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…

Book Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Published: November 9, 2010 by Scribner
Genre: Short Stories/Adult Fiction/Horror/Thriller/
Reviewed By: Nicole Raines
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Plot: “Full Dark, No Stars” offers up a collection of four, all new short stories by Stephen King.  Each story dares to go deeper into the dark than the last.

My Thoughts: I found every story to be delightfully dark. The collection is definitely not for the faint of heart and should only be read by those who dont mind the macabre, because King writes about it in vivid detail.

My favorite story out of the four included in the hardback was 1922. It’s about a man that murders his wife in order to keep her from selling land, which sets off a chain of events that are down right chilling to read. The story is told in first person, which makes everything even more creepy and at times I forgot I was reading fiction and felt like I was reading a murderer’s confession. This story alone earned the book 5 stars.

A woman is raped and left for dead in Big Driver. The plot involves a woman seeking justice, but also involves twists and turns along the way. It was told with a certain amount of believability on the revenge part, since most acts of revenge dont happen like we see in the movies.

Fair Extension was one the shortest and most twisted stories out of the collection. A man is dying of cancer and makes a deal with the devil in order to extend his life. The consequences of his deal leads to some of the most appalling events imaginable. Only King’s mind could come up with something so twisted.

A woman discovers that the man she has been married to for over 20 years has a deep, dark secret in The Good Marriage. I found this story to be the most realistic out of the four, and without spoiling any details, it makes one wonder what you would do in her given situation.

I bought the book in paperback, which included a 5th story, Under The Weather. Even though I predicted the ending before I actually got there, it was a nice addition, but the shortest and weakest of the bunch. A man loves his wife so much that he’s lost his sanity and grasp on reality.

Overall, I recommend this collection to anyone that is a fan of the Horror genre, especially to those looking for something perfect for late night reading, which “Full Dark, No Stars” proved to be in my opinion. Just dont read if you’re easily squeamish or tend to get nightmares.

Book Review: Hit List

Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton
Published: June 7, 2011 by Berkley Hardcover
Genre: Horror/Urban Fantasy/Vampires
Reviewed By: Nicole Raines
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Plot: Hit List is the 20th novel in the “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” series. A serial killer is on the lose and murdering weretigers throughout the country. Anita, along with her US Marshal partner Edward, must help put a stop to the killing without making Anita a target of the Harlequin, who serve the Mother of All Darkness. Edward fears that the killings are a trap to lure Anita into her clutches, so she can take control of Anita’s body, so he and Anita set their own trap.

My Thoughts: Anita Blake is one of my all time favorite characters and it pains me to give the book only two stars, but compared to past books, this one is very anticlimactic. Then again, the last several books have been disappointing, especially when I know the series has so much great potential. The first half of the series is so 5 star awesome, but ever since Anita became “one of the monsters” the books have been almost painful to read due to so much sex and metaphysical connections she has with her “sweeties.” A lot of the books I could forgive due to the really good story-lines in between, but the storyline with Hit List was a bit boring.

The Harlequin are back and this time they are murdering weretigers and trying to help The Mother of All Darkness take over Anita’s body: Like we havent read that before. I’m so tired of The Harlequin and Marmee Noire and if there is one pro to this book is that it seemed to wrap up the story-lines involving them – in the most anticlimactic way I’ve ever read in my life. The dialogue in between the storyline has also become repetitive. It felt like I’ve read the same dialogue in past books. How many times do we need to meet a cop that worries about Anita’s sex life? It’s getting pointless. Another con about the book, none of her main men were in the storyline and only mentioned briefly by Anita.

However, there was a few things I like about the book: Edward was back, along with Bernardo and Olaf. There was only one chapter that involved actual sex, and after reading some books that had sex scenes that would span over several chapters, that was a relief! After all, I like to read Anita for the fantasy world of vampire slaying, not for the physical and/or metaphysical sex orgies she needs to feed her ardeur. That’s one power I wish she would lose.

I am happy about certain story-lines being wrapped up, which makes way for something new and hopefully great. I also look forward to seeing what happens with Olaf, his exit has many possibilities for great story-lines to follow. I will keep with the series only because I love the characters so much, but I would like to see Anita return to her roots and maybe raise a few zombies and slay a few regular vampires, execution style, instead of tying them to her metaphysically and making them her Bride that she’s just going to screw in the next book. I recommend Hit List to only the most loyal Anita Blake fan, but I’m keeping myself optimistic that the next book in the series will be vastly better than the last few.

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.

Book Review: Ex Occultus: Badge of Langavat (one-shot)

Reviewed: By Clifford Kiyabu
Written by: Robert James Russell & Jesse YoungArt Work: Sandra Lanz
Colors: Tim McDonley
Publisher: Saint James Comics
Released: Jul 21, 2009

Plot: 1864, Scotland – Francis Wakefield and fellow occult hunter Fergus Duff find themselves investigating the disappearance of children from nearby villages. Their hunt leads them to a forgotten castle belonging to a family of undead, cursed werewolves who have nefarious plans for the taken.

Review: B+

My Thoughts: It’s a well known fact that I’m a hug fan of the graphic arts (Sophisticated Slang for Comic Book Nerd!) and have been one for as long as I could remember . Like most readers I indulged into the many timeless classic adventures of the many popular superhero titles like: SPIDER-MAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THORE, and the beloved Uncanny X-MEN and so forth on a weekly bases. Many of which have become the typical starter guide for any reader willing to dive into the comic realm, and in some cases these simple titles are considered by some as the holy bible of comics. But over the last few years I have come to love the not so well known, a genre of comics that’s set for a more mature reading audience like: THE BOYS, FABLES, and THE WALKING DEAD, titles like these are not for young readers and should never ever be recommended for such.

This turn in taste of genre has also given me the aired taste for the indie side of comics, which evidently lead me to Ex Occultus: The Badge of Langavat, which is written by Robert James Russell & Jesse Young of Saint James Comics and art work by Sandra Lanz. This comic is on it’s own level of dark storytelling that proves to be breathtaking and very entertaining in it‘s own unique way to say the least. The plot is based on a real legend from Scotland and follows two Victorian era investigators, Fergus Duff and Francis Wakefield traveling to the Island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides to find out if the legendary werewolves are responsible for the kidnapping of children in the local area. As the story goes on the pair finds the werewolves’ hideout, hoping to have the upper hand over them by catching them off their guard Fergus and Wakefield is quickly mistaken and falls into a trap which immediately thrown into the fight head on against an entire clan of blood thirsty werewolves looking to both Fergus and Wakefield as their next meal. armed to the teeth with pistils filed with silver bullets, a pair of silver chainmail and the usage of a couple of fairy-like creatures. Have the werewolves finally met their match, or could this easily become the last adventure that both Fergus and Wakefield will have?

I at first didn’t hold much stock in the comic, mainly because the story is told as a one shot issue, and usually one shots mostly work only after the readers have learned a little bit about the characters in question (I mean you wouldn’t dive into a Fantastic Four one shot issue without having some basic knowledge of Victor Von Doom’s hatred for Reed Richards right?) most tales like this are usually set in a mini series event with the story unfolding over the course of multiple issues so that the individual characters are given room for development so that there‘s a more three dimensional sense to them, with that said I was a little worried at first that the story would be cut short due to it’s length, however this was not the case as the story was fairly decent which clearly shows that Robert James Russell & Jesse Young did their home work which I commend them for, for bringing their own original uniqueness, and for deciding to write about one of the less popular folklores.

Upon doing my own little research on such before writing this review I barely could find any literature at my disposal online except for a few mentions here and there, meaning some heavy research was done on their part while trading nether action over story and viscera. Though I will say that the story doesn’t go without problems, the biggest problem I had laid with the development of the main character’s Fergus and Wakefield, because the story is 100% devoted to the comic’s plot there simply isn’t much background for the readers to appreciate the main characters, which I blame on the length of the comic, but to an extent this is in fact forgivable on the motion that it‘s better to have one problem with any story than to have two or three problems, am I right or what? The art work which is done by Sandra Lanz was pretty decent from where I‘m standing. The lovely blend of gray-tones in black and white which gives it this noir setting that works beautifully. Though there are some rough edges to some of her art work, but all that can easily be forgiven and forgotten when you stand back for a moment and see that her art work really does paint this story into a visual reality that is satisfactory.

Final Say: Ex Occultus: The Badge of Langavat is defiantly something worth checking out even if you’re not all that into comics, and though it has it‘s rough edges here and there, there’s a lot of promise here and room for improvement in the near future that shows this is a comic that’s here to stay.

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