Friday, 15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

2011, 12, Directed by David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, George Harris, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Katie Leung, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Kelly Macdonald, Helen McCrory, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright

Harry Potter has officially integrated itself into British institutionalism. Love him or loathe him, the scar-wearing schoolboy has been as popular as popcorn over the past decade where cinema trips are concerned. Four directors of very varied calibres stretched across eight films and – reminiscing over an epic effort – it is clear that the seriesrarely showed any real signs of flagging. As long as the magic was alive, the ticket sales were too.
So it remains that David Yates’ second part of the final JK Rowling novel adapted doesn’t necessarily need to be a great film in order to suck people into the phenomena on display for only a little while longer; this saga is leaving on the Hogwarts Express never to return. Luckily for us all, Yates still strays from dreaded cash-in, instead opting for the tougher task of pleasing fans and unfamiliar folk alike – something which the series has always seemed to shy away from.
Picking up precisely where Part 1 left off, Voldemort (we can say his name now) is in possession of the Elder wand, the most powerful wand the world has seen, whilst Harry and pals are halfway through ‘Operation: find and destroy Horcrux’. A consciously slow start builds on character and reference to moments of old which was always going to strongly evoke nostalgia: Harry going to Gringott’s for the first time; Harry choosing his wand for the first time. These are both referred to and then brutally merged into the same thought of the increasingly more likely chance that Harry Potter is going to breathe his last breath very soon. As John Hurt’s Ollivander points out, he doesn’t stand a chance.  It certainly feels this way. The Harry Potter films have always managed to unnerve and create levels of tension when most necessary – and only now can you reflect that this has been key to the film’s success. Ralph Fiennes’ Dark Lord is a truly fearsome foe. Okay, he may look kind of naff, but his maniacal expressions are enough to put the laziest person on the edge of their seat.
Characters seen, but not heard of late come to the fore in light of the oncoming war, and it is through these interactions where you realise just how much this series and its truly amazing characters means to you (an immortal line uttered early on by Professor McGonagall will have you aww'ing). The scope of the battle – all fans of the novels will be delighted to note – is fully realised and encapsulated to the most epic scale imaginable. Effects scintillatingly dazzle on-screen, sets close to people’s hearts are devastatingly destroyed in an instance, beloved characters are flippantly dispatched... It is through these moments where the decision to split the last book into two is fully justified; Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has more action than the entire series clumped together, but more heart too...
As the ending inevitably draws closer, cliché is unfortunately inescapable. Forced to embrace this, it is dealt with coolly (and funnily) and fits in as well as it can. The only other flaw that comes to mind is a later highlight on the action, meaning a classic moment from the novel involving Molly and Bellatrix is condensed into an underwhelming 20 seconds. In the grand scale of things (emphasis on grand), these niggles are irrelevant. The performance here drawn from the man himself Radcliffe is light years away from the awkward teeny-bopper who adorned our screens a decade ago, with Grint and Watson ever capable by his side. It is an honour to witness what fine performers they have evolved into: the curse of the child star is destined to end here (special mention also to Matthew Lewis and Evanna Lynch as the heroic Neville and kooky Luna; Tom Felton also proves there might just be life after Draco). As for the large remainder of true talent the films have always been keen to display, it would be a sin not to mention the superstar of the entire thing: Alan Rickman, who embodies Severus Snape as much as any actor could ever become their counterpart. A constant
underlying force throughout, Rickman provides yet another subtle powerhouse performance that packs one hell of a gut punch. Kudos.
Yes, Harry Potter is a British institute (grossing sales prove that it trounces Bond) – judging by this final push (and the applause at the end of my midnight screening), the box office sales and recognition has wholeheartedly been deserved. Moreover, not only does Deathly Hallows: Part 2 do JK Rowling’s concluding modern classic proud, but proves that a great, gargantuan, gripping Harry Potter film can be under 2 and a half hours; magic, it seems, must exist.
Cheers for it all, Mr Potter. It's been... wand-erful


HP retrospective #6:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

2009, 12, Directed by David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright

The final stand-alone film before the two-part finale, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, David Yates’ second directorial effort of the series, is an inescapably flawed film. After the thrill ride that was Order of the Phoenix, spliced intermittently between attacks from the Death Eaters and journeys into new Potions professor Horace Slughorn’s past experiences with Tom Riddle are slow, brooding scenes where Harry and Ginny stare at each other awkwardly. If you care to put up with these, the film is actually a worthy adaptation (bearing in mind a lot is omitted again – in diehard fan's eyes, the most sacrilegious of this being the way Harry witnesses the death at the film's climax, when in the novel he did not. Alternatively, a striking opening scene – which sees the Death Eaters tear up and destroy landmarks in London – are worthy breaths of fresh air.) It is Yates’ obvious initiative on display that make his films a cut above the earlier ones in the series, tackling the hurdles thrown at him with relative ease. Due to the pitch blackness of the ending, it is difficult to recall how funny this actually is: Weasley's Wizard Wheezes; Parker’s pining for Ron is priceless, as is Jim Broadbent’s Horace Slughorn (the latter able to switch to serious effortlessly). Slughorn is an odd creation for he serves an important purpose and fills up plenty of screen-time, yet does not linger in the memory like Lupin or Umbridge.

Reflecting upon the Harry Potter saga, it becomes clear that this is the last film to feature Harry, Ron and Hermione in Hogwarts as a permanent fixture. This means that this is watched best revelling in the settings we have grown accustomed to, as well as the familiar faces. Alan Rickman steps things up yet another gear as Severus Snape who is forced to take an Unbreakable Vow that he will protect Draco Malfoy who is going about Hogwarts performing the bidding of the Dark Lord. Loyalties are firmly established, sides are prepared and Horcruxes are introduced. At one point, Dumbledore tells Harry he has forgotten how much he has grown – he still sees him as that young boy living in the cupboard under the stairs. Their relationship hits home and when the inevitable happens and ‘Avada kedavra’ is shot at a vital character, the cogs are set in motion for the final chapter. This really is a precursor to Deathly Hallows, and as the film closes, just like Harry you know that nothing will be the same again; the end is coming… and there is no way on but forward.

Best Moment:
Tied. Dumbledore tells Harry he needs to force him to drink the contents of a fountain, no matter what occurs. Taking a sip, he slips into a fit and as Harry force feeds him the drink, Dumbledore begs him not to continue, screaming ‘Kill me!’ It is a state we have never seen the ever-capable headmaster in and chills to the bone, played agonisingly by Michael Gambon. Another is when Harry hs just witnessed Snape kill Albus – running after him, feeling betrayed: ‘He trusted you!’ he screams. Powerful

Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor:
He thought his day would never come, but Severus Snape is the honoured one to take this position.

Best Character:
Bellatrix Lestrange; as Harry takes after her to avenge the death of his godfather, she bumbles along, taunting Harry, whilst singing to a tune, ‘I killed Sirius Black!’ An absolutely despicable person, as a character played by Helena Bonham Carter, she is everything you want a villain to be; a child-like maniac who throws killing curses around like ‘hellos’. After Dumbledore has been killed, Bellatrix takes to destroying the Great Hall and Hagrid’s hut in elation

Best Line:
Harry Potter: Did you know, sir? Then?
Albus Dumbledore: Did I know that I just met the most dangerous dark wizard of all time? No.


HP retrospective #5:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

2007, 12, Directed by David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright

Harry Potter was only getting bigger and tougher to adapt as the series went on… With each film, more characters were introduced with even more returning and the opportunity for big moments where acting heavyweights share screentime with others more likely. David Yates grasps the directorial reigns here, remaining indebted to the role until the films reach their final destination this Friday. Yates, largely known for his work on British TV, was an incredibly brave if gratifying decision, a veteran in condensing his work into a limited screen time – a necessity in the case of mammoth Order of the Phoenix novel. This is the Harry Potter where the Ministry of Magic attempts to suppress the return of Lord Voldemort by indoctrinating Hogwarts with Ministry bigwig and new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor Dolores Umbridge, played by a simply marvellous Imelda Staunton. Dressed smartly in pink tweed and surrounded by pictures of cats in her office, sipping on a cup of tea, Umbridge enters a location we feel comforted by and sets to gaining order in such a way that shakes it all up. Moreover, she interacts with characters she sees as inferior in a disgusting manner (how dare she speak to McGonagall like that?!) In fact, Dolores is so brilliantly played to perfection by Staunton that you wish you were in the film squarely to put an end to her grotesque ways; upon reflection, she is as villainous as Voldemort, for her actions (which includes – in one of the films more memorable moments – forcing Harry to write ‘I must not tell lies’ with a pen that etches the line painfully onto his wrist, as well as forcing to use the Cruciatus curse on students) – at least You-Know-Who knows he is evil!

Aware that they are in danger and even more susceptible to it due to the Ministry’s insistence that they are safe, Dumbledore’s Army is formed, in which pupils in Hogwarts train themselves up for an inevitable battles with the Death Eaters; this provides the younger cast with a chance to shine. As usual, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson evolve as they do with every film, but it is newcomer Evanna Lynch as the kooky, sweet-as-hell Luna Lovegood who is the show stealer. There are some set-pieces filled with hilarity in Order of the Phoenix: Filch, in awe of Umbridge, clocking onto the Army but not quite sure where they convene as they run rings around him; a gigantic disruption in the Great Hall courtesy of Fred and George, much to Umbridge’s dismay. But regardless of these moments, there is an uneasy tone prevalent throughout fuelled by the climax of the previous film. The film opens with Harry in danger for the first time outside of the magic world, as Dementor’s attack him and vulgar Vernon. Dumbledore – a safe and encouraging figure amidst the chaos – distances himself from Harry entirely. Even the Ministry’s persistence that Harry is lying about Voldemort’s return leaves a feeling of solidarity in which you truly fear for Harry’s safety, especially when Umbridge manages to usurp Dumbledore’s power and becomes Hogwarts’ headmistress. Harry’s unstable mind as he struggles to deal with what is occurring, as well as the danger that is surrounding him and his friends is something that is manifested through stylistic dream sequences which, quite frankly, scare (A moment in which Harry walks through the 12 Grimmauld Place cranks up the tension effortlessly, which culminates in a door opening and Hermione lunging herself at her best friend). These mixture of feelings are strangely emotive.

As the film draws to a climax and Dumbledore’s Army translate what they have learnt into battling the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, the octane is higher than it has ever been before. In fact, it is quite a shock to note that this is the first bout of full-on magic duelling Harry Potter has seen, which is more than made up for by the Dumbledor Vs. Voldemort duel which not only drops the jaw, but dazzles on screen. David Yates captures everything in an un-confusing manner that makes complete sense (you’re always in the know of which spell has been fired from whose wand) and creates an unnerving amount of tension, which albeit ends in tragedy for one of the best characters the series has seen (and the departure of the simply amazing Gary Oldman). As the film draws to a close, it will hit you how – even though JK Rowling’s story and universe are key to Harry Potter’s success, at the crux of the film are the performances that bring her creations to life. It just so happens that inspired casting (Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter as the maniac Bellatrix Lestrange) and interaction that sets the screen alight make this arguably the best Potter film…

…and if I’m wrong, I will etch ‘I must not tell lies’ onto my wrist.


Best Moment:
That duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort. You wait 5 films for action and get more than you bargained for. A classic moment.

Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor:
As if we haven’t spoken enough of her, Dolores Umbridge – the most evil ‘nice’ person perhaps ever; all she wants is order!

Best Character:
Severus Snape – I admit defeat, ok? His Occlumency lessons with Harry, in which he attempts to train Harry to protect his mind from Voldemort’s possession is one of the many highlights of this film.

Best Line:
Harry Potter: He’s got Padfoot! He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!
Dolores Umbridge: Padfoot? What is Padfoot? And where what’s hidden? What is he talking about, Snape?
Severus Snape: (pause) No idea…


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

HP retrospective #4:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

2005, 12, Directed by Mike Newell
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Roger Lloyd Pack, Robert Pattinson, Clemence Poesy, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Tennant, Frances de la Tour

David Heyman has openly expressed his dismay at some key moments from The Goblet of Fire novel finding room on the not-so lonely cutting room floor, however understands that for the films not to outstay their welcome, anything deemed unnecessary or integral to the overriding idea cannot find room in the film… and so the director tasked with the tough job of adapting arguably the best of JK Rowling’s modern classics is Brit Mike Newell. Like Cuarón before him, he set aside particular time at asserting his mark not only by omitting memorable moments but shortening them also by way of stylistic jump-cuts (admittedly impressing – look no further than the scene in which Harry snatches the egg in his first event of the Triwizard Tournament, when the shot cuts immediately to the egg in Harry’s grasp as he parades it in front of his Gryffindor peers in the common room). However, the Quidditch World Cup was always something fans, big or small, were excited to witness visually – so its absence is criminal and downright disappointing. Similarly, the complete removal of the Dursley’s causes the film to feel incomplete…

It seems Newell focused more on the route of establishing the overarching villains of the piece through the Death Eaters attack on the fans flocking to the World Cup (who include glistening-haired Lucius Malfoy and the snivelling Peter Pettigrew), thus setting up David Yates’ final films perfectly. This Newell does well, with the ending not only tantalising future instalments, but disturbs as Ralph Fiennes makes his first appearance as the Dark Lord… just stop to that that Voldemort and his army are a group of adult lunatics who kill mercilessly, not only people their own size but teenagers like Cedric Diggory (played here by a pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson). When Harry’s name is read out of the Goblet of Fire, everybody turns against him Too young to compete, Harry is adamant that someone else placed his name inside. Not only is Harry forced to battle Hungarian Horntail dragons, Merpeople and bewitched murky mazes, but his own best friends who turn against him amidst this revelation.Lucky he has new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher Mad Eye Moody ‘assisting’ him along the way (the twist that throughout the duration of the film that he is actually Barty Crouch Jr swigging Polyjuice Potion the entire time is dealt with well).

As with Prisoner of Azkaban, number four feels like it occurs in a completely different sitting to Columbus’ films – Hogwarts feels more like an average school: Harry and Ron bicker, as they both attempt to woo some females, written work occurs as well as bullying, Hermione becomes hormonal over Ron not asking her to the Yule Ball… even everybody’s hair is longer. Not even magic can change those things, it seems. But as it stands, Goblet of Fire doesn’t even come close to exceeding the standard of the book, but does succeed in depicting Voldemort as an undeniably fearsome foe beyond being able to be reckoned with, which is the most important thing when all is said and done.


Best Moment:
Harry and Cedric run for the Triwizard cup and deciding to claim it simeultaneously, are transported to a graveyard where an Avada Kadavra dispatches Cedric and a drop of Harry’s blood is the final part of You-Know-Who’s rebirth. Chilling

Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher:
Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody – in his initial appearance here, he is locked in a charmed chest. Barty Crouch Jr parades around as him assisting the Death Eaters in pushing Harry to that graveyard. He does become a really likeable character though…

Best Character:
This time it jointly goes to Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall – one, because it would be unfair if they were not to feature her, but secondly because they play their roles so well they fit into everything so seamlessly.

Best Line:
Albus Dumbledore: Dark and difficult times lie ahead; soon we must all face the choice betweenw hat is right and what is easy


Sunday, 10 July 2011

HP retrospective #3:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
2004, 12, Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Pam Ferris, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters

The evolution of the Harry Potter series is truly set in motion here as Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón – a choice that shocked the world but delighted JK Rowling – flips Columbus’ warm, bold openers on to its head as an increased amount of threat is aimed at Harry; this time, courtesy of Sirius Black, a prisoner freshly-escaped from Azkaban, the wizardry world’s prison for maniacs. Oh, and you guessed it – he’s after Harry. The best opening as far as the Dursley’s are concerned solidified even further by a vulgar Pam Ferris as (inflatable) Aunt Marge. This offbeat comedic moment completely establishes what Cuarón’s Potter is about, and this still stands up as the strangest entry. Maybe this is due to the visual difference on show here; aesthetically, this does not feel like ‘one for the kids’. The vivacious vibrancy offered in Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, which emanated a sort-of cosiness is replaced with a cold, isolated, pretty bleak landscape which complements the source material entirely. As soon as a Dementor creeps into the frame, you yearn to be sitting under the levitating candlesticks in the Hogwarts Great Hall. It is also refreshing that this new direction be asserted at such a pivotal point. By this I mean, at the point where the universe and regulars have all been introduced, leaving room for new characters integral to the long haul to take centre stage. These include the aptly-named Lupin, a fan favourite, and Sirius Black, the resident villain who actually turns out to be the nicest darn person in the whole thing. Emma Thompson’s Sybil Trelawney was one particular creation I was excited about seeing depicted in the adaptations, however she receives short thrift throughout the franchise, let alone in Prisoner of Azkaban. This is also the first appearance of Michael Gambon’s more haggard Dumbledore and through the later revelations revealed through backstory, some top-notch acting can be displayed from actors who were simply reduced to sneers previously, albeit very cool sneers (you know who you are, Snape).
Subplots are not focused on for too long and become genuinely emotive, especially when Hippogriff’s are concerned, with the somewhat confusing climax being dealt with in a concise and efficient manner. Saying this, things do get a bit shouty and the confusion of who can and cannot be trusted grows tiresome. By the time Lupin is making his transformation from human to werewolf on a Hogwarts landscape you never would have known existed had Chris Columbus not departed the directorial role (he is a producer), it will hit you like a spell that Harry Potter – from this stage onwards – is strongly attempting to break away from being ‘one for the kids’ and more for the kids who are now growing up. This will go down as the one where the franchise temporarily went arty.
And lets face it, a film starring Gary Oldman could never be bad...
Best Moment: 
The Boggart in the Wardrobe: a creature that manifests itself as your biggest fear, but with one flick of a wand, that fear is defeated. Cue tarantulas on rollerskates, Snape as a well-to do woman and a Dementor. Lupin protects Harry with the shout of ‘Expectro Patronum!’
Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher:
David Thewlis’ universally loved Remus Lupin – a comforting figure that could turn ferocious in the flash of a full moon.
Best Character:
Severus Snape; this is the film where Alan Rickman finally makes it known that he is not only going to do the best character in the whole thing justice, but stretch this out to territory even grander than expected through his multi-layered restrained emotion and action. Pure class
Best Line:
Professor Snape: Well, well Lupin. Out for a little walk... in the moonlight, are we?