Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Finally finishing the Scarhead Foureyes franchise off so I can concentrate on non Potter things. As with all my reviews, this one is spoiler heavy. If you’re one of the 5 people on the planet who haven’t seen the Harry Potter films, flee this place.  Anyway, let’s get this shit done.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Cards on the table straight away. I was disappointed with Part 2 after seeing it in cinemas. It just didn’t seem like the fitting end to the series that had seen me right through my teens and into my twenties. As I said in my review of Part 1, I watched the final two parts as one long film, pausing only a few times to weep about the fact I have nothing better to do with my days than conduct a 5 hour-long Potter session. As a result, I must say I’ve softened on Part 2. It’s still flawed, but none of the problems I initially had with it bothered me as much this time round.  If you can fend off arse numbness for that length of time, I suggest you watch the last two parts together. It may make you more frustrated at the glacial pace of the first part, but the action-packed second film makes up for it.

“Join me in the forest tonight and confront your fate.”

They’re not kidding on that poster above when they say “it all ends”. Leading on directly from Part 1, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are still on the hunt for the remaining Horcruxes to weaken Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) enough to stop him once and for all. Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters wage war on the last bastion of good, Hogwarts castle, now run dictatorially by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Part 1 was all set up and Part 2 is all pay-off. The lead three give great performances. Ralph Fiennes gives good evil as Voldemort and Rickman finally gets to be the good guy. No problems with the acting at all. Nearly all the fan-favourite series veteran characters like Molly Weasley and Neville Longbottom get  “fuck yeah!” moments in this film which all work well. Especially the long-suffering Neville’s.

The one main problem I had with Part 2 that still holds water is that some of the elements feel rushed. They had two long films to give the writing room to breathe and still there are important elements and character deaths that are glossed over. I understand that in the process of adapting a dense tome like Deathly Hallows for the screen, things will have to be cut, but some of this is inexcusable. How about Fred Weasley dying? He’s a series regular who is given nothing but a corpse shot to show the audience he snuffed it off-screen. Same with Lupin and Tonks. Hermione and Ron finally getting it together is also done with one unconvincing kiss and subsequent hand-holding. Yeah, alright, there’s a bleeding great war happening, I know we shouldn’t be seeing their first few dates or anything, but with all the Ross/Rachel shit we had to endure throughout 7 films, you’d think they’d care enough to not skim over a crucial moment in a series-long story arc. Speaking of which, there’s one line I truly fucking hate in this film. It’s when Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the Room of Requirement and are attacked by Malfoy and his cronies. A few Avada Kedavras are thrown at the gang and Ron runs after them screaming “Aaarrrgh! That’s my girlfriend you numpties!”. They just tried to kill her, Ron. They didn’t knock her books out of her hands in the Hogwarts corridors or put a spider down her dress. I know you can’t call people “cunts” in a PG-13, but something a little stronger than “numpty” would have been better. Or better still, no line. Just have Ron chase after them, screaming. Whilst I’m nitpicking like a fastidious chimpanzee, here’s something that bugged me throughout the series but was especially prevalent here. When performing a spell, does one have to say the proper incantation or not? In every film, there are several moments where spells are cast without some Latin phrase being spoken. Can you just think the phrase instead? If so, why bother saying the incantation out loud considering you can think it faster than you can say it?  Answers on a postcard please.

So, the rest of it. It’s damn good. Tell you what, the effects are incredible in this one. Good effects do not a good film make, but when they’re used to bolster the story like in this film, it’s amazing to watch. The early Gringotts sequence is a good example and definitely up there in terms of the series’ greatest moments. Firstly, you have Helena Bonham-Carter doing an awesome job of playing Hermione playing Bellatrix. Then you have some seriously impressive CGI in the form of the vault dragon and the room of multiplying goblets and trinkets. Finally, a well-constructed escape that’s as thrilling as it is technically impressive. Goddamn is that bit enjoyable. For the first time in the series, this Potter film gets to try its hand at epic Lord of the Rings style battles between the Hogwarts crew and the Death Eaters. The final result is every bit as good as some of Jackson’s best work. The stone statue guards cutting down wave after wave of wizards, trolls and spiders are a personal highlight.

The film undeniably belongs to Rickman’s Snape who finally reveals his true colours. Whilst setting it up is contrived (Voldemort has been Avada Kedavra-ing everyone so far, why would he suddenly prefer to use a combination of  some other spell and Nagini, especially considering Snape has been loyal to him?)  His death is well done and the following Pensieve sequence tugs at the heartstrings like a motherfucker. Snape becomes the tragic hero fans of the book have been clamouring to see and Rickman sells it perfectly.

When it comes down to that moment between Harry and Voldemort, it’s every bit as good as it should be. It’s an entertaining multi-stage fight that ends with both duellists crawling to their wands. It’s brilliant stuff. The one problem I have is the way Voldemort (and Bellatrix before him) die. They both turn into thousands of little bits of ash and it devalues the whole thing. To have decent characters explode into kiddie friendly confetti is a damn shame and reeks of a “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” hysterical nudge decision from the higher-ups.

“You have your mother’s eyes.”

So yeah, Part 2. It’s much better than Part 1. It’s not perfect and there are a few issues and niggles that hold it back from being a total success in my eyes, but it’s a very respectable end to the franchise. Have I learned anything from rewatching and reviewing all the Potters? Not really. However, I did gain a new favourite Potter film in the form of Half-Blood Prince.  It’s one of the best franchises out there, with the quality remaining fairly consistent despite a few stumbles and pitfalls along the way.  It’s been fun.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Sorry for the delay in rounding off the series. Due to pre-existing issues I have with Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I was instructed to view them as one long film. So I did just that. It was an interesting experience. It was like Das Boot except nothing like it at all. I’m still going to review them separately, but perhaps it will give me a better outlook of the finale as a whole.

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

Unlike the recent and upcoming literary adaptations of The Hobbit, Twilight and The Hunger Games that are actively taking the piss out of their audience by dividing one-book stories into multiple films, the splitting of Deathly Hallows feels justified. I mean, have you seen the size of that fucking tome? It’s thick enough to bludgeon a horse. It’s hefty. The last Hunger Games novel Mockingjay, by comparison, is barely enough to trouble a sparrow with. With Potter it felt that they really wanted to do the book justice. That’s fine with me. It’s a rather odd way to start a review, but I’ve seen several articles tarring the Hallows films with the same brush as the aforementioned others. It ain’t the same thing, people.

“Seems strange, mate. Dumbledore sends you off to find a load of Horcruxes, but doesn’t bother to tell you how to destroy them. Doesn’t that bother you?”

With Harry (D-Rad), Ron (Ru-Grin) and Hermione (Em-Wat) all deciding to go on the run and hunt down the remaining Horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul) we see Hermione wipe her parents’ memories of her and the Dursleys leave Privet Drive. The film follows the three as they trek across the British countryside, trying to track down the missing Horcruxes and, more importantly a way to destroy them. New additions to the cast include Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic and Rhys Ifans as Luna’s dad and Quibbler editor Xenophilius Lovegood. Part 1 strips away nearly all the familiar elements to the Potter series.  There are no Dursley hijinks, save for them hurriedly bundling their stuff into their car. There’s no threat to Harry returning to Hogwarts. In fact, Hogwarts is almost completely absent from the film. This paring down of  the HP hallmarks is an effective move and really drives home the fact that the gang are on their own. The acting trio build on their successes in the last flick and do really well here.

Hallows Part 1 begins as it means to go on with unremitting bleak, bleaky grimness. In the opening 20 minutes all manner of tits go up. Probably the most chilling scene in the series happens at the Malfoy’s mansion where a tortured and battered Hogwarts teacher is callously killed and fed to Voldy’s fuck-off snake, Nagini. We say goodbye to one of my favourites, Mad-Eye Moody, played brilliantly by Gleeson, although I feel short-changed that such a great character is killed off-screen and dismissed with a single bit of dialogue. The chase sequence is definitely something new. It’s weird seeing cars flipped Hollywood style in a Potter film. Thankfully, there’s some brief levity at The Burrow but it’s not long before all the destruction and anguish start up again. When the gang finally go on the lam, there’s a fantastic scene in a typical greasy spoon cafe where all of a sudden our heroes are ambushed by two plain-clothed Death Eaters. It reminded me of films like The Bourne Supremacy where danger can come out of nowhere and nobody is to be trusted. There’s some fun to be had with a Mission: Impossible style bit where Harry, Ron and Hermione polyjuice their way into the Ministry of Magic, cathartically ending with Umbridge getting knocked the fuck out.

Then for a long while nothing happens. The trio travel to increasingly cold looking forests, trying to figure out their next move. The film feels like it’s treading water at this point. Ron starts getting all angry and jealous thanks to the One Ring Horcrux around his neck and leaves, convinced there’s something going on with Harry and Hermione.  This really doesn’t have the emotional impact I feel the film’s going for. He just buggers off for a while and then comes back. It’s been a while since I read the last Potter, but this part probably works better on paper. Maybe they were too faithful to the book. Something that doesn’t appear in the pages is a scene where Harry and Hermione dance to a Nick Cave song. It’s a good track, but an odd scene. God knows what compelled them to just add it in. It sticks out like a neon thumb.

The film starts building up steam again when the gang visit Xenophilius’ house. We’re presented with a fantastic animated bit as the group find out about the Deathly Hallows as Hermione reads the story of The Three Brothers. The creepy gothic tale coupled with the amazing shadow marionette style visuals are a real treat and do a great job of getting the film back on track and giving us the stakes. Then everything’s back to entertaining business as usual. In my mind, the film falters slightly when Dobby shows up 1) because I hate the little sod and 2) the film has moved so far into darker territory that the appearance of squeaky voiced CGI muppet seems at odds with everything else. This isn’t a film breaker though and they do manage to squeeze some emotion out of it all. The film ends pretty abruptly but leaves us with an awesome final image to get us pumped for the next film.

“I have seen your heart, and it is mine.”

I’m going to be harsher on Part 1 than I originally thought I would be. The film is a brave step away from the formula but it’s inconsistent. The second act drags like a bastard, weighed down with a whole lot of nuthin’ and it kills the pacing stone dead. I’m all for quiet introspection and little character moments, but I was shaking my TV by the end in a vain effort to move the plot along. It’s by no means bad, just plodding at times.

QUIDDITCH WATCH: Are you kidding? There’s no time for such frivolity! This is the end of this non-feature. Away with you.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Fiends, Grobans, Pumpkinmen, lend me your eyes.  Forgive the stupid introduction, but you see, I’m excited. I’ve had a revelation and a change of heart. This is exactly why I revisit films and sometimes do “redux” reviews on this site. Naughty, naughty though. You’re not going to get exactly what I mean by a “revelation” in the naff preamble.  I’ve got standards. I’m more of a third paragraph kinda girl manly man. Ever so manly.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Hold tight lads and lasses, we’re nearing the end. With my memory previously foggy about the Potter films after Goblet, rewatching them for review has been like watching them for the first time. I’d seen Half-Blood Prince in the cinema way back in the laughably Luddite and bygone year of 2009, but I realised I’d only retained about a trailer’s worth of information about it in my head. Sure, the main plot bullet points were there, as were some of the small details, but little of any substance. Anyway, as exciting as all this “I forgot things but then I remembered them” stuff is, you’re here for the review, dammit! – or possibly because of this cunning trap about Justin Bieber nude OMG One Direction awesome also iPhone 6 and Big Bang Theory LOLLZZZ. Hey – before you judge me, I never said I wasn’t willing to crawl in the dirt to get a few more measly clicks for my blog. Even if they are from confused youths having taken the wrong turning off the information superhighway.

