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Wildly entertaining, totally fun, very dark and enthralling. Like a great ride at an amusement park . . . I wouldn't mind doing it over again.
So . . . where to begin? Honestly, I think this is the hardest review I've ever written. It is now two hours after the curtain closed on my first viewing of the most recent entry in the Harry Potter film franchise, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". Numerous thoughts are rushing through my head, some contradictory. I don't think I have yet grasped the full impact of the movie on me, but hopefully, I will know by the time I'm finished writing.
Okay, before entering the movie theatre there are a few things you have to know.
1) This is the third movie . . . based on the third book . . . and if you haven't read and/or seen the first two movies/books, get a refund on your ticket and get to the nearest Chapters or Blockbuster. Caurón wastes no time in explaining characters backgrounds, or explaining situations. For this, I am very grateful. Indeed it is not necessary to once again give the background on these characters. The first two movies have thrown us into this magical world that we must now accept. The focus is no longer on what in this magical world is new and exciting, but rather on how our beloved characters function within their environment. Nonetheless, we are still treated to some tremendous introductions - the purple triple-decker Knight Bus and the extraordinary hippogriff, Buckbeak, just to name a few.
2) Please do accept the world that has been created for us by former director Chris Columbus, but also accept that things are different. If you go in to the theatre expecting a style similar to the first two movies, you will be extremely disappointed. Be prepared for freshness, for a completely different feel. We know much about Hogwarts now, and we no longer need wide sweeping views of its magical contents that last for a long periods of time, allowing us take in the remarkable scenery. We are happy to settle for a quicker pace, faster advancement of plot and more focus on the emotional state of the characters being viewed.
3) This movie is darker . . . much darker. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" was considerably darker than its predecessor, ". . . Philosopher's Stone", but Caurón's work makes Columbus' efforts seem like "Barney and Friends". I am not saying that children should be barred from seeing this film. I think we underestimated children's abilities some times. "The Wizard of Oz", a film I compared the first in the Potter series to, has very many dark moments in it; so does Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" for that matter . . . but children are able to handle it. In fact, I dare say they enjoy a bit of fright at times. On that note, I would say that children who have read the book should see the movie. This movie is not for those who are not old enough to understand the themes, complex plot and dark nature of Book 3.
So . . . what do I think? In short . . . I like it. I like it very much actually. While the first two movies seem like graphic depictions of J.K. Rowling's works, this third installment appears, to me at least, to be the first real cinematic adaptation. The movies of "Philosopher's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" do just what the books do - paint the picture of Hogwarts in our minds - establish the scene. In "Azkaban", Rowling finally begins to advance the main story which ties together all seven works in the set (two of which are still to be published). The third book thus serves a very different function from the first two books, and so, the third movie fulfils the same function. As mentioned before, the focus is taken away from "setting the scene" and the result is a fast-paced, action-packed, fun-filled (wow, three hyphenated terms in a row!) drama, truly befitting of the character of the novel. Columbus stayed true to the first two novels by reproducing Rowling's wonderland. This task is much harder for Caurón as he has to deal with a much larger book (exceeding Book 2 by approximately 100 pages). Instead, Caurón stays true to Rowling's work by adopting the character of "Azkaban" and transforming it into a cinematic masterpiece.
The film is visually stunning, perhaps one of the greatest visual achievements of this decade (second only to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in my opinion). While Quidditch was the triumph of "Philosopher's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" was revered for its recreation of both Dobby and the basilisk, the CGI masterpiece of "Azkaban" is Buckbeak, the friendly hippogriff (friendly if your name isn't Draco Malfoy). Seldom is a CGI figure's character (I mean to say "personality" but it perhaps is not the most
appropriate term since we are dealing with a half-eagle, half-horse) allowed to shine through. Most CGI animators focus on producing the requested image, but don't worry about portraying the character's persona. We truly feel for Buckbeak in this film; he is perhaps one of the greatest things in it. We do have the customary "boy riding on animal" scene (which to me was overly reminiscent of "Free Willy") but Caurón avoids the potential cheesiness of this scene by neglecting conventional close-ups of Harry smiling, in favour or showing the beauty of the hippogriff's flight. We experience Harry's emotion not through an extra-long close-up of his beaming face, but through our own reactions to the beauty of the moment. This shows that Caurón puts a lot of faith in his audience, and I admire that.
The one CGI moment I found out-of-place was the werewolf scene. I found it look rather fake, and not nearly frightening enough. He seemed like a shaved dog howling because he was too cold and wanted to borrow somebody's coat. Nonetheless, this disappointment was quickly overcome once more scenes with the werewolf were introduced - frightening scenes which capture the viewer's complete attention.
The acting in this film far supersedes its predecessors. For starters, the main trio has grown up, and they have grown considerably in their talents. For the first time, I sensed a genuine understanding of the role from Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the infamous boy wizard. Radcliffe shows great depth in some particular scenes and great chemistry with all the actors her interacts with, particularly David Thewlis, who plays the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin. (Look up the root of "Lupin" and try to figure out what CGI character he might relate to.) I could have done without a particular scene featuring Harry and Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), but I understand it's importance to the plot. Nonetheless, the scene seemed like an anomalie in this film. Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley provides the perfect amount of comic relief and I think he has established himself as the most lovable character of all in this film. Easily, the most despicable character is Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) who, though he seems to have worsened in his contemptuous attitude towards muggle borns and their friends, appears wimpy when faced with unflattering circumstances. Among the child actors, the highlight is Emma Watson, who plays Hermione. From the very first film I pinned her the best of the three, and now I know that I was right from the start. Watson exhibits are star quality not as easily apparent in the others. She has big things ahead of her. Grint's Weasley and Watson's Grainger have an adorable chemistry on screen and I look forward to seeing it develop, particularly in the fourth movie with the introduction of Bulgarian seeker Viktor Krum.
The adult cast is to be admired as well, though they are sadly, yet understandably, underused. Thewlis is splendid in his performance as Lupin while Alan Rickman's Snape is as vicious as ever. It is only our knowledge that he is indeed on 'the good side' prevents us from hating him with all our being. Emma Thompson has to be one of my favourite actresses and I absolutely love her in this film. Though her scenes are short, she commands the screen whenever she is on it. Her final scene is not particularly how I imagined it, but is effective nonetheless, and she concludes it with the perfect amount of humour.
Most impressive in the new cast is newcomer Michael Gambon. While I enjoyed Richard Harris' brilliant portrayal, I admire the direction Caurón has decided to take with the character, as opposed to Columbus' interpretation. I also found the character of Dumbledore lacking in the first two films. The movies seemed to capture his brilliance and his compassion, but never his eccentricity, which I also considered to be the quality that made him most appealing. Columbus opted to portray an old, wise Dumbledore, always there to offer insight to a young up-and-coming wizard. I find this new 'hippie' Dumbledore a much more accurate portrayal of what Dumbledore ought to be.
This is my favourite of the five books published, but I am hesitant to call it my favourite movie. It is hard enough for me to discern which is my favourite out of the first two films. I find the cinematic achievements behind 'Chamber of Secrets' more fulfilling, but the story behind 'Philosopher's Stone' is more appealing. I now struggle with whether I even want to compare Potter No. 3 to its older siblings. It differs in appearance, mood, character and plot. Yet, if I take it upon myself to draw up a list of my ten favourite films each year among a wide array of film styles, I should be able to choose between three films based on the same theme.
I think it all comes down to this . . .
'Philosopher's Stone' is purely magical and, in my opinion, is destined to become a classic - a film that children will watch for ages to come. 'Chamber of Secrets' is a step up in cinematic technique, and a thrilling sequel, much like 'Empire Strikes Back' is to 'Star Wars'. 'Azkaban' is a cinematic achievement far surpassing the efforts of the first two film. In fact, it is essentially the first real cinematic venture in the franchise. The first two films still seem to me to Chris Columbus' depiction of J.K. Rowling's universe, while this third film is Alfonso Caurón's theatrical rendition of Rowling's masterpiece. I think it is a damn good film.
I do not think that 'Azkaban' will enjoy the same treatment that will be given to 'Philosopher's Stone' in the future. It will not be considered a classic. It will be just one film in a series of seven. Nonetheless, when it is all said and done, and all seven movies have been made, 'Azkaban' will be looked upon as the one that changed the franchise; the one where everything matured. I for one hope that Warner Bros. continues the trend of finding new directors for each entry. I think it will add so much to series. I look forward for Mike Newell's 'Goblet of Fire'. I do hope, however, that he takes more pages from Caurón's book than he does from Columbus'. While Columbus' style is so appropriate for the first two films, it would ruin the fate of the other books. The future of the Harry Potter franchise lies within building upon what Caurón has done.
Mmm . . . all those delicious chocolate scenes. All movie theatre concession stands would love to show this movie! I'm sure that if it wasn't for the fact that the movie was so darn good, half the theatre would've left their seats to go and sample some of the less exotic munchies.
Chocolat is a story of a young woman, Vianne (Binoche), and her child, Anouk coming to settle in a small French town in the 1960s. "Tranquilité". The best possible description of life in this quiet village. But soon Vianne opens a chocolaterie which threatens to ruin the serene existence of the town. Most perturbed is the straight-edge, Catholic fundamentalist mayor, Comte de Reynaud (Molina), for what represents temptation more than luscious chocolate? And to open a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent?! The nerve! Reynaud tries persistently to ruin Vianne's business and to run her and the immorality she represents out of town.
This movie is deceptively simple. The story itself is enticing; a treat to watch; full of emotion and hilarity. But behind the beautiful cinematography lies symbolism. The urn, the Northwesterly winds - there is meaning in everything. This aspect is neither overdone, nor ignored. In the end, "Chocolat" is a film about the continuing battle between tradition and modernization. It's a story about the revealing the undying yearning within ourselves - the yearning for something new and exhilarating. Something indulging.
The performances are fantastic. Binoche is at her finest. Judi Dench is remarkable as always. Molina is phenomenal, and everyone else just seems perfectly casts. There isn't a single character that you don't want to empathize with at some point or another. The scenery is beautiful and Lasse Hallström's directing is superb.
This is one movie that you should come out of, not feeling gypped of $8. I actually spend $5.75 on popcorn and didn't mind. This is a truly one of those once-in-a-while films that touches audiences while it around. In a couple years it may be long forgotten, for audience have instead decided to remember unintelligent, gory films with little substance (ahem . . . Gladiator), so let's enjoy it while it around.
I give it 8/10 (and I'm a hard marker!). So I beg you, please go to see "Chocolat", one of the few charming, heartwarming and delightful films you will see for a long time to come. As for me, I'm going to find some chocolate!
3 Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995)
Another unnecessary sequel.
As a rule, sequels are never as good as the originals. Once in a while, we get AMAZING movies like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Godfather II". However, comparing this movie to those two classics would be a great injustice to Mr. Lucas and Mr. Coppola.
I saw the first one as a nine-year old kid, and perhaps seeing this one eight years later detracted from me taking interest in the film, but nonetheless - this film is bad.
Eighty-five minutes of "non-stop ninja action" (they're not exaggerating when they say that) put together to form a weak plot. The Bruce Lee movies (which I am not really a fan of) at least have a sense of class in the way they show the martial arts as, well . . . an art! This is just pure violence. The film is obviously meant to be a flick for teenage girls with overactive hormones to come drool over Treanor and Slade (now 16 and 15 in this movie I believe) as they kick the living daylights out of everyone they meet.
This movie isn't entirely bad. The plot does try to tie in some interesting topics about Native American culture, however, the inaccuracies and stereotypical portrayal of the culture detracts from admiring this aspect of the movie too. Another good aspect is that I guess the moral of the story is humility, but it's hard to pick that up with all the "bad motorbike guys" flying all over the place, getting their butts kicked by some five foot ninja.
In the end, this is an incoherent, trashy, unwatchable film that plays at a much lower level than the original. Perhaps now that I'm 17 I should watch the original again and wonder why I liked it in the first place. Perhaps it was learning the lessons of obedience, patience, and of course getting a good laugh or two out of it. But nonetheless, this is not a trilogy worthy of sitting next to the "Star Wars", "Godfather" or even the "Ninja Turtles" Trilogy for that matter!
Best of luck to Treanor, Slade and Power. I do hope that they may land roles in the future that don't require them to jump up in the air, make a 360, and kick a massive biker guy (who weighs at least 200 pounds heavier than them) in the face and knock him out cold.
3 out of 10 . . . The last time I went that low was "Starship Troopers" (it got a 1)! Yikes!!
Malcolm in the Middle (2000)
The best new comedy of the season!
Okay . . . so I've only seen the pilot so far, but it was incredibly funny and I am now restlessly awaiting the next episode!
"Malcolm in the Middle" is a hysterical comedy about yet another weird family. The show though, focusses on the middle son - Malcolm (hence the title - Malcolm in the Middle!). It is discovered that Malcolm has an IQ of 165 and he's been taken out of his regular class and put into a special gifted program. On top of this, Malcolm faces bully problems, has two annoying brothers, nudist parents, his favourite brother's in military school and he has "red paint all over [his] ass!"
It may sound like just another one of those rude crude comedies about dysfunctional families . . . well actually it is - but it's funny. (I even think it's funnier than "The Simpsons". I'm sure many people will disagree with me, but I have my own opinion.) I laughed the whole way through!
But the real shining point of "Malcolm . . ." is Malcolm himself, played by 14-year old Frankie Muniz. Boy does this kid have talent! It takes a 14-year old to play the role of this particular nine year old, but still, Muniz really adds flavour to this show. He is the absolute perfect person for this role.
This show benefits from a great cast, great writing, and its genuineness. Many parts of it are extremely exaggerated, but somehow, that seems to make it even more real! I love it, I recommend it, and I hope to see it back on FOX in September for a second season. All the best to the cast and creators!
Billboard Dad (1998)
The best Olsen Twins movie!
After the passing of Full House, a couple of not-so-great kiddie films and a second failed TV show on TGIF, it's good to see that the Olsen Twins can still make the good stuff happen on the screen.
Billboard Dad is the story of two girls who try desperately to hook their single father up with a gorgeous gal. What better way to achieve this by . .. advertising on a billboard? Cheesy? Maybe. Anyway, the course of true love never did run smooth, and so the romance that is to spark between the twins' dad, Max, and his new girlfriend, Brooke, is not free from obstacles. First, there is Brooke's son, Ryan, who at first the twins have trouble getting along with. Later on, the twins befriend Ryan and they team up to tackle the next obstacle - Nigel - Max's maniacal money-minded agent. Together, the three come up with an intelligent scheme and . . . well . . . I don't wanna give away the WHOLE thing!
Bottom line . . . this movie doesn't have a cheesy script - it's quite realistic. One can see that the Olsen twins are more than just two cute faces but actually have some talent too. It's a great family movie and I recommend it.
Game Seven (1998)
A truly Canadian film.
"Game Seven" is the story of a typical 13-year old Canadian boy. Going on is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadians and the Chicago Blackhawks. The film takes us through this boy's "struggles" just to get to listen to the game.
