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.

Noah


Noah (2014) is a biblically inspired epic fantasy film (emphasis on the fantasy) written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, score by Clint Mansell. Although inspired by the biblical story of Noah, it is a fantasy film separate from that cannon, ultimately attempting to develop the character of Noah — who is quite well known from the Bible while being insufficiently written about or described.

I can still remember seeing rumors about Aronofsky’s next film on Twitter, cocking my head to the side as it was revealed to be a film about Noah. It didn’t seem particularly characteristic for Aronofsky, but after I got over my perplexed shock, I put my trust in him. I’ve enjoyed his films, and I believed that he would be able to pull it off. Over the months, after hearing casting decisions and production news, my curiosity and excitement rose. I really had no idea what to expect. There have been a plethora of articles and reviews about the film, which piqued my interest and curiosity even more. Now it is time for me to pass my judgment on the film. And it is good. For the most part.

The first thing to understand about this film is that it’s inspired by the biblical story — it does not set out to be a literal representation of the tale in the Bible. Aronofsky was fascinated by Noah since he was a kid. Because Noah as a person was not widely discussed in the Bible, he set out to create this film to address the man, the character of Noah. Something that both Aronofsky and Russell Crowe had to tackle was discovering Noah’s character. In the Bible, God chooses Noah and his family to repopulate the Earth, so it is widely believed that Noah was a kind and benevolent man. Aronofsky’s take on Noah is a man who has the strength and will to complete God’s task — to let countless men, women, and children die. This version of Noah is hard, unwavering, yet just. Though, the fundamental difference between the Bible’s Noah and Aronofsky’s Noah is that The Creator (he’s never addressed as God in the film) does not explicitly communicate with or give instructions to Noah. In the Bible, God gives Noah very specific instructions, but in the film, Noah has to deduce what The Creator wants from him. This leads to what I felt to be the awkward part of the film, where Noah sincerely believes that The Creator does not want him or his family to repopulate the Earth after the floods are cleared away. Because of this, he doesn’t obtain wives for Ham or Japheth, and he sets out to kill his previously-barren-turned-furtile adopted daughter’s newborns — all to appease The Creator’s wishes. However awkward it feels to watch it, the narrative gives Noah some depth as a character, a pious man who has to realize and accept that there is good in humanity despite the debauchery and sin he witnessed from the descendants of Cain.

I do have some problems with Noah’s character, though. My biggest problem is his decision to abandon the girl that Ham (Logan Lerman) tries to save. When the family first set out, they found Ila injured. A mob of evil men descended on them; they could have left Ila there, but they took the girl with them and raised her as part of the family. It’s a bit hypocritical to leave the girl, Na’el (Madison Davenport), to die, but Noah at that point believes there is no goodness in anybody, including himself. He believes that he and his family are only supposed to safely care for the animals until they can repopulate a human-less Earth, which leads to a big theme in Noah: environmentalism.

The film cries out in support and defense of the natural world. As the family journeys to see Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), they’re pursued by a gang of evil men. They’re forced to run out into a barren land, black and dry of any nutrients. It shows how greedy and apathetic mankind has become towards nature — a clear metaphor for our present society and its unconcern for the natural world. The Earth becomes an actual character in the film, beautifully showcased in many gorgeous shots, particularly in the incredible evolutionary creationism sequence that accompanies the creation story Noah tells the family. The Creator establishes a beautiful world filled with many wonders, and humankind has raped and desecrated it. Nature is also the only way that The Creator communicates with Noah. He sends down a water drop to bloom into a flower in mere seconds to get Noah’s attention. He creates a forest from a sprouting fountain that will provide the lumber for the ark. He destroys the world with floods and water. The natural world is the vessel through which The Creator speaks, which may be suggesting that to embrace and care for the natural world is to embrace godliness.

Aronofsky creates some incredible shots and sequences in the film. His characteristic quick edits make an appearance in Noah in a couple artistic and effective scenes. First is the shot of the doves that follow the stream to the ark. What follows is a series of shots in rapid succession. It would not have been as effective if one or two shots of the doves flying were smoothly edited together to show the passing of time. The quick shots position the birds flying among a plethora of backgrounds, showing a passage of time and change of scenery. Edited quickly, and fitting in a myriad of shots in a short amount of time, it gives the illusion that an extreme amount of time is passing. Another scene that moved me was when Methuselah cures Ila (Emma Watson) of her barrenness. He’s digging for berries and she happens upon him as she searches for Ham. Never having met before, he wants to give his blessing since she is part of the family. He touches her, and an invisible wave of energy emits from her body. She looks up at the trees, at first unclear, and slowly begins to see them in focus. This scene supports the miraculous power of fertility, again relating to the wonders of the natural world. Struck barren for most of her life, once Ila has been given the gift to bear children again, nature reacts physically to emphasize the power there is in womanhood. My favorite scene is the evolutionary creationism sequence. Noah, to accentuate the purpose for cleansing the world of humankind, tells his family the story of creation. It follows the timeline dictated in Genesis, but the sequence that accompanies the story does not follow the literal timeline. The visuals begin with the big bang, and shows the creation of the Earth and the moon out of chaos, the formation of land and sea over eons, and the beginnings of life from amoeba to evolved life forms, all in a beautiful and impressive sequence.

Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife, subtly and beautifully. She’s a strong companion to him and a nurturing mother to their children. Despite that, she’s written into an Eve-like character that I don’t particularly like. She’s the one that speaks with Methuselah about curing Ila’s barrenness, but that is after he’s convinced that humankind should not continue in the new Earth. Because of his unwavering position, she’s painted as the weak woman who was driven by emotion to undermine his decisions. Her alluring and graceful character from the beginning of the film transforms into a flat and mundane character towards the end of the film, which is a shame.

Noah is a film designed to explore the motivations of and character behind Noah. If you go into the theatre expecting to see an exact retelling from the Bible, you will be disappointed. The first two thirds of the film, leading to the building of the ark and the advent of the flood waters, are engaging and thrilling. The timing feels comfortably paced and the visuals on the screen are nothing short of epic. Once in the ark, the narrative goes to a strange, uncomfortable place. The film begins to feel long and is saturated with subplots, including the unnecessary stow-away subplot with Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The high energy of the film fizzles out once on the ark and is replaced with awkwardness. However, the incredible visuals, amazing cinematography and masterful editing make the film artistic and spectacular, which is definitely worth a watch.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) is based off the book of the same name. Directed by author of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, the film tells the story of lonely and troubled Charlie (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson) who begins his journey through high school. Dealing with the recent suicide of his friend Michael, Charlie enters this new stage of life alone and vulnerable. He’s befriended by two seniors: siblings Sam (Emma Watson, Harry Potter) and Patrick (Ezra Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin). He finds himself a part of a group of friends, welcome and cared for.

The film (and the book) is a coming-of-age story, aimed at a specific group of youth in a specific time in their lives. It praises high school as the best time of our lives, where one realizes who s/he is. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that viewpoint, the film expresses some poignant themes about the value of friendship in this time of adolescent life. Sam and Patrick, while at first glance exhibit unfavorable traits (promiscuity and “weirdness”, respectively), they are true friends to Charlie, inviting him into their circle of friends, showing him new experiences, trusting him.

The film opens with the Fort Pitt Tunnel of Pittsburgh. This same shots occurs during the movie, when Charlie watches Sam personify freedom as she stands out of the truck, arms floating through the air as the wind blows around her. This same shot ends the film, as Charlie, after the many trails of his freshman year of high school, can finally embrace and experience the same freedom. The tunnel is a physical representation for the coming-of-age journey.

Ezra Miller is the star of the film. For those who saw We Need to Talk About Kevin, Miller’s portrayal in these two films could not be more different. Miller’s Kevin is a heartless psychopath, dripping with creepiness, while Miller’s Patrick is a bubbly, outgoing gay teenage boy. Patrick has his fair share of problems, but he (usually) faces the day with a smile on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue.

The film is a highly romanticized view of high school. It shows the children in almost complete autonomy, as if they are college students living on their own. They go to “real parties”, stocked full with dancing, alcohol, and pot brownies. High schoolers are participating in late-night performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s as if Chbosky pulled college-level experiences and applied them to a high school setting, to make a high school life more meaningful than it really is. His screenplay is more college-light than high school. Regardless, the film effectively makes worthwhile comments on the value of young friendship.