Movie Reviews

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: My sister and I ventured in to the wizarding realm of Harry Potter a bit late.  We only just finished reading the series, and we have not even watched all of the movies.  I was determined to experience the iconic Harry Potter phenomenon by watching at least one of the movies in the theater.  Just reading the series was an adventure outside of our normal scope of historical and inspirational fiction, but we both enjoyed the books.  We knew that watching the movie would be an even greater step outside of our comfort zone, but decided to take advantage of our last chance to see Harry Potter in the theaters and went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2. Our main thought was that the imagery would be too graphic and violent for our tastes.  Reading descriptions is one thing, but seeing them visually represented can be quite another. 

Of course, there were violent scenes, dragons, and strange looking creatures in much of the movie. It was a departure from the usual heartwarming movies that we usually watch, but we enjoyed it overall.  The visual effects were gripping and intense, keeping us on the edge of our seats, even though we knew the final outcome and Harry's ultimate triumph. There were a few humorous moments, but more moments of danger, fear, and sadness. By the end of the movie, our beloved Hogwarts was ravished and the cast was devoid of several characters.  My sister and I both agreed that we felt the loss of characters more in the novel, although the sight of dead and wounded in Hogwarts following Voldemort's first attack on Hogwarts was heartbreaking.  I overheard several sniffles in the theater at certain moments. At other moments, there were applause, cheers, and laughs from viewers who had obviously been with Harry, Ron, and Hermione since they were young first-years. 

After both reading the book and watching the movie, we decided that we prefer the novel.  It was difficult not to compare the events in the movie to how they happened in the book.  There were parts of the movie that we would not have understood as well without the context provided by the book.  Part 2 is a good representation of the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but it is not a substitute for reading the book itself.

One of our favorite characters in the last book and in the movie was Neville Longbottom.  He was often in the background of Harry's, Ron's, and Hermione's adventures and sometimes overshadowed.  I remember him as the geeky and forgetful first year, but by the end of the series he has grown into a courageous young wizard.  His role in both the book and movie versions of the Deathly Hallows was not huge, but it was definitely powerful.  He emerged toward the end of the movie somewhat beaten and bruised by the new cruel headmasters. In Harry's absence from Hogwarts, Neville clearly became a leader fighting against the Dark Arts.  In the novel, Neville's bravery was clearly demonstrated when he killed Nagini in front of Voldemort.  Unfortunately, the sequence of events was slightly different in the movie, and not quite as powerful.  Nonetheless, his determination and courage was visible, and he provided some humorous moments too.

We have reached the end of the Harry Potter era; but without a doubt, the books and movies are now ingrained in pop-culture and will be enjoyed for years to come. Although the series is sometimes controversial for its sorcery and witchcraft, there are many valuable lessons to be learned from Harry Potter, such as teamwork, overcoming adversity, and using one's talents for the benefit of others. We are glad that we ventured out of our comfort zone and into the Harry's world.

***

Rating: 5 Stars
Synopsis from Amazon.com: Adapted from a Will Weaver story, Ali Selim's Sweet Land is a truly sweet story about unlikely immigrant lovers whose struggle for integration into 1920's America earns them a work ethic more American than many of their narrow-minded neighbors. Set in rural Minnesota, the sentimental film focuses on tribulations that Scandinavian settlers experienced, with a cinematic serenity reminiscent of Terrence Malik's Days of Heaven. Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee) invites a non-English speaking German siren, Inge Alltenburg (Elizabeth Reaser), to relocate and marry him, but discovers that neither the town's Lutheran pastor (John Heard) nor the local judge will marry a German into their community for fear of wartime German spies. Inge finds friendship in neighbors Frandsen (Alan Cumming) and his wife, Brownie (Alex Kingston), who disregarding local gossip, welcome her into their home. Finally, Inge proves herself, settling in so that Sweet Land's historical narrative is framed by Inge, fifty years later, speaking to her adult son about her husband's death and their plot of land. This multi-generational tale of social acceptance and land ownership is ultimately the story of America, though the regional specificity of Sweet Land will speak especially to those familiar with Midwestern culture. --Trinie Dalton

Read more at www.sweetlandmovie.com


video

Review: I discovered Sweet Land at my local library and checked it out on a whim, mainly because the synopsis sounded like the plot of a book I would read. I am so glad I struck gold with this discovery! Sweet Land is one of the rare and special movies that lingers in your mind long after you finish watching it.  I definitely understand why it has received numerous accolades and awards.  The acting is spectacular and real; the scenery is stunning; and the plot is touching, heart-warming, and heart-breaking. 

