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The Wrestler (2008)

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I watched this the night after I watched Milk.  Mickey Rourke deserved that Oscar.

This film is as poignant and emotionally stirring as it is formulaic.  We’re all familiar with Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s story.  He’s an aging professional wrestler: his failing health inhibiting him from living the only life he has really known.  He tries to repair, or rather establish, a relationship with his estranged daughter to save himself from solitude in his retirement.  He’s a broken man with nothing to lose, and we watch as Randy learns that life outside the ring is even more painful than getting a window smashed into your face.

The Wrestler is a testament to formula film origins.  Though the formula is often overused and ripped apart into cliches, it has the potential to churn your stomach into emotional butter.  Besides the basic overall plot, each scene is a story of its own.  Take the scene where Randy begins his full-time employ at a deli counter.  Though first nervous and restrained, he warms into a hard-working, positive, flirtatious employee.  He’s this lug of a guy with a heart of gold and every interaction with customers is genuine and always with a toothy smile (not to mention ad-libbed).

Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, Randy’s regular entertainment.  Rourke may be the root and heart of the movie, but Tomei cannot be ignored in this deep, conflicted performance as a lap dancer.  She acts with her eyes, which never agree with her suggestive body movements.  Oftentimes we learn more about Randy through her eyes, as customer turns to friend.  She gives him confidence, she gives him purpose.

It’s also a very interesting insight into the life of a pro-wrestler.  I have never once enjoyed watching wrestling, let’s just say that it attracted a crowd that I didn’t really run with.  However, being a martial artist myself, their life fascinates me.  I’d still rather watch boxing, because the theatrics of wrestling never appealed to me.  We’re placed under the illusion that they’re never really hurt… but they’re still hurt.  Many scenes portray the detailed planning that goes into each “show” and all the little tricks that these dudes pull to please their audience.  The tanning, the steroids, the hidden razor blades, the waxing, the massaging.  You can’t help but wonder how someone could put so much effort into something fake?

Randy’s daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is adamantly against Randy’s desire to reconnect.  This introduces another emotional arc that is also familiar to the audience.  When she finally agrees to go out with him for a day, another poignant, individual scene ensues.  For those ten minutes, as voyeur, I escaped even further from reality, and from the world of wrestling.  Their timing and emotional play off each other’s acting is without flaw.  Ad-libbed to boot, that short scene is so different from the rest of the movie, yet also a complementary capstone to Randy’s character development.

This movie is full of those little scenes.  That’s what makes this movie different.  Sure, it’s a cookie-cutter sports story.  But it’s more about the man than the wrestler.  It is sad.  The end, though I won’t give away any details, is heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.  I never thought I’d see the day where I would shed a tear over the steroid-infested sport.

Coming from the man who gave us Requiem for a Dream, and later haunted the world with the Academy Award winning Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky can do no wrong. He’s the master behind the work.  But this film is nothing without Mickey Rourke and Randy Robinson – the broken man with a heart. 9/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

January 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

Twilight (2008)

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This is totally a bandwagon endeavor.  But with all of the Breaking Dawn hype, I’ve decided that I need to get a move on the Twilight series.  Yeah, I read all of the books, I thought Twilight was super gripping and stuff until it blew up America.  And by America I mean the world.  Man, Stephanie Meyer is the worst best thing to have come out of my hood.

With that, I’m only just getting to watching the movies.  Word on the street is they still suck, but I don’t want to be that girl that never watches something only because it’s popular.  Even though I actually abhor everything to do with the Vampire/Werewolf/Human love triangle.  But hey, I’m a cinephile so I gots to watch ’em all.

Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight takes place in the dark, dreary town of Forks, Washington.  Our leading lady is the clumsy, supposed-to-be-not-that-pretty-but-is-actually-pretty-hot Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).  Well, she would be hot if her face did something other than grimace or pout.  She’s the new girl in town straight out of Phoenix, Arizona (sans tan) here to live with her pops Charlie Swan, the local sheriff (Billy Burke).  Charlie is the only solid character of the bunch, he’s got a sound mind and is trying his hardest to be a good dad to his estranged daughter.

