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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

MW on Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1, The Next Three Days, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One (Three Stars)

U.S.; David Yates, 2010

The beginning of the end for a very long, mostly gratifying, often magical and sometimes splendiferous and surprising cinematic journey on a constantly twisting fantastical/literary road, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One splits the last of the J. K. Rowling books in half, and leaves us suspended on the saga’s cliff-edge — with all the furious climax-building and loose-end-tying left for next year’s Part Two.

So, twist, twist … Faced with so much material in Rowling’s last Potter book, as well as with the end of a franchise, director David Yates, writer Steve Kloves and producers David Heyman and David Barron take a chance, jump off the cliff and slice us off in mid-Hallows, promising more later.

At the end here, somewhat abruptly, they leave the kids and the plot boiling their way to that long-awaited final confrontation between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), and his series-long buddies Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and their Satanic nemesis, evil wizard-master Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) — a being so foul, so evil, that his soul is split into seven scattered pieces (horcruxes to you) — along with Voldemort’s fiendish company (Alan Rickman’s icy Professor Severus Snape, Timothy Spall’s squirmy Wormtail, Helena Bonham Carter‘s mad Bellatroix Lestrange, all those damned Death Eaters and the rest of the Whole Sick Crew) and the explosion we know will come in next year‘s promised H.P. & the D. H., Part Two.

Then, the last Potter part (after this penultimate Potter) will wrap up everything Rowling has dreamed and that the filmmakers have filmed so faithfully and well, in what will probably be a blaze of excitement, special effects and Hogwarts auld lang syne.

Meanwhile, back at the cliff…

I didn’t enjoy Deathly Hallows 1 all that much overall (though sometimes I enjoyed it mightily). But I certainly admired it. How often in film history do we get something this rich and full, or see a group of moviemakers so determined to bring us every last jot and tittle (sometimes captivating, sometimes not), stage as much as they possibly could of a first-rate writer’s long, long, epic novel-series? What wouldn’t we give if some French film auteur had devoted similar care to Balzac‘s Comedie Humaine? Or some American had done all of Farrell‘s Studs Lonigan, or Faulkner’s complete Yoknapawtapha Saga? Or even all the Oz books?

Deathly Hallows 1 though, is the darkest of all of the Potter movies, the bleakest, the most melancholy, and the least packed and stuffed with roast turkey platters of toothsome British character acting, and sugarplums of fantasy, and after-the-feast bobsled rides of slam-bang action.

There was only one time in the whole movie I felt any delight, and that was at the little interpolated tale of The Three Brothers and their wishes: an animated bon-bon supervised by Ben Hibon, that looks a bit like one of those wonderful old Lotte Reiniger silhouette films (like “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,”) Tim Burtonized into sepia life.
I also got a kick out of the re-appearances of so many past Potterites specially Madman Mooney (Brendan Gleeson), and pink slithery elf Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones), and I enjoyed Rhys Ifans’ blowup as Xenophilias Lovegood in his wild digs. And, like everyone else, I liked the dance in the wilderness between Harry and Hermione. (With all that gray mist, shouldn’t it have been to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?”)

But for this outing, at least, unadulterated joy is a stranger. Instead, we start off the movie with a what-took-you-so-long appearance by Bill Nighy as dour Rufus Schrimgeour (Nighy being one of the few great contemporary British character actors, who haven’t already popped up in a previous Potter), Rufus arriving at a ghastly feast hosted by that hideous noseless-corpse-looking fiend-beyond-fiendishness Voldemort, issuing more sepulchral threats to rid the world of all things Potter. (This loathsome creature, this dastardly bastard, this cold-eyed Lucifer, this creep has, I swear, a future in politics — if he gets a good make-up man.)

And that’s the jolly part.

Afterward, with Hogwarts closed to Harry and company, with his adopted family (including Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) forced to flee, with his friends joining together to disguise themselves as a band of fake Harries to fool the Death Eaters, wanted posters with his visage marked “Undesirable Number One,“ plastered all over the town, and finally lost and wandering, with lissome Hermione and scowling Ron, through what looks like the ashy, seared ruins of a sunless land out of somebody‘s nightmare (thanks to cinematographer Eduardo Serra), Harry is thrust finally, rudely into a glum, threatening, care-laden adulthood, and forced to face, undiluted with Hogwarts antics, the problems we all face, especially if we’re magic guys (or ladies) and have the devil on our trail.

Series devotees and Constant Readers of Rowling (R.I.P., Dorothy P.), will love it all, I’m sure. (And that’s quite a huge, huge bunch.) Less fervent Potterers may be honestly confused. I sometimes wondered what the hell was going on, and who was who, and even what a horcrux was. (Remember, again: It’s one of the seven severed slices of Voldemort’s satanic sinister soul.) And I fervently wished I’d set aside time to read the whole book. (I used to read them all, in more halcyon days.) My advice to non-experts or aficionados. Get a crib-sheet, or bone up on a Harry Potter website, before you see it. Or better yet, read the book. (The show will still be around, in a few weeks.)

I mentioned the cast. Everybody does. Everybody should. From Part One on, this series must surely boast the most talented and luminous movie roll call of great British star and character film actors, ever — or at least since “Gosford Park,“ where the cast had richer parts and Robert Altman to turn them loose. Maybe they could all start their own rep company, called “Everybody Comes to Harry’s.” Anyway, they all came to this series, or a lot of them (see above), from this movie’s other cast-mates Miranda Richardson (as Rita Skeeter), Imelda Staunton (as Dolores Umbridge) and John Hurt (as Ollivander) to previous series participants Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Richard Harris and Michael Gambon — the last two as the late, lamented master, who drives Harry batty, in this outing, with his impenetrable clues.

One almost expects to see the ghosts of Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud enter from stage left, pursued by a bear, cast as the ghosts of wizards past. And I wouldn’t bet on Sean Connery and Michael Caine remaining still absent from the feast at Deathly Hallows, Part Two. (Or will Connery, Caine, Colin Firth and other no-shows start wearing, as Nighy almost did, t-shirts emblazoned “No, I wasn’t in a Harry Potter movie.”) Whatever, whenever, it shows how attractively ambitious producers Heyman and Barron have been — and how well Rowling has been served by all present and all dePottered. (Sorry.)

It also shows also how good a screenwriter Steve Kloves is. (That’s the auteur of The Fabulous Baker Boys, who’s done all but one of the Potters — and isn’t it time he got another shot as director?) And how lucky and ready David Yates was, succeeding directors Chris Columbus (Harry Potter 1 & 2), Alfonso Cuaron (Part Three) and Mike Newell (Part Four) as the Potter helmsman, for the last four straight.

Yates, who is painstaking and versatile, if not inspired — but who seems to really love the books — was mostly a British TV director before 2007‘s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which demonstrates how excellent and keenly literary the best of British Television is. (Yates made another episodic Brit novel adaptation on TV, filming Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.)

To digress: Yates comes from a good school. And I really love being able to watch a long, richly detailed, well-acted and faithful British TV adaptation of a great novelist like Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, or Thackeray, or of a fine 20th century novelist or entertainer like Anthony Powell, John le Carre, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene — or even of “Poldark.” (All of which you can get on videos of British TV, also once the stomping ground of ace directors Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Michael Apted and Alan Clarke.) And I wish that someone someday would release the complete anniversary edition they did of all Shakespeare’s plays. (Or maybe do them all over again, with the casts of the Harry Potter films.)

That stellar cast accentuates the fact that the Potter series’ central triumvirate — Radcliffe, Grint and even Watson — don’t (yet) have the acting chops, or near them, of their elders. One likes them because they’ve been with us in these roles so long. But none of these kids can nibble scenery like Helena Bonham Carter, or fondly burble like Toby Jones, or ooze hauteur like Maggie Smith, or swagger like Robbie Coltrane, or brood like Michael Gambon, or percolate like Miranda Richardson, or condescend like Imelda Staunton, or cast a pall like Ralph Fiennes. (That’s right: Who would expect them to?)

They can dance, though. And they can yearn. And they’re still young. And they’ve grown up, as everyone says, before our eyes, in the multiplexes. How lucky they’ll feel when they’re old and wiser and gray, and doing cameo roles — and they can drop whatever has replaced a DVD into whatever has replaced a DVD player, and watch themselves, forever muggles.

Well, as you can tell, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One didn’t knock me out. But because the series, as a whole, increasingly has, I’m willing to cut it some slack, be patient, wait for the end. I’ll take it on faith that they can set up something grand and marvelous for that last pop-pop-pop-Bam! fireworks finale. Magic, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter have turned out to be wonderful subjects for the movies. (This is one movie series that, for better or worse, rarely got in a rut.) And that’s because, I guess, magic is at the heart of the movies themselves, at the core of what lets them cast their spells. Magic thrills us on the page. But it can really catch us, rapt and spellbound, in a movie — or in a big long series of movies where the moviemakers really care about doing them right. Give ’em Hell, Harry.


The Next Three Days (Two and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Paul Haggis, 2010

This movie made no sense to me — even though it was well-acted (by Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson and others) and well-written and directed (by Paul Haggis, of Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby).

Check this out: Crowe is playing a pudgy, undershaven teacher named John Brennan, whose beautiful wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is convicted of murder, after she’s seen driving away from a parking lot that‘s also a murder site, with the dead woman‘s blood on her coat. If I were a jury member, I wouldn’t have necessarily bought that evidence — but then, Henry Fonda’s Juror No. 8, in Twelve Angry Men, is one of my heroes.

Then, even though he’s convinced of his wife’s innocence, John gets derailed by bad luck in court and a few discouraging words from lawyer Daniel Stern, and decides to break Lara out of jail instead, inspired by the wisdom of successful jailbreak artist/author Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson). I don’t buy this either, maybe because I would never hire Daniel Stern as my lawyer (I remember too well what he did with his popcorn box in Diner), and also maybe because Hilary Swank, as Betty Anne Waters in Conviction, is one of my new heroes.

What’s next?


Only a jailbreak plot that might tax the cunning, timing and stamina of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, but that looks like duck soup for an out-of-shape, academic, seemingly emotionally distraught Russell Crowe, who also has to get his kid back from a birthday party and then make a plane, right after the jailbreak.


I don’t buy this either, maybe because I would never hire Daniel Stern as my lawyer (I remember too well what his buddy Mickey Rourke did with his popcorn box in “Diner“), and also maybe because Hilary Swank, as Betty Anne Waters in “Conviction,“ is one of my new heroes.
The Next Three Days was adapted from a French movie called “Pour Elle,” which was directed and co-written by Fred Cavaye. Now, I might buy all this in a French movie, even by a director named Fred, especially if Gerard Depardieu or Daniel Auteuil — or Pour Elle’s actual star Vincent Lindon — played John (or Jean). But that’s because the French are famous for film noir and l’amour fou. They’re good at that stuff.

This movie looks good, sounds good and plays good. (Brian Dennehy and Helen Carey are John’s parents, and what jail could possibly hold the Liam Neeson who tore Paris apart in Taken? I just couldn’t make any sense of it, maybe because my “l’amour fou“ days went out with Pierrot le Fou. The Next Three Days, incidentally, is dedicated, effusively, to Damon Pennington, who I guess is a real person, unlike John. If I ever have to break anyone out of jail, I’ll give Damon a call, because he obviously knows his stuff — and also, because I‘m probably in worse shape than Brennan.

By the way, I would like to apologize, effusively, to Daniel Stern, for making a snotty crack about that great lewd popcorn gag in “Diner.” I realize it was all Barry Levinson’s doing, and they were all just following orders, everyone in “Diner” (and Levinson) only eats gourmet popcorn with escargot snacks, washed down with French Champagne, while watching Cesar-winning French movies and classic American film noirs. Besides, Daniel Stern is one of my heroes.


