Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The one Harry Potter film I didn't like

As Ron would say, I must be “barking”, but I’m one of those in the minority who didn’t love the sixth Harry Potter movie. Don’t get me wrong. I love love LOVE Harry Potter. I love the sixth book. But I’m afraid the movie doesn’t hold a candle to the richness, the depth, and the complexity of JK Rowling’s writing. I blame Kloves and Yates for cinematically "mangling" such a great book. I was hoping to love it, I really did. I even watched it a second time to try to figure out what I didn’t like about it, or to see if I can change my mind about it. But it didn’t.

One of the film’s major offenses was in terms of characterization. Now I admit to not loving all the characters in Rowling’s Potterverse, but I love the books enough to want to see them all cared for and characterized in a truthful manner. While most of the major characters were safe in terms of characterization (even Professor Snape's character was all-too truthfully "revealed" with the addition of a previously unwritten scene with Professor Dumbledore), some weren’t safe from Kloves’ screenplay. Most telling was Ginny’s. OOTP failed to present her as the best spell-caster among the Weasleys, and HBP failed again (why was she in the Slug Club?). The film showed her relationship with Dean Thomas, but it failed to show HOW that relationship ended. Instead, it showed her carrying a torch for Harry, which, granted, she always has done. But what the script ended up doing was portray Ginny as some sort of a fickle girl who found it easy to go from one boy to another. Which I found rather unfair especially since JK Rowling wrote her with such sincerity that I found her compelling even though she was my least favorite Weasley.

And while they did an adequate job painting Snape as the person that he would become by the end of the series, they didn’t do as adequate a job at depicting him as the Half-Blood Prince himself. They didn’t show Snape being as informed of Harry’s Potions brilliance, even though he saw Harry use the Sectumsempra spell. I am frankly amazed that Snape was able to make that leap about his old Potions book.

Another instance where characterization was fully lacking was with Fenrir Greyback. Did they establish he was a werewolf? Also, Kreacher. The House-elf, along with Grimmauld Place, failed to make another appearance (or even a mention), which makes me wonder how on earth they would be able to tie together the events in the seventh book. And the scene where Luna discovers Harry beneath his Invisibility Cloak due to the Wrackspurts surrounding him was totally made-up and annoyed me. While Luna is not entirely “loony”, and I suppose anything is possible in the Wizarding World, it must be said that Luna’s philosophy is supposed to be at odds with Wizarding reality (which is why they are on the “fringe” of magical society). So for the film to actually depict Wrackspurts as true – well, I got confused and annoyed, quite frankly. And it wasn’t even a case of building Luna’s character for the seventh movie, since she gets quite a bit of screentime here. I guess it was because they shaved off the “Tonks is in love and depressed” storyline that they had to find another way for Petrificus Totalused Harry to be found – and in so doing, basically confirmed the Lovegoods’ beliefs, but added themselves a potential headache in having to explain another relationship in the seventh film (although I could have sworn I heard Tonks use a term of endearment towards Remus at one point – or it could be I was just wishing too hard).

Another offense was the lack of continuity among the scenes. The scene after Dumbledore asks “too much of Harry” again was suddenly that of Dumbledore (and Snape) in the Astronomy tower and Harry arriving. What gets my goat is that spoilers (the theatrical trailer even!) showed a scene of Harry telling Ron and Hermione that he was off to find a Horcrux with Dumbledore, with Ron wishing his mate good luck, to which Harry supposedly replied that he doesn’t need it because he’s with Dumbledore. Where the eff was that scene?!? And there was an immediate jump to the scene for the second Tom Riddle memory, which was frankly confusing. They also awkwardly edited the scene where the Trio stalks the Malfoys to Borgin and Burkes, when we suddenly find them on a rooftop. And it annoyed me no end that, after Ron had just had his brush with death, he still found time to crack a one-liner before lying somewhat comatose in the infirmary. They’re really pushing him hard as the unnecessary clown, aren’t they?

In conjunction with the wonky continuity was the pacing. It certainly didn’t help that Rowling wrote in a complicated matter which gave her books ebbs and flows. While I applaud portions of the movie for segueing nicely between comedy and drama, there were many moments where it felt very disjointed and came off rather roller-coaster-y for me. In the books, these ebbs and flows delineated chapters. But in the HBP film, it came off fast and quick like a factory line: from Ron’s kiss to Hermione’s tears in the stairwell, from tipsy Hermione to cursed Katie, from ralphing McLaggen to Harry overhearing about the Unbreakable Vow, and so on and so forth. The film suffered from a pacing overload, and for a non-reader, it can get very confusing. I suppose it keeps the film-goers on their toes, but I think it just serves to muddle audience reactions to certain plot points.

Such as the Horcruxes. Why fast-forward through the explanation of Marvolo’s ring? And they didn't even emphasize the importance of the locket! The diary was wonderfully and succinctly explained, though. I would have loved to have the film emphasize the importance of the Horcrux hunt, since it would be a major storyline in the seventh book. But it seemed that there was a lack of balance between telling Draco’s story, the Half-Blood Prince’s story, and the Horcrux story. And in between, of course, they had to tell the budding love stories. It was, to be honest, quite a lot of plot lines to juggle, and it was the reason why the pacing failed. I probably shouldn’t blame them for taking on a massively complicated book, but all the other books were similarly complicated and this was the ONLY Harry Potter film that I remember complaining about the pacing and characterization.

I suppose I was spoiled by Cuaron’s Azkaban, with his wonderful sense of continuity and the way the film was paced in terms of clever fadeouts. I loved that device. I just found it very odd that Yates (and Kloves – definitely Kloves) was very unsuccessful in the attempt here when he was rather good at it in OOTP. Must be the screenwriter, perhaps? I did like Goldenberg’s script, no matter how ridiculously condensed it was. I’d like to blame Yates, who must have tinkered with it too much in the lengthened run-up to theaters. In which case, I should probably blame Warner Bros for delaying the film’s launch in the first place.

The only time I felt there was a great effort at continuity was in the very first scene – a flashback to the Ministry for Magic, right after Sirius’ death and Voldemort’s escape, where Harry and Dumbledore are accosted by the press. It set the tone for the scene after (where we discover Harry to be recklessly going about London trying to take his mind off Sirius), even though it did not follow through with the rest of the movie. It was a good attempt, however, and I liked that the film opened that way.

But then THE ENDING – goodness me. I could not stop gritting my teeth after seeing the ending. That of Harry and Hermione overlooking the balcony with Ron in the background with NO LINES. What was that about? Can Rupert not fit in with those two on the balcony?? Is this Kloves’ way of getting Hermione more screentime after throwing Ron a bone with the love potion and Quidditch and snogging scenes? I mean, us Ron fans barely got enough of him in the last three movies, so I was hoping this sixth would more than break even for us. Instead, we find Kloves’ Mary Sue Hermione at the forefront again. And what's worse, it gave off the impression that Ron was just going along for the ride, and that it was Hermione's idea all along to help Harry with the Horcruxes. When in FACT, the book specifically states that it was BOTH their decisions to join Harry to the end! Sigh. I knew it was too good to last. Thankfully Ron was in the final frame as the Trio watched Fawkes soar through the sky (an idea borrowed from Newell's ending to Goblet of Fire, it seems).

Of course, not all of the movie was bad. I did love the cinematography. LOVE it. I always did love DelBonnel’s work, and his work here in HBP showed a very sophisticated sensibility. I agree that it looked very different from the previous movies, and that it was more saturated. It gave the film an overall look that was less fantastical, and more grounded and mature. There were some scenes where the cinematic composition was really good. The scene where the camera pans from Malfoy and Snape in the corridor to Harry in the next one listening to them. That was a very simple shot but it was very unique in its staging. I also liked the scene in the cave (or, as I called it, the “Fortress of Solitude” – seriously, what’s with the crystallized rocks, Yates??) when Dumbledore cast the spell for fire and seeing it light up the lake surface from below. That was pretty cool. And that scene outside of Hagrid’s hut where Bellatrix cast a spell which flung Harry backwards. The far shot of that scene was very identical to a fan art that I saw a few years ago and I was surprised when I saw that scene in the trailer. I liked that particular fan art and whether or not Yates did base it off that, I was glad to see that particular scene shot that way. (Although it would have been nice to see Hagrid – and Fang! – leaving the hut to safety.)

I have two favorite shots in particular from the film. The first was the far shot of the Burrow on fire and Harry, Ginny, Mr. Weasley, Tonks, and Remus were running through the tall grass towards it. I loved how dramatic the grass swayed and the sense of urgency as they ran through the field to get to the Burrow, with the light from the fire contrasting with the evening dark. I could almost – ALMOST – forgive them for adding this unnecessary scene just for that shot alone. And during Aragog’s memorial, that far shot of Hagrid, Slughorn, Harry, and Fang with Hogwarts in the background. I loved that it reminded me of Cuaron’s fadeouts and those early Sorcerer’s Stone painted posters back in the day.

There were also the Easter eggs strewn throughout the film, the small moments that made me smile. The Regulus Black shoutout. Arthur Weasley stopping to admire a plug. Hermione’s bushy brown hair making a comeback. Lavender calling Ron “Won-Won” (but not the “Won-Won” necklace). The use of the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder (even though it wasn’t exactly as it was used in the book). The return of the Invisibility Cloak. Seeing the Slytherin compartment (and how all the students in there really did look like the typical Slytherin!). The return of Quidditch.

