Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

What’s Good:David Yates! Creature! Dark Ron! Random Nick Cave dancing sequence! The lack of a color (is this a David Fincher movie?)! And the treat of all treats is that I no longer have to endure Michael Gambon as Dumbledore! 
What’s Not:Having to wait eight months to see the second part to a story that I already know feels weird. That it’s still very exciting is a testament to this durable franchise.

After almost ten years of spells and awkward snogging the “Harry Potter” series finally slows down enough to catch its breath and gather itself as it prepares for the end. Upon hearing the last (and best) “Potter” adventure, “Deathly Hallows,” would be split in two I groaned almost as loud as when I heard the news that super short “The Hobbit” book would be two parts. Anyone who has seen the previous films knows a two parter wasn’t really necessary because however big the phone book size “Potter” volumes have been in the past the film version usually covers all the bases to varying degrees of success. For every exquisitely paced “Half Blood Prince” there’s a breakneck wizarding debacle like “Goblet of Fire” that is all plot and no substance. Splitting a big franchise in two is obviously motivated by money and that’s a shame but the odd thing is that cashing in afforded Part One of “Deathly Hallows” to take a step back from the formula and be more artful in its approach. As an example of this what I consider to be one of the highlights of the film franchise occurs in this movie. Harry and Hermione are languishing in their tent of boredom listening to the radio for news about their friends. Suddenly a song breaks through the static, a grat Nick Cave song called “O Children,” and the two start to dance. They share a moment and their spirits are soon lifted but only for a moment. It’s a quick, almost throwaway scene that has no real bearing on the plot but, so what, it’s organic and contains more emotional resonance than almost any other scene in the series. That scene and many more would not have been included if the there was only one movie so there’s an upside to greed.

The first thing that occurred to me, and others might benefit from approaching the material with this in mind, is that this film is basically one big spy movie in disguise. A spy movie with magic which automatically makes it cooler than most spy stories! Instead of running into trouble as they usually do Harry and co. must sneak around because Big Brother, er, Big Wizard I guess is after them and getting caught equals certain death. The Death Eaters (the Nazis of the magic world) have infiltrated the government and since Potter is public enemy number one this is the first film that is not set at Hogwarts (and… yay!). Every corner holds menacing secrets and ever face is potentially fatal (especially old ladies!). There are so many scenes of sneaking, lurking, waiting, hiding, gadgets use and the continual reliance of alternate identities that “Deathly Hallows” is more “Mission: Impossible” than it is “Harry Potter.” Which is awesome! 

The momentum, as I mentioned, shifts from the young characters dashing from setpiece to sepiece to a more reflective story that focuses on character, mood and atmosphere. Thankfully all three are some of the best of the series. The movie focuses almost entirely on the younger (well, older now) actors (sigh, we’ll have to way till summer to see Snape steal the show) and while the three leads Radcliffe, Watson and Grint (sounds like a lawfirm) have never been what I would call great actors, at least when compared to their adult co-stars (trying to act next to Alan Rickman must be like trying to act next to a black hole with awesome hair), the three charming actors really seem to have found the inner core of their characters this time around. The key is that they tap into that without the usual straining. When they whip into one of their emo spells it’s not even annoying any more. It’s relatable and, well, human.

