Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

Year: 2009
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Jessie Cave, David Thewlis

Looking back I recalled how little these kids were when they first started out. They had those wide eyed expressions and the hunger for adventure. And always, no matter how dangerous it'd get, Hermione, Ron and their special friend, Harry Potter would beat the odds and stand triumphant.

But as time passed and as J.K. Rowling wrote further, the stories got darker. The magic and fantasy started to fade, and in its place is darkness and death. And the three children are now grown up, transformed from being sleuths to warriors of light. The Dark Lord is making his move, and Harry now needs to embrace his role as the chosen one.

And that's how it is with Harry Potter. Innocence makes way for sacrifice and strangely enough, teenage love. Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince begins where Order Of The Phoenix left off, after the death of Harry's godfather, Sirius Black. Professor Dumbledore recruits Harry for a special task, which involves acquiring information from a certain wizard named Professor Horace Slughorn, whom Dumbledore has just recently appointed to teach at Hogwarts.

You see, Slughorn used to teach the Dark Lord when he was younger, and the former holds a secret that may help Dumbledore find a way to defeat Voldermort once and for all. So Harry attempts to get close to Slughorn, and succeeds by not only using his reputation of being the chosen one, but also by using a potions book once owned by the Half-Blood Prince, that gives Harry an edge in class.

But that's not all that's brewing. Ron Weasley has become a target of infatuation of one Lavender Brown, who won't stop in her obssessive pursuit of him, much to the chagrin of Hermione Granger, who is finally letting her true feelings towards Ron come forth. Harry himself finds love in the form of Ron's younger sister Ginny. And if that's not enough, Draco Malfoy, Harry's nemesis has been chosen by Voldermort to carry out a task of his own.

As I had said earlier, the wide eyed fantasy and magic we started out with is gone. Now we're getting serious. But is it still fun? Well, thankfully director David Yates still manages to keep the story flowing, even though when you look upon this film after it's over, you'll realize that it's mostly filler material for something bigger to happen next. There is very little action here, except for a Quidditch match to behold. No dangerous challenges like you've seen in The Goblet Of Fire or wizard fights in Order Of The Phoenix. What you get is a lot of drama and yet another major character biting the dust. It's a fascinating experience, but not one that'll make you go "wow".

The kids have come of age indeed. Grint hasn't got much to do this time other than play Quidditch and be a lovestruck teen though. Watson fares slightly better, by not being overdramatic as in previous instalments and giving just enough to make us feel for her when she gets her heart broken. Radcliffe does alright as the great Harry Potter, but nothing too outstanding. Tom Felton on the other hand, finally gets to step up as Draco gets a bigger responsibility this time around. The adult supporting cast do their parts well, and Alan Rickman once again leads the way followed by Michael Gambon. Helen Bonham Carter still continues to be as annoying as ever as Bellatrix Lestrange, only this time she gets 10 lines instead of 3.

In the end, this film is as one reviewer said about the book it's based on, it's just another cop out story to kill off a major character. But I guess it's the process and journey undertaken here that counts. And it is entertaining to an extent, and succeeds in making us anticipate the Deathly Hallows I and II coming next. (4/5)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public Enemies

Year: 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Crudup, Stephen Lang, Stephen Dorff, John Ortiz

A thoroughly made film starring the who's who of Hollywood. That's how you know you're watching a Michael Mann film. It's usually about two individuals, very different from each other, who cross paths and sparks fly, and they're played by two great thespians and supported by an equally talented cast. Just think of The Insider, Heat and Collateral and you'll catch my drift.

Public Enemies focuses on Depression era gangster John Dillinger, who carried out a series of daring bank robberies with his gang in the 30s. Dillinger was a man with great confidence and bravado, who is skilled enough to break his cohorts out of prison and outsmart law enforcement officers time and time again.

J Edgar Hoover, the founder of the FBI, makes it his personal quest to bring Dillinger to justice, and to that end he assigns Melvin Purvis, a man who is determined and well equipped to track Dillinger down. When Purvis is unable to catch Dillinger due to the incompetence of the agents assigned to his force, he asks Hoover to give him people who can get the job done.

There is also a subplot regarding Dillinger's personal life, where he meets and falls for coat check girl Billie Frechette. Billie finds him charming and falls for him too. However, it is this relationship that eventually puts Dillinger in harm's way, no matter how fast he runs.

