Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 REVIEW
Director – David Yates
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Helen Bonham Carter
– follows Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
– followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Harry Potter continues the fight in the 7th movie of this iconic franchise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (as the title says) is an adaptation of the first part of the final Harry Potter book. Here we find Harry attempting to track down and destroy 5 “Horcruxes”, which are ordinary objects into which big baddie Voldemort had placed pieces of his soul.
There are three classes of Harry Potter movie, I feel. The first two movies (Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets) are well-intentioned, a bit draggy, and dangerously child like. The second category is occupied by the next three movies (Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and Order of the Phoenix). These are lively, energetic, and get suitably dark while still having a touch of magic about them. Which brings us to the final category, that of the brooding, meandering, and character driven Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Director David Yates, who made his name on British TV shows such as The Bill and State of Play, has directed all the Potter movies since Order of the Phoenix, and has demonstrated his capable directorial control throughout them. However I think this movie (and Half Blood Prince to some degree as well) comes dangerously close to dragging badly.
At fault is his remarkable insistence on maintaining the same tone throughout the whole movie. Scenes tend not to stand out from one another, but to flow into one another without a change in momentum. All the scenes are good, but they’re generally all the same. This is dangerous here, and would have crippled the movie if not for the wonderfully moody cinematography and the strong characterization by the actors.
Yates also does not pay near enough attention to the action scenes that are scattered throughout the movie. During his drama scenes we are treated to long, melancholy, slow shots and very deliberate pacing. Unfortunately the action scenes are cut with an almost Bourne-like ferocity. We aren’t ever given a real chance to feel the danger the characters are in.
(As a private rant, WHY THE HELL aren’t we allowed to see what is happening? Sure you get a sensation of speed and danger, but YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING! Anyway….)
I realize I am veering close to making this seem like a negative review, and I do not mean it to be so. The cast is all excellent. I would like to echo David Yates statement that the man trio (Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson) were a lucky find. They are mature, reasonably talented, and they bring a clear sense of identity to their roles. An example is the beautiful scene where Hermione and Harry have a lonely dance in their tent while running from Death Eaters. We know that this is not something Potter would be prone to do, but we see in Radcliffe’s body language what Potter is thinking, and it fits. This was probably my favorite scene in the movie, a great dialogue free little character bit. There are many such great little sequences here, but unfortunately they then slide into another one of the countless long-shot- filled, melancholy little melodramatic scenes that the movie is filled to the brim with. Don’t get me wrong, I love scenes such as that, but not when you build your whole movie out of them. Its just that they are used to excess here.
Alan Rickman is enjoyable as ever with his juicy role as Snape, and Ralph Fiennes was perfectly (maybe too-perfectly?) cast as Voldermort. David O’Hara, Steffan Rhodri, and Sophie Thompson have a great sequence where the main trio disguise themselves as them, and Toby Jones makes a triumphant return to the role of Dobby (who now looks much more convincing than his appearance in Chamber of Secrets.) The whole cast do well in their scenes, many of which actually add to their characterization, where many of their scenes in the preceding movies show them token support.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a wonderful little film buried in a slightly too drawn out film. Most or even all of the scenes are wonderful, but they tend to have a similar tone all throughout. The character work is great, and the special effects are as good as always. A bit more variety would have helped, but this movie remains a solid entry into a great series. I think that it will flow better when seen from the perspective of the second movie. All in all I recommend this, but don’t expect a film as good as Prisoner of Azkaban or Yates’ ownOrder of the Phoenix.
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Twelve O’Clock High REVIEW
Director – Henry King
Cast – Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merril, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger
I had always thought Twelve O’Clock High was just a TV show. I’d never seen it, but I had always thought of it as Hogan’s Heroes without the punch lines. I was unaware of the movie until recently, and in one of those weird coincidences I very quickly saw it in one of those discount bins. Discount bin hunting is made for finding movies like this. It is an excellent disc too, cleaned up all nice.
Twelve O’Clock High features Gregory Peck (as General Frank Savage) to great effect as a stoic, by-the-book American Air Force general who feels compelled to take over a bomber unit after he deems its commander, a friend of his, to have become too close to his men. The men in the unit have been treated with kid gloves, and so Savage steps in to whip them into shape.
