FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

Below is my ranking of the eight movies in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise, based upon J.K. Rowling novels:

FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

1. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) – During his third year at Hogswarts, Harry becomes acquainted with creatures called the dementors and a past mystery regarding his parents and an escaped prisoner by the name of Sirius Black. Alfonso Cuarón directed.

2. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” (2010) – In this first half adaptation of Rowling’s final novel, Harry and his friends begin their search of the Horcruxes, objects that contain parts of Lord Voldemort’s soul. They are also forced to evade the evil wizard’s forces as the latter assume control of the wizarding world. David Yates directed.

3. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) – David Yates directed his first HARRY POTTER movie in which Harry Potter and his friends deal with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge. They also become acquainted with the Order of the Phoenix, an old organization revived to deal with the new threat of Lord Voldemort.

4. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002) – Harry Potter returns to Hogswarts for his second year, when the school is beset by a strange monster with a link to the school’s Chamber of Secrets. Directed by Chris Columbus.

5. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone” (2001) – Harry Potter is introduced into the world of magic for the first time as he enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chris Columbus directed.

6. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) – During Harry’s sixth year at Hogswarts, he is assigned to discovered the deep secret of the new Potions teacher and stumbles across a mysterious Potions book labeled the property of the Half-Blood Prince. Romance also fills the air. David Yates directed.

7. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” (2011) – In this continuation of “THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I”, the three heroes, along with the staff and students of Hogswarts have their final confrontation with Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Directed by David Yates.

8. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005) – Harry is manipulated into participating in the Triwizard Tournament as a last minute contestant. Mike Newell directed.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II” (2011) Review

 

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II” (2011) Review

When I had first learned that Warner Brothers Studio and the producers of the HARRY POTTER franchise planned to divide the series’ last novel into two movies, I had harbored strong doubts against this plan. Then I saw “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I” and my doubts were erased. I thought for sure that they would be able to pull this off. And after watching the last movie in the movie . . . I have changed my mind again. 

Directed by David Yates, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” picked up where “PART I” left off – with the trio seeking refuge at Shells Cottage, the home of the recently married Bill and Fleur Weasley. Despite this, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger continue their search of horcruxes, a group of objects that Lord Voldemort used to store his soul in order to ensure his immortality. After conversations with wand maker Mr. Ollivander and a goblin and Gringotts bank employee named Griphook, the three friends travel to the bank in London to get their hands on another horcrux, stored there by Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange. After destroying the horcrux – Helga Hufflepuff’s cup – the trio is betrayed by Griphook, before they make their escape from Gringotts and London via a dragon imprisoned in one of the bank’s vaults. Harry, Ron and Hermione eventually make to Hogsmeade. They are briefly offered refuge by Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, at the latter’s tavern. Neville Longbottom arrive and lead the trio to Hogswarts Castle. Before long, the school’s inhabitants are engaged in a major battle against Voldemort and his Deatheaters.

As much as I had enjoyed “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I”, I now realize that it had ended too soon. By ending the 2010 movie with Dobby the House Elf’s death (along with Voldemort’s discovery of the Elder Wand), screenwriter Steve Kloves was left with the Gringotts Bank sequence before allowing the Battle of Hogswarts to take over the rest of the movie. And if I must be honest, I found this heavy emphasis on the battle very disappointing. The film’s title should have been“HARRY POTTER AND THE BATTLE OF HOGSWARTS”, instead of the “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II”.

There were scenes in “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” that I enjoyed very much. Severus Snape’s death and memories of his past proved to be just as poignant as portrayed in the novel. Alan Rickman probably gave his best performances in the entire franchise. And he was ably supported by the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe. Another sequence that I enjoyed featured Harry’s discussion with Albus Dumbledore in the afterlife, following his “death” at the hands of Voldemort. It was another poignant scene made enjoyable by performances from Radcliffe and Gambon. The kiss exchanged between Ron and Hermione was very memorable – especially in comparison to the slightly disappointing kiss shared between Harry and Ginny. I also enjoyed the sequence featuring the Malfoys’ (Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory and Tom Felton) ultimate rejection of Voldemort in order to preserve their hides.

