“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” (2007) Book Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” (2007) Book Review

I usually do not post book reviews, but a great deal has been made about this last installment of J.K. Rowling’s “HARRY POTTER” series that I thought I might as well say something. I have only been a die hard fan of the series since the release of the third movie, ”PRISONER OF AZKABAN” in 2004. I had also seen the first two movies in the theaters. I had enjoyed both, but it was the third film that had induced me to read the novels. Between ”AZKABAN” and the books, I became a die-hard fan. But this is not about the other stories. This is about the last . . . ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS”

I am going to make this short. As much as I have enjoyed the series, I have come to the realization that I like the last five novels – starting with ”AZKABAN” more than I do the first two. I guess I find it easier to relate the increasingly ambiguous nature of the story. And if there is one thing I can say about ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” is that it is one hell of an ambiguous novel. In it, Harry Potter and his two friends – Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger – truly start on their road to adulthood. And this, I believe, is the major strength of this novel.

By the time I came to the middle of the novel, I realized that for the first time in the series, most of its setting would take place away from Hogswarts. A part of me felt slightly disappointed that Harry, Ron and Hermoine did not reach the school until the last several chapters of the novel. On the other hand, I feel that this was the correct thing for Rowling to do. For me, ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” definitely seemed like a ”coming of age” story for our three protagonists. It was a maturity that they strongly needed in order to face the main villain, Lord Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle) and his Death Eaters. Looking back on the story, I do not think that Harry, Ron and Hermoine would have acquired their maturity and backbone if the story had mainly been set at Hogswarts. I think it was a very good move on Rowling’s part.

And our three heroes truly did grow. Hermoine learned to face her feelings for Ron and overcome that narrow-minded superiority that originally made her dismiss the legend of the Deathly Hallows. Ron learned to overcome his insecurity about his abilities as a wizard, his views on non-human magical creatures like house elves . . . and face his feelings for Hermoine. And Harry learned to overcome his tendency to play lone wolf and realize that people are not always what they seemed to be. The truths about Sirius’ treatment of Kreacher, Dumbledore’s past and his desires for powers, Snape’s feelings for Lily Potter and his true role in the war against Voldemort were powerful lessons for Harry. And I guess one could say they were powerful lessons for Ron and Hermoine, as well.

Of course, the deaths of Fred Weasley, Colin Creevy, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and others were painful. But it were the deaths of Dobby and Severus Snape that really moved me to tears. And the trio’s painful adventures throughout the British Isles seemed like another version of Homer’s “ODYSSEY” that probably lifted this last installment almost to an epic quality. I only have three complaints about ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS”:

a) Aside from Horace Slughorn, none of the Slytherins had participated in the battle. It annoyed me that Rowling went through all of that trouble to allow Harry not to judge others for superficial reasons . . . and yet, she insisted upon maintaining the clichés about the Slytherins that they could not be trusted;

b) I wish that Harry had revealed to the others – especially the other Death Eaters that Voldemort was a half-blood;

c) The final battle at Hogswarts seemed like one chapter too long at times. But what can one expect when it was interrupted twice – first by Snape’s death and past memories and later by Harry’s ghostly encounter with Dumbledore?

But ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” also had some great moments. Here are my favorites:

a) Bill and Fleur’s wedding was a hilarious family affair for the Weasleys, until Kingsley Shacklebolt’s patronus warned them of the encoming Death Eaters;

b) Harry, Ron and Hermoine’s adventures in London – including their break-in of the Ministry of Magic;

c) Ron’s return and Hermoine’s reaction;

d) The trio’s adventures at the Malfoy Manor and their reunion with Dobby, Ollivander, Dean Thomas and Luna Lovegood;

e) The trio’s escape from Gringotts on a blind dragon;

f) Harry and Hermoine’s creepy visit to Godric’s Hollow;

g) The trio’s visit to the Lovegood home;

h) The trio’s encounter with Albeforth Dumbledore;

i) The trio’s return to Hogswarts;

j) Ron and Hermoine’s first kiss;

k) Ginny’s birthday kiss to Harry;

l) The chapter on Snape’s memories of Lily Evans Potter and Albus Dumbledore – which in my opinion was my favorite in the entire novel.

