Sunday, July 31, 2011

Venice Film festival unveils their lineup.

By Francisco Salazar

A few days ago Venice film festival announced their lineup. The festival marks the  beginning of an awards run for a number of films that will be in search of Oscar nominations come January. At Venice a number films have won awards at the festival and later went on to win or get nominated for Oscars. Such films include The Wrestler, A Single Man, Atonement and The Queen. This year’s slot includes anticipated films such as A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Wuthering Heights, W.E., Carnage, Shame and The Ides of March. From these films I will preview the films I most anticipate.

A Dangerous Method marks David Cronenberg’s third film with Viggo Mortensen. The film also stars Vincent Cassel, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender. Christpher Hampton who wrote the script for Atonement wrote the script based on the play The Talking Cure. The film is a look at the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud which gives birth to psychoanalysis. The film was picked up by Sony Classics but has no release date. However based on Sony’s screenings there is a lot of buzz for Keira Knightley for an Oscar nomination. While the trailer may show us the usual period conventions,David Cronenberg’s style of film making genreally never falls into genre conventions. It may be a biased opinion, given my love for period pieces but A Dangerous Method gets my vote for my most anticipated film in the festival.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy marks Tomas Alfredson’s second film featuring an extraordinary cast that includes Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Mark Strong. Based on John LeCarre's book, the film takes place in the Cold War and follows espionage veteran George Smiley who is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.Tomas Alfredson’s last film "Let the Right One" was a beautifully told love story which provided great tone and wonderful acting. From the looks of the trailer the film will have powerful acting and definitely have a dark tone. Gary Oldman is one of the most underrated actors to date and it is refreshing to see him in a lead role for the first time in years. Colin Firth, who is hot off his Oscar, will most likely give another great performance.  In addition Tom Hardy who stole many a scene  in "Inception" will definitely add wit to the film. My only fear is that many foreign directors have had difficult times adjusting to Hollywood, often sacrificing what made their previous efforts so respectable. However I have a feeling that this one will be one of the surprises.

"Carnage" by Roman Polanski based on "God of Carnage" by Yazmina Reza is another anticipated Sony Classics release. The film stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reily and Christoph Waltz. While the concept sounds uninteresting because of the fact that it is only four actors who meet and talk, it is interesting to see what Roman Polanski pulls off. Many may say that Polanski is no longer in his prime but if "Ghost Writer" is an example of what he is still capable of doing, "Carnage" and its tremendous cast will most undoubtedly be thrilling.

The last of my most anticipated is "The Ides of March" directed by George Clooney. The film stars Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright.  This political thriller  follows the story of an idealistic staffer for a newbie presidential candidate who gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail. The film is based on the play by Beau Willimon. Clooney specializes and excels in this material and the trailer shows promise. If Good Night and Good Luck is proof of what Clooney is capable of as a director, "Ides" (which opens the festival) will most likely be a huge success.       

"Shame", "W.E." and "Wuthering Heights" will also open and while I haven’t mentioned them in this preview, these films will most likely be huge hits as they look for distribution and rave reviews to go for Oscar runs. More Venice updates when the festival opens on August 31.     

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review for Buzzlegoose

I just published a review for the final Harry Potter film on I am attaching a preview on this log, but I am also importing a link to the website. I believe this to be my definitive view on the film.

A preview of review from Buzzlegoose:  Ten years ago, Warner Brothers brought the world of J.K. Rowling’s ever popular Harry Potter series to the silver screen. Since then, the film series has traversed through both a fantastical and literal coming of age that has resonated with an entire generation of adults who were children when this phenomenon started. And now, as the hundreds of movie posters for what is arguably the boldest marketing campaign in recent memory states “It all ends.” That is arguably both the greatest and also most disappointing aspect of  Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final installment in this magnificent magnus opus. Great because it brings this saga to an emotionally resonant conclusion, but disappointing because it marks the end of what has been an unbelievable journey.

Most people that are watching this film likely know what it is this the picture that sets out to present: Harry, Ron, and Hermoine’s final battle with Voldemort and his massive army of death eaters. The trio takes up where they left in the somber, atmospheric Deathly Hallows: Part 1 of seeking out the ever-illusive  horcruxes (objects that contain parts of Voldemort’s soul). This takes them back to Gringott’s bank for the first time since 2001 in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Packed with a hilarious performance by Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermoine (or vice versa) and a tremendously thrilling ride on a beautifully rendered CGI dragon, this sequence starts the motor of this thrilling film on an exhilarating pace. No sooner has this sequence ended then Harry and company are back to Hogwarts and an emotional reunion with old friends who (thanks to the firstDeathly Hallows film) have been sorely missed. It is one of the few moments of repose in this other-wise hyperactive film that makes us marvel at how much we actually have come to appreciate these characters. Right after that, the film kicks back into high gear, where it lurks for the majority of its remaining running time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review

By David Salazar

10 years ago, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone made it to the theaters, I was only 13 years old. I wouldn't call it a far-cry to state that I have actually grown up alongside this franchise and that for me, like the cast members in the films, it has been some sort of coming of age journey. I have always found the books and films emotionally resonant. The most likely reason is that despite her inability to develop and mature in her writing style (the books were always written with children's books prose), the stories and content of her works have matured throughout, making them easy to connect with for a budding adult. The filmmakers, starting with Alfonso Cuaron, caught on to this and adding this intensity and maturing to each film, built and crafted a finer work each time. And now, as the posters (plastered everywhere in what is the most impressive marketing campaign I have witnessed recent times) state: "It all ends." And it couldn't have done so in a more satisfying, emotionally resonant film. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was remarkable for its decision to tame the pace and focus on building tension: between characters, between ambiance, between circumstances, and in the tone and style itself. Many claimed it to be slow and trying, but I found it to be a massive exhale from what has come to be expected from the traditional Hollywood blockbuster. Many felt that the decision to break up the final book was a sneaky scheme to inject more money into the studio's accounts and after the first film's lukewarm reception, the questioning did not cease. Well, after watching Part 2, it becomes quite clear why it was necessary. Yes, the film feels like a second part (again, which Harry Potter film can truly claim to stand on its own?) but having the book broken up into two features turned out to be a truly savvy idea. At 2 hours, not only does the film present tremendous action set pieces that marvel from start to finish (the ride through the bank and ensuing flight on a dragon, the epic battle of Hogwarts), but the film is also allowed to slow down and find more of those quiet moments that have truly made this film franchise soar and resonate with audiences for an entire decade. 

In series filled with a plethora of riveting moments, this film only adds to that tremendous library. Harry's realization of his destiny, the ensuing scene where he meets his long-lost loved ones, Neville's realization of who he is, Harry and Ginny's brisk, but sweet moment amid the battle, the resolution of the tension between Ron and Hermoine in the Chamber of Secrets, and most importantly, the fulfillment of Snape's character arc. This is quite possibly one of the most emotionally charged sequences in the entire saga and it is beautifully devastating in its portrayal. 

The cast is the best it has ever been in this series. Radcliffe leads the charge with his most subtle and emotional breakthrough thus far. Watson and Grint's chemistry pays off in a huge way. Maggie Smith comes back for what amounts to a brief speaking role, but she makes the most of her time with a delightfully sweet gesture after she calls up an army of stone soldiers. Matthew Lewis gives a heroic portrayal of the former coward in one of the best feel-good moments in an otherwise bleak film. But the scene stealers here are Ralph Fiennes (who finally gets more than 10 minutes of screen time) and Alan Rickman as the tragic hero of the film. Fiennes is the embodiment of the snake-like Satan, full with the danger and malice, but also the charm and elegance. Rickman, who is always implacable, shows increasing vulnerability that only makes his final revelation all the more satisfying.

