Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I

Over the past several years I've seen all six "Harry Potter" films exactly one time each. I enjoyed all of them quite a bit, but I didn't really become a hardcore Potter fan until this past summer when I read all seven novels for the first time. I tore through them more quickly than I've ever read anything and I found I loved each one even more than the last. Obviously then, "Deathly Hallows" was my favorite.
For the first time though, I was going to be watching a new "Harry Potter" movie having read the book it was based upon. This makes reviewing a movie more difficult because I like to look at films purely as films. Everyone I know who defended the absolutely awful movie version of "The Da Vinci Code" kept insisting that if I read the book then the movie would make more sense and therefore be better. But that doesn't work because a movie has to be able to stand on its own, separate from any books, graphic novels, video game spin-offs, or webisodes. If it can't then it's not a good movie. Also, I didn't want to spend two and half hours last night repeatedly thinking, "That's not what happened in the book!"
So now that I've written probably the most lengthy review introduction I've ever done, let's take a look at the actual film. Opening with a speech from Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy doing his best Churchill) in which he warns of the dangers that lie ahead in the war with Voldemort, "Deathly Hallows - Part I" sets up an eerie atmosphere that is far removed from the previous films, which it absolutely should. After all, Harry, Ron, and Hermione won't be trying to squeeze fighting Voldemort in between Potions and Quidditch practice because they're not going back to Hogwarts for their final year. Instead they are going to search for Horcruxes, which in case you forgot are odd items that each contain a piece of Voldemort's soul. If Voldemort gathers them together than he will make himself whole again. If however, H, R, and H are able to find them first and destroy them then Harry will be able to kill Voldemort.
Before they even begin their journey a couple of comrades are killed and another loses an ear. This is a far cry from flying a car because of missing the Hogwarts Express. When the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour comes under attack, Harry, Ron, and Hermione quickly disapparate into the muggle world where they are forced to go on the run and face far greater danger than ever before. The majority of the movie is spent following the three heroes through cold woods and over mountains while they search for Horcruxes and hope to evade Voldemort's agents.
Directed by David Yates (director since "Order of the Phoenix") and with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (writer of all "Potter" films with the exception of "Order of the Phoenix"), "Deathly Hallows - Part I" is a very good film which allows Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson to do more with their characters than they've had the opportunity to before. They know their characters and it seems that the sense of finality that the actors were feeling was transferred perfectly into their roles.
As with every "Potter" movie to come before it, this one features terrific performances in many very brief appearances. No one is surprised at this point that Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes embody Snape and Voldemort better than anyone else could but up and down the cast you find fantastic actors doing great work. I did find it quite jarring though that Rhys Ifans, in the role of Luna Lovegood's kooky father, managed to seem more normal here than he has in any other movie I've seen him.
In all I enjoyed the movie very much and didn't find myself missing very much from the book as I was watching it. Then my friends and I stepped outside the theater and I asked, "Did you guys really miss anything?" And the answer was yes about a couple of things. Then a couple more things. Then I started thinking of stuff. This morning I thought of a few more things. And I thought, "Hey! Wait, that was a big deal to not have that, that, and that!" Not in an angry way, but in a very surprised way.
The thing is really, when you make eight movies based upon seven books with the amount of content, plot, and characters that Rowling's series does not only do things have to go, things that you love have to go. The problems come in when a story element introduced in "Goblet of Fire" that's seemingly trivial ends up really mattering in "Deathly Hallows," but was cut from the movie version of "Goblet of Fire" because at the time it didn't seem important. Suddenly the movie of "Deathly Hallows" has some explaining to do and the explanation may not end up making a lot of sense in the context of the film. Unfortunately things like this do happen and create plot holes and problems of logic when looking at the movies on their own merits. Thankfully though they aren't so gaping as to bring the movie crashing down.
