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Tag: harry potter

Film Critics: You’re Doing it Wrong

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I wonder how many decisions go into making a movie? A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand …..more? Casting alone would present a thousand questions with multiple outcomes. Just to make it a little more complicated; let’s introduce a well established canon with a built in fan-base, but at the same time try to branch out and create something altogether new. Oh ya, and there is also potentially billions of dollars riding on the decisions you make. I think those last few factors may have some influence on the way you go about things. So what do you do?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

You go out and make Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One a Star Wars story,……. then you market the crap out of all the decisions you made, then collectively hold your breath and see what the fans think, and then check your receipts, and then … maybe see what the critics are saying. So what are the critics saying? In the case of the two movies mentioned above: the consensus for both of them is that ‘they are both at home in the universes they inhabit with a welcome cast of new characters that create an enjoyable chapter to expand their canons but are not without their flaws’. Highly serviceable to borderline satisfactory. Wow brings a tear to the eye!

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As of this moment we have yet to create the perfect blockbuster movie that satisfies everyone. The reason being; there are too many specified factions to appease. How do you cater to the hardcore fans and the uninitiated simultaneously? They both require two different things that often run in direct opposition to one another. Now that we reaffirm all our own beliefs and opinions on social media, we can pick and choose the reviews that suit our experiences. If you want a nostalgia based Easter-egg laced review you’ll get it for the nod and wink crowd. If you’re more into the opportunity missed, what I would have done differently review, they’re multiplying like rabbits. If middle of the road, should I spend my money on this is more to your liking than just glance at the overall percentages or box office receipts.

A few things that need to be considered: what do you want to get out of the movie going experience? We all want to be entertained, ideally through our heads and our hearts but how high are our standards? Is anything short of (insert your favourite movie here) passable. Can a movie even come close to the character development and long range storytelling that we are spoiled with in the Golden Age of television? How much ownership do we have to these worlds and why do we take our entertainment so personally?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Everyone’s a critic, myself included. I watched both films discussed and was happy with the results. The kid in me was tapping myself on the shoulder exclaiming “did you see what they did there?” more times than my inner critic poking me in the back saying”did you see what they did there?”.  I will probably get the DVD’s when they come out (because I’m a Philistine that loves dated technology) and watch them over and over high-fiving my inner child the whole time. Mission accomplished.

How’s that for a review?

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Nostalgia Smack-down: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child VS Stranger Things

HP vs STThis hot hazy summer brought us a spoil of riches. We were treated to two superb pop culture phenomenons that tweaked our childhood nostalgia.(warning spoilers) I don’t want to give too much away, but in order to compare these two seemingly unrelated  media artifacts I will have to explore a few details. In both offerings the adults take a back seat and the kids fuel the adventure, but talk about your cursed children! (Oh Barb, we barely new you.)

harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child Both The Cursed Child and Stranger Things play heavily into our collective consciousness. We associate these things with mostly fond memories of our youth. Reading the many reviews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child I began to see a pattern. People were just as excited to write about the ritual and anticipation of waiting and acquiring a new J.K. Rowling offering than talking about the play itself. With myself I found the expectation to be both very high and low at the same time. I really wanted to be back in that world again, because when you’re there, it is totally immersive. I also went into it with the knowledge that this wasn’t a complete novel  but a snapshot (co-written by J.K.)  in the form of a play and that ultimately the best way to experience the story would be to see it performed live. Like most of the readers who picked up the play, it didn’t take long to reach the end. So how did it fare?

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Revisiting these characters, I was a little worried that my ideal impression of them would be tarnished. How would they be portrayed? They even played with this idea by presenting different versions of each character that exist in alternative realities. I was delighted that in no matter what reality Ron and Hermione had feelings for one another, but Happily Ever After is not a real thing, even Han and Leia broke up over a problem child. J.K. embraces real life, (hog)-warts and all and the Cursed Child explores many of the pitfalls life has to offer.

