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."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

1998
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, you can learn a lot from a fable.

July 31st is Harry Potter's twelfth birthday, but what's he care? None of his school chums have kept in touch. Uncle Vernon has an important client to impress over dinner, and Aunt Petunia has a dead sister to continue pointlessly envying, so Harry is banished to the bedroom. Life's lonely till a house-elf named Dobby appears, imploring Mr. Potter to avoid school at all costs. (I wouldn't have needed told twice, but I never attended a school where everyone wore sweet-ass robes and gathered in a big ol' hall to eat sausages on top of puddings on top of pumpkin pies and recess consisted of flying lacrosse.) When he sees for himself how hellishly bent Harry is, Dobby races downstairs and ruins dinner.

Gingers to the rescue! Specifically, Ron Weasley and his twin brothers George and Fred, chilling out in a Ford Anglia that's been charmed to fly by their Muggle-mad father. They take Harry to their home, the Burrow, a ramshackle yet cozy dwelling that Harry immediately falls head over heels for. He's instantly doted on by matriarch Molly (always has her behavior towards Harry irked me, and contributed to my fondness for Ron) and avoided by Ginny, the only girl of the seven Weasley children, who's been obsessing over Harry the entire summer.

Harry and the Weasleys head to Diagon Alley, crossing paths with Hagrid, Hermione and the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, Gilderoy "The Lilac Dandy" Lockhart, a celebrity wizard whose bibliography is almost as bloated as his ego (Hermione is but one of many smitten witches). Even he is in wonder of Harry, gifting the bemused boy a complete set of autographed books. Harry deposits said tomes into Ginny Weasley's cauldron, and who should be on the scene to make a wise-crack but Draco Malfoy? As the kids share words unkind, Draco's father Lucius takes the opportunity to slip another book into Ginny's cauldron.

Unable to pass into Platform 9 3/4, Ron and Harry return to the friendly skies. All's well ends well, so long as ending well entails smashing a car into a tree and breaking Ron's wand.

Out on the Quidditch Pitch, Draco is showing off the new brooms his father bought for the Snake Squad. When Hermione tells him to piss off with his privilege, Draco calls her a "Mudblood." Ron's attempt to strike the little twat with a spell from his busted wand backfires, and he begins vomiting slugs.

Which he's still doing when the trio visit Hagrid's hut. In between filling a pot with the slimy buggers, Ron explains that "Mudblood" is a derogatory term for a witch or wizard born to Muggles--such as Hermione. As Hagrid is quick to point out, so-called "blood purity" has no real bearing on a witch or wizard's abilities, with the brilliant Hermione herself serving as a prime example. Despite this provable fact, the prejudice felt by some purebloods towards their "tainted" brethren is just too comforting to let die.

Which is why the message written on the wall outside of the first-floor girls lavatory ices the bones of those at Hogwarts who know the school's history:

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

Hanging on a nearby torch bracket is Mrs. Norris, pet cat of Hogwarts caretaker Filch. Poor thing's alive, but rigid as rock.

History lesson time. Hogwarts founders numbered four: Rowena Ravenclaw, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff and Salazar Slytherin. Things were cool beans of every flavor for many years, until Salazar proposed admitting only children from purely magical families. The others balked, and Slytherin left. Before departing, though, he constructed a secret chamber in the castle, inside which he placed a Basilisk, a giant serpent whose direct gaze brings sudden death. An indirect gaze, however, merely petrifies the victim. (Fortunately, those so afflicted can be cured with a draught made of Mandrakes.)

Who, then, is this heir of Slytherin? Harry Potter becomes the prime suspect after a classroom duel with Draco. The towheaded ninny summons forth a snake which Harry repels not with a spell, but by speaking in Parseltongue, the recognized "language" of snakes. Fluency in Parseltongue was also a skill of Salazar Slytherin…hmm.

Harry suspects Draco is the heir (or knows who is), and when two students are found petrified in the halls, both having had recent, shaky interactions with The Boy Who Hissed, he recruits Ron and Hermione to find out. Draco has two toadies that follow him around school, Crabbe and Goyle. The decision is made to brew Polyjuice Potion, which will allow Ron and Harry to temporarily assume the forms of Draco's thick-headed friends and perhaps hear something incriminating, or at least, illuminating. Great idea, but turns out Draco's no more in the light about the dark stuff going on then Ron and Harry are. 

Moaning Myrtle is a bit more in the loop, though. Makes sense, seeing she's a ghost that haunts the girls lavatory. Her "home" has flooded, thanks to the fact that books don't flush well. Harry confiscates said book, a diary which once belonged to former Hogwarts student Tom Riddle. Although no text is visible, Riddle enchanted the book with a few choice memories. Harry drops ink onto a page and watches as it dissolves. He then picks up a quail and begins writing, asking about the last time the chamber opened. The book shows Hagrid (then a student), hiding a monster on school grounds. This beast escaped and killed a student, leading to Hagrid's expulsion.

Harry can barely believe his sweet, gentle friend could be the man responsible, but then the snake strikes once more. The victim: Hermione Granger. Harry and Ron visit Hagrid's hut, more desperate than ever, but are forced to take cover under the John Cena cloak when guests arrive. Cornelius Fudge, who serves as the Minister of Magic, and Lucius Malfoy. Here's how corrupt the Wizarding Government is: Hagrid was linked to the last appearance of the beast from the chamber, so he must be to blame for the current appearance as well. So off to prison he goes, no investigation, no Veritaserum (the magic equivalent of sodium pentathol), no trial. Further, Hogwarts governors voted to remove Dumbledore from office.

Awesome. Cancellation of Christmas the next move, then? Perhaps rip the ears off the Easter Bunny and let the children gather to watch him bleed out?

Hagrid is able to pass along a clue to the boys on his way out of the hut, leading them into the Forbidden Forest. They seek and find Aragog, an enormous spider who absolves Hagrid, drops a tremendous clue of his own, and then orders his children to eat Ron and Harry. Hey, remember the flying car? It's feral now, and has an (almost) unequalled sense of timing!

