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🎬 "What, exactly, is the function of a rubber duck?"

🎬 "What, exactly, is the function of a rubber duck?"
By Eric Johnson • Issue #78 • View online

🐍 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Out of all the movies in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is maybe the strongest case for (eventually) re-adapting the books as a TV show. The source material here, despite being one of J.K. Rowling’s shorter novels, is a dense mystery imbued with a creeping dread, but the condensed movie version is neither mysterious nor especially scary.
Chris Columbus was the right director for the first Harry Potter movie, but the wrong one here, where he gets bogged down in plot and loses the thread. Most of the actors all deliver solid performances, but it often feels like they’re weighed down by the script, too. A stronger adaptation, in any format, would zero in on the fear of what lives inside the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry’s isolation from his classmates.
This is a smaller critique, but I also didn’t care for the casting of Kenneth Branagh as one of my favorite characters from the books, the odious Gilderoy Lockhart. Branagh sells Lockhart’s unearned confidence, but not his ability to charm other, smarter characters such as Hermione Granger — he is merely an oaf from the start, and I think the first casting misstep in the movie series.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Trailer
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Trailer
I watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Blu-Ray, but it is currently streaming on HBO Max and the USA Network.
🔥 The Last Airbender
Usually, what we call “bad movies” are in actuality a mixed bag: The stuff that works is drowned out by everything that doesn’t. In The Last Airbender, which I made the unfortunate life choice of rewatching this week, almost nothing works.
Let’s see … The acting is terrible, the editing is worse, the pacing is amateurish, the special effects are inconsistent, the action is boring, and the poorly-written dialogue is hindered by poorly-written voice-over.
As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, I adore the TV series this movie is based on, Avatar: The Last Airbender (the movie dropped the first word to avoid confusion with James Cameron‘s sci-fi adaptation of Pocahontas, which came out the previous year). Why Nickelodeon decided to hand the reins of this fun-for-all-ages fantasy series to M. Night Shyamalan with seemingly no stipulations that the show’s creators be involved is beyond me.
This is a real study in contrasts with Chamber of Secrets (above) — even though I didn’t love that Harry Potter movie, its fundamentals are still strong. The Last Airbender is about as sturdy as an igloo built in the desert. Please, do me a favor and don’t watch the movie — do watch the TV series (on Netflix) instead. 
The Last Airbender (2010) - Earthbenders Revolt! Scene (2/10) | Movieclips
The Last Airbender (2010) - Earthbenders Revolt! Scene (2/10) | Movieclips
I watched The Last Airbender on Netflix, but you shouldn’t. It’s also streaming on DirecTV.
🦴 Gates of Heaven
If IMDb is to be believed, Gates of Heaven was a movie made on a dare: Werner Herzog dared the then-unknown documentarian Errol Morris to make a movie about a pet cemetery, and Morris succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.
This is a disorientating character study with almost no conflict and long, rambling interviews (this is praise, by the way). As with Morris’ other films, the director is never seen nor heard, and yet his finely-honed skill for editing lets us intuit how he felt about his subjects. Although he’s not exactly making fun of them, he frames them in such a way and selects just the right moments that the film is surprisingly funny throughout.
Gates of Heaven - Couples Scene
Gates of Heaven - Couples Scene
I watched Gates of Heaven on Blu-Ray, but it is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
Other Stuff I Liked This Week
I Asked 64,182 People About “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”. Here's What I Found Out.
I Asked 64,182 People About “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”. Here's What I Found Out.
I’ve spent a not-insignificant amount of time watching strange video essays on YouTube, which typically answer questions such as “when can Super Mario retire?” and “why is none of the music in Marvel movies memorable?” But this video, about how people complete the childhood rhyme “Jingle Bells, Batman smells …” immediately goes in the hall of fame. It’s funny, it’s nerdy, it’s genuinely surprising — a great use of your next 13 minutes:
And one more thing: After five years, Recode Decode with Kara Swisher — the podcast I’ve been producing for almost all of its run — has come to an end. Our series finale published on Wednesday, and I’m in it!
Making this show and seeing it grow into one of the most popular tech podcasts in the world has been a privilege and a source of great joy for me. I have loved working alongside Kara Swisher and will be subscribing to her new podcast for the New York Times on day one.
If you haven’t listened in the past, now is a surprisingly good time to subscribe; we’ll be running best-of episodes for the next few months, every Monday and Wednesday. Click here for links to all the podcast apps where you can listen to the show!
And if you have been listening for some or all of these years: Thank you so, so much. As soon as I can share what I’m working on next, you’ll hear about it here.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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