Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The search for Voldermort’s horcruxes, artifacts which housed pieces of his soul and granted him immortality, continued as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) visited familiar places in J.K. Rowling’s glorious saga of witchcraft and wizardry. Directed by David Yates, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” was, for the most part, a satifying conclusion. What it did best was to capture a sense of nostalgia from the trio’s adventures in the past. For instance, when they visited the Chamber of Secrets to destroy a horcrux, while the place looked like the way it was from the second installment, we were reminded of the intense images when Harry battled the giant snake which had the ability to turn living beings into stone. Somehow, that rather important duel felt significantly small compared to the heart-pounding affront Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) led toward Hogwarts–once a safe haven now reduced to rubble. During the first hour, each scene was exciting. From the way Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) stood up against Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) to the manner in which certain key characters met their fates, I was engaged because these were characters we’ve followed for more than a decade. The special and visual effects looked breathtaking. I loved the scene when a majestic fire engulfed the Room of Requirement as our protagonists, Draco (Tom Felton), and his sidekicks scurried across towers of treasures and junk. But the effectiveness of the visuals weren’t limited to the intricate details in the room. It also worked for areas with not a lot of decoration. The prime example would be the scene in which Harry conversed with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at a train station. Pretty much everything was white and covered with mist. The barren look forced us to focus on the special bond between Harry and his mentor. It highlighted the fact that even though we’ll eventually, inevitably, lose people we love, nothing can take away what they’ve left us. But the film had its share of awkward moments which could be attributed to its rather short running time of just above two hours. For instance, when Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), Dumbledore’s brother, appeared in the midst of battle to repel the Dementors using a Patronus charm, he greatly resembled the fallen wizard. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the emotional impact it should have had because we didn’t know a lot about Aberforth and his family. There was only one scene prior dedicated to Aberforth and his feelings toward his deceased brother. Another element that came out of nowhere involved Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), a prominent figure in the earlier films, not given much to do other than being held capture by the Death Eaters. Hagrid was the first magical person Harry met when he turned of age. Remember when he said, “You’re a wizard, Harry” and Harry looked at him in utter disbelief? We all do. Not showing Hagrid participate in the Battle of Hogwarts was a crucial miscalculation. Nevertheless, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” though not the best of the series, was still a success in its own right. It provided closure without being sentimental. Sometimes the art of holding back is magical, too.
Love Actually (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Richard Curtis, “Love Actually” followed nine stories of people in love, which did not necessarily have to be in connection with romance, prior to and during Christmas. “Love Actually” is one of those films I feel the need to watch around early December to get me in the mood for the chilly holidays. It is also one of those movies that I decide to watch whenever I’m in a bad mood because it never fails to make me smile. Out of the nine storylines, two of them were uninteresting compared to the rest. Kris Marshall’s character believing that he’d only get sex in America because he claimed that British girls were snobs was good for one laugh but the rest of his scenes felt as desperate as he was. Meanwhile, Colin Firth playing a broken-hearted author felt too Nicholas Sparks for me and, aside from when he finally had the courage to ask the woman he believed he loved to marry him in broken Portuguese, the pace was too slow compared to the other vignettes. The three best stories involved Bill Nighy as a rockstar who would say and do anything to get his song to be the number one hit on Christmas (I loved the line when he advised kids not to buy drugs, that they should instead aspire to become pop stars so they could get drugs for free–hilarious!), Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s crumbling marriage, and Laura Linney’s struggle between taking care of her ill brother and finally making a move on Rodrigo Santoro after years of pining over him. Those three were very different from one another but they worked side-by-side because, while each was about love or passion, there was genuine sadness in each situation so we laughed more when something surprising or cute happened. The other four stories ranged from mediocre to barely above average. Hugh Grant as the quirky Prime Minister falling for the coffee girl (Martine McCutcheon) who everyone thought