Saturday, December 17, 2016

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Whereas Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets followed the first Harry Potter film’s template to a T and turned around a quick yet robust sequel, the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is where the series began to branch out stylistically, play to the strengths of its developing stars, and take advantage of a longer 18 month production cycle which would become the standard spacing between releases. This third installment in the Harry Potter series features a new director, Alfonso Cuarón (also director of the 1995 WB adaptation A Little Princess as well as 2013's Gravity), who took advantage of the story's outdoor scenes filmed in the breathtaking Scottish Highlands and helped paint a lighter, subdued color pallet which was carried forward in future films and coalesced brilliantly under the moonlight in contrast to the darkness and shadow which creeps into the story in this pivotal tale.

Cuarón's contributions to the cinematic series went far beyond the visuals, however, as he spent a lot of time with the three lead actors and encouraged them to bring individuality to their roles and wear their own casual [Muggle] clothing on sets outside the Hogwarts classrooms. There's a great story that when Alfonso Cuarón came on as director he gave the actors an assignment to write an essay about his or her character. Daniel Radcliffe came up with 1 page, Emma Watson wrote an impressive 16 pages, and Rupert Grint never even wrote the bloody paper, explaining that Ron Weasley wouldn't have done his homework. This amusing anecdote speaks to the fact that by this point in time these actors had really taken on the personas of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and at age 14-15 The Prisoner of Azkaban is the film where their relationships really begin to come alive on screen.

The third novel introduced a number of significant characters to the thickening plot, and Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, and Emma Thompson joined the cast as the recurring characters of Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Sybill Trelawney, alongside Michael Gambon who tackled his first film as Albus Dumbledore with poise. Gary Oldman is downright unrecognizable as Sirius Black; it's amazing how well this actor can sink into a role and take on the shape and persona of a character. In contrast, Timothy Spall has the natural appearance of Peter Pettigrew, and his rat-like mannerisms and pathetic pleads are performed with alacrity. Thewlis and Thompson live up to the memorable personalities of the professors from the novel and lead sterlingly in the Defense Against the Dark Arts and Divination classroom scenes. In particular, Thewlis and Radcliffe have great chemistry, and Harry shouting Expecto Patronum! as he conquers the patronus charm while practicing with Professor Lupin is among the most memorable moments in the entire film series. Scenes like this one which enhance the emotional impact of the events from the novels give the Harry Potter movies an occasional edge over the books.

John Williams returned to compose his third and final Harry Potter score, but his work on The Prisoner of Azkaban marks somewhat of a departure from the first two films. There's a lot more variety in the music here, and the classic Williams sound is less recognizable as many numbers back off from the full orchestra and opt for simpler or more daring arrangements. For example, there's an interesting medieval style on "Hagrid the Professor" and prominent use of flute on "A Window to the Past". The jazzy, chaotic "Knight Bus" which features an accordion section is one of the most memorable tracks on the score; in fact, nothing else in the other movies jumps out quite like it. There are still plenty of traditional, vivacious Williams numbers on exciting moments such as "Buckbeak's Flight", "The Whomping Willow and the Snowball", and "Quidditch, Third Year", but these numbers are spread out giving the viewer a chance to relax and enjoy the quieter moments and occasionally slower pace set forth by director Alfonso Cuarón. Overall, The Prisoner of Azkaban has a more dynamic score that opens up the film to have more breathing room outside the Hogwarts castle and also helps transition from the traditional John Williams compositions to those of the musicians who would take his place in the final five films of the series.

At the start of term feast, the Hogwarts choir sings “Double Trouble” which provides school atmosphere but feels a bit cliché that actual witches and wizards would sing of "double, double, toil, and trouble" and "something wicked this way comes". Interestingly enough, these lyrics were taken from a spiritual incantation from Shakespeare's Macbeth. While the presentation of Hogwarts extra curricular activities is appreciated (the toads are a nice touch), this song is a bit annoying to hear for a second time in the closing credits. Speaking of, the ending credits scene with names appearing on the Marauder’s Map is beautifully animated and easily the best-looking credit sequence of all the movies. This closing meditation on what's debatably the most useful magical device Harry acquires at Hogwarts is well-advised. The next film tried to copy this credit sequence with names coming out of pieces of paper from the goblet of fire, but the Marauder's Map credits are much more intricately designed and entertaining to watch.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the film series reached a pinnacle in special effects, marked by the centerpiece of Harry riding Buckbeak the Hippogriff and flying around the Hogwarts castle. It's truly a fantastic and exhilarating sight that matches the grandeur of Bastian's flight with Falkor in The NeverEnding Story (1984) yet with a level of believability which had only recently been accomplished with special effects in cinema. From this point onward (circa 2004), the Harry Potter movies were right up there with the best of contemporary Hollywood in terms of CGI effect shots and even held their own against the likes of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). The effect of Aunt Marge being blown up is quite impressive, and CG is put to good use with the phantom-like Dementors and transformations of animagi Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew and lycanthrope Professor Lupin. The werewolf transformation in particular is executed well and the animation is convincing, even if the design of the wolf is a bit underwhelming. The look they went with here makes for an incongruent comparison to Fenrir Greyback in the later films but serves well enough in all practical respects.

On top of everything else it does well, the aspect that puts Prisoner of Azkaban over the top and solidifies it as one of the best Harry Potter films is its screenplay. Faced with adapting the first of J.K. Rowling's novels which was over 400 pages in length (as compared to the approximate 300 pages of the preceding novels), Steve Kloves turned out his best screenplay of the seven Harry Potter scripts he wrote and adeptly trimmed down the tightly packed third book; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban runs 2 hours 21 minutes which is about 15-30 minutes shorter than the previous two films. A strong adaptation doesn't need to incorporate every event from a novel so much as it should capture the spirit of the story and communicate the most essential parts, and that's precisely what was accomplished here. The Fidelius charm, the elaborate backstory of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, how exactly Sirius broke out of Azkaban, and an extra trip to Hogsmeade and couple of Quidditch matches are excluded from the film, but these omitted details are hard to notice because the movie feels complete in terms of Year 3's plot, Hogwarts atmosphere, and character development. It's a real accomplishment as almost half the runtime is dedicated to the finale, given the multiple times the viewer witnesses the night of the full moon and the scheduled executions of Buckbeak and Sirius Black, thanks to the time turner.

In the context of Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban, the time turner is a great plot device. In the greater context of the Harry Potter wizarding world, however, the time turner is a gaping plot hole. Under scrutiny, too many questions arise at its mere existence. Why would the Ministry of Magic grant a 13 year old witch access to use a time turner so she can learn about Divination and Muggles? Why doesn't anyone use the time turner for other causes to bring about justice or better society? What about all of the inevitable ripple effects caused by going back in time? If the story the audience is told features the mysterious stag patronus the first time we see the final night, isn't this technically a Beta timeline and not the true story of the original Alpha dimension Harry Potter?

Predestination (2014) is a masterful exposé of the ouroboros, a cinematic visualization of the ancient serpent which consumes its own tail. The Terminator series which began with 1984's The Terminator is a convoluted trainwreck with each subsequent sequel reestablishing the timeline but a fully-loaded franchise that successfully fuses action and sci-fi. In each of these examples, time travel is central, and any hypothetical scientific questions raised are inherent in the story being told; in other words, time travel is the main course. With Harry Potter, fans are served an antagonistic side dish of time travel alongside their high/low fantasy (depending on one's school of thought), coming of age entrée. The Harry Potter series needed time travel like a fish needs a bicycle.

J.K. Rowling knew introducing time travel was a risky idea but wrote it anyway, later backpedalling in hopes of quelling the silent "what if?"s and "why not?"s in every logical reader's mind but this only amplified the blunder and raised more loose ends later in the series. In the fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the reader is treated to the following absurdity (summary compliments to the Harry Potter wikia):

The entire stock of Time-Turners, located in the Time Room, in the Ministry of Magic were rendered useless during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries in 1996. While not "destroyed" per se, due to the way one of them fell when their counter was knocked over, the entire stock was trapped in an endless loop of falling over, un-falling, and then re-falling, in an endless cycle for all eternity, and are thus unable to be used.

What a crock of shit. And the parasitic stage production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reopened the can of worms again in 2016. If J.K. simply never referenced the time turner subsequent to the publishing of Prisoner of Azkaban it wouldn't have been as problematic; the time turner could have blended in with the inclusion of other unique wizardly contraptions such as the marauder's map and deluminator. Thankfully the movie adaptations of Harry Potter were wise enough to leave well enough alone and never mention the time turner again in later films.

Back in the drafting of her third novel, J.K. Rowling had a good idea for a one-off story involving time travel that beautifully depicts Harry's character development and how he found inner strength amidst self-doubt by conjuring an immense patronus charm to save his past self, Hermione, and Sirius Black from a descending onslaught of Dementors. After long hours of struggling with this particular spell throughout the school year, Harry knew he could successfully cast the patronus charm when it mattered most because he knew his future self had already done it. While this time-travel-related character piece isn't as emotionally powerful as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Visitor" (1995) and doesn't mesh as well with its respective series' genre, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is still quite moving, so long as one can suspend his or her disbelief that little bit further.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

After the box office success of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone in Fall 2001, Warner Bros. quickly got to work on the series' second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was released exactly one year after the first film. Not counting Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 which were shot as one production and released separately, this first sequel marked the fastest turnaround between any of the Harry Potter movies in the entire series. Although The Chamber of Secrets was quickly made, the actors seem to have grown up a lot which is most noticeable in the voices of Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint. For a series that takes place over seven consecutive school years, it's a very good thing the movies got on a quick pace early on to capture the actors in their late youth and adolescence. A major strength of the Harry Potter film series is the surefire consistency of its actors and producers and occasional recurrence of its directors and composers, and this second chapter follows the exact formula of the first movie, with Chris Columbus and John Williams returning to direct and score the film. This scenario worked to the benefit of The Chamber of Secrets as efforts weren't invested in recreating the look of the wizarding world or Hogwarts but rather in developing Year 2's storyline and honing the cinematic special effects, allowing the viewer to easily become enthralled by the best mystery of the Harry Potter series.

Each Harry Potter sequel features the addition of at least a couple actors to the recurring cast, and in The Chamber of Secrets Mark Williams, Jason Isaacs, and Robert Hardy come on board as Mr. Weasley, Lucius Malfoy, and Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, respectively. Fudge is featured quite briefly, but on-point performances from Williams and Isaacs adeptly reveal the contrary upbringings of Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy, in turn showing their sons' characters as much as the actual performances of Rupert Grint and Tom Felton. Toby Jones and Shirley Henderson give a lot of character to the more magical characters of Dobby and Moaning Myrtle, and a one-off performance by Kenneth Branagh as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Gilderoy Lockhart is spot-on; Lockhart is every bit the pompous charlatan he is in the novel.

The Chamber of Secrets is one of most complete and faithful adaptations among the Harry Potter movies and only excludes a couple memorable yet extraneous moments from the book such as de-gnoming the Burrows and Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party. This is one of the couple Harry Potter movies which has an extended version, and while most of the deleted scenes which were eventually added back in don't accomplish anything except for padding out what is already the longest Harry Potter movie, the brief Kwickspell scene with Filch is appreciated as it acknowledges the background of the character in one of the installments in which he's featured most heavily. Actor David Bradley is rarely mentioned among the overflowing ensemble cast of stars in the Harry Potter series, but he provided an impressionable look for Argus Filch which was best showcased in The Chamber of Secrets, even if his character was relegated to comic relief in later films. The concept of a squib isn't clearly communicated in the movies, even with Mrs. Figg in The Order of the Phoenix, but the cut scene here is a nice nod to fans who can fill in the blanks.

