Henry V

  • Title:  Henry V
  • Director:  Kenneth Branagh
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  MGM (DVD release)
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Christian Bale, Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Richard Easton, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, John Sessions, Emma Thompson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Oh, for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the brightest heart of invention.”  — Chorus
 
“No King of England if not King of France.”  — Henry V
 
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V
 
“And upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry, and St. George.”  — Henry V

Branagh does a very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, and brings it to life on the screen wonderfully.  The film features an excellent cast.  When watching Shakespeare, either live, or a television or film presentation, I’m always almost distracted by the famous quotes and Henry V is no exception, which goes to show just what an excellent writer Shakespeare really was.

But Henry V is also a history play, meant to instruct the Elizabethan audience on their history, with a favorable nod toward the Tudor line.  The film opens with Henry’s advisors explaining to him that he has a just claim to the throne of France, through the female line, though France is claiming Sallic law — that is, Royal descent through the male line only.  The French Delphin arrives, bearing the message the King has refused Henry’s claim — and an insulting present.  This pushes Henry into the decision he was leaning towards:  he will invade France and pursue his claim militarily.

Henry and company are next in Southampton.  Henry is asking his advisors how to deal with a man who has broken the law.  They advise harshly.  However, the audience knows these advisors are conspiring against Henry and are actually in the employ of France.  Henry gives the man accused a light sentence, then he has the three conspirators arrested. They are accused of High Treason. Henry, points out that since they did not advise mercy for a lesser crime, he will show no mercy to them.

The English army heads to France, and into a battle.  Henry himself  leads the charge, with rousing words of bravery on horseback, “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V. They take the castle, but Henry advises his men, they are not to harrass the villagers.  Nothing is to be taken, but paid for.  The French people are not to be harrassed.  Henry even orders the execution of one of his own men who was caught stealing from a church, though the man is an old friend and advisor.

Finally, the English army reaches Avincourt.  They are cold, wet, tired, and sick.  On the eve of battle, it is plain they are out-numbered five to one.  Henry takes another advisor’s cloak and wanders through the British camp, getting a feel for how his soldiers really feel about the king.  Some support the king, others, fear they are on a fool’s errand and the king will only get himself captured and need to be ransomed. Henry swears this will not happen, though he is also worried by the long odds.  The next day, Henry gives the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”) and the English charge into battle.  The battle is extremely well-filmed, showing both chaos and violence, and historic tactics.  Again, Henry leads his own men into battle.  The English archers fire thousands of arrows into the French army, killing hundreds of men and boys.

At the end, though it looks like the English have one, Henry is unsure.  The French envoy arrives and tells him that he has won the day.  Later there is an accounting — the French have lost 8000 men, including over 500 newly named knights.  The English, about five named men, and an additional twenty-five.  Henry gives credit to God for fighting for them.

Henry then goes to the French king.  Among his terms, the crown of France and the king’s daughter – Katherine.  The French king gives all to Henry.  Henry, after some courting of Katharine is to marry her. The film shows the two as the new king and queen.  However, Chorus reminds the audience that Henry’s son is not the man his father was, and he will lose France.

The courting scene between Henry (Kenneth Branagh) and Katharine (Emma Thompson) is wonderful, and the sparks fly — though she speaks only French, and he really only speaks English.  He tries speaking in French to her, but only succeeds in making her laugh.  Still, the chemistry is palatable.

Christian Bale is extremely young (like eight) in this, playing one of the boy pages, who sets off the flight of arrows at Agincourt, and is also killed. But he’s recognizable — and it’s surprising to see him.  The cast is filled with excellent British talent:  Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, John Sessions, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed and Judi Dench, as well as, of course, Branagh and Thompson.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Highlander

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Director:  Mike Newell
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Tennant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dark and difficult times lay ahead, soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.  But remember this – you have friends here, you’re not alone.”  — Professor Dumbledore

With Goblet of Fire, the Harry Potter series take a turn for the darker, and the new director, Mike Newell, doesn’t shoot the film and its environment the way his predecessors did.  Rather than giving us lovely, beautiful shots and placing the characters in them perfectly – Newell concentrates on showing us close-ups of the characters’ faces.  Not as interesting an approach to watch, but, on the other hand, it does add to the emotional feel of the film.

This is the first Harry Potter film to have a very episodic feel to it.  We see a brief, almost prologue, at the Quiddich World Cup, which is broken up by a show of force by the Death Eaters, the first and second Tri-Wizarding Tournament tasks, the Yule Ball, and the final task and Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. Each episode is well realized and told, but of course details from the book are lost, as they have been for all of the Harry Potter films.

