fantasy

REVIEW: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

There may be vague spoilers for the original Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in this review.

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, is trying to keep his country from the brink of war and ruin, while battling a darkness that has taken hold inside him. Zoya Nazyalensky, Commander of the Second Army and one of Nikolai’s closest allies, will do everything to protect her fellow Grisha and help Nikolai secure the throne. Meanwhile, far north Nina Zenik wages her own war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. Each of them will risk everything to save a broken nation but some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried.

While people said you could read Six of Crows without reading the Grisha trilogy you definitely shouldn’t read King of Scars without having read the five previous books. King of Scars takes place three years after the Darkling’s defeat and there’s a lot of references to past events and knowing what these characters have gone through then, makes their highs and lows more affecting now.

King of Scars is told from the point of view of Nikolai, Nina, and Zoya. Nina’s story does kind of feel a bit like a side quest and quite separate from what’s happening with Nikolai and Zoya. She’s in a different country, she doesn’t even know what’s happening back in Ravka, and while she’s being a spy for Nikolai, she’s trying to confront her demons and her grief over losing the man she loved. Nikolai and Zoya’s stories are more entwined so you get what both characters are feeling about the situations they’re in as they’re trying to protect the future of Ravka. There’s political intrigue as Nikolai, Zoya and their allies (Genya, David, and the twins) try to figure out how to make alliances with neighbouring countries and protect their borders. As well as the politics side of things, Nikolai has to deal with a monster that’s living under his skin. The constant threat of him hurting anyone, or their enemies finding out about it and using it against them, always on his mind.

All three of these characters are struggling. They’re struggling with their guilt, their responsibility, their grief, and they’re all handling (or not) to the best of their ability. Reading King of Scars was a bit odd at times as while I like all three characters (Nikolai was my favourite from the original trilogy), they were all more or less side characters in the stories they first appeared in so to have them front and centre now felt a bit strange to begin with. Though, I have to say while I liked her before, King of Scars made Zoya go way up in my estimations. She’s powerful and mean but she’s holding in a lot of pain and the way her powers and inner strength develop is great to see. I also really liked her and Nikolai’s relationship. While they are close and clearly trust one another, there’s hints at there being something more between them, whether they are aware of it or not.

Though I enjoy it, I don’t often YA fantasy as I’m focusing more on my Read the World Project which tends to be more historical/contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and as I read my sixth Leigh Bardugo book of the year, I was reminded how fun and fast-paced YA fantasy can be. Bardugo’s writing is insanely readable with twists and turns, humour and heartfelt moments, and ends the whole book on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m not too sure what to make of the ending but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out (and if Nina’s story becomes a bit more connected to what’s going on in Ravka).

It was a lot of fun being back in this world with characters I like a whole lot. King of Scars technically might not be a 5-star read but I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t put it down. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath their school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other.

I’ve been getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription for the past six months and this is the first book I’ve actually read from them. That’s not necessarily anything against the books from previous months (especially as I’m just generally not reading as much as I used to) but as soon as I read the blurb for The Devil Makes Three and looked at that beautiful but dark cover, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, for a book I’d never heard of before and had just piqued my interest – I really did enjoy The Devil Makes Three.

The atmosphere in The Devil Makes Three is incredibly vivid. Even before the devil makes an appearance there’s a sense of foreboding and bleakness to both Tess and Eliot’s lives. As the story progresses you learn more about the two of them and how their relationships with their parents are strained for different reasons. Each of them are going through tough times and with Tess especially it’s made her hard and prickly. She’s been betrayed by the people (her parents) who are supposed to care about her and put her and her younger sister Nat first so she now finds it incredibly difficult to trust and rely on other people. This means that she tries to deal with what’s going on with the devil on her own before opening up to Eliot about what’s been happening to her.

The things Tess ad Eliot experience after the accidentally release the devil are truly creepy and terrible. Things they experience blur the line between dream and reality, making events even more unsettling as they (and you as the reader) are never entirely sure what’s real. There is a bit of gore in The Devil Makes Three but it’s not over the top and instead it’s ink that’s used to give you nightmares. Honestly never thought of ink as creepy/evil but the way it’s described here, how it moves and bleeds from pages and almost devours people, it’s really quite disturbing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a creepy/horror story and The Devil Makes Three was really very good. The ending was a little sudden and I’d have liked to see more of the consequences of Tess and Eliot’s actions on people in their wider sphere who were affected, but overall, it’s a gripping and atmospheric read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Just a little quick backstory on me and the Grisha’verse. I read and reviewed Six of Crows way back in 2016 without reading the original trilogy. I enjoyed it and still agree with a lot of my review but now that the Shadow and Bone TV show arrives on Netflix tomorrow, I decided to revisit the world. I read the original trilogy for the first-time last month and reread Six of Crows on audio and enjoyed that even more than I remembered due to now having a better understanding of the world and the magic system and I got all the little references. And now I have read the conclusion to that duology on audio, which was narrated by Roger Clark, Jay Snyder, Elizabeth Evans, Fred Berman, Brandon Rubin, Kevin T. Collins, Lauren Fortgang and Peter Ganim.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible but as it’s a sequel events of the first book are likely to be mentioned. Kaz Brekker and his crew may have pulled off the most audacious heist, but they didn’t come home to the fortune there were promised. Betrayed, alone, and weakened they have to pull together to find away out of this mess as criminals, merchants, and officials are all after them. Because it turns out it’s not just their lives on the line, when a powerful drug is the most sought-after tool in the world, the fate of the Grisha world hangs in the balance.

I loved Crooked Kingdom. Much like Six of Crows it’s full of twists and turns and even when you think you know the plan either something goes wrong, or it turns out it was an illusion and the real plan was something else entirely. There isn’t one big job to pull off this time. Instead, there’s a series of schemes to try and keep them all alive and to get the money they were owed.

As events unfold, the crew has to rely on one another even more and seeing how the different relationships, both platonic and romantic, evolve is just incredible. All six of these characters (and you get chapters from all of their points of view this time) have gone through so much trauma. Some of the things they’ve gone through include drug and gambling addictions, surviving sexual assault, parents or family dying or just being terrible people. You get a lot more of Wylan’s backstory and perspective in Crooked Kingdom and it really adds something to the group dynamic.

While I still think you can get by not having read the original trilogy when reading Six of Crows, that is definitely not the case for Crooked Kingdom. Characters from the original trilogy make an appearance (one of which caused me to actually gasp because I was that excited) and a lot more of various countries politics and conflicts come into play here.

The pacing of Crooked Kingdom is just so good. There’s pretty much nonstop action and scheming and even when there isn’t, the conversations between various characters is just as compelling. When characters argue, and some of them are big conflicts, you feel it because slowly you as the reader realise, as a lot of the characters are doing, that these people actually care about each other. They are still liars and thieves and, in the case of Kaz Brekker especially, can be cruel and ruthless, but they’re also growing as people and making connections and even in some small way want to do better.

Crooked Kingdom is a brilliant conclusion to this duology. It expands this fantasy world, gives the characters more development and nuances and does a great job at building tension. All the twists and turns keeps you guessing and it’s just a fun ride with a lot of emotional payoff. 5/5.

SERIES REVIEW: Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

As I said in a recent TBR post, though I read and enjoyed Six of Crows years ago I never finished that duology and I’d never read the original trilogy that started this Grisha’verse. Thanks to the trailer for the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, it got me reinterested in this series and now I’ve read the trilogy for the first time – and plan to reread Six of Crows and then read Crooked Kingdom for the first time. And then at some point I’ll probably also read the other duology in this world that has my new favourite character in it.

Set in a fantasy world inspired by Imperial Russia, Shadow and Bone sees Alina Starkov, a mapmaker in the army, suddenly learn she has a dormant but extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. She’s whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling, and soon she learns nothing is what it seems as she may be in more danger than she realised.

Shadow and Bone is my least favourite in the trilogy. I think it’s partly because it’d been a while since I’ve read fantasy, and while it’s still a genre I like, just getting in that YA fantasy mindset took some time. Also because of general internet osmosis, I knew going into it who was the big villain so I was kind of just waiting for that to be revealed too.

That being said, I think it did a great job of introducing the really interesting magic system. I liked the fact that while the Grisha are powerful, they have their limitations. They aren’t all powerful in all types of magic, there’s three different types of magic and they each have the skills for one type. How the magic and the history of this warring country is woven into the story is done well as there never seems a moment where you’re just listening to a history lesson. A lot of the time, you’re learning about things the same time as Alina is. This continues throughout the next two books and it makes the story all the richer for it.

The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling gets more interesting in each book but its here that all that important foundation is set. Their relationship verges on creepy a lot of times in the book before characters intentions are clear, and it gives their interactions an unsettling edge. Their powers compliment one another so they often appear to have the whole two sides of the same coin deal going on.

I gave Shadow and Bone 3/5.

