Archive for the ‘Movie Reiview’ Category

Harry Potter and the Strange Obsession

I’m not ashamed to admit that I, a grown man a hair’s breadth shy of 30 was giddy as a school boy as the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince drew closer to opening.

I was initially prejudiced against the Harry Potter phenomenon.  Muggles and snargaluffs and Hogwarts?  What about that doesn’t sound like a bad Dr. Seuss project?   On the one hand I was delighted to know that kids were actually reading again; on the other, it just didn’t seem to suit my tastes.

Also there was the fact that the series bared a striking similarity to the Books of Magic series published by Vertigo in the 90s.  I would have rather preferred the Vertigo series.

HarryPotterE

As it happened, my father rented the first two films directed by Chris Columbus.  I found them entertaining to some degree or another, but still not quite something to catch my interests.

Normally this might be the end of the story but not for some friends of mine who were going to see Prisoner of Azkaban and asked me along. Alphonso Cuaron’s darker, more majestic world seemed to seduce me.  This was not the fairytale world I expected.   Harry Potter was growing up, and the world was not so pretty.

Harry potter and the half blood prince ebook

Afterwards, I attempted to read the next chapter, Goblet of Fire, but still found the book somewhat slow and impenetrable. Even so, I was now a fan and saw the midnight showing of the film on the first night it was out. By the time I saw Order of the Phoenix, I was hooked.  The next week I bought a soft cover copy of The Half-Blood Prince and devoured it within 4 days.   Overcome with a thirst for more, I bought the hardcover Deathly Hallows which had only recently come out at the time.  Hallows took me 5 days.  Like every other fan, the ending left me satisfied, yet saddened that it was over.

Since then I have been waiting, patiently for the arrival of the fourth film. It opened this past Tuesday at midnight.  Because of work, I begrudgingly waited until the next night to see it.  I’d spent the last two weeks re-reading the book to refresh my memory and ended up reading Hallows again as well because I couldn’t help myself.

So did it live up to the wait?

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-princeI’d have to say, NO… but with one caveat.   I believe that reading the book as a refresher was a mistake.   Adapting a 600 plus page book into a lean, tight script isn’t just difficult; it’s impossible.  Material has to be cut out.  As such, by its very nature, the films are their own animal and should be judged as such.  They’re good films, this one included.

There were two way in which the film shortened the material: by abridgement, in which the original material was simply edited, and by rewriting scenes.  Of the two, I much preferred the rewritten scenes.  The abridged scenes felt rushed and glossed over, like they were only left in by mandate as an afterthought.  This is especially true of the scene which introduces Professor Slughorn.  Dumbledore brings Harry to meet him in the hopes that Slughorn will agree to return to Hogwarts out of curiosity about the infamous Harry Potter.  Yet in the film, we see none of this.  Harry and Slughorn are scarcely in the room together for five minutes, and he doesn’t seem to care either way.  Nonetheless he agrees in a rather dramaticly uninspired change of heart.  Similarly, the abduction of the wandmaker Ollivander (which will become important in the next films- maybe) are quickly and quietly thrown by; blink and you missed the mention of it.

Here is where those like me who re-read the source material are hurt the most.  The rushed moments feel emphasized, and almost mechanical.  It as though things happen because they are pre-ordained rather than because they fall that way.

By contrast, the scenes where the writer rewrote or added material flow wonderfully.   What particularly impressed me was the handling of Harry and Ginny Weasley’s burgeoning romance.   My one complaint about the final two books is that for all of her discussion of Harry’s feelings, Rowling scarcely has Harry and Ginny together for more than a few days.  As a big fan of the coupling, I felt rather cheated by the lack of time with them.  When a writer introduces a romantic interest into a story, he/she is almost required to properly explore the relationship as it pertains to the plot.   Without it, the reader is left wanting.  In the film, we are given much more of them.  In particular, the kissing scene works very well.   In the book, the kiss –while wonderfully done–  seems at least partly a product of overactive hormones.   Here the kiss is much more expressive of the feelings between them.  It may have been the best moment in the film.

As mentioned, a large amount of material was edited out.  Missing of note are subplots involving Rufus Scrimegour, Mundungus Fletcher and Bill Weasley & Fleur De La Cour’s engagement, all of which play heavily in the last book.  I can only assume they will be eliminated from the next two films as well (The Deathly Hallows will be adapted into two movies).   But perhaps the oddest scene missing involves Harry and Snape.   (Spoilers!)  Following a duel where Harry has injured Draco Malfoy, he is found by Snape who saves Draco’s life.  In the book, Harry is duly punished.   In the film, however, nothing happens.  It seems curious that you could almost kill a fellow student– particularly one that you have a well-known grudge against– and get away scott free.   The lack of comment is a bit distracting to watch.

In the end, I think I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince, though not as much as Order of the Phoenix.   I was slightly disappointed with it, but that has as much to do with my own anticipation and expectations as with the execution.  I do think that the film would have worked better with an extra ten minutes; time enough for certain moments to breathe.  Of course, many would argue that it’s already long, and they would be right.  However, one must remember that this is the 6th in a line of dense genre films, and most of the audience are bound to be fans.  It is unlikely that they would begrudge a few extra minutes of screentime, even at the expense of their bladders.

