Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1880s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1880s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1880s

1. “Stagecoach” (1939) – John Ford directed this superb adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, “The Stage to Lordsburg”, about a group of strangers traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona territory. Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell starred.

2. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Shekhar Kapur directed this fascinating adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a former British Army officer accused of cowardice. Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson starred.

3. “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) – Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd starred in this third installment of the “BACK TO THE FUTURE” TRILOGY, in which Marty McFly travels back to the Old West to prevent the death of fellow time traveler, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Written by Bob Gale, the movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

4. “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) – Mike Leigh wrote and directed this biopic about W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their creation of their most famous operetta, “The Mikado”. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner.

5. “Tombstone” (1993) – Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer starred in this colorful and my favorite account about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. George P. Cosmatos directed.

6. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939) – Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in this adaptation of William Gillette’s 1899 stage play, “Sherlock Holmes”. Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.

7. “The Cater Street Hangman” (1998) – Eoin McCarthy and Keeley Hawes starred in this television adaptation of Anne Perry’s 1979 novel about a serial killer in late Victorian England. Sarah Hellings directed.

8. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders starred in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel about a handsome young Englishman who maintains his youth, while a special portrait reveals his inner ugliness.

9. “High Noon” (1952) – Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the movie was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and co-starred Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.

10. “Open Range” (2003) – Kevin Costner directed and co-starred with Robert Duvall in this western about a cattle crew forced to take up arms when they and their herd are threatened by a corrupt rancher.

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“TOPSY-TURVY” (1999) Review

“TOPSY-TURVY” (1999) Review

I have very limited past experience with the world of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. I have never seen a stage production of any of their works. And I am vaguely familiar with one of the tunes featured in their most famous play, “The Mikado”, thanks to the 1978 comedy thriller, “FOUL PLAY”. Pathetic is it not?

I never saw “TOPSY-TURVY”, Mike Leigh’s dramatization of the duo’s creation of “The Mikado”, when it first hit the theaters back in 1999. Considering my penchant for costume dramas, I find it surprising that it took me so long to see this film. It spanned the 14-month period that began with the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s play, “Princess Ida” in January 1884 and ended with the premiere of the “The Mikado” in March 1885. During this period, the summer heat discouraged theatergoers from attending more shows of “Princess Ida” and ticket sales decline. Producer Richard D’Oyly Carte called on Sullivan and Gilbert to create a new musical play for the Savoy Theater. The duo encountered creative impasse after impasse, until a visit to the Japanese Village Exhibit in Knightsbridge by Gilbert and his wife Kitty, inspired the dramatist write a liberetto set in Japan – an idea that Sullivan agreed to write the music for.

The rest of “TOPSY-TURVY” focused upon Gilbert, Sullivan, the cast and the stage crew working to make “The Mikado” a success. Leigh allowed audiences glimpses into the lives of the cast and crew members that include scenes of them negotiating their salaries with Carte, costume fittings in which both Durward Lely and Jessie Bond express their concerns over C. Wilhelm‘s designs, the women’s chorus learn to walk like Japanese women, Sullivan’s rehearsals with both the orchestra and the cast, and Gilbert’s rehearsals with the cast over lines. The movie also depicts the world of late Victorian England through the characters’ private lives with scenes that include George Grossmith‘s morphine addiction, three actors’ discussion of the Charles Gordon’s defeat at Khartoum, Leonora Braham‘s alcoholism and lesbianism, and Sullivan’s visit to a French brothel, Gillbert’s family circumstances and encounter with a beggar. And throughout the movie’s second half, director Mike Leigh interjected scenes of Gilbert and Sullivan’s preparation of the operetta with actual performances from the production by the cast.