Director David Yates basically saved the Potter movies. He brought some much needed consistency and clarity to the often muddled, rambling and inconsistent storytelling. Columbus gets a lot of credit in my book for laying the foundation but he ran out of steam about ten minutes into his second movie while Mike Newell never even got past the opening title credits before falling into a Hagrid sized hole of suckage. But Yates marches on, rarely stumbling and always surrounding himself with great talents. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra (new to the series) and music composition by Alexandre Desplat (waaaaayyyyy better than John Williams) are top notch. The mood is soggy and does a great job at putts the viewer in the shoes of the characters while and atmosphere is richly dark to a point of monochromatic exhaustion. Totally appropriate considering “Deathly Hallows Part One” is the “Empire Strikes Back” to Part 2’s “Return of the Jedi” (just substitute house Elves with Ewoks). After the movie I felt like I needed to watch a Mexican sit-com to get my eyes back to normal (not really). As the characters weave in and out of trouble I often got lost in the infinite blacks of the sets ranging from the cold, fascist Ministry of Magic headquarters to the many dark and drab camping vistas that the characters find themselves in as they wait, and wait and wait for, uh, something. The feeling of uncertainty is as potent as one of Harmonie’s good luck spells but, alas, people don’t like uncertainty. I can imagine critics and audiences will find this open ended approach to be misguided and hard to sit through but I found it to be a refreshing and at times even thrilling treat for loyal fans wanting to see something of substance that isn’t getting its balls busted by the tyrannical requirments of plot and forward progression. It’s not the best “Potter” film but it’s certainly the most thoughtful.

So here we are, almost at the end and however much we know EXACTLY how that end will come to pass (because God forbid a Potter film deviate from the near biblical Potter cannon) it’s still a bit sad to see Potter’s adventures winding down. No “Lost” and now no more “Potter?!” Tis a sad time for nerds. I didn’t so much grow up with Potter and co. as I grew older with them and, you know what, maturity suits this series very well. With the best Potter director of all time (David Yates) at the helm once again with “Part Two” I am hopeful and filled with the feeling that could watch Harry Potter movies for another ten years.
Grade: B+

 

Ranking Potter Movies (with revised grades):

1. Best: Half-Blood Prince (Yates): A-
2. Sorcerer’s Stone (Columbus): B+
3. Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron): B+
4. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Yates): B+
5. Order of the Phoenix (Yates): B+
6. Chamber of Secrets (Columbus): D+
7. Worst: Goblet of Fire (Newell): D

Decade List: Worst Music 2000-2009

The Worst Songs of the Decade:

  1. Ke$ha – Tik Tok (…coo-coo)
  2. Creed –”My Sacrifice” and “With Arms Wide Open” (can’t pick just one)
  3. Gwen Stefani – “Hollaback Girl” (…no need)
  4. Hinder “Lips of an Angel” (…or Baba Booey)
  5. Katy Perry – “I Kissed A Girl” (…no you didn’t)
  6. The Leanover – “Life Without Buildings” (…or good songs)
  7. Los Lonely Boys – “Heaven” (…hell)
  8. Black Eyed Peas – “My Humps” (…my dumps)
  9. Amy Weinhouse – Rehab (…yes, please)
  10. Evanescence – “Bring Me To Life” (…please don’t)
  11. The White Stripes “Passive Manipulation” (…forceful subservience)
  12. Paramore – “Misery Business” (…yup)
  13. My Morning Jacket – “Evil Urges” (…eviler song) 
  14. John Mayer – “Your Body Is A Wonderland” (…NO it’s not, dick head)
  15. Dropkick Murphys – “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” (…Boston’s not far enough, how about Afghanistan?)
  16. Avril Lavigne– “SK8R BOI” (…hor8ble $0ng)
  17. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha” (…no I don’t)
  18. Nickelback – “Hero” (…where?)
  19. Sisqo – “The Thong Song” (…put some pants on)
  20. Kings of Leon “Sex on Fire” (…song on ice)
  21. BrokenCYDE – “Freaxxx” (…Fukxxx)
  22. She Wants Revenge – Tear You Apart (…woooh, look out, edgy Interpol rip-offs)
  23. The Fiery Furnaces – “Tropical Iceland” (…yay irony!)
  24. Christina Aguilera – Dirrty (…really?)
  25. Doors Down – “Kryptonite” (…what color kryptonite?)
  26. Disturbed “Striken” (…with sudden deafness)
  27. Soulja Boy Tell’em – “Crank That” (…please don’t)
  28. Stained “It’s Been A While” (…no it hasn’t)
  29. Hoobastank – The Reason (…none needed)
  30. Johnny Cash “Hurt” (…sure does)3
  31. U2 – “Get On Your Boots” (… now take them off)
  32. Super Furry Animals – “Crazy Naked Girls” (… the only time those words were not fun. Sidenote: I’m a huge SFA fan)
  33. The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer” (…every Hold Steady song sounds exactly the same)
  34. Kanye West – Any of his “Comedy” Skits

