End of Winter 2006: Year-in-Review  
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RS's Year in Review

Ten Best

10: Junebug
9: Grizzly Man
8: The Squid and the Whale
7: Tropical Malady
6: The Intruder
5: 2046
4: A History of Violence
3: Caché
2: Kings and Queen
1: The New World

But What About
-Darwin's Nightmare
-Happy Here and Now
-A Hole in My Heart
-The Holy Girl
-Look at Me
-Oliver Twist
-Turtles Can Fly
-Just Friends

Get Over It
-Brokeback Mountain
-The 40-Year-Old Virgin
-Funny Ha Ha
-Park Chanwook
-Sin City

-Grizzly Man
-History of Violence

Our Two Cents


-Breakfast on Pluto
-Danny Boy/Angel
-The Butcher Boy
-Mona Lisa
-High Spirits
-The Miracle
-The Crying Game
-Interview with the Vampire
-Michael Collins take one
-Michael Collins take two
-In Dreams
-The End of the Affair
-The Good Thief
-The Company of Wolves
-We're No Angels/Not I
-The Picture of a Woman:
 Sexuality in Mona Lisa,
 The Miracle
and The Crying Game

Shot/Reverse Shot: Munich
Wisniewski vs. Koresky

-Emile de Antonio,
 director of Point of Order and Year of the Pig

-Rachel Boynton,
 director of Our Brand Is Crisis

New Releases

DVD Reviews

the Reverse Shot Blog

  Cut Corners
By Marianna Martin

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Dir. Mike Newell, U.S., Warner Bros.

As a child, I was steadfastly protected by my parents from anything over the appropriate ratings age, and any others deemed inappropriate. I even remember bitter arguments over My Girl (in retrospect I realize that losing them saved me two hours of my viewing life). So even now, the idea that parents would be bringing a small child to a PG-13 film, even one branded with the child-friendly Harry Potter franchise insignia, seems worthy of incredulity, but the studios, not I, got this one right. There were little kids aplenty in the multiplex auditorium terrified and wailing only five minutes in, when the first creepy CGI menacingly slithers in.

And thus I found myself looking around the auditorium and wondering: who goes to Harry Potter films and why? The “who” was easy. Clearly there were many little kids there, ratings board be dammed, because it was a kids’ movie, along with plenty of parents mopping down and shushing them. Then there was my party, the youngest member of us over 20, there to see it “for ourselves.” Mix in a bunch of teenagers, grandparent types, etc., and you had the sort of universal demographic that studios drool over.

As to the why, my immediate sense of disappointment with the film gave a good start to answering it. Yes, the books are for children, and yes, it’s a hot topic to debate why adults have embraced them so thoroughly too, but the same elements that are touted as kid-friendly are more adult-friendly than some seem ready to cede. I didn’t realize how assuring the ritual aspects of the books’ narrative arc are until I found myself outraged at their absence in this fourth film installment. Though I’m a cinephile first and foremost, I am willing to abandon any stance that film should not be enslaved to literature when it comes to HP: faithfulness is of the utmost importance to me in this case and only makes an interpretive achievement like Alfonso Cuaron’s take on the third book all the more impressive. Cuaron’s gentle teasing out of the darker elements, balanced with those most uniquely British, re-envisioned the book (Prisoner of Azkaban) into the best HP movie to date.

But, determined to shovel a 734 page book into a 157-minute movie, come hell or high water, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell dispenses with the usual rituals, such as Harry’s unhappy home life with the Dursleys, his inevitable, cyclical rescue to the happier locale of Hogwarts, the journey there, and the ceremony of arrival. Instead, Newell communicates these elements in a desperately accelerating, broadly telegraphed cinematic short-hand that covers much but savors none. Harry? Check. Quidditch World Cup? Check. Voldemort? Check. Then off we go!