was fat was cute but ultimately superficial, the two pornographic actors (Heike Makatsch, Martin Freeman) were slightly amusing because they were awkward to watch but nothing more, Liam Neeson as a stepfather of a boy (Thomas Sangster) whose mother just died was incredibly sappy (but was somewhat saved by the “Titanic” scene), and Andrew Lincoln secretly pining (via exuding very negative energy) for his best friend’s wife (Keira Knightley) lacked edge and real drama. But I do have to say that, out of all the characters, I can relate with Lincoln’s character most because I usually act the same way as him with someone I like. I think he said it best: It’s self-preservation. But nevermind the film’s shortcomings. The clichés were abound but there were enough changes to the formula to keep me interested and, more importantly, laughing from start to finish. For a movie that runs for over two hours, it was relatively efficient with its time. If you’ve ever loved someone despite their imperfections, that is tantamount to how I feel toward this romantic comedy. To me, it is perfect.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
It’s strange because “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” written J.K. Rowling, was the book that I thought was the weakest out of the whole series, but it turned out that the film adaptation, directed by David Yates, was arguably one of the best. I liked that it started off not with the Dursleys but with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) all grown up and hitting on a girl even though his methods and reactions were still quite awkward. The parallel between the teenagers’ raging hormones and the destruction that the Death Eaters were willing to inflict for the sake of causing chaos was immediately established. That template provided great pacing and an exciting mix of comedy and magical wonder.
In this installment, love (and lust) was in the air. Harry was becoming more attracted to Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and vice-versa, Hermione (Emma Watson) could not keep his eyes off Ron (Rupert Grint) but frustrated with the fact that Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) was all over him as if she was in heat. And Hermione won a new admirer named Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Stroma) but she thought he was creepy and way too eager to please despite his athletic abilities and charming outer appearance. Such scenes that dealt with the intricacies of the politics of friendship and awkward sentences with double entendres were genuinely funny without trying; it was all very real even though it was set in a wizarding world. The scenes involving Harry and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and their quest to sort through memories in order to find Voldermort’s weakness were nothing short of revealing and sometimes downright chilling. The flashback scenes were outstanding, particularly the dreamy look of it. I felt like I was watching something I was not supposed to see and that enhanced the film’s mystique. Lastly, the bit about Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his mission was both fascinating and horrifying. I was glad to see Draco to be featured on this one a lot more than any of the previous installments because, even though I love to hate him, he always increased the drama whenever he was around. It was also quite excellent to see many familiar faces such as Snape (Alan Rickman), McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith), the Weasley twins (Oliver Phelps and James Phelps), Molly Weasley, (Julie Walters), Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and others we met from previous installments used in an efficient and ultimately effective way. These three fronts were juggled quite effectively, which was a surprise because Yates’ direction in the fifth movie felt rushed. On this one, in the beginning all three did not feel as connected but by the last thirty minutes, they were traveling the same path and it felt like it reached an entirely new level that the series has never gone before.
As for the negatives, I honestly did not have much of a problem with it. Aside from the film leaving out some crucial battles scenes, such as when the Death Eaters were leaving Hogwarts after they finished their mission, I thought everything else was well-done. Even the alterations for the convenience of the plot did not bother me (even though I read the books). I’ve read some fan reviews and I believe they made an all-too-common mistake of expecting the picture to be exactly like the book. Following the book exactly is not what I look for in the movies’ interpretations. While it is completely understandable to be disappointed (such as my disappointment–and yes, even sadness and anger–toward the fifth movie having failed to show the Brain Room in the Ministry of Magic), it is unfair to expect everything to be included and unaltered. When extracting from a primary source, inconsistencies are almost always present. It is even more unfair to give movie an “F” or a “D” rating because the film is “disloyal” toward the novel. I don’t think the filmmakers are being disloyal at all. On the contrary, in every frame, I felt like they wanted to give the us something beyond imagination while at the same time they wanted to give us something different compared to the its predecessors.
