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Wizard of Awe

Harry completes his journey, plus Pooh's new chapter



HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2. As some readers know, I began my association with the Journal as a film reviewer in November 2001 when I reviewed Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, the film adaptation of the first in J.K. Rowling's seven-book series. The cover story of that issue dealt with three grade-school children who attended the film with Arts and Culture Editor Bob Doran and reported their reactions to him.

As I recall, I had mixed feelings about the film, and I particularly disliked the seeming endless and tedious Quidditch match. The three young critics no doubt enjoyed the film more than I did, and I sometimes wonder what they thought of the subsequent film adaptations of the Potter books. As for me, I became a fan as the films got darker and more complex, and Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the only major commercial release I have looked forward to this summer.

In retrospect, I can see the first film as an appropriate setup for the story to follow. In any case, the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a triumph. The images that run during the opening credits are a beautiful tonal bridge from the end of Part 1 to the story's continuation and conclusion here.

While there are still significant details to be worked out, the real thrust of the narrative here is the build up to the showdown that has been in the works since the beginning, and in this instance Harry must carry the burden of the climactic moments mostly on his own.

Of course, this series has never been about a simple confrontation between good and evil; Rowling is a much better writer than that. This is a story about discovering and dealing with the evil embedded in all good. While the surface story does indeed pit the good wizards against the powerful and evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, of course, better than ever) and his minions, that battle does not define the deeper story. Rowling is clever at dropping hints throughout her series about the nature of the final showdown, and director David Yates, who has helmed the last four Potter adaptations, is very good at revealing them with appropriate narrative discretion.

It is seldom that a film viewer gets to spend some 10 years with the same characters and actors, and it has been an interesting and strange experience to watch Harry, Hermione and Ron grow into mature young adults while also observing the maturation of actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, both in age and sophistication as actors. But the films benefit equally from what might be the best cast ever assembled for a film series. Offhand, I cannot think of a single weak link in the casting.

This eighth and final film of the series is less brooding and more action-oriented than its predecessor, and Yates' direction is focused and efficient. He ramps up the tension almost without the viewer noticing.

It is a bit melancholic saying goodbye to Harry and his friends and enemies, and I can only imagine how the actors must have felt at the end. But the film has come to a very fine and very enjoyable complete circle. Perhaps this reviewer should think of doing the same. 130m. PG-13. In 3D at the Broadway and Fortuna, 2D at the Broadway, Mill Creek and Minor.

-- Charlie Myers

WINNIE THE POOH. Author A.A. Milne was an unparalleled genius at introducing the foibles of adults in such a way that children would grow to get the joke. His stuffed animals are steeped in quirk and personality. Sadly, Disney's latest version of the bear doesn't measure up to himself. His stomach literally leads him about -- it is most of what he is. With Disney, Pooh says, "I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me." [Editor's note: This line did appear in Milne's books.] Yet Pooh in the Milne stories is a poet.

In the "Back Soon" chapter referenced in the film, Milne's Pooh is too busy composing to fret over Christopher Robin's morning absences. Disney's Pooh doesn't know what a paragraph is. While the film's visual metatext is delightful -- the characters physically bump about in sentences and explore page spreads -- Disney simultaneously dismisses literacy's greatest advocate, the bear himself.

There's also an unsettling thread in the pursuit of honey. Instead of assisting one another and offering hospitality, the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood compete for a honey pot. When Owl wins the pot, he taunts Pooh by dripping honey from his wing. Pooh becomes so hungry that he eats mud... and even his BFF, Piglet, doesn't seem to care.

This lack of affection permeates the film. Milne's animals are affectionate, thoughtful, and largely undifferentiated by gender. A parent reader can swap about pronouns at will. The Disney version, however, drives home the idea that these are stereotyped little men. They box and fight, and the constant tenderness between Milne's characters is nearly obliterated. The subtleties and much of the sweetness are gone.

What does Disney get right? Bookworms will love the tumble of letters and physical play against the text. (Note: If you go, make sure to stay to the very end. And do catch the short Ballad of Nessie that precedes the main flick.) Tigger charmingly riffs off The Wizard of Oz, and Zooey Deschanel lends a nice vocal backdrop. But best is that the creative team moves fluidly between at least five animation styles. If you don't go for the story, it is worth going for the design. There's an unspoken message about artistic vision and imagination that is more evocative than anything in the plot.

Ultimately, I don't think the script speaks much to the intelligence of kids, but the crew did have some respect for their own artistic freedom. They let themselves play. Sometimes, seeing adults play can yield a highly informative moment -- a notion with which I think Milne would agree. Perhaps after the flick, families will snuggle up to reread the "Heffalump," "Back Soon" and "Lost Tail" chapters -- or grab pens and crayons and draw out their own silly old bears. Rated G. 69m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

--Maia Cheli-Colando


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Neither of this week's wide releases was pre-screened for critics -- generally a bad sign. Here director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo) revives the star-spangled superhero of WWII, just in time to join Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, et al. in next year's superhero block party, The Avengers. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action. 125m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. [To be read in the voice of David Spade.] Ring-ring. Ring-ring. "Hello? Oh, hey. ... Yeah, they're right here, why? ... Sure, I remember that.. ... OK, no problem. Bye." [Throat clearing.] "Hey, Friends With Benefits! That was No Strings Attached. They want their plot back." Once again Hollywood double-dips its own shallow chafing dish of ideas. The second friends-having-sex movie featuring a star of That '70s Show this year swaps Justin Timberlake for Ashton Kutcher (good move) and Mila Kunis for Natalie Portman (meh). Rated R for sexual content and language. 104m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

On Thursday the Arcata Theatre Lounge hosts a special local filmmakers' edition of Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night. The event, a collaboration between the Humboldt County Film Commission and Access Humboldt, will feature locally made short films plus a raffle with sci-fi-themed prizes such as figurines, books and movies housed on that mystical format of yore, VHS. The all-ages event runs from 6-10 p.m. Saturday the ATL offers more sci-fi with the loopy 1984 cult spoof The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai at 8 p.m. Rated PG. Mary Poppins (1964) sails in on her magic umbrella Sunday at 6 p.m. Rated G.

The Humboldt County Library's Based on the Book series wraps up Robert Mitchum month Tuesday night with El Dorado, the 1966 western based on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown. Hosted by Phillip Wright, this Howard Hawkes-directed classic stars Mitchum alongside John Wayne, James Caan and Ed Asner. 6:30 p.m. at the Eureka main branch.

--Ryan Burns


BAD TEACHER. Cameron Diaz plays the kind of teacher David Lee Roth would sing about. Rated R. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

CARS 2. Twice the CGI carbon monoxide! Rated G. 112m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

GREEN LANTERN. Even by superhero movie standards, this one sucks. Rated PG-13. 114m. At the Garberville.

HORRIBLE BOSSES. Three men plot to murder each other's employers; hilarity ensues. Rated R. 98m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

LARRY CROWN. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts phone it in. Rated PG-13. 99m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Woody Allen's latest sees Owen Wilson as a successful screenwriter who has unique experiences in the City of Lights. Rated PG-13. 94m. At the Broadway.

SUPER 8. Strange disappearances in a small Ohio town have citizens baffled. Rated PG-13. 112m. At the Broadway.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. Michael Bay is an evil machine. He directed this movie. Rated PG-13. 154m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

ZOOKEEPER. Kevin James and a bunch of talking animals search for the lowest common denominator and miss low. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.



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