HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
We won't know until July 15, 2011, whether or not the final book in J.K. Rowling's franchise really needed to be divided into two motion pictures. But until the release of Part 2 on that forthcoming summer day, the evidence based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 leads to an inconclusive verdict.
Like the previous six installments, this one clocks in around the 2-1/2-hour mark. But this is the first picture in the series that actually drags. It's not a disastrous debit since the majority of the film is so strong, but it does suggest that some judicious trimming might have given us the final chapter in one fell swoop. The coasting comes in the middle of the movie, which is fortunate since it leaves the production with a vibrant opening act and a powerhouse final hour.
Newbies to this world of wizardry need not apply, but fans of the previous films will immediately be swept up in this latest chapter, which begins by killing off one of the good guys and sending Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) on a crusade to locate specific items that might help them vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
The movie spends an awful lot of time on the three teens as they set up camp in an isolated area, and the romantic yearning between them, usually a highlight of the series, here settles into soap opera mundaneness. Yet once the story leaps past this narrative hurdle, it again gets back to the intriguing dynamics that have long defined this series, culminating in a cliffhanger finale that promises great things in the next installment. Part 1 may not be the best film in the series, but it hints that Part 2 might have a shot at the title.
By now, it's accepted by all but the most deluded Tea Party zealots that the insidious Bush administration took this country to war under false pretenses. There was a point when the vessel of justice could have been righted and a course for a better tomorrow could have been charted, but instead, lies were upheld, misinformation was spread like so much manure, and the moment was gone. Fair Game is a film about that moment.
Naomi Watts stars as Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose undercover status was blown in retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) writing a New York Times op-ed piece in which he revealed that the justification for going to war with Iraq -- that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction -- was a complete fabrication on the part of the war criminals in the White House. Fair Game tracks the lives of the Wilsons both professionally and personally, showing how the political fallout was placing a severe strain on their marriage.
The most fascinating element of this important picture is the philosophical difference that exists between the central characters. Joe is an idealist, honestly believing that he can take on the neocon thugs and win the battle. Valerie, meanwhile, is a realist, realizing the futility of any such efforts and initially preferring to keep her head down. It's an interesting dichotomy, because while our hearts side with Joe, our minds know -- and, more regrettably, our current history proves -- that Valerie was right.
The inspired-by-true-events Unstoppable isn't unwatchable like far too many movies helmed by Tony Scott, but viewers hoping that their hearts will be racing as fast as the film's runaway train may find themselves disappointed by how frequently the picture brakes for tedium.
Denzel Washington, who should have steered clear of trains after the ill-advised remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, plays the saintly, sage engineer at the end of his career; Chris Pine, Star Trek's new James T. Kirk, plays the brash, brawny conductor on his first assignment. Ultimately, it's up to these two to somehow stop an unmanned train that's barreling along while carrying tons of explosives. It's as straightforward as an action flick gets, but even at a trim 98 minutes, its lack of substance and variety limits its appeal, with lame backstories for both lead characters only slowing it down even more.
Because this is a 20th Century Fox production, Fox News actually plays a starring role, with huge chunks of the action being shown via the network's live news coverage. But because the studio wants the film to score with all demographics, it pulls its political punches -- after all, in the real world, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity would be frequently interrupting the live feed to squarely place the blame for the runaway train on Obama.