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Posts Tagged ‘kenneth branagh

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

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Thor (2011)

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The beginning of a fantastic superhero-filled summer.

My first association with Thor began when I was just a kid.  My comic-book loving brother had Marvel characters galore coating his walls and I used to stare at them, with zero comprehension of who they all really were.  Probably the best that I’ve really known Thor, though, was in Adventures in Babysitting.  Don’t judge, Thor has a pretty big impact on bad-A car dealers, too.

I’d watched the trailer for Thor over a dozen times at my job.  They play the. same. commercials all day long.  Excitement turned to boredom, boredom turned to mockery, and mockery turned to WTF Kenneth Branagh is directing this??? And then back to excitement.  Needless to say, I was anxious to see what the distinguished English actor/director of Henry V would bring to the table.

Thor.  The god of thunder.  The son of Odin, king of Asgard.  So basically once upon a time, like a billion years ago or whatever, Asgard and the Frost Giants were at war.  Those snowy dudes wanted all-ruling power over the nine realms, including our blessed Earth.  When Asgard blew them over,  the Asgardians took their little ice trophy, the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Flash forward to present, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is about to assume the throne – even over his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).  Those same, frozen, frisky sonofaguns went and ruined his big day by trying to steal back their power…thing.  Thor is kinda pissed, thinks he’s king already, and decides to take matters into his own hands and kinda starts up some war again with those frosty idiots.  Odin (Anthony Hopkins) realizes that, oh wait THOR can’t be king right now.  He should probably go grow up a little bit.  On Earth.  Without powers.  And kinda without his hammer, too.  Things get worse upstairs when Odin has some kind of stressed-induced heart attack thing and falls into his get-better “Odinsleep.”  Loki takes over as king and he wants to run things a little differently…

First of all, does anyone else feel like laughing every time the name “Thor” is used in casual conversation?  Because I do.

I also have to give credit that it was exactly what I was expecting.  A good story, good action, some cheese, and a lot of great stranger in a strange land moments (which I applaud for being highly entertaining, but not overbearing and distracting).  As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been too exposed to the Thor-verse, so I wasn’t sure how Marvel would mesh with Norse mythology.  After this movie, however, I’m definitely jumping on the bandwagon and I’d call myself a Thor-fan.  While I don’t consider it up to par with the Spiderman movie franchise nor Christopher Nolan’s Batman(s), it does have some surprisingly deep facets to the story – all thanks to Loki.  Loki’s character was the best developed out of anyone else in the ensemble (especially compared to Thor, who became a good boy remarkably quick).  His disturbed countenance and spark of evil are perfectly portrayed, as well as his deep confusion.  I was half rooting for him.  He sold the movie for me and I’d recommend it if only for him.

I think my main complaint was the lack of character development in Thor.  Maybe I’m just not buying the I-am-a-better-person-because-of-a-woman-even-though-I-just-met-her-yesterday plot device anymore.  (Speaking of which, Natalie Portman is in freaking EVERYTHING this year!)  I actually really enjoyed Portman’s performance as the storm-chasin’, researcher/scientist Jane Foster.  Even if I were a science nerd, though, I don’t think I’d be  head over heels for some larger than life specimen from nowhere just because I wanted answers.  I thought that Chris Hemsworth played the two extremes well, but there just wasn’t enough script in the middle to fully appreciate the leader that he turned into.

And how ’bout that Asgard?  The rainbow bridge was as beautiful as I could have imagined it.  Good on ya, folks.  The towers, waterfalls, castles, and landscapes were all breathtaking and god-like.  If I had their kind of power, that’s where I’d live.

We’ve also got things to get us more pumped for The Avengers – Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) played a bigger role than in previous Avenger-precursors.  SHIELD was all over the place trying to figure out that goshdarn hammer, stuck in the ground like Excalibur.  The intrigue builds for the mega-mashup coming in 2012.  But I don’t think of Thor as simply an extended trailer for The Avengers.  I think it’s a great stand-alone flick and I’d welcome a sequel.

The screenplay was fine, but somewhat cliché.  The CGI and action were fantastic and entertaining and the costumes made them gods look awesome.  The secondary characters were good too for the most part (Kat Dennings was getting on my nerves a little bit) with good performances by Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo and Colm Feore.

Branagh, you da man.  Thor is a popcorn flick well-worth the popcorn and the price of the movie ticket, too.  7/10