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Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (***1/2)

November 21, 2005

Another year at Hogwarts and a one hundred million dollar opening weekend. They've got the magic, all right. Everyone involved with the Harry Potter movie franchise deserves every penny and much more. In no particular order, here’s everything I liked, a few things I disliked, and most everything that crossed my mind as I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 

I look forward to every visit to the Harry Potter cinematic universe. It’s such a richly realized world, so textured, interesting and inviting. With each movie, everything gets richer and deeper. This is the rarest of movie franchises where things just get better and more involving with each chapter. It’s a joy to spend time at Hogwarts every year or so.

I’m glad the filmmakers chose not to omit the opening scene of the book (and now of the movie) where the old caretaker of the Riddle house discovers and is murdered by Voldemort and his giant snake. It’s probably the most frightening and interesting of any of the opening scenes of the Harry Potter novels and was the first big moment that opened up the greater Harry Potter universe outside of Hogwarts, the Burrow, the Dursleys and Diagon Alley.

The Quidditch World Cup was an awesome spectacle. The Quidditch arena as a concave dish dug miles deep underground is fantastic production design. It’s as amazing to look at as anything George Lucas’s people designed for Star Wars, in some ways even better since it's believably a magical part of our world.

The Death Eaters’ hoods and robes maybe not so accidentally invoke the Ku Klux Klan as they marched into the screaming hordes of Wizards. Ah, it warmed my Slytherin heart to see the followers of Lord Voldemort assembled once more. Er, I mean, those Death Eaters were horrible, weren't they?

Nothing against Michael Gambon’s fine work as Dumbledore, but I miss Richard Harris.

After four years together, the equivalent in time of a high school career, you can see the young actors have all bonded from the shared experience of bringing Harry Potter to cinematic life. All of them have been there since the first movie, from the three main kids to the actors who play their supporting classmates and their chemistry and ease with each other is evident. It adds to the realism that they are indeed students at a boarding school. They’re the longest running class of students in movies. I hope all of them, including the actors who play Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, and all of the Weasleys, stick around for the completion of the entire saga.

All of the romantic and sexual tension is great. It’s probably even more interesting than all the magic and dragons and Voldemort. Like any high school, there are a number of attractive young people at Hogwarts and they’re all discovering attractions to each other. It’s really about time. As Cowboy Bill Watts used to say in the old UWF, “Let’s hook ‘em up!” One thing that occurred to me though is that Hogwarts must be the most inconvenient place imaginable for two teenagers who wanted to steal away and have sex. Every room has sentient portraits and there are always ghosts or other beings fiddling about. Where can two young, horny Wizards get some privacy in that castle?

Fred and George Weasley are the two unsung heroes of the Harry Potter series. They’re terrific supporting characters who need more attention than they get. I always enjoy all the scenes with the Weasley twins, both in the books and in the movies. As troublemakers, they create mayhem and chaos in a world already brimming with it. They’re a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see them to declare war on Delores Umbridge and quit Hogwarts in a blaze of glory in the next movie.

Ginny Weasley is also coming along nicely. She isn’t as prominent as she will be in the next two movies, but the filmmakers found ways to put her in scenes and give her some bits of business. She ought to be very interesting to watch in the coming movies, as she’s the only major young female character to rival and compliment Hermione.

Cho Chang was always a favorite of mine from the books but it sure is jarring to hear a thick Scottish accent coming out of a pretty Asian girl’s mouth.

I always thought Fleur Delacour was more ethereral, and by that I mean hotter. That goes for all the female French witches. I liked the gratuitous ass shot of the Beauxbaton girls arriving at the Hogwarts assembly hall and only the Hogwarts boys applauding them.

Loved the way Hermione said, “It’s not going to wo-ork!” when George and Fred Weasley tried to trick the Goblet of Fire into accepting their names. Cute. I think the actors need to play with the dialogue a bit more like Emma Watson did there, find different nuances and ways to interpret their characters.

The Triwizard Tournament was fantastically realized and executed. The Potter films have long needed an injection of action and visceral thrills. Harry’s headlong battle with the dragon and with the mer-people (which was a visual delight – there’s your Aquaman movie) were amazing, amazing sequences. However, and this was a weakness of the book as well, after the dragons and the mer-people, the evil hedge maze as the third challenge was a bit of a letdown that failed to up the ante.

Harry and Ron fighting with each other was long overdue. I liked Harry calling Ron a git and Ron telling Harry to piss off. Again, it’s realistic for even two best friends to have at it now and then. The movie did not really explore the source of Ron’s anger with Harry, his secret jealousy of him that came bubbling to the surface when Harry was entered in the Triwizard Tournament, but the two best friends going at each other was interesting while it lasted. I also liked Hermione’s exasperation at how Ron and Harry eventually made peace.

