Tag: emma watson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Seems strange, mate. Dumbledore sends you off to find a load of Horcruxes, but doesn’t bother to tell you how to destroy them. Doesn’t that bother you?

Perhaps the most polarizing “Potter” feature given that it breaks away completely from the expected formula—a warm and usually amusing exposition, an exciting return to Hogwarts, mysteries that must be solved and misadventures that follow, a heartfelt closure—it is quite an achievement that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” works at all. David Yates’ confidence in telling an epic story has never been more apparent and he does so, ironically, by keeping it small most of the time. In this chapter, the focus is on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they flee and hide in the wilderness while attempting to figure out how to destroy Horcruxes, objects that contain pieces of Voldermort’s soul. As long as these Horcruxes remain intact, The Dark Lord cannot die. Two have been destroyed, one by Harry in “Chamber of Secrets” and the other by Dumbledore in “Half-Blood Prince.” The trio has Salazar Slytherin’s locket in their possession.

Those who crave in-your-face action are likely to be disappointed with this installment. Focus is on the dialogue, particularly detective work, the rhythm behind each exchange, and establishing a sinister aura. The screenplay by Steve Kloves trusts that the audience are already invested in this world and the characters who inhabit them. And so nearly every moment must connect to personal bonds, adventures, and themes established prior. Moments of levity can be counted on one hand. Even then a joke that lands or a sweet gesture proves evanescent. We get a sense that to laugh or smile during this woeful time is inappropriate. Even the look of the picture is dominated by blues and grays; the score never draws attention unto itself.

The pacing is unhurried. It languishes. The middle of the picture is a considerable challenge given that Harry and his friends are shown—more than five times (I counted)—sitting about while deep in thoughts. It is so un-cinematic at times that I would sit back in disbelief—not because the approach doesn’t work but because it is a big gamble for a mainstream blockbuster. I admired its daring, its willingness to show its witches and wizards on the verge of exhaustion, of ennui, of defeat. We understand why Ron, for instance, keeps close to his radio. He listens intently to names of folks who are reported to have gone missing. He fears for his family. He, like Harry and Hermione, is helpless. And that breeds anger, the need to place blame. The inevitable outburst between Ron and Harry here is one of the most heartbreaking in the series precisely because we know much they love one another—not simply as best friends but as brothers.

When the film gets an adrenaline boost, we cannot help but watch wide-eyed. There are two standouts: an early sequence involving Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) leading a group of Harry look-alikes (one is real, others are fake) to get The Boy Who Lived to safety and the other involving a hostage situation in the Malfoy Manor while Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is away. Just when you think the demented Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) couldn’t be any more despicable, she digs a new hole with a smirk on her face. Notice it is never about who lived or died; it is about the fight the characters exhibit and the sacrifices they’re willing to make—not for Harry or for the cause… but because it’s who they are. Yates never lets go of this understanding.

Most remarkable about “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is “The Tale of Three Brothers.” This animated sequence is narrated perfectly by Watson. Her voice is so soothing, graceful, like she’s telling us a Grimm fairytale. The animation is stunningly beautiful, particularly its use of sharp angles and shadows. Notice that although not a word is uttered by the brothers or Death, who wish to claim their lives after they outsmart him, the sequence is so alive that it leaves plenty to the imagination. Of course, this children’s tale must be connected to the titular Deathly Hallows. This sequence need not have been animated. The tale could’ve been told by one character to another: simple, straightforward, no decoration. But because it was chosen to be presented in animation, it gives the impression that the those involved in the film wish to deliver something special.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

You’re a wizard, Harry.

Nearly every moment of Chris Columbus’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” based on the novel by J.K. Rowling and adapted to the screen by Steve Kloves, is an invitation—an invitation to smile at its optimism and wholesomeness; to hold your breath in anticipation whether it be during a Quidditch match between the rivaling Gryffindor and Slytherin houses or a night stroll in the forbidden Dark Forest where a foul creature feasts on unicorn blood; to marvel at the sheer size of ancient castles or the most minute details inside moving paintings; to wonder at the secrets yet to be discovered within its world of witchcraft and wizardry.