Siege and Storm is my favourite in the trilogy. It feels like almost non-stop action and even when it’s not there’s more political intrigue as Alina learns to navigate the court and starts to become a leader which is just as gripping.

I thought the pacing in Siege and Storm was excellent and how it introduced new characters and new aspects of this world was nicely done. Here you see more of the technology of this country, not only are there pirate ships but also these aircraft which are unlike anything we’ve seen in these books before. The mixture of technology and science/magic in this world is really interesting.

Also, Siege and Storm introduces one of my favourite characters I’ve read in a long, long time – Sturmhond. He is clever and charming but also ambitious and ruthless, and I pretty much loved everything he said. As you learn more about him you see how he’s a man of many faces. He’s almost a chameleon as he can fit in in any social or political situation and often can get people to agree with him. I just loved him a lot.

I gave Siege and Storm 5/5.

Ruin and Rising is a near perfect end to this trilogy. Like Siege and Storm, I read it in two sittings because I was instantly pulled into the story because of the characters and the cliffhangers at the end of each book. While Alina has formed various bonds over the course of the previous two books, in this one there’s almost a family of choice trope happening as Alina and her small band of survivors fight to stick together and to do the right thing. The final act almost seemed to feel rushed. Throughout the book Alina had been working towards one goal but then that changed suddenly and, while there were possible hints in the previous book her original goal had still been an overarching theme, it made the final showdown seem more of a Plan B and it didn’t quite have the same effect.

I gave Ruin and Rising 4/5.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy. Alina is a great and believable heroine. She acts to things how you’d think any sane person would react, she’s constantly learning from her mistakes and evolving into a powerful leader as she accepts and relishes in her newfound power. The rest of the characters are great too. As I’ve said, Sturmhond is my favourite but how some of the secondary or minor characters are allowed to develop is really cool as you see sides to them you wouldn’t have expected to begin with. While Alina’s closest relationship is with her best friend Mal, there’s a lot of good dynamics and friendships between female characters in these books which I always appreciate.

The Grisha trilogy is, on the whole, fast-paced, action-packed, and has compelling characters and a vivid world. I can see why these books have become so well loved and I’m definitely looking forward to the Netflix show.

REVIEW: Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

My review of the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League.

Determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions led by Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds).

The trials and tribulations of this film, or this version of this film, are pretty well known and now thanks to HBO Max Zack Snyder has been able to release the version of Justice League that was his ideal vision to release back in 2017 – all four hours of it.

It’s difficult to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League and not compare it to the film that was released in cinemas in 2017. There are scenes that are exactly the same or similar but extended but then there’s also a whole lot of new footage and backstory on different characters. Much like the 2017 version, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League is mostly fine, it’s still messy but it is a bit more coherent and thematically consistent. It’s just that if you’re not keen on how Snyder represents these characters, making them more like God-like warriors than superheroes, then you’ll probably not be too over keen on this film.

Cyborg (Ray Fisher) gets the most out of this new version. As a character he gets so much more to do, more character development and he does kind of become the heart and driving force of this team of heroes. Fisher’s performance isn’t always great, but his character goes from being an almost non-entity to the glue that holds this team together – and his relationship with his father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) is a big subplot of the film.

Steppenwolf is given more of a backstory too so becomes a bit more than a generic villain who wants to destroy the world. The CGI with all the spikes in his suit makes him appear more menacing and with the extra blood and violence he does seem like a sizable threat.

The four-hour runtime of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a bit intimidating, and you do feel it at times. Slow-motion shots are a big part of Snyder’s directing style and there’s a lot in here. In fact, the use of them is excessive as shots that look cool in a trailer (Jason Momoa’s Aquaman standing in the waves) last for minutes as you have to see them in slow-mo and from every angle, and then there’s sequences like a football game that’s also in slow-mo which seems pointless. These shots may look cool, but having so much slow-motion shots used, all the time no matter the context of the scene, makes them lose their impact when they’re used in a big action sequences.

I think that’s a good way to sum up Zack Snyder’s Justice League. A lot of the time it looks cool but those visual, stylistic choices don’t necessarily make a good film. With it’s four-hour runtime there’s a lot of exposition and action and some it works while some of it doesn’t. More padding around the plot makes it a more consistent film than the one released in 2017, but I see little reason for it to be four hours. There’s probably a really good two-and-a-half to three-hour Justice League movie in here.

