Sunday, October 31, 2010


Originally Written and Posted at on 11/4/06, Happy Halloween.

In recent years, Asian cinema has been getting more attention. Notably for the reinventing the horror genre thanks to films like Ringu, Ju-On, and Dark Water that allowed for American studios to do remakes with some successful results. While the American films introduced horror films fan to something new, serious ones went to the actual Asian horror genre to discover far more. One of the films that's considered a classic comes from noted Japanese director Takashi Miike, whose work include films like The Happiness of the Kakakuris, Ichi the Killer, and Gozu that featured controversial portrayals of sex and violence. In 1999, Miike released a film that's considered a classic in the horror genre while gaining him international film entitled Odishon (Audition).

Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, Odishon tells the story of a middle-aged man in mourning over the death of his wife where after years of her death. Urged by his son and a film producing friend, he seeks to find a new love where he does in a young, mysterious woman who seems to carry a dark secret. Adapted into a script by Daisuke Tengen, Odishon is an eerie, provocative film that sends chills to the audience while reveling in its psychological and emotional tone. Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, and Eihi Shiina. Odishon is a film that will make audiences feel creeped when you least expect it and make them to feel extremely uncomfortable.

Seven years after the death of his wife Ryoko, the middle-aged Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is living a quiet, contemplative life with his 17-year-old son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki). With Shigehiko's interest in biology, dinosaurs, and girls increasing, he urges his father that it's the time for him to remarry and find new love. Aoyama isn't sure about it since his love for Ryoko was very strong as he gets more encouragement from his friend and film producer Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura). Reminding him that he isn't getting younger and lonelier by the minute, Yoshikawa decides to hold auditions to find a new bride for Aoyama in a mock-audition for a fake film.

After meeting Shigehiko's new girlfriend, Aoyama decides to go with the plan as he is forced to pick thirty young women out of several hundreds by reading the applications and such. It is there that one application and a picture has struck in a young, lanky woman named Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). He reads her application about how she used to do ballet for twelve years until injury ended her career and has nearly given up hope. Her despair has attracted Aoyama as the audition goes on. After auditioning nearly several women, Asami finally arrives in her quiet, shy appearance that wins over Aoyama but Yoshikawa felt he's been rubbed the wrong way for some reason. Aoyama decides to make contact where they have their first date where her reserved personality attracts him but Yoshikawa suddenly feels suspicious after trying to go over her resume and such and finding some things that don't make sense.

After breaking a promise from Yoshikawa, Aoyama decides to make contact with Asami where their conversations lead to more attraction where he decides to have a weekend devoted to her in a resort at the coast. Aoyama tells his son that he's proposing to her where Yoshikawa feels uneasy as does Aoyama's secretary. The weekend where Aoyama decides to propose to Asami becomes very strange all of a sudden as she asked to be the only person loved. Later that night, Asami disappears where things get stranger as Aoyama decides to make his own investigation into her past that involved her ballet career, and jobs working for a record company and bar. Suddenly, Aoyama finds himself caught into a trap leading to a bizarre sequence of events.

Most horror films tend to start out slowly and somewhere in the first act, kill someone and such before revealing its mystery right in the end. This film however, is pure Japanese horror where it subverts the structure and momentum. The film's first half is purely a drama where Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengen observe the loneliness of Aoyama and his struggle to deal with his wife's death. It starts off slow and Miike takes an observant view of how Aoyama tries to move his life. It works for the momentum of structure with the first act of Aoyama ready to move on, the second act is the beginning of his relationship with Asami, and the third being about Asami. When the film moves to the second half, it becomes bizarre where reality and fiction blur to the point of what's going on. Then, there's the film's last 20 minutes that is pure horror at its most visceral. The scene is so horrifying to watch that audiences will definitely be screaming to the screen or TV. Overall, it's one of the best horror films ever made.

Helping Miike with his surreal vision is cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto whose color schemes from the intimacy and brightness of the film's first half in Aoyama's home and his work place to the more colorful yet eerie look of the film’s second half while most of the look in the second half is a bit grainy but works to convey the atmosphere. Production designer Tatsuo Ozeki also helps create the atmosphere in the film's second half with the decaying look of the ballet studio and the home of Asami while costume designer Tomoe Kumagai creates a wonderful, thin white dress for the Asami character for the film's first half. Editor Yasushi Shimamura does a wonderful, elliptical approach to the film's editing that works to gain the momentum of the suspense. Music composer Koji Endo brings a plaintive, melancholic piano, orchestral score to the film to convey the drama but then shifts to suspenseful screeches of music to convey the film's second half.

The film's cast includes small performances from Miyuki Matsuda as Aoyama's late wife Ryoko, Toshie Negishi as the housecleaner Rie, Misato Nakamura as a house cleaner, Misato Nakamura as Shigehiko's girlfriend, and a creepy performance from Renji Ishibashi as a man in a wheelchair who works at the ballet studio. Jun Kunimura is excellent as the cautious, moralistic Yoshikawa whose suspicions about Asami are wonderfully observed as his performance is wonderful in the supporting role. Tetsu Sawaki is also great as Aoyama's son Shigehiko whose hope for his father to find romance is put to the test as he wonders about his father's melancholia and later, his obsession with Asami. Ryo Ishibashi is wonderful as the sad, desperate Aoyama whose love for his late wife is later countered by the melancholia of Asami until his character goes into full search of who she is as Ishibashi is great in the leading role. Finally, there’s Eihi Shiina as Asami, who starts off innocently and quiet in the film's first half but her best work is in the second where she reveals her dark obsessions and everything including the film's creepy third act.

While it doesn't follow the convention of traditional or Western horror films, Odishon still packs a punch into its approach of horror. The film however, for non-horror fans or traditional horror fans will have a hard time going to the film's bizarre third act along with its most terrifying scene. While the film has great performances and some great directing from Takeshi Miike, it's a film that is real touchstone to the horror genre but might be too extreme for some to the point that audiences might see it once and never again. Still, if you want a great example of what Japanese does in horror films at its most extreme and thrilling, Odishon is the film to see.
© thevoid99 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/23/05 w/ Additional Edits.

When Chris Columbus left the franchise for the Harry Potter film adaptations after directing the first two of the film series. Many fans wondered who would replace Columbus as Warner Brothers chose Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron to helm the third film, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. When it was released in 2004, many critics praised the film for its visual style and opening doors for the young actors. Fans of the book though felt that Steve Kloves' script cut a lot of background information and sequences that didn't make it to the final film. When plans for the fourth film, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire was in the works, rumors circulated that the film was going to be a two-part film but in the end, Kloves along with the involvement of Potter creator J.K. Rowling insisted that book should be adapted into one film. With acclaim British director Mike Newell going for a longer, ambitious approach, he was chosen to direct the fourth Harry Potter film.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is a more multi-layered story where Harry has found himself put into a tournament for wizards where he suspects that it's an attempt to kill him. With rumors that Lord Voldemort returning, Harry leans towards his friends and the guidance of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore only to compete in the tournament. With Mike Newell as the director and Steve Kloves returning as the screenwriter adapting J.K. Rowling's dark, transitional story.