If there's one thing Michael Mann is good at, it's bringing his leads to the front. Character driven stories are his forte, and he does a splendid job here. Public Enemies is like a biography on John Dillinger, though it isn't really since it focuses on the last few years of his life. But Mann succeeds in making Dillinger the hero, despite being a criminal through and through. Deep down, you know Dillinger is wrong, but here he is portrayed as a good man who cares for the people close to him, and even the public back then worshipped him as a hero because he robbed from the institutions who couldn't save them from the depression. Kudos also goes to the set and costume designs who are all spot on.

Johnny Depp does it again, is there any other way to say it? Dillinger is nowhere near as quirky as Willy Wonka or hilarious as Captain Jack Sparrow, but Depp is in his element as always, giving Dillinger equal amounts of charm, human compassion and boldness required of a criminal. Christian Bale plays the supporting character here as Melvin Purvis, who is well trained at what he does, and despite his dogged determination, isn't entirely cold hearted as some of his colleagues are. Marion Cotillard also stands out as Dillinger's girlfriend Billie, though her really best moments come in the final third of the film.

With all the drama going on, there is still plenty of room for action too. Considering this is 1933, you won't get high speed car chases and stunts, but there are a lot of firefights going on and lots of bodies going down. Kudos to Mann for balancing that factor equally. Oh, and watch out also for minor appearances by Emilie de Ravin (Lost), Lili Taylor (The Haunting), Leelee Sobieski (Joyride), Channing Tatum (Fighting) and jazz singer Diana Krall.

It's a must watch, whether you're a Depp fan or not. (4/5)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Last House On The Left

Year: 2009
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac

This film is a remake of another film of the same name by Wes Craven, the horror maestro behind the Scream movies and Red Eye. But this is less on scares and more on violence.

The story: John & Emma Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn & Monica Potter) and their daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) head to their lake house for a vacation. While there, Mari decides to go to town to meet an old friend, Paige (Martha MacIsaac). The two girls meet a young boy, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who leads them back to his hotel room so that they can smoke pot. Trouble ensues when Justin's father Krug (Garret Dillahunt) returns to the room and finds them there. Krug happens to be a criminal who just escaped police custody, thanks to his two partners, Francis (Aaron Paul) and Sadie (Riki Lindhome).

Krug, Sadie and Francis take the two girls hostage. Eventually Paige and Mari attempt to escape, but Mari gets shot as she tries to run, and ends up in the lake. When a vicious storm rolls in, Krug and company take refuge with the Collingwoods, not knowing that the couple are Mari's parents. When Mari shows up at their doorstep barely alive, her parents learn about what happened, and plan revenge against their new guests.

This is only Dennis Illiadi's second attempt at directing, and unfortunately he still has a lot to learn. If there's one thing that bugged me about The Last House On The Left, it's how the story kept dragging on and on. It's supposed to be a thriller, but there's almost no suspense felt here. Everyone moves at a slow pace, like they're bored or they just need to drag themselves to make up more screen time for the film. And when they make it look like they're bored, they bore us too, of course.

Acting wise, almost everyone underacts. And it sure is a sad fact. Goldwyn and Potter aren't bad actors, but this film sure justifies the reason they're not A-listers in Hollywood. They look rigid for the most part, at least until the last third of the film, when they have to shift to a higher gear. Dillahunt is sadly not effective here as the villain, even though he was quite impressive on TV series like Deadwood and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. His character is abusive, but not smart or intimidating as he should be. Paul and Lindhome just spend a lot of time cussing, because that's what most villainous lackeys do, right? Yawn. But the worst piece of acting came from Paxton, who as Mari, was sterile for the entire film. She ought to be terrified in the face of danger, in front of her very violent captors, but looks like she'd rather be doing something else. She's cute, but can't act to save her life. Which leaves Clark, who has grown considerably since being in Gladiator. As Justin, Clark demonstrates how he really fears his father, and how he totally resents everything his father does, and what his father forces him to do. And Clark does this by using his eyes. You can see the fear he experiences in them, which speaks louder than anything he says on screen.

All that's left to admire in this film is the violence. You'll see lots of blood, lots of gore and a novel yet dangerous way of using a microwave on your enemy. But even violence needs direction, and with the awful treatment Iliadi has given this film, it just doesn't work. In the end, all that gore feels pointless. I don't even feel the justice that was supposedly served to the bad guys, because there wasn't enough drama to back the film up.

I have heard a lot of negative comments on the Transformers sequel, about how it has many large plotholes and how nonsensical it turned out. Trust me on this, that film was a lot more fun than sitting through The Last House On The Left. You've been warned. (2.5/5)


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