Insomnia File #35: Donnie Brasco (dir by Mike Newell)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you happened to be awake at 2:30 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1997 film, Donnie Brasco.

Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino) has spent his entire life as a loyal Mafia soldier.  It’s the only life that he knows and he can tell you some stories.  He remembers the early days, back when men like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky were in charge of things.  Lefty is proud to say that, over the years, he’s successfully carried out over 20 hits.  Lefty is lucky enough to be an associate of an up-and-comer nicknamed Sonny Black (Michael Madsen).  While Sonny was in prison, Lefty kept an eye on Sonny’s family.  Lefty feels that Sonny owes him.  Whether Sonny feels the same way isn’t always quite clear.

Lefty’s problem is that everyone loves him but few people respect him.  The aging Lefty is viewed as being a relic and, at most, they merely tolerate his constant bragging.  Lefty may fantasize about the big bosses knowing who he is but, when he tries to greet one of them at a party, it becomes clear that he doesn’t have the slightest idea who Lefty is.  Lefty spends his time worrying that he’s dying and dreaming of one last opportunity to make a name for himself.

In fact, perhaps the only really good thing that Lefty has going for him is his friendship with Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp).  Donnie is a jewel thief, a tough and volatile orphan who Lefty introduces to Sonny.  Sonny is immediately impressed with Donnie.  In fact, Sonny thinks so highly of Donnie that he assigns Donnie to look over his operations in Florida.  Lefty can only watch as his protegé’s star starts to eclipse his own.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  As Lefty explains it, Donnie’s success is also Lefty’s success because Lefty is the one who brought Donnie into the crew.  Of course, if Donnie ever fails, the failure will be on Lefty as well.

As for Donnie … well, his name isn’t actually Donnie.  His real name is Joe Pistone and he’s a FBI agent.  When he first agreed to work undercover, he was told that the assignment would only last for a few months.  Instead, the months turn into years and, piece by piece, Joe vanishes as he transforms into Donnie.  The formerly soft-spoken college graduate is soon beating up waiters and chopping up bodies in basements.  His wife (Anne Heche) fears that her husband may no longer exist.  “I  am not becoming like them,” Joe/Donnie says at one point, “I am them.”

Donnie Brasco is hardly the first film to examine life in the Mafia.  It’s not even the first movie about an undercover FBI agent who manages to worm his way into the mob’s hierarchy.  What sets Donnie Brasco apart are the performances of Pacino, Depp, Heche, Madsen, and, as a talkative mob associate, Bruno Kirby.  As played by Pacino, Lefty may be a hardened killer but he’s also just a working class guy who wishes that his boss would just show him a little appreciation.  Lefty may be capable of casually shooting a guy in the back of the head but, at the same time, there’s something heartbreakingly sad about the sight of him tearing up a greeting card that he hoped to personally deliver to the big boss.  As for Johnny Depp, he gives a surprisingly restrained performance, rarely raising his voice except when he’s yelling at his family.  Donnie may appear outwardly calm but the stress of losing his identity is always present in his eyes.

Interestingly, for a mob movie, there’s little violence to be found in Donnie Brasco.  It’s not until 90 minutes in that we get the expected scene of rival mobsters getting ambushed and gunned down.  Donnie Brasco isn’t about violence.  Instead, the film’s heart is to be found in the  story of Lefty and Donnie’s odd friendship.  Instead of being about who is going to kill who, this film is about Lefty’s desire to be something more than he is and Joe’s struggle to remember who he used to be before he became Donnie.  It’s a touching and effective gangster film and one to keep an eye out for.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir by Mike Newell)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1994 best picture nominee, Four Weddings and a Funeral!)

(SPOILERS)

Four Weddings and a Funeral is truly an oddity.  It’s a romantic comedy that works wonderfully well, despite the fact that there’s next to no chemistry between the two leads.

Hugh Grant plays Charles, a neurotic bachelor who lives in London and who, despite having been in several relationships, has yet to marry.  As he’s explains it, he’s spent his life expecting love to hit him like a thunderbolt and it hasn’t happened yet.  Andie MacDowell plays Carrie, an American who has one of those vaguely defined magazine jobs that are so popular in romantic comedies.  Carrie and Charles meet over the course of … well, four weddings and a funeral.  From the minute they first meet, they are attracted to one another but the path of true love is never an easy one.  After spending the night with him, Carrie leaves for America.  When Charles meet her for a second time, she’s now engaged to Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave), a rather boring politician.

Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as Charles.  It can be easy to make fun of an actor like Grant, what with all the stammering and the carefully calculated charm.  But it works perfectly in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which Grant manages to believable as both a hopeless romantic and a committed cynic.  Within moments of his first scene (in which Charles wakes up and realizes he’s late for a friend’s wedding), you forget that you’re watching Hugh Grant.  He is Charles.

On the other hand, Andie MacDowell never convinces us that she’s Carrie.  That’s not totally MacDowell’s fault, of course.  Carrie is an underwritten character, one who serves more as a plot device than anything else.  We’re never quite sure how she feels about Charles.  For that matter, we never understand why she’s marrying Hamish.  When she shows up at the film’s funeral, we’re left wondering if she’s really mourning or if she’s just showing up to be polite.  Carrie never comes to life and MacDowell never feels comfortable in the role.  When she gives a warmly received speech at her own wedding reception, the scene feels false because you never feel as if the words are coming from Carrie.

The film ends with Charles and Carrie finally getting together.  Charles both swears his love for her and asks if she’ll agree to never marry him.  We later see them in a snapshot, with a child.  But, despite all of that, you never believe that Charles and Carrie are going to stay together.  There’s just not enough chemistry between Grant and MacDowell to convince you that Carrie isn’t going to get bored and run off with whoever it is she meets at the next wedding she attends.

So, why does this film work so well?  It works because it’s a love story.  However, it’s not about the love between Charles and Carrie.  Not really.  Instead, it’s about the love between Charles and his friends.  Because of the way the film is structured, we only get to see how these people behave at weddings and a funeral.  We never really get to see what these people do for a living or what they’re like during the week.  In fact, we don’t even find out how they all became friends in the first place.

But it doesn’t matter.  The friendships feels real.  The friendships feels authentic.  You might not know how they all became friends but that doesn’t matter.  By the end of the movie, you feel as if you could go to London and possibly run into any of these people going about their daily lives.  They become real in a way that Carrie never does.

There’s Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), who is Charles’s roommate and who gets flirty when she has too much to drink.

And then there’s David (David Bower), who is Charles’s younger brother.  Both the actor and the character are deaf.  One of the sweetest scenes in the film is when a woman who has been crushing on David attempts to show off her sign language skills.  Everything she signs is wrong but David’s sweet smile tells us all we need to know about how he feels towards her.

Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Tom (James Fleet) are siblings.  Fiona, who dresses in black, presents a hard exterior but, in one of the film’s more poignant scenes, she admits that the reason she’s never gotten married is because she’s been in love with Charles for ten years.  Tom is a goofy optimist, the type who never doubts that he’s going to find happiness no matter what.

Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) are as close to being married as anyone within Charles’s clique of friends.  (Four Weddings and a Funeral was released twenty years before the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK.  If someone views the film 50 years from now, they’ll probably wonder why, exactly, Matthew is always described, by those outside of his central group of friends, as merely being a “close friend” of Garth’s.)  Sadly, the funeral of the title is for the fun-loving Gareth.

It’s during the funeral, when Matthew reads a poem from Auden, that it becomes apparent that the heart of this film belongs not to Charles and Carrie but to their friends.  Ultimately, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a celebration of the bonds of friendship.  At the end of the movie, you’re happy, not because Charles and Carrie are finally together but because this unique and wonderful group of friends have all found each other.  Everyone should be so lucky.

Four Weddings and a Funeral was nominated for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.

A Movie A Day #275: The Awakening (1980, directed by Mike Newell)


Charlton Heston is Matthew Cormbeck, a driven archaeologist.  (Could an archaeologist played by Charlton Heston by anything other than driven?)  In 1961, he discovers the long-lost tomb of an Egyptian queen named Kara.  Ignoring both the birth of his daughter and the warning inscribed over the doorway, Matthew enters the tomb and discovers the mummified Kara.  At the same time, his stillborn daughter, Margaret, comes back to life.

