Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I) * * 1/2

Genre: Fantasy

Director: David Yates

Writer: Steve Kloves, based on the novel of the same name by J. K. Rowling

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Rhys Ifans, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy

Running Length: 147 minutes

Synopsis: Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is growing stronger by the day, and now has control over both the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) drop out of school and attempt to seek out Voldemort’s horcruxes as destroying them will weaken the Dark Lord. Nowhere is safe for the trio, and they are constantly on the run. En route, they find out about the Deathly Hallows, and how it could be a key in the eventual showdown against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. 

Review: Call me a party pooper, but the only thought I had when the end credits rolled on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was “is that it?”. These three words will pretty much sum up my entire review of this half of the complete movie – I had believed it was a flawed decision (apart from the obvious monetary gains for Warner Brothers) to split the movie into two, and having now seen the first half I am sure of it. Coming off the decision to excise the climactic battle in the previous film (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), the expectation was that Deathly Hallows will be a spectacle in every sense of the word. However, since the book is further split into two films, there’s once again no payoff in this first installment. Deathly Hallows Part I feels like a continuation of the “filler movie” trend that plagued the previous film, and it’s a largely tedious, meandering two and a half hour movie that, while atmospheric, is plot-wise virtually dead in the water. 

Deathly Hallows is a narratively dense book, but much of the narrative does not translate well on screen, and with Steve Kloves’ screenplay being slavishly faithful (even more so than before, given the lack of timing constraints this time round), this becomes even more apparent. Much of the film involves Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run from one (admittedly scenic) location to the next, and sitting around in a tent looking morose. It already was a drag in the book but when depicted in the film the flaws become even more apparent. 

The Harry Potter movies have never really been kind to viewers who are not acquainted in the Potter-verse, but in these last few installments the divide has been even greater than before. Prior knowledge is a necessity if you want to make sense of the ins and outs of Deathly Hallows, and can be frustrating even for audiences who have faithfully watched every Potter movie to date. So much has been left out in the transition from page to screen, and yet the film can still run a butt-numbing 147 minutes, which lends strongly to the argument that the editing for the film needed to be far tighter than its current state. 

Whilst acting has never been stellar in the Harry Potter series, the thespian deficiencies of the main leads, in particular Daniel Radcliffe, have become more pronounced as the films trend towards a more adult sensibility, and kiddish wonder is no longer sufficient. The exception is Emma Watson, who manages to do a decent job, but there is a tendency for Yates to dump most of the heavy lifting on her, and in a way diverts attention away from the “true” lead of Radcliffe/Potter. And, like its predecessors, there’s the British Who’s Who of the movie industry, who unfortunately all seem to be present just to lend their name to the film – literally a waste of talent. 

Of course, for such a big budget movie it’s not all a bust. Yates has proven his proficiency in action sequences, and the higher-octane scenes in Deathly Hallows are as good as any action movie out there. CGI has also improved by leaps and bounds, and digital effects are near seamless in this film. Warner’s inability to convert the film into 3D in time for release may not have been a bad thing – whilst there are definitely scenes that would do well in 3D, so much of the film is static that the payoff wouldn’t have been that great. 

Perhaps when viewed together with Part II, Deathly Hallows would average out to be the finale that Potter fans have waited for. However, taken solely on its own merits, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I feels unsatisfying and unfocused, a filmic coitus interruptus that takes way too long to… not get anywhere. 

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars)


RED * * *

Genre: Action Comedy

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Jon Hoeber and Eric Hoeber, based on the graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer

Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox

Running Length: 111 minutes

Synopsis: The film opens with Frank Morse (Bruce Willis) in Cleveland, where he is engineering flirty conversations with his pensions claim officer Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), situated in Kansas City. Frank is no ordinary pensioner, however, and when a team of hit men infiltrates his house one night, he realizes his past is catching up with him in a rather unpleasant manner. After travelling to Kansas to “kidnap” Sarah, Frank begins to round up his old team: 80-year old Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer but hasn’t lost his edge; the paranoid Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) who is suspicious of everyone and everything; KGB agent Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), who is eager to get back in the game even if it’s in collaboration with his former enemies; and Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former MI6 agent who still misses her old life as an operative. The team has to figure out who is out for their lives, but are also being pursued doggedly by CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), who doesn’t really understand what RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) means until he goes mano a mano with the team.

