Friday, July 17, 2009

Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Ok - Unlike most of my reviews, this is just a bunch of random thoughts associated with the film. It is a big film though, so I feel like I have to comment. There are spoilers and rants, so proceed at your own caution if you intend to see this film:

I saw it today.

Really have no desire to do a full write-up so here are my random thoughts.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Director- David Yates
153 min; PG
Basic same cast as the others

Oh man was I completely unsatisfied when I left the building. And on the entire ride home. And even now. This entire movie had the feel like something was missing. I mean, every 10 minutes I was wondering when it would get interesting.

And to be clear - I loved the entire book series and felt this book was probably the best of all 7. This movie just fell flat on every level.

The most glaring and obvious terrible mistake was the ending - how the hell they left out the tower fight scene is beyond me... I was at least expecting that to save the movie.

Young Tom Riddle was awesome. Slughorn was awesome. Other than that, yeah, I get it that they are growing up and have boy/girl feelings... what about all the muggle world having to fear dark magic? I mean, it is completely forgotten after the opening sequence.

Harry/Ron/Hermione were all averagely fine. Not bad, not great.

I know this was a set-up of sorts for the final, but I'm sure they could have had a little more action throughout 150+ minutes.

I'm not going to rip it to pieces, because I still love the series and love the premise and it was ok for entertainment, but this was very average.

** 1/2 out of 5

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Movie Review: Public Enemies (2009)

Public Enemies (2009)

Director - Michael Mann
140 min; R

John Dillinger - Johnny Depp
Melvin Purvis - Christian Bale
Billie Frechette - Marion Cotillard

John Dillinger was a bank robber. And that’s it.

Johnny Depp portrays the 1930s Chicago-area gangster in a way that leaves little to no interpretation of who he is and what he wants, though you may wish you learned just a bit more. Stark, brazen, and intent on moving forward with his own conceived invincibility, Dillinger led life one day at a time and always focused on the next score, no matter who stood in his way. He is cocky, arrogant, suave, cool and collected.

Michael Mann does not direct a lot of films, but when he does you can generally expect something pretty spectacular. Directing just 3 films in the 90s, you tell me where there is a flaw: The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Heat (1995) The Insider (1999). Just like in his masterpiece Heat, this film takes to the extreme the shockingly realistic feel to gun fight between lawmen and criminals. What better era to encapsulate than the 1930s with Tommy Gunns blasting round after round after round after round? You will not be disappointed at the action in this film.

But is the action of the film enough to make this a really great film? I suppose it just barely misses out on some level. I found so much of this movie to give wonderful amounts of action, suspense, score, cinematography and acting, but on some level I think I did need just a little bit more about this one man wrecking machine. What do we know? We know he lives life fast. He robs a bank for the money, which he spends, and then robs another. He breaks out of jail like he’s walking through the park on a sunny afternoon. He picks up a woman with little more than a look and 2 sentences. But what does he think about in his alone time? What drives him? Where did he come from and where is he going? I don’t suppose I needed all that answered, but I would have liked some of it.

In pursuit of Dillinger is Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) appointed by J. Edgar Hoover himself to head up the Chicago office with the sole purpose of ending Dillinger’s reign of terror. Along the way they find themselves confronted by a bevy of other criminals in the Dillinger circle, including Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) who gives a masterful performance as nothing more than a hardened criminal. Bale gives a pretty good look at what it takes to be in charge of a unit without enough resources hunting a man with nothing but resources. Marion Cotillard brings Billie Frechette to life as Dillinger’s love interest, and the woman who he ultimately pledges his allegiance to, no matter what the cost. She needs him for something more, and he needs her (perhaps any ‘her’ would have done) to validate his own narcissism.

I am reminded of the wonderful film The Untouchables (1987) in which another wonderful cast of cops and robbers (Kevin Costner and Sean Connery and the pursuit of Al Capone - Robert De Niro) fight it out with flying bullets and civilians and storylines that can only end in the way they were intended. This film does much in the way of giving the audience a great show and great value for their money. There is a magnificent sequence in the tree-soaked hills of Wisconsin in which Bale and his band of lawmen encounter Depp and his band of thieves. The foot and car chases throughout the 15 minute scene are on par with the great bank heist of Heat, and this one takes place at night, outdoors.

See this film. It is very good. It just lacks a little bit of the character depth I would have liked to learn about this man, John Dillinger, who ‘robs banks’ and not much else.

**** 1/2 out of 5

A Movie Review: My Sister's Keeper (2009)

Director- Nick Cassavetes
109 min; PG-13

Anna - Abigail Breslin
Kate - Sofia Vassilieva
Sara - Cameron Diaz
Brian - Jason Patric
Jesse - Evan Ellingson
Taylor - Thomas Dekker
Campbell Alexander - Alec Baldwin

It’s been a little while, but you can officially add My Sister's Keeper to the list of films that have made me cry. Thankfully I was able to slouch down in my seat, tilt my head backwards against the seat, and sort of flutter my eyelids so that no one could see it, but yes, it was there. And I hope you all experience this as well.

Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook (2004)) directs this wonderful piece that deals with themes of death, family, and even law in reasonably realistic fashion and in ways to which so many of us can relate.

The premise of the movie is that Anna (Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine (2006))) wants to sue her parent’s for ‘medical emancipation’ of her body, since the main reason she was conceived, in a Petri dish, with scientific help, was to harvest her own bodily organs and fluids to help keep her older sister Kate, who suffers from a rare form of cancer, alive. This is not a science fiction movie, and though there is very little in the film that touches on the actual conception of Anna, there is some scientific fact-based assumptions being made.

Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is absolutely wonderful as she portrays a vibrant, youthful, yet dying child, who is surrounded by a loving family, yet one that is in turmoil. Kate’s illness has put a strain on everyone, including her parent’s Brian (Jason Patric) and Sara (Cameron Diaz), her brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson) and of course her sister, Anna. Diaz and Patric put in very strong performances as parents torn apart while striving to save their family. I wasn’t sure at first if Diaz’s portrayal of the mother as such an overbearing and relentlessly coldhearted woman would be the right feel, but ultimately it worked out very well.

If the movie lacks in any specific area it is simply that it loses focus at some point. This really is the story of Anna and her outward ambitions to be given her right to choose what she wants. At some point. however, this becomes the story of Kate and her struggles and triumphs. In the end the film is brought back nicely and it really does not hurt the overall appeal of Anna being her ‘sister’s keeper.’

Unfortunately, and I really don’t see why, the director chose to go with a lot of voice-over work to tell us back story. I am not necessarily a hater of voice over to compliment a film, but in this case, from the very beginning, it is too much of a recurring element. Please trust the audience to pick up on some of this, especially when the actors are doing a very decent job. Perhaps the most glaring omission I can think of is the lack of any real discussion involving the ethics of the entire situation. Certain items are brought up throughout, especially at trial, but what of the initial decision to conceive Anna for the purpose of harvesting her body? There really is a missing scene in this film.

Alec Baldwin does an excellent job as Campbell Alexander, the attorney for Anna with a ‘91%’ success rate. His role is neither a stereotype nor a caricature; it is very well grounded. The film actually revolves around the comings and goings of the trial and the deteriorating health of Kate, and Baldwin does a very good job of keeping us interested in both sides.

The real glue of this film, based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, is the relationship between the sisters and that of the mother and her dying daughter. Both girls do an amazingly good job of touching on some very difficult subject matter, and the smile of Kate alone is enough to melt your heart. This film is not an overly emotional heart-string-tugging-chick flick – at all. This is the portrayal of a family with real problems doing what they need to do to keep it together, and it is the story of two little girls facing some impossible decisions.
EDIT - copied wrong rating - updated now

**** out of 5