Monday, July 31, 2017

Better In Your Head? Books vs. Movies, the Conclusion

Eight months ago, I began the "Better In Your Head?" review series to A) give me a break from writing about music and B) see how the cliche of "the book is always better" held up under fair scrutiny.

55 books turned into 58 movies. Eight movies turned out superior to their black-and-white source material--a 14.5% clip.

The Godfather (the best ever adaptation of a novel)
Jaws
The Wizard of Oz

Bang the Drum Slowly
Psycho
Casino Royale
Goldfinger
The Spy Who Loved Me


Four of those films are undisputed classics. Seven were box office hits. So what does that tell me? It is better in your head, and any exceptions must be truly exceptional.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS

2007
J.K. Rowling


July 21 is a great date to release things into the world. Ernest Hemingway, Sonic Youth's second sellout album. Anticipation for the seventh and final installment of the blockbusting Harry Potter saga was so great it made worldwide news. Lines of eager readers formed outside bookstores, dominating entire blocks, some decked out in costumes. It wasn't a mere book release, sweeties, it was a happening

Deathly Hallows is still the fastest-selling book of all the times, with fifteen million copies snapped up in the first 24 hours. Was it worth it? Ist ein Eisbär Hoden kalt?

Lord Voldemort is taking over. Severus Snape, his mole of long-standing, reports that the Order of the Phoenix will be removing Harry Potter from the Dursley home four days before he turns seventeen, and loses the blood protection he's had over him since his mother's murder. Pounding back Polyjuice potion like angel's spit, six members of the Order turn into Harry. Along with the real deal, and seven protectors, they take to the sky. The Death Eaters ambush. George Weasley loses an ear, Harry loses an owl, and Moody loses a life. As Moody was a man, and not a cat, he's gone for good.

Joy can be keenly felt in even the most tumultuous times, and the impeding nuptials of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour keep spirits at the Burrow high. More or less. Hermione's still coming to grips with having wiped her parents' memories of her before sending them out of the country. Then there's Harry, trying to reconcile the fact that the fate of the free Wizarding world rests in his hands, yet he has no solid plan of action.

Minister Scrimgeour arrives bearing Dumbledore's will, and three items he bequeathed: a Deluminator for Ron, a book for Hermione, and for Harry, the very first Golden Snitch he ever caught in a Quidditch match. (He also left the Sword of Gryffindor for the Boy Who Lived, but it's gone missing.)

The Death Eaters are kind enough to wait until the actual wedding part of the festivities has gone down before assassinating the Minister and bumrushing the show. Harry, Ron and Hermione disapparate together, winding up at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.

Speaking with Kreacher, Harry solves the mystery of who left the note in the fake Slytherin's locket: Regulus Black, brother of Sirius, a former Death Eater foolish enough to think he could defect and not feel the wrath of his former master. His revenge on the Dark Lord was to replace the locket Horcrux with a duplicate. Regulus died in the act, but Kreacher was able to take the locket to Grimmauld Place (although, as he laments, not able to destroy it). OOTP member Mundungus Fletcher would later steal it for his back alley fencing operation, which is where none other than Dolores Umbridge took it in exchange for not putting him in prison.

The trio sip some Polyjuice and infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, now a hotbed of propaganda and harassment. Twatcakes like Umbridge flourish in such environments. Having a piece of her hero  stolen from her by a blood traitor, half-blood and Muggleborn must have really singed her bountiful butt-hairs.

The fun really starts when they (well, Hermione) accidentally blow their cover at Grimmauld Place. Camping trip, which they can do since Hermione has a bottomless bag of all sorts of useful items. One thing they can't do? Destroy that goddamn locket. So each of the three take turns wearing it, switching off once the bad vibes emanating from the cursed jewelry become unbearable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the locket's jibes affect Ron most profoundly, to the point he abandons the two people he swore to die beside.

Hermione and Harry continue the desperate quest. Where the hell would Voldemort hide bits of his soul? They try Godric's Hollow, the village where Harry's parents lived and died. There is indeed a Horcrux there, and it nearly kills them both before they can flee.

Wandering 'round in the Forest of Dean, Harry spots a silver doe Patronus. He follows it to a freezing lake, at the bottom of which lies the sword of Gryffindor. Once he grabs the sword, the locket 'round his neck begins strangling him. It's the ignominious end of Harry Potter, except no, 'cause who drags him out of the lake but ya baby mama's favorite chess player, Ronald fucking Weasley.

The locket starts belching Ron's inferiority complex, but he's a true Gryffindor. Another Horcrux down.

Harry is understandably, "Dude?" Ron explains he'd been staying with Bill and Fleur, wracking his brain for a way to get back to his mates. The answer came when he turned on the Deluminator gifted him by Dumbledore and heard Hermione's voice uttering his name.

Oh, and about uttering names…a Taboo curse has been placed on the name "Voldemort," meaning anyone brazen enough to utter it--AKA, members of the Order of the Phoenix--will be immediately beset upon by the Dark Lord's "Snatchers."

Ron's return reinvigorates the search. The group visit Xenophilius Lovegood, hoping to find out more about a mysterious symbol that's been popping up in their quest (the same one that appeared on the back of Tom Riddle's ring). XL's been pretty bummed since Snatchers abducted his daughter Luna, but he patiently explains what the symbol is and what it represents: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak. Together, they comprise the Deathly Hallows. Anyone who could claim ownership of all three items would be considered the master of death.

After helping the trio, Xenophilius then helps out the Snatchers by snitching on Harry. One of Hermione's more overlooked moments of brilliance enables them to escape.

Voldemort is not one to have others do all of his dirty work, though. Only he could break into Dumbledore's tomb and steal the Elder Wand.

Yell all you want at Ron for leaving, it's Harry who says the name "Voldemort" and gets 'em all snatched up. At Malfoy Manor, an entirely too-thrilled Bellatrix Lestrange orders the boys to the cellar (where they join Luna, Dean Thomas, the goblin Griphook and wandmaker Ollivander) while Hermione is hit repeatedly with the Cruciatus Curse. When Bella demands to know how they ended up with the sword, Hermione tries an enormous bluff that pays off when Griphook plays along. While this is going on, Harry takes out a shard of the mirror Sirius Black gave him way back in Order of the Phoenix and asks for help.

It's hero time, Dobby! As a token of eternal gratitude, accept this mortal knife wound.

Over a couple weeks at Bill and Fleur's place, Harry and the Helpersons concoct a plan to break into Bellatrix's vault at Gringotts. He suspects that the cup of Helga Hufflepuff is within its walls, and that it is also a Horcrux. Thanks to some stray hairs, Hermione is able to Polyjuice into her tormentor. Ron accompanies her in disguise, while Harry and Griphook shuffle along under the Cena cloak. Things go unbelievably great (they get the cup) and then predictably terrible (Griphook sells them out). Any day you can exit a building via dragon, though, must be considered a successful one.

Back to school.

Horcruxes are getting destroyed left and right. Ron and Hermione take out the Cup (and finally kiss). Then the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw perishes in Fiendfyre that one of Malfoy's idiot chums lets fly in the Room of Requirement.

Pretty much everyone who has ever been in a Harry Potter book shows up to fight the Battle of Hogwarts. A chastened Percy Weasley appears, and his timing is impeccable, since Fred Weasley is killed by flying wall just a short time later. (A neat set-up for all the copies of Deathly Hallows that hit walls right after.)

Voldemort kills Snape to become master of the Elder Wand. Or so he thinks. See, what had happened, Draco Malfoy became master of the Elder Wand the moment he disarmed Dumbledore atop the Astronomy Tower. Then, during the escape from Malfoy Manor, Harry disarmed Draco, meaning he is now the master of the Elder Wand. And the Elder Wand will never kill its master.

Before Snape goes all the way over, Harry finds him. Snape pulls out one last memory, and breathes his last.

So much insane stuff has happened by the time Harry realizes he's a Horcrux, I couldn't even be surprised. Of course Harry must die, or at least, that part of Voldemort squirming inside of him must die. The Dark Lord takes down young Harry with the AK, sending him to a metaphysical recreation of Kings Cross Station, a sort of limbo where he speaks with the spirit of Albus Dumbledore. Even in the afterlife, old Alby Dumby is a calming fount of wisdom. By using Harry's blood to regain a biped form, Voldemort inadvertently shielded him from dying.

(This is why you have consultants; surely one would have pointed out the hitches in the whole immortality scheme.).

Voldemort announces the death of Harry Potter. Premature jocularity ensues. Then Harry pops up off the ground, and the audience explodes like they'd just seen zombie Linda McMahon come up off the stool. After taking the time to break down for Voldemort the myriad of ways in which he failed, Harry takes him down at last.

But wait there's more! An epilogue, set nineteen years after the Battle, just specific enough and just vague enough to piss off hundreds of thousands, possibly millions.

Hopefully by now any and all peeved at the admittedly slipshod coda have taken to heart the lesson at the core of not just Deathly Hallows but in the six preceding volumes: love outlasts hate, so good will always triumph over evil. Voldemort could not fathom love, much less feel it, thus he was unable to prepare an adequate defense or offense against a boy so caring and cared for.

2010
Director-David Yates
Writer-Steve Kloves


Wherein, the producers do to the final book what they could have done to the last four: split the meffer.

Part One is essentially two hours of set-up. Everything that needs to happen, happens. One thing that didn't need to happen, ever, in any universe, in any draft of any script, happened.

Ron's gone. Harry and Hermione are sad. They're out in the woods, cold and hungry, with no clue what to do next. Harry turns up the radio. They dance to Nick Cave's "O Children."

Are you kidding me, Kloves? I'd rather watch myself die. At least that's canon.

Other than that horrific error in basic human decency, Part One gives fans much to embrace. The Tale of the Three Brothers sequence is E for emosawa, and finally the three main actors coalesce! Daniel Radcliffe's earnestness is more sincerely enjoyable than any film since the second. Emma Watson kills it at last! And no one had to slap her forehead or shave her eyebrows! Rupert Grint shows that he's much more than comic relief, nailing the darker side of Ron.

I shan't forget the others. Bonnie Wright is such a special actress. She weakens the skillset of anyone she shares screen time with. Absolutely she could turn Helen Mirren into Helen Hunt. Seeing Imelda Staunton again gave me a phantom seizure. Actors show up to play Remus, Tonks, Bill and Fleur, but if the script didn't care I doubt you will either.

