19 November 2011

The Watcher: 10/30/11 - 11/19/11

CHUCK S05E02 - "Chuck Vs. the Bearded Bandit" (04 November 2011) - Weirdly an entirely forgettable episode, even with Lepidus (Lost) and Green Arrow (Smallville) in the episode! Score: 5.0/10

CHUCK S05E03 - "Chuck Vs. the Frosted Tips" (11 November 2011) - The Intersect is melting Morgan's brain, making him act like quite the dick, and also deleting important parts of his life, such as his love and adoration towards sci-fi/geeky films. Going down this route gives both the actor and characters some meaty material to chew on, but furthermore, it's actually some pretty interesting storytelling. Chuck seemed to cope with the Intersect rather well without much in the way of sideeffects, but Morgan is going bonkers. And Casey's flirting with Verbanski was great, and I hope to see that more along the season. Score: 7.9/10

CHUCK S05E04 - "Chuck Vs. the Business Trip" (18 November 2011) - It's episodes like these that remind me how I fell in love with the show in the first place. The last year and a half, Chuck has often not been the series I remembered and cherished, but this final season, things seem to be looking up. Casey messing with Morgan with the order and quality of the Star Wars movies was pure genius, and Sarah's desire to have something resembling a normal married life, the nice action scenes mixed with camp and comedy. Also worth noting is that this is the first instance the gang have operated without an Intersect, and they seem to be doing just fine. Will this be the norm for the rest of the series? The gang Intersectless? That would be interesting. It all just clicked this time out, and gives me hope that the series is going to regain its footing. Score: 9.4/10

COMMUNITY S03E06 - "Advanced Gay" (03 November 2011) - A rather so-so episode, it did have some funny moments given to Troy and his 'gift' with fixing things, allowing Donald Glover and John Goodman to eat up the screen so effortlessly. The Troy subplot most definitely saved this episode from being a rather blah outing. That said, I did enjoy Jeff taking out his father issue's on Pierce's father problem, and I especially enjoyed the resolution to that. Chang also surprised by actually being relatively funny! He had some good moments. And, finally, a return appearance of Inspector Spacetime. That alone is worth anything. Score: 7.6/10

COMMUNITY S03E07 - "Studies in Modern Movement" (10 November 2011) - Annie moves in with Troy and Abed, and of course, nothing goes as planned. Personally not an episode I enjoyed all that much, but for the first time in eons, I actually found myself sorta amused by Chevvy Chase. More often than not, I find him one giant annoying old dude, but lo and behold, he actually made me smirk once or twice. And what Troy and Abed due for Annie in the end is pretty nice, and staging the blanket story was rather brilliant. Overall, not great, not bad. Score: 7.5/10

COMMUNITY S03E08 - "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" (17 November 2011) - Hilarious from beginning to end. Abed filming a documentary on the filming of a Greendale TV promo. All the actors are given some excellent material, none more than Jeff doing a SUPERB impersonation of the Dean. Not one second of this ep was bad. Community gold. Score: 10/10

And what's been going on with DEXTER? Episodes four through seven are under review here, and frankly, I'm a bit surprised at how much I genuinely like these episodes. We were treated to a Dexter who lost yet another person very close to him, but in this instance, the person was someone he believed in, someone he cared about, and as a result, the spirit guide of his father vanished and was replaced by his brother, the Devil basically egging him on. His stint on the show was far too brief, in my opinion, but the presence of Dexter's dead brother added one hell of a great, fascinating layer. It was marvelous to see Dexter's dark side pushed even further than just mentions to his 'Dark Passenger'. So I'm quite pleased with how Dexter is being handled, as I am with Deb. Her character is written very strongly this year, I feel, and never before have we been given a better glimpse at the relationship she and Dex have, and their sorta messed up dynamic together. Plot has largely propelled the story the last few years, so it's great to see characters explored as people instead of how they react to what's been given to them.

Dexter and Deb have been the highlight for me this year, and I've even managed to enjoy Quinn to an extent. I don't think the writers quite know what they're going to do with him instead of having the guy drink and shag a whole bunch, but I've been rather amused with his antics as of late. At least we don't have that ridiculous marriage storyline with LaGuerta and Batista. That was just dumb. The real suckage aspect of season 6 remains Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks. I just don't care. Everything else is good, that part just isn't. Go away, guys. Otherwise, a pretty strong season, at least compared to last year. Score thus far: 8.8/10

FRINGE S04E05 - "Novation" (04 November 2011) - I love Fringe, and I will continue to watch the show as a lover of all things Fringe, but boy, is this week-by-week (or every two weeks) thing driving me batshit crazy. The way the writers peel off layer after layer in a very deliberate pace - and it's a good pace - I dig that, I like it, and when viewed as a complete 22 episode season, it will probably jive just right. But at this episode-by-episode basis, it's nutters. For example, we've now waited well over a month for Peter's return, with four episodes in between and two weeks off the air because of stupid games, it's understandable that the episode that brings Peter back feels a little underwhelming. But I won't criticize "Novation" for how it handles Peter's return. From a writing and pacing standpoint, it's exactly the way it should be, and I support the writers. But damn, I want more and fast! And finally, John Noble was great during his Peter scenes. Great. Also, some more backstory on Olivia and Nina Sharp's history was very cool. Score: 9.0/10

