Archive | August, 2011

Another Earth

17 Aug

Title: Another Earth
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Mike Cahill
Writers: Mike Cahill and Brit Marling
Starring: 
Brit Marling, William Mapother
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity and brief drug use
Runtime: 
92 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 
61%

I had been interested in watching Another Earth for a long time now, I remember hearing the buzz as it became a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Festival and that really got my interest, then I got to know what it was about and saw the first trailer and clips that started coming up, and thought that it was something right up my alley, something I would have no trouble appreciating and enjoying the hell out of. And I really did, I mean, it wasn’t the masterpiece I was privately expecting, which means The Tree of Life and the last Harry Potter film remain my only two perfect-score films of the year, but it was an undeniably great film that I’m a huge supporter of.

Because, you see, Another Earth really is extremely great in how it manages to catch your attention with that one incredibly compelling image and thought: the fact that another planet that is just huge and looks much like our own has appeared in our skies. In that sense, yes, I guess it’s a science fiction film, which is what drew me in to the film in the first place, but Another Earth is much more than just a sci-fi movie, it deals with all these metaphysical aspects that really dictate the mood of the film in the most terrific of ways. Because we get this second Earth looming over us, never going away, and it’s apparently populated by an exact replica of us, like a parallel universe of sorts. And Another Earth really does a beautiful job at sort of examining what would happen if that actually happened, and how the interest in the meaning of this new Earth being there, and its effect on our own Earth, would come a distant second place to our interest in these sort of doppelgangers we have over there. And thus the inevitable soul-searching begins, we begin to think about our lives, and how it would be to meet another us, and to see how different a life he or she might have from yours, for better or worse.

And that question is what drives Another Earth, the prospect of another you, and it’s really a question that director Mike Cahill uses brilliantly to set an atmospheric and melancholic mood that is pretty incredible. At its core, this is the story of a young woman who’s dream of becoming an astrophysicist comes to an end after her carelessness causes a bad accident, and her mistake begins to haunt her to the point in which she develops a relationship with the man who’s life she shattered with her mistake. And this personal story is the one that we have playing out against the far grander and more sci-fi-ish backdrop of this mysterious planet appearing in our skies. And it works so damn well you won’t even know what hit you.

I also really liked that the script, written by Mr. Cahill along with Brit Marling, who’s also the star of the film, doesn’t really bother all that much with going into how just plausible this all is, it doesn’t really meddle all that much with the scientific side of it all, it just goes straight to all these more personal and deeper questions. And Ms. Marling, it must be said, is simply tremendous here. Seriously, I just loved how she played Rhoda, a woman who on the night the new Earth is first heard of is accepted into the best astrophysics program in the country and parties too hard, and on her way home, looking out the window to see the new planet, she crashes into another car, killing a mother, a son, and leaving a father in a comma. Ms. Marling is phenomenal here, and I really want to see her rise to the top and be in all sorts of great movies with all sorts of great people. As of right now she has Arbitrage in post-production, the feature-length debut of writer-director Nicholas Jarecki alongside Tim Roth, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon and, more importantly, The Company You Keep, Robert Redford’s next directorial effort, which also happens to star Ms. Sarandon. So yeah, if she keeps surrounding herself with talented people I’m sure she’ll do just fine.

As for the concept of doppelgangers, I liked how it was used to drive this whole project and the entire notion of their being another Earth and another you. And if you’re reminded about the films of Kryzsztof Kieslowski when seeing this one you’re not alone, they are certainly influences that are present here, especially when comparing this one to Mr. Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique, the whole approach to the marriage of the magical with the mundane is evocative of those films, and I certainly think Mr. Cahill took on a lot of influences like that, and the juxtaposition of them is what ultimately made it possible for us to get this truly unique vision we get.

I applaud Another Earth like you have no idea, and everyone really should go out of their ways to watch this film, as Mr. Cahill has crafted an excellent film on a reported $200’000 budget which really is a tremendous feat, one he accomplishes because he suggests much more than he directly shows, and because we have this very human story told with emotionally raw performances anchoring everything else, it really works here. And yes, it may all be a bit too ‘indie’ from the handheld camera to the score (which I loved), but it  works in the end because that raw aesthetic really does go along tremendously well with many of the film’s themes, and approaching such a complex and ambition concept in such a way was a definite risk for Mr. Cahill, but he and his terrific cast came up firmly on top. Imaginative as hell, provocative in a very cool way and totally immersive and mesmerizing, if you’re done with the big-budget extravaganzas of the summer, go watch this one, and then join me in waiting for Ms. Marling to become the star she’s imminent to be.

Grade: A-

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Friends with Benefits

16 Aug

Title: Friends with Benefits
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Will Gluck
Writers: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and Will Gluck, with story by Harley Peyton, Mr. Merryman and Mr. Newman
Starring: 
Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Nolan Gould, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Emma Stone, Andy Samberg, Masi Oka, Rashida Jones, Jason Segel, Shaun White
MPAA Rating: 
R, some violent content and brief sexuality
Runtime: 
109 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
69%

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis both starred in last year’s masterpiece Black Swan, which I ranked as my favorite film of all 2010, and they both decided to follow that dark and intense film with turns in R-rated romantic comedies with remarkably similar plots about what happens when good friends of the opposite sex decide to add sex to their friendly relationship, and then explore if the friendship can remain intact or if feelings are bound to arise. Ms. Portman’s effort, No Strings Attached in which she starred in alongside Ashton Kutcher, came at the start of the year and I saw it on February 14th, six months ago, and gave it a weak B+ to, a pretty good grade for that type of film, and I said that the chemistry between the two leads is what made that film succeed.

And if that was true of No Strings Attached, that the chemistry between Ms. Portman and Mr. Kutcher was enough to make the film succeed, then it’s even more accurate an assessment of Friends with Benefits as the chemistry between Ms. Kunis and Justin Timberlake, her male co-star here, is pretty extraordinary. It also has to do with the fact that I’m a huge fan of both Ms. Kunis and Mr. Timberlake, but yeah, Friends with Benefits is on the same level as No Strings Attached, but it’s a better movie, if that makes any sense, because they both really do nothing new to a well-worn rom-com formula, but they have incredibly likable leads who have terrific chemistry with one another, and that alone carries the film to pretty great heights.

Romantic comedies these days really can’t ask for much more than that, to have stellar chemistry between its leads, because the blueprints for most of them have been worn-out. But Friends with Benefits proves that even if your plot seems to follow an easy outline that is probably dictated on some sort of 101 book for the writing of these films it’s still more than possible for your film to turn out extremely fun. And Ms. Kunis and Mr. Timberlake handle that really nicely, because after proving last year that they can give wonderful performances in masterpieces, her in the aforementioned Black Swan and him in The Social Network (which was my second favorite film of the year), they are now out to prove that they are just as good in light comedies, and, of course, they are.

Like I said, you know where this one’s going to go before it even makes a move to go there. Ms. Kunis is Jamie an executive in New York City, Mr. Timberlake is Dylan, an art director. She persuades him to fly over to New York to meet for a job interview to become the new art director for GQ. They have a dinner date, they’re both as charming as only Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis would be, then they have another dinner, and you know where that’ll go, to them discussing that they’ve had a really crappy luck when it comes to relationships lately, and then agreeing that they should just have sex, purely for physical release and without any sort of consequential emotional investment. And let me just say this, as obvious as all the steps may have been, the scene that unfolds later with them under a blanket is one that’s really well-written, well-directed by Will Gluck (who directed the spectacular Easy A last year, which I gave an A- grade to), and acted with terrific comic timing by Ms. Kunis and Mr. Timberlake.

