Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter 7: Deathly Hollows 1

I grew up with dead authors. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis Narnia and Space Trilogy, Asimov's Foundation and Robot series, even Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. I grew up knowing that when I started book 1 of a series, I could read as fast or slow as I wanted, but was still able to finish the series. Somehow this is my default expectation for any series, and if this expectation is not met, no matter the reason, I find myself annoyed at having to wait. I read the first 7 books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, only to give up after being required to wait 18 months for the release of book 8. I couldn't imaging not finishing the 12 book series for another 10 years. I am similarly annoyed by Paolini's Inheritance series (which also turned a 3 book series into 4), and until recently Terry Brooks' Shannara series.

Why do you care about this in a movie review? HP7DH1 is one of these unfinished series. In the grand tradition of Back to the Future II and III, DH1 is clearly a setup film. A well made and entertaining setup film, but a setup film none-the-less. Voldemort is in charge and things are changing. Everyone is in danger. In fact, 80% of the film is spent showing everyone in danger. Harry and Co. spend their time searching for Horcruxes, but basically, their search is a series of travels into and out of danger because of the recent regime change. They don't actually make much progress. So over the course of two and a half hours we learn that things are dangerous and we learn what the Deathly Hollows are... to be continued...

While I of course understand marketing and capitalism and why films are made ($$$), I personally would have preferred to wait another 12 months and then paid double for a 5 hour feature length film that didn't climax with the credits. Which means that next year, I will probably just need to organize a Potter marathon and set 18 hours of my life aside so I can watch the 8 films in sequence. And I will wait until 2012 when the "final" Wheel of Time novel is released to pick that series up again.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pieces of April

This probably showed up in my Netflix queue after I watched Please Give, enjoyed Oliver Platt, and proceeded to add anything Platt that I could. Platt plays a supporting role as April's (Katie Holmes) father. April lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend Bobby. They have invited the entire family to their place for thanksgiving. The film is really two different stories: that of April preparing for the family to arrive and that of the family driving from upstate NY into the city for the meal. April (of course) encounters problems with cooking her first ever turkey and gets to meet a bunch of neighbors in the process. The family tiptoes around mom's health, grandma's senility and a pretty open disdain for April. In fact, the common theme through these stories is that both April and the family are processing April's role in the family. The beauty of the film is that the heaviness of family dysfunction is balanced by the comedy of family dysfunction (a la Little Miss Sunshine without the keystone cops routine). Very well done and the fact that the sound track is full of The Magnetic Fields pushes this into the 5-star category.
5 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Painted Veil

Set in the early 20's, a research doctor (Edward Norton) and his new wife (Naomi Watts) travel to China to help combat the spread of a cholera epidemic. Along the way, the two must sort out a trunk full of baggage ranging from why they got married, to why they are still married and what is it about each other that they like and/or loath. Highlighting the difficulty of relationship and the difficulty with honesty, the film surrounds all of this difficulty with the fabulous natural beauty of China. Throw in a little bit of political intrigue (western immigrants v. warlords), a little bit of faith searching and a bit of pestilence to wrap up an engaging, well acted film.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crossing Delancey

In this 1988 film, thirty something Isabelle is a single woman running an independent bookstore in Manhattan. She is happy and has a full life, but her Jewish mother doesn't believe it for a minute. When the mother hires a matchmaker, Isabelle is beside herself with annoyance and embarrassment. This is not how relationships are started these days. The mother is conniving and persistent and Sam ('the match') is patient and understanding. There are no surprises where this film is going, and the "niceness" of the characters is unbelievable (as in, not believable). But there are also enough cute interactions (especially between Sam and mom) that made this enjoyable to watch.
3 stars (out of 5)