Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What I'm Watching: Lovesick

In theory, Lovesick, my newest Netflix discovery, sounds pretty dire. In summary, it's a British comedy drama about a twenty-something man who discovers he has an STI and is obliged to contact all of his past partners to break the bad news. Yeah. That's the premise. But bear with me. Each episode begins in the present day and then flashes back to tell the story of the girl of the moment. Dylan (Johnny Flynn, our protagonist) is contacting them in alphabetical order, so it's not chronological and we're fed bits of information gradually, which all link in to the overarching will-they-won't they saga of Dylan and his best friend Evie (Antonia Thomas, Sunshine on Leith, The Three Musketeers). In the flashbacks we see her un-requited love for him, in the present, he's realised he feels something for her but by this point she's taken. It's all about the timing.

Despite the...unusual...premise, I was pleasantly surprised by Lovesick. There are currently two seasons on Netflix (before that it was shown on channel four as 'Scrotal Recall'. Urgh.) and both are good, although I did feel there were some plot inconsistencies in series two. The characters are likeable and warm (if sometimes a bit OTT) and the writing's got lots of heart (although it can be a bit crass at times - but nowhere near as much as you'd think.) And it made me laugh a lot. The introduction of new characters each episode keeps the story fresh, the girls are never just stereotypes and you can usually see why Dylan fell for them. But they're all a bit different too, rather than just a parade of glamorous blondes, or whatever. It's also interesting to see how the characters differ in each flashback - whether it was six months or six years ago. How they've developed from that point and what stage Dylan and Evie are at in their love story. The timeline must have been confusing for the actors, and admittedly it can be confusing for the viewer too, especially when we're into series two, as you're constantly having to think about where each piece of the puzzle fits in. Was this before they met, for example, or before they got together that time, or before she met that other guy, etc.  Yet it's not essential for you to have it all figured out straight away, I just kind of went with the flow.

For a show that appears to promise edginess and laddish humour, it's actually kind of sweet. It's got a lot of charm and the actors make you invest in the relationships between the characters. Dylan is set up as the 'nice' guy and his best guy friend, Luke (who reminded me a bit of Schmidt from New Girl) as the 'lad' but all of the characters are nice really - if highly flawed and verging on the sex-addicted. The female characters are as well written and as complex as the boys, and there's not a trace of that uncomfortable, underlying misogynistic vibe that you sometimes get in sitcoms and comedy films aimed at a young male audience (cough *Judd Appatow* cough). Instead there's an underlying nice-ness to Lovesick, which becomes more apparent as the episodes go on, and you get to know the characters better. No one's mean or snide-y, people do get hurt but nothing is malicious, and the friendships feel genuine.

Below: The Netflix trailer, and then the Channel 4 trailer - the two together should give you a more rounded idea of what the show is like.


In Summary, Lovesick is much more suited to it's new name than it ever was to it's old one. Yes, some of the humour is pretty crude and there's lots of sleeping around. But it's also surprisingly sweet and unsurprisingly (this is Netflix after all) addictive. It's funny and interesting, and not as edgy as it sounds. My main criticism would be that I doubt they'll have enough material for a third series, and they could have wrapped things up quite neatly at the end of series two, which they probably should have done. Still, I'm not complaining, I'd happily watch more. I loved it.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Disney's Cinderella: Live Action (1950) vs Cartoon (2015)