So now that you've read a mostly positive review you can finally make up your mind to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I," because clearly if you've watched the first six movies you were on the fence about seeing the next one. (I realize that sarcasm doesn't always come through in print but if you didn't get that then I don't know what to tell you.) 8.5/10.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Four Lions

For a long time I have felt that if done properly comedy can be mined from most anything. It can even be found in war ("Dr. Strangelove," "In the Loop") but is there any way that we can laugh at terrorism? Writer-director Chris Morris (he played Denholm on "The IT Crowd") thought he could. The result is a general failure but it's certainly an interesting one.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a loving husband and father who enjoys Puffin Party and the company of his friends. He also happens to be an aspiring jihadist who regularly meets with Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Waj (Kayvan Novak), and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), where they shoot video messages and discuss potential bombing targets. Their videos never go as well as Omar would hope but his spirits are lifted when he and Waj are called to Pakistan for "training." After a mishap with a missile, they're sent back home to London with their tails between their legs. Omar feels that they can still strike a blow for jihad on their own however and the "four lions" start plotting once more.
Any filmmaker setting out to make a satire is seriously challenging him or herself. I can't imagine throwing down a bigger challenge, certainly in 2010, than trying to satirize terrorism. How do you make radical terrorists the center of a comedy? Well as one would expect, with the exception of Omar, they are presented as buffoons who have no idea what they are doing. Really Omar doesn't know what he's doing either but compared to his associates he's a certified genius. The problem with the comedy of "Four Lions" is that the results of the characters' actions are far too real to be funny. Even more than their actions though, it's their thought process that is the most terrifying. Early in the film I told myself, "I can only hope that most jihadists are this inept and moronic," but by the end it seemed that their intelligence really doesn't matter. After all, people with hateful ideologies and explosives are dangerous regardless of IQ.
*So now I'm going to be a little more analytical than normal. I usually don't like to give away major plotpoints or get too into detail because I feel like a viewer should be able to go in fairly fresh, but I just have a lot of thoughts here that I want to explore.*
Now the realization that I came to is most likely what Morris was intending but if he was then I really don't know why he thought it was funny. Comedy doesn't work when it's forced and this movie shows that's doubly true with dark comedy. Still, it's a movie that gets into your head and stays there, if for no other reason it features the most terrifying film moment in recent memory. It is completely unassuming and quiet which only makes it all the more frightening. The scene is about a half hour until the movie's end. Omar is sitting in his kitchen late at night talking with his wife Sophia (Preeya Kalidas) about some trouble he's been having with the gang. He's feeling very downtrodden when his young son comes in to help cheer him up. The three of them discuss Omar's prospects of becoming a suicide bomber as though he's talking about preparing for the bar exam or becoming a bus driver. There's an acceptance of this mindset that it's just something they do and that it's perfectly normal.
The thing about this scene is that it's really the key to the whole movie. In the days since seeing it I still don't know what Morris's point of view is. The first could be that he trusts the audience to see beneath the surface and realize how horrifying the thought of this really going on in homes such as this one is. If that's what he's doing than it's a really brilliant and subtle moment that shows a director giving his audience credit. The second possibility though is that Morris wants us to sympathize with Omar. Clearly, Morris believes Omar to be misguided, but if this second possibility is true then he's attempting to show us the humanity of someone intending to indiscriminately murder innocent people.
For Omar and his family it's their reality and while I can't understand their mindset and never could, the idea of this scene being presented sort of from their point of view is interesting and in a way, quite bold. That doesn't mean I think the movie is condoning what Omar's planning to do. Far from it and obviously, neither do I. I say that it's interesting and bold because without commenting on what Omar is doing or condemning it, the reality of his plans and what his son is sure to become are positively chilling.
"Four Lions" doesn't work as a comedy. That said, it's quite thought provoking and has a single scene so memorable that I just dedicated two and a half fairly long paragraphs to it. I definitely wouldn't say that I liked the film but clearly, it leaves an impression. I won't bother giving this a score out of 10 because well, I just don't know what I would give it. If you are interested in seeing it you may have some trouble finding it. In Seattle it's playing at the Varsity Theater. If you live elsewhere then good luck finding it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Three years ago, "Atonement," a film with a strong pedigree and based upon a well-regarded novel was released. It promised to be a deeply moving and emotional movie that everyone knew going in could not possibly have a happy ending. What it ended up being was a beautifully shot film that (Saorsie Ronan's brilliant performance aside) never quite clicked on the emotional level that it should have. My concern with "Never Let Me Go" was that it would end up being "Atonement" all over again. Thankfully that isn't the case.
