A child-free night out

Thanks to Uncle Ben’s kind offer to babysit, we were free to go see a movie (!). The most simple night out becomes something requiring planning and logistics, now that we are parents. However, we almost left it too late to see the latest Harry Potter film before it vanished from cinemas here.

As I’ve said before, we’re not the maddest of mad keen Potter fans, but we have seen every Harry Potter film at the cinema. In order to see the second one, we had to see it in Madrid. Luckily, it was a subtitled rather than a dubbed version!

If I was a mad keen fan, I probably wouldn’t have called it “the second one”, but all the titles blur together. Harry Potter and the Random Jumble of Words. So, this movie was the sixth one, and apparently there are two more to go.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Best realisation of the Harry Potter universe yet.

The sixth Harry Potter book is not the best one of the series, so the sixth movie is starting with a bit of a handicap. If I’m to be honest, it’s a handicap that it doesn’t completely overcome. But, plot aside, there are many other excellent aspects of this film, and I found myself really enjoying it.

The first thing is that the acting has come a long way from the beginning of the series. All the cast put on a good showing, and it is a delight to watch them realise the characters.

I also came away with the impression that the visual effects director was a genius. The special effects in the film (aside from the first couple of minutes in London) were appropriately done, effective, and rather artistic. The quidditch game in this film actually felt like a game that you could imagine people liking.

On the other hand, this is a dark episode in the the Harry Potter series, and is not one you would take small children to. A number of the scenes felt like they could have been lifted from a decent horror flick.

Don’t expect all of the book’s scenes to be present in the film. And don’t expect the book to be faithfully interpreted. If you are a mad keen fan, you probably won’t appreciate it. However, I think they’ve set things up well for the sequel (both of them).

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

Pulp fantasy

After I’ve completed an exam, I no longer need to feel guilty if I read something other than my study notes. Having just finished a subject, I recently went out and grabbed myself some fiction to read instead. One of my favourite authors is Neil Gaiman, and in my random wanderings through the bookstore, I came across a book of his that I hadn’t heard about before.

Stardust

A satisfying fantasy novel that manages a new take on a cliched formula

This novel is pitched as an adult fairy tale. However, it’s only adult in the sense that it’s not a children’s fairy tale. It’s not cover-to-cover steamy raunchiness or anything. There is some raunchiness. Bad things happen to good people. All up, more of a “young adult” book than an adult one, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the copy that I’ve got, there’s a review quote from Stephen King. In fact, aspects of the book do remind me of King’s work, as Gaiman is able to conjure up some pretty strange and freaky creatures to inhabit his fantasy world. The physics and logic of the fantasy world start off strange, but grew on me during the course of the book. Just seeing Gaiman apply his creativity is part of the enjoyment of reading it.

Apparently this book has been turned into a movie, although I hadn’t heard of it either. Although, after reading this book and enjoying it, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the movie at the local video store. I also discovered that Gaiman is behind Coraline, which I am very keen to see, now that I’ve read his take on a children’s fairy story.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

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English is fantastic

I am a closet pedant. Yes, I admit it.

When I hear people say something like “I’ll try and do it better”, I inwardly wince.

When I hear people use a word like ironical (instead of ironic), I die a little death.

However, in the latter case at least, it turns out that my annoyance could be misplaced, and in fact, the “-ic” versus “-ical” question is a bit of an unresolved mystery. In fact, it seems like it points to some weirdness going on in the English language.

The problem arises because you can turn many nouns into adjectives by adding a various suffixes. Some common ones are the “-ic” suffix (e.g. history becomes historic), the “-ish” suffix (e.g. book becomes bookish), the “-al” suffix (e.g. nation becomes national), and the “-y” suffix (e.g. box becomes boxy). However, suffixes can be added to other suffixes, and you can easily end up with abominations.

Why do we need words like ironical, symmetrical, or problematical, when ironic, symmetric and problematic are already doing a fine job?

I admit that there are a few places where the “-ic” and “-ical” adjectives have different meanings, such as historic(al) or economic(al). However, it seems that solid differences are the exception, rather than the rule.

I recently came across this study by Stefan Th Gries, which takes a deep look into the literature on this matter and also draws new conclusions based on a statistical investigation of a large corpus of English texts. The conclusion that I came to, after reading it, was that differences between the “-ic” and “-ical” adjectives seem to vary between regions and across time. Sometimes the variants of an adjective move further apart and then move closer together again. They are words that are pegged to the meaning of the underlying noun, but by dint of being separate words, have separate lives.

It reminded me of the theory of genetic drift. At least, to the extent that as difference in utility between using the “-ic” or “-ical” variant is so slight, it may be essentially random population effects that could be driving the frequency of using a particular variant for a particular purpose. Some variants happen to become sufficiently popular for a particular use, and that meaning becomes stuck.

I have now realised that here in Melbourne, we have two old gardens that are relevant to this discussion. The Royal Botanic Gardens were founded in 1846, while the Royal Zoological Gardens were opened in 1862. (In fact, animals were kept in the Botanic Gardens until the Zoo opened.) Even though these places were named around the same time, one has an “-ic” style name and the other has an “-ical”. The word “zoologic” seemed to have by then (and still today), for whatever reason, fallen out of fashion, while its companion word, “botanic”, continued to be popular.

I am going to continue to despair for those people that use “ironical” but I think I’ll cut the others a bit of slack.

Scandinavia – the most violent place on earth?

It seems that Scandinavia (you know.. Denmark, Sweden, et al) is currently the home of the crime novel elite. Which means, according to Slate magazine, that more people are murdered in Scandinavian crime fiction than are actually murdered in reality. You have probably heard of some of the Scandinavian crime writers, if only Peter H√łeg of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. In fact, last year one of them was apparently the second most popular author, globally, of any genre. So, it was about time I read one of his books.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Grim, suspenseful, nasty but good.

When the author, Stieg Larsson, handed over the manuscript of this novel, he was not to know he wouldn’t live to see it published. Luckily for us, he also handed over the manuscripts to the two follow-up novels, so we have more of his work to indulge in, as it is really very good.

This crime story is set in Sweden, and is provided to us in translation. The feel of Sweden seems to come through strongly for me in reading it, and part of the enjoyment was in the sampling of the culture, which the translator has left intact.

The story itself starts slowly, and quickly turns macabre. I did not enjoy some of the sick turns that the plot took, and given that the tale took up residence in my brain for a few days, it was not pleasant. However, there is much to like in both the plot and characters.

There are also some interesting themes woven into the book, covering journalistic ethics, violence against women and even citizen’s rights. The philosophy covered in those areas was more extensive than I would’ve expected for a crime thriller, and it’s more what I’d expect in science fiction.

I am looking forward to reading the next book.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****