Returning to the film franchise is Daniel Radcliffe in the title role along with fellow young actors Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, James & Oliver Phelps, Jamie Waylett, Joshua Herdman, along with new young actors in the series, Katie Leung, Clemence Posey, Robert Pattinson, and Stanislav Ianveski. In the adult actors returning to the fold are Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Mark Williams, Gary Oldman, Warwick Davis, Jason Issacs, Shirley Henderson, Robbie Coltrane, David Bradley, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, and Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Joining the series in adult roles are Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Jeff Rawle, Frances de la Tour, Predrag Bjelac, and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.

It's a dark night in a little house that was once the home of a family called Riddle as a former caretaker named Frank Bryce (Eric Sykes) discovers that a light is in the house where he hears two voices inside. Frank goes in to discover that a man named Wormtail (Timothy Spall) and another man (David Tennant) is talking to an unknown figure. Accompanied by a snake, the unknown figure senses the presence of Bryce as he reveals himself to be the remaining soul of the darkest wizard known to the world as Lord Voldemort. Later that morning at the home of the Weasley family, Harry Potter has woken up to that image but thinking it could be a dream. Joining longtime friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) along with his twin siblings Fred and George (James & Oliver Phelps), youngest sibling Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and their father Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams).

The gang make their way to the Quidditch World Cup match through a portkey with Amos Diggory (Jeff Rawle) and his son Cedric (Roger Pattinson) that takes them from their home area to the Cup's site as they watch Ireland in a match against Bulgaria that included their young star seeker named Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ivaneski). After the match, all hell breaks loose when a group known as Death Eaters terrorize the Cup's campsite as Harry's fear of Voldemort's return might be true as he sees a mysterious man from his dream shooting the Dark Mark on the sky. The gang is sent to Hogwarts where they learn that an old wizard tournament against other schools, Beauxbatons from France and Durmstrang from Bulgaria are arriving to compete in the TriWizard tournament. With Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore announcing the arrival of the schools, he introduces his students to the women of Beauxbatons led by their half-giant headmistress Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour) and the men of Durmstrang that also features Krum and his headmaster, Igor Karkaroff (Predrac Bjelac).

With an age restriction performed for the cup, everyone wants to get in while Harry just wants to sit back and watch the tournament as spectator. Leading the tournament cup is Internationals relations minister of the Ministry of Magic, Barty Crouch (Roger Lloyd-Pack) while Dumbledore has chosen his old friend Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson) as his new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher where he teaches the children about the Unforgivable Curses including the dreaded Killing Curse where only Harry was the survivor of that curse.  On the night, the Goblet of Fire was to select its champions, Krum, Cedric Diggory, and Beauxbatons' Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesey) are selected as the respective champions of the school. Then the Goblet spits out a fourth name where Harry's name is revealed.

Dumbledore is upset that Harry's name was spat out of the Goblet as he had no choice but to compete as a fourth champion. Harry's house leader Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) is concerned but Crouch says that Potter has no choice while Dumbledore feels that Harry has to compete. For Harry, it gives him a sense of unwanted fame while leading to a rift with Ron. With only Hermione to talk to, the only other correspondence he has left is his fugitive godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) who he talks to on the fire as Sirius warns him that Karkaroff is a former Death Eater not to be trusted. Making matters worse is reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson) wanting to have Harry become a press figure with her own special quill notes. Even Harry's rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) along with cronies Crabbe (Jamie Waylett) and Goyle (Joshua Herdman) are taunting him as Draco makes a bet with his father Lucius (Jason Issacs) on how long he'll survive.

Moody begins to help Harry with the idea of what to do for the first task as Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) reveals that it's dragons. Harry succeeds while reconciling his issues with Ron though the second of three tasks proves to be difficult. Even more troubling is the upcoming Yule Ball where Harry's classmate Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) seems to be anticipating while Harry and Ron are having trouble dealing with girls. Harry tries to ask fifth-year Cho Chang (Katie Leung) to the ball but she already has a date as does Hermione. Harry finally gets the nerve to as he asks Parvati Patil (Shefali Chowdhury) to accompany him to the Yule ball with Ron to be with her twin sister Padma (Afshan Azad). Ron's emotional troubles worsen when he sees that Hermione is being accompanied by none other than Viktor Krum while Neville's partner is Ginny.

After Cedric gives him a clue about the golden egg from the first task, as a thanks for mentioning the dragons. Harry finds his clue with help from ghost Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson) and more help from Neville as he succeeds in the second task. Things unfortunately, begin to trouble Harry as he later finds a body as he goes to Dumbledore who seems to be having problems with Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) about the body. Harry learns about Karkaroff and the names of Death Eaters including Barty Crouch's son whom Harry had recognized from his dream. After talking with Dumbledore, he runs into Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) who has been suspicious on who has been stealing from his closet. With the third task going underway, Harry who knows he's been put in the tournament as an attempt to kill him realizes what is really going on as he sees first-hand death, and the resurrection of Lord Voldemort.

While the film has a lot of the basic plot points that was from the book, for any of the Harry Potter purists, it's pretty clear on not what got cut but what was cut in transition to the next part of the series. This was something that the producers, Mike Newell, and screenwriter Steve Kloves understood since the film's running time is around two-and-a-half hours. Fans of the book will indeed be disappointed in what doesn't make it to the film like Harry leaving the Dursley home which is the funniest moment of the book since it reveals the Weasley twins' mastery of magic jokes which becomes a subplot into their future roles as joke makers. That doesn't make it as does the character Ludo Bagman, a former Quidditch player turned magic sports minister who the Weasley twins try to blackmail and the story surrounding the house elves which involves Barty Crouch doesn't make the final cut including some of Skeeter's writing that serves as a basis for the fifth book.

While Steve Kloves deserves credit for putting a bit more back story and focus on what the main story of The Goblet of Fire is about. What is really upsetting in terms of what leads up to the next book involves the politics that becomes the basis of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix which comes in the end of The Goblet of Fire. While Kloves only adds a touch of Dumbledore's political and personal disagreements with Fudge, it only puzzles the audience in what happens next on how the political tone of the fifth book is to be told from the aftermath of The Goblet of Fire. Another problem with the script was that even though the film is 150 minutes, it's done a bit too fast to the point that it doesn't leave enough time for audiences to get a breather or to be absorbed into one scene. This is something that needs to be improved on the fifth book, while audiences doesn't seem to care if that film will have a running time of nearly 3 hours.

While the script is only good at best, director Mike Newell does deserve some credit into bringing a lot of the feeling of growing up and the atmosphere of schools into the film. Newell makes up for the film's script with his excellent approach to directing, especially with the young actors who are given more room to breathe and time to grow. Even in some of the film's dramatic sequences and comedic moments, especially the battle scene between Harry and Lord Voldemort that brings chills to the audience. With some great camera movement and attention to the strict nature of British schools, Newell retains a bit of Alfonso Cuaron's richness from the Prisoner of Azkaban while giving the film a lot of excitement from many of the film's TriWizard task scenes. While Newell falters from the script and its pacing, he does manage to create a very satisfying feature for the Goblet of Fire which definitely makes up for his lackluster work in 2003's Mona Lisa Smile.

