Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 [2011]
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson
Directed by: David Yates

Harry, Ron and Hermione continue their search to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes that will once and for all put an end to the Dark Lord and his quest for immortality.

Finally, the Harry Potter series comes to an end. Last years 'Hallows, Part 1' was a slow burner. Some people thought it was a bit too heavy on the drama and not heavy enough on the action, i disagreed. Characters needed to be established before the big finale, and the struggle of trying to survive the Dark Lord's obsession with Harry's death was a burden that needed to be explored properly. Part 1 may have been lacking in the action department, but they well and truly made up for it with 'Hallows, Part 2'.

Essentially, 'Hallows 2' isn't really a part 2, it's more of a 1.5. The story set up was pretty much completed in part 1, and the bulk of part 2 is the final battle at Hogwart's where Harry finally has his big showdown with Voldemort. Event though there are a couple of big secrets revealed within the story in part 2, most of what we see on screen is wizard fighting and Harry rushing around to find and destroy the final Horcruxes.
The movie runs at a very fast pace. That's both good and bad. After the slow burning Part 1, the lighting speed of Part 2 was needed. Part 2 is the "pay off" movie that Part 1 teased at. At the same time though, i did feel that certain sections of the film were rushed through a little too quickly. The battles could have lasted a bit longer, and a key scene involving Snape's big reveal should have been fleshed out more. The running time for the film isn't as long as the HP films usually are either, so i'm not sure why an extra 10 minutes of story development wasn't added to the film to bulk it up a bit. This isn't a major issue though, and other aspects of the film make up for any short comings.

Where Part 2 succeeds is both in scale and emotion. The movie certainly feels epic, the danger of the battle is felt very strongly as the teachers of Hogwart's set up their protection barriers for the dark wizards oncoming assault. You really feel like Harry and the gang are desperately trying to remove Voldemort's immortality so they can have a chance at killing him. The urgency is tense.
Emotionally, it has the same strengths as the final book did. Harry's struggle feels like a burden as you watch him frantically crawl and run for dear life, and when he is faced with possible death, you can't help but get teary. The meeting between Harry and his dead loved ones was a beautiful way to lead into the start of his confrontation with Voldemort, i thought it was very moving.
Snape's final moments were perfectly done as well, his last breath as he looks into Harry's eyes was heartbreaking. Th following scene about Snape's true intentions makes it that much more depressing.

Even though there are strong parts of 'Hallows 2', it still didn't give me the PERFECT shot of brilliance i wanted from a closing film. It should have been longer, it should have tired me out, it felt like they could have pushed it a tiny bit further. Maybe it will feel more complete watching it as one big movie right after part 1?

Overall, they did a good enough job at finishing up the saga in a big way. It served up enough magic and drama to satisfy any Potter fan i'm sure. The series has been a lot of fun, and the last few films have really been what's kept me on board all these years waiting for the end. I can't wait to own all of the movies in one big mouth watering blu-ray box set!.

Monday, July 11, 2011

4 [Deluxe Edition]

Beyonce has always seemed like a bit of a dark horse to me when it came to being a serious contender in the pop music scene. A lot of her music is generic r&b/pop [i mean that in a nice way], but there's also been a slow growing need to go against the grain a little throughout her career.
On her first album, 'Dangerously In Love', it was a fairly standard affair as far as music production goes. R&b ballads and urban dance floor fillers were pretty much what the album was full of. Her second album, 'B'Day', showed a bit more musical experimentation, with a more old skool urban influence on the record, and a more organic use of instrumentation on the production of the music. Her 3rd album, 'I Am...Sasha Fierce', was an even bigger leap forward as far as bringing in different musical styles was concerned. Between more electronic urban beats and more simple guitar driven ballads, it was obvious Beyonce's palette of influences were broader than we were led to believe based on her earlier work.

Her 4th album, '4', is certainly her most interesting album to date. Not so much because i think it's her best, it's not [i give that title to her last album, 'Sasha']. But '4' marks an important time in her career, and that is reflected in the music on the album. This is the first record Beyonce has done without the guidance of her father, who has been her manager since her Destiny's Child days. With Beyonce asserting herself in her own career, comes a new found confidence and freedom to branch herself out even further as an artist.
After the huge success of 'Sasha', you'd think '4' would have been an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of that album and offer more of them same. To my surprise however, Beyonce has chosen to put together a much more sombre body of work this time around. Instead of jumping on the dance bandwagon that's filling mainstream radio right now, Beyonce has decided to go completely in the opposite direction and has created more of an old skool 90's r&b record with very little club bangers to go nuts over. In many ways it pays off, and in other ways it kinda fails.

The majority of the album is well produced. The ballads are nicely done for the most part. 'I Miss You' sounds like something Phil Collins could have sung back in the day, '1+1' takes obvious notes from Prince and features a gorgeous electric guitar solo and 'Dance For You' could easily fit on any sexy early 90's r&b slow jams album.
The more dance heavy tracks offer some nice moments too. 'End of Time' uses infectious drum beats, 'Countdown' has a catchy big band sound, and my favourite off the album, 'Run The World', features a hot tribal beat and aggressive vocals. I know a lot of people dislike that song, but i think it's fantastic, i love the 'Diplo' inspired production on the track. If 'M.I.A' did more commercial music, it would sound something like that.

Credit has to be given to Beyonce for not churning out an album that fits into the mold of what is popular right now. Don't get me wrong, most of the songs on '4' don't necessarily tread new ground. We've heard Beyonce do r&b music before, this isn't surprising to anyone. However, it's not a genre that's really selling right now though, especially with an album like '4' which consists of mostly slower tracks.
As a lead single, 'Run The World', wasn't an ideal choice either. The genre it borrows from is way too particular, and not something mainstream listeners are into. As much as i love it, i can see why so many people hated it.
Beyonce has my respect for doing an album she truly wanted to make, regardless of how unexpected it may be. She seems to be more focused on growing as an artist, rather than JUST selling records. It's refreshing to see after her last massive album.

Technically, there isn't anything really wrong with '4', however, it does have a few bumps along the way.
As nice as most of the songs are, the album can feel a bit dull as an overall listen. A couple more upbeat or heavier tracks wouldn't have hurt, especially ones along the lines of 'Run The World'. There's a bit of "meat" missing from the album. It all plods along a bit TOO comfortably at times, and i find that i really need to be in the right mood to listen to the album in full.
Also, the track listing order is a fucking mess. '1+1' is an awful way to start the record, it's just way too slow and feels more like a closing track than an opening one. Following that sort of slow opener with another 2 ballads really doesn't set up the album well. It's just too "sleepy". I shuffled around my track listing on my iTunes and found the album flows a lot better with the mid-tempo tracks and ballads mixed around more. The official track listing feels like i've started the album half way through the play list when i play track 1. It's just odd and it really kills the flow.

'4' is a decent album. It has a couple strong moments, and even though the rest of the album is nice enough, i don't feel like it reaches any truly great heights for me. There could have been a bit more of an energy in the music to liven it up a more, and some of the songs are a bit bland production wise. If i'm not in the mood for the album, it can be boring. I find that it works more when i listen to tracks individually than as a complete record. There's SOMETHING missing, it feels like it needs a bit of a "fun" injection. As a ballad heavy record though, it's enjoyable enough if you like that sort of thing.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Paul Feig

Picked as her best friend's maid of honor, Annie looks to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids.

I'll be honest, the first time i saw the trailer to this movie, i wasn't impressed, in fact, i thought it looked pretty awful and unfunny. Once the film got released though, in came the endless critical praise, and audience rave reviews. In fact, pretty much everyone i have bumped into since the films release has urged me to go see this movie. I was surprised by the reaction to the film, and decided to give it a chance.
I'm glad i did, because Bridemaids has become one of the most funniest movies i have ever seen. I was laughing non stop throughout the whole thing, that hasn't happened in a long time with a comedy, not to that extent.

What's great about Bridesmaids, is that it's written as an every day comedy. The characters are real and relatable, the situations could actually happen, and the general story actually has some genuine heart behind it.
The lead actress, Kristen Wiig, carries the movie perfectly. Not only is she hilarious with the comedy [her penis impersonation, lol!], but her character is layered and not 2 dimensional. At times you want to slap her, at other times you feel really bad for her, she puts in a fantastic performance. The other stand out in the cast is Rose Byrne. I'm used to seeing her do more serious roles, so it was a nice change to see her play something like this. The hateful chemistry relationship between Wiig and Byrne's characters is hilarious. The ''toast off''' they compete in at the brides engagement party is genius writing.

Thinking back on the film, i've lost count of how many great moments the movie had. From the pilled up plane sequence to the giant cookie attack, the funny moments were endless.
Another great thing about Bridesmaids, is that even the none comedic parts of the story are written well. Wiig's character finding new love is charming, and the crumbling of her sanity while at work or dealing with a bastard ex is depressing and realistic. The film has a lot more going for it under the surface than a lot of other "chic flicks", and for that, the movie opens itself up to a broader audience. This isn't a cliched movie just for women, it's not 'Bride Wars', it's much smarter than that and would appeal to pretty much everyone.

Forget any other comedies this year, the tired 'Hangover 2', the hit and miss 'Bad Teacher', they don't hold up well against something as fantastic as 'Bridesmaids'. It's become one of my favourite films ever, i can't wait to see it again.