Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The critics (except Roger Ebert) can suck it

Land of the Lost
My rating:

This movie has been getting some of the worst reviews of Will Ferrell's career. Not only did it earn 28% on RottenTomatoes and 32 on Metacritic - and most likely a spot on many critics' worst-of-the-year lists - it was one of the first major flops of the summer. But amidst all the hate, the lone voice of Roger Ebert emerged to give it a 3-star review. I read that review and, reminded of my ability to find the vibe that allowed me to enjoy Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, went into this movie somewhat encouraged.

Roger Ebert is a smart man.

Dr. Rick Marshall's (Will Ferrell) career has been in the pits since his theory of time warps got him laughed out of the scientific community. However, a visit by English physicist Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), the only person who believes in him, motivates him to finish building his tachyon amplifier device. When they take it on a field test to a tacky roadside attraction run by Will (Danny McBride), all three end up travelling through a time warp to a parallel dimension - the Land of the Lost. There they befriend an ape-boy named Chaka (Jorma Taccone), run afoul of a grumpy T-Rex named Grumpy, encounter the reptilian Sleestaks, and must recover the thingamadoodad that will allow them to return home.

I am not a fan of Will Ferrell. He basically plays the same blowhard moron character in every movie, and he's no different here. How much you'll enjoy the movie will depend a great deal on how much you like him - or, like me, how much you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy adventure. Because this movie works as an adventure story - albeit a purely goofy one - as much as it does a comedy. It reminds me a lot of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs actually, and not just because of the T-Rex and the "lost world" milieu.

For one thing, the comedy isn't always funny. The dialogue feels like Ferrell and McBride improvised a lot of it, and they don't always come up with zingers - the scene where they get drunk on funky fruit juice is not a gutbuster, despite the movie thinking it is. For another, there's no attempt to create deeper characters besides blowhard moron Marshall and blowhard moron Will - you can have character development in a goofy comedy without detracting from the laughs, and this movie is kinda lazy for not even trying.

But every time you're about to get bored with Ferrell's mugging, the plot moves on to the next complication. It's really quite a well-executed story; it's not fresh or even smart, but it moves at a good pace that never loses our attention. And just like Ice Age 3, it earns our goodwill with a rousing ending in which our heroes perform some effectively awesome heroics. The T-Rex is pretty well done, although the Sleestaks look pretty fake - but they're supposed to look fake. The whole movie is meant to be one big goof, with logic and common sense and finger-quote "realism" checked at the door. And judging from the reaction of the audience I was in, I'm sure most Malaysians will have no problem seeing it for what it is.

Ferrell and McBride do their usual things; although the only other movie I've seen with McBride is Tropic Thunder, he seems to be following Ferrell's footsteps as a one-note comic actor. At least he avoids being annoying. Taccone's avoidance of being not-annoying is more impressive, considering the fact that there's a running joke of him groping Holly's breasts. Anna Friel is cute, but she has the doubly thankless role of straight woman to two funny men, as well as designated T&A in a movie with the sexual maturity of a 15-year-old boy. A more experienced comedienne would've done something more with the role - but at least she's cute.

There's a scene in which someone gets eaten alive by dinosaurs; although it doesn't show any blood and gore, it's still an unnecessarily jarring bit in such a good-natured comedy. But that's its only real major misstep. It's really no worse than the average Will Ferrell comedy, and I don't see why it deserves being teared into by critics. I had fun, and I had a few good belly-laughs, especially at a poop joke toward the end that I saw coming a good 5 seconds before the rest of the audience. A movie that makes me feel superior to everyone around me - how could I not like it?

Anticipation level: perversely looking forward to it. Yeah, I'm a pervert

Monday, July 27, 2009

The taking of the road very often taken

The Taking of Pelham 123
My rating:

I am not a fan of Tony Scott. He strikes me as not much different from Michael Bay - both have a needlessly overwrought directing style that pretends to be skillful when it's really just being show-offy. He has nothing on his far more talented brother Ridley. His two saving graces are that he picks smart scripts - well, smarter than Bay's - and that he's a friend of Denzel Washington, who's made four movies with him so far.

But those graces can't always save him.

