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


Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Release Date: July 15, 2011
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

Part 2 is the more action-oriented of the two movies, and after tying off a few loose ends at the beginning, dives into pretty much non stop action from there.  While Helena Bonham-Carter’s hammy performance as Bellatrix Lestrange irritates me, I absolutely love Helena Bonham-Carter’s interpretation of Hermione Granger playing as Bellatrix Lestrange. Any because any movie is improved by some Luna Lovegoodness, I think its great that Luna insists Harry speak with Helena Ravenclaw’s ghost, something not in the book (Also Kelly Macdonald joins Shirley Henderson as cast members of Intermission who also portray Hogwarts ghosts). The best part of the battle scenes is seeing Neville Longbottom coming into his own by destroying the bridge (not in the book), standing up to Voldemort,and killing Nagini.

The elephant in the room for this final movie is that Voldemort just isn’t all that scary.  Hugging Draco and laughing like a dork make him feel even less menacing than he ever has.been.  While there are several good character moments for heroes – both major and minor characters – the antagonist just seems to be there to be defeated at the right time.  Also, the epilogue is unsatifying/unnecessary but that’s true to the book.

Rating: ***

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


Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
Release Date: November 19, 2010
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The source book for this movie is essentially two stories: one a mystery/road trip and one a war novel.  This movie adapts the first story.  The big question regarding splitting the adaptation of the seventh novel into two movies is if it is justifiable or simply a cash grab.  I’d say that by and large there’s not much that could’ve been pared out of this movie, and since sitting in a theater for 4 hours is not ideal, splitting it into two movies makes sense.  Of course, I never saw either movie in the theaters and pretty much binged them back to back, so what do I know.

The adaptation does abridge the novel quite a bit, and as in The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, I think the filmmakers do a good job of getting to the essence of the source material without getting into all the details.  One scene that stands out as something that’s not vital to the story, but I nevertheless like it because it’s cinematic, is when Harry and Hermione dance together in the tent. It’s a moment of having fun and release from all the tensions of the horcrux hunt, and even a moment of attraction between the two, although it dissipates as quickly as it begins.  I also like that when Hermione reads “The Tale of Three Brothers” it is illustrated with stylized animation.

The cliffhanger is rather abrupt, but its hard not to see the two movies as anything other than one narrative.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2007
Summary/Review:

In 2007, expectations were high for the final volume in the Harry Potter series.  I believe it’s safe to say that J.K. Rowling stuck the landing.  I remember I was traveling home from Los Angeles the day the book was released and since the book was not available at the bookstore near my gate, I actually walked to another terminal to get a copy.  And then I read most of it on my redeye flight to Boston.

It felt like a huge change to have Harry, Hermione, and Ron skipping their final year at Hogwarts to search for horcruxes.  The familiar structure of Harry Potter novels was disrupted. Instead we get a novel with two distinct sections.  The first is kind of a mystery as the trio search for clues to find and destroy  horcruxes.  The second is a war story as the forces of good face Voldemort and his Death Eater for a climactic battle.

What’s impressive is that so many of the themes, places, and characters established in the previous six stories are worked into the story.  Griphook and Mr. Ollivander, for example, are people Harry met in his first encounter with the Wizarding World and they each play a vital role in this novel.  These throwbacks are natural though and all click into place in a satisfying narrative.

While still a large book, The Deathly Hallows feels more narratively straight-forward and moves faster than its predecessors.  Obviously a lot of work was set up for this book by its predecessors, especially The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, that did a lot of the scene-setting and explanation, whereas The Deathly Hallows is more about piecing that knowledge together. There are some parts that didn’t work for me.  Harry meeting Dumbledore in a heaven-like Kings Cross rather than dying felt like a cop-out to me at first, although I’ve softened on that over time.  The epilogue is something I see a lot criticism about, and I agree that it is unsatisfying, probably because it is unnecessary.

The Deathly Hallows was the only book that came out after I started this blog so you can also read my initial impressions from 2007.

 

Rating:

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 
Release Date:  July 15, 2009
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The film adaptation of The Half-Blood Prince has a lot of the same qualities I liked in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban.  While necessarily abridging the source material, it stays true to the spirit of the novel with a quirky style.  And particularly the film captures the major characters as children dealing with problems both mundane and extraordinary rather than just magical beings in a story.  I like how Gryfindor celebrates their quidditch win with a wild party in their common room or Harry quipping “I am the chosen one” as self-deprecating joke, as a couple of examples.

Much like the book the transition from uneasy normality to the stark horror of conclusion is quite effective.  In fact, Dumbledore forcing himself to drink the water in the cave – and all those creepy Inferi bodies – is straight out of a horror movie.

Jim Broadbent is a good addition to the cast as Horace Slughorn.  The lighting and visual effects are also a strong point of this movie.  I do have a couple of quibbles with the movie.  Lavender Brown is played as a caricature which goes against the grain of the good character work we see with the other children.  The scene where Bellatrix and Greyback attack the Burrow was an unnecessary addition.  But by and large, this is probably now my second favorite of the movies.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2005
Summary/Review:

Rereading The Half-Blood Prince made me realize that more than I any book in the series, I had plum forgotten what had happened in this book.  I remembered that Harry gets an old textbook that helps him succeed in class that turns out to have once been Snape’s.  I remembered Dumbledore spends much more time with Harry and they traveled together to hunt horcruxes (in fact they only travel once, although the due look at many memories in the pensieve).  And I remembered that Dumbledore dies, killed by Snape on the astronomy tower.

I had totally forgotten about Horace Slughorn and his importance not just in this novel, but to Voldemort and horcruxes.  I’d forgotten that Ron dates Lavender Brown.

So reading this again was full of personal discoveries.  The interesting aspect of this book is that after the oppressive nature of Hogwarts under Umbridge, it feels like a world that’s a bit more relaxed and cozy.  Harry and his friends have time to engage in typical teenage drama.  It’s all a feint, of course, and it heightens the feeling of horror when Dumbledore is murdered.

I remember the first time I read this, I was angry that Dumbledore was so foolish to recognize Snape as a threat.  As the weeks passed, I thought more on it, and wondered what if letting Snape kill him was all part of Dumbledore’s plan.  This proved to be correct, so at least my mind was good at some things, if not always at memory.

Here’s the “review” I wrote in 2005:

It’s predecessor kind of plodded along at points, but this book is more crisply written and has a good share of adventure and intrigue. I found the ending disappointing, not because a Dumbledore dies (I guessed correctly who would die), but because his death is futile and comes as a result of uncharacteristic stupidity. There are a lot of loose ends at the end of the book and it’s going to be a big challenge for Rowling to tie them up all satisfactorily in the final book (without the book being 2000 pages long).

On second thought, Dumbledore’s death makes more sense as a sacrifice to save both Malfoy and Snape, and possibly even arranged with Snape as a plot to fool Voldemort. I still find it hard to believe that Harry Potter can (convincingly) find all the Horcruxes and kill Voldemort in book 7 without Dumbledore and without the book being an endless tome.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2003
Summary/Review:

The fifth book in the Harry Potter series is by far the longest novel, and one that may have benefited from judicious editing and abridging.  I think this book has the most pages before Harry and his friends even arrive for their first day at Hogwarts!  Having said that, I have to admit that actually enjoy the novel’s many tangents and subplots. I like reading Hagrid’s long tale of visiting the giants.  And at the conclusion of the novel when Dumbledore finally explains what he’s been trying to do for 15 years, it’s a major information dump, but these are details I’m eager to suck up.

This novel may also capture Harry at his lowest ebb.  Harry is angry and angsty for much of the novel, apropos to teenage behavior.  But Harry has reason to be angry, having witnessed the murder of Cedric, suffered the insults of a Wizarding World that calls him a liar, and seemingly been abandoned by his mentor, Dumbledore.

The formation of Dumbledore’s Army is really a great moment in the development of many characters who have been supporting characters for much of the series but begin to come into their own.  This novel also introduces one of my favorite characters, Luna Lovegood, which is amazing since she’s such a significant person in the series.  But hey, I met some of my closest friends my senior year of college.  I also like that Luna, Ginny, and Neville join Harry, Hermione, and Ron when they go to Ministry of Magic, again really expanding the story beyond just the core 3. The inclusion of Snape’s memory of being bullied by Harry’s father James and his friends is also a signficant addition to the backstory and how Harry understands his place in the Wizarding World.

The book does feature the major heartbreak of the death of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, a character I feel we never got to know well enough.  I’m also curious why the Ministry of Magic keeps a giant arch that causes people who passes through it to die, because that was just a weird plot element, and something that really confused me about Sirius’ death when I first read this book.

So, yeah, this is a long book that doesn’t exactly flow narratively.  But I enjoy wallowing in a few whirlpools along the way.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)


Title Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Release Date: July 11, 2007
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series, and an argument could be made it justified being made into two films much more than The Deathly Hallows. Instead, this film adaptation distills the story into 138 minutes, the shortest of all the films (technically, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is only 130 minutes, but it only covers half of a book).  The story is effectively streamlined, and remains entertaining and compelling, although perhaps someone who’s not read the book would not get the full depth of what’s going on. The film effectively uses montage to condense the storyline, and I particular like the sequences of Filch and Umbridge attempting to catch Dumbeldore’s Army and hanging decrees on the wall.

This is the first film in the series directed by David Yates, who’s prior experience was largely in television.  He’s become something of the house director for the Wizarding World, directing the final 4 Harry Potter movies, and is tapped to direct all 5 of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

This film also introduces some inspired acting choices.  Evanna Lynch perfectly captures Luna Lovegood, wisely playing her as strange and unsettling but not going overboard into “loony.”  Meanwhile, Imelda Staunton may possibly be a perfectly nice human being, but she thoroughly embodies the cruelty of the most hated character in the series, Dolores Umbridge.  Unfortunately, Helena Bonham-Carter seems to be acting as if she’s in a Tim Burton film, and her cartoonishly evil portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange is out of place.

I think the Order of the Phoenix joins the Prisoner of Azkaban as the best films in the series up to this point.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)


Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Release Date: November 18, 2005
Director: Mike Newell
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The fourth film features another new director, Mike Newell, and his approach returns to the workmanlike but uninspired style of Chris Columbus.  To be fair, Newell faced a big challenge in tackling the adaptation of the longest novel to date.

He makes some good decisions such as trimming down the Quidditch World Cup portions to just the most important elements. I also like how the film focuses to a greater extent than the book on the students as teenagers with growing romantic interests around the Yule Ball. It is a good way of grounding the story so that the characters feel like real kids as well as magical people.

There are also some curiously bad decisions, such as having the students of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang be single-sex and the gender essentialism on display in their entrances.  The scene with the 40-year-old Shirley Henderson looking at teenage Daniel Radcliffe in a bathtub is also super creepy and I question its inclusion.  But by and large, the film pares down the essentials of the story and maintains a steady level of action-adventure.  It’s just not quite as “magical” as I would liked, especially after the more artistic approach of the Prisoner of Azkeban.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2000
Summary/Review:

Just before midnight on a July night in 2000, I was walking through Harvard Square and saw lines of children and their parents extending from three different bookstores.  The release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my first exposure to the Harry Potter phenomenon as a childless person in his mid-20s.  I heard the name “Harry Potter” before but for some reason I’d gotten it into my head that was the author of the Goosebumps series (I know now that’s R.L. Stine!). By the end of the next year I would binge read all four of the Harry Potter novels to date and be invested in finding out what comes next.

This fourth novel represents a big jump in page count from the previous book in the series, but also a broadening of Harry Potter’s world and a darkening in tone for the narrative.  As opposed to the more self-contained earlier books, The Goblet of Fire ends with the return of Voldemort to corporal form and begins the ongoing story of the Second Wizarding War that will continue until the end of the series.

The heart of the novel is the Triwizard Tournament which brings in students from two other wizarding schools.  My biggest frustration with this book is that the rules clearly state there are three champions and they must be at least 17 years old, and yet when Harry is selected, all the adults claim to be powerless against not allowing Harry to participate.  I mean, there’s a lot of child endangerment in the Wizarding World, but I still feel there should’ve been a more convincing way for Harry to be drawn into the tournament. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the tournament tasks and Harry’s clever ways of approaching them and how Harry and Cedric work together despite being opponents.

The book also introduces Rita Skeeter, who I think is the first of a series of horrible adults in the Wizarding World who are not also Death Eaters.  And Hermione exposes the enslavement of house elves, which is another interesting challenge to the goodness the reader assumes about people in the Wizarding World, although I wish her campaign got more traction with the characters in the book.  Finally, there’s the debut of Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody who is one of the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers yet and a mentor to Harry, which is ironic since its revealed he’s Death Eater in disguise.  That’s probably one of the best twists Rowling ever writes!  Nevertheless, the clues I missed on my first reading are all there.

As the middle book of 7, The Goblet of Fire serves its purpose as the hinge of the entire series. More importantly it continues to be an engaging and thoughtful read.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)


Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Release Date: May 23, 2004
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

This is probably the best of all the Harry Potter movies.  Not just because it adapts a book I like, but because of the effort that director Alfonso Cuarón puts in to make it an actual adaption to film rather than Chris Columbus’ paint-by-numbers recreation of the books.  Several elements, such as the motifs of clocks and time, the humorous animations of the Marauders Map, and the recurring gags of the Whomping Willow are all nice touches.  But best of all, under Cuarón’s direction, the students of Hogwarts really feel like children rather than characters.

Cuarón did get an advantage in directing the third film.  Columbus had covered all the exposition about the Wizarding World in the first two movies, so that could be stripped away.  And the ensuing films would be based on longer, sprawling novels that were more difficult to condense.  Nevertheless, I still find it disappointing that Cuarón didn’t return for any of the later movies.

 

Rating: ****