The 5 Best Shots of 2016

Sometimes it’s the way it was shot.

The best cinematography elevates a film creating indelible, unforgettable images. It’s a pity because the way movies are being enjoyed nowadays can seem to neglect the power of a filmed image. I’m still a firm believe that a single frame of film seen on the big screen doesn’t have the same effect as seeing it on your smartphone. But a great shot can transcend that.

Again, to reiterate: great cinematography always creates unforgettable images.

Here are my choices for the five best shots of 2016.

5. Moonlight (Director of Photographer, James Laxton)


Moonlight obviously takes many directorial styles from Wong Kar-Wai and director Barry Jenkins states in interviews that Chungking Express was a huge inspiration. It’s fascinating that the most devastating scene in the film in my opinion is shot with such clarity and vibrance. Paired with Naomi Harris’ amazing performance and the painful slow-motion as she screams (in silence) to Chiron (Alex Hibbert) just escalates the hurt.

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Director of Photographer, Greig Fraser)


The last thing you expect from a Star Wars movie (or any well-established franchise for that matter) is the ability to surprise, especially in its cinematic techniques. What makes Rogue One a great addition to the franchise is its ability to ground the Star Wars lore in a gritty world that feels authentic. Fraser films this sci-fi epic like a well-worn war movie, and when the looming Death Star rises above Scarif, it reminds us of its power. Also, wasn’t it great to see Stroomtroopers on a beach?

3. Hell or High Water (Director of Photographer, Giles Nuttgens)


There are many shots in Hell or High Water that have the Howard Brothers (Chris Pine and an underrated Ben Foster) shot in far mid-shots amidst the dry landscape of modern-day Texas. It’s in those shots that ironically take us deeper into the brothers and their relationship. There’s desperation and abandonment in the world our characters live in. It’s timely and it’s utterly cinematic.

2. La La Land (Director of Photographer, Linus Sandgren)


Shot in glorious Cinemascope and unabashedly borrowing color schemes and musical motifs (and ahem, character flaws) from Jacques Demy, La La Land isn’t ashamed whatsoever of what kind of film it is. It’s the first time in a long time that Los Angeles looked this good. It’s smart for them to open on this vast freeway opening number, edited to look like one single shot. From here on in, we’re hooked.

1. Arrival (Director of Photographer, Bradford Young)


Perhaps the best cinematography of 2016 goes to Bradford Young’s restraint work in Arrival. Surprisingly, the only visual effects in this shot is the spacecraft but that rolling fog is real and captured on film. Inspired by the great cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and Gordon Willis (The Godfather films), Bradford Young isn’t afraid to light naturally and capture film as rich and textured. He isn’t afraid to underexpose and juxtaposing the beauty of light and dark in his shots and Arrival is triumphant work from a young cinematographer who is just getting started.


Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
Hail, Caesar! (Roger Deakins)
Jackie (Stéphane Fontaine)
A Monster Calls (Oscar Faura)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Philippe Rousselot)

The Best Original Film Songs in 2016

2016 proved that film and music are inseparable. Songs both original and classic played such a huge part to some of the year’s most memorable cinematic moments. You can’t deny the joy of seeing a gridlocked LA freeway turned into a massive musical theatre opening number in La La Land‘s ‘Another Day of Sun’ or the beautiful rendition of ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ as a proper eulogy in Captain Fantastic. We’re reminded of how Barbara Lewis’ classic ‘Hello Stranger’ in Moonlight will forever be achingly beautiful and Lesley Gore’s hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ in Suicide Squad always had a sinister streak underneath its angelic verses. Songs will always be cinematic if you pair it with the right elements of filmic storytelling.

Here are my choices for the best original songs written for the screen in 2016, in no particular order.

LA LA LAND (Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment) – “City of Stars”
Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benjamin Pasek & Justin Paul


MOANA (Walt Disney Pictures) – “How Far I’ll Go”
Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda


SING STREET (Weinstein Company) – “Drive It Like You Stole It”
Written by Gary Clark, John Carney and Relish


HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox) – “Runnin'”
Music & Lyrics by Pharrell Williams


MISS SHARON JONES (Starz Entertainment) – “I’m Still Here”
Written by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings


‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ – Trolls
‘Audition’ – La La Land
‘We Know the Way’ – Moana
‘Rules Don’t Apply’ – Rules Don’t Apply
‘Just Like Fire’ – Alice Through the Looking Glass
‘Dance, Rascal, Dance’ – Hello, My Name Is Doris
‘Heathens’ – Suicide Squad
‘The Great Beyond’ – Sausage Party
‘Another Day of Sun’ – La La Land
‘Faith’ – Sing

O Captain, My Captain

It’s always sad when a celebrity passes away and we’ve had some really notable artists leave us too soon just within the past year (Philip Seymour Hoffman comes to mind). Yet the news of Robin Williams’ death has affected me immensely, more so than I want to admit.