The entire extended sequence leading up to and through the Yule Ball was worth the price of admission by itself. Halfway in the movie all thoughts of magic and the Triwizard Tournament and Voldemort stop so that the kids could face something truly terrifying: asking each other to a dance. Here’s stuff everyone can relate to. Everything was priceless, from Harry and Ron stressing over not having dates, Harry ignoring the Patel girls constantly right there trying to get his attention, Harry finally bucking up, and asking Cho Chang, and getting shot down, and the ball itself, with everyone’s reactions to Hermione being Viktor Krum’s date. This sequence was the equivalent of Prisoner of Azkaban’s time-traveling third act and was a breath of comedic and teen soap operatic fresh air to the Harry Potter movies. All of the stuff where the kids acted like kids in love or with crushes was gold.

Harry and Ron being such total assholes to the Patel girls at the Yule Ball is funny because it’s true. At fourteen, when you’ve got a crush you can’t be with, that’s really all you think about and you disregard whomever you happen to be with.

Hermione angrily ordering Ron and Harry to go to bed after the Yule Ball and Harry’s reaction to her were hilarious. I like how Harry just rolls her eyes at Hermione sometimes, but he also knows deep down that she’s probably his greatest ally of his friends when it comes to all the people trying to kill him.

I like Harry more in the movies than in the books. He seems smarter and more heroic in the movies, not as stubborn and dumb as he’s written sometimes. Harry is more of a superhero in Goblet of Fire than in any other, especially when he chooses to save both Ron and Fleur Delacour’s sister from the mer-people. And his sucking it up and turning to face Voldemort in a duel at the end, then beating him and bringing back Cedric’s body to Hogwarts was bad ass. I believe in the movie Harry Potter more than I do the Harry in the books.

Some scenes in Goblet of Fire fell flat or ended poorly. Some transitions were awkward and the entire movie did not quite flow together as Prisoner of Azkaban did.

However, there’s still so much good stuff in this movie. If it’s a notch below Azkaban, that still makes Goblet the second best so far, a remarkable achievement for the fourth film of a franchise.

Mad-Eye Moody was a bit of a disappointment. I envisioned the character in the book as more frightening and dangerous, not nearly as comical as he was portrayed in the film. Some of that was the makeup and his googly eye getting laughs that may have been intended but weren’t beneficial. His drinking polyjuice potion from his flask was a runner that made him seem like a goofy drunk, but when if you think about it, a teacher constantly drinking on the job should be seen as dangerous.

Needs more Severus Snape. He had one of the best comedy scenes in slapping Harry and Ron’s heads in study hall, but it wasn’t nearly enough business for the most interesting of Harry’s teachers.
Ralph Fiennes played a good, scary Voldemort. He was still recognizable under the snake’s head makeup and was generally the villain we were expecting to meet after four movies. While Fiennes spoke all his dialogue in a sinister whisper with a snake’s lisp, I did think maybe digitally enhancing his voice somehow might have made him more menacing. He came dangerously close to a Darth Vader “Nooooooo!” when Harry escaped his clutches.

Whenever Cedric Diggory was on the screen, I kept hearing Dr. Zoidberg in my head: “Such a man he is!” Diggory’s father wailing in anguish over his son’s dead body was heartbreaking and haunting.

While the visual ending of the Bulgarian ship submerging in the black lake and the French carriage soaring in the air was beautiful, Goblet kind of limped to a finish. It certainly lacked the exhilaration of Azkaban’s ending, with Harry’s closing line “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.” The final exchange between Ron, Hermione, and Harry about writing letters over the summer was clumsy, when the last lines should probably have been Hermione asking, “Everything’s going to change now isn’t it?” and Harry responding, “Yes.” I did like how Daniel Radcliffe said “Yes,” without an ounce of trepidation, understanding full well what lies ahead for him. This Harry is much more heroic than in the books.

Emma Watson feels differently, but I couldn’t be happier there are no house elves in the movie, sorry.

I can’t wait to see Delores Umbridge take over Hogwarts and Harry lead the D.A. against her. How long until the next movie? Too damn long.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pride and Prejudice (***1/2)

November 13, 2005
I’m gonna put this is the most macho, manly way possible: I thought Pride and Prejudice was really good. At about 135 minutes, the movie is a bit overlong and the pace flagged as the movie zeroed in on its second hour, but it’s pretty fucking romantic at the end. I see a lot of movies that want to be romantic or claim to be romantic but have no idea that they aren’t. Pride and Prejudice is romantic. There are three scenes that were total knockouts: Early on when Keira Knightley had her first dance with Darcy, when Darcy and Keira argued in the rain, and a fantastic scene where Keira was in Darcy’s house looking at his marble statues at there wasn’t a single piece of artwork in that room more beautiful than she is. Three great scenes, no bad scenes, and Keira Knightley = really good movie in my book.  I’ve never read Jane Austen and I never will, so it took me a little while to understand who everyone was, why Mrs. Bennett was so eager for her daughters to get married; how to women in that time period, marrying for money and security was more important than marrying for love and it was assumed love would follow when money and security were found. What won me over was Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth Bennett. Everything about her was dreamy; her beauty, her intelligence, her wit. She’s just fucking gorgeous. With today’s abundance of hot actresses in movies and TV, it’s very easy to fall in lust with whoever the piece of ass of the moment is, but you don’t come across too many mergers of actor, character and performance that just captures your heart like Keira did mine.