Summer blockbuster hits and misses

Journal staffers spend some quality time at the cinema, cooling off and picking apart some of the summer’s biggest films

  • Arts
supplied One of Harry’s many hormone-driven encounters with his new crush Ginny Weasley.
Image supplied by: supplied
supplied One of Harry’s many hormone-driven encounters with his new crush Ginny Weasley.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

With raging hormones, mind-altering substance abuse and stolen kisses, Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince makes a huge effort to appeal to the ever-aging Potter demographic. Harry returns to Hogwarts after spending a summer skulking around in the London Underground picking up girls in tube stop cafés, which serves as a fitting distraction for him—Potter’s new title of “The Chosen One” is met with some reluctance and confusion.

Resembling a modern day airport, security at Hogwarts is tight and despite Lord Voldemort’s attacks on the wizard and human world alike, the mood at the school is rather giddy. Harry’s best friend Ron finds new fame as a star player on the Quidditch team and begins a relationship entirely based on the act of snogging (British for making-out) with the simpering Lavender Brown. While Harry and Hermione both carry on their unrequited crushes, the inexplicably daft Ron can’t seem to make sense of Hermione advances and Ron’s younger sister Ginny is too busy dating other guys to see Harry. These love stories and suppressed feelings consume much of the plot and, indeed, the characters lives.

The fickle Hogwarts kids are set against a backdrop of constant Dickensian eccentrics which makeup the teaching staff at Hogwarts. The ever-enigmatic Professor Snape, played flawlessly by Alan Rickman, takes the new position of Defense Against the Darks Arts teacher—a position which has never held the same professor in Harry’s years at Hogwarts—while simultaneously protecting Harry’s arch nemesis Draco Malfoy who is on a mission to destroy the very fabric that holds Hogwarts together. The new Potions position is filled by Slughorn, a seasoned professor who has come out of retirement just to get the chance to teach the famous Harry Potter. Slughorn’s past is shady—having taught the now most fearful wizard of all time, Slughorn’s memories might provide Harry with clues about his own identity. Slughorn is portrayed brilliantly by British actor Jim Broadbent, who brings unexpected sympathy and life to this odd character.

The acting chops of the lead characters have never been a strength of the Potter films, but as the years roll by improvement can be seen all round. Rupert Grint’s take on Ron is so true to the original text of the novel, there’s is no wonder he’s a fan- favourite. Emma Watson’s Hermione is piquant as ever, although Watson’s portrayal shows a little more depth and vulnerability than we’re used to seeing. And then there’s Harry. Daniel Radcliffe has always been held up by his supporting cast; however, Radcliffe manages to steal some of his scenes with his newfound flair for comedy and more subtle dramatic style. Although not Oscar material, the acting is certainly less cringe-worthy than other Harry Potter flicks.

The plot, is filled with much more serious issues. Adult-gloom and complexity infiltrate this story. With Harry accepting that he and only he can put a stop to the terror and fear that afflicts the world he lives in, a Biblical allusion to sacrifice and suffering is obvious. In the Hogwarts bubble though, many of these worries are put aside and we get to see the last glimpse of innocence in Harry’s life. The grim end to Half-Blood Prince has Harry finally accepting his fate and dealing once again with another tragedy.

The only problem is the film manages to skip much of what the Potter genre has come to represent: magic. If viewers haven’t read the book, they might be confused by some plot details. With the resources and money available to these films, it’s a shame that more of J.K. Rowling’s intricate and detailed plot was not completely hashed out in this film. Half-Blood Prince almost tries too hard to make the Hogwarts kids just like us by focusing heavily on the things that make Harry seem normal.

—Emily Whalen


I like a good dick joke as much as the next person, but Bruno leaves a lot to be desired. The controversial and long-anticipated film is confusing in its message and target demographic, which may be the one of the reasons for its success. Audiences across social lines are both offended and amused, if for different reasons.

For those who haven’t been near any sort of media outlet for the past month, Bruno follows a similar format to Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 film, Borat. Cohen, acting as an Eastern-European foreigner, travels to America and exposes American prejudice through the provocation of inappropriate comments by a stereotypical character. This time, the character is gay and an ex-male model, ostensibly out to find fame in America. Under this plot, Cohen attempts to lampoon America’s homophobia and narcissistic celebrity culture. Given the negative stereotypical depiction of Bruno as a flamboyantly narcissistic nymphomaniac, the latter satire is far more successful.

This isn’t to say that Bruno doesn’t expose and ridicule homophobic Americans. He does—often bitingly. The problem, however, is that in the character Bruno, Cohen reproduces many of the stereotypes that encourage this intolerance and hate in the first place. In my suburban Greater Toronto Area theatre, it seemed most of the audience members were laughing at Bruno, not with him. While Cohen has no responsibility to dumb down his comedy to the lowest common denominator, the fact that the supposed satire of homophobia simultaneously draws most of its punch lines from demeaning gay stereotypes has led credence to the accusations that in Bruno, Cohen, has at best failed at social commentary and at worst has created what has been described as a gay minstrel show.

One can argue reproduction of demeaning stereotypes on a large scale constitutes a criticism in and of itself by magnifying them to the extent that even the most clueless consumer of popular culture can’t deny their existence. And getting people to admit these stereotypes exist in the first place is a first and important step toward challenging them. This is easily addressed by the problematic nature of a movie about a gay person by a straight person for straight people, but there are some other less questionable and more successful elements of social commentary in Bruno, some of which should bring sincere laughs across the board.

Bruno, like Borat, shines at incorporating unsuspecting “victims” in his film and exposing them as the bigots they really are. When Bruno decides he must become straight in order to achieve fame, and goes to a pray-away-the-gay fundamentalist Christian converter. These anti-gay converters have gotten some press, but nothing brings the point home like watching one of them suggesting a listening moratorium on Sinead O’Connor. Similarly, Bruno’s stints in the army and among hunters expose the homophobic culture in such institutions and activities. The cult of hetero macho masculinity is highlighted in these scenes, played for laughs almost as often as Bruno’s flamboyance. A send-up of rigid gender roles in a blockbuster film is impressive, especially since most big summer movies with Bruno’s audience pander to limited clichés of how men should act (Judd Apatow, anyone?)

The criticism of celebrity culture and narcissism is among the most biting critical commentary on American society and has some of the wittier one-liners of the movie. Bruno’s visit to Charity PR consulters and wish to find a cause like “Darfive”, and his send-up of the neo-colonial tendencies of starlets like Angelina Jolie skewer the entitlement, flippancy and hypocrisy toward social issues in celebrity culture. A scene with Ron Paul combines the understanding of cult sensations with an exposure of a political figure as a homophobe. Of course, these sparkling moments are overshadowed by the set up at the expense of casting Bruno as the chronically sexually-harassing predator.

Bruno’s role as an Other comes in his role as a foreigner as well as a homosexual. While Cohen’s character exposes the homophobia of others, he’s also inappropriate sentiments himself. Racist and sexist comments are excused with a flippant “bless him, he knows not what he does.”

The social commentary fails mostly because it encourages audiences to blame others. We look at this send-up of American culture and point our fingers south, turning a blind eye to our own prejudices, while New England and the coast can glare at the flyover states of Sarah Palin’s “Real America.” Bruno would be a lot better with harder targets and higher standards.

Shock humour isn’t so shocking anymore, but a tired routine of the comically lazy. In Bruno, it’s mostly used to reinforce the values of mainstream society, but in a more grandiose and extreme manner. Shocking and subversive are not mutually inclusive. It’s unfortunate Cohen has bought the myth, because divorced from their demeaning contexts, many of the shocking scenes offend for the right reasons. The extended shot of a giant flapping dick, spectacular in cinematic scale. The audience’s comfort zone was challenged in a crescendo to speaking genitalia. Bruno’s urethra formed a “mouth”, and spoke “Brunoooooo”. Divorced from the preceding debasing context, this could be gleeful moment of the weirdness of genitals. Bruno without the necessary grain of cognitive dissonance? Now that would be a film worth paying 11 dollars for. As it stands, just read the analysis and search on YouTube for the talking penis scene.

—Andrea McPherson

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

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