I wonder if J.K. Rowling will write any other books, now that she has finished her opus on the boy wizard, Harry Potter. If she does, I hope that they will be as excellent as the seven novels that have entertained the public for the last decade. But if her next book or books are not as good, I will not hold it against her. After all, she did create Harry Potter for all of us to enjoy for years to come – in both the novels and the movies.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

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“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

The summer of 2011 provided moviegoers with a slew of what I would call raunchy black comedies. May saw the release of “BRIDESMAIDS” and “THE HANGOVER, PART II”. “BAD TEACHER” premiered in late June of that year. And early July 2011 saw the release of the most successful of the bunch, “HORRIBLE BOSSES”.

Directed by Seth Gordon, “HORRIBLE BOSSES” starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. The trio co-starred as three best friends who decide to murder their respective overbearing, abusive bosses (portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) who they believe are standing in the way of their happiness. Nick (Bateman) works at a financial firm for emotionally-abusive Dave Harken (Spacey), who dangles the possibility of a promotion to Nick, only to award it to himself. Dale (Day) endures sexual harassment from his boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston), who threatens to falsely tell Dale’s fiancee that he had sex with her unless he actually has sex with her. And Kurt (Sudeikis) actually enjoys his job under his boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). But after Jack dies from a heart attack, the company is taken over by Jack’s cocaine-addicted, amoral son Bobby (Farrell). One night at a bar, Kurt jokingly suggests that their lives would be happier if their bosses were no longer around. After a brief hesitation, the trio agree to the idea. In search of a hit-man, the friends travel to a bar and meet Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), an ex-con who agrees to be their “murder consultant”. Jones suggests that Dale, Kurt and Nick kill each other’s bosses to hide their motive while making the deaths look like an accident.

I really did not know how I would accept “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Being a fan of the 2009 movie, “THE HANGOVER”, I had found myself slightly disappointed by its first sequel, “THE HANGOVER, PART II”.  To be honest, I did not really anticipate “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. But since I was in the mood to watch a new movie, I went ahead and saw it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . very much.

Screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein did a great job in finalizing a script that took several years to finalize. Superficially, the idea of three amateurs committing murder without attracting the attention of the police seems rather ridiculous. Two of the characters, Nick and Dale, certainly viewed the idea with amusement or disbelief. But further transgressions by their respective bosses finally pushed them to the idea with hilarious results. One of the funniest aspects of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was the problem that the three friends endured to find a professional hit man to do the job. Their search led to a hilarious meeting at a motel with a man who does “wet work” (Ioan Gruffudd) – namely pissing on his clients. The three friends’ second search for a hit man leads them to a local bar, where Kurt manages to insult an African-American bartender in an effort to be “politically correct”. Their trip to the bar also leads them to “Motherfucker” Jones, an ex-convict who claims to be a hit man. As it turns out, Jones went to prison for video piracy and merely conned the three friends for money. But after agreeing to be their “murder consultant”, his advice for them to kill each other’s boss led to some hilarious scenes, including one that featured Dale’s encounter with the psychotic Dave Harken, when the latter nearly died from accidentally consuming some peanuts.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” benefited from some funny performances by the supporting cast. Well, most of the supporting cast was funny. Only Donald Sutherland, who portrayed Kurt’s amiable boss, was never given a chance to display his talent for comedy. Thankfully, the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Julie Bowen, P.J. Byrne and Bob Newhart received the chance to tickle the audiences’ funny bones. The three actors hired to portray the “horrible bosses” proved to be horrifying in a hilarious way. If I have to be honest, Dave Harken was not the first aggressive psycho he has portrayed in a comedy. His performances in “SWIMMING WITH SHARKS” and “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” come to mind. Despite his past experiences with such characters, Spacey still managed to make it all look fresh in his portrayal of Nick’s manipulative and aggressively controlling boss. Jennifer Aniston’s performance as Dr. Julia Harris was a revelation. Mind you, her Rachel Green character on the television series, “FRIENDS” was very complex. But I have never seen her portray such a scummy character before . . . and with such comedic skills. Colin Farrell’s appearance in the movie was not as long as Spacey and Aniston’s, but it was just as funny. In fact, I would cite Farrell’s performance as coke-addicted and self-delusional Bobby Pellitt as the funniest of the three performances. His rants against the employees he wanted fired struck me as one of the funniest scenes in the movie. And finally, it was good to see Jamie Foxx in a comedy again. Actually, he had a supporting role in the 2010 movie, “DUE DATE” and he was funny. But his role in that movie seemed mildly amusing in compare to his hilarious portrayal of “Motherfucker” Jones, the criminal wannabe, who seemed more adept at video pirating and posing than being a hardened criminal.