Some of the conversation occurs in German with no subtitles to offer translation to those of us who don't speak the language.  Despite the lack of subtitles, I could understand the gist of situations based on tone and nonverbal cues.  I confess that I would love to know what Inge is saying at the beginning of the clip. The fact that Inge is not fluent in English when she arrives in Minnesota and is misunderstood by many of the townspeople adds to the realism of the story and helps to make the viewer sympathetic to the plight that immigrants faced (and still face) when moving to a new country.  The gentle love that blossoms between Inge and Olaf during the course of the movie in spite of adversity is inspiring.  This is a love story that I will not soon forget!

***

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: Last weekend, we decided to go see Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.  The concept intrigued us, but we were not sure if we would enjoy the movie, especially since we primarily watch British period dramas. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised.

Midnight in Paris opens with stunning and crisp vignettes of Paris. Within the first five minutes, I had added this European city to my future travel list.  We were expecting a serious drama, but there are both quirky and comical elements to this fantasy/romantic comedy film, which make it addictive and unique.  Gil (Wilson) is an inspiring American author on vacation in Paris with his fiance, Inez, (McAdams) and her family.  While Gil is a somewhat bumbling dreamer, Inez is an in-control realist.  As a result, they have diverging views on how to best experience Paris. 

Gil dreams of seeing Paris in the rain and living in the past.  To his surprise, a midnight walk takes him back to Paris in the roaring 1920s, where he meets literary and artistic greats, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Gertrude Stein.  The movie transitions from Paris night-life in the 20s to the modern city. Through his mystical time travels, Gil learns about himself, his craft, and his dreams.

Gil's character was slightly silly and awkward, and offers many of the comedic moments of the movie. Despite that, we definitely related to his desire to experience life in what he considers an "ideal" time.  My sister and I are often guilty of romanticising the past and not appreciating the present or future.  The lesson that Gil learned from his travels resonated with us. No time period is perfect, and the challenges and letdowns that we all face, past and present, shape the future.

The portrayals of icons like Fizgerald and Hemmingway added a special flavor to the movie, which we greatly enjoyed.  The supporting characters were a "Who's Who" line-up of past greats. We confess that though we had heard most of the names before, we were not readily familiar with each person's works or life. So, we came home and researched.  Thanks to Midnight in Paris, we have a bit more knowledge of the colorful individuals who shaped the 1920's in America, Paris, and beyond.

We highly recommend Midnight in Paris.  The trailer below, does not completely capture the charm and character of the movie, but it does provide a good sample of the scenery and some of the quirkiness.




***

Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon.com: A classic coming-of-age tale on par with Anne of Avonlea and Little Women, Berkeley Square is worth watching over and over again. This 10-episode British miniseries will awe you with its erudite script, wonderfully believable characters, high-caliber production values, meticulous Edwardian details, and topnotch acting. In fact, you will join the growing multitudes who puzzle over why the BBC decided to stop after only 10 episodes.

In 1902 three young nannies find jobs in well-to-do London households and get to know each other. Naive farm girl Lydia finds an unfamiliar world both in city life and with the progressive-thinking family who employs her. Earnest, rule-abiding Matty is a hard-working East End girl who slowly learns to loosen up. And, after a tragic affair with the eldest son of a grand Yorkshire family, Hannah's life in London is full of chilling secrets and grave life-and-death decisions. --Tara Chace



B Squared's Review: Berkeley Square is a worthy and engaging endeavor for fellow fans of period British movies.  The 10 episodes total about 8.5 hours; so this series takes longer to finish than a traditional movie.  We were skeptical about finishing the series after watching the first episode, which was less eventful than the proceeding episodes.  In retrospect, episode one does a fabulous job of introducing viewers to the main characters and providing insights into the households.  By the end of the second episode, we were completely hooked.  Lydia, Matty, and Hannah each have compelling stories.  Their characters are well-developed and masterfully acted, as are the supporting characters. We felt connected to each of the girls as well as their charges, whose own plights, despite their privileged lives will pull on you heartstrings (especially Hannah's charge, Bertie).  