Walter Garber (Washington) is the New York subway dispatcher on duty when the Pelham 123 train is hijacked and its passengers held for ransom. The leader of the hijackers, who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta), insists on communicating only with Garber, and a rapport develops between the two; Ryder even forces Garber to admit to a shameful secret that he is hiding. Garber is aided by hostage negotiator Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro), while the Mayor (James Gandolfini) arranges for the $10 million ransom to be delivered before Ryder's threat to start killing hostages is realized.

This is the second high-profile Hollywood film I've seen this week that serves up a tired old story we've seen dozens of times. There's a charismatic villain with an ingenious plan. There's an everyman hero who is the only person who can stop the villain. There are glimpses of the hostages, some of whom add complications to the plot. There are higher authorities involved, and the hero is alternately aided by those who trust him and hindered by those who are just plain assholes. And finally, the hero and the villain will meet face-to-face in an action-packed climax. It's predictable, because it's all been done before.

It's also been done a lot better before. Ryder's plan isn't particularly intricate, which means little cat-and-mouse maneuvering between the cops and the crooks. The action is mostly limited to the subway transit office and the verbal byplay between Ryder and Garber - which isn't really as tense as it should be, despite a scene in which the criminal forces the civil servant to admit to taking a bribe. Ryder isn't a very interesting villain, and Travolta plays him with a lot of manic shouty intensity, but fails to give him the depth that the screenplay should have supplied. And this is one of Washington's rare poor performances. Walter Garber has the responsibility of 18 innocent lives thrust upon him, and he only seems mildly perturbed by this. Again, it's the screenplay that doesn't give him any truly meaty scenes.

John Turturro is a curious choice for the wise and experienced cop character; it's not that he doesn't do a good job, but we just saw him as the goofy Agent Simmons in that other movie directed by a guy who's all style and no substance. (And yes, that's Ramon Rodriguez in there too.) Scott's direction is not effective, it's distracting. The camera can never stay still; it's either shaking all over the place, or dollying, or panning so fast everything becomes a blur. There's a slow-motion shot every five goddamn minutes. I recommend sitting far back from the screen if you don't want a splitting headache. (And speaking of distracting - the profanity-laden dialogue is pretty badly chopped up. Big middle finger to you, Lembaga Penapisan Filem.)

And then there's the climax, in which... no. Sorry. Not buying it. Everyman civil servant, former subway train driver and current desk jockey, schlubby old Walter Garber, grabs a gun and goes after the bad guys? Even gets into a car chase? Not buying it for a New York minute. Whose idea was this??

I've been pretty harsh on this movie so far, so let me just say that it's decent laa. It's effective. You might get a few thrills out of it, if you haven't watched any hostage action-thriller film from the past 25 years. But it really makes you wonder, why? Why remake a 1974 minor classic into a movie that's so stale and cliched? Do they really expect audiences to keep lapping up the same old same old? Doesn't anyone in Hollywood have any new ideas anymore? If they do, better hope Tony Scott doesn't get his hands on it.

NEXT REVIEW: sigh. Guess it's gonna have to be Land of the Lost
Anticipation level: siiiiiggghhh

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thing most frequently said during the making of this movie: "Ala, bantai jelah"

Skrip 7707
My rating:

I've watched three Malay movies (not including Gadoh, which is an indie) in as many months now, and I've noticed one thing: there hasn't been a single character worth rooting for in any of them. Nobody has a decent dramatic conflict, nobody ever does anything courageous or clever or heroic. Everyone is either a cardboard cutout moving to the strings of the plot, or an annoying moron who deserves to die before they breed. More often than not, they're both. For all that Malay filmmakers have this weird hangup about "filem yang memberi pengajaran", they can't seem to portray a single admirable quality in their films.

Such as, for instance, basic competence.

Abu Bakar "Burn" Osman (Norman Abdul Halim) is a film produc- um, screenwri- um, "orang filem" who wants to make a horror movie, but is frustrated by the lack of good scripts. (Unintentional irony!) So he organizes a midnight ghost-story-telling session in the middle of a cemetery with a bunch of strangers. (No, really, he doesn't even know their names. And neither do we.) So we hear several short ghost stories that Burn types up into a screenplay, and they get paid in packets of Yeo's Chrysanthemum Tea.

I have a friend who's a sound engineer for local film and TV productions, and I bet he'd get a kick out of this movie. My very first impression of it is that I've never heard such terrible audio mixing in my life. The (badly dubbed) dialogue is weirdly muffled, and the sound quality often dips in mid-sentence. The foleyed sound effects are hilariously incompetent - you'll hear the sound of a car door closing, but apparently it makes no sound when it opens. It's emblematic of the entire film; the people who made it just couldn't be arsed.

