Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

This final chapter of the Harry Potter saga begins with the burial of Dobby in the garden at the Shell cottage. Harry, Ron and Hermoine then convince Griphook to sneak them into Gringotts and get them into Bellatrix Lestrange's vault to retrieve one of Voldemort's horcruxes in exchange for Godrick Gryffindor's sword. However, Griphood betrays them and they have to escape security using a dragon. However, they are able to escape with the horcrux and through visions, Harry is able to see that Voldemort knows they are searching for the horcruxes and is angry and scared. Harry also finds out that the next horcrux is at Hogwarts.

They manage to sneak into Hogwarts with the help of Dumbledore's brother, and are reunited with some of their school mates. Later, they confront Snape, who is now the headmaster of Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall then intervenes and fights Snape, who then retreats from Hogwarts. The rest of the professors and students prepare their defenses and try to hold off Voldemort and his army so Harry will have time to track down and destroy the next horcrux. Malfoy and two of his friends confront them, but after they start a fire, Harry ends up having to save them.

Voldemort uses the Elder Wand to destroy the defensive shield around Hogwarts, and they attack the school and everyone in it. Voldemort then orders Nagini to kill Snape because he believes that he can only truly command the Elder Wand is to dispose of its current master. As Snape killed Dumbledore, he would have become the master of the Elder Wand. Voldemort is able to get into the minds of everyone in Hogwarts and tells them he is calling a cease fire and is ordering his army to retreat to allow them time to bury their dead. However, he warns them that if Harry does not come to the Forbidden Forest to confront him, he will kill everyone.

Before Snape dies, Harry was able to collect some of his tears, and through his tears he learns of his whole life story. He always loved Harry's mother, and found her shortly after Voldemort killed her and Harry's father. Harry also learns that he became a horcrux that night when part of Voldemort's soul went into his body. It turns out that Snape has been on the good side all along! He sees a conversation where Dumbledore told Snape that Harry has to die in order to kill Voldemort. Harry also finds out that Dumbledore actually asked Snape to kill him because he was sick.

Before going to fulfill his destiny, Harry opens a snitch and the Resurrection Stone appears and he is able to resurrect the ghosts of his parents and two other deceased loved ones. He then confronts Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, who thinks he is killing Harry. However, Harry wakes up in a dream-like space with Dumbledore, who tells him that the only thing Voldemort killed was the part of him in Harry. He then wakes up, but Draco's mother lies to Voldemort and tells him he is dead. Voldemort then has Hagrid carry him back to Hogwarts, thinking that he and his army no longer have anyone standing in their way.

However, once back at Hogwarts Harry reveals himself to be alive and has one final battle with Voldemort. Neville Longbottom also ends up saving Ron and Harmione, who were trying to kill Voldemort's snake. It turns out that the Elder Wand never actually belonged to Snape because it was Draco Malfoy who disarmed Dumbledore. Since Harry disarmed Draco, he became the true master of the wand. Voldemort is killed for good, and as anyone who has read the book knows, the story then jumps ahead 19 years where Harry, Ginny, Ron and Harmione are all sending their own children off to Hogwarts.

The special effects in this movie are wonderful. If you didn't know better, you would think that the dragons and death eaters and all of J.K. Rowling's other creatures really existed. However, even more impressive than the special effects, is the acting of this wonderful cast. It is rare that a movie with so much action also has quiet, emotional moments where you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have had the opportunity to work with some of the best British actors since they were about 10, and they have become excellent actors in their own right. It will probably be hard to get people to see them as other characters, but they all have the ability to have bright careers in the future.

Rating: 5/5 stars


Miral is based upon the novel by Rula Jebreal, which is about four women and their lives during important moments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The movie starts at Christmastime 1947 in Jerusalem with a woman named Hind Husseini. There appears to be at least relative peace between the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans living together and celebrating the holidays in Jerusalem in the wake of the devastation of World War II. However, in 1948 the U.N. decreed the formation of the nation of Israel, and Jews flood in from all parts of the world to settle in their homeland. Unfortunately, these Jewish settlements come at the cost of the displacement of thousands of Palestinians. One day, Hind is walking down the street and comes across a large group of children who were brought to Jerusalem following a massacre in their village Deir Yassin. She takes them all in and begins an orphanage, which eventually becomes a school for hundreds of Palestinian girls.

