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Good, not great
Part 2 of the final installment of the Harry Potter series begins as Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of tracking down and destroying Lord Voldemort's three remaining Horcruxes, the dark magical items posed as everyday things that are responsible for his immortality. But as the legendary Deathly Hallows are uncovered, Voldemort finds out about their mission, the fight of good against evil will come to an explosive end. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, searching for Horcruxes. I was never really a fan of the Horcruxes plot line, but I had always tolerated it as I read the novels because even though it felt like a plot line that would be in a sub-par video game, it still felt planned, thanks to Tom Riddle's diary back in Chamber of Secrets. The Horcruxes plot line also worked well on the pages, because they were spread out in the book. However, on screen, it felt repetitive and tedious, with little to no break in between each one, especially in Part 2. Part 1 was an atmospheric and emotional movie, and even though it was basically a prelude to the conclusion of the series, it stood alone as a film rather well. Part 2 was supposed to be action-packed and also emotional, and while it was action-packed (although it felt like it took forever to get there), it wasn't as emotional as I had hoped it would be. The film felt a bit rushed and was single-noted. Part 2 is the shortest Potter installment, and it felt like it. Many scenes left me wanting more. The single-noted aspect made the film feel incomplete. It felt like it was strictly about Horcruxes and the Potter/Voldemort confrontation, with some other sub-plots barely sprinkled in. Maybe if they hadn't split the film in two, but made it one long film, it would have felt more complete. The acting was as solid as ever, with Daniel Radcliffe giving his best performance of the series. Ralph Fiennes was as evil as ever and Alan Rickman gave his best performance in the series too, as Snape. Everyone else was solid as well, but unfortunately we don't get to see them nearly as much, which was a shame. The visual effects were top-notch and can only be rivaled by Deathly Hallows: Part 1. The spell-casting, creatures, and explosions were dazzling and suitably, magical. Some of the CGI was a bit spotty, but I honestly can remember only one instance and it literally lasted two seconds. I loved that the film was all about how there is darkness in all of us, but we can learn how to overcome it. We learn quickly that no character in this series (including Dumbledore) is totally pure, and Harry must completely accept this or else he will fail. Overall, as a film, it's a good one. But when you deal with sequels and a series, as well as the most famous book series of all time, as well as expectation, Part 2 doesn't make the grade. I expected a lot more, and didn't get it. It felt rushed and wasn't at all cathartic, which is what a Potter fan who not only grew up reading the books but grew up watching the films as well was deserving of. There are a lot of variables as to why the film was not excellent, and one could argue Book 7 was one of the weaker books anyway. Still, it's a good movie and whenever you deal with an ending people are very critical if it is not exactly they way they envisioned it. Harry Potter was one of the greatest film series of all time, and even though Part 2 wasn't the best, I'm still satisfied with the series as a whole, which stuck to the books faithfully, upheld Rowling's wishes, stuck with the same actors, and above all, stayed consistently great with four different directors and the transition from kid-friendly to much, much darker themes. That is an achievement unto itself. In the 10 years since Harry's big-screen debut, the spell has never been broken.
