‘Half-Blood Prince’ not just a good ‘Potter’ movie, but a great stand-alone movie

Harry Potter no longer lives in the light-headed, PG fluff fantasy world that he occupied in the early Potter films. As the very first shot of the film suggests simply by its color palette, this film is rather bleak. It centers on the raging hormones of the teenagers at the magical academy, but also builds a feeling of dread for the inevitable confrontation with the evil Lord Voldemort. Another thing the film gets right? It displays flashbacks to when he was a young, troubled although brilliant wizard. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a blend of compelling drama, comedic relief, and the characters that we have grown to love over 8 years, Harry, Ron and Hermione.

A brief summary for those unfamiliar to Harry Potter. (though the existence of such a person is doubtful) In an alternate universe parallel to ours, there’s a magical school called Hogwarts. Voldemort is an evil former student, bent on destroying anything and everything. In their sixth year at Hogwarts, the three friends Harry, Ron and Hermione face a new terror considered evil to many: Romance. Love is in the air at Hogwarts, wrecking friendships along with it. The school’s headmaster Dumbledore, who faced death with Harry the previous year wants Harry to retrieve a memory from a teacher, that could help them defeat Voldemort.

Lots of names and places named in that summary will likely be hard to understand for those unfamiliar with Potter. Although all the Potter die-hards (and there are millions) know that a strong-suit of the series is how it juggles different characters, places, spells and stories and remains coherent. Since we have practically watched these actors grow up, ‘Half-Blood Prince’ really makes you realize what an achievement in film filming this series of books is. Not just simply all the action sequences, sets and such, but making you care for these people, even so much as a minor character like Hagrid or Neville. Throughout all the different directors the series has employed, they all let the characters develop and progress over time without it seeming arbitrary. You become so engrossed in the series, seeing a place like the Great Hall being demolished (minor spoilers) in this film makes you sort of wince.

The actors are all getting better and better. This is the first film since ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ to really focus primarily on the emotions of the characters, instead of events they are put through. Because of this, the material they are given has more weight to it. Not just relationship troubles (and there are many) but troubles accepting who they are and what they inevitably must do. Draco Malfoy, Harry’s nemesis who in the other movies was an annoying brat here matures, and is the revelation of the film. Here he does more than sneer and brag, but is actually a central part of the plot.

I think proof-reading this review made me realize just how much I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. There’s not much more to be said, except that I simply cannot wait for the 5-hour, 2-part final installment of this series. November 19, 2010 can’t come any longer. A

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‘Public Enemies’ an uneven, but stylish crime film with great acting

Johnny Depp portrays infamous 1930s bank robber John Dillinger in ‘Public Enemies’. Director Michael Mann has made a career out of making stylish action epics with great shootouts and interesting characters. ‘Public Enemies’ is no doubt stylish, it no doubt has great shootouts, but the characters are a bit flat. There’s no real character development during the 150 minute running time. The film simply shows a year-long view into the final year of Dillinger’s life. He is portrayed as cold, precise and mechanical, but the film is made quite differently.

It’s loose and swift in execution and feel, partially because of the handheld cameras used to film it, partially because of the mostly banjo and roots-oriented soundtrack. This gives the film an uneven feeling, given the large contrast between the subject matter and the handling of the subject matter.

The film is set in 1933, starting when John Dillinger breaks out his gang members out of prison. Dillinger travels the country, looting millions of dollars from banks along the way in a year-long crime spree. He becomes something of a hero to the country, given that in the Great Depression banks obviously weren’t well regarded by the public. At this time, FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) has been assigned to capture Dillinger, by any means necessary. Neither men will give up without a fight.

The last couple times Johnny Depp was in a major blockbuster, he was either a drunken pirate or a barber who cut up his customers into meat pies (literally), so this is a sort of return to a “normal” character for him. However, it shows the eccentricity of most of his roles when a low-key character for him is a legendary bank robber. He is perfect in this. Christian Bale is a bit underused in this film, given that he’s probably the best actor of our generation. He’s very good, but he’s mostly in action scenes and not many dramatic moments of dialogue. That said, he looks insanely cool firing off a Tommy gun with one hand.