Needless to say, I say “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” was a success and a great addition to the empire. It proved to be a nice transition for the war that was to unfold in the two-parter “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” And, hopefully (though unlikely), those who need to have everything exactly the same between the novel and the film will be satisfied. Or at least realize that a few alterations and leaving out certain details do not necessarily make a bad film. Having seen all six movies in order in a span of one week, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” just might be the crowning achievement.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Directed by David Yates, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” was essentially the calm before the storm. Despite a dead boy and Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) claims that Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) had returned, the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet, the newspaper the ministry controlled, insisted that it was all a lie. Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) had instructed Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to act as Hogwarts’ Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, evil dressed in pink, who ignored the fine line between punishment and torture. Meanwhile, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) made an effort to avoid Harry for certain reasons, but our protagonist could not help but take it personally. The fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s highly successful series was my favorite because it was all about the preparation for the upcoming war that the first four books built upon. It was so rich in detail about corruption of power, the role of the media, and finding one’s place in the world. The first mistake the filmmakers made was condensing the longest book to just about over two hours, making it the shortest film. The book had an excellent reason to be the longest. As a result, the movie felt very rushed, particularly the very important scene when Harry and his friends (Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, and Matthew Lewis) had an exciting, but ultimately tragic, showdown against the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries. It should have taken its time because it was at the point where the main character finally learned of his probable fate if he was to finally defeat Voldermort. I loved the book because it showed Harry as not only an emerging leader but, above all, a great teacher and a friend, too. I was not convinced that Yates paid enough attention to the importance of developing Harry as a strong person on his own but who was able to perform at his best when he had the full support of his friends. Character development is all about subtlety. Subtlety is not achieved with quickly edited scenes that do not add up to anything substantial. Lastly, I was greatly disappointed that the movie only had about two scenes of Snape (Alan Rickman) training Harry to control of his mind, the art of Occlumency, against Voldermort. It would have been fantastic if the script spent more time exploring their very complicated relationship. I found it strange that the film spent so little time with the subject of Occlumency because a big part of the fifth installment was Harry’s struggle against Voldermort taking over his mind and body. I was left with the impression that Yates did not understand what the book really about. I will not even get started with the lack of scenes involving the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams and the stresses the students had to deal with. Sadly, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is perhaps the weakest entry in the series when it should have been the best because the elements for greatness were provided by the original material.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) dropped off an orphaned baby boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead on Privet Drive. Ten years later, we learned that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), unaware that he was a legendary figure in the magical community, was treated like a help by his aunt and her family. On his eleventh birthday, thanks to a giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry found out that he was a wizard and was invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The “Harry Potter” series started off strong because it immediately and consistently captured the magic necessary to keep the audiences involved. Considering that this was the first entry in the series, the pace was incredibly fast as we came to meet important characters such as the brainy Hermione (Emma Watson) and friendly Ron (Rupert Grint). It also had to establish certain crucial storylines in which to be explored later such as Snape’s (Alan Rickman) true allegiance, the aunt’s (Fiona Shaw) relationship with Harry’s mother, and, of course, the rise of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Richard Bremmer). This installment is one of the most enjoyable to watch because it gave us a general tour of the students’ classes. (Am I the only one who thinks Potions is like Chemistry?) In each class, something very memorable happened such as a funny joke or a spell gone awry. Although it wasn’t as dark as the later films, I liked that innocence was highlighted because, when I was a freshman in high school and the university, everything felt new and exciting. I was eager to learn and prove that I was worthy. Harry and his friends enveloped those qualities, especially by Hermione who was considered as a know-it-all. One of my favorite lines was when she stated the fact that being expelled from Hogwarts was worse than being killed. On the other hand, Ron desperately wanted to belong. In terms of performances, there were times when I thought the child actors were still uncomfortable in their roles. They tried their best and were able to deliver most of the time but their inexperience could not be overlooked at times especially when they had to interact with veteran actors like Smith and Harris. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” based on J.K. Rowling’s novel and directed by Chris Columbus, was an instant classic because it successfully established a world we would revist for years to come. John Williams’ score was simply magnificent. As a fan of the books, I was impressed with the amount of information it covered. I wished that the later film adaptations were as complete. It would have been an absolute joy if the movies were three or four hours long because there were other interesting tertiary characters (Oliver Wood played by Sean Biggerstaff, for example) and side quests.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Director Tim Burton who rarely fails to deliver cinematic magic in his work, whether the story takes place in a fantasy world (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) or the real world (“Ed Wood”), takes a step backward in a sort-of sequel of “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now ninteen years old and was asked by a pompous lord for her hand in marriage despite the fact that the proposal was simply driven by societal pressures and conveniences. Before making her decision, she ran as far away as she could only to end up falling in a hole that led to a world full of strange yet familiar creatures such as Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red and White Queen (Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway, respectively), twins with hydrocephalus (Matt Lucas), a smoking blue caterpillar (Alan Rickman), a cheshire cat (Stephen Fry), and many others. My biggest frustration with this film was that there were far too many cuts which led to scenes with no gravity or even amusement. I understand that it was rated PG and a huge portion of the picture was geared toward children. However, proven by Pixar’s range of fantastic work, the rating should not inhibit the film from engaging both children and adults. This could be done by instilling the audiences a sense wonder to the point where they forget they were watching a film for kids. My second biggest frustration was that I did not connect with any of the characters despite them being strange, which is very uncharacterstic in Burton’s work. The characters lacked heart so being strange was not enough if we were not able to root for them. I could not even root for Alice because she just unaware most of the time and she was not exactly the most courageous. I also understand that the characters were based on Lewis Carroll’s work but at the same time Burton is the kind of director that takes risks and he just failed to do that here. While the animation was nice because everything was bright and energetic, I did not feel that sense of wonder that the title had promised. Something I did not notice that a friend of mine pointed out was its lack of consistency, especially with Depp’s character. He claimed that Depp changed his accent from one scene to the next. While I did agree that the story was at times inconsistent, I would like to think the accent issue was intended because I think it worked with the character’s craziness. Depp has proven that he’s a great actor time and again and I think he made a concious choice of changing accents from one scene to another. I was disappointed with this film but I did not hate it because I saw potential–potential to be so much darker, funnier and more involving. I think if the writing had been stronger and had it not been limited by the PG rating, the movie would have been more enchanting and memorable.
Bottle Shock (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I decided to watch this movie because I was interested to learn more about one of the landmarks of the wine industry (even though I don’t know much about wine). That is, the creation of the perfect Chateau Montelena chardonnay. Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, the owner of Academie du Vin, who traveled to the United States in order to collect wine for the Judgment of Paris wine competition. One of the places he visited was Chateau Montelena which was owned by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a man who was buried in loans and frustration with the fact that his son (Chris Pine) failed to show interest or enthusiasm when it came to the family business. The weaker and less interesting part of the film was the romance triangle among a Hispanic worker (Freddy Rodriguez) in Chateau Montelena, a new intern (Rachael Taylor), and Jim’s aimless son. Another negative was that even though the story was supposed to be set in 1976, it didn’t feel like it was because of both the actors and the script. That sense of authenticity was important to me because I really wanted to be sucked into the time period. I also felt as though the picture played everything a bit too safe. With each scene everything just felt nice and breezy instead of revolutionary, which is a problem because the core of the movie was how the events in the vineyard impacted the wine industry. Randall Miller, the director, should have taken more risks instead of resting on the romance between the three younger characters. In fact, I think the movie would’ve been better off if about thirty minutes were cut off because it would have been more focused and the pace wouldn’t have felt as slow. Still, I don’t consider “Bottle Shock” a bad movie because there were moments of true wonder for the audiences, especially when the wine suddenly changed from clear to brown. I had no idea whether that was a positive or a negative thing prior so I certainly learned something from the film. And the exciting competition scene was quite amusing because the French judges tried so hard to discern which wines were from France and which ones were from the United States. The looks on their faces after the competition was priceless.