Dumble-war: ranking the Harry Potter films

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

"If Voldemort doesn't have a nose, how does he smell? Terrible!"

To prepare for the recent release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2: The Lengthily Titled Sequel, my Significant Other and I spent one whole weekend watching all seven previous films. (Which is not as arduous as you’d think! Two on Friday night, three on Saturday, three on Sunday. It’s easy to be an obsessive nerd! ((Of course there’ll be an extra movie to wedge in there once Part 2 is released on home-entertainment media, but you can squeeze it in!)))

So here are all the Harry Potter films ranked from worst to best. (Minus Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Needs time to settle before it can be given a proper rank.)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Gilderoy Lockhart was pretty good, I guess, even though it's weird that a 12-year-old girl would swoon over Kenneth Branagh

7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Poor Chamber of Secrets, wedged between the freshness of the first instalment and the maturity of third. The best you can say about Chamber, really, is that it’s okay. (The worst you can say is merely “Dobby”.) ((This is all relative, of course; it’s only lame compared to the radness of the other books. And because it has Dobby in it.)) The book is notable because it has that “Harry destroys what later turns out to be the first of many horcruxes, and hey, isn’t it awesome how Jo Rowling included one even back then? She really did plan out the whole thing in advance! Neat!” thing going for it. Aside from that, it’s largely skippable and for completionists only – just read the Wikipedia summary.

In the film’s favour, the climax in the titular chamber has that bit where Harry clambers all over Salazar Slytherin’s face, a nice reference to the well-known scene from North by Northwest. Way to be creative and subtle, director Chris Columbus! Too bad you didn’t do that more often. … 


Book review: Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

SwamplandiaYou know how Leonardo DiCaprio is a pretty great actor, but when you watch him onscreen you can see him Acting? And it’s kind of detaching, like a constant reminder you’re watching someone play a character and not watching a real person (who happens to look kinda like Leo DiCaprio)?

Reading Swamplandia! is the same. Karen Russell is a lovely, evocative writer – her turns of phrase so lovely and evocative that on pretty much every page I’d stop and think, “Wow, that is lovely, evocative writing”, and thus be reminded that I am reading writing.

So there’s a sense of detachment reading Swamplandia!. But I did really enjoy reading it!

Russell – who is only, like, 29, and already a critically beloved writer. That bitch! – has, in addition to that writing style, a superb imagination. Swamplandia!‘s premise: it’s the story of Ava Bigtree, a 13-year-old living on an alligator theme park in Florida with her father, Chief Bigtree; her older brother Kiwi, who’s desperate to escape the swamp; and her sister Ossie, who communes with ghosts. Their mother Hilola, a champion alligator wrestler, has recently died of cancer, and the park is failing, well beyond the verge of total financial collapse. (You never read any book like that before. I guess.)

The Chief leaves Swamplandia! to raise funds to overcome a rival park, the World of Darkness. Then Kiwi runs away from Swamplandia! to pursue his self-declared genius (he is, shockingly, ill-equipped for the real world). So when Ossie elopes with a ghost she reckons has romanced her, only Ava is left to go off to the rescue. The resulting plot, set mostly in the gator-ridden Florida Everglades, is unpredictable, sinister, and compelling.

The novel switches between Ava’s first-person and Kiwi’s third-person perspectives, its tone mixing whimsy with gothic. Sometimes it seems like it’ll tip into twee¬† (and less often, into pretentiousness), but Russell holds it back with a everpresent sense of darkness, like something even more horrible is about to befall the Bigtrees, the feeling the book will end tragically – which makes for a great climax.

Swamplandia! has lots of things like Theme and Symbolism and Character. It would make a good book club book. It’s also plain good reading.