181-184: Harry Potter Marathon, Part 2

harry-potter-2

And here we are at the other end of our Harry Potter marathon and I must say that it hasn’t been the chore I was expecting it to be. Watching these movies in order in a short amount of time is really beneficial for someone like me… someone who hasn’t read the books. It keeps fresh the enormous amount of details that need to be remembered to make sense of it all and adds to the appreciation of this movie series.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

From now on the proverbial excrement hits the fan. At the end of Goblet of Fire we were witness to the resurrection of Voldemort and now the race begins to save the world from his clutches. With a new director at the helm, David Yates, who would go on to direct all the remaining movies, the series takes on a much more dire tone. Gone are the whimsical elements from the story up to make room for more teenage angst, ever more perilous adventures and dark secrets revealed. At Hogwarts the situation is worsened by the arrival of Dolores Umbridge, a spy for the Ministry played wonderfully by Imelda Staunton, who turns the school into something that more resembles a prison. Harry, meanwhile, tries to convince the world that Voldemort has indeed returned, but nobody wants to believe him. Even his friends start to doubt him. His inability to convince anyone and the doubts about his own role in the whole scheme of things start to take their toll on Harry. Thankfully Daniel Radcliffe is able to shoulder this burden and give Harry enough depth to make these trials believable. The character Harry Potter seems to be in capable hands.The film ends with a spectacular sequence inside the Ministry of Magic with wall-to-wall visual effects and another riveting confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. I had my problems with Order of the Phoenix, but they are outweighed by the enjoyment of so many of the other elements.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This is the point where I started to lose interest when the movies were first released. To be honest, I felt left out, because so many of the concepts in this movie were foreign to me. Much in Half-Blood Prince seemed only enjoyable when you actually had read the book. But now, with all five preceding movies still fresh in my head, I must admit that I was wrong. The puzzle pieces fell into place more easily now. You just have to really pay attention to ever detail, because everything comes back in some way, shape or form. In Half-Blood Prince a new element is introduced: the Horcrux, an object infused with part of someones soul. It turns out Voldemort has hidden several of these Horcruxes and Harry (together with Dumbledore) vows to retrieve all of them and destroy them, in order to weaken Voldemort to the point where he can be killed. This provides a framework for the rest of the movies with several encounters revolving around these objects. But that’s not all. Draco Malfoy is chosen as the sacrificial lamb to do Voldemort’s bidding, the Weasley home is attacked by Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius Black’s niece or killer, and a very important character is killed at the end of the movie. All very dramatic stuff. That is why the casting of Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn is so important to this movie. He is the perfect combination of lighthearted and dramatic. His acting is a breath of fresh air in the often quite heavy atmosphere of the Harry Potter world. Imelda Staunton had the same task in Order of the Phoenix, providing comic relief. All in all I really liked Half-Blood Prince, mostly because of the intense dramatic moments.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

And so the ending begins. Battle lines are being drawn, sides are taken. Harry, Hermione and Ron are on the run from the Death Eaters, who have taken over the Ministry and attacked the wedding between Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour. From that point on the story of Part 1 becomes a road movie about our three heroes trying to make sense of the whole mess. Ron becomes more and more angry at Harry for not doing enough to safe the wizarding world, Hermione is trying real hard to solve all the riddles that are thrown at them and Harry is hard to work to find the remaining Horcruxes without getting himself killed. If you are expecting a rollicking adventure movie this time around you are in for a surprise. While there are certainly moments where the story picks up the pace, the majority of Part 1 takes on a very subdued tone. A quiet before the storm, if you will. Once again, watching Part 1 in the theater was a boring and confounding experience for me. I hardly knew what a Horcrux or a Death Eater were, so you can imagine that this time around I liked Part 1 a lot more. I started to feel a lot of empathy for these kids who are thrust into this otherworldly adventure that is way beyond their years. No child or teen should be made to carry this burden. One of the most endearing moments comes when Harry asks Hermione to dance at one of the worst moments possible and for a few minutes they forget everything that is happening around them to enjoy the moment as they should have if the circumstances were different. Although the movie as a whole may not be the most exciting adventure of them all, I think this installment has a lot of heart and in that regard is a good setup to what is to come next.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

And what comes next is the culmination of everything that transpired prior to Part 2. Voldemort has acquired the tools and the army to once and for all to take over the wizarding world. Everything comes to a spectacular close with Harry and his friends trying to discover the last Horcruxes, the Order of the Phoenix taking back Hogwarts and ultimately Harry preparing himself for his all important duel with Voldemort. As with every installment of the Harry Potter series. A lot of ground has to be covered before we get to where we are going. It is understandable that they split Deathly Hallows into two parts. If the book is half as dense as the movies, than that is one hell of a book to get through. Together these movies take up nearly four and a half hours of your time and not a lot of it is wasted on frivolous nonsense.

This is Harry Potter’s Return of the Jedi. This is the moment everything comes together and the big finale kicks off. Thinking back to the first movies in the series I didn’t think these kids could have acted their way out of a paper bag when the story would become more dramatic, but they have grown… a lot. Radcliffe still isn’t the best actor ever, but he holds his own across from a powerhouse like Ralph Fiennes. I could get behind what he was going through and that is a lot more than I expected. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are still his trusty sidekicks and though there is a lot of frowning and scowling going on they carry the weight of everything their characters went through on their shoulders.

I really liked the way Deathly Hallows worked out. A lot of the loose ends were tied up neatly, even though Rowling needed a sizable flashback to do so. There were some surprises in there, but I got the feeling that there was so much information to be conveyed that the movie moved just a little too fast through it all. Maybe I have to watch it again sometime to get every last detail of the story (or maybe just read the books). One huge gripe I have with the concept of the Room of Requirement. In Order of the Phoenix it was nice, but since then it feels as a way of dealing with dead ends in the plot and having people move in and out of Hogwarts undetected. It got a little tiring to see it pop up again and again as a deus ex machina. Other than that I really liked Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

The Sum Total

Well, has this marathon changed my perception of the Harry Potter series? Absolutely. As I said at the beginning, I had seen all these movies (minus one) before, but never fully appreciated the arc Harry Potter goes through during these movies. It is actually a great story about somebody who has to carry an enormous burden before he is in any way capable of doing that and the way he copes with that responsibility. Next to the story that is engaging and fun there is the enormous technical achievement of these movies. Producer David Heyman managed to produce eight (!) major blockbuster movies in about twelve years or so. These movies have beautiful scenery, fantastic art direction and spectacular visual effects, all of them produced on an extremely tight schedule. Like the Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter movies deserve an honorary Oscar or something for the sheer audacity of attempting this undertaking. And on top of that Heyman got the original cast to stick around when everybody was saying they could never pull that off.

It was a good decision to do this marathon, because it opened my eyes a little to what other people are so wildly enthusiastic about. It still isn’t Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but it has certainly made me curious and what do you know maybe I will read the books one day.

174-177: Harry Potter Marathon, Part 1

This is part one of a Harry Potter marathon me and my wife are doing over the next two weeks or so. I was pleasantly surprised that the 8-film Blu-ray collection was back on the shelves last weekend and took the opportunity to revisit these movies. Mind you, I have never read any of the books so my opinion will not be tainted by adaptation, omissions or changes. I do have to admit that I was never a really big fan of the Harry Potter series. I just wasn’t able to buy into all the fuss that surrounded them. I have seen all but one (the last), and am curious how they will come across now that I am going to watch them as one long series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Where it all began. Chris Columbus took the helm of the behemoth undertaking that was to become one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history. By this time the Harry Potter books were already a success, so anticipation was high and Columbus didn’t disappoint. He managed (together with screenwriter Steve Kloves) to compress J.K. Rowling’s introduction of Harry Potter and his friends into a wonderfully whimsical fantasy adventure. We are thrown from one wondrous scene to the next and are treated to a nice little mystery that ends in a whopper of a teaser for what was to come with the evil Voldemort doing his evil doings. While the movie is certainly a triumph, there is also quite a bit to point out that isn’t perfect. Throughout the movie we feel Columbus constantly wants to do more, but he is bound by the enormous tome that has to be represented within the running time (which is a staggering 152 minutes). There are parts of the movie that are just there to service the exposition and introduction of all the characters, which otherwise could have been omitted. Some of these parts feel choppy and rushed. You also feel this is (as our heroes) the most immature of the stories. This is totally understandable, of course, and that also makes Sorcerer’s Stone the most  child friendly of the series. Although I still won’t let my five-year old watch it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets was to me a vast improvement over the first movie. I loved the fact that Columbus dared to take the movie down a much darker path with several scenes that were genuinely scary. Now, ten years later, I still like Chamber of Secrets very much. The kids have aged a little bit and aren’t as extremely young as they were in Sorcerer’s Stone. The stakes are a bit higher with people actually getting hurt during the movie. Harry has to really give it his all to fight the evils that lurk underneath Hogwart’s castle. There are, however, still moments that invoke the dreaded deus ex machine, like the sudden appearance of the Phoenix during the final battle. It tells me that either Rowling or Kloves were struggling there and took the easy way out. It took me out of the movie for a moment. The addition of Dobby the house elf, on the hand, is fantastic. What a great character he turned out to be. His total lack of self-respect is endearing in a way and his vindication at the end is a great moment in the movie. Chamber of Secrets has the good fortune of not being encumbered by the necessity to explain everything about our heroes. It dives right in and doesn’t stop until the 161 minute running time is over. I assure you that those minutes will fly by before you realize it.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Many point at Prisoner of Azkaban as one of their favorite Harry Potter installments. I don’t see it. I don’t particularly like the third part in the this enormous series. This has several reasons. First is the tone. Director Alfonso Cuarón decided to leave behind the slightly more cheerful color palette of the Columbus chapters in favor of a nearly bleached out color spectrum that sucks all the wonder out the movie. And it is wonder that drove the first two movies. Second is the intensely choppy nature of the screenplay. I admire some of the obstacles Rowling introduces into the world of Harry Potter, like the genuinely scary Dementors. These soul sucking monsters look like they have been lifted from the pages of a Tolkien novel, but that doesn’t make them any less creepy. There are however enough moments that are so shamelessly manipulative (like Ron keeping his hand against the window in the train, or the flight of the hippogriff) that it takes me out of the movie every time. The final sequence with the time travelling is fun and all, but could the story not have been told without that gimmick? Are there positive aspects to Prisoner of Azkaban? Sure, the movie looks gorgeous, even in its almost black and white color scheme. The addition of more British heavy hitters (David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall) to the supporting cast lends more gravity to the movie. I think people think this is one of the best installments because of the shock value after first seeing part two and then Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

When I first saw Goblet of Fire back in 2006 I was terribly disappointed. Somehow the movie didn’t connect with me in any way and it in fact annoyed the hell out of me. Maybe the dreadful haircuts of the boys were to blame, or the overtly teenage problems the characters were dealing with. Maybe I was a bit too cynical at that time. I don’t know. What I do know is that I like Goblet of Fire quite a bit more this time around. While the first fifteen minutes still feel like an extreme aggregation of what really transpired, the rest felt like a real adventure for everybody involved. Harry has to cope with being the fourth contender in this ludicrous tournament, while also being plagued by nightmares that foreshadow an event that will rock Harry’s world later in the movie. On the other side there are Ron and Hermione, who have their own problems to deal with. Ron is fed up with being the third wheel and starts to stand up to Harry. However annoying and unreasonable he may be. This is typical teenage behavior and completely fitting. Also fitting is Hermione’s blossoming into an attractive young woman. For the first time she is occupied with the possibility of something else than always having her nose in a book. It is lovely to see that these two characters also get their moments to develop themselves. Then there are the challenges, which are all fun and exciting sequences. Tie those elements together and you have a really fun adventure with a tremendous pay-off where we finally get to experience Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort in full force. It feels like Goblet of Fire is just the right combination of the wonder of past movies and the seriousness of the coming movies.

Soon part 2 of this duology.

