Monthly Archives: August 2011

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About The Harry Potter Series: Prisoner of Azkaban

By Ashley

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About The Harry Potter Series: Prisoner of Azkaban

1. This is the book that made me start disliking Ron. The relationships between all three of our main characters are pulled through the wringer in this book (which I’ll talk about more later) but Ron just drives me absolutely crazy with how he treats Hermione after she buys Crookshanks. From the very start he’s all over her about it, acting like his rat is more important than any pet she might want. This is a rat that Ron has never really shown any affection toward previously, a rat that doesn’t really do anything. Hermione is usually the bossy one but when it comes to Crookshanks, Ron is just plain mean, telling her when she will and won’t let the cat out. I mean, I get that he’s concerned for the well-being of his rat but stop being such a douche about it, bro.

2. The whole “wahhh, I can’t go to Hogsmeade” thing really grates on me. Maybe it’s because I’m older now and it’s not as easy to me to see it from the view of a 13-year-old but come on. So you don’t get to go to the village with your friends, big deal; you still live in a goddamn castle and get to learn magic and play Quidditch.

3. Hermione seems to be the only one out of the three of them who gives a shit that Sirius Black is seemingly out to kill Harry. Ron and Harry are constantly all “WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY FOR YOU TO SNEAK AROUND HOGSMEADE!” It doesn’t matter that all of the authority figures around them have said, hey, Harry, maybe you should chill on the wandering around shit.  Harry seems to think he’s invincible; as he thought after first finding out about Black being after him: “I’ve escaped Voldemort three times, I’m not completely useless.” Let’s think about those three times, shall we? First time, he was a baby and doesn’t even remember it; it was his mother’s sacrifice that saved him, not anything special that he did. Same with the second time: if it weren’t for the fact that his mother had sacrificed her life for him, he wouldn’t have been able to burn Quirrell by touching him. He didn’t do any kind of advanced or special magic—he got lucky. Third time, in the Chamber of Secrets, bish woulda been dead as shit if it weren’t for Fawkes and the Sorting Hat. AGAIN, no special or advanced magic on his part. So, let’s pretend for a second that Harry is face to face with Sirius Black and Black actually DOES want to kill him: he’s a 13-year-old wizard-in-training who is, overall, an average student. You really think you could take a deranged wizard who escaped Azkaban and is hell-bent on killing you? Yeah, okay.

4. It’s time for another round of “What’s Going to Try to Knock Harry off His Broom during the First Quidditch Match of the Season”! This one’s a doozy, folks. Harry’s got so much shit working against him. Let me list them: raging thunderstorm obscuring his vision and howling winds threatening to blow him off his broom! The Grim silhouetted in the dark, stormy sky in a row of empty seats! And then, to top it all off, a hundred creepy Dementors below him, forcing him to relive the last moments of his mother’s life before he passes out and finally falls off the damn broom. Well, J.K., after three books of trying to knock this kid off his broom during the first match of the season, you’ve finally succeeded. Well done!

5. So much of the Harry Potter narrative is built on highly unlikely coincidences; there are a few very important plot developments that really only come about because Harry happened to be at the right place at the right time. For example, if he hadn’t decided to sneak into Hogsmeade on this particular day and he, Ron and Hermione had decided to go into the Three Broomsticks at that particular time, Harry wouldn’t have found out about Sirius Black being his father’s best friend, the supposed betrayal of his parents, and Black being his godfather. A further coincidence: it sure is lucky Fudge visited Black on the very day that the Weasley’s family picture in Egypt was being run in the Daily Prophet. Any other day and Sirius would have never seen that picture, wouldn’t have seen Scabbers, and wouldn’t have realized that Peter Pettigrew was at Hogwarts. And then we’d have no third book!

6. “Everyone from the Minster of Magic downward has been trying to keep famous Harry Potter safe from Sirius Black. But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself. Let the ordinary people worry about his safety! Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to, with not thought for the consequences.” BOOM. You know, for all his ridiculous hatred and unwarranted cruel behavior towards Harry, Snape is often the one who hits the nail right on the head about this kid.