“Times like these, dark times, they do funny things to people. They can tear them apart.”

With Fudge and the rest of the wizarding world finally buying a fucking clue and learning that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is back in dark business, things have taken a turn for the grim. We start with a Death Eater attack in Diagon Alley, followed by a (apparently massively fatal, even though the place seems pretty deserted) collapsing of Muggle London’s Millennium Bridge. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts with an intent to keep an eye on Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) who he and the gang suspect is up to Voldemort-flavoured misdeeds. Potter also comes back to find that Severus Snape is their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, with old Hogwarts Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) coming out of retirement to take Snape’s Potions spot. During all this, Harry finds himself in possession of a raggedy old potions book filled with annotations divulging secret potions and spells written by someone calling themselves “The Half-Blood Prince”. As you might be able to infer from all of that, there’s a lot going on in Half-Blood Prince. To me, the story plays out like a mix of Chris Columbus-era Potter with the darker Potter world we’ve been presented with since Prisoner of Azkaban. To my mind, it’s the most balanced Potter. It’s got everything in equal enough measures that you won’t be emotionally exhausted by the time it’s all over, which is something to be applauded. The only new significant addition to the cast is Broadbent who is predictably brilliant. Slughorn is an interesting character as he’s a like a super-networker. He “collects” people of extraordinary qualities be it intelligence, athletic ability or whatever and groups them in his “Slug Club”. It’s a great touch to have him tempted back into work on the prospect of “collecting” the famous Harry Potter. The Three Stooges all give series best performances. D-Rads actually convinces for the first time in these films. He’s actually good. He also gets to be genuinely amusing when under the effects of the “Liquid Luck” potion. Rupert Grint had mugging down to an art ages ago, but still gets to have fun when Ron ingests a powerful love potion. I’m not being snarky either – if you can sell comedy, you can sell anything. Both obviously have much more to deal with than doing scenes that make knobs like me chuckle, but it’s interesting to compare. Emma Watson probably has the most emotion to deal with in this one as does admirably. Your heart really goes out to Hermione. Damn that oblivious Weasley!

Fuck it, here’s where I blow my revelation all over your eagerly awaiting faces. If you’d asked me about HBP a few days ago, I’d have rattled off a few relevant things about it before dismissing it as a forgettable placeholder of a film. Now I think Half-Blood Prince is the best of all the Potter films. Even better than Prisoner of Azkaban. Why? I think it’s because it’s got everything I look for in a Potter caper. It’s got the classic Blyton mystery element, some seriously impressive set-pieces, some great character development, emotional depth and a satisfying conclusion that damn near guarantees to jerk some tears from even the most unfeeling of bastards out there. If you’ve read the previous Potterthon entries, you’ll know that I have a problem with the way Gambon plays the venerable Dumbledore (hereby referred to as “Gambledore” because I play with words like a cat plays with a mouse). He was always a little too angry for me and didn’t have the sort of kind, grandfatherly quality that was in the books or brought to the screen by Richard Harris. Whilst Gambledore is a different take on the character, they’ve softened him up considerably. He’s now got that wise, almost omniscient element that is so integral to the character. In fact, despite some stiff competition from Tom Felton, I’d say the film belongs to Gambon, especially after the incredibly effective role reversal scene where Dumbledore has to drink some presumably hateful potion to get to a Horcrux. Him begging Potter to stop forcing him to drink the stuff is soul-wrenching stuff.   When the unfortunate event does finally occur, it’s as devastating as you expect.

I guess romance is another big theme in Half-Blood Prince. Hermione and Ron are so close to getting together you can practically taste it at this point. On my initial viewing of HBP, I dismissed the romance as being played too comedic and patronising. Maybe I’ve grown up since then (like fuck) but I found it all to be quite touching. This is encapsulated with the scene with Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and Harry in the Room of Requirement (previous Dumbledore’s Army HQ). They’ve decided that the best thing for everyone is to hide the Half-Blood Prince’s book amongst all the clutter so even Harry can’t find it. He shuts his eyes, Ginny hides the book and then softly kisses him on the lips. “That can stay hidden up here too, if you like.” she says. After initially blaming my heart flutter on the bargain bucket of deep-fried marzipan I had for dinner, I concluded that it was actually the film that caused it, not the merciless barrage on my arteries. It’s probably the sumptuous production design that’s making my left arm tingle too.

I’m almost sick of saying this, but by Jingo, is this film dark. There’s a scene early on where Potter is caught snooping around in his invisibility cloak by Draco. Malfoy paralyses him with a spell, sending Potter crashing to the floor, viciously stamps on his face (resulting in a wince-inducing crack as Potter’s nose breaks) and then covers him up with his own cloak, leaving him helpless for God knows how long. We’ve come a long way from magical mirth and chocolate frog larks, people. A long damn way. Potter’s bathroom scrap with Draco later on is also surprisingly brutal. This may sound about as much fun as “Bottles and Shivs” night at a Glaswegian pub, but well-placed comedic and romantic moments thankfully save the film from being too bleak for its own good.  It’s well-structured to say the least.