Cinematographer Roger Pratt returns from the Chamber of Secrets to retain the grayish look that POA cinematographer Michael Seresin gave the film while bringing some great lighting sequences, especially the dark, grimy look of Harry's battle with Lord Voldemort. Visual effects supervisor also does great work on the special effects, especially with the dragons and the merpeople in the second task. Production designer Stuart Craig brings more of the film's British feel of the schools to the film while his work in designing the Quidditch World Cup stadium and Yule Ball scenes are spectacular. The costumes by Jany Termine help with the looseness that Cuaron got in POA while it's in the Yule Ball where the clothes reveal the personality of the characters, especially with the beautiful dresses for many of the young female actresses. While the film's pacing doesn't work on some areas, editor Mick Audsley does succeed in some great cutting sequences in the film's scenes with the tasks and a lot of the action work including Moody's wandering eye.

While John Williams' main theme for the Harry Potter is still there, new composer Patrick Doyle brings a wonderful score to many of the film's dramatic moments, especially in the action sequences and most of all, the Yule Ball scene. Another added touch to the music in that Yule Ball scene comes from the fictional band the Weird Sisters who are played by Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway. The songs that are played for the film by the Weird Sisters totally rocks.

Finally, we have the film's large ensemble cast that features some great, memorable small performances from Eric Sykes, David Tennant, Warwick Davis as Professor Flitwick (whose memorable scene was crowd surfing for the Weird Sisters performance), Mark Williams, Robert Hardy, Jeff Rawle, David Bradley, Joshua Herdman, Jamie Waylett, and Tom Felton as the always cool Draco Malfoy. Jason Issacs also has a couple of memorable moments including a scene at the Quidditch World Cup and at Lord Voldemort's resurrection. While Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith don't have a lot to do, they make their appearances memorable with Smith having a funny scene teaching Ron to dance and Rickman whose presence only confirms his suspicions. Shirley Henderson also has a great scene as Moaning Myrtle that is funny but also creepy some ways since it constitute everything from things that people can get arrested for. Timothy Spall is also great as the creepy and traitorous Wormtail in a key scene for Voldemort's resurrection.

Roger-Lloyd Pack is excellent as the paranoid but grounded Barty Crouch who has a great scene with Harry about his ability to put effort into his tasks while disappointingly, Gary Oldman only appears in one scene through CGI while he does a good job in that one scene including one voice-over in the film. If there was anyone to play Rita Skeeter, only Miranda Richardson can do and she plays the role perfectly with her slithery yet funny performance as the corruptive reporter as she steals a scene or two. Brendan Gleeson is also great in his role as Mad-Eye Moody in a performance that is funny while being a very supportive man for Harry in helping with his tasks. Predrag Bjelac is excellent as the suspicious Karkaroff as his Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxime whose best scenes involve her growing romance with Hagrid where Robbie Coltrane brings a lot of great humor in those scenes.

Two performances that will be expanded in the next book from Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom are wonderfully handled since Wright has more to do while Lewis gets to have a lot more screen time as they savor every moment, especially Lewis. Katie Leung brings a great presence to her role as Cho Chang while Clemence Poesy is beautiful in her role as Fleur Delacour. Stanislav Ivaneski is excellent as the tough-looking Krum who proves that he has a soft side to himself while more impressive is Roger Pattinson as Cedric Diggory. Pattinson (in pre-Twilight mode) brings a lot of great moments as Cedric who reveals to be a popular student with a heart of gold and plays fair while having some great scenes with Daniel Radcliffe. Oliver and James Phelps as the Weasley twins bring out the film's most funniest moments whenever it's them placing bets or making fun of everyone else as they often steal every moment they have in the film.

Rupert Grint gives his best performance to date as Ron Weasley by channeling his frustrated angst into his role as just being a best friend while overcoming his unknown feelings for Hermione. Often being the comic relief, Grint brings a lot more drama to his role and he manages to bring out a fine, superb supporting performance. Emma Watson remains one of the best young actors in the series as the always intelligent but now worrisome Hermione as she is more maternal in her role while proving to be a very beautiful young woman in that Yule Ball scene. The film's most questionable performance that will really trouble fans is Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. To sum it up in one word, it would be uneven since Gambon reveals the trouble of Dumbledore who no longer feels powerful while trying to remain eccentric. It's not the writing that's problematic but it's really Gambon's approach that doesn't work since he's supposed to be a bit more restrained, especially in the scene where he confronts Harry about the Goblet. Hopefully, Gambon could try and restrain himself next time since his character is more in the background from his weariness.

Daniel Radcliffe continues to improving in his role as Harry Potter by bringing the anguish and trouble in dealing with his celebrity. Radcliffe also brings a lot of the same insecurities that people do feel in not just growing up, especially about girls, but also in his role as the young wizard who defeated Lord Voldemort. Radcliffe not only makes the role his own but one that keeps on getting better though let's hope he can restrain himself for the next film since his character will be unlikable by then. Finally, we come to the film's best performance. Move over Darth Vader, you're arrival is only weak in comparison to the this man. That great performance goes to probably the only man to play Lord Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes.

Fiennes arrival as the Dark Lord fulfills every anticipated moment once he appears on the screen and no one is as scary or as vile as that character. For those who remember Vincent D'Onofrio's character in D.J. Caruso's film The Salton Sea will definitely get an idea on what Lord Voldemort looks like but it's not just the look that is extremely scary but Fiennes brings a presence that is just chilling. There's a coldness and rage in his role while being very psychotic in the way he deals with Harry and the Death Eaters. This is truly a great performances from the wonderful Ralph Fiennes who is definitely on a winning streak since his recent, great performance in Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener just a few months ago. Let's just hope Fiennes continues to play Lord Voldemort for the rest of the series since he captures that role perfectly.

While Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire isn't perfect and will be upsetting to Harry Potter fans, as a film it works thanks to Mike Newell, his collaborators and his cast. While it's very unclear on how The Order of the Phoenix director David Yates will do for the film with a new writer and a summer 2007 release date. Newell does provide the groundwork for the series' transition from a children's fantasy story to a more teenage drama of angst and conformity. Still, the best thing to do is read the books while for fans of the movies, The Goblet of Fire doesn't disappoint only that it leads to more questions in the end. Yet, if it wasn't for Ralph Fiennes' presence, the movie would only be sub-par but thanks to him, he gives the series a lot of excitement.

© thevoid99 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (book)

When the Harry Potter series was released in the summer of 1997 in the U.K. with its first book Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K.), a new phenomenon in literature emerged. Once it reached the U.S. a year later and with two more acclaimed books to follow. While the follow-ups for Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban helped increase readers for J.K. Rowling’s series as it was growing internationally. It also meant that anticipation for the fourth novel, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire would be huge. The book would finally be released in both the U.S. and the U.K. on July 8, 2000.

In Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, the story surrounds a legendary tournament that is revived for an inter-school competition where Hogwarts competes against two other magical schools. With a student from each school to compete each other, the magical Goblet of Fire suddenly selected Harry Potter as the fourth competitor leading to a large amount of suspicion. With Harry reluctantly competing with another Hogwarts student as well as the two other students they’re facing. Harry tries to find out who put his name in the Goblet while becoming aware about Lord Voldemort’s possible return where he would suddenly face the dark wizard in a climatic duel.

While the structure of the books often begins with Harry back at the home of his unloving, anti-magic relatives. The book instead, begins with a scene taking place many years ago when a man named Frank Bryce is accused of killing a family by the name of Riddle. Though never charged, he remains a suspect until one night when Bryce entered the Riddle home to hear a frail Lord Voldemort and his servant Wormtail talking about the Quidditch World Cup and their plans to capture Harry Potter. Suddenly, Bryce is shown as Voldemort kills him where miles away. Harry Potter wakes up with his scar throbbing in pain.

