The 20 Best Movies About — Money!!!

The good folks at AccountingDegree.com reached out to me a little while ago and sent me a pretty sweet Top 20 list. I would think that such a site would be sending me the Top 20 ways to get a better refund on my taxes — but this was a very well thought-out list outlining the greatest movies about the mighty dollar. A pretty clever list idea, to be sure. Now, mind you, this is not my personal list. I should work on my own Top 10 in the very near future. But I was pretty happy to see P.T. Anderson’s masterpiece on here, as well as James Foley’s adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winner. Good choices…and some I would have never thought of. I will give absolute credit here to Rose King who is the person thoughtful enough to send this list to me in the first place. Are there any you can think of that are missing? — P.E.

20 BEST MOVIES ABOUT MONEY

Money, even for those who don’t work in finance, is still a part of everyday life. Every time we buy food, pay bills or go to work, we deal with it. Because money permeates so much of what we do and what motivates us to be both very good and sometimes very bad, it makes a great movie subject. Here are some of our favorite films about the supposed root of all evil, taking a look at greed, generosity and everything in between.

Serious Films

Addressing greed, crime and business, these films take a hard look at how humans interact with money.

Wall Street (1987): This Oliver Stone classic comes with the tag line, “greed is good” and that’s just what values the film reflects with its corrupt, money-hungry characters caught up in the 80’s ideal excesses.

Boiler Room (2000): This modern twist on a film noir follows Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) as he attempts to get a legitimate job and please his father after dropping out of college and running an illegal casino. What he doesn’t realize is that the stock brokerage where he finds work is far from legal and may just ruin his life.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): This feature film adaptation of a David Mamet play documents the lives of four desperate Chicago agents who will do anything to sell some less-than-desirable real estate to prospective buyers.

There Will Be Blood (2007): Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of the ruthless oil baron Daniel Plainview won him an Oscar (among numerous other awards), and there perhaps hasn’t been a better or colder portrayal of a driven businessman on film. Despite the character’s success in the film, he remains lonely and isolated from all those around him, even his adopted son, showing that money truly can’t buy happiness.

Barbarians at the Gate (1993): Based on the book of the same name, this movie takes a look at the real life events that occurred during the buyout of Nabisco. Viewers will see businessmen fight it out for the rights to the company, slowly bidding up into the billions, creating a large shadow of debt for whomever ends up with the company.

American Psycho (2000): American Psycho isn’t about money per se, but the serial killer at the center, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), will go to any ends to maintain his yuppie Wall Street lifestyle – even murdering business rivals. The film skewers materialism, narcissism, greed and the often shallow nature of American consumerism.

Pi (1998): Pi follows a brilliant young mathematician who is working on a formula that would help him to understand the natural world. While making stock predictions, he stumbles upon a mysterious 216 digit number that could be the answer he’s looking for, but other groups, stockbrokers and religious theorists want the discovery — and are willing to do anything to get it.

Indecent Proposal (1993): What would you do for money? That’s the question this classic film asks, as a mysterious man (Robert Redford) offers a married couple (Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore) one million dollars for just one night with the wife. While they need the money, the realities of getting it may just drive them apart.

Casino (1995): Where there is money, there is crime and that’s just what viewers will find in this gangster film from Martin Scorsese. Enforcers help make sure that the mafia gets its cut of casino profits.

Lighthearted Films

Money can sometimes make us act foolishly and these movies explore its comic side in society.

The Money Pit (1986): If you’ve ever purchased real estate, you know how much money needs gets poured into a home to keep it looking nice. In this film, a young couple (Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) finds a home they love, but happens to be in great need of repair. They sink every last penny into the project, which presents them with disaster after disaster in this humorous take on home-ownership.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): This uplifting Christmas classic starts off sad with a downtrodden George Bailey (James Stewart) wanting to kill himself over the failure of his bank and loan caused by misplaced money stolen by greedy, cold businessman Henry Potter. Yet with the help of a guardian angel, he learns powerful lessons about friendship, generosity and the value of life.

Trading Places (1983): When a homeless man (Eddie Murphy) and a Wall Street power broker (Dan Aykroyd) unwillingly change places, hijinks ensue. While the film takes a humorous look at how each is ill-equipped to live the life of the other, it also offers real lessons on the value of life over that of money.

Brewster’s Millions (1985): When a young man (Richard Pryor) inherits millions from a rich uncle, he is required to spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit the full fortune. The catch is that he can’t spend anything on himself; he must help others and gain nothing from every penny he spends.

Jerry McGuire (1996): Sports agents are pretty money-driven in their profession — and they have to be — but in this film we see one who has grown tired of the drama. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise) writes a mission statement detailing how dishonest he finds the industry, causing him to lose his job and follow a path that ultimately leads to a much more fulfilling career.

Other People’s Money (1991): Stars Danny DeVito as a corporate liquidator who sets his sights on a wire and cable company run by a straight shooting, old-fashioned businessman played by Gregory Peck. In the end, DeVito’s character has to decide which he loves more, the businessman’s daughter whom he has fallen for, or money.

Documentaries

Get a window into the real-life financial troubles going on in the world through these documentary films.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005): When Enron went under in 2001, it took millions in employee retirement and benefits with it, while the guys at the top made off with everything. Viewers of the film will see the systematic accounting fraud which caused this collapse and the long-ranging effects it had on employees and their loved ones.

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009): Whether you love him or hate him, Michael Moore brings up some interesting issues in this film, an indictment of the current capitalist system and the financial crisis that’s still going on.

Maxed Out (2006): Credit cards allow us to buy a wide range of things without carrying around a load of cash, but they come with some pretty hefty financial strings attached. In this film, viewers will see just how credit card debt is hurting the average American and what predatory and abusive practices in the credit card industry are doing to hurt consumers.

In Debt We Trust (2006): Another hard look at debt, this film shows the major economic changes that have occurred over the past few decades both for the average person and our nation as a whole.

The Ascent of Money (2008): In this award-winning PBS movie series, viewers will learn about the long history of banking, money and credit from the Middle Ages up to the present day.

~~ by Rose King

To go to the actual list on the AccountingDegree website, please click here.

Introducing: ‘The Ludovico Files’ Page

OK. I admit it. I’m a horror junkie. I wear the scarlet letter. It’s always seemed like something you should be ashamed to admit, like eating Oreos with mayonnaise. Which is why a movie like Juno is such bullshit! Nobody who owns a Hershell Gordon Lewis collection (heck, no one who’s even heard of H.G. Lewis) is going to land a babe like Jennifer Garner and you’d be hard-pressed to find any 15-year-old impressed by it!

Horror has always been treated like the bastard child of cinema. I admit, no one is going to confuse Barn of the Naked Dead for high art and, let’s be honest, 90% of what’s readily available is of the amateur, borrowed daddy’s camcorder variety or the watered down dreck churned out and regurgitated by bean counters in Hollywood.

She's as shocked as you are that Barn of the Naked Dead is mentioned here!

So why do I keep going back to the well after reels and reels of disappointment? They’re out there… that 10%, the diamonds in the rough that restore my faith in the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a film snob looking to bring legitimacy to the genre. I love me some trash! Grindhouse, splatter films, zombies, cannibals, giallos, exploitation, ghost stories, serial killers, aliens, gothic, creature features and more all hold a special place in my ruptured heart. And this special page on The Lantern was created to honor them all. You might very well read something and think, “How the hell can he like that piece of crap?” I can’t explain why a no-budget, schlock fest like Night Train to Terror is one of my sentimental favorites, but I’ll do my best to at least give some insight as to why that film, and others like it, strike a chord.

Finally, a disclaimer: Although the main focus of the Ludovico Files page is to highlight, comment and review horror, fantasy and sci-fi films, I plan to expand it into other topics as well including television, music, mainstream cinema, video games and general opinions and observations.

Thanks for joining me on my cyber-journey. I welcome all comments and healthy debate.

Top 5 Tuesday: Rotten Remakes

I think most film buffs approach remakes with glaring skepticism. And why wouldn’t we? Most remakes turn out to be pure crap – trying to rebuild/rehash a movie that was perfectly fine to begin with. Successful ones (True Grit, Let Me In, Scarface, The Ten Commandments) are few and far between. This year, we have two that are nothing short of sacrilegious (we already had Arthur, which falls into that very same category). As a product of growing up in the 1980’s (which I am not at all proud of), there is absolutely no reason why we need another Footloose. Yes, the 1984 film is completely dated, campy and oh-so 80’s – but that is part of its charm. This remake, which is based on the stage musical, looks to be a train wreck. And shame on you, Mr. Dennis Quaid for being a part of this…you’re better than that. We also have the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to look forward to – and thank God because it has been over a full year since the original! David Fincher is an accomplished director with loads of talent – so it is shocking to see that he would rather regurgitate someone else’s work rather than bringing us something new and exciting this holiday season. Chances are I will not see either one. I usually stay far away from these remakes, mainly out of loyalty to the original. I can’t give Fincher’s film my $10. Sorry, there’s no way. I’d feel too dirty.

So in the spirit of remakes that should never be made – I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Top 5 Tuesday to five truly shitty remakes. Now, mind you, I haven’t seen all that many. On principle alone, I will look the other way more often than not. I could never cash in any dignity I might have to see remakes like Arthur (2011), The Stepford Wives (2004), Death at A Funeral (2010), or The Women (2008).  I have heard how horrendous they are and I don’t need to waste my time. But here are 5 that I was unfortunate enough to have seen. Please feel free to share your own!

5. Planet of the Apes (2001)

I have to say – I didn’t mind Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I enjoyed his Alice in Wonderland too. But this? This was uncalled for. All of the impressive make-up and special effects could not hide the fact that this was a total wash. And the terrible ending? Burton himself said that it wasn’t supposed to make any sense, and to me, that is inexcusable. It strikes me as very odd that most of these abysmal remakes tend to be of classic films that do not need another treatment. That is surely the case here, as the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston is a sci-fi classic. A fine cast assembled here – but the film is too self-involved with its heavy make-up and the story goes every which way. A terrible screenplay in fact – with none of the insight, irony and impact of its predecessor.

4. The Pink Panther (2006)

I will say that I admire Steve Martin – as a comedian, a writer, and as an actor, I have great respect for him. He seems like one very smart guy. But even smart guys make dumb mistakes. This is one of them. I am not a huge fan of the original films starring the enormously talented Peter Sellers, but I have always had a fond appreciation for them. Sellers brought a subtlety to the infamous role of Inspector Clouseau that was quite charming to viewers – we rooted for him, we were always on his side, and yes, many feel in love with this character. This was due obviously to Sellers’ approach, but also Blake Edwards. In this tragic remake, the only thing “funny” about it seems to be Steve Martin doing the French accent without any of the charm or wit of the original films. Everything is so grossly over-the-top and extremely childish in its comedic approach. Yes, the film made money and because of that, garnered an unworthy sequel – a sad statement in itself about what Americans are willing to go and see in the theaters. This may not be the travesty that was Son of the Pink Panther (1993), but it remains unoriginal, unimaginative, and worse yet, unfunny.

3. The Wicker Man (2006)

The original 1973 thriller is a cult classic and is still held in pretty high esteem. With good reason – it was friggin’ creepy! This Neil LaBute remake was just friggin’ funny – and not in a good way at all! Very reminiscent of Wiseau’s The Room. LaBute has potential as a filmmaker, but he hit all the wrong buttons on this one. And Nicolas Cage? Yeah, that guy who once took home an Oscar…he is nothing short of laughable in this. Cage can be really really good (Matchstick Men, Adaptation) or he can be really really bad (insert any of his action flicks here) – but in The Wicker Man, he is simply embarrassing. Every time he yells or begins to lose it here, it is funny to watch, especially when he points a gun at Rose and proclaims, “Step away from the bike!” This is bad stuff, people. It makes for a funny “comedy,” but that surely was not LaBute’s intention – and for that, this goes down as a futile faux pas.

2. Psycho (1998) 

Isn’t the point of attempting to direct a remake to bring one’s own unique vision to the work? To enhance the original somehow? To add one’s own artistic sensibilities? Not for hit-or-miss director Gus Van Sant who decided to re-create an American classic by simply doing a shot-for-shot version of the original. In English class this is called plagiarism. In movieland, it should be called lazy and insipid. First, why even attempt to remake a staple in cinematic history directed by the man known by many as “the master of suspense.” This was an embarrassment and nothing short of pointless. Van Sant was able to assemble a fine cast for his needless experiment, but that didn’t help at all. Critic Leonard Maltin hit it dead-on when he called the movie, “an insult, rather than a tribute to a landmark film.”

1. Swept Away (2002)

I’ve walked out of a movie theater only a handful of times in my life. This was one of them. In my defense, I was “forced” to go and I went unwillingly, knowing of the atrocity which waited for me. And I took my seat — and watched. But I simply couldn’t take it anymore – the pretentiousness, the silliness, the arrogance, the boredom. I had to get up and get out. And really – should I have expected anything more from director Guy Ritchie? What made the original 1974 film (directed by Lina Wertmueller) so amazingly effective was that it managed to make a significant statement as to social classes in society in a very controversial way. It was also sexy and romantic with two remarkably talented lead stars (Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato). Viewed by many as being somewhat misogynistic (which I totally disagree with), I always found it fascinating that it was directed by a woman. This remake was a vanity project from start to finish and never should have been attempted, especially with Madonna in the lead role. She was a disaster. And I don’t give her most of the blame – this is all Ritchie’s inadequacies, as writer and director of this miscarriage.

And 4 More for Good Measure — Because These Stunk Too!

Poseidon (2006)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Sabrina (1995)
Gloria (1999)

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Final Cast Breakdown

Well, this is it…the final posting of our in-depth look at the tremendous ensemble cast of the Harry Potter series. This also marks the end of The Lantern’s special “Harry Potter Retrospective” which has been tackled quite impressively (if I may say so) by William Buhagiar, film buff and self-proclaimed Potter nerd. I hope all of you Harry Potter fans will read these articles and, of course, share your own opinions on how the films honored (or dishonored) Rowling’s books. Of course, the final film is set for release on July 15th — and once again, I would like to remind you that Buhagiar’s movie review will be posted here that weekend. I am still hoping to be caught up by then (as I have just recently started watching the films). Thank you for reading — and thank you, William…for an amazingly thorough job! — P.E.

Bellatrix Lestrange

Played by: Helena Bonham Carter
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

I find Bellatrix Lestrange to be one of the most fascinating characters Jo Rowling created, as she is the only witch in the series who is almost as obscenely evil as her beloved master, the Dark Lord. Rowling sums her up accurately in the seventh book as “a witch with prodigious skill and no conscience,” when she ravenously takes down four men with a stroke of her wand. She is, to put it mildly, an absolute lunatic; a bloodthirsty sadist and a woman who commits horrifying crimes, such as the torture and permanent incapacitation of Neville Longbottom’s parents, Frank and Alice. After the first downfall of Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix, ever the fanatic servant, set out to find her master and suspected the Longbottoms knew of his whereabouts. She tortured them so brutally and severely that they lost their minds permanently, and remained at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries for the rest of their lives – forgetting that they even had a son together. Bellatrix is one of the very few Death Eaters that are among Voldemort’s ranks purely out of devotion to his cause, and throughout the series built a reprehensible body count, torturing and killing many characters that we had grown to love.

Although I had never seen her in a film prior to this series, when Helen McCrory was cast as Bellatrix prior to the release of Order of the Phoenix, I was thrilled, simply because she resembled Rowling’s description of Bellatrix so well. She dropped out soon after due to pregnancy and for a few weeks I waited patiently to see who would replace her. Despite the fact that she is a repugnant character, she certainly ranks among my favorites. When Helena Bonham Carter, my absolute favorite actress, accepted the part, I was beside myself with excitement. Although I knew her role in Order of the Phoenix would be minimal, I couldn’t wait to see her portrayal of the psychotic Death Eater.

The movie was a disgrace, but her performance was spectacular. It was wild, explosive and very unpredictable. In Half-Blood Prince, she was given a significant amount of additional screen time, and totally topped her Phoenix appearance. She very artfully tore through the castle, blasting away windows in the Great Hall, setting Hagrid’s cabin ablaze and savagely screaming as she released the Dark Mark into the sky. I thought it impossible for her to deliver anything new in Deathly Hallows: Part I but alas, I was quite mistaken. In the fifth and sixth movies, she was insane in an almost comical way – her anarchy and cackling lacked any real menace, but in the seventh, she introduced us to a completely different side of Bellatrix that we had not yet seen in the films, and added a new (and very disturbing) layer to the character’s insanity.

Overall, I find Helena Bonham Carter to be the most enjoyable part of the movies, and this might be a biased opinion. Her performance as Bellatrix Lestrange is wickedly intoxicating, and it is truly impossible to take your eyes off her while she is on screen. Her role in Deathly Hallows: Part II will be her most prominent out of any of the movies, and I am beyond amped to see what she comes up with next.

Draco Malfoy

Played by: Tom Felton
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: C+

Tom Felton is probably the best of the younger actors in the series. He seems to have a very good understanding of the character and always aces the scenes he is in. In Half-Blood Prince, his role is more prominent than in any of the other installments, and his performance was admirably parallel to the behavior of the book’s Draco Malfoy.

Sadly, Draco’s treatment in the films is watered-down and disappointing. Jo Rowling’s Draco Malfoy cannot only be irritating, but also vile and cruel at times. Whenever Malfoy was on the page, readers were infuriated by his bigotry, his cruelty and his constant tormenting of Harry, Ron and Hermione. In the films, however, Draco is nothing more than an irksome bully, occasionally inconveniencing our heroes with a snide remark and providing comic relief whenever his cowardice is showcased.

Draco’s storyline in the seventh film, though very rarely on screen, is properly established, as his family is now being degraded and humiliated by Lord Voldemort. This will ultimately serve the viewers in Deathly Hallows: Part II with (hopefully) one of the most satisfying character arcs in the series, as Draco’s newfound reluctance to take part in the Dark Lord’s new regime is a fantastic route for the misguided youngster to take.

Remus Lupin

Played by: David Thewlis
Performance: B
Screen Treatment: C-

Lupin, though a frequent and bold presence in the books, is sadly nothing to rave about in the films. He is given much leg room in Prisoner of Azkaban, during the many Patronus charm lessons he gives Harry, and his general role in that particular entry was the most prominent out of the seven. After the third film, however, he is pretty much nowhere to be found, popping up in the occasional scene maybe to provide a little exposition, remind us he’s a werewolf, and that’s about it.

Thewlis’s performance as Harry’s third year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in Azkaban was certainly adequate, and though he didn’t resemble the Lupin I pictured, that does not give me license to complain about the casting choice; if the filmmakers were to satisfy every fan’s mental image of the characters, then the films would obviously be impossible to make.

As previously stated, Lupin’s presence in the books is certainly more frequent, which is frustrating considering he is the subject of major events that unfold in Deathly Hallows: Part II, and in the previous film he has barely any screen time. I’m hoping that the filmmakers will find a method of compensating for Lupin’s very heavily-sacrificed prominence in the films by somehow inserting a Lupin-related something in the beginning of the finale. This will most likely not be the case, as there’s already so much back-tracking and revisiting that must be done in order for the audience to have a vague comprehension of the main plot alone – therefore I assume that poor Lupin’s story will be left unattended to.

The Trio (Harry, Ron & Hermione)

Played by: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson
Performance: B, A- and A
Screen Treatment: A (for all)

Now that they have played the parts in each of the eight films, it’s difficult for us to picture any other actors playing the parts of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Each of the three beat out thousands of others for the parts and were all plucked from obscurity to play the central heroes of the Harry Potter series.

I feel there is not much to be said for each of them. They have played their parts to the best of their abilities, and very little was sacrificed to bring them to the screen. Hermione (Watson) was a dream come true for the screenwriters, as she was constantly utilized to explain every bit of exposition required for the stories. Rupert Grint served us well as the permanent source of comic relief, and whenever the films aimed to get the audience giggling, Ron was always there with a goofy remark. Daniel Radcliffe was, at times, a bit dry in his portrayal of the Boy Who Lived, but his dramatic improvement was heavily evident as the films progressed, and his last performance in film seven was his best yet.

I must admit, I’m glad that the three actors were featured in each film. I’ve had my issues with their performances at times, but considering their age, I’d say they did an adequate job and certainly improved gradually with each movie. If there were ever any problems with the characters, it was more in the writing and less a product of the actors. Ron’s goofy sidekick quirks were sometimes misplaced and inappropriate, Hermione seemed less a character at times and more a secret weapon for the writers to get information across, and Daniel Radcliffe, given the daunting task of carrying all seven films, was an occasional bore.

To execute each role to absolute perfection for eight films would undoubtedly be impossible, and these three have done their best to respect their characters. They’ve brought Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to life over the course of a solid decade, and like I said, suggesting anyone else for the roles would not only be difficult, but impossible.

Other Supporting Cast Members:

Molly Weasley (Julie Walters)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: B-

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson)

Performance: A
Screen Treatment: B-

Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A-

Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent)

Performance: C
Screen Treatment: C-

Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: C+

Fred & George Weasley (James & Oliver Phelps)

Performances: B
Screen Treatment: C+

Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis)

Performance: B+
Screen Treatment: C-

The God-Awful Trailer for Fincher’s Upcoming Film

I suppose I should preface this post by declaring (yet again) that I thought Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the best movie to come out in 2010. The two installments that followed were mediocre at best, never really carrying the emotional or dramatic impact of the original. Now (of course) here comes the American version, set for release later this year and directed by the very talented David Fincher. I won’t even get into asking why this film needed to be made when we all had the opportunity to see the original film…just last year. Is Fincher (and all of Hollywood for that matter) hard up on finding new material? Are producers so cowardly that they need to remake a proven commodity rather than take a chance on a new and original idea?

But never mind all of that. The trailer for this new American version was recently released and I must ask…how shitty is this??!! The 90+ second trailer is a mish-mash collage of quickly edited clips set to the music of Trent Reznor and Karen O doing a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigration Song.” If you are not familiar with the books or the Swedish films, you have absolutely no idea what the movie is about. The trailer attempts to be dark, mysterious, violent, cool, and “hip” — but it’s nothing short of a mess. It caps off with the very tacky and campy tagline: “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas.” Really, people? This is what they pay you big bucks for?

Listen, the cast is an impressive one and Fincher is an accomplished filmmaker. I’m not proclaiming that the film is going to be terrible. I just think that millions of dollars could have been put to much more productive use. It’s a shame our country feels the need to “one-up” the work of others on a continal basis. Shame on Fincher for taking this project on – and shame on all of those involved. If this trailer is any indication, we’re in for a car wreck of a movie. Give it a watch — and tell me what you think.

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Cast Breakdown (part II of III)

Here, contributing writer William Buhagiar continues in his no-holds-barred analysis of the impressive cast of the “Harry Potter” film series. Yesterday, we had Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, and the late Richard Harris. In this 2nd part, Buhagiar looks at four additional characters — and the actors who play them. Our special “Harry Potter Retrospective” will end with the next post, in Part III of the Cast Breakdown. With the final film due out in just a matter of weeks, I remain very excited to read what Buhagiar has to say about it, here on The Lantern. — P.E.

Professor Minerva McGonagall

Played by: Maggie Smith
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Dame Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, is undoubtedly the most perfect casting decision made throughout the series. It seems as if the part was written specially for her – a woman who is very stern, intimidating and disciplinary, but also very warm, likeable and compassionate.