7. I have so many issues with how Harry and Ron act in this book towards Hermione. When Harry gets the Firebolt and Hermione suspiciously questions where it came from, Ron doesn’t give a shit; he really doesn’t seem to care that the broom could possibly be from someone who wants to kill Harry. And Harry doesn’t either! Hermione is the only one who takes the severity of the situation seriously; when she tells McGonagall about the broom and she confiscates it, Harry stops speaking to Hermione. Harry and Ron are more than willing to completely end their friendship with Hermione over a fucking broom and a rat. Harry doesn’t start speaking to Hermione again until he gets the damn broom back; only then does he feel bad about how lonely and stressed Hermione is. What if he’d never gotten the broom back? Would he have never talked to her again and then, like, died in the next two books because she wasn’t there to save his ass? And then he stops talking to her again because Ron is all fucking butt-hurt over his fucking rat! He’s not even mad at her anymore, feels sorry for her sometimes, but still won’t speak to her because Ron’s not. What the fuck? He never apologizes and neither does Ron; Hermione is the one who breaks down and apologizes for Crookshanks. And after that there’s no mention of it again, Hermione never brings up how they treated her. Even after Peter Pettigrew is exposed, we never see Ron apologize for how he treated her. Shitty. Fucking. Friends.

8. And you know, if Scabbers had actually been eaten by Crookshanks, so many of Ron’s relatives wouldn’t have ended up dying. Just sayin’.

9. How come Harry never once saw Peter Pettigrew or Sirius Black on the Marauder’s Map? Black is on the grounds as a dog quite a bit during the school year and the Map can see through disguises and transformations. And Peter Pettigrew is sleeping in the same dormitory as Harry. Never once saw that name on the map, Harry?

10. If it was 5 minutes to midnight when Dumbledore tells them to go three hours back in time, how did they end up in the hall when they’re past selves are going to Hagrid’s? Buckbeak’s execution was set for sunset. It would be nearly 9 o’clock when they arrived in the past; is the sun really just now setting? I mean, I know it’s June but don’t the days usually only get that long in the middle of summer?

11. This is just a general note: time travel really, really confuses me. I’m sure if I understood time-travel in fiction more I’d have more criticisms about this but as I don’t know a whole lot about it, I guess I’ll just leave it. But I am quite fond of this hand wave: “I knew I could [conjure a Patronus] this time” said Harry, “because I’d already done it…does that make sense?” To which Hermione replies, “I don’t know.”

As always, please feel free to leave any comments!

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One Hour Mark: Elephant

By Andreas

You can’t quite see her face up there, but that’s Michelle (Kristen Hicks). At 1:00:00 into Gus Van Sant’s school tragedy à clef Elephant (2003), she’s just minutes away from death. Nothing about her milieu, with its pastels and clipboards and desktop computer, suggests that a bloodbath is about to unfold, but that’s the ace up Van Sant’s sleeve. In the middle of a perfectly routine school day, it’s here—in this safest and blandest of high school libraries—that we’re about to see Michelle’s blood splattered on a bookshelf.

The contrast is shocking, but it comes about organically. The stories of the killers, Alex and Eric, chronologically parallel those of Michelle and other students (a photographer, a jock, a trio of clique-y girls). These narrative strands wind around one another, occasionally intersecting in small but significant ways, until the massacre begins and collapses them all into a unified tragedy. Michelle is the first to go: she spots the killers’ weapons as they enter the library, and only gets out a polite “Hey, you guys—” before she’s cut off.

But until that moment, she’s just a lonely teenage girl living out her splintered vignette. She has a brusque exchange with her gym teacher, changes her clothes, then walks through the halls, breaking into a run as she nears the library. Hicks is a non-professional actor, and it shows in her remarkably unadorned performance; she’s self-contained, giving only the most minimal emotional cues to the audience. Van Sant’s direction follows suit, stalking the characters for us but never telling us how to react to them. It’s scrupulously fly-on-the-wall filmmaking.