117: The Dark Knight Rises

I am fully aware of the fact that by proclaiming my misgivings about The Dark Knight Rises I run the risk of being told to go find some other line of work or, even worse, go die. So with that in mind, here goes: I liked The Dark Knight Rises for the most part, but there were moments I wanted to take Christopher Nolan by his lapels and implore him to not make this movie so convoluted and dark. I know comic book movies have grown up, but sometimes the growth has got to be checked to see if it is still healthy.

I refer to the overblown references to the occupy movement and the need for the common people to rise up and take the world back from the bankers and rich people who are all holed up in their fancy apartments and offices. Do we really need something this close to our real world infused into a world that is ostensibly a world where we go to escape the troubles of our every day life? I saw this as a need on the part of Nolan, after the delicious mayhem of The Dark Knight, to root his fantasy even more in reality, something that is extremely hard to do and he succeeds only in part. It always comes across as an attempt to win the hearts of the blue-collar folks who frequent the movies more than those despicable rich people. Why not knock on their door and drag all their belongings into the street, because who are they to create a nice life for themselves. It is an incredibly cynical look at a real-life movement that in all its ridiculousness still had a great point and a mostly non-violent point at that (let’s hope the people in Oakland feel the same way).

With that out-of-the-way I must also say I didn’t feel bored for a majority of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan manages to keep the pace up during the whopping 170 minute runtime, which is a feat in itself. We find ourselves about eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman is still on the run after taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s (a.k.a. Two-Face) death, something only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth about. Gotham City needs its heroes and Gordon decides to keep the truth to himself, a tremendous burden that reflects on his face. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is holed up in his enormous mansion. He doesn’t want to show himself anymore after the love of his life died and he noticed Gotham apparently doesn’t need Batman anymore.

It is a visit from a beautiful young woman called Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a burglar after some family jewelry, that sets a new sequence of events in motion that will lead to a situation that could be the undoing of Gotham City, a city that looks more like New York City than Chicago this time around. Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, leads Bruce Wayne to somebody called Bane (Tom Hardy), who wants to make some plans, that were initiated way back when Batman was also just starting out, come to fruition. Yes, to complete his trilogy Nolan goes back to the well and that leads me to one of the problems of this being a trilogy. But more on that later.

There is certainly a lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises. The music by Hans Zimmer is rousing as ever and the cinematography by Wally Pfister is eye-popping to say the least. Mind you, I did not see the movie in IMAX, so I can’t reach an honest verdict about the switching between IMAX and regular footage. The biggest problem I have, however, is with the screenplay. While intricately structured it is also incredibly clumsy at times. It is like in Inception, where every single step of the way was explained by the characters in dialogue. The possibility of an audience member not getting all the details is a horrifying idea to Nolan. He wants everything to be clear in the first viewing and that makes for some clumsy moments of overblown dialogue and situations.

Take for instance the moment that Jim Gordon has to address a crowd at the beginning of the movie. He has a speech in hand, but decides not to use it, because it contains a truth the city of Gotham is not ready for. Instead of having Gordon just put away the speech, Nolan has to have him explain to the crowd (read: the audience) that it contained a truth they would not be able to handle. This is all just to set up a plot point later in the movie that I will not divulge here. This is schlocky screenwriting at best. Nolan is said to be a director who trusts his performers to do their job, but in this instance he doesn’t trust in Oldman–arguably one of the best actors we have–to carry this scene. If he wants to create an intelligent comic book movie, he also has to allow the intelligence of the audience to work with him. And this is just one of several moments in the movie where you see Nolan standing in front of the screen in the theater screaming, “Do you get it? Good. Then we can move on!”

On a more positive note, I absolutely adored Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I really like Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, but that was more because her Selina fit perfectly in Burton’s seedy world. Hathaway’s Selina is much more close to the Catwoman we know from the comics. She is a brilliant burglar, who literally has a love-hate relationship with Bruce Wayne. The way Hathaway plays her is fantastic. You never know from one moment to the next what she is up to. She can go from a kick-ass fighter to a whimpering victim within a heartbeat and that makes her a joy to watch. Hathaway is also the master of the understated look of disbelief and she uses that technique to great effect to undercut a lot of what the other characters are saying and doing. You always feel she is one step ahead of everybody, while in reality she really is not. She is cocky and far from perfect. She may be my favorite element from the movie and I hope to see more of her when the series progresses.