Perhaps the simple plot would lead you to believe there isn't much substance to this little gem of a short film. However, if you're a Canadian film nut, you'll appreciate the humour and perhaps look back at your own childhood, thinking of how important hockey was to you. Of course I am perpetuating a stereotype here by suggesting that every Canadian is head-over-heels for hockey. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that any Canadian can appreciate the passion a young boy has for the game.
It may sound simple and trite, but it is remarkably funny and so truly representative of Canadian culture. I give it 9 out of 10 - pretty good for a 16 minute film!
Anya's Bell (1999)
Simple, yet touching and heartwarming.
When you think of all the movies we have grown to like, they usually involve someone being blown to pieces, or spectacular special effects, or various "four-letter words" every second word. Of course TV Movies can't meet these guidelines since they work on a relatively limited budget and reduced time frame. As a result we end up getting movies with cheesy plots (and sometimes no plots at all!) with lame acting and all we think to ourselves after two hours is "Could have gone bowlin' or something!"
Well after two hours of "Anya's Bell", I was not only impressed, but deeply moved. This is a heartwarming tale of a boy who befriends an old blind lady. Plot sound familiar? It probably does - young kid meets old man - they team up, start a wonderful friendship - man dies. Even though Anya's Bell follows this model plot, it still manages to keep the viewer interested.
The deeply emotional performances of Mason Gamble (Dennis the Menace) and Della Reese (Touched By An Angel) in the roles of Scott and Anya can't help but affect the viewer on an emotional level. The subplots I didn't care much for.
You may find it cheesy, unrealistic and way too familiar, but perhaps that's a good thing. Perhaps we need to get in touch more with our emotions. After all, this movie is a lot more realistic than "Terminator 2" or "Star Wars" (although Star Wars is one of my favourite movies of all time!).
Bottom Line - "Anya's Bell" isn't the best TV movie ever made, but it sure is a great, touching, and heartwarming film, that had my attention every step of the way. Good family entertainment stressing good moral values. It's more worth your time watching this movie than watching some ridiculous, crude sitcom. I give it an 8 out of 10 - my highest rating EVER for a TV Movie!
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
"The Blair Witch Project" is in an incredibly original film and extremely well done. It avoids the cheesiness of other horror movies yet maintains the great nightmarish elements. When I went to see it everyone in the audience moaned after the movie was finished, most likely disgusted with the ending. I'm sure this was only so because people have grown accustomed to blood and guts and goo - the physical aspects of horror. "The Blair Witch Project" doesn't bother to utilize the physical elements, but rather take a different approach which appears much classier and to me makes the film come out better than any other horror film could. If you would like to see a classy, extremely well done horror film that will leave you dreaming nightmares for a fortnight, you should definitely see this movie. If you want to view a cheesy, unintelligent, gruesome horror film that would basically have the same effect - stay away from this movie. The choice is yours. I give it an 8 out of 10.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)
Not incredibly satisfying.
After it's been through hundreds of different settings and thousands of different interpretations, it's hard for directors to come up with original concepts for William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". As a result, we either get productions with highly original concepts that are terribly distasteful or we get a rather conventional interpretation that leaves us bored.
Adrian Noble has tried to transfer this masterpiece from the stage to the screen, and I'm afraid that he doesn't do a particularly good job. The concepts are original and quite intriguing, but the movie itself lacks the dynamism that this play has when performed on stage. The concept of adding The Boy is in my mind great, especially for the movie. Otherwise, I find the settings bland and monotonous.
The Royal Shakespeare Company does an excellent job in acting (of course they do - it's the RSC!) and I would love to see this performed on stage. As for the movie . . . not incredibly satisfying.
Les Misérables (1998)
Stunningly acted! Marvellously directed! Still incredibly boring . . .
The cast is perfect! The direction is amazing! Everything - the set, the costumes is prefect! Still this manages not to hold my attention. Don't get me wrong, it is quite a good movie; it has everything - drama, action and romance. However, as the #1 fan of both the novel and the musical, I find this movie lacks the intensity needed to properly display the epic that is Les Miserables.