Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 7 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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I first read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the latter days of 1999 after receiving it from my grandmother for Christmas that year. I was only 7 years old at the time, but I devoured it and was ready for more, so I was given Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban for my birthday just a few weeks later. When this movie adaptation was announced, I forced my grandmother to read the book so she could take me to the theater, and despite her initial reluctance, she loved it as well, and so we went to the theater together. While it will never capture the exact magic of the book series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen as well as one of the most important movies of my childhood.

10-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up believing that his parents died in a car crash, which is why he lives with his terrible aunt, uncle, and cousin; he’s forced to wear his large cousin’s too-big hand-me-down clothes and sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs. His life is far from happy, but all of that changes when mysterious letters start arriving in strange ways, all addressed to him. Harry soon finds out that not only did his parents not die in a car crash, but that they were wizards who died protecting him from the most evil wizard of all time – and that Harry himself is a wizard too. He’s whisked away into a world that is entirely new to him and to a new magical school called Hogwarts, filled with friends, teachers, and danger.

It should be said right off the bat that the production team absolutely nailed the casting decisions; every single actor is perfectly placed in their role, and as a result, I find it difficult to imagine others playing these characters. The child actors – Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione – aren’t all-stars here, but they visually fit the descriptions and perform their parts believably. Yes, they’re children and make typical children mistakes, but they’re still charming and make you feel for them when they are emotional and worry for them when they are in danger, which is what really matters – that they make you care.

And of course the adults in the film are outstanding as well! Richard Harris is pitch perfect as Professor Dumbledore, completely capturing the “twinkle in the eye” aspect of the character as described in the book series. Though I did enjoy Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in later films after Harris passed away prior to the release of Chamber of Secrets, I think that Richard Harris more perfectly embodies the calm, wise old wizard demeanor. Maggie Smith as McGonagall is every bit as stern as her book counterpart, but at the same time she’s able to show the proper warmth and joy when she discovers Harry’s flying capabilities and concern while watching his first match against the rough-playing Slytherin team. Other admirable performances come from Alan Rickman as Snape – you can catch some subtle hints towards his characters’ eventual fate if you watch for it, but at the same time he appears just as loathsome and borderline evil as the children believe him to be – and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid – who, as Harry’s first real father figure is just as warm and gentle as you would expect him to be despite his size, and his constant refrain of “I shouldn’t have said that” shows both his loyalty to Dumbledore and his secrets as well as his dedication to the children and their safety.

The story, which is basically just a reiteration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, isn’t overly complex, so the real focuses of this movie are the characters and world-building. Since Harry is just as new to the world of wizards and witches and magic as we are, we are able to witness everything through his eyes and experience things such as Platform 9 3/4, the magic feast in the Great Hall, and the moving staircases through his eyes. J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world is a wonder to behold in all of its details, but the addition of magic doesn’t take away the human lessons to be taken away here. In observing Harry, Ron, and Hermione, we learn about the importance of true friendship and sacrifice for the ones you love, as well as bravery in the face of danger and difficult choices. Additionally, Dumbledore teaches us the importance of living our lives rather than focusing on what could be (“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live”) and the power of true, pure love.

Though I won’t go on about it at length here, I have to at least mention John Williams absolutely incredible score for this movie (my review). It was the very first film soundtrack I ever owned, and it sparked a fascination with both film scores and John Williams that continues to this day. More than that, it taught me that instrumental music can still tell a story; when listening to “The Quidditch Match”, I can completely visualize every single action on screen based on the musical cues alone (and to this day, that is one of my top 5 favorite-scored scenes in all of moviedom). “Hedwig’s Theme” remains a classic to this day and is recognizable by those who have and haven’t seen the movies alike, and “Leaving Hogwarts” still causes me to shed a tear or two every time I hear it. This soundtrack is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t given it a listen before.