And the ending--the middle?--is nice and evil.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
Remus Lupin fans deep down had to appreciate his diminished role considering that the book shows Remus at his weakest moment. He shows up at Grimmauld Place and offers to accompany the trio on their hunt. Yep, he would much rather join their little gang and rush headlong towards certain death than be a husband and father.

Half-ass job with Lupin and Tonks, a half-ass job with Bill Weasley's scars--that adds up to one whole ass! Listen, Bill in the books was left so fucked up by Fenrir Greyback that pretty much everyone in his family expected his fiancee to haul her haughty ass back to France. Rowling used the word "grotesque." A couple neat and tidy scars down the cheeks does not equal grotesque.

Nuance? No, dance. A bone for the H/Hr shippers that the rest of us can choke on. Between that and the Horcrux kiss, I'm so glad I didn't see Pt. 1 in a theater. My Steve Spurrier impression would not have proven popular.

The Ron/Hermione moments that do make the movies must have killed Kloves, but they're nothing compared to what's in the book.

Radcliffe and Grint are mesmerizing during the tent fight. Still, replacing Ron's "I get it. You choose him" with the more soap opera-sounding "I saw you two the other night" shows just how much Steve Kloves did not get Ron.

I hope whoever suggested the use of silhouette animation for the "Three Brothers" segment was eventually given oral sex until they passed out as a reward.

Bellatrix torturing Hermione, ultimately another misstep in the movie. The torture itself is played well by Emma Watson and Helena Bonham Carter, with the former letting out some fantastically chilling screams. In the book, however, she wasn't the only one. In the cellar below, hearing the love of his life getting Crucio'ed to within an inch of her sanity, Ron is going out of his mind, screaming Hermione's name over and over, pounding walls. Heartbreaking. In the movie? Just have Rupert make faces.

All right, to be fair, the torture sequence actually had to be cut to keep the rating PG-13. Wouldn't want to upset the kids! That's also why they had Dobby stun Wormtail. Bullshit. If you've read the book, you know how Wormtail goes out. So hardcore.

Speaking of Dobby, maybe his death would have hit just a bit harder if he had actually shown up in any movie between Chamber of Secrets and this one.

I wonder what non-readers thought when they saw the mirror shard. Hell, even I had to think for a minute.

MIND THE GAP
The Elder Wand is not to be confused with the Elder Juan, a nice old fellow who lived on the same block as my family in southwest Texas back in the early Seventies. Juan taught my mom everything she still knows about genuine Mexican cuisine. Why she never started up a restaurant named Gringo Star is beyond me.

I'd have zero qualms with people Poly'ing my juice. Who wouldn't want to possess my tits, even if for a limited time only?

Muggleborns are under suspicion, dragged from their homes and brought before the Ministry on suspicion of having "stolen" their magical powers. That's what I love about these books, they're so fantastical.

There are five exceptions to "Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration," one of which is food. Food cannot be created from thin air, however, it can be enlarged, multiplied or summoned from a particular location. For all the bitching that the trio did about insufficient sustenance whilst in the woods, they should have been able to "increase the quantity" of whatever food they did acquire, be it mushrooms, fish whatever. Hermione herself points this out! Yet there's no evidence they ever did so. How do you explain it away when a wizard didn't do it?

Arthur Weasley is the Secret Keeper for the Burrow. Bill Weasley is the Secret Keeper for Shell Cottage. Why didn't James Potter just act as the Secret Keeper for the house at Godric's Hollow, then? Why trust some other man, much less one with the initials P.P?

I don't usually pay attention to fan theories, since most of them are embarrassing wish fulfillment, but this one? I had to stand up just to sit back down.

Hear me out--Brian Blessed as Hagrid. Holding the assumed corpse of the savior, he staggers away from Lord Voldemort and his gleefully villainous cadre, stopping after several feet to drop the body onto the ground. With a long piteous moan, Hagrid pulls at his filthy shirt with one meaty hand, and at his even filthier hair with the other meaty hand. The next ninety seconds consists of him saying the name "Harry" over and over, louder and louder, until it's seventeen syllables long.

What the hell spell'd ol' Moll conjure to turn Bellatrix into Grape Nuts? My pal Pat suggests "Avada Asplodabitch," which may also be the name of a Russian tennis player.

2011
Director-David Yates
Writer-Steve Kloves


Begins with the (proper) burial of Dobby, a scene that Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack lends unearned moroseness.

We see a bit more of Domhnall Gleeson and Clemence Poesy as Bill and Fleur(marrying a Weasley has altered Fleur's accent, from super-French to sorta-English. Rather IBS to diarrhea, no?). Lovely house, you two.

This is where the action lives, and Yates more or less gets it right. Honestly I'd prefer to commend the special effects team.

Two kisses in this one: a peck between the hero and his girl (Harry/Ginny kisses are death: stiff, cold and devastating to witness.) and a smooch between the other hero and his girl. I bet Kloves had to avert his eyes in the theater.

The acting is even better. Radcliffe always looked a good Harry (except in Goblet of Fire, where practically no one looked a good anything except good and terrible), but his acting rarely dipped below or rose above "functional." Here he's actually outstanding, with the script failing him instead of the other way around.

Rupert Grint gets to show off those reliable comedic chops in Part Two (his reaction to the Fiendfyre is by far the funniest thing in either part, in fact). I haven't mentioned Matthew Lewis as Neville, and that's on me. His growth from forgetful butterball to fairly hunky Horcrux killer is something to celebrate.

Helena Bonham Carter acting like Emma Watson acting like Helena Bonham Carter pretending to be Hermione. Almost makes me forgive the dancing. And even the arm-licking.

Alan Rickman is still taking his sweet time speaking words that drip with malevolence. Maggie Smith is still effortlessly dignified, still endless captivating.

Robbie Coltrane is still very large and hirsute.

The last Harry Potter movie clocked in at a mere 130 minutes, making it the shortest of the eight films. With a worldwide gross of $1.3 billion, also the most successful. Well-deserved. The story's great, the acting's tops, and visually nothing else in the series is as breathtaking (CGI dragon!). Tremendous way to wrap it up.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The Battle at Hogwarts looks amazing. Nothing could top reading it for the first time. The emotions were not only higher, they morphed. It was an event in the book, rather than an accomplishment.

When Harry goes to face Voldemort in the forest, he just goes. He doesn't go to see Ron and Hermione, or anyone, okay? Kloves, I swear to God…I was ready to punt a child in that fucking movie theater.

Fiendfyre is so relentlessly bro. Uncontrollable flame that can transform into animal shapes and is resistant to water is incredible dark magic that a complete imbecile like Goyle shouldn't be able to cast. And yet.

The book doesn't include the Dark Lord, the most feared evil wizard of ever apparently, the insane fascist prick who split his soul into pieces, doing the hokey-pokey or giving out Aspie hugs. That's like auto-victory, right there.

You could have tried harder, movie. Only 130 minutes, you could have put aside a few extra for the death and mourning of a fucking Weasley. No shot of Arthur comforting Molly, probably the only thing keeping him from falling apart beside her. No Percy going apeshit on Death Eaters. We don't even see the reunion with Percy! The only truly affecting moment is Ron's reaction to seeing his brother's corpse. I don't know where Grint went in his mind for that and I'm not sure I want to know.

Ron, man. On the printed page, he defies a Silencing Spell just to remind Voldemort what a no-nose-havin' piece of crap he continues to be. Loyal as fifty beagles, brave as twenty German Shepherds.

Plus he gets the girl! Double bonus, the best girl! Hermione Granger is the smartest, cleverest, most resourceful, kick-face girl around. Ron Weasley--who has in the past several years confronted a loo troll, faced down ginormous spiders, wondered as to the extent of Sirius Black's frogginess whilst hobbled, and jumped into a frigid body of water to save his mad best friend from being murdered by a deranged piece of jewelry--remembers the house elves, those steadfast servants of a school under siege, and it is that act of selflessness which earns him a hearty song from the bushy-haired brainiac of his no doubt fragmented and messy dreams. So Hermione's amateur activism ended up good for something after all!

Their kiss in the film looks great. But it doesn't feel as satisfying.

Snape's last words are changed from "Look…at…me" to "Look at me. You have your mother's eyes." Right, except blue.

Christ, "The Prince's Tale." The story of a man who swears to protect the son of the woman he loved at the expense of any other joy in life...while also swearing to serve the freak who murdered that woman. Alan Rickman is riveting. No, Snape isn't there at Godric's Hollow on the night the Potters died, but I'm glad they added that scene, just because it gave us more Alan Rickman. The only Potter performance that deserved Oscar attention was his in the second Deathly Hallows.

Dumbledore telling Harry about that extra blood protection is pretty crucial. So definitely don't include that.

Ah, the epilogue. Marrying your high school sweetheart and popping out lazily-named brats isn't for everyone. I never disliked it; actually rather liked it more when I saw the more vehemently negative reactions.

MIND THE GAP
The fairly popular belief that Neville should have been the one to knock off Bellatrix Lestrange, as revenge for turning his parents into human husks is an agreeable one on its face, but unrealistic beneath the skin. Molly had only just recently pulled herself off the corpse of her son and her only daughter nearly died right in front of her eyes.

Hell, Neville had more of a right to take out Voldemort himself, considering that it was almost him who became known as the Boy Who Lived.

Going back to Sybill Trelawney's prophecy, there were indeed two male children born in late July 1980 whose parents told Voldy take a flying fuck at rolling donut on three separate occasions: Harry Potter and…Neville Longbottom. Voldemort pursued the half-blood babe, and sealed his own fate.

What could have been, y'all. "Neville Longbottom and the Chamber of Secrets." "Neville Longbottom and the Half-Blood Prince. The gay porn industry would be as big as Snapchat right now.

Voldemort fears death and seeks to master it; Harry accepts it, has the means to master it, but then discards them. Well, except the cloak, which IS the best of the Hallows, y'know. Sacrifice is noble, and death is inevitable: "I am ready to die."



BEFORE I GO...
...there's still a couple things I need to address.

                                             RON AND HERMIONE, A LOVE STORY

Authors are under no obligation to make their pot a melting one. To thine own self must they be unflinchingly true. What might seem a "limited" worldview is really a necessity of form and function. Fiction yearns for restrictions, and the author should trust themselves to set them, just as the reader should respect them. Both of them need to, at a certain point, close the book.

J.K. Rowling is not just a regular author, however; she's one of the few who's made a fortune on their way to changing the world. So when she comes out, years later, and says Dumbledore was gay, it felt like pandering. As a queer human being, I never feel that a storyteller is compelled to represent my sexuality in their universe.

Then she came out and said that putting Ron and Hermione together was a mistake.

