Harry Potter Week: Hog-Warts the deal with this school, though?

anniversary, books, childhood, fucking stupid, fucking weird, Harry Potter, harry potter week, J K Rowling, magic, rant, rants

If you’re a Harry Potter fan then I’m sure you, like me, grew up dreaming of going to Hogwarts. As a kid there was nothing that seemed as exciting as being packed off to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to perform magic. Being stuck in school being taught how to do maths or learning about geography was nothing compared to being in a transfiguration or potions lesson. The teachers all seemed so much more interesting than my own and the headteacher was a sparkly blue-eyed old man with a love of traditional sweets. It sounded perfect for a child of 10. I’m kind of a grown adult now and can see that the whole school is just a joke. Every single year the headteacher cancels final exams. How the hell do the students get their qualifications? What kind of school system just gives students a free pass every year? In my first year of uni, my friend collapsed and had a fit on the way to our English Literature exam. I had to stop her from hurting herself while my other friends ran around campus to find a porter to ring an ambulance (because, stupidly, that’s how you had to do it). Did we get let off the exam and given a passing grade? Did we fuck? We sat that exam despite having no idea how our friend was. Because that’s life. If you go to Hogwarts and break a nail before an exam Albus would probably have let you skip it on emotional grounds.

I know it’s a children’s book but the education system of the wizarding world is a bit of shoddy. At the age of 11, all magical children in the UK are packed off, on a steam train, to the Highlands of Scotland to live in an old castle potentially full of terrible things. Then they are expected to follow a curriculum of solely magical learning, which, considering it’s a school of magic, is fine but surely it misses out some essential points. I mean, muggle children will no doubt have a background in the basics of Maths, Science and English but what of the wizarding kids? And do we really think that, at 11, they have got a good enough grasp of these subjects to survive? It means your only education is learning spells or potions and nothing else unless Muggle Studies covers literally everything outside of the wizarding world. Of course, that seems both unlikely and really stupid considering you can’t take it until your third year. Where are the basics of every person’s education? History of magic is fine but surely it’s still useful to know about the history of the muggle world. Wouldn’t they both be linked? Or are we expected to believe that those pesky World Wars just didn’t affect any magical person?

So, take a moment and imagine you’re a muggle who finds out their son/daughter is being accepted into Hogwarts. Currently, they’re in a primary school that you’ve handpicked to offer them the best start in life. You’ve gone over Ofsted reports and considered exam results. Then you find out they’re going to a school where they ignore that side of their education to focus on something extremely specific that holds no place in your world. Wouldn’t you be a bit worried? I mean you wouldn’t know anything of the wizarding world or the potential career path your child could follow. All you would know is that they wouldn’t be prepared for any kind of job you’d secretly been hoping they’d enter. It just seems like education at Hogwarts isn’t really taking the practicalities into account. Even specialist schools in the real world offer a subsequent education in the key subject matter alongside. It’s super important to give a well-rounded education; shame Hogwarts doesn’t support this.

What it does support though? Taking new kids and dividing them into houses based on certain personality traits and then promoting competition between the students. For a while now I’ve had a massive problem with the way JK Rowling uses the house system in Hogwarts. Throughout my education, we were split into groups to streamline the whole system but it was random chance or based on skill level. It certainly wasn’t based on who was the bravest, the kindest or the most suspicious. The books are terrible when it comes to describing the different houses and, thanks to the perspective of the narrative, completely biased towards Gryffindor. It’s no wonder that, as a kid, I would have been desperate to be in Gryffindor. As I grew up I saw that, really, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Gryffindors may be brave but they have no respect for rules or putting people in harms way. They’re basically the jocks in every teen movie. You know the ones that get by on their popularity but are eventually overthrown by the geeks.

Also, what is this opposition to Slytherin? There’s a girl I work with who always throws around the “Slytherin’ remark as an insult and it’s just stupid. Slytherins, as we are told, are loyal, ambitious, cunning and adventurous. If I wasn’t a Ravenclaw I’d rather be a Slytherin that a fucking Gryffindor. The books tell us that “there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” but what kind of message is this? Not only is it not true (Peter Pettigrew) but what about the members of Slytherin that didn’t go bad? Unless, they actually all do but that prompts further questions. If you have a house that you know is full of future evil doers then either don’t allow them in the school or educate them into being good instead. This is a flawed system that should have been removed from the school once the founders had snuffed it. It’s a crazy system.

