Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
The uber-anticipated sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen picks up shortly after the events of the blockbuster first film. With evil Megatron’s carcass buried at the bottom of the ocean Optimus Prime and his Autobot comrades working together with an elite group of human soldiers are now focused on hunting the remaining Decepticons scattered across the globe. Sam Witwicky hero of the 2007 movie is busy preparing for his first year at college while his unlikely girlfriend Mikaela Barnes stays behind to tend to her father’s auto-repair shop. Little do they know however that back on Cybertron a Decepticon elder known as “The Fallen” is hatching a scheme to invade Earth where hidden somewhere on the planet is the last known source of energon the life-blood of all Transformers. If he succeeds the devastation left in his wake will no doubt spell the end of the human race. With the fate of Earth hanging in the balance Sam and Mikaela must once again have to team up with Optimus and the Autobots to defeat this powerful new foe.
WHO’S IN IT?
All the major human players from the first Transformers film are back for the sequel including Shia LaBeouf Megan Fox Tyrese Gibson Josh Duhamel and John Turturro. Newcomers include Ramon Rodriguez who plays Sam’s conspiracy-obsessed college roommate Leo and The Office’s Rainn Wilson who enjoys a notable cameo as a pompous physics professor.
Of course the actors merely serve as background filler for the real stars of the show: those titular talking-alien robots. And director Michael Bay fills up the screen with enough mechanical eye candy to dazzle even the most skeptical gearhead. Returning characters include Optimus Prime Bumblebee Ratchet Ironhide Barricade Jazz (don’t act surprised) Starscream Frenzy and Megatron (again don’t act surprised).
Several new Autobots are introduced to the mix: Mudflap and Skids a pair of jive-talking ceaselessly annoying hatchbacks; Jolt a Chevy Volt; Sideswipe a silver Corvette; and Jetfire an elderly Decepticon turncoat who walks with a cane speaks with an English accent and transforms into an SR-71 Blackbird. Additions to Decepticon side include: The Fallen who we learn is the Decepticons’ real head honcho (consider him the Emperor Palpatine to Megatron’s Darth Vader); Soundwave a communications specialist who sinks his tentacles into a satellite and spies on us from above; Ravage a panther-like creature; Wheelie a radio-controlled truck who talks like Joe Pesci; “the Doctor ” a sort of mad scientist who speaks with a German accent (naturally); and the Constructicons a group of construction vehicles that fuse together to form a massive four-legged beast.
No director does over-the-top explosion-laded action better than Michael Bay and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen features several staggering set pieces. The CGI work on this film makes the last one look like it was designed on a Commodore 64.
Any scene in which people talk — and several of the ones in which robots talk too. Just as the action and visual effects are beefed up for the sequel the bad jokes and cringe-worthy dialogue are as well. Highlights include two dogs humping John Turturro in a thong a robot humping Megan Fox’s leg a sequence involving Sam’s stoned mom and a glimpse of a very large pair of testicles on one very large Decepticon. The latter will likely go down as the “nipples-on-the-Batsuit” moment for the Transformers franchise.
The show-stopping climax set in the Egyptian desert is one extended riotous battle royale packed with so much robot-on-robot action you’ll feel overwhelmed at times.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This big-budget spectacle begs to be seen at the multiplex — IMAX if possible. Just bring a pair of earplugs for the dialogue sequences. You might want to bring some Dramamine as well as Mr. Bay went a little overboard with his trademark circling-camera sequences this time around.
Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos for whom the description "downtrodden" is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense she said). Unwanted unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens Wournos became a drifter turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance then for sustenance. As this movie tells it with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian) comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: "You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you " at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family Wournos from the law as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker easier safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.
Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless brown pools; baby face into pocked sagging jowls; even white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well OK not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron model-turned-actress underneath all the makeup and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger cuss fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird yet rewarding casting choice Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet ultimately whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.
Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend director Patty Jenkins practically screams "Poor me!" for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character it might as well apply to everyone else as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why for chrissakes Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to "go there " pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.