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Ginie Reviews: Rise of the Guardians

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Film: Rise of the Guardians
Director: Peter Ramsey
Year: 2012
Notable Voice-Actors: Chris Pine, Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher
Rating: 4/5

While I have not been a die-hard hater of all things 3D when it comes to animation, I have to admit that up until now I was left mostly indifferent by it. Yes, even with the Pixar stuff – don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar movies for the story-telling and they’re visually fantastic but aesthetically it never quite moved me in the same way that a lot of amazing 2D animation does.

Basically, Rise of the Guardians changed all of that. Yes folks, I’ve been converted to the Church of 3D – and my god is it beautiful. Rise of the Guardians is easily the most visually gorgeous film I saw all year, and an animated film about childhood heroes is exactly the kind of thing you know I was going to love.

The basic premise of the plot is that there are four Guardians of Childhood – Santa, the Sandman, Tooth-fairy and the Easter-bunny and as their title suggests their job is to protect children the world-over. All of this is threatened when the Boogeyman, Pitch, plots to destroy the belief children have in these guardians. Without the children’s belief to sustain them, the Guardians could disappear. The story belongs to Jack Frost, who has been wandering the earth for the last 300 years trying to find a meaning to his immortality.

So far so good. I actually went to see this in theatres by myself like a loser because I’d been dying to see it since I first saw adverts for it and I couldn’t convince anyone I knew to come with me and I was damned if I wasn’t going to see something this visually spectacular on the big screen. You know what my biggest surprise was? A good month after the film first opens on a Tuesday night and the (admittedly just medium-sized theatre) is packed to the brim with adults. And every single one of them freaking loved it and so did I. This movie has lots of genuinely funny moments, so if amazing visuals aren’t enough of an attraction for you than then laughs and the genuinely moving parts of this film will.

I did have some beef with this film though. Especially on the “genuinely moving” parts. Jack Frost is clearly the emotional centre of this film – we see the story through his eyes and it is his existential search for meaning and identity that we care about. The whole save-the-world-from-the-Big-Bad is absolutely secondary to this in term of emotional stakes, and the character we keep coming back to that I couldn’t care less about was Jamie, the human kid and sole remaining believer in the Guardians. Basically Jamie saves the day by refusing to stop believing and ends up encouraging others to believe too.

Jamie. The kid without a freaking care in the world.

Jamie. The kid without a freaking care in the world.

This is all nice and well, but I just. Don’t. Care. The emotional scenes that Jamie’s involved in only have any emotional resonance at all because they are scenes in which Jack Frost comes closer to finding his purpose and comes closer to being believed in. And this is kind of a problem because I think the movie wants me to care about Jamie too, and I just don’t. He’s a generic white suburban American kid – one I actually have kind of a hard time believing actually exists in real life. Not because I don’t think that demographic exists – obviously it does. But I just don’t believe there is such a thing as a “normal” or “perfect” family and this character, for all intents and purposes, basically comes from what we must assume is a perfectly “normal” family where there is never any drama, there are no skeletons in the closet and no personal tragedy has ever befallen them. I do not know a single family like this in real life. I think this particularly bugs me in this instance because the film starts off quite global and epic because the guardians protect children from all over the world and then it’s like…this kid is the kid who is basically going to be the stand-in for children the world over. I don’t know about you, but he doesn’t represent me as a child or anyone else I knew as a child very well at all.

Setting aside the fact that this character doesn’t feel entirely believable or relate-able to me, there’s also the fact that I just don’t know why I should be invested in his belief in the guardians. Aside from the threat to the guardians themselves of course (who are far more fleshed-out than the human children in this film are). Why should I care if this boy stops believing in the Easter Bunny or not? What does he lose if he stops believing? I guess what I’m saying is, this would’ve meant more from a kid who needed to believe in the guardians. A kid who needed their protection and company. A kid who was lonely (for whatever reason) or who has been having a difficult time dealing with, well, life. From what we can see, Jamie has loads of friends, has a loving family who care for him and seems generally pretty chipper and happy with his life. I can imagine that it’s sad to lose faith in something you believed in, but I don’t believe him not believing in the guardians would’ve been that tragic.  Even within the movie’s cast I could’ve found a better candidate. You want to know who? Cupcake.

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Apologies for terrible screenshot. Apparently the Cupcake fandom is much, much smaller than the Jack Frost fandom.

So she’s all smiling in the above picture, but when we’re first introduced to her she’s like the big mean scary brutish kid that everyone else is afraid of. And you know what I can deduce from that? She was probably one damn lonely kid. You know what’s rough? Growing up as a Big Girl. That shit’s pretty painful growing up in a society that has some pretty damn narrow rules for what is acceptable femininity. Add on top of that the fact that everyone thinks she’s mean just because she (quite rightly) doesn’t let people mess with her?  And you have a kid who pretty desperately needs to not feel alone and probably needs to believe in the guardians some what more than Jamie does.

So yeah…that was my big beef with this film. Jack Frost’s story was genuinely moving and genuinely had me caring, but Jamie’s? Not so much. It wasn’t Jamie’s story, so he was never going to have the emotional narrative that Jack Frost has, but seriously. I should still care.

Otherwise my love for North, his Yetis, Sandy, Pitch and Baby Tooth is basically endless. They are all adorbs and fantastic and I love them. I found it harder to warm up to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Let’s not mention the fact that in the original books Tooth was meant to be South East Asian and in this film she is…

isla

…decidedly not. About the only thing left from Tooth’s South East Asian heritage is (very possibly) her Tooth Palace, the design of which I think looks vaguely South East Asian inspired. And by vaguely I mean very vaguely.

South East Asian palace? Very possibly. Probably. I think.

South East Asian palace? Very possibly. Probably. I think.

So is it a good film? Definitely yes. Do I love it? Yes! To bits, which is why it’s getting a 4 star rating even though I can totally see why someone else may watch this and be left decidedly less impressed. For what it’s worth, it is a visually stunning feel-good movie with some surprising moments of emotional depth and poignancy.  If you are not at least impressed by Sandy’s dream sand then I do not know what’s wrong with you.

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Ginie Reviews Film: Batman – Under the Red Hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: Batman: Under the Red Hood
Director: Brand Vietti
Year: 2010
Notable Voice-Actors: Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs
Rating:4/5

So this film has actually been around for two years, but I’ve recently just discovered it and it’s pretty awesome. Seems like DC Animation has been taking a turn for the more mature and making quite a few animated films actually geared towards an adult audience, and this is very prominently displayed in the opening scenes of “Under the Red Hood”.

It’s like the film is shouting “Hey – hey you! If you’ve put this on for your kids you should turn it off now. Like, right now. This isn’t a kid’s film. And to prove it we’re going to have the Joker beat the crap out of Robin with a crowbar in the opening five minutes of the film. Got it? This is not a kid’s film!” but honestly? I actually really enjoyed this film and while there is a lot of violence it never feels unjustified or excessive. We are dealing with the Red Hood after all, one of DC Universe’s most messed-up Robins (maybe after Damian Wayne) and violence is absolutely in his modus operandi.

I think perhaps what is most interesting about this film is that in a way, it addresses the age-old concern of whether or not superheroes actually help, or whether they’re the root cause of all the super-villains in town. It also forces Batman to confront the extent of his commitment to his cause and how many people he’s endangered and put at risk because of it. Because if you really think about it? Bruce Wayne has to be one of the worst guardians/foster parents ever. Not only does he risk the life of one orphan kid by training him into becoming his side-kick super-child-soldier, he risks the lives of like, six. Seriously, the list just doesn’t end, and although it’s frustrating that the DC editorial team seems to feel the need to add more and more to Bruce’s already gigantic man-pain, I do think that Jason’s story (not his death, so much as his resurrection and coming back to be a blight on Bruce’s city) does shed not only some vulnerability to Batman, but also some fallibility.

Source: Baturday Tumblr

Holy smokes Batman! Whatever happened to our family-friendly Boy wonder?

The plot and the conflict set up in this film is really well-done, but then I’ve always been more partial to character-driven stories and this one does get very personal for Bruce. To summarise: five years after Robin (Jason Todd) dies by the Joker’s hand there is a masked vigilante known as the Red Hood who has taken control over all of Gotham’s drug trade, happily beheading any drug lords that stand in his path or don’t fit his code of conduct. Batman keeps trying to take him down, but the Red Hood knows his every move before he can even make them (quel surprise…) and in desperation, the last remaining Drug pin has made a deal to break the Joker out of Arkham…if the Joker will take out the Red Hood. But of course, the Joker is a wild card and who knows what will happen when you throw him into the mix?

Who is the Red Hood? Can Batman and Nightwing outmanoeuvre him? And finally, who is actually in the right? Red Hood, or Batman?  These are just some of the questions that the movie forces us to ask and I must say watching the movie to get the answers is an entirely enjoyable experience (although the first one is pretty damn obvious). Oh and there’s Ra’s al Ghul, the League of shadows and the Lazarus Pit thrown in there too for good measure.

I also wanted to make a note about John DiMaggio’s performance as the Joker – I think like for most kids of the 90’s, Mark Hamil is the definitive Joker, but I have to say I really enjoyed John DiMaggio’s performance too. He’s a very different Joker, much less polished and quite a bit less theatrical (despite trademark make-up and purple suit). He also feels a lot rougher and a lot more physically brutal and very unpredictable. In short, he’s pretty amazing and it’s a joy to watch him on the screen. (And also possibly my new favourite Joker).

As for the animation, it is just wonderful. And if you love watching the Bat-family interact, then this movie is a pure gem. Basically go watch it now.

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Ginie Reviews TV: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Show: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)
Creators: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years: 2012 –
Rating: 3.5

Maybe it’s unfair to review a show that has only had its first season, but I think Book One of The Legend of Korra has given me plenty of initial thoughts and feelings about the show, the characters and the direction it all seems to be heading in and I thought this would probably be the right time to get them all out.

I get the feeling I may get some flak for this, but while I did love The Legend of Korra and would definitely call myself a fan (the kind of fan that listens to Republic City Dispatch podcasts and gets into speculative discussions about who Amon might be, etc.); a part of my feels a bit let down by The Legend of Korra.

If Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show for kids that dealt with various issues and themes with a far greater sense of maturity than most adult-TV-shows; then The Legend of Korra is a show that’s clearly aimed at an older audience and yet fails to adequately tackle the mature issues and concerns that are raised by the very nature of its central premise. Namely, that there is a non-bender revolution taking grip of Republic City and that balance needs to be restored by Korra, the Avatar (and as such, the ultimate bender as she can bend all the elements).

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

So first of all, the things I loved: the animation is, as ever, absolutely gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the character expressions are great and the designs are wonderful. I loved the idea of a 1920’s industrialised Avatar world! It just had so much potential and was so awesome – not to mention the soundtrack which is also beautiful and combines traditional Chinese music with jazz. Just. So. AWESOME. Not to mention the fashion, the Sato-mobiles, Republic City itself – there’s been a lot of fantastic world-building for this city and I loved every bit of it.

And I also loved the premise, although from the start I was weary about the real-world parallels that were being drawn between The Equalists and the rise of Communism in China. Not because I didn’t think it was an interesting idea to explore – more because I wasn’t sure a Nickelodeon show (however awesome) could do justice to that kind of seriously turbulent history, and furthermore the in-universe history of the United Republic and Republic City is different to real-world Chinese history. You can’t understand the rise of Communism in China without understanding the civil war and the Imperial system that came before it. But I was willing to be open-minded and I trusted that the show’s creators knew what they were doing: that they’d offer some insight into how this world has evolved with a bending elite and a non-bending underclass who are under-represented in government, in the police (Beifong’s Metal-benders) and in other crucial areas of Republic City life. And that Korra’s restoration of balance would involve an acknowledgement of this – that it wouldn’t just be about getting rid of Amon and the Equalists, but that it would also be about re-dressing the balance so that non-benders have an equal place in Republic City’s society.

So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Now I know this is just Book One, and that maybe these issues will be addressed in the next season (I dearly hope so). But I can only assume that with Amon and Tarrlok out of the picture for good, Book Two will have to introduce a new antagonist – and that means there might be a chance that this theme is dropped in favour of something else.

I suspect this might happen because the Book One finale had clearly tried to tie up all loose ends. Korra lost her bending, unlocked her air-bending, unmasked Amon who was later killed by his brother Tarrlok, entered the Avatar state, got all her bending back and the ability to return bending to others all in one fell swoop. Not once in the entire season were the actually legitimate concerns of Equalist sympathizers acknowledged or addressed and indeed, Amon and his Equalists are nearly always dismissed as “that madman and those crazy Equalists”. Now while Amon clearly uses manipulative fear tactics and could be labelled a terrorist, I was disappointed that Korra was only forced to confront the inequality between benders and non-benders once: when Tarrlok and his task-force were rounding-up protesting non-benders (“You’re our Avatar too!”).

Not to mention I was hoping to hear more about the Spirit World (and had secretly hoped that Amon was somehow linked to Koh, the Face-Stealer – an excellent, excellent potential villain that has been totally under-utilised in both A:TLA and TLOK). Considering how much emphasis was put on Korra’s spiritual block at the beginning of the show, I can’t help but feel let down that her spiritual block had been “solved” so quickly and so effortlessly. I don’t buy that Korra losing all her other bending and sulking about it constituted some great spiritual epiphany, even if it is true that her bending is very tied up with her own sense of identity and self-worth. And while I totally bawled like a baby when Aang turned up with all the other past Avatars and Korra finally went into the Avatar-state (shut up!) I was disappointed that Korra had lost her bending, only to re-gain it all within a matter of screen-time minutes. Maybe I’m being nitpick-y, but a loss isn’t really a loss if it’s so easily re-gained (which is also why if you choose to kill off a character they had better stay dead, at least for a little while, because otherwise it’s just cheap and there was nothing really at stake).

So those were my concerns with Korra on a thematic level. But I also felt somewhat let down by The Legend of Korra on a character level.

All I can say is that while a lot of the characters are awesome and show a lot of potential (LIN BEIFONG IS MY FAVOURITE-EST PERSON EVER) so many characters have had their character development and storyline pretty much shafted (I’m looking at you, Asami and Bolin). I’m still holding out that Asami will become more than just a useful plot-device to throw in extra romantic ~tension~ between Mako and Korra. And that Bolin will evolve to be more than just a comic relief character. And I’m hoping that the romance between Mako and Korra will eventually feel natural and not so forced. But I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping things will change though, and we get to see the New Team Avatar interact with each other more and actually give us a better idea of who they really are.

So is The Legend of Korra a good show? Absolutely yes. It has plenty of tension and enough mystery and questions that you’ll keep coming back for each new episode to find out what it will reveal. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? Still hard to say at this stage – I genuinely think A:TLA was a better show, but then I went into A:TLA expecting nothing and the show did mature a lot over three seasons. We are only into Book One of Korra, and I went into TLOK with very high expectations following my love for A:TLA. While I think I do have legitimate reasons for preferring A:TLA to TLOK, I’m also willing to admit that at least some of it may be due to my own biases.

Conclusion? Definitely go watch it! Lord knows Tumblr needs more fandom theories about what the future holds for our heroine Korra 😉

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Ginie Reviews Books: The Iron King

Title: The Iron King
Author:
 Julie Kagawa
Genre:
 YA/Fantasy
Rating:
3.5/5

I wanted to like this book. And to be fair, there were a great many things I did enjoy about this book. I thought there were some aspects that were quite wonderfully creepy (which is what I always look for in any story involving the fey) and I liked the incorporation of faery mythology that was familiar, i.e. Puck, Oberon, Titania, the Seelie and Unseelie courts as well as faery mythology entirely of Kagawa’s own making i.e. the Iron Fey. I also thought that the concept behind the Iron Fey was really great and quite clever in how it takes into account how dreams and ideals change with time.

However. Oh god however. There were so many things that kept niggling at me throughout the entire book.

First of all – I hate how science and technology is completely demonised. I understand the fey are allergic to iron, and I think it’s a clever way of working in traditional mythology but the way that science is always consistently described as lacking in imagination makes me want to throw the book against the wall. I’m not a scientist, but you know what? Someone had to dream that a man could one day walk on the moon. Someone had to dream that we’d one day be able to transplant one human heart to another in order to save a life. Science requires at least as much imagination as the arts do, and sure – not all of the ‘progress’ we’ve made has been good. In fact a lot of it has done a considerable amount of damage to our environment. But you know what else? It’s the same science and technology that’s trying to find ways to save the planet. To improve our processes so that we don’t hurt the environment any more. So stop giving me this bullshit that science and technology and progress is all just one heap of unimaginative evil. Argh!

My other concerns are somewhat more typical of YA. I love Puck, but then I have a weakness for tricksters. Ash feels like a pale imitation of Rath Roiben Rye from Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series and it annoys me that just about every single YA book with a female lead MUST contain a love triangle as it’s central plot point.

Also, what’s up with the whole “princess” thing? I mean, I get that she’s a princess but all I could think of everytime Puck called her that was:

I’d be willing to forgive the romantic triangle if Meghan (the main character) was a stronger character. She started off quite promising, but I can’t help but feel incredibly frustrated with her terrible decision-making and her general helplessness. Obviously I’m not asking her to be some kind of amazing action hero – I get it. She’s a human in a world where every single being is more powerful than she is (at least as far as she’s aware), but some of the terrible decisions she makes seem to be contrived for the sole excuse of having her saved by one of her two suitors and it is very frustrating.

As for the villain, I felt very let down when we finally got to him. Machina was nowhere near as scary as her younger brother Ethan’s “man in the closet” and his motivations for kidnapping Meghan’s brother seemed very flimsy. Also, he was defeated far too easily. I think it would have been more interesting to have the Iron King be someone Meghan knew, someone like the man she thought was her father. While that may have been predictable, at least it would have provided for more of an emotional conflict beyond “I love Ash, but I can’t have him!”

So yes. I had many issues with this book. But – all of that said I still read it all in one sitting and I’m still planning to read the sequels. Because it is fun. If YA fiction involving faeries is your cup of tea then I would recommend it but just be aware of the above issues. YMMV.

Ginie

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Ginie Reviews Books: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA/ Dystopian
Rating:  4.5/5

Like many internet denizens, it has not escaped my notice that a certain YA novel seems to be making lots of waves in the world wide web (no, not Twilight). I mean of course, The Hunger Games – a novel I’ll be honest, I’ve actually been trying to ignore for awhile now. Perhaps I should explain – as a teenager I practically overdosed on dystopian novels, and now that I’m slightly older and I guess with more things to worry about, reading dystopian novels has held considerably less appeal. When looking for leisure reading I’ll tend towards escapist fluff, especially when it comes to my YA. But what with the trailer out and all, there has been a flurry of excitement over at Tumblr and I’ve felt compelled to pick it up. And boy am I glad I did. To give you an idea of how much of a page-turner this book is, I bought the book yesterday morning at 11am and finished it the same day by 5pm. I did this when I should have been writing a 2,000 word essay.

So for those of you not in the know, The Hunger Games is set in a not-so-distant future where North America has largely been destroyed and is now called Panem. Panem is made up of 12 districts, all ruled by the oppressive Capitol who forces the other districts to give up a boy and girl each year as tribute to The Hunger Games, a gladiatorial event that is broadcast for the entertainment of those in the Capitol.

Initially I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how I felt about the narration – especially in the first couple of pages. I felt like the narrative voice was  bit over-dramatic considering Katniss has only just gotten out of bed. I think you’re meant to get the feeling that this is a character who has been through a lot (and indeed she has), but instead of the kind of world-weariness that I guess I would expect from such a character, it all just feels a bit trite, i.e. “Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we’ll come to love”. That said I suppose the doom and gloom of the narration could be justified considering it’s not just any old miserable day in District 12, but the day of the Reaping. So maybe this is an issue that’s really just down to personal preference.

Once the plot starts moving along though, these concerns are thrown completely out the window. When Katniss’ sister Prim gets chosen for The Hunger Games there’s no more time for mere exposition – it all becomes about Katniss and her will to survive and make it out of the games for the sake of her family.

I have to say that I definitely find Katniss quite a refreshing female main character – not because she’s a warrior (which isn’t an uncommon representation of female characters to be honest), but because of all the YA novels I’ve ever read, she definitely seems to have her priorities set in the way I imagine someone in her position would. I imagine in the hands of another author the relationship with Peeta would have definitely turned romantic, whereas I felt that in this case while you feel that there’s the possibility for romantic development between the two, in the context of their situation there is no way it would have realistically come to bloom. Katniss wasn’t interested in romance, not because she didn’t have the capacity to be romantically involved with someone, but because why the fuck would you if you’re busy trying to fight everyone else in the Hunger Games to the death? Her relationship with Peeta, like her relationship with Rue, developed out of a need for basic human affection and trust; a universal need and one that takes precedence over romantic love when your situation is one of constant danger and the need to make it out alive. And I really appreciated that. I really appreciated that there is a strong relationship between two characters where the basis for the relationship is so much more complex then just attraction; it’s friendship, gratitude, relief, comradeship and very occasionally, self-interest (certainly on Katniss’s part anyway).

Which is the other thing I find refreshing about Katniss. I like that while she does genuinely care for Peeta she’s not above faking a romance if it will get her sponsors and increase their chances of making it out alive. Considering how the media usually portrays women, it’s nice to have the female character be more worldly-wise than the male one for a change (i.e. the way she understands Haymitch will only send sponsor gifts if she plays up the romance, while Peeta is happily oblivious to the strings attached to the gifts) all of this without either character presented as being any less smart or less capable than the other.

As many others have pointed out, the satire on our fixation with reality TV and the way it makes sport of human misery has basically been taken to it’s logical conclusion, with competitors actually having to kill each other to ‘win’. Just like in reality TV there’s a carefully crafted image and appearance each competitor portrays, tactical moves to win favour with sponsors, etc. which is a really interesting take. I also found the examination of class issues fascinating, especially with policies such as the tesserae: where those who are eligible for the Hunger Games get their name put in the Hunger Games lottery an extra time for each tesserae they take out in exchange for basic necessities, such as cooking oil and grain. I’m sure there are plenty of policies in real life we can think up that reflect exactly this sort of mentality, the one where certain people are expendable.

Basically there’s plenty of food for thought, and the plot is very well-paced. I’d definitely reccommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet read The Hunger Games. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a trailer (the white-washing discussion will have to have it’s own post, after I’ve actually seen the movie):

Ginie

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Ginie Reviews Film: The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2011
Notable Actors: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig
Rating: 4/5

I’m not going to lie – I was ready to hate this film. Like many Francophone kids, I grew up with the Tintin comic books and animated series and have a pretty fond memory of them (questionable racial dynamics aside) and when I heard there was going to be a feature length film I was unbelievably excited. Then I heard it would be animated using motion-capture technology and my heart plummeted. Oh god no, I thought – not another Polar Express.

The trailer and the teaser images released by the studios over the last six months did nothing to assuage my fears. As I had imagined, the characters seemed to look mostly creepy with their life-like human skin and eyes but cartoonish proportions – and all the reviews I’d read once the movie was released only seemed to confirm my prejudices. Still, it was a Tintin movie and I was going to see it regardless of how awful it might be, simple as that.

Now that I have actually seen it I can honestly say I think all the outraged reviews and accusations of corpse-like animation is mostly over-exaggerated. Genuinely, this was a really fun film with lots of really inventive action sequences and stunning animation that only very occasionally veered into uncanny-valley territory, mainly when the camera focussed a little too closely on the main characters’ eyes – which thankfully, it actually doesn’t do that often.

For fans who grew up with these stories there is plenty to be delighted by: the producers clearly did their research and there are plenty of fun references to other famous Tintin adventures, such as the lovely little cameo by Bianca Castafiore (also got me ridiculously exited). The movie is also visually stunning, from the awesome 2D animated opening sequence to the fight scenes out at sea and does actually make a good use of 3D (something I’m usually very sceptical about) with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and the sense of adventure that the original animated series portrayed. Lest anyone think my enthusiasm is purely nostalgia-based, I’d also like to say my boyfriend who was equally prepared to be unimpressed by the film and had never grown up with Tintin at all still came out of the theatres agreeing that it was great fun and much better than he had imagined it would be.

I also enjoyed the way you got a feel for Tintin and Captain Haddock as characters, especially Tintin who I feel is usually very 2-D and bland; whereas here he seems to be much more fleshed out and much more like a real person. My boyfriend was surprised at how dark some of it was, especially Capt. Haddock’s battle with alcoholism which is played for laughs in the film, but it does also address how much Capt. Haddock’s addiction has negatively affected his life and his relationship with others, including his budding friendship with Tintin who initially finds Haddock impossible to trust.

My only criticisms then would be the occasionally uncanny valley-ish effects of the animation and the very odd gender ratio (which to be fair, was a problem that was also true of the original series). I think there must’ve been literally four women present in the entire film, only one of which had a ‘speaking’ part (sort-of. I don’t think Bianca actually spoke, just sang). It is very much a boy’s own adventure story, which means while it’s fun it definitely seems to exist in a weird world where women just don’t exist, not even as 2-D love interests. As for the racial dynamics of the film, similarly people of colour are purely background characters, but this is a problem that is also carried over from the original series. I suppose we can hope that any sequels might have a better balance next time, but knowing Hollywood I wouldn’t count on it.

All in all a really fun adventure film, well worth the watch if you’re interested in animation or Tintin and don’t let all the negative reviews about creepy-eyed corpses put you off.

Ginie

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Ginie reviews Books: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Title: The Hollow Kingdom (Book I)
Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Genre: Fantasy/folklore
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead and also Trigger Warning for mentions of abusive relationships

So while I was trawling through Amazon looking for my creepy Gothic fantasy fix, I stumbled upon this little gem that had loads of rave reviews and sounded like something that would be right up my alley.

The Hollow Kingdom tells the tale of Kate and Emily, two orphaned sisters who find themselves sent off to the Hallow Hill estate to live with their aunts and guardian – the really quite detestable Hugh Roberts. While there, they discover that the lake and surrounding wilderness has a tragic history linked to their own family and that Hallow Hill is actually part of Marak the goblin king’s kingdom – and that Marak has sinister plans of his own concerning the eldest sister, Kate. Namely abduction, a forced marriage and baby-making to ensure the survival of his own kingdom underground.

My summary isn’t very good, but basically I can’t recommend this book enough. If you like Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy for creepiness or Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tale for both creepiness and the level of research done into faerie-lore then you’ll love The Hollow Kingdom. I think this might be hands-down one of the creepiest YA Fantasy book I’ve ever read and I loved it.

But back to the review. So tell me, what do you think of when you hear the words “Goblin King”? Is it…

This?

Or perhaps even…

 This?

To be completely honest with you all, when I read the description of the Marak (Goblin for “Goblin King” – all the Goblin kings are called Marak) all I could see in my mind’s eye was…

 This. (Which probably just means I’m wayy too excited about Skyward Sword and absolutely gutted I don’t own a Nintendo Wii of my own). Only instead of being kind of hot and swish, he’s more grotesque and assymetrical – which is exactly as a goblin should be:

What Marak was, Kate didn’t know, but he couldn’t be a human, not with the big, bony head and tough, wiry body. The slightly bowed legs and large, knotted hands conveyed the idea of strength without grace…His face and hands were a ghastly pale gray, and his lips and fingernails were a dark tan – the colours, Kate thought, shuddering, of a corpse pulled out of water. His dull, straight hair fell, all one length, to his twisted shoulders. Most of it was a very light beige, but over one eye a coal-black patch grew back from his forehead, the long black wisps overlaying the pale hair like a spider’s legs. His ears rose to a sharp point that flopped over and stuck out through that rough hair like the ears of a terrier dog.

Most striking of all were Marak’s  deept-set eyes.The left-eye was black; the right, emerald green and they gleamed at her as if lit from within.

Also he has six fingers. Now if that’s not a goblin I don’t know what is. It’s quite refreshing in a way, to see that in a YA Fantasy book that does feature a romance-of-sorts the goblin Marak is still very much portrayed as a goblin and not in the least bit beautiful, which I think is a problem a lot of YA Fantasy has sometimes – in that it can’t accept monsters looking like monsters if they’re meant to be a main character and have some romantic entaglements (hullo Twilight vampires, I’m looking at you).

Though I admit I’m only referring to Marak as a love-interest for lack of a better word and it’s not a word I’m particularly comfortable with in this case as The Hollow Kingdom does suffer a bit from Beauty-and-the-Beast syndrome. i.e. hideous monster abducts/forcefully holds beautiful girl against her will, she eventually discovers he’s not as bad as she first thought and they end up in love – and while I’m happy to believe that a girl (or anyone really) might end up trying to make the most of their situation as a captive (hullo Stockholm Syndrome) I can’t really accept that this can be considered love in any sort of traditional sense.

So it’s a good thing then, that The Hollow Kingdom isn’t a Beauty-and-the-Best story – it is very much more. While the premise sounds as unfeminist as I think such a story could get, I would certainly consider Kate and Emily to be very strong and capable heroines. For a good three-quarters of the book Kate spends her time out-smarting Marak and attempting to clever-her-way out of becoming a Goblin King’s bride – because understandably, the thought of being abducted and held captive for the sole purposes of propagating the Royal Goblin line – to put it quite mildly – irks her no end. She does this all the while trying to keep both her and her little sister safe, and she does this on her own as soon as it becomes clear that none of the human adults believe her – indeed they intentionally put her in harm’s way in an attempt to make her “face he fears” and persistently question her sanity.

When she does finally giver herself over to the Goblin King it is in order to save her sister – and when she becomes the Goblin King’s wife she is placed under a charm (in the shape of a snake tattoo) that will strike and paralyse anyone – including the wife herself – who attempts to harm the Goblin King’s wife. The Goblin King then has the option to do with this person as he sees fit. The device is made to control the wife and ensure that she cannot escape – and yet despite this Kate discovers a way to make the charm work for her. The charm was originally placed on her in order to remove her of her agency, and yet she eventually learns to manipulate the charm and use it as a tool to give her back control over her own life, which I love. Also she befriends the snake who has some of the funnier lines in the story:

“Charm, has this happened before?”

“Yes,” hissed the snake softly. “Two other King’s Wives have been outside without the King’s permission. One no longer had a king. He was dead, and she was awaiting the birth of the heir. The other was in danger when the Kingdom Spells gave way and her king was far from home. And one King’s Wife travelled by closed wagon with a loud, fat woman during the migration. But it is true,” it whispered,”that you are the first King’s Wife to travel by closed wagon with a loud, fat woman and without the King’s permission.”

As with Beauty and the Beast, Kate eventually discovers she quite likes living amongst the Goblins and that she has become quite fond of Marak over time – but thankfully unlike Beauty and the Best it isn’t Kate’s gentle womanly ways that softens Marak and convinces him to love her and free her – it’s the fact that she saves his entire damn kingdom while he is incapacitated and this leads to him realising he has no right to hold someone captive who had braved such dangers to save his kingdom.

Despite how strong Kate is as a heroine, there are quite a lot of problematic aspects of her relationship with Marak. Mainly that while he may treat her with respect in the end, at least for a good three-quarters of the novel he is nothing but abusive and controlling and that seems rather too easily forgotten and forgiven. Furthermore, while Marak does respect his new wife’s strength and intelligence even towards the end you get the sense that it is Kate’s baby-making potential that he admires the most and that is pretty problematic in itself, especially considering this.

This is why I can’t really accept Kate and Marak’s relationship as a love story – because I really don’t think it is. Kate makes the best of her time in the Goblin kingdom and grows to respect and admire Marak’s craftiness and magic skills, but the revelation that she has grown to love him feels pretty forced. Not to mention the hints that suggest she accepts goblin life almost because she’s come to fear humanity and how monstrous they can be – for while the Goblins are monstrous at least they cannot lie, whereas humans lie all the time, hiding their monstrousness. This is hardly the kind of ending that I would call happy and hardly the kind of situation that would lend itself towards a truly loving relationship.

As for Marak, I feel that he is very true to his character and makes a very convincing fey. Clare Dunkle has successfully presented him as a Goblin rather than try to shoe-horn in any human expectations or human notions of morality, and this is very refreshing. Faerie-type are meant to be largely amoral, which Marak is – but unable to lie, which Marak can’t – and he has his own set of principles that revolve mainly around honesty and ensuring he does right by his people, which he does – even if it is at the expense of his bride’s well-being.

That said, I am very much looking forward to reading the next book – which will focus on Emily who I felt throughout the novel might have always been the more interesting sister.

Ginie

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