I find it interesting that this film is even promoted to be such a… MoreI find it interesting that this film is even promoted to be such a dark psychological thriller, and yet the film is named after a fictional town that is itself named after something as fruity-looking as a peacock. It doesn't exactly help that this film stars Cillian Murphy, who has always been fruity-looking, and is here playing a guy with multiple-personality disorder that leaves him to think that he's a woman, and us to remember "Breakfast on Pluto". Shoot, maybe I can buy that this is more an intense thriller than a fluffy one, because Murphy's character in this film is having breakfast in Nebraska, so one can imagine why he's gone crazy, at least so that he would have something interesting to do. Really, seeing as how this marked Sally Menke's last effort, it's always going to have some kind of tension to it, at least to crazy Quentin Tarantino fans. Man, they probably don't even know about Menke, because I doubt they're even aware that Tarantino has editors, although there is a possibility that Menke could most be blamed for the lengths of Tarantino's films. I see that they also brought Jeffrey M. Werner into this production's editing room, possibly not to replace Menke, but to tighten this film down to a runtime of an hour-and-a-half, for if Menke had her way, then this would probably be two-and-a-half hours of filler dialogue, and it's already lacking in thrills because of its being set in Nebraska, and in a place named after a peacock no less. I can go on all day joking about how bland this film is at times, but it has plenty of thrills to it, no matter how much they go limited by certain aspects.
A meditative character study, this film thrives on an interesting and sensationally well-portrayed character, but a lack of background development shakes your investment in such a character, as does limitations in gradual exposition that could be compensated for if the peers of the John Skillpa character were fleshed out as components to human depth, rather than mostly near-obligatory-feeling. Really, at times, this drama is oddly developed to the point of seeming rather abstractionist, and that would be fine if the swings back to more traditional storytelling styles didn't jar, resulting in a certain thematic unevenness to go with certain narrative overstylization. Of course, the film rarely loses that classic experimental art drama trope of atmospheric dryness, which begets dull spots amid a near-consistent degree of blandness, and stiffens pacing to the point of a sense of aimlessness, not helped by momentum limitations even to the story concept. This film's story is certainly interesting, but it's just so minimalist, even in concept, and when it comes to execution, the developmental shortcomings, ambiguous style and pacing issues are by no means helpful, and I'd be willing to get over all of that if the final product was at least original. Well, even though one might say that the film is original that it's not even the first to see Cillian Murphy as a transvestite, this film isn't consistently conventional, but to try so hard to freshen things up, this effort fails to be as unique as it wants to be and probably should be, making it all the easier to see the other lazy areas in storytelling. When the film is inspired, while it might not exactly soar, it hits hard, yet those moments are limited, and behind a story that, in order to compel, cannot afford to have consequential shortcomings in addition to natural ones, thus making for a final product that is not as memorable as it could have been. That being said, the film still has plenty of attributes that are not simply worth remembering, but pretty engrossing, and no matter how limited those aspects very much are, they reflect inspiration that doesn't even depart from the film's non-narrative stylistic touches.
Well, even Brian Reitzell's score is rather conformist in its style, and it's recurrent, so if it enhances meditations upon nothing else, it's its conventionalism, although that isn't to say that Reitzell doesn't take from solid musical formulas, delivering on lovely scoring that is both tasteful by its own aesthetic right, and complimentary to atmospheric storytelling, much like the film's tastes in visuals. I don't know if the film is ethereal to the point of being lyrical, so it doesn't ever get really art with its abstractionist moments, or even all that strong with its celebration of the talented Philippe Rousselot's cinematography, but what it does celebrate is plenty of nifty visuals, whose poetic thoughtfulness is both haunting, and effectively symbolic, gracing the film with a kind of subtlety that this drama relies a lot on. The artistic value of this often narratively overstylized drama is pretty instrumental in the telling of a surrealistic tale, and while director Michael Lander gets carried away with his artistic vision, yet still not to where he overcomes some lazy spots, his orchestration of style and substance, when realized, if very effective in drawing tension, if not resonance. There are times in which the film is powerful, and even when you take out of account the questionable storytelling touches, they were always going to be there, as this story is minimalist, but still pretty intriguing as a portrait on an unstable man's struggle to live life and keep secrets, driven by subtle touches that are sometimes effective in Lander's and Ryan Roy's often messy script. Even the generally undercooked characterization is sharp at times, or at least seems to be, as the performers are so committed in their performances, particularly Ellen Page, whose sympathetic, emotionally charged portrayal of a desperate young woman seeking a better life through any route she can is at times revelatory, though not quite as powerful as Cillian Murphy's performance. Murphy is a justly celebrated talent who has earned his recognition, but we see just how skilled he is only so often, thus, if nothing else proves to be refreshing in the film, it's its presentation of Murphy in phenomenal top form, in which he utilizes impeccable ticks and uneasiness to immerse himself in what is technically two roles in order to convince you of multiple personality disorder, the emotional instability of which goes sold by a dramatic range which encompasses anything from quiet disturbance to devastating intensity, and makes the John Skillpa character a profoundly sympathetic lead who anchors, if not almost single-handedly drives the weight of this drama. Whether Skillpa is in his eccentric true form as a quiet and troubled man, or what Skillpa believe is his true form: a good-hearted, but sensitive woman, you simply can never fully recognize Murphy, as he is so fiercely committed to a challenging role and seemingly effortlessly nails it through and through, resulting in a performance that is not simply an all-too rare example of a reflection on the actor's true abilities, but stellar in a manner that is difficult to fully describe, and while the other driving forces of this character drama fail to build up as much momentum, to where resonance proves to be more recurring, Murphy remains joined by a number of inspired attributes the make the final product endearing and sometimes genuinely compelling, if ultimately held back.
Overall, the natural shortcomings of this minimalist drama go stressed by questionable expository depths, storytelling styles and pacing, as well as by a surprising lack of originality, until the final product limps out, almost as an underwhelming film that would be forgettable were it not for the interesting subject matter, haunting score work and visuals, directorial highlights, strong supporting performances and utterly amazing lead performance by Cillian Murphy that make Michael Lander's "Peacock" a consistently reasonably intriguing and often powerful psychological thriller, despite some loss in potential.
2.5/5 - Fair
"Roxanne, you don't..." Okay, I just can't finish that, because it's… More"Roxanne, you don't..." Okay, I just can't finish that, because it's too obvious, and at any rate, Sting is singing about "the" red light, as if to say there's one red light, whereas this film is about "Red Light[u]s[/u]". Hey, there's a difference that makes quite a difference, because if you've ever been stuck behind a series of red lights, I don't know if you can so much call this film a thriller, as much as you can call it a bona fide horror film. Shoot, I don't even know if I can joke about that either, because this film is about a physicist and a psychologist teaming up to mess with some psychic, so, seriously, just how thrilling can this possible be? Oh, that's what we said about "Buried" some film about some bum being buried, yet it came out as a success, and this is the same director. Well, in all fairness, in "Buried", he was working with Ryan Reynolds, who has always been charming enough for me to sit in a coffin with him for a while, but here, all Rodrigo Cortés has to work with is... Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Toby Jones. Wow, this is kind of an impressive cast for a film that no one saw, but at any rate, the point is that this film at least has some charm going for it, although that's not going to be enough to overshadow the problems.
Not especially realized as a thriller with only so much consequentiality, this film tends to rely on heavy-handedness to get its points across, having a certain liveliness to its abrasiveness, but nevertheless bearing down on you with unsubtle score plays, alone, and further distancing through scripting whose thin characterization and plotting lacks depth that should drive this steady thriller. Rodrigo Cortés turns in a script that is lacking in storytelling layering, which cannot be justified by meat in this film's dramatically lightweight story concept, for even on paper, this drama was never to carry much in the way of momentum, it's just that Cortés doesn't help. As if there wasn't enough limpness to Cortés' drawing thin characters being a thin execution of a plot concept that was never to be particularly meaty, what Cortés' scripting lacks in material it makes up for in filler, or at least repetitious material, which drags and drags, until the film becomes aimless and unevenly paced, and not just in storytelling's written form. Again, the lack of delicacy to Cortés' direction, on top of shaking subtlety, keeps the film kind of lively, with highlights that really bring the engagement value to life, but when not much is going on to either impact you with or simply beat you over the head with, Cortés fails, if not neglects to incorporate some kind of flare, resulting in bland spells that really water down a sense of suspense. Of course, the storytelling element which most reflects laziness and defuses shock is a lack of originality, because at the end of the day, there's hardly, if at all anything in this film that you haven't already seen in "The X-Files", let alone other paranormal and psychological thrillers of this type, leaving impact to go slowed down simply by your knowing what's coming. Despite an adequate amount of surprising spots, predictability plagues the final product about as much as anything, which is saying a lot, because there is a lot which plagues this unsubtle and unevenly paced "thriller". Quite frankly, while I was watching the film, I found myself forgetting it, but I can recollect enough to tell you that while this thriller occupies your time, by no means does it waste it, not even as much as it squanders its potential, however limited.