Harry and Ron try to sneak into Myrtle's bathroom for more info, only to be caught by McGonagall, who believes the boys' story that they were on their way to visit Hermione in the hospital wing. Which they then proceed to do. They also take the time to actually do more than just gawk at her, which I can only assume no one else did, since they are the first ones to notice the piece of paper clutched in her little hand. It's a page torn from a library book, describing Basilisks. In the margin, Hermione had written the word "pipes." Ron offers that, if the serpent is traveling through the school's plumbing, the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets could be located in Myrtle's bathroom.

Definitely a tidbit worth passing along to staff; unfortunately, none of them are in the staff room when Ron and Harry arrive. Then, suddenly, all of them are there. The boys hide and overhear the dreadful news that Ginny Weasley has been taken to the Chamber of Secrets. The other teachers look to Professor Lockhart, whose feats are legend. Harry and Ron follow him back to his office, only to discover he's in no hurry to do anything but skip school. Turns out he's a fraudulent Frankie, no more capable of infiltrating the COS than anyone other adult in the vicinity. At wand point, Harry forces Lockhart to accompany them to the ostensible Chamber's entrance. Once inside, Lockhart tries to wipe their memories with Ron's errant wand, which does nothing to them but leaves him feeling rather--if you'll pardon me--sluggish. Ahaha, he can't remember shit! He was totally gonna curse kids!

Less amusing is the rockfall that follows, forcing Harry to continue into the Chamber alone. A horrifying tableau awaits: the prone body of Ginny Weasley, watched over by the ghostly form of Tom Riddle, the true heir of Slytherin, the boy who grew up to become Lord Voldemort, the most formidable dark wizard ever.

Tom explains how he used Ginny through the diary for his own nefarious purposes. She began spilling her emotions into every page: anger at the relentless teasing from her brothers, shame at growing up in poverty, fear that she would never be special enough to earn the notice of the magnificent Harry Potter. Eventually, the Riddle diary possessed Ginny's soul, compelling her to open the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry (with a mammoth assist from Dumbledore's personal phoenix Fawkes) defeats the Basilisk, defies certain death, and sends Riddle back to oblivion. Then he rather cleverly frees Dobby from his obligations to the Malfoys, which so enrages Lucius he tries to fuck Harry up, in front of other adults.

Deranged shit happens in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Children wishing death upon one another, killer snakes, racism, slavery, child abuse. Oh, and while Lord Voldemort's Killing Curse failed to end Harry's life, it succeeded in leaving a part of himself inside of Harry.

The book ends, but of course the story doesn't, and more questions exist now than before. For instance, how exactly did Fawkes the phoenix know the perfect moment to enter the Chamber? Magic, or something more? What could be more than magic? Anyway, Professor Lockhart says it best, doubtless quoting some other, smarter fucker: "Books can be misleading." Believing in everything you read is dangerous, regardless of the author's intelligence or conviction.

The follow-up to the best-selling, award-garnering tale of a young English wizard orphan with a cool scar may push at the barriers of plausibility a bit. Heads up.


2002
Director-Chris Columbus
Writer-Steve Kloves


Didn't break, so put the glue away. Oh, John Williams returned as well, always welcome. His scores possess more personality than most humans I've met.

Columbus and crew bring viewers another cram jam (longest in the series, in fact) that spreads warm and easy, even if that is a lot of bread to eat in one sitting.

Speaking of, Vernon is even fatter, more blustery, and extra irascible. What's narrower: the man's mind, or his arteries? Dumbledore is still one ill-timed knock-knock joke away from Merlin's door and Snape is looking especially Chopin.

Kenneth Branagh takes every opportunity to show the world that the Irish also cook damn fine ham. No actor was going to make "Lyin' Lockhart" likable, but Branagh sinks his teeth into the role with a jaguar's ferocity. (I wouldn't be surprised if the actor had a self-portrait hanging up at home.)

The kids are wriggling still, growing ever more comfortable in those giant shoes. It's almost a shame Rupert Grint pulls faces so well, it made Kloves a very lazy writer indeed.


BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
That ending. That gurgling, spewing cheese-volcano of an ending. I wouldn't have enjoyed that ending even as a child. I may have been a fat child, a shy child, an asthmatic child, but I most certainly was not a stupid child. It's that last line. If they'd kept it to just big hugs and hurrahs, no qualms.

Ginny's internal turmoil goes unexamined; she is a means to an end. This would become a trend.

I love Arthur Weasley. The movies get him right…mostly. In the book, he inquires about escalators; in the film, he asks about rubber ducks. There's a reason Charles Schulz chose Beethoven over Mozart as Schroeder's idol.

Film Hermione is Wonder Girl, the Pink Power Granger, a Muggleborn who somehow already knows the definition of the word "mudblood," because heaven forfend Ron Weasley know something she doesn't. This is especially galling considering that the books themselves--you know, the material as written--establish Hermione as a young witch of superior intelligence and abilities. Indeed, without Hermione's brilliance, the titular hero of the piece would have been dead before his 15th birthday. Steve Kloves is one of those scriptwriters who cuts two slices of cake where one will do, and this greediness is a disservice to the entire movie series and, actually more significantly, the most important character in them.

MIND THE GAP
"There's no Hogwarts without you, Hagrid." Sorry to keep walloping a dead Hippogriff, but that line has stood the test of time as a top five worst line in the entire series. Although I appreciate that only three of the four Hogwarts houses participated in the standing ovation. For all its general uselessness, I'm grateful that Pottermore placed me in Slytherin.

And gave me a 13" wand made of elder wood with a dragon heartstring core.

Again, Vernon Dursley isn't a bad guy because he carries 'round extra pounds. He's a bad guy because he has no moral compass, no willpower, and he gave his son a stupid name. The weight is, ironically, the least of my grievances. Hey, there but for the grace of Godot go any of us, experiencing stabbing pains in our chest right before letting out a sneeze. Judge not lest ye be judged for choosing raw cookie dough as your dinner.

Polyjuice is a complicated and time-consuming potion to whip up, involving eight ingredients, one of them being something taken from the body of the person you wish to become. (Usually this is hair, but a cold sore would work as well.) The better the brew, the longer its effects. Hermione is able, at the age of twelve, to concoct Polyjuice that lasts for an hour. Why weren't these books about HER, again?

Hermione's crush on Lockhart reaches its apex (nadir?) when Ron finds a hilariously pompous "Get Well" card from the Professor underneath her pillow.

I shudder to think what "Emma Watson as a cat" means for certain of the fandom.

"Scarhead," hey, sometimes that Draco's all right.

A diary that writes back? Jesus, that's even scarier than the snake. "Dear journal, today Karen made fun of me in Math. She said I had dirty sneakers." "Clean your shoes and stop crying, fatty."

I've regurgitated spaghetti noodles before. T'was angel hair, though, so after the first wave they barely registered.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Better In Your Head?--HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE

1997
J.K. Rowling


SPOILER ALERT, American kids have no clue what a "philosopher" is, unless they grew up in the Eighties and played Atari.

The Dursleys live on 4 Privet Drive in Surrey, England. The narrator insists this family is "perfectly normal," so they must indeed be so. The clan's head is a drill-selling walrus named Vernon, and his wife Petunia is a bitter cow. Their young son Dudley is thus developing into a cow-walrus. One evening, a wise old wizard known as Albus Dumbledore drops a year-old baby boy at their door.

Ten years later, the baby boy is now just a boy, Harry Potter, wild dark hair covering his head and round glasses covering his eyes, banished to the space beneath the stairs. For Harry's eleventh birthday, he and the Dursleys head to a cottage, where soon a hairy giant named Hagrid arrives, bearing a cake, a letter and a revelation: THE KID IS A WIZARD. The letter is from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland, welcoming Harry into the fold for the first of what will surely be seven wonderful years of education and edification. Several of these letters have been sent to the Dursley residence, but Harry had no idea, since Uncle Vernon's been intercepting the boy's mail.

Not only is Harry a wizard, he's a legendary one, celebrated for surviving a Killing Curse cast by the dark wizard Lord Voldemort when still a mere baby. The attack left him with a nickname ("The Boy Who Lived") and a forehead scar in the shape of a lightning bolt.

Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley to stock up on supplies, including two must-haves: a wand and a pet owl. (Owls are carrier pigeons for magical beings, basically.) Everywhere they go, patrons are awed. Well, except for the goblin-run Gringotts, England's one and only wizard bank, where Harry discovers his parents left him a tidy stash of galleons.

While picking out a robe, Harry meets a blond snot named Draco Malfoy. Draco's parents served under Lord Voldemort, although they avoided prison by claiming bewitchment. Add in his unkind words for Hagrid, and Harry susses the truth pretty quick--this Malfoy boy is trouble.

The big day arrives, and the Dursleys are so excited to be rid of Harry (even if only temporarily) they drop him off at Kings Cross Station, and then just speed off. The Hogwarts Express is due to depart from Platform 9 3/4, but Harry is totally lost. He finally cracks the mystery by eavesdropping on a family of gingers who pass through the pillar between 9 and 10 as though it were made of pudding. Harry winds up sharing a compartment with one of those copper tops, fellow first-year Ron Weasley. Ron can't believe his eyes, it's the Harry Potter! The boys bond quickly, despite interruptions from another newbie, Hermione Granger (whose tact is apparently tangled up in her bushy hair) and Draco Malfoy reappears, imploring Harry to choose better company than a second-hand, third-rate Weasley.

Upon arrival at Hogwarts, every student gathers in the Great Hall. Greeting them is the headmaster, none other than Albus Dumbledore, a grandfatherly sort with a beard worthy of several limericks. Once pleasantries are dispensed, the real show begins: the sorting ceremony! One by one, each new student takes a seat on a stool, places the Sorting Hat upon their noggins, and waits for it to announce which of the four Houses they will represent: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. Harry, Ron and Hermione all wind up in Gryffindor. Draco Malfoy, as is family custom, is sent to Slytherin.

Classes are pretty cool, except for Potions, taught by Severus Snape. The head of Slytherin House treats Harry poorly off rip, making snide references to the youngster's "celebrity." Luckily the head of Gryffindor House, Minerva McGonagall, is a super bad-ass broad whose hobbies include turning into a cat and making students feel welcome in her Transfiguration class.

Harry's a naturally gifted broom boy, so he's a cinch for Quidditch, which is basically flying lacrosse (with unisex squads, to boot).

The going is smooth till news spreads of an attempted break-in at Gringotts, which is kinda beserkers considering that rather than guards and alarms, that place has spells and dragons. The Draco/Harry beef is heating up to Joe Budden/Saigon levels, with the insufferable Malfoy challenging Harry to a midnight duel outside of the school that he clearly has no intention of actually attending, but Harry not only dumbly heads out, he takes Ron and Hermione with him. Once they realize they've been tricked, the trio race back to Hogwarts to avoid detection and detention. They find themselves in a forbidden corridor, where a three-headed dog stands guard over a trapdoor.

Weird, but school is a place for learning, not wondering why freakish animals share space with young children. Ron and Hermione spar in class over a levitation spell. She's a bit of a know-it-all, see, and not terribly patient with a less-gifted peer like young Weasley. Things go from Green Day to Rancid when she overhears him in the halls venting to Harry. Hermione rushes to the girls loo for a good cry. Bad idea. The boys accidentally lock a loose dungeon troll in the bathroom with her, but who should save the day but Ron, using the very same levitation spell he and Hermione bickered over earlier.



(And at that moment Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger became the least surprising love story in 20th century English literature.)

Wizards get Christmas presents, some much cooler than others. Witness, Harry's Invisibility Cloak (donor anonymous). Does as tin says, but why isn't he more suspicious?

Harry can't help but share his curiosity about the dog with noted animal enthusiast Hagrid, who unintentionally lets loose with the name Nicolas Flamel. Harry is intrigued; he's heard that name before, but where? On the back of a Chocolate Frog Card, of course! CFCs are baseball cards, but for wizards and witches. Flamel doesn't have one, because he's not a wizard, he's an alchemist, who's worked closely with one Albus Dumbledore. Research further shows Flamel to be the creator of the Philosopher's Stone, a ridiculous rock with the Midas touch and the fountain's taste.

Harry determines the dog is guarding this Stone, and that Severus Snape is after it for his own use. Proving such a bold statement is difficult, what with distractions such as Quidditch and saving Hagrid's bacon, of which much exists. The big guy can't hide his glee over winning a dragon egg in a card game at the Hog's Head pub. Why, it's like someone knew how much he'd always wanted his own dragon, and suspected if they helped him become sufficiently blotto, he'd blurt out top-secret information like how to get past the three-headed dog and access the trapdoor leading to the Philosopher's Stone.

Harry, Ron and Hermione race to the forbidden corridor, where the dog sleeps soundly. He stirs as they attempt to lift the trapdoor, but Hagrid had given them a flute for such an occasion.

Reaching the Philosopher's Stone requires passing a series of challenges, including a game of Wizard Chess (the pieces move of their own accord, y'all) that gives a glimpse of Ron's bravery, and a logic puzzle that would baffle most magic folk--but not ones raised by Muggles, i.e., Harry and Hermione. Harry reaches the end alone, but the teacher awaiting him there is not Snape, but Professor Quirrell, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, unique for the purple turban he wears at seemingly all times. He unwraps it in front of Harry, revealing the face of Lord Voldemort jutting out from the back of his head.

Harry winds up with the Stone (which Dumbledore in his infinite wisdom subsequently destroys) and Voldemort vamooses from Quirrell and passes though Harry, knocking the poor kid out. Dumbledore visits The Boy Who Lived Yet Again in the Hogwarts infirmary, and tells Harry about the sacrifice that his mother made on the night she and Harry's father were murdered by Voldemort. Lily Potter's decision to take the curse intended for her infant son created a shield over Harry, one that the loveless Voldemort did not take into consideration...an oversight which left him on the verge of total destruction.

The power of love, in other words.

Joanne Rowling took five years to produce the book that begat a billion dollar empire. It's bittersweet to consider none of it might have happened had Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone been released under the name "Joanne Rowling." At the insistence of publishers concerned over alienating potential boy readers, Rowling dropped her first name in favor of two initials (one of which she had to borrow). Hypothetical, then: would the seven Potters still comprise the highest-selling book series of all-time had the author not used the more androgynous sounding handle?

I will shock no one, man or monkey, when I say that The Philosopher's Stone falls well short of great literature. These are fantasy-adventure tales with intricate plots and layers of subtext, written with admirable competence. Dahl is a common comparison point, and while Rowling's wit isn't quite that dry, she does create a general buoyancy that assists the plot in getting from one island to the next, making for an absorbing read.

Rowling's true stroke of genius was to place the world of Harry Potter in our world. Rowling's wizards live among us, alongside us, have a (probably) insulting name for us. With just a few pointed wands and words, they can hide entire buildings from our view. The idea of this secret world carrying on under our noses, it's a grandest hope and a greatest fear all at once.

(Watch out for snakes!)



2001
Director-Chris Columbus
Writer-Steve Kloves


How many billions would have gone unspent by male moviegoers who bristled at watching a film based on a series of books written by a woman, then?

In 1997, English film producer David Heyman's secretary recommended the first Harry Potter for a potential adaptation. The man behind The Stöned Age disliked the title, but loved the book. Rowling sold the film rights for the first four Potter books for a million pounds, which is on the short list for bargain of the century.

She didn't want to work directly on any of the scripts--what with her own blockbuster series still ongoing and all--but she did assume an advisory role. Her only demand was a reasonable one: keep the main cast of actors British.

The director, writer and composer had no such restriction. Chris Columbus made film for the whole family that fairly printed money, so getting him was a major coup. John Williams doing the score? No mercy, whatsoever. This movie was out for blood and bone.

And then there's Steve Kloves, who…The Fabulous Baker Boys, huh? Well, don't be sad, we'll always have meatloaf.

In just over two and a half hours, Columbus and Kloves conspired to fill the screen with as much of Rowling's book as possible, omitting and changing very little. Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone, depending on location) was released in theaters just as book #4 debuted in bookstores. It was then as it is now, a light-hearted (airy), cute (cutesy) adaptation of an above-average children's book.

In speaking of the actors, I speak first of the worst. Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw play the Dursleys, a Muggle couple who treat their nephew almost as well as Verizon treats their customers. Both actors are so over the top, it's impossible for me to take much joy in how much I detest their characters. Even their comeuppance(s) will just leave me frustrated somehow, like punching a couch cushion.

Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, oh how I would have loved Brian Blessed in the role, but Coltrane really nails the character's essence: lovable, big-hearted to a fault, definitely one of those types who is far more affected by the death of a single animal than of fifty people.

Richard Harris was in failing health, and while some viewers might find his Dumbledore underwhelming as a result of this unfortunate fact, I always preferred my Headmaster gentle and soft-spoken. So I'm all about Richard Harris.

Someone else I'm also all about? Maggie Smith, who blesses our lives as Minerva McGonagall, half-cat half-amazin'. There might be a parallel universe where Maggie Smith's acting career is interchangeable with that of Pia Zadora, but thankfully we are not living in that universe. I would listen to the woman recite the answers of a True-False Quiz.

Very few people knew back then knew the true role of Severus Snape, but considerably more suspected Alan Rickman would steal his fair share of scenes, if not entire films. Rickman in the first Potter is just getting started.

Then we have the kids, the child actors. Lucky them, poor them. Eyes of the world, hundreds of millions of dollars. Daniel Radcliffe did not have to be anything in the lead role but passable. Don't be rigid and don't mumble, I mean it won't land ya a BAFTA but Harrison Ford's never won one, so who cares. Despite a few physical issues (ahem), Radcliffe made for an adorable little savior, kinda like a Funko figure but you can't keep him in the box 'cause there's laws against that.

You couldn't keep li'l Rupert Grint in a box; he'd eat his way out. If the sight of him double-fisting chicken legs didn't make you a Ron Weasley fan, I dunno what to say. What about getting a concussion during a chess match? Come on!

The responsibility of embodying my personal favorite character from the book went to Emma "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" Watson. Oh, little Emma. So much I'd like to tell you, much of it having nothing to do with Harry Potter or indeed, with acting. Of the main trio, Emma was the biggest fan of the books (and of books in general, a passion that persists to this day) and the internal pressure to do justice to the brilliant little witch is evident on her face in almost every scene she's in. 

Despicable mite Draco Malfoy was the role Tom Felton was born to play, since I can recall him in legitimately nothing else before or since. Every time I see this smug prick in a flick, I want to knock him out, roll his body up in a carpet and throw the carpet off a bridge.

