Tag Archives: Fantasy

A Review of Jumanji: The Next Level

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillian posing as their characters in a film poster for Jumanji: The Next Level. They’re all surrounded by baboons. Jumanji: The Next Level is a 2019 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four people who were  transported into a magical video game. Just like during the first visit, they must figure out how to win in order to return to their ordinary lives.

This is the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which I previously reviewed here and would strongly recommend watching first. The franchise in general is a reboot of the 1996 Jumanji film. It is not necessary to watch the original in order to understand what’s going on  here.

I will go into more detail about why I recommend watching Welcome to the Jungle in my review below.

Once again, I’m leaving secondary characters out of this post for spoiler reasons. Please note that this review does contain some spoilers for the first film, so reader beware!

 

Characters

Game World

 

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone. He's standing in a jungle.
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier “Smolder” Bravestone

 

Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Eddie’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black (centre) as Professor Sheldon  “Shelly” Oberon

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse 

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Danny DeVito as Edward "Eddie" Gilpin
Danny DeVito as Edward “Eddie” Gilpin

 

Eddie was the grandfather of Spencer, a character from the first film. He was a pessimistic man who believed his best days were behind him.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain (right) as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

Fridge was a college student now. His group of friends wasn’t as close-knit as it used to be, and he struggled with that shift.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker
Danny Glover as Milo Walker

 

Milo was Eddie’s old, dear friend. Despite knowing each other for decades, there was an underlying tension between them that none of the younger characters were cognizant of at first.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

Martha was also a college student now. She was as intelligent and cynical as ever, but her new educational environment had caused her to blossom in ways that weren’t possible for her as a shy high schooler a few years ago.

 

My Review

If you’re in the market for a light, fluffy storyline, keep reading.

One of the criticisms I noted about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the lack of character development. While it remained pretty shallow, I did enjoy seeing some growth in the two returning protagonists as well as in all four avatars in general . Martha and Fridge had obviously had a chance to grow up a bit since high school. It was interesting to contrast their behaviour to the behaviour of their elders.

Ordinarily, I’d expect senior citizens to be more self-assured and level-headed than people who haven’t even left their teens yet. The fact that all four main characters were thrown into a situation that only the two younger ones knew how to handle made it fascinating to tease out the differences between all of their reactions.

We need more films that include senior citizens as heroes. Having not one but two of them included in this storyline made me curious to see how things would play out for them.

Why should you watch this series in order? The character development is part of it. Most people mature rapidly in their late teens and early 20s. I thought it was cool to see how Fridge and Martha had changed since we last met them. There were also some switch-ups to the cast of main characters that won’t be as meaningful to anyone who wasn’t aware of how things were in Welcome to the Jungle.

In addition to that, some of the plot twists work better for audiences who are already aware of how Jumanji is supposed to be experienced. Let’s just say that Milo and Eddie had a unique approach to winning that is best understood if you have firm expectations of how one should behave in a video game.

By all means watch the original Jumanji, too, if you love this universe, but enough of it was revisited here that I wouldn’t make that mandatory.

There were a couple of sexual jokes that made me roll my eyes. The first instalment in this reboot did a great job of poking fun at the idea that women who play video games are something unusual or that identifying as a woman should affect how you play or what you do with your avatar. I wish that same snarky energy had continued in this sequel. It made this franchise stand out in my mind in a truly refreshing way, and I’d love to recommend future instalments of it to people who love gaming but shy away from the sometimes juvenile and sexist comments people make about women in this hobby. Sometimes the best way to change harmful social scripts like that is by mocking the hell out of them, so here’s hoping we get more of that in the third instalment if or when it happens.

Do you need to be a certain type of gamer, or even a gamer at all, to enjoy this story? Absolutely not. I’m the sort of gamer who generally sticks with sandbox games like Minecraft, and I had no problem keeping up with what was going on. Everything was explained well. Although my spouse who knows more about the topic once again enjoyed a few jokes tucked in there that seemed to be geared towards viewers who are into more strictly structured storytelling.