Then there is the whole connection to the previous installments. And, I guess, here be minor spoilers. To tie his trilogy neatly up in a bow Nolan goes back to Batman Begins with the return of the organization that trained Bruce Wayne in the first place. This weighs heavily on the plot of this movie and that leaves me to wonder what the purpose of The Dark Knight was other than to set up The Dark Knight Rises in its last few minutes. Of course, the return of The Joker would have been nearly impossible, but would it have been too much to ask to make a little more of a deal of this madman in the context of this third movie. After all, he was the one who trashed the city pretty good not too long ago. Also, he didn’t die in The Dark Knight, right? So he must still be locked up in Arkham for all I know. A little nod to this iconic character would have been nice and it would have made The Dark Knight a bit less useless in this trilogy. Heck, even Dr. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. The Scarecrow from Batman Begins) makes another useless appearance.

The cast is generally fine. Bale delivers his dependable moody Bruce Wayne who has to go through an all new set of troubles, including having to open his own door. Tom Hardy is enormous as Bane, Batman’s evil enemy who doesn’t hesitate to blow up a football stadium to show us even America’s favorite sport isn’t safe from harm. While Hardy is physically intimidating he still has to wear that mask at all times, which makes his on-set dialogue nigh unusable. In its stead we get a voice that sounds like a bad imitation of a young Sean Connery filtered through a Darth Vader mask. Every time I heard him speak I was ripped out of the movie due to its ridiculousness. Why did they go for this voice? Did they want to make him more sophisticated or something? This is a hired thug who was supposed to sound like the enormous hulky mass of human tissue he is, not some college professor from Glasgow, Scotland. On top of that there was no mention at all about what that mask really does. It somehow prevents him from dying, but how it does that is never explained. I also wanted the Venom poison to play some sort of role in Bane’s existence, but that also didn’t happen. Well, you can’t win ’em all, I guess.

I was, however, glad to see a pivotal scene from the comic make its way into the movie. What that is I will not say, but believe me, I wasn’t very sure whether Nolan and his friends would have the guts to put it in here. It was a feeling of great triumph for fans of comics to see that nod to the source material appear in The Dark Knight Rises. The fight that leads up to that moment is also a great sequence of events that will have you glued to your seat. Great stuff. Same goes for the chases and other spectacular scenes in the movie. There are enough chases through the streets of Gotham to keep you occupied. The inclusion of a flying device for Batman was a nice touch. Also, the (partial) destruction of Gotham City at the hands of Bane is a thing of beauty in all its sparseness.

I know that after reading everything I have said above it is hard to believe I actually had a good time watching The Dark Knight Rises. I just didn’t have a great time watching it. Something I was hoping for because The Dark Knight was so damn good. With a Justice League movie on the horizon it is hard to imagine Warner Bros. going right ahead with making another stand-alone Batman movie. They will probably mimic Marvel in making movies that will all fold into the Justice League. Is this a good thing? Time will tell. All I need to know is that Nolan is probably out of the director’s chair to make room for a fresh and maybe less heavy approach to this material. The possible inclusion of a certain sidekick should prove to be interesting in that regard. Let’s just hope Nolan doesn’t maneuver stooge Zack Snyder into the main position like he did with Man of Steel. I shudder at the thought.

> IMDb

113: Sneakers

Believe it or not, but not so long ago there was no internet available to the masses. People needed to use modems and telephone lines to connect with other people around the world. One awesome example of this is John Badham’s WarGames, wherein a young Matthew Broderick uses his ancient computer and 8″ floppy discs to start a thermonuclear war. Another such example of outdated technology is Sneakers, a delicious relic from 1992. A movie I have revisited often over the years.

