This column's coming to you from my vacation, which seems odd when you think about it, right?
But, it says volumes about the work I do. I mean, how many people can get a weekly column at an iconic alt. And I've been doing it for a decade.
As I write these words, I'm sitting outside of some bakery on 16th street in downtown Denver. Some of the people around me are eating breakfast, some reading, some just drinking coffee and watching the passersby.
I think a crazy guy just walked by. He just yelled as loudly as possible, "Ah, that's gross!" then waved his arms around, never breaking stride. I don't have my glasses on, but I really don't see anything around me that would elicit such a comment.
It's 84 degrees and pretty much perfect.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, I think sometimes that watching humanity is infinitely more interesting than watching some craptacular movie. Makes me think of the Ferris Bueller quote: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and take a look around once in awhile, you might miss it." Apologies if that's not spot on.
Second reason is this: there is nowhere in Oklahoma where I could have this experience. I walked here, first, though it's just two blocks from my hotel.
The other thing about Denver. It's made for healthy people. The town is criss-crossed by walking/running/biking trails and people here have a generally greener and more socially conscious attitude. We went hiking in the Rockies yesterday and the place was, not packed really, but busy. There were bikers (bicyclists) all over the roads. People were out doing things.
Now, granted, the temperature difference between Denver and Tulsa is vast. Tulsa apparently sits perched on the lip of Hell, and there are times when being outside is just not the smart thing to do.
But level the temperature playing field for a moment. Denver is a forward thinking kind of place from the looks of things. Oklahoma is... overpopulated by fat, prejudiced people content with staying that way. Stats show it every day.
Oh, I know. I'm firing the broad shot across the bow. We're not all that way. Certainly, if you're reading Urban Tulsa, I'm not talking about you.
I get that we're trying. I'm just not sure how hard we're trying, and I'm not sure what the problem is. Is it our legislators? Is it us? Are we settling for this?
Better Red than Dead? Is that the attitude?
Again, I'm writing about Denver because Saturday night, as I sat in my hotel room, I watched a screener copy of Summer Hours, which opens at the Circle this weekend. Steph was out somewhere in the middle of downtown riding her bike (some kind of organized midnight ride to benefit Seniors, Inc., I think).
She was out doing something. I was in watching a damn movie. Nothing wrong with the movie, really, but there are better things to do with one's time.
Life's short. Live it.
Harry Potter and the Truckload of Cash
I'm not really sure when this rash of opening movies in the middle of the week thing started. Couple years ago, maybe? I know they do it to inflate the first weekend box office grosses, but really, what's the point? A movie's going to make what a movie's going to make. And if it's so good you have to get it out early, why not just pick a different weekend?
Certainly something like a Harry Potter movie can bully out the likes whatever the hell I watched last weekend (I honestly can't remember).
Outside of a Pixar flick, the Harry Potter movies are about the only other sure thing in Hollywood, at least from a box office success standpoint.
The films themselves, from a quality standpoint, didn't really hit their stride until film three. There's a reason for that -- the franchise chiefs hired a real director. Chris Colombus was better off making sequels to Home Alone.
The third Potter film finally had a deft, fantastical touch, and invested itself in developing the characters of our three protagonists instead of just showing off middle-of-the-road special effects. It actually pulled off a "plausible" world for Harry and friends to dwell in.
Fortunately for us, the films have been getting better ever since. Yeah, part of that is that the directors are getting better. Part of that is that the actors themselves have improved (they have, after all, learned their craft as the franchise has moved along). The biggest part, however, is that the books themselves -- the source material -- got better with every book.
And at last, we're at the cusp of the story's end. All the groundwork of the first five books has lead to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It is, by a large margin, the best of the Potter films. It's the most nuanced, the most restrained, the most visually stunning.
But put aside that for a minute. It's still a Harry Potter film, after all. How good can it be? How is it as a movie? If it wasn't a Potter flick, how good would it be?
We'll get to that. But, if you haven't been reading the books, the story goes something like this...
The whole of the wizarding world now knows Voldemort has returned. Everyone is scared. The Death Eaters, Voldemort's army of henchmen, have been wreaking the kind of havoc even muggles (that's us) tend to notice.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has spent his short summer riding the tubes beneath London, acting his age and waiting for the coming war. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has been off doing research of sorts. The dangerous kind that sometimes results in getting your hand roasted.
Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) has been swearing death pacts to other Death Eaters to protect Draco Malfoy, Harry's minor-arch enemy, in an endeavor the Dark Lord has set for him. Whatever the job Draco is supposed to be doing, it can't be good for the residents of Hogwart's School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
And then you have to take into account that the kids -- Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) -- are all 16 now, which means they're into that whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing. Recall that though the Harry Potter stories are ultimately a good vs. evil tale, they're also a coming-of-age story, and at no other point in the franchise has this been so evident.
The mix is actually what makes the film so good. We don't feel as bludgeoned by the "plot," like we have by some of the past films. In fact, by comparison, this Potter flick seems to take its time, giving us some actual character development. It actually feels more like the book.
And speaking of that, for you purists out there, there's a lot different about the interpretation of this book to the film this time around, especially in the last act. As it turns out, the book is quite a bit more violent and destructive than the film.
The way the film plays out is much more emotional and deliberate, and as such, it maybe even a bigger kick to the stomach than the book was.
The other thing the film does well is vacillate between funny and dramatic moments without either feeling forced. As you know, I'm a Harry Potter fan and I had a ton of moments where I was smiling not because the film was particularly funny, but because the moment was perfect, the kind of thing that sort of makes you feel good, and you just have to smile.
You're either a fan or you're not at this point. It is the fifth film, after all. But this is a good movie whether you're a Potter noob or not.
I mean, c'mon, I'm not in the business of pumping sunshine up your backside, am I?
I'm running long here, so I'm going to sort of give Summer Hours the short stick. I don't have a preamble for it, anyway.
Summer Hours, which features Juliette Binoche, is a sort of family drama centered around the legacy of a famous artist uncle.
The family spends summer vacations at the home of the matriarch, Helene. As the film opens, the two sons -- Jeremie and Frederic -- and the daughter, Adrinene (Binoche) and their families are visiting Helene for her 75th birthday. Her house has been in the family for generations and is stuffed to the gills with extraordinarily valuable artwork collected by her late uncle, Paul. He was a noteworthy artist himself.
While the family is there, Helene talks to Frederic of her death. It's something he'd rather not discuss. She's tells him the value of all the different pieces in the house, and he tells her he and his siblings have no plans to sell any of it. They plan to keep the house to pass it on to their children. It is, after all, sentimental to them.
And then Helene dies and Frederic finds out his brother and sister do not have the same feelings toward the house he does. They want to sell it and all its contents.
The story sort of plays out from there.
As with many French films, it's not a movie with a plot. It's about the characters, after all. It's like a good book in that way. The characters dictate what you see, not some three-act Syd Field story paradigm.
So if you're used to American films, you might get to the end and perhaps not see the point to the thing. But, again, the point isn't the third act, it's the journey of the characters and how certain events change their lives.
It's very well acted, well written and ultimately a very satisfying trip to the cinema. It's a tad melancholy, but at the end, you'll feel satisfied and know that you've seen a good flick.
Yes, it's in French. Yes, it has subtitles. You can read. It'll be okay. Promise.
I've said it a hundred times, but this is the kind of film the Circle exists to show and by going to see a good movie, you're supporting the Circle and help ensure smarter movies will continue to have a venue in Tulsa.
Think of it as being socially active. Do your part. That you get to see a good flick should be secondary.
See you next week.
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