Harry Potter and the Half-Finished Movie

Let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of the novels. I’ll admit I read the first book on a girl’s recommendation, but I never liked it much; it always felt like schoolkid lit meets P.G. Wodehouse meets vague slapdash fantasy. I’m sure the books have improved with length, as another friend is a fangirl who goes on and on about how great Snape is and how dark the story has gotten. Sadly, the movies mostly feel like Cliff’s Notes to me.
Among film fans the entry directed by Alfonso Cuaron- The Prisoner of Azkaban– is usually regarded as the best. Chris Columbus did a decent job with the early ones. The films have their own look and feel, but there’s just something missing in these later ones. I’m actually glad that the plot involving Voldemort is actually moving, but you don’t even see him in this one. The wizard fight at the end of Order of the Phoenix was fun to watch, and there’s something nearly as good here but it’s badly realized and all too short. It involves seeking a relic that might destroy the ol’ Dark Lord, and Harry and Dumbledore end up in a lake full of scrawny zombies in a crystal cavern. That was somewhat compelling.

I also like how Daniel Radcliffe is making Harry his own. He’s cheekier. After all, the actor’s played the lead in Equus and run around with his wand exposed, the character has come of age and even gets to smooch in this one, he ought to have a bit of the high school rebel in him. But only barely. The story seems to linger way too long on a Quidditch match, which hasn’t been exciting since it was first introduced, and high school romance between Ron, Hermione and respective beaus. Some of this is amusing; in potion class the British actor cum professor du jour is Jim Broadbent, as Slughorn, who shows off a love potion. Wonder if that’ll show up later?

The characters work well but the story is a mess, especially for those of us who haven’t slogged through the tomes. Seems like Draco Malfoy is in league with ol’ No-Nose and his minions like the annoying as hell Helena Bonham Carter, whose characterization of Bellatrix makes me want to make pies out of my own kidneys. Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman once again hold things together, with Maggie Smith barely getting screen time but excellent when she does. We get flashbacks to Li’l Voldy, aka Tom Riddle, played by Ralph Fiennes’ nephew; the kid’s got talent and we’ll be seeing him again I’m sure. But we learn very little. He seems like a bad seed, about as obvious to become history’s greatest monster as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.
We also see a trio of flying black smokes from “Lost” who like to fuck shit up. I think they’re senior Death Eaters. They destroy the Millenium bridge, but as usual the muggle world is completely ignored, which was cute in the beginning, but makes you wonder if Hogwarts has neuralyzer spells to make people forget that three black smoke clouds just murdered hundreds of people. The film’s only interested in it for the special effects. I don’t think anyone even mentions it later. “Hmm, notice that the Death Eaters are waging war on the muggles? Maybe we ought to do sumfin’. Nah, let’s have some Butter Beer.”

I’ve heard wondrous things about the character of Severus Snape from fans, and I love me some Alan Rickman, so I was glad that he gets to do more than appear in drag as a gag in this one. He’s always been the most interesting character, and he consistently gets shafted. Here he’s implemental in the series’ biggest surprise, which director David Yates handles as clumsily as I can imagine. I mean, this is big, I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s face it. In The Empire Strikes Back, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times, the “I am your father” line is obviously important. The equivalent of Snape telling Harry that he boned his mom is given here, but it doesn’t feel like much. I knew what was coming, and it just fell flat. There was a huge tragedy and everyone seems sort of sad, but nothing like you’d expect.
I can’t say I have much hope for the rest of the series, which Yates is dubbed to direct. I kept getting hints of a great story, but the scripts lately seem cobbled together by committee. Perhaps the PG-13 rating of the previous movie hurt sales and they went for this bland high school romance. Thankfully the kids have grown up into their characters and are enjoyable company on-screen as they banter and bicker. That’s the only reason this movie gets an above average rating from me. I saw it for free at a drive-in at the end of a Mini Cooper rally, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. No wonder they’re splitting the final book into two movies- if Voldemort doesn’t even show up in this one, they’ve got a lot of fighting to do if this series is going to be over any time soon.

Rating: 3 out of 5 annoying Anglophiles

Nobel Son

With Nobel Son, I was promised a darkly comic thriller with Alan Rickman and a “cool chase with a Mini Cooper.” I was lied to. And my vengeance is swift. Don’t rent this piece of shit. Not even to see Eliza Dushku’s butt, or listen to Paul Oakenfold’s entirely out of place score.
Alan Rickman is fine, of course- the man can do no wrong! He plays a philandering, self-absorbed professor who wins the Nobel Prize for Physics. And while he’s going to pick it up- and the cool $2 million that comes with it- his son is kidnapped. But he doesn’t believe it, since his son is a little attention whore, because Daddy is a self-absorbed philandering professor. Mom isn’t much to write home about either; this is one dysfunctional family, but it’s just a shade too normal for this to be a nice darkly comic thriller like let’s say, Fargo.
Nobel Son tries really hard, and the actors are all quite enjoyable. The Son is a bit of a thanklessly whiny role, and when his kidnapper wants to chop his thumb off to send a message, we don’t really much care. I have a thing about severed fingers, since I had to bandage my father’s after a misadventure with a circular saw, but this didn’t move me. And as for the thrilling plot, I kept falling asleep. It wanted to be one of those layered double-cross thrillers, but I couldn’t believe the kidnapped kid was smart enough to pull it off, even if his Dad won the Nobel Prize. I found myself rooting for the kidnapper, whose history was interesting.
But the movie drags on for a contrived third act, when a brave screenwriter would have killed someone off or gotten darker. Also, some things stuck out. The kidnapper likes Mini Coopers; his ingenius plot to grab the ransom money and make off with it involves a remote-control Mini Cooper mall car spinning around while the police wonder how he did it, but the “chase” was pretty lame. I saw a better mall chase on “Top Gear” last week when a Corvette was chasing a Ford Fiesta. This one was boring in comparison, and worse yet, you had no emotional involvement in it. Bad writing. For shame. Later on more Minis show up, and he says he steals them from people at church. Shocking, but a lame explanation for some obvious product placement- and this is coming from a Mini owner.
This movie gets the IgNobel prize for lame thriller that’s not daring enough to be as darkly comic as it should have been. It tries, with some hints at cannibalism and lines like “it is more cruel to eat the living than the dead,’ which belong in a better screenplay, one that doesn’t end with people who stole money on a tropical beach. That works in Office Space and Trading Places, but in a movie like this, I was hoping a poisonois spider would crawl out of someone’s coconut drink and bite them on the lip. Looking back on director Randall Miller’s career, it does feel like a “darkly comic thriller” directed by someone who came from Disney TV movies. He also directed Bottle Shock– which I haven’t seen yet- and will avoid based on this experience. The only redeeming feature is Alan Rickman’s oily prof, and there are many better films he’s been in you could be seeing.

Rating: Stinky