Monthly Archives: July 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become gradually aware of a thriving internet fandom community for these Harry Potter books, complete with wars over which person should date which and extensive fan fiction. To my very great delight, I’ve completely avoided all that smeg, and this review will be completely uninformed by that section of the internet. It’s all about me, baby! Also, I’m not sure how to discuss it in any real detail without a spoiler cut. So, if you haven’t read the book, or if you haven’t read the series but might someday, stay out from this point on. (Includes spoilers for previous books as well.)
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

So, I know what you’re thinking. Hey, why not space these things out a little more evenly, instead of cramming in a bunch of updates all at once, and then you can give fair consideration to each thing instead of just finding a block of time and catching up but cheating on real content. I have a few answers. 1) How dare you? This is absolutely real content. Well, okay, but even if it isn’t, I have a good excuse. 2) I actually watched these two movies right in a row, so I had to take extra time to digest them separately instead of getting them all mixed up together. Also, for the book, I handed it to my dad as soon as I finished it, and I wanted to give him a little breathing space prior to a review that I knew he’d read even though it would have been better to wait until he was done. But I’m well over halfway through the Potter book, and two books behind is too much. So, I got off my ass and here I am.

In any case, yeah, after an hour’s break doing the whole summer mall-watching thing (the problem is that the girls in the mall are too young and you feel like a bad person and have to stop watching almost right away; if only there was a place where hot chicks walked by, but they were all at least 20. Maybe they could serve alcohol, too. Comfortable seating, maybe some TVs. Not so much actual shopping, because that’s lame. This is a million dollar idea right here), it was back into the theater for another serving of popcorn literally and metaphorically. Well, perhaps junior mints would make the better metaphor, considering the themes but especially the chocolately subject matter of the flick in question.

After all that, you’d think I’d have more to say about the movie. Very enjoyable, almost entirely due to Johnny Depp. The writing had good moments too, but so many things that could have been really annoying (particularly the Oompa Loompa songs, to a lesser extent the morality plays that the songs served as microscopes for) were made hilarious by Willy Wonka’s childlike (sometimes spitefully so) enjoyment of them.

Comparison to the Gene Wilder version? Well, I think I liked Depp better on the whole because candy really is a kid’s game, and he nailed that. But there’s a lot to be said for Wilder’s omnisciently knowing Wonka, leading his would-be proteges through a series of tests and only pretending to wide-eyed innocence. It’s a little too musical for me, though.

Fantastic Four (2005)

MV5BMTM1NTIwNjM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDc2NjgyMQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_The bias here is that I had no real interest in the Fantastic Four as a kid; that is, no comics to read, and the shows were always pretty dumb in a way that other superhero cartoons were not. So, when they announced that it was this year’s Marvel summer movie, I was primarily annoyed at having to wait an extra year for the new X-Men.

So, yeah, it was pretty good. I’m thinking it occupies a previously unknown second tier of quality between the really good stuff (summer movies for the last 5 years other than the Hulk) and the truly dismal stuff (non-summer movies; think Daredevil). I’m not all excited at the idea of a possible sequel, but I’m definitely glad I got to see this. There’s something fundamentally pleasing about a team of people that don’t always get along, but they get it together at crunch time; I think it is because you look forward to the consequences of when they finally fail to get it together at crunch time. Also, the whole thing with the angst over being public faces instead of secret identities, that’s one of those cool things that you almost never get to see, and it opens a lot of previously closed doors.

Okay, maybe I am kind of looking forward to a sequel, a little bit. I despair for them suggesting a numbered sequel scheme, though. Because, seriously? Don’t.

Olympos

Short Answer: Olympos, Dan Simmons follow-up to Ilium, was a really enjoyable read. I was interested in every character’s story from start to finish and glad to spend a little more time on the world. The bad news (there’s always bad news, isn’t there?) doesn’t outweigh any of this, but it did make for a substantial amount of disappointment.

There were only two things wrong, really, is the saddest part. First, some of the plot elements seemed rushed. I think all of my questions about what had happened to get from today to the future earth were answered, but some aspects, usually the negative ones, seemed tacked onto the story just because they were unanswered questions; after reading the first book, I know he has the ability to write more smoothly than that. So: jarring. Worse, though, none of the characters really changed in any important way. As far as enjoying a world, more to read is more to enjoy. But as far as character and plot development, I honestly would have been just as satisfied with the way Ilium ended, without ever needing to read another word. It is a damned shame that Olympos added almost no depth, after the brilliance of the original.

Glory (1989)

Another movie night just past, and thusly do I dash off another quick correspondence. Although there are not always themes, the theme this week was ‘movies with Denzel Washington’, and the one that got picked was Glory. (Actually, part of that is a lie; it was picked last week but not watched in favor of general jabbering. So, this week instead. Now You Know!)

The thing I don’t like about period pieces are all the touches of accuracy. I’d rather not hear the soldiers sitting around their campfires or the officers in their captured mansions playing tootley music of the type I associate with Yankee Doodle Dandy. I understand that something being right is supposed to immerse me in the moment, but having to contemplate how bad peoples’ taste used to be ends up jerking me out of it.

