Friday Flicks: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

2 Comments »

From the moment I heard about J.K. Rowling writing a screenplay inspired by her anthology Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was both excited and nervous. Like many others, my childhood and love of reading were fostered by Rowling's incredible Harry Potter series. After the huge commercial and critical success of the 8 Harry Potter films, a spin off of some kind seemed inevitable. Thankfully, Warner Bros. brought most of the filmmakers responsible for those films back to bring Rowling's new story to life. Still, without the success of preexisting source material, Fantastic Beasts was anything but a safe bet.

The film opens with British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving into 1920's New York City. Armed with a suitcase full of illicit magical creatures, all cleverly hidden from the eyes of Muggles (No-Maj's non magical people are called in America), Newt plans to make his way to Arizona to release one of his beasts. As he walks the streets of New York, he is drawn to a large gathering in front of a bank where a woman from the New Salem Philanthropic Society speaks of the evils of wizards and the need for a re institution of witch hunts.

A bump in with No-Maj man leads to an unintentional switch in suitcases and the eventual escape of many of Newt's animals. With magical creatures running freely through the heavily populated New York, Newt must turn to the assistance of a group of American Wizards and a No-Maj to capture the beasts. Failure to return the creatures to the safety of his suitcase would place Scamander in serious trouble and threaten to expose the entire magical community to a world that is growing less and less tolerant of their existence.

I'll admit to having mixed emotions going into this film. On the one hand, I had faith that Rowling would provide a story that would be a worthy successor to her acclaimed Potter series. At the same time, the announcement of Fantastic Beasts being the start of a five film series had me worried that this franchise would be nothing more than a cash grab. As the movie opened, I feared that my predictions would come true. The mistaken suitcase switch seemed like a rather cliche device that was not worthy of the Potter universe.

Those fears were quickly assuaged as Scamander stepped into the vast expanses of his creature carrying case. The film ends up feeling very different from the Potter story, but equally as magical and engaging. Newt Scamander is a misunderstood outcast who sees good in creatures that most would ignore or run from. Each cast member brilliantly brings their characters to life with skill and great care. For her part, Rowling presents a story that is much more complex and layered than I initially perceived. Fantastic Beasts spins an extraordinary fable of acceptance of differences and the role of politics in the fight for those who may be seen as "other". The end of the film provides a satisfying closure to Scamander's story while opening the possibilities to expand the story into what is sure to be a unique franchise. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is easily the most original and exciting blockbuster of the year, and I can't wait to see where Rowling and company will take this story next!



No Easy Day by Mark Owen

4 Comments »

"The only easy day was yesterday."

In No Easy Day, Mark Owen recounts his role in the top secret mission to locate and exterminate Osama Bin Laden. By the time he was handpicked to join the team for this risky covert operation, Owens was no stranger to these high stakes undertakings. As a 10 year member of the Navy SEALs, high pressure situations were almost second nature. Still, the chance to finally bring justice to the man who concocted the 9/11 attacks brought an anxiety that was almost palpable.

Prior to the section on the fateful raid of Bin Laden's compound, Owen expounds upon his career. Most of this book is comprised of these recollections of intense training and exciting missions. I was especially surprised to learn that Owen took part in the operation to rescue Captain Phillips from the Somalian pirates who had hijacked his ship. Throughout these missions Owen and his team functioned with the high focus and precision of a well oiled machine. With human lives and national security at risk, they controlled their emotion by relying on their detailed drills and training.

While the tactical details of the raid are fascinating to relive, especially in this first-hand account, they are not the most important takeaways from this book. Rather, the two things that stuck with me were the almost embarrassing ways that politics gets in the way of day to day military activity and Owen's unwavering sense of duty to his team and his country despite this political impediment. Owen describes how he sometimes had a lack of supplies or had to make do gear that was not suited to the tasks at hand. While it is easy to see that the political bureaucracy that dictates funding for the military can cause some unintended obstructions, this should not be an excuse for leaving the men and women who make great sacrifice ill prepared. Owen also comments on how this raid was used by politicians of both parties to further their own careers. Thankfully men and women like Owen exist with the goal of living their lives for the greater good. He puts it best in saying, "Don't just live, but live for a purpose bigger that yourself. Be an asset to your family, community and country."

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads.

