Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Potter lovers everywhere, prick up your ears and raise your wands, because a pivotal moment in Harry’s story is here. Book 5 is probably the most important section of the story, with the exception of Book 7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the filmed version of that book, does not lose even a hint of that import or urgency. What could have been a dreadful but required affair turns instead into an action-packed and tension-filled movie, and one that gets many things right and very few wrong.

Once again, I am amazed by the screenwriter’s ability to take a book that’s absolutely jam-packed (not to mention huge), and make it seem like nothing was cut out. Granted, with my book-knowledgeable eyes, I could see that there was a lot cut out, and even that many of the things that were left in were hurried over. But looking at the movie from a strictly formalist perspective, not even thinking that there was a book connected to it, one wouldn’t even know that what was in the movie didn’t constitute the whole story.

Book 5 is probably my least favorite of the seven books, mostly because in it, Harry is a complete and total prig. I don’t like him, I don’t like his attitude, and all that time spent in the previous four books building sympathy and endearment for him went away pretty quickly. Daniel Radcliffe deserves a standing ovation, because by pulling way back and directing his performance inward, he took a character that could have been a complete crapbag and made him sympathetic once again. In the book, I took his audible discontent for his circumstances as mere whining; in the movie, I saw it for what it really was.

My biggest disappointment with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was that it went over everything so fast. As a movie-watcher, I barely had time to catch my breath. As with the Quidditch Cup in Goblet of Fire, the first part of the movie was given only the barest of consideration. Tonks wasn’t given her due screen time; the Order of the Phoenix wasn’t completely explained; Umbridge isn’t quite evil enough; it completely skipped Snape goading Sirius into taking a more active role, to his peril; the fact that Dumbledore didn’t look at Harry and largely ignored him, and the reason behind that, was given too subtle a treatment. Of course, I already know the book, so I was able to fill in the gaps, most of the time without even knowing I was doing it. But for someone without that advantage, I can see how it would be quite confusing. It’s not until Harry gets to the Ministry of Magic that things start to coalesce.

This movie wins a ton of points because it did something no Harry Potter movie has been able to do since the first one: it put the wonder back into it. The wonder and magic of the Harry Potter experience was different this time, though, as it should be. With the first movie, there was a child-like newness to everything that engendered a fascination. With this one, there is a darkness to the wonder, an element of danger that makes it fascinating in a different but equally splendid way. It also wins points because it is the most faithful adaptation of its book of the five movies, even surpassing the first. Never did I feel like the movie was going in a different direction than the book, only a few things that were in the book weren’t in the movie (yeah, not crying over the lack of Quidditch), and only once or twice were things in the movie that weren’t in the book, and they were totally understandable.

The performances from the literal bevy of British talent (by this I mean the Gambon-Rickman-Smith-Thompson-Oldman camp) were not as highlighted, but the movie tried to compensate by giving the young blood lots of screen time. They do alright, especially Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. She is splendidly off-kilter, and pitch-perfect for her role, though a little prettier than I pictured. The sets are gorgeous, as well as the cinematography, which goes for a richer and more medieval feel that recent Harry Potter films, to great effect.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is cause for adulation among Harry fans, and is a bright spot among a pretty dismal summer of three-quals and big-dumb-action flicks. Leave it to the movie incarnation of the biggest book craze of the new century to show the other summer movies how it’s done. A word to the wise, though: parents of six year old children, for the love of GOD, don’t take your kid to see this. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason.

Iconic Lines:
“You will lose everything.”
“Don’t worry… I’ll go easy on you.”
“My Mum always said things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

22 Rating: 13

Particle Man

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


It seems to be common consensus that this summer at the cineplex has sucked.......hard. Spider-Man 3, Pirates 3, and Shrek 3 formed a money-making trilogy.....of suck. What summer SHOULD be is spectacle after spectacle of pure popcorn entertainment that makes one so happy to go to the movies that they don't care about concession prices. That hasn't been the case at all this year. Until is with great relief (and a little confusion...) that I say Thank God for Michael Bay and Transformers.
Usually viewed as some kind of cinematic Antichrist, Michael Bay is undeniably a lot of things that make for a "summer movie director." He's flashy, bombastic, loves to blow stuff up, and doesn't seem to think anything is too over-the-top. Often, this is a bad thing (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island), but can sometimes transcend into some kind of accidental brilliance (The Rock). So, he's the right guy for giant robots smashing up cities, right?
For those unlucky to have not been in elementary school during the 80's, arguably the greatest era of toys and cartoons (and toy-cartoons), Transformers were warring factions of alien robots, the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons, who fought and lived on Earth. The movie follows that basic plotline, never forgetting the consequences of giant freaking robots fighting around delicate little humans, which is one of the things that made the old Marvel comic compelling.
Anyway, the plot: A military base in Qatar is attacked by a helicopter that turns into a strange robot that absolutely efffs up an antire army batallion. The government investigates this mysterious attack. Meanwhile, Sam "Spike" Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) stumbles through his awkward teenage existence, crushing on the super-hot Mikeala (Megan Fox), when an odd yellow car he picks (or gets picked by.....) at a used-car lot puts him in the middle of the intergalactic war between the Autobots and Decepticons, etc.
There was a lot that pleasantly surprised me about Transformers. One, was the acting (or some of it, anyway). This movie explained to me why Spielberg has such a boy-crush on Shia LeBouf right now, as he can do the straight-man thing well, demonstrates able comic timing, and does ok in an action setting considering his name isn't Jet Li, Jason Statham, or Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. The voice acting for the Transformers was quite good, especially from original Optimus Prime actor Peter Cullen, and Megatron voice Hugo Weaving, who refreshingly DOESN'T evoke Elrond or Mr. Smith. The dialogue and humor in the film (there was a LOT of humor) was caustic and edgy, and made me wonder if Warren Ellis had ghost-written or script-doctored the film. The writers clearly had a lot of love for the franchise, and did an able job of turning the cartoon into a competent sci-fi/action film with plenty of mystery, light romance, and humor. It should go without saying that the CGI was top-notch, and the action sequences do not disappoint. The next film with giant fighting robots/monsters/tacos/whatever really needs to not screw around if they want to top the spectacle of Transformers.
There are properties that I am an avid fan of (*cough, GI JOE, cough*), but Transformers isn't one of them. However, It really took me back to sit in front of a 60 foot screen, listening to Peter Cullen's impossibly bass-y voice recite the opening prologue film. This could have been a glorified toy commercial, but it's more than....ahem, not going to go there. I award Transformers an admirable 14 out 22 on the 22 scale.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Ratatouille was fabulous. I don't usually give that much away this quickly in my reviews, but I can't help it. Ok, I'll admit I'm probably a little biased. I love the French language and culture, not to mention Paris, and I also think rats are adorable. And I quite enjoy cooking. So for me, this movie experience was ideal.

But though very few may share my interests in France, food, and rodents, Ratatouille is having no problem wriggling its way into the hearts of all audiences. Ratatouille features great characters and a surprisingly engaging plot about a chef rat in Paris. Sounds ridiculous, I know. I thought it was a bit of a stretch myself, but as usual, Pixar has risen to the challenge. Not only that, but it has raised the bar for the animated film. The main character, Remy, is a rat who has a refined palate. An unlucky situation, you can imagine. He's stuck in his rat life with his rat family (who doesn't understand him) and their rat food that admittedly is not going to satisfy the gourmet in many creatures. Remy is frustrated, but doesn't see a way out.

And then, life gives him a little push. Remy's clan encounters an emergency, and partly because of his devotion to cooking, he is separated from them. A sad moment, but an opportunity for his life to change. He winds up in the kitchen of a Parisian five-star restaurant, wanting so badly to watch and take part in the goings-on, but he knows that humans aren't about to welcome a rat in their kitchen (much less hire one) and he values his life too much to linger. As he tries to make his way to the nearest exit, the beckoning aromas are too much. A soup is just sitting there in a pot, with ingredients everywhere! A dash of this, and handful of that, and he's creating a tasty dish that Julia Child herself would approve of. The thing is, he gets seen working his magic by the new trash boy, Linguini, who then gets blamed for messing with the soup. This would mean his job if it weren't for the fact that the soup is excellent! The customers love it, and the head chef (who didn't want Linguini there in the first place) is forced to refrain from firing him. Linguini isn't let off easy, though. He is told that he must duplicate the soup (which he didn't make) in order to keep his job.

Well, you can imagine what happens next. Linguini needs to learn how to make a good soup, and only a rat knows how. Remy wants to cook, but he can only do it with a human's help. They team up so they can both succeed, and though there are a number of humorous kitchen blunders and close calls, they do pretty well.

I won't spoil the rest. Obviously something happens to jeopardize the relationship and everything that Remy and Linguini have worked for. But it's worth watching on your own.

Though I loved the movie, there were a few things about it that I thought could have been better. For example, It was a little slow for me to get into at first. I'm not too sure why, but it only took up until Remy gets separated from his family (which is pretty close to the beginning) for me to get absorbed.

I also thought there were a few questionable plot devices: Why can Remy control Linguini like a puppeteer? Why does chef Gusteau (a figment of his imagination) keep popping up and helping Remy? Can a figment of one's imagination ever be helpful? Ok, you might say, but we're watching a film about a chef rat for crying out loud! Granted. But a film can ask you to adopt a certain premise (which is ridiculous) and as long as you're interested, it doesn't necessarily ruin the movie. To add something else silly which is wholly unconnected with the other crazy premise is in danger of pushing the envelope. I thought that these things came a bit close, but somehow, Pixar makes it work. The relationship between Remy and Linguini as well as the comedy of Linguini being pulled around like a puppet in a kitchen surprisingly ended up working ok.

Rating: 16

Anyway, the point is, Ratatouille is excellent. Had some great laughs, great lessons, and great animation. It might be a little boring for young kids (there's quite a bit of dialogue and cooking), and the themes, including making a difference and doing what you love, might be a bit over their heads. But it's so well done, so sweet, and so funny! I can't wait until it comes out on DVD, or until a friend asks me out to the movies to see it again!

Iconic lines:

"Rat-a-tou-ille. It's like a stew, right? Why do they call it that? If you're gonna name a food, you should give it a name that sounds delicious. Ratatouille doesn't sound delicious. It sounds like 'rat' and 'patootie'. 'Rat-patootie', which does not sound delicious."

"...the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Okay, I think this is about as far as the Pirates franchise can go. The first movie was great and novel, but the second was too chaotic and directionless, and didn’t seem to be about anything important. The third movie is better in the “north is THIS way” department, but honestly, the characters and their idiosyncrasies are growing wearisome, Jack Sparrow aside.

Pirates 3 picks up pretty much exactly where Pirates 2 left off; after a ghoulish and very un-Disney-like opening sequence, that is. It involves several people being hanged on suspicion of piracy, including one boy of about 12. Grim stuff. Sitting behind me was a little boy who couldn’t have been more than 6; I’m no parent, but this isn’t really the type of thing he should be seeing.

What follows is more grimness, as the fun and adventure that the first movie had in spades is virtually gone. Granted, this is a pirate movie, so a certain amount of badness is to be expected, even wanted. But rather than keep the childishness and simplicity of pirates intact, Gore Verbinski makes this look strikingly similar to one of his past films, The Ring, an unmitigated horror film that didn’t produce even a single smile in the audience. Even so, Johnny Depp is able to inject some comedy and light-heartedness, but not too much; just enough. However, he is absent from the first half-hour or so of the film, which makes it pretty hard to get through. That leaves us with Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), and Will (Orlando Bloom) as the centerpieces. Rush is pretty great, but the last two make me want to scream. Bloom and Knightly were fine for their roles in the first movie, but once they both morphed into pirates, they pretty much jumped the shark for me. Knightly especially is simply not right for the role of a pirate, let alone a pirate queen who inspires other pirates to follow her. And we have to face the fact that Bloom is simply not a very good actor. He definitely looked the part for Legolas in Lord of the Rings, but I think Peter Jackson said “well, this guy’s acting chops aren’t so good, so we’ll just have him shoot stuff and speak but little.”

The story doesn’t even wrap up very well. Sure, the current plot thread ends, but a little sloppily. And just what I was hoping wouldn’t happen, happens: they leave it open to a 4th film. I can see it now. Pirates of the Caribbean: Maybe Money DOES Grow On Trees. But despite all its numerous faults, I did find the movie generally enjoyable while I was watching it. It’s not the type of movie you get up and leave in, despite its near-3-hour runtime. The character of Jack Sparrow is still interesting and engaging, and Johnny Depp completely owns that role, as well as the screen whenever he’s on it. Actually, Depp’s aplomb and virtuosity are what save the movie. Were he not in it, it would be a dismal affair, and not worth my $9.00. As usual, the visuals are quite stunning, and Verbinski’s visual style is ever-present. I loved that style in The Ring, but here it seems a little out of place. It still works in some spots, but I think it would have been better if he had tweaked his approach just a little.

As it stands, Pirates 3 is a decent film, but it closes a trilogy for a franchise that desperately needs to be over. Sadly, the money machine that is Hollywood will try to milk this cash cow till its udders are purple, and long after the audience has moved on. In a sense, the Pirates movies remind me of the Matrix movies; the first one is essential viewing for any breathing human, but you can skip the second two, unless you actually are a pirate or a cyber-messiah.

In short, Pirates 3 is as good as it can be, which is not all that good.

Iconic lines:
"Sorry. I just thought with the Captain issue in doubt, I'd throw my name in for consideration."
"It's pronounced 'egregious.'"

22 Rating: 6

Particle Man