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Friday, April 28, 2017

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Another Harry Potter book read and one more to go!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was another spell-binding read which has left me with an even greater thirst for more.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

From Harry inadvertently using Proffesor Snape's old potions book to Dumbledore's seemingly foolish and wasted death for a fake locket. Learning more about Lord Voldemort through Dumbledore's pensieve was intriguing, as well as getting to the 'crux' of the matter with Voldemort's horcruxes.

The artwork on the book covers continues to impress me. The illustrations were done by a Jonny Duddle, and I was fascinated to learn of how he prepared and undertook the illustrative work. Take a look at this news article about Jonny Duddle and this collection of Harry Potter book cover illustrations as they progressed from original sketches to front cover publications. And here is a video of the illustrator, Jonny Duddle briefly explaining how he produces his artwork.

Hope you enjoy those links. I have started book 7 already and can't get enough of it!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beauty and the Beast - the movie review



Beauty and the Beast - the movie was much anticipated, particularly here in Malaysia after the ridiculous short-lived ban for a scene purported to be 'gay' but which in fact showed no more than a few men singing and dancing jovially.

Despite my eagerness to see the movie, I left the theatre hall happy for my children, but a little disappointed for myself.

I personally gave the movie a very generous 7/10, not because I don't like the story Beauty and the Beast, but for a few reasons which I'll discuss below. 


Firstly, I just don't think the acting was too great. Particularly from the two lead characters, Belle and Gaston. Emma Watson and Luke Evans were definitely the right picks for the roles but they seemed limited in their acting capabilities of Belle and Gaston. They just didn't get fully into their characters.

Emma Watson, as Belle, was simply not happy enough when she should have been elated

With the case of Belle, she just seemed too flat throughout the movie. There were not enough plateaus and valleys, not enough emotion and genuine feeling. Her reactions didn't match up with the events.

In the scene when the Beast had her father locked up and Belle was trying to negotiate his release, she remarkably failed to show the kind of fear, heartache and confusion that such a situation would warrant. It all seemed to pass by in a rush.

It was almost as if the movie producers placed more emphasis on rifling through the story line over quality acting.

Emma Watson was a beautiful choice for Belle but she was simply not surprised enough when she should have been shocked; not sad enough when she should have been distraught; not happy enough when she should have been elated.

I just wasn't buying the acting.

There were moments where the characters were quite obviously trying to use the same lines from the cartoon while mixing them with their own new lines, which in some cases worked, but in others made the dialogue feel a little awkward and strange.

Gaston was perhaps played slightly better overall, but moments where the acting seemed terribly limp when he was trying to impress Belle and offer his hand in marriage at the beginning of the movie, for example, really made me wonder whether Luke Evans was truly imitating the cartoon Gaston, or playing a much more diluted version of Gaston.

However, it soon became apparent that the Gaston of the movie was a lot more lethal and horrible than in the cartoon. Punching Belle's father in the face, leaving him for dead in the forest for the wolves, and using a gun to shoot the beast three times, all gave him a steely, nasty appearance. I was left feeling immensely glad when the bridge he was standing on, crumbled, leaving Gaston to fall to his death.

Gaston (left) was a lot more lethal in the movie than in the cartoon

It was personally sad for me as I always liked Gaston in the cartoon - a little short of a few brain cells but patriotic in his desire to protect and defend his town and the villagers. It was a completely different Gaston in the movie.

Another curious development surrounded Belle's father. In the cartoon, he is clearly shown to be a somewhat crazy workman whose inventions invariably implode on him. In the movie, Gaston built his case against Belle's father that he was mentally challenged, but in the scene at the pub where he is eventually taken away by the asylum, Belle's father didn't come across as crazy at all. His testimony of the Beast was clear and coherent. In fact, he wasn't portrayed as being crazy in the slightest, throughout the movie. Fair enough, he lost his bearings leading Gaston through the forest, but who wouldn't?


It was not all doom and gloom however. I thought Lefou was the best of the human characters and played his role very well. Of the non-human characters, I was fascinated with the performance of Lumiere, the candlestick, which I thought was greater than in the cartoon. He was my favourite character by a mile which says something about the standard of the human actors/actresses.

Lumiere was a bright spark in the movie


I also enjoyed the little additions they made to the original story to give us a second opinion on the classic fairytale. 

The special effects were amazing. The castle and grounds looked stunning. The sets were fantastic. The wolves were frighteningly realistic. The Beast looked great. There was no problem on that front. The crowning moment was definitely the song "Be Our Guest," led by Lumiere. The glorious effects were astonishingly beautiful. It was the one 'WOW' moment of the entire movie.

The crowning moment was Lumiere leading us through the song "Be Our Guest"

As with any Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast is peppered with songs, most familiar favourites and some new ones. Now, Emma Watson, Luke Evans and Dan Stevens are not stellar singers but they did a good solid job with their vocals. I especially liked the addition of a new song sung by the Beast after he let Belle leave the castle and released her as his prisoner. I thought that was a great addition to better gauge his feelings on that extremely difficult moment for him.


CONCLUSION

While it will have impressed the casual observer and Disney-lover, I think that this production, while a good and worthwhile story that it is, is littered with flaws, and should serve as a quiet reminder that the lack of good acting is glaringly noticeable and cannot be overlooked in order to rush through a story line.

FINAL RATING

A very generous 7/10. Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and the brilliant effects saved it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest of the seven books, at 800 pages of absorbing reading.


You can notice from the picture that the title of the book has completely disappeared from months of reading!

It's not easy writing a long story (and reading one too!). There are a number of challenges involved which I picked up on while reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

* keeping each character unique to him/herself

* not allowing individual characters with specific traits and personalities to become too similar to each other

* maintaining a page-turning power to the story

* not giving chance for the reader to become bored mid-way through

* having a big enough story line with sufficient sub-plots

* connecting sub-plots to the main plot but not allowing sub-plots to become too lengthy and consuming the main plot

* knowing which significant circumstances/events/details to include and which irrelevant ones to omit

* getting the right balance between prose and dialogue

* everything must lead to the grand finale

* being able to transition neatly through time and smoothly switch to later time throughout the story


For all of these reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. For the first time, we read about real friction between Harry and Dumbledore which simmered through the novel and boiled over at the end. We also see Professor Dumbledore duel with Lord Voldemort, and cringe at the awfully irritating character of Dolores Umbridge in her brief and ignominious stint as High Inquisitor and Headmistress of Hogwarts. Harry also learns for the first time of his destiny as related to Voldemort. One of them must kill the other. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix represents a highly emotional and difficult time for Harry as he loses his only remaining living family member, Sirius Black, who was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange, in addition to coming to terms with the prophecy of his destiny. We are left with the impression that it can't really get any worse for Harry.

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