Romy Shiller

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Or, Bye

In Film, review on June 19, 2011 at 10:16 am

Why does it take a minute to say hello and forever to say goodbye?

Author Unknown

Director: David Yates
Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

I wasn’t going to touch this film with a ten foot pole. The fan base is huge, devoted and cult-like. I explore youth-culture but here I think of myself as a novice and really, what business do I have talking about the esteemed Harry Potter? I read the first book, have seen every film. While I know the characters and the various elements that make up the Potter world, I cannot remember the plot of the last film. In my estimation you need to fill in the gaps here and this or reading the last book would have helped. “The movie starts exactly where the last one left off: Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has waged war on the world. The Ministry of Magic has been corrupted. Wizards and witches everywhere fear for their lives. Even “muggles” aren’t safe from The Dark Lord’s reign of terror. Dumbledore, the great protector, is dead, and every evil “Snatcher” or “Death Eater” in the wizarding world is trying to get their hands on Harry Potter.” (http://screenrant.com/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-reviews-kofi-88528/) Um, okay.

Order of the Harry Potter films (pay attention – there will be a quiz)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2

This series has a long and detailed history. “The Harry Potter film series is based on the Harry Potter novels by the British author J.K. Rowling Distributed by Warner Bros. The series consists of fantasy films beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and culminating with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011).( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter_%28film_series%29)

One would be hard pressed to escape the universal appeal of the Harry Potter books. The characters, creatures and locations are amazing. The story itself is archetypal: the young Harry Potter, who knows nothing about the greatness within him, must pit himself against a pure evil who also killed his parents.

Plot: As Harry races against time and evil to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world: the Deathly Hallows. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0926084/?)

This film was meant to be seen in 3-D and a lot of what we see waits for an effect. I saw it in 2-D – on DVD. I waited and waited. Lost in translation… In its opening weekend, Part 1 grossed $330 million, the third highest in the series, and the highest opening of 2010, as well as the fifth-highest of all-time.With a worldwide gross of $954 million, Part 1 is the third-highest grossing film of 2010, behind Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows_-_Part_1)

This is the first part of the last Harry Potter film. which is the seventh installment in the film series. If I were a fan, this fact would devastate me and the quality or lack thereof would not matter one iota. I guess that I need to imagine who I am talking to, because no, this film does not stand on its own but if I were a fan, it would be fine and make sense.

The main characters are the usual three; Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, with bff Rupert Grint as Ron Weasly and bff Emma Watson as Hermione Granger but there is dissention and Hermione finds herself alone with Harry. “The most affecting scene did not figure in the book at all: Harry and Hermione dancing together in a tent to a crackling radio play of the Nick Cave track O Children.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harry-potter/8127505/Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-Part-I-first-review.html) I always wished they’d get together but anyways… The trio learns that a symbol they keep seeing represents the quest for the Deathly Hallows: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility.

This is a very dark Potter film: On a couple of levels – story and it is literally dark. “The color schemes and tones of this film are very crisp, dark and vivid.” (http://screenrant.com/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-reviews-kofi-88528/) The cinematography is quite fabulous – really. Harry is fighting for his life and the magics involved are contextualized by this fact. Magics include cloaking and teleportation – very cool! In this respect, it doesn’t matter who the audience is. Either you like the ideas of cloaking and teleportation or you don’t.

“For Harry Potter fans, ‘Deathly: Hallows: Part 1′ will be an enjoyable beginning of the end, but casual movie goers may walk away unfulfilled by the experience of only seeing half a story.” (http://screenrant.com/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-reviews-kofi-88528/) and “I would say that the plot was definitely the weakest element, with many plot points being ill defined or even bewilderingly absent to those who would not be familiar with the book.”  (http://thehummusoffensive.blogspot.com/2011/01/harry-potter-and-deathly-hallows-part-1.html)

Many reviews are positive but I have to admit that I was ambivalent. One review said, ”I’m sure there must be a spell that could have made at least 20 minutes disappear.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harry-potter/8128099/Harry-Potter-and-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-1-gets-mixed-reviews.html) Ha! (oops)

The conclusion/Part 2 is set to be released on 15 July 2011in North America, UK and probably almost everywhere.

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X-Men: First Class – A Commentary on ‘Difference’

In Film, review on June 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Be Mutant and proud.

Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Class

I had to think about writing this. See, it is one thing to watch a film and imagine this is how one would react to ‘difference’ and it is another to be on the receiving end of prejudice, intolerance and utter indifference. Not to get bitchy about this, but most people are gross about disability. I identified with Professor X – I’m in a wheelchair suddenly, and have a PhD. Like Raven, image has become an issue. I feel empowered by this film and the very positive message about ‘difference’ but I’m also realistic and our world just doesn’t value ‘otherness.’

Plot: In 1963, Charles Xavier starts up a school and later a team, for humans with superhuman abilities. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend… and future archenemy.

Magneto/Erik was a very interesting character to me. His back-story includes the Holocaust with its notion of a perfect human race. While this is not a review, but a commentary, I will point out certain elements. This film combines real history with fantasy. That is a part of what makes it so fascinating. The lack of diversity (race, sexuality, class…) however, is truly surprising.

I love that Magneto/Erik continually validated Raven/ Mystique’s true image.  Raven/Mystique keeps altering her image so that she’s not blue but a very pretty human-type. Like Raven/ Mystique I alter my image but through avatars. I use previous photos of myself or other pictures that I like. I am not brave enough to step in front of the curtain.  I know that I want to be thought of as beautiful as-is and Erik embodied a wonderful attitude. On many levels, it is liberating to be oneself. I keep thinking of the boxes we squeeze ourselves into. Frankly, I feel badly for many people.

The philosophy of ‘difference’ that the X-Men films espouse is incredibly important. I embrace my status as ‘other’ in a culture that validates the ‘same.’ Most people really do not get my attitude and if I thought like most people my physicality would be a tragedy and not an opportunity to live a different kind of life. In my book, Who Knew? I say; “I am not living with pain, I do not have cancer, I do not have a debilitating terminal disease. I may not have the same body as you, but I am LUCKY.” Man, I do sound like a Mutant.

Charles Xavier is my hero and role-model. A blog asks, “How can the wheelchair be other than a placeholder for tragedy or negativity?“ (http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/dram.2007.51.4.80) He would be the answer. I have a four year old nephew who made me a birthday card made up of stickers and crayons.  One of the stickers was of Charles Xavier.  A four year old aligned us. I am very humbled by this connection but honestly, I have also thought about it. I like that this film shows Charles Xavier’s previous state. I share a short film I made and love that it shows who I was ( http://vimeo.com/16226762). I’m much more of an evolution or progression person than a before and after type but I’d be delusional not to see a marker of change.

In Who Knew? I say, “I am now a different version of the old me. To move on, it is necessary to accept the present changes… I have agreed to do a documentary, and maybe showing people that it’s possible to get past challenges will help. Going on camera looking and sounding like this is very hard, but it is worth it if I can reach people. In the Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming), a curtain is removed to reveal what the actual wizard looks like. The camera is lifting my curtain.

I do enjoy it when people see what I have done, but I keep thinking that my writing right now is equally and maybe more so, incredible. My physicality is diminished, but in other respects I am achieving quite a bit.”

The ideas in the X-Men films about revealing true identity, the conflict about ‘coming out’ resonates for many groups in our culture.  This is right in front of many people but they refuse to see it. To say many attitudes about certain groups bugs me is a great understatement. I find homophobia, racism, misogyny etc. intolerable. That is partly why the X-Men films are very important. They provide a framework for tolerance and acceptance.

Prequels are very precarious and usually bad. I was cautious about this film. The 60’s aesthetic rocks and the story, acting and cinematography are fabulous. What a great surprise! I found the origins of our characters very interesting. I adore this franchise and this film is my icing on the cake.

Bridesmaids: Or, Familiarity Breeds Contempt

In Film, review on June 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm

A friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself.

Jim Morrison

Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne

I REALLY wasn’t going to see this film. I’m REALLY glad I did. The title was enough to send me running. I tend to avoid that which conforms or validates a dominant system of belief. Frankly, I thought “here we go again.”

