Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael GambonRalph FiennesAlan RickmanJohn HurtHelena Bonham CarterTom FeltonJason Isaacs (hello!), Maggie SmithJim BroadbentDavid ThewlisRobbie ColtranGary Oldman.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Watching this film in a packed theatre with some of the most excited audience I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, was as much part of the experience as the film itself. The tension was clearly palpable: cheers,laughter, sniffling and sobs from the crowd seemed to accompany the soundtrack all at the appropriate moments, and yet it was in the most intimate and quiet scenes where you could feel how much the audience was with this film: you could have heard a pin dropped for how quiet everybody was!

For many fans (and let me get this out now: I am one of them), this is much more than just another film in the franchise: it’s the it’s the end of an era, or simply  the end of a journey which lasted for over 10 years (14 if you count the first book, back in 1997).

There are no precedents like this in movie history (the closest thing it can be compared with is the end of a long-running TV series like Friends, for example). There’s a certain poignancy that comes with it, because, as we all know, this is the last one EVER. There will not be any other Harry Potter, no matter what.

The film clearly knows all that and consciously plays to it, tapping into our deepest-self, reminding us about this journey we’ve taken and how we’ve grown up with it. But we are certainly not alone: these films themselves seem to have grown up too: this isn’t your normal dull blockbuster like Transformers, with idiotic one-liner, explosion-galore and music plastered all over (I was actually surprised to see how much restrained the music was on this film, but just carefully used only when it was really needed), this is more of an emotional roller-coaster. It might not be completely appropriate for your average kid (some of the images are pretty strong and after a while I lost the count of how many dead bodies of students I saw…), but if you’ve seen the previous ones, you should be prepared for this too (and if you haven’t, I must ask: what on earth are you doing here?!).

The previously-unknown David Yates has slowly been able to find his own voice with the latest 4 of the 8 instalments, by combining the sense of magic the first 2 films had, the darker tone introduced to us by Afonso Cuaron (with the third episode) but also that more grown-up approach to the story, which has been brewing and growing with each chapter (and book of course).

In fact Yates has also been one of the bravest too, as he has found the courage to actually hack to pieces the overly-written source and actually make a better film (clearly after book 3, no editor would dare to tell JK Rowling to cut anything out). In this last “Deathly Hallow”, he was able to basically stretch the final battle over the course of the whole film, making it seem greater and more epic than it’s ever been in the book (In the end, box office aside, it really did pay off to split the movie in two parts).

Considering the incredible amount of expectations which a film like this can carry and, consequently, the almost impossible task of bringing everything to a close, HP 7.2  does a really good job! Yes, of course there will be some disappointed people, but I think the disappointment will come from the fact that secretly each of us would like this story to go on forever and, no matter what, you can never please everyone.

There are flashbacks and cameos from pretty much every single member of the cast from the previous instalments (I think only Kenneth Branagh was missing), some of whom are unfortunately relegated to just a couple of shots and a single line (there are time where you just wish they had a whole spin-off movie about Snape, as Alan Rickman deserves a lot more screen time). Maggie Smith however manages to make the most of her little screen time and makes up for the fact that she wasn’t around in previous “deathly hallow”. She most definitely steals the show with her “I’ve always wanted to do that spell” and with that smile that carried both pride and embarrassment at the same time, so cute that you just want to hug her and ask her to be your grandmother.

The film is a real feast for the eye. The special effects are the most detailed on any Harry Potter (fair enough it’s been 10 years since the first one!) and actually I have to confess the 3D conversion was probably one of the best one I’ve seen in a while and although it’s not quite the same as actually filming in 3D it makes me rather curious and hopeful for the forthcoming Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately nowadays we are so used to see big battles with thousands of CGI-rendered extras, that focussing on those alone would certainly lead to some disappointment. Once again the film knows this and decides to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the big action scenes are there (in fact, the whole film seems a big action scene!), but as a fan it’s the most emotional moments in the film that stick with you: the death of some of the characters, the overdue kiss, the flashback sequence with Snape and most crucially the moment where Harry is ready to go and die and says goodbye to his friends. I must confess that had be too. Credits to that trio of those not-so-kids-anymore (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who this time clearly show how much they have matured as actors.

Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here: he has a clear understanding of his character as his face shows not just the loss of innocence but also a deep maturity in the acceptance of his fate. Emma Watsons shines with a freshly newly acquired spontaneity: the moment where she kisses Ron is followed by a smile which feels so real that could almost be mistaken for an outtake. And obviously Rupert Grint who’s always been the best of them all and can now relax in his role of ice-breaker with his funny comments in the most tense situations.

As always, if there are faults in the film they are mainly to do with the original source itself and, in this particular case, with the overly long and convoluted plot. Still to this day I have some problems in telling you what a deathly hallow is what its purpose might be… and I am a fan who has actually read all the books and seen most of the films more than once!! I can only imagine what the average viewer will make of it). At some point I almost had no idea what was going on anymore as horcruxes, crowns, snakes and plot twists all got mixed up in my head. Did it matter? Not really… to a degree.

And yet, even though I knew that the stakes were high and I could follow the rough plot (well, I mean, it’s clear enough: good vs evil), I still couldn’t quite grasp exactly how could Voldemort be killed or how was Harry Potter able come back from the whited-out King’s Cross (In fact that was also the biggest let-down of the book as far as I am concerned: it would have made a lot more sense if Harry had died. What a brave and powerful ending that would have been).

On the whole the film is a success. It’s hard to see how it could have been better: it can be argued that some of that sense of magical wonder that some of the previous instalments had, was probably lost here, as it gave more space to its three main characters. The very final scene was unusually underwhelming for these types of films and is a clear example of that as it decided to concentrate more on the faces of our three main characters rather than letting itself go by showing us perhaps an aerial view of the Hogwarts Express leaving with a possible rousing them from John Williams. And yet, Spielberg did manage to do both things in ET, by giving us the unforgettable image of the spaceship leaving a rainbow-like trail but also finishing on a tight close up of Elliot’s face, thus creating on of the most emotional ending of any fantasy film ever!

But these are just small quibbles: either you go with the film or you don’t and I certainly did.

Considering what a massive commercial machine Warner Bros is we must be so thankful for the way the franchise has been handled (it makes me shiver to think that actually Spielberg wanted to shift it all to America… Thankfully somebody had the courage to tell him off for once). Producer David Heyman is obviously a man of heart, who cares for his fans and set out to make the best films he could ever make, playing on the strengths of its (let’s be honest) not-so-perfect source and in the end making it an even better product.

In the end this film must be judged with that same heart and not so much with the brain, taking in consideration the series as well as this ending.

And you know what? My heart can’t stop saying “I just loved the journey, thank you so much for it”.

8/10

 Read my review of Part one

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Alice in Wonderland – Review

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) 

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny DeppMia WasikowskaHelena Bonham Carter

On paper this movie is something which had all the potential to be the movie of the year: Tim Burton’s visionary genius re-imagining one of the most fantastic and imaginative stories ever.  Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Mia Wasikowska (from the wonderful “In Treatment”) as Alice herself. Special Effects extravaganza in 3D. And a never-ending list of great actors and  actresses lending their voices to all those loved characters from our childhood. I would have said “count me in!” anytime!!! And yet, this ended up to be possibly the biggest turkey of the year!

It’s not really an awful film, but knowing what this could have been like, it just leaves you really disappointed.

How could it have happened?

In a way it reminded me of Steven’s Spielberg’s Hook, one the (few) big missteps of his career. In that movie too Spielberg had made the terrible mistake of messing with a classic story: for example we had a grown up Peter Pan going back to Neverland. Here Alice has grown up too and forgot everything about Wonderland which is now a run down place with a Gothic feel, typical of any Tim Burton’s movie. Well, that would probably be all right, except that Burton, by updating the world really managed to take the wonder out of “Wonderland”.

Tim Burton’s film is essentially a sequel/re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll without all the joyful surprises, the sense of discovery and  fun of that book and more crucially, without a single good original idea! None of the liberties the makers took seems to work culminating with fight scene with a dragon at the end  of the end which seems to belong to a different film altogether. And (big spoiler here… watch out) what’s point of all that going to China at the end? What a mess!

There was another Disney’s movie back in the 80s called Return to Oz, which made the same mistake and used the same device of having Dorothy going back to Oz only to find it all changed and half-destroyed and now look almost like a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape where everything seem to be covered in ash. However in that film the story and the characters were so compelling that somehow they got a way with it, in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland all the characters are so annoying and only just half-sketched that it’s hard to care about any of them. In fact it seems like their accents, make up  and CGI enhancements have replaced their personalities.

