Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

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Image: Collider

Rating: 3 out of 5

Last weekend I finally got around to watching the latest Harry Potter film, and now I’m finally getting around to writing my review. It’s easy to explain why I’ve been dragging my feet: I’m still perplexed why this movie was made, even though I know the only reason is the metric ton of cold, hard cash that it generated (over $600M to be exact).

The original Fantastic Beasts book, along with its companion Quidditch Through the Ages, was published in 2001 to support Comic Relief, the British charity of “Red Nose Day” fame created to alleviate global poverty.

I remember reading Fantastic Beasts fondly when I was a kid, because I was obsessed with anything HP-related, but now I’m just mind-boggled that Hollywood can take a tiny encyclopedia of magical creatures and develop a multi-movie series out of it.

Fantastic Beasts is the Hogwarts magizoology textbook written by Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt’s visit to New York City in the 1920s, where he must re-capture a few of his furry friends after they escape his magical suitcase.

Nothing about this backstory is included in the book. Instead, Rowling develops her screenplay using information provided by her online lexicon Pottermore. She weaves Newt’s travels with the more menacing tale of Gellert Grindewald, the love interest of Dumbledore who ultimately betrays him and becomes the most dangerous dark wizard prior to Voldemort’s rising.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for that story to develop in the sequels as Grindewald is only discussed briefly in the film until the particularly famous actor who plays him makes a cameo at the end.

Instead, you learn about Newt’s struggle to advocate for animal rights in America, a country which frankly is a lot less exciting when it comes to magic. Wizardry is mysterious and intriguing when it’s associated with the castles and robes and other medieval elements of the Old World. Surrounded instead by high rises and noisy cars, the “otherness” of this universe is lost.

Don’t get me wrong: the script is great, the plot is fine, and actors do a wonderful job giving dimension to their characters. I especially look forward to Ezra Miller’s career taking off, because he is an absolute gem (you’ll know him from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and his new role as The Flash in the DC franchise).

I certainly enjoyed this movie, but I was hyper-aware that this series is meant for the next generation of Harry Potter fans. Much like “Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a kids’ movie with the potential to grow into something grittier and darker but has pretty low stakes right now. Even the fantastic beasts, though cute and fun, weren’t that innovative but rather weird combos of animals already walking this earth (bird + snake = Occamy, mole + platypus = Niffler, etc.).

All in all, this movie gets a resounding “okay” from me. It was good enough that I’ll continue watching the sequels, which is exactly what Warner Bros. expects. I think that I speak for all fans that we’d rather see a Marauders prequel, but we’ll take what we can get.

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Book and Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Last week, the real-life Book Club Babes discussed the bestselling thriller, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and I was delighted that it was our first meetup in which every single member had finished the novel! That fact that people weren’t just showing up for the wine (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) demonstrates just how good this book is!

Because I watched the film adaptation shortly thereafter, I decided to summarize my thoughts on both versions in one review. Did the movie live up to the book, or was it a total trainwreck? (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: Yes, The Girl on the Train is similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in the sense that they are both popular thrillers that were published around the same time and feature an unreliable female lead. To give a quick plot summary, this novel is written from the POVs of three women: Rachel, an alcoholic struggling emotionally after her husband Tom divorces her; Anna, the other woman whom Tom leaves Rachel for; and Megan, Anna’s nanny who is found dead.

Whereas Gone Girl is a psychological “he said, she said” thriller, The Girl on the Train is more of a traditional murder mystery. Despite its best efforts, I never got the sense that Rachel was Megan’s murderer, just a pitiable drunk mess who cannot cope with her infertility, which she believes was the cause of her addiction.

And as much as I hated Anna for relishing her role as mistress, it was difficult to consider her aggressive enough to take matters into her own hands. Blame it on being a hardcore feminist I suppose (and the fact that over one-third of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner), but my intuition kept pointing to the men in this story as the real suspects, and that gut feeling turned out to be right.

Perhaps this is why I was disappointed that the book had such a catty tone, pitting these female rivals against each other. There were many comments from Anna and Megan about “winning” their lovers’ hearts due to their superior looks, and Rachel suffered a fair dose of body-shaming as her alcoholism wreaked havoc on her appearance.

I understand that this is how adultery plays out in the real world, with women blamed as “homewreckers,” but it was clear that this was the true red herring in the novel, not the mysterious redheaded man often found riding the same train as Rachel. Without giving too much away, in the end, the story is redeemed by placing Anna and Rachel in a position of solidarity against the true villain whom they should have been pointing fingers at the entire time.

Overall, this is a book that keeps you guessing, and although some members of our book club hoped for more of a twist, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable read. With multifaceted characters and plenty of drama, this is a great book for discussion and worthy of its fanfare.

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

After Tim Burton’s “Miss Peregrine” utterly ruined Ransom Riggs’ amazing YA series, I went into the theater with reservations. I mean, who wants to get their heart broken twice in one week? Fortunately, this film directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help,” “Get On Up”) for the most part was an accurate depiction of the novel, save for these exceptions:

  • Lazy, but minor change: Setting the story in New York, instead of London (even though Emily Blunt inexplicably keeps her British accent as Rachel).
  • Hollywood’s obsession with beauty: Not portraying Rachel as large and “off-putting” as she as described.
  • Because all people of color are the same, right?: Miscasting Latino actor Edgar Ramirez to play Megan’s therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, without changing the character’s name to match his different ethnicity.

Excusing the misguided attempt at cultural diversity, I thought that the cast was excellent. I especially loved Emily Blunt, who nailed the sad, slightly unhinged woman scorned who just wants to uncover the secrets of her blackouts, and Allison Janney, who came across as just the right amount of bitchy as Detective Riley.

Since it can’t escape the comparisons, I did enjoy watching “Gone Girl” more, because the suspense was more intense and had higher stakes. Rosamund Pike is absolutely flawless in that film, and the manipulative game she plays as Amy Dunne is something that I could watch again and again. “The Girl on the Train” was a great adaptation in its own right, but not nearly as clever or gripping to warrant multiple viewings.

And honestly, if you’re not even going to offer the killer cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” from the movie trailer in the soundtrack, then that’s total justification for docking one star in its rating. Now that’s something I’d put on repeat!

Audiobook and Movie Review: Me Before You

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Image via Amazon

Audiobook Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

Between starting a new job and moving in with my boyfriend, life has definitely been more hectic than usual! Thank goodness that my book club provides the accountability I desperately need–otherwise who knows how long I’d go without blogging!

Last month’s book club selection was the crazy popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. We discussed the novel at the beginning of the month, then watched the movie adaptation the week after. Instead of publishing my reviews separately, I’m combining them to better share my thoughts on reading this story and seeing it on the silver screen.

And if you happen to be living under a rock, let me offer a quick and dirty summary: Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark (played by Emilia Clarke, aka Daenerys from “Game of Thrones”), a recently unemployed English woman in her mid-20s who takes a job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man in order to financially support her working class family.

Contrary to her expectations, her client Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin, aka Finnick from “The Hunger Games”) is not an elderly invalid, but an attractive, wealthy 30-something guy who just happened to have the worst case of luck after a terrible automotive accident. Will, depressed that he can no longer live the mobile, active lifestyle he once did, has scheduled his assisted suicide in six months’ time. It’s up to Louisa to see if she can get him to change his mind. (Spoiler alert: She doesn’t.)

First, let me address what’s good about this novel. I appreciated that Louisa’s character was well-developed and that her relationships with her parents and sister were important to the overall story. Sure, Hollywood was never going to cast a plus-size actress to match her curvy physical descriptions, but the movie depicted her eccentric fashion sense which had made her so endearing in the book.

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Image via Zimbio

That being said, although most of my friends rated the book higher, I felt a bit cheated. I had seen the sappy film trailers before I started reading, so I was expecting much more romance in this romance novel. The fact that Louisa is stuck in a dead-end relationship for the majority of the story and doesn’t even kiss Will until their final trip together is a massive disappointment. Sure, this could reflect the theme that life is full of missed opportunities and unrealized potential, but ugh–what a bummer!

And while I could write thousands of words about the controversy of assisted suicide and the outrage of the disabled community over Will’s ultimate decision to end his life, I will say that the book better addressed Will’s autonomy than the film by allowing him much more time to explain his reasoning and having the support of many secondary characters. Yes, Louisa is the protagonist, which inherently limits the story’s perspective, but I applaud Moyes for opening the minds of the able-bodied in a respectful manner. I have always supported a person’s right to die with dignity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book positively impacted those on the fence about the issue.

It’s not difficult to predict Will’s choice, given that there’s a sequel called After You, but I do wish that Will could have had his own POV. By ending with the chapter of the Traynor’s legal defense, the act felt clinical and detached. Listening to the book on audio may have added to that effect as well. Watching the movie finally brought the tears out of me that were missing before, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for love stories.

Readers will feel rushed while watching the film, but Moyes’ screenwriting eliminated parts of the story that seemed anomalous in the first place: Louisa’s past sexual assault, Mr. Traynor’s affair, and the inclusion of Will’s sister. I would have much rather removed these elements in the book to make more room for some steamy, intimate moments.

All in all, despite its challenges in accurately representing the thoughts of real-life disabled people, I liked the book. It wasn’t nearly romantic enough for me, which is why I only rated it 3.5/5, but I’m glad that I got to learn what all the buzz was about. However, I’ve heard poor reviews of the sequel, so I’ll be passing on that. Thankfully, I just finished a proper romance novel with a happy ending–stay tuned for my review!

Movie Review: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Image via Teaser-Trailer.com

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! What better way to celebrate the holiday of love than watching an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic with the walking dead thrown in?

Last Wednesday, a small group of ladies from my book club joined me to watch “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which was directed and written by Burr Steers. I was feeling optimistic going into the theater, because I had skimmed several positive reviews and thought the casting was great.

The actors did not disappoint. Lily James made an excellent, feisty Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley played a brooding and badass Mr. Darcy, and Douglas Booth provided major eye candy as Mr. Bingley.

Ladies, did you even need another reason to watch this film? (Image via Wikimedia)

What surprised me the most, however, was how much was changed from Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel. I don’t want to spoil either the book or the film, but there were certain characters who were supposed to transform into zombies and never did, as well as vice versa. The movie also added the element of “vegetarian zombies,” ones that could eat animal brains to slow down the progression of the sickness.

Despite the leaps of faith you have to make with this plot, I was certainly entertained. There were elements that I missed from the book, including Elizabeth eating the hearts of ninjas and kicking the ass of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but it was clever and female-empowered. Matt Smith played a hilariously flamboyant Mr. Collins who had just as much of a crush on Mr. Darcy as the women in the audience.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” isn’t Oscar-worthy, but nobody who sees it will be expecting that high of quality. Critically speaking, it’s currently rated 6.4/10 on IMDb and a 5.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s still great fun.

I don’t know any other movie where you’ll both swoon over a love story and scream at jump-scares. If you’re a Jane Austen fan and are looking for a passionate film for Valentine’s Day that the man in your life will actually enjoy, I recommend “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” As the tagline promises, it’s “bloody lovely!”

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2

Image via ComingSoon.net

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Well…where do I start? Ever since I finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mockingjay on screen. My initial enthusiasm for this bandwagon has unfortunately faded into begrudging acceptance of the end.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the film’s production. I’ve enjoyed “The Hunger Games” cast, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, both of whom did not have near enough screen time in this finale. Instead, all the attention is turned towards Katniss and her crew’s mission to assassinate President Snow.

Collins’ magic was in the arenas, and without them, all that’s left is a sub-par dystopian tale in which no one really learns their lesson. I wrote a major rant about this book, so naturally I went into the theater with low expectations.

On the plus side, the film was very well done, and I enjoyed the trek to the Capitol as the rebels dodged all the various booby traps. One of the aspects that frustrated me about the novel is that Katniss’ point-of-view is very limited. However, once you’re out of her head, you can be more engaged with the other characters and the action-packed plot in front of them.

Despite the thrills and suspense, I felt pretty meh about this movie. Not surprising to the fans of the books, the ending of this film was depressing as hell. Beloved characters were lost, gone in the blink of an eye. Although the bad guys get their just desserts, you don’t walk away feeling accomplished. And just like in the novel, the story’s epilogue seemed artificial and forced.

I’m glad to put this series behind me, and I can only hope that Hollywood has had its fill of dystopias, at least for a while. Of course, this is doubtful, given the vast fortune that’s at stake. Lionsgate entertainment vice chairman Michael Burns revealed that he’s interested in making Hunger Games prequels featuring previous years in the arena. As much as I’d like to see a young Haymitch become a victor, I agree with Forbes:

If Lionsgate is indeed determined to give the fans what they want, what they risk doing is basically turning the franchise into an annual (or bi-annual) fictionalized version of the Hunger Games for multiplex consumption. They will have turned the franchise into a fictionalized “to the death” version of American Gladiators, which would basically complete the transformation from “explicit critique of bread-and-circuses” to “prime example of bread-and-circuses.”

As a fan who went from excitement to disillusionment, I just want to put this story to bed and move on with my life. Instead, I’ll have to submit to watching this cash cow get turned into one of Collins’ mutts: a zombie-like, demented version of itself.

Movie Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

Image via The Telegraph

Rating: 4 out of 5

So in the chaos of moving and starting a new job, I haven’t done much reading, to be honest. But I did manage to make time to go the movie theater, something I only do occasionally. As much I would have preferred to read the book Far from the Madding Crowd before seeing the film adaptation, let’s face it, I never liked the author anyway.

Based on the 1874 novel by Thomas Hardy, the movie stars Carey Mulligan as Bashsheba Everdene, a fiercely independent English woman who comes into a large inheritance when her uncle leaves her a large farm to manage.

Bathsheba is courted by three suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer who becomes poor after losing his flock (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), William Boldwood, a lonely older man of great wealth (Michael Sheen), and Francis Troy, a sergeant jilted by a former lover (Tom Sturridge).

For those unfamiliar with the story, I won’t give away the details, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that it had a happy ending. Having suffered through Hardy’s most famous and oh-so-depressing novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I expected another romantic tragedy. For once, I’m glad that I was wrong!

I’m a total sucker for period dramas, and Far from the Madding Crowd is an excellent one. The English countryside is absolutely breathtaking, and I loved the cinematography and musical score. I’ll admit that it may be too slowly paced for some viewers, but all the actors did an excellent job in this character-driven tale.

I wasn’t familiar with director Thomas Vinterberg prior to watching this movie, but I was pleased to see David Nicholls on the crew as screenwriter, given that I enjoyed his novel One Day and its subsequent film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway. Overall, I can see why this movie is critically acclaimed, and I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of 19th century history and literature.

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Image via E! Online

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I just want to say that I deserve so much gratitude for taking one for the team and watching this movie, which we all expected to suck. Well, suck it did, but at least not as badly as I thought it would. Three cheers for super low expectations!

To better explain my rating, I thought that I would break each element of the film down and grade it individually. There’s so much discuss, so let’s get right to it!

The plot: C+. I’m not going to summarize Fifty Shades of Grey here, because if you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years, then that’s not my fault. Although I have not fully read the series, given how crappy it is, I knew that this movie was the first of a trilogy. This didn’t stop me being disappointed with how and where the film ended. Many viewers may feel that there was nothing redeeming about Anastasia and Christian’s relationship, but I felt that it should have left hints of reconciliation since they end up married with children at the end of it all. Unfortunately, the cut-off point just gives the viewer a bad taste in her mouth.

The casting: B. I give Dakota Johnson a lot of credit for doing well despite the poor source material. Everyone has been saying that Ana is much more likable on screen than in the books, and I commend Dakota for giving her character a personality. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, is a better model than he is an actor, and I couldn’t stop staring at his expressionless, rapist-esque face and wish that Ian Somerhalder had been cast instead. Dakota looked great, but Jamie ironically looked too vanilla for such a kinky bad boy role.

The dialogue: D. Holy crap. No seriously, holy crap, as in any college student who utters that phrase, or any other PG-rated terms, shouldn’t be participating in BDSM. The conversations were so stilted and awkward that they detracted from the erotic mood. The lines were funny without meaning to be, and they were just a reminder of how ridiculous E.L. James’ writing is. At least the inner goddess monologue wasn’t included!

The sex: B-. I feel that the sex scenes were more visually appealing than emotionally, meaning that they superficially portrayed two attractive white people, but they didn’t focus on real pleasure. I knew that the film wasn’t going to be that explicit since there was no full-frontal male nudity, but I enjoyed the consensual scenes in the playroom. Is the sex an accurate and healthy depiction of BDSM? Absolutely not. Was it sexy at times? Sure, although I think true FSOG fans should find an X-rated adaptation instead if they’re looking for something more hardcore.

LOL YASSS!!!

The music: A+. Hands down, the best part of this film was its soundtrack. The songs appropriately fit each scene, and they were diverse across genre. From the modern twists on old-school classics, like Annie Lennox’s version of “I’ve Got a Spell on You” to the club tracks of The Weeknd, everything worked harmoniously. And how sexy was Beyonce’s remix to “Crazy in Love?!” I’ve been playing it on repeat for days!

 

 

Bonus…The literary courting: F-. So, first off, Christian is super condescending when he asks English major Ana which author made her fall in love with literature, whether it was Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy. He assumes Austen, because he’s being sexist, and she surprises him by answering Hardy. To court her, he sends her a first edition of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to which I demand: WTF?! That has got to be the WORST choice to woo a woman. Is nobody going to point out that the novel was about a RAPE?! Spoiler alert: Tess is raped by Alec, and it ends with her murdering him in revenge and being sent to prison for her crime. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is!

Overall, unless you’re a massive FSOG fan, you’re better off saving your time and money. Check out the soundtrack, but don’t bother watching this movie. The production is such a train wreck: the actors despise one another, and the director most likely won’t do the sequels because she hates the author so badly.

You want to watch a great love story featuring some hot eye candy and smoldering sex scenes? Hop on the Outlander bandwagon! There’s even torturous flogging on that show too, just out of the bedroom where it belongs.