Plot: Picked as her best friend’s maid of honor, lovelorn and broke Annie looks to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1478338/)

I was thinking that even if you resonate with the traditional notion of bridesmaids, there must be some conflict, something that irks you – maybe not. Anyhow, this is a fun film, full of laughs, and it is subversive. First of all, most of the women in the bridesmaids group are unusual, atypical. A tension exits between our expectation for these women in Hollywood Cinema and what we get. The women are flawed in many ways. There is no glossy perfection that is idealized. The messiness of life, love, and finance is explored not hidden away.

Basically, you have Annie (Kristen Wiig) a failed bakery-owner, who fears that she is losing her BFF, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to Lillian’s new wealthy and beautiful friend, Helen (Rose Byrne). As a fun subplot Annie is having a very cruel and casual relationship with the dashingly handsome Ted (Jon Hamm), but develops a flirtation with an Irish cop named Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). Initially, Annie is asked to be Lillian’s Maid of Honour.  The women who play the bridesmaids include Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, and Melissa McCarthy.

Kristen Wiig says that the film It does not fetishize marriage and weddings.
“Even in this day and age, if you’re not married, there are people who are like, Awww! Don’t worry, it’ll happen for you someday. Which is fucking crazy. So when we were writing the movie, we were hoping to send the message that you don’t have to be married to be a normal member of society.”
( http://www.gq.com/entertainment/movies-and-tv/201106/kristen-wigg-bridesmaids-interview#ixzz1NwRq0rez)

That is the thing with Western identity. We’re told how to be. I know better and even I had expectations for these women. I used to watch Melissa McCarthy on the television show Gilmore Girls.  In that show she was very sweet and loveable. This type of character fit my expectations for her in this film. She was, however, the opposite of her other character – brash, sexual, vulgar. Her large size made her suspect in a culture of gyms, diet products and liposuction. Could she fit into a bridesmaids dress and who told her she could feel sexy?

In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say, “…that is why there is a fascination with Barbie®. Many of us have heard of that woman who had several surgeries to look like her. Cindy Jackson has these quotes on her Web site: “The new and improved Cindy Jackson: A bombshell who wasn’t born that way… she lived a real-life Cinderella story.” (Joan Rivers); “No one knows more about cosmetic surgery – from both sides of the scalpel. She’s living proof of her unique expertise.” (The Times); “A trailblazing pioneer, she did the first and original Extreme Makeover 15 years before the hit TV series. In another 15 years, they’ll be doing what Cindy Jackson is doing now.” (no author attributed).

I do believe an unreal standard exists. The unreachable can be incredibly alluring. A temptation to achieve the unattainable exists. Someone I know very well used to be bulimic. We can take things to the extreme. This is understandable.” (Shiller, pp. 37)

While a notion of ‘difference’ is typically vilified by our society, in Bridesmaids it’s celebrated. Melissa McCarthy says, “… she’s the one getting all the guys.”
(http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/popwrap/melissa_mccarthy_Xw1eka8oKeQ4Ykegg7xEyM#ixzz1NwUe2IZ7) It is unique to subvert a very traditional framework. I mean, what a challenge it is to criticize from within. When Iggy Pop (Punk icon) performed on American Idol (Season 10) blogs suggested this was what he was doing – challenging the box. So here’s the thing, yes, you can enjoy the film purely as entertainment but I also believe it moves beyond that.

Women are often put in a box – a beauty box, a behavior box, an intelligence box. To go outside of ‘the box’ is radical.  But it’s just a film, you think. The power of representation cannot be underestimated. That is why there was major backlash to the gay film I Love You Philip Morris. The resistance to ‘difference’ is very harsh in general. (My review of I Love You Philip Morris http://www.liveforfilms.com/2011/05/10/i-love-you-phillip-morris-or-what-i-did-for-love%E2%80%8F-by-romy-shiller/) Bridesmaids remains true to the formula on many levels (I can’t discuss this without giving it away – sorry) but it is skewed.

Tom Charity of CNN.com says, “Bridesmaids is a stiletto-sharp, raunchy, no-holds-barred yuk-fest that stands as a worthy female counterpart to the likes of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover.” (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bridesmaids_2011/) I could limit my discussion to these films and a comparison. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, they pay me the big bucks (ha!) to explore ‘meaning’.