Disney's really got into the swing of these live-action re-makes now hasn't it? The Jungle Book was really well-received (see 'What I'm Watching' for more cartoon re-make comparisons) Beauty and the Beast is set to be the cinematic event of the year (I still can't decide whether I'm excited or worried!) and there are loads more lined up for the future. If they mess up Mulan, I will rage. Still, there have been no huge disasters so far, and it was the success of 2015's Cinderella  that really started the ball rolling. Personally, I still prefer the original, and I do worry that all these live-action versions will stop kids of this new generation from bothering with the cartoons, which would be a very sad thing. Saying that, the new film was lavish, sweet, old-fashioned entertainment and I enjoyed it very much.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the new film stuck to the pattern of the original Cinderella story, adding nothing you could call a new twist, but there were some small divergences from the plot of the cartoon. In the 2015 version we meet 'Ella's' mother briefly (before she drops dead of whatever mysterious disease usually kills the mothers of Disney princesses) but Cinderella's father does not re-marry until she's grown up. This, I thought was a bit of a problem. I get that Cinderella had to 'have courage and be kind' but that doesn't mean she has to be a complete pushover does it? In the cartoon, and the original Perrault story, the subservience makes more sense - she's a child when the Stepmother gains control and she's brought up as an inferior. But this Ella is a grown woman. I can see that she would have nowhere to go if she left the house, but letting herself become a servant in her home without a word of resistance felt a bit extreme. She doesn't even try to fight it. It's not unkind to say 'no I will not go and sleep in the attic and wait on you hand and foot' in her own house. Lily James's Ella was a nice girl - but when I compared her, as I couldn't help but do, to Danielle from Ever After, Sam from A Cinderella Story or even Cinderella from the cartoon (who, in my opinion, has a fair amount of sass even if she doesn't actively try to get herself out) I couldn't help but think she could have done more to stand up for herself. Those other Cinderellas were kind and courageous too. But they fought. This one just waited. That's not to say I didn't like her. I also thought she had great chemistry with Richard Madden, particularly in that scene where they meet in the woods. They were flirty and fun together, and I liked the way Ella told him off for hunting the stag. I just wish she had stuck up for herself as much.
The other main difference in this one was that they gave the Prince more of a personality. Richard Madden is charming in everything he's in (although he wasn't enough to save The Medicis, which I misguidedly attempted to watch the other day) and Kit - he even had a proper name! - was a likeable character. The relationship with his dad, played by Derek Jacobi, was really quite sweet. I love the bluff, eccentric King in the old film, but despite being a very different sort of character, Jacobi was brilliant and touching in his scenes, making this frothy film feel more substantial whenever he was on screen. I like that he played it very seriously, as he could have gone over-the-top-panto and no-one would have judged him.
One thing that disappointed me a bit, was the lack of songs. Those in the original might not be Alan Menken/Howard Ashman standard, but they're still good. The new film did include one, but not from Cinderella - instead they added 'Lavender blue', a familiar tune from a forgotten Disney oldie. Lily James sang it nicely, but I'd have rather heard her do 'Sing Sweet Nightingale.' And I'm sure Helena Bonham-Carter - who played a rather more glamorous but still funny Fairy Godmother - could have made a good stab at 'Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.' They did include the mice, which didn't talk, although Cinderella did talk to them. She did come across as a bit odd, but I get it, she was lonely (and I can't talk, I'm always chatting to my pets.) I still think the bits with Lucifer and the mice are some of the highlights of the original film, but this one was more focused on the romance so I can see why they were side-lined. I think that was sensible, but it did mean this film had less humour, and more sickly-sweetness.
One of the big selling points of Cinderella 2015 was the costumes. And they were lovely. I loved Ella's pale blue day dress and her ball gown was fabulous - I loved the colour and the huge skirt. Those tacky butterflies on the shoulders though? Just why. The dress in the cartoon was much classier. I think they went a bit overboard with the gaudy dresses on the stepsisters (Daisy from Downton Abbey and Holliday Grainger, obviously having a lot of fun in their roles) but Cate Blanchett's outfits alone were worth the Oscar. She looked great in everything.
Overall, I liked this Cinderella, although it felt less like a re-make of the 1950 classic than simply a new traditional re-telling. For me, it was most reminiscent of The Slipper and the Rose in tone, and Rodger and Hammerstein's Cinderella (the 90's one, with Whitney Huston) in appearance. I liked it, it was gorgeous and non-taxing to the brain, but honestly, it's no Ever After (can you tell that's my favourite? Maybe I'm just biased.) There's a great cast and the costumes and chemistry between the leads make this worth watching. But you should watch the cartoon too. It's still the real classic.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Favourites of 2016

So 2016 has finally come to a close, and I'm going to be a whinger like the rest of the world and say I'm glad to see the back of it. But it's not been all bad, and at least there's been some good TV. Below is my year in Television, film and books - not always new things, sometimes just new discoveries.

Favourite new discoveries:

Black Mirror

My cousin has been telling me how good this is for ages, but somehow I only got round to watching it recently. There are three seasons so far (I've watched the first two Channel 4 series' and the first episode of the new Netflix season) but you can mix up the order because they're all stand-alones with totally different characters and worlds. Each story is set in a different, dystopian near-future, where people are causing problems, usually by misusing slightly scary everyday technology. My favourites so far are the episode where everyone wears play-back contacts in their eyes (which is clearly not good for your mental health when you suspect someone of cheating on you, as happens in the episode) and the one where ordinary people are living a slave like existence and their only way out is through reality TV. It's all very dark, and depressing and not my thing. But it's so good. Created by Charlie Brooker, some of the episodes are co-written with his wife Konnie Huq - who was one of my Blue Peter presenters. Who knew she had such a twisted mind!