Still, it might just seem that way because the books don’t go too deep into it. I guess they are for kids. Although, even then the school doesn’t seem like the best place to live. For one thing, you have to get to grips with the fucking moving staircases so you’ll never be able to find your way around. How many first-year students get lost in that place every year? And, I can’t remember if this is just a movie thing or a book thing but teachers see to be getting pissed off when they’re late. How the hell is it their fault when the stairs have a mind of their own? Then there are the ghosts just hanging around and flying through kids. The talking portraits who just shout shit at the children walking past just seem like a weird addition to the mix. And Peeves? Heck, I love the guy but you’d have got rid of him centuries ago. He’s a menace to the teaching process.

Then you have the fact that there are plenty of ways for the students to get killed. For one thing, your school bullies have access to magic that can maim or, potentially, kill you. Then there’s the fact that Dumbledore hides philosopher’s stone in the castle by employing the services of a vicious three-headed dog and his only warning is exactly the kind of thing that would make children want to explore the third-floor corridor. Tell someone not to do something and that’s exactly what they’re going to want to do. Finally, there’s the Forbidden Forest, which is full of crazy killer spiders and god knows what else. Of course, this also doubles up as a potential place for detention. What kind of headteacher forces students to keep out of the forest only to allow Filch to send people in there as a cruel and unnecessary punishment?

Actually, why does Hogwarts even employ Filch anyway? The guy is clearly just an embittered and angry Squibb who hates the magical kids whose vomit he has to mop up. Filch is always on the verge of a mental breakdown that would very clearly include the death of most of the student body and probably some of the staff too. And it’s not the first weird hiring mistake that Dumbledore has made. He hired Quirrell as DADA teacher despite the fact that Voldemort was living in his fucking head. The following year he went and hired the most incompetent man in the world. Plus, let’s not forget that he was completely fooled by, or at least didn’t seem to care that Mad-Eye was actually Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise. How did he not realise that? The man’s supposed to be super intelligent and, it’s always suggested, that he can read people’s thoughts. I highly doubt that the insane Crouch was good enough at occlumency to stop the most powerful wizard of all time from hearing his desire to kill Harry Potter. Then you have the fact that Snape straight-up bullies like 3/4 of the school without repercussion.

And let’s talk about teachers for a moment; JK Rowling has said there are about 1000 students in the school and, from what we are told, there is one teacher for each subject. One teacher? 1000 students. How the hell do they get their marking done? How the hell do they work out the fucking schedule? My family contains a lot of teachers so I know how hard they have to work but this is a ridiculous situation. Even if they all had a time turner they’d be working nearly ever hour of the day. And yes, they probably have an enchanted quill to mark things and take notes and shit. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t loads to do still. When they aren’t teaching they’d be setting lesson plans, organising homework tasks and holding office hours in case 1 of their 1000 students needed help. It’s crazy. Hogwarts teachers need a fucking union. Also, before I forget, 1000 students and 1 medical professional? What the fuck?!?!

Now, it’s got to the point where I’ve ranted for far too long but you get the idea. Hogwarts is a fucked up school that expects parents to be happy sending their kids there. I wouldn’t be happy. Want your kid to get into Quidditch? Good luck. They only hold trials when one of the existing team leaves so, even if your kid if the best player around, they might never get a chance to play. Seems fair. And, on a final note, imagine being in the same year as Harry but not being one his friends. Wouldn’t you get tired of being overlooked because of the boy wizard? Wouldn’t it piss you off that you were slaving away in the library whilst he was copying off Hermione and getting away with it? Harry ignores the rules regularly and is rarely punished because he’s Dumbledore’s favourite. He’s not that great a wizard and actually learns very little but he’s always winning house points. There’s so much bias in that school that it’s ridiculous. Hogwarts always seemed like the most respected wizarding school but, now I’m older, I’m assuming that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s one of the few that exist in Europe.