Creator regrets are inevitable. Public statements on them are ill-advised, but not impermissible. Rowling's revelation started a firestorm with the fandom, as certain fans felt vindicated for disbelieving the canon, while others felt betrayed. It also raised a myriad of questions: Is an interview canon? (Nope) Is there a certain point where a writer just needs to let their story be, and damn the maybes? (Yep) Does this woman not own a fucking journal? (Dunno)

Did the ensuing uproar cause Rowling to backpedal? Fucking hell. The woman moonwalked like no white person before or since. Ron and Hermione will be fine, she assured fans, "with a bit of counseling."

I personally didn't get upset; after all, if it's not in one of the books, canon it ain't. What Rowling says in an interview doesn't mean a damn thing. Your opinion is every bit as valid.

I rooted for Ron and Hermione since day one. They're a perfect give and take. I have seen people claim their personalities and intellects are too disparate to allow for a healthy relationship. I have also seen people call it an abusive relationship, implying that fans who support their union are defending domestic violence. Those people are hopelessly lost in their worldview.*

Ron's not a jerk, he's just plagued with self-doubt. His issues stem from ceaseless comparisons to his best friend--one of the most legendary wizards ever to live. The kid fails to realize, anyone bar Merlin himself would come up lacking against Harry flippin' Potter.

Ask yourself: would Hermione Granger put up with an abusive partner? End of.

Not to mention, Harry and Hermione would be a stodgy-ass couple. Among other offenses, their sexual encounters would be quite low-volume.

(For the record, I ship the following: Harry with intensive psychotherapy, Ron with a bacon butty, and Hermione with a bookshelf 100 feet long.)

                                         SEVERUS SNAPE, HERO OR VILLAIN?
Or, flawed human?

Alan Rickman once said: "I don't play villains, I play very interesting people." (Great quote, if not entirely accurate. As someone who grew up in the USA during the 1980s, trust me, the man at least once played a villain.) Severus Snape, gifted wizard with the charm of a snail trail, certainly qualifies as interesting. It's not often one gets the opportunity to be a triple agent.


Rickman's masterful performance (including that panty-dropper voice) influenced numerous fans to forgive the character of Snape a multitude of sins, make excuses for his vindictive nature, and ship him with Harry's mother (while subsequently vilifying Harry's father for being a schoolyard bully). Snape was a brave man. By any measure worth a damn. But this so-called everlasting love for a woman who considered him only a friend (at least, until he called her a "Mudblood") was really a debilitating obsession.

Snape regarded Harry as a miniature of the man who made Severus's school days hell, and he asked Voldemort to spare her life. (Which he tried to, in fact.) Snape did not care if James or baby Harry died. He did not consider Lily's devastation at the loss of her family. So don't try to convince me Severus Snape was some sort of great tormented romantic hero. He was, at best, a conflicted schmuck who did the right thing for arguably the wrong reason.







*She typed after a minute of deep breaths and rapid blinks.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

2005
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, the Prince is Snape and the Walrus was Paul.

The penultimate entry of the Harry Potter saga is one big setup.

With his father in Azkaban for munching mortality, Draco Malfoy has been entrusted with a risky mission by none other than Lord Voldemort himself. Mrs. Malfoy approaches Severus Snape with a proposition: enter into an Unbreakable Vow with her. The Unbreakable Vow is an oath between two magical beings and if one of them should happen to break that vow, they will die. Snape's promise--protect Draco by any means necessary.

Dumbledore stops by the Dursley residence to escort Harry to the Burrow. His hand looks gnarly, but no explanation is forthcoming. First, they visit former Hogwarts Potions teacher Horace Slughorn. Dumbledore desperately wants ol' Sluggy to return to school, but the walrus-shaped man has reservations. Slughorn was a Slytherin, but not the stereotypical Slytherin, oh no. As a student at Hogwarts, he befriended Muggleborns over the grumbling of his parents. As a teacher he treated all with kindness, while clearly preferring the more ambitious students. Over fifty years, he presided over the education of many witches and wizards who would come to play significant roles in Harry's own life: Molly Prewett, Arthur Weasley, Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape, Lily Evans and…Tom Riddle. Like any good member of the cunningest house in Hogwarts, Horace knows what connections to make, and when to make them.

Life at Diagon Alley is turbulent if you're a shop owner. Stores are shuttering, paranoia reigns, and Harry has reason to believe Draco Malfoy is following in his incarcerated father's footsteps. (At least Fred and George's joke shop is booming, sometimes literally.)

Life at the Burrow is excellent if you're a hetero male. Fleur Delacour, former Triwizard Tournament participant and current fiancee of Bill Weasley, has been living there in hopes of ingratiating herself into the family. All three women under the Burrow's roof detest the luminous bride-to-be, Ginny especially showing a vicious side.

Life at Hogwarts is excellent if you're an absolute imbecile. Slughorn is taking over Potions from Snape, so what's old greasy git to do? Brand new DADA teacher, of course!

Neither Harry nor Ron anticipated they'd be in Potions for sixth year, but when they hear that Slughorn isn't such a hard-ass with the grades, they sign up. Turns out Potions class is pretty fun when the professor isn't undermining you every chance he gets. Neither boy had the proper textbook, so Sluggy let them borrow secondhand copies. Harry's is full of handwritten notes and spells left by its prior owner, "The Half-Blood Prince." Following the instructions of the so-called "Prince," Harry brews the best Draught of the Living Death of the whole class, and wins a vial of Felix Felicis, the "good luck" potion that provides the imbiber with up to a full day's worth of fortune.

The once-strained relationship between Harry and his Headmaster is a thing of the past. Dumbledore calls Harry to his office for story time. The protagonist is the ultimate antagonist: Tom Riddle. Harry learns more about the loveless life of the charismatic, unhinged orphan who believed that magical beings were entitled to immortality. (He also shares with Dumbledore his suspicions that Snape is up to no good, and not in a cool magic map way. Dumbledore assures Harry that he trusts the bitter bastard implicitly.)

While Harry's being prepped for the fight of his life, Ron is having his usual self-esteem issues. He has competition for the Keeper spot on the Quidditch squad, Slughorn clearly favors Harry and Hermione over him in Potions, and little sister Ginny is getting far more action than he ever has. When he tries to play overprotective big brother, Ginny lets slip that Krum and Hermione snogged during their brief time together in fourth year. Livid, Ron locks lips with Lavender Brown whilst in the throes of post-Quidditch bliss.

In full view of Hermione, no less. Oh Ron. She has it bad for the boy--if only he had clue one. She cheats to get him that spot on the Quidditch team (without his foreknowledge) then revenge-dates the same leaky scumbag who was competing with Ron for that very spot! That is the erratic behavior of a desperate person who has been thus far stymied in their quest to love and be loved, lick and be licked, by a very special someone.

You could say Harry's in that same boat, but storming the citadel of Ginny Weasley's womanhood must take a back seat to more urgent tasks. Dumbledore asks him to retrieve a specific memory of Slughorn's, one that exists in a Pensieve already, though he suspects it's been tampered with. Harry downs some Felix Felicis and has a heart to heart with the Slugster, who reveals his secret shame: he taught Tom Riddle about creating Horcruxes, objects in which a wizard or witch hides a piece of their soul, with the goal of attaining immortality.

Dumbledore figures that Harry's already destroyed one Horcrux--Riddle's diary. And just recently the Headmaster himself sought and destroyed a ring that Tom wore constantly at Hogwarts. Another one down.

Lavender and Ron insist on being a thing, all smoochy-feely and gross. Having a girlfriend hasn't totally changed Ron, though, he still has the sweet tooth to whom all others bow, to the point he scarfs down a bunch of chocolates gifted to Harry by a desperate student named Romilda Vane. "Desperate," since she laced them with love potion (rape drug, ahem). Harry takes Ron to see Slughorn, who provides an antidote and pours out some mead for the boys. Of course, the Weasel King is the first to throw a swallow back. Within seconds, he is on the floor, body reacting to the poison. Recalling a notation from the Half-Blood Prince's textbook, Harry races to the supply closet to grab a bezoar to shove down Ron's throat.

That's some lucky learnin'.

Ah, Harry's obsession with Draco, the misinterpretation that launched several thousand fanfics, all of them laughably written. The Marauder's Map guides Harry to Moaning Myrtle's lavatory, where Malfoy is in tears. He turns that frown into the Cruciatus upon catching sight of Potter, who again refers to the Half-Blood Prince as he busts out the Sectumsempra curse. Had he known the effects, he would have stuck with trusty ol' Expelliarmus. Draco begins bleeding heavily from his face and chest, which sets off Myrtle, whose screams alert Professor Snape. After saving Malfoy's life (and, ergo, his own) he rains down detention on Harry, who has the temerity to find that unfair punishment.

Dumbledore suspects he's figured out the location of another Horcrux, the locket of Salazar Slytherin. He and Harry travel to a nearby cave, and from there, across a lake to an island. On this island is a basin containing the locket. To access it, one must drink all the potion inside. Dumbledore does so, each swallow further draining his physical and emotional strength. 

Oh shit oh shit, Dark Mark Dark Mark, up there up there, in the sky over the highest tower at Hogwarts. Dumbledore and Harry race to the top, where Draco waits with several Death Eaters. Dumbledore freezes the cloaked Harry in place and approaches Draco. He disarms his Headmaster, but cannot cast the Killing Curse. So Snape shows up and does the deed instead.

Now freed, Harry tears after Snape. Students, teachers and members of the Order of the Phoenix are battling Death Eaters in the corridors below. Harry chases down Dumbledore's killer, throwing one ineffectual case after another. For once, the Prince has failed him. With good reason--Snape is the Half-Blood Prince.

No other lives are lost in the battle, but the disturbing news keeps coming. Harry discovers that the so-called "Slytherin's locket" he and Dumbledore labored to find is a fake. The real one is in the possession of someone with the initials "R.A.B."

After the funeral, Harry breaks things off with Ginny. A deadly mission awaits--the retrieval and destruction of the remaining Horcruxes--and he won't have her placed in danger as "Girlfriend of the Boy Who Lived."

So, who else needs a drink?

Much of Half-Blood Prince is genuinely unsettling. No, Rowling isn't a stunning stylist, but she is a brilliant plotter. Everyone knows the twist by now (hell, by the end of the first day the book was released) but even those who predicted it could not have also nailed the why.

There's almost a surfeit of plots and subplots. Almost, since nearly all grip the imagination and knot around one another. If this had been turned into two movies, the complaints would have been few, muted and stupid.


2009
Director-David Yates
Writer-Steve Kloves


The book and film are tone twins. Solemnity rules the days. Compare the train ride to Hogwarts in Sorcerer's Stone to the one in Half-Blood Prince. Anticipation has been replaced with dread. Whimsy has been replaced with anxiety.

And horniness. Lots of horniness.

The main story in the novel is Tom Riddle's curiosity leading to the creation of Horcruxes. The secondary one is the identity of the "Half-Blood Prince." The tertiary plot concerns the rampant hormones flying around Hogwarts. Steve Kloves decided to give his script that Neapolitan ice cream feel, and while I couldn't tell you which is vanilla and which is strawberry, the chocolate is blatant even with a stuffy nose.

Is that such a bad thing? When war beckons, people just wanna fuck.

There's a lot more Half-Blood Prince gets wrong than just failing at prioritization, but that's for the next segment. How'd the people who got millions of dollars to lie for two and a half hours do?

MVP-Kid Division goes to Tom Felton, who absolutely nails Draco's vulnerability and ambivalence as the little snot starts to realize his alligator mouth is overloading his canary ass.

Daniel Radcliffe regards HBP as the weakest of his performances and he's right. (Save for a rather amusing intoxication scene.) The issue isn't a reaction shot or line read that sticks out in a negative way, it's the lack of emotion. I may poke gentle fun at his outburst in Prisoner of Azkaban, but too loud is almost always better than too soft.

Rupert Grint throughout plays Ron in "bemused huffer" mode, although he may have ingested nothing stronger than pumpkin biscuits on set, for all I know. At long last Movie Ron gets his turn on the pitch as Gryffindor keeper. No "Weasley Is Our King," but the conquering hero gets a girlfriend with Lavender Brown, who'd been spending much of the film till that point giving Ron "I'm already planning our wedding in my head" looks.

Finally, Emma Watson brings it together and keeps it there. Hermione spends most of the film thumb wrestling with her burgeoning romantic feelings for Ron, and if you find her behavior exasperating, well, what do you think it's like in real life? Other than weaponizing birds, she's painfully on point. A teenage girl isn't the 24-7 model of stability to begin with, much less a teenage that's crushing on her oblivious dream guy while trying to live up to her ridiculously high academic expectations and fretting that her best friend may not live to see his eighteenth birthday.

HBP contains Michael Gambon's best go as Dumbledore. The scenes in the cave are phenomenal, and further display how out of his depth Radcliffe was. Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith continue their mini-war over who can produce the best reactions to any scenario, serious or silly. Seeing them both in the infirmary while an adolescent love triangle loses its point is worth the price of whatever takeout you're eating at the time, but it's hard to top Snape after his boots are puked on.

Jim Broadbent's Slughorn doesn't match what I saw while reading (basically, Monopoly guy, complete with monocle). Oh well. He's a very affable sort, a chap even, much more interested in engaging than gorging.

Bruno Delbonnel received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. Well-deserved. The earthy sets and soupy skies match the tone to a tee. Had the script had been handled by someone as equally skilled in their craft, Half-Blood Prince might be remembered as fondly as The Two Towers. Instead it's maybe the fourth best one?


BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
That. Ending.

In the book, Harry tells Ron and Hermione he's heading out to finish what Dumbledore started.

"We'll be here, Harry," said Ron. Then, "We're with you whatever happens."

The movie gives us Harry and Hermione, standing at a balcony, speaking on what happens next. Ron is sitting a fair distance from them for absolutely no good reason. Harry announces his intent to skip his final year of school, and promises to contact them both as soon as he is able. Hermione then says, "You need us, Harry."

Ron stands up, comes over and just..sorta stands there.

For fuck's sake. For the actual sake of fuck.

Ah, the Burning of the Burrow. That teeth-grindingly hideous sequence where Bellatrix and fellow Demise Diner Fenrir Greyback set fire to the Weasley home. What? Why? Per director David Yates, to add "an injection of jeopardy and danger." The Battle at the Astronomy Tower couldn't do that, see, since it was excised from the script to keep the battle in the forthcoming final movie from coming off stale.

Cut the crap, that scene was put in to give HBC some action. (Since bopping about like a flirtatious middle-aged diner waitress with dementia while Alan Rickman and Helen McCrory were trying to act didn't meet the quota.) A montage of students running up and down the corridors firing spells at Death Eaters to the strains of prime Wang Chung would have been less infuriating. Or a cover of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" on mandolin during the scene where Harry and Hermione mope and sulk in a sea of unrequited love.

The bad decisions just keep on rolling. The movie has Dumbledore ask Harry to stay and wait while he goes to see Draco. In the book, Dumbledore freezes Harry in place underneath his cloak. Because he realizes he'd have to; no way that "Dumbledore's man, through and through" would just stand idly by.

Haha, Ron almost died, but he's ever-ready with a one-liner!

Ron isn't the only Weasley who gets the shaft. Ginny in the books is a cool, tough young witch, full of fire and feistiness. Growing up the youngest in a house with six boys will do that for a gal. She adores Harry, but she's not going to just sit around with her heart in her shoes waiting for him to get smart. She's gonna test the waters, sample the wares, and work the wands. On screen, she's a pancake left in the sun. Her budding relationship with the Boy Who Lived could've worked with A) actual chemistry between the actors, B) better development of the Ginny character, and C) chemistry, people. Underline it, bold the letters, draw a circle around it, shine a light on it, surround it with golden stars.

Jeezcram, Dumbledoof even asks Harry straight up if he and Hermione are an item! What the hell, Kloves, save it for your FF.net account.

Clingy GF from hell is never better seen, but props to Jessie Cave for leaving an impression that made me want to leave the impression of my Converse soles on all four of her cheeks.

No Tonks and Lupin…eh. No Bill and Fleur? Fine way to assure the film would never get within fifty feet of the book. One of my absolute favorite moments (not just in Half-Blood Prince, but in the entire series) is Fleur tearing into Molly Weasley for daring to assume the French beauty will tuck tail and run because her fiance Bill Weasley has been attacked by an untransformed werewolf, leaving horrific facial damage unfixable by magic. Charlotte Bronte once wrote that "Love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the wellbeing of one's companion," which Fleur in that single moment demonstrates wonderfully.

The infirmary is practically a love shack in Half-Blood Prince, come to think.

Splitting the book into two movies would have minimized the sloppiness, including a quarter-assed attempt at explaining the title and the failure to film the one part of the book that was begging to be filmed, Dumbledore's funeral. But, no. No funeral. Just kids with wands. Electrifying as an Etch-A-Sketch. Play "Save A Prayer" over the scene to salvage it, maybe.

MIND THE GAP
Slughorn calling Ron "Rupert" is so classic. High-five, J.K.


Fleur Delacour is so vain, she admires her own reflection in the back of a teaspoon. Despite the fact that no one, not even a full-blooded Veela, would look good in the back of a teaspoon.

My recipe for Butterbeer: mix butterscotch and melted vanilla ice cream in a bowl. Stir. Lick bowl clean like a feral cat.

When Hermione suggests the "Half-Blood Prince" could have been a girl, Harry retorts with, "How many girls have been princes?" Dunno, but I could name a male cookie that's been a princess.

Tonks and Molly are both unfair to Lupin. He's not required to requite love; none of us are. All he's gotta do is stay hairy and die. (Or is that, stay with Harry and die?)

The Unbreakable Vow is the ultimate proof of whether or not one is a ride or die bitch, so why didn't Voldemort demand one from each of his Death Eaters?

Listen, I'm really not a hater. If Steve Kloves ever saved me from choking, I'd be incredibly grateful to him. I'd be even more grateful if he didn't write about the incident later on.

Apparition is basically driving for magic-folk. One must be a certain age before applying for a license. The unfocused are at great risk of personal injury. As much as I'd love to master the art of disappearing from one spot just to suddenly appear in another spot, my trepidation would prove insurmountable. Magical me would be renowned as the witch who walks everywhere. "The Walking Witch," they'd call me. All the other witches would envy my boots, as well as my calf muscles.

Harry kisses Ginny, Hermione smiles. Ron kisses Lavender, Hermione runs out of the room crying. So miss me with the bullshit, "Harmony" shippers.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX


2003
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, it was the ! of times, it was the ! of times.

Harry Potter is feeling forgotten. He senses profound things are happening, things that he should be aware of and involved with, yet for some odd reason he isn't.

Of all times! Not even a year has passed since the night that still haunts Harry's sleep, a night that saw the rebirth of the most evil dark wizard in history, and the senseless murder of a schoolmate. The Ministry of Magic not only refuses to take Harry at his word, they're in the midst of a smear campaign directed against him and Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Harry's school, and the closest thing the boy has to a father figure.

Who is also keeping his distance.

Life at Privet Drive is no respite, never has been and never will be. Dudley's developed into a thug, a vandal, a smoker of cigarettes. Well on his way to winding up the Lowell Lee Andrews of England, if only that country shared America's carefree attitude toward firearms. Both he and Harry have taken to finding ways to pass the time outside the Dursley residence, usually careful to keep fair distance from one another. One evening, though, the boys wind up walking home together. The night suddenly grows darker and colder--Dementors. Before one can smooch away his soul, Harry is able to rip off a Patronus spell that saves both his and Dudley's hides.

Harry faces trial for using magic 'round Muggles. Dumbledore shows up to save the day, then promptly splits without so much as a "How's your owl?" to Harry.

Salvation of a sort comes when Mad-Eye Moody and Remus Lupin, among others, take Harry from Privet Drive Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in London, an invisible townhouse in a Muggle neighborhood, domicile of Sirius Black and headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix, a secret group led by Dumbledore, committed to the fight against Voldemort. Membership includes Moody, Lupin, Minerva McGonagall, Aurors Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and…Severus Snape?!

Ron and Hermione are already at the grim old place when Harry arrives, the perfect targets for his misdirected anger. The boy is getting mighty petulant; all these people, and still, no one is telling him anything substantive.

School, as is its custom, worsens matters. As a fifth year, Harry will be taking his O.W.L. exams. Stressful enough. Then there the fifth Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in five years, an honor which goes to Ministry bureaucrat/humanoid toad Dolores Umbridge. And students will take umbrage with that bitch. She's Voldemort's girl through and through, her prim and proper facade masking a vicious totalitarian streak. First, she decides that her class doesn't need to learn defensive spells, since no true threats exist in the world outside Hogwarts. Book-learning will suffice. Harry openly rebels, and pays the price in the form of an especially cruel punishment that is, essentially, self-torture. Undaunted, he goes on to co-create a student organization where defense spells will be taught. Named "Dumbledore's Army" by Ginny Weasley, the 29-strong group meets covertly in the Room of Requirement to sharpen their skills.

