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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

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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