Whenever I read the books, I always have very separate images in my head of the characters than those of the actors who play them. However, in the case of Professor McGonagall, Maggie Smith is always playing the bespectacled Transfiguration professor, as she is unquestionably the most remarkable choice for the role.

What I find most exciting is that the best of Professor McGonagall is still yet to come, as some of her finest moments will take place in Deathly Hallows: Part II, when she begins to organize the final battle against the Death Eaters and sets up the defenses around the boundaries of the castle. According to the MuggleNet staff (who were very privileged in seeing a test screening of the impending finale in Chicago), McGonagall has a very respectable number of applause-worthy moments – rightfully so, I say, as she is certainly amongst the best and the most heroic of characters in the ‘Potter’ universe.

Lucius Malfoy

Played by: Jason Isaacs
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: A

This is another casting decision and performance that I admit, I have no complaints about. I always thought of Jason Isaacs as a great actor, and he is usually seen playing villainous characters, so it seems a no-brainer to cast him as the aristocratic and despicably prejudiced Death Eater Lucius Malfoy?

Much like Ralph Fiennes, Isaacs is phenomenal at playing detestably evil characters. In Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy (father to Draco, Harry’s school rival) is at the epicenter of the dangerous events unfolding within the school, thus making him the essential antagonist of the second film. This may seem outrageous and perhaps a bit blasphemous, but I am very curious as to the idea of Isaacs and Fiennes switching roles, and watching the former assume the role of the Dark Lord. There is nothing disappointing or underwhelming in his performance as Malfoy, it is simply a matter of curiosity, as I think he would have played Voldemort beautifully.

The filmmakers properly conveyed the “rationing” of the villains; what I mean by this is that rather vile characters (like Malfoy), who seem horrible, are the prime antagonists in the earlier installments. Once Lord Voldemort returns, however, these characters that we felt were horrific and villainous now seem absolutely wholesome by comparison – this technique has actually been complimented by Isaacs himself, praising Jo Rowling’s ingenious style of creating a sort-of “pyramid of villainy.”

In Deathly Hallows: Part I we begin to see the tip of the iceberg concerning Lucius’s fall from grace in Voldemort’s circle. Having once been one of You-Know-Who’s most trusted servants, Lucius Malfoy, who is present in the opening scene of the film, could not appear more different than when we are first introduced to him in Chamber of Secrets. Not only is his general appearance substantially less flattering: his hair is greasy and unkempt, his eyes sunken and shadowy, etc, but there is also no sign of the familiar, sneering arrogance he carried that he so obviously passed onto his son. The storyline of the Malfoys is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, considering the Malfoy family’s intent was once to gain as much power as possible within Voldemort’s circle; as Voldemort’s power begins to peak, however, and the Dark Lord begins to display outward contempt for them, humiliating and degrading Lucius whenever possible, their motivation dramatically changes from a loyalty to Voldemort’s establishment of his new regime into a desperate struggle to remain together, and to ultimately survive the war.

Dolores Umbridge

Played by: Imelda Staunton
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: C

Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts School will never fail to introduce herself without that very lengthy title before her. She is a downright awful, infuriatingly menacing character — one I wish I could personally slap in the face. She projects a false image of girlish sweetness, and hides a savagely sadistic disposition to abuse her power and torment students.

Casting Imelda Staunton, though a fine actress, was the first red flag that the character would not be translated to the screen properly. Why was this decision a red flag? Not just because Staunton looks nothing like the enormously fat, toad-like woman described in the book, but because she is also simply too likeable. Everything about Umbridge is meant to infuriate us, as she represents such an enormous problem Harry has to overcome: the Ministry’s refusal to believe Voldemort has returned and their very public attempts to defame Harry and Dumbledore as much as possible. Umbridge is the ultimate embodiment of a flawed institution, and though she is present mostly in Order of the Phoenix, she certainly leaves her mark in Deathly Hallows: Part I, as the newly-appointed Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, overseeing the trials of the Muggle-borns and imprisoning them for “theft of magic by force.”

Perhaps, being that Umbridge plays her most prominent role in Order of the Phoenix, which was absolutely the biggest a-hole train wreck of a ‘Potter’ movie; her screen treatment is woefully incompetent. Rather than being the shocking, cruel, wretched and infuriating witch Jo Rowling so aptly created, the movie Umbridge is merely an inconvenience.

Sirius Black

Played by: Gary Oldman
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: D

Sirius Black is such a fantastic character, and Gary Oldman is an equally fantastic actor – it’s truly a shame that Sirius Black (on screen) is such a hollow, insignificant character, one that lacks any of the endearingly flawed qualities of Rowling’s creation. We’re first introduced to Sirius in Prisoner of Azkaban, and throughout most of the novel/movie, we are under the impression that he was a traitor to James and Lily Potter by selling their whereabouts to Lord Voldemort, and that he is now after Harry. Eventually, his innocence is revealed and he re-assumes his role of godfather to Harry.

Sirius Black was a very exciting character to read, as he was very unpredictable, hot-headed and always entertaining. The only member of his family for generations to rebel against the insanely strict “pure-bloods-only” mentality and placed in Gryffindor House, Sirius was the best friend of James Potter and a beloved father figure to Harry.

In the movies, I find it tremendously difficult to really sympathize with Sirius. There is not much to his character, and nowhere in the films are there moments where Sirius surprises us or is as radically hot-tempered as his literary counterpart. Jo Rowling wrote Sirius Black as such a vividly human and multi-dimensional character that was never dull and whom I always enjoyed reading. In the films, however, Sirius just seems to be one of many in the series of characters improperly staged.

NEXT!!! The Final Posting in Magic Lantern’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” Looks at the Following Actors:

Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange)
Tom Felton
(Draco Malfoy)

David Thewlis (Remus Lupin) and
the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, & Rupert Grint

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: A Breakdown of the All-Star Cast

As the ‘Harry Potter‘ series will be closing permanently in July, looking back and examining the massive ensemble is truly mind-blowing, as it seems each of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished thespians were willing to play a role in the films. I assigned the actors letter grades – but the grading is not based solely on their performances; I have also taken into account the character’s general screen treatment, which is mainly a product of the writer and director. Since there are so many to examine and critique, this is the 1st of 3 postings on the ‘British Acting Elite.’ — W.B.

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Played by: Richard Harris (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets) and Michael Gambon
Performance:
B + (Harris); B (Gambon)

Screen Treatment: D-

Dumbledore is undoubtedly one of my absolute favorite characters. He is the supreme paragon of wisdom, goodness and a brilliant mentor to Harry. Despite his benign, gentle and always calm nature, he is also one bad-ass wizard. I mean, come on, he’s the only wizard that Voldemort is deathly afraid of.

Harris’s performance as Dumbledore was adequate, I suppose, but I also think his old age and his suffering from Hodgkin’s disease at the time may have prevented him from delivering the best performance he could have.

Michael Gambon was cast for Prisoner of Azkaban and the rest of the films after Harris’s passing. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from fans is that they find his performances unbearable. But I believe it is Dumbledore’s screen treatment that is to blame. The Dumbledore in the movies is a short-tempered, angry and vulnerable man, essentially the antithesis of Rowling’s beloved headmaster. To those who complain, I say: don’t blame the actor, blame the filmmakers.

Lord Voldemort

Played by: Ralph Fiennes
Performance: B+
Screen Treatment: C

Just as Dumbledore is the epitome of goodness, Lord Voldemort is the champion of all things horrid and evil. He is a raging psychopath, devoid of compassion and mercy, and I believe he is undoubtedly the most horrifying literary villain ever created. Genocidal, deformed and terribly prejudiced, Lord Voldemort has unsurprisingly been the product of many of my nightmares, and I am certain I’m not the only one.