“TOPSY-TURVY” received four Academy Award nominations and won two. But none of the nominations were in the Best Picture, Best Director or any of the acting nominations. I found this a bit disappointing. Mind you, the movie was not perfect. With a running time of 160 minutes, the movie struck me as too long. Someone once complained that the movie featured too many vignettes of late Victorian life . . . scenes that had nothing to do with the creation of The Mikado. To a certain extent, I agree with this complaint. I had no problems with the film starting off with the opening night for “Princess Ida” and the conversations between Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan about the creative pair’s partnership. There was one particular vignette of Victorian life that I found entertaining – namelyRutland Barrington, Lely and Grossmith’s conversation about Gordon’s defeat at Khartoum and their upcoming appointments with Carte. But there was a great deal in the movie I could have done without. I really did not need to view an extended scene from one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s earlier works, “The Sorcerer”. I did not need extended views of Sullivan’s visit to a Parisian brothel or Gilbert’s private life – especially his relationship with this father. In fact, Leigh’s portrayal of Gilbert’s wife, Lucy “Kitty” Gilbert as this meek and mild woman constantly longing for children proved to be inaccurate. The only time “TOPSY-TURVY” provided an accurate portrayal of the dramatist’s wife was the scene in which she dragged him to the Knightsbridge Japanese Village Exhibit. In fact, by the time the movie shifted to the Gilberts’ visit to the exhibit, which inspired the dramatist to write “The Mikado”, at least 50 to 60 minutes of the film had passed.

But despite these flaws, I still believe that “TOPSY-TURVY” should have received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. At least. Flawed or not, it is a superb movie that not only explored late Victorian England, Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration, but more importantly, the world of creating a work of art. As a lover of movies, theater and books, watching the creation of “The Mikado” through Gilbert becoming inspired, costume fittings and various rehearsals sent a thrill through my veins. Someone with the Motion Pictures Academy must have agreed. Leigh received an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay. I especially enjoyed those scenes in which both Jessie Bond and Durward Lely griped about their costumes, Gilbert and choreographer John D’Auban argued over the stage directions for the “Three Little Maids From School” number, and especially the hullabaloo over Gilbert’s initial decision to cut the A More Humane Mikado”, which was eventually performed by Richard Temple.

The film’s Victorian vision would not have been possible by the work of production designer Eve Stewart. She did such an exceptional job of recapturing London of the mid-1880s that I did not realize that the movie featured very few exterior shots until my last viewing. Helen Scott’s Oscar nominated art direction added to Stewart’s re-creation of Victorian London, along with the set decorations she created with John Bush. As for Lindy Hemming, she won a most deserved Academy Award for the brilliant costumes she had designed for the film, as shown below:

Aside from Leigh’s exploration of how “The Mikado” was created, the movie also benefited from strong performances, thanks to its talented cast. Jim Broadbent was the first cast member selected for the movie and he did a superb job as the blunt-speaking, sardonic and artistic William S. Gilbert. Allan Courduner was equally superb as the more extroverted Arthur Sullivan, who seriously considered breaking up the partnership in order to embark on a career as a “more serious” composer. There were supporting performances that left a strong impression with me. They include Lesley Manville as “Kitty” Gilbert. Her characterization may have been off, thanks to Leight, but Manville gave a brilliant performance. Ron Cook gave one of the most subtle and satisfying performances as Savoy Theater owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte. I especially enjoyed Timothy Spall, Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd and Martin Savage as Richard Temple, Leonora Braham, Durward Lely and George Grossmith, respectively.

No movie is perfect. And that includes “TOPSY-TURVY”. My main problem is that it required more editing than it actually received. It really needed a shorter running time. But the movie’s flaws were overshadowed by its virtues – an in-depth look into the world of Victorian theater and the creation of “The Mikado”, a beautiful production design that came very close to reflecting life in the late Victorian era, a first-rate cast led by Jim Broadbent and Allan Courduner, and excellent direction and writing from Mike Leigh, himself. It was not perfect, but I believe it could have received Oscar nods for both Best Picture and Best Director.

Top Favorite WORLD WAR I Movie and Television Productions

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July 28, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions about the war:

 

TOP FAVORITE WORLD WAR I MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

1 - Paths of Glory

1. “Paths of Glory” (1957) – Stanley Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas in this highly acclaimed anti-war film about French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack. Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready co-starred.

 

2 - Lawrence of Arabia

2. “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) – David Lean directed this Oscar winning film about the war experiences of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence. The movie made stars of Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

 

3 - All Quiet on the Western Front

3. “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) – Lew Ayres starred in this Oscar winning adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel about the experiences of a German Army soldier during World War I. Lewis Milestone directed.

 

4 - The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

4. “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1992-1993) – George Lucas created this television series about Indiana Jones’ childhood and experiences as a World War I soldier. Sean Patrick Flannery and Corey Carrier, George Hall
and Ronny Coutteure starred.

 

5 - Gallipoli

5. “Gallipoli” (1981) – Peter Weir directed this acclaimed historical drama about two Australian soldiers and their participation in the Gallipoli Campaign. The movie starred Mark Lee and Mel Gibson.

 

6 - The Dawn Patrol 1938

6. “The Dawn Patrol” (1938) – Errol Flynn and David Niven starred in this well made, yet depressing remake of the 1930 adaptation of John Monk Saunders’ short story, “The Flight Commander”. Directed by Edmund Goulding, the movie co-starred Basil Rathbone.

 

7 - La Grande Illusion

7. “La Grande Illusion” (1937) – Jean Renoir co-wrote and directed this highly acclaimed war drama about French prisoners-of-war who plot to escape from an impregnable German prisoner-of-war camp. Jean Gabin starred.

 

8 - Shout at the Devil

8. “Shout at the Devil” (1976) – Lee Marvin and Roger Moore starred as two adventurers in this loose adaptation of Wilbur Smith’s novel, who poach ivory in German controlled East Africa on the eve of World War I. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie co-starred Barbara Parkins.

 

9 - Biggles - Adventures in Time

9. “Biggles: Adventures in Time” (1986) – Neil Dickson and Alex Hyde-White starred in this adventure fantasy about an American catering salesman who inadvertently travels through time to help a British Army aviator during World War I. John Hough directed.

 

10 - A Very Long Engagement

10. “A Very Long Engagement” (2004) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet wrote and directed this very long romantic war drama about a young French woman’s search for her missing fiancé who might have been killed in the Battle of the Somme, during World War I. Audrey Tautou starred.

“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” (1998) Review

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“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” (1998) Review

As a rule, I have never been an ardent fan of Charles Dickens’ novels. I suppose my aversion to his writing stemmed from being forced to read his 1838 tale, “Oliver Twist”, while in my early teens. That was the last time I had read a Dickens novel, but several film and television adaptations of his work awaited me for many years down the road. And I did not warm up to them. 

After years of avoiding Dickens’ novels or adaptations of his work, I finally decided to put my aversion of his writing aside and set my mind on watching “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND”, Sandy Welch’s 1998 adaptation of his last completed novel, published in 1864-65. Needless to say, “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” proved to be a complicated tale. It featured at least three subplots – major and minor – and they all stemmed from the alleged death of the heir to a fortune created by his father, a former collector from London’s rubbish.

“OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” began with a solicitor named Mortimer Lightwood, who narrates the circumstances on the death of his late client and the details of the latter’s will to his aunt and a group of listeners at a London society party. According to Lightwood, Mr. Harmon made his fortune from London’s rubbish. The terms of his will stipulated that his fortune should go to his estranged son John, who is returning to Britain after years spent abroad. John can inherit his father’s money on the condition that he marry a woman he has never met, Miss Bella Wilfer. However, Lightwood receives news that John Harmon’s body has been found in the Thames River. He and his close friend Eugene Wrayburn head toward the river to identify the body. And it was this sequence that led to the following subplots:

*Mr. Harmon’s employees, Nicodemus and Henrietta Boffin inherit the Harmon fortune and take Bella Wilfer as a ward to compensate for her loss, following John Harmon’s “death”.

*John Harmon fakes his death and assumes the identity of John Rokesmith, the Boffins’ social secretary, in order to ascertain Bella Wilfer’s character.

*The man who found Harmon’s “body” is a waterman and scavenger named Gaffer Hexam. He is later accused of murdering “Harmon”.

*While accompanying his friend, Mortimer Lightwood, to identify Harmon’s body, Eugene Wrayburn meets and falls in love with Hexam’s daughter, Lizzie.

*Charley Hexam, Lizzie’s younger brother, has a headmaster named Bradley Headstone, who becomes romantically and violently obsessed with Lizzie.

*A ballad-seller with a wooden leg named Silas Wegg is hired by the Boffins to read for them. When he finds Harmon’s will in the dust, he schemes with a taxidermist named Mr. Venus to blackmail the newly rich couple.

*Mr. and Mrs. Lammle are a society couple who married each other for money and discovered that neither had any. They eventually set their sights on the Boffins to swindle.

I have seen many movies and read many novels in which disparate subplots eventually form into one main narrative. A major example of this is the 2002 novel and its 2008 adaptation, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA”. But I cannot recall any form of fiction in which a particular narrative divides into a series of subplots in which one barely have anything in common with another. And I must say that I found this narrative device not only original, but rather disconcerting.

The problem I mainly have with “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” is that I only enjoyed one major subplot – which dealt with Eugene Wrayburn, Lizzie Hexam and Bradley Headstone. I cannot deny that I found it very interesting and very tense, despite David Morrissey’s occasional moments of histronics, when expressing Headstone’s feelings for both Wrayburn and Lizzie; and actress Keeley Hawes’ inability to express Lizzie’s true feelings for Wrayburn until the last episode. And I suspect that director Julian Farino may have been at fault, instead of Hawes. Paul McGann’s portrayal of the ambiguous Wrayburn struck me as the best performance not only in this particular subplot, but also in the entire miniseries.

Inheriting John Harmon’s fortune attracted a good deal of greedy fortune hunters to the Boffins. Unfortunately, Silas Wegg’s attempts to blackmail them ended on a whimper. It did not help that he spent at least two to three episodes (out of four) complaining about his lot in life and plotting with Mr. Venus. I was even less impressed with the poor and newly married Mr. and Mrs. Lammle’s attempts to swindle money from the Boffins. In fact, I am still in the dark over how their attempt failed.

The subplot featuring John Harmon/Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer could have amounted to something. I found Harmon’s gradual love for Bella very interesting to watch, thanks to Steven Mackintosh’s subtle performance. And Anna Friel did a great job in developing Bella Wilfur from a materialistic and ambitious young woman, to one for whom love and morality meant more to her than material wealth. But the problem I have with this subplot? Bella did not learn the truth about John until some time after their wedding. Even worse, he had to resort to deception to find out whether Bella was worthy of his hand. I realize that when they first met, she was not exactly a pleasant woman. But he conducted their courtship, while deceiving her. Even worse, Bella forgave John a bit too easily, once she learned the truth.

Aside from the excellent performances; including those from Peter Vaughn and Pam Ferris as the Boffins, Kenneth Cranham as Silas Wegg, Margaret Tyzack as the imperious Tippins, and Dominic Mafham as Mortimer Lightwood; “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” has two other virtues that I found impressive. The four-part miniseries’ visual style struck me as colorful and at the same time, epic. And I believe one has to thank David Odd for his excellent. And Mike O’Neil’s Victorian costumes truly blew me away. Not only did I find them beautiful, but a near accurate reflection of Britain in the 1860s.

One might believe that I dislike “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND”. Trust me, I liked it. But I did not love it. I suspect that Sandy Welch and director Julian Farino did the best they could in translating Dickens’ tale to the screen. Perhaps they more than did their best and that was the trouble. The 1864-65 novel is not considered among the novelist’ best. “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND” has yet to improve my opinion of Charles Dickens as a novelist. Perhaps a second viewing might do the job.

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

Inspirational movies have been the hallmark of Hollywood films over the decades. They especially became popular between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. After the mid-90s, I never thought they would become popular again. But the recent release of the historical drama, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” proved me wrong. 

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” told the story of Great Britain’s King George VI’s difficulties with a speech impediment and his relationship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped him overcome his stutter. The movie opened with George VI (then Prince Albert, Duke of York) at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth by his side. There he gives a stammering speech that visibly unsettles the thousands of listeners in the audience. After nine years of unsuccessfully finding a speech therapist that can help him, Elizabeth recruits Australian-born Lionel Logue to meet him. The two men eventually bond and Logue helps the Duke of York overcome the latter’s stammer during a series of crises that include the death of George V; his brother, King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson; the abdication of Edward; the Duke of York’s ascension to the throne as George VI; his coronation and the start of World War II. Also during this period, both king and speech therapist become close friends.

What can I say about ”THE KING’S SPEECH”? I cannot deny that it was a heartwarming tale about the growing friendship of two men from disparate backgrounds. Seidler’s script was filled with wit, charm, warmth and pathos that filled the heart. The cast, lead by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, did great credit to the script. There have been complaints about the film’s historical accuracy from both the media and historians. And there is a good deal of the story that is historically inaccurate. George VI and Lionel Logue’s collaboration began as far back as 1926, not 1934. And the king was also pro-appeasement in the late 1930s. In fact, the majority of Britons during that period were pro-appeasement. What historians fail to realize is that appeasement was popular due to a lack of desire for another war against Germany. World War I had traumatized a generation that included George VI. One also has to remember that ”THE KING’S SPEECH” is a drama based upon historical fact, not a documentary. One would know by now that complete historical accuracy in a work of fiction is rare. It has been rare for as long as there have been fictional work based upon history. And to be honest, I do not believe that the movie’s fiddling with historical fact has not harmed the story.

One would think that I consider ”THE KING’S SPEECH” to be one of the best movies this year. Frankly, I find labeling what is ”the best” rather subjective. I did enjoy the movie and it made the list of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2010. However, I must admit that I do not consider it to be a particularly original film. One, it is one of those inspirational films that moviegoers tend to love – movies like ”SEABISCUIT””CINDERELLA MAN” and the 1976 Oscar winner, ”ROCKY”. And if I must be brutally honest, there was nothing original about ”THE KING’S SPEECH” – even for an inspirational film. I already have a nickname for it – ’ROCKY in the Palace’. Another problem I have with the movie is that I was not that impressed by its visual style. I found Danny Cohen’s photography rather pedestrian. And Eve Stewart’s production designs and Judy Farr’s set decorations were very disappointing. Only the movie’s exterior shots prevented ”THE KING’S SPEECH” from becoming another filmed stage play. And the actual sets struck me as very dull. My hopes of a rich look at London and the rest of Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s fell short. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the movie’s uninspiring visual style. It only had a budget of $15 million dollars. I suspect the producers had very little money to work with.

With a few exceptions, the cast turned out to be first-rate. Colin Firth gave a superb and complex performance as the insecure sovereign with the speech impediment. I am not that surprised that he managed to earn nominations and win a good number of acting awards. Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed Lionel Logue, gave a first-rate performance filled with a great deal of sly humor. Also, he and Firth generated a strong screen chemistry. Helena Bonham-Carter was a charming and witty Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. However, I would have never considered her performance worth of any acting award nomination. She was simply portraying the “loyal wife” schtick. I was surprised to find Guy Pierce portraying the love obsessed and selfish Edward VIII. And I must he was very subtle and effective in revealing the man’s less admirable traits. The movie also benefitted solid performances from the likes of Michael Gambon as King George V, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, and Anthony Andrews, who was surprisingly effective as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

However, there were some performances that I found unsatisfying. Being a fan of Jennifer Ehle, I was disappointed in the limitations of her role as Logue’s wife, Myrtle. She hardly had a chance to do anything, except murmur a few words of encouragement to Logue. Her only great moment occurred in a scene that featured Myrtle Logue’s realization that the King of England was one of her husband’s clients. Seeing Ehle and Firth in the same scene together brought back memories of the 1995 adaptation of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I also had a problem with Eve Best’s portrayal of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Her Wallis came off as more extroverted than the divorcee in real life. And I hate to say this, but Timothy Spall’s interpretation of Winston Churchill seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal. Every time he was on the screen, I could not help but wince.

In conclusion, I enjoyed ”THE KING’S SPEECH” very much. Despite its lack of originality, I found it heartwarming, humorous, and dramatic; thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction and Seidler’s writing. And aside from a few performances, I was impressed by the cast, especially leading men Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I would never consider it artistically worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining.

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As an extra treat, below is a video clip featuring a speech given by King George VI at the an Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, Scotland; 1938.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

I have been a major fan of J.K. Rowling’s ”HARRY POTTER” novels as much as the next person. But I would have never become a fan if it had not been for the movie adaptations of the novels. Mind you, I have not harbored a high opinion of all the movie adaptations. It has been a mixed bag for me over the past nine years. Of the seven movies that were made, I have a high opinion of at least four of them. And the most recent movie – ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” – happened to be one of them. 

