Harry Potter (The Angsty Years)

When I came home  for Thanksgiving 2013, my godparents surprised me with tickets to Potted Potter, a live show that condenses all seven Harry Potter books into 70 minutes. They had front-row seats and they wanted me to go with my sister and my godsiblings.

Halfway through the show, the actors asked for two volunteers for a game of Quidditch. I raised my hand, and my siblings of various relation all pointed at me and shouted. The actors picked me and another young boy to come on stage. The audience was divided into Slytherin and Griffyndor with each of us representing them in the game. I was placed on the Slytherin team (and rightly so!) while the kid was placed on Gryffindor. We were instructed to keep an eye out in the audience for the Golden Snitch. Finally we turned around and realized that one of the actors had put on a giant Snitch costume. The Gryffindor kid had no issues tackling the Snitch guy to the ground, whereas I was afraid of hurting the actor. The kid won a Cadbury egg, and the Slytherin side of the audience was going to be punished with a Nerf gun (I think?) unless I agreed to be sprayed with water on their behalf. I nobly agreed to take one for the team, but the actor was like “no” and gave me a Cadbury egg and had me sit down while he shot water guns at the audience.

This really has nothing to do with a critical analysis of Harry Potter, but that moment was one of the last times I really let myself enjoy the series before growing older and moving on. It’s one of my favorite memories – maybe I’d even use it for a Patronus Charm? Continue reading

Harry Potter (The Darker Years)

My godfather likes to joke that late at night, I put away whatever monogrammed outfit I’m wearing and take out my Harry Potter costume and walk around my room in it and cry.

First of all, I don’t own a Harry Potter costume, and secondly, why would I scare my roommates like that? Regardless, it’s a pretty good indicator how things have changed from then (forcing my godsiblings to watch Prisoner of Azkaban) and now (wearing a Wes Anderson t-shirt and not studying for my public relations midterm).

We had a great discussion in class about the nature of magic and power vs. greatness and the deconstruction of the House system (Me: “People don’t mind aligning themselves with organizations based on stereotypes, like have you ever looked at the Greek life system?” My professor: “I try not to.”) It was life-affirming, in a sense. One of the questions on my university application asked if I could create and teach any class, what would it be called and why? I said something like, “Mythology and Magic in Harry Potter.” And now here I am, learning about Harry Potter in nearly the exact same way I would have constructed my fake class.

We’re spending the next class almost entirely on Prisoner of Azkaban with a splash of Goblet of Fire, so here we go. Continue reading

Harry Potter (The Innocent Years)

Welcome to two weeks of studying Harry Potter for my fantasy films class. Now playing: my identity crisis.

There was once a point in my life where Harry Potter mattered so much to me that I cried more happy tears about getting sorted into Slytherin on Pottermore than I did about getting into my dream college. I made my own butterbeer in the winter. I read Harry Potter fanfiction. I started my own Harry Potter club in high school. I was a nerd girl and everyone knew it.

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Then I went to college. I made another good go of it at being a nerd girl, but a lot of Life happened during my freshman year, and I’m not saying that I had a complete personality transplant, but there are now a lot more Greek letters in my life than my 15-year-old self would have anticipated. A lot of things made the transition with me, but Harry Potter was one of those things that stayed firmly with my Ghosts of Nerd Girl Past. I used to pick up a Harry Potter book every six months. I haven’t touched one in three years. I used to sit through Harry Potter Weekend. Now I change the channel. A college friend once asked me to come to Harry Potter trivia night with her and then paused, asking, “Wait, have you even seen Harry Potter?” The Ghosts came spilling out; I admitted that I’d read every book at least four times and seen every movie just as much. I stayed away from trivia, though, and I wasn’t bummed about missing it.

So it is with obvious trepidation that I’m looking upon my fantasy films syllabus for the next two weeks. Eight films, 14 days, and 21 years of memories are waiting to knock me in the head. “Remember when you pretended that Harry and Ron were your imaginary friends, walking around your house in an Invisibility Cloak?” No, Ghosts, I’d rather not.

But for the sake of my grade, I will.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

sorcerer's stone

So here’s how this is going to go: I’m going to watch each movie, share one Harry Potter-related memory, and then attempt to look critically at the film while also not completely nerding out.

Memory: We were supposed to read Sorcerer’s Stone in my second grade class, but too many parents complained (I went to private school). Some time later, I was staying with my Nana for the weekend and convinced her to let me rent Sorcerer’s Stone from Blockbuster. I don’t remember much from that viewing, but I clearly fell in love because she went out and found me my own copy of the book. I was hooked.

My Evangelical Christian neighbors soon found out that I was reading Harry Potter and warned me against the “evils” of the series. In response, I would go read the books in their front yard and taunt their children. There’s a reason I was sorted into Slytherin.

Thoughts: My professor warned us that we would probably find the visual effects in this movie to be incredibly amateurish now, but honestly? Even the worst CGI in this movie is still better than the best CGI in Twilight. This movie was an incredible technical feat for 2001, and a lot of it still holds up today.