But the craziness of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” could have easily fallen apart without Seth Gordon’s direction and especially the performances of the three leads – Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. As funny as the movie was, it was bizarre enough to fall apart at the slightest misstep. One, the trio made a solid and charismatic comedy team. I would go as far to add that they could easily rival the comedic team from the “HANGOVER” movies. Jason Bateman is deliciously sardonic and witty as the ass-kissing Nick Hendricks, who spent most of his professional career toadying to guys like Dave Harken. I have never been aware of Jason Sudeikis before this movie. I am aware that he had co-starred with Aniston in the 2010 comedy, “THE BOUNTY HUNTER”, but I do not even remember him. He was certainly memorable as the trio’s verbose lady’s man, who first talked his two friends into committing murder. But the funniest performance came from Charlie Day, who portrayed the slightly nervous and “hopelessly romantic” Dale Arbus. It is quite apparent that most of the other characters – including his two buddies – have no real respect for him. Nick and Kurt did not take his complaints of sexual harassment by his boss seriously. One, I suspect they find it hard to believe that any female would find him attractive and two, society views the idea of a man complaining of sexual harassment by a woman seems ludicrous. But it was the hilarious and socially awkward Dale who found an effective way of dealing with the sexually aggressive Julia without any problems, whatsoever.

There have been some complaints about “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Some critics have complained that the movie was racially or gender-wise offensive. Others have complained that it was silly. I agree that “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was silly . . . but in a positive way. Besides, most comedies of this manner tend to be rather silly. But thanks to a wacky script and a first-rate cast, the silliness in “HORRIBLE BOSSES” made it the most enjoyable comedy I have seen in quite a while. I really look forward to its DVD release.

“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

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“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

I had never heard of the Marvel comic book hero, Iron Man, until I saw the trailer for the new movie, a few months ago. Mind you, I had heard of Iron Man’s alter ego – Tony Stark. The latter’s name had been mentioned in several Internet articles written about Spider-Man. Which is why I could not summon any excitement when I saw the trailer for the new movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Until the release of 2000’s “X-MEN”, I have never been that familiar with most of Marvel Comics’ costumed crime fighters – with the exception of Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. I had spent a great deal of my recreational time with DC Comics characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Just about anyone could imagine my reaction when I learned that Robert Downey Jr. had been signed to portray Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Not particularly thrilled. But I was impressed by the major cast of actors who had signed up for the film – Downey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. All four performers have been favorites of mine over the years, along with director Jon Favreau. And since “IRON MAN” was a Marvel Comics film, I decided to give it a chance.

I might as well say it right now. “IRON MAN” has already become one of my favorite movies of 2008. And if I must be honest, I think it is one of the BEST superhero movies I have ever seen, hands down. I would place “IRON MAN” in the same golden circle as“X-MEN 2: X-UNITED” (2003), “SPIDER-MAN 2” (2004) and “BATMAN BEGINS” (2005). Yes, it is that good.

What would be the point of focusing upon the movie’s many virtues, when my previous statements pretty much said it all? But . . . I am going to try, anyway. And I would like to start with the excellent screenplay written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum and Matthew Hollaway. They managed to create a good, solid story focusing upon Iron Man’s origins. In an unusual move, the writers began the story with Tony Stark in Afghanistan in the company of an Army escort. Stark had just presented a demonstration of Stark Industries’ latest weapon – the Jericho missile. While Stark jokes around with his military escort, Afghan terrorist group called Ten Rings. At this point, the movie rewind back to thirty-six hours earlier before Stark’s departure from the States. This opening immediately conveyed to me that the movie might turn out to be ten times better than I had originally assumed. By the time Tony Stark uttered those last words – ”I’m Iron Man” – it proved me right.