The Worst Albums of the Decade:

1 Creed (Weathered)
2 Amy Winehouse (Back to Black)
3 American Idol Music
4 Evanescence (Fallen) 
5 System of a Down (Mesmerize and Hypnotize)
6 Nickelback (Silver Side Up)
7 Britney Spears (Woops I Did It Again)
8 Kings of Leon (Only By the Night)
9 U2 (No Line On the Horizon) 
10 M.I.A. (Kala)

  1. Creed: Weathered (2001)
    Here it is. The worst album of the decade. If the band, or world, needs any proof of a higher power out there it’s that this mega popular, eight weeks at #1, multiple Grammy winning, Rolling Stone mag approved, douchebag turn-of-the-century rock band’s Weathered album was also, improbably, the last time we’d ever have heard from them. Praise be! I don’t know how or why that came to be but God totally did us a solid on that one! Scott Stapp, that drunk and womanizing fake Jesus loving drugged out asshole sounds like Eddie Vedder’s retarded cousin in one generic pseudo metal rock song after another. In turn, Vedder is Springsteen’s retarded cousin so I guess that would make Stapp a bad copy of a slightly less bad copy, but this was the 00s after all and that was good enough to turn a trio of hacks into the biggest band in the world for a couple of years. Stapp belts out cringe worthy lyrics like “Cause when you are with me/I’m free I’m careless, I believe/Above all the others, we’ll fly/This brings tears to my eyes… My sacrifice” on the grandiose hit single “With Arms Wide Open” which also happens to be one of the worst songs of the decade. When I hear something like that it takes the breath out of me. Here is a song from a band that means nothing and has no depth or passion or heart or craft or, ironically for that matter, soul. It’s empty, it’s shit, it’s Creed.
  2. Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (2006)
    Have I mentioned how much I hate that fake soul sista, Any Winehouse? Because I do. I really do! With a sound that can only be described as the world worst sounding Bond movie song, Back to Black easily scored my number one worst album of 06 award and only Creed is worse as far as an entire decade of music goes so that’s a big deal. Oh, and she also won the best album Grammy so either that means I’m totally off base or that the Grammy Awards are really lame. Am I vindicated by the fact that she’s turned into insane has-been that is more known at this point for being a mess than any work or music that she ever created?
  3. Anything by Anyone who had Anything to do with American Idol: (2002 to Present Day)
    Okay, “Since You’ve Been Gone” is a decent song but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. American Idol has the distinction of not only making music horrible but television too!  Well done, dawg.
  4. Evanescence: Fallen (2003)
    Once again we are faced with the fact that Jesus might have really bad taste in music if his followers are any indication. This band is Creed with a vagina. Awesome! Or, um, not. In the span of a decade Gothic Christian nu metal rap rock bands were a big deal (for some unexplainable reason) and at the top of the stinky heap of smoldering crap resided this tacky emp Hot Topic band. Thankfully, as the decade ended so did bands like this. In fact I’m not sure if (Rolling Stone approved) Evanescence broke up, are on haitus or if Amy Lee just realized how shitty her band was. If the latter is true than it’s the first and last time I’ll ever respect her.
  5. System of a Down: Mezmerize and Hypnotize (2005) 
    The proportion in which the band sucks to how awesome the band thinks it is is comical. The band reached their height of unlistinability with the double album. System of a Down makes very annoying music. I hate them.
  6. Nickelback: Silver Side Up (2002) 
    Further proof of the ultimate decline of rock is Nickelback’s popularity. “This is How You Remind Me” is rock’s funeral dirge.
  7. Britney Spears: Oops I Did It Again (2000)