While this movie is definitely not the best in the series – or even second best, to be honest – it’s the one that means the most to me, and it’s the one that started it all; if Chris Columbus and company hadn’t gotten it right here, then Harry Potter may have continued on very differently and might not have become as successful as it ended up being. To that end, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is exactly the film that needed to be made at that time – it’s not only a great and accurate book-to-film adaptation, but it’s also full of the magic, wonder, and heart that inspired me as a child to seek true friendship, to be brave in the decisions I make, and to unselfishly love others.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for some scary moments and mild language

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Argo (2012) – Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat is a composer who I haven’t been familiar with for long, but it’s no secret that I really enjoy his film scores especially those of the past couple of years (see my reviews of his scores to The King’s Speech and Rise of the Guardians). His score for last year’s Ben Affleck film, Argo, is no exception…it’s nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Desplat’s music has always been characterized by a beauty unparalleled by his contemporaries. This beauty is apparent from the very first track, “Argo,” which opens with a lovely solo on the ney (a flute-like instrument known for its use in Middle Eastern music), backed by soft, harmonious strings and an ominous drone on the tonic, leading to a faster-paced melody on an oud (a guitar-like instrument that also features in Middle Eastern music), with a sort of anxious undertone. This background anxiety is present throughout most of the score, which is fitting due to the fact that anxiety is a large part of the action in the film. Anxiety is not the only emotion expressed in this score, though; we also hear longing (such as in the track “Missing Home”), despair (“Sweatshop”), and relief (“Cleared Iranian Airspace”)…Desplat’s talent for emulating emotion through his music is evident.

One of my favorite parts of this score is that Desplat composes differently depending on the setting of the action on screen. For example, throughout most of the soundtrack we are treated to a style of music that brings to mind the Middle Eastern culture, which makes sense because most of the story takes place in Iran…this is why such instruments as the previously mentioned ney and oud are used so prominently. However, in “The Mission,” we hear a completely different style more reminiscent of traditional American film scores, with a sweeping string orchestra and quite typical harmonies. This theme is later heard in the track “Cleared Iranian Airspace,” but the genius of it all is that neither of these tracks are completely “American”…”The Mission” ends with the return of the ney, hinting at the journey that the main character will soon be taking, and “Cleared Iranian Airspace” starts with dissonance, representing the tension of the situation, eventually clearing out into the American-style theme mentioned before.

Parts of Argo sound similar to some of Desplat’s previous compositions, though not in a way that is frustrating (I’m looking at you two, Zimmer and Elfman!). The main instance of similarity (that I heard) is in the track “Held Up by Guards,” which sounds faintly like a theme from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, heard here in “Showdown.” Like I said, they don’t sound exactly alike, but definitely noticeable (to me, at least). Also worth noting is the fact that both the scores to Argo and Life of Pi (composed by Mychael Danna), which is also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, feature beatboxing (Argo – “Hotel Messages”Life of Pi – “Piscine Molitor Patel”), which isn’t typical of usual film scores. However, it works well in both cases.

Alexandre Desplat is one of the best composers of our day, a fact supported by his fantastic score for an equally fantastic film, Argo…it certainly deserves its nomination for Best Original Score at this year’s Academy Awards. Will it win? I’m not sure, but with his top-notch emulations of emotion and beauty and his appropriate usage of Middle Eastern music to reflect the setting of the film, Desplat’s score for Argo is one of the best of 2012.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “Argo”     3:38

2. “A Spy In Tehran”     4:18

3. “Scent of Death”     3:26

4. “The Mission”     2:08

5. “Hotel Messages”     2:04

6. “Held Up By Guards”     5:32

7. “The Business Card”     2:56

8. “Breaking Through the Gates”     3:51

9. “Tony Grills the Six”     3:30

10. “The Six Are Missing”     3:22

11. “Sweatshop”     1:32

12. “Drive to the Airport”     3:45

13. “Missing Home”     3:00

14. “Istanbul (The Blue Mosque)”     2:18

15. “Bazaar”     3:46

16. “Cleared Iranian Airspace”     6:02

17. “Hace Tuto Guagua” (performed by Familion)     3:40

Total Length: app. 59 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. Read my review of this film here!


The Casual Vacancy (2012) – J. K. Rowling

Like most, I was introduced to J. K. Rowling through her highly successful Harry Potter series, which I first started reading as a 7-year-old second grader. Her writing is incredibly engrossing; for the last three books of the series, I sat and read them beginning to end in a day, stopping only to eat. Harry Potter framed my childhood, so, now that that series has ended and I’m an adult, I was quite excited to get my hands on a copy of JKR’s newest book. I purchased it on the day that it came out and read 150 pages fairly quickly. Though the content was very different, the way it was written was very familiar and readable. However, I was still unsure of where the story was going halfway through the book, and, now that I’ve finished, I’m at a loss for words…what exactly is my opinion?

For starters, The Casual Vacancy is NOT for children. With drug references, foul language, and several instances of sexual situations (for the most part, non-graphic), this book is definitely for adults. Though I said that the content is different, and it is, Jo’s study of her characters remains as consistent as it was in Harry Potter; even when I didn’t know where the story was going, I knew I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to learn more about these characters, of which there are several…off the top of my head, I can think of at least 13-15 characters with whom Jo spends plenty of time developing and fleshing out. Not all of them are lovable – in fact, most of them aren’t – but that’s what kept me reading most of the time. I wanted to know what was going to happen with Krystal Weedon and with her younger brother Robbie, I wanted to know who was going to fill Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the council, I wanted to know whether Andrew Price would ever score with Gaia Bawden…and so I kept reading, even when it wasn’t the story that left me thirsting for more.

In fact, the story isn’t the reason why you read this book. Unlike in the Harry Potter series, there isn’t a main character fighting an evil villain with a mission at hand; we’re reading about the ordinary lives of the people in Pagford and how they react to the death of one of the council members, and that’s pretty much it. So, like I said, it’s the characters more than anything that keeps you thirsting for more to read. Even when I only had twenty pages left of the book, I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. Personally, I found that fascinating, and I thought it was incredibly impressive of JKR to be able to hold my attention for that long without revealing anything, but I can see why someone would brand the whole book as “boring” after the first 50 pages and toss it aside.

The Casual Vacancy isn’t for everyone. I wish I could say that you’ll love it if you loved Harry Potter, but, since the two are so different, I can’t make that promise to you. If you’re okay with reading something that is more about characters than about story and with an ending that doesn’t really “end,” you should definitely give it a try. In fact, everyone should at least pick it up and try to read it; if you don’t like it, set it aside. The real treat here is to see JKR’s storytelling abilities in a world outside that of Harry’s, which I think that she does a splendid job with. With themes of poverty, rape, drugs, domestic/child abuse, self-harm, suicide, and politics all being discussed in the book, The Casual Vacancy isn’t a happy book, but it’s certainly compelling and poignant.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

-Chad


Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language


Rise of the Guardians (2012) – Alexandre Desplat

I had never listened to an Alexandre Desplat score before 2010’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1, and I’ve been hooked ever since. His scores for The King’s Speech was simple and wonderful, and I’m still astounded by the fact that his score to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, was not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, as it is one of the most beautiful, emotional scores I’ve ever listened to. That being said, when I saw that his score for Rise of the Guardians, a film that I’ve been excited for for quite some time now, was available, I purchased it without hesitation.

*possible spoilers due to track titles; I haven’t seen the film*

The score starts out with a very Harry Potter-esque track titled “Calling the Guardians;” in particular, the first few seconds remind me of the track “Snape to Malfoy Manor” from the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1, soundtrack, mixed with a little of Danny Elfman’s theme to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film. It’s quite an exciting entrance which quickly transitions into something more typical of Desplat’s music – a sweeping string melody accompanied by a charming piano countermelody. The brass eventually come in with a triumphant fanfare fitting of the track title, suggesting a different kind of superhero than we are accustomed to…which certainly seems to be the case with this film.

Throughout the score, we are treated to quiet, tender tracks such as “Alone in the World” and “Jamie Believes,” the latter of which contains what I would consider to be the main theme of the film, taken from the track “Still Dream,” composed by Desplat with lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and sung by Renée Fleming. We also hear fast-paced, raucous tracks such as “Tooth Collection” and “Pitch At North Pole,” as well as tracks that seem to emanate hope and magic, including “Sandman Returns” and “Oath of the Guardians.”

When I think of Desplat’s music, I think of beauty; his score to Rise of the Guardians only helps to reinforce this association. Every bit as colorful as the album artwork, Desplat’s music soars and never bores. His rich strings and powerful brass will leave you refreshed and wishing for more – it makes me even more excited for the film!

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1.

“Still Dream” (performed by Renée Fleming)

3:12

2.

“Calling the Guardians”

2:06

3.

“Alone in the World”

2:04

4.

“Fanfare of the Elves”

0:53

5.

“Wind Take Me Home!”

1:28

6.

“Dreamsand”

2:03

7.

“Pitch on the Globe”

0:57

8.

“The Moon”

1:32

9.

“Snowballs”

1:31

10.

“Busy Workshop”

1:33

11.

“Sleigh Launch”

1:45

12.

“Nightmares Attack”

7:17

13.

“Tooth Collection”

2:22

14.

“Jamie’s Bedroom”

2:31

15.

“Jack & Sandman”

4:18

16.

“Memorial”

1:21

17.

“Guardians Regroup”

0:58

18.

“Easter”

3:39

19.

“Jack Betrays”

3:20

20.

“Kids Stop Believing”

2:35

21.

“Jack’s Memories”

2:24

22.

“Pitch at North Pole”

2:00

23.

“Jamie Believes”

3:01

24.

“Jack’s Center”

4:52

25.

“Sandman Returns”

2:36

26.

“Dreamsand Miracles”

2:18

27.

“Oath of the Guardians”

3:11

Total Length: app. 69 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – John Williams

2011 was a great year because, after a four-year wait, we got not one but two new film scores by John Williams. The first of these was The Adventures of Tintin, which, along with Williams’ score to War Horse, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

While War Horse‘s score was decidedly more dramatic, The Adventures of Tintin‘s score is whimsical and fun, as well as quite reminiscent – in a good way – of Williams’ earlier scores. For example, “The Secret of the Scrolls” features a mysterious theme that reminds me of both “The Map Room” from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark score and the latter portion of “Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault” from Williams’ score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; all three have a simplicity to them that promotes thought and emanates a sense of wonder and magic.

The title track, “The Adventures of Tintin”, is catchy and sleuthy…at least, that’s the way I hear it. It’s heavily influenced by jazz, which is a bit different from the typical John Williams stuff but entirely welcome and refreshing. In contrast with this new style, Williams returns in full force with his leitmotifs – a musical phrase that represents a specific character/event/place; there are specific themes written for Snowy, the Thompsons, and other characters, including Tintin, but my favorite has to be the leitmotif representing Captain Haddock. First introduced in “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars”, Haddock’s theme begins as a sloppy, drunken low wind melody, but it transforms along with the character into something sturdy and impressive, as heard in “The Clash of the Cranes”.

