Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: November 19, 2010

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr puts on a wizard’s robe, wears a colorful scarf and dances around in the woods with his magic wand yelling, “Stupify!” And that’s just to celebrate the release of Fair Game in his home town. He also takes a look at this little independent film that few people have even heard of, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Sadly, a bizarre mishap with his wizarding skills causes a boulder to fall on his hand and pin him for 93 minutes, which was actually quite fortunate because it gave him just enough time to watch 127 Hours.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as guest host Fozzie Bare joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky to discuss this week’s new releases.


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Studio: Warner Bros .

Rated: PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sexuality

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy

Directed by: David Yates

What it’s about: The seventh and final book in the internationally popular Harry Potter series is brought to the screen, with the first part in this installment. (The second, of course, comes out next July.) We leave Hogwarts behind as Voldamort seizes control of the Ministry of Magic and goes on a hunt to purge muggle blood from society. He also has dispatched his army of Death Eaters to track down Harry Potter and bring him back for execution. Harry goes on the run with Hermione and Ron, eventually learning about the secret of the Deathly Hallows.

What I liked: I’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter films over the past decade, and they have definitely gotten better over the years, on the whole. For those who have read the book, or at least kept up with the movies, this is a neat addition to the series. The thing I found most appealing about it was that it actually got the kids out of Hogwarts, which had become a little tedious and formulaic over the past six films.

Shit gets real for Harry and his friends, and that shows the harder edge that the series has taken in its later installments.

There are some excellent action sequence and effects moments that make Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone look like a BBC video play from the 70s. Everything looks better, from the wand effects to the far-more-realistic versions of the house elves.

This is a film that is made for the fans and those following the series. Stepping in at this point is futile for the viewer because so much will be lost. There’s a deeper emphasis on characterization and exposition in this film, which is to be expected, considering the source material.

Finally, there are some pretty cool stand-alone elements (and no, I’m not just talking about the almost-nude scene of Hermione), like being able to see where the push for the failed 3D led to more depth in shots, a fantastically creative shadow-puppet presentation of the backstory of the Deathly Hallows and the realization that Bill Nighy plays a better bat-shit crazy Brit than anyone else could.

What I didn’t: Considering this is the first part of a larger work, there’s a lot in the structure that can be criticized. A lot of folks are making noise that there’s no real ending, but the “Part I” in the title should prepare you for that. And the other big complaint I’m hearing is that the film drags a bit in the middle, which it does. However, after reading the book and seeing how much it really dragged in its original form, I was fine with this pacing. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s definitely up there with The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half-Blood Prince.

Who is gonna like this movie: Folks, if you don’t know the answer to this question, then you’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years.

Grade: A

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Rated: PG-13 for some language

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly and Bruce McGill

Directed by: Doug Liman

What it’s about: Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, going on international missions and handling agents in the field. However, after her husband is hired to look at a WMD claim and finds no evidence supporting it, he writes an editorial in the newspaper blasting the Bush administration’s take on his report. This leads to Plame being outed as a CIA agent, putting her current missions in jeopardy and her family in the crossfire.

What I liked: The first half of this movie isn’t bad. It’s not good, mind you, but it plays decently as an international thriller. Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity, can handle the spy angle well, and I did find myself getting into the story and the missions that Plame was juggling.

Sigh… then Sean Penn had to go ruin the whole damn thing.

What I didn’t: Fair Game is based on Plame’s own book recounting her situation. This can be a good thing for a first-hand perspective. However, it can be a bad thing when the author’s ego is so clearly eclipsing decent storytelling.

If you watch this film, you get the sense that everyone – from the director of the CIA down to the night janitor – was beyond positive that there were no WMDs, and only rogue members of the Bush administration railroaded the findings and twisted every word from the beginning. You also get the sense that Plame isn’t just a run-of-the-mill agent, but rather the smartest woman in America and utterly unflinching in the face of conflict. In fact, her character gives a speech in the third act basically telling how everyone else in her training class had a breaking point, but professional CIA interrogators couldn’t find it.

There’s more bullshit in this movie than at ground zero of the Cheyenne Rodeo. It’s just laid on so thick and so one-sided that it’s impossible to believe. Unlike the brilliant movie In the Loop, which showed the haphazard and bureaucratic nonsense that goes on in any office, Fair Game paints Plame as an American hero and her husband as a martyr. It assigns no blame to her husband, the newspaper or the journalist who outed her for this debacle (as you’d expect from the woman’s own biography) when there was plenty of blame to go around.

Finally, I’m not sure how drunk Liman was when he shot this film (acting as the cinematographer as well as director), but he couldn’t hold a damn shot still, even if it was just someone talking on the phone or standing in a hallway. It’s as if Liman wanted to prove to the world that he could move the camera as much as Paul Greengrass and thus should have directed the second and third Bourne film.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who think Valerie Plame could do no wrong… and those who don’t throw up when Sean Penn comes on the screen.

Grade: C-

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Rated: R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images

Starring: James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn and Clémence Poésy

Directed by: Danny Boyle

What it’s about: When outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston (James Franco) took a weekend getaway in the canyons of Utah, he didn’t let anyone know where he was going. Then a freak accident caused him to get pinned under a bolder in one of the canyon, where he was stuck for days, fighting dehydration, starvation and impending death.

What I liked: I’m a big fan of Danny Boyle. He’s one of those directors who can make a hit in almost any genre, whether it be bizarre comedy, horror fiction or sweet children’s story. Coming off the success of an Oscar winner like Slumdog Millionaire can be a challenge, but Boyle doesn’t let himself get psyched out, delivering one of the more powerful films in his repertoire. He doesn’t bow to pressure to make this like his other work, to go mainstream or to pull his punches.

127 Hours is an unflinching look at what it is like to be trapped with Aron Ralston. James Franco carries the film, delivering one of his best performances of his career. In 2007, that wouldn’t have said much with his filmography consisting of Spider-Man 3, Flyboys and Tristan + Isolde. But with some fantastic performances in Pineapple Express and Milk, that says a lot now.

127 Hours doesn’t last too long, and it’s not rushed. It hits every note it needs to, and I’m sure by now most of you have heard about several visceral scenes that have caused people to faint and get nauseous. This is proof in itself that Boyle was completely effective with his direction, and Franco was completely effective with his acting.

What I didn’t: I really don’t have any complaints about this film, but rather about the reception to it. If you really want to experience the power that is 127 Hours, you need to see this movie cold. The rumors spread quickly, and even a quick dash to Wikipedia will spoil key moments in this film. Just like the big reveal in The Crying Game or the key line of “I drink your milkshake!” from There Will Be Blood, you can tarnish your experience by hearing too much.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone looking for a visceral, strong character piece… and who also has a solid constitution.

Grade: A

Want to see what Kevin had to say about these films on TV? Check out his interview on FOX…

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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