Movies: Deathly Hallows Part I

Much of the reaction to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I has fallen into two broad camps:

  • How great to see the cast together again in this, the final chapter.  Those kids sure have grown up!  And oh, it’s dark and scary…
  • This movie is too long and unfocused.  It’s an exercise in box-office economics.  I never really liked HP to begin with…

You could probably support both arguments, though you’ll never get me to agree with the camp than never liked HP to begin with.  That argument, I just don’t understand…  Anyway, it is a pleasure to watch those young actors who brought HP to the big screen years ago.  And yes, the tone of the final two-part film installment, like the book, is decidedly bleak and dark and threatening.

This is, after all, JK Rowling’s version of the final showdown.  They aren’t just uncovering old mysteries at Hogwarts anymore, dodging the attempts of the Big V’s minions.  No, this is Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort – as sinister a cinematic villain as you could hope for in this, the age of varying shades of evil.  This is the Ministry overrun by Voldemort’s forces, Harry and friends scattered into hiding, and a new twist on the quest to destroy the horcruxes that safeguard the big V’s immortality. Continue reading

Some Trailers of Note

The movie we’re most looking forward to next month is, of course, the Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.  A good Western is always worth a look.  A Western by the Coens…  Boy, howdy.  The short trailer is already playing on TV, but check out the full version for a little more context.

Now contrast this to the original True Grit, beloved by John Wayne fans everywhere:


For something completely different:  the Green Lantern trailer finally dropped last week, months after many expected to see it.  Ryan Reynolds is an entertaining actor to portray Hal Jordan, who I always saw as a little arrogant and aloof (at least in the context of the Justice League).  The GL FX look really coooooolll…

Now the upcoming comic book movie we’re most eager to see would be Marvel’s Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh, but I can’t seem to find a decent official trailer link.  The official website isn’t much help either.

Como es Juan…

Amidst an otherwise ragged affair, pitting a ‘C’ USA Squad against South Africa in Cape Town in the final international friendly of the year, 17 year old Juan Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls entered the game with about 30 minutes to go.  Juan was last seen starting at the expense of Thierry Henry in the MLS playoffs against San Jose a few weeks back – a game in which he created havoc and assisted on a Juan Pablo Angel goal.

And this is how the young man responded:


Let the hype and unrealistic expectations ensue!  Seriously, that’s some nice composure and skill by Mikkel ‘They Put Me in the Mix’ Diskerud, a dual Norwegian-US citizen who also debuted this game, with the assist. Continue reading

Pentagram: Champaign Double-Header

Every so often, Illini fans get the home football-basketball double-header.  It’s a chance to see both major sports on campus, but as memory serves, the results never quite seem to go according to script.  So it was Saturday, as the football team still seemed dazed and staggered by the metaphorical kick in the nuts that was the Michigan game.  The Zooker’s boys made lots of mistakes, missed lots of tackles, had some crap luck, and let an inferior Minnesota team hang around and sneak by them in the final minute.  Final score, 38-34, and lots of questions about the leadership and heart of a team that seemed destined for a decent bowl less than two weeks ago.

A few hours later, Bruce Weber squared off against his former employer and former assistant in the form of the SIU Salukis, coached by Chris Lowery.  This was supposed to be the first physical test for the Illini, as SIU has a couple of strong post players, but Demetri McCamey dominated the tempo and the offense, and Illinois proved to skillful and athletic for the dawgs.  In Beemsville, we have a soft spot for SIU and will root for them in every other game they play, but undergrad loyalty trumps grad school loyalty.  It was good to see the Orange & Blue play with poise and intensity en route to an 85-63 win.

A nice result for the basketball team that doesn’t really make up for the horrible disappointment of the football team.  Five points in a dual-sport pentagram…

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Books: Shogun

As a boy, I remember this book sitting on the coffee table and end-tables around the house for something like a year.  Dad and Mom both took a turn.  I remember the ominous-looking katana on the battered cover and Clavell’s name in big bold font.  Later I remember the mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain – but only a little.  Since it came on at eight, I got to watch about an hour before bedtime.  It all seemed very dangerous and exotic and interesting.

So when I decided I wanted to read a book about pre-modern Japan – something with samurai, sacrifice, and yes, ninjas – it didn’t take long for Shogun to pop into my head.  A little google research will tell you this book sold tens of millions of copies, set the stage for a series of other Asia-themed novels, and made Clavell a truckload of money.  I was hoping it would stand to the decades and provide some well-researched historical action.  And that’s just what the book delivered.

Shogun recounts the fictional arrival of a Dutch trader in 17th Century Japan.  The Portuguese (and a few Spaniards) have been in the country for about 50 years, inserting themselves as the middlemen in the lucrative silk trade with China and converting hundreds of thousands to Catholicism.  Aboard the Dutch ship is John Blackthorne, an English pilot, leader of men, and our surrogate guide to Japan.  Blackthorne is a big, strong, handsome, smart, stubborn westerner – your classic leading man.  He soon becomes known as the Anjin-san, which means ‘pilot’.

No doubt Blackthorne is in some respects a metaphor for Clavell’s own attempts to learn about and function within Japanese and Asian culture.  And in the first few hundred pages, as Blackthorne becomes Anjin-san, he progresses from haughty, incredulous, and disgusted to curious, respectful and accepting.  This progression, both in terms of characterization and as a device for learning about pre-modern Japan, is one the more enjoyable aspects of the books.  It’s especially effective for someone who knows very little about Japanese history (like me). Continue reading

Pentagram: Shootout in Ann Arbor

This one’s going to sting for awhile.  Illinois’ 67-65 triple-overtime loss to Michigan was a stark reminder that they just aren’t quite a good team yet.  Close – like this game – but not quite.  Maybe the defensive unit had read too many complimentary reports about their turn-around and how much better they’ve been this year.  Maybe Coach Koenning’s scheme was a tad too passive and too concerned with preventing Denard Robinson from running.

The fact is, Michigan’s not very good either, and you have to beat them on day like that – especially with Robinson knocked out of the game.  The Illini made way too many mistakes, though, looking more like a reversion to previous Zook teams.  The coaching staff has about two weeks to right the ship before facing another spread offense in Northwestern.  Minnesota is just awful, so the Illini should become bowl-eligible this week.  But like many Illini fans, we’re sick and tired of losing to the Wildcats, and the whole Wrigley Field scenario will raise the stakes.  Until then, however, focus will shift to Coach Weber and the basketball team as they try to start strong and justify the pre-season hype.

Five points in the pentagram: Continue reading

Some Numbers for the Week

  • 16,000 - the number of votes separating Quinn from Brady for Governor of Illinois out of $3.4 million cast.  If you’re a Republican you have to be frustrated with the margin.  How many of those ballots for Quinn were cast by dead people or were repeat-ballots in Democratic Machine strongholds?  It’s Illinois, so you never know and you never will.
  • Four – the number of Illinois counties Quinn carried in this election.  These include very slim margins in Alexander (Cairo), Jackson (Carbondale), and St. Clair (Metro East), and, oh yeah – Cook County…
  • 19 – the net gain for Republicans in State Legislative chambers (State Houses of Reps and State Senates) across the country.  A statistic you didn’t hear about Tuesday night, but one worth considering.  Before the election, Dems held majorities in about 60% of these state legislatures; now that number is 60% to the GOP.
  • $41 billion – current estimated total budget deficit for California ($19 billion), Illinois ($13 billion), and New York  ($9 billion).  Three states that have been firmly under Democratic control for at least a decade (yes, Arnold notwithstanding), and those deficits rise considerably if you take into consideration their state pension obligations.  Aren’t those entitlement programs grand?  And yet, in Illinois at least, the Dems maintain their stranglehold on state government…

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