The story would then follow Harry as he goes to the Quidditch World cup with the Weasleys and Hermione Granger while writing a letter to his godfather Sirius Black, who is on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. While the events at the Quidditch World Cup started out fun, it later became chaotic when Death Eaters emerged to cause havoc while someone cast the Dark Mark with Harry’s wand. The incident involved a Ministry of Magic official named Barty Crouch who becomes suspicious over who cast the Dark Mark as he would sack his own house elf named Winky for what happened.

With Harry realizing all of this had to do with Voldemort, Harry realizes that something bigger is happening as he, Hermione, and Ron Weasley return to Hogwarts where the Triwizard Tournament is to be held. With an age restriction held for those who are under the age of 17, the students of Hogwarts await the arrival of the two other competing schools to attend. The first is Beauxbaton Academy from France and Durmstrang from Northern Europe. The latter of which features popular Bulgarian Quidditch seeker Viktor Krum who has an interest towards Hermione much to Ron’s dismay. At the same time, a new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher has arrived to the school in an old Auror named Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, an old friend of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

When the Goblet of Fire was to announce the names to compete in the tournament. The three are Viktor Krum, Cedric Diggory of the Hufflepuff House at Hogwarts, and Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons. Then a fourth named came out of the Goblet as it was Harry’s name. Controversy arose as Barty Crouch and Ludo Bagman, a former Quidditch player turned Ministry official, decided that Harry would compete under the rules of the tournament. The announcement of Harry’s name into the tournament would cause a brief rift between him and Ron as Harry not only had to endure the indifferent behavior of his classmates but also Draco Malfoy’s insults as well as the tabloid-inspired journalism of Daily Prophet writer Rita Skeeter.

Though Harry would eventually succeed in the tournament while helping Diggory in giving him information about the first task. Harry starts to figure out who put his name in the Goblet as he suspects Durmstrang headmaster Igor Karkaroff, a former Death Eater. While he, Ron, and Hermione try to uncover the truth with help from Moody and later, Sirius Black. Black would reveal a shocking story about Barty Crouch and his son, who was suspected as a Death Eater. When Harry finally competes in the third and final task, he is suddenly transported to graveyard with one of his competitors. There, Harry would not only see that person killed but also be a witness to Voldemort’s resurrection.

While the first three books were more character-driven stories that dwelled into dark themes. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is more of a transitional book of what would come in the next three. It is the first book that isn’t just ambitious in its storytelling but would provide the groundwork for the epic-like storyline of those books that would follow. More importantly, the story would also unveil many ideas of what it was like back then when Voldemort was in power as well as the fear of his possible resurrection.

One chapter would introduce three dark curses that would play a part into the rest of the series known as the Unforgivable Curses. The first is an Imperius Curse that allows a wizard/witch to control its victim. The second is the Cruciatus Curse, a curse that tortures its victim. The third and last is the Killing Curse known as Avada Kedavra which kills its victim as Harry is the only person to survive that curse. The person that would introduce the curses to its student is Mad-Eye Moody. A deranged man who had seen his share of battles and dark magic as he becomes an unlikely ally of Harry to help him with his Triwizard tasks as well as helping the trio with their investigation about who put Harry’s name. Yet, like previous Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers before him, there is something that isn’t right that is unveiled towards the end of the book.

Moody isn’t just one of the new characters that would be given a chance to get a lot of story time. Other new characters get a chance to be profiled like Viktor Krum, Fleur Delacour, Beauxbatons headmistress Madame Maxime, Igor Karkaroff, Barty Crouch, Ludo Bagman, and Rita Skeeter. The last of which, is a woman who thrives on creating exaggerating stories. Many of which would later impact not just Harry’s persona but also in trying to create a rift with the trio when Hermione is seen with Krum. Even as her style of journalism would become the basis of the political corruption and biased-news stories that would be an important theme for the next book.

Minor characters like Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang would also be given more of a profile, the latter of which is Harry’s first crush as she is later to be revealed as Diggory’s girlfriend. There’s also more stories about two of Harry’s teachers that are revealed in both Hagrid and Professor Snape. Hagrid is revealed to be a half-giant at which, Skeeter’s profile on the teacher has earned him lots of insults from various people until Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore convince him to ignore those comments. Then there’s Snape, another of Harry’s nemesis who is also revealed to be a former Death Eater but what is more surprising is that he then joined Dumbledore as a spy where Harry would ask Dumbledore about Snape. The only answer Dumbledore would give Harry about Snape is “that is a matter between Professor Snape and myself”.

While the book would have a lot of time delving into Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, and various other major characters. Two other minor characters get a chance to be shown more in Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom. The latter of which, would be revealed into why he lives with his grandmother as Dumbledore tells Harry about what happened to Neville’s parents. The increased profile for Ginny and Neville would really serve as a precursor for their characters as they would later become major characters in the books to follow.

The book also has a subplot relating to house-elves as Dobby, from Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, returns to the series as he works with other house-elves at Hogwarts giving hope to Hermione’s cause for house-elves rights. Dobby would also be instrumental into helping Harry with the Triwizard tournament as well as providing Harry food that he needed to be sent to Sirius, as he hides in a cave near the school. Winky meanwhile, would also be instrumental into the story as she would provide more stories about Barty Crouch as well as the secret she’s carrying relating to the Crouch family.

While Hermione’s house-elf protests along with a small subplot about Fred and George Weasley trying to blackmail Ludo Bagman over money for their joke shop are among part of the story. The climax of the book is Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort as Harry is surrounded by Voldemort’s Death Eaters that includes Lucius Malfoy. Though Harry was able to survive the battle and escape Voldemort, it is during his capture where Harry would lose his innocence once Wormtail takes Harry’s blood and puts into a large pot as Harry’s blood would live inside Voldemort.

While a lot of mysteries would be unveiled on who put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire and why did all of this happen. Many readers would think that would be the end of the story. Instead, it would the book’s penultimate chapter entitled Parting of the Ways that would set the course for the next book. It is in that chapter where readers would finally see what kind of person that Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge is as he and Dumbledore would have a falling out over what had happened Fudge refuses to listen to the truth. Even as Snape tries to intervene and reveal the faded dark mark on his arm as evidence of Voldemort’s return. With Fudge refusing to believe everyone, Dumbledore would turn to the people in the room for help as Sirius Black would finally reveal himself to Molly Weasley and his longtime adversary in Snape as Dumbledore gives orders on what to do while making Snape and Sirius shake hands, much to their reluctance.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is definitely a magnificent book that not only gives readers a much broader look into the magical world but also the idea of what it would’ve been like when Voldemort was in power. It also the book where we readers would find more shift and developments into many of the characters in the book, including Harry. While the dark tone, the small level of violence, and the world of biased-journalism and political themes would be overwhelming for younger readers. It is a book that will definitely appeal to adults as it steps into strong themes that are relevant with the real world. In the end, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is a wondrous book that sets the transition for all of the pre-adult themes to come.

