The first Harry Potter movie was for squares: a bunch of clueless kids standing around, looking shocked and confused about being in a movie. With the first sequel, Director Chris Columbus took a respectable step forward, seeming to get a handle on what to do with the kids and the huge sets being built for the franchise. It was with this second sequel that the series truly took flight. Columbus stepped aside for director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien), who gave series a whole new look that qualifies as masterpiece work. The Hippogriff, a sort of bird/horse hybrid, is a wonder to behold, and when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) takes it for a flight, it is one of the movie year's most magical moments. Radcliffe and his fellow young actors really hit their strides in this one, and Cuaron probably had plenty to do with it. Destined for some critic Top 10 lists this year, Azkaban left me wanting more of the boy wizard's saga, which is worlds more than I can say for the first film.
SPECIAL FEATURES: A nice treasure trove of interviews gives just about every one of the main participants in the film a chance to speak up. It's especially nice to see a pleasant and well-groomed Gary Oldman going along with things for the kiddies. For adults, the shrunken-head portion of these interviews, where an actual shrunken head interrupts with inane questions, might be a tad irritating, but kids will probably like it, and they may enjoy the handful of games, including one where you must catch a rat by using the arrows on your remote. (I had little patience for them.)
Holy Jesus, this show is remarkably funny. A mere four months after the release of Volume Two, Volume Three is unleashed in time for holiday joy and merriment. The highlight here would have to be Episode 10, where monsters and freakos from episodes past join forces with the Mooninites in a plot to drive screws into the skulls of Master Shake and company. This includes the return of the Happy Time Harry Doll, voiced by none other than David Cross. Those of you who don't watch the show have no idea what I'm talking about, so it's time to start watching, because you're missing some of television's funniest animation comedy. If your tastes ride toward the bizarre, you must indulge in Aqua Teen. Start now, and quit depriving yourself.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Some bizarre deleted scenes are worth a gander for fans. Creators and voices of Aqua Teen get together for some riotous commentary that includes a little Meatwad concert. Speaking of Meatwad, he delivers a nice acoustic version of the theme song on the disc two menu.
As I watched this movie, I couldn't help but reminisce about the stinging sensation of getting pelted in the face with a dodgeball. If there's any game on the planet that inspires youths to get good, and get good fast, this is the one. Solid contact in the face with one of those red demons provided the sensation of being blasted in the face with a blowtorch. (Being that I've never really taken a blowtorch to the face, the previous statement is nothing but hypothetical.) Ben Stiller is very funny as White Goodman, a manic fitness gym owner looking to conquer and bury a neighboring gym run by the extremely dry Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn, who is on a roll). The movie has some clunkers, but when it hits the mark, it's a regular riot. I say this unto you: Had director Rawson Marshall Thurber been allowed to end his film the way he wanted, it would've taken this movie up a notch on the quality scale. His original intention, which I will not reveal here, was genius and daring, and it's no surprise that it hurt the likes of stars Stiller and Vaughn to see it changed to something a little friendlier.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The alternative ending mentioned above is contained herein, and Thurber's disappointment with the change is noticeable. Thurber, Stiller and Vaughn give an entertaining commentary where Stiller reveals that the original name for his character was White Stiller, which would've killed. Every one of the deleted scenes is good enough to be in the movie, especially the Triangle of Shame, where Stiller must be booed by the crowd after committing an infraction during a match. It's one of those great, subversive moments that would've benefited the movie. Stiller in a fat suit makes for a rather funny Easter egg.