Tag: daniel radcliffe

Beast of Burden


Beast of Burden (2018)
★ / ★★★★

It has been said that the best way for a filmmaker to criticize a movie is to make one’s own, but the would-be thriller “Beast of Burden,” written by Adam Hoelzel and Jesper Ganslandt, is a failure compared to the far more impressive “Locke,” as both pictures mostly take place inside a particular mode of transport—a small plane in this instance—as the expressive lead is required to tell a seemingly straightforward story using only his rawest acting abilities. While Daniel Radcliffe does what he can with the role, there is no script to work with here.

Sean (Radcliffe) is tasked to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border. Unbeknownst to his employers, Sean is also working with the DEA to take down the drug cartel. While the setup is familiar to action-thrillers and may excite some, the execution is botched beyond repair. For more than half the film, Sean simply retrieves phone calls as if he were a telemarketer stuck in a backdrop of an action-thriller. It is boring, repetitive, and commands no tension whatsoever. In the middle of it all, I wondered if better material might have been made had the premise were scrapped altogether and instead I were watching a documentary, a day in the life of a top-ranked telemarketer in which he or she must persuade the person on the other line to buy products they likely won’t need. At least in this scenario, the situation and the voices behind the phones would be real, not some unconvincing fabrication.

Flashbacks are employed and they are designed to elucidate Sean’s situation, particularly how desperate he became to agree on taking the job in the first place. However, these instances that are meant to shed light end up confusing the viewer. The reason is because these flashbacks offer no context, let alone details and specificity, on top of not lasting very long. How can we make assumptions and therefore form our own conclusions when we are not given time to absorb whatever is supposedly going on? Eventually, attempting to put the pieces together feels like a colossal waste of time, that the joke is on us for even attempting.

Radcliffe is a capable actor, equipped with many interesting techniques to create convincing characters. I admire that he takes on numerous and varied roles, even willing to push himself physically to deliver exciting performances. However, this film reveals that he cannot rely on charm alone to carry a film. He disappears completely in the role—and not in a good way, particularly during moments in which he appears to be ad-libbing in order to communicate the great distress his character undergoes. Because the screenplay offers nothing to back him up, not once do we forget that we are watching an actor act.

The photography is most unappealing. I would even go as far to say that it is downright ugly. The story takes place at night and so everything is awash in shadows and darkness. But there is a lack of artistry in how the film is shot. The small space that Radcliffe sits in, for example, looks like a cramped booth in a cheap studio. Not one of the buttons on the plane looks real or even functional. And, finally, when the character makes it out of the plane during the final act, we are supposed to be in Mexico but it looks like the setting is some random swamp in the middle of nowhere.

Jungle


Jungle (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on a true story survived by Yossi Ghinsberg’s harrowing ordeal in the Amazon rainforest in 1981, “Jungle” is a highly watchable picture, filled to the brim with horror, beauty, and curiosities that come with adventure. Although occasionally hindered by dramatic techniques, such as the utilization of repetitive hallucinations and sudden flashbacks, which lessen the raw power of being stuck in a life-threatening and increasingly impossible situation, the escalating tension and solid acting overcome its limitations.

Greg McLean directs the picture with an understanding of similar films from the 1970s in which the jungle is itself a character but not one that is meant to be conquered or comprehend. It is the correct decision to preserve its mystique. However, the filmmaker ensures that we are confronted by the place by focusing on its beauty, at least initially, and then shoving us suddenly so that are face-to-face with its many threats. The nature of the material forces the viewer to wonder if one could survive in the wilderness for weeks.

The picture is shot beautifully, particularly the wide shots of small villages where residents are shown simply going about their day. I enjoyed how the pacing takes its time so that the viewers can have an appreciation of a place. For example, we spend a good amount of time in the market where tourists frequent. As a result, we get to learn a bit about the relationships with locals and foreigners; what visitors choose to see, or do, or photograph; the wide selections of street foods; the wonderful cacophony of business as usual. It is teeming with life, so colorful that one can almost taste the various spices in the air, so the setting is most inviting. This serves a great contrast against the horrors about to unfold in the Amazon jungle.