Imagine if Steven Spielberg had landed the gig…okay ,now stop. He wanted to turn Philosopher's Stone into an animated film with Haley Joel Osmont voicing Harry. Better you should imagine what Return of the Jedi could have been.

Even a negative review would have to admit the movie looks gorgeous. The special effects fails are few, and John Williams' score (which earned him his 41st Oscar nod) never gets old. What you expect is what you get--puppets on strings racing across rooms, peeking around corners. There is one truly timeless piece, "Hedwig's Theme," a beautiful bit of music that is synonymous with the very name "Harry Potter," while simultaneously sounding like the backdrop to the best Super Nintendo game that never was.

(And it ain't even a top 5 JW score. Magic is cool, but space is cooler.)

This is absolutely a kiddie movie. It has occasional issues with pacing, editing and tone. But damn if I don't want to immerse myself into the world it portrays, every time.



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
Any person who prefers any Harry Potter movie to its source novel is the sort of person who could screw up a ham on white.

The preposterous feasts in the Great Hall are amazing; seeing good food will always beat out imagining good food. But take a moment like the revelation that there's a dungeon troll on the loose. Quirrell's announcement is a fucking meme. In the book, it's still amusing, but otherwise drastically different. Subtlety, you're so much more than just my favorite word with a silent "B."

Let's pick some nits. Or rather I'll pick some nits, you sit back and say, "That's some mighty fine nit-pickin', girl."

Book Harry's eyes are green, while Daniel Radcliffe's are blue. Colored contact lenses were tried out, to the irritation of the young boy's peepers. Rowling OK'ed the color change, for a reason that rhymes with "five hot honey ditches." Hermione's large front teeth don't make the transition either, since little Emma couldn't handle prosthetic chompers.

Ron Weasley, book version, is a tall, gangly, freckled redhead. Rupert Grint is, well, a redhead.

Finally, Rowling's Snape is a greasy-haired, hook-nosed man with diabolical facial growth. Alan Rickman is a dashing gentleman with a voice made out of caramel and sex. This is gonna become a problem in the future, huh, movie?

No Peeves? No problem at all. I guess it's the fact I'm an 80s Baby, but I don't need no poltergeist hanging around.

MIND THE GAP
Snakes can't wink.

Magic has few limitations, so to make for plausible action, Rowling shows wizards and witches being quite incompetent quite a lot.

Even people who've never read a book or watched a movie with the name "Harry Potter" in it have taken a Sorting Quiz. Hufflepuffers are loyal and friendly, Gryffindorians are brave and passionate, Ravenclawses are intellectual and curious, and Slytherinians are cunning and ambitious. Each house contains eggs both good and bad, but students from other houses quick to demean Slytherin for being narrow-minded and prejudiced are perhaps the most unsuitable for consumption.

Quidditch is a game clearly invented by someone who cares not a single whit about sport. Each goal scored is worth ten points, and the match ends when the Seeker catches the Golden Snitch. Catching the Snitch is worth 150 points, meaning that a team can wind up with it, yet lose. That's…dumb.

Rowling has been accused of fat shaming, or even (and this is apparently a thing) "nuclear family shaming" via her portrayal of the Dursleys. How silly. The lesson here is clear, and it's not "hetero families are bad," but rather, "a person can go far with love and support." So try don't be a bitter, selfish, grudge-carrying schmuck to your sister's kid, Petunia.

(You want intolerance, just check the Gringotts goblins. They're worse than the friggin' Ferengi in Star Trek.)

McGonagall says "sorted," I hear "salted." Then I wonder how wizards make pretzels.

"Before we begin...I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Oddiment! Tweak!" 
     
The above is an example of what writers do when we want to masturbate but really, really need to keep writing.)


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Better In Your Head?--WISE BLOOD

1952
Flannery O'Connor


"You don't have to believe nothing you don't understand and approve of. If you don't understand it, it ain't true and that's all there is to it."

SPOILER ALERT, greatest novel ever written.

Hazel Moats is a forcefully spiteful child of God who seeks to squat and drop in every room of his Dad's house. Time on the battlefield turned him atheist, which probably wouldn't have surprised his traveling preacher grandfather. Hazel can't ask the man, though, or any other family member for that matter. Each and every one has gone on, below and beyond, sending Hazel into a spiral of desire and dislocation. He boards a train to some other godforsaken open air tomb in Tennessee, eventually winding up at an address he spotted on a bathroom stall.

Everywhere Hazel wanders he's mistaken for a preacher, what with his twelve-dollar suit and sharp black hat, not to mention the invisible heritage. A harsh encounter with a blind, scarred preacher name of Asa Hawks (and his young companion, Sabbath Lily) inspires Moats to create "The Church of Christ Without Christ," a sort of "empirical truth strikes back" that denies sin and redemption, and thus, Christ. A church "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way" proves a hard sell; people have since time immemorial sought what is established and reassuring, taught from young to equate curiosity with death.

Possibly the only person Hazel's sermonizing has a genuine effect on is eighteen-year-old Enoch Emery, a toiler at the local zoo who escaped an abusive home only to find a town full of grumpy and distant folk wary of making connections. Their loss; Enoch boasts "wise blood," the innate, worldly knowledge on how to live, no spiritual endeavor required.

Hazel shows up at the zoo, curious to learn where the blind preacher resides, which further convinces Enoch that something huge is about to go down. He leads Hazel to a museum, wherein underneath some glass lies a shrunken mummy. Far from riveted, Hazel takes it upon himself to locate the preacher and his companion, at a place that just happens to have a vacancy.

Eager to prove himself an extraordinary blasphemer, Hazel takes to the town square, standing on the hood of his car, shouting at righteous Christians who will say and do whatever necessary to prove the breadth of their righteousness. A con man's attempt to butter Hazel's biscuit goes left, and soon he faces competition in the form of another preacher in a dark suit and hat shouting unconventional antireligious thought from the hood of a car. Asa Hawks turns out a deceitful SOB, too, and he skips town, leaving behind Sabbath. She convinces Hazel that a man could do worse things than put a banana in her fruit salad, but theirs is a doomed union.

