Friday, February 12, 2016

Inexplicable Movie Review: A Power Ranking of the First Four Harry Potter Films

I just started watching the Harry Potter films. They’re not bad! Man, why didn’t anyone ever tell me to watch these? You know, outside of everyone! Anywhere, here is my power ranking through four films. Spoilers abound, although apparently everyone has already watched these films.

4) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This flick is just way more scattered and not as interesting as the other movies. The biggest problem is the focus on the wizard tournament, which is an idea that has potential that goes wasted. Why not just have a tournament with representatives from each of the houses at Hogwarts? Instead, we get two other schools that surely will not be featured in future movies – the Stock Movie Amazons, and the Male Wrestlers. (I forget the actual names of the schools.)

This is the only one of the four movies that I just flat out didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t that good, and also, it wasn’t funny-bad, which we’ll get into when it comes to some of the other movies. It’s just steadily disappointing throughout, with a small uptick of interest thanks to the ending, which reestablishes Voldemort.

3 and 2) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which is narrowly behind Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Both of these movies are elevated above Goblet of Fire for two reasons. First, I think they’re more successful at their goal, which is essentially to provide fluffy kids entertainment. If I saw these flicks at age 10, I probably would have been hooked on the series, so it’s understandable to me why they had such a hold with the newspaper kids I advised for a couple years. (For comparison’s sake, I was 17 when the first movie came out, and it wasn’t ever really on my radar as a result.)

Secondly, these two movies are wonderful to watch as an adult because Emma Watson is going Full Shatner or Brian Blessed for these films. Her EMPHASIS is completely ALL OVER the place and IT IS WONDERFULLY entertaining to LISTEN TO. Unlike everything else, there doesn’t seem to be a good compilation of this on YouTube, otherwise I would have linked in a hella-second.

But oh yeah, the movies themselves… They’re decent little yarns for kids. Beyond the two things I already mentioned, I would also like to note that the first movie especially is VERY Home Alone. It makes sense, because Christopher Columbus directed that film and the first three Potter films. I think he did a serviceable job, but amusingly, I thought Steven Spielberg had the best quote about the series, after he allegedly passed on the directing job and said it was like “shooting ducks in a barrel. It’s just a slam dunk. It’s just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There’s no challenge.”

1) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Now this hits the sweet spot for me, as the kid actors have mostly matured out of their ridiculous overacting phase, and the plot features time travel and time loops. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a sucker for any good flick with time travel, and there should be way more movies that use time travel as a plot device.

It probably helps that Alfonso Cuaron took over as director. In terms of a film CV, it’s not often that a director of his quality takes on something like a Harry Potter series. They managed to get him at that perfect time, right before he totally blew up with sci-fi flicks like Children of Men and Gravity. Between the movie just seemingly being shot better, more of an effort was seemingly paid to developing the characters themselves, which makes sense, given their increasing age in the series. The plot is ultimately a tiny bit muddled – lot of balls in the air, after all – but it’s still capable to grasp in one viewing.

Stray observations:

- Best bit / minor character: The Sorting Hat.

- Alan Rickman (RIP) as Snape is surprisingly underutilized in these early movies. Because I’ve been on The Internets in the past couple years, I realize that he and Dumbledore are gonna have some shit go down, but still. He’s clearly the worst-applied actor of the first four movies.

- In contrast, the best of the “grown-up” actors in the early movies is Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. His comedic timing is spot-on, and he actually made me chuckle a few times, which is good for a movie that’s aimed at tweens. Most of the other humor consists of, “OH LOOK IT’S FUNNY, RON AND THAT BAD LUCK KID CAN’T DO MAGIC!”

- I would offer predictions for the movies I haven’t seen, but honestly, I’ve proofread so many reviews of the series for the aforementioned high school newspaper duties that many of the story elements have already bled into my subconscious. While watching these movies, I like to pepper my watching with commentary like, “That Dumbledore, he seems like a real pussy-hound!” and “Hermoine and Ron, they seem like they’d make a cute couple, but of course she’s totally going to end up with Harry, unless he marries Ron’s sister.”

- Also, I have absolutely no timetable for when I’m going to watch the last four movies of the series. It’s usually been a late night thing, and it sometimes gets bumped for watching political primary results or the NBA on TNT. Also also, I’m not reading the books. I’ve just got too much on my plate in terms of other (old) shows and (old) video games! I mean, I know everyone wants my hot takes on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Voyager

The little Harry Potter tykes picture is a still image from this YouTube video. The Voldemorte image is a common Internet meme, and the sorting hat picture comes from the Universal website.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Inexplicable TV Review: Galavant Gala-like (still!)

So, as I was saying, Galavant is kind of an OK show, and surprisingly, it got a second season! I’m about halfway through it, but they’ve spiced things up with the addition of Clare Foster as Roberta, the redheaded love interest of (formerly) King Richard, the character played by Timothy Omundsmen. More importantly, they’ve kept in the solid anchors of the first season – Omundsmen, Mallory Jansen as the evil Queen Madalena, Karen David as the long-named Princess Isabella Maria Lucia Elizabeth of Valencia, and Vinnie Jones as a henchman.

The show was a surprise renewal, since season one of Galavant didn’t exactly set the world on fire with ratings. The debut of season one had 7.4 million viewers, but it fell to around 4.37 million for the finale. Season two was worse, with the debut doing only 3.2 million and the finale episodes – airing on Jan. 31 – only doing 2.15 million. I still have to watch them myself, since it’s a show I like to be able to devote my attention to, because of the witty wordplay and songs. (There is still a ton of singing. Tons and tons of singing.)