From a technical perspective, this film is as complete as it can get. Eduardo Serra's cinematography, while not as powerful this time around is still remarkable in its ability to create atmosphere. Make no mistake, this is the darkest Potter film yet and the cinematography's bleak desaturated look only emphasizes this. When color is brought back into the picture for brief moments in the film, the effect is quite extraordinary.  Aleander Desplat once again proves why he is one of the great composers of this era. He evokes a score that amplifies the emotional content of the film, but without ever intruding upon it. In a classy gesture, Desplat sets aside his own music late in the film to bring back an unforgettable moment from John William's scores and brings the entire series full circle. It was a chilling, unforgettable moment. The CGI artists have created some of the most incredible effects in recent memory and while they are ever present throughout the film, they never get in the way of the emotional content of the story or seem to be the main attraction (most blockbuster can't claim the same, no examples necessary).

The true hero of this film is ultimately David Yates, who after 4 films has established his comfort and intimacy with the material. He may have had his pacing issues early on with the first few films, but these two last two films have shown an ability to not only balance that pace, but to provide the necessary payoff that this series desperately needed. It was on Yates to maintain a level of quality that Cuaron and Newell, and possibly even Columbus had created and Yates not only maintained it, but in many ways improved on it. It is truly rare to see a series that is based on sequels take so many steps forward in maturity and depth (just see Star Wars), and much less with so many differing creative forces. But with Harry Potter, Hollywood has potentially found its milestone. 

The film  does make a great deal of changes from the book which is likely to incite the wrath of many devotees.  While I was a bit bothered by some, I will say that certain changes certainly appeal more to the cinematic medium. The final encounter between Harry and Voldemort is one good example. Instead of a shouting match as envisioned by J.K. Rowling in the novel, Yates and company present us with a full-fledged battle between Harry and Voldemort as the rest of the wizards attempt to destroy Nagini, his snake. This adds a greater deal of energy and suspense from a visual standpoint than Rowling's original iteration, but by the same token does take away some of the epic nature of seeing Harry rise to the occasion and hurl venom at Voldemort in front of all the people that love and support him. To call the final encounter between the two anti-climatic may be a bit drastic, but it certainly lacks some of that emotional intensity from the book. Harry and Ginny rarely get to see each other much in this film and that left me a bit unsatisfied, though I will say that the few fleeting moments they share together are amongst the sweetest in the series and film. Dumbledore's character gets the shortchange as well, though with less resonant consequences in the grand scheme of the films. The rest can be said for any of the other alterations. 

The epilogue has always been controversial. The makeup is suspect here (though incredible in the rest of the film), but the ending presents us with an enduring message not only from the filmmakers but from Rowling and the characters of the films and books. Having Harry and company grow up one last time is a reminder of how far we've come in these past 10 years, but that it is truly time to move on. And it couldn't have been easier to say goodbye.  After 8 films of high quality, the epic saga comes to a close on a bittersweet, but fittingly magical conclusion. Deathly Hallows is far and away the best film in the series. 

By David Salazar

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wrap-up on LIIFE: Awards and Parting Thoughts

LIIFE LOGOSo if you've missed the past week's posts, here is a nice list of links to each of the days.

Day 1: Thursday 7/7
Day 2: Friday 7/8
Day 3: Saturday 7/9
Day 4: Sunday 7/10
Day 5: Monday 7/11
Day 6: Tuesday 7/12
Day 7: Wednesday 7/13

Awards Ceremony

We just got back from the awards ceremony. What a way to end a film festival. LIIFE really pulled out all the stops here bringing up Martha Wash to do some musical performances and then having Brian O'Halleron (Clerks) as the main host (he was tremendous!). There was a Artistic Achievement award given to Long Island's own Ed Burns (Saving Private Ryan, 27 Dresses,  Director of the Brothers McMullan). Federico Castelluccio was not only a guest presenter but won big at the show including "Best Short" and "Best Director for a Short film." We don't remember all the awards (it was a 4 hour ceremony and the tech awards were already given out before hand!). But other films that won big awards include "On Air" (a German student film that we did not see, "Exposed" (didn't see it, a documentary that won best Jury Prize), "Tracks" (another film we didn't see, won Jury Prize short). Actor and Actress and Supporting Actress all went to the cast of "True to the Heart" (which won the best first feature film award) while "Strings" won best director and supporting actor. The Best Feature Film award (AKA Best in Show) went to "As if I'm not there" which was nominated for best director, best story, and best humanitarian award.

So all in all the presentation was remarkable. All the nominations were displayed with clips from the film and every winner was given a golden Oscar-looking statue. However, showing the same clip again and again for films that were nominated more than once was a bit trying on the nerves. More variety in the clips would have been better. Watching the same clip for a film "Clarity" three times ( a film that won it's share of awards and was probably excellent, again didn't see it) did more to deter interest in the film than actually enhance it.

We will both miss this festival, which was so professionally executed. The treatment of everyone who was involved and participated was first-class. We look forward not only to attending again next year, but hopefully also screening our film there as well. So a big shout out to the LIIFE organizers!

So in the spirit of the awards dinner, we are going to present a brief list of some of our own personal "awards" if you will. Just a disclaimer: We went to the following sessions:

Thursday: 5 pm and 7:45
Friday 7 pm
Saturday 1:30 and 4:30
Sunday 7 pm
Monday 5 pm
Tuesday 5 pm
Wednesday 2:30

So not every film from the expo was considered because we didn't see all of the films. The intentions of this is to honor the films that we DID see and that most impressed us in the categories that we felt suited to judge or qualify. So because we didn't remember many scores or sound effects/editing, we did not do any "awards" for that. Also, because we hate the whole one must win out standard, we picked a few for each category. They are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. 

FINALLY, just remember, these are our opinions. 

Best Cinematography
"As if I'm not there"- Tim Fleming
"Lilly of the Feast"- Ken Kelsh
"The Price"- Stefan Silvers

Best Editing
"As if I'm not there"-
"The Shoes Maketh the Man"- Tarek Sursock
"Strings"- Ben Foster, Mark Dennis

Best Actor in a Leading Role
"Lilly of the Feast"- Federico Casteluccio
"The Shoes Maketh the Man"- Pasquale Cassalia
"True to the Heart"- Andrew Ruth

Best Actress in a Leading Role
"As if I'm not there"- Natasa Petrovic
"Perhaps Tomorrow"- Terri Garber
"True to the Heart" -Meghan Grace O'Leary

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
"Lilly of the Feast" -Paul Sorvino
"Perhaps Tomorrow" -Adeel Ahmed

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
"Cleaning House" -Karin Tratchenberg
"Strings"- Olivia Draguicevich

Top Films
So we picked out five favorite films and then 4 honorable mentions that we did not want to leave unrecognized for their quality. We will provide blurbs for our 5 favorites and why we loved them so much. Remember alphabetical order and no rankings here.

Honorable Mentions
"Blackberry Stains" by
"Cleaning House" by Catherine Giarrusso
"Lilly of the Feast" by Federico Casteluccio
"Strings" by Ben Foster and Mark Dennis

Top 5 Favorites
"As if I'm not there" by Juanita Wilson

A real knock-out if there ever was one. Beautifully photographed, tremendously gripping, and filled with some of the most powerful acting I've seen recently, this film broke both of our hearts and was our immediate consensus pick as one of our favorites. It also screened on opening night and was a tough act to follow for sure. The film is filled with disturbing images and scenes, but director Juanita Wilson makes tasteful decisions  that keep everything from being over sentimentalized or even becoming overly grotesque. Samira of Sarajevo goes to a village to become a teacher. Then those villagers are captured and sent to a camp. Samira is thrust into a situation where she must either take the abuse or sell herself to the best bidder in hopes of living a more "dignified" life in the prison camp. The film is set during the Bosnia conflict in the 90's and highlights a devastating time in recent history that does not seem to get the attention it deserves.  The village is left unnamed and the side that the soldiers are fighting for is also left unknown. The film does not care about taking political sides; it only cares about presenting a reality that both sides were guilty of. And it does so with searing power that makes the film compelling and unforgettable.

"King of the Hamptons" by Dennis Lynch

Presented during one of the "warm-up" blocks, this film is presented as a documentary, but instead of lecturing like most documentaries eventually end up doing, this film simply takes its audience on a exhilirating journey. Its what reality TV aspires to, but always fails to achieve. Watching an average man do what so many people in his position want to do but have no courage to do is inspiring. And watching him succeed is beyond that. It is a testament that the American dream is still very much a possibility and even a reality for those who have enough faith in themselves. Neither of us are big fans of documentaries (again the lecturing bit), but this film definitely made us laugh, smile, and even almost get a bit teary.

"Perhaps Tomorrow" by Sandy Garfunkel

Both dramas and comedies pose their individual challenges, but I often feel that comedies tend to do better in the short film form. Character dramas tend to be slower paced than comedies and as a result, demand the length and span of a feature for their characters to blossom. Often watching short dramas tends to be frustrating because one gets the sense that the film is incomplete, that the story is not truly finished, nor the character full formed. "Perhaps Tomorrow" feels like a complete story with a fully fleshed character and it is a truly moving human piece that in its most tragic revelation also provides  beautifully captivating human interaction that fortifies one's hopes for the characters.

"The Shoe Maketh the Man" by Tarek Sursock

The film got no mention during the awards ceremony. It really is a shame because it was what I would classify as a perfect short comedy. A compelling conflict, a hilariously interesting character, and a comically satisfying ending make for one of the films that really surprised us. Alessandro is an accountant in Hollywood who is about to get his big client. As the film starts he is prepping for the big meeting and converses with his lover about their future dreams, gets a scolding by his hilarious Italian mama for his stupid girlfriend and for not focusing, etc. Everything is looking up, until Alessandro scrapes his perfect leather shoe and then pandemonium ensues. A comment on American superficiality that is resolved in the most interesting of all conclusions. Well-paced, brilliantly acted, beautifully shot, and most important, hilarious, this is one of the overlooked films of the festival.

"True to the Heart" by Mitchell Kase

This film got its due on awards night with victories in all the acting departments and best first feature. It also got 3 or 4  additional nominations, so it was clear that NO ONE overlooked this film. And why would they? More in the vein of a 1950s screwball comedy and more imaginative than anything Hollywood has recently put out in the romantic comedy department, "True to the Heart" is a beautiful story about two former adversaries learning to love each other. The acting is top notch and fully merited the acting victories they accumulated together and Mitchell Kase and Byron Stankus write a story that may have a pretty straightforward trajectory, but is filled with enough twists to remain compelling for it's entire running time. I mentioned this in the earlier "review", but the customary "I love you" at the end of romantic comedies can be cringe-worthy and often hard to watch, because most of the time, it is difficult to believe. But as Drew and Kaitlyn came together in the bar where they first met, I was actually excited to hear those fateful words and see the expected conclusion. Romantic comedies take a lot of shots because they are so formulaic and so predictable. However, Mitchell and Byron show that it is possible to adhere to the formulas and predictability and still remain freshing, appealing, and most importantly, entertaining. A great film that got a great premiere and will hopefully see even better days at other film festivals.

And that sums everything up. We hope you enjoyed reading us for the last week. Congrats to all those who made it into the festival and participated!

David Salazar
Francisco Salazar

Harry Potter Retrospective

So I have already completed my restrospective on all the previous installments leading up to tonight's midnight opening which I will not be attending. I will be seeing the film tomorrow and will promptly bring my retrospective full circle with a review tomorrow. So in case you've missed anything thus far, here is a list with links to the past 7 posts.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the final review of Deathly Hallows Part 2 and a wrap up on the entire series. Hope you've enjoyed this as much as I have. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Retrospective Part 7

When this film came out, a lot of critics complained about the fact that it felt like it was an incomplete film. And while I know exactly where they are coming from (it is half of the book obviously), I had one question to ask: Which Harry Potter film was not incomplete? What I mean to say is, which Potter film was a complete story in and of itself? Sure there are events that get resolved in those films (saving Sirius and Buckneak in Azkaban, the competition finishing in Goblet, Harry realizing he isn't alone and Voldemort getting seen in Order, etc.). However, can one honestly say that they could watch a single one of those and not be confused without watching those before and those after? What I am getting at, is that the Harry Potter films all work in function of one another and Deathly Hallows Part 1 was no different. Yes, it may have depended even more on its sequel than any others, but the point stands, it is just a part of a massive whole and people should not berate it for not having a "tight" conclusion.

Now that that is out of the way, I would like to point out that to me, this is the culmination of all the films before it. It shares all of the qualities of its predecessors while shedding almost 100 percent of its short-comings. Sure the naked Harry/Hermoine kiss was unnecessary and the most cringe-worthy moment in the ENTIRE series, but that one moment aside, the rest of the film works on all levels. Yates has finally figured out pace and balance. This is by far the most atmospheric and soulful of the films. The ambiance is unsteady, constantly shifting visually as the characters emotions and relationships shift. There is almost a constant search for balance and permanence in style that is never achieved and that is absolutely perfect for the film. We get a crowded city, a barren wasteland, the forest, a snowy ghost town, a beach, a seemingly haunted castle, etc. You get the message. From the get go, a silent sequences show Hermoine saying  a heartbreaking goodbye to her parents as she erases herself from their memories and lives. It is so saddening and disturbing all at the same time. This is no longer the children's series that Columbus set out to make back in 2001. The film traverses more moods and atmospheres than any film before it.

The film also ventures into territory that was pretty rare in this series. One particular point that stands out to me is the Godric's Hollow sequence where there is a tremendously eerie sense of isolation and loneliness, only emphasized by the snow. During one shot, Yates frames Harry and Hermoine left frame, leaving space on the right. The depth of field is extremely shallow, but Yates pans right, we can see a dark figure standing there. It is a subtle, but chilling moment to see another person reappear in such a dead locale. This and the ensuing sequence are as close as this series reaches true psychological horror. The final scene is quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking scenes in a series known for punctuating its films with heartbreaking scenes (SPOILER: Dobby's death). The arid terrain on which this scene is set only adds to the emotion that the characters and audience feel during these moments.Then there is the splendid animated sequences detailing the story of the three brothers and the deathly hallows. The scene matches the atmosphere of the film and regardless of the differing visual style is so organically integrated into the film. It may be animated, but it feels so fitting; just another rapturous spell in this magical film.

Deathly hallows Part 1 is also the first Potter film to end on such a dark, somber note. All the other ones, even in their darkest moments found ways to extract the positive from its conclusions. Not so here. Yates leaves everything so bleak and opaque, that there is an immediate sense of anticipation for Part 2 to resolve this tension. One final note is that this is by far the best cinematography of the entire series to date and it is unlikely that Yates is able to create such ambiance and mood without such tremendous work from Eduardo Serra.

 During the filming of both parts, Yates stated that Part 1 was more a "road film" and in many ways it is (I have already noted above that the style of this film is almost in search for stability in case you missed it). I would call it the "Indie" Potter in which characters and their interactions are more important than the special effects. Sure, the effects are still ever present (and ever-spectacular), but this is a story about studying the relationships of three characters whose relationships they, and we by extension, may have taken for granted for six films. Yes, they've had conflicts before, but never in the face of danger. When in danger, these characters tended to put aside their differences and work together. Well in this film, that friendship reaches its greatest degree of fracture. And because the difficulty and fracture of the relationship is so strong, the expected reconciliation later on is that much stronger. The moment where Ron returns to tell Harry and Hermoine how he found them (yes the glowing ball scene) may seem cheesy, but it is actually quite a poignant intimate moment between two characters who are slowly but finally finding a way to express their feelings to each other. Yates gives us plenty of quiet moments besides this one. My personal favorite is when Harry puts on music and begins dancing with Hermoine. There is such a tremendous sense of sexual tension between these two during these moments that truly make us question the directions of the characters. For the first time, the characters and the story seem to stray from their straightforward trajectory and path into refreshing unpredictability. But the sexual tension that Yates builds in these relationships isn't the only quality that he is able to build with this scene. Just seeing Harry and Hermoine take a break from the magic wands, the spells, the CGI to do something that is so universal and that audience can actually relate to (dancing) is extremely touching.

