Posted: July 15, 2009
Dave on film: Family reunions, big and small
Reviews of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "Moon"By Dave Taylor
We¹re into the summer doldrums, the heat of July -- and the promise of more heat and late afternoon thunderstorms -- for at least the next few weeks before we move into the respite of autumn. It¹s a great time to go to a nice air-conditioned theater: The studios know this, which is why there are a lot of good films coming out right now.
This week I¹m talking about two movies, one of which will doubtless be a top-10 grosser for 2009, and one that¹s a splendid little indie sci-fi film that makes up in thought-provoking storyline what it lacks in big-budget explosions and special effects.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
Six films into the Harry Potter series, it seems like Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe) and his two pals Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are old friends. Turning the books into films has been a tricky task, however, and each film has had its own distinctive personality, with a number of different directors involved, from Chris Columbus (HP1 and HP2) to Alfonso Cuarón (HP3), Mike Newell (HP4) and David Yates (HP5 and HP6).
The overall story has flowed beautifully from discovery to recognition of danger to the desire - and growing ability - to fight the growing darkness in author J.K. Rowling's fictional world. The ultimate struggle is about good versus evil, good as embodied in Harry, Hermione and Ron. Evil is personified by the undead dark wizard Voldemort and his followers, known collectively as the Death Eaters.
In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Harry finds himself in the potions class of Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and auspiciously finding an old potions textbook with extensive corrections and additional scribbled notes that help him become a star pupil. The book is inscribed "Property of the Half-Blood Prince" and the question the film explores is the identity of this prince.
I really enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince and found that its look and style was lush, complex, at times astonishing and overall a world that had as much fun and whimsy as terrifying dark magic. While there's lots of magic, most of the story focuses on the magic of the adolescent heart, however, and much of what unfolds seems to be about boy longs for girl, girl likes other boy, boy doesn't notice girl, etc., etc. You know, adolescence.
In fact, one of the challenges with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is that perhaps too much of its 153-minute running time is taken up with adolescent love and romance, to the point where sometimes it seems like the dramatic events are almost incidental to, say, Lavender Brown (played entertainingly by Jessie Cave) getting all lovey-dovey over Ron.
Right from the get-go, Yates gives us a sense of the roller-coaster of this film, with a remarkable opening sequence of the Death Eaters wreaking havoc in contemporary "muggle" London. The scene when we're flying at very high speed down the streets of London are terrific and almost gave me a sense of vertigo. It's very powerful. Then that cuts to Harry having a cup of tea at a very non-magical café in an underground train station and being picked up by a lovely girl who works there.
I also want to mention two particularly good performances: Helena Bonham Carter is already an accomplished actor, but she outdoes herself as the unhinged, dangerous, death eater Bellatrix Lestrange. She's wacked and every time she shows up, you know that trouble's not far behind. I've also been a long-time fan of Evanna Lynch's portrayal of the weird and spacey Luna Lovegood, who proves time and again to be a faithful friend to Harry, even if everyone else in the film thinks she's odd and makes fun of her.
Is it appropriate for children under 10? Most of it is, but there are definitely a few scenes of great drama, frightening imagery and loud sound effects that might well overwhelm a younger child. Definitely less so once it's on DVD, of course, but I suggest that unless your younger children are battle-hardened that this one might be a pass for them, however disappointed they may be.
Imagine you've screwed up your life enough that you need to make a dramatic, huge change. For Sam Bell (played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell), that break involves being shipped to the far side of the moon by Lunar Industries, Inc. to work solo on a Helium-3 (HE3) mining facility.
"Moon" starts out with Sam only having two weeks left on Mining Base Sarang before his three-year contract is up. Keeping Sam company is the GURTY 3000 computer system (voiced by Kevin Spacey), one of many homages to the brilliant "2001: A Space Odyssey." Unlike the abstract red eye of the HAL 9000, however, GURTY is a big ugly box with a small video screen that displays bright yellow smiley faces and has a "kick me" post-it stuck to its back.
Two weeks? How hard can it be to stick it out and survive his last two weeks of lunar work before he is shipped back to his beautiful wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and young daughter Eve (Kaya Scodelario)? And yet, strange things keep happening and soon Sam's seeing himself when he looks elsewhere in the claustrophobically small station, then he has an accident while in a rover out servicing a Harvester and wakes up in the infirmary. But who brought him back?
There's so much about this film that I really liked, I'm not sure where to start. The space station is believably grungy without being the flying disaster of, say, Nostromo in "Alien," and there are many subtle elements of foreshadowing that are brilliant.
In many ways, "Moon" is a one-man show, a film that could almost be a stage play, as so much of it happens within the confines of Mining Base Sarang. That isn't to say that the exterior scenes aren't critical to the storyline, they are, and they look crisp and stark as we've learned to expect from the lunar surface.
Running just a bit more than 90 minutes, the film also unfolds slowly and with at least a few of what Hitchcock loved to call MacGuffin's, things that exist in the movie purely to deceive us into thinking we understand what's happening and why. I can't say more without spoiling the film, but you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it.
And, finally, that's my recommendation for this: Just go see it.
Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at email@example.com.