You know what doesn’t hold up, though? The length. I understand why it’s 2.5 hours, and I’m not saying I don’t want kick-ass Quidditch scenes or that I want them to cut out characters that are later important in the fifth movie. But it takes a hell of a lot of time for them to world-build and then a hell of a lot of time for them to establish the conflict. Now that we know series like Game of Thrones can be done well, I found myself wishing for an HBO Harry Potter series – we’d get through so much more of the actual book without weighing everything down on-screen.

I’m betting that we’ll talk about how hokey this movie is at times in class, but I think it’s unfair to ask Chris Columbus for a Godfather-level adaptation – he’s the guy who wrote The Goonies, after all.

As for me returning to Harry, it’s weird. I still know every line to this movie, right down to the actor’s inflection and tone, but I don’t feel too sentimental about it. It’s going to take a lot more than a John Williams and Daniel Radcliffe’s baby face to break me down.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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Memory: This was the first Harry Potter movie I saw in theaters. My parents very graciously accompanied me to the movies. My dad was not happy about the basilisk subplot – he has a fear of snakes. When the movie ended, I remember yelling at the screen, “That’s not the actual end! There’s more after Hagrid coming back!” That being said…

Thoughts: …I finally got sentimental here:

As sweet as the ending is, it doesn’t change the fact that this is the longest Harry Potter movie and I probably won’t forgive Chris Columbus anytime soon for dragging me through two hours and 41 minutes. I feel conflicted once again about the length. While less world-building needs to be done in this film, a lot of series-important plot points have to be introduced and it’s hard to power through them in a timely manner. Given that they cut out quite a bit from what I remember from the book, I won’t slam them too hard for being so literal this time around.

Y’ALL – I left the credits rolling in another tab while I started typing this and there’s an after credits scene! I had no idea!

Anyway, I feel like this is the film where Columbus’s directing style clashed the most with the tone of the book. Light and bright worked well for the first film, where Harry is at his most innocent and full of wonder. But in this film, Harry is bouncing back from an attempt on his life. Both Ron and Hermione are facing prejudice and bigotry, some of them for the very first time. Ginny is being possessed, a giant snake is slithering around the school, and no one can be bothered to seem the least bit worried about it. The darkness that the characters are facing should be somewhat reflected in the filmmaking (it would certainly prepare us more for the stylistic jump made in Prisoner of Azkaban), but we could be watching Mrs. Doubtfire for all that the cinematography and editing are willing to give us.

Regardless, I’m still impressed that the cast and crew pulled off these movies and did it in such a technically stunning manner. These movies could have so easily crashed and burned like Eragon or Percy Jackson, but when I see that CGI Hogwarts, I believe it.

I was watching the beginning of Chamber of Secrets with my mother today, and at the moment Harry opens his scrapbook from Hagrid, she commented on how sad it must be to not be loved.

As Harry turned the page from a picture of his parents to a picture of Ron and Hermione, I reminded her that Harry is still quite loved by his friends. “You’re right,” she said. “He found his family.” Her comment tugged very violently at a heartstring I forgot was there. Maybe nerd girl selves don’t need to be banished?

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend if she had heard about the new Harry Potter club on campus. My friend replied, “That’s cute.” It was condescending enough that felt that attending a meeting might not be celebrated in the way I had hoped. So the jury’s still out on whether nerd girl selves are allowed to play around here, but we’ve still got six more movies to watch. I’ll keep you posted.

Now and Then vs Stand By Me

If you’ve known me or this blog for even a short amount of time, you’ve probably figured out that I really, really love coming of age films. Why? My childhood and adolescence were perfectly fine, but there were significantly less bike rides, young romance, train tracks, and reckless abandon than I had come to expect. So I live out my dream childhood in the worlds of Spielberg and Reiner and Anderson, and everyone else regrets ever asking me what my favorite type of movie is.

This semester, though, I got lucky and was allowed to create my own independent study focusing on coming of age films. In my study, I’m trying to come to a conclusion about representation of young women in this genre. Each week, I’ll watch two films, one male-centric, one female-centric, and compare and contrast their overlapping themes and topics.

I guess this week’s topic is dead bodies because we’re starting off with Now and Then (1995) and Stand By Me (1986). Once again, if you know me, you know that Stand By Me is one of my top three favorite films. Now and Then is more of a guilty pleasure. Let’s do this. Continue reading

Liveblog: The Wizard of Oz

The first film scribbled down in my homework agenda for this week is The Wizard of Oz, and honestly, I’m nervous. Oz is the first film I remember consciously seeing. The first four years of my life revolved around Oz, from birthdays to Halloweens. My mom tells me that I even slept with a little pair of red shoes at night. My dad took me to see the re-release of it when I was barely old enough to sit in a movie theater chair.

Me as Dorothy on the left, a sister-sized Teletubby on the right.

Me as Dorothy on the left, a sister-sized Teletubby on the right.