Happy Valley

Usually you only have to say 'police drama' to me and my brain switches off. Action and detectives, grim, gritty reality, all are a no-go with me. But screenwriter Sally Wainwright is a bit of a genius really so I had to watch this much recommended series. It's really great, edge of your seat stuff and probably the best thing I watched this year. It's the story of sergeant Catherine Cartwright, an ordinary policewoman who becomes involved when a local girl is abducted by the man who raped and murdered her own teenage daughter. It sounds grim, and it is, but the characters are real and likeable and there's a lot of everyday humour in there, as well as a gripping plot and fantastic acting throughout. Plus I love the theme song. Definitely worth a watch.

(I also really enjoyed To Walk Invisible, a one-off biopic of the Brontes, which was also written by Sally Wainwright and shown on BBC this week - it's still probably on iplayer.)

Favourite thing I watched this year:
Game of Thrones, Series 6

Season 5 was a bit rubbish in comparison to the rest, but this year really stepped things up a notch. That battle in episode 9 - seriously edge of my seat the whole way through. People were actually leaving the room because of all the tension. This not-actually-knowing whether your favourite characters are going to live or die stuff is great. TV should try it more often.

Favourite new discovery:
The Commitments

This Dublin-set comedy from the early nineties follows a group of kids in their early twenties as they create a band to sing 'Dublin soul'. The more I watch this the more I love it. The story is nothing stand-out I guess, but I love the music and the humour.

Best thing I watched at the cinema:
Bridget Jones' Baby

Probably because I wasn't expecting it to be good, but it really made me laugh out loud. It captured something of the original films but brought the character out of the nineties without trying to hard to be down-with-the-kids. There were plot holes (her and Mark wouldn't have broken up. They just wouldn't) and Daniel was missed, but it was a fitting end to the series.

Oh, and Fantastic Beasts was good too!

Favourite new discoveries:

An old classic that I knew very little about, but really enjoyed. I loved the main character and the love interest, the setting was interesting and it was just a good story. I think having no idea what was going to happen next, and not being able to guess either, was a big part of the enjoyment. There was some uncomfortable racist language, but it was written in the fifties so I just had to deal with that. I still haven't watched the film (which won an Oscar) so I guess I should get on that.

When I was younger I read and enjoyed Hilary McKay's Casson Family series (Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After and Forever Rose) and Caddy - the dizzy, animal-loving oldest sister - was my favourite of the family. I was kind of annoyed that 'her' book was mostly from Rose's point of view (she's clearly the author's favourite child) so it was nice to discover a new prequel, about Caddy, around the time of Rose's birth. I laughed and cried, if that's not too cheesy to admit, and I'm going to have to go back and re-read the others now.

Favourite re-read:

This was probably the biggest surprise of my Harry Potter re-read. I hadn't read it in a while, and I was startled by how much it made me laugh. Out-loud too. It's not my favourite, but it's got to be up there.

Best thing I read this year:

A big, fat, historical novel, chronicling the life of Richard the third, this was engrossing, exciting and sad. It was easy to read too, despite it's size, and I rushed through it. I liked the characters, and it was very game-of-thrones like in it's intrigue. I would bet that George R.R Martin has read this book.


(I've literally been to the theatre three times, but that's enough to make a list out of, so I'm going to!)

Best musical I saw this year:

Guys and Dolls

I only saw the touring production but it was fab. Richard Fleeshman was a great Sky, and it's such a feel-good show. (See my review: here)

Best adaptation:
Pride and Prejudice, the play

This was a bit random, but a lot of fun. And Matthew Kelly made a great Mr. Bennet. (See my review: here)
Most exciting thing:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Great acting, amazing effects, fantastic atmosphere. But yeah, terrible story. (See my review: here)

 What were your highlights of 2016?

