Why I love Harry Potter

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I was one of those people who thought ‘why on earth are adults reading Harry Potter? It’s for children isn’t it!’.  Then, when The Philosopher’s Stone was released at cinemas in 2001, two of my friends dragged me along…..I got hooked.

Ron, Harry and Hermione (so cute!)

Let’s face it, if Harry Potter wasn’t any good there would not have been so many of Britain’s finest actors clamouring for a part.  Like the Star Wars saga/franchise, you would have to live on another world to have not heard of Harry Potter.

For anybody who knows nothing about Harry Potter (all five of you), Harry is an orphan being brought up by his nasty Aunt and Uncle Dursley who treat him like a slave.  On Harry’s eleventh birthday he discovers his parents were part of a wizard world he was not aware of and he is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.  Harry finds out his parents were murdered by an evil wizard named Voldemort, who tried to kill Harry and failed.  Harry was left with a lightening-shaped scar on his forehead.  The boy who lived.  Voldemort disappeared.  Harry befriends Ron Weasly and Hermione Granger at Hogwarts.  He settles in to the wizarding world, but all is not as it seems, Voldemort has returned……

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore

In my opinion, the first two films are aimed at a younger audience and don’t fully reflect J.K. Rowling’s books, although they are a good start.  My favourite film is The Prisoner of Azkaban where director, Alfonso Cuaron, took over the reins from Chris Columbus.  Mike Newell directed The Goblet of Fire and subsequently David Yates the final four films.  The film is more muted in colour with greys, blues and greens (the ensuing films retain this winning look).  This reflects the change of direction in story and characters from jolly wizarding japes to serious, people are getting killed, storylines.  I also prefer Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore.  I loved Richard Harris, but Gambon’s Dumbledore is more steely and less twinkly-eyed/cuddly, if that’s the word I am looking for, truer to Rowling’s character.

For children, the appeal of Harry Potter is the magic and fantasy.  For everybody else, the eternal themes of friendship, good against evil, choices, bravery (I adore Neville Longbottom in Deathly Hallows, part 2), right and wrong, along with fun escapism, appeals to their inner child.  It is also the attention to detail and richly drawn characters in Rowling’s world that is wonderful.

In terms of casting, these films could not fared any better.  The actors are all perfect for their characters, Snape, Bellatrix, Lucius Malfoy and Sirius, in particular.  The child/teen cast are likeable and each bring their character to life from the pages of Rowling’s books.  Dan Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grew up whilst making these films and it is noticeable in their acting, it improves with each film.  Unusually, for child stars, as young adults they all appear to be thoroughly likeable and unspoilt.  Great role models for youngsters.

My (now) 6 year old started watching Harry Potter last Christmas and loved it.  I was apprehensive over him finding it scary, but he was fine.  His friends with older siblings have seen the films too.  I think if you know your child, you will know what is acceptable for them.  We intend to watch the films, one each Sunday afternoon, on the build-up to Christmas.  A new, yearly, film tradition.

I see nothing wrong with being a ‘grown-up’ and watching these films.  The world can be a little dreary sometimes and a bit of Hogwarts magic is just what is needed.  Expecto patronum!

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Albus Dumbledore

 

 

‘You made a woman meow?!’

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When Harry met Sally is 25 years old.  Now, as readers of this blog know, the chick flick (with a few exceptions) is not my favourite genre.  However, this gem from 1989 is one of the good ones.

The film centres on the relationship between Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) and Harry Burns (Billy Crystal).  They first meet as graduates when they car share from Chicago to New York.  Harry blatantly fancies Sally, which appals her as he is dating her friend.  Harry is plain-speaking whilst Sally skirts around the issue, ‘Miss Hospital Corners’ as Harry calls her.

Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan)

The film follows the pair as they grow older and date various people.  I love their best friends Marie and Jess, played by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby.  Their presence and chemistry with Crystal and Ryan is perfect.  Harry and Sally become close in their 30’s, after bumping into one another in New York, and start hanging out, but can men and women ever really be just friends?

Sally: I have as much of a dark side as the next person.

Harry: Oh really? When I buy a book, I read the last page first.  That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends.  That, my friend, is a dark side.

Nora Ephron (RiP) wrote the screenplay.  She really hits the nail on the head as to the way men and women view each other and relationships, whilst always maintaining the pace and brilliant, witty banter.

