June 9th, 2004

Shreck 2, 06-06-04

Oh, go on. You KNOW you want to see it--. The good news is, you can do so with no feeling of guilt or trepidation. Shreck 2 was one of two basically flawless fantasy films we’ve seen in the last few days. The unimaginatively titled sequel picks up where the original left off, with Shreck and Fiona back from their honeymoon. Their attempt to settle into domestic life is interrupted by the summons to meet visit Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far, Far Away, who are under the mistaken impression that Fiona had married her intended, Prince Charming, who got to the castle of the dragon after she had already escaped with Shreck. Complications ensue as the King and the Fairy Godmother (who happens to be Prince Charming’s real mother) try to get Shreck out of the way and Shreck tries to become more acceptable. If anything, the animation and design in this film is better than the first, and the new additions to the cast are very worthwhile. John Cleese (the King), Julie Andrews (the Queen), and Rupert Everett (Charming) are all notable for the hoity-toity self-parody accents they can do—and did none of in this movie. Indeed, the vocal acting by all was quite subtle and unaffected (which nonetheless still begs the question of why Fiona has a California-girl accent if any, when all her family and countrymen sound like Brits--). In the animated figures, the King’s range of facial expression is quite astonishing, the more so because he is a different facial type than Cleese, which leads one to think that he was not Rotoscoped for the renderings. Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots holds his ground with Eddie Murphy successfully. Indeed, in my opinion, one of the improvements in this script over the original is less dialog given to the motor-mouth Donkey, whom I find annoying (indeed, he refers to himself as “annoying talking animal” at one point, so I think I’m not alone--). The backgrounds in Far Far Away are rich in sight gags to entertain those who aren’t carried along by the story, but I was sufficiently taken up with it that will require a second viewing to catch most of them.

HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Burrahobbits, 06-08-04

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the second basically flawless film we saw in as many outings, this one with our friends of the Burrahobbits reading group. If you care about the movies, you’ve probably read the book, so I won’t bother with a synopsis. The movie is tightly plotted: I have to agree that leaving out digessions such as the blast-ended skrewts was a good thing. Excellent design, with Hogwarts portrayed in a darker (literally—the stones look weathered, rather than gleaming) and more craggy landscape. The Knight Bus was well realized, and details such as the talking shrunken head dangling from the rear-view mirror were very nice. The time-related symbolism—giant pendulums and clock faces—was a bit obvious, but frequently beautiful, as in the scene with the armillaries. Very competent and maturing acting from Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, well supported by the regulars. Additions to the cast this time were David Thewlis, very good in the melancholy role of Lupin; Gary Oldman, affecting in the short part of Sirius Black, and Emma Thomson, very hippie-dippy as Professor Trelawney. We were also pleased to see character actor Timothy Spall, whose work we have enjoyed elsewhere, as Peter Pettigrew. As all of these characters appear in later books (so far) we can hope to see more of them. (Also, not surprise cameo by Julie Christie as Madam Rosmerta--). We were VERY pleased with Micheal Gambon in the role of Dumbledore. I was never quite happy with Richard Harris’ portrayal. Dumbledore is supposed to be one of the great minds of his time, and those around him, such as the students, NEVER see him as a dodderer in the books. Gambon let the edge come through, and I predict he will make the role his own, particularly if he stays with the franchise through number five. (We’re also hoping that the admirable Maggie Smith hangs on—McGonigall has a big part in “Order of the Phoenix,” and we want to see her play it--.)

Good movie. Go see it if you haven’t gotten out of your cave yet.