While Gregory Peck is cast perfectly as Frank Savage, it is the supporting cast (bringing a strong sense of character to their roles) that really fuse the movie together. Of special note is Dean Jagger as Major Stovall. He has a couple of scenes that bookend the movie wonderfully.
Twelve O’Clock High starts off as a character study, a story about the aviators low spirits, and about how to kick them into shape. It’s the classic underdog story really. A “team” has low morale and skills, and are whipped into shape by a tough “coach”. We enjoy seeing these airmen (who thought they were capable of nothing) triumph over their previous failures.
However, halfway through the movie it switches its focus, and starts examining what Savage’s methodology does to him. His drive, coupled with his single-mindedness, comes near to psychologically destroying him. (While this movie is also described as anti-war, we are shown Savage’s methods doing little harm to his men, so it comes across as a portrayal of what leadership can do a man, rather than combat itself.) The underdog story suddenly becomes about the coach, not the players. This last portion of the movie undermines the whole first part.
Well, not undermines… more like elaborates on. In a good way. The movie becomes about what war can do to a man, and it is when dwelling on this that the movie earns its stripes. Without such an ending, it would have been just another WWII adventure story. A good one, to be sure, but thankfully Twelve O’Clock High rises above that.
Twelve O’Clock High is a classic war movie, and one looks at the effects war actually has on people, rather than being an adventure story or a traditional biopic. Gregory Peck is at his peak here, and the addition of aerial footage actually shot by RAF and Luftwaffe adds a lot of legitimacy here.
When dealing with old movies we often find many that haven’t “aged well”. This is definitely not one of those. I can confidently recommend this to anyone who likes old movies, or indeed, movies in general.
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The Man with the Golden Arm REVIEW
Director – Otto Preminger
Cast – Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin
The Man with the Golden Arm stars Frank Sinatra as “Frankie Machine” (is it just me who hates it when a character played by a huge star has the same first name?) in a story about drug abuse that was controversial and even revolutionary in its time. The Motion Picture Association of America wouldn’t even certify the film, which would generally signify certain death to a film. It was released however, and found an overwhelming success, both critically and in terms of box office receipts.
The plot is one of the ultimate under-dog stories. Frankie Machine is a recently recovered drug addict. He is not a poor man, but he is certainly not well off. He is a bit down on his luck, but we get the impression when we first see him that he is a changed man. Throughout the film we see him slip more and more towards that original man, but we never see him go back across it.
Upon his release from the detox center we see that Frankie’s invalid wife has since lost her trust in him. She pretends to be still wheelchair-bound despite having recovered during his stint in rehab, worrying that Frankie will leave her if he no longer feels he must support her. His old employer, for whom Frankie dealt illegal card games, tries to rope him back in, and his old drug dealer tries to bring him back into the fold as well. He resists these temptations very well at first. He has an oppurtunity to play drums for a big band, and looks forward with great anticipation to the moment where he can lift himself out of his old life. His dealer, of course, has other plans…
So, while the movie perhaps fail to directly use the phrase “drug addiction”, we then come to realize that it certainly will not fail to address the actual issue in a brutal and bracing way. We see Frankie go from the “high” of being released from the detox center to the lows of re-addiction. Heroin’s grip on him increases, until he, with the help of a “close-friend” (his mistress) he decides to quit cold-turkey. In the movie’s most famous scene he is locked in a room for three days, til he no longer feels the addiction. We see Frankie rolling around on the floor and the bed in agony, as the camera passively watches. It is a powerful scene, and one that cinched Sinatra’s Oscar nomination.
In some ways it is hard to see how the film could have caused such an uproar, and in other ways not. It is certainly an intense film that follows its character through quite painful lows, but there isn’t even one use of the word “drug” or “heroin” or “addiction” once in the whole thing. Any actual mention of the issue is danced around so much… but I guess that is an indication of the social mores of the time, rather than an artistic decision. While this may throw off some of today’s viewers, if taken in stride and seen as an example of the times in which the film is made then it isn’t too much to worry about.
When talking about the performances it is of course necessary to give Sinatra all praise possible not only for his wonderful acting (through which he never trivializes the role of “drug slave”), but for his pure bravery in taking on such a controversial film, and thus giving it an audience it never would have had otherwise. However Kim Novak (as Frankie’s mistress) is definitely worth a mention as well. Here, three years away from her famous role in Vertigo, she delivers a performance that is much better than her turn in that film. She looks, speaks, and moves much more naturally than most other female actors of the time. For example her co-star here, Eleanor Parker, acts very much in the style of the melodramatic female stars of the earlier film era. Novak is convincing and subdued, which works perfectly well against Sinatra.
This movie can ultimately be said to be about forgiveness, and whether or not people should have a second chance. The answer given un seems to be “No, they should not have a second chance until they have been proven worthy of it, or changed themselves of their own volition.” One may need a dear friend to get through it, but it must in the end come from within. Frankie is a good man, one who is led astray, true, but he is a good man at heart. While it is a movie about a bleak subject, it ends on a note of ultimate optimism. The movie asserts that good people will triumph in the end. Frankie certainly does, and we are right along with him.
I find it hard to give The Man with the Golden Arm the praise which I feel it deserves, both as a remarkably gripping film and as one that was ahead of its time in its outlook. The acting is impeccable, and the tone is presented perfectly. Most of all, I think it is written very well, and that is, in the end, where such believable characters come from. Kudos to all involved for doing so well with the material, and also for taking on material that was so controversial (for its time). Recommended to all.
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The Right Stuff REVIEW
Director – Phillip Kaufman
Cast – Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glen, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henrikson, Veronica Cartwright, Jane Dornacker
There are subtle films, and then there are crowd-pleasing bombastic films. Subtlety is generally prefered, with critics usually “docking points” for the more in-your-face movies. However The Right Stuff is one of those rare movies that wears its colours on its sleeve proudly and for all to see, and yet gets away with it. I have never felt so good about a movie that is so “pro-American” (whatever that means any more), so in-your-face, and even so corny (in places).
The Right Stuff follows both Chuck Yeager and a group of young pilots who are chosen to be the first American astronauts. After a rigorous test screening (and amidst heavy rivalry between the Air Force and Navy pilots), seven pilots are chosen for the Mercury program. Among them are cocky Cooper (Dennis Quaid), uneasy Grissom (Fred Ward), “do-gooder” Glenn (Ed Harris), and tough Shepard (Scott Glen). Others are Carpenter, Schirra, and Slayton, but we really pay any attention to them. The film focuses heavily on their general cocky attitudes, their fervent self-belief, and their optimistic nature, all-in-all, the titular “Right Stuff”.
This movie idolizes its main characters, and the characterization is neither very deep or very distinct. This is perhaps a good thing however, as we are shown them as the embodiment of every young boys fantasy of pilots or astronauts. These are the men we should all strive to be, the movie seems to tell us. Frankly we don’t disagree, as most of us have always wanted to be these guys.
And while it is true that the men are cocky, it is because they need to be. The cocky attitude is in someway a cover, as is subtly revealed in the final scenes of the film. As one character puts it when it is mentioned that monkeys were the prefered cargo for the original flights, ” Monkeys? You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see. Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV.” That quote puts the film in nutshell.
A note on the music. It was composed with inspiration by The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. This is all fine and dandy, and the music itself is quite good, but in places it copies The Planets to a note, but then abandons it after a few seconds. I personally found this very distracting, as I constantly expected the music to go somewhere but it instead veered off course. The real Planets Suite would have worked well, I wonder why they didn’t just use that…
The Right Stuff is a movie that certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, but it has more than enough humour, guts, and yes, heart, to pull it through. The actors do wonders with the minimal characterization they are given. Watch out for a young Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum as two naive and in-over-their-heads bureaucrats. The special effects are astounding, especially for their time. The movie is an unabashed heart-warmer. I find that I tend to see these movies as frivolous, as below the meaning of true art. That is dangerously close to pretension, and with that in mind I find myself fully recommending this film.
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