Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Movie Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images

The Harry Potter saga is finally brought to a close in the 8th (yes I said 8th) film in this gargantuan, box-office shattering franchise. Regardless of how you feel about the films, some sort of recognition needs to be given to the producers of the Harry Potter movies for maintaining the quality of a film series for so long. In fact, the Harry Potter movies seem to have gotten better as they went along. For most franchises, if an 8th film is ever made it is usually either a straight to DVD release or a made for tv movie. While the 1st 4 Harry Potter films are fun fantasy flicks akin to something like the Narnia films, the last 4 in the series - Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 really are comparable in tone and quality to the Lord of the Rings films. 

Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up RIGHT where Part 1 left off, throwing us rather suddenly into the conflict. Harry Potter is still hunting down the Horcruxes that contain parts of Lord Voldemort's soul so that he can destroy them, and ultimately destroy the Dark Lord. (If you wonder what the heck a Horcrux is, I recommend reading the book or doing a little bit of Wikipedia investigation!) The story to Part 2 is very straightforward, as Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts one final time to find the final piece and end up joining an epic final confrontation with the Dark Lord and his army of Death Eaters. If you have read the book there is nothing new here, except for a few reordering changes to make the movie 'more suspenseful'. In my humble yet honest opinion, they made the story MUCH better and a more exciting film. Despite these improvements however, there are still many moments where the pacing is much too slow. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, I feel that the split in the final chapter required a bit of stretching to fill screen time. Once the film gets rolling though, you never stop until the conclusion.

Acting-wise, Deathly Hallows showcases the actors at their finest. Daniel Radcliffe shines as Harry, giving him an intense emotional depth. As he sees his friends die for him and realizes the sacrifice that he will be required to make himself, we believe that he is actually struggling. Daniel is one of those actors who truly can act sans dialogue. Emma Watson ( my favorite actor in the film) and Rupert Grint have also grown into their own as Hermione and Ron. Although these actors are fantastic, I found that Alan Rickman's Severus Snape stole the show yet again. Although a major player in the final chapter of the Potter saga, Snape was curiously missing from most of the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now, as his part in the story plays out, we see many more layers to the intriguing dark arts teacher/ headmaster. On a negative note, the only part of the movie that I found to be rather cheesy and unneeded was the epilogue. The cast plays themselves 19 years in the future even though only a minimal amount of makeup effects were used to age them. This led to a very unbelievable and humorous ending to an otherwise incredible film.

Deathly Hallows Part 2 excels on many levels, but I found that the most appealing aspect of the film was the cinematography and visual effects. Eduardo Serra, the cinematographer from Part 1, returns to the gritty, dark look that made Yates' installments so riveting for me. From the muted grays and ominous landscape shots, to the intense and sweeping battle sequences at Hogwarts, this film is much darker in tone than any of the previous films. As the thematic material gets darker, so does the look and feel of the film. The wizard battles are fantastic to behold, as Serra's camera work takes us across the entire battlefield - as if to immerse us in it's enormous scale. While not as sweeping as a battle sequence in The Lord of the Rings, something about these battles feel more personal. We see what the stakes are instead of merely understanding the concept.

Morally, there is no sexual content, little language, and virtually no blood in Harry Potter. The violence is VERY intense though and the body count high in Deathly Hallows Part 2. We lose characters that we know and the emotional tension is high. The PG-13 rating is very appropriate and I would certainly caution parents from taking young children to see it. The magical content in the films is dumbed down to a level similar with that in The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia so there is no need to worry about witchcraft content. The magic used in Harry Potter is a more fantasy based magic akin to that in fairy tales. While the books did delve into very controversial content, the films are much more family friendly in this regard. I say this only because I know there are many people who are wary of the Harry Potter series because of uncertainty in this area.

Overall, I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was a worthy conclusion to an epic film saga. While the pacing at times was slow and there were some rather shallow emotional moments, this film is incredibly well made (forgetting of course the terrible epilogue). It is almost sad to think of the Harry Potter saga as being over, but it certainly makes me excited to see the next fantasy epic from Warner Bros. - Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - in December of 2012. 

Signing out,
The REAL Bowman 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger - Movie Review

Captain America: The First Avenger
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Moral Rating:

Captain America should have been an amazing movie. It deserves to be everything that it seemed like it would be. Yet even with this being said, Capt. America is NOT a bad movie by a long shot - in the sense that it does everything it set out to do. Entertain, set up The Avengers, introduce Chris Evans as the Captain, finish the summer movie rush with a patriotic BANG.... Even then, something seems lost in translation. 

As a movie, Captain America is not well made by a long shot, the directing is clumsy and the script incredibly campy and cliche. The funny thing about Marvel Studio's latest though is that this campiness and cliched take is what makes the film work. While other films such as Iron Man, X-Men: First Class and the Spider-man movies attempted to ground their films in reality (which is altogether an incredulous and impossible thing to do, considering the source material) both THOR and Captain America have fun by seemingly almost directly recreating a comic book on the big screen. We are never expected to take things seriously in Captain America, and as the stupid wise-cracks fly, implausible action sequences take place and some of the most over the top character interactions make us blush, it struck me that THIS was the intended purpose of the script. 

Joe Johnston is no stranger to adventure movies, having directed Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3 and Hidalgo. His style is very family friendly and goes for sheer entertainment value rather than cohesive plots and logical structure. Johnston could be said to be the directorial equivalent of a 6 year old with a bucket of Legos. He uses the pieces he has to make something. Not all the colors match, pieces may be missing and parts of it may just barely be holding on, but there is no mistaking what the final product is despite its shoddy quality. And just as we don't hold a 6 year old's lego skyscraper up in comparison to the Empire State Building, I feel that we shouldn't hold up Johnston's films to obviously superior movies of Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky and Terrence Malick. All that Johnston's films have ever meant to do was to have fun and tell a story. 

Chris Evans is spectacular as Steve Rogers. His acting has matured greatly from his days as The Human Torch in Marvel's disaster Fantastic Four films. He truly owns this role and carries the movie. Hugo Weaving plays an incredibly cheesy Red Skull, yet his performance is lackluster and cliche - complete with phony German accent, evil laughs and black trench coat. Hayley Atwell does a decent job as Rogers' love interest Peggy Carter, but the remaining cast - including Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips - is easily forgettable. 

From a story standpoint, Captain America is a very standard movie. Hero goes up against villain who wants to take over the world using advanced weapons technology. Hero thwarts villain, gets the girl, discovers his identity. Cliche but fun. When all is said and done, there is not much to say about Captain America. The story is baffling and implausible and if I tried to explain it in this review I think I would ruin the movie for you. What is there should not be explained, nor should it be attempted to be analyzed logically. Marvel's latest should simply be taken for what it is- a summer popcorn movie. When I first watched Captain America I must admit I was very disappointed, but the more I think on it, the more I like the movie. This is one movie that attempts to stay true to everything about the time period it came from. Watch any movie from the 1940's and you'll see what I mean! Campiness, overacting, complete lack of logic, over the top villains, etc etc etc... and yet THIS is what we want in a period film. And indeed, that is what I want in Captain America. As good a director as Christopher Nolan is, I just don't think he could capture the astute patriotism, the go-get'm attitude and the harmless cheese.

Conclusion: Captain America: The First Avenger is not a must see, but it is certainly entertaining if approached correctly. The setting and characters are fun, even if they aren't comparable to those in other Marvel masterpieces.

Signing out, The REAL Bowman.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Top 5 - Anticipated Albums of 2011

Here it is! These are the records that I believe will define 2011's music for me.....

5. Phil Wickham - Response
Maybe I'm just biased because I have personal connections with this guy and his producer, but Phil Wickham is one of the best current Christian recording artists out right now. Not only are his lyrics unbelievably poetic and deep, but the music is well thought out, well orchestrated, and well produced. His self titled debut and the follow up "Cannons" both boasted more of a Euro-rock/ indie folk sound but with his 3rd project "Heaven and Earth" we were surprised with a synth and beat heavy record. Going for more ethereal and retro in sound, "Heaven and Earth" quickly became one of my all time favorite Christian music records. I have only heard about 4 or 5 of the new tracks from "Response", but it sounds as if Phil is experimenting again, revisiting the piano and incorporating more of an 80's rock vibe. 
-"Response" releases sometime this August. Follow Phil on facebook for updates on the release.

4. Mat Kearney - Young Love
Ever since his label debut "Nothing Left to Lose", Mat Kearney has been constantly growing, gaining an impressive following. "Nothing Left to Lose" was catchy, featuring Kearney's chill Chris Martin sounding vocals in a style that was part folk, part pop, and yes, part hip-hop. Indeed, the latter is what initially attracted my ear to his music... Not only can Kearney sing, he can rap! The follow up "City of Black and White" was amazing, well produced and well written, but was curiously devoid of any hip-hop or pop elements. While this helped him to break into the singer-songwriter territory of Nashville ( scary shark infested waters in the music industry, if you ask me), it left the fans that put Kearney on the map to begin with a bit let down, but hopeful that he would return to the sound we fell in love with. And if "Hey Mama"- his first single off the new record - is any indication, Kearney just might have returned to his best musical area. Add to that the eye-catching neon artwork, and "Young Love" is looking to be anything but boring....
-"Young Love" releases on August 2nd.

