[Harry Potter Day] Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

161 mins. Rated PG.

 

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, I present to you tonight my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second film in the Wizarding World franchise.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man, Jungle) is not having a very good summer. He hasn’t received letters from any of his new Hogwarts friends like Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, Moonwalkers, TV’s Snatch) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and the Beast). When he comes across a house-elf named Dobby in his bedroom with a warning, things get a whole lot worse. It seems that Harry Potter is in grave danger as he returns to Hogwarts for a second year. Stories of a Chamber of Secrets and an Heir to Slytherin returning to kill wizards with non-magical parents flitter through the school, and the addition of new Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn, Dunkirk), a wizard with an elaborate background of adventures and near-death, Harry finds that he will need his friends more than ever.

Director Chris Columbus (Pixels, Percy Jackson& The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) returns to helm this sequel, and it’s without question the most bloated film in the franchise. Columbus keeps things a bit too light and fluffy even with his decision to aim for a darker tone this time around. There’s the sense that Warner Bros. does not have a clear and concise direction as only part of the book series had been published up until this point. To have the shortest novel in the series be the lengthiest film is quite a feat, and the film slogs a bit throughout.

Kenneth Branagh plays Gilderoy Lockhart perfect, just as I had envisioned him while reading the books. Other new additions in the film include Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery) as Lucius Malfoy, father to Harry’s rival Draco, and Toby Jones as Dobby. Both performances are spot-on with the tone of the series and make for two characters that I wanted to see return as quickly as possible. Isaacs plays Malfoy with a clean-cut sliminess and Jones rides the line between annoying and goofy with Dobby, never straying too far to either side (there’s a rumor that Russian President Vladamir Putin disliked Dobby as he thought it was a caricature of him).

Overall, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets furthers the mythos with an ending that is incredible, exhilarating, and worth the wait. It is likely the least impressive film in the entire Wizarding World franchise, though, and it could’ve been better with a more-skilled director at the helm. Columbus is better suited to a storyteller and writer than he is behind a camera. The film should entertain fans and steers more to younger audiences than the sequels do, but it’s not technically a bad film. Just a little bit much.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Home Alone, click here.

 

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[Happy 10th Birthday!] Sin City (2005)

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Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood

Screenplay: Frank Miller

124 mins. Rated R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity, and sexual content including dialogue.

 

It’s pretty insane that no one decided to completely adapt a graphic novel until 2005, when co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez released Sin City, an adaptation of the series of the same name.

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Sin City tells three main stories. In “The Hard Goodbye”, we meet Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Immortals), a beast of a man who has just enjoyed the best night of his life due to a beautiful blonde named Goldie. When he wakes up, she’s not breathing and he’s out for vengeance. In “The Big Fat Kill”, Dwight (Clive Owen, TV’s The Knick, Children of Men) is out to stop the dangerous drunk Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) and his friends who are on a bender in old town, where the women are in charge and the cops stay out of the way. In “That Yellow Bastard”, police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Vice) has been paying for a crime he didn’t commit for far too long, but he has just one last mission: to protect Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four, Stretch) from the vicious hands of a murdering, raping psychopath.

The look of this film is one-of-a-kind (or was, it has since been reproduced in several other stylized films), filmed practically frame-for-frame from the source material. For a film mostly on green screen, the film just oozes noir. Rodriguez took some extreme risks to get the film he wanted, including creating a scene on his dime to prove that it could be done. He even brought Frank Miller in as a co-director along with colleague and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino as a special guest director (he helped with the score to Kill Bill in exchange).

The performances are exactly where they need to be. They are gritty and goofy with a slight hint of madness, exactly what this film needed. The whole movie just works when it really shouldn’t, and it is that accidental (or genius) combination that makes this movie just perfect.

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Sin City is a film that is exactly what it needs to be, and it has survived and only looked better in the ten years since its release. The performances and visual beauty of the film could not have existed so flawlessly under a lesser director, but Robert Rodriguez had a vision, one that he shared with original creator Frank Miller, and it shines through here.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Inherent Vice (2014)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

148 mins. Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) is known for making strange movies. That isn’t a bad thing. His films always feel like a director throwing paint on the wall and turning it into a work of art. Oftentimes, he dazzles with flair and style, which complements the acid trip well.

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Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator, Her) as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, Michael Clayton, Being Flynn). This journey takes him through a series of strange encounters with people like Lieutenant Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, W., Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, No Escape), and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short, Frankenweenie, The Wind Rises). Doc, an out of place hippie in the evolving 1970s, must make his way through the web of convolution and find out the truth involving several missing persons and a few Nazis to boot in this adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel.

Joaquin Phoenix dominates here as Doc Sportello, a role seemingly made for him. His chemistry or lack thereof, is pretty perfect with Brolin, Waterston, Short, and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Wild), who portrays Sportello’s occasional squeeze Penny, a Deputy D.A.

Brolin plays the hardass cop card so well that I love seeing him onscreen. He offers slight nuance as Bigfoot Bjornsen, a relatively unlikable but totally watchable antihero. Benicio del Toro (Snatch, Guardians of the Galaxy) also appears at Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney, and he is underseen and wonderful. And can I just say how awesome it is to have Martin Short on the big screen as Blatnoyd?

While the acting performances are top notch, the flaws with this film come from a much-too-convoluted plotline anchored by a screenplay more adaptation than actual screenplay. This tactic can and has worked in the past, but here it comes off as a story that belongs on the page. Anderson’s screenplay is missing the stylistic touches that would make it great.

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A lot of this film looks and sounds great, but that screenplay proves that it can kill a movie, and it winds up doing just that here. This movie is somewhat unwatchable and feels more like a director throwing a lot of paint at the wall and creating property damage. Sadly, I had hopes.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

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