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At The Movies

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Directed by David Yates
Well, here it is at last – the eighth installment in the seven-part series. For those of you not in the know, the book series gradually packed on a few pounds as they got older. The last one, at 759 pages, spawned two movies rather than one. This allowed the story to be better adapted to the big screen and, more importantly, provided an opportunity to make twice as much money. This has been further enhanced by presenting this last part in 3D, elevating ticket prices even more for young (and old) wizarding fans. Accio dollars! (For the uninitiated, accio is a Latin word meaning “to summon,” which often appears in Harry Potter-world spells.)

That said, it’s a neat film and well done. It’s clearly the continuation of not just a seven-year storyline, but also the last year of that storyline already in progress. It doesn’t pause to bring the uninitiated up to speed. So if you haven’t seen the previous movies, or read the books, you might want a quick primer on wands, horcruxes, and attempted infanticide as the basis for children’s literature from a nearby Potterphile – or you could go in blind and just enjoy the spectacle(s).

The plot takes us back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, after Harry and friends realize that something they need is hidden there. In that sense, after spending the previous film Frodoing their way across the countryside, they’re all back where they began. But from a filmmaking perspective, they are far removed from the franchise’s beginnings. Where the first film was episodic and stilted, playing like a series of independent illustrations of the book’s chapters, this last outing is well-paced from start to finish. It also has a far better sense of foreboding and danger. Without another book/film to follow, the principals seem to be genuinely at risk for the first time. And the villain who can’t be named comes across as a more tangible character rather than as an ephemeral foil for the heroes. In all, it simply feels more cohesive and robust than its predecessors.

We’ve seen the younger actors and their characters grow up on screen. There’s a sense of the journey coming to an end that seems to transcend just the plotline. Across the eight films, these characters have developed, and the cast have eased into their roles like well-worn and increasingly comfortable costumes. This is probably best-demonstrated in the relationship between Hermione and Ron, and in the welcome and increased involvement of a much-matured Neville. It no longer feels forced or awkward – they’re now adult actors delivering more nuanced and vibrant performances. They’ve finally come into their own just in time to quit.

There’s much to this series that is derivative, and not just the obvious battles between good and evil, light and dark. For somebody like myself, who grew up in England and who is close in age to author J.K. Rowling, there are distinct parallels in British children’s literature. But that doesn’t detract from their simple readability, in book form, and watchability on the screen. They’re engaging and fun and have probably inspired a new generation of readers and authors. Have we seen the ideas elsewhere, sometimes better developed? Sure – but that’s like criticizing a burger and fries because you once had a great steak and baked potato.  

This is successful film. It entertains well and does a good job of wrapping up the series. There have been a couple of weaker links along the way, but all’s well that ends well.

Blank City

Directed by Celine Danhier

Sacramento has a thriving film community, in both film appreciation and in filmmaking and production. But it’s a community that has inherited the technology that has made big budget imagery available on a shoestring budget, with video as the most forgiving of mediums, and laptops that have the power of special effects studios. And there have been decades of independent filmmaking that have laid the groundwork.

That wasn’t the case in Manhattan in the late 1970s. New York was bankrupt, with city blocks in ruins, and there was a frontier attitude in the underground arts community, with a sense that there were few rules and none that couldn’t be broken. There had been a previous independent film movement, but it had been artsy and experimental. Now there were freewheeling novice filmmakers wanting to make near-zero budget narrative and politically-charged movies. They worked collaboratively, using shared or “found” cameras and film stock, learning their craft as they went. “Blank City” tells their fascinating story and the story of their time through the eyes of the likes of Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, Debbie Harry, and Steve Buscemi, with content that should appeal to those interested in independent art, film, and music.

The opening night screening on Friday, July 15th at the Crest Theatre, is presented as part of the ongoing quarterly film series in collaboration with the Verge Center for the Arts. It’s preceded by a short lecture delivered by Jenny Stark, associate professor of digital media and film at Sacramento State University, with music provided by DJ Mike C. Doors open at 6:30p.m., with the lecture at 7:30p.m. and the screening at 8:00p.m. The film continues in a regular screening schedule beginning Saturday, July 16th. More details can be found at www.thecrest.com.


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