Content warning for Coulrophobia (fear of clowns).
Welcome back to the Harry Potter Film Rewatch Project! This installment is certainly…a thing. Both book and film marked the beginning of a solid turning point for their branches of the franchise. For one thing, this was the first Harry Potter film to not be directed by Chris Columbus. While he stayed on as a producer, the director’s chair would instead be occupied by Alfonso Cuarón for his first and only contribution to the franchise (so far at least; maybe he’ll get pulled in for a Fantastic Beasts story). We’ll talk more about the changes Cuarón brought about as the recap goes on.
It also marked the arrival of the new Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon. Again, we’ll get into the effects of that as they come up. And now I will no longer be complaining about child actors in every piece, since everyone now looks more or less close to grown up, and are starting to show promise as actors. It’s the first time the students are shown just wearing casual muggle clothing when not in classes, a thing that I know upsets a lot of fans but doesn’t really bother me—sorry. And of course, there’s a rather drastic tonal shift too. Let’s get into this and see what happens!
We open on…Harry practicing magic. In the Dursley house. Using a spell invented solely for the film. I…uggghhh. I’m going to blame this one on Columbus. The film for Chamber of Secrets did not include the scene where Harry gets a warning for practicing magic outside of school. So I guess Cuarón figured it wouldn’t be necessary to hold to the ban now. This certainly makes the fifth movie and the reaction to casting his Patronus…interesting, though I guess given the larger context and what happens when Harry runs into Fudge, maybe Harry was given a free pass this summer?
Okay, so that’s the Watsonian excuse I’ll use, but I can guess the Doylist excuse too. Cuarón was not super interested in making a faithful adaptation. I don’t say that as conjecture or a guess. The man openly admitted that when he first got the job he hadn’t planned on reading any of the Harry Potter books at all until his friend and fellow film maker Guillermo del Toro told him that he had to. That is a…curious attitude to develop for someone directing an adaptation, but we won’t harp on him any further since that’s not truly the point of this project, so I’ll only bring up adaptational changes if they impact future films or cause plot holes within the current one.
After the title flashes, summoned by Harry’s spell presumably, we get the arrival of Aunt Marge, Vernon’s sister who actually was briefly mentioned in the first movie. They pretty quickly establish that she and Harry do not get along well at all, with Marge generally agreeing with and adopting her brother’s attitude towards Harry. Harry also attempts to get his uncle to sign a permission slip for school stuff, though the film glosses over what the slip is for. It’ll come up later, they just don’t do more than mention it’s existence for now. Aunt Marge is, well, a Dursley and as such a bit…completely and utterly awful. After going a bit too far insulting Harry’s parents (and introducing young children everywhere to the B word) Harry experiences a burst of accidental magic and blows up his aunt. Well, strictly speaking he inflates her, but everyone refers to it as him blowing her up which…I feel like that’s not exactly clarity of language, but okay. Harry, understandably worried about the consequences of his accidental actions, packs his suitcase and takes off. Uncle Vernon attempts to stop him, but a thoroughly fed up Harry just pulls his wand on him. Vernon responds with some fear, but also points out that if Harry uses magic he’ll be kicked out of school which…okay, I guess the issue of Harry practicing magic in bed late at night can’t just be blamed on Columbus…why draw attention to the plot hole you introduced like that? Or why keep in the intro scene, if you knew it was a problem?
Well, Harry runs off and finds himself sitting on the sidewalk outside a park where he sees a really large, scary looking black dog come out of the bushes to bark at him. Also…his breath is visible in this scene, an effect I’m pretty sure was added digitall,y but I concede I’m not certain when that scene in particular was filmed. The thing is, there are no Dementors around, and that dog can’t affect the weather so…how cold does Alfonso Cuarón think the British summer is? I mean, I know it’s not exactly warm but that’s a bit silly.
In the process of trying to fend off the dog Harry summons a magical purple bus, the Knight Bus, which he takes to the Leaky Cauldron. Here is where we see another invention of the film-talking: racist caricature shrunken heads. No, they’re not in the books, not even a little, and no, I don’t know why Cuarón thought creating them would be a good idea. They only appear in a couple scenes, so we won’t be mentioning them again, just…yeesh. There’s a good amount of slapstick shenanigans as we learn that magic allows the Knight Bus to drive like crazy and ignore physics and safety, so Harry gets tossed around the upper deck of the bus. He makes it to the Leaky Cauldron intact though, where he is greeted by the owner of the inn, Tom. In this movie Tom is a wizened, strange acting hunchback which…huh. Aside from changes to the book, we saw Tom briefly in the first movie, he was called by name and had a few lines, and he was nothing like this. So something drastic and traumatic happened to him during the intervening year I guess. Good for him not letting it keep him down or drive him into retirement.
The Minister of Magic happens to already be there, waiting for Harry. He tells Harry that Aunt Marge has already been deflated and her memory modified, so no harm done. Harry points out that he did magic outside of school which is against the law which…again, calls the very first scene of the movie into serious question! No, really, what the heck movie, why are you doing that? Stop pointing out that doing magic outside of Hogwarts when you’re a student is a serious offense when your movie started with a student doing magic outside of Hogwarts for no reason! It’s not even a Chekhov’s Gun; that spell he was practicing never comes up again! And fortunately for you readers, that’s the last time this comes up so I’m not going to talk about it again. I’m sure you’re all relieved by that.