“Every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls. But in the end, their greatest weapon… is you.”

Half-Blood Prince is my new favourite Potter. Whilst all the emotionally satisfying arc endings appear in the final two parts, Half-Blood Prince mixes up all my personal favourite Potter elements and presents them in a convenient disc form. (Half) Bloody fantastic.

QUIDDITCH WATCH: As if I needed another reason to love the film, we get some proper Quidditch action too. In the snow! The best kind of weather. Also nobody fucks with Harry (who has suddenly become Quidditch captain by default). Best film ever.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Resuming normal service with Order of the Phoenix. Nuthin’ else to say, really. How about this weather, eh? How’s the family?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Perhaps I was too generous with Goblet of Fire. I think it may have disappointed me more than I realised.  All I know is that after watching and reviewing it,  I wasn’t looking forward to covering the remaining Potters any more. Suddenly, it seemed like the biggest slog to finish my Potterthon. Could it be my inherent laziness gene kicking in and forcing me to do nothing towards what I hope will be a long and fruitful career? Always a possibility, but I managed a Bondathon late last year and that took three weeks of daily work. I reckon Goblet just dampened my spirits somewhat. Anyway, good thing Order of the Phoenix was up next because my cup runneth over once again with Potter love. Hooray!

“Cornelius, I implore you to see reason. The evidence that the Dark Lord has returned is incontrovertible.”

After Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returned from fighting for his life clutching Cedric’s body, few people believe Potter or Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. This is mostly thanks to Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) and his propaganda campaign with wizarding newspaper The Daily Prophet.  Dismissing Dumbledore as a fool, the Ministry instates Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as Hogwarts’ new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to evaluate the school and suggest educational reform. Feeling ill-equipped to deal with the oncoming evil shitstorm, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) form an underground club with other students and call themselves “Dumbledore’s Army”. Their sole purpose being to train and learn how to properly defend themselves against Voldemort and his followers, the Death Eaters. The plot is a lot more coherent and cohesive than Goblet‘s was. The school being locked down under Umbridge’s fascistic rule is fantastic and the gang training in secret is exciting. Obviously we know ol’ Voldy’s definitely back so we feel Harry’s frustration at next to no-one believing the impending danger.  Apart from Umbridge, notable additions to the cast are spacy, ethereal weirdo Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), Goth murderess and Black relation Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter) and the rainbow-haired Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena). All of them are fantastic, too. Of the main three, The Raddinator continues to improve. Emma Watson gets to have a little more fun with Hermione and Rupert Grint is still mugging for the camera, but not as irritating this time round.

The film starts on vaguely familiar territory with Harry coming up against Dudley (Harry Melling). In the film’s funniest bit (though not entirely intentional) we learn that Dudley now has a gang who beat up small children and call Dudders “Big D”. It’s probably the least convincing gang seen since West Side Story. We also get the welcome return of Dursley shenanigans, although it’s mostly Uncle Vernon sweating and eating ice-cream.  Thing is, I like and respect Richard Griffiths so much, I’d pay to see two hours of just that. Somebody call his agent.  I think what makes Phoenix better than Goblet is consistency. Once it pulls you in, it doesn’t relinquish its grip until the end, unlike the wildly varying peaks and troughs of Goblet. From the start, we learn that Harry has been expelled from Hogwarts, which is a hell of a hook and things just improve from there. Secret societies, conspiracies and the like – it’s all good stuff and adds up to a completely compelling and enjoyable film.

For me and I’m sure many others, Umbridge steals the show. Imelda Staunton does an amazing job as the sickly sweet raging bitch. Everything from the way she totters around to her tacky pink office with kitten plates is just perfect.  There’s a gleefully nasty scene where Potter is given detention and forced to write lines. His question about needed ink for his quill is dismissed and it soon becomes apparent that the lines he writes are being carved into his arm. The montage where she goes completely mad with power and instates all kinds of crazy rules is a hell of a lot of fun- if you can call it that. You’ll just want to smack that smug little smile off her face by the end. Most cruelly of all, she kicks out poor old Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson). Granted, she’s a bit useless, but that’s like kicking a puppy! Thank Christ angry Gambledore is there to put a stop to it and yell at the students. It’s a pretty grim film with most of the enjoyment coming from the illicit Dumbledore’s Army sequences where Potter is training up his classmates. They’re really enjoyable and it further develops Potter’s budding romance with Cho (Katie Leung) which ends with probably the most awkward screen kiss ever. Even so, it still tugs at the heartstrings.

The film kicks into high gear once the assemble students go to the Department of Mysteries. What follows is a brilliantly suspenseful sequence with the kids fighting off Death Eaters (who are now much cooler now they’ve replaced their shit skull masks with shiny metal ones). Unfortunately, Sirius (Gary Oldman) gets offed in one of the series’ biggest gut punches. It’s a seriously affecting bit that devastates me every time I see it. I think it’s down to the quiet manner of it all. The music drops out and Sirius just slips away into a ghostly veil. There are no explosions, no screams of pain – just a rather confused look on Black’s face. Powerful stuff. Thankfully, after this we get a healthy dose of kick-ass to perk us up with an all-powerful wizard smackdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore. I think it’s my favourite moment of the entire series. The effects come into their own here showing torrents of water and giant fire snakes. It’s fucking excellent. It’s like Yoda Vs. Dooku all over again, except not retarded. Another favourite little moment of mine is every time Snape’s on-screen. Rickman gets limited screen time in this one, but he makes the most of every damn second. I love the little insight into his past where it shows Harry’s dad and cronies picking on Snape at school. It’s a brief and effective glimpse at a chink in Snape’s armour.

I have a few nitpicks with the film. Firstly, the giant character of Grawp is a bit of a CGI faceplant, especially when the rest of the special effects are truly impressive. Also, I think it’s a bit mawkish to have love and friendship being the main reason why Potter can resist Voldemort’s possession. These aren’t film spoilers by a long shot – just little stumbles, really.

“You’re a fool, Harry Potter, and you will lose everything.”

Order of the Phoenix is a roaring return to form after the patchy, shambling Goblet of Fire. It’s exciting, atmospheric, suspenseful and has the greatest duel ever in it. Quality stuff.

QUIDDITCH WATCH: None. There’s some broom action around London, but not a Quaffle in sight. Disappointing.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this one for a number of reasons. All of which I’ll get into in the actual body of the review. Not going to spunk all my good stuff on the rubbishy little preamble am I? I’d like to think I belong to a higher calibre of writer than that. Although having childishly used the word “spunk” in supposedly analytical film review and then repeating said word in this very sentence, you may want to debate that.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

In preparation for this review, I’ve been addicted to looking up how people have ranked the Potters. It’s fascinating stuff. Goblet of Fire is usually down the bottom end of the scale, kickin’ it with Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Chamber of Secrets. Whilst this is obviously all kinds of wrong (as exemplified by my 4 star Chamber review) I do think after Azkaban, the films start blurring into one until the final two. Whilst rewatching Goblet, I was expecting bits that never materialised, only to realise that they belong to other films. To clear it up, Goblet of Fire is the one about the big Triwizard Tournament and has got that fella from Twilight in it.

“The Goblet of Fire! Anyone wishing to submit themselves to the tournament need only write their name upon a piece of parchment and throw it in the flame before this hour on Thursday night. Do not do so lightly! If chosen, there’s no turning back. As from this moment, The Triwizard Tournament has begun!”

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts for his fourth year to find the school is playing host to a big, traditional competitive event known as the Triwizard Tournament. A representative from Hogwarts must compete against one from the French Beauxbatons Academy and one from the Nordic Durmstrang Institute to win the cup and glory for their school. However, after the three competitors’ names are spat out of the Goblet of Fire, a fourth piece of paper is expelled from the magical goblet with Potter’s name on it, which comes as a shock to everyone, including Harry since he didn’t enter. Rules are rules though – and Harry is forced to take part in the dangerous tournament and its three deadly challenges.I really like the plot and ideas in Goblet, it’s just the execution that I have a problem with. I’m a sucker for violent arena sports/tournaments, hence why I have soft spots for films like Rollerball (not the shitty remake), The Running Man, Gladiator and more recently, Tron: Legacy and The Hunger Games. There’s just something about big, bloodthirsty events that cranks my enjoyment motor. The three events are well done, it’s just the plodding fucking inbetween-y bits that bug me.

Anyway- actors.  The next person through the ever-revolving door of Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers is Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson) a grizzled, unhinged Auror who has spent years hunting dark wizards and sending them to Azkaban. He’s joined by a surprising number of new faces with Roger Lloyd-Pack showing up as Ministry of Magic higher-up Bartemius Crouch, David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr.,Robert Pattinson hunking it up as the other Hogwarts champion Cedric Diggory, Katie Leung as Potter love interest Cho Chang and of course, Ralph Fiennes as big bad Lord Voldemort. Of the new additions, it’s Gleeson and Fiennes that make the biggest impact. I love Mad-Eye Moody. I think Fiennes does a great job as Voldemort too. He’s damn creepy. Of the main kids, I’m happy to report that D-Radders is improving film by film. He’s still not good, but he’s getting close to passable. Rupert Grint gets the chance to act all sullen, but occasionally revisits the comedy sidekick schtick I hated in Chamber of Secrets. Emma Watson is really good in this. Check out the scene after the Yule Ball where she shouts at Ron and then cries on some steps apparently exclusively populated by upset girls. In a series first, I felt for her and was cursing Ron’s name with her. Damn that oblivious Weasley! Handily, Goblet of Fire outlines my problem with Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore. In this film he just comes across as mean. He’s always yelling and seems to be feared by the students, rather than respected and admired. There’s a bit just after Potter’s name comes out of the Goblet where he grabs Harry with both fists and slams him up against some trophies. This definitely ain’t the kindly old Dumbledore I pictured in my head when reading the books. It’s certainly not the eccentric weirdo that Richard Harris portrayed him as either. It’s not Gambon’s fault, really. He’s a fine actor and has been unquestionably brilliant in other things. I just keep thinking that getting Dumbledore right was one of the massive missed opportunities of the series.

Goblet of Fire sets out its stall early on, forgoing the usual Potter in his bedroom/Dursley shenanigans stuff for a cold-blooded murder instead. It’s a stark, bleak opening that sets the tone wonderfully. Fast forward and Harry et al are attending the Quidditch World Cup final. It’s fantastic to see how the wizarding world approaches professional Quidditch and the effects and ideas here are fantastic. It’s a shame we don’t get to see any of the actual match though. The film awkwardly cuts from Fudge sending out the opening flare to the gang returning to their tent. I understand why we didn’t see any of the game, but it would have been nice. The raid on the World Cup is awesome too, with Voldemort’s masked followers, the Death Eaters, laying siege to the camp, torching tents and general chaos causing acting as a great introduction to a series important faction.

The one thing the film should be applauded for is the subtle way it starts ageing up our protagonists. They’re almost teenagers now and as such, are more focused on potential romances than we’ve seen before. Harry starts fancying Ravenclaw Cho Chang, for instance. The longing looks and stilted little interactions are realistic and actually pretty sweet. It’s not just Harry who starts feeling urges, either. Seems like everyone’s at it. The culmination of this being the Yule Ball, a traditional Triwizard dance where having a date is paramount. We see Harry and Ron struggle to find suitable partners. Quoth Potter on the subject of asking girls out: “Why do they have to travel in packs? And how are you supposed to get one on their own to ask them?”. Preach, brother. The Yule Ball is a well-done celebration of budding love and awkwardness. The one thing I hate about it though is the appearance of wizard band The Weird Sisters (played by frontman Jarvis Cocker and several members of Radiohead). They do a song called “Do The Hippogriff” which frankly sucks. I think it’s the terrible lyrics reeling through various mythical monsters that appear in Potter’s world that ruins it for me. It’s a very minor bit, but it takes me right out of the film every time.

The highlights of the film are almost certainly the Triwizard trials which show fantastic invention and are properly exciting. Harry’s face-off with a particularly vicious species of dragon known as the Hungarian Horntail is brilliantly played and is one of my favourite bits of the entire series. The underwater trail with the merpeople is well handled too. It’s difficult to make underwater sequences interesting in films, but Goblet pulls it off. Every time I watch the film, the same question pops into my head. Isn’t Harry a little embarrassed that he has to rescue Ron, whereas the other lads are rescuing their dates? I bet there were a few malicious whispers around school when that particular task was over. The spooky-as-fuck final trial is also a highlight, where Harry is ultimately tricked into a confrontation with Voldemort and poor old Cedric is murdered. This is the series’ first foray into likable characters dying and it’s effective. I know Cedric’s a bit of a boring, clean-cut dreamboat, but that’s sort of the point. He’s an unwitting rival of Harry’s in both the tournament and for the affections of Cho. He certainly doesn’t deserve the callous, offhand shove from the mortal coil he receives. When Harry finally escapes Voldemort, sobbing and clinging on to Cedric’s body, the triumphant music followed by the slow realisation that something has gone terribly wrong is heartbreaking. It’s a brave, sombre ending that is only very slightly ruined by D-Rad’s acting.

“Harry! I’d almost forgotten you were here, standing on the bones of my father. I’d introduce you, but rumour has it you’re almost as famous as me these days.”

Goblet of Fire has a massive problem with pacing. There are big, exciting sequences and some nice, enjoyable character moments,but they’re not stitched together well enough. It becomes plodding and for the first time in the series, boring. It’s a shame because there are so many individual elements that work. I’ll give it an average three stars due to the Ben pandering detailed above (violent arena competition, Pattinson dying) but I can imagine that there will be a lot of people harsher on it than I. Hey- did somebody ORDER a PHOENIX?

P.S. In regards to my ongoing Quidditch watch there is no Quidditch in this film. Not even at the motherflippin’ World Cup Final. Go figure.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

First new post to appear on here. Annoying thing is I’d already done this review, but Blogspot up and deleted my hard-typed work on a whim. Hand feeling forced, I decided to move here. I quite like the neighbourhood. Charming little shops. Does anyone know when the bins are collected?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)


Having dealt with the “worst Potter ever”, it’s now time to tackle the one that is usually considered the best. Azkaban certainly marks a turning point in the series. Chamber of Secrets was the last of the “Golly gee whiz, guys! There’s a spooky mystery to solve! Let’s save the school and get 50 points for Gryffindor!”-type films and with Azkaban we move into the darker realms of Harry’s world. It also marks a change in director, moving away from the family-friendly Chris Columbus to Mexican quirkster Alfonso Cuarón- then only known for the great Y Tu Mamá También, but who would go on to direct the fantastic Children of Men. Also, before I go any further, this review does contain spoilers. So consider yourself warned if you’ve just recently relocated from a cave and haven’t read or seen any Potter stories.

“Harry, there are some within the Ministry who would strongly discourage me from divulging what I’m about to reveal to you, but I think that you need to know the facts. You are in danger. Grave danger.”

Entering his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)  returns to the wizarding world to find everyone all cowed and nervy over the escape of convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) from the supposedly inescapable prison of Azkaban. Harry is also (obviously) rejoined by Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Since Hogwarts goes through Defense Against Dark Arts teachers like Taylor Swift goes through famous fellas, new recruit for this year is shabby lovely Remus Lupin (David Thewlis). On the subject of new additions to the cast, both Emma Thompson and Timothy Spall join the regular line-up. Prisoner of Azkaban has the most twisty-turny plot of all the Potters. It’s a satisfying mystery that works primarily thanks to the omni-present threat of Sirius Black. There’s a real sense of foreboding that matures up the atmosphere considerably from the first two films. This is the first film where you truly feel that Harry is out of his depth, especially with the  adverse effect the creepy fucking Dementors (basically floaty anorexic Ringwraiths) have on him. There’s more at stake this time too, with Azkaban being the most emotionally charged film so far.

Daniel Radcliffe is still a problem. I hate ragging on the guy as he does get better in later films and actually seems like a cool person in interviews and the like, but he really struggles with the material here. Prime example is the scene where he finds out Black is his godfather and he betrayed Harry’s parents trust and sold them out to Voldemort. Still hidden by the invisibility cloak, he runs away only to sit down outside sobbing in the snow. It should be a powerful, touching scene but the combination his crap crying and following unconvincing anger kills it stone dead.  His eventual confrontation with Black also suffers, but any actor is going to struggle sharing a scene with David Thewlis, Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman. Both Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are the best they’ve been so far too- especially Watson who gets the chance to step out of the precocious know-it-all boots she’d been occupying since the series began. Hermione getting to finally thump Draco (Tom Felton, who has gone from genuinely funny to whiny and puny) is a great moment and Watson’s guilty pleasure after it is well-played. Obviously, Gary Oldman is the don. He gets to play the sort of maniac he’s made a career out of and it works fantastically well.  After revelations and the truth outs, his shift from psychopath to potential father figure is expertly done and doesn’t jar in the slightest. David Thewlis makes a great Potter mentor too. He’s like a favourite shambling uncle that you love seeing. Emma Thompson also gives good teacher as the ethereal Professor Trelawney, wearing the thickest glasses I’ve seen since From Russia With Love‘s Rosa Klebb.

Prisoner of Azkaban is the first film to really open up Potter’s world. Both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets were very much focused on the microcosm of Hogwarts itself. Whereas in previous films, the school contains the threat, in this film Hogwarts becomes a sanctuary (albeit an easily infiltrated one) from the scary outside. I think the reason people like it so much is the fact that it sets the tone for the rest of the series, with the first two films as charming family-friendly anomalies.

So, apart from the actors, what else is decent? Well, most of it. Set pieces are well handled. The effects better than they’ve ever been and the John Williams music also reaches a series best. One of my favourite scenes is Lupin’s class on handling a Boggart, a shape-shifting creature that turns into the thing you fear the most. Laugh as Neville forces Boggart-Snape to wear his grandmother’s clothing! Shiver as Ron conjures up a fucking great spider! Get confused as Parvati changes a massive snake into an even more terrifying clown jack-in-the-box! Prisoner of Azkaban also features one of my favourite Snape moments ever. Just check out this needlessly dramatic and flamboyant entrance and tell me he’s not awesome:

Keeping an eye on Quidditch- Harry fails to have a normal game this time too, thanks to the Dementors and a whacking great fall. He also gets his broom smashed up. He does get to wear a fetching pair of goggles though and there’s a cool little moment where he sees “the Grim” in the stormy clouds.

“That is the second time you have spoken out of turn, Miss Granger. Tell me, are you incapable of restraining yourself, or do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?”

I love Prisoner of Azkaban. It tells a complex, dark story and establishes themes and characters that carry on into the succeeding films. For once, the drooling twats that make up the majority of the infuriatingly opinionated general film watching public are completely right. It really is the best one.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Day 2 and we’re predictably entering the Chamber of Secrets. What the hell are you looking up here for? The review’s below.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

  General consensus is that Chamber of Secrets is one of the worst Potter films, if not the worst. I’m really not sure why. It’s got the same basic flaws as Philosopher’s Stone, but improves on the first Potter outing in a few substantial ways. Could this be instance #12365486906 of me being right and everyone else being wrong? Not my place to say, really- but it’s obvious the answer is yes.

“Enemies of the Heir Beware”? You’ll be next, mudbloods.”

After considerable difficulty thanks to Dobby the House Elf (voiced by Toby Jones), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts to find that there’s a new danger to student safety. After learning that the school’s legendary “Chamber of Secrets” has beenre-opened and has released some kind of terrifying creature into the school halls, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) strive to get to the bottom of the mystery. Time’s against them though as more and more students are being frozen in a corpse-like state. Since Quirrell turned out to be housing Voldemort under his turban and ended up as an ashpile after Harry touched him (an early contender for “weirdest sentence I wrote in 2013”), the vacant Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher position is taken up by smarmy celebrity wizard Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh). The plot is a lot more interesting than Philosopher’s Stone. There are some decent twists and turns and it’s not afraid to go darker, something which the first film only had elements of.

At this point in the series, the main kids still aren’t great. D-Rad still reads his lines like he’s recovering from a back-alley lobotomy and Rupert Grint is suddenly intent on overacting, often pulling cartoonish looks that undermine the fairly understated work he did in the previous one. Emma Watson has improved, although only by a smidge. Good thing Tom Felton’s here to show the kids how it’s done. He hams up Draco considerably in this one and the film’s all the better for it. He’s genuinely funny too. Good on him. Of the new additions to the cast, Branagh is great as Lockhart, giving us an air-headed smug bellend to actively hate. Jason Isaacs also gives us a fantastic turn as Draco’s icy father Lucius. One little scene with him and you understand entirely why Draco’s such a jumped-up little shit. Mark Williams also gives us an incredibly likable Weasley patriarch. Miriam Margolyes also adds to the already incredible Brit-cred of the cast with her appearance as Professor Sprout. Toby Jones does well as the voice of Dobby, but unfortunately the character belongs more down the Jar-Jar end of the CGI character scale than he does up the other end with Gollum and Sarah Jessica Parker. Sure, he’s there for kid appeal, but by all that is unholy, he’s irritating. I suppose the only other qualm I have is the casting of Shirley Henderson as the ghostly Moaning Myrtle. It’s an odd choice to have an actor clearly in their late thirties play a schoolgirl, albeit a thoroughly dead one. Henderson is fine as she is, but it’s a baffling decision. It’s a real shame that this is Richard Harris’ last turn as Dumbledore. To be honest, I found that his Dumbledore was a lot closer to the literary version than Gambon’s. That’s just personal preference though.

The film does not start well. D-Rad flatly clunks out his lines to Hedwig before being called downstairs where they keep the real actors. We have some fun with them and Harry goes upstairs only to find the irritating Dobby being irritating. Acting with a pure CGI creation is a tough challenge for a good actor, so his scene with Dobby is painful for me to watch. After Harry gets busted out of Chez Dursley, the film thankfully gets a lot better.

I find Chamber of Secrets to be a hell of a lot more watchable than Philosopher’s Stone. There are loads of great scenes and neat little touches. A favourite of mine is Lockhart’s first lesson where he causes havoc by releasing a cageful of Cornish pixies onto an unsuspecting class of kids. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that amongst the squeaking and fluttering, some the pixies have strong Cornish accents- a detail which I’d missed up until now and laughed my head off at. The wizard duel between Snape and Lockhart and then Potter and Malfoy is fantastically done too. Quidditch is better handled this time round, with the advances in technology leading to a more convincing and exciting spectacle. With Harry being cursed and nearly falling off his broom in the first one, having a rogue Bludger hound him in this one and the knowing what’s to come in the next films, I have to ask- does Potter ever get to play a “normal” game of Quidditch where some bastard isn’t trying to do him in? I’ll pay attention to that as the films go on. The scene where Ron and Harry meet the fuckin’ massive spider Aragog (voiced by Julian Glover) and are surrounded by hundreds of other huge spiders is downright skin-crawling- even to a non arachnophobe like me. Especially a shot where Ron looks up at dozens of the creepy bastards webbing down from the trees. Brr. I think Chamber‘s finale is also more satisfying than the last film’s with Potter actually using his brawn and his brain rather than just dumb luck alone.

“Well, take a good look lads. This night might well be the last you spend in this castle. Oh dear, we are in trouble.”

I’m going to be controversial and give Chamber of Secrets 4 stars. Why? Well, it’s significantly better than the first film. Don’t just argue with me on principle, go back and watch the first two films. Chamber of Secrets is a more assured and accomplished film. It does what any good sequel should do- takes the building blocks the first one made and makes something fun out of them. Shut up, general movie-going public- I have spoken.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Here we are again. The start of another foolhardy review crusade to distract myself from the daily kicks in the nuts that life provides. 8 films, 8 sweary reviews. See you on the other side.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

… aka The Sorceror’s Stone. Why? Some bullshit U.S. book title reason. It’s not, as I’ve seen widely reported, because Americans are thicky thick thick stupid cheeseburgers who wouldn’t know what the word “philosopher” meant if it flew in on a bald eagle. Having gained unbelievable success by ripping off Dr. Henry Jones Jr.it was a dead cert that Rowling’s Potter books would become films. When it was officially announced, I remember being incredibly excited at the prospect. How were they going to do Quidditch? Why was Snape the guy from Die Hard? These questions and more buzzed around my head. I liked it a lot when it came out. A hefty 12 years later, it’s time to revisit it with my critical eyes screwed in.

“You’re a wizard, Harry!”

Neglected 11 year old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) lives with his Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and his spoiled cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Suddenly, a hairy giant by the name of Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) tells Harry that he’s a wizard and carts him off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he is to learn magic. Harry discovers that not only is there a whole magical world running in parallel to our own, but that in this new world he’s known as “The Boy Who Lived” and famous for surviving a spell that murdered his parents and inadvertently defeating the evil Lord Voldemort. Along the way, Harry meets the shabby Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and know-it-all Hermione (Emma Watson) and enlists their help to uncover some dark goings-on at the school. Philosopher’s Stone sets the pattern that the first few films stuck to. There’s something going on at the school and Harry, Ron and Hermione have to work together to save the day. It’s like an Enid Blyton/Famous Five type thing crossed with The Worst Witch (a property which I’m surprised hasn’t rung its lawyers over some uncanny similarities). It’s a classic plotline- an everyday kid gets drafted into a magical land and becomes a hero of said magical land. Philosopher’s Stone is smartly written enough that you won’t notice it’s basically a retread of every ’80s fantasy movie ever.

There are two things that completely justify the decision to turn the books into films on their own. 1) the cast and 2) the John Williams score. The cast are almost uniformly brilliant. We have some proper thespian heavyweights in the forms of Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths and John Hurt who all pop up to be brilliant at various points during the film. I do wish the kid actors were better though. Daniel Radcliffe hadn’t learned to act yet and is often shown up by Henry Melling’s hammy turn as Dudley. Rupert Grint is almost alright, as is the precocious Emma Watson. At its worst, some of the acting is school play standard. Bad child acting is a real bugbear of mine. In terms of adult acting, Rickman’s Snape almost manages to walk away with the entire film. It’s a great performance that verges on parody at times, with him drawling out certain words and taking dramatic pauses whenever the hell he feels like it.

The rest of the film is exactly the sort of fantasy adventure that kids lap up. The magical world we’re given here is amazingly designed and wonderfully realised. It’s one of the great movie universes that I wish I could live in instead of a dreary, rainy Welsh town. The sleuthing around school and working on a big mystery is a tried and tested kids’ staple and it just works. Quidditch also looks like a hell of a lot of fun. The Williams score is bloody brilliant too. Easily as iconic as his work on films like Jurassic Park. It just lifts the film to a higher plane. I genuinely think the aforementioned Quidditch match wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun as it is without Williams being whimsical in the background.

Despite a lot of elements working fantastically well, there’s just something holding the whole film back. It’s an above-average children’s film, but that’s about it. I think it’s the fact that it’s aimed squarely and solely at kids. Whilst I do agree that yes, a children’s book should be turned into a children’s film, this kid targeting is the special Hollywood kind of kid pandering that laser-targets its chosen kiddie demographic and to hell with anyone over the age of 15. None of the interesting little character moments or nice little backstories are explored. Outside of the writing, some of the effects are god-awful and were pretty ropey even back in 2001. The troll scene especially loses nearly all of the excitement it’s expected to create but being a huge, unconvincing lump of pixels. Quidditch suffers too, but not to the same extent.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”

Philosopher’s Stone is a decent start to the Potter franchise. It’s a bit unsteady at times but it creates a fantastic world and has a real sense of fun about it.

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