Films featuring
Maggie Smith

Murder by Death

Murder by Death

No pulse, no heartbeat. If condition does not change, this man is dead.

This is Neil Simon’s attempt to do a Mel Brooks number of the genre of detective fiction and it’s probably for the best that he tackle it, because I think that the director of Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety would have wielded too blunt an instrument to make it work. Even with Simon’s slightly more sophisticated touch, Murder by Death is comedy in broad strokes, but even if you’re not a fan of murder mysteries, enough jokes score to make it a diverting 90 minutes.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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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.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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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.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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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.

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