There are two aspects of “IRON MAN” that truly made it a cinematic gem for me. One happened to be Jon Favreau’s direction. The other turned out to be the movie’s superb cast. And speaking of the cast, I might as well start with the man of the hour. What can I say about Robert Downey Jr.? He IS Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Downey now owns the role. I have never seen an actor take possession of a role so thoroughly since Daniel Day Lewis in “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in“CASINO ROYALE” and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” trilogy. Downey is also the first actor or actress I have seen portray a comic book hero as a wiseass. And he also managed to produce sparks with not only his supporting cast, but also with an android and a computer voice.

Supporting Downey was Terrence Howard as USAF Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Air Force liaison to Stark Industries and personal friend of Tony Stark. Howard portrayed Rhodes as a stalwart military man who found Stark’s cavalier life both exasperating and enduring. I have never seen Howard do comedy . . . until this movie. And I was surprised to discover that his flair for comic timing seemed to match Downey’s. Some people have pointed out his role had been reduced. I cannot say that I agree. One, he had yet to become War Machine, Tony’s future armored crime fighting partner. However, his line – ”Next time, baby” – as he glanced at the extra armor suit seemed to hint that he will play a bigger role in future movies. And two, Howard possessed such a strong on-screen presence that no one was bound to forget . . . no matter how many scenes he had.

When I first learned that Gwenyth Paltrow would be playing Stark’s personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, I found myself wondering if her career was in a decline. Playing the main hero’s Girl Friday seemed like a step down – even from her role in”SKY CAPTAIN: WORLD OF TOMORROW”. Fortunately, the script and Paltrow’s witty and elegant performance gave her the opportunity rise above the usual cliché of the Girl Friday role. Mind you, “Pepper” Potts never struck me as interesting as the charming and conniving Polly Perkins from ”SKY CAPTAIN”. But instead of becoming the “damsel-in-distress”, Paltrow ended up helping Stark/Iron Man to defeat the main villain. Good show!

Speaking of villains, I must applaud Jeff Bridges for portraying one of the smoothest that I have seen on the silver screen – namely Tony Stark’s business partner and mentor Obadiah Stane. Not even Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine from ”STAR WARS” had possessed such subtlety when it came to evil. At first glance, Bridges did not seem the type who could effectively portray a villain. Then I recalled his performance in the 1985 thriller with Glenn Close, ”JAGGED EDGE”, in which he portrayed a similarly subtle villain. Being a skillful actor, Bridges managed to convey many aspects of Stane’s personality – a superficial warmth and intelligence that hid a murderous and manipulative streak.

Another memorable villain was portrayed by actor Faran Tahir, who portrayed Raza, leader of the terrorist group – the Ten Rings – hired to kidnap Stark while the latter was in Afghanistan. Like Bridges, Tahir did an admirable in projecting villainy with suave, sophistication and a strong presence. In regard to a strong presence, I could say the same about Shaun Tolb, who portrayed Dr. Ho Yinsen, an Afghan surgeon and captive of the Ten Rings that saved Stark’s life. I have seen Talb portray some interesting characters over the years. But I must admit that his warm, yet firm portrayal of Yinsen made me realize that he possessed quite a commanding presence.

As I had earlier pointed out, the movie’s four screenwriters managed to produce a script that featured a very solid story. Unlike many other comic book movies, ”IRON MAN” seemed to be laced with a great deal of witty dialogue and humor. There were times when I wondered whether I was watching a superhero action film. But there was plenty of action-filled scenes to remind me that this movie was basically an adventure film – like Iron Man’s two encounters with the Ten Rings group in Afghanistan, his encounter with two USAF fighter planes and his showdown with Stane in downtown Los Angeles. Director Jon Farveau, along with the four screenwriters and cast, managed to bring together all of the action, humor and drama with perfect balance.