But this film doesn't work unless the three leads are on board. And they all deliver. From watching this film and comparing it to the first, it is astonishing to see how much these three have matured into their characters. They are all in complete control  and all seem to be relaxed throughout. No more traces of overacting or overworking. Radcliffe no longer looks uncomfortable. He finally shows the quality that he got rave reviews for in Equus. Watson's Hermoine has blossomed into such a lovable character and Ron has become someone to root for (as opposed to the whiny annoying Harry clone he was in the first two films). As for the rest of the cast... well, they are all pretty much cameos. Though I will put in a good word for Helena Bonham Carter who I have neglected time and again in the previous posts. I have always enjoyed her Bellatrix and loved to hate her, but this is the first time where I really thought she was more than just a gothic sadistic clown with a wand. She is really scary at the end of this film as she tortures Hermoine. Truly horrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

Alexadre Desplat is brought on to score the film and he proves to be the true successor to John Williams: Finally! I loved Patrick Doyle, but I was always missing John Williams from Azkaban for the rest of the series. Desplat almost makes you forget about Williams with glorious music that matches Yates' soul-searching mood. The music is throughout intriguing, never falling into banality or boredom as is the case with Hooper or even border-line imitation with Doyle (though again, I will stress that his work is much appreciated in Goblet).  After listening to his rapturous score, the only thing I can wonder is WHY Yates took so long to get him? It is finally refreshing to listen to premiere music by a premiere FILM composer.

I could continue to go on and on about how much I love this Potter, but I do not really feel that justice can be done to this one unless one watches and experiences what I've been talking about. Yes it is the SLOWEST of all the films (surprise surprise considering Yates' tendency to go into hyper speed in his two previous installments) and it lacks in the humor department (another departure), but it has more atmosphere and mood than likely any of the other predecessors before it. And most importantly, it is headlined by three actors finally in complete control of their craft and a director who is complete command of the material. This is by a long shot, the most mature of all the Potter films and worth a reassessment by those who may have overlooked its wonders the first time around.

LIIFE Day 7 Impressions

So today was the final viewing session at LIIFE. I can't believe it's actually done. One hell of a week. Again, just one block today and four films. So here they are.

4. "Faith" (Pagtuo) by Janice Villarosa

A short film about a mother whose son suffers with cancer and her only means of saving him is by regaining her faith. I was thrilled that the filmmakers relied on momentum and brevity to tell the story, considering that this kind of film can often lead to overindulgence emotionally. However the final work, which is beautifully acted, leaves one with a great sense of emotional satisfaction as the credits start to roll.

3. "The Weekend Hostage" by Roger Barker

A comedy about a man who is kidnapped. He confronts his kidnappers and discovers something he never expected. The twist is quite interesting and alters the dynamics of the tension produced. It is mostly a quiet film, with the moments of comedy being very subtle.

IMDB page

2. "The Obligation to Endure" by Julie Fergus

A documentary that brings the issue of closing libraries to the forefront and their impact on the American infrastructure. In this case, Fergus focuses on the government closing EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) libraries and how this impacts scientific research and studies. The main testimonials are from librarians that have been most affected by the closings and their comments are thought-provoking and insightful.

IMDB page

1. "John Muir: In the New World" by Catherine Tatge

Part of the American Masters series by PBS, this documentary analyzes the revolutionary life of naturalist John Muir and how he changed the public's perception about conservation. A great history lesson if there ever was one, this film provides an in-depth, colorful portrait of a man who changed our nation's view on nature, but does not get the credit he deserves. This documentary certainly does a great job of restoring that prestige to John Muir.

So that's all for now. Tomorrow, we will be attending the awards dinner and then provide a recap of went on during the awards. We will also provide a list of our own personal favorites from the festival. An exciting post tomorrow!

Messenger Facebook Page is Up!

So just a quick plug for our film Messenger will start to get sent out soon to festivals. Here is the link to the facebook page. Festival applications are underway and we will update as news arrives. I have also included the trailer for the film and our reel. Enjoy!

New Poster for the Dark Knight Rises

So finally some more visuals from Christopher Nolan's latest work. This poster has some eerie similarities to the Inception poster as well as "The Dark Knight" poster. Very interesting visual concept and now my anticipation for the film grows tenfold. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Retrospective Part 6

Half-blood Prince might be the most unique of all the Potter films in that the main plot takes a back seat to the emotional storylines. Many people blasted the film for being so slow and it obviously hurts that it is one of the longer Potter films, but for me this film presented a breather from all the frenetic action that moved at overwhelming speeds in the last film. In many ways, Half-blood Prince is the "romantic comedy" of the Harry Potter movies, as love and heartbreak take centerstage.

The film takes liberty with the source material. During the previous installments it became increasingly clear how Ron and Hermoine feel about it each other. In the books, Rowling does not acknowledge this possibility until the sixth book and it is a passing comment. As a result, Yates and Kloves (who are both back and in top form) let the audience explore the feelings in more depth. The result is that Ron and Hermoine almost become the two main players for a great portion of this film. Ron runs off with newcomer Lavender, breaking Hermoine's heart. This is the most vulnerable she's been the entire series and Emma Watson's touching performance connects us with her like never before. The most beautiful scene in arguably the entire film is the moment where she runs off after seeing Ron kiss Lavender and hides in a corridor. Harry runs after her and the two share a genuine moment of comfort for their difficult love situations. Grint finally gets a chance in this film to show off his charisma and insecurity in good measure. The most memorable moments coming right before he is to play the Quidditch match that would determine his athletic career. Grint gains our pity and then makes us smile as he regains his mojo almost instantly. I was thrilled to see that the filmmakers finally made these characters come to the forefront emotionally like never before.

The main plot of the film, well, it's actually quite complicated. The film takes us back a few steps and reintroduces the world to us (or simply aggregates new information). On one hand, Harry has a magical potions textbook that was used by an obscure genius known as the Half-blood Prince. On the other is this idea of the Horcruxes which Dumbledore brings up to Harry (well that comes toward the end). In any case, these two mysteries, which took forefront in the book, are in the backseat for the film, and to be honest, it's all in good measure. Yes, Voldemort's story is not as fully developed as in the book, and yes the discovery of the Half-blood Prince's identity at the film's climax has a meak pay-off, but in the grand scheme of things, it was more important to have the audience take a closer look at the characters and their emotions in order to further connect with them. Yates, gives off enough information to keep the story interesting without distracting from his main intentions with the film.

Ginny and Harry's romance gets a bit less play however, which is interesting considering that Harry is the MAIN character. However, the tension is built slowly until the first kiss comes in one of the sweetest moments in the series. In the book, that kiss is so random that one barely gets to experience it. The filmmakers changed up the context and made a magical moment out it. There is also the inclusion of a new scene in which the Deatheaters attack the Burrow and Harry and Ginny are placed in grave danger. Seeing Ginny run after Harry only strengthens the audience's connection to their budding romance as does seeing them protect one another moments later. Another risky choice that pays off handsomely.

I've already talked about Watson and Grint's show-stealing in this film. Radcliffe does not do so bad for himself, though he seems slightly less involved than in the last film. Gambon comes the closest he's come to Richard Harris' performance in what may be his finest of the series (I haven't seen Hallows part 2). Jim Broadbent adds another British thesp of reknown to the series and he puts on quite a show. The moment when he describes the present he got from Harry's mother is one of the most subtle and beautiful acting moments of the film. Juxtapose that with his charming presence at the start of the film as he tries to impress/seduce Harry. But in my opinion, the true break out performance in this film is Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. This film finally develops him further than the vengeful nasty archrival to Harry. In many ways, Malfoy, as presented here is Harry from Order of the Phoenix, asked to take on a task that he does not know how to take on. His innocence is finally being destroyed. Felton doesn't have much to say, but it becomes increasingly clear throughout the film how much this task is bearing on him. The boy who acts all tough, it finally falling apart.

Yates continues to build his craft in this film, with some of the most poetic moments yet. As mentioned, Malfoy's story exerts itself because of Yates' character-first approach. Visually there are quiet moments that amplify his story and his loss of innocence. Moments after Ron and Lavender are seen running and chasing each other up a staricase, the camera follows along the tower until we see a lonely Malfoy looking down, almost afraid and clearly conflicted. This juxtaposition of images solidifies and emphasizes Malfoy's state. Later on in the room of requirements, Malfoy takes the white bird from the cage instead of the dark bird. Later on, this white bird is the one that gets strangled while the dark bird is allowed to escape from inside the vanishing cabinet. It is a subtle gesture, but it clearly portrays Malfoy's loss of innocence and descent. I also commend the lack of an epic fight at the end. The film was intended as a quieter piece and the altered ending though not as epic, certainly lends itself to the intimate nature of the film. It also further delays the epic fight and creates greater anticipation for the final film and battle. The trip into the cave is one of the most frightening scenes in the film and is masterfully edited.

Hooper also improves his trade, presenting his best and final score. The most memorable moments are likely the aforementioned sequence in which Hermoine and Harry confide their emotions to each other. The music is full of nostalgia and sadness and really speaks to the characters in that moment. I still don't love his work, but commend his improvement from one film to the other.

The cinematography (which I believe improves in Hallows part 1) was nominated for an Academy Award deservedly so. The cinematography has never graced so many moods in this series to perfection and it is likely because of the diversity of the source material. The work in the cave is absolutely stunning. The images in which Ron comes to breakfast before the Quidditch match are deliberate and in away jokingly play to the life-ending emotions that Ron seems to be feeling. Everything is so angular and rigid (including his toast and eggs) and the muted desaturated colors only emphasize this dread further. The Visual Artists should also get some credit. They got a bit of a break in this film, but when they had to show up (the scene in the cave), their work was mesmerizing.

All that flowering aside, I do admit that Voldemort gets the short end of the stick from a developmental standpoint. Many parts of the book regarding his history were fascinating and we really get no sense of where he came from. We get hints, but they seem rushed. The dynamics of the Harry/Dumbledore relationship are also minimized sadly. Because the obvious opportunity to make this relationship blossom is not taken, the ending does not pay off as strongly as I had hoped.

Half-blood Prince ultimately takes the movies in a more atmospheric direction where the mystery plot is minimized and the characters get a closer look. It may seem like the most messy from a structural stand-point, but the film is genuinely satisfying emotionally.

LIIFE Day 6 Impressions

We are getting close to the end here. Another day of just one block. 9 short films this time, 8 narratives and 1 documentary. An interesting collection to be sure. And now, my favorites:

5. "The Face Shop" by Noella Borie

An animated film about a man who takes his faceless friend to a face shop in hopes of having him pick out his face. The animation for this film was unbelievable! More interestingly, not only does Noella Borie utilize computer animation, but alternates with stop motion and claymation, all to tremendous results. It is hilarious and charming, with interesting characters. Bories stated during the Q&A that she was working to make a series and potentially feature on these characters. Watch it below, and enjoy it.

4. "Dottie's Thanksgiving Pickle" by Sean Gannet

Dottie's Thanksgiving PickleStarring Nancy Opel and Olympia Dukakis, yep the same one that you're thinking about, this comedy tells the tale of a woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner hoping to finally impress not only her husband, but her mother-in-law. Throughout the film Dottie, played splendidly by Nancy Opel, converses with her food. This proves to be a smart move as the food essentially becomes another character in the film (and an interesting one at that). The conclusion sets aside the comedy (briefly) for a satisfying moment for both Dottie and the audience.

Official Website

3. "Fireworks" by Michael Mayer

A subtle drama about two people who come together after the loss of their loved one. The brother of the deceased and the girlfriend of the deceased travel together to the funeral in which they reconnect and realize they could potentially provide the ultimate comfort for each other. The "fireworks" that the title suggests are never fully realized, but the film builds strong sexual/emotional tension between the two leads that surely anticipates this payoff after the movie has ended. The performances are strong and the cinematography is beautiful to behold.

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2. "Cleaning House" by Catherine Giarusso

Another moving, perfectly shot drama about a mother and daughter who come together after the grandmother's funeral to settle their differences. The performances are pitch perfect. During a 5 minute monologue in which one the characters reveals harsh information about her past, Giarusso makes a gutsy decision  and it pay off in spades. The camera stays static in a two shot, enabling the actor the opportunity to connect the audience to her story. No flashbacks, no cutaways, etc. Giarusso clearly trusts her actor to tell the story and it makes the moment all the more memorable because not only does the audience believe the performances, but he/she also feels that the director respects the viewers's sensitivity.

"Cleaning House" Trailer from Catherine Giarrusso on Vimeo.

1. "The Price" by James St. Vincent and Zeke Pinheiro

Just so you know, this film will be playing at Comic-con. A western about two bandits escape from a town in which they are the most sought-after delinquents, this film moves at an unrelenting pace. It has drama, it has comedy, it has pretty good action. And the opening, with diegetic sound creating the score is the most inspiring moment of the film. The film stars Carlos Gallardo from "El Mariachi" and Solomon Trimble from "Twilight." The cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous (arguably the best in the festival that I have seen). I would like to add that film did leave me wanting a bit more from the story-line, but the directors stated that a feature version of the story is in the works, which should only enhance this promising work.

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Salazar Family Circle

Aside from being filmmakers and film enthusiasts, we are also huge opera afficionados. If you like this blog and read some other perspectives on the opera world, read our sister site: or facebook page.

Monday, July 11, 2011

LIIFE Day 5 Impressions

Not much to say today. We went to one block, the 5 PM to see 2 shorts and one feature. The feature had won a few awards at the Tech awards ceremony and had been highly publicized throughout by the producers so we felt compelled to see what all the buzz was about. Did it live up to the hype? You bet. In fact, this was likely the most solid block thus far.

3. "Between the Blinds" by Daniel Brown

The film was done under the Project 21 program in which the filmmakers have 21 days to write, shoot, and edit a short. The film centered on a writer with writer's block who must deliver three plot lines or lose his job. His inspiration comes when he looks out his window. The film barely has dialogue and is an exciting visual exposee. The incredible first movement of Mendelssohn's glorious Violin Concerto accompanies the film almost to perfection.

2. "Perhaps Tomorrow" by Sandy Garfunkel

This is quite possibly the most moving short film that I have seen thus far. It relates a woman who seems to be in a state of depression. She has a hard time interacting with those around her. Garfunkel does not reveal the root cause of this woman's problems until late in the film, but drops clues throughout, maintaining the audience's connection to the story. The horrifying truth is revealed in a moving scene between two characters that are going through the same affliction. The acting is subtle throughout, but heart-felt.

Perhaps Tomorrow Trailer from Sandy G on Vimeo.

1. "True to the Heart" by Mitchell Kase

A romantic comedy about a cocky musician whose career is destroyed by a review. Later on, attempting to reinvent his image, he is forced to having to work alongside the same woman who wrecked his career. It's a romantic comedy, so it's pretty clear where the story is headed. However, the trip getting there is delightful, hilarious, and truly touching. It is rare to hear those fateful words "I love you" sound so truthful at the end of a romantic comedy these days, but this film achieves that with honesty and integrity.

Official Website

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Retrospective Part 5

TV director David Yates stepped in for the 5th installment of the hugely successful franchise with Nicholas Hooper as his main musical collaborator. Additionally, Michael Goldenberg stepped in for Steven Kloves who stated the necessity for a break. More importantly, all three Harry Potter rookies had one hell of a task on hand: turning the longest and possibly most complex Potter book into a 2+ hour film. Now the last book (Goblet of Fire) came in at a whopping 752 pages and the film was 2 hours and 40 minutes. Order of the Phoenix? 898 pages! This is the book where Harry starts to fall apart emotionally. The battle is no longer simply with Voldemort; the ministry is after him. And to make matters worse, Dumbledore, the best ally he could ask for, is ignoring him.  Oh and he has a jealous girlfriend, which really doesn't help matters. Basically everything is starting to fall apart around him. The book is long for good reason. Yes, Rowling still has a billion subplots, but this book is pretty tightly wound around Harry's battles against the ministry and Voldemort. And one final detail that is quite pertinent: Order of the Phoenix polarized many fans when it first came out, so the filmmakers were dealing with source material that people were already were mixed about.

It's pretty easy to see where the filmmakers could have fallen apart with this film. To be sure, it was a completely new step in a different direction and Yates succeeds, for the most part. He remained faithful to Cuaron and Newell as best as was possible from a purely visual perspective and even with the storytelling.

But its not all perfect. This is by the way, the SHORTEST film in the series. How did they turn the longest book into the shortest film? As you might have guessed, a lot of content was excised or altered HEAVILY. For example, Harry's girlfriend Cho Chang does not get much time on screen. The fact that she is jealous in the book is never presented on screen. How does Harry determine to break off the relationship? Goldenberg has her betray him. Nice and quick. Does it work? Sure. Were Potter fans happy about it? Not many. This is likely the biggest example of major alterations.

The film moves along rather briskly with unrelenting pace (complete opposite of Columbus in the first two films). However, I'd argue that it almost moves too quickly (the length certainly helps) in some areas. The film does take its time to develop relationships (the moments between Harry and Sirius develop that relationship with greater economy that Cuaron did in his film). But certainly plot points almost seem rushed into the film without getting their fair treatment. The lessons with Snape, for example, come out of nowhere contextually and then finish up rather quickly. The book develops this storyline, the film breezes through it simply to establish it for future purposes.

I would like to emphasize one big positive in my eyes for this film, which is also one of the reasons I hold it in such high esteem. Up to this point, the Potter films while maintaining a strong structure in and of themselves, were held together mostly by the characters from film to film, and seemed to lack a true thematic thread (aside from the good versus evil idea). The theme of friendship and companionship was brought up at the end of a few films as almost a recap of how things were made possible during the course of the films themselves.
But this idea was never fully fleshed out, until Order of the Phoenix. Harry feels under a great deal of stress and great sense of isolation burdens him. As the film opens, Harry is presented on a swing in a lonely arid park. Only his cousin Dudley and his friends are there and right off the bat, Harry is threatened by them. This pretty much establishes the state Harry has to face with everyone for the rest of the film. This is the first film where he does not have the universal support he is used to. The ministry is against him. Dumbledore is ignoring him. And the similarities and connection between him and Voldemort are asserting themselves. He almost feels like he is no different from the dark lord, and this obviously has him upset.  All he really has is Ron, Hermoine, and Sirius. Sirius can't help him because he is hiding. Ron and Hermoine can't really do much about his connection with Voldemort because only he can feel it. The sense of isolation is lessened by the romance with Cho, but even that falls apart when she betrays him. Then he sees an image of Sirius in danger and the story only spirals until Harry is placed at an all-time low. Watching a friend that he barely knew get killed before his eyes was one thing, but watching the only known family he has getting murdered is a traumatic event. To further complicate matters, Voldemort seizes control of his body and almost completely consumes him. But it is at this moment where Yates does something wonderful. He allows Harry to reach a catharsis during this internal struggle and realizes that he is not like the dark lord because people do care about him. He does have friends. He isn't alone. After witnessing a murder first hand in the fourth film, Yates presents Harry's trauma and his dealing with it admirably.

More importantly is that Radcliffe answers the bell in what may arguably be his strongest performance in the entire series. He finally grew into the role in Goblet of Fire and he seems in complete control in this one. The fact that the story places such a great emphasis on his character more than any other of the films, also aids in his being able to exercise the full range of his abilities. Grint and Watson continue their strong work (though their best performances are yet to come) while the addition of Imelda Stauton is a tremendous delight. I have never hated a character in this series as much as hated her, but it was definitely the correct reaction to a strong performance. The Phelps twins exert themselves quite well in this film, particularly in their big shining moment toward the end of the film. The rest of the cast does a delightful job overall.

I will now cite a few of my favorite moments in the film. My opinions on the atmospheric opening that establishes the mood and theme of the film have already been described.  If you have been following the retrospective, you will have noticed that the moments I most love in the films seem to be the delightful, cheerful, colorful moments. In Azkaban it was the Buckbeak flight. In Gobelt it was the preparation for the Yule Ball montage.  In this film, the Dumbledore's Army montage continues that trend. It is not only graceful, charming, and at times hilarious (Filch's attempts and failures at catching the students), but it adds a glimmer of hope amidst a moody dark film. It is also supported by Hooper's best music in the entire film.

Speaking of which, Tom Hooper is in my opinion, the first misstep that this series took musically. Williams is an industry juggernaut and whether you like him or not, he always delivers quality. Doyle may not have the name of Williams, but he has carved out an honorable career scoring films. But Hooper? He has had a career, but Harry Potter was none of his business. He does documentaries and TV shows and TV movies. Save for the aforementioned montage, his music is almost invisible during the film. That can be a good thing, but a big film like this with the wide ranging emotions needs music to match that. And Hooper simply never reaches that level. It was a bit upsetting that he would be back for another film, though he does improve (more on that tomorrow).

Just wanted to make one more mention of the confrontation between Dumbledore and Voldemort. The CGI artists really deserve credit for the epic battle that they created. It is truly a shame that Yates does not draw it out a bit more, though his restraint must be respected. Phoenix is definitely one of my favorites of the lot. Yates still needed to polish his style, but he had certainly delivered the most character driven Potter of the series up to that point (he would top himself in this department).


Sunday, July 10, 2011

LIIFE Day 4 Impressions

Another exciting day at the Long Island International Film Expo. The morning started off with another panel on film distribution. Generally when attending a panel on distribution, I am used to the same negative response from the panelists, who pose as realists, but seem to be trying to dissaude anyone from entering the business. Well this morning was different. Yes there was the typical "you won't make money off your film," "studios will try and cheat you on deals," "the market is saturated making opportunities slim," blah blah blah. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, all of the panelists actually brought their wealth of experience and ASSURED the audience of strategies that could help. In fact, some of them seemed to be sales agents trying to pitch deals to the audience. Obviously, they disclaimed that there were still selection processes, but the main difference is that for the first time after hearing a panel/lecture on distribution in the film world, not only did I get a sense that it was actually tangible, but I also knew what I was looking at in terms of $$. It still is pretty damn expensive, but it surely is nice to get a scope on things and know that its doable. So the panel was not only a great educational experience, but an inspiration booster.

At 7, we went to the much hyped block of 3 films, including award winner "Strings."

3. "The Lover" by Robert Neilsen

The film portrays a lover who stalks and videotapes his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. He is making a video attempting to convince her to come back to him. This may seem creepy at first, but it almost seems like Neilsen was poking fun at the idea of stalking the entire film. It was one big farce, in a great way.

2. "Lilly of the Feast" by Federico Casteluccio

Yes, that is THE Casteluccio from "The Sopranos." Oh and by the way, the cast is also headlined by Paul Sorvino from "Goodfellas" (yea the Scorcese one) and Tony LoBianco from "The French Connection" (yep the Oscar winner). Casteluccio and LoBianco where in the audience for Q &A as well. As for the film, it was quite spectacular. An upright citizen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is essentially forced into dirty business by his father-in-law. Just when it seems that the worst has passed, it only gets worse. And then it ends. The film felt like it was about to take off and it ends leaving you wanting more. And we will be getting more. Casteluccio stated that they will turn the 30 minute short (which felt like a 15 minute short) into a full-length feature. I'm not big on mob films, but this one has potential. Lots of it.

IMDB page

1. "Strings" by Ben Foster and Mark Denis

After losing their child, a failed musician decides to leave his girlfriend and engage in a life of vigilantism. However, in order to do so, he must detatch himself from his past, essentially forging a new identity. The film was in the vein of a Christopher Nolan film. But while the whole vigilante plot seems to set it up for something huge, the film is really an intimate drama about a man grappling with his new identity and yearning for the past. It is stirring, exciting, and poignant. It has already received a plethora of awards at this festival and is primed for a big night on Thursday at the awards ceremony.

Official Website

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Retrospective Part 4

After the Potter series matured under Cuaron's colorful direction, Warner Bros. took the series in yet another direction by picking up Michael Newell for the series-changing episode. Another notable change was the subtraction of the legendary John Williams in favor of Patrick Doyle. Steven Kloves continued as the writer for the series. This film is interesting in many ways. It is a lot larger than the previous three films in scope. Not only does it include the Hogwarts community, but also introduces the rest of the Wizard world for the first time. Its climax completely changes the tone of the series (more on that later.) But it isn't perfect. Newell follows along Cuaron's path (and improves on it in many respects), but it seems that Warner Brothers imposed some of Columbus' bad habits on the latest film. Cuaron's lacked a lot of the pomp and circumstance of the first two films (especially to start the film) and it seemed as if Warner Brothers wanted to infuse the series with more of that (given the fact that Cuaron's Potter was also the least grossing of the lot). The fact that the scope of the story enabled the opportunity only helped the Studio's cause. Hence the opening leading up to the Quidditch cup, etc. It is important to the story, but it feels like the opening of the film could have been a bit shorter considering how big the scope of the rest of the story. As an audience member, one cannot feel like the film does not really take off until a good 45 minutes in.

What most interests me about this film is that while it turns into arguably the darkest Potter film in its later half, the film really is mostly light-hearted and cheerful for almost 2 plus hours. The competition, while filled with its share of frightening events (massive dragon and creepy mermaids things), maintains an overall lax atmosphere. There is an entire sequence dedicated to the preparation of the ball leading up to the ball itself. This sequence is filled with great moments of comedy and charm (Hermoine's Cinderella moment may be corny, but it is a charming corniness). Like Cuaron, Newell let's the main plot take a break here and there to let the character's live and breath. I would also like to add that the added character dramas actually made this the first real film in which I connected with the characters. I enjoyed them in the first three, but I finally became attached to them after this film.

It also helps that FINALLY, the main three seemed to hit their stride. Radcliffe finally looked in command of the character and has a few impressively emotional moments near the end of the film that left me shuddering (lying over Diggory's body bawling for example). Watson, who toned down her annoying character from the first two films in Azkaban and presented herself as a more humble character, further develops this connection with the audience. The aforementioned Cinderella moment and subsequent disappointment finally lets us see a vulnerability that wasn't apparent before. Rupert Grint adds some coquettish subtleties to his Ron finally making him seem like he belongs in the story and is not simply a clone to Harry (a stupid/annoying one at that). Michael Gambon finally has a prominent role as Dumbledore. Many complained about his more energetic performance that was borderline aggressive in some instants and how it betrayed the original performance of Harris. It may take Dumbledore in a different direction, but by no means does it betray the spirit of the character. If anything, it adds another layer. This man who is so quiet and relaxed most of the time does in fact have a potential to explode, making him far more interesting to watch. Brendan Gleason adds to the collection of British actors in this series and is certainly a welcome addition. In my opinion, he may well-be the perennial scene stealer with his ability to juxtapose his frightful appearance and behavior with the perfect blend of British sarcasm. The scene in which he deliberately disobeys rules and turns Malfoy into a ferret is a wonderful performance of comic timing on Gleason's part. There are other additions to the cast, most notably Robert Pattinson. This may not have been his breakout role, but it certainly got him noticed, but not for his acting abilities. He kind of gets a pass here because he was brand new and no one knew what he was capable of. But now it has been clear that his mediocre Cedric Diggory was not beginner's nerves, but simply the full extension of Pattinson's abilities as a thesp. Fortunately, when I first watched the film, he wasn't a big distraction given his lack of fame. He was simply a guy called in to play a supporting role and did an "eh" job. In the context of retrospect, he stands out a bit more and hinders the aging of the film given his subsequent fame. And then there is Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. His Voldemort is exactly what  I had hoped for. He brings a snake-like Satan to the character. Scary, and yet graceful, elegant, and even charming to a degree. In my opinion, the perfect casting and execution.

The end of the film is likely the scariest and edgiest scene in the entire Harry Potter series. It is also the reason that this series graduated from the PG rating to the PG-13 for the rest of its life span. It is not violent in a traditional sense, but there are some harsh images littered throughout the sequence. For the first time in a Harry Potter movie there is a mutilation and a death on screen. The final confrontation between him and Harry is gripping and the ensuing scene when Harry returns to Hogwarts with Diggory's corpse is one of the most devastating scenes in the series.

As I mentioned before, Patrick Doyle is brought on to take over to John Williams. His score is quite simply marvelous. My particular favorite musical moment in the film is the waltz he composes for the Yule ball which is possibly one of the most memorable tunes from the series (other than Hedwig's theme which is the most famous). Doyle's music follows closely behind William's model, but Doyle maintains a separate identity. While he does indulge in romanticism, he never quite embraces Williams' quasi-operatic style, and there is nothing wrong with it. Both composers brought their own strengths to the series and the music was all the better for it.

The visuals became of major prominence in this film after taking somewhat of a backseat in Cuaron's film (that doesn't mean they weren't there. They are simply not given big opportunities to showcase themselves.) Everything from the Quidditch Cup (which was tastefully cut down) to the dragon to the Priori Incantatem are all pulled off with admirable bravado.

Many people complained about the omission of major characters from the film (Dobby) and their effects on the rest of the series. I will concede that such omissions and changes did make the series lose some of its coherence later on (again Dobby). For the sake of the film on its own, the changes did not degrade from the story and in many cases served to improve upon the original template (the Quidditch cup getting cut, the changes in the dragon contest and the mermaid contest proved more cinematic than the original, etc.).

Goblet of Fire remains one of my favorite in the series because it finally looked to marry the best aspects of the first three films moving forward. The characters finally seemed to be taking shape and the story finally moved into a more dramatic and interesting chapter. No more vague enemies and mysteries. From here on out, the films would develop the dynamics between its two main opposing forces. Mike Newell would not come back for another film and neither would Doyle. The series would take one final step in a new direction before finally fixing all the mistakes of the past and improving upon the qualities that came before.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

LIIFE Day 3 Impressions

Saturday was an eventful day at LIIFE. It started off with a breakfast and discussion panel regarding the good, bad, and ugly of independent filmmaking. More than anything, it was really a session in which many of the filmmakers discussed their own personal experiences while making their films. It was interesting to hear some of the stories, but save for a few comments here and there, it wasn't a particularly educational session.

However, the following session, featuring JT Petty (screenwriter of many films and video games, namely Splinter Cell) and Lauren Paul Kaplan (screenwriting teacher at Columbia, NYU, and the New School) made for an interesting discussion on screenwriting. The two men certainly provided a great deal on what writers could do better (brevity being one of the most important pieces of advice that they bestowed) in addition to techniques and practicing tools. But likely the most interesting aspect of the discussion was when the two men stated that stealing was a great way to become a better writer. They literally told everyone to find a film we like, and basically write the script with a few personal alterations. Obviously, this is nothing new to anyone who has followed the arts closely. Igor Stravinsky famously said, "Good Composers borrow; Great composers steal," and since practically every Hollywood script is based around Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces," these statements surely shouldn't surprise. But it was clear that some audience members were astonished and kept asking questions on the subject. Many times, Kaplan and Petty were forced to redefine what they had said in attempts to avoid making it sound like they were advocating outright plagiarism. But the ultimate takeaway message was to simply copy other people's ideas and suit them to our needs. Copy how other screenwriters write certain events in order to assimilate them into our writing styles.  Copy a scene by scene outline to get a stronger sense of structure. Once we live and breath the rules, they are easier to manipulate and break. It was a great discussion filled with sound advice and interesting thoughts.

As for the films, we went to two blocks. One was mostly documentaries while the other emphasized narrative films. Both sessions had their gems.

4. "Blackberry Stains" by Robert Hackett

This film tells the story of two young friends. One of the boys commits suicide and it is left up to the boy to discover the dark secret that led his best friend to such a horrific end. The film takes us to an extremely dark family history that may seem like a retread at times. However, Hackett tells the story in a non-linear fashion, putting the puzzle together slowly and conservatively. He never reveals to much information and leaves a great deal up to the audience's intelligence to piece together the untold information. It was truly a wonderful manipulation of the short film medium.

Official Website

3. "Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America" by Alexis Ostrander

This full-length documentary followed a group of women competing in the Ms. Wheelchair America beauty pageant  The pageant was for, you guessed it, women living out their lives in wheelchairs and emphasized them not as models, but as role models. The story was extremely compelling with great insight into a group of people that do not get the respect and attention that they deserve. The film traverses the full gamut of emotions from devastating to jubilant to hilarious.

2. "Burma: An Indictment" by Jeremy Taylor

The biggest eyeopener of the day had to be this short documentary on the atrocities going on in day to day Burma. I was not particularly well-versed in the subject, but was sure motivated to learn more after watching this piece. At times unwatchable, this is the ultimate example of advocacy filmmaking and it is quite explicit the risks and dangers that the filmmakers took in dedication of their cause. Not only is the end product powerful, but the dedication by the filmmakers is not only astounding, but admirable. Tremendous.

1. "The Shoes Maketh the Man" by Tareck Sursock

A student film from the New York Film Academy shot in the heart of Los Angeles, this film portrays the fickle nature of American culture at its most hilarious. Prepping for a multi-million dollar client, accountant Alessandro runs into trouble when one of his perfect shoes gets scratched. What ensues is a hilarious romp of a man trying to do his best to preserve and improve his appearance in preparation for his big break. The film looks spectacular. The performance by Pasquale Cassalia as Alessandro is unforgettable. Sursock nails the intricacies and stereotypes of Italian culture to perfection during a phone conversation between Alessandro and his Italian mother. The other major player in the film, a homeless man, adds a great foil to Alessandro and the final plot twist is so satisfying in so many ways.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Retrospective Part 3

For many people, this is the peak of the Harry Potter series thanks to the efforts of well-known Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. The films finally have a style, a discernible tone, and the maturity of the content is finally matched by the filmmaking. I agree on all counts, but part of me feels that the series has continuously improved and while this may have been the major turning point in the series, it is far from the best. The third book is widely considered one of the big audience favorites and I can't help but feel that this attributes to some of the bias toward this film. I feel that the fact that Cuaron is also the biggest name director in the series also influences the way the people view the film.

But in my opinion, Prisoner of Azkaban feels a bit rushed in its later half, with its biggest narrative confrontation feeling a bit rushed and awkward. SPOILER ALERT: I am talking about the moment where Sirius and Lupin confront Pettigrew. I never quite liked the way the scene was executed. The opening sequence on the bus, while interesting also felt a bit strange. It is likely the only sequence in all of the films that I feel does not belong to the world that the filmmakers created. I give Cuaron credit for taking risks and pushing the series in a new direction, but the Jamaican accent on the bus just did not work me. Oh and that song "Something Wicked this Way Comes" (which is the tagline for the film poster) should never have made it into the film either. It is one of the more cringe worthy moments in the film and almost reintroduces the child-like character of the first two films. It would probably have been more understandable in the last film (though likely not less cringe-inducing), but after setting up a mature tone for the first half-hour, this only brings it back down to kids play.

But that is simply nitpicking (and I will likely do it throughout the parts of this retrospective). Columbus' films lacked intimacy and subjectivity and were presented like children's movies. This is the first Potter film that reaches out to all audiences by becoming part of Hollywood's latest fad: "Making films darker." The poster's palette and its tagline "Something Wicked this Way Comes" are pretty straightforward in expressing the new direction of the series. But in this film the "going darker" actually made sense, considering the story. Soul sucking dementors and a  murderer escaping from prison were the main narratives of the film. There is also a "death" of an innocent for the first time in the series.  Harry FINALLY shows vulnerability for the first time in the series and his character does more than go through the motions. The climax of the story is finally the product of an emotional journey rather than a plot necessity. Obviously, a lot credit is due to J.K. Rowling's impressive book, but Cuaron gives this world a new color and new outlook and finally places the characters at the forefront of the story.

Speaking of which, he wastes no time cutting to the chase. The mandated sequence with the Dursleys is still in place and hilariously executed. But once Harry runs away, Cuaron does not shy away from letting us know that some mysterious creature is after him. He meets up with Ron and Hermoine a little later, and the inciting incident in the story (Sirius' escape from Azkaban) takes place shortly thereafter. It happens in the first 20 minutes of the film (whereas it took about 1 hour in each of the previous films). From there, the story is allowed to unravel at a balanced tempo, with major plot points countered by intimate character moments.  Take the ride atop Buckbeak. It may be a major plot point in the story, but Cuaron takes the time to connect Harry and the audience with this new character so that its subsequent role in the story actually matters to us.  It is one of the most memorable scenes from the entire film.

The acting continued to be a strong point in this series, with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson starting to develop some romantic chemistry and foreshadowing what is to come in later films. Gary Oldman is a well-come addition as Sirius in what is likely one of the my favorite performances of the series. Michael Gambon steps in as effectively as Dumbledore in a limited role. David Thewlis is great as Lupin. But Radcliffe still fails to impress. He shows some interesting moments near the end of the film, but for me this film showcases likely his worst acting moment in the entire series. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's that moment where he has found out that Sirius killed his parents and he runs off and cries about it in the snow. Then he shouts and yells in a manner that brings to mind that dreadful moment in Star Wars Episode II in which Hayden Christiensen does the same thing after killing the sand people. Yes, I am comparing a Daniel Radcliffe acting moment to A Hayden Christiensen moment. Fortunately, Radcliffe never has another moment like this for the rest of the series and perpetually improved as an actor, while Christiensen continued to add to this legacy in the remaining Star Wars film.

One final note about John Williams and his score. This is the last film he did in the series and it is by far his best work. He had some memorable moments in the first two films, but they pretty much tread along the same path. I felt like the score for the second film was pretty much a copy and paste version from the first film. Not the case in this film. He captures Cuaron's darker vision with his lush music. Where as he indulged in sacarine moments with the first two scores, Williams' music is far more tame in this iteration and as a result, more effective. The aforementioned scene above Buckbeak does not work as beautifully if not for William's lush music.