Category Archives: Harry Potter

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell

Warning: Spoilers!

I went into this with reasonably low expectations (it felt like another needless Hollywood cash grab, like splitting the Hobbit into 3, and I wasn’t that enthralled by the trailers). My main point of reservation was basing a Harry Potter spin-off around a character only briefly referenced in the books, in a setting that surely wouldn’t match the lustre and wonder of Hogwarts. There seemed far more obvious candidates for a spin-off than Newt Scamander (looking back at James, Lupin and Sirius’ time at Hogwarts for instance). All things considered though, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

Eddie Redmayne’s winning performance as  Newt makes for a lead character you never hesitate to root for, with his clumsy and socially awkward, yet wise and caring personality in some ways reminding me of Matt Smith’s Doctor. The other leads are also brought to life well, Katherine Watson’s downtrodden auror Tina instantly wins your sympathy, while her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is a talented legitimens who is both adorable, funny and immensely likeable. However, surprisingly, its the muggle (or No-Maj) Jacob Kowalski who along with Newt is the heart and soul of this film – he’s extremely funny and charming and his friendship with Newt is perfectly portrayed. Indeed, the humour is probably the best thing about the movie – its easily the wittiest thing JK Rowling has written. Dan Fogler’s comic timing in particular, is perfect, and the adorable Niffler steals the show at every opportunity. The magical creatures in general are a high point of the movie, all are memorable and Newt’s love for them shines through beautifully.

It doesn’t all work, the second Salemers subplot doesn’t really go anywhere (Samantha Morton’s character seems especially pointless – unlike the Dursleys, her hatred of magic is never satisfactorily explained nor is her performance particularly memorable). The casting in general, while good with the four leads, lacks the magic touch that made the Harry Potter ensemble so special. Colin Farrell as Graves really lacks the sense of menace that a Voldemort, Bellatrix or Umbridge brought to the role of lead villain. Johnny Depp may only be on screen for 1 minute as Grindelwald, but he doesn’t look or feel like a natural choice for the role, and most of the supporting American No-maj characters in particular seem very, very bland.

One thing that does excel is James Newton Howard’s score, which is easily up there with Nicholas Hooper and John Williams’ work for Harry Potter (far surpassing Alexandre Desplat’s). The visuals are equally amazing, the various magical creatures all looking believable and outlandish at the same time, while the magic is still as enrapturing as ever. The only thing that doesn’t really excite you is the New York backdrop – it’s just no comparison to Hogwarts and is so overused in movies and TV at the moment that as a setting it feels a bit of an unoriginal choice. Nevertheless, I don’t mind it being set in America, as giving us a view of a new part of the wizarding world was interesting and the 1920’s time period was memorable by itself.

I know some people who didn’t like this because its too different from Harry Potter, and yes, that is true, but it has great potential as a series regardless, and Rowling hasn’t lost her touch at writing an engaging story. In short, the humour, charismatic leads, adorable creatures, stunning magic and the sheer charm of the thing are more than enough reason to give this film a chance and judge the spin-off series on its own merits.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall a charming, funny and often magical return to the Harry Potter universe, even if the acting isn’t as stellar as the original series in places and the American setting doesn’t quite have the special feeling you got from Hogwarts. Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler are a classic odd couple double act, and I sincerely hope Kowalski, Queenie and Tina return in the sequel.

As promised in my look back at the Harry Potter films, here’s my view of what happens if I had to place the books/films in order, including Fantastic Beasts in the film list:

Books:

1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Half-Blood Prince
3. Goblet of Fire
4. Deathly Hallows
5. Chamber of Secrets
6. Philosopher’s Stone
7. Order of the Phoenix

Films

1. Deathly Hallows Part 2
2. Goblet of Fire
3. Order of the Phoenix
4. Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
6. Half-Blood Prince
7. Chamber of Secrets
8. Philosopher’s Stone
9. Deathly Hallows Part 1

As you can see, apart from the first two entries, the films adaptations shift my perspective a lot! Overall I must say I slightly prefer the films in all cases bar two (Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince – which I love so much no film version was going to match them), while Fantastic Beasts sits comfortably mid-table.

I’ll be on a temporary break from reviews for two weeks due to university coursework, but I’ll be back around the 17th with my review of Star Wars: Rogue One!

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Harry Potter:Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows (Parts 1+2) Review

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Obviously spoilers.

