4 stars

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures and when some of them escape he has to find them before they get hurt. Unbeknownst to Newt, he’s chosen the worst time to come to New York as there’s strange things happening in the city and trouble is brewing as a group of No-Majs (non-magical people) stir up fear and hatred in the city.

This was the first time I rewatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them since I saw it in the cinema two years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than I remembered.

It’s interesting to be reintroduced to the magical world of Harry Potter but it’s different to what you know from the books and the film series. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in 1920’s New York, it follows adult characters and is about witches and wizards in America and how their rules, ideas, and terminology is different to what we’ve seen British witches and wizards know.

Newt is a wonderful character. He’s sweet and awkward and loves his creatures so much. He forms a friendship with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who gets pulled along for the ride and their friendship is quite lovely. Seeing the magical world through Jacob’s eyes reaffirms that awe-inspiring feeling magic and everything associated with it can bring. The other two main characters are sisters Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), both are witches and work in the magical law enforcement agency. These four all fit together nicely and their scenes together are sweet though they sometimes can wander into the realms of cheesiness – Queenie especially is a character that appears sugary sweet.

The titular fantastic beasts are indeed fantastic. They are all interesting and different and some of them are truly stunning. These creatures all have their own personalities and Newt’s relationship with them all is delightful.

A lot of the film shows off the magical creatures and the world. In fact it’s more like a sequence of animal rescues than a film with an overarching plot. There’s little hints and murmurings of things sprinkled throughout, Colin Farrell’s Auror Graves being a part of that. He is a great character and Farrell shines whenever he’s on screen, but it does mean the finale is rather sudden and rushed. That’s probably where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them suffers, the pacing is inconsistent. There’s definitely some slower scenes that could’ve been tightened up and have more of a balance between the creatures and the mystery, however having such a likable main character in Newt makes some of the films faults easier to ignore.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has the beginnings of a great new franchise. It has interesting characters, a cool world and some fantastic creatures. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

As Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers gain more power, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) race against time to destroy the remaining Horcruxes and to learn more about the three most powerful objects in the wizarding world – the Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the penultimate film in the series and as the source material is packed full of new information and big reveals, it makes sense that this is the book they chose to split into two films. This does mean this film has a bit of a non-ending but besides from that it’s a great build up to the final showdown between good and evil we’ve been waiting so long for.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is more character-focussed than a lot of its predecessors, delving into the psyche of the main trio as they face a situation that feels truly hopeless. From the very beginning of the film, there’s threat in the air and characters that we’ve known for years get hurt or even die. It’s a film that starts with a bang and continues at a steady pace, blending the character drama with moments of tension and action.

There is more of the characters just walking and talking as Harry and his friends know they are meant to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, but actually doing that is another matter entirely. The chemistry between the trio and the assured and mature performances, make these many scenes engaging. Still, when there is a more action-packed sequence, the tension is increased and they are always well-shot and exciting.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a great build up to the final battle. It’s a grim situation Harry and his friends are in, but there are moments of happiness and hope to be found here, which reiterates their belief that there’s something worth fighting for and good can win. 4/5.

REVIEW: Support the Girls (2018)

Lisa (Regina Hall) is the general manager at a Texas highway-side sports bar and grill where the waitresses wear short shorts and crop tops. Lisa’s endless optimism and her faith in her girls, her customers and herself is tested over the course of one long, strange day.

Support the Girls is a very funny workplace dramatic-comedy. The majority of the film is set in the bar as Lisa puts new waitresses through their paces with Maci, one of the current waitresses, (Haley Lu Richardson) giving them lots of advice. Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) is another old-hand at the job and her dry wit balances out Maci’s bubbliness perfectly. Maci could quiet easily be an annoying character with her enthusiasm and optimism, but Richardson’s performance makes her endearing.

For a 90-minute film it does such a great job of fleshing out these characters, both Lisa, her co-worker’s, and their customers. There’s so many little moments or throwaway lines where you get a glimpse of these people’s lives. There are a few sub-plots that slowly grow over the course of the film, and others that are only hinted at, making Support the Girls truly feel like a slice-of-life kind of film. Really, the script is brilliant with so many conversations sounding so realistic, it’s hard to believe it’s not improvised.

