Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Revisit 2022)

When it was announced that the final Harry Potter book would be split into two parts for two final films, there was a lot of complaining. Cynics around the world saw it as a cash grab, merely a way to extend the series to an additional film and pull in some extra bucks. Harry Potter fans who read the books on the other hand understood immediately the need for this decision. While “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is not the longest book in the series (that honor goes to Order of the Phoenix) it is the one with the greatest number of incidents to visualize as part of the over arching narrative. When seeing the results of the final two films, it is hard to imagine how it could have been condensed to a single three hour film and still be comprehended. 

The majority of the film does focus on the battle of Hogwarts, but there are so many adjoining paths that need to be resolved, and yet it still feels like it is doing the minimum possible with some threads of the story. For instance, the information about Aberforth and Ariana is skimmed over quickly, just enough to keep the characters in the story, but with very little background (which may be the justification for the Fantastic Beasts Series of films). On the other hand, it was essential to get Lily and Severus in the story as students at Hogwarts and the time spent in doing so is one of the best moments in the whole series. So Screenwriter Steven Kloves and Director David Yates made some very sound decisions in choosing what to include and how much time to devote to those elements.

There are fans of heist movies that should really appreciate the way in which the jobs get taken care of in these last two films. The Poly Juice Potion does seem to get overdone a bit in the movies, but it is an effective technique and it is used in clever ways here. Helena Bonham Carter gets to be in the movie a bit more than would have otherwise been justified by her part, simply because Hermione is passing herself off as that vile character when the three leads are trying to infiltrate Gringotts. Carter is really terrific playing a character who is so uncomfortable playing the character that Carter actually is. Her shoulders slump like Hermione’s might if she was uncertain,. She hesitates with eye contact the way someone might when testing out an acting role. Rupert Grint  does not have to transform himself  except by disguising himself with a beard, but he gets the surly facial expression of Bellatrix Lestrange’s vassal, just right.  I liked that Harry and Griphook are using one of the Deathly Hallows in pursuing a Horcrux, although I am a little unclear if the curse Harry uses in one of the Unforgivable curses or if it is some other variation.

The Model used for the films at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Experience in the U.K.

The special effects in the vault sequence are pretty darn good, although I do miss the amount of practical work that made the mine chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so much fun. The albino dragon who is nearly blind is a perfect match for my imagination when I first read the book, and the Goblin supervisor who is is entranced, shaking his empty hand as if he has one of the warning bells in it, is a very nice touch, both humorous and disturbing as it plays out. There is plenty of action and excitement in the sequence, but it does not hold back the story, it really does feel like the launching point.

         

Inevitably, the audience is going to have to fill in the blanks in a few places. When our three protagonists return to Hogsmeade after the raid on the bank, they are greeted with alarms that we don’t quite know are set off by. Seeing how it is a magical place, we can sort of assume that Harry’s mere presence would be enough to get them going. The explanation in the book is more interesting and clearer, but it would require more exposition and the film requirements mean we should be focusing on story rather than minutia. The same sort of choices are made with Aberforth, and with just a couple of slight references in the dungeon of Hogwarts, we move on past what was a whole chapter in the book. Fans of both the books and the films can appreciate the arrival of the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. We remember that you can’t apparat directly into the castle, so when they appear at the door of the great hall at the moment Harry is confronting Snape, we can fill in the blanks perfectly well.

The key emotional turning point in the film is not the confrontation with Voldemort at the climax, it is the sequence that comes before that, when Harry discovers that the man he has resented since his arrival at the school, the man he thought betrayed his beloved headmaster Dumbledore, is in fact a more important connection to his mother and the resolution of the conflict, than any other character in the film. Snape is revealed as the true hero of the story, having endured horrors on an equal level with Harry, but never able to show that to anyone and having to sacrifice himself so that harry can finally understand. It is Harry’s five minutes in the Pensive that clarifies everything and forces Harry to become a man, and not just the boy who lived. When taken together with the intrusion of Snape’s memories in “Order of the Phoenix, we have a very complete picture of Snapes motives and actions. That he has had to stand by while others suffered so that he can allow the trap to be sprung is a pretty good example of the kind of control a wizard would need to justify being called a Headmaster of Hogwarts. That Harry has to eat the words he only moments before threw at Snape, make this a story arc worthy of eight films. 

All of the major characters get a few moments to shine in the battle that ensues. The novel makes some of the losses more poignant with details, like the loss of Lupin and Tonks, but the visions we are given do them adequate justice. It is the moments of action that we really get our money’s worth out of here. McGonagal going off on Snape and then setting the guardians of Hogwarts loose makes us revere her even more. Mrs. Wesley battling Bellatrix and surprising her with a completely unexpected spell is a moment of ecstatic release. The best addition however has to be the elevation of Neville Longbottom to the status he always deserved but was denied him as a secondary character. He could easily have been the one who was in Harry’s place, and we discover that if that had happened, he would have been a worthy “chosen one” as well. 

