Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In my review of the last installment of this series I found myself hoping that the next one would be better. Now that it's here, I find myself both relieved and disappointed. I did think that this one was better than the previous one but it still left something to be desired. The problem is that, for the most part, I'm not sure what it really could have done better. The whole thing seemed very rushed to me and, of course, a lot of the book was left out. But that's simply unavoidable when adapting such a long book for the screen. I still didn't like Michael Gambon as Dumbledore but, in fairness, I think he also improved. The performances in general were pretty good, and Imelda Staunton in particular stood out as the odious Dolores Umbridge. Really, I think that the problem was more with me than the movie--having read the book and seen the more complete story there was probably little chance of my being satisfied with the film. I think that's probably borne out by the observation that nearly everyone I know who saw the film without having first read the book liked it.

Viewed: 7/12/2007 | Released: 7/10/2007 | Score: B+

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

By Susanna Clarke

I was a little apprehensive about this one, both because of an inherent distrust of popularity and because I'd gotten a somewhat bad review from a friend, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The first two parts of the novel were witty and fun--somewhat like what I imagine a Jane Austen novel would be if I had ever been able to laugh at a Jane Austen novel. (Mind you, I haven't read any Austen since high school--maybe I'd like her work better if I revisited it today.) The third part was darker but no less engaging. I think it's quite an accomplishment that Clarke was able to write a novel in over a thousand pages that never felt slow or boring to me. In fairness, though, I must admit the possibility of some bias--since I first started the Hornblower series I've been becoming more and more enamored of fiction set in Napoleonic-era England.

Started: 6/18/2007 | Finished: 7/11/2007

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The Virgin Suicides

By Jeffrey Eugenides

I think that what I love about Jeffrey Eugenides is the way he can so perfectly evoke the feeling of being a young person. My own childhood was rural instead of suburban, but there's a certain feeling to youth that I think must be universal, and Eugenides really knows how to capture that feeling. He did it in Middlesex and he did it in this book. What's different about this one, though, is that the narrator remains faceless. Despite that, or maybe because of it, we get a very good sense of the narrator--the story is told in such a personal way that you get the feeling that you're being told a story by a real adult looking back on real events from his past. I connected very strongly with the story, which of course made it all the more depressing in the end. In that respect it was perhaps not the best book for my current frame of mind, but it was nonetheless a beautiful, haunting story.

Started: 6/4/2007 | Finished: 6/17/2007

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That's right, I just gave four stars to a Michael Bay film about giant, transforming robots based on an 80's toy line. The fact that I also own and love the 1986 animated movie should tell you a bit about the place Transformers held in my childhood esteem. Still, it wasn't just nostalgia that made me love this movie. OK, yes, that was a big part of it. I had very little hope that this movie wouldn't make the kinds of changes that invariably piss me off but, on the contrary, I was impressed by how respectfully the source material was treated. (And, really, the cartoon wasn't exactly Shakespeare--treating it as reverentially as people, including me, do is more than a little silly.) I particularly loved that Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, was brought back to reprise his role. But apart from merely appealing to my inner 7-year-old, there was plenty to appreciate as an adult. It goes without saying that the special effects and action scenes were top notch. The acting, though, was also quite good. Shia LaBeouf has a real talent for comedy, I think. What was even more surprising is how good the robots themselves were. Between the excellent voice acting and animation, the Transformers really did come to life for me, managing to make me both laugh out loud and get choked up. (OK, so I'm a little ridiculous. I can deal with that.) Of course, the film wasn't without its flaws. More than once I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the human technology in the film. (Giant, sentient, shape-changing robots? Yeah, of course that's fine. Connecting a 40's-era radio to a modern desktop PC in under five minutes with no schematics or specialized equipment? I can't roll my eyes hard enough.) And then there was the fact that, as usual, the producers picked a very pretty girl with absolutely no acting ability as the female lead. Still, at the end of the day it's an action movie--we can forgive it a few mistakes as long as the rest is suitably awesome. And it was.

Viewed: 7/7/2007 | Released: 7/2/2007 | Score: A

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Ocean's 13

There's not really much I can say to really flesh out a review for this one, because it's essentially the same movie as the previous two. At that, though, I do have to say that it was pretty good--certainly better than the second one although still not quite as good as the first. Like the second film, the heist portion of Ocean's 13 wasn't particularly captivating but, fortunately, this one did a much better job with the comedy. By now the characters have become familiar and while their relationships more or less repeat the same patterns from the previous films, this time around it feels comfortable instead of stale.

Viewed: 6/8/2007 | Released: 6/7/2007 | Score: B

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