Mexican director spices up Potter

    It’s been two years since the last Harry Potter movie and a lot has changed since then. The child stars have hit puberty, Alfonso Cuarón (“Y Tu Mamá También,” “A Little Princess”) successfully takes the reigns as director and internationally recognized English actors flood the screen in this adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s third Harry Potter book.

    In the third installment of the series, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his third year of supernatural schooling only to come face-to-face with a real killer wizard. The bespectacled Harry is again joined by his friends, the too-cute Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the hysterically humble Ron Weasely (Rupert Grint), as he, now a hot-blooded teenager, goes on his greatest adventure yet.

    This time, the filmmakers do not disappoint, and a whole cast of first-rate British actors fill the shoes of the adults to perfection. Gary Oldman is frighteningly realistic and yet human as the escaped murderer Sirius Black. His frail yet psychotically driven character could not have been any better. Emma Thompson delights as the bug-eyed Divination teacher Professor Trelawney with a great degree of hilarity. David Thewlis is touching as the mysteriously dodgy Professor Lupin, while Michael Gambon more than satisfactorily takes over as Professor Dumbledore, who was previously played by the late Richard Harris.

    Sadly, Radcliffe disappoints in the lead role with a rather weak performance. To his credit, though, he’s got the teenage punk act down to a tee, and he nails the bitter angry scenes better than any other. The good news is that he is surrounded by an otherwise stellar cast. Watson, who showed herself to be a highly skilled actress in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” again delivers a subtly poignant performance with just as much humor as emotion. Without a doubt though, Grint is one of the most endearing characters as the smart-ass, broken-voiced, red-haired Ron. He contributes to much of the film’s humor.

    Cuarón must be credited for directing the teens so that they behave and interact like real teens with believable pubescent chemistry. Watching Ron yell and pout about Hermione’s scrunched-face cat one minute and then screaming about spiders in moments of half-asleep delirium the next makes this ride that much more enjoyable.

    Although not entirely faithful to the book, the film is not compromised by artistic liberties, and Cuarón delivers a strong film that can stand on its own. The acting, for the most part, is incredibly strong, special effects are used brilliantly and discretionally, and the character interactions are entirely believable.

    Cuarón has raised the respectability of the Harry Potter film franchise from simply movies based on books by offering a strong film with frightening monsters and enemies, breathtaking views of the Hogwarts’ grounds and clever jokes even parents will enjoy. The film’s chilling plot is infused with the same amount of good humor and lightheartedness that accompanies the books, and under Cuarón’s care, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” becomes a fun and worthwhile cinematic experience, rather than just another lame adaptation.

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