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.

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part 3): Films 3 & 4

OK, here is the third part of The Lantern’s 5-part “Harry Potter” series by contributing author William Buhagiar. Here, Buhagiar takes a look at the 3rd and 4th installments of the franchise — “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Goblet of Fire” respectively. The 5th and 6th films will be included in Part 4, and the series will conclude with an insightful look at select cast members of the Harry Potter films. I think this is an exciting series, and I am certainly enjoying reading from the perspective of someone who absolutely loves (and knows) the books. As for myself, I am working on getting through the films — I have the third film at home ready to watch. So far, in my humble opinion, I adored the first film and thought it to be quite charming. The 2nd film (“Chamber of Secrets“), I thought was painfully slow and not nearly as good as its predecessor. I am however looking forward to seeing the newest film on the big screen in July — I will be all caught up by then. — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director:                  Alfonso Cuaron
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2004
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

Upon beginning “Prisoner of Azkaban,” audiences are, at this point, relatively familiar with the logistics of the Wizarding World. “Quidditch,” “Muggles,” and “Hogwarts” are all words casually utilized by characters and audiences are no longer puzzled when wands are directed, potions are brewed or broomsticks mounted.

Alfonso Cuaron, director of A Little Princess and Children of Men brought a noticeably distinct style to the world of “Harry Potter,” with richer visuals and a slightly darker overtone than Chris Columbus’s previous films.  Michael Gambon, after the passing of Richard Harris, was re-cast as the iconic Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, much to the outrage of fans.

The third novel was a fresh introduction to new layers of the story, and this adaptation called for many sacrifices, much to the dismay of loyal fans. In the novel, the story of Harry’s parents is a crucial element in the current plot – and unfortunately, much of it is ignored by the film; some of it blatantly disregarded. Thus began one of the boldest flaws of the ‘Potter’ films: vital information used to shape the story was ignored, leaving the films watered-down, shallow, and even confusing to audiences who haven’t read the book.

Azkaban” was also an introduction to another of Rowling’s spectacular, but terrifying, inventions: the Dementors, the guards of Azkaban, stationed at Hogwart’s to hunt for Sirius Black. Dementors create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and depression, and force human beings to mentally revisit their darkest and most horrific memories. In the case of Harry Potter, whenever a Dementor is near, the disturbing screams of his mother pleading for Voldemort’s mercy reverberate in his head. The Dementors in the film could have been disappointing, as I expected a more harmless adaptation of the soul-sucking, nightmarish creatures – but the film certainly exceeded expectations, delivering eerie, chilling hooded figures that made the audience silently breathe a sigh of relief when Harry, at last, performed his successful Patronus charm.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Director:                  Mike Newell
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2005
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

We all knew that 734 pages of story would have to face a serious compromise to be adapted into a two-and-a-half-hour movie. Hermione’s beloved Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare was to be deleted completely, we were told months in advance. Our initial outrage faded shortly, as we ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t vital in the progression of the main plot — the plot concerning the many omens, steadily unfolding, that the Dark Lord was plotting his second rise to power.

Being the most pivotal and unpredictable of the novels yet to be adapted for the big screen, I was beside myself with excitement during the months prior to the release of this installment. Having been assigned the first PG-13 rating of the franchise, I was semi-confident that the filmmakers abandoned their desperation to maintain their appeal to younger audiences and embrace the more adult tone the books had evolved towards.

In “Goblet of Fire,” not only was I certain to see the staging of the Quidditch World Cup, the Yule Ball, the Triwizard Tournament and each of the riveting tasks involved – but personally, the most breathlessly-anticipated event: the rebirth of Lord Voldemort. Having Ralph Fiennes cast as the infamous “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” was probably the best piece of news regarding the adaptations I had received prior to any of the films’ releases, and at age fifteen, it was a joyful slap in the face that left me dizzy, and constantly imagining the look, the performance, and the first and most shockingly terrifying event yet to take place in the series.

