'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon. Now playing at the West Theater.
Eye of newt and toe of frog may make fire burn and cauldron bubble, but irrepressible infatuations and other teenage worries cause the toil and trouble of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
It's been mere weeks since 16-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) had his most recent and most harrowing adventure at his alma mater, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But before Harry can even catch his breath, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has him ready for more.
Besides being involved in the re-hiring of a retired professor (Jim Broadbent), the wizard pupil is about to enrich his learning experiences at Hogwarts more than he could have imagined. Along with his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson), he's about to have a year he'll never forget.
That is, if he can figure what his least favorite fellow student Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is up to sneaking around the castle constantly. And there are other dark forces in play that must be taken into consideration, as well.
With Harry past his rebellious years, Radcliffe settles in as his character works his way toward manhood, still struggling with the basic teen issues: homework, magic spells gone awry and a burgeoning romance with his best friend's sister (Bonnie Wright).
Speak of the red-headed devil, Grint gets a great deal of focus with his own relationship with giggly new girlfriend Lavender Brown, played with frenetic energy by Jessie Cave. As the two are most frequently draped all over each other, snogging - kissing, to us Americans - most of Watson's sly charms as Hermione are turned to jealousy, marking the obvious longing that has been building in the last few films.
Gambon has his work cut out for him in the most Dumbledore-oriented installment of the "Potter" series, and he does not disappoint as Harry's kindly old mentor. Felton also steps up to the plate as Malfoy, emotionally torn between his familial duties and his conscience, even lashing out against favored professor Severus Snape, played to perfection as always by Alan Rickman.
Broadbent is especially enjoyable as pompous, paunchy Potions professor Horace Slughorn, despite being nowhere near the dimensions of the rotund, mustachioed character as he is described in the book.
But, the actor's talent for sculpting putty-like facial expressions and quizzical body language will make you exclaim, "Merlin's beard!"
For a movie that features a book so heavily - namely Harry's Potions textbook, which catapults him to the top of the class thanks to endless crib notes doodled by the mysterious former owner, the Half-Blood Prince - the movie takes a few liberties from its roots, completely changing a few plot points from J.K. Rowling's original story.
You'd have to be a stick-in-the-mud to complain, as these newer scenes finely serve the intent behind them, which is to better lead up to the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Director David Yates clearly wants the final installment to have as much bang as one of the wizard fireworks peddled by Ron's twin brothers, Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps).
But, Yates prevents the sixth movie from being simply a placeholder with Dumbledore preparing Harry for his ultimate adventure, emphasizing above all the relationships and friendships among the characters, young and old.
The intimacy is palpable and love is in the air at Hogwarts.
And in most cases, it's much more lasting than a simple love potion.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" may leave a few plot holes for those who aren't hardcore fans, but with close attention to dialogue and foreshadowing, even getting half the story will fully satisfy.
Now playing at the West Theater.