strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So! A new season of Doctor Who, then! I missed the first episode because I was in Bournemouth for Lib Dem Conference, and although I did catch up with it last Saturday (effectively watching both as a two-parter that evening), I haven't had time to write about them until now because I wanted to get conference written up first, and have then had a busy week.

I really liked these two episodes, though. I went into them with fairly low expectations, after a week of reading various comments around the internet to the effect that The Magician's Apprentice was not that great. So it may be that the low expectations in themselves helped me enjoy both episodes more than I might have done otherwise. But certainly, watched together, they seemed pretty strong to me.

The basic set-up and central drama, revisiting the Genesis of the Daleks dilemma by giving the Doctor the power of life and death over a being whom he knows will kill billions but right now is powerless and innocent, is sound enough and professionally handled. OK, you could argue it's a lazy re-hash of Doctor Who's back catalogue, but I liked the structuring principle which meant that we kept getting new takes on how the Doctor had actually responded to that dilemma right up until the end of the two-parter, even while the consequences (and causes) of his actions played out in another time-line.

The real star of this story for me, though, was Missy. Looking back at my reviews for the last two stories of last season, I didn't have terribly much to say about her beyond the gender-switch thing, but this story really let her blossom into a fully-developed character, so that she has officially become loads of fun. In particular, she is far more interesting here than she ever was in the last series for the ambiguity around whether she is temporarily collaborating with the Doctor and Clara purely out of expedience, or out of some kind of respect for her history with the Doctor. This really broadened her out from a fairly one-dimensional villain into a fully-fledged incarnation of the Master, whose relationship with the Doctor always was shot through with the ongoing reverberations of their childhood friendship / rivalry. As others have said, Michelle Gomez's performance very much rose to meet the new opportunities, replete with echoes of Masters past along the way. So I am now really looking forward to seeing more of her (and her gorgeous purple Victorian outfit!) in the future, and fervently hope that she will displace River Bloody Song as Doctor Who's resident mysterious recurring female character. I'm also looking forward to meeting her daughter (or son by this time, of course) - though in grand Whovian tradition, it could literally be decades before we do.

Missy wouldn't have worked anything like as well as she did, though, without Clara to play up against - and torment a bit. I thought Clara's side of the dynamic worked particularly well during their first encounter, when she was able to pin Missy down to business and stop her from randomly killing people because she could by insisting that Missy 'make [her] believe' that there really was something serious going on relating to the Doctor. That is the same self-assured, experienced Clara that she had grown into by the end of last season, and whom I like very much.

Clara's moments trapped within the Dalek shell, unable to communicate her human emotions and even frighteningly unable to convey her identity to the Doctor were excellent too. They were stronger for recalling the life of Oswin Oswald her fellow-inmates in Asylum of the Daleks, but would have been good anyway for giving us a new level of insight into the horror of what Daleks are - not to mention an explanation for why they shout 'exterminate' all the time! Fine achievements after over fifty years of them.

Then there were the scenes between the Doctor and Davros - also good, and for much the same reasons of ambiguity as those involving Missy. Probably Davros is just Evil, and tricked the Doctor into coming to Skaro so that he could harness his regeneration energy. And probably the Doctor, for all his compassion, knew full well that he could turn Davros' plans against him by activating the gloopy dead sewer-Daleks, so was never really in Davros' emotional grasp. But maybe, just maybe, on some level they do actually also like and respect one another. Certainly, it was compelling to see these two ancient enemies recognising each other for the two sides of the same coin they have always been, even if it was only a temporary and somewhat illusory truce.

In general, then, excellent character-led drama, with just enough new twists on the familiar staples of the format to make the story seem new. On the other hand, though, I could really have done without yet another fake companion death, and particularly one used so overtly as a fridging device to push the Doctor into doing (plot-necessary) crazy things in the Dalek city. And while I appreciate the attempt at representing racial diversity by putting black faces in the crowd in AD 1138, still in this story a black character (young Davros' companion in the hand-mine field) was the first person to die on screen yet again. Doesn't anybody explicitly double-check scripts for this, given how a) common and b) fucking racist it is?

Finally, two things in this episode reminded me strongly of The Fires of Pompeii - 1) the hand-mines with eyes in the palms of their hands, much like the Soothsayers of the Sibylline Sisterhood, and 2) the Doctor and Clara standing on a hill-side, watching the destruction of the Dalek city. This is what I mean on the latter point - the composition of the shots is never quite the same, but the general feeling is very, very similar:

Pompeii watching destruction.jpg

Dalek city destruction.jpg

So Caecilius in Fires of Pompeii and the Doctor in The Witch's Familiar have now stood in similar settings, watching cities being destroyed, while wearing the same face. And since the Doctor said himself at the beginning of last season that he must have been trying to tell himself something by choosing it, I feel like we should pay attention to that.

A few smaller, random thoughts to finish us off:
  • Missy's static planes reminded me really strongly of the various examples of planes caught mid-flight by Google mapping satellites.
  • Davros being referred to as a Dark Lord and being served by an intelligent snake all seemed very Harry Potter.
  • But there was also something very Darth Vader-ish about Davros having once been a round-faced little boy on a desert planet, becoming dependent on a life-support system later in his life, and wanting to see the Doctor with his own eyes in his final moments.
  • Davros' supposedly-dying speech rang some strong Augustan bells for me. Compare and contrast: "Did I do right? Tell me, was I right? I need to know before the end - was I a good man?" and "Did I play my part well in this comedy called life?" It is classic Great Man / Strong Leader stuff - the iconic historical agent with power over millions revealing his inner humanity just before the end.
  • There was a strong set-up for a scene in which the Doctor would have to pull the Dalek wires out of Clara's head, causing her significant pain in the cause of restoring her humanity, but in the end we didn't get it, and skipped straight to her being fine and running along a corridor again. Looks like shoddy editing, I would guess because the story as initially planned turned out to over-run.

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strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
So, yes - still a week behind on Who blogging, then. But I did really enjoy this episode, and not just in and of itself, but as yet another entry in what has so far been one of the thematically-strongest seasons of Doctor Who I've ever seen. Fear, heroism, companionship and prejudice are all being developed steadily and substantially from episode to episode - as the genre of each story permits, of course - and it is really looking impressive. I don't know what changed or what happened, but it really seems like Steven Moffat has his eye 100% on the ball at last. Perhaps things will suddenly go downhill again this evening, or perhaps the price we'll pay for this is a shoddy next season of Sherlock? But right now, I am liking it.

In this particular episode, there was a lot of very good stuff about fear and bravery and what makes a hero, but most of that has been discussed at length all over the internet, so I won't be adding much if I talk about that now. Let's just say I liked it a lot, and leave it at that. Perhaps more interesting, and less thoroughly raked over, was how much the story really explored the relationship between the Doctor and Clara )

Companionship issues aside, Listen was more straightforwardly a classic ghost story, and like all the best ghost stories, it kept the matter of whether or not there is actually an unseen other-worldly entity out there as ambiguous as possible )

Other things... I like the way the Doctor and Clara are positioned as complementary equals in this story )

I also think there was a nice little riff on Harry Potter )

Then, of course, there is the scene in the barn )

Finally - and I am sorry to keep going on about this - there really is quite a lot of watery business going on in this season ) All of this could still turn out to be nothing remarkable, but in case it isn't, I'm setting out the pattern as I see it so far here. Time will tell.

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strange_complex: (Snape sneer)
Obviously, in context, this means 'favourite Christmas memory'. And as other people doing this meme have said earlier today, it's a difficult one to answer, because it is in the very character of Christmas that you repeat the same things every year. That repetition makes it difficult to distinguish specific individual memories, and distorts the picture by merging different years' experiences into one.

I've always enjoyed the parties which my parents have held on either Christmas Eve itself or the 23rd December, for example, but I think the memory of those which is now in my head is a sort of amalgamation of all the best bits of all the parties we ever hosted. Since that was a good five or six of them, I don't really want to nominate any individual one of those parties as my favourite Christmas memory, because I am far from sure that the experiences I'm remembering really belong to one individual party.

So I'll go for a distinct moment which I really can remember, in large part thanks to it being recorded on my LJ. It's a quiet one, featuring me on my own, sitting up late after everyone else had gone to bed and watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone while wrapped up in a quilt just in front of a television turned down as low as possible in order not to disturb my mother in the bedroom immediately upstairs, while the embers in the fire sank slowly into the grate and there were copious chocolates lying on the lounge floor around me, all within easy reach.

That might not seem like a very sociable memory, but I've chosen it not just for the moment itself, but for the fact that the reason I enjoyed that experience so much was because it came after a really lovely family Christmas day, and indeed several days of festive jollity with all sorts of different family and friends beforehand. Sitting up late by myself at the end of it all, surrounded by warmth, comfort and indulgence, gave me the chance to look back over the previous few days, hug the memories to myself and appreciate how good it had all been. I was wrapped not just in my quilt, but in a hearty dose of the Christmas spirit - and that is why that moment now stands in my memory as a place which I aspire to get to at the end of every Christmas.

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strange_complex: (Snape sneer)
'Kay, so.... like three days ago I wrote up a post about the books, films and TV which I had read or seen in 2010, noted that I had yet to review seven of them, and resolved to spend January writing those reviews up "while doing my utmost to avoid accruing any more". Only then I realised that, actually, I was going to have to break that rule for the new Harry Potter film, because if I didn't get on and see it now, then I would miss my chance to catch it in the cinema. I've managed to see all of them on the big screen so far, and I don't want to break that now when we're so near to the end of the franchise!

So yesterday afternoon I skived off work a little early, popped into Next and Marks & Spencers to spend my Christmas vouchers, and then settled down in the cinema with a lovely big bucket of popcorn and the tinkle, swoop and build of the familiar theme music. I think I was probably only just in time, too, as there were all of about twenty people in there with me.

My expectations weren't that high. I found many of the performances in the last film passionless, although I liked some of them - particularly Jim Broadbent and Tom Felton. But while this film still wasn't a patch on Prisoner of Azkaban, I was pleasantly impressed.

Of the performances, Tom Felton remains strong, and I was also quite taken with Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. For a lot of the time I managed to forget that she was Helena Bonham-Carter, and to believe entirely in her as the character of Bellatrix - something which I find I can almost never do with H B-C, no matter what type of character she is playing. And of course Alan Rickman was as marvellous as we've come to expect. There wasn't all that much of Snape in this film (there never seems to be enough!), but what there was was fantastic. His materialisation at the Malfoy Manor and masterful sweeping stride straight through the wrought-iron gate certainly made me sit up in my seat. :-)

Most impressive of all for me this time, though, was Emma Watson as Hermione. Given that she actively annoyed me in Order of the Phoenix, this is quite a turnaround. She seems to have really grown into herself in the role, to have dropped the rather over-mannered pauses and dramatic intakes of breath, and generally acquired a sense of quiet confidence and control which really captured my attention throughout the entire film. Hermione does a lot to drive this story, of course, while Ron and Harry flounder around rather like wet blankets - and I felt that Emma Watson carried this really well. Suddenly I wonder whether she won't be the one who can boast of the best post-Harry Potter career in a decade or two's time, rather than either of the boys.

I liked the visual design, too. I was struck from the very beginning by how most of the 'good' characters appeared ground-down and glamour-less, with red-rimmed, dark-shadowed eyes to convey what they have already suffered and what they know lies ahead. And I loved the way that this also extended to giving us a nervous, unshaven Lucius Malfoy - so very different now that he has fallen from the Dark Lord's favour to the arrogant, cock-sure figure of the earlier films. And David Yates' muted colour palettes seemed to work much better here than in the previous film, creating a convincingly sombre mood to suit the dark events of the story, and the autumn and winter timescale of the action.

When reading the book I was rather disappointed by JKR's decision to set most of the action outside Hogwarts, and indeed wanted to hear more about what had been going on there while the trio were busy hiding in tents. But watching the film, I found that I didn't miss Hogwarts at all. The settings of desolate forests, mountain tops and beaches worked much better for the sort of story which was being told here - mainly one of Harry, Ron and Hermione working out their personal issues with each other and learning to manage without the guidance of the adults who have so far protected them all their lives. In fact, this felt like the most genuinely emotive and grown up film in the franchise to date - which obviously isn't to say it is suddenly a cinematic masterpiece which transcends its origins in rather pedestrian children's literature, but does help to make it feel as though the franchise itself has grown and matured a little over the past decade of film production.

The pacing did still feel wrong, though, just as it did in the book. There is just no reasonable explanation for why it is that Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to find the horcruxes - but then end up spending months at a time hanging round in tents, not even discussing where the remaining horcruxes might be, let alone looking for them in any likely places. And when I got home, I was surprised to note that this film had covered approximately 2/3 of the book, leaving much less than half for the final instalment. I can see how that might work - there is still quite a lot of backstory about Dumbledore and Snape which can be lingered over, as well as scenes such as the final battle at Hogwarts, the Kings Cross scene and the epilogue which can all be made into epic set-pieces. But I might have preferred the first half to be just a little shorter, all the same.

Finally, [ profile] glitzfrau was right to say that the visual highlight of the film was the animation that accompanies Xenophilus Lovegood's telling of the Tale of the Three Brothers. And a thought occurred to me which never did when I read the book - how clever of JKR to insert within her own story something which appears at first to be a simple tale from a children's book, but is then proven to be 'true' by the existence of the elder wand and the invisibility cloak. What a lovely way of enhancing the pretence that her own story, too, may be based on real events! And how even cleverer to then follow up by producing a real-life hand-written collectible edition of that very story-book, which is, as Amazon say, "an artifact pulled straight out of a novel". Surely, then, Harry Potter too must really exist, just out of sight down a mysterious alley-way?

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strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
Seen with [ profile] edling in Oxford.

This film definitely isn't the jewel of the cinematic Harry Potter franchise. On the whole, I didn't mind about the omissions or additions by comparison with the book. The Death Eater attacks on the Millennium bridge and the Weasley's home were a bit unexciting, but they were at least a reasonably efficient way of signalling Voldemort's growing strength, and thus the extent of the threat which he now represents. And I actively liked the scene with Harry and the waitress in the railway cafe. It felt to me like a Dido and Aeneas moment - Harry is tempted to drop it all for an ordinary Muggle woman, but is called back to his appointed destiny by Dumbledore appearing in front of a poster which emphasises the word 'divine'.

What really put me off, though, was the peculiar passionlessness of it all. The colour palette is similar to that used by Alfonso Cuarón in The Prisoner of Azkaban - dark and grainy and subdued. But this isn't enough to create an ominous atmosphere of fear and suspense when so many of the actors appeared to be just saying their lines rather than putting any expression or emotion into them. This struck me particularly with Michael Gambon's Dumbledore - and since I know from previous films that he is capable of playing this role to much greater effect, I can only assume it stemmed somehow from David Yates' direction. Even Alan Rickman managed to seem as though he were caricaturing his own portrayal of Snape - though I could still have done with more of him, all the same.

On the other hand, Jim Broadbent was absolutely brilliant as Slughorn - very much as I imagined him from the book, and playing the balance between his cosy pompousness and his regret and self-loathing over his earlier relationship with Tom Riddle very nicely. And Tom Felton has really come into his own as Draco Malfoy! I used to be a bit unconvinced by the casting decision there, since he sometimes came across as merely brattish rather than genuinely menacing in the earlier films. But I now applaud the foresight of whoever originally cast him. He's doing unpleasant and manipulative very nicely now, and also combining it very effectively with troubled and uncertain.

For all that, though, the ending felt pretty flat to me. Dumbledore's death and Draco and Snape's escape should carry enormous emotional impact - but they just didn't. And to reveal in a throwaway line with no background explanation that Snape is the Half-Blood Prince, when that moment has such potential for highlighting the parallels between Harry and Snape, again felt like serving up an empty shell of a scene with all the stuffing pulled out of it.

Anyway, it passed an evening, I didn't storm out demanding my money back, and I will probably still buy the DVD just so that I've got them all. But this film is nothing like the calibre of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and is only really worth seeing if you're already invested in the fandom.

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strange_complex: (Snape sneer)
I watched this last night because I had been at work all day doing horrid marking, and felt I deserved a treat. And for obvious reasons, I'm feeling fairly Potterish at the moment. No, wait, who'm I kidding? Fairly Snapeish.

I'll need to re-watch Order of the Phoenix when it comes out on DVD to be sure, but I'd be surprised if I change my mind - and certainly right now, I remain convinced that this is the best Potter film to date. It helps that it includes the best of many great Snapey moments filmed so far - the scene with Sirius and Lupin in the Shrieking Shack (closely followed, actually, by the 'Potter has porn!' / L'Oreal scene1 in the dark corridor). But it isn't just his moments. The sheer quantities of rich detail packed into every scene are exactly the sort of thing I love in any film. Like Percy pouring himself cups of tea from a floating two-spouted teapot in the background while Arthur Weasley warns Harry about Sirius in the Leaky Cauldron. Or the mystical writing carved into the walls of the Divination classroom - which you never get to read properly, but adds so much to the feeling that it is a real classroom that has been used for centuries. Or the dozens of carefully-worked-out moving portraits plastering the castle walls. I really ought to pause some of those scenes and scour them in fine detail some time - and the same goes for all that lovely Latinate writing around the edges of the Marauders' map!

