Monday, July 27, 2009

Orphan - zero stars (2009)

A moment of distress sets in during the early stages of Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Orphan,” in a dream sequence that features a mother-to-be strapped to an operating table as her newborn, said to have died in the womb, is savagely vacuumed out of her uterus and half of its remains are handed to her in a blanket. This sequence, we learn, is an offense of repetitive nature, to be replicated at several sequential periods of the movie when characters indulge in arson, threatening the lives of others, animal abuse, the murder of nuns, sabotaging marriages, throwing school bullies off playground equipment, suffocating kids who have spinal injuries and countless other questionable acts. For 123 minutes, we find ourselves at the mercy of a story that treats all of this to not just crude and shocking proportions, but also to points that showcase obvious lapses in moral judgment and taste. Such qualities seem to be mere technicalities in an age of horror when boundaries no longer are in view, and here is a movie that makes full use of its ability to strategize the harshest, most macabre manifestations seen in any recent film plot.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - ***1/2 (2009)

The Harry Potter of yesteryear is but a distant memory. Gone are the light-hearted dining conversations between young witches and wizards and magic lessons from ambitious Hogwarts professors, and in their place exists the foreboding, fateful realization that nothing stays the same and things can only get bleaker before they are resolved. Directed by David Yates, the talented Brit who gave J.K. Rowling’s heroes and villains a sense of cinematic importance in the series’ last installment, here is a movie beyond the concept of being in awe of its special effects or weighed by its plot twists; what he has done is stripped this franchise of all its prerequisites and devised something more meditative, more dramatic and more touching one might anticipate. This is a movie that steps far outside of the comfort zone and becomes an enthralling and fully-realized gothic fantasy.