July 26th, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the Movie)

On July 17th, we went out with the Burrahobbits to see the latest installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise, “Order of the Phoenix.” The film in my opinion did a first-rate job of adapting the rather rambling book, and I disagree with those who gripe because their favorite little bit (like Petunia getting the “howler”, to name one frequently mentioned--). Although there were very strong performances by the core cast of Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, the movie was largely stolen by Imelda Staunton as the odious Delores Umbridge, with second place in the sympathetic character field going to Gary Oldman as the doomed Sirius Black, and a standout supporting role by newcomer Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Helen Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange and Natalia Tena as Nymphadora Tonks add a sadly needed bit of Goth glamour, although both their roles are brief. (Fortunately, we should see more of both in upcoming films.)

Staunton as Umbridge was a revelation. Rather more pleasant appearing than I’d pictured her from the book (the epithet “toad face” does not really suit her--), she inspired loathing with her false smile, her simper, and the glint in her eye that changed from cold when challenged to hatefully cheery when at her most sadistic. Add her hideous wardrobe of pink boucle outfits and smothering collection of kitsch, and she is a total modern monster.

I don’t need to draw many parallels between our current world and the creeping oppression Umbridge institutes at Hogwarts, they are obvious, although I did think the huge “Big Brother” poster of Cornelius Fudge at the Ministry was a nice touch. The fun is in seeing how the young people fight back. The scenes of Harry teaching “Dumbledore’s Army” are both enjoyable and inspiring.

The climactic running battle in the Ministry is full of fantastic effects and striking images. As usual with the films, the need for action somewhat outstrips the book descriptions. Who knew that battling wizards could turn into rushing clouds and fling themselves at one another? Oh, well, it certainly looked cool--.

Highly recommended for fans of the series. You will not be disappointed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the Book)

Rowling did not disappoint in the final installment of Harry’s Hogwarts saga. It is good to have a person on the library staff who can put in reserves as soon as legal, since I was able to pick up a copy at the West Allis Public Library about noon on Saturday the 21st. I read it on and off through the afternoon and evening, taking breaks for shopping, dinner, and Festa Italiana fireworks, and then gave up and got out of bed to finish the last hundred pages about 2AM Sunday morning.

I agree with the New York Times reviewer that the book gives good, old fashioned closure and ties up all the major loose ends, answers the significant questions, and gives a lot of new information, chiefly about Dumbledore and Snape and their relationship, much of which is quite daring. (Not THAT way—Rowling is not writing “slash”, here--.)

As a plotter, I was NOT on the same wavelength as Rowling on significant points. Not that I don’t think MY version would have been literarily valid, but hers works with a few flaws. My most radical prophecies did not come to pass—perhaps a good thing, but Rowling has an addiction to “contrived” plot devices, which mean that at some points the heroes’ progress only continues by virtue of sheer luck. Chapter Fifteen, “The Goblin’s Revenge,” is the most glaring example, though not the only one. Pacing is uneven: there are some long stretches where not much happens, and then a LOT happens. That being said, it’s still a thumping good read.

(Yes, several significant characters are killed—it is war, of a sort, but I really didn’t keep track. I was more interested in the problem posed by the Horcruxes and how that would be solved. In that regard, I was pleased I had divined the hiding place of the last one correctly. )

Festa Italiana Fireworks

We drove down to the lakefront Saturday night the 21st for the Festa Italiana fireworks, and met Chuck Tritt, Julie Ann Hunter, Henry Osier and Lee Schneider. The Festa Fireworks are the brightest, the loudest and the most beautiful in our opinion, and this year’s show was particularly good.

Bristol Renaissance Faire

As another (mostly) annual event, we took advantage of the good weather to drive down to the Bristol Renaissance Faire on Sunday the 22nd. This is the twentieth anniversary of the Faire under the Bristol name, and the year’s theme is a “Feast of Fooles”, so I wore the black and white Harlequin outfit Tracy Benton had made for me for a WisCon Mardi Gras party, and Georgie wore her multi-colored Moresca “gypsy” outfit. We spent a good four plus hours walking around the fair, chatting with our friends “Lord and Lady Howard” (Bob and Sheila Horne), dropping in on Felix Needleworthy, catching bits of various performers shows, and ogling lots of lovely merchandise. We were a bit bummed to see that Moresca had given up their shop, and that there was a “retirement” notice posted at Bald Mountain Moccasins, but life goes on. I have to admire the stamina of the people who can arrive at opening time and stay for after-hours revels--. Among the performers, notable was the “Barely Balanced” group, who did a few things I have not seen even Chinese acrobats do, and one of the itinerant entertainers who did musical whip-cracking at phenomenal speed. Fun! One vendor had a suit of armor allegedly made of Komodo Dragon hide, which looked truly cool.

Burrahobbits, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu"

On Tuesday the 24th, the Burrahobbits convened their regular meeting at the residence of Jeff and Jan Long. The book under discussion was “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke. Clarke is the author of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell,” and “Ladies” is a collection of short stories set mostly in the same milieu. Most of the stories were quite enjoyable, although of course the group did not all agree on which were which. Georgie and I most liked the title piece, “Mrs. Mabb”, ‘Mr. Simonelli, or, the fairy widower,’ ‘Tom Brightwind, or, how the fairy bridge was built at Thoresby,’ and ‘John Uskglass and the Cumbrian charcoal burner’. ‘On Lickerish Hill,” an attempt to transplant “Tom Tit Tot” into the landscape was regarded as least successful. “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse,” a “Stardust” story by Neil Gaiman, got mixed reviews.

Recent Books: "Un Lun Dun"

I've read a number of really good books lately that might be of interest to the readers of this blog.

The first one is "Un Lun Dun" by China Mieville. While the idea of a Young Adult novel by this famously profane author is a bit croggling, I found this a very good book. It is also an interesting example of how highly creative authors can take similar premises and do something very different with them. In this case, the premise, that there is a shadow London (UnLondon) co-existing with the one most people know, is familar to readers of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere," but Mieville's treatment is quite original.

UnLondon is actually in the next dimension over, and lies on a slightly lower entropic chord. It is where much of what is lost, discarded, or unwanted goes, including everything from broken umbrellas to redundant bus conductors. The adventure begins when two girls find a way through to UnLondon. They are soon caught up in a very familiar sounding type of story involving the "chosen one," a "Prophecy," an elaborate quest situation, and a brooding and pervasive enemy. However, Mieville quickly turns all the conventions topsy-turvy in a way that had me saying, "Oh, yes!"

It wouldn't be a Mieville work with out his trademark grit, dirt, and grunge, but he has managed to write a quite remarkable, very engaging and enjoyable story without the sex, gross violence, or adult language that mark his "grown-up" works. Recommended for young adults and other adults that still enjoy a good fantasy.