Gnarly shit continues. Harry dreams of Arthur Weasley being ambushed in his Ministry office by a serpent, which is where Dumbledore and McGonagall find him, near death. Realizing that Voldemort is intruding Harry's mind, Dumbledore orders him to take Occlumency lessons with Snape. These weekly sessions are designed to teach the young wizard how to keep his thoughts safe. Given the antagonistic relationship between prof and stu, though, progress is slow. Harry doesn't help matters by helping himself to a peek into the Potions master's pensive, catching glimpses of his own father, along with Sirius Black, bullying Snape at Hogwarts when they were students. Snape catches Harry, tosses him out on his ass, and refuses to continue the lessons.

If Harry and Dumbledore seem to be drifting apart, Harry and Cho Chang are only growing closer. This turns out to be regretful misalliance, since she is still a wreck over Cedric's death. Doesn't mean they can't kiss, though.

The DA is caught after some bitch named Marietta snitches, and Dumbledore takes full responsibility. He escapes Hogwarts before the Ministry can take him in, however, allowing Dolores Umbridge to take her wrongful place as the new Headmaster. Her influence and power at Hogwarts spreads like a fungal infection. The students are learning from a new, Ministry-approved curriculum...when they're not being physically punished for wrongdoings invented practically on the spot. To boot, Umbridge is checking all the fireplaces and mail owls, so no communication with the outside world escapes her (and the Ministry's) notice.

Fred and George Weasley, never the most studious sons of Molly, drop out in spectacular fashion. Their dream of opening a joke shop will soon be a reality. Their parents won't cotton to that too tough, but the reaction will probably be somewhat muted, considering what's gone down with Percy. The most ambitious of the Weasley spawn, Percy has been named Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic, a promotion that his father suggests is just a way to use a Weasley as a snitch. In the familial fallout, Percy basically disowns his parents. (He does keep in touch with certain relatives, though, even sending Ron a letter urging his youngest brother to sever ties with the troublesome Harry Potter. Ron, a bad brother and an awesome friend, treats that missive like I treat the first and second notices of my light bill.)

It all comes to a head when Harry experiences a vision of Voldemort torturing Sirius in a room full of glass balls. Hermione's all, "It's a trap!" and you'd think by now he'd listen to her, but this is Harry Potter and the Year of Angst, but they don't hear him though! He does at least listen when she suggests breaking into Umbridge's office to access the fireplace. As Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna all keep watch, Harry travels to Grimmauld Place. Kreacher the house-elf informs Harry that Sirius is at the Department of Mysteries, located in the Ministry of Magic. Harry transports back to Hogwarts--Umbridge awaits. Soon, the Inquisitorial Squad (Draco Malfoy and his ilk) show up with the others. Umbridge calls for Snape to bring Veritaserum but he informs her that he's plum out, and she'll have to wait a full month before more is available. Harry, in a Granger-ian moment of brilliance, is able to tip off Snape before the older man leaves the office. 

With the threat of torture looming, Hermione resumes her duties as lead hash-saver when she tricks Umbridge into taking her and Harry to the Forbidden Forrest, alleged home to Dumbledore's "secret weapon." Umbridge winds up saying the wrong thing to the wrong kind, and gets dragged away by centaurs.

Ron, Neville, Ginny and Luna managed to brush off the Inquisitorial Squad--must've been trained well. All six kids hop aboard the flying horses called Thestrals and head to the Ministry. Inside, they work their way though the Department of Mysteries, finally entering the Hall of Prophecy, where shelves upon shelves of glowing glass orbs contain, well, prophecies. This is the room Harry saw in his vision, yet neither Sirius nor Voldemort are anywhere to be found.

Harry notices one of the orbs has his name on it, alongside Voldemort's. Just as he grabs it, Death Eaters appear. They want that orb. Despite being outnumbered and overpowered, one-fourth of Dumbledore's Army puts up a decent fight until members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive.

Including Sirius Black, alive and well, until Bellatrix Lestrange (his own cousin, a foul wench even by DE standards) blasts him to wherever wizards go when they're Big Long Gone. Neville accidentally shatters the Prophecy Orb. Voldemort shows up to duel Dumbledore, and I swear I haven't felt this excited about a one-on-one since the Mega Powers collided. Fawkes even shows up, you remember the deux es birdie from Chamber of Secrets? He takes an Avada Kedavra straight to the grill, poor guy.

Voldemort, in a last ditch effort to avoid looking weak in front of his squad for the second book in a row, tries to possess Harry's body, only to retreat when confronted with the boy's powerful emotions towards his godfather.

Cornelius Fudge is forced to step down in the aftermath. That cardigan-clad cunt Umbridge is also sent packing, and Dumbledore reassumes his office. Which Harry then proceeds to smash up, 'cause goddamnit, he is pissed in the American way. All these unanswered questions and now a dead godfather?

Dumbledore calmly info dumps, then extracts a memory and places it into his Pensieve. Harry watches as Dumbledore interviews Sybill Trelawney for the Divination post at Hogwarts. She tells Dumbledore that a boy would be born near the end of July 1980 to parents who'd thrice denied Lord Voldemort. This boy would possess powers beyond even the Dark Lord's ken, powers that he could use to destroy Voldemort once and for all. She notes gravely that "neither can live while the other survives."

Voldemort learned of this conversation, but longed to learn the contents of the full prophecy, which he suspected would give him the information he needed to defeat not only Harry, but also death.

Dumbledore explains to Harry why he kept his distance (didn't want to give Voldemort a chance to exploit their connection) and why Harry must keep living with the Dursleys, which is quite a doozy: the protection granted when Lily Potter made the ultimate sacrifice extends to her sister, Petunia Dursley. So even though his auntie would just as soon spit on his decaying corpse as hug him, she is keeping Harry Potter alive and well.

Coming in at 870 pages, Order of the Phoenix is the largest book of the whole series. The size is absolutely justified, plus a spoonful extra. Arriving on shelves three years after Goblet of Fire, Rowling made sure to give the fans some of what they wanted and more of what they needed. While there's light-hearted moments and cool new magical items, the story is what keeps pages turning. And the story would never get darker than it is here. Harry's struggles are just a small part of the greater strife.

Considering further that this is the most skillfully written and smartly paced entry in the series, I can't place OOTP any lower than number two on my overall ranking of Potter novels. The initial appeal these books held (immersion in a world beyond my wildest imaginings) has given way to a dreadful epiphany: that mystical, enchanting realm and my humdrum, earthly one are equally susceptible to prejudices and corruptions that, unchecked, can cover us in suffocating darkness.



2007
Director-David Yates
Writer-Michael Goldberg


Longest book, shortest movie? Sure!

Steve Kloves passed on the opportunity to pen movie five, and composer Patrick Doyle didn't return (possibly wasn't asked), allowing Nicholas Hooper to flirt with dissonance, including horrendously out of place electric guitar.

Behold, the widest gap in quality of all Potter adaptations. Pity, since the acting's getting better and better. Emma Watson put the kibosh on the face acting, and with the absence of her #1fan, she gets only a single Pink Power Granger moment, introducing the gang to Luna Lovegood (that honor went to Ginny in the book, but the films have already made explicit their "Ginny Weasley--Bland or Blandest?" policy).

Oh, Luna Lovegood. She wasn't a blonde in the books, but who cares? Imagine Navi from Ocarina of Time, but human, and not irritating. All praise due the iridescence of Ireland's own Evanna Lynch, whose rise from superfan to supporting cast with no prior professional acting credits to her name is nothing short of astounding.

She'd have stolen the whole shebang, if not for Imelda Staunton. Dolores Umbridge is described in the book as a "toad," and no one on Earth could have done the role more justice. Not even Louise Fletcher with an accent coach. Staunton is the loathsome wibbitch, head to toe and every body part in between (especially that black heart beating underneath a pink cardigan).

OOTP is our first gander at Bellatrix Lestrange, played to the sunken-eyed, socket-touching hilt by Helena Bonham Carter.  In an earlier review, I mentioned that the name "Gambon" was close to "Hambone." Well, not as close as "Bonham" is, that's for fucking sure. I can see why Tim Burton only let her out of the house three months out of the year.

The look of the film is super-fine..sharp, actually with a preponderance of chill blue, suggesting a non-oppressive winter. Oh hey, the ending's solid too. Heartwarming, dare I say?



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The adaptation is far from a pitiable effort, but nah, this ain't really close. Harry's vituperative personality isn't to everyone's taste, but his issue isn't "Mommy and Daddy won't listen to me!" it's "Mommy and Daddy are dead and the maniacal dribble-bucket who murdered them is after me!"

With OOTP we see the cost of lightening the story for the kids in the audience. The filmmakers took the guts from the original and discarded them, unable to detect anything profitable squirming around. Harry in the novel shows obvious signs of PTSD. He's an emotional minefield. I mean, the kid has the weight of the wizarding world on his skinny shoulders. When he meets up with his friends at Grimmauld Place, he starts yelling at them for ignoring him over the past month. Their retort--Dumbledore forbid them to contact Harry--only increases the frustration. This goes on awhile, driving Hermione practically to tears. The talk in the film is much shorter; basically, Harry just summarizes the plot of the last movie.

There's also no lashing out in Dumbledore's office. Sigh.

What a lost opportunity. Kids should know early on about tyranny, about leaders whose goals are the squashing of originality and creativity, whose every action seeks to discourage dissonance in the populace, heartless and soulless fuckers of mothers who hunger for power just so they can abuse it to their chest cavity's content.

Kids should learn about otherwise intelligent people falling for propaganda that appeals to their fears. Before they become those people.

A big sideplot in the book is Ron being named the Keeper on Gryffindor's Quidditch squad. His skill is evident, but his nerves turn him from Roberto Luongo in the regular season to Roberto Luongo in the postseason. Slytherin writes him a "tribute" song, "Weasley Is Our King," but Ron has the last laugh as Gryffindor take home the Cup. Shit yeah, Ron. Shame the filmmakers don't care about your growth or really want you to succeed.

Percy's estrangement from the Weasley family also hit the cutting room floor, which is perfectly understandable, but will absolutely hurt by the end.

No O.W.L. exams, no alakazams. Dobby dropped, again. See above.

I didn't need to see the room where Neville's parents sit, worthless to the world, victims of Bellatrix Lestrange's sadistic wand. That was sad enough to read about. Also plenty good not seeing my girl McG catch multiple spell blasts to the chest.

I am torn about the fight at the Department of Mysteries. Firstly, the sight of shattering glass globes is amazing. Aesthetically, this is what the term "the magic of movies" is all about. Yet back again I go to the earlier lamentation. The book was just so much scarier. It's kids fighting adults and the kids get messed up: Ginny breaks her ankle, Neville breaks his nose, Hermione's hit with an unknown spell that leaves her in hospital for days, and Ron is struck by a spell that renders him so loopy he summons brains--'cause there's a tank of brains nearby--which wrap around his arms, suffocating him.

(A smidgen of levity exists in the hapless form of Neville Longbottom, or rather Rowling's decision to write his post-injury dialogue phonetically. "Know" becomes "doe," "have" becomes "hab," etc. Imagining Neville's voice in my head helped keep me sane whilst reading.)

In the book, Albus tells Voldy, "your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness." The line does not appear in the movie, know why? Because the movie was made by scaredy cats who had a chance to make art but were content to simply make money.

MIND THE GAP
Is it possible for a person to be so bad, so detestable, so rotten to their core, that no punishment meted out to them could ever be deemed too harsh? Dolores Umbridge is a fascist-sucking, establishment-defending sadist. She gets her comeuppance in The Order of the Phoenix after insulting the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest. They respond by forcibly taking her off deep into the woods, where they…well, the author never tells us.

We can do our own research, or let someone else do it for us. Either way we learn that per Greek mythology, centaurs were a rape-happy bunch. Umbridge reappears near the end of the book, clearly traumatized. Harry and Hermione both find her devastation a cause for amusement. I promise that Hermione, at least, was aware of centaur culture. Yet, she gives no indication of remorse over what most likely happened to the older woman.

It chafes me when I see someone wish a rapist to be likewise sexually brutalized. Such a sentiment indicates that sexual assault is not wrong unless the victim is someone predetermined to be a "good" person, or an "innocent." Dolores Umbridge is unquestionably one of the more vile characters to appear in all of fiction, any language, any genre, any era. She attempted to indoctrinate impressionable youths with a values system built upon intolerance and intolerance, de-emphasizing the individual in favor of the collective. Her ilk should be dispatched of, posthaste. The idea that death is insufficient punishment cracks me up. It's the end of life. How much more hardcore can retribution get?

"(S)lid squelchily" puts me in mind of Bart Simpson's heart making its way down a treehouse wall.

Ron's deadpan disdain for Crookshanks just destroys my whole shit.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE

2000
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, Komodo<all other dragons.

Whoa, the action begins not on Privet Drive, but at the Riddle House, a place where many years prior, nearly every member of that particular family was found dead. Gardener Frank Bryce stood trial for multiple homicide, only to be cleared when autopsies determined the cause of death for each Riddle to be…fright.

Distrust and conjecture colored Bryce's days, yet he was stayed on the job, watching over the Riddle abode. One night, suspecting that neighborhood no-good have broken in, he enters, only to overhear Lord Voldemort and Peter Pettigrew (now known as "Wormtail") discussing plans to murder Harry Potter. The WWII vet-turned-weed puller is detected by Voldy's pet serpent Nagini and taken down with an Avada Kedavra.

Harry witnesses the death of Frank Bryce in a vision that sends his signature scar to hurting. He should probably tell someone, a trustworthy authority figure, but first--Quidditch World Cup with Hermione Granger and the Weasleys. It's Ireland vs. Bulgaria (the latter squad featuring Ron Weasley's athletic idol, Viktor Krum) and everyone who's anyone is in attendance. Meet Percy, the obsequious Weasley (and the Weasley who knows the definition of and proper use of "obsequious")! Bill, the oldest, coolest Weasley! He's got long hair and a dragon earring! There's Charlie, he trains dragons and still has all ten of his fingers!

The Malfoys are also on hand to lord their superficial superiority over the Weasleys. (Seems Lucius made a sizable donation to St. Mungos Hospital on behalf of Admirable Gestures By Fundamentally Repulsive People, Inc.) Boo.

Wizards tailgate just like us Muggles, setting up magical tents (which disobey the laws of physics ala Snoopy's doghouse) outside the stadium. The game is pretty exciting, and ends in a victory for the Irish. The afterparties are ruined, however, when a group of Death Eaters--those loyal followers of Lord Voldemort--crash the festivities and start being bullies. Then, a symbol appears in the sky overhead, something that hasn't been seen in thirteen years: The Dark Mark, LV's personal logo, a Bat-Signal for fascist scum.

Harry's scar is aching anew throughout , and what's more his wand went missing in the confusion. It's found in the hand of Winky, house elf of longtime Ministry official Barty Crouch, Sr.. What's more, Harry's wand is found to be responsible for creating the Dark Mark.

Another year, another Defense of Dark Acts teacher, former Auror Alastair Moody, known as "Mad Eye." He sounds more gruesome than any teacher I ever had, rocking the face of a bobcat sorter, a prosthetic leg, and a magical eye that rotates 360 degrees inside the socket, meaning dude can even see through the back of his own head.

The creeped-out student body instantly perks up when Dumbledore announces that after a 400-year hiatus, the Twiwizard Tournament will be held once more. A notoriously dangerous contest held between Europe's largest wizarding schools (Hogwarts in Scotland, Durmstrang Institute in Bulgaria, and Beauxbatons Academy in France), each represented by a single wizard, the Tourney consists of three tasks, for which participants receive points based on skill, smarts and bravery. Whoever has the highest score at the completion of the third task wins the Twiwizard Cup and one thousand Galleons. In the interest of safety, a restriction requiring all applicants to be 17 years old has been added. Any student younger than that will have the slip of paper bearing their name rejected should they place it into the goblet.

Moody ain't really; he's either intense or he's asleep. "Constant vigilance!" His Muggle equivalent is the CPR Instructor who yells, "The hell with percentages! It's crunch time!" Under his tutelage, students are formally introduced to the so-called Unforgivable Curses, of which they are three: Inferius, Cruciatus, and Avada Kedavra. One makes you a puppet, one makes you a jellyfish, and the other makes you dead.

Students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons arrive for the ceremonial picking of the donuts. The Goblet spits out: Viktor Krum, representing Durmstrang; Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons; and from Hogwarts, pride of Hufflepuff, Cedric Diggory. Oh, and also Harry Potter. Who is three years too young. Dumbledore tries to remove Harry from the competition, but the Ministry's own Barty Crouch, Sr. reminds the Headmaster that the Goblet's choice constitutes a binding contract, and contracts actually mean something to magic-folk.

Ron is thrown into a tumult of jealousy. Blame the hormones that have him lusting after two girls at once (Hermione and Fleur), blame a hardscrabble upbringing that sees him rocking god-ugly fourth-hand robes, but the boy is sullen and sulky, convinced that his best bud, despite vehement claims to the contrary, is actually reveling in his notoriety as "The Boy Who Lived."

Ron is hardly alone; a majority of the students suspect chicanery on Potter's part, leading to a groundswell of support for Cedric. Adding to Harry's worries is the presence of Daily Prophet scribe Rita Skeeter, whose stories veer from saccharine to scandalous in the time it takes Ron to rip the wrapper from a Chocolate Frog. Shame there are no real journalists on hand to tackle stories of actual interest, such as, why hasn't Barty Crouch been showing up to the Ministry? Ponder ponder ellipses.

The Tournament involves three tasks. One involves dragons, the second underwater heroics, and the third, navigating a huge hedge maze. Harry damn near bites it during task the first, which snaps Ron back into his best senses and aww, friends again!

Adventure, athletics, intrigue, danger…whatever could be next?

Romance of course, courtesy of the Yule Ball, AKA, Magic: the Promening. Neither Harry or Ron can take the witch they want, so the Patil twins do in a pinch. Hermione is going on the arm of VIKTOR EFFING KRUM, so naturally Ron goes apoplectic, accusing her of betraying Harry by cozying up with his direct competition. The fact that Hermione has used magic to shrink her buck teeth and tame her profligate locks, thus achieving a heretofore unrealized level of "hubba hubba" has nothing to do with Ron's fury.

The center begins its collapse once the Third Task commences. Fleur is eliminated early by a stunning spell from the wand of Mad-Eye Moody, who then Imperiuses Viktor to take out Cedric. Harry is well ahead when he hears Cedric in distress. The two Hogwarts champions reach the end together, and decide that since a win for the school means more than individual glory, they should just both grab the Triwizard Cup and exit triumphant.

Mild hitch. The Cup is a Portkey.

Well, shit.

What's worse than standing in a graveyard? Lying in one. Almost as bad--Lord Voldemort and his servant waiting for you. Wormtail, on orders from his master, strikes down Cedric before binding Harry to a headstone. He then approaches a cauldron, filling it with, among other gross ingredients, his own severed hand. Stir-whip, stir-whip, voila! Lord Voldemort is back, full-bodied, possibly worse than Sedaka.

Voldemort summons the Death Eaters. Not for assistance in defeating Harry Potter; like any hubristic bad guy, he needs an audience. Once he's done giving Harry an upbringing info dump, they duel. Their spells collide, and since their wands share the same core, weird shit starts happening. Voldemort's wood begins belching up spells, and ghostly imprints of his most recent victims appear right there in the graveyard--including James and Lily Potter, who act as a distraction while Harry grabs the body of Cedric Diggory and, using the Portkey Cup, returns to Hogwarts.

Moody takes the poor kid to his office, ostensibly to get more information on what the hell just happened, but Moody knows already. He was the one responsible for putting Harry's name in the Goblet; further, he rigged the tourney. Before he can succeed where Voldemort failed, Dumbledore and other teachers barge in. A dose of veritaserum is all it takes to get the full story: the real Alastair Moody is in a magical trunk, has been for months; the fake Moody is none other than Death Eater Barty Crouch, Jr., whom everyone believed had died in Azkaban. No, turns out that was his already-ailing mom, who used Polyjuice Potion to take on her son's appearance, allowing him to escape and take up with dear old dad (whom he later killed). Lord Voldemort found out and recruited him to mimic Moody and expedite his re-ascension.

None of which Crouch got to say before a court of law. Believing the man a babbling lunatic, Minister Cornelius Fudge sentenced Crouch to the Dementor's Kiss. Despite protestations both Harry and Dumbledore, Fudge refuses to believe the Dark Lord has returned to wreak havoc. He simply cannot believe such. For a man in his position to remain comfortably in that position, only the status quo will suffice. Cornelius Fudge is no more built for war than Peter Pan or Tom Hagen.

