Sleezy's Reviews

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Here's that shot you needed, Sleezy. It's definitely one of my favorites.

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In the Beginning...


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Yates, 2009)


I worried that as this series drew to a close, given the increasing length of the books, the film adaptations would falter. After an underwhelming Goblet of Fire, I was glad to see that Order of the Phoenix turned out to be fun, harrowing, and ultimately sensible. I credit that as much to the screenwriters and director David Yates as anybody else.

Sadly, this one disappoints. It’s not that it’s horrible, per se, but by comparison, it suffers from a few glaring issues the preceding Potter films have mostly been able to avoid. More than anything, the film feels horribly unfocused. Events appear to happen simply because the plot calls for it. Rarely do we see them set in motion, or the motives that inspired characters to act (which would have thereby injected some much-needed depth). Maybe we’ve known these characters long enough to forgive such oversights, but when Harry says, “After all these years I just sort of go with it,” I find it ironically apt in this film's case. Going through the motions.

When the characters do stretch their legs, the result is often disappointing. Dumbledore, for example, a character who has exhibited such splendid wile and wisdom (especially after the addition of Michael Gambon), is surprisingly neutered this time ‘round. His mystique is called out too directly - mostly through awfully wooden dialogue – giving visitors the sense that he's a plot device more than anything else.

Similarly, the series’ newest addition, Professor Slughorn, falls flat in both eccentricity and depth when compared to past professors. There’s a more substantial character lingering here, I know, but the only thing that’s retained is his role as a very important yet completely coincidental stepping stone in the pursuit to defeat Voldemort. Really, given his character, that job could have been relegated to anybody. So was he really needed?

The main three, still young as they are, continue to show their maturity at the acting game. It’s just unfortunate that the “relationship stuff” is so shoddily written. Really, the who’s-dating-who and who’s-upset-with-who scenarios seem all too much like exaggerations of puppy love. I get that we’re supposed to see bonds forming between Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny, but what we’re ultimately given is painfully generic. Insert random girl to separate Hermione and Ron. Insert random jock to compete with Ron and then vanish for the rest of the film. For all its goofiness, I thought the "chick flick" segment that was plugged conspicuously into the middle act of Goblet of Fire handled relationship issues much better.

Like I said, the whole product is just horribly unfocused anyway. I get that there are really two narrative strains at work: the adolescent romantics of the young students, and the continuing threat of Voldemort and his minions. Again, I haven’t read the books, but it doesn’t seem difficult to keep this stuff straight. Aside from a few genuinely charming moments, most of the puppy love scenes are sporadic and in dire need of cutting. Likewise, with the exception of Malfoy’s confused preparation to assassinate Dumbledore (finally, Draco shows some real character!) and the flashbacks of Tom Riddle (which are admittedly pretty nice), the Voldemort threat angle is too underdeveloped and peaks too late to have much profound impact on viewers.

As far as the shocking ending that everybody already knows…

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Dumbledore’s death, in principle alone, does sting a bit. As the ever-present confidant and guiding light to Harry, his murder would understandably ripple greatly over what’s left of the story. Which is why I can’t ignore the terribly uninspired “requiem” that follows. Everyone raising their wands was a nice touch, but come on… wasn’t anybody upset? I would think Dumbledore’s death would throw Hogwarts into chaos. Certainly, there wouldn’t be some neat circle of people quietly looking over his body (which is kind of creepy, if you think about it). And what? No funeral? No great gathering of magic-folk to pay their last respects to such a venerated leader? Cedric Diggory got more play than this.


Finally, I’ve got some lingering questions about aspects of the story that I thought should have been adequately answered. Maybe they’re plotholes. Maybe they’re points of contention between book and film. I don’t know. Enlighten me!

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
What’s so important about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince? What’s it mean? I imagine there’s something deeper here that the film couldn’t (or wouldn’t) delve into, but it seemed like a significant missing piece. I can’t believe the importance is simply that Harry found a book that used to belong to Snape. (Nor can I believe that Snape would risk leaving a book like that in his old office.)


WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why does Snape kill Dumbledore? I’m assuming he was a willing double-agent for Voldemort, but the guy was after the Defense Against the Dark Arts post for years. He finally gets it and then turns on Dumbledore? There even seemed to be some hesitance on Snape’s part to agree to kill Dumbledore if Malfoy failed. Did he really want to do it? Does he regret it? Is he only acting because he has no choice? I’ve got to believe there’s more at work here than the film let on.


WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why is Malfoy chosen to kill Dumbledore first? The kid has shown no competent or reliable qualities throughout these films, other than his ability to be an insufferable douchebag. Did he possess some advantage that Snape didn’t? It seems like Snape, having the confidence of (and greater access to) Dumbledore already, would have made him the primary assassin.


WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why isn’t Harry expelled when he nearly kills Malfoy with Snape’s spell? Harry had no proof of any wrongdoing on Draco's part, so essentially the event was assault. It seems Snape would have made a gigantic fuss of it too, knowing that Harry posed a risk of hampering the assassination. And politically-speaking, I’m not sure Dumbledore could have ignored the severity of the event.


WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Bellatrix and her goons infiltrate Hogwarts, and after killing Dumbledore, all they do is kick over some glasses and break a few windows? Everyone was asleep. You’d think they’d go room to room and eliminate the competition. You’d think they would especially want to capture Harry and take him to Voldemort. Why leave him?



I can't answer a lot of that if you haven't read the books. Suffice to say that the overall story holds together just fine, and a lot of these things are just the result of stripping away unnecessary details that the books went into. A couple notes, though:

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
There was a funeral for Dumbledore in the book, but rumor has it that it's been moved to the last film. And for good reason, actually, which I obviously can't reveal.

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
At first glance, there's nothing terribly important about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince. But as time goes on, you'll see that it's a necessary component of what takes place next. Suffice to say, it's obviously a bit of a shocker for Harry to find out that this person he so admired is actually someone he despises. That, by itself, is an interesting development. I will say, however, that the importance of the book and Harry's feelings about it was really shortchanged in the film.

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
I don't think they even have time to expel Harry. Obviously these things have to be considered, and they have bigger fish to fry awfully soon. Not to mention that the headmaster, er, kinda trusts Harry, so I'm not sure he needs "proof" to avoid being expelled.

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
Voldemort has routinely told people to stay away from Potter so that he can deal with him on his own.

Anyway, a lot of these, as you indicated, aren't really problems, but just questions you're supposed to be asking, and which will be answered over the last two films. Glad you're thinking about it so much. If anything, I would think all the thought you've put into it would mean it merits more than a
. It's clearly got its hooks in ya'.
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In the Beginning...
I can't answer a lot of that if you haven't read the books. Suffice to say that the overall story holds together just fine, and a lot of these things are just the result of stripping away unnecessary details that the books went into. A couple notes, though:

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
There was a funeral for Dumbledore in the book, but rumor has it that it's been moved to the last film. And for good reason, actually, which I obviously can't reveal.
WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Yeah, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say we haven't seen the last of Dumbledore. The man's got a phoenix for a pet (!), and we just found out that by committing murder, one can create a horcrux and preserve himself. Don't really have that worked out in relation to Dumbledore yet, but I've just got a feeling we'll be seeing him again.


WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
At first glance, there's nothing terribly important about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince. But as time goes on, you'll see that it's a necessary component of what takes place next. Suffice to say, it's obviously a bit of a shocker for Harry to find out that this person he so admired is actually someone he despises. That, by itself, is an interesting development. I will say, however, that the importance of the book and Harry's feelings about it was really shortchanged in the film.
Yeah, I spoke with a friend who's read the books, and he said pretty much the same thing. So I guess I'll see how the importance of the Half-Blood Prince unfolds. Still, they could have at least indicated a little better that there was a looming importance. But none of the other characters ask, "What does this mean?" Harry's got a pretty good track record of asking Dumbledore and others about stuff he finds or learns. Curious that he was uncharacteristically silent about this.

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
I don't think they even have time to expel Harry. Obviously these things have to be considered, and they have bigger fish to fry awfully soon. Not to mention that the headmaster, er, kinda trusts Harry, so I'm not sure he needs "proof" to avoid being expelled.
Eh, I guess. It just seemed like a hole to me. Harry's been brought up on stuff before - mostly incidents that were very small or weren't even his fault - and Dumbledore has always granted him clemency. But this one was both deliberate and severe, and the fact that he knew the spell in the first place should have raised even Dumbledore's eyebrows. That is, if he heard about it. And I'm hard-pressed to believe that Snape would have kept the incident to himself. (Malfoy, however, I can believe: the kid was high-strung and terrified as it was, and probably didn't want the scrutiny.)