However, I have two favorite sequences from the movie. One featured the trio’s confrontation with Draco Malfoy and his two friends – Gregory Goyle and Blaise Zabini. Thanks to Yates’ direction, Mark Day’s editing and the visual and special effects teams, this was an exciting sequence. But my favorite is the Gringotts Bank sequence in which the trio attempts to find the horcrux stored in Bellatrix Lestrange’s personal vault. Again, the crew did wonders with this sequence, which was capped by an exciting escape on the back of an imprisoned dragon. This last scene really blew my mind and I believe that Yates and the crew really outdid themselves. The sequence also featured a first-rate performance by Helena Bonham-Carter, who had to portray Hermione . . . impersonating Bellatrix. The actress deserves a Saturn Award nomination for that scene alone.

But as much as I had enjoyed the above mentioned sequences, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” proved to be a disappointment for me. My main problem with the film is that it fulfilled my worst fears about the movie – it nearly became all about the Battle of Hogswarts. The movie brought back bad memories of the Battle of Helms Deep in “LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS” and the two major battles featured in “LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING”. The photography shot by cinematographer Eduardo Serra not only reignited bad memories of the second and third “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, but also “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”. The movie’s photography possessed that grayish tinge that I found very unappealing. I also recall one scene in which Neville Longbottom found himself facing a large number of Voldemort’s combatants at the end of the castle’s bridge. I never realized there were that many Death Eaters in the Harry Potter universe. It looked . . . exaggerated. As much as I like Neville, I found the entire sequence featuring the hunt for Voldemort’s pet snake and horcrux, Nagini and Neville’s killing of it very contrived. Yes, I am aware that Neville did kill Nagini in the novel. But I do not recall Rowling resorting to contrived delay tactics featuring the attempts to kill the snake. By the time Neville killed Nagini – seconds before Voldemort again used the Elder Wand on Harry with fatal results – I realized that I no longer cared. While everyone else cheered, I rolled my eyes in disgust.

For me, the worst aspect of “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” was that it failed to continue the strong narrative that began in “PART I”. I got the feeling that screenwriter Steve Kloves, along with Yates, decided to dump the story’s narrative by the wayside and focus at least 85-90% of the film on that damn battle. “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I”introduced a hint of some kind of scandal in Albus Dumbledore’s past. This was apparent in Harry’s conversation with Elphias Doge and Molly Weasley’s Aunt Muriel at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. In “PART II”, the trio met Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, who made ominous hints about the late headmaster’s dark past. But this storyline, which had a lot do with how Dumbledore came into possession of the Elder Wand (one of the Deathly Hallows), was dropped the moment Neville made his first appearance. The jettison of this storyline also robbed moviegoers and Harry on the lessons of desire for power . . . and the fact that respected idols and authority figures also have feet of clay. And it seemed to make Ciarán Hinds’ appearance in the movie a complete waste of time.

Speaking of wastes of time, if you blink, you might come across some of the franchise’s past supporting characters who barely uttered a sound or two in this film. The movie featured appearances by Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), Gemma Jones (Madam Pomfrey), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley) and Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout). At least Julie Walters had her moment in the sun, when she killed Bellatrix Lestrange. Gary Oldman and David Thewlis (Sirius Black and Remus Lupin), along with Geraldine Sommerville and Adrian Rawlins (Lily and James Potter) had a line or two to spout, when Harry used the Resurrection Stone. Audiences also learned that Lupin had become a father . . . as an afterthought. In the novel, the Slytherin students had refused to defend the castle. I had hoped that Kloves would reverse Rowling’s narrative and have them take part in the school’s defense. Instead, Kloves’ script had Minerva McGonagall order all of the Slytherins to be locked in the dungeon before the battle. How disappointing, considering Snape and Slughorn’s willing participation in the war against Voldemort. By the way, I saw that Dean Thomas made it to Hogswarts before the trio. In “PART I”, he was reported on the radio to be on the run from Snatchers. Why did he decided to return to the dangers of Hogswarts . . . before the battle?

I have another question . . . when did Harry realize that he had become the Master of the Elder Wand? Following Voldemort’s death, he told Ron and Hermione that Draco Malfoy became Master of the Elder Wand, when he disarmed Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower in “THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Harry became the master when he disarmed Draco at the Malfoy Manor in “PART I”. How did he find out? He had overheard Voldemort’s conversation with Snape in which he learned that one has kill the current Elder Wand master in order to become one. How did Harry find out that one can also become master by the disarming of a wand?

Earlier, I had stated that “DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I” should have ended a little sooner – with the Snatchers’ capture of Harry, Ron and Hermione. I usually dismiss other people’s attempts to rewrite movies already filmed and released. But now, I find myself doing the same. After watching “PART II”, I realized that if “PART I” had ended with the trio being captured by the Snatchers, “PART II” could have featured the Malfoy Manor sequence, Dobby’s death and the Gringotts Bank sequence before the film moved on to the Hogswarts battle. I would have also preferred if Kloves had allowed Mr. Ollivander to reveal more about the Elder Wand; and Aberforth Dumbledore to reveal more about his older brother’s past.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II”. I really do. I enjoyed “PART I” a lot. And there were scenes in this last film that really impressed me. But as a whole, this last movie in the franchise proved to be one of my biggest disappointments from the summer of 2011. Pity.

“FIVE LITTLE PIGS” (2003) Review

“FIVE LITTLE PIGS” (2003) Review

 

”FIVE LITTLE PIGS”. That is the name of this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel. Who would have thought that a story with a title straight from a nursery rhyme would lead me to view it as one of the better screen adaptations of a Christie novel I have ever seen? 

I just gave the game away in the last paragraph, did I? I gave my opinion of ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” right off the bat. My recent viewing of ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” made me realize two things – a) it is a well-written and melancholy story with tragic overtones; and b) it is one of the finest Christie adaptations I have ever seen. Hmmm . . . I think I may have repeated myself. Well, I cannot help it. I feel that strongly about this movie.

The story began with Hercule Poirot receiving a visitor – a wealthy young woman from Canada named Lucy Lemarchant, who admitted to being the only child of a famous artist named Amyas Crale. According to her, Crale had been murdered fifteen years ago and Lucy’s mother, Caroline, ended up being arrested, convicted and executed for the murder. Years later, Lucy read a letter from Caroline in which the latter claimed her innocence. Despite his doubts, Poirot agreed to investigate Crale’s death. He ended up interviewing five other people who had been at the Crales’ house party fourteen years earlier – five people whom Poirot dubbed ”the Five Little Pigs”:

*Phillip Blake – a stockbroker and old childhood friend of Amyas Crale
*Meredith Blake – a reclusive former amateur herbalist and Philip’s brother
*Elsa Greer (Lady Dittisham) – a spoiled society lady who had once been Crale’s mistress and subject
*Angela Warren – a disfigured archaeologist and Caroline Crale’s younger sister
*Cecilia Williams – Lucy and Angela’s devoted governess

”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” turned out to be one of those rare Agatha Christie stories in which most of the drama occurred in distant past. What started as a cold case involving the murder of a philandering, yet talented artist, ended as a tale of sad regrets and family tragedy. This was emphasized in the movie’s finale with one last flashback featuring Crayle and Caroline enjoying happier times with their daughter before murder and tragedy struck. That last scene made me realize that the murderer – in an act of emotion – had not only killed the artist, but destroyed a family.

Another one of the movie’s major assets turned out to be its cast. David Suchet gave his usual competent portrayal of Belgian-born sleuth, Hercule Poirot. But I must admit that one of his finest moments – not only in the movie, but during the entire series – came when he exposed the murderer. Suchet did an excellent job of revealing Poirot’s emotional outrage toward the murderer, without any histrionics whatsoever.

There were certain cast members that I believe stood out. Toby Stephens gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Philip Blake, Aymas Crale’s boyhood friend, who harbored a secret passion for the painter. Julie Cox portrayed Aymas’ young mistress, Elsa Bell (the future Lady Dittisham) with an interesting mixture of arrogance and innocence. And Aidan Gillen’s portrayal of Aymas Crale as a self-involved, occasionally immature and passionate seemed spot-on for a character that was supposed to be a talented artist. But my favorite performance came from Rachael Stirling, who portrayed Aymas’ long suffering wife, Caroline. The interesting thing about her performance – at least to me – was that she seemed to be at the center of the story. In the end, it was Stirling – along with Suchet – who carried the film. And she managed to do this with a very subtle performance.

I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Christopher Gunning for his lush photography in the 1920s flashbacks. And costume designer Sheena Napier did a solid job of creating costumes for two eras – the mid 1920s and the late 1930s/early 1940s. But the movie’s real gems turned out to be Kevin Elyot’s adaptation of Christie’s sad and tragic tale and Paul Unwin’s direction. Thanks to the both of them, ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” ended up being one of the best cinematic adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel I have ever seen.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1995) Review

Below is my review of the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility”

 

”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1995) Review

The year 1995 saw the beginning of an onslaught of Britain and the United States’ love affair with British author, Jane Austen. A love affair that has not abated after fourteen (14) years. In 1995, the BBC aired Andrew Davies’ miniseries adaptation of Austen’s most famous novel, ”Pride and Prejudice”. And later that year, Hollywood released its adaptation of another Austen,”Sense and Sensibility” – which I had just recently watched.
Directed by Ang Lee, ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, starred Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay), Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. The story centered around Elinor (Thompson) and Marianne (Winslet), two daughters of Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) by his second wife (Gemma Jones). They have a younger sister, Margaret (Emilie François), and an older half-brother named John (James Fleet). When their father dies, the family estate passes to John, and the Dashwood women are left in reduced circumstances. The story follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, a cottage on a distant relative’s property (Robert Hardy), where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the quiet and sensible Elinor and the extroverted and occasionally impetuous Marianne is eventually resolved as each sister finds love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the story’s title described how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love.

Producer Lindsay Doran made an excellent choice in selecting Lee to direct the film. First of all, he drew some excellent performances from his cast – especially from Thompson, Winslet, and Rickman. Lee also effectively drew film goers back into Regency England without allowing the film to resemble some kind of stiff painting or a museum piece. Although he initially had trouble with dealing with Western-style of film making – especially in dealing with British cast members who questioned his direction and made suggestions regarding shots. He could be rather authoritarian with the cast, especially with Hugh Grant. The actor ended up calling him ”the Brute” behind his back. But he and the cast eventually got used to each other. Lee was also responsible for insisting that Thompson play the oldest Dashwood sister. And he Lee ordered Winslet to read poetry and novels from the late 18th century and early 19th century in order to get her to connect to Marianne’s romantic nature. And to give the movie its emotional core, he asked both Thompson and Winslet to room together during production. The two actresses remain close friends to this day.

Not only was Lee ably assisted by his superb cast, but also by crew members such as costume designers Jenny Beavan and John Bright, production designer Luciana Arrighi, set decorator Ian Whittaker, art directors Philip Elton and Andrew Sanders; and cinematographer Michael Coulter, whose photography beautifully captured the English countryside in all of its glory. I especially have to give kudos to Coulter’s photography and Arrighi’s production design for a beautiful re-creation of Regency London. I also enjoyed composer Patrick Doyle’s score for the film. His use of John Dowland’s song, “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” as Marianne’s own theme song struck me as very impressive. But I have to especially give kudos to Emma Thompson for her marvelous adaptation of Austen’s novel. It may not have adhered exactly to the novel, but I found it well written, lively and paced just right.