Inconsistent in dramatic weight, lacking in layers as a thriller, and not even original, this film's story concept limits the final product's bite enough through natural shortcomings, which are themselves limited, by elements that are, in fact, intriguing, perhaps thoroughly so, whether they be tightening in on some edgy conflicts, or incorporating some depth to the dramatics, or painting a paranormal mystery whose evidence of reality in questionable. Like I said, there's plenty to predict in this formulaic thriller, but at the same time, while the film has to resort to a silly twist or tow, the fact of the matter is that this study on what may or may not be the paranormal, and coming to terms with truths about yourself has its shocking moments and thematically weighty aspects, both of which primarily reside in a concept that is done both injustice and justice in a fair execution. Even the film's visual style anchors much of the effectiveness of the tension, as Xavi Giménez's cinematography has a bleakness to its lighting and coloration that, while not particularly unique or richly dynamic, is rugged in its grit, to where it both fits and augments the thriller's intensity, and looks good by its own right. A little more significant of a compliment to the edge of this thriller is, of course, Rodrigo Cortés, at least as director, for although Cortés' storytelling is either limp or heavy-handed, moments of realization to momentum really do get to the nerves, drawing some genuine tension to highlight pacing that is rarely entertaining to some extent. Yes, there are dull spots, but they're relatively rare in this tightly paced, if a little abrasive thriller, which is, at the very least, pretty entertaining, if not kind of tense, despite being rather dramatically lacking. Of course, if there is some dramatic effectiveness, then it's not Cortés' performance that drives it, but rather, the performances that one might predict are pretty solid, given the quality of a cast, from which Sigourney Weaver - as a particularly thinly drawn, but still charismatic and somewhat emotionally uneasy psychologist - and Robert De Niro - as a blind possible psychic who grows tired of his career, if not his life as a unique being - stands out, about as much as leading man Cillian Murphy, who is always as charming as he usually is, but does more than the film deserves by gradually packing on dramatic layers that capture the confusion of a man against the paranormal who fears that his lack of beliefs, if not his safety are challenged. When material to really play with finds Murphy, if not his peers, the acting really shines, and quite frankly, the drama shines with it, for although this is a generally limp thriller, there are plenty of highlights, which grow a little more recurring, until you end up with decent latter acts that are worth waiting for in an effort which is still consistently entertaining enough to hold your interest, even if it's typically with a loose grip.
When the light dies down, intensity which natural dramatic shortcomings thin enough in concept go further watered down by subtlety and pacing issues, and a lack of originality that ultimately render the final product underwhelming, if not forgettable, but not to where you can completely disregard an intriguing idea's being done enough justice by a rugged visual style, some biting direction, and strong performances - especially by Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy - to make Rodrigo Cortés' "Red Lights" a fairly entertaining and often tense thriller with bright spots for every shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair
It's billed as an "urban western", and it's Irish, so you know that… MoreIt's billed as an "urban western", and it's Irish, so you know that it's going to be brutal... up until you see that Cillian Murphy is in it. I sure am fond of Murphy as a talent, but he's not exactly the toughest-looking Irishman out that, which isn't to say that I'd recommend telling him that, because either I'm wrong or he'll send Brendan Gleeson on you. Seriously though, when I look at that title and see the "Bounty" part, I can't help but get pumped up about seeing how they're going to make a brutal crime thriller out of a French brand of carbonated water. Perrier water jokes aside, I can see this film's title seeming more hardcore if instead of all of this sparkling French water it promoted the Irish's beverage of choice, which ought to get folks sturred up. Shoot, forget beer, because this film is so Irish that just watching it should make you a little bit tipsy, which is probably why the Irish didn't even go and see it, seeing as how they're drunk enough at any point in the day without this film. Well, it doesn't exactly help that, of all publications, "The Irish Times" came down on this film, and kept people out of theaters... because, you know, "The Irish Times" is internationally recognizable enough to have something of an impact on moviegoers' tastes. Man, the Irish have never been able to catch a break, and this film isn't exactly helping, at least financially, and that's a shame, because it's better than Donald Clark of "The Irish Times" says it is, despite its problems.
Being so short and so fast-pace, this film doesn't exactly have a whole lot of time for exposition, so what you end up with is a film that hardly gives you any immediate development, and barely puts that much focus into gradual characterization whose lack of flesh-out would be easier to forgive if there wasn't also a lack of believability. Not exactly compensated for by relatively extensive exposition, questionable character traits in this grimy ensemble piece aggravate, whether it be because of unlikability or because of unbelievability, or at least a sense of unbelievability that goes anchored by lowlights in generally snappy dialogue that is too snappy, to the point of being more cheesy. Dialogue occasionally snaps a little too sharply, not unlike style that is also generally effective in coloring things up, but often renders the film's feel frantic, and doesn't even help against a sense of familiarity. Overstylization is little more than yet another trait defines this film as yet another one of those Danny Boyle rip-offs that have become mighty popular in the crime wing of the film industry of the United Kingdoms... or rather, north-western Europe (Free the rest of Ireland... I guess), which isn't to say that the film isn't formulaic in other ways, being nearly devoid of originality to its narrative, whose predictability makes it easier to get insight into just how lacking in meat this story concept is in the first place. Underdeveloped, sometimes improbable, consistently formulaic and told in an overstylized manner, this film's story concept doesn't even give you the courtesy of all that much meat as a thriller, being more reliant on humor, and with a conflict that was never to be all the momentous to begin with. There's simply not much to this film, even on paper, and when it comes to the execution, laziness to substance and overambition to style prove to be a messy combination that renders the final product pretty decidedly underwhelming, perhaps even forgettable. Still, while the film occupies a mere 88 minutes, it doesn't exactly waste your time, being plenty of entertaining, both with a good bit of liveliness to its narrative, and, of course, with plenty of liveliness to its style.
Well-known as a proficient DJ, David Holmes composes a score that is utterly formulaic, but groovy in its very modern rhythm and drive, which compliment entertainment value, much like a visual style Seamus Deasy brings to life with cinematography whose distinctly Danny Boyle-esque taste in biting lighting and crispy blue coloration. The film looks and even sounds good as a modern crime flick that is often too stylish for its own good, but more technically sharp than anything, with enough slick musical and visual style to entertain, at least through slick directorial orchestration. Getting kind of carried away in his plays on style, not just to be point of overstylization, but to the point of placing style over substance, Ian Fitzgibbon's direction remains pretty realized in its plays on the aforementioned snappy musical and visual style, in addition to Tony Cranstoun's snappy editing, thus crafting a solid pace that entertains time and again, until slower spells come into play and draw your attention to the heavier aspects of this story. Mind you, those heavier aspects are lacking in this mostly comedic crime thriller, but they still stand, and when they don't, color compensates with a certain fun factor and charm, anchored by charismatic performances. Boasting a decent cast to be so short, this film offers a number of talents who deliver with what they're being given, particularly the effectively antagonistic Brendan Gleeson, delightfully charming Jim Broadbent and convincingly more grounded Cillian Murphy, who, in all fairness, charm as thoroughly as they do partly because what material they have to work with is worthy. As I've said time and again, this story doesn't have much to it, but it certainly has flare, and no matter how lively the direction and acting are, what can make or break the momentum of this comedy is Mark O'Rowe's scripting, which is messy, even with snappy spots that are often too snappy for their own good, but predominantly mighty clever with its dialogue and colorful, if improbable characterization, and dynamic set pieces. The film thrives on its pacing, and while that's not enough to make a final product that has all that much memorable substance, it sure does entertain, thus making a thriller that does indeed have its thrills, despite fizzling moments.
When it comes time to collect, there's little development and a little too much improbability to characterization, just as there is often too much snap to style, and little uniqueness to the telling of a dramatically thin story that ultimate renders the final product underwhelming and forgettable, but not lacking in entertainment value, sustained enough through groovy scoring and slick cinematography behind stylish direction, and charismatic performers with colorful scripted material to make "Perrier's Bounty" a plenty entertaining, if otherwise lacking comedic crime thriller.
2.5/5 - Fair
"She is watching the detectives, 'Ooh, he's so cute"; she is watching… More"She is watching the detectives, 'Ooh, he's so cute"; she is watching the detectives when they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot!" Oh yeah, you can choke on some American pie, Don McClean, because that is real lyrical brilliance right there, my friend. Man, forget Elvis Costello, and forget this film for reminding me of that song, although I might only have myself to blame for that. Yeah, either you have to kind of go out of your way to find a film like this, or you have to stumble upon this film when looking up Elvis Costello's song... or Cillian Murphy, or Lucy Liu, or Jason Sudeikis. Wow, this film actually has some impressive names behind it, yet it ended up going straight to video regardless, and the lazy bums who probably aren't active enough to go to the cinemas who Elvis Costello was singing about still didn't want to go through the trouble of watching this on pay-per-view or whatever. Yeah, see, right there is probably why no one is watching this film, because it's about a guy who works at a video rental store, and by 2007, people were starting to lose interest in actually going to a store to not actually purchase a film, and it doesn't help that this film about video rental stores isn't all that interesting. No, I guess this film is a little more entertaining than the Elvis Costello song of the same name, but limited relevance isn't its only issue.