But you know what will happen next, Dylan and Jamie are required by the rules of the commercial rom-com to fall in love, to encounter obstacles in the road to said love, to disagree, to think it’s all lost forever in the middle of the second act only to end up together forever again in the end of the third act. And, like I said, Friends with Benefits never once shies away from those pre-established genre conventions, it even embraces them and makes fun of them, and what’s best is that even those little bits in the middle that don’t necessarily require Mr. Timberlake and Ms. Kunis to play off each other are just as exquisite because Mr. Gluck has a terrific bunch of supporting players to use. Seriously, from a brilliant young star like Emma Stone (whom he directed in Easy A) to the most amazing screen veterans like Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins, this cast is full of phenomenal actors who do their all to make this a really entertaining watch from beginning to end.

Look, Friends with Benefits isn’t the best romantic comedy ever made, but it is one that will keep you entertained, one that counts with a pair of lead performances that are splendid thanks to two young actors with terrific chemistry with one another. And, really, romantic comedies don’t really require their leads to be great actors (though these two are pretty wonderful) it just needs them to be great together, and these two are just that, and then some. Add that already winning element to a formula that includes a stellar supporting cast, good direction and a script full of fun dialogue that’s rarely seen in rom-coms and you can bet that this is a really strong bet to see on a date, though not with someone you don’t plan to have feelings for because then your date might get the wrong message.

Grade: B+

Captain America: The First Avenger

14 Aug

Title: Captain America: The First Avenger
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Joe Johnston
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Starring: 
Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Runtime: 
124 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
79%

 

I feel kind of ashamed that I haven’t gotten around to seeing X-Men: First Class yet because I hear it’s pretty excellent, and had I seen it I could now be making my full assessment of this year’s superhero blockbusters. But in any case, Captain America: The First Avenger is the fourth and last superhero/comic-book movie of the 2011 summer season and, X-Men: First Class sight unseen, my favorite one of them all, and this comes from someone who really enjoyed Thor (I gave it a solid A-), though of course the less said about Green Lantern the better, as even if I did seem to like it a bit more than most did I still gave it a pretty mediocre C+. But yes, Captain America: The First Avenger is a damn fine summer movie, it’s just unashamedly retro and pulpy and it’s just pure blockbuster fun at the theater, not to mention that it actually counts with some pretty solid performances from its cast as well.

And if Thor came with huge implications for the Marvel movies because it was the one that would test if the company could make films about their superheroes which lived in another universe successfully (they could), this one actually came with bigger expectations tied to it, because this is the last film we’ll get until next year’s insanely buzzed-about Avengers movie, and if this one failed to introduce Captain America in a great manner and set up things nicely for next year’s huge tentpole, then the outcome of the 2012 outing that will see Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Hulk and Hawkeye together could have been compromised. But whatever expectations this one had coming into it, it didn’t even pay mind to them as it shattered them, because Captain America: The First Avenger did everything it had to do, and it did it right, and it also managed to establish Chris Evans as a pretty awesome Captain America.

Seriously, I didn’t know what to make of Mr. Evans’ casting as Captain America (when the casting process was unraveling I was part of those who wanted to see what John Krasinski would do with the role), but I found that he looked the part to the bone, and also had the whole patriotic attitude down to perfection, embodying with the precise amount of conviction that made Cap seem super genuine and plain awesome and not one bit too corny. And he really gets a lot of the credit for the film being as great as it ultimately was, the humor and heart that he brings to the role is essentially what keeps us watching this film intently.

Yes, it ultimately really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but I don’t care if it’s not groundbreaking or masterful, it’s still undeniably well-made, undeniably well-acted and insanely entertaining, and for a comic book geek like myself, that’s really all you can ask for. I mean, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the scrawny Brooklyn guy who wants to fight in World War II was just terrific, and you had Stanley Tucci as a scientist who something special in him, and then you have Hugo Weaving as the villain, Red Skull, a former Nazi leader who now has a splinter group that’s developing some menacing weapons. There’s also Haley Atwell as the romantic interest in here, Peggy Carter, and Tommy Lee Jones as a military leader who’s skeptical of Steve’s potential as Cap. These are all great actors here, and what’s great is that director Joe Johnston actually uses their talents and allows them to shine, Tommy Lee Jones especially, who of course can do this sort of character in his sleep at this point of his illustrious career, but still, you don’t really get to see that much actual good acting in superhero films nowadays, and I loved that about this film.

