Tag Archives: 1920-1929

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 Movie)

Heyday Films

My rating: 4 of 5

1926, New York City. Something magical is wrecking havoc, and the magical community is desperately trying to keep the whole thing under wraps and the muggles out of it all . . . which would be easier if there weren’t obsessive, outspoken muggles crying witchcraft from the street corners. Enter into the mix a bumbling young idealist from England carrying a suitcase (bigger on the inside, naturally) full of magical creatures just dying to get out and roam the city. Obviously, trouble is going to ensue, especially when said wizard manages to get himself and his (possibly illegal) creatures seen not just by a muggle but by a straitlaced ex-Auror as well.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fun jaunt in the world Rowling’s creation. It’s clearly Rowling’s work, but on the other hand, it’s most definitely not Harry Potter, by any means. And it was odd to me that there was this big plot involving the entire local magical community and tying the story into the whole Harry Potter storyline . . . but that part of the story felt almost artificial or forced to me. Like it was there to tie everything together and to make Newt’s story bigger and more exciting, only I wasn’t really interested in that part of the story. But there were other parts of this movie that definitely made up for my not loving the big plot part. For one, the setting was really interesting–1920’s New York, with the added bonus of getting a peek into American wizardry, what’s not to love?! And all of the creatures . . . there’s a sense in which parts of the story almost feel like just a catalogue of magical creatures, but they’re so interesting/cute/wonderful that it’s totally okay. Even better (absolutely without a doubt my favorite part) are the main four characters and their interactions. Newt Scamander himself is the best. He’s a hearty helping of Eleven, a touch of Merlin (especially the sass and attitude), a bit shy and awkward, but thoroughly idealistic and devoted to his creatures and his mission to protect them and educate people about them. I don’t know; I just really enjoyed his personality and the unusual friendship he develops with the others. Jacob, Tina, and Queenie are also rich, well-developed characters who were cast brilliantly. I really loved that they weren’t your typical likeable protagonist types, none of the four were; they’re awkward or bristly or just unusual, and I loved them for it and for the friendships they formed. I would really love to see more of these characters. I think their small (but significant) personal story was what made this movie, and it is certainly what would make me recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to anyone looking for a quirky, magical tale.

Written by J. K. Rowling/Directed by David Yates/Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, & Lionel Wigram/Music by James Newton Howard/Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, & Carmen Ejogo

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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The Red House Mystery

Author: A. A. Milnethe red house mystery

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Mr. Anthony Gillingham has made a life of wearing many hats, switching from one to the next as soon as he has mastered the first. And his sharp wit and photographic memory make doing so rather easy–not that he doesn’t work at excelling at whatever he chooses to do. So when he stops in at the countryside residence of Mark Ablett (to visit an old friend who is also staying there on holiday) and discovers a murder has just occurred . . . well, why not try being a detective?

I absolutely love Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series, so I was pretty excited when I discovered he also wrote other books, including this one, solitary mystery. For those who love fast-paced, tightly plotted mystery thrillers, The Red House Mystery is nothing like that. For those who enjoyed Milne’s children’s books, this is that sort of story, just for adults and a murder mystery. Which makes no sense at all, I know, but it’s true. This book is quaint and bucolic, there’s a period-specific air of leisure–and indeed a very period-specific vibe in general–that shine throughout in that natural way that historical fiction can never quite emulate. Which isn’t to say that the mystery itself isn’t interesting and perhaps even clever. It’s just developed in a more leisurely sort of way. I liked the characters, even though Mr. Gillingham is a bit larger than life–how many detective stories are written about characters who aren’t? In any case, The Red House Mystery isn’t groundbreaking or marvelous, but for a nice, easy-paced, fun read, I think it suits quite nicely.

 

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The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.

Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.

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Tortilla Flat

Author: John Steinbeck

Coming home from service during WWI, Danny finds he has inherited property in his hometown of Tortilla Flat. This is a novelty to him, and rather a burden as well. It’s not long, however, until his friends decide to help him out with this burden–by freeloading in his house! From that point, their lives are full of wine, women, and song along with long lazy spells and moral discussions. Quite the moralizing group they are, despite a large portion of their activities being of somewhat questionable legality–they always have altruistic motives, of course! Indeed, the form almost a Robin Hood-like band what with their robbing the rich to feed the poor, namely themselves.

