Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), directed by Chris Columbus, was the start of an epic film series, riding on the skirts of the epic book series by J.K. Rowling. This debut film not only visually introduced the world to Harry Potter’s wizarding world, but it cast three young actors into the three starring roles in a hopeful and perhaps overly-trusting attempt to find the perfect faces for our beloved trio. This film brought together incredible talent with absolute newbies to the acting trade. As a musician, I have to wonder what it would be like to put on some high-profile symphonic concert or opera with some of the top musicians in the world with outright beginners. It couldn’t work! But The Sorcerer’s Stone works marvelously.

There is wide criticism out there concerning The Sorcerer’s Stone. Many criticize the “kiddy” nature of the film. Other criticize the raw performances of the young actors. And to those, I say: 1) Yes, the film is catered to a younger audience, as the first novel was catered to a younger audience, 11-year-old readers who related to the first-year students at Hogwarts. For a novel catered to that age group, it makes perfect sense for a story line to be a little tame, especially when it’s blanketed with imaginative and detailed descriptions and exposition that introduces Rowling’s comprehensive and complexly interwoven magical world. It makes sense that a story that starts with a younger audience will darken as those readers grow up. So yes, the nature of the film was a little juvenile, but The Sorcerer’s Stone may be the most authentically adapted film of the entire series. Just because the film came out when the much darker Goblet of Fire novel had just been released doesn’t mean that The Sorcerer’s Stone had to lose the magic that started the entire craze. 2) The young talent in The Sorcerer’s Stone are beginners, but I believe they embody the essence of their respective characters so well. Daniel Radcliffe plays the titular character, and while he does struggle with that lazy eye, he exudes a beautiful sweetness that I find so endearing. He balances the many sides of his character — the abused orphan boy who longs for friendship and somehow still has outstanding manners — quite adeptly, in my opinion. Rupert Grint plays our lovable Ron Weasley. The kid could deliver a punch line. Some of his reactions and jokes from The Sorcerer’s Stone have become iconic for the entire series, perhaps most of all his “Wicked!” after seeing Harry’s scar. But I think the best performance is from Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. After my most recent re-watch of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I was absolutely engaged with her performance. She *is* Hermione, from her bushy hair (which I lament doesn’t last the entire series) to her know-it-all demeanor and her exuberant enthusiasm in the classroom, she found Hermione’s core and let us all see it. From her first scene, when she enters Harry’s and Ron’s train car, repairs Harry’s glasses and then chastises Ron’s dirty nose, to her iconic “Wingardium Levi-O-sa” scene, she oozed essence of Hermione. There may have been acting deficiencies which affected everything from the cinematography and pacing, but the young actors radiated the essence of their characters — and honestly, I think that’s the most important part.

Now that that is out of the way…

The Sorcerer’s Stone is one of my favorite Harry Potter films, and it is the film I’ve seen the most. Maybe that’s why I am not so sensitive to the deficiencies of the film, because it both takes me back to that time of innocence and wonder when reading and watching Harry Potter books and films for the first time and it reminds me of the journey that both the characters in the book made and I made as we all grew up together. Re-watching The Sorcerer’s Stone is like looking back to where my adolescence started and I can look to see how far I’ve grown. At the risk of a little aside, that’s the beauty of the Harry Potter series and why it’s had such a huge impact on our generation — it’s a reflection of our assent into adulthood. OK, OK, enough of that! All that to say that I very much enjoy watching The Sorcerer’s Stone and I may be turning a blind eye to the bad because of how much I love the good.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does a superb job visually introducing the world to the Harry Potter world. It brings together incredible talent, like Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore — oh, how I still wish he had been able to complete the entire series, Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley and way too many more names to list here. One great outcome of all this talent was that the young actors had such incredible mentors to guide them through the series and into their own careers. Much like I ranted about the book series acting as a reflection of our generation growing up, the films give the world the ability to watch the young actors grow up right before our very eyes, almost like an eight-movie-long Boyhood. All of that combined with the attention to detail concerning costumes, sets, props, and John Williams’ incredible and magical Oscar-nominated score have created a craze the world is still saturated in. There will be three Harry Potter spin-off movies in the near future and the Harry Potter Wizarding World is thriving. The theme park would not have worked were it not for the creative work that started in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This film, like the novel, was the start of many things to come.

What If

What If (2013) is an Irish-Canadian romantic comedy directed by Michael Dowse and written Elan MastaiThe film is based off the play Cigars and Toothpaste by T. J. Dawe  and Michael Rinaldi. The film held its world premiere in 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival. What If (originally released as The F Word) follows the story of cynical yet romantic Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and quirky and elusive Chantry (Zoe Kazan).

Wallace has had his heart broken, and after abandoning medical school and his future career when his last relationship ends, he attempts to retreat from a social life by mostly staying at home, sometimes climbing up to the rooftop to motivate himself to delete messages and contacts from his phone. He finally goes out to a party with his college roommate Allan (Adam Driver) and meets his cousin Chantry as he sculpts a cynical love poem with some refrigerator magnets. Witty banter instantly ensues between the two — the quickest way to show chemistry on-screen. Wallace probably thinks the night is too good to be true, and he couldn’t be more right when Chantry gives him her number while dropping the bomb that she has a boyfriend.

The film builds from that moment, as Wallace attempts to be purely a friend to Chantry. They clearly have a loaded friendship, always e-mailing, establishing inside jokes from the get-go (chiefly the strange fascination with Fool’s Gold sandwiches), having meals together, and general hanging out constantly. While Chantry doesn’t yet realize that Wallace has feelings for her or that their friendship is a little more than friendship is, everyone else can, including Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall), who immediately confronts him about any lewd intentions he may have for Chantry.

Wallace, ever the nice guy, makes every effort to be a good friend to Chantry, but he’s so conflicted about if or how he should express his feelings to her. He’s constantly getting questionable advice from his best friend, who is the one who actually has the “successful” relationship. Radcliffe’s performance is enunciated yet charismatic. He speaks quite deliberately, which, at times, distracts from the scene, but the manner in which is speaks is a facet of his overall eagerness and passion in acting. He’s charismatic and committed the entire time to Wallace’s cheeky yet deflated character, who uses his intelligence and humor to hide how much he hates his loneliness.

Kazan plays the quirky and effervescent Chantry. She, like the animated reflection of herself that flies throughout the film, is gliding through the world without a destination. When life starts demanding for her to make tough choices, she genuinely has a hard time centering herself and making a decision. Kazan portrays Chantry as a florid young woman, with a sharp mind, a gorgeous yet homey look, and a sweet and sincere personality. She was very much the embodiment of one of my good friends, which was pretty weird yet completely convincing as an actual character.

While following many of the romantic comedy standards, What If deviates from the run-down rom-com with its peculiar humor and sweet roots. Wallace is a good guy to his foundation. He may not be the most outgoing or striking man in the room, but he’s the sweetest — and that makes for an unconventional leading man. What If is an artsy film that ultimately shows the development of Chantry, the girl who thinks she’s flying freely through life only to realize that she’s stuck. Maneuvering through a myriad of tough choices, she realizes what it means to be free and what to let go to achieve that.

What If comes to American theaters on August 8th, 2014.