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Archive for July 2011

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

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

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Hogwarts, year two.  Just when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) thinks he’s getting into the swing of things, everything just gets weirder.  To start off, he has a difficult time arriving at school.  A homely little elf (excuse me, house elf) named Dobby (Toby Jones) shows up in his bedroom to warn Harry of the apparent harm and possible death that awaits him at Hogwarts.  He insists that Harry is too valuable to risk and tries to stop him from going – landing him into some serious trouble with his Aunt and Uncle (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw).  Not to worry, BFF Ron (Rupert Grint) comes to break him out of the cage that is Number 4 Privet Drive.  Buttt even with his wizard pals Harry has problems catching the train.  The moment they do make it to school they’re branded with a near death sentence for being seen by Muggles in their flying car.  Oh, and a rogue tree breaks Ron’s wand.

Turns out the little pillowcase-clad guy wasn’t so wrong.  Students (and cats) are winding up “petrified” by an unknown beast and threatening blood-written messages coat the corridors of Hogwarts announcing the re-opening of The Chamber of Secrets.  Harry teams up with his usual crew of Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson) to (singlehandedly) solve the ancient school mystery breaking a thousand more rules in the process.  But it gets kinda difficult when everyone starts putting the blame on the boy who lived cuz he can talk to snakes.  Or something.

It is a little bit difficult to leave out ANY comparisons.  The material is golden, the book perfectly executes a fantastic plot.  It’s hard for me to hate on the movie too much since they stick to the plot fairly well… it’s just not as well portrayed.  My primary complaint is actually the overload of cheese and kid stuff.  Like, last time I checked, the book did NOT end with a standing ovation and the entire great hall cheering for Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).  It’s just unnecessary.  But, alas, it still manages to match the charm and appeal of the book and improve on the first movie – exploding into one of the greatest movie franchises ever (and the most internationally successful).

Our kids are the same as they were in Sorcerer’s Stone, just more cracking voices.  But they’re fine – and Harry has even improved.  We’ve got plenty of new characters too – even Henry V Kenneth Branagh himself as our leading buffoon, new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and hero extraordinaire Gilderoy Lockhart.  He is one of my favorite (favourite?) characters in the book and Branagh brilliantly brings him to life on screen.  “Fame is a fickle friend, Harry.  Celebrity is as celebrity does.  Remember that.”  You hate him so much that you love him.  He approaches the bridge between tolerable hilarity and excess annoyance but only flirts with crossing.  He’s the comic relief, though there’s really nothing too serious to “relieve” us from – the whole movie is as light as the first one.  Yet he still manages to lift our spirits and deliver some awesome one liners.

Another more slippery addition is Jason Isaacs as Draco’s papa Lucius Malfoy.  Whoever had the idea to give him long flowing white hair and a pre-pubescent clean-shaven look was a genius.  To see Lucius’ character deteriorate into the coward that he is in the latest Potter installments (facial hair included) gives this fresh opening an entirely new meaning.  He really was a wicked snake.

Sorcerer’s Stone was the introductory fairy tale.  Chamber of Secrets is the slightly darker exploration piece.  The entire 8-movie series is really just one big story.  This one starts to delve into the bigger picture where its predecessor only briefly introduced it.  We learn about the bigger-bad-guy Lord Voldemort’s past as a student at Hogwarts.  We begin to understand Harry’s connection to the Dark Lord is a little bit more than just his parents’ murder.  On top of that, we explore Harry’s dark side.  Would he have been better suited for Slytherin house?  Is he following the same path that young Tom Marvolo Riddle (Christian Coulson) did? Radcliffe does his character well, showing a conflicted, no longer wide-eyed boy facing more than his fair share of trials.

The magic too is deeper (even deeper than we know, yet).  Harry and Draco finally get their chance to officially duel it out with more than “Expelliarmus” in Lockhart’s Dueling club [a good Snape moment… there was a serious lack of Alan Rickman boss-ness], Petrified victims are healed by screeching mandrake plants as procured by Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), Hermione surpasses her own genius by creating the Polyjuice Potion turning Harry and Ron into Draco’s goonies, Crabbe and Goyle (Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman), replicas.  Again, Rowling, I bow to your creativity.