Black Swan (2010)
Visionary director Darren Aronofsky's (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) latest film, Black Swan, is a psychological thriller set in the competitive world of New York ballet. Natalie Portman (Closer, V for Vendetta) is Nina Sayers, a featured veteran dancer who finds herself locked in a web of fierce intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). She then finds herself to be the affection of her director (Vincent Cassel), and also must deal with her vicariously overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), as well as the harsh reality of the ballet business when her fellow colleague (Winona Ryder) is forced to retire. But, even with all these distractions are seemingly in her way to become the perfect Swan Queen, the only person standing in her way is herself. Most of Darren Aronofsky's films relay love/hate relationships with their viewers. Arguably his most notable film, Requiem for a Dream, was labeled as a masterpiece by some, and was totally panned by others. However, Black Swan is much more refined than his other works, whilst still staying true to his vision as a director. Aronofsky has grown as a director, and he shows it in Black Swan. Aronofsky is known for his "style over substance" filmmaking, and while their is more style than substance, it is still exhilarating and contemporary cinema. Natalie Portman gives an outstanding performance, the best of her career, and will undoubtedly get a much deserved Oscar nomination. She deserves accolades for her physically demanding role that she made look effortless, as well as her seemingly quiet and strictly devoted character hiding bottled-up rage and painfully submerged lust. Mila Kunis (The Book of Eli) also gives her best performance as Portman's rival. Her performance was so care-free and bold, just like the character she portrayed. Black Swan is a film about that strive for perfection, and the toll that strive takes on one's self. It is a film dialed up on full-blown hysteria. And the too-much-is-never-enough approach may turn some people off, for Black Swan is a singular and unrelenting experience. I found the tension, music and cinematography to be brilliant. It is engaging and seductive from start to finish. Black Swan picks at our deepest fears; in most fright films, danger lurks in the shadows. Here it is devilishly grinning in the mirror. It is pure horror mixed with backstage melodrama, and Aronofsky's high-flying style of directing makes Black Swan one of the best films of 2010. It is a must-see for anyone who lives and breathes movies.
The Social Network (2010)
Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin form a cinematic union to tell the story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an eccentric and brilliant Harvard undergrad who intellectually and fundamentally creates the social-networking site we all know and love, Facebook. "The Social Network" is a dramatization of the creation of Facebook, but also the civil case(s) Zuckerberg went through to create the one of the biggest sites in the world that is worth billions of dollars and is used by over 500 million people across the world. But to make 500 million friends, Zuckerberg had to make a few enemies. "The Social Network" is an absorbing film that makes you question yourself, 'What is Facebook?' It's a philosophical question that essentially bridges the gap (More like chasm) between the sides of baby-boomers, and the sides of Gen X and Y'ers, and stimulates meaningful discussions about viewpoints, ideas, and values. This is a very talky film, but thankfully the dialogue is excellent, and Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson's War) pens an exceptional screenplay that will likely get an Oscar nomination (And perhaps even a win). Besides a fantastic script, the film is beautifully directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), who paces a talky, 2-hour film while keeping the audience more than just entertained. He also directs a fine cast; all members of the cast give their best performances to date. Jesse Eisenberg especially gives an astonishingly sophisticated performance of calculated detachment. Every movement he makes is a stimulating one, he makes you laugh and happy, and at times makes you hate him and question his morals. The rest of the cast is solid as well, particularly Andrew Garfield, who is a star in the making, as well as Justin Timberlake, who proved that his breakout performance in 2007's "Alpha Dog" was not a one-time thing; He can definitely act. A lot of people were not sure what to expect of "The Social Network." It really doesn't matter whether you love or hate Facebook, or even have one. Cinematically, it is a great film. It is a ballsy and risky first effort by Fincher and Sorkin, which turns out to be rather brilliant and controversial (Many people are wondering how factually accurate the film is). The Social Network reminds me of the "Rise and Fall" narrative of the gangster film narrative, with Networking being the subject of the rise and fall. More directly, the film is a lot like "Citizen Kane," with our protagonist (who infuriates us and pleases us at the same time) reaches the heights of the communications empire. This film isn't for everyone. It requires thought, and I foresee some people being bored by it (Mainly the average ADD movie-goer who isn't entertained unless they see an explosion or hear a one-liner every three minutes); It's flashy, entertaining, funny and interesting. Unlike Facebook itself, "The Social Network" has little to no flaws, and is well worth "friending."
