Saturday, August 31, 2013

Harry Potter 7.65 – Redemption

Harry Potter and the Green Lightning Part 2

Those who have been reading these Files for a long time may recall that I wasn’t exactly enamored of the first part to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I judged to be tedious, overly moody, and choppily filmed above all else.  The movie’s most egregious sin, lulling me and many of the saga’s other fans into extreme boredom and a state approaching slumber, I blamed squarely on the financially motivated decision to split the finale into two sections that each amounted to about 150 minutes instead of to release it as a single 3-hour presentation.  While Deathly Hallows Part 2, or HP 7.65 as I shall hence describe it, doesn’t quite make up for the stunning disappointment that was Part 1 and should have been condensed by half an hour, it admirably restores the series’ central appeal that the former two entries so unforgivably bastardized.  Emanating pure excitement, adventure, drama, and romance, HP 7.65 embodies the antithesis of its predecessor in every way and constitutes the pinnacle of a beloved fantasy series.

Resuming obviously from where Part 1 ended left off cheated audiences, this installment opens at Percy Weasley’s oceanside cottage, where Harry and his friends have paid their honors to Dobby and now enlist the service of a goblin named Griphook to infiltrate Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at the Gringotts bank, in which they expect to acquire and destroy another of Voldemort’s horcruxes.  After doing just that (and arousing an awesomely fearsome dragon in the process), the trio of young wizards return to Hogwarts, now commandeered by none other than the apparent traitor Severus Snape and an assortment of villainous vandals who have sworn allegiance to Voldemort.  Harry drives out the Death Eater swine and rallies the faithful members of Hogwarts to build a final, climactic defense against the Dark Lord and his army.  The good guys’ rush to eliminate all the horcruxes and the bad guys’ rush to kill the last impeding figure to Voldemort’s immortality culminate in a visually spectacular final battle which tests loyalties, leaves no family unscathed, and changes the wizarding world forevermore.

One of my biggest complaints about the first 65 hundredths of this conclusion was the overall lack of action and the complete incoherency of what little action existed, an illness that Part 2 graciously remedies.  Foregoing long walks in the woods, endless camping trips, and casual dances in the tent for dazzling wand duels, menacing fairy-tale creatures, and lots of destruction, this episode almost makes up for the abject boredom induced by HP 7.0 and harkens back to a time when Harry’s movies were designed to entertain, not to pontificate about… something – whatever the deep themes of Part 1 were supposed to be.  The cinematography is awe-inspiring, reveling in wide shots at magnificent castle structures nestled within grand, mountainous landscapes and allowing viewers to observe the flashy, fireworks-like conflict without the shaky and switchy camera so notorious in earlier entries, although I would contend that this movie has its own share of problems in the lighting department, being so literally dark and shadowed in the middle third that nighttime or basement viewing is pretty much required to enjoy it.  Nevertheless, HP 7.65 is undoubtedly the most visually striking and best conceived chapter in the series, using CGI to enhance rather than to undermine its effects and to create trolls, dragons, and serpents that give even the LOTR creatures a run for their money.  The makeup department deserves praise as well for transforming Ralph Fiennes into a demonic, snub-nosed force of evil and for creating a host of devious, sharp-nosed goblins.

Disregarding the action and spectacle, the storytelling especially raises HP 7.65 above the level of its forerunners.  More so than all the previous movies in the series, this one excellently develops the main characters so that they represent genuine, multi-dimensional heroes instead of just grumpy teenagers grappling with the pangs of love and, in Harry’s case, destiny’s call for him to be the Chosen One.  HP 7.65 gives clear purpose to Harry’s actions and consequences to his inaction, making this fight between good and evil far more weighty and emotionally satisfying than it has empirically proven.  Yet it’s the supporting players, particularly Alan Rickman’s Snape in the film’s most sophisticated and intriguing role, who leave the most impressive impact on viewers.  In what arguably constitutes one of the year’s best performances, Rickman impeccably captures the inner torment, passionate fury, and unbreakable loyalty that distinguish his character as the least obvious but most honorable hero in the series; amidst the turmoil and chaos of a climaxing war, Snape graces relatively few scenes in comparison to the main stars, but his brief time on camera leaves a more indelible mark on the franchise than Daniel Radcliffe could ever hope to impart.  Snape’s conflict illuminates a valuable message about the deceptive potential of surface appearances and strikes at the heart of Harry Potter’s faith that noble men may rise from the seemingly darkest of places.

To the elitist Oscar-voter who reviles fantasy and inquires, like Harry, “Is this real, or is it all in someone’s head?” I can only answer, like Dumbledore, “Of course it’s all in someone’s head, but why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”  Harry Potter 7.65 is exhilarating, extravagant, and eye-boggling entertainment that shrewdly reflects the real emotional struggles facing all people: the quest for personal glory, the temptations of unlimited power, the fear of death, the resistance against demons external and internal, the profound force of love and its ultimate triumph over evil. Such themes are the beauty of effective fantasy, and such themes are the beauty of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  If only it had a more beautiful name…

Grade rating: A-. It sweeps you off sure footing and leaves you gayer than an Albus Dumbledore.  Sorry, I had to throw that joke in somewhere.
Cumulative two-part rating: B.  Alas, like Revenge of the Sith to Attack of the Clones, this can only partially redeem the misery of its first half.

Unrelated movie note: Upon picking up and watching Oblivion on Blu-ray shortly after it was released, I found it to be even more entertaining and well made than I had originally thought in theaters.  It brilliantly captures all the elements that comprise great science-fiction, from beautiful effects and glorious atmosphere to mythical heroes and a mysterious, multi-layered plot.  Though not as thought-provoking as Tom Cruise's earlier sci-fi work Minority Report, it still broaches some intriguing themes of identity, the noble life, the search for objective truth, and the potential for men to do terrible things when they hold misguided perceptions of reality.  In light of Oblivion's smarter-than-average story and visual majesty (I never realized how stunning those clouds looked), I'm revising my original B grade to a B+.  So far it's the best movie I've seen of this year.*

* That the only other movie happens to be Man of Steel might be a factor in that judgment.

Friday, August 30, 2013

On the Cutting Edge of Societal Evolution

In other breaking news, one of CNN's newsreaders got groped in India, disregarding of course that institutional groping is officially sanctioned federal policy at airports around the United States.  Also, the Associated Press reports that, "The Obama administration prepares for a likely strike against Syria as punishment for an alleged chemical weapons attack in its civil war."  Whether or not Obama follows through on his famously flexible red line and elects to "punish" Assad, as a parent spanks or grounds a disobedient child, for slaughtering thousands of innocent bystanders with weapons of mass destruction remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Behind the Scenes at Commie-Con 2013

It is with pride and joy that I herald The Author's Files' first guest post, written by an independent journalist and dear friend named George Stefano Pallas.  Please give George a huge shoutout for all the work and research he dedicated to analyzing and expounding this little-known topic.

With the eyes of America’s mainstream media fixated squarely on a never-ending stream of stories about alluringly depraved kidnappers, celebrities bickering with their divorcees about child custody, formerly squeaky-clean child stars getting drunk, and Edward Snowden cavorting with Vladimir Putin to effectively embarrass the once icon of free countries, the annual spectacle that is San Francisco’s Commie-Con convention has been unfortunately glossed over to focus on allegedly more pressing national matters.  2013’s festivities mark the 100th anniversary of the popular entertainment venue, as officially established by Woodrow Wilson on his first day of office, and this 4th quarter quell has already surpassed all preceding events in glamour, political fervor, and, most importantly, Diversity of attractions.  If this weekend’s opening performances are any indicator, Commie-Con is rapidly breaking into the middle class and will continue to enthrall the proletariat for four more years.

The Carnival of Communism transformed into top gear and rolled out last Friday to coincide with the release of Oscar frontrunner Elysium, the Elizabeth Warren-produced class warfare epic that introduced last year’s show and ignited nationwide protests against the social injustice of 1 percenters leading lives of perpetual vacation and ease while the 99 percenters toil and slave to pay for the luxury of the elites.  In keeping with the convention’s well-earned reputation for respecting free speech and diversity of thought, the event’s managers welcome Marxists and Atheists of all political parties and religious creeds, whether the guest be a liberal, socialist, progressive, utopian, anarchist, feminazi, Environmentalist, freethinker, agnostic, or Secular Humanist.  Visitors who would gain admittance to the convention must only present proof of voluntary unemployment, disability, racial discrimination, general perversion, low income, or government dependency to receive a $7500 federal tax credit with the purchase of a ticket.

After undergoing a brief, non-invasive, and – in this journalist’s opinion – thoroughly pleasurable strip search (alternatively, one can always opt out and submit to a full-body grope instead) for the sake of complying with Janet Napolitano’s security recommendations to prevent terror attacks by guns- and religion-clinging Tea Partiers, guests are issued a personal thought-police officer to guide them and are ushered through the golden gates of the idyllic fair grounds.  The convention’s layout is environmentally inspired and emphasizes clean/renewable/sustainable/green energy, with private jets and Nissan Leafs providing transportation for each attendee to dozens of individual displays, separated by many miles with the brilliantly conceived design of reducing concentration in land use.

Drones in the sky and intelligence agents on the ground ensure that fans are always 100% safe and 0% free, allowing them to fully relish the leisure and refinement of broadening their communist worldview without ever having to worry about confronting a rogue capitalist or themselves taking up reprehensible ideas of individualism; after all, if they do somehow manage to articulate Constitutionalist rhetoric or, worse still, become a full-fledged radical for capitalism, they’ll immediately be detained and conscripted into the most awesome gladiator games ever conceived.

Oliver Stone opened the extravaganza with a heartfelt tribute to Hugo Chavez and a passionate plea for politicians to “stop playing politics” and to “embrace a bipartisan, common-sense agenda of checking corporate malfeasance, protecting the environment from marauding businessmen, repealing the Bill of Rights, and asking the bourgeoisie to give a little more to the workers who made their success possible.  After all, if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”  America’s Great Leader himself is rumored to have an appearance planned for Thursday at the convention, where he’ll lecture against the evils of trickle-down-economics and make the case for a shared responsibility that spreads the wealth around so that everybody can get a fair share, a fair shake, and a fair shot.

In the interim leading up to the week’s ultimate offering, fans can experience a wide variety of previews for culturally, ethnically, and philosophically diverse media, all approved by the Communist Party’s statutes and regulations on publicly permissible speech.  For the interest of comic book consumers, the team behind DC’s Green Arrow has collaborated with Newsroom creator and writer Aaron Sorkin to produce a 21st century reimagining of the Superman legend that promises an unfamiliar and timely new slant on America’s mightiest boy scout.

Said Sorkin, “The heroism of Clark Kent the superhero has eclipsed the herosim of Clark Kent the reporter for too long.  In its desperate drive to attract white male teenagers, DC has regrettably allowed Clark’s feats of physical strength to overshadow his more important contributions to society, namely his intellectual rectitude, his relentless pursuit of the truth, and his impartial commitment to the public welfare.  This series will focus less on the superhuman aspects of its protagonist and more on his human side; it is a homage to real-world heroes in the business of journalism who work tirelessly to expose social injustice, uphold democracy, and defend the people from the cold hand of fascism.”

The series recasts Clark Kent as a star reporter for the Daily Warming Planet who specializes in uprooting corporate corruption, particularly the kind perpetrated the city’s ruthless capitalist overlord Lex Luthor.  Upon realizing the sheer injustice of continuing life as Superman while his comrades in Metropolis wallowed in poverty and weakness, Clark surrendered his powers until the day when everyone could share them equally and devoted himself to serving the people through the news industry.  His greatest influence, Lois Lane, squires him in the journalist’s creed of objectivity and political neutrality, which is based, Sorkin explains, on a strong, bipartisan allegiance to women’s (abortion) rights, income equality, and multiculturalism.  Marvel has expressed interest in doing a crossover series wherein Peter Parker of the Daily Whistle and Clark unite to dethrone the special interests of Wayne Enterprises and make Gotham’s renowned aristocrat finally pay the same tax rate as his beleaguered secretary, Selina Kyle. One thing is certain: Last Son of Marxton will boldly move DC forward into the next stage of human and literary development, making a loud cry in favor of comic book progress.

Pixar Animation Studios easily dominated the spotlight in the film category with its reveal of an intriguing new project called Weird*E, an indirect sequel to the beloved environmental sermon that swept awards shows unchallenged in 2008.  Soon after returning a colony of fat, Republican slavedrivers to the home planet they buried in junk, the adorable little trash-sweeper from the first movie discovers that he was not the only robot to be abandoned on earth by a destructive and self-centered human race.  Weird-e is a unique and misunderstood machine who’s shunned by his creators as an abnormal and unnatural contraption.  Wall-e’s dashing good looks, eloquent speech, and uncompromising love for the earth causes Weird-e to fall hopelessly in love with him, a feeling that Wall-e cannot reciprocate because his programming forbids him to mate with any entity besides an EVE model.

Director James Cameron says, “Our goal with Weird-e is to inspire young viewers to experiment with relationships beyond their programming, to go outside of their comfort zones and reconfigure their narrow parameters of what constitutes a healthy friendship.  This message of tolerance, of the freedom to love whoever you want, is most relevant in today’s ever wayward and judgmental society and will be, I think, the heart of Weird-e’s transgenderational appeal – that is transgenerational appeal.”  As the robotic love triangle blooms and withers, chaos ensues at the newly established human village, built in the shadow of the Sulaco/Pillar of Autumn/spaceship thing from Wall-e.  In an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past that got them in the mess in the first place, the settlers instituted a capitalistic system that allots everyone the opportunity to determine his own profession and work for his individual profit, but this free market approach unavoidably results in a robber barren planet where everybody is on his own and dogs are cannibals.  Weird-e leads an aggressive campaign to reform the village on the foundation of civil responsibilities, coordinated labor, economic security, and collective identity.

“Diversity is our strength,” he asserts in the provocative teaser, “but if the community allows people to make their own choices, they might make the wrong choice.  We see this happening all around us, the decisions of the minority recklessly endangering the health and comfort of the majority.  With wisdom and a conscience for social expediency, your ancestors carefully shaped our destinies, programming we machines [sic] to fulfill a certain public purpose and to ignore our selfish desires for liberty.  If this mechanical design is appropriate for the clockwork, why not for the orange?  Would it not serve the sons of Cornelius and Zira to similarly program themselves to further civilization’s progress?”

The post-apocalyptic landscape of Weird*e impeccably blends live-action photography with District 9-esque CGI, a new cinematic style for Pixar that nevertheless looks astoundingly realistic.  The controversial subject matter will likely stir substantial outrage, but so did the studio’s last somewhat original project Brave, which critics praised for bringing important issues like equal pay and sexual liberation to the attention of future voters.  Educational value aside, Weird*e's premise is far from robotic and the movie appears to remarkable entertainment that will have people saying, “Whhoooooa!” and “Eeeeeeevaaaaaaah!” all over again.

To read about Joss Whedon’s upcoming superhero comic arc The Regulator, the long awaited Friends reboot/spinoff starring Bert and Ernie, or Tony Stark: The Reluctant Billionaire by Warren Buffett, and to get more regular updates on Commie-Con 2013, follow #DemocratickNationullCommiettee and like its media partners @CommunistNewsNational and @MainstreamNewsSourceBullCrap.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Scissors For Hands

Of all the imaginatively weird movies that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have collaborated on, Edward Scissorhands may be the most outlandish.  Like most of the director’s other creations, it has a strongly developed and enticing atmosphere and tells a story primarily through visual mood, eschewing the conventional, plot-driven framework of most films and falling more under the denomination of poetry than of prose.  Unlike most other Tim Burton films, it’s also a moving and melancholy work of art that effectively bridges the gap between multiple genres, acting at once as fantasy, romance, satire, horror, and a veiled retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Played by Johnny Depp in a performance that seems oddly similar to his character in Benny and Joon, Edward faces a severe dilemma as a kindhearted artificial man who nevertheless harms most everything he touches: by virtue of his father’s untimely passing, he resembles any ordinary person but for the self-inflicted scars on his face and his sharply intimidating hands, constructed entirely out of massive scissor-blades.  Having been confined to the lonely and isolated halls of his castle for all his life, Edward encounters a brave new world when the outgoing and motherly Mrs. Boggs adopts him as a third child and introduces him to the culture of suburbia.  The neighbors initially welcome Edward into their community and take delight at the unique services he can execute with his hands, from his visionary haircuts to his magnificent grass hedge sculpting.  A select few, however, view the newcomer as a demonic abomination whose deformities are not a blessing but a curse.  Among these are a religious right-wing cook and Mrs. Bogg’s teenage daughter Kim, portrayed by Winona Ryder, who’s terrified at first by his freakish appearance but then develops a sincere respect and love for him when he reveals his affection for her.  Their flowering relationship elicits the envy and animosity of Kim’s former boyfriend, a brutish, destructive fellow who treats Edward like an animal and inevitably brings out the animal concealed within him.  The movie probes audiences to ponder which is more frightening: the monster himself or those who revile the monster’s differences in order to build themselves up at his expense.

Because of its largely symbolic tone, Edward Scissorhands can be read and interpreted through many lenses, some of which work better than others.  On its weakest level, it’s a story about the persecution of a misunderstood and irrationally demonized minority by a religious elite consumed by hatred and intolerance.  If this movie had been set in the Obama Age, critics would laud it as a homosexual parable comparable to X2 or Happy Feet, with Edward posing as Matthew Shepard and the Christian nutcase embodying the Westboro Baptist Church, a minuscule cult which nonetheless represents the entire ‘religious right’ as far as the enlightened, tolerant ‘freethinkers’ in the media are concerned.  On its strongest level, it’s a cautionary fable concerning the conflict between individualism and conformity, the latter of which so often extinguishes or exiles the former out of jealousy, fear, and utopianism.  Satirical at its core, the film exploits suburban and evangelical stereotypes to humorous effect, depicting a close-knit community of clean-tongued (“Darn this stuff!”) but nosy gossipers and group-thinkers who rush to form simplistic judgements based solely on what their senses immediately betray to them.  Like Pride and Prejudice, the story carries a strong message about the potential for our eyes and preliminary judgements to deceive and blind us to someone’s true character or the reality of a situation.  Yet Edward Scissorhands is a romantic drama in its purest form, conveying the touching and tragic tale of a man who’s pierced by love but unable to express that love through any medium but his art.  When Kim asks Edward to hold her amidst the literal and metaphorical chill of one winter night, he answers sorrowfully, “I can’t.”  Not only does the condition imposed by his maker preclude him from peaceably mingling with humanity, but it even separates him from his lover, his only friend in a dark and cruel world that spurns him just for his outer image.  Where Frankenstein was just as interested in the creator and his motives as in the creation, Edward Scissorhands focuses only on the plight of the monster and the monstrosities committed against him by a race that’s even more horrific than he.

Visually remarkable, well acted, memorably scored, and sometimes profound, Edward Scissorhands has wisdom and emotional impact in greater abundance than the usual stylish but empty entertainment composed by Tim Burton.  This story, simultaneously sad, hopeful, and darkly beautiful, is the rare kind of movie that will make one want to dance in the snow.

Grade rating: A- (where Alice in Wonderland is B, Batman is C, and that Michael Jackson-Roald Dahl thing is D)