If you had problems with the 2017 film, you may like this version more. If you liked the 2017 version, there may be some stuff to like here but there’s not as much slapstick comedy for instance. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is long, often dour but frequently visually interesting. There are a few nice character moments (how the dynamic between Wonder Woman and Aquaman is briefly explored is one of my favourite moments) but then other characters are pushed aside (Amy Adams’ Lois Lane). It’s the balance between character and action and pacing that’s lacking and often makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League a bit of a slog but the film does just enough to keep you watching – if only out of morbid curiosity. 2/5.

If you want to hear my spoiler-filled thoughts on this film, I featured on JumpCast’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League episode that was released today.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Three martial artists, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament – the outcome of which will decide the fate of the world.

I’ll preface this by say to the best of my knowledge I’ve never played any of the Mortal Kombat games (I think I might’ve played Street Fighter though) and I know nothing about the franchise. Much like how the release of a new Dune movie trailer made me want to watch the original from the 80s, the trailer for the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was released last week and as the action sequences looked pretty cool, it made me want to check out the first Mortal Kombat film from the 90s.

Maybe the original Mortal Kombat film works for fans of the games, but as someone with no experience with, I found the film to be incredibly monotonous and boring. The story is paper thin, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is an evil sorcerer who needs to win one more Mortal Kombat tournament in order to take over the Earth, there’s then a string of fights as the three heroes make their way through the tournament to the final showdown with Shang Tsung. It really is just one fight after another and there’s little to differentiate between them.

The fight where the trio of heroes are working together is half-decent as you’re seeing their different fighting styles plus there’s more adversaries so that makes things a bit more exciting. When it’s a one-on-one fight it’s not that entertaining. Perhaps that’s due to the fact I’ve now seen more modern action/fight sequences with the quick editing that makes things more engaging but with the slow mo shots trying to make things dramatic and the techno music that often plays during a fight (a call back to the game I’m sure) it all seems rather cheesy.

The characters themselves are all pretty one dimensional too. Sonya is the badass special forces officer (until she’s easily kidnapped and held hostage – obviously), Johnny Cage is a Hollywood actor with a big ego, while admittedly Liu Kang has a bit more backstory than the others, he’s quest for revenge is his main motivator. Their opponents are just people to fight on their quest to reach the final battle and you feel nothing as they are beaten or killed.

Everything about Mortal Kombat is very 90s and of its time. The set designs, the lighting and especially the special effects which have not aged well and were probably not that great for the standard of the 90s either.

I found Mortal Kombat more bemusing than anything. It’s cheese to the max but not in a fun way if you have no emotional connection to these characters of the games. It’s a repetitive film that may have some cool fight scenes but then they’re often undercut by the music which just makes the whole thing laughable. 1/5.

I’d be super interested to hear what fans of the game think of this, or even people like me who haven’t played it before. I’m not sure if it’s one of those adaptations that can please everyone.

REVIEW: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition. With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. But not everyone survives the deadly maze.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy YA, especially a standalone fantasy YA, so while I did end up enjoying To Best the Boys, it did take me a little while to get into the story. I think it was just all the standard elements of the genre; being dropped into a world with the world-building happens as it goes, the casual mention of various creatures and the social/political landscape, that I hadn’t really had in a while after reading more contemporary or historical fiction set in our world.

Once Rhen and Seleni join the competition and enter the labyrinth, the story just speeds by. The sort of trials in the maze they have to go through, and how they have to work with some boys their friends with and like, and some that they really don’t is interesting, especially as all the while they’re trying to keep their identities secret.

The society of Caldon is made up of the Uppers and the Lowers – the upper and working class basically. Rhen was born a Lower after her mother was disowned for marrying her scientist father, though she has connections to the Uppers as Seleni and her Aunt and Uncle are Uppers and continue to invite Rhen to their extravagant parties in the hope to pair her off with a rich young man. It’s clear that Rhen feels more comfortable with her Lower friends in the port or doing scientific experiments with her dad than at these parties.

Caldon is also a patriarchal society and the way Rhen struggles to make her voice heard, where a lot of older men are in power and don’t listen to anyone who is not like them, is unfortunately similar to our own world. Rhen’s passion is for science and learning and wants to make something of herself and while that’s the main driving force of the story, To Best the Boys takes a moment to acknowledge that Seleni’s dreams of finding love and being a wife and mother are just as valid. It’s having the ability to make that choice is what is important to Rhen. Seleni and Rhen’s friendship was one of my favourite things about To Best the Boys. They are so close and Seleni is almost the best of both worlds as she loves the balls and dresses and dancing with boys, but she also enjoys being involved with Rhen’s experiments and adventures. Seleni can almost fit in anywhere whereas Rhen can’t be something she’s not.