And I also have to point out another good thing about this film, and that’s the 3D. If you’re a regular reader of mine you know that I, like most, am totally against the technology and I think it’s just a fad for studios to make money (though, to be fair, why shouldn’t they?) and it really brings nothing new or good to 95% of the movies that use it, but instead just makes things darker and uncomfortable. Now, I’ve seen this film twice, with and without the added dimension, and even though I obviously prefer it and advice you to see it in regular 2D, I didn’t really mind the 3D at all in this one, it somehow manages to maintain its amazing and substantial look, which is all about sepia tones that make the whole film look and feel extraordinarily retro, and which I adored.

Like I said, I haven’t yet seen X-Men: First Class for one reason or another, and even though I have great hopes for it, if Captain America: The First Avenger finishes off as my favorite superhero film of the summer, that’d be all very well with me, because it really is a spectacular movie. It has an underdog story at first, and then it has a story about the dangers of what fame can do when achieved quickly and in great quantities, and it’s just pure entertainment, with some great effects and a bunch of stellar supporting performances and in Chris Evans’ starring one it finds an actor that plays a terrific Captain America, adding a depth to a character that very easily could’ve come out as just way too corny. Go watch Captain America: The First Avenger, that’s all I’m saying, for one thing, you need to in order to fully appreciate Joss Whedon’s take on The Avengers when it finally arrives next summer (and be sure to stick until the very end of this one for a sneak peek at that), and go see it just because it’s one of the best summer movies of this year, even in 3D.

Grade: A-

Life in a Day

13 Aug

Title: Life in a Day
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Kevin Macdonald
Writer: –
Starring: 

MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, disturbing violent images, language and a sexual reference
Runtime: 
90 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
79%

 

To say I was intrigued to see what sort of results Life in a Day, an experiment in filmmaking to say the least, would produce would be sort of an understatement. Since the inception of this idea started coming up online I was deeply interested about the sort of end product that could spawn from it. You see, last year the production company spearheaded by the great Ridley Scott sent out a call to arms to all of us, asking if we could film a video of our daily activities in the day of July 24, whatever we did, or a video of us answering some provided questions that would help guide the different videos into some sort of cohesive plane, and then submit those videos to a YouTube account from where the group of filmmakers would get an hour and a half worth of footage to make a documentary about, well, life in a day.

Now, the interesting thing isn’t the fact that this happened. I mean, in the digital YouTube-addicted age we live in getting massive crowds to film videos and submit them online for consideration was the easy part, no matter how ambitious it may have sounded. The real achievement of Life in a Day is the fact that the result is not only entirely worth watching, but it’s also something that at times achieves some pretty remarkable levels of greatness. And that’s because this isn’t just clips of YouTube videos meshed together to form some final product, this is a film directed by Kevin Macdonald, the guy who directed The Last King of Scotland, but who’s also an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker for One Day in September and who also did the great docu Touching the Void. And having Mr. Macdonald direct this was a very smart move, because he, alongside with two co-directors and editor Joe Walker (who worked on Steve McQueen’s Hunger and his upcoming Shame), made a film out of over 80’000 clips from 140 countries, and the film never once feels like just a collection of clips, but instead it always feels impressively cohesive and consistent, even if it’s never really telling a single particular story.

The first thing Life in a Day does to achieve some sort of connective tissue between the clips is arrange them in a chronological fashion, with the film starting in those dark hours before the sun rises and ending as the day draws to a close, and getting in shots of people having breakfast, lunch, dinner as the film moves along to establish some sort of time structure. Those quick-cutting shots are super effective in getting things moving and getting us into a time and place, and they are good set-ups for the other sequences, which are obviously longer and thus help to slow the pace down and not make the film be some sort of hyperactive exercise in editing. And that’s another thing that’s fantastically well executed in Life in a Day, the whole pacing of the scenes, it’s got a terrific rhythm to all of its sequences that really make the whole hour and a half go by in a breeze.

Getting 80’000 videos to the 500 actually used, over 4’500 hours to the 90 minutes shown, this is something pretty remarkable no matter how you look at it, and the fact that Mr. Macdonald and his team did that so well and gave us such a terrific film is really something to admire. The little things it shows really get some great responses from us as an audience, a guy fainting during his wife’s c-section, a teenager shaving for the first time, a couple getting married by an Elvis impersonator, a Korean cycling across the world, an American about to ask his best friend of ages to be his girlfriend, a skydiver, everything shown here illustrating the lives of many during one day in their lives is extraordinary and really speak volumes about just how much we can do with our lives, corny as that may sound. And yeah, some cynical-minded people will be quick to point out that some of this stuff may be staged, maybe not all of this great stuff happened in a regular day in a random fashion, but I don’t care, I’m an optimistic guy, and even moreso after watching this film.

The message the longer sequences here give is something pretty amazing, they show us just how similar our lives can be, no matter who we are or where we are, and at the same time it’s an obvious celebration of our differences. And if you’re one of those cynics I mentioned in the paragraph aboive and have your eyes rolled right now about how oh-so-life-is-always-great this all sounds, then that’s all good and fair, because Life in a Day really is a very positive approach of filmmaking, even though there actually are a few moments that are tinged in sadness. And maybe there will be some people that won’t appreciate what this film achieves, I’m just not one of them, I fully loved the results of this experiment in filmmaking, from thousands of clips it created a cohesive piece that became something meaningful, something that could elicit true emotions. And even though there probably is a lot more to life in a day than what is shown here, it does a fantastic job at showing a tremendously well-edited look at the life we have and, more importantly, it shows us that no matter how shitty things sometimes may seem, we really have a special thing going on here, all of us.

Grade: A-

Tabloid

12 Aug

Title: Tabloid
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Errol Morris
Writer:
Starring: 
Joyce McKinney
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and nudity
Runtime: 
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
90%

 

And so today I finally got to see Errol Morris’ latest documentary, Tabloid. And for those of you who know how Mr. Morris is as a director of documentaries, then you will know that this is a man who has a very definite attitude and perspective, and just a very peculiar and awesome point of view, and I really thought that with all of that in mind, this was the perfect subject material for him to tackle. Because in Tabloid the subject matter is Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney, a tabloid staple before such things even existed, a beauty queen who was on a relentless quest for love and who’s story touches upon kidnapping, stints in jail and a cloning laboratory in South Korea. This is just a strange story, disturbing and amusing in equal measure, the stuff you really can’t make up, and even though it maybe isn’t the most thought-provoking Mr. Morris has ever been, it’s still very smartly executed and most certainly a very compelling documentary.

The infamous case Joyce McKinney was involved in more than three decades ago and that got her face splattered over the tabloids, was that of the “Manacled Mormon” as it was called. She was alleged to have kidnapped an American Mormon missionary in the U.K., handcuffed him to a bed and used him a sex slave, though she said that those were all lies invented about her and that she was just trying to rescue him from a cult. And that’s just one bit of Ms. McKinney’s life that seems extremely crazy, but it’s not the only one, so many things about her life seem to be a fabrication, even though many of them probably aren’t, and to be honest, I love that we have a person like Errol Morris behind Tabloid, because I don’t really think he cares what the truth is here. We get the version of the story from Ms. McKinney, we get the other possible versions by Mr. Morris, but which of them is actually true, I don’t think really matters to him, he only cares about her as a character.

