The Apparition – 2012
Written and Directed by Todd Lincoln
Starring Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Tom Felton, Juliana Guill, Luke Pasqualino, Suzanne Ford
There are lots of dumb aspects to The Apparition:
- The acting: There are plenty of decent actors in the film. Felton spent the better part of a decade being one of the nemeses of Harry Potter. Greene is pretty much the best actress in the overwhelmingly popular Twilight series. I know that does not sound like much. Sebastian Stan is Bucky Barnes and we all know this means he becomes Winter Soldier. The producers of this film thought that these guys had star power and that they could act. Somewhere in this mess all hope of that was lost.
- The script: We have an experiment gone bad. If that isn’t bad enough, we have a bunch of others willing to “improve” on that project. Then, when that goes wrong, they do it again with more power, and then towards the end, the thought is that even more power might take care of the problem. It doesn’t. They are fighting the wrong problem.
- The music: The director must have loved John Carpenter’s simple approach. The people he hired to work on this film don’t deserve repeating. The music reminded me how bad the acting was. Minimalist does not begin to describe it.
- The director: He put all this crap together. The movie made a little over half of what it cost to produce. I would like to charge him for my time.
(*1/2 out of *****)
The Woman in Black – 2012
Directed by James Watkins
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds, Sophie Stuckey, Liz White
Written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill
So there’s this lady, you see, she’s wearing black. And wherever she goes kids die. Insert Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a really young-looking father of a younger boy. Arthur’s boy thinks his dad is sad. Since he lost his wife, and the boy’s mother, at child birth, this is a good bet. Kipps is a company man, though, and the company wants him to go out to a town to settle some business on a will.
My friend, Mike, once described for me what it felt like for him to live in the town of Bellevue, Washington. While not even close to being white trash, he felt a bit different from the predominantly conservative base that occupied that town.
“Stranger,” he spoke, as the chorus of the townsfolk, “Take your stranger ways out of town.”
The inhabitants of Crythin Gifford see Radcliffe as every bit the unwanted stranger that the people of Bellevue see Mike. Whenever someone has anything to do with the Eel Marsh House, some bad stuff happens to the kids of the town. I will give you 3 guesses on whose house our young Mr. Kipps has come to settle the affairs. What? You only need one? Oh, well.
The Woman in Black is not as much a scary movie as a chore to figure out which handle will rattle next, which chair will move, which shadow will come to life. It is one thing to time these things out and parse them into each component of the tale. It’s quite another to be able to set your watch to them. The Woman in Black, herself is actually more annoying than threatening. She’s pissed. We all get that. Why take it out on people who had nothing to do with her predicament? Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if not. In watching her scowl and scream throughout, one can find it easy to compare her to M. Emmett Walsh from The Jerk, who picked Steve Martin’s Navin out of a phone book to pounce on.
Radcliffe is a very likable guy. I want him to succeed. Right now, though, his range is grimacing, wincing and…that’s about it. The filmmakers did themselves no favors by having his kid point out that all he did was frown early on. The rest of the film did nothing to change this. It might be good for him to get out of the type of films that require special effects. Once he carves out a niche for himself in another area, he can come back with a few more tools in his belt.
For the under-initiated in the world of spooky films, this movie will give you more than one chilling moment. Once you’ve had a chance to see how it should really be done, such as Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark and George C. Scott’s The Changeling, you will see that this movie is about ten forced shrieks too many to have a lasting impression.
(*** out of *****)
2012 Academy Awards
Please don’t let this be the year that the gimmicky French film wins. I would prefer that the real masterpiece that took place in Paris, France take home the gold. The rush to crown The Artist as Best Picture feels a little like the time we anointed Brokeback Mountain the movie of our times. If it actually wins, then it will feel like when Out of Africa beat out The Color Purple: only one of those films has been watched since 1985.
The disappointments this year are in the omission of the last Harry Potter film, along with Take Shelter from the nominees list for Best Picture. We easily could have done without War Horse, Moneyball and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in this category. This just shows the kind of clout Speilberg, Pitt and Hanks have that they get these as gimmes.
As a refresher from last year’s post, if a category is not covered here, it’s because I have not seen most of the films in that group, and, obviously, don’t care about the category.
My pick: Out of this group, Hugo is the clear class of the bunch. There are other good films here, The Help, The Descendants and The Tree of Life among them. None of those, though, were better than Take Shelter. Only Hugo achieves this, and it is the best 3D film ever.