But I think the film’s biggest success is how much the Trio’s performances have improved. They are now capable of nuanced performances and even tears. They no longer rely on eyebrow twitches, shoulder raises, and theatrical modulations. They’ve come such a long way from their Sorcerer’s Stone days. Emma is showing more confidence with each film and owns her dramatic scenes. And I must say she’s a beautiful crier. Dan, meanwhile, has always shown his passion and range. And I’m delighted to see his comic side come out in this film, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was being himself when he did his Felix Felicis scenes. The scene with Hagrid with him mimicking Aragog’s pinchers was definitely classic Dan.

But Rupert is still the most natural actor them all, imbibing even his one-liners with an effortless ease. I love how wonderfully restrained he was here – actually, he always has been a very controlled actor. He lets go with the slapstick sometimes, but there’s no denying his impressive verbal comic timing. I’m so happy – SO HAPPY – that he’s gotten a lot of screentime in this film. He laughs, he struts, he snogs, he fights Harry, he gets drugged, he convulses, and he continues to be his clueless charming self after his bout with the love potion. Despite some earlier misses, I do thank Steve Kloves for giving Rupert so much to do this time around. I really did miss him being in the thick of the action since Chamber of Secrets. And I love that there were more Harry-Ron interactions in this movie. No matter how big a role Hermione played in the series, there will always be something different and special about a friendship between two boys. Rowling captured it beautifully in her books - all the angst and humor and affection. I'm glad the movie tried to show that as well.

The rest of cast acquit themselves well, too (with the exception of Bonnie Wright who really hasn’t improved much to me). I liked Tom Felton in this movie. I’m glad he’s got his moment in the sun, which is just as well since I find him underused in the Potter films. JR Rowling has written such a complex, dark character in Draco and I’m glad Tom was able to match that. The kid who played Tom Riddle as a teen was also pretty amazing, too. I did find his voice odd, but he had such a sinister innocence about him that made him perfect for the part of a budding Dark wizard. As usual, the people in the casting department are geniuses.

The grownups were just as magnificent. I agree with a blog post last week that said that Rowling’s insistence on having British actors for the Harry Potter parts guaranteed quality. And this film was teeming with it. I thought Jim Broadbent was fantastic as Professor Slughorn. I had my initial misgivings about him when I first heard the casting news (because he definitely does not remind me of a walrus). But he plays the part of Slughorn so well, with an amiable ease and a tragic sadness about him. And Helen McRory as Narcissa Malfoy was also amazing in the few minutes that we see her. You felt her unbearable sadness, as well as her steely countenance that makes her a perfect Malfoy. She acted a gamut of emotions that ranged from sadness, to desperation, to fear, to hope. That scene in Spinner’s End was short but very powerful. Those three – McRory, Rickman, and Bonham-Carter – were just geniuses playing off each other. It was an awesome scene (and I loved the idea of the Unbreakable Vow leaving bond marks on the skin). And speaking of that scene, how much do I love Timothy Spall for being in this movie despite having no lines and so little screentime as Peter Pettigrew?

I guess despite not liking the movie, it is hard not to disregard it altogether. There is still the magic of Harry Potter, after all. Plus, the wonderful actors that make it all work. And of course, being a Ron Weasley and Rupert Grint fan, there was the wonderful sense of seeing this amazing literary character go through a series of fantastic events, and seeing this amazing young actor grow up in front of you and become even better than when you saw him last. Of course, that made the film for me.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix review (originally written July 15 '07)

Note to reader: Although I took a look at this again, and edited it, this continues to be a very very VERY long piece. Now that I've included a bunch of stuff I missed before, this has become longer than the previous one - which was seven pages in a Word document, and single spaced. Not sure if you will reach the end without yawning or scrolling over swaths of paragraphs, but if you do, thank you.

So, where do I begin?

With the book, I suppose. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is the longest book in the series. It is also said to be the least favorite book of many Potter fans. I am one of the few, then, who do not share the same sentiment (my least favorite book was, and remains to be, “Prisoner of Azkaban”). Much ado has been made over the fifth movie, with plenty of people saying it is the best Potter film yet. I have seen it already and, while it boasts of truly excellent production values, I do not like to hold it in such high regard yet. Definitely, it was a huge improvement from “Goblet of Fire” - which seemed like a lightheaded romp - but it does not share the kind of success that Alfonso Cuaron had with PoA. All three post-Columbus directors were given some reasonable degree of cinematic license with the films, and yet only Cuaron was able to fashion a commendable movie hewing closely to his directorial style, and had both heartfelt emotion and digital bells and whistles that propelled, not just the main plot, but a number of subplots as well. (An obvious example of Cuaron being more successful in remaking the HP franchise was Yates’ continued use of Cuaron elements in OOTP, including the whirling locks on the Great Hall’s massive doors, and the look and position of Hagrid’s hut.)

My foremost complaint with OOTP was that it was short. I realize that the book is the longest, and that there will certainly be huge bits that need to go. And I was steeling myself for it. But I guess the missing parts do not really hit you until you are outside of the theater. Or worse, during a certain scene. Such as when Ron dares the whole Gryffindor common room to speak if they have a problem with Harry. That scene was supposed to establish Ron’s authority as a prefect. Since the whole prefect subplot was taken out, it just served to strengthen Ron’s role as loyal friend. But since we all know already that he is a loyal friend, it simply made it look as though Ron’s character had not expanded at all. (And worse for Rupert Grint, it had the effect of making it look like he was given very little to do in the movie – which is, and should, not be the case.)

However, short though the movie may be, it does seem to have the sort of snappy pace that helps most of the scenes along. The exposition provided by the Daily Prophet and the numerous Educational Decrees were ingenious devices. The rhythm of the Dumbledore’s Army training montage was quite good as well. And David Yates’ small screen training helped some scenes immensely by showing sweet restraint and subtlety. A good example would be Harry and Cho’s kiss. The only other scene from all the HP movies that I could think of that did not give in to audience indulgence and instead pulled off a similar sense of control was the scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone where Harry simply sits in front of the Mirror of Erised enjoying his parents. It was short, sweet, and quite emotional still.

With every HP film, there are certain plot devices in the books that I always look forward to seeing on screen; the ones that, when you read it in the book, makes you go “How in the world will they do that in the movie?” In the Sorcerer’s Stone, it was the Invisibility Cloak and Ron’s life-size Wizard Chess. In Chamber of Secrets, it was Harry entering Tom Riddle’s diary (yes, I was that clueless; it was not until the movie showed Harry being sucked into the diary with a flash of light that I got the visual the book was trying to give). In PoA, it was the Marauder’s Map (which was frankly AWESOME). In GoF, it was the Portkey. For OOTP, to me, it was supposed to be the giant brain that engulfed Ron at one point during the battle at the Ministry of Magic. BUT that was cut out (a shame, really, for it would have been intriguing to see how “thoughts could leave deeper scars than anything else” – a good thing to reflect on). So what was left for me to look forward to were three things: how Prof. Umbridge’s cruel quill would play out, the great Black tapestry, and the Veil. While I could understand the quill scene, I was more interested to see how it would look visually and whether it would come off as graphic as it was in the book. I was not disappointed, and it was one of the few times in the movies where I was thankful that the director did not hold back. As for the tapestry, I always visualized it in my head to be some sort of extravagant window dressing. I had no idea they were going to turn it into a sort of wallpaper. It was quite creative, actually, and I liked the idea. (Unfortunately, for those Book 7 theorists and so-called pundits, Regulus Black was not seen. Which means it will be up to the director/s of the sixth and seventh film to introduce Regulus Black – depending on what happens when the seventh book comes out. Narcissa Malfoy, nor Tonks, was not mentioned either.) Incidentally, the Black family manse was quite a nice piece of production design – looking ancient and forbidding – although I did miss Mrs. Black’s screeching (I expected it when Tonks nearly slipped in the hallway). What I also did miss was Phineas Nigellus.

Phineas Nigellus is probably my most favorite new character in OOTP. He was certainly not a major character, but he was strangely arresting to my point of view. The way he was written – an immensely clever wizard who had achieved much (he was a former Hogwarts headmaster after all) but had a brutal honesty and a suspicious character about him (he was part of Slytherin House after all). In spite of his faults and his constant sniping at Harry, I loved the scene in the book when he learns of Sirius’ death. He gives an eerily controlled feeling of surprise, and simply storms off in a huff. That singular piece of emotion nearly brought me to tears, to discover how such a disdainful character can still feel a sense of familial love. Even Harry took notice, and seemed to find comfort in the fact that he was not the only one feeling his godfather’s loss. It was, to me, one of the best-written characters JK Rowling has ever produced in the series. Unfortunately, he only appears fleetingly in the movie, and does not even speak! I waited for his portrait to come alive in the bedroom in Grimmauld Place, but it never came. He may have been one of the portraits in Dumbledore’s office, but I never felt his presence.