Not unlike plenty of comedies of its nature, this film has a few refreshing ideas, but they're so light that they go lost in the midst of conventions, which thrive and thrive until the final product borders on hopelessly derivative, with its narrative and its humor. I won't say that nothing is original here, because, at the very least, the film tries hard enough for you to get a little taste from those conceptual elements that are kind of offbeat, but at the end of the day, this is by no means new, being unoriginal to the point of being kind of blandly flat. That sense of blandness isn't exactly helped by spots in the film's humor, which is often reasonably effective, and just as often too lacking in uniqueness, if not wit to be all that colorful, with moments in which it truly falls flat, at least as mediocre. Of course, in all fairness, it's kind of hard to have fun with characters who aren't that worthwhile, or at least even, having a couple unlikable traits, in addition to traits that fail to compensate for the distancing ones because of their twisting characterization into a direction that is more jarring than layering, and not even all that convincing. Really, even outside of the characterization, storytelling doesn't always convince, because on top of being unoriginal, this story has a tendency to slip in probability, often getting too carried away with its eccentricities, as surely as it has a tendency to get carried away with ambiguities behind Lucy Liu's intentionally strange Violet character, who leaves the narrative that she drives as the central focus of plotting to lose focus before too long. It gets to be a little challenging to tell where exactly this film is heading, no matter how predictable it is in a lot of ways, and with momentum being further retarded by improbably spots in storytelling and flat spots in humor, the final product ends up falling as a pretty underwhelming, almost mediocre comedy. Yeah, there's nothing special here, but neither is there enough flatness for the final product to bore, entertaining adequately, sometimes through, of all things, lively scoring.
Well, whether it be because it's unoriginal or because it's not especially prominent or dynamic, this Ryan Amon's score isn't especially worth talking about, but as far as comedy scores go, Amon turns in more than a few decent and fitting compositions, the highlights of which include noir homages, as well as lively, organ-driven spots that feature some impressive musicianship, while capturing a sense of eccentricity that defines certain aspects of this piece. Of course, the score is perhaps at its most effective when well-utilized by direction by Paul Soter that, despite frantic moments, if not limp moments, has enough nifty plays on style - anchored by some snappy editing by Jeff Canavan - to keep pacing smooth and entertainment value pretty sufficient. Granted, this aimless film doesn't go too many places with its smooth pace, and entertainment value is pretty limited by plenty of other elements, but mediocrity would stand as a greater threat if it wasn't for Soter delivering on plenty of color as directorial storyteller, as well as a writer. Plenty is lacking in Soter's scripting, even in humor, which is a little too lacking in originality and sometimes even a little too lacking in wit, but serviceably enough to keep up some degree of fun more often than anything, with moments in dialogue and set piece structuring that are clever enough to amuse pretty thoroughly. Soter makes his share of mistakes when it comes to handling humor, but through it all, he makes a pretty funny flick, as surely as he makes his share of mistakes when it comes to characterization, until cutting through all of the unlikable, improbable and even uneven traits in order to craft aspects colorful enough to endear you to the characters who drive this fluff piece, but are better sold, not by anything that Soter does, but by the performers themselves. At least carrying a respectable cast, this film is saved by its performers, specifically the leads, whose lack of racial consistency and certain lack of character consistency admittedly shakes chemistry that is still pretty firmly secured by the combination of Cillian Murphy's and Lucy Liu's charismas, both of which are distinguished, and equally effective. Whether it be Liu as the unpredictably eccentric girl looking to live life to the fullest, or Murphy as the reasonably tasteful, but still pretty flawed and strange man with only so much direction in his life, the leads are handed conventional roles that they bring a lot of life to, more so than Soter does as director and writer, which isn't to say that there isn't enough done right on Soter's behalf to make the final product pretty entertaining, despite its questionable elements.
In conclusion, conventions, flat spots in humor, unlikable and uneven characterization elements, and some improbability bring the final product to the brink of mediocrity, while generally decent scoring, direction and writing, as well as solid chemistry between and distinguished charisma by Cillian Murphy and Lucy Liu bring enough decency to Paul Soter's "Watching the Detectives" to make an adequately entertaining and clever, if forgettable, eccentric rom-com.
2.5/5 - Fair
It's always good to end big, people, and yet, this film still comes… MoreIt's always good to end big, people, and yet, this film still comes out being the shortest installment in the series. Usually, one would say that it's to be expected, seeing as how this is actually just the second part of a single installment, but come on, they've padded the series enough up to this point, so they could at least put in a little more filler... or depth to the exposition behind the action. No, folks, I suppose this film wraps things up pretty tightly, but we've successfully expanded on films that are mostly action before, so let's really mess with the kids' ADD one last time with "Harry Potter and the Return of the King". ...Huh, I just drew a comparison between "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings", and as Ross Geller put it in the finale of "Friends", when they addressed his ballet lessons, "do you realize we almost made it ten years without that coming up?" Well, I don't know about "we", because I'm the only one who hasn't said anything about the similarities between the two series up until now, which is alright, I suppose, for this is the end, my friends, and it's time start fulfilling some expectations and answering questions. Actually, if you're wondering if this finale is more like "The Return of the Jedi" or "The Revenge of the Sith", don't come talking to me, because in addition to being the only jerk to wait this long before drawing comparisons between this series and "The Lord of the Rings"... and "Star Wars", I'm also the only jerk who preferred "The Revenge of the Sith". Well, perhaps we can at least all agree that this film is better than either "Star Wars" trilogy finale, but boy, it's sure not "The Return of the King" (Come to think of it, a lot of trilogy closers feature the title "The Return of..."), and for plenty of reasons.
These installments have been gradually getting more and more formulaic, not necessarily as "Harry Potter" films, but in general, and for this grand finale, wow, they at least go all out in that department, hitting one trope after another as the ultimately testament of good against evil, a epic of its type, and a blockbuster overall, until it quickly becomes predictable on a level that, well, is almost embarrassing, at least until gotten used to. Make no mistake, this film gives you plenty of time to get used to its generic formula, for although this is the shortest installment of the entire "Harry Potter" saga, at about 130 minutes, it's still a little lengthy, with a narrative that is, in some ways, light in layers, compensated for partly through meandering moments in material that at least feel draggy either when backed by bland dry spells in David Yates' thoughtful direction, or when layering gets to be too broad to flow about all that organically. Jokes aside, this film is very similar to, say, "Return of the Jedi", and it's particularly hard to ignore that when presented with a first act that is borderline filler in its keeping the central plot at bay in order to forcibly wrap up a loose end or two left by the predecessor, but not the only jarring shift in plotting, as there are a couple moments in which the film forces its way to different plot layers whose transitions would be more organic if the layers were more consistently fleshed out. The biggest issue with this film's direct predecessor was, of all things, rushing, or at least an underexploration of many promising plotting elements, and here, screenwriter Steve Kloves makes the same blasted mistake that he can't afford to make in a film that won't exactly see a sequel to make up for lapses in depth, really forcing in certain character motivations (Can't wait to see Ron and Hermione kiss? Well, the filmmakers just couldn't wait through all the pesky exposition either), and unevenly using certain characters in a manner that not only convolutes the film, but does potential depth a great injustice. Really, my biggest, maybe not problem, but aggravation with the film is that it's not quite as satisfactory of a finale as one might expect, being generally so well-directed and well-written that you get an adequate sense of closure, but not to where you can ignore questionable touches that range from handing the spotlight to the last characters you'd expect to get all that much attention (Wait, so, when did Neville Longbottom become awesome?), while giving little attention to figures who have been major throughout the series (Seriously, Neville, at least give Ron Weasley that clichéd "We will fight with the fallen as inspiration" speech), and opening many a glaring plot hole that provides a couple disappointing touches, at least in J. K. Rowling's narrative and Steve Kloves' writing, and makes it hard to overlook such natural shortcomings as the occasional placement of style over substance. The film is so good and so promising, and Rowling, I feel, dropped the ball in certain places, just as Kloves does with his own conclusion of this saga, so through all the inspiration is a film that is improvable, both as a finale and as a dramatic blockbuster by its own right. Nevertheless, as I said, the film is adequately satisfying, at least in its generally being strong enough to transcend its shortcomings and achieve, maybe not the excellence that the series had secured a number of times before, but thorough engagement value, both with substance and style.
