Ron and Hermione Will Always Be Together Where It Counts

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Over the weekend the internet veritably exploded when J.K. Rowling revealed that she had some regrets about pairing off Ron and Hermione at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly  Hallows.

“For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron,” Rowling said, and went on to suggest that Hermione might have been better ending up with Harry. Cue fan rage (or joy, depending on who you’re shipping).

Now despite the fact that I unequivocally believe that Rowling is wrong (the thirteen-year-old in me wants a shirt that says “Ron and Hermione Forever”), the mere fact that she is speaking out now about what she should or shouldn’t have done in books that were published years ago is also incredibly wrong.

The inner English major in me wants to talk  about authorial intent, so bear with me.  I have always thought authorial intent is basically a croc. No matter what the person who actually put the words on the page wants, all we (as readers) have to actually deal with are those words. And we can interpret them as best we can, and we can be wrong and we can think things should have gone differently, but we cannot change them, and neither can a passing remark by the author.

Rowling’s admissions since The Deathly Hallows was published have only served to add to the extratextual world of the books, even though they come directly from the mouth of the creator. It’s not a part of the seven books that make up the story. It’s extraneous. If Rowling really wanted to change something, or add to the world that she has created, she need only to write a prequel or a sequel, to put more words on pages and give her readers a chance to interpret them.

I’ve written about this before, but I am bothered when the metanarrative surrounding any given story interferes with the actual narrative. With Harry Potter, that has often been the changes and contributions made by the movies, which were the entry point of many into this particular world. And despite the fact that the movies are just an adaptation, so separate from the books, they are big and bombastic and inevitably they can seep into the minds of readers.

A really unfortunate aspect of the movies was that, dealing with actors who had been cast when they were 11, the romantic chemistry never really worked out when they were teenagers. Poor Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had no spark between them, but there was certainly something going on between Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, adding fuel to the Harry/Hermione fire (it also didn’t help that Radcliffe had no chemistry with Bonnie Wright’s Ginny, but the bastardization of Ginny’s character in the movies is a whole other issue that I could write at length about).

The thing about Harry Potter is that these books are deeply personal for a great deal of people, myself included. Every detail, from the death scenes to the quidditch matches to the romances are important and meant something specific to each reader. As an extremely nerdy kid with wild brown hair, the character of Hermione was incredibly important to me. The slow burn of her relationship with Ron made perfect sense, and the moment when they kissed and actually admitted they belonged together was vindicating. A rare moment of joy in a book that caused me a considerable number of tears. But Rowling’s statements threaten to take that joy away, to change an experience that I treasure.

But the truth is, that experience can’t be changed because the books can never be changed. Now until forever, Hermione and Ron will always end up together, Harry and Ginny will always get married and Dumbledore will remain a perpetually single man whose sexuality was never even relevant. So while I really think Rowling should probably keep any more regrets about the series to herself, it doesn’t matter what else she says. All I need to do is crack open the end of Deathly Hallows again, and there Ron and Hermione are, together.

7 Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

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Where there are Oscar nominations there are Oscar snubs. It is a fact of life and it’s also what kind of keeps them interesting. The nominations for the 86th Oscars went out today and there were snubs and mild surprises aplenty. My predictions were okay this year, I went 9 for 9 in the Best Picture category but I was a little blindsided by the acting categories, I will admit. Overall I got 37/44 in the categories I predicted. But more than just a list of who’s in and who’s out, the nominations can also be very telling about how certain films are doing in the overall race. So here are a few thoughts on what this all means.

1. The David O. Russell Effect is a force to be reckoned with. Two years in a row now he’s scored an acting nomination in all four categories, which hadn’t happened for thirty years before Silver Linings Playbook. His four nominees today have all been previously nominated for a Russell film, and two of them won.  Russell is an actor’s director, plain and simple, and the acting branch is the single largest voting branch in the Academy. But it’s not just acting. American Hustle walked away tied with Gravity for most nominations, today. Hustle may seem unstoppable at this point, and indeed it scored important nominations in Editing and Screenwriting, but it was viciously snubbed for Hair and Makeup. The auteur picture Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, however, got that key nomination.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street was not too racy for the Academy. Not at all in fact. With five nominations, including directing, screenplay, picture and two for acting,  it looks like the voters were digging three hours of drug-fueled insanity. Despite this unexpected love, the film isn’t really in play for Best Picture, as it missed out on Editing, and no film has won Best Picture without an Editing nomination since 1980. But hey, we now live in a world in which Jonah Hill is a two-time Oscar nominee. So think about that for a bit.

3. Noprah! (And some other acting snubs). Speaking of Wolf and Hustle, those late-breaking acting nominations did not come without a price. It’s Bale and DiCaprio over Tom Hanks and Robert Redford in leading actor, and Hill and Cooper over James Gandolfini and Daniel Bruhl in supporting. In the Best Actress category I learned that you should never, ever bet against Meryl Streep, and with her and Amy Adams in there was no room for Emma Thompson. But then we turn to Best Supporting Actress where I was happily surprised to hear Sally Hawkins’ name called first (as I’ve said before, I think Cate Blanchett owes a great deal to Hawkins) and then happily astonished when Miss Winfrey’s name was absent. I thought Hawkins might sneak in over Roberts but apparently voters hated The Butler more than they hated August: Osage County. I think the worst part of Oprah’s snub is that we will not get to see or talk about her Oscar dress. Oh well, there’s always the SAGs.

4. Philomena over-performs and Captain Phillips underperforms. When it comes to films based on a book that’s based on a true story about people with the letter “P” in their name, it was better to bet on an old woman searching for her long lost son than a ship captain battling Somali pirates. Philomena was able to grab four nominations, including a surprising Best Picture nom (which I predicted and am so very happy about). Phillips on the other hand, walked away with six nominations (including the ever-important Editing) but lost out on Director and Actor, which many predicted it would get (Tom Hanks has not been nominated since Cast Away, if you can believe it). At this point it might be the film with the most nominations that doesn’t actually win anything on the actual night, but we’ll see. And if Jonah Hill’s nomination count freaked you out, you should note that Steve Coogan grabbed two this morning, for writing and producing Philomena.

4. Saving Mr. Banks, The Butler and Inside Llewyn Davis are left out in the cold. If I had told you yesterday that The Lone Ranger would net more nominations for Disney than Saving Mr. Banks, what would you have said to me? It’s what happened today (and while I think it’s hilarious, I actually can’t figure out which movie I disliked more). Banks was just one of a few early frontrunners to really crash and burn today. The Butler was completely shut out and Llewyn Davis only managed two nominations (Cinematography and Sound Mixing, both deserved but not nearly enough).

5. Dallas Buyers Club continues to show its wide-ranging support. The Wolf of Wall Street missed an Editing nomination but Dallas Buyers Club did not. It also grabbed Original Screenplay and Makeup and Hairstyling in addition to the acting noms and Best Picture. That’s a lot of below the line nominations for a not particularly technically ambitious film, which shows the support the film has in the voting body as a whole (which I really, really don’t get). This only bodes well for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who are definitely the film’s best shots at winning.

6. Big names in documentaries, foreign films and animation are snubbed. Perhaps the most successful nonfiction film of the year, Blackfish, missed out on a nomination, and the French love story and Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color wasn’t even eligible (weird Academy rules). Monsters University, meanwhile, becomes only the second Pixar movie not to be nominated for Best Animated Feature (the other one was Cars 2, and yeah I was okay with that snub). Perhaps the most disappointing documentary snub was director Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, which is a fantastic film that had a lot of critical support behind it. But here’s to The Act of KillingThe Great Beauty and The Wind Rises, who will hopefully take the prize in their respective categories.

7. There were a lot of shakeups today, but the Best Picture race is still between 12 Years a SlaveAmerican Hustle and Gravity. It was always these three, wasn’t it? They’re leading the nomination count and the conversation this morning. 12 Years missed out on two nominations that many thought it would grab, Original Score and Cinematography (because John Williams has to be nominated every time he works, even on a terrible movie, and apparently Nebraska was like, in black in white or something), and so has nine nominations to Hustle and Gravity‘s ten. I’ve seen that described as “underperforming,” to which I would only have to laugh. If anything, I think it’s Gravity that is losing steam. Although it rightly received a slew of technical nominations, it is the only Best Picture nominee without a screenwriting nomination, which also fits (the story was just a little silly).