Azkaban is easily a finer film (and book) than the previous two, because it's here that the plot moves beyond introductions and orientation and into a darker, more epic register. But it also has a natural advantage over the fourth and fifth films in that it's based on a shorter book. Between that and the tiny details which allow the director to convey so much with every shot, it does a great job of conveying the full extent of the material in the book without feeling rushed or missing out sub-plots - and this despite being the shortest film to date (I know, because I wanted an early night, so more or less chose this one on that basis). The only thing which felt slightly rushed in Azkaban was the sub-plot with Buckbeak, which seemed to go from Draco having his arm broken and muttering things about how his father would be furious, straight to Hagrid bursting into tears because Buckbeak had been sentenced to death. But that was pretty minor, really. By comparison, films 4 and 5 feel actively rushed throughout, and I don't see how the sixth or seventh can avoid the same problem (although there is a lot of room for hacking out tent-sulkery in seven).

That's not to say I won't be rushing out to buy film 5 on DVD the second it is released, of course! But Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban retains a degree of stylishness and panache that I just don't expect to see outdone by these films again.

1. For non-Potterites who are puzzled, this is what fandom has made of the scene where Snape discovers Harry wandering around the castle with the Marauders' map in the middle of the night.

strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
I queued for The Book last night, as planned, and all was good - despite both the rain and Waterstone's bizarre attempts to turn the world's simplest and most effective system for ensuring that everyone is served in a fair order (viz., The Queue) into a confused mess by super-imposing a numbered ticketing system onto it without offering any clear explanation of how this was supposed to work. Enjoyed immensely turning to the back and skimming hastily through relevant-looking pages right there in the shop to establish the major plot points, sproingled rather randomly and over-tiredly at [ profile] nalsa and his lady for a while, and finally got home with it about 1:30ish (yes, Waterstone's were inefficient as well - I heartily wish I'd pre-ordered at WHSmith instead). I ploughed on with The Half-Blood Prince for a while, which I'd been reading all day in an attempt to get back up to speed, but I was pretty near the end of it anyway, and after an hour or so I couldn't resist the pull of the new one any longer. So I retired to bed with it around 3ish, intending to just read a chapter or two and then go to sleep, but didn't actually put it down until 5:30 and the end of chapter 7. Well, I couldn't stop reading while they were all still... No. I promised you no spoilers, didn't I?

Since then, though, I've only got as far as chapter 12, due to sleeping until 1 and then attending a lovely party at [ profile] miss_dark's all afternoon. So I've accepted that I'm not going to finish it with the speed of the last one - but that's OK. Like I said, I know what happens, so I can read other people's posts about it quite merrily. And anyway, why should I rush it? It's the last one, after all. I want to enjoy it at my own snail-like pace.

Besides, it would clearly be a very bad idea to stay up all night tonight trying to finish it, as I realised on Friday that I've been ill for a few days, and my parents are coming up to Leeds again tomorrow to help with house stuff, so I need to be well-rested and compos mentis before they do. I'm not quite sure what was wrong with me, but I'm guessing it was basically down to performing an incredibly intensive mental task followed by an incredibly intensive physical task, not giving myself enough time to recover, and probably also eating something a bit dodgy. I think I'm on the mend now, but tired, what with that and the reading-till-dawn thing, so I don't want to push my luck.

Happily, I was in good health and spirits this afternoon to enjoy [ profile] miss_dark's 'Three Years With [ profile] dedbutdrmng' party, though, which was a jolly good thing as it was ace! [ profile] miss_dark's flat turned out to be a splendid palace, whose walls were lined with shoes, and she had done an excellent job of filling it full of splendid people for the afternoon. I didn't get to chat to everyone there, but I enjoyed the company of familiar faces, and met some fab new people - including the marvellously history-geeky [ profile] vonheath, whom I think I shall dash off and friend once I've finished writing this. There were also small children with bubbles, three nearly-identical cats and a cracking anecdote about a bracelet which [ profile] miss_dark had bought for [ profile] ms_siobhan. So an excellent way to spend the afternoon, and I only hope my house-warming goes as well!

strange_complex: (Snape writing)
Right - better get this written up before everything is eclipsed this evening by The Book. Seen at the Light with [ profile] gillywoo at midnight on Saturday 14th July.

Spoilery if you've not read the book )

strange_complex: (Snape writing)
Oxford lay buried in a deep, off-white fog all day today. But I didn't mind at all. The only time I had to go out of the house was to walk to and from seeing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with [ profile] redkitty23, both of us wrapped in gloves, scarves, warm coats, long black skirts and, in my case, my new sexy boots. Especially on the way back, when it was dark and wintry and we walked across my bridge deep in conversation about the film, the fog only served to make the journey feel like a real-life extension of the Hogwarts experience. Perhaps a cut scene featuring two particularly attractive young teachers, set on the rickety wooden walkway which crosses the steep valley behind the school.

Since this magical experience constituted the first time I'd worn my boots out of the house, and they do feel just like the sorts of boots a female teacher at the school might wear, they shall forever after be known as my Hogwarts Boots.

What about the film itself? Spoilers ahoy! )
strange_complex: (Snape laughing)
Well, I have read The Half-Blood Prince now. I didn't actually think I'd be able to by the end of Saturday, being a verrrryy sllooooooww reader (basically I read at speaking pace). But I read for four hours when I first got home, and then all day once I woke up again at 1pm, so I've managed it.

Waiting in the queue for it was definitely worth doing. The time seemed to pass so quickly: even though I know we were there for over an hour, it felt more like about 15 minutes. We all gave way to our inner children, and spent a lot of time bashing each other over the head with the snot-green balloons which the WHSmith staff came out and gave us. We also got sweets, pencils and Panini stickers - my best trophy was a Ravenclaw house badge sticker, which [ profile] davesangel very kindly gave me. 30 seconds before midnight, the WHSmith staff led us on a shouted count-down, and finally we all rushed forth to the tills, waving our pre-order receipts and our money.

Me being me, I turned straight to the back of the book at the earliest possible opportunity, and did a lot of gaping, boggling and "bloody hell"ing as I rapidly established the identity of the character who would die, the character who would kill them and the Half-Blood Prince. The first two certainly shouldn't have been a surprise, as I'd seen both stated in what actually turned out to have been remarkably accurate online spoilers earlier that day. But the power of having it all confirmed at last by JKR herself was nonetheless quite sensational. (Although I did spend a minute or two going through a phase of thinking "But this is so shocking and such a big thing for the characters concerned, have I actually been sold a fake copy made up by internet trolls, just to see if we all fall for it?")

Now I've read it properly, I of course have lots and lots of thoughts, questions and responses about it... However, I'm also horribly aware that I only have four days left until my Reading interview, and will be spending half of one of them travelling to England. So I am sitting in my office right now, about to do some more work on my presentation, and while I may be able to post full responses before I go to Reading, the odds are it'll actually have to wait until next weekend. Pity, because there's so much to say, but we have a good couple of years to chew it over until the next book comes out after all, whereas I don't have two years to get my presentation sorted!
strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
It's very exciting to go to Mugglenet right now and see their counter to The Half-Blood Prince enumerating the remaining time in terms of a few hours! I was perfectly sanguine about it all when I woke up this morning, and genuinely spent the day thinking more about Timgad than Hogwarts - but that's entirely out of the window now! :)

In an hour, I shall be setting off for town to queue up in front of WHSmiths, armed with chocolate biscuits, cakes and of course my precious pre-order receipt (and [ profile] davesangel's!). My plan once I've got the book is to return home, make coffee and spend until at least 4am getting a sense of its overall plot and shape: much as Oscar Wilde used to do. Once I wake up again, I'll then continue learning more about the major plot details and developments over the course of Saturday, but also allow a bit more time for reading interesting-looking passages in a linear fashion.

The reason for this approach is two-fold. One, it will mean that by the time I go to sleep I'll already be essentially immune to spoilers, and will be able to start taking part in online discussions of the book almost straight away. But two, after the end of Saturday, I'm really going to have to all-but-drop-it again in order to concentrate on preparing for my Reading interview. Saturday is Harry-day, but I can't really let myself remain wrapped up in it any longer than that, and so I need to get as much as out of the book as possible during that time. Slow, linear reading can then be enjoyed at my leisure once I'm done at Reading.

Naturally, I faithfully promise assiduous use of lj-cuts and spoiler warnings in my LJ once I'm ready to start chewing over it myself - you lot know me better than to think I'd blow it for you, right?
strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
The first teaser trailer has debuted on, and you can see it here, in QuickTime format. It's very teensy-tiny, but it does look exciting, with a similar dark feeling to the previous film (both in its colour palette and its content).