Daniel Radcliffe plays the tourist Yossi, a young man whose parents expected him to attend university but instead deciding to take a year off to travel and experience what the world has to offer. Credit goes to casting director Ben Parkinson for selecting a character actor for the role. Because in order for the ordeal to be convincing, the performer must deliver a gamut of thoughts and emotions both during scenes of desolation and desperation as well as in how he connects with those he meets along the way (Alex Russell, Joel Jackson), kindred spirits who yearn for adventure outside of the familiar. A performer who always commits to his roles, I was surprised to have seen another side of Radcliffe’s craft that I have not seen before. It makes me want to see him partake in more physically demanding roles.

The picture might have been stronger had screenwriter Justin Monjo found a way to communicate Yossi’s psychological breakdown outside of the standard moments of delirium. Perhaps a fresher route is to have focused solely on behavior. We do not need to see inside person’s mind when his actions clearly exhibit a level of increasing irrationality. An argument can be made that focusing on behavior is more terrifying because it leaves the remaining factors to the imagination. The heart of most survival pictures, after all, is horror.

Horns


Horns (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Due to grief, anger, and alcohol, Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) manages to destroy the memorial of his recently deceased girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). The next morning, he wakes up with a throbbing pain on his forehead—two horns have begun to grow and there does not appear to be a way of removing them. But the horns come with an ability. They allow people nearby to disclose their most inner thoughts and secrets which is useful considering Ig wishes to find out who killed Merrin.

Based on the novel by Joe Hill and screenplay by Keith Bunin, “Horns” leads with an interesting concept but it fails to truly deliver when it comes to its core mystery. I found the identity of the killer to be far too easy to predict. Within the first twenty minutes I had a guess about who it might be and I was right. Thus, the film becomes a waiting game and I was amused by the main character running around and asking the wrong questions.

Part of the problem is that the supporting characters fail to move beyond caricatures. Because they do not come across as real people reacting to real events, categorizing them and making conjectures about their motivations is not at all a challenge. There is only one supporting character that is somewhat able to move outside the box. Dale, Merrin’s father, is nicely played by David Morse and his dramatic scenes more or less work because of sheer performance. I wished we had gotten a chance to know more about Dale and less about Ig’s childhood friends (Joe Anderson, Max Minghella, Kelli Garner, Michael Adamthwaite) even though they are absolutely necessary to the plot.

The picture tends to go overboard with its special and visual effects. Computer graphic snakes look fake and laughable at times while Ig’s transformation is too literal. Fantasy elements that work effectively are less hyperbolic and non-visual. For instance, we are provided a couple of scenes involving strangers who cannot help but reveal their hidden shames and wishes. These are the highlight of the film because they are comedic but horrible and so we hope to hear more.

It has a running time of two hours for no good reason. The revelations are anticlimactic and require a suspension of disbelief which is difficult if we have not grown to love or care about the characters getting hurt or ending up dead. Thus, there is a flatness during the third act. Just when one thinks the movie is over, it keeps going and becomes more unbelievable.

“Horns,” directed by Alexandre Aja, has got its visuals pat but there is very little characterization and feeling. Its premise captures the attention and perhaps the way to maintain it is for the material to be taken to extremes—make it scary or suspenseful from time to time then suddenly turning certain situations really funny but in a twisted or sick way. Ig’s so-called detective work is dull.

Victor Frankenstein


Victor Frankenstein (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Victor Frankenstein,” written by Max Landis and directed by Paul McGuigan, is only a marginally interesting reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel because it largely suffers from an identity crisis. Although the story’s core in this particular interpretation is the partnership forged between a scientist and his assistant, numerous subplots are introduced eventually in which the details provided are not as interesting. As a result, when a subplot is front and center, the material’s pacing slows suddenly and we grow tired of having to wait for Dr. Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) to continue with their most macabre but fascinating experiment.

The look and feel of the picture is highly attractive. From the costumes worn by various men and women from disparate social classes outside to curious jars housing strange specimens inside the laboratory, there is always something worthy of appreciation. During the film’s less effective scenes, such as Igor’s rendezvous with a love interest, one wonders at the possibility of a straight-faced period film and how that style might translate in a story that involves bringing the dead back to life.

How Dr. Frankenstein and Igor’s partnership evolves over the time is worth examination partly because McAvoy and Radcliffe approach the material with a level of seriousness and urgency. One gets the impression that they enjoy their roles through their level of commitment, especially during confrontations where the two characters who love science must argue their ideals. Particularly note-worthy is how McAvoy portrays a scientist who is really, really into his work and a scientist who has possibly gone mad. The difference is slight but important. A lesser performer could have easily given a one-note performance.

A subplot that works—to an extent—involves an inspector (Andrew Scott) and his partner (Callum Turner), on the heels of the scientist and his assistant’s big secret. One of the best scenes involves Inspector Turpin’s visit to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, the former highly observant and patient while the latter tries to keep a lid on the collection of body parts in the next room. The picture might have been more elegant and exciting if the screenplay had provided more opportunity for the cat-and-mouse game to evolve and flourish.

The final act is a near-disaster because special and visual effects take over—a common mistake that is easily made simply because there is budget for it. The beauty of the material is the sensitive portrayal of the “hunchback” and the man who rescued him from the circus. It is something new, an angle we have not seen from prior “Frankenstein” films. It is a colossal mistake, certainly an act of sabotage, to sweep such a unique element to the sidelines and embrace a more digestible—and predictable—way of wrapping up the story.

What If


What If (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a medical school dropout, and Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator, meet at a party and sparks fly between them almost immediately. The problem: Wallace is still trying to get over a breakup while Chantry has a boyfriend of five years (Rafe Spall). Recognizing that it is difficult to find another person that one whom can connect with almost on an instinctual level, Wallace and Chantry decide to be friends. The more they spend time together, however, it becomes clearer that maybe they ought to take their relationship on another level.

Directed by Michael Dowse and based on a screenplay by Elan Mastai, “What If” is an overlong, too-twee-for-its-own-good romantic comedy that goes nowhere fast. Despite solid performances by Radcliffe and Kazan, not even their effortless charm can perform miracles on a sinking ship. The ship could not sink any faster so that the torturous experience could finally be over.

The soundtrack is overbearing in that it gets in the way of real emotions. Instead of employing silence from time to time in order to highlight realizations and sudden turn of events, cutesy folk music is used to make us feel warm and cuddly. I did not buy a second of it. The material is supposed to be inspired by Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…” but other than the question of whether or not the opposite sex can truly remain just friends, this movie is like that romantic comedy classic if its brain and subtleties were taken out.

The supporting characters are either malnourished in terms of development or supremely unlikeable, from Ellie—Wallace’s sister who happens to be a single mom—to Dalia—Chantry’s sister, a typical blonde bimbo who talks like her IQ is in the single digits. Because the supporting players come across fake, the world that Chantry and Wallace inhabit neither feels real nor does it offer anything substantial or interest. They exist for the sake of having color commentaries, bland dividers from one scene to the next.

I hated how Chantry and Ben’s relationship is handled. They are supposed to be living together for five years, but not once do we feel that they were once happy or they are happy but are currently going through a rough patch. A litmus test when it comes to characters who are supposed to have known each other for so long is whether the audience can imagine how their past must have been like. Here, we do not get that opportunity. It is all about what is in front of them—Chantry and her increasing feelings for Wallace and then Ben trying to advance his career. Their life together is one-dimensional.