Okay . . . let me rephrase my last sentence. Perhaps ”IRON MAN” was not completely ”perfect”. I do have two quibbles about the movie. One of them happened to be the first sequence in Afghanistan. I realize that the setting of Iron Man’s origins could not be in Vietnam. And it would make sense for the setting to be changed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The problem is that most of the sequence featuring Stark’s captivity by the Ten Rings was boring as hell. It almost seemed to drag forever. And matters did not help much that most of this sequence was set inside a series of caves. Another problem I had with the movie was its score. Quite frankly, I found it unmemorable. But I am not surprised. I can only think of three comic book hero movies that had a score or theme song I found memorable. Unfortunately, ”IRON MAN” is not one of them.

But despite the first Afghanistan sequence and the movie’s score, it is easy to see why ”IRON MAN” proved to be one of the best summer movies of 2008. With Jon Farveau in the director’s chair and Robert Downey Jr. as the leading man, the movie has become –for a while – one of the best of its genre.

“FRANCHISE RANKING: The STAR TREK Movies”

Below is my ranking of the twelve “STAR TREK” movies from my favorite to my least favorite. The movies featured characters from “STAR TREK” (19666-1969) series and “STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION” (1987-1994):

FRANCHISE RANKING: THE “STAR TREK” MOVIES

1. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986) – Even after so many years, I am still in love with this time travel tale in which the senior officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise go back in time to find a humpback whale, bring it back to 23rd century San Francisco and save the Alpha Quadrant. Leonard Nimoy directed and he co-starred with William Shatner and Catherine Hicks.

2. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Here is another time travel story that is a major favorite of mine. Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E go back to mid-21st Earth to prevent the Borg from conquering it. Director Jonathan Frakes also co-starred with Patrick Stewart, Alfrie Woodward, Alice Kriege and James Cromwell.

3. “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984) – Following Spock’s death in “The Wrath of Khan”, Kirk and his fellow senior officers steal the U.S.S. Enterprise and return to the planet Genesis in order to find Spock’s body and bond it with the half-Vulcan’s essence, which is inside Leonard McCoy’s body. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the movie starred William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and Christopher Lloyd.

4. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) – James Kirk and his crew are reunited with an old foe from twenty years earlier, the genetically engineered Khan Noonien Singh. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the movie starred William Shatner, Leonard McCoy, Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley and Paul Winfield.

5. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) – Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise must stop a plot to prevent a peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the movie starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall and Brock Peters.

6. “Star Trek: Generations” (1994) – In this first movie to feature the “NEXT GENERATION” crew; Picard, with the help of supposedly dead James T. Kirk, must stop a madman willing to murder on a planetary scale in order to enter a space matrix. David Carson directed Patrick Stewart, Malcolm McDowell and William Shatner.

7. “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) – When Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E learn of a Federation plot against the inhabitants of a unique planet, they begin an open rebellion. Director Jonathan Frakes co-starred with Patrick Stewart, Donna Murphy and F. Murray Abraham.

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8. “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) – Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are charged with tracking down a renegade responsible for the murder of several Starfleet officers, including Admiral Christopher Pike and end up dealing with a conspiracy within Starfleet and an enhanced Human known as Khan. Sequel to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film.

9. “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002) – After the Enterprise-E is diverted to the Romulan planet of Romulus, supposedly because they want to negotiate a truce, the Federation soon find out the Romulans are planning an attack on Earth. Directed by Stuart Baird, the movie starred Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spinner, Tom Hardy and Ron Perlman.

10. “Star Trek” (2009) – Directed by J.J. Abrams, this reboot follows a young James T. Kirk and Spock, before they unite aboard the USS Enterprise to combat a Romulan from their future who threatens the United Federation of Planets. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoë Saldaña and Bruce Greenwood. The quality of the “TREK” films begin to waver around this point.

11. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979) – In this lackluster tale, a mysterious and immensely powerful alien cloud called V’ger approaches Earth, destroying everything in its path and Admiral James T. Kirk assumes command of his old starship—the U.S.S. Enterprise to lead it on a mission to save the planet and determine V’ger’s origins. Directed by Robert Wise, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Persis Khambatta and Stephen Collins co-starred.

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12. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989) – In what I consider to be the worst “TREK” movie ever, Kirk and his crew must deal with Mr. Spock’s half-brother, who hijacks the Enterprise-A for an obsessive search for God. Director William Shatner co-starred with Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, David Warner and Laurence Luckinbill.