Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bad luck and a spoilery HBP review

It's funny how life happens. One minute I'm anxiously emailing out resumes because things had gotten THAT bad at my job, then I'm sitting across from my manager, hearing him say 'this is your last day.' I'm still not sure why I was let go. Maybe it was the recession. Maybe I didn't perform my duties properly. Maybe, and I think this is likely, my mind reading skills were not up to par. I don't think many are aware of this, but a uterus does not automatically equal 'mind reader.' Just an FYI.

Point is, I am no longer employed. That stings a bit, but pride is a funny thing and though mine has been bent, it certainly isn't irrevocably damaged. One of the many things I learned in my near decade in college was how to grow a thick skin and I can tell you all, mine is Teflon. I promise you.

So, in an effort to forget that I have much searching and resume sending yet to do, I diverted myself by seeing the new Potter film on Tuesday night. Now, I fully admit to being a Potter nerd. I adore the series and think Rowling deserves a chair on the Literary Lovers court and that she warrants the creation of a new, genius only, Super Secret Hand Shake. There is no shame in admitting that, is there? Well, even if there were, I would feel none.

The film, 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,' in case you've been living under a particularly soundproof rock, follows Harry and company in their sixth year at Hogwarts. Harry has come into possession of a Potions book that enables him to thrive in the class. The first possessor of said book was The Half Blood Prince.

Onto all things spoilery:

On the whole, I liked it. It wouldn’t rank as one of my personal favorite of all the Potter films, but it certainly is the funniest and the most visually appealing. As a die hard fan, I took issue with a few things. Namely:

1. Harry’s attraction to Ginny is discovered once he gets himself out of the Weasley’s pond and begins to, wow thank you wondrous puberty, gawk at Ginny like a mystical peeping Tom. This, I thought, marked the beginnings of the ‘we’re playing very little attention to the blossoming Harry/Ginny relationship’ dynamic in the film. In fact, I found this to be my least favorite bit in HBP. In Rowling’s version, we are allowed a very subtle view of Harry’s growing feelings for the younger Weasley. It builds over time until it combusts when Harry and Ron catch Ginny in mid snog fest with her boyfriend Dean Thomas. We get a very slight version of that, but Yates’ Harry seems more concerned with being complimentary and friendly with Slughorn than with the fact that his future wife is macking down on her boyfriend in a booth at The Three Boomsticks. Later, when the audience finally gets a little Potter/Weasley smooch, it’s Ginny who has taken the initiative when SHE hides his Potions books in the Room of Requirement. Very un-canon, that.

The relationship is hinted at being a little more of a mild flirtation to the point that when Harry is crying next to Dumbledore’s body, Ginny’s attempt at consoling him seems more to be brother/sisterly. The chemistry and whole of the character’s relationship in the book is exciting, thrilling and felt through Harry’s every mention or thought of Ginny. That is not, in my opinion, the case in the HBP film. The relationship was played down significantly. Ginny never mentions her break up with Dean and therefore creates a small eyebrow raise when she kisses Harry. This is, canonically, a passionate relationship. In the film, we get a vanilla version. No post Quidditch Cup common room kiss, no Ron giving Harry a ‘well if you must’ glance or Dean breaking a glass with his hand. And, no break up. At all. No, martyrish speech on Ginny’s part about Harry’s ‘stupid noble reasons.’ Fans, particularly Harry/Ginny fans, got cheated.

2. The White Tomb is completely missing. No funeral. Harry doesn’t tell the others in the hospital wing that Dumbledore has died. Bill Weasley wasn’t attack by Fenrir Greyback, (who doesn’t utter a sound in the whole film), because Bill has yet to appear on film, unless you count the very un-Bill version that was glanced at in PoA. No lamenting Fawkes, though there is a very brief glimpse of him at the end of the film. No mermaids and the whole of the wizarding community visiting the grounds for Dumbledore’s memorial.

3. No real Tonks and Lupin relationship. What is included is a contradictory version of canon events. Lupin and Tonks are present at the Burrow during Christmas holidays, but other than Tonks calling Lupin ‘sweetheart’ we get no indication that they are a couple. And? She has brown hair in this scene. Nit picky, I know, but canon Tonks went all dowdy and depressed with brown hair because she didn’t know where Lupin was. Here, she went dowdy but she’s with Lupin? Consistency, Yates. Look it up.

4. Nameless Aurors are at Hogwarts, but are easily taken over by Death Eaters following Dumbledore’s murder. No Lupin, Tonks or Bill post battle.