© thevoid99 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back to the Future (25th Anniversary Edition)

In the summer of 1985, a new movie captivated the film world with a story about a high school kid who goes back in time to 1955 in a DeLorean.  The movie was called Back to the Future as it starred Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale.  The film was an unlikely hit as it grossed nearly $400 million worldwide and became a favorite with critics.  Also starring Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, and Thomas F. Wilson, the film would also spawn two sequels where Marty and Doc travel through time with the DeLorean.

25 years later, the film is hailed as a classic along with one of the greatest films of all-time.  In anticipation for its release on Blu-Ray DVD, Universal decided to release Back to the Future theatrical for one weekend only to celebrate its release.  Digitally-remastered, the film is a chance for those who saw the film 25 years ago to revisit it again in the theaters.  For those who have seen it on TV and other home video formats, it’s a chance to see it on the big screen.

The story begins with Marty McFly, a high school teenager whose life hasn’t been great.  Living in a bleak family home where his older brother Dave (Marc McClure) works multiple jobs while his sister Linda (Wendie Jo Sperber) is having a hard time finding a boyfriend.  Marty’s dad George (Crispin Glover) is still being bullied by old high school friend Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) as George’s wife Lorraine (Lea Thompson) has a drinking problem.  Marty’s aspirations to be a rock star also have bumps despite the support of his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells).

Then one night, Marty gets a call from his friend Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown about a scientific breakthrough he uncovered as he comes in a DeLorean DMC-12 with some modifications.  Revealing he had made a time machine, Marty films everything as Doc recalls the moment he came up with the idea back on November of 1955.  Doc also revealed he had taken some plutonium so he can generate the 1.21 gigawatts he needed to power the flux capacitor.  Just before he was to flee, Libyan terrorists arrive as Marty ends up fleeing on the DeLorean back to 1955.

Upon his arrival and hiding the DeLorean, he is back in Hill Valley as it was back in 1955 where he meets his father as a young man as well as Biff.  Just as the young George was about to be hit by a car, Marty pushes him out of the way where he wakes up to meet his young mother.  Realizing that his mother is attracted to him, Marty meets the younger version of his mother’s family as he leaves to find Doc.  After finding Doc, circa 1955, with a bandage on his head, Doc refuses to believe Marty until Marty told him about the flux capacitor.  After finding the DeLorean and learning what Marty needed to get back in time.  Doc realizes that 1.21 gigawatts is the equation for a bolt of lightning as Marty has a date for when that bolt of lightning would come in.

Yet, Marty’s interaction with his parents could cost him his existence as he realizes he needs to get his parents together while evade the affections of his mother.  Marty gets close to his father learning about George’s aspirations to be a science-fiction writer as Marty decides to help him.  Even as they have to deal with Biff and his gang.  While Marty tries to help George to get Lorraine, Biff intervenes as Marty ends up humiliating Biff.  By the night of the school dance and the lightning to appear to hit the clock tower.  Marty tries to make plans for George to win Lorraine only to get into trouble by Biff where George finally makes a stand.  Even as Marty would steal the show while hoping to tell Doc about the future of what happened to him the night Marty got sent back into time.

For audiences who had seen the film 25 years ago, it was one of those magical events as it became a film everyone would see for many years.  Now re-released for a two-night engagement on October 23 at 12:30 PM and October 25 at 7 PM.  Audiences can get a chance to see the film in a newly remastered presentation.  The remastering in both sound and vision is truly magical.  Dean Cundey’s photography is more vibrant than ever as it truly takes in the wondrous world that director Robert Zemeckis had envisioned.  At the same time, audiences who had seen the film so many times get a chance to get a look into smaller details that they had overlooked.

The look of the film is more pristine than in its original 1985 print while the sound is much broader to complement the soaring score of Alan Silvestri.  Even as it features a soundtrack of music by Huey & the News on two classic songs, Back In Time and The Power of Love.  The dialogue that is heard throughout the film is also much clearer as it gives audiences a chance to quote one-liners as well as hear dialogue they also overlooked.  It is truly a cinematic experience that can’t be replicated in the age of 3D-gimmick driven films, bloated blockbusters, and overly-sentimental dramatic features.

While the film is definitely complemented by its amazing technical work from the dazzling visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic, the energetic editing of Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt, and Lawrence G. Paull’s production design.  The highlight of the film that has made it so memorable is the cast.  From numerous small roles that audiences remember from Harry Waters Jr. as Marvin Berry, James Tolkain as Mr. Strickland, Donald Fullilove as Goldie Wilson, and a legendary cameo from Huey Lewis as the schoolteacher who told Marty that he’s just too darn loud.  There’s faces in that film that people will remember.  Even Biff’s gang that’s played by J.J. Cohen, Casey Siemaszko, and Billy Zane along with a young Jason Hervey as Lorraine’s younger brother.

Other noteworthy small roles include Marc McClure as Marty’s older brother Dave, the late Wendie Jo Sperber as Linda McFly, and Claudia Wells as Marty’s loyal girlfriend Jennifer are all wonderful to watch.  Yet, the real standout is Thomas F. Wilson as Biff.  The bully who wants Lorraine and torments George McFly while having some memorable moments that is truly his most iconic character.  Crispin Glover is great to watch as George McFly, a nerd with little confidence as he is helped by his own son to get the girl he’s wanted.  Lea Thompson is also a marvel to watch as Lorraine McFly, a woman who falls for her son while getting to have one of the most memorable lines in the film. 

Yet, the two best performances of the film really belong to Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox.  Lloyd as the wise-cracking, paranoid Doc Brown as Lloyd gets to say some funny lines while having the desire to create something that he will be remembered for.  Fox is definitely magnificent as the everyman in Marty McFly.  How can there be a film without anyone of these individuals?

Back to the Future is still a masterpiece that is definitely going to endure by the time it reaches 2015, which isn’t far away right now.  It’s the kind of film that puts asses in the seat and gives everyone a good time in an age where Hollywood is desperate to put asses in the seats with mindless gimmicks.  With the upcoming Blu-Ray release for entire Back to the Future trilogy coming, it’s a chance for old audiences to revisit Marty, Doc, and the gang once again while a new generation to get a chance to see a classic film.  If there’s a film that should be seen again and again on a screen no matter how big or how small (unless it’s in a stupid iPod or  any hand-held device crap).  Back to the Future is the film to see.

© thevoid99 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

When the X-Men comics finally became a feature film in 2000.  The film was a hit as it introduced the film world to Hugh Jackman as one of the group’s popular heroes in Wolverine.  X2:  X-Men United followed in 2003 to great success as did X-Men 3:  The Last Stand in 2006.  Though the last film was under the helm of a different director in Brett Ratner and received mixed reviews.  The film was still a commercial hit as plans for spin-offs in relation to the characters were in the works.  With Jackman’s popularity as Wolverine still viable, 20th Century Fox decided to tackle an origin story for the first of a series X-Men spin-off films entitled X-Men Origins:  Wolverine.

Directed by Gavin Hood with a screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods, X-Men Origins:  Wolverine tells the story of Wolverine and his background that spans from the 19th Century to the present where he’s accompanied by his older half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabretooth.  When Wolverine leaves a special unit group that was headed by William Stryker that also included Victor, he settles for a quiet life until tragedy occurs where he would become the monster with metallic blades that was also invulnerable.  With Jackman playing the role of Logan/Wolverine, the film also stars Liev Schrieber, Danny Huston,, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Dominic Monaghan, and Ryan Reynolds.  X-Men Origins:  Wolverine is a film that ends up being a lazy, overblown film that adds nothing to the X-Men film franchise.