Bella starts at her new school mid-year.  What would predictably be a rocky beginning as the typical “new girl in town outcast” turns out to be a refreshingly smooth transition.  Bella eases her way into a group of nice (and normal) kids who gossip and joke and accept her as their friend.  Her long face is inexplicable, but apparently something isn’t right.  She’s eyes the strange and beautiful Cullen family with piqued interest as her friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) gawks over Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), but encourages Bella to steer clear.  No one really talks to the Cullens.  They keep to themselves.

But apparently Bella can’t be content with a normal life.  She is mesmerized with the not so beautiful Edward Cullen.  She has never met anyone like him before.  The way he stares at her is so penetrating, as though he sees directly into her soul.  Lucky for both of them, she finds this more attractive than creepy.  Her fight to be different is grossly rewarded when her person of interest turns out to be a vampire, and she’s totally into it.

As I was watching this, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Did I really like this book?”  Because I did.  It’s like literary cocaine, I read ’till all hours of the night and couldn’t curb my addiction.  But seriously, there was actually something appealing to this ridiculous vampire stuff?  Because sorry twi-hards, I am not digging it.

First of all, if you take out all the vampire/mystical stuff, it is nothing more than a formulaic teenage lust love story  and a guy who has abstinence issues.  And WHAT is up with Kristen Stewart & Robert Pattinson?  They seem to have a really good time staring at each other, though Stewart always looks like she’s suffering from manic depression and Pattinson that he’s going to throw up.  Neither can act.  And Pattinson seemed to lose every feature that I found attractive when he played Cedric Diggory in the fourth Harry Potter film.

The dialogue is atrocious.  “You better hold on tight, spider monkey.”  A fourth grader could write a better screenplay.  The special effects are mediocre at best, though the film was produced on a very low budget.  And these vampires are nothing like the vampires of yesteryear.  Contrary to popular belief, daylight does not disintegrate our fanged friends, it only causes them to SPARKLE (another testament of high-school effects).

The relationship between Edward & Bella is, well, crazy.  Their romance blooms because Edward WANTS TO DRINK HER BLOOD.  He thinks she SMELLS good, much like my lunch meat smells good.  Who dates (and by date, I mean stare at) a dude that is attracted to her based on how good he thinks she would taste if he were to kill her?  But she’s cool with it, because he’s one of the good guys, a vampire vegetarian if you will.

I think what is really missing from the book is the depth to Bella’s character.  Kristen Stewart does not portray the complexities nor the inner turmoil that Bella suffers with in the book.  Though my opinion quickly changes in the Twilight sequels, Bella was a great character in the first book.  She wasn’t perfect, and the average girl could relate to her and dream about having a similar fantastic romance.

Twilight will no doubt satisfy its rabid fans, and teenage girls across the world will always drool over Edward.  And if you’re one of those peeps, go knock yourself out.  But, if you appreciate something deeper, Twilight is missable.  4/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

November 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

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I swear, if you say this one is boring – this conversation is going NO FURTHER.

Also, sorry for the big gap in my reviews. I know you’re at the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen to Harry.

If you thought shiz was going down in the last movie – just imagine the wizarding world without Dumbledore.  No more Hogwarts feasts.  No more Quidditch matches.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s life at the wizarding school is a thing of the past, a fond memory to keep them going through the wilderness.  They’re big kids now, in a big world.  One can only hope that they learned enough to survive.

There’s a full-on war, here.  Even the Ministry of Magic is taken over by Death Eaters early in the film.  It’s up to Harry (and his pals) to off Voldemort… but it’s a little more difficult than just marching up to his front door and Avada-Kedavraing him (not that that’s even easy).  Turns out Voldemort has taken every measure possible to ensure his immortality by splitting his soul seven times.  These bits of his soul are stored in Horcruxes, little dark-magic objects that can only be destroyed with toys like goblin swords, or basilisk fangs.  Annnd they have to destroy these before they can even THINK about killing the big V with no idea where they are or what they are.  Dumbledore’s left behind a few clues for the teens to start on their quest… but that’s hardly enough to get ’em rolling.  So they spend a lot of time wandering around in forests and on cliff-sides pondering their options.  Don’t worry, they only understand a little bit more than the audience does.  Meanwhile, Harry catches wind that Voldy is searching for the Deathly Hallows, objects of power that date back to an old legend turned kids story.  This is well explained in the film with an excellent, artistic animated scene.

I went and saw this at midnight when it was first released a year ago.  Due to some slight confusion about assigned seating, I abandoned my post in the very front row to watch it on the stairs towards the top.  Paying no heed to the parents’ disapproving looks to the fire hazard I had made myself, it was worth the stiff back.  I saw it with three other friends, two of whom were hardly fond of the slower-paced take on the epic series.  Like, I get it… but I don’t get it.  Maybe it’s just because it follows the book so well.  And, granted, the first half of the book isn’t as exciting as the second half either.  So maybe that’s the only reason I liked it so much (it’s true, you don’t even want to try and watch this if you don’t know your HP trivia).  But even with the “boring” bits, I feel like it’s hardly fair to say it’s a bad movie for that.  I know the book back to front, and this captured the, well, boredom and claustrophobia – and I think that’s awesome!  It’s moody, gritty, and emotional.  So no, I don’t want to have the “boring” argument with you.

Whether it was luck or pure intuition, how fortunate was the Harry Potter series to have three kid actors grow into competent and attractive adults?  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and especially Emma Watson could not be better as the fearsome threesome.  It’s too bad that Bonnie Wright as Ginny couldn’t amount to as much.  Their emotional maturity is especially noticeable during the restless, unsuccessful hunts in the wilderness.  With only one Horcrux found and no way to destroy it, their spirits are low and their tempers are high.  Ron Weasley, a character that is never as fully developed in the books as Harry and Hermione are, has his moments of frustration, but more moments of growth.  This, coupled with Half Blood Prince, is Grint’s best performance.

Watson got her character ages ago, and Radcliffe’s been there for a couple movies too.

The endless journey is important bonding time for the kid-heroes.  Harry and Hermione, obviously, grow closer (and I, for one, adored the dancing scene).  Their relationship is so tender, only tapping into romanticism.  Through the thick and thin of Ron’s jealousy issues, they grow to be so united.  With every other actor giving nothing more than cameo appearances, it was important to get that element right.

David Yates, who has had charge of the last two HP films, has the feel of these books down.  You can tell that he actually read them.  There stand Harry and Hermione at the foot of his parent’s graves on Christmas Day.  The snow is falling in time to the tears that trickle down Harry’s face.  The tender moment doesn’t last long though, before Hermione notices the creepy, cloaked woman spying on them.  The following scene at Godric’s Hollow is so eery, and so deliciously spooky.  Few words are spoken, the music speaks for itself.  Once things started getting down and dirty and snakes were jumping out of cloaks, I think I literally bit my tongue through.  Just like I did when I read that passage in the book.  That’s what I call a good adaptation.

Also, the scenery is consistently breathtaking.  Apparating is kinda like insta-hiking.  You get to the best part first.  It’s unfortunate that the kids can hardly appreciate the beauty surrounding them, their thoughts are with their loved ones who could, like, die.  Understandable.

When things pick up, they pick up.  The beginning chase and the concluding escape from Malfoy Manor are both exhilarating and visually stunning.  These wizard duels are getting faster paced and much more swordsman-like.  As for other characters… that Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) is still a mean B, huh?  Dobby (Toby Jones – sadly absent from every other movie except Chamber of Secrets) gets to be hero one last time with some seriously hard-nosed toughness, as well as heart-wrenching loyalty and goodness.  Malfoy’s (Tom Felton) two seconds are forgettable.  Alan Rickman had regrettably little to do, but that will be amended in the last installment.  Ray Fiennes was excellent as always, he too with limited screen time.

I could have used a bit more Dumbledore-history, but that’s expendable information (though interesting).  What matters to me is the feel of the film, and that perfectly imitated JK Rowling’s creation. 7/10

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

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And so it goes on, and the adventures of Harry Potter are just getting better.  Sick of hearing about him already?  Too bad.

Now that Voldy let the cat out of the bag that he’s returned, wizards are on the alert and Death Eaters are becoming more and more conspicuous, attacking people and wreaking havoc left and right in the Muggle AND Wizarding World.  Harry’s back for his sixth year at school and he’s more buddy buddy with Dumbledore than he ever has been – if possible.  He’s got Harry taking “Voldemort lessons” and the two of them learn about the dark wizard’s haunting past.  Meanwhile, besides Harry’s night job with the headmaster, his sixth year at Hogwarts isn’t at all boring.  Snape’s finally made it as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Harry is a master at potions with a little help from his mysterious second-hand textbook, and word on the street is that Draco’s the latest member of Death Eater club… and he’s crying in the bathroom.  Oh, and he’s supposed to kill Dumbledore.

I have seen every Harry Potter movie in the theater, most on opening day, some at midnight, but Half Blood Prince came out while I lived in Tahiti.  So I saw it in French.  And if a movie can still be entertaining in FRENCH, then it’s got to be a pretty good movie.  Then, when I finally saw it in English, tears were flooding left and right and I was, to put it lightly, blown away.

Here’s what I love about this installment.  It takes its time.  It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s emotional, it is as realistic as you can get for a movie about wands and broomsticks.  It’s human.  One of my favorite scenes takes place at Harid’s hut, where Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gather around mourning for Hagrid’s demon spider pet, Aragog.  I didn’t know that I could get choked up over that vicious beast’s death.  It’s just so honest, complete with swelling music, Fang the dog howling, and Slughorn makin’ up eulogies.

It’s also funny.  Like, lol worthy.  The romances, though break ups and heart ache still inevitably ensue, are more mature than the high school type pairing off that was goin’ down in #4 and #5.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of snogging.  And let me just say that Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown is incredibly entertaining as Ron’s main squeeze.  But from Quidditch to Christmas dates, there isn’t a dull moment.  The excellent writing coupled with the impeccable deliveries of the actors mesh together so perfectly.

“She’s only interested in you because she thinks you’re the chosen one!”
“But I AM the chosen one.”

“That’s my Won-Won!”

“What do you think he sees in [Ginny]?”
“She’s smart, funny, attractive… ”
“Attractive?”
“Well you know, she has nice skin.”
So you think he is going out with her because she has nice skin?”
“Well, I dunno, I’m just saying it could be a contributing factor.”

On that note, I’m also glad that they gave Quidditch one last chance.  If only to see Weasley King teach those Quaffles a lesson.

The fearsome threesome are at their best.  Rupert Grint is funnier than ever, Emma Watson is, well, still good… she didn’t need much improvement, but she’s awesome.  Daniel Radcliffe has found his niche as our rugged hero, and he finally captures the emotional intelligence that our character in the novel is going towards in his later years.  Alan Rickman is still the ultimate bad-A and Tom Felton gives his best performance to date.  But man, I wish they’d done his character differently in the earlier movies.  It doesn’t mean so much to see him crumble underneath the pressure with him being such a weenie in the first films.  But, whatever, at least he’s better.  Jim Broadbent probably takes the cake for giving the most intriguing and complex performance.  I always thought that Slughorn was an interesting character but Broadbent really took him further.  I love how he and Harry interact.  Helena Bonham Carter is still good as crazy lady Belatrix Lestrange.

If all that weren’t enough, Michael Gambon finally earned his keep as the esteemed Albus Dumbledore.  I haven’t been a fan of him thus far, and he’s still no Richard Harris, but I wouldn’t have cried over him if he hadn’t of done an above-par job.  I’m sorry for hating you so much before, Mr. Gambon.  I respect you now and love what you did with one of my favorite characters.  That’s all.

While they weren’t able to throw it all in (can they ever?) David Yates did a fantastic job with Tom Riddle/Voldemort’s back story.  Meeting the enemy with haunting special effects and an amazing performance by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin was everything I could have asked for as a Potter nerd.  Yates is the mannnn, and boy am I glad that he’s got charge of the rest of the series.

Lastly, the ambiance is wonderful.  Every scene is beautiful, whether it be the architecture of the castle or the beauties of the grounds.  “I’ve never noticed how beautiful this place is,” laments Harry.  This is the calm before the storm -and it was already pretty stormy.  But any remaining bits of normalcy are blown to bits in the last two installments.  Also, the music by Nicholas Hooper is absolutely breathtaking.  Watching Dumbledore bring out the big guns in the creepycreepy cave would not be what it is without the tear-jerking accompaniment.  That scene is also one of the bets in the film.  I needed a freaking bucket to collect all those tears.  It’s just so sad… and heart wrenching… and everything.  Golly, it’s amazing.

Probably my favorite installation thus far, but we’ve still got two to go.  That might change.  9/10

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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Lately I’ve had a lot of Harry Potter conversations.  I’d say the general consensus on favorite HP book is probably between 3 and 4 (#3 being my favorite… probably) and 5, 6, and 2 as being the least celebrated.  I didn’t realize so many people hated #5 until recently – it’s actually one of almost-favorite calibre IMO.  Most say that it’s all cuz of that Umbridge lady.  They say she’s annoying.  I say she’s well-written. To each his (her) own.

Order of the Phoenix picks up in the summer after Harry witnessed Voldemort’s return and Cedric Diggory’s death (sorry, did that ruin it for you? oh.)  The catch?  Nobody believes him.  Well, no one except for his usual buds and a group of boss rebel adults who call themselves the Order of the Phoenix.  Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic has greater influence than this tiny army, so Harry and Dumbledore get a lot of crap thrown at them.  Including the BIGGEST B in a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that Hogwarts has ever seen.  Harry ain’t pleased with the way things are goin’ especially with everyone ignoring the killer of an elephant in the room so he takes matters into his own hands…. again… and forms a rebel group of his own.

Hats off to Mrs. Imelda Staunton, first of all.  Holy mother, she captures that evil cat-woman’s essence with a pink sweater and a Cruciatus Curse in pocket.  Perfect choice, mr. casting person, sir.  No one can say that the Harry Potter franchise didn’t try for English acting talent cuz golly they’ve got the best of the best.  Professor Dolores Umbridge rivals Gilderoy Lockhart as the smarmiest, so awful that you’ve gotta love kinda character to have appeared from Rowling’s creation.  She sweeps in, essentially takes over the school with her government reign, and tortures little twelve-year-olds as a disciplinary measure.  I mean, who writes that kinda stuff?  Another great new addition is Evanna Lynch as Loony Luna Lovegood.  She’s definitely a strange character, but Lynch portrays her as more endearing than off-her-rocker.  Helena Bonham Carter too jumps on the ride as lady-Death Eater Belatrix Lestrange, another crazy character that was well played.  Lastly, though he’s nothing new, I must throw in some Gary Oldman love.  Yates does a good job of re-creating a Lupin/Harry relationship like in Cuarón did in Azkaban.  Sirius is one of the greatest characters and Oldman fills that role with dignity.

JK Rowling has been asked who her favorite character was before.  Her response is, of course, Harry.  He’s her baby, if you will.  With that in mind, I re-read the boks and soon realized that Harry was also my own favorite character.  Harry has a bit of all of us in him, everyone can relate to him at some point in his crazy life.  I feel like Harry does a LOT of growing up in this particular novel (and movie).  This is where he realizes that, yeah, his life ain’t fair and yeah, it’s tough being Harry Potter, but who freaking cares.  You gotta step it up, pal, or Voldemort’s gonna win.  He becomes the leader he was meant to be.  And who ISN’T an annoying, whiny teenager at some point?  I feel like, though they kinda skip over a lot of his angst (probably okay for the movie, that might have been too much to handle) we see Harry turn a new leaf.  He’s gone from accidental hero to leader of the pack.  And that’s cool stuff to watch.

With that in mind, OotP has that heart and emotion and we really do get to know Harry better.  After such a sad disappointment in 4, I was pleased as punch to see that David Yates could respectably salvage this series and push it forwards to the magical opus it had the potential to be.  Each director will be remembered (though I can’t say much for Newell) but Yates will be the one that Harry Potter fans will always whole-heartedly applaud for carrying it to a satisfying and mature end.  His mark on Order of the Phoenix pushes things back towards character development and heart, not crazy dragon chases and action-packed duels.  Though there’s plenty of that too.  The Dumbledore’s Army scenes are pretty dang fantastic to gawk over (almost, though not quite, an homage to the little-kid wonder and awe with the magic stuff), and that Dumbledore/Voldemort duel at the end is filled with some sick special effects.  But those DA scenes would be nothing without Hermione stupefying Ron, Neville triumphantly disarming something, and Harry sharing his hard-learned wisdom with eager youngsters, wanting to do their part for the greater good.  Gone are the wide-eyed little kids.  Here are the ready to fight teenagers with something to prove.  They stand up for what they believe in and they’re in it to make a difference.  They’re unified, and their relationships with one another are emotionally grounded.  Like I said, there’s heart and stuff.

Watson, Grint, and Radcliffe have finally reached a level where I, as a fan, am fully satisfied with their role as the fearsome threesome.  I have no complaints for those three.  Michael Gambon is still not Richard Harris, but he’s definitely getting there.  Alan Rickman is still boss, and Yates also did well with some back-story stuff too.  There’s all the other thousand of adult actors who masterfully play even the smallest of roles (Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, and Emma Thompson even!)  I’m also pleased with the way the other kids are growin’ up – Matthew Lewis in particular.  I love Neville.  And, of course, there’s Ray Fiennes as the Big V – and words really can’t say what that evil dude does for the movie.

I feel like I always talk about the acting in these Potter reviews.  You can’t blame me, the acting is definitely one of the most appealing elements with all those big names – and the characters are what make the books amazing.  But there is a wonderful mystique and awe that goes beyond all that.  The spells are getting more complicated, and the world of witchcraft and wizardry is expanding.  The special effects, music, lighting, coloring, all that good crap contributes in their own ways to the finished product and I guess that’s worth mentioning.  So, there.

I wish there was more Order of the Phoenix stuff – more Lupin especially – but I don’t regret their editing decisions.  That’s a TON of material to cover, let’s get real.  And, even though things are getting darker in wizard-town, there’s still that humor and wit that makes this series great.  Fred and George stand alone as lovable comic relief with explosive escapes and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.  The writing is humorous and Hermione’s getting more and more rebellious by the day.  All in all, this has everything that I love about Harry Potter in here.  I cheered, I cried, I applauded.  Expecto Patronum.  8/10

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

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I should probably just start watching this BEFORE I watch Prisoner of Azkaban.  Then I’ll like that one every time.

Things are shakin’ up in the Potter-verse.  Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his usual groupies (Ron – Rupert Grint, and Hermione – Emma Watson) are partyin’ it up with the rest of the wizard population at the Quidditch World Cup.  Kinda like the normal World Cup, but things get a LOT crazier when magic folk get drunk.  But the partyin’ gets a little too rowdy when Death Eater Voldy-supporters start torturing Muggles and You-Know-Who’s weird snake insignia is cast into the sky by a shady unknown character.

At Hogwarts things aren’t any more normal (are they ever?)  This year Hogwarts will congregate with all two other Wizard High Schools to compete in a (friendly) inter-school tournament.  And by friendly, I mean that contestants could die.  There will be one victor to represent each school.  Three guesses on who the Hogwarts champion is?  Despite Harry’s young age (you must be 17 or older to compete), he is wildly chosen as a SECOND rep for the Hogs – along with hunk Cedric Edward Cullen Diggory (Robert Pattinson).  Harry didn’t put his name in, so who did?  Ron’s pissed that Harry, who didn’t want any of this, gets all the glory and stuff… like usual, so they’re not speaking.  Harry’s got bigger things to worry about than dragons, like asking girls out and figuring out his strange dreams.  And word on the street is the Voldemort might reappear sooner than later…

Okay. Hands down my least favorite Potter film.  It isn’t a bad movie, there are definitely things I like.  But Mike Newell tried too hard to single it out from the others.  The Goblet of Fire is another piece in the big picture, and I feel like it’s trying to be its own movie too much.  The big reveal is hardly a big reveal because of all the stupid hints.  Granted, this is a 734 page book.  But Order of the Phoenix is 896 pages and David Yates does a much better job of condensing.  I don’t care that SPEW was left out (although it would have been nice to give Dobby an additional movie…) I don’t care that Ludo Bagman was nixed, I don’t mind THAT much that Rita Skeeter’s main plot was left out.  But did we really need to make the DRAGON challenge fifteen minutes too long?  I mean seriously, Harry was supposed to have WON that task.  They did not need to go traipsing about Hogwarts in a stupid game of cat and mouse.  That energy and time would have been better spent on the end.  Or anywhere else for that matter.

