Now You See Me Starts the Series Well

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

April 25, 2021

Now You See Me is a 2013 heist movie directed by Louis Leterrier. It stars Jesse Eisenburg as Danny Atlas, Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merrit McKinney, Isla Fisher as Henley Reeves, Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, Mark Ruffalo as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray, Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler, and Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley. If you enjoy this movie, there are more to watch: a sequel Now You See Me 2 was released in 2016, and a third installment in the franchise, Now You See Me 3, has been announced for 2022.

Now You See Me starts when a group known as the Four Horsemen is formed. The members of the Four Horsemen, illusionists Danny Atlas, Merrit McKinney, Henley Reeves, and Jack Wilder, come together after displaying their skills in small performances. Danny Atlas presents flashy tricks with cards; Merrit McKinney performs mentalism, a type of hypnosis; Henley Reeves makes use of redirection; and Jack Wilder employs distractions and his pickpocketing skills. The Four Horsemen become famous magicians after banker Arthur Tressler sponsors them. They soon rob a bank while performing a show on a Las Vegas stage and attract the attention of the FBI and Interpol. Dylan Rhodes, who is working for the FBI, teams up with Alma Dray from Interpol to catch the Four Horsemen for their crime. Ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley, who has created a new career for himself by revealing the tricks of other magicians, works with Rhodes and Dray to try to understand the Four Horsemen’s illusions and magic tricks. Throughout the movie, the Four Horsemen put on a series of magic shows and pull off heists using each of their specific skill sets in an effort to enter a mysterious society called the Eye. While doing so, they work to evade the pursuit of FBI and Interpol agents.

I really like the way in which the illusions, magic shows, heists, and conversations between the cast are all connected in some way. The phrase “the closer you look, the less you see” is telling. The Four Horsemen have great chemistry as a team and have several conversations with each other and other characters that are funny and entertaining to watch. The plot of the movie is written very well, and it is difficult to predict what is coming next. There are a few twists in the movie that I won’t reveal because they make watching this movie a more entertaining experience. I watched Now You See Me with my family, and I recommend it as a great option for a family movie night.

Grosse Pointe Blank: A Review

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

March 29, 2021

Some movies last the test of time. Included in this group is the excellent 1997 action comedy Grosse Pointe Blank starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver. In my review of Grosse Pointe Blank, I’ll be trying out a slightly different format: instead of discussing the movie’s good and then bad points, I’ll give a score out of five to several categories and end with a final score for the movie. Without further ado, let’s get into the review.

Part I: The Performances

I think one of the most important parts of a movie is the acting. An otherwise good movie can be ruined by an awkward or unbelievable performance, and an otherwise unimpressive movie can be carried by one or two fantastic, compelling performances. Fortunately, all the actors in Grosse Pointe Blank give it their all. The obvious standout is John Cusack, who gives a hilarious, entertaining, and oddly compelling performance as an emotionally challenged professional hitman. At the beginning of the movie, he’s both amusing and charming, but by the end, he’s jaw-droppingly hilarious. While he’s not nearly as good when he’s trying to be dramatic and serious, he’s still good enough to make his character reasonably believable. Minnie Driver also does a great job. Although she’s not given too much to work with character-wise besides a sassier-than-usual generic love interest, she plays that trope really well and adds to it some interesting spice and flavor. Driver’s chemistry with Cusack is an essential component of this movie. It’s hard to criticize these two performances; all I have to say is that Cusack probably could have done a better job with a few of his more emotional, serious scenes, though that’s not a very large issue in the grand scheme of things. 4.5/5

Part II: The Comedy

Grosse Pointe Blank knocks the comedy out of the park. It has some incredible jokes, especially near the end. In fact, the last ten minutes of the movie contain some of the best comedy I’ve seen in any movie ever. There’s plenty of witty dialogue; the gags and quips are funny, and the fantastic relationship between Cusack and Driver makes the comedy work even better. The main antagonist is also extremely funny at times, and he plays off Cusack really well. The cherry on top is easily the soundtrack (more on that later), which seems to have a sense of humor of its own. The song choices work incredibly well and almost always make an already entertaining scene or moment even funnier. The comedy is easily this movie’s strongest asset, and I would change nothing about it. 5/5

Part III: The Action

When the action in this movie is good, it’s really good. Just as with the comedy, the last ten minutes has easily the strongest action sequence. There are some other entertaining bursts of action throughout the movie; however, much of the action near the beginning is just not nearly as entertaining or fun to watch as the stuff near the end. In particular, there’s a fight scene in a convenience store that, while funny, is a bit sloppily choreographed, and I feel that both the setup and the aftermath of the fight are far more entertaining than the actual sequence. A fight in the school hallway falls in between those two extremes: it’s much better than the convenience store sequence but still doesn’t quite live up to the final ten minutes of the film. I don’t dislike any of the action, but a few sequences here and there fall flat. 3.5/5 

Part IV: The Plot

This movie follows the basic storyline of John Cusack playing a professional hitman, attending a high school reunion, and hijinks ensue from there. It’s an original idea and executed well. The plot has a pretty good flow to it, and the type of humor employed complements the wacky storyline well. However, I do have to mention a couple plot holes here. The main issue I have is that there are several times when people get shot at repeatedly but miraculously never get hit or injured. There’s a particularly egregious example of this about halfway through the movie, but it’s an issue that pops up several times, and it’s always a bit distracting. Aside from those unfortunate mistakes, the plot’s great. 4/5

Part V: The Score and Soundtrack

This movie’s score is completely unremarkable. It’s a perfectly acceptable, very passable action movie score that does nothing for me. But beyond the score itself, the rest of the soundtrack is a completely different story. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a great mix of pop, rock, and punk from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and it complements the movie so well. Some of the absolute standouts are Blister in the Sun by The Violent Femmes, I Can See Clearly Now (The Rain Has Gone) by Johnny Nash, and 99 Luftballons by Nena, though there are many, many other excellent songs on there, all expertly used to complement the movie. The score, a two by itself, is saved by the soundtrack. 5/5

Part VI: Final Thoughts

I really like Grosse Pointe Blank, and I highly recommend giving it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of action comedies, because it’s hard to get much better than this. Although Grosse Pointe Blank does have its flaws, it’s a great movie with some great characters and some amazing jokes. I’m giving this movie a very strong 8.6/10.

Ocean’s Eleven Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

March 29, 2021

Ocean’s Eleven is a 2001 heist movie directed by Steven Soderburgh that inspired two sequels and one spinoff and deserves a revisit. It stars George Clooney as master thief Danny Ocean, Brad Pitt as Rusty Ryan, Matt Damon as the skilled pickpocket Linus Caldwell, Julia Roberts as Danny Ocean’s ex-wife, Tess, along with Don Cheadle as Basher Tarr, Carl Reiner as Saul Bloom, and Andy Garcia as Terry Benedict. This movie is a remake of the 1960s Ocean’s Eleven and is the start of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.

The movie begins when Danny Ocean is released from prison and meets up with Rusty Ryan to plan a casino heist. They want to rob 150 million dollars from an impenetrable vault that is shared by three casinos, each of which is owned by Terry Benedict, the antagonist of the film. To rob this vault, Danny and Rusty put together a team of eleven men, which includes Basher Tarr, Saul Bloom, and Linus Caldwell. Because the vault is impenetrable, the team needs to pull multiple cons to get into it. They spend weeks planning this heist and several days executing it. Even though the team runs into several bumps and distractions during their heist, they find clever ways to work around them. One of those distractions is Danny’s ex-wife, Tess, Terry’s girlfriend who is working as a museum curator in one of his casinos. Rusty believes that Tess is a liability to the heist because Danny still has feelings for her, and this provides a small conflict between the two main characters in the movie. 

I like how well the cast and characters work together in this movie. The main characters, especially George Clooney and Brad Pitt, have great chemistry with each other. Their characters seem to read each other’s mind, something especially enjoyable in a movie about con artists who are constantly deceiving somebody. And the movie contains some humorous scenes that show off the characters’ colorful personalities and make the film especially entertaining to watch.  Each of the heist members’ introduction scenes perfectly represents their personalities. Everyone in Ocean’s Eleven gang has a specific skill necessary to the heist, and everyone works well together to succeed in their plan. While the act of stealing 150 million dollars is a crime, Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict is so unlikeable that we can’t help rooting for Danny Ocean’s gang to succeed in their heist to rob him. I found Ocean’s Eleven very enjoyable, and I think it’s a great movie for the whole family to watch together.

Queen’s Gambit Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

February 22, 2021

The Queen’s Gambit is a 2020 Netflix limited series created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott and starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon, Isla Johnston as young Beth Harmon, Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel, and Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley. The series is an adaptation of the book The Queen’s Gambit (Random House, 1983) by Walter Tevis.

The term “Queen’s Gambit” is a popular chess opening, a clue to what the series is about. The series starts in a girls’ orphanage in the 1950s where young Beth Harmon discovers that she is a talented chess player after being taught by the orphanage’s janitor, Mr. Shaibel. Girls in the orphanage are given tranquilizers, a common practice in the mid-1900s to keep children calm, which Beth takes advantage of because she believes that the tranquilizers enhance her chess playing abilities and her ability to visualize the game. Beth leaves the orphanage when she is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley. After realizing that Beth can earn money from winning chess competitions, Mrs. Wheatley becomes Beth’s manager. As Beth travels and wins at different chess competitions instead of attending school, she becomes addicted to the tranquilizers and eventually to alcohol. She befriends several other chess players after defeating them at various chess competitions. These friends later come to her aid when she needs them the most. By the end of the series, Beth learns that she does not need to rely on the tranquilizers to be a great chess player; instead, she needs to trust herself and her friends.

The series covers the serious theme of addiction by showing Beth’s struggle with substance and alcohol abuse. The series also shows the importance of family, which for Beth is not her biological family, but her adoptive mother and the friends she makes. The series makes many references to chess: for instance, each episode’s name relates to an aspect of chess, and in the first episode, young Beth’s outfit mimics a chess pawn, symbolizing that she is a beginner at the game.

When I first heard about this limited series, I was skeptical about it and wasn’t sure that it would be worth my time. I was completely wrong, and I enjoyed watching it a lot more than I thought I would. You do not need to be a chess player to enjoy this show.  The script is well-written and constructs Beth’s story perfectly over the course of seven episodes. Since the actors don’t speak during the chess matches, they rely on their facial expressions and body language to convey to the audience what the characters are thinking, making the chess matches especially enjoyable for the viewer. I think that the last fifteen minutes of the final episode are incredibly powerful and that the musical score enhanced the ending. I have lost track of how many times I rewatched the final fifteen minutes because I enjoyed it so much. The creators of the show have announced that there will not be a second season; I agree with that decision. The seven episodes provide the perfect storyline with a satisfactory endgame. This is a series that I definitely recommend watching.

The Fugitive Review

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

February 22, 2021

The Fugitive is a 1993 action thriller film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Andrew Davis, and written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy. I saw this movie recently, and I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. But what makes this movie both so effortlessly fun to watch and indescribably tense? I will explore that in this review. 