This film is a fabulous advert for visiting New York, particularly in the Autumn.  Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are both at their most charming.  If you like your romance with spark and wit, with a touch of reality, then When Harry met Sally is for you.  The Harry Connick Jr soundtrack is perfectly suited throughout.

Harry: If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted…..  That doesn’t work either, because what happens then is, the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with.

This post is for my lovely friend Ali.  We have watched this film together since we were 18 and we know every line! xx

 

 

 

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

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I first watched this film with my best friend on a rainy day in Cambridge, in 2009.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the film and it also left us extremely keen to visit Barcelona, hence a trip is on the cards for next year!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona has an ensemble cast that I love; Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall.  The film follows two best friends (Vickie and Cristina) on holiday in Barcelona.  They are both very different personalities.

Vicky and Cristina

Vicky (Hall) is reserved, cautious and clever.  Vicky is studying for her Masters in Catalan Studies.  She is engaged to the nice, but slightly dull and ‘safe’ Doug.  Cristina (Johansson) is a creative, free spirit who is single.  She goes from one bad relationship to another and doesn’t know what to do with her life, so she decides to tag along with Vicky to Barcelona.

Juan Antonio with Cristina

Whilst staying at Vicky’s godparents, the girls explore Barcelona and meet seductive artist, Juan Antonio (Bardem).  They both like him and vice versa, but the reserved Vicky keeps this to herself and Cristina embarks on a relationship with Juan Antonio.  Throw into the mix the beautiful, but unstable, Maria Elena (Cruz) who turns up….Juan Antonio’s ex-wife who still loves him.

The real leading lady, after Penelope’s brilliant Oscar-winning turn as Maria Elena, is Barcelona itself.  Arty, creative, passionate and bewitching, much like Juan Antonio beckoning Vickie into something new and wonderful, with an element of risk.  Originally, Woody Allen wrote a screenplay that was based in San Francisco, I really cannot imagine this film anywhere else except Barcelona.

Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz)

Vicky: “No. Look, I’m not free. I’m committed. You know what my theory is? And when I drink, I get brutally frank. I think that you’re still hurting from the failure of your marriage to Maria Elena, and you’re trying to lose yourself in empty sex.”

Why do I love this film?  Vicky represents the cautious, ‘do what’s right’ side, play it safe side of myself.  Part of me is similar to Cristina, creative and still not sure what to do with my life.  I like the realness that Woody Allen brings to the relationships between these characters and whilst realistic, this film is still nonetheless charming and romantic..

 

Images: IMDb

 

Black Narcissus

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Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, along with The Red Shoes, The Life of Pi, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and Malena.

Shot in 1947, this film did not have the special effects that today’s films use and yet it still delivers.  Many directors and actors cite Black Narcissus as a great example of stunning cinematography.

Black Narcissus

Beautiful as the film is, the cast and story are wonderful too.  I grew up watching a lot of movies from the 30’s and 40’s and what I like about these eras are the number of stories written for women.  These were proper stories instead of women running around in short skirts being ‘ditzy’.  Personally, I feel this is the best performance Deborah Kerr has given in a film.

A group of Anglican nuns move into what used to be an old palace in the Himalyas to set up a convent. They want to run a school to educate the local children, as well as administer first aid and help the sick.  Tensions start to mount between Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who is mentally unstable, and Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who has only recently become Sister Superior.  The nuns rescue a young girl called Kanchi (Jean Simmons) from a beating and take her back to the convent to live.  They seem part-horrified, part-intrigued by the young girl’s blatant sexuality.  Caught up in this is Mr Dean (David Farrar) who acts as an agent between the nuns and the locals.  Sister Ruth sees that Mr Dean likes Sister Clodagh and becomes irrationally jealous of their burdening friendship as she likes him herself.  Things escalate and lead to a dramatic conclusion.

Sister Ruth with Kanchi

Even though the air is fresh, the mountains/surroundings are vast, the flowers bright, and the sky is blue, as a viewer you can feel the intense claustrophobia that starts to effect the nuns’ behaviour.  The old palace has a brooding menace that haunts every shadow and corner.  You can see how somebody already unwell could lose their mind.

Mr Dean with Sister Ruth

If you love old movies, beautiful cinematography and a good tale, then I thoroughly recommend Black Narcissus.

Sister Ruth and Sister Clodagh

What is the most beautiful film you have ever seen?

 

My Favourite Books: The Chocolat Trilogy

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I normally write about films, but, being one who hates being boxed in and this still being a fledgeling blog, I wanted to follow my compulsion to write about some of my favourite books.  Henceforth, here is my first book post.

Most people have heard of Chocolat by Joanne Harris, read it, and/or at watched the film adaptation, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.  I watched the film quite late after it’s release, in 2005, really enjoyed it and then bought the book (usually the other way round for me), which is even better.  When I realised that there was a sequel, The Lollipop Shoes was duly bought.  Then, in 2012, the third novel was released, Peaches for Monsieur le Cure and I bought it ‘hot off the press’.

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

Chocolat follows Vianne (who lives like a traveller, going where the wind takes her) and her daughter, Anouk, who end up in the village of Lansquenet in the South-West of France.  They ruffle the feathers of the villagers by opening a chocolate shop during Lent.  Vianne also raises eyebrows with her free-spirited approach to parenting.  Their presence, along with Vianne’s divine chocolates, has a strange effect on people, bringing out their personalities and desires.  Will Vianne settle in Lansquenet and will the villagers accept her?

In the sequel, The Lollipop Shoes, we find Vianne and Anouk living in the Montmartre, Paris.  Vianne opens a new chocolate shop.  She also has had another daughter, Rosette, since the first novel.  A mysterious stranger, Zozie, turns up in their lives.  Zozie is charismatic and seemingly kind, but her intentions are far from good.  Tired, confidence lost and fed up of moving from place to place, how will Vianne deal with this threat to her family?

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure sees Vianne and her daughters return to Lansquenet, after Vianne receives a letter from an old adversary.  Things have changed in the village since she left and new troubles have been stirring.  Can Vianne help her old friends in Lansquenet?

I could not put these books down.  I feverishly read each one and literally could not wait to read them again.  Beautifully descriptive, Joanne Harris has created such wonderful characters that you cannot help, but fall for them, even Monsieur le Cure!

I particularly love The Lollipop Shoes.  The book ensnares you from the start and has the tone and pace of a modern fairytale for grown-up’s.  Departing more into fantasy than Chocolat, I feel the author has written the book she always wanted to.  Having holidayed in France as a child, I really feel the warmth for this wonderful country exuding from these books and accuracy in it’s depiction of village life.

To sum these books up, they are a joy to read. If you get as fed up with chick-lit and formulaic thrillers as I do, give these wonderful stories a try.  I hope you fall in love with them too.

Growing up with Star Wars

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I’ve mentioned before that when I was at first school, most of my friends wanted to be Sandy in Grease, but I wanted to be Princess Leia.  I even got my Mum to put my hair in Leia-type hairdo’s, involving plaits mostly.  The boys let me play as none of them wanted to be Leia.  They were too busy arguing over who was Han and who was Luke…..and Chewie and the droids.

Iconic scene from Star Wars: Luke on Tatooine

Any child born, or growing up, in the 70’s would literally have to have been from another planet if they had not at least seen, what is, the most famous movie saga in the world.  That instantly recognisable operatic movie score from John Williams.  The closest anything else has come to Star Wars is Harry Potter, but that is for another post.

Star Wars: The Millennium Falcon

When George Lucas wrote Star Wars, he was writing a space adventure for children to enjoy.  He never envisaged it would reach such stratospheric levels of fandom, love and devotion. He says he was inspired by westerns, the old-fashioned good vs. evil and that good always wins in the end.

The Empire Strikes Back: Luke and Yoda

I remember my brothers collecting the Star Wars spaceships and figures.  I was bought My Little Pony and Barbie, which utterly bored me.  I was forever playing with Lego and Star Wars toys when I wasn’t riding my bike, or climbing trees.  I was a little tomboy.  Hence my admiration for Princess Leia.  I loved the scene in Return of the Jedi when she leaps on a speeder bike in pursuit of a biker scout, for example.  She didn’t wait for the boys to deal with the dilemma/problem.

That ending. Gulp….

I was 8 when I saw the Empire Strikes Back (the same year I saw ET) and I remember crying when Han got frozen, confusion at that paternity revelation and the ending.  It couldn’t end like that, could it?  As an adult, Empire is my favourite of the trilogy.  It is the operatic, dark, second act.  However, back to my childhood, I was relieved when good won out in Jedi and loved the cute ewoks, but my brothers found them annoying.  However, the boys got Leia in a gold bikini so they shouldn’t complain.

Return of the Jedi

My teens, which I hated, came and went.  In my early 20’s the trilogy was rereleased at cinemas ahead of the new prequel, The Phantom Menace.  I had never seen the films at the cinema as I was only 2 when Star Wars came out.  I dragged one of my best friends along and after seeing Star Wars, she really looked forward to the next two films.  Seeing certain scenes such as the X-Wing attack on the Death Star, Hoth, Cloud City and the speeder bike chase on Endor was amazing.  To a child, this would be pure cinematic magic.

Wicket. Cute.

So, in 1999, the day tickets went on sale for The Phantom Menace, I got up early and booked tickets for myself and two best friends for the first showing.  On the day, queues were going round the block and people were offering three or four times the price for a ticket, but nobody was selling.  There was an air of hushed excitement when we all filed in, which I’ve never experienced before in a cinema………it was all for nothing.  It just didn’t have the charm, or magic.  The best thing Star Wars-related that year was Simon Pegg’s episode of Spaced called ‘Chaos’.  Simon Pegg is another huge fan of the trilogy.

Mace Windu. Bad-Ass Jedi. Purple Lightsaber.

I dutifully watched Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, hoping things would improve, the latter film being the best of the prequels.  I feel sorry for Jake Lloyd who copped all the flak.  He was just a kid.  Lucas should have cast an older Anakin and Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (forgiven because of Black Swan) were wooden and awful.  Then there was the awful Jar-Jar Binks….. There were a few good scenes and glimpses of what could have been, in all three movies.  Ewan McGregor hit his stride as Obi Wan in Clones and Revenge.  Darth Maul was the best thing in Phantom.  Mace Windu was the best thing about the whole trilogy.  Too cool for Jedi school.

Episode VII Cast Meeting

Anyway, onwards and upwards.  My 5 year old is now Star Wars obsessed.  Star Wars is his world.  Luke Skywalker is awesome and my son wants to be a Jedi when he grows up, alongside acting, directing and winning the Tour de France. Of course.  He will be 7 when Episode VII is released in December 2015.  I cannot wait to take him to the cinema, along with my husband, my brothers and nephews.  This is a film with huge expectations, build-up and excitement, much like Christmas.  I have every faith in JJ Abrams being the man for the job.  I think the force is strong in this one.

Images: IMDb

The 90’s: The Shawshank Redemption

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The Shawshank Redemption regularly tops favourite and greatest film movie polls.  The film was only released in 1994, but it feels like it’s been around forever.  It didn’t perform well initially, although it only opened as a limited release.  When it was rereleased in 1995 because the film was nominated for seven Oscars (which, the film should have won IMO) the film performed much better at the box office.  Like many other brilliant films though (The Bourne Identity being a good example), The Shawshank Redemption came into it’s own when it was released on vhs, fast becoming a much loved movie.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A story by Stephen King, adapted into a screenplay and directed by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption is a modern classic.  Set in 1947, it tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is imprisoned in the notorious Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Andy maintains he is innocent, much to the bemusement of other inmates. The story is about this, but mainly about the improbable friendship that develops between Andy and Red, a ‘lifer’, played delightfully by Morgan Freeman.  Shawshank also focuses on the rather grim side of prison life and how Andy copes with it.

There are so many memorable moments in this movie, like when gentle prison librarian, Brooks, gets parole, but on returning to the outside world, he cannot cope with it.  Memorable moments in films are not always happy.  We need to remember that prisoners are human beings too.

Brooks

Then there is the quote below from my favourite scene in the movie, where Andy plays the Marriage of Figaro through the PA so the whole prison hears it.

Red: [narrating] I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

Red and the other inmates

Why do fans (including myself) love this film so much?  Shawshank makes you feel sad, happy, angry, uplifted…..so many emotions throughout.  It’s an old-fashioned story about finding hope in a hopeless place.  The cast are fabulous and, for those who have seen it, you’ll know what I mean when I say, what an ending! To describe the ending in any way for anybody who has not watched Shawshank, would ruin it.  You need to watch this film with an open mind and enjoy it……

Andy: Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Andy and Red

Trivia:

Of all the brilliant work he has done, this is Morgan Freeman’s favourite film

Rob Reiner wanted to direct, with Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise as Red and Andy.  Thankfully Frank Darabont decided he would direct.  I don’t feel the movie would have been the same without Tim and Morgan in those roles.  You believe this friendship is real and that is the heart of this film.

Images: IMDb