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

U. S.: Alex Gibney, 2010

Client 9 is Eliot Spitzer, the crusading Democratic New York Attorney General who took on Wall Street and later the Governor who tried to take on the Republican Party, and who ultimately had his career 86’d when he turned up on a John’s list for the pricey Manhattan Internet bordello, The Emperor’s Club.

Politicos screw hookers. Sometimes they caught. What else is new? But it’s suggested here by Client 9’s gutsy director Alex Gibney — who also made the excellent Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side and the lucid, devastating Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room — that Spitzer, though certainly guilty (albeit of a victimless crime committed by more than few prominent members of the Manhattan social/economic elite ) was harassed and tracked, and then nailed by a group of vengeful Wall Street got-rocks nabobs and political bigwigs who included the eventually crippled insurance giant AIG’s ex-CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former New York Stock Exchange Director and Home Dept co-founder Ken Langone, former New York GOP Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, and legendary Republican dirty trickster and self-styled stud-of-studs Roger Stone.

All four of these guys — and Spitzer, Emperors Club madame Cecil Suwal, call girl Ashley Dupre (A.K.A. “Kristin“) — who spilled a lot of beans on Client 9, and now writes an advice column for The New York Post — talk on camera. (Ashley is in archive footage.) So does another lady of the evening, code-named “Angelina,” who was apparently Spitzer‘s actual favorite companion — and who doesn’t appear on camera but has allowed her interview transcript to be read by actress Wrenn Schmidt. (I know, it sounds funny, but Schmidt plays the part very well.)

Was Spitzer stalked? And reamed? And was it because he was an effective A.G. going after Wall Street and Albany corruption, and maybe a future Democratic national candidate? Or because he was a nasty guy whom everybody disliked? Did the Fearsome Foursome have something, or a lot, to do with it?

Gibney convinced me. (Admittedly I’m sometimes an easy mark for stories like this.) Partly that’s because the main quartet of nemeses are so open, so type-cast and so boastfully self-satisfied on camera.

Lagone (at least here) looks and sounds like a man who goes to church but who makes offers you can’t refuse. Bruno (at least here) looks and sounds like a guy who’d beat up his bookie and his best friend and maybe his grandmother, but only if they got out of line. (Actually, Bruno may have a second career, after his 2009 corruption sentence is over, picking up some of Dennis Farina’s “heavy” roles.) Stone (at least here) looks and sounds like a proud cocksman who wears black underwear, has an autographed picture of Richard Nixon, and a cell phone with someone named HoneyBunny on his list of five faves. Greenberg (at least here) looks and sounds like a quiet old man, who’d help trigger a crash without a sliver of remorse. They all cheerfully admit they hate and despise Spitzer, except Greenberg, whose mild manner suggests that revenge is something served cold, that your secretary handles.

Spitzer seems remorseful. (One feels very sorry for his wife Silda, who never says anything.) He also seems like a smart guy with ideals, a temper, and too many sex fantasies. (Over $100,000 worth on the Emperors Club bill of fare.) His enemies sound like four guys who like to cash checks, and who think ideals are for nuns.

By the way, didn’t Louisiana’s current Republican Senator David Vitter get caught on a John’s list too? Isn’t he still in the Senate, battling corruption? Dude must have a good P. R. guy. Roger Stone, maybe.

This is an exciting documentary, well-investigated, well-crafted, compelling and absorbing. It’d make a good dramatic movie. And if anybody thinks this kind of stuff isn’t a big part of the reason Wall Street tanked, they belong in a Looney Tune, mentoring Daffy Duck.

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3 Responses to “MW on Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1, The Next Three Days, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”

  1. Seankgallagher says:

    Slight nitpick; it was Mickey Rourke who did the, um, bit with his popcorn box in DINER, not Daniel Stern.

  2. Pookie says:

    I pop in, sporadically, to gape at the overindulgences. You are the Facebook of film reviewers. Cheers……

  3. Maisy James says:

    yes. i have been in the big brother UK audience.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon