Friday, July 31, 2009

Judd Apatow Signs A Three-Picture Deal With Universal


Universal Pictures has kept its key funny guy in the studio fold, signing a three-picture directing deal with "Funny People" helmer Judd Apatow. While Apatow produces films for other studios, he has never directed a film outside of Universal. Studio opens his latest, "Funny People," today on 3,007 screens.

Apatow made his directing debut on 2005 comedy hit "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which he followed with 2007’s "Knocked Up."

In the process, he has helped reestablish the R-rated comedy and created comic stars of Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Katherine Heigl, Jonah Hill and Leslie Mann. Rogen, Hill and Mann star in "Funny People," alongside Adam Sandler, Eric Bana and Jason Schwartzman.

Apatow has not yet committed to his next directing vehicle. He writes his films himself, and that process will begin after "Funny People" opens.

Universal chairman Marc Shmuger, who made the Apatow deal with co-chairman David Linde, said that the most rewarding part is the opportunity to continue collaborating with an artist who is still testing his range as a director.

"I feel like we’re growing with him and watching him mature as a filmmaker, and that is a thrilling thing to be part of," Shmuger said. "To know he’ll direct his next three pictures here is a vote of confidence to our entire organization. It has become a true collaboration and partnership."

Apatow said: "Everyone at Universal has been incredibly supportive of my directing career since day one. I am thrilled I am able to continue that relationship."

Thoughts:
Good for Universal because I personally find Judd Apatow to be a better director than a producer. I very much enjoyed The 40 Year Old Virgin and praised Knocked Up for its originality. I'm very much looking forward to his third film, Funny People.

Ridley Scott Directing The Alien Prequel!


Twentieth Century Fox is resuscitating its "Alien" franchise. The studio has hired Jon Spaihts to write a prequel that has Ridley Scott attached to return as director. Spaihts got the job after pitching the studio and Scott Free, which will produce the film.

The film is set up to be a prequel to the groundbreaking 1979 film that Scott directed. It will precede that film, in which the crew of a commercial towing ship returning to Earth is awakened and sent to respond to a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. The crew discovers too late that the signal generated by an empty ship was meant to warn them.

The deal gives Fox another chance to keep the "Alien" franchise alive. There were three sequels to Scott's original, but it is the first time the director has set his mind on directing one.

Thoughts:
Looks like the folks at Fox didn't want newcomer Carl Rinsch helming the Alien prequel and have persuaded Ridley Scott to come back to the Alien franchise, and direct the prequel himself. I'm still skeptical to even wonder what this film is going to be like. I'm not very happy with the amount of control Fox has had over its recent movies such as cutting scenes and toning down the blood to achieve that mainstream PG-13 rating. I just hope they don't end up screwing Scott's vision for this film just to make sure it doesn't flop at the box office.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ron Howard Set To Direct The Parsifal Mosaic


Universal Pictures has attached Ron Howard to direct "The Parsifal Mosaic," an adaptation of the espionage thriller by "The Bourne Identity" author Robert Ludlum. David Self will adapt the Ludlum novel about a CIA operative who thinks he witnessed the execution of his lover after she was identified as a KGB double agent.

Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer will produce with Captivate Entertainment partners Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith. Imagine’s David Bernardi will be exec producer.

The studio, which is separatelydeveloping a fourth "Bourne" installment with director Paul Greengrass, and "The Sigma Protocol" (an adaptation of yet another Ludlum thriller), began negotiating the rights for "Parsifal Mosaic," for which it had first-look rights in a deal Universal made with Captivate, which controls screen rights to the late author's books.

Thoughts:
This is one of the better announcements I have heard this week. I usually love Ron Howard's work especially when hes collaborating with Universal Studio.

Trailer For Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox


Yahoo Movies! has debuted the first trailer for Wes Anderson's stop motion animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the children's book by Roald Dahl and featuring the voices of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman.

Mr and Mrs Fox live an idyllic home life with their son Ash and visiting young nephew Kristopherson. But after 12 years, the bucolic existence proves too much for Mr Fox's wild animal instincts. Soon he slips back into his old ways as a sneaky chicken thief and in doing so, endangers not only his beloved family, but the whole animal community. Trapped underground and with not enough food to go around, the animals band together to fight against the evil Farmers -- Boggis, Bunce and Bean -- who are determined to capture the audacious, fantastic Mr Fox at any cost.

Thoughts:
Looks unique and very refreshing for an animated production. I have no doubt the film will be amazing when considering the amount of talent involved including director Wes Anderson.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Universal Bringing The Lorax To The Big Screen


Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment are joining forces to turn the Dr. Seuss book "The Lorax" into a 3-D CG animated feature.

"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" will be co-directed by Chris Renaud and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio, with Paul & Daurio writing the script.

Though published in 1971, "The Lorax" has a timely "green" theme. It is narrated by a greedy entrepreneur who, despite warnings from the tree-loving Lorax, strips a forest of its stock of Truffula trees to manufacture clothing. The results are catastrophic as all the animals leave and nothing's left.

The picture is targeted for a March 2, 2012, release.

Illumination topper Chris Meledandri will produce and Audrey Geisel will be executive producer. Illumination's John Cohen and Janet Healy will also be involved in producing capacities.

Thoughts:
Never read the book so I don't know what to expect from this. I do however enjoy the Dr. Seuss books and have fairly enjoyed the movie adaptations that have already come out.

Sony Developing An inFAMOUS Movie


Sony Pictures has pre-emptively picked up a pitch from screenwriter Sheldon Turner to adapt the Sucker Punch Prods. video game "inFAMOUS" into a feature film. The deal is for seven figures.

The studio is working out a deal for rights to the game, which was published by sister company Sony Computer Entertainment.

Avi Arad and Ari Arad will produce. Sony executives Matt Tolmach and Jonathan Kadin are handling for the studio.

Launched in May, "inFAMOUS" centers on bike messenger Cole MacGrath, who survives an explosion that destroys entire blocks of Empire City only to find he has new electricity-derived super powers. The action game, designed for Sony's PlayStation 3 console, allows the player to use his powers for good or evil, as MacGrath's karma affects how the devastated city's people and infrastructure deal with him.

"What excited me most about the game was it was the first of which I've come across that had a big idea and a character arc," Turner said. "It is, I believe, the future of gaming. The game, while big and fun, is at its core a love ballad to the underachiever, which is what our hero, Cole McGrath, is."

Thoughts:
I'm not sure about this just yet. I haven't played this PS3 video game and its been getting some mixed reviews though most of them are positive. A couple of my friends did say the game had a pretty good story so it should be interesting to see how well that translates to the big screen.

REVIEW: Brüno


Brüno

Year: 2009
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bañagale
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA: Rated R

Sacha Baron Cohen is back! This movie has been in development pretty much right after Borat came out and became a huge hit. Borat is replaced by Brüno, an openly gay Austrian fashion show host.

Plot Outline:
The movie introduces us to Brüno, who loves fashion and has his own TV show in his hometown of Austria. After hitting a few rode roadblocks in his Austrian TV career, he gets fired and is pretty much blacklisted from every fashion organization in the country. With the help of this personal assistant, Lutz, the two decide to take their chances and go to the United States where Brüno would attempt to become a celebrity.

Plot:
Soon after arriving to the United States, the two immediately meet with a acting agent who gives him a script to try. After miserably failing, he decides to try making a show about celebrities where he interviews them about various issues. I felt the plot was missing the magic Borat had with its story. The movie wasn’t nearly as funny as Borat, but topping a movie like Borat would be an extremely hard task to do.

Cast:
Just like Borat, there really isn’t much of a cast here. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again the star of the movie, starring as Brüno. And also just like Borat, Cohen never breaks out of contract even in the most dangerous things he does. Gustaf Hammarsten plays as his assistant and he does a pretty job at it, but he was a character that I felt pretty useless and unnecessary – unlike Azamat from Borat.

Picture:
I found the picture quality to be pretty good for a low-budget movie like this. The movie is pretty colorful, with colors being very vivid and popping out thanks to all of Brüno’s clothing.

Sound:
This movie had some weird music added to it, but I thought it fit perfectly with the movie. The techno music gave it a perfect feel to Brüno’s personality.

Conclusion:
If you thought Borat had some nasty moments, that was nothing compared to Brüno. Sacha Baron Cohen once again goes to the limits to do whatever is necessary to get his audience to laugh and he gets a lot of kudos for that. The plot was somewhat disappointing and the jokes weren’t as great as his previous movie, but it was still pretty funny overall. But if you liked Borat, you should definitely go check it out, just don’t set your expectations too high.

Grade: C

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trailer For Toy Story and Toy Story 2 3D Release



Walt Disney Pictures has debuted the new trailer for their upcoming 3D release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. The films will be in 3D as a double feature for two weeks starting on October 2nd.

Thoughts:
This is really lame if you ask me. Why would I pay theater money to watch something I already own. Just because its 3D they decided to make it a theatrical release? Its stupid if you ask me and totally unnecessary. They could have instead decided to release the 3D versions on DVD or Blu Ray around the release of Toy Story 3, which hits theaters June 2010.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trailer For The Book of Eli


Warner Bros. Pictures has released the trailer for Allen and Albert Hughes' The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis.

Opening January 15, 2010, the film revolves around a lone warrior (Denzel Washington) who must fight to bring society the knowledge that could be the key to its redemption. Oldman plays the despot of a small makeshift town who's determined to take possession of the book Eli's guarding.

Thoughts:
Looks pretty cool, but why does Denzel look awfully similar to Blade in some of those action scenes? January also seems like a weird month to release an action movie like this.

Tron 2 Gets New Name and Late 2010 Release


Walt Disney Pictures announced today that the Tron follow-up will be called Tron Legacy and is currently set for a late 2010 release. The Joseph Kosinski-directed film stars Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde and Beau Garrett.

Tron Legacy is a 3D high-tech adventure set in a digital world that's unlike anything ever captured on the big screen. Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), looks into his father's disappearance and finds himself pulled into the same world of fierce programs and gladiatorial games where his father has been living for 25 years. Along with Kevin's loyal confidant (Olivia Wilde), father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe that has become far more advanced and exceedingly dangerous.

Thoughts:
Sounds kind of mediocre and it would have been better if it was just called Tron 2. I'm still anxious to see this even though the first one wasn't that good. The first films technology was pretty groundbreaking at the time of its release. I'm very curious to see if the sequel will deliver on this part too.

Teaser For Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland


Walt Disney Pictures has now officially brought online the teaser trailer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Sheen, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman.

The film hits conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on March 5.

Thoughts:
It looks beautiful and vividly amazing. It definitely looks like Burton brought his creative dark side to this wonderful story. I'm sure the film look alot more finished when it opens next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Poster For Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island


Yahoo! Movies has debuted the new poster for director Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Max von Sydow.

The film, opening October 2nd, is the story of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels(DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who are summoned to a remote and barren island off the cost of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island's fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane.

Thoughts:
Looks like a badly photoshopped poster with hardly anything worth getting excited about. Ill still see this since its a Scorsese film and he hardly ever disappoints.

REVIEW: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Year: 2006
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA: Rated R


Borat. Everyone remembers Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 movie Borat; his first theatrical release and the first time the US was ‘officially’ introduced to Sacha Baron Cohen’s creative mind. I myself remember watching the trailer a bunch of times laughing at the jokes… and they never got old, even after watching the movie in theatres. So with the release of Cohen’s second movie, Brüno, I thought it would be appropriate to write a review for Borat.

Plot Outline:
The movie follows Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen), who is hired by his native country, Kazakhstan to travel to the United States and document American society and culture. He is joined by a producer, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), who is there to organize meetings between various people and groups in order to get a better understanding of the American way of life. The movie is filmed in a documentary-type style with Borat narrating throughout the movie about his discoveries.

Plot:
Up on arrival into the United States, the producer’s plan is to stay within the city limits to gather the data they need. Borat begins to meet with various groups, but their plan soon changes when Borat, while watching TV, begins watching Baywatch and falls in love with Pamela Anderson’s character, C.J. Parker. All plans are thrown out of the window, and Borat begins planning his trip from New York City to California. Azamat falls for Borat’s lie that California is where the real American life is, so he goes along. Throughout the way, they stop at different states and visit a gay parade and a chance to sing the anthem at bull show in Texas. They eventually hit financial trouble… but that doesn't stop Borat from reaching his goal of finding ‘C.J. Parker’.

Cast:
Not too many actors in this movie. Sacha Baron Cohen is without a doubt the star of the movie, taking on the role of Borat. He does a fantastic job doing so, everything from the way he looks to how he talks… I found it to be perfect. Not once did he break out of character, even in the most ‘intense’ parts of the movie. Ken Davitian plays Azamat, the producer and he also does a great job being in character and attempting to get Borat to follow the specific plan they had. Pamela Anderson plays a very small role in the movie, but there’s really nothing to write about that.

Picture:
The picture quality in the movie was actually pretty good to my surprise. Scenes are impressive in their sharpness and depth, and colors are often vivid. You can also tell that some grain was added to give the film that low-budget-documentary look to it, and I think it adds authenticity to the movie.

Sound:
There’s not much to say here. With a budget of only $18 million, there probably wasn't much left to put into the sound production. The movie itself is usually without any music. The music that is there is supposed to resemble Kazakhstanian culture.

Conclusion:
Borat isn't a movie for everyone, some find it hilarious while some find it offensive and disrespectful… personally, I loved every bit of it and would love to see Cohen reprise the role of Borat once again. His acting is absolutely fantastic. The video quality is pretty good for a movie with such a low budget. Overall, this is one of the best comedy movies in recent time. “It’s nice!”

Grade: A-

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sam Raimi Set To Direct Warcraft Movie!


Sam Raimi has signed on to direct "Warcraft," the live-action film adaptation of the fantasy videogame franchise "World of Warcraft."

Legendary Pictures and vidgame publisher Blizzard Entertainment are mounting the film, and Warner Bros. will co-finance and distribute. The team boasts an impressive pedigree: In addition to the director of "Spider-Man," the partners have added "The Dark Knight" producer Charles Roven to the creative mix.

The plan is for Raimi to supervise development of "Warcraft" and shoot the picture after he completes work on "Spider-Man 4," which gets under way early next year for Columbia Pictures.

The "Warcraft" universe features an epic conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. The game has developed a global following since its launch in 1994 and shows no signs of slowing. Its most recent expansion, "Wrath of the Lich King," sold more than 2.8 million copies in the first day of release and more than 4 million its first month.

Thoughts:
This is big big news for Warcraft fans around the world. Its still going to be quite awhile before it comes out since Raimi still has Spider-Man 4 to direct, which doesn't start shooting until next year. I personally don't play any of the games, but this news definitely has me interested in the movie. I love Sam Raimi and almost all of his films are great. I enjoyed the Evil Dead series and Drag Me to Hell was surprisingly awesome. Hes a very talented director and I'm sure he will do a great job with the Warcraft movie.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Posters for Prince of Persia Movie


Empire has premiered two posters for Walt Disney Pictures' Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, opening in theaters on May 28, 2010.

In the fantasy adventure based on Ubisoft's popular video game, Jake Gyllenhaal will play Dastan, a young prince in sixth century Persia who must join forces with Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a feisty and exotic princess, to prevent a villainous nobleman from possessing the Sands of Time, a gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world. Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley and Toby Kebbell co-star in the Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) directed film.

Thoughts:
Looks very un-original and I'm still having doubts about this movie. Gyllenhall is a good actor, but he doesn't fit this role.

Sony Making A Michael Jackson Film?


Sony Pictures is close to a deal to make a feature film on Michael Jackson drawing on the 80 hours of rehearsal footage filmed for concerts Jackson was preparing to perform in London.

The studio is expected to pay north of $50 million for worldwide rights to AEG Entertainment, which owns the footage and showed it to studios last week.

The film will feature at least three videos, including an alternative version of Jackson's "Thriller," which were shot to be interstitial programming during the London concerts. The footage was meant to play in 3-D, but it's unclear as yet whether the feature film will present it that way.

"High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega, who shot the rehearsal footage, is expected to direct the feature, and sources said he's already beginning to put together the footage so Sony can release the film before year's end. Ortega has the time, as he won't begin directing the Paramount remake of "Footloose" until next March, when star Chace Crawford is on hiatus from "Gossip Girl."

Several studios were impressed when shown the footage by AEG last week. Fox, Universal, Paramount and Relativity likely would have met AEG's asking price but knew that Sony Pictures had clear first position because sibling company Sony Music Entertainment owns music publishing rights to Jackson's songs.

Thoughts:
It seems like an easy way for Sony to capitalize on his death. As long as the movie doesn't turn into a biopic with someone playing as MJ, than I'm happy. I'm also curious to see that alternative version of Thriller which has always been my favorite MJ song.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter Week Continues


Harry Potter Week continues and with the release of the Half-Blood Prince only 5 days away, I thought it would be cool if I reviewed the previous 5 films while were waiting. Their will be a review up for one of the 5 films everyday at around 3pm starting today. All reviews will also be linked on this post so you can get your Harry Potter fetish all in one place. Brace yourselves my fellow bloggers as we are about to enter into a magical world full of wizards, witches and muggles.

UPDATE: This was a great time for Harry Potter as the newly released Half-Blood Prince was more of a solid summer flick than the rest of the films in theaters. I will try doing more of these trilogy type films, but their just so exhausting since you're essentially looking at the same characters for 6-7 hours.

Friday, July 17, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Year: 2009
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

Before director David Yates was chosen to direct, Warner Bros. was looking at other directors for the job and even some that have already directed a Harry Potter film. Alfonso Cuarón, the director of the third film, stated he "would love to have the opportunity" to return, but Warner Bros. ultimately decided on David Yates. Writer Steve Kloves, who had written the screenplay for the first four films, returned to write the screenplay for this film. Most if not all of the previous cast members returned for this film. The film was initially set to release on November 21, 2008, but was delayed because Warner Bros. already had The Dark Knight making a ton of money for them so they simply decided to delay it. Don't believe the real reason the studio has said because its BS.

Plot Outline:
Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Together they work to find the key to unlock Voldemort's defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, the well-connected and unsuspecting bon vivant Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), whom he believes holds crucial information. Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Harry finds himself more and more drawn to Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but so is Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch). Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same again.

Plot:
The Half-Blood Prince is based on the novel of the same name and marks another one in the series that I haven't read. I read online that die-hard fans of the series were somewhat disappointed that many of the scenes from the novel weren't in the movie or have been drastically altered. While it certainly doesn't have exciting action scenes like the Goblet of Fire or the strong narrative of the Prisoner of Azkaban, but the Half-Blood Prince is still another solid entry in the popular series. Just like the previous film, the Half-Blood Prince has a ton of character development. We are again introduced to new characters, but also focus on already established characters. Their were a few times where I felt the high school type drama was alittle too much and somewhat boring, but I guess its to move the story forward, right? I did however, like that the film still retained its humor and charisma that the first three films had. I'm extremely happy that Quidditch is finally brought back after going dark since the fourth film. I cant believe I missed it this much or maybe its because the special effects were simply awesome through out the movie that it even made the short Quidditch scenes that much more fun. Now I know that this film is based on a big novel and that the previous Potter films have always been over 2 and a half hours, but I really felt they could have trimmed off 10-15 Min's from its run time. Their were definitely some parts that dragged on and could have easily been shortened to make a more cohesive film. I'm also one of the many that didn't really like the ending. It felt un-satisfying and I was ticked off when I found out that the ending in the novel was alot more exciting compared to what we got on screen. Their was a suppose to be a big battle between two main characters that was just completely left out of the film.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe returns to play the title character of the series, Harry Potter. I thought his performance was good, but it definitely felt weaker compared to the previous two films. Their were a few times where I didn't care much about his character because of how flat his emotions were. Rupert Grint also returns to play as Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. I thought Grint made his character alot more lovable this time around when compared to the previous films. He has always been the funny one and that statement still stands in this film. He seems to be the only one in the cast that actually looks like hes having a fun time. Emma Watson returns as the lovely, but jealous, Hermione Granger. Watson is probably one of the few that has impressed me in everyone of the films. Her character is just alot more fun and interesting to see on screen. Even if shes playing the jealous high school student, she does a damn good job at it. Tom Felton plays as the dark, yet troubled Draco Malfoy. He gives a great performance that I felt was just fantastic especially for a character that hasn't had much screen time since the first film. I guess this is what you get when you don't talk much for five films. Alan Rickman returns to play as Severus Snape and he delivers in spades. He easily steals every scene hes in and is just flat out amazing on screen. I always felt Snape/Rickman was another character that never really got much screen time even though he should have considering the major role he has played in the Harry Potter universe.

Picture:
The Special effects in the Half-Blood Prince easily dazzles. The CGI effects have certainly come along way since the first film and one of the finest I have seen recently. The cinematography is done by Bruno Delbonnel (Infamous, Across the Universe) and its very impressive. Its makes for an impressive visual art when mixed in with the fantastic special effects. The films source is also in excellent condition and I didn't notice any grain. The image looked smooth the whole time with no artifacts or micro-blocking. Colors were alot muted this time compared to the Order of the Phoenix. I'm sure this is suppose to make the film seem much more darker in tone, but definitely left me wanting more color in the image. Black levels were impressive and easily the best I have seen yet. Darker scenes didn't seem to lose any detail. Flesh tones were pretty much perfect and you can tell who is who. Detail was pretty much flawless and the film looked impressive from a technical stand point. Close up shots revealed a good amount of pores and wrinkles. I'm curious to see how much more better the Blu Ray will look once it ships later this year.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Half-Blood Prince is just as impressive as the special effects. The films music is composed by Nicholas Hooper who also scored the previous film, the Order of the Phoenix. I raved about how awesome the soundtrack in the Order of the Phoenix was. I think Hooper is a wonderful replacement especially since John Williams left the series. Hooper brings a good amount of sound that's very magical, but also something to get you excited for. Its a shame this is going to be his last time scoring for the Harry Potter films since he currently Isn't doing the music for the Deathly Hallows. Here's hoping John Williams makes his triumph return to score it. The bass in the Half-Blood Prince is simply extraordinary. As with the previous installments in the series, the bass has always delivered. This film is no exception. Its aggressive, powerful and flat out wonderful. Even though this is mostly a dialogue driven film, the theater was rocking hard. This is going to be pure reference material once it hits Blu Ray.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is another great installment in the popular wizard franchise. While the story isn't necessarily as strong as some of the previous films, its still very good. I think the films run time ultimately feels alittle stretched out and the ending feels like a missed opportunity when compared to how the novel ended. I was happy to see the film still retained its witty humor and charming sense of personality. It also helps that Quidditch makes a solid return to the film series and looks amazing. The cast was great with most of them delivering solid performances. I was very impressed by Tom Felton's performance and Alan Rickman easily steals every scene hes in. The special effects are top notch and the animation is truly one of the best I have seen. The soundtrack is just as excellent as the special effects. Composer Nicholas Hooper injects enough magical melodies and beats to create exciting pieces of music. The Half-Blood Prince makes for a very solid summer release. It certainly isn't a perfect film, but easily better than most of the stuff we have in theaters. I recommend this to those looking for a fun film and to those avid Potter fans, but we warned that theirs definitely some changes to the film compared to the novel.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Year: 2007
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG-13

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell, turned down the offer to direct this film. After some digging around, Warner Bros. finally settled on director David Yates. Steve Kloves, the screenwriter of the first four Harry Potter films, had other commitments which resulted in Michael Goldenberg writing the script for this film. In February, Helen McCrory was cast as Bellatrix Lestrange, but ended up giving the part to Helena Bonham Carter because McCrory was was three months pregnant.

Plot Outline:
After returning to Hogwarts to begin his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers that much of the wizarding world, including the Ministry of Magic, is in denial about Lord Voldemort's return. The Order of the Phoenix, a group sworn against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), is using its vast array of wizards and witches magical abilities to combat Voldemort. Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy), Minister for Magic, suspects that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is using these claims of The Dark Lord's return as a means to over-throw Fudge as Minister. In retaliation, a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is appointed by the Ministry in order to keep an eye on Hogwarts. This new teacher, Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), implies strict new teachings and rules, forcing a group of students, under the tutelage of Harry, to form a club, by the name of Dumbledore's Army.

Plot:
Just like with the Goblet of Fire, the Order of the Phoenix is another Harry Potter book I never got a chance to read. I read online that this movie stays somewhat faithful to the book, but definitely has alot of changes. The producers were given the chance to do almost whatever they wanted to do with this film because author J. K. Rowling just wanted to see a good movie. The story in the Order of the Phoenix isn't as exciting and grand as the ones were for the previous films. Its still good, but ultimately feels like its missing that special magical touch the 4 films before it, had. The film is also heavily dialogue driven with hardly any action scenes. I appreciate that the film has a ton of character development which is mostly credited to director David Yates's style of filming, but without much action going on, it can tend to get alittle tedious. I'm loving the fact that the characters are maturing nicely because the performances are getting alot better in the process. Scene transitions are boring and un-interesting when compared especially to the Prisoner of Azkaban. I like the quick edits and Voldemort references that director David Yates implants because it really adds to the creepy vibe the movie tends to unleash here and their. The special effects are top notch, but whats the point when the atmosphere isn't as creepy or fulfilling as was the film before it. The ending was pretty cool and mostly satisfying.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe returns once more as Harry Potter and delivers another solid performance. Radcliffe is becoming more of a fine actor with each passing film. He exhibits a good range of emotions that's really interesting to see. His character seems to be getting paranoid and always appears in constant fear, which Radcliffe nicely shows. Rupert Grint also returns as Ron Weasley and delivers a solid performance. Hes still the only guy mostly delivering the jokes to break away the tension, but it seems with each new film, that's becoming less and less of an important factor. Many of his exciting scenes were mostly cut to make run for the films run time. Its a shame really since in the book, he had a ton of scenes. Emma Watson is the third person to return to her character of Hermione Granger. Watson is just as beautiful as she was in the previous films, but she hardly gets enough screen time. Her character is very much their, but feels more like a distant cousin rather than a strong family member. Ralph Fiennes returns as the dark lord, Voldemort. Hes just as creepy and sadistic as he was in the previous film. I really think Fiennes was born to play this role because hes just so damn good in it. His role still feels limited in terms of scope, but at least we finally got to see him use some of his dark powers.

Picture:
The special effects are easily the best one yet. While the film doesn't contain much action when compared to the previous films, what is their looks mighty damn impressive. The CGI is alot more focused and fluid. The end sequence was plain awesome and worth the wait. Transfer wise, the Order of the Phoenix is simply flawless. The films source is an excellent condition and I notice no film grain. The image was buttery smooth and free of artifacts. Colors still had that muted look to them, but was alot more vibrant than the Goblet of Fire. Black levels are inky and very strong. You don't lose any picture quality even in the darkest scenes. Flesh tones are spot on perfect and natural the way it was meant to be. Detail is simply outstanding and the film is easily the best looking one I've seen yet. Close up shots show an impressive amount of detail and clarity in the image. You can literally see the pores on the actor's faces. Ever little thing also tends to stand out more. The Order of the Phoenix definitely has one of the best transfers I have seen yet.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Order of the Phoenix kicks it out of the ball park. Composer John Williams who scored the first three Harry Potter films and composer Patrick Doyle who scored the fourth movie, both opted not to return. Instead, we have Nicholas Hooper scoring this film. While I thought the soundtrack for the fourth film was disappointing and I would have loved for John Williams to return, the music we get here is fine on its own merit. Hooper does a dam good job of keeping the music very exciting and blends it well with the films story. We still get the traditional Harry Potter theme, but it isn't used enough. Bass is spectacular and easily one of the best I have heard. Even though the film is mostly dialogue driven, we still get some action scenes and these sound simply amazing. The bass is alot more dynamic and is hardly focused on the center. Rear channels get alot of action and the music definitely makes for pure reference material.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn't quite deliver like the previous films, but its still a very good movie with an engrossing story. Theirs tons of character development and the story is alot more interesting. Even though the film is mostly dialogue driven, it still has its share of fun action scenes which look pretty incredible. The cast is great with the main stars returning once more to give out enjoyable performances. The special effects are top notch and the best the series has ever produced. The transfer of the disc is simply flawless and looks phenomenal. The soundtrack is also another one I really really liked. I thought the previous film had a weak soundtrack when compared to the previous 3 films, but this film definitely brings the series back on top at least in terms of music. I cant say I loved the Order of the Phoenix, but id be pretty childish to not admit that its a finely crafted film. Its definitely a slower pace film in terms of action, but its still engrossing and moves the story forward.

Grade: B-

Monday, July 13, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Year: 2005
Directed: Mike Newell
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG-13

During post-production for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, director Alfonso Cuarón was offered the chance to direct the fourth film in the popular wizard series, the Goblet of Fire. Knowing that if he accepted the role, he would have to stop overseeing finishing touches on the Prisoner of Azkaban and instead start production on the Goblet of Fire, he respectfully declined. British director Mike Newell signed on board to direct and with the convincing of Alfonso Cuarón, he talked Warner Bros. into keeping the film to one film instead of going with two feature films. Actor Ralph Fiennes was cast as Lord Voldemort with veteran actor Brendan Gleeson cast as Alastor 'Mad-­Eye' Moody. The Goblet of Fire was also the first Harry Potter film to be hit with a PG-13 rating as opposed to the PG rating of the previous three films.

Plot Outline:
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns for his fourth year with Hogwarts being host to 'The Tri-wizard Tournament', a magical tournament between three well-known schools of magic: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. The contestants have to be above the age of 17, and are chosen by a magical object called Goblet of Fire. On the night of selection, however, the Goblet spews out four names instead of the usual three, with Harry unwittingly being selected as the Fourth Champion. Since the magic cannot be reversed, Harry is forced to go with it and brave three exceedingly difficult tasks.

Plot:
I personally haven't read the future novels after the third book. I seemed to have moved on and forgotten it. Still, I was able to look around on some sites and most of them reported that the film stays somewhat faithful to the novel. Their are the obvious changes/alterations that we have come to expect, but the main concept is still their. With the Goblet of Fire getting a new director, you can definitely notice how different this film is compared to the one before it. Newcomer to the Harry Potter universe, director Mike Newell sure does bring alot of detail into this fourth chapter in the J. K. Rowling franchise. The story has an interesting plot that's definitely going to lead to some important battles in the later books. Voldemort finally makes an appearance in full form played by Ralph Fiennes, but hes mostly being set up for a bigger role in the next few films. We also get introduced to new characters that are somewhat exciting and somewhat annoying at times. The Goblet of Fire still maintains the humor and spirit of the previous film. You can tell this feels like a PG-13 movie and not some movie just slapped with that rating. The problem with this film compared to the last one is simply the case of the films pacing. Their were times where I felt the scene transitions weren't as smooth and exciting as they were in the Prisoner of Azkaban. Its really nice to see that the cast is getting more mature and delivering emotional performances. Director Mike Newell gives us plenty of character development which results in a more heavy use of dialogue to pass time. We do get some exhilarating scenes which involves The Tri-wizard Tournament. The films direction also feels week in spots compared to the last one with Hogwarts hardly feeling magical at all.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe reprises the role that has launched him into super stardom, Harry Potter. The films are getting darker and alittle scarier. Luckily Racliffe can see what they want from him and delivers on all front. His Harry character has tremendously grown since the first film. He gives a good performance that seems to be getting better and better with each new film. Rupert Grint returns as Harry's funny red haired friend, Ron Weasley. The character of Ron has also grown since the first film. He has a more slightly bigger role in this film than the previous ones. Its also nice to see him struggle his relationship with Harry as it brings more funny tension to the big screen. Emma Watson returns as the lovely, sweet looking Hermione Granger. Watson's character is also growing up and the film makes it look like shes going to end up with Harry. She doesn't have a big role like she did with the last one, but she still has a good amount of screen time. She also tends to be slipping away from being that smart mouth into a more mature lady. The talented Ralph Fiennes plays as Lord Voldemort. Even though he appears during the end of the movie, Fiennes still delivers a villainous performance that's just as creepy and scary as we have all come to expect from his character. His role here is most likely limited due to a bigger appearance in the later films.

Picture:
The special effects in the Goblet of Fire are just a strong and nicely animated like they were in the last film, the Prisoner of Azkaban. While the effects are impressive in this film, I think I still preferred the effects in the last film because director Alfonso Cuarón blended the effects with is dark vision for the third film. Not to mention that the atmosphere was alot more vivid and alive in the third film compared to this one. Transfer wise, this is an excellent disc. The films source is an great condition and I didn't notice any film grain. Colors are somewhat dark and slightly muted. This is hardly a vibrant and vivid looking film. Everything seems dark and cloudy probably due to the darker storyline. Black levels are quite strong and still hold up well to this day. Flesh tones are spot on perfect and I didn't notice any micro-blocking or any scratches. Detail is greatly improved and the film can tend to look stunning at times. Close ups show alot more detail and clarity this time around. The environments and the type of clothing are really the ones that tend to stand out more.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Goblet of Fire is somewhat of a mixed bag. Believe this is a good soundtrack, but it easily fails in comparison to the last film or even the first two films in the series. Composer John Williams, who composed music for the first three films, couldn't find it in his busy schedule to compose the music for this film and believe me, it shows. Theirs hardly any moments in the film where the music makes you feel like your really their. The Harry Potter theme isn't used enough and when it is, it isn't for much long. The soundtrack isn't bad by all means, but it just doesn't deliver the immersive and exciting experience the previous ones did. The bass is hardly anything to complain about. Just like the previous films in the series, the bass in the Goblet of Fire is nothing short of amazing. Even though the film is mostly dialogue driven, theirs still a good amount of action scenes here and their. The bass is alot more dynamic this time and feels more spread out. The dragon sequence sounds loud and pretty clear in terms of noise. This is reference material and another title to sit a top your collection of bang up movies.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is another great instalment in this popular franchise created by author J. K. Rowling. While its story isn't quite as exciting and narrative driven like the Prisoner of Azkaban, it still very interesting. My only grip is the films somewhat off pacing. The story also seems to be moving into a darker conclusion with the start of this film. Theirs plenty of character development so we never tend to lose any interest in the three main characters. The cast is great with many of them delivering a more emotional and strong performance. The special effects are wonderful and The Tri-wizard Tournament is easily the star of the show. The soundtrack although good, seems to be lacking the energy and excitement of the previous films. Bass is nothing short of amazing, but this was expected. I still think the last film, the Prisoner of Azkaban was slightly better than this. I still recommend this to Harry Potter fans simply because its still a great film despite its slight problems.

Grade: B

Sunday, July 12, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Year: 2004
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the first film the series that took longer than the normal year it required to make it. This one took 18 months and that was because producer David Heyman explained that they wanted each film to have enough time with its production, and not seem so rushed. Director Chris Columbus who helmed the first two film in the series, opted not to direct the third film because he hadn't seen his kids in almost 2 years. Columbus instead chose to serve as producer and the search for a new director began. Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) and Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace) both turned it down because they were busy with other projects. Alfonso Cuarón was the final choice because he impressed author J. K. Rowling who loved his last film, Y tu mamá también. Since the late Richard Harris was no longer with us, a search for the role of Albus Dumbledore began. Ian McKellen was offered the part, but turned it down stating his character was too similar to that of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was finally decided when director Cuarón chose Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore.

Plot Outline:
Approaching his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has had enough of his muggle relatives. He runs away after using magic to blow Uncle Vernon's sister Marge (Pam Ferris) who was being offensive towards Harry's parents. Initially scared for using magic outside the school, he is pleasantly surprised that he won't be penalized after all. However, he soon learns that a dangerous criminal and Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the Azkaban prison and wants to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. To worsen the conditions for Harry, vile shape-shifters called Dementors are appointed to guard the school gates and inexplicably happen to have the most horrible effect on him. Little does Harry know that by the end of this year, many holes in his past will be filled up and he will have a clearer vision of what the future has in store for him.

Plot:
The third Harry Potter book has always been my favorite because its the only one in the series that I read more than three times. Whats surprising is that the film also happens to be my favorite and that's solely because of director Alfonso Cuarón's vision for this movie. The way he shoots the film in wide scope so you can see more of the background or the way the scenes transition, are all wonderful and simply refreshing. Hell, even the end credits are fun to watch and worth waiting till the very end for. I'm not a Chris Columbus hater because I have good respect for him bringing this series to the big screen and I even praised the second film, the Chamber of Secrets. While I think Columbus did a good job of staying pretty close to the source, Alfonso Cuarón does quite the opposite. The film maintains the key elements of the book, but definitely changes things around. Theirs more alteration and changes here than their was in the first two films. As a big fan of the novel, I find these changes to be kind of irritating. Still, the film is a visual delight and feels very different from the first two. The art direction is amazing and the atmosphere has never looked this vivid. The story is engrossing and feels like a mystery trying to unfold. The acting is better and it definitely helps the film in the long run. Theirs more character development and also more screen time from people other than Harry. The film does tend to slow down a bit during the middle half, but its hardly something that's going to bore you. Who would have thought a change in directors would result in a better sequel? Not only is the Prisoner of Azkaban better than the previous two films, but its change in tone, atmosphere, direction and etc. is exactly what the series needed.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe returns once more as the boy wizard, Harry Potter. Radcliffe is definitely starting to change into a good actor and its very noticeable in this film. His performance is great and very enjoyable to watch. He knows what makes Harry tick and knows where to take this character in the next few films. Rupert Grint also returns once more as Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. Grint is also starting to become a pretty good actor. He still delivers the funny lines here and their, but since its a darker storyline, theirs only a few. This is also the first movie in the series where you can slowly start to see Hermione's affection for Ron. Emma Watson reprises the lovely role of smart mouth, Hermione Granger. Hermione is just as fun and charismatic as Harry. I really enjoyed her performance in this film and it easily outshines the ones in the previous films. Her character gets alot more screen time and its just a warm welcome to finally see it happen. Tom Felton plays as Draco Malfoy and his character is just as sinister as he was in the previous films. His character is still playing the side bench role and isn't really a key focus in this film. The fact that he gets punched by Hermione, is always a plus in my book. Michael Gambon replaces the late Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore. I always saw Dumbledore as Richard Harris and I think he really played that role good. Gambon does an alright job, but just fails in comparison. I did appreciate that Gambom chose to do his own version of Dumbledore rather than imitate Harris.

Picture:
The special effects in the Prisoner of Azkaban is truly a sight to behold. Not because their better than the previous films, but the way its actually used. The film has this magical atmosphere with everything looking and feeling very real, and out of this world. Its still a dark film, but the way the effects are used on its environments, really makes for some pretty cool looking vistas. The CGI is also alot more smoother with fluid animation. The films source is an excellent condition and I hardly noticed any film grain. The image is silky smooth and free of artifacts. Colors are somewhat split and vary from scene to scene. The film generally has this overcast look to it, but theirs also quite a few scenes that feature vibrant colors such as the scenes that involve the Whomping Willow. Black levels are strong and never seem to drop in quality even during some of the darker scenes. Flesh tones are natural, but alittle pale looking. Detail is remarkably strong and improved over the previous films. Close up shots show alot more clarity and detail in the image. The film has never looked this great and it still holds up to this day.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Prisoner of Azkaban is also a step up from its predecessors. Legendary composer, John Williams returns once again to score this film. His Academy Award nominated Harry Potter theme is still here and sound better than ever. Whats really impressive is that he conducted more music for this film than before. He did some more orchestral work and you can definitely notice it during the film. Its so wonderful to listen to and really brings this film on top. I cant think of one bad thing to say about this soundtrack. Trust me, its that good. The bass is as epic and smashing as the previous films. Its alot more spread out this time and it never fails to amaze me. Theirs plenty of action scenes to showcase the strength of this bass. It seems like with every new Harry Potter film, the bass just gets more and more aggressive. This is pure reference material and definitely something to show of your home entertainment system.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is not only my favorite film/book in the series, but its also the one that's the most different. The film is beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuarón who in my opinion, should have at least returned for one more film. His take on the novel isn't quite as faithful as the previous two films were, but his attention to detail and atmosphere is simply incredible. The story is very interesting as it unfolds and very nicely edited. The cast is great and its really nice to see more screen time for someone else other than Harry, even though its mostly Harry's story. The special effects are wonderful and amazingly blended with the films environment. Their are many breath-taking scenes. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal and definitely the better one in the series. Not only do we get the famous Potter theme song, but also a host of other orchestral music. Not all of the fans are going to let go of some of the changes in the film with me being one of them. However, I still think the film is great because it proves you can still made a good Harry Potter film without staying too closely to the source. The fact that the end credits is fun to watch on its own compared to any of the films, just goes to show you how different and special this film really is.

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 11, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Year: 2002
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Richard Harris
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

Filming for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets started only three days after the release of the Sorcerer's Stone. Apparently, Warner Bros. knew the series was going to be big and green lit a sequel during post production for the first film. Chris Columbus who helmed the first film, agreed to return for the sequel with most of the other cast members already contracted to return. Actor Hugh Grant was first attached to star as Gilderoy Lockhart, but had to drop out due to his busy schedule. He was replaced by Kenneth Branagh on October 2001. Actor Richard Harris, who portrayed Albus Dumbledore in this film and the first film, died 2 weeks before the release of this film.

Plot Outline:
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in his second year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is visited by a house-elf named Dobby and warned not to go back to Hogwarts. Harry ignores his warning, and returns. He is still famous, although still disliked by Snape (Alan Rickman), Malfoy (Tom Felton), and the rest of the Slytherins. But then, strange things start to happen. People are becoming petrified, and no-one knows what is doing it. Harry keeps hearing a voice.. a voice which seems to be coming from within the walls. They are told the story of the Chamber of Secrets. It is said that only Salazar Slytherin's true descendant will be able to open it. Harry, it turns out, is a Parsel-tongue. This means that he is able to speak/understand snakes. Everyone thinks that it's him that has opened the Chamber of Secrets because that is what Slytherin was famous for.

Plot:
The film is based on the second book titled "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" by author J. K. Rowling. Just like the first film, this film stays pretty faithful to the novel and like the first film, it also changes some things around. The Chamber of Secrets easily feels like a worthy sequel and in many ways, it is. It seems like director Chris Columbus was finally able to give us his "true" version for what was his last outing as director of this series. I always believed that the first one felt more constrained and this was mostly due to the fact that it was the first film, and probably the hardest one to fully adapt onto the big screen. Since the main characters were already established, it definitely feels like he put some of his creative skills onto the screen. The Chamber of Secrets still retains the humor and charm that made the first one so great, while going a step deeper into the darker parts of the Harry Potter universe. Even with the darker approach, the Chamber of Secrets still remains as entertaining and fun as the first film. The story is told in a more film nor type style which is really effective and engrossing. The film also runs about 10 Min's longer than the Sorcerer's Stone and at times, it tends to feel a bit long. The action scenes are more spread out this time compared to the first film, but the second half still feels superior to the first half. The special effects are much more polished this time around and the set pieces still continue to amaze me.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe returns as the boy wizard, Harry Potter. The cast definitely feels like their at home this time around especially Radcliffe. Radcliffe is much more centered and focused compared to his first outing in the Sorcerer's Stone. I enjoyed him more in this film and hes definitely starting to grow on me with his acting. Rupert Grint also returns as Harry's red haired friend, Ron Weasley. Grint is just as amusing as he was in the last film, but his jokes are more limited this time around. Hes still fun to watch, but just not as enjoyable as he was in the last film. Emma Watson is another one who returns to her role as Hermione Granger. Just like the previous cast members, her acting also feels alot more stronger this time around. She still remains as the smart one in the group and I still enjoy her wonderful smile. We also have Tom Felton returning as Draco Malfoy. For some reason, I felt less satisfied with Felton's performance this time compared to the first film. He still remains as Harry's bitter rival, but I just don't believe the anger hes supposedly expressing. The late Richard Harris returns once more as Albus Dumbledore, in what was his last film before his unfortunate death. Even though Michael Gambon gives a good performance as Dumbledore in the later films, I always felt Harris was the better one. Hes just more fitting for the part and Ill truly miss his version of Dumbledore.

Picture:
The special effects in the Chamber of Secrets is a step up from the Sorcerer's Stone. Even though the film is only a year apart from the first film, the effects look more polished this time around. The CGI animation looks more fluid and the Quidditch scene actually looks less fake. While the special effects are better than the first film, they still don't hold a candle to some of the stuff out in theaters like Transformers 2. The films source is an good condition and theirs less grain here compared to the first film. The image remains mostly smooth for the most part, but does get alittle flat during the spider encounter scene. Colors also seem more muted this time mostly due to the darker change in the atmosphere. Hardly any scene is bursting with vibrant colors and everything seems more darkly lit. Black levels are strong and inky. The darker scenes don't suffer too much in terms of shadows and drop in detail. Flesh tones are warm and spot on perfect. You can easily make out everyone in the film. Detail is also better and more clear. Close up shots show more sweat and pores. The Chamber of Secrets is hardly the most detailed film I have seen, but it still looks great and is an improvement over the first film.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Chamber of Secrets is just as beautiful and fun to listen to as the one in the Sorcerer's Stone. John Williams returns once again to compose the music for the film. William Ross, another talented composer was lucky enough to help finish John's score since he was unable to finish it due to his busy schedule. I really didn't notice a difference and most people probably wont either. That same great Harry Potter theme is back and still manages to stick to your head. The bass in the Chamber of Secrets is also a winner. The sequel is definitely alot more action packed and the bass doesn't disappoint. Its more spread out this time , but still remains mostly front centered for some reason. The dialogue is clean and clear. While I still wouldn't call the Chamber of Secrets pure reference material, it still sounds wonderful and is definitely going to sound good on your home entertainment system.

Conclusion:
Even though the Prisoner of Azkaban remains as my favorite book in the series, the Chamber of Secrets comes in at a close second. I enjoyed this movie alot more than I did the first film simply because it felt like a worthy successor. The story is more engrossing and the characters are well developed. Everything seems to be heading in the right direction and the sequel definitely feels like the film the director wanted to make with the first film. The cast is great and most of the previous members from the first film are back. I also enjoyed the acting more this time than with the first film. The special effects are much more polished and look more fluid. The soundtrack is still a winner and still very wonderful to listen to. The bass delivers on most fronts and the second half sounds pretty awesome. I can recommend this to those looking for a good Friday night popcorn movie. Its better than the Sorcerer's Stone and feels like a step in the right direction.

Grade: B-

Friday, July 10, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Year: 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Richard Harris
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

In 1997, producer David Heyman looked almost everywhere for a children's book that he thought could be adapted into a successful film. After his plans for a film adaptation of "The Ogre Downstairs" fell apart, some of his staff members suggested Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Heyman pitched it to Warner Bros. and that same year, author J. K. Rowling sold the company rights for the first four books for nearly $2 million. Rowling demanded that the principal cast be kept strictly British. Steven Spielberg was attached to direct and wanted to make the film into an animated feature, but later dropped out to film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The studio began talking with many directors with Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland) being the final two choices. Rowling wanted Gilliam, but the studio went with Columbus because he has already made family films before. Writer Steve Kloves was brought on board to write the screenplay with Rowling getting creative control over the script.

Plot Outline:
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an average 11 year old boy who has lived with the Dursley family ever since his parents died in a car crash. For some reason the family has always mistreated him. On his 11th birthday a giant man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) hands him a letter telling him that he has been accepted as a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that his parents were wizards and were killed by an evil wizard Voldemort, a truth that was hidden from him all these years. He embarks for his new life as a student, gathering two good friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) along the way. They soon learn that something very valuable is hidden somewhere inside the school and Voldemort is very anxious to lay his hands on it.

Plot:
The film is based on the novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by author J. K. Rowling. The story is pretty faithful to the novel in terms of key parts, but it does have a few alterations. I actually read the first three books back in 5th grade and I still enjoyed the movie even with the small changes. While the book the film was based on was simply great, the movie doesn't feel quite the same. I think mainly its because of the cast. While I think the cast is perfect for the characters they had to play, they just seem to be lacking the charisma and excitement that I was expecting from them. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on this considering this is the first Harry Potter film and also the biggest film for most of the cast, but its just something that tends to come up when I'm watching the film. The story also feels like its moving at a slow pace especially for a family/adventure film. The first half can tend to get somewhat tedious with the second half being much more action oriented. Still, the film maintains its entertainment values and builds upon its characters with alot of development. We soon begin to cheer and root for Harry and his friends. The atmosphere and costume designs are simply wonderful. Seeing parts of the novel come to life for the very first time, is like a childhood dream coming true. While the Sorcerer's Stone might be the weakest one out of the films, it still does a good job of establishing its characters and settings.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe plays as the wizard who lived, Harry Potter. Radcliffe auditioned for the part after director Chris Columbus saw him in the David Copperfield BBC adaptation. Rowling approved of Radcliffe's casting, stating that "having seen his screen test I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry." I too think Radcliffe was a great choice and hes enjoyable in this film. Its just too bad you don't see him giving an emotional performance until the third or fourth movie. Rupert Grint plays as Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. Grint was lucky enough to get the part after sending the producers an audition tape of him rapping, yes rapping. I also think Grint was an excellent casting choice because he seems to be the only one cracking small jokes here and their to break the tension. Emma Watson plays as Harry's other friend that happens to be a girl, Hermione Granger. Granger auditioned for the part after her theater teacher recommended her to casting agents. Granger makes for another perfect casting call and I enjoyed the smart-ness she brought to her character. Tom Felton plays as Harry's confident rival, Draco Malfoy. Felton actually seems to be the only one that's really having fun with his role and it translates to the screen nicely.

Picture:
The visual look of the Sorcerer's Stone is pretty great. The special effects aren't bad for a film that came out in 2001. While the CGI animation does look a bit clunky especially during the scene where the students are trying to learn how to fly on their brooms, it still manages to work seamlessly. The films source is in good condition, but their is a thin layer of grain present through out the film. Being the first and oldest of the films, this shouldn't come off as a surprise. I also didn't notice any micro-blocking or scratches on the image which seemed pretty smooth through out the two and a half hour run time. Colors seem nicely saturated and do pop occasionally. I was actually expecting it to be much more vibrant especially during the scene in Diagon Alley, but it isn't. Black levels are strong considering the films 8 year age difference, but its definitely not the best I have seen. Flesh tones are pretty great and have that warm feeling to them. Skin tones also look natural and not tampered with. Detail is very good for an 8 year old film, but its definitely the weakest in the series. Close ups show a good amount of detail and the environments never fail impress. This is the best the film is ever going to look.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Sorcerer's Stone is simply fantastic. Just about everyone of the Harry Potter films tend to have some really amazing music and its no different here. The films original music is composed by John Williams who has scored other great films such as Star Wars and Jurassic Park. His score for this film is fantastic and really mesmerizing. It goes up their with the Star Wars theme as another classic score. It fits the Harry Potter universe very nicely and is just catchy to listen to. The Sorcerer's Stone also happens to have a very good amount of bass. While the film is mostly dialogue driven considering its the first in the series, it still has some awesome scenes such as the Quidditch scene. The bass isn't as loud and crystal clear as Transformers 2, but its still pretty good. Its mostly front centered, but also makes some use of the other open channels. While I wouldn't call it reference material, the Sorcerer's Stone still sounds damn good.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an entertaining film that's very much suitable for just about anyone. The film stays pretty faithful to the novel except for a few changes. I enjoyed the amount of character development and detail that was present in the film. I thought the cast was pretty much perfect, but definitely seemed to lack charisma. The special effects are pretty good for an 8 year old film, but some of the animation can tend to look ugly upon closer viewing. The soundtrack is pretty brilliant and John Williams delivers another classic score that's going to be remembered for years to come. While I cant say I loved the Sorcerer's Stone, I still enjoyed it and thought it was a pretty good film. Its definitely the weakest in the series in terms of actual plot and memorable fight scenes, but this was expected considering that we have to start somewhere right. I can definitely recommend this film to those looking for a fun family film.

Grade: C+