Who will win: If The Artist wins, something is seriously wrong with Hollywood, because no one will be watching this film in a year. For the self-congratulatory voters, however, this is the shiny object in their periphery. Better still, it is a shiny object that they feel represents “tradition.” It should be a dead heat between Hugo and The Help. My money is on The Artist, though. Something is seriously wrong with Hollywood.
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
My pick: Bashir gave a clinic in A Better Life. Brad Pitt actually did better work this year in Tree of Life, but that was a supporting role, so the performance was ignored. Clooney playing slightly against type is always fun. The older he gets, the more ways he finds to go against type. Soon, he will have no “type.”
Who will win: If The Artist wins best picture, it may be enough to divorce the voters from the idea of giving it to the French guy, who spoke not a word. I think the Academy likes Clooney as much as I do.
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
My pick: Mara’s movie, while great, is derivative. I still think of Noomi Rapace. She should have been nominated for her work first. Streep is great, but the Iron Lady is not enough to get the gold. I haven’t liked Close much since Cookie’s Fortune showed me how unskilled she is when unrestrained. I haven’t seen Williams as Marilyn. If ever there was a clear standout, Davis should win for showing us how to be humble, graceful and a giant of a human being.
Who will win: Davis, with no question. Streep is old reliable and could surprise. From what I have been told, Mara does not interview well. That and a violent movie about rape should keep her from the gold this time.
Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
My pick: Nick Nolte’s performance in Warrior was incredibly poetic. His skill has only increased with age. Hill was fun in his fictional version of Paul DePodesta, and he really worked Sorkin’s dialogue. I have to go with Nolte here. I have to say, though, it was a true shame that Rickman was not nominated for his role of Snape. He would have taken the Oscar, if so.
Who will win: The shiny object in this category is the old gay guy dying of cancer who was faithful until his wife died. Plummer is a great actor of many years. This is his Sean Connery moment, albeit a slightly pinker version. I would rather have given it to him for Star Trek VI, but hey, I am a different breed of cat.
Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
My pick: Chastain is a wonderful actress who had many excellent roles this year. 3 of these, The Help, Tree of Life, and especially Take Shelter deserved nominations (the latter for Best Actress), but she lands in the one spot she can’t win. Octavia Spencer is perhaps the best nominated performance of this year’s awards. She made a lasting impression with The Help. McCarthy was good, but undercut by fat chick clichés in Bridesmaids.
Who will win: I think that Spencer made the same impression on the voters that she made with me.
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
My pick: Payne and Malick had excellent movies, but Scorsese’s Hugo is a masterpiece. This movie is right up there with Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Aviator and Taxi Driver as the best in his career. Yeah, I know I did not include The Departed. It’s good, but not on the level with his best. Remember, Oscar is a shiny object. The most impressive feat of the film, though, is Scorcese’s ability to weave a wonderful tale and while using unobtrusive 3D effects that actually help the story seem all the more real.
Who will win: It looks like The Artist’s director will take this one. The only one that stands a chance is Scorsese. Not a good one, though.
Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
JC Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
My pick: Out of this group, I have to go with Midnight in Paris. Take Shelter should have been nominated and deserves the award, too. Margin Call was nothing more than a depressing recap. Bridesmaids was good, but the fat clichés knock it out for me.
Who will win: The Academy is big on Woody Allen. He thinks like they do.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, Jim Rash, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, Moneyball
Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughn, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
My pick: No contest. As good as The Descendants is, Hugo is the best story of the nominations and it was written exquisitely. The story is the history of movies itself. There can be no better story than this for a movie lover.
Who will win: Odds have The Descendants. I have to go with Hugo though. What better way for Hollywood to celebrate itself than by this story?
My pick: No question here. Kung Fu Panda 2. The story was a true continuation of the journey. Remarkable and one of the 4 best animated features ever. The great thing here is that Pixar was shut out after putting out that derivative pile of crap, Cars 2. It’s only because I love everything else that Pixar has done (except Cars) that I celebrate this. They always do better, and they deserved the shut out.
Who will win: Rango is probably going to take this. It looked great, to be sure. The story was about as original as Avatar, though.
The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams
My pick: Howard Shore did a very skilful job combining the feelings and the tension with Hugo. The Artist was a hodgepodge of stolen riffs from other movies. They call it an homage, but that did not fare any better than Moulin Rouge for me.
Who will win: The music for the silent film will probably win the day.
Best Original Song
“Man or Muppet,” The Muppets; Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio,” Rio; Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyric by Siedah Garrett
My pick: Easy. McKenzie’s faux rock ballad perfectly encapsulated the glory of all things Muppet. Ironically, that was not even as good as Life’s a Happy Song from the same movie. Real in Rio is a nice song, but that’s about it.
Who will win: Like I said. Easy.
Best Achievement in Art Direction
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Midnight in Paris
My pick: Before I saw Hugo, this award would have gone to the last Harry Potter. My life is now infused with the images from Scorsese’s masterpiece.
Who will win: Hugo should win, but The Artist could creep in.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
My pick: Malick’s work was immaculate. His nonsequiturs are amazingly filmed as they are puzzling. I love Fincher camera work and The Artist sure does look good. Nothing, however, holds a camera to Scorsese’s work in Hugo.
Who will win: This is likely the one place that they reward Malick’s wonderful film. Hugo or The Artist could surprise though.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: This is a contest between Hugo and The Artist. Hugo’s costumes encompass all that The Artist’s presented, while bringing into it so much more. Hugo.
Who will win: This could go either way, but I am guessing that they go with The Artist.
Best Documentary Feature
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
My pick: Hell and Back Again. Semper Fi.
Who will win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory has traction.
Best Achievement in Film Editing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
My pick: There are no wasted shot’s with Thelma Schoonmaker. Hugo.
Who will win: If the tide is with them, and I think it may well be, The Artist, will probably win. If by some miracle, they judge on merit, Hugo will take it.
Best Achievement in Makeup
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady
My pick: Potter.
Who will win: Potter.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
My pick: Hugo
Who will win: Hugo
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
My pick: Hugo
Who will win: Hugo
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
My pick: Hugo should win this. Apes was an excellent effort, but Scorsese’s work was conventional and groundbreaking simultaneously.
Who will win: Unless there is a Hugo landslide, Rise of the Planet of the Apes should win.
Directed by David Yates
Starring Alan Rickman, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Gint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Jim Broadbent, Warwicke Davis, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Fred and Oliver Phelps
Written by Steve Kloves
Woe the poor magician, Severus Snape. Forced to make all the hardest choices, and benefit not at all, from any of them. From the first moment of the series, you see him never with a smile on his countenance. The great love of his life, Lily, dead at the hands of the most powerful member of his house of magical studies, Slytherin. Already lost her years earlier when she decided to marry his nemesis, the arrogant, talented and occasionally brilliant James Potter. The result of their union, and the only survivor from Voldemort’s attack of rage, is Harry, their son. He looks like his father, with the eyes of his mother. The torment he must have felt from the moment he realized that he was to pretend to be wrapped up in the evil undercurrent that surrounded the search for and eventual rebirth of Voldemort. At the same time working to educate and prepare the symbol of his love and contempt, Harry, for the upcoming battle that is to pass between “the boy who lived” and the one who would have him destroyed.
Now, having been assigned the duty of killing Albus Dumbledore, he follows his orders, in complete misery, and then is given what appears to be a reward. He is made headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is an empty shell of an empty shell. He is in danger from those who oppose Voldemart, and, he understands, quite real danger from Voldemort himself. The only thing that can save Harry is the only thing that can redeem his empty soul. That thing is a vial of his tears: the tears of a life of seeming pride in utter defeat of his wishes and desires.
Watching Alan Rickman, first in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, then from Deathly Hallows, Part 1, completes the most nuanced performance of a marvelous career in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. His scenes in both halves of Deathly Hallows, are quite comparatively brief, when you compare them to what you see in the book and, even, in the other movies. Rickman and Yates make the most of every second, however. His Hogwarts is a melancholy place: somber, sorrowful and dim. His face shows no happiness, not one sign of being content. If anyone could look at him with anything other than contempt or fear, they might know this. The viewer certainly can tell, long before it was discovered that he arranged to have a fake Gryffindor Sword placed in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringot’s. This movie is wise, though, to show that it does not escape Harry’s notice.
Then again, there is not much that escapes the notice of David Yates, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling and the rest of the makers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Whereas other films in their combined watch have, at times, been stiflingly brief and ultimately confusing for the average viewer, the films have never failed to be anything less than invigorating and suspenseful. Steadily fading to the background the goofiness of the earlier films, the characters have grown up right before our eyes to people making mature, if sometimes rash, life or death choices.
The character benefitting most from the Yates/Kloves/Rowling efforts has been Ron. Moving him away from being a half-assed recreation of Shaggy, he develops his own attitude, and, by mid-point in this movie, leads a charge against Malfoy and his cronies reminiscent of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s insane charge on the Stormtroopers in the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The result of this scene has a similar effect on the viewer that the original. No loss of respect for the foolish bravery, and no surprise when that foolishness is confronted by the reality of superior forces.
Another character that benefits from the filmmaker’s touch is Neville Longbottom. The fluffy, scared, beautiful little boy who lost his Remembrall after he broke his wrist in the first film, to the reserved boy who was only confident when it came to Herbology, to a young man in love with Luna “Looney” Lovegood, finding his confidence by just being tired of bad things happening to good people. His evolution is shocking as it is rewarding.
Hermoine gets a favor in the movie by ignoring some of the repetitiveness her character was burdened with in the book. Much of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows consists of Hermoine continually reminding / nagging Harry that he needs to block out his mind from connecting to Voldemort’s. In spite of the fact that it served as an effective and easy plot device to tell the heroes what was happening behind the wall, her protests must have filled some 100 pages of the novel’s length. We hear this hodgepodge just once in the entire film. Instead, she spends much of her time being the one who realizes what must be done, even if she is not the first person in the room to do so. She’s even there when Ron figures it out for once.
Harry. what to say about Harry? His growth is our growth. His understanding (or lack therof) is ours, for the most part. He faces every challenge with the weight of the world on his back. We see now why he had never been coddled. If he had been used to easy choices, that now weathered, weary face would have been much softer, but destroyed much earlier on. Starting with him, they could not have picked better people to fill the roles for this series, from the first movie on. Harry Potter is more part of the pop psyche than is Luke Skywalker, by now. Maybe not more than Frodo and Sam, however. At least not for me.
The film is easily the most accessible of the series, although one can’t be sure if it is because we all know the story by now, or if the filmmakers finally figured out a way to translate so many loose ends into one cohesive storyline. My guess is it’s a combination of both. Plenty of characters are given their rock star moments here. We get to see Mrs. Weasley call Bellatrix a bitch, we get to see McGonagall go off on poor Snape, Neville and Ron go down to Chinatown at crucial moments. Hermoine’s best moment happens early, with a poor, chained up dragon. Then there’s Harry.
The conclusion of Harry and Voldemort is satisfying in many ways. First, each gets a chance to beat the other, but, who are we kidding, Tom Riddle was only killing off part of himself. Second and most importantly, the final battle is improved greatly from the exhaustive “Oh yeah?” ”Yeah!” back and forth that seemed to go on forever in the book. The resulting flight through the sky, where the the twain was rejoined and separated once more is superfluous. At the point that it happens, Harry had already purged himself of that part of Voldemort. It sure looked cool, though. What else was for them to do? Shoot wands at each other again? It’s been done. So kudos for trying something different.
There is plenty of loss in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Tonks, Lupin and Fred, poor Fred, are primary among them. So many lost, willingly despite the promise of Voldemort to let everyone go freely if they give up Harry. The evolution from the celebrated “boy who lived” to the notorious boy who insisted Voldemort was back, to a man who, with the help of his friends, would face down the biggest real threat of their times is the completion of the circle. The promise of the story is answered, but not without its pound of flesh.
Which brings us back to Severus, and his ignoble end. Struck down by Voldemort, whom he ultimately betrayed, without Riddle even really knowing he had been betrayed yet. He gets no satisfaction, no knowledge and no understanding that it was he who helped the mischief to be managed. Rickman’s face, a revelation of emotion at the point which it would do him no good. He dies valiantly, sadly, and with no satisfaction. His name will survive the night unscathed, however, and become intricately woven into the fabric of the life he so desperately wanted, but could never possibly reach.
This movie is good enough, I think, to merit several nominations for Academy Awards this year. Directing, Writing and Movie of the year should be within reach. One would think if there were an acting award, it would first fall to Rickman, for his supporting role. From here, one would have to consider Radcliffe as a lead. They both deserve consideration. This movie took no easy outs and definitely no gimmicks. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 made the sum greater than any of the parts. It is the difference between a sequel and the conclusion of a saga. It is brilliant.
