Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire - Movie Review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2005

Well, by now if we have to start explaining the Harry Potter franchise – from books to movies to lunchboxes, we feel we have the right to come to your home and slap the shit out of you. Either you’ve read the books, seen the movies, or you are just a complete waste of oxygen and should kindly put a bullet through your foreheads and save us the trouble. Thanks. Now that we are entering the final phase of J.K. Rowling’s magnum magical opus, and viewing the fourth in a series of increasingly delightful children’s fantasy flicks, we must pause to rewind the clock (Twice should do it, we think.) and gaze back at the first Philosopher’s stones laid upon the wallets of parents the world over. Chris Columbus, noted auteur of such cinema drivel as “Home Alone” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” either fellated or was chosen by producer David Heyman to help start the launch of what would quickly become the most reliable money maker at Warner Bros. since Bette Davis was in her supreme Bitch Goddess mode in the early war years. While he didn’t completely embarrass himself, and accomplished the near impossible by finding three little tykes to portray our trio of sleuthing wizards, neither did he achieve any degree of cinematic genius.

That would come with HPIII – “Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban”, helmed by a true auteur, Señor Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous foray into the world of children’s literature brought forth the sublimely magical “The Little Princess” – go rent it NOW!!!! But Alfonso had even bigger fish to deep fry, and captured our hearts and minds with such adult fare as the modern day adaptation of Dickens “Great Expectations” and his international breakthrough hit “Y tu mamá también”, which of course featured our future husband Gael Garcia Bernal. Don’t worry, we won’t throw in a gratuitous shot of Gael . . . .

Now, how did that happen? Anyway, back to the little wizards. Harry Potter is in his fourth year of his magical training at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his main bitches, Ron and Hermione close to his side. Looming in the distance is his mortal enemy, Lord Voldemort, the evil wizard who murdered Harry’s parents and has been tormenting the young mage ever since. Fortunately for Harry, when last we saw Voldemort he was literally half the man he used to be. In fact he bore an uncanny resemblance to the monster child in the 1970’s camp classic “It’s Alive”, or Terry Schiavo. Take your pick. Most unfortunately for the entire wizard world, Lord Voldemort’s followers – the “Death Eaters” (which makes them sound like some sort of crazed Marilyn Manson fans.) have finally pulled their act together and are taking Voldey on the road. We know all this because we actually wasted 20 minutes of our lives reading the original children’s book. (And sidenote to all you crazed Potter-heads over the age of 14 . . . grow the fuck up.)

Now before we start detailing the plot, please keep in mind that this latest HP installment was derived from a book that outweighed War & Peace and Don Quixote combined. (Sidenote to author J.K. Rowling – your books should not outweigh their reader, luv.) It is a tribute to the screenwriter, Steve Kloves who has managed to whittle down the oversized tomes to a filmable length. Now while we have respected director Mike Newell’s work on “Dance With a Stranger”, “Enchanted April” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”; his recent work on “Mona Lisa Smile” prepared us for the worst. Thankfully he does an admirable job in maintaining the revamped look and feel that Señor Cuarón worked so diligently at establishing. While he may have not brought the same degree of artistry or freshness to the formula, he at least maintains the momentum. As most Potter-heads can tell you, the series gets progressively darker and deadlier.

Hogwarts has been chosen as the host school for the Triwizard Tournament, a contest and gathering of the “three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang.” And here is where the story really gets interesting. The Beauxbatons students arrive in a winged horse drawn carriage, overseen by a giantess named Madame Olympe Maxime. They scamper thru the great hall at Hogwarts resembling the porcine chorus girls of Busby Berkeley fame. The Durmstrang contingency arrives via the lake aboard a majestic galleon which floats wonderfully up thru the waters. And here is where we come to the best thing in “Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire.” In a curious blend of mid 20th century mockery, the Durmstrang students are all burly boys decked in pseudo Russian Cossack uniforms. Their star pupil is played by one Stanislav Ianevski as the international Quidditch champion Viktor Krum. Well, girls and boys, he is one hunk of piroshki! We instantly lathered up. (And honestly, every other review we read of this moment compares them to young Nazis. Good lord people, don’t you know the difference between a Neo-Nazi and a Crypto-Commie? Go read a book. One meant for adults.) With the arrival of the French Rockettes and the Slavic Hunks the Triwizard Tournament kicks into gear when it reveals the three names of the students who will represent their schools as their best. From Beauxbatons, we get Fleur Delacour portrayed by Clémence Poésy. From Durmstrang, our new boyfriend Stanislav. And from Hogwarts, we get newcomer to the franchise, Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory. BUT WAIT!!!! The Goblet of Fire also spits up the name of . . . . bum, bum, BUM!!! Harry Potter! WHAT? A murmur goes thru the crowd, fellow students are shocked, teachers are concerned and friendships are shattered. And we think you are dumber than we thought if you didn’t expect the lead in the film to be competing. It ain’t called “Cedric Diggory & The Goblet of Fire” people. Although Robert Pattinson ain’t too hard on the eyes, but he’s no Stanislav Ianevski. (Words we thought we’d never type.)