A little less meditative than, say, "The Deathly Hallows - Part 1", this film is a touch more celebratory of Alexandre Desplat's scoring abilities, which are still not especially sharp here, but still grand enough in tastefulness and ranging from bitingly subtle to sweeping in order to keep things lively and beautiful, at least musically, while visual beauty goes anchored by cinematographer Eduardo Serra's ruggedly gritty glaze over intricate art direction by (Okay, strap in for this...) Andrew Ackland-Snow, Mark Bartholomew, Alastair Bullock, Peter Dorme, Martin Foley, Kate Grimble, Nicholas Henderson, Christian Huband, Molly Hughes, Neil Lamont, Hattie Storey, Gary Tomkins, Ashley Winter (Whew!). Visual style is, of course, augmented by visual effects that are about as spectacular as they've every been, with exhaustive dynamicity and seamless rendering that offer much eye candy, particularly in the midst of action sequences that I don't find as tight as the action in "Part 1", but still outstanding in their sweeping staging, punctuated by more small-scale duels that offer about as much tension as the grander battles offer spectacle. I don't know if it's because action segments outstay their welcome at times that could have used more exposition, or if it's because the film has the nerve to shy away from certain deaths, not to avoid disturbances, but to avoid consequentiality to the battles, but style is often placed over substance, and if depth was brought more to the level of prominence with all the superficial spectacle, the final product would have perhaps stood as excellent at the very least, and yet, as things stand, the film owes much of its engagement value to its being so sweepingly well-crafted as a blockbuster, as surely as it is generally well-crafted as a drama. As I said, there are a lot of strong places that this story could have gone if J. K. Rowling, for whatever reason, didn't laze out a bit when it comes to originality and fulfilling expectations and depths, and yet, Rowling still establishes a grand, layered epic narrative with enough dramatic weight to set up solid potential that Steve Kloves fulfills more often than not, being also pretty faulty in a number of ways as storyteller, but clever enough areas to hold a consistent degree of momentum, as well as tight in enough areas to give you an adequate sense of range to characterization that often overcomes underexplorations and overexplorations of supporting roles and endears you to this ensemble piece. What anchors the more human depths of this epic and therefore plays a big part in making the final product so compelling, despite its storytelling missteps, is, of course, the acting, which is solid across the board, with some solid highlights that include a Ralph Fiennes who nails the intensity and vulnerability of the evil Lord Voldemort antagonist, an Alan Rickman whose penetrating dramatic subtlety exposes the depths we've always wanted to see the in the primarily subdued Severus Snape character, and, of course, a Daniel Radcliffe who continues to expose how far alone he's come as a talent with his own subtle dramatic heights and layering which gives you a sense of resolution to Harry Potter's characterization as a human, but strong, sacrificial protagonist. While too underwritten to be tremendous, the performances exceed the writing in crafting an effective drama, and by that, I don't just mean the onscreen performances, because even though David Yates, this time around, is given way too many holes to work around in scripted storytelling to craft yet another excellent installment in the "Harry Potter" segment, he continues to compensate as best he can, with style and an immense sense of scale that captures epic sweep and entertainment value, until punctuated by subtlety to storytelling that is often thoughtful to the point of dryness, but primarily controlled enough to draw on what depths there are to this often superficial drama, and establish piercing tension during the more momentous set pieces, until incorporating resonance during the more subdued moments that do, in fact, provide a sense of consequence, humanity and overall closure. If this film leaves nothing else solidified, it is Yates' position as far-and-away this series' best director, and by the time we come to latter acts that often hit about as hard as you want them to, it becomes clear that without the many highlights that Yates orchestrates so powerfully, the film might not have been underwhelming by its own right, but it still would have been generally underwhelming as a finale to this saga, so as things stand, while there are too many aspects which leave you kind of cold for an excellent film to be crafted, Yates, with the help of technical value and acting that are as inspired as ever, crafts an epic that is resonant enough to satisfy just fine as a series finale, and satisfy thoroughly as pure entertainment.
All in all, this series finale is a little too formulaic for its own good, and it is surely too unevenly paced and focused, and underexploratory of promising elements and depths to stand as excellent, let alone wholly satisfy, but through all of the shortcomings, there is enough taste to the scoring and visual style, spectacle to the art direction, effects and action sequences, thoughtfulness to the writing, inspiration to the acting and - last, but not least - realization to David Yates' outstanding stylistic and dramatic direction to make "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" gripping as a dramatic blockbuster, and generally quite satisfying as the grand conclusion to a magical and classic saga.
3.25/5 - Strong
Okay, C. Robert Cargill, now we are, in fact, looking at "Harry Potter… MoreOkay, C. Robert Cargill, now we are, in fact, looking at "Harry Potter and the Half-Done Script". Ladies and gentlemen, I present yet more young people getting into intense adventures in the woods in "The Blair Wizard Project". I mean, one of them is actually a witch, but I'm not directly taking the original title, because the twist is hardly clever enough, and at any rate, I'm insulting this film enough by likening it to the found footage film which must not be named (Hey, it's like Voldemort) in the first place. Well, actually, I don't know if this film is that much less gimmicky, because you know that a prominent factor in the decision to split this final adaptation into two films was a potential for an utterly obscene amount of money. That's right, kids, we're finally nearing the end of this saga, and if you're into the books... well, come to think of it, you're probably not there, because the books up until now have been long enough, and considering that the final one is apparently big enough to deserve a two-part adaptation, when this film came out, three years after the book, readers probably were only halfway through. Oh, I can't even joke in an attempt to justify the two-part adaptation, because the actual longest installment in the "Harry Potter" book series is "The Order of the Phoenix", and David Yates managed to make that book into a film which was almost ten minutes shorter than this half-film, alone. It's okay, because this film is at least better than "The Order of the Phoenix", and "The Order of the Phoenix" was far from shabby, although it certainly had its faults, not unlike this... um, half-installment.
While unreservedly the series' best filmmaker, David Yates' directorial trademark is a certain thoughtfulness that has a tendency to get carried away, and while this film is not as dry as the strong, but still rather dull "The Order of the Phoenix", Yates abandons much of the liveliness that made "The Half-Blood Prince" the perfect balance of fun and steady, and instead incorporates certain dry spells that, while rarely, if ever dull, stiffen pacing and give you time to think about the meanderings that are even found in Steve Kloves' scripted storytelling. I reckon this is the first installment in the "Harry Potter" series where the biggest issue is the final product's being way too short, because each note in this saga has kind of outstayed its welcome, although that's not to say that this installment doesn't also tend to drag its feet, with repetitious filler, much of which blends into plotting, making much of the material that thrives on inconsequential-seeming happenings feel themselves inconsequential. It doesn't help that this film sees much material plagued with a been-there-done-that feel that the series picked up after a while and is arguably at its worst here, being distinguished in many ways from its predecessors' formula, but still falling into general dramatic tropes, deeply enough to feel predictable, or at least a tad bland in its sheer familiarity. Kloves' writing is where this film really falls short, relatively speaking that is, being pretty solid on the whole, but with moments of excess, if not laziness, found in hints within those conventional storytelling touches, and really found within limitations in exposition and depth. I figured that Kloves really honed in on his development skills with the well-rounded "The Half-Blood Prince", and that the writer would take advantage of working with a two-part story to draw as much depth as he could in this build-up-heavy penultimate installment in the "Harry Potter" series, but this film really proves me wrong, because the fact of the matter is that the biggest issue in the final product is its being too short, thinning immediate development with little focus on the leads' motivation to abandon their lives for a dangerous adventure, while throwing gradual exposition out of whack through some sudden abandonment of potentially promising layers that end up feeling expendable, if not through an altogether lack of attention towards such aspects as changes in and fats of once-important supporting characters, and side-happening that might define the central narrative, until you're left with an effective drama that still leave so much to be desired. As it goes along, the film begins to tighten up and hit pretty hard as a well-rounded dramatic blockbuster, and yet, no matter how much smoother storytelling gets to be, the final product is always either draggy or simply too tight for its own good, placing very little exploration into too many aspects, and forcibly so, with a sense of laziness that, while not devastating as a blow to the film, or even all that big of a challenge to a thorough degree of compelling, places a serious threat on excellence. That is, of course, only a testament to just how inspired the stronger touches of this film are, because as truly messy as the final product is in a lot of ways, what it does right it does exceptionally well, and that, as you can imagine, particularly goes for style.
At the height of his popularity, Alexandre Desplat earns the honor of being this series' final score composer, and while he doesn't exactly live up to the outstanding efforts that Nicholas Hooper just contributed to this series through the first two installments of the David Yates phase, his trademark subtle classicality, colored up a bit by the series' trademark whimsy, haunts by its own right, and breathes some life into the film's atmosphere, immersing you almost as much as the visuals. As an adventure opus and the only installment in the series set outside of Hogwarts, this film doesn't provide all that much in the way of production value, but it all but compensates with its celebration of an environment we're more familiar with through solid tastes in immersive location, while keeping a sense of magic going through stellar visual effects that are particularly complimentary of tight, dizzyingly stylish and altogether intensely well-staged action set pieces that, while underused, all but consistently outdo the action of any of the predecessors, and go complimented by Eduardo Serra's handsomely gritty cinematography. The film certainly has style going for it, same as any "Harry Potter" film, even going so far as to deliver nifty technical proficiency to editing and sound design, but when it comes to the realized orchestration of style, in addition to the handling of substance, that's where David Yates comes in, getting a little too thoughtful for entertainment value's own good, but still being the primary reason why this film transcends the many missteps to scripted storytelling and excels on the whole, thanks to his being as audacious as ever in utilizing mature happenings and edgy imagery (Interesting how this series started out meant for kids, then ended up featuring someone having slurs carved into her wrists by a witch's teeth) behind a meditative atmosphere to provide grit that is consistently tense, and sometimes moving in its doing justice to subject matter that is particularly weighty. Even as just half of a story, this film's narrative carries a lot of dynamicity as an adventure, intensity as a thriller, and depth as a human drama, and it's simply not done all that much justice by Steve Kloves, who has been so good - nay - amazing at adapting to the twists and turns in this series, but gets messy in his slipping into tropes, excesses and, worst of all, thinness, though not so messy that he doesn't come close to truly compensating through clever dialogue and humor which punctuates weighty highlights in dramatic characterization that provide more subtlety and consequentiality than any installment in the "Harry Potter" saga. Again, the film is always messy with its structure, but its earlier acts are particularly misguided, even if they are still well-directed enough to thoroughly compel, and after a while, once you get used to the film's questionable formula, it gets easier and easier to overlook the shortcomings, towards strengths that are ultimately plentiful and effective enough to make a truly excellent final product that, of course, couldn't exactly be completely secured as excellent without a worthy cast. As much as I complain about how this film should put more attention into fleshing out its supporting characters, this film was always to primarily focus on marking one last adventure to define the iconic lead trio's dynamic, and on that level, it succeeds exceptionally, not on Yates' back, but on the backs of its leads, all three of whom share chemistry that is as dynamite as ever, while delivering as individual talents, with the lovely Emma Watson projecting a sensitivity that reflects the vulnerability that defines the humanity of the Hermione Granger character, while Rupert Grint stands out in his portrayal of an aggression that reflects the Ron Weasley character's anger and passion to avenge fallen peers and earn respect, and Daniel Radcliffe nails a sense of genuine heroism, complete with nuanced layers which reflect Harry Potter's flaws and anxieties, met with an effective lead charisma. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all play equal roles in carrying this film, making the final product particularly satisfying as a farewell to the intimacies of the dynamic trio we watched grow up, which isn't to say that the film doesn't satisfy in plenty of other ways, being flawed, but inspired enough to stand out as yet another excellent endeavor in the "Harry Potter" saga.
When, or rather, just before it's all said and done, an excellent film is plagued by some dragging, bland spells and conventions, and heavily threatened by some glaring underexplorations in storytelling depth, but not to where haunting score work, handsome cinematography, immersive locations, excellent visual effects and action, generally sharp direction and writing, and strong performances by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson don't prove to be enough to make "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" gripping enough as a thriller, drama and penultimate "Harry Potter" installment to truly stand out as a pretty solid affair.
3.5/5 - Excellent
They probably shouldn't have taken that year off from this series… MoreThey probably shouldn't have taken that year off from this series after taking another year off, not necessarily because it must have thrown the nerds in a frenzy, but because it gives these kids a little too much time to grow into their teen years. Well, maybe this film's young cast doesn't looking too grown-up, because Harry Potter is getting so far in his teen years at this point that I'm expecting him to actually experiment with some potter, although he has to deal with dragons enough when he's not off in the stoners' own fantasy world. Shoot, this film came out not even a year after Daniel Radcliffe performed "Equus" on stage and showed everyone his other wand, so Harry Pothead wouldn't exactly be too surprising of a reflection on how much Radcliffe and this series has matured. I don't really know if that would be a reflection on how much this series has changed, because I sometimes like to think that this series has always been Harry's dopeheaded interpretation of a world in which he is, if you will "the half-baked prince". Wow, that was pretty bad, especially in comparison to that "The Half-Done Script" pun by C. Robert Cargill did, which was pretty clever for the guy who was far from my favorite member of Spill.com. Quite frankly, even then, he isn't particularly accurate, because I felt that this film was pretty well-rounded, rather than half-done, although I probably wouldn't mind if this film was, in fact, 306 minutes. Okay, maybe this film isn't quite five hours worth of awesome, but oh man, it's so awesome, despite flaws that are about as difficult to get covered up as Radcliffe apparently was in "Equus".
No matter how dramatically enthralling, this film sees David Yates working to tone down a little bit of the seriousness that had a tendency to get carried away in the nevertheless strong "The Order of the Phoenix", and I can respect that a lot, as it allows Yates to couple fun with edge in a manner that was kind of lacking in the immediate predecessor, and yet, there are cheesy occasions, which aren't as disconcerting as they were earlier in the series, - where they were more kiddy than anything - but are still a touch teeny and hard to get invested in as more than just the usual young adult fare. Of course, those cheesy spots aren't the only tropes found in this film, just as they are found in the usual effort of this nature, for although this film is at least well-done enough for you to disregard the conventional spots, they still stand, establishing a certain sense of predictability that could have been overcome if the film didn't run long enough for you to ponder upon the conventions. Whether it be because the film is mostly tight, or simply because the film is so much fun that you want it to end any time soon, the film doesn't exactly feel all that overlong, but it kind of is, once you look through the solid directorial pacing and find on the script repetitious excesses in filler and material that, before too long, get to be kind of aimless. If nothing else, all of the material bloating begets unevenness in focus, because as much as I, not respect, but love how this film works hard to flesh out storytelling layers as much, if not more than the predecessors, certain supporting characters are either incorporated or abandoned pretty suddenly, despite the richer characterization, while shifts in plotting themes regarding anything from teen melodrama and other school antics, to profound dramatic tensions jar a bit, emphasis on "a bit". Yes, the cheesy moments, conventions and uneven spots that have been seen throughout this series are still here, but quite frankly, they're hard to spot in this effort that is generally so tight and inspired that it sees very little worth complaining about. This means that the biggest shortcomings are natural ones that, even then, are obviously not all that worthy complaining about, seeing as how the final product still stands so far out, yet whether it be because of the teeny aspects' meeting weightier aspects whose bite is limited enough by limited action, or whatever, there's something thin about the idea behind this film which is so inspired that it could have very well been something of a masterpiece. As the film ultimately stands, however, through all of the natural shortcomings and handful of consequential missteps, it's more-or-less remarkable in its being so well-crafted and complimentary to most everything one has, or at least I have always wanted to see out of this series, as well as transcendent of certain expectations, including aesthetic ones.
Returning after "The Order of the Phoenix", Nicholas Hooper composes a score that isn't especially unique, but about as outstanding as anyone's has been up to this point in the series, very dynamically juggling upbeat tones to compliment more fluffy segments, intense tones to compliment more thrilling segments, and resonant tones to compliment more dramatic segments, while keeping consistent in a beauty that all but captivates time and again. Even more successful in captivating is, of course, Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography, which simply has to be seen in order to be believed, as it's not simply reflective of what is easily the strongest of any of the installments' visual styles, but arguably one of the more unique visual styles of any major film of the past several years, with heavy coloration and gloomy lighting so organically composed that they bring life to any tone of the film, - particularly the more gritty themes - and take your breath away when glazed over every visually stunning frame. In a reflection of filmmaking maturity, this series has been applying technical value to genuine artistry a little more as it progressed, and while there's more of the story to tell and mature, this is where style peaks, because it's difficult to see how much more captivating this film can be with its musical style and visual style, which play instrumental roles in reinforcing entertainment value through aesthetic value, not unlike other aspects that go graced with technical proficiency, and even production value. With "The Order of the Phoenix", Yates really downsized the scope of this series to a more intimate point that's less reliant on spectacle as an equal to substance, so production value might be the only major aspect in this film that isn't sharper than it was in the predecessors, but if it is, then it's just barely that, as Andrew Ackland-Snow's, Al Bullock's, Martin Foley's, Molly Hughes', Neil Lamont's, Tino Schaedler's, Hattie Storey's, Gary Tomkins' and Sloane U'Ren's art direction does, with the help of production designer Stuart Craig and costume designer Jany Temime, what it can at crafting immersive visuals, polished by dynamic and impeccable effects whose place in the context of establishing this magical world is as secure as ever, and whose spectacle by its own right is absolutely dazzling. The effects certainly play no small part in complimenting the action sequences, which are a borderline rarity in this thoughtful pseudo-epic of limited momentum, but well worth waiting on, as their tight staging, lively choreography and technical value entertain, if not arouse tension as a height in realized utilization of most forms of style. Even when it comes to style, this film excels well beyond its predecessors, standing out as a blockbuster that is rich in both spectacle and taste, which catches your eyes and compliments much of the film's substance, upon which the final product really thrives as a triumph.
