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 Review: American Gods

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating 3.5 out of 5

After hearing so many great things about Neil Gaiman, I finally made time to read the fantasy classic American Gods. I even made extra time for the tenth-anniversary edition, which is considered the author’s preferred text with an additional 12,000 words, clocking in at 500+ pages total.

However, as much as I wanted to rave about how amazing this novel was and how those pages flew by, this was not the case. In fact, according to Goodreads, it took me three whole months to finish it, because I either couldn’t motivate myself to keep reading or kept getting sidetracked by other books that interested me more.

I went into American Gods believing that it would be an epic battle story, but it’s more accurate to call it an epic road trip story. The protagonist, mysteriously known as Shadow, has just been released from prison only to find that his wife has died in a car accident while partaking in some—ahem—extramarital activities with his best friend.

With no job, spouse, or sense of purpose in life, it’s not surprising that Shadow gets roped into doing the bidding of Mr. Wednesday, an intriguing figure with a penchant for trickery. As they tour the United States getting into various levels of trouble, Shadow eventually learns that Wednesday is none other than Odin, the Norse god of the gallows, and his friends are all ancient deities struggling to survive in a world that no longer believes in them.

The entire novel builds to a point where the old gods must take on the new ones—Media, Technology, and the like—but it’s my opinion that I held Gaiman in too high of esteem that I was bound to be disappointed. Even fans of the novel reassured me that the ending would make the meandering middle of the book worth it, but I have to disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, this story is wonderfully written. Gaiman is a master of characterization and symbolism, and lovers of mythology will delight in reading between the lines. The “coming to America” snippets were especially interesting, because the reader learns about how these immortals immigrated to the New World, both physically and in the minds of their worshippers.

I realize that I may be in the minority, but I felt that American Gods did not reach its potential. There was simply too much humanity and not enough fantasy for my liking. I’m certainly no Christian, but the fact that Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance seems outrageously misguided. A story with such a unique premise deserves more blasphemy to truly drive home the point that gods are only as powerful as their ability to influence mankind.

I respect Gaiman creatively and am certainly interested in reading more of his work, but I can’t say that this was a knockout read for me. I didn’t love it, but I like it enough to recommend it, and I will definitely check out the STARZ television adaptation coming next year. I have a feeling that HBO’s success with Game of Thrones will inspire a more thrilling and controversial retelling of Gaiman’s bestseller, and I look forward to watching the true battle between the gods begin.

Note: It’s that time of year again! NaNoWriMo season is upon us, and this will be my fourth year participating. Unlike previous efforts, I’m only interested in writing for writing’s sake this time and won’t be competing to win. That said, to focus on my own novel, I’ll be taking a month-long blogging hiatus. I wish my fellow Americans a happy Turkey Day, and I’ll see you all in December!

Top Ten Tuesday: Book-Related Facts About Me

toptentuesday

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, focuses on the book bloggers rather than the books themselves. But since talking about myself is not nearly as interesting as letting others do the honors for me, I’ve enlisted my friends to contribute!

Here are ten book-related facts about me, according to those who know me best! (All facts have been quoted via Facebook comments).

1. “You’re a bit of a grammar queen, who tends to correct people’s Facebook posts. Like mine, for example.”

2. “You love Greek mythology.”

3. “If there’s a sexist rich guy in a book, he automatically reminds you of Christian Grey.”

4. “You prefer the fresh smell of binding to the fluorescent glow from some lifeless e-book.”

5. “You hate when books end, and you’re left without any real closure.”

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6. “You’re frenemies with Elizabeth Gilbert.”

7. “Ideal book: Dystopian feminist-centric romance novel based in an alternative universe where dogs and cats have equal rights as humans.”

8. “Ideal male leads to fight for the heroine’s heart and affection are played by none other than Tom Hiddleston and Jared Leto in the movie adaptation in three parts.”

9. “You love fantasy with supernatural types and fireworks at the end.”

10. “I know you may not kick stray puppies when you’re bored, but you sure do have some built-up tension towards Nicholas Sparks.”

All I can say is that my friends have certainly described me in a nutshell! Do any of their facts resonate with you as well?

When an author changes her mind: On J.K. Rowling sinking “The Good Ship”

Image via Wikimedia

While most of America has come to a screeching halt to watch the Super Bowl today, the rest of the literary world has become embroiled in an all-out frenzy over J.K. Rowling’s recent admission that Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger would not have made the best couple after all in the Harry Potter universe.

Hypable reports that in a Wonderland interview between Rowling and interviewer/Hermione actress Emma Watson, the Harry Potter author revealed what many fans like myself always suspected:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” she says. “That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” she continued, “I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.”