I would advise anyone going to see it to ignore the books.  This is an adaptation, and a fair one at that.  It’s still a fun movie.  And even after 8 years of conflicting visions and voices, they’re still magical.

A Love Letter to Fanboys

Fanboy: noun-  A geek; a fan of science fiction, comic books, or some specific element there-of.

fanboys-the-movie-star-wars (1)

I’m tempted to begin with a joke about Fanboys being made a long time ago, in a land far, far away.  Because sometimes it feels that way.

The story of getting the film Fanboys on to the movie screen is nearly as epic as the journey contained within.

Fanboys is the story of 5 high school friends who travel across America to steal a copy of Star Wars: the Phantom Menace before it is released; fulfilling the last wish of Linus who is dying of cancer.   Despite the heavy subject matter, Fanboys is a comedy which was prepared to celebrate the joys of geekdom and the reality of being a fanboy.  The film was originally set to be released in August of 2007.   The trailer had debuted months earlier, leaving geeks across America salivating at the thought of a film of their own.   Sadly the movie was pushed back for nearly a year.  And then even further.  And further.   And of course their were cuts and recuts of the film.  It seemed like the film would never  be released.  And when it was, the studios gave it so little advertising and so limited a release, it came and went like a phantom.  … I swear that wasn’t an Episode One pun.

fanboys_poster_preview

It took me 2 and a half years to see Fanboys, oddly paralleling the wait that the characters– and indeed, all of us— felt for the coming of the newest Star Wars movies.   So was it worth it?

Yes, and no.    The film suffers from a lack of clear direction.  It doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be.   Is it a story of  best friends who reconnect before its too late?  Is it a road movie?   Pop culture comedy?  Geek-umentary?    The identity crisis can be distracting at times, as each scene feels fundamentally different from the next, making the quality of the movie a bit uneven.

I suspect that fact is due in large part to studio interference.   harvey Weinstein famously attempted to cut the story of Linus’ illness just before it’s final release, leading to fan protest and threats of boycotting Weinstein Company films.   I agree that scenes and elements of it needed to be cut, but that isn’t among them.  Linus’ story is the driving force (swear these aren’t puns) for the story.  And many of the scenes that address the illness are among the finest in the piece.    Rather than bring the story down, it brings a touch of humanity to it.   A comedy is a great thing, but if there is no heart in it, then it ultimately becomes irrelevent as soon as it leaves theatres (or DVD, I suppose).

I hate to say it, but what needed to be cut were the extraneous nerd elements and unnecessary cameos.  For instance, there was a scene which introduced Seth Rogen as the villainous Trekkie leader.  Now, I’m sure many a Star Wars fan has dreamed of roughing up some Trekkies (“That is a derogatory term.  The proper word is Trekker.”)— but the truth is the Trek/ Wars battle just feels cheap and amateur.  And while I dig Rogen, he wasn’t even mildly funny in any of his scenes.

Similarly the Harry Knowles scene feels weird. Harry Knowles is the creator of Ain’t It Cool News, and something of an web-media demigogue. He’s also notoriously over-weight and Hobbit like.  Here, he’s played by Ethan Suplee, who is a fantastic addition to any film, but appears much tougher than Knowles could ever hope to be.  Was Harry trained to fight at the Jean Claude Van Damme school of fake fighting?  The scene just doesn’t work.  Instead it feels like the filmmakers are kissing Harry’s rear in an attempt to get a favorable review.  Instead they make him violent and even more Hobbit-looking than ever.  These scenes could easily have been cut and abridged and it would have been better for it.

However, some of the cameos are great and not nearly as distracting.  The Star Wars cameos lend a bit of geek cred here, and even feel fitting.  Also, icons like Kevin Smith and even the SHAT himself feel a more natural fit.

And lastly, I take umbrage to the PG-13 rating.  This is another element that clearly is the result of studio interference.  When you strip away the cancer and the Fanboy dressing, it’s a road trip movie.  This is a genre that begs to be rated R.  And as you watch the movie, there are moments that were clearly intended to feature the gratuitous nudity that we all know and love.   By teasing the nudity and then neutering the shot, they’ve merely disappointed their audience.  I understand a desire to make a movie more available to a broader audience, but this is a movie set in 1998 and glorrifying scifi and comic book geeks— it’s target audience is clearly not the Jonas Brothers fan club.  And considering they basically tanked the film in advertising anyway, I don’t see the point.

Okay, so those are my —and I stress this— minor complaints.  So what did I like?  The casting for one.

Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Chris Marquette and Sam Huntington embody every brilliant facet of geekdom.  They never once made me ashamed to be a Fanboy.  And as I mentioned, many of the cameos were great, and hilarious.   But the real gem of this film was only in it for about half of the running time.    The movie is at its best when Kristen Bell is on screen.