But I haven’t seen it straight through in at least 15 years, and my eyes are already ready to launch a thousand nostalgia-tinged tears at the mere thought of this film. Can I hold it together for an hour and 40 minutes? Let’s find out. Continue reading

A Semester of Film Studies

The fall is to film as Advil is to a headache. The noisy blockbusters of summer fade away, and we’re left with subtle, thoughtful dramas to consider, many of which may make it to Oscar or Golden Globes night. For the past three years, though, the fall has meant more than a fresh crop of awards season bait for me – it also means two to three new syllabi full of movies I need to know as a film studies minor.

I love to talk about movies in both academic and contemporary settings, obviously. But as the months go by and I move further and further into a career that’s going to be more PR-based than film-based, I find it harder to talk about recent releases. What do I have to say about The End of the Tour or Straight Outta Compton that a dozen critics haven’t already said? (I loved both of those movies fiercely, by the way.)

I do know that I have things to say about the films on my syllabi, though – and I need to say them in order to get participation credit. So instead of guiding you through the fall films of 2015, I’ll be taking you through roughly 40 films that you maybe haven’t thought about in 5, 10, 50 years. It’s a mixture of fantasy films and coming-of-age movies (I’ve been extraordinarily blessed in my class options this year). Some are going to make me laugh, and others are going to make me cry like the sentimental sap that I am. I’m just glad I get to talk about them.

Up first: The Wizard of Oz, Stand By Me, and Now and Then.

What Should I See This Weekend? (June 26)

I hate to knock it, but sometimes movie reviews are too damn long. When a movie gets released, all I really want to know is what it’s about and whether or not it’s worth seeing. I want to quickly survey my options without finding out the whole plot in the process – and in my opinion, it’s more fun to read a critic’s thoughts on a film after I’ve seen the movie as well. So in the spirit of catering to short attention spans like my own, I present the first installment of What Should I See This Weekend? For the casual moviegoer who hasn’t been to a theater in a while, I would suggest checking out Popcorn Flicks. If you’re looking for something other than a big blockbuster, though, please refer to Making You Cry or Festival Favorites. I don’t claim to be an expert on what’s best to see, but I have seen every movie that’s currently playing at your local multiplex, so I know how to streamline your options.

Popcorn Flicks

Jurassic World

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The fourth installment in the Jurassic Park series poses the question of what would have happened had Jurassic Park succeeded (answer: Corporate America would have taken over everything). But did we really want to ask ourselves that question in the first place? Given that World is missing Spielberg’s sentimental touch, John Williams’s swelling score, and Stan Winston’s masterful effects, I don’t think we did. But World still has a spark of the original Park’s fire, and that combined with Chris Pratt and a few kick-ass velociraptors would have me seeing it a second time.

San Andreas

Imagine a movie that combines the most ridiculous and action-packed scenes of Titanic, The Day After Tomorrow, Hereafter, and 2012. That’s San Andreas. It’s entertaining as hell.

Making You Cry (In a Good Way)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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I’m biased when it comes to the coming-of-age genre, but Me and Earl has a heart to it that I haven’t seen in recent adolescent dramas. The film has a surprisingly refreshing take on the cancer kid trope, and while it definitely resembles other coming-of-age classics in tone, it’s able to take from them without ever being derivative. The kids are genuine, the visuals are striking, and the script packs a delightfully funny punch. Treasure this movie—just pack some Kleenex before you leave for the theater. Read my full review here.

Inside Out

I can still remember the moment when the world got a little dark and my tone suddenly had a bite to it and every interaction I had ended in either a snarky remark or tears. Inside Out shows us this sudden leap to angsty adolescence from inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, whose feelings of Anger, Disgust, and Fear take command of her personality when Joy and Sadness go missing. Inside Out is a visual tour de force backed by Pixar’s good pedigree and the combined vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith. You’ll laugh or you’ll cry—maybe even both, depending on where your own Joy and Sadness stand.

Festival Favorites

Dope

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After years of being written off as a geek to be picked on at his Inglewood high school, Malcolm finally has a chance to prove himself. A chance invitation to a drug dealer’s birthday party ends up with Malcolm coming home with a backpack full of molly, which he’s forced to sell while also dealing with typical teenage things like avoiding the Bloods and applying to Harvard. Go for A$AP Rocky, stay for the film’s incredibly talented cast of up-and-comers and its thoughtful look at race.

Love & Mercy

If you looked into our collective conscious, I’d argue that the Beach Boys are prominently featured. But while we’re used to hearing their summery sound in film and on the radio, we don’t really know them, not in the prying way we know about the lives of so many current musicians. Love & Mercy lets us get to know Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson at his worst. Paul Dano and John Cusack play Brian at different stages of his life while Elizabeth Banks plays Melinda Ledbetter, the woman who gets them both out of psychiatric hell. They each deliver heartbreaking, yet affirming performances in an incredibly moving film that makes me a little more grateful that Brian Wilson’s incredible genius is still around.

As far as new openings go, I’m personally looking to see either The Testament of Youth (because I love period pieces) or Max (because I’m a sucker for dog movies) this weekend. You will not, however, find me at Ted 2.