Meanwhile, the Veil was quite an interesting bit of visual effect in the movie. I had envisioned it to be some sort of archway with a, well, veil billowing from it. Like a cloth or curtain. In the movie, however, it was some sort of hazy barrier, the kind that opens into another dimension. While fascinating to me visually, it was not entirely plot-friendly to those who had not read the book. The “death” was made to be nothing more than Sirius stepping back (flying even!) into an unknown place. What made the “death” more clear was Harry bursting to the seams with gut-wrenching emotion at seeing Sirius… disappear. Despite that clarification, it still gave some audience members a few seconds in which to feel puzzled initially, and I’m not sure that is forgivable. And it did not help that Remus Lupin was not forced to feel just as tragic; after all, another one of the Marauders had just died. And what I also wondered about was whether Bellatrix used the Killing Curse on her cousin, which the book never really revealed (nor did it say what color the jet of light was that struck Sirius to his death). But now that I heard what spell she used, it was now easy for the average viewer to conclude that Sirius was indeed dead. Meanwhile, what I DO appreciate was when David Yates focused on Bellatrix Lestrange’s reaction after Sirius steps into the Veil. While I think Helena Bonham Carter went to town with her characterization of the female Death Eater, her reaction to Sirius’ death paints a tragic sadness quickly replaced by triumphant glee. That quick shot of hers was pretty inspired, and gives off some sense of humanity to her. As I mentioned earlier in Nigellus’ characterization, it was a similar sense of familial love that overcomes Bellatrix for just a teensy moment. It was one of the few artistic licenses that I am willing to afford Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg. And they gave her a cool exit, too.

It is nice that OOTP becomes a vehicle for interesting female villains. Apart from Bellatrix, Prof. Dolores Umbridge was maniacally superior in an ardently self-controlled way. Imelda Staunton was a great bit of casting, and she was amazing. In fact, one of the strengths of the movie is its inspired casting choices. Evanna Lynch’s Luna Lovegood was surprisingly well-played. I initially had my reservations about Luna’s character when I first read the book, but she grew on me as I re-read it. I was afraid that that might be the case in the film, that her character would take some getting used to. But she did well for a newcomer like her. Her vocal characterization of Luna was pretty much on the nose, exactly as I hear it in my head. Goldenberg wrote her with an obvious sense of affection and it is nice to see her best scenes in the book played out in the film.

Meanwhile, although the general quality of the acting has risen in this film, much more remains to be done. What I was particularly disappointed in was the casting of Mrs. Arabella Figg. Speaking as a fan of the book, however, I may be irrationally out of line by criticizing that Mrs. Figg was not “batty” enough. The newer cast members, those in Dumbledore’s Army, also provided weaker performances. And two of them were not even credited properly (Slightly Creepy Boy and Slightly Doubtful Boy?!?). Those who have read the books can tell that they were most likely Terry Boot (who had asked about Cedric) and Zacharias Smith. Ron even tells “Zacharias” off for doubting Harry in the Hog’s Head. It seems to show that producers are looking to cast these two boys properly in the next film (should they even appear in the next film – although I think Zacharias should). This myopic view of casting hurts the film acting-wise. Another example of a poor performance goes to Devon Murray’s Seamus Finnigan. Although the initial confrontation in the Gryffindor common room was fine enough, his apology scene was weak and uncomfortable to watch (you would think that, after five movies, he had learned something from them). And, despite providing a richer emotional tone to her voice, Emma Watson continues to act with her eyebrows and retain her signature “heavy sigh complete with drop of the shoulders”. Meanwhile, I was confused at the inclusion of "Nigel" at the DA, because I initially thought he was Colin Creevey. Where was Colin Creevey, anyway? I realize that Nigel was in GoF, but I don't think he warranted enough importance to come back for OOTP. I preferred seeing Colin again than the Nigel kid; at least the former was more familiar. (Unless Yates was trying to do a Cuaron and force on us an unknown Hogwarts student with a large amount of screentime - like how the African-British kid in PoA did some of the exposition.)

Rupert, meanwhile, has shown great strides in his acting. It was certainly nice to hear him say more than just “I dunno really!” (haha). Although he continues to bite his lip in that strange (yet oddly familiar) way of his, he has gone a long way in terms of performance. Which is why it is such a pity that Ron Weasley, even in the hands of another screenwriter, was given so little to do except dish out the zippy one-liners and feel protective of Hermione. As I wrote earlier, much of the major and interesting subplots in the book have been cut out, and much of that have to do with Ron’s character: the prefect issue, Quidditch, and the brain scene. Quidditch I realized I did not miss very much (although I do expect it to be a major plot point in the next movie), but the other two I did miss. As I said before, much of Ron’s character growth is explained in these subplots and sadly, they were not in the films. That being said, I suppose I should be grateful for the characterization they gave Ron in this movie – that of fiercely loyal and protective friend. The few scenes that Rupert is given to work on are amazingly well-played. When Ron asks the Gryffindors if they had a problem with Harry, he gives off a subtle but threatening look. In the boy’s dormitory, when Harry unfairly tells Ron to sod off, Rupert reacts with perfectly controlled indignation while looking like a haplessly stung boy. When Ron tells Harry that “maybe you don’t have to do it alone, mate”, he says it with just the right mixture of pathos and affection, as though he realizes that Harry is as much his friend as he is a victim. To be frank, it all brought back memories of Ben Marshall and his tyrannical mum all over again. And when he duels with Hermione, prior to being disarmed, he feeds off Neville’s fraternal support and displays a boyish swagger that is more adorable than arrogant. Rupert has improved so much in his performance that the movie lets me down somewhat whenever they obviously shove Ron in the background. Indeed, I have lost count of the number of frames that Rupert is in the background (one shot – the scene of Prof. Trelawney’s banishment – even has Rupert’s face entirely blocked from view by a Hogwarts student extra). In contrast, I have lost count of the number of times Emma is in frame even though she does not have much to do in the scene. I was not pleased that they even cut out what could have been an interesting scene of Ron giving a “fist up” to Harry (which was shown in the trailers – during Harry’s speech about how “every great wizard started out as nothing more than what we are now; if they can do it, why not us?” - while that speech was in the movie, Ron's fist up action was not; Neville's made it, though).

And even sadder still was this one scene in the movie that I thought should have been expanded. When Harry first wakes up in his dormitory bed after having his regular nightmares, he finds Ron watching over him from his bed. THAT scene should have been played out longer even though it was not in the book (where was cinematic license when you needed it?). I found it interesting because it would have reinforced the impact of the dreams Harry has been having about the Ministry of Magic. And it would have given Ron a more pivotal role in pursuit of that plot. Plus, it would have also strengthened his character as loyal friend (not that it was inadequate, but still). That, apart from Phineas’ fleeting screentime, was what I personally found unsettling.

In the meantime, the Ron/Hermione scenes became even more suggestive, despite their low-key nature. The exchanged looks over the table at Christmastime, the constant compliments (“You’re the most wonderful girl I know”/”That’s really clever, Ron”), Ron’s protectiveness, and his jealousy over Grawp. In spite of what other fans said, the latter I did not find to be the foremost R/Hr shipping moment of the movie. To me, it was that scene in the Gryffindor common room after Harry kissed Cho. The moment towards the end, when both smile widely at each other and laugh unabashedly is quite a moment that deserves its own Pause button (and gratefully revisited towards the end of the movie as part of a series of flashbacks - thank God for Youtube!). It is actually that scene that I love the most in the OOTP book, and it also has my favorite conversation of all:

Ron: Are you bad at kissing?
Harry: I dunno. Maybe I am.
Hermione: Of course you’re not.
Ron: How do you know? (God I miss this line, because it was just hilarious in the book.)
Hermione: (explains Cho’s feelings)
Ron: One person can’t feel that all at once or they’d explode.
Hermione: Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.

Well, at least that last line made it into the film (a shortened version of it anyway). It was my favorite line in the whole book, actually (next being the line about Ron being the most insensitive wart Hermione has had the misfortune to meet), so I’m happy with that at least. The post-kiss scene seemed like a disjointed piece of the whole movie, however, largely due to its funny and lighthearted nature. It was comic relief that brings together the burgeoning feelings of romantic love and sexual tension while immersing itself in the unpretentious follies of friendship. While the shadows and firelight in the scene was in tune with the darker tone of the film, it was nevertheless a light comic romp that gave the audience a welcome breather. According to the trio, the laughter in the scene was genuine, and I believed them. It certainly did come out that way. It was probably the only sincere moment in the whole film. Not even the scene in Dumbledore’s office towards the end was as affecting as it was written in the book. No, it was a simple moment of adolescent dishing that felt strangely real and comforting to me.

There are other scenes that I felt deserved to be fleshed out more. All the foreshadowing from Ginny – her impending romance with Harry, and her being the best spell-caster among the Weasleys – were good, but poorly established and lacking, particularly for non-readers. But the bits that did make it into the script were good enough, and Bonnie Wright does well with them (also nice that she is growing up just as nicely as Emma Watson – although her real-life wardrobe choices leave much to be desired). There was no closure from Cho; the relationship seemed to end abruptly when Harry chose to ignore her after the DA’s detention with Umbridge (it was also confusing because the other members of the DA were not as determined to ignore her as Harry). The subplot of the Weasley twins being serious about their joke shop was not established very well. And it did not help that the ultimate rebellion scene was written loosely, like some sort of juvenile fun as opposed to the cruel but delightful premeditated prank it was in the book. It cannot be stressed how impressive the kind of the magic the twins are capable of - comical results notwithstanding. Even Hermione was impressed at the kind of magic their products could create. It should have been a nice point to make in the movie, especially since their products will be instrumental in the sixth book (and probably the final book). Kreacher’s appearance in the movie was obviously an afterthought (it was admitted by the producers as well), although his short stint in the film gave off a truly remarkable and sinister presence. Percy Weasley was seriously underutilized, which might cause non-readers to forget he is also a Weasley. I do not think they adequately established Snape as a member of the Order, despite that throwaway line in the beginning of the movie. And I do not think they adequately established how Neville, Luna, and Ginny were caught outside of Umbridge’s office when Harry sought to use her fireplace to contact Sirius.

Apart from the ones I mentioned earlier, some of the other scenes in the book that I missed from the movie were Dumbledore’s howler to Petunia (which I thought to be significant in the book, but apparently was not as important as Kreacher), the Slytherin three (Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle) wanting revenge on Harry Potter, the mention of Crabbe and Goyle’s fathers as Death Eaters (I feel that the Death Eaters are just as important, and their connection to Slytherin House should be established), the thestrals being boarded by those who could not see them (what I would give to see Ron and Hermione clambering on an invisible steed), and Ron being protective of Ginny. Surely, if he can be written as protective of Hermione, it should be logical that he is as protective of his sister (but apparently that was not significant as well). In those scenes that had found their way into the movie, there were some obvious nitpicks, such as misplacing the stone wizard away from the fountain centerpiece of the Ministry of Magic, Harry being wandless at the Occlumency lessons (although he wasn't at the last lesson), and the use of the Levicorpus Charm during the DA training (that does not figure until the sixth book – although it was already seen in Snape’s memory).

And speaking of Snape’s memory, Goldenberg and Yates found an interesting way to condense it, including taking out the Pensieve (the Protego Charm should be the new deus ex machina) and shortening the memory. All it took was a series of excellent casting choices. You could definitely recognize Sirius, James, and Severus, as well as a split-second glimpse of Remus and Peter (although I would have liked it if they also showed Lily longer). As with all moving pictures (including those in the Hogwarts castle), I enjoyed seeing the photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix, and looking at the adult Longbottoms for the first time. It was crucial to introduce Neville as part of the grand scheme of things, and this, as well as his reaction to the news of the mass breakout at Azkaban, was a good step in that direction. The digital re-rendering of the centaurs was a good decision, and they looked much better than last time (although I did miss Firenze a bit). I also enjoyed Argus Filch’s increase in screen time (earning another round of cinematic license forgiveness from me), particularly when he camped out in front of the door of the Room of Requirement. Likewise, Prof. Flitwick’s short stint in this film was as enjoyable and charming as ever. The sweet scene depicting Arthur Weasley's fascination with Muggle technology is wonderful, and I am thankful they included it, because I thought Mr. Weasley had been woefully underwritten in the series so far. And I personally liked how they continued to visually incorporate Cedric Diggory in the story, even as a photograph. He was, after all, the first character in the books that I shed tears over. It was an ingenious touch that his picture was posted in the Room of Requirement (alongside that of the original Order), as an inspiration to them all that there are dangers out there, and that there are things worth fighting for.

There was one thing that I noticed in the movie, that I thought was a nice touch to realism. It may seem irrelevant to everyone, but I give props to the costumer for having Hermione and Ron wear the same outfit (or top, at least) in separate occasions. Hermione, as far as I can remember, wore her fuchsia knit twice (during the Hogwarts train ride and the encounter with Grawp). And Ron, as far as I can remember, wore his red sweater twice, too (during the Hogwarts train ride and the adventure at the Ministry). I thought it was in character for Ron to repeat some of his wardrobe (not being rich and all), but I also realized it also in character for Hermione to do the same thing (it is canon in the books, after all, that Hermione is not very fashion-conscious).

The climax of the movie was supposed to be the battle between Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore. In the moments leading up to it, we find the ragtag team of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, and Luna taking on the Death Eaters at the Hall of Prophecies. As to be expected, cinematic license takes hold once again and nearly ruins the whole scene, and even Ginny finally figuring out to cast the Reducto Charm seemed anticlimactic. Admittedly, however, the whole scene plays out great in visual terms. And if I were a non-reader, I would have instantly taken to the suspenseful pacing as the youngsters run for their lives in the Hall of Prophecies. Yates likewise gave them a cool entrance into the Death Chamber, as well as a different series of events prior to their rescue by the Order: all the students held at “wandpoint”, Harry actually handing over the prophecy to Lucius Malfoy (who proceeded to break it), and Sirius non-magically punching Malfoy in the face.

With such creative digressions, I had expected the Dumbledore vs. Voldemort battle to be an indulgence in CGI. Surprisingly, it was just like Harry’s first kiss: short and sweet (albeit of a different kind). It was a display of nonverbal but fearsome magic. The special effects team did a tremendous job visualizing how different the fighting styles and spells used were for the two great wizards (fire and water, for example). And the scene after the battle, when Harry becomes possessed by Voldemort, turns into a protracted version of the one in the book. It basically rounds up the key themes of the film, themes that were responsible for Harry’s survival up to this point: friendship and love. His life and loves flash back before his eyes (incidentally, it was telling that there was no Cho – and unfortunately no Ginny). He has the Weasleys, Sirius, his parents, and particularly Ron and Hermione, who are represented by their adorable SS, CoS, and PoA selves. (Also telling was the lack of GoF footage. I wonder why.) It lingers on a fairly recent and lovely memory of them laughing in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room. And this snaps Harry back to reality, telling Voldemort that he is to be pitied because, unlike him, Harry is loved. He had seen Ron and Hermione, who had come from the Death Chamber, and he was moved with emotion. The realization that he is surrounded by friends who are willing to fight with him and for him, and the humiliation that they saw him like this - overcome by the Dark Lord - he fights back, and is filled with hope once again . Voldemort, refusing to be cowed, intimidates Harry by saying that he has much more to lose. He Disapparates, but not before Ministry members arrive and see him before their eyes. And just like that, they transform into believers. That prolonged scene was a good creative decision, even though the script bordered on being cheesy. Nevertheless, it was effective in portraying love and friendship as formidable weapons against Voldemort.

In the meantime, as always, the HP films continue to churn out weak endings for the movies. So far, Mike Newell provided the franchise with their best ending yet (although Cuaron had the most creative end credits so far). I liked how Harry verbalized what he learned from the battle at the Ministry, but I wished the actual scene had been visualized better. (I do like the blocking involved; seeing the Slytherin three off to one side looking regally sinister while Harry marches to another summer.)

All in all, it was a great piece of work. As I said, production values were excellent, and some were at par with the precedent set by Cuaron in PoA. Emotion was pretty much at the core of the film, even though some of it lacked heart. The pacing was quick, and contributed well to those scenes with a distinct message. Despite the absence of some subplots, it cannot be denied that the key scenes did combine to tell the main story coherently. Despite some plot inadequacies, some interesting stylistic and creative pursuits did serve the story well. Acting was stellar among the cast members who had been in the previous films. The villains, including Umbridge, were fantastic. Dan Radcliffe has finally found his inner Harry Potter, and his maturing angst goes well with his performance in the movie. It helps that a lot of the film is spent inside Harry’s head, thus delivering a pretty insightful analysis of Harry’s psychosis. Dan wonderfully rises to the occasion. I am particularly impressed with his acting during the possession scene. It is one of my two favorite scenes in the movie (the first being the post-kiss scene in the Gryffindor common room.) Emma continues to be Hermione. And I have already said that Rupert is the most improved of them all. Indeed, we all know by now that Dan, Rupert, and Emma are excellent casting choices even six years on (thank God they will go all the way until the seventh film). It is truly a blessing to have such a committed crew of actors.

With this movie, it serves to whet the appetite for the sixth film. And most especially, the final HP book. What do I think will happen? Personally, I think Voldemort will die, Snape is really good, Pettigrew will save Harry at some point, there will be massive losses amongst the Death Eaters (probably Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange among them), the centaurs and some giants will side against Voldemort, and… Ron could die. It has been foreshadowed three times already in the books, but I seriously hope he lives on. In the meantime, while we are tragically aware that the end is near, the films have more to go. And I will be waiting.


A ramble about the Harry Potter trio (originally written July 11 '07)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix hit US theaters at exactly the stroke of midnight today. While I was not among those who diligently lined up at that hour, I am just as excited, nervous, paranoid, and enthusiastic about the upcoming movie. I have a great movie weekend planned, and OOTP is at the forefront of that. But just as excited as I am about the movie, what I am even more enamored about is the prospect of seeing the Harry Potter Trio once again.

I first heard about them in the local newspaper. When I opened the Entertainment section, I saw a most delightful photograph: Daniel, Rupert, and Emma staring back. I had just begun a love affair with the HP books, courtesy of a former friend of mine. I had the odd but whimsical sensation of seeing Daniel, almost exactly as Mary GrandPre imagined him, as Harry Potter. To me, it was an excellent casting choice, as were the red-mopped Rupert and bushy-haired Emma. Perfect. I had begun another love affair, this time, with the movies.

Seven years came and went, and five movies had been made. The Trio had grown up and gone up, their fame eclipsed only by their friendship. True enough, as they grew up in the public eye, so did the depth of their relationships with each other. It was quite telling to see how close all three were to each other, and how fond they were of each other.

I look at Dan Radcliffe more as Harry than anything else. So it was a bit of pleasant surprise when I began to hear of his exploits outside of Harry Potter – his bit in "Extras", his kiss in "December Boys", and his naked stint on Equus. The last part did not come as a shock to me. Surely, someone who could appreciate the maturity and sensitivity of Cuaron's movies could certainly look on the role of Alan Strang with similar honesty and sincerity. He had grown up, after all, and it was within his rights to move outside of his comfort zone however he wished. Besides, Equus was no simple play; from what I've read about it, it is a fairly complex, emotional, and gratifying piece of work. [chowie - And I would eventually watch it on Broadway on its final day - a very wonderful accomplishment by Dan, indeed.]Another thing that surprised me about Dan was that, despite leaving school, he has been constantly learning. David Heyman has revealed that he takes him to art galleries, and that Daniel reads Balzac. He is quite the pupil. Dan has impressed me when he compared Harry and Voldemort’s relationship as a Holmes-Moriarty type (which is awesome because I am such a Holmes nerd myself), and when he gave the analogy of the OOTP as some sort of French Resistance and he was Henry the V. With such smarts, I have never been prouder of what Dan had done with his career so far. He's been making unexpected but brilliant acting choices and I only wish him the best.

With Emma Watson, meanwhile, I had a bit of a harder time appreciating. Hermione had never been a favorite character of mine, loved though she was by Harry and Ron. And it proved the same with Emma, who seemed to have as much Hermione in her. I think I haven't forgiven her for being brutally honest to Rupert at one point while they were promoting Chamber of Secrets in Japan. (Rupert was, after all, acting like the twelve-year old he was then!) And I don't think I liked seeing how she favored hanging out with Dan more than Rupert. Yes, I have my frequent odd bouts of irrationality, and this is one of them. To be honest, in the case of Emma, I seem to have a harder time distancing her Hermione persona from her real-life self. So whenever I'd see nice pictures of her and Dan dancing together during the Prisoner of Azkaban after-party, I was annoyed. Whenever she and Dan would goof off more behind the scenes, I got annoyed, too. It didn't help that Rupert grew up to be seemingly averse to coziness and affection. I was reading too much into the books that I wanted Emma and Rupert to be together. Unfair really. However, she did grow up to be a fantastically beautiful person. And thankfully like Hermione, she stuck to her academics – an area unfortunately abandoned by both Dan and Rupert. She has my intense admiration for that, because going to University is a wonderful experience and I am glad she remained convinced of her desire to go. I am happy she found a way to bring her schooling and acting together, because I have no desire to see Hermione played by anyone else.

My feelings for Rupert, meanwhile, are different. I feel like hugging him every time I see him. I feel like a very VERY overprotective sister when it comes to him. As I mentioned in an earlier LJ post: “I have always been fond of Rupert. It helped a lot that he played my most loved character in the Harry Potter series – Ron Weasley was my beloved pet and literary figure. Rupert had always been, for me, the standout of the Trio, and I always expected more from him. He is like a baby to me, and I always acted like the big sister when it comes to him, like: why isn’t he getting any screen time? Why is his hair such a bloody mess? Why is he dressed like that? Why did he leave school? Why in bloody hell did he buy an ice cream truck? Why won’t he say anything more? Why is he not in that picture? Why is it always about Dan and effing Emma?!? Anyway, I always wanted him to get the best of things, and I somehow thought he kept getting the short end of the stick.” Indeed, even during the OOTP promo blitz, he got shunted away to do the less-popular shows and movie venues. A shame, really, but it ultimately made him very very accommodating and, more importantly, approachable, to his fans.

I knew that my fondness for Ron Weasley was immense, and I used to think that it was this feeling that cemented my incredible support for Rupert. But it wasn’t until I saw a scene in Chamber of Secrets that turned me into a Rupert fan. When the Trio were in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, brewing the polyjuice potion, Rupert was a gussied up 12-year old and it made me realize that he was growing up faster than Dan or Emma were (well, literally of course). The fact that he was some sort of deviant (e.g., leaving school, growing his hair, and refusing to dress up) just made him stand out from the Trio. My good friend once said that his look was the best of the three, because it was so “European” (you may think we're being dense, but we knew what we meant). I agree, and if Rupert would just improve his posture a bit, he could be a fashion model (albeit a short one). But of course he would stick to acting, and he did his part in Driving Lessons, and that movie I was so incredibly proud of. Now that I am sure of the talent underneath the red mop of hair, I am even more determined to root for Rupert, and wish him even more success in his career.

Meanwhile, as the Trio grow up in the limelight, it is wonderful to see how grounded and levelheaded they all seem to be. David Yates shared my observation in an interview, saying that they were levelheaded, normal teenagers. It was quite an accomplishment, for them to have gone through the acting juggernaut and come out with nary a scandal to their name. It was certainly impressive, and one that American young actors should hope to achieve, given the similarly libelous character of the British press.

A few days ago, I was beside myself with joy when I watched them go through the historic cement imprint ceremony in Hollywood. The weird thing was that I was SO NERVOUS AND OVERWHELMED myself! I could not explain it, for I was sitting in front of my computer, all the way on the opposite coast, and yet, I was so emotional at seeing them immortalized that way. As a film lover myself, I understood their awe because the ceremony itself was a huge honor, and a hugely symbolic one indeed. It was certainly nothing to be sneezed at and it will leave a lasting impression on their acting resumes. I think I must have gone through ten or so different online videos of the same ceremony, and smiled widely at each one. This was one of the times when I felt like the protective older sister, that I knew them since they were children, and now that they are being treated like cinema royalty, I was extremely proud of them that time. EXTREMELY PROUD. There are just no words to describe how I felt as I watched them go through the ceremony with all the enthusiasm of star-struck teenagers. It was all immensely gratifying, especially to a long-time Potter fan and Trio fan like me.

And through it all, they remain committed to each other. Their friendship is deeply remarkable and truly obvious, even to the casual Harry non-fan. At photocalls and press interviews, they are quick to group together, sometimes sharing a laugh and stealing looks at each other here and there, like this was all one big inside joke. They easily share their affection and warmth toward each other. (However, I must qualify that because, as I mentioned earlier, Rupert doesn’t seem to be the touchy-feely type – although he and Emma did have those Comme Au Cinema and hug at Grauman’s moments! Cue the R/Hr shipping music!) All of that sincere friendship is captured in pictures of the Trio. And that friendship seems to grow stronger as the years go by, from the forced photoshoots of the Sorcerer’s Stone, to the candidness of Azkaban, to the delightfully mature and sincere warmth of Phoenix. They have grown into each other just as much as they had grown into their movie personas. As a fan of all three, it was just a wonderful trip through the years.

And they certainly do not hold back on their thoughts about each other, something that has strengthened over the years. Rupert has called Emma family, Emma calls Dan and Rupert her brothers, and Dan has repeatedly said much about his friendship with the other two. Emma had a nice take on their relationship in an interview, saying “Daniel and Rupert are the only other people in the world who will ever understand what it is like to have been through what I have been through. I think we have quite a special bond. Even if we hated each other and didn't get on at all, we would always have that. That's important to me, being able to talk to them about it and going through it all with them.” Rupert, meanwhile, provided an interesting view of his friendship with Dan, when a journalist asked why he hasn’t seen Dan in Equus yet. Rupert’s excuse was that he had a hard time getting tickets, but the journalist asked if it was because of the discomfort at seeing Dan naked on stage. Rupert had to agree, and the interesting view of this is that it would definitely be an understandable reaction between two boys with a close friendship. Naturally, Rupert had the greatest respect for Dan for doing the play, and yet he realizes some of the boundaries of a friendship that he respects a lot more. I have no doubt that he's very much in Dan's corner, quietly supporting him despite not being able to experience it firsthand himself.

And so there are two more movies left to play out on the big screen [chowie - Three, now that they've split Deathly Hallows in two.]. When the last one comes, when it is all over, will they be just as emotional as Jennifer Aniston was when Friends ended? It will be interesting to see just how strong their friendship really is. (If you ask me, I’d like Rupert, and maybe Emma, draw character sketches of every single actor, like what they did in LOTR during the end credits. And maybe Dan can use his inner poet to write some sort of ode at the end. That would be a fantastic showcase of creative, but non-acting, talent.) I would like to hope that they continue to be the good friends that they have been. I am certainly looking forward to the coming years and to the future success of these three stars.


"You made it alright to be me" (originally written July 2 '07)

I just finished watching Rupert Grint’s movie, Driving Lessons. It made me realize how utterly biased I am going to be from now on regarding him as an actor. But the good thing is, he really does act very well in it.

I have recently begun my seasonal obsession over things Harry Potter, and this time, it’s doubled because both the final book and the fifth movie are due out ten days apart. It is an unimaginable feeling of hysteria and paranoia. It does not help that Rupert has grown into such a wonderfully-looking and affable young man and therefore I feel very protective of him. It is my immense misfortune not to have been around New York City when the Tribeca film festival ran last May (or was it April?), because then I could have been one of the Rupert fans who eagerly awaited Driving Lessons’ US premiere (plus, I could have seen him in person during the film’s Q and A, or as he roamed the streets of Manhattan). At any rate, I did hear about this indie movie from way way back, but I had no idea how “special” a movie it was. For starters, it was written by the acclaimed Jeremy Brock, who also wrote “The Last King of Scotland” and “Mrs. Brown”. And with Julie Walters and Laura Linney in the film, I thought Rupert enjoyed some esteemed company.

Rupert seems destined to play Ben. Like him, he is shy, soft-spoken, dazed, and confused. It is such a great fit for Rupert acts out Ben like a good friend – full of charm and bashful brio (if there was such a term). Despite the limitations of his character and the fact that he remains “in the box”, the whole movie is a testament to Rupert’s range of emotions. What his fans will love about it is how he has grown up, and how he seems to lend credence and validity to how he’s played Ron Weasley all this time. For me, however, my fondness for Ben comes from something more personal.

He is a poet with parent issues. He devotes his waking hours to the pursuit of the dream, and of truth. He goes beyond the comforts of his own home in order to seek out life. He gives in to his vicariousness in a restrained yet relentless way. He seeks escape because he only wants love – and to be loved in return. He is somehow someone I had hoped to be, quite frankly. I don’t know if I can accept the drama, but when Ben and his father exchange “I love you’s” out loud, probably for the first time, my heart skipped a beat and I shed a tear. It was a profound moment that both actors performed beautifully.

Seeing Rupert begin his life in the public eye as an eleven-year old, it makes sense to say that I see this movie as a coming of age of sorts, or a “welcome to the real world of filmmaking”. After all, it was his first serious starring vehicle, written and directed by a very talented and creative individual. Not to belittle what Harry Potter has done for him, but in a way, Rupert has stepped out of the comfort zone of a franchise and into the real and somewhat unforgiving and critical world of independent cinema. In a way, I would love to hug Brock for casting Rupert in the film. I realize it was a semi-autobiographical piece, but I will have to trust that the role was tailor made for Rupert. He did so well, and he had gotten lovely reviews from it.

Unfortunately, the whole film needs a bit of work. I could probably give Brock a bit of leeway, as a first time director. Definitely, the establishment of shots need work, and the segues and scene cutaways jar sometimes. Music selection was a bit distracting, although the better-used ones were in the title credits and in the montage of scenes after Ben and Evie came home from Edinburgh. While Julie Walters’ Evie was a bit screechy, Laura Linney was sympathetic and the actor who played Ben’s father was subtle and affecting. On the whole, however, Brock could have squeezed out some better performances from his actors. But as a writer, I give him great credit for some really great lines, and a lot of the praise stems from how brilliant Rupert’s delivery was. I found myself laughing in some bits, and it really is a testament to Rupert’s excellent comic timing, which was shaped by his experiences in Harry Potter. There were two funny scenes in the movie that I thought he did wonderful in. The first was when Evie swallows the car key and Ben’s resulting gamut of expressions – from disgust, to anger, to frustration, to fright (loved hearing him swear on screen for the first time, too). The second was when he rang his mother to tell him he won’t be coming home for the night and he desperately tries to stave off her attempts to call the police. He says “I’m fine!” numerous times, and he gives off a variety of emotions for each.

Apart from the funny ones, Rupert has some exceptional scenes in the movie. When he tries to calm Evie down during a poetry recital (“It’s okay, I’m here, I’m sorry”), his face is calm but his voice is a nervous but soothing wreck. And afterwards, when their argument escalates in the middle of nowhere, it peaks when Evie calls him a liar, Rupert shouts at her with such fervor as well as misery, and then his face collapses with enormous guilt when he discloses his tryst the night before. And oooh, what a tryst! Rupert gets his first onscreen kiss and bed scene in this movie. And like the buzz that surrounded Dan Radcliffe and Katie Leung with their kiss, I understood why some of the production crew on Harry Potter were teary eyed when they saw Dan kiss Katie for the first time on the monitor.

Now I have always been fond of Rupert. It helped a lot that he played my most loved character in the Harry Potter series – Ron Weasley was my beloved pet and literary figure. Rupert had always been, for me, the standout of the Trio, and I always expected more from him. He is like a baby to me, and I always acted like the big sister when it comes to him, like: why isn’t he getting any screen time? Why is his hair such a bloody mess? Why is he dressed like that? Why did he leave school? Why in bloody hell did he buy an ice cream truck? Why won’t he say anything more? Why is he not in that picture? Why is it always about Dan and effing Emma?!? Anyway, I always wanted him to get the best of things, and I somehow thought he kept getting the short end of the stick. Which is why I was incredibly proud of Driving Lessons and of the work that he did on it. And now he’s all grown up and ready to prove to everyone, and myself, that he can tackle more mature themes. But I will always be his big sister, and when I saw him kiss Bryony and get in bed with her, well… I wanted to cry. It was such a big step, and it was such a tender moment, that you cannot help but watch it to the end. And I could not help but think that, if Bryony breaks his heart, I will break her face! (Of course, Sarah ended up doing that to Ben, and rightfully, Ben tells her to fuck off at the end.) So yes, it was an amazing moment to watch Rupert kiss a (much older) girl and get in bed with her. Jeremy Brock shares the same sentiment. In a sweet interview for Moviefone’s Unscripted, he tells Rupert that when he directed the kissing scene, he felt a lot like his “father, I couldn’t ask you how you were feeling because I knew that you were aware that it was coming, and it was inappropriate somehow, and that it was not my place”.

In the end, Ben ties up a few loose ends in his life, and continues to pursue his poetry. It’s not an entirely happy ending for him, but you can tell that he is at least going in a nice direction. The movie ends, but I trust Rupert to continue going in the direction that this film has made for him. Yes, Dan may have his Alan Strang, but Rupert will always have Ben and my heart.

The title of this journal entry comes from the last line of a poem written by Ben for Evie. I thought it was a nice line. Kudos, Jeremy Brock.


Harry Potter-Ron Weasley-Rupert Grint musings: A Blog Mini-Festival of Sorts

The past month has been a Harry Potter fan's dream, full of news and sightings leading up to the launch of the sixth Harry Potter film. Albeit a tad delayed, my blog will be in keeping with the HP tradition of being inundated by all things Harry Potter. And, since I am a Rupert Grint fan, will pepper my blog with lovely musings about my favorite redhead, Rupert.


Monday, April 6, 2009

And In the End... Life In the ER Went On

Last night we bade good-bye to one of television's most enduring dramas, ER.

My first experience with ER was a bit hazy, but I do remember I was in high school at the time and planned ahead of time to hog our cable-less TV set in the kitchen and wait for the pilot to come on. My decision to watch a TV show that I knew nothing about, save for its pedigreed executive producers (Crichton and Spielberg), owed much to Sherry Stringfield.

I loved her back in the days, and I still do now. She was my favorite character in NYPD Blue (secondaries be damned), and was mad at the writers for slowly writing her out of the show. (Of course, I expected it when David Caruso left the show.) But when I found out that she was going to be in another show – ER – it made me feel better to know that I wouldn't have to miss her all that much. And so in the mid-90s, I watched what would be known as one of the highest-rated drama series in TV history.

Looking back on it, I cannot really put my finger on why I loved ER. Save for Sherry, I knew no one else on that show. My only other favorite character out of the series was Anthony Edward's Mark Greene. I didn't like George, Juliana, Noah, even Eriq. They all had character flaws that grated on me (and George, in particular, annoyed me to no end – until this very day!). I only loved two out of six actors, and yet I found myself in a weekly habit of staying up until 10PM on Thursday nights just to watch this wonderful show.

I think it was the fact that it was so different at the time. Unlike shows of this decade, ER opened every episode with a full cast intro. It had a hip, fantastic score. That score was what initially made it different from the rest. It mirrored the spirit of the show – its kinetic frenzy and breakthroughs. And the direction was pretty much unlike any other. Steadycam shots and "oners" (one-take acts) – it broke through the traditions of the TV medium. Every actor was utilized – from the EMTs to the nurses, to the docs themselves. There were no walk-ons or standbys. Everyone in the shot had something to do. And if you had visited a real-life ER at some point in your life (and with a doctor sister, I had lots of times), you knew that it was a very realistic scenario that played out really well in front of the camera. It was a successful mix of execution and emotion.

And unlike other shows that followed, ER continued to provoke emotions of its viewers through nuance and subtleties, instead of relying on gore and viscera. The urgency of hands flying in the ER, of people yelling over each other, blood suddenly appearing on scrubs or surgical gloves, or even gushing out of nowhere, of doctors' eyes flashing back and forth to each other while trying to save a life. The emergency procedure was the core of the medical drama. There was no mystery to be solved. ER situations are cut and dried and test a doctor's will and skill. There was no Housian mystery or GA lead-in to some complicated surgery. ER was like a one-two punch that left you reeling and awash in emotions. And then they hook you in some more with some nice character-driven drama.

Benton mentoring Carter. Susan adopting her niece. The Ross and Hathaway relationship. Mark's constant demons and attempts at leadership and love. It was typical drama, but set in the all-too familiar life-and-death hum of the ER, or in the backdrop of a gritty Chicago. The setting accentuated the drama. It was one of very few TV shows that allowed the setting to dictate the story. It was, I think, one of the reasons for its longevity, despite a continuing exodus of characters. It did not depend on one doctor, but on a location. And that location shaped the people's characters and motives. It is the ER itself that carried much of the drama and made for solid TV.

I am sorry to say that my decision to stop watching ER coincided with Susan's first departure to Arizona. I loved her character, and was rooting hard for Mark to stop her from leaving. And then she left. So I, too, left.

And I do say that it was something I regretted, seeing as how there have been some more amazing moments on the show since then. But Susan was the reason I watched the show in the first place, so it wasn't the same for me when she wasn't around anymore. I do tune in a couple of times and I see different faces each time, different ER chiefs-slash-antagonists in the mold of Kerry Weaver (still my favorite anti-hero). I knew about Benton's family issues, Carter's slow descent from idealism, Carol's reunion with Doug, and then there was Mark Greene. There was a time during the show's 15-season run when I was prepared to watch ER again, but when I found out that they were killing off Edwards' character, I couldn't get myself to watch. And so Season 3 was my last full ER season.

But like all those who felt the impact of ER in their lives, we came back to say good-bye to the show. And it was so nice of the show to give us fans, those who stayed and those who left, the chance to be nostalgic and to look forward to an ER future. There were no more character deaths. County General did not close down. Old faces mingled with the new, and past fans like me were shown how far the show had come, and how much there is to look forward to (Rachel! The Joshua Carter Center!). There was a wonderful nod to continuity with John Wells' script that paid tribute to the first season. Doctors playing hoops, Carter asking Rachel if "she's in", Morris being awakened at the beginning. And while there was a general air of expectation of sadness and closure, there was very little to feel sad about with the continuous energy within the ER. The morality tale will continue to play out, and relationships will continue to be tested.

It was wonderful to see everyone back, including Doug and Carol three weeks earlier. Back then, I was not a fan of these two. But seeing them again, and seeing how happy they still are, it brought me a sense of closure for these two. I got teary-eyed when, after answering a phone call in the early morning about the kidney donation they helped procure for Dr. Carter's eventual transplant, Carole turned to Doug in bed to say that they saved "some doctor". And again, it was so moving in the way that everyone continued to be connected in some part to each other. It was no grand "I Love You!" or song in the rain. It was a life saved. As was usual.

I love it when the show basks in the quieter moments. I still remember Susan's last day in the ER in Season 3. How they had this wonderful farewell party planned in advance, with streamers and balloons and cake and party hats, but then they got deluged with emergencies and everybody scattered about. And Susan just went around the ER lovingly gazing at the spirit and energy in there. And she then walked out of the hospital and just left. I was sort of torn up the first time I saw it. Aside from screaming out at Mark to go after her, I thought it wasn't the kind of farewell I would have wanted for my favorite character. But looking back, I loved how quiet, subtle moments like that just made me feel a sense of love for the show. The fact that two of the most iconic scenes of the show made it on to the credits for as long as it did – Carter's exhausted sigh in a dark corner outside the ER, and Benton's "booyah!" gesture in the hallway – is a testament to the power of a tender moment.

In the end, as always, life goes on in the ER. It was a fitting end to an important place in a community, and an important show in the history of television. No one left. Everything and everyone was right where we left them. I held my breath when the camera zoomed out and focused on a full building shot of County General as the El train whizzed past. I love that that was the final bookend image to this great series. That ER was part of something bigger, and that its relevance in the greater scheme of things was never questioned.

Maybe in the following days, or even weeks, we will come across people, articles, blogs, etc, all praising the finale. ER has achieved an amazing degree of popularity, with viewership peaking at around 35 million in Season 2. And that was just in the US, and didn't count people like me who were from the other half of the globe. With such viewership, I won't be surprised if everyone you met had watched it at some point in their lives, not counting syndicated episodes. The show deserved its successes then and even now. It was an unprecedented kind of success for a scripted drama, and it will never happen again.

I'd like to say “thank you” to a show that made me feel like a grown up while watching it. I was young, and my parents constantly supervised my TV viewing habits at the time, and yet they never vetted ER. For that I was thankful. ER was the first "real" TV show I watched, with content mature and intelligent enough for me to learn from. It had an air of edginess and accomplishment about it, and I felt I was "cool" while watching it. I never did understand the power of the Clooney, but I found myself being invested in the show's characters. My older sisters look back on St. Elsewhere as THE television medical drama. But I will always fondly remember ER. Thank you, Mr. Crichton, for writing a pilot that was both so poignant and powerful that it hooked me (and millions others) along with it. And thank you, Mr. Spielberg, for giving the show a sense of dignity and respect it deserves. And thank you, Mr. Wells, for being behind it all for the full 15 seasons. And thank you to all the cast of characters and guest stars and crew on the show. Television was forever changed by the likes of you.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good-bye, Conan

Oh, Conan.

You made me laugh and cry last night. And kudos to you for a wonderful final good-bye, and for a shout-out to David Letterman. You and Dave are my favorite nighttime companions. What would late night be without you?

Thank you so much, sir. New York misses you already. Good-bye and good luck.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

John Stockton

It is All-Star Weekend in the NBA, and with it came speculation about the next batch of Hall of Famers. John Stockton, one of the best point guards in the NBA, was among those eligible. And I am hoping he does get in. Here's my own little tribute to this amazing player. I wrote this a few days after his retirement ceremony with the Utah Jazz. It still resonates as strongly as it did when I first wrote it.

John Stockton was the very first basketball point guard I adored. And I still do.

I was a huge Celtics fan, and I am a Larry Bird worshipper above all else. But when it came to point guards, John was pretty much above everyone else. I grew up on the kind of basketball that was pure, intense, and full of grace. That was in the 80s, when the usual teams that met during the playoffs were Bird’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Isaiah’s Pistons, and Ralph's Rockets. I fell in love with the NBA during that era, an era that will never be replicated. It is as irreplaceable as Stockton himself.

The irony of it all was that I had to get a second glimpse of him before I was convinced of his greatness. I was originally drawn to that other high-profile Jazzman, Karl Malone. Malone was an easy player to admire. He was competitive, fiery, and often delivered (he wasn’t called The Mailman for nothing!). But I had to take a good long look at his teammate who often handed him the ball, who made it easier for him to shoot, and who set up plays for him perfectly.

John was the epitome of the point guard. He was a master of basic passing, eschewing flash for directness. As a matter of fact, of all the years I have watched John play (and mind you, I don’t regularly watch the NBA since we didn't have cable back then), I have only seen him do a behind-the-back pass TWICE. The rest, he did it by sheer mastery of ball-handling, accuracy, sharp eyesight, and instinct. Michael Jordan needed to dunk a ball to achieve greatness. John only needed to pass the ball to become legend.

I felt that no other point guard I knew came close to John. Save, probably for Magic. But the difference was that John had more charisma. Plus his personality and character was ultimately at a level Magic could not reach. At the moment, I am hard-pressed to name a guard that could fill John's shoes. Hardworking playmakers abound the NBA, but no one comes close to John's spirit and fire. Iverson is too cocky. Kidd is lackadaisacal at times. I have a crush on Jason Williams, but that's as far as I could go. Hamilton is so-so. Bibby is too inconsistent. Fisher is a Laker. Nash has zero likability. And don't get me started on Payton, that greedy schmuck. Edited to add: Rajon Rondo is fantastic, but even he couldn't fit into John's shoes.

That time when John made the game-winning triple during the NBA finals with the Bulls, he jumped so high and with so much joy that I jumped with him. He had this verve about him that was infectious. I can only aspire to so much enthusiasm. I realized then that I loved what he did. What he has done. In the past years, I was content to simply watch back and marvel at what he could do. It was only during that instance, after that buzzer-beating game-winner, that I felt his passion channel right through me. You truly felt his happiness. It was hard not to love him after that.

I also loved the fact that he never succumbed to the money. I read how Pat Riley offered John millions to play for the Heat back then. But John refused. It is through him and Malone that I’ve learned to love the Jazz, despite the fact that I was more a fan of the Eastern Conference teams (LA destroyed the West for me). He was humble, steadfast, and ferociously loyal and well-grounded. A far cry from the glitzy affairs and scandals that rock the NBA nowadays. His was a life that anyone would love to have. And he had a career that many envied. It was not about the money. It was simply about basketball. (Karl would emphasize that as well, when he moved to LA with a huge pay cut just so he could win a championship, a prize that continues to elude him to this day.)

The players loved him. Even Sir Charles, for all his bluster and gruff, could only put John on a pedestal higher than his. I got misty-eyed while watching a press conference after the Olympics in Athens, when Iverson, bemoaning the US' difficulty in winning games and commending their opponents' play, said "That's the game the way Karl Malone and John Stockton play it. It's good for kids to see how the game is supposed to be played." Hearing it from Iverson, the guy with flash and the controversy following him everywhere, who seemed to give himself more credit than anybody else (save, probably, for Tracy MacGrady), astounded me. Iverson embodied basketball selfishness. But he conceded that Stockton (and Malone) possessed the kind of skills that can only win basketball games. Hearing that from someone as young as he was just made my heart beat proudly. How true. How affirming.

Such was John’s greatness that he never did get tagged with a moniker. What else can you call a basketball player whose abilities defy description? (Edited to add: Instead, you get all these places named after him!) Nothing seemed right for him. What did sound right, in all his years of playing, was when courtside announcers, in describing a play, would say over and over again, “Stockton and Malone!” “Stockton to Malone!”... I miss hearing that.

To say that Stockton never won an NBA championship should not mean that his career lacked the greatness it deserves. HE WAS AS GREAT AS ALL THOSE WHO HAD WON RINGS. He had the awards and statistics to back him up. He was a legend. And I can never thank him enough for giving himself to the game as he had. I shed tears when Malone, obviously upset about John’s retirement announcement, said immediately after "there will never be anyone like him. I guarantee you that."


In another beautiful basketball story: Today, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that they will be giving the Finals MVP trophy a name, similar to the Lombardi and the Heismann. They're naming it after that venerable Celtic great, Bill Russell.

At the press conference, Bill was overcome and almost was at a loss for words. He had just lost his wife, to whom Stern had entrusted the news to and asked her to keep it secret from Bill. She must have been extremely proud - to have died knowing some beautiful news about her husband. And Bill... said the most beautiful thing at that press conference. He thanked his teammates. He emphasized that basketball was a team sport, and thanked his teammates.

That honor could never have happened to a better man and player. Congratulations to Bill Russell. All Celtics fans are immensely proud of you.


Happy Birthday to Me!!!

This has been a long time coming, but I wanted to write about my experience in the Comic Con in New York last weekend, as well as a surprise Broadway treat. I thought I could celebrate my birthday early, and treated myself to a weekend pass. It was my very first time to attend a Comic Con, and I was had a blast.

My first impression was that there were too many danged people in the place. To get an idea on the size of the crowd – I had to fall in line to get inside the exhibition area and it took me one hour to make it to the entrance. But the best part about being in a line in a Comic Con? The outrageously dressed people. Lots of anime characters, and the usual Star Wars and Star Trek people, although there were plenty of obscure characters. Well, obscure to me, of course. But I think the highlight of my day was probably standing next to a guy dressed as RORSCHACH in line. My gosh, Rorschach!! My favorite character in Watchmen. Complete with fedora, trench coat, and marked stocking on his head. It was very cool, but also kind of creepy, so I couldn’t bring myself to ask if I could take his picture.

Another consequence of having to wait almost an hour just to get in the main exhibition was almost missing out on the Warner Bros. panel, which everyone calls the Watchmen panel. Because I was late, the line for the panel got so long it already reached the food court area and I had to run to make it. As soon as I got to the end of the line, this Comic Con staffer plops a chair behind the very last guy and yells out "This is officially the end of the line!" I had to beg him, since I was only one person and I was content to just stand at the back. And his announcement didn’t even deter people from lining up behind me. He looked at me must have pitied me because he whispered “Just follow me” and so he let me (and the rest of the line) follow them inside anyway. It turns out that the theater was large enough, so there were still seats, but all the good ones were taken so I took a seat pretty far back. But I had a fantastic view of the theater screens, which was important since I was there for the advance screenings anyway.

So for Watchmen, Dave Gibbons - who was the artist on the novel - presented us with the FIRST 18 MINUTES OF THE MOVIE. 18! Actually the guy in front of me turned to his friend and said "Did he just say EIGHTY?" Hah, we wish. And it was way way way cool! The best part for me was the opening credits set to Dylan. It was really very faithful to the novel - frame by frame, with a few liberties here and there, which was to be expected. Loudest applause went to Rorschach when he first appeared - which made me proud, but I was hoping to see Patrick Wilson. Well, technically he appeared, but it wasn't much. Anyway, there was also a bonus scene afterwards. And I think everyone just about died when they figured out what scene it was. It was one of the scenes of Rorschach in jail – certainly a very wonderful surprise for the fans. And it was shot verbatim! Jackie Earle Haley was simply the best. I’m guessing he might do a Heath and get nominated in the awards season next year for being a comic character. He really was very memorable in the short scene we saw him in.

After the Watchmen session, it was time for the Friday the 13th session. A lot of people left, although a lot still stayed. Mostly because they were waiting for Terminator Salvation (me included), but most of the ladies I’m sure stayed because Jared Padalecki was part of the panel. He's cute - floppy hair is cute. Although I’m sure everyone was biding time until the Terminator Salvation session.

So when McG came out it was to a round of excited applause. He tried to justify making another Terminator movie to James Cameron (since this time around it was all about the war against Skynet). He was really so excited to show us some scenes from the movie, being pretty adorkable the whole time. He even tried calling Christian Bale on his cellphone but his wife answered instead, haha. Anyway, he showed us about 9 minutes of reel - a very rough copy. Very nice. And very rough – all green screen, wire work, and digital storyboards all there. But there were the finished stuff, too, like the explosions. As for the story... hmm, I wasn’t expecting two other guys in the story. I was expecting a John Connor-centric story. Anyway, I took off after that since that was the last of the Warner Bros panel, and also because I wanted to see the main floor.

As expected, LOTS of comics. I had a list my brother gave me for him to buy, so I kept that in mind while keeping my jaw in check as I browsed the aisles. I wasn't familiar with so much of the content there, but it was fascinating to see, nevertheless. There was a huge gaming section in one part of the floor. There's also a section on comic traders and golden/silver age comics. There was an autograph section, an Artists Alley, even booths dedicated to independent artists who want to show publishers/agents their art (and maybe get a job in comics). The biggest booths are reserved for Marvel and DC (of course). There were TV crews roaming the venue, getting interviews from the more interestingly-dressed people. While there were a lot of them, there were too many Storm Troopers there (their uniforms in varying degrees of wear and tear), a Boba Fett, and three Chewbaccas. Very tall, too. And they even had the whole Wookiee noises emanating from them, as well. Then while waiting for the shuttle to Grand Central, I had my first celebrity sighting of the day – Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl being ushered in for one of the panels. I could have stayed till evening and wait for the Astroboy panel, especially, but I was pretty tired and wanted to go home. But I really enjoyed myself. The whole experience was great!

Then on Sunday I went back again for the Chuck panel, my favorite TV show on Monday nights (until House changed their schedule to Monday, too, which sucks). The Chuck panel was actually the primary reason I went to the Comic Con in the first place, so I was really excited for this one. I had no problem giving up the Joss Whedon and Fringe panels to see Chuck. And I wasn’t disappointed. They showed a teaser for the second half of the season - very nice. Josh Schwartz was there, as was the female lead, Yvonne Strahovski. Very funny panel, loved it very much. When that was over, I went back upstairs for another last run through of the main floor. And then I left to go to Broadway.

For my birthday , my sisters treated me to a Broadway show – a ticket to the final show of Equus. While waiting in line, probably the biggest highlight of the day was seeing John Slattery also in line! I saw him with his wife, and the girl next to me said, "Mad Men!" out loud and we both looked at each other and grinned. He's so handsome - but also quite old. He really is. Makeup really does wonders for him. But he's a gorgeous older fella, and well-dressed.

Equus was just great - a bit sad, but that's to be expected since the main character is psychologically disturbed. Very dramatic. And the cast was excellent. Daniel Radcliffe was really impressive for his age and acting experience. His wasn’t very a very sympathetic character, and yet Dan was able to provoke me into feeling very disturbed and oddly sorry for him at the end. The main crime was quite dramatic, and was directed very nicely by Thea Sharrock. And of course, there was the main character of Martin Dysart himself. This was my second time to watch Richard Griffiths on stage, and he's just great. Of course, you can tell his health was pretty poor. He coughed three or four times while onstage (sometimes in the middle of his lines), but he's still fantastic.

Then they had a very long curtain call, where someone even threw a plush horse from the balcony on to the stage (and Dan was hilarious when he had to jump back in surprise). Afterwards Dan made everyone sit down first, and he and Richard gave a speech (well, Richard quoted Frost's Road Less Travelled). Very nice, and the female castmembers were teary-eyed in the background. Then Peter Schaffer, the playwright, came out and that was great, too, although he’s seemed to old and weak to even walk. Then when the cast left the stage and before the lights came on, there was a mad dash to the actors' entrance, mostly by the young females in the audience, to snag an autograph-seeking position outside the theater. I couldn't get close, but it would have been in vain since Dan just went through the line once, then straight into a waiting car. And then Richard didn't even stop to sign anything. But funny thing was, since Peter Schaffer was a slow walker, he got mobbed as soon as he left the theater. I kind of felt sorry for him, but also jealous that people got his autograph. But he was an easy catch anyway since he was going in the opposite direction (obviously, he wasn't attending the cast party). It was already past 7PM by then, and I had to go back to the train station to go home.

So there goes my birthday. It was a week early, but it was a fantastic day for me. Utterly fantastic. A happy birthday to me!!!


Saturday, January 31, 2009

¡Viva España!

Quite possibly the best Aussie Open match I have watched so far. It ranks up there with the other epic five-setters of all the Grand Slams. Rafael Nadal finally made it to the Australian Open Final, but at the expense of an equally deserving Fernando Verdasco. So deserving, that in fact, Rafa announced later that "He deserves this win, too. I want to congratulate him for everything."

Truer words have never been spoken.

I woke up early to catch the third set and watch Fernando and Rafa see-saw their way through the match. It was a fantastic display of tennis. They were compatriots and friends, and yet there was an element of competition. There was no dillydallying with the towel-offs or the slow lead-up to service. Every point had a quick pace to it, and safe play was never an option with these players. They rallied long and hard, produced intelligent shot-making, and volleyed with a purpose. There was no trash-talking or pomposity or preening. Though saddled with injury and stress, the two plodded on and gave the performance of their lives. Even in the fifth set, they never leveled off, nor did they ask for timeouts. They were competitive and inspired and motivated for all of five hours and could seemingly taste a slot in the finals.

In the end, it was that rare Verdasco double-fault that finally clinched it for Rafa. And true to form and friendship, he clambered over the net and gave his opponent a well-deserved embrace.

I was actually rooting for Fernando to win. I have this soft spot for the tournament strugglers, and this was his first Grand Slam semifinal ever. But Rafa was not to be denied. Although the tempo was seemingly set by Verdasco, Nadal stuck with him and never backed down. I was never a Nadal fan, but he just got my admiration for his on-court performance and behavior. You could tell he wanted this. During changeovers, I found his frustration very evident, verging on the disheartened. He clearly wanted to get this over with but couldn't seem to find the answers.

Verdasco likewise was a solid competitor throughout. But alas, he fell short. I felt for him when he double-faulted that one last time. And Rafa did, too, as he hugged him and kept his spirits up as Saturday morning crept in. I love that he did that. It was so nice to see such a friendly spirit of competition pervading throughout the match. And Fernando, bless his heart, admitted that he felt guilty for stretching Rafa to the extremes that night, but that he will be rooting for him come Sunday. "He's a big friend. I wish him the best of luck."

Me, too, Fernando. Congratulations to you both.