(***** out of *****)
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAullife, Kevin Durand
Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon, based on I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes and James Frey)
The name James Frey is a fount of controversy ever since his book, A Million Little Pieces, foolishly endorsed by Oprah in her silly book club, was revealed to be based on fraudulent claims. While he was navigating that mess, he kept his options open in another venture, pumping out kids novels hiring writers on the cheap. The venture, named Full Fathom Five, paid authors little up front with a 30% take on the profits, more if the book is a hit. I Am Number Four is the product of the first real success of Frey’s venture. According to an article in New York magazine, he provided the story to Jobie Hughes, a struggling writer born in Renton, Washington, but raised in Ohio, and sold the movie rights to Spielberg and Bay as Hughes wrote the book Under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, it was released by Harper Collins, spending 7 weeks atop the NY Times Bestseller List. In light of that kind of beginning, you’d have a right to be suspicious. Watching the movie version of the book, however, I find that you don’t have to be suspicious, or all that serious, about it.
One of the things that the movie has going for it is it’s Director, Dreamworks Studio designated director, D.J. Caruso. His Disturbia and Eagle Eye, while somewhat generic in material, were expertly drawn and both turned a tidy profit. This movie, with even more bland characters in general, is treated with more respect than it probably deserves. As a result, it comes off pretty well, for a piece obviously marketed for kid’s whose parents are concerned with what they are watching. You know, the type of parent that is not trying to be a “buddy,” and there by has no opinion on what their kids watch, or how much older a person the kid is dating at age 13.
This is one of those films where the PG-13 is actually a little on the high side for ratings. Kids from 10 to 12 should have no problems adjusting to the scariest scenes, if they’ve seen either of the Transformers films. The characters are not groundbreakingly original, but they aren’t entirely lame either. If you think this something less than a ringing endorsement, you are right. An example is the high school jock. Yep, he’s a jerk of the Cobra Kai edition, but is not impervious to external data. He isn’t stupidly obvious, either. The nerd, while not a genius, is not the kind to drop his folders all over the floor when he sees a cute girl, either.
Now, for Number Four…he’s an alien, but not just any alien. He is special. In the post Twilight world, this is where we are, folks. It’s nothing to be a vampire or an alien anymore. There needs to be a twist. This time, we get to see the reveal of his special abilities. Alex Pettyfer plays the special alien quite seriously, kind of like any of the characters from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. The range is limited to opening his eyes widely when encountering something strange, but it expands towards the end of the film, much like any character who goes from being surprised the being the surprise. Diana Agron plays the love interest with the same limits, adding none of the feminine wile and guile which made her a favorite on the television show, Glee. Only Teresa Palmer, as a mysterious blonde searching for Number 4, and Kevin Durant the Commander of the bad guys (Magadorians), looks like they are having any fun out there.
Still, it is a crisply moving story, and does not ponder on its effects. There is a series to kick off, here, and kick it off, they do. The result is a movie that I probably won’t remember all that much, but it won’t shatter my kids to read or watch. When I was a kid, long ago, I remember watching a show called Danger Island, which was a cliff-hanger serial on The Banana Splits. Many fond memories sprang from that show, yet, many years later, I realize it really wasn’t very good at all. Still, it was harmless fun at the time. I Am Number Four is a little better than this, but not much.
Having spent the first 2 movies avoiding Harry Potter, I was intrigued by the choice of director to finally watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That movie, with its time-turner, Buckbeak and the incredible Gary Oldman, impressed me enough to give the rest of the series a chance. Still, I kept the series at arm’s length, not able to get caught up in the mania that surrounds both the movies and the books. Given this, I feel I am in a unique position to check the movies from strictly a film point of view. Anyone who tells you that the book is always better than the movie is either a snob, or has not ever read a novelization. I simply don’t buy the premise. It is comparing two entirely different mediums. You might as well be comparing a poem to a song. The resemblance is there, but its only a reflection, or, better still, a ghostly image moving in a portrait.
The criteria I use to evaluate each movie will be somewhat simple: special effects, richness of characters, complexity of story, reliance on cliche and overall entertainment value. With no background (or ball and chain) to compare it to the books, one is free to watch the movies and leave them where they are. One does not have to agonize on how they cut out half the story here, or left that character underdeveloped. Not tied to that, I will try to view these movies in the most objective way possible. The screenplay adapters of all the movies but The Order of The Phoenix is Steve Kloves, with Michael Goldberg filling in with only minor differences in character development.
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters
Characters Introduced – This is, of course, the first time we see Harry, along with his friends Hermione and Ron. Harry is an open book, literally. You know everything he knows about himself. Every other major adult character seems to know more about him than he does. Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry as an open innocent. Afraid, but still walking forward, due to a sense of obligation to parents he never knew. Speaking of obligation, Hermione is played to perfection by Emma Watson. Someone who knows her potential and has no doubts about her ability to meet it, despite her muggle parentage. Ronald Weasley, however, is essentially played, for better or worse, as a pre-drug version of Shaggy. His constant mugging and making bad choices are an easy source of cheap laughs. Too cheap, with its overall dragging effect on the pace of the story.
Hagrid is really just a large source of exposition in this story. Though I have never been a fan of Robbie Coltrane, he does more than enough with the character to make him worth sticking around. As Snape, Alan Rickman proves to be the most inspired choice of the movie in established character actors. His scenes are priceless, scary and never wasted. Maggie Smith is quite effective as the kind of teacher that would make any student wonder if they are in the right school. Richard Harris lends his stature quite effectively to the character of Dumbledore, as perhaps the biggest mystery of all.
Special Effects – Compared to what is to come, the special effects here are passable, if somewhat comical. The off-color look of whatever character being front of the blue is something out of the original Superman movie. The animated characters, Fluffy and the Troll look okay, except for the grey tint. It is the kind of thing that makes you cringe looking at them now, but back in 2001, they were a bit better than average. Columbus has never been one known for his prowess with digital or even generic special effects. It is a long way from Home Alone 2 to Hogwarts.
Story - This one is, in a way, most crucial, but also the one with the most leeway. He has to be lost, found and make his way to Hogwarts Academy, make new friends, new enemies and see the shadows creep in on both his potential and his past. All of these things are handled with competency, and sometimes cleverly. Voldemort’s introduction is clever, but somewhat goofy.
Cliche - There are no real killers here, aside from the decently played Uncle, Aunt and Cousin. Lo, the poor orphan, indeed.
Overall - (*** out of *****)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring afore-mentioned above and Introducing Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs and Bonnie Wright
Characters Development / Characters Introduced - Radcliffe’s Harry has a lot going on here…and not much of consequence at all. Harry, Hermoine and, by default, Ron, play sleuths here, just like Scooby Doo. The result is more character development for Hermoine, who is quickly showing to be a driving force for the series. Harry, showing a little bit less of his perplexed look from the first film, is growing into a de-facto leader.
Lucius Malfoy is a delicious introduction to the story. Superbly acted by Jason Isaacs, Lucius supplies the sense of indignant dread that the almost comical portrayal of his son, Draco. Looking at the father, you take the son a bit more seriously. As Gilderoy Lockhart, Kenneth Branagh is given a throwaway character, and his performance is so hokey, it almost throws the Potter world into parody. At least Bonnie Wright comes into her own as a minor character in the series.
Special Effects – Like the first movie, the special effects are good, but hardly something worthy of the work of say, Peter Jackson.
Some characters, like the Phoenix, Fawkes, and the Basilisk seem to be something out of Jumanji. The scenes with Aragog are about on par with Arachnaphobia, but nowhere near Shelob’s lair.
Story – This is a somewhat by the numbers affair. So many clues spew forth, you expect the Mystery Machine to show up at any time. Speaking of the Mystery Machine…
Cliche – Ron’s mugging is really becoming a standard move. Every other scene, he has that stupid clueless look, and all the other scenes, he spends his time looking for food. We have a young Shaggy, pre-drug phase, in the works. The only question at this point, is where is Scooby. To complete the circle of bad cartoon caricatures, Draco Malfoy goes between toothless menace and goofball loser in a clunky, unconvincing way. Add that to that the poorly written Lockhart and you have the worst movie of the series.
Overall (** out of *****)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring all of the above and Introducing Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall and Emma Thompson
Characters Development / Characters Introduced – This movie is the giant leap forward. Harry is incredibly assured. Hermoine is bending time to achieve more throughout the days. Ron…still an idiot. Gambon takes over for the recently deceased Richard Harris, and he adds an assurance to the role which will serve the rest of the series well. Emma Thompson’s talent is wasted on a minor character, but Timothy Spall works magic as the rat that betrayed so many.
Gary Oldman, richly textured as ever, is only the second best new character in the movie. As Professor Lupin, David Thewles adds a more human element to the role of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. His guidance works well
with Harry’s newfound assurance, and moves the story forward better than any point earlier.
Special Effects – This movie got everything right, so naturally, the effects are flawless. The Hippogriff, Buckbeak and the Dementors are seamless with the action. This movie puts Harry Potter on the movie history map.
Story – Dropped are the stupid mystery themes. Instead you have real movement forward with Sirius Black, Lupin and the central trio (at least Harry and Hermoine). Harry comes to terms with more of his past, and new allies are revealed. Cuarón is a master storyteller.
Cliche – Ron creeps ever closer to Shaggy territory. Buckbeak, to be put to death because of Draco Malfoy’s impudence? Cliche, thy name is Draco
Overall (****1/2 out of *****)
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring all the above and Introducing Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson and Robert Pattison
Characters Development / Characters Introduced - Gleeson is as good as you’d expect portraying Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, this year’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Ralph Fiennes has played bad guys so often, his turn as Voldemort gives you the willies just imagining it…which is pretty much what you have to do, as his scenes are pretty sparse. Miranda Richardson is sufficiently annoying as a news reporter. Robert Pattison gives a game performance as the nearly perfect and completely doomed Cedric Diggory.
Harry is thrust into the limelight in this one, after being surprisingly picked to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. Hermoine and Ron are given precious little to do, aside from play footsies with other young wizards at the big dance. This is an uptick for Ron, as for some strange reason, he is acting as if Hermoine is not worth getting on his hands and knees for . That said, Hermoine finds a little romance on the side, but not so much she can’t give Harry a bit of help in getting through the tournament. Harry finds more help along the way, but really, his fate here is a foregone conclusion, as in the end, he was always meant to face down Voldemort.
Special Effects – There is nothing here on the level of Azkaban, but still, not really a step back.
Story – Concentrating more on Harry’s tie with Voldemort and leaving the mysteries as more of a means to an end, we are allowed to see Harry’s descent into near madness, as he is faced with the insanity of the real world refusing to believe that the nameless one survives. You begin to see that any help Harry can get on this journey is not going to serve him through to completion, and Harry gets his first real brush with death in the angelic Cedric Diggory.
Cliche – No adults believe Harry because it is…inconvenient to the plot. Cedric Diggory is truly too beautiful to live. Ron is nearly completely Shaggy at this point.
(***1/2 out of *****)
Directed by David Yates
Starring the above and Introducing Imelda Staunton and Helena Bonham Carter
Characters Development / Characters Introduced - This is the movie where Harry is frustrated beyond the point of reason. Dumbledore helps with gentle pushes here and there. Hermoine does everything she can. Ron acts like an idiot, and gets a fan, inexplicably. The kids are all becoming self-reliant, but strangely, a lot of them act like spells are a new concept.
Of the newbies, Staunton excels as Dolores Umbridge. Her performance is filled with passive-aggressive hatred, and it really feels good the way she abuses our heroes. Helena Bonham Carter, well, acts like she always does: demented. She doesn’t really add much.
Special Effects - Nothing here detracts from the story, and the scene between the Order of The Phoenix and the Death Eaters in the Department of Ministries is breathtaking at times. At this point, the effects are somewhat good enough to take for granted.
Story – This one is the point where children become wizards and witches, for better or worse. To get there, many adults have to seem to be helpless, and ignore obvious signs, but oh well.
Cliche – Ron is at full Shaggy now, with only Neville Longbottom competing with him for most inept. Throwaway characters abound, in the death of Sirius Black, if only to have an ally pass into the great beyond so Harry keeps on understanding that Voldemort really means it. And these Voldemort losses are piling up, too. With seemingly no effect, either.
(**** out of *****)
Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince (2009)
Starring all the above and Introducing Jim Broadbent
Characters Development / Characters Introduced -
Harry has picked up a few friends in his journey to manhood. Among them, Luna Lovegood, an outcast herself that Harry Befriends in an earlier film. Their development reflects on his ability to lead, if only by noticing others that most dismiss. Draco Malfoy, losing his father, Lucius to Azkaban in the earlier film, now is forced to step up, and conveniently, Severus Snape is somehow duped into protecting his development past the threshold. Draco’s character is given a slight boost here, but it is still hard to sense anything but schoolyard bully with the character. Snape, more expertly handled by Rickman, if not better written, shows a path of not necessarily evil intent. Hard to do, and Rickman does it well. Dumbledore still pushes Harry alone, with nothing but half-truths and Obi-Wan rhetoric.
Special Effects – Magnificent at times, especially in the cave where Dumbledore drinks the potion. The effects are far from being a distraction at this point.
Story - Full speed ahead. All of the elements of the movie story are coming into place. This movie has the most movement in explaining the nature of the Horcruxes that keep allowing Voldemort to come back again and again. We find how many there might be, at a seemingly great cost to Harry. One could almost cram the material of the other 5 films into 2 (Azkaban and the rest) and then move right on into this one.
Cliche – Like Diggory and Black, Dumbledore’s death is a seeming harbinger of many more in the last movie, because you cannot get through to a happy ending without one’s pound of flesh. Ron will never amount to more than a punchline, for some stupid reason linked like a ball and chain to the brilliance that is Hermoine. As for Snape, given that he is bound to be evil in the beginning of the book, might he really just be a nice guy? Yeah.
(***1/2 out of *****)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 – 2010
Starring all the above and Introducing Rhys Ifans and Bill Nighy
Characters Development / Characters Introduced - Xenophilius Lovegood, Lunas father plays the proprietor and editor of The Quibbler. Rufus Scrimgeor, the new, albeit temporary Minister for Magic. At this point, Harry, Ron and Hermoine are spending a good part of their time running and mystery solving. It is alternatingly jarring and dreadfully slow, and the effect is understandably hard on their characters. Ron’s back and forth, brought on mostly by the possession of the Horcrux Locket, is more believable than some of the rows that have been forced upon the duo. The effects of being left alone with Hermoine is never brought to a tawdry place, and that is to be commended, if it is on the unbelievable side. Then again, its similarly unbelievable that he would leave his burgeoning love, Ginny Weasley, at home.
Special Effects – Can’t really say there is anything that memorable. The fight of the seven Harry’s is so fast and jarring, it is gone before you know it. I guess the standout for me would be at Bathilda Bagshot’s house. Any time you see a snake evolve out of an old lady it is a cause for alarm. Overall, however, the fights are very brief, I think, to be able to keep the kids in the room.
Story - Entirely the most confusing storyline for those who have not read the books. Those who just saw the movies might find it almost impossible to figure out, if not paying attention to every single moment. What you do get, appropriately, is an overwhelming sense of dread, so much so, that it seems, after seeing the book split into two movies, that the first half, was cropped at the right place, even if it left you hanging.
Cliche – At this point, too many people have died off-screen to accuse them of pandering. This movie is intense, if shortened. The most clichéd moment, perhaps, was the presentation of the Malfoys of having totally lost their nerve. Bullying seems to have been their limit of comfort.
(***1/2 out of *****)
And for my full review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1, click here.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2 – 2011
Starring all the above and Introducing no one new, really, but we see a lot of characters in a whole new way.
Characters Development / Characters Introduced – Where to start? I think that this episode is a grand reward for any of those who are a fan of the underdog. Neville comes literally out of nowhere to kick a large amount of tail. Malfoy and his family literally turn away from the fray when it gets too intense. The most development, of course is set for Snape and Harry, for reasons revealed in the vile of tears and in King’s Cross.
Special Effects – Yates saved the best for last. Among the many highlights are the dragon under Gringot’s, the reproducing items in the vault, Dumbledore’s sister in the picture and the fight in the Room of Requirement. Slight negatives for the still odd-looking giants. The rest is so amazing, and often times subtly so, it can be overlooked.
Story - This is where it all ends, so every thing needs to come together. That it does. The Horcruxes unfold neatly, as does that little scar on Harry’s head. So many lives lost, yet everyone is still able to justify carrying on. A particularly chilling effect is the voice of Voldemort overhead, bargaining with those who, in the end, know it is a line of bull. They give it the amount of credence that any reasonable person would. The 19 years later epilogue is appropriately brief and respectful. It leaves a good feeling, and that’s what we are looking for.
Cliche – One of the biggest is the charge by Ron, but it also was just as awesome as Han Solo’s. Another would have been any sort of lengthy wand showdown. This did not happen. I credit the first to Rowling’s ingenuity of killing off Harry without a fight,and the second to writer Steve Kloves and Yates, for editing the poorly written book version into something…different. In this case, different is good.
(***** out of *****)
And for my full review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2, click here.