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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roundup of New Movie Releases for the Weeks of 15 and 22 July 2011

By this point, reviewing the latest Harry Potter film is probably a total waste of time but I have a few words to say on that and (almost) all the other films that have been released over the last couple of weeks.

First off, last week's films:

Like I said, there probably is no point in reviewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 because, while people who like Harry Potter will obviously be showing up in their droves for the finale, those who don't - yes, they exist - probably aren't going to drop in for the last half of the last installment. But, hey, I've always figured that people are like me and only really bother with reviews after they've seen the movies, so why not throw in my two cents worth?

HP7b is, in a word, terrific. It falters very slightly at the end with an epilogue that is unnecessary here as it was in the book and Voldemort's eventual defeat is vaguely unsatisfying but, these minor flaws aside, this is a stellar climax to a great fantasy series. It has exciting, well-shot action scenes; beautifully bleak cinematography; a rousing and memorable score and there are even a few twists and turns left in the series' final hours.   

All that said, though, the reason why this film is such a big deal to millions of Potter-fans is double-fold: the very real sense of magic with which the books and the best entries in the movie series are imbued and, of course, its characters. However much these later installments in the series have had an increasingly darkening colour palette, they have also displayed a certain sense of wonder, the kind of "cinematic magic" that only a select few Hollywood blockbusters possess. Most importantly, it also has a large cast of unforgettable characters, characters that happen to be played by a group of what turned out to be some very talented young actors, as well as what seems to be all of Great Britain's top actors. Fans have reacted emotionally to the end of this franchise as they say goodbye to favourite characters and it's easy to see why. Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest have been an omnipresent part of popular culture over the last decade and it's sad to see them go. It's hard to complain too much, though, as they go out with a very definite bang.

The Perfect Host was the only other film released the week that Harry Potter came out and it could seldom be more different. It's a crime-thriller turned black-comedy that you should know as little about going in as is humanly possible. It has something in the order of five major twists and though they vary in effectiveness, it's fun to see a film that is this eager to wrong-foot its audience. The first few minutes of the film will have you believing you're in for one type of film before turning itself on its head completely and becoming something else entirely. It's a fun, bonkers bit of crazed cinema and if you enjoy your filmgoing experience to be on the demented side of the tracks, you should love this film - warts and all. If nothing else, it's worth watching for a truly brilliant turn from Frasier's David Hyde Pierce who not only keeps up with the shifts in tone but actually controls the shifts and twists with a performance that is both perfectly controlled and flagrantly off the rails.

As for new films released this past Friday, there are only two that I will still be covering with The Bang Bang Club and Insidious out of the way. Also released this week were Honey 2 and Chalet Girl but I missed both screenings and, though I have no interest in the former - I think Step Up 3D said everything that was needed to be said about the dance movie - the latter seems decent enough but is showing at a mere handful of cinemas across the country. I'm sure it will find a better life on DVD.

First up, we have Biutiful, the latest worthy directorial effort by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros fame. It's a very long, very weighty and rather trying tale about a man who is given months to live and in that time needs to get his life in order to ensure that his kids will be looked after. He is also a man, incidentally, who can talk with the dead; has to deal with the abusive, manic-depressive mother of his children and has some less than legal and morally sound business dealings. And there are a few other plot elements to deal with as well.   

Biutiful is not short on ambition and there is plenty to admire in Javier Bardem's magnificent lead performance (earning him a very deserved best actor nomination at last year's Oscars), suitably grim cinematography and the number of moments of insight, intelligence and raw human emotion. It is, unfortunately, a film that is less than the sum of its parts. It is overstuffed with far too many plot strands and it piles on the grim emotionalism to such a point that, though specific moments are very moving, the film itself is numbed by just too much earnest heaviness and just a bit too much soul-crushing sadness. It's an admirable attempt at tackling some powerful themes but it needed a lighter touch to truly succeed.

And then there's Horrible Bosses, a film that succeeds in being solidly funny despite never quite having the courage of its audaciously acerbic convictions. It's got a terrifically simple premise of three friends who plot to kill their, well, horrible bosses. What ensues is a snappy, fun, funny and fast paced comedy that is never quite as smart or edgy as I would have liked to be. But perhaps I'm being churlish. Why criticize the film for what it's not when what it is, is perfectly good.

Bateman, Day and Sudeikis are all good as the three friends but they are overshadowed by a terrific group of supporting actors. Kevin Spacey is deliciously evil as one boss, while Colin Farrell, almost unrecognizable with a greasy comb-over, is a truly revolting creature. Most surprising of all, though, is Jennifer Aniston who, as a foul-mouthed, relentlessly sexually-aggressive man-eater, steals the show, inverting gender roles, as her character takes sexual harassment to all new and very funny lows. Who knew that playing something other than Rachel from friends would pay off this well?

Best Film of the (Last Two) Week(s): Harry Potter 7b
Worst Film of the (Last Two) Week(s): Biutiful.... but I did admire it to a fair degree. 

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