My bitch out of the way, this was a really good movie. I mean, it was a really good movie all on its own, about what people find to be worth fighting and dying for, about the way that officers and enlisted men can, should, and do interact, and to a much lesser extent than the title would have you believe, about what honor and what accolades are to be found on the field of war. Then, on top of that, you’ve got the shades of our racist past that I find it all too easy to forget probably still exists even today, when I’m not busy contemplating it (like now). I can’t say exactly why, nor what it says about my psyche, but I always tend to enjoy more a movie that makes me mad because the characters are being so stupid about a question that I find it hard to remember wasn’t always long ago answered. Probably I just like the adrenaline rush of being angry, though.

Also, there should be more movies with Ferris, Morgan Freeman, and Westley all sharing screen space.

War of the Worlds

Spielberg has still got it. …well, sort of. If you want a special effects-laden summer extravaganza, of the type that Jerry Bruckheimer will try to sell you every year or so, Spielberg is definitely the top tier guy. From the moment Tom Cruise sees figurative storm clouds on the horizon until nearly the moment that the credits roll, well, critics use words like eye-popping, and I have to say that it applies. War of the Worlds is probably the prettiest film you’ll see all year. (Yes, Star Wars, but the fact is that it’s nothing Lucas hasn’t accomplished before, and yes, Serenity, but Whedon doesn’t have that kind of budget, and furthermore, his primary focus has never been on popping the eyes.)

If you can easily read between the lines, stop here, because I’ll end up spoiling the movie’s conclusion for you. Here’s the downside: The man has gotten maudlin and sentimental, and castrates the movie in the last non-narrated frames. Technically, I suppose I should blame the script-writer, but I’m not gonna, because Spielberg should know better than to have agreed to that part.

Child actor watch: I predict that Dakota Fanning has more Anna Paquin in her career-future than she has Haley Joel Osment, if you see what I mean.

Land of the Dead

The good thing about a George Romero zombie movie is that you’ve got awesome social commentary if you go for that kind of thing, you’ve got zombie mayhem if you go for that kind of thing, both if you’re like me, and if you like zombies but hate social commentary, it’s not like you’ll notice.

The bad thing about them is that for people who like social commentary but not so much with the zombies, you can never really convince them that a zombie movie can have intrinsic value. I (of course) mean here intrinsic value of the type that everyone recognizes in movies like Sophie’s Choice or Snow Falling on Cedars or bullstuff like that. The intrinsic zombie movie value of Land of the Dead, with its extensive gore, random zombie strippers (CORRECTION: random regular strippers), gratuitous undead attacks on lesbians, and senseless violence against midgets, well, it has all of that, too. But I’m talking about the Romero-style commentary you get in his zombie movies, the part that lets you see past the zombies and realize he could have made the exact same movie without ghoulish hordes, but was cool enough not to.

Is it my place to say what the themes were this time? Clearly, it is. The movie is set years or possibly decades after the original zombie outbreak; a few walled cities contain the vestiges of humanity, and the zombies cover the rest of the earth. The divide (social, intellectual, perhaps even moral) between zombie and human is rapidly narrowing from both directions. It reminded me a lot of I Am Legend, for whatever that’s worth. On top of the dark mirror motif, there’s some (perhaps meant to be relevant to the world of now?) extensive Circus Maximus keeps the citizens happy while the Huns rampage just outside the walls of Rome imagery going on. I think there’s something to be said for the idea that the two themes are intertwined, but then, I’m just a guy who types with two or three fingers, so what do I know?

Also, there were boobies.

House of Chains

Sometimes, it is unreasonably hard to keep up, for no particularly good reason. The upshot of all the happenings in my life (and various irrelevancies that also slowed me down, mind you; I’d never claim after being more than a week late that it was exclusively the fault of how busy I am) is that I have far less to say about Erikson’s fourth tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, House of Chains, than I feel like I ought to have.

Four books is a long way into a series to feel like one finally has a handle on what’s going on, it’s true. I can completely see why it would put people off. And it’s not like I can explain the first book well enough to talk people into reading it, so far. What I do know is this: despite consistent four-digit page counts and a real struggle to figure out what’s up, these are the only new books in the past several years that have made me want to drag them out and avidly reread them, despite a hip deep to-read pile. (As opposed to, say, the Martin series, which I feel like I should reread to know what’s up, but the task fills me with dread.) Mind you, I won’t be doing so for some months yet, but my point is, I resent that I don’t have time to.

In summation: it’s nice to read a book where the human emotion and the sweeping events are balanced well enough that readers looking for either one as their key ingredient will think this is the right fantasy series for them. Gardens of the Moon is available in America these days, which means (as I probably already said once before when I did book three) people should start reading these now. Lots. (Caveat: Yes, the cover is terrible. But it looks like all the other books are being published with their original covers instead of stock fantasy crap covers, so don’t let that fool you.)