Saturday, July 28, 2007

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 6): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS. Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Click here for Entry 1 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 2 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 3 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 4 of this Roundtable
Clickhere for Entry 5 of this Roundtable

Well, Harry rightly recognizes Sanpe’s contributions giving his son the name Albus Severus, “named for two headmasters of Hogwarts…[Snape] was probably the bravest man I ever knew.” I’m sure the wizarding world in general also recognizes as much. However, how brave would Snape’s path have been if Neville was the “Boy That Lived”? Snape would be without his anti-James Potter inclinations, but, on the other hand, he would be without his love for Lily Potter to keep him straight too.

I must say, after Harry’s victory, when he ascends to the Headmaster’s office, I hoped that Snape would pop-up in one of the portraits, though having died moments earlier, I knew it would be unlikely. But as Harry names him as a headmaster to his son, I would think he now has a portrait in that office despite the fact that his ascension to headmaster was due to, well, his killing Dumbledore, and the Death Eaters taking over the Ministry. (No way that Umbridge has a portrait!)

The Harry Potter series, as a whole, did not disappoint me. I wavered after book 2 back when it was published, but after seeing the film adaptations for books 3 and 4, I re-visited the stories and have been hooked ever since. I look forward to a few years from when I can read these to L.R. That will be a magical experience.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 5): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS. Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Click here for Entry 1 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 2 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 3 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 4 of this Roundtable

One quick note about Snape before I leave for a few days. While I rightly predicted that Snape was a “good guy” and killed Dumbledore on orders by him I was wrong about the specifics. In Book 6, we watch Snape conduct an Unbreakable Oath to kill Dumbledore. Because of this I thought that Snape made Dumbledore an unbreakable oath to stay loyal. It’s important to note that Snape hade to take that oath in order to kill Dumbledore and appear loyal to Voldemort whereas he stayed loyal to Dumbledore and Harry not through wizardry but love for Lily Potter. Colbinski, in the period between the ending of the book and the epilogue do you see Snape not only being redeemed but recognized as one of the most powerful and capable wizards ever?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 4): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS. Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Click here for Entry 1 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 2 of this Roundtable
Click here for Entry 3 of this Roundtable

I thought Harry as the last Horcrux was handled deftly. Firstly, it allowed Harry to sacrifice himself and have Voldemort kill one of his own Horcruxes. Secondly, it allowed hope in the resistance seeing that Harry wasn’t dead – again. Finally, despite the buildup, especially as seen in Book 6, it allowed Harry to defeat Voldemort without having to kill him. Harry never casts the killing curse. He takes the wand and Voldermort own spell used against Harry is what does him in.

I was disappointed in the epilogue precisely because it was only a snapshot and therefore seemed inadequate considering the world that has been created in the previous seven books. I don’t envision a wizarding utopia with goblins marrying mudbloods but, like you, I would like to see more of what happened in the aftermath of Voldemort’s demise.

The answer to how Neville could retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat is the same reason that Harry did in Book 2 and how Ron grabbed it out of the pool in this oone (and the reason why you cheered Neville on). Only a Gryffindor with “daring, nerve, and chivalry” could retrieve the sword. Neville displayed he was a true Gryffindor and was thus rewarded. It also showed that the sword belongs to Gryffindor and not to goblins. (I’d like to see Harry explain to Griphook how the sword ended up back at Hogwarts without ruining wizard-goblin relations.)

I will be away camping for the next several days. I’ll address additional comments and questions upon my return. In the meantime I’ll leave you with this final thought: I would have liked to see the rest of the wizarding world fleshed out even a little bit. After the attack at the Fleur-Weasley wedding I expected some retaliation from the continental or, at the very least, the French wizards.

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 3): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS: Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Click here for Entry 1 of this Roundtable; Here for Entry 2

Harry, Ron and Hermione needed to know about the Hallows, they didn’t need to find them. It’s the knowledge of them that’s important and the knowledge jobs go to Hermione. The wand-lore and who disarmed who and it’s the wizard and not the wand and all that jazz (I can’t say I found that talk interesting or easy to follow) all plays into the myth of the deathstick or Elder Wand. Our heroes needed to know about the Hallows. To defeat Voldemort - and the Horcruxes – they had to understand what the old fiend was up to. Like I noted, the Horcrux v. the Hallows was an intriguing development. It also symbolized the differing quests Harry and Voldemort were on: one of self-sacrifice, the other for ultimate power.

Speaking of Horcruxes, I thought it would be dumb for Harry to be one of the final Horcrux. I thought the revelation of that was handled well. Sort of. But let me get this straight: all those years ago, Lily’s charm – her love for Harry – rubbed off on Voldemort at the same time Harry was implanted with part of Voldemort’s soul thus making him a Horcrux. Huh? Combine this with the wand business and the final confrontation is a calculus question and not an epic battle of good and evil.

Your observation about wizards, goblins, and elves fighting and suffering together is acute. Just as Rowling complicated Dumbledore past the Gandalf imitation he appeared as in the early books, I enjoyed the complicated relationship of “good” wizards with Goblins. The history is murky and from what we know it’s one which bad blood carries through the generations. How does Voldemort’s defeat impact these various magical creatures? Since Voldemort wanted to purify the magical world, my optimistic self sides on the fact that a new dawn has risen after this book.

Apparently, in that dawn Ron learns to do Muggle stuff like drive a car. (Remember, Mr. Weasley loved Muggle machines, so it’s not so farfetched.) On one hand I enjoyed the snapshot – and the epilogue is nothing if not a snapshot showing one morning 19 years ahead with no preamble or afterward – portrayed. It implies a simple and decent life for our trio. But we don’t know how simple. Perhaps, Harry is the head Auror and Hermione is the head of the Ministry of Magic. I don’t know. That’s part of what made it a satisfying epilogue. I just wish there was an immediate aftermath chapter that fills in some post-Voldemort developments.

I’ll leave you with a head-scratcher: the last we see the sword of Griffindor, the Goblin escapes with it but yet Neville finds it in the burning Sorting Hat (add it to the death list?) to destroy the snake Horcrux. How’d he get that sword? Wizard’s property laws are magical? Nonetheless, Longbottom screaming “Dumbledore’s Army!” while going one on one with Voldemort left me cheering.

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 2): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS. Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Click here for Entry 1 of this Roundtable

I agree with Colbinski that it was an impressive and entertaining read. I do have some quibbles to be addressed, though. Both with Colbinski and with the book overall. While the story does move briskly and Rowling has an uncanny ability to end each chapter with you wanting more, there is a tendency for the story to flag a page or two into each chapter. Then the chapter picks up again, some action occurs usually preceded by helpful exposition, and then off to a humdinger of an ending.

It works. It works well. But looking back over the book there’s too much. Too much close calls. Too much of teenagers defeating adult wizards who in later scenes we see dueling evenly with other accomplished wizards. I would have been happier with spending time with the quest rather than it becoming a chase story. I agree about the Umbridge sidetrack. Umbridge is never mentioned again. Was she a Death Eater or just a loyal ministry bureaucrat? Her name isn’t mentioned during the Battle of Hogwarts so I suspect the latter although she seemed too gleeful about torture not to join, no?

I have no quarrel with how much face time Snape received. The “Is Snape good or bad?” question was one of the most important going into this book. Keeping him off the page and out of the action was wise. It did not become a distraction to attempt to parse all of Snape’s actions into answering that question. In fact, the answer to this question was about the only correct prediction I had concerning this book.

It is a very clever book set up nicely by its predecessors. Snape is explained cleverly. Sharing Dumbledore’s wisdom is clever. Having house elves and goblins we meet earlier in the series play roles is clever. I’m sure if I reread all the books at once I will see even more connections and foreshadowing (Colbinski already points out the Dumbledore trading card). One area that Rowling was not clever enough was the gifts left to Hermione. Hermione is constantly reading the book left to her by Dumbledore but I’m not sure any useful information is gained from it. She notices the Deathly Hallows sign in the book which leads them to Harry’s birthplace and then to the Lovegood house. As Dumbledore wanted them to be looking for Horcruxes and not the Hallows this obviously wasn’t the information he intended her to glean. So what was the purpose of the book to Hermione? Am I missing some other information it provided?

My biggest criticism is the epilogue. Partly because I never approved of the Harry/Ginny connection I didn’t really care to see them married with kids. Mostly because it was just too tidy. The small glimpses we see are the characters as we know them from the seven years the books cover only now with kids. There’s no insight to the effect of the world on them for the past nineteen years. They are living as you would imagine them living if Voldermort never returned and everything went swimmingly during their time at Hogwarts. At the end of the Battle of Hogwarts it is noted how wizards of all ages and Houses and bloodlines were sitting together with elves and centaurs. The scenes with the goblin and house elves intimated that there may be integration of all magical creatures throughout the wizarding world. Did that happen? Was the Minstry of Magic still a useless governmental agency or could it now affect change? I was less interested that Harry’s kid didn’t want to be a Slytherin than the fact that Hogwarts still held different Houses. I wanted to know if house elves were liberated or if goblins could use wands. I know the epilogue is there to put to rest any talk of Voldermort not being dead or a way to stop any further Harry adventures. But it seemed pointless. The last two sentences of the epilogue would have worked as well, if not better, as the last two sentences of the final chapter.

Monday, July 23, 2007

BOOK ROUNDTABLE (Entry 1): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

SPOILERS. Colbinski and Nimero are engaging in a back-and-forth discussing the final Harry Potter book. All matters in the book will be discussed. SPOILERS

Overall, I was impressed with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With few exceptions it moved briskly and, as always, Rowling is a clever plotter, with even the most predictable plot points always seeming fresh when finally unveiled.

The quest set-up, as opposed to the Hogwarts school year set-up, worked well. Unfortunately it meant that meant that secondary characters waited in the wings until the final turn. This limited how much of the Hogwarts staff and students we see. It’s almost criminal how little time Snape gets, especially so when we find out how freaking important Snape is to Harry’s victory!

Before my questions and/or criticisms let me start with a device I liked: Harry & Company’s search for the Horcruxes contrasted with Harry’s vision of Voldemort’s quest, for what he would find out, is the Elder Wand of the Deathly Hallows. Harry had no idea what Voldemort was up to, and Voldemort had no idea that Harry was active and not just “in hiding.” Voldemort’s hubris is on full display in this volume and it all fits into his path of resurgance – he thought the Horcruxes were safe; he knew nothing past the obvious about the Hallows; he knew nothing of how elves could travel.

That last point struck me as somewhat of a cop-out: Dobby to the rescue! Perhaps it’s because since book 2, I’ve found the elves we’ve met, Dobby and Kreacher, to always be plot contrivances. Here, they do the same: Kreacher provides important information about the Horcrux locket and Dobby dies a hero. On the most part, I delight in Rowling’s ability to re-introduce and rehash characters and events; I just have no patience for these house-elves. Dobby death was more annoying to me than gripping.

OK, let’s get to the other deaths: Mad-Eye’s death was a wonderful red herring. It happens early and I’m sure every reader thought there was a chance he would come back. Fred’s death was inevitable – by inevitable, I mean that at least one Weasley had to perish. Lupin and Tonks’ deaths were oddly off-screen. I suppose that makes sense – Harry would have been too distracted upon seeing those deaths and that whole Battle of Hogwarts scene was through his eyes. Snape dies as soon as he enters the action. But I did like that he dies without anyone knowing what he did only to be appreciated after the smoke clears. It’s a shame that the epilogue didn’t deal with the immediate ramifications of these deaths and the wizarding world in general.

Dumbledore’s back-story was executed with grace and intrigue. Again, Rowling takes a story we learn from a collectible card in book 1 and turns it into an important event. I, of course, speak of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s duel.

Dumbledore was all over this story in a good way. Another excellent red herring was the blue eyes in the mirror shard and I enjoyed the Aberforth storyline. Was the bartender as Hog’s Meade ever identified before?

Two major criticisms: Ron’s contrived leaving and returning with news he slowly remembers over the next few chapters. I wish Rowling found a better way for Harry, Hermoine and Ron to get information while laying low.

My second criticism is that Umbridge ended up with the locket. I could have done without the whole Ministry break-in. The break-in to Gringrotts would have sufficed.

I'll leave it here for now. I haven't even mentioned Neville's kicking ass or the convulted wand-lore that hurts my head when I think about it too long. For now, I'll turn it over you, Nimero.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Do not view Michael Moore’s new documentary SiCKO, as an encompassing argument against the U.S healthcare system. As its title indicates the main purpose is to show what is wrong with said system. On that it does an admirable (if not easy) job. There is no argument because, other than clips of politicians praising new health policy, this documentary shows no defense for U.S. healthcare. And what it does present is not nuanced or multi-layered, as is Moore’s wont.

There is barely a mention of American exceptionalism or the history of volunteerism that has guided the U.S. healthcare system to its current paltry state. It does not mention that throughout the years labor unions have been as much to blame as the AMA for preventing any type of national healthcare from moving forward. It bandies about the terms “socialized medicine” and “national health care” without definition or context. This is especially true in the second half of the movie when the focus shifts from what’s wrong with the American way to what’s right with the healthcare systems of Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba. All the glories of these systems are presented but not how these systems work. Despite these failings it is still an enjoyable and good film.

If every American saw this film I have no doubt a healthcare revolution would occur. But because it offers no solutions (“other countries do it better and cheaper than we do” is not a solution) I would fear that the American people would accept any change whether it is better or worse than the current system. SiCKO makes a strong case that change is necessary but then offers no specifics on what that change should be or how it should come about. SiCKO (and most other media outlets) makes it appear that the choice is either the current U.S. system or a universal payer national system. There are no alternatives to these broad brushes mentioned even though the four countries presented as antithesis to the U.S. all have systems that differ from each other. Which one should we emulate? A professor of mine, who has studied U.S. and international healthcare for many years, once stated that the U.S. would be best off if we went more towards the French system. From my Health Policy class I took with him, I am inclined to agree but you could never come to that conclusion from watching SiCKO.

I suppose this is my biggest problem with SiCKO. Other than C-SPAN clips of politicians patting themselves on the back for passing policy written by the insurance companies there is only interviews with ordinary people adversely affected by the current system. These human-interest stories are the heart of the film but I was expecting to see some non-politician wonks talk about the system. I know this is not what Moore does but it cheats the audience. If Moore really wanted to change the U.S. healthcare system, leave out the other countries and provide various suggestions by experts on what can actually be done. The film may make you raise your fist in rage and demand that something changes but it provides no path to turn that rage into constructive energy. And that’s what is needed to change the U.S. healthcare system.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: In Between Days

This small film represents what I enjoyed about independent movies when the word “independent” first came into vogue. The recent change to films that seem to be all zany families, quirky characters or outlandish situations can make one forget how enjoyable indies used to be. In not trying to be more than it is, In Between Days has resonance not found in its slicker, more stylized cousins.

Aimee (Jiseon Kim) is either distracted or daydreaming forever doodling when she should be studying. She does focus on Tran (Taegu Andy Kang) but only in a teenage crush type of way. She attempts to determine his feelings for her while steering clear of revealing hers first. We see little interaction of Aimee with other friends and when it does occur she is awkward and self-conscious. Perhaps it is due to speaking English, which takes away the comfort she feels with communicating with Tran in her native Korean. But language is not the only barrier for there appears to be an uncomfortable distance between her and her mother (Bokja Kim) with whom she has recently immigrated to this unnamed North American city.

As a result of these interactions Aimee is recognizable and easily liked by the viewer. The film only takes us into the life of Aimee for a about a week but a deft performance by Jiseon Kim makes her feel like someone we know intimately. Her eyes and puffed up face hide emotions while a sly smile is sometimes used to portray the momentary glimpses of joy and hope a young teenager with a crush feels. A hand held camera that follows the characters around without staging them but is capable of getting close-ups without obtrusiveness adds to the intimacy of the story.

The slow pace and short running time are actually advantages to the overall story. The most striking scenes are of still landscape images with Aimee’s voice emanating from the background. She reads letters written to her absent father illustrating a world she imagines her father would like her to have. These unmoving images that Aimee recites these letters over not only represents the change to the new location Aimee and her mother have undergone but also illustrate the problems Aimee has dealing with these changes.

DVD REVIEW: Little Children

In my Top Movies 2006 list I mention Little Children as a film I had not yet seen but one that, perhaps, due to its critical adulation would be on that list. Well, now having watched it I can safely say that it would have had no impact at all on that list. It is not bad enough to have made any mention, even on my short list of the two worst I saw all year but it is an awful film nonetheless.

The story can be summed up as thus: uninteresting characters making uninspired choices. Lets see, we have vulture-like housewives who watch over their children in a local playground. The most bored of these housewives ends up in an affair with a clueless househusband. We know she is the most bored because we are told what subject she studied in college and that information is supposed to make her the most interesting of all the cardboard caricatures that inhabit this story. Throw in a porn addicted husband, a battle-ax mother-in-law, an ex-cop with mental problems, and some very creepy scenes involving a pederast and you have what most critics considered some sort of modern masterpiece. Instead it is the most boring, uninvolving film I have seen in some time.

I suppose certain middle-aged critics who may live in suburbia can find something to relate to. I have no idea. I also never understood why Todd Field’s first film In the Bedroom was so well received. Field may well be the most overrated filmmaker working today. “Lesser” movies, those that don’t aspire through marketing or literary pedigree to be taken as “serious films”, are often derided for the same reasons Little Children and In the Bedroom were praised: coincidences and poor character choices done solely to move towards the end of the story. In action movies it is called cliché, but, for some reason beyond my comprehension, in Todd Field’s overwrought dramas it is considered art.

Friday, July 06, 2007

On Being Born

A child was born on a cold rainy night thirteen days into the month of March. This child was brought forth at six and a half months gestation, propelled into the world by a brother who had the audacity to arrive unannounced. For seven short minutes this child was an individual, a namesake for the father. Then the surprise happened. For better or worse, this child would be known as a twin for evermore.

Most children have their first pictures taken red-faced and squalling cradled in the bosom of a harried mother. The first photo evidence for this child (and his twin brother) is a small white bundle, barely discernable as an infant, lying in a ventilation chamber visible only through the chicken wire encased window of a strong oak hospital door. Born prematurely, Death hovers in the room with him. It’s icy grip anxiously waiting to grab hold of the 4.6 ounces of human flesh and bone. This child, not knowing any better, fights on as every breath is challenged. After seventeen long days this child (and his twin brother) are permitted to go home and join his parents and other siblings.

This child has fought death and must now face life.