Aug 9, 2005

When Harry Met Ginny

08/09/2005 9:14 PM EST

Guest Review by B.E. Earl

Hey kids! Earl here again. I completed a blistering read of the new Harry Potter entry a few weeks ago, and I thought that I would share with you, my brothers and only friends, some thoughts on the whole series and its place in fantasy fiction.

I know that I’m not exactly the demographic that is reading Harry Potter these days. I’m not a teenage girl, nor have I ever been. I started reading the Potter books last year after I went to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with my nephew. I had previously seen the first two films and honestly didn’t think much of them. I was interested in Azkaban because of it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu mama tambien), and I wanted to see what he would do with it. I was more than pleasantly surprised with the results, and I was interested enough to ask my older sister, who has been reading the books, whether or not they were worth my while. She told me that they were quick reads, but pretty entertaining once you got into them.

Well, I read the first five books of the series in the next few weeks and I was surprised (once again) to find them really enjoyable. I mean, it wasn’t Tolkein by any stretch of the imagination, but J.K. Rowling had really created a fun-to-read, escapist bit ‘o fantasy and I could see why it appeals to younger readers so much. The basic premise for the books is not exactly groundbreaking. A thoroughly underwhelming young boy is thrown into a situation involving good, evil and all sorts of magical things only to find out that his destiny is tied to the Big Bad in some way forcing him accept responsibilities that could ultimately lead to his own death or the destruction of everything that he has come to love in that world. Phew! Run-on sentences really wear me out. You can replace the “young boy” with “young hobbit” or “leper” and Harry becomes Frodo or Thomas Covenant, but the premise is still the same. I’m not sure when the main protagonist in fantasy genre switched from the great heroes of old myths to the current run of underdogs, but it has been around for a while. Gives the readers at home something to identify with, I guess.

Getting back to the Potter books, I found that after reading them I came to appreciate the films a whole lot more. Especially the first two films. I still like Azkaban the best, but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is pretty darned close. So I was pretty eager to read the sixth entry into the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” My sister picked it up the first weekend it was available and, true to form, she finished it in a day or so. I had dibs on reading it second, but my nephew (her son) got to it first. Damn him! Rather than wait for him to finish, I decided to go out and buy it myself…my first J.K. Rowling book ever! Sorry…really not that exciting.

I’m happy to say that Ms. Rowling doesn’t let us down. Her legions of fan(atic)s will be extremely pleased/horrified/crushed with what she brews up for us in this one. I’m obviously not going to say much about what happens, but Rowling continues to lead us down the dark path she has laid out for us in the past few entries. The penultimate chapter in the Harry Potter saga bravely sets us all up for what (we hope) to be a thrilling conclusion some time in the next few years when Rowling gives us our Seventh Year at Hogwarts.

That being said there is something that bothers me about these books and I’ve encountered it before. I really don’t like Harry. Period. I just want to reach into the book and slap some sense into the kid. He’s childish, secretive, and occasionally unnecessarily mean. Yeah, I know. He’s an orphaned kid living with brutish relatives forced into an unimaginable situation, but I WANT to root for him. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to yet. If he would just talk about his problems a bit more with those he trusts (Dumbledore, Lupin, etc…), and not just Hermione and Ron, it seems that he may have been able to avoid some of the tragedies that have befallen him. Actually, it’s not just Harry. The whole damn cast of characters has too many secrets that they keep from each other. Maybe Harry wouldn’t spend so much time on his fanatical distrust of Professor Snapes if Dumbledore would just tell Harry why he trusts him so much. I don’t know, I guess its all necessary in some way, but man that kid bugs me some times.

I guess its unfair to complain that the main character in a storyline about children, written for children is too childish, but I can’t help it. Orson Scott Card was able to write about children that you could really root for in “Ender’s Game” and related novels, so it is not impossible. Come to think of it, I wasn’t a real big fan of Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings” or Shea in “The Sword of Shannara” (the most blatant “LotR” rip-off ever) either. It’s some of the secondary characters that I’ve always latched onto as being my favorites. Sam and Eowyn in “LotR”, and Hile Troy and the Haruchai in the Thomas Covenant trilogies are just a few examples.

Anyway, I think I’ll conclude by stating that the Harry Potter series is fresh enough to warrant a good deal of praise, but I don’t think I can include it with some of the great works of past in the fantasy genre. That could have a lot to do with my age (rapidly approaching 40), or the average age of the Harry Potter fan. I have to wonder if these are the first books of this type that these kids are reading, or if they are aware of the grand roots of fantasy that they come from. I would like to see the kind of excitement that Harry Potter generates come around again for an old jewel like “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis once The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe comes out on film later this year.

(A quick side-rant. Who the hell decided to re-order the books in “The Chronicles of Narnia?” When I first read the books way back in 1976, “The Magician’s Nephew” was the sixth book in the series even though the events of the book predated those in “TLtWatW”. Now that book is listed as book one in the series, thereby spoiling some of the golden nuggets of enlightenment that reside within. Listen, don’t mess with the original order of the books…the order in which Lewis wrote them! Okay…I’m done.)

Aug 1, 2005

Wedding Crashers

08/01/2005 6:45 PM EST

Guest Review by B.E. Earl

*** 1/2 (out of 5) stars.

Hi All! Slyde here. In what I hope to be a regular occurrence, today's review was written by a guest blogger, one B.E. Earl, who I have known for a dog's age, and who is pretty spot on about movies (except the fact that he loves Get Shorty, which I think sucks loads, but that's a minor point).

Anyway, on with the review, Earl....

Hey folks! Welcome to my first “guesting” gig on I’m going to try to pop in once in a while, just to keep himhonest and to provide a more hi-brow element to the site. Well…maybe some fart jokes as well. This time up, I will be sharing my thoughts with you on the newest entry into the R-rated comedy genre, Wedding Crashers. If you enjoy what you see here, then whoop-de-doo for you! Just kidding, all feedback can go to Slyde and if it is positive then I may return to this hallowed site in the future.

Don’t you hate it when someone you know sees a highly anticipated movie before you, and then proceeds to gush over it as if it were the best thing since sliced bread? And you know, sliced bread isn’t really that big a deal at all. I mean that kind of gush-fest is what killed Weekend at Bernie’s 2 for me, and I can’t believe that I’m the only one. Well, that was the situation I found myself in with this film. A bunch of folks I know, including some family members, had already seen it and all I heard were tales of crowded theatres filled with movie-goers blowing soda out of their noses and missing whole scenes of the movie because they had been laughing too hard from the previous scene. They even evoked the name of the big cheese of film hilarity in Something About Mary as a comparison. Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant to believe them. I have seen all the most recent projects of the Frat Pack (Vince Vaughn, the Wilson brothers, Ben Stiller, etc…), and I have been a big fan. However, none of them exactly resulted in the busting of my considerable gut.

I am pleased to report, however, that Wedding Crashers almost lived up to these highest of expectations and exceeded them in some areas. First, the setup: a couple of jaded divorce lawyers (Vaughn and Owen Wilson) have taken to the habit of crashing weddings as a way to meet eligible/horny young ladies. Jeremy Grey (Vaughn), it seems, has been taught the rules of crashing by the greatest crasher of all time, Chaz Reingold (betcha can’t guess the “secret” guest star who plays him). He and his protégé, John Beckwith (Wilson) treat Wedding Season as a six-year old would treat Christmas morning.

Right away we are treated to what must be the longest montage in film history that shows our boys hamming it up at a number of ethnic (Jewish, Irish, Italian, Asian, etc…) weddings and meeting a whole gaggle of gorgeous women whom they proceed to take advantage of. Nice way to show us some of the rules of crashing without wasting a half-hour of the film on backstory. The montage ends with a peek into John’s guilt with the duo’s somewhat adolescent behavior towards these women.

We soon reach the crux of the story, the Cleary Wedding. The grand poobah of all crash gigs. Treasury Secretary Cleary (Christopher Walken) is hosting a gigantic wedding for his daughter Christina. John and Jeremy pose as, well, John and Jeremy Ryan, brothers from New England and distant relatives of the groom. It is there that they set their sights on Secretary Cleary’s two other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams) and Gloria (Isla Fisher). Yeah, I know…this has a bad episode of Three’s Company written all over it. Why use their real first names? Why profess to be related to the groom when it could be so easily figured out? Why select the father of the bride’s two daughters as their prey? To answer all three, because if they didn’t the results would have been included in the opening montage and the film would have been released direct to Internet as a short. Plot holes are as imperative to R-rated comedies as boobs and bodily fluids. Let us just accept it and move on.

Doesn’t take a film student to see where this is all going. The guilt-ridden John falls for the seemingly unavailable Claire, the slightly psychopathic Gloria falls for the unrepentant cocksman Jeremy and wackiness ensues right up to the predictably happy ending. I’m not going to bore you with the details. That’s what actually going to see the movie is for.

What I will say is that this has some of the finest comic acting seen in film for a very long time. The terrific ensemble cast includes some great supporting work/cameos by Rebecca DeMornay, Dwight Yoakum, Jane Seymour and Henry Gibson. Jane Seymour was particularly outstanding as the off-center, Owen Wilson chasing, boozehound mother of the three Cleary girls. I can’t ever remember her being funny before. The film also includes some very funny newcomers in Bradley Cooper (as Sack Lodge, Claire’s Cro-Magnon boyfriend) and Keir O’Donnell (as Todd Cleary, the Secretary’s gay angst-ridden son). Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls) is adorable and totally lovable as Claire, but it is Isla Fisher as Gloria who just about steals the movie. Her, um, energetic performance is one that should be remembered for a very long time.

I mentioned that Fisher “almost” stole the movie with her performance, well that is only because Vince Vaughn didn’t let her. What he showed a glimpse of in Old School comes to full fruition here. He is laugh-out-loud funny in what is arguably his best film role since Swingers. Well, I liked Clay Pigeons a lot as well, but I seem to be the only one. It’s not that Owen Wilson isn’t really good in this film, he is. It’s just that when a star shines as brightly as Vaughn does in this film it is hard for any of the actors working with him not to be blinded. Which is what makes Fisher’s performance so worthy of praise. Wilson does shine on his own quite a bit, especially as things go bad for him in the film, but let us not make any mistakes. This movie belongs to Vince Vaughn.

I’m giving this film ***1/2 using Andy’s five-star rating system, but if you are to judge it solely on what is trying to be then feel free to give it a perfect rating. It’s not Kurosawa or Scorsese. Hell, it’s not even Ron Howard, but you get exactly what you are paying your $9.50 for. As Jeremy says to Claire in the film “I'm not perfect, but who are we kidding, neither are you. And you want to know what? I dig it."