Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quick Takes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Cowboys & Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A rarity has occurred. I saw three films in the past month... in a theater! It's the most I've gone to the movies in such a short period of time since my kids were born. I was pleased with the results. I mean, hey, in the summer season, two out of three ain't bad, kid.

The end is finally here. After 10 years of entertaining us on the big screen, the Hogwarts crew says goodbye. In this deliriously satisfying finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (2011), we watch Harry, Hermione, Ron and their loyal band of muggles and wizards defeat the evil Voldemort. After years of teasing and tormenting our heroes, Ralph Fiennes is front and center here, bringing his usual intensity and despair to good use. Fiennes played many fantastic villains in his career (Harry in In Bruges is a personal favorite), and his Voldemort is a creepy, angry monster. Fiennes does masterful work making him frighteningly real. Alan Rickman also does great work here as the enigmatic Severus Snape, whose deliciously tragic backstory is fleshed out in this final chapter.

I never read the novels but I've been a fan of the movies from the start. While the Chris Columbus films were mildly entertaining at best, the series did not take off until The Prisoner of Azkaban, as helmed by Alfonso Cuaron. From that point on, the Harry Potter film franchise became must-see appointment movie going. Rowling should be proud of how Hollywood handled her work. There is a level of skill and craftsmanship to these movies. The filmmakers took painstaking efforts to preserve the integrity of her material. And to that end, this finale does not disappoint. Well done, Potter. Well done. 4.5/5

When you see a movie called Cowboys & Aliens (2011), it sounds like it should be fun, right? Cowboys! Aliens! Spurs and spaceships! The old west meets extraterrestrials! So riddle me this: why was this movie lifeless? Where was the fun? The spark? The excitement?

As much as I love Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, they both looked like they'd rather be elsewhere. Perhaps they were miscast. Who needs two gruff, humorless cowboys in a summer blockbuster? Put Pitt and Clooney in these roles, and the tone would have changed dramatically for the better. And Jon Favreau is perfectly capable of making a fun action film; the first Iron Man was quick and slick, one of the finest popcorn blockbusters in recent years. But these three talented professionals could not breathe life into this bland, joyless adventure about a band of cowboys and Indians who team up to fight off aliens in search for precious gold. I didn't care what happened to any of the characters and the effects were average, at best. Come to think of it, Cowboys & Aliens is the type of movie I'd find on the Sci-Fi Network at 3 in the morning. That doesn't bode well for the studio who spent $163 million on the budget. 2/5

Leave it to unknown director Rupert Wyatt to deliver us a thrilling popcorn adventure at half the budget of Cowboys & Aliens. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is the most fun I have had in a theater all year. You don't have to be a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise (I'm not) to appreciate what they've done here. A strong origin story is the blueprint of this compelling drama; we follow the birth and growth of Caesar, an ape with superior and uncanny intelligence. His scenes with James Franco and John Lithgow are funny and touching; we've grown attached to Caesar, making the climax of the film deeply involving and breathtaking.

Of course, the effects are seamless and subdued; they are there to serve the story and not the other way around. Franco and Lithgow are fine, but the humans are secondary to the film. The apes are the main attraction and Caesar, as portrayed by Andy Serkis, is the star. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable achievement on all levels, and it's especially nice when a film like this comes out left field and surprises you. Good to know Hollywood still manages to get things right. 4.5/5


hanes132 said...

Really?!? You really finally got some time to yourself & you spent it seeing "Cowboys & Aliens" & "Planet of the Apes"?!?!

Dave said...

I actually really excited to see "Cowboys & Aliens" for a long, long time only to be let down by it, and "Planet of the Apes" seriously just flew under my radar. When I heard the good buzz, I had to see for myself. It's summer, Jenn -- not many options for the more serious fare! That said, I did miss the opportunity to stare at Ryan Gosling's abs this month. Ah, there's always Netflix!


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