When my little sister told me the news Monday afternoon, it was sheer disbelief. How can a man so full of life (who we’ve now learned was hurting inside) be gone? This man, who played such an integral part of my childhood and contributing to so many life memories–how can he be gone? It’s like losing a close family friend since Robin Williams was exactly that to my family and I. Robin Williams gave us so much laughter and joy that I wish we, as his audience, knew a way to give it right back.

I literally grabbed my Robin Williams blu-rays and started perusing, going through those cinematic moments that made me remember such awesome times. Robin Williams is the single actor that inhabited movies that were highlights of my life, both good and bad. He made me laugh, cry, think and feel. Robin Williams’ movies will forever be vivid landmarks that I need to share a few of them.

As proof of a talented actor and performer, his magic and his talent left an unforgettable impression on me as an actor, director, artist, and more importantly, as a person.

Rest in peace, O Captain, My Captain.

MORK & MINDY (TV Series 1978-1982)


As a little kid, I remember my parents laughing hysterically in our Daly City house on Morton Drive watching this show. One memory I have is being sick with a cold and my Mom snuggling me on the couch as we watched Mork & Mindy.

POPEYE (1980)

My parents hated this movie, but I was leaning forward, because I loved Popeye growing up.



A late night drive-in near the airport and I was knocked out. I just remember my Mom and my Aunt going to this and every time Adrian Cronauer’s signature “GOOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!” yell would come on, it would wake me up in the backseat. I didn’t get it at the time, but watching it later in life gave me a full appreciation of what this man can do.



My oldest sister Jerianne wanted to go to prep school and I remember watching this as a kid thinking prep school was terrible. Yet if we all had Professor Keating as a teacher, it might be awesome. To this day, this movie kills me and has played such a huge part in how I teach now. The first movie I popped on when I heard of Williams’ passing was this and minutes in, I’m balling my eyes out.

HOOK (1991)


The movie that I share with my cousins to this day. We quote it. We reenact scenes from it. We can watch this movie over and over and over. Hook bonds my cousins and I together. It’s our movie and Williams’ Pan is unforgettable. Bangarang, indeed.

ALADDIN (1992)


What made me fall in love with animation was this movie, mainly because of how animator Eric Goldberg captured Robin Williams manic genius in the art form. One of his best performances. One of my favorite Disney movies. I remember wanting to see the movie so bad and I missed the movie opening day because my parents were busy. I remember politely telling my Mom that I can wait. The next day, she takes me to see it and buys me ever Aladdin-themed toy at the Toys R’Us right beside the theater.


Robin Williams In 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

I remember seeing this with my cousins that Black Friday since it came out during Thanksgiving. I remember laughing hysterically and glancing over at my family, my cousins, my aunts and uncles because we took over one whole row! It thrilled me just seeing everyone in my family laughing. This man did that. Again, another movie I share with my cousins. Every time I pass by the Mrs. Doubtfire house in the city, it always puts a smile on my face.

JUMANJI (1995)


This movie with all its merits, actually carries a darker place with my family and I. We were going through a tough time with my Grandfather passing away and having to see my parents struggle with their business at the time. Jumanji helped ease some of the real life chaos in our lives and it was comforting to know that Williams was still there for us, through thick and thin.



My oldest sister Jerianne and I were stuck visiting relatives in the Poconos back east for a New York trip once. To escape the relatives, we found a movie theatre in town and they were playing this. To this day, my sister and I consider that the highlight of our trip, just laughing together away from the forced politeness of being around distant relatives. Just last month, my Mom and I popped this blu-ray on and we laughed our heads off.



The first time an actor really moved me and hit me to the core was Robin Williams Oscar-winning performance in this film, which happens to be one of my favorites ever. I remember being a young buck in film school and just being reduced to a puddle on the classroom linoleum floor when I saw this. I remember seeing it with my family, my grandmother and my uncle and aunt and just being so moved by it again. As a filmmaker, the movie is a constant inspiration. As an actor, it’s an example, thanks to Williams heartbreaking performance.