Jumanji: The Next Level was brain candy in the best sense of that phrase. If you need a fun distraction that doesn’t require any deep thought, this might be right up your alley.

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Jumanji: The Next Level is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Ceremony of Ashes - A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance by Jayson Robert Ducharme book cover. Image on the cover is of a silhoutte of someone holding a large staffTitle: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance

Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 135 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village
Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles.
Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation.
Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal.
Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her.
CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born.
Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.

Review:

Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.

Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.

There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.

Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!

There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.

Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.

The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.

I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.

4 Things That Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows Worth Rewatching

A white bowl filled with popcorn and sitting on a wooden table Raise your hand if you love rewatching your old favourite sci-fi and fantasy shows!

Over the last few months, I’ve slowly become more reticent about watching new films and TV shows in these genres.

I’m sure many of them are going to be amazing once I return to chipping away at my humongous to-watch queue, but for now I’m much more interested in rewatching stories I’ve seen dozens of time before.

Keep scrolling for spoiler-free references to some of my favourite

Familiar Plot Twists

Okay, so don’t laugh at me, but I get pretty attached to certain characters. I cheer when they reach their goals and cry when sad things happen to them.

Empathy is a gift, but there are also times when I’d rather not ride the emotional rollercoaster of are these characters going to be okay?

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's holding a glowing orb. Yes, most of them will be fine by the time the credits roll. But thanks to earlier experiences with Joss Whedon and the unpredictable things he likes to do with the lives of beloved characters, I don’t fully trust any director or screenwriter when my favourites are involved.

The beautiful thing about rewatching something you’ve seen many times before is that there are no big surprises around the corner. You might forget a funny line here or a minor plot twist there if it’s been a while, but for the most part you roll the opening credits  knowing full well what’s to come.

There’s something soothing about that, especially when other things in life might not be so predictable.

Predictions That Do (or Don’t) Come True

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part IISpeaking of predictions, the science fiction genre in particular is filled with them.

I’m the sort of viewer who takes note of what fellow storytellers in this genre think will happen in the near future and then likes to check again five or ten or twenty years later to see what they might have gotten right.

Fashion trends of future decades have never been accurate in my experience. (Here’s looking at you, 2015 scenes in Back to the Future Part II!)

But some films do predict the future more accurately. Rediscovering those scenes is like finding buried treasure.

Jokes That Never Get Old

If you ask me, the best films and TV shows are the ones that still make you laugh the third or thirtieth time you see them. Case in point: The Princess Bride. This fairy tale was framed as something a grandfather was reading to his sick grandson.

A few minutes into Princess Buttercup’s adventures, the kid interrupted to ask if it was a kissing book.

Boy from The Princess Bride saying, "Is this a kissing book?"

As someone who avoided kissing books as a kid and rarely reads them as an adult, I laugh every time I hear this line. It’s classic.

New Details in the Story

Alakina Mann in The OthersAnyone who has followed this blog for a long time may remember my love of the paranormal film The Others.

(Someday I need to write a full-length review of it for this site! It’s a modern-day classic).

The first time I watched this film, I missed the major plot twist in it until the last possible moment.

It was only after rewatching it that I picked up on the clues about what was really going on with the main character and her two young children who were living in a remote house during the World War II era while waiting to hear news about her husband who was on the front lines of the war.

This was always a good story, but it became even better once I knew what on Earth was going on with this strange, reclusive family. Every time I rewatch it, I pick up on even more subtle foreshadowing or small moments of character development I hadn’t noticed in the past.

Respond

What are your favourite science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative fiction shows to rewatch?

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Book cover for A Tale of Two Princes. Image on the cover is of a young woman lying in a bed with a frog sitting on her chest and shoulder.Title: A Tale of Two Princes

Author: Victoria Pearson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 1, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 36 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling.
Doctor Prinze is happy in his secretive job at a very unusual hospital. He takes pride in asking unfussed questions however strange the patient seems when they get wheeled through his door, and he is content going home to his gadgets and uncomplicated quiet.
His simple life is turned upside down when Dr Prinze is asked to make room on his ward for some potentially contagious visitors, and everything changes forever.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for a fairy tale romance.