"Never Let Me Go" presupposes a world in which a solution to cancer and diseases was discovered in 1952. By 1978, with the life expectancy now up to 100, one would think that the world would be a happier place. But there's an overwhelming sense of melancholy at Hailsham, an English boarding school attended by Kathy H. (Izzy Meikle-Small), Tommy (Charlie Rowe), and Ruth (Ella Purnell). Students are told horrifying stories about children who'd wandered off the school grounds. They don't fear trying to leave the school so much as they simply accept that they won't leave it. Not until they reach adulthood.
Kathy and Tommy become drawn to each other but only being 11 in an emotionally stifling environment makes romance difficult. Out of jealousy, Ruth comes between them and by the time they turn 18 in 1985 and have finished their time at Hailsham, Ruth and Tommy (now Keira Knightley and "The Social Network's" Andrew Garfield respectively) have been a long time couple. Kathy ("An Education's" Carey Mulligan) is the third wheel as they move into a house with some graduates of similar boarding schools. Tommy's heart however, still belongs to her, as much as he may deny it to himself.

*If you haven't seen the trailer for this film you may want to stop reading here.*

Any hope that Ruth or Kathy might have had of growing old with Tommy was taken away from them in those early days at Hailsham. It was there that they learned what their life's purpose would be. Some time, probably in their early twenties, they would begin their "donations." Their organs would be used to save the lives of others. Most wouldn't live past their third donation. The students of Hailsham are clones.
Just as they had accepted they would not leave the grounds before turning 18, they accept their early deaths. There seems to be a sense amongst them that this isn't the norm for most people but they know so little about the world at large that their fates seem more a curiosity to them than a grave injustice. Still, Tommy and Kathy hope that the rumors of getting just a few years together by proving they're really in love, give them a quiet, modest hope. By playing against the emotion, "Never Let Me Go" is all the more powerful. This subtlety is in every element of the film. One would assume that the cruel fate of these people would be highly controversial and protested by many throughout the world. Maybe it is, but we learn as much about public opinion as Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy do, which is to say almost nothing.
The cast is uniformly terrific and the direction by Mark Romanek ("One Hour Photo") is assured. He creates an atmosphere that serves the film without calling attention to itself. As Oscar bait goes this is not a movie that's shamelessly gunning for trophies. Which is to say, it's not "Atonement." The emotional element comes together. 8.5/10.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Megamind - "Dante's Peak," "Volcano." "Deep Impact," "Armageddon." "Fail Safe," "Dr. Strangelove." Movies with similar themes that were in production at the same time and released only months apart. In July, "Despicable Me" told the story of a long time criminal mastermind who discovers he has a heart and tries to do something good. Now "Megamind" is here. It tells the story of a long time criminal mastermind who discovers he has a heart and tries to do something good. In terms of the specifics of the stories they are different enough that you probably won't find yourself thinking about "Despicable Me" while watching "Megamind." But you won't laugh nearly as much either.
Just like Jor-El in "Superman," a baby was sent to Earth in an escape pod just as his home planet was being destroyed. When he arrived he was upright, truthful, and more powerful than any human. When he grew up he became Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), the saviour of Metro City. Unlike Jor-El/Clark Kent however, Metro Man had a companion come to Earth in another pod. He was a little blue baby who had the misfortune of crash landing into a prison yard. As a result his concepts of right and wrong ended up a little bit backwards. Naturally when he grew up the blue man, calling himself Megamind (Will Ferrell), became Metro Man's sworn enemy.
While the always victorious Metro Man is being honored with his own museum, Megamind kidnaps Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) and promises certain doom to "Metrocity." Metro Man arrives on the scene to save the day but much to the surprise of everyone in Metro City (including Megamind), Megamind defeats and kills Metro Man. The city now belongs to the supervillain. Now he just needs to figure out what to do with it.
Directed by Tom McGrath ("Madagascar") and written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, "Megamind's" premise is much funnier than its execution. It's not that the film is bad or the jokes fall flat, it's that they just don't land as well as they should. The idea of a victorious supervillain being bored with the day to day operations of ruling his city is inspired but it just wasn't explored to its fullest potential. Megamind's transformation into a decent person who falls in love with Roxanne comes off well and it might be the movie's best element."Megamind" is not a failure but it's not a real success either. In a year that has given us three wonderful animated movies from three different studios ("Toy Story 3," "Despicable Me," and "How to Train Your Dragon"), this one doesn't stand as tall as I'd hoped. 6/10.