Harry Potter 7.2: The Disappointing Finale

First, a word of warning.  I am going to be critical of this movie.  Also, I’m sure it was lovely for those who’ve never read the books.  For those of you who’ve taken the time not only to read the books, but to immerse yourself in the greater meaning of the story, I hope you will share your feedback, as I’d love to get more insight to how others saw this movie.  Also, spoiler alerts.  J

So, to jump right in.  I found this second installment to be rather disappointing.  After 7.1, I had high hopes.  Going at midnight was a tremendous mistake as the theater was full of raving 16 year olds who were surely out past their curfews, so I have waited to write this until after I was able to return and watch the movie again in a much more sparsely attended theater.  I will say that the difference was remarkable – the laugh lines were ignored this go round (much the way I found them the first time) and there was a general gloom in the theater this time, as well.

Let’s start with the good.  In some ways, this movie reminded me, once more, of just why I love this series so much.  The mythology (the epic battle for humanity, the deathly hallows…), the philosophy (Dumbledore’s ontology: “of course this is happening in your head, Harry; that doesn’t mean it isn’t real”), Severus Snape (oh, dear lord, I love that character), the redemptive character of love, the complexity of a well-wrought tale at its finest, it’s all there.  Snape’s post-mortem memory sequence blew me away – it was done so beautifully, and Alan Rickman is one of the finest actors, no doubt.  His dedication to the role is astounding, and the pain he plays is moving.

Now for the not so great, which was, for the most part, the rest of the film.  For starters, the direction in this film was terrible.  The awful clippy/snippy/terse style was shared across actors.  I have a feeling that much of this was done for laugh lines, but outside of the massive group of crazy teenagers at the midnight showing, there were no laughs.  Instead, it felt forced, fake, out of character.  One particular example was the reunion scene in the room of requirement as our holy trio move in from Hogsmead.  This scene was obnoxious, at best, and difficult to watch.  This kind of directing is what destroys great stories.

The confrontation between Harry/the Order and Snape is another scene which was poorly written/edited/directed, or some combination of the three.  It felt, again, forced.  The travesty committed upon the phenomenal Maggie Smith – who’s fantastic acting and delivery somehow redeemed the shoddy lines and direction – was utterly remarkable.  “Boom!,” for instance.  The entire sequence where McGonagall takes over Hogwarts was utterly out of character for McGonagall.  And while I understand the need for comic relief in such a dark story, there is a time and place – and defiling a character for the sake of laugh lines is absolutely unforgivable, in my book.

The omission of much of the story of Helena Ravenclaw, or the Grey Lady, is also a dire subtraction.  The story of the Diadem adds a layer of complexity to Voldemort, and we can see a romance to his thought process.  The diadem is a complicated addition to Voldemort’s set of Horcruxes, especially as Helena is tied – through romance and murder – to Slytherin.  There is a reverence, then, in Voldemort’s selection of the diadem.   To leave this story – one which would have taken little time to tell – out of the film in favor of a bland moment merely thrown in to establish the diadem story is silly and, in my opinion, dumb.

The make-out scene after Ron and Hermione kill the goblet is another one which, though I’m sure was done as tension relief, was absurdly inappropriate.  From there, it only gets worse.  The last thirty minutes of the film were, in my opinion, the greatest travesty committed to this story.  Let’s walk through it, shall we?

First, Harry walks out of the headmaster’s office to find Hermione and Ron sitting alone amid a ravaged castle with tons going on around them.  Somehow knowing that Harry is hanging out in the head master’s office?  Just sitting.  Hanging out alone.  This is, primarily, out of character for both of these characters.  Additionally, Harry then TELLS THEM that he is heading to the forbidden forest to meet Voldemort, and there is a teary eyed moment of good-bye.  I wanted to groan and yell at the director – do you just not get it?!  Seriously, this is utterly besides the point of the entire sequence of events!  Harry’s self-sacrifice is SILENT.  It is silent for a reason.  It lacks good-bye.  It lacks the seeking of pity.  It is a beautiful and painful moment in the book, as the reader is the only one who knows that Harry is going.  He knows that his friends will try to stop him or go with him – which they would do – so to needlessly change this scene is untrue for all three characters involved and serves absolutely not cinematic purpose.