The end result is an impeccably naturalistic movie that recreates the average high school experience with uncanny accuracy before dragging it down into hell. The school library is a dead ringer for other high school libraries across the country; Michelle’s short conversation with the librarian is utterly plausible; and the camera angle here gives the scene an incidental flavor—as if we just happened to peek in on these characters, and this is what they were up to. Poor Michelle feels less like a fictional character and more like a documentary subject.

This quasi-documentary style, coupled with Hicks’s hushed acting style, makes me wish we’d seen more of Michelle, or at least seen her in a movie where she wasn’t marked for death. We learn vaguely of her body image problems, her awkwardness, and her difficulty socializing; she’s kind of like an ultra-realistic version of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie. But then, of course, she’s blown away. I know this is a movie about Columbine, but I can’t help feeling like she’s used to add adolescent color to Van Sant’s high school setting, and then perforated like a flesh-and-blood prop. I love Elephant, but I still wish it did better by its ill-fated characters.

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Raising Brows

By Andreas

“If it had been released 50 years ago, The Help would have been the cinematic event of the summer.” This is how critic Stephen Farber began a piece on middlebrow message movies published two weeks ago by the L.A. Times. No, I’m not kidding, and oh, it gets worse. The whole article reads like a satirical attempt at bad, counterintuitive criticism. Maybe there’s a good argument to be made for valuing gently progressive, Stanley Kramer-esque dramas in the 21st century, but Farber sure isn’t making it.

That opening sentence certainly doesn’t bolster his credibility. Does he seriously think that the only difference between 2011 and 1961 is that critics now are more “persnickety” and less open to middlebrow fare? Does he really not suspect any legitimate reasons, reasons other than widespread critical bias, why the passage of that half-century should lead to “lukewarm” reviews for The Help? This colossal blind spot (or should I say blind side?) hobbles his argument from the get-go, because most of the vitriol currently aimed at The Help is spurred by its racial politics first and its status as a well-intentioned prestige picture a distant second.

But no, if you ask Farber, critics are unmoved by The Help and its bland brethren because these days, they cherish trashy genre movies instead. (He doesn’t mention Pauline Kael by name, but her influence is obvious.) So these poor, tasteful movies suffer the indignity of—as Farber says of The King’s Speech— “not [being] universally loved.” They might win Best Picture, but what’s the point if a few heartless critics still mock them? Alas, the tragic plight of a middlebrow, Oscar-baiting drama… hey, you know, that sounds like a pretty good story for a movie!

Honestly, the piece is so lazily written it’s like he’s asking for bloggers to dissect it. He quotes negative reviews of social problem dramas like The Whistleblower and A Better Life as evidence of anti-middlebrow bias, but never takes on the critics’ claims with any specificity. He never even addresses the possibility that these might just be, say, mediocre or bad movies. He also twice refers to middlebrow dramas as “ambitious,” even though they’re defined by their formal conservatism. To quote the bard Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Farber closes out his argument with this kids-these-days sentiment:

Younger critics in particular are desperate to prove that they’re hip, and so they champion esoteric, highbrow movies — “The Tree of Life,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “The Future” — that most audiences are more likely to find ponderous, impenetrable or impossibly precious. These younger reviewers also have a fondness for lowbrow fare — gross-out comedies like “Superbad” or violent genre pictures like “Bellflower” and “Zombieland.”

Clearly if us kids weren’t so focused on hipster posturing, we could appreciate the real pleasures of cinema: preachy melodramas about Real World Issues! This anti-youth potshot is in character with the rest of the article, whose overall point seems to be, “Why can’t critics go back to loving mediocre, respectable movies like they used to?” The answer, of course, is that they do. Many critics have been blown away by The Help, just as many swooned at The King’s Speech. Mediocre movies will always find an audience eager to have its intelligence and taste flattered.

All told, I think Farber’s article really pissed me off because it’s unnecessarily whiny. It’s good-natured whining, sure, but when your only grievance is that critics aren’t pouring enough adulation onto middle-of-the-road dramas, that’s definitely whining. The whole piece is spectacularly misjudged; thankfully, Mark Olsen offered up a very smart retort, again in the L.A. Times. No offense to Mr. Farber, who sounds like a fine writer and fellow, but when all you have to say is “I want more movies that alleviate my guilt and don’t take risks,” you don’t really have anything meaningful to say.

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“I’m back.”

The other day, I realized that I’d never announced the results of the “Quotable Arnold” poll. So, in the interest of closure, here they are—a week late, but no less valid:

Winner: With 6 votes out of 19 total, Conan the Barbarian‘s “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women” is the winner. I guess voting for that quote is what is best in life!

Runner-up: With 4 votes, Batman & Robin‘s super-repetitive ice-themed puns: “Let’s kick some ice,” “Ice to see you,” “Allow me to break the ice,” etc. (Alex, you have been vindicated.) Score 1 for Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman and his lazy, lazy writing.

Third place: Tied with 3 votes each, Predator‘s “Get to the chopper!” (or “choppa,” if you prefer) and Kindergarten Cop‘s “It’s not a tumor!” (Again, “tumah” is an acceptable spelling.) Nothing’s funnier than a thick Austrian accent.

Write-ins: Each of these only received 1 vote, but they’re still worth mentioning. They were Total Recall‘s “See you at the party, Richter!”; Raw Deal‘s “You should not drink… and bake”; and Running Man‘s “I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!” Ohhh, Arnold. So eloquent.

So what did we learn from this?

  • People just love crushing enemies! The release of the Conan remake and accompanying flood of nostalgia might have helped, too.
  • Puns, accents, and gory deaths are the right ingredients for the perfect movie quote cocktail.
  • Nobody loves (and nobody voted for) Jingle All the Way‘s “Put that cookie down, now!” That disappoints me, if only because it’s the sole Schwarzenegger quote that’s connected to both Minnesota and Phil Hartman. Sentimental value, you know.

What lessons do you take away from this incredibly scientific survey? Would you like to see similar polls at Pussy Goes Grrr in the future?

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Link Dump: #42

Aww, look, it’s one of the many kitties belonging to the Beales in the Maysles Bros. landmark documentary Grey Gardens! It’s so cute. I think it either wants dinner, or it wants to read this week’s set of links. Meow! And by the way, huge thanks to everyone who’s been joining in and publicizing the Juxtaposition Blogathon. It’s going down in about 2 1/2 weeks, so there’s still time if you want to juxtapose movies with us! And now, with that out of the way, our kitty-approved links:

Finally, the search terms are back in full force, and we’ve got some bizarre ones this week. Like “black cannibal pussy.” Like… what the fuck? I don’t know even know. I’m even more confused with “indisny poossy.” But perhaps the most confusing is “tigger mowing pubic hair.” The image is hilarious, I admit, but how does someone end up typing that series of words into Google? And finally: сатанисты. In case you didn’t know, that’s Russian for “satanists.” Hey, check it out, now you’re bilingual!

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Who else?

Who else but Tilda Swinton could’ve starred in a movie like Orlando (1992)? Who else, upon waking up with a different sex, could plausibly react with a calm surprise, even amusement, that quickly turns to delight? Who else could then turn to the camera with a beatific smile, gazing into the viewer’s soul and making the fourth wall melt away as if it had never been there? No one, I believe, but Tilda.

Honestly, Tilda’s ethereal demeanor and her sun-dappled, androgynous beauty put this scene on par with a religious experience. It’s hard to picture another actor or actress so otherwordly, so precise in his/her every movement or gesture, so serene as to be able to pull this moment off. Only Tilda, with her Jarman-bred poise and her curious warmth, could play Orlando like this and get away with it. She owns this movie—and my heart.

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Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Chamber of Secrets

By Ashley

I hope everyone enjoyed my nitpicking and caterwauling about the first book and that you’re good and ready for the second entry in my series:

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Chamber of Secrets

1. Why did Ron and Harry take the Ford Anglia when they couldn’t get onto Platform 9 ¾? This is a complete lack of foresight and logical thinking on their part. I know they’re twelve and that the whole “taking the car and crashing into the Whomping Willow and getting into trouble for it” thing sets a lot of things in motion but it’s still really ridiculous. If they had just waited 10 more seconds, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would have come off the platform and, as responsible adults, figured out a better way to get them to school. Do they think that if you miss the train you’re just not allowed to get to Hogwarts any other way?

 2. Let’s play “What’s Going to Try to Knock Harry Off His Broom During the First Quidditch Match of the Season”! Rogue bludger, trying to pound the shit outta him. Hmm. This seems awfully familiar…heyyy, didn’t something similar happen in the previous book during the first match of the season? Quirrell cursing his broomstick, if I recall. And now, something else is trying to knock him off his broom. Can’t this kid just have a normal first match of the season?

3. In this book, we learn that Filch, the caretaker, is a Squib (someone born into a magical family who has no magical abilities). Filch spends a great deal of time complaining about all the messes the students make and how long it takes him to clean them. And then it hit me. Why the hell would they employ someone who cannot perform magic to clean an entire castle full of students, staff and ghosts? Throughout the series we see countless characters clean huge messes with a simple wave of a hand or wand. And yet the person who is employed to clean the entire school cannot perform such magic. What kind of sick, cruel joke is that, J.K. Rowling? I don’t blame Filch for being in such a shitty mood all the time.

4. Why in God’s name is an award that was given to Lord fucking Voldemort still hanging up in the trophy room at Hogwarts? Isn’t that a bit…fucked up? That’d be like going to a school in Germany and seeing a plaque there that said “Awarded to Adolf Hitler for Services Rendered.” I feel like for most people (who aren’t really young like Ron and Harry) it must be common knowledge that in his younger days Voldemort was Tom Riddle. Come to think of it, I feel like that’s the exact kind of knowledge that would be written down in wizard history books. Hermione devours wizard history books like it’s her job; why has she never come across this tidbit of information? I find it hard to believe that 1. No one at this time had ever made the connection between Tom Riddle and Voldemort (Dumbledore says that “hardly anyone” made the connection but…come on, SOMEONE ELSE MUST HAVE) and 2. That it would never have been recorded in a history book.

5. Furthermore, shouldn’t someone (i.e. Dumbledore) have revoked that goddamn award? Seeing as it’s the kid who grew up to be Voldemort and he fucking framed Hagrid and got him expelled? I mean, I know Dumbledore probably found out about this stuff way after the fact but still. It’s the principle of the matter.

6. Last year, Harry’s scar was bothering him for weeks because half of Voldemort’s face was under a turban on some guy’s head in the same building as him. In this book, he carries a piece of Voldemort’s soul around for a part of the book and doesn’t feel anything. The most he feels is an inexplicable need to not throw it away. What the fuck is up with that?

7. More irksome behavior from Dumbledore: at the end he awards Harry and Ron 200 points each for infiltrating the Chamber of Secrets and defeating the basilisk and Tom Riddle. But what about Hermione? She figured out what was in the chamber and how it was getting around the school, which enabled Harry and Ron to go down there without being completely unaware. You were all about the point-dishing-out at the end of last year, old man, what happened? What, just because it doesn’t humiliate an entire house of students, Hermione’s cleverness doesn’t need to be rewarded? YOUR METHODS ARE INCONSISTENT, DUMBLEDORE.

As always, please, feel free to leave any comments, disagreements, defenses, and arguments!

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