KristenBel_PrincessLeia

Bell is, in my mind, the new Geek Goddess.  She’s Veronica Mars.  And there is no movie that cannot be made better by her presence.  I’ll even go a bit further. When George Lucas eventually remakes the original Star Wars trilogy — and don’t kid yourself, IT’S COMING— I think Bell should be the new Leia.   It’s not just that she wears the Slave Leia outfit better than anyone since Carrie Fisher.   There’s a scene wear she leans over in front of R2-D2 and says those famous words:

“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

And just for a second, I felt like I could have been back watching A New Hope.   Additionally, she gets some of the best lines and scenes in the movie.

The script was a bit of a mixed bag, but when it works, it really works.  The jokes are hit or miss, but that is to be expected.   But most of the elements are there for greatness.  And thats the real tragedy.  It could have been great.  It could have been a big hit.  All Fanboys needed was a little more attention, a little less interference and a lot more faith.  “{Don’t}tell me the odds.”

But it wasn’t perfect.  Even so, it was a love letter to Fanboys.  It’s the sort of praise that we deserve.  Sure, they made fun of Trekkers, but — look at those people.  It’s okay to be a nerd, or a geek or a Fanboy.  It doesn’t matter if you spend 2 years debating whether Luke had the unholy hots for his twin sister, which is sort of like being gay for yourself.  (He totally did, by the way.)  Maybe you’ve mapped out the Summers/ Grey family tree or know every episode of Doctor Who and which version of the Doctor starred in it.  You might even be obsessed with Kristen Bell.   It’s okay.   Fanboys is a film about living life on your terms, and not letting society tell you who to be.

It’s a good message.  And a film worth seeing.

Why You’ll Love-Hate Watchmen

I don’t envy Zach Snyder.  No matter what he did, he was going to get it wrong in the eyes of one majority or another.

The problem is that there are three parties interested in a Watchmen film.  The comics fans want to see the beauty of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic brought to life frame for frame, syllable for syllable, a frakking giant squid and black freighter; because anything less would be sacrilege in the face of perhaps the most important comic in history.  The consumer audience wants to see another mindless, pretty, action-packed Superhero flick; the next Dark Knight if at all possible.  And the movie studio wants another Dark Knight cash cow as well, only cheaper, shorter and more efficient; and they don’t give a damn if Watchmen is anything like the book.

At least one of these groups will be disappointed, and as usual, it’s the fans.  Projects do not transfer from medium to medium organically.  Some comics just do not work in film form. Changes have to be made.  For the majority of these projects I judge them by their story-telling ability and their handling of the characters.  However with some books, such as Watchmen, that just isn’t enough.

The studio wants an action movie that will bring in millions of ticket sales.  And so does the public.  But Watchmen is not an action film.  Nor is it really about Superheroes.   It is for precisely that reason it is so beloved by it’s fans.  The essence of the story is about what makes us human, and what is the nature of good versus evil, and ultimately about whether power gives one the right to decide the fate of others.  And really, it’s about much more than that. It’s a very dense read with an incredible amount of subtext.  But honestly no one wants to see a movie about that. Movies are often a lazy medium, one where the audience doesn’t want to think.

Which leads us to writer Alan Moore’s opinion that Watchmen is unfilmable.  But honestly?  He’s wrong.  I went into the theatre having read and appreciated (though not loved) the book.  And what I saw met most of my expectations, and exceeded a few.

It isn’t the book.  But it is a decent adaptation that meets the majority of needs for all three groups, as long as you don’t go in with any expectations.   I think the majority of consumers will be disappointed in it without ever giving it a chance.  The film has been mis-marketed from the start.  Watchmen is much closer to The Usual Suspects than X-Men in content and subject matter.  There is sex and violence in it, but not nearly as much as the trailers imply.  And yes, for you purists, the ending was changed slightly.  No giant squid.  But honestly, it works.  In fact, it makes more sense than the giant squid does.  Yeah, I know I just lost loads of nerd-cred, but it’s true.  A film-maker’s job is to simplify and fully realize (emphasis on the first two syllables of the last word) any adaptation.  Snyder did just that.  And what’s more, he did a damn good job of it.

The only complaints I have are minimal.  Some of the music is atrocious.  As much as I love Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, the use of Leonard Cohen’s cover of it in the sex scene is so ridiculous that I went from sexual arousal to gut-busting laughter in the span of a second.   Likewise, the use of 99 Left Balloons at a key scene took me out of the film and made me feel like I was watching a romantic comedy.   Beyond that, the only problem areas occur because of the cinematography.  Watchmen’s style is meant to bring the comic to life.  It worked tremendously in 300, but here, there are a few scenes which feel cartoonish, particularly scenes with the Golden Age super-team, The Minutemen.  Not a huge problem, but it is a little distracting.

The bottom line is that Watchmen gets more right than it does wrong.  And like the book, it will merit multiple viewings to fully digest the menagerie of beauty and philosophy thrown at you, however precisely, like cogs in clockwork.  The bar previously set by The Dark Knight will probably not be exceeded here, in terms of revenue, style or fan response.  But honestly, I’m happier that way.  Watchmen couldn’t have been made any better by anyone else.  It is a tight, lean movie that moves at a decent pace despite it’s long run time and heavy psychological thoroughbred.  It works.

It’s not only filmable, it’s watchable.