Although a case can be made that the picture is overlong, it is a terrific opening chapter precisely because it goes out of its way to present details that escape run-of-the-mill fantasy-adventures. Consider a trip to Gringotts, a bank run by goblins, after half-giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) whisks eleven-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) away from his abusive, non-magic (“Muggles”) adoptive parents (Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths) and spoiled cousin (Harry Melling).

The film not only takes its time for viewers to appreciate the sheer majesty of the place, from its high ceilings and crystal chandeliers to its scintillating floor and towering marble pillars, the camera readily functions as a microscope. Notice the way it fixates on the bank teller, who is a goblin, the sharpness that can be found deep in its spectacled eyes when disturbed from its work, its short-tempered predisposition when spoken to. We are invited to stare at its rubbery skin, how its mitten-like hands are almost as big as the goblin’s face. We wonder about its age, perhaps even what it eats for nourishment. Do they have their own language?

It goes on like this. A curious creature or object, like an invisibility cloak or a state-of-the-art broom, is introduced and the filmmakers ensure we are in the middle of the action with rapt attention. It is never enough to show or mention a curiosity. It must be demonstrated. Then it must be applied when Harry and his friends go on to investigate the mystery surrounding the possibility of Voldermort’s return, the notorious dark wizard who murdered Harry’s parents and the one responsible for the lightning bolt-shaped scar on Harry’s forehead.

Because every scene invokes the feeling of opening a Christmas present, we are motivated to look forward to small and big surprises as a new day begins in Hogwarts, a school for young witches and wizards led by the warm and calming Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). The picture may be episodic and, yes, even drawn out at times. But it is never boring or repetitive. I admired it precisely because it is untethered from the usual parabola and pacing of dramatic storytelling. It adopts its own rhythm.

This joyous quality of the picture is not strictly limited to visuals. The dialogue possesses a cheekiness to it, a palpable personality, whether Harry is hanging out on a train (“Hogwarts Express”) or in the Gryffindor common room with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) or Harry being humiliated in front of his peers by Potions professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman—spot-on casting) for his excessive fame but embarrassing lack of knowledge. Every character is provided a specific voice and being. Even when they are not in the scene, sometimes we wonder why they are the way they are.

It is amazing that although supporting characters like Professors Snape, Quirrel (Ian Hart) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith) have fewer than twenty lines of dialogue to work with, they are memorable. These consummate performers milk not only every line but every moment. A pause between words or a pointed look communicates paragraphs. And although there are a wealth of personalities in Hogwarts, all of them feel like they belong. This is the result of a screenplay wise enough to take its time so that the setting is completely realized.

A hundred years from now, children and adults alike will watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and derive great entertainment from it. Its CGI may have aged (for instance, the mountain troll attempting to knock off Harry from its shoulders is laughable now), but not its colorful personalities, creative ideas, and careful attention to detail. Even the score by John Williams is transportive, readily able to metamorphose from thrills and excitement to lamentation and longing a drop of a Sorting Hat.


Regression (2015)
★ / ★★★★

“Regression,” written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, suffers from a lack of genuine intrigue considering that it is inspired by real-life events in the early 1990s when reports of Satanic rituals have spiked. Just about anyone who has taken an undergraduate psychology course should be able to see through the bewilderingly predictable facade. And by doing so, the so-called twist in the film is not only expected but it takes unbelievably long to get there.

The story revolves around a detective named Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) who leads an investigation in a religious small town. Angela (Emma Watson) claims to have been sexually molested by her father (David Dencik) for about a year and has been since living in a church after telling the police what had happened. The suspect is apprehended, questioned, and eventually confesses to the crime, but there is a catch: An alcoholic, John has no memory of what he he had done, allegedly, to his daughter. A professor, Dr. Raines (David Thewlis), an expert in regression therapy, is brought on board to excavate the man’s hidden memories.

A highly simplistic script is one of the film’s main problems. As a result, when characters show up on screen, the viewers are not pushed into a convincing reality—whether it be in terms of the look and atmosphere of the small town or how the players engage with one another. Just about everyone talks the same way and so it fails to give an impression that the story being told is happening in a specific town with specific ways of life.

The level of believability is tantamount to the success or failure of the picture exactly because the material is inspired by actual phenomena. It does not help that some of the casting is completely wrong. For instance, Watson, while trying a lot, sometimes too much, to emote, is not a believable small town girl. Notice that even when they put her in very drab, plain-looking clothing, there remains something regal and polished about her. This is not the performer’s fault—even though there are times when Watson fails to match Hawke’s effortless intensity—but the casting directors’, Jina Jay and Jason Knight.

It would have been far more effective if an unknown or a relatively unknown actor had been cast, preferably one who is a chameleon. Angela should have had an air of mystery and unpredictability to the point where we cannot predict what she is really thinking or feeling at a given time. Here, acting-wise, Watson does not exhibit enough range to communicate the little complexities of what Angela undergoes. Watson seems distracted—perhaps because she is attempting to modulate a convincing American accent while trying to evince the exact emotions the script requires.

There is not enough discussions, contexts, and subtexts about psychology, science, police work, and religion—how they meld into one another to make this specific story worth telling. The picture suffers greatly from a plethora of generalities that at times the viewers cannot be blamed for feeling like the writer-director has not put in enough effort to make his vision into a memorable, curious, horrifying experience.


Noah (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Noah,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a film with a core that should be regarded highly. That is, it takes inspiration from a source and stretches it to a point where it becomes an original vision—or at least one that is close to it. I was wary going into this film. Despite a highly respected filmmaker from behind the camera, I thought it was just going to be another one of those stories directly taken from the Bible without any bite, meat, or flavor—out of fear that a group might get offended. On the contrary, the picture has several layers of substance. Not all of them work, but those that do go beyond lessons or religion. It touches upon a more spiritual realm.

Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are descendants of Seth, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. They live off the land while people who live in cities, Cain’s successors, nefarious and vile, spread wickedness all over the world. Noah begins to receive troublesome nightmares about drowning among countless dead people. He deems that The Creator has sent him a warning—that a great flood is coming for the cleansing of the land.

The visual effects are not the most convincing: the animals boarding the ark, plants sprouting from the ground, the inevitable flood all look rather fake—but I did not mind. Nor did I care that there are giants with boulders for bodies for half the picture. I found myself caring more about what is being attempted: a critique of Noah’s blind devotion to his creator. When the title character puts his family’s life second, anybody in their right mind, no matter what anyone’s creed, would and should question the man’s sanity.

This is why Crowe’s performance is key. The actor’s role is a challenge in that he must be loving and brutal at the same time. Being slightly off-key is not good enough. Crowe must embody a man torn by love—that of his own flesh and blood and that of his own creator. From the moment Crowe appears on screen, he is Noah: Noah the father, Noah the husband, Noah the believer, and Noah the fallen man.

A few of the supporting actors are miscast. Although Logan Lerman, who plays Ham, Noah’s middle-born son, and Emma Watson, the adoptive daughter, are able to have some moments where they do shine, their looks are too modern. I had too difficult a time believing that they are playing characters from an ancient time. In addition, Lerman’s accent comes and goes while Watson tends to overdramatize especially toward the end when it is time to wait for a sign of dry land.

In place of Lerman and Watson, I would have rather seen plain-looking but very good performers. When the weaknesses in their acting are front and center, I wondered if they were cast mainly to attract the younger audiences. Somebody needed to match Crowe’s intensity and they are not up to the job. Jennifer Connelly, playing Noah’s wife, has one wonderful scene where she has to beg. However, her character is not fully developed. Naameh should have been written to have a complex subplot, one that is comparable, if not parallel, to Noah’s consuming passion.

Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, “Noah” is difficult to swallow for many people mainly because of expectations. One group may find it too rogue from the original—and rather short—story. (I went to Sunday school.) Another group may find it not extreme enough especially given the director’s track record for focusing on characters driven by an obsession. Putting those aside and evaluating the picture as is, it is well-made and well-acted at times especially by the lead. It doesn’t quite touch the very depths of our soul but it does offer some food for thought.

The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan–what do these women have in common? Their homes have been broken into by the so-called Hollywood Hills Burglars, a group of teenagers who are obsessed with the lifestyles of celebrities. Based on Nancy Jo Sales’ article, director Sofia Coppola looks at the personalities of those responsible and it is up to us to cast the judgment.

The picture is mostly detached from its subjects–which is entirely appropriate given that it is supposed to be satirical. Instead of focusing on what might be going on inside the subjects’ heads–such as guilt, shame, or fears–the attention is on the need to steal, the gleeful squeals during the act, and the aftermath of the crime as they try on clothes and jewelry that they know belong to someone else. Maybe for them breaking and entering into a celebrity’s private space is the closest they will get to living a similar lifestyle.

The actors portraying the real-life thieves do a wonderful job in portraying emptiness. Katie Chang as the ringleader plays Rebecca with offishness so alluring, you want to get to know her and hate her at the same time. Israel Broussard, on the other hand, plays a more empathetic figure. Marc is the new kid at school and he wants to belong. Though he is the most aware that what they are doing is wrong, he would rather have friends and commit crimes than be lonely and morally right. Most entertaining to watch, however, is Emma Watson. The scenes in which her character, Nicki, trips over her own hypocrisy (and recovers) made me laugh out loud, the execution very similar to Marcos Siega’s underrated dark comedy “Pretty Persuasion.” Plenty of so-called reality shows show us that people like Nicki do exist and that’s scary.

When it comes to pacing, the film might have benefited from showing less burglary because halfway through it starts to get repetitive. Instead, the camera should have taken its time to linger on the objects that have been stolen. This way, the fetishism is highlighted. Or the burglaries should have had a different approach each time. For instance, I wanted to see close-ups of hands grabbing the goods–a way to really communicate to us a sort of thirst or need to “own” whatever “it” is. Underneath it all, what the subjects have is not only an obsession but a compulsion.

“The Bling Ring” feels empty because the subjects are hollow inside. Notice that the teenagers never talk about their interests outside of whatever is on a magazine or some silly gossip website. When a person does talk about her goals for the future, there is a self-mockery to it. However, it does not mean that the film itself is a void. It is occasionally comedic, often unbelievable, and sometimes sad, too.

For some of these “Hollywood Hills Burglars,” this is it. Instead of striving to make something out of their lives, they settle for being privileged, vapid, and accomplishing nothing. What is more tragic than a life laid out to rot?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Over the summer, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is hospitalized due to what sounds like a suicide attempt. He writes a letter to a friend and claims that he is very anxious about his first day as a high school freshman because he does not want people think of him as “that weird kid who spent time in a hospital.” His situation isn’t helped by the fact that he has an introverted personality and he finds it difficult to make friends. For a while, Charlie struggles to find a connection with his peers until he meets outgoing Patrick (Ezra Miller) and empathic Sam (Emma Watson), seniors, at a football game.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the novel, screenplay, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, is one of the reasons why I believe that coming-of-age movies are immortal. Although the story attempts to tackle familiar elements, like teenagers feeling alienation and isolation, such are expanded upon in ways that are refreshing and exciting. Furthermore, it is executed with a genuine love for its characters and it challenges us to deconstruct our notions about convenient labeling.

The commonalities among Charlie, Patrick, and Sam are rendered beautifully but never obvious. As young adults still trying to figure out who they are, we watch them get into situations that are out of their control and their forthcoming struggles. Charlie remains to grieve over his best friend’s death, Patrick falls for a boy who isn’t out of the closet (Johnny Simmons), and Sam strives to put her life back on track despite a reputation that followed her throughout high school. Because Chbosky takes the time for us to understand the trio’s messy pasts, their current but constantly evolving wants and needs, and what they wish to accomplish in the future, we eventually grow to want what is best for them. By the end, it feels like we know these characters as people who live and breathe instead of cardboard caricatures that happen to be in a movie with a light yellow glow wrapped in a melancholy tone.

In theory, the material at times should have collapsed under its own earnestness. Too much narration and the screenplay might have told more than shown; too much soundtrack and it might have come off as syrupy or serve as padding when the characters ought to be talking to one another. Instead, the aforementioned techniques are used only during the right moments as to highlight an insight or trend in order to enhance our experience toward familiarizing ourselves with what is at stake for each respective character. Since the material has the necessary focus to tell its story, there is a rhythm in the small and critical revelations sans ostentatiousness that distracts.

Despite having a main character that has thoughts about ending his life, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” aims to instill hope and live one’s life no matter what one’s age. It isn’t without genuine moments of comedy. The late night reenactments of Jim Sharman’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at a local theatre quickly comes to mind as well as Patrick’s brutally honest remarks toward his friends. With so many children and teens who decide that their life is somehow not worth living, whether it is because of bullies that make attending school feel like walking barefoot through the embers of hell or living with a secret that cannot be shared out of fear that no one can be trusted, this film is a beacon for it shows alternatives on how one can regain control of his or her life and changing it for the better. It makes the case that the foolish twiddle with their thumbs and wait for change to happen while those who choose to participate and try to implement the changes that they want to see happen are the ones who come out on top.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

A lot of people were disappointed by this animated flick but I must say that I enjoyed it. It may not be as intelligently written or have as deep a story as most Pixar films bit it had enough heart to keep me interested from beginning to end. Matthew Broderick lends his voice as Despereaux, a mouse of small stature with big eyes, big ears and a strong sense of smell. He’s not like any other mouse because he doesn’t know how to be scared of certain things like a typical mouse should. In fact, he thrives on the excitement of acquiring cheese from mousetraps and reading books instead of eating them. I thought the first part of the film was fascinating in a psychological point of view because Despereaux, a youngster mouse, is encouraged to be scared of pretty much everything. Even though he is a mouse, he describes himself as a gentleman who is brave and honorable. The joke/reverse psychology works in its own universe and as a lesson for younger viewers. However, what did not work as well for me was Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and Miggery Sow (voiced by Tracey Ullman). Roscuro accidentally “killed” the queen (via drowning in soup or a heart attack?) which drives the king to banish rats out of the kingdom as well as cooking soup, which is the kingdom’s source of happiness. As the kingdom plunges into a depression, Roscuro feels extreme guilt and, like Despereaux, he feels like an outcast and seeks redemption. The third outcast is Miggery Sow who I initially thought had some sort of a mental disorder but, with a little bit of psychoanalysis, I eventually came to a conclusion that she wants to be treated like a princess (instead of actually being one as she portrayed) because she wasn’t loved as a child. Although her character wasn’t as developed as I wanted it to be, what I liked about her part of the story was that it was open to interpretation. I thought it was weird how Roscuro and Miggery Sow, one way or another, become a villain and I wasn’t sure of the filmmakers wanted the audiences to think that. This is one of those films that could’ve benefited more if it had a longer running time. It tried to tackle three main characters but it wasn’t successful because the last two I mentioned weren’t explored enough. Other notable voices include Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins and Christopher Lloyd. Based on Kate DiCamillo’s books, “The Tale of Despereaux” may not have been a critical success but the animation is impressive and it has enough implications for the older audiences if one were to look closely.