When Enoch heard Hazel announce the need for "a new jesus" in order to advance the COCWC to further glory, his vital tubing began pulsing with incomprehensible purpose. He--and only he, Enoch Emery--can and will deliver unto the Church what it demands. He shows up at Hazel's door with the bundled "new jesus," which Sabbath takes to the bathroom for further inspection. It's the shrunken mummy from the museum. Since she's a three-fourths fuck-up like everyone else in the novel, Sabbath finds its shriveled face "right cute" and decides it would be funny to show Hazel their new "baby." The sight through his mother's prescription glasses--of an unholy Madonna and child--disgusts the ailing man, and he destroys the faux-child.

Enoch follows up his monumental act of bravery by exacting revenge on a guy in a gorilla suit that told him to go to hell. Hazel follows up his stupendous act of violence against slapdash religious imagery by hunting down the fraudulent street preacher, a father of six named Solace Layfield, and running him over.

God'll get his, though; when an asshole cop makes Hazel drive his junker to the top of an embankment, get out, and watch as he pushes it over, that's the hand of the Lord right there.

The grandson of a preacher man, the boy without a family, the fanatical truth seeker, the leader with no followers, begins the long walk back home. He will succeed where Asa Hawks failed. With a bucket of water and quicklime, Hazel Moats blinds himself.

Soon it is only he and the landlady, Mrs. Flood, living at the house. She can't grasp why anyone would blind themselves. She herself would just end her life rather than intentionally worsen it. He's hiding something, but what? Why? If she can't solve any of the mysteries, she can at least marry Hazel, collect his government checks and commit his crazy ass. But then, since she's three-fourths a fuck-up like everyone else in the novel, she develops deeper feelings.

The love of another human being means as much to Hazel as a grappling hook to a seal. He is no longer in denial about his sinful nature, and is embracing the spiritually restorative properties of self-harm. He wants nothing more or less than to be left alone to continue on his path.
.
Mrs. Flood is unable to let him alone. She offers Hazel her friendship. He walks off. What kind of a man, she wonders. The cops bring Hazel back after two days, unaware that he has died during the drive from the drainage ditch where they found him.

The book's concluding paragraphs must be read to be believed.

Though arguably more celebrated for her short stories, Flannery O'Connor also wrote two novels in her thirty-nine years: Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. Both recount the quirky, unsettling experiences of spiritual misfits who obsess over earthly suffering and the promise of redemption. No one from any part of the world, in any era, has ever written more brilliantly on the topic of religion. O'Connor wrote so boldly, so honesty, she could make absolutist assholery seem a lovely trait. Reading her work is the moment of biting into what you think is a plain donut only to discover that it is, in fact, filled with jelly. 

1979
Director-John Huston
Writer-Benedict Fitzgerald & Michael Fitzgerald


"You think he's dead?"

"Ask him."

Oh Jesus, hon.

A quarter of a century after Wise Blood left readers dazed, aspiring screenwriters Michael and Benedict Fitzgerald decided it was time to bring the iconoclastic tale of crackers gone crackers to the big screen. Who else but them? True, neither man had a credit to his name, but their father Robert held the title of literary executor for Flannery O'Connor's estate. Legendary director John Huston (no stranger to adapting beloved novels) agreed to helm the film if the Fitzgerald brothers could raise the budget. They did, so he did.

If you've read the book, you know the movie. Huston and the Fitzgeralds had no desire to reinvent he cheese wheel. Hazel Moates (Brad Dourif) is a 22-year-old Tennessean fresh from serving his country hitches a ride to his family's home, only to find it's been abandoned. He takes a train to another ugly little town to start the next phase of his life. "I'm gonna do something I ain't done before," he tells anyone who'll listen. (Like blink?) A meeting with a sightless street preacher named Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton), and his much younger female friend Sabbath Lily (Amy Wright) sets Hazel on the path to hubris and heresy. A local teen named Enoch Emery (Dan Shor) is instantly taken by the lanky man with the black hat and grey suit who walks like a scared rooster.

Hazel has little time to waste. He finds a temporary home with Leora Watts, a butterball of a whore (who probably blew golden infinity bubbles) and buys a junky ride. Followed by a patina of religiosity, Moats begins preaching the word of "The Church of Christ Without Christ." He moves into the same building as Asa Hawks and Sabbath Lily. A hell of a thing; a huckster calling himself Onnie Jay Holy (Ned Beatty) pops up and offers to help Hazel with "the religion business." He can work the crowd like a cowboy Dwayne Johnson and earn some scratch to boot. Hazel responds with his standard boorishness, and is then somehow taken aback when OJH makes good on his vow of revenge by interrupting one of Hazel's street sermons with a bootleg version of Moats himself.

Enoch is off getting humiliated by a fat guy dressed up in an ape costume--all he wanted was a Pepsi! Of the heart! His vow to provide Hazel's church with a suitable Christ figure goes much better, at least until said figure winds up smashed against a wall and hurled out onto the street.

A man with no family or friends is 98% more likely to run over a doppelganger with his car. LOOK IT UP.

The odds of the same man burning the sight out of his eyes are not available, thanks to insufficient data.

Hazel's landlady, Mrs. Flood, is a bit thrown by having a blind, cattle-hearted tenant who walks on rocks. She lays down the law: marry her and start acting like a halfway social beast, or skedaddle. So he skedaddles into the pouring rain, and after two days the cops find him lying in a ditch, alive and unwilling to move. By the time they deposit him at Mrs. Flood's doorstep, he's already home.

There's one reason to watch Wise Blood, and that's Brad Dourif. His clear-faced, fierce-eyed turn as Hazel Moats is just marvelous. It's worth enduring Dan Shor's gratingly dopey Enoch and a soundtrack better suited for The Apple Dumpling Gang.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
What we have here is a bit more than simply comparing book to movie; it's also comparing the devout Catholic who felt a blatant admiration for fundamentalist Protestants to the avowed atheist who wore no size love for Southerners.

As if that weren't enough, it's also comparing two titans in their respective arenas. With only two novels and thirty-two short stories to her credit, Flannery O'Connor is arguably the pound-for-pound, word-for-word greatest writer to ever work with the English language. John Huston's resume--director of thirty-seven films, writer or co-writer on twenty-seven films, and dozens of acting credits--combined with his reputation as the cerebral Hemingway of cinema qualifies him as one of the truly massive talents to ever work in the motional arts.

And maybe if Huston had written the screenplay for Wise Blood, the movie wouldn't have missed the target tonally.

