Friday, June 3, 2011

Quick Takes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, Rabbit Hole, Somewhere

It's the beginning of the end. The muggles are back in the final episode of J.K. Rowling's sprawling, magical series about a boy wizard and his friends escaping from the danger of he-who-shall-not-be-named. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One (2010), our favorite threesome (Harry, Ron and Hermione, all grown up) begin their search for the ever-elusive horcruxes. We do not want to know what unspeakable horror will occur should Voldemort obtain these horcruxes before our heroes do, so the race is on. Part One is mostly a waiting game, an intense, introspective episode in which our vulnerable gang plots their next move and goes into hiding. The story suffers from a bit of inertia but it more than makes up for it by building sheer suspense as Voldemort's end game hurtles closer by the hour. You just know the shit is going to hit the fan in Part Two.

Meanwhile, Part One takes a breather from Hogwarts and Quidditch matches (a refreshing change of pace and locale from the rest of the series), but still manages to have its own share of fun and magic. Case in point: a delightful set piece in the Ministry of Magic involving the retrieval of a locket held by Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, wonderful as always). When the gang uses the polyjuice potion to disguise themselves, the scenes that follow are among the most enjoyable I've seen all year.

Needless to say, Part Two cannot come any sooner. 4/5

When Rabbit Hole (2010) ended, I sighed in relief. I was kind of dreading this film about a couple who copes with the death of their 4-year-old son. My son is about the same age, and the idea of anything like this happening to him just tears me up. Well, thankfully, Rabbit Hole avoids showing any scenes of the son or his death (the entire film takes place 8 months after the incident). I was pleased to discover a beautiful and thoughtful drama about a couple trying so hard to hold everything together. I've always been a fan of Nicole Kidman, but her plastic face gets harder to watch every year (why beautiful actresses do this to their faces just boggles the mind). No doubt, she's terrific here, but is overshadowed by Aaron Eckhart (who continues to grow as an actor; he's superb here) and especially Dianne Wiest. She gave the best supporting actress performance of the year, moving me to tears as Kidman's mother who experienced a similar loss years ago. (Also, note to Kidman: Take a good look at Wiest. That's how you age gracefully).

Rabbit Hole is not a great movie, but it's a very, very good one. I'm just relieved it's not as depressing as I thought it would be. 4/5

At the same time, I'm relieved that Somewhere (2010) is over. While I wouldn't go so far to say that it's a bad movie, but let's just say that it was the longest 100 minutes I have had the recent displeasure of sitting through. Sofia Coppola directed this meandering drama about a hotshot actor (Stephen Dorff) who, as depicted in the opening scene, is going in circles. Every relationship he has is meaningless, everything he does is routine, mundane, ordinary. His pampered lifestyle may be desired by many, but he clearly he has no passion or care about his craft and his fortune. When his 11-year-old daughter comes into the picture, Dorff's character finally has a sense of some kind of purpose.

This is an Art film, clearly. Anyone who desires some kind of narrative will be disappointed. For what it's worth, even I appreciate a thoughtful, quiet film that doesn't need to say much (Van Sant's Gerry comes to mind). So why did I find Somewhere to be a mind-numbing bore? Simply enough, I think the characters are bland. Dorff and Elle Fanning are decent actors (though they really haven't done anything great in their careers just yet) but they could not breathe life into these aimless, uninteresting souls. So why should we care?

The tone of Somewhere reminded me of Coppola's far superior Lost in Translation. In that one, two lonely souls in a distant land far from home make an unlikely connection. Somewhere is not too far off from that description, but Lost in Translation had humor, spontaneity, spark, and two characters who were willing to take some risks. Murray and Johannson had the kind of chemistry that Dorff and Fanning only wish they had.

I always watch a movie all the way to the end. If I turned off Somewhere halfway through, I wouldn't have missed a thing. 1.5/5


Anonymous said...

Interesting write up Dave.
I must be the only person in the world who hasn't seen any of The Harry Potter films, in fact the only thing I know about them is that Steve Kloves who scripted them is the man who directed two of my favourite films.I've got a lot of catching up to do.
I haven't seem the other films you review either but a couple of points you make really struck a chord.
Firstly Nicole Kidman, how sad she's gone down the same road as Meg and the others. I used to find her breathtaking so whenever I see her now it just makes me nostalgic for the beautiful girl with the red hair and freckles she used to be.
Secondly Lost In Translation, you'll probably realise that I don't really care for modern films when I tell you that was the last film I actually enjoyed at the cinema. My cinema attendance has slowly declined over the last few years and after reading your right up I think I'll be giving Somewhere a miss as well!

CS said...

Really enjoyed Potter as well. I started to loose interest in the film with numbers 4 and 5. Luckily 6 and 7.1 have redeemed the series. Part of me wishes they had just done one long movie for 7 instead of breaking them up.

Also, surprised to see Somewhere get such a low score. I have not seen it yet, but everyone seems to be raving about the film. Your review makes me wonder if people are simply buying into the hype.

Dave said...

Thanks for writing, Paul! You're right - Meg went the same route with her plastic surgery, making her just as difficult to watch as Nicole. It's a shame, indeed.

And I agree - Lost In Translation is a marvel!

Dave said...

@CS - I don't get the raves for Somewhere, I really don't. It was just uninteresting to me. I don't need action to be stimulated in a movie but I'd prefer something with a little more depth. In fact, I welcome any admirer of the film to chime in and tell me what I'm missing here.

And by the way, I kind of agree with the idea of lumping together parts one and two, but I'd like to see part two before agreeing to that sentiment. Though I have to say I really thought Kill Bill worked as two parts. Just think of it as a really long intermission. :-)

Thanks for chiming in!


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