Sadly no Snape - in fact I don't think I have even seen any stills of Snape from the new film yet. But then he's by no means the only character we haven't seen in a GoF context yet - other important ones including McGonagall, Hagrid, Barty Crouch Jr. and Mad-Eye Moody, to the best of my knowledge. So hopefully it doesn't mean he doesn't have much of a role, because he is pretty important to the plot.
strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
I'm still ill, and having one more day off work before I return to the fray tomorrow. The last few days have been pretty rotten overall, but I have at least had plenty of time to read. Hence, I have now finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I actually finished the previous book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire about a fortnight ago, and have been meaning to post with my impressions of it ever since. But what with one thing and another I haven't really had the spare time or energy to do so. Now, however, with the opportunity to do a little typing when I feel OK, and a little sleeping in between when I don't, I can finally get on to recording my thoughts about both books.

This post, which I wrote yesterday in Word, is about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: with luck by the end of today I shall have rattled something out about The Order of the Phoenix, too.

Meh )

Reactions to Harry being nominated as a Champion )

The Death Eater mystery )

The film )
strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
On Monday night, I finished reading Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. I had a couple of questions in mind when I started reading this book. One, about how Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban, was quickly and easily answered. The other was already bigger when I first asked it. It hasn't been completely resolved by reading the book, but I now have further thoughts on the issue, so here I shall record them.

The question was whether or not a narrowing of Alan Rickman's eyes during the 'Shrieking Shack scene' in the film was consciously supposed to represent Snape using legilimency to discover Sirius Black's innocence, but still persisting in trying to get him Kissed by the Dementors anyway. Or, as [ profile] innerbrat put it so nicely, I wanted to know whether Snape was 'the man who knows Sirius is innocent and wants him Kissed anyway.'

The short answer is that I could not find anything in the equivalent scene in the book which indicated that Snape was using legilimency at this point. The long answer, is, well, a lot longer. In essence, I now think that for Snape not to use legilimency at this point in the story is almost as bad as using it and then ignoring the information it yields.

For more details, follow these cuts:

The nature and extent of Snape's legilimency )

Lupin the legilimens )

Snape's agenda: self-delusion, or something worse? )

Last but not least, the Dumbledore factor )

My conclusion to all this? Well, canon Snape is not very nice, is he? I'm increasingly finding that I want to distinguish pretty sharply between Rickman-Snape and book-Snape. And while the first is troubled but sexy, the second is really very difficult to like.

Now, I am going to bed to start Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
strange_complex: (Chrestomanci)
Someone on [ profile] dianawynnejones today posted up a link to a PDF file containing the first chapter (16 pages) of Conrad's Fate, which is due to be published on March 7th.

It looks extremely promising, and delightfully fresh in both style and content (i.e. no rehashing of an old idea to sell books, here). Most surprising to me was the discovery that it is written in the first person, our narrator being the eponymous Conrad. I know this is a first for the Worlds of Chrestomanci series, and I can't think of any other DWJ books I've read before which use the same device (although there are plenty I haven't read).

Plot so far seems to be about tactful cut in case you'd rather discover for yourself ) There's also a rather charming reference to a series of children's books which Conrad likes to read with titles such as Peter Jenkins and the Headmaster's Secret, Peter Jenkins and the Hidden Horror and Peter Jenkins and the Magic Golfer. Naughty old Diana! ;)
strange_complex: (Default)
I have now rewatched all three of the Harry Potter films. I can highly recommend the DVDs, especially for the numerous cut scenes included on each. Although you do generally have to leap through rather tedious hoops in order to get to see them, especially on the DVD of the first film where they are the reward you get for solving various puzzles. Great for hyperactive kiddies: merely irritating for adult film aficionados.

I have also begun reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is the first book in the series that I have not yet read. This, of course, means that I am reading it having already seen the film, so I have a couple of questions in mind which arose from seeing the film, and which I am hoping the book will either answer or, at least, illuminate.

Cuts follow for spoilers and rather excessive length:

Question one: Sirius Black and Azkaban )

Question two: Alan Rickman, J.K. Rowling and Snape's legilimency )
strange_complex: (Default)
I thought Harry Potter was perfectly OK already before this Christmas, but although I've seen all three films to date, I'd only bothered to read the first two books, and had then got bored. Then I re-watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone late on Christmas night, and also spent a fascinating half-hour at Valid.Pop on Tuesday quizzing [ profile] damien_mocata, whose knowledge of the books is quasi-encyclopaedic, about the plots of books 3, 4 and 5. I now see that I seem to have stopped reading just at the point when the initial process of establishing characters and setting had been completed, and before the interesting plot-twists and surprises had really begun.

Therefore, I have been spending some time over the last two evenings mooching around on sites such as J.K. Rowling's official site, (which has some really impressive articles!) and The Harry Potter Lexicon. I've found out lots of interesting things, and I think I shall now aim to continue reading the books in the new year. (Not straight away, though, as I got several for Xmas which I want to finish first). I still don't think J.K. Rowling's writing is ever going to thrill me in quite the way Diana Wynne Jones' does. But I now have greater respect for her ability to set up complex plots and mysteries, and to create well-defined characters.

I also got myself sorted into a House:

Want to Get Sorted?

I'm a Ravenclaw!

It is kind of what I expected / hoped for after [ profile] damien_mocata and [ profile] captainlucy told me all about the characteristics of the different Houses on Tuesday, but it's nice to have it confirmed.
strange_complex: (Default)
Ooh, so it did snow in the end, even in Birmingham! I thought for a while there that the whole of the rest of the country was going to get it, but not us.

I have just been watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, taped from earlier in the evening, sitting as I did so in the middle of the lounge floor wrapped up in a huge double quilt, with glowing embers in the hearth and various chocs and other goodies spread out around me. I often seem to end up watching films late at night in this fashion over Christmas, and there is, in my opinion, no better way to do so.

Presents were multiple and all delightful. I'm glad to read that [ profile] stompyboots got a stocking, because that means it's OK to admit that my sister and I still get them too. Much of the stuff contained therein tends to be useful / practical these days: e.g. washing-up gloves, a micro-umbrella or spare electric toothbrush heads. But Santa also brought me various types of chocolate, two sets of postcards of Roman things in the British Museum, an 'Earth from the Air' calendar and some body-spray.

Tree presents (i.e. presents from family members, placed under the tree on Christmas Eve) included some very posh make-up from my sister: a deep purple Sephora lipstick, and a mauve, shimmery Chanel eyeshadow. I don't think I've ever owned anything Chanelesque before, so that was very exciting, and both were worn for Xmas dinner in the evening. From my auntie Pat I got some dangly earrings, and from my uncle Duncan a £10 book token. And Mum and Dad got me a guinea-pig calendar (I was a very enthusiastic guinea-pig owner as a child, and would love to live somewhere where I could have them again now), and DVDs of A Tale of Two Cities (1958) and Moulin Rouge (1952), both featuring... what, you guessed? Also a special mug to make proper filter coffee in at work, a Boots gift card (the modern equivalent of a gift-token, it seems), a CD of my equal-favourite (with David Cordier) countertenor, Robin Blaze singing music by William Byrd, including one track called 'Constant Penelope' (in fact, it turns out to be a translation of a poem by Ovid), and four books: 'Brighton Rock' and 'The End of the Affair' by Graham Greene, 'The White Goddess' by Robert Graves' and 'Howl's Moving Castle' by Diana Wynne Jones.

And finally... could this be the best of all? I now own this pony (Star Catcher).

As for the day itself, the morning was spent first opening our stockings, and then baking and eating croissants from ready-made dough which you can buy in funny carboard tubes. They tasted very nice, actually: easily as good as buying them fresh from a boulangerie, and possibly even better.

Then I boiled down stock from the giblets which came with the duck we'd be having in the evening, while simultaneously doing general pottering, showering and fire-lighting. Lunch was a selection of cold bits and pieces: much of it still left over from our party on the 23rd! Then, after lunch, we were finally allowed to open our tree presents: something of which much ceremony is made in our family, with each person getting given a pile of their own presents, and then sitting in a circle and opening them turn by turn. People who want to really spin it out and make the others fume may open only a card on their turn... or, if they're my Dad, they leap straight in to the biggest present on their first go.

Finally, we cooked our duck, and had our proper Christmas meal in the evening. Everyone agreed it came out really well, with an excellent bitter orange sauce (which is what the stock was needed for), as directed by Delia. We finished with Christmas pudding, properly set alight with brandy and all (this bit is always my job - yay!), and then sat round with brandy and port as the last tinkles rang out on our angel chimes.

Now it is nearly 2 in the morning, so I rather think I ought to put my head down. Even though it's not Christmas here any more, I never quite like to go to bed on Christmas evening... After all, when I wake up, it will only be boring old Boxing Day, and another 364 days to go until the magic comes round again.

Oh: or a mere 356 until the next Saturnalia, of course!

Nighty-night, peeps.


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