FRINGE S04E06 - "And Those We Left Behind" (11 November 2011) - By all accounts, this is just your standard Case of the Week story, but one of the things the Fringe writers do so well (when it works) is make one hell of a tight, emotional story that connects fantastically with the B Plot, the Case of the Week element. In this instance, we have an old married couple experimenting with time (48 minutes to be exact) so the husband can try to save his wife. It's a sweet story, full of romance and very much the right story for Peter and Olivia right now, leading to the wonderful final two minutes where Olivia addresses the elephant in the room. She notices the way he looks at her, and acknowledges that she must have been important to him in that other timeline. Peter says she was/is, and needs to find a way to get back to her. I love this final scene, but it also leaves me with a nagging thought: do I really want - nay, does the story demand that - Peter reinserts the previous reality to now? So do these two time streams actually exist, or was Peter's time stream obliterated into nothingness when he was fazed out of existence, so all that remains of that time stream is memories? But if that time stream exists, what does that mean for the universes and their deterioration? I guess I'm just unsure of what direction this whole new reality thing will take, and I just hope and pray the writers handle it delicately and intelligently. Overall, pretty damn good episode. Score: 9.4/10

FRINGE S04E07 - "Wallflower" (18 November 2011) - This is the last frakkin' episode until January 13th? Seriously? FOX, you're one giant douche. I know this wasn't the episode they planned as a midseason finale, but c'mon, why couldn't FOX just frakkin' air the next one? I won't lie and say I have any understanding of network scheduling and that shit, but considering how they move around everything for some frakkin' sports show, why not move stuff around to accommodate the fans? There is dislike going here. With the exception of the moments between Olivia and Lincoln - and I gotta say, I am rather rooting for those two to connect - "Walflower" is a rather insignificant, unimpressive episode. It's laying the foundations for what's to come for sure, with the messed up cliffhanger-y finale, but the episodes meat just wasn't enough. I don't even really remember what all happened other than that there were guns and Peter walking around a Dollar Tree-esque store for supplies and being followed around by one of Broyles' agents. I want more Fringe, and I want it now, FOX! Decent episode. Score: 8.0/10

ONCE UPON A TIME S01E02 - "The Thing You Love the Most" (30 October 2011) - It's all about the Evil Queen this time around, cementing her role as the antagonist by killing her father, betraying a friend, and casting a curse so evil and horrendous it's consequences will be utterly severe. It was good stuff, but I couldn't help but be distracted by the piss-poor CG in a lot of these fantasy scenes. It's really obnoxious. What I found most compelling this hour out is, once again, everything involving Emma and Snow White, and furthermore, the prophetic Robert Carlyle. Robert just exudes coolness with every step he takes and every line he utters. Looking forward to how this character evolves. Most of the stuff with the evil queen, though, I wasn't as engrossed in, oddly enough. I like dark characters, I like seeing them make mistakes and descend even lower into darkness, but there was something about her tale that didn't quite work. Maybe it's the fact it seemed sped up, that the emotional core wasn't there because it was explored and finished in one whole episode. Regardless, still a strong second outing. Score: 8.2/10

ONCE UPON A TIME S01E03 - "Snow Falls" (6 November 2011) - This was quite the success. Plus, I'm a huge sucker for some romances, and Snow White and Prince Charming's tale both in Storybrooke and fantasy land was really well handled, specifically the stuff in Storybrooke. Much like the previous episode, stories that should be allowed to grow organically are pursued and finished in 40 minutes or less, and it's unfortunate the story isn't given the proper time. As it stands, the chemistry and romance between Snow White and James/Prince Charming feels a tiny bit forced, but amazingly, when John Doe wakes up in the hospital and Snow White comes to his aid, it's a touching, highly emotional scene. I may or may not have been choked up. I also have to give props to the writers and makeup artists for creating new creatures and designing this really spectacular fantasy world. The ogres or whatever that Snow White deals with are a good example of good makeup and reimagining a true and tried creature. Basically, "Snow Falls" is one of my top favorite of the series thus far, and makes me excited to see how classic stories are going to be reimagined in this show. Good start thus far. Score: 8.9/10

ONCE UPON A TIME S01E04 - "The Price of Gold" (13 November 2011) - Although I wasn't remotely grabbed in by Ashley's story and the fate of her baby, I was, oddly enough, completely captivated by Robert Carlyle's portrayal of Rumpelstiltsken. And Henry's statements that only Emma can have some sort of effect on him where no one else can is an intriguing concept, and I'm quite excited to see where this leads. A lot of interesting elements are being introduced, I just can't wait to see how they're explained/explored. Emma's character also gets a tiny bit of movement, instead of being a rather neither here nor there character for the last few episodes, she finally gets integrated into the city of Storybrooke, and is deputized by the Sheriff to safeguard the community. I'm okay with this development. Really, I just wanna start seeing more of why Emma is so special instead of all this talk about it, y'know? Still love the show. Score: 7.6/10

REVENGE S01E07 - "Charade" (02 November 2011) - Huh. That's basically all I can say. Nolan's getting busy with the really weird guy from Nikita introduced like forever ago, Emily's lies are beginning to unravel, and the original Emily Thorn shows up on Amanda Clarke's doorstep. Fun times. But all in all, "Charade" wasn't all that compelling. When Emily says things about her relationship with Daniel, her character has been written and portrayed with so much ambiguity I don't know whether or not she's truthful. Is this how it should necessarily be written or is it an oversight? Basically, I'm at a point where I want something to happen with Weird Guy. I'm tired of this pushing and pulling. He's not interesting or dynamic enough to keep up the charade (haha). And finally, Declan. Ugh. He had no right to act self-righteous at the dinner table. Zero. Made me wish he was beaten in a very cruel and uncivil way. But I know he survives long enough for the timeline to match the series opener. Score: 7.2/10

