fantasy

REVIEW: The Dark Tower (2017)

Jake (Tom Taylor) has dreams of another world, of a Dark Tower, a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) called Roland who chases the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). But when Jake discovers a portal to another world, he realises that his dreams are real and he joins Roland on his quest to save the Dark Tower and defeat the Man in Black.

The Dark Tower is a fantasy adventure based on The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I’ve only read the first book (you can find my review here) but there is a lot of stuff crammed into this film for its 90-minute runtime. This film is disjointed. It has weird editing in a single scene, cutting between conversations when there doesn’t appear to be any need to, never mind the fact that it jumps from character, to place and there’s often no real connection between them.

Idris Elba is great in this and, from reading only one book in the series, I feel he does the best with what he’s given and is actually a really good Roland. McConaughey on the other hand, just seems to be playing himself. There’s no menace in him and there’s no real tension between him and Elba, he’s just there.

There are action sequences, and for the most part they look OK but some of the CGI is bad and noticeable, especially during the fight between Roland and the Man in Black. The problem is they’re never particularly exciting, they just happen. Also, the most interesting moments are all featured in the trailer so there are very few surprises.

The main problem with The Dark Tower was that it was dull and forgettable. There’s a lot of stuff that could be interesting but is never developed so you’re left with a fantasy world that’s pretty bland. The Dark Tower drags and Idris Elba’s performance is not enough to elevate it. 2/5.

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REVIEW: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Roland, the last Gunslinger, is on the trail of The Man in Black. Travelling across the endless desert he meets a tempting woman names Alice and Jake, a kid from New York. As he gets closer to the mysterious Dark Tower and finally catching up the Man in Black, Roland faces the difficult choice between damnation and salvation.

The Gunslinger is the first book in King’s epic Dark Tower series so I lot of the things I didn’t really like can probably be put down to that – like the fact there’s a lot of set up and not a lot of pay off. Also the book is quite slow due to all the world-building and learning more of Roland’s backstory, it’s stuff that’s often a mixture of interesting and kind of boring.

When you think about it, not a lot really happens in The Gunslinger. It has a bit of a slow start as you get used to the setting and pace but it’s Roland and his quest that really pulled me into the story. The story itself jumps back and forth in time between Roland chasing down The Man in Black and Roland’s childhood and training to become a Gunslinger.

When something does happen, it’s often explosive. When Roland needs to start shooting people or strange mutant creatures, it’s gripping stuff. You can easily visualise Roland taking down his enemies and they are moments where you can actually see how talented he is, after hearing whispers of the greatness of the Gunslingers.

The Gunslinger is quite an atmospheric book. The desert, and this whole world Roland and The Man in Black live in becomes its own character as you learn more about it. It’s an interesting setting that’s like a distorted reflection of our own which makes it eerie and strangely captivating.

While not a lot happened in The Gunslinger, and some stuff did confuse me, I liked it enough that I will be continuing with the series. 4/5.

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin travel through a “wrinkle in time” to find their missing father at the advice of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. But can they overcome the dangerous forces they meet on their journey through space and time?

A Wrinkle in Time is said to be a children’s classic but I’d never read it nor had never heard of it till all the talk about the film adaptation which is due to be released next year. It was the film and hearing about all the people cast in it, many of them are some of my favourite actors, that got me to pick up the book.

I like how A Wrinkle in Time combines science with fantasy and how it shows different planets and creatures through the eyes of a child. As both of Meg and Charles Wallace’s parents are scientists there’s a lot of talk about maths and fact and how people work things out. This was great to see in a children’s book as in some ways it made difficult topics like traveling through space accessible – and it’s always great to see a young female character interested in STEM subjects.

Meg is a great character. She’s about thirteen years old and sometimes gets overwhelmed by the situation she is in, missing her father and being flung into danger by three strange beings, but she uses her faults to overcome her fear. That’s the thing I really liked about Meg and this book, it took a character’s faults like stubbornness, fear and anger and made them a valuable part of the character. Yes, those traits are often seen as negative but they are a part of Meg just like her love and intelligence.

The thing that surprised me most about A Wrinkle in Time is how it shows that parents are fallible. There’s a childlike wonder throughout most of the books, even with the threat of danger present, that when Meg sees her parents as normal people for moment it’s a surprise. I think this theme is a great thing to include in a children’s book.

I liked A Wrinkle in Time well enough. It’s a quick read with likeable characters but as someone in their twenties, it’s not a book I loved. I can see why it’s become a much loved book for many but it does lack that emotional punch reading it for the first time as an adult. 3/5.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt (2016)

gods-of-egypt-posterMortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) teams up with the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to try and defeat Set (Gerard Butler), the god of darkness who has taken Egypt’s throne, enslaved its people and plunged the empire into chaos and war.

Gods of Egypt is not a good film. There’s so much wrong with it, the dialogue is awkward and sometimes cheesy, the action scenes are terrible and while it might have a lot of big, shiny things, the CGI can’t really save the film.

Let’s talk about the dialogue. From the first scene with Bek and his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) their whole conversation is clunky and is a full-on info dump. From there it doesn’t get much better. There’s some quips when I think were supposed to be humours but not as funny as I found them – they were so cheesy and said at a really inappropriate time.

Then there’s the fight scenes. Some aren’t so bad, and the special effects on the Egyptian gods sometimes looks pretty cool, but then others are just awful. There’s the slow-mo pans around a character as he leaps towards someone, it honestly looks like the actor has been told to hold a couple of fighting poses and the camera, editing and VFX teams will do the rest.

