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Posts Tagged ‘maggie smith

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 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 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

First Wives Club (1996)

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Two words: Powerhouse Cast.  I mean seriously.  If you were gonna make an all over broads movie, who would you choose?  Okay if you said Meryl Streep, I’d still support that, or maybe even Helen Mirren after Red but this is the ’90s.  Diane Keaton, Bete Midler, Goldie Hawn and even Maggie Smith combine for some serious hormonal catastrophes.

After their college bestie Cynthia (Stockard Channing) kills herself, the insecure Brenda (Midler), the over-secure made-up barbie Elise (Hawn), and he clueless Annie (Keaton) reunite and talk old times.  Turns out all three have been screwed by their husbands for younger women (well, in all honesty I guess the youngin’s were the ones being screwed…)  But they’re not going to take it so easy – they put those douches at the top of the food chain.  So they come up with a plot to hit them where it hurts the most: their wallets.

All right, so this is totally a chick movie.  I’ll be the first to admit it.  And if you’re a dude, you might even feel insulted by the, well, serious burn these guys are getting.  So I won’t exactly recommend it to you males, but it’s not unheard of for you folks to laugh out loud either.

First: it’s an original story – thank. you.  The basic plot may seem familiar but it’s still fresh and different.  My favorite was the plot line involving Sarah Jessica Parker (yes, the SJP herself) and Brenda’s husband with Maggie Smith screwin’ them over.  I mean, it’s just silly.  But awesome.

Second: that writing’s top notch.  The screenplay never misses a beat and man I don’t care how stupid those ladies sound, the script makes them hilarious and witty.

“No, Sean Connery is Monique’s boyfriend!  He may be three hundred years old, but he’s sitll a stud!”
“Let’s synchronize our watches.” “Ooh just like Mission: Impossible!” “Oh, that was a big hit.”
“Doormat!” “Lesbian!”

Okay, so maybe that last quote was pushing it on the witty scale, but it’s still funny.

Last: It’s about character.  I watched this with my good friend and we both agree that character is what makes a movie.  I mean even Annie’s daughter Chris (Jennifer Dundas) and her coming out of the closet – it’s more about the actual girl than it is that she’s a lesbian.  You’d only laugh at her parting, “Oh by the way dad, I’m a lesbian.  A BIG one.” if you already liked the character.  So maybe the guys aren’t exactly the most likable characters out there, but they’re still well-developed and perfectly acted.  (Yup, Victor freaking Garber is in this too).  I mean, straight out of Annie Hall, Diane Keaton is adorable.  Just watch that chick try and freak out at her idiot husband and therapist.  And watch her dance!  Oh so cute.  And Goldie Hawn’s character could not be better played nor created.  Her Andy Warhol/Marilyn Monroe painting OF HERSELF hangin’ in the apartment? Classic.

Not only are our leads terrific, but we’ve got actors and actresses like Jennifer Dundas, Rob Reiner,  Eileen Heckart, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marcia Gay Harden, Bronson Pinchot, Debra Monk, Dan Hedaya, Stephen Collins, Victor Garber and Heather Locklear in there!  Allow me to reiterate: stellar cast.

First Wives Club is for all you ladies out there.  You’ll laugh, I promise.  Especially if you’re still bitter over recent injustices from the men in your life.  8/10

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