Although John Williams also composed for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before handing over the reigns of the franchise's music, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets marks the last grandiose, fully orchestrated score which has the iconic John Williams sound from start to finish. It's not nearly as distinct as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and often sounds reminiscent of his other work, particularly the action scenes which draw a mix of Jurassic Park and the Star Wars prequels and "Fawkes the Phoenix"/"Fawkes is Reborn" which recall Hook and Home Alone (another Columbus/Williams collaboration), but this soundtrack has its standout moments, however, and really excels when it embraces a mysterious or ominous mood as superbly displayed on "Spiders", "The Chamber of Secrets", "Meeting Tom Riddle", and the introduction to "Knockturn Alley". These darker moments are prevalent throughout the film and instill an unnerving feeling around each flame-lit corridor as the chamber of secrets is opened at Hogwarts. Combined with the handheld cameras used by Chris Columbus, the suggested motion of the Basilisk slithering through the school is very effective.

This sequel shows off some great new sets including Borgin and Burke in Knockturn Alley, the Weasley residence (AKA the Burrows), Dumbledore's office, and of course the chamber of secrets. The first three of these sets display the set designers' ability to not only create a space but also fill it from floor to ceiling with detailed props and paraphernalia convincing viewers that the characters really exist in these places and collect wizardly items and artifacts and accumulate junk and clutter. The chamber of secrets is incredible with its maze of tunnels and passages leading up to the final room with the serpent statues and that giant stone wizard's head coming out of the water like a colossal and foreboding Mouth of Truth, and the often conservative Chris Columbus sets up some nice angles of Harry in the tunnels as he frantically flees and hides from the basilisk.

The film’s use of CG is strong in both its action sequences including the basilisk in the chamber of secrets and the spiders in the Forbidden Forest as well as its interactive characters such as Dobby the house elf and Moaning Myrtle being notable achievements. The fact that the studio made a giant animatronic for Aragog demonstrates a lot of taste and is an early example that the production design team led by Stuart Craig and Stephanie McMillan had the right instincts on when to go digital and when to go practical with special effects throughout the entirety of the Harry Potter film series. While not the most notable animatronic, Aragog still filmed really well and has those subtleties that are hard to capture through computer animation like the glint of light in its oversized bug eyes. In contrast to the one giant stationary spider, the CG approach on the horde of spiders chasing Harry and Ron as they flee the Forbidden Forest was the right call. The animatronics for both the basilisk and Fawkes the phoenix are well-designed and blend in well with the detailed CG versions created for their animated sequences. The transformations caused by the polyjuice potion didn't come out looking the greatest, but other special effects including the flying car, the cornish pixies, and Ron barfing slugs still hold up today, further evidencing that The Chamber of Secrets noticeably improved upon the digital effects of The Sorcerer's Stone. Compliments to the sound team for creating the most irritating, shrill voice imaginable for the mandrakes, and Harry's floppy, boneless arm after Lockhart attempts to heal him is simply fantastic.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets boasts the best Quidditch scene of the entire series, largely aided by improvements to the visual effects and more dynamic camera angles. From a narrative standpoint, this is a big match as it's Gryffindor vs. Slytherin and this time Harry's rival Draco Malfoy is the opposing seeker. Combined with the threat of the rogue bludger, the competition has never been fiercer. The John Williams score in this scene is reminiscent of the Coruscant speeder chase in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (also from 2002) and builds an intense atmosphere as Harry and Draco race for the snitch. It's a captivating sequence and showcases precisely why Harry Potter was worth bringing to the big screen. Quidditch was a great invention of the wizarding world and really seemed to have a fanbase among kids after the first two movies came out. There's a brief Quidditch scene in The Prisoner of Azkaban where dementors descend on the match and Harry faints and crashes his broom, but after this, Quidditch would be bypassed in every other movie except The Half-Blood Prince with tryouts and the match in which Ron thinks he's taken Felix Felicis played moreso for comedy than excitement as Quidditch was in the early films. They don't even show a second of the Quidditch World Cup in The Goblet of Fire; one moment they're pregaming, and the next thing Barty Crouch Jr. is lighting up the sky with the Dark Mark. I used to lament the lack of Quidditch in the subsequent movies but realize now in hindsight that the definitive Quidditch scene was captured in The Chamber of Secrets and future entries appropriately focused on realizing other aspects of the novels.

One rather strange moment at the end of the film is when Lucius Malfoy attempts to hex Harry after being tricked into giving Dobby the sock inside the diary which sets him free. With his wand pointed at Harry, Lucius actually begins to shout “Avada…” before he's cut off when Dobby knocks him back with some of that funky elf magic. There’s no known spell which begins with that word other than Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse. In the book, Lucius merely lunges at Harry before being knocked back by Dobby, so this was a mistake on the movie’s part presumably due to improvisation, as it would be out of character for a cunning and calculated Death Eater to kill a student inside Hogwarts. However, following this odd encounter we're left with a great ad-libbed exchange between Lucius and Harry:

Let us hope that Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day.

Don't worry, I will be. 

This improvised line really speaks to Dan Radcliffe's professionalism and grasp on the character from an early point in the series and feels like a promise that he'd continue to portray Harry Potter to his best ability across the subsequent films.

The Chamber of Secrets is the last movie featuring Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore as he died just prior to the release of the film and was replaced by Michael Gambon for the remainder of the series. It's difficult to compare these two actors' portrayals of the Hogwarts headmaster for a variety of reasons. First off, the character of Dumbledore becomes more intricate as the novels progress, largely beginning in The Order of the Phoenix which was not even published before the last movie with Richard Harris was made. As such, the content of the respective stories covered by Harris and Gambon as well as the material each actor had available to them was inequitable. In the first three books, Dumbledore is little more than the kind counsel, father-figure to Harry whereas later on we begin to understand the reasons for his close relationship with Harry as his connection to Voldemort is uncovered and ulterior motives for Dumbledore's favoritism of Harry are presented. Unfortunately, many of the interactions between Harry and Dumbledore were cut down in the scripts of adaptations for The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, robbing Michael Gambon of critical opportunities to display the softer side of the headmaster demonstrated by Richard Harris in the first two movies and flesh out the relationship between Dumbledore and Harry for the movie audience. The scene with them in the headmaster's quarters after the Ministry of Magic incident is incredibly brief in the film version of The Order of Phoenix but in the novel carries immense emotional weight through their quarrel about Dumbledore distancing himself from Harry all year because of his link with Voldemort and his misguided intentions of protection and Harry's reaction to enduring this abuse as well as hearing late explanations for why Dumbledore didn't make Harry a prefect, what the prophecy stated, and why Harry must stay at Privet Drive during the summers, all of this finally coming into the open right after the death of Sirius. Virtually all of this dialogue is missing from the movie! Another interesting facet to the character of Dumbledore is that the most the reader ever learns about him is in The Deathly Hallows through Rita Skeeter's exposé published after his death which is filled with information provided by Bathilda Bagshot including his family history and relationship with the dark wizard Grindelwald. Harry reads this often-shocking biography and begins to question the man he knew, but most of this background is cut from the final two films which forces audiences of the movies alone to build their opinion of Dumbledore much more on the face value of his limited scenes.

A lasting impression I have of the character of Albus Dumbledore from reading the books is that as an accomplished wizard and headmaster of a major wizarding school he is all things to all people and students and always meets them on their level. Richard Harris certainly displays this characteristic in The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets in the disclosures he has with the 11-12 year old Harry at the end of each movie who's just faced and prevailed against dark magic he didn't fully understand. Played by Michael Gambon in the following films, Dumbledore has limited soft and gentle scenes but interacts with a wider range of characters including the Ministry of Magic and most telling of all Draco Malfoy. At times his performance seems to confuse Dumbledore with Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings and he's even stated that he didn't read the Harry Potter novels, but Michael Gambon delivers in key moments. Gambon is often criticized as playing Dumbledore with too much anger, in particular when he confronts Harry about his name appearing in the goblet of fire, but throughout The Order of the Phoenix gives the appropriate air of righteous anger as the Ministry and Dolores Umbridge take further control of Hogwarts. As the concluding scene with Harry in this movie is cut short, the best character moment from Gambon comes in his scene with Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy confronts Dumbledore atop the Astronomy tower at the end of The Half-Blood Prince. In this scene Gambon effectively communicates Dumbledore's care for Draco. Michael Gambon handled the major scenes which made it to the scripts and unquestionably had the physicality necessary for the battle with Voldemort in The Order of the Phoenix and the horcrux cave excursion in The Half-Blood Prince, two of the best scenes in the entire film franchise, so I have a definite preference for Gambon's Dumbledore overall.

All things considered, the nuanced character of Albus Dumbledore is not one that transferred well to the films, but I attribute this shortcoming more to the plot-heavy focus of the later screenplays rather than to Harris or Gambon individually as performers. That being said, neither of them added the depth of performance or vivacity which Alan Rickman brought to Severus Snape or Maggie Smith brought to Minerva McGonagall. Richard Harris was of deteriorating health due to Hodgkin's disease in his last film appearance, so as interesting as it would have been to see him incorporate the growing complexities of Dumbledore in later performances, I'm glad the transition took place early in the series so as to provide a consistent look for this major character in the third through sixth films which featured a series of three different directors and varied approach to portraying the look of the more mature Harry Potter movies.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

We all realized there were multiple layers of storytelling and transfiguration at work within those iconically two-toned tomes whose colors are still so vivid in memory: purple cover on red spine, blue cover on green spine, viridian cover on purple spine, auburn cover on black spine. That's right, The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire... Harry Potter is the young-adult fantasy series by British author J.K. Rowling that became the world's best-selling series of novels in the history of printed word, put books in the hands of millions who wouldn't have otherwise been reading, and told the unforgettable story of the boy who lived. In November 2001, about a year and a half after the fourth of seven novels was published, the film adaptation of the first entry Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in theaters, vaulting the popularity of the series to new heights, teaching everyone how to pronounce Hermione, and creating the definitive look of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry and the fantastic world we had only begun to imagine.

It’s providence that Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Harry Potter because everything about the production of the film series was first-rate from the very beginning. Very rarely does a literary series come along with such universal appeal, and WB recognized Harry Potter's cultural significance and rose to the challenge of adapting the greatest book series of our generation. The fact that they made a two and a half hour movie dedicated solely to the first book that cost $125 million shows the care and effort that the studio dedicated to this project. Most other contemporary book series never had a fair chance of seeing a movie for every novel whether due to lack of popularity or simply screenplays that were too scattered to pave a clear path to follow, but where the likes of Nickelodeon or 20th Century Fox would be prone to falter, the initial Harry Potter film established that Warner Bros. would go all out to faithfully portray the seven book series. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a tremendous movie which set the tone for the rest of the films that followed to loyally adapt J.K Rowling's novels and spare no expense in bringing the magic of Harry Potter to cinema.

Producer David Heyman, screenwriter Steve Kloves, production designer Stuart Craig, costume designer Judianna Makovsky, director of photography John Seale, and director Chris Columbus, along with the help of many others, impressively perfected the definitive look and template for the Harry Potter franchise in their first go. The film's sets are incredible at giving a distinct look and continuous feeling of the Hogwarts castle despite being filmed at a variety of locations including Alnwick Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, and Oxford University; when watching The Sorcerer's Stone, Hogwarts truly feels like a real place. Other key filming locations included King's Cross Station, the London Zoo, Australia House (Gringotts), and various London storefronts. The distinctly designed castle and Diagon Alley set pieces and props such as wands, brooms, books, quills, and wizardly candy and treats add a finishing touch in each scene and serve to bridge the realism of the Muggle world and the hidden fantasy of the wizarding world.

While its main visual strength lies in its predominant use of location shooting and practical effects, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone also makes good use of CGI for 2001 especially on the castle ghosts, the moving staircases, the wizard's chess board game, and Fluffy the three-headed dog. Practical and digital effects are also used well in tandem in the scenes featuring Quidditch, the troll in the dungeon, and the life-size chess match. Special effects would be the series' biggest area of improvement in later movies, however, and the computer generated effects of The Sorcerer's Stone are quite poor in particular spots including Norbert hatching from the egg, Neville falling off his broom, and a few obvious green screen backgrounds. I see these weaker effect shots as a parallel to the novel’s improper use of commas. They break immersion for a split second (which is admittedly dastardly in the fantasy genre) but are ultimately just minor blemishes on an otherwise beautiful work of art. Speaking of, the movie poster artwork by Drew Struzan (best known for his artwork on Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones) is splendorous. I wish we he would have designed art for the whole Harry Potter series.

Like the original novel, the movie has a very tight plot which develops throughout the course of Harry's first school year at Hogwarts. For being just over two and a half hours, The Sorcerer's Stone never feels that long whenever I watch it which is a testament to how engaging it is. Remarkably, everything important in regards to not only progressing the story's narrative and characters' relationships but also creating the atmosphere of the wizarding world and boarding school is adequately addressed and given equal weight which is something that can't be said for most of the other Harry Potter movies. With the small exceptions of the midnight duel and Snape's potion room leading up to the mirror of Erised, every scene one would want to see from the book made it into the final movie. When everything's considered, the often quaint Philosopher's Stone was adapted with a sensible tone that retains its warmth but would also fit the more mature conflicts of the later stories. As a testament of its success, while much of the screenplay is lifted straight from the novel, many lines are memorable because of the acting and delivery in the film version:

I think it is clear that we can expect great things from you. After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things. Terrible! Yes. But great.

Our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has asked me to remind you that the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a most painful death.

Now if you two don't mind, I'm going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed - or worse, expelled!

She NEEDS to sort out her priorities.

Nearly headless? How can you be nearly headless?

Harry, it's you that has to go on, I know it. Not me, not Hermione, YOU.

I’m not going home, not really.

When it comes to the cast, it's nothing short of incredible to look at the young actors who were chosen and see how well most all of them turned out as the film series progressed. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom). Our favorite first-year Gryffindors were just age 10-11 when filming began (Tom Felton was 13), but adult actors Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Richard Harris (Headmaster Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) led the way and were crucial mentors for the young, developing actors. The smaller roles of Harry and Ron's family members including the Dursleys (Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, and Harry Melling), Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver Phelps), and Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) were also well chosen, and John Hurt provides a brilliant performance as Mr. Ollivander. All these actors embodied and gave life to the personalities penned in the novels and showed command of their characters from this first film.

The one factor above all else which coalesces the magical aura of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the orchestral score composed by John Williams. "Hedwig's Theme" is beautifully woven throughout the film and is memorable as the series theme used heavily in the early movies, but there are several other great numbers with "Platform Nine-and-Three Quarters and the Journey to Hogwarts" and "The Chess Game" of particular note, not to mention the unforgettable aethereal tones of "The Invisibility Cloak and the Library Scene". The emotional range of the tracks matches the mood of each scene and enhances the feelings of marvel, whimsy, longing, and suspense at precisely the right moments. Next to The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Sorcerer's Stone is truly one of John Williams’ finest film soundtracks.

Although subsequent installments in the Harry Potter film series reached new heights in special effects, better displayed the talent and maturity of its young stars, and visualized the most compelling moments of the novels, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone captures the unbridled wonder of magic and the wizarding world better than any of the other movies and for that reason needs to be recognized as one of the best entries in the film series if not in fact the very best of the entire lot.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Blair Witch (2016)

I think a lot of people missed Blair Witch (2016), so let me break it down in a rare but necessary spoiler-intensive format. Before I get started, who the fuck thought September 16th was a good theatrical release date for this movie? Mid-September was too early for the Halloween season, and when not many people were in the mood yet for scary movies or shitty horror sequels Blair Witch got pulled from theaters prematurely. I barely managed to see it on October 1st as only a few theaters in the entire San Francisco Bay Area were still fucking playing it in its third weekend.

So is it any good? Blair Witch is quite the mixed bag. There are some good ideas presented and executed, but ultimately the fact that this movie is a found-footage film that doesn't take itself 100% seriously undermines the atmosphere it attempts to develop (at least until the finale) and largely detracts from what its potential could have been.

Blair Witch is a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project which originally showed the path of three high school students who go hiking in the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland while filming a documentary about the urban legend of the Blair Witch, an entity which is the supposed incarnation of a woman who was cruelly murdered in the woods near the abandoned town of Blair in the 1800s. When this movie first came out in 1999 it developed a lot of hype because at the time a lot of people believed that these three teenagers actually got lost and either died or were killed in the woods and someone found their footage and edited it into a movie. This was the first really popular "found-footage" film, so the world was a bit more naive back then. Even today though, knowing all the promotional content was a hoax, The Blair Witch Project holds up incredibly well because it develops a captivating mythology of the Blair Witch and local phenomena, has good acting from a believable cast, and demonstrates the very scary feeling of not only being lost in the wilderness but also being taunted by an unknown follower in the shadows. If Jaws (1975) made audiences afraid to swim in the ocean, The Blair Witch Project surely made any viewers equally wary of off-trail hiking. The film's minimalist approach and ambiguity work in its favor to stir speculation about the myths discussed with Burkittsville citizens at the beginning of the movie before it cuts the tape with an eerie, open-ended scene which is the last the world ever sees of Heather Donahue and her surviving classmate.

The 2016 follow-up, Blair Witch makes the bold move in showing the audience that the urban legend of the Blair Witch is true and even dares to show glimpses of the witch itself. I'm sure a lot of people won't agree with this decision because they like the ambiguity of the original or believe that what you don't see is more scary than what you do, but I'm a supporter of the risk taken here because the new movie is not only sparing and effective with its visuals but also incorporates several ideas that develop and reveal the mystic forces at work in the woods of the Blair Witch. The basic setup is that Heather Donahue's younger brother and three of his friends journey into the woods of the Black Hills in search of Heather 20 years after the events of the first movie, guided by a YouTube couple who recently faked a video supposedly filmed in the same house which Heather and Mike were in at the conclusion of their found recordings. A day into the trip the YouTubers are discovered to be liars with no knowledge of the woods, and everyone is on edge as weird things start happening beginning with the classic hanging stick bundles outside of the travellers' tents and unexplained noises at nighttime. The Blair Witch mythos is summarized and expanded early and often. For example, staying overnight in the woods is supposedly what triggers the haunting of the witch, and the witch can only attack those who face her directly which is the supposed reason why Mike was standing in the corner at the conclusion of Heather Donahue's recorded footage 20 years prior. When crossing a river barefoot, one of the group members cuts her foot and becomes infected with what seems to be more than just bacteria as delusions and fevers begin followed by strange behavior. Most interesting is the passage of time and suggested dimensional powers of the Blair Witch. The adventurers routinely oversleep until impossible hours of the afternoon, inexplicably find themselves travelling in circles, and eventually find daybreak to never come at all. After the main protagonists part ways with the YouTube couple, they're later reunited only to discover that an entire week has passed for the others who are starving and that the guy has grown a beard. This makes those who are still remaining and intelligible question their own sanity as well as the extent that two strangers might go just to fuck with them. The finale, however, proves to all that the Blair Witch is fucking real as they end up at the mysterious house in the forest and find that they're not alone. We see flashes of a lanky, pale entity with dark hair and long claws. It's really unsettling and is shown briefly enough that it's difficult for the viewer to be overcritical of the design. The appearance is different here than suggested in the original movie in which a Burkittsville local describes the witch as having long brown hair covering its body like an animal, but the look works and fits with the tale of how Blair villagers hung the old woman and tied weights to her arms and legs before she died. After a long and suspenseful climax scene of facing the corners and running blind, the Blair Witch kills 'em all after tricking the survivors in classic fashion by calling out in the voices of Heather Donahue and other friends, and once you face the witch you never live for the trek home.

So there's a lot that I like, but what really brings the movie down for me is the shitty character writing (there could have been just 4 instead of 6) and horror cliche naughty-kids-get-killed moments that border on gore-comedy. It's the typical kind of scenes where the theater will shout at the screen "don't go in there!", "get the fuck out of the house!", and so on, the character impulsively disobeys the audiences better judgment, and seconds later is either murdered or severely injured to roaring applause. A more recent cliche that annoys me is the feeble incorporation of contemporary technology in a blatant attempt to "update" a story or franchise for new audiences. What's the point? It just instantly dates the movie and usually does nothing for the actual story. I've seen this tactic done well, however, in a few instances. A couple good examples are Open Water (2016) with the GoPro footage washing up on shore and being found by the kid or Carrie (2013) in which the high school cheerleaders record video of the locker room shower incident and publicly shame Carrie by posting it to social media. In Blair Witch, however, we get all the excitement of a drone (which our tech-salvy protagonists intended to use to survey the woods from above) malfunctioning, the drone later getting stuck high up in a tree, and the dumb bitch with the infected leg climbing the tree to retrieve it only to fall out of the tree.

The verdict: what we got with Blair Witch was an unnecessary but passable sequel that doesn't commit to an appropriate tone. This outcome has become apparent with more and more retreads which have been released in the past couple years. There was an earlier sequel to The Blair Witch Project back in 2000, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which kind of sucked and was less connected to the original movie but at least took itself more seriously. Whereas the original is a classic, the sequels are nothing I feel the need to see more than once.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pan (2015)

Peter Pan has seen his share of adaptations over the years since J.M. Barrie's original 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. The first adaptations were to short story/novel format by the author himself when "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" and Peter and Wendy were published in 1906 and 1911 respectively, and many film versions have been made in the century since. Produced by RatPac-Dune Entertainment and Berlanti Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. in 2015, Pan tells an alternate origin to Peter Pan than the hand of J.M. Barrie but one that feasibly fits in with his most revered and well-remembered film adaptations, the eponymous animated treasure from Disney in 1953 and the live-action Hook from Amblin/Tri-Star in 1991. In this new version of the story, Peter is left at an orphanage by his mother, Mary, and spends his early life there until he is whisked off to Neverland by Blackbeard and his troop of pirates who routinely kidnap young boys to labor in the pixie dust mines. Adventure ensues as Peter learns the true history of his family and a prophecy of a boy who would learn to fly.

Levi Miller who plays Peter convincingly captures and displays a sense of boyhood amidst the confusion, self-doubt, and ultimate determination that such a personal mystery unleashes in him. The use of Blackbeard over Hook as the villain allows Hugh Jackman to be completely forgettable and Garrett Hedlund to play a clean-cut James Hook who allies himself with Peter to escape from enslavement in the mines and romantically pursue Tigerlilly. To be honest, the Blackbeard/Hook swap is largely inconsequential plot-wise other than serving as useless prequel foreshadowing. It works out okay, but toward the end of the movie the dialogue between Pan and Hook feels overly forced when instead the implied path of their future relationship could have been more open-ended. Being that this movie is technically unrelated to any others, on one hand this could be a true prequel before the red and green-clad lads are enemies, or it could instead be an alternative story in which they remain allies.

The minor role of Mr. Smee was well-cast (Adeel Akhtar) and with the help of great costume and makeup really captures the look of Smee from Disney's animated Peter Pan, an homage to be sure. Rooney Mara as Tiger Lilly might be controversial and draw accusations of whitewashing, but as she's meant to be related to Peter in this version the fact that she was played by a white actress was appropriate, and aside from that I didn't care because she looked so damn good in the tribal makeup and costume. Perhaps that's superficial, but where Pan earns its stripes is in the visual department. Contemporary special effects are well-employed and provide nice contrast between the stark realism of mid-20th century London and the vibrant and fantastic Neverland. The backdrop amidst World War II bombings is one thing I was rather keen of from Disney's 2002 animated sequel Return to Neverland, and I was glad to see that carried over here. One of the rarely adapted characters from the original novel Peter and Wendy, Never Birds make an appearance (albeit as hungry antagonists) but their overtly CGI composition feels very out of place; they look like an enemy straight out of the Donkey Kong Country videogame series. This lapse was really only noticeable, however, due to the otherwise physical set in the encounter whereas the crocodile and mermaids fit in better with their respective water scene comprised of a variety of FX shots. The crocodile isn't integral to the story but provides one of the film's enduring visuals due to its sheer size and ability to propel itself skyward from the water's surface, an intimidating effect.

One particular and interesting creative choice is the film's use of the rock songs "It Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones. In the film, these two songs are chants sung by the Lost Boys while working for Blackbeard in the pixie dust mines. Although not original for meditating on the lyrics of "It Smells Like Teen Spirit" as Moulin Rouge! did it in 2001, the result is effective in creating the chilling effect that so many trailers with reworked pop songs go for these days (think "Once Upon a Dream" by Lana Del Rey in Maleficent, "California Dreamin'" by Sia in San Andreas, "Don't Panic" by Clairity in X-Men: Apocalypse, etc.) as well as naturally fitting in a short song in the midst of a non-musical film (unlike Christopher Walken/King Louie's "I Wanna Be Like You" in Disney's 2016 live-action The Jungle Book). Having late 20th century rock songs sung by the characters may seem prone to breaking immersion (and it probably did for many viewers), but I argue that the scene works quite well. For anyone who recognizes these songs, there's nothing subtle in the slightest in their inclusion, but upon critical assessment I began to speculate. Had Blackbeard somehow been to a future England and heard these hymnal classic rock ballads? Nirvana's multi-platinum Nevermind was released in 1991, the same year as Hook in which Peter Banning as portrayed by Robin Williams returned to Neverland, so could the music somehow have simultaneously crossed into Neverland then? Time is strange in Neverland, so perhaps none can say.

I think it's unfortunate that Pan was critically panned and performed poorly at the box office because whenever this happens it makes non-Disney studios more wary of tackling classic literary tales which have spent time in the Disney animated vault and causes consumers to be less willing to take a chance on different interpretations. I won't defend a movie just to be contra-Disney, but it's something I lament and resent that a release by Disney is viewed by audiences as obligatory and will be overpraised by critics and an adaptation of similar quality by another studio is seen as superfluous and will be widely overlooked.

Pan is not the ship I'll go down with, but I'll say outright that I enjoyed this movie and think it has enough merit that more people should see it. It doesn't quite stand on its own as it's reliant on the viewer's existing knowledge of Peter Pan, but the film plays off that knowledge to provide an interesting earlier look at the character and serve as a counterpart bookend on the opposite end of the timeline as Hook. For the few animated Disney features inspired by highly obscure or unheard of children's stories such as Dumbo or Lady and the Tramp, Disney can take full ownership as far as I'm concerned, but for the truly classic literary fiction (which applies to most of the vault), it's important that audiences remember the original sources and are open to different interpretations. Think of a happy thought (the big company staking recent claims won't prevent the likes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass or The Jungle Book/The Second Jungle Book from seeing innovative and refreshing adaptations in the future from a variety of producers), and we can fly!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Divergent Series: Insurgent (2015)

This is a surface level analysis from a surface level viewer. I skipped the books and saw Divergent (2014) after it came out on DVD and thought it was okay, repetitive enough in exposition, plot, and theme but interesting enough that I'd see the next one. For those who don't know, it's another one of those post-American dystopian stories with a teenage protagonist. Honestly, they're all the same when it comes down to it, and 2014 couldn't have demonstrated that fact any better. The Hunger Games (2012) was by no means original, but it made its entire campaign and cultural penetration in the preview trailer with Jennifer Lawrence volunteering for tribute and fucking Elizabeth Banks in garish garb hosting the militant lottery like a Stephen King game show host, and by flashing this vivid scene enough times on TV and in theaters it claimed the trite subgenre as its own invention thereby capturing fans galore. The movie was a big success earning over $600 million at the box office, and two years later (that's about how long it takes to make a Hollywood film, right?) there happened to be a slew of new movies that followed that exact same chain of events: Divergent, The Giver, The Maze Runner, am I missing any? They all have that immersion-breaking, show-and-tell sequence: this is the scene where the young adults get their job assignments/life-changing news, this is the scene where the main character is singled out by doing something brave or unexpected, this is the scene where the protagonist realizes he/she is different... I've never so consciously been spoon-fed a film the way they're packaging these new movies for the post-millennials. I bit on Divergent because I had three consecutive days with free Redbox codes with little else from which to choose and it was the first of this 2014 barrage that was available to me. By the time I got to The Giver, a book I had found mildly interesting when I was 13, I felt like a sucker and was truly in awe that all of these movies were the exact fucking same. I often hate on the Transformers sequels for being a rehash of the same thing, but imagine if all four of them came out in THE SAME FUCKING CALENDAR YEAR. That's what happened with all these new teeny dystopian movies, and I'm not watching any more of them, I swear. But because I'm a completionist I have to finish any series I start, so here we go!

The Divergent Series: Insurgent starts out in medias res which only serves to immediately point out how little I know about this series. There's some kind of warzone and leaders talking about who's to blame and Triss killed some people apparently or did she, but what the hell, is this a recap of the end of the last movie because I don't really remember the very very end all that clearly (just the near end) or is it a dream or some kind of vision, some kind of nightmare or what if it's actually the end of the movie and it's one of those ones that shows a glimpse of the conclusion and then starts back at the start? Am I supposed to know these characters? What the fuck is going on? Why am I watching this? These are probably not good questions to impose on a lay audience for a franchise which is so clearly and desperately grabbing for fans that're more hooked on something else (cough, hunger games).

Before I get any further, can we talk about this sequel's title? Of course this franchise's movies have to have their own branding so that everyone knows the series is its whole own thing. God forbid a single ticket-buyer may not put two and two together and realize Divergent and Insurgent are somehow related. To avoid the possibility of such confusion they called it The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Don't you love when they do that, put the series/franchise name in there which is longer than the actual installment's real title? It's a worse tripe than numbering the sequels or tacking on the cliché "Returns", "Revenge", or the like. Very rarely can there be a movie series with unique, thought-provoking or brief titles devoid of numbers, the franchise name, or some stupid word like "Forever". I think the Star Wars prequels covered the bases of what not to do by doing all three. If they weren't so iconic I don't think I could take their full names at face value. When did this terrible convention of inserting the series name in every individual title begin? As much as I like to blame Twilight for everything, my own parties are at fault here. The Lord of the Rings did it starting in 2001 with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars did it before that in 1999 with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace even though none of the original Star Wars movies had the need for that copyright and Roman numeral on the official title of the films. A less severe example is 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park. At least in this case the subtitle differentiates this film from the several other movies simply titled The Lost World which had already been released by that point in time. I can still pen the melodramatic multi-part movie/one book trend to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two (they already used a colon after the series name so had to resort to using a dash between the novel's title and the movie's number, come on, that's rich), but the tasteless naming conventions go back much, much further.

That appeared to be the strategy with Divergent: call it something unique but script it and sell it like everything else. While performing the light research required to write this analysis, I couldn't help but notice that the icon on the first edition cover of the 2011 novel Divergent looks like they imposed the franchise symbols of The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and the Dove soap logo. It's got the fiery outer ring like a solar eclipse, an indistinct bird-like image in flames, and wispy, golden strands cutting through it all from top left to bottom right in the suggestive form of an arrow. It's actually quite impressive. I couldn't make a better logo rip-off fusing three things virtually everyone likes that'd hold up under a court of law if I tried.

But back to the matter at hand. Excusing the slander, this was a fairly engaging and decently entertaining movie and thankfully progressive follow-up to the first film. I can't say I was emotionally invested in the story or felt like anything was truly at stake (did they actually expect anyone above the age of 12 to believe that Triss might actually die in the last act?), but I certainly wasn't bored during the two hour runtime. There's some crazy shit going on in this movie... suicidal cochlear implants, metaphysical personality tests, Inception layer surreality to the fourth degree. It's easy to get lost in the experience of watching it which is largely due to the fact that the film is extremely visual. There're a lot of cool virtual reality scenes, and the end credits have the look and sound of a James Bond intro.

While the aesthetic production value is high, the five distinct sociopolitical factions and their conflicting aims and perspectives are admittedly interesting and serve to add a layer of complexity (if thin) to the plot. I can't say it was abundantly clear which group was which until their members had manifested some overt character trait by the end of their respective scenes or that any of the individual leaders were memorable, but it was neat to see a plot with more potential intricacies then the simple "us vs. them". My favorite thing though about The Divergent Series: Insurgent was that it gave me great insight into what a franchise experience can be like for a relatively uninvested or lay audience. I was always a bit baffled that so many people who never read Harry Potter started watching the movies with a kind of avid interest that grew over time as mine happened to decline as I felt further removed from the joy of reading the early novels. To enjoy something for both the purpose of ridicule and proper entertainment without personal stake or risk of tarnishing or diminishing utility on something one loves (this has been a trying time for Star Wars fans, good God) is an experience to relish. For a select few, Divergent may be the series that resonates with them above all others, but for the rest of us who are in no way allegiant it's just good fun.

Another thing I really like about the Divergent series is its use of choice vocabulary as key words in the story: abnegation, dauntless, erudite, amity, candor, divergent, insurgent. Great words for people of any age to understand and command. Putting the books aside, I can't think of a single other movie that was as motivational to pick up a dictionary. In terms of its potential longevity I think Divergent is ultimately here today gone tomorrow, but I tend to think there'll at least be a handful of people like me who'll think of Shailene Woodley when they hear the word abnegation years from now (they probably just won't remember her name).

Monday, January 25, 2016

Less Than Zero (1987)

Authors are often disappointed with the end product when their books are licensed to be made into movies. Such was the case with Less than Zero, the 1987 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' debut novel from 1985 which depicts social depravity in the city of Los Angeles, California in the early '80s. It's a somewhat loose adaptation but has basically the same plot as the book with just a couple of the characters' roles tweaked.

The dramatic performances of Robert Downey Jr. as failed entrepreneur turned drug-addict (Julian) and James Spader as the drug dealer he owes money (Rip) alone make this movie worth seeing. It's a definite throwback and a real treat to see these two actors who're still stars back when they were so young. The sex scene with '80s Hollywood staples Andrew McCarthy (Clay) and Jami Gertz (Blair) along with its entire buildup is also surprisingly erotic and beautifully depicts the chain of events that occurs when that perfect mood strikes.

For fans of the original novel, however, the movie fails to deliver in that it doesn't attempt to capture the main character's stream of consciousness at all. There's no visibility into the psyche of Clay which makes it feel like Julian is really the main character. It's probably for the best because Robert Downey Jr. steals the show, but imagine if The Catcher in the Rye were told in third person: it'd just be a meaningless sequence of events without direction or profundity. By and large, that's what the viewer gets with Less Than Zero, and the movie fails to illustrate the cultural vanity and emotional callousness in LA to the extent the novel does because of it. It's a shame because the novel has so many recurring invasive thoughts (Disappear herePeople are afraid to merge) and mental commentary that served wonderfully to show how easily the human brain is distracted and how often people avoid thinking about actual problems or just focus on themselves. All of that is gone, and the shock value of the book is also lost in translation to film as they cut out the pornography viewing sessions, rape scene, and vulgar, unsavory conversations among Rip's posse. The movie hints at what Julian has to do to settle his debt with Rip and eventually makes it clear but never dares to show anything explicit.

Couldn't they have better captured the spirit and deeper meaning of the book? That's the challenge of filmmaking, and I don't think those involved in this adaptation rose to that challenge on this particular movie. It's something that can certainly be achieved with this type of writing; just look at the cinematic version of American Psycho (2000). Although Ellis didn't care for that one either.