The second part of the movie deals with two women, Nadia and Fatima, who meet in prison in 1967, shortly after the "6 Day War" with Israel. Nadia was sexually abused by her step-father, and ran away from home. She became a belly dancer in order to support herself, and one day after work she is on a bus and is harassed by an Israeli woman who notices her husband staring at her. Nadia punches the Israeli woman and is sentenced to 6 months in prison. In prison, she shares a cell with Fatima. Fatima was a nurse during the "6 Day War" and was fired after she helped a young man escape back to Jordan. He had fought with the Palestinians against the Israelis, and all of these soldiers were considered prisoners of war by Israel. Fatima feels the need to fight back against Israel, and agrees to place a bomb in a movie theater. However, the bomb does not explode and someone in the theater was able to identify her and she was sentenced to two life sentences.

After Nadia is released from prison, she marries and has her daughter, Miral. However, she commits suicide when Miral is 7 and her father sends her to Hind's school, Dar Al-Tifel. When Miral (Freida Pinto) is 17, Hind sends all the girls to a Palestinian refugee camp to help teach the children. While at the refugee camp, Miral sees Israeli soldiers demolish a Palestinian home leaving the entire family homeless, and realizes the hardships the Palestinians have to face in the refugee camps. Later, during the Intifada in 1987, she goes to a protest with her friend from school, Hadil, and Hadil is shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Miral then joins a group dedicated to fighting Israel, and falls for a young political activist, Hani. After she is arrested for her involvement in this group, Miral's father and Hind become concerned for her safety and future, and Miral has to choose between education as a path towards a better future, or continuing in an armed uprising that had been going on for 20 years with no resolution.

The movie ends with Hind's death in 1994, a few months after the Oslo peace accords were signed between Israel and Palestine. However, as the movie notes, these agreements have still not been honored almost 20 years later.

This movie provides a fascinating view into a conflict that we have heard about on the news for decades, but we are not often shown the Palestinian point of view. The movie uses real footage from these periods of history to truly illustrate the tragedies of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although Freida Pinto is a wonderful actress, I couldn't help thinking of the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" and wished that they had cast a Palestinian in the role of Miral.

This movie is available OnDemand and on DVD.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Monday, July 4, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

This is the third movie in the "Transformers" series, again starring Shia LaBoeuf as Sam Witwicky. Many other characters from the prior movies return including Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam's parents, John Turturro as Simmons, Josh Duhamel as Lennox and Tyrese Gibson as Epps. There are also several new additions to the cast, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly, replacing Megan Fox. Patrick Dempsey plays Dylan, Carly's sleazy boss, Frances McDormand plays the secretary of Defense, John Malkovich plays Sam's boss Bruce Brazos and Ken Jeong plays Jerry Wang, a crazy co-worker of Sam's.

During the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, a spacecraft called the Ark piloted by the leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), tried to escape with a weapon that would have won the war. However, it was hit by the Decepticons and crash landed on the moon. We lean that the race to the moon in the 1960's was in fact an attempt to beat the Soviet Union to the moon so they would not be able to steal any technology to be able to use against the USA. A nice treat was a cameo by Buzz Aldrin, playing himself.

Back in 2011, Sam is happy in his relationship with Carly, but despite saving the world twice and receiving a medal from President Obama, is still unable to find a job in our post-Great Recession economy. He eventually agrees to take a job in a mail room, albeit begrudgingly. One day, his co-worker Jerry Wang (Jeong), corners him and starts talking about the "dark side of the moon," says that the Autobots are in danger, and gives him a bunch of newspaper clippings. However, suddenly a Decepticon kills Wang and tries to kill Sam.

The Autobots have been sent out on various missions around the globe, and are also always on the watch for the return of the Decepticons. During a mission in the Middle East, they learn of strange happenings in Chernobyl, and travel there to discover a fuel cell from the Ark and Decepticon Shockwave and a giant drilling robot.

Optimus Prime confronts Secretary of Defense Mearing (McDormand) about why they were not informed about the discovery of the Ark. The Autobots then take a spaceship to the moon, where they discover that Sentinel Prime is still alive and has five "pillars" which can make a bridge to their planet Cybertron. They bring Sentinel Prime back to Earth, and only Optimus Prime is able to restore him to full power. Unfortunately, the humans discover that there were actually many more pillars, and the Decepticons have them.

The Autobots and the humans learn that loyalties are not what they believed they were, and the action moves from Washington D.C. to Chicago, where the Decepticons have taken the pillars in order to make the bridge to bring Cybertron to Earth and take over the human race as their slaves. The finale is of course the final battle between the Autobots and Sam and the other humans vs. the Decepticons for the fate of our planet.

This being a Michael Bay movie, the special effects were first class. This movie also had a much more coherent plot than "Transformers 2." There was much more of a feeling of needing to fight to save the Earth and the freedom of the human race and less of a feeling of just being observers of a battle between two groups of robots. However, Michael Bay is either unable or unwilling to write female characters who are not either shrews or damsels in distress who are only there to look pretty and need to be saved by some strong man. The character of Carly was an improvement, but was still basically unable to fight back or do anything for herself. Also, both John Malkovich and Ken Jeong's characters were woefully underused.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne stars Tom Hanks as the title character, who is downsized from his job at "U-Mart" because he did not attend college, and has limited abilities to climb the corporate ladder. His neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), who along with his wife B'Ella (Taraji P. Henson) have a perpetual yard sale, suggests that he goes back to school so he will be "fire proof."

Larry enrolls in community college, and one of the classes he takes is Speech 217, taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). Mercedes wonders if she makes any difference in the lives of her students, and is very unhappy in her marriage with a man who published two books, but is now a professional blogger and spends most of his days surfing the internet for porn. He also takes economics taught by Dr. Matsutani (George Takei).

Larry befriends the fellow students in his speech class, who are all very quirky and funny. In an attempt to save money he buys a scooter, which results in him meeting a "free spirit" named Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her boyfriend Dell (Wilmer Valderrama), and their "scooter gang." As you probably guessed from the movie trailers, Larry and Mercedes also have a little romantic entanglement, which threatens their professor-student relationship.

Although one could accuse Tom Hanks of playing the lovable, good guy he plays in a lot of movies, he added a lot of depth and feeling to his character. This movie is also a lot different than other Hollywood movies because it shows problems that real people are facing right now (how do you move on and start over in this new economy and new world we are dealing with). Also, George Takei has a great role as Dr. Matsutani, but Julia Roberts' character is a little unlikeable and it was a bit hard to see why he would fall for her.

Rating : 4/5 stars

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo is a typical, although charming, teen/early-twentysomething movie about a teen from Texas, Grace (Selena Gomez), who has saved all throughout high school to be able to afford a dream graduation trip to Paris. Her mother and step-father allow her to take her big trip abroad with her best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) on the condition that her older step-sister Meg (Leighton Meester) accompanies them to France.

The arrive in Paris to realize that the tour they chose doesn't really give them a chance to explore Paris, and their hotel definitely leaves much to be desired. During their stop at the Eiffel Tower, their tour bus leaves them behind and they are left to fend for themselves. It starts raining, and they stop in a luxury hotel to dry off a little. While they are in the hotel, Emma and Meg realize that the paparazzi are taking pictures of Grace. It turns out that she is a dead ringer for a British socialite named Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also played by Selena Gomez). Cordelia is supposed to go to Monte Carlo to attend several events, but she would rather go to Spain to spend time with friends, and she heads off to the airport. Grace is mistaken for Cordelia, and the girls spend the night in a luxurious suite. The next morning, they find out that Cordelia/Grace is supposed to head to Monte Carlo, and they decide to continue their adventure in Monte Carlo.

Of course, Monte Carlo wouldn't be a romantic comedy without some romantic entanglements. Emma has left her boyfriend Owen (Cory Monteith) behind in Texas, and Meg met a charming Australian named Riley (Luke Bracey) at the Sacre Coeur. Much to Emma and Meg's surprise, both of the boys end up in Monte Carlo as well. Grace meets a charming French boy named Theo (Pierre Boulanger), who is supposed to accompany "Cordelia" around Monte Carlo to attend various social and charitable events, and does not realize that she is actually Grace.

The real Cordelia eventually ends up in Monte Carlo to fulfill her duties, and realizes there has been another girl impersonating her for several days. Grace has to choose between telling Theo the truth and possibly losing him, or go to an auction one last time as Cordelia in order to help a charity.

Both Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester have moments in the movie where they show real acting talent. However, they are both young actresses and need to develop their acting skills before carrying a movie by themselves. The boys are very handsome, but they are not really allowed to really develop their characters or be more than pretty faces. The scenery is beautiful and made me want to hop on a plane to Europe. This movie will definitely charm its intended demographic, and is a great way to escape the summer heat for a couple of hours.

Rating: 3/5 stars