Review: RED is a movie that requires a healthy serving of suspension of disbelief – Helen Mirren toting a huge-ass gun? John Malkovich being a superb marksman? It sounds more than a little unbelievable (okay, maybe excepting Bruce Willis), and yet once said suspension is in place, the film becomes a rather enjoyable romp, albeit a film that has more cheeky moments that true blue action.

Much of this has to be credited to the stellar cast. These are all old hands in the industry, and many have shown their thespian talents in previous films. Even in RED, where no one is truly taken seriously, the level of commitment each veteran has in their character is clearly visible. It’s very impressive that the producers have managed to put together such an epic ensemble cast, and the star power alone is likely to contribute to a large component of the box office takings. And unlike many other movies, in this case it’s deservedly so.

It’s very easy to tell that the actors had a ball of a time filming RED, and there’s an easy chemistry between all the main characters. Bruce Willis remains surprisingly charming even in his mid fifties, and the trio of John Malkovich, Brian Cox and Morgan Freeman hold their own as supporting characters without much scenery chewing. Far and away my favourite, however, is Helen Mirren. There’s a perverse pleasure in seeing the Queen of England handling big guns like a pro, and Mirren really milks it for all it’s worth while staying very classy. It’s a wonderful, fun performance that on its own is already worth the price of admission. 

Apart from the inspired casting and performances, the action sequences are actually rather entertaining in their own right, although obviously for a cast in this age bracket the action is pretty dialed down. Schwentke compensates for this by employing wit and humour, planting tongue firmly in cheek in many scenes. It all comes together pretty well, and RED is a rather entertaining two hours – not a groundbreaking film by any measure, but fun and easy to sit through.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


Due Date * *

Genre: Comedy

Director: Todd Philips

Writers: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, Todd Philips 

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis

Running Length: 100 minutes

Synopsis: Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a stressed-out businessman who is trying his best to get home in LA from a business meeting from Atlanta in time to catch the birth of his first child, but a chance meeting with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and a series of unfortunate events later, the unlikely duo is forced to pair up for a very eventful road trip across America. 

Review: If you were Todd Philips, how will you choose to follow up the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time (The Hangover)? The obvious answer is The Hangover 2 (which of course is coming our way in 2011), but in between the two Hangovers, Philips had found a chance to squeeze in Due Date, which in many aspects is almost like a 21st century update to Planes, Trains and Automobiles. 

Starring one of the hottest leading men in Hollywood, as well as a rising star in the comedy genre, Due Date seems like a movie that cannot fail. However, the end product is a little iffy – while much of Due Date is entertaining and there are a good number of laugh out loud moments, the pacing of the film is off and the conclusion of the film is a textbook definition of the phrase “fizzle out”. While I don’t think Philips was gunning for the same success as The Hangover, this is quite apparently a quickly hashed out movie designed to make some box office bucks before the Oscar big guns and year end blockbusters start arriving at the cinemas. 

That in itself is not a crime, of course, but I just wished that Due Date could have stepped up its game a little more – both Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis are more than adequate for their roles, but there is so little character development that all the potential chemistry between the duo is lost in the film’s two dimensions. The screenplay’s attempts to inject some sentimentality into the film don’t really work well either, and come off feeling half-baked and forcefully played out. What’s worse, however, is the way events unfold in the final reel, stretching credibility to the max and ending the film on a very limp note. This is possibly one of the worst denouements in any comedy I’ve seen this year, and that’s saying a lot. 

However, Due Date is definitely not a total wash – there are enough funny (though rather expected) scenes to fill the film’s running time, with the best moments in the film coming from the scenes where Peter loses control of his emotions and lashes out at Ethan in one way or another. There are also a fair number of action sequences in the film, and these surprisingly are quite effectively shot. On top of that, Due Date manages to work in some really picturesque shots of the drive across America, and it also features an eclectic, fun soundtrack, something which many people feel is a prerequisite of any good road trip movie. If you’re into buddy movies, Due Date is decent, middling fare – here’s hoping Philips will be able to achieve something greater when The Hangover 2 comes around. 

Rating: * * (out of four stars)