18 years later, Cormbeck is a teacher at a British university.  He has since divorced Margaret’s mother and has married his longtime assistant, Jane (Susannah York).  Matthew is still obsessed with whether or not the Egyptians are taking proper care of the mummy and wants to bring it to England.  At the same time, Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) defies her mother and comes to England to meet her father.

Like Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, The Awakening was based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.  Unfortunately, The Awakening is never as good as Blood from Mummy’s Tomb and gets bogged down in the lengthy Egyptian prologue.  (Blood from The Mummy’s Tomb skipped over the first part of Stoker’s novel and started with Margaret already 18 and possessed.)  The Awakening tries to take a more cerebral approach than the Hammer adaptation but both Heston and Zimbalist are fatally miscast.  Especially in the Egyptian scenes, Heston grits his teeth and lets his ascot do most of the work.

When it comes to Heston in Egypt, stick with The Ten Commandments.  When it comes to mummies in England, stick with Hammer.

A Movie A Day #229: Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, directed by Mike Newell)


Amazing Grace and Chuck has a heartfelt message but it ultimately trips over its own good intentions.

Chuck (Joshua Zuelkhe) is a 12 year-old boy who lives in Montana and who is the best little league pitcher in the state.  Because a field trip to a missile silo causes him to have nightmares, Chuck announces that he will not play baseball until the world agrees to nuclear disarmament.  Chuck’s team ends up having to forfeit a game because Chuck refuses to play.  In the real world, this would lead to Chuck enduring 6 years of ridicule and bullying until he was finally old enough to change his name and go to college in a different state.  In the world of the movies, it leads to Chuck becoming a hero.

A basketball player named Amazing Grace (Alex English) reads a news story about Chuck’s protest and he decides to protest as well.  He announces that he will not play basketball until there are no more nuclear missiles.  Before you can say “Colin Kaepernick,” hundreds of other sports stars are following Amazing Grace’s lead.  Of course, if any group of people is well known for their willingness to give up a huge payday for a quixotic and largely symbolic protest, it’s America’s professional athletes.  Amazing Grace and the athletes even move out to Montana, so that they can be closer to Chuck.

Because they do not appreciate his efforts to put all sporting events (and all betting on sporting events) on hold, the Mafia makes plans to assassinate Amazing Grace.  Chuck protests this by taking a vow of silence.  By now, it is hard to keep track of what Chuck is protesting and how.  Is he still trying for world disarmament or has he moved on to getting the Mob out of professional sports?  All the other children of the world follow Chuck’s example, refusing to speak.  In the real world, children taking a vow of silence would lead to parents celebrating in the street but, in the movie, it leads to panic and causes the Soviets to assume they have the upper hand over the west.  The President (Gregory Peck) ruins it all by inviting Chuck to the White House.  When President Peck explains that people are not allowed to shout fire in a crowded movie theater, Chuck breaks his vow of silence to ask, “But what if there’s a fire?”

There are many problems with Amazing Grace and Chuck, including the dumb Mafia subplot that seems like it should be in a different movie and Chuck coming across as being a smug little creep.  Joshua Zuehlke made his film debut as Chuck and, on the basis of his performance, it is not surprising that he has never appeared in another film since.  By the end of the movie, even Gregory Peck is sick of Chuck and his demands.   It’s obviously a heartfelt film, which is probably why actors like Peck, Jamie Lee Curtis, and William L. Petersen all appeared in it despite presumably having a hundred better things to do, but a nuanced look at détente and the arms race, Amazing Grace and Chuck is not.

Poll: Who Should Direct Catching Fire?


With the recent announcement that Gary Ross will not be directing Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, there’s been a lot of online speculation has started as to who will take his place.  Since I was bored at work, I spent an hour or two reading some of that speculation.  Needless to say, a lot of names are being tossed around and some are a lot more plausible than others.  However, a few names seem to be mentioned more often than others.

Speaking for myself, I don’t think that the loss of Gary Ross is going to really hurt the sequel, financially or artistically. 

Financially, people are going to see the sequel regardless of who directs it and, quite frankly, I doubt many people went to the Hunger Games because they just couldn’t wait to see Gary Ross’s follow-up to Seabiscuit

From an artistic point of view, the main reason that I loved the Hunger Games was because, after years of seeing blockbuster movies where being female was essentially the same as being helpless and insipid, it was so refreshing to see a film about a strong, independent young woman who is concerned about something more than just keeping her boyfriend happy.  In short, I loved The Hunger Games because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  In short, Gary Ross was about as important to The Hunger Games franchise  as Chris Columbus was to the Harry Potter films.

