Category Archives: DVD/BluRay Reviews

Review: Kick Ass (2010)

Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jane Goldman (screenplay) & Matthew Vaughn (screenplay), Mark Millar (comic book) & John Romita Jr. (comic book)
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Clark Duke, Mark Strong, Sophie Wu, Lyndsy Fonseca.

Geren: Action / Comedy / Crime

Reviewed by: Mike Huntley (The Dark Knight)

Grade: A

Most of us in our childhood have thought of how cool it would be to be our favorite superheroes in comic books, movies, television, and animation. Imagine having super powers and being able to fly. Imagine having endless amounts of money, a mansion, and your own secret Batcave with your own high tech Batmobile. Imagine having the ability to run faster than anything on this planet. But, when you stop to think about it, what kind of life would you have? You couldn’t have a good relationship with the opposite sex in fear that your enemies might hurt or kill them. You would have to constantly lie to your friends and family. At some point, your secret would take a great toll on your body and soul. Still, it doesn’t stop us from wanting to dress up like a superhero and pretend we are fighting crime. The key word in there is “pretend”. Unlike our logics on why being a superhero in our real world is a very bad idea, there are some characters in a popular comic book who actually give it a try and turn our world into the world of the theatrical and heroic. Their names are Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, and Hit-Girl and this is their origin story off the comic’s page and into the wonderful world of cinema.

Dave Lizewski is a High School outcast who long wishes he was as cool as his favorite comic book superheroes. One day while in a comic book shop with his two buddies Marty and Todd, Dave gets the idea to give it a try. He orders a ridiculous costume and mask online. His first mission? To stop the two thugs who keep robbing him and his friends. Well, things don’t go great as he is stabbed and hit by a car. At the hospital, he tells his Dad that two guys robbed him and stole his clothes. This of course starts a rumor around school that he is gay, which Dave uses to his advantage when his crush Katie is all the sudden wanting to hang with him. Even though he should have quit his try out as a masked superhero when he almost got killed, Dave decides to give it another chance, this time saving cats out of trees. Oh and he stops a group of low lifes from killing some guy by pounding on them with two night sticks. This captures the attention of a huge crowd and is filmed by someone and posted online where Dave calls himself “Kick-Ass”. Now Kick-Ass is a New York City icon with costumes, comic books, and the like. Meanwhile, a former cop named Damon Macready and his daughter Mindy are killing off bad guys who work for NYC mob boss Frank D’Amico under the personas of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl due to D’Amico framing Damon and causing his wife to commit suicide. The costumed vigilantes take notice of Kick-Ass and want him to join them. Meanwhile, Frank D’Amico’s son Chris wants to prove himself worthy of his father’s empire so he hatches a plan for Frank to capture Kick-Ass and Big Daddy, which will change their lives forever.

Bottom line is I love Kick-Ass. I loved this movie when I first saw it in the theater a few years ago and I still adore it today. It did something unique with superheroes by just having an average dude with no money or powers be a superhero. A superhero film that feels like it belongs in a comic book yet is set in the real world with real consequences. Now, would people act like these characters in real life? Probably not. But, this is a great satire on the superhero genre. We all love superheroes and Kick-Ass is us, but also shows us why people don’t wear masks and capes in real life. Would it be cool to be saved by a masked caped crusader with cool gadgets? Absolutely. But, heroes in real life wear badges or military uniforms. Or they just do the right thing by risking their life for another Human Being. The badge of being a hero is a rewarding feeling. Just knowing that someone is safe and out of harm’s way because you had the guts to act, now that I’m sure would be overwhelming.

So, why does Kick-Ass work? While I love Spider-Man/Peter Parker for just being a kid yet doing extraordinary things to make this country’s most well-known city a better place, Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski has zero powers. Peter Parker has spidey sense, fast reflexes, and the ability to climb walls. Dave doesn’t. He’s just us in a costume with two sticks ready to kick someone’s ass even if it means getting his own ass kicked or stabbed. The kid’s a hero because he has overcome the one obstacle that differs a casual person from a masked crusader: the fear of death. If we didn’t fear death, then there would be nothing holding us back from being a superhero. Death is one of the most primal fears us Human Beings have. Take that away and we become more superhuman. That’s what I admire about Kick-Ass. This kid is not afraid. He just goes out and sticks up for the underdogs. In fact, Dave is a lot like Peter Parker but minus the science fiction elements. He lives with his Dad and the two aren’t close since his mother died.

And then there is Damon and Mindy aka Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Mindy is an 11 year old girl who hasn’t had a childhood due to her father training her to fight the criminal underworld. This is the coolest little girl you’ll ever meet. She swears a lot, kills bad guys, and will basically kick your fucking ass. Damon used to be a cop till he was framed and imprisoned for years vowing to destroy Frank D’Amico. Gotta love the almost Batman and Robin reflection of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. That classic Dynamic Duo type of partnership.

But then there is the father/son relationship between Frank and Chris D’Amico. Frank is basically the Lex Luthor or Norman Osborn of New York City and Chris wants to join that big empire that his Dad has set up. So, Chris disguises himself as a fellow superhero named Red Mist to lure Kick-Ass into Frank’s trap because Frank wants to kill Big Daddy as well as teach NYC that being a superhero will get you killed.

Like all superhero stories, there’s the love interest. In this case, Kick-Ass’s Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson is Katie Deauxma. Although I find it kinda messed up that she doesn’t start talking and flirting with Dave until she thinks he is gay. But then the two become really close once she finds out that he is Kick-Ass. That is til the sequel.

Kick-Ass is NOT a family superhero movie! This film is violent and bloody as Hell. Bad guys get dismembered and not to mention by a little girl. The gruesome comic book violence is part of Kick-Ass’s charm. Because let’s face it, superheroes in real life wouldn’t be PG or PG-13, they would be a hard R and this film is a pretty hard R!

The direction by Matthew Vaughn who went on to direct X-Men: First Class is top notch. Vaughn is a director that I’m quickly becoming a fan of and he shows his love for superheroes in his work. Hoping he steps back into the superhero world someday.

The acting is top notch. Aaron Johnson is great in the lead role as Kick-Ass. Nicholas Cage looks like he’s having a blast playing Big Daddy who’s obviously a Batman knockoff. Mark Strong was great as villain Frank D’Amico. I really hope this dude gets Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman, especially after he got screwed as Sinestro with Green Lantern. McLovin was decent as Chris D’Amico/Red Mist who will be the villain in Kick-Ass 2. Lyndsy Fonseca did okay as the love interest Katie. Unfortunately, her character sucks in the sequel. Clark Duke and Evan Peters were hilarious as Dave’s friends Marty and Todd. And then we have Chloe Grace Moretz who gives the excellent stand out performance as Hit-Girl. Moretz has become a much bigger star thanks to this film and I think this girl has a bright career ahead of her!

Overall, Kick-Ass kicks a lot of ass! In fact, it was in my top movies of 2010. I love this film so much and am super excited that it got a sequel. To be continued….

Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

Directed By: Jay Oliva
Written By: Bob Goodman (Screenplay) Bob Kane (Characters) Frank Miller (comic book)
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Carlos Alazraqui, Paget Brewster, Michael McKean, Michael Jackson, Gary Anthony Williams, Michael Emerson.
Genre: Animation | Action
Reviewed by: Mike Huntley (The Dark Knight)

Grade: A+

Batman is a character who has gone through so many different incarnations in the comics, animation, and in cinema. While Bob Kane and Bill Finger created and shaped the character, other writers and artists really evolved these characters to how we see them today. One man who has had probably one of the biggest influences on the legendary Dark Knight’s image is Frank Miller. Batman, a character who had begun as a masked vigilante fighting criminals from the shadows had become kind of a joke in the 1950s and especially in the 1960s with the safe for kids live action television series starring Adam West as the not so dark Knight of Gotham City. Batman had basically become a sitcom and steered away from the dark and dangerous image of Gotham. That was until the 1970s when the camp fad ended and Batman was brought back to his prime thanks to Denny O’Neal, Julius Schwartz, and Neal Adams. In the 1980s, a young comic book writer/artist named Frank Miller had just moved over to DC Comics after working a few years at Marvel. Miller, a man who likes to bring new things and tends to stir up controversy due to being original, decided to do things with the Batman world that had never been done before. Frank wrote what is considered the best Batman story of all time and one that has since continued to inspire comics, animation, and movies called The Dark Knight Returns. Dark Knight Returns centers around an aged Bruce Wayne who hasn’t been Batman for a decade, but comes out of retirement when a gang calling themselves The Mutants begin to terrorize the city as well as his old pal Harvey Dent being released from Arkham only to return to his old Two-Face crimes. Miller didn’t stop there though. Following his classic Batman in an even darker future story came the complete flip side. Frank Miller decided to go back to the very beginning with both Bruce Wayne and James Gordon with the iconic origin tale, Batman Year One, which explored Bruce’s drive to become The Batman and the beginning of his alliance with soon to be Police Commissioner James Gordon. Miller’s Batman Year One can be seen really well in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which is now the best Batman origin story in cinema. Ever since 2007, Bruce Timm and several animation workers have been putting out three animated movies a year based on DC Comics characters. Timm and company pick the stories that fans are very eager to see get translated to animated feature films. Since the beginning, Batman Year One and The Dark Knight Returns were at the very top of the list of must projects, but it wasn’t till 2011 that they got around to making them. In October of 2011, Batman Year One was released, which had mixed reactions. On one hand, it was a straight up adaptation of the classic Batman graphic novel. But, many fans were upset that they just copied the graphic novel word for word instead of doing things differently. Although, I can guarantee if they did do things differently, those same people would be whining that it isn’t Batman Year One. For The Dark Knight Returns, Timm and company decided that the only way to be faithful to this classic Batman story was to break it up into two parts due to the graphic novel being way too long for a 75 minute feature. So, yesterday Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 was released. Being someone who has honestly never read the graphic novel before, after seeing this movie, I definitely want to because this has got to be the best animated Batman film I’ve seen so far. It went to places that I wasn’t expecting and I loved every second of it!

It has been 10 years since Gotham City has seen Batman. Billionaire Bruce Wayne has retired his cape and cowl, now drinking heavily and spending time at the race track trying to kill himself by driving recklessly. Police Commissioner James Gordon is in the process of retiring and already knows that Bruce used to be the legendary Dark Knight as the two hang out drinking and talking about the good old days. Former Gotham City District Attorney turned homicidal psychopath Harvey Dent has just had plastic surgery to make his face look normal again and has been released from Arkham Asylum. Soon, a vicious gang called The Mutants begin to terrorize the city killing innocent men, women, and children as the media eats it up in very despicable ways. Bruce is still haunted by his past and soon realizes that he can’t change who he is and must become Batman to restore hope in this even darker Gotham City. His return inspires teenager Carrie Kelly to don the persona of Robin and fight by Batman’s side. Batman must stop Harvey Dent who has been totally taken over by his evil side as well as stopping the Mutants from wrecking the city. Meanwhile, an old enemy awakes that will bring Gotham to an even darker Hell.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is probably one of the darkest Batman stories ever told. The funny thing about this story is it came out in the 1980s, but a lot of the social commentary that Miller was getting at especially the depictions of the media still applies to today’s society maybe even closer than it did back in the ’80s. The media in this movie just exposes some of the worst acts of Humanity and uses others’ despair as an outlet to gossip about and just get ratings and money. How people react to the crime that happens is also depressing. There’s a scene where a thug pays a Taxi driver to let him beat up a woman in the backseat of the Taxi. People just stand around and watch as people are getting robbed, beaten, or killed, afraid that something bad will happen to them if they step up. Gotham is afraid to take a stand, which causes things to just get worse. Bruce starts off as an alcoholic and is pretty reckless almost like he just wants to die already. Gordon is retiring, but trying to hold on to being a Gotham City cop for as long as he can. When Batman finally returns, Gordon sees this as their last case together. Alfred doesn’t approve of Bruce putting the cape and cowl back on and feels he should just leave Batman in the past, put it behind him, and live a normal life. I can now see some of the influence this story had on Nolan’s last Batman entry The Dark Knight Rises. Carrie Kelly is a teenage girl who is pretty street smart. She comes from a family who just sit in front of their television and smoke pot so she often sneaks out of the apartment and does her own thing. Carrie becomes inspired after Batman saves her and a friend from a group of Mutant thugs at an Arcade. She buys a Robin Halloween costume and saves Batman’s life when he fights the Mutant leader. Batman’s fight against the Mutant leader reminds me of the fight between Batman and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises where he loses the first fight but then gets the upper hand in the final battle.

I liked the portrayal of Harvey Dent in this movie where he had surgery to remove the deformed side of his face that created Two-Face, yet that personality still lives inside him to where he covers his entire face in bandages and scratches off both sides of the coin. The Mutant leader is a very scary guy. This is a guy you don’t want to be alone with. There’s also a psychiatrist named Dr. Wolper who is totally against Batman. We also get to see a much older Lana Lang. For those who don’t know, Lana Lang was Clark Kent/Superman’s girlfriend/best friend back in Smallville. I like that she is now working with The Daily Planet. We also get to see The Joker who is basically catatonic for most of the film, but comes alive at the end and will play a huge role in Part 2.

Yes, Robin is a girl in this story. I know that this part always surprises many fans, myself included. Miller is one who loves to change characters in a unique way that usually stirs up controversy with the die hards. For instance, he made Selina Kyle/Catwoman a prostitute and bi-racial in Batman Year One. I personally dig the girl Robin in this. I think it is great to have strong female characters in comics whether it be Catwoman, Black Canary, Huntress, Batgirl, Supergirl, or Wonder Woman. Women and girls need their superhero idols just like men and boys do. That’s one thing that I do think DC has over Marvel, a great variety of strong female superheroes.

It’s great that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is split into two animated feature films because this thing would be a huge mess to try to cram everything into a single 75 minute movie. I think it will please most fans of the characters. Hoping they adapt Batman: The Long Halloween, another classic Batman story that would most likely end up as a two parter.

The animation is fantastic! Probably some of the best animation used in these films. Love the details of the characters and it definitely matches the look and feel of the graphic novel.

The voice casting was great. Andrea Romano certainly knows how to cast these movies. Peter Weller (Robocop) is perfect as an older Bruce Wayne/Batman. While I love Kevin Conroy as the character, I’m happy they are picking different actors to play this character. David Selby was great as Commissioner James Gordon. Ariel Winter was awesome as Carrie Kelly/Robin, giving us a tough kid who we really root for. Wade Williams who played Black Mask in Batman: Under The Red Hood plays Harvey Dent well. Michael McKean who played Perry White on Smallville was great as Dr. Wolper. Michael Jackson (not the pop star) played Alfred really well. Gary Anthony Williams played the creepy Mutant leader well. And Michael Emerson has only two words of dialogue as Joker, but is perfect for the role and I’m sure will be fantastic next year in Part 2.

The screenplay by Bob Goodman is basically Frank Miller’s story come to life. The direction by Jay Oliva who is coincidentally the story board artist for next summer’s much anticipated Superman reboot, Man of Steel, was great. Oliva is definitely a fan of these characters and knows how to get you excited and enjoying yourself with following Bruce from the low point in his life to resurfacing as Batman and giving the city hope again. Also dug the music score by Christopher Drake, which fit well with the story.

Overall, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is a must see for any Batman fan. It’s the first half of an epic story that looks like it is just going to get more crazy and epic early next year when Part 2 comes out.

Review: The Guardian (1990)

DIRECTED BY
William Friedkin

STARRING
Jenny Seagrove – Camilla
Dwier Brown – Phil
Carey Lowell – Kate
Brad Hall – Ned Runcie

GenreFantasy/Horror/Thriller/Supernatural

Running Time93 Minutes

 

Being part of a pretty big family, I never had an outsider as a babysitter. Usually my grandmother would take care of me when my mom was working or out. If not her, usually my aunt and/or cousins would make sure I was okay. So I never had the real ‘babysitter experience‘ as they call it.

But if I did have a babysitter or a nanny, I wouldn’t have minded if she were anything like Camilla from 1990’s cult film by William Friedkin, THE GUARDIAN. I mean, she’s hot, has a sexy accent, and likes to bathe naked outdoors without a care in the world. Sure, she’s some sort of druid who would have probably sacrificed me to a tree guarded by wolves, but I’m sure the risk would have been worth it. Why complain?

Unfortunately, there are some things to complain about THE GUARDIAN itself in terms of its narrative, as well as other things. But hey, it doesn’t star Kevin Costner or Ashton Kutcher! That’s a tree worth growing in Brooklyn, isn’t it?

PLOT
A young couple named Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) have their first child before moving into their new home. Both wanting to continue their careers, despite the baby’s arrival, they advertise for a nanny. Their first choice mysteriously has a terrible cycling accident, leading to mysterious English hottie, Camilla (Jenny Seagrove), to be hired instead. Camilla moves into their home, which begins some strange things for the couple and their friends. Eventually, we learn that Camilla is some kind of tree spirit or druid that takes nanny jobs in order to find babies and sacrifice them to a tree that’s protected by wolves. Apparently this tree can also heal Camilla as she’s part of it. Can this yuppie couple stop Camilla from sacrificing their child? Or is it worth it just to see her bathe nude in the woods? As a non-parent, I’m pretty torn…

REVIEW
THE GUARDIAN brings back a lot of memories for me. I loved this film back in the early 90s, when my mom would rent it from the video store, or when it would play on a cable station. I always found it to be pretty trippy at times, as well as being content in watching Jenny Seagrove bathe in the middle of the woods nude [helped speed up puberty]. I honestly hadn’t watched this film since, probably, the mid-90s, so it was a treat to feel all nostalgic about THE GUARDIAN. While it isn’t as good as I remembered it, to be honest with you, there’s still something about it that I like even with its many flaws.

The problems for THE GUARDIAN [based on the 1987 Dan Greenburg novel, The Nanny] lie within the narrative. The way the story’s presented sets up why the story should have been better than it actually is. For a thriller to be successful, there should be a sense of mystery and suspense that will keep viewers guessing and watching. The story needs to build up to some huge revelation that will either shock the viewer or keep them satisfied if they figured it out. THE GUARDIAN bombs right out of the gate with this aspect of the narrative. Right from the start, we know that the film is about some sort of tree spirit who babysits infants in order to groom them for some sacrifice to see tree god or something supernatural like that. This is told to us via a title card, which honestly should have been shown to us somewhere within the film. Also, the very first scene before the credits is of Camilla sacrificing a baby to this very tree. Right there, the mystery is given away and there’s nothing to surprise us later on. Does the film suck because of it? No, it’s still watchable. But it would have been more effective watching our lead protagonists, or in this case the more active Phil, to figure this out and have all this revealed from his perspective. Instead, we already know the answers before anyone does. The film still is decently fun, but would have been stronger if we knew less about Camilla from the start.

Also, there’s not much depth to Camilla’s reasoning for what she does. It’s hinted that she was some sort of guardian to this tree and they’re connected physically and mentally. But it’s never really explained why this is even happening. Why is this tree being fed with babies? Does Camilla bring this tree everywhere she goes? Is she even a human being? What about the Druids – what are their roles in all this? We don’t much about anything about the supernatural stuff because it’s never really explored. We can speculate and most likely figure out what’s going on, but it would have been nice if the characters did as well and transferred that information so clueless people could get the message this film is trying to send. The supernatural aspect ends up feeling more superficial rather than deep, even if it’s still interesting nonetheless.

Also feeling superficial are the characters, especially Phil and Kate. They’re likeable, which helps make THE GUARDIAN more than watchable. But we barely know anything about them. Kate is pretty much absent or a non-presence for much of the film, which sort of weakens her marriage to Phil. Phil is the more active of the two, but besides his name and job, there’s not much substance to him. Obviously, he starts having lustful feelings towards Camilla – due to the fact that he probably hasn’t gotten laid in a while due to Kate’s pregnancy, and because Camilla enjoys being naked around him. But nothing really comes of it, so it’s just there because it’s cliche. And Ned was there just to be a victim – nothing more, nothing less. But at least the characters are likeable enough, even if they are stereotypical.

Camilla is at least interesting only because she has actual motivations and does everything in her power to make sure her goals are met. She wants to sacrifice a baby? She’ll pose as a kind nanny in order to get the child she needs. Someone in the way of that? She’ll hurt that bitch in a bicycle accident. You want to rape her? Her tree and her wolf friends will rape you. You follow her and figure out Camilla’s secret? She’ll make you remember the only way a secret stays hidden is if only one person knows about it. You got the hots for her? She’ll make you have wet dreams. Camilla doesn’t play games and will make sure she accomplishes her goals. This character drives the film and keeps it entertaining, regardless of the flaws the narrative has.

THE GUARDIAN has pretty decent special effects. It isn’t a majorly gory film, but it does have some nice stuff for those who love their blood. We get an impalement, skin getting ripped off, some chopped limbs, and even a head bashed in. The tree is pretty bad ass in THE GUARDIAN. It kills those who endanger its mission. In a great scene, it actually caresses Camilla as it heals her wounds. The location of the woods look very fantastical as well, looking beautiful and very creepy at the same time. The practical effects were well done as well. Very good production designs here.

The direction by William Friedkin, best known for his works on THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST, is pretty great. Originally meant as a Sam Raimi project [would explain the evil tree], Friedkin constantly asked for rewrites in order to feel a connection to the project [which would explain why the narrative isn’t as good as it ought to be]. Even though the script ended up being pretty shallow, the visuals have a ton of depth. There’s a lot of style here, with pretty cool camera movements [very Raimi-like at times], and moments where the film feels really bleak and creepy. In fact, there are some really nice tense and suspenseful moments, especially during the final act of the film. The picture also looked quite nice, and the editing was good. The visuals are probably the best part of THE GUARDIAN. Friedkin has been hit-and-miss during his long career, but THE GUARDIAN is one of his better directed films.

The acting is okay. Jenny Seagrove steals the show in every way as Camilla. Her British accent is very alluring and sexy. She also gives the character an edge and an aura of mystery that gives her quite the presence on screen. Plus she looks great naked. I’m surprised she didn’t become more high profile because she did a bang up job in this flick. Without Seagrove, THE GUARDIAN would fall apart. Dwier Brown is decent as Phil. He doesn’t really get enough time to really shine, but plays his cliche part well. Carey Lowell is a decent actress, but she isn’t really in the film long enough to be anything substantial. Mrs. Richard Gere deserves better. It’s a decently acted him, but the star shines brightest on Jenny Seagrove here.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING MY SPECIAL TREE SHOULDN’T BE TOUCHING ME THERE…

– Camilla sacrifices babies to a tree. That finally explains why Lisa Stansfield has been around the world and can’t find her baby.

– One of the potential nannies was killed by riding her bike over a pothole. That “Live Strong” wristband sure came in handy, didn’t it?

– Phil had a nightmare involving his son, some wolves, and a creepy tree. Well, that’s one way of getting morning wood.

– Don’t try to rape a tree spirit. She’ll find out the root of the problem and make you branch out into other activities, like dying.

– Phil had a dream about screwing Camilla. I’ve had a similar problem once. But when I heard that nasal voice and that laugh, I just ended up performing a Mr. Sheffield on myself.

– Ned was afraid of coyotes attacking him. I don’t see why he’s so worried. Those ACME products always backfire.

– Kate had no qualms about running over a wolf. She must be Team Edward, that bitch.

THE FINAL HOWL
Sometimes it sucks growing up, because I didn’t enjoy THE GUARDIAN as much as I had many years ago. Still, it’s a watchable and decent movie that does a lot of things right as much as it does wrong. The direction is great, as there is a nice amount of tension and creepy moments to satisfy fans of the genre. Plus you get a really memorable performance by Jenny Seagrove. It’s a shame the narrative didn’t have more depth and explained things better in detail, as well as fleshing out the protagonists. Definitely an average movie, but worth branching out to rent or stream if you have a thing for hot British nannies not named Mary Poppins.

Review: The Bad Seed (1956)

DIRECTED BY
Mervyn Le Roy

STARRING
Nancy Kelly – Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack – Rhoda Penmark
Evelyn Varden – Monica Breedlove
Henry Jones – Leroy
Eileen Heckart – Hortense Daigle
William Hopper – Kenneth Penmark

GenreHorror/Psychological Thriller/Drama/Evil Kids

Running Time129 Minutes

As a horror movie lover, I can always appreciate a film that involves evil children. These young people may seem cute and innocent. But if you don’t give them what they want, they may accidentally put that toy car in your path before you fall down the stairs and break your neck. Little Orphan Annie was a mean little bitch – don’t let that curly red hair and those freckles fool you!

Some of the most memorable horror films involve scary kids. THE OMEN, THE GOOD SON, PET SEMETARY, and ORPHAN prove that some kids have enough power to work alone. Other films, like CHILDREN OF THE CORN, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY show that they prefer to hurt people within large groups. Either way, grounding these killer brats is not an option.

However, none of the films listed above wouldn’t exist if the original ‘evil child’ film wasn’t both critically and commercially successful. Every film with a child as the main antagonist owes a lot to 1956’s THE BAD SEED, a film that kicked off the trend and proved that even children can be just as dangerous as adults. 56 years later, the film is still talked about and even plans for a second remake [the first was in 1985] are in the works. Does a remake say that THE BAD SEED doesn’t hold up after all these years? Or is THE BAD SEED still the cream of the crop when it comes to its sub-genre?

PLOT
Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) seems like the perfect daughter. She’s intelligent. She’s cute, with her charming smile and pig-tails. She has hard-working and well-respected parents. She also doesn’t have much of a conscience, which makes her quite the successful little sociopath.

While Rhoda’s father (William Hopper) is away on some sort of business, her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) has to deal with the fact that Rhoda may have drowned one of her fellow classmates named Claude for a penmanship medal that Claude narrowly beat her for. When Christine confronts Rhoda about the incident, Rhoda seems indifferent about the tragedy – lying and manipulating Christine’s feelings to get her off of her back. Rhoda also twists the truth when the slow, but suspicious handyman, Leroy (Henry Jones), and Claude’s alcoholic mother, Mrs. Daigle (Eileen Heckart) approach her.

When things start coming together that make Rhoda appear guilty of her crime, she takes the matter into her own hands. More people end up dying and Rhoda continues her lying. When Christine realizes that her daughter is evil, she wonders if that trait is one of nature, or one of nurture. Is evil hereditary? Or are people made that way?

REVIEW
Every ‘evil child‘ flick owes great debt to THE BAD SEED, even though those respective subsequent films took the premise and used them in different ways. THE BAD SEED is also one of the rare horror-thrillers that managed to rack up some important Academy Award nominations, mainly for the acting. And while the film may be very campy and hokey to modern audiences, it still maintains a level of charm and the subtext still manages to resonate after all these years.

The screenplay by John Lee Mahin is based on the theater version of the story, which was written by Maxwell Anderson, which in turn is based on the 1954 novel by William March of the same name. The film version is based more on the play, as most of the actors from the stage production are in the film as well. The narrative is balanced by what THE BAD SEED is about on the surface, and the psychological subtext that the story is trying to tell its audience. Both are strongly written, but the subtext tends to overshadow everything else going on in the story.

The idea of and the debate about Nature vs. Nurture, in my opinion, is what THE BAD SEED is really about. This is a topic that still manages to capture the attention of the public, especially with all these crime and investigation programs that grab huge ratings. In 1956, this was really a huge deal as the public started to become more interested in psychology and the writings of one Sigmund Freud. Another psychologist, John Watson, talked about the way people behave and the reasons they do so respectively. He, and some others, believed that people behaved accordingly to their environment, rather than genetics. We are all born with both good and evil, as it’s human nature. But the path we take is due to our surroundings and how we’re nurtured by those around us. Even today, the debate wages on, as serial killer profiles and stories of addiction blur the lines a bit. Some serial killers, who grew up in fantastic environments, still did bad things. So were they born that way? There’s no clear answer really.

THE BAD SEED does answer the debate in its own way, which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it yet. But the discussions about the topic are abundant in the narrative, as Christine talks to her friends and family about what makes people do bad things – DNA or their surroundings. While the topic is interesting on its own, it’s the way the characters express their opinions that keep the film fresh. Christine’s father believes in the nurture aspect, as he doesn’t think people are born bad. He believes that people behave according to their social status, race, religion, and their neighborhood. As a WASP-y man with a lot of money, respect, and power, it’s easy to see why he would think this way. It’s all he’s ever known, or at least let himself accept as gospel. Christine’s friends, especially her landlord Monica, treat psychology as some sort of game that you play at social events or parties. She is always analyzing others, even claiming that analyzing her marriage ruined it, but doesn’t really know anything. She’s so busy being ignorant, because she believes that reading articles about psychology makes her some sort of expert, that she can’t see the psychological trauma Christine is going through and how big of a manipulative sociopath Rhoda is. In a lot of ways, THE BAD SEED was a foreshadowing to our current society. The media analyzes situations, making up stories as to why people in our pop culture do what they do without any sort of backing or evidence. We get suckered in by this and begin doing this to others, without really knowing what we’re analyzing. It’s our innate quest and hunger for knowledge. Wanting to know things isn’t terrible. But the way knowledge is used can be damaging to others.

Christine struggles because she knows the truth, but the people around her are blind to it and tell her otherwise. She questions her true parentage, feeling that her real father was a serial killer. Even though she didn’t do bad things, her daughter is committing crimes without any sense of conscience or remorse. But by knowing what Rhoda did to poor Claude and not telling Claude’s mother about what she knows, she is enabling Rhoda in continuing her behavior. And as a parent, that makes her just as bad as Rhoda. So is evil really because of our environment? Or is it in our genetic code?

While much of the film focuses on this aspect, the surface narrative – Rhoda killing Claude for an award she felt she deserved, while Christine struggles with it and begins having a nervous breakdown out of guilt, is what keeps THE BAD SEED moving. It also develops the characters in the narrative, making them all identifiable instead of stereotypes. Even though she’s a supporting character, Rhoda is the catalyst of the story. Because of her, the other characters react the way they eventually do. Rhoda is a complex character, as she shows affection to her parents and Monica, but makes you question whether or not she’s legitimate or manipulating them into getting what she wants. She’s obviously a sociopath and evil, but is subtle about it – which is the most dangerous kind. She captures the hearts of those around her, except for slow-witted Leroy, drunk Hortense, and guilt-ridden Christine herself, who all see her for who she is. We never actually see her perform the dastardly acts that she does commit, making her more effective as a villain, since it allows our imaginations run wild about her methods. Rhoda is the driving force of this film.

Because of her, Christine [instead of blaming Rhoda for what she’s done] feels guilty and blames herself and her genetics for all this. She’s a stressed out wife and mother. Her husband is never around, leaving her to raise Rhoda all on her own basically. She has no one to confide in when she learns about Rhoda, because her friends and family think she’s just overreacting. She constantly tries to push Rhoda towards the moral path, but fails each time. Christine practically gives up and enables Rhoda by lying for her, even though her emotions say otherwise. We, as an audience, feel as if Christine should punish Rhoda for her crimes. But at the same time, we understand why she’s conflicted because we don’t want our children to suffer. It’s a strong, yet flawed [in a good way], character.

Other characters struggle with Rhoda as well. Monica doesn’t believe that Rhoda is nothing more but the most perfect child, never understanding why Christine seems to detach from her daughter each day. Leroy, even slow, tries to goad Rhoda into doing something bad so she can get caught. However, since he’s seen as lower class, is never taken seriously and treated as an outcast. And Hortense, lower class as well, is portrayed as an emotional drunk by the ‘classier‘ characters, even though she’s visibly a grieving mother who wants nothing but answers about the death of her son. Interesting characters make an interesting film, which is a strong reason why THE BAD SEED still works.

Do I have any issues with the screenplay? The film is a bit dialogue heavy at times. The constant discussions over the Nature vs. Nurture issue do become a bit tiresome, even though what discussed is interesting. I think a lot of the scenes could have reached their turning points much sooner than they did. Because of it, the film is a bit too long and might turn off modern audiences.

My biggest personal gripe has to be the ending itself. I won’t spoil it, but I’m not a fan of it or the ‘epilogue’ after it. I know some people like it a lot, and I respect that. I know that the Hays Code was in place during this time in cinema, where the villain could not get away with their crime and had to be punished by the film’s end. And I’m sure back in 1956, the ending was universally accepted. But in 2012, it just comes across as campy, hokey, tacky, and however you want to call it. Yes, I understand that Rhoda needed to be punished. But couldn’t the ending be presented better? It’s too bad the ending to either the novel or the play couldn’t be used because the character arcs for both Christine and Rhoda would have been more effective. As for that little bit after the actual conclusion, I honestly can’t take it. I understand it was meant to tell audiences that no children were harmed on the set of THE BAD SEED, but c’mon! I would have accepted the ending better if this portion was left out. I just find it too silly to take seriously. If I were reviewing this as a viewer back in 1956, I wouldn’t complain. But in 2012, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The direction by Mervyn Le Roy is really great. A lot of modern audiences complain that THE BAD SEED takes place far too much inside the Penmark living room, which it does to be honest, making the film look more like a play rather than a thrilling piece of cinema. While the film is not visually exciting, I kind of like the stage look. Think about it – having much of the film take place in a single location creates a feeling of claustrophobia. We barely see the outside world, except for some incidents that involve Rhoda. But Christine is usually always inside her home, due to the traditional idea that a wife should be a homemaker and taking care of the children. She’s stuck inside with Rhoda, making her struggle about Rhoda’s behavior more effective because she’s unable to escape it without making the situation worse. It creates tension because she’s trapped inside with the monster, and she has no idea how to deal with her. I think the presentation, especially with how characters enter and exit, is interesting and doesn’t really bug me much at all.

The black-and-white cinematography looks nice as well. It was even nominated for an Academy Award, even though the picture looks pretty simple and doesn’t appear all that special. The use of not showing how Rhoda kills her victims is effective, creating an aura of mystery about how dangerous this ‘sweet‘ little girl really is. The editing is good, and while the pace is a bit slow at times, you’re never really all that bored. It’s a nice looking and well directed film.

The acting in THE BAD SEED is probably the highlight of the film. Nancy Kelly is great as Christine. The character is put through a lot during the entire film, and Kelly hits every note like a champ. You feel her guilt and her struggle in a really believable way. Her evolution from happy wife and mother to depressed and guilt-ridden is impressive. Patty McCormack is excellent as Rhoda. Even though she’s young, she plays the character with a great sense of maturity and control that many of her older peers have trouble with. She also plays with a series of emotions, all convincing. She plays both the good and bad sides quite well, humanizing what could have been a one-note performance. The other actress that makes a presence is Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle. Her performance of tragedy and grief is so convincing, that you feel truly bad for her. She plays an alcoholic well and steals every scene she’s in when she appears. It’s no wonder why all three ladies were nominated for Academy Awards. They’re all really quite good. The other actors, especially Henry Jones as Leroy and Evelyn Breedlove as Monica, are great as well. A very solid cast.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE THINKING DEVIOUS THOUGHTS BEHIND MY SWEET SMILE

– Rhoda was so pissed that she didn’t receive a medal that she felt she deserved, that she ended up killing her competition. I had no idea she grew up to become Tonya Harding.

– Leroy has the hots for Christine. This is the 50s version of Desperate Housewives!

– An eight-year-old boy drowned in a lake. If only those camp counselors were watching him…oh wait, wrong movie!

– Monica’s horoscope said that she should pay attention to small objects and get things done. I think it’s time for her to upgrade from Asian to African, if you get my drift.

– Rhoda wondered if it was true if police put powder on blood, it’ll turn blue. She’ll learn all about this type of chemistry when she’s 16 & Pregnant.

– Rhoda ended up burning Leroy near the incinerator. He may mow the grass, but that little girl is gonna smoke it!

THE FINAL HOWL
THE BAD SEED may be dialogue heavy and have an ending that cheapens the story [in my opinion], it’s still a solid movie that lovers of ‘evil kids‘ should watch and will most likely enjoy. Great performances and an interesting narrative makes this one stand out amongst its peers. Remember – the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. You better watch out before disciplining your kids. You may be the one getting punished. A basket of kisses for a basket of hugs…keep that in mind.

Review: West Side Story (1961)

Review: West Side Story (1961)

Reviewed By: The Cynic

Directors/Writers: Directed by; Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise. Written by; Earnest Lehman & Arthur Laurents. Original play conceived by Jerome Robbins.

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, David Winters, Eliot Feld, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas, Anthony Teague, Harvey Evens, Tommy Abbott, Susan Oakes, etc… (Look, I could name them all, but you should know by now, they’re amazing.)

Plot: An award winning adaptation of a classic romantic tragedy, about two warring New York City gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. When the leader’s best friend (and former Jet) Tony, and the leader of the Sharks’ younger sister Maria, meet at a dance, no one can do anything to stop their love. Maria and Tony begin meeting in secret, planning to run away. But when a war begins to gain control of the streets, Maria sends Tony to stop it, hoping it can end the violence. Truly remarkable and memorable story ensues.

Critique: Music! It carries the tune of life in every keystroke, every drumbeat, and every pull of a string. It carries a tune throughout the universe and tells the heavens that life is beautiful and the universe is alive! Growing up, I discovered this fact at a very early age. For as long as I could remember, I found myself more of a fan of the musical genre than any other genre out there. Over time that changed as I became a solid sci-fi/fantasy fan. But still, the love I had for musicals would never dissipate or fade. And how could it, musicals are all around us, waiting to be seen on Broadway, waiting to be recognized on the silver-screen, and waiting to be remembered now and always by its true fans.

That brings me to my current title of wonder; West Side Story. Based off a wonderful play, the live-action adaptation is, well… remarkable to say the least. And that IS saying the least. I cannot find the right words to describe just how floored I was by this film. From its terrific opening score, to its amazing one-shot dance number by the Jets, I truly loved the passion for acting and art that Riff and the boys brought to their opening number. It just comes together so perfectly, especially once they start head to head with Bernardo and the Sharks. I love the feel of the classic turf-war-feud meets dramatic-dance-off moments between them. It doesn’t hurt that these guys not only act well, dance well but also sing well for that matter too.

I love the introduction of Tony. Richard Beymer is a very talented actor and singer. It conducts himself perfectly in West Side Story. His most memorable moments will no doubt have me humming his songs for years to come. The meeting between he and Maria is very classy and I love the whole segregated dance number between the Whites and the Puerto Ricans. It was racist, yet extremely entertaining, lol. Anita on the rooftop with the girls performing America was very well done. I actually back stepped to see that particular scene twice. Well, to be honest, I did the same thing for most of the musical numbers, so I can’t really point one out in particular, sorry. What can I say, it’s great music!

Aside from the amazing musical numbers, there is the story, the visual effects and most importantly, the charisma between Tony and Maria. They just go together so well, regardless of their background differences. You’ll find yourself hoping for a happy ending for them from the moment they first meet, which isn’t usually the case for me in most romantic dramas. It usually takes me a while to see how the character “A” and character “B” should fit together and why. But here, I’m almost instantly sold on their connection to one and other. I think that has to do mostly with the fact that next to Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood was also an amazing actress and brought a great deal of chemistry to the role of Maria.

There is just so much positive elements to be discovered in this film, and I am speechless for having had the opportunity to see such a wonderful film and witness these elements for the very first time… yes, please don’t judge me, this is my first time. I think I just felt comfortable in my little bubble of favorite musicals that I feared ever venturing outside of that and discovering new forms of wonderful masterpieces. But no more; I am awakened by the sound of the universe in the form of West Side Story, and I feel alive, more so now than ever, for seeing it. Stunning, in every conceivable way, this is a film to be shared among friends, family and most of all, that special someone in your life. I highly recommend adding this film to your collection of favorites!

Final Say: One of the best musicals I have ever had the pleasure seeing, I just feel ashamed to say that it took me this damn long in my life to actually come across it. I knew about it, I wanted to see the play, but in the end, I never got around to seeing it until now. I shouldn’t be so quick to call myself an addicted musical fan anymore… At least, not until I prove myself worthy.

End result: ****/****

Critic Vs. Critic: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2010 & 2011) [2/2]

Since the start of The Critic’s Word, we have prided ourselves with the notion that we present to our readers with critiques built on high standards with quality writing, presenting only honesty and an unbiased moral high ground. Though because we support freedom of speech among our writers, there’s always going to be a spin zone due to difference of opinions, and from time to time one or more critics here will voice their opinion in a completely different direction of the others. So in the sprite of outspoken voices we at The Critic’s Word would like to present a new exciting edition of Critic Vs. Critic!

Tonight The Critic’s Word Editor in Chief and Chief Film critic Clifford Kiyabu sits down with fellow film critic, columnist and colleague Kelsey Zukowski. In this edition of Critic Vs. Critic: we talk about Warner Bros. Pictures’ final installment to the Harry Potter series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I & II Written by Steve Kloves (screenplay), and J.K. Rowling (novel). And Directed by David Yates.

Kelsey: I just got back from re-watching The Deathly Hallows Part II again. It was a different experience, but if anything it was even more interesting, knowing these characters better and going back to watch everything they did prior to the revelations. I feel like I really know them now and it’s refreshing and tremendous to hold these truths and to realize their full meaning. Upon writing this review, I decided to put in The Prisoner of Azkaban to continue that magical, uplifting high that Harry Potter gives you no matter how dark the particular film is. Once again, I have to disagree with you on the transition from the first two films to this one. It pushes the films forward, hinting at the darker material that the series is headed for, but I don’t think it is too big of a switch. It’s so quirky, colorful, and full of character, much like the first two.

Watching The Prisoner of Azkaban as I type this I can’t help but thinking how reflective it is on the Potter series as a whole, quite possibly more than any other film. Once again I am with you on Gambon not living up to Harris’ calm, patient, and wise performance as Dumbledore. It took me a film or two to get used to Gambon, but honestly now I don’t even think about the difference. In time he became Dumbledore. More importantly in Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry really defines himself, Ron and Hermione’s strengths and personalities we quickly fell in love with are even more dynamic. So much character is given to not just Hogwarts, but the entire magical world just aside of the Muggle’s world reach, with such celebration. There are darker things at work, but compared to those that follow it’s actually somewhat tame. As you said Sirius ends up being family rather than the threat he is thought to be. The death eaters are the biggest threat rather than Voldemort himself for once. Let’s not forget how the dementors are beaten and Harry is saved in the end.

Sirius Black and Severus Snape are two of the series’ most compelling characters. Neither are at all what they seem to be, carrying so many heavy secrets that truly define them to those that know their true nature. Thinking about their relationship to Harry, makes their characters all the more interesting. Both Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman to an astounding job of bringing such truth to their characters, all of the very complicated dynamics. The best and worst in them are equally convincing, making us question the true nature of them, and finally once it is uncovered, what we see of them is actually quite moving. Draco Malfoy is another very interesting character. Even between Prisoner of Azkaban and Deathly Hallows he has changed so much, he’s barely the same character. He used to be hateful and antagonistic, and even now feels a need to keep up appearances, but even in the last few films the difference was clear. He was wavering from what was expected. So to say his “allegiance has changed”. The growth is remarkable and Tom Felton is another who was able to show how dynamic his character is over time.

I do agree that Harry Potter is the Star Wars of our generation. Science-fiction movies aren’t my favorite films, so I never got in to the series, but I can view the similarities in the epic nature, complex relationships, and just how mind blowing it is to audiences experiencing it for the first time. Harry Potter is the same way. Every film, but especially The Deathly Hallows Part II, is such an amazing theater experience; uplifting, powerful, and really feels like something out of this world. It takes us out of our daily lives and takes us to the magical world where hope, belief, and persistence in fighting evil is the most powerful weapon; a better place than we live in. We grew up with these films, but there’s so much more there than just nostalgia.

I really liked the ending of Deathly Hallows Part II. It was the perfect ending and we were given even further closure on the series being tied up with seeing the characters 19 years later. Honestly, I think they would have been better off using actors that resembled the main cast rather than having them portray the older versions of themselves. A few of them looked like they had aged a little, but none of them were really that believable in the age they were meant to be. Ginny still looked like she was about 14, not much older than her children were supposed to be. It was easy enough to look past though and enjoy the cycle of Potters, Weasleys, and Malfoys continuing their journey through Hogwarts. It seemed fitting for it to end in a full circle from when we first joined the characters upon their acceptance to Hogwarts, their lives never being the same again once they met.

Clifford: I couldn’t agree more with you on the notion of a second viewing being inaudibly different. I myself have yet to view it for a second time, but feel as you do about it in a manner of speaking. Any fan that’s seen the final film for the first time will no doubt feel a heavy sense of sadness; surrealism will rain over them, because knowing that once the curtain is called it will be for the last time. There simply won’t be another epic journey like it in the world of Harry Potter. As the poster reads; “It All Ends”. Which, I think only draws more anxiety within the fans as they know the end truly is nigh. And well, that’s precisely what happens, so for anyone who’s stuck by the series as loyally as you have, I and the hordes of fans have, there will no doubt be a great deal of conflicting emotions running through us that only a fan of the series could possibly comprehend. I also can understand and respect your love for the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, because it is as you’ve said a nudge in the right direction in terms of tone. Though I still retain my stance about the film despite this debate. Though I will say this, I have only ever seen the theatrical cut to all the films, and have yet to dive into the extended cuts that were recently released, and even though I own all but the ultimate editions of The Deathly Hallows Part I and II, I’ve vowed to not watch any of them until I’ve completed my collection, so I feel obligated to retain myself from any further talk of Prisoner of Azkaban until I’ve had a better understanding with the film by watching the extended cut. So until then our little conversation on the matter will no doubt be put on hold for a later date. And who knows how I’ll feel towards that film after my viewing of it, perhaps even a slight chance of coming out with a slightly more positive view towards the film.

And yes I agree, Draco Malfoy has probably gone through the biggest transformation over the course of the films than anyone else. When we first come across him in The Sorcerer’s Stone, he was a pack leader among the first year students in the house Slytherin and quickly becomes one of Harry’s adversaries. This is further developed into something much more around the time of Chamber of Secrets, it left us wanting to see these two lock heads in battle one day. But by the time Prisoner of Azkaban came around he became more of a simple bully trying to prove he was better. But over the course of the other films that followed we see him change so dramatically to someone we barely recognize. The biggest change in the character came around Half Blood Prince where he is noticeably conflicted emotionally to the point that we see it surface on his complexion, his character carried a dreary gloom on his shoulder that was clearly heavy. But this also goes for many of the other characters too, as much of them displayed a clear sign of feeling the drain the 7 years bestowed upon them, the misery, the loss of allies and friends, the tough decisions set before them and ultimately, the overbearing sense that hope was lost looming over them. And with Draco one could go a bit further and argue that this showed that he was indeed fighting a war within himself. The growth of this character is indeed quite remarkable and Tom Felton is mostly responsible for this fantastic transition through his delivery as Draco. Mark my words, Felton is going places after everything is said and done with this series.

All and all, looking back at all the Potter films as a whole, it really was the “perfect” series that came to an almost perfect end. In most cases, a film adaptation never truly lives up to the source material that it’s based off of, but in such a rare case as this, the films really did carry a unique flavor of it’s own that can’t really be compared to it’s literary counterpart. I think you and I will agree here that the book to any franchise will always rain superior over it’s inferior cinematic companion, but for the Potter series, the films and books will rain as equals in their own right as they each stand proudly on their own.

Kelsey: The “It All Ends” tagline on the poster really was completely fitting. The series is coming to an end, everything we have seen before leading to this last epic battle that will determine everything. Even more so though, Harry Potter’s life could very well be coming to an end; “the boy who lived” and the boy so many fans have lived through in experiencing every Harry Potter adventure. The magical and muggle worlds could be coming to an end if Potter’s blood is spilled. If this happens the muggle world would surely be shattered in the flick of a wand. If the magical world still existed it would exist in such a pitiful, domineering way full of slaughtering and cruelty. Either way it is all ending with this film, the only question is what kind of world we will be left remembering.

You make a good point about not only Draco but all of the characters in the series. They have all been touched by death, either nearly escaping it or losing loved ones to it. In this case it’s more than death, Voldemort and all he represents is more vindictive, torturous, and obliterating than death. We really can’t even comprehend what characters such as Neville are going through, looking in to the face of pure darkness, the coming of all hope lost, and essentially spitting in its face yet doing it with such dignity. He refuses to give up, as do nearly all of the characters. Their faith goes beyond Harry, proving this at the end. No matter what happens and no matter how grim their chances seem they have to fight against the darkness when light radiates through them.

The books are the original source material. They are what created everything we have come to love about Harry Potter. There is more detail, depth, and understanding in the books, but the films have achieved a rare feat in bringing such life to them, which is rarely done in adaptations. Films seldom get better with sequels, but Harry Potter only got deeper in to the things, more mature and dark, complex and thematically showing the line between the light and darkness. It ended up developing in to something so all-encompassing and astonishing that it’s completely beautiful and powerful. Seeing things that have been in the works for so long and only now truly understanding them makes the entire series seem much more important and awe inspiring. There are so many layers there and every single one of them is a little piece of the magic behind Harry Potter.

And that concludes this edition of Critic Vs. Critic with myself and Kelsey! While Kelsey and I generally had positive things to say about the series in general and greatly appreciated the final installment, we obviously had our differences on certain aspects of the series, most notably the third installment, Prisoner of Azkaban, which she adored as one of her favorite films in the series as where I did not. Like Yin and Yang, the past C vs. C’s have shown that we’ve rarely agreed on things in Co-reviews but still hold a respect for the other’s opinion, but on such a rare case as this one, Kelsey and myself stand almost completely in agreement that the final installment to the HP films was the best in the series and served as the perfect send off to one of the most important series’ of our generation.

However despite what you’ve read here between us it’s still up to you, the reader, to decide if you agree or disagree with any of the opinions laid out here, and if you’re still not sure then by all means I implore you to take the leap of faith and find out for yourself. I want to thanks Kelsey Zukowski for taking the time to sit down and have this little chit-chat about one of the most iconic franchises to come out of the film industry within the lat 10 years. We invite you to join Kelsey and I again as we debate it out like maniacs in the next edition of CRITIC VS. CRITIC! Coming Soon.

Critic Vs. Critic: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2010 & 2011) [1/2]

Since the start of The Critic’s Word, we have prided ourselves with the notion that we present to our readers with critiques built on high standards with quality writing, presenting only honesty and an unbiased moral high ground. Though because we support freedom of speech among our writers, there’s always going to be a spin zone due to difference of opinions, and from time to time one or more critics here will voice their opinion in a completely different direction of the others. So in the sprite of outspoken voices we at The Critic’s Word would like to present a new exciting edition of Critic Vs. Critic!

Tonight TCW’s Editor in Chief and Chief film critic Clifford Kiyabu sits down with fellow film critic, columnist and colleague Kelsey Zukowski. In this edition of Critic Vs. Critic: we talk about Warner Bros. Pictures’ final installment to the Harry Potter series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I & II Written by Steve Kloves (screenplay), and J.K. Rowling (novel). And Directed by David Yates.

Clifford: Before we go into breaking down what we’ve seen in the final chapter of this magical series, I think we really must make note of the fact that this final chapter coming to a close truly is the end of an era. It feels a bit surreal realizing that it’s been a decade since we began this marvelous journey into the cinematic world of Harry Potter and all its companions with whom we‘ve come to love and hate along the way. From the Sorcerer’s Stone to the Deathly Hallows, we’ve invited these young individuals into our lives and watched them over the years grow into the people we’ve come to know today, from the characters they play on-screen, to the talented individuals we’ve come to know them as off-screen. Daniel, Rupert and Emma have been our beloved companions along this journey from beginning to sweet end, and for all fans true to the series, this last chapter is a bittersweet celebration, because it will be the last time we’ll experience this magical tale on the big screen in a crowded room filled with complete strangers with whom we share a common bond with.

Now Kelsey, I know you want to jump right into dissecting the last chapter but I think we really must look at this final installment not as part 1 and part 2 individually, but as a whole film as it was intended, because it was after all adapted from a single book. So with that being said, let me say this: Chapter 1 (or, the first half) was great, but not as great as some claimed it to be. I mean I thought it was on par with some of the previous sequels and I enjoyed it just the same, but I felt it was a little too slow paced than usual and at times felt almost as if it was coming to a screeching halt. It certainly didn’t feel like any other Potter film that came before it. To steal a quote from you; “The Deathly Hallows Part I is practically void of any light; darkness nearly filling it whole. In many ways it doesn’t feel like a Potter film”. Granted each of the Potter films have their own uniqueness about them that makes each film/book stand out on its own, but the first chapter felt extremely out of place, at times it felt as though I was watching a non-HP film which just so happen to feature the characters from the series. The first chapter was my least favorite part of the potter series next to Prisoner of Azkaban, but my dislike to Prisoner of Azkaban mostly steams from the fact it was the first film Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris, whom I feel played a much better Dumbledore then Gambon.

But with that being said chapter 2 really does pick up the slack for the first chapter and really serves up the showdown we’ve waited nearly a decade for. Unlike chapter 1, the film managed to be ever so dark, but maintained that radiant glow that always made the potter films so magical even in the darkest of parts, which is something the first chapter was missing, the first chapter showed us a dark void in which there was no hope of light at the end of the tunnel, as where chapter 2 showed us that it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Kelsey: That’s exactly why it’s so hard to believe that we have really seen the last Harry Potter film. I was 13 when the first film came out, around the age most of the main actors were. I grew up watching these films and I grew with the cast, characters, and this magical world they had brought to life. The last film was bittersweet, but honestly I couldn’t have wished for more. It oozed epicness, was full of non-stop world changing action, and had so many mind blowing revelations about characters we thought we know so well. In many cases, we find out that the last decade was really all about what we were able to experience with The Deathly Hallows Part II. This is what it has always been about; a reality the audience and so many of the characters were blind to until now.

I understand that The Deathly Hallows is essentially one chapter of the Harry Potter series, but I have an extremely hard time grouping Part I and Part II together. They are such completely different films; day and night. Although, part II still has plenty of darkness seeping through. Part I doesn’t feel like a Potter film at all. While it isn’t one of my favorites for that reason, I do like that it’s different from the others. Harry and his friends were always the underdogs. They were going up against one of the most powerful dark wizards of all time. Especially towards the beginning, they were young, inexperienced wizards. They were always in over their heads, but somehow they managed to beat the odds and defeat Voldemort time and time again. They could only get so lucky for so long. Yes, they are talented and strong individuals, but things couldn’t go there way forever.

The Deathly Hallows Part I brings them to the reality that their luck has run out. All hope is lost. The Harry Potter series was always about hope, possibilities, and escaping to a place where anything was possible, where good prevailed even in the increasingly dark times. All of that is gone in The Deathly Hallows Part I. Our protagonists are in way over their heads. Their entire world is utter chaos. On the defensive, running for their lives when they are the last hope for both the muggle and wizarding world. For most of the film they aren’t even getting anywhere close to stopping Voldemort or weakening his power, but they keep on going, keep on trying, nearly being driven mad in the process. Why? Because they have no other choice. They have to at least try even if it makes them hopeless fugitives. Honestly, if you think about it that is almost more heroic than any other film; fighting the darkness when there are no delusions of thinking it won’t consume you whole.

I have to disagree with you on Prisoner of Azkaban. I’m actually a little shocked by your stance as it’s one of my favorite films of the series, behind Deathly Hallows Part II and The Order of the Phoenix. Out of the first four books that I read, it was my favorite one. I really see it as a step in the right direction for the series. The darker the films got, the more intriguing they got. The first two feel much more innocent. I love them for creating the world of Hogwarts and everything that was established through them, but in comparison the first two films aren’t nearly as compelling as the Prisoner of Azkaban or later ones that followed its lead. It was also the first that showed that some people are not what they seem to be, a component that is reoccurring throughout the series. Prisoner of Azkaban did this through Sirius Black, one of my favorite characters of the series. Ron, Hermione, and Harry are clearly growing up and are stepping things up a notch. Harry grows a tremendous amount in this film from mentally what he has to go through in what he thinks is the reality of Sirius selling out his parents and causing him to relive the memory of their untimely deaths to realizing Sirius is the only real family he has left, the very person his parents would have wanted to raise him. I do agree that switching Dumbledores felt unnatural and it was a difficult transition. It was some time before Gambon really felt like Dumbledore, but it was a necessary change.

The Deathly Hallows Part II has it all. That glow is what put it over the top, so charged of energy, rich story and characters, and such an intense showdown, but the thing is Part I wasn’t supposed to have that. Part II was a better movie for it, but it would have taken away the dreary state that defined Part I and made the revival of Part II so exhilarating.

Clifford: So true, just about anyone who is a true fan can easily recall their first encounter with the Potter films. I was 15 when the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in theaters, and I remember at the time I had known zilch about any of the potter books or the series itself for that matter. If I remember correctly, I had no interest whatsoever to watch the film or read any of the books as it did not intrigue me at that current period of my teenage years, I only went to see it because it was a free movie ticket (and only a idiot turns down the chance of a free movie). But after my first viewing I left that theater room and began my delightful journey into reading the books because that was the kind of impact the film had on me, to which the series itself made me a lifelong fan. The finale of this series, although bittersweet, was as you put it, worth every minute. From the nonstop action and beautifully captured cinematic battles, to the powerful revelations revealed in this final installment, every single thing about chapter 2 was beyond epic and fully lived up to the hype and standards set before it from the previous films. And even though we had known good and well all along what was awaiting us, we were still very much surprised and emotionally moved by it. This is something I can honestly say few films in the history of cinema can stand out for.

One could even go a notch further and argue that the HP series was this generation’s Star Wars (Original trilogy of course). Sure we’ve all enjoyed those films and basked in its glory, but neither you nor me can honestly know what it felt like to experience the original trilogy in its entirety on the big screen for the first time like those who saw it in the late 70’s and early 80’s. And in a rare case like this one before us, this is what the HP films have done for our generation, no one old enough to remember or yet alive from this moment on will get to experience what we felt growing up watching these films on the big screen for the very first time, this is our cinematic moment, or in other words, our epic journey that no other future generation will get to experience from this series.

As for my stance on Prisoner of Azkaban, I’d thought you might be a little surprised by it seeing, that you‘ve never made it a secret about your love for the film and the book. But don’t get me wrong, Prisoner of Azkaban is a very good film as is all the films in the Potter series. I just felt that the cinematic atmosphere in PoA was a little too dark from the last two previous films, and granted the book is equally dark, but to go from a more lighter tone with 1 and 2 to an extremely dark setting in PoA felt a tad bit out of place for me. Maybe it’s just me but that’s how I feel about it, I agree it was a step in the right direction for the series, but I would have preferred it much better had they gradually made it darker rather then take a leap forward like that. But I won’t lie that a major part of my liking this film the least still falls flat on Michael Gambon coming in to take over the role of Albus Dumbledore, because when I envisioned Dumbledore in the books, I pictured him as reserved and wise. He might seem weak because of his age and appearance, but proves to be the most powerful Wizard in the wizarding world when need be. If you remember in the book the Order of the Phoenix, when Dumbledore faced off against Voldemort he was patient and wise in his actions in the fight and retained a calm mood and a cool head that angered Voldemort as well as made him fear Dumbledore. This is not what I felt while watching Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore. I also feel that had Richard Harris lived to continue in the role, Dumbledore’s death in The Half Blood Prince would have been much more emotional and moving.

But I will say that the one truly magnificent thing that I am grateful towards Prisoner of Azkaban was that it serves as the gateway for Gary Oldman’s entry into the series as Sirius Black. Oldman’s performance as Black and Alan Rickman’s performances as Severus Snape alone makes Prisoner of Azkaban and every film to follow it worth watching, Black may have appeared to be the villain in the start of Prisoner of Azkaban which lead Harry to hating him, but his revealing to be one of the good guys, and proving to be the only family Harry truly has left was indeed brilliant and touching. And Rickman’s performance as Snape was probably one of the most moving in the series, because he brought to these films a delightful touch of class only a veteran actor of the theater arts such as himself could. And his breath taking performance in Chapter 2 only amplifies it, which further validates my argument that Rickman brings to these films a touch of brilliance and grace that grants credibility to both the character and the series that no other actor could have done had they been placed in this same role. In short, Rickman was born to play the role of Severus Snape. he only thing that I was a little skeptical about seeing prior to seeing chapter 2 was the 19 years later part, because I was a bit worried that the transition from paper to screen would come off feeling a little cheesy having Daniel, Rupert, Emma , Bonnie and Tom portray their characters in the 19 years later scene. But shockingly enough it worked extremely well, and if either of them look anything like they did when they reach their late 30’s then it will be something to see I tell you what. To Be Continued…

Review: The Symphony (2011)

Review By: Kelsey Zukowski
Starring: Robin Zamora, Marissa Merrill, Bill Oberst Jr.
Directed By: Michael LaPointe
Grade: B+

I have become really burnt out on screeners lately. Everything I get seems to suffer from terrible mediocrity. If some of these films would try to take chances, do something even slightly different, or have any purpose or point to the recycled kids-in-the-woods horror scenario, this wouldn’t be the case. Among the first minute of The Symphony, I knew this film would be the exception to those I have been seeing lately. It’s original, insightful, and filled with passion. The film takes an interesting approach to storytelling, following the standard act structure and elements, but clearly having an experimental film identity. It utilizes this without ever really feeling too experimental. It’s authentic, relatable, and engaging all the way through. The audience never has to question what is going on or if there is some abstract translation to it.

Ray (Zamora) is a self-mutilating artist who believes his life’s work of completing an album of truth is just within his reach. Ray largely uses actual clips of authentic human movements and actions, representing their humanity. It’s all about showing mankind, from the vibrant life it possesses to the pain and ultimate farewell. He cuts himself to try to find his muse, any ideas or abstract thought through a dream spawned by the pain that he can use. His girlfriend just thinks he has an obsession to his work and feels neglected. Ray can barely break away from his work, to him it’s not work; it’s the entire purpose of his life. When Ray begins seeing a homeless man who might hold the key to all of his answers to completing the perfect piece, he slowly gives himself over to him. How far will Ray go to complete this piece though and is his life worth the legacy he might leave behind?

“I cut myself, it burns so much the pain makes me hallucinate and pass out. Just to have a dream I can use. Use to make a sound for the album.”

This is one of the first spoken statements of the film. I was immediately sucked in from then on. There is just so much Intriguing material in that line of dialogue alone; meaning to self-mutilation, what can drive a person there, craving for artistic meaning through dreams, the passion and dedication to not only ones craft, but to bringing a purpose to life, something concrete that will last longer than a fragile, mortal life.

In the interest of not spoiling anything I won’t list what the last line of dialogue is, but it goes hand in hand with the quote above; both seem to summarize the film perfectly, coming full circle to the true importance of this in the end. That is something that few films can do, while seeming completely genuine rather than overbearing. It really is a perfect ending, how it had to end, challenging our main character to see how much he would really sacrifice.

Robin Zamora did an incredible job in the lead role. If it wasn’t for him committing to it so fully and bringing out this realistic character the film could have very easily fallen apart. Ray’s inner monologue helps us get inside of his mind and understand his turmoil and drive, but we really don’t even need that to empathize with him. Zamora’s facial expressions show all of the emotion that is surging through Ray’s veins at any given moment. His eyes carry it all. All of the performances were very naturalistic, but just based on comparison Zamora outshines them all.

The content and execution of a film is what really sways my opinion. I can appreciate a good looking film, but I tend to be more substance over style. However, The Symphony is the best of both worlds, the all around good film. The aesthetics are impressive, but are there not to look pretty but to compliment our character and his story. Ray’s dream world and composure in his work are where his spark lies. Thus, these are the moments that are brightly colored jarring images and an alternate state of mind. Every sound is amplified, even the seemingly mundane. To our protagonist no sound is insignificant, especially those that are pure forms of human life. Any time he is editing, there is a clock ticking away, personifying a death clock count down. It works off the question of the film, will the album’s completion or death come first? The visuals are dark and gritty, bringing us in to this dark tale full of intensity, determination, and the brushing along the edges of death.