Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#1) by J.K. Rowling


Reading this book the second time around - after having already read the whole series and watched all the movies - is surprisingly even better than reading it the first time!

The wizarding world really is brilliant. J.K. Rowling must have had so much fun creating this world. As a children's book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is fantastic. The writing is clear and concise, and characters are well-developed. There is humor as well as suspense and excitement, and it doesn't leave any unanswered questions, even if there is a lot going on.

J.K. Rowling obviously - and impressively - had everything laid out from the start. There is a reference to Sirius Black in this book, and a passing mention of Dumbledore defeating Grindelwald. I glossed over those names the first time around, but now that I know who they are, it's cool to see the names dropped into the story before the characters are properly introduced.

The book is rich with details, and, not surprisingly, it is better than the movie. Neville has a larger role than he did in the movie, and Ron is actually quite capable and not at all the "least of the three" that the movie makes him out to be.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (#7, 2011)


Wow, what a lot of action! This climactic ending to the Harry Potter franchise did not disappoint. The battle at Hogwarts was great, and finally we see the real Severus Snape! Alan Rickman totally made the whole series. Still a bit too much thinking required for a movie I value for entertainment, but I think I got it all figured out now.

If only the ending could've been a bit more upbeat. Grown-up Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all subdued and serious, not at all full of the bustle and friendliness and excitement with which I imagined the scene would be filled.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 (#7, 2010)


The movie had a good opening, but then it sort of fizzled. Three teenagers on a quest to find and destroy horcruxes is a just a bit too much to swallow, even within the wizarding realm. A big deal was made of Ron destroying the locket, but why couldn't Harry have done it himself? And that scene in which Harry tries to cheer up Hermione with a little dancing was just too sappy and out of place. Still, lots of action carried the story along, and I'm looking forward to watching Part 2!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6, 2009)


I don't know why, but Ginny Weasley never really impressed me. Maybe it's because her character wasn't properly developed in the movies over the course of the series, but the budding romance between her and Harry annoyed me. Overall, though, I did enjoy the scenes involving teen romance.

This movie had a lot of good moments, but it didn't feel so much like a stand-alone movie as it did a bridge between movies. Also, I was disappointed that even when the identity of the Half-Blood Prince was revealed, the movie didn't explain why that person called himself the Half-Blood Prince. It's not a particularly interesting answer, but I'm sure I would have wondered if I didn't already know.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (#5, 2007)


I had completely forgotten about Dolores Umbrage! Her character was so frustratingly annoying that it actually detracted from my viewing pleasure. And I know Harry's just a kid, but it still seemed like the whole big fight at the Ministry wouldn't even have happened if only he hadn't acted so rashly. I kind of remember the book being even more annoying, but since I've forgotten most everything in the books, I think watching the movie without the book fresh in my mind might have made this second viewing of the movie more enjoyable than the first. The first time I watched it, I thought there were too many characters, too many things going on, and not enough cohesion to hold it all together.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (#4, 2005)


I really liked the entertaining portrayal of the dynamics of teenage relationships, and I loved the excitement surrounding the Yule Ball. Plus, it was fun to see a pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson! There was a lot going on in the story - a lot to keep track of - and this being my second time watching the movie, I definitely had an easier time following everything.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#3, 2004)


I really enjoyed this movie, mostly because of the introduction of Sirius Black and Lupin. I love their characters, the strength of their relationship with James and Lily Potter, and the special bond they have with Harry.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (#2, 2002)


A disappointing follow-up to the first installment. It gets confusing, with too many questions posed along the way that aren't answered until much later.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#1, 2001)


It feels a bit nostalgic, watching this movie after already knowing what's in store for everyone. Harry, Ron, and Hermione look so young! Everything seems quaint, though the novelty factor of this being the first movie to bring the wizarding world to life still had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the visuals.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke


Ken picked this book up from a co-worker who was cleaning out her bookshelves. I thought it would be fun to read a random and obscure young adult fantasy novel from Germany! But when my dad saw the title, he asked, "Isn't that a movie?" It turns out, Inkheart is a well-known book that has already been made into a movie starring Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren! Ha.

Anyway, it's a light and easy read. I liked that 12-year-old Meggie, though a central character, is not the only protagonist, and that she is accompanied by several adults. Too many young adult fantasy novels feature pre-teen or early teenage children who are strangely free of parental supervision.

Inkheart emphasizes the sentimental value of books and the joy of reading, and books in general are put on a pedestal. In this way, it actually reminded me of The Shadow of the Wind, even though otherwise the books are quite different, and I think Inkheart did a better, less heavy-handed job of praising books.

The story itself is a good conceit, but throughout the entire book I couldn't help but continuously wonder, "Where does this gift come from? Why do these people have it?" Unfortunately, these questions weren't addressed at all, though I am hopeful that maybe one of the two sequels will provide some answers.

Some characters were over-the-top, but I guess that was the idea, since they originated in a storybook. Dustfinger is an interesting character, but I didn't really get him, and sometimes I just didn't understand his motivations.

Finally, each chapter starts with a quote from a well-known children's book, and other books are frequently referenced in the story. Now I am inspired to read some stories that I somehow never got around to reading before. I guess I'll add them to my Goodreads to-read list!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ezmè - Washington, DC


We had a fantastic tasting menu and a very enjoyable bottle of wine that was chosen by our server. (It was a grenache from Spain.) Portions seemed appropriate for a tasting menu, but even so, I was bursting at the end of our meal, I was so full! The restaurant is Turkish, though none of the dishes seemed particularly interesting or new - they were a familiar mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. There was one shrimp dish, and all the other meat dishes (three or four, I can't remember exactly!) had lamb. Dessert was not especially noteworthy, but the service was great.