And I loved that about this documentary, that Mr. Morris seemingly didn’t care about the truth, he knows that whatever truth he eventually lands on is a truth made up by himself with whatever he chooses to give us, and he’s super aware of that, and as a such has a blast just playing with what is or what isn’t the truth of the matter, this is a documentary experience in which we apparently are given all the pieces needed to assemble to the final product, but we don’t really know how to put them together. And this really is just one seriously strange and many times contradictory story we get in Tabloid, in which a variety of scenarios seem to fit the facts, and so we don’t really know what to make of them, because we have what the tabloids said and the police said, and then we have what Ms. McKinney tells us, and she seems to have an explanation for everything that actually does fit reality. And through it all we have Mr. Morris who just lets this all be, not once throwing us a lifeboat and telling us what he thinks is the truth, but instead just sitting back and enjoying our bedazzlement at the bizarre nature of all of this. But we should have been prepared for this since his films are always like this, just very intense non-judgemental looks into very personal things.

And it’s that shadow of doubt that hangs over Tabloid that really makes this film so damn addictive and engrossing, the fact that when we hear Ms. McKinney’s story we see a person that’s likable and that says things that sound totally plausible is totally contradictory with things we know for a fact that she did that make her seem like a madwoman, she talks about the nude pictures of her being photoshopped, but then again, they were published before that software was invented. Things just don’t add up here, and that’s terrific for the effect this film is going for. And what’s awesome is that Mr. Morris got Ms. McKinney and many others to speak in the first place, their accounts adding up to different stories that make Tabloid one of the most enigmatic films to have come out all year, especially because the way Mr. Morris tackles the subject matter is never exploitative or mocking, it’s just curious.

And that curiosity is what drives Tabloid, curiosity about the tabloid culture and about Ms. McKinney, and even though this film is unlike the others Mr. Morris has done, take a look and compare Ms. McKinney here and Robert McNamara from Mr. Morris’ masterful Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara from 2003, on the surface they are nothing alike, but look closer and you’ll see two persons battling the different shades of truth of their story, a story they try their best to have some sort of control over, only to realize that it’s a control that was lost a long time ago. And this really is a damn good look at the cult of celebrity, life on the tabloids, you get to think that if Ms. McKinney would have been born a generation or two later she would no doubt have her own hit reality show right now. Mr. Morris has simply done it again, and you’d have to be dumb not to check out Tabloid, make of it what you may.

Grade: A-

Winnie the Pooh

11 Aug

Title: Winnie the Pooh
Year: 
2011
Directors: 
Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall
Writers: story by Stephen J. Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell and Jeremy Spears, based on the works of A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard, with additional story material by Paul Briggs and Chris Ure
Starring: 
Jim Cummings, Tom Kenny, Craig Ferguson, Travis Oates, Bud Luckey, Jack Boutler, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Dean Hall, John Cleese
MPAA Rating: 
G
Runtime: 
63 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
90%

To be honest, I saw the new Winnie the Pooh movie for three reasons which, in specific order, where: 1) It had three songs in it performed by Zooey Deschanel, who regular readers of mine know is my dream girl, 2) It had TV’s Craig Ferguson voicing Owl and I’ll watch anything that has an appearance by Mr. Ferguson, even if it’s just his voice, and 3) I like taking a break from the usual CGI-animated movies, which usually come in 3D, and bask in the glory of good ol’ fashioned 2D animation. And even though those were, to me at least, three good reasons to give Winnie the Pooh a shot, I do admit they don’t sound reasons that make it seem as though I was expecting something great, and maybe I wasn’t, but this film really was something very very good.

It’s a film that’s just a truly nostalgic ride, one that really feels like the oldschool family films that could be enjoyed by parents and kids alike, that was sweet and short, that had some traditional animation values and just a sweet-nature behind it all, it was just as true a Winnie the Pooh movie as you’d imagine. And you have no idea just how much you’ll appreciate that until you actually watch it, I mean, this film is barely over an hour, it’s just seriously sweet and not loud at all, and in today’s intensely congested animated movie-world you’ll find that a film in 2D, with no A-list celebrity voicework done to get promotion, and no excessive mention of pop-culture is something to truly treasure. The fact that it features our favorite honey-loving bear just makes it all that much better.

