Friday, August 31, 2018

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


RATING: A-

The people making the Harry Potter movies had an interesting task ahead of them when it came time for Goblet of Fire. This was the point in the book series where things started getting a bit darker... so that meant it time was for the series to graduate from PG to PG-13. The idea was, they had to make a more mature and darker Harry Potter film and pull it off well. Oh, and they had another new director. This time it's some guy named Mike Newell. 

This is definitely a better adaption than Prisoner of Azkaban. That one certainly wasn't bad, but among various issues, it kind of felt like it was having a hard time transitioning. And the whole thing felt oddly trimmed and even a little rushed at times. This one certainly is not; at 157 minutes, it's actually the second longest movie in the entire series. 

Let's get the early minutes out of the way first. Because while most of this movie is quite excellent, there is some horrendous editing/rushed storytelling early on. After the vision Harry has in the beginning (and that part is done well), the events of the Portkey and the Quidditch World Cup, up to the Death Eater raid happen all in a space of about under ten minutes. We don't even get the World Cup--instead we get an incredibly jarring transition out of it. For all the good this movie does later on, this sequence of events is horrendously adapted. 

But after that, things go much better. The pacing is pretty good for a movie of its length, and it doesn't feel like they just cut and pasted the most important bits from the book here without regard for flow. As good as Cuaron was at visual set pieces, he just wasn't as good at directing overall. And while the Yule Ball section (which goes on for about 15-20 minutes) feels quite tedious, it's difficult to be bored otherwise. 

The action scenes are quite well done here; the famous/infamous final act in particular stands out. They also kind of updated the underwater sequence; the creatures within (whatever they are, I forget) are more ferocious here than in the book, which works for making the sequence more compelling. 

The cast is excellent, as per the usual. Aside from the normal standouts (Radcliffe, Watson, Rickman, Oldman), we get a couple new faces again. Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody) gets the most screen time out of them, and he does his role quite well. Ralph Fiennes also makes his introduction here; and while he got a bit more over-the-top at times in future movies, he's more appropriately menacing here. David Tennant is also in this one; he doesn't get much screen time, but he makes good use of it. Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) is also back after being gone in the previous movie, and his presence is welcome. I do kind of wish they had cast Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum better, but whatever. Robert Pattinson's (Cedric) presence is a bit jarring (given how most feel about the Twilight series), but he does fine enough here. 

Mike Newell is probably the most overlooked director of the Harry Potter series. He only got one movie, but for the most part he delivered. He gave us the more darker and mature movie that was more appropriate for this installment. And really, he helped transition the series at a pivotal point. David Yates really just had to pick up where Newell left off. As such, this movie--even if it has a couple issues--is arguably one of the better ones in the series. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


RATING: B-

(Preface Note: A few may have noticed that there was no review last week. Based on my stats, that number of people who noticed was indeed likely very few, if anyone at all. Due to family-related reasons, I really had no opportunities all of last week to sit down, watch a movie (especially a long one like this) and then write up a review for it. Things should be back to normal now.) 

The first two installments in the Harry Potter series gave us unusually more reverent adaptions of their source material, courtesy of director Chris Columbus. And despite overall stellar casting, we still did have to put up with some lackluster child acting--particularly in the first one. Now, the third one comes along and things are a bit different. For one, we have a new director in Alfonso Cuaron. And his style is noticeably different. 

For one thing, Cuaron's style is a bit more visually focused at times--and it shows. The visuals and special effects are generally quite improved over the first two movies. Cuaron does give us some pretty impressive shots; there is often a nice attention to detail if one is looking for it.

What is also different here is that this adaption is definitely less faithful to the book. While for the most part it's not too bad (there's even a couple of subtle improvements over the book here and there), there's still some problems. For example, the identities of the Marauders are *never* explained (which I feel is pretty important, given that they're major characters). And while the first Quidditch match appears (and is woefully brief, again showing the film series' ineptitude with portraying the sport), the other two don't happen at all.

Oh yeah, and the dementors are not done justice at all. While they're still menacing, they're essentially just a swarm of flying black ghouls here. It's like they were trying so hard in the movies to distinguish them from the Black Riders of the Lord of the Rings series that they lost their way. (And unfortunately, it only gets even worse from here with regards to depicting the dementors.) 

And really, the sequencing of probably the first two-thirds or so just feels awkward at times. It feels like they just took certain scenes from the book (mostly the more important ones) and just spliced them together without regard for transitioning or flow, and the passage of time is not always clear either. This problem thankfully disappears later, but it's still a little bothering at times. 

So what does actually work about this movie? Still plenty. As previously mentioned, it's a quite nice film to look at. And the final act is done quite well, with the time-travel bits actually a bit improved at times over the source material. And if one has gotten this far (like most have), it'll still be difficult to not be enthralled with the main story-lines, which are still overall quite excellent despite the awkward pacing of the film itself. 

Also, there's the cast to consider. In addition to the usual ones we've already seen (Radcliffe, Watson, Rickman, etc), this one introduces Gary Oldman and David Thewlis, both of whom do great--particularly the former. We also get the first film with Michael Gambon's rendition of Dumbledore, and while his is hardly anything like Richard Harris's version, he's still pretty good and certainly seems less frail. Tom Felton (Draco) also improved his performance over the first two movies, even though he's not really given much to do other than "my father will...!"

Prisoner of Azkaban isn't a bad movie by any means; in fact, it's often still pretty doggone good. It's just a little sloppily written at times. It kind of feels like they were having some growing pains with transitioning the film series from the style of the first two films to the style we got used to in later films. Still, it is generally difficult to go wrong with a Harry Potter movie and even if this is one of the worst of the lot, that doesn't make it a disaster either. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hugo


RATING: B

This film is a little bit of an anomaly. Not only because of its unique premise, but also because it's technically a kids' movie... directed by Martin Scorsese. Director of films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas. He certainly had never made a movie like this that was geared/marketed towards a younger crowd, even if it was also quite accessible to all ages. (Because it is; if anything it might be better appreciated by some older folk.) 

And because it is such an anomaly, no one knew how to market this movie; this kind of leaves me in a pinch myself on how to describe it. This film is about a boy named Hugo (hence the title) who lives in a railway station... in the clocks. Yup, seriously. That's what he does; he's an orphan that maintains the clocks. And also he's trying to fix this automaton that he has in his possession. (By the way, this takes place in the 1930's.) And there's a mystery surrounding said "automaton" that he ends up getting embroiled into by way of chance. 

There's not a whole lot else I can say about the plot of this movie without spoilers. Because even once the issue of the automaton is more or less solved, the film becomes a bit of a different beast entirely. That's one of the issues with this movie; it's a bit inconsistent in tone. It tries to be sort of a mystery drama at first, then for a bit in the middle I have no idea what it is. However, by the time it's over it's become a sort of love letter to cinema itself. This is a pretty interesting concept to explore. 

This film could actually arguably be described as Tim Burton-esque. This comes with both positives and negatives. As previously stated, it's a unique film and even a bit of a treat to watch at times owing to the spirit of its wonder towards the art of cinema. But there are still some things that don't make much sense. For a film that's mostly quite grounded in reality, there are a couple of scenes where the laws of physics just go bye-bye. And as also previously stated, the tone is a little inconsistent at times. And although it tends to lean more towards being a drama, there's just enough comedy (but not much) that I found myself wanting more of that as well. Example: There's an early scene where Sacha Baron Cohen's inspector character gets part of his leg brace attached to the train and is dragged along the ground in an unexpected slapstick moment. There arguably should have been more of that slapstick, especially since his character is a bit inconsistent. 

Part of what does help this film work is some of the performances. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz are just fine in their child actor roles. But Ben Kingsley takes the cake here, giving one of the more memorable performances I've ever seen out of him. Christopher Lee and Emily Mortimer also do well in side roles. Jude Law's there too, but he's only on screen for about 90 seconds. Sacha Baron Cohen does fine too, despite the writers not seeming to know what to do with his character all the time. 

Hugo is an interesting film to watch, for sure. Those looking for more unique movies may want to give it a shot based on that virtue alone. It's got its issues and the pacing isn't always what it could be. But the direction it ends up going in is pretty admirable. Hugo may not be remembered as a classic, but it's certainly worth a look.