In my view, Half-Blood Prince was Rowling’s redemption from the decidedly sub-par Order of the Phoenix. The overarching main story is far better plotted, it doesn’t seem overlong, the right mix of light and dark themes is back, we get a good Quidditch subplot for the first time since Prisoner of Azkaban; in short, there’s a lot to love here. The pensieve sequences are interesting as is the character of Horace Slughorn, while the Harry-Ginny and Ron-Lavender pairings manage to be more interesting than Harry-Cho ever was (and about half as frustrating). Dumbledore’s death, heartbreaking though it was to read, seems not only narratively justified (unlike with Sirius in the last one) but also merited by the whole book foreshadowing and building up to it . All in all… there’s almost nothing I can think of to criticise here. The only downside in the whole book is the mistake Rowling made in the series as a whole: pairing Ron and Hermione (or specifically making Hermione have a crush on Ron – the other way round is significantly was more believable). As that’s a fault of the series though, I won’t mark the book down for it.

The film’s choices of what to cut and what to keep seem misguided for the first time in a while. It needlessly adds two (not very good) action sequences in the opening attack in London and the assault on the Weasley home. What exactly was the point of these? The threat Voldemort poses to the muggle world was far better presented in the chapter ‘The Other Minister’ which starts the book, while the Weasley’s home is rebuilt without so much as a passing comment in the next film – so why should we feel sad about it? The fact that it takes out the book’s final battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters in Hogwarts makes it very underwhelming by comparison, and the previous two action sequences if intended to make up for this are very poor compensation.

Fortunately, the rest of the film has its heart in the right place. The emotion is something it gets spot on, with Radcliffe, Watson, Felton, Rickman and Gambon all giving winning and by various levels heart-breaking performances as the film builds to arguably the saddest moment in the series. Dumbledore’s death is exactly the gut-punch it needed to be, superbly aided by Nicholas Hooper’s track ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’ which ties with ‘Professor Umbridge’ as his best work for the soundtrack (indeed the entire score is memorable and, while lacking the grandeur of John Williams, is arguably my favourite score in the whole series). Jim Broadbent is perfect as the amiable if misguided Horace Slughorn (whoever the casting director was for this series hopefully got paid A LOT! They never put a foot wrong!) and Ron’s romance with Lavender Brown feels believable (unfortunately a hell of a more believable than the Ron-Hermione pairing in the film, but that’s totally the books fault, so I won’t blame the film for it as well). Its also arguably one of the funniest entries in the series, as all the teen angst makes for some great romantic comedy (Rupert Grint is brilliant as Ron under the spell of a love potion, Harry taking Luna as a date to Slughorn’s party was always going to be hilarious) which makes the film a very odd mix of lightness (in the first half) and darkness (in the second) but somehow, they get the balance right and the two halves complement each other well.

Book Rating: 5 out of 5!

Film Rating: 4 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The final book in the series covers new ground, but not all of it works that well. The first half in particular is awfully slow paced, and the lack of the Hogwarts setting for 2/3 of the book makes this feel like a far less magical entry. The interim between the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts sequences really lags, and having Ron turn his back, however temporarily, on Harry and Hermione feels like a real disservice to the character. Speaking of disservices to characters, a lot of character deaths feel largely pointless, particularly Dobby, Tonks and Lupin. Obviously you need character deaths for any sense of threat, but there were literally hundreds of others to pick from. Its by no means a bad entry in the series, with Snape’s characterisation, Harry and Voldemort’s confrontation and the whole Deathly Hallows idea deserving a lot of praise. As a series finale though… you just feel it could have been better.

The decision to split the final film feels more justified than some multi-part stories (cough *3 hobbit films* cough) but it has an unfortunate side effect in that all the weak parts of the book are in the first half of the film, and despite some cool scenes (the sky chase, the ministry of magic escape), there aren’t enough good set pieces to hold your attention, and apart from one or two instances (Harry and Hermione in the Graveyard, the Polyjuice potion sequence) the character moments don’t spark that much either. Coupled with the fact that the film features THREE major character deaths, none of which have as much of an impact as they should: Mad-Eye’s is off screen, Hedwig’s is never mentioned again after it happens, and Dobby’s is let down by Alexandre’s Desplat’s extremely underwhelming score (save Obliviate, Snape to Malfoy Manor and Godric’s Hollow Graveyard, the music really isn’t that memorable – the first and only time in the series this occurs). The film is further hampered by the lack of an obvious place to split the book (no big moments in the book work as cliffhangers) unlike say Mockingjay, which at least had an immensely good twist to end part 1 on. Voldemort seizing the Elder Wand was a cool scene, but hardly a memorable way to end things, (not that I blame them for choosing it, the skirmish at Malfoy Manor wasn’t substantial enough to work either).