“What If” is based on a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. One has to wonder whether the play is adapted properly to the screen. What the picture lacks is a sense of real intimacy between people who are afraid to cross certain lines. Instead of trying to be cute, it should have attempted to be honest. Because honesty does not result from cuteness but cuteness can result from honesty.

Kill Your Darlings


Kill Your Darlings (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), future pioneer for what is now known as the Beat Generation, gets an acceptance letter from Columbia University and is ecstatic because it means he is one step closer toward becoming a writer. But actually being on campus and attending classes, he quickly discovers he doesn’t quite belong. This changes when he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a writer who engages and challenges Allen, commanding such a live wire and charismatic personality that sometimes the two end up being in trouble with the authorities. Meanwhile, a man named David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Lucien’s older male lover, becomes increasingly jealous.

“Kill Your Darlings” is not a straightforward picture. At times it works because we get the impression that we are simply dropping into a specific period of time where future literary icons converge. And yet at times the approach is ineffective because certain subplots that deserve to be explored in order to truly highlight trends and themes are pushed to the side. Despite its limitations, the film demands a recommendation for its good performances.

The relationship between Ginsberg and Carr lies in the center and so Radcliffe and DeHaan must take control of every scene when it is only the two of them interacting. The actors do so beautifully, consistently letting go of what is safe or predictable. Since they often make fresh choices on how to express specific emotions, a level of danger and mystique inspires us to keep watching and ask questions in terms of where the friendship is heading—a romantic route, one that is solely platonic, or something more destructive. Sometimes it appears to be embody all three and that is exciting.

I enjoyed it on another level because I had a chance to measure who is the better actor. In a lot of movies, I can watch a scene and about ten seconds in, I can point at the person who is delivering stronger work. Here, it is a bit of a challenge. I had the pleasure to observe and really think about why the actor decided to choose a certain avenue over another. Sometimes it is about a partnership, too. One might think Radcliffe is the stronger performer and another might say DeHaan is the standout. But one thing is certain: Radcliffe and DeHaan not only have natural chemistry together but they continually work on it.

The best scenes involve Ginsberg and Carr knowing exactly what the other is trying to say without being direct about what they really want or feel. In my eyes, Radcliffe is a level above DeHaan in terms of performance because I felt he is less self-conscious or more relaxed in terms of line delivery, where to put his body, when to turn on the intensity in the eyes, when to remain still—and how to remain still—in order to hold a shot. Clearly, he knows exactly what he is doing. Prior to this picture, I was already convinced Radcliffe is a good actor. But I must say that his work here made me look forward to how else he can improve over the rest of his career.

Subplots that fail to reach completion include: Ginsberg’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) being hospitalized and how that has changed or impacted Ginsberg’s experiences in Columbia as well as its role in Ginsberg’s evolution as a writer; a lack of a solid background about Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster)—I was not convinced that someone who had not heard of their names would have any idea why they were important or how good of a writer they were; and a dearth of elementary information with respect to the relationship between Carr and Kammerer. The third is most problematic because the final third of the film attempts to deal with complexity and yet there are no tracks available for us to follow.

Due to its lack of depth, there are sections in “Kill Your Darlings,” written by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, directed by the latter, where discerning viewers are bound to think that it might have been a better movie if it had been three hours long. In a way, it is most fortunate because the casting directors chose smart in selecting its lead actors.

