jesse (rockmarooned) wrote,


Two movies this weekend, too: first, on Friday, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the Ziegfeld with Marisa, Nathaniel, Rayme and her roommate, Amanda, Sara, and Annie. I feel it's now three Harry Potter movies in a row where I've come out saying, yeah, I think this is one of the better ones. But the truth is, there's the two Chris Columbus ones that seemed OK at the time but in retrospect are pretty pedestrian throughout; there's the Cuaron one that was a breath of fresh air in 2004; there are the post-Cuaron movies that follow his lead without quite the same newness or sense of fun; and there are six Harry Potter movies that I've never seen straight through more than once, even the Cuaron one that I have on DVD somewhere.

I do like these movies, though, and, yeah, as I was leaving Half-Blood Prince, my feeling is that it's probably one of the better ones, maybe second or third best after Azkaban. Though I admired the cutting job that they did on the bloated Order of the Phoenix book, Half-Blood Prince offers even more freedom because it's long without being quite as plotty: it's (to my recollection, because I haven't re-experienced any of the books, either) full of character bits, backstory, and yeah, some master plot advancement, but not quite as big as Phoenix. So the movie version of Book 6 has some excellently dark menace at the beginning and the end, and a lot of lighter character moments in the middle, and some nice additions to and deviations from the original book. It's one of the least action-packed of the Potter movies, which gives director David Yates more room to play with the camera and have fun with the actors. Indeed, if I like this movie better than most of the rest, it's because it's one of the most visually rich and best-shot of the series, and one of the funniest. It's just a pleasure to spend time with these characters in this world, as they work through the last step before the end.

This, I think, is what holds these movies back for me, though -- even the Cuaron installment, to some extent, though it comes closest to breaking free. Though the filmmaking team has reached the point where they must adapt and fiddle (rather than the literal-minded condensation of the first two books), they don't seem free to make the movies self-contained. This might sound ridiculous to fans, because it is, after all, the film version of a seven-book series with a big developing story. But you can have a part of a story feel like its own individual film. Half-Blood Prince gets there on a scene-by-scene basis, with its style and the emphasis on teen wizard relationships. But little effort is made to tie the relationship between the kids, the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore, and, without being too coy, the relationship between Harry and the Half-Blood Prince, all together into something a little more thematically interesting (or even narratively unified). Of course not: they'll be resolved and tied together by the next movie(s). But you can have a cliffhanger ending or a to-be-continued and still make a more satisfying individual movie: look at the Star Wars or X-Men movies (well, don't look at Last Stand; you've had a rough week). I wish the Potter movies, as well-made as they have been over the last few years, were more in that vein -- even this highly enjoyable installment. It may sound like nitpicking, but surely any Potter fan can understand the urge to do that.

Speaking of nitpicking! Today I saw 500 Days of Summer with a whole bunch of girls, which was a little weird because it's a romantic comedy with a distinctly male point of view (albeit a sensitive male, in that it's not a let's-ditch-the-broads-entirely comedy a la The Hangover or I Love You, Man). We see the boy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in various stages of elation, heartbreak, and confusion, and we mainly see the girl, Zooey Deschanel, through his eyes: beautiful, confounding, a little remote. Though I wish someone would go ahead and produce this kind of romantic comedy from a woman's point of view -- just about all variations on romantic comedy formula come down to giving guys more to do -- this new boy version is a lot of fun as it bounces back and forth over the course of those 500 days, with a playful and sometimes witty hodgepodge of styles: whimsical narration, a musical number, parody, quiet reflection, and I dig the cumulative, sort of impressionistic (though extremely accessible) flipping-through-photos effect. If something keeps it from becoming a flat-out great movie instead of "only" an entertaining and worthwhile one, it's the slightly sitcommy flavors that sometimes turn up in the screenplay: the slightly more crass buddies; the hero or heroine who "doesn't believe in love" (I guess there must be someone, somewhere, who has actually put it that way before, but it sounds like screenwriting to me); and using a career or interest in architecture as a shortcut for character and/or story development.

To that last point: If movies and TV are to be believed, architects are the single most soulful and creative profession around; they are legion; and just about anyone who doesn't parlay their architecture degree into a wildly successful carrer is mainly failing to do so out of some kind of vague personal problem that can be easily vanquished once he or she decides to follow his or her dream. Basically, if you need your character to be creative but not flaky (which is to say, maintain the promise of success, which is to say, maintain the promise is being rich someday), make him an aspiring architect. Honestly, at this point, I'd rather see the guy be an aspiring writer or cartoonist or filmmaker or whatever. It may be more ridiculous when/if the movie ignores financial considerations, but at least that wouldn't smack of compromise and cliche, and would involve the writers admitting they don't know anything about being an architect and that they're just looking for something that sounds romantic and idealistic (How I Met Your Mother is certainly sometimes guilty of letting its characters off easy with success -- where even the "bad" jobs seem entertaining and well-paying -- but at least it makes occasional concessions to the day-to-day realities of working). 500 Days of Summer manages to compound its screenwriter's tin ear for actual jobs by introducing a second completely movie-ish profession: greeting card writer. Yes, this is what architects with their careers on hold for no reason do in the meantime: they work at a supposedly dead-end greeting-card company job (that appears, actually, to be a perfectly decent and well-paying gig; I'd love a dead-end job like this one). Movie jobs like this -- especially when they're used so obviously as metaphors and/or character development and/or ironic counterpoints -- make me wonder if the screenwriters have ever had to work anywhere in their lives.

That's all kind of minor in the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing (even more than actual singer Deschanel!) or the gag about how Deschanel's character personally caused a spike in Belle and Sebastian album sales or any number of good things, but there are certain bad studio filmmaking tics that you should really try to shake out if you're gonna do something smaller and more personal. I like so much about the movie that the sitcom indulges feel especially lazy.

Still, the marketing for both of these movies has been pretty honest. If you see the trailers and think, why I think I'd enjoy that movie! ... you probably will.

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