So this Burn guy somehow manages to conjure up nine random people to sit with him in a cemetery at midnight and tell ghost stories. In other words, it's an anthology horror film. There's nine of them, so they're all pretty short. The "jump" scares are lame, the direction is unimaginative, but the music does do a decent job of creating atmosphere; it's really the only thing in the movie that's close to scary. The first two segments are the kind of stories you've probably heard from friends who swear that it really happened to a friend of a friend of theirs. The third is a gruesome little tale that's notable only for being gruesome.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Malay movie without some good old-fashioned misogyny, so the next story is told by a guy who dumped his girlfriend after getting her pregnant, forcing her to perform an abortion on herself. And he is rightfully chastised for his sheer scumbaggery with a scathing "Tak patut awak buat begitu". Naturally, it's the girl who gets blamed for killing her unborn child, right down to being haunted by her dead baby and committing suicide. But the dead ghost baby effect is so bad, the movie wouldn't even show us a shot of it longer than half a second. And Fasha Sandha's performance as the luckless girl was horrendous. I can't even find a credit for the actor who played the douchebag boyfriend, but he was equally awful.

Next is a dull tale about more people getting freaked out by not-very-freaky dead people. After that is a story set in a morgue, in which a doctor accompanies a grieving mother in identifying the body of her son. Which instantly becomes burnt and blackened upon being uncovered. So while the mum talks about how the son hated to pray (yay! Tick off the "ajaran agama" box!), I'm thinking - dude, you're a pathologist. You're not in the least bit curious as to how something like that can happen to a human body?? Oh, and there's the one told by the girl who's ex-boyfriend is a thug and a murderer, and he gets revenged upon by the ghost of the guy he murdered - only, she wasn't there at the time, so how the hell could she tell the story??

Then there's the one about a teenage boy who was killed in a motorbike accident, but his little sister can see his ghost. And his parents express their grief at the tragic loss of their child by pouting a little. M. Rajoli and Maimon Mutalib are veteran actors - are they really that bad? I'll be kind to them and blame the director, Prof. Madya A. Razak Mohaideen, who either can't direct actors to save his life, or doesn't bother to do more than a single take for every shot, or can't be bothered period. Probably all three. 'Cos the last story features another eye-gougingly annoying performance by Shahrul Nizam, featuring a ghost who's a blatant ripoff of the Thai film Shutter, and is set in an abandoned hospital whose lights are still on.

That makes nine stories, one of which is told by Burn himself - and if there's nine people plus Burn at this midnight campfire confab, where's the tenth story? There isn't one. There's a female character who's there, who gets lines, but has no story. I think they just forgot to film it. The movie has one, and only one, saving grace - there's a CGI-assisted ghost effect in there that's reasonably cool. I'm guessing the portion of the budget that went into it was originally meant to be the sound engineer's salary.

Oh by the way, if you're wondering what's the significance of the "7707" in the title - the night where all these stories are told is supposed to be the 7th of July. And apparently this movie took three years to make, which explains the "07" part. It doesn't explain how in the world a thoroughly incompetent movie like this could take three years to make. The final nail in the coffin? There's an over-the-shoulder shot of Burn writing his screenplay towards the end, and there's a glaringly obvious typo in it. Everyone in the audience noticed. C'mon, Prof. Madya - you still think Malay moviegoers are dumb enough to swallow this shit you're passing off as a movie? You couldn't be more wrong.

NEXT REVIEW: The Taking of Pelham 123
Anticipation level: kinda meh

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Me, the confirmed Potter-fan - and Weasley-fan, and Snape-fan

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
My rating:

My review of the 6th Harry Potter film can be summed up in 4 words: I love these characters. It was a joy to watch Harry, Ron and Hermione again on the big screen; Harry is of course in almost every scene, being the main character, but it's when he is together with his two best friends that I found myself having the most fun. And while their actors may not be the most polished, they nevertheless make their characters immensely likable.

So much so that I wonder if I can no longer be objective with this movie.

The wizarding world is now well aware of Lord Voldemort's return, and that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the Chosen One destined to defeat him. But first, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) enlists Harry's aid in getting close to new teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who has a dark secret involving Tom Riddle, the younger Voldemort who was once also a Hogwarts student. Meanwhile, teenage romance blossoms between Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ron's sister Ginny. And two people will begin their first steps down dark paths - Draco Malfoy, and Professor Severus Snape.

In Order of the Phoenix, Harry was constantly beleaguered by the fact that nobody believed his account of Voldemort's return. Here, it's the exact opposite - the wizarding world is now well aware of the growing threat, yet ironically there is less of an ominous and menacing atmosphere than in the previous film.There's the opening scene of Death Eaters destroying a bridge in the Muggle world, but after that the main plot consists mostly of scenes of Dumbledore's and Harry's hushed conversations in his study.

In fact, that's the biggest problem with this movie - it's slow. There's little urgency or suspense, and the action scenes are few and far apart. And frankly, the main plot makes no sense. It revolves around Harry attempting to uncover Slughorn's memories of Tom Riddle, memories that Slughorn is unwilling to revisit for some reason. But once we learn what those memories are, we simply find more exposition - not, as you would have expected, the key to a means of defeating Voldemort. No, Dumbledore found that all by himself. Aiyoo, movie, what laa??

But then there's Harry, Ron and Hermione. And they are loads of fun. Their easy camaraderie and good-natured ribbing never fails to liven up the story, largely due to the terrific chemistry that all three actors share. The subplot of Ron's girlfriend Lavender Brown, and Hermione's subsequent heartbreak, earns both laughs and pathos. And although it weaves back and forth between the main plot and the romantic hijinks, the storyline never feels disjointed or episodic like previous instalments. Daniel Radcliffe is now a more confident actor than ever, and his performance under the effects of the luck potion is delightful. But for LOLworthy comic acting, he's outshone by Rupert Grint - there's a boy who I'm willing to bet will have a bright future as a comic actor once the movie series is completed. Emma Watson is the weakest of the three, but she handles her scenes competently.

As for the rest of the cast; Jim Broadbent is the most prominent newcomer to the world of Harry Potter, and does a nice balancing job between being comical and sympathetic. Draco Malfoy gets more character development here than he's ever had, and Tom Felton is impressively up to the task. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Bonnie Wright, who plays Ginny Weasley. She's really quite wooden, and her romance with Harry is flat. But one of the most consistent and reliably enjoyable performances of the entire series is Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Boy, can he sneer - he does delicious things with every one of his lines, and he's been doing it since the first movie. After staying in the background all this time, he finally takes on a pivotal role here, and I can't wait to see what he's really up to. (It's a Harry Potter movie - surely you ought to know by now that there's more to what you saw?)

So how can I possibly justify giving a lethargically-paced movie with a weak plot a 3-star rating? I'm a fan, that's how. Through 5 films in the series, there've been hints and promises of some serious awesome that's yet to come, and even if it didn't come in the 6th, I'm still willing to forgive this movie and wait patiently. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 is scheduled for November 2010, and Pt. 2 for July 2011. That's two looooong years from now - but I can wait. And this movie still gives me faith that the wait will be worth it.

Update: Rating revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.

NEXT REVIEW: Skrip 7707
Anticipation level: *cringe*

TMBF and the Fantasy Film Franchise He Just Caught Up With

I have only ever watched the first two Harry Potter films in cinemas. Didn't much like either of them - the second had almost exactly the same faults as the first, which led me to decide that if they're all gonna be like this, I can give the rest of them a miss. (Haven't read any of the books either.) Since then, I've read reviews of the later ones saying the series has been getting better and better... which made me feel kinda left out. So before I watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I caught up with all the previous films, including a rewatch of the first two. What have I been missing out on?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
My rating:

(Yes, it's Philosopher's Stone. "Sorcerer's" Stone is an Americanized dumbing-down. Stupid Yanks.)

Well, it's better than I remembered, but still not very good. Its main problem is a rambling and episodic plot that keeps going into weird digressions, and not all of these disparate elements come together in the climax. You never really feel like you're following a proper narrative - it's just one scene after another in the life of an 11-year-old boy who's suddenly thrust into a literally magical world. This and the next film have often been criticized for following the books too slavishly, and I suspect this may be the reason for the disjointed plot.