REVENGE S01E08 - "Treachery" (14 November 2011) - Can't say I'm particularly a fan of this new development of the original Emily Thorn making herself a presence in Amanda Clark's life. I'm watching this show to see Emily VanCamp exact her revenge on the people who royally screwed up her life and betrayed her father, but that seems to be taking a backseat to all this Frank/Amanda crap that I personally don't find all that compelling. I understand detours need to be made in order to hit a full season worth of storytelling, but this isn't the writers and actors at their best. Score: 7.5/10

SUPERNATURAL S07E07 - "The Mentalists" (04 November 2011) - Before I started to write this, I had to go back to Wikipedia to remember exactly what the hell this episode was about. All I really remember about "The Mentalists" was that I was quite pleased with Sam's No Bullshit approach to the job since last season, and it really showed up here when he shot the bad guy without a moment's hesitation. It's nice to have a guiltless, pro-action character. The main plot with the medium and the ghosts - nah, just wasn't feeling it. Witches and forces over spirits was better handled earlier this year with the Spike/Cordelia episode. Score: 6.7/10

SUPERNATURAL S07E08 - "Season Seven, Time For a Wedding!" (11 November 2011) - This series tends to do well with their meta comedy episodes, but in this instance, it wasn't really funny, nor all that clever, so I can't help but say "Season Seven, Time For a Wedding!" was anything less than underwhelming. In the category of positives, though, the facial expressions of Becky were fantastic to watch, and I nearly wish I could make a gallery dedicated to the multitude of faces she made throughout the episode. But as for her character, her story, and basically everything about her and Sam - it just didn't jell. To accommodate the meta, I think it would have been a tad more interesting to have Genevieve Cortese come back as Jared/Sam's wife, as introduced in last year's "The French Mistake." Overall, this episode was an misfire, without much in the way of (at least) laughs. Not their best moment, but also not absolutely horrible. Score: 6.2/10

VAMPIRE DIARIES S03E08 - "Ordinary People" (03 November 2011) - It's history time, and Vampire Diaries gives us another flashback episode, but with a twist: the show's version of how vampires came to be. It was a rather messy affair with Michael forcing the change upon his family, and they didn't seem to be too happy about the whole ordeal. The ending didn't really excite me all that much: I am ready for Klaus to be gone, or his arc to change in some way. We've had over a season of build-up for this character, and no matter how captivating an actor the guy who plays Klaus is, I feel it's time for the series to change gears and bring in a new big bad outside of Klaus and Katherine. Time for something new. But still, "Ordinary People" presented an interesting, fresh take on vampire lore, and for that, I am quite grateful. Score: 9.0/10

18 November 2011

Andy's Friday Five: 1998

1998 is really the year of my guilty pleasures. I doubt most of the films in my Top 5 will be on any other, and I'm perfectly fine about that. These films are just, in my humble opinion, bloody friggin' awesome. The category before the Top 5 list a lot of regular titles you'll see on lists, and although they are good - hell, even great films - when compared to the flicks on my Top 5, I just don't watch them as frequently as I do the ones I selected, nor does my heart flutter quite as much. Yeah, yeah, here's me going all mushy over flicks. Anyway, so check out below for my top picks of 1998. Now what are yours?

Previous Entries:
1990 | 1995 | 1997 | 2000

I Still Love These Movies, But They Don't Take the Cake
Lost in Space - Just had the pleasure of rewatching this recently, and with the exception of a really bad Gary Oldman, I frakkin' LOVED this. The story was tight and intelligent, the kid roles were tolerable, the leads were fun, Matt LeBlanc did a hilariously bad Han Solo impression, the miniature effects were really well done (highly detailed), the SPFX was spiffy and hold up even now over a decade later, and frankly, I love Lost in Space enough that I want a damn sequel.

GODZILLA - Since the age of 3, I have loved Godzilla more than nearly anything else, a love rivaled only by Batman. I like this movie, but it's more a remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms than it is remotely a Godzilla film.

Can't Hardly Wait - Teen sex comedy. <3 Furthermore, this flick is basically one giant 'Hey, it's THAT guy!' celebrity cameo fest. For realziez.

Halloween: H20 - Could have been sooo much better, but for what it is, this seventh film of the franchise ain't terrible. Boasts one hell of an ending. But the Michael Myers mask...ugh, I cringe to this day.

Deep Impact - Move aside Armageddon, I choose this world-ending-by-asteroid film over you any day of the week.

Saving Private Ryan - Without fail, whenever this film is playing on TNT, I always tune into the scene where a soldier gets a knife slowly pushed into his heart, and by God, does that just irk me. As for the whole movie, well, it's fantastic. Don't watch it often, but when I do, it's always a heart-pounding experience.

American History X - Also just saw this fairly recently, and was mighty impressed.

Meet Joe Black - Dunno what it is with me and liking films that include manifestations of Death. Though, I'm quite confidant the inclusion of Claire Forlani has something to do with my like for this movie.

Andy's Favorite Five of 1998
5. Run, Lola Run
Similar to choice #1, Run, Lola Run (that sorta rhymed) was a result of class assignment. We watched it together about three or four years ago, and it was just another one of those 'falling in love' moments. This is one of those instances where a clever idea and a creative director come together to make one hell of a fascinating movie. It's basically one story told different ways three times, each time with factors that create a different endgame in the 20 minutes the redhead, Lola, is allotted to save her boyfriend, Manny, who honestly doesn't seem worth the hassle. But it is what it is. The inventiveness of the situations, and surprisingly, the emotions that come out of it - especially during the bank scenes, where revelation after revelation hits Lola - is surprising, fresh, raw, and real. For someone who wants action, they'll get plenty of that; for someone looking for good story and characters, there's still that, too, which is even more impressive given its small runtime. Run, Lola Run is an experience. Much like 24. Oooooh! Now THERE'S a show: Lola - 20/4. Alright, I'm sold. Wait, what was I saying? Yes, Run, Lola Run: one hell of a wild ride that you'll want to get on again and again and again.

4. The Mask of Zorro
Every frame, every line, every track, every performance: frakkin' phenomenal. The Mask of Zorro is one of those movies, for me, that no matter the amount of hateration someone else throws on it, no matter how much someone points out whatever flaws it may have, or no matter someone just disagreeing flat out that this flick has any redeeming value - I will be unfazed. I love this movie. I fell in love instantly at the age of eight, and at my ancient age of 21, I'm still head over inexpensive shoes in love with it. There is not one bad beat in the whole film. The cinematography is gorgeous. Catherine Zeta-Jones is gorgeous. Anthony Hopkins is awesome. Antonio Banderas is awesome, hilarious, and can kick major ass. The sword battles - which I admit helped my eight year old self fall in love far easier than the 'talkie' scenes - are spectacular, swift in motion, beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. There's revenge, there's morality, there's romance, there's action/adventure, there's humor. That's what you get when you have a fantastic cast and crew on hand. Martin Campbell directs this beautiful film, a man who, until Green Lantern, I was pretty confidant could do no wrong; Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio prove right here that they are the cleverest screenwriters around, and each of the actors display their rightful star power with every scene. Love, love, love, love, LOVE me some Mask of Zorro. So you can only imagine how much I was looking forward to its sequel. Yeah, that didn't sit well with me...

3. Mulan
Confession time: I'm 21, in college, and I still sing those damn songs from this flick. "I'll Make a Man Out of You", for instance. So bloody catchy. There's not a lot of Disney movies I love or enjoy, but Mulan is one of the titles that I can't get enough of. When I found it in the $5 bin at Half Price Books, there probably wasn't a happier person on the planet at that time. I'll just list some stuff I love about my favorite Disney flick: the voice of Eddie Murphy as Mulan's dragon guardian Mushu. This is one of Murphy's funniest roles, and Mushu simply looks awesome. I want my own Mushu. The character of Mulan is interesting. This girl who really sucks at adhering to the cultural 'norm' of what her gender should do in society, and out of her compassion for her father, takes up his position in the army to fight in a war, considering she's never even been in battle before [leading to the awesome 'We Are Men' montage]. She's written extremely well, and moreso than coolio dragon Mushu, it's her journey that keeps me coming back for more. The animation is exquisite. At least for me, this is the style I like and appreciate. And how they animated the Huns - man, I was petrified as a kid by the main bad guy, his bright, evily yellow eyes, long flowing black hair, and one hell of a sharp, scary blade. And the climax in the heart of China - spectacular! Explosions, sword fights, even cross dressing in a Disney flick - Mulan is FUN!

2. The Faculty
Pure enjoyment, nonstop from beginning to end. Not only does the cast of people involve make me fall in love with the film alone - Elijah Wood, Kevin Williamson, Robert Rodriguez, Josh Hartnett, Jean Grey - but the movie itself is hilarious, intelligent, intense, and simply awesome. Apologies for using 'awesome' as a descriptive way of talking about a film, but really, it applies. Look at that photo to the left, how does this super-sized alien that wants to take over the planet, starting at a school, not look awesome? For some, this regrettably probably looks rather rubbish, and I don't blame them, but there's something about this film that just clicks with me. A really damn good aliens-invading-my-high-school flick, with a clever script filled with Kevin Williamson trademarks: smart twists, interesting characters, clever/witty dialogue. And, just to compliment how much I love monster suit designs, they give us that gorgeous thing photoed left. Yes, I very much want an action figure of that. So, in conclusion, The Faculty is right up my alley. I love aliens, I like high school stories when they aren't directly related to me, and combining aliens and high school is a pretty nifty idea, and could be entertaining as hell if executed right. The Faculty is executed right.

1. Pleasantville
This is perhaps the most unexpected inclusion on the list. I saw this for the first time as part of a class assignment. Something about symbolism, I figure. Point is, as I was watching it, I fell in love. So much so, that the next day I made a trek over to Sam's Club, and bought this baby for less than $4. If that DVD has a commentary, I probably listened to it. For about a good week or two, I was fully enamored by Pleasantville and everything pertaining to it. I loved the black & white, I love Tobey and Reese, I loved how characters gained color and changed, I loved the different ways a person can interpret the film, how you can tackle it from different perspectives and it somehow works within that structure/theory. It's a movie that's both innocent fun and multilayered. And, even more awesome, the more times I watch it, I pick up on new things. Frankly, it's been awhile, but I hope to remedy that really soon. Pleasantville was a welcome surprise, a flick I didn't expect anything from, and lo and behold, became an instant favorite of mine. This is my Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

17 November 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, John Hurt, Michael Gambon
Written by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates
Release: 15 July 2011
Warner Bros., 130 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: It's Harry vs. Voldemort as the ultimate showdown comes to the front at Hogwarts.

So this is it, this is the end. I chose not to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 when it first hit theaters in order to take some time and digest the film, and as time went by, it just made more sense to wait for the home video release in order to tackle the film in a more thorough manner. Now that time has come, and with it, the end of the Harry Potter adventure, and the end of anticipation for whatever’s next in the release pipeline.

To say there’s an emotional attachment to this final film is a bit of an understatement. Like many fans, I’ve been glued to the hip to Harry Potter since the first few books, and have diligently seen every one of the movies no fewer than ten times a piece. The character of Harry Potter, and his journey to overcome Lord Voldemort, has been as personal a journey for me as it has been for him. So what this film represents is the end of a magical era, and it’s a sad one. Months later, as I rewatch the film on home video, its power and emotional strength are still very much there. What I am to do here is really take a hard look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the good and the bad, and give one last goodbye to The Boy Who Lived.Right away, in the opening three minutes, David Yates makes some brilliant decisions. First, even before the company logo, a quick, forty-second recap of Voldemort’s ‘win’, his possession of the Elder Wand, the moment where any audience member not knowing anything about the book will be thinking, ‘Oh, shit, Harry’s screwed.’ It reiterates the importance of the wand, and also provides a quick refresh for anyone who forgot a detail or two. Secondly, we open the film very somberly by concentrating on newly crowned Headmaster of Hogwarts Severus Snape. No dialogue, just a couple of lingering shots of Alan Rickman playing Snape to utter perfection. By all means, his expression gives off the impression of an emotionless man, but thanks to the brilliance of Rickman, you can just tell there’s something behind his eyes, something sad, something off-putting. Opening the final film on Snape is a stroke of genius, and it’s presented so utterly beautiful, I can’t imagine a better way to bring the series to an end. And, of course, in the same way this is Harry’s movie, this is also very much Snape’s movie. Everything about him and his allegiances and choices are revealed here, so it’s fantastic to see him get his due. The openings of these last two movies have been fantastic: showing the kids preparing to leave their homes, and giving the spotlight to the “bravest man” Harry has ever known.

The next twenty minutes fly by at a blink of an eye. Harry is given some extremely important information about wand lore and allegiances by Ollivander (John Hurt), exposition given in a very engaging manner (kudos to screenwriter Steve Kloves for making what could have been a dull scene into something strong and, in a way, creepy), and meets with Griphook, played by an scene-stealing Warwick Davis. From the midnight release to the writing of this piece, I remain completely impressed by Warwick. His performance of Griphook is nuanced, and actually reminds me of Rickman in his ability to create an odd discomfort during the silences between words. As much as I like the Harry/Olivander scene, Harry’s bargain with Griphook is an exchange that never fails to remain gripping. Then we break into Gringotts, and break out thanks to a very pissed off albino dragon. Here we find out an interesting piece of information concerning Harry and the Horcruxes, an element I’m 90% sure isn’t in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Harry can ‘sense’ the Horcruxes, an device that is highly beneficial in that it limits exposition and cuts down on time.

The liberties Kloves takes to make the identification and destruction of Horcruxes easier I actually have no problem with. Actually, I find it rather brilliant. Something that will be said a lot and deservedly so is that, in my humble opinion, this is Steve Kloves’ best script of the series. There are tiny moments that make such an impact, and the way he adapts Rowling’s work is, at times, a stroke of brilliance. Apologies for getting ahead of myself, but while I’m on the topic, two specific parts Kloves incorporates I love are: in the Room of Requirement, Harry asking Malfoy why he didn’t tell Bellatrix he recognized him [note: in the book, I believe Malfoy genuinely couldn’t recognize Harry under Hermione’s jinx, although I may be wrong], and during the background heavy scene with Alberforth in the book concerning Albus’ past mistakes, Kloves sums it up so brilliantly by Harry stating very plainly, “I don’t care what happened between you and your brother. I trusted the man I knew.” It addresses that element from the book without outright dismissing it, and reinforces Harry’s trust in people and his belief in Dumbledore. Great moments.
After the Horcrux has been recovered, Ralph Fiennes is permitted to let loose his insanity as he slaughters all the goblins at Gringotts (including poor double-crossing Griphook). Fiennes is extraordinary in chilling audiences with an untamed Lord Voldemort, angry beyond comprehension and lusting for blood. Intercutting Voldemort’s wrath at the bank with the trio’s fall into the lake is a pretty good move, accomplishing two things at once. This sets up the rest of the movie: Hogwarts. Harry, tapping into Voldemort’s mind, gets a clue or two about another Horcrux at Hogwarts and knows he needs to go back, and Voldemort realizes he needs to start checking on his Horcruxes and keeping his snake, Nagini, safe.

Here we come to the Alberforth scene. Caesar himself Ciaran Hinds gives a wonderful performance as Alberforth Dumbledore. Thanks to some of the best makeup work of the series, Hinds looks like an exact replica of Michael Gambon. By all accounts, these two actors are, as far as I’m concerned, brothers. Physically, the similarities are uncanny, and Hinds even gives a similar speech rhythm. The scene with the trio and Alberforth could have made the film drag, but surprisingly, it doesn’t at all. And thanks to Alberforth, this brings us to…

The return of Neville and Harry’s come back tour to Hogwarts! Poor Matthew Lewis has been on the sidelines for the majority of the series (although, to be fair, he’s been given some great moments, specifically in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix), but here he shines. Proactive, rebellious, mischievous, heroic – the buffoon the trio have grown accustomed to is no longer, instead replaced by an action hero, the leader of the Hogwarts resistance. Lewis shines during his speech to Voldemort, the perfect story beat for the character seven films in the making. Whatever his future prospects are, I sincerely hope Lewis continues to pursue acting. Deathly Hallows, Part 2 very much shines a light at the unsung heroes of the series: Snape, Neville and even Ron (c’mon, here’s given more to do here than ever before, I’d say).
Speaking of hero moments, Harry gets this AMAZING one when he walks out of an assembly and counters Snape, berating him in front of the students, and the remainder of the Order of the Phoenix arrive. It’s such a powerful, ‘Yeah Harry!’ moment. It’s like him being a rockstar, him saying, ‘I’m Harry Potter, dude, and I’m going to bring you and VoldeyFace down!’ On a more serious note, it's just a really powerful scene, Harry confidentially standing out amongst his peers and confronting Snape, and a minute later, that small exchange between Harry and McGonagall - another fantastic scene that makes me so completely happy seven movies later.From here on out, it's all war. And the only thing I'll mention about it, aside from the super obnoxious uber-dark coloring of the image (even the Blu-Ray is a tad too dark for my liking), is one minute and thirty seconds of awesomeness that amounts to what the CD track listings refer to as "Courtyard Apocalypse." The trio need to find Voldemort, and they run through the raging war happening around them to get to him. Alexandre Desplat is given full reign to make this sweeping, highly emotional sequence, effectively punching me in the stomach with its beauty, its chaos, its danger, and its adventure. The full feeling of war and its consequences are best represented in this minute and thirty seconds, I feel, than most of the other battle scenes. It's chilling, frankly. Another round of kudos and applause to director Yates and everyone on crew.

Now we fall into some super big sequences, and I’ll try to be as brief as possible:

- Harry goes to the Pensieve and Snape’s past, his choices, his allegiances, and his heroism is revealed. Some notes: Alan Rickman is magnificent. The editing is fantastic. The music is gorgeous. And the emotion is sweet, tragic, heartbreaking, and admiration. We fall in love with Snape and, in a way, condemn Dumbeldore’s betrayal. This scene is perfect, and the seconds when Harry comes out of the Pensieve I count as one of the most pitch-perfect, extraordinary moments of the entire damn series. Harry taken aback; Harry clutching his heart; Harry seemingly unfamiliar with his surroundings; Harry sitting down, the camera lingers from front and behind as this new information sinks in. Bloody terrific.

- The Resurrection Stone and the walk through the Forest. More of the best stuff the series has ever given. Not a single iota of a bad note here. Radcliffe shines.

- King’s Cross. Mostly good, but c’mon, what’s up with Harry saying “sir” and “Professor” to Dumbledore? By all rights, Harry should be FURIOUS. This man betrayed Harry, has, as Snape put it, been raising him as a lamb for slaughter. Dumbledore comes across as the biggest prick in the Potter universe at this precise moment, and Harry’s polite with this git? The book makes reference to Dumbeldore’s betrayal nearly being nothing compared to the news he had to die, but still, that bit of fiery, angry Harry from Order of the Phoenix should have come out and yelled at him. But instead the whole conversation is rather reserved, and doesn’t feel like it really goes anywhere. There should be talk about the Hallows, there should be a bigger emphasis on what Harry’s choosing to go back into, etc. A decent scene, but one that could have benefited from a greater emotional punch. That said, the withering, decaying piece of Voldemort’s soul was nothing short than awesome.

And the FINAL final battle begins! Harry and Voldemort locked in one hell of a brutal battle. Voldemort beats and punches Harry upwards and downwards. The brutality of their physical, wand-less battle is much appreciated, and adds to the heavy emotion of this final duel. This is the first time, really, that Harry and Voldemort just went crazy on one another. After all the shit that Voldemort’s done to Harry, after all the sacrifices, it’s just him and Voldemort. For Voldemort, all the rage of being thwarted by this young boy who possesses nowhere near the power that He does is given release. So it makes sense from a character and story point that Voldemort just doesn’t “Avada Kedavra!” Harry one last time, but instead decides to, dare I say, play with him. I fully applaud the choice to expand their battle, and it’s they hit so many right beats. Like one of the major departures from the book, when Harry and Voldemort are flying outside Hogwarts and crashing into the building, holding onto one another, their bodies become one. It’s one hell of an amazing visual, and it’s so completely perfect for this scene. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but it perfectly visualizes Harry’s inner struggle/question for the last three or four films: how much am I like Voldemort? How much of Voldemort is in me? Since Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s been asking that question – with the utmost fear – a lot. And here we get to see that. Of course, with the exception of the whole Horcrux business, the two couldn’t be more different, as mentioned by Dumbledore and many others quite often, but it’s a wonderful thing that thread is brought up again in the middle of this intense action sequence.

But that marvelous moment passes, and the two fall to the courtyard. What follows is two minutes of extraordinary magic: A) Harry and Voldemort face to face in the courtyard, down and dirty, unrelenting in their attack, B) Ron and Hermione attacking and subsequently running from Nagini, and C) Neville getting his ‘hero’ moment. Complimented by Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score and some terrific editing, this sequence of events is basically perfect. Now with Nagini gone, and the part of Voldemort’s soul in Harry has been obliterated, Harry is free to finish Voldemort off.
This is it. This is the moment. All seventeen years of Harry’s life comes down to this moment. And Voldemort, not understanding of what’s happening to his body, decides to ignore it, that he’s a more powerful wizard, and presses on. This monumental, gigantic, epic, emotional victory could have been one of the most spectacular, fist-in-the-air, ‘YES!’ yelling moments in cinema. Instead, it sorta comes off flat. And I think that sort of comes from a lack of coverage, of all things.

Yates’ penchant for wide shots serves him well when establishing locale and showing off the gorgeous set designs and scenery, but he fails to go in for the close-up when it would benefit him greatly. The battle at Hogwarts has many examples of this. The death of Fred would have more impact if his body wasn’t so obscured by his grieving family members. If we were given a shot of Fred’s lifeless body, head-on, it would be far more effective and emotional like the full shot of Lupin and Tonks, instead of coming across rather flat. Now in regards to Voldemort’s death, there are some medium shots, and then a close up of the Elder Wand flying out of his hand and then his disintegration. Composer Desplat does his best in making this the grand moment it ought to be, but I think by staying a bit too far away from Voldemort, from now getting close up to get that moment of ‘NOW he’s finished!’, they (sort of) robbed the audiences of this ginormous moment. Or, in a different scenario, Voldemort’s skin is cracking, Harry grabs the Elder Wand, and in one last spell, directs it at Voldemort, and Voldemort falls back, dead. Something that gives Harry the proper moment of victory, because right now, it honestly don’t feel like Harry delivered the final blow, and that’s an important part of any good guy vs. bad guy story, that final blow. As a friend of mine said, we needed that “final FUCK YOU, VOLDIE!”

Oh, and as a sidenote - because that's what this scene felt like - the Molly vs. Bellatrix was hugely disappointing. It's included in the film most likely because of fan demand, as is Molly's famous line, but it's presented here with all the passion of Rupert Grint enthusiastically kissing Emma Watson. Translation: none.

So I loved the battle. It was visually represented very beautifully, and the performances were extraordinary. But there was an emotional tie that was ultimately lacking. Unfortunately, it continues till the end of the film. Post-battle, in the partially demolished Great Hall, a moment that would have benefited hugely from jubilation, as in the book, instead feels awkward. After, what, 20 years in the timeline of Harry Potter, the wizarding world is free of Voldemort permanently? This is something that deserves celebration, that demands joy and yells of happiness and lots of pats on the backs and congratulations. I understand that Yates and crew wanted a more quiet, restrained, post-apocalypse stillness, but it just doesn’t work here. An element that could have helped it would be more naturalistic dialogue, instead of these awkward glances, hugs, and name giving. May feel right on paper, but it didn’t translate well.

And then the final scene on the bridge with our trio. Radcliffe has some great dialogue, and it was wonderful to have a scene with just the three of them, conquering heroes having survived a kill or be killed battle that decided the fate of the wizarding world. To just have these three is something extraordinary and brilliant. But that motherfrakking final shot. They’re posing. Hand in hand, posing. Not saying a bloody thing. Just standing there. On a bridge. I would have preferred a hug. It makes no sense. I can completely accept spells to give a soul a body, or instruments being vessels for aspects of a soul, or statues coming to life, but there is something wrong, awkward, and fake about these three standing there, not saying a thing, holding hands, and looking off in the distance. Don’t know if it’s just me, but it instantly pulled me out of whatever emotion that could have been grabbed from the scene, and just feels completely and utterly weird.

That said, I have no problem with the older Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, or Malfoy. The only nitpick I can give is that the quick Malfoy shot isn’t given any connection. Harry doesn’t glance at Malfoy or anything; the Malfoy shot literally is just thrown in there. Otherwise, fantastic final scene for the series, and a marvelous final shot. Harry’s happy and living the normal life. All is good.I could say a lot more, but then I'd feel like I'm babbling, so I'll conclude with this (and one kickass final poster that I desperately want to own):

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is basically great. It doesn’t lag, the music is thrilling, somber, and action-y, the editing gives the film an unrelenting pace, the action is intense, and the performances are magnificent. Like truly magnificent. Looking at the two halves as one film – something I hope to do one day – it’s definitely the series at its most confident. Kloves, Yates, Haymen, and Warner Bros. know this is their last one, their last chance to get it right, and everyone delivers, from the bottom of the production totem pole to whoever’s at the top. With the exception of the things I noted, I could not have asked for a better film, and that extends to the first part, as well. This movie delivers.

Rating: 9/10 = A fitting end to the HARRY POTTER saga, it's full of action, drama, twists and turns, and is must-see entertainment.

If you haven't already, watch this NOW (!), then rewatch the entire series from beginning to end. Months later, how do y'all feel about the final film?

03 November 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3

Starring Jessica Tyler, Brian Boland, Chloe Csengery, Christoper Nhcolas, Lauren Blittner, Hallie Foote
Written by Christopher B. Landon
Directed by Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost
Release: 21 October 2011
Paramount, 85 mins., Rated R

Plot: Sequel sequel to prequel prequel.

For years, every Halloween the Saw franchise was the reigning victor in the box office, presenting a tightly woven narrative with gory death traps, making it a cash cow for the studio. In 2009, Paranormal Activity, an independent production made for a reported $15,000, dethroned Saw VI, rounding out its theatrical run with $107.9 million.

Despite no original plans to continue the series, Paranormal Activity 2 hit theaters the following October, surpassing its predecessor in box office and delivering more effective chills.

And now, a third installment enters theaters with a record breaking $54 million opening weekend. Suffice it to say, Halloween now belongs to Paranormal Activity.

Going back in time even further, before Paranormal 2, the third film (and second prequel) is set in 1988, shown through old, discarded VHS tapes, chronicling exactly what shenanigans young Katie and Kristi are up to with that pesky demon that will inevitably cause them trouble later in life.

Video recorded by Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), boyfriend of the sisters’ mother Julie (Lauren Bittner), he sets up three cameras: one in their room, one in the children’s bedroom, and one downstairs covering the kitchen and living room (humorously duct taped to a fan). As the nights roll on, the cameras pick up unusual images and weird exchanges between Kristi and an invisible entity.