(2016, 35)


IQ by Joe Ide

6 Comments »

"Most of us have to play the hand we're dealt but you and that mind of yours? You can deal your own hand, play whatever game you want to play, and there's nothing out there can stop you but yourself."

I've seen many reviewers comparing the main character of this novel to Sherlock Holmes. While Isaiah Quintabe, or IQ for short, does use his intellect and deductive reasoning to solve problems, the similarities stop there. IQ has had a rough life. After the sudden death of his brother and only living family member, Isaiah was forced to drop out of high school and take on various odd jobs to support himself. Instead of using his brains to excel, he put them to use pulling off simple burglaries that no one in his East Long Beach, California neighborhood would ever suspect him of.

Fortunately, those days are behind him. Now IQ has taken the advice of his deceased brother and started to put his smarts to good use. The community relies on him to solve any cases that get overlooked by the police or that they don't want to formally investigate. In this crime ridden neighborhood, the requests are plentiful. Isaiah takes as much or as little as people can afford in exchange for his services. He believes that money should not be a deciding factor of justice.

When his friend and not quite upstanding citizen Juanell Dodson recommends him as an investigator for a rap superstar, IQ can't resist the potential payday. Someone in the rap mogul's tight circle wants him dead. With body guards, producers, ex wives, and one angry pit bull, the list of potential suspects in pretty murky. Of course, IQ wants to solve the case and save the rapper's life. Beyond that, however, the potential windfall could give him the freedom to assist his struggling community in ways beyond his wildest dreams.

In IQ, author Joe Ide imagines a unique take on a standard investigator that manages to respect the history of the genre while providing it with a fresh perspective. It is impossible to not be drawn in by IQ's complex emotions and desire to positively impact his world. The novel shifts between the present day mystery surrounding the rapper with flashbacks to Isaiah's life immediately following the death of his brother. While I'm beginning to grow weary of this narrative technique in modern fiction, these sections provide a depth to the characters that would not otherwise exist. The book ends up being a little more character driven and less of a mind twisting mystery than I expected. In fact, I'd argue the characters here outshine the story that they've been placed in. Still, it is these deeply drawn characters that help elevate the book from any shortcomings. IQ is a promising debut that will hopefully mark the beginning of a fascinating and highly entertaining new series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 34)

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

8 Comments »

As Hollywood seems to be stuck in a perpetual cycle of reboots and retellings, it was only a matter of time before the publishing industry began to follow suit. What's old is new again, and a group of authors has turned to one of the oldest and most revered storytellers of all time. The plays of William Shakespeare are set to be reimagined by some of the industry's most unique voices in a series known as the Hogarth Shakespeare project. Last year saw the start of the series with the release of Jeanette Winterson's take on The Winter's Tale, The Gap of Time. With installments by Jo Nesbo and Gillian Flynn slated to drop in the coming years, the project seems to have recruited a varied list of bestselling authors.

In Hag-Seed, author Margaret Atwood provides her own version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Felix Phillips is no stranger to crisis. After the loss of his daughter Miranda, he sought solace in his role as theater director of the Makeshiweg Theater Festival. For twelve years, Felix captained the organization through settings of great works. Despite his productions' lackluster reviews, Felix has high hopes for this year's project. A dream of his for over a decade, Felix will finally direct his version of The Tempest.

But life has other plans for Felix. The tepid reaction to his last effort combined with his peculiar vision for this year's offering give his understudy Tony and the theater's board enough reason to relieve him of his duties. Furious and embarrassed, Felix retreats to a rural dwelling to reflect on his misfortune and plot his revenge. With only his creative intellect and the guidance of his deceased daughter to rely on, he soon accepts a job teaching literature at a local correctional facility. Devoid of the resources of his previous position, Felix and his ragtag troupe of inmates embark on finally seeing his fantasy production to fruition.