Michael Sheen‘s White Rabbit appears a couple of times and is probably the most confusing of them all, since it relies on your knowledge of the character from the previous incarnation of the story to make any sense of it. Where is he going? Why is there at all? What’s his point? is he there to help Alice or the Queen? Stephen Fry‘s Cheshire Cat and  Alan Rickman‘s Blue Caterpillar are just as superfluous to the story. Once again, it all feels rather over-blown, over-crowded with characters.

And finally Johnny Depp who’s impersonation of the Mad Hatter is the most annoying of them all and possibly one of the actor’s worse performance of his career . Now, I really used to like Johnny Depp, but it seems that in the last few years he’s only been playing the same over-the-top character over and over again. His Mad Hatter seems an extension and a mixture of his previous “mad characters”: there’s a little bit  from Tim Burton’s previous creations, from Willy Wonka in Chocolate Factory,  to Sweeney Todd and even his previous Edward Scissorhands but there’s also lots of reminders to Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and hints from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is Johnny Depp playing the same character over and over again? What happened to the sweet, restrained and understated performances of his early work like the beautiful What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Donnie Brasco? And most awful of them all Anne Hathaway‘s take of White Queen, who’s mannerism is just as annoying as her eyebrow. It might have been all intentional (in which case, even worse) but it was certainly a very bad choice to have her acting like that.

Helena Bonham Carter‘s impersonation of the Red Queen is one of the few redeeming factor in the whole film and the scenes with her are probably the highlights in an otherwise flat and misjudged series of sequences. Though even her bizarre creation becomes a bit tedious after a while.

Even the special effects (which by themselves are top class) are so diluted in the poor story that somehow failed to strike a chord and surprise us. Not to mention the use of the 3D which is probably one of the poorest use of it I’ve seen this year (together with “Clash of the Titans”). I guess it has to do with the fact that the movie was actually filmed on 2D and then retrofitted (I am not quite sure whether this is the right term for it) afterwards. This is a technique that not only doesn’t work but also brings a bad reputation to 3D itself (I keep on hearing a lot of people complaining about how bad 3D is, but they’ve only seen Clash of the Titans of Alice in Wonderland,  and they believe that’s what 3D really is).

Just a quick word about the music score: yes, it could have been good, if only they had work out where to use it, as opposed to ending up having music throughout the whole film, thus diminishing the effect that music should have. Overblown is once again the word that comes to mind.

I wonder what this film could have been like if maybe Tim Burton had made it, without Disney behind his shoulders. But as it is, on the whole, this mish-mash of Disney and Burton doesn’t really hold together and it proves once again that Tim Burton is the “director-that-could-be-great-but-rarely-really-is”.

5.5/10

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1   (7.5/10)

Directed by David Yates. Starring Bill NighyEmma WatsonRichard Griffiths,Daniel RadcliffeJulie WaltersBonnie WrightRupert GrintAlan RickmanRalph FiennesHelena Bonham CarterJason Isaacs (hello), Tom FeltonTimothy SpallMichael GambonRobbie ColtraneBrendan GleesonJames PhelpsOliver PhelpsMark WilliamsDomhnall GleesonClémence PoésyJohn HurtDavid ThewlisRhys IfansImelda Staunton

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Right from the very start, when the Warner Bros logo appears, this film feels different. The colours are gray and muted, the sound is a low rumble and even the famous theme from John Williams seems to have given way to a much darker drone. It doesn’t even feel like a Harry Potter movie anymore. It makes the first Chris Columbus movies feel like they are from a whole different universe. And this feeling stayed with me right until the end…

For the last few instalments of the series (possibly from number 3 onwards) we’ve been hearing a lot of “this one is darker” type of lines being bantered about, whether from the critics, the fans or even the film-makers themselves. But it’s never been more true than in this final chapter.

And yet, this is not just a darker and scarier film, it is also a much more mature one too. It’s as if the film-makers have grown together with thier viewers (who are now 10 years older than they were when the first movie got released)

A few years ago, when we first heard about the fact that the seventh and final book was going to be divided into two films, we all cynically thought straight away: “They really want to squeeze every single penny out of this last one, those greedy people”.  And I am sure that must have been one of the reasons, however director David Yates has been able to take advantage of this extra time to give the story a certain amount of depth, sophistication and gravitas that was missing from all the previous instalments.

The pace is a lot slower, for a start. Of course, you get some cracking action scenes too (a particular good one through the Dartfor Tunnel), some great visuals, whether just the perfect vistas and landscapes, the inventive special effects (the scene, in the trailer too,  where there are about 8 different Potters, is all done in one perfect 360 degree shot) and there’s even a beautiful short animation sequence (where “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, is shown as a shadow-play and that by itself should almost be nominated for an Oscar for BEST animated short), but the real core of the movie this time are actually the 3 main characters. Their dialogue scenes take centre stage and are played in the most realistic possible way, with long silences, pauses and meaningful looks.

Even the music is a lot more subtle and understated, aside from being of course a lot darker. There’s a particular chase scene in a forest towards the second half of the movie, where unexpectedly, they decided not to play any music at all, just letting the sound effects play through: that is very very unusual for a blockbuster of this calibre.

The film bravely takes a lot of risks, on one hand, by veering away from what kids are probably expecting, but at the same time it’ll give fans a real treat (and it might even change the minds of some of those Harry Potter haters)! It is a film about emotions, about characters, about friendship first and foremost and it all happens to take place in a magical world. It’s what every single avid Harry Potter reader has been waiting for years.

In a way, the mood of the film is much closer to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not just in the muted colors of the landscape, or in the grittier looks of the characters (even Harry Potter looks dirtier this time and has even got a bit of a beard!), but in the way it’s paced and constructed.

It’s essentially a road movie (it’s also the first film to be Hogward-free. We only get one quick glimpse of the train going to the school, but that’s about it). There are much fewer laughs throughout and most of them come from Ron (Rupert Grint), but somehow when they do come, they seem to work a lot better than they ever did. Maybe because the whole film is so tense that you are  just craving for a moment to relax let the tension fade. And this is by no means a criticism, in fact, quite the opposite.

The film starts with a perfectly pitched montage scene where we see all the various characters leaving their homes and getting ready to meet. The soundtrack at this point seems to be straight our of one of the Bourne movies, or the recent Batman films by Christopher Nolan. There’s an uneasy tension running all the way through, which just makes you very uncomfortable (and I mean that as a compliment). That feeling somehow permeates the rest of the movie too.

We then cut to a scene where Voldemort, his Death Eaters & Co are all sitting around a table. Floating above them, the body of one of their young victim. Blood dripping from her face, her head bent backwards… This feels almost like the exorcist more than Harry  Potter!

Don’t take me wrong. Kids will be terrified, but will most likely love it too (after all, kids love to get scared… Or at least I used to!).

By all means, this isn’t a masterpiece. For all the tension, the great atmosphere and all the brave intentions, there are some slightly clunky moments here and there too. For example the scene where Ron comes back and rejoins the group, feels a bit “out of the blue” and could have been handled in a better way. Also some of the dialogue doesn’t quite ring true and too many characters come in and out like bell-boys in a hotel. But it’s interesting to notice how most of the stuff that doesn’t quite work in the film, has actually been lifted straight from the books. I think once again the film exposes the weaknesses of the book (which c’mon let’s face it, however gripping, it wasn’t really a great piece of writing. I loved it, in fact I loved the whole series, but I recognize its limits).

The acting from the three main characters still feels a bit dodgy from time to time. They all really try their best: Emma Watson is the best she’s ever been (sadly that doesn’t really mean a lot) and though she even manages to shed a tear at some point, most of her lines fall pretty flat. Daniel Radcliffe does his usual thing where he seems to act with all his body, except his eyes (he seems to like to show tension by stretching his whole body forward) and finally Rupert Grint, who seems to have gained a bit too much weight, but he’s still the best of the three and also he has the best lines. However there’s a good chemistry between all of them. Clearly having worked together for so many films has created a bond between them: some of that shows in the film too.

It is also a real joy to see so many of the other old characters back, even if most of them are around for just for one scene. This series has now officially become the “who’s who” of British Cinema (I was a bit sad that Maggie Smith was not around for this one, but as all the people who have read the book know, she’ll be back in the next one, in style!)

So on the whole, the film deserves a lot of respect for taking brave decisions which are probably going against your typical Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a Harry Potter movie. Mind you, it’s easier to be brave when you have something like this in your hands, this was always going to be a winner with the public! Now it might probably get some new fans from those picky critics out there.

Anyway, it’s good to see them trying something different. It’s good to see them slowing down a bit and taking good care of their characters. It’s good to see them trying to be more mature and stir away from cheesy cliches. I can see why this is JK Rowling’s favorite movie.

I was happy with it too… but then again, I love Harry Potter, so I am probably biased.

Summer 2011 cannot be here soon enough. And after that? Oh dear, I am already so sad that it’s all going to be over…

7.5/10

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My letter published on the Evening Standard

Check out my little email that got published on the Evening Standard about the BAFTA Awards

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