Friday, June 11, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / ** (2004)

Despite consistent personal skepticism of the "Harry Potter" franchise over the past two years, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the third installment into the series, opened on the screen with nothing less than pure enthusiasm on part of yours truly. At a time when the movie theater has seemingly been bombarded with endless mediocrity, it is pointless to be finicky; and besides, the concept of revisiting Hogwarts and all its magical corridors promised a lot more upfront than most recent blockbusters have been willing to provide for an entire two hours. It didn't hurt matters, furthermore, that Chris Columbus, the director of the deeply-flawed first two films in the series, was only acting as a producer this time around; directing credits instead went to the very talented Alfonso Cuaron, whose highly-regarded Mexican drama "Y Tu Mama Tambien" from a couple years back has given him more than enough good reputation to ensure the "Harry Potter" legacy some kind of fresh perspective here.

Friday, June 4, 2004

Shrek 2 / ***1/2 (2004)

The big green ogre that is the heart of the "Shrek" franchise may very well be the Mickey Mouse of his generation. Whenever he steps on to the screen, before he even has the chance to utter a snide syllable, the audience is instantly drawn to him and his offbeat demeanor. Such distinctions don't happen very often in the art of movie artifice, but when they do, they are usually quite accidental. Consider Walt Disney's own timeless creation, for instance; Mickey Mouse didn't just become the studio trademark because that's the way it was supposed to happen, after all—rather, the talkative little cartoon rodent came into that honor because the viewers had never seen anything like him, and his artificial charisma left a lasting impression that was unmatched. Dreamworks, a known adversary to the Disney legacy, may have inadvertently challenged that distinction in the form of an overgrown (but lovable) swamp creature, who on occasion spouts one-liners, smiles halfheartedly and barks angry demands at those who get on his nerves. But what elevates him above the cliché of cartoon ogres and brutes is a persona that is as infectious and likable as cartoon personalities get, and the fact that the studio introduced this concept to viewers via a film that allowed him to be the primary hero only anchors that observation.