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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
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July 28, 2009
RATING: 7.5/10
The problem a lot of grown-ups have with Harry Potter--in any incarnation--is often attributed to length, but it's really a problem of priority: the books, with their meandering, repetitive pace, bound to the school year, are like listening to a very long story told by a kid with no sense of proportion. Kisses are described as meticulously as the attacks of lycanthrope assassins; a book will go a hundred pages worrying about who's dating whom without any information on how the effort is progressing to save the world from a fascist death cult.

In previous movies--particularly The Goblet of Fire, an unwieldy experiment in which Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell tried to force unfinished actors through the perilous sieve of romantic comedy--this flabbiness has been fatal; in Half-Blood Prince, it's the best part. Directed by David Yates in unassuming, naturalistic mode (it treats special effects like architecture), the sixth and maybe best Harry Potter movie spends most of its time on subplots of almost bizarre banality: Hermione loves Ron; Harry loves Ron's sister; some hyperventilating chick with ringlets (she's a cartoon, but a funny one) also loves--or at least covets--Ron. Love potions flow like tears. Every now and then the music gets heavy and Helena Bonham-Carter runs across the frame cackling wickedly (because, remember guys, we are technically at war with a psychotic immortal with no nose).

In Half-Blood Prince, Ralph Fiennes' unseen, nasally-challenged Lord Voldemort doesn't even feel relevant. Harry's development as headmaster Dumbledore's protege, confidant, and occasional stooge requires him to spend most of the movie cozying up to Jim Broadbent as the dipsomaniacal Professor Slughorn (Dumbledore needs some information from him, which in this movie means he needs to pull some seminal memory-fluid out of Slughorn's head and put it in a saucepan). That is to say, a lot of the peril here comes from the possibility that Harry might not get along with a teacher. (The scenes featuring Harry alone with Slughorn and Dumbledore are wonderful: they capture a student's ill-concealed giddiness at being allowed to shoot the shit with the professors.)

Harry's friends are even less grave. Emma Watson gets her best scene in six movies when Hermione, watching her unrequited love Ron try out for a position on the Quidditch team, secretly hexes his rival and watches Ron win with the quiet satisfaction of a good girl making an exception. Ron himself later accidentally eats a magic aphrodisiac meant for Harry--which is to say Ron gets really stoned and hugs everyone. In the interest of fairness, Harry eventually gets high too, on a "liquid luck" potion that sends him strolling through triumphs with a zonked grin. Watching these cod-Shakespearian roundelays you realize that these kids have been at magic potion school for six years now and this is the first time we've seen them have any fun with drugs.

Eventually, things, as they must, get heavy, and Harry's in a stygian lake fighting off a billion zombies with jackknifing limbs. Yates gives these brief foes a creepy beauty: they sink into dark water, their twiggy arms and legs entirely cocooning Harry. As Dumbledore, the great Michael Gambon, whose gruff, weary take on the character finally feels definitive, does more here than any of the previous movies have allowed--including, in one genuinely alarming moment, weakness.

It's over Dumbledore's life that everyone finally fights, in a telescoped ending that's frantic and confused about details. (The title is suddenly half-explained, and doesn't matter.) But amidst the explosions I suddenly realized what the movie was playing at with all of it's riffing on romantic trivialities: it was distinguishing the good guys from the bad. Previous Potter movies have included a lot of final-reel talk about The Importance of Love, but talk's cheap, and Half-Blood Prince is the first in the series to show-not-tell: to imply that the confused, myopic quadrilles its characters spend most of their time dancing are not only what makes these people worth saving but what will save them. By the last scene, when Hogwarts' collected student body collaborates to remove the Dark Mark (basically a meteorological swastika) from the clouds above the school, it's actually kinda profound: the combined power of the previous couple hours of love potions, sports fandom, and awkward student/faculty dinners eradicating a symbol of single-minded greed. With this, despite its misshapen feel, Half-Blood Prince not only rises above its predecessors but scores a point against Tolkien's sexless travelogues and George Lucas' recent unspeakable banalities: it might be the only epic fantasy movie ever to contain something worth fighting for.

TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96QRVfto7OM

SEE ALSO: harrypotter.warnerbros.com/harrypotterandthehalf-bloodprince

--
Theon Weber


See other articles by Theon Weber.

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