Harry spends the night at the Leaky Cauldron (I’m curious to know if he paid or Fudge covered it—it’s never mentioned) and when we see him again he discovers a strange, tightly bound book on a bench in the room. It’s fuzzy and makes strange noises, so Harry undoes the binding only for the book to come alive and attempt to attack him, behaving like a snapping turtle and moving like a crab. He manages to eventually subdue it, but it takes a minute. Frankly, it reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin claims that his book ate his homework and he had to break its spine to survive.
Having survived this perilous encounter, Harry goes downstairs to the Leaky Cauldron proper, where he finds Ron and Hermione clutching their respective pets and arguing. Apparently Hermione got a cat at some point, a squashed face, fluffy orange thing named Crookshanks. When and where she got him isn’t really explained in the movie. More to the point, just about everything he contributes to the story of the book is left out, only making token appearances so they can say ‘look, we included the cat!’. We won’t be mentioning him again either, just wanted to acknowledge that they did indeed include the cat.
More importantly, Mr. Weasley takes Harry aside to warn him. He admits that people in the Ministry don’t want him to say what he’s about to say to Harry, but that he believes the kid has a right to know that, in the opinion of the Ministry, the crazed murderer Sirius Black has escaped from the Wizarding prison of Azkaban specifically for the purpose of finding and killing Harry. He tries to make Harry promise not to go looking for Black, which confuses Harry. He asks why he would go after someone that wants to kill him. Except…that’s kind of what he did in the last two movies. Admittedly, he got the identity of the culprit wrong in the first movie, but he still went after the Philosopher’s Stone believing that someone who had tried to kill him earlier that year was ahead of him. And in the second one, he knew that the Monster of the Chamber, and possibly the Heir, were down there when he went to save Ginny. He never goes specifically after the person themselves, but Harry and his friends do still tend to deliberately put themselves in the path of villains.
We flash cut to the departure of the Hogwarts Express, where Mrs. Weasley has to run after them to give Ron Scabbers. I wonder if that was the rat trying to escape or if Ron genuinely had a Neville moment? Either way this would have been a very different plot if Ron hadn’t brought Scabbers to school. They get on the train, in a compartment with only one other person, largely covered by their blankets, and Harry tells them what Mr. Weasley told him. Hermione is comforting, while Ron blunt and honest about his own concerns, but before anything else can be discussed the train stops. Ice begins to creep across the windows, and the train goes dark, and then, suddenly, a dark figure covered in black appears, a diseased and rotting looking hand forcing the locked door to open. It floats into view and proceeds to start sucking the…layers from Harry? His visibility? It’s not entirely clear in the form the film demonstrates.
Though to be fair, there isn’t really an easy way to demonstrate having the happiness sucked out of you in a live action drama. A cartoon or comedy could have little emoji smiles being sucked out of you but in a film meant to be taken seriously, it’s a little difficult. So how they decided to depict this mostly works.
I say “mostly” because this causes a conflict with the books. I know, I know, this is meant to be a series looking at the films on their own, but if a change causes problems in the movie itself, I’m going to bring it up! I didn’t rant about what they did to Crookshanks, so let me have this!
…Ahem. As I was saying, there’s a problem here. In the books, the Dementors just emit a general aura of depression and despair. They drain everyone around them, an Area of Effect spell if you will. They certainly are drawn to those who have more despair or trauma in them than others, but on the whole they don’t focus solely on one person with any one attack. This is why Harry and other students (Malfoy) interpret his tendency to lose consciousness around them as a personal weakness. Because to anyone with little to no knowledge of Dementors, it does look like Harry is having an unusually strong reaction to the exact same thing happening to everyone else. That’s why, in both the book and the movie, Lupin (yes, he’s here; don’t act like you don’t know who he is) has to forcefully tell Harry that his fainting is not about weakness, that he has more trauma in his past then most and thus is more susceptible than most.
The problem with this, is that because they made Dementor attacks visible, we can see that they are attacking Harry and only Harry every time. This means that nobody should have any reason to believe that Harry is weak, because we can all see them zeroing in on the poor boy!
Moving on from that bit of frustration that might just be me overthinking, Harry is saved when the figure under the blanket stands up and pulls his wand, repelling the Dementor with a nonverbal spell. Harry loses consciousness shortly after, but once he wakes up he is helped by a large piece of chocolate given to him by said figure, Remus Lupin. Again, his name hasn’t been given yet, but we all know who he is. Lupin leaves to go speak to the driver of the train, and Harry consults Ron and Hermione, learning that neither of them fainted and that neither heard the woman screaming like he did.
A quick transition gets them onto the carriages and then a second cut gets us to the Great Hall, while we hear the voices of Hogwarts’ choir and their giant toads, conducted by the newly make-overed Professor Flitwick. Not going to lie, it took me until the sixth movie to realize that this was Flitwick and not just another short professor, since he looks so different and is only ever seen in the context of choir director from this point on. An odd side effect that I doubt Cuarón intended but there you go. Also, the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables seem to have moved to be the two inner tables instead of the two outer ones like in previous films, allowing Draco to mock Harry for fainting which…I don’t know how he knows that really. In the book, Neville and Ginny were in the compartment with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and Neville accidentally told Draco. On top of that, Harry was pulled aside after they arrived to be looked over by Madam Pomfrey. In the movie, the only people who saw Harry faint were Lupin, Ron, and Hermione. Ron and Hermione presumably never left Harry’s sight so…did Lupin tell Draco? Why would he do that?
