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Harry Potter, what a tool.

7 Nov

from July 2006

Now that I’ve finished the book, here’s my review.
Would I let my child read it? Yes
Would I have read it as a child? Yes
Would I recommend that you read it? No
The opening chapters are dreadful and ponderous. Harry is mentally and physically abused by his family. (His parents are both dead, and he is living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin.) This is in the tradition of Cinderella and the step-sisters, but taken to a horrendous degree. There are no redeeming comedic features to the characters. They are ogres and monsters. Further, there is no redeeming comedic feature to Harry. He takes the abuse, never getting any childish revenge or satisfaction. He is a perpetual victim.
The next chapters are concerned with Harry’s preparations to attend Hogwarts, the sorcery school. Harry meets both school-mates and school-teachers. They are not unlikable. Even the teachers, who are (mostly) stern and strict are not dislikable. However, nothing much happens. Harry is introduced to various people and devices, with little development. It is a shallow story.
The last 1/3 of the story is better, and is why I raised my opinion. A small mystery develops, and it is this, along with Harry dodging some less-than-nice school-mates that propels the remainder of the book. However, “mystery” is a word with several connotations. This is not a mystery that engages the reader. There is no chance of solving it with the clues provided (there are none.) As with the rest of the book, it is simply a series of events which we witness, never with any interaction or concern. Further, the author cheats. She fudges some important points, and doesn’t  explain at least one vital plot point. However, this is a kids book, and they aren’t likely to notice. Not important to the reader, but just another point against the author.
I’ve got some more serious problems. Harry and his friends break some rules (albeit in a good cause) but are never punished. Moreover, they are praised and rewarded. Not a good lesson. It also lacks any morals or lessons. It is full of empty calories. Won’t hurt you, but doesn’t help either. I don’t understand how this book got its reputation.
This novel is very much in the style of most children’s “literature.” If you have ever read “Beware The Fish” by Gordon Korman or any of its sequels, you’ve read this book, just with magic added. It mines all of the typical feelings and fears of children, i.e. parents aren’t fair, teachers are out to get you, rules are made to be broken, kids are smarter than they are given credit for. It is writen in the style of “The Phantom Tollbooth” but lacks the sense of wonder and depth present there. That book works on many levels, “Potter” only functions on one.
Go ahead and read it to satisfy your curiosity, if you wish. It’s a fast read, and won’t hurt. It is even likeable, though not to the extent that I’ll bother to read the sequels.
Any comparison to Tolkien, Narnia, Oz, or any real fantasy is totally unfounded. This is a child’s view of fantasy, not an adult’s. It has a small scope, never really developed. It never attempts to describe the larger wizard world, only introduces small elements as they become relevant.
If you want to borrow my copy, you’re welcome to it.    😉

Apocalypse Now, a happy little film. My review

7 Nov

from July1, 2006

A.N. is a film that makes statements about war in general, the men who fight it, and the nature of conflict. Although set during the Vietnam war, it says little about that war. It comments some on the racism toward the Vietnamese, but that’s mostly limited to verbal slurs and condescension, nothing explicit (and that’s an important point. This is a subtle film.) A.N. never attempts to get into the underlying reasons for or against the war. It manages to stay a-poliitical towards the larger forces behind war, only commenting on the soldiers themselves. (As in why Brando has to be killed but the surfing Colonel, who obeys orders but is running just as much of a cult as Brando, is respected and honored. Brando, at least according to his writings, is very much a great solidier, but he doesn’t play in the same political sandbox, so he must be executed.)

The French sequence doesn’t fit for many reasons. Here, they get explicit (no longer subtle) about the Vietnamese conflict, unlike the rest of the film. Here, they are trying to make a comment about that particular war, and have moved away from the themes of the rest of the film. It is a sequence that only relates to itself. {Cinematically, Capt. Willard spent almost the whole sequence sitiing directly in front of the open window with his hand over his eyes, “blinded by the light.” Of truth? He was unable to respond to the Frenchman. He had no words. Maybe in the light of the the Frenchman’s truth, he was unable to respond. He had no answers. Again, a great scene, but a commentary on Vietnam that was out of place in this film.}

Secondly, it doesn’t fit on the river. They have been slowly descending into madness. Every stop has been less ciivilized than the first, leading into the ultimate surrender of humanity, Brando’s native idyll, where the men are half clothed, corpses hang everywhere, idols are worshipped, and animals sacrificed. Just watch Lance, who has slowly been abandoning his civilized ways and becomes one of Brando’s minions, without ever meeting him. It was “the horror,” or the nature of war that brought him there. The drugs helped, but it’s implicit that it was the war that brought him to the drugs. However, the French plantation was the height of civilization, plopped into the river at a point where they are nearing the apex of “uncivilization.” They have left the american army behind, and, are next attacked with “primitive” weapons (spears and arrows) by “primitive” people. I don’t see this as an intentional juxtapostion because it doesn’t seem to make any points in that regard, “primitive” versus “civilization.”

It would be more palatable if it took place earlier on the river, but since the rest of the river was under American Army control, it couldn’t exist there. Plus, we hadn’t seen the horrors of war yet, so it would not have as much impact.

Thirdly, at a more basic level, I find it hard to believe that that band of hardy Frenchmen could keep the farm running, even just in a small way for pride’s sake. They were so divided in opinion (and anger) that some of them MUST have wanted to return to France. Why would the men who left the table early stay? What could the quality of life be there? In that country at that time, where were they getting food, clothes, music, anything that they were accustomed too? Who were the men with guns? Some of them were clearly Vietnamese. They are loyal only to the farm, not their country?

Still considering the Dennis Hopper “character” (Isn’t he just playing himself?) He was not in his right mind, and totally loyal to Brando. Is this an example of the blind love Brando engendered in his people? His madness was supposed to be the opposite of Brando’s quiet sanity. As you said, here we have to doubt everything we’ve been told about Brando. However, the things Hopper tells us make us feel more and more that Brando is insane. When we finally see Brando, though, he doesn’t seem insane, but he does seem to have an extreme god-complex, one that was never hinted at in the course of the movie.

Bottom line, Hopper was loud and distracting, very annoying. In a place of insanity, he was the only one who seemed truley insane. Maybe because he was a random element, a civilian who wasn’t a part of Brando’s army. Strangely, he was also the only one who saw Brando clearly, making him the only sane man there at the same time. (Hmm. Now that I write this, there seems to be more to Hopper’s character than meets the eye. Maybe more on him later.)

“Charlie don’t surf!”

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