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Review: Conversations With People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron, By Sian Thomas

Four stars

I remember when this podcast went live, boosted somewhere into my online feed because I had been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, even as I felt it slipping from my grasp of enjoyment (it’s back now).

“Conversations With People Who Hate Me” is a podcast initially beginning with Dylan Marron, the creator, reaching out to people who have left him mean comments on his online work. They discuss the comment, among other things, and while not strictly having to come to some ample, satisfactory conclusion, usually both parties leave the table feeling different to how they sat down at it. It would later evolve into Dylan moderating a conversation between two people – one whose work or art piece or the like received a mean comment, and the person who left it.

I thought this was an interesting idea when it first came out back in 2017, mostly because I’d seen nothing like it outside of thinking back to when you’d get taught as a kid to “be nice”, or “not get angry” that kind of thing, that parents kind of do: “Remember to share!” when they’re, I don’t know, in the kitchen, and not watching you not share. “Just talk!” felt like impractical advice, I wasn’t sure how it would help, if it even could. But I remember listening to a few episodes before I fell off of podcasts entirely, (not for any particular reason, I think it would mostly down to this itch in my brain that told me if I’m listening to people speak then I have to listen and I found myself unable to do anything else if I had a podcast on, and I must not have been getting enough A-Level revision done as a result) listening to the back and fore of a conversation that would definitely frustrate me, but I found Dylan was navigating well. It wasn’t something I could have done. I’m not certain it is now, five years on.

The book was quite a lot about how the podcast came to be, and what was learned during its creation process. Which is fine, truthfully, I wasn’t sure it would be about anything else since the book and the podcast shared the same name. There is a tale woven within it about what the internet is and what it could be – how it effects us and the kinds of things, good and bad, it can lead us to doing or feeling. I enjoyed seeing the depth of something I had liked and then lost hold of years ago, re-entering my vision in a way that contextualised and solved what probably caused me to drop it in the first place. I don’t think I was ready to have the kinds of conversations Dylan was having then, and while I’m not convinced I am now, either, one thing I found dazzlingly soothing was the understanding of the “Everything Storm”. The “Everything Storm” is kind of how it sounds: everything is happening all the time, all at once, and if you can’t keep up, someone on the internet definitely thinks you suck. I never realised this was what was causing my own version of an internet fatigue, but on reading Dylan’s detailing of his own (even as it was attributed to discussions he was having and manifesting as different emotions and actions for him), I was like, oh man, this is it. This is what pushed me to the private twitter with all of my ten highly vetted followers, what made me rest my phone face down. It was nice to put a name to that weird feeling of guilt when something happens and all I can think when I look at it was, “Oh no. Not now. Please.”

This was definitely a feature of the book I really enjoyed, the detailing of the arcs of a conversation, serving you pieces you can recognise and take away with you, the smallest of navigation tips to assure your nerves if you ever take on the kind of conversations Dylan does.

The book is delightfully written, reading like a winding story while instilling a genuine lesson. I don’t often read non-fiction, but when I do I find I prefer it to feel almost personal. I enjoyed this deep dive into the very back of Dylan Marron’s mind: what lead to the podcast and the further book, and all the nuances of creation that came both before, and during, this chapter of his life. I can see why it would have been difficult to write, after learning it was supposed to release in mid 2020, not the first half of 2022. The deliberation of what may come of these “pieces” – the consequences to all of Dylan’s actions, in a way -was purposeful and honest. Which is refreshing to see in world tearing itself apart wondering who the main character of the day is, and how exactly then can get got.

I think Dylan Marron is the kind of person you either quietly follow through the years, even if you’re not aware that you are (which is the category I fall into: I heard of him through his work on Welcome to Night Vale, and found myself coming back to his page every so often to see what, if anything, had changed), or, one day, you happen upon him by accident entirely. For a long time he was just “that voice on that show I used to listen to”, but I realise now Dylan is much more and has been doing much, much more than that. I get the feeling that this is something of a memoir rather than a self-help-essay-type of book like Good Vibes Good Life by Vex King, which I really, really like. It feels real and honest; genuine and undoubtfully true. It has a similar kind of vibe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a snippet of a wide, three-dimensional life, and how it made an unfathomably large ripple across the rest of that person’s days.

It was a fantastic read. I don’t know that I would recommend it to everyone, but I think it’s one of those books where if you look into it yourself and think yeah, I can get behind this, then do.

Sian Thomas

Review: The Damning Stone by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

Five stars

The most recent instalment of TJ Klune’s Tales From Verania series hit this week. I had it on pre-order once I’d realised how quickly this book had snuck up on me. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect; I knew there would be more on my reading of the last book in the series, Fairytales from Verania, and I knew that the point of view was set to shift from Sam (who the main series has as it’s point of view) to Prince Justin (a character greatly involved in the main story – in the main cast, but a side character of the main cast). This was something I initially felt a little unsure of – although this is something TJ Klune has done before in his Green Creek series, something about a series so firmly set in one characters eyes for four (and a bit) books, the jump felt a little out of left field, and I was left wondering if it would feel too different to cohesively flow. But, luckily, the writing is as seamless as ever; the dialogue continues to be a fun twist of modern and sharp, playfully funny, and honestly genuine.

The story itself is full of twists and turns; a seed of doubt blossoming and the aftermath of the “main” series concluding neatly, which I liked to see. I went into this book quite blind as, I’ve found, TJ Klune does an excellent job at saving the cliff-hanger for the next book to the very, very last moment, so I had nothing bracing me for the story of this book. Which made it great fun as it unfolded before my eyes. I read it in about two days, absolutely enamoured by the way the cast dynamics were shifting, and the story that was before me. I don’t want to write about any spoilers (especially since the book only came out this week, so that wouldn’t be fair, and I think it’s better to go in with the rest of the series strapped to your back, rather than jumping into this one and being blindsided entirely).

I feel as though once you start a TJ Klune series, there is a comfortable air of “sameness” that begins to gather around you. This cast of characters was familiar to me, to a point where I could start to guess their reactions to events in the story – I usually don’t enjoy this, but with a series of books I find it just different enough for me to forgive. I’ve spent countless hours reading these stories and getting familiar with the characters to the point where I am entrenched in the world, and I feel better every day for having decided to read this series. TJ Klune’s writing, while always excellent, is beginning to feel homely and safe, which I genuinely appreciate in a world of shock-death-endings or abrupt cancellations. So, when the tense “final battle” of this book began (and tense it was!) I found that I wasn’t nervous – I didn’t have a coil of disappointment ready to spring in my gut, because it simply wasn’t there. TJ’s storytelling is a great skill of his, but I find his openness with his audience something far more remarkable.

The Tales From Verania series is an excellent (albeit, not a child-friendly one) story of love and hardship, friendship and connection. This book pushes that even further, now with the invitation to further lands in the fictional world which will, I’m sure, draw more characters into the wide circle of the main cast. And I am excited to meet every single one that shows its face.

Sian Thomas

Review: De Cineribus From the Ashes by Thomas Vaccaro by Sian Thomas

Four stars

Thomas Vaccaro’s De Cineribus: From the Ashes was a book I honestly wasn’t sure I’d like. I like Thomas’s YouTube videos a lot (their channel name being Unicorn of War), as I am certainly a sucker for a good video essay to absorb over a plate of food (my favourites being their RWBY reviews and rewrites, and their Taylor Swift song discussions), but I’d realised with YouTuber books they were often – well, bad. Or at least, would quickly fade from the limelight or fall from grace in a record speed. I was worried, at first, that this book would be similar; a money grab, rather than a labour of love.

I was wrong, and pleasantly so.

One of Thomas Vaccaro’s strengths, I think, is their ability to think far ahead with their plots. Admittedly, I found their channel because I was actively looking for content about RWBY that would prove its awful writing, terrible production, and overall bad reception, and what I found was someone who was lovingly taken the broken, beaten show, and making it into something of their own. RWBY is its own show, yes, but I admired Thomas Vaccaro’s way of reshaping the information we (RWBY’s audience) have, and turning the plot into something both actually palatable and genuinely fun. This was a quality I was sure would shine through in their book, even while I still quietly worried about the production quality of it. Despite that, at the very least, I knew the story was in perfectly capable hands.

And it was.

De Cineribus mainly follows Felix, a young adult about to enter the college scene, heading off to a college for those with magic powers. He finds friends, enemies, suffers his wins and his definite losses. A few other perspectives are followed throughout the story but this, I realised, does not take from Felix’s perspective as sometimes multiple POV stories can do. Rather I found the jumps in perspective enlightening, and definitely enriching of the wider plot as new characters would pose new questions to me (what’s happening here? How does it relate back and affect Felix? How much do they know? Whose side are they on?).

As I said, I admire Vaccaro’s dedication to writing and storytelling. It’s most definitely a skill of theirs, and clearly shows through the books. First of all, the book is just over 500 pages long, so you can tell that’s dedication to a story for one! But mainly it comes in the depth and complexity of their characters (and there’s a good number of them!) but while the cast of characters is big, it is not overwhelming. There are not so many that I can’t keep track, or I can’t remember whose skill is what, or who matters to who. This is something I was incredibly relieved to find out as often college/magical fantasy stories often have casts as far as the eye can see. This is something RWBY is completely guilty of, and I found myself noticing Vaccaro’s particular points about RWBY being contested in their own work. Characters in De Cineribus are fleshed out, have their own skills and limits, motivations, and broad personalities. I liked being able to not expect what a character would be like based on their skills. Healers who aren’t friendly, teachers who are cranky, teachers who are jovial, etc. I liked, especially, that while Felix was for the most part sweet and caring and loyal, he also had a very clear dark underbelly to his character; one that was angry, determined to the point of obsessive, and sometimes a bit scary. It was nice to see a main character with real faults, and real regrets when those faults caught a hold of him too strongly.

The writing is strong and done with precision (although I’ll admit I found a few typos – but to err is human. And even so, I can’t even remember where they were or what they were!), Vaccaro’s skill and dedication really shine through the way the dialogue is youthful but not cringey, and the way their descriptions are alluring but not droning. The prose itself was enjoyable, turns of phrase appearing that I wouldn’t have expected, I think I was most fond of “bust a gut” to describe laughter, since this isn’t an image I usually come across, and it definitely elevated the youth of the characters and the depth of their emotions.

The book is, as I said, just over 500 pages – so, not a quick read, but a fun, entangling one.I trust Thomas to make a strong series based on their passion and unwavering dedication. Since this is called book one, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the story may go. Especially since the books ends in a very apt spot for a sequel to take over.I admire their dedication to their craft and in particular, to their audience.

I appreciate aspects I’ve otherwise never seen in literature such as their comprehensive list of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book, and good sized chapters – long enough to engage, short enough that I don’t get bored.

I was initially worried about boring fantasy tropes showing their head throughout this text, as most fantasy books fall victim to at least a few. And while I’m sure a few did seep in there, I was pleasantly surprised when things didn’t turn out that way and I actually couldn’t guess where the story would go as it progressed, which was definitely a breath of fresh air for me.

Overall, the book was a fun, immersive read. Especially for fans of things such as Harry Potter but have outgrown it or do not wish to support its author. It’s a fun, youthful take on the “wizard school” idea, one ripe for a new generation and a new presence in literature. 

Sian Thomas

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover by Sian Thomas

Four stars

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is one of those books I heard about over and over and over again and kept skirting the edges of to get away from. With her skyrocket into popularity, I found myself jumping through hoops to avoid her work, for no other reason than: I had a weird feeling I’d like it, and because I know she has so many books published, I simply didn’t have the time or money to fall into her work and out the other side, changed.

Then I got paid.

It Ends With Us was the kind of book floating all over booktok, appearing and disappearing in book group posts I would skim read; it was popular, easy to read, and seemingly either incredibly well-liked, or vehemently hated. I wanted to know why. Even when I was actively avoiding it, I wanted to know what it was that was happening to people that their reviews were becoming so mixed.

I thought, when I was reading it, that it would be down to its “chicklit” factor. The book itself being pink, and Hoover being notably a romance writer, I thought people were detesting it because it was a gooey, lovey dovey easy read, and not an absolute draining challenge of some such classic literature you’d find on a university reading list that I’m sure I would hate after half of the first page. I found myself believing this at one point, questioning if something that had so clearly rocketed into pop culture, wouldn’t it be too easy for me?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I’d been paid. My New Year’s Resolution was to read twenty books this here and here was a book I was interested in; I had to take the opportunity before it skirted me, the same way I had been skirting It Ends With Us. I bought it one day after work, snatching it from the shelf before I had a chance to think about it too long, rushing myself through the till before I had the chance to turn around and put it back.

Besides, if I didn’t like it, there is a cute phone-box-library right by my house, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, would like it more than me.

I kept it. I’m keeping it forever, tucked nicely into the pink section of my bookshelf. Because I liked it. As I, ironically, knew that I would.

It Ends With Us is a fun book at first. A real page turner as one relationship blossoms right before the reader’s eyes and the other notable relationship come sneaking out of the shadows, piece by piece. I admit, I’m no high class literature snob (except for when I want to be), so when the blurb said something much more wordy than simply “Man A meets Man B and which one will it be at the end?” I had two main thoughts: I’m too good for this and this is going to be a great read for me. I got over myself quick when I found I was six chapters in the same day I’d started reading, and had the feeling that by that time tomorrow, the book would be finished.

I had heard a lot of different opinions on Colleen Hoover’s writing style, and I had initially been worried that I wouldn’t like it. But admittedly, the writing style is easy and quick. Not plain, exactly, but simple. Easy to follow and, as I found out, easy to get lost in. The book is fast paced with short to mid length chapters (which I certainly appreciate, I always felt like short chapters feel more like the book is moving, rather than longer ones), and with its page-turner ability, I found the book was over far sooner than I’d expected.

The story progresses as (no spoilers): Lily meets Ryle and they hit it off. It’s great, until. And also in the mix is an old friend of Lily’s she was once in love with.I know it sounds very chicklit-y. It is. But that’s honestly what made it fun for me. I’m excited for the sequel to be released and seeing what happened to the cast of characters next.

There are a few things I have noticed in my last few reads, and this one, that have pulled me from my escapism of reading and placed me squarely back in real life. I’m not sure if it’s a trope in and of itself, but I’ve noticed a prevalent “rich best friend” character appearing; funding or enabling the main characters lifestyle, existing for exuberant gifts, there for not much more of a purpose than “be rich” and “be convenient”, which is a shame. I get the feeling that it’s easy, that Rich Best Friend nullifies a lot of typical people-problems, but I find this also voids a certain aspect of relatability to the cast of characters. But honestly, that was the only flaw I saw in the book – everything else about it was compelling and emotional, intriguing and fun!

Sian Thomas

Review: Every Word You Cannot Say, Iain Thomas by Sian Thomas

Iain Thomas is my favourite writer. Author. Poet. He honestly seems to be an advocate for self-love, for loving others, for recognising good from bad and good from great, for love, full stop. He seems to be an advocate for enjoying whatever it is you find in this world that you enjoy. I enjoy his work, more than I’m sure any language can help me spell out, and yet each time I try.
On my bookshelf, there is: I Wrote This For You, I Wrote This For You And Only You, I Wrote This For You Just The Words, I Wrote This For You 2007-2017, How to be Happy (Not a Self-Help Book. Seriously.), and 300 Things I Hope. And somewhere on my makeshift bookshelf because my real bookshelf is far too small for my wants, is I Am Incomplete Without You. I’m excited to add Every Word You Cannot Say to either of the shelves. I literally find myself unable to say that there’s any other author out there who I have followed this closely, for this long, and been so consistently delivered greatness on simple pages between a simple cover by.
I knew it was coming, the release of this book, and like many I did have to wait my turn to get it. When I did, I was in Waterstones, halfheartedly hoping they would have it (I was not convinced that they would). And I saw it, all the way down the bottom, way to one side: bright blue, jutting out, so different to the greys and blacks and whites (and one bright yellow) that I had grown used to associating Iain Thomas’s name with. I snatched it up and gave it the common flip through, and I loved the look of it and the feel of it and the way it felt exactly like all the other books of his I’ve read: like it was sure to give me something amazing. Which it did.
I ate this book up. Read it quick, flicked through again for an age, put sticky notes on the pages of my favourite pieces, used a highlighter on the ones I really didn’t want to part with. Like on page 131, “There is no register in the sky keeping track of whether or not you got angry as many times as you were supposed to. / You get to decide what eats you up. / And you have no obligation to kindness. / You can be kind as often as you want. / Kindness is not a currency, and if you treat it like one, then that is not kindness. / Within you, there is all the kindness you will ever need.” Or, page 80, “Maybe, in the story of your life, someone has written: / You cannot say why you loved them. / Only that you did. / Only that you don’t anymore.”
This book felt so new, and so fresh and different, somehow, from the other ones, despite still creating a warm and homely feeling in me as I read it, exactly like all the others had. I loved that, that kind of feeling from these books and these poems in particular, I always believe that that is irreplaceable – after all, I haven’t experienced it anywhere else or with any other author. I loved that there was playing with form, structure, even colour of the text. The drawings peppered throughout were lovely, and always in the right places.
I wish this is what all poetry did, that this feeling I got from this book is what I got from each one. I know that would make these books less special, but like I said: Iain Thomas really seems to be an advocate for love. I’m almost convinced he’d understand. And even still, this is one slice of favouritism I am not entirely ready to give up. This is why I gave it five stars. I always will.
Iain Thomas has a real skill here, an honest craftsmanship that I wish I could come close to. Some days, I try to (see: the centos I submitted to university groups, just so I could spill out a fraction of what I feel for this writing when it was my turn to talk).
I love the book. I knew I would.

Siân Thomas

Review: Disconnected by Michelle Halket (et al) by Sian tHomas

I recently finished Disconnected – a collaborative and clever endeavour of alternating short stories and poems (with a handful of extra poems as well). I didn’t know how many to expect, nor how to expect it to look or be delivered, but what greeted me from inside the cover was pleasant and enjoyable. Alternating piece by each author was a nice succession, gave room for clarity and enjoyment, and was nice to see it neatly presented. Seeing their words and pieces in the put-together way of the whole book was fab, and even better was the feeling of consistency throughout all the pieces.
The emboldened and repeating lines, such as, “Here is how it works: you take your finger and write the most secret words you can think of on my skin…” in Amanda Lovelace’s short story “Small Yellow Cottage on the Shore”, even though that line is the majority of Iain Thomas’ poem, “The Way It Works”. These bits, scattered throughout each of the pieces gave the book a lasting impression of the book itself being made from togetherness and teamwork. As things related back and fore to each other, there was a gentle feeling of camaraderie between all the authors and also myself, as I can catching the dotted-around references to and from.
Both of my favourite short stories and poem came from Iain Thomas. The story, “Driving with Strangers” and the poem, “The Way It Works” were both lovely. The idea of driving with Death and also the idea of “owing” something to him/the world was definitely and interesting one. It inspired me, in its own little way. Plus, it had some really striking lines, such as, “another dark spark shines in the voice inside us and the night grows one iota blacker”, and, “bees come and bees go, and the bees die and are reborn as little boys and girls”. They were just so catching – easily hooking me in. After all, I love lines that snatch my attention like that. And I adored the poem. Short and sweet. Lovingly crafted, concerning love. Gentle and kind.
I’m not entirely surprised that these turned out to be my favourite of the collection. I bought the book as I knew he was a part of it. The rest of the experience was a nicely added surprise.
There were, also, some authors I’d never come across at all before, and similarly, some works and styles I’d never encountered before, either, like Liam Ryan’s “The Train”, and “Ultra” by Yena Sharma Purmasir. Both of these stories had a uniqueness to them, a gentleness and a tenderness to one that hooked me in, and a ferocity almost – a maternal flame and bright, bright instinct in the other, that made me feel a lot at once. I really like love stories, and they’re both one, if you try. Love for a child to come, and love lost and found (almost. Kind of).
On the flip side, there were some authors I recognised. Iain Thomas, of course, but also Trista Mateer, and Amanda Lovelace. I’ve read almost all of Iain Thomas’ other work, Trista Mateer’s “Honeybee”, and Amanda Lovelace’s “The Princess Saves Herself In This One” and, “The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One”. I could see through those pieces to how each of those authors come through, staying true to their styles and interests, and it impressed me each time over. The familiarity of it was nice.
Overall, Disconnected was an incredible read, especially for poetry lovers and short story lovers, too, and I’m glad I read it.

Sian Thomas

Review Mary Poppins Returns by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Apparently, it’s never too late to make a sequel. Anchorman 2 came out a decade after it’s initial release, Incredibles 2 fourteen, Mad Max: Fury Road thirty and now here’s Mary Poppins Returns fifty-four years after the original movie came out. I’d say better late than never but Mary Poppins wasn’t the kind of movie where you thought about what came next, it seemed pretty well wrapped up. But here we are.

Though it’s been fifty-four years since the release of the original movie it takes place about twenty years later. The original Banks children have all grown up, Michael (Ben Wishaw) is living in the old house, Jane (Emily Mortimer) has a place in the city but visits regularly. Michael himself has three children Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), his wife that has passed on so he’s a single parent that has a lot to deal with, adding to everything he’s missed out on the last three payments of the mortgage which means the house will be repossessed, however, they do have stock in the bank which could save them, but they cannot find it, so they have one week and the search is on.

With this very tense time, the children go fly a kite out in the park. They get it in the air with the help of Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) the local lamplighter but a big gust a wind sends it flying off. Luckily there’s a nanny in the clouds that catches it. So here again, on Cherry Lane, Mary Poppins is the nanny to the Banks children.

Emily Blunt takes up the umbrella and fills the shoes of Julie Andrews as the magical nanny, this is no easy task. The image of Disney’s original Mary Poppins is pretty much ingrained into the public subconscious. From the colors, her posture, voice etc. We all know it in one form or another. Emily Blunt more takes on the bullet points of the character and makes it her own. She has the same stance and is perfectly postured and finely spoken but isn’t mimicking Julie Andrews. This way the performance is organic while still being recognizable as the character we know. Even her costume is different, she has a hat, scarf and velvet coat but they’re different, more colorful, she still looks like Mary Poppins but her own version of the character.

There are segments of the movie where Mary Poppins takes the children to do some seemingly mundane activity and they become grand, fantastical excursions. One particular one where she takes them inside a vase and they are brought into an animated world. 2D animation isn’t done much these days (sadly) but when it comes to Disney they are still the best at it. We get a big, loud and proud musical hall segment. The designs are more sleek and modernized than the original movies and the live action actors eyelines match with their animated co-stars which makes the whole segment more convincing. A nice touch to this is that the conflict that occurs within the bowl parallels the conflict in the real world. This is a good touch because it makes the excursions more meaningful rather than just time-fillers.

The song is written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman with Richard M. Sherman serving as a consultant. Lyrically they have done some fine work with some of the slickest rhymes you will find in a musical in some time. Though while the songs were playing I had a fun time when I walked away I found that I couldn’t remember one, except for two. “Lovely London Skies” (which opens and closes the movie) and “Can You Imagin That” where Mary Poppins takes the children on a fantastic experience in the bath.

Director Rob Marshall, who also directed Chicago, seems to be built to direct movie musicals. He has the right sense of camera choreography as well as when there are intricate dance movements happening either slow it down or lock it down so there’s not too much movement going on and the screen does not become a blur.

Mary Poppins doesn’t fly down when everything is all going swimmingly, she arrives when there are some serious problems brewing. People probably remember the songs and the dancing and laughs more than anything in the previous movie and they’re not wrong to remember them, they’re wonderful moments, but the core of the story comes from a person that arrives when things are going bad and used magical things to teach us basic lessons. The movie knows that and isn’t afraid to layer itself with heavier moments.

Is this another one of the great movie musicals? I don’t think so, but who really knows, maybe time will prove me wrong. What it is is bright, energetic, confident and more than charming with some nicely handled delicate moments.

 

Review Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by Jonathan Evans

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

So this franchise train is happening whether anyone likes it or not. Some fans of this world will be along for the ride no matter what and they are legion so like the last movie it will undoubtedly due well financially. Let’s proceed.

Fantastic Beasts isn’t a bad concept and even then a seemingly bad concept can be elevated with great writing and craft. A character loves creatures and wants to understand and document them, being that this is a world of magic they are creatures with special designs and abilities. This could be charming, simple fun, yet for some reason, there must be a big bad and an overly complex plot throughout.

So in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it was revealed that one of the characters was Grindelwald, a powerful wizard that seeks to elevate the wizards from their hiding. He was imprisoned in the last movie and when this one opens he escapes, obviously. Playing him is Johnny Depp and this is the best performance from him in a while, recently in his career, he’s been gliding by with simply being quirky and not really giving much to his characters that made his name. He doesn’t have a lot of screentime here (odd being that his character’s name is in the title) and what he does I don’t believe will cement him as one of the great villains of movie history, but he is much more on-point. Gracefully moves and poses like a superstar, with a sleek British accent making him a mix of charming and sinister. Along the course of the movie, he is responsible for a few deaths that cement him as a legitimate threat.

Like in the last movie we have Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his. As soon as he is introduced he is quietly sitting by himself but begins to play with his pet stick creature, this moment of charm is what is most enduring about the character and these movies, pity the plot must butt in.

Credence, some kind of special wizard (I don’t know, I still don’t understand it from the last movie) is still alive and must be hunted down and killed. Also, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who has regained his memories from them being erased from the last movie is also back on the scene. So two big emotional impacts from the last movie meant nothing. Also, Newt has realized that he loves Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), this barely adds too much because with everything else going on their relationship has barely any time. The point is, everything is happening in Paris, so that is everyone gotta be.