Upon finishing Tortilla Flat, I’m truly not sure what me feelings on it are. The writing style itself is wonderful, if a bit old-fashioned; I generally enjoy Steinbeck. The content, however, is questionable. Certainly, it’s not politically correct, although it’s historically and regionally interesting, for sure. The characters are portrayed in an almost noble-savage sort of manner of which I really can’t approve. The plot is technically well written, but again, it’s mostly portraying the vagaries of these ill-begotten, wayward men and their attempts to rationalize themselves. Not really my style. So on the whole, points for writing excellence and for the snapshot into life at the region and time, but still not a favorite of mine by any means. I probably won’t read Tortilla Flat again, although I don’t regret having read it once.

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Porco Rosso

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Once a WWI ace fighter pilot, Porco Rosso is now a hero and an iconic figure around the Adriatic as he flies his legendary red sea plane to hunt down the sea-plane pirates who plague the area. It’s not uncommon for reporters to track him down at his friend Gina’s bar, looking for an exclusive story . . . although Porco prefers isolating himself in an upstairs room where Gina has a table set aside just for him. Of course, he’s not popular with everyone; some of his enemies actually plot against him to get his plane shot down! And when he goes to Milan to get his plane repaired, well, things get even more interesting, since the Italians have a warrant out for his head.

I absolutely love Studio Ghibli movies, and Hayao Miyazaki’s ones in particular. Porco Rosso is no exception, although it’s pretty different from some of his other stories. It’s one of the most centered in a real place and time–in spite of the whole fantasy element of Porco’s being turned into a pig, which is never explained in great detail. The story has a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, and romance, even while dealing with difficult topics like war; I find that quite impressive. Plus, between Gina and Fio, there are some incredible, gutsy heroines (Miyazaki’s heroines in general are some of the best!). I’m not really into aircraft, but Miyazaki’s planes in here are really neat to see (even if not 100% realistic)–if you can’t tell, aircraft is something of an obsession for him (just watch his other movies, and you’ll see what I mean). The art in Porco Rosso is really pretty too–not to a Spirited Away level of detail, but very nice still–and the setting is absolutely beautiful. I love the open ending, too. Overall, I think Porco Rosso is a fun, touching movie–although I would only recommend it for an older (PG 13) audience because of some of the allusions and language.

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Gosick

gosick 1Author: Kazuki Sakuraba

Illustrator: Hinata Takeda

My rating: 4 of 5

Gosick (light novel), vol. 1

Japanese transfer student Kazaya Kujo recently began attending Saint Marguerite Academy, nestled at the foot of the Alps, in the small country of Sauville. Saint Marguerite is a breeding grounds for rumors, such as the Black Reaper who comes in the spring (a rumor quickly attached to poor Kazaya), the ship that sank 10 years ago but comes  back to the surface occasionally to lure others to the ocean depths . . . and the mysterious extra student who never comes to class. However, some of these rumors may be more than that, as Kazaya well knows. He already frequently climbs the maze of staircases in the academy’s vast library to find said extra student–a living doll who spends her days in the arboretum at the top of the library. This living doll, Victorique, quickly belies her tiny stature, cascading golden hair, and huge green eyes, however, by her pipe smoking, her incredible rate of reading . . . and her penchant for solving seemingly impossible mysteries through logical reasoning. When Kazaya and Victorique become accidentally involved in a macabre re-enactment of a fortune-telling experiment from 10 years before, Victorique’s brains and Kazaya’s bravery may be the only things standing between them and a watery grave.

Gosick is a brilliant re-envisioning of the Sherlock Holmes concept. Of course, seeing someone reason out what seems impossible to deduce in clear steps is always fascinating, and Sakuraba pulls this off smoothly. The historical setting of Europe in 1924 is also convincing–the atmosphere is just what I would expect from a country on the border of France and Switzerland during this time period. However, the key to this story’s appeal is the characters, particularly Victorique. She is exceedingly well crafted–unexpected, charming, delicate, brilliant, demanding, and enigmatic all combined. My one complaint when reading this was that some words in the translation are confused with their homonyms–for instance, the translator uses “hollow” when intending “hallow”–however, this is a minor problem, and the translation over all is quite acceptable. Gosick is definitely a recommended read, particularly for those who enjoy Doyle’s writing.

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