Though Ralph Fiennes is a brilliant actor (one of my personal favorites, actually), I find myself constantly underwhelmed by his performance as Voldemort. Fiennes does seem to have a reasonable comprehension of the Dark Lord – describing him as “…absolute evil. He’s very much the Devil.” I believe Fiennes was most likely offered the role more for his past portrayals of despicable characters (such as Amon Goeth, the appalling Nazi pig from Schindler’s List), and a knack for embracing unadulterated evil, than for a potential aptitude to embody He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Lord Voldemort’s screen treatment, to me, is also sadly inaccurate. For example, in the Goblet of Fire film, during the Little Hangleton graveyard scene (directly after the Dark Lord’s rebirth), Fiennes runs amongst the headstones like a madman, darting furiously about, barking at Harry and the Death Eaters like an ill-tempered drill sergeant. This is not the behavior of the terrifying Dark wizard that so aptly gave me chills on the page, but a substantially less frightening character, which is arguably only parallel to the novel’s description of Voldemort by simply being hairless, pale, and famously sporting those snake-like slits for nostrils. The Dark Lord who so effectively frightened me was subtly terrifying – very sparingly raising his voice, and keeping his servants terrified with softly-spoken statements that very subtly expressed his malice:

He put back his terrible face and sniffed, his slit-like nostrils widening.
“I smell guilt,” he whispered. “There is a stench of guilt upon the air.”
A shiver ran through the circle, as though each member of it desperately longed, but did not dare, to step away from him.

This Rowling passage I find to be one of the hundreds of examples throughout the series of Voldemort inspiring fear and apprehension – and not just among his enemies, but also his servants. Sadly, the Dark Lord was translated to the screen unsatisfactorily, despite being portrayed by a fantastic actor.

Professor Severus Snape

Played by: Alan Rickman
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: B-

”Well, Mr. Potter…our…new…celebrity…”

Severus Snape is undoubtedly my favorite character in the series – and despite the fact that Alan Rickman is about twenty-five years older than Snape is supposed to be, I wouldn’t dream of ever complaining about something as trivial as an age difference, for Rickman’s performance is, to put it mildly, golden. The audience hangs onto his every very drawn-out syllable, and even though viewers are very familiar with Rickman’s portrayal of the bitter, miserable Potions Master after having seen it multiple times (as he appears in every single movie) he still manages to surprise us, impress us and do a marvelous job of entertaining us.

Severus Snape is by far the most complex, fascinating and multi-layered character Jo Rowling created – and during the years prior to the release of the final two books, whilst discussing Snape she would constantly advise her readers to “keep an eye on him,” which, as those of us who have read and finished the series know, was a very significant statement. Snape ignited ferocious debates amongst ‘Potter’ fans and was certainly the most closely-speculated, baffling and enigmatic of all the characters in the ‘Potter’ universe.

What I also find very interesting is that Alan Rickman was the only person equipped with the knowledge (besides, of course, Queen Rowling) of the crucial answers exposed in one of the very last chapters in the series, “The Prince’s Tale” (My favorite chapter in the entire saga). Rickman would utilize this knowledge and apply it (very successfully) to his performances in each movie – knowledge that would ultimately assist him in understanding where Snape’s ferocious animosity towards Harry came from, and also why Snape constantly risks his life in order to protect the Boy Who Lived.

I have yet to meet a fan who has been disappointed, under-whelmed or dissatisfied with Rickman’s ingenious portrayal of Professor Snape. Of course, his screen treatment is naturally disappointing – which is not any fault of Rickman’s. The filmmakers barely laid any groundwork for the enormous revelation that is to take place in Deathly Hallows: Part II regarding Snape, but we can only hope that somehow they’ve realized this, and that they find a method of closing the brilliant tale of Severus Snape, my absolute favorite character, in a way that honors his story.

Rubeus Hagrid

Played by:  Robbie Coltrane
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: B-

It’s impossible to bring up Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Ground at Hogwarts, without fondly exclaiming and elaborating on just how lovable the half-giant is. Robbie Coltrane was another brilliant casting decision, and Hagrid is one of the very few characters brought to the screen that I have never complained about.

As predicted, Hagrid’s backstory regarding Rita Skeeter’s exposure of his giant ancestry and the hatred and bigotry he faced afterwards was deleted. Although predictable, it was still an unfortunate loss of a fantastic storyline regarding the beloved, magical beast-loving half-giant.

Coltrane always seems to be reading lines taken directly out of the book, as Hagrid’s very distinct style of speaking that Rowling created was projected with a fine accuracy by the actor. Subtle details that collectively contribute to Hagrid’s character are often on display throughout the films much to my delight, such as the birthday cake spelled: “Happee Birthdae Harry,” his horrible brown suit and orange polka-dotted tie saved for formal occasions and constant signs of his reckless affection for dangerous magical creatures.

Hagrid’s presence in the films gradually dwindles in the latter installments of the series (as they did in the books), but the audience remains just as fond of him as ever, and devout fans of the books (including myself) were beside themselves with relief as we watched Hagrid survive the final battle; a survival, that I must admit, I feared unlikely. Ultimately, Hagrid’s cinematic treatment was one of the most satisfying and accurate, and could not have been played by a more appropriate (or large enough) actor.

NEXT!!! Featured in Part 2 of Our Cast Breakdown Feature:

The Oscar-winning Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall)
Imelda Staunton
(Dolores Umbridge)

Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) and
Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy)

Links to The Lantern’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” by Rowling Geek William Buhagiar:

Click Here to see Part I (an introduction to the film series)
Click Here to see Part II (a look at the first two films)
Click Here to see Part III (a look at films 3 and 4)
Click Here to see Part IV (a look at films 5 & 6)
Click Here to see Part V (a look at Deathly Hallows I)

Interviewing Jon Siskel: Director of “Louder Than A Bomb”

Directors Jon Siskel (l) and Greg Jacobs

The documentary film Louder Than A Bomb recently opened in select theaters and, at the time of this posting, still has a most impressive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, directed by Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs, explores the Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam competition in Chicago – the world’s largest of its kind with over 60 area high schools competing. The film provides us with an inside view to the competition, following four schools in particular. Students Nate, Nova, Adam and the kids from Steinmetz High School are examined throughout. An entertaining and inspiring film, the film is proving to be a darling of the Festival circuit as well, garnering many awards on the way. The movie has also been selected for the “OWN Documentary Club,” a monthly documentary showcase on the new Oprah Winfrey Network. This is the first feature film that Emmy Award-winner Jon Siskel has directed. I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Siskel last week to talk about his film, its impact so far, the students examined, and his legendary uncle.

PETER: Jon, I stated in my review that after seeing so many documentaries showing us what is wrong with our schools and the world in general, it was refreshing to see one showing us what was right with the schools…

JON: Amen…

PETER: …and the film is very inspiring. Was that the goal when you and Greg [co-director] started out with this project?

JON: [chuckling] No, it wasn’t. We were thrilled that that’s what has happened, but really we were just captivated by what we were seeing on stage. It was really the interaction between the poet on stage and the audience…that energy in the room was so exciting to us that we really thought The Slam would make a great idea [for a film]. We liked the competition genre for documentaries and felt like this would be a great vehicle for telling a story about that community which was something we didn’t know much about. Even being from Chicago where The Slam started, I was just not in tune with The Slam scene. So that’s what interested us and along the way, once we got into the classrooms and saw the work that was being done and the dedication and commitment of the teachers, it became clear to us that there was something really amazing happening there.

PETER: You mentioned the teachers and coaches…I must tell you, before this I was an English and theatre teacher for 9 years. And a couple of things caught my attention from that perspective and working directly with students. One was — and it comes across in the film — seeing the passion that these students have for the competition and the art of poetry in general. Did you get a chance to speak with the coaches and find out what their secret was in getting their students so amped up about poetry because that’s really not the easiest thing to get kids excited about?

JON: Right. You know, it’s interesting. I think the coaches probably didn’t have to do a lot to get the kids amped about it. The kids are already so excited and each one comes to it from different angles, different perspectives and different things draw them into it. If anything, I think the coaches just have to put the reins on them more. It’s really just managing the kids’ energy more than anything. They’re just incredibly dedicated to the students and to what The Slam is doing in their schools and for the kids.

