“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”: Movie Review

The long wait is over. Harry Potter fans can now rejoice with the long-anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 today and in theaters everywhere (though I’m sure many already went to the midnight screening last night). The film, directed by David Yates,  follows our infamous trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron in their quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and is slated to be the final installment in the mega-franchise. But — is it worth the wait? The hype? The hoopla? Does this last film live up to all of the lofty expectations and do justice to J.K. Rowling‘s book? Well, lucky for us, The Lantern has Potter extraordinaire William Buhagiar to give us the scoop and tell us what we might be in store for. Mr. Buhagiar does possess a Ph.D in Rowling Studies from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry and is an all-around film nerd. Here is his film review. — P.E.

It is arguably very melodramatic to begin this review by examining the brutal reality that nothing, not even anything as exquisite as the Harry Potter series, lasts forever. For the past twelve (out of twenty years of my life), I’ve always had a Harry Potter-something to look forward to, a reason to assemble amongst fellow nerds in bookstores and movie theaters in the middle of the night, waiting to resume by page or screen the epic tale of the Boy Who Lived. Now, after over a decade, I’ve stepped off the Hogwarts Express for good. Is it fair or is it absurd to view this as the most prominent rite of passage I have yet experienced? Outrageous as it may seem, never before have I felt so distant from childhood. My childhood was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter is now over. It is absolutely the most exhausted I’ve ever felt.

Deathly Hallows: Part II doesn’t ease the audience into the narrative – if you haven’t seen Part I, the film makes it very clear that you do not belong here. The Order of the Phoenix is at its weakest, Harry has just buried the heroic house-elf Dobby, and the despicable Dark Lord Voldemort has violated Albus Dumbledore’s tomb to steal the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows and the most powerful magical instrument ever created…and so it begins.

Within minutes, the trio (each of whom reach their acting peak — they’re all superb) are raiding Gringott’s Wizarding Bank, flying over London atop a monstrous dragon, and quickly realize the shit has hit the fan when Voldemort discovers their secret mission to undo him – this, among other things, ultimately leads back to Hogwart’s, where the good guys will make their final stand against the bad guys. The Battle of Hogwarts, which should’ve been an insanely climactic cinematic spectacle, was generally a brief, disappointing series of flashes of magical combat. The handful of notable deaths we found devastating in the book are examined all-too-briefly here, and the novel’s profound examination of the consequences of war, the need to keep fighting and the triumph of good over evil feel tossed aside at times.

However, the film achieves something of a phenomenon in one of the series’ central characters, Professor Severus Snape, whose storyline ultimately lifts the quality of the movie tenfold and who becomes the primary focus of the film for a good stretch of about seven minutes. This was not only the finest chapter of the book series, but will ultimately go down as the finest sequence in the adaptations. There are many movies I will discuss and casually claim I have cried during (when in fact I just found them sad), but I promise I do not even mildly exaggerate when I say that I was sobbing, harder than I ever have before in a movie, during the scenes that properly explain the complicated, brilliant and ultimately tragic character that is Professor Severus Snape. Alan Rickman, who for eight films showed us a cold, sneering Potions Master with a disposition for sadism, annihilates the image he’s so artfully sustained for the past decade and brings something new to him – his vulnerability, desperation and grief stirred me into a frenzy and I couldn’t help but openly sob during Snape’s finest hour. God bless Alan Rickman.

I’ve always had a rocky relationship with the Harry Potter films; this is no secret; some I’ve come to appreciate and some I’ve come to absolutely despise. In the case of Deathly Hallows: Part II, my initial response is generally mixed. Something felt anti-climactic; many important events overlooked, but when the film got it right, it was nearly perfect. We can’t expect the films to be anything quite as extraordinary as the novels, I suppose, and they must always be viewed as separate entities. What I will always remember fondly will be the books, and the films will always be there to provide some quick entertainment. There will be no more Harry Potter releases, all is said and done, and there will be no more speculation over it. Despite my many grievances, it’s been fun watching J.K. Rowling’s world translated to the big screen, though sometimes infuriating for ten years. Mischief managed.

William’s Rating

‘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)

‘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

DVD Hidden Gem: “Cemetery Junction”

I know each Friday I post the “Gimme 5” feature, but I’ve been busy this week and thus, lazy in writing new posts (only one this week). I felt a bit guilty about neglecting my blogging duties & decided to skip the “Gimme 5” — just this week, even though it is one of my favorite aspects of this blog and where I get your much appreciated input. Rest assured, there will be a new one next Friday…

Can I just say that Ricky Gervais is slowly becoming one of my most favorite talents in the film industry? His stand-up is hilarious and smart, his TV series “Extras” was a riot, his performance in Ghost Town was heartfelt and witty — and his trifecta as writer/director/actor of last year’s The Invention of Lying was a comedic triumph (as I voted it one of the Top 10 films of the year). Gervais is a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems stale and unoriginal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at all the movies we had to pick from this past summer. A complete disappointment, in my book.

Now comes the delightful  Cemetery Junction, which was released earlier this year in the U.K., but I don’t recall seeing it in any theatres here in the States. Gervais co-wrote and co-directed the film with Stephen Merchant and I must say that it threw me for a bit of a loop. Going into it, I knew nothing about the story. I simply saw Gervais attached to it and decided to screen it. I cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to see something completely different coming from him already.

Though there are some light-hearted moments and bits of comedy here and there, Cemetery Junction is, for all intents and purposes, a drama. It is a touching and at times, powerful coming of age story set in 1973 and revolves around young Freddie (Christian Cooke) who wants nothing more than to break free from the provincial, working-class town Cemetery Junction, a suburb of Reading. He wants to make it big, make money, and be a success. He sees the wealthy Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), as being the very model of success and goes to him looking for a sales job, hoping to prove himself and work his way up in the company. Freddie’s two friends, Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) aren’t as embarrassed about their stations in life and are pretty content with the way things are. Freddie’s ambitions obviously put quite a strain on their friendship and the core of the movie lies there. The three actors do a wonderful job at playing off one another and the strong script gives them each great depth and character. Bruce’s strained relationship with his alcoholic father makes for a very dramatic subplot and the scenes, though painful to watch, are well crafted and executed quite nicely. Doolan provides a lot of the comic relief as the nerdy, lovable loser. The scenes between him and the shy waitress are a pure treasure though and quite sweet.

Gervais and Merchant fill the story with many interesting characters that inhabit Cemetery Junction. Gervais himself takes a bit of a backseat here in the supporting role of Freddie’s working-class father. Of course, the scenes at the home featuring Gervais, his wife and elderly mother are pretty funny, especially the wise-cracking banter between he and his mother. Emily Watson also takes on a supporting role, playing the unhappy and under-appreciated, Mrs. Kendrick. The relationship between the Kendricks is a vital component to the film and Watson (as always) brings a quiet strength to her character. When she opens up to her daughter, it is a “coming out” of sorts and we instantly feel for her.

Gervais has said that he was inspired by the Bruce Springsteen lyric “It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” from the classic 1975 song, “Thunder Road” — the idea of someone not wanting to be confined to such squalid and deprived surroundings; to set out and try to attain one’s dream of success. That is what is at the heart of this wonderful little film. He said that he felt the Americans have pretty much monopolized this idea in film and that he wanted to bring this coming-of-age tale to the screen from the point of view of the English, setting the movie in the very town he was raised in. The movie is now out on DVD and Blue-Ray now and I highly recommend people to see it. It is smart, touching, funny, and at times, unpredictable. There are great conflicts amongst the friends, their families, and a complicated love story between Freddie and his old school sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones) that is brought to life in warm and genuine fashion. After seeing The Invention of Lying, I remember writing that I could not wait to see what Gervais would bring us next…in Cemetery Junction, he surely did not disappoint.

Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: The Finale!

              

OK, here it finally is…the last part of my “Top 25 Comedy Films of the Decade” (2000-2009) list!!! The final five films are as follows:

#5. Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson)

A chaotic mid-life crisis joy ride, if there ever was one. Carnegie Mellon professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is just one small crisis away from having a complete nervous breakdown. In the course of one weekend, we are introduced to all of the highly unusual characters that make up his harried life – his third wife leaves him, his girlfriend, the Chancellor (Frances McDormand, always so damned good) is pregnant, and his editor Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.) arrives on the scene, peeking and probing, waiting for Grady’s book that has been in the works for over seven years. Talk about writer’s block! Actually, the manuscript is over 2,600 pages long. Add to this the advancements of one of his female students and James Leer (Tobey Maguire), another of Grady’s students who is something of a literary prodigy on top of being a pathological liar and kleptomaniac. Oh yeah, James also shoots the Chancellor’s dog in the midst of all the confusion. It all looked so much easier seven years ago when Grady’s first novel was a sensation and he was, well, a “wonder boy.” What the hell happened to this guy? 

Wonder Boys” is not only one of the finest comedies of the decade, but one of the better films to come out period. Michael Douglas gives what I think may be his finest performance (not at all hyperbole). He is completely natural throughout. He doesn’t look for any laughs…he plays it straight and the laughs simply come. His chemistry with the impressive cast that surrounds him is pitch-perfect, creating a real-life character in this slice-of-life film – a character who we have great sympathy for and laugh at simultaneously. As his agent who is desperate for his client’s new work, Robert Downey, Jr. turns in yet another complex and quirky performance. Tobey Maguire is very funny too as the clearly troubled young writer. His pairing with Tripp makes for a nice father/son combination here. Steve Kloves does a masterful job at adapting from the Michael Chabon novel — very real characters caught in highly compromising situations. This movie is a true winner – smart, impulsive, sweet and really, really funny.

#4. The Invention of Lying (dir. Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson)

One of my Top films of 2009, without question — for its intelligent script, non-stop laughs, and terrific cast. Absolute entertainment. The film is set in an illusory world where no one has ever told a lie. That is, until Mark Bellison, a writer who is about to be fired (Ricky Gervais), creates one on the spur of the moment for personal gain. Mark is overweight, under-successful, short and comes from a poor gene pool. He is in love with Anna (Jennifer Garner) who is way out of his league as she is looking for the perfect mate with ideal genes to create perfect, good-looking children without snub noses. Of course Mark begins to take advantage of his discovery little by little until one day, the hospital staff overhear him speaking to his mother on her deathbed as he describes what Heaven is truly like. He’s just making it up as he goes along, but everyone within earshot believes him of course and Mark not only becomes famous, but a prophet of the people as well.

What Gervais and Robinson have created here is one of the better comedies I have seen in years. In its vision and scope, I was constantly reminded of the better films of Albert Brooks and Woody Allen throughout. Gervais gives an endearing, hilarious performance and manages to also include his own personal opinions on God, religion, love and the backwards priorities of our society. An entirely original film, I was blown away at how funny and clever it was. The film also features some great cameo appearances and excellent supporting work from Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill. Gervais is certainly making a name for himself here in the States (see “Ghost Town” too)— I only hope that people begin to recognize that this is a major force in comedy now. And not only is this one downright hilarious movie, but on top of that, it has a heart to match.

#3. Wedding Crashers (dir. David Dobkin)

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) are best of friends, business partners, and above all, self-confirmed womanizers. They make a habit out of crashing weddings and taking full advantage of all the romance in the air by bedding a gullible, beautiful hottie looking for her slice of the love pie. They even have their own long list of rules to abide by (Rule #1: Never Leave a Fellow Crasher Behind) and as the film begins, the anticipation is in the air because wedding season is just about here.

Chances are you’ve seen this movie already, if not once, then several times. All I know is that if I happen to catch it playing on TV, I can’t take it off. It’s too friggin’ funny and has some wonderful performances in it. Brash, sarcastic, foul, derisive, Vaughn is in top comedic form (“Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye”). His rapport with Wilson is a very strong one and we immediately buy into how close they are as well as when the two have their little break up. How the two scope out, then pounce on their prey is great fun to watch. They’re con men. But they’re not looking for money. They just want to get laid and never see the woman again. That is, until John meets Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams) at a family wedding as the wedding season is drawing to a close. He is instantly smitten with Claire, who happens to be the daughter of the very influential Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken) and breaks every rule in his Crasher Rulebook in trying to win her heart by attending a weekend party at the Cleary family compound (and dragging his reluctant friend with him). The funny just gets funnier during the weekend with an incredible cast of characters. Walken plays it straight for the most part, but is still such a joy to watch and his relationship with his loving daughter Claire is a very endearing one. Who steals the show here is the dazzling Isla Fisher, who plays Claire’s seemingly unbalanced, sex-crazed sister who falls hard for Jeremy. How Vaughn reacts to and deals with the maniacal Fisher (“I’ll find you!”) makes for some of the funniest moments in the film. Keir O’Donnell plays the son of the renowned politician and is completely creepy, yet we just feel so bad for him. Again, the scenes he has with Vaughn are a riot. Bradley Cooper makes a great bad guy here who we simply cannot stand and Will Ferrell’s mythic Chazz is a great surprise (“hey Mom! Can we get some meatloaf??!!”).

Overall, the general plot is nothing so very new — but it somehow manages to feel fresh and original. It is certainly great entertainment and funny from start to finish. On top of all the laughs, there is also a sweet love story that, although fairly predictable, is still kind of nice to watch. But most of all, it’s a story about friendship — and that resonates throughout. It’s really very hard not to like this one. Without a doubt the funniest film of 2005, and among the funniest in years.

#2. In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh)

I am a tremendous fan of Martin McDonagh’s work as a writer for the stage and think he is one of the very best playwrights to come out in recent years. He already won an Oscar for his short film “Six Shooter” and with “In Bruges,” he makes a phenomenally impressive debut as a feature-length writer/director. McDonagh has a real knack for making violence and brutality outrageously funny and this one is quirky as hell, dark and funny…it simply blew me away.

What holds the film together is the friendship between Ray and Ken, two Irish hitmen. The chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is authentic and pleasing to watch as there’s so much going on between the two polar opposites. Farrell’s Ray is young, brash and wants to live it up, while Ken is much more reserved…he is a quiet philosopher and thinks with his upstairs head as opposed to his partner-in-crime, who thinks with the other. But Ray is suicidal and on edge, struggling to come to terms with a previous assignment that went terribly wrong.  They are stuck in the Belgium city of Bruges – sent their by their insane mob Harry Waters (played with delicious cartoon madness by Ralph Fiennes). Because Ray bungled the job, he orders Ken to kill his close associate. So why are they in Bruges? Because Harry, for some reason known only to him, thinks that Bruges is the most magical, heavenly place on earth and wants Ray to see it before he has him killed.

How Ray and Ken deal with being trapped in this city is great fun. Ken wants to see the sights and take it all in, while Ray is just bored to tears. He meets Chloe, who happens to be a thief and a drug dealer, selling drugs to a film crew that is shooting in the city. He then gets mixed up with a Canadian tourist and yes, Chloe’s boyfriend. The film has a terrific pace to it and never lets up. The comedy is in the situations that McDonagh places his characters in and their reactions to everything that goes on around them. McDonagh also has a wonderful ear for dialogue and comedic repartee. It gets pretty violent at times, but you are laughing the whole way through. I remember ranking this the 3rd best film of 2008 and I haven’t met one person who saw this movie that didn’t like it. It’s simply a great film with terrific comedic performances.

#1. Tropic Thunder (dir. Ben Stiller)

In creating this list, I continued to run through each of the comedies I had seen during 2000-2009, and there was not one film I could point out that I thought was funnier or more daring than Ben Stiller’s comedic triumph, “Tropic Thunder.” From its very opening (the hilarious phony movie trailers) til its closing credits (the classic dance sequence done by Tom Cruise as his wonderfully off-putting, foul-mouthed and somewhat nauseating Les Grossman), this film had me rolling. The casting is flawless, the performances all stellar, and the screenplay is satiric, smart and yes, thankfully politically incorrect.

The film follows 5 Hollywood actors as they set out to make the greatest war movie ever made. At the center of this eclectic group is Ben Stiller’s Tugg Speedman, who is  in desperate need of a comeback movie (especially after the joke of a movie that was “Simple Jack“). Robert Downey, Jr. plays multiple Oscar winner and master Australian Thespian (“I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary”), Kirk Lazarus who is notorious for always crawling in the skin of the characters he plays and, in playing an African-American soldier here, does so quite literally by undergoing a skin pigmentation process to turn his skin black. He is a wonderful foil to Stiller’s Speedman and their bonding throughout the film — from clashing on the set to true acting colleagues is a fine course to watch. Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy, a modern-day Fatty Arbuckle who stars in toilet-humor comedies and has a severe drug problem. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson round out the platoon, but both do not fall to wayside next to the more well-known comedians. A disheveled Nick Nolte (is there any other kind?) plays the man who wrote the book that the crew is set to film. An honored war veteran and American hero with a big secret, Nolte’s Four Leaf Tayback has hooks for arms and a no-bullshit code of conduct. Steve Coogan plays the man directing the “Tropic Thunder” project and is at a complete loss as to how to handle his star-laden cast. His inspired speech to his cast in the jungle as they set off for the unknown is a great one – before he happens to step on a landmine and his body is splayed across the fields in every which way. In two cameo supporting roles, Matthew McConaughey (who I normally cannot bear to watch) and Tom Cruise simply rock! McConaughey plays Tugg’s agent and closest friend who will do anything for his longtime client. His phone chats with a distant Speedman who is slowly losing his mind while imprisoned by natives are a riot as is his desperate search to get his man a damn Tivo! Cruise steals each scene he is in and I give him full credit for letting it all hang out and just committing to this vile character 100% (“Look, fuckstick, I’m incredibly busy. So why don’t you get the hell out of here before I snap your dick off and jam it into your ass!”). I can’t remember a funnier closing credits than right here. Those moves, those hips, that chest hair! PLAY-AAA!!!

I loved watching all the varied characters do their thing. I loved all of the racial jokes, actor jokes, drug jokes, and yes, the mentally challenged jokes and I credit Ben Stiller for not caving in to public pressure and keeping it all in. I had read that when Downey was offered the role and told what his role would entail, that he thought Stiller was absolutely insane. That usually means you are onto something, and after seeing this film a handful of times, he was. Watching Jack Black tied to a tree and bribing his cast members with oral sex in exchange for drugs is hilarious. On top of that, Downey’s ‘Full retard’ bit is complete insanity. The entire movie is peppered with truly funny lines. Stiller has created a complex, raunchy, intelligent comedy and his direction is spot on. This was a bold and challenging project to be sure, and could have easily gone wrong in so many ways. In Stiller’s capable hands though, he makes what I thought was the funniest damn movie of the decade. Here’s a little Les Grossman for ya:

HONORARY MENTIONS

As I stated in the previous part of this list, there were so many funny comedies that came out during 2000-2009 (much to my surprise). And I had initially started with a Top 10 List, but it just kept growing larger and larger….I finally had to draw the line at 25. In any case, here are some very funny, well-made movies that I truly enjoyed, but did not make the cut. I wish there was room for them all…

Year of the Dog                                                   
Thumbsucker                                                  
Lars & the Real Girl
State and Main
(500) Days of Summer                                 
Bad Santa
Baadasssss!
Team America: World Police                    
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Over the Hedge
Stranger Than Fiction                                   
The Hangover
O’ Brother, Where art Thou?
Keeping the Faith
I Love You, Man
Roger Dodger
Borat
Ghost World
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Ghost Town

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