I can’t not mention that a film set in Egypt, about Egyptian gods, has very few people of colour in it – especially black people. I feel like the scene where there’s a hundred Thoth’s (Chadwick Boseman) walking around is some sort of weird attempt to level the playing field.

All in all, Gods of Egypt is a dull and predictable film, though it does manage to sometimes looks pretty and sparkly. 1/5.

REVIEW: A Monster Calls (2016)

a-monster-calls-movie-posterTwelve-year-old Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is struggling to deal with his mum’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness when help comes from an unlikely source, a tree monster (Liam Neeson) who comes from the churchyard near Connor’s house.

Connor has a lot to deal with a lot. He’s being bullied, his dad (Toby Kebbell) lives abroad and his mum is suffering from a terminal illness. Lewis MacDougall has a lot on his young shoulders but delivers a brilliant performance and you really feel Connor’s pain and anger at the situation he is in. The scenes with Connor and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) are especially complicated as they are completely different people but are united in their love for his mother.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful film. The Monster is a brilliant piece of CGI but it still always feels like a real, living creature that treads the line between friend and foe thanks to some great animation and a wonderful voice performance from Liam Neeson. When the Monster tells Connor stories, they are told through beautiful and bright water colour-esque animation that contrasts so well with the dreary world Connor really lives in.

The performances, the music and the cinematography all come together to give A Monster Calls a raw and almost visceral feel as you are taken through the stages of grief with Connor. It doesn’t really let up but there’s still the moments of fun and hope in Connor’s life that brighten the darkest of days. It’s an emotional rollercoaster but it’s one that’s also got a bit of magic to it as you never really know where or how the Monster exists.

It tackles a subject matter that might be too dark for younger viewers but the messages and ideas A Monster Calls presents about grief and imagination are relevant to all ages. 5/5.

Patrick Ness adapted his own book for the big screen and it’s a very true and heartfelt adaptation. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the book (which I also loved) you can find them here.

REVIEW: Goldenhand by Garth Nix

goldenhandLirael is no longer a shy Second Assistant Librarian. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and she has the Dead to battle and Free Magic creatures to bind. When Lirael saves Nicholas Sayre from an attack by a Free Magic creature she finds he is tainted with Free Magic and she must return to her childhood home at the Clayr’s Glacier for guidance. But Lireal is unaware that a great danger threatens the Old Kingdom. A messenger from the North is trying to reach to give her a warning about the Witch With No Face, but who is the Witch and what is her plan? This time the fight may rage both in the living world and in the remorseless river of Death.

As this is a sequel, there may be some vague spoilers for the rest of the Old Kingdom series, Abhorsen especially, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

Goldenhand is brilliant. It continues a few months after the events of Abhorsen and while it is mostly Lirael’s story, it’s great to see how she is fitting in with her new found family and what they are all up to now as well. Sam continues to be slightly oblivious to things that aren’t to do with inventing things but he’s still very smart and capable. In Goldenhand you really see how much Lirael has grown and become more confident but she still gets scared and she’s still mourning her oldest friend which I’m pleased was not something that was easily pushed aside.

The story alternates between what Lirael is doing and what Ferin, the messenger from the North is going through. Ferin is a wonderful new character who is strong and resourceful and never gives up. She is a fighter who doesn’t mince her words and she’s nothing like any of the other female characters that have appeared in this series so far.

It was nice to have Nicholas return, especially as he is a bit of a fish out of water in the Old Kingdom. If you’ve read the series, you as the reader are quite familiar with the world and its ways so it’s nice to see an outsiders’ perspective. Also his and Lirael’s relationship was lovely as the hesitantly try to figure out where they stand and Lirael tries to figure out her feelings in general because even having a friend is something she’s very much not used to.

Goldenhand is a fast-paced book, full of action and suspense and there’s the kind of scary moments when it comes to the Dead. In this book there’s Free Magic creatures you’ve never seen before and shows a whole part of the world that hasn’t really been explored before either. While the majority of the characters, and the stakes, are familiar that doesn’t really matter as Goldenhand is such an enjoyable thrill-ride and it even makes the bad guys interesting.

Goldenhand is a perfect addition to the Old Kingdom series and is a super fast-paced read with some wonderful character moments. 5/5.

REVIEW: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

tiger lilly coverIn the forbidden woods of Neverland, fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily falls under Peter Pan’s spell. Peter’s unlike anyone she’s ever met and soon she will risk everything – her family, her friends, her future – to be with him. With enemies threatening to tear them a part and Tiger Lily’s responsibilities to her family, Tiger Lily discovers that the most dangerous enemies can live inside a loyal and loving heart.

Tiger Lily is told from Tinker Bell’s point of view which is interesting as while you can often see what the characters are thinking and feeling, because reading people’s thoughts is something faeries can do, there’s still this distance between the reader and the characters so you don’t always feel that connected to the characters.

The world of Neverland and how people don’t really age is interesting and it’s a blend of kind of historical America and fantasy world. There’s people who definitely appear to be white colonialists, who come to Tiger Lily’s home and teach them all about God and try to change what the people do and believe.

The elements from the traditional Peter Pan story are all still there, though they each have their own interpretation. There’s still the Pirates led by Hook, though he’s a very different man, and the mermaids who are pretty scary. Wendy Darling makes an appearance too and in Tiger Lily you can really see why Tinker Bell doesn’t like her that much and you can see it’s not just petty jealousy over Peter.

Tiger Lily is an interesting retelling of Peter Pan focusing on an often forgotten character. It can be a slow read as you don’t feel that connected to the characters and because of how the book is written. Plus as it is a character driven book so not a lot actually happens till towards the end of the book but as you have this distance from the characters it can be a hard story to get into. 2/5.