Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter has hormones, but where is Voldemort?

After reading many an article on the latest film installment of the lit-sensation Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I feel compelled to include my two cents. My dear friend, The Drive-Thru Academic, rides his high of just having seen the latest film and claims its his favorite of the series. Another colleague, The Culture Warrior, has yet to see the latest film, but recently reviewed his marathon of films 1 through 5. Many others are quick to say this is the best adaptation, and some dare say it falls short.

I must put myself on the latter side of the fence and disagree with Charley's excitement. HP6 was entertaining, and indeed the heightened hormones lighten up an otherwise extremely dark story. But director David Yates disappointed the Potterphile-me and the cinemaphile-me, in equal measure.

The script actually does a good job editing the book all in all, but the PG rating makes the complexity of the tale and the dread of who's on what side watered down and a minimal part of the film. As Charley states, the eponymous character - the Half Blood Prince, is more or less ignored in the film. It is pushed aside to a mere fleeting question until the film's end, when it is as tidily answered as it is posed.

Of course, Yates can put together a beautiful image. The film visually exudes the unease of the times, the ominous threat surrounds near every shot, just as it does the characters within the story. However the tone does not remain so consistent. Instead, it jumps from dark and treacherous (or an attempt at such) to humorously teenage fluff. Don't get me wrong, both are huge parts of the book, and deserve equal respect in the cinematic version. And while this film allows the growing skills of the young stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, to really shine, their acting cannot hold up the poorly written script. Unfortunately, the teenage romance is handled like a B-high school flick, with none of the grace and ease the web of danger was given throughout the other books. And Bonnie Wright, who plays Ginny Weasley, comes off very bored and unstudied.

While amusingly light-hearted and enjoyable (to a certain degree), the focus on lifting the mood through bumbling love potions and poorly hidden affections hinders the drama of the central story at hand. The climactic scenes between Harry and Headmaster Dumbledore are handled so quickly and simply that I, perhaps the most quick to cry in a theater, didn't even get misty. Life-changing moments, character-defining events, are not given the proper pace, tone, or direction. They suffer so we can all giggle at the plentiful awkward sexual innuendoes.

This film is by no means my least favorite of the series. In fact, it sits right in the middle. Jim Broadbent was a fantastic addition to the famous featured British actors. And Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood is again spot-on.

I think my perspective suffered from having just re-read the book, completing it a mere few hours before going to the theater. Perhaps too immersed in comparison the first time around, I look forward to giving it a second try once the finite details of the text have evaporated from my memory.

David Yates' latest addition to the Potter series is, I will agree, a good platform for the final book and films from which to spring board off into hopefully more fearless drama and PG-13 violence, like Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban or Yates' Order of the Phoenix. What makes #3 and #5 better than #6? They aren't afriad to stand alone as good films, separate from the series that made them popular. #6 is good, but more than a good film in and of itself, it's just a good base for The Deathly Hallows. And a good base does not a great film make.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back in the Office: Mad Men and Me

After a months-long hiatus, I'm back on line and ready to expel some observations and opinions, most particularly today on one of the most recent DVD releases - MAD MEN: Season 2.

Released this past Tuesday, July 14th, we the public got to celebrate both the anniversary of the French Revolution and the subtle chipping away of the submissive woman of 1950s America all in one great 'Encore!' of a day.

As a francophile who's "gone mad" (as the show's ad campaign goes), Tuesday was a day to look forward to. And sure enough, while I didn't particularly celebrate Bastille Day in any style, I could not help but retain some renewed faith in media's style when I picked up the latest at-home installment of one of the most artistically-centric shows on television.

From the case to the menu, every detail of the product reflects the integrity of the show. As the first season released a special-edition box shaped like a lighter, this year's packaging is a boxed business shirt from none-other than Season One's featured retailer - Menken's. The box around the disc slides open like a gift box, allowing access to both the included swag of a Mad Men tie-clip and the DVDs within. It shows my supreme nerdiness that I smile a little every time a DVD case opens with style instead of your typical pop-open plastic case.

The detail-oriented art direction of the case mirrors that of the program itself at every level. From the stellar richness of the images to the wood-effect and Sterling Cooper logo that back the DVDs, every inch of the casing was considered. And if the cover of the box wasn't enough to remind you that the show is all about image, this season features disc labels not with various character line-ups, but instead with close-ups of the life forces of the era - the fashion, liquor, and cigarettes. The feminine and masculine, the sex and power.

And of course, the meat of the matter. Special Features. This season features audio commentaries for every single episode with cast and crew- a fantastic perk, that I will review in a later post, along with the three featurettes - "Birth of an Independent Woman" covering the 'rise of female independence in the MAD MEN era,' "An Era of Style," and "Time Capsule" which honors events and peoples of the generation that inspired the show.

So as I sit down to enjoy my return to the second installment of the disgustingly misogynistic but beautifully designed 1962 of Matthew Weiner and Christopher Brown, I already feel terribly under-dressed and under-liquored. And that's a great sign.