The Woman in Black


The Woman in Black (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young father and a widower, was assigned by his London-based law firm to go to the country and peruse through the documents that Mrs. Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) left upon her death. If it was certain that the firm had her final will, her gothic mansion, known to everyone around it as the Eel Marsh House, would be ready for clean-up and sale. Arthur assumed it would be a relatively easy job. When he arrived at the village, however, the residents were very unwelcoming and keen on sending him back to where he came from. Soon enough, he had a chance to visit the supposedly abandoned house and began to see a woman observing him from the grounds. Based on a novel by Susan Hill and screenplay by Jane Goldman, the greatest strength of “The Woman in Black” was its understanding of the importance of building suspense prior to delivering a genuinely scary moment that either left its audience startled or horrified. I enjoyed the way it kept me interested as to why the distressed townsfolk were so opposed to Arthur’s visit. While we suspected that it probably had something to do with his assignment at the secluded house, we weren’t sure as to how that was related to the three seemingly happy children who jumped to their deaths in the first scene. By not giving us immediate answers, I actually ended up wanting Arthur to finally get to the house and do a bit of investigation in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. The creepiness increased tenfold when the camera loomed over the estate. It was surrounded by a marsh in which tides came and went depending on the hours. At times the road was unavailable which meant that Arthur wouldn’t be able to escape when his encounters turned grim. When he was left alone to look around the house, the picture was at its best because the filmmakers highlighted the stillness that surrounded our protagonist as well as when the stillness was threatened by supernatural forces. Typicalities occurred such as a ghost appearing behind Arthur when he wasn’t looking but a handful of them were executed so convincingly, the clichés were almost negligible. The most chilling scene involved a nursery room with a rocking chair that seemed to defy physics. It was enjoyable on more than one level because while the direction forced our senses to focus on sounds and images, the horror elements–like dolls moving and stopping on their own, the eventual reveal of the malevolent ghost and the like–also challenged us, if we wished, to recreate an image of an unhappy life that had driven the woman in black to do the things she did. This could be connected to the moment when we first met Arthur as he held a blade to his neck but changed his mind for his son’s sake. This led to the picture’s main weakness. I wasn’t totally convinced that Radcliffe was a young father who was grieving for his wife’s death. Although he had no problem conjuring emotions like sadness, the angst behind his eyes and actions weren’t quite there. I felt that a certain level of realism within the character to be important because the reason why Arthur decided to take the job and continued to perform the job despite eerie warnings was because he wanted to provide for his son. Instead of an engaging beginning, since certain emotions didn’t feel true, I found it rather languorous. “The Woman in Black,” directed by James Watkins,” could have also used an ending that didn’t feel so saccharine that it derailed its consistently minacious tone. It was an example of how toxic a cliché can be if there was nothing else behind it other than lazy or confused writing.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead. Everybody is on the run including some Muggle families who are aware of the wizarding community. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in the most danger he’s ever faced because Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes), corporeal and has gathered the full support of the Death Eaters, is desperate to get his hands on The Boy Who Lived and kill him–the act he failed to accomplish seventeen years ago. We see not an inch of Hogwarts because it has been taken over by those who follow the Dark Lord. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) make difficult sacrifices to try to protect their best friend. The trio go into hiding in various woods and landscapes to try to figure out the location of seven Horcruxes, Voldermort’s shattered soul, and how to destroy it. Failure to do so means losing the war and Voldermort gets to rule both the wizarding and Muggle worlds. We know Voldermort wants to perform his own holocaust because he and his followers believe that a less than a “pure-blood” heritage equates to inferiority and deserving of death.

Directed by David Yates, the first half of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is full of dread and sadness but is arguably one of the more compelling additions to the series. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, more adult than ever both in physicality and acting abilities, were successfully able to deliver the emotional range necessary to make not only the happenings in a magical community believable but also completely engrossing. Out of the three, I paid particular attention to Watson because there has been rumors that she might want to stop acting after the series. I think it would be unfortunate if she decides to give it up because I believe she has the potential to be as great as the likes of Natalie Portman and Jodie Foster. In this film, she was able to fluidly summon the softness and vulnerability (Portman’s forte) in the quieter scenes and unrelenting toughness and bravery (Foster’s forte) amidst the chaos of flying curses and deafening explosions. Yates had a difficult task ahead of him because of the extended “camping” scenes. To be perfectly honest, when I read J.K. Rowling’s novel of the same name, I do not remember much other than the frustration of reading through well over two hundred pages of the “camping” scenes. While I did realize its importance not just in terms of rising action but also a key ingredient in terms of further character development and almost procedural-like analysis of how to finally defeat Voldermort, I could not help but feel disappointment toward the book’s first half. I was afraid I was going to feel the same toward the film, especially when it was announced that it was going to be divided in two.

