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?
Two childhood buddies are forever changed by their first encounter with Playboy magazine. The story picks up 10 years later focusing on Tucker Cleigh a sex-obsessed moron who beds every girl he meets plus his conservative friend Eugene Bell who practices abstinence with his uptight girlfriend Cindi and joins her in teaching its virtues to younger students. But when Cindi decides she's ready to "do it" on prom night Eugene nervously complies but gets drunk falls down a flight of stairs and lands in a four-year coma. When he awakens he discovers Cindi has become a nude Playboy centerfold and joins Tucker on a chaotic cross-country trip to get to the Playboy mansion where he hopes to find Cindi — and Tucker gets to live out his wildest playmate fantasies.
WHO'S IN IT?
Miss March exists as a comic vehicle for its "stars " Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore members of a Brooklyn comedy group whose TV show The Whitest Kids U Know ran for several seasons on IFC. The team also co-directs and writes this witless hodgepodge of gross-out gags attempting to find humor in tasteless — not to mention sexist — setups. It makes last summer's The House Bunny look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Moore seems to be channeling early Jim Carrey as he plays a sex-crazed idiot who spends most of the movie trying to help his best friend (played by Cregger) lose his virginity despite an endless array of inanely conceived psychological and medical obstacles. With no one to rein them in these writer/director/stars overplay to the extreme and go for the cheapest laughs imaginable. Trying to mine physical humor out of situations dealing from epileptic sex to uncontrolled bowels this team throws it all at the wall but not much sticks. The rest of the cast including Raquel Alessi Molly Stanton 2007 Playmate of the Year Sara Jean Underwood and Craig Robinson — as an expletive-hurtling rapper named Horsedick.MPEG (in a gag repeated at least ten times) — are left twisting in the wind. Robinson however does get mileage out of a triple-X hardcore rap parody.
A scene where Eugene and Cindi try to teach sexual abstinence to a sparse audience of inattentive undergrads is amusing and well played. Unfortunately it occurs in the first 10 minutes. After that you're on your own.
Just about everything else including a dopey subplot involving a group of revenge-seeking firemen desperate stunt-laden gags egregiously over-the-top product placement for Playboy and one embarrassing scene after another designed to get the hardest R-rating possible.
MOST MEMORABLE LINE
Eighty-two-year-old Playboy founder Hugh Hefner gets to offer this bon mot in his one-scene cameo: "There's a bunny deep down inside every woman and if you see that bunny you're on to something."
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN …
The opening credits start. Then sneak into a better movie instead.
The inspirational real-life story of Seabiscuit is a history lesson worth being taught. During the height of the Depression this too-small unruly glue factory-bound racehorse triumphed over great odds to win races--and the heart of a nation. He eventually beat the Triple Crown winner of the day War Admiral in a 1938 match race heard by millions nationwide on the radio. Yet in addition to the horse itself Seabiscuit revolves around the three men who groom train and care for the animal--three men who are each wounded souls in their own right. There's owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) a born salesman with a kind heart who makes a fortune selling Buicks in Northern Calif. but it means nothing after he loses his son in a tragic accident; there's trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) an obsolete cowboy whose world of wide open plains is slowly vanishing under barbed wire train tracks and roads; and jockey John "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire) a young man who is torn from his impoverished family at the beginning of the Depression and lives a hard life as a part-time jockey part-time boxer. They're all beaten but somehow when the four come together--it's magic. Even though the film suffers from the you-know-how-this-is-going-to-turn-out syndrome as well as venturing a bit much into the melodramatic Seabiscuit still lifts your spirit and shows how despite a time of great suffering the underdogs gave hope that the American Dream could be possible again.
The talented trio handles their tasks admirably. Bridges harkens back to his performance as the idealistic car inventor Preston Tucker in the 1988 film Tucker; Howard like Tucker is a dreamer successful in his endeavors great at public relations but perhaps a little too trusting of others. Bridges fits comfortably into this role but digs deeper this time showing Howard's pain--and his ultimate salvation in his winning horse. Maguire is also well suited as the lanky Red but the poor guy sure takes a beating playing the role. It's gut-wrenching watching the downtrodden Red starve himself so he can still be considered for jockey jobs or getting the snot kicked out of him in a boxing match which ultimately results in him losing sight in one eye. Then to top it off Red shatters his leg in a riding accident weeks away from the big race against War Admiral. It's tough being Red but Maguire doesn't shy away. As for Cooper he shines once again. After winning an Oscar for his turn in Adaptation the underrated actor shows how good he really is by giving another exquisite performance as the horse whisperer-like trainer. It's the quiet moments that work best; when Smith is sitting whittling outside Seabiscuit's stall letting the horse get some rest--with barely a trace of a smile on his lips as he ignores the swarm of reporters around the stable. And in wonderful moments of hilarity William H. Macy gives a great performance as "Tick-Tock" McGlaughlin a conglomerate of those colorful radio announcers who gave the craving public blow-by-blow accounts of the horse races during the Depression. Macy gets out-loud laughs every time he shows up.
Seabiscuit is a labor of love--a love for anything to do with horses and horse racing which may not necessarily be exciting to all although the movie's message will speak to everyone. Based on Lauren Hillenbrand's best-selling novel of the same name writer/director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) plunges headlong into the story of this inspirational horse carefully setting up the history surrounding his rise to stardom. The cinematography is extraordinary. Ross expertly blends archive footage within in the movie where at times you feel like you are watching another well-made documentary á la Ken Burns. One particular moment where this works best is when at the start of the race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit Ross switches to archive images of real folk listening to the race on the radio as you hear the real-life commentators giving the details. Of course showing the final stretch of the race is the payoff and though you know who is going to win you're on the edge of your seat anyway. It's after this however where the film begins to lose its momentum and lapses into clichéd sap. Seabiscuit hurts his leg too and is deemed never to race again. He convalesces with Red on Howard's farm until they both miraculously heal well enough to race one more time. It's almost too much to believe even though it is still a true story. Seriously how much can one man and his horse take?
Nominations for the 7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced today in Los Angeles at L.A.'s Pacific Design Center.
The unique show, honoring performers from 13 movie and TV categories, will air on TNT, Sunday, March 11 from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center.
The nominations in the movie categories aren’t surprising, with frontrunners Russell Crowe’s from “Gladiator” and Golden Globe winner Julia Roberts from “Erin Brockovich” easily making the list. Golden Globe winners Tom Hanks for “Cast Away” and Kate Hudson for “Almost Famous” snag nominations as well.
Several nominees in the television categories are returning to try their luck again, namely James Gandolfini and Edie Falco from “The Sopranos,” who both won in their respective categories last year. Also, die-hard dramas, such as “ER” and “Law & Order,” are back for their superior ensemble cast performances. But the newest kid on the block, “The West Wing,” may give them a run for their money. Also, the fresh comedy series “Will & Grace” and “Sex in the City” makes a strong showing against other returning champs, such as “Fraiser” and “Ally McBeal.”
The 37th S.A.G. Lifetime Achievement Award will be awarded to longtime acting couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, for their acclaimed body of work and their philanthropic endeavors with their fellow actors.
Here is the complete list of nominations:
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Lead Role
Jamie Bell -- “Billy Elliot”
Russell Crowe -- ”Gladiator”
Benicio Del Toro -- ”Traffic”
Tom Hanks -- ”Cast Away”
Geoffrey Rush -- ”Quills”
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Lead Role
Joan Allen -- ”The Contender”
Juliette Binoche -- ”Chocolat”
Ellen Burstyn -- ”Requiem for a Dream”
Laura Linney -- ”You Can Count on Me”
Julia Roberts -- ”Erin Brockovich”
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Jeff Bridges -- ”The Contender”
Willem Dafoe -- ”Shadow of the Vampire”
Albert Finney -- ”Erin Brockovich”
Gary Oldman -- ”The Contender”
Joaquin Phoenix -- ”Gladiator”
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Judi Dench -- ”Chocolat”
Kate Hudson -- ”Almost Famous”
Frances McDormand -- “Almost Famous”
Julie Walters -- “Billy Elliot”
Kate Winslet -- ”Quills”
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture
For Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Alec Baldwin - “Nuremberg” (TNT)
Brian Cox - “Nuremberg” (TNT)
Brian Dennehy - “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” (Showtime)
Danny Glover - “Freedom Song” (TNT)
John Lithgow - “Don Quixote” (TNT)
James Woods - “Dirty Pictures” (Showtime)
For Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Stockard Channing - “The Truth About Jane” (Lifetime)
Judi Dench - “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells” (HBO)
Sally Field - “David Copperfield” (TNT)
Elizabeth Franz - “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” (Showtime)
Vanessa Redgrave - “If These Walls Could Talk 2” (HBO)
For Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Tim Daly - “The Fugitive” (CBS)
Anthony Edwards - “ER” (NBC)
Dennis Franz - “NYPD Blue” (ABC)
James Gandolfini - “The Sopranos” (HBO)
Martin Sheen - “The West Wing” (NBC)
For Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Gillian Anderson - “The X-Files” (Fox)
Edie Falco - “The Sopranos” (HBO)
Sally Field - “ER” (NBC)
Lauren Graham - “The Gilmore Girls” (WB)
Allison Janney - “The West Wing” (NBC)
Sela Ward - “Once and Again” (ABC)
For Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Robert Downey Jr. - “Ally McBeal” (Fox)
Kelsey Grammer - “Fraiser” (NBC)
Sean Hayes - “Will & Grace” (NBC)
Peter MacNicol - “Ally McBeal” (Fox)
David Hyde Pierce - “Frasier” (NBC)
For Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Calista Flockhart - “Ally McBeal” (Fox)
Jane Kaczmarek - “Malcolm in the Middle” (Fox)
Debra Messing - “Will & Grace” (NBC)
Megan Mullally - “Will & Grace” (NBC)
Sarah Jessica Parker - “Sex in the City” (HBO)
For Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
“Law & Order”
“The West Wing”
For Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
“Sex in the City”
“Will & Grace”