Why I hate Mike Newell

WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER SERIES

Goblet of Fire is an excellent addition to the Harry Potter series. It introduces the idea of foreign wizards, the Hogwarts gang begins to grow up and oh yea, Voldemort returns to life. At 734 pages, this was the largest Potter book thus far, though that wasn’t the only thing differentiating it from the previous three.

Rowling sets the tone for this book in the first chapter, having a character die before we even get around to seeing what Harry is up to. If that wasn’t a sign of what was to come, I don’t know what was.

The book itself is very well-paced with lots of humor (Ludo Bagman), romance (The Yule Ball) and adventure (um, the entire Triwizard Tournament?). But perhaps the best moment in the book is at the end when Lord Voldemort returns in what is possibly the most creepy scenes in the Potter franchise. This is, coincidentally, the only scene that the film got right.

Although Goblet of Fire is one of the best books in the series, the film is undoubtedly the worst. Newell mutilates the book, gets rid of many major characters and plot lines and adds a really pointless scene where Harry chases a dragon for about 10 minutes when in reality he was the champion to get the golden egg in the shortest time and that counted for points thank you very much! Because this movie is so awful, (and don’t even get me started on the boy’s hairstyles) I have a hard time reading the book without getting angry.

Now, I understand that filmmakers have to pick and choose what can be included when the books are so long. But tell me then how David Yates managed to include all of the important things in the fifth book (which is the longest book in the series) and make it into the shortest movie?

And furthermore, we have Newell to thank for Robert Pattinson because he was cast as Cedric Diggory in this film, who of course dies in the graveyard and then gets saved by Carlisle Cullen and becomes a stupid, sparkly vampire.

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The best book of the Potter series is…

WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER SERIES

I know it’s a bold statement. But it’s one I’m prepared to stand behind. And if you don’t believe me, look on Amazon. Prisoner of Azkaban is only one of two Potter books to have a full five star rating. And okay, all the others have a 4.5 rating but still. And I have read all the books so many times that I think I am a good authority on which is the best. See the photo below to see how much loving I’ve given to POA over the years:

As you can see, half of the book as come off from the spine. I've read this book probably at least 50 times since its release in 1999.

Prisoner is my favorite book because it’s the turning point of the series. Most would argue that Goblet of Fire is when the series takes the turn from lighthearted children’s fare to an epic battle between good and evil, but Prisoner of Azkaban starts the path in motion for the events of Voldemort’s return to life and to power. Had Sirius not escaped to from Azkaban with the purpose of murdering Peter Pettigrew then it is quite possible that Voldemort would never have risen.

This book also introduces more background information about Harry’s parents, something that I have always thought there wasn’t enough of. Learning about James and Lily Potter allows the reader to more fully understand the tragedy of what Harry went through at such a young age. Hearing Lily’s screams as Voldemort prepares to kill her and meeting James’ school friends makes them tangible to the reader rather than them just being two people who were dead before the first book begins. Rowling slowly expands on this knowledge throughout the series, the culmination of which is one of the best chapters in book 7 (think Snape).

I think what excited me the most about book 3, however, was that unlike the first two books there were two climatic scenes and some very big jaw-dropping reveals. Sirius and Lupin are friends! Lupin is a werewolf! The two of them plus James and their fried Peter Pettigrew made the Marauder’s Map and were animagi! Scabbers is really Peter Pettigrew! Pettigrew is the reason James and Lily died! And after all of that shock wears off there is still more adventure to be had because Hermione has been time traveling the entire book with what is the best necklace in the world and now they are going to go back in time and save Buckbeak and Sirius! THAT IS SO MUCH EXCITEMENT!

I beg of you, if you found the first Potter book boring, go ahead and pick up Prisoner of Azkaban. Rowling provides enough background info in the first chapter that you shouldn’t be too lost. I promise you it’s worth the read and if not you can set a dementor on me.

The Importance of Dobby

ATTENTION: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER SERIES

I honestly didn’t like The Chamber of Secrets when it was first released. It didn’t seem as magical to me as the first, and once I had read the third book, my favorite of the entire series, it just didn’t seem to hold up as well as the others.

In retrospect and after many subsequent readings of the second installment of the Potter saga, I now quite enjoy the book, though it still isn’t one of my favorites. It might have something to do with the fact that in the second book Harry has succeeded in destroying one of Voldy’s horcuxes (though we don’t know it yet) or just the fact that Kenneth Brannagh’s portrayal of Lockhart in the film version is so fantastic. Either way, I can definitely say that the introduction of Dobby plays a huge role in my appreciation for the book.

For those who have only watched the films, they can’t quite grasp the importance of Dobby. Unlike in the films, Dobby appears in every single book except for the first and the third and plays a huge role in Harry’s life and survival. Whether he is saving Harry’s life by sending a rogue bludger after him, making him socks or spying on Draco Malfoy for him, his loyalty to Harry is something that anyone would be lucky enough to command from a friend. Chamber of Secrets sets up a friendship that will last until the final book, when Dobby’s ultimate demise is, in my opinion, one of the saddest deaths of the entire series.

On a different note, Chamber of Secrets also reminds me how much I wish that J.K. Rowling would write and publish a real Hogwarts: A History. How awesome would that be? Hopefully pottermore can make my dreams come true.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Looking back at the book that started it all, I’d have to say what struck me the most as an adult reading the series were the masterful character and setting descriptions J.K. Rowling uses in this book. Considering the fact that most of the settings and characters were created out of the genius that is her mind, I’d say she does a commendable job making them accessible to readers. (Case in point her description of Hagrid).

The British version of the first book, a souvenir for myself from London.

This also marked the first time I read the book in it’s original British print, meaning I got to learn lots of cool British terminology. It irked me a bit that the publishers didn’t think that American children would be able to handle the British words, and what mad me the most annoyed was the changing of the title from Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone for the American audience. Let’s challenge our children, people!

Overall, the book holds up over the years. It is definitely a less serious romp through the wizarding world than later volumes, but at the same time there are clues to the eventual ending of the series if the reader is wise enough to pick up on them. This is also, in my opinion, the best adapted book to movie, though to be fair there isn’t as much material as later books to handle.

Stay tuned for the Chamber of Secrets, the book that introduces my second favorite character.

And then there was one…

One more Harry Potter movie, that is. And just as I have for the previous seven films (not to mention before each book came out) I am going to perform a very specific ritual before July 15. This ritual can take as long as a month and has been completed in less than a week. In short, I am going to be re-reading all seven Potter books as well as watching all seven films before the final film is released at 12:01 a.m. on July 15.

Some might say this is a superfluous and time-wasting activity. But for me, it is a necessary ritual in order to be able to fully enjoy the final film. By reading the books again I am reminded of how much these characters have meant to me ever since I first learned of the boy with the lightening scar over 12 years ago. I mean, I’ve stayed friends with Harry, Ron and Hermione longer than I have with actual people. Judge me if you will, but these books are and always will be a part of my life.

So I encourage everyone to pick up the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and get to reading. Not only will you be able to more fully incorporate yourself into the world one last time, but you will be reminded of plot points that at the time seemed trivial but are crucial to the finale (hello Albania? the warlock statue in the Room of Requirement?) and of the important part each and every character has played in Harry’s life (sob Dobby sob).

And in honor of this being the last time I’ll perform this ritual I’ll be blogging my reaction to each book as I read it. Some might see this as taking an obsession to a very public level, but I like to think of it as a show of respect to a series that has had such an impact on my life. And so, all together now, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Happy reading!

(Courtesy of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The worst 30 minutes of my life

Last night, around 1:00 a.m., the unthinkable happened. My precious computer that I’ve had since Christmas 2006 seemed to have become a rotten Apple.

I love this computer. When I was admitted into the Missouri School of Journalism, I was thrilled that I was required to get a Mac for several reasons. The first was that the only computer we had in our house was practically a dial-up. The second was that my idol, Carrie Bradshaw, owned a black Mac.

My mom had hinted that she was going to get me the laptop for Christmas as she had no faith in my technology skills and figured I needed six months to learn how to use the device. One day, about a month before Christmas, I mentioned to her that if she was going to get me one for Christmas, I’d much prefer the black so I could continue pretending I was Carrie Bradshaw. Because she had a tendency to put off shopping until closer to Christmas, I figured this statement wouldn’t cause any problems. Little did I know she had already purchased a white Mac. My dear mother, who encourages my delusions, returned the white computer and bought me the black one. I’ve been living the Carrie dream every since.

I cannot survive without a computer. With a capstone requiring constant access to emails and having to edit a never-ending stream of drafts, I literally (and I’m not trying to be dramatic here) would rather poke out my eyeballs with toothpicks than not be able to use my computer.

So you can understand that when it wouldn’t turn on last night I was very upset. After seven unsuccessful attempts to turn on my computer, I proceeded to hit my head against the wall, roll around on the floor and cry a little bit.

But all was not lost. I tried for a final time to reboot it. It seemed to work. My spirits began to rise as I encouraged my computer, telling it how sorry I am that I never cleaned the screen and that I would never again get food in its keys if it would only turn on. It accepted these terms and I am now typing this blog post on my beautiful mackypoo.

I understand that a rapidly blinking and shaking log in screen probably means that the computer is shorting out. And I realize that 4 1/2 years is a good run for a laptop. But I just don’t know how I will survive without my faithful black mac. Although the new ones have better speakers, better screens and larger hard drives, I’ll prefer this model until the end of my days.

Although, come to think of it, in the first SATC movie, Carrie did upgrade to a Macbook Pro. So in essence, I would still be like her if I got one of those. However, she changed to an HP in the second movie. And let’s be real. No desire to be like an idol is enough to make me do something as crazy as that.

True Life: I’m obsessed with TV

I love TV. And I mean all TV. We’re talking a range of The Nightly News with Brian Williams to The Nanny, Arrested Development to Mad Men. I love it all.

I’ve always loved TV. I can stem my obsession back to my Sesame Street days. I would just stand in front of the TV and point up at Big Bird and Ernie, totally engaged in the letter of the day and putting down the duckie. Luckily my mother did nothing to prevent my growing love for that little black box. I wasn’t even allowed to participate in that stupid “I won’t watch TV for a month” pledge thing that was always such a big deal in elementary school. Some would call her an enabler; I would disagree.

It would have been one thing if I never read or went outside. However, I did both of these things everyday and so my mother didn’t see anything wrong with me watching TV. And just as I’ve always loved it, I’ve always found myself to have an obsessive nature when it comes to certain shows.

I can probably trace my first obsession back to 2nd grade and a certain lovable aardvark. It was Arthur. And the only reason I know how to spell aardvark is because of the first episode when Arthur has a spelling test. I loved Arthur throughout elementary school, though when they changed Arthur’s voice I knew it was time to move on and find a new love.

 (see minute two)

My middle school years were marked with a growing love for old shows, fostered mostly through Nick at Nite. I can almost guarantee I’ve seen every episode of the following: Laverne and Shirley, I Dream of Jeanie, The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, I Love Lucy, The Jeffersons, Gilligan’s Island, and Happy Days. They were magical years. Alas, they could not last and my new favorites began being replaced by more recent shows. I would not find joy again watching Nick at Nite until many years later.

And so it continued. The O.C. was a major part of high school as was Gilmore Girls. But I didn’t know what love was until TBS began airing episodes of Sex and the City.

Our relationship has been going strong for about six years now. I really don’t know how I ever existed without Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha in my life. To give you an idea of just how much I love that show, whenever tornado sirens go off I grab three things: my computer, my phone and my Sex and the City DVD collection.

Sex and the City taught me that the best thing you can do is fall in love with a show that has already concluded. My Arrested Development obsession confirmed it. Although you are left yearning for more experiences with your new found friends, it’s nothing compared to the agony of waiting a week for a new episode of Community or most of the year to find out about the aftermath of Don’s proposal on Mad Men.

Luckily two of my favorites have been off the airwaves for awhile. Nick at Nite and I finally came together once more through my love of all things from Flushing, Queens. Fran Fine from The Nanny has joined the ranks of Carrie Bradshaw, Rory Gilmore and Joan Holloway on my list of women I want to be. My life would be complete if Sony would release seasons 4-6 of the classic series. Thank goodness for youtube or I might never have seen the series in its entirety.

I happened upon my latest show with a little help of what people are calling Snowpocalypse. When Columbia was threatened with 20+ inches of snow, I took it upon myself to remind everyone that if Pa Ingalls could make it through a blizzard in time to celebrate Christmas at the little house on Plum Creek, then by god we could make it around East Campus. I initially was referring to the book series, which had been a favorite of mine as a child, but then found the urge to see if there were any clips of the classic Michael Landon show on youtube. Four hours later, a new obsession was born.

That’s the exciting thing about TV. You never know when or how the next great show is going to pop up.

Special thanks to my other obsessions: The Office, Modern Family, Glee, Murphy Brown, 30 Rock, Tool Academy, Three’s Company, Zoom, You’re Cut Off, America’s Next Top Model, Muppet Babies, David and the Gnome, So You Think You Can Dance, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Robin Hood, Weeds, Saturday Night Live, Anderson Cooper 360, Oprah: Behind the Scenes of Season 25, One Tree Hill and many more

Personal Essay: Remembering West Nile Virus

When I was around 14 or 15, everybody was afraid of getting West Nile Virus. At least, I think everyone was afraid of getting it. My yiayia was scared enough for everyone in the United States combined. From what I can remember, the disease is transmitted through mosquitoes that have bitten dead birds. If you listened to my yiayia, you got a mosquito bite and you were as good as dead. When she wasn’t busy dodging tiny infected insects, my yiayia was cultivating one of the most beautiful gardens in St. Louis. She was renowned for it in all the major garden guilds and worked tirelessly on it until her Alzheimer’s became too crippling. This dedication to her garden required her to spend a lot of time outside, where, sadly, the mosquitoes also tended to inhabit. This was probably the biggest catch-22 of her life. If she went outside she would get West Nile but if she stayed inside her garden would wither and die.

At this point I should mention something stereotypical about my Greek family. My mom, sister and I live across the street from my grandparents. We are sort of a mix between “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It can be nice living across the street from relatives, but also can lead to some very interesting situations, such as the following incident. I clearly remember walking in our front room and glancing outside. What I saw stopped me in my tracks.

There was my yiayia, in what I can only describe as a makeshift beekeeper outfit. Her ensemble began with tennis shoes with her pants tucked into knee high socks. The crazy continued up her body with a turtleneck tucked into her pants as well as mid-arm length gloves. On her neck she had a bandana (just incase the nasty bloodsuckers could get through the turtleneck I suspect) and on her head a huge sunhat with netting over her face. To her, this was the perfect protection to guard against catching the dreaded disease. To my mother, it was a recipe for her mother to get heat stroke. After she caught a glimpse of her antics out the window, she dashed out the front door screeching at my yiayia to go inside. Yiayia refused and they didn’t talk the rest of the day. My mother, being the good daughter she is, tried to find a remedy to my yiayia’s irrational fear of West Nile. She went to the Alpine Shop and found a work suit with bug repellent sewn into the fabric. Both of us thought this was the solution to all of our problems.

We were wrong.

Of course, we should have expected her completely rational explanation for why she couldn’t possibly wear the clothes we bought her. After all, the clothes were made in China and who knows what sort of chemicals they use in the repellent they make there. It seemed futile and reckless to point out to her that the spray she normally used was most likely also made in China.

Thankfully after that summer, the scare of West Nile died down and we could get on with our lives. At least, until SARS hit the newswaves…

Pearl Harbor

Today is my mother’s birthday. It is also Pearl Harbor Day. On this day 69 years ago the United States faced a shocking and horrific attack from a country considered to be its inferior. My papou was 17-years-old that day. He was a first generation American; his father and mother had moved from Greece for a better life only to be struck down into poverty by the Great Depression. Despite this, my papou had a fulfilling childhood and took his studies very seriously. He began writing poetry when he was 16 and dreamed of playing the violin professionally. He wanted to go to college. But on December 7, 1941 everything changed for him. His reaction to the news that the U.S. had been attacked was evident by the tears pouring down his face. He knew now that his dreams of playing the violin and of going to college wouldn’t come to fruition. A month later he turned 18. Shortly thereafter, he began his military training.

My papou fought in Europe in the 20th Amored Division. During the war he became sick with hepatitis and had to spend recovery time in France. After V-E Day his unit was to be the first into Japan had Truman not made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Thanks to Michael Bay, most people associate Pearl Harbor with bad acting, bad writing and one really good scene that involves a parachute and Josh Hartnett’s dog tags. For me, it’s a much more personal day. Like I said before it is the day of my mom’s birth, but it is also a day where I can celebrate my papou. I can picture him as a young man, standing before a newsstand, a paper in his hand with tears streaming down his face. It is an image that reminds me that when he was young he didn’t have a choice for his future. It is an image that reminds me that even though his world crumbled that day, he slowly picked up the pieces when he finished his tour and managed to go to college, found a successful business and become the first distributor of hydra sponges in the U.S. (It’s a big deal; I promise.)

I’ve been pretty scared about what the future holds lately. I don’t know if thinking about how brave my papou was when he was my age will help, but it’s certainly worth a shot. So today I salute you, Ted Tripolitis. Even though today’s twitter feed will be bursting with jokes about all 183 minutes of the historically ambiguous pile of poo manufactured by a pre-Optimus Prime Michael Bay, I shall instead think of you and what you have sacrificed for this country and for me.

Oh, and happy birthday Mom. I love you too and am proud of your war efforts which went a bit of a different route than your father’s. You remember, when you chose to protest the Vietnam war and almost got run down by a car outside the ROTC on Tiger (previously Maryland) Avenue when you were at Mizzou?

I have quite the standard to follow.