First, a brief summary of the plot: Dr. Richard Kimble, played by Harrison Ford, is falsely accused of murdering his wife, wrongly convicted, and sentenced to death. However, on his way from the police station to death row, the bus he’s in crashes. He escapes the crash and attempts to track down the real murderer and prove his own innocence, all while being tracked down by Samuel Gerard, a seasoned U.S. Marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones.

The first things that come to my mind when I think about this movie are the incredible performances given by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. This entire movie is an intense battle of wills between Kimble and Gerard, and Ford’s desperate, broken performance clashes brilliantly with Jones’ intense, brutal performance as Marshal Gerard. This conflict of personalities and motivations generates a lot of natural tension on its own. And the viewer feels torn because it’s very easy to see and understand both sides of the conflict. Ford and Jones are both tremendously entertaining to watch. Besides the performances, the other major contributor to the tension is the brutal, gritty, fantastic action. Now, I won’t lie and pretend that I’m particularly difficult to please when it comes to action, but I do think I can tell the difference between purely entertaining action and action that has substance. The Fugitive’s action scenes decisively fall into the latter category, which can be subdivided into two further distinct categories: chase scenes and gritty bursts of hand-to-hand combat. I find the chase scenes to be more tense than the action scenes because of how long and drawn out they are, but some of the grittier, more conventional action sequences are very effective too. I also really like the ending — it’s open-ended but very satisfying, leaving the audience with a fairly good idea as to what will happen next. 

The Fugitive is a truly fantastic action thriller that will have you digging your nails into the palms of your hands for the entirety of its runtime. Normally, I’d offer some critiques as well as just praise, but this movie offers a very complete experience — it is so satisfying in so many ways that any critiques I could make are overshadowed. I’d say it’s just the right length, and every scene in the movie serves a purpose. This movie perfectly succeeds at being a very fun, mildly thought-provoking thriller, and that’s exactly what it’s trying to be. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s great. If I were to score it, I’d give it around a 9/10.

Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol: A Charming Take on a Classic Tale

by Sally Jamrog

Reviews

January 27, 2021
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. Sally Jamrog for The Scarlet Letter

Although many people are familiar with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, few may have considered its origin story. This is the premise of Samantha Silva’s debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol (USA: Flatiron Books, 2017), a fictional take on the creation of Dickens’ Christmas classic. Though primarily a work of fiction, Silva’s story is based on well-researched historical records, offering many cultural tidbits about the old London lifestyle as well as a witty, heartwarming celebration of Dickens’ work and the holiday spirit.

It’s early December, 1843 in Victorian London, and Charles Dickens is in a bit of a financial pinch. His latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, isn’t selling half as well as his earlier publications, which include Nicholas Nickelby, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop, among others. Even though Dickens claims Martin Chuzzlewit is his favorite work to date, his publishers urge him to write a Christmas book instead or else face a reduction in his salary. Dickens reluctantly agrees to this proposition in an effort to support his ever-growing family and increasingly excessive lifestyle. Coming from a childhood of poverty and meager Christmases himself, Dickens is plagued by the looming ghosts of his past, so to speak, and like Scrooge, embarks on a journey to rediscover the delights and joys of the holiday season.

One of the many things I dearly loved about Silva’s novel was her authentic, detailed portrayal of Victorian London, which not only showcased her solid writing skills, but also her ability to convincingly recreate the time-period. Surprisingly, though having lived in London three times before Mr. Dickens and His Carol had become a working project, Silva admitted that “[she] didn’t know a great deal about Dickens or Victorian London” before starting her research for the book.1 “I wanted to understand London the way he saw it,” Silva said. “The way it smelled and sounded to him — what his famed night walks of twenty miles around the city felt like; [I] wanted to understand his pain, his fears, his grandiosity, his compassion.”1 Her care and diligence in forging this connection with Dickens and his London are apparent in her book. Silva not only expertly captures the physical backdrop and minutiae of mid-nineteenth century London, but also the more subtle mannerisms and social atmosphere of the era with her characters and clever dialogue. The effect is a rich and thoroughly absorbing experience that transports readers into Dickens’ very thoughts.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is as much a celebration of the English language as it is a tribute to Dickens himself. After finishing this book, readers can expect their minds to be stocked with intriguing new words. While at times I thought Silva bordered on flaunting her extensive vocabulary, her words are deftly chosen. I believe they contribute to her book being “a love letter” to Dickens, since he was also partial to unique vocabulary.2 Silva’s adept ability to wield the English language is also clear from her artful use of imagery. In particular, I loved her descriptions of London’s fog, which often causes Dickens to lose his way on his night walks around the city. Silva’s usage of the fog cleverly illustrates Dickens’ personal confusion as well as the tangle of ideas that he’s struggling to unravel. I was reminded of a similar image in Dickens’ Bleak House, which Dickens cunningly uses to reinforce the general languor and boredom that his characters feel regarding the long-standing Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case. Being a Dickens admirer and reader myself, I found that Silva truly captures his style, endearingly emulating his ingenious banter and imagery. 

Readers should keep in mind that Silva did not intend for her work to be a biography of Dickens, but rather a reimagining of historical events. In her Author’s Note, Silva acknowledges that she takes liberties with some aspects of Dickens’ life, inventing some characters and exaggerating events, sometimes more effectively than others.  However, I don’t think this undermines her meticulous research, because it only enhances her excellent narrative. “Nearly all the characters are based on real people, and the best lines, to be sure, are things they actually said,” Silva writes.3 “This book is my tribute to [Dickens’] prodigious gift, written with full awareness that he is, and always will be, inimitable.”3 

I highly recommend Silva’s novel to Dickens lovers of any sort, and I suggest reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol in conjunction with A Christmas Carol to fully appreciate both books.


1 Daryl M., “Interview With an Author: Samantha Silva,” Los Angeles Public Library, November 4, 2017,
https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/interview-author-samantha-silva.

2 Samantha Silva, Mr. Dickens and His Carol (USA: Flatiron Books, 2017), p. 274.

3 Samantha Silva, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, p. 276.

Tenet Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

January 27, 2021

Tenet is a science fiction action movie directed by Chistopher Nolan and starring John David Washington as The Protagonist, Elizabeth Debicki as Kat, Robert Pattinson as Neil, and Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator. Tenet came to theaters in September of 2020 and became available digitally and on DVD in mid-December. 

Tenet is a movie that you may have to watch with subtitles and then rewatch several times to fully understand the plot. When it was released in movie theaters, many theater-goers complained that the dialogue during some scenes was difficult to make out. Watching this film on a digital platform or DVD with subtitles resolves this problem. 

The basic plot goes as follows: the Protagonist and Neil are given a secret assignment to stop a threat that could cause World War III. They have to prevent Andrei Sator, a Russian billionaire, from acquiring a mysterious weapon that could destroy the world. Sator’s wife Kat, whom Sator is blackmailing, helps them with their mission.

The movie includes a few Easter Eggs, one of which is its title — the detail that Tenet is a palindrome is a brief hint to the variation of time travel that is featured in the movie. More palindromes follow: Andrei Sator’s name references the Sator Square, or Rotas Square, which contains a Latin palindrome. Time travel is crucial to the plot. And the depiction of time travel in Tenet is incredibly different from depictions in other popular time travel movies, such as Back to the Future. Christopher Nolan brings his originality, known to viewers of Inception, to the often-used plot device — his take on time travel makes for exciting action scenes and requires the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening on the screen.

I think this movie is well-scripted and has a great plot. The visual effects are stunning, and the stunts are coordinated very well. There are some incredibly confusing scenes that I needed to rewatch to fully understand. The movie has surprising twists that are difficult to see coming. And I like that one of Nolan’s favorite actors, Michael Caine, makes a small cameo in the movie. I would recommend watching Tenet if you’re a fan of Nolan’s film Inception, or if you want to watch an original action film that you’ll keep thinking about long after the credits roll. You’ll likely never look at palindromes the same way again.

The Ins and Outs of Book to Movie Adaptations: The Harry Potter Movies (Part Two of Two)

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

December 14, 2020

Welcome back to my comprehensive and incredibly detailed review of the Harry Potter movies, both in terms of how the movies work as an adaptation of a fantastic book series and in terms of how well they stand alone as their own franchise. In my previous review, The Ins and Outs of Book to Movie Adaptations: The Harry Potter Movies (Part One of Two), I discussed the first four Harry Potter movies. So now, let us proceed with the final four movies.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out in 2007 and was directed by David Yates. This movie was another massive success and made $942,000,000 at the box office. 

Easily the best thing about this movie is the casting of Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Luna was already one of my favorite minor characters from the books, and Evanna Lynch just nails her character in every way, from her brutal honesty to her wacky conspiracy theories to the upbeat, slightly spaced-out tone that she always uses, even when talking about dark, depressing topics. On top of that, the rest of the cast is in top shape as well, especially the main trio. Another excellent character this movie has to offer is Dolores Umbridge as the main villain. In fact, she is so great that she is, in many ways, a more memorable villain than Lord Voldemort is, and even though The Goblet of Fire thoroughly botched his character, outstripping Voldemort is still an impressive feat. The pacing in this movie is also excellent, and much of that comes from Yates and his crew’s willingness to cut a lot of scenes from the book in order to keep the fast-paced, somewhat lighthearted tone of the movie. In fact, the movie manages to be completely different from the Order of the Phoenix book in almost every way, yet it still delivers the same messages that the book does. You see, the book is somewhat of a downer. It is very sad, long, and disheartening, although it does feature some excellent moments of levity throughout. But the movie is rather upbeat and funny, with several excellent affecting moments throughout, and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Another excellent part of this movie is the montages that are featured throughout — particularly great are the montage of Harry training fellow students to defend themselves and the montage of Umbridge slowly taking over the school. And finally, you can’t have a Harry Potter movie without an enormous, bombastic action sequence at the end, and this one does not disappoint at all. The scene at the Department of Mysteries is tense, exciting, and full of emotional punches that hit in just the right way. In fact, I would argue that the Voldemort possession scene near the end is one of the two most powerful scenes in the entire franchise, with the other one belonging to Deathly Hallows: Part 2

It’s important to note again that The Order of the Phoenix is not faithful to the book, and while I actually like that for the most part, I feel that they cut a little bit too much here and there. For example, in the book, Harry gives an interview to Rita Skeeter that gets published in The Quibbler, and this causes many students to change their minds about him and come over to his side. However, the movie leaves this important development out for no particular reason, which I found disappointing. The movie also does a worse job of fleshing out Harry’s relationship with Cho Chang than the books did, which is really saying something. But his relationship with Cho is not an important aspect of the books, seeing as it never goes anywhere. 

And there’s one complaint I have about the movie. At the beginning of the Order of the Phoenix book, there’s a chapter called “Dudley Demented,” followed by a chapter called “A Peck of Owls,” and these two chapters are the two funniest chapters in the entire series. For some reason, the movie changed both of these scenes, making them not very funny at all and truly rather disappointing.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is absolutely fantastic. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. As a stand-alone movie, I give it a well-earned 9.5/10. However, as an adaptation, I think it has earned a strong 10/10, because it manages to improve on the book greatly — it cuts out many scenes, and still manages to deliver the same emotional impact and message that the book does. 

Next up is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which came out in 2009. There are two important new cast members worth talking about: Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn and Frank Dillane as young Tom Riddle. While Broadbent does a fairly good job playing Horace Slughorn, Dillane is absolutely fantastic as Riddle, giving off the perfect balance of charm and creepiness. The Half-Blood Prince was another smash hit, making $934,000,000 at the box office. 

The best aspect of this movie, besides Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, who only appears in three scenes but leaves a bigger impact than most of the main cast members, is Draco Malfoy. After five movies of Malfoy being a minor, non-threatening, barely-there, petty rival for Harry to confront two or three times, Tom Felton finally gets a chance to shine as Malfoy, and he most definitely does that. His character becomes menacing, and far more importantly, interesting and complex. Malfoy’s inner conflict throughout the movie is fascinating to watch, and his final confrontation with Dumbledore is rather moving. It is all in all a great performance. I also think that Emma Watson does a particularly good job here, simply because her lines are delivered a bit better here than in the other movies. The scenes in Dumbledore’s Pensieve are also done very well, from both a visual perspective and a storytelling perspective. The movie gets the necessary information across very efficiently — there are no uninteresting, long scenes of exposition. Alan Rickman is also really good as Snape, and the mystery surrounding whether or not he is a traitor is handled fairly well. And the action is done very well: I especially enjoy the scene in the cave with the Inferi. 

But the movie does have its flaws. With regard to Dumbledore’s Pensieve, there are a few memories in the book that Harry and Dumbledore look at and discuss that were cut from the movie. I think this was a poor decision — those memories provide Voldemort with a bit of nuance, and by leaving them out, this movie neuters Voldemort even further and makes him less interesting. However, I do understand that pacing is very important in these movies, so I cannot be too mad about this. I also have mixed feelings about a scene in which the Death Eaters show up at the Burrow on Christmas Eve and burn it to the ground. It is unfaithful to the book on a number of levels: it never even happens in the book, and the Burrow is supposed to be under powerful Death Eater-proof wards. This is why it is used as a safe house for the Order of the Phoenix. But the scene is also well done, so it’s hard to stay too mad at it. 

The biggest issue with this movie is that it’s unfaithful to the Half-Blood Prince book. In the book, the main plot revolves around finding out who the Half-Blood Prince is, learning about Tom Riddle through Dumbledore’s memories, investigating Draco Malfoy, and Harry’s romantic interest in Ginny, and the elements that get the most attention are the former two. However, in The Half-Blood Prince movie, almost the entire movie is taken up by dealing with the teen drama and romantic relationships of the main cast, and while it is rather interesting in the book, it becomes incredibly frustrating in the movie. The main reason for this is that Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright have the chemistry of water and oil. As a result, all of their scenes together are unbelievably awkward — one of my favorite parts of the scene at the Burrow I mentioned earlier is how it interrupts a long, drawn-out scene in which Harry and Ginny have no chemistry. The other main romantic subplot is a love square between Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Lavender Brown, and Cormac McLaggen. I am not exaggerating when I say that this subplot is the worst subplot in the entire series. It’s nonsensical that the filmmakers chose to leave this subplot in at the expense of some of Dumbledore’s Pensieve memories. These romantic subplots are awful, and they, more than any other aspect of this movie, hold it back from greatness. Harry Potter is an action, adventure, and fantasy movie, not a romantic comedy. Therefore, the main focus of the movies should always be the action and the adventure. I’d like to compare romance in the Harry Potter movies to cinnamon. In small quantities, it’s great, and it can often spice up the story and make things a bit more interesting. But when the movie is primarily cinnamon, the audience suddenly feels like choking and wants it to end. There are a few other small things that frustrate me — I wish they spent a bit more time with Quidditch and Harry’s investigations of Draco Malfoy and the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. But the romance is the main problem.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets a lot of things right, but it gets a lot wrong as well. Therefore, my movie score is a strong 8/10, but as an adaptation, I unfortunately have to give it a 6/10. It really is a shame, because The Half-Blood Prince is my favorite Harry Potter book, yet the movie, while good, is far from the best one.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 came out in 2010. It was a resounding success at the box office, making $976,999,000. I enjoyed these last two movies.

The best thing about this movie is the acting. It is a rather character-driven movie, and a good chunk of it is spent following Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they camp in the woods to hide from Death Eaters and plan. As a result, it is incredibly important for both the writing and the acting to be top notch, and they are. Daniel Radcliffe in particular gets his chance to shine, but Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are both excellent as well. The action in this movie is great too. There are four distinct action sequences: the trio’s infiltration of the Ministry of Magic; the first attempt to kill Voldemort’s snake, Nagini; the escape from the Rookery, Luna’s house; and the escape from Malfoy Manor. The scene at Malfoy Manor is my favorite because of a poignant part at the end of it, the result of the death of a recurring minor character. I think that death is handled very well. 

And there are some flaws: there are several times throughout this movie when Ron’s character is not handled quite right. I also find it disappointing that the movie abandoned the scenes in which Harry and Hermione learn more about Dumbledore and his flaws. The middle is a bit slow at times — splitting a book into two movies is truly a blatant money-making scheme that almost always dampens the quality of both movies. Fortunately, these two movies are both still good.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a very good movie. It has great action, good acting and interesting writing, and it sets up the finale very well. As a movie, I give it an 8/10, and as an adaptation, I also give it an 8/10. It is a well-rounded movie to set up the finale. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came out in 2011. It made $1,342,000,000 at the box office, earning the title of the most successful Harry Potter movie. 

The pacing in this movie is great. The action begins near the beginning of the movie and does not let up for the vast majority of it. And somehow, the movie still manages to have time for jokes, heartfelt character moments, and other slight pauses that give the audience just enough room to breathe before getting thrown back into the action again. The action scenes in this movie are amazing. There are two main action sequences: the Gringotts robbery scene, which ends with the escape of Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the back of a dragon, and the Battle of Hogwarts, which takes up about half of the movie. The action is engaging and fun to watch — this is especially important, because most of the movie is an action scene. There are also some incredibly moving moments, stemming from the many character deaths. It is difficult to watch the ending of this movie without getting at least a little misty-eyed when certain characters who have been around since the beginning die. The other character moments are great too: Luna Lovegood’s two scenes are the best in the movie, and McGonagall’s duel with Snape is an epic scene. 

There are only a few flaws to mention here. Voldemort’s computer-generated imagery is still unbelievable, to the point where it makes it difficult to take him seriously. And the romantic relationships are done badly again. Harry and Ginny’s relationship is especially hard to take seriously, because in the entirety of this movie, they only have one scene together, yet the audience is supposed to buy their being married in the epilogue. I suppose Ron and Hermione’s relationship is done a little bit better, but it’s still not great. The epilogue is quite bad. It doesn’t include many interesting character interactions, besides the ones among the new generation of kids. But we haven’t had eight movies to make us care about those kids, and there won’t be eight movies in the future to do that, so they don’t matter much. I think that the epilogue, if there even needs to be an epilogue, should have shown something interesting, such as cleaning up magical Britain after the war is over, or a scene in which Harry and Draco come to terms with their differences after Draco helps Harry in the battle of Hogwarts.

Despite my few complaints, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is still an excellent movie and one of my favorites in the series. With that in mind, my movie score is a well-earned 9/10, while my film adaptation score is a golden 10/10. So there we are — I have written a review for all of the Harry Potter movies. I’ll end with a summary of my rankings for all of the movies.

Movie TitleRating (Out of Ten)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix9.5, as a stand-alone movie
10, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 29, as a stand-alone movie
10, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban9, as a stand-alone movie
9.5, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 18, as a stand-alone movie
8, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince8, as a stand-alone movie
6, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone6.5, as a stand-alone movie
8, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets6, as a stand-alone movie
6.5, as a book adaptation
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire6, as a stand-alone movie
3.5, as a book adaptation

The James Bond Movies Starring Daniel Craig: A Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

November 23, 2020

When I heard that a new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, was coming out, I became excited and immediately wanted to write a review about it. But because of the ongoing pandemic, the movie keeps getting pushed back for release. I decided to write short reviews on the previous James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig instead.

Casino Royale is the first James Bond movie with Daniel Craig as James Bond. It is the first movie of the current reboot of the James Bond saga. Casino Royale got some criticism from fans when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond, because some previous Bond actors, a list that includes Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan, had brown eyes and dark hair, while Daniel Craig has blue eyes and blond hair.  Once the movie came out, the audience warmed up to this modern version of James Bond.

Casino Royale is based on the first James Bond novel, written by Ian Fleming. In addition to Daniel Craig, the film stars Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, Judi Dench as M, and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter.  It is directed by Martin Campbell. The movie introduces the audience to secret agent James Bond, and begins by showing how James Bond receives his 007 code name in MI6, the United Kingdom’s foreign secret intelligence agency.  Bond’s first official mission as agent 007 leads him through several high-speed chase scenes and action scenes, culminating in a high-stakes poker game with Le Chiffre, Bond’s main antagonist in the movie.  It is critical that Bond beat Le Chiffre in this game, because a great sum of money and many innocent lives are on the line. Bond is joined on his mission by a female agent named Vesper Lynd and a male CIA agent named Felix Leiter. Following many suspenseful developments, Bond succeeds in his mission to beat Le Chiffre; however, there is a surprise twist in the end. This movie is a great start to the James Bond reboot. The plot is suspenseful and interesting, and all of the actors do a great job in this movie.  Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre is especially creepy as the “bad guy” of the movie.

Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. In addition to Daniel Craig, it stars Olga Kurylenko as Camille, Mathieu Amalric as Greene, Judi Dench as M, Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields, and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. It is directed by Marc Forster. The movie starts out with a high-speed car chase and Bond’s subsequent realization that there are double agents in the MI6 agency. His mission then becomes to find where these double agents come from, and he is driven by feelings of revenge from the twist at the end of the previous film. It certainly helps to see Casino Royale before this movie, because some of Bond’s motivations in this film can be traced back to the previous one. Quantum of Solace has great action scenes and good acting by the main characters, but the plot is somewhat confusing, and therefore, I think it is a rather disappointing sequel to Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie. 

Skyfall is the third movie in this James Bond saga, and it is directed by Sam Mendes. Beyond Daniel Craig, the film stars Judi Dench as M, Javier Bardem as Silva, Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, Naomie Harris as Eve, and Ben Whishaw as Q. It begins with James Bond’s assignment to go on another mission, this time assisted by agent Eve. An enemy of the MI6 gets his hands on a list that reveals the identities of MI6 double agents, and he leaks parts of it as part of a revenge plot. It becomes Bond’s responsibility to find the enemy and capture him. In doing so, Bond unknowingly sets a larger plot in motion. It is not necessary to have seen the previous two films to enjoy this one. The action scenes are exciting; the plot is interesting and unpredictable. All of the actors again play their roles well. Javier Bardem’s Silva is especially memorable as the antagonist of the movie. I think that Silva is the greatest Bond villain, because he comes the closest to succeeding in his plan. And there is another twist ending in this movie that affects one of the characters we have grown to care about.

Spectre is the fourth movie in the saga. Sam Mendes returns as director, and besides Daniel Craig, the movie stars Christophe Waltz as Blofeld, Lea Seydoux as Madeleine, Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomi Harris as Eve, and Ben Whishaw as Q. It also features Dave Bautista as Hinx. The movie starts with Bond’s unauthorized mission to Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. There, he succeeds in preventing a terrorist bomb from exploding. The consequences of his actions lead him to investigate a secret criminal ring, which then leads him to a former associate. And so the story unfolds: Bond teams up with old friends and a new ally to stop a larger sinister plot against the world. While this movie is not a direct sequel to Skyfall, it is helpful to have watched Skyfall first. We learned about Bond’s early life in Skyfall, and Spectre builds upon that knowledge. The relationships Bond started with his MI6 colleagues in Skyfall are also developed more in Spectre. Similar to the previous films in the James Bond reboot, Spectre has exciting high-speed chases and suspenseful action scenes. I really enjoyed watching all of these movies except for Quantum of Solace. My dislike for that movie comes from its storyline, which is difficult to follow. My favorite Daniel Craig James Bond movie is Spectre, mainly because of its plot and fight scenes. I especially enjoyed how well-coordinated all of the action scenes were. It is a really interesting movie, and it shows how clever James Bond is. Every James Bond movie has a song in the movie title sequence, and Spectre’s “Writing on the Wall” by Sam Smith is my favorite. Older James Bond movies have a gun barrel shot before the title sequence, and I find it interesting that Casino Royale is the only movie in this new James Bond reboot to contain that classic James Bond shot. None of the other movies in the saga have that detail. When you get the chance, I definitely recommend watching these James Bond movies, perhaps with the exception of Quantum of Solace. I’m hopeful that the newest addition, No Time to Die, will be released soon.

The Ins and Outs of Book to Movie Adaptations: The Harry Potter Movies (Part One of Two)

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

October 26, 2020

Harry Potter is one of the most successful franchises ever created. It has movies, books, its own website, ridiculously detailed lore, merchandise, video games, guidebooks, its own theme park, and much more. However, I haven’t been to the theme park, or played the video games, and I don’t really have time to talk about the website. Instead, I am going to review the first four movies and compare them to the books a bit. I’ll both rate each movie as a separate entity from the corresponding book and as a book adaptation, then take into account details such as faithfulness to the source material, specific casting choices, and plot changes that either work or don’t work.

I do have some preliminary thoughts. I firstly want to say that the Dursleys, portrayed by Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, and Harry Melling, are excellent in every movie that they’re in, so I don’t have to repeat that in all of my reviews. Their standout moment is in The Chamber of Secrets during the beginning dinner party scene. And a quick disclaimer is also necessary: I am aware that the books these movies are adapted from are written by J.K. Rowling, a controversial figure. But I will not get into her politics in this review, and I am not praising her by praising her books and the Harry Potter movies. It is possible to separate the art from the artist. 

The first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Great Britain, came out in 2001 and was directed by Chris Columbus. It took the world by storm, making a whopping $975,000,000. But is the movie any good?

Easily the best aspect of this movie is the wizarding world itself. Every single set design in this movie is absolutely perfect and brings the world to life in the best way possible. From Hogwarts Castle to Diagon Alley, the world is vibrant, colorful, and filled with intrigue. This movie is the foundation of the rest of the series, and if even one of the important locations fell flat it would have put a serious dent in the success of the future movies. The second best thing about this movie is Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape. He plays the role perfectly. He is so great in the role that when I reread the books after watching his performance, Snape sounded like Alan Rickman in my head. I do think all of the senior actors do a very good job here, especially Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall. I also like that the crew decided to play this movie relatively safe, in the sense that it is a very straight adaptation from the book to the movie. There aren’t any added scenes, or many big changes, and the details they did change were mostly cut for time. The subsequent movies had a lot of experimentation, for better or worse, and it’s always nice to return to this movie and just enjoy seeing the first book brought to the big screen. 

I don’t think I’m being controversial when I say that the performance of the child actors in this movie is mediocre at best. It is often cringeworthy or wooden, but it still falls into the category of things I felt were so-so, not completely bad, the reason being that all of the child actors grew into their roles well in later films. I challenge you to think of someone better than Daniel Radcliffe to play Harry Potter, or someone who embodies Hermione more than Emma Watson does. 

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is kind of forgettable and not very rewatchable. When I want to sit down to watch a Harry Potter movie, nine times out of ten I will be watching one of the other movies, and so I have to dock some points from the movie for that reason. I also feel that the childlike wonder this movie manages to capture during the first viewing wears off on repeat viewings. Furthermore, some scenes from the book were cut out, such as Harry’s second Quidditch match or Snape’s protection, making the plot a bit too simple.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a great introduction to the series, with great casting, and even better sets, yet the story is somewhat boring, and the child acting is quite bad. As a movie alone, I’ll give it 6.5/10; however, as an adaptation, I think it deserves an 8/10. 

Onto the second movie: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was released in 2002 and was once again directed by Chris Columbus.

Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart is the best character in the movie; he is essentially the comic relief, but he manages to steal every scene he’s in. His duel with Snape halfway through the film and his appearance in the ending scene inside the Chamber of Secrets are especially memorable. He also has a post-credit scene in the movie, which is arguably the funniest thirty seconds in the entire movie. Another great aspect of this movie is the action. There are three big action set-pieces in the movie: the flying car scene at the beginning, the scene with the spiders in the middle, and the finale in the Chamber of Secrets. Moreover, Dobby the house-elf makes his first appearance in this movie, and he is just as charming and fun as he is in the books. Even all of the child actors are better in this movie. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson do a better job than Rupert Grint, but he still improves. Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, is similarly good. It also goes without saying that Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman are once again excellent, as well as Richard Harris as Dumbledore.

Yet the movie had glaring issues with the pacing and the runtime. Nothing from the book seems to have been cut at all, and as a result, the runtime is two hours and fifty-four minutes, making it the longest movie in the series. It certainly feels boring and unnecessarily prolonged at points. But what’s even worse is that the three hours of runtime deviate from the mysterious air of the book. The Chamber of Secrets book is surely a mystery; it lays out the clues throughout its pages, and the reader finds the solution in the end as the hero confronts the villain. However, the movie plays much more like a series of wacky happenings at Hogwarts. I think some excess parts should have been cut out from the movie so that a few more clues could be added in to truly make it a mystery.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has some thrilling action set pieces. It has some fantastic new actors in it, and the child actors all have improved performances. But the movie is also very poorly paced and makes the dangerous mistake of not cutting enough from the book. I have to give Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a 6/10 as a movie, and a 6.5/10 as a book adaptation. 

The third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, came out in 2004. Alfonso Cuarón replaced Chris Columbus as the director. The third movie was a major success, making $796,000,000 at the box office. However, sales do not always equal quality, so let’s dive into the movie, starting with the good.

The acting in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban truly shines. The main trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione is almost unrecognizable when compared to The Chamber of Secrets, in the best possible way. Alfonso Cuarόn pulled fantastic performances out of the child actors. Among other activities, he had Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all write an essay on what their respective characters meant to them, and how they grew and changed throughout the story. The rest of the cast is also in top form, with the newcomers all distinctly standing out from the rest. For the first time in the series, there’s a cast change: most unfortunately, between the second and third movies, Richard Harris died. Dumbledore was recast with Michael Gambon. Gambon invents Dumbledore as carrying a certain ferocity to him that Richard Harris never brought to the role. David Thewlis, another newcomer, is just fantastic as Lupin. He embodies what that character represents in every possible way. Besides the acting, the pacing in this movie is notable. Every scene goes on for just the right amount of time, and the story all flows together really well. In general, this is a very solid adaptation of the third book. The dialogue is great, it’s funny, the dementors are horrifying, the special effects are cool, the Marauders’ Map is visualized really well, and the list just goes on. The confrontation with Sirius Black in the Shrieking Shack is done really well too.

The movie does begin a downward trend with Ron and Hermione that needs to be addressed. The movie cuts out fights between Ron and Hermione that display both characters’ flaws in a concise way. It doesn’t really affect this movie that much, but it makes it so that Ron and Hermione are less developed characters in future movies, and changes the context of a few scenes from The Goblet of Fire.

There really is not very much that is bad about the movie; it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, does a good job cutting unnecessary scenes, and the few small changes that I don’t love don’t bother me much. 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has good acting and compelling characters. It’s a great adaptation of a great book. As a movie, I’ll give it a 9/10, and as an adaptation, I’ll give it a 9.5/10. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out in 2005. It was directed by Mike Newell. The movie was also successful, making $896,000,000 at the box office, but it wasn’t a good movie — in fact, I’m more inclined to call it a mess.

There are some redeeming qualities. The cast are once again all great. A few standouts include Brendon Gleeson as Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody and David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr., but the main trio are all in top form once again. I also think that the set is especially strong here, arguably even better that the one in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There are so many excellent designs, from the arena for the first task of the central competition, to the black lake, to the maze, to the graveyard, but the absolute standout is the Great Hall for the Yule Ball scene. The computer-generated imagery is also quite good, especially in the scene with Sirius’ head in the fireplace. The Priori Incantatem scene is beautifully done as well; it’s a true emotional standout in the series. But the movie does have many flaws. I’d go so far to call it a butchered adaptation.

The director, Mike Newell, is rather famous and talented, but he didn’t read the corresponding book before making the movie. As a result, even though the story is generally the same, the movie lacks the theme of corruption critical to the book. The book version of The Goblet of Fire is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a sporting competition between wizarding schools. Our heroes begin to develop romantic feelings, and we start to see the deep corruption of the wizarding world. Along the way, we have some splashes of angst, action, and mystery. However, the theme of the book is corruption. This all leads to a very satisfying twist that is very difficult to see coming unless you read the book many times. It’s a great book and I like it a lot. The movie completely neuters the message in every possible way, and it does this through its handling of Barty Crouch Sr., Ludo Bagman, and Cornelius Fudge. 

In the book, Crouch first appears as this uptight, squeaky clean ministry official. We then learn how he essentially led the fight against Voldemort in the ministry, but over time we lose our respect for him as we learn of his deep corruption — it could even be argued that Voldemort’s return is his fault. But in the end his character is still a bit sympathetic. The Goblet of Fire movie essentially cuts all of this. Crouch only has one or two scenes, and he is more for expositional dialogue than anything else. Ludo Bagman doesn’t even appear in the movie. Bagman is the super cool head of the Magical Sports Department. He used to play Quidditch, and he is always friendly toward Harry, yet it turns out that he is a corrupt gambling addict. This again furthers the corruption theme. And there’s Fudge, whose denial of Lord Voldemort’s return only lowers our already low opinion of him. His refusal to believe that Voldemort is back is cut. So unfortunately, the theme of corruption is completely abandoned in the movie. The presentation of the tasks and Newell’s portrayal of Lord Voldemort are other significant issues. The way Newell decided to act out Voldemort is bland at best and cringeworthy at best. Voldemort’s character never recovers from the awful portrayal for the entire rest of the series. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a letdown. It is one of my favorite books, but the movie adaptation is thoroughly mediocre at the best of times. The acting is average, the story is butchered, and the script is rather bad. However, it does have some fantastic sets. So I think as a movie I’ll give out a 6/10. I still enjoy it, even if it’s rather weak in comparison to some of the others. With a heavy heart, I have to give it an adaptation score of 3.5/10. It’s very disappointing. 

And that’s the first four Harry Potter movies. I hope you come back next month to hear my opinions on the final four movies as well, and I’d love to further discuss these movies with anyone interested.