The stars of the movie evolved into solid actors over the ten years that they made these pictures. At first, they were cute kids who played the parts well, since they were mostly cast as cute kids. As the series got more serious, so did their chops. Ron as a character matters more in the last three films, he is not just a sidekick. Grint does a good job being a stalwart follower who becomes a leader along the way. Emma Watson grew into her beauty in these films and that she sells us on Hermione’s relationship with Ron, is a testament to her skills as an actor. Daniel Radcliffe had the whole enterprise resting on his shoulders since he was eleven. He often got to have a few humorous moments in the films, but in Deathly Hallows Part 2, those moments are far fewer. Instead we get some great line delivery, like the slam at Snape, or the grasping of Voldemort and flinging himself off the parapet while calling him Tom. The most moving moment of the film is in the Coda, when grown Harry tells his young son that he is named after two headmasters of Hogwarts, and he can proudly say one of them was a Slytherin and the bravest man he ever knew. Radcliffe had his big boy pants on in that scene and he nailed it.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows Part 2” is not just the conclusion of the last book, but also of the series that made a difference in real kids lives. There are still some who only know these characters from the movies, but to millions of children, reading became the wand that could open their imaginations. All of the Young Adult fantasy that dominates the film markets these days on Netflix, Hulu, Prime and similar platforms, all owe a debt of gratitude to J.K. Rowling and her imagination and skill with language. The film makers were smart enough to figure out that they needed to keep the movies as close to those kids imaginations as they could, and they succeeded.

Little Women (2019)

For forty years, I have gone to a movie on Christmas day with my family. Some of those choices were terrific ways to spend a family holiday, including “Galaxy Quest”, “Dream Girls”, and “The Greatest Showman”. Other choices were dismal failures that we had hoped would be good but were in fact sad failures; “Toys” and “First Family” being the biggest let downs. Occasionally we made a left field choice, a film we wanted to see but was not exactly holiday fare, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Hateful Eight” come to mind, not exactly heartwarming.

In 1994, our first year in the new house, I took my seven and five year old daughters to see “Little Women” starring Winnona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. It was a very fond memory and it stood as a pretty definitive version of the film as far as I was concerned. I was not particularly excited about this new version, even when I knew that it would feature Saoise Ronan and be directed by Greta Gerwig. Although I admired their previous collaboration, “Lady Bird”, I was not blown away by it the way so many others were. I saw a few flaws and it probably did not quite resonate with me because of my age and gender. Well none of that effected me with this adaption of the Louisa May Alcott novel, this is a luminous telling of the story that is flawlessly performed, very well written, and may be the most beautiful film you see this year.

I must shamefully acknowledge that I have never read the original novel, in spite of the fact that my wife identified it as her favorite book when she was younger.  As a consequence of this oversight I can’t say for certain how faithful to the book the story is, but it certainly feels authentic. The one minor criticism I have of the screenplay and direction is the non-linear approach to the material. It is structured as a series of scenes, some of which flash back seven years and some which are contemporary to the setting after the Civil War. The ages of the actresses in the main roles are such that they can pass for teens or twenties , but we don’t always know which period we are in. A haircut helps in a couple of places, but a few times it took several moments for me to be able to contextualize what was happening on the screen at that moment.

The strongest addition to the film as told by Gerwig, the screenwriter as well as director, is the detail in the lives of two of the sisters who were often overlooked in earlier versions. Actress Florence Pugh infuses Amy March with more personality than any of the other versions, and the script shows her at both her worst and best. She is loathsome as a vindictive little sister who takes revenge on her sisters creative efforts but she is noble when it comes to choosing a husband and redeeming a character she has herself condemned. Emma Watson as Meg March also makes what is often a cardboard role into an important part of the narrative. Eliza Scanlen is heartbreaking as the sister with the darkest story resolution, but regardless of those characters, it is still a story about Jo. Saoise Ronan is front and center even when she is not on screen. Her frustrating petulance is matched by the frustrating limitations placed on a young woman of the time. You can choose to see this as a feminist screed but that is a mistake, this is a pretty accurate portrayal of a woman’s life in the mid 19th century of the U.S. Ronan manages to be fierce so often that it is a shock when she is so effective as pitiful and desperate in a confessional moment with her on-screen mother played by Laura Dern.

Some attention to the technical production should also be made. The set design is realistic and detailed. The selection of locations feels authentic and the world that the women occupy, even in a place that is hard to replicate like New York in 1865, is convincing. The number of extras in a scene, the mix of roads that are paved and unpaved and the signage on the stores will pass very critical inspection.

There are a variety of supporting players, such as Chris Cooper (my second film of his within a week) and Meryl Streep. Timothée Chalamet as Laurie was presented in the least sympathetic way I have seen in the four screen adaptions I will have on the podcast, but he does have a nicely executed scene of personal despair when he is rejected by Jo as husband material.

Maybe the one other criticism I have of the screenplay is the way the resolution is presented as a hypothetical writer’s plot device rather than an authentic romantic climax. It plays out on the screen nicely, but it does seem to be tampering with the story for modern reasons rather than fidelity to the work. (Again, that may be inaccurate since I have not read the book).

“Little Women comes at the end of the year for the usual reason, it is a prestige picture that is hoping fpr awards attention to enhance it’s potential box office and audience response. This is a strategy that should work. The theater was packed, there was a smattering of applause at the end, but more than that, I think I will be with the majority of critics who see this as one of the best films of 2019.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

There is a world full of film bloggers who dislike the whole idea of live action remakes or reboots of classic animation films. They regularly let it be known that there is no need for a live action film, that the existing version is excellent and, “gasp”, the production of such a movie is a money grab. Well those are all ideas that I can sometimes understand, they often get bandied about without regard to the product for which those comments are intended. I try to hold my opinion until I see each film and I do my best to judge it by it’s own merits. That goal is exceptionally hard to achieve with the current “Beauty and the Beast”. The animated film from 1991 is beloved by many, and I include myself in that group. It holds a pivotal place in my nostalgia file, since my kids were the perfect ages to see that film when it came out and we lived on a steady diet of “B & B” video watches for almost five years. Although I try to avoid other reviews and certainly spoilers on line, it is hard to exclude them entirely, and I’d heard one of the regular guests on the Lambcast, knock this version for being lifeless. So although I wanted this film to be a success, it was with some slight trepidation that I approached the screening. To put it mildly, there is nothing to worry about, this film is solid.

 

The legend of the original animated design of Belle was that they wanted her to resemble Julia Roberts. I think we can dispense with that image. Emma Watson is a fantastic fit as the heroine of this story. She has the pluckiness that we want out proto-feminist character to deliver and the charm that we remember. I think her voice is very solid as a singer and the big numbers at the beginning of the movie are carried off with aplomb. She also seemed to develop some chemistry with the Beast, through hard work as an actor in some pretty well filled out sections of the film. The transformation from antagonist to friend and love interest was very believable in this version of the movie. I also thought her relationship with her father was more adult like and based in a long standing status rather than just being patronizing.

There are places in the film where there are additions to the well known story that I think work, but there are also a couple that seem unnecessary. I don’t know that the enchantress that places a spell on the castle and town, needs to be a character after the first sequence. I did like the fact that the town was included in the enchantment, which helps to explain a couple of minor inconsistencies in the ’91 animated film. The character of LeFou changes in a couple of ways. Much has been made of the character’s “identification”, and those that are bothered by that sort of thing will probably ind the slight bit of humor related to that offensive. I wonder if that alteration is the justification for turning the character into a more sympathetic figure toward the end of the film. As if an orientation transplant also requires a morality defense. It’s just a thought I had as I was considering the whole film. It doesn’t qualify or disqualify the movie for me.

 

Here and there are minor changes in scene and blocking. Gaston, as played very effectively by Luke Evans, is introduced in much the same manner but already as a suitor for Belle, in fact she has turned him down before. Their interactions have less of the comic effect than the animated film was able to achieve, and that is a small drawback, but the back story of Gaston as a soldier  makes some of his attitudes a little more sensible. His temper issue, which replaces the blackmail into marriage strategy of the animated version, is a lot more logical and it also justifies LeFou a bit more.  Another set of background issues concerns Maurice, Belle’s Father played by Kevin Kline. Instead of being an inventor, he is an artist, and some of his work is mechanical like clock making. I suppose it makes sense to enlarge the part if you are going to expand the film and hire an actor of this stature, but I don’t know that we needed to know all the history of their departure from Paris to the provincial areas.

The Beast himself, is seen early on as an adult, although they disguise his appearance a little for the reveal at the end. This was another place where the story gets expanded. It seems the young Prince, when denied maternal oversight became a reflection of his father. Not much was told to us about all of that, but because we get a little more of his origins, the library becomes more important as a way of connecting Belle and he. One of the minor criticisms of the animated film is the quick step to love that occurs. I think this is a little more realistic in timing, although it still happens faster than one might expect.

I may be an outlier on this film. On the podcast that I was a guest on today, two of the other participants were quite harsh in their judgments and the other was mildly enthusiastic. I’m all in, so take that for what it is worth. If you are interested in hearing the discussion, I will be posting a link when the podcast gets published. Until then, you are invited to be my guest, and enjoy this tale as old as time, without worrying that all those little people in the provincial town you find yourself in, will judge you too harshly.