Daddy issues play heavily into the Cursed Child affecting many characters especially Harry and his role as a parent. He has no compass to navigate these waters, having lost his real father as a child and then his two surrogates (Sirius and Dumbledore) in his teens. We as readers take on the parenting role in a diminished fashion; watching these characters (we see in some way as our own) behave in ways we can’t control. The Cursed Child can elude to a multiple of characters in the play, along with the expectation we place on this story. How can it  not be cursed?  Cursed but not without magic.

1385b630-2c31-0134-0ca6-0a0b9a139ea7Speaking of cursed magical children, Eleven has a tough go of it, along with her own personal Daddy Issues amped up to well…. 11. Stranger Things came out of nowhere. It hit the perfect 80’s sci-fi sweet-spot we didn’t know we were craving. It wore all it’s influences on its sleeve and did it with unwavering homage and unquestionable affection. As a child of the eighties I was in heaven; from the soundtrack to the wardrobe to the details I was transported back to my youth. A time when your bike was your lifeline to the world because there was no such thing as a cellphone. Our heroes have to use walkie-talkies to communicate to one another.

Stranger-Things-TV-show-on-Netflix-season-1-canceled-or-renewed-590x332The reviews are in and Stranger Things has become a bonafide hit. Word of mouth is loud and non stop. As quickly as we read The Cursed Child we binged all 8 episodes. Stranger Things had an advantage over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child being that it had no preconceived expectations or canon to be accountable to. It however firmly placed itself in some pretty big shoes. The parallels between early Steven Spielberg and early Stephen King are unmissable.  To bring a tale of two Stevens and do it well is a rare occurrence.

pQjYuG8lBoth the Cursed Child and Stranger Things use nostalgia as their hook but it’s the characters and the story that distinguish them as great. I was initially worried about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but was left with a sense of satisfaction and closure. Now the big thing that worries me: can Stranger Things season 2 deliver on our new high expectations?

Harry Potter and the Crimson Cloak

latest“It’s bigger on the inside!” Ron exclaimed as he and Harry crossed the threshold of the most ordinary cabin you ever laid eyes on. Ordinary in the sense that it was 200 miles from nowhere, in the middle of the Arctic tundra and painted a bright Cobalt blue.

Up until a very short while ago Ron and Harry had been hot on the trail of an unknown object of extraordinary magical power. Their job as Aurors had taken on a new role: to track down and investigate objects of exceptional magic. (Normally this kind of task would have been handled by a different department of the Ministry of Magic, but still five years after the vanquish of Voldemort, many dark wizards had rightly decided to return to the path of the straight and narrow and Aurors were being  utilized for other things.) Their job of finding extraordinary magical objects was made that much easier with the help of the enchantoscope. The enchantoscope was an invention of Ron’s father Arthur Weasley who had made some alterations to a regular sneakoscope so it could now detect all types of magic, rather than just the dark ones. The enchantoscope had led them to a curious looking jingle bell in an antique shop in the town of Cokeworth.

Harry and Ron’s over anxiousness and slight competitiveness had them reaching for the bell at the same time. Turns out that it was no ordinary bell, but rather a portkey. The shock of being transported from the cozy warmth of a quaint antique shop to the frigid temperatures of an Arctic wasteland tends to knock the wind out of a person. Harry smiled as he cast a warming spell to help unfreeze the look of surprise on Ron’s face. They certainly weren’t dressed for the elements and needed to get out of the cold as quickly as possible. The enchantosope was going wild in Harry’s pocket urging them towards the blue building in the distance.

The door was unlocked when they tried the latch. It opened up to a long corridor leading to another door. The walls of the hallway were lined with hundreds of hooks over top of low sitting benches. The hooks were all waist high. It appeared to be a coatroom for house elves or maybe worse – goblins.  The room smelled of gingerbread. Ron and Harry exchanged glances and then took out their wands to be on the safe side and shed some light on the far away door.

The second door too was unlocked and opened up to an enormous hall filled with workbenches and machinery. Tools covered every surface. Everything was scaled for tiny hands except for a massive desk and wardrobe off to the left of the hall situated under a massive stain glassed mural of a map of the earth. Light filtered through the coloured panes, casting the map onto the floor. Harry noticed a difference between the window and the image it cast. The cast image not only showed the continents and countries of the muggle world but also the concealed and secret places of the wizarding world. Hogwarts and Diagon Alley were clearly marked as well as countless places all over the globe. There were far more of these than even Ron realized. You could also touch the light and enlarge any aspect of the map you liked. The enchantoscope was going mental.

“Blimey!” Ron exclaimed as his gaze found an enormous shelf at the end of the hall that looked like it contained every toy he had ever wished for as a child. Harry watched him as he bee-lined for a wizarding chess board that appeared to be carved from dragon’s teeth. Harry meanwhile made his way over to the desk. It was littered with parchments written in every language imaginable. The enchantoscope motioned towards the wardrobe. Harry proceeded with caution and gingerly opened the door. Inside he found an enormous crimson cloak trimmed with white fur and jingle bells for buttons. This was the object that had led them here. The cloak gave off a warm intoxicating feeling not unlike when Harry had taken Felix Felicius or when you’ve had too many butterbeers.  Harry was about to call Ron over when he caught the reflection of a figure on the surface of the brass bells. Standing behind him was a wizard with a great flowing white beard.

“Great Dumbledore’s ghost!” Harry thought to himself.

“Hello Harry.” came a familiar voice.

 

HagridtreeThere’s two things that I’m a total sucker for: Harry Potter and Christmas. I came late to the world of J.K. Rowling but was soon smitten. I started with the third film: The Prisoner of Azkaban (in my opinion the best film in the series) and was intrigued to see how the story played out. The first book I read was the next in the series: The Goblet of Fire and after that I was thoroughly hooked. I loved how each book matured in its writing style corresponding with the age of Harry. I caught up right in time for the release of The Half-Blood Prince (in my opinion the best book in the series) and experienced the crazy anticipation for the final chapter of the tale of Harry Potter. That same anticipation I would equate to waiting for Christmas morning as a kid.

In my mind Harry Potter and Christmas are linked. Every book touches on the holiday in some form or fashion. Even the darkest book in the series The Deathly Hallows has Harry and Hermione in Godric’s Hollow on Christmas Eve. There’s a quiet moment of beauty and hope that follows that fact; even though it takes place in a graveyard.

latestChristmas has come early this year for Harry Potter fans in the form of a series of new stories from J.K. Rowling published on the website PottermoreYou have to sign-up to access the new content but it’s free. The site will also sort you into one of the four houses if you like. Apparently I’m Ravenclaw – who knew?

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Related: 6 Degrees of Harry Potter

                6 Degrees of Harry Potter II

                6 Degrees of Harry Potter III

6 Degrees of Harry Potter III

no-country-for-old-men_285495This past week J.K. Rowling set the twitterverse ablaze with a cryptic message that had Harry Potter fans chomping at the bit. The tweet was in reference to the new film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which currently is in the early stages of pre-production. We’ll have to wait until November 2016 before we get to return to the world of muggles and wizards, but in the meantime we can play a little 6 Degrees of Harry Potter while we wait.

Last time we ended off with the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw played by Kelly Macdonald; so this is as good a place as any to begin. Before she was Nucky Tompson’s wife on Boardwalk Empire she was married to Josh Brolin in the Coen Brother’s brilliant 2007 No Country for Old Men. This movie gets better with every viewing. The Coens won a best picture Oscar for their story of a man on the run after he finds 2 million in cash at the scene of a horrific gun battle. Javier Bardem plays the sociopath hitman who is employed to retrieve the money. He is easily one of the most menacing villains in recent film history and oh that hair. Along with the great performances; what makes this movie so compelling is what the Coens’ chose to omit rather than reveal that really propels the  story. We never get to see the huge confrontations in the film only their aftermaths. Even the sound design is minimal, no action movie soundtrack is added, only the atmosphere and dialogue of the scene are there to ratchet up the tension. Along with Josh and Javier, Kelly shares the screen with Woody Harrelson.

