girl can cook: Hermione (Emma Watson) stirs up a spell
in Harry Potter.
Spell Is Broken
Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
by Chris Columbus
took me a long time to finish reading Harry Potter and
the Chamber of Secrets to my two oldest sons, but not
as long as it seemed that it took to view the latest film
installment of J.K. Rowling’s wizard tales. At two hours and
41 minutes, Chamber is a challenge even for the most
epic-loving cinemagoer. More to the point, it’s evidence that
director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves were
loath to leave out any detail of the book, lest ardent fans
Ah, whatever happened to brisk storytelling?
Just as bad is that the filmmakers seem incapable of capturing
Rowling’s deft blend of light comedy with slightly scarier
elements. Chamber is either ridiculously silly, or
far too horrific, forsaking the author’s middle ground and,
in the process, scaring the bejesus out of younger/tamer viewers.
The book’s giant spider, basilisk [an enormous serpent] and
petrified remains of Harry’s Hogwarts School friends are transformed
into something one might have found in an Alien installment—and
let’s not even get into the part where the phoenix plucks
out the snake’s eyes . . .
Another weird aspect of the movie cannot be helped: Stars
Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, who play Harry Potter and
his best pal Ron Weasley, have hit puberty, meaning their
voices crack and whinny at inopportune moments. Aside from
that, Radcliffe remains winning, whereas Grint needs to be
directed not to make so many grimaces in the next installment—it’s
wearing thin. Yet again, stealing the show is Emma Watson
as the wonderfully smart Hermione. There’s a quick moment
at the end of the movie in which Professor Dumbledore (Richard
Harris in his final role) announces that all exams have been
canceled; all the students rejoice, but Hermione, being that
type of gal who aces all tests, is clearly annoyed.
Such spontaneity is in short supply, however. With the exception
of Kenneth Branagh, who plays the foppish professor Gilderoy
Lockhart with pure glee, and Jason Isaacs, who plays the deliciously
villainous Lucious Malfoy, much of the story and the acting
(noticeably Alan Rickman as Professor Snipe) seems tired.
Perhaps because of Harris’ ailing health and subsequent death,
the movie’s only stirring moments are those in which Dumbledore,
appearing frailer than the last time, offers up his nuggets
of wisdom to Harry: “It’s not our abilities that make us who
we are, but the choices we make in using them.” (Fundamentalist
protestors of the series, are you listening?) The presence
of Dumbledore’s aforementioned phoenix, a stunning creation,
also provides Chamber’s only heart.
Visually, the movie nails certain things, noticeably the whomping
willow, but its uneven mix of comedy and horror, of acting
that runs the gamut from inspired to pedestrian, make this
Chamber a pale imitation of its literary origins. One
looks forward to Alfonso Cuaron’s takeover of the series with
the third Rowling installment; if his A Little Princess,
based on the beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, is anything
to go by, he’s got the right wizardry to transform the Harry
Potter of the book into something truly magical onscreen.
Women Have Curves
by Patricia Cardoso
There must have been some long-ago decree issued by the gods
of cinema: Every ethnic group must have its heartwarming coming-of-age
film. Representing Los Angeles Latinos is Real Women Have
Curves, an entertaining—if distressingly thin—story about
a teenage girl’s battles with her mother and family over her
From the first moment we see her, it’s clear that Ana (charming
newcomer America Ferrera) doesn’t have it easy. It’s her last
day of school, and her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), is
lying in bed crying. Carmen isn’t really sick, she just wants
to sabotage her daughter’s triumph. Ana ignores her and makes
the long, multiple-bus trip to the Beverly Hills public school
where her considerable intelligence is respected.
Naturally, brains don’t mean a thing in Carmen’s plans for
Ana. While Ana wants to go to college, Carmen wants her to
go to work in her sister’s factory. Carmen started working
at age 13; to her, Ana’s had it easy. So, off to the sweatshop
Ana must go. To say the least, the smart high school grad
has a difficult time fitting in. She’s bored, and the other
women resent her. Secretly, Ana plots her escape—and pursues
a crosstown Anglo kid her mother would not approve of.
Josefina Lopez, with co-scenarist George LaVoo, adapted the
script from her play. She changed the focus from an ensemble
piece about sweatshop life to a coming-of-age story. This
explains why too many aspects of Ana’s life—from the particulars
of her interaction with rich Anglos at her upscale high school,
to her first romance—seem so sketchy. Considering the interesting
interplay between the workers in the factory scenes, more’s
the pity. According to Lopez, the characters in the play were
in constant fear of raids by the Immigration and Nationalization
Service. This element has been entirely, nonsensically removed,
diluting the story’s political and social context.
Which leaves us with the struggle between mother and daughter.
Carmen is so grotesquely nasty to her daughter that Ana’s
minor rebellions seem more than justified. She ridicules Ana
for thinking too much and being fat, for starters. (I really
wanted Ana to slap her.) The fact that Carmen is sincere,
believing that her restrictions and taunts are what’s best
for Ana, adds a slight note of poignancy—very slight. The
audience can’t help but be delighted whenever that cruel,
deluded, whiny hypochondriac doesn’t get her way. Ontiveros’
performance is superb: Her Carmen is someone audiences will
love to hate. The final conflict between them—and its open-ended
resolution—is dramatically satisfying, and in keeping with
the characters as we’ve come to know them. Ana’s final scene
is affecting in its simplicity. With the film’s slice of Hispanic
life so unsatisfying, at least this little drama is complete.
Ladies Protest Too Much
Directed by Francois Ozon
In 8 Women, a hardened bonbon of a movie that is a
radical departure from director François Ozon’s previous film
(the penetrating Under the Sand with Charlotte Rampling),
a half-dozen iconic French actresses and two unknowns are
packaged like Barbie-doll versions of their cinematic selves.
The magnificent eight, who are holed up in a rural manor house
during a heavy snowstorm, include Catherine Deneuve as the
haughty, bourgeois wife, Fanny Ardant as the bohemian interloper,
Emmanuelle Beart as the saucy maid, Isabelle Huppert as the
neurotically repressed spinster, and Virginie Ledoyen as the
college-student ingénue. This ensemble would’ve made a great
Vanity Fair layout, but with less plot than a round
of Clue, 8 Women taxes their allure to the limit, along
with the audience’s patience.
In traditional manor-house murder-mystery fashion, a member
of the extended family is done away with before dawn. The
women scratch and claw at one another verbally and literally,
until one by one their venial mysteries are revealed. One
is a lesbian, one has “a bun in the oven,” another is a closet
alcoholic, and so on. When vexed, which is constantly, they
resort to pulling hair and biting—and then they break into
song. Most of the song routines fall flat, Beart’s excepted.
Late in the game, Deneuve and Ardant fall to the floor in
a tussle, leading to an impromptu make-out session (François
Truffaut must be rolling in his grave), after which the revelation
of whodunit is rather anticlimactic.
The film’s Technicolor couture, shellacked set design and
1950s class- consciousness are as stale as Ozon’s view of
pre-women’s-lib women. When they’re not at each other’s throats,
the equally unlikable women bemoan their financial and familial
dependency. The film implies that this dependency is a lethal
burden on the man in their lives, despite the sexual fringe
benefits. With some well-written bitchiness, 8 Women
might’ve qualified as campy fun with a classy cast, but only
a couple of lines rise above hissy. Even Deneuve’s exquisite
three-quarter profile and Ardent’s wickedly throaty laugh
go for naught: Only a hairdresser could care about the predicament
of Ozon’s old-hat harridans.