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Play Review

(Mild SPOILERS ahead)

Over the last couple of months I've been re-reading the Harry Potter series (see here) with the intention of swotting up for my trip to see The Cursed Child. My sister and I got cheap tickets via Pottermore when they first went on sale, and so I'd had months to get used to the idea of going to see it (read: get myself thoroughly over-excited). Despite the widespread release of the script I'd managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, but I still didn't reach the theatre with a totally open mind. Everyone I'd spoken to who had read the play (at least, those who were devoted fans of the books) seemed to be of a similar opinion. Although they told me nothing about the plot I sensed eye-rolling disapproval and mild frustration. When I asked what they thought in general, the answer was always the same: "I'm sure it'll be better on stage". I hoped they were right. The critics' reviews had been great after all, and plays are meant to be seen not read. Still, I wasn't expecting much from the story. And a good thing too, because it was the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard. Yet the play was saved - dragged kicking and screaming from the realms of ridiculous - by the fabulous, wonderful cast. Plus some great staging and effects.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't thoroughly enjoy Cursed Child, but I refuse point blank to view it as canon. The plot was fun, and mad and random, but essentially it was fan-fiction, and the most clichéd kind at that. Knowing that the epilogue from Deathly Hallows (which I usually like to pretend was never written anyway) was the jumping off point, I was always a bit worried, but I was still interested to see Harry and co. as adults with Hogwarts-age kids. Unfortunately, some of the things I'd been dreading did come to pass: Ron is used largely for comic relief, Harry is a pretty useless Dad and playwright Jack Thorne seems to have as little interest in Lily, James and Hugo as J.K Rowling herself does. (Why even give Harry three kids if you only bother to make one of them three dimensional?)  Fortunately, however, whoever they put in charge of casting gave us three perfect leads in Paul Thornley's Ron, Noma Dumezweni's Hermione and Jamie Parker's Harry. As soon as I saw the cast photos I got excited.

Ron looked more like the Ron of my imagination than Rupert Grint ever did. Hermione might look nothing like Emma Watson but again there was something very Hermione-ish in her look. And I was a fan of Jamie Parker anyway, I knew he would do Harry justice. All  I can say is that all three of the principal cast members lived up to my expectations. So many of us have grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and we know them inside out - maybe better than any other characters in literature - so if they do something out of character we will know. But, while the script strained against the boundaries of our belief, the principals inhabited the characters in such a way that I just let the inconsistencies wash over me. In hindsight, maybe Hermione, as written by Thorne, didn't have as much warmth as the Hermione we know and love, and maybe Ron wasn't as clued up. But the actors' made up for a lot of what was lacking. Their general aura and mannerisms were so spot on (Harry in particular) that, for me anyway, they conjured up more of the characters from the books than the film actors were ever able to achieve. So, when Harry confessed he was mortally afraid of pigeons, sat crying over an old baby blanket or said things to his son that were close to unforgiveable, Jamie Parker did it in such a Harry-ish way that I could almost suspend my disbelief. Almost.

I can't credit the cast enough, particularly the main three (Ginny was good too, but she's a difficult character to get right - as Bonnie Wright proved time and again...) but there's also something to be said for the new characters. If there was a good point to the plot, it would have to be Scorpius. Scorpius is a lovely character on the page, kind and clever, with an almost Luna-like quirkiness. Although on stage I was a bit taken aback by his very odd voice, I warmed to the character almost immediately, and then to Albus too (whom I wasn't expecting to like) if only because he chose Scorpius as a friend. We had an understudy for Scorpius's dad, Draco, who I thought did a great job in possibly the most difficult role of the lot. As written, I found this new Draco a little too good to be true (when did he become such a sharer?) but the actor tried hard to make him convincing. I was also kind of disappointed that Neville didn't make an appearance. The majority of the play is set in Hogwarts after all, I thought it was a waste not to include Professor Longbottom.

In other good points, I loved the staging of the whole thing. The costumes and the music were great, but the most exciting part had to be the effects. Having watched the films, I feel like I almost took the magic a little bit for granted - but when you think back and realise that they're creating similar effects on stage with no camera trickery, it's nothing short of mind-blowing. I'll 'keep the secrets' and all that, but I think I can say that the Dementors were especially cool.