I never thought I would think highly of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. When I had heard that Warner Brothers planned to split Rowling’s seventh novel into two movies, I did not think it was a good idea. And I felt it was an attempt by the studio to get as much profit from Rowling’s saga as much as possible. Being a steady fan of the franchise, I went ahead and saw . . . and thanked my lucky stars that the movie had not been shot in the 3-D process. Not only did I develop a high opinion of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”, I fell in love with it. Considering the number of complaints I have heard about the movie, I suspect that many would be surprised by my opinion. But I did. I fell in love with that movie. And considering the detailed nature of Rowling’s novel, the decision to make two movies from it may have done justice to Steve Kloves’ screenplay.

Directed by David Yates, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” told the story of Harry Potter and his two close friends – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger – and their efforts to elude Lord Voldemort and his Deatheasters throughout Britain, after the latter assumed control of the wizarding world following Albus Dumbledore’s death in ”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Not only did Harry, Ron and Hermione do their best to elude Voldemort and the Deatheaters; they had to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes – objects or receptacles in which Voldemort had hidden parts of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality. Harry had destroyed Voldemort’s school diary in ”CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. And before the start of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, Professor Dumbledore had destroyed another – Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. There remained five horcruxes for the trio to find and destroy. But as fugitives within Britain’s wizarding world, their task proved to be difficult.

As I had stated earlier, I ended up falling in love with ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. But this feeling did not blind me to its flaws. And it had a few. One, what happened to Dean Thomas? For the first time in the saga’s history, he had a bigger role. At least in the novel. He failed to make an appearance in this adaptation. Mind you, his lack of presence did not harm the story. But it would have been nice for Harry, Ron and Hermione to encounter at least one fellow Hogswarts student (other than Luna) during their adventures. And poor Dean Thomas had been sadly underused since the first movie. Two, I wish that director David Yates and editor Mark Day had chopped some of the scenes featuring the Trio’s ”Winter of Discontent”. I could understand that the three friends would endure a great deal of despair over their situation and the state of the wizarding world. However . . . was it really that necessary to endure so many shots of Harry, Ron and Hermione staring into space, looking depressed? These scenes nearly bogged down the movie’s middle section. The Dursleys barely made a presence in this movie. Worse, Kloves had decided to delete Harry and Dudley’s goodwill good-bye. Who became the new owner of Sirius Black’s home, Number 12 Grimmauld Place, following his death? Since ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” movie failed to clear the issue, I had hoped this movie would. It never did. I had also hoped that ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” would clear reveal the identities of the two other horcruxes that were revealed in the sixth novel – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. The only thing that Kloves’ script did was mention that the Trio did not know about the cup, the diadem and two other horcruxes.

Despite these annoyances, I still love ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. The only HARRY POTTER movie that I love more is 2004’s ”HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. There had been complaints of the movie’s dark tone. Personally, this did not bother me one bit. In fact, I reveled in the story’s darkness. Other HARRY POTTER have ended on a dark note. But the story’s dark tone was not only well handled in Rowling’s novel, but also in Kloves’ script. Why? Because it suited the story. Aside from the ”Winter of Discontent” sequence, the rest of the pacing for ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” was well handled by Yates and Kloves. The movie also featured some outstanding sequences. Among my favorite were the following:

*Lord Voldemort’s murder of Charity Burbage at the Malfoy Manor.

*The Order of the Phoenix escort Harry to the Weasleys’ home, the Burrows.

*Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding at the Burrows to London.

*The attack upon the Trio by two Death Eaters at a London café.

*The Trio steal Salazar Slytherin’s locket from Dolores Umbridge at the Ministry of Magic.

*Ron’s departure from Harry and Hermione, following a vicious quarrel between him and Harry.

*Harry and Hermione’s narrow escape from Godric’s Hollow.

*Ron’s reunion with Harry and Hermione and his destruction of Salazar Slytherin’s locket (a horcrux).

*Xenophilius Lovegood’s (and Hermione’s) narration of Peverell brothers and the Deathly Hallows.

*Dobby’s rescue of the Trio, Luna Lovegood and Mr. Ollivander from the Malfoy Manor.

Of the above scenes, at least three of them stood out for me. One of those scenes was the quarrel that broke out between Harry and Ron during the ”Winter of Discontent”. I found it ugly, brutal and emotional, thanks to the performances of the three leads. They really made this scene worked and for the first time; it occurred to me that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had really grown in their skills as actors. Hell, in this scene, they gave the best performances in the movie. Another scene that really stood out was Xenophilius Lovegood’s narration of the bleak tale regarding the Peverell brothers and the three Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility). What made this sequence unique was that it was shown via some visually stunning animations designed and directed by Ben Hibon. But the one scene that really impressed me was the Ministry of Magic sequence that featured the Trio’s retrieval of Salazar Slytherin’s locket from the odious Dolores Umbridge (now head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission). From the moment that Harry, Ron and Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to transform into three workers from the Ministry of Magic (Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri), until their escape via apparition; the entire scene was a fabulous ride filled with tension, humor, chaos and adventure. I would rate it as one of the best sequences in the entire saga.

I had already commented on the marvel of the three leads’ performances. For once, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were the ones to give the most outstanding performances; instead of a supporting cast member. But there were other excellent performances. One came from Tom Felton, who continued his ambiguous portrayal of Hogswarts student Draco Malfoy that began in ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Another came from Ralph Fiennes, who gave a better performance as Lord Voldemort – especially in the opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – than he did in both ”THE GOBLET OF FIRE” and”THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. In fact, I could say the same about Helena Bonham-Carter, who seemed less over-the-top and a lot scarier than she was in her previous appearances. Rhys Ifan was deliciously entertaining as Luna Lovegood’s equally eccentric father, Xenophilius. And I have to give kudos to Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri did a great job in conveying their adolescent characters (Hermione, Harry and Ron) through body language – especially since the three leads added their voices. And in his few scenes, Alan Rickman was his usual superb self as the enigmatic Severus Snape. A good example of how ambiguous he could be can be seen in the sequence featuring the death of an old friend of Snape’s – Charity Burbage. All you have to do is look at Rickman’s eyes and face.

Considering that this tale has no choice but to end happily in ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II”, I could assume that”Part I” might prove to be the darkest movie in the HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, Yates and Kloves might prove me wrong. But despite a few flaws, I believe that ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” is one of the best movies in the franchise. I have not truly enjoyed a HARRY POTTER this much since ”THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. And I can thank director David Yates, screenwriter Steve Kloves; and the three leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Excellent job, guys. Excellent job.

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

 

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

With the sixth installment of the HARRY POTTER movie franchise (“HARRY POTTER and the Half-Blood Prince”) just recently released on DVD and Blue Ray, I thought this would be a great time to look back at a previous installment – “HARRY POTTER and the Goblet of Fire”.  When the latter was first released in November 2005, many had hailed it as the best of the four HARRY POTTER movies. I wish I could have agreed with that assessment of “Goblet of Fire”. I really wish I could. But . . . I cannot. I am sorry, but I consider “Goblet of Fire” to be the weakest of the six movies.

Unlike many other movies, I had no problems with the screenwriter cutting out some of the material from the novel (however, I do regret that Newell and Kloves had cut out the Dursley scenes – which were the best in the series. In fact, all of the first four novels had been edited for the movie screen. However, “Goblet of Fire” did so in a manner that left the movie filled with plot holes:

*Why is it that no one knew that Couch Jr. was missing from Azkaban?

*How did Voldemort and Couch Jr. know about the Triwizard Tournament?

*Where was the infamous trunk, when Moody aka Couch Jr. arrived at Hogswarts?

Another problem I had with the movie was Newell’s heavy emphasis upon a realistic portrayal of British schoolchildren, to the detriment of the characters’ performance. He tried to be realistic with the Hogswarts students, yet wallowed in one-dimensional clichés with the visiting foreigners.

Aside from the Yule Ball (one of two or three sequences I actually enjoyed), I got the feeling that Newell was a H/Hr shipper. I especially noticed that Hermoine did not seem upset with Fleur thanking Ron for helping Harry to save her sister – unlike the novel.

But my two biggest disappointments with the movie were its production design (I got the feeling that Newell was trying to recapture Middle Earth as it was in “LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers”, making Hogswarts look very grim) and the hammy acting that nearly the entire cast seemed to be engaged in (with the exceptions of Dan Radclifffe, Rupert Grint and Alan Rickman [surprisingly]).

Do not get me wrong – I still managed to enjoy “Goblet of Fire”.  But it seemed like a comedown after following upon the heels of the solid “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets”; along with the dazzling “Prisoner of Azkaban”.