Thursday, August 26, 2010

Penny Thoughts: August 20-26

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) ***½
Director: David Yates
Writers: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Helena Bonham Carter, Jessie Cave, Evanna Lynch, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Frank Dillane

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
At the time of its release, the sixth installment of the “Harry Potter” film franchise seemed a little slow and lacking in some of the series’ wind. Although it was markedly better than the previous film, it seemed sort of tamed. Upon my third viewing of the film, my opinion on it has changed considerably. “The Half-Blood Prince” is the darkest film of the series, which has gotten consistently darker with each episode. It’s also a more mature adaptation than even the earliest of the series. Liberties have been taken in cutting many character’s roles down substantially, but as a film the trimming down of the extraneous and expansive subplots works by focusing the primary storyline, sharpening it to highlight Harry’s perilous life and journey.

I screened this series for my oldest son this year in preparation for the two-part finale that begins this November and concludes next summer in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows”. Rarely has a franchise done so well to maintain its integrity and quality throughout such a long series of films. J.K. Rowling not only inspired a generation in reading, but she helped provide Hollywood with one of its most successful film franchises of all time.

Read my original review.

The Ghost Writer (2010) ***½
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski, Robert Harris (also novel)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Eli Wallach

Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” is a classic film noir with a desperate hero, a femme fatale and a plot that turns back on itself in an unexpected way. I wasn’t as surprised by some of the elements as I might’ve been if I hadn’t been watching a good deal of noirs lately; but it’s expertly made by Polanski, proving that despite what you may think of his exile and past crimes, he continues to be viable and important filmmaker. Ewan McGregor makes for the perfect noir protagonist and the supporting roles are played in a way that effectively manipulates both the hero and the audience. Mystery fans should check this one out.

Mother (2010) ****
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Park Eun-kyo, Park Wun-kyo
Starring: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Ku, Jae-Moon Yoon, Jun Mi-sun, Lee Young-Suck

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
“Mother” just proves you can’t keep those Koreans down. That statement applies to the closing moments of the film; and as far as the filmmaking goes, I’m beginning to think that the Koreans cannot do wrong. I’ve seen more original, entertaining and completely unpredictable movies from South Korea and the past couple of years than any other single area. What the Spanish filmmakers did to freshen up filmmaking in the oughts, perhaps the Koreans will do in the next decade.

This is the second film I’ve seen from director Bong Joon-ho, the first being the 2008 monster flick “The Host”, and both have taken what should’ve been conventional storylines and infused them with a freshness due to their wonderful attention to observational detail and quirky, original, yet entirely identifiable characters. In this film, a mentally handicapped boy is railroaded into a murder conviction in a small town. His mother relentlessly pursues the case to prove her son’s innocence. Despite the dark nature of the film’s subject, the film is filled with humor and great tension. I love how some of the lines of investigation the mother pursues are wrong turns, lacking that false instinctive intuition of so many Hollywood mystery protagonists.

Edge of Darkness (2010) ***
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell, Troy Kennedy-Martin (television series)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, David Aaron Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Denis O’Hare

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
“Edge of Darkness” is a strangely fascinating movie, and not quite what you might expect going into it. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means. There are several discrepancies in the film, ranging from story structure to editing and framing flaws, but it’s a thriller with a different brain, one as much focused on the philosophy of the characters as their actions. Although it’s wonderful that they had such a good vocal coach so everyone’s Boston accent was spot on, someone should have informed the filmmakers that not everyone in Boston (or Massachusetts for that matter) actually speaks with a Boston accent. Yes, New Englanders speak funny, but not all of them do. Oh yeah, and Mel Gibson’s an asshole.

A Single Man (2009) ****
Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford, David Scearce, Christopher Isherwood (novel)
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company
While the period piece “A Single Man” was fairly universally praised by critics upon its initial release, many categorized it as a sort of fashion show of early sixties style. This notion is most certainly born from the fact that its director Tom Ford is more famous as a fashion designer than as a filmmaker. I think this simplification of the film dishonors its depth and scope. On the surface, the movie is an examination of a man in deep grief for the loss of his 16-year long relationship with his gay lover after a car accident, but like so much great cinema there are layers of meaning lying beneath that surface.

Although it is a detailed period piece that is in love with the fashion and style of it setting, it’s deeper meanings have even more resonance with today’s growing problems of excess and fear. Ford suggests that fear drives so much of our lives there is little about our existences we can trust as real. Have we all become out of touch with our own true selves due to the fear that drives us? Do we have any real values any more? Do any of us truly feel joy in our lives? When we do, we must hold onto those moments to keep us going. “A Single Man” is more than just a beautiful film; it is profound.

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