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Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (2011) – 58/100

The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a nauseating extended TV show finale, not a film. The “reprise” theme was very strong in this movie. Characters were brought back for moments of interruptingly useless screen time, simply to harden the notion that this was a final film in a series. Time wasting references to Harry Potter history, as well as some consistent suspiciously long pauses between lines of dialogue really give me the idea that the script of this movie only accounted for 30 minutes. This must have been a problem for the director. I am confident that David Yates was faced with the dilemma of a 3 hour long HP7 movie, versus an extra 280 million in box office dollars for altering a single work into a dreadfully unbalanced diptych.

Thus, this film is lethargic in every sense. Empty dialogue, superfluous visuals, standard stuff really. What is the plot of this movie? A single battle. The battle should have been the climax of a film, but not an entire film.

This was a dreadful movie-going experience, the worst thing I’ve seen in theaters in a very long time. In addition to the disgusting TV finale framework, what bothered me about HP7 was that it was a good story, adapted into “an experience.” I do not go to a movie theater for an experience. When someone asks me to tell them about my life defining experiences, I can only hope that I don’t recount the stories I’ve seen on the silver screen as my defining moments. Therefore I do not go into a theater for an unnecessarily long roller coaster scene, in which the thrills of a fast moving cart on a rail are simulated to me in attempt to excite me. I do not go to a theater to cheer on a team, so the generic “we’re in this together,” childish good vs. evil stereotypes, and constantly simplified portrayals of “sides” meant to illicit instinctual cheers and jeers from me do no more than irritate me.

What I’m really getting at is the disappointment around this 2 hour 10 minute visualization of Harry Potter for me. It cannot function as a stand alone film, it assumes great emotional investment in its characters. Some may say this is fair, considering most viewers of film 8 of 8 have probably seen 1 through 7 of 8. All I say is that this film has no value outside of its series. There is nothing good about this film except that it happens to be the missing piece from the Harry Potter puzzle. It is a terrible piece, it adds nothing to the puzzle but completion. Someone else could have completed the Harry Potter series in a much better way, but this is all we have, so go, see it, I guess.

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The Beginners (2010) – 95/100

The Beginners is a beautiful love story that is unique in its presentation and its central character. Not too often is there a romance movie where the lead is having difficulty loving because he isn’t sure what love is. And so, The Beginners is more a film about self discovery rather than the forming of a new relationship. The incredible Ewan McGregor plays an endlessly self questioning and self doubting man, who is trying to find out how to fill his life after he has lost so much.┬áThis film is perfect for anyone who chronically over-thinks, and is always asking themselves about anything: “is this really how this should feel?”

Throughout the film is great photography and composition, and under lighting a scene becomes a powerful tool to tell the darker parts of the story. There are several scenes that are filmed so perfectly that they are shockingly good on screen. And, the occasional deadpan humor is a welcome and very funny addition that livens up the film.

The Beginners is a great film. Its sad tone and subject matter may not be for all, but if you’re open minded, don’t fear, as a whole the film is a great pleasure to watch.

Another Year (2010) – 89/100

Another Year is a methodical character study of several senior British citizens. While you won’t find any typical examples of “excitement” and “drama” in their winding down lives, this narrative driven story drew me in and was a pleasure to watch.

The attraction of this film is the touchingly sad story that acts as a warning to those who left settling down and coupling with someone until their further years. Quite melancholy throughout, with some moderate uplift at times, the film rotates through all its main characters and adorns each with equal screen time. This type of storytelling equalizes all the players, and seems to present each character’s misfortune as derivative of their situation, rather than any inherent personality flaws. This initially victimizes the players, and makes them all the easier to sympathize with. However, throughout the film, as the year goes on, the film shows how the characters create additional situations to displeasure themselves, and so, a vicious circle of suffering becomes apparent, which only brings out more sympathy from the audience.

The art direction is pretty standard throughout, nothing experimental here, and everything is done extraordinarily well. Costume and prop choices felt incredibly authentic, and really helped solidify the genuine feeling of the film. Set design was impressive, with the colors and furnishings of each location exaggerating the feeling of the scene. The best thing about this film though, was the dialogue. It wasn’t terribly funny, but was completely natural and free flowing, and above all, relatable.

Overall, Another Year is a peaceful journey that illuminates the difficulties of aging without anyone to age with. See it if you’re in the mood for a well presented melancholy film; the film’s appeal is greatest when you’re feeling slightly sad and nostalgic.

The Trip (2011) – 94/100

The Trip is a hugely entertaining comedy for anglo-philes and well watched movie goers. I say this because the entire basis of the humor is based in snide British cynicism (which some define as cruelty not humor) and impressions and movie references. The references aren’t especially mainstream either; the more memorable ones include Sleuth, Heat, Get Carter, and Silence of the Lambs. And, though I enjoyed the references and impressions I couldn’t recognize, I do consider myself a big lover of British comedy, so my opinion might be a bit more rosy than anyone else’s.

One thing that did surprise me is the sudden shift in tone during the movie, from light-hearted friendly male joking, to lonely sad single Steve Coogan. I even debated with myself if this might have been done comically, because such a strongly terse message from this kind of a film seemed like it could be just another one of the two comedians’ jokes. But, after deliberation, I’ve settled that this movie does indeed try to show the joy that can come out of a light friendly relationship, versus the enormous sadness that comes from loneliness. Despite The Trip having a trailer that illuminates it as a shenanigans filled fun drive around the British countryside, at its heart is hidden the sad truth of Steve Coogan’s life (at least in the film, who knows about reality).

Though the focus of The Trip is clearly the hilarious characters that it documents, the film is still filled with some interesting camerawork and occasionally stunning landscape shots. However because half of the movie takes place in restaurants, you mostly see the typical TV show type camera navigations like in Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. The editing is especially seamless and organized, and laid out the story effectively, plus the music chosen was natural and enhanced every part of the movie.

For its laugh out loud and pleasantly bantering dialogue, The Trip is already great. But coupled with the idea that all this comedy is a colorful tapestry drawn over a dark vacuous wireframe makes this movie feel like it has genuine depth and makes it truly interesting. So, unless you have some sort of disdain for British humor, and hate impressions, and become irritated when you don’t understand movie references, go see this film right away.

Bull Durham (1988) – 71/100

Bull Durham is an adorable film about baseball, yet at the same time incorporates steamy sex all over the place. Just because it is a sports film, there’s too many stray curse words and too much focus on sex to be ideal for younger viewers. But Bull Durham isn’t so strangely obscene that any adults would be uncomfortable.

The best way to describe this film would be “likable.” The three leads are a joy to watch, especially the endlessly ranting Susan Sarandon, whose bouts of philosophy are a welcome entertaining spice sprinkled throughout the film. Kevin Costner and Tim Robins are both charming in their respective ways, but at times, Costner’s acting comes across a bit passionless and forced. Yet, the 2 scenes that he completely underacts are tepid oddballs in Bull Durham, which is otherwise pretty composed and lively.

This is a film for entertainment, so the cinematography, music, or editing is nothing special. The central romance also seems like an age old story which anyone could predict. And on top of that, the lead female, who is supposed to be some hot sex diva, really doesn’t attract me at all. Yet, I would say that the likability of this movie comes across in its funny but not enchanting performances, especially evident in the silly narration, done by Susan Sarandon’s quirky character.

Bull Durham is unique in that it combines baseball and love. At its core it is a fun romantic comedy, and I would recommend watching it for its entertaining value; that said, it’s not quite as good as Field of Dreams.

Badlands (1974) – 82/100

Badlands is an interesting, but not particularly thrilling, narratively driven story of a couple on a crime spree. The film is unusual in its subject matter, as the lead couple seems strangely unaffected by the havoc they cause. This makes the viewer question that if these people have no passion to protect life, how could they possibly love each other? So, Badlands turns out to be a telling of an alienated feeling boy who is strangely drawn to a prude girl, and starts killing just because people get in his way, and this gives him a sense of direction in his life. Mostly because of the subject matter, this is my least favorite Terrence Malick film.

Badlands is an interesting character study, which is cemented by its strong setting shots which aptly document the lonely midwest. The film itself is beautiful and well constructed, and the music, as in any Malick film, will be left to play on repeat in your head for a few weeks after viewing.

Martin Sheen is great, and his behavior in the film at first appears predictable, but reveals itself as insane and lonely as the film progresses. Every motion and gesture and face he makes powerfully portrays the serial killer this movie documents. However I did think the female lead, played by Sissy Spacek, was underacted and strangely sedate. Although this could have been part of her intended character, her bored behavior seemed too non-sequitir to be part of the film’s script.

Overall, I admit that Terrence Malick’s midas touch has been left all over the art direction of Badlands, but I didn’t find Badlands as enticing as his other films, so I would recommend seeing Days of Heaven instead if you want a short (hour and a half) and plot driven yet artistic Malick film.

The Tree of Life (2011) – 96/100

The Tree of Life is a beautifully filmed emotionally driven movie that is a must see for all patient viewers who prefer a figurative film over a literal one. Umberto Eco said that a novel is a machine for generating interpretations, I think that it is no stretch at all to apply this saying to this movie, which is so rich in visual material that I can imagine that there are many possible interpretations to this film.

I think that an important part of viewing this film is generating your own interpretation, so I won’t share mine. I think it is a rewarding film though, and for me, though most of it was sad on the surface, it ended in an uplifting note.

This film was hugely pleasing for me, and I plan on seeing it again in theaters, and probably would buy it eventually, because I think its appeal would only increase with more viewings.

What makes it such an incredible visual and auditory experience are the amazing camera movements and perspectives, a clever use of environmental noise to characterize each setting, and a structure to the film that only becomes evident once the film finishes. For me, this is tied with director Terrence Malick’s other film The Thin Red Line, both of which I consider better than Days of Heaven and The New World (and I have yet to see Badlands).

This is a successful modern art house film, and everyone interested should go out of their way to see it. The Tree of Life is both enlightening and full of alluring imagery like every great film I’ve seen.

Sucker Punch (2011) – 11/100

This movie is total crap. The first teaser trailer made this movie look cool, all the other theatrical trailers made it look like a lame video game. The first 12 minutes are indeed cool. They are well stylized, outline a quick plot, and feature relatively appealing music. The lead actress, though she has no lines in the beginning “setting the scene” bit, even then is a disappointment. She’s just not that likable and it is difficult to sympathize with her despite her horrible circumstances; so, irritatingly terrible casting for the lead. And that is all there is to say about the first 12 minutes, a decent short film.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t stop there, it plunges into hopeless pointless CGI and a terrible framework. The framework of the film is in fact exactly like video games like “Call of Duty” or really any 1st person shooter. There is a short scene where an objective of a level is laid out by your commanding officer, and then you are sent off to run through a maze to the goal, shooting all baddies in between now and the end. This is great as long as you’re the one playing, but as we all know, watching a friend play for several hours can get pretty boring. And so, a very rigid and segmented outline for the film makes for no flow, and since nobody wants to watch someone they don’t know play a very bright colored video game, the “kill baddies” parts of the film are redundant and nauseating.

As for the story. Well, off the bat its a bastardization of the idea of Pan’s Labyrinth where a girl invents situations to calm herself. What’s troubling is that within the imagined world, there are more imagined worlds which act as the “kill baddies” sequences, this scheme just feels stupid.

Without making this review much longer, I want to throw out some things which were really disgraceful. First and foremost, is that director Zach Snyder stole several details from a favorite film of mine, Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam. The entire samurai fight scene in Sucker Punch is too similar to the powerful one in Brazil, except of course, that it is lame in Sucker Punch. Secondly, is that there is a scene with Nazi Zombies, enough said. Thirdly, that all the women are so revolting in this film even though they’re scantily dressed.

If you’re thinking about seeing this movie, run away quickly. Only the first 12 minutes are okay, the rest is just something to fast forward through. This is the definition of a total piece of garbage of a film. Sucker Punch is an eclectic collection of video game sequences played on level super easy where each fight is a waste of screen time and your life. And if you think all the visual eye candy will be good for children, wrong. Not only is it unethical to poison a child’s eyes with such a debacle of a movie, but there are several disturbing elements to the story that are plain creepy. Don’t see this movie, its neither entertaining nor useful in any sense.

Hangover 2 (2011) – 68/100

Hangover 2 is a surprisingly good sequel. I went in expecting a total dud running off the fumes of Hangover 1 nostalgia, but instead a film strong enough to stand alone emerged. Mind you, I could be tainted by my totally terrible expectations, but I was very pleased with the movie. Once you ignore the fact that it follows the same formula as Hangover 1, it does bring material fresh enough to score laughs to the table.

Although only 1 memorable moment made me laugh out loud, the film was ridden with giggles. You can also feel reassured that the sequel is dirtier and more disgusting than its predecessor, so be prepared for scenes with male genitalia and blood; thankfully the two are separate for now.

This movie is indeed stupid, but I think pleasingly so. There are times when Zack Galifianakis is almost too annoying to bear, but he does redeem himself at other times by leading the best laughs of the entire film. Overall, see this one for an entertaining night, as long as you’re ready for weirdness, grossness, and stupidness. But, then again, don’t feel like you have to, as you’ve probably seen it all before anyway.

Days of Heaven (1978) – 92/100

Days of Heaven is a strong plot driven film about a love triangle, with especially beautiful cinematography to set the scene and give emotional reference to the story. I saw this film to familiarize myself with the director Terrence Malick, whose upcoming film The Tree of Life took Cannes by storm recently. Unlike another two of his films (The Thin Red Line, and The New World), Days of Heaven is short, only an hour and a half, and relies less on a figurative base to communicate its meaning.

This film was incredible for me because of the unbelievable reference shots used to the set the scene for life at the turn of the century in America. I’ve always felt that the plains and barren fields of America have a severe romance to them, and Malick successfully communicates this in every frame of the film.

A young Richard Gear stars as the love interest, and is hugely charming on screen. In fact, all the performances are convincing, and nothing feels out of place in this film. The story itself is interesting and touching, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it. See this film if you are interested in melancholy romances filled with beautiful and touching scenery and rife with emotions.