As for who the new director is going to be, here’s some of the more interesting names that I’ve seen mentioned:

Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors of all time and he’s certainly showed that he can create entertaining films that both challenge conventional and force you to think.  As well, directing the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics and, if that’s not good training for the Hunger Games then what is?

J.J. Abrams is a far more conventional director than Danny Boyle but he’s also proven that he can make blockbuster films that don’t necessarily insult one’s intelligence.  Add to that, he created Alias and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

As the only woman to ever win best director, Kathryn Bigelow is an obvious choice for a franchise that is ultimately all about empowerment.  Plus, she’s proven she can handle action films and I think it would be a neat if, under her direction, Catching Fire made more money than Avatar.

Sofia Coppola, who should have won an Oscar for Lost in Translation,  would bring a definitely lyrical quality to Catching Fire and, if nothing else. her version would be amazing to look at.  Add to that, Sofia Coppola deserves to have at least one blockbuster on her resume.  (Yes, I know a lot of you people hated Somewhere but you know what?  You’re wrong and I’m right.)

Alfonso Cuaron has proven, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan, that he can step into a franchise without sacrificing his own individual vision.  Children of Men shows that he can create a realistic dystopian future.

Debra Granik is best-known for directing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.  If not for Granik, Katniss Everdeen could have very easily ended up being played by Kristen Stewart.

Catherine Hardwicke is, of course, best known for directing the first Twilight film and a lot of people will never forgive her for that.  And you know what?  That’s really not fair to Hardwicke. Say what you will about Twilight, the film was actually pretty well-directed and Red Riding Hood is one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of 2011.  (No, really…)   Finally, Hardwicke directed Thirteen, one of the best films ever made.  Hardwicke’s Catching Fire probably wouldn’t be critically acclaimed but it would be a lot of fun.

Patty Jenkins is one of the more surprising names that I saw mentioned on several sites.  Jenkins is best known for directing the ultra-depressing Monster  as well as the atmospheric pilot for AMC’s The Killing. Apparently she was also, for a while, signed up to direct Thor 2, which would suggest that she can handle blockbuster action.  Of course, she was also fired from Thor 2.

Mike Newell directed the best of the Harry Potter films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and has shown that he can handle action and spectacle.  He’s also directed Mona Lisa Smile, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Sam Raimi would turn Catching Fire into a thrill ride.  While you would lose a lot of the story’s subtext, the film would certainly not be boring.  Add to that, Raimi directing would increase the chances of a Bruce Campbell cameo.

To be honest, I haven’t seen anyone mention the name of Mark Romanek so I’m going to mention him because I think he’s great and that Never Let Me Go was one of the best films of 2010.  Add to that, he actually played an important role in my life in that I can still remember being 12 years old, seeing his video for Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and going, “That’s what I’m going to do once I get to high school…”

Julie Taymor is best known as a theatrical director but her films have all been distinguished by a strong, individualistic vision.  More people need to see her film version of The Tempest.

Susanna White, though not well-known, was a contender to direct The Hunger Games before the job went to Gary Ross.  White got her start working with the BBC before coming over to America to direct episodes of Generation Kill and Boardwalk Empire for HBO.  She was also a contender to director another film based on YA literature, The Host.

With Hanna, Joe Wright gave us the best film of 2011 (regardless of what the Academy thinks) and he’s proven that he knows how to mix empowerment and action.

There are other names in contention, of course.  I’ve seen everyone from Stephen Soderbergh (bleh, to be honest) to Rob Zombie mentioned.  Arleigh suggested both James Cameron and David Fincher but I think he was mostly doing that to annoy me.  Someone on twitter (may have been me) mentioned Tyler Perry and then laughed and laughed.  However, the 14 names above are the ones that I find to be the most interesting and/or plausible.

So, who do you think would be a the best director for Catching Fire?

