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.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 5:38 AM