Martin Bishop and his college friend Cosmo want a better world. One night they are fooling around by transferring some funds from the rich to the poor through their mastery of the computermodem, like modern day Robin Hoods. While on a pizza raid, Martin sees how Cosmo is arrested for what they did. Martin decides to run and not help his friend who is thrown in jail for a considerable amount of years. Cut to present day. Martin is now head of a group of technical wizards who test the security of high profile businesses. Something very new twenty years ago. He comes across a box that seems to crack every single code on the planet. This is the beginning of a long game of cat and mouse between Martin’s team and every conceivable agency on Earth… and an old friend.

It is not such a coincidence that Sneakers seems like the somewhat grownup version of WarGames, because they are both written by the same guy, Lawrence Lasker. Maybe that’s the reason I just love this movie to death. There is a playfulness to it that is infectious, just like WarGames. The cast clearly has a ball with Lawrence Lasker’s words. From the thoughtful speeches by Cosmo, which are still relevant today, to the constant banter between the members of Bishop’s team. It just doesn’t get old. Seeing Dan Aykroyd verbally fight with Sidney Poitier is priceless. Oh, and Stephen Tobolowsky is in it.

And then there’s the tech. It may be hopelessly outdated, but Sneakers is totally OK with that. Sometimes you get the feeling when watching an older movie that the movie itself is ashamed about its dated nature. And you can’t help but go along with that. With Sneakers this is not the case. It is so convinced that this is the best tech for the job that you are as well. Using a telephone modem to track a phone call across the world, using thermal imaging to survey a building, using sound equipment to find the way to Cosmo’s company. It just all makes sense and that’s what makes Sneakers a great movie every single time I watch it. Like WarGames I can watch this over and over. Maybe I should make this a double feature someday.

> IMDb

076: Super 8

I was so excited to watch Super 8 last year. I had followed the great marketing campaign and for a long time silently hoped that it would be a prequel to Cloverfield. But then I began preparing for my move to the United States. This meant long nights of cleaning up the old house, packing and sending all our stuff to our new destination. We had a few days of relatively quiet days between shipping our stuff and the actual move, and that’s when I decided to watch Super 8. That was not a good idea.

I was just way too tired to appreciate anything about Super 8, so I have to disregard that viewing and start over. Now, when watching Super 8 on Blu-ray, I could really appreciate what J.J. Abrams and his friends had achieved. And Super 8 is certainly something special. Recreating the sentiments from those old movies I grew up on—The Goonies, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind—was a great decision. Maybe not a decision that resonated with modern audiences, but nostalgia kicked into high gear for older audiences like me.

In Super 8 a group of friends set out to make a horror movie using their parents’ Super 8 cameras. While filming one of the pivotal scenes in their movie they are witness to one of the most horrifying train wrecks ever. A car crashes headlong into a freight train carrying a cargo that is unlike anything the kids have ever seen before. This is the beginning of an adventure that will go beyond their wildest dreams. It will try their friendships, bring about the best and worst in people and make them learn to judge a book by its content, not its cover. It is in a lot of ways a very similar tale Spielberg used to tell. Friendship is paramount, because it will help you through even the hardest times.

Super 8 shows that Abrams has lots of love and admiration for those old movies from the late ’70s and ’80s. Abrams grew up with the Super 8 format. He made home movies like the kids in the movie. He even managed to land a job cleaning up the old 8mm movies Spielberg shot when he was a kid. This job laid the foundation for what would become Super 8. A great tribute to a type of movie you don’t see often anymore. The only gripe I have with Abrams’ movie is that his monster once again looks like the monster in Cloverfield, just as it did in Star Trek. It is as if he has one model that he changes slightly to save money. This, on the other hand, didn’t diminish my appreciation of Super 8.

> IMDb

075: London River

I reviewed London River for Battleship Pretension. My second movie review for David and Tyler. This is a movie I had wanted to see ever since it was released. The premise intrigued me, especially since I am from Holland, which is just a small sea removed from England. The repercussions of the 7/7 attacks on London were felt very deeply in our country as well. The whole political climate was shaken to its core and society became very tense.