Either way, once the song is over (and it is a good song) Dumbledore welcomes them to Hogwarts, and we get our first scene with Gambon-dore. Might as well discuss that particular elephant in the room now. Gambon is an…interesting Dumbledore. Of the two I have seen (still haven’t seen Crimes of Grindelwald, after hearing what spoilers I know about the movie I’m not going to see it until it hits DVD if ever, so I can’t speak about Jude Law) I do prefer Richard Harris’ take. But, that being said, Michael Gambon does have two qualities that Richard Harris did not. For one, he embodies Dumbledore’s boundless, ageless, energy much better than Harris did, being a younger actor. He seems far less sedate than Harris. For the other, as the movies go on, Gambon does make for a better general/war leader. Of the two, he seems like the more likely to say to Voldemort “Merely taking your life would not satisfy me, I admit” at any rate. So is Gambon a bad Dumbledore? No, not really, he’s just not the one I prefer.
Dumbledore gives them a speech, warning them about the Dementors, and then we go to the Gryffindors heading off to the Common Room. We get a bit of comedic relief shenanigans from the Fat Lady, because she wasn’t in the second movie but will be slightly important to this one and thus must be reintroduced, and then they go to bed.
The first class we get to see this time is Divination. Emma Thompson is, in all honesty, a freaking amazing Professor Trelawney. Genuinely, as good for the character as Maggie Smith was for McGonagall or Robbie Coltrane was for Hagrid. The main purposes here are to show Hermione disliking a class (though since Hermione doesn’t drop the class until the very last scene involving the subject and Trelawney there’s not much payoff) to introduce Trelawney herself, and to reveal a running motif in the form of the Grim, a dog that many wizards and witches believe to be a death omen that Harry sees in his tea leaves. And not subtly either, it’s rather explicit for tea leaves. It does rather resemble the large dog he saw the night he fled the Dursleys, though it also curiously enough bears a strong resemblance to the House Stark Direwolf.
We then move on to the next class, Care of Magical Creatures. At the welcome feast from the beginning it was revealed that Hagrid had been promoted to the position of Professor for that class which does raise the question of who’s taking care of his duties of Groundskeeper now that he’s a Professor. Does he just have to do both things? And if so, does that mean that Hagrid is getting paid more than the other teachers since he has two jobs?
Well, whatever the logistics of this, Hagrid takes his students to see a Hippogriff named Buckbeak, a temperamental and deeply prideful creature named Buckbeak. Harry manages to earn his respect, and gets a very neat looking ride out over the lake. Draco then proceeds to be an absolute idiot and purposefully mocks the creature he was told not to insult on pain of a mauling, resulting in him getting slashed across the arm by Buckbeak’s talons. This does result in shattering Hagrid’s confidence and getting Buckbeak sentenced to execution, but it’s a weirdly risky move to take just to essentially troll Hagrid.
Hermione urges Hagrid to take Draco to the Hospital Wing and…okay, her Time Turner is clearly visible around her neck! It’s not even hidden behind the tie; we can very clearly see the hourglass part of it! What the heck movie? You’ve already had, and will continue to have, moments of Ron being confused when Hermione arrives at classes suddenly or commenting that her schedule requires her to be in two places at once. We don’t need more foreshadowing, and it certainly shouldn’t come in the form of Ron being an idiot!
Well, regardless, it’s time to move on to the next class. Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Lupin. And this one is…interesting. He sets them to deal with a Boggart, a strange shapeshifter that turns into whatever the person in front of it fears most. He sets Neville against it first, hoping to boost the boy’s confidence. Though strangely for a teacher, he whispers the key to defeating a Boggart into Neville’s ear, which certainly increases dramatic tension but isn’t very helpful for the other students. Well, they manage to work it out, and the key is to say the spell and picture a humorous version of what you fear most, which will force the Boggart to take that form, confusing and weakening it. We get to see a few students’ Boggarts, with the penultimate one being Parvati Patil. Her Boggart is a giant cobra, and what she turns it into is…uhm…
Yeah that’s not less scary than a giant cobra Parvati. Less threatening one hopes, if that jack in the box is sentient than there’s no hope for humanity, but uhm…Padma? You might want to get your sister to a therapist. Or at least keep an eye on her lest she become a murderer, because finding that clown the less scary thing is probably a significant warning sign.
Well, after Parvati comes Harry, and here we have to talk about another change between book and movie. In the book, Lupin places himself between the Boggart and Harry before it can shift. He later explains to Harry that he was worried that the Boggart would take the form of Voldemort and panic the class (how Harry would know what Voldemort looked like, since it seems unlikely that History of Magic textbooks would include pictures of him and Harry had only seen adult him sticking out the back of Quirrell’s head isn’t really explained). In the movie, Lupin offers up this exact same explanation…but puts himself between Harry and the Boggart after the creature shifts into a Dementor, meaning that this makes no sense. I mean, I get that you needed to show that Lupin’s fear was the full moon, you had to foreshadow that Lupin is a werewolf after all, but I don’t know why it couldn’t have happened the same as it did in the book.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep harping on this, and truthfully none of these deviations from the book are deal breakers, but there’s lots of little changes like this that cause little plot holes or moments of confusion in the film and I have to point them out. Columbus largely stuck to the books, so this didn’t happen as much in the previous two, but it happens a lot here and I can’t not address it!
Moving on (sorry), we see the other students heading off to the nearby village of Hogsmeade, apparently the only all magical community in the UK. Harry attempts to go along, but requires a legal guardian’s permission and, since he didn’t, can’t go. He winds up talking to Lupin instead, which is when we get the explanations for why Lupin put himself between Harry and when Lupin tells him that he knew Harry’s parents. It’s a nice, quiet moment, and the debut of the Hogwarts covered bridge, an invention of Cuarón that managed to become a significant reoccurring feature in both the movies to come and the fandom.
After that though, things begin to go downhill. For Harry that is, not the audience. The movie isn’t about to spiral downhill, don’t fear. When Harry attempts to return to Gryffindor tower, he is prevented by a large crowd, and the fact that, not only has the Fat Lady fled her painting, it’s been hacked at with a knife. Apparently Sirius Black attempted to break into the tower, and then attacked the painting when she wouldn’t let him in. Which is, honestly kind of hilariously petulant and petty on Sirius’ part. I mean, it didn’t help him any, and it left tangible proof he’d been there which only resulted in security tightening. Which does, with the front doors of Hogwarts being barred in a pretty cool scene and the students having a sleepover in the Great Hall. The ceiling of which is now showing galaxies and nebula. Is that a setting Dumbledore activated to distract the students? Because that ceiling is supposed to reflect the actual sky. That’s not a book change either, we’re told that very fact in the first movie. So either it’s in some sort of special setting, or else Hogwarts isn’t really on Earth.
On to more important matters though. We cut to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where Snape storms in abruptly, having a projector already setup and ready to teach them about werewolves and animagi. It is a little jarring to see the projector, but given that earlier in the film we saw a magical bus I’m not too bothered. We get another bit of foreshadowing the time turner, with neither Ron nor Harry sure where Hermione came from when she suddenly responds to Snape’s lesson plan, but mostly this is more werewolf foreshadowing, with some foreshadowing for Sirius and Peter as well.
It then leads into our only Quidditch match of the movie, resulting in one of the two times I’m going to be annoyed that they cut out the other matches, because it was actually a nice and significant subplot in this book. The main point of it is that it’s a massive thunder and lightning storm, to the extent that the Hufflepuff seeker (Cedric? Maybe? I don’t really know, he’s not named and doesn’t talk which…is going to hurt the fourth movie. Not a lot, but a bit.) Harry looks up and sees the image of the grim in the clouds (see the above picture comparison to the House Stark direwolf for a visual) which uhm…is certainly more dramatic but…uh..huh. Okay, now, Harry did see the grim during this match, but he saw an actual, physical dog in the Forbidden Forest, the same dog that he saw after fleeing the Dursleys. Because that dog is Sirius, who can’t resist occasionally getting a glimpse of his god son. That’s sort of the point of the grim: it’s not a real omen, it’s just a coincidence done to highlight that most of what Trelawney says is nonsense. So…why’s there one in the clouds? Is it an actual omen? I mean, what else could it be, right?
The more important occurrence though is that the Dementors show up, drawn by the excitement of the fans and audience. Quite a few fly up through the clouds to where Harry is, and we get a rather gross look at a Dementor’s mouth before Harry passes out and falls from his broom. He gets caught by Professor Dumbledore, but his broom unfortunately gets trashed by the Whomping Willow. We then cut to Harry and Lupin talking and walking near the lake, which is when Lupin explains why exactly Harry is so affected by the Dementors. Harry asks Lupin to teach him how to repel Dementors, like the Professor did on the train, and Lupin agrees, with the caveat that he can’t do so until after the winter holidays.
With the promise of defense training secured, Harry attempts to sneak into Hogsmeade under the invisibility cloak. A rather…stupid plan, given that he knows there are Dementors patrolling the perimeter of the grounds, though I suppose nobody in the film has stated whether or not the things can see through them so maybe it’s not that bad. It’s a moot point though, because apparently at some point Fred and George found out about Harry’s invisibility cloak and so they stop him, forcibly dragging him to a small alcove where they gift him the Marauder’s Map, a magical item that shows the majority of Hogwarts (though we won’t learn about the parts not on the map until later, though one assumes the Chamber of Secrets wasn’t on it) and where everyone in it is located. It also, critically, shows where a secret passage out of the school is. Harry leaps at the chance, sneaking out to Hogsmeade and messing with Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle before spending time with Ron and Hermione. Eventually though they spot a group of significant adults gathering in the local inn, and Harry sneaks after them to eavesdrop. This is when he learns that Sirius Black is his godfather, and he runs off, understandably upset by this revelation. He even vows tearfully to kill Sirius in a powerful scene that manages to come off as genuinely sad rather than whiny or silly.
That’s how we end the holidays though, cutting forward to Harry’s first defense against Dementors lesson. Lupin explains what he plans to teach Harry: an advanced spell called the Patronus Charm. It relies on the wizard or witch casting it to think of a very happy memory, and then takes that positive energy and creates a sort of shield to drive them away, or at least keep them away. He asks Harry to figure out a good memory, and then, when Harry says he’s ready, opens the trunk, unleashing a Dementor. Well, strictly speaking it’s a Boggart, but I just adore the idea of Lupin wrestling an actual Dementor and forcing it into a trunk. Repeatedly actually, since he manages to get it back in after Harry passes out. And no, it’s never explained how a Boggart taking the form of a Dementor has Dementor powers, but to be fair to the movie the book doesn’t explain either so oh well. Like I said, Harry fails his first attempt, but manages to succeed on the next, creating a cupped shield that holds back the Boggart.