Exploring usual teen affairs in a fashion that is certainly offbeat, as well as many of the antics around the school of Hogwarts, when not studying on morality and the beginning of Harry Potter's greatest and most consequential adventure, this film's story concept isn't exceedingly heavy, and as things go along, it becomes hard to deny a certain loss in momentum that kind of holds the film's impact back, but just barely, as this narrative is never less than promising, both as a fun piece of fluff and intense drama whose execution's level of effectiveness can go a long way in engrossing, and is indeed firm, even in the screenplay. Yes, Steve Kloves' writing still has certain inconsistencies, though that might simply be because it's such a major challenge to organically work with material this well-layered, because on the whole, Kloves delivers, with a script that does just about everything that Kloves has done so well throughout this series better than ever, whether it be exceedingly clever dialogue and tight lighter set pieces which back sharp, if not hilarious humor and fun filler, or heavy dramatic attributes that engage in their subtlety and impact in their thoughtful, and flow from the more lighthearted elements pretty organically through well-rounded thematic structuring, anchored by colorful characterization that is particularly outstanding in Kloves' script. I understand that this is Harry Potter's show at the end of the day, and yet, while the level of intrigue to the arguably overly grounded protagonist of this series is debatable, I've always felt that this series should put more attention into fleshing out Potter's peers as narrative devices and colorful figures by their own right, so I must say that this film succeeds so decidedly largely because it does exactly what I've wanted this series to do from the beginning by giving most everyone, from secondary characters to even a few tertiary characters, deserved attention that distinguishes character after character as memorable, if not defining aspects to the narrative of this tight, well-rounded ensemble piece, brought to life by a worthy cast. While it has always been relatively respectable, the acting in this series has been getting a little better with each of these installments, and with this installment, seeing as how everything is improved, often substantially, it's predictable that the performances are as solid as they've ever been, based on sheer charisma, alone, with Jim Broadbent delivering his trademark colorful in full form, - much like the charm of Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and many other young talents - while Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon prove to be as impeccable as ever in their authoritative presence, punctuated by solid touches of dramatic acting that truly defines the strongest performances of this film, with Tom Felton delivering an emotional, subtly layered and all around truly revelatory performance as a flawed young man who is forced into darker depths of evil he much embrace in order feel embraced, and Daniel Radcliffe, despite not exactly being all that outstanding, at least in comparison to certain peers, but still proving to be a worthy lead through the usual charm and dramatic touches that succeed in making the central Harry Potter character particularly intriguing in a character roster full of interesting, well-written and well-portrayed characters. As well-written and well-acted as any of the installments, at least up to this point, this film has a depth that, no matter how well-matched by fun fluff and what have you, really defines what makes this film so worthwhile, and yet, before the final product can stand out as technically spectacular and dramatically enthralling, its directorial orchestration needs to be as inspired as anything. His edge as a filmmaker provided hints in "The Order of the Phoenix", but with this film, it can easily be decided, at least by me, that David Yates is far and away the best director in, if not about as good a thing as anything to happen to this series, not just because he's so exceptional in his plays on style, but because he's so exceptional in his plays on substance, toning down the steadiness that dulled down a touch too much in "The Order of the Phoenix" to the point of creating slick pacing and hefty entertainment value, punctuated by more meditative storytelling touches that are never dull, as they're always backed with weighty dramatic material which thrives on Yates' subtlety and grace, whether they be making the tension biting, or the emotions resonant. Intriguing beginnings slip into a fun body, the latter parts of which comfortably flow into tensions worth waiting for, until it finally comes down to an ending that, quite frankly, is emotionally devastating, and gets you firmly pumped up for what's left, and such a directorial formula is surely a winning one that does what it can with only so much and excels, remarkably, I might add, until crafting an installment in the "Harry Potter" series that is not only easily the best, but upstanding by its own right.
Overall, occasions of cheese, convention, aimlessness and unevenness are light problems that are hard to deny behind subject matter of considerable sensitivity, due to limited consequentiality, but they only hold something of a masterpiece back, unable to overwhelm the grand scoring, breathtaking visual style, captivating art direction and effects, thrilling action, and compelling narrative that, when carried by razor-sharp writing and acting, and tightly paced, dynamic and all around exceptional direction by David Yates that make "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" thoroughly charming, tense, resonant and all around a lot of fun as the pinnacle of the film interpretation of J. K. Rowling's saga, if not of blockbuster filmmaking.
3.75/5 - Upstanding
Well, I've heard of hot, but did anyone place a tall order of phoenix?… MoreWell, I've heard of hot, but did anyone place a tall order of phoenix? Man, that was awful, but hey, it's a little better than me discussing what a phoenix might order: some spicy chicken wings. Actually, horribly cheesy jokes aside, that cannibalism reference is kind of hardcore, and, well, kind of fitting, considering the tone of this film. Don't get me wrong, folks, this film isn't too intense, but if you thought that there were dark spots in the previous films, wow, this film is a little more grown-up, and you know what that means, kids: it's a little more dull. Hey, people, "GoldenEye" and "Casino Royale" were a little slow, and yet, on the whole, Martin Campbell was pretty much to the "James Bond" series what David Yates is to this "Harry Potter" series: one of, if not the best thing to happen to the film franchise. Wow, I'm getting kind of carried away with all of these colons for the sake of suspense, when really, I just need to get down to business and assure you of one thing: ... wait for it... that this film is... wait for it... really good. So yeah, I reckon this is a worthy debut for Yates as a "Harry Potter" director, but as much as I've kept y'all in suspense enough already, before the strengths can be discussed, setbacks ought to be assessed.
While plenty of relatively lighthearted elements stand firm, this is an even less fluffy installment in the "Harry Potter" saga that is much more reliant on substance, yet still has cheesy moments, not so much in the near-fluffy filler, but in certain melodramatics, which are written and directed with enough realization to feel genuine, but still carry the occasional sense of heavy-handedness that bloat the narrative's feel a bit, just as certain focal layers bloat the narrative's structure pretty considerably. If the storytelling bloatings are problematic for no other reason, they give the film too much to work with all that coherently, and although focal shifts are well-directed enough to feel adequately organic more often than not, looking at scripting, the film is uneven, particularly in the exploration of should-be more major supporting characters. Of course, it's not like there aren't elements that are too recognizable for their own good through all of the expository shortcomings, because even though there's always to be something kind of refreshing about this series' narrative, as the formula grows less and less fresh, the conventional plotting elements grow harder and harder to ignore, and it doesn't help that beyond the concept, in Steve Kloves' script, the final product almost lazily treads familiar ground that even those who don't observe the consistent aspects of this series' formulas are sure to be too familiar with dialogue, characterization and plotting elements. If this series is growing towards no other direction, it's growing more towards conventions, which ultimately still isn't a big issue, although is difficult to ignore with substance, seeing as how this story is kind of minimalist, with enough depth to grip, but not enough scale to secure firm engagement value that is, of course, not helped by the times in which the film's storytelling style goes too far in its taste in pace. In reflection of this film's particular maturity, new and ultimately definitive director David Yates has a thoughtfulness to steady storytelling that is often just plain meditative, but either way proves to be very effective in crafting a biting drama, yet for only so long, before tense material runs thin, and Yates finds his thoughtfulness slipping as, well, kind of dull, or at least bland enough to ironically distance you from a sense of substance to this drama. Yates' much more subdued and dramatically meditative interpretation of subject matter that was once much more colorful gets much sharper as the remainder of the series progresses, and is certainly effective enough in its form here to make a strong final product, but I don't know if there's either enough consequentiality to justify the overt steadiness, or enough color to comfortably compensate for the melodramatics, unevenness, conventions and dull spells. These missteps, behind a sensitive narrative of only so much scope to depth, threaten to break the streak of strength that this series hit pretty firmly with "The Prisoner of Azkaban", which is narrowly, but nonetheless decidedly secured, for although there are elements which are either lazy-seeming or simply intentionally questionable, the final product engrosses, at least stylistically.
Up until this point, technicality stood with, if not past substance in terms of prominence, and it really is crazy how much more minimalist this particular installment in the "Harry Potter" blockbuster saga is, so the visuals aren't as played upon as they used to be, yet when they are, they're well worth a wait that, to be honest, isn't too long, as there are visual effects here and there through the film that range from neatly subtle to immersively extensive, while keeping consistent in dynamicity and spectacle. The effects certainly come into particularly nifty play when action is incorporated as a height in style, flavored up by the technical proficiency that keeps the film, at the very least, well-polished throughout its course, with art direction and effects being as sharp as usual, and cinematography being as sharp as ever, thanks to rugged tastes in near-noirish bleakness to sparse lighting and grimy coloration that are both handsome and complimentary to the heavier feel for this drama. Whether it be because of the more careful celebration of sheer technical spectacle, or because of the more haunting artistic touches, even the visual style of the film is prominently reflective of this installments' particular edge, giving the visceral plenty of eye candy, and breathing some life into substance that is brought much more to the forefront in this blockbuster, and generally pretty effectively, by worthy storytelling. Later installments really secure this opinion, but with this one film, alone, one can see how David Yates takes his place as this series' best director, because even though his maturity as a storyteller carries with it a dryness that stiffens momentum something fierce, to the point of threatening the final product as short of strong, strength is ultimately pretty firmly secured by Yates' thoughtfulness, which carefully orchestrates the aforementioned visual style and excellent scoring style by Nicholas Hooper in a manner that is both aesthetically haunting and atmospherically realized, if not mighty entertaining, while the many chilled and subdued moments that go backed by genuine material to meditate upon draw tension and resonance in full form, immersing - nay - engrossing and bringing this drama a maturity the likes of which it had barely come close to seeing up to this point. Chris Columbus is certainly a mess of a filmmaker who was lucky to be given material that was too good for him to make an underwhelming final product out of, while Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell saw certain dramatic faults, but even in what is arguably his relative weakest directorial performance for this series, Yates totally gets it, and it would be easier to see that if he had meatier material that is still pretty meaty, being too minimalist to have as many layers as the predecessors, even in concept, but still rich with depth that Steve Kloves handles with reasonable inspiration that, despite its formulaic and uneven attributes, boasts wit and color to its lighter elements, and enough well-rounded characterization to reinforce a sense of nuance to this character study. That is where the character portrayals come into the discussion, because about as reflective of the dramatic maturity of this film as anything is the acting, which is both charming and emotive across the board, or at least piercingly convincing, with Imelda Staunton and Ralph Fiennes being particularly chilling in their antagonistic performances, while leading man Daniel Radcliffe, after gradually exposing his potential as a dramatic talent, proves to be near-revelatory, boasting moments of solid dramatic intensity that encompass the anguish, ambition, flaws and passion of a Harry Potter whose independence and morality go challenged, and whose depths as a protagonist had, at least up to this point, never been so rich. The highlights in Radcliffe's performance really are powerful, though it's not like Radcliffe doesn't lead this opus well through and through, as this film, being much more intimate, thrives on Radcliffe's inspired performance just as much as it thrives on Yates' inspired performance, which, for all its faults, leads style and substance far enough to craft a final product which is truly more engrossing than anything.
Bottom line, there is something histrionic, uneven and formulaic about storytelling here that shakes your investment a bit, while questionably slow pacing behind a story which is too light in scale to handle so many dramatic limitations threaten to drive the final product short of a strong point that it ultimately secures through the sharp technicality and action, beautiful visuals, sharp scripting by Steve Kloves, inspired acting, - especially by Daniel Radcliffe - and hauntingly effective direction by David Yates that make "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" a worthy final realization of a classic family saga's turn into dark depths that both entertains adequately and compels thoroughly.
3.25/5 - Strong
Watch out, kids, because this installment is actually rated PG-13, so… MoreWatch out, kids, because this installment is actually rated PG-13, so you know that things are about to get real, something that I'm kind of hoping Harry Potter's hair in this film isn't. No, it's not that bad, but the point is that Harry is really getting into the teen years, and let me tell you, that big head of long hair and a small head doesn't exactly make it easy to take his particular teen problems all that interesting. Well, I don't even know if this supposedly more serious installment in the "Harry Potter" saga makes Lord Voldemort all that intimidating, because that killing spell, "Avada Kedavra", that he blurts out sounds too much like the trite "abra cadabra" sorcerery for him to not silly. Well, in this film, you do actually get to see him in his realized form, and at that point, he's so creepy that I'd be intimidated by him performing "Witch Doctor", although that might simply be because Cartoons' cover is scary enough already. No, this film takes itself too seriously for that, so much so that it's starting to take its being British pretty seriously, to the point of going completely crazy and having the audacity to get... [u]a British director[/u]. I mean, at this point, this series only had two directors, so you wouldn't figure that it would be all that big of a deal, but one of those directors was Mexican, and once you're reaching for that group, you must have exhausted searches for the right hands, something that this series definitely found with Mike Newman... for only one film. Oh well, at least they followed him up with David Yates, who, I'm not going to lie, is a much better filmmaker than Newman, for although this film is awesome, Harry's hair and the names of certain killing spells aren't the only things shaking your investment here.
"The Prisoner of Azkaban" saw the formula that this series established starting to water down with its uniqueness, and with this film, familiarity is even more glaring, not so much in the context of a "Harry Potter" installment, - seeing as how this is a distinguished, if a touch formulaic point in the saga - but in a general context which sees this drama hitting many of the usual beat and path one might expect a blockbuster of this nature to hit. Still, no matter how familiar, the film stands to associate you more with its narrative, being a little more well-rounded as an ensemble piece, yet still with some underexploration of certain prominent plotting aspects and characters, which at least seem disconcerting because of forced rushing that slam-bangs certain happenings, - particularly others' interpretation on the games and other matters - and thins out some of the layers of this epic. Seeing as how the final product, through all of its underdevelopment and awkward hurried moments, runs well over a hefty runtime of two-and-a-half hours, it might go without saying that this drama tries to make up for attributes that are too tight for their own good, and too much so, shaking focal coherency with filler, - particularly with the near-inconsequential "Yule Ball" segment - and getting excessive with material to the point of meandering. There's only so much action to this pseudo-blockbuster, and inspiration certainly makes the film dramatically engrossing when it's a little less than pure, unadulterated fun, but the limited goings-on produce about as much a sense of aimlessness as they do a sense of dramatic thoughtfulness, and that might very well be because the subtlety upon which dramatic value thrives has a tendency to go shaken by subtlety issues. At this point, alone, the series was making near-remarkable progress in putting more edge and maturity to its storytelling, and the final product's being inspired to the point of bona fide dramatic excellence firmly reflects that, but for only so long, as the film can't completely wash away the cheese, not just in filler that sometimes gets to be too, not so much kiddy, but teeny for comfort, but to dramatics that, while never cloying, get kind of heavy-handed in a reflection of overambition. Many have debated the degree to which this film compensates for its messy moments of too much ambition, if not a hint of laziness, with inspiration, and for me, I must admit that the heart placed into the crafting of this effort keeps the final product pumping a long, long way on the whole, but stiffened a bit by familiarity, uneven pacing and subtlety issues which greatly threaten to hold the final product just shy of its final state of quality. Of course, I don't reckon you're in too bad of a place if you fall just short of excellent, and yet, the point is that the final product does, in fact, transcend its shortcomings enough to be the first in this solid saga to achieve excellence, and with no small help from aesthetic value.
Ostensibly looking to explore its British musical roots a little more, this film sees the series abandoning the great John Williams for Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, whose score gets a little too close to Williams' musical themes for the comfort of originality, but still offers plenty of weight that is tonally fitting, with a solid hint of aesthetic value that Roger Pratt expands upon with cinematography that is not only ruggedly handsome in its grit, but sweeping in scale. This scope certainly compliments the grandly well-staged action sequences, in addition to lively visuals that art directors Alan Gilmore, Andrew Ackland-Snow, Neil Lamont, Gary Tomkins, Alexandra Walker, Mark Bartholomew and Alastair Bullock build absolutely lavishly, with the help of intricate set designs by Stuart Craig, lovely costume designs by Jany Temime, and stellar visual effects, many of which aren't simply there for the sheer visceral spectacle that the preceding blockbusters seemed to primarily focus upon as technical triumphs. The effects are just as prominent as the art direction in the building of a distinguished world and the breathing of some life into deeper aspects of this whimsical narrative, yet they aren't quite as directly complimentary to the substance of this drama as the performances, all of which are memorable, with standouts in the supporting cast including the very underused, but effectively antagonistic Ralph Fiennes as the realized form of Lord Voldemort, and the delightfully charismatic and chillingly convincing Brandon Gleeson as an experienced sorcerer whose sanity and moral stances are questionable, while Daniel Radcliffe continues to do about as much as anyone or anything in making an intriguing lead character, with subtle charm and a few endearing dramatic layers. Boasting just as much, if not more stylistic proficiency than any of its predecessors, this film stands out as a blockbuster, alone, with acting that, while not exactly outstanding, helps greatly in placing some substance to go with style, and yet, it's debatable if this film improves upon the aesthetic, technical and acting value from, at the very least, "The Prisoner of Azkaban", which wouldn't have been so engrossing if it wasn't so technically sharp and well-acted. In terms of story concept, there was still something a little minimalist about "The Prisoner of Azkaban" that kept excellence at bay, thus, it's the narrative that really causes this film to stand out, not just ahead of its predecessors, but as excellent, because even though this story isn't exactly all that original, it is rich with layers of thorough color as an offbeat piece of teen fluff, in addition to liveliness as a portrayal of a competitive game, and, of course, tension as a near-gritty dramatic study on morality and encroaching dangers. Something of an epic, this film's particularly layered story concept carries a lot of potential, and although the execution has its faults in pacing, subtlety and altogether meeting ambition with inspiration, it does such potential a lot of justice more often than not, with Steve Kloves turning in a script whose wit and relatively greater exploration of supporting characters provides a color that director Mike Newell brings to life with very entertainingly brisk pacing, and whose more realized moments of dramatic weight are drawn upon by thoughtfulness to Newell's direction that make the tense aspects biting and the more sentimental aspects genuinely moving. Smoothly flowing from intensity, to considerable resonance, both of which reinforce a sense of consequentiality that in turn defines how far this series had come along in its maturity as an epic saga, the final act particularly excels in this film, but it is not much more than a height in compellingness that stands consistently throughout the final product, backed by a realization that is difficult to fully describe, and establishes enough style and substance to make a final product so entertaining, layered, and dramatically intriguing that it truly stands out.
