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Before Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity,’ there was ‘Azkaban’

The latest entry in the North Park’s Family Summer Matinee series is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (July 5 and 6, 11 a.m.), the most important film in the Potter series.

The Harry Potter films are noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is the startlingly wonderful decision to go from a serviceable hack behind the camera — Chris “Home Alone” Columbus, who directed the first two Potter films — to the bold director whose previous, NC-17-rated Mexican modern classic centered around two horny teenagers on a road trip with an older woman.

I am of course talking about 2001’s “Y Tu Mamá También” and its director, Alfonso Cuarón. Today, of course, Cuarón is the Oscar-winner who brought “Gravity” to the big screen, but when he was offered the directors’ chair for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” he had never helmed so large a project.

The result was the best in the series, and the first to fully embrace the growing maturity of stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. Plus, it had the great Gary Oldman. (Let’s pretend that Playboy interview never happened.) So experience it again, on the big screen.

In other local screening news, the family-friendly Regal Cinemas Summer Movie Express kicked off on July 1 and 2. On July 8 and 9, the series features the solid sequel “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” on July 8 and “The Pirates: Band of Misfits” on July 9. Both start at 10 a.m. at the Quaker Crossing and Transit Regal theaters.

Also at the Quaker Crossing, Regal’s Classic Film Series continues at 2 p.m. on July 6 and 2 and 7 p.m. on July 9 with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Yes, the Gene Wilder version, thankfully.

Wes Anderson’s great “Grand Budapest Hotel” is showing outdoors at UB’s North Campus on July 8 (as well as July 11) and South Campus on July 9.

Transit Drive-In’s next Retro Tuesday on July 8 offers “The Goonies” at 9 :15 p.m. and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at 11:30.

And in addition to “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is showing on July 6, 8, 10, and 12, Amherst’s Screening Room presents the Buffalo/Niagara Indie Short Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. on July 7. It’s a benefit for the Niagara Art and Cultural Center, and a great reason to get out and support your local indies.

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