A couple of other things bugged me. Quidditch is a nonsensical game - it has rules, it has a scoring system, it has players with distinct roles, but all of this means nothing as long as one player manages to do one thing that'll win the game instantly. The ending is a blatant deus ex machina. There's a decided Mary Sue-ishness to Harry - he gets admired and cheered for and patted on the back one too many times. And there's an annoyingly cheesy kiddishness to the entire proceedings, especially in its "wacky hijinks" scenes, for which we can only blame director Chris Columbus.

The good parts? Hogwarts is an utterly cool place, with lots of charming and funny little touches; it's the kind of place where anyone - child or adult - would love to live in. The actors all do fine work, even the young ones - Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson's performances are a little raw, but you never stop liking or rooting for them. These are enough for me to grant this movie a half-star, and hint at a potential for greatness that the franchise had yet to realize.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
My rating:

More of the same, unfortunately. The plot still meanders all over the place, and there isn't just one but a heap of deus ex machinas. A number of times, Harry and his friends are conveniently aided or saved by something magical that seems to exist for the sole purpose of aiding or saving Harry and his friends at a convenient time. Also, the movie constantly treats magic as something strange and wondrous, in a world where it should be commonplace and taken for granted. You could almost excuse it for the fact that we're seeing it through Harry's eyes, to whom it is strange and wondrous; still, this is not the way to paint a fully-realized magical world.

Like the first film, Chamber of Secrets opens with Harry staying with the Dursleys, and they are as cartoonishly hateful as before. Yes, we're meant to detest them, but I don't think we're meant to feel that every scene with them is a chore to watch. (And if they hate Harry so much, why do they want to keep him from going away to Hogwarts?) Also, this is where we are introduced to Dobby the house-elf, who is a blatant and transparent attempt at creating a cute animated sidekick character for the kids. I found him annoying. He first appears in the early scene with the Dursleys, so that's quite a few early strikes against this movie already. And lastly, I could do with a lot less of Ron's cowardly whining.

But it does have some saving graces. Dobby sucks, but two other new characters are lots of fun to watch - Moaning Myrtle is a hoot, and Lucius Malfoy is over-the-top evil done right. There's a mystery at the heart of the plot, and its resolution is quite clever, involving a character other than Harry who went through an adventure almost as interesting as the one we saw. Still, this is the movie in which I gave up on Harry Potter. The climactic action scene is lame and unconvincing, and it ends on a note of syrupy sentimentality. Again, this is Chris Columbus' doing; the man does not have a good track record as a director. He'll be known primarily for these two films, which will go down as the weakest of the Harry Potter movies.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
My rating:

The third entry in the series brings about a change of director - Alfonso Cuaron takes over, and once we get the requisite wacky-hijinks-with-the-Dursleys scene out of the way the improvement is instantly obvious. The magical world is treated much more realistically now that Cuaron has done away with all the cloying ooh-how-wonderful-magic-is scenes that Chris Columbus gave us. Also, it's a darker and more mature Harry Potter adventure this time around - the Dementors are seriously scary, and Harry himself has to face some dark and traumatic secrets involving the death of his parents.

Unfortunately, I still can't quite get behind this movie. The storyline hasn't improved as well as the direction - one minute it's just another day at Hogwarts, then suddenly events pile up one after another, and the ending arrives in a dizzying rush. After three movies, I've noticed that every one is structured like a mystery; hints and setups are subtly laid throughout the film that are all explained and paid off at the climax. However, in this one the climax where all the secrets are revealed comes a good long while before the ending; what follows is a sequence where our heroes retrace their steps back in time that's frankly kinda dull, the plot's narrative power having been spent. And why in the world does Hermione have a freaking time machine just for her to get to classes on time?

There's a few welcome developments in the series. Fred and George Weasley are turning out to be loads of fun, and I've not yet mentioned Draco Malfoy; Tom Felton has been consistently good at playing deliciously evil. David Thewlis is a reassuring presence as Professor Remus Lupin, the only Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to actually teach something useful for once, but Gary Oldman's Sirius Black doesn't get enough screentime to make as strong an impression despite his significance to the story. Make no mistake, although I'm giving Prisoner of Azkaban the same rating I gave the first two, it's definitely a better movie. But despite Cuaron's best efforts, this just isn't quite the movie that sells me on the franchise.