Still, it is a very good movie, and a good adaptation of the novel.  The Wizarding World is again expanded and Harry goes with Ron and his family to the Quiddich World Cup; then at Hogwarts, exchange students from Drumstrang and Madam Beaux Batons Academy come to Hogwarts for the Tri-Wizarding Tournament.  It’s interesting to note that apparently Drumstrang is a boys school and Beaux Batons a girls school.  Only Hogwarts, of the three Wizarding Schools, appears to be co-ed.  A champion is to be chosen from each school, but he or she must be seventeen or older. Yet, not only is Hogwarts represented by Cedric Diggory, but also by Harry.  This causes Harry some problems, as even Ron is jealous and angry.  However, Ron and Harry work out their differences after Ron sees the danger Harry is in during the first task of challenging a dragon.  During the second task, Harry comes in last as he’s determined to rescue all the kidnapped people (Ron, Hermione, Cho, and Fleur’s younger sister).  Cedric and Krum save their “treasures” and Harry rescues Ron and Fleur’s sister.  His bravery and determination, however, earn him extra points for moral fibre, and he ends up in second place behind Cedric.

The third task is a maze, with the Tri-Wizarding Cup hidden somewhere inside.  After spooky challenges, Harry and Cedric take the Cup at the same time.  But it’s a portkey, transporting them to the graveyard where Tom Riddle’s parents are buried.  Cedric is killed.  Wormtail performs an incantation which brings back Voldemort.  Harry and Voldemort duel, but their wands become locked.  Harry escapes, bringing Cedric back and sobbing.

In a sober end-of-year lecture, Dumbledore informs all the Hogwarts students that Cedric was killed by Voldemort, who’s back.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Henry V

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Director:  Alfonso Cuaron
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Julie Christie, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Dawn French, Robert Hardy, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of  times.” — Professor Dumbledore

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite Harry Potter book, and so far it still remains my favorite Harry Potter movie. The book opens up the Wizarding World even more by introducing the Wizard town of Hogsmeade just outside of  Hogwarts. The movie doesn’t spend as much time in Hogsmeade, I would have liked to see more, but it’s still an important part of the plot. The danger and sense of  evil is also much stronger in this film.

The director has changed, but the film is still beautifully shot, just gorgeous, especially the way quick-acting frost is used to visually signify the appearance of a Dementor.  This film also introduces a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (later revealed to be a werewolf), whom I really, really liked.  And we find out about Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black, who’s accused of betraying Lily and James Potter to Voldemort and causing their deaths.

However (spoiler alert!), the core of the film is the discovery that Sirius wasn’t guilty of killing Peter Pettigrew, and it was Pettigrew who actually betrayed the Potters to Voldemort.  Still, Sirius has spent all that time in Azkaban, the Wizard prison, and only escapes at the beginning of this film.  Even at the end, he’s on the run for his life, because no one will believe Harry, Ron, and Hermione that he’s innocent.

Also, this film is the only one with time travel.  Hermione over-loads herself with a triple load of classes, and uses a time turner to attend classes held at the same time.  She and Harry are able to use the time turner to save Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, and Sirius.  Harry also conjures a Patronus for the first time, saving himself and Sirius from the Dementors.  (It’s cool – we see the scene from Harry I and Harry II’s perspective).

This film is also the last time the look and feel of the Harry Potter films is still innocent and young.  After this, the films get progressively darker (as do the novels they are based on).  Highly, highly recommended for children eight and up.  Later films are better for the over-thirteen crowd.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of  Fire

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Harris, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I fashioned a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would fear to speak when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Tom Riddle
“Albus Dumbledore is the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Harry Potter
“Albus Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me.”  — Tom Riddle
“He’ll never be gone, not so long as those that remain are loyal to him.”  — Harry Potter

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are – it is our choices.”  — Professor Dumbledore

Chamber of Secrets” previously was my least favorite of the first four Harry Potter films, but upon re-watching it today, I actually enjoyed it very much.  Like, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, also directed by Chris Columbus, this film has a sense of whimsy, and is beautifully shot.  The film begins with Harry looking at the photo album containing pictures of his parents, given to him at the end of the previous film.  However, it also opens up the world that Harry is learning about, the “Wizarding World”, by bringing us to Ron’s home and to the frightening Knockturn Alley  (I love the wordplay in that almost as much as “Diagon Alley”).  However, besides a good mystery (e.g. What is the Chamber of Secrets?  Where is it?  What’s hiddened there and who opened it?) that is better than the one in the first film – there’s more of a sense of danger.  Students are being attacked, including Hermione.  Ron’s own sister is kidnapped – though the book goes into greater detail of how Riddle uses his diary to en-trance Ginny into doing his bidding.

