Movie Review: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

July 16, 2009 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

HP6 is very much Daniel Radcliffe's movie

HP6 is very much Daniel Radcliffe's movie

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (HP6) is a difficult film to review.  As part of the overall Harry Potter series, it’s perhaps one of the better ones.  But as a standalone film in its own right, it is rather weak.  Nevertheless, I’m sure it will satisfy the millions of Potter fans worldwide that are still crazy about the series even though it has been a couple of years since the final book.

Like the previous film, HP6 is directed by David Yates.  However, unlike most of the previous films (at least from memory), there’s no initial padding this time, no new introduction to the characters.  Yates wastes no time and gets right into the story from the get-go.  Hence if you are seeing a Harry Potter film for the first time (as unlikely as that may be) or if you are not a fanatic and some of the details in the series are a bit fuzzy (much more likely), it may take you a while to figure out or remember what the heck is going on and who everyone is.  I suppose if you are watching the 6th film of a series as the first, you deserve to be confused, but for people like me who have read the books and seen the earlier films once each and is not nuts about it, you kind of wish there would be a little padding at the start to get you up to speed.

HP6 is a reflection of the coming of age of the characters and the dark times they live in.  Yates recognises the tone of the story he is working with and that the majority of fans that have grown up reading Harry Potter have become a lot more mature.  I’m sure if you go and watch the first couple of films in the series you’d be shocked how different they are.

Visually and stylistically, it’s probably my favourite of the series.  It’s incredibly dark, grey and gloomy, with almost a complete absence of warm colours.  At times, the mood of the film plays out like a horror movie, and for the first time in memory, there are seriously creepy moments (that may even frighten adults).  There are a couple of scenes I can definitely see giving younger children nightmares.

That said, Yates has still injected some of that typical JK Rowling humour into the film, and I’m surprised to say that it has blended in rather well, particularly in the middle parts.  There are also the inevitable romances that have no choice but to come into play, though Yates does his best to make them seem less forced.

It’s been too long since I read the book to recall if the film is completely faithful to it, but I believe the main touchstones are there.  However, whilst in the book series you have to wait until the final book to learn the truth about the titular character’s (the Half-Blood Prince, not Harry Potter) intentions, in the film it is made pretty clear from the start.  The hints were too obvious.  At least they were to me.

As for the acting, I don’t know what is going on, but for the first time in the series I can honestly say Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were all decent.  Same as for Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, Jessie Cave who plays Lavender Brown and Evanna Lynch who plays Luna Lovegood (who does a particularly good job).  Seems like the kids have learned how to act, although I cannot help but say that most of the kids who have been mainstays on the series (with the exception of Emma Watson) must have been hit with either a weird, ugly or awkward stick while growing up (in some sad cases all three).  Let’s just say there were quite a few ‘what happened to him?’ moments.

One thing I should mention is that HP6 is really Daniel Radcliffe’s film.  From memory, he’s never had to carry a film like he had to in this one (having always had Grint and Watson to share the load).  This time, he has substantially more screen time than the other two and he takes it in his stride.  I’m not sure a younger or less experienced Radcliffe would have been able pull it off, so full credit to him.

As for the adults, new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, dominates the film along with Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape.  All three do a solid job.  Unfortunately this means that most of the other adults have little more than cameos.

So that’s the reaction of the minor fan in me to the film.  However, the truth is, HP6 is a film that has no proper beginning and no real end, starting and finishing with unattended loose ends.  It’s also a film with a story where, let’s face it, nothing really happens.  It’s not much more than just a filler for the final film(s).  And if you really think about it, not enough of the film is focused on the Half-Blood Prince for him to be the titular character.  Apart from the mandatory Quidditch sequences, a short scene in the middle and the final climax, there is actually very little action.  Much of the film is focused on the personal growth of the children, their hormones and their relationships.  Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people found the film boring or pointless.

Nevertheless, even if there are some glaring issues with it, as a semi-Potter fan, I found the film rather enjoyable.

3 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

July 16, 2009 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

transformers_revenge_of_the_fallen

I’ll tell you a conversation I heard in the men’s room straight after the film between two young boys (that probably just hit puberty) that sums it up pretty well:

“Man, what an awesome movie!”

“Yeah!  But what I didn’t get was why they had to [spoilers].”

“I didn’t get that either.  And who was the robot that [spoilers] and the one that [spoilers] in the end?”

“I’m not sure.  I think it was [spoilers] and [spoilers].”