Update: Rating revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
My rating:

Oh yes. The first solidly good entry in the series, and it's largely due to a consistent thread that runs through the plot, gives it focus, and creates anticipation and suspense. No opening scene with the Dursleys this time (which earns it instant points already), but after the initial proceedings we are introduced to the Triwizard Tournament. Each of its three stages is alternately thrilling, suspenseful and scary, and in between there is time for the pace to slow down and supply us with some exposition and character development. It's a great structure for the plot. Even the lengthy diversion the story takes after the first stage isn't unwelcome - because now we get to see our young protagonists become teenagers.

Yes, it's practically a teen movie at times. There's a ball, there's dating, there are awkward crushes, there are hints of romance - it's somewhat cliched, but it's fun to watch mainly because we've been following these characters since they were 11 years old. Harry's and Ron's friendship grows more... well, not mature exactly, but where once they were childhood friends they've now become believable teenage boys. Michael Gambon, who took over from the late Richard Harris in the previous movie, plays a more dynamic and energetic Professor Dumbledore here. The new additions to the cast are also uniformly good - Brendan Gleeson lives up to his nickname as the new DADA teacher Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, Miranda Richardson hams it up as Rita Skeeter, and Robert Pattinson's Cedric Diggory is instantly likeable, which helps make the ending so effective.

And what an ending. Horror, tragedy, and real poignancy, not to mention payoffs to plot elements that have been laid since the first film. Radcliffe faces his greatest acting challenge yet here, and he acquits himself well, but it's director Mike Newell who deserves the lion's share of the credit. (One peeve though. I really wish they'd just had one line of dialogue to explain what a Priori Incantatem is. Without it, the climax is almost as big a deus ex machina as the first film's.) The ending also marks a turning point in the series; it's no longer just a school story about a boy learning magic, but about an all-out war between good and evil - and here is where it is declared. It's also the first Harry Potter adventure I enjoyed unreservedly, and I couldn't wait to watch the next one.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

My rating:

The winning streak continues. Even without a strong narrative thread like the Triwizard Tournament, this movie manages to condense the book into a focused and consistently entertaining story. Building on the momentous events of the last film, there's a growing sense of menace and despair in the magical world that the walls of Hogwarts cannot keep out. I've heard that the book is considered the weakest in the series, mainly due to Harry's constant angst and emo-ing. There's a bit of it here (and it's believable, given that the whole world is conspiring against him), but screenwriter Michael Goldenberg - taking over momentarily from Steve Kloves - must have cut out a lot of it, because Harry gets over his self-pity right quick.

One of the joys of this series is watching how the young characters grow and develop. Ron and Hermione seem far more comfortable with each other this time around, where once they used to bicker and snipe at each other like... well, like children. It doesn't take a reader of the books to see where their relationship is going, but it's a nice progression. The eternally put-upon Neville Longbottom gets a level up here, even getting in a good comeback against the murderer of his parents. Fred and George Weasley are still way cool, Evanna Lynch is an adorably kooky Luna Lovegood, Helena Bonham Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange is gleefully deranged... and then there's Dolores Umbridge. This movie wouldn't be half as good were it not for Imelda Staunton. She makes Umbridge a character you absolutely despise.

We were introduced to magical duelling in Chamber of Secrets, and here we finally see a full-on magical battle. And it is awesome. Whether it's the Order vs. Death Eaters team deathmatch, or Sirius and Harry fighting side by side, or Voldemort's battle royale with Dumbledore, the climax is rousing, thrilling and hugely entertaining. Unfortunately, the (yet another) tragedy that befalls Harry here is undercut by the fact that a certain pivotal character never got enough screen time. For the first time, I'm getting the feeling that a lot of story was left out in the process of adapting the book. But none of it detracted from the solid entertainment this movie gave me. Harry's angst, his frustration at being hampered by paranoia and small-mindedness, the students' rebellion against Umbridge's tyranny, their confrontation against real danger and evil - it all worked.


So what have I been missing? A lot, apparently. The series really has been steadily improving, and even if it never gets any better than the last two I'll still be eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Official word is that the final chapter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be split into two movies, to be released in 2010 and 2011 - which only makes me despair for how much longer I'll have to wait before I get to the end of this fantasy saga. Oh yes, I fully intend to read the novels, as thick as they are, and soak in all the details that the movies left out. But first, I'll finish all the movies. After all, it's via the movies that I was first introduced to Harry Potter's world. And the movies have gotten good. Bring on the Half-Blood Prince!