Hogwarts? It’s Hollyoaks with broomsticks
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
AT THE START of the Harry Potter franchise, the films were fun. They were joyful affairs, full of the sweetness of JK Rowling’s imagination and the spirit of inventiveness that seemed to suffuse everything, from quidditch games to Diagon Alley. Even with Death Eaters, basilisks and dark lords flying around, there was a careful balance that kept things enjoyable. They were more Enid Blyton than Dracula.
In the sixth installment in the series, though, things have got a whole lot darker. Voldemort and his minions are causing havoc in both the wizard and the muggle worlds – the film opens with the spectacular destruction of the Millennium Bridge at Tate Modern by some nasty Death Eaters. Meanwhile, Harry discovers a school book with annotations made by someone calling himself the Half-Blood Prince, that appear to have powerful and possibly evil implications, his enemies concoct diabolical plans, and storm clouds hang constantly above Hogwarts.
Sounds dark? It is. As the films have progressed, so the airier pleasures of the wizarding world have featured less and less and in this one they have been well and truly done away with. Even cuddly, hairy Hagrid is now little more than a footnote.
The only lightness and fun come from Harry, Hermione and Ron’s hormonal love lives. Sadly, the script and the actors aren’t really up to it, and at times it feels like an episode of Hollyoaks with added broomsticks.
Otherwise, most of the film is taken up with explaining the complicated saga of a story. It goes on and on and after two and a half hours, there’s very little pay-off – hopefully that’ll come in the final installments. This, though, is a portentous and dark film that’ll give kids nightmares and might well bore a lot of adults senseless.
SPENDING three years alone in a moon base with only a talking computer for company would probably be enough to send anyone loopy. Sam Rockwell’s protagonist seems to be losing his marbles when he encounters another version of himself. But it’s not a vision.
Coming to the end of his three year contract alone on a lunar-based mining operation, engineer Sam Bell has an accident and gets knocked out. When he comes round, there are two of him in the moon base, and the pair of Sams join forces to find out what the heck is going on.
This is a brilliant low-budget sci-fi film. It pays tribute here and there to Silent Runnings and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s very much its own, highly original, movie. Rockwell is smashing and if anything the lack of digital effects only makes the moon-world more convincing.
It’s a desperately sad film, but intriguing and entertaining too, and it’ll be a fine calling card for director Duncan Jones. His dad happens to be original starman David Bowie – talent and an interest in space obviously runs in the family.
Royal Opera House
JONATHAN Kent’s Tosca is very special. It’s not just the star names – Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia – it’s about a production that irradiates the music.
We are in the shadows of 19th century Rome, a gloom that injects tension into the usually mawkish opening scenes. It’s the perfect preparation for Scarpia’s entrance, Terfel swaggering in high above the stage. From here on in we are in 1940s Hollywood thriller territory, Scarpia dripping poison into Tosca’s already jealous ears about her lover Cavaradossi’s unfaithfulness. At the climax, the pair creeping up the two sweeping staircases together, you feel Scarpia has her.
Not so, as the two-handed Act Two, the corker of the evening, reveals. Scarpia pushes Tosca to the edge of mental destruction, climaxing with Gheorghiu bent over her bleeding victim screaming for him to die – “Muori, muroi!”
What really sticks in the mind is Terfel’s intensely psychopathic Scarpia. And, of course, the set, which unites music and drama to raise the “shabby little shocker” – as a critic once called it – into a fearsome Hitchcockian thriller.