I saw this one afternoon with my sister Jerianne and a friend. By now, I’m a die-hard Robin Williams fan and just remember being so melancholic right after. It was his performance in this movie that came through, despite the Oscar-winning visual effects. It was his melancholy that shone through, and know looking back it, perhaps it was coming from the actor’s soul honestly and truthfully.



As we got older and my little sister Jerica grew up, it was rarer for us as a family to see movies together, but I’ll never forget seeing Night at the Museum at the Metreon in IMAX. My parents, my sisters and I wanted to rekindle that family movie night we used to have. We decided to go all out and see this movie on a random night during Christmas vacation. We had a blast and it felt like everything was well in the world.

Robin Williams has surely made more films that made such an impact on me as a performer (Insomnia, One-Hour Photo, just to name a few) and continued to make all of us laugh in whatever movie or TV show he appeared in (Happy Feet, License to Wed) but these are the big ones that I’ll forever hold in my heart. His presence on screen felt real and tangible, as if he were one of my uncles. His roles taught me a lot, perhaps its because he embodied them with full vigor and life.

Thank you, Mr. Williams, for being there throughout my cinematic endeavors. You will truly, truly be missed.

Cinematic Storytelling: August: Osage County

I was fortunate enough to catch the original production of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer/Tony Award-winning play, August: Osage County. I’ve seen the original Steppenwolf production in Chicago (pre-Broadway) as well as the Oregon Shakespeare production. When news of a film adaptation came, I remember reading in the trades how every A-Lister wanted to be involved in the film version. Now that it’s arrived in its cinematic form, it’s a film well-worth seeing. Sure, the play’s obvious heavy melodrama doesn’t translate as solid on screen as a fan of the play would hope yet the what rises to the top in this film version are the great performances by this amazing cast–a venerable who’s who, with everyone cast perfectly in their roles.

What I wanted to highlight about this film is how director John Wells really didn’t have a lot of opportunity to make the film breathe outside of the confines of the story. Sure, the strange  beauty of the piece is the claustrophobic atmosphere of Violet Weston’s (Meryl Streep, in fine form as always) dreary Oklahoma ranch home. Yet, when he does have the opportunity to show a little cinematic flair, it comes off rather beautifully and subtly–a huge contrast from the bravado of the performances. The film is sprinkled with wide shots of the Plains and old Western murals that truly give the film a much needed scope.

Yet a pivotal moment happens near the climax of the film with eldest daughter Barbara played by Julia Roberts (who gives a career-defining performance). Her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) decides to bring their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) back home to Colorado. At this point in the movie, the themes are fairly obvious (generational sins, mothers/daughters, parenting, etc.) What’s wonderful about this scene is how subtle the transition happens from one family issue to another.

Jean, furious with her mother has daggers for her (1), after the debacle of the previous evenings’ incident. She decides to not speak and simply roll up the passenger car window revealing (2) her mother Barbara, in turmoil. The reflection falls right in front of her daughter’s face. Pure genius. Yet that’s not all. As we shift family issues, the camera pans up and as one car pulls away another arrives (3, 4) transitioning us to the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. It’s also fascinating to see how vehicles play a huge part in helping show the themes in the film.

August: Osage County is peppered with interesting cinematic flairs much like the example I show above. In my opinion it could have used more. See it for the performances.

Back to Bloggin’

One of the things I found myself doing more and more lately, especially last year was writing. Tons of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing ever since I could remember. I’ve written screenplays, short stories, essays and film reviews. After jumping into the world of podcasting last fall with a good friend and fellow filmmaker Sean Totanes, I found myself looking back at my old blog as I researched for whatever the topic of conversation was for that week. I can’t believe I started blogging ten years ago (!) and now here I am–reviving the form and sharing with those interested enough to read them.

I’m also back into production again, and nothing inspires me more than seeing great films. I’m excited for what 2014 brings.

The photo above is of course, my favorite filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh. He’s an inspiration.

2011: A Year In Film

Every year, I find myself immersing myself in entertainment, more so than the previous year and 2011 had some standouts–from movies, music, television to literature. So as usual, this is my yearly recap of what I loved, loathed and learned from the world of movies in 2011.

My 5 Favorite Movies of 2011

1. The Descendants

2. 50/50

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

4. Moneyball

5. The Ides of March 

Honorable Mentions: Horrible Bosses, We Bought a Zoo, X-Men: First Class, The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, Hugo, Super 8, The Muppets, My Week With Marilyn, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Attack the Block

My Best Picks for 2011 (Not Award Predictions)

Best Director – Martin Scorcese, Hugo

Best Actor – George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress – Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor – Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Actress – Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay – Will Reiser and Seth Rogan, 50/50

Best Adapted Screenplay – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton and Jim Rash, The Descendants 

Best Animated FeatureThe Adventures of Tintin 

Best Original Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Best Original Song – “Life’s A Happy Song” from The Muppets

Best Visual Effects Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

Best Art DirectionHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Best CinematographyWar Horse

Best Costume DesignHugo 

Best EditingThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

The 5 Worst Movies I Actually Wasted Hours of My Life in 2011

1. Abduction

2. What’s Your Number?

3. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

4. The Hangover Part II

5. Disney’s Prom

Cracking Whip and Wit: Indy IV Delivers

All the Indiana Jones movies open with the famous Paramount Pictures logo dissolving into some mountainous form, be it a South American peak in Raiders of the Lost Ark, an embossed emblem on a Chinese gong in Temple of Doom, or a dry boulder in Utah at the start of The Last Crusade. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the long-awaited fourth installment in what may be one of the best franchises in movie history, the logo dissolves into a tiny prairie dog hill in Nevada located on the outskirts of Area 51. Perhaps director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas are reminding us at the start of the movie to keep our expectations low despite the arduous wait and growing anticipation we lovers of the series have endured. Still, the first frame of Crystal Skull is reassuring. To our benefit, those involved in resurrecting Indy after a 19-year hiatus have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.

Indiana Jones is back and he still kicks ass.

Crystal Skull delivers enough fun proving the naysayers wrong. It doesn’t match the unfairly high expectations Raiders of the Lost Ark
sets forth, which we all know is ultimately impossible. After all, we
are experiencing a movie that Spielberg and Lucas know how to do best. Crystal Skull makes all the imitators pale in comparison. Okay, so there are a few flaws but to complain about Indiana Jones is like complaining that your visit with an old friend went terribly awry because he or she wore the wrong shoes. Indiana Jones and the franchise itself is a throwback to those old-fashioned, B-movie matinee serials. (Buck Rogers, anyone?) The goal is simply to entertain and be swept away to another world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that filmmakers sacrifice quality storytelling. (Raiders, anyone?) Movies of this sort should be fantastical and off-the-wall—relentless in its adventurous spirit and bold in its often-implausible moments. We’ll go for the ride if the ride’s well worth it. These movies demand our imagination. Sadly, that’s the biggest obstacle Indy’s going to have to endure this summer. How can an old-fashioned adventure hero be relevant to the iPod generation, who’s perpetually plugged-in, apathetic and incredulous?

Ironically it’s technology that makes this movie less than stellar. For all it’s old-fashioned sensibilities, the use of CGI in Crystal Skull feel
painfully out of place, taking away the pure, visceral joy of what
makes an Indiana Jones movie—there’s no real, tangible sense of danger here, and the film suffers for it. Also, the dialogue could use a
little polishing. Perhaps screenwriters David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson try too hard to emulate the spirit of the earlier entries.


Crystal Skull is one gorgeous set piece after another, with purposefully garish lighting (very reminiscent of Last Crusade)
and out-of-this-world (literally) plot points. It’s now 1957, and the
bad guys are no longer the Nazi’s but the Commies. Dr. Jones is a
tenured professor who partners up with a young student named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) because their good friend Oxley, played by John Hurt, disappears while tracing the origins of this crystal skull—a quartz relic that evil Soviet agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) believes came from an earlier civilization, possibly form another world. On their quest, Indy and Mutt cross paths with one-time flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who also happens to be (spoiler alert!) Mutt’s mother. There’s some healing to be had between Marion and Indy, and perhaps some secrets that need revealing. Throughout the film, we’re jampacked into loads of action, thrilling set pieces and lots of trap doors and hidden clues. The action is relentless. For example, when Spalko and Mutt cross swords above moving vehicles and other obstacles, it brings me back to the glorious action of pre-CGI movies—and I’m not just saying this as a fencer myself. It’s nice to see movies do good old-fashioned stunts again.

Thankfully, there are way too many strong points to overlook the weak ones. The best is Harrison Ford. Even if he’s older and wiser, his whip (and wit) still cracks and finally, Ford shines again in a role he was born to play. Composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn give reliable work, be as they are Indy veterans having worked on all four films now. The supporting cast is great as well, with Cate Blanchett as the evil Ruskie dominatrix Irina Spalko complete with an over-the-top babushka accent. It’s also nice to see Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. Shia LaBeouf tries to keep up with his older counterparts and succeeds most of the time, even if his sensibilities seem a bit too 21st century. His strength has always been playing the young sarcastic, uber-cool know-it-all which LeBeouf doesn’t really get to display here since he’s suppose to be a cool kid in the 1950’s. Speilberg tries to immerse him in the era, even giving him a grand entrance a la Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, complete with the hog, jacket and tilted cap.


Indy IV could also be considered a coming-of-middle-age story. There are plenty of over-the-hill jokes about Indy’s age. Besides, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford made the first three well into their thirties. Now they’re in their sixties and still going strong. Perhaps, that’s the coolest thing about this whole Indiana Jones resurrection. Underneath the excitement and brought out by Indy’s constant fatigue and “I’m-getting-too-old-for-this” comments is a celebration of journeys traveled. Those of us old enough to remember experiencing any one of the first Indy movies on the big screen are probably too old to be going around celebrating an iconic character of our youth by gorging on the merchandise and wearing fedora hats at the mall. (Raiders is the movie that made me want to become a filmmaker.) But having Indiana Jones back now that we’re older reminds us that life is full of adventures, no matter how old or young. It’s one thing to be old and another thing to do it the old-fashioned way.

And sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way.

Welcome back, Dr. Jones. We’ve missed ya.


Movies: The Best of 2007

It’s been a tumultous day for Hollywood, what with the Oscar noms announced, the ongoing writer’s strike and the sudden passing of talented actor, Heath Ledger. Still, 2008 so far hasn’t been that promising (was Cloverfield really that good? Same time last year, we already had Zodiac and Breach.) 2007 was actually a strong year for movies, and despite the recent ups and downs in Tinseltown, at least they have 2007 to look back to as quite a strong year. So here are my choices. You can always read my reviews on

The 10 Best Movies of 2007

Michael ClaytonDefinitely a Best Picture dark horse, Clayton’s my favorite movie of 2007. It’s All the President’s Men for our generation harkening back to the good ol’ 70’s American cinema resurgence. Tony Gilroy is quickly becoming my new hero and Clooney is the definitive leading man of our time. Read my review.

Paris J’TaimeA gorgeous mosaic of short films that focuses on love in the City of Lights. Some of the short films aren’t that impressive but thankfully there are more hits than misses. My favorite is Alexander Payne’s entry. And the Coen Brothers.

Sweeney ToddIt’s perfect synergy. Take Sondheim’s masterpiece and give it to the right director with the right leading man. What you get is a movie musical that you’ll never forget. Read my review.

Charlie Wilson’s WarIt’s Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams headlining the cast. It’s Mike Nichols at the helm, directing Aaron Sorkin’s gorgeous prose. What’s not to like? Okay, so the subject matter is a bit disturbing, but never has it been dealt with with such panache.

Knocked UpJuno may have gotten all the praise but I’m still affectionate towards this movie’s low-key sensibilities. Judd Apatow makes smart movies about regular people. Ten times better than Superbad.

OnceSupposedly Steven Spielberg’s favorite movie of 2007 and rightfully so. The movie takes the musical genre and spins it on its head. Great songs. Even greater performances. And it’s shot on digital video! Hopefully this will inspire Spielberg to adapt Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford It was this or 3:10 to Yuma but I was won over by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck’s performance. Roger Deakin’s cinematography is gorgeous and the whole Western, though somber, strikes a surprisingly resonant chord. A great year for Westerns—the best since Unforgiven.

No Country for Old MenThe Coen Brother’s need love, really. It’s about time. The movie is reminiscent of Miller’s Crossing and Fargo, which admittedly are better fares from the siblings. No Country gets props for bringing them back to that realm again.

The Bourne UltimatumUpping the ante for spy movies to come, (hear that, Mr. Bond?) the Bourne series ends on a high note. The best of this year’s threequels, Matt Damon proves that he’s a bona fide action star. And what a supporting cast, led by Oscar nominees David Strathairn and Joan Allen.

Ocean’s ThirteenA sentimental favorite but thankfully the film did deliver the goods. I love movies with old-fashioned sensibilities and the whole “shaking Sinatra’s hand” thing is something younger generations should take heed to. The movie is a great reminder of bringing back the lost art of being a gentleman. Props to Clooney and Co. (review)

Honorable Mentions
3:10 to Yuma, 300, Across the Universe, American Gangster, Atonement, Away From Her, Breach, Enchanted (review), Gone Baby Gone, Hairspray (review), I’m Not There, Live Free or Die Hard (review), Lust, Caution, The Lives of Others, Ratatouille, The Savages, Stardust, Surf’s Up, There Will Be Blood, Waitress, Zodiac

The 5 Worst Movies of 2007

Rush Hour 3
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Smokin’ Aces
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Best DVD Releases of 2007

Overall – Blade Runner: 5-Disc Definitive Edition (Blu-Ray)

Best Standard DVD Release – Transformers: 2-Disc Special Edition

 Best Blu-Ray Release (tie) – Hairspray: 2-Disc Shake & Shimmy Edition | Disney/Pixar’s Cars: Special Edition

Best Box Set (tie) – Stanley Kubrick Collection (Standard DVD) | Harry Potter 1-5 Collection (Blu-Ray)

 Best Catalog Re-Release – Taxi Driver: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (Standard DVD)

Best TV on DVD Release – Planet Earth (Blu-Ray)

Best Specialty DVD Release (tie) – Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 (Blu-Ray) | Battleship Potemkin: Kino 2-DVD Set (Standard DVD)

The Trouble With Harry

(My Review)

Playtime is definitely over in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. In the first few minutes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our boy, er, man Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) performs necessary magic to save himself and his muggle relatives. Right then and there it’s clear; childhood has become a dream of the past. Gone are the days of Quidditch and chocolate-covered frogs. For any kid Harry’s age, the scariest reality is the notion of growing up.

Underneath the darker tones, nifty visual effects and the high production values, Order of the Phoenix works best once you realize that it’s simply a strong coming-of-age story making the fifth installment of this well-crafted franchise a worthy entry; if not necessarily its best or most eloquent. It’s not as rich as Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban and perhaps much more disjointed than Goblet of Fire. Here, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg make it clear that this latest saga is a transitional piece—a placeholder during a phase of growth teasing us with uneven jolts of something far more thrilling, more sinister and perhaps even more enjoyable in things to come. A clever parallel to or our trio of heroes, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson), who also seem to be stuck in a similar phase of growth: puberty.

This time around, Harry faces a prickly new teacher, Miss Umbridge, played with delight by Imelda Staunton. She’s the epitome of that cheery, suburban socialite—like one of those church ladies you know who’s got an evil side underneath that plastered smile. But her veneer is convincing. No one believes Harry except for a trusty handful. Bureaucracy, in the form of the Ministry of Magic, has become such a negative commodity in the wizarding world that you wonder if it’s a social commentary on the part of the filmmakers or the author. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) haunts Harry in his nightmares, and the increasing denial of evil reignites an order to stand against it, not just in the wizarding world, because sadly this evil sorcery has trickled into ours. All this lies on the fate of Harry, and his weariness is all the more apparent. Finally, Harry comes to his own and Radcliffe nails the character down in perhaps his best performance as the kid wizard.

There is magic and mayhem all around, and loads of exposition but make no mistake, this is Harry’s darkest tale yet. When Harry recalls his encounter with the Dementors, those ghost-like creatures in black tattered threads, you can’t help but agree with him. “It was as though all the happiness had gone from the world,” An accurate description of the film’s tone. Perhaps younger viewers will find it scarier and dragging at parts, but fans of the series will eat this up. It’s nice to see the characters progress no matter their direction, and of course there’s That Kiss, which in my opinion, falls a bit flat and forced.

The key to the Harry Potter films is that all-star British cast. With such names as Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, George Harris and Julie Walters, you’d think a cast like this would be doing rep for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of ‘Mother Courage.’ Instead, they’ve all come together to be part of a Hollywood blockbuster targeted for a much younger demographic then they are all probably used to.

Perhaps the most advantageous aspect of the entire Harry Potter universe is synergy.

Credit can go to J.K. Rowling, the author/creator of the franchise, or perhaps to Warner Bros, for cleverly marketing their now profitable acquisition, turning what started out as a small English children’s novel into a blockbuster tentpole. Yet, the real credit goes to the fans.

Take for example my little sister, a die-hard fan that has grown up reading the books, watching the movies, and gorging herself in the merchandise. She’s roughly Harry’s age, so she’s practically grown up along side Harry, reading his memoirs of Hogwarts and finding relatable experiences with Hermoine Granger. Now when the last book is finally published in a few days, all those summer evenings of reading the books together with friends, going on trips to see the latest Potter movie in the local Cineplex, and most importantly, helping them pass through that awkward ‘tween’ phase of crushes and growing pains—all that will become part of their childhood memories because they grew up with Harry Potter, and Harry Potter on the other hand helped them grow up.