24 November, 2010

Harry Potter review... part one... of part one

Harry Potter, book seven, part one. Eeeeeeeeep.

Initial thoughts- I really enjoyed it. A few decisions I'm not sure why they made them, and a few things I thought really necessary that weren't in there (hero worship of Harry), or one or two scenes that needed a few more lines/moments for import, depth, and believability, particularly for the actions that need to happen in part two (Ginny & Harry, Moody, Godric's Hollow, Dursley's, Kreacher...).

So I'm breaking my normal template, and instead of doing the pros and cons, I'm listing overall points, and then going through plot events, and commentary on them. It should be in order as we go through the film.

Music: The score is beautiful. Particularly the repeated notes in close succession that run throughout the score; it builds tension in every scene, even when that scene may be quiet. For example, 'Obliviate' has rapid notes that get you rather riled up, put you on edge, but it's a sad and quiet scene. It goes right into 'Snape at Malfoy Manor' where the quick notes continue. In 'Ministry of Magic' it's almost comparable to a ticking clock its so constant, driving, and measured. It's a frantic and frenetic feel due to fast notes, on similar tones, and contributes very well to the scenes. And who didn't shed a tear at the cello in 'Farewell to Dobby'? I might need to do a whole post on the music...

Costuming: There were some great moments. Mundungus looking skeezy and slimy, Fleur's over the top wedding dress, Xenophilius and Luna's outfits at the wedding (also love the hippy dippy dancing which Lynch choreographed herself, based off of Rowling's descriptions of the dancing from the book- win!), Fred and George's dapper outfits (I didn't notice if the coats were dragonskin, but they were snazzy nonetheless)... and then some raised eyebrows at costumes I wasn't 100% on board with, like Luna's when she's in the dungeon (it looks like a child's romper playsuit from the 80's)

Such. An awesome. Shot.
Cinematography: Some of those shots were simply beautiful. The one that stands out the most in my mind is when Harry and Hermione are on that rocky cliff just after Ron leaves, and Harry is silhouetted against a sun-setting sky... it's gorgeous. Well-framed, and it's from a distance to give the audience some perspective on his pensive mood from afar which lends ample emotion. Also, in Grimmauld place, there's a slow retreat of the camera from the trio as Hermione says 'We're all alone...' emphasizing their solitary position in the wizard world.

Now to plot discussion....

Scridgemour opening: Brilliant. It was so up close, in our faces, it was like he was addressing us, the audience as well as the magical population. He was focused, and intense, but blatantly shaken whether by fear or fury, so we could see that he was strong and capable, but also under threat in some way.

Saying goodbye to family: Hermione's section had me shed a tear just five minutes into the film! I'll point it out elsewhere, but I really thought she stepped up her game in this film, and Hermione really shined in this film. Hermione is strong, confident, capable, and kickin', and Emma Watson plays her well. There were still a few moments where the overacting reared its head, but Hermione also overreacts sometimes, so it wasn't too disturbing. It was really good to see the characters on their own, having to sever ties... you really got the idea that they were consciously making the decision to leave, that they knew the consequences, but this is what they were deciding to do.

7 Harrys: I loved seeing the range of acting from Radcliffe. You could clearly tell which one was Fleur (and not just by the bra), Mundungus, etc. And the CG effects on Hermione as she's turning into Harry is pretty fabulous (apparently that was a new way of filming involving glow paint and tons of cameras to capture every moment of transformation from one actor to Dan Radcliffe). I also loved Moody's lines in this section. They gave him a few more than he has in the book, and I think this worked well; we hadn't really seen Moody since the 5th book, and this brought him back into our minds, and in two lines gave us humor as well as seriousness of the situation and his obsession with the mission at hand.
-However, I missed the moment after Moody dies. There was little weight to that scenario. I like the group of them having a shot of fire whiskey in his honor, a bit of mourning, etc. I feel like all of that sadness went to Hedwig and none to Moody.

Limited Polyjuice: First at the wedding where Harry is Harry and not Barny Weasley, and then in Godric's Hollow, they don't use polyjuice like they do in the books. I'm VERY glad for that. I think we needed more face time with our trio, with our heros, and while the ministry bit was certainly necessary for them to use polyjuice, and it gave some nice humorous moments to an otherwise very serious scene, it was enough of us not being able to see our heros' faces. Plus I loved the line 'I'm not coming back here as someone else...' when Harry arrives in Godric's Hollow.

Doubting Dumbledore? I don't doubt him much yet... during this half of the book, we should have known more about Dumbledore's past from the obituary and segment in the paper from Rita Skeeter's book, Elphias Doge's conversation at the wedding, and Hermione should have read out to him the section in Rita Skeeter's book about Grindlewald and Dumbledore being friends, about 'For the Greater Good,' about Dumbledore needing to go home to care for Ariana. None of this is set up, so I'm quite curious how they're going to wrap all of this up.

It's also good to remember though how quickly ground can be made up in film though. (i.e. that one line in the beginning of New Moon about Jasper messing with emotions; it made up for it not being touched upon in Twilight). In one flashback, they can bring everything up to speed regarding Dumbledore's past... we'll just have to wait and see on that front.

Really? Not convinced...
Grimmauld Place: Loved Ron and Hermione's interaction. Their relationship, unlike Harry and Ginny's, is growing, believable, and it functions. Messing about on the piano, Ron wiping the drop of blood from her cheek in the diner, holding hands as they fall asleep... it works. And works well. I also loved Dobby assisting Kreacher in getting Mundungus Fletcher. It brought Dobby back into our minds (we hadn't seen him in a few films either), and gave him great character as he shoved Kreacher out of the way to say 'and then Dobby noticed... and then Dobby said...' it showed us how keen he was to help Harry Potter and his friends, and how important that friendship was to Dobby. I was very sad, however, to lose the change of heart of Kreacher. I love that he loves the trio after they give him the locket and treat him well. I love the idea that he made them soup, tidied the house etc., but I also recognize it wasn't necessary, and we didn't have time for that in the film. A sad loss, but an acceptable one.

Things I missed: The change of heart in Dudley. I feel like Dudley's realization that Harry isn't 'a waste of space,' is the first step to the reader/audience realizing the seriousness of the situation. If Dudley can recognize that something is wrong, and Harry somehow plays a role in making it right, then we know that something is up even in the muggle world. Also, Harry can own the title of 'The Chosen One' all he wants, but when others acknowledge that title, or his role in the fight at this point, that's where his true hero points accumulate. Like when Spiderman's mask is removed, or Will Stanton states that Bran (from The Dark is Rising) is the Pendragon, it's the acknowledgement of your hero status from others that removes any conceit, makes it a clear and true fact, and thus raises Harry's hero capital.
-I also really missed the plaque from Harry's house commemorating Voldemort's first fall there with messages of 'Good luck Harry...' etc all over it, the statue in the middle of Godric's Hollow honoring the Potters, and POTTERCAST! Oh I missed Pottercast... All of these things let the audience see how important Harry is. They all recognize it, and it makes him even more heroic because he doesn't acknowledge it. He is just getting on with his business, while the world holds him on a pedestal; this makes him humble, honorable, and uber heroic. I miss that! I like a little more hero worship in my life!

The letter from Lily: I think this is a big deal in the book, as we later see to what lengths Snape would go to in order to get a memento of Lily... but I can also see why it wasn't necessary in the film. It wasn't a make-or-break moment, we still have the doe which symbolizes his love, I do wish we had more of their past; that we knew Snape and Lily were friends growing up, or there was some sort of history there. I know it will all come out in 'Snape's Last Memory,' but maybe one or two instances where this could be set up so it's not so out of the blue in the next installment may have been helpful.

Lordy... I'm only in Grimmauld Place and it's running this long. Going to stop here for this one; next one up in a day or three (it IS Thanksgiving, it might take me until Friday. Plus I'm up in Leicester, England right now at the Vampires, VILFS and Fangbangers conference. There will definitely be a post about this too, I'm sure, as there are some really interesting papers planned, and I'm curious to see what's to be said about Twilight and the supernatural world in emerging scholarship).

More soon...

19 November, 2010

Clooney's New Film: The American

Yes, I've seen Harry Potter. Yes, there will be a post. But it takes me time! Surely you know that by now :) I'll try to get it up Sunday or Monday.

But in other news...

So I've just come back from a screening of George Clooney's new film, 'The American,' about an assassin trying to get out of the business while on assignment in Italy, after a bit of a debacle in Sweden.

The screening was for bloggers and online media staff, and apparently someone at the publicity company had me on their roster as a film blogger (sweet!) so I got an invite.
Firstly, the screening experience was interesting and had me asking a lot of questions. Who organizes them? What points are given to the organizers? How do they find their audiences? I've asked, and I'll let you know when I have some interesting updates.  It was neat though. I went with my friend Jen, we walked in, and were offered a glass of wine. There was little socializing, which I found odd because we were obviously all bloggers and media people, about to see the same film, you'd think there'd be some networking going on...nope. So then we went into the screening room which had THE MOST comfortable seats ever. It was like temperpedic memory foam seats... very nice. I also found it odd that there was no introductory speech, no welcome etc, no press pack handed out, and after the film there was no discussion. Everyone just left. Huh.

Maybe that was on purpose though, to not give any preconceptions about the film; but as this was my first proper screening, that was my reaction. I just figured that someone was paying for renting this room, someone was paying for the wine... I thought there'd be a bit more production and ceremony in it; but it's possible that it purposely wasn't there, so nothing would taint our experience.

Anyway, onto the film...

If you've seen The American (it was released in the US September 1, but doesn't come out in the UK until November 26), and if you've read this blog, then you may know where I'm going to go with this post.... analysis, pros, and cons... my first questions is, 'Really? This is the best that they came up with? With that talent and what I'm assuming was a healthy budget?' I mean it wasn't horrible, it wasn't even bad, but it certainly wasn't good and it had the potential to be really lovely!

Let's start with the name, shall we? Because I often wonder from the start why they change titles when based off of an original work. Why remove the familiarity of the title? Sometimes there is very good reason, and I happily admit that, but I'm not sure on this example. After that, I'll then go into pros and cons.

So it's called 'The American,' when the work it was based off of is called 'A Very Private Gentleman,' ... the first really has little implication on the film. Yes, they ask him in Italy if he's American, twice, and for Americans abroad that's a question that resonates (with me, at least), and yes, there is a spaghetti Western playing on the TV perhaps suggesting that he is a cowboy in his tiny, Italian village... but that's where it ends. His character has been living abroad for years; 'The American' has very little reference for the audience at this point. The film does not make an overarching political statement about Americans these days, or anything of the sort! It is about a dude, yes originally from America, who is an assassin and has been living abroad for what we can deduce is YEARS (the film opens in Sweden, then moves to Italy. He is fluent(ish) in Italian, and we have no reason to suspect he's been in America for some time)... but it's not actually much of a statement about him as 'an American' as it is about him as a man, or perhaps him as an assassin.

Whereas if it was entitled 'A Very Private Gentleman,' that would intrigue me. That almost implies an opinion from and outsider, as if someone was being interviewed about an incident and they stated that he was just “a very private gentleman.” This lends intrigue to the title, and makes you immediately think that there is more to this person than the description. There must be. It lends interest instead of stereotype. Perhaps I'm sensitive to this point, but 'The American' seems like a cop-out title to me. It does not contribute to the story. I want to know about the story of this assassin with a soul, and 'A Very Private Gentleman' does much more to intrigue me to finding out that story.

Good points:
  • The cinematography was excellent. I almost think that the production company hired some small, aspiring Italian filmmaker to camp out on the hilltops to get some of those establishing shots in the wee hours of the morning or in the twilight hours of the evening. They were beautiful! Rolling clouds, gorgeous lighting, and striking angles. Also, there was a steady shot of a road from an aerial point of view that is still causing me to wonder how they got that shot. A suspended crane? A plane with a somehow wicked, really steady camera attached?
  • Of course the setting was brilliant. As well as the premise. Basically Clooney is a bad-ass assassin who can put together a gun in less than a minute, and he's in Sweden and Italy...gorgeous, and somehow mysteriously hot. Plus there are a few scenes of him doing push ups, pull ups, and sit ups (lots of ups) topless... of course that appeals. You have the bad boy elements with some rockin' abs, plus the distinguished awesomeness that has come from Clooney's career, age, and experience.

ProCons (Not good nor bad)
  • The story... it wasn't bad, but it wasn't good.
  • Premise: assassin wants to get out of the business, but how does he do that without getting killed himself because he knows too much? Intrigue, international locations, gorgeous, sexy, mysterious....
But yeah, it ends there.

  • There were far too many moments that were unearned. The shoot-off with the Swedish assassins, hot on his tail... too quick and the climax unearned. Too fast.
  • The tale of the hottie assassin lady- that's how it ends? Really? She kicked ass, and you get rid of her that quickly and easily? Lame. You could have done better.
  • The boss-man. Clooney kept reporting to this guy through the WHOLE film. All of a sudden he shows up, decides Clooney's character is too much of a risk, wants to kill him, and there's barely a shoot off. There's a mini chase, and suddenly it's over. There are three shots, and only two go into the bad guy, so we can clearly infer what's going to happen next... end revealed... blerg.
  • The prostitute. Sure, it showed that he wanted something else in his life, but he didn't even care when she was sleeping with other dudes. Did he really care about her? Or was he just playing a part like he was when they went to dinner and he seemed happy that they were assumed a couple? The realistic 'girl' in me can't help but say... 'honey, he's not honest with you, he's just sleeping with you to feel good, he even told you that... how long do you think its going to last, and at what cost to yourself?'
Okay, rant over for now. I guess its good that I had such a strong opinion about this film, but more than anything it just made me mad that they had such an opportunity to make a film to be proud of with a good story, a huge leading man, gorgeous shots, and an emotional conflict... but they lost it at story and conflict. There could have been SO much more.

13 November, 2010

Travel, Filming, Harry Potter Premiere, and a Screening...

Oh what a week... well, four weeks, really. I left October 15 for the States to do some recruiting for my university- telling people about my life in Bangor and answering the questions of potential students.  I went to school fairs, and visited colleges and high schools. It was uber fun, believe it or not. Particularly my visit to Mary Washington, my old undergrad Uni, where I gave a lecture on my work, and taught a seminar class on C.S. Lewis where we read a section of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I then had them write a script from those pages, tell me where the camera was, who was talking, why they made those decisions, then we watched those two scenes in the BBC adaptation from the 80's and the more recent Disney one. SUCH fun.

The trip took me to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg VA, Washington DC (where we dressed up my friend's dog, see below picture, who currently has a cone on her head (hahaha... I mean... uh... awww), and we went to the Rally to Restore Santiy), then Lancaster PA, and New York City. Whoosh... 'twas fab though, and I even got some work done on my PhD. Go figure.

I left the US on Sunday, arriving back in the UK on Monday, and then this past week was a week of ridiculousness in London. I landed Monday around 8am, went to a really skeevy B&B and slept for a few hours, walked around the town of Shepperton, and then went to bed for real as I was spending two days on a super busy, super famous film set at Shepperton Studios.... Captain America. I was doing some observation and running with the AD department there. Sadly I'm not allowed to say ANYTHING about it (I literally had to sign my life away), but it was awesome. After the film's out I might be able to post about it... I don't know. But it was fab. 

After that, I spent Thursday in central London because I had a screening that evening, so I caught up on some work, and then went to the Harry Potter premiere in Leicester Square on my way to the screening in Piccadilly!  I didn't attend the film, so don't throw flames at me just yet, but I had to check out the mayhem while I was there as I had yet to see a Harry Potter premiere live and in person, and it seems vital somehow.  You can't study fantasy film adaptations, live in the UK, and not at least check out one of the premieres to see what goes down.

 I love anything where that many people can come together and get excited about the same thing. It's such a rockin' energy. So as I approached the square I could hear the crowd (and this was at 2pm; the actual activity didn't start until about 5pm), then turned the corner and saw the masses already assembled; some in costume, some with signs, all excited and pressing to the front of the gates to get a better view of where the stars would be walking in just a few hours. 

There were banners of the characters all over the place, torches with actual flames shooting out of them, stories-tall posters advertising the film, huge screens showing the cast arriving, clips and videos to get the fans pumped, and arches emblazoned with the Deathly Hallows symbol surrounding the square. I killed some time in a pub off of the square, chatting with a nice American on a semester abroad who was there to cheer and hopefully spot a star at the premiere, and then I headed back out into the fray just after 5pm.  As I walked out of the door, I was forced to go left due to the cattle gates, and as I rounded one of the gates who did I run into? RUPERT GRINT. Not kidding. He was just hitting the end of the row signing autographs and taking pictures. I tried to get a good picture of him, but I didn't have my camera out when I first saw him, and by the time I got it on he was a bit far away and every picture makes him look like soup. So take my word for it that he was there, looked good, and you can google image that one. I'm sure some reporter or fan got a photo more clear than my soupy one.

But then as I kept walking towards Piccadilly, I looked to my right about halfway down the gates, and there was Emma Watson! Sadly I didn't see Dan, it would have been nice to have the set (to quote Slughorn), but I'm glad I got to see some of them.  All in all it was wicked fun to see what a Harry Potter premiere is like- watch the excitement, and even grab a glimpse of the cast.

It was also neat to compare it to the Twilight premiere I went to in Leicester Square back in 2008.  If anything, I think this crowd was more controlled than the Twilight gang two years ago.  There was excitement, and palpable energy to be certain, but it didn't have as much of a manic edge, in my opinion, as the Twilight fans had.  I remember hearing the Twilight fans screaming from about three blocks away... it was chaos. Hormone-charged chaos. This was a little more controlled... controlled is the wrong word... focused? Intense? Less 'I wanna rip my shirt off,' and more 'I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it,' kind of a feel. 

After that, I met up with my friend Emily and headed down to Piccadilly Circus for the screening of Love at First Sight, a short that I worked on in June starring John Hurt (He's an absolute legend... and Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter) and Phyllida Law (TV Goddess, and Emma Thompson's mom) at the BAFTA theater. It was such fun. It was great to see the individual pieces we shot over three days cut into a seamless story. I need to make sure I can post about it, but when I can I'll put up some more pictures and talk about the process. It was good fun, and a good night to chat about what the hell I'm doing with my life after I finish this PhD (because someday, I will finish this!). I'm thinking I'll be working in development for a bit, and see how that aspect of the process works, and if that's where I'm happiest and my skills fit, and hopefully head into producing while doing that. We shall see! 

Okay, not the most coherent post I've written, but that's pretty much where my brain is right now! Tuesday I'm heading back to London for a screening of George Clooney's new film, The American (just coming out in the UK), so I'll blog about that, then my friend Ashley from TwiCon is coming to visit, and next week I'm giving a paper at the Fangbangers and VILF conference at DeMontfort University in Leicester. Which I haven't written yet. It'll be fine... 

More soon! And I'll try to get all of these pictures up on my website soon.

UPDATE: Pictures are up on MaggieParke.com