Category: Reviews

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©WarnerBros and does not belong to me)

Yes, I am very aware that this review is almost an entire month late, with Fantastic Beasts being released in the UK on the 18th of November, but on the off chance you haven’t seen it and are pondering whether or not you should – here is a review to help!

This film is first in what J.K.Rowling has announced as a series of five movies based in the 1920s-1950s, surrounding the dark wizard Grindelwald, his rise to power, and his relationship (and ultimate demise by) a young Albus Dumbledore. However, Fantastic Beasts both thrusts this idea on its audience at the beginning of the movie and then only has a sprinkle of hints to it throughout the rest of the film, before bringing it back in full force as an interesting finale – as the title suggests, the rest of the film focuses on finding (or, I should really say, recapturing) some ‘fantastic beasts’ that have managed to get out of a magical suitcase, although this does feel like a secondary plot.

Fantastic Beast‘s main protagonist is Newt Scamander, although a lot of the film follows him and a muggle he befriends called Jacob Kowalski. It also gives us an insight to American wizards’ way of life, their traditions, and the difference between them and the British wizards that we have met throughout the Harry Potter series. Set in New York in the 1920s, in Fantastic Beasts we also see segregation of ‘no-maj’s (muggles) and wizards, which made me curious as to whether this was a nod to the segregation that people of colour faced at the same time (even though this wasn’t apparent in the back drop of the film, which I think they could have made more effort to involve).

I found it really interesting to see a Harry Potter’s Wizarding World film that focused on adults who were comfortable and fully “trained” in their magical abilities. As it was set in the city, it was also nice to get an idea of wizard’s and witches’ daily life, although I wish there was something set in 2016 because we still have never seen the magical world as it stands today (interesting fact for those who don’t know: the Battle of Hogwarts took place in 1998).

Overall, Fantastic Beasts was a good, strong film that held its own in the Wizarding World franchise; I enjoyed Eddie Redmayne’s acting although his character’s awkwardness was not what I was expecting. I wondered if it might stereotype Hufflepuffs considering one of the only other Hufflepuffs we have met was Luna Lovegood, but I enjoyed the style nonetheless. The best thing about Fantastic Beasts were (shock) the beasts themselves – as with all Wizarding World films I’ve seen, the effects were great and I loved the different magical creatures we met and were able to learn about. Most of these, I’ve been told, did come from Scamander’s book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” so it was nice to these come to life on the big screen.

Saying this, the plot for Fantastic Beasts was borderline ‘okay’; I was surprised by its quirks, and it proved J.K. Rowling’s ability to write – she was responsible for the screenplay. There was good direction from David Yates but I wasn’t really sure of the main plot and the battle-fuelled ending of the film, which dragged the magical creatures into a secondary plot line (which was weird seeing as they were the film’s title). As well as this, during the final battle the dueller’s spells ‘touching’ really annoyed me (book nerd alert); I understand it is used for visual effect, but the whole point if this effect is that it is only supposed to happen with Harry’s and Voldemort’s wants because they have the same core material.

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t particularly excited going into the cinema to watch Fantastic Beasts, but after seeing it I am excited for the future of J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World and the stories it has to offer. My only other issue with the film itself was the surprise reveal at the end of this film, and the casting of Grindelwald, but I will wait to make a judgement until we see him properly in the future films.

Fantastic Beasts was varied in pace, and the magic was great – but apart from the beasts, there wasn’t anything new or unexpected in terms of characters’ magical abilities. Though the plot was a little busy, it was a good film overall which has set up the future plot lines well and made me excited for the Wizarding World to be back in my life. Verdict: 7/10.

Inferno: Review

Inferno: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©Imagine Entertainment, it does not belong to me)

Inferno is the latest in a trilogy of adaptations for Dan Brown’s mystery booked, which follows the character of Robert Langdon, who is played by Tom Hanks in the films. Langdon is the same character that has featured in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons – with The Da Vinci Code being one of my favourite books and films growing up, so I was looking forward to seeing the final instalment.

I read the book for Inferno about two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it as a Christmas holiday read, so I was excited, to see what they would do with the film. Going into the cinema, I knew the general story (which is more than I can say for those who had only seen the trailer) but I had forgotten most of the twists and turns, which I think helped keep the thrill-factor up. At least, for a while.

Inferno begins when Robert Langdon, an art historian/symbolist, wakes up in Venice with no memory of how he got there, a head wound, and various organisations chasing him because of a special artefact he has hidden in his pocket – not that Langdon even remembers what it is or how it got there. What follows (without giving anything away) is an obvious Dan Brown puzzle-solving thriller, by which I mean if you have read or seen The Da Vinci Code previously, you will know the formula Dan Brown uses to create his mysteries. Inferno is very true to this form.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really make the film particularly ‘thrilling;. It moves fairly quickly through its hoops, but there is only one moment I could pick out where it felt like there was real danger for the two main characters. I enjoyed the mystery of the movie and its twists and turns, especially because most of that involved the historical art work and seeing those art pieces in a different way. I also learnt a lot more about Dante, the medieval poet, than I ever would have otherwise. However, the thing I found most distracting about Inferno, which really look away from my enjoyment of the film, were some of the camera shots. The only term I can really think of when describing what I was seeing is “shaky cam”, and this ‘shaky cam’ seemed consistent and unnecessary throughout the film.

wasn’t sure whether this was accidental, the only way they could take the shots, or if it was meant to mirror Langdon’s confusion and distress as some kind of metaphor for the inside of his mind. Whatever the reason, it ended up really distracting me from following the film, and broke my suspension of disbelief at least twice. I found myself staring at the corner of the cinema screen thinking “Why is it so shaky?” more often than I was anxious for the character’s safety, which doesn’t really bode well when you’re supposed to be creating a thriller that focuses on a potential plague that will kill a third of the world’s population.

Altogether, I found Inferno an enjoyable film; it had a good story, and some good visual effects, but the actor’s performances didn’t really stand out and those camera shots completely stopped me from sympathising with the plot. My boyfriend summed up the whole thing pretty well: “It was good… but I wouldn’t watch it again.” Inferno was a fast paced and visually beautiful film; at times it was an intriguing mystery, but overall, I found it lacked conviction. Verdict: 6/10. (10/10 for making me want to travel through Europe).

The Girl On The Train: Review

The Girl On The Train: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©DreamWorks, it does not belong to me)

From the offset, I wasn’t sure about this film. Its beginning had elements of Gone Girl‘s aesthetic – and I loved that film – so I was both expecting a lot and also troubled by the similarities in font and the opening shots of facial-closeups. However, that’s where the similarities (apart from the murder mystery stuff) ended, and that didn’t bode well.

The Girl On The Train mainly follows Rachel, a woman who commutes to New York every day and, on her journey, travels past various neighbourhoods. In one of these neighbourhoods, Rachel watches a house and the Woman who lives there, eventually forming an attachment to the stranger. Rachel creates a perfect, imaginary life for her, and makes sure she checks in on the Woman every day during the commute. We then jump to see the Woman, Megan, whose life is not as perfect as Rachel-on-the-train thinks. Finally, the scene flips again and we watch Anna, who has married Rachel’s ex-husband and lives two doors down from Megan. The two latter women, Anna and Megan, look ridiculously similar; though it’s used as a plot device later on, it’s no wonder I’m confused – and we’re only 10 minutes in.

The film’s beginning is incredibly voice-over heavy in an effort to get the watcher up to scratch with everything that is happening in these three women’s lives. Though the voiceover does come in useful to understand moments of the plot, I found it unravelled my immediate enjoyment. Moreover, the film’s timeline jumps around so much it’s hard to keep track of what is going on, or what timeline we are in – though we might get a black screen saying “Six Months Ago“, there’s no notification when we return to the present, and it took a moment to realise where exactly I, as a watcher, was supposed to be.

The jumbled up timelines, random fades and heavy narration definitely gives the impression that the screenwriter (Erin Cressida Wilson) struggled to work out how to structure the plot for the screen. I’ve not read the novel, by Paula Hawkins, so I’m not sure whether the format the book uses was too difficult to translate so they chose a different way in, or whether the screenplay was an attempt at following the book’s format (focusing on various characters); either way, it doesn’t really work. Having said that, the revelations we get towards the end of the film are juicy, and I definitely didn’t see them coming.

The best thing about TGOTT, by far, is Emily Blunt. She is utterly spectacular in her portrayal of Rachel, and it’s the best acting I think I have ever seen Blunt do. She perfectly captures the turmoil, confusion and deep, grating emotion that Rachel’s character feels. Throughout the film I could feel my sympathy for Rachel swinging like a pendulum; first you like her, then she’s a bit creepy, then – oh, didn’t expect that! For the longest time you’re not sure whether you trust her, or believe her – we are as messed up and confused as Rachel is, stuck knowing only as much as she does. She really made me feel, and sometimes not in a good way. For a time, I really didn’t like Rachel, and that’s partly why her character, and Emily Blunt’s portrayal, is definitely the best aspect of TGOTT.

Unfortunately, the other characters are never really looked at in much detail. Although the plot is supposed to revolve around three women – Rachel, Megan and Anna – the other two ladies never really get given much depth of character, and they’re really only used as plot devices. It’s a shame, considering this is a supposed to be a thrilling murder mystery, and I didn’t really feel scared for anyone’s safety but Rachel’s, and even that was only half the time. I was also disappointed that this was another film that lacked ethnic variety for its characters; okay, so the point can be raised that it’s based on a book, Megan and Anna should look similar, etc, but there were various outlying characters that could easily not have been caucasian. (For spoiler-free example, Rachel’s roommate, Megan’s husband, the police officers, Martha.) Come on, casting directors, it’s not that hard.

Overall, I found the film an enjoyable watch. It filled 2 hours when I had nothing better to do. Unfortunately, the voiceover drowned out some really good imagery as I focused on what was being said instead of what was on screen. The tension crawls for most of the film as Rachel tries to put herself back together, and then explodes in the last 15 minutes. The ending was good, but it took too long to get there; if you’re thinking about seeing it on the big screen, I would say wait until it comes out on DVD. Verdict: 5/10. (However, if it was based solely on Emily Blunt’s acting, it would get a solid 8.)

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

(note: this is for the book, not the recent film adaptation)

Another dystopian future, I hear you cry? I guess there must be a trend… The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey, gives us a believable look into a zombie apocalyptic future. It takes place two decades after a variation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (it’s real, I looked it up. Check “Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi” on Youtube. David Attenborough even calls it “something out of science fiction”) has caused the apocalypse – but this plot reads as the most sophisticated, understandable zombie-story I’ve ever come across, within a topic that I would usually shrug off as fantasy.

The zombies in TGWALG are known as ‘hungries’; humans whose nervous systems have been taken over by the parasitic fungus, whose sole purpose is to hunt down non-infected humans and bite them – both to eat them as protein, and to pass the pathogen on through spit and blood, transferring the fungus. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ophiocordyceps has been used as a potential zombie-creator. A friend pointed out to me that this is the same fungus used by the console game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Interesting coincidence, although in The Last of Us the fungus is also airborne, whereas in Carey’s novel, this hasn’t happened.

TGWATG follows a third-person omnipresent narrative, focusing on four main characters. The most prominent and interesting of these four is Melanie, a 10-year-old child genius… who also happens to be a hungry. She has grown up in a lab with other hungry children who all still have a self-consciousness (unlike the usual hungries, which have reverted to an less-than animal-like state). Enter: Parks, an army sergeant charged with looking after the lab’s security; Dr. Caldwell, the scientist trying to understand the miraculous hungry children and use them to find a cure; and Helen Justineau, the woman who teaches the hungry children, and who Melanie sees as a surrogate mother. Input: chaos, and watch their lives get drastically altered. Nothing will ever be the same again.

I find the ‘hungries’ a genuinely horrifying idea; unlike your traditional zombie, they’re fast, mobile, and once they get your scent, cannot be distracted from the hunt. Originally, I decided to read the book so that when I went to see the film, I would have some idea of the scare-rate, and I’m certainly glad I did, because I would not have been expecting their aggression (saying that, my local cinema didn’t even show the film, so I still have yet to see it). One of my favourite things about Carey’s writing, though, is the depth of every character and the post-apocalyptic world that was created. Half of the characters we get to know were born after the “Breakdown”, and it is interesting – refreshing, even – to see the way they view their new world, as someone who is part of the ‘old’ one.

Set in England, there are a lot of mentions to London, its outlying towns, and pre-apocalyptic memorabilia which I found were easy ways to be drawn into the world of the story. That, and Melanie’s thought processes are incredible; detailed, well structured, and easy to empathise with. I had to keep reminding myself she was 10. Sometimes, I did find myself thinking there were too many similes chucked in that drew attention away from the ongoing plot, but otherwise there was good, thorough description and thoughtful, researched science when the chapters focused on Dr. Caldwell and her research.

A thoroughly refreshing – if horrifying – look on a potential zombie apocalypse, The Girl With All The Gifts is dark, well-paced and an ultimately touching story. It is both deeply, totally human, whilst heavy with science that portrays a scary, animalistic future. Also, it has an absolutely killer ending that I never, ever saw coming. Verdict: 8/10.

 

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Review

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is © 20th Century Fox and does not belong to me)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, at first, does not strike me as particularly peculiar. Though a Tim Burton film, his personal flourish doesn’t seem to come into play until after Jake, our main character, has stumbled upon the Home and its inhabitants – but we’ll get to that in a moment. Miss Peregrine’s follows protagonist Jake, a something-teen who lives in Florida with parents and has what seems like a very dull day-to-day life.

This all changes when a trip to a small island off the coast of Wales starts the beginning of a life-changing adventure; he meets a group of children with various ‘peculiarities’ who live in a children’s home run by the eccentric Miss Peregrine, and takes in all of these changes with an astounding sense of ease. Though I enjoyed the mystery of the house at the beginning of the film – for the first quarter I actively wondered how Jake would reach it, and I’m glad the film’s trailer didn’t give this away – I would have liked to see more of Jake’s life in Florida before his trip to Wales.

In fact, before finding the Home, I didn’t find Jake’s Florida life particularly ‘ordinary’ (as the film likes to state it is, about three times). In Florida, it’s clear from the few scenes we see that Jake is lonely- he doesn’t have any friends, his parents don’t seem to care about him, and he’s frustrated with his elderly grandfather who told him stories of monsters as a kid. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly ‘ordinary’ upbringing; it doesn’t surprise me when Jake feels more at home with the Peculiar kids and his apparent indecision of whether to stay with them or go home is shallow at best.

When we finally meet the Home and its occupants, however, is when Tim Burton’s classic style really gets into gear. I have always enjoyed his costume choices and the aesthetic he brings to a film, and Miss Peregrine’s was no exception. The Children are quirky, interesting, and I enjoy all of the actors and actresses that play the peculiar roles. This is also true of Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell, who play Jake and Emma, respectively, who I think do a solid, believable job with their characters and I hope to see more of both of them in the future. Saying that, it is Dame Judi Dench and Rupert Everett (who only play minor roles in the film) that steal the show for me, but maybe that’s just because I have great admiration for both of them as performers.

The only downfall in character, I think, is the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Baron as the main villain. Not to say I don’t respect Jackson – I think he is a tremendous talent – but I have seen him portray so many other characters that I couldn’t focus on him in Miss Peregrine’s for the threat he was supposed to be. Seeing Samuel L. Jackson instead of Mr. Baron as I watched the final confrontation just made it comical, and ruined my suspension of disbelief that these children were in real danger.

Overall, the film’s plot and writing was good but I didn’t think it stood out amongst it’s Y/A genre, which is a shame considering it had Jane Goldman as a screenwriter – whose other works include Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kick-Ass. Saying that, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was definitely worth a watch on the big screen; the score was great and the effects both magical and frightening in equal measure.

A thoroughly interesting, satisfying film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had a range of eccentric, intriguing characters and a visual aesthetic Tim Burton should be proud of. With these, and its captivating plot, Miss Peregrine’s should have felt original, but unfortunately it fell short of the mark, feeling very similar to other young adult coming-of-age films I’ve seen before. Verdict: 6/10.

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Though I have always been a fan of strange and eclectic fiction – which usually gets put under the general headers of ‘sci-fi’ and ‘fantasy’, Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald was my first full-blooded space adventure, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Occasionally, the language was confusing and challenging, but being a English and Drama student, I don’t know much about the science behind the book’s ideas. I mean, I would believe anything McDonald wrote about the way humans have managed to colonise and live on the moon – I have to remind myself it’s still fiction .

Being a prolific reader venturing into a new genre, one thing I noticed about myself is that I don’t really care about the setting of a book. I think setting can enhance a story, but the reason I didn’t blanch at the heavy-duty space jargon was the fact that in it’s core, Luna: New Moon is a book about people. What enthrals and captivates us about books are their characters and their plots- if these things are clever, well developed and interesting, everything else is just a bonus; this theory, I think, perfectly incapsulates Luna: New Moon. (As well as the fact that I was both terrified and intrigued by the book’s constant reminder that the Moon could kill you very, very easily. Just take the first two sentences of the blurb: “The Moon wants to kill you. She has a thousand ways to do it.”)

Luna: New Moon follows the interlinked stories of various individuals surrounding and involving the Corta family. The Cortas are one of the ‘Five Dragons’; five families/corporations that live in delicate balance with the others, controling all of the resources and industries on the Moon. (The Corta family’s wealth and power come from mining Helium-3 to fuel the Earth’s energy needs.) Everything on the Moon – even the air in your lungs – has a price; when you die, your parts are recycled. Nothing is wasted, nothing is squandered. But human nature – our desires, needs and wants – are still strong within the individuals living on the Moon, most of whom have been there so long that they can’t physically return to Earth.

I’m not the first person to notice that Luna: New Moon is similar in it’s politics and family feuds to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, for the show-watchers), and it’s very true. The difficult, complex web of who-controls-what and who-wants-control feel very similar, except with the huge difference that Luna is set in space, adding an entirely new level of danger. Family is everything to the Five Dragons, but with shifting alliances and an almost-assassination, you can’t trust anyone – and then things start to get really interesting.

Two of my favourite surprises in this book included McDonald’s easy use of characters who were genderless (and have their own pronoun!) and a main character who is autosexual. Having never read a book with either of these preferences in them, it took me a while to get my head around it before I realised: why the hell not? It makes perfect sense, given that the book is set so far in the future. Even if it wasn’t, I feel like more authors should be writing about different forms of sexuality and gender as we become more aware of these things as personal choice rather than trusting ‘traditional’ binaries.

Overall, Luna: New Moon is an eye-opener, in more ways than one. Ian McDonald has created a well-paced, rounded, gritty story packed full of well developed, interesting characters. There is real danger at every turn, and you never know what might happen next. The sequel, Luna: Wolf Moon, came out on September 27th. You can be guaranteed it’s a sequel I’ll be getting my hands on. Verdict: 8/10.

Nod: A Review

Nod: A Review

Though originally published in 2012, I didn’t stumble upon Nod, by Adrian Barnes, until early 2016. Saying that, I’m truly glad I decided to pick it up after seeing it hiding amongst the science-fiction in my local Waterstones.  As I turn to the back of the book and read the blurb, the first sentence is the premise in a nutshell: “Dawn breaks over Vancouver and no one in the world has slept the night before, or almost no one.”

The story follows our narrator, Paul, who is one of the few people in the world – 1 in 10,000 – who has been able to sleep. Not only this, but when Paul now sleeps, he has a mysterious ‘golden dream’. We follow him through the book as modern day descends into sleep-deprived madness; though our interesting, introverted protagonist is still capable of sleep, he is forced to watch as his girlfriend Tanya crumbles, and the city he lives in turns into a wasteland.

It seems to start slowly, but the hordes of ‘Awakened’ are soon digressing to their primitive, animal selves; all bets are off, shackles of humanity stripped away, and order is a thing of the past. The most harrowing thing I felt about Nod? Barnes paints such a vivid, stark image of the apocalypse that I could honestly see this one coming true.

This, in part, is what makes Barnes’ idea so fantastic – and also frightening, in equal measure.  Unlike many other dystopian future/apocalyptic ideas I have come across before, this feels very real. It asks no questions of itself, and doesn’t try to find an answer or a ‘cure’. The plot is both complex and simple in its motive; it’s not about why this has happened, but how it affects everything, day by day, and how humanity tries – and ultimately fails – to traverse their new landscape and deal with their terrifying new surroundings.

Adrian Barnes has a very clever idea here, and it is made even more poignant (I think) by his own personal circumstances. Though my copy of Nod came with his essay, I didn’t read it until after I had finished the book (watch for the ending. Bittersweet). It’s called ‘My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction‘, and in it, Barnes details his own struggles with cancer, and how Nod and the world Paul inhabits sometimes mirrors the difficulties Barnes himself is facing.

Even if you don’t get the chance to read Nod, the article is a good one, and it’s easy to see why Adrian Barnes is such a good writer. Even when speaking directly to his reader, his writing is intelligent, melodic, and self aware. If you’re looking for a novel (pun intended) read that combines clever, subtle science-fiction with real, human emotion and our basic instinct to stay alive, then Nod is the book for you.

It’s a fairly easy read – though some of it’s content is mature – and it captures the imagination with vibrant description, so if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to put it down. Verdict: 7.5/10.