In the next scene, we see Harry sneaking around the castle at night, looking at the Marauder’s Map and following the path of someone the map has labeled Peter Pettigrew, the man he recently learned Sirius killed the night Harry’s parents died. However, he is doing this openly, not under the cloak, and with his wand out and lit up. Kind of a stupid thing to do when breaking curfew, which unsurprisingly gets Harry caught by Snape, then rescued by Lupin. It’s uhm, kind of strange honestly. Getting caught out of the dormitory after curfew was enough to get Harry sent into the Forbidden Forest to track down something that was killing unicorns in the first movie, and that was when he was caught by a teacher who liked him. Odd that Snape lets him off scot free. Lupin confiscates the Map, not happy that Harry’s sneaking around unsupervised when Sirius Black has proven capable of getting into the school. Harry is mainly interested in telling him about spotting Peter Pettigrew on the map though, which makes Lupin look pensive but surprisingly does not send Lupin on the hunt.
Instead we cut to the aftermath of a Divination class, where Harry sees Sirius’ face laughing in a crystal ball. Yeah…this film is really not agreeing with Rowling’s ‘Divination is mostly crap with occasional moments of usefulness’ message. Curious, I wonder why. Either way, the main reason for this scene is Trelawney falling into a trance, uttering a ‘true prophecy’ one that is a lot more clear and unlikely to spur different outcomes depending on how the listener reacts to it than her last prophecy interestingly enough. Harry shakes it off though, heading down to be with Hagrid before Buckbeak’s execution. Which, rather strangely since the Killing Curse exists, is to be carried out with an ax. And it had been four years since Goblet of Fire was published so we know the film makers knew. And I know that in the book the executioner had an ax but…Rowling was pretty blatantly making the rules up as she went along at this stage, since multiple spells are introduced in the fourth book that should have resulted in a very different ending for the third, so I’d have forgiven them for cutting out the ax. I mean, the guy’s dressed like a medieval executioner anyway, it’s not like we would have had trouble knowing who he was if he didn’t have that ax. But this is just me nitpicking.
The main important thing here is that this is when Ron is given Scabbers (the rat had gone missing earlier and was presumed dead) in Hagrid’s hut. The rat is not happy about this though, and escapes. They chase after him, but right as Ron grabs him the dog from before grabs him, hauling him into a tunnel under the Whomping Willow. After some shenanigans involving Hermione and Harry riding the Willow’s branches and getting swung around, the manage to go after their friend, which is when they learn that Sirius Black is an animagus. Harry attacks Sirius and pins him to the ground, holding his wand to the escaped convict’s face. Sirius just laughs and asks Harry if he’s going to kill him. Harry keeps his wand on him, but before he can decide whether or not he’s capable of killing Lupin arrives, immediately disarming Harry. And miracle of miracles, expelliarmus doesn’t cause a flash of bright light that sends whoever it hit flying this time. For a moment, as Lupin taunts Sirius about his looks, it feels as though he just didn’t want Harry to be the one to kill Sirius, but after Sirius taunts back Lupin smiles and helps him to his feet, giving him Harry’s wand.
This understandably confuses the heck out of the kids, prompting feelings of betrayal. As Lupin attempts to explain what the heck is going on, not helped by Sirius’ raving, Snape arrives. Why is Snape here? Lupin is understandable since he has the Map, but nothing in the movie explains why Snape would show up. Snape gets Harry’s wand from Sirius, then threatens the other two adults. Sirius and Lupin have some rather amusing banter here, with Snape even commenting on it, but when Snape tells the kids to get out, Harry responds by casting expelliarmus on the Potions Professor…which causes a flash of bright light that sends the person it hit flying.
Harry demands an explanation, which Sirius and Lupin give, and after a bit of pleading and yelling, they reveal Scabbers to be Peter Pettigrew. Lupin and Sirius are ready to kill the rather gross traitor on the spot, but Harry convinces them to take him to Hogwarts for the Dementors. They proceed to attempt to do so, but unfortunately it’s the full moon, and Lupin proceeds to transform. Sirius attempts to keep him calm, but is batted aside, and Peter takes the opportunity to escape, turning into a rat. Strangely, when he transforms he shrinks and runs out of his clothes. I say this is strange because when he was forced to turn back into a human just minutes ago, he was fully dressed. Plus, Sirius is still wearing his prison clothes, even though we know he’s repeatedly transformed. So…why didn’t they change with him this time?
Either way, Peter escapes and Sirius is out of sight. Help then arrives in the form of Snape, who storms onto the scene looking furious and ready to cuss out Harry, but then immediately puts himself between the werewolf and the three students. And then, after they get knocked down and Lupin is distracted by Sirius in dog form, he does so again. I’ve heard this scene derided as out of character, but I can’t agree. Yes, Snape is a petty, petulant bully, a poor teacher, his obsession with Lily is creepy, and anything salvageable about him is only made so by Alan Rickman’s performance. But…honestly, I feel safe in saying that yes, the slimy git would try to protect three students from imminent mortal peril, however much he disliked them.
