A truly excellent movie always manages to boil its story down to the essentials. It’s the mediocre ones that fumble around trying to figure out what they’re about. I won’t say what the bad ones do, but it often involves some hand lotion and a back issue of National Geographic.
The bloom of whimsy is off the Hogwarts rose as things get all dark and serious. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has several problems to contend with. Dementors are chasing him. The Ministry of Wizards wants him expelled. Hogwarts has been taken over by Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a perky Torquemada in lavender. Hermione (Emma Watson) is now taller than him and Lord Valdemort is raising an army again.
Probably by design, this Potter movie lacks some of the charm of the previous films, as its themes and situation are considerably darker and more threatening. Harry seems to spend most of the story out of step with the rest of the cast and Radcliffe is up to the task of making us feel his vulnerability and isolation.
This chapter hasn’t been as well reviewed by others as the previous ones, although it is definitely superior to the first two. I think the lukewarm reception comes from those unfamiliar with the Potter mythos and not expecting the darker turns in the story, as well as those who have memorized the books and take umbrage with the filmmakers daring to condense the story down to a manageable cinematic length. Given the number of balls that author J. K. Rowling has given director David Yates to keep in the air, he’s done about as good a job as anyone could have in bringing the story to the screen.
The Good Shepherd uses the classic form of the espionage thriller to depict the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency through the eyes of one character, Edward Wilson, himself a composite of several real figures in the early days of the American intelligence community. Despite its length, deliberate pacing and a central character that is not particularly sympathetic, this film is a compelling account of a crucial, little known part of American history.
The Harry Potter films have been, on the whole, getting progressively better with each installment. The first step was ditching the more commercially-minded American director Chris Columbus in favor of two filmmakers whose work you would not normally associate with these fantastic elements. For this fourth chapter, they chose British director Mike Newell, probably best known for the violent mob drama Donnie Brasco.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (hereafter called Azkaban) is the first Harry Potter film not directed by Home Alone helmer Chris Columbus. This time out Alfonso Cuarón called the shots, fresh off the beyond-R-Rated Y tu mamá también. He may seem like an odd choice to film a “veddy-British” and family-friendly PG-rated movie like this, until you recall that he also helmed the G-Rated A Little Princess.
Azkaban clearly has a much differently sensibility from the warmer, more friendly tone of the first two HP films. There is a more foreboding tone that suggest that Cuarón had a better handle on the darker elements of J.K. Rowling’s novels.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was billed as an experiment in digital film making, shooting actors against a blue screen to be composited into computer generated images. I’m not sure if there’s anything here that George Lucas wasn’t already doing on a much larger scale for the Star Wars prequels, so as an experiment in technique, Sky Captain is probably much ado about nothing.