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Margo Thatcher the Roof Patcher watches HARRY POTTER & THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Hey folks, Harry here... About a week or two ago Guillermo Del Toro told me he'd seen the latest HARRY POTTER film, which buddy Alfonso Cuaron has been busily creating, and well... He'd said that the film was brilliant and how he was ecstatically pleased for Alfonso, and very glad that he didn't do the movie when asked, as Cuaron was perfect for it. I've also received the tiniest note saying that a fella had seen some of this in Chicago (Where's Capone's Fucking Review?) but other than saying it looked really good... he had no details, and I knew that would get many of the Potheads that love this franchise, disturbed. Well here ya go, a real review and it sounds like it has all the makings of a great summer film. Especially the magical masturbation race! Just kidding. Here ya go...

Hey, there, Harry. I don't know if you even do your own email these days; you must get a lot. I check into your site once in a long while, but I just saw something remarkable and I thought you'd be interested. Sunday 2/23 there was a sneak of 'HP-3' here in Chicago. Passes were handed out (with no notification of what the movie was) at the carpool line of my kids' school. I am in 'the business' in a small way myself, as a cinematographer, but that had nothing to do with my being there--mainly I'm just a parent of three. No NDA or anything so I feel free to comment--and I'm sure WB would be happy considering what I'm going to say.

The movie was shown lo-rez, with many effects scenes only partially done; lots of shots had red targeting dots still on them for aligning effects; in some cases there were even graphic tags in the shot noting what effect would be added: 'A Leaf Falls,' etc. However dramatically it seemed to all be there and the cut was pretty tight.

The movie is a huge improvement over the first two HP films. It is rich, deep, and dynamic. Director Alfonso Cuaron really knows how to use the camera. The camera is constantly in motion, and there are dramatic and some times extreme angles; but it's not jarring or excessive, everything flows together beautifully. In the earlier HP movies there was a lot of pedestrian 'coverage' which is often the result of multiple-camera shooting to economize on time. This might have had to do with the child actors only being available for limited hours. Perhaps now that they're older, they can work longer days, and Cuaron benefitted from that. In any case, the swirling camera and imaginative angles let you see the world of Hogwarts in something close to 360' and this makes it seem much bigger, and more real, than in the prior movies.

There's also a lot more going on, more information packed into the shots, more subtle development of the characters and their interactions. For example, Ron Weasley's twin brothers, who barely registered in the earlier films, get a couple of nice mischievous turns here, talking very fast and completely each others' sentences. Speaking of Ron, there is a hint---JUST a hint---of budding teenage romance between him and Hermione. Thankfully this is not played up for titillation or sentimentality. The principal actors are much better this time around, either from greater maturity or Cuaron's touch, maybe both. My 13-y-o daughter described young Harry in the first movie as walking around with his mouth hanging open all the time; she used to mock many of the lines from that film. This time all three kids show a greater range of emotion and they seem to form a real team.

New roles are played by David Thewlis (Prof Lupin, who turns into a werewolf), Gary Oldman, who makes a late appearance as Sirius Black, the escaped murderer (or is he?), and Emma Thompson in a hilarious turn as the flustered Prof. Trelawney, wearing a pair of oversized spectacles which make her eyes the size of tennis balls. There are some good and more serious scenes with Harry and Prof. Lupin, where you get asense of the sorrow at the heart of Harry's life, and the burden he bears. These are handled well, one of them in a single long take with a slow graceful crane move.

I don't know the name of the actor now playing Dumbledore (there was only the main title) but he was quite good, very similar physical type to Richard Harris so it doesn't seem like anything is missing.

The effects which were finished or near looked quite good. My 7-y-o son was particularly impressed by the 'Dementors' which are black-clad, ghostly prison guards. Their horrifying specialty is 'soul-sucking,' and when they are near it gets cold; there's a neat scene early on where their approach is forewarned by ice spreading across a window and into a nearby bottle. A smaller effect we particularly liked was the 'textbook' for Care of Magical Creatures class, which has teeth, claws, and is prone to bite, unless it's sleeping where all monsters sleep--under the bed! There's a Hippogriff creature ('Buckbeak') which was nearly done in some scenes and looked great, in others was only partially done, in some not far from a wireframe, which was actually quite interesting. Oddly enough if you're into the movie enough you can overlook an amazing amount, for example kids running through the 'forest' where you can see that past the first few trees it's a wall of bluescreens and up above the studio ceiling with hanging spacelights! My kids are big fans of the 'behind the scenes' section of DVDs, especially LOTR, so if anything, seeing this movie with some of its inner workings exposed was a bonus for them.

I think kids are smarter than they're given credit for. Certainly my kids notice the difference between Lord of the Rings and Cat in the Hat, or between the Goosebumps and Harry Potter books. In this movie, they had some minor quibbles relating to parts of the book that were missing, and with some of the line readings (kids being ruthless about other kids) but overall they loved it.

As did the rest of the crowd. The audience was appreciative and sometimes loud. Funny scenes got belly-laughs, scarey ones dead silence. There was lots of applause at the end and kids and their parents alike were buzzing afterward.

For my family maybe the best part of the afternoon was seeing Alfonso Cuaron near the exit and getting to speak with him. He was gracious, soft-spoken and very attentive to the children, asking them some good questions and listening attentively. He seemed pleased to hear that 'A Little Princess' is one of our family's favorite films. How can one director do a big effects-laden kids fantasy movie like this and also a gritty, hand-held erotically charged road movie like 'Y Tu Mama Tambien'? Because he's a real filmmaker, one of the few, one of the best.


Margot Thatcher the Roof Patcher

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