Friday, July 13, 2007

Only Because I am Grateful

I will break my 2-week working vow of blogging silence one time and one time only to announce that the newest installment of the Harry Potter movies kicks some seriously large and robust rump. It is an important review for me because it gives me hope that there is a director out there who is more in love with the story he tells than how he is telling it. Director- David Yates. He put me in a good, thankful blogging mood tonight. So here goes.

There are many, many layers of it’s kickbuttedness, but I will only name a few- just because I thought I was going to be out of luck on summer movies and instead I SCORED- (Plus I’m tired of looking at that picture of my can and too stubborn to remove it.)

First, the “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” looked real. I don’t mean in a- “oh my gosh, did you see how real that gigantic lion-squid-pelican-truck-cow-pig thing looked?” -way. I mean they looked real because it was shot in an almost documentary way (except not with at crappy camcorder and all jittery.) Yes there were special affects; it’s a movie about magic for crying out loud, but the effects where always artistically and tastefully rendered and where NEVER gratuitous or “just because I’ve got unlimited cash and can.”

Honestly, I am getting a tad weary of saturated colors in big budget sci-fi and action movies. It was the trend of the late 90’s until now- to jack with the colors of a film until not a single frame looked honest or relatable. I guess it works in the Graphic Novels adaptations and a few people can pull it off without the viewer noticing or caring (Tarentino, Rodriguez) but most just look like a 2 hour MTV music video, which work for three minutes but make me crave rainbow popsicles after ten.

That wasn’t the case here with The Order Of The Phoenix. It reminded me of the 1st superman movie in tone and color and pacing, except with a better payoff at the climax. And I LOVE the 1st Superman movie.

Order of the Phoenix had me hooked from scene one, out by the rusty and lonely merry-go-round with its understated but brooding tone. (Later, I felt it got a little to dark to see in the woods, but again, it’s the woods.)

Second, Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) acting was pretty stinking good. I was floored. Before Order of the Phoenix, I had grown accustomed to accepting Radcliffe’s adolescent, coming of acting-age flaws and making up for them by ignoring him and engaging my own imagination. Not so in this film. I guess dropping his knickers and exposing his twig and berries on Broadway did the trick for Daniel Radcliffe finding his inner angst, thereby utilizing that angst to wield some serious drama to go along with his “Expecto Patronum!” And by golly, in one great dialogue scene with Oldman and Radcliffe, I actually felt Radcliffe deserved to be sharing the screen with Oldman. (I really think Gary Oldman is one of the best and most underrated actors in the movie biz.)

The rest of the acting from all parties in the film was excellent as well. The entire cast is just stunning if you step back and just take a casual gander at the big hitters.

Another performance I have to mention, only because I haven’t liked him in any of the installments yet, is Dumbledore’s. (Michael Gambon, who has been great in everything besides the previous Potter flicks.) It was the first time that I have liked Gambon as Dumbledore in these films or felt that he diplayed the great inner power conveyed in the books. (He’s always seemed a bit worried and frail to be the most powerful Wizard EVER in the others.) And of course, Amelda Stauton as “Dolorus Umbridge” nearly sizzled in every scene she giggled and stabbed through. She was darn near stole the WHOLE show- even Scarier than Voldemort in some ways. Good lord have I met a few Church Ladies like that in my time. She flat-out gave me the shivers.

Third, I have to say that I was surprised to find that on the whole, a little… scary. None of the Harry Potter films had me on the edge of my seat as this one did. I couldn’t believe that the director was actually being “artistic” in ways that you might expect in a- Hitchcock, early Spielberg, or good M. Night Shamalamadingdong- film. A few frames even reminded me of The Close Encounters of the Third Kind, how Spielberg used subtle, everyday toys and objects to spook the crud out of you.

The director of Pheonix decided to go that route as well and good for him, dangit. He directed it as if the film had to be made on a "budget" (like Jaws) and used creative ways to say things instead of just wigging out with all the special effects at his fingertips. However, it never seemed like a “cheap indie” film because when the real fireworks went off at the end, they spared no expense and clocked you with good old fashioned Hollywood-Wizard-dueling fun. Which brings me to my last little burst of glee over this here film.

The final dueling scene really knocked my socks off. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it, or maybe because my internal CGI suspended disbelief tanks weren’t already brimming over, or maybe because I didn’t believe Dumbledore had previously conveyed the great inner power portrayed in the books… Whatever the case, that duel at the end between Dumbledore and Voldemort kicked ass. In the book, I imagine that scene was tricky to write and pace, and honestly it was even a smidge corny, (I still loved it) but the director here pulled it off with inspired aplomb and curl-my-toes-chew-my-movie-ticket scary fun. I mean, I was actually a little scared of Voldemort for the first time, and his Death Eaters. (Ralph Fiennes = good evil villain!!!)

Everything about this film was just all around better than the last films. Some people will argue that 3 & 4 were better but for me, this one did the trick. It was still magical, but not in the “oh it’s Christmas time and I’m craving hot cocoa while watching the Snow at Hogwarts” way. Along with the characters, the films have grown up. But I think this one grew up and took the magic with it. (Kiss my butt Ebert.)


The only thing that might not work, or leave you confused, would be if you weren’t up to speed on the books or films. The director pretty much figures you know by now that Harry lost his parents, and how much he is like his father, and how they died, and how much he misses them, and how Voldemort wants to kill Harry, and so forth.

But hopefully the viewer will recognize the uniqueness of this series as something they wouldn’t want to jump in for the first time this late in the game anyhow. But if you do, you’ll still have the best time at the movies so far this summer.

The new original music by Nicholas Hooper was really cool sometimes, but for some reason the closing credits sounded like a Western. ??? Oh well, still friggin good. Not John Williams i.e. “Film Composer God” good, but added some needed underlying dimension to the grown-up Harry.


FancyPants said...

I think you'd be the perfect pick to replace Ebert when he eventually tuckers off.

Excellent review! Right on. I totally agree.

Book 7...two weeks? one week? I can hardly wait.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Thank you for moving the butt picture down! I am so happy that the butt picture is no longer at the top of your blog! This is great! Apparently, you are a blogger with a conscience. You care what your readers think. That says a lot of things about you, Seth. You're simply the best!

(Great movie review, too.)

operamom said...

gosh, makes me want to get a sitter.

Matt and Shelley said...

You've convinced me to start investigating the Harry Potter series of books and movies. Can you believe I've never read a single HP book or seen a single HP movie? Maybe now is the time...

Is that Ralph Fiennes on the cover as the villain? I love that guy!

Seth Ward said...

Shelly, I think you would really like them. They aren't Tolkien or T.H. White in beauty or prose but they are seriously fun read, especially considering the full range of readers that read them.

The characters are the best part of the books.

It is also a very cinematic way of writing and some people give her a others like Stephen King a hard time for that but I think it's an effective way of communication considering our society.

It is loads of fun and the books get better as they go.

Seth Ward said...

Oh and yes that is Ralph. He is great.

Be sure and tell us what you think if you read them!

*The Blogstar said...

Going to see it soon!

BTW- Just added you to my links.


Brody Harper said...

"I will break my silence, with the longest freaking post in the history of man... "

Seth Ward said...

Awe. Its not that long. Its just got a lot of pictures. I thought you liked the ones with pictures brodsters...

Amy said...

I know, I loved it, too. I can't believe that by this time next week, Harry Potter will be OVER! Aaargh. Sad days.

Brody Harper said...

I am a little thankful for the pictures.

..pretty colors....

Matt and Shelley said...

Well, you've convinced us! We decided to buy two HP books on tape for our cross-country journey coming up in a few weeks.