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Posts Tagged ‘fiona shaw

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

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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