Welcome to my film critic's blog! A lifetime of loving movies has enabled me to do this. Enjoy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer flick VII: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Verdict: The most introspective of all the Harry Potter films manages to be the most compelling.

Let me preface my review by stating that I am a huge Harry Potter buff and I love everything about the books. I also appreciate the meaning of the term 'movie adaptation' and am prepared to cut the films slack if they do enough justice to the amazing series from whence they emerged.

'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' is perhaps one of the more difficult films to critique because it takes huge risks and is completely different from all five flicks that have gone before. If I had to choose one word to describe this film, it would be 'beautiful' - in this instance, it means beautifully nuanced, beautifully shot and a story beautifully told. And that is a word that has not struck me with vigor since I saw the opening of 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' all those years ago. The film attempts a tightrope walk between light and dark tones and just about manages to pull it off. The story deals with Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he discovers an old book belonging to someone called 'the Half-Blood Prince' and begins to learn about the secrets of Lord Voldemort's dark past. While the Dark Lord's death eaters threaten the world around them, the trio must also deal with raging hormones that thrusts their friendship into murky waters.

Though a Harry Potter book purist, I have learnt to see the novels and the films as separate entities that need to stand on their own. Liberties are bound to be taken when translating from one medium to another. The choices made by director David Yates ('Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix') and screenwriter Steve Kloves are honest, bold and for the most part display a brand of storytelling that is unique to the series.

I had to see 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' twice to properly grasp the various layers that have been interwoven into the narrative and internalize what worked for it. For one thing, Bruno Delbonnel's ('Amélie', 'Across the Universe') cinematography is some of the best work I've seen in a long time and definitely the finest this franchise has seen. For another, every actor delivers a performance that is captivating even if he or she appears only for a few scenes. Radcliffe blew me away with his comic timing (he is exquisite in the scene showing the effects of the luck potion), which was miles ahead of the others. Rupert Grint gets more screen time and dominates much of the quidditch scenes and romantic entanglements in the movie. Emma Watson holds her own as she always does and plays well off both Radcliffe and Grint. Michael Gambon shows us the Dumbledore that we are meant to know and Alan Rickman continues to confound as the enigmatic Professor Snape.

A special mention has to be made of Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn, the new Potions master. He is able to make the audience empathise with the character in a realistic way, which was not quite possible when seeing him on the page. His narration of a story about Harry's mother is an inspired addition that clicks wonderfully on-screen. Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy also does some of his best work, which adds more dimensions to his character. And that brings me to the narrative flow of the movie - it has taken six entries to do it but it looks like the filmmakers have settled on the right formula. The soft romance angle is interspersed with Malfoy's dark mission, deadly threats that seem very real and light being shed on Voldemort's secrets - what's surprising is that the elements blend seamlessly in the narrative.

While it might appear that there is not much wrong with 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince', the shortcomings present are very noticeable. The funeral of a certain lead character, in my mind, was crucial to tie off the end of the story. Having said that, the concluding scene put forward by Yates does bring quite a lot of closure in the context of the movie. A fault that cannot be ignored is Kloves's tendency to hand one character's lines to another - this is a serious problem because definitions of characters start to vary as a result. Talking about additions and deletions, some of Voldemort's secrets are omitted, a battle scene is skipped and another one is inserted. The merits of each can be debated ad nauseum but the rationale behind each choice is not difficult to see. Sometimes one needs to turn off that book lover switch and see if the movie succeeds by itself and this one clearly manages to do so.

So what makes 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' the most compelling of the films and quite possibly the best of the bunch? For one, I didn't feel the pangs of huge missteps like I experienced after watching each of the previous flicks. For another, there is nothing more impressive than a movie that is able to bury itself in character development at the cost of action set-pieces. Yes, this film is almost too quiet for a Harry Potter flick but it is a stillness that reaches deep within and makes you think. And perhaps the most important question of all, does it accomplish the herculean task of capturing the spirit of JK Rowling's novel on the silver screen? The query is best answered by recalling that day years ago when I finished reading the sixth novel soon after its release. I felt a mixture of sadness and expectation triggered by the way the tale unfolded in book six. The truth is that the same feeling of melancholic anticipation came home to roost as the credits rolled on movie six. I just cannot provide a better endorsement of this movie than that!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer flick round-up Part VI

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Verdict: Though a tad repetitive, Optimus Prime rocks the cinema and 'Transformers 2' delivers a special effects-driven popcorn extravaganza.

The Good

Do you hear it? The sweet melody of robot-on-robot nuts and bolts action that blows the first film away without even trying.

All hail Prime: Optimus Prime is a real crowd pleaser in this one with everything from his dialogues to his arsenal of weaponry and his fighting moves.

Now that's what I call special! The special effects are worth the price of admission alone. The film provides mind-blowing eye candy that doesn't get old.

Who let the humans out? The role played by the humans is dialled back a ton from the first flick. In a Transformers film, that's definitely the right approach.

Action overload: Did you say you wanted non-stop Transformer action? Be careful what you wish for because when the Bay says 'action', he means it. This is skyscraper-scale mayhem for the masses and there is very little down time.

She's a fox: Megan is not the only fox in this movie but she has to be mentioned for the sheer weight of her sex appeal.

That's real power: I enjoyed seeing the Fallen as a villain though he doesn't have a whole lot to do. His origins and powers are interesting to watch to say the least.

The Bad

Did you say 'get it on'? Excessive sexual humor! Yes, it might be funny in small doses but indulgence is dangerous. Bringing up stuff like robot sex stirs images that are better left alone.

What just happened? There are so many new Transformers introduced that it's tough to keep up. There are close to 40 and we don't even get to know most of their names before they meet an untimely demise. 

The twins: I don't know what purpose they served in the film apart from seeming like a device to lighten the tension. It got tiring after a while. If they were pushed forward as kids who have not grasped what's going on, then maybe it could have worked.

The annoying roommate: He just annoys without a break. We get that he's scared and upset and all that - just let him pass out and let the story move.

Recycled material: While the action and some of the ideas are imaginative, the novelty isn't there any more and it isn't as immersive as I remember.

So where does that leave us?

It does what summer blockbusters directed by Michael Bay do. It explodes onto your senses and you feel like you are taken on a huge ride. Forget character and enjoy the action spectacle. If that's what tickles your fancy, make a date with 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The trials of Movie Man!

Looking through this blog, I see a lot of film ruminating but very little of the unique life experiences connected with movies - so here are select pages from the diary of a movie enthusiast. 

Some are born movie buffs, some achieve that exalted status and some have film enthusiasm thrust upon them. On my part, it was very much a confluence of these three factors that have made an impact that is likely to last a lifetime. This trifecta was created by influences ranging from the family to cinema-going happenings and life experiences tied to movie memories. Here are some singular recollections:

The age rating does matter: Many people these days scoff at age ratings - they indicate that kids see so much on TV and are exposed to the internet, so anything goes with films. While I see their point, it still doesn't excuse disregarding age ratings. What if I told you that my earliest memory at the age of four was watching Jaws 1, 2 and 3? Granted it's an extreme example but it could not be more relevant because it's true that you never know what sticks in a child's mind. Let's just say that seeing a film like 'Jaws' before being able to spell 'shark' can have very bad consequences. But hey, sometimes that's how film buffs are born!

The beginning is the end is the beginning....: Movie buffs are drawn to strange tendencies and unusual incidents; like never being able to watch a movie from the middle (unless it's one you've seen before). Related to that is the abhorrence of being late to the cinema and missing the start of a movie. Case in point - it was a really hot day in one of the GCC States and I was rushing towards the cinema hall. Due to a minor miscalculation, I was as I dreaded 15 minutes late to 'MI:3'. Ticket prices there are a lot dearer than most would like but at that point I had been wanting to see the movie for so long that I could not imagine missing it. I rushed in with my ticket and caught most of the film. I loved all of what I saw but I had missed the opening action scene. That knowledge hung in the pit of my stomach like an itch I needed to scratch. As I walked out, I did a 360 and strolled right back in. Yes, that's right - 'MI:3' twice in consecutive shows. Do I regret it? Not for a single second!

Lather, rinse, repeat: Though movie buffs generally like to dwell in 'be kind, rewind' mode, many repeat performances are not the result of planning but the ordinance of a greater power. How about the time when I, as an early bird, booked six tickets to a summer blockbuster (which shall remain nameless so as not to offend concerned parties). I was given a rude awakening on the eve of said show with the news that the five remaining persons would not be in attendance. Fastforwarding past the hurried explanations and desperate bids to sell tickets on flick day, I watched the movie spread over six seats. But the tale is not done, here's the kicker. One of the other five bought six tickets the following day and insisted I tag along. Okay, so I saw the same movie twice in two days and paid for eight tickets. As I walked into the theatre on day two willing the events out of my mind, I was slammed head-on by the higher power. Two different people stopped me and posed the question I would have killed for just 24 hours earlier - "Say pal, would you happen to have a couple of extra tickets you could sell?" I looked up at the heavens and smirked: "You're up there laughing at me, aren't you?" 

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Summer flick round-up Part V

The Hangover 

Verdict: One of the best broad comedies of recent years!

On first glance, the premise of this movie seems pretty familiar - a Las Vegas-set story centered around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures. They must then retrace their steps in order to find him. How writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore create comedy gold out of this tired formula with Todd Phillips in the director's chair is really something to behold.

Firstly the setup is pretty great - the trio wake up in their hotel room with zero memory of what happened minus a tooth, a wedding ring and pants. Add a baby and a tiger in the bathroom into the mix and you've got a classic building up.

The leads aren't household names but they probably will be after this flick. Each of them delivers with immaculate comic timing. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis each bring something special to their characters. Justin Bartha and Heather Graham are also around. There have been many comedies that I've found funny but haven't laughed out loud watching them. This one is an exception - I laughed so many times that I surprised myself.

There is crude humor and over-the-top language but not a single element is overdone. Every facet is pruned just enough for us to savor the shocks and have our funny bones engaged. And the best part - we are never shown what really happened through that crazy night. Instead, you have an awesome credits sequence with photos of the mayhem.

There really hasnt been a comedy this good in a long time. This is not awful satire like 'Scary Movie' or pot-smoking humor like Apatow. This is truly something else and something to relish. This is 'The Hangover'. Sign me up as a fan!