“Really?  I thought it was [spoilers].”

“Who cares?  Megan Fox was hot though.”

“And the cars and robot fights were really cool.”

“Yeah, what an awesome movie!”

Overview

The second film (there will inevitably be more) of Michael Bay’s Transformers series is bigger, louder, longer and dumber than the original.  So if you’ve seen the first, expect more of the same except with everything magnified.  For some, like the teenage boys described above, that’s awesome.  For most others, it’s downright unbearable.

As for me, I went into the film with sub-zero expectations because everything I’ve come across about the film shreds it to pieces.  And while the film does fail miserably in most departments, it is not a complete waste of time and money.  Some parts were exciting.  Some were a little funny.  So if you can put up with the rest of the parts that weren’t (and those were in the clear majority), then you might find it okay.

What’s it about?

Next.

The good

There were 2 things in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (let’s just call it Transformers II) that improved on the first film: (1) robot fight scenes; and (2) special effects.

One of my gripes about the original Transformers movie was that you couldn’t tell what was going on in a lot of the fight scenes between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  All you could see were some quick flashes and giant balls of metal rolling around before one of them would stand victorious.

Transformers II rectifies the problem in a big way.  The camera pans back this time and stays on the robots long enough for audiences to see and appreciate the action.  So much so that kids can probably recreate the battles with their licensed Hasbro toys afterwards.

Seriously, the robot action was a lot smoother and more fluid this time.

Less noticeably, perhaps, were the special effects, which also improved from the original.  Apart from the robots themselves, many of the fight scenes involved destroying well-known landmarks.  This was done with amazing realism.  Further, the robot transformations were even more intricate and visually impressive than last time.

The bad

Yep, there was a lot of bad.

For starters, the movie was way too long, clocking in at 2 hours and X minutes.  I wouldn’t have had a problem had the film felt shorter, but it didn’t.  It felt like a really long movie.

Secondly, the plot.  It’s hard to know where to start with it so I won’t even try.  I hadn’t expected it to be original but this was derivative to the point that you couldn’t simply ignore it.  Let’s just say they could have put a little more effort into disguising it better.

Even the jokes were bad this time.  There were some decent laughs too, but many of jokes in Transformers II fell flat.  Like bad ‘Scary Movie’ jokes flat.  Especially when it tried to be ‘cool’, it turned out to be lame.  The twin Autobots were the prime culprits.

The film took a turn for the better when John Turturro arrived.  Like the first film, he was the comic highlight, but although he had some good lines he had limited screen time and dare I say even some of his antics wore a little thin at times.

The ugly

Transformers II has some of the worst editing of any film I have seen in recent times.  It’s not bad to the extent that you don’t know what’s going on, but it provides plenty of ‘WTFs?’.  For a major blockbuster like this, there’s no excuse.  To me, it reeks of laziness.  It’s as though the makers only cared about the cars, the action and the girls, and forgot about everything else.

Case in point – you know how when lead actor Shia LaBeouf injured his hand in a motor accident in real life and Bay said that they would work that into the movie?  Not really.  They just kind of fudged it – the idea wasn’t awful, but the execution was.  If you’ve seen the film you’ll know what I mean.

The performers

The majority of the main cast from the original returned.  Shia LaBeouf is getting over exposed these days, so he may be losing his charm, but he still does a reasonable job as the hero.  There were a few scenes where he demonstrates that his head hasn’t gotten so big that he’s unwilling to be ridiculed.

Megan Fox returns to play another sexy role as his girlfriend and doesn’t do much other than trying to look and sound appealing.  She’s actually not bad, but for some reason really looks like she could use a nice long bath.

The key new addition is the new roommate, Leo Spitz, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who is the primary comic relief until John Turturro returns.  Both men provide a spark to an often sagging film, though their jokes can be uneven.

On the military side, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to their rather useless roles.  If they wanted to trim the fat off this movie then these guys should have gone first.

Final word

Michael Bay didn’t try to cater for all audiences like say JJ Abrams did with Star Trek – it’s very clear from the first few minutes that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is nothing more than a bit of brainless fun targeted at overly excited teenagers.  However, even if you accept the film for what it is, it doesn’t necessarily succeed.  It’s still far too long and disjointed, and everything other than the special effects and action sequences feel extraordinarily lazy, as though they didn’t think anyone would notice or care if they put no effort into it.  That said, if you can put all of that aside…

2.5 stars out of 5!