A tremendous part of what makes O'Connor's work so extraordinary to this day is her grasp of the bizarrely comic. While the Fitzgerald bros seemed to understand that fine enough, they lacked the author's grave respect for the restorative power of sin. Walking away from Wise Blood--or much of her text--with one's distaste of religion more pungent than ever is not uncommon. Such a reaction is distinctly at odds, however, with what O'Connor herself believed: human beings are fallen, yet redeemable through God's grace. We may not deserve God's grace; in fact, you can take it to the notary public that we don't, given how frequently we submit to our most aggressive impulses, how rapidly we weaken under the influence of blandishments. Yet, grace is what we receive. Great tragedy--and comedy--lies in the ways grace visits the people in O'Connor's stories: sudden, bizarre, violent. She sought to shock by reminding readers that salvation must always be preceded by punishment.

Heady shit. So I'm not going to condemn Huston's film for falling short. But I'm not going to deny the ways in which it does.

First, the prioritizing of setting over character. Wise Blood was shot on location in Macon, GA, meaning it pretty much nailed the post-nuclear landscape hinted at in the text. Not that the characters are underdeveloped, just diluted.

Hazel Moats is a moissanite rod decorated with porcupine quills, a generally inept socializer who slightly atones by also being a snappy dresser, a young man with an old soul, who lurches around from one spot to the next. The reader sees him first on a train, weirding out a woman. The viewer sees him first in the uniform of a soldier. We assume he did the USA proud. We see him walk through the remains of his past. We assume he is heartbroken. Our own hearts go out to him, or at least, that's the aim. Having lost everything, his retreat into brazen self-denial makes sense.

Hazel in the novel is a piranha, whereas Brad Dourif plays him as more kin to a stingray with tail envy. I found his performance difficult to tear my eyes from; the very act of speaking seemed to stretch the bones underneath his skin.

Enoch is watered-down like "last call" beer, thanks to the omission of any scene from the book that revealed him as a peerless waitress-repulser. Huston wants us to see "ee bummings" as an endearingly child-like freak, instead of a creepy, insecure murderer. And what's with not including the scene where Enoch sticks his head into a cabinet? Just remembering it makes me snuckle. (That's snort-chuckle.) Or the colorblindness test described when Enoch stops by a soda fountain?

I recommend the film. It is, likely, the best result any fan of the book could ask for. Even though the playfulness lacks, the energy crackles, and Brad Dourif gives one of those perpetually overlooked performances.

MIND THE GAP 
Who's Hazel Moats anyway, thinking he can evade Christ? He'd sooner sidestep carbon dioxide. Christianity is an integral part of American society, a pervasive influence on everyday life, so that even someone who views the story of God as pure populace-placating myth cannot ever truly live free from it. I'm not saying religion is to blame for mental illness; I'm saying that religion is to blame for the grossly inadequate care available to the mentally ill.

Of all the killer lines in the book, this one resonates with me most lugubriously: "Where you are is no good unless you can get away from it."

Mrs. Flood is a wonderful example of so many Christians, now as then: parochial, avaricious, and unquestionably kind.

Still, how hard is it to respect a fellow human's wish? Hazel Moats simply wants to suffer for his salvation, and he's understandably resentful of intrusions and prejudgments from Mrs. Flood (who seems to believe that having access to his thoughts and feelings is her birthright).

Wise Blood was written and set in the 1950s South. Hence, the "n-word" is used repeatedly. If you are a reader unwilling and/or possibly unable to make concessions for context, avoid Wise Blood.

If you could become an angle, what angle would you become? Obtuse, for me. Being greater than while being also simultaneously lesser than is pretty much the story of me.

Odd-ass stories centering around religion are just part and parcel of hailing from the American South. Ask me about the cow and my brother's baby toe next time you see me (but not the first time you see me).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Better In Your Head?--THE NEW CENTURIONS

1971
Joseph Wambaugh


SPOILER ALERT, cops.

"...they know things, basic things about strength and weakness, courage and fear, good and evil, especially good and evil."

Jeezcram but do I love Joseph Wambaugh. Ten years on the Los Angeles Police Department and he decides America's bookshelves are overdue for an authentic depiction of pavement-pounding cop life. He was absolutely correct, and in 1971 the first of his (so far) sixteen novels appeared. In what would become a trend, the book shot up the New York Times Bestseller List and garnered a plethora of praise from literary critics of varying size and influence. Beyond the miseries and delights of maintaining the peace, Wambaugh exposed the banalities of law and order, bestowing a misunderstood profession with a brutish dignity foreign to readers of the era. His first three novels are absolutely essential in any crime fiction lovers library (especially The Choirboys, which kicked off this review series).

The New Centurions follows three cops from their time at the police academy in the summer of 1960 to their participation in the Watts Riots of 1965.

Sergio Duran is a fair-featured Chicano who downplays his ethnicity. This tactic plays out as well as the first time I ever tried cooking on a gas stove.

Roy Fehler is a vain college boy whose "hobby" is the object of scorn and ridicule from those closest to him. Compared to his fellow brothers in blue, Roy fancies himself intellectual and open-minded, sensitive to the plight of the Negro and just better than his big-bellied, epithet-spewing partner.

Last and (in his mind) least is Gus Plebesly, a slightly-built 22-year-old with a wife and three kids. He doubts his ability to excel on the street before he even sets foot one onto it, but he lucks out when he's assigned to share a patrol car with 20-year vet Andy Kilvinsky. A "radio car philosopher" with flawless instincts, he warns Gus of change on the horizon, a societal shift that will present an unprecedented challenge to the keepers of the relative peace.

Readers get to know these men on and off their beats. Serge coasts until he falls in love with a young Mexican waitress (their moments together are alternately tender and cornball; Wambaugh never has written romance very effectively). Roy gets a divorce, a shotgun blast to the stomach, and a drinking problem that earns him a suspension. Then he too falls in love, with a black woman named Laura.

Then there's Gus. Oh Gus. He spent all that time worried about making a good cop when he should have worried about making a good husband, father, and chooser of role models. Andy Kilvinsky out of uniform is a lost, lonely man. He knew how to be one thing and one thing only. His post-retirement fate is less sad for being so shamefully predictable.