5. Harry does nothing when Dumbledore is killed. He makes a small attempt but then is forestalled by Snape who shushes him before he climbs the steps to murder Dumbledore. Harry is not under his cloak or encumbered by the Headmaster’s binding spell. What is most annoying about this is that Harry can be perceived as a coward in this scene. The Harry we know and love in the books, had he been spell-free, would have never stood there while his mentor is murdered simply because Snape instructed him to stay put.

6. Snape’s exit was brief and unimpassioned. Utterly. He does not get angry with Harry when he calls Snape a coward. Very unlike canon Snape. He simply says ‘I’m the Half Blood Prince, mkaythnxbye.’ Rickman is a far, far better actor than this and it’s sad that he was given very little with this script to stretch those very beefy acting muscles.

7. Sadly, I hate to say this, but I felt bored in parts of this film. My children even commented on this. “Is it almost over?” That’s not good. Yates seems to be vying for the title of King of Awkward Silences and with HBP, he earns the crown. So much could have been eliminated that would have furthered the film along, so many things could have been added (canon details, for example), that would have made this a better film. Unfortunately, none of these were and we get a sometimes boring version of Rowling’s great plot.

Things that I simply adored:

1. Two words: Tom Felton. Let me correct myself. Four words: Tom M F Felton. Here Felton got, at long last, the opportunity to prove he knows what he’s doing in this little acting game. It is quite obvious that he’s been at it since he was a child. Felton was able to garner sympathy for Draco, able to put the audience in to Draco’s position and create some semblance of compassion for a usually uncompassionate character.

2. Won Won. The Ron/Lavender pairing was done nearly to canon and both Grint and Jessie Cave played well off one another. Cave especially showed us an obsessive, (I-Want-To-Wear-Your-Skin kind of obsessive) ridiculous, love struck Lavender. I adored them together and think that the display of ridiculous between Ron and Lavender was perfection. Many, many laughs thanks to Grint and Cave.

3. Felix Felicis. Hands down my favorite scene in the film. Radcliffe aced this one and had me, and my little ones, giggling for days afterward.

4. The Cave scene. Absolutely brilliant. I was not disappointed; I even jumped when that gnarled, decayed hand jutted out of the lake to latch onto Harry’s leg. Gambon was Dumbledore while drinking the poisoned drink, crying and wailing as canon Dumbledore did, ‘Kill me!’ and yes even ‘It’s all my fault. My fault.’ Kudos for this one because it was as close to what I imagined the scene to be while I read HBP.

5. Riddle’s past incarnations. A casting agent somewhere, out there, must have earned a significant bonus for casting absolute perfect versions of Ralph Fiennes/Tom Riddle’s childhood selves. Both, the youngest being Fiennes actual nephew, are all things creepy, eerie, disturbing and true incarnations of the boy version of the Dark Lord. The Pensieve scenes, though we are only treated to two, were brilliantly acted.

On the whole, I did enjoy the film. I wouldn’t claim it as ‘the best ever,’ and I have to admit to hearing many, many people bashing it as I left the theatre. However, I am aware that not all plot points can be included. Warner Brothers bought the rights to Rowling’s work and that means they have carte blanche with the characters and plot. I know this. I just happen to think that less foreshadowing, less brooding and more detail could have been included.

I’m of the mindset that Yates and Kloves— whose penchant for Hermione love and lack of canon detail annoys me endlessly— will have quite a lot of explaining to do in the final two films. What is Kreacher’s importance? Who is RAB? What’s the big deal with the horcruxes? Who is Prongs and Padfoot? Why is Harry’s Patronus a stag? Why is Snape’s Patronus important? And many, many more important— necessary plot points— will have to be explained since they were omitted from the past films. I certainly wouldn’t want that job. The problem is that Kloves and Yates did this film assuming that everyone has read Potter. That, unfortunately, isn’t the case. And, I swear, if Matt Lewis is barred from showing the world what a badass Neville Longbottom becomes in the final book, I will boycott every Yates/Kloves/Warner Brothers films ever after.

I did enjoy HBP, loved the humor, felt my heart breaking at the tragic ending. I do, however, hope when we see films seven and eight, the director and screenwriter would have learned the importance of bringing their A game. After all, Potter fans expect nothing less. It’s what we got from Mrs. Rowling with every single book.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Why yes, I am an English nerd.

