There are really only two big movies opening this weekend. One involves the boy wizard, the other a fat Australian guy who threw a telephone at somebody. (Remember that?) I’ve seen both films and will be reviewing them in detail when I have a spare moment. For now, I’ll just run down my very brief thoughts, and then we can all move on with our lives. This is the preferred way to do business, I’m sure, because it keeps you from hearing much from me, and allows you more free time to, say, rake leaves or write your father an impassioned letter that you never intend to send. Either way, we’ll be done shortly. Worry not, Muggles!
Of course, the biggest movie this weekend (and maybe one of the biggest movies ever, based on early estimates) is ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1‘. The final chapter of the magical saga has been split down the middle, with half of the story being unleashed this weekend and the other half being released next summer. Let it be said now: The filmmakers have found a logical ending place in this first movie. Let it also be said: You’ll be screaming to the heavens wanting to see the second part. (It’s a true cliffhanger.) I really loved this movie, and am more and more certain that David Yates – a BBC vet who was hired by Warner Bros. for his fast, cheap work ethic – has become the visionary of the franchise. By the time all is said and done, he’ll have helmed four entries in the saga, and his stylistic influences are deeply felt with this one. (His insistence on getting the kids into the real world, the de-saturation of color, etc.) One thing Yates does really well is keep the perspective with the kids. Every once in a while, we’ll see what old Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who looks in danger of very literally chewing the scenery) is up to, but we really stick near the kids. It’s great stuff.
If you’ve read the books, you know that a large portion of the first part of the story is about the kids going on an extended run from the dark forces, which is sort of a road movie within the magic universe. Yes, this does drag a bit in the film, but you always get the sense of paranoia and apocalyptic doom just around the corner (or over the next mountaintop). Aiding this is Alexandre Desplat’s riveting score, the best of the series. (Sorry, John Williams.) But, ultimately, this is still half the story, and it looks like it will end in truly spectacular fashion, if this first film is any indication.
In less spectacular fashion, Paul Haggis, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind ‘Crash‘ (ick) and ‘In the Valley of Elah‘ (double ick), adapts a French thriller called ‘Pour Elle’ into ‘The Next Three Days‘. Its very strained conceit is that Russell Crowe’s wife, played by the always lovely Elizabeth Banks, has been convicted of murder and is about to get moved from a regional prison to a more legit one upstate. She’s also, coincidentally, run out of appeals. So Crowe concocts a hair-brained scheme to bust her out of jail before she can be moved.
The results are just… silly. Haggis, a preachy filmmaker who relies less on talent and more on raw nerve, thinks he’s above the obviously pulpy material. He’s clumsy and ill equipped for the emotional and theatrical beats inherent in this kind of thriller. The movie crawls by, eclipsing the two-hour-mark without much tension or excitement. Earlier in the day, I saw a movie with the exact same running time: Peter Weir’s ‘The Way Back’. That film, based on a true story, is about a gang of Siberian prison inmates who walk from Siberia to India in the height of World War II. In ‘The Next Three Days’, Russell Crowe gets beat up by Wu Tang Clan member RZA.
On the other hand, it does feature an occasionally fine Danny Elfman score.
Skip ‘The Next Three Days’ and stand in line for ‘Potter’. It’ll be worth it for a genuinely magical time.