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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2D) (2011) July 20, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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At last, 10 years after the first film and 4 years after the book series ended, the Harry Potter film franchise is no more.  As expected, there was a ridiculous amount of anticipation for the eighth and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (let’s call it DH2), and though I consider myself only a moderate fan of the series (both book and film), even I was very excited at the prospect of watching the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort on the big screen.

It’s not often that a franchise lasts for this many number of films and manages to maintain a certain level of excellence all the way through.  So is this final film the best of the lot?  Kind of.  Not really.  Yes and no.

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to review this film is because it’s impossible to view DH2 as a standalone film.  You can’t even really lump it with DH1, which I thought was nothing more than a pretty set-up for the grand finale.

In terms of excitement, DH2 is undoubtedly the best of the series.  After a small but slow build up at the beginning, the remainder of the film races at you at full blast.  It’s everything you could have expected from a finale that has been gradually building up for 10 years.  The extended siege on Hogwarts rivals some of the biggest fantasy epics in cinematic history (some may disagree but I think that includes Lord of the Rings).  It’s thrilling, visually stunning and wonderfully executed (thanks to director David Yates) and acted (especially Alan Rickman as Snape, who really held this franchise together for all these years).  Heck, even the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson put on quality performances (a far cry from their debuts).

Accordingly, in a way, I guess you could say that splitting the final book into two films was justified (apart from financially), because despite the 130 minute running time, DH2 was never boring (unlike DH1).

On the other hand, DH2 wasn’t a complete story, and as such, must be viewed in light of everything that came before it.  If you haven’t read the books, seen DH1 or even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you can forget about it.  I’ve read all the books and seen all the previous films but even I struggled at times to remember/piece together what was going on.  Characters came and went without introduction and the majority of the secondary characters were reduced to fleeting cameos.

Of course, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone because of the marvellous action and special effects — despite some frightening scenes for the kiddies — but I believe to appreciate everything and feel the full emotional impact of the finale you have to be a ‘true’ fan (ie, one of those hardcore nutters that dressed up and camped outside the cinema).  Hence for me, a mid-tier fan, DH2 couldn’t have been more than just a ‘very good time’ that was fun to experience but lacked a deeper connection.

This is why I still think the franchise would have been better served had DH1 and DH2 been combined into one kick-ass 3-hour+ epic that got rid of all the fluffy ‘time fillers’ so we could enjoy the full story of the Deathly Hallows in one sitting (I know some places screened the two films back-to-back, but the combined running time of 4 hours and 36 minutes is waaaay too long).

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed DH2.  Despite its shortcomings — some unavoidable and others not — this was a fitting conclusion to a magical, consistently high standard film franchise.

4 stars out of 5

PS: My favourite book and film of the series is still the third one, The Prizoner of Azkaban.

PPS: I intentionally watched this one in 2D, and I’m glad I did.  I’m at the point where I am starting to wonder whether I should even consider watching a 3D movie ever again.  Dark, uncomfortable, and most of the time 3D adds nothing positive to my film experience.  I don’t get the fuss.  And judging from this article, looks like I’m not the only one.  That said, I am surprised by the number of people supporting 3D in the comments section.

PPPS: A bit of a spoiler, so read on only if you’ve seen the film or read the book.  Remember how the book had this controversial ‘epilogue’?  Well the film includes it, and as expected, it also sucked.  One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

The Joy of Writing Workshops July 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Study.
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The subject of rewatchable movies has been going haywire on this blog lately.  Speaking of which, today I rewatched a DVD a good friend of mine lent me — Todd Solondz’s 2001 film Storytelling.

The first time I saw it I thought it was pretty good, but personally I preferred Solondz’s other films, such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, two utterly hilarious and disturbing films.  Storytelling, while equally disturbing as those two films, wasn’t quite as funny, though in some ways it was even darker.

Anyway, Storytelling is split into two parts, ‘Fiction’ (starring Selma Blair as a student in a fiction writing class) and ‘Nonfiction’ (starring Paul Giamatti as a documentary maker making a film about John Goodman’s family).  It’s the type of daring, politically incorrect, perverse, oftentimes cringeworthy film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you are nonetheless compelled to keep watching.  Fans of Solondz’s work will know what I mean.

To cut a long story short, the reason why my friend wanted me to watch Storytelling again was because of one of the first scenes in Fiction, where Blair and her boyfriend (who suffers from cerebral palsy) attend a writing workshop.  Having gone through dozens of such workshops in the last 18 months, I can certainly say that Solondz hit the nail on the head with this one.  I for one can definitely appreciate what the students are going through.  Check it out below.

Movie Review: Super 8 (2011) June 11, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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I was on a high after last week’s X-Men: First Class so I decided to check out the much-anticipated but somewhat mysterious Super 8, written and directed by JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Cloverfield and the TV shows Lost and Fringe) and produced by Steven Spielberg (no explanation necessary).

If I could sum up the film in one word it would be ‘Wow’.  The trailers of Super 8 show relatively little compared to the spoil-all trailers we tend to get these days, and thank goodness for that.  This is really a film where you should go in with as little knowledge as possible.

So I won’t say much about the plot except that it’s about a bunch of kids making a movie in 1979.  It’s a throwback (and I believe has been referred to as a ‘homage’) to those amazing Spielberg films of the 80s, such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I just loved those films when I was growing up and it’s obvious from Super 8 that Abrams did too.  In the MTV age, they just don’t make movies like this anymore, and it’s a tremendous accomplishment to even attempt to recreate the nostalgia.

Like Spielberg before him, Abrams has created a marvellous motion picture experience with a clever premise, likable, relatable characters, thrilling action, top-notch special effects, awe-inspiring, memorable images, plenty of heart — and most of all — masterful storytelling.  I was hooked from the very first image, which I thought was pure genius.

The likability of the film makes it easy to overlook its shortcomings (and granted, there are a few), but Spielberg’s films weren’t exactly perfect either.  It remains to be seen whether decades from now Super 8 will be remembered in the same vein of those classic Spielberg films.  My guess is probably no, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.  I would recommend parents taking their kids to check it out.  It’s the type of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Limitless (2011) March 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Decided to go with the 'alternate' poster

Limitless kind of came out from nowhere to become the number one film on my ‘to see’ list.  I had heard nothing about it until a recent trailer, and it was a good one.  A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) stumbles across a drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain (humans apparently can only utilise about 20% of it).  How cool is that?  The potential, as the title suggests, is limitless.

However, I was also rather wary.  Techno-thrillers with a slight fantasy edge rarely pan out well.  A smart idea is usually let down by a poor screenplay and clumsy execution.  But surprisingly, Limitless didn’t suffer from either.

This was a slick, stylish film (with some eye-popping sequences) that I found simply exhiliarating at times.  Perhaps it’s because the charismatic Cooper plays a writer (or at least starts off as one), or perhaps it’s because the drug opens up so many exciting possibilities, possibilities we can only dream of — whatever the reason, I just wanted to keep watching to see what would happen next.  And unlike most films of this kind, the ending didn’t totally suck.

That’s not to say Limitless is not flawed, because it is.  It’s too long (it’s just 105 minutes but it felt long) and tonally uneven.  Apart from Cooper, the supporting roles are all pretty thankless (Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro).  And if you really want to look closely you’ll probably find plenty of holes in the story.  But I can overlook all of that because it was interesting, it was thrilling, and it was enjoyable.  A surprise hit.

4 stars out of 5!

My 2011 Oscar Predictions: Who Should Win and Who Will January 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews.
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Source: Oscars.com

Well, the nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards are finally out, and as usual, there were few surprises.  Overall, I think 2011 was a pretty solid year for cinema, with some standout films, unique films, classic films and groundbreaking films.  Of course, there were some duds too, but apart from the massive overkill of pointless 3D films, I’d say it was a good year for cinemagoers.

As per the last couple of years, it’s time for me to predict the winners!  Here goes.

To read on click on ‘more…’

(more…)

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