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Nic and Jules (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) are married and share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their two children, Joni and Laser, (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) who were conceived by artificial insemination. Nic and Jules -- or, when often referred to jointly as "Moms" by Joni -- gave birth to and raised their children, and built a family life and open foundation for the four of them. As Joni, now 18, prepares to leave for college, 15-year old Laser presses her to help him seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). As he comes into the lives of the forthright four, an unexpected new chapter begins for them as family ties become redefined. "The Kids Are All Right" was by far the most talked-about movie at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and I can definitely see why. It is the best comedy about the American family that I've seen. Lisa Cholodenko ("Laurel Canyon") blends poignant emotional truth into a vibrant, funny, and richly drawn portrait of a modern family. The ensemble was also top-notch. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are both believable and pitch-perfect as Jules and Nic. They both will definitely be in the running come awards season. Mark Ruffalo is also solid as sperm-donor Paul, a care-free, free-spirited guy who perhaps bites off more than he can chew when he enters the four's lives. Mia Wasikowska, who you may recognize as the stone-faced and bland Alice in Tim Burton's remake of "Alice in Wonderland," does a much better job here as the pluck and perceptive Joni; while Josh Hutcherson ("Bridge to Terabithia", "Journey to the Center of the Earth) also plays a good part as 15-year old Laser. "The Kids Are All Right" is a perceptive and realistic portrait of an American modern family. The fact that the two leads are lesbian mothers is irrelevant. Marriage, raising a family, and growing up is hard to do no matter what your creed, color, or orientation is. This is a film that is ultimately about love, and if you give this film a chance, it might just entertain and/or enlighten to one degree or another. "The Kids Are All Right" is a heartfelt and bittersweet dramedy with authentic performances and is a sensitive and perceptive look at what makes a family.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Flawed, but Worthy.
Robert Downey Jr. is back as Tony Stark and alter ego (sort of) Iron Man in the highly anticipated sequel to the 2008 hit, Iron Man. In Iron Man 2, billionaire Tony Stark must contend with fatal issues involving the government, his own friends, competition, and new enemies due to his superhero alter ego Iron Man. Iron Man starts with our main villain, Ivan (a very vengeful Mickey Rourke), preparing to get his revenge on the whole Stark family for allegedly ripping off his dead father's ideas of post-modern technology and the Iron Man concept. Meanwhile, Tony Stark reveals he is Iron Man, and that his technology is so advanced that it will take years for other countries to harness the power and technology to match Iron Man. Of course, he is wrong. Iron Man 2 really soars when Robert Downey Jr. is on screen. He really makes Tony Stark his own, because Downey Jr. is a lot like Tony Stark: funny, charming, and totally narcissistic. This isn't a jab at Robert Downey Jr. I have been a big fan of his for a long time, way before Iron Man was around. Gwyneth Paltrow is in her usual top form, as she plays Tony's on- again, off-again love interest. As far as the villains go, Mickey Rourke is good enough. He is tattooed and ripped to the tee, and is memorable. He is very hard to understand though, and the Russian accent is forced. It's really not a huge problem though, because his character doesn't do a lot of talking. That leads me to villain number 2, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who talks too much. Justin Hammer, who is sick of having a second-rate company compared to Stark Inc, teams up with Ivan to take Stark down. Sam Rockwell's performance was a lot like Downey's, but comes off as annoying, rather than funny. He ends up being a second-rate villain, a lot like Topher Grace was in Spiderman 3. The main problem with Iron Man 2, is that it seems like it is just a whole bunch of parts of a movie, but doesn't come together as one. It isn't nearly as refreshing as Iron Man was, nor is it really anything new. Iron Man 2 is gold when Robert Downey Jr. is working his magic, and when he suits up for the visually amazing action scenes. And yet, Stark doesn't suit up as much as we'd like, and that birthday party scene shouldn't even count. That scene was neither funny nor necessary, and should have been cut out. Another problem is the Avengers sub-plot. Yes we get it, there will be an Avengers movie, but you don't have to have Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson hogging screen time, when Tony Stark has other things he should be doing. Overall, Iron Man 2 is an okay sequel. It is not as good as Iron Man but if you were a fan of the first one, I can't see you hating this one at all. The inevitable Iron Man 3 really needs to have a better script and fall back onto its strengths though. Those strengths being Robert Downey Jr. and the originality that this genre desperately needs.
A Late-January Misfire... What A Surprise...
Legion (2010) Directed by: Scott Stewart Starring: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Adrianne Palicki, Charles S. Dutton, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Durand, and Dennis Quaid
When God loses faith in Mankind, Archangel Michael (Bettany) loses his faith in God. An out- of-the-way diner becomes an unlikely battleground for the survival of humankind as Michael and a group of strangers defend themselves against God's legion of angels. Michael must protect a mother (Palicki) and her baby, for it is the key to ending the Apocalypse. Let me start off by saying that Legion is not a good movie, however, it is not terrible by any means. Unlike recent biblical horrors (The Unborn comes to mind), Legion tries very hard not to follow the lame clichés of recent horrors; I always commend a film for trying to be good. Unfortunately, it takes itself a little to seriously with God's legion of zombies that are supposed to be possessed by angels. The film also was terribly written, ("What's your beef?" "Simmer down!" "Hold on white boy") with weird scenes that needed some serious editing. Besides the bad script and erratic editing, the acting was terrible. The only exceptions were Paul Bettany (who seemed to have flown into the wrong movie) and Lucas Black (Sling Blade, Friday Night Lights). Everyone else was uninspired and made the bad screenplay look much more terrible than it was. The action scenes are where this film soared. The fight between the two Archangels was incredible, and the visual effects were on par. Overall, Legion is a biblical Assault on Precinct 13. It lacks a good script, editing, cinematography, and acting. I commend it for trying to be less like recent horror films that really shouldn't even call themselves 'films". I think deep down, on the cutting room floor, there was something there, but we don't see it. Legion is by no means horrible, but I can't recommend it.
One of the best films of the decade.
James Cameron (Terminator 2, Titanic) returns after a 12-year hiatus with his ultimate yet risky science project that he said he would make. Cameron promised that we will not only love it, but it will change the way movies are made forever. He was right. After his brother was killed in battle, paraplegic Jake Sully (Worthington) decides to take his brother's place on a mission to the distant moon of "Pandora". There, he learns the greedy intentions of Parker Selfridge (Ribisi), who plans to drive out the native humanoid "Na'Vi" by any means necessary to mine a precious material that is worth 20 million US dollars a kilo. In return for providing Intel as an "Avatar", he will be able to have an expensive surgery to heal is paralyzed legs. He quickly falls for one of the beautiful Na'Vi, Neytiri (Saldana), who helps him become one of them. Jake soon finds himself torn, and he must decide to do either what is right, or carry out his mission and doom the Na'Vi. "Avatar" is a sweeping epic filled with beautiful visual effects that are literally as big as James Cameron's dreams. "Avatar" is as technically stunning and influential as "Star Wars" was in 1977. The moon of Pandora is the most fascinating and creative setting in a film that I have ever seen. There is no doubt in my mind that "Avatar" at the very least has "Best Visual Effects" Oscar in the bag (and hopefully many more). The technical achievements definitely outweigh the story-line, acting, and screenplay, but only because that the visual effects are so mind-blowing and so groundbreaking. Not to detract from the other elements, but they are simply just not groundbreaking. We have heard this story before (Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai), one could argue that it is mostly voice-acting, and as far as the screenplay goes, everybody says what they are supposed to, and the story itself is fairly predictable. Even though we have heard this story before, the execution is nearly perfect. The acting was very good as far as action flicks go. Sam Worthington (who was brilliant in Terminator Salvation) is on his way to being one of the top actors in Hollywood. He gives a fine performance, and makes us truly care about him and the choices he makes. Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Gorillas in the Mist) shows that she hasn't lost her gusto since her heyday as Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" films. She fits in the genre so well and embraces her character, Grace. The greatest job of all was perhaps Zoe Saldana (Star Trek) as Neytiri. She gives an excellent voice-acting performance as the alien princess, showing incredible range and emotion. Perhaps Avatar's weakness is the screenplay. A lot of people will attack the film for being too long, and that it had little to no characterization or character development. They will say the characters were one-dimensional and bland compared to the technical achievements of the film. Although this is Avatar's (very minor) "weakness", I would have to disagree. Okay, the characterization isn't perfect, but neither was "Titanic" (which went on to win 11 Oscars). There are MANY moments when the characters are so dynamic, so multi-faceted, and show true emotion. "Avatar" is a sweeping and immersive epic that will change the way movies are made. It takes you to a spectacular world far beyond imagination. Cameron's 15 year-old concept is now a reality after 4 years of meticulous film-making. The themes are so advanced and allegoric, but are executed beautifully and not shoved down the viewer's throat. This review in no way can do it any justice, except for when I tell you that it is a MUST-SEE. It is one of the best films of the decade, and of all time.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
With an estimated budget of somewhere between $11,000 and $15,000, Paramount's expertly marketed "Paranormal Activity" manages to be one of the scariest films of all-time. Shot with the "shaky camera" technique (which has been used in other horror films such as "Blair Witch Project", "Quarantine", and "Cloverfield"), Paranormal Activity evokes pure terror with an authentic, yet old-school "this-is-really-happening" vibe that leaves all of the rotten clichés of most horrors films of late at the door. The film immediately starts with a disclaimer from Paramount, undoubtedly a trick to suck us right into thinking this is really real. Then we are introduced to our happy couple, Micah and Katie (who's names are the same as the actors who portrayed them, same as "Blair Witch Project", yet another trick to authenticate the viewer's nightmarish experience). Micah has just bought an expensive camera to document the strange, paranormal activity that has been going on in their house, which has apparently been drawn to Katie all her life. We are immediately drawn-in and like these characters, who feel so real. Micah makes some funny, light-hearted jokes about the paranormal activity, which makes us laugh (even if they are nervous laughs, for we know what is about to come, unlike him). What Micah and Katie don't know, is that the camera is not only going to document paranormal activity, but demonic and satanic activity that leads the couple to paranoia and especially traumatic fear. And we as the viewer are along for the ride! The acting, script, and direction, were all just fine. Nothing to point out as good or bad, except for the overall realistic dialogue was good. Where the film shines truly shines, is what we all go to this movie to see, is the paranormal activity. The night scenes, in which Micah and Katie set up the camera to watch the room as they sleep, are so terrifying and shocking, it's hard to believe that a low-budget, 7-day shot film, can make the audience jump, scream, and even cry. The film does have some flaws. Although it is paced much better than I thought it would, there are a few scenes that are fairly tedious. The sub-plot about the woman, Diane, was unnecessary and contrived. Although the film was apparently shot out of sequence, I felt the acting and the script fell off a little towards the end. "Paranormal Activity" generally has no theme or point to it, except to scare the living crap out of the audience (which it does). I've been looking for a horror film for quite some time to come around and scare the living daylights out of me. Although I was one of the least scared members of the audience, it was what I was looking for, and I was as scared as I am ever going to get by a horror film. "Paranormal Activity" is a brilliant and admirable low-budget masterpiece that succeeds in it's obvious goal to ensue sheer chills and thrills and to be the scariest and most groundbreaking horror films of all-time. You've seen the "shaky camera" technique before, but you haven't seen anything like this! Don't see it alone.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
"Basterds" was worth the wait.
The man who brought us "Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction", and "Kill Bill" has finally brought his highly-anticipated WWII film, "Inglourious Basterds" to the screen. Quentin Tarantino lives up to the hype in his highly-stylized, albeit not so factual, war epic with the intertwining stories of a Nazi-detective (Cristoph Waltz), a Jewish-French survivor (Mélanie Laurent), and a group of misfit, Jewish-American soldiers also know as The Basterds (Brad Pitt and company). The Basterds are focused on one thing and one thing only: "Killing Nat- zis." The opening scene takes place in 1940 French farm country, where Col. Hans Landa (played by a vicious and brilliant Cristoph Waltz) has arrived on a family's farm who he believes is sheltering Jews. The scene is a long one, filled with Tarantino the witty Tarantino dialogue we came to love. As the end of the scene nears, Mr. Tarantino gives us the chills with the eery music and the inevitable climax (yes the scene itself has a climax!) that is about to unfold, and we see the true evil of Waltz's Col. Hans Landa and his Nazi brethren. If Cristoph Waltz doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I will be greatly surprised. At the end of the first scene, we see a girl escape (Mélanie Laurent) Landa's Jew-massacre, who will vow revenge on the Nazis who killed her family. Next we see The Basterds, led by the hilarious Brad Pitt. He lets he and his fellow soldier's "distaste" for Nazis and their leader be known. The stories of Shoshanna, Col. Landa, and The Basterds all collide in the final scenes of the film, and it is both literally and figuratively explosive! I'm not going to give anything else away, but the rest of the "Inglourious Basterds" delves into the sick and brilliant mind of Tarantino, who gives us one hell of a stylish and unique interpretation of WWII. The acting is amazing, Brad Pitt was meant to be Lt. Aldo Raine, and is comical to the last. Critoph Waltz gives an Oscar-worthy and menacing performance of one of the greatest villains in film history. Our leading ladies (Laurent and Kruger) fit well into the story and dazzle in their respective roles. Tarantino definitely puts his stamp on both the script and in the direction, as the viewer sees and hears many songs, lines, and stylish undertones that they have seen in previous Tarantino films. "Inglorious Basterds" is not for everyone. It is a gory, biased, and non-factual WWII film. Many will be turned off by the nonfactual accounts of the film but then I guess that means that those people must hate the "Indiana Jones" films as well... However, if you have seen and liked Tarantino's other films than you'll be just fine. If you have not liked Tarantino's other films, I'm puzzled as to why you would watch this in the first place, because you will hate it. The running time is a tad long and some of the scenes are paced a little to slow, but all in all, "Basterds" delivers and it delivers more than well. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is a glorious masterpiece and is the best film of 2009 thus far. It's heavy and stylized action and witty dialogue shock and make us laugh all at the same time. "Basterds" was worth the wait and I'll add it to my collection of other Tarantino masterpieces when it comes out on DVD. "Basterds" is a movie-lover's movie and does not disappoint.
9 out of 10 stars.
Prayers for Bobby (2009)
Poignant and effective, leaves you emotionally lethargic but also hopeful
BASED ON A TRUE STORY I'm not much of a fan of the Lifetime network. They usually produce wishy-washy and cliché titles usually about divorce, or pregnancy issues, or something that really has no plot or substance. However, being a fan of Sigourney Weaver and her work, and also interested in the story that actually has an actual important theme, I debated whether it would be worth two hours of my time. It was. It is 1979. Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) is a teen who has a loving family and a pretty good life. However, he believes himself to be a homosexual. He fears that his mother, Mary, (Weaver) will not accept him and love him anymore, due to her clear and well-known loath and contempt of gay and lesbians due to her faith and literal interpretation of the bible. When Bobby tells his brother he thinks he is gay, his brother tells their mother, hoping his mother can help Bobby. Instead, she treats Bobby as if he has a disease that can be "cured" through God. Mary's overbearing and abrasive treatment towards Bobby distances him from his family out to Oregon to live with his cousin, who believes anyone should be allowed to love anyone. While in Oregon, Bobby meets a guy who makes him feel good about himself. When Bobby comes back from his vacation, he tells his family about the guy he met and his mother reacts as if he is a perverse and sick person. She tells him she WILL NOT have a gay son. This upsets Bobby enough to permanently move to Oregon without a goodbye from his mother. While in Oregon, feeling the isolation of the family he loves, he becomes suicidal and cannot take it anymore. He commits suicide. For the rest of the film, we see his mother go through some major character development and we see her try to overcome her ignorance. I never cried during a movie before until I saw this movie. Prayers for Bobby was truly an amazing movie. Watching Sigourney Weaver as Mary Griffith broke my heart. She was believable and perfect. Ryan Kelley also did a great job playing Bobby. He showed a lot of range and purity in his performance. The movie definitely has a made-for-TV and Lifetime channel feel to it. It WAS a made-for-TV Lifetime original movie, so get over that (I did). I am so glad I saw this and I urge anyone and everyone to see it. 9/10