I was surprised that I was actually perfectly happy with the final product. Sitting through an hour of seeing the characters in the woods felt less like pulling teeth than reading through hundreds of pages about it. The power of omitting unnecessary details became integral because it was done in a smart way. It was balanced with pace that aimed to proactively move the story forward while giving us small rewards along the way that ranged from the expected (events in the novel such as Harry and Hermione’s showdown with the slithery Nagini) to the unexpected (events not in the novel such as the scene when Harry tried to cheer up Hermione during the darkest time in their friendship). Instead of feeling rushed like Yates’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” this film, judging only from the book’s first half, felt complete. Admittedly, those who have not read the book might end up getting somewhat confused. Since I do not remember much from the novel, I can relate to an extent because I wanted to know more about R.A.B., Bathilda Bagshot, and a handful of individuals Voldermort wanted to question about the Deathly Hallows. For example, during the most critical time, the name R.A.B. first came about in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” so, naturally, we would expect a relatively in-depth explanation about who that person was and why that person was key in the story arc. Instead, R.A.B. was mentioned in approximately two or three scenes and we never heard of it again.

Nevertheless, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It successfully breaks out of the formula regarding the characters going to Hogwarts, having a plethora of laughs, Quidditch and adventures, and saving the day just when they were about to fail. The three best friends being in isolation was interesting because we got to see them perform what they learned in Hogwarts over the years. When certain artifacts and familiar faces appeared (tell me the goblin imprisoned in the Malfoy mansion was not the same goblin that Harry met in the Gringotts Wizarding Bank in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), I could not help but feel nostalgic because the journey is almost at an end. At the same time, I cannot help but feel happy and excited because I have a feeling that the best has yet to come.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