When Harry gets to the forest, in the book he is wearing the cloak of invisibility – one of the deathly hallows and the cheater of death!  In the movie, this is stripped, and, apart from the brief and unmentioned use of it at Gringotts, is left untreated at all in the movie.  Another huge mistake.  But we will address the issue of the Hallows debacle in a moment.  As we move toward the final duel – a time wasting, out of canon scene drawn out, presumably for the action draw – the missteps become more unforgivable.  First, some background on the profundity of the final scenes in the book.

Harry is Voldemort’s “equal” not out of any real equality, but rather because Voldemort gave him this status.  Voldemort self-fulfilled the prophesy and named Harry as his equal.  The only reason Harry actually survived was because Voldemort’s unstable soul rebounded into Harry upon the death spell.  So, just as a piece of Voldemort lived in all of the other Horcruxes, so this is what kept Harry alive.  Fine, we get that part from the movie.  What we do NOT get is the fact that Voldemort and Harry are NOT equal.  They never were.  Harry doesn’t live because he’s somehow stronger or more magical or able to defeat Voldemort.  Harry lives because Voldemort underestimates the power of love, the most redemptive force in Rowling’s world, and fails to think things all the way through.  Prophesy only has the power we give it, then, and according to Rowling, we all have the freedom to choose our destiny.  Harry’s destiny is tied inextricably to Voldemort’s – but this is only because both of these parties chose this destiny.

Okay, that being said, let’s get back to the movie.  Harry goes and attacks Voldemort and flings them both over the edge of the balcony with some cheese-tastic line that doesn’t make sense.  They go spinning around the castle, only to land, isolated, in the commons.  Blasphemy does not even begin to describe what I felt toward this scene.  Both of these are instances where Harry is being cinematically placed as superior or equal to Voldemort, which is, as we’ve already seen, not the case by any stretch of the imagination.  The fact that the two are isolated is ridiculous, especially as they are, in the book, surrounded by Harry’s supporters.  Harry, on the other hand, only reveals himself to still be alive AFTER everyone remained fighting – there was no grand moment of disclosure in the middle of some touching moment with Voldemort – the people, hopeless and without their symbol, continue fighting Voldemort.  Everyone, in the end, sees the triumph of good over evil, and the triumph of the novice with love and purpose over the master who’s only concern is his own power.

Next, the exclusion of the spells during the final battle – avada kedavra, the killing curse, and expelliarmus, the disarming curse – is a similarly fatal mistake of this film.  Again, the exclusion seems to be aimed at creating a false sense of equality (Harry is not only called out but recognized amongst the fake Harry’s at the beginning of the novel for using this spell.)  It is important that Harry succeeds so succinctly using so simple a spell; and the film makers decided that this was far too sorry a detail to include.  Ridiculous.

Now, for the disaster of the treatment of the Hallows.  First, Deathly Hallows is the name of the book.  Second, they are mostly ignored through the entirety of the film.  Harry would never be so presumptuous as to destroy the elder wand.  In the book, he delivers it back to Dumbledore’s grave, assuming that there would be no natural progression of loyalty after his own death.  This is a touching scene which treats the wand with the reverence it deserves.  The resurrection stone is left, where he dropped it, in the forest to be lost forever.  The cloak, Harry keeps, as it is the only thing that has ever truly belonged to him, being passed down from his father.  The fact that none of this is addressed is lazy.

Finally, the most angering of all, is the epilogue.  Though I had mixed feelings about it in the book – I mean, because we couldn’t imagine the happily ever after on our own?  And what about those names?! – I despised its inclusion in the movie.  Not only did it seem utterly ridiculous, but the use of the same actors in terrible make-up was laughable.  New actors should have been found to play the nearly forty year old characters; they looked utterly ridiculous.  And how can you even focus on the terrible names of the children when the actors all look so silly?

Putting the epilogue aside, my primary issues with the film revolve around a completely misguided and misunderstood representation of the story for the sole purpose of creating a battle scene that looked cool.  It’s offensive to the story and its entire philosophy to degrade a central and final theme over a cinematography choice.  The moral of this story is that the selfless nature of love, no matter its inexperience – and perhaps even because of its naiveté – overcomes evil and the will to power.  This was lost in Harry Potter 7.2, and that is a real shame.

Bridesmaids

‘Bridesmaids’ is the movie that I’ve always wanted to see.  Despite the fantastic reviews, I was still highly skeptical.  A chick flick called bridesmaids?  With almost no racial diversity and one big girl who is a bit crazy and mostly the butt of physical humor?  I did not see how this movie could be very good.  Fortunately for me, I was in for quite a treat!

Honestly, I was sucked in within the first ten minutes of the film.  The opening sex scene between Kristin Wiig and the very sexy Jon Hamm was Hilarious.  It was your typical, but never mentioned, encounter between a woman who wants sex and the man who’s using her for sex when he can’t get in touch with anyone else that night, and who is only concerned with his own pleasure, completely ignoring his bed mate’s wishes.  This is a scene that happens often in real life, if you believe the accounts of my own friends, but which you never see in cultural accounts of real life sex.

We see this messy real life character of Annie: barely employed failure, crappy car, cannot pay her bills, has to move back in with her mother, crazy and instable, involved in shitty barely romances (including the aforementioned Hamm debacle which recurs throughout the film), and finally involved in a tete a tete with her best friend’s new best friend, the upper class one-upping wife of her fiance’s boss.  She lies to her best friend (“oh, it’s not too much..”) the same way she lies to her “man” (“oh, yeah, that feels so good…”)  When do you see a character like this who isn’t completely one-sided stereotypical and utterly non-complex?  Instead, this character is complex, has real life emotional breakdowns while also managing redemptive moments of zeal and genuine happiness for herself or those around her.

What I loved about this movie more than anything, however, was the ability of this movie to call out the genre.  Every time something cliché happened, they called themselves on it.  For example – at one point, I wrote down “Great.  Typically poor unhappy woman needs to be saved/redeemed by a man?!”.  Literally seconds after I wrote this, Annie decries: “I don’t need to be saved!” and runs out.  This absolutely cracked me up – I knew at that point that this movie and I were on the same page.  The movie attacks the ‘so pretty girl’ versus the ‘so cute/so sweet girl’ dichotomy by having the feuding Annie and Helen calling each other by these clichés.

Although Maya Rudolph was a mixed character, there was not any other racial diversity in the film, which is a definite flaw.  And props must be given for inclusion of any – even if limited – body diversity.  Megan (Melissa McCarthy) was a phenomenal role, and even proved to be more complex than initially hinted toward as the movie progressed.  Additional props must be given to the addressing of class disparity between characters.  Although the two best friends – Annie and Lillian – are from the same background, one moved up and the other moved down, economically speaking.  This wasn’t a problem to be resolved, but rather it was simply a fact of the movie.  I appreciated the tension that this caused as it was, and the fact that it was addressed.  It was, for much of the movie, the base cause of much of the drama – the tension between Helen and Annie, the fact that Annie was going crazy and had entirely too much on her plate, the separation of the group on the airplane, etc.

Jon Hamm’s stereotypical asshole man out to get his compared to Chris O’Dowd’s Officer Rhodes was another fantastic pairing.  When the two run into each other, Rhodes’ response is “you’ve got to be kidding me!”.  It is absolutely perfect.  Ultimately, the philosophy of the movie is summed up completely in one line – You’re your problem, Annie, and you’re also your solution.  Once Annie makes the decision to fly with things and not let everything around her control her, she comes to terms with those around her.  Highly recommended movie – catch it before it leaves theaters!  I definitely look forward to more from this writing duo.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1478338/

 

Bad Teacher

I’m getting this one out of the way.  Bad Teacher.  A coworker and I decided to head to the movies and, despite all of the fantastic films out right now, Bad Teacher was his choice (I was personally rooting for Horrible Bosses, but am a pushover…).  So, here is my review.

This movie is a waste of time.  I guess Justin Timberlake’s agent is really pushing for him to get in to more film.  Watching his performance felt like watching a not-so-funny version of his Saturday Night Live skits, and at a much too extended pace.  There is a reason those skits are 3-5 minutes long, and JT should not be exposed to film for any longer than this.  I don’t know if it’s just that he cannot act, or if his over-the-top performances are somehow his idea of the roles?  For sure, watching Justin Timberlake is like watching middle schoolers.

