All art aspires to the condition of chaos: all fun art at least. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 the J. K. Rowling-based wizard saga spectacularly self-destructs. One main character is fanged by a giant snake. Others are impaled, blown up or vaporised. A hundred more lie frazzled or fried in the corpse-strewn cloisters of Hogwarts. And up in the afterworld – “It looks like King’s Cross, but cleaner” observes a visiting Harry – the late Albus Dumbledore (Sir Michael Gambon) wears a blue nightie and smiles at the simple follies of humanity.
Simple? We have had eight films and more hours and mortalities than Wagner’s Ring. The entire British acting community has had an extended fancy dress season. And there is a worldwide teen and tweenie fanbase, which will now wander the streets grim and destitute.
I haven’t been the Potter series’ greatest fan. But give it credit. It crept in under the dust-cloud of 9/11, the first Harry Potter opening at the end of that year, and told us that dreams and sorcery (at least) could fight the world’s villains. Since then, Daniel Radcliffe has grown from a small bespectacled swot to a larger bespectacled sexpot (for some); his co-youngsters are old enough to appear at this film’s end ushering their own broods towards Platform 9¾; and J. K. Rowling has deserted mundane, telluric publishing to become a cyber-spirit commanding her own word-world.
I long ago ceased understanding the Potter plots. I think I missed one film, due to unavoidable circumstances, and that finished me. Horcruxes, Muggles and Gringotts are a foreign language and only the young own dictionaries. (I barely understand even their definitions). So I can merely pay illiterate, honest homage to the costumes, special effects and set designs, which are all fantastic. And to the actors, hamming and over-egging as if it is All Day Breakfast season on Mount Thespis. In the new film nearly every star returns for a last bow, from Sir Michael to Dame Maggie to Lord Alan Rickman (well, he should be). They poignantly present their faces and voices, knowing that in years to come these will be – and in some scenes here already are – imperilled items, mere templates for the reckless, soaring, transforming ingenuity of the digitisers.
As for Ms Rowling, who sat in Edinburgh cafes penniless, scribbling kiddy-lit brainstorms that were turned down by several publishers before payday, she is now – power to her and congratulations – a mistress of the universe. Would she, by any chance, like to take over an imminently available British newspaper empire?
How do you make a film about contemplation? Does the audience sit there contemplating the contemplator? At Berlin last year Semih Kaplanoglu’s Bal (Honey), from Turkey, won the Golden Bear. Detractors derided its minimal story, about a stammering boy’s nearly mute growing up and his regaining of the power of wonder after the death of his beekeeper father. They quipped that the film’s title had given it an unfair advantage. (Bear? Honey? Get it?) Admirers, including me and a Werner Herzog-led jury, raved deliriously. The movie’s magic is all in the colour, the landscapes and the sounds – yes, Simon and Garfunkel were right – of silence.
This is the completing film in Kaplanoglu’s trilogy of nutritive titles after Eggs and Milk. The common themes are bereavement, catharsis, beauty, the re-making of a human being’s vision. The last movie is the most human of all, though you still need patience. You do have to contemplate the contemplator, sharing with him the inward rollercoaster ride that is childhood. The classroom scenes alone are captivating: a boy who can barely speak using his whole face and body to reflect, and radiate, the fear, suspense and quiet miraculousness of learning. Bora Altas’s performance, as the boy – touching, funny, incandescent – is one of those classic screen turns by a child, up there with The Kid and The Red Balloon.
From honey to treacle is a small downward step for a man, a deep slither and splosh for moviemaking kind. Treacle Jr, written and directed by Jamie Thraves, has a promising idea. A dropout dad (Tom Fisher) quits his family – no explanation given – to live rough in London; he is then adopted by a dysfunctional Irishman (Aidan Gillen) specialising in berserk optimism. On screen, it’s like watching a 90-minute rematch between The Caretaker’s Davies and Aston: logorrheic hobo versus laconic head-case. Gillen steals the film, all whirly armed brio and Sylvester the Cat lisp. But it doesn’t take much stealing. The rest of the script, including the dad’s characterisation, sits around saying, “I’m not nailed down. I’m not even nailed together. Go for it.”
Watching Bobby Fischer Against the World, a mesmerising documentary about the world chess champion and later world-class paranoiac, I kept asking myself, “Who does Fischer remind me of?” Then I got it. The face on the Turin Shroud. The big Fischer-man himself. It must have been his Christly look that made America’s trouncer of Soviet world champ Boris Spassky – in that 1972 Reykjavik tournament to which the world was superglued – so impossibly charismatic. That and the prima donna temperament, the unpunctuality (cue shots of Spassky desperately pacing empty stage) and the personality that said: “We are the mercurial spirit of western enterprise playing the dead soul of Communism.”
Later Fischer retired from chess to become a full-blown enfant terrible. A Jew, he became an anti-semite. An American, he started hating America. (He praised the 9/11 terrorists). He ended up back in Iceland looking like Dostoevsky – beard, hollow eyes, haunted cheekbones – and behaving like one of his characters. The foe of Russia had become, in his own special way, a spiritual Russian.
Expect a Hollywood remake of the Spanish jail-riot thriller Cell 211. Three reasons: it’s an international hit; it’s pacy and pulsing, and it’s trash. A new jail guard (Alberto Ammann), still in his civvies, is being shown round the cages when hell breaks loose. To survive he feigns being an inmate. His Christly features – yes, them again – should have given the game away. But the game, however lively from moment to moment, is rigged with contrivance from the start and schematic in its characterisation throughout.
Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun is trash with a difference: designer trash. Wearing the Tarantino label – Eisener’s spoof “trailer” won a competition for a spot in Grindhouse – this gaudy shoot-em-up outstrips both Tarantino and his co-master of midnight-matinee mayhem, Robert Rodriguez. It is a witty reductio ad absurdum of X-ploitation cinema to watch grizzled Rutger Hauer, a homeless sexagenarian with a shopping trolley, take apart an entire town living in fear of a showman-baddie who resembles a demented Bob Hope (Brian Downey). The baddie’s sons both look like Tom Cruise, another comment (I hope) on the closeness in America between manic, super-clean self-selling and disturbed psychopathology.