3. Switchfoot - Vice Verses
When Switchfoot first burst onto the mainstream music scene with "The Beautiful Letdown", they quickly became synonimous with high-energy music, massive arena rock (think of the song "Meant to Live", "Stars" etc) and sold out live shows. Since then Switchfoot has released 3 other full length records, "Nothing is Sound", "Oh! Gravity" and "Hello Hurricane"; as well as a greatest hits cd. "Nothing is Sound" continued the band's development in writing and rocking out, and while many thought "Oh! Gravity" was a mistep for the band, I rather liked it. Following this record Jon Foreman released 4 solo ep's and a collaboration with Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek) called "Fiction Family". These were more experimental musically and much more potent lyrically. Now we arrive at "Hello Hurricane". 
While being incredibly well produced, with some standout tracks - "Needle and Haystack Life", "Mess of Me", the title track- this album felt more like a giant experimentation binge. And in a sense it was. Over 80 songs had been written and recorded before being narrowed down to the 12 that made up the record. There was a LOT going on in the music, yet it never felt BIG - like "Nothing is Sound"did. The lyrics were amazing, the orchestrations were good... yet "Hello Hurricane" just didn't feel quite like Switchfoot! So now we arrive to 2011 and the arrival of the much-anticipated "Vice Verses". Early reports and releases from the label say that this album is darker and feels much bigger with much less going on. It has been compared to U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head". "Vice Verses" is also being heralded as an "arena rock album". Looks like Switchfoot is returning to form! I look forward to this release. The first single "Dark Horses" will be released sometime in August.
-"Vice Verses" is slated to be released on September 27th. 

2. MUTEMATH - Odd Soul
Mutemath is a band that doesn't play around. After winning a lawsuit over the distribution of their first full length record  - simply called "MUTEMATH" - Mutemath tore onto the live music scene. Their band is in fact one of the few bands that you MUST see live before you die. Hailing from New Orleans, Mutemath incorporates so many different unique musical elements into their music that there truly is no one that sounds like them. So how does one create a worthy successor to a critically acclaimed debut? Mutemaths' sophomore release "Armistice" seemed to be created with a live show in mind. The heavy synths and unbelievably complex drum and bass hooks make this one cd that I literally have worn out from overplaying! "Armistice" feels almost like a band's 3rd record, as it's departure in sound from the debut is so apparent. In truth it technically is, as the band completely scrapped the initial follow up record and almost broke up due to creative differences in band direction. 
Even though they survived, the stress that this near-falling-out caused on the band left its mark. A few months ago Mutemath announced on their website that their guitarist Greg Hill had left the band and that their new record had been completed as a trio. Apparently Hill needed a break from music because of the intensity of Mutemath's career in the past few years. At first sight this might seem like bad news, but Mutemaths' first ep "Reset" was recorded as a trio before Hill ever joined. The new record "Odd Soul" has only been hinted at in short Youtube previews, but it sounds as if the boys are back with a crazy new sound. If any band can prove that raw musical talent is all one needs to succeed, it's Mutemath. Despite the lack of Hill, "Odd Soul" seems to be shaping up to be one of the best records of 2011. 
-"Odd Soul" releases on October 4th.

1. Coldplay - (Untitled 5th LP)

Drumroll please! If any one band can drive someone crazy with suspense for a new record, it is Brit rock band Coldplay. For years they have filled stadiums worldwide with their signature sound. After creating the "Parachutes",  "A Rush of Blood to the Head" and "X&Y", their space-rock masterpiece, Coldplay decided to pursue a new direction musically. These 3 records had been intended to be a music trilogy of sorts, showcasing a progression in their writing and style. 2008's Grammy winner "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" (and it's companion ep, "Prospekt's March")  replaced the reverb, falsetto and synth with a more organic sound. This new direction utilized hammered dulcimer, acoustic guitar, strings, and syncopated world rhythms (particularly on "Lovers in Japan" and "Strawberry Swing") as well as showcasing the range of lead singer Chris Martin's voice. Brian Eno's production still gave it an overall airiness, but newcomer to the Coldplay scene Markus Dravs brought an earthiness and classical element to Coldplay's sound. Dravs is the producer responsible for Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" (which won the Best Album Grammy in 2011) and Mumford and Sons' debut album. As one would expect, Coldplay announced that their follow up would most likely be more earthy and acoustic, possibly an concept album and be released at the end of 2010 to celebrate their 10 year anniversary.

Except 2010 came and went and the only new music we heard from Coldplay was the single "Christmas Lights". While it was a beautiful track, it really didn't give any indication as to what happened to the new record. According to interviews in early 2011 the acoustic concept album had been completely scrapped and Coldplay had been writing new music inspired by New York City graffiti and the White Rose Movement- a philosophical uprising against Nazi Germany. Last month Coldplay released new photos of the band, using bright neon colors and a 90's vibe, then released the first single from the as-yet-untitled new record, titled "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall". Instead of acoustic, Coldplay has ventured into new territory- 80's pop/synth. This track, along with the songs "Major Minus", "Moving to Mars", "Hurts Like Heaven", and "Cartoon Hearts" were debuted at the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany on June 4th and indicate a bold new direction for the band. Without compromising Coldplay's signature sound, these songs are much more experimental with the instruments and rhythms that they use. While "Every Teardrop" is more pop heavy, "Major Minus" seems to be almost like a guitar-driven accompaniment to Chris Martin's Kanye West collaboration "Homecoming". On the otherhand "Moving to Mars" goes retro, with a good ole' 70's beat and a spacy sound that could almost be found on "X&Y". Whatever this new record is going to be, it is going to be the album to top of 2011. I expect much critical acclaim and might I predict a Grammy for Coldplay in 2012?
-Coldplay's new record still has no name or release date, but is expected to drop this fall.