Lupin is distracted by the howl of what sounds like another werewolf and runs off, but Sirius and Harry are pursued by Dementors. Both are unable to hold off the sheer number of the things that arrive to attack, and collapse to the ground, the Dementors managing to almost pull off the dreaded Kiss on Sirius (apparently it’s a ranged attack despite being called a kiss), but then a glowing white stag appears and forces them away. Harry passes out, but then wakes up in the Hospital Wing, along with Ron and Hermione, the former of whom has his leg in a cast. Dumbledore arrives, and they tell him that Sirius is innocent. The Headmaster does believe them, but tells them that nobody else is likely to and they need to make a plan. He then proceeds to tell Hermione that she has the means to save two lives and that three turns should suffice before leaving. He is, for some reason, very cryptic despite being alone with the three people least likely to rat him out, but Hermione figures it out and uses her Time Turner, taking herself and Harry back in time. They manage to pull off a bunch of neat tricks, saving Buckbeak, then themselves from Lupin, then Harry masters the Patronus to save himself and Sirius, and then they free Sirius, who flies off on Buckbeak.
Wow that was a long recap! And I skipped over quite a few scenes, did my best to focus on what I felt was important and still! Whoo boy. This does not bode well for the future installments of this project. Well, not for me anyway. You guys might like it, tell me in the comments if I was too wordy.
So, how was the movie? I like it. I really do like it a lot. It has flaws to be sure, notice the multiple times I ground myself to a halt to talk about plot holes created by changes Cuarón made. And it is very clear that, unlike Columbus, Cuarón was less interested in making a faithful adaptation then he was in leaving his mark on the series. And he certainly did that. Cuarón might never have directed a Harry Potter movie after this one, but it’s pretty clear that the successive movies were more interested in following him than Columbus. To be fair, it did work. Of the Harry Potter movies that were adaptations of books, this is my favorite one. Chamber of Secrets is by far the better adaptation, but this is, in my opinion at least, the better film. Which is kind of depressing considering that we have five more films to go. Oh well, got nobody to blame but myself! See you all next time!
Images courtesy of Warner Brothers
‘Vox Lux’ Goes for Broke Almost to the Breaking Point
Warning: Vox Lux contains scenes depicting a school shooting that could trigger some viewers. It also has many scenes with rapidly flashing lights that may trigger those with photosenstivey disorder.
Vox Lux is a magnificently flawed film of abject fury and empathy. Not since this year’s earlier Sorry To Bother You have I witnessed a movie so consumed with passion and anger. I’m just not sure it’s any good.
It seems to be railing against our current obsession with what I guess you could call “distraction culture.” A culture aware of the horrors and atrocities going on around them but whose own futility at what can be done is usurped by its own need to feel joy. Vox Lux argues there are distractions and then there is ignoring things so you don’t have to think about them.
Yes, it’s healthy to practice self-care and not get too wrapped up in things beyond our control. But at what point is looking away to avoid being overcome by the horror of it all turn into ignoring everything else except for our own obsessive need for gratification. At least I think that’s the main thrust.
To say Vox Lux is about any one thing would be foolhardy. Gun violence, the dehumanization of celebrities, and how women are marketed less for talent and more for their bodies are all fair game. Truthfully I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. It’s hard to tell. For as giddy as I was watching Vox Lux I was also frustrated because I couldn’t quite understand what the film was trying to do. It didn’t help that the ending can be perceived as either irritating or brilliant. The film walks the knife’s edge of artistic brilliance and pretentious nonsense.
Brady Corbet structures Vox Lux as a fable about a young girl named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) who survives a school shooting. Narrated by Willem Dafoe, his voice lends an air of forthright impenetrable honesty as he regales about the girl’s life. Celeste survives with a permanent spinal injury. At the memorial for the other students, she and her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) play a song they wrote. The result is Lady Gaga/Beyonce inspired superstardom.
Vox Lux is one of those movies where I can tell you what happened but it doesn’t do it the justice of sitting there seeing it all unfold. Corbet makes every scene palpable, every frame pulsates with energy. The film feels alive and as such seems untamable as it explodes onto the screen before our eyes. Operatic and feverish, it never lets up no matter how much you may wish it to.
Celeste survives a school shooting, this is true. But Corbet makes us feel the horror and the tension of living through the school shooting. The ubiquitousness of gun violence both in our media and in our day to day lives has perhaps deadened the very real, violent, and disturbing reality of the actual experience. The driving anger of Vox Lux is in our inability to hold onto meaningful experiences and instead, dropping them and moving on to something else.
Natalie Portman plays a grown-up Celeste. A world-famous pop star, she is all but coming apart at the seams. In many ways, Vox Lux looks at how we enshrine celebrities and make them impossible beings. Portman’s Celeste is a pop star on the verge of a nervous breakdown. With her thick Staten Island accent and slicked back hair, Celeste powers through when she should clearly take a breath.
Celeste has a daughter of her own now, Albertine, also played by Cassidy. In an abrasive and uncomfortable scene, the adult Celeste attempts to have a heart to heart with her daughter. But Celeste is so closed off due to her stardom and drug abuse, she seems incapable of basic human connection. Her daughter asks her why she hates Ellie. Celeste responds with a rambling monologue about how nothing we do matters anymore because people just move on to the next thing. “I did a commercial a few years back. That stupid little thing where the rose opened up and I was little fairy inside with a soda can. I thought it’d ruin me. Know what happened? Nothing. Everybody forgot about it.”
It’s an old joke on the internet that the internet never forgets, but it’s only partially true. Yes, the internet is forever but our attention spans are not. Vox Lux isn’t pointing fingers so much as expressing a deep and volatile dissatisfaction with the way things seem to be heading. Art can offer answers but sometimes art can just be a cipher for our volatile and, sometimes, corrosive emotions.
At the same time during this same scene, the manager of the restaurant comes over and asks Celeste if he could take a picture with her. “I’m not going to post it. I just want it for me.” A celebrity’s time is rarely their own. Social media has made fans voracious in their need to be seen with people who “are just like them” but who never get to be treated like normal people.
Portman turns in what is her second best performance this year behind the earlier and still haunting and gorgeous Annihilation. But her work in Vox Lux is jaw-dropping for the kinetic energy she imbues in her Celeste. It is a fearless performance. Portman all but leaps from the screen and into the audience. Her Celeste is larger than life as she struts, dances, throws temper tantrums, all before turning to the screen and smiling. We root for Celeste while acknowledging what an absolute hell it must be living in her sphere.
After getting high, and having sex with Jude Law’s character known only as The Manager, the two stumble out of Celeste’s hotel room. I mention the scene only because Portman does one of the best pratfalls I’ve seen all year. I howled because Vox Lux is a movie that constantly pokes you, daring you to express either frustration or laughter. At the very least it wants you to feel something and tries in earnest to get, at the very least, a rise out of us.
The tightrope act the actors have to walk in the film is how nuanced they are. Law’s Manager character is as flawed and fleshed out as anyone in Mary Queen of Scots. He is at once kind and caring while also being manipulative and brusque. Notice the storm of conflicting emotions on Law’s face, and Portman’s for that matter, when she walks in on him holding Ellie in her arms. For all it’s bravado it’s the quiet moments between the screeching vibrato of its tone is where Vox Lux holds it’s most haunting and galvanizing power.
Much of the film’s power comes from the harsh and ingenious editing of Matthew Hannam. Just as you think we’ve got a bead on its rhythms it switches gears and out of our grasp. Aided by Lol Crowley, the cinematographer, the two create a living pulsating piece of artistry hellbent on making sure their screams into the abyss are heard. Crowley never puts the camera in a boring or wrong place. Even if the angle might be familiar the lens or lighting make it seem fresh and new. It allows us to decide for ourselves how we feel about certain moments and reactions.
I mentioned Portman’s pratfall earlier. While the theater was not packed, it was far from empty, but I was the only one laughing. I tell you this to illustrate how the film works differently for different people. A scene may be darkly comedic to me but to you or someone else, it may play as unbearably tragic.
During the last act of the film, we see Celeste perform her latest album, Vox Lux, to a teeming throng of adoring fans. Magically the concert footage feels like an actual pop concert. The vibrant and inventive energy the film has worked so hard to cultivate never evaporates. I sat in awe as they seamlessly blended realism with the dreamlike imagery of surrealism. Corbet, Crowley, and Hannam have sewn together disparate scenes that would in a lesser director’s hands seem like patchwork.
The ending, as previously stated, is abrupt; almost daringly so. A crucial piece of information is revealed just seconds before Corbet cuts to black. Because of how Vox Lux is presented, many moments seem weird or odd so after a while, we do not think much of them. But Corbet, mere seconds before the end drops a bombshell of a revelation that might be true or not. Dafoe’s narrator, whose voice exudes authority and honesty, delivers the line almost as an afterthought. I don’t know if it makes Vox Lux an inarguable masterpiece or if it pushes the film over the line from operatic to camp trash.
Most movies never know when to quit. Vox Lux quits arguably too soon. When I realized the credits were rolling, it took me a few seconds to realize it was over. Time flew by, though I’m not sure I would call the time spent watching Vox Lux fun. Engaging, certainly but calling it fun seems shallow somehow.
I like movies that are fun but sometimes I think we value the movies that are merely fun over the movies that are not. As if a movie not being fun is somehow an excuse not to engage with it. I’m not arguing that movies that are boring are good. I’m merely saying that, if we are to call movies art, then we should allow for a broader sense of what we demand from them.
Still, when the lights came on and I struggled to catch my breath, I knew some would find it too much. It is not a film for everyone, it never pretends to be. Its brashness and audacity have stayed with me and I get kind of giddy just thinking about it. Vox Lux is an act of untamed cinematic grandiosity that flails about with such brashness you might end up kind of annoyed. I loved every minute of it.
Image courtesy of Neon
Mary Queen of Scots vs. the Patriarchy
I am normally not a fan of period pieces set in the Elizabethan era. I came up in the 90’s back when Hollywood was flushed with them. Despite this genre prejudice I found myself utterly absorbed by Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots. A smart, complex, enthralling tragedy so well paced and woven the Bard himself would be pleased.
Of the many feats Mary Queen of Scots somehow pulls off, is the slaying of the insistent but moronic myth that movies like these cannot be populated by queer people or people of color. They have always existed and are a part of history; regardless of what decades of whitewashed historical epics might have said. The inclusiveness of Rourke’s film is as refreshing as it is bold.
While Mary Queen of Scots may present itself as a costume drama about how Mary (Saoirse Ronan) tried and failed to unify Scotland and England, it is only partly about that. At its heart, it is a tragedy about two women Mary and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) and how they are the head of their church and country but each sits at the heart of the patriarchy.
I’m not sure how historically accurate the script by Beau Willimon is but, in the end, it doesn’t matter. It feels real and when it comes to storytelling, that is the best we can hope for. Exiled to Scotland, the Catholic Mary Stuart attempts to bridge a peace with the Protestant Elizabeth I. Elizabeth refuses to marry or have children thus cementing her hold on the crown. Mary, on the other hand, is quite happy to marry and is, in fact, planning on having a child thus giving her a claim to the throne.
Don’t worry, Mary Queen of Scots is much more fascinating and moving than it sounds. For starters, Robbie’s Elizabeth is a woman on her own surrounded by men all but demanding she marry and sire an heir. Robbie is, per usual, magnetic.
Elizabeth confesses to her advisor William Cecil (Guy Pearce), “I am a man. If I were to marry, my husband would surely wish to be my king. I will not bow to any king. I am the queen. You are the closest thing to a wife I shall ever have.” The moment is a perfect marriage of the perfect words for the perfect actress.
Mary Queen of Scots is shockingly adept at showing how remarkably little power women in power have when their counsels and envoys are men. Schemes and double crosses are made both for power but also so to free the country from “the yoke of female rule”. Time and time again Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I remain always pitted against each other.
Mary wishes nothing but to be named merely the next in line for the crown. But Elizabeth’s men cannot tolerate a Catholic laying claim and Mary’s men cannot fathom bowing to a Protestant. Round and round it goes with treachery and betrayal littering the road. Willimon’s script has an aura of fate inscribed into its structure. Even as Mary is charmed by Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) we know he will be her downfall. Not because she is weak but because it will allow, by technicality, for there to be a way to kick her off the throne.
Ronan’s Mary loves her country even though it seems not to return her love. Ronan does not have the fierceness that Robbie has and in fact, her Mary seems innocent and naive comparatively. But Ronan is sly in her performance. Much like Elizabeth, we underestimate her but we soon grow to root for her.
Lord Darnley’s inevitable betrayal is uncovered and Mary is counseled to execute him. “I will not behave as some woman Henry the VIII beheading my husbands just to secure my throne. I took a vow to honor and love him.” Though he may not live with her, or rule with her, she will not break a vow taken before God.
Mary and Elizabeth both show courage and principle in a world filled with men who have neither. At one point Elizabeth, suffering from the pox, ailing, but still full of fire and grace, wonders, why she shouldn’t just name Mary as successor. Her advisors point out her failings to which Elizabeth laughs. In one of the best scenes Elizabeth lays out all that has been done to Mary and yet she still stands.
Mary for her part is dealing with a recently quashed civil war, a renegade Cleric John Knox (David Tennant) and a gay husband who is being blackmailed by her most trusted advisors to take the crown and give it to her brother James (James McArdle). Unlike Elizabeth, she refuses to give up her femininity or her right to love and passion. Rourke never says which queen is right or wrong, only that each queen is ruling in the way she feels is best.
Willimon’s script lays out each character so fully that we understand where each character is coming from even after only just meeting them. We understand Tennant’s Knox when he argues with Mary about accepting the Catholics. Willimon’s deep and abiding empathy flows through the very text of Mary Queen of Scots and adds to the verisimilitude of the story.
Gemma Chan, who was so wonderful in this year’s earlier Crazy Rich Asians is magnificent as Elizabeth Hardwick. A role with barely any words, she plays a friend and confidante of Elizabeth’s. Chan’s glances tell us more than dialogue can as she becomes increasingly worried about her queen.
Rourke and Willimon surround both Queens with an inner circle of ladies, each an extension of how the queen is perceived. Elizabeth’s are comforting but often quiet and reserved. Mary’s are much more outgoing and effusive in their praise. Mary show’s an inclusive streak herself when she allows a bard who seems to enjoy wearing dresses into her fold. She treats him as she treats her other ladies, and they accept him as so.
Scotland is a countryside we’ve often seen in movies. John Mathieson, who shot Logan, shoots Mary Queen of Scots with a lush and deft eye for rolling hills and misty beaches. For all the beauty he and Rourke never let us forget the grimy reality of the times. Yes, there are castles, but they are made of stone, the chairs do not look comfortable and when it rains, there is little hope of getting dry.
Mary Queen of Scots is breathtaking in its intimacy and drawn out tension. It is Rourke’s directorial debut in film and it is an announcement of confidence and joy of a craft. She has created a world that feels lived in and whose drama and characters feel immediate and real.
Full of political intrigue, but never dull or pompous, this is a generous movie filled with many tiny moments and gestures on the sides of the frame. It takes a great talent to portray a tragic tale of love, sisterhood, betrayal, and envy in such a way we feel exuberant rather than exhausted. Rourke is such a talent.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Avengers: Endgame Revealed
Just ignore the silly name. We all know Endgame is a bit stupid and maybe the internet can shame Marvel into changing it. Regardless of the name, we have our first look at Marvel’s epic conclusion to the story begun in Infinity War. The Avengers are back to undo the damage Thanos wrought upon the universe.
We don’t see anything unexpected here. Half of all life is gone, our heroes are sad, Tony Stark is lost in space on the verge of death (not really), and they have a plan to undo the Snap. Steve Rogers lost his beard, and I don’t mean whatever woman he currently “dates” to distract from his feelings for Tony. Hawkeye is back and Ant-Man shows up. Really the only thing missing is Captain Marvel. Come on, Marvel, we all know she will be there. You want Captain Marvel to make even more money than it already will? Let people not in the know aware of her role in the new Avengers movie.
In this humble writer’s opinion, Infinity War did a stunningly effective job with the ensemble superhero movie and set a huge bar for this latest entry to not only clear but even match at all. Can they possibly recapture that magic again? Who will live or die? What will the new Avengers team look like in the end? How will they undo Thanos’s villainy?
All I know is that Nebula better be a feature attraction here. Her relationships with both Thanos and Gamora demand it.
Avengers: Endgame will snap half the money out of existence this April.