In the near-mid 1800s, a young boy named James Hewlett (Troye Sivan) is sick as he has a mutation where he can grow claws from his fists.  After an incident that involved the death of his real father, James and his older half-brother Victor Creed (Michael James Olsen) runs away where they would spend nearly an entire century as adults fighting numerous wars.  By the time they reach the Vietnam War, Victor Creed (Liev Schrieber) has become more volatile while James, renames himself as Logan is more compassionate.  After some troubles with the military, they meet Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston) who invites them to join an elite team of mutants.

Years go by as Logan becomes tired of the team he’s a part of that also consist of Creed, talkative swordsman Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), teleported John Wraith (, marksman Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), the invincible Fred J. Dukes/the Blob (Kevin Durand), and the techno path Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan).  After a mission in Africa, Logan leaves the team where he would reshape his life years later in Canada as a lumberjack.  At the same time, he has a girlfriend named Kayla (Lynn Collins) where he seemed to have peace until Stryker makes a visit.  Stryker reveals a plot to kill members of their old team as he makes a warning to Logan.  Some time later, Creed appears to battle Logan as the conflict leaves some tragic consequences for Logan as he turns to Stryker for help.

Stryker decides to inject adamantium, a new form of metal into Logan’s body as Logan asked to be renamed as Wolverine.  The experiment becomes successful but after overhearing Stryker’s plans to wipe Logan’s memory, Logan escapes and hides.  Logan then had to battle adversaries including Agent Zero as he turns to Wraith and Dukes for help about what Creed and Stryker are up to.  After meeting Remy LeBeau/Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) in New Orleans to find the whereabouts of Stryker’s new laboratory, Creed comes into attack where Gambit decides to help Logan.  Upon his arrival into the island, Logan finds a shocking surprise as well as the new weapon Stryker created known as Weapon XI/Deadpool.

When the idea for an origin story about one of X-Men’s most popular characters would be made into a film.  The idea seems something fans would enjoy.  All there was needed to be told about Logan/Wolverine is his background, his relationship with half-brother Victor Creed, and how he had adamantium into his body.  They got all of that but the problem is that the execution was awful. While co-screenwriter David Benioff added a lot of dramatic elements to the story, he and co-scribe Skip Woods didn’t dwell enough into Logan’s background as well as the complexity of his character.  Instead, Wolverine is made into a one-dimensional character who only has two main emotions.  Sad and angry with a bit of sensitivity and warmth.  While audiences know that Wolverine is also a character with a sense of humor.  None of the humor works with the approach the writers have for the character.

It’s not just Wolverine that is badly written.  It’s the people involved with Wolverine that don’t get much meat into their roles.  Notably Kayla, who only appears for about 20 minutes of the film early on and then, disappears for nearly the rest of the film.  The audience have no idea of how they met or when did this meeting occur.  At the same time, she ends up being just a run-of-the-mill love interest that audiences don’t really care about.  Then there’s Victor Creed and William Stryker.  The complex relationship between Creed and Wolverine is told exactly what is to be needed but the problem is that its approach is messy while their last moment together doesn’t work.  Even as it would set up the events of the first film where Creed would be known as Sabretooth.

Stryker meanwhile, isn’t as engaging in comparison to the other incarnation in X2.  Audiences know who he is and what he would do to Wolverine.  Even as there’s tidbits to his own son, whose character would have a bigger role for X2.  Yet, that isn’t explored enough in the writing as Benioff and Woods are more concerned with wanting to get the action going.  Notably for the setup and anticipation for the big villain known as Deadpool.  Unfortunately, that setup and the moment he arrives ends up being one of the film’s major disappointments.

The action-drama approach of the screenplay is very awful.  When it comes to some dramatic moments or character-related plot points, it drags the entire film in some places while there’s scenes where it moves too quickly so it can go to an action sequence.  The set-up for the action ends up being cartoonish and over-the-top in the writing where there’s moments where no one really knows what is going on at times.  Another problem of the story is when did all of this happen?  Audiences do get introduced to the future Scott Summers/Cyclops as well as Emma Frost, both of whom would become students in Charles Xavier’s school for mutants.  There’s no sense of time frame that goes on where there’s modern technology that is available in present time yet how would it relate to the other films when that was set in the early 2000s?  That’s a major reason why the screenplay is a failure in its presentation.

Yet, none of that could be compared to Gavin Hood’s direction.  While there’s nothing wrong with a by-the-books approach to directing an action film.  What Hood failed to do was make it interesting, engaging, and entertaining.  Instead, he goes for a bigger is better mentality and a move into the action in such a fast way that he could rival hacks like Michael Bay and McG in that department of overblown filmmaking.  Unlike Bay and McG, Hood does have more experience in directing drama.  Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn’t allow him to work with strong material.  Even the action sequences, filled with CGI and settings that don’t look real.  Hood was really unable to create a film that could get people excited.

Even in the way the scenes are directed where a shot of Logan screaming at the sky is presented in such a clumsy, cheesy fashion.  For many of the film’s exterior scenes, the look of the film feels very unrealistic.  Whether it’s due to Donald McAlpine’s cinematography or whatever post-production work was done to the locations.  It feels and looks like it was made by a computer.  It’s not just McAlpine’s photography nor the editing isn’t just uninspiring.  A lot of the film’s technical work doesn’t seem to wow or serve anything.  The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is very mediocre and reminiscent of every action film score out there with bombastic orchestral arrangements and such.

The casting isn’t great either as many of the actors weren’t given any substantial material to work with.  While there’s cameos from Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier along with future X-Men characters in Tim Pocock as Scott Summers/Cyclops and Tahyna Tozzi as Emma Frost.  None of them really give any kind of performance that is worth noting.  Neither do Troye Sivan and Michael James Olsen in their younger versions of Logan and Victor, respectively as audiences don’t get enough time to get to know them.  Other smaller performances such as Kevin Durand as the Blob and Daniel Henney as Agent Zero weren’t interesting enough to be invested in as they’re just one-dimensional characters.

More well-known actors like Dominic Monaghan and Ryan Reynolds are practically wasted in their respective performances as Chris Bradley and Wade Wilson.  Notably Reynolds, who is a funny actor as he’s only in the film for about a few minutes and then, reappears towards the end as close-ups of Deadpool that kills whatever momentum the film has.  Taylor Kitsch is truly awful as Gambit, a character that is very obnoxious as Kitsch sports a bad New Orleans accent. is really the worst performance of the film as he’s just there to appear and be Wolverine’s sidekick.  He doesn’t even act as he tries to look cool with a cowboy hat.  His role is really more of a distraction as he’s really known as the talent-less hack who is in the Black Eyed Peas.  Lynn Collins doesn’t do anything in terms of performance by rather just look sexy, comfort Logan, and get scared.  There’s really no depth to her character while she and Hugh Jackman have no chemistry for the audience to be invested in.

Danny Huston is actually the film’s best performance but that isn’t saying much since he spends half of the film sleepwalking throughout the majority of the film.  In the role of William Stryker, Huston doesn’t really give anything to make Stryker charismatic nor engaging in the way Brian Cox was with the character in X2:  X-Men United.  Instead, Huston’s performance is such a waste that the audience will end up missing Brian Cox.  Liev Schreiber tries to put some life into his performance as Victor Creed/Sabretooth but ends up being cartoonish.  Even when he tries to be the mean monster as Schreiber really was given a character that is really just one-dimensional.

Finally, there’s Hugh Jackman in the title role.  Jackman is always fun to watch as Wolverine and does have the chops to do drama and be funny.  The problem is that his character becomes less complex and more cartoonish with two emotions.  Angry and weepy.  The funny one-liners he gets aren’t funny, the action sequences has him looking quite awkward and he fails in the dramatic department.  It’s as if he’s acting with no one throughout the film while being inside a CGI studio.  It’s a terrible performance for Jackman who has done better with this character, a character that audiences loved in previous films.

X-Men Origins:  Wolverine is, truly without a doubt, one of the worst films ever made.  While fingers can be pointed at star and producer Hugh Jackman, director Gavin Hood, and screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods.  The real culprits are the executives at 20th Century Fox for their interference with the film.  Even with the additional endings they added when a leaked work print version of the film was released a month prior to the film’s actual release.  For doing that, this is a film that should be seen as an example where a studio can go way too far into trying to make a money-grabbing film only to anger the core audience it tried to appeal to.  In the end, X-Men Origins:  Wolverine is an abomination from Fox as they have destroyed one of the most beloved characters in the world of comic books.

© thevoid99 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/5/04 w/ Additional Edits.

When British novelist J.K. Rowling became a huge success with her children's story on the boy-wizard Harry Potter, Warner Brothers knew that a film franchise was born. After consulting with Rowling to turn her books into movies, Warner Brothers finally got a franchise that is likely to be successful. With family film director Chris Columbus on board along with an elite group of Britain's finest actors and young newcomers including Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role as the Boy Who Lived. In 2001, the first film Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone opened to huge box office success, as did its sequel, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets the following year, both released on the holidays. While both films grossed huge amount of box office receipts and won some acclaim from critics and fans of the books, many wondered how will the next film for The Prisoner of Azkaban will be presented.

While Chris Columbus did a fine job with the first two films, some felt he was too faithful to the first two books and didn't do enough to make them standout as films. With the fifth book Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix looming for a June 2003 release, Columbus felt tired and didn't want to direct the third film leaving only to stay on his role as producer. Immediately, Warner Brothers scrambled on not just expanding the franchise's cast while finding a replacement for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, but also finding a new director.

J.K. Rowling made a radical suggestion in choosing the controversial but acclaimed Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron, whose previous credits had included 1991's Solo con Tu Pareja, 1995's A Little Princess, and the 1998 modern adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectation, was indeed a controversial choice his 2001 masterpiece Y Tu Mama Tambien was a raunchy, extreme sex film that pushed the limits of sexual content. Rowling chose Cuaron not for that film but more for A Little Princess because of his visual style and his approach to filmmaking. Cuaron at first wasn't sure if he wanted to do it but after reading the screenplay by Steve Kloves (who also wrote the scripts for the first two films), Cuaron joined the franchise.

Whereas the previous two films really were used to introduce Harry Potter, his classmates, teachers, and his cruel family, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is where the Harry Potter story really begins. After thwarting his parents' murderer Lord Voldemort twice in the first two, Harry Potter becomes a teenager and is forced to new challenges and emotions. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry returns to the wizard school of Hogwarts where he is placed under guard by soul-sucking hooded creatures called dementors where a convict named Sirius Black has escaped the treacherous Azkaban prison and is rumored to come after Harry Potter. Amidst the guarded school, Harry learns more about his parents and Black along with his own powers while growing up with his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

Directed by Cuaron with the adapted screenplay by Steve Kloves, the film was considered to be the most radical of the franchise. Where Columbus is more of an entertaining storyteller, Cuaron is more of the auteur who wants to make changes.  Challenge actors and recreate sets to give a more livelier feel to the world of Harry Potter and separate itself from the books.  With the young cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Tom Felton returning along with veterans like Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Maggie Smith, David Bradley, Robert Hardy, Ron Griffiths, and Fiona Shaw from the previous films. Joining the franchise for the new film are Gary Oldman, Pam Ferris, David Thewlis, Dawn French, Timothy Spall, Emma Thompson, Julie Christie, and Michael Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore. The resulting film isn't just the best film of the series but clearly raises the bar for the films ahead in the years to come.

For Harry Potter, summer has never been a fine time since he's forced to live at home with his Muggle relatives the Dursleys. This year, it gets worse when his Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) invited his sister Marge (Pam Ferris) to stay for a week with Harry's Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Marge loves to criticize Harry and his behavior is at a crucial point since he needed a permission slip from school to be signed by his uncle.  Unfortunately, Marge's comments on Harry's parents pushed him too far where he had her blown up into a balloon and he leaves the Dursley home immediately. Knowing that he wasn't supposed to do magic outside of his school Hogwarts, he was ready to make his escape till he came across a huge dog. The dog disappeared when the Knight Bus arrived to pick him up where he read the Daily Prophet about a convicted murder named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped Azkaban prison.

Upon his arrival at the Leaky Cauldron, the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) tells him that Harry won't be in trouble since he is supposed to be watched. The next day, Harry sees his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) arguing over her new cat Crookshanks who had been going after his rat Scabbers. Harry meets the rest of the Weasley clan that included little sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), elder brother/new Head Boy Percy (Chris Rankin), mischevious twins Fred & George (James & Oliver Phelps), mother Molly (Julie Walters) and father Arthur (Mark Williams) who tells Harry about Sirius Black's escape, who is supposedly coming after Harry in order to resurrect the ailing Lord Voldemort.

Harry and the gang leave on the train to Hogwarts where they sit in an empty compartment with a sleeping man who turns out to be their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Remus Lupin (David Thewlis). On the way to Hogwarts, the train stops where everything begins to freeze and Harry comes across a black-hooded creature called a dementor, that was sucking the soul out of Harry. Lupin stops it and upon their arrival, Harry and his classmates learn that the school's headmaster Professor Dumbledore isn't happy with the dementors while announcing the new arrivals of Lupin and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) taking over as the new teacher for Care of Magical Creatures.  Hagrid's first class starts off well until Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) starts to get himself injured after insulting a hippogriff named Buckbeak.  Yet, Harry had other problems when he and classmates attended their first Divinations class with Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson who believes that Harry has a death omen around him.

With the news of Sirius Black's sightings looming all over Hogwarts, Harry and his classmates go to their first Dark Arts lesson with Lupin.  Lupin teaches the students how to repel boggarts, a manifestation of things people fear. For Harry's classmate Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), his greatest fear was Potions master Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in which, Neville made boggart Snape dress up like his grandmother with many other students conquering their fears but Harry didn't get his chance to fight one as Lupin feared that it would manifest into Lord Voldemort.  Harry befriends Lupin, who knew Harry's parents as he used to go to school with them which brings comfort to Harry.  Even as he was unable to visit the Hogsmeade village because he never got his permission slip signed.

During a fest, a break-in occurred when the Fat Lady (Dawn French) painting was in shreds where Dumbledore and caretaker Filch (David Bradley) learned that Sirius Black was in the castle. The students were forced to sleep in the Great Hall where Snape suspects that someone in the school brought Black into the castle.  Snape takes over for an ailing Lupin where he gives them a lesson about werewolves.  Yet, Harry has bigger problems during his Quidditch match where Dementors flew around him making Dumbledore extremely upset that they were on Hogwarts grounds.  Lupin decides to teach Harry how to battle Dementors as he is still weary from his illness.  With Harry desperate to go to Hogsmeade, Fred and George give Harry the Marauder's Map.  A secret map of Hogwarts that includes secret passages to various place including Hogsmeade.  During his secret visit, he meets with Ron and Hermione while listening to a secret conversation from Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Madam Rosmerta (Julie Christie), and Fudge about Sirius Black as he was revealed to be Harry's godfather.  For Harry, it is heartbreaking news as he vows to confront Black.

With Harry learning how to defend himself against Dementors from Lupin, Harry also tries to ease the tension between Ron and Hermione over Scabbers' sudden disappearance.  When they heard that Buckbeak is to be killed over what happened to Draco, the trio are unsure what to do.  Then one night when Harry is checking the map for another sighting of Black, he suddenly sees a dot for a man named Peter Pettigrew.  A man who was also a friend of the Potters who was supposedly killed by Black along with 12 other people with a single curse.  Harry would find a link about Pettigrew as he finally confronts Black where some truths are uncovered about what really happened as Snape and Lupin would be involved with the confrontation.

While most film adaptations of books tend to have flaws and omit certain scenes in order to tighten story. The Prisoner of Azkaban clearly has a tighter and more complex story despite its flaws in the script.  While fans of the book will be upset over what was cut in the story along with back story on objects, such as the Marauder's Map.  Screenwriter Steve Kloves creates a more streamlined approach to the story in focusing on Harry, his friendship, and his newfound friendship to Professor Lupin over his connection with Harry's late parents.  Kloves also makes changes to some of the setting and characterization.  Notably Dumbledore, who was once this more restrained, regal kind of a character as he's changed into a more eccentric individual.

While Kloves deserves credit for tightening the story into script, the real credit for the film's brilliance clearly goes to Alfonso Cuaron. While Chris Columbus has a  directing style that is more safe and goes by-the-book. Cuaron is a more of a stylistic director who works from a much broader canvas.  Some have criticized Columbus for being a bit glossy but with Cuaron, he brings all of the arty elements of his previous films and puts into a mainstream family film where it achieves not just for a mass audience but also serious art film fans.  Cuaron's use of wide-camera angle shots, close-ups, and some hand-held camera work really shows Cuaron taking on a different approach to the filmmaking than other directors of the series would've done.  On directing the actors, there's definitely a more relaxed tone where the actors start to come into their own and give a bit of their personalities.  The result isn't just a mesmerizing film that is entertaining and engaging but also shows what can be to a family film with elements of fantasy while broadening to appeal to more serious filmgoers.  Even as the film opens with a veiled adult joke about Harry playing with his wand.

If Cuaron's wandering, abstract directing style gives the film an edge that raises the bar for the franchise. Helping him on the visual department is cinematographer Michael Seresin (noted for his work with Alan Parker) who really steps up to the plate with his bleak, colorful photography. While previous cinematographers like John Seale and Roger Pratt have done fine work, Seresin really aims for a darker look to the film with help from production designer Stuart Craig who gives Hogwarts a bigger look with its clock tower and bridge.

Plus, the art direction by Alan Gilmore is stepped a notch for giving Hogwarts and Hogsmeade a more contemporary look with a tone that kids could relate to. Even the costume design by Jany Temime is given new life where the school kids and even Professor Lupin and Dumbledore are given looser clothing that shows the new freedom the film has. Helping Cuaron and Seresin on the visual effects were supervisors Tim Burke and Steve Hamilton that really give the effects a livelier look with some fun and scary moments. Notably the look of the dementors that really lived up to its imagination for readers along with the Monster Book of Monsters and the creature of Buckbeak.  Even the film score by John Williams is given new dimension not just adding a playful look to the film but also intensify in the action scenes while dabbles in melancholia in the more emotionally-driven scenes.

Then there's the film's amazing cast of elite actors where some greats like Julie Walters, Richard Griffiths, Mark Williams Fiona Shaw, Timothy Spall, David Bradley, and Julie Christie are well used in their small roles. Even the smaller performances of its younger actors like Matthew Lewis, and the Phelps twins were fun to watch while Maggie Smith and Robert Hardy were given time to deliver masterful performances in their respective roles. Pam Ferris' small screen time as Aunt Marge is hilarious to watch while Absolutely Fabulous TV-star Dawn French brings some humor as the Fat Lady with a funny opera scene.

While it's obvious that the regality that the late Richard Harris left for Dumbledore will never be replaced, Michael Gambon makes up that loss by being a more mischievous and off-the-wall to Dumbledore where he's both funny and carries a prestige presence. Alan Rickman continues to be amazing as Professor Snape with his sneering look towards Harry while we get to know him more and his hatred towards Harry's father. Robbie Coltrane also shines in the role of Hagrid where he brings a likeability and charm to his role while we root for him when Buckbeak is in trouble. Tom Felton also shines as Draco Malfoy where we finally see him gets what he deserves when Hermione clearly had enough.

Of the new actors added to the franchise, David Thewlis is amazing as Professor Lupin. He brings a compassionate, complex performance as a teacher who is loved by most students while in his scenes with Daniel Radcliffe, brings a mentor-like tone to his role while holding a dark secret. While Gary Oldman is only seen in pictures early in the film till we finally see him in the final act, Oldman brings another classic performance as the troubled Sirius Black. Known for playing villains and Sid Vicious to film fans, Oldman brings an eerie presence to the franchise and a provocative nature that is wonderful to watch. Emma Thompson is clearly the film's most hilarious performance as Professor Trelawney. Thompson, mostly known for period and drama films, returns to her roots as a comedic actress by bringing an over-the-top performance that is clearly gets funnier every time she makes a prediction.

Rupert Grint, who always served as the comic backbone for the character of Ron really gets to shine more dramatically while his comedic skills of sarcasm are heightened to perfect timing. Emma Watson really shines as Hermione by being a bit looser and more rebellious while using her brains to get Harry and Ron out of situations while finally standing up to Malfoy. Grint and Watson even have a strange but fun chemistry that is enjoyable to watch as they develop this love/hate relationship. Daniel Radcliffe clearly delivers his best performance to date in the title role of Harry Potter. We see him at first feeling a bit confident until the dementors arrive and we even root for him when he wants to fight them. Radcliffe delivers his best performance in the more emotionally intense scenes and clearly steps up to the plate when acting with the likes of Oldman, Thewlis, Rickman, Gambon, and Smith.

While it may not live up to the complexity of the book, Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is clearly the best film of the Harry Potter franchise, so far. With a great cast, look, tone, story, score, and format, Cuaron raises the bar of what could be done for a fantasy film that appeals to young audiences.  Fans of the Potter books and films will indeed find The Prisoner of Azkaban the best film of the series and truly lives up to the book's spirit while fans of Alfonso Cuaron will be pleased with the way he handled himself in a mainstream franchise. If there's one blockbuster film that will satisfy blockbuster moviegoers and more cinematic filmgoers, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is the film to see

© thevoid99 2010