WARNING: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" spoilers below
Voldemort has routinely told people to stay away from Potter so that he can deal with him on his own.
Yeah, I guess this makes sense. Maybe it's more pronounced in the book. In the films, I don't feel they've really accounted for it enough. And let's face it, the real reason Harry is still free is because he's got to keep pushing the plot forward.

Anyway, a lot of these, as you indicated, aren't really problems, but just questions you're supposed to be asking, and which will be answered over the last two films. Glad you're thinking about it so much. If anything, I would think all the thought you've put into it would mean it merits more than a
. It's clearly got its hooks in ya'.
I struggled with my rating, but ultimately the film (a) shouldn't be so wooden and unfocused, despite its burden to edit; and (b) should take responsibility for missing material that might have helped it make more sense. I can't help but think that a line here and there might have really helped. But with any adaptation, there has got to be changes. It's just that when you make changes, you have to assess the logic of those changes.

I am very much enthralled with the story, but sadly, I wasn't left with "excited" questions (like I have been before) so much as "frustrated" questions. I've got half a mind to go read the book, actually. Prolly not a good idea. I'd end up even more confused.



Fair points, all. A line here or there goes a long way, I agree. I can't really argue with a few of the things you're saying; they're not expressed the way they should be for people who haven't read the books. But a couple of them will definitely make more sense when all's said and done.

Very fun to talk to someone who's still in the midst of trying to work it all out, though. My sister and I had some very involved discussions about where things might go while we were waiting for the release of the final book.



In the Beginning...
I've thought about reading the books numerous times. I even started on the first one, but it was too adolescent for me to really get into. I know the later books get to be pretty mature and elaborate, so one day I'll probably make another go of it. I guess I figure I'm in this far, might as well finish out the film series as a neophyte.



In the Beginning...


Avatar (Cameron, 2009)


I don’t have to much to add on whether or not Avatar has met or exceeded expectations. Really, expectations have a way of growing so large that measuring the film’s success in relation is almost impossible. Suffice it to say, Avatar is surprisingly very good, and uses its assets as smartly as you could ever hope for in today’s overblown, banal adventure-blockbuster genre.

What can I say about the visuals? Not only are they stupendously well-rendered and complementary to the finished product, but there’s also a conscious sense of beauty infused into them that designers/animators rarely ever afford other films – a clear indication that studios should take note from Avatar and NOT rush their blockbusters to market. Alien creatures exhibit believable biology. The dense jungle reflects a beautiful bioluminescent ecosystem. The details aren’t revolutionary, but Cameron’s attention to that detail shows that Avatar was made by loving hands.

Speaking of revolutionary, the effects themselves – though probably the best example to date – do not reflect a giant leap forward… with one exception. I’ve been dubious about motion-capture technology and digital characters since they’ve come into vogue in recent years. Even LOTR’s Gollum doesn’t quite allow you to forget his digital nature. But Avatar’s Na’Vi come very close. And in fact, Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri does. Her face and movements are so expressive, especially late in the film, that for a while I completely accepted her as a character as real as any flesh-and-blood actor onscreen.

The film’s weakest link is the script, simply because it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Like Yoda mentioned in his review, you know what to expect long before the mid-point of the film. The plot also uses, regrettably, the popular dichotomy of greedy white capitalists against nature-loving native folk; although I find this easy to forgive on a personal level because I sympathize with the message, and it makes for a pleasantly cathartic three-hour experience that delivers on its promises.

Suffice it to say, Avatar strives not only to be something bigger, but also something wholeheartedly artistic and meaningful. It has taken one very large step into a dangerous arena of shallow filmmaking, but it has done so with more than a fair attention to depth and rich storytelling. Who knows whether or not it will be the flagship that determines the bar of excellence by which all future blockbusters will follow? For God’s sake, let’s hope so.



Nice review Sleezy saw it yesterday and loved it
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