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Archive for July, 2011

Director: Joe Wright
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 111 Minutes

I am amazed when a film can have a fantastic beginning but forgets to nurture its ending.  Honestly, this phenomenon has been rarer these past few years but when it happens, I always wonder what occurred during the filming process.  Was there some disparity between the creative personnel that occurred during the filming process?  Did the director and writer not have a suitable ending ready when filming started and winged the climax?  The answers to these questions will forever remain a mystery, but it is really disappointing to see a good, strong film finish so weak.  Hanna is that very case.  Director Wright crafts an intriguing, weird, and kinetic plot that unfortunately unravels quickly by the end.  Still, the first two-thirds of the film is interesting enough to watch on its own.

Hanna follows Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) who are living out in the forests of Finland.  Training Hanna for a revenge mission, Erik keeps her in hiding until she feels ready to accomplish a deadly mission that involves infiltrating the CIA and escaping into the wilds of the world in which Hanna has never experienced.  They are chased by the CIA and a group of hired mercenaries, all led under the cold and ruthless Marissa (Cate Blanchett).

Hanna has all the trappings of a fantastic film.  One element is the characters themselves.  They are all given some part and depth to play from the main adults to the random traveling British children and given interesting personalities.  Bana and Blanchett, playing the titular adults in the film, both give some great performances whether as a secret agent on the prowl or a cold and merciless boss, respectively.  Perhaps the best, though, is saved for Hanna.  The story of a child or an adult finding out about the outside world for the first time is not new and has been explored in depth, but a child assassin learning about the world in such fascinating ways from a traveling British family to a random hotel owner create fun and thrilling situations of discovery, all helped by a great performance from Ronan who has a great mix of the deadly assassin and bubbly girl conflicting inside her.

All of these interesting characters are set up by the even more intriguing stylistic choices.  The film is a fascinating exercise in playing with a number of cinematography and sound design styles that initially give the film an interesting take on its action and exposition scenes.  It may come off as gimmicky to some but for me personally, I found these style changes to always be welcoming and energetic, working usually with the scene and narrative structure to extenuate the emotion and tenor of the atmosphere.  A chase sequence from a military facility is a great instance of this in which a scene where Hanna continues to run from guards through corridors become a frenetic trance scene with cameras spinning wildly and the music pumping out a techno beat.

However, these great elements come tumbling down thanks to its final act.  Each of the good elements unfortunately come apart thanks to a lackluster finish.  One is in the style.  The interesting ways Wright plays with his story are fascinating.  Yet, it seems by the climax, the ideas start to run out and repetition and campiness come more into play.  A relevant example is a slow-motion action sequence involving Bana and some mercenaries on a playground, which comes off as silly more than serious and intriguing.  For whatever reason, the film sadly becomes a bit more of a bore, which is completely opposite of what the film wanted to achieve.

This downfall is then best summed up in how the plot strands and characters fail to satisfy.  Many questions and mysteries are given from the film’s outset, and the pacing and the journey creates interesting twists and turns into what is going on.  However, when the questions are finally responded to in this last act, the answers seems incredibly convoluted and lacking.  Even worse, developing interesting character relationships and loose plot threads seem to be thrown out the window in favor of wrapping up the film quickly and giving more time to fill out some repetitive action sequences.  For instance, the final action sequence is such an unnecessary, plodded, and silly section that encompasses all these mistakes into one.  It is perhaps then most disappointing that this all comes back and affects the most developed character in the film, Hanna, who is never fulfilled to her fullest potential.

Hanna is frenetic and stylish with some hints of depth in its characters and back-story but does not completely fulfill its promises and ends up more on a limp note than it should have.  The film’s repetitive latter half and story mysteries do not do the film’s potential justice.  Still, a kinetic soundtrack, stylish cinematography and the interesting characters all make up for quite a ride while it lasts.  Hanna is not perfect by any means but perhaps it’s like the titular character herself; confused of its central purpose but coming out with some extraordinary moments of the year.  

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with the other blog I blog for at the moment.  Until that gets fixed, I’ll move my unposted reviews here for the time being.  Enjoy!

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A decade in the making; some of the best British actors seen on screen together; and three children that have grown up before millions of viewers eyes.  The Harry Potter series has been a long-standing series that has had its highs and lows with such a rich, invigorating world.  And so, the feeling comes, with some great sadness, that we as a movie audience have finally come to the end: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 2.  After a good but strangely paced first half, has the responsibilities of wrapping up the series with this second half been carried out well?  Yates still has some kinks in his directorial style that are noticeable and irksome but all-in-all, Deathly Hollows Pt. 2 wraps up the series with some great gusto and emotions.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 2 picks up right where the first part left off in which (SPOILER ALERT) Voldermont (Ralph Fiennes) finds the strongest wand in the wizard world, the Elder Wand, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends escape from the Malfoys with their friend, Dobby the house-elf, sacrificing his life for them.  Now, Harry must try to find the remaining horcruxes to destroy Voldermont while slowly venturing back to Hogwarts, which has been taken over by his former professor, Snape (Alan Rickman).

This final entry in the Harry Potter series suffers from some of Yates’ filming style and plot directions.  Yates has filmed the past three films to varying degrees of success yet has always seemed to have made consistent, strange filming decisions in all of them.  These oddities range from strange uses of slow motion to framing one scene awkwardly next to one another, creating disturbances with the flow of the film.  Death scenes are additionally peculiar and are awkwardly pulled off.   The occurrences come off as a bit strange because they do not consistently come up either.

The second Yates’ oddity comes from overall plot direction.  Even without knowledge of the overall plot of the book, some plot points are skimmed over quickly in favor of bigger action scenes or to push the film along.  Although as most of the other Harry Potter films, the running time pushes the two hour mark, information necessary to understanding the heavy ending is sometimes muddled.  The climax is perhaps the biggest change and culprit, resulting in a scene that could have much more emotional weight but becomes a typical Hollywood action finish.  Some characters like Dumbledore as well seem to have had their backstory cut in argument of overall running time when there were opportunities available to create much more full-rounded characters.  Perhaps the biggest oddity was the visual effects, which seemed off in terms of quality from the rest of the series.  Whether it was the massive battle scenes or the constant special effects required in a shorter amount of time, the visuals do not seem to always exhibit that same sheen as some of the other entries.  A sequence with the main characters on brooms escaping a room near the second half of the film is one instance of this occurring.

However, the overall film elevates above its strange film decisions to bring forth a fairly satisfying conclusion with its successful story arcs and emotive scenes.  The core plotline has usually been terrific and here, nearly all the questions and plotlines are successfully woven together to create some startling (for those that have not read the books) and candid revelations that do not disappoint.  Character arcs are well connected throughout the series as well as locales and objects that come into play finally in this finale.  On screen, it is remarkable to see it all come together and although nostalgia itself is not exactly a reason to adore a scene; Yates utilizes past events and locales smartly to evoke the same emotion into his actors.

And it is with great pleasure to watch so many actors reprise their roles for this finale, even if it is just for a line or a great scene.  Although only the devoted fans will recognize and remember every actors role in the past, bringing them altogether scene after scene showcases acting talent one after another.  The Harry Potter series has always thrived a lot on its wonderful (mostly) British acting cast, and they rarely disappoint here either.  It is a classy showcase of talent.  Aesthetically, all the nice window dressing is there as well from the same bombastic score to the costuming and cinematography.  Pacing as well is not as much of an issue once the film gets past its slower introduction.  The best quality about the film, however, is the emotive quality it brings.  When Yates gets the scene, the atmosphere, and the actors just in the right place, even the simplest scene with characters talking to one another for a good amount of time is wonderful.  The scene with Harry and the golden snitch in particular is remarkably done and although some of the background talk was cut, the exposition-heavy scenes that are still left are pulled off wonderfully.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 2 wraps up the series with some of Yates’ questionable overall directing quirks and odd visual effects; but overall, he creates an emotional and plot-closing finish that is well-intentioned.  Some oddities still remain from the past few films such as some strange framing issues and plot direction, but Yates wraps up Rowling’s original tale fairly well, propped by the same wonderful actors from before and great character moments with some great emotional scenes peppered throughout.  Although it is not my favorite throughout the series (nor is it the worst), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 2’s greatest achievement is summed up near the end of the film as Harry looks in the pensive and sees himself through the past years up to now.  The series’ greatest strength has been its fascinating world and relentless belief in its characters and plot arcs that are satisfyingly completed to fruition…a series that has literally grown up with its audience who will never forget the sorting hat, the broomstick, and the magical scar on an orphan boy’s head.  

Director: David Yates
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 130 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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I’ve been meaning to do this for quite some time since I first started reviewing on my Xanga many moons ago.  Although I try to give my reviews some sort of consistent structure and overview, I do understand that I have not laid out clearly my thought process behind the review and some of the ethics I live by.  Most of these have not changed (or at least have slowly changed as I have grown older) and of course, I expect this to continually evolve in the coming years.  I will also admit that obviously, I’m not perfect and have made my share of blunders.  However, here are my ethics of my reviewing practices and some notes/personal thoughts behind them.

1. Pros/Cons: One attribute that many film reviewers seem to forgo is trying to show the struggle and balance of reviewing a product.  Because of this, in each review, I put effort into giving both what I loved and what I didn’t love so much about each film as much as I can.  The reviewing process is more than a simple opinion of a critic; it is truly this back-and-forth tug-of-war in which the reviewer tries to come to grips both through himself and to the audience the final conclusion.  Of course, this can end up being pretty lopsided depending on what the final product was like, but usually, I try my best to convey the two sides the best I can.

2. How do I Review?: When I review a movie, I usually have a consistent but flexible list that I always think of and not just on an entertainment level but an artistic one as well.  I’ve also included a sampling of questions that I think about with each point.

-First, I look at both the purpose of the film and whether or not it has fulfilled that purpose.  What was the film trying to accomplish and did it actually meet its goals?  Was the film’s central purpose a worthwhile investment?

-Second, I look at the overall presentation of the film (including mise en scene, acting, sound, visual, and the like).  How does the entire film work in tandem?  Does it exclude any part that ruins or enhances the immersion?

-Third, I look for distinguishing features.  Does the film do something exceptionally well?  Is there a unique or innovative point that pushes the movie above and beyond others?

-Finally, I consider the feelings and questions I have at the film’s end.  Was the film memorable and for what reasons?  Why do I feel in such a way and was it intentional or not?

Interesting to some, I’m sure: I put all films on a same scale.  That means that a children’s film or a dramatic, sex-filled, violent film are not considered any different from one another.  I feel that an exceptional film can transcend the conventions of whatever genre it has categorized itself into and for myself, at least, this has been proven with a myriad of different films, not just limited to a conventional dramatic winter movie.

Finally, I do consider the audience it was made or intended for (which is inclusive of the first point) .  However, I do not consider this to be a major factor in the overall opinion I have of a film.  Instead, I make notice of it somewhere in my review (usually in the introduction or conclusion) and note that the film may have been made for such a crowd or a season.  I feel that this relates to the context and provides interesting conversation about a film in how it finally came out to be after all the marketing, hype, and word-of-mouth.  Yet, as I will mention later in terms of bias, these are usually points that are not as important to me as the core film itself.  My reviews are my thoughts on whether or not the film was a worthwhile endeavor and the reasons behind it.

3. Transparency: When I write a review, it is simply my opinion, and I understand that it may be controversial or in the minority viewpoint.  I also understand I may have made vague points or outright mistakes (although I try my best not to!).  I welcome comments that either ask or point out anything in my reviews and I am more than happy to answer back, change, edit, or explain anything in my articles.  Feedback is what fuels creativity and self-improvement.

Additionally, I make sure to explain if I am affiliated with/sponsored by/etc. any company or brand or product.  It has happened to many other websites/writers and although it has not happened to me yet, I just wanted to make that promise clear.

4. No Plagiarism/No Outside Sources: Simple and clear – I don’t plagiarize and never plan to.  I do my best to stay away from other reviews as well (other than being forced to look at some overall scores such as at IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes due to having to scavenge for film running time and director ).  Sometimes, to be honest, if I reviewed a movie I had difficulty with, I tend to post my review and see what the other general opinions have been.

5. My Love for the Medium; Not for the Movie/Director/Etc.: I think critics are always in a unique position.  We watch films not simply because we enjoy a specific series or a preview.  We (hopefully!) enjoy films as a medium and as a whole, both as a piece of entertainment and as an art form.  This is the perspective I take when I take on a review of any film.  I don’t review and praise a movie simply because I’m a fan of a director’s work; I view the film as a product of itself.  Again, as I mentioned previously, I do include context into my reviews because I feel they are points worth mentioning, but these factors are not as important as the central film.  Film, to me, is both art and entertainment.

Unfortunately, in my position, I’m limited in writing reviews both because of time and monetary reasons.  I am not really paid for to write my articles or given free passes to see movies on a regular basis.  That limits my overall pool of reviews to those I pay for or can actually squander some free passes from contests/pre-screening websites.  I have also busy spurts appear both because of academia (in the past) or work (in the future) so there are lulls in my review process unfortunately.

6. The Issue of Bias: Bias is a tough cookie to crack because there essentially is no such thing as a completely objective and bias-free review.  In an academic paper, bias is handled by balancing the contrasting sides against one another with evidence and theory to create the most supportive conclusion one can give.  If not, the  paper is considered faulty and sent back to revision.  A review is even tougher in some ways because it uses opinion and one’s own past experience to give a review some of its shape.  I will not purport to say that my reviews are bias-free; then again, what review really is?  Instead, I will state that I try my best to give each film a fair shake and give my argument as much reasoning as I can with all the criteria listed thus far.  Perfect?  Of course not, but as a critic, it’s one of the best promises I can give to my readers.

7. Just an Opinion: I do have some credentials behind me as a reviewer.  I reviewed for the New University back in my undergraduate days as an entertainment writer as well as having received a film and media studies minor (with some theory-heavy film classes).  However, more or less, I have learned and know better that my reviews are simply just opinions, a point that some readers on other websites do not take heed of.  I am simply using my best personal judgment to give insight into what I think the movie did well and what it didn’t and making an educated conclusion from it.

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