The second seasons started with the episode “A New Season a.k.a. Suck It Cancellation Bear.” So, by the way, I guess I’m writing in this blog again. If you’ve missed my writing, and somehow only got exposed to it on here for some reason, then you should check out Your Parents Basement, the podcast on pre-2000s video games I do with my buddies on a weekly basis. My temporary goal for 2016 is to post more entries than I did in 2015. Since that number was 3, it should be easy to surpass, but hey – crazier things have happened.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inexplicable TV Review: Galavant Gala-like

Somehow, Galavant is kind of an OK show. I’m not entirely sure how, since the concept – a musical twist on the classical damsel in distress, dungeons and dragons affair – seems like a Monty Python sketch stretched way too thin. How do they make it work for one 22-minute episode? Nevermind eight of them!

However, in execution, Galavant basically works as a version of Glee that is not completely up its own ass with seriousness. Everything is tongue-in-check and played for laughs, and with the surging popularity of things like Game of Thrones and Tolkien’s entire literary history now fodder for blockbusters, there is plenty of spoofing material.

The premise – The hero Galavant has his lover, Madalena, taken from him by the dastardly king. He storms the castle in an attempt to rescue her… Only to be told at the altar, by her, that she likes this new arrangement and her new things and doesn’t need rescuing. He’s knocked out, and time passes, allowing him to become vagrant-y. The now-Queen Madalena turns out to be a terror, and in an attempt to win her over more completely, the king concocts a plot to build Galavant back up for a duel in front of the queen, at which point he will kill Galavant.

All of this features singing. A lot of singing. A lot of hilarious, tongue-in-check singing. I mentioned Monty Python before, and while nothing reaches the heights of “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life,” most of the tunes are at least as good as “Camelot.” It’s a show that’s clearly made with goofy fun, with actors making obvious asides and winking statements to the camera, which makes it easier to hang in with.

In the words of a famous man, it's good to be the king.
There is a small bit of wasted potential in the concept though, in that they clearly had to skimp a bit on the acting talent. The standout is Timothy Omundson as the king, showing off some comedic chops after basically play straight-laced for eight years as Carlton Lassiter on Psych. His kidnapped damsel turned torturer Madalena, played by Australian model Mallory Jansen, is also a standout, as is Karen David as Princess Isabella Maria Lucia Elizabeth of Valencia. Vinnie Jones basically plays the king’s lead henchman as Snatch’s Bulletproof Tony in the 1200s… not that that’s a bad thing.

The rest of the cast, including the lead role, are shakier. They don’t detract from the fun, but they don’t add as much. And the guest stars are where the show is at its absolute hammiest. John Stamos, Weird Al and Ricky Gervais are just way too on the nose when it comes to the comedic accessory parts. Unlike the very best spoof movies, there isn’t a Lloyd Bridges or Robert Stack or Peter Graves to balance this out. (Okay, all three of them are dead. Yeah but still.)

The reception to the show has been mixed. On one hand, it has gotten average to very good reviews from most sources. On the other hand, it’s been pretty horribly rated. It started with 7.42 million viewers and a 2.0 in the 18 to 49 demo, but it slid to 1.3 in its second week and 0.9 in its third week. The final two episodes are on Sunday, and it can’t be a cheap show to produce, so a second season seems unlikely.

The title card and picture of Tim and Mallory are common promotional images floating around the Internet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Inexplicable Book Review: Secret History of Wonder Woman(’s Creators)

If you can get over that the fact that the advertising and title of The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a bit misleading, what you’ll find is a very solid book about the five incredibly strange people who contributed to the iconic DC Comics character.

The issue with the book’s title is that it should really be called The Secret History of Women Woman’s Creators and Influences. While the influences of Wonder Woman can be seen throughout early pages, we don’t get to the actual creation of the character until page 180 – the last third of the book. If you’re a comic book buff, then this isn’t really the book for you. It’s definitely aimed at more of a general interest audience.

And the history that the book does get into is amazingly bizarre, strange and interesting, to be clear! The “creator” of Wonder Woman was William Moulton Marston, but he clearly took “inspiration” from Ancient Greek tales, the women’s liberation movement, and his wife Olive Byrne, who wore bracelets on her wrists.

By the way, Marston was a huge believer in the equality and possibly superiority of women. He also had two wives. And he didn’t work for a decade at one point, forcing his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston to be the primary wage earner for the family. The three of them all lived together, with Byrne raising her two children and Holloway’s two children. Marston was the father of all four. Marston was also one of the first to look into measuring heart rate and pulse as a way to detect deception in others.

Want more crazy? Well, Byrne’s mother was Ethel, a noted women’s rights proponent in the early 20th Century. She largely started this work after abandoning Byrne and her brother when they were children. Ethel’s sister was Margaret Sanger, another noted activist, who appropriated portions of Ethel’s background and wrote her out of history to secure her own legacy. Both were clearly influences on Wonder Woman, and both also supported the odd Marston family compound.

It’s all oddly fascinating, but it does highlight one other flaw with the book – It ends after about 300 pages. The rise of Wonder Woman tale basically replaces much digging into the family’s background, and in this part of the book, you can really tell that Lepore is a history professor and not a journalist or reporter.

There’s not really much about what the four children did, and how they dealt with the odd family arrangement, or about how Byrne and Holloway lived together for decades even after the passing of Marston. Conversely though, there isn’t much dissection of Wonder Woman storylines from the (admittedly horrible sounding) 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the book kind of crumbles a bit in the end, although the first two acts are still satisfying enough that I recommend it.

The image of Wonder Woman #1 comes from the DC Comics wiki here.


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