Skip to main content

If you die down there, you're welcome to share my toilet.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
(2002)

(SPOILERS) More of the same really, continuing Chris Columbus’ unswerving mode of following Steve Kloves’ sticking like glue to JK Rowling’s early structural template. Another mystery on the Hogwarts premises (you’d have thought the teachers would try to keep the kids clear of mortal peril until they’d at least graduated) that inevitably ties in to Voldermort. It’s marginally more honed this time, though, which means that when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – even the title is eminently resistible – finally knuckles down, it flows better. Unfortunately, it also has several major red flags to contend with.


Dobby. Sure, he’s supposed to be annoying, I know. Gollum by way of Jar Jar Binks. But did he have to be so wretchedly designed (not remedied by house elves of later instalments)? Some of the CG in this film is pretty good (the Basilisk, for one, and the flying car for another), but Dobby is never more than Smeagol-lite in attributes. Toby Jones voices him with duly pathetic dedication, but a fitting end would have been to have the elf’s head shoved in a blender, rather than being granted release from service to Lucius Malfoy.


It’s also a considerable problem how unwarrantedly long this movie is. Does it need to be pushing towards three hours, particularly when you could happily lose most of the first 40 minutes and barely notice? Doubtless Harry will be redone as a Netflix TV show at some point and at such a time this will seem positively spry, but as it is, the only verdict can be guilty as charged of indulgence in the first degree.


Exhibit C is Gilderoy Lockhart, the Frank Spencer of the wizarding world. It’s a decent performance from Sir Ken, much breezier and possessed of a light comedy touch than his recent Poirot, but the character beggars belief. Are we really to believe that a narcissist celebrity wizard is venerated by other wizards despite being patently inept at every turn? Why does he continually volunteer to perform spells in front of his peers if he knows he’s terrible at them? JK must have at least considered this point, as at one point Gilderoy imparts that the only thing he is (conveniently) any cop at is memory charms (by means of which he stole credit for others’ achievements). Unless he was intending to perform one on the entirety of Hogwarts, though, it doesn’t really wash.


Countering that are several sterling additions, though. Jason Isaacs is magnificently composed in his malevolence as Lucius, and there’s an enjoyable scene (relatively) early on where he and Mark Williams’ Arthur Weasely cross paths. Very different characters and performers, but it’s a treat to see them bring that into play (likewise, it would have been nice to see more between Lockhart and Snape, so evident is the latter’s disdain for the former).


Shirley Henderson’s Moaning Myrtle is also memorable. Nice to see Robert Hardy as the Minister for Magic too, who instantly seems like he’s always been there. I have to say, however, I find Robbie Coltrane’s “ever so ‘umble” giant-of-the-people serf irritating for the assumption we’re supposed to love him. That’s the class system for you.


As with its predecessor, elements of the novel’s plot are rather lost in translation. The gist of the opening of the Chamber of Secrets is explanatory enough, and the reveal regarding Tom Riddle is reasonably sound; that, through the awesome power of anagrams, he’s a younger version of Voldermort attempting to manifest. But it entirely escaped me that Lucius (at least in the books) didn’t realise the diary’s properties when he stowed it in Ginny Weasely’s cauldron (apparently to rid himself of an incriminating dark object and bring Arthur into disrepute – which all seems bit thin). Perhaps Voldermort should have been a touch clearer in his instructions.


By and large, Chamber of Secrets is amiable but very forgettable; it’s never a good sign when the most annoying elements (Dobby, Gilderoy) are the ones that stick in the mind. There is, fair’s fair, an amusing sequence in which Harry and Ron transform themselves into Slytherin boys in order to find out what Draco knows, but there’s also another of those quidditch games to get confused by. And Rupert Grint’s still streets ahead of the other juniors performance-wise at this stage, with Emma Watson’s rather over-emphatic delivery leaving her trailing a distant third.


So Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was Columbus’ last real involvement with the series (he retained a nominal producer credit); after this, the results would be universally more engaging and less sugar-coated (Columbus would try his hand at Young Adult again with Percy Jackson, but his directing career has been noticeably subdued since). Also Richard Harris’ final appearance as Dumbledore, sadly. The first two entries are much as I remembered them, undemanding, overly beholden adaptations that give non-fans little reason to invest themselves in the material. Fortunately, that would change in one fell swoop.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

Blake's 7 4.13: Blake

The best you can hope for the end of a series is that it leaves you wanting more. Blake certainly does that, so much so that I lapped up Tony Attwood’s Afterlife when it came out. I recall his speculation over who survived and who didn’t in his Programme Guide (curious that he thought Tarrant was unlikely to make it and then had him turn up in his continuation). Blakefollows the template of previous season finales, piling incident upon incident until it reaches a crescendo.

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …