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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: The End Begins
When producers announced that the last instalment of the Harry Potter series was to be split into two halves, the news was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, fans believed that this would allow enough time to capture the scope of the book more thoroughly, giving fans the literal adaptation that they have longed for. On the other hand, this meant that the first half had to turn the drudgery of the first exposition-heavy half into something more interesting.
As a stand-alone film, the first part of The Deathly Hallows is a confusing film that never comes to fruition: it’s a two-and-a-half hour-long set-up to a forthcoming conclusion. Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint), and Hermione (Watson) spend most of their time wandering through the woods, trying to unlock clues left for them by the late Dumbledore, while carrying on convoluted exchanges peppered with complicated names and references to events in the previous five instalments. Even fans will be challenged and slightly confused about the film, unless– of course– they have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Harry Potter universe.
But then again, The Deathly Hallows was never intended as a stand-alone film; not even as a sequel. It’s part of an ongoing story that serves a bigger picture. Reportedly, once the film is viewed back-to-back with Part Two, it will offer a more complete experience. And to the film’s credit, it economically jams in five riveting action sequences to create an enjoyable film of its own.
Director Yates deviates slightly from the source material when he deals with the romantic subplot. He alludes to a love triangle between Harry, Ron and Hermione, which uncomfortably borders on Twilight territory, and is even set against the same backdrop of cascading snow. The director doesn’t completely succeed in making this weakest link of the Harry Potter universe more interesting, but it helps ground the characters in a more recognisable reality. Say what you want about the Nick Cave dance scene between Harry and Hermione; at least they took bold chances.
The Deathly Hallows is a serviceable adaptation that will please all fans of the series. And as it’s always the case with the franchise, the rich and highly detailed visuals bring the magical world to life imaginatively. It’s going to be a long wait until we get the ultimate instalment next July, but after watching The Deathly Hallows, it’s going to feel even longer.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
Returning to the world of wizards and all things magic, J.K Rowling’s screenwriting debut in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has produced mixed results. Following the massive and the enduring success of the Harry Potter film franchise, the story is both magical and visually arresting. However, although definitely entertaining, the fun factor seems to have been squeezed out of the proceedings.
The plot follows ‘magizoologist’, Newt (Redmayne), who travels the world in search of magical animals in order to learn more about their powers. During his travels to New York City in 1926, Newt ends up losing his magical suitcase – a portable zoo of sorts which accidentally finds itself in the hands of an aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) – setting off a chain of chaos.
The incident soon attracts the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston); a federal agent working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America who, after some persuading, reluctantly joins our hero on his quest along with her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Sudol).
Working from an original screenplay penned by J.K Rowling herself and directed by David Yates – filmmaker who helmed previous Harry Potter films – it would be easy to assume Fantastic Beasts to be nothing more than a blatant cash-grab which hopes to profit from long-time Harry Potter fans. However, although not as developed or as absorbing as one might have hoped, Fantastic Beasts proves to be a worthy addition to the fantasy arena which delivers an enchanting premise of eccentricity and magic.
Set seventy years before a boy named Harry Potter first walked the halls of Hogwarths, the film benefits from a degree of creative freedom to expand on its premise, introducing new stories, characters and an array of magical beasts along the way. However, there seems to be too much going on and the film struggles to keep up with the sheer amount of characters and sub-plots, failing to offer any substantial back stories or weight support them. The performances are relatively likable, with Redmayne embracing Newt’s love for magic with an gawky energy, though the rest of the cast – including Collin Farrell and Jon Voight - fail to make a similar impact.
Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining piece of cinema which will more than likely please die-hard fans that have been waiting to return to the world of wizards and magic. However, it’s not exactly what you might call an exciting movie or even a fully developed one; while it has sown the seeds for the films to come, as a standalone piece, it fails to really wow.