Paranormal Activity 3 is highly effective in its ability to build tension. The moving camera attached to the fan may be the single most brilliant invention of the entire trilogy, making audiences cling to every inch of the frame to see what may be coming and when.

This device is brilliantly used during a scene involving a ‘ghost’ and a babysitter. Although the film has a bit of a slow burn until the unusual phenomena begins, it does allow viewers to get to know Dennis and Julie, and even become fans of both of them, especially Dennis (whose reactions to everything are comedic gold). In fact, it’s with a long, intimate scene with them that delivered the most effective spine-chilling freak out of them all.

Another runaway success is the utterly natural, realistic performances of the child actors playing Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and Katie (Chloe Csengery). Not one bit of their performance feels phoned in, and because of the level of realism with these two, when the demon becomes aggressive it’s absolutely horrifying. And not just because it’s a bit scary, but because we come to care for the kids and don’t want bad things to happen to them.

That’s quite the accomplishment when typically, audiences are or more or less rooting for the demon. The casting here is nothing short of exquisite, boasting the most likable and personable cast of the trilogy.

The film is one long tense production that culminates in a chaotic crescendo. It’s the scares and the characters that make Paranormal 3 a success, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely perfect.

As opposed to the previous two, this one doesn’t feel quite as complete, and when the end credits roll, the theater was collective in their reaction of, “That’s it?” There should have been, and could have been, more to the story, or more scares. It just seems to end awfully sudden.

Following in the footsteps of Paranormal 2, a few more layers of its mythology is unraveled, this time involving a strange symbol that may be connected to the demon. The last film was very mythology heavy, but all its twists and turns made sense in the context of the narrative and added up to the original film’s framework really well. What’s brought to the table in the closing minutes of Paranormal 3 doesn’t nearly jive as well, coming out of left field more than making sense in the context of what has come before.

Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t perfect, but it’s highly effective in its scares, it’s tense from beginning to end, and offers the most likable cast of actors in the whole trilogy. Where the series will go from here is uncertain, but judging from phenomenal box office receipts, a fourth helping is all but certain.

02 November 2011

Red State

Red State

Starring Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun
Written & Directed by Kevin Smith
Release: 01 September 2011
SModcast Pictures, 88 mins., Rated R

Plot: Three teens are held captive by religious fundamentalist Abin Cooper and members of his Five Points Church, and are meant to die for their sinning nature.

Right around the time Kevin Smith was prepping Clerks II, info starting popping up about a script he wrote that was unlike anything he had ever written. Called Red State, he called it a "different kind of horror movie." Here we are, two films later, and we finally have the film in our hands. All the hype surrounding it, all the anticipation, and it's finally here. And because of that anticipation and expectation, Red State unfortunately fails to be as good as it probably is.

The movie is good. Unlike many reviews suggest, the film knows exactly what it is. The pacing and clear story divide is very deliberate, and, I feel, actually quite effective. The story evolved from its thriller/horror roots and instead became an all-out bullet melee. Enjoyment aside - and I did, enjoy - the film just didn't seem to push the boundaries enough, for me. It's one of those instances where the film, good as it is, failed to deliver on its own premise. Three horny teenage boys caged by Abin Cooper and his ministry to pay for their sins in front of the congregation is a horrifying scenario, and Smith could have easily milked it to make everything more intense, more cruel, more effective. In fact, with the exception of a number of unexpected deaths, Red State seems to play it safe, weirdly enough.

To the films detriment, and it pains me to say this, but Abin Cooper and his flock don't come across as actual, dimensional characters/people. They feel like caricatures, the result of some sort of Looney Tunes sketch mixing some swearing and blood into the equation. I knew this was a possibility, but I assumed that Smith, being an intelligent writer and possessing a keen knack for writing exquisite dialogue and very real characters, would overcome such a hurdle. Unfortunately, because of the caricature feeling that comes from the people of Five Points Church, they don't come across nearly as threatening as they should, especially Cooper. I will say that all reports about Michael Parks being splendid in the role are indeed true, but that doesn't stop him from not coming across as a legitimate threat. It sucks Smith's script failed to give these characters dimension, but in the grand scheme of the whole movie, it could be argued it wasn't entirely necessary. By the fifty minute mark Red State becomes an all-out blood war, where every life is expendable. The characterization of Cooper's clan is secondary to the bullets and the plot points.

In the category of dialogue, Smith once again doesn't disappoint. Especially when the ATF come into the scene, the dialogue is classic Smith. One of my favorite exchanges of the year occurs around the 50 minute mark when Goodman and his right-hand man are trying to communicate with Cooper and his clan.

But all in all, despite my affection for Parks, my love for Kevin Smith, and my general good feeling towards Red State, it just doesn't feel like enough. Incomplete, would be a good word for it. And I don't mean to say that Smith should have lingered at the war zone instead of cutting to a dialogue heavy scene; I think the last act is fine. Just the whole movie doesn't reach the heights of greatness, of horror, of tension, that it should. All this being said, Red State is a movie that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to fans of Kevin Smith. However, I wager it has a very specific audience, and a large portion of people will have no inclination to check out a film that has fowl-mouthed horny teens, crazy religious nuts, blood splatter, and really no message in the end. But hell, it's still worth seeing.

Rating: 7.5/10 - Not Smith's best outing, but there enough done right to make Red State worth checking out, from script to screen, it's a labor of love, and feels like it.