November 14th, 2005

Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

2001 AD - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The first Harry Potter movie grossed 31 million dollars on it's opening day, breaking a box office record. What is amazing about this box office record is that it occurred on a school day. Locally, the Boca Raton Muvico Palace hosted field trips with local schools. Students got to witness the work of Harry's arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, when the Palace suffered an electrical blackout for three hours.

British author J.K. Rowling has created the most influential fictional character of the twenty first century with her four Harry Potter books. Harry is a modern literary creation worthy of Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens. All three authors have created the archetypal Western hemispheric hero; a young individual is born in an impoverished situation, perseveres through hard work and moral virtue. One can write doctorate dissertations comparing Harry Potter with Charlie Bucket and David Copperfield.

American Director Chris Columbus persevered with Warner Brothers Studio executives by making "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone" with an all British cast. Columbus mixes an ensemble of British veterans with relative new comers. Richard Harris, Dame Maggie Smith and John Hurt go about their business with the confidence of working in an ensemble. They know their parts, but willingly give their focus to the children, animals and special effects.

The naturalness of young actors is what makes "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" click. The friendship between the three leads appears warm and geniune. In times of a crisis, the three friends support and do not demean each other. Emma Watson portrays Hermione Granger as the class braniac with a hidden heart of gold. Red headed Rubert Grint is Harry's loyal friend Ron Weasley, a middle child of a very large red headed family.

The weight of the movie and Harry Potter myth falls on the shoulders of 11 year old Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe does a fantastic job and creates empathy for our hero. It is a tough role, because Radcliffe has to be the center of attention even when he is a bystander. During the breath taking aerial Quidditch match on broomsticks, Radcliffe reveals a cinematic charisma that Harrison Ford used to have.

For those who are not familiar with Harry Potter, the film provides an entertaining Cliff's Notes version of the book. "Sorcerer's Stone" is about Harry's first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is an orphan whose parents were murdered by the Lord Voldermort. When he was an infant, Harry somehow defeated Lord Voldermort, who plans to exact revenge upon the young boy.

Much news has been made about some religious intolerance towards Harry Potter because of the connection to witchcraft. While the witchcraft provides some texture to the story, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is not propaganda for the devil. In fact, the themes that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" celebrates the things the devil hates most; honor, loyalty and love. It is a good movie to take Grandparents to because they can tell the good guys from the bad guys and there is no swearing or cussing.
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

2002 AD Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Last Saturday afternoon, I watched parents take their preschool aged children to "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." What a mistake! One father served as a butler to his children and one mother organized numerous potty runs for her daughters. Two parents became so engrossed in the film that they allowed their child in diapers to run up and down the aisle during the film's climax. I also overheard a child tell their parent, at least three times, "I want to go home, NOW." While the Harry Potter phenomenon, grew from the word of mouth from children, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is not a film for Children of all ages. However, for individuals with longer attention spans, this New Harry Potter movie will be a rewarding experience.

Harry Potter's second year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry is more exciting than his previous outing, "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone." Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is still comically abused by his dastardly stepparents, the Dursleys. It is up to Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and the rest of the Weasely family to rescue Harry from his muggle existence with a flying car.

Enroute to school, Harry and Ron endure a battle with a whomping willow and meet some new characters. The oddest new character is Dobby the house elf, a computer enhanced character who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts. The most sinister new character is Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) the father of the snotty little Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), a rival classmate of Harry's. We are also introduced to the new Defense against the Dark Arts Professor, the self promoting Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh). Fortunately for Harry and Ron, their best friend Hermonie (Emma Watson), Hagrid the jolly giant (Robbie Coltrane) and Headmaster Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris) also return for another school year of alchemy and magic lessons. There is evil afoot when it is discovered that the Chamber of Secrets is open in the basement of Hogwarts. Some monster is turning students, ghosts and cats into stone and Hogwarts faculty seem unable to figure out how to confront this beast.However thanks to Harry's courage, Hermonie's intellect and Ron's wisecracks, the evil does not stand a chance at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Production for "Chamber of Secrets" began five days after "Sorceror's Stone" opened with record breaking box office results. There is a confidence that resonates throughout this new film. Though a foot taller, the young actors slip into their roles and recreate familiarity for the audience. Director Chris Columbus surpasses himself and confidently excises some elements from the book with out losing the spirit of Author J.K.Rowling.

Yet, there is a nagging feeling that "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" might be the cinematic peak of the series. With the demise of Richard Harris, the pivotal role of Professor Dumblemdore must be replaced for future movies. Weary from the daily grind of directing this franchise, Columbus is passing the director's reins to Alfonso Cuaro'n ("Y Tu' Mama Tambiien"). There's been talk that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson will outgrow their roles before the proposed seven book series is completed. This would be a sad thing because the charm of this movie is seeing how these kids grow up.

One hopes the commitment to quality continues as the series progresses. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a very good movie because it offers a strong narrative, interesting characters and a grand visual design.

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a movie that should be seen on the big screen with clear acoustic speakers and disciplined children in the audience. If those elements are not available, then light a candle and reading the book will provide a good alternative.
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

2004 AD: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban

When I heard that Alphonsoe Cuaron was going to direct "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban," my expectations were lowered. The director's previous movie, "Y Tu' Mama Tambien" was a critically praised movie that was really a teen sex comedy so common in the early 1980's. Under Cuaron's leadership, the Harry Potter cinematic series has entered the next stage of maturity found in J.K. Rowling's books. Unlike the colorful cinematography of the first two movies, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban" uses a cold grey film stock. This production technique foreshadows the darker themes yet to develop in Harry Potter's future.

As Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) prepares for his third year of education at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he must endure the abuse of his muggle step family, the Dursleys. After losing his temper, Harry flees his summer residence and departs on a wild double decker bus ride through the streets of London.

Once on magical soil, Harry learns that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), has escaped Azakaban Prison. It is believed that Black murdered Harry's parents and was a follower of the evil Lord Voldermont. Because of this high profile jail break, Hogwarts School is put on martial law and is under the guard of the Dementors. The Dementors are Azakaban's secret guardians who have the ability to suck the soul of an individual. Harry develops a phobia to these cloaked ghouls. Lead by the bratty Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) Harry's rivals have a field day with Harry's fears.

Fortunately for Harry, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has hired a sympathetic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), who coaches Harry with his fears. Harry also retains his loyal friendship with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), who are actually developing a little romance between each other.

The joy of watching this series is the attention to detail and the foresight of the producers. Composer John Williams has been retained and this musical genius has created an experimental musical score. During the surreal, yet humorous, double decker bus ride, Williams' musical score echoes the jazz tones of Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker,.

The ensemble of actors are magnificent. Emma Thompson portrays a hippy chick professor who teaches fortune telling. Given his previous association as cinematic villians, Gary Oldman adds the right balance of menace and madness as tortured Sirius Black. Replacing the late Richard Harris, Michael Gambon brings forth a whimsical Professor Dumbledore. Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith return in supporting roles that have been minimized by the screen play.

The child actors were approximately 13 during the filming of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban" and their baby fat is melting away. The biggest gasps from the audience come from the entrances of of the child actors. While the actors are rapidly changing, part of the charm is the familiarity of these actors performances. Emma Watson and Rubert Grint should foster the seed of romance between Hermonie and Ron respectively. Daniel Radcliffe is still the best adolescent leading man in the movie today. Keep up the great attention to detail Warner Brothers, you will be rewarded by consisting box office bonanza.