Tuesday’s Review – Doctor Strange (2016)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, comic book, comic books, fucking beautiful, fucking weird, magic, Marvel, Rachel McAdams, review, super powers, superhero, Tilda Swinton

I used to be one of those Marvel fangirls who would go and see a new release as soon as it was out. Now I tend to take my sweet time because there doesn’t seem to be any need to rush. I’m guarateend to love the film regardless but it’s becoming more like doing a Where’s Wally instead of watching a film. There can be no denying that Marvels films have become more than a little predictable of late. An underwritten big bad threatens the world and the good guy/guys have to save the day, probably involving something huge crashing to the ground. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a system that has worked for them and gives the audience everything they want from a superhero film. However, with the arrival of Phase 3 this year it was definitely the time to see something different. That started subtly with Civil War where we saw the good guys facing off against each other for a huge showdown. It wasn’t everything we hoped it would be but you can see that it’s starting to break the mould. The problem is that the formula is safe and adaptable enough for different themes, heroes, and genres. Marvel don’t want to risk losing fans when they know what works.

Which is why Doctor Strange always seemed like a massive risk. Of course, there are always anomalies and Marvel are always keen to take on a project that breaks the pattern. In 2015 Ant-Man took us away from the big time heroes like the Avengers and gave us a smaller tale that became more like a crime caper. Problems behind the scenes meant this was full of issues but it showed that there was room for different think. Like Ant Man, the story of Stephen Strange wasn’t one of the most widely known outside of comic book circles and wasn’t necessarily going to fit into the existing MCU. I mean, the minute you introduce magic into the world of superheroes then everything changes. Power is no longer measurable on a normal scale: this isn’t just about size and physical strength. Magic widens the limits of the possibility and means the rule book just got blown up. It could very easily have fucked up everything Marvel films has been doing over the last 10 years.

So Doctor Strange had a huge job to do: it needed to introduce us to its newest hero and explain the world of magic. It’s a big task that fills the 2 hour running time. Although, the first act is rather slow to get us anywhere. We first meet the egotistical but brilliant brain surgeon, Stephen Strange, who gets into a car accident that destroys his career. He’s helpless and desperate to get back to what he once was. If I’m honest, the first 30 minutes of this film was basically just an episode of House with Benedict Cumberbatch taking Hugh Laurie’s place as British actor playing a doctor who’s also a huge dick. I get that we needed to see why Strange was so desperate to get the use of his hands back but it all felt a bit too much like a parody.

When all hope looks lost, Stephen is directed to Nepal and a mysterious group of people who helped supposedly heal a man who couldn’t walk. Stephen meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who allows him to see the hidden dimensions that have remained hidden and sets him on a journey to learn to use magic for himself. As he learns, Strange learns that, as well as all the wonders he never knew about, there is untold danger within these different dimensions that constantly threaten humanity. It is up to Ancient One and her sorcerers to keep darkness away from the Earth. Darkness that is being summoned by her ex-student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), to destroy humanity. Its up to Stephen, his mentor, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), to stop him.

There is a lot to take in when you watch Doctor Strange and the typical format of a Marvel film isn’t really the best place to try something so new. I mean Thor had to introduce much less than this and it had a hard time teaching the audience about Norse mythology whilst also leaving enough time for fighting. Doctor Strange only just manages to keep a handle on everything it’s trying to do and manages to introduce magic to the MCU in a really trippy and awesome way. When Stephen first meets the Ancient One, she sends him on a journey through dimensions that will definitely give a few hippies some 60s flashbacks. It’s a visual feast and is an incredible film to watch. The many out-of-body experiences and crazy architectural remodelling bring a new freshness to the usual superhero film. This manages to feel like every other Marvel film but, in so many ways, is something completely new.

Although, that isn’t to say it comes without its problems. Benedict Cumberbatch is remarkable in the title role as is Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Both are reliable actors who enjoy playing the outcasts of society and so they are well suited to the roles. The rest of the cast are more forgettable. Rachel McAdams is given especially short shrift as fellow doctor and love interest, Christine Palmer. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whilst setting up his role for the next instalment, makes a limited impression and the always delightful Mads Mikkelsen finds himself in the role of another underdeveloped Marvel villain. The main two aside, it is only Benedict Wong who makes any kind of lasting impression and that has little to do with the script.

Doctor Strange is a good film; it’s a very good film. I was super excited to see it and I was incredibly happy afterwards. However, it would be wrong to say that this is the turning point for Marvel. It is a fresh and new film in the midst of every other punch ’em up superhero film but, really, it’s still the same old Marvel underneath. Every time it looks as if a storyline is being allowed a modicum of freedom then its pulled back in. Despite the new ideas at play, this is the same structure as every other Marvel origin story and has the same flaws we are sick of seeing. It shows great potential for the future but Marvel really need to start giving their writers and directors more freedom. It was so close to perfection.

TBT – Hocus Pocus (1993)

childhood favourite, cult, Halloween, magic, TBT, witches

It’s weird to think about it now that Hocus Pocus is a cult classic but when it was first released in the 90s the film bombed at the box office. The critics hated it and people just didn’t go an see it in the cinema. However, as we’ve seen with a shitload of supposedly terrible films, over the years it has become a fan favourite and a cult Halloween classic. It’s pretty much the only film I’d say is a must-have viewing over the fright season. Who needs scary movies and gore when you have Bette Midler and that nun from Sister Act dressed as witches and luring children to their home? Nobody that’s who. I realise I’m someone who dislikes the horror genre but that doesn’t make my point any less valid… does it? Well, I don’t give a shit. I’ve loved Hocus Pocus since I was a kid and I’m pretty sure I watch it every year around this time. It’s the only time I’ve enjoyed something starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

I understand why people might hate this film. I mean it’s kind of cheesy and it’s kind of over-complicated. On paper it’s nothing special but, thanks to a great cast and a fake talking cat, Hocus Pocus is actually incredible. One Halloween in Salem a teenage boy, desperate to impress a girl, lights a candle that brings three witchy sisters back to life. They have one night to magically steal the youth of a child or they’ll turn to dust. First they have to track down their spellbook from the trio who inadvertently set the menace on the world. There’s also some dancing, a couple of bullies and the aforementioned talking cat. I think it’s easy to see why this is my favourite Halloween based film.

The film follows awkward teenager Max Dennison (Omri Katz) who has been forced to move to Salem but can’t fit in with his fellow students. Despite being incredibly cynical about all things to do with the holiday, Max is charged with taking his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick or treating he comes face-to-face with new crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw). Allison loves Halloween and, with some encouragement from Max, takes the pair to the house that once belonged to the three Sanderson sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy). The sisters were witches who hundreds of years earlier were killed after they kidnapped and killed a young girl, Emily. Max lights a candle and Winifred, Sarah and Mary return to life and immediately begin trying to find eternal youth. With some help from Emily’s brother, Thackery Binx, who was unfortunately turned into a cat, the trio must keep the sisters away from their spellbook and stop them brewing the all important potion.

A lot of what makes this film so great is what also makes it so bad. It’s utterly camp and over-the-top but it’s also endearingly fun. All the cast are clearly having a whale of a time and totally embrace the ridiculousness on screen. It means that despite whatever crazy shit is happening it still feels like everyone’s in control. And, yes, it is camp but it’s about Halloween for fuck’s sake. It’s a holiday about dressing in colourful costumes, demanding sweets and using cheap tricks to scare people. It’s hardly the classiest time of year. Anything that is based around plastic spiders and face-paint isn’t going to be ruined because Bette Midler and her skin-bound spellbook.

This film is silly and weird and absolutely amazing. It’s full of dark and adult humour despite being a kid’s film. It’s funny but it’s also kind of scary for children. I mean the sisters spend the entire film looking for children to kill, they nearly force the entire town to dance themselves to death, and there’s a hanging in the first 30 minutes. It would do the job as a children’s Halloween film but it’s so much more than that. It’s insane and unnecessarily complicated. The sister get locked in a furnace but somehow survive to drag the plot on further. There are plenty of sub-plots that aren’t needed and loads of things included just or jokes. It kind of feels like an hour long story dragged out by another 30 minutes. However, I honestly don’t know what I would remove if I had the chance. It’s all so fucking vital to the overall experience. The moments where the sister’s come to terms with modern life are fantastic. Any time when the three witches are together and just being fucking weird is fantastic.

I don’t care what you might say but Halloween isn’t a time to be scared. Especially when you’re my age. It’s about dressing up and being outrageous. This film, in it’s own way, is outrageous. It won’t get the appreciation it deserves from critics and the like but fans love it for a reason. You don’t need to sit around at home watching people run away from chainsaw wielding freaks in masks. No, you need the Sanderson sisters and Thackery fucking Binx.

TBT – Now You See Me (2013)

Jesse Eisenberg, magic, Mark Ruffalo, meh, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, TBT, woody harrelson

We all have those people that irritate us for no real reason. You know what I mean, when literally everything they do just makes you irrationally angry. There’s a girl at work who is highly annoying me at the moment and I really don’t understand why. We have a lot in common so should get on. However, every time she opens her mouth I just feel my entire body scrunching up in annoyance. I mean, I guess it’s partly down the fact that I’m an awful person who hates pretty much all other people but I also put the blame partly on her. I mention this because Dave Franco is another of these people. I think it’s because he was in that awful final season of Scrubs but I just prepare for the worst whenever he’s in a film I’m watching. It’s stupid, I know, to hate someone because they played a really annoying character on a TV show I didn’t even really like many years ago. However, I’m just that petty and ridiculous. Which is why I was surprised to find, upon rewatching the first Now You See Me film, that I actually enjoyed Franco’s work. He was funny and got into the spirit of it. Maybe I’m growing as a person? Or maybe I was just realising how stupid this film really is?

Now You See Me always sounded like a great concept. Thieves who use their careers as magicians to carry out their crimes on a very public and very global scale.  Now that’s a concept that someone like me could get behind. Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Gob Bluth: who could ask for more? Still, Now You See Me just doesn’t quite live up to it’s massive potential. Now You See Me is the worst kind of magic trick where the performer is so concerned with surprising the audience that the actual process becomes less important than the reveal. Director, Louis Leterrier, is less worried about creating a clever film that tricks the audience into believing what he wants. He just points the camera in the opposite direction or changes history when he needs to.

Still, that’s not to say that getting there isn’t fun. The reason people are such fans of magic is because they want to believe that what they are seeing is real. That isn’t to say you won’t enjoy the film but you must be willing to let go of all reason and logic. This film works best if you are okay to play the fool that it needs you to be. If you’re willing to ignore the clumsy fumbles along the way in order to get to the finale. After all, on a basic level the film is entertaining. It has gathered a great cast together and they all do admirably with what is given to them. It can’t have been easy but they manage to keep it together. There is even some interesting chemistry between the group of magicians and the detective chasing them.

However, Leterrier attempts to pull off too much and throws things together in such a small running time. The result is a confusing and badly edited narrative that doesn’t make as much sense as it should. In order to get everything in that it wanted to certain pesky details have been ignored. You know, silly things like character development, common sense, and a strong narrative. Instead, this film is all about surprising you. It gets to the point that, by the final reveal, so many absurd things have taken place that anything could have been possible. This isn’t a finely crafted tale like Ocean’s Eleven it is something that has been cobbled together with enough distractions to keep you preoccupied.

There are things to like, of course. It might just be me but angry magician Jesse Eisenberg is hot. That pretty much made the film for me. Then there are certain sequences that are visually interesting and it’s fun watching the four magicians do their craft, even if it is in a very Hollywood fake manner. There are some great showdowns between Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo’s detective and Morgan Freeman’s magic debunker is a joy because, well, Morgan Freeman. Plus, Woody Harrelson seems born to play a big-headed mentalist who likes to swindle people using his skills.

However, that doesn’t make up for the fact that, ultimately, this film doesn’t stick. Remember in The Prestige when Michael Caine told us about the three stages of magic? Well, Now You See Me is a trick missing the all important final stage. In the first stage, the pledge, Leterrier takes the simple yet astounding premise of criminal magicians and makes you believe that’s what you’re seeing. In the second, the turn, that plot gets lost in the middle of an unnecessary revenge plot where so many secrets are revealed that the previous hour or so is almost made redundant. What Now You See Me lacks is the all important final act, the prestige. Leterrier forgets to bring the damn thing back.

Of course, this being magic, you want to believe and, if you’re like me, you’ll let the ridiculous nature of the film wash over you. Instead, you’ll be happy to get swept away with the drama and energy on display. You will purposefully ignore what you need to and you’ll take someone else’s word on something that makes absolutely not sense. Somehow, Leterrier manages to convince you that this technically terrible film is actually better than it is. I’m think what I’m saying is, Now You See Me may just be the greatest magic trick of all time.