Apart from JT, the rest of the acting was actually tolerable.  I’m already a fan of Jason Segel, and Phyllis Smith’s performance really cracked me up.  I guess watching actors as a casting agent for so long really rubbed off on her.  Cameron Diaz, of whom I’m not a tremendous fan, proved her chops, although in an entirely unlikeable and unredeemed character.  I think she was supposed to be redeemed in the end, as she changes her gold-digging ways when she falls for the goofy and more ‘simpatico’ character of Mr. Gettis; but mostly I despised her character so much by that point that the obvious ending just wasn’t doing it for me.

Perhaps I’m being a touch unfair.  There were some cute moments – I actually laughed my ass off at one point, over Phyllis Smith.  But, I was the only one in the audience.  The rest of the audience laugh lines were predictable and not funny moments.  There was a lot of gold-digging and manipulation, by both of the main female characters.  Perhaps this movie was meant to be a spoof on our education system – that standardized testing is too easy to cheat and, ultimately, meaningless.  The even take a stab at a joke regarding the inherent racial discrimination of standardized testing! But then, I think I might be reading far more into the movie than the intentions of either the writer or the director.

Apart from the horrendous acting by Justin Timberlake, I was left trying to figure out what the hell his character even meant.  He plays a long-term substitute teacher, who happens to be the grandson of a wealthy watch maker.  Apparently this makes him a character who plays the politics incredibly well – he will agree with you no matter what stance you take (sharks tear families apart – but they’re majestic! – but they’re awful…), and apparently his idea of a good time is dry humping, as he cheats on his girlfriend.  Even better, he gives the clever republican, anti-woman speech culminating in an attack on choice: “I’m pro-choice.  Everyone should do what makes them happiest.  Except abortion, of course.”  I’m not sure if the role was meant as an attack on the ‘values’ protecting wealthy who play the political game all the time without even being aware of it, or if, again, as I suspect, I may be reading too much into it.

Ultimately, this could be a cute movie to see at the dollar theater, or on Netflix.  But it is certainly not worth $11 to see it.

An Overcast Afternoon at the Museum

I went and wandered through the High Museum of Art today.  I had a blast!  Although I had invited a few friends to come with me, most of them were busy.  So, I decided to go walk around on my own.  I was there for nearly two hours, and saw less than half of the exhibitions, so I definitely need to go back.

What I found most interesting, though, was the exhibit of folk art.  There were a couple of paintings by Mattie Lou O’Kelley, an Atlanta woman, who painted large canvas as it was laid flat on her table, moving around the table and painting upside down at the top of the painting.  She used stippling to make these beautiful images of her family’s farm or a long ago yard sale.  There’s something really incredibly powerful about being transported into these spaces – simple, every day images – that would have remained with this artist from her childhood.  What was so special about these images that they would have compelled her to put these images onto canvas, to share them with strangers?  They were really lovely.

Another Atlantan – Linda Anderson – had some featured works, as well.  The one I most enjoyed was ‘the kiss,’ a depiction of the Garden of Eden, set in North Georgia.  The painting features Adam and Eve kissing, as Eve plucks the fruit – a Georgia Peach – from above her head.  As they partake in their pleasure, the animals and angels watch on in pleasure and horror.  The peach tree and couple are surrounded by the north Georgia mountains, palm trees and fronds, exotic animals, angels, and a road leading out of Eden – a road which turns out to be the serpent itself.  It’s a stunning piece.

Some other paintings in the same exhibit had been scratched out with house paint on found portions of roofing tin.  It’s inspiring to be reminded of the power of the creative impulse in people, and none so much as those who lack the means to create with traditional art supplies.  To see a sheet of tin and be inspired to create on that – well, it’s just sort of magical, really.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip today, however brief it may have been.  Strolling through the halls alone, examining some works and passing by others, was a moment of quiet and a time of reconnecting with my own creative process.  I’ve much more to see, and I can’t wait to go back and view the rest of the exhibit!

Tree of Life: An impression of god, the universe and everything

Moving to a large city like Atlanta certainly has it’s perks, especially if you’re an art film enthusiast!  Having lived in mostly smaller cities most of my life, I’ve never had quick access to a theater which actively previews and shows new art film.  A good friend, and fellow film enthusiast, invited me to take advantage of our mutual new situations and take a visit to our new local theater showing “The Tree of Life”.  He warned me that there were a lot of complaints from film viewers so far, and that it reportedly lacked a traditional, linear narrative.  With this in mind, we decided to head off to the theater!  Before you read any further, please be aware there may be some spoilers –

Several people walked out during the first hour of the film, especially during a particularly long scene which I heard another movie goer refer to as making her feel as though she were in the natural history museum instead of a movie.  When the movie ended, I was surprised to hear so much grumbling.  One man said he has never prayed so hard for a movie to end in his life.  Another said that he found the film tedious.  Contrary to all of this, I must say that I found it to be an astoundingly beautiful film.