The three men find themselves together in the same patrol car after the Watts Riots, catching up and making plans to reconnect. Each of them are basically happy with the men they've become, and there's nothing like surviving flying bricks, bombs and bullets.

But if you expect a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention.

The New Centurions is plotless and timeless. The story is three stories, each stressing the importance of the little things: sufficient suspect descriptions, proper handing of evidence, etc. Gunfights and high-speed chases are more rare in the average cop's career than Hollywood leads us to believe, which is what made Wambaugh's stuff so refreshing.

Being a debut novel, there is a barrage of digression, but a bit of the old superfluous reminiscence never hurt anyone. Faint genius is evident throughout, and things would only get better



1972
Director-Richard Fleischer
Writer-Sterling Silliphant


"Laws change, people don't."

Hollywood didn't wait to bring Wambaugh's cops to the big screen, resulting in a loosely based adaptation that...wait...loosely based…loosely based….Lucy Bates? I really hafta watch some Season 3 Hill Street Blues after this review's finished.

Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach), Gus Plebesly (Scott Wilson) and Serge Duran (Erik Estrada) are still here, but whereas each man was given essentially equal time to shine within the covers, the frames didn't play fair. The movie version of The New Centurions is basically the Roy Story. It's he fortunate enough to learn at the hip of 23-year vet Andy Kilvinski (George C. Scott, whose performance justifies the entire production), while Gus is saddled with affable fat-ass Whitey (Clifton James, in a rare non-Sheriff role).

Roy is also the only character given a life outside of the job, specifically a wife (played by a popsicle-smuggling Jane Alexander) who resents his decision to drop out of law school and pursue a policing career. She's pushed over the edge when he refuses to quit the force even after stopping a bullet with his solar plexus.

Gus accidentally shoots and kills a robbery victim (done so much better on Hill Street Blues, incidentally), a harrowing event which is never referred to afterwards.

Serge is angry at being transferred to East L.A. And that's pretty much the extent of what he does.

Anyway, back to Roy! He's so handsome and clever. And he actually undergoes character development, or at least I think that's what the mustache signifies. When Andy Kilvinski takes a break from retirement to visit the old stomping grounds, he regales his old partner not with stories of children and grandchildren, or time spent on a fishing boat with a name that gives away the owner's former profession, choosing rather to pontificate on the country's inevasible hurtle towards anarchy. Vices will one by one become, well, not virtues, but simply no longer vices. Society will grow more and more lenient. Excuses and explanations will become preferable to punishments and penalties. The cop--the new centurion--is under siege. He can do little but what he's been trained to do, even as he frets for the future.

The retired cop? Eats his gun.

Roy responds to life's vagaries by sneaking booze breaks on the beat, which nearly costs him life when he picks the wrong prostitute to roust. The resulting suspension gives him ample time to pursue a relationship with a sweet, pretty black woman named Lorrie. Lorrie provides common sense and uncommon compassion, and gradually, Roy begins to pick up the pieces.

With eleven minutes of movie left, the call finally comes in: a "major 415," which is CA cop code for a riot. I blame the 90s for failing to feel impressed.

Well, you know the old trope. Survive a riot, die on the steps of some tacky apartment complex. Congrats Roy, all that character development for nuthin'.

So what we have here is a TV movie with a feature film budget. A solid slate of performances and a moderately funky Quincy Jones soundtrack doesn't cover for the insipidity of the script. This is a facile, haphazard misunderstanding of a great novel and things would only get worse.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
Well, let's see…one is a a vivid series of glimpses into a world either much-maligned or exaggeratedly venerated and the other one is oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having two Oscar winners at the reins only compounds the disappointment I feel. Blowing the ending--a conclusion which left both Roy and myself in the same position, prone from a blast to the midsection, gaping in disbelief--was just the blood clot on top.

I understand the need to focus on just the one character, and who better than the only tragic figure of the three. From bookish, arrogant pest to bitter, arrogant alcoholic, he loses nearly everything before getting a second chance, only to die after making peace with his demons.

This creative decision relegates Serge and Gus, who become moons of Planet Fehler, so forget about seeing Gus's vaunted athleticism or Serge's illuminating inner conflicts (Erik Estrada will never ever be mistaken for a white guy, and he speaks fluent Spanish). The script not only transfers Gus's partner to Roy, but also the near-deadly joyride on a hooker's vehicle.

Fleischer and Silliphant were more concerned with events than people, prioritizing action over emotion. Scott Wilson (who I loved in In Cold Blood) blows the aftermath of his character's big moment by underplaying every second. He's a rookie, he's in shock, okay, but he doesn't say anything. I don't know how I'd react were I too shoot anyone, much less an innocent person, but the odds are strong that I would fucking say something. But not Gus Plebesly. Not a peep in his own defense, no words of comfort for the man's distraught son, just staring, until finally Gus hyperventilates a safe distance from the scene.

MIND THE GAP
Andy Kilvinksy states, "Police work is seventy percent common sense." Which explains quite a bit. Indeed, when you remember the adage, "Common sense is not so common, " it's impossible to react to police misbehaviors with anything resembling surprise. Police brutality is many things, in many scenarios: reprehensible, commendable, unfortunate, inevitable. Rarely is it unfathomable. Cops rarely come across the best of us, or us at our best. It's part of the job description. (Lest you think me an apologist, I readily admit that many police officers themselves are not among the best of us, and this is both more troublesome and socially injurious.)

"Niggers are driving me crazy. Sometimes I think I'll kill one someday when he does what that bastard in the tow truck did." Yeah, that quote didn't make the movie. But a remake of The New Centurions would be incomplete without it.

The frequent thought that I'd rather be watching Hill Street Blues was not shooed away by the brief appearance of James B. Sikking as a vice squad supervisor. He was even smoking a pipe!

George C. Scott is one of the few genuinely great actors to appear in a Wambaugh adaptation. (If The Blue Knight had been saved from TV hell and given its day in theaters, he would have made an excellent Bumper Morgan.) Hearing him tell a hooker, "Baby, I gots more soul than I can control," is everything right with the world.

"Scotch and milk is the best muthafuckin' drink in the world." I'd sooner sip Schlitz and vinegar.

It's pretty awesome when Roy shows up to Vice, the department where cops dress like "the public." Meaning, red leather jackets, wide-collared shirts, and hair mama hair.