Already the form of this franchise has become clear. Each movie will take place in an iconic city of a different country. This is to break the franchise out of the narrow view it has set up previously with just the school of Hogwarts based in England. It’s not a bad way to go about it, it allows for variations with the imagery, having different cultures and keeps the characters moving.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his.

Like in the last movie it is the beast themselves that are the real stars of the show. They vary in all kinds of shapes and sizes with unique movements and quirks. Some are majestic, others are cute and will most likely make great toys while others are frightening. The actors themselves do a convincing job of seeming like they’re interacting with these C.G.I. creations that aren’t really there in front of them.

It must be pointed out that the people working on the visuals for these movies are some of the best in the business. From the costumes, the sets, props and digital animation there is so much effort and care put into all the stitching of the clothes, the details in each wizards distinctive wand and the numerous digital animations they have to create, these people are great craftsmen.

However, while the movie was playing out and we saw all these special effects and at one point a vertical and rotating library I was thinking “So what.”It felt like a case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the image be built on a point or lyrical meaning it just seems like someone in one of their departments said “Hey wouldn’t this be cool!” and they decided to incorporate it into the movie.

Near the end, the main detriment of the last movie happens again, in which they come out and hit you with a revelation that comes out of nowhere. While it was playing out I did not understand it at all, I was so confused. I understand going into it and understand what comes of it, but the in’s and outs of the details were a complete blur. Characters you don’t know get named fast in a complicated series of events that is like an entire Agatha Christie novel told to us within the course of three minutes. When it was done I felt like the movie stopped, slapped me in the face with needless complexity, then carried on its merry way.

In terms of a tone that runs through the movie and plot structuring with things being set up and coming back or a visual that pay off later this is a more solid movie than the first, so maybe by the end of these five movies, we will have a really good experience on our hands. It is still troubled but less so.

Another glaring problem with this franchise, which is much more obvious now that other familiar characters from the Harry Potter franchise are introduced is that the outcome of all the drama is already known. We know Dumbledore (Jude Law) wins and is alive and well at the end, Grindelwald loses, so why are we here?

Well, the first movie had its charm and was competent in the mechanics of filmmaking and had great artists to bring the world to life, but light tones of Newt and Kowalski shenanigans mixed with the dark unpleasant and complex elements also going on made it a confused package. This time around more is fixed and the tone is consistent. Though a few improvements on a not very good product don’t make a very good product, just a lesser mess.

 

 

Review The Girl in the Spiders Web by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The cases of Lisbeth Slander, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, are not for the faint of heart or the for people that lack the ability to pay attention to the details happening on-screen. They are sharp, modern Gothic thrillers that never go easy on the characters and won’t let leave you feeling too optimistic by the end. As soon as this movie starts there is images and visual hints for the rest of the story at hand, two sisters playing chess together and a spider crawls out from under one of the pieces, their father calls them into his room and he pats some kind of machine, the sister Lisbeth takes her sister by the hand and runs away. On the edge of a balcony, the sister goes back to her father while Lisbeth takes the chance of falling out of a balcony and into the snow.

Then kicks off a wild opening sequence that incorporates key imagery of the movie and launches us into present time. It is unique, memorable and effective.

Filling the big black boots of Lisbeth Salander is Claire Foy. She fit into the leather jacket and trousers well while being given an appropriate punky head of hair. Foy’s true strength comes through when the character says hardly anything, many times in the movie she must process information, or listen intently or clearly be pushing her emotions down.

One day she gets a new assignment from a rich man named Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), he has created a programme called Firefall which is capable of giving whoever has it full control of any missiles in the world. This, of course, was a terrible idea and only now does he regret making such a thing (say nothing of that this is something out of a Saturday morning cartoon idea). So Lizbeth has another case on her hands.

Lizbeth successfully takes Firefall and a special National Security Agent, Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield), whose priority it is now on Lizbeth’s trail. One night while she is quietly bathing she hears a rummaging and men in masks are in her place and they take the laptop with Firefall and set her place aflame. Being that all this is happening there is, of course, a story here and investigating needs doing so in comes Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), her lover/partner from the previous stories and head of Millenium Magazine. Along with all these players, there is the crime syndicate called The Spiders with a figure that has a very important connection to Lisbeth’s past.

The original Millenium Trilogy was published posthumously from the author Steig Larsson but alas an endearing character and success mean that nothing is really sacred so the books were continued with different authors. I actually cannot attest to the quality of the book because I have not read them. However, the question is raised about being true to style, characters voice, and message.  This is a world of victimized women, brutality, information is true power and there are either bittersweet or certainly no happy endings.

Being the established tone of this world director Fede Alvarez was a good choice to take the reigns as director. With his remake of Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe, he is a creator that has a talent for creating haunting images and visceral experiences. These are Gothic tales, where moments from the past carry over to the present and such such images must be striking and say something about the story, I won’t describe them, you will see them and understand. Also, there are more than a few visceral encounters throughout and you feel the impact of the punches and bullet shots, with the use of a shaky camera that always knows what to focus on and sharp sound design, hearing every tightening rope, gasping breath and shattering glass.

The whole stories construction is well built. Characters have their own voice, serve their purpose as players in a game, yet you still believe they are real people, there are a MacGuffin and plenty of twists and turns throughout. Though there are just a few times when things play too neatly for Lisbeth and the concept of Firefall is not the most feasible.

Heightening most of the scenes is the score by Roque Banos. He invokes Bernard Herman’s score in Psycho with mostly strings played fast to produce a shrieking effect. Other times he brings in drums to emphasize the rhythm and time sensitivity of the scene at hand.

This world and these characters have become like Sherlock Holmes, Zatoichi, James Bond or Batman. Where it is fertile landscape for stories, though they are distinct and the characters are defined but also malleable enough for other actors, writers, and directors to come in and give their interpretation of the world.

If you are a fan of any of the other movies then this one will also appeal to you. If you care for hard-hitting spy thriller then this one will check all the boxes also. If are a fan of both of those but also care for deeper subject matter in terms of characters and why they do what they do then this one, again is for you, if not then pass on by when you buy your ticket, but if so get right on it!

 

 

Review Mary and the Witch’s Flower by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

With the fate of Studio Ghibli still uncertain, what are all the talented artist and storytellers to do that worked there to do? Get up, form their own studio and make a movie. Good for them!

Mary and The Witch’s Flower is the movie debut of Studio Ponoc and they take it upon themselves pick up the baton to create accessible movies for children that are just as filled with whit and inspiring images that would wow an adult.

From its first scene, it is here to intrigue and impresses. A hooded figure runs away from other hooded figures, they carry something. They grab a broom and fly away on it, grey, blobby being chased them and the tree city they came from explodes. While being pursued what the hooded figure has is dropped into a forest and so is their broom. We instantly have many questions and there is a lot of color, sound, music and beautifully realised animation to kick off the movie already.

We then see a little house in the countryside and a young girl by the name of Mary (Hana Sugisaki) is moving in. She wants to help but she is a terrible clutz, not even being able to tie a flower or pick of a box of her stuff without causing a mess. While exploring her new home she comes across two cats, one grey one black. They lead her into the forest and there she finds a broom held by a tree with vines and a flower that is so blue it seems to be glowing. One night the broom starts moving by itself and takes Mary through the clouds and to a place like no other, Endor College for witches.

It is the sequence where Mary is introduced to the headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Yuki Amami) and is shown all the facilities of the college that is easily the best part of the movie.

The animation is just like that of Studio Ghibli, with thick lines, blobby movement, and simple but expressive character designs. Being that the new studio is composed of almost entirely former Ghibli staff this isn’t really a surprise.

There is a wealth of generosity paid to the animation. Sure it’s pretty and smooth but the generosity comes in little things that most people wouldn’t even notice but they did and put in the extra effort. Take a moment where Mary is being guided through the school, we see the big establishing shot and when the camera is closer to her face we can still see something going on with someone else. Animation, particularly hand-drawn animation requires one drawing at a time to be produced to create the illusion of movement and when it’s done must be colored in, which is also time-consuming. These little things which take up much time and go by so unnoticed shows that the people working there are passionate about bringing the whole world to life.

Eventually, sinister intentions are revealed, our hero must use her wits and bravery to overcome them and we are left with a satisfying ending.

The movie is the tale of a normal person being swept up into a world of magic and having to maneuver this new world where there are stakes and plenty of creative visuals along the way. It will entertain your children with it’s easy to understand plot, likable character and vivid color pallet. Adults will also be sucked in.