Kill Your Darlings

November 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall
Directed by: John Krokidas (debut)
Written by: John Krokidas (debut) and Austin Bunn (debut)

As Beat Generation icon Allen Ginsberg, actor Daniel Radcliffe (“Woman in Black”) continues his pursuit to shed the skin of another iconic character, Harry Potter, who he played on the big screen in eight movies from 2001-2012. While the trendy bifocals don’t help his cause, this is the closest Radcliffe has gotten to helping audiences realize that he, like his fellow “Potter” cast mate Emma Watson (sorry Rupert Grint), can definitely have a flourishing career post-“Potter.” In “Kill Your Darlings,” his portrayal of Ginsberg is effective and the overall film is much more interesting than what James Franco did with the character in the unfocused 2010 niche drama “Howl.” The counter-culture story, however, becomes disarrayed as the picture moves further and further into a true-to-life tale of murder.

Where first-time director and co-writer John Krokidas gets it right is introducing audiences to Ginsberg as he starts out at Columbia University. Scenes where Ginsberg meets the likes of fellow writers including Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) are compelling as we watch what would become the start of the Beat Generation (they call their group “The New Vision”) begins to mold into something substantial. If audiences don’t know much about the era, these specific scenes give you a Hollywoodized version of the story, but each of them build on one another well enough to understand why these young men leaned on each other for support and show what they were trying to accomplish from a literary standpoint during the 1950s.

Where the film begins to lose momentum, however, is during the explanation of the relationship between Carr and the older an infatuated David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who Carr would ultimately kill in 1944 after Kammerer makes an unwanted sexual advance toward him in Riverside Park in Manhattan. While the murder itself would make a profound impact on all the lives of these groundbreaking writers, everything that leads up to this climax is sloppily tied into the more thought-provoking coming-of-age narrative we still haven’t really had the chance to fully see in anything Beat Generation-related that has recently been made (“Howl,” “On the Road”).

“Kill Your Darlings” makes the best attempt at defining these young men, but there’s no denying that Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn’s storytelling is motivated by murder. Sure, it’s the easiest angle to sell, but there’s so much more to the story that comes before that only gets footnote treatment. From a cultural perspective, it is not nearly enough to keep audiences intrigued.

The Woman in Black

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciáran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Directed by: James Watkins (“Eden Lake”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

There’s a reason why censorship boards cut the scene in the 1931 horror movie classic “Frankenstein,” where the Monster tosses a happy little girl into a lake and drowns her. No one wants to see an innocent child die (even if accidentally), especially in the spirit of entertainment. Eighty years later, not much has changed on the mainstream horror front.

While there are a few exceptions (Gage getting leveled by a semi-truck in “Pet Sematary”) most are anomalies, which is why in “The Woman in Black” when three little girls in frilly Sunday dresses do something terrible just moments after playing tea party it leaves such a disturbing impression. As more of these incidences follow, one might think they’ve walked into one of the gutsiest horror movies ever made. Hell, even Stanley Kubrick didn’t let Jack Nicholson bludgeon the troubled tike in “The Shining” (“redrum, redrum”) to death. Unfortunately, beyond the unsettling idea of children doing creepy stuff they shouldn’t be doing, “The Woman in Black” manages to slump back into conventional storytelling and does so in the most monotonous fashion.

In his first film post Harry Potter fame, actor Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer sent to a house in a remote village to sift through the estate paperwork of the recently deceased homeowner. Upon arrival Arthur begins to realize no one wants him poking around, for fear he will unearth the vengeful entity haunting the residence and trigger horrible incidents for the families in the area.

Based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill, which was adapted into at TV movie in 1989, “The Woman in Black” hits on most of the clichés of any typical ghost story and never lets up until the predictable ending. During most of this gothic horror, we watch Radcliffe tiptoeing down long hallways in real time, investigating creaky noises around corners, and starring dolefully out windows at the English marshland. Not even the woman dressed in black, who occasionally appears to him, brings much tension to the script. It’s unfortunate, since the murky look of the film and collection of eerie set pieces – which include rickety toys and ominous statues – add to the miserable atmosphere.

Radcliffe, who can probably steal a few roles away from British actors like James McAvoy and Jamie Bell in the future, will be fine without his Potter safety net. But it’s going to take more than a few cheap scares from a dowdy ghost lady before anyone takes notice.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”)

Whether Harry Potter’s increased maturity over the last decade is most evident in the fearlessness he summons within himself in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” or the amount of hair he displays beneath his arms, there is no denying that the famously spectacled boy-wizard audiences first met in 2001 has become a full-fledged man.

With his rite of passage comes the removal of all childish things from this final installment of the fantasy film series adapted from the ambitious mind of best-selling author J.K. Rowling. In “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” there is no time to play a skillful game of Quidditch, or transform students into ferrets, or cast ridiculous spells on black widow spiders. Actually, there isn’t much time for any humor at all, and for good reason. When Harry Potter (Radcliffe) steps up to the edge of a looming forest in the third act of the film and declares that he is ready to die, it’s not just some melodramatic statement he makes before his inevitable face-off with Lord Voldemort (Fiennes). He actually sounds like he believes it. Depending on how emotionally invested you have become in these characters over the last decade will determine just how disheartening it would be to see Harry fall short of his calling.

Returning for his fourth consecutive Harry Potter film, director David Yates embraces the seriousness of the narrative and the consequences of Rowling’s uncompromising mythology. In “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” Harry, Hermione (Watson), and Ron (Grint) continue their scavenger hunt for the remaining Horcruxes, which they have to destroy in order to defeat the Dark Lord. With Hogwarts under the prison-like rules of new headmaster Severus Snape (Rickman), the trio must infiltrate the school to seek out the last object and then defend the castle alongside their professors and fellow classmates as Voldemort flings the Elder Wand around without remorse.

While the catalog of Harry Potter films include both highs and lows (Alfonso Cuarón’s fascinating “Prisoner of Azkaban” is still unsurpassed), both halves of “Deathly Hallows” are easily two of the most satisfying entries in the entire epic. In “Part 2,” the danger is seething as both sides battle between extravagant set pieces and eye-catching special effects, unnecessary 3D notwithstanding. The final chapter will be a bittersweet farewell for the most devoted Potter fans, but the franchise will forever be remembered for its distinct creativity, imagination, and darkly enchanting vision.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”)
 
Don’t anticipate some sort of shocking cliffhanger at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” the first half of the final chapter of the imaginative franchise that started back in 2001. It’s almost as if director David Yates (his third “Potter” film) and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has adapted all but one of J.K. Rowling’s “Potter” books) found a reasonable stopping point, hit the pause button, and asked us to come back in eight months.

It wasn’t a bad decision to split “Deathly Hallows” into two parts other than the fact that “Potter” fans will be climbing the walls until next July when Part 2 hits theaters. Although “Deathly Hallows” is much less action-driven than its predecessors, it’s evident the material from the original book was much too extensive to try to squeeze into a single feature. To do the final book justice (and to wrap up the nine-year adventure the right way), “Deathly Hallows” needed extra time to manifest.

In “Deathly Hallows,” Yates and Kloves understand exactly where our heroes are at this point in their lives, not only based on Rowling’s narrative, but also on a deeper, more emotional level. It’s the most mature film of the series and also the best since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Playing like an epic version of hide-and-seek, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are far from the comfortable confines of Hogwarts, which has been taken over by the Death Eaters. Now, on a journey to find the last remaining Horcruxes (if you don’t know what those are by now hurry and catch up), the trio evades the even-more-terrifying Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and spends most of their time trying to understand clues left behind by the now-deceased Dumbledore. How else will Harry get revenge for the murder of his parents during his inevitable final battle with the dark lord? These clues include the “Deathly Hallows,” three powerful objects that Harry may need to defeat Voldemort, who is becoming more powerful by the second. The eerie animation built-in with the mythology of these objects is impressively artistic.

Knowing the franchise is almost complete makes “Deathly Hallows” all the more serious as we inch closer and closer to the finale. While there are less spells cast and typical Harry Potter moments from earlier films, fans can find satisfaction in the darker elements and conflict between our heroes. We’ve invested in Harry, Hermione, and Ron for nine years. Now it’s time to reap those benefits. Sure, it’s might be impossible to get the full effect of what this film will be until the story is complete, but “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is an impressive start to what we hope will lead to a memorable showdown.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Broadbent, Emma Watson
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

The popular boy wizard continues down the mysterious road of sorcery and wonderment that has entertained fans for the last eight years in the sixth installment of the J.K. Rowling’s fantasy franchise, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Who would have guessed that Harry’s most formidable adversary in the new film would be puberty?

Yes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has developed into a young man, and just in time. In “Half-Blood Prince,” there’s far more to fear than acne breakouts and raging hormones. The Dark Arts flourish as Harry and best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) continue on their quest to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (seen in this film only as a gothic-looking young student).

The story begins with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) interfering into Harry’s life outside of Hogwarts as he flirts with a café waitress and sets up an impromptu date. Harry, who now knows he is “the chosen one,” doesn’t have time to enjoy the Muggle world as much as he would like. Dumbledore whisks him off to visit retired professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) so they can try to persuade him to return to Hogwarts. There’s something Slughorn is suppressing in his memory that can help Harry understand how to defeat Voldemort.

Along with Slughorn’s secrets, Harry must contend with a trio of smoky Death Eaters, who are terrorizing both the Muggle and Wizard worlds, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who is coming into his own and doing so by following orders of the Dark Lord himself, and, of course, the romantic high jinks that seems contagious throughout the entire school.

While romance continues to blossom occasionally between Harry and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Ron and Hermione’s ambiguous relationship halts for a moment when another girl (Jessie Cave) begins to show interest in Ron. There’s no need for too many doses of love potion in the high school-like melodrama that plays out in the halls of Hogwarts. With all the heartbreak, jealousy, infatuation, and pitter-patter of youthful hearts, it’s really a treat to see there’s actual blood pumping through these characters as the story continues to unfold.

Directed by David Yates, who was also behind “Order of the Phoenix,” “Half-Blood Prince” is the most dialogue-heavy of the entire series. Yates and his screenwriting team slow down the pace considerably to uncover more of the emotional elements of everyone involved. However, there are still highly entertaining scenes comprised of impressive special effects and sprightly editing (you can’t have a “Harry Potter” movie without a weather-beaten game of Quidditch). “Half-Blood Prince” is also the funniest of the bunch.

While actual magic might be a secondary thought in Rowling’s text, “Half-Blood Prince” is a notable addition to the narrative as a whole. It all leads up nicely to the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” which will be released in two parts in 2010 and 2011 respectively.