With the exception of two performances, I felt more than impressed with the cast. When Ang Lee had signed on as the movie’s director, he immediately suggested that Emma Thompson portray the oldest Dashwood sister, Elinor. Thompson considered herself too old for the role, considering that Elinor was at least 19-20 years old in the novel. But Lee suggested that she increase Elinor’s age to 27 in the screenplay, which would also make her distress at being a spinster easier for contemporary audiences to understand. Frankly, I feel that Lee made a good choice. Emma Thompson gave a superb performance as Elinor Dashwood, whose practical mind led her to act as the family’s de facto leader, following her father’s death. She also brilliantly conveyed Elinor’s emotional nature behind a mask of reticence via her eyes and various expressions. Kate Winslet had no need to be subtle as the more openly emotional Marianne Dashwood. Winslet was at least 20 years old when she filmed ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY’. Yet, even at that tender age, Winslet proved that she had the talent and acting chops to portray the very complex Marianne. I found it ironic that although her character was not what I would describe as subtle. And yet, Winslet managed to convey all aspects of Marianne’s personality – romantic, willful, emotional and sometimes a bit self-involved.

I found Alan Rickman impressive as one of the Dashwoods’ new neighbors, the quiet and dependable Colonel Christopher Brandon. I enjoyed the subtle manner in which Rickman expressed Brandon’s reluctance in expressing his love for Marianne, due to her feelings for another man. That other man proved to Greg Wise, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as the dashing, yet rakish Edward Willoughby. Wise has never struck me as an exceptional actor, but I must admit that I consider Willoughby to be one of his two best performances. The movie’s supporting cast also included Robert Hardy and the late Elizabeth Spriggs, who gave amusing performances as Sir John Middleton, the Dashwoods’ cousin and benefactor; and Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. Gemma Jones was excellent as the emotional and sometimes girlish mother of the Dashwood sisters. I was also impressed by Harriet Walter, who portrayed the sisters’ shrewish sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood. And Hugh Laurie gave a hilarious performance as the sardonic and long-suffering Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ other son-in-law. And I must say that Imogen Stubbs also impressed me by her subtle performance as the cunning and manipulative Lucy Steele, who seemed to have a claim for the same man that Elinor Dashwood longs for.

Speaking of Elinor Dashwood’s love, I finally come to the two performances that had failed to impress me. One of them belonged to Hugh Grant. He portrayed Edward Ferrars, one of Fanny Dashwood’s brothers that happened to be in love with Elinor and is claimed by the manipulative Lucy Steele as her fiancé. Remember his charming, yet modest performance in the hit 1994 comedy, ”FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL”? Well, his Edward Ferrars turned out to be an early 19th century version of his ”FOUR WEDDINGS” role. Grant simply gave the same performance, but with more stuttering and less charm. What had been fresh and original in 1994, ended up as old news a year later in ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. Another performance that did nothing for me belonged to Imelda Staunton. She portrayed Charlotte Jennings Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ daughter and Mr. Palmer’s wife. I realize that she was supposed to be an annoying character, but one could say the same about Sir John and Mrs. Middleton. But whereas I found Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs’ performances amusing, Staunton’s slightly over-the-top portrayal of Charlotte Palmer ended up irritating the hell out of me.

I understand that Andrew Davies had produced his own version of the Austen novel, last year. Since I have yet to see it, I cannot compare it to the 1995 version, directed by Ang Lee. I do know that I am more than impressed with this particular version. It came as no surprise to me that it earned seven (7) Academy Award nominations and won one (1) for Thompson’s Adapted Screenplay. ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is one movie I could watch over again without ever getting tired of it.