Wild Target


Wild Target

Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt drag another critic into a screening kicking and screaming.

(2010) Comedy (Freestyle) Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Rupert Everettt, Eileen Atkins, Martin Freeman, Gregor Fisher, Geoff Bell, Rory Kinnear, Duncan Duff, Graham Seed, James O’Dee, George Rainsford, Alexis Rodney, Sia Berkeley. Directed by Jonathan Lynn

 

A professional hit man must be cold, ruthless and absolutely without mercy. There must not be an ounce of remorse inside them, not even a trace of empathy. They must be able to take a human life with the same dispassion that the rest of us take a shower.

Rose (Blunt) doesn’t know any of that however. She’s a con artist, using her considerable feminine wiles to defraud wealthy art investors by selling them forgeries. She’s managed a good deal of success at it – at least she hasn’t been caught – mainly because she has a lot of the same qualities as an assassin i.e. the complete lack of regard for her victims.

That’s all about to change as she winds up cheating the wrong guy – in this case urbane mobster Ferguson (Everett) who doesn’t take all too kindly to being made a fool of. In his case, he really can’t afford it so an example must be made and Ferguson being who he is doesn’t believe in half-measures. He hires Europe’s most efficient and successful assassin – Victor Maynard (Nighy).

Victor comes from a long line of hit men and professional killers. His supportive but wheelchair-bound mum (Atkins) keeps a scrap book of his hits, which she affectionately gives him on the occasion of his 55th birthday. This most recent job looks to be a piece of cake. However, once he get Rose in his sights, things happen – improbable, unpredictable coincidences save her from certain death and more to the point, Victor finds himself increasingly unable to pull the trigger on the comely young Rose.

He decides to shelter his would-be victim, particularly since Ferguson has hired Hector Dixon (Freeman), a ferocious and sadistic killer who is eager to supplant Victor as the number one assassin in Europe, as a back-up plan. Hector takes being number two very personally and sees the successful murder of Rose as a means of taking the crown away from Victor. And if Victor is hit by a stray bullet or two, so much the better.

Along for the ride is Tony (Grint), a bartender who is tired of the publican life and becomes Victor’s protégé after a fashion. Victor, however, is still trying to sort out his feelings for Rose which he can only do if he keeps her alive, which is no easy proposition with all the firepower Ferguson has hired to put her six feet under.

British director Lynn has had some success (My Cousin Vinny, the British TV series “Yes, Minister”) but he also has a few less successful efforts (The Fighting Temptations, Sgt. Bilko) to his name as well. This isn’t quite as bad as his worst but not as good as his best either.

One thing he’s done is assemble a marvelous cast. Nighy usually tends to be in supporting roles; this is one of his few leads and he proves himself more than up to the task. His arch delivery and Victor’s supercilious nature remind us that Nighy is as adept at comedy as anybody in Britain. There was never a moment where I got bored with his character.

Blunt has been rising through the ranks over the past few years in becoming one of the more appealing leading ladies in film. Although this isn’t really her best work, it’s mainly because her character is such a sociopath – and it doesn’t seem to bother anybody. It’s the reaction to her behavior by the other characters that make her own character less believable, not Miss Blunt’s performance.

Freeman whose career is about to receive a major boost with his appearance as Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit trilogy is usually kind of cute and cuddly onscreen but here he’s a raging lunatic for whom inflicting pain comes as naturally as breathing. It shows some versatility on his part I wasn’t aware he had, always a good thing. The veteran character actress Atkins is delicious as Victor’s mom and Grint continues to show that he’s much more than Ron Weasley.

The issue here is that it’s supposed to be a gangster comedy along the lines of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight but it’s more along the lines of Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. It’s humor mostly derives from slapstick murder attempts that go horribly wrong, with a few feeble one-liners thrown in for good measure. Considering how good the cast is, it’s pretty disappointing they weren’t given better material to work with.

With the vicious Hector in pursuit, the movie can get kind of brutal in places but it seems curiously out of place to be honest. This is a badly uneven effort that takes a premise which we’ve seen before and does nothing new with it. Certainly it has some moments that work nicely and the performances are worth checking out but if this isn’t high on your list of movies to check out it there’s no need to add it there.

WHY RENT THIS: Nighy, Blunt, Freeman and Atkins are all worth watching.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wastes some good performances with a weak story. Lacks laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: It does get a bit violent in places and there’s some content that’s definitely sexual. The language gets rather raw briefly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based loosely on the French film Cible emouvante.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interesting featurette which is an interview with Blunt as she deciphers the history and motivations of Rose, or at least her interpretations of them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.5M on an $8M production budget; unfortunately this didn’t quite recoup its costs at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grosse Point Blank

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Queen of Versailles

Advertisements

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

There's a Blue Light special in Bellatrix Le Strange's vault.

(2011) Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Tom Fenton, Matthew Lewis, Michael Gambon, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Bonnie Wright, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Julie Walters, George Harris, Kelly Macdonald, Helen McCrory . Directed by David Yates

All good things must come to an end, and in every sense, the Harry Potter film franchise has been a good thing. It has brought untold joy to millions of viewers, not to mention untold billions to the coffers of Warner Brothers. Will the series go out with a whimper or a bang?

After the events of the first part of the finale (think of it as Act I), Harry Potter (Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Watson) and Ron Weasley (Grint) are on the run from Lord Voldemort’s (Fiennes) Death Eaters who have essentially taken over the Wizarding World. Harry needs to find the Sword of Godric Gryffindor in the bank vault at Gringott’s belonging to Bellatrix Le Strange (Carter). To do so, they will need the help of the captured Griphook the Goblin (Davis) and for Hermione to use polyjuice potion to impersonate Le Strange. If you aren’t into Harry Potter, you probably didn’t understand a word of that last paragraph bbz.

The plan is bold and might have worked but as is par for the course for the trio (“When have we ever made a plan that actually worked?” ponders Harry early on) they barely escape with their lives and without the Sword. However they do get a clue that one of the Horcruxes that contains the soul of Voldemort resides in Hogwarts itself, so off they go to their old school which has become more of a gulag overseen by Severus Snape (Rickman), the man who killed Albus Dumbledore (Gambon). Dumbledore’s brother Abeforth (Hinds), a bitter man who lives in the shadow of his late sibling, helps Harry and his friends elude the Death Eaters and dementors that patrol the skies above Hogwarts and slip him in through a secret passageway, assisted by their old friend Neville Longbottom (Lewis).

With the help of a secret underground at Hogwarts and the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry retakes Hogwarts and sets about retrieving the Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw (one of the founders of Hogwarts) and eventually winds up facing down Draco Malfoy (Fenton), his old nemesis and winds up saving him from certain death.

Realizing that Harry is at Hogwarts, Voldemort and his Death Eaters engage in a pitched battle at the old school in preparation for Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort. Only one of them will walk away and many friends old and new will not survive.

The fact that the movie had the biggest opening weekend box office in motion picture history isn’t really an indication of whether or not this movie is worth seeing, but it certainly is a clear marker of the anticipation surrounding its release. As much as Part I was somewhat unsatisfying (which given the circumstances was inevitable), this is completely satisfying and a fitting end to the franchise.

Radcliffe gets to show Harry as the hero he was always meant to be. He has a scene in the forest near the end of the movie in which he faces his own mortality that is absolutely heartbreaking, one that I will remember for a long time. It’s not just a great scene in a summer blockbuster; it’s a great scene in any movie period. Oscar winning performances have been based on less.

Sure, there are times when you might feel lost or left out if you haven’t seen the first seven movies of the series. Sure the 3D is unnecessary and makes a dark picture darker, but it at least doesn’t ruin the movie, which a bad conversion can do.

Simply put, this is the movie that I may wind up remembering with the most affection in a summer full of underwhelming movies for the most part. There is spectacle, but there is also human pathos. It is on an epic scale, but also very much intimate character studies. There is something for everyone here and even for those who are ambivalent about Harry Potter and fantasy in general, this is worth your while to spend your hard-earned cash at the multiplex.

REASONS TO GO: An appropriate and fitting end to a great franchise. Epic in scope and personal in nature, you will laugh, cry and ooh and ahh – everything a movie should be.

REASONS TO STAY: You don’t like Harry Potter, fantasy or good movies.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few frightening images and some fantasy action. Some of the more wrenching scenes might be difficult for younger kids to handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the course of the movie Hermione impersonates Mafalda Hopkirk (portrayed by Sophie Thompson, the sister of Emma Thompson – who plays Professor Trelawney) and Bellatrix Le Strange (portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter who played Emma’s sister in Howard’s End).

HOME OR THEATER: It may be a bit of a cliché but it is true in this case – if you see only one movie in a theater this summer, this is the one to go see.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Zombie Strippers

New Releases for the Week of July 15, 2011


 

July 15, 2011

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Warwick Davis, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, every actor in Britain. Directed by David Yates

Do you really need a synopsis for this one? Honestly, seven films in the can and you have to think about it? You know you’re going to see it and if you’re not, it’s not like a plot summary is going to change your mind. Bad wizards beat the crap out of good wizards leading to one whale of a final battle. Two men enter, one man leaves. You’ve read the book – now see the movie!

See the trailer, promos, featurettes, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images)

A Better Life

(Summit) Demian Bechir, Jose Julian, Delores Heredia, Carlos Linares. An illegal alien in Los Angeles works his cabeza off for a better life for him and his teenage son but must contend with the ever-present threat of deportation, gang violence and a stolen truck. Along the way the father and son reconnect and discover that making it in the land of plenty takes plenty of strength.

See the trailers, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, language and brief drug use)

Winnie the Pooh

(Disney) Starring the voices of Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, Tom Kenny, John Cleese. A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s storybook characters return to the big screen in this hand-drawn animated feature in which the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood attempt to procure for Eeyore a new tail. The trailer had me reaching for a bowl of Cream of Wheat and a glass of chocolate milk.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

Harry and Hermione share a rare tender moment in a dark and dismal place.

(2010) Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman . Directed by David Yates

As someone who’s been with the Harry Potter series from the beginning, I had always thought it a young adult fantasy series but I was wrong. This has always been a series for adults; we just didn’t know it at the time.

After the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry (Radcliffe), Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) are on the run. No longer is Hogwarts a safe place – in fact, it only puts in a cursory appearance in the movie. Instead, the three are on the run, chased by Deatheaters who are looking for Harry specifically.

Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) and his cohorts, including Lucius Malfoy (Isaacs), his son Draco (Felton) and cousin Bellatrix Lestrange (Carter) have taken over the Ministry of Magic as well as Hogwarts itself and have launched a campaign to stamp out Muggles, using propaganda and fear. The overall impression is of a totalitarian Nazi-like state with Voldemort a Hitler-like figure at the top.

Harry is seeking the horcruxes, special items in which Voldemort has placed parts of his soul. Harry has found several of them but there still remain several to go. The stress and weariness are getting to Ron, who notices that Harry and Hermione are getting close. Into this mix comes the Deathly Hallows, but what exactly are they and how are they the key to victory over Voldemort?

This is movie is dark, dark, dark. If Half-Blood Prince was dark, this is pitch-black. This is serial killer-dark. This is your mom is dead-dark. You get the picture. In fact, the mood is so unrelenting in its grimness that you actually feel it weighing on your soul as you exit the theater.

I have tried to avoid reading the books before I see the movies so I can’t really say how closely this follows the book, which the studio has ultimately decided to split into two movies ostensibly at author J.K. Rowling’s request but, I suspect, also as a way of wringing out twice the revenue from the same book which will be the final installment in the series. Along the way it has become the most successful film series of all time on a per-film basis (the Bond series has brought more money in overall but has had 22 films to do it in) and more or less a license for Warner Brothers to print money. It’s not hard to see why they’re disappointed that the cash cow is coming to a close.

Part of my issue with the movie is that there is just so much information being crammed into it, and so many characters – nearly everyone from the first six books who haven’t died either in the series or in real life is here. It’s very difficult to keep everybody straight and by the time the two and a half hour movie comes to a close, you feel a very real sense of overload.

And yet there is much going for the movie. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have become fine actors and have essentially grown up with their roles. Harry is showing the heroism that his character has always threatened to be, while Hermione is not only a charming and beautiful young woman but brilliant and resourceful as well, every bit Harry’s equal. Ron is the most human of the three, filled with doubts and flaws, but yet in his own way more courageous than either of them. The three make a formidable team, three terrific friends who are stronger together than they are separately.

The special effects are jaw-dropping at times, particularly an early broomstick and motorcycle sidecar battle, as well as a wonderful animation that introduces the Deathly Hallows into the film (the animator Ben Hibon has recently been rewarded with a feature film of his own). While a dark and terrifying place, the wizarding world is no less dazzling than it has been all along.

One gets the impression that the second film of the two Deathly Hallows movies will be much better in the sense that the resolution that is approaching like a bullet train is going to be something special. Much of that has to do with Rowling, who may sometimes not get her due simply because the books appeal to children. She is simply put one of the best writers of our age, regardless of genre or audience.

This is still a movie worth seeing – it is in many ways the weakest movie in the series simply because it feels so incomplete and yet it is the equal of all of them, but that is a function of the split. It is a movie of putting aside childish things and stepping into a frightening world. It is a movie of accepting responsibility and standing up for what is good and what is right. It is a movie that while on the surface may seem to be about running away and hiding is in reality about acting in the face of overwhelming odds and terrible penalties. Bad things happen to good people in this series – not everyone comes out of the movie alive and many come out badly injured at least. It is a movie about conquering fear, and what better lesson can we give to young people than that?

REASONS TO GO: Simply put, this is marvelous to look at and all the threads of the first six movies are beginning to draw together into a recognizable tapestry.

REASONS TO STAY: Dark, dark, dark – this is not your older brother’s Harry Potter. There is a good deal of information crammed into this movie which will probably all be necessary for the second but it sure does slow the pacing down quite a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: This is dark, dark, dark – the wee ones are going to be plenty scared by the violence, both on-screen and implied. The evil of Voldemort and his Deatheaters becomes much more realized and I would have a serious talk with any younger kid before seeing it to make sure they understand it’s just a movie. If they are prone to nightmares or particularly sensitive, I’d really think twice about taking my kids to see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After escaping the attack at the wedding, Harry, Hermione and Ron end up in a London diner, where one of the posters on the wall is for the West End production of “Equus” which star Daniel Radcliffe starred in.

HOME OR THEATER: You will see this on the big screen, if you haven’t already.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Last Legion

New Releases for the Week of November 19, 2010


November 19, 2010

Hagrid and Harry pose as Hell's Angels, thinking they'll be inconspicuous.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Maggie Smith. Directed by David Yates

Why bother? You‘re gonna see it. You know you’re gonna see it. It wouldn’t matter if this was about Harry eating his own weight in Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. You’d still go see it. The fact that this is the first of two parts of the last Harry Potter adventure only means you’re really eager to see it. So don’t bother reading this. It’s a waste of time. Just…go see it.

See the trailer, promos, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for some scenes of intense action violence and frightening images)

Fair Game

(Summit) Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Noah Emmerich, Nicholas Sadler. This is based on the true story of Valerie Plame, the CIA Operative who was “outed” by high ranking Bush Administration officials to the New York Times and Washington columnist Robert Novak as a field operative. Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, contend that this was done as a reprisal for Wilson’s public criticism of the invasion of Iraq over phantom weapons of mass destruction.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Guzaarish

(UTV) Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Ash Chandler. When a stage magician is paralyzed in a tragic accident, he seems to accept his lot, changing his profession to a radio DJ whose popular radio show spreads love and magic throughout the land. He is aided by his devoted nurse and romantic partner. However, fourteen years after his injury, he shocks everyone by petitioning the Indian courts to allow him to die, putting his relationship with his nurse in turmoil.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

The Next Three Days

(Lionsgate) Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy. When his wife is arrested for murder, John Brennan is shocked but confident that she is innocent and will be acquitted. When she’s convicted of the gruesome crime, he is angered. When he realizes that she will never be able to serve the full length of her sentence, he becomes desperate and determines to break her out of prison, no matter the odds.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements)

Driving Lessons


Driving Lessons

The Weasleys do some muggle slumming.

(Sony Classics) Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Julia Walters, Nicholas Farrell, Oliver Milburn, Michelle Duncan, Tamsin Eggerton. Directed by Jeremy Brock

Growing up is a painful, nasty business that is best left to professionals. Unfortunately, even amateurs like the rest of us have to figure it out eventually.

Ben Marshall (Grint) is a shy, bookish 17-year-old who is subject to the dictatorial whims of his evangelical Christian mother (Linney) who has her boy bring food to the elderly, participate in the church play and accept whatever charity case his mother brings to live with them, most recently a wild-eyed cross-dressing old man (Norton). She also has her eyes set on a handsome new pastor. His father, the henpecked reverend (Farrell) puts up with all of this with the patience of Job, but Ben’s veneer of British schoolboy civility is beginning to crack.

He is moved to write a poem for the object of his affections (Eggerton) but is met with only a scornful “you’re just too weird.” He also has begun to suspect that his driving lessons with his mother are a front for her to canoodle with the handsome New Age reverend she respects far more than her husband.

Ben responds to all of this by getting rather grumpy, but he winds up getting a job as a…well, I’m not really sure what. I guess a general assistant sort for a loopy actress named Evie Walton (Walters) who has bestowed upon herself the title of “Dame” and refers to her many Shakespearean roles. As Ben eventually discovers, her main claim to fame was as an actress on the equivalent of an evening soap and Dame Evie is perilously close to being dismissed as irrelevant or worse still, forgotten altogether.

Evie and Ben’s mother Laura are polar opposites; Evie high-spirited and anti-authoritarian, Laura rigid and positive that her parental authority stems directly from God. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there will be a clash between the two cultures extolled by these two very strong women and Ben’s heart – his very future – depends on which way he leans now.

Jeremy Brock, who has written some mighty fine screenplays in his day (including Mrs. Brown and The Last King of Scotland) makes his feature directing debut here and it is a solid one. There were some interesting casting decisions made; some worked wonderfully, others are a little questionable. Linney is a fine actress, but her accent is not one of her finest hours. Perhaps Brock might have been better served to allow her to keep her American accent and merely make her the Reverend Marshall’s American wife.

Putting Grint and Walters together on the other hand was inspired. Walters plays Grint’s mother in the Harry Potter series and it comes as no surprise that Grint’s best scenes are the ones he shares with her. Grint essentially plays Ron Weasley without the wand, so he does all right here but he lacks the energy I know he possesses (some of his Potter scenes bear this out). He needed a sure hand from his director I think, or at least a different direction.

Walters, on the other hand needed no such thing. This is the kind of role she excels in, the dotty English eccentric and she plays it to the hilt. It isn’t so much over-acting – which in a way is the hallmark of her character – as simply inhabiting a larger-than-life role. She’s what you’ll remember most about this movie.

Brock based this movie on his own experiences as the son of a vicar spending one summer working for Dame Peggy Ashcroft, and the movie does have an anecdotal feeling to it. The summer in which a young person grows from a child into an adult is a bittersweet season, and Brock captures that aspect of it here. While there are some missteps and things I know I would have done differently, that doesn’t take away from what is a solid, entertaining coming-of-age movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Walters is a much underrated actress who shines when she gets the opportunity to as she does here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is somewhat bland and could have used a little more color from Grint.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of foul language and some sexual situations, probably all right for mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Grint was 16 when this was filmed and under the legal age to drive in England, so all the scenes involving Grint at the wheel were filmed on private roads.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Tyson

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter: Ultimate Emo Boy!

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Timothy Spall, Ralph Fiennes, David Thewlis. Directed by David Yates

Being a teenager is hard enough without additional burdens. There’s the rampaging flood of hormones that makes a life-or-death situation of any emotional trauma. There’s the constant war between childish comforts and the call of growing up. Throw on top of that the responsibility of being The Chosen One and well, it sucks to be Harry Potter.

After the fallout of the events of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry (Radcliffe) has become a bit of a celebrity. The tabloids have gone so far as to wonder out loud if he isn’t The Chosen One, the wizard meant to end the threat of Valdemort (Fiennes) once and for all. For Valdemort’s part, his Deatheaters are no longer acting covertly but openly causing damage in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds.

Dumbledore (Gambon) is increasingly spending time with Harry, preparing him for the battle to come. He takes young Harry on a mission to find Horace Slughorn (Broadbent), a bon vivant and former Potions teacher at Hogwarts. The idea is not just to offer him a job, but to bring him close to Dumbledore. Slughorn has a memory of young Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane) that may prove to be crucial in defeating the Dark Lord once and for all, but it is a memory that Slughorn is reluctant to pass on; you see, the contents of that memory may also ruin Slughorn forever.

In the meantime, Harry and his friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) are struggling with the adolescent hormones big time. Ron is the target of Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), while Hermione has her eye on Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch) and Harry himself has come under the scrutiny of Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright). Things can be very tangled up at that age.

In the meantime, the Dark Lord has an infiltrator at Hogwarts – Draco Malfoy (Felton). He is being protected by Professor Snape (Rickman), the former Deatheater who has been pressed into service by Draco’s mother Narcissa (Helen McCrory) and the evil Bellatrix Lestrange (Bonham Carter). What Malfoy’s mission is – and what he is doing with the cabinet in the Room of Requirement – is also central to Harry’s fate and the fate of the Wizarding world.

This is a much darker Potter than any of the other films in the franchise, and you definitely get a sense that the confrontation that has been building since the first movie is almost upon us. While the Wizarding world intrudes on our own world much more in this movie (London’s famed Millennium Bridge is destroyed in a fit of spite by the Deatheaters), the movie is Hogwarts-centric. However, you get less of a sense of it as a school as much as you do of the place of it. Harry is not attending classes so much as brooding in the hallways. We see much more of the social interactions between the students than we do instructions in the art of magic, and that’s a good thing.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have turned out to be solid, first-class actors who hold their own with world class talents like Rickman and Smith. Wright has also turned out nicely, making the romance between Ginny and Harry one of the sweetest things in the movie and nicely authentic. Watching Ron and Hermione turn towards each other is much more like watching your sister kiss your brother.

The effects are magnificent and the story is compelling. So why didn’t I like this movie more? Much of the middle part of the movie seems directly aimed at pleasing the legions of Potter obsessives who demand that the books be faithfully followed to a literal “T”. Characters literally make cameo appearances – Wormtail (Spall) appears merely to open a door without saying a word, then disappear from the film entirely. That kind of thing proves to be distracting.

The craft that went into the making of this movie is extraordinary. Kudos must go to the special effects and art direction crews; this is a world that is well-lived in and fleshed out and much of the credit must go to J.K. Rowling. She has created a world so detailed in her books that the movie crews have a great template to work with. The sequence in the underground cavern in which Dumbledore displays some of the powerful magic he is capable of is extremely well-done, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff, spectacle at its finest.

This is a solidly made movie that while not up to the standards of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, is still certainly worth seeing. I suspect that you will probably like it more than I did – for some reason, it didn’t draw me in the way other Potter movies have. Perhaps it is the dark, foreboding tone of the movie that makes the Wizarding world much less attractive to be in, unlike the first movies when it was a delightful place.

If there is light, then there must also be its absence as well, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince peers into that aspect firmly. This is not meant to be a movie for small children, but a movie for putting aside childish things. Harry Potter is growing up, and perhaps I’m not ready for that but as with all children, they grow up whether we want them to or not.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular special effects sequences and art direction make this a feast for the eyes. Well-acted and the romance between Ginny and Harry is extremely sweet and believable. Michael Gambon does some of his finest work of his career.

REASONS TO STAY: The tone is exceedingly dark and foreboding. There is a lot of unnecessary business that while pandering to the Potter extremists, proves to be distracting to the rest of us.

FAMILY VALUES: There are many frightening images and incidents that may be too intense for smaller children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author J.K. Rowling makes a cameo appearance as the subject on the cover of a gardening magazine that Dumbledore picks up in Slughorn’s flat.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The documentary J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (which aired on U.S. cable) depicts the last year of the writing of the final book in the Harry Potter series during which the author revisits her past; there is also a series of “One Minute Drills” in which the cast are given sixty seconds to describe their character’s history, personality and other personal details  before time runs out. Finally, there is a sneak peak of the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park opening in the Spring of 2010 in Orlando, Florida.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Armored