Collectively, the many story lines in Berkeley Square offer happiness, sadness, loss, mystery, danger, scandal, and love...truly something for every viewer.  After reading viewer comments that alluded to loose-ends and the lack of a conclusion, we were concerned that the end would leave us disappointed.  Berkeley Square clearly could have continued into another season.  There were a few minor story lines introduced midway through the series that could have been developed in another season, but the lack of focus in the remainder of the season was not detrimental to the overall plot.  Fortunately, the final episode does provide a satisfying conclusion.  Every issue is not perfectly resolved, but it is easy to develop one's own happy ending.  In comparison to the final episode of Downton Abbey, which will continue in 2012, Berkeley Square's conclusion is much more developed and defined.  Thank goodness, because we would have been sorely disappointed if we were left "hanging" after almost 9 hours.

We will definitely watch Berkeley Square again.  It is one more British movie/series to add to our list of favorites.

***
Jane Eyre, Masterpiece Theater 2006
Rating: 5 Stars

Review: We have been convinced for the past few years that we would never find a movie that grasped us as strongly as Elizabeth Gaskells's North & South, but this adaptation of Jane Eyre proved us wrong.  Although Jane Eyre is a classic, with several movie adaptations, we have avoided the movie, perceiving the plot as too dark and melancholy.  While the story features such elements, we found the movie compelling and the characters emotions were portrayed with a raw and riveting quality that allowed us to be sympathetic to both Jane and Mr. Rochester.


Yet another adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic is due out in March 2011.  We look forward to possibly watching it, but we doubt it will surpass the 2006 Masterpiece version, at least in our eyes.



***

North & South, based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. 

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: The word masterpiece best describes this BBC mini-series, adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell's riveting novel North & South.  Gaskell delves into the disparity between southern and northern England during the Industrial Revolution and, more importantly, the social struggles between the working class, union members, factory owners, and the citizens caught between the groups.  In the midst of poverty, conflict, and tragedy, lies a beautiful love story between the southern-bred Margaret Hale and the northern-bred, factory owner John Thornton.  

North & South provides a moving and authentic portrayal of industrial life in England during the 1800s.  The scenery, ranging from the sunny and picturesque southern countryside to the cotton-filled and noisy factories of Northern England, is both stunning and realistic. Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage starring as Margaret Hale and John Thornton, fully embrace their characters, bringing Gaskell's hero and heroine to life.  The supporting cast is equally strong, and the talented actors fit into their roles seamlessly.

We are fans of many British period dramas; and after discovering this BBC mini-series a couple of years ago, North & South became our favorite movie.  Because of its authentic acting, realistic scenery, and gripping storyline, we do not think that another movie will surpass it in the near future. 

***
Flywheel, Produced by Sherwood Pictures

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: Flywheel presents the story of Jay Austin, a used car salesman who runs his business under the facade of honesty while swindling his customers, even his pastor.  Jay's guilty conscience and stress over his car lot's mounting debt, puts strain on his relationship with his wife and young son, further adding to his troubles.  Depressed and facing personal and professional failure, Jay makes the decision to give his car lot and life to God.  As he makes these changes and confronts his past mistakes, will his business survive and will his scarred relationships heal?

This is a well-produced and well-written movie, considering that it was created on a budget of only $20,000.   Starring members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, Flywheel takes viewers on an inspiring journey of a man's quest to discover the integral component to living a respectable and moral life.  Because this movie lacks the Hollywood polish to which viewers are accustomed, Flywheel conveys a charming realism and unpretentious production that make the movie relatable to viewers. While thought-provoking and moving, Flywheel also offers lighthearted and comical moments, particularly among supporting cast members.  The story will inspire viewers to reflect on their lives and find their own "flywheel."   


  

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