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


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 Goblet of Fire


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Before returning to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was haunted by nightmares involving Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally gain his strength. Meanwhile, Hogwarts hosted the Triwizard Tournament in which a champion was chosen from from each wizarding school: Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) from Durmstrang Institute, and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this year was a unique case because the Goblet of Fire had also chosen Harry, only a fourth year, to participate. I find “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell, one of the most fast-paced installments in the series. I highly enjoy it every time I watch it because I love the way competitions unfold. I was happy that the filmmakers took a gamble and actually showed the competition as very dangerous and intimidating. Up until this film, we did not get to see much blood and dark magic. There was a breath of fresh air in the story because we finally had a chance to see negative tension between Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). Both involved jealousy–the former jealousy involving celebrity (or lack thereof) and the latter jealousy involving a budding romantic relationship. On the other hand, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) caught the attention of our protagonist. Much of the humor came from the awkward interactions between the teenagers, the things that went wrong when hormones took charge, and sarcastic remarks. Since the film painted the teenagers as always on edge, there was real tension as they struggled to find their identities. Furthermore, the addition of students from other wizarding schools made the magical universe that much bigger and the issue of camaraderie despite language and cultural barriers was a touching common theme. Given that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is my second favorite book of the series, I had very high expectations from the film. I am aware that a lot of hardcore fans did not enjoy it as much as I did because it left out important details (or got it wrong altogether) and that the screenwriters failed to remain loyal to the book in terms of character development. While I do agree to some extent, if I had not read the book, I still would have enjoyed the movie because the adventures were so thrilling. There were some truly scary moments (the third task in the tournament), very curious mystery (the addition of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody played with great fun by Brendan Gleeson), and there were a plethora of laugh-out-loud comedy (pick any scene that had to do with the Yule Ball). My only minute criticism was that the male actors should have gotten much-needed haircuts.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The first scene showed Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) playing with his wand under the covers. I loved the double entendre and from that moment on, I knew that director Alfonso Cuarón would inject something special in an already magical and beloved series. There must have been an added pressure for Cuarón and the crew because J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is arguably most fans’ favorite book out of the seven published. On the way to Hogwarts, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) encountered a dementor, prison guards from Azakaban that were on the hunt for a criminal who had a reputation for being one of Voldemort’s most loyal followers. Rumors went around that the criminal in question was responsible for the deaths of Harry’s parents and that he wanted to kill Harry next. Although the third novel was not my favorite due to Voldemort’s absence, I was surprised by the film because it introduced three new characters in fun and memorable ways: Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the dangerous criminal who escaped Azkaban, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), the new Defense of the Dark Arts professor (which, we all know up to this point, there is something quite off about them), and Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), the neurotic but amusing Divination professor. The movie also had another challenge by having Michael Gambon fill in the shoes for Albus Dumbledore because Richard Harris passed away. Despite that hurdle, it was ultimately a good change because Gambon’s interpretation of the character involved Dumbledore being a bit tougher and more prone to sarcastic remarks. Gambon should be given credit because he could have as easily played a nice, old wizard without any sort of edge. This film was a vast improvement from the second installment. While its predecessor tried too hard to be darker and only came to focus toward the middle portion, the storytelling here felt more natural and the direction felt more confident. It was actually a turning point for the series because it was when the actors finally felt comfortable in their roles and it sets up the tone for the upcoming movies. Furthermore, there was not a scene that I thought was wasted. I was not left confused because it included enough (admittedly, not all) key details from J.K. Rowling’s book. Since the material tackled some time travel, a less capable director could have delivered a less than satisfactory result. There were some changes from the novel but I welcomed such changes because I accepted that the film was Cuarón’s vision. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” did not have the magical golden glow that the previous two movies possessed but it was the most accomplished.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) had not received any letters from his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) all summer and it was beginning to get to him until a house-elf showed up at the Dursleys to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and stir a bit of trouble. In this installment, bad luck seemed to infect like the plague. Platform Nine and Three Quarters had been disabled so Ron and Harry failed to catch the train to Hogwarts, they were almost killed by the Whomping Willow, and, most importantly, the students saw Harry as the main suspect for the recent dark happenings involving blood being written on walls and students ending up petrified like statues. What hindered this film from being great was the heavy first half that had little to do with the main mystery and the case of trying too hard to impress. It only picked up toward the middle when Harry finally stumbled over a diary that belonged to Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson), a student in Hogwarts 50 years ago. It was easy to notice that the first half tried to tell jokes but most were hit-and-miss (with the exception of Gilderoy Lockhart, played to perfection by Kenneth Branagh, one of the most laughably incompetent professors Hogwarts had the unfortunate luck to hire). Another element that did not work were some of the techniques typically employed in horror pictures. For instance, when Harry would hear voices that claimed to crave for blood, the camera would move from afar and rush toward the classic terrified facial expression. Such horror camera movements and angles were frustrating because they took away some of the magic and humor that the first half desperately needed. I felt as though the filmmakers forced the material to be darker than it should have been instead of letting the storylines fall naturally into place. However, the scenes were bearable sit through because the special and visual effects were much more impressive, particularly when Ron, Harry, and Hermione transformed after drinking the disgusting Polyjuice Potion. And who could forget their visit to Aragog, the giant spider? What I found most disappointing and frustrating was the camera cutting to certain individuals’ facial expressions when the characters would speak of the identity of the person committing the crimes. Perhaps it was because I read J.K. Rowling’s books, but I believe that if I hadn’t, it would have been entirely predictable. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” directed by Chris Columbus, was an awkward transition toward more impressive storylines and more confident direction. However, it was a necessary installment because of the importance of certain artifacts directly related to Voldemort’s endgame and some character development involving why Harry ultimately ended up in Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin.