It was the best of times … 2011

31 12 2011

As the few minutes left in 2011 quickly wane, I wanted to reflect on all the good that has come from this trying year of 2011.  As Lester Burnham said in “American Beauty” – and I quoted on my senior page in the yearbook – it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.

No matter the general consensus of film in a year (and I don’t think it takes an expert to tell you this wasn’t a stellar one), the top 10 list is a reminder to all critics and readers that there will always be something to celebrate.  Even amidst all the chaos of the year, we found reasons to be happy … and thus a way to be happy.

Much was said about high profile divorces – Demi and Ashton, Sinead O’Connor, Kim Kardashian – but the whole world tuned in for the Royal Wedding.  Even with the American divorce rate soaring and half of all marriages are unable to last, it was love that brought us together.

Much was said about our military’s inefficacy in Iraq as we pulled out the last troops in December, but Seal Team Six gave Americans something to be proud of as they flawlessly took down the elusive Osama bin Laden.  Failure and cynicism may make for an interesting editorial page, but it was success that captured the attention and the heart of America.

Much was said about the dumbing down of youth with mindless blockbusters like “Transformers” grossing a billion dollars worldwide and mindless literature like “Twilight” flying off the shelves.  Yet the young generation – my generation – proved it was hardly an empty one by turning out in record numbers on the opening day of the final “Harry Potter” movie.  If you couldn’t feel a real magic from the movie, you had to take comfort in seeing that the experiences of reading a book and going to a movie theater, thought be many to be endangered, were alive and well.

So while our president may have abandoned hope and change for 2012, I, for one, am full of it.  I am confident that all will pan out for the future, especially given how willing filmmakers were in 2011 to tackle some of the toughest issues facing our society.  In my top 10, you will see movies committed to showing us how to live, how to love, and – most importantly – how to change.  Like Owen Wilson’s Gil Pender from “Midnight in Paris,” living in the past only works as a fantasy.  We have to live in the now; we have to face its challenges; we have to accept pain as a natural part of progress.

So, without further ado, here were the 10 best movies I saw in 2011:

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

12 07 2011

I was only nine years old when the “Harry Potter” films first cast their spell on me.  While I was old enough to realize that the series was, unfortunately, fictional, I wasn’t blind to the magic of J.K. Rowling’s series.  Only a fool couldn’t see that every aspect around Harry Potter and the universe of wizarding he inhabits doesn’t possess some fantastic sorcery.  How else can you explain the millions of children (and adults alike) who have rediscovered the power of reading thanks to the books?  How else can you explain the millions who come out in droves at midnight … to celebrate the release of a novel?

It’s only appropriate that the final film adaptation, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” should capture that magic with such perfect grace, making us at once entranced by the action on the screen, heartbroken that we no longer have another movie to look forward to in the series, and filled with joy that the series has, for the past 10 years, taught us all to believe in the magic of cinema.  The “Harry Potter” series has been such an integral part of my childhood and adolescence, and as it concludes as I head off for college, I can’t be more thankful to have such a fantastic film mark the end of a big chapter of my life.  I’m so grateful that my generation, along with countless other fans, has rallied eight times to celebrate the power that writing and filmmaking can possess when done so incredibly right.

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WTLFT: July 2011

8 06 2011

Yeah, I shortened the name.  It’s a lot more palatable.  This post will tell you What To Look Forward To in the month of July.  We have transformers, captains, teen stars, teen wizards, sex friends, zoo friends, hellish bosses, honey bears, and smurfs – just to name a few.  Here they all are; you can make up your mind if any of these actually appeal to you.

July 1

Cheating- “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” actually comes out on June 29, and, if you want to get really technical, June 28 at 9:00 in IMAX 3D and RealD 3D.  So while you curse me for my horrific crimes against nature, humanity, and blogging, watch the trailer and decide for yourself whether or not you want to subject yourself to Shia LaBeouf and a lot of loud noises orchestrated by Michael Bay.

On the quieter side of things, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts plan to use their star power to fill seats at “Larry Crowne,” which looks like perfectly middle-of-the-road rom-com territory.  On the louder side of things again – and by louder, I mean girlish screams and constantly ringing cell phones – “Monte Carlo” gives young girls what they need during the summer.  A nice helping of Selena Gomez, Katie Cassidy, and Leighton Meester should have the tweeners saying “OMG!” until the next season of “Wizards of Waverly Place” hits the small screen. (There’s also a creepy thriller called “The Perfect Host” starring David Hyde Pierce, which I feel obliged to mention since it’s the only indie offering amidst these studio genre pics.)

July 8

Fingers crossed that “Horrible Bosses” will be funny!  I remember reading a piece on a blog for The Los Angeles Times well before the movie started production that praised it, so hopefully it stuck to the script.  If it’s a hit, I motion for Jennifer Aniston to stop doing horrible rom-com fare and stick to raunchy comedy; I chuckle every time I watch the trailer and hear her say, “Shabbat shalom; someone’s circumcised!”

As for “Zookeeper” … well, I hope the kids enjoy it.

I’ve definitely been going through a documentary phase ever since last year’s “Inside Job” rocked my world, and Michael Rappaport’s “Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” could feed my obsession quite well.  It follows the titular hip-hop group (known as A Tribe Called Quest if you are as clueless as I was) from formation to fame.  Best case scenario it provides a fascinating expose of the craft of rapping much like “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” did for standup comedy last summer.  Worst case scenario I get to see some of my favorite artists talking about a group I’ve never heard of before.

Another interesting documentary (that I can only PRAY makes it to Houston sometime before I leave for college) is “Project Nim,” the story of a chimpanzee experiment.  I’ve always been interested in stories where lines and boundaries we once thought clear are exposed and shown to be more porous and relative than we thought, and this looks to deliver on a big scale.

July 15

Some tiny little series ends on screen.  It’s no big deal, it’s not like these movies define my youth.  It’s not like it’s a worldwide phenomenon.  But in all seriousness, I’m not going to cry.  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” – BRING IT ON!

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

17 11 2010

Gone is the familiar comfort and charm of the Hogwarts castle in the first installment of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and the movie has a distinctively different mood throughout.  At times, it feels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road: Kids Edition” as the three undaunted friends Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger traverse through hazardous territory to find horcruxes, pieces of dark magic in which Lord Voldemort has stored his soul.  There are seven in existence – two have been destroyed in past movies, and over the course of 150 minutes, we get to watch them find and destroy not two, not three, but a single horcrux.

Take that in.  All the trouble to split the final book of J.K. Rowling’s series in two, and they squander an entire half on just one horcrux?  Standing alone, it feels like a whole lot of exposition amounting to little more than a section rising action that culminates in a pseudo-climax that just feels somewhat off.

The important thing to remember, especially for rabid “Harry Potter” fans like myself, is that this is the first half of a two-part saga.  Normally, the first half of any movie is its lesser component, and particularly so in this series. The first hours often struggle to remain totally exciting through the set-up, and they also have the daunting task of getting the rising action going, which can often be pretty slow.  If the first half of any movie had a full narrative arc, wouldn’t that essentially be defeating the purpose of the second half?

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Random Factoid #439

10 10 2010

The score now stands at: moviegoers – 1, 3D – still too many conversions.

On Friday, Warner Bros. announced that they would abandon plans to release “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” in 3D because the conversion was not satisfactory.  All I can say is where was this logic when “Clash of the Titans” was being converted?  Here is the studio’s exact statement:

“Despite everyone’s best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality.  We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey.”

There aren’t very many times that a studio makes me feel like I, the moviegoer, matter that much.  But with this kind of news, I definitely feel important.  Along with many other dedicated fans, I have protested being ripped off by these hasty conversions for four unwarranted dollars.  However, by acknowledging that a bad conversion isn’t worth the alienation of fans, I certainly feel like I count for something.

All those complaining 3D factoids really weren’t for nothing then, I guess.

UPDATE 10/11: /Film has the whole story.  Check it out.