The rest of the film details the tournament in a series of challenges that allows Mike Newell to test his new CGI domain, and for the most part he succeeds. (For the record, we believe this might be Mike Newell's first time working extensively with CGI, unless you count the performances of Andie MacDowell in "Four Weddings" and Julia Roberts work in "Mona Lisa Smile", but we digress.) We loved the aerial chase scenes with Harry facing off a particularly thorny dragon, the underwater rescue assignment that introduces us to a Merpeople that disturbingly resemble Anna Wintour . . .

. . . and the final hunt for the Goblet in a mist covered maze that stretches as far as the eye can see. Into this mystical Battle of the Network Wizards, is plopped a side story involving the Yule Ball which allows us to witness all of the uncomfortable adolescent yearnings, rejections and fumbling tortures of procuring a date for the homecoming dance. And while the tournament fulfills the necessary action shots and digital effects quota of the franchise, the ball sequence is a charming interruption. Our three young leads are growing up to be fine actors in their own right. Daniel Radcliffe has grown into his own as the bespectacled child of fate, while Emma Watson is allowed her moment to shine in a scene straight out of “My Fair Lady.” Thankfully Rupert Grint as the bravely goofy Ron Weasley is beginning to emerge from his shtick as the befuddled sidekick to Harry Potter. We had little hope based on the first two films, where with usual Chris Columbus non-restraint he was allowed to mug unmercifully to middling comic effect. We have hope as the series develops into darker material that Rupert will be sufficiently challenged enough to stop with the double takes and actually deliver a performance.

As for the adults, most of the familiar faces have returned albeit in truncated scenes. Michael Gambon as the endearingly kind and addled headmaster Dumbledore, the great Maggie Smith as the steely and matriarchal Professor McGonagall, the brilliant comic timing of Robbie Coltrane as the oversized gameskeeper Hagrid who finds true love with the Beauxbatons giantess, the scene stealing Alan Rickman as the duplicitous Severus Snape and Gary Oldman in a fiery performance as Harry’s misjudged godfather Sirius Black. Three of Britain’s finest acting alums are brought in freshly for this flick. Miranda Richardson who is sadly wasted in what could have been a choice role as the gossip maven Rita Skeeter, Brendan Gleeson who scores some choicer scenes as Mad-Eye Moody and Ralph Fiennes who hams it up and scores a bullseye with his portrayal as Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort. He manages to overcome the makeup and special effects to provide a true feeling of menace to the kiddie proceedings.

By now, this series is fairly impenetrable to critics’ arguments, but thankfully it need not fear any backlash if it continues to entertain and dazzle us with imagination, heart and cinematic storytelling. Kudos to the producers, directors and cast for keeping Harry Potter firmly astride his Firebolt. Now, if they could only convince Peter Jackson to helm the future episodes. Well, a gal can wish can’t she? (Sidenote to Stanislav, you can penetrate our arguments any time you wish you naughty little bit of blini.)

Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Steve Kloves
Based on the book by J.K. Rowling

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Ralph Fiennes Lord Voldemort
Brendan Gleeson as Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody
Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter
Stanislav Ianevski as Viktor Krum
Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory
Clémence Poésy as Fleur Delacour
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black
Frances de la Tour as Madame Olympe Maxime
Katie Leung as Cho Chang
Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom
Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley
Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge
Timothy Spall as Wormtail
David Tennant as Barty Crouch Junior
Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle

Cinematography by Roger Pratt
Costume Design by Jany Temime
Film Editing by Mick Audsley
Production Design by Stuart Craig
Art Direction by Mark Bartholomew
Alastair Bullock
Alan Gilmore
Neil Lamont
Gary Tomkins
Original Music by Patrick Doyle
Themes by John Williams