In conclusion, formulaic and often underdeveloped storytelling reflects a certain laziness, while certain excesses in storytelling and subtlety issues reflect too great of an ambition to achieve excellence, ultimately secured by colorful scoring, handsome cinematography, thrilling action, immersive art direction and effects, charismatic acting and inspired writing and direction so effective in marrying thorough color with engrossing depth that "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" ultimately stands out as a triumph in blockbuster filmmaking whose entertainment value and dramatic range craft a truly excellent turn for the classic fantasy saga.
3.5/5 - Excellent
From the director of the controversially sexual "Y Tu Mamá También"… MoreFrom the director of the controversially sexual "Y Tu Mamá También" comes yet another delightful coming-of-age affair that ought to be totally appropriate for the whole family. Well, Chris Columbus took his own train home, and one might say that, with Alfonso Cuarón, the filmmakers might be getting a little carried away with edging this series up a little bit. Now, that's not to say that Cuarón doesn't fit, seeing as how the Mexican left his heart so deep in England that he once adapted "Great Expectations", but he can get edgy... though not too much in this particular situation. Okay, I don't know if this film is all that substantially edgier than Columbus' contributions, but it apparently spooked folks enough to keep them out of theaters and make this the lowest-grossing of any of the "Harry Potter". Oh, it's not like it matters, because it could still see the $1 billion mark from where it ended up standing at the box office, and you know that they saved a killing by hiring a Mexican to direct this. They must have also saved some money on recasting Richard Harris with Michael Gambon, rather than Ian McKellen, because looking at the high that Peter Jackson must have been after "The Return of the King", you know that there would have to be some kind of legal matter tied to McKellen's playing another great sorcerer that quickly after wrapping as Gandalf. Really, with this installment, you can kind of see them putting this series on the path to being a much lighter "Lord of the Rings", and by lighter, I mean in quality, because even though this film is not simply good, but strong, Cuarón can't entirely clean up some of his messes, or even some of Columbus'.
While certainly unique in a number of ways, particularly as an edgier turn for the "Harry Potter" series, this film - whether it be because it's working with a formula whose freshness was starting to stale about this time or whatever - tends to devolve to conventions with certain plotting elements, including beats we had come to expect from this series by the third installment, alone. The film works so hard and very often succeeds at distinguishing itself as a more substantial note in the "Harry Potter" saga, which makes its formulaic moments as an installment in such a series pretty aggravating, especially the cheesier ones that are limited in quantity and severity, at least compared to the compelling, but nonetheless much more kiddy predecessors, but still overdo corning up fluffier moments, as well as more melodramatic moments for audiences who are either younger or less subtle. The film's tonal extremes sometimes get too extreme in their prominence, but when it comes to their shifts, I'm relieved to find that there's not as much of the tonal unevenness that plagued the predecessors, which isn't to say that the film's narrative doesn't jar, for although the film is much shorter than its overdrawn predecessors, and with more meaty substance to justify a hefty runtime, at just shy of two-and-half hours, it still meanders along much of its material, while sometimes getting so carried away with the filler that it either loses focus altogether or simply loses consistency to its focus. I mean, don't get me wrong, many aspects which initially come across as mere filler come pretty prominently into play within the plotting, but the fact of the matter is that their introduction as filler throws you off of coherency to the narrative's focal path, and it doesn't help that the plot itself gets to be too layered for its own good, jarring from plot aspect to plot aspect, until it becomes a tad convoluted, and even finds itself ultimately desperate to wrap up whatever it can. The final act is particularly, well, messy, dismissing certain major characters, taking the narrative into too different of a tonal and plot direction, and altogether slam-banging resolution, and then having the audacity to cop-out when it comes to the ending, and while such a segment remains compelling, it betrays a body that is more realized in focus, - even if for only so long - as well as weightier, even if only to a point. Really, no matter how much heavier this drama may be in comparison to its predecessors, there are certain natural shortcomings, through which inspiration draws enough meat for the final product to all but stand out, though not to where you can disregard the lighter elements that make the, by their own right, already pretty considerable issues of familiarity, cheesiness and structural unevenness harder to disregard as threats to the final product's effectiveness. I don't suppose the film stands out quite as much as many say, yet quite frankly, it comes close, reaching such a point through all sorts of questionable elements, but nevertheless standing as strong, both as a compelling young adult drama and as a blockbuster of high stylistic value.
With this film, John Williams returns for one last contribution as score composer to this series, and, of course, his efforts aren't as refreshing as they were in "The Philosopher's Stone", and yet, with that said, this is barely arguably Williams' strongest composition for the series, boasting much more extensive thematic diversity, while retaining and sometimes augmenting much of the whimsy that brought life to the predecessors' sense of magic, until incorporating weightier tones of sweeping passion and biting intensity that give the artistic tastes of this film a more haunting sense of maturity, with the help of cinematography by Michael Seresin that is utterly stunning in its uniquely heavier emphasis on sparse lighting which makes the bleaker visuals rugged and the brighter visuals breathtaking, and immerses about as much as impeccable framing and slick camera plays whose style has to be seen in order to be believed. At least mature enough in its artistry to aesthetically stand out well beyond many other young adult flicks, this film is a little more musically sharp than its predecessors, and substantially sharper in its visual style, which is, of course, complimented by Alan Gilmore's, Andrew Ackland-Snow's, Neil Lamont's, Gary Tomkins', Alexandra Walker's and Steven Lawrence's lavish art direction, as well as by visual effects that are brought a little more to prominence, as well they should be, being that they're richly dynamic and phenomenally creative, with a rendering sleekness that remains mighty convincing to this day, to where you're far from being taken out of this world like you were in the technically innovative, but still somewhat dated predecessors. Even though this installment is less focused on the sheer entertainment value of the wizard world whose darker depths go pretty extensively explored from here on out, when the fluffier elements come into play, this film actually manages to even do a better job of capturing a sense of fun than its more lighthearted predecessors, for it's even aesthetically sharper with its musical and visual artistry, and production and technical value, and that, alone, makes this film a formidable challenge to predecessors who relied more on style. Needless to say, it's the quality of the substance on which this film thrives as a superior sequel and compelling drama by its own right, for although this series is still not so far from its fluffiness that it escapes natural shortcomings which the final product tries a little too hard to compensate for through bloatings to layered plotting, when the fluff that enriches this saga's mythology settles, there's more consequence to this drama as a mystery thriller and human character study, done justice by a script by Steve Gloves that carries both a wealth of wit to its dialogue, humor and lighter set pieces, punctuated by more thoughtful dramatic elements to characterization that, despite being thorough to the point of momentary aimlessness, really sell the greater deal of depth and subtlety to this opus. The cast anchors the greater depths of this affair with performances of greater depths, with each member delivering memorably distinguished and colorful performances, particularly standouts which include the thoroughly charismatic David Thewlis, the effectively disturbed-seeming Gary Oldman, and young leading man Daniel Radcliffe, whose trademark subdued charm is met with some near-revelatory dramatic beats that provide more insight into the titular Harry Potter character whose intrigue was limited in the predecessor, and is pretty rich here, thanks largely to Radcliffe. Through inspired scripting and acting behind a worthy edgier dramatic narrative concept, this film sees more depth as a character drama, just as it sees plenty of, if not more color as a pseudo-fluff piece, and yet, the overall strength of this film can be truly defined through the inspiration of director Alfonso Cuarón, who is nothing is not inspired, constantly delivering on style to secure thorough entertainment value, flavored up by some pretty well-structured action sequences, while still keeping pace steady enough to beget a thoughtfulness that Chris Columbus didn't bother too much with and probably isn't even skilled enough to produce, keeping the tonal layers smooth in their transition, while drawing on the heavier tones in such a way to draw tension and even a hint of resonance. Really, I don't know if there was ever to be all that much bite to this drama, so the status of excellence that many are saying this film achieves cannot be met, at least in my opinion, but for what this is, as a blockbuster with a solid hint of depth, the final product sinks its teeth in pretty deeply, with style and substance that meet in enough realized conjunction to craft a final product which is highly entertaining, thoroughly intriguing and mighty rewarding.
In the end, among the many familiar aspects of this film is a bit of this series' classic cheesy spots, whose breaking of heavier moments is not quite as jarring as the inconsistencies in pacing and focus that shine enough light on dramatic limitations to this narrative to prevent the final product from achieving excellence, which is impressively flirted with by the haunting score work, breathtaking cinematography, lavish visuals, stellar effects and thoroughly intriguing substance that, when backed by a clever script, genuine performances, and stylish, thoughtfully well-paced and all around inspired direction by Alfonso Cuarón, drive "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" as a blockbuster so fun, intriguing and compelling that it transcends natural shortcomings and stands as the first strong installment in a strong, modern classic saga.
3.25/5 - Strong