12 Years is heading back to theaters just in time for Martin Luther King Day, and there are plenty more awards and interviews to get through before the field really starts to clear up. The number of nominations isn’t necessarily so indicative of number of wins. At this time last year the defining talking point was about how Argo had no shot because of the infamous Affleck directing snub, and Lincoln was leading the field in nominations. Silver Linings Playbook had a similar spread that Hustle has now, but at the actual ceremony the film only walked away with Lawrence’s Best Actress win. And if Gravity is comparable to anything from last year, it’s Life of Pi, and I would not be surprised at all if Alfonso Cuaron pulled an Ang Lee (a win for Directing but not Picture). But really, you never know what’s going to happen. Any one of these three could grab momentum at any time between now and March 2nd.

2014 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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It’s that time of year again. The silliness of the Golden Globes is behind us (I only got 3 out of 9 of my wishes!) and now it’s time to get down to some serious awards business. (Well as serious as we can be about rich people handing each other golden trophies.) The Oscar nominations are coming tomorrow and so I am here to bring you my tried and true predictions for the big categories. Overall I think I stayed pretty safe with my predictions, but I also tried to predict any wild and crazy upsets. There are pundits and precursor noms and all that, but in the end you never really know what will happen.

Best Picture:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

The weighted Best Picture voting means that there an be anywhere from six to ten nominees. I’m going for nine with the caveat that Blue Jasmine and/or Saving Mr. Banks could sneak in if there’s a tenth spot. The race has actually had quite a few twists and turns so far this season, what with Inside Llewyn Davis fading almost entirely from guild consideration and American Hustle getting boosts just about everywhere. The Wolf of Wall Street is super divisive (I myself was not a fan) but I’m giving it last year’s Django Unchained wildcard spot for divisive films. Philomena is perhaps my boldest choice but it has a lot of British enthusiasm and the new voting system favors small groups of fervent support over large swaths of general support.  And this is all despite the fact that the real race is still between 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle. Expect those three titles to come up without a doubt.

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
David O. Russell (American Hustle)

The Director’s Guild may have nominated Martin Scorcese over Payne, but if the past few years are any roadmap, the Academy’s director’s branch likes to make its own choices. Last year’s category was a little bonkers and Ben Affleck’s snub was actually the beginning of the groundswell for Argo’s eventual Best Picture win. So you never know what could happen and whether it’s actually a bad thing. Cuarón, McQueen and Russell are Affleck-style locks, so expect Affleck-like backlash if any are snubbed. Greengrass and Payne are kind of safe choices for the last two spots, I’ll admit. They’re both former nominees in this category, while Spike Jonze would be a bolder choice, but Her is still a quirky genre film, and the Academy has never been a huge fan of sci-fi.

Best Actor:
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Dern, Ejiofor, Hanks and McConaughey are dead locks for the first four spots (if any of them are left out, that’s where the big shocking snub will be). As far as the fifth nomination goes, there are four guys with a really decent chance at claiming it: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) Forest Whitaker (The Butler), Robert Redford (All is Lost) and Christian Bale (American Hustle). Redford had the early momentum but that has mostly dried up. Whitaker got a big boost from the SAGs but hasn’t really been heard from since. Bale got a late boost from BAFTA, but it may not have been enough. I’m going with Leo as part of the general groundswell for Wolf of late. But really, I might as well have picked at random.

Best Actress:

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

I thought when I picked Adams over Meryl Streep for this category, I might be swinging for the fences. But it seems that lots of pundits are picking this particular swap, and that’s probably due to general antipathy towards August: Osage, the seemingly non-stop power of American Hustle and Adams taking Streep’s spot at the BAFTAs, where there is quite a bit of voter crossover with the Academy. When it comes to personal taste, I think Adams is the most deserving of all the Hustle hopefuls, even more so than Jennifer Lawrence (more on her later), and I would be ecstatic if she took the fifth spot.

Best Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Daniel Bruhl (Rush)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
James Gandolfini (Enough Said)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Despite the fact that Jordan Catalano– I mean Jared Leto has the actual win all but guaranteed, this is actually the most fluid category. Leto is a surefire nominee, and Abdi and Fassbender are the next surest things. As far as the last two spots go, well, take your pick. Bruhl has the SAG and BAFTA noms, something he only shares with Abdi and Fassbender (Dallas Buyers Club was completely shut out by the BAFTAs), so I’d say he’s a good bet. The last spot? Well it seems to be down to Bradley Cooper in American Hustle and Gandolfini. I’m going with Gandolfini, if only because it is the last chance to reward a beloved actor for a lifetime of great work.

Best Supporting Actress:

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)

Despite the fact that I think Lawrence’s performance is being overpraised (she was fine, but Adams was better), she’s pretty much in a three-way contest with Nyong’o and Squibb for the win (one guess who I’m rooting for). Then there’s Oprah, and whatever you thought of The Butler, there’s no denying that Oprah really went for it. Plus she’s Oprah. The last spot will most likely go to Roberts for her turn in August: Osage, but lately there’s been a swell of support for Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, who took Squibb’s spot at the BAFTAs. If she does get nominated over Roberts it would be indicative of two things: Meryl Streep will almost certainly miss out on a Best Actress nom and Blue Jasmine might sneak in a Best Picture nom. It’s not super likely but it definitely could happen.

Best Original Screenplay:

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska

Original Screenplay is the category where the Academy allows itself to get the quirkiest (think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). That said, this year it’s dominated by heavyweights and is more competitive than Adapted Screenplay. Inside Llewyn Davis was left out by the WGA, but I feel like this nomination is the consolation prize the Academy might throw the Coens.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Philomena and 12 Years were ineligible for the WGAs, which will count for a big departure here since 12 Years is currently tipped to win. I’d say this category is pretty much all sewn up (even if you, like me, think it’s super weird that Before Midnight is being called adapted) but there might be a possibility for a spoiler from Osage‘s Tracy Letts, who adapted his own Tony and Pulitzer-winning play, two large precursor awards in themselves.

9 Golden Globes Wishes

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The Golden Globes always win for silliest award show of the year. Not just because they have a long history of drunkenness or that their majesties Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hosting for the second year in a row. No, the true silliness of the Golden Globes lies in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an organization of a few dozen international journalists who have a tendency to nominate the biggest stars they hope will show up (Angelina Jolie in The Tourist, anyone?).

But that doesn’t mean we won’t tune in and talk about who wins and who doesn’t. And it doesn’t mean this won’t affect Oscar and Emmy chances down the line. So here’s a smattering of some hopes I have for the big night, for both the film and TV side of the awards. They’re probably not the best of predictions, but it would be truly awesome if all of them came true.

1. 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture, Drama. The Oscar best picture race is largely between 12 YearsGravity and American Hustle, so it would be interesting to see who goes here. There’s absolutely no voting cross-over between this and the Oscars, but it was this category that Argo first started its roll of domination last year, mere days after Ben Affleck’s famous director snub from the Academy. There’s been some talk that the insane hype 12 Years premiered with is slowing down, so since it’s actually the best film of the year by far, here’s to hoping we still talk about it.

2. Amy Adams wins Best Actress, Comedy/Musical. Hear me out on this one. I liked Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle just as much ast the next breathing human, but she didn’t knock me over the way Adams did. To me, American Hustle would have failed without Adams, hers being the most nuanced and realistic performance. So far the best actress category has been pretty sewn up until Adams took one Miss Meryl Streep’s spot in the BAFTA nods this week. We all know that Cate Blanchett is a Daniel Day-Lewis level mortal lock for this Oscar, but Adams has a real shot here to potentially break into the nominations.

3. Michael Fassbender wins Best Supporting Actor. Have I mentioned I really liked 12 Years a Slave? Because I really, really liked 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender has only shown up in a handful of nominations so far, perhaps in part due to his early declaration that he wouldn’t do any campaigning. But who cares? Fassbender took on a role that could have easily gone cartoonish in the hands of a less competent actor, and instead created the kind of evil you could expect to see walking down the street one day. And that, like so much else in the film, is a huge achievement.

4. Sally Hawkins wins Best Supporting Actress. How great would this be? I mean, Cate Blanchett is amazing and very deserving of the Oscar she will eventually win, but performances like those aren’t complete without someone amazing to play off of. Hawkins really pulled her weight in Blue Jasmine, and made the film that much better for it.

5. Parks and Recreation wins Best TV Comedy. Besides the fact that Amy Poehler would have even more to do during the broadcast if her sitcom wins, I just think it’s about damn time someone recognized how great this show is. This fall’s sixth season may have had rocky moments (please, please no more Councilman Jamm) but the second half of season five, which aired in early 2013, was pretty outstanding. I could watch “Leslie and Ben” over and over and over again.

6. Tatiana Maslany wins Best Actress in a TV Drama. It’s insane how good Maslany is in Orphan Black. Like, crazy insane. I recently rewatched the series and I think the highest laurel I can give to her is that I constantly forget that the clones are played by the same actress. They are so different, so nuanced and just so good. Maslany is finally up for a big ticket award, and there has frankly never really been anyone more deserving.