While research the film prior to heading to the theater, I read it described as an impressionistic film.  I think this is a perfect descriptor for “The Tree of Life”.  Rather than being told a story, instead we are witnessing the impression of a story.  We see the story more as experience rather than story.  We can relate to the story and the characters through images – both from the characters’ own lives as well as those of the universe, our galaxy, our earth, and inside the human body – used to depict questioning of identity, purpose, solitude and, more importantly, ‘Mitsein’ or the being-with-others of Heidegger.

We are presented, in the very beginning of the film, with the dichotomy of grace and nature.  According to the female voice over here – later discovered to be the mother, brilliantly acted by Jessica Chastain – we have a choice to make with our lives – to live a life of grace or a life of nature.  This in combination of the opening sequence quotation from the biblical story of Job really establishes the theme of the movie and the story we experience from there, as we witness a family struggle to connect their own misfortune with the path of grace, associated with God.  The voice overs of prayer which are uttered over images of the universe are astounding, giving a complex and rich nature to our own subjective realities.  That the characters, by their prayers, imagine God to be so intimately connected to the birth (or death) of a human child is juxtaposed against the rich and truly awesome images of galaxies and star formation, even against the images of jellyfish (about whom the first remark concerning the natural history museum emanated) and waves and volcanoes are flashed before us within the experience of the film.

What we, as the audience, are left with is a feeling of profound awe of the world, and really of our own selves.  We see the way we are – characters are reintroduced in Jack’s (Sean Penn) middle age precisely the way he would have remembered them, as young and vibrant, his own mother and father younger than himself; our prayers and meditation/reflection about our own place and function in the universe; the way our relationship with our own parents informs our intimacy and partnerships in our own adult lives.  But more than anything, we are reminded that the paths of grace and nature – said to be so clearly delineated and opposing – intersect every day.  A modest gesture of chance, such as a predator leaving his prey in tact and alone, can be viewed as miraculous or as some kind of divine intercession on behalf of the prey – though when this exchange occurs with dinosaurs, we must question the extent of divine providence; the extent of grace’s division with nature.

Another moment which struck me came from Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) as he reflected upon the death of his teenage son – the provincial event which causes the questioning of our main character as well as his family.  He comments that he had made his son feel shame by criticizing the way he had turned the pages of sheet music as Mr. O’Brien sat at the piano.  This brief moment stunned me; this small regret, seemingly nothing – probably a passing complaint to his son – became a defining moment for O’Brien’s relationship with his son.  Was the comment taken to be shameful or embarrassing for the son?  Did he recall this behavior in his last moments?  The way that these small nothings of a moment, so seemingly meaningless in the context of an entire life, stick with us throughout our lives and actually come to be an integral part of us and of our relationships with others around us struck me as especially truthful and huge.  Some of my own relationships with family and friends reflect this same dysfunctional wonderment at small moments and their incredible impacts on our lives as formative.  To imagine that those I love might have these small regrets about our interactions, these teeny tiny holes in our relationship actually brought me to tears.  It was a powerful and illustrative moment for me.

I know that many folks have discussed the tedius or pretentious or static or boring nature of the ‘nature’ shots of the film which interrupt the narrative.  Considering the theme of nature versus grace, these images are magical and telling.  We experience the universe, but not – as the story of Job tells us – through God’s eyes.  Instead, our own tiny speck of dirt is hyper real to us while the rest of the universe remains shrouded and mysterious.  The voice overs of prayerful and reflective meditation tell a powerful story about our own relationship to this universe, and our conceptions of grace and nature.

I recommend the movie highly, if you enjoy art film.  If you go into the theater expecting what the movie is – a beautiful, woven experience of a story about God, the Universe and Everything – then I think you will find the film to be illuminating and touching, and reflecting of our own delicate and dependent-upon-others human nature.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0478304/