The second part is a completely different beast, which not only gets going that much more quickly (Gringotts is a great sequence in it’s own right), but is enthralling from start to finish. The score from Desplat is MUCH better too, with loads of memorable tracks (Statues, Broomsticks and Fire, Courtyard Apocalypse, Severus and Lily, Voldemort’s End etc.) – he may be no John Williams, but Desplat excels at making the action sequences pack an emotional punch. Visually, the Battle of Hogwarts is stunning (and is more believable than the book version – I also appreciated the final battle more, even if it was a shame to lose some of the excellent dialogue between Voldemort and Harry). Snape, Malfoy and Neville are probably the standout performances among the supporting cast (any answer as to why Rickman didn’t win more awards for his performance as Snape?)while Radcliffe is at his best throughout as Harry. Hermione doesn’t get as much to do as I’d like (though at least she gives Harry a proper goodbye when he goes into the forest to die – what the hell Ron?) and Rupert Grint’s contribution is mainly notable for providing two of the best lines (That’s my girlfriend you numpties!/If we die for them Harry i’m going to kill you!) but otherwise Ron is just as sidelined compared to the other two as he has been in all the later films save Half-Blood Prince. Overall, however, the film is pretty much perfect as a finale to the series (it bests Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit etc. as an example of how to be a satisfying finale while also not wasting half an hour of the audience’s time wrapping things up – Peter Jackson PLEASE take note).

One last question: why the hell doesn’t Harry point the Elder Wand at the broken castle and say ‘Reparo’ before he snaps it? Harry is a moron.

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Part 1 Film Rating: 3 out of 5

Part 2 Film Rating: 5 out of 5!

Now there is only one question to answer: how will Fantastic Beasts stack up in comparison? I’ll include two lists ranking all the books and the films in order in that review, so watch out for it tomorrow!

Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix Review

Part 2 of my look back. Spoilers, but seriously, how have people not watched/read these??!?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth book in the series was almost as memorable for me as the third, with the Triwizard tournament, Quidditch world cup and Professor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody providing some very iconic moments in the book. Narratively, it’s probably the second most important book, only exceeded by the finale. A lot of stuff happens here that pays off in the last three books: we’re introduced to the Death Eaters and some members of the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge turns against Dumbledore, Harry’s training for the third task prepares him for his future leadership of the DA and most importantly, Voldemort finally returns to power. Rowling’s careful plotting never stumbles, nor does she ever fail to tell an engaging story. By far the longest of the first four books, it does get a bit too bogged down in the interlude between the first and second tasks (while the Yule Ball is important for the character development of Harry, Ron and Hermione, it gets more prominence than it needs). Moody serves as a worthy, if not equal, successor to Lupin, with the DADA teacher once again being the stand-out character of the book, while Hagrid’s Care of Magical creatures classes are even funnier this time round, with Blast-Ended Screwts and Nifflers. And to top it all off, Malfoy gets turned into a ferret. Need I say more?

For me, this is the first time they nailed one of the films and struck the right balance between being true to the books (unlike Prisoner of Azkaban) and cutting enough to avoid having too many cumbersome subplots and unnecessary scenes (like Chamber of Secrets). The set pieces are amazing (the First and Second Tasks being two of the most striking in the series), the costume and set design are perfect (the outfits of the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students are particularly memorable) and the scene in the Graveyard between Harry and Voldemort is arguably the best interaction between the hero and antagonist in the entire series. The casting is spot on as always, with Brendan Gleeson nailing the role of Alastor Moody, Ralph Fiennes giving us the most menacing of his four appearances as Voldemort and David Tennant showing hints of his aptitude for playing villains (later used to far greater results as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones) in his brief role as Barty Crouch jr.. Hell, even Robert Pattinson isn’t bad as Cedric Diggory – getting the slightly arrogant but still likeable vibe I got from the character in the books.

All that said, the film does have one or two issues in adapting the fourth book (the Third Task is nowhere near as memorable as it was in the novel), the decision to not show the Quidditch world cup is bizarre (I can only suspect the other set pieces used up too much money) Sirius’ role is considerably reduced and Dumbledore’s OTT reaction to Harry’s name being in the Goblet is infamously misplayed (whether that is down to Gambon, the director or the scriptwriter I don’t know, but everyone pokes fun at it when comparing the books to the films). That said, those are the only problems I have with it. The film improves on the book as much as it fumbles some points from it, so overall, I’d say the two are pretty equal.

Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

For the most part, my views of the books and films have been pretty consistent. This is one exception – I really don’t like the book, but by comparison the film is marvellous.

Why don’t I like the book? Several reasons: its too long (the longest in the series at over 700 pages), too depressing (even books 6 and 7 have more moments of lightness, this one is more bleak than some game of thrones novels) and it kills off one of my favourite characters (in what I would argue was a very unnecessary and underwhelming way). There’s a multitude of narrative issues: the whole Harry-Cho romance is frustrating rather than engaging, there’s a real lack of humour and lightness compared to previous entries (thank God for Fred and George – their antics are about the only reason I ever smiled while reading this book) and a few odd plot choices (would Dumbledore really have chosen Snape to teach Harry Occlumency? Knowing of their mutual hatred like he did its a very baffling decision – up there with hiring Lockhart as a blunder that someone as wise as Dumbledore really shouldn’t have made). My biggest gripe with the book, however, has to be Sirius’ death. Rowling considered killing several characters at this point in the series, including Mr. Weasley and even Ron (I still maintain the minority opinion that killing Ron mid-series would have been easier to deal with and more narratively rewarding – especially because it would have got rid of the awful Ron-Hermione pairing), but Sirius’ demise feels both premature and foolhardy (only my love for Half-Blood Prince as a novel made me partially forgive Rowling). He had far greater potential than he was ever used for (if he had to die, I personally think it should have been in book 7 instead of Lupin/Tonks, whose deaths are nearly as pointless as Sirius’ in this book) and his death serves little function (can’t you leave Harry one fucking father figure??) – if the purpose was to demoralize Harry going into the last two books, I’d have preferred having him reconcile with Cho and then killing her off in the ending. Much better – alas that’s what fanfiction’s for 😉 Anyway, pro-Sirius rant over.

Why is the film so much better? Again, several reasons: it cuts out of lot of unnecessary subplots such as Umbridge banning Harry from Quidditch, the whole St Mungo’s sequence and Umbridge’s failed attempt to forcibly expel Hagrid, all of which added to the relentlessly depressing nature of the book (did Rowling have a bad year while writing it?) The film injects a sense of fun into the DA meetings (helped hugely by Ginny and Neville’s expanded role and the spot-on casting of Luna Lovegood – Evanna Lynch is simply wonderful). On casting, Imelda Staunton nails Umbridge as a character – you can tell she’s having a whale of a time throughout, particularly in her interactions with Snape and McGonagall. Helena Bonham Carter also makes the most of her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, who in some ways is a far more despicable character than Voldemort himself. The new director David Yates settles into his role comfortably, and despite the lack of grand set pieces like in the last film, it’s very visually impressive (the set design for the Ministry of Magic is particularly memorable). Nicholas Hooper takes over as composer, and the Professor Umbridge theme ranks as one of the best pieces in the series, even if the score as a whole is merely effective rather than memorable. My only problem with the film is how little of the fight in the ministry in the book (one of the redeeming parts of the novel) makes it into the film. Given it’s the second shortest entry in the series, surely they could have found 10 minutes to include more of Harry and his friends putting their DA training to use/the Order of the Phoenix battling the death eaters. On the flip side, they got the Voldemort/Dumbledore fight and Harry’s possession sequence perfect.

Book Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next up, the final two books and three films tomorrow, before my review of Fantastic Beast on Sunday!

Review: Harry Potter: Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ll be seeing Fantastic Beasts later in the week, so every day before I’ll be looking back on the films/books it has to live up to (1-3 today, 4 and 5 tomorrow and 6 and 7 on Tuesday).

Not putting a spoiler warning on these reviews. If you haven’t watched/read them by now: 1. That’s your problem. 2. What the hell?!? 3. Why not???

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The one that started it all. I re-read all the books over the summer and they’re still as much of a joy as ever. The first book is both the shortest and has the simplest plotline, but is still fun to read simply due to nostalgia’s sake. The characters are for the most part instantly memorable and leap off the page at you, Professor Quirrell being an unfortunate exception (quite possibly one of the least notable characters in the series, his lack of notoriety was probably to avoid making it too guessable that he was the real villain, not Snape, who gets a much more expansive role), while the various magic concepts of Hogwarts, Quidditch, Platform 9 3/4 etc. are all described in vivid detail.

The stand out sections in the film have to be the Quidditch match (vividly brought to life) and the sequences with the Devil’s Snare, Flying Keys and the Chess Game while the trio attempt to find the Philosophers Stone (which surpass their equivalent sections in the book). John Williams’ score is instantly memorable and Emma Watson and Tom Felton get their characters spot-on first try, while Radcliffe and Grint are both adorable even if their acting at times could use a bit of polish. The adult cast are all perfect as well, particularly Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane as Snape and Hagrid. The only criticism I have of the film is that’s there’s a very safe feel to proceedings, there isn’t a lot of ambition here yet, as shown by how rigid Chris Columbus is in reproducing his source material (only really cutting three bits from the book that I can think of)

Book Rating: 3 out of 5, Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The second book improves upon the first’s plot and tone while being just as fun to read, with the mystery of the Heir of Slytherin and the terrifying Basilisk making this a significantly darker entry, to its advantage in my opinion. Harry faces a far rougher time of it in book 2, which only makes us root for the character more, while Voldemort’s younger self Riddle manages somehow to be even more creepy and hateful than the shattered remnant that possessed Quirrell in the first book. The additional focus on Voldemort, Hagrid and Dumbledore is welcome, while Gilderoy Lockhart makes for a more memorable Defence against the Dark Arts teacher than Quirrell (even though looking back its hard to swallow that Dumbledore would have been taken in by such an obvious fraudster enough to hire him).

Overall I think the film has come in for more than it’s fair share of criticism – yes it’s overly long but tbh, I’m not sure what they could have cut without losing some of what made the book memorable. Both the book and the film are a darker, more ambitious adventure than their predecessor but for me, the film comes to life just that bit more easily. The most memorable sequences have to be (again) the Quidditch match, the spiders in the Forbidden Forest, the confrontation between Harry and Riddle and the whole Polyjuice potion sequence, which manages to be both tense and hilarious. Ultimately it’s a step up from the first film, but again things are played too safe to be truly great. The acting remains of a very high standard, with Snape and Malfoy again proving deliciously evil as characters and a nice (and regrettably final) turn from Richard Harris as Dumbledore while the additions to the cast such as Mark Williams as Mr. Weasley and Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy are memorable. Solid work again from John Williams, Fawkes’ theme and ‘Reunion of Friends’ are some of the best pieces in the series.

Book Rating: 3.5 out of 5, Film Rating: 4 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Both this book and the film adaptation is where most people place the point where the series truly took off. The book is a joy from start to finish, with the best Quidditch sequences in the series, one of the most memorable (and my personal favourite) characters in Remus Lupin, a villain who exudes menace despite not appearing in the flesh till the final few chapters in Sirius Black, and a joyous tone throughout juxtaposed against a slightly bittersweet ending. The Marauder’s Map, Hogsmeade, the awful Professor Trelawney, Hermione punching Malfoy, this book has basically everything, and the Dementors are arguably one of Rowling’s scariest creations. If by some miracle you haven’t guessed already, I bloody love this book and genuinely can’t think of a flaw with it, so I’ll move on to the film adaptation.

The three leads are all at their best in this film, Watson clearly relishes Hermione’s character development, and Grint and Radcliffe’s improvement from the first two films is very welcome (not that either were bad, but they both come into their own here). The film’s adult casting remains faultless, with Michael Gambon giving us a memorable take on Dumbledore that remains true to the book version while not mimicking Richard Harris’ take on the character. Gary Oldman shines as Sirius Black, being both menacing in his turn as the apparent villain and instantly likeable once his true personality is revealed. The greatest praise however, must go to David Thewlis as an endearing and memorable Lupin, given the success of the film was always going to rest on Lupin and Harry’s bond, which is one of the strongest parts of the novel. The visuals are more striking than ever this time, from the Night Bus to the Dementors to the Whomping Willow, largely in part to the wonderful work of director Alfonso Cuaron, who easily surpasses Columbus. John Williams is also on stellar form, delivering his most memorable and inventive score (no mean feat given how good the first two were!). My only problem with the film (ironically, given that I criticise the first two films for the opposite reason) is it isn’t faithful enough to the novel. The Quidditch bits in particular really shouldn’t have been dropped – I’d have happily stayed another 15 mins if those were included. Most of the changes are fine for time reasons, but I feel like some of them just aren’t necessary.

Book Rating: 5 out of 5!, Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next up: Goblet of Fire’s impressive action sequences and Order of the Phoenix’s somewhat downbeat plotline…