“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’ (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.

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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