Now, of course, we shouldn’t make too many conclusions without reading the entire interview, and even then, context is key. Admitting a mistake is not the same as regretting it, and media should remember not to project such emotions on Rowling.

That being said….HOLY MOLY, does this shake things up! Good Shippers are probably screaming from rooftops in denial right now. I remember digging through HP internet forums, reading smug comments that Ron and Hermione were perfect for one another, and it was SO obvious, and other shippers were just too stupid to see the truth.

This, of course, begs the question: to what extent do readers respect authorial intent? Many are refusing to accept Rowling’s news, saying that she should sit wrongly in her wrongness because that ship has long since sailed and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Others feel vindicated because the Good Ship, however sweet and wish-fulfilling it may be, wasn’t steeped in reality. Rowling suggests that Ron and Hermione would have needed “relationship counseling,” but that’s pretty clear to fans who witnessed their bickering through seven novels.

So what do I think? I would take Rowling’s word, no matter the verdict, because it’s her story and I have no right to demand it take a direction it wasn’t meant to take. But I also understand Rowling when she stated that she was clinging to her original plot; sometimes stories evolve, and smart writers need to know when to kill their darlings and sink their ships.

I will say, however, that I was doubtful of EVERY ship in the series. Honestly, I felt that the epilogue was completely misguided and unnecessary. It read like bad fanfiction, and this is coming from someone who read A LOT of Harry Potter fanfiction.

Apparently, the Good Ship wasn’t as good as everyone thought. But what of the other options? Harry and Hermione were better suited for each other, but I could sense a more familial relationship than a romantic one. Harry and Luna connected on a morbid level of death and suffering, but let’s face it, her loopiness would sabotage any long-term success.

Then there are the ships you just love to love: Hermione/Draco, Hermione/Luna, Harry/Draco, Hermione/Snape, Remus/Sirius. Think I’m crazy? So is the whole world of fanfic!

Dramione forever!

As of today, on FanFiction.net, there are over 673,000 HP fanfics (not including the crossovers into other stories). Here’s a look into the pairings:

  • 53.8K Hermione/Draco
  • 51.4K Harry/Draco
  • 27.1K Harry/Hermione
  • 25.6K Ron/Hermione
  • 16.7K Harry/Snape
  • 16K Hermione/Snape
  • 7.1K Harry/Ron
  • 2.5K Harry/Luna
  • 703 Hermione/Luna
  • 15 Dumbledore/Sorting Hat
  • 5 Hagrid/Buckbeak

The point of these statistics is to show that people will ship literally anything and anyone, so it’s best not to take any ship too seriously. What is serious is how devoted HP fans are to their fandom.

Many might think it silly to argue over the potential romances of fictional characters. But for my generation who grew up with Harry and friends, the books are more than just words on pages. They inspired an entire generation of children to fall in love with reading. They created a wonderful community that still stirs up lively discussion over six years after the series ended.

If you never joined this bandwagon, then I’ll be honest and say that I feel sorry for you. It’s easy to resist hype for the sake of being hype, but being involved in the Harry Potter zeitgeist is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world. You can call them mere children’s books and nothing compared to “real literature,” but you missed out on one of the most impactful literary experiences of our time.

Harry Potter taught millions of people to hold fast to their friends, fight for what is right instead of what it is easy, and love one another whether Pureblood or Muggle. And most importantly, to believe in the magic of both the world and the written word.

Image via Pinterest

So call me biased or dogmatic, but I’m proud of being a bookworm and I will defend the merits of this series until the end. The members of Dumbledore’s army can be the most strong-willed, opinionated people on earth–and after all the midnight book release parties, movie premieres, and forum trolling, I can say that you won’t find better company.

So sail on, HP shippers! And let’s keep our fingers crossed for the only announcement from Rowling I really care about: a future prequel starring the Marauders!

Don’t forget to share your thoughts on this news! What are your favorite ships, and why? And if you could address all the haters out there, what would you say to them about what Harry Potter means to you as a fan?

Image via Pinterest

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I thought that I would just start out by saying this: For those of you who complained about “The Hobbit” being too long of a film, I have these three points:

1. Your attention span needs work, and I pity your inability to put down your phone long enough to recognize cinematic wonder.

2. You clearly have not paid attention to Peter Jackson’s body of work, because otherwise you would not be surprised by its length.

3. After waiting nine years to escape into Tolkien’s universe on-screen again, I left that theater wanting so much more. Only three hours of magic after over 78,000 hours of waiting?! If you whined even the teeniest bit, you are not a fan, and I don’t know why you even went.

As Twitter would add, #SorryNotSorry.

Ok, with that rant out of the way, I know that my awesome readers will be glad to hear that “The Hobbit” was well worth the wait! I’ll try not to give too much away if you haven’t seen it yet, but considering that the film has already made approx. $85 million dollars this weekend, breaking the December opening weekend record, chances are you’ve made a trip to your local theater.

The version I saw was the basic 2D, 24fps, but I’ll be checking it out again in 3D, 48fps, over the holidays, so I’ll make sure to provide an update of the visual differences. That being said, even though I didn’t see the film as it was intended to be seen, it’s still great eye candy. The fact that those landscapes actually exist on our planet still boggles my mind–and makes me want to book a flight to New Zealand, stat.

And speaking of eye candy, let me have a fangirl moment for a second. When “The Fellowship” was released, I was 11 years old, but seeing Orlando Bloom as Legolas on screen for the first time probably incited early puberty for many girls like myself. Never will elves be of the Keebler variety in my mind again.

Now I was under the impression that Legolas would make a cameo in “An Unexpected Journey,” but alas, we’ll all have to wait for “There and Back Again.” Although other elves, such as Elrond and Galadriel appear in their immortal glory, I went into the dwarf-centric film thinking that the odds of a character making me melt like before were nil.

That is, until this guy showed up.

Hello there, indeed...

Hello there, indeed…

When Kili barged into Bilbo’s hobbit hole, both the girl sitting next to me and I blurted out, “Hellllloooo,” as if to say, “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes among a group of prosthetic noses and braided beards?” We promptly sat back, knowing this  movie just tipped into amazeballs territory.

I sincerely did not pay much attention to the casting, nor to any information, since I hate feeling like I’ve seen everything about a film before it’s hit theaters. I recall vaguely my mother mentioning this young Aragorn lookalike, but I’m glad my memory escaped me because it’s nice being pleasantly surprised.

(By the way, Kili’s played by a relatively unknown Irish actor named Aidan Turner. After a quick glance at his IMDb profile, clearly there’s an episode of “The Tudors” I need to rewatch.)

Ok, ok, I’ll stop. Angry rants and fangirl rambling, what has become of Book Club Babe? Apologies, moving right along…

What else can I add? The soundtrack was phenomenal, a wonderful balance between new and familiar. Not to mention, fans will enjoy the dwarf drinking song, which showcases Tolkien’s whimsy. The entire cast’s acting was excellent, from Martin Freeman’s reluctant bravery as Bilbo to Richard Armitage’s thirst for vengeance as Thorin.

And I don’t think an audience has been so excited to see a villain as we were when Gollum slinked in. There’s a reason Andy Serkis (who is part-Armenian, don’t ya know?) is king of motion-capture performance art. He was simply brilliant, and the riddle scene was everything I wanted and more.

I won’t provide a list of differences between the book and movie, but be aware that creative license is taken when emphasizing parts downplayed by Tolkien, such as the prominence of The White Council, the Necromancer, and even Radagast the Brown. Much of these changes I believe are to the viewer’s benefit, since Jackson pieces together information explained in The Silmarillion and the Appendices that otherwise would not be apparent since The Hobbit was told from Bilbo’s perspective.

So re-read the novel if you can, and make your own conclusions about this adaptation. Although nothing compares to the LOTR trilogy, Jackson follows through with another hit. Highly, highly recommended!

Book Review: The Hobbit

Rating: 4 out of 5

While many die-hard Tolkien fans are currently in line for the midnight premiere of “The Hobbit” here on the West coast, alas most of us can’t afford to watch a three-hour film and still expect to function at work on a few hours of sleep. But given that I’ve waited almost nine whole years to return to Middle-earth, I think that I can wait two more days.

And speaking of time, can you believe it’s been 75 years since The Hobbit was published? I see anniversary editions of the novel everywhere I go now, which is great, because it’s wonderful to see that the Ringer fanbase has grown over generations.

Say what you want about Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, but sometimes even the most hardcore of fans (like me) got a small nudge from the movies. I was 11 years old when “The Fellowship of the Ring” hit theaters, and while I was encouraged by a favorite teacher to pick up the series prior, it was the cinematic magic that fueled the fire.

I then immediately read LOTR, but eventually made my way to The Hobbit. This prequel, as many have pointed out, holds a much different tone than the saga. Compared to the epic battles of Rohan and Minas Tirith, Bilbo Baggins’ adventure with the dwarves seems more light-hearted–hence, why The Hobbit is often marketed as a children’s fantasy tale.

And while I would argue that LOTR also had its fair share of singing and joking (which would have been more apparent had Tom Bombadil made Jackson’s cut), The Hobbit feels more “fun” because any danger that the characters face is relatively minor.

At least that was my impression. It’s been years since I’ve read the book, and as much as I would’ve liked to re-read it, my brother has my only copy and I’m currently preoccupied with finishing my last book of the year, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

For those who are unfamiliar with the prequel, it follows Frodo’s “uncle” Bilbo, sixty years before The Fellowship takes place. Gandalf convinces him to join a group of 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, into the Lonely Mountain to defeat the dragon Smaug and steal its treasure.

Along the way, they encounter trolls, goblins, and giant spiders. Elrond is one elf who makes an appearance, but as much as I will enjoy seeing Legolas again in the film, I know that his cameo is inaccurate. I’ll also be sure to address other changes of Jackson’s in my movie review this weekend.

Of course, the scene I’ll be looking forward to watching the most would have to be the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum. I’ve purposely avoided all the footage online because I don’t want to be spoiled, but I caught Andy Serkis on “The Colbert Report.” Talk about my precious! Andy rocks my socks! I’m positively giddy to see this origin story come to life!

And if you were looking for a more critical analysis of the novel, I apologize. Unlike other authors, about whom I have no qualms nit-picking every metaphor, I have a very biased perspective on Tolkien. Knowing how much he despised allegory and psychoanalysis, I read his work with the simplicity and innocence which I believe he intended.

The Hobbit is a wonderful coming-of-age tale about a good-hearted hobbit who’s pushed outside his comfort zone to become a reluctant hero–much like Frodo after him. Tolkien’s world-creation is unmatched, and you fall in love with his rich descriptions of setting. Perhaps the timeliness of its themes and beauty behind its purity are what make The Hobbit an everlasting favorite among readers.

But if you’re still skeptical, I hope that you see the film anyway and it inspires you like Gandalf giving you a nudge out the door. Because reading something this magical is better 75 years late than never.

Favorite Quote: “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”

You know you're a Ringer when you go Christmas shopping for your family and end up buying this for yourself instead!

You know you’re a Ringer when you go Christmas shopping for your family and end up buying this for yourself instead!

Book Review: Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I feel like it’s the end of an era, because I finally finished the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I reviewed the penultimate novel, The Atlantis Complex, last year, and I’m pleased to say that the finale was much better.

If you haven’t heard of Artemis Fowl, let me bring you up to speed. Artemis is a boy genius with unsurpassed intellect, upscale taste in designer suits and classical music, and an obsession with increasing his already massive family fortune. His penchant for illicit scheming makes him many enemies, but he’s always shadowed by his best friend/bodyguard Butler.

The book series covers his life from ages 12-15, starting when he kidnaps an elf military officer named Holly Short to gain access to fairy gold to the present novel in which he puts aside his greed to save humanity. After seven books, Artemis and Holly are close comrades, and together with centaur techie Foaly and conniving dwarf Mulch Diggums, they must once again band together to stop the series’ pixie villain Opal Koboi.

It’s interesting to see an author’s writing style evolve over the course of a saga, and at times I felt Colfer inserted too much politics in regards to climate change or animal species preservation. The Atlantis Complex did not feel true to the series when Artemis became an obnoxious schizophrenic. Reading that novel, I was worried that Colfer had lost his magic.

But it came back full force in The Last Guardian. As Opal used time travel to thwart the LEP, I too felt like my younger self, literally laughing out loud at the many jokes that made the series so fun when I was in middle school. Being entertained by Mulch’s flatulence might seem juvenile, but with Artemis and friends battling an army of possessed crickets and ducks, how could you not chuckle?

Harry Potter fans will most likely draw similarities between the two supernatural stories, especially at the end of The Last Guardian. Artemis must make a sacrifice like Harry, but I won’t give away the details. I’ll just say that you walk away with that sad, yet satisfied feeling of fulfillment.

I only wish there could have been more romance between Artemis and Holly! Is that weird? I know that love blossoming between a teenage human boy and a three-foot-tall, 80-year-old elf would be far-fetched, but readers of the series know just how close they’ve become over the years. And in my opinion, nothing Artemis does can be considered normal or average, so I wouldn’t expect his love life to be either.

Lack of love story aside, reading Artemis Fowl has been a wonderful ride, and I would recommend the tale to anybody. Don’t wait until the movie comes out, because after eight years of conflicts, ranging from financial disputes between Disney and the Weinstein Company to the creative decision between CGI and live-action, the project has been shelved as of last year. The odds of seeing Artemis on-screen soon are slim, but at least you have time to catch up reading!