Goblet of Fire is the first exhausting book in the series, and also the first to engender a genuine feeling of dread. So much happens, and even the light-hearted sections are teeming with barbed sentences. Not only are the plots relentless in both speed and direction, they're more disturbing (not just merely more "adult"). The wonder of the magical world remains, and always shall, but the relative peace in which they've lived since the initial defeat of Voldemort is set to be shattered.




2005
Director-Mike Newell
Writer-Steve Kloves


Took till flick four for a Brit to get behind the camera. Who better than the man who brought the world Four Weddings and a Funeral? Um…Tony Scott? Sam Mendes?

Goblet of Fire was also the first Harry Potter film scored by a composer not named John Williams, preoccupied as the great man was with Revenge of the Sith. Patrick Doyle, a noted collaborator of Kenneth Branagh, was brought on board. The discrepancy in quality is instantly discernible. Doyle's music shows up to the party and almost immediately makes a beeline for a corner to lean against. I've no issue with that. It knows someone I know (or knew), it's not likely to start any fights, or break up any for that matter.

Pressure's on the non-musical parts of the film to impress, then. The cinematography throughout is murky, yet stylish to the point of arthouse, particularly in the opening sequences. The special effects are still dazzling, but that's expected by now. Nothing Newell and crew do builds significantly upon the template set by Alfonso Cuaron in Prisoner of Azkaban, and what could have been a really good movie ends up merely good thanks largely to sloppy pacing and patchy storytelling.

Boy howdy, the ham's cookin' nonstop in this one. Brendan Gleeson (Moody) and Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) both rep for the Irish with fervor. David Tennant's all flicking eyes and flickering tongues as the bad Barty Crouch, so much so it's actually a plot point. I can't imagine the joy that reverberated throughout the British acting community when they started casting for these movies. When everything is essentially ridiculous, standard operating procedure is rendered useless. Every beach is suddenly a nude beach, and don't worry where the sand winds up.

Ralph Fiennes won the plum role of Lord Voldemort, the noseless magic Hitler, and this many years later I'm still much too unnerved by the graveyard scenes to give you a fair assessment of anyone's acting in it.

Twilight retroactively made Cedric Diggory into an unsympathetic character, even though Robert Pattinson's hatred for the role that made him a global superstar means he's impossible to truly loathe. Cedric's murder is affectingly portrayed, but absolute child's play compared to the moment Amos Diggory realizes his son's fate. Jeff Rawle, best known for starring in a Britcom with a dumb name, steps up to provide the series with one of its most memorable moments, suffused with raw emotion, and utterly authentic.

The main actors do fine, despite their uniformly dreadful hairstyles (Ron's laggard '70s 'do in particular qualifies as follicular slander). Daniel Radcliffe doesn't embarrass himself with any sudden screaming, Rupert Grint nails Ron's ridiculousness without having to be quite so ridiculous, and Emma Watson, well, Mr. Newell should have taken Emma Watson aside and told her, kindly yet firmly, that if she did not cease posthaste with the eyebrows, he would order a female assistant to administer a swift smack to the young girl's forehead.

Two and a half hours should be more than enough time to get most of the good stuff in, but the other books were not as long as Goblet of Fire; not even close. Intriguing side plots and character details had to bite the half-smoke for the sake of Harry' s journey. And that's fine. The ending, though? Uh, one of your schoolmates just died! Murdered, in fact! One of you wuckfits might be next!



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
700 pages, bound to be beloved moments lost in transfer. Hermione's revenge on Rita Skeeter, Bill and Charlie dueling with tables. What Kloves did to the Barty Crouch Jr. reveal, though, my sour lord. Rushed and improbable, are the two kindest words I can use. "Send an owl to Azkaban, think they'll find they're missing a prisoner." Oh piss off, Albus.

The mistreatment of Winky the house-elf opens Hermione's eyes to the pathetic "plight" of house-elves. In response she forms the Society For the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (or S.P.E.W.--girl, optics) to educate others about the situation and push for house-elves to be granted rights equal to those enjoyed by wizards.

(The few students who join the fight do so just to stop Hermione's badgering. Hagrid reminds her that the house-elves working at Hogwarts are grateful for their lot, and George Weasley of all wizards suggests Hermione talk with the elves, but she's intent on making the classic activist mistake of speaking for instead of listening to the actual oppressed.)

Is any of that missed in the film? Nah. It does Hermione no favors, anyway, no way in hell Kloves was letting that get even a second on the screen.

During the Second Task, each competitor must maneuver through obstacles in the Great Lake in order to rescue something they will "sorely miss." Tied to a large statue in a Mermish village are Hermione (for Viktor), Cho Chang (Cedric's girlfriend), Gabrielle Delacour (Fleur's sister) and Ron. Yes. Ron Weasley is "the thing Harry Potter will miss most, sir!" And you know why? It's not because he pulls amusing faces and says "Bloody hell!" whole bunches. It's because he'll bollocks up your whole morning then nearly die protecting you later that evening. Ain't no such thing as halfway "best friends." Ron at this point has no idea what he means to Harry, or to anyone else really, and my heart just tears for the kid. Does the movie fathom such emotional complexities? Does it, fuck.

The Yule Ball, another cock-up. Hermione's "makeover" has all the impact of a tossed marshmallow striking a silk sheet, considering the bushy hair disappeared after the second movie, and the buck teeth never even happened. Rupert Grint downplayed Ron's jealousy to the point I wondered if the entire experience was depleting him of the desire to ever act again (I mean, the first words he speaks in the movie are "Bloody hell!" so I wouldn't have been surprised.) In the book, though? Oh, fantastic. I just wanted to rap them both upside the head with spoons and order them off to a corner to feel each others bits.

Thanks to the voluminous gifts of Steve Kloves, viewers are treated to moments such as Harry entering the Weasley tent and proclaiming, "I love magic." That's like a guy turning to his buddy at a strip joint and saying, "I love tits."

We don't get to see the Quidditch game at all, a strong indication of how these films value spectacle over story.

Neither Durmstrang or Beauxbatons are gender-exclusive schools, per the original text, meaning we could have and should have avoided those corny introduction numbers wherein dudes wearing red grunt and stomp to (im)prove their manhood, while underfed French broads in powder-blue frippery sigh their way into every Hogwarts students dreams.

"Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire, Harry?" he asked calmly."

Gambon not reading the books wasn't normally a problem. One time, however, it turned into quite a problem.  Just wow. Slide whistle over the car stunt. Director casting his daughter in a main role. Deciding to shoot at the terrorists instead of just taking off in a time-traveling car. Kindly old Headmaster shaking the shit out of a 14-year-old boy while screaming in his face.

No Dobby. Didn't seem like a big deal at the time. 

No Charlie, meh. No Bill, meaning no origins of Bill/Fleur, my second-favorite romance of the entire series.

Ah, Fleur, the part-Veela who underwhelmed the whole Tournament. Wait, go back to that first part. Veelas are gorgeous creatures, with silvery hair and luminous skin. Regular females walk; Veelas shimmer. They are capable of turning a man into nothing more substantial than a drooling bone-box simply by walking past him. No words needed, not even an indirect gaze. Clemence Poesy is a very attractive woman, yet no woman on Earth could actually come close to matching the physical description of even a part-Veela. Fleur is definitely one of those characters in the Potterverse that only truly exists on the page and thus, in our heads.

These films always show the Hall tables sans cloths. Rare point to the films! Tablecloths are, without exception, more trouble than they are worth.

Viktor is quite different from the book, as well. Built like a brick shithouse, rather than a straw sculpture. I rather prefer movie Krum. I could use his head to crack eggs.

The movie doesn't give us Voldemort sharing his hard knock life story with Harry. I see you, Kloves, getting all picky with your usage of tropes.

MIND THE GAP
Lord Voldemort, champion of racial purity, is himself a half-blood. How utterly without precedent!

"Do the Hippogriff"? I'd sooner pop a Natty Light, lean back in a lawn chair and watch a bunny get eaten by a fox.

Magic is a girl's best friend. I woulda used my wand to zap my zits/minimize my gums.

Bulgaria lost the Quidditch World Cup despite their Seeker catching the Snitch. What's dumber, that rule or that Seeker?

Nice of the Quidditch World Cup to give us a championship match that will never, ever happen in the FIFA World Cup.

According to Arthur Weasley, the family can't fly on enchanted carpets, since carpets are Muggle items and enchanting them is barred by law. Oh, okay. Fucking brooms?!

We learned Hagrid is the result of a union between a wizard father of average height and a giantess mother (20-25 feet tall). We wondered...how, exactly? Theories abound. Fanfiction, hey, I wouldn't be surprised. Me myself, I always assumed she just laid down and he walked on in, y'know? Maybe already had his gunk in a bucket and just hurled it towards the target.

Goblet of Fire introduces the Portkey, a charmed object that transports anyone touching it to a predetermined location. Some are time-activated, such as the boot Harry, Hermione and several of the Weasley clan to reach the site of the Cup match. Others are touch-activated, like the Triwizard Cup. Okay. But why does Harry, when he touches the Cup a second time, not reappear in the maze, but outside of it?

"Kill the spare!" These are officially not children's books.

I'm surprised the American version wasn't renamed Harry Potter and the Really Hot Cup.

Nah, forget the Portkey, I'm all about the Pensieve, AKA, "magic memory bowl." A Pensieve is a basin filled with a person's extracted memories (rather cloudy, apparently). Yep, wand users can just place their trusty stick up to their temple and siphon out a memory (or more) and deposit it in the ol' Pensieve. Others may be able to view the memories, and that's not necessarily bueno or un-bueno, but here's the part that's always nagged my noggin--removing a memory would mean you no longer have the memory. Ergo, would you remember only the removal of the memory, while not retaining the actual memory? Say I was to extract the memory of the time I woke up in the middle of the night at outdoor school to discover I'd peed the bed. I would later only be able to recall the act of extraction,
while no longer being burdened by the shameful scene I withdrew. Right?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

1999
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, I'm still hung up on that sentence.

Teenagers do crazy crap: alcohol poisoning, joy riding, backyard wrestling. (Adults do all that too, but adolescents get a pass when they indulge. Rites of passage and all that.) Harry Potter is about to turn thirteen, so how does he celebrate? Break into Uncle Vernon's liquor cabinet, which is actually full of pastries? Draw a wang on Dudley's forehead as the fat boy dreams of his father's liquor cabinet? No, he just inflates a woman who insults his dead parents. Really should have landed ol' Harry in a heap o' trouble, but lady luck planted a big wet one on his bolt-bearing brow: notorious mass murderer Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban, the wizard prison, and has his sinister sights on the Boy Who Lived.

An open door indicates a locked window though, meaning Harry will not be able to join the other third years in visiting the village of Hogsmeade, which features many awesome shops and an allegedly haunted building known as The Shrieking Shack. Ron and Hermione are bummed their pal won't be able to join them, but absolutely terrified that he's in a homicidal maniac's cross hairs. Harry seems fairly chill about the whole thing.

Hermione has a new pet, a part-Kneazle, part-cat named Crookshanks. He's all ginger fur, and orange eyes set deep into a smushed face. Ron still has the same animal companion from year one, Scabbers the rat, and wooo do he and Crookshanks not get along. (Are you following this? These are not bread crumbs, these are croutons.)

There's a third animal in their train compartment, a shabby guy who turns out to be new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin. He's asleep much of the journey, but the kids resist the urge to draw wangs on him. Lupin awakens when the train stops to permit Dementors on board. The guards of Azkaban, Dementors are "soulless creatures" in hoods, who gradually sap all the happiness and good sense from a person. They're checking the Hogwarts Express for Sirius Black, and have also been assigned to Hogwarts itself until Black is captured. Harry faints dead away in their presence, causing Lupin to whip out his wand and recite a spell none of the children recognize, which repels the Dementors.

The curse of the DADA teacher seems broken; Lupin is not only an affable if scruffy sort, he makes class fun, despite the dire subject matter. Certainly preferable to Divination, where Professor Trelawney predicts an early death for Harry in front of the entire class (really, that's the sort of news you want to break to a student one-on-one, after the bell).

Hagrid's stint teaching Care of Magical Creatures is short-lived, once the hippogriff Buckbeak earns itself a death sentence by attacking Draco Malfoy. .

Fred and George Weasley find a magical map and--blessedly, inexplicably--hand it over to Harry. Using it, and the Invisibility Cloak, he sneaks into Hogsmeade and meets up with Ron and Hermione at the the Three Broomsticks Inn, where they knock back some butterbeers (a slightly alcoholic beverage made of water, sugar and butter) and overhear Hogwarts staff talking with the Minister of Magic about Sirius Black. Harry learns that Sirius was a dear friend of his parents, so dear that the Potters named him godfather to their only child. Then, he betrayed them to Lord Voldemort.

After another encounter with the Dementors makes Harry do the rock lobster, Lupin teaches him the Patronus charm. Created by a happy memory felt intensely, a Patronus is a shield that appears in the form of whatever animal the caster feels the closest affinity with. It's not a snap to learn, and Harry naturally struggles.

The fear of Sirius Black pervades Hogwarts. When Harry receives a mystery Christmas present (again), Hermione suspects sabotage. When the gift turns out to be a coveted Firebolt broom, she takes her concerns to Professor McGonagall, who confiscates the 'Bolt. Hermione's status as persona non grata to her two closest friends is cemented upon the disappearance of Scabbers, which Ron blames on Crookshanks. Eventually the three reunite to help Hagrid earn Buckbeak a reprieve from the executioner's blade. Their efforts fail, but the unjust death of a part-eagle/part-horse rapidly becomes the least of their concerns.

Hagrid asked the kids to stay away, as they shouldn't have to witness a freakish beast being decapitated, but their good hearts wouldn't stop them from providing moral support. Their visit proves especially fortuitous when Hermione catches Scabbers scurrying around the hut. Ron's understandably relieved--and remorseful--yet his rat goes rogue once more. Ron gives chase, Harry and Hermione close behind. Just as Ron snatches Scabbers near the Whomping Willow, a black dog lunges towards Ron, breaking his ankle and dragging him into the secret passage at the base of the tree. This hidden tunnel leads to the infamous Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade.

The Shack is a hidey-hole for Professor Lupin, who's in for the shock of his adult life when the vicious black dog transforms into Sirius Black. Once Harry and Hermione arrive, backstory time begins!

Remus Lupin was bitten by a werewolf when young, dooming him to the pull of the full moon. His buddies James Potter, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew (AKA, "The Marauders") all became animagi in a show of solidarity. James could become a stag, Sirius a dog, and Peter…a rat. That's right; Hermione's pet vs. Ron's pet represented more than just simmering concupiscence. They further explain that Peter, not Sirius, betrayed the Potters to Lord Voldemort and framed Sirius for murder.

Sufferin' succotash! Severus Snape in the Shrieking Shack! Showdown! Until three teenagers knock him unconscious. Wow, that was unexpected. And embarrassing. Remus forces Peter to assume his human form, but Harry saves the traitors life, believing that a lifetime in Azkaban would be the most fitting fate.

Step outside guys, it's a full moon! Ah bugger. The ensuing clusterbomb of transmogrifying that ensues allows Peter to escape, while Dementors approach. Before Harry loses consciousness, he sees someone in the distance who looks very much like his late father casting a Patronus.

Recovering in the hospital wing, Harry learns Sirius is to receive the Dementor's Kiss--literally, a soul-sucking smooch. Dumbledore advises he and Hermione should use this little doohickey called a Time Turner to save not only Sirius, but Buckbeak as well.

They do. Everyone's happy again! Well, 'cept Lupin. Mindful of the uproar from parents not open to a werewolf teaching their children, he's little choice but to resign. Also Ron's pretty bummed his beloved pet was a treacherous asshole who set up his best friend's parents to be murdered.

Prisoner of Azkaban is the last of the Harry Potter novels that can be described accurately as a "brisk read," although the plot is more loaded than Rocky Road ice cream, and equally likely to induce a headache.

Worth it, though. The twists and turns are well-done, and with every damn one of these books the author debuts something splendid that I wish had come from my mind: in this case, Dementors. They're essentially Grim Reapers who bring not death, but a mental deterioration arguably worse than the cessation of life.

Also, butterbeer. The name itself smells like money. And diabetes.

Won't lie, though, Rowling lost me with that Time Turner jazz. Temporal futzery normally sets me purring, but she did not do it justice. Why wouldn't Dumbledore suggest use of a Time Turner to go back and stop Tom Riddle? Are there limits? If so, what are those limits? The reader doesn't need to know every little thing, but we do need to know enough.

Engorgio!





2004
Director-Alfonso Cuaron
Writer-Steve Kloves


Claiming burnout, Chris Columbus stepped down from the directors chair (which I'm assuming was on a platform). The other two Americans stayed on board, with John Williams earning Oscar nomination 43.

Alfonso Cuaron, nine years away from becoming the first Latin American to win the Best Director Oscar, proved the right visionary at the right time. The Hogwarts we see in Prisoner of Azkabana is of exhilarating expanse. The action actually goes outdoors whilst the sun is in the sky! This was the first Potter I saw in the movie theater, and up until the very end I had a blast.

Such vibrancy, such vitality…and such a shame that Richard Harris passed on in 2002. I really dug his low-key Dumbledore. Taking over the role, fellow Irishman Michael Gambon, whose last name is close to "hambone" for a reason. To research the role, Gambon decided not to read any of the books. By and large, that decision would prove unproblematic.

He's far from the only new face. David Thewlis gives a nuanced turn as the unimaginatively-named DADA professor. Or at least he does when he's not in a room with Gary Oldman, whose duck-like approach to eating scenery just fits. When scenes involve pointing a stick at another guy who's pointing a stick of his own you and screaming about a rat betrayed you, why not.

Emma Thompson steps in as Professor Trelawney, channelling an alternate universe Edina Monsoon who worshipped the I Ching and Tarot rather than Vogue and Lacroix. Which makes me wish they'd landed Jennifer Saunders instead, but at least we get Dawn French as the portrait of the Fat Lady.

The film's ambitions forgive most of its venal sins, but then we reach the ending. Harry receives a Firebolt broom, the most high-end fly-wood. He runs outside, hops on and I understand, he saved his godfather's life, he traveled back in time, and now he has this amazingly fast broom, of course he's overjoyed. There had to be a way to express all that to the audience that didn't undercut the increased sophistication Cuaron brought to the project.



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The Dursley stuff isn't getting old in my head, but in front of my face? Haha, fat people!

Snape makes no move to protect the kids from Lupin in the book, considering he's knocked well unconscious. And even he had been upright and alert, he abhors those Gryffindor ne'er-do-wells.

Per canon, Black, Lupin and Snape should all be in their early-to-mid thirties during the events of POA. David Thewlis was 48, Gary Oldman was 53, and Alan Rickman a not-spry 58. Minor nitpick, only because Rickman's so smacking undeniable as Snape, justifying every decision made involving the character.

The man: Steve Kloves. His mission: turn Ron Weasley into useless comic relief while establishing Hermione Granger as the cleverest witch ever to wave a wand. Kloves made no bones 'bout his favorite character, and guess what, we have that in common. My beef with this script (and scripts to come) is how the writer takes pains to elevate the young girl who is already the brightest and most resourceful of the main three. The Hermione in the books is astonishingly intelligent, preternaturally brave, and saves Harry Potter's ass so many times he should get her name tattooed on it. You don't need to prop her up even higher at the expense of another main character.

Forget the classroom chivalry; the moment Ron stands on a broken leg and informs Sirius Black (who he still assumes to be a mass murderer at this point), "If you want to kill Harry, you'll have to kill us, too!" is page-punchingly terrific, a divine distillation of what makes Ron Weasley such a wonderful friend to have…and Kloves gives it to Hermione. An injustice on par with having to pay for drinking water. The Time Turner twist, already on my shitlist, becomes even more exasperating when Kloves uses it as another opportunity to turn Ron into a bumbling third banana.




Also, Hermione Granger in the books wouldn't fucking worry about the state of her past self's hair.

But considering from the beginning we see Harry using his wand as a flashlight--y'know, doing magic outside of Hogwarts--it's safe to say Kloves didn't really care about keeping it faithful. Thank you Alfonso Cuaron for at least giving a damn.

MIND THE GAP
Invisibility Cloak vs. Invulnerability Vest, FITE.

"Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways." Hating summer, yearning to do homework? No kiddin', puddin'.

A moving WANTED poster is cool, and two moving WANTED posters cooler still, but do you really need them on pillars six feet apart?

"He might not be very good company, but Remus Lupin's presence in their compartment had its uses." The first time I read this sentence, I became obsessed over how awkward it read. The "might not be" followed by the use of "had." Not a tense shift, but something…off. There is of course nothing off about it, but I swear I spent a good two minutes wondering over that before moving on to the next sentence.

Of course Peter Pettigrew would be the traitor, he's the only of the Marauders whose first name doesn't end in the letter "s."