Which brings us to probably the best aspects of the film – the shootouts. This film doesn’t too many, but the ones it does have are unforgettable. The best part of the film is a 30-minute sequence where Dillinger’s in a house secluded in the woods, surrounded by his accomplices. There’s four cars outside packed with armed federal agents. The results are classic, worthy of the best scenes in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and director Michael Mann’s own Heat. Like I said earlier the cinematography is loose and wild, but it is gorgeous. You can tell lots of effort goes into the sets and costumes, it replicates the era with incredible detail, and will likely net the film some Oscar nominations come February.

Public Enemies is a well-acted, gorgeously shot crime film with some great action and one or two scenes that are simply unforgettable. It’s a bit uneven and has some pacing issues, but thats easily forgiven. If only every summer film was this good. A-

‘Ice Age 3’ stands out – great animation, fun 3-D

‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs’ is by the far the best ‘Ice Age’ film so far. It’s the best because the animation is now on a whole new level, as photorealistic as it gets, only enhanced by the 3-D. It’s the best because its way more action-oriented, focusing on the more slapstick elements that really sort of lacked in the first two. And simply, the first two ‘Ice Ages’ were kinda boring in the first place.

It features the same characters, who all behave and talk as if they were in a sitcom. Manny the Mammoth with his pregnant wife Ellie, the weird but charming sloth Sid, and the tough saber-tooth tiger Diego. Their outlandish adventures are continued in this film when, despite them being in an ice age they stumble upon an underground world populated with…you guessed it. Dinosaurs.

As I said, the animation is gorgeous. Waterfalls, dinosaurs, mountains. It’s all looking gorgeous, and the animators here outdo themselves, rivaling Pixar sometimes. This film and 3-D were practically made for each other, all the three-dimensional vistas are simply spectacular. The plot itself? Sort of weak, person gets kidnapped, friends bond in quest to find him, yada yada yada. Rather predictable. The elements of Manny trying to deal with fatherhood would be more poignant if it hadn’t been done in 15 million other animated films, and films in general.

On the other hand, one doesn’t go to ‘Ice Age’ movies for plot. They go for slapstick, for action, and they go because their kids force them to. This is, however, a standout animated movie for its gorgeous animation, impressive action, and – what else? The awesome 3-D. B+

‘My Sisters Keeper’ a well-acted if uneven tearjerker

‘My Sister’s Keeper’ is a movie as calculated and forced as its main character, a young girl genetically conceived to provide spare organs for her cancer stricken sister. It knows who will watch it: Teenage girls, their mothers, and women looking for a weepy film in the vein of ‘A Walk to Remember’ or ‘The Notebook’. These women should be mostly pleased, although the film in its last half alternates randomly between weepy family drama and a courtroom battle.

Anna is an 11-year old girl, who as already said, was conceived to provide spare organs and blood for her older sister Kate, who suffers from acute leukemia. She becomes sick of always being the donor child and sues her parents for the rights to her own body. Her parents, however, think there is an ulterior motive. Meanwhile, Kate falls in love with a fellow cancer patient, Taylor.

Many, many plot points are forgotten as the film progresses. In one moment, Cameron Diaz shaves her head, to make her sick child laugh and feel better. When the scene is over, her hair is back to normal. Also within the courtroom, Diaz seems furious at Anna, disgusted at the very idea that she would sue her own mother. Out of the courtroom, they all blow bubbles and laugh and play. Inconsistencies among characters are the film’s biggest problem.

When it comes to performances, ‘My Sisters Keeper’ delivers. Abigail Breslin fleshes out her character to the extent that she displays a wise side, in wanting control over her decisions and taking that desire to court, and a youthful side when asking about boys, when playing with her sister. Cameron Diaz plays way against type as the mother of Anna and Kate, and is pretty good. She portrays a mother unwilling to let go of her daughters, and Diaz formally breaks out of the ‘Cute Girl’ role that she’s been typecast as, all these years. Sofia Vassilieva as Kate, the girl with the leukemia is the breakout star of the film. She portrays a teenage girl that knows she will die soon, but tries to find love before she does. It’s heart-wrenching stuff.

Obviously the acting is well-done, although as said earlier there are problems with continuity. It aims to tug at your heart-strings and succeeds. ***/****