The Quidditch World Cup is visited perfunctorily, but then in a move emblematic of Newell’s entire approach to the Harry Potter universe, there is a brutal cut just after the starting horn of the match, and we are marched right to the après cup party in the Weasley’s tent. It’s akin to brandishing an itinerary checklist in an effort to see the whole of, say, the Smithsonian in one afternoon. No time to explore important aspects of Wizard-Muggle relations; no time, in fact, even to follow multiple important plot arcs of the novel, that, if the studio intends to stay faithful to the fifth novel for the next film, is going to have a great deal of time-consuming explanation to make up. This mania for compression spreads to the characterization of the visiting wizarding schools at Hogwarts entering the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is, for some reason, an all-girl posse that looks ready to perform on Top of the Pops, and Durmstrang is a testosterone-charged contingent of strapping Eastern European stereotypes ready to exceed the US’s worst Cold War Olympic fantasies. These needlessly broad characterizations seem contagious: here, caretaker Filch is suddenly a bumbling slapstick routine where only quiet menace had glowered before, and Roger Lloyd Pack, a character actor whose work I have admittedly always disliked, apparently decides as Barty Crouch Sr., to twitch a Hitler moustache, speak in a high-pitched, warbling voice, and stare off into space as if he’s forgotten his lines to convey that he’s under someone else’s control, since there’s no time to mention it in the dialogue.

But this nearly hysterical condensation of the book, though lamentable, was maybe largely unavoidable. However, a Newell omission that verges unforgivably on the grotesque, is that of the issue of class politics. A great deal of the conflict and tension in the fourth HP book centers on Ron’s resentment of Harry’s celebrity, and, yes, his wealth. Class issues are as alive at Hogwarts as they are in any British “Muggle” boarding school, and though the wording is different (“old wizarding families” instead of the aristocracy, “mudbloods” instead of children of racially or religiously mixed marriages), the language of class warfare and exclusion remains the same. So surely the first British director in the franchise to date would handle the class issues that nearly ruin Harry and Ron’s friendship with a deft and insightful touch? Newell uncomfortably avoids them altogether, rendering Hogwarts the domain of uniformly privileged toffs like those in his other films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral. Ron comes off as inexplicably sulky, then over it just as inexplicably, and the movie goes on.\

But this particular point recalls that the credit for the film’s successes should go where it’s due: the world J.K. Rowling has created in her books, and the solid core cast that represents her central characters from film to film. The child actors in all of the returning roles have clearly read and thought about all the books carefully and appear to base their characterizations on the assumption that the entire story is already known. And newcomers Katie Leung (Cho Chang), Stanislav Ianevski, (Viktor Krum), Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour) show great promise as additions to the cast for the continuing saga. Leung’s lilting Northern accent sent me into paroxysms of Anglophilia every time she spoke, and the non-native speakers had euphonic and entirely believable deliveries of their meager dialogue. The kids are teenagers now, and they do it well—the background action of the Yule Ball ends in a festival of sobbing and discarded fancy shoes, wizarding world or no. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Emma Watson (Hermione) are, as always, the standouts of the young talent, Radcliffe especially in this installment. He exhibits the arduous physicality of his role in the Tournament with just the right degree of self-consciousness and even manages to retain his dignity in an unfortunately tasteless and extraneous scene in which the 40-year-old actress playing the ghost of another student all but gropes him in the bath. (I guess they wanted their rating’s worth out of that PG-13). Alan Rickman, returning as the glowering Professor Snape, has barely three lines in the entire film, but just watching his exquisite gesture of drawing back his cuffs before issuing a reprimanding smack from behind is enough to leave any viewer watering anticipation of his role to come. And Ralph Fiennes (though I confess to longing for Ian McKellen to make a complete franchise sweep in this role instead) shows potential as the übervillain Voldemort, even if he has little to do in this film until the end.

Though impressively flawed, installment does mange to limp across with the torch ablaze and keep anticipation high for the next. Let us hope that David Yates heeds Dumbledore’s warning (“The time has come… to choose between what is right and what is easy”) as Newell did not, in tackling the even-longer Order of the Phoenix.

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