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At The Movies

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Directed by David Yates

(Now playing at the Esquire Imax and elsewhere in 3D.)

Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

(SPOILER ALERT) – Call it “Saving Private Potter.” In the eighth Harry Potter film, all the mirth and whimsy is bludgeoned by explosions by the end. Heck, a few minutes into the final battle, Hogwarts looks a lot like the French town at the end of the classic war movie.

But while “Ryan” sandwiched two of the best battle sequences ever, around enough narrative to make you care deeply about the characters, “Hallows 2” just assumes you already care. But, if this film was your only exposure to the Potter franchise, you probably wouldn’t care that much. It’s probably safe to assume that 99.9 percent of the audience has been exposed to many previous Potter memes, but it seems lazy to just assume.

Even the trio at the center is deemphasized, with not that much Hermione (a character whose cloying, earnest geekiness always amused me) and almost no Ron (whatever). Pretty much all of the surviving characters are brought in, and several of them are killed off. But most of these characters got a little time to shine in at least one previous film. Here, several are trotted out just long enough for you to go, “Isn’t that … oh wait, he’s dead.” Don’t get me wrong, I like war movies. I just wasn’t expecting quite so much of one here.

Somehow, a book that got split in two feels rushed in the second half. It may be odd to say, but I’ve always preferred the more leisurely Potter films, where the trio of main characters has to use their wits to get out of some trap or puzzle. I was never quite so much of a fan of the big battle sequences in Harry Potter, because the battle magic has always seemed a little bit arbitrary. I rarely feel like I know why one combatant won over another, except by having better name ID and a bigger paycheck. And when it gets to two wizards pointing their wands at each other grimacing while neon energy shoots out and fondles the neon energy coming from the other guy … I mainly find myself thinking about the repressed sexuality that lies beneath most of the series, delivered in a metaphorical way.

I was a late convert, having hated the first two films, where the whimsy did the bludgeoning. Like many, I think the series was saved when Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron was brought in for the excellent third film, then current director David Yates was hired for the last four. I’ve generally liked the Yates films, particularly “Hallows 1,” which had the feeling of an existential coming-of-age road movie, just shot in the English countryside instead of an American desert. Heck, I really liked that film, for the feeling of real danger and desperation it had throughout.

I’ve been told the real problem here comes in the source material, J.K. Rowling’s final book, which many say is among the weakest in the series. Indeed, several times some really cool idea about where the film could head is presented and then discarded, instead heading someplace less fun and imaginative.

Then there’s the matter of the plot-twist delivered at the end which explains so much of what has happened throughout the series. Initially, I was sold on this. Then that went in a direction that was far less brave and interesting than I expected, which then caused me to question the entire premise. Harry Potter has always been a kind of Christ figure, but did they have to make it so obvious?

It’s probably clear by now that I missed the real point of the whole thing, which was letting the devotees say goodbye. As the most casual of Potter fans, one who has never read any of the books, this wasn’t really for me. The long maudlin shots and soaring music …it was like being at a stranger’s wedding. There were some good visuals here, particularly the beginning of the main battle sequence. But, for a series that surged to such heights in middle age, it seemed to go out with an extremely loud whimper.  

Winnie the Pooh

Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall

Review by Tony Sheppard

The “Winnie the Pooh” books have been around for 85 years, and periodically somebody tries a new screen adaptation. This one’s as good as any, but also has the same flaw that several have had in that it tries to liven up a story that’s beautifully simple. It’s as if the film teams all feel that a series that has consistently delighted multiple generations somehow needs more. So we get musical numbers and trippy visual sequences, when the movie is at its best when it’s simply presenting the material from the book, as it appears on the page. That original material is wonderfully timeless – as if written today as an introduction to dysfunctional, non-nuclear families – like diversity and sensitivity training for toddlers. We love them, flaws and all: Single-mom Kanga raising her ADHD son Roo, obsessive-compulsive Rabbit, liberal intellectual elitist Owl, clinically depressed Eeyore, manic Tigger, Piglet with his severe arrested development, and good old eating-disordered Winnie the Pooh. American college students take Psych 101. British children read “Winnie the Pooh” and save on tuition.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Directed by Andrew Rossi
Runs July 22-28 at The Crest Theatre, 1013 K St.
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

A friend of mine recently interviewed for a job at a midsized newspaper. One of the people interviewing them kept going on and on about what makes a real journalist or not, a real newspaper or not. Behind him was a large, almost entirely empty newsroom.

I found myself thinking about this as I watched, “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” First off, I should say this isn’t really a film about the New York Times, certainly not in any historical sense. Instead, it takes the Times and uses it to illustrate the various forces shaping journalism today. Despite its vaunted status as one of the world’s top newspapers and perhaps the most definitive voice in journalism, it hasn’t been immune from dropping revenues, staff layoffs and new media confusion.

This new/old tension is played out in the relationship of two Times staffers, both on the media desk, who actually seem to get along pretty well. Brian Stelter is the rising star, an early-20-something who never went to journalism school and got his spot at the Times by producing a much-read blog. In contrast to the opinion-and-personality driven blogging that goes on over much of the Internet, Stelter is friendly and polite. He almost seems more like a piece of walking software, a data cipher with multiple screens and Twitter streams coming and going at all times.

His foil, who takes up much of the film, is media critic David Carr. Carr looks a bit like the real-life Steve Lopez – and acts just like the Robert Downey Jr. version from the first third of “The Soloist.” That is, he’s kind of a jerk. He’s seems to want everyone to congratulate him for being a former drug addict. He reacts to every slight, real or perceived, and pursues his grievances long after other people want to move on. While this movie has been billed as inspiring (which, at times, it is), making this guy the central character seems assured of convincing middle American audiences that journalists really are arrogant tyrants. In May, by the way, Carr went on Bill Maher’s show and talked about the “sloping foreheads” of people in Kansas and Missouri. Smooth.

Which is not to say that Carr doesn’t have his uses, or that you don’t sometimes find yourself rooting for the guy. One of the best parts of the film comes when Carr confronts Michael
Wolff. If Carr is prickly, Wolff is the straight-up root noun of that word. (I don’t know either guy, but I do know Wolff’s reputation from covering the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. Wolff’s memoir of that time, “Burn Rate,” is excellent. But what’s odd about this book is that I’ve never read a memoir where the author so vividly portrays himself as a mean-spirited scumbag without seeming to realize it.)

The pair are at a conference where Wolff has just declared Gawker.com, where he is a major contributor, the future of journalism. Carr responds by holding up a print-out of the Gawker main page with all the non-original content clipped out – leaving mostly a paper-doll cutout of a page. Carr’s point is that Gawker is mainly an aggregator, dependent on the Times and a few other sources for their content. There’s nothing wrong with a good aggregator. Those of us in the press corps love getting on Rough and Tumble, but Jack Kavanaugh doesn’t claim his website is the second coming.  

The Carr-Wolff feud continues to this day, but credit the film with giving it no more space than it deserves. Some of the more interesting sections, particularly as the film goes on, relate to Wikileaks. Using the different pros at the Times, the film goes into the many ways the site is and is not journalism. I won’t go through all that here, but you end up admiring the tightrope they manage to walk so well in dealing with Julian Assange.

Perhaps the best service this film does is showing that journalists are people. The ones here are mostly a pretty nice bunch. Harried, overworked, in constant crisis about where their industry is going – especially as we see a bunch of veterans taking buyouts and getting pink slips. It’s also a good case study in different journalistic personality types. At their center, I think many journalists have a strange combination of thick skin and seething insecurity. They (we) don’t need or even want to be universally liked, but there’s also the no-parachute feeling that comes with putting words on a page on a regular basis. It’s a kind of addiction to high stress and low paychecks (relative to educational level). And the heroin supply is slowly draining away.


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