As well as the feminist angle, To Best the Boys has some disability representation. Though they aren’t given the names we use, Rhen is dyslexic and there’s another character, Rhen’s love interests younger brother, who has autistic traits.

As it’s a standalone, To Best the Boys did feel a little rushed at times, but equally the story is so tight and focused in on the event to win the scholarship that a lot of character backstories or more world-building isn’t really needed. 3/5.

REVIEW: Practical Magic (1998)

There’s said to be a curse on the Owens women – any man who they fall in love with will surely die. Witch sisters Sally and Gillian (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) are unlucky in love and just trying to get by in a town that’s scared of them and their family. But after Gilliam’s boyfriend dies suddenly and a detective (Aidan Quinn) starts asking questions, things get more difficult for them.

Practical Magic is just a delight and the fact that it has a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a travesty! Do these people not appreciate and love the power of sisterhood, love and female relationships?! Because this is what Practical Magic is. It’s like a love letter to sisters and family and the power women can have, even when things go a bit wrong, and it’s brilliant.

Sally and Gillian were raised by the eccentric aunts, Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet (Dianne Wiest), and the relationships these four women have are the heart and the soul of this film. The aunts are funny and weird, but they love their nieces so much and try to teach them all they know about magic. Sally has more of innate gift for it, but Gillian has some powers too, but their biggest gift is how in tune with one another they are. Bullock and Kidman have amazing chemistry and they feel like sisters, they argue and laugh and know each other better than anyone. If I’m being honest the tone of Practical Magic is kinda all over the place, but this film definitely wouldn’t have worked so well without these two leads.

Speaking of tone; there’s comedy, horror, romance, crime – it’s a mix of so many things but it works! The whole aesthetic for Practical Magic is peak 90s witchy vibes. The costumes, the setting (especially the house where the majority of the film takes place), the fact that Sally’s job involves creating plant-based remedies – to coin a popular internet term, it’s all very cottagecore. The soundtrack is very 90s too but there’s so many good songs on it from Stevie Nicks, Faith Hill, Joni Mitchell and more. The score by Alan Silvestri is great too. A lot of it feels homely and suits the setting of a small town on a small island where everyone knows each other.

Honestly Practical Magic was so much fun and so heart-warming. I often found myself with a huge smile on my face because of these women and their love and respect for one another. Yeah, the “big bad” of the film is them apparently not being able to have a lasting relationship with a man, but the driving force for the Owens family, and even some of the other women in the town, is love for one another and the lengths they’ll go to keep each other safe. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Craft (1996)

Sarah (Robin Tunney) is a lonely newcomer to a Catholic prep school in LA, until she falls in with a trio of outcasts, Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True). Together they practice witchcraft, conjuring up spells and curses in order to get what they want like love, beauty, and power – but magic comes with a price.

At the beginning of The Craft, it does a great job of leaving you guessing how much of what the girls are doing is magic, and how much is by chance. Sarah has always had weird things happen to her but it’s not until she’s with the other three that they can seem to control what they want to happen.

Yes, The Craft is a bit dated and very nineties in a lot of ways. The hair and the fashion, the chunky landline phones and the way the girls learn from the occult through books in a shop rather than scouring the internet. But, for someone like me who’s watching it for the first time almost fifteen years after it was first released, it’s still an effective film.

It’s creepy and eerie and the sort of spells or things the girls want are all relatable teen things. They want the boy their like to like them, they want their bully to stop tormenting them, they want to look beautiful – all things that teen girls wish for, but these four can actually do something about it.

The four actresses are all great in their roles and they have good chemistry. The dynamics between them all is interesting, especially how Sarah fits in (or doesn’t) with a ready-made, solid trio of friends. Tension rises between Sarah, who appears to have natural power, and Nancy, who wants to be strong and powerful and to get what she wants. The way these two butt heads as the film progresses and their spells get out of their control is interesting as there’s the high school teenage bitchiness level to a friendship group potentially breaking down, but then there’s also the potentially dangerous consequences to these girls actions and how they can hurt one another if they no longer see eye to eye.

The final act goes all out creepy and scary and perhaps it’s a bit of a leap from the sort of high school drama The Craft had inhabited before, but it’s still exciting to see how everything comes to a head – Fairuza Balk deserves a special mention for doing crazy so well.

The Craft is a great mix of high school drama and the occult. It’s whole aesthetic is great and it’s the kind of eerie but fun horror film I’m totally on board with. 4/5.