7. Elisabeth Moss wins Best Actress in a TV Miniseries or Movie. Have you seen Top of the Lake yet? No? It’s on Netflix, go watch it and tell me that Moss isn’t freaking incredible. I dare you. 

8. Monica Potter wins Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture. Despite some issues this season, Parenthood is still one of my favorite shows on television, and Potter’s work during last season’s cancer storyline was top notch. You might not have believed that this show could make you cry anymore, but it did. 

9. Somebody does something super drunk. It has been remarked upon that the Globes are kind of a schwasty award show. Remember Glenn Close last year, anyone? Besides Tina and Amy’s inevitable show of hilarious hosting, drunken flubs are likely to be the most entertaining part of the evening. It’s not like it’s the Oscars or anything, so nobody has to be too serious.

‘Catching Fire’ Was Always Going to Be a Better Movie

Reviews of the Hunger Games sequel have been nothing short of rapturous when it comes to comparing the new film’s director (Francis Lawrence) to his predecessor (Gary Ross). Critics are crediting Lawrence with taking Suzanne Collins’ unwieldy second novel and turning it into a tight, suspense-filled thriller all the while judging the shaky cam snooze fest that (apparently) was the first movie.

While I will categorically agree that Catching Fire has surpassed the original movie in terms of cinematic scope and quality, I will say that there’s more going on than just a change in the man behind the camera. Although I’m not sad to see the shaky cam go — in fact when I watched the original last week, I actually got a little nauseous —  Ross didn’t do all that bad a job, given what he had to work with. And that’s really the crux of the issue here: with Catching Fire, Lawrence was definitely dealt a much better hand of cards. It was inevitably going to turn out into a better movie.

There’s No Way to Spin Kids Killing Kids 

Trying to keep the rating PG-13, the first film tripped all over itself to gloss over this important factoid, with shaky cam, a lack of blood and an emotional distance that leeched anything that might have been considered “stakes” out of it. By trying to smooth over the idea of kids killing kids, the first movie also sanitized the emotional import of a society in which kids are forced to kill kids. And this decision, whatever the motivation behind it, definitely hurt the movie.

The second time around, there are no kids in the arena. There’s no problem with a teenaged Katniss Everdeen taking out a forty-something hulking dude coming at her with a spear. Nothing particular of emotional import there. Just self-defense. And so Katniss can finally fight, a little blood can be shown, and she can be genuinely scared of these hulking monsters who are genuine threats to her and Peeta’s survival. And it’s no different than any superhero taking out the minions of the super villain.

Home Is Where the Backstory Is 

The Hunger Games had so much to cover in so little time there’s very little wasted on Katniss’s home town of District 12 besides some brief shaky cam shots of dirty children looking Appalachian. But just like JRR Tolkein made sure to introduce us to Hobbiton before he sent Frodo off to Mordor, Collins spends a lot of time in the first book introducing us to District 12. Unfortunately she does it in flashbacks that are hard to translate into the flow of an action film. So it’s not till Catching Fire that we really get to see what Katniss is fighting for. The film gets to spend nearly a whole hour of its time with Katniss’s friends and family, establishing relationships merely hinted at the first time around (Gale it’s nice to finally meet you!).

Love You J.Law, But I Can’t Read Your Mind

Almost as problematic as the whole children murdering each other thing is the fact that wide swaths of the first novel are first person narration without Katniss speaking to another living soul. And even when she’s talking to Peeta once they team up, she’s constantly reminding the reader that her relationship with him was an act for the cameras. In the first movie, for someone who’s never read the books, that subtext is almost entirely lost. Jennifer Lawrence does her level best at it, but it would help if she could talk.

Catching Fire has ample opportunity for the Girl on Fire to speak her mind. After spending a significant portion back in District 12 the book takes her back to the Capitol and the arena, but instead of sending her off in search of water and climbing trees, she is immediately thrust into an alliance full of relationships and dysfunction and all sorts of good stuff. Beyond actually getting at characterization, it’s simply more interesting to have her in a group and interacting with people than to have her tied up in a tree by herself.