    Pop singers have, to a certain degree, always been artificial creations. But never has the lack of talent/abundance of hype been so glaring as with Ms. Spears music over the last decade (all Rolling Stone approved). Her music got so bad that instead of reinventing herself like other talented musicians she just said fuck it and had a breakdown. That it was a public breakdown makes total sense.
  8. Kings of Leon: Only By the Night (2008)
    Moder music douchbagery in distilled in pure musical form.
  9. U2: No Line On the Horizon (2008)
    Can U2 sink any lower? The worst album of 2008… and of U2 career.
  10. M.I.A.: Kala (2007)
    The most overrated artist of the decade.
  11. Avril Lavigne: Let Go (2002)
    Forgot about this mall pop has-been? If you have you’re lucky because I sure can’t. Helllllppppppp.
  12. Limp Bizkit:Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)
    Once again I’d like to point out that I hated Limp B while they were popular. It felt as if everyone had been brain washed and once that wore off (and it did quickly) everyone just went back tot heir daily lives. As with Creed fans and, for that matter, Germans soon after the second World War, I wonder if they ever feel ashamed of themselves for allowing such monstrosities to exist. By the way, Rolling Stone magazine gave it three and a half stars.
  13. Staind: Break The Cycle (2001)
    Ugh, I hate Staind. For a while there I feared these rock posers were going to pose a threat to Tool. Nine years later I realize how funny it is that I even had those fears. Hell, musically speaking, this band doesn’t even pose a threat to Nickelback.
  14. The Darkness: Permission to Land (2003)
    A joke band that many legit music sources thought were the real deal. The rest of us however were in on the joke and, not just that, we were not laughing. We are owed an apology.
  15. Anything by Reality Stars–Paris Hilton, Brooke Hogan, Katie Price, Kevin Federline, Victoria Beckham, Kelly Osbourne, Lindsay Lohan. If American Idol proved that unknowns suck at music then this crop of crap prove that knowns are also not very good at it. Oh well, at least we got plenty to laugh at.
  16. Norah Jones: Come Away With Me (2002)
    Not as bad as Weinhouse as fake soul/jazz/folk music goes but close. A reoccurring theme on this list though is how much a once popular and once hated (by me) artist has fallen into the ditch. Jones is still on the fringe of having a career in the industry but I’m grateful the hype over her crap faded after 2002.
  17. Katie Perry: One of the Boys (2008)
    Congratulations on having huge boobs.
  18. Jack Johnson: Brushfire Fairytales (2001)
    John Mayer sucks but when it comes to folk/rock/whatever even he can’t touch Johnson. This is rock for old people and young stupid people and, uh, assholes. If you took all the talent out of Dave Matthews Band you would have Jack Johnson. And people hate DMB!
  19. Ashlee Simpson: I Am Me and anything by Jessica Simpson (2005)
    The title is as redundant as her career. As with Lavigne, Spears, Creed etc. we are spared having to hear any more from the Simpson sisters so at least there’s a happy ending.
  20. Jennifer Lopez: Whatever She Put Out
    See a successful bad actress turn into a successful bad singer. Forget about how she managed to get work after Gigli, how the hell did Lopez  have a music career that lasted more than one album? The answer to that is one of many sad stains on a decade of music that proves one thing: popular music sucks!
  21. Anything by Kid Rock
  22. Anything by 50 Cent
  23. Chris Cornell: Scream (2009)
    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
  24. Did Oasis make anything in the 00s? If so then it belong here. (never been a fan if you can’t tell)
  25. Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Spin Magazine (2003ish-Present Day)
    Not an album obviously but I just had to mention how bad music mags have become. I’d honestly rather read toilet paper. Did the Internet kill publishing? Yes. Am I glad? Yup.