupation and governance particularly of Baghdad and the search for weapons of mass destruction. Director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon took ”Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” and turned it into a political thriller about the clashing ideals of U.S. personnel on how to handle the occupation of Iraq. 

The story began with U.S. Army Warrant Officer Roy Miller’s search of a third location for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) allegedly created by Saddam Hussein’s government. Upon arriving at this third location, Miller discovered no signs of mass destruction weapons being manufactured or stored . . . just as he had discovered at the two previous locations. During a debriefing at the American “Green Zone” (the location of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad), Miller announced his discoveries or lack of them and openly questioned the intelligence reports regarding the weapons. His comments earned the attention of the CIA’s Baghdad bureau chief, Martin Brown and Clark Poundstone, a Pentagon Special Intelligence official. The two men have different agendas regarding the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Brown wanted to utilize Saddam Hussein’s Army generals to help the U.S. keep the peace and prevent the country from succumbing to civil war. Poundstone, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the generals. Instead, he wanted them dead and to install a pro-American puppet named Ahmed Zubadi as Iraq’s new leader. When an Iraqui man named ‘Freddy’ informed Miller of the location of the Iraqi generals, the warrant officer not only found himself caught between Brown and Poundstone’s agendas, but those of other characters – including his own.

”GREEN ZONE” is not the best political thriller I have ever seen. But I must admit that it is a pretty damn good movie. What made this particular movie interesting is that nearly all of the major characters have their own agendas. Some managed to achieve their agendas. Some did not. And at least one managed to achieve his agenda, only to lose in the end. ”GREEN ZONE” turned out to be one of the most ambiguous stories I have seen in recent years. Ambiguous on a level that would surprise many. And I suspect that many moviegoers would have preferred if the supporting characters’ moral compass – especially those of the Iraqi characters – had been a little less murky. But Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland decided not to take that route. And I am glad. The supporting characters’ ambiguity not only forced the lead character, Roy Miller, to become a wiser man; but made the story more interesting to me.

In another review of ”GREEN ZONE”, I read a complaint that none of the main characters really developed. I would disagree . . . from a certain point of view. What happened to most of the main characters was that most found themselves forced to face the realities of their situations. They spent so much of their time pursuing a particular agenda, until they realized that what they had wanted or were fighting for was nothing more than an illusion. Not only did Miller come to this realization, but also the movie’s main antagonist, Clark Poundstone.

”GREEN ZONE” marked Matt Damon’s third collaboration with director Paul Greengrass. If anyone had expected U.S. Warrant Officer Roy Miller to be another Jason Bourne, they would end up disappointed. Damon’s Roy Miller was not some superspy trying to come to terms with his violent past. Miller was a well-trained and competent Army warrant officer (ranked below a commissioned officer and above a high ranking non-commissioned officer) who had naively believed the Bush Administration’s propaganda about Iraq’s mass destruction weapons program. Damon did a top-notch job in conveying Miller’s slow realization that not only had he been naïve regarding his country’s decision to invade Iraq, but also about Iraq’s political situation. By the movie’s end, his Miller was still a very competent Army warrant officer. But the character also became a wiser and slightly embittered man. As a side note, the Miller character was based upon Warrant Officer Richard (Monty) Gonzales, whose Mobile Exploitation Team was charged with finding the WMDs during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Greg Kinnear was excellent as usual in his portrayal of the Pentagon Special Intelligence official, Clark Poundstone. His Poundstone seemed to have an air of a typical politician – charming, manipulative and very arrogant. Yet, these very traits blinded Poundstone from the true state of Iraqi politics. And Kinnear ably conveyed the official’s shock upon realizing that he had been very naïve. Brendan Gleeson’s character, CIA bureau chief Martin Brown, seemed like a different kettle of fish. Although both men were manipulative, Brown seemed more appraised of Iraq’s political situation and a lot more honest with Miller – a situation that would lead him to make the warrant officer an ally. And Gleeson did an excellent job in conveying Brown’s failure to consider the lengths Poundstone would go to achieve his goal.

The rest of the supporting cast also provided first-rate support – aside from one. Khalid Abdalla gave an emotional performance as ‘Freddy’, an Iraqi man who revealed the presence of Saddam’s generals and became Miller’s interpreter. His own personal agenda would prove to be the story’s wild card. Amy Ryan gave a complex performance as Lawrie Dayne, the journalist who realized that Poundstone had used her as a propaganda machine for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Her character was based upon former New York Times reporter, Judith Miller. Ambiguity seemed to be the name of the game in Yigal Naor’s performance as the ruthless General Al-Rawi, the Iraqi general who eventually discovered that Poundstone had lied to him about utilizing the Iraqi Army to help the U.S. keep the peace. The one performance that struck a negative note to me belonged to Jason Isaacs, who portrayed Major Briggs, an unscrupulous Delta Force officer, who portrayed Poundstone’s personal thug. I am not accusing Isaacs of a bad performance. I have to lay the blame upon Brian Helgeland, who wrote the character as one-dimensional. I doubt that any actor as talented as Isaacs could have done anything with the role except portray him as written – a murderous, yet competent thug.

Production designer Dominic Watkins did a solid job in recapturing the chaos of those early months of the American presence in Iraq. The contrast between war-torn Baghdad and the resort-like atmosphere of ‘the Green Zone’ struck me as amazing. Do not ask me about John Powell’s score for the movie, because I found it unmemorable. However, I cannot say the same about Barry Ackroyd’s photography. For me, it brought back bad memories of the shaky cam style featured in previous Greengrass/Damon movies like ”THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” and ”THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”. This particular cinematography style struck me as even more confusing in ”GREEN ZONE” This was especially apparent in the movie’s final action sequence. Just imagine the shaky cam photography and editing from the last two BOURNE films in a sequence shot at night and you might see how confused and dizzy I had felt from the experience.

As I had stated earlier, I would never call ”GREEN ZONE” one of the best political thrillers or war movies I have seen. The movie possessed certain elements I did not care for – the cinematography, Christopher Rouse’s editing and the portrayal of Jason Isaacs’ character. But the movie did have an interesting and complex story. The rest of the cast gave first-rate performances, given the ambiguous roles written for them. In the end, both Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon did themselves proud.