Rating: 4/4 (Alfonso creates a lush dark dream onscreen. Easily the best Potter movie yet. Must watch!)
From the creative genius of Alfonso Cuarón, a virtual no-name in blockbuster Hollywood comes Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which easily trumps the earlier 2 movies and sets the bar extremely high for any later Harry Potter movie. While Chris Columbus played safe by sticking to the book plot and creating very child-safe movies (which were starting to get boring), his successor bravely breaks that trend by delivering a lush, creatively brilliant piece. What Alfonso has created is a dreamy tale of magic, which while placating the rabid Potter-kid-fans, will take the adults on a spectacular ride of enthrallment. Alfonso has left his distinctive stamp on the movie, with its looks, feels and sounds, all distancing it from the earlier candy-color works, like white from black. The magical locations and creatures look more dirty, real, living and breathing. Scratch them and they will bleed! Potter fans will notice how the locations around Hogwarts, especially Hagrid’s home have changed for the better. They are far more real, mysterious, creepy and thrilling. Astute movie watchers will lick up the details added into every scene with painstaking care, like the paintings surrounding the Fat Lady, or the luscious snow-filled scenes in Hogsmeade. The icing on the cake is how the huge swinging pendulum and the clockworks are weaved into the movie, showing that in this movie/book the biggest protagonist is Time itself.
I cannot heap enough praise on Alfonso and his cinematographer Michael Seresin for their work in this movie. Alfonso has dispensed with the by-the-book wizard dresses of the earlier movies, and has dressed his students in modern T-shirt, jeans and short skirts under their robes. Harry, Ron and Hermione, all stand out here from the earlier movies with their puberty in full blast. Especially Hermione who is endearing with her cute perkiness. Daniel Radcliffe fails spectacularly to act in emotional scenes, giving expressionless blank looks, but Emma Watson (Hermione), Alan Rickman (Snape) and David Thewlis (Lupin) easily fill that lacunae with their stylish acting. Alfonso has made several plot changes from the book and has cut out major portions of it. Some Potter fans might despise this, but I loved it! Who wants to sit through 2 full Quidditch matches anyway! I can go on and on about this movie. Let me just say that this is easily the best Harry Potter movie yet!
Rating: 4/4 (Another un-put-downable creation from Rowling!)
Sirius Black, a much feared murderer and crony of Lord Voldemort has escaped from the prison of Azkaban and is out to kill Harry Potter in the third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In their year 3 at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron and Hermione are settling in well. There have been some changes in their teachers. Lupin, a shabby but competent new entrant is their new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher and Hagrid debuts with a class on Care of Magical Creatures. Dementors, the soul sucking prison guards from Azkaban believe that Sirius is in Hogwarts, so they hang around the school casting a dark shadow on the students and causing trouble to Harry. To be capable of fighting them, Harry learns the difficult Patronus spell from Lupin. The lives of Harry, Sirius and Lupin come to a head one fateful night, when time itself becomes the protagonist.
Rowling can write, and write well! Book 3 is slim and about the same size as the previous 2 books. Using mostly the characters we already know from the previous books, she is able to churn out a twister of a climax. The use of time and of Harry’s Patronus charm by the lake is one of the coolest parts of the book. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a breezy, addictive read. Keep your bag of chips close by! 🙂
Rating: 3/4 (Entertaining for any Harry Potter fan)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is based on the second book in the Harry Potter series and returns with the cast from the first movie (thankfully). The plot structure is similar to the first work, a secret hidden in Hogwarts is revealed early and it is up to Harry to find and fight it. Though the movie is just as long as the first one (a ridiculous 2.5+ hours!), it feels much much longer, since the movie does not introduce anything new. The house elf Dobby has been conceptualized well, very fluid and evocative of pity with its antics. Harry Potter and his gang still seem a bit young and childish, compared to their characters in the book. The movie is surely entertaining for any Harry Potter fan. 🙂
Rating: 3/4 (Take out the Basterds and it is a fine cinematic experience!)
Having watched my first Quentin Tarantino movie, Inglourious Basterds, I can safely conclude that this man is part genius and part insane! The fictional movie is set in Nazi occupied France, where Jews are being extracted and sent for execution with surgical precision by a Colonel Hans Landa. A girl Shoshanna escapes from one such execution and hides away in Paris with a new name and identity. Meanwhile, a team of Nazi hunters from USA called the Basterds drop into France with the sole mission of killing SS officers and soldiers using brutal methods. The paths and motives of the Basterds, Shoshanna and Hans Landa intersect at a grand movie opening in Paris which is attended by the Führer himself.
First the praise. There are several pieces in this movie which are supreme cinematic experiences. The opening act between the French farmer and Hans Landa for example. It is shot with such precision, eye for detail, tension, entertaining dialogue and expression that it transforms a simple interview into a lip smacking delight for any movie lover! Inglourious Basterds is full of such brilliant edge-of-the-seat compositions that I barely noticed the insane 02:30 hour length of the movie. Tarantino is helped with some magnificent acting by Christoph Waltz (playing Hans Landa), he deserves accolades for his performance here. He electrifies and enthralls in his every single scene.
And then there is the bad. The Basterds themselves! Brad Pitt is horrible with his accent and pomposity. And the gore, my God, the gore! In a super-slick-ly produced movie, do we really need to see scene after scene of the Basterds cutting apart bloody scalps of Nazis off their bloody skull? Does anyone enjoy watching in horrifying detail a Basterd (The Bear Jew) beat an alive Nazi to bloody pulp? Surely, the insane part of Tarantino’s brain is at work here! The Basterds and their atrocious activities jar horribly with the flawless rest of the movie. Dear Tarantino, I would have rather enjoyed your Inglourious Basterds without the Basterds themselves.
Rating: 4/4 (A thrilling followup to The Philosopher’s Stone)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second title in the Harry Potter series where Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year of study. The plot structure of the book is almost the same as the first one, only darker. Much like the first book, a secret that is hidden away inside Hogwarts is revealed pretty early on (i.e., The Chamber of Secrets). J. K. Rowling shows some confidence and ups the gore factor for her series a bit here with several near-deaths (called petrification) and writings in blood. If I were a kid, I would be thrilled and scared reading this book! 🙂
The most interesting plot device is Tom Riddle, the top student from Slytherin who would go on to become Lord Voldemort. Introducing him, Rowling mixes into the story the idea that Harry and his nemesis are very much alike. They both are brilliant, like to break rules, learn new tricks, can speak to snakes, and even the Sorting Hat had selected them both for Slytherin. The similarity of the hero and the villain, or put another way the thin line between good and evil is probably one of the strongest plot ideas in fiction (ever), which will never lose its appeal. Memorable is how Dumbledore solaces Harry about this:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a good followup to The Philosopher’s Stone. The plot is gripping, even though I was not reading it for the first time. Maybe the only gripe I have with this book is that it is a bit too much similar to the first one. Thankfully, Rowling does not repeat that mistake with her later books.