I was never going to be a math wiz. Figures and formulas weren’t my forte, I'm very right brain, I’ll admit. I was never going to develop a life-saving elixir, not one cure for cancer or diabetes or anything near to being that altruistic. I am an English nerd from way back. Books, stories, plots, even the dissection of a sentence is like food for me…like a brain filling, imagination building gourmet meal.

I love metaphors and similes and all those silly little English certainties that most avoid or muddle through during their freshman year. I crave them. I was the girl in college—that silly, somewhat nerdy girl—who took English classes as her electives, who opted out of Basket Weaving 101 for Arthurian Legends taught by Professor Wow-She-Speaks-In-Fifty-

Yep, I was that girl.

But I won’t apologize for it. I’m not ashamed. Being an English nerd gives you a passport to another world, or worlds as the case may be. It’s not an exclusive club, this Literary Lovers Alliance, anyone can join. Just pick up a book, grab a journal, click onto a story site and you are a member. Perhaps not a life-long, super secret handshake member (I’m pretty sure you have access that particular membership only when you get your MA in English, or maybe that was just my university), but you're a member nonetheless. The only requirement is an imagination and the ability to laugh as you read, (while ignoring the stares you may get), become engrossed in every portion of a story, in every emotional high and low, in every well thought out, purposeful bit of dialogue.

Ultimately, you must have to ability to become absorbed.

When I was in graduate school, I took a class, ‘History of the Book,’ I think it was, where the professor shared what he knew about how society went from Monks with feathered pens and parchment, to the latest Gaiman novel. We started at point A and ended at Z, very simple, a bit dry at some points, but still interesting. The objective was, however, to examine how words, mere simple words, had changed the world. See? It all started with English nerds or perhaps I should say Word Nerds.

Words are powerful. They can consume us like the sea, defeat us, flay us like the sharpest sword. They can also save us, they can transport us, make us feel, make us cry, make us fight and scream and laugh and love. There is nothing more powerful, not one thing more magical. Don’t believe me?

Case in point: John Trudell. He’s a poet and one time spokesman for the American Indian Movement. He was a speaker. All he did was speak. His only weapon was his words and the truth he believed. And for his words, his family was murdered. He’d been warned, in the county jail, to shut up, to stop protesting. Weeks later, after he’d continued to speak? His wife, mother-in-law and children were all dead because of words. Only words.

Another example? Have you heard of Harvey Milk? No need to list all the things he did, all the words he spoke because there is a phenomenal film just released that can explain it far better than I can. The point is, he used words as a weapon and he died for it.

There are others, countless others—Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, D.H. Lawrence, Vonnegut, Dr. Martin Luther King, and many others, some of who are the reason we can call ourselves American. Words, my friends, simple words can change the world. So, respect them. Love them. Honor them.

In the end, when we’re all ashes, when the apes or robots or aliens (insert your chosen post-apocalyptic villain here) have taken over and memory of humankind becomes a fading myth, it will be the words—ours or theirs— that will endure.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Favorite opening lines of the past few years

In grad school, the Lovely Writing Mentor advised us to open a story with something that would either shock the reader, hook the reader, intrigue the reader or just make them laugh. When you get right to it, sometimes that simple task is hard to manage. However, during the course of my novice, 'no-one-will-ever-read-this-but-my-writer's group' constructions of some really bad fiction, I've been able to manage it. For the most part. Some, I'm very proud of. Others, not so much, but generally they run along the "tonight she danced alone," and "helen thought the man looked far too smug for his own good" variety. Not saying they're great or even my favorite, but I'm just paranoid enough not to pull out my A game, as it were, onto the blogosphere.

Of course, I have my all time favorite openings: "124 was spiteful." Despite my COMPs exam almost eradicating my love for Beloved, I recognize that's a killer opening and a great American novel. But the following are some of my personal favorites that have come about over the past ten years though they are in no way a complete list...I'd be here all night if it were. Some aren't 'literary' whatever the hell that is supposed to mean, but they certainly have gotten my attention, are from amazing novels that I have loved and in many cases, these openings have made the narcissistic writer in me hugely jealous.

In no particular order whatsoever. Feel free to add your own favorites, Dear Anonymous Reader, whoever you may be!

"Shadow had done three years in prison." American Gods, Neil Gaiman

"Jude had a private collection." Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

"On the day Claire became a member of Glass House, someone stole her laundry." Glass Houses, Rachel Caine

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie." The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

"A man begins dying at the the moment of his birth." The Husband, Dean Koontz

"Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement." The Summoning, Kelley Armstrong

"My mother used to tell me about the ocean." The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan

Go forth and read these if you haven't had the honor quite yet.