Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the broken car window

I had high hopes for Saturday morning. I woke up with plans to make some 8X10 prints of my South Africa photos, which you can view in a Flickr set here, and then see the new "Harry Potter" movie. Alas, none of that was to be.

As I emerged from my rather small domicile, pictured at right, I found that some jackass had busted out my driver's side window. I can only assume that he left in frustration after finding the car stereo embedded in the dashboard, because he left behind everything else, including a copy of the new CD "T.I. Vs. T.I.P."

After a quick call to the world's greatest mechanic, who wouldn't appreciate it if I revealed his identity here, I was assured that if I brought my car to him Monday morning he would call around to all the salvage yards and get me a nused window as cheaply as possible. Even so, I was in a foul enough mood that Saturday was out as far as moviegoing went.

When Sunday morning came, I was stir-crazy enough that I decided to uncover the hole that formerly was my window and do my weekly grocery shopping. And, after making a roasted red pepper soup, an orzo pesto salad and skillet curried vegetables and couscous with almonds to eat in the week ahead, I finally decided to venture out to see the latest "Harry Potter" flick.

Given the circumstances, I really needed this one to be good, and it didn't disappoint in the least.

Before I say anything about "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," I should confess that I am almost a 100 percent Muggle. I read the first "Harry Potter" book but none after that, not because I didn't enjoy it, but simply because there's so much more out there to read and, of course, to watch.

And, viewed from that outsider's perspective, I must say this is the finest "Harry Potter" movie to date, by a fairly long stretch. The first, "Sorcerer's Stone," was almost pure hokum, albeit entertaining hokum at that. Since then, they've been visually solid, but always left me with questions about exactly what I had just seen (again, not really a fault of formerly permanent "Harry Potter" screenwriter Steven Kloves or the many directors he has worked with on this series, just a personal complaint about my own "Potter" shortcomings.)

"Order of the Phoenix," however, written for the big screen by Michael Goldenberg, was the first "Harry Potter" since "Sorcerer's Stone" that both made perfect sense to me and was just solidly entertaining. All you really had to know going in was that You-Know-Who had killed Cedric Diggory, and was clearly on the rise once again. From there on out, in this tightly constructed tale from director David Yates, it's a dark but still thrilling ride.

But, of course, a word or two about the plot might help the perhaps three people who haven't seen this yet. It opens, as usual, with Harry on break from Hogwarts. After an attack by the dreaded dementors, our hero is forced to use magic in front of his rather thick cousin, and is therefore brought before a tribunal of wizards. He beats the charges, but begins the year with You-Know-Who looming large and a new defense against the dark arts instructor, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), in place to torment her new charges. The award for the best line about the dark arts instructors, by the way, goes to Yahoo's Movie Mom, a k a Nell Minow: "As Potterites know, at Hogwarts, Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers are like drummers in Spinal Tap; they constantly have to be replaced."

From there, it's a rather predictable chapter in the battle of Harry vs. You-Know-Who, but with several touches that set it apart from its predecessors. First, while there are several rather breathtaking visual sequences, including two flights between London and Hogwarts, but none of them seem - as they have in the past - as simply showing off. Until the Weasley brothers disrupt the O.W.L.'s with a fun burst of fireworks, it all contributes to moving the story along.

And the three main kids, though no longer kids at all, are aging gracefully. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has made the transition to moody adolescent, and even gets a much-longer-than-expected smooch with the bewitching Cho Chang (Katie Leung.) Hermione has finally developed the wit to go with her sass, but poor Ron (Rupert Grint) has simply aged very quickly into a grumpy Gus. This couldn't possibly be a spoiler, since as I've said I've read exactly one "Harry Potter" book, but I have a strong suspicion that Ms. Rowling is setting up Ron to be a very heroic, and possibly very tragic, figure in the final chapter, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which of course comes out very soon.

Of the newcomers in this installment, Staunton is perfectly cast as the Stepfordesque Dolores Umbridge and Helena Bonham Carter goes all Bride of Frankenstein to play Bellatrix Lestrange. My favorite, however would have to be Evanna Lynch as the perfectly loopy Luna (a k a Loony) Lovegood.

I've read complaints that this flick is simply table-setting for the next movie chapter, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which will come from director Yates and feature the return of screenwriter Kloves, but so what? "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" was too, and this was a for more satisfying flick than that one. It certainly left me wanting more, and you just can't ask for much more than that.


Invisible Lizard said...

The third is still my favorite (I think because of Alfonso CuarĂ³n's dark touches, especially after Chris Columbus' candy-coated technicolor fluff in the first two), but this one rides close on its coat-tails.

Reel Fanatic said...

I also enjoyed Cuaron's take, Mr. Lizard, but I'd still have to give this one the edge if only by a nose

Mercurie said...

I've seen a few complaints that this one was just a set up for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, but then I think the same could be said of the book to a degree. At any rate, I think this is my favourite one yet, although I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well. One thing I do appreciate--it seems like the movies have gotten more British as they've gone along!

Reel Fanatic said...

They have at that, Mercurie ... I saw a funny item the other day about J.K. Rowling and Bob Hoskins being on some TV show together ... He had to remind her that she had promised to snag a part for him in the next Potter movie, as she seemingly has with every other British actor of any merit

vance said...

hmm. good point about wanting more and that it was still far better than Pirates 2 (which I didn't mind actually). I probably gave HP5 a harder time grading it but yes, it was still a really good film and I ended up renting HP4 again and now I'm ready to see HP5 yet again! I guess that's a good sign! So yes, it was kind of a set up for the next two movies (and as Mercurie said, so was the book), and it didn't feel as whole of a movie as HP4 did (still my fave of the bunch), but Yates did a pretty great job. Plus the actress playing Luna was EXACTLY how I pictured her in my mind. EXACTLY.

Divinity said...

Sorry to hear about the car window, Reel Fanatic. When I used have a car, it would get broken into regularly but only the punks around the theatre I worked at ever broke a window. I did however inherit a screwdriver, half a pair of scissors, and a piece of rebar over the several occasions that they paid my UNLOCKED car a visit. (I stopped locking it after the first break-in cost me $100 to repair the lock)

Re: HP5
I'm a little fanatical about the books so there was a lot that disappointed me about this movie. I've had some time to discuss it with friends who've been VERY patient with me and, ultimately, I've had to admit that, although it is still a terrible adaptation in my mind, it is quite a good movie. Mind you, the Prisoner of Azkaban is still my favourite of the franchise whereas the Goblet of Fire has been the best adaptation (in my estimation). Bonham-Carter, Lynch, Tena (Tonks), and Staunton were incredible additions to the cast and the thestrals were grotesquely lovely, but so much that I was looking forward to was completely omitted while I was forced to watch a strong and emotional Cho reduced to a mooney-eyed, kissing target.
I think I'll welcome Kloves' return. :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I wish that, like you, I could largely do without a car, Divinity, but I don't live in a big enough city to be able to do that .. And I've talked with several people who, like you, know a lot more about Harry Potter than me and and were just as disappointed with this latest flick .. I'm starting to read Half-Blood Prince, so I'll be able to watch the next movie with more authority

Lorraine said...

I'm so glad I wrote my review before I read yours. And I'm standing over here in the corner with the one other person (there must be one other) who isn't raving about 5. But that's ok.

And I am dreadfully sorry about your car window.

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