Sadly, the finished product didn’t meet or satisfy my expectations (which were most likely impossible to meet, anyway). Having been familiar with a book so rich in detail, so mesmerizing in plot, and so brilliant in scope, I expected, I suppose, to receive the same awe-inspiring and arguably brutal slap in the face that the book, being so wildly unpredictable and so perfect in execution, had given me. The Goblet of Fire” was my first real introduction to Harry Potter book-to-film casualties that only, sadly, had just begun.

Brief note: the film does have a few strong points; I feel that the filmmakers were focused in delivering plot points that were vital to the proper progression of the main story arc. These events, of course, were heavily filtered, but hey, at least they were there.

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part II): The First Two Films

Welcome to Part II of the Magic Lantern’sHarry Potter Retrospective” written by contributing film geek, William Buhagiar. Part I gave us a personal look back on the mega-popular books being adapted into films. For the next few installments, Buhagiar provides us with insightful mini-reviews of each movie. Here, he takes a look at the first two films. Following the critiques, Buhagiar will focus on and study select cast members. As a film-goer who is just now getting into the Harry Potter films (very late, I know), I am finding this series pretty enlightening — and I now look forward to seeing the rest of the films. — P.E.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Director:                 Chris Columbus
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:               2001
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

In retrospect, assigning Chris Columbus the job of director for a story as fantastical as ‘Potter’ is a considerably odd choice. With films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone and Stepmom under his belt prior to “Sorcerer’s Stone,” naturally there was skepticism amongst fans of the book. One positive attribute we were certain of, at least, was his proven talent in working successfully with younger actors.

Considering this was the first installment of a seven-part story, Columbus, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and the rest of the design team would not only have to execute the story properly, but also lay the groundwork for the remaining six installments – and I believe they did so admirably. Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Great Hall and even the mundane suburban Privet Drive, home of the loathsome Dursley family were visually translated with great respect to Rowling’s detailed descriptions.

This was undoubtedly the easiest of the books to adapt, as it is the shortest in length and very few elements of the book were cut in consideration of length. What made this film important, as already stated, would be the fact that this would be the establishment of the world Rowling created, to be revisited in each future ‘Potter’ film.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does make a good film, and a satisfying one for fans of the book, as there were very few sacrifices involved in its creation. Since it is the first, and so early in the story, it is more of a children’s movie, less complex and more charming, humorous and family-friendly.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

Director:                 Chris Columbus
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2002
I Saw It:                  Twice
William’s Rating: 

Chris Columbus once again sat in the director’s chair for the second installment, and maintained the same family-friendly tone he had utilized in his adaptation of the previous film. No complaints there, as “Chamber of Secrets” was also more of an expositional story as opposed to the complex, multi-layered events that take place later in the series. The film, like Sorcerer’s Stone,” managed to remain relatively faithful to the novel and sacrifice very little – which naturally satisfied devoted fans.

The film wonderfully introduces us, as did the book, to the prejudice and bigotry that exists in the wizarding world. After Ron furiously attacks Draco Malfoy after the latter hatefully refers to Hermione as a “Mudblood,” a word unfamiliar to Harry, we learn that the term is an intolerant, venomous slur for witches and wizards born to Muggle parents. The word is so looked down upon, in fact, that the use of it generates the same caliber of outrage and shock that the use of the Dark Lord’s name inspires. It is essentially the magical equivalent of the ‘n’ word.

The “Chamber of Secrets,” an ancient hidden chamber buried deep underneath Hogwarts, is the home of a monstrous creature that, when released by the Heir of Slytherin, sets out to rid the castle of each Muggle-born within. “Chamber of Secrets” ultimately is the audience’s first acquaintance with the bigotry within the wizarding world that plays a much greater, and graver, role in future installments.

A Special ‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part I)

With the upcoming — and immensely anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II scheduled for release on July 15th, I thought now would be the perfect time to take a closer look at the “Harry Potter” series film by film, leading up to this latest (and final?) installment. However, I wanted to give the series the respect it deserves — and alas, I am not the right person for this weighty undertaking. In fact, as sad as it is for me to admit, I only recently watched the very first film (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and will certainly watch the rest of the films before “Deathly Hallows: Part II” is released. No, this retrospective needed to be written by an incisive professor of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This special Magic Lantern series is written by William Buhagiar (who previously contributed to this website with his Top 5 Tim Burton Films), a man who knows his movies and has an astute knowledge of Rowling’s works.

This first installment serves as an introduction Buhagiar, a passionate ‘Potter’ fan, reflects on a decade of the cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s “seven-volume masterpiece” (to use his words). The following installments will feature mini-reviews of each film — plus, a look at the all-star cast that the films have featured. I hope all of you Potter fans out there enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed reading it — and, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions…even if you strongly disagree. Let him know. William is a big boy…he can take it. — P.E.

Very rarely, and I mean very rarely, does a story come along that so radically explodes into public consciousness. One perfect example of this, undeniably, would be the ‘Harry Potter’ series.

The ‘Harry Potter’ phenomenon, for me, began in 1999, when I was given a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my ninth birthday. Not yet familiar with J.K. Rowling’s extraordinary creation of a world-within-a-world featuring witches, wizards, dragons, aerial broomsticks, potion lessons, etc., I approached the then-obscure book with nothing more than a vague curiosity…and the rest is history.

Now, twelve years later, I am still as furiously obsessed with Rowling’s masterfully executed seven-volume saga of good versus evil as I was upon completing the very first ‘Potter’ novel. Myself, and many others my age, are grateful to be part of what is lovingly referred to as “The Potter Generation,” as we essentially grew up with Harry. From the release of “Sorcerer’s Stone” up until the savagely-anticipated unveiling of “Deathly Hallows,” (the fastest-selling book in history, by the way) we, the madly-devoted fans, would faithfully wait years in between the releases of each volume – which, as any fan would admit, was agonizing. We gladly waited on obscenely long lines at bookstores for the midnight release of each book – not for the simple novelty of attending a midnight ‘Potter’ event, but because we simply could not wait another second to resume the story and hunt feverishly for answers to the questions we had been asking since reading the previous book. Was Snape really Lord Voldemort’s servant? Who was the unknown wizard who stole Slytherin’s locket? How many more beloved characters would we have to confront the devastation of losing in the war against the Death Eaters? And what was the significance of Dumbledore’s momentary “look of triumph” upon discovering that Voldemort had used Harry’s blood as a component for his rebirth?

During the third book, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” Rowling’s books began to grow steadily, palpably darker – and after the fourth, “Goblet of Fire,” it was abundantly clear that these books were no longer the harmless, delightful children’s stories we had grown accustomed to. They had now adapted a dramatically darker and disturbing tone. Beloved characters were dropping dead left and right, a brutal genocide arose and characters more shockingly cruel and inhumane than we could have ever expected in a ‘Potter’ book were introduced. The books had suddenly evolved from sweet, charming children’s stories into a ferociously suspenseful political fairy tale – hence the true magic of Rowling’s writing: her story was now appealing to more adults as favorably as it had to her younger readers. She understood that her young readers who began the stories as children were now more mature, and ready for something deeper, darker, and undeniably more violent than we had ever expected.

Naturally, books as wildly successful as the ‘Potter’ saga are bound to be adapted into films, and adapted they were. Warner Brothers seized the film rights while the ‘Potter’ name was still a hot item, and since 2001, I’ve watched the stories be translated from beloved text to big screen blockbusters. It is common knowledge amongst those I discuss the ‘Potter’ movies with that I find the movies less-than-satisfying, to put it mildly. Of course, as argued to me in the past, books and movies are two very separate mediums, which I must respect – but a Harry Potter junkie like me can only respect so much before he is tempted to rip out his eyeballs in frustration. For this retrospective, I will attempt to maintain a less-prejudiced mindset, and view each film as it is meant to be viewed – as a motion picture…no more and no less. Naturally, covering each aspect of the series (roughly 5,000 pages of story and exactly 1,168 minutes of cinema) is relatively impossible for this humble posting, so I will be covering those topics which I found most distinct throughout the adaptations of Rowling’s novels.

Henceforth, I will now begin discussing each film in the franchise, beginning with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With the very last installment hitting theaters in July, this will indeed be a bittersweet undertaking. The ‘Potter’ series has been with me for over half my life, and as Harry grew older, I grew older. Despite the fact that the story itself came to a close (for me) July 22nd, 2007, upon completing the very last novel in the series, I am still not looking forward to the lights coming up in the theater after “Deathly Hallows Part II,” when I will have to bid Harry, Hogwarts, Ron, Hermione, Snape and Dumbledore my final, inevitably tearful farewell.

Thank you, Miss Rowling, for giving us such a marvelous story. — by William Buhagiar

Anticipating Woody Allen’s New Film

So — it’s that time of year again. A time where hope springs eternal. A time for cautious optimism — and a time for well-deserved skepticism. Almost as clockwork as waiting for Puxatony Phil to show his face each and every year, comes the release of a new film release by the legendary auteur Woody Allen.  This year, Midnight in Paris (Allen’s 42nd feature film) is scheduled for release and opens this week (after debuting to rather positive reviews at the Cannes Film Festival).

As always, Allen has been able to bring together a star-studded cast to speak the lines of the aristocracy. For Midnight in Paris, we are treated to Oscar winners Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Marion Cotillard — as well as co-stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, and Carla Bruni. But it is usually not the cast that has been the problem with some of Allen’s films for the past 10+ years — sadly, it has been the bland storytelling and the writer/director himself revisiting the same old themes using the same old characters in his films. I have written about this quite a bit on The Lantern, so I won’t bother repeating myself here. Suffice it say that I remain a tremendous fan of Mr. Allen — I still feel he is one of the finest American filmmakers we have. However, his batting average since 1999’s wonderful Sweet and Lowdown has not been a very impressive one. I keep hoping that he will stretch himself as an artist and explore new ground, but this is rarely the case — and I am slowly giving up on this dream with each new film released.

I enjoyed last year’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger very much. Though it tackles many of his favorite subjects, the writing was much sharper and more genuine — and the cast gave wonderful performances. It was a strong 3-star film. The romantic comedy Midnight in Paris — the first film that Allen has shot entirely on location in Paris — so far has pretty good word of mouth, even getting a solid 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this post. We shall soon see. With the slow decline in Allen’s work over the years, critics have had a tendency to over-praise his good films (a la Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), proclaiming them to be much more than they are, simply on the basis of comparing them to such duds as Anyone Else, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Scoop. Of course they look like masterpieces compared to these embarrassing efforts.

But, as I do every year, I will be at the theater this weekend and pay for my ticket. Woody’s films always get my money. I will wait with baited breath and hope for the best. Fingers crossed.

My review of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Strangerclick here

My Top 10 Films of Woody Allenclick here

8 Thoughts on 8 David Lynch Films

Artisphere in Washington DC is celebrating the magnificent works of film auteur David Lynch by screening his works every Wednesday of this month. In honor of this well-deserved tribute, the film writers of the DC-based online entertainment magazine Brightest Young Things (myself included) have chosen to write a few personal thoughts on a film of their choosing — by Sir Lynch.

I personally had to go with Blue Velvet, for many reasons. My commentary on this 1986 masterpiece is below. If you are not acquainted with the film staff at BYT, they have some pretty great writers who know their movies. If you’d like to read some thoughts on such works as Wild at Heart, The Straight Story, Mullholland Drive, Dune (yes, Dune), Lost Highway, Inland Empire — and the mega cult classic Eraserhead, then click on the BYT Loves Lynch article. The BYT film writers include Alan Z., William A., Zach G., Logan D., Erin H., and BYT editor Svetlana L.

Here are my initial thoughts on Mr. Lynch’s Blue Velvet:

It all starts – with an ear. A severed human ear, decomposing in a lush green field. The camera slowly zooms in to the canal as the sound amplifies and the busy ants swarm around the flesh. Thus begins David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet, a modern-day film noir with elements of surrealism thrown in for good measure. As we get a closer look inside that rotting ear, we are invited in to Lynch’s world of a dark and violent underbelly lurking just beneath the surface of a seemingly peaceful suburban logging town.

Blue Velvet is certainly not for everyone — a polarizing film, if there ever was one (you may recall Siskel and Ebert’s famous argument over the film’s merits). Regardless, it garnered Lynch his 2nd Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Director,’ on the heels of Woody Allen calling it the single best movie of 1986. Since its theatrical release – through VHS, laserdiscs, DVD’s and now Blu-Ray — the film has reached legendary cult status, playing on many a midnight movie screen.

College student Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Lynch fave Kyle Maclachlan) returns to his hometown of Lumberton to see to his ailing father when he stumbles across the detached ear. He takes the ear to the police, but his own voyeuristic tendencies take over and Jeffrey proceeds to begin his own investigation, with the help of the police detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). The ear draws him deeper into his hometown’s sordid underworld, where he meets the captivating torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), whose son and husband have been kidnapped in return for sexual favors by the sadistic Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, at the top of his game in a career-resurrecting role). Jeffrey becomes further involved, running into a cast of sleazy characters, trying his best to save the helpless Dorothy – and later, himself.

Lynch had the idea for this film in the early 1970’s – before his first feature film Eraserhead (another cult classic) was released. After his marvelous work on The Elephant Man (1980) and the failure that was Dune (1984), he was given complete artistic freedom and final cut privileges with Blue Velvet, culminating in a truly personal work. His casting choices here are right on the mark. Rossellini no longer had to cling on to those Lancome advertisements – she is finally given the opportunity to test her acting chops in a meaty role. With all that her character must endure at the hands of Frank, it is a truly courageous performance – and opened up a whole new career for Ms. Rossellini. Dean Stockwell plays Ben, a drug dealer and one of Frank’s accomplices. His lip-synched performance to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” is both chilling and somewhat comical and makes for one of the film’s highlights. Laura Dern turns in a solid performance as the high school girl who is a perfect paradox for Dorothy and all that she represents. Maclachlan holds the film together quite – he is strong when he needs to be (remember that tremendous backslap to Dorothy in a moment of pleasure and rage) and completely naïve and vulnerable when at the mercy of Frank. The film also delivers one of cinema’s greatest villains of all-time in Frank Booth, played deliciously by Mr. Hopper. This guy is one scary sociopath. Between his palpable Oedipal issues, vulgar mouth, peculiar sexual proclivities, and that oxygen mask (which Hopper later said was Amyl nitrite) – Frank Booth remains one of film’s most iconic characters. On top of the stellar performances, Angelo Badalamenti’s score is a true stand-out, creating that film noir atmosphere while also helping to create a haunting mood.

The film isn’t all that’s polarizing though – Lynch himself is one of film’s most divisive figures. You either love him or can’t watch his stuff. There are many directors who I greatly admire, but there are a small handful that I would call true auteurs – David Lynch is surely one of those very few. Perhaps it is because of his background and work in the visual arts, but Lynch is the only director who comes to mind where you can take a snapshot from any moment in one of his films – and it comes off as a true work of art. His attention to color, to place, to character, and to the human psyche is truly unique. So unique that many dub his style to be “Lynchian.” He changed television with his phenomenal opus, Twin Peaks and has continued to perplex and dazzle his audience with one daring work after another. But it is Blue Velvet that, to date, is his seminal work.

My Podcast Interview with Director Kristin Hanggi

This posting veers a bit astray from the film domain that Magic Lantern is primarily focused on — but still stays in the entertainment venue. This is my audio podcast interview with director, Kristin Hanggi who is a Tony Award nominee for her direction of the Broadway smash hit Rock of Ages. She has just directed the world premiere of the musical comedy And the Curtain Rises at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. As the Theatre’s publicist, I had the opportunity — and the great pleasure — to sit down with Ms. Hanggi and have an in-depth discussion on her childhood, her work on Rock of Ages, and of course, her current project here at Signature Theatre. She also addresses her thoughts on what it means being a “female director” in what has been mainly known as a gentleman’s club on the Great White Way.

And the Curtain Rises plays at the Signature Theatre until April 10th. Book was written by Michael Slade; Music & Orchestrations by Joseph Thalken; Lyrics by  Mark Campbell; Choreography by Josh Walden.

To listen to the interview in its entirety, please click on the following link:

Peter Eramo Interviews Tony Nominated Director Kristin Hanggi for the Signature Theatre Podcast

For more information about Signature Theatre — or And the Curtain Rises, you can click here.

                                                                                              

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