The Clock is Cooler Than a Forest

The arena in the first novel is your pretty standard forest. Barring CGI fire and CGI dogs, there wasn’t much threat besides the other kids. Not so in the sequel. The arena itself is a much more hazardous place. Tidal waves, lightning, killer baboons, rain of blood. It’s not just more eventful, it’s more visual. A panning shot of the the clock jungle is just a better picture than a plain forest. Plus when there are threats that aren’t people, Katniss is allowed to fight and shoot with reckless abandon. Who cares how many rabbid monkeys she kills? At least they’re not kids.

Just Like Oreos, the Best Bit is in the Middle

Call it The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers rule. Without being bogged down with lengthy exposition or a conclusion that ties everything up in a bow, the middle chapters of series have an undeniable advantage over the beginnings and endings. They get to just tell a story in an already established world without anything that even resembles an ending. In fact, the more of a cliffhanger, the better. More people will line up to buy tickets to the midnight showing of the last movie (or, er, the last two movies).

Lawrence (Francis, not Jennifer) undoubtedly brought a fresh take and a better eye to the series. He certainly brought fresh new faces to the franchise, and achieved near perfect casting when it came to Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna. The manic arrogance Malone has and the twinkling bravado that Claflin brings to the table are exactly how the characters were portrayed in the book, and exactly what the movie needed. Characters almost as intriguing as Katniss to (maybe) root for. And yeah, it was really good to get rid of all that shaky cam. But really, Gary Ross didn’t do all that bad. And he did cast Jennifer Lawrence, and the internet shall be forever in his debt for that.

None of this is to say that Mockingjay is going to turn into a good movie. As has already been noted, there are some really big problems with that novel that are going to be hard to turn into an exciting film. So we’ll just have to wait and see what Francis Lawrence gives us.

Why ‘Doctor Who’ Endures (At Least for Me)

Fifty years after a pair of school teachers followed their strange pupil into a blue box in a junkyard, the Doctor is still traveling through time and space, making (and leaving behind) friends and having timey-wimey adventures.

In light of this weekend’s anniversary special you might be moved to wonder why this mad cap sci fi show is still on the air, why its fans are so rabid for more and why it’s still relevant after all these years.

There are a lot of reasons you could point to for the show’s longevity. The mere fact that the concept of regeneration allows the Doctor to be replaced over and over again as actors age and contracts expire, has allowed the to survive where others would fail trying to replace a lead. There’s a nostalgia element to it too, parents introducing kids to something they loved, makings something old new again. There’s also the fact that it’s an institution now, a tradition that just keeps passing down the generations.

But I’d argue that the magic of Doctor Who is summed up in something the 11th Doctor says in “The Eleventh Hour,” the first time Matt Smith takes on the role. Speaking to his new companion he asks: “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”

Well, where do you want to start? The answer is, of course, anywhere. Just anywhere. When watching Doctor Who the audience can follow the man from Gallifrey wherever in this vast – and seemingly rule-less – fictional universe that the writers want to take us. And so every story becomes not just another entry in the long history of a time-traveling alien, but also an opportunity to indulge in some childlike wonder and curiosity. You can’t help but ask yourself, what will they think of next?

The first episode of the show I ever saw was actually the series one outing, “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the 9th Doctor and Rose head back to Victorian Cardiff and meet Charles Dickens, and also a bunch of incorporeal aliens who want to use corpses as their new homes.

I distinctly remember saying aloud to my father (who needed no convincing of the show’s worth), “So it’s history and sci fi? Cool!”

And it was cool, gosh darn it.

“The Unquiet Dead” is no poster child for acting or special effects. The ghost/alien/corpse monsters weren’t actually all that scary. But the combination of setting and story was so novel. And it was fun.

Doctor Who isn’t magical because it’s so well plotted or deep or smart or exciting. It often is (and sometimes isn’t) those things, but they’re beside the point.

The part of Doctor Who that I love, that keeps me coming back for more, despite setbacks and frustrations, is that incredible sense of wonder that it brings to every episode. In no other show that I’ve watched has there been this unending possibility to surprise and amaze. In a fictional universe as wide as the universe itself there are no limits on what could happen, who you could meet or where you could go.

Sure, recent adventures in convoluted plotting (see “The Wedding of River Song”) have abused this idea of limitless possibility. Even when anything can happen, it helps when what happens makes some kind of sense.

That’s why some of the Doctor’s best outings, both classic and new, thrive on complexity of concept but simplicity of execution. Take “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the 1st Doctor’s tenure. The title says it all: the Doctor’s nemeses invade Earth in the future. Or of course, “Blink,” where the high-concept Weeping Angels – arguably the most terrifying monsters in the Whoverse – are deployed in pursuit of a single girl. When they next appear in “Flesh and Stone,” the whole thing is so convoluted the angels aren’t as scary anymore.

Ultimately, the sense of curiosity still pervades even in stories that leave you scratching your head. And if one world or alien or idea doesn’t really click (I’m looking at you, strange absorbing alien from “Love and Monsters”) there’s so much more out there to discover, that the show never has to revisit a failed concept again.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s anniversary special not just because of the throwbacks (believe me, I can’t wait for 10 and 11 to say their respective catchphrases at the same time, something like “Allon-imo!”), but also for everything new that could be stuffed in there. I mean seriously, what is the deal with John Hurt? Well, we’ll all find out tomorrow. But there’s always more to see and know.

And that’s enough to keep the show going for years and years to come.

You Should Be Watching ‘Veronica Mars’

veronica-mars

Cult TV show Veronica Mars made headlines back in March when creator Rob Thomas successfully kickstarted his way to $5.7 million for a feature film. The funds were raised by over 90,000 eager fans who donated between $1 and $10,000 to see the revival of the series which was cancelled by the CW in 2007. The filming began a few weeks ago. This week comes the news that  Veronica Mars will be heading to Comic Con for a Friday panel in Hall H with many of the show’s stars, including Kristen Bell, and creator/film director Rob Thomas. Also that James Franco might be making an appearance. The film will be hitting theaters in 2014, so now is clearly the right time to start watching Veronica Mars whether or not you’ve seen it before.

So what’s all the fuss about? Described as a modern Nancy Drew, the series centers on the titular Veronica, played by Bell, a high school student and part-time detective in the fictional SoCal town of Neptune, a town “without a middle class.” Veronica is working for her father’s private detective agency on cases ranging from the abduction of the school mascot to the murder of her best friend, Lily (Amanda Seyfried). Class conflict is palpable throughout the series, and much of the action is a direct result of the Mars family’s loss of status when Lily was murdered and Veronica’s father, then the Sheriff, accused Lily’s billionaire father of the crime and was booted out of office. Consequently, at the beginning of the series, Veronica has few friends and a hardened outlook on life. She’s smart, charming and manipulative, which is how she solves her mysteries. Everybody hates her, so she’s got nothing to lose.

The show is both procedural and serial; there’s a new mystery every week but the first two seasons each have an overarching mystery (season 3 has two big mysteries followed by several free-standing episodes, an attempt to change the format when the show moved from UPN to the CW, but wasn’t enough to save the show from cancellation). The great thing about the show is while it is suspenseful and exciting enough to keep a binge going all-weekend long, you could also watch it in smaller doses. It’s a crime drama but it is more relatable than one where the weekly crime is a murder: Did someone fix the school election? What happened to my dead-beat dad? Who stole the school fundraiser money? And so on.

The pilot can be a little rough because it is very heavy on the exposition. Everything about who Veronica is at this moment is completely dependent on the events of the preceding year: Lily’s death, her father’s firing, her mother leaving them, their worsened financial position and also Veronica’s own date-rape (none of these are spoilers, they are all explained in the pilot). But once past the very first episode, everything starts moving more quickly. Veronica gathers her own group around her, she dates, she solves mysteries, and more mysteries open up every week.

But it’s not just about the mysteries. Beyond Veronica there is an amazing cast of characters including her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), who is way cooler than a dad should be, her best friend, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), her ally and leader of a biker gang, Weevil (Francis Capra), and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), son of a movie star and sometimes antagonist. The strange politics and workings of Neptune are also fascinating, and take center stage in season 2 during a mayoral election.

The show saw some great actors in its short run, including early work from Amanda Seyfried, Max Greenfield, and Krysten Ritter. Also, Jessica Chastain guests in a season 1 episode, Steve Gutenberg has a season 2 arc, Ken Marino is fabulous as a private eye competitor, Alyson Hannigan guests in a few episodes as Logan’s sister, and Charisma Carpenter has a substantive arc in seasons 2 and 3. Oh and Joss Whedon was in an episode one time.

I’d recommend it to anyone but especially if you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Psych, Castle, and Fringe. Veronica is the same kind of independent and strong teenager Buffy was, but she’s a super sleuth, not a super hero. The show isn’t about saving the day so much as it is about making sure the bad guy pays. In the crazy and often corrupt world of Neptune, CA, jail isn’t always the best option.