This is exactly what London River is about. These preconceptions people have towards often an entire group of people. When in reality it is just a small group of people who manage to screw it all up for everybody. In London River we meet Elisabeth, who lives a fairly sheltered life on Guernsey, a British island off the coast of France. When the 7/7 attacks occur in London she fears for the life of her daughter, who moved to London two years prior. Elisabeth goes to London to look for her daughter and crosses paths with Ousmane, a French man who happens to be looking for his son, who he hasn’t seen in years. At first the relationship is rocky at best, but as more details of both the son’s and the daughter’s lives become apparent, Elisabeth and Ousmane realize they have more in common than they thought and they could actually be a source of reconciliation for each other.

London River wants to show the world that there is hope in the world when two very different people can put aside their differences to get through these trying times. A beautiful message that is not heard enough. Director Rachid Bouchareb always chases stories that have a very serious social agenda. Whether it be children in post-war Vietnam or soldiers in North Africa, Bouchareb doesn’t shy away from a story that could shake people to their core. This message is underscored by the brilliant performances by Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté, who put everything out there for us to see. Each in their own manner. Blethyn has always been an actor who wears her emotions on her sleeve, while Kouyaté doesn’t. He isn’t outgoing at all, he does it all with his eyes and his demeanor. Both of them stunning performances.

London River is a heartbreaking movie nobody should miss.

> IMDb

067: Ricky

François Ozon’s Ricky is a very strange movie and not in a good way. The synopsis reads: “When Katie, an ordinary woman, meets Paco, an ordinary man, something magical happens: a love story. From this union an extraordinary child is born: Ricky.” How extraordinary? I hear you asking. Well, that would be kind of a spoiler, because it is actually quite far out there and nothing you would expect.

Ricky starts off as a hard-hitting social drama. Katie (Alexandra Lamy) lives a dreary life in a rundown apartment building with her daughter Lisa (played really well by Mélusine Mayance). She has a desperate fling with a co-worker, Paco (Sergi López), which results in a baby, Ricky. Up until the halfway point you feel the tension of having no money, working double shifts and trying to provide for two children. It is like watching a Dardenne movie set in France. But then Ricky starts having bruises on his back and Katie blames Paco for these, who subsequently leaves to find greener pastures. Then the unexpected happens…

*Spoiler Warning* *Spoiler Warning* *Spoiler Warning*

Ricky is truly an extraordinary baby. The bruises are actually the beginnings of wings. Lord only knows why this would happen, maybe it is because his mother worked in a chemical factory, but the movie never bothers to go into this. It just happens. Ricky’s wings start to grow and he wants to fly. That’s where Ricky starts to fall apart. There is a fundamental problem with the physics employed here. Yes, I know this is a fable (at least the second half), but there is no way those little chicken wings could carry a healthy baby like Ricky. This took me out of the movie completely, as were some shortcuts in the script later in the movie.

The tone of the movie also suddenly shifts when Paco leaves. This is maybe to show the way in which the tension is somewhat diminished in his absence, but it also takes Ricky in a direction that is counter productive. Almost all of the angst from the first half is thrown away. Katie and her daughter don’t react in any extreme way to this wonder. They go about their business and tend to Ricky’s well being. He is ‘locked’ in a makeshift cage, but otherwise he is allowed to fly around the room. When Ricky escapes during a visit to the grocery the reactions of the people in the store also feel very unnatural. They don’t scream or run at the sight of a flying baby, they are puzzled and amazed. The same way we are watching this movie.

After watching Ricky one theory occurred to me. What if Ricky was, in fact, never born? What if this was all a weird nightmarish dream of Katie in which she deals with her loss. An elaborate dream, but nonetheless. Ricky is actually an angel who has to abandon Katie while he still resembled a cherub, the classical form of the angel of love. I know it is farfetched, but it was one of the ways I could actually explain some of the outlandish things that happen in Ricky. This is certainly one of Ozon’s minor works. There is just too much left open to interpretation and the tone is very uneven. I recommend people picking up Les Amants Criminels (1999) or 8 Femmes (2002) if you want to see some of the more extreme concepts in Ozon’s impressive body of work.

> IMDb