The Woman in Black Review
Director – James Watkins
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Cirian Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam
Hammer is back! The infamous production company most famous for Christopher Lee’s Dracula series (and a myriad of other lo-fi British horror films), has been dormant since the 1980’s. About five years ago the company was resurrected, and makes its return to the gothic horror films upon which they made their name.
The Woman in Black is also an attempted resurrection of sorts for its star. Radcliffe is of course best known as the star of the recently finished Harry Potter films, and now presumably wishes to cast that mantle aside. A period-ish piece about supernatural happenings may not seem like a complete 180 turn, but there we have it. Is Radcliffe a bit young for the role? I would argue that yes, he is. But Radcliffe is a very competent (if slightly wooden) actor, and he carries the film capably. Any doubts we may have about his character’s motivations are down to the script, and he actually does more than we could have hoped to help.
But does the movie work?
I think it depends on how you approach it. If you expect a slow burn of a horror movie, with nuanced characters and a solid story, you will be a bit disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a traditional haunted house movie with tons of jumps and chills running up and down your spine, it will most certainly provide them. And that word, “traditional”, perhaps describes the movie the best. While the cinematography and effects are all shiny and modern, the story would have fit perfectly in the good old Peter Cushing era, or even any of the old Hollywood horror pics. Our lead hears a bump upstairs? Up he goes to investigate! A sunken face appears at an upstairs window? Up we trot!The whole movie is in that tradition. If you can go with it, you will be in for a good time.
(Is there something particularly scary about things being upstairs? Well maybe it’s just this movie… we’ve seen plenty of scantily clad leads going into creepy basements.)
Adding some welcome dramatic weight to the whole thing are veteran Brit’s Cirian Hinds and Janet McTeer. We also see Roger Allam pop up briefly, just to reaffirm the Britishness of the movie. Janet McTeer is the standout I think. Her character is a bit of a mess. She has seen some bad things, has had her son taken from her by the titular spirit, and believes herself to be possessed. She is tortured, and we see it. Radcliffe is supposed to be a tortured soul as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that perhaps.
The Woman in Black is a fun traditional horror film. It features performances that range from solid to excellent, and definitely offers its fair share of scares. Dspite a strangely out-of-place ending, it is a very effective movie. Highly recommended to horror fans.
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Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part 2
Director – David Yates
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Cirian Hinds, John Hurt, Bonnie Wright, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton
– followed by fan dejection
Let’s take a moment to review the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the concluding chapter to the series, and as such we can not help but take into account what has come before.
The Potter series was launched in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending which side of the pond you are on.) It continued throughout the decade, attracting more amazing actors (the call sheet reads like a role call of important British actors of the last two decades), and increasing critical acclaim. There are precious few other franchises that can boast such great respect, such box office numbers, such a great cast, and such a large fan base. There are no others that can do that with EIGHT movies. There is certainly a case to be made that Harry Potter is the greatest film franchise of its sort. The characters have becoming pop icons, and, more importantly, have grown significantly throughout the series. After a decade of films, with which many of us have grown up, the final movie is upon us…
…which brings us back to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which of course is the grand finale. It is a very good movie, and one that certainly ends the series on a good note. (It is also the best reviewed movie of the series so far according to Rotten Tomatoes.) In fact it might be my favorite of the series as well, although I do enjoy the underplayed and muted quality of the fifth one, The Order of the Phoenix.
Story-wise, Harry Potter and friends have collected and destroyed half of the “Horcruxes”, items into which ultimate bad guy Voldermort has deposited parts of his soul. They narrow their search to Hogwarts Castle, during which Voldermort essentially lays siege to it. While the walls are crumbling down the Order of the Phoenix, the school’s staff, and students try desperately to mount an adequate defense.
People die here, completing the 180 degree turn the series has made since the first, ever-so-innocent Chris Columbus films. Actually, to do it justice I should say people drop left, right, and centre. One of the movie’s biggest successes is how it deals with these deaths. We are not shown most of them dying, but only realize they have fallen when we see a lineup of bodies in a makeshift morgue. This under-dramatizes it all wonderfully, and it packs a greater punch because of that. When we are shown a death it surprises us, coming utterly out of the blue (at least to those of us who haven’t read all of the books.) Again, this packs a great punch.
One thing which I will criticize the movie for (and really any of David Yate’s Potter movies) is its random lack of attention to detail in some places. Seemingly important plot points are sometimes rushed over, and it feels like we are being pushed at top speed through the pre-Hogwarts scenes so that we can see the big battle and big revelations that come from it. In fact the first third of the movie feels like that. One sequence in particular, where our heroes break into the vaults of Gringott’s Bank, feels tacked on, rushed, and absolutely inconsequential. It might fit in better if we view Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 as one move, but still, more needed to be explained. They end up stealing a dragon from the bank (as you do) and riding it to Hogwarts, only to randomly abandon it and jump into a lake. Why they do this is never really explained, though it felt like it was because to arrive at Hogwarts with a dragon would present story problems. (Though who among us wouldn’t want to see a Vodlemort vs. Dragon fight, eh?)
The previous films have taken such good care of the characters that I was surprised that the ending felt so rushed as well. The example that is often quoted is that they didn’t want an ending like Return of the King, which is often criticized by other for having “too many endings”. Personally, I would have wanted more resolution. Instead of the movie ending a couple minutes after the big climax, I wanted to see what happens after in the characters lives (and I don’t mean a short “19 years later” epilogue”.) Maybe we could have been shown a glimpse of Hogwarts School being rebuilt? Of the mourning the characters surely must have to go through, what with so many deaths of important characters? It was all over much too quickly.
However most of the movie hits the nail right on the head, especially when the battle starts (which takes up most of the final two thirds of the movie). In Deathly Hallows Part 1 the action was cut much too quickly and was over too quickly to understand what happened half of the time. Here though it is carried out well, not cut too fast, but not too slowly either. (In fact we even see in a few of the dialogue scenes that director David Yates has figured out how to move his camera for good effect, something which he annoyingly seemed to resist in the last two Potter movies.)
When it comes to standout scenes I of course have to mention the “Snape flashback” scene, which fully explains many secrets about our favorite love-to-hate-him character, and does it to great effect. He really becomes, in hindsight, one of the great tragic figures of the series. Another scene I would mention is the “Resurection Stone” scene, in which Potter asks the ghostly figures of his parents and dead friends to stay with him as he goes off to what is surely certain death. It is probably one of the best scenes in the whole series; it is played with real delicacy and a deft touch.
So, Harry Potter has run its course. It has all ended, as the posters have been teasing us. That seems such a strange thing to write. It must feel for most of us who grew up with Harry and his story that a favorite TV show has been cancelled. I know that’s how it is for me.
And now… we wait for the DVD…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a great ending to one of the great movie franchises. It is emotionally rich, has very involving action set pieces, and by the end is very satisfying. The cast and crew who have stuck with this series is to be commended; they have created a series that is good in an artisitic sense and in a crowd-pleasing sense. Definitely highly recommended.
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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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Re: Forbes List Money Generating Stars
Forbes recently released their list of actors who brought in the most money for the studios compared to how much they earned for themselves. This got me thinking “Which actor on this list makes the best films in general?” I don’t mean in the year in which the list applies, but in their whole career.
Daniel gets it a bit easy, as most of his films are the highly popular Harry Potter series, but he tops it with a high score of 90% for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with a low of 42% for December Boys.
Meryl Streep is widely recognized as one of the best actresses ever, but oddly her career features very few iconic films. Her highest score is 98% for Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and her lowest is 27%, for both Lions for Lambs and Evening.
Cate Blanchett, mainly known for her indie work, has a highest score for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with 96%, and a low point of 31% for Charlotte Gray.
Coming close behind Blanchett is living legend Johnny Depp, whose highest rated movie was his debut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, with 95%. His lowest is for The Astronaut’s Wife, with 16%.
Shia Labeouf has had quite a rise to fame with the Transformer movies, but we shouldn’t let that cloud our judgement of his quality acting. His highest rated film is Warriors of the Wind, with 100%, and his lowest is Dumber and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which has a rating of 10%.
Mr. Downey has the distinction of having the widest possible difference between highest score and lowest. His high point is Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (100%), and his lowest is Johnny be Good, with 0%.
The king of quirk has quite a range of scores as well. His highest is Red Rock West with 95%, and his lowest is Deadfall, with 0%.
8. Anne Hathaway – Avg. Score = 48.2
This young fan favorite hit her highest point with Brokeback Mountain (87%) and had a low of 12% with Bride Wars.
This “Friend” of TV has a decent-sized movie resume, spanning The Iron Giant with 97% to The Bounty Hunter and ‘Til There Was You with 7%.
10. Sarah Jessica Parker – Avg. Score = 45.9
The unofficial queen of New York doesn’t have a huge film resume, but it runs the gamut from L.A. Story with 94% to ‘Til There Was You (also with list-maker Jennifer Aniston) with 7%.
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