Regina Hall is brilliant as Lisa, she’s funny, caring, but she’s also trying to keep her own life in control as well. Lisa’s relationship with her staff is almost like a mother-figure, she helps them sort out childcare, gives relationship advice, and is generally always there for them to talk to. Pretty much everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for Lisa, but it’s how she keeps moving forward that makes her such a compelling character.

Support the Girls is funny, sweet and heart-warming. It’s about the friendship and camaraderie between women and, to a lesser extent, anyone who works in hospitality. It’s a feel-good film and the central performances and chemistry between Hall, Richardson and McHayle are wonderful to watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The year is 1984, Great Britain has become a part of superstate Oceania which is ruled by The Party who employs the Thought Police to stop people being individual and thinking or acting any different to what the Party says. Winston Smith works for the department of Ministry of Truth, he’s an outwardly diligent worker and believer in the Party but really he secretly hates the Party and reams of rebelling.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Andrew Wincott, it was an engaging and well narrated audiobook.

The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a scary place. It’s a dystopian world where Big Brother is always watching, the Party have full control and anyone who even thinks something that’s not in line with the Party message is wiped from existence. One of the most frightening things was how from such a young age, children are almost brain washed to be perfect citizens. They learn to tell the authorities about anyone who is not being the perfect citizens, even their own parents. No one can trust anyone, and because there’s so much surveillance and the Thought Police can appear to know what you’re thinking, it’s like you can’t even trust yourself.

The another thing that’s unsettling and scary is how quickly people can apparently change and become used to a totalitarian society. Winston was a child when things began to change, and he meets older people that vaguely remember how life was, but have little desire to make a fuss and to try and change things. That’s in part because it seems so hopeless because the Party is so far reaching and powerful.

I felt myself not really paying attention at times when Winston and Julia are reading a book about how the Party gets and maintains power. It was interesting, but it was a lot of exposition to take in at once and there was so much of it that I often had forgotten what the characters were doing before all this information appeared.

It’s interesting to finally see the origin of so many popular culture references in their original context. It gives the Big Brother reality show that’s been a part of British TV for almost 20 years a more sinister tone. As does the British comedy show Room 101 where celebrities are invited to discuss the things they hate and try and persuade the host to send those hates to oblivion aka Room 101 – it’s slightly more sinister now I know that Room 101 was a torture room.

I’m happy I’ve finally read Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s an unsettling social commentary and an engaging read. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Power by Naomi Alderman

One day, teenage girls all over the world find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. As this phenomenon spreads and women of all ages learn to release powerful electricity from their bodies, the world changes forever.

The Power is an engaging read that captures your attention from the outset. It’s a story that’s building up to something so from the very beginning you’re wondering what exactly is everything leading to and what’s going to happen next. The story is largely told from four characters point of view. Roxy, the teenage daughter of a gangster, Margot, an American politician, Allie, a girl who reinvents herself as a religious figure called Mother Eve, and Tunde, a journalist and is the only male character you follow in this story. The story is told in snapshots, you get a dozen pages or so with each character and then it jumps forward a year or so and you see what’s happening in their lives now and how much, or little, things have changed.

The Power is fascinating because one would hope that if women suddenly had a power that men did not, it would finally tip the scale so that both men and women could be equal. They’d each have different strengths and weaknesses but this electrifying power women had would make them be able to protect themselves. Instead, The Power shows the scale of equality tipping in the favour of women. It does take time, but women become power-hungry, aggressive and sometimes sadistic in the way they abuse men for their own enjoyment or just because they can.

In some ways it makes sense, if you have some women who have been abused all their lives in some shape or form by men, it’s almost natural that if they suddenly had the power to cause pain they’d use it against those who hurt them. Also people are complicated! We can’t say that Men Are Bad and Women Are Good, and if women ruled the world it’d be a utopia. Women are just as flawed and as capable of violence as men. That being said, if women were so often seen as lesser-than, one would hope if they got this unique power, they would be more empathetic as they know what it’s like to be the one who’s scared to go out at night.

I hope the last couple of paragraphs make sense. The Power does give you a lot to think about, how society can change in such a reasonably short space of time, how people can forget how things were and how things can snowball into something you could never expect.

The scenes where women abuse men with their new powers are uncomfortable to read. It reminded me of when I read The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter in my Women’s Writing class at university. It’s almost more disturbing to read about women abusing men, than men abusing women and that is probably because there’s so much media showing men hurting women, that it becomes something you’re almost desensitised to. Women being cruel, sexually assaulting men, making them be in almost constant fear, it’s unnatural in many ways, and seeing that side of the society that evolves in The Power is unsettling to say the least.

The Power is an incredible book. It’s fast-paced, exciting and it’s a story that you’re never sure where it’s going to go next. There are some minor plot points that I wasn’t over keen on, and as I said it’s both unfortunate and interesting that it appears that, at least in this book, an equal society isn’t possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A short story about a woman who’s staying in a crumbling old mansion for three months. While her physician husband is out of the house almost every day, she spends her time in the room with yellow wallpaper. She becomes almost obsessed with the sinister patterns of the wallpaper as she struggles to deal with her nervousness and loneliness.

I listened to The Yellow Wallpaper on audiobook and it was narrated by Harriet Walter. I shan’t lie, the only reason I borrowed this book from my library was because of its title. I’m taking part in the A-Z Reading Challenge where you read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet and I needed a book that started with “Y”. But I’m happy I borrowed and read it as it was a very interesting read.

Told via the unnamed woman’s diary entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is a weird and creepy short story. At the beginning of the story the woman is very anxious and potentially has postnatal depression as she mentions she and her husband have a baby, though it’s mostly looked after by her husband’s sister, so she can rest. She’s jittery and spending so much time in their bedroom with the yellow wallpaper has her unsettled.

The way the wallpaper is described makes it sound like it’s alive, but only she can see what is trapped inside the patterns. She has been isolated by the people who are supposed to care for her and because of that it makes her anxieties worse and perhaps makes her slowly lose grip on reality.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a captivating and creepy gothic short story. The way the story progresses, and its ambiguous ending makes one unsure whether or not it is a “proper” horror story, but there’s certainly some horrifying imagery in it. 4/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The Triwizard Tournament, a competition between three champions, each from a different school, has come to Hogwarts. From the Goblet of Fire Viktor Krum (Stanislav Yanevski) from Durmstrang, Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts are all chosen to compete. But when Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) name is also pulled out of the Goblet of Fire, he must join the champions in braving three dangerous tasks.

The Goblet of Fire starts with a bang and the pace never really slows down. This film expects you to know about Quidditch, magic and who these characters are. It does flesh out the world a bit as it takes the time to introduce you to the unforgivable curses and show why they are so unforgivable, but besides from that it’s a very fast paced film that fully immerses you into the magical world.

Like it’s predecessor, The Goblet of Fire is darker and more grown up. Our teenage heroes are definitely teenagers as there’s angst, miscommunication and hints of romance. When Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, Ron (Rupert Grint) is hurt, jealous and moody about it all as he’s sick of being what he feels to be Harry’s sidekick. I know all this from reading the book but due to it being an adaptation, in the film Ron unfortunately comes across more of an unlikable and petty guy.

The Triwizard Tournament itself is very exciting. The three tasks are very different, and they show off different magical creatures we haven’t really seen before, and spells and potions. The special effects are fantastic too which definitely help make creatures like dragons and merpeople threatening, and in some cases, pretty scary.

I’ve always found the ending of Goblet of Fire pretty jarring. Something incredibly tragic happens leading to Dumbledore giving a solemn speech that’s really affecting but in the next scene, all the school kids are smiling and laughing, and the film ends on a light-hearted note. You almost get whiplash from it all.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a little uneven in terms of tone but it’s a fun, exciting time. It’s a film with a final act that changes just about everything for Harry, his friends, and the wizarding world as a whole, and that builds the anticipation for the next instalment. 4/5.