The plot (grace of Lady Rowling) is a fast-paced, fun mystery.  The epic conclusion is so rewarding with every twist and turn underlying the suspense.  Even with its long running time, it still manages to briskly pass the audience by.  I don’t know, I guess I just dig that kinda mystery stuff – the kind where the big reveal leaves you smacking your head at your own poor observation and anxious to re-watch it with a new perspective.  That’s how it was the first time I read the book.

There’s a lot more action as well.  Murderous spiders and larger than life snakes aren’t exactly your typical domestic animals.  Overall, the special effects and stunts are great and Harry sure looks disgusting by the end.  I guess battling in a sewer does that to you…

This review is a very jumbled cornucopia of thoughts, and I apologize for the longevity.  The short of it is, Chamber of Secrets improves on the first one and leaves us even more tickled with magic.  The actors grow into their roles and there’s some great action/adventure/mystery/humor goin’ on.  Lastly, RIP Richard Harris.  “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.  It is our choices.”  You delivered one of Dumbledore’s best piece of wisdom better than Michael Gambon ever could.  No offense.  7/10

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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Yes.  I am a Harry Potter nut. You know who I mean, the weirdies who camp out to get the books at midnight and stay up all night reading it, decked out in wizard robes and drinking “butter” beer.  I’ve probably read the books ten plus times, so if I wanted to bash on this movie for three pages worth I could and would gladly do so.  But as much as I’m sure you’d love to hear all of my sarcastic quips, I shall try my best to judge it as a film and solely by that, limiting comparison from book to movie.  And it would be pretty sad if I could bash about Sorcerer’s Stone since it does follow the book near perfectly… but leave it to me to notice the 10% that’s inaccurate.

Anyway, in case you’ve been living under a rock these past twenty years, this is what’s up.  Meet Harry (Daniel Radcliffe): orphan at birth due to the mysterious death of his parents, his hair long and unkempt, his forehead decorated with a lightning bolt scar, his clothes drowning his skinny body.   He lives in the cupboard under the stairs in the home of his heartless aunt and uncle and he is shunned by his peers.  He is also generally present whenever strange and abnormal things go down.  His rags to riches story begins at his eleventh birthday when a nine-foot scruffy-lookin’ mountain-man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, who is the MAN) visits him.  Harry learns that his freakish tendencies are actually magical powers, and that he has been invited to study at a wizarding school, leaving his all-but home for a luxurious magical castle.  Oh, and he’s famous.  Hogwarts gives him a gift that he never had before: a chance to live and discover himself.  He lands a spot on the school’s Quidditch (basketball and soccer combo – seriously Rowling, how do you come up with this stuff??) team, his fame precedes him and makes him the most popular first-year at the school, and he gets to practice cursing people for his homework.  Not bad, eh?  With friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), the mischievous threesome begin to uncover mysteries in the castle, and their attempt to single-handedly solve them gets them in a plot that’s way over their heads – a plot that may involve the wizard responsible for the death of Harry’s parents.

It’s hard to say when Harry really entered my life.  I was… eight?  I remember walking into my third grade classroom with Prisoner of Azkaban in hand ready to read through class. I remember arguments over the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” with my mom.  But I honestly don’t remember when Harry really left his mark.  Because seriously?  Harry and I are tight like spandex.  I am a little bit obsessed.  Since Book #4 I’ve been getting them at midnight and I read them once a year.  I used to play HP imagining games with my childhood buddies.  Any sort of Harry Potter paraphernalia, I probably had.  Star Wars is probably the only other franchise to leave such an imprint on my soul.  Okay, now things are getting a little TOO weird, but you get what I mean.  I love Harry Potter.  A lot.

It was actually a lot of fun to let the film buff side take over and realize that these movies aren’t the atrocities I once thought they were.  The characters created by J.K. Rowling are what drive the story but we’ve got just about every excellent English actor in existence playing them: Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is arguably the best of the bunch – he’s so sinister and snakelike in his hateful disdain for Harry, Richard Harris (I’ll never forgive you for dying) as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, and tons more.  The kids were okay, too – now Daniel Radcliffe’s getting Tony noms and Emma Watson’s got her adorable pixie cut.  They were so tiny in Sorcerer’s Stone.  These early ones are also great of Rupert Grint, he’s pretty likeable.  Watson’s probably going the farthest in her future career, though.  She knows what she’s doing as the standoffish Hermione.  It also sucks that Tom Felton took such a bad turn through puberty after movie #2, he was s’darn cute in this one!  Well, cute and sinister.

This is by-far the most tame of the Harry Potter franchise.  That isn’t to say that the others are adult-themed, but this one is clearly catered towards children.  The book too is a children’s novel, so I guess I can’t really argue the choice of audience.  The feel is innocent and colorful – bright golds and deep reds deck the halls of Hogwarts, the Quidditch lawn too is vibrantly colored with greens and blues.  John Williams’ score is twinkly and “Hedwig’s theme” is, haha, magical.  For how complex J.K. Rowling’s world is, the movie does a remarkable job of balancing unfamiliar customs with plot in the two-hour film.  With each twist and turn, something new emerges (cue the chimes).  And really, all I’ve got to say is when can I sign up for Hogwarts?  I don’t care how hard they have to “study” for final exams, it has to be more fun than studying for biology finals.  I’d study charms with Professor Flitwick and I’m sure I’d blow up my fair share of feathers like Seamus.  I’d eat the self-filling plates in the dining hall with all you can drink pumpkin juice.  And I’d definitely play chaser on my house Quidditch team (Gryffindor, of course).  Obviously, the world emerges from the books but I am thrilled to see it on screen.

Chris Columbus, you may not be too daring but you can NEVER go wrong with sticking to the original story.  Sure there are still holes that bug me (i.e. Professor Snape “is helping” to guard the Sorcerer’s Stone yet no potions obstacle is shown – a deleted scene but still an unfortunate loss), and a little TOO much learning-life-lessons cheese (“Swish and FLICK!”)  Rowling stuck close to the production of the film, which didn’t hurt.  And really, the dialogue is pretty great.  “I’m going to bed before either of you comes up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” “She NEEDS to sort out her priorities.”

This movie also makes me mourn Richard Harris.  His death will forever haunt me every single time I watch these movies.  Every time.  He was SO perfect.  He embodied one of the greatest, wisest characters ever written with poise and dignity.  According to Rowling, Dumbledore is the “epitome of goodness.”  Michael Gambon is fine and I appreciate his talent now, but I can never feel that heart of goodness at his core like I could with Harris.  His way of dealing with Harry at the Mirror of Erised is so gentle and grandfather-like.  Man, I miss him.  My consistency obsessions are also troubled.  But whatever, nothing we can do about it.  Some of his best lines are in this first installment, though: “Alas, earwax!” “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.” (Which, p.s. I love Neville.  Just sayin – one of my favorite book characters).

This is the beginning of a wonderful journey.  The boundaries surrounding the evil are barely tapped, but still introduced.  The mere whisper of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is taboo and evokes fear and panic in wizards and muggles alike – and we’ve only just met the evil overlord.  There are some awesome scenes – namely the giant wizard chess scene.  Srsly, so cool.  Hagrid also stands out as one of the best adults, and he is involved in some great moments.  The entire journey to Diagon Alley is well filmed, John Hurt cameos to boot.  Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback even made it in.

It’s nothing without the book.  In fact, I wish I could see these without my deep bias and excess back-knowledge.  So, guys, read the book.  You won’t regret it.  These movies are like Barney compared to that incredible series.  But if you absolutely insist on watching the movies sans reading, this is pretty good.  7/10