Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

HarryPotterandtheDeathlyHallowsPart2 Poster

Harry, Ron and Hermione search for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord as the final battle rages on at Hogwarts.

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Release: 15 July 2011 (USA)

Language: English

Rating: 8.1/10

Runtime: 130min

Director: David Yates

Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Mystery, 2011

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After a perfunctory couple of shots lifted from the end of the first installment of The Deathly Hallows, the film begins in earnest with a scene of slow, quiet urgency at an oceanfront cottage that could have been imported from Jacques Rivette’s Out 1. The Harry Potter franchise’s winding-down films, all four directed by David Yates, rely heavily on such calm-before-the-storm moments as the hour of Voldemort’s inevitable defeat draws nigh. As the director himself has evolved from an efficient and vaguely stylish, yet unsure, functionary into the greatest director of blockbuster cinema since Steven Spielberg, the sense of unhurried, supple balance rarely departs from even the busiest, most deafening, most f/x-laden sequences. As a firestorm rages through a seemingly infinite attic space, Yates’s camera (presided over by Eduardo Serra, who lensed seven of Claude Chabrol’s last eight feature films) circumscribes enough screen space to anchor the chaos to a stabilizing, grounded structure with reassuring x-y axes, giving the viewer the pleasure both of frantic motion and its container.

If that’s a little too egghead-cinephile for you folks, bear with me. Essential to understanding the magnitude of Yates’s achievement is to deliver him from the lukewarm deathblow of “workmanlike,” which is perfectly appropriate for Mike Newell’s turn at bat, and far too kind to the toxic Chris Columbus. The fact that Yates marshals a mile-long grocery list of business with the grace and poise of an orchestra conductor, and makes it look easy, isn’t just flattery, it’s an indication of his method. The unavoidable flurry of activity and getting the treasure and escaping certain death and all that, the prostrate-before-Rowling, infernal importance of each “from the book, do it right” moment, the prestige of a project this scale, all of these symptoms of prideful self-commemoration are inseparable from a nonchalant, wistful distance, an attitude of smallness that calms it down, and gives us, as Ratatouille’s Anton Ego might say, a little perspective.

These two indices of scale (macro and micro) are never far apart from one another. There’s nothing new, for example, about a horde of bad guys getting ready to storm the good guys’ stronghold (curiously, every face in the horde seems to have a sufficient fill lighting; hey, aren’t you supposed to make CGI effects dingy and hard to see, as demonstrated in Peter Jackson’s movies?), but Yates pivots the whole, expensive panorama on a furtive single step, the squeak of one leather boot as the chief baddie tests Hogwarts’s force field. For Yates, casualness and abstraction are inextricable from the emotional force of his direction. Images that have been worn to a nub from overuse (the Cloak of Invisibility, Dementors, Disapparating) reacquire elegance, if they ever had it to begin with. Even the image of Lily Potter being struck down—only one of a thousand moments Columbus fumbled in The Sorcerer’s Stone, from which the shot was lifted—gains emotional resonance and abstraction through reframing and repetition. The only sequence that risks getting a summons for excessive exposition (the last dip into the Pensieve) is saved by a fluid, unstable fragmentation reminiscent of Gondry/Kaufman, and the unexpected welling up of longing and heartache in Alan Rickman’s brilliant performance. (His is one of the deftest balancing acts of the year, operating as the film does on multiple octaves.)

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 also sounds strange. The horcruxes emit a steady, maddening, low whine, similar to the one heard throughout Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. The goblin custodians of Gringotts wield what looks to be a U.S. Army version of a baby’s rattle to rend a pale, keening dragon into submission. The alarms at the same institution sound like the protest of a thousand alley cats. There’s also the combined timbre of half the British stage—a crowd from which Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes distinguish themselves. Sometimes the acting is that of high, dry, scene-stealing camp, and sometimes it’s like Yates has read my mind and knows that all I want ever

y now and then is for a character to stand completely still and not say anything. That in itself may prove a divisive issue. Some will complain that the film doesn’t explain every last thing that’s happening and why, or provide ample context, blithely assuming you’ve read the books, and simply plows ahead. Good. I haven’t read more than a few chapters of any of the books, except for The Sorcerer’s Stone, and that was over 10 years ago, but for a finale like this—in stark contrast to the never-ending conclusion of New Line Cinema’s Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Based on the Novel The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien—it’s safe to say that less is more. A lot more. Is the story really of such paramount importance at this point? Hogwarts becomes Precinct 13 and Voldemort is the Death Star—there you go. The big picture is backdrop, as Yates, while gently weaving the shuttle of parallel editing between these two major movements, finds limitless opportunity to depict smallness and stillness in the chaos and hubbub, reshaping the bombast and branding around the most minute contours.

by Jaime N. Christley (13 July 2011)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

PiratesoftheCaribbeanOnStrangerTides Poster

Jack Sparrow and Barbossa embark on a quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, only to discover that Blackbeard and his daughter are after it too.

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Release: 20 May 2011 (USA)

Language: English

Rating: 6.7/10

Runtime: 128min

Director: Rob Marshall

Writers: Ted Elliott (screenplay), Terry Rossio (screenplay)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, 2011

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Rob Marshall’s philosophy for shooting action sequences seems to be roughly equivalent to his approach to musical numbers: give ’em as little as possible. Just as the danceless “dance” sequences that polluted the director’s Nine were assembled a posteriori in the editing room, thus obviating the need for choreography, the numerous fight scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides feel cobbled together from hundreds of disparate snippets. No scorched-earth Greengrassian postmodernist, Marshall imbues his sword fights and chase scenes with a semblance of visual coherence, but he’s careful not to linger on any single bit of action long enough for viewers to register the significance of the image they’ve just witnessed.

It’s an enervating approach that marks the film as more exhausting than enthralling, and its m.o. of nonstop clatter is one that Marshall applies to almost every aspect of the production. Everything is pitched so high in terms of loud exclamations, dramatic music, and frenetic activity that one would reasonably expect the film to be a compendium of juicy thrills, but the uniformity of tone instead renders the whole thing uniformly dull. When the characters aren’t fighting each other, they’re making solemn threats or, in the case of Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow and Penélope Cruz’s Angelica, exchanging caustic but flirtatious barbs, all of which is about as sexy as watching Richard Griffiths frump it up as a boorish, overweight King George II.

This fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the 18th-century-set On Stranger Tides has as its central narrative the search for the Fountain of Youth and the accompanying paraphernalia that allow its powers to be harnessed. In its overly convoluted plotting, three groups of explorers set out to follow the trail of the late Ponce de León. While Sparrow flits between the parties of gone-straight buccaneer Barbossa’s (Geoffrey Rush) British contingent and that of the unrepentant pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter (and Sparrow’s love interest) Angelica, the Spanish set off to stake their own claim for the fountain.

After the overlong setup (which admittedly contains the film’s best action sequence, the only one to successfully incorporate a measure of humor into the staging), it’s off to sea for a series of set pieces that have a distinct time-marking quality, riding out the duration until the three groups finally arrive at their destination. There are no shortage of film-padding subplots devised by screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, ranging from the dull to the ridiculous (a romance between a missionary and mermaid has to represent some kind of new low for screen amour) and some half-baked discussion about faith toward which the movie can’t be bothered to develop a coherent attitude, but mostly the filmmakers rely on a rather perfunctory use of 3D to endow the whole thing with an (ironically) surface-deep patina of thrills. But give or take a sword or two being thrust at the audience or a barrel rolling toward the viewer and the stereoscopic process serves mostly to extend the foreground image while leaving the background flat. Its use of 3D as uninspired as its staging, plotting, and characters (and its weak stabs at humor), On Stranger Tides proves its title to be a patently false bit of advertising. There’s nothing strange—or in any way extraordinary—about this dim-witted bore.

by Andrew Schenker (16 May 2011)