I'd also like to take a minute to note that the script is not actually that bad. I blame the story. Sitting in the theatre there was a great atmosphere throughout, and it wasn't only due to the spectacle, and the effects and the excitement of seeing Harry Potter on stage. It was a good play! There were some great funny moments (I particularly loved the Polyjuice bit) some touching scenes and lovely bits of dialogue that the cast can't take all the credit for (although they did bring out the best in everything). Basically it was a good script, it just wasn't what we've come to expect from Harry Potter. J.K Rowling is noted for clever plotting, detailed, in-depth, world-building and characterisation. Yes, it's a play. Yes it's a whole different medium. But still, we didn't get that in The Cursed Child. We got gags and randomness and re-hashing and nostalgia. Visually, it worked. As a play it worked. But as an eighth book? Not so much.

Other than the plot, and the odd character issue, I had one other gripe with Cursed Child - one that you might not be aware of if you've only read the play. A few months ago, on Twitter, J.K Rowling announced that, contrary to what we've known to be true for many years, apparently she intended Voldemort to be pronounced with a silent 'T'. Say whaat? If it was meant to be pronounced 'Voldermor' why didn't she say so in one of the millions of interviews she's given over the years? She had plenty of input in the films, why didn't she explain back then, and say, when Robbie Coltrane says the name for the first time, for instance, "actually Rob, the 't' is silent"??? I'll tell you why, because she just made it up now. To be annoying. And to cause me acute annoyance when my sister leans over to me at the interval of Cursed Child (no mean feat, our seats were so steeply sloped that leaning in any direction was tantamount to a death wish) and says, did you notice they're all calling him "Voldemor?"

Not anymore...

So overall, what did I think? Well, taken for itself, as a play and a visual spectacle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was magnificent (and if you get the chance you should definitely go to see it before the change the cast!) As an un-official, non-canon sequel (like Hook, perhaps or Return to Oz) it was good fun. But as an official 'eighth book' - which Ms-I-have-quite-possibly-gone-mad-with-power-Rowling insists must be taken as canon - it's a travesty. But I'm not going to take it as canon, so I can deal with it. Here's a few questions to ask yourself if you ever stray into that territory: 1) Does Voldemort have sexual urges? 2) Is Cedric Diggory a Hufflepuff and an indisputably good and noble man? 3) Would Hermione have still been successful had she never met and married Ron? 4) Does Panju sound like something Ron would ever name his child? If your answers to these questions are no, yes, yes and then no, you cannot, in good faith, take Cursed Child as canon. Whatever her Highness says. Also, I still think Harry chose the wrong career path. He should have been a teacher.

Have you seen The Cursed Child? Read it? What did you think???

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Re-reading Harry Potter #7 The Deathly Hallows

So, it's Christmas tomorrow (!!!) and I've finally come to the end of my Harry Potter re-read. I'm a month off target but better late than never! And I'm glad I took the time to re-read the series. It's been a while and it was nice to properly immerse myself in Harry's world again. I'd forgotten just how rich and exciting the stories are, and how much I love the characters. Out of all the books, Deathly Hallows was possibly the biggest surprise of all. When I usually think of the final book it conjures up nostalgic memories of queuing at midnight, of my mum crying her eyes out reading Dobby's death aloud in a back bedroom on holiday in Ireland (we only brought one copy as a family and no-one wanted to wait to read it), it brings back anger over particular deaths (She could have at least given Lupin and Tonks a death scene!) and irritation over that cheesy epilogue and the odd heaven-ish chapter at King's Cross Station. But as a novel in itself, I think Deathly Hallows is one of my favourites. It's pretty much non-stop action from beginning to end, each chapter is like it's own little adventure, and there's enough crammed in that I can understand the need for two films - even if it seemed indulgent at the time. Deathly Hallows was a fitting end to the series, and even the epilogue was better this time around...I found myself comparing it favourably to Cursed Child - but that's for another post.

New thoughts this time:

Harry is so great. Like with Order of the Phoenix, I found myself much more on his side this time. The discovery of what a heartless user Dumbledore is - and how little he deigned to trust both Harry and Snape, never telling them enough of the truth to feel secure - felt like a huge betrayal to me, so I can see why Harry is so angry early on. Dumbledore left him so little to go on, and the thought that it was all for 'the greater good' and that things worked out ok in the end, doesn't make Dumbledore a better person. I just can't get over how cold he was.

"You have used me."
"I have spied for you, I have lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to keep Lily Potter's son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter -
"But this is touching, Severus. " said Dumbledore seriously. "Have you grown to care for the boy after all?"
"For him?" Shouted Snape. "Expecto Patronum!"
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: she landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
"After all this time?"
"Always." said Snape.

- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I love though, that with Dumbledore out of the way, this is the first book where Harry actually really embraces his authority and his status as 'the chosen one' or 'the boy who lived', whatever you want to call it. He seems like an equal with the adults now, he's acting as a leader, making important decisions, making discoveries for himself and surviving on more than his bravery and (to paraphrase Voldemort) a combination of luck and more talented friends. Basically, he's grown up. I always kind of thought that Harry should have been a teacher when he left Hogwarts, but in Deathly Hallows we get a glimpse of what Harry the auror might have looked like. Not that he doesn't have his idiotic moments - breaking the taboo and needlessly bringing the snatchers down on himself, Ron and Hermione is up there in the stupidity stakes with the time he decided six teenagers could take on Voldemort and the Death Eaters alone (Order of the Phoenix) or the time he used Sectusempra on Malfoy without first checking what it did (Half-Blood Prince.)

Re-reading this time, I also realised this book feels much more adult than the rest. The story of Dumbledore's childhood is pretty dark, the Ariana stuff especially (and having watched Fantastic Beasts, it made me wonder if she became an Obscurus - she was attacked for using magic and then refused to use it so that it turned inwards and burst out of her at odd moments where she couldn't control it?) The new Ministry order and the persecution of Mudbloods is very Nazi-esque. Then there's the Malfoy Manor scene and the sheer amount of deaths... it's acknowledged that the books get darker, but when you compare this book to the first one, there really is a big difference. The books really grew up with their audience.

Favourite forgotten moments:

I love how, after Harry, Ron and Hermione get Kreacher on side, he makes Grimauld Place all homely for them. It's so sad when they have to leave him behind. And I got a bit teary at a scene where Hagrid comforts Harry after Hedwig is killed - Harry doesn't want to show he's upset, because it seems trivial next to the death of Mad-eye, but Hagrid recognises his loss and acknowledges it, without making a fuss.

Favourite bits:

There's so many. I like the bit when they finally get the radio tuned to Potterwatch. I love the Gringotts break-in, Ron and Hermione's kiss, Mrs.Weasley killing Bellatrix, Percy's return, the moment Dudley says he doesn't think Harry is a waste of space, the return to Hogwarts and the lead up to the battle. There's sadder moments too, that I still think are great writing - when Harry gets angry at Lupin for abandoning his son, when they bury Dobby, when we discover Snape's secrets (although my Mum guessed Snape and Lily round about book four, so it came as less as a surprise to me!) although his death is much too sad. I wanted Snape to die heroically in a blaze of glory, not alone in the Shrieking Shack, believing that even in the best case scenario, Lily's son would have to die. (Dumbledore has a lot to answer for.) I also like the drama of the scene where Ron leaves, and I love the moment when he comes back.

Favourite Quotes:

Dudley gently released himself from his mother's clutches and walked towards Harry, who had to repress an urge to threaten him with magic. Then Dudley held out his large, pink hand.
"Blimey, Dudley" said Harry, over Aunt Petunia's renewed sobs, "did the dementors blow a different personality into you?"
"Dunno," muttered Dudley. "See you Harry."
"Yeah..." said Harry, taking Dudley's hand and shaking it. "Maybe. Take care, Big D."

Ron had had a fit of gallantry and insisted that Hermione sleep on the cushions from the sofa, so that her silhouette was raised above his. Her arm curved down to the floor, her fingers inches from Ron's. Harry wondered whether they had fallen asleep holding hands. The idea made him feel strangely lonely.

He knew that Hermione could have done it more neatly, and probably more quickly, but he had wanted to mark the spot as he had wanted to dig the grave. When Harry stood up again, the stone read: 'Here lies Dobby, A Free Elf.'

"I was a fool!" Percy roared, so loudly that Lupin nearly dropped his photograph. "I was an idiot,  I was a pompous prat, I was a - a-"
"Ministry-loving, family-disowning, power-hungry moron," said Fred.
Percy swallowed. "Yes, I was!"
Well you can't say fairer than that." said Fred, holding out his hand to Percy.

"I'll join you when Hell freezes over," said Neville. "Dumbledore's Army!" he shouted, and there was an answering cheer from the crowd, which Voldemort's silencing charms seemed unable to hold.

"Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those that live without love."

What's your favourite part of Deathly Hallows? Did you think it was a fitting end to the series?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Favourite Films for Christmas

As we're into advent, I thought it was about time for the obligatory Christmas themed post. I haven't  watched a Christmas film yet this year, but the below ten films are on my winter watch-list. No, Elf and Home Alone aren't on there. Call me a Grinch if you must - but he's not on there either.

The Nostalgic one: Nativity!
What's it about? A Christmas-hating primary school teacher's boast gets out of hand and soon the whole of Coventry believe that Hollywood are coming to film the school nativity play.
Who's in it? Martin Freeman, Miss Trunchbull, Christina from Ugly Betty and Alan Carr. And lots of very cute and not-actually-annoying kids.
Why do  I love it? It's  heart-warming and funny, there are great songs and it sends me right back to being in Primary school at Christmas. I was Mary one year, don't you know.

The Musical: White Christmas
What's it about? Two ex-soldiers turned entertainers join forces with a female double act and aim to put on a show for their old general who's business is failing.
Who's in it? Bing Crosby, Danny Kay and Rosemary Clooney.
Why do I love it? It's classic December-evening-in-front-of-the-telly-stuff. Some lovely songs and great dance numbers. And it's funny too.


The Shamelessly Cheesy one: Love Actually 
What's it about? Lots of interlinking Christmas-themed stories, mostly romantic, some based around love for family or friends.
Who's in it? Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightly, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy...to name just a few.
Why do I love it? It's so Christmassy. Although I don't love all of the stories - too many of them are sad, and some don't work. Colin Firth's plotline is my favourite.

The Childhood Favourite: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
What's it about? It's not exactly a Christmas film, but there are lots of Christmassy bits. This is the first film in the series, where Harry first discovers he's a wizard and starts his first year at Hogwarts.
Who's in it? Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith - you know the drill.
Why do I love it? Because it's so magical. It's a proper family film, it's warm and there's something about the music and the atmosphere and the Englishness that makes it very Christmassy and

The Rom-Com: While you were Sleeping
What's it about? A lonely young woman saves a man's life on Christmas Eve and is embraced by his family who, due to a mis-understanding - believe she is his fiancée.
Who's in it? Sandra Bullock, Bill  Pullman and Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins as an old woman.
Why do I love it? It's warm and sweet and very romantic, in quite an old-fashioned way. And it's nice to see Bill Pullman play the lead, rather than the boyfriend that gets dumped.

The Guilty Pleasure: Naughty and Nice
What's it about? A young woman named Kris Kringle loses her job and is working as an elf at the mall when she is accidentally sent Santa's 'Naughty or Nice' list.
Who's in it? No one you'll have heard of.
Why  I love it? For a trashy hallmark film, the leads are likeable, it's actually a pretty smart script and it makes me laugh. It's worth looking out for, honestly.

The Intellectual one: Joyeux Noel
What's it about? The famous Christmas Truce, during the first year of World War One. Both sides put aside their differences in many places along the trenches, in order to celebrate Christmas.
Who's in it? That blonde woman from Inglourious Basterds - but no one else particularly famous.
Why do I love it? It's stirring, beautiful and sad. It always makes me cry, and it always gets me feeling Christmassy. 

The Weepy: Little Women
(Trailer has loads of spoilers, just so you know)
What's it about? Based on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, it follows four sisters around the time of the American Civil War, through their childhood together, their loves and losses.
Who's in it? Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Bale. (That's in the good version anyway...)
Why do  I love it? The Victorian era always makes things more Christmassy by default. And this is very well cast (except for grown-up Amy) the characters are engaging and there's something emotional and heart-rending about the whole thing. It's the perfect Christmas film when you need a good girly cry.

The Classic: It's a Wonderful Life
What's it about? In a sort of reverse version of A Christmas Carol George Bailey is a flawed but decent, self-sacrificing guy about to do something stupid on Christmas Eve when an angel comes and shows him what a wonderful life he's really had. He shows us too and you can't help but feel for George.
Who's in it? James Stewart and some semi- recogniseable actors and actresses of that period.
Why do I love it? I don't normally like to be preached to but the message of this film gets me. It's a  frustrating story at times, but stirring and life-affirming at others. Deservedly a classic and best watched on Christmas Eve.

The Best: The Muppet's Christmas Carol
What's it about? A pretty faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' Christmas Classic (although everyone was human in the original, obviously), the miserly Scrooge is shown the error of his ways by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
Who's in it? Michael Caine, who is wonderful as Scrooge. Plus Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest.
Why do I love it? A Christmas Carol is the archetypal Christmas story, and I love the songs and the atmosphere. And did I mention Michael Caine is wonderful as Scrooge?  
What are your favourite Christmas films?

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Re-reading Harry Potter #6 The Half-Blood Prince


I'm getting to the end of my Harry Potter series re-read, having now finished Half-Blood Prince. I know that this one is a lot of people's favourite, and although it's personally not one of mine I can see why it's so well loved. This is the one where the romance kicks in but you can also feel momentum building, pulling us towards the end of the series. I really enjoyed it.

New Thoughts this time:

Re-reading Harry Potter 6 immediately after 5 was interesting. First thing I noticed was that Harry seems to have got over Sirius's death very quickly (two weeks??) - especially considering it was kind of his fault, and how cut up about it he was initially. Not that I mind, really, as it's a relief to have Harry more emotionally stable than he was in Order of the Phoenix. But still. Second thing I realised, was that I actually don't mind Harry/Ginny. It's done so badly in the film, but even in the book it used to niggle at me, I always thought Ginny changed too much and that Harry's feelings came on too suddenly, but I've come to the conclusion that it's actually quite well done. And I liked Ginny more on this re-read. However, I do think Harry is less relatable in this one. He's not so humble as he used to be, I don't feel he takes his quidditch captaincy seriously enough and although his obsession with Malfoy turns out to completely justified, it's annoying. I love how sassy he is though. (On the necklace Lavender gives Ron for Christmas: "Classy. You should definitely wear it in front of Fred and George." On Dumbledore's dubious fashion sense in the pensieve: "Nice suit, Sir" and to a mis-judged comment by Snape : "There's no need to call me Sir, Professor.")

This time round, I also noticed quite a lot of similarities and links between this book and The Chamber of Secrets - and I wondered whether it was at all purposeful? There's the revelation of the Horcruxes (one of which turns out to have been Riddle's Diary, which first surfaced in Chamber of  Secrets) there's the thing with Malfoy fixing the Vanishing cabinets (first broken in Chamber of Secrets) we learn more about Voldemort's past, and his Slytherin bloodline, the Harry/Ginny romance is resurrected (although this time it's him that's got the unrequited crush on her) and Harry falls under the spell of the Half-Blood Prince when reading his old potions book, as he once did with Tom Riddle after reading his diary. And did you ever notice the book covers are the same colours? Blue and Green. None of the other books have repeat colours. I know, I'm 100% reading too much into this. But I did think it was interesting.

Favourite forgotten moments:

I'd forgotten just how much  Harry hates McLaggen and how funny it is. Especially when McLaggen loses Gryffindor a match by demonstrating to one of the beaters how to use his own club and knocking Harry out by mistake.

Favourite bits:

I love Harry's lessons with Dumbledore - the flashbacks to Voldemort's past are all dead interesting but I also like to see developing relationship between the two of them. Seeing Dumbledore trust Harry more (although still not enough) and the pair of them becoming (as Daniel Radcliffe described it on some programme once) more like soldier and commanding officer rather than student and teacher. The bit where they go to the cave is so dark, but also so exciting.

I love the bit where Harry takes Felix Felicious,  Luna's quidditch commentary and that moment in the hospital wing when Mrs. Weasley finally sees Fleur clearly - it always makes me cry.

Favourite Quotes:

"Well, it is clear to me that he has done a very good job on you," said Scrimgeour, his eyes cold and hard behind his wire-rimmed glasses. "Dumbledore's man through and through, aren't you, Potter?"
"Yeah, I am," said Harry. "Glad we straightened that out."

...he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.

...age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.

"You thought I would not weesh to marry him? Or per'aps, you 'oped?" said Fleur, her nostrils flaring. "What do I care how 'e looks? I am good looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave! And I shall do zat!" she added fiercely, pushing Mrs. Weasley aside and snatching the ointment from her.

"I never really gave up on you," she said. "Not really. I always hoped...Hermione told me to get on with life, maybe go out with some other people, relax a bit around you, because I never used to be able to talk when you were in the room, remember? And she thought you might take a bit more notice if I was a bit more - myself."
"Smart girl, that Hermione," said Harry, trying to smile.

"I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. "I am with you."

See also: