Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The final bout between good and evil in J.K. Rowling’s majestic universe comes to a close after eight films.  With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 there isn’t much need for an in-depth criticism on the final movie (or half-movie).  Rather I am provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on the series as one of the most impressive accomplishments committed to film.

Few literary adaptations could translate so well into eight thrilling motion pictures.  Rowling’s pages have not only given youngsters a hunger for reading, but cinematic magic has also applied sight and sound to that text over the course of 10 years—and to universal acclaim.  Audiences love these books and they love these movies.

As a capper to Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is of course bittersweet.  Harry, Ron and Hermione continue their search for the remaining horcruxes that contain pieces of the dark Lord Voldemort’s soul, pieces that make him immortal.  Hogwarts is under the iron fist of betrayer Severus Snape until Harry returns to defend Hogwarts and prepare for his final confrontation with Voldemort.  Secrets are revealed.  Lives are lost.  A looming doubt about Harry’s fate (for those who haven’t read the novel) hangs over two hours.

The last entry falls under the direction of David Yates once again.  Having helmed half of the installments of the series, he has proven ever-capable.  Chris Columbus brought the innocence and sense of discovery to The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.  Alfonso Cuaron brought a refreshing angst and eccentricity to The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Mike Newell allowed for a sharp transition to the gloom of the series with The Goblet of Fire.  Yates has since handled the darkest corners of the Harry Potter universe as the fun and games have been exchanged for Harry’s personal endeavor to save both the world of magic and the world of humans.

Since 2001, the films have remained remarkably consistent even as the actors have aged a great deal and the tone of the story has evolved.  Deathly Hallows Part 2 continues the tradition of solid craftsmanship.  Sure, it hurts the film that it is really only half of a film.  In fact, I made the mistake of not revisiting Deathly Hallows Part 1 before jumping into Part 2.  For those on the fence about needing a refresher beforehand, I strongly recommend it.  Yates has split one 4-hour-plus movie into two parts and he doesn’t leave us any footnotes along the way.  As a standalone installment, Part 2 really hurts without watching Part 1 along with it.  The tension and rising action have to be brought in the pockets of audiences and applied from the get-go.  While that may not be a fair criticism of the movie as it is intended as part of a larger story arc, it is worth noting.

In terms of ending the saga, the film does a perfectly satisfactory job.  The actors are on their game.  The special effects and action sequences are grandiose, and yet interestingly punctuated by several extended moments of quiet.  I may have expected more of a thrilling showdown between Harry and Voldemort, but the buildup has been over seven previous films so I can understand that anticipation may have gotten the best of me.  What I enjoyed most about this final entry were the surprises along the way and the tender moments among the notable characters of the series that earn their last minutes in the spotlight.

I would say I’ve enjoyed other chapters from this saga more than Deathly Hallows Part 2, but as a sendoff to the Harry Potter universe, the film is again very well-made and audiences are going to love it and will likely still be hungry for more.  The hint of future installments of J.K. Rowling’s world have been set.  Even if they never come to fruition, at least her accomplished works are ready and available to young readers.  As for the future of Harry Potter, I’m willing to bet on a return of sorts for a new generation ready for magic.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (7 votes cast)

Alice in Wonderland

Welcome to the confused underbelly of Tim Burton’s wild imagination, and though I wish that would make for an illustrious compliment, the large-scale director has seen his best days over a decade ago and still can’t regain his footing.  Lately the man has been choosing source material (Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) so in tune with his sensibilities that I couldn’t dare to dream why ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ perhaps the perfect mold for Burton to shine in, comes off as a lacking spectacle in every way.

Audiences seemed to be ready for this latest incarnation. It has become the biggest film of Burton’s career and marks Johnny Depp’s second film to cross the billion-dollar mark worldwide.  All that to say I can’t imagine anyone being thrilled by such an obnoxiously odd mind-trip that fancies endless oodles of hack-job computer generated visual effects and accomplished actors playing otherworldly versions of children dressed up for the circus.  While “Avatar” seems to have become the end-all to special effects extravaganzas, I think “Alice” really suffers in the wake of James Cameron’s heralded accomplishments.  Burton’s landscape barely makes for comparison, and disappoints in nearly every frame.  However, it seems easy to assume the younger demographic will still be engulfed in this CGI theme park.  But it is a bit odd that Disney went full-steam ahead on a project that lends itself to such dark corners and is a story not well-suited for its target demographic.  The only obvious choice was to saddle Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a late-teen dreamer caught up in an arranged marriage, needing an escape to a world that awakens her to her own desires.  Down the rabbit hole she goes.

A cast of twisted talent: Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Crispin Glover and more get to lend their gravitas to the most outrageous characters.  To go into their detail would seem insignificant, but essentially Alice enters Underland with the assumption that she is in a deep-sleep dream.  Until she wakes up, she must dethrone the Red Queen (Carter) by slaying the dragon Jabberwocky.  In doing so, she will rescue the inhabitants of Underland by giving the crown to the Red Queen’s sister, none of other than the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).  The incomprehensible events leading up to this dual seem to be nonsensical filler for a story that seems to want get to an action climax.  None of it seems fitting for the film, especially the third act’s battle sequence, but every encounter throughout even leading up to this point has so little structure or any driving plot.  Several of the characters are meant to represent real humans in Alice’s world back home, but so little character development is given that this task of associating the characters becomes extremely difficult.  I watched this entire film feeling as though these characters are extras in a stage play without the focus and are compelled to keep doing something so as not to break the illusion, but their actions have no meaning.

This ‘Wonderland’ is not a terrible film by any means.  If the writers had lent just a hint of coherence to the plot, I may have enjoyed it more.  The movie plays out as a sequel without a prequel, with the realization that Wonderland is a real place underneath the earth, and that this teenage Alice has been there before and can’t remember her previous journey.  This reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” without any of the, you know, kid-friendly stuff.  It is understandable that the studio had to find a way to connect this film to young teens that turned “Twilight” into such a phenomenon.  The problem is that Mia Wasikowska never makes Alice seem fearful nor enchanted.  She seems content to tread through this world awaiting her waking moment.  Without her pulling me into this journey, despite her talent, I couldn’t react to anything.  Even still, the end result here feels completely phoned in.  Burton has crafted a film a bit edgy and scary for Disney, but not haunting enough to fully connect with Lewis Carrol’s pages.  The visual effects fail to excite the senses, and even the eccentric efforts of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp feel like a well-worn shirt.  Nothing about the entire film strikes me as though creative effort was put to the test and wrung out for all it was worth, and that’s a major disappointment for a story that commands limitless imagination.

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Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-1-800x600The best installment of the franchise so far, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a dark and visceral film full of spectacle, action and strong storytelling.

Harry and friends must now do battle with the new evil Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts (it seems there’s always a new one), Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). She takes over Hogwarts and abuses her authority under Ministry rule to rid the school of any performing of magic. No one believes Harry that Lord Voldemort has returned, and since the school can no longer prepare the kids for the dark times to come, Harry takes it upon himself to secretly train his fellow classmates, under the title ‘Dumbledor’s Army,’ to prepare for battle.

This installment of the franchise is brilliant from beginning to end. The story here is most involving. David Yates comes on board for this fifth film adaptation and works wonders. The events in the film truly take the series to new realms and darker corners, but these characters are just great to watch. Imdela Staunton as Professor Umbridge is an evil delight, and a strong addition to the film.  With the impending battle between Hogwarts and Voldemort drawing closer, ‘Order of the Phoenix’ has the opportunity to have a much more plot-driven film, a suspenseful action-adventure that sees further drama bridging to the final events to come. This is a great film.

-MJV & the Movies

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Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)