Kingpin1Woody has come a long way from playing the lovable but naive bartender from Hanover Indiana on CheersLast year’s True Detective was a revelation, along with some of his other performances like The People Vs Larry Flint or The Messenger, but the performance I want to talk about today is that of Roy Munson: the one handed bowler in Kingpin . This movie is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine and I would have to say Bill Murray’s Ernie McCraken is comedy gold. According to legend, the scene at the end of the film when Ernie bowls three strikes in a row wasn’t edited together but actually accomplished by Murray.  The crowd’s reaction is genuine.

The-Monuments-Men-películaThe crowd’s reaction to The Monuments Men was genuine as well; genuine indifference. I really wanted to like this film, it had so much going for it: great cast, true story and (my personal favourite) art history, but it couldn’t make up its mind what kind of film it wanted to be. Some parts tried to pull at your heartstrings where others tried to create suspense, neither with any real payoff. The movie had no real flow; you could literally shuffle all the scenes and play them in a different order and it would have made very little difference.  Everything felt a little forced, especially the little Ocean’s cheekiness tacked on at the end….. ‘oh those guys’.  And what guys they had: along with Bill, there was John Goodman, George Clooney and Matt Damon.

The_DepartedMatt Damon plays along Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson in Martin Scorsese’s The DepartedMartin Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and Jack Nicholson is considered one of the greatest actors of our time, so it pains me to say, this is not one of the greatest films of all time – despite the fact it won best picture the year it came out. It feels really heavy handed to me and I blame it on Nicholson. His performance has the subtle nuance of a Black Eyed Peas song. He is more cartoon in this film then when he played an actual cartoon character in Batman. There’s still a good movie in there but it could have been great. The star studded cast goes deep with support players like Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin.

royaltenenbaumsAlec Baldwin is the narrator in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. It is hard to believe, it has been 10 years since Gene Hackman has starred in anything. He is perfect as Royal Tenenbaum who lies and cheats his way back into his estranged family’s lives. This movie too gets better with every viewing.

3810bGene Hackman is far and away from his lovable rogue persona of Royal compared to the calculated menace of Little Bill in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. This movie as well won for best picture and deservedly so. Clint Eastwood returns to his Western roots with a taught tale of revenge, redemption and damnation. Richard Harris plays the Duck  Duke of Death who is run out of town by Little Bill. Richard Harris also plays a little know character known as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

There goes another 6 degrees (best picture edition).

6 Degrees of Harry Potter: Part II

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Time to connect the dots once again. This is a little exercise I like to call 6 Degrees of Harry Potter. You’ll notice this is part II, you can find part I here. Last time we ended off with Dumbledore himself Michael Gambon so that’s as good a place as any to start.

I really wanted to start with his involvement in the BBC series The Singing Detectivewhich is a brilliant piece of writing. Gambon plays a cantankerous writer of crime fiction who has a horrific skin ailment and finds himself at the mercy of others while confined to a hospital bed. On the series, he starred opposite to Joanne Whalley who was in Willow and Gossip Girl among other things. This was a very tempting path to venture down, but then I recollected that Mr. Gambon also shared the screen with non other than the great Bill Murray in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Murray channels his inner Jacques Cousteau to captain a vessel of oceanographers in search of the elusive Jaguar shark. The film showcases Anderson’s trademark set-pieces, quirky dialogue and some odd little stop motion sequences. Willem Dafoe plays Murray’s insecure second in command. He also has a small cameo as an electrician in Julian Schnabel’s Basquait.

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I’m not a fan of Schnabel’s art whatsoever, but I like a few of his movies. Basquait tracks the short explosive career of graffiti art-star Jean Michel Basquait. (I am on the other hand, a big fan of Jean Michel’s art.) The New York art world during the eighties is the backdrop for this tragic true story. The atmosphere of the film is electric and the performances are compelling. David Bowie as Andy Warhol is priceless. Along with the thin white duke, the cast includes Jeffery Wright, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper and Benicio Del Toro.