And you fall in love all over again with the classic staples of the Pooh tales, like the fact that our animal friends misread a note from Christopher Robin to get the action rolling, the fact that they’re searching for Eeyore’s tail, the fact that Pooh is obviously still looking for honey. We know all of these things from years of growing up with these characters, and it’ll tickle our nostalgic bones in the best of ways, and the little ones who don’t know about Winnie the Pooh yet now have a great new film to get initiated with. And that’s one of the things that I loved so much about this film, that it tried to get new audience to the Winnie the Pooh brand by giving them exactly what it gave to so many generations before, and not by rebooting or updating the brand to make it more hip. The Hundred Acre Wood is the same as we remembered it, the film still teaches the same sort of lessons, the characters will burst into lovely little tunes, it’s all the same sweet kind of silliness that we’ll always love.

So if you have to take a kid with you to the movies, and you’re torn between this and Cars 2, let me advice you to pick this one without hesitating for a second. Because even if grown-ups won’t necessarily seek out Winnie the Pooh on their own, I can bet that they’ll have a serious flashback session to their childhood as soon as they see their old animal friends take a new approach to an old story, and they’ll probably even be a bit jealous of the infant sitting next to them, for the sheer fact that they’re meeting Winnie and Tigger and Owl and Piglet for the very first time. And, like I said, it’s just awesome to see an animated movie that doesn’t “star” a big-name celebrity. The biggest name here is Mr. Ferguson who’s actually wonderful as Owl, and all the vocal performances are really perfect, lively in a way that doesn’t like it does in so many other movies, in which celebrities try to be showy in their voicework.

Please go see Winnie the Pooh, I really can’t urge you enough to do so, don’t go about it like it’s a kids movie, because even though it is, the cuddly, hand-drawn characters and the soft colors will really move any adult who has grown up with these characters. Not to mention that the film is just very funny and amusing, in a way that only the earnestness of a Winnie the Pooh movie can be goofy, it’s a type of G-rated fun that’s so good-natured and sweet that you’d think you wouldn’t be able to find it in theaters anymore, and you should do your best to really appreciate that. The music is awesome, too, done by Robert Lopez, who’s a Tony Award winner for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, alongside his wife. They’re just truly nifty compositions that will have kids loving the music and adults enjoying the quick lyrics, and then there are those songs sung by the lovely Ms. Deschanel, one of those few people who’s genuine brand of adorability would seem to fit right in the world of Pooh and his friends.

Grade: B+

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

11 Aug

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Year: 
2011
Director: 
David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring: 
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Domhall Gleeson, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Kelly Macdonald, Helen McCrory, Gary Oldman, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Natalie Tena, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images
Runtime: 
130 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
97%

 

It’s taken me forever to do my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. And that’s not because it took me forever to watch it, because I was at the midnight screening on opening day, and I’ve watched it four extra times since, both with and without those pesky 3D glasses. But I’ve taken forever to do the review because, I just simply don’t want this to end. I’ll try to keep it professional and all, but if this feels a bit too fanboy-ish at times, bear with me, Harry Potter represents a huge chunk of my life, I have read the books multiple times each, have seen all eight films a bunch of times, and I consider Jo Rowling the be one of the greatest minds of the last century.

But what’s so awesome is that to celebrate this final chapter in the Harry Potter saga you don’t really need to be as huge a fanboy as I am, because this is after all the most profitable film franchise of all-time, and right up there as one of the best film series ever. Eight films in eleven years, over $7.5 billion dollars in cumulative worldwide box-office grosses, with this last one already having passed the $1 billion mark on itself, currently standing as the third highest-grossing worldwide film of all-time. And that’s just the commercial part of it all, the stuff that correlates with all the Harry Potter merchandise you’ve bought and seen in the past decade, with the theme park in Orlando, with just how much an influence the Harry Potter brand has had in the new millennium. But what’s truly amazing is that the films are unequivocally great, with an average 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, with this one actually scoring a series-high 97%. Those are the statistics, the numbers that reflect just how profitable, and more importantly just how great, the film series has been. What it doesn’t show is just how much it has influenced the people who really love these books and films, and who really do feel as though a part of our lives ended as those end credits started rolling.