I hadn't read The Tempest since high school, so I was a bit apprehensive about tackling this novel. Fortunately, Atwood's writing kept me engaged throughout the entire book. Felix is a lovable underdog who I couldn't help but get behind. Hag-Seed works both as a standalone story and in relation to the play it is reimagining. Felix is an obvious double for Shakespeare's Prospero. As he lures his wrongdoers into his revenge scenario, Atwood relishes in the absurdity of the situation. A brief summary of The Tempest follows the conclusion of the novel, adding clarity and depth to the already fascinating story. While I'm not usually a fan of retellings, I thoroughly enjoyed Hag-Seed and can't wait to see the next installments in this ambitious project.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 33)

Friday Flicks: Inferno

6 Comments »

"Hope not ever to see Heaven. I have come to lead you to the other shore; into eternal darkness; into fire and into ice."
Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Inferno begins with a jolt. Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) finds himself in a hospital bed with severe head trauma and all of the side effects that accompany it. As Langdon suffers through the sensitivity to light and loud noises, director Ron Howard presents the scenario with fast cuts and sudden volume surges. We become immersed in the moment, feeling every bit as disoriented as Langdon feels. As he struggles to regain his focus, Langdon's thoughts are interspersed with dreamlike visions of humans suffering from horrible afflictions and the outline of a mysterious woman who is covered by a flowing veil.

Langdon barely has time to realize that he is in Florence, Italy before the police arrive. Rather than asking questions, they begin to shoot at him. Thankfully his doctor (Felicity Jones) rescues him and gives him refuge at her apartment. As the events from the previous hours begin to come into focus for Langdon, so do the strange visions he's been having. With various parties using extreme measures to stop him from discovering answers to questions that he's not exactly sure of, Langdon must rely on his intellect and the kindness of a woman he just met to save himself and potentially the entire world.

In this third film adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling Robert Langdon series, Ron Howard and company rely on many of the same techniques that made the previous films a success. It is impossible not to get sucked into the fast paced mystery, even when the plot becomes far from believable. Like the previous installments, Inferno combines history with an engaging thriller that kept me entertained from beginning to end. This time, the history involves the story of Dante's vision of Hell. For a subject that seems to be so spiritual, this movie comments far less on religion than the other ones did. As always, Tom Hanks shines in his role and Felicity Jones plays a character who holds her own as an equal to Hanks. The ending of the film differs slightly from the novel, but I wasn't as bothered by that as much as I have been by changes in other adaptations. The shortest film in the series, Inferno is a tightly paced, sometimes silly, but thoroughly enjoyable film.

Deadline by John Sandford

No Comments »

Virgil Flowers is known for being the go to guy in investigating "the hard ones". As a lead investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, he has gained a reputation as much for his unorthodox personality as his professional victories. In Deadline, the eighth novel to feature Flowers, author John Sandford places his character in a situation that seems to be quite mundane in comparison to his previous outings. Virgil's buddy, Johnson, requests his help in finding some dogs that have gone missing from various local townspeople. It isn't the most glamorous of cases, but Virgil is always happy to help a friend.

As he investigates the case of the dognappers, Virgil soon discovers there is more to the story than meets the eye. Amongst the rugged hills of rural Minnesota lie dark secrets that stay hidden to most. Residents claim they hear the barking of dogs at different times in the night, fading in and out as if they are on the move. Could an overly observant child who knows the landscape like the back of his hand hold the key to finding the missing pups? Is it worth risking a boy's safety to uncover the truth?

As the novel began, I was a bit hesitant of an entire book being devoted to missing dogs. Luckily, Sandford supplements this plot with a story about a crooked local school board. While investigating the animals, Virgil learns of a reporter who was murdered shortly before he broke a story of the board's wrongdoing. Desperate to cover the trail of their crimes, the board holds secret meetings to eliminate anyone who stands in their way. Naturally, Virgil becomes their prime target.

After the odd and uneven narrative departure in Storm Front, Deadline marks a return to form for the Virgil Flowers series. Sandford takes Flowers back to what he does best, a straightforward chase between characters who all walk a thin line between right and wrong. The fact that the reader knows exactly who is behind the crimes that Flowers investigates does little to deter from the enjoyment of the story. It is not the discovery of a secret that makes this book works, but rather the buildup to justice. Beyond the thriller elements, Deadline brings a new depth to Virgil as a character. He is in a committed relationship now and is starting to recognize the danger of his work. More so, he is learning that his unconventional methods can lead to destructive consequences for those he surrounds himself with. Deadline combines Sandford's quick pacing with fascinating characters who face moral dilemmas to create one of the strongest installments in this stellar series. I can't wait to see what the next book will bring!

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 32)




Powered by Blogger.