Harry Potter, Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses: Excursions into Fantasyland

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the remarkably satisfying finale in the Harry Potter series–an entertaining, exciting, enthralling journey into darkness that will move even those who  missed Hallows, Part 1.  Without revealing too much, this final chapter pits Harry against the shadowy Hogwarts  now-headmaster Snape ( Alan Rickman) and the apogee of evil himself Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who for various reasons, is driven to destroy Harry- and those who might protect him– as in the students and staff at Hogwarts, who (with the notable exception of Draco) have grown awfully fond of Harry over the years.  After a talky beginning and a sequence that borders on an Indiana Jones theme-ride take-off, the movie plunges Harry into deep water–and sure ground– as the various plot machinations lead to the inevitable showdown between Harry and Voldemort. Along the way, motivations are revealed, , sacrifices are made, destinies are decided, and the entire school becomes a symbol of grace under pressure. Steve Kloves’ screenplay does a fine job of streamlining J.K. Rowlings’ hefty tome; David Yates’ direction places characterization above spectacle throughout; and the performances by all are top-notch: Daniel Radcliffe is an assured yet conflicted and vulnerable Harry; Maggie Smith is a tower of strength as Harry’s champion and Snape’s nemesis; Rupert Grint’s Ron and Emma Watson’s Hermione are as sensible and appealing as ever.  There are also welcome re-appearances by Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, to name but a few.  Fiennes’ Voldemort is a magnificent creation, ruthless, menacing, and almost purring when Harry seems within his grasp; he is matched by Rickman’s Snape, a haughty, tortured soul whose character arc is an essential emotional component of the series. Worth seeing more than once (preferably non 3D if the option is available).

Also in the realm of fantasy: Horrible Bosses and Larry Crowne. Both films are wish-fulfillment fantasies played out in the current bleak economic landscape, with little relation to anything resembling reality–and enjoyable enough if you view them in those terms.  In Horrible Bosses, Jason Bateman’s corporate climb  is torpedoed by maniacal horrible boss Kevin Spacey; Jason Sudeikis’ position is jeopardized by his new horrible boss (funny if underused Colin Farrell), a spiteful son of the late benevolent boss(Donald Sutherland in a warm cameo), and Charlie Day’s dental assistant career is threatened by the predatory advances of his horrible sex-hungry dentist boss, Jennifer Aniston.  While the set-up itself is a little clunky (although it is amusing that Day’s two friends are incredulous over what they perceive as Day’s over-reaction to Aniston’s advances), it does gain steam once Jaime Fox enters the scene as a “murder consultant” who advises the trio to take the Strangers on a Train solution to their problems.  However, the “I do your murder, you do mine” scenario becomes increasingly complicated, while remaining generally funny throughout.  In a game cast, Aniston, Foxx and Spacey stand out, while Bateman, Sudeikis (much easier to take here than in Hall Pass) and Day make an agreeably addled trio.Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne is also agreeable and enjoyable—as a work of escapism, like the Depression-era feel-good films, only relocated to the current recession.  Hanks directed and co-wrote the screenplay (with Nia Vardalos), which purports to take a relevant look at corporate downsizing and starting over. It begins with Hanks as nice guy ex-Navy chef, an ideal worker (albeit now for U-Mart), perpetual would-be Employee of the Month–and in an early, awkwardly written and poorly-played scene, the victim of a layoff that targets non-college grads.  After a day or so of desultory moping (where’s the rage Tom-we know you can do it), and a week of job hunting, Crowne decides to go to community college, where, in record time, he meets some new young, hip best friends, excels in economics under the tutelage of  Professor George Takei and catches the eye of unhappily married Speech professor Julia Roberts.  The movie stacks the deck-a lot-Roberts’ husband is a bellicose, would-be writer and porn enthusiast (Bryan Cranston, between Breaking Bad seasons), the friends are too good to be true, Larry is almost too nice to be true.  Having said that, there is a nice chemistry between Hanks and Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer is funny as Hanks’ friend (and yard-sale entrepreneur), and if you’re in the mood for unbridled optimism and a rose-colored look at one man’s attempt to reinvent himself, the movie may win you over, in spite of yourself.