PETER: Is it catching on? Are other cities and states conducting their own high school poetry slam competitions?

JON: There are slam communities all over the country. And D.C. has a great, thriving Slam scene. There’s a huge movement around the country, but I think what makes Chicago’s Slam and Louder Than A Bomb unique is that it starts in the classroom with this teamwork…this team building part of it. That’s not the way it’s done in other cities. In San Francisco, individuals slam and they do their pieces and then there’s a national slam called “Brave New Voices” that kind of push four or five of the best poets together, they make a team and then they go to do the Slam together. But in Chicago, from the very beginning, it’s all about that teamwork and collaborative writing. And we’re using the film now to help Kevin [Coval, co-founder of LTAB] and Louder Than A Bomb to expand in the city, which it has. When we started filming there were 40 teams. This year’s slam there were 75, I think. And there will probably be another 10 or so added to that next year. But even beyond the city, we have the first Louder Than A Bomb outside of Chicago. We started Louder Than A Bomb Tulsa with 4 teams about four months ago and next year they already have 10 teams lined up so we really want to help use the film to spread this around the country and in the classroom.

PETER: Is there a supplementary DVD that teachers can use as a tool to help their own students in putting their own words on paper?

JON: We have an educational DVD and Kevin [Coval], the founder, is building a curriculum around the poems in the film so that teachers can use this in the classroom. It’s been great getting it in front of high school students. The first questions they ask afterwards is, “How do I do this in my school?” “How can I write like that? “I want that in my school.” That’s what we’re going to be able to give them with this.

PETER: And I would think that students, when they see the type of poetry being written, that it’s not what they initially had in mind. I mean Nova and Nate and Adam…these are kids that are speaking right from the heart. I think that might turn some students on, who perhaps initially thought that they might have to write something like Tennyson or Byron or Keats.

JON: Exactly. I remember a teacher telling me…because we do bring the movie to a lot of schools…she said that her kids said, “Oh God! We have to go see this movie about poetry…and it’s documentary!” It was like a double whammy.

PETER: Thank God it wasn’t subtitled too!

JON: [laughter] Right. But then the kids after the film were saying that they were blown away. They had no idea that poetry was like that. Now they like documentaries. It’s been great for them.

PETER: The second thing that caught my attention as an English teacher was that, when given the opportunity, children are very capable of doing some pretty amazing things. And you have some students here writing some great work. Were you shocked by the talents of these kids?

JON: Yeah, I was. For me, I’m shocked just by, not even the talented kids, but the kids who we call the “brave poets” – kids who get up in front of the mic with paper shaking and pour their hearts out. They may not do it as artfully as Nova, but I find that kid just as impressive. But to your question about the talent…we spent a year on development finding our poets and our characters… because at that time there were about 40 teams participating and we said to Kevin [Coval] that we want the best poets. We thought that if you are going to make a film about poetry and poetry slams, the poetry should be really good. Again, it’s great that there are these “brave poets,” but if an audience is going to watch, we want to dazzle them. So Kevin helped us narrow it down to about a dozen schools and so over the course of that year, we went out to those schools. We didn’t even bring cameras. It was just observing, talking to the poets, talking to the coaches, going home with some of the kids who we thought were interesting and narrowed it down to those four.

PETER: And the Steinmetz school probably being the obvious choice, simply because they were defending their crown as champions.

JON: Exactly. And we did film that year’s competition. That’s where it really became solidified and crystallized for us…that we wanted Steinmetz, we wanted the returning champion – and they were amazing poets. And we wanted Nate who had done his Lebron James piece, which just blew our minds…and Nova was incredible and we wanted to have a suburban school too. Beyond the great poets, we were looking for them to reflect the diversity that is in Louder Than A Bomb and a geographic diversity. So all of that went into picking those four. It’s interesting because some people in the Q&A’s have asked if there were other teams because I think some filmmakers will follow six story lines and drop a few – but we never did that. We only picked these 4 and were committed to them from the beginning.

PETER: Well, you got lucky then…because each story arc is so compelling to watch.

JON: Yeah, we did. We really did.

PETER: Do you know how much footage overall that you and Greg actually shot?

JON: Yeah, we’ve been using the number 350…something around that. Somewhere between 300 and 350 hours. So there was a lot on the cutting room floor.

PETER: So I can look forward to seeing all of that on the uncut director’s DVD edition?

JON: Yeah, in the extras. For the educational DVD, we’ve included one extra poem from Nate, but then the film was picked up by OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. And hopefully, when we put out the DVD with them I will be able to put in some extras because there’s just a lot of great stuff, a lot of great poems. And also, the Steinmenots [students from Steinmetz H.S.] are so funny…there’s just all this great stuff of them too.

PETER: Just to give my readers an idea of some of the students that the film focuses on…can you speak about Nova? She was fascinating to watch. Her upbringing with her challenged younger brother and certainly the relationship with her father and the work that is coming out of her. She seemed very mature and came across as being 17 going on 30.

JON: Yeah. And she talks about that in the film…having all of this responsibility thrust on her. She welcomed it and she is glad that she is older than her age, in a way. She’s an incredible person. At first, very steely and kind of impenetrable. But once we really started talking to her and getting into the interviews, she really opened up to us.  She is a great writer. She’s so articulate about what she’s writing about — her family and about her father. The interviews were very revealing. Nova’s a great example, but I think it’s true of all of them — the beauty of the film is to be able to see how the writing reflects their world and they reflect the world in their writing. And Nova…she talks about the writing. How it’s kind of therapeutic for her. It really allowed her to open up and wrestle openly with the stuff she kept bottled up for so long.

PETER: I actually even enjoyed watching her reaction when she doesn’t make the team her freshman year. And seeing her passionate reaction…

JON: Yes…

PETER: …which is typical Nova once you get to know her a bit during the course of the film. You see that fire inside of her. The second student I’d like you to speak to…what a pleasure to watch Adam Gottlieb.

JON: Isn’t it?

PETER: What a great young man. I would love to have this kid in my classroom every day! Can you speak about Adam for us?

JON: I think audiences, when they first see him, you know, there’s a little laughter…the kid with the long hair, clearly kind of “nerdy” or whatever…but you meet him and his parents and he’s wearing the “Keeping it Kosher” T-shirt. But then he gets up on stage and he starts to do “Poet Breathe Now” and he just grabs the audience by the throat. What I love about Adam is that he’s the sweetest, most gentle, most real kid I have ever met. I think I’m actually quoting what Kevin Coval said about him in the film. He’s wonderful – and it’s been great taking this film out with these guys. We’ve been able to bring Adam out on the road with us – and to see him interact with audiences is a lot of fun. I would encourage your readers to get out and see it because there’s nothing like seeing this film in a theater with other people…that communal experience and seeing this film in particular, I think is very special.

PETER: The second poem Adam recites shows us his incredible range. Some students, I would think, may fall into the same trap of rehashing the very same themes…

JON: Exactly…

PETER: …and Nova does it also. She went the other way and did something very loving rather than something where she is venting her anger and frustration.

JON: Yes, exactly.

Greg Jacobs (l) and Jon Siskel at Chicago Film Festival

PETER: Now, obviously, you are the nephew of the celebrated film critic Gene Siskel. I’m sure you get asked this a lot. As a film buff, I always looked up to him and his work. Having that connection with him as your uncle, did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a part of films and direct?

JON: No. [laughter] I wish I could say that was true. He definitely gave me an appreciation of films. I grew up going to movies with him all the time. Sometimes seeing two or three movies a day. But I was an English Lit major and really wanted to write short stories and did some writing out of college for newspapers and magazines. But then I slowly made my way out to Los Angeles and got into TV and film. Once that door kind of opened up, it was a real “A-ha” kind of moment…that marriage of words and picture really worked for me – and I had always been a fan of documentaries. I just never thought about it for myself. Then I just immersed myself…following cameramen, and sitting in the edits, observing every part of it.

PETER: Last question. I think the goal of many documentary filmmakers is to somehow get their audience to take action in some shape or form. What do you want the people that go to see Louder Than A Bomb to walk away with?

JON: That’s a great question. There are a lot of answers to that. I just want as many people to see it as possible. But the thing that I really want people to walk away with is that they made a connection with these individuals…with Adam and Nate and Nova and Lamar and the Steinmenots. That these are real kids, real people with amazing stories to tell and it’s that personal connection to the kids that I hope people walk away with. We wanted to make an entertaining film and it being brought into the classroom is wonderful. But more than anything else, it’s that personal connection to the individuals. I love when people come up to me after the film and talk about Nova by name and Nate by name – not “the black kid” and not “the Jewish Kid” – but rather, “I’m so glad I got to meet Adam.” That’s what I am most moved by and want people to connect with.

PETER: Yes, I think that all of the students are relatable in one way or another. And, it’s interesting, you didn’t seem to fall into the easy trap of preaching about the socio-economic backgrounds that some of the kids come from. The film doesn’t preach to us. It lets the competition and the students and the work speak for itself.

JON: Exactly. We didn’t want to make a kind of hammering-over-the-head, political or dogmatic kind of film. We knew that in reflecting the kids’ work, the teachers work in the classroom, and The Slam…that all of that other stuff would come bubbling up and you would walk away being moved and inspired by all of these kids.

PETER: Well, Jon I want to thank you for speaking with me. I appreciate you taking the time out. Again, great film. And hopefully you get a great turnout.

JON: Yes, thanks very much Peter. I really appreciate it.

This interview was first published on the DC-based online entertainment website Brightest Young Things.

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’ (Part 5): A Look at “Deathly Hallows”

This is the last mini-review in the ‘Harry Potter Retrospective,’ as contributing author William Buhagiar takes a personal & discerning look at last year’s Deathly Hallows: Part I. Of course the final installment of the mega-franchise is set to release in a few weeks (July 15th) – a bittersweet event for fans of the books and films, I am sure. I would bet my rent money that Mr. Buhagiar will be there to see it at the scheduled midnight screening — or any time on its first day of release — and he’s graciously committed to writing a full review for Magic Lantern that very weekend. In reading his very positive commentary on Part I, I can only hope that he is not severely let down with Part II as I fear that a squad of firemen may have to spend a few hours trying to talk him off a 10-story ledge. This special Retrospective will wrap up with Buhagiar’s astute analysis on many of the actors who have appeared in the Harry Potter films. A special “Thank You” to him for dedicating himself and writing such a thorough Series. Kudos to you William!!! — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2010
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

I cannot stress enough how anxious I was entering the IMAX theater at midnight to see this film. Never before had I been as tense about a movie, silently hoping with the desperation of a true nerd that once the lights came up at the end, I would not be tempted to blow up the theater. Deathly Hallows: Part I is undoubtedly my favorite of the books, and I don’t believe I would have been able to tolerate a treatment of the material that did not do it justice.

When the film ended and the credits began to roll, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Of course, it is not the book, but it is by far the finest of the films yet. Audiences unfamiliar with the original material were also satisfied – the only complaint I have yet to hear is that, at times, the film is a bit slow. (This is not at all an issue with readers; of course, we eat up every miniscule detail they include.)

Very few events are cut, and those that did not make it into the film are essentially trivial, not nearly as vital to the story’s progression. This, the seventh installment, finally embraced the tone of the books properly; the film is very dark and violent, with a constant sense of danger and fear throughout. As this is the first of the movies that does not take place at Hogwarts, the three principles are (for the most part) alone, and the supporting adult characters have very little screen time. I believe that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint give their finest performances yet in this installment, and they did an admirable job of carrying the movie.

One scene in the film did infuriate me, however, and I’m sure if you’ve seen the film and read the book you know precisely what I’m referring to. There is a moment when Harry and Hermione are alone in the tent. The atmosphere is grim and Hermione is listening to a radio, looking morose. Harry, in an attempt to cheer her up, silently invites her to dance – and they very revoltingly do just that. I’m willing to overlook this, as this was the only maddening part of the film.

The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a sequence which I believed would be extremely difficult to adapt and explains the legend of the Deathly Hallows, was so ingeniously staged that I must admit, was even better than what I had envisioned in my head during the reading of the book, using a unique blend of computer animation and shadow puppetry. The destruction of the locket in the Forest of Dean, following the appearance of the mysterious silver doe, was another masterfully staged scene that far surpassed my expectations.

As in the book, the events that take place in Deathly Hallows: Part I are the most intense and severe. The film opens with a statement by Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (played by Bill Nighy): “These are dark times…” The Dursleys pack up and leave Privet Drive to go into hiding, Hermione “obliviates” her parents to protect them from the Death Eaters, performing a spell that makes them forget their daughter and leave the country – and the tearful Hermione watches sadly as she disappears from the photographs on the walls. After this brief opening montage, we arrive at the home of the Malfoys, which Lord Voldemort has decided to use as his headquarters. He sits at the head of a long, ornate table, and is holding a meeting with his Death Eaters, and the scene explores the situation of the war: the Dark Lord has infiltrated the Ministry, he is getting stronger by the minute, but there is one last barrier he has yet to overcome: Harry Potter is still alive, and Voldemort himself must be the one to kill him. Throughout the scene, a bruised, bloody and tortured woman is suspended above the table; a Hogwarts professor passionately teaches students that Muggle-borns, witches and wizards with no magical relatives, are equal to “pure-bloods.” Lord Voldemort, obsessed with blood purity, begins his reign of terror (essentially genocide) in eliminating any witch or wizard born to Muggles. This very disturbing scene ends with the Dark Lord murdering the professor, and feeding her to his snake, ultimately setting the stage for the rest of the film.

Like the book, the film is suspenseful, dark and even harrowing at times. The heroes are truly pushed to the limit as the circumstances in the war against Voldemort reach astonishingly desperate levels. Nowhere is safe for Harry, Ron and Hermione, there is a Death Eater attack around every corner, and the body count far surpasses any of the previous entries. Voldemort is no longer featured solely in the climax, giving Ralph Fiennes a generous amount of screen time, and he appears much more often, sans-nose, than he has before. Helena Bonham-Carter boldly leaves her mark on the audience and provides a very different side to Bellatrix Lestrange than what we had seen in the previous films (in “Order of the Phoenix and “Half-Blood Prince,” despite being murderous and destructive, her insanity was entertaining in a more harmless, almost laughably crazy way). In Deathly Hallows: Part I, however, the diabolical witch’s sadism is brutal, disturbing and chillingly cruel – especially during a scene towards the climax, which she targets Hermione and mercilessly tortures her, and carves the unforgivable prejudiced term for Muggle-borns, “Mudblood,” into her skin.

As the film comes to an end, and we mourn the death of a beloved, heroic character, not only are we grieving for the tragedy, but also for the fact that we must patiently wait for the subsequent chapter of the story. After my first viewing of the movie in November, Part II was a frustratingly-tedious eight months away, and now it is less than one. As much as I cannot wait to see the final showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, and watch the phenomenally gargantuan, epic battle between good and evil that will ensue (though I am bound to shed a few tears, as we lose so many beloved characters here), there is also the inevitable consequence of the series coming to a close that I’ll have to face. I sincerely hope that Part II is as satisfying as this film was, but considering the major events that are to take place towards the climax, I have my doubts, and fear that these scenes, some of which are my favorite of the entire series, will be radically under whelming. Hey, you never know, maybe my current cynicism will all be in vain, and Part II will pleasantly surprise me. I will simply expect the worst, but hope for the best.

Here’s a trailer for Deathly Hallows: Part II

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part 4): Films 5 & 6

It’s Back!!! — Part 4 of Magic Lantern’sHarry Potter Retrospective” by contributing author William Buhagiar. Here, Buhagiar looks at Films 5 and 6 in the series — and doesn’t hold his tongue in the process. Clearly, he has major issues with these two particular films, and tells us why. Do you agree? Are these films as poorly executed as he says – or is William being too harsh on them? As someone who has not seen these two (just yet), I would love to read your thoughts & feedback. Our next Part will feature William’s review of the 7th film, followed by a commentary on select actors from the all-star cast. — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Michael Goldenberg
Released:               2007
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

This is not just my book-devoted, frenzied biased speaking – “Order of the Phoenix” is simply not a good film. And as far as an adaptation of a novel goes, it is the most gruesome two hours I’ve had the grave misfortune of wasting. (Note: I do in fact own the DVD, because years after my first nightmarish viewing I decided to revisit it and give it another shot.)  This was the ‘Potter’ movie I was the least excited to see, as I had known prior to seeing it that the 860-page book had been trimmed massacred to a mere two hours, making it the shortest out of any of the ‘Potter’ films. Does this make sense to you? I think not. I was also far too distracted by the fact that the final book, Deathly Hallows,” was to be released the same week.

Unlike the previous movie, “Order of the Phoenix” had a very sloppy, disjointed script and strayed far from the crucial points of the story that created a brilliant climax – a climax that essentially never even takes place in the film. Considering this installment was not written for the screen by Steve Kloves, who had penned each of the previous scripts (and the ones that followed), the movie suffers the serious consequence of being written by an extraordinarily incapable writer.

Visually, sets such as the Ministry of Magic, the Department of Mysteries, and the Room of Requirement were satisfying and accurate. Imelda Staunton, though she looks nothing like the fat, toad-faced Senior Undersecretary described in the book, delivered an adequate performance of Dolores Umbridge’s false sweetness. The film did not, however, accurately convey the cruelty and inhumanity of the appalling and power-crazed Professor Umbridge, who Rowling made us loathe.

There is one aspect of the film, and the following films, which always stays with me when I finish viewing them. Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance as the sadistic psychopath Bellatrix Lestrange is one of my absolute favorite parts of the movies. Bonham-Carter is my single favorite actress — I find her a wickedly intoxicating performer whom I cannot takes my eyes off whenever she is on screen. Her fearless performance soars, explosively, in each of her scenes – and unfortunately she is only given a few minutes of screen time in the film.

This is by far my least favorite of the movies, as it completely neglected such wildly crucial elements of the story that are key components in many following events. This was such an insanely important part of the story, and not only were the filmmakers robbing fans of beloved material, but also leaving audiences unfamiliar with the novels terribly confused.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:               2009
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

Why, why, why did the filmmakers take the story of “Half-Blood Prince,” one of the finest volumes of the series, and decide to make the movie a romantic comedy? Anyone who has seen the film knows I am not lying, nor am I exaggerating this sentiment. It was a Goddamn romantic comedy — a showcase of comical teenage relationships that was barely a footnote in the novel. And what are the consequences? Elements of the story which are actually relevant, that have no reason to be left out, are nowhere to be found. (I’m referring, fellow nerds, to the memories we see in the Pensieve, among other things.)

Also rather agonizing to stomach is the film’s reluctance to actually focus on the titular character (whose name I will not reveal…I think I’ve delivered enough spoilers so far). During the climax, when the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is revealed, I sensed a heavy feeling of “nobody gives a shit,” because this mystery was speculated on for about thirty seconds on screen.

Mercifully, this was nowhere near the caliber of the unforgivable “Order of the Phoenix” tragedy. Steve Kloves returned to write the script and in his original draft, each of the memories featured in the book (nerds know what I’m talking about) takes place. I don’t know whose decision it was to remove them in order to show the audience that wizards have hormones too, but I would love nothing more than to provide that person with a swift dropkick right in the teeth. Once again, I have no complaints about the visuals — the film is shot beautifully and each new set piece is as authentically Rowling-esque as ever. Helena Bonham Carter pops up to steal the show as Bellatrix Lestrange a few times, cackling madly, being chaotic and destructive, and setting nearly everything in her path aflame.

I suppose, considering this was their very last chance to be humorous and charming with the world of Harry Potter (as everything that follows is nothing but grim), they seized the opportunity and ran with it, leaving us not only furious, but also confused as to how exactly they intend to tie up loose ends in the final episode, when vital information contained in “Half-Blood Prince” was not just watered-down, but left out of the film entirely. No, the movies cannot be the books – but there’s no excuse for them to lose focus on what is important in the story.

Weekend Humor: The Alamo DraftHouse Message

If you are a film geek like me, chances are that you want to scream at that person in the theater sitting in your line of vision who whips out their trusty cell phone for a quick little chat. Chances are that you want to throw Jujyfruits at the patron who is having a nice, friendly text chat over the course of the movie. Chances are that, you too would like to ‘accidentally” spill your large bucket of buttery popcorn all over the douchebag whose phone goes off whilst in the theater.

Well, the folks running The Alamo Drafthouse apparently feel the same exact way and are one of the few theaters to institute a zero-tolerance rule…if you talk or text during a movie, they kick your ass out. What do I say to that? Simply this…”Bravo!”

I saw this video on my friend’s Facebook page — and had to post it here on The Lantern for the “Weekend Humor” section. It’s an actual voicemail message that an irate (an obviously uneducated) customer left after getting the boot from one of their theaters in Austin. It’s a pretty funny listen — and I totally admire the fact that the people at The Alamo Drafthouse stand by their position. I only wish every theater followed suit. Enjoy!!!

Friday Flashback: The Seventh Seal (1957)

In honor of Gunnar Fischer, the brilliant cinematographer who passed away last week at the age of 100, I thought to dedicate this week’s ‘Friday Flashback‘ to the movie he is most closely associated with — the classic, and beautifully shot film The Seventh Seal, directed by Ingmar Bergman. After directing 16 films, it was The Seventh Seal that brought Bergman (and his stars) recognition from around the globe — and established the filmmaker as an art-house favorite. The film, one of my all-time favorites, was ranked #8 in Empire magazine’s 100 Best Films of World Cinema last year, and was just one of about a dozen films that Fischer collaborated on with Bergman (beginning with 1948’s Port of Call).

The film is set in the 14th century amidst a ravaging plague and follows the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) who, upon his return from fighting in the Crusades, meets Death (the very pale and ominous Bengt Ekerot) on a beach. The two commence in a game of chess…the knight’s way of delaying the inevitable that we all must face. But the disillusioned knight wants to use this momentous reprieve to commit one meaningful deed.

The film is filled with wonderfully delectable symbolism and religious themes (Bergman favorites). And Fischer’s cinematography is nothing short of stunning to digest — he gives the film a wonderful expressionistic look, with gorgeous black-and-white contrasts, especially in the chess scenes between the knight and Death. As he did throughout much of their time together, Fischer was able to bring Bergman’s themes of one’s fear of death, sexual agony, emotional isolation, and redemption into fantastical light. The solemn Dance of Death sequence at the film’s end is a terrific example — an iconic image in the history of cinema and a scene which instigated a number of parodies in later years.

Max von Sydow is perfectly cast as Antonius Block, the knight. Bibi Andersson (Mia), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Jons), and Nils Poppe (Jof) also deliver standout performances — though, I think its screenplay and luminous visuals play the real stars here. What makes it even more remarkable is the fact that this masterwork was shot in a mere 35 days. The subplots here (the servant girl, the family of actors, etc.) are also engaging and play vital roles during the course of our knight’s newfound quest.

The Seventh Seal was my first foray into the world of Bergman. After watching so many Woody Allen films and learning about his deep admiration and infatuation with the Swedish filmmaker, I figured it would be wise to see what all the fuss was about. After watching The Seventh Seal, I began to take in as many of Bergman’s films as I could at a feverish pace — reading all about him, studying the themes and symbols in his works, and eventually naming my very own movie blog in his honor. The Seventh Seal makes for an ideal baptismal for those unfamiliar with the director’s canon of work. Though heavy in its use of imagery, I still feel it is easily accessible to a mainstream audience — and remains one of the finest films ever made.

Next Posting on The Lantern: Will Return with William Buhagiar’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” series.

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