A few other gripes: The third challenge was kind of a joke.  Harry fought a freaking basilisk when he was twelve.  A maze where the walls close in on you is hardly intimidating compared to what that kid’s been through.  Second, do we ALWAYS need to skip over the explanation scenes?  Granted we didn’t need to hear all of the back story, but we kinda skipped over the part where a WAR WAS STARTING.  There was a reason that Fudge didn’t believe Harry in OotP.  Third, I’m not hating on Rob Pattinson at all, but I didn’t like the interpretation of Cedric Diggory.  I thought he looked good and performed well for the most part but he wasn’t… nice enough.  Cedric was a symbol of goodness.  Everyone loved him, everyone admired him.  They didn’t quite… capture that.  Lastly, …where was Sirius (Gary Oldman)?!  His head in some coals does NOT count.  Again, you gotta start looking at the book picture, Newell.

Sorry, I’ll try to stop acting like an immature fan girl.  It’s just so hard…

New additions to the cast… again… most notably is Brendan Gleeson as Professor Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody, the new (you guessed it) Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher.  Despite his weird machine eye and a few script issues he was pretty dang excellent as this crazy character.  The scene with the unforgivable curses was well played, even though Emma Watson was freaking out a little too much.  I also enjoyed him turning Malfoy into a dancing ferret…  Miranda Richardson plays Rita Skeeter, the sly reporter, interested in nothing but the dirty deets on Harry.  Great book character, wish we had more of her story but alas.  Two hours is very short.  Last but not least, the excellent Ralph Fiennes joins us, albeit nose-less, as none other than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself.  Lord Voldemort.  His sinister whisper is so icy, his piercing eyes so menacing.  He’s definitely secured himself as one of the greatest movie villains.  I couldn’t have asked for more. Good on yeh, Ralph.

Goblet of Fire reminded me of high school more than anything else, and that’s the good part.  I mean sure, Ron’s freaking annoying with his angsty whine, but don’t we know ten people just like him?  In fact, your best friend probably shunned you once for something similar.  Or maybe you shunned your best friend.  Just sayin’, it happens.  But seriously, all of the gossip, all the crying, all the name-calling.  It’s freshman year at wizard high.  And I did enjoy that part.  I love the awkward teen romances, I especially laughed at the scene introducing the Yule Ball.  “Mr. Weasley, put your hand on my waist.” “Where?”  And oh Ron’s dress robes… I also feel like every young actor is growing into their roles.  Neville (Matthew Lewis) got to  shine a little bit here.  Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) provided great laughs as the school clowns.  Unfortunately Malfoy (Tom Felton) is still painted as a bit of a fool, but whatever.

The adult cast is exemplary as usual [unfortunatelackofSeverusSnapeAlanRickmanthough].  Michael Gambon hasn’t quite reached his stride (forcefully pushing a student?  Not Dumbledore). The kids are definitely growing into their roles, though this is probably Emma Watson’s worst of the 8.  She freaks out too much, she’s sooo over dramatic and shouts and cries a lot.  Not Hermione.  I also admit that the Voldemort scene was fantastic.  Eerie, and filled with fiery emotions.  The music is also stunning, however much we might miss the J. Williams.  The special effects and cinematography are also commendable.

Alas, I cannot ever be fully satisfied.  Harry Potter is far too dear to my heart.  And this book is so fantastic.  It is what it is, though and it’s still got Harry’s name on it.  So that’s gotta be worth something, right?  6/10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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Okay guys.  I’ll relent.  Prisoner of Azkaban is a really good movie and one of the best Potters.

#3 picks up where Chamber of Secrets let out, after another awful summer with Harry’s worst aunt and uncle (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw – I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet how freaking perfect they are as those snobs.  So, take note of that).  Things in the wizarding world are a little hectic with You-Know-Who supporter slash mass murderer named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) on the loose, having recently broken out of the high security Wizard Prison Azkaban.  Word on the street is he’s out for Harry’s head on a platter.  Annnnd that he’s responsible for selling James and Lily to Voldemort in the first place.  Creepy, cloaked, Dark-Rider resembling, soul-sucking prison guards patrol the school grounds on the lookout, though they do far from comfort.  Harry’s cocky teenage swagger significantly falters around the Dementors as they embody his haunting past and cause him to relive his worst memories.

See ya, Chris Columbus, it was nice knowing you.  Welcome Alfonso Cuarón… director of Y Tu Mama Tambien?  Wait, wait, did I hear that right?  Pretty sure that’s as far from kid friendly as you can get so how Cuarón got roped into a Harry Potter movie I have no idea.  But man does he do wonders to the atmosphere.  From the get-go things take on a much more dramatic feel.  Gone are the squeaky voices, gone is the upbeat twinkle music.  The castle’s gotten a major make over, hogs heads are directing wizard public transportation, and most importantly – teenagers can be teenagers (thank you for letting them wear normal clothes when they’re not in class… they ARE normal people).  The moment they enter Hogwarts, Harry and his buddies are joking in the common room with much less staged-dialogue.  True, our kid actors have grown in their talent and depth, but they also seem less restricted under Cuarón’s reign.

This may be my favorite of the books.  And that’s saying a lot.  It’s different from all the others, doing without an appearance from our big bad boy Voldemort.  Best of all, it introduces two of the BEST characters in the entire franchise.  Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and Sirius Black himself.  Lupin is Harry and the gang’s new (and improved) Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  Not only does he know how to teach a boss lesson, he becomes a true friend and confidant to Harry.  The scenes with the two of them are precious gems of emotional exchanges.  He’s the brother/father/cool uncle that Harry has never had.  He treats him like an adult, he guides him, he helps him battle his fears.  David Thewlis plays the role so subtly, so easily.  If anything, he makes the movie worth it – as well as to see their relationship develop.  Gary Oldman is just a mastermind – playing the crazy convict like, well, a crazy convict.  Another great addition is Emma Thompson as the Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney.  Her prediction frenzy and paranoia clash excellently with brainy Hermione (Emma Watson) – who is popping in and out of classes more randomly than popcorn.  But seriously, all of these awesome British actors – even for such a small role they show up (Julie Christie even!)  Michael Gambon also joins the cast to replace the beloved Richard Harris as Dumbledore.  I appreciate that he doesn’t try to be cookie cutter Harris, but his edgier take isn’t exactly what I was looking for either.  He improves in later movies, but in this one he’s a little too forceful.

Unfortunately I do have a rather large gripe with an otherwise magnificent film.  It essentially skips over the entire back story between James Potter, Lupin, Sirius, and Peter Pettrigrew (Timothy Spall) – a small but important character.  Granted, this is a selfish and possibly immature opinion, but I just loveitsomuch.  It’s hard to let go.  The entire climax pre time-turner mischief felt rushed, and that’s unfortunate.  I love back stories, I love origins, I love mystery-unfolding (I may have mentioned this before…) and when something is that dear to you, I can’t just accept that absence.  Plus, more Gary Oldman screen time is NEVER a bad thing.

Two other things I will hate on is that ATROCIOUS CGI werewolf.  Serious dislike.  Second, I do not like that Malfoy (Tom Felton) is being made out to be a clumsy, screaming scaredy cat.  I mean, I enjoyed Hermione’s excellent upper cut to his jaw as much as anyone else, but his character was never that immature in the book.  Malfoy’s more than just Harry’s enemy.  He’s a conniving snake, he’s borderline evil.  It discredits his later role.  But whatever.

Not only has the atmosphere been altered to better suit growing teenagers and adults, the cinematography too adds to the maturing themes.  It’s dark, and shadowy, but also beautiful.  Every shot of countryside or castle is breathtaking and a feast for the eyes.  It’s like a painting.  Everything’s more artsy, more quirky.  Even if you didn’t like Harry Potter, it stands alone as a beautiful coming of age film.  It reminds me of how beautiful he adapted A Little Princess.  And the castle, though different from the first two films (irksome to my consistency elves) is new and improved.  And beautiful.  John Williams’ score is also different and moodier.  Harry’s flight on Buckbeak the Hippogriff accompanied by Williams’ music is… so thrilling.

Our regulars are still good. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are better – Harry’s angrier and Ron has dramatically improved… Hermione’s just always good.  But Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman (oh, Alan Rickman), and Robbie Coltrane are top notch as usual.  Plus the aforementioned new additions.  Part of me wishes Cuarón could’ve stayed on (at LEAST through the fourth one…) but I can’t hate on David Yates’ work.  As long as I hold my tongue, I can appreciate the movie for its emotional character development and the overall imaginative beauty. 8/10