As for me and who I would like to so direct the film, I think that the director of Catching Fire should be a woman because Catching Fire is, ultimately, a story about empowerment.  I also think that characterization is far more important than action so I’m not as concerned about whether or not the director has a history of blowing things up onscreen.  Instead, what the franchise needs is a strong, female director with an eye for detail and a strong appreciation for what film is capable of accomplishing as an art form. 

For that reason, my vote goes to Sofia Coppola.

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (dir. by David Yates)


Well, we all knew it would have to end someday and now, it’s over.  The Harry Potter film series, which began way back in 2001, is concluding right now in a theater near you.  On Friday night, me, Jeff, my sister Erin, and our friend Evelyn went down to the AMC Valley View and we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. 

The cinematic story of Harry Potter is over and yes, I did cry as I watched it end.  I didn’t just cry because of the movie, though the movie itself is one of the best of the year and it has one of those wonderful endings that just makes it impossible to remain dry-eyed.  No, I cried because — with this film — an era of my life is truly over.  

When the first Harry Potter film came out, I was only 16 and still trying to deal with the fact that I had been diagnosed as being bipolar just a few weeks earlier.  I felt alone and broken and destined to spend the rest of my life on the outside looking in.  The three hours that I spent watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were three hours when I didn’t have to worry about suddenly bursting into tears and having everyone around me worrying about whether or not I was actually taking my hated medication.  For three hours, I could escape to another world where those who were different were celebrated precisely because they were different.  For three hours, I could imagine that just maybe I had a special purpose for existing too and maybe I had benevolent wizards and witches looking out for me too.  And I’m sorry if all that sounds trite in retrospect but, when you’re 16 and you think you’re too damaged to love, anything that gives you hope and pleasure in the present is a precious treasure.

Over the years, I eventually came to realize that being bipolar was hardly a curse and, as I matured and grew up and discovered new things, there was always a Harry Potter film either playing or about to come out.  Whether I was escaping high school, graduating college, or dealing with just every good or bad thing that makes up life, Harry Potter — this character who I first met (in book form) when I was 13 — was always there.  So, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, the end of Harry Potter is the end of a chapter of my life.

One final personal note: As I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, I had three dolls (or action figures, as boys insist on calling them) in my purse.  These dolls — Harry, Hermione, and Ron — came out around the same time as the second Harry Potter film and my mom (who collected dolls) ordered them off of Ebay three years ago, shortly before she entered the hospital for the final time.  Now, my mom was not a huge fan of the Harry Potter series but she knew that I loved it and that’s why she made those dolls her final gift to me.

And those are some of the reasons why I found myself crying as I watched the finale of Harry Potter.  However, there’s another reason why I cried and that’s that this is just a great film and the perfect conclusion to the series.

Essentially, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two starts up immediately after the conclusion of Part One.  Dobby is dead, Lord Voldemort (a wonderfully neurotic Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters are intent on destroying everything, and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, wonderful as always) is in charge of Hogwarts.  After spending the first part of Deathly Hallows as fugitives, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts to take a final stand against Voldemort.  Things end in a surprisingly bloody battle (this film is not for children) that leaves several characters dead and ultimately reveals that one wizard wasn’t the saint we always assumed he was while another is revealed to be the secret hero of the entire series.

Let’s get one question out of the way right now: will non-Harry Potter fans be able to follow this film?  Uhmmm…no.  Sorry.  Then again, why would a non-Harry Potter fan be at a film called Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two anyway?  I mean, seriously, if you’re just going to film because everyone else is doing it than who are you to bitch anyway?  This is what you non-Harry Potter fans need to do.  Stop reading this review.  Go watch the previous Harry Potter films.  Watch them in order.  Take your time because Deathly Hallows is going to be in theaters for a while.  And then, once you’ve become immersed in the story, go see how it all concludes.  And then come back here and read rest of this review.

Okay, so is everybody up to date?

Cool.

One of the more interesting features of the Harry Potter series is that so many different directors (each with his own definite, individual style) have been involved in bringing these films to the screen.  Among Harry Potter fans, hours can literally be spent debating the merits (and weaknesses) of Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates.  My own theory is that each director was perfectly suited for each film he directed.  The audience-friendly vision of Chris Columbus was what the first two films needed, just as Prisoner of Azkaban needed Cuaron’s far darker vision and Mike Newell’s attention to character made Goblet of Fire one of the best of the Harry Potter films.  And while David Yates may not be as well-known (or critically acclaimed) as Newell or Cuaron, he brings exactly the right tone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a perfect combination of spectacle and humanity.  It is to Yates’ credit that the scenes in which the characters simply talk to each other are just as compelling as the dramatic sequences where Voldemort and the Death Eaters attack Hogwarts.  Yates understands that this material could easily come across as silly or childish and to his credit, he never allows the audience to simply dismiss this film as a lot of blathering about wands and CGI magic.  As opposed to other directors who have given us summer blockbusters, Yates takes his film seriously.

And, fortunately, so does his cast.

One of the great pleasures of the Harry Potter series is that it’s given American audiences the chance to discover (and rediscover) some of the great British character actors and a lot of them show up (some for only a matter of minutes) here in the finale.  Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, and Jason Isaacs all put in appearances.  Kelly MacDonald has a great scene playing a ghost, Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange, and Alan Rickman is brilliantly ambiguous as Severus Snape.  (And yes, Snape’s actions are explained in this film and yes, I did cry.)

Ralph Fiennes plays so many villains that I now find myself expecting him to show up killing people in every movie I see.  He’s like a British Christopher Walken.  Still, it’s easy to take an actor like Fiennes for granted.  For the entire Harry Potter series to work, Lord Voldemort can’t just be an ordinary villain.  He’s got to be the sum total of all things evil and deadly.  You’ve got to believe that people would be scared to speak his name.  Great heroes need a great villain and Fiennes’ Voldermort is a great villain.

Ultimately, however, the true credit for the success of the Harry Potter series belongs to three actors who have literally grown up on the movie screen — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.  The producers are fortunate indeed that the cute kids that they cast over a decade ago have all grown up to be talented, attractive, and likable actors.  If the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seemed to showcase both Grint and Watson (almost to Radcliffe’s expense), part 2 is most definitely centered on Harry Potter.  That doesn’t mean that Watson and Grint aren’t good in this film.  They are and they get to share one of the best movie kisses of 2011.  (As well, for those who keep count, Grint says “Bloody Hell,” three times in the film.)  But, for obvious reasons, this film is all about Harry and Radcliffe’s performance as Harry.  It’s a challenge for Radcliffe and it’s a challenge that he more than succeeds at conquering.  As the film ended, I realized that I was sad to know that the adventures of Harry Potter were done but I was excited to see what the future will hold for Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson. 

Incidentally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has been released in both 3-D and 2-D.  We saw the 3-D version and if you have any knowledge of how I feel about 3-D (and how motion sick I tend to get while watching 3-D films) then that should show you just much I love the Harry Potter series.  I loved it so much that I was even willing to overlook my hatred of 3-D.  The 3-D here (which was added after the film has already been filmed) doesn’t really add much to the movie.  There were a few cool moments where I was all like, “Look, I can reach out and grab a piece of Voldemort,” but otherwise, the 3-D was a negligible factor as far as the overall film was concerned.

Still, there was one interesting thing about the 3-D.  The theater we saw the movie in was half-way empty.  At the same time, the neighboring theater — in which the 2-D version was playing — had a line of people waiting to get in.  They were not only waiting to see the 2-D version, they were waiting to see a showing that wouldn’t even begin until a full 90 minutes after the 3-D version started.  I mention this because, in the wake of Avatar, so many people have taken it for granted that 3-D is the future of movies and soon, as long as a film is in 3-D, we won’t have to worry about the difficult stuff like an interesting plot or compelling characters.  However, 3-D has become an overexposed gimmick.  For every film like Cave of Dreams that uses 3-D to craft an actual artistic statement, there’s a 1,000 films like Priest which use 3-D just because it’s an easy way to trick sucks into spending an extra dollars to see a crappy film. 

What so many filmmakers seem to forget is that the majority of film goers are not looking for 3-D.  We’re just looking for a good film.  And sometimes — like with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — we get lucky and we find a great film.

(Oh, and one last thing: I know everyone always expects me to claim to be just like Hermione but actually, I’ve always related more to Ginny Weasley.  Like her, I’m the youngest of four siblings, I’ve got red hair, and I always get my man, in the end.)