From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - B+

Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality, 153 minutes

Dark, overlong "Half-Blood Prince" still carries emotional weight

Dark but impressively stimulating, the sixth installment of the “Harry Potter” series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” carries with it the ardency of killing off a major, beloved character. Harry Potter and his pals at Hogwarts, along with movie audiences, may not be the same again. It also sets the stage for the final act, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which will be split into two movies. Overlong, intense but moving, “Half-Blood Prince” is balanced between the arcane and the poignant that makes it more easily accessible for non-fans than the last two overly glum entries.

Lord Voldemort’s grip is tightening on the world of wizards and Muggles and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) suspects that dangers lay ahead, but Dumbledore’s (Sir Michael Gambon) goal is preparing him for the final battle he knows is fast approaching. They work together uncovering keys to unlock Voldemort's defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, the unsuspecting but knowledgeable Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who may hold crucial information. In addition, they must are suspicious of Lord Voldemort’s heinous associates, including aloof fellow Hogwarts student Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) along with one of Voldemort’s chief “Death Eaters” Bellastrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).

Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage with the confines of Hogwarts. Harry finds himself attracted to Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but so is the athletic Dean Thomas (Alfred Enoch) while Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) has decided that Ron (Rupert Grint) is the one for her. And don’t forget Hermione (Emma Watson), simmering with jealousy over Lavender but determined not to show her true feelings for Ron. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead for Harry and his Hogwarts pals.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is somber fun lightened by an air of teenage romance, as our young trio – Harry, Ron and Hermoine – begin their quick ascent into maturity. Overlong and thickly plotted, many adult themes are evident here (namely grief) but more of it works than not, and you'll still have a good time at the movies.

Director David Yates, who directed the “Order of the Phoenix," keeps a tight pace and focuses on the novel’s major themes, though “Harry Potter” fans will contend this isn’t exactly a faithful adaptation. Screenwriter Steve Kloves has condensed (i.e. cut) some details and minor characters that are in Rowling’s opaque novel, which isn't surprising given that very reason. Even with that, it's advised to brush up on your “Harry Potter” knowledge beforehand to keep track of the heavy plot that wastes no time in getting started.

It’s easy to see how Harry has matured from the first film eight years ago with each entry getting darker and scarier. Given that fact, "Half-Blood Prince" may may warrant a brief explanation along those lines especially if young children are attending, as there are more intense, frightful scenes, particularly the climax that features some zombie-like characters. However, the Quidditch matches, missing from the last film, make a grand return for some of the film's livelier scenes.

Technically, the standouts of this entry are the inventive, first-rate special effects and the breathtaking sets from Oscar-winning set designer Stuart Craig, all of which have evolved creatively with each “Harry Potter” installment. “Half-Blood Prince” is also the most handsomely filmed of the movies, which only enhances the film visually.

Radcliffe, Grint and especially Watson all give steady, likable performances as they continue to mature, though the latter two are largely absent from the film's last act. A couple of pleasant additions to "Half-Blood Prince": Oscar-winner Broadbent, adding some nimble comic flavor as a bemused professor while newcomer Cave has jolly fun as Lavender. The rest of the gang is back too, including a handful of distinguished actors: Julie Walters, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter all have brief but lasting impact. Gambon makes for a typically stoic Dumbledore while Alan Rickman drips with evil as the corrupt Professor Snape.

Our Harry is growing up. Love, grief, good and evil - some complex, thoughtful themes to contend with - and this film juggles it all well. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is superbly dark entertainment for young pre-teens and up casting its spell with superior, memorable visual effects and first-rate photography and sets. Recommended, fun movie-going but this time out don't forget to take the tissues.