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.
Everything appears to be status quo between humans and mutants. There’s a president who is sympathetic towards mutants Prof. Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school is thriving and Magneto (Ian McKellen) is quiet--for the moment. But when a “cure” for mutancy is discovered which would give those with the mutant gene the choice to give up their powers and become human Magneto sees red. Cure mutants? Dem’s fightin’ words. With a few more allies on his side--including the resurrected Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who now calls herself the Phoenix and has unlimited powers--Magneto prepares to trigger the war to end all wars while the X-Men--lead by the stalwart Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and milquetoasty Storm (Halle Berry)--try to stop him. I seriously doubt this is really their Last Stand. All the usual suspects are back. Stewart is once again sufficiently wise as Xavier while McKellen’s Magneto continues to be one of the cooler comic-book villains. It’s amusing to watch him calmly mangle cars or dislodge the Golden Gate bridge with a gleam in his eye. Janssen also seems to relish playing dual roles--the tormented Grey and her evil alter ego Phoenix who is one scary broad. Unfortunately Jackman doesn’t have as much to chew on in Last Stand as he did in X2 and Berry is once again only good for drumming up fog. But the new mutants are kind of fun: Ellen Page (so deadly in Hard Candy) plays sweet this time as Kitty Pryde who can “phase” through solid material; Vinnie Jones (Snatch) is boisterous as the aptly named Juggernaut; Kelsey Grammer is diplomatic as the highly intelligent--and very blue--Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast; and Dania Ramirez (Fat Albert) as the blink-of-an-eye quick Callisto gets to kick Storm’s ass. Cool cat fight. How dare director Bryan Singer leave his X-Men to go direct another superhero movie even if it is Superman Returns. If Wolverine had anything to say about he might have ripped Singer a new one. You really do feel Singer’s absence in The Last Stand. All of the director’s tormented pathos towards his mutant comrades and their struggles to live in the human world are not as prevalent in this third installment. Instead we’ve got happy-go-lucky director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame who turns The Last Stand into one giant id--big explosive and campy. Of course to his credit Ratner is pretty good at delivering a rousing albeit superficial action movie. It’s just not as gripping as X2. But listen the spirit of the comic is already built in from the previous installments so in essence we already know these characters pretty well. Do we really need more angst?
The tall and lanky redhead from Australia is the toast of the town these days. Nicole Kidman just won a Golden Globe for her performance in last year's Moulin Rouge and is on just about everyone's A-list; she's probably thinking, "It's about freaking time!"
Joining the long list of projects she has been attached to recently--including Lars von Trier's Dogville and Robert Benton's The Human Stain with Anthony Hopkins--Kidman has made a deal to develop Court and Spark (hey, isn't that a Joni Mitchell album?) with Fox Searchlight.
Court is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married the King of France (Louis VII), started an affair with the King of England (Henry II), had her marriage to Louis annulled and eventually married Henry. Eleanor was flamboyant, beautiful and rich and it was her ardent wish to rule France. Unfortunately, her gender got in the way.
I can see Kidman playing Eleanor, but does anyone remember the exquisite Katharine Hepburn playing the colorful queen in 1968's The Lion in Winter, opposite Peter O'Toole as England's King Henry? Well, you should.
Hepburn only won an Academy Award for it, for heaven's sakes. Nicole might do well to watch this film a few hundred times to see how a great actress of our time portrays a great queen of all time.
Rock gets bit by the directing bug
Let's see how fast-talking, establishment-bucking comedian Chris Rock does at directing his first major motion picture. Rock has chosen DreamWorks' political comedy Head of State as his first foray behind the lens--of course, he'll also star in the film. Rock plays a Washington, D.C. city alderman who's thrust into the nation's presidential race as a replacement for a deceased candidate.
Not the greatest sounding premise but it has some potential. Rock needs to watch out for the Eddie Murphy syndrome, though. Murphy once tried his hand at a political comedy too (Distinguished Gentleman) and it failed miserably. Be careful, Chris.
Coming to theaters soon: The Olsen twins!
Lose your mind! Those too-cute-for-words teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen hit the silver screen once again, following their first attempt in 1995's It Takes Two. Forget about those measly home videos and television movies and specials. The big screen is where it's at.
The project for Warner Bros. is being kept under close wraps, but the film is said to be a comedy and will certainly set the blossoming teenagers on yet another fun-filled adventure. The girls recently bowed out of their ABC Family series So Little Time so they could pursue other ventures, including their fashion line and feature films.
How did these two manage to build an incredible empire at such a tender age? It really boggles the mind.
Downey's second (and third and fourth) chance
Robert Downey Jr. has enough lives to rival any cat. As screwed-up the guy is in his personal life, he is still the consummate professional and Hollywood is going to keep working with him until he either straightens out for good--or finally kicks it. Not to mention, I'll go see just about anything he does.
He's in negotiations to star in Six Bullets From Now, a film inspired by the real-life events of New Year's Day 1972, when five gunmen stole more than $10 million in cash and jewels from the Pierre's Hotel in New York City in broad daylight. The theft led to a massive FBI manhunt.
Ridley Scott is producing the flick under his Scott Free Productions shingle.
Bridges is a "Giver"
Jeff Bridges will star and produce the feature film The Giver based on the 1994 novel by Lois Lowry--and folks, the plotline is a doozy. I'm just going to have to take it word-for-word from the Hollywood Reporter article:
"Described as being in the vein of 1984 and Brave New World, the book carries the theme of sacrificing humanity for societal stability. It presents a world without pain, pleasure, racial or socioeconomic differences, crime, poverty, sickness, free will or love. In the community, every member has a role, and 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of a wise old man known as the Giver (Bridges), he gradually discovers the disturbing truth about his world: that its people have chosen to give up their humanity to create a more stable society. They must now struggle against the weight of this hypocrisy."
Wow. That's going to be a bright and cheery film. I can't wait.
Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinkerbell, Hook, The Lost Boys--all your favorite Peter Pan characters get to come to life when Revolution Studios, along with Walt Disney Co. and Sony's Columbia Pictures, bring the endearing J.M. Barrie story to the big screen in a live-action motion picture.
Of course, the story has been done and done--on television, on film, on stage--but we're always game for another rendition, especially when they are talking to the likes of Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) to play Captain Hook. But we are also a tad skeptical. Remember Steven Spielberg's lame attempt to bring an updated Pan to screen with Hook? Yikes. I can tell you one thing: they are not going to approach Julia Roberts to play Tinkerbell.
Michael Jackson has (finally) solidified his plans for the upcoming American Music Awards and Grammy ceremonies. Jacko's not even appearing at Wednesday night's AMA awards; he's simply sending in a prerecorded performance of his tune "Man in the Mirror." What Jacko's doing for February's Grammy Awards is still up in the air, but this is an obvious ploy in hope that he'll still be invited to perform.
If you're familiar with director Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, you'll see some familiar faces in his upcoming film Full Frontal. Ocean's star Julia Roberts will star in the Miramax-made movie, as will Jerry Weintraub, who served as producer on the casino-heist film, according to Variety.
Viewers who tuned in to Carson Daly's new NBC late-night talk show on Monday night were probably disappointed: the MTV star's show, Last Call, did not debut. According to PageSix.com, Daly had not yet signed a contract with NBC.
Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, busted on Jan. 2 for resisting arrest following an argument at a Tampa nightclub, phoned MTV on Tuesday, claiming he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and stressing his innocence.
The National Board of Review revealed their list of winners for 2001 on Monday night. Monster's Ball's Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton won for best actress and best actor, respectively. Steven Spielberg was honored with the Billy Wilder Excellence in Direction Award.
In other Monster's Ball news, the film's director, Marc Forster, will next helm a film about the creator of Peter Pan, James Barrie. Titled Never Land, the film is based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, written by Allan Knee.
At February 3rd's Super Bowl, Mary J. Blige and Marc Anthony will kick off the festivities by singing America the Beautiful, accompanied by the Boston Pops and a group of firefighters, policemen and military personnel. The NFL made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that Mariah Carey and U2 are still slated for halftime performances.
It may seem unthinkable, but Disney will be releasing several sequels to animated classics in 2002. First will be Cinderella II in February, followed by Peter Pan II in March and Dumbo II and The Jungle Book II coming out later in the year. All of the sequels will be animated in the "classic" Disney style, according to the BBC.
Late singer Aaliyah is on course to snag the number-one spot on the British charts with her single "More Than a Woman." It currently leads the way among singles, as of Wednesday, Reuters reports.
First the drummer goes, now the lead singer. Chris Robinson left the rock group The Black Crowes--after 15 years with the band--in December, Launch.com reports. The group's spokesman said on Tuesday that the band was "taking a hiatus" and that Robinson is pursuing a solo career.
Universal Studios told Variety on Tuesday that 2.9 million of the available 3.4 million copies of The Fast and the Furious DVD have already been sold--just since Jan. 2!
On Tuesday, members of the Screen Actors Guild reinforced the results of its recent election for president of the group, which some members have called into question. A reelection will be held from March 15 to April 10, to determine the result of the dispute, but actress Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prarie) is expected to retain her current role as president, according to Variety.
On Friday, Muhammad Ali will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jan. 17 will also be named "Muhammad Ali Day" in Hollywood, said Hollywood Mayor James K. Hahn.
For the first time in seven years, opera legend Luciano Pavarotti will perform at London's Royal Opera House on Friday, starring in a performance of Tosca.
On March 3, producer Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) will receive the Producers Guild of America's Milestone Award. Previous winners include Steven Spielberg, Bob Hope and Alfred Hitchcock.