November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

A terrific adaptation of the first half of the final Harry Potter book. Thank goodness they didn't try to cram the whole book into two or three hours!

Things they got right:
  • I liked seeing Hermione wiping herself from her parents' lives.
  • The battle in the coffee shop: I loved the dodging, the loud cracks, the flying pots and cups.
  • The bottomless beaded handbag looked great. I loved watching Hermione sink elbow-deep into the bag, also, the sound of her library stack falling over.
  • I loved the comedy of Harry, Ron, and Hermione creeping around the Ministry as Albert Runcorn, Reg Cattermole, and Mafalda Hopkirk. When I read the book, I hoped they would NOT use Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in these scenes. I was excited at the prospect of three unknown actors playing them for the whole sequence, and I was not disappointed (see photo + my notes, below.)
  • Ron's splinch wounds were very scary. The way he was moaning and panting on the ground was perfect.
  • Harry and Ron discovering the sword in the frozen pond was just as I imagined.
  • When the locket Horcrux finally opens, the black cloud of Voldemort's soul is bigger and more terrifying than I imagined. I found Ron's "visions" of Harry and Hermione very creepy, and their nude kissing was just gross! Emily said "they look like Japanese anime characters!"
  • Bathilda Bagshot was very creepy, with her bulging, watery eyes.
  • The tale of the Three Brothers was nicely portrayed, silouhette-style, almost like paper marionettes.
  • Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) was great (and very tall!) with his one line aboard the Hogwarts Express: "Hey losers, he's not here!" According to the end credits, the camera must have panned past every Hogwarts student we know in that one shot! I didn't notice, but according to the IMDb, Lavender Brown, Romilda Vane, Goyle, Cho Chang, Katie Bell, Zabini, McLaggen, Pansy Parkinson, and Padma Patil were all aboard.
  • Kreacher and Dobby looked A. maz. ing! They looked really real. They made Gollum look like a sock puppet.
Things I missed
  • In the book, when the Death Eaters ambush Harry's escape from Privet Drive, they discover he's the "real" Harry because he doesn't shoot to kill the Imperiused Stan Shunpike. Later, Lupin lectures him on this point. In the movie, Harry releases Hedwig from her cage before they depart. She later defends Harry from the Death Eaters, which tips them off to his identity. Harry has had to carry around that ginormous birdcage in every story. It's a big pain in the storytelling butt. In the book, Hagrid's sidecar is big enough to hold Harry and a giant birdcage? I bet the screenwriter rewrote the scene so the director would not have to show a sidecar so enormous that a 17-year-old boy and a giant birdcage both fit inside. It makes more sense for Harry to release the owl, but why would the Death Eaters know that that owl is Harry's owl anyway? Very clunky.
  • When George loses his ear in the book, it's really gone, like Reservoir Dogs gone. I think the director didn't have the nerve to show a severed ear-hole in his movie.
  • In the book, it feels like Voldemort is breathing down their necks the whole time they're on the run. When they're captured by the Snatchers, it feels like he's going to apparate at any moment. Heck, he's in the same room with Harry and Hermione as they escape Nagini at Bathilda Bagshot's house. In the movie, Voldemort spends his time searching for the Elder Wand, but I never felt that creeping doom of his iminient appearance. The scariest moment of the book is when Harry and Hermione are struggling to escape from Nagini. Nagini has just summoned Voldemort. Voldemort runs up the cottage stairs (very scary Jung-ian moment), and enters the room just as Harry and Hermione fling themselves out the window and disapparate. I was sad that that moment was missing.
  • My wife is always frustrated that Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) only gets one line in each movie.
Mafalda Hopkirk (Hermione), Harry (in Albert Runcorn's clothes), Mary Cattermole, and Reg Cattermole (Ron) escape the Dementors at the Ministry.

When I read Deathly Hallows, I was excited to see Mafalda Hopkirk make a reappearance. Actually "reappearance' is the wrong word, because the last time we heard from Mafalda, it was her voice only: Jessica Stevenson was the voice of Hopkirk, emanating from a magical letter, in Order of the Phoenix. Why should I care about such a marginal character? I am a huge fan of Jessica Stevenson for co-creating and co-starring on the terrific TV show SPACED, with Simon Pegg. We only heard her voice in Phoenix, so when I read she was returning to the screen in Hallows, I was excited that she might show her face at last? And I was doubly excited, because in Hallows she would appear in the flesh, but her voice would be "looped in" by Emma Watson. How delicious that she would appear "voice only" in the fifth movie, and "body only" in the seventh!Alas, it was not to be. Instead, Mafalda Hopkirk's body is played by Sophie Thompson, sister of Professor Trelawney herself, Emma Thompson. I know Sophie Thompson best as Bride # 2 Lydia, in Four Weddings & A Funeral.

THEATER NOTES: With my lovely wife and the lovely Laura, Showcase Cinemas Du Lux (screen 7) at Legacy Place, Dedham. This was the second time I spent the big bucks for the "lux level" seating (21+, super-cushy leather reserved seating, wait service in the theater) but I don't think I'll do it again. The seats are great, and it's nice to have popcorn and beer brought to my seat, but the price is steep ($25, minus $5 food credit) and they leave the lights on dim so guests can see their food.

November 13, 2010

The Social Network

When the airwaves and interwebs were clogged with commercials for The Social Network, I told anyone who would listen that I would rather stab myself in the face than see this movie. I suspected that a movie about a smug teenage billionaire, lording his genius over the rest of us, would be unwatchable. Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984 for crying out loud!

However, the reviews made me less suspicious, so the wife and I saw it this weekend, and we both liked it very much.

The structure is a Citizen Kane-esque postmortem for the rise of an empire. Told via two depositions, the lengthy (voiceover-free) flashbacks show us how vindictive wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg invented the online social network- taking the whole social experience of college and putting it online. Zuckerberg is touched with the Aspberger's so he doesn't know how to connect emotionally. His only emotional outlet is in front of a computer, so it's a natural evolution for him to create a new social world online, in his own element. Force people to interact online instead of in person.

My fears about the smug factor were resolved in the first scene. The Thirsty Scholar, Cambridge, 2003. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore, is on a date with his girlfriend. When he lets slip that he considers her intellectually inferior (she goes to BU!) she dumps him. He doesn't understand that it's not enough to regret calling your girlfriend inferior, you have to not honestly feel that way too. By the time this scene was over, I pitied him already. As the story progressed, it was hard to keep feeling bad for a young man who screws over everyone he knows, but it's also hard to hate someone so lonely and lost.

Director David Fincher has  bounced back after the boring and obvious Benjamin Button. The Social Network is Fincher's most conventional movie. I found his gloomy, schellacked lighting distracting. Many scenes were filtered through an amber patina. Is this 2004 or 1904? Some of the most ordinary scenes seemed...sinister, somehow. Maybe I still have the heebie-jeebies leftover from Zodiac? The only special effect I noticed was the Winklevoss Twins. One actor, Armie Hammer, plays twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, just two of the associates Zuckerberg climbs over on the way to the top. I honestly have not seen this actor in anything before, but, while watching him onscreen playing both roles, I thought something was odd. I thought to myself: leave it to David Fincher to use a computer to turn one actor into twins! Are there really no twin actors out there who could have played these roles? It must be nice for Fincher to have that kind of clout.

Aaron Sorkin's adapted screenplay is excellent. He takes the story of a introverted, friendless nerd genius, and turns it into The Movie of the Millenials. When the spurned Zuckerberg drunkenly blogs about the "bitch" who just broke up with him, it felt like the first chapter in the history of The Blogging Generation.

The movie is also full of technical details, both computer details and big business details, and Sorkin's screenplay makes all of it simple to grasp. The only clunky parts include Rashida Jones's unfortunate role as a "script device"; she's just a cog in the storytelling machine.

Our only gripe, and it's a big one, is the appalling depiction of women. All of the female students and girlfriends in the movie are mindless, silly, drunk sex objects, and/or crazy and paranoid. Sorkin and Fincher's loathing for the female species is transparent. I'm not asking them to invent a equally intelligent female nerd, like Demi Moore as the female lawyer in A Few Good Men, but do we need the bimbos playing video games on the sofa? When a character asks them which weapons they're using, they giggle "We don't know how it works. We're just pressing all the buttons!" Moments later, the girls are falling over each other to smoke a five-foot-long bong.

It wasn't only the structure which reminded me of Citizen Kane: we try to understand the solitary billionaire entrepreneur, who he threw under the bus along the way: was reaching the top of the pile worth the cost? At the end of Citizen Kane, we learn that Kane would have given it all up to return to his youthful innocence; at the end of The Social Network, Citizen Zuckerberg has it all to himself, literally.

We saw The Social Network at the Church Street Harvard Square theater, which seemed appropriate considering the setting of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find the film still showing on the big Screen #1, six weeks after its debut. I suppose a movie set at Harvard, starring the latest billionaire Harvard dropout, gets preferential treatment.

NOTE: At one point, a character points out that Zuckerberg in 2003 was the most talked-about person on the Harvard campus, a campus which includes Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes, and a movie star. That movie star was Natalie Portman, who got her bachelor's degree in 2003. This is the same movie star I spotted in Davis Square in 2001!

November 1, 2010

127 The Whiskey River

The first four tracks on this mix all clumped together. I started with "Horchata", from Vampire Weekend's second album Contra. (FYI, a horchata is a traditional beverage, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts.) With "Horchata" as the germ, I built three other songs with fun and exotic instrumentation around it: the pseudo-reggae of "Last Night", the steel drums of the least-cool Rod Stewart song ever, and the accordion of "Gumboots", from Paul Simon's Graceland (aka "You don't feel you could love me/But I feel you could")
  1. "Last Night" Traveling Wilburys
  2. "Horchata" Vampire Weekend
  3. "Love Touch" Rod Stewart
  4. "Gumboots" Paul Simon
  5. "Peace Train" 10,000 Maniacs; I just saw Yusuf, aka Cat Stevens, at Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity.
  6. "An Innocent Man" Billy Joel
  7. "Sentimental Heart" She & Him
  8. "Ruby Tuesday" The Rolling Stones
  9. "Summer" Buffalo Tom
  10. "We Are Sex Bob-Omb" from Sex Bob-Omb dovetails nicely into...
  11. "Yer Blues" The Beatles
  12. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" Muddy Waters inspired the title of this mix:
  13. If the river was whiskey, and I was a divin' duck I would dive to the bottom, never would I come up
  14. "Damn Good" David Lee Roth: Have you ever completely forgotten a song? Forgotten a song so completely that you don't even remember knowing it in the first place? I recently bought David Lee Roth's solo CD Skyscraper for $1. David Lee Roth's solo career took off when I was a teenage Van Halen fan, so me and my friends had a lot of loyalty to Diamond Dave. I wanted the CD for the hit single "Living In Paradise", but for the heck of it I listened to the whole disc one day. That's when I rediscovered "Damn Good", an acoustic ballad (with nice guitar work from Steve Vai.) It's NOT a "damn good" song, BUT the point is, I had not heard the song in 22 years! It was weird dusting the cobwebs off this teenage memory.
  15. "Put Me On Top" Aimee Mann
  16. "Bang Bang Bang" Tracy Chapman
  17. "Smoke On The Water" Deep Purple
  18. "Hunger Strike" Temple of the Dog
  19. "I Hate Myself For Loving You" Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, the original version, before it was appropriated for Monday Night Football.
  20. "I Love Your Smile" Shanice I think I added this song because I saw someone on TV named Shanice?
  21. "Shadowboxer" Fiona Apple