Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Release date: 18th November 2016

Director: David Yates

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell

Runtime: 133 minutes

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the latest spin-off from the Harry Potter series. The script, penned by J. K. Rowling, follows magizoologist Newt Scamander on a trip to America. Trouble inevitably follows when some creatures escape from his suitcase. Meanwhile, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is causing disturbances in the wizarding world.

I was excited to dive back into Rowling’s world and wasn’t disappointed. Visually, it’s as stunning as Harry Potter. There is incredible detail and such imagination in all of the sets, making it an immersive experience you can just get lost in.

Other reviews I’ve seen have found Newt flat in comparison to his friends Tina, Queenie and Kowalski. However I found his character quietly charming. It makes a change for a main character and he’s certainly different from Harry. I loved his interactions with his creatures and the bond he clearly has with many of them. The aforementioned characters also all gelled well together. The acting was very good all round.

At first I was kind of wondering where the plot was going. There wasn’t anything to connect the various events going on in the film. But when things started to come together it made a lot more sense. It was quite unpredictable in many places. I was often surprised. There was a strange mix of humour and darkness. Newt and Kowalski’s escapades with the escaped creatures are very humorous, but there are also a lot of dark goings-on. There are also political undertones to the film as it looks at prejudices and restrictions (wizards and No-Maj/Muggles aren’t allowed to interact or marry), and child abuse.          

There are to be a total of five films in the franchise. At this point I’m really not sure why five films are necessary. I loved this first one, but how can they stretch this plot into five? It seems a little excessive. But I’m not exactly complaining. I’m happy for the magical journey to continue. So long as they don’t ruin it by stretching the plot too thin.

Author Interview: Kelsie Engen

Today I bring you an interview with author Kelsie Engen, whose story The Bear in the Forest will be published in From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings by members of the Just-Us League writing group.

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Kelsie Engen grew up in North Pole, Alaska, where the winters are harsh but beautiful. Those winters may or may not have inspired those in Canens and “The Bear in the Woods.” She can be found at kelsieengen.com, and Instagram @kelsiengen, or hunched over her laptop working on her current fairy tale inspired by the other “Snow White.”

 

What can you tell us about your retelling and what inspired it?

You know, funny story about that. A group of us writers had agreed to rewrite some fairy tales for an anthology, and I had narrowed my choices down to two stories. I’d been on a fairy tale kick anyway, recently having polished off Grimm’s fairy tales, a few of Andersen’s, and then some others as well. In late 2015, I had started writing a series inspired by a trio of some of the most popular fairy tales, a series I’m still polishing up. But for this anthology, I wanted something a little lesser known.

So I’d narrowed it down to two stories: The Psyche, and Snow White & Rose Red. I had seen someone already mentioned Snow White & Rose Red, so I swear when I put in my choice, I had chosen The Psyche, which I was getting really excited about writing. As I was gearing up to rewrite that, I decided to double check the list and found I had written down Snow White & Rose Red!

I kind of had to change tracks after that, and as the two stories are vastly different, one with a happy ending, the other without, I actually had a tough time getting started. But overall, this story perhaps stretched me more and I’m happy I stuck with the “surprise”!

Well that worked out well! What aspects of writing it did you find challenging?

I think the biggest complaint about Snow White & Rose Red–and one of the problems I’ve always had with it–is how convenient the ending is. I mean, endings are difficult enough, but fairy tales tend to either really nail it or really flop. And SW&RR is frustrating on a few levels, which I think is why it’s been a less popular version of Snow White. So I felt challenged in making the ending work while also being true to the original tale. All too often fairy tales seem to offer limited types of cardboard cutout characters in order to expound upon the moral that the authors wanted to teach, and to make matters worse, they just add a last minute ending that hasn’t been properly developed or foreshadowed. So for me with this particular tale, the ending always felt way too convenient, and I had to really work to figure one out that made more sense and kept the story true to itself.

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So do you like happily ever after endings? Or do you think more complex or bitter sweet endings are more interesting? Even though that might not please all readers.

I don’t know that an ending will ever please all readers. Readers are such a diverse group, it’s impossible to make everyone happy at once, no matter how good a writer you are or how happy your ending. But very rarely do I write a plain, old fashioned, happily ever after ending. While I do sometimes read them, and they have a place in every reader’s life at some point, I much prefer the complexity of a more realistic resolution. In life we don’t get happily every after endings, which I’m sure is why some people love them, as they are a sort of ideal that we all wish for at some point in our lives. But mostly, I find them too simplistic and unsatisfying when I read–or write–them. I like endings that turn expectations on their heads a little bit, and so I try to write stories that may be dark at times, but offer hope out of that darkness. I fully believe that a good ending to a story is more complex than good winning over evil, or the guy getting the girl. We always have to sacrifice and compromise, and we either find happiness in that compromise, or else we start off on a new journey to find that happiness again.

The Bear in the Woods, however (my version of Snow White & Rose Red), is quite traditional and true to the story, so it was a fun challenge to write a different sort of ending, where nearly everyone got what they wanted! I can’t say it will start a new trend with me, but it was actually a challenge for me to write an ending that resonated with the story and within me. In the end, while I rewrote my ending several times, it was a fun process to figure out how this version of “happiness” worked out.

What is your writing process and do you have any writing habits or quirks?

These days, my process is to wake around 4:30 a.m., feed the cats and dog, make myself a pot of coffee, and start writing until my son gets up at 6:30. I can usually push out a thousand or so words that way–more if I’m focused–or get a significant amount of editing done without distraction. Other than that, I’m working nap times and after my husband comes home, or while the two-year-old plays. I’m lucky that I don’t work outside the home, so I get to spend my day with my son and fit in writing where I can. I like to set goals and keep lists of tasks so I know where I’m at in a project. I try to be quite organized, setting personal deadlines and whatnot for myself. I feel quite guilty if I’m not writing or editing on something every day. Writer’s guilt, I guess.

As for writing quirks, I don’t think of myself as particularly quirky. But I do like to try out different writing software. I currently own Ulysses, Scrivener, and Storyist, and some weeks I’m working in all three programs! I find that different projects work best in different programs. But my go-to program is definitely Scrivener. It’s most versatile and can do everything. Other than that, just give me coffee and my computer, and you’ll find me typing away on one project or another.

When did you first start writing?        

I started writing in 5th grade. I remember because we were given a short story assignment for class and of course mine turned into some epic piece. But ever since then, I was always scribbling stories underneath my notes during class. I was one of those students!
Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet.

How have you found the collaborative process of creating an anthology as a group?

Overall it’s been a great process. Being able to get feedback from a group of writers all working on similar projects, all with the mindset of improving each other’s work as well as their own is a special place to be. Writing is challenging no matter how you go about it, but sometimes it’s really nice to have that encouragement from a group of writers when you’re feeling discouraged by your work or when you don’t know how else to improve it. And the writers in this anthology are all talented and creative individuals that went out of their way to help one another make this project amazing. Even though it was a challenge, and there were times I contemplated backing out for some personal reasons, working in a group like this was extra special.

What are you working on outside of the anthology?

I’m currently working on a fairy tale series inspired by the other Snow White. In my story, she is sold into slavery by her evil stepmother the Queen, and brought to a Manor where she is trained alongside other slaves in many jobs. After several failed attempts at escape, her master decides to teach her a lesson she won’t forget.

Quick fire questions!

Favourite genre to read: Ugh… too many to pick from! Lately I’ve really gotten into YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings (understandably). But my personal, go-to favorite is literary fiction.

Favourite genre to write: is fairy tale–is that a genre? No? Okay, fairy tales for adults! Fantasy?

Favourite writing spot: is the living room chair by the fire. Preferably with the fire lit! With a cup of coffee.

Favourite reading spot: Same chair, fire lit.

Favourite book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Favourite film: The Odd Couple.

Favourite character: I actually LOVE Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Kindred spirit.

Writing or editing: Can I say both? I spend more time editing, and I’ve learned to love it, but I also love putting new words to the page… It’s a tie. Can’t choose. I love it all.

Thank you, Kelsie for answering my questions!

And here is the georgous cover!

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Check out The Bear in the Forest and all the other retellings in From the Stories of Old, due out on 7th December.

 

Cover Reveal! From the Stories of Old

Today I’m revealing the cover for From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairytale Retellings. The book is an anthology of stories by members of the Just Us League writing group.

In this international collection, new life is given to fairy tales, both classic and obscure.

Mythical creatures put the fairy in Fairy Tale. Mermaids, selkies, and ocean guardians experience the best and worst of humanity; sisters encounter an unusually friendly bear; a brave bride meets a silly goose; and a spinner of gold sets the record straight.

Urban fantasies modernize classics: a Frenchman learns the truth about magic, his past, and his girlfriend; a girl sets out to find love but receives a curse; and today’s naughty list makes Old Saint Nick not-so-jolly.

New worlds bring a fresh sense of wonder! In the future, a young woman fights for her people and herself; a bastard son finds acceptance in a world ruled by women; and a farmer’s wits win the heart of a frosty king.

Discover unexpected twists on old favorites, and fall in love with new tales and worlds to explore!

The beautiful cover is designed by Louis Rakovich of Indigo Forest Designs.

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On Sunday I’ll be posting an interview with one of the authors – Kelsie Engen.

The book is available on 7th December 2016 in paperback and on Kindle!

Book Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Publishing Info: April 2012 by Hodder Children’s Books (kindle edition, movie tie-in) (first published 2010)

Pages: 300

Star Rating: 2.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder…

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is smart, cynical, loyal – and well aware that she’s not the hot one in her group of friends. But when high-school jock and all round moron Wesley Rush tells her she’s a DUFF – a Designated, Ugly Fat Friend – Bianca does not the see funny side. She may not be a beauty but she’d never stoop so low as to go anywhere near the likes of Wesley … Or would she? Bianca is about to find out that attraction defies looks and that sometimes your sworn enemies can become your best friends … With a wry and tell-it-like-it-is voice, The Duff is a witty and poignant story of a teenager struggling with the rules of high school attraction, along with the breaking down of her relationships with family and friends. It is a novel about what it means to be sexy, in a world where we feel we have to be perfect!

 

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book since I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it. That doesn’t usually dictate a book choice. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while, I think I got it in a deal. But really, it’s been a couple of years since I would have enjoyed this kind of book so I’m not sure what I was thinking.

It could have been worse, I’ll say that. But it could have been way better too. One of the upsides was that the main character’s voice and personality came through the narration right from the first page. I can see why people would like Bianca’s character and associate with her. She’s a pretty normal girl and isn’t one of those main characters who seems to be perfect, or who spend the whole time moaning about how they aren’t perfect/beautiful. Bianca only really starts thinking about her appearance when Wesley calls her the DUFF. She has flaws and did stuff which seemed really stupid to me and would have been annoying, but Keplinger put her thoughts across really well so I kind of understood Bianca’s reasoning, even though I thought she was being an idiot.

In terms of the other characters, Wesley was okay but didn’t really break the mould much. The jock-who-sleeps-with-everyone-but-then-meets-the-main-character-who-changes-him trope has been done before. Jessica and Casey, Bianca’s friends, were quite flat and 2D at the beginning and I couldn’t even distinguish between them, but as the book went on I gradually could see their individual personalities. They’re pretty good friends.

So many teen romance stories just bang on about the hot guy and the romance stuff. But The DUFF actually deals with some more serious topics too. It looks at Bianca’s home life, at issues of divorce and alcoholism. I was pleasantly surprised to see these serious issues in there, as I’d been expecting it to be over the top teen romance. It made the book more realistic.

However, as the book went on there were just too many stereotypes. Way too many. At the start when there were some I could see why, because the whole point of the book is about stereotypes and perceptions, but as the book went on they just kept piling up.

I’m also a little annoyed about the representations of mental illness in the book. I thought the alcoholism was done well. However right in chapter 2 is the mention of Bianca being ‘OCD’ when she is systematically folding her clothes, something she does every night to calm herself. I’m still not sure having finished the book whether Keplinger was genuinely trying to present a character with OCD, or whether she obliviously used the term inappropriately. It was only mentioned a couple of times and wasn’t really explored properly. It’s like it was just thrown in.

But the thing that annoyed me the most was this line, and I’m going to quote it, because I nearly threw my Kindle across the room with anger: “Maybe someone needed to slap me or put me through shock treatments like they give crazy people in the movies. That might have brought me to my senses.” What? I’m sorry, but you go and include alcoholism and OCD in your book, great, including mentally ill characters and all that, but then you can’t go and put in a line like this. Yes, a lot of people aren’t aware what mental illness is really like, and that’s why we need to raise awareness and reduce stigma (this is really important to me), but you can’t have a character say something like that. Representations of mental illness in films and other media often falsely represents mental illness and contributes to a culture of stigma. This is just going to reinforce the stereotype and stigma. The flippancy of this line as well made me really mad. I could rant about this for ages because really it just disgusted me that this reinforcement of stigma was allowed to be published.

That’s a pretty negative note to end this review on. I know it’s only one line, but words matter and even a few can make a difference.

I didn’t hate this book as much as I thought I would. It seemed like Kepligner was trying to do something different and meaningful, but fell into the inescapable pit of teen romance tropes.