But anyways, I guess we must talk about this final film specifically, one that I absolutely loved every single time I’ve seen it, and that probably passed the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as my favorite film in the series. I loved it because, even though there was that 3D aspect, you didn’t get the feeling as though something was there just to make a big buck, you really got the sense that they divided the spectacular final novel into two to service this unbelievable series in a way worthy of its epic scale, and this film was just tremendously well-made. And you contrast this with the previous two films in the franchise and you really get that awesome sense of closure that lacked in the prior two movies, which were just all about the set-up and not as terrific as stand-alone films, this one manages to deliver closure and is purely about the pay-off from being part of a decade-long journey, it’s all literally about the big final battle of Hogwarts, of all the good guys agains the bad guys, of Harry against Voldemort, of good against evil.

Not to mention that we got some sensational performances in the midst of all the spectacular action, as well. Our three young leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all shone in the past two films, really embedding a lot of themselves into the characters, traits that maybe weren’t as obvious when we read the books, but that now we can’t imagine the characters without. And then there are the adult castmembers. The Harry Potter film series has been consistently amazing in recruiting the best of the best of British acting royalty for the supporting adult roles, from Michael Gambon to Alan Rickman to Emma Thompson to Imelda Staunton, the people involved in these films are all insanely talented, and in this film they get to really show off their props.

Mr. Rickman as Snape was specially incredible here, as it is in this film that the veil of secrecy that had shrouded his character in the previous seven films gets lifted and we get a look at this real agenda, and he does a stellar job at showing this to us, so much so that some people are already generating buzz for him for a Best Supporting Actor nomination come Oscar time, but that’s a subject I’ll tackle later on. Then there’s the unbeatable Maggie Smith, who really gets the crowds going as Professor McGonagall here and has a couple of seriously neat moments that she rocks. Michael Gambon in the King’s Cross scene I think delivered his best Dumbledore performance yet. And Ralph Fiennes took a page out of the Heath Ledger playbook and this time around made Voldemort seem like a person equal parts evil and mad, and it was his best turn as the Dark Lord yet, a hugely entertaining performance to watch and let fuel the whole movie. All of these great actors you get the sense are really just having the time of their lives as these characters.

I’ll actually end the review right now because if I go into specifics this will never end. Suffice it to say, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a truly masterful film, a movie that somehow lived up to the huge expectations of providing a tremendously satisfying finale to one of the best series of films ever. It’s just a huge bundle of thrills, acted ridiculously well by a bunch of young actors with huge futures ahead of them alongside the crème de la crème of British acting, and with its stunning visuals it really shows us, for a final time, how magical a film experience can truly be. This is what all franchises should aspire to be, the fact people keep coming to see this films speaks not only to the built-in audience, but to the fact that they never messed a film up, they’ve all be amazing, and this is what a conclusion to this should feel like.

As for the Oscar part of it all, which is talked about quite a bit these days regarding to this film, I think it’s safe to assume Warner Bros. will heavily push this one across the board, and while I think Cinematography, Special Effects, Art Direction and Score are all real shots, it’ll be interesting to see if Mr. Rickman gets that acting nod and if the film can crack the now-expanded list of Best Picture nominees. I think it should definitly get a Best Picture nomination, I won’t pretend this one has a shot at actually winning that award, but a nomination would be incredible to celebrate the decade-worth of entertainment this film has given millions across the world, and I really do hope it gets it because those tears you experienced as Harry was in the Forbidden Forest making that final walk, or as you saw the Prince’s tale finally unfold in the pensieve, show just how much an effect this franchise has had on our lives. And, corny as this may be for a final line, I will say one thing, the books and films may have now ended, but the magic truly does live on.

Grade: A+