Williams combines all of these elements – jazz, simplicity, references, and leitmotifs – to create something adventurous in the old-fashioned sense of the word and, overall, truly amazing. Despite the fact that it’s an animated film, The Adventures of Tintin boasts a score that could make just about any action/adventure film jealous. Though its themes may not be as instantly iconic as those now associated with Star WarsIndiana Jones, or Superman, it takes turns in paying homage to each of these classic film scores in a way that is fresh and new. At 80 years old, John Williams has “still got it”.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Adventures of Tintin” 3:07
2. “Snowy’s Theme” 2:09
3. “The Secret of the Scrolls” 3:12
4. “Introducing the Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase” 4:08
5. “Marlinspike Hall” 3:58
6. “Escape from the Karaboudjan” 3:20
7. “Sir Francis and the Unicorn” 5:05
8. “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars” 2:17
9. “Red Rackham’s Curse and the Treasure” 6:10
10. “Capturing Mr. Silk” 2:57
11. “The Flight to Bagghar” 3:33
12. “The Milanese Nightingale” 1:29
13. “Presenting Bianca Castafiore” 3:27
14. “The Pursuit of the Falcon” 5:43
15. “The Captain’s Counsel” 2:10
16. “The Clash of the Cranes” 3:48
17. “The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale” 5:51
18. “The Adventure Continues” 2:58

Total Length: app. 66 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – I didn’t want to taint the body of the review with something like this, but I have to mention it: there is a moment in “Presenting Bianca Castafiore/Renee Fleming” when the soprano hits a high sustained note and breaks glass…loudly…ON THE ALBUM. And I absolutely despise it.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) – John Williams

This soundtrack is near and dear to my heart for multiple reasons. For starters, it’s the first film soundtrack I ever owned. Also, Harry Potter played a very large part in my childhood and shaping me to be the person I am today, so John Williams’ score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone occasionally leaves me emotional.

John Williams is phenomenal. He has composed the most iconic film themes of all time, including (but not limited to) JawsSupermanStar Wars, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. His score to this film is not an exception: “Hedwig’s Theme” is the maintheme that everyone associates with Harry Potter, forcing the three composers who followed Williams in scoring the Harry Potter films to utilize it in their own scores.

The best way I can possibly describe this score is “magical”…I’m sorry, but it just is.It’s one of the few scores that I can sit down and listen to from start to finish and be able to play through the film in my head, from “The Arrival of Baby Harry” all the way to “Leaving Hogwarts”. This is especially easy to do since much of the score is timed with specific key moments in the film itself. A prime example of this is the track “The Quidditch Match”, in which you are able to hear the exact moment when the quaffle is tossed into the air to start the game, or when Quirrell starts cursing Harry’s broom, or when Harry nearly swallows the golden snitch. Williams is a master of this.

I have zero criticism for this score, possibly because I’m biased, but that’s okay with me. “Entry Into the Great Hall and The Banquet” will always present a magical moment to me, “The Face of Voldemort” will always bring a chill down my spine, and “Leaving Hogwarts” still brings tears to my eyes…especially when it was used in the closing moments of the final film of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Pt. 2 (Williams’ score for this first movie was sampled throughout the final one…a nice touch by composer Alexandre Desplat).

Overall, this score is the best and I love John Williams.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “Prologue”  2:12

2. “Harry’s Wondrous World”  5:21

3. “The Arrival of Baby Harry”  4:25

4. “Visit to the Zoo and Letters from Hogwarts”  3:23

5. “Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault”  4:06

6. “Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters and the Journey to Hogwarts”  3 3:14

7. “Entry into the Great Hall and the Banquet”  3:42

8. “Mr. Longbottom Flies”  3:35

9.” Hogwarts Forever! and the Moving Stairs”  3:47

10. “The Norwegian Ridgeback and a Change of Season”  2:47

11. “The Quidditch Match”  8:29

12. “Christmas at Hogwarts”  2:56

13. “The Invisibility Cloak and the Library Scene”  3:16

14. “Fluffy’s Harp”  2:39

15. “In the Devil’s Snare and the Flying Keys”  2:21

16. “The Chess Game”  3:49

17. “The Face of Voldemort”  6:10

18. “Leaving Hogwarts”  2:14

19. “Hedwig’s Theme”  5:11

Total Length: app. 74 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad