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Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story (2011) Review

12 09 2011

Copyright 2011 Lifetime Movies

★ ★ ★ (Non Harry Potter fan)/★ ★ ★ ★ (Harry Potter fan)

I just got cable recently for the first time in 8 years, so I’m still in the process of oogling over the station selection like I was seeing a flying car.  Maddie and I came across this movie on the Lifetime Movie Network; yes, that is correct, it is a Lifetime movie and I watched it.  Why, you ask?  Well, it is a biopic of one of my favorite authors of all-time, JK Rowling.  If I have to fill you in on her claim to fame, then you probably have been oblivious to pop culture for longer than I went without cable.

Story-wise, as you can imagine, it follows the natural flow of a biopic.  The first scene takes place in a limo after she has become famous.  She is talking with her husband about her nerves and how surreal it all is before the premiere of the first Harry Potter movie.  From there, we move into her child and go through the events of her life from about age 9 through the publication of the first book.  Throughout, there are flourishes of details in which she got ideas that were subsequently incorporated into the book series.  For instance, the character of Ron seems to be based partially on a good friend from her high school days.  Following college, there is a decent amount of focus on her time as a teacher in Portugal, her first marriage, which ultimately ended in disaster, and her time as a struggling single mother in Edinburgh.  Following the progression of her famous cafe writings, the film closes with a bookend where it began – at the premiere of the first film.

The story flows like a stereotypical biopic and it is really fun to see the fairy tale-like rise to fame and fortune on the screen.  Technically, it’s also a really polished movie for a made-for-tv film.  I’m not certain what camera was used for this production, but judging by look, I would say the RED One.  It seemed to have that RED-like warmth to the image.  It’s a wonder what cameras like the RED One and Alexa are doing for these lower-budget television movies.  It allows them to have all the polish and finesse, visually, of a major motion picture, and I think that is a wonderful thing for producers and audiences alike.

All three actresses who played Jo Rowling over the course of the film did a great job.  However, I was most impressed with Poppy Montgomery (who played Jo from around age 25 on in the film).  She really sold the part 110%, not just in looks, but she really picked up on a lot of the mannerisms you see from Rowling in interviews and the like.

In short, if you really love Harry Potter like I do, then you will likely enjoy this made-for-tv biopic.  If, however, you are not big into the series, I doubt you will find much here.  Her life definitely has some interesting parts, but not necessarily enough to keep a non-fan viewer fully engaged.

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Saying Goodbye to One of the Best: Sidney Lumet

9 04 2011

Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet, one of my favorite film directors, passed away today at the age of 86 from Lymphoma.  Looking through his repertoire of films is like looking through a must-see list of movies over the past 50 years.

Lumet, who was born in Philadelphia, Penn. on June 25, 1924, began his career as an actor in the theatre.  He quickly moved to directing and eventually settled into directing early television productions.  One of his most famous films as a television director is his amazing adaptation of Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men.  Centered around a dissenting jury in a murder trail, the film has amazing performances by all the cast, headed by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.  It easily ranks as one of the best films of the 1950s and is ranked number 87 on the AFI’s Top 100 movies list.

Moving out of television work and into feature films in the 1960s, Lumet had successes with the stark drama The Pawnbroker and the cold war thriller Fail-Safe with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  In the 1970s, Lumet produced what I consider some of his best films, including: Serpico with Al Pacino, Murder on the Orient Express based on the Agatha Christie novel, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Equus. All of these films rank high among the best pictures of the decade and Network makes an appearance on the AFI Top 100 list as well at number 66.  Other films from Lumet’s extraordinary career include Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running on Empty and his latest film at age 82, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

In 1996, Lumet released his memoir entitled Making Movies. In addition to being a memoir of his life experiences, it also chronicles his ideas and techniques in making motion pictures, making it one of the best sources for aspiring filmmakers to understand the art of the director.  My friend and fellow filmmaker, Dan A. R. Kelly, loaned me his copy of this book a few years ago and I was engrossed in it from beginning to end.  If you ever plan to go into filmmaking, especially as a director, then this is a great book to start with to understand the process and scope of what goes into making a good motion picture.

Lumet was nominated for five Academy Awards in competitive categories, but never won; he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2005.  Lumet’s ability to command performances and take on vastly different subject matters in each of his pictures are evident in his body of work.  Few director’s have such an impressive career that spans nearly 50 years.  It saddens me greatly to know that I will never have the opportunity to see a new Lumet film come out, but the films he has left us with are testament to his legacy as a filmmaker.








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