Still, another successful, enjoyable, and fun movie appropriate for all ages.  The young actors playing the students are all quite brilliant; and the established British actors playing the teachers bring gravitas to the film.  Kenneth Branagh appears in this one as Gildroy (as in gilded) Lockheart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher — and a man who’s all talk and bluster with no skill at all.  I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Warwick Davis, Julie Walters, Zoë Wanamaker
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This boy will be famous.  There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name.” — Professor McConagall

“You’re the boy who lived.”  — Hagrid

“I can teach you how to bewitch the mind, and ensnare the senses.  I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death.”  — Professor Snape

Harry Potter is beautifully shot, with an excellent young and at the time of this film, largely unknown cast  — for the children.  But the film is also rounded out by a who’s who of talented British actors.  However, this first film also has a sense of whimsy that the later, darker films lack.  Not every detail or scene from JK Rowling’s novel is in the film, but the film still is a wonderful adaptation of the story.  And it’s just beautifully, beautifully shot.  Hogwart’s Express is wonderful, and looks just as it should.  The boat ride across the lake is beautiful.  And there’s a lovely scene of Harry walking by himself in the courtyard to fly Hedwig, his owl, in winter, surrounded by snow that, again, is just lovely.

The Sorceror’s Stone introduces the world of Harry Potter – Harry, his friends, the rules of magic, and the teachers at Hogwarts.  In this fantasy series, one must have a talent for magic – that is, witches and wizards are born, not made (and parents can be witches and wizards or non-witches, called muggles). But, just being born with the talent for witchcraft doesn’t mean young witches and wizards know what they are doing — thus they must be taught how to use their gifts wisely.  It also involves the noted alchemist, Nicholas Flamel, who developed the Sorceror’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the original British novel, though it was changed for the US novel as well) which grants immortality.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione, discover how to be students at Hogwarts, have various adventures (a fight against a troll, exploring the Dark Forest, and a series of tests when they confront Lord Voldemort).  Most of the vignettes from the novel are in film, though some are shorter.

One thing I loved about the Harry Potter novels, especially the early ones, is they show Harry enjoying and being excited by school — and not simply because he’s suddenly discovered he’s a wizard.  For the first time in his life, this young orphan is happy and has real friends – something sorely missing from his life when he lives with his aunt, uncle, and spoiled, bullying cousin.  But Hermione, a natural student, also loves school.  The novels, actually, get more into her characterization — showing how her fears of being behind because she’s muggle-born cause her to almost over-compensate.  And Ron, from a large, loving, yet poor wizarding family, has his own issues.  All will be explored more in depth in later books/films in the series.  The school itself is drawn from the traditional English boarding school. However, to me, especially reading the books, it reminded me of college.  I had to keep reminding myself  just how young Harry is meant to be (He’s only 11 here).

Recommendation:  See it!  Especially good for children eight and up
Rating: 5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Goldeneye

  • Title:  Goldeneye
  • Director:  Martin Campbell
  • Date:  1995
  • Studio:  United Artists (MGM)
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Judi Dench
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong.  I have no compution about sending you to your death.  But I won’t do it on a whim.”  — M

“Need I remind you 007, that you have a license to kill — not to break the traffic laws.” — Q

Goldeneye is Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film and he does a marvelous job — Brosnan plays to his strengths, giving Bond a core of steel and toughness, that isn’t all that nice.  With Brosnan’s portrayal –the charm, clothes, and air of sophistication are a thin veneer that, at best, covers an icy man.  The villainess in this film is Onatopp, a Russian pilot and assassin, who can kill men by squeezing them until they stop breathing.  Yet, she isn’t all that different than Bond — both are functioning psychopaths — Bond more functioning than Onatopp — who clearly gets off on violence and killing.

The Bond franchise re-invented itself  with Brosnan, bringing in Judi Dench as the new female “M” — and she has more balls than any previous M.  Dench is wonderful as the hard-hitting head of MI 6.  Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny — able to give as good as she gets to Bond, and turning down his habitual offers. Desmond Llewelyn is back as Q, but fun and light-hearted.

The plot of the film involves a stolen Russian satellite weapon, an EMP-generator code-named, Goldeneye.  But unlike the cold-war plots of Bond vs. Russia or China — the first half of Goldeneye involves Bond trying to figure out who has the weapon.  Suspects include a Russian arms dealer named Janus, a runaway general, or the two programmers who escaped the disaster when the weapon was stolen and its base destroyed.  Bond eventually discovers Janus is none other than Alec — an old friend and MI6 agent who’s not dead as Bond thought but has gone rogue.  Alec’s working with one of the programmers from the Siberan installation.  Bond ends up working with the other one, a female computer programmer named Natalia.  She’s tough, smart, and although she sort of falls for Bond’s charms, she seems to know his involvement with her won’t be permanent.  They eventually end up in Cuba where Bond and Natalia destroy the satellite antenna and also cause the actual Goldeneye satellite to burn up in the atmosphere.

But it’s a typical Bond film in that there is plenty of action, vehicle chases, flying bullets, and gorgeous women.  The nice thing about this film is the women are all strong:  M, Moneypenny, Onatopp, Natalia  — none are just mindless pretty faces.  But at the same time, this isn’t some “feminst counter-strike” at Bond — the film hits all the line items one has come to expect from a Bond film.  It’s highly enjoyable, if a bit long.  And Pierce Brosnan is gorgeous.  Drop dead gorgeous.  Plus he’s talented and lights-up the screen, with presence and magnetism.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Green Lantern:  Emerald Knights