Weekend Movies: Magically Yours

There are really only two big movies opening this weekend. One involves the boy wizard, the other a fat Australian guy who threw a telephone at somebody. (Remember that?) I’ve seen both films and will be reviewing them in detail when I have a spare moment. For now, I’ll just run down my very brief thoughts, and then we can all move on with our lives. This is the preferred way to do business, I’m sure, because it keeps you from hearing much from me, and allows you more free time to, say, rake leaves or write your father an impassioned letter that you never intend to send. Either way, we’ll be done shortly. Worry not, Muggles!

Of course, the biggest movie this weekend (and maybe one of the biggest movies ever, based on early estimates) is ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1‘. The final chapter of the magical saga has been split down the middle, with half of the story being unleashed this weekend and the other half being released next summer. Let it be said now: The filmmakers have found a logical ending place in this first movie. Let it also be said: You’ll be screaming to the heavens wanting to see the second part. (It’s a true cliffhanger.) I really loved this movie, and am more and more certain that David Yates – a BBC vet who was hired by Warner Bros. for his fast, cheap work ethic – has become the visionary of the franchise. By the time all is said and done, he’ll have helmed four entries in the saga, and his stylistic influences are deeply felt with this one. (His insistence on getting the kids into the real world, the de-saturation of color, etc.) One thing Yates does really well is keep the perspective with the kids. Every once in a while, we’ll see what old Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who looks in danger of very literally chewing the scenery) is up to, but we really stick near the kids. It’s great stuff.

If you’ve read the books, you know that a large portion of the first part of the story is about the kids going on an extended run from the dark forces, which is sort of a road movie within the magic universe. Yes, this does drag a bit in the film, but you always get the sense of paranoia and apocalyptic doom just around the corner (or over the next mountaintop). Aiding this is Alexandre Desplat’s riveting score, the best of the series. (Sorry, John Williams.) But, ultimately, this is still half the story, and it looks like it will end in truly spectacular fashion, if this first film is any indication.

In less spectacular fashion, Paul Haggis, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind ‘Crash‘ (ick) and ‘In the Valley of Elah‘ (double ick), adapts a French thriller called ‘Pour Elle’ into ‘The Next Three Days‘. Its very strained conceit is that Russell Crowe’s wife, played by the always lovely Elizabeth Banks, has been convicted of murder and is about to get moved from a regional prison to a more legit one upstate. She’s also, coincidentally, run out of appeals. So Crowe concocts a hair-brained scheme to bust her out of jail before she can be moved.

The results are just… silly. Haggis, a preachy filmmaker who relies less on talent and more on raw nerve, thinks he’s above the obviously pulpy material. He’s clumsy and ill equipped for the emotional and theatrical beats inherent in this kind of thriller. The movie crawls by, eclipsing the two-hour-mark without much tension or excitement. Earlier in the day, I saw a movie with the exact same running time: Peter Weir’s ‘The Way Back’. That film, based on a true story, is about a gang of Siberian prison inmates who walk from Siberia to India in the height of World War II. In ‘The Next Three Days’, Russell Crowe gets beat up by Wu Tang Clan member RZA.

On the other hand, it does feature an occasionally fine Danny Elfman score.

Skip ‘The Next Three Days’ and stand in line for ‘Potter’. It’ll be worth it for a genuinely magical time.


  1. I caught the midnight showing last night of Potter. I LOVED it! I am already wondering when I am going to go see it again! I think it was the best of the series, and wish they had all been done in this fashion (that is, two parts). Not only does it follow the book almost piece by piece (with a few minor nit-pick changes that I can live with), but there is plenty of time for events to develop and play out. Only Prisioner of Azkhaban came close to the brilliance that is HP7 Part 1, and hope it will serve as a template for future book-to-film adoptions.

    • JoeRo

      William I agree with you completely regarding the run time of this installment in the Potterverse. Deathly Hallows was long for a Potter book, but the payoff was being able to slowly build atmosphere and tension; which is something notably missing from most of the Potter films. If there’s one complaint I have about the series as a whole thus far, it’s that every movie has felt rushed to some degree. With Hallows that pattern has finally been broken.

      The Deathly Hallows Part 1 managed to finally get the Harry Potter formula just about perfect. Humor in particular works really well in this installment, and serves as a nice counterpoint to all the darkness surrounding the characters and events. I was sort of speechless when I left the theater last night. It’s become part of the experience for me that after I see a new Potter film in theaters I spend the next 30 minutes or so discussing why it didn’t work with my friends. This time I had no complaints, none. It was great.

      • Yeah, I didn’t have a single complaint. I could nit-pick it and say they didn’t give Kreecher the locket or something like that, but in all seriousness, this is hands down the best Potter film ever, and the best Book to Movie adoptation of any book I have EVER read / seen! In fact, quite a bit of the dialogue is lifted word for word from the book!

        I am totally with you, I did not have a SINGLE complaint! After seeing this, I want David Yates and whomever wrote the screenplay to colaborate together on future movies! Can’t wait to see what they will do after the Potter series!

  2. Callenby

    I somewhat disagree on the Desplat score. I loved it, and I think hiring the stellar Desplat was some rectification for hiring a merely good composer (Doyle) and a merely adequate one (Hooper).
    Williams’ off-the-wall score for Azkaban, however, is one of my favorite scores for a children’s film, standing in the company of his own E.T., Giacchino’s Up and Ratatouille, Newman’s Wall-E, and Desplat’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
    I enjoyed the movie thoroughly, despite the child bawling in the row behind me at the end of the movie. It’s funny how children care about characters that to adults are as irritating as poison oak.

  3. I’ve never really understood the following that Azkaban has for the movies, I’ve loved them all on different levels (I read all the books too) but I felt Azkaban was too much of a step in the wrong direction coming off of the first two films, I personally love the wonder/magic filled view that Chris Columbus brought to the series and after those two (besides Goblet of Fire which is my favorite in the series) I’ve felt the movies have taken a down turn in the detail and the world which was so honored in the first two films, focus went too much and almost all on the main characters and so much important things that developed those characters has been left out, When Yates took over with Order of the Phoenix I was extremely disappointed, to me its the worst out of the series (well until they royally screwed up The Half Blood Prince) and I havent liked Yates changes, his style or just about anything compared to previous directors in the series, my biggist irk is the inconsistency in the Death Eaters outfits, absolutely foreboding and dark in Goblet of Fire, Yates and the new writer for Order completely threw out the Death Eater design for worse masks (why do they all have their own mask now, they are an army and it worked and looked awesome in Goblet of Fire) and their outfits are also horrible, sure it might be a nitpick but when it comes to continuity in the films, its a terrible decision.

    Yates deciding to take out the quick hogwarts battle at the end of Half Blood was also a terrible decision, obviously there is nothing I can do about it, but it was meant to really show how adept and grown up the kids were becoming, defending the castle from the Death Eaters, it was just a bad idea and for me ruined the end of the film, plus throwing in the Burrows getting burned down and the Death Eaters attacking the city and stuff was completely awful, not to mention Harry even THINKING about hitting on some Waitress in a train station, not in his character and another horrible change….

    I hope that Deathly Hallows turns out as good as people are saying it is, it NEEDS to follow the book as close as possible and I believe that it will ONLY because they split it up, not because Yates has any clue what he’s doing

  4. And Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay for all of the movies except Order of the Phoenix, which IMO was probably the weakest on that front out of the whole series, still amazed Kloves wrote the screenplay for Half Blood as it was the furthest from the book, but thats probably because Yates wanted shit changed, his reasoning for hacking off the ending wasnt good enough IMO

    • I haven’t read the books, so I can’t comment on the changes from the source material but I believe I can sum my love of Azkaban up in two words. Gary Oldman 🙂

    • This comes down to the conflict between those viewers who want the movies to be the most faithful word-for-word illustrations of the novels possible, and those who want them to be good *movies* even if they have to make changes to the source material.

      The first two films by Chris Columbus were so slavishly devoted to committing every single word that Rowling wrote onto celluloid, that Columbus forgot the basic principles of motion picture storytelling – such as pacing, momentum, or making the characters remotely interesting. Really, the first two movies don’t even have “characters,” per se. They have cardboard cut-outs standing around reading Rowling’s dialogue, while Columbus moves them through motions of the plot like pawns on a chess board. Also, the CG effects in those movies are atrocious, sub-videogame quality.

      I found both of those movies unwatchably tedious. But my wife is a fan of the books, so I continued to go to the movies.

      As a movie, Prisoner of Azkaban is a quantum leap improvement over the first two. The story actually feels like it’s going somewhere, and Alfonso Cuaron is about a trillion times better at working with actors than Columbus. For the first time, the characters feel like real people inhabiting this world. Cuaron had a genuine *vision* for the material that focused it into something cinematic for the first time in the series.

      Goblet of Fire isn’t quite as bad as the first two, but it’s a pretty serious regression. Mike Newell didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do with the movie. It seems like he wanted to be really faithful to the book, but that particular novel is so massive that he was forced to trim every storyline to its bare bones in order to fit them all in. As a result, the story just plods from plot-point to plot-point. He should have been daring enough to chop out some of the storylines entirely in order to flesh out the ones that were actually important.

      I haven’t seen the new one yet, but I liked both of Yate’s last two movies quite a bit. They weren’t quite up to the standard of Azkaban, but they struck a very good balance between cramming in a lot of the plot from the books while still trying to function as movies.

      • Totally agree.

        The first one holds a place in my heart, because I had a very important date there that lead to a seven-year long relationship. So I have a sentimental attachment to that movie.

        Columbus, I feel, sometimes gets the short end of the stick. He had to completely create the look and feel of the movies, help develope sets, cast critical roles, introduce us to characters and try to develope them, so forth an so on. Yes, Alfonso changed a few things in the look, but it was heavily based on what Columbus originally created.

        I personally feel that Goblet of Fire was the WEAKEST of the movies. First, they had to throw out about 80% of the book – shoot, the movie picked up around page 150(couldn’t we have shown at least SOME of the Quidditch world cup, or at least TOUCHED on the Elf Liberation Front, etc? If they had of made the movie about 30 minutes longer, it would have been so much better – events could have been fleshed out a bit more, more side stories could have been included, etc.

        Half-Blood Prince was a step back in the right direction. It was a great trade-off between staying true to the book, and making a good movie, but I agree with Chaz – the battle at Hogwarts should have been left in. It was a critical event in the book. Maybe they didn’t want to leave that much chaos at the end of the movie – but this was how the book was – it basically showed chaos and prepared directly for the events in Deathly Hallows.

        One small annoyance, though, with Yates is that he likes to have big scenes where the characters are flying through suburban London. Its corny, especially considering they are not causing road accidents (you would think, from his movies, that Londoners are used to seeing people flying around on broomsticks wearing insane clothing), and makes me think the Aurors must have had a field day modifying memories. 🙂

        Azkhaban worked as a movie because they didn’t try to fit in the entire book – they took elements and fleshed them out into scenes, without changing the story. This failed in GoF – people I went to see the movie with who hadn’t read the books were completely lost with what was going on.

        Anyways, I talked enough about this (maybe too much – I tend to ramble and expect that everyone must want to read everything I have to say).

        In the end, I guess which Harry Potter movie is your favorite is up to you, as well as your reasons behind it.

        But I have heard NO negative comments about HP7

  5. Deathly Hallows Part 1 WAS fantastic on just about every level, its a HUGE improvement over anything Yates has done with the series before and I’m glad they decided to split this up as it really gives them the chance to make up for stuff they’ve left out over the years, the emotion is much more real, the danger is much more real and just about everything in the movie is just much better done than just about any previous entry, although going back and watching all of these I wish we could have had a director do the whole series as it almost upsets me that there is so much difference between them visually and creatively, would have been nice to have a consistent flow throughout the whole series, but I guess thats just nitpicking 🙂

    Cant wait for part 2 and I HATE that they are making us wait that long when this will be out on DVD and Bluray probably 3-4 months before the next one hits theaters, should have put the 2nd part out when the first part hits the shelves, dont know why they didnt do that, get more people to buy the first part AND go see the 2nd 🙂