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Del Toro also plays the drug addled lawyer Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas alongside Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. Depp developed a tight bond and friendship with Thompson while preparing for this role. He lived with him at his house – Owl Farm for several weeks trying to better understand the writer. After days of hard living, Depp would retire to the guest bedroom to read and have a smoke before sleep. On one occasion, Hunter popped his head in to say good night and casually commented that Depp may want to extinguish his smoke. Turns out, the end table he had been using all along was actually a barrel full of gunpowder. The film never really captures the mad genius of the book or its author but Terry Gilliam does a decent enough job.  

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Crazy is also an underlying theme in Gilliam’s The Fisher King. It is a delightful little gem of a film that plays to everybody’s strengths. Robin Williams plays a broken man after the death of his wife and Jeff Bridges plays a shock-DJ down on his luck that feels compelled to help him.

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Jeff Bridges is also of course  The Big Lebowski. A  film that truly gets funnier every time you watch it. The follow up to the critical darling Fargo; it didn’t make a huge splash on its release but has since gone on to achieve cult status. There is even a shop that is all things Lebowski called the Little Lebowski  located in Greenwich Village NYC. The film has it all: bowling, kidnapping, the Coen brothers, whale sounds, conceptual art, German nihilists, a Busby Berkeley dream sequence, a Vietnam vet, a rug that really tied the room together, Jesus and Steve Buscemi.

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Steve Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire. He is a ruthless gangster at the top of a bootlegging empire during prohibition in Alantic City. Martin Scorsese and Mark Whalberg share producing credits. Nucky’s wife is played by Kelly Macdonald  who also played the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

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And so goes another 6 degrees of Harry Potter.

6 Degrees of Harry Potter

This is a little thing I like to call 6 degrees. According  to the theory – everyone on earth is separated by only 6 people (The trick of course is finding the right six people). This game is a variation on the old six degrees of Kevin Bacon from a few years back. The premise is simple: find a pop culture reference and trace it back to a particular point – in our case the cast of the Harry Potter franchise.

We’ll start with the subject of my last post 1. Minnie Riperton.

Along with being an influential soul singer with songs to her credit such as I am the Black Gold of the Sun ( The link is actually a cover by Nuyorican Soul. I usually say go with the original but this an exception.) and Want You to Know ; Minnie is the mother of  Maya Rudolph.

2. Maya Rudolph was a regular on Saturday Night Live. She is married to the director Paul Thomas Anderson – who’s movies include Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood and the upcoming The Master. Maya starred as the bride in the movie BridesMaids along with Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper *, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm .

*Jon Hamm started his career as a high school drama teacher. One of his original students was his Bridesmaids’ co-star and Office regular Ellie Kemper. 

3. Jon Hamm plays one of the most enigmatic and dynamic characters on television. He is Don Draper of Mad Men. The superbly written and executed show produced by Matthew Weiner follows the lives of Madison Avenue ad men in the 60’s. Season five of Mad Men finds Don’s fifties sensibilities being tested by the sweeping tide of sixties counter culture where youth is king. Apparently Tomorrow Never Knows and that has left our Mr. Draper struggling to maintain his power in his self-made world.  Jon Ham stars along Jarred Harris who plays the displaced Brit Lane Pryce.

4. Jarred Harris also plays Dr. James Moriarty; the arch nemesis of  Sherlock Holmes. It takes a minute to wrap your head around the fact that Lane Pryce is Dr. Moriarty but it becomes a testament to Mr. Harris’ acting chops. Purists have criticized Guy Ritchie’s handling of  Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s original material but audiences have embraced the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

5. Jude Law has played among others a repo-man, a sex-bot and a sky captain. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a film that depicted your grandfather’s view of the future. Its cinematic mixed message failed to resonate with audiences but lavish visuals engage the imagination. Continuing with this past/future thing -the cast includes: a page right out Brad Pitt’s past with Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly Perkins and a page from his future- an eye-patched Angelina Jolie  as Franky. One more person who stars in this film is Michael Gambon.

6. Michael Gambon plays Albus Dumbledore. This is how we play 6 degrees of Harry Potter.

to be continued…….