Previously on Harry Potter: Big bad Voldemort steals the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's grave while Harry mourns the loss of his wee elf friend Dobby and begins his search for the remaining Horcruxes.
If that recap leaves you with hazy memories of last year's Deathly Hallows - Part 1 you may want to pop in the DVD before taking on the Harry Potter franchise's grand finale Deathly Hallows - Part 2. The eighth film in the series doesn't pull any punches demanding your knowledge of the saga's previous events and crescendoing off a foundation of character and connection built over a decade of cinematic excursions. That's not a fault -- Deathly Hallows - Part 2 serves hardcore fans and dedicated patrons of the franchise alike bouncing elegantly back and forth between explosive action and emotional conclusions. At this point that's what matters.
Whereas Deathly Hallows - Part 1 took Harry Hermione and Ron on a gritty race through the real world Part 2 brings the trio back to their home base Hogwarts School of Magic and Child Death where their colleagues and professors find themselves defending it against the empowered Voldemort and his band of Death Eaters. Similarly to Transformers: Dark of the Moon Deathly Hallows - Part 2 spends most of its run time following various established characters as they navigate the epic battle. Unlike the clunky erratic action of TF3 director David Yates manages to execute the sequences in Potter with bravado making sure we give a damn every time Potter discovers a secret from the past blows a Death Eater out a window or glances upon one of his closest friends lying dead on the floor.
For all its otherworldliness Potter is and always has been a human story one that puts its characters before spectacle. But when Yates and his team of FX wizards do unleash their bag of spells on the screen they do it with a very BIG bang. Deathly Hallows - Part 2's scope is on par with the Lord of the Rings trilogy bringing everything from trolls to spiders to animate statues into the wizards' massive assault. The franchise hasn't seen action on this scale before but Yates never misses a beat or opportunity to dazzle with visual eye candy. Turning the crumbling of Hogwarts castle into a riveting poignant experience -- true magic.
Once again Daniel Radcliffe Emma Watson Rupert Grint and a cast of veteran British thespians deliver the necessary gravitas to anchor Potter's fantastical elements in reality. With everything finally on the line in Deathly Hallows - Part 2 each performance is at its best and Radcliffe steps up to the plate to make his final showdown with Voldemort one to remember. He spends most of the movie covered in dirt encrusted blood on his face and a harrowing sense of death behind his eyes. Heavy material but Radcliffe pulls it off.
Few franchises have the chance that Harry Potter has been fortunate enough to receive to follow the same familiar faces through years of ever-complicating story. Thankfully Deathly Hallows - Part 2 doesn't squander the opportunity. The saga swells with a triumphant final act one that never forgets why people love the movies in the first place. The adventure the awe the comedy the thrills the people the places the things -- those are the elements that make Harry Potter grand and they return in perfect form once more to say good-bye.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Political intrigue corruption scandal sex — it’s all here in this Americanized adaptation of the much acclaimed 2003 six-hour BBC miniseries. With the story shifting from London to Washington D.C. the focus is now on a married congressman who is chairman of an important committee overseeing defense spending. He is a rising star in his party until his beautiful young assistant with whom he has been carrying on a clandestine affair is suddenly found dead. Things get complicated when his old friend Washington Globe investigative reporter Cal McAffrey is assigned to track down the story and try to uncover the identity of the killer. With cub blogger Della Frye forced on him as a partner the two journalists step into a government coverup that is much bigger than anyone could have imagined.
WHO’S IN IT?
Four days before production kicked off Brad Pitt dropped and Russell Crowe replaced him in the key reporter's role. It’s hard to imagine Pitt in this part since Russell Crowe disheveled-looking with long hair and about 30 pounds overweight owns it in his best performance since A Beautiful Mind. As his blog-savvy young partner Rachel McAdams firmly captures the essence of a determined but inexperienced young journalist in over her head. A sharp-tongued and feisty Helen Mirren is ideal as the newspaper boss more concerned with profits than integrity as she spouts out lines like “I don’t give a s--t about the rest of the story. We are going to press!” Ben Affleck also has his best screen outing in a while as the ambitious congressman Stephen Collins who gets caught with his pants down. A bevy of fine supporting turns include Robin Wright Penn as Collins’ unhappy wife; Jeff Daniels oily and smarmy as a conservative politician who knows more than he lets on and especially Jason Bateman stealing scenes as a slimy PR guy who provides some key details.
Not only does State of Play work well as a political thriller its pointed take on the failing state of newspapers and lax journalistic standards could not be more timely. Stunning widescreen cinematography and lavish sets add to the authenticity of a movie that in its best moments can be compared favorably with similar '70s classics like All the President's Men.
As the dense plot unfolds it gets a bit confusing trying to keep all the players straight particularly towards the end where you might need "State of Play for Dummies" just to follow it all.
A nail-biter beautifully staged by director Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland) where Crowe plays a cat-and-mouse game in an underground garage with a mysterious armed suspect he has just confronted.
HOW MANY WRITERS DOES IT TAKE TO SCREW IN A LIGHT BULB?
Four major ones in this case. Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) Tony Gilroy (Duplicity Michael Clayton) Billy Ray (Breach) and an uncredited Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon The Queen) are the superstar team of scribes who each took a crack at whittling down a six-hour miniseries into a two-hour flick.
Look for Bateman and the art directors responsible for the massive newspaper office to turn up on the shortlist for next year’s Academy Awards.
Ira Black (Chris Messina) is a prototypical movie New Yorker--he wears a lot of black he's in therapy (well technically analysis) and he's in the habit of over-thinking everything he does from his Ph.D. dissertation to what to order for lunch. Then he meets free-spirited empathetic Abby Willoughby (Jennifer Westfeldt) and everything changes. They're engaged within hours married within a week and in couples' therapy not long after. Meanwhile their long-married parents--uptight opera-going Sy (Robert Klein) and Arlene (Judith Light) Black and freewheeling easygoing Michael (Fred Willard) and Lynne (Frances Conroy) Willoughby--have their own issues to face. And their own professionals to consult. In the end everyone's left pondering the true meaning of love commitment marriage and mental health. When a movie's cast is as full of talented professionals as Ira and Abby's it's hard to begrudge the fact that most of them are playing somewhat familiar characters. Messina's Ira is angsty conflicted and quick to question happiness--in other words every neurotic New Yorker Woody Allen ever played. Meanwhile Westfeldt (who also wrote the film) works the same loquacious slightly kooky charm she perfected in Kissing Jessica Stein; you can't help liking Abby even when you want to shake some sense into her. In the supporting cast Klein Light Conroy and Willard are all strong rising above the "conservative" and "hippie" labels hanging over their characters' heads (it's particularly nice to see Willard in a role that's a bit toned down from his usual brand of cheerful oafishness). And familiar faces like Jason Alexander Chris Parnell and Darrell Hammond are a welcome too. Ira and Abby is only Robert Cary's second feature film credit; his first Standard Time was a musical and you can see some of that genre's broad sensibility here too. Ira's pre-Abby world is all dark colors cool light and sharp lines--but when he crosses into her sphere suddenly primary hues are everywhere rooms are suffused with warm yellow glows and furniture is for relaxing on not admiring. Unfortunately too many of the same kind of obvious cues direct the story as well. Westfeldt's script is smart and often charming but it's never very hard to guess where Ira and Abby is going: If you're looking for a "and then they got married and lived happily ever after" story you won't find it here. Ira and Abby's perspective on marriage may be a bit more realistic than the Grimm brothers' but you still shouldn't recommend it to any newlyweds you know.
Alternately funny and poignant The Weather Man is the story of callow Chicago TV weather forecaster Dave Spritz (Cage) who--despite his seeming success--sees himself paling in comparison to his acclaimed author father (Michael Caine). He is also alienated from his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Hope Davis) and unable to bond with his disconnected kids. He even lacks a bond with his loyal viewers who sometimes randomly fling fast food at him on the street. There are laughs in Spritz’s anxious bids to connect with his kin to be sure but the film goes deeper and heavier than expected--and that’s a good thing. Spritz’s initially amusing attempt to bond with his daughter via her fleeting interest in archery turns symbolic after he becomes skilled at the sport. He embraces his bow and quiver as if they were much-needed proof that he’s capable of change. You’ve gotta hand it to Cage. Even after he’s walked through such by-the-numbers action fare as National Treasure his off-kilter but always razor-sharp acting instincts are never dulled when he tackles more substantial projects like Adaptation. The Weather Man is one of the latter and while Spritz seems poised to be crushed by the weight of his emotional baggage Cage effortlessly carries the movie on his shoulders. He is matched move-for-move by the wily veteran Michael Caine who raises his always impressive game to pitch-perfection for this one. That buzzing sound you hear is the Oscar talk that’s sure to swirl around both actors. Director Gore Verbinski is best known for high-production scare-fests like The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean and while The Weather Man may seem a radical departure from blockbuster-style filmmaking it’s assembled with just as much care and precision. This time Verbinski’s storytelling skills are bolstered more by strong performances rather than f/x. The end result has the dark character-driven humor and emotional resonance of a Hal Ashby film like Being There set against an artfully rendered Chicago cityscape. Indeed Verbinski is so adept he makes not only the Windy City a genuine character in the film he does so for the flung Frostys and French fries marking him as a director whose eye is as on-target as one of Dave Spritz’s arrows.
Darren (Jason Biggs) Wayne (Steve Zahn) and J.D. (Jack Black) grow up as best friends spending their days spraying beer and playing in their Neil Diamond cover band Diamonds in the Rough. Darren thinks he’ll never meet another girl like high school crush Sandy (Amanda Detmer) until he gets swept off his feet by the beautiful but controlling Judith (Amanda Peet). When she keeps him away from his buddies J.D. and Wayne do their best to break them up. The first half starts off so promisingly (more footage of the “band” would have been helpful) until after the hilarious attempts at kidnapping Judith and setting Silverman up with Sandy before she takes her final vows to be a nun (yes you read right). Then it meanders dwindles … and begins its rapid slide downhill.
There’s not much you can do than shake your head and think “what a waste.” Biggs is the straight man whose best scenes are pre-Judith. Black so hysterically cutting in “High Fidelity ” and Zahn so hysterical in well almost everything are a well-matched pair but really deserve better material to work with. Detmer (“Final Destination”) had a more colorful role in last year’s terrible Freddie Prinze Jr. film “Boys and Girls” (also starring Biggs); here she just smiles sweetly or looks perplexed (going out to lunch in her nun’s habit elicits very little laughs). And Peet with her steely eyes and sharp facial structure is well-cast as the ice queen. Neil Diamond makes a cameo but couldn’t he perform a more recognizable tune than “Holly Holy”?
“Saving Silverman” would’ve been better served by staying in the clever lane instead of veering into the gross-out bits it ultimately turns to. Dennis Dugan veteran of ushering “Saturday Night Live” alumni Adam Sandler and Chris Farley to film careers depends too much on his actors to carry the laughs into the next scene. But while Sandler and Farley could just dumb-schtick their way through Zahn and Black demand a (slightly) higher intellect. As a result edits are awkward and the audience is left drumming their fingers going “What’s next?”