Both of the narrators had clear, well-defined voices. I could always tell who was speaking which is crucial when you have two narrators sharing limited space in a short story. This is definitely a good example of how to pull that sort of writing off successfully!

One thing I did want to note about this tale had to do with how the adult male characters reacted to a fifteen-year-old girl they found attractive. To be fair, traditional fairy tales are often filled with material like this, there were discussions about the inappropriateness of their interest in her, and she was never harmed. But this is still something I thought I should note in my review in a non-critical manner so that readers who are sensitive to this topic can decide for themselves whether it’s the right choice for their reading lists.

The plot twists were well done. There were references to several different fairy tales in the storyline, and they were all honoured while still giving a modern approach to how their adventures would play out in our era. I especially liked the way the Doctor Prinze and the rest of the hospital staff tried to find scientific explanations for the magical events that changed their patients’ lives. If only I could say more about that without giving away spoilers.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to how this hospital acquired new patients. Yes, Doctor Prinze was under strict confidentiality orders, so I could understand why that would prevent him from sharing certain world building details with the readers. With that being said, it did feel a little odd to me to suddenly hear about new patients coming to his facility without having any idea  how they were discovered or who sent them there. Even a couple of paragraphs explaining how this worked would have been enough for me to bump it up by a star.

The ending was as logical as it was satisfying. I was the sort of kid who always had a million questions about why certain fairy tales ended the way that they did, especially when it came to Sleeping Beauty. The fact that the author seemed to have similar questions about the original only made her version of it better.

A Tale of Two Princes could be a good place to start if you’re looking for something that is simultaneously light and fluffy while also remaining surprisingly true to traditional forms of storytelling for this genre.

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Film poster for Frozen II. Image on poster is of Elsa using her powers to create ice against a purple background.Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II, but I do highly recommend the first film in this series to anyone who loves the fantasy genre or animated films in general.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only be discussing characters who were also in Frozen.

Characters

Idina Menzel as Elsa
Idina Menzel as Elsa

Elsa was the Queen of Arendelle and Princess Anna’s elder sister. She possessed magical ice powers whose origins were unknown. While she’d grown quite comfortable with using them, she had a deep longing to understand where they came from and why she had them.

Kristen Bell as Anna
Kristen Bell as Anna

 

Anna was the Princess of Arendelle and Elsa’s younger sister. She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, Kristoff. 

Josh Gad as Olaf
Josh Gad (right) as Olaf

Olaf was a sentient snowman created by Elsa’s magic who was first introduced in Frozen. He was as intelligent and silly as always.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Jonathan Groff (centre top) as Kristoff

Kristoff was an ice harvester and Anna’s boyfriend. He was strong, loyal, and determined to help the people he cared about in any way he could.

Sven was his pet reindeer. He was a good reindeer.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for a story filled with wholesomeness and joy.

I love a good adventure that ramps up quickly in a storyline, so I was glad to see this film move so fast in the beginning. That snappy pacing was exactly what Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven needed before setting off on their journey.

Yes, there was a brief summary of what happened in Frozen for anyone who isn’t familiar with this franchise. It was shared by Olaf and was as hilarious as it was accurate. As mentioned earlier, I think anyone who hasn’t seen the first film would have no trouble getting caught up to speed if they jumped straight into Frozen II. The nice thing about film series written for kids is that they tend to be pretty welcoming of new or distracted viewers, and this one was no exception to that rule.

Every sequel has to live up to the story that began that series. I had high expectations for Frozen II based on how much I loved Frozen. While this was a fun story, I thought it didn’t quite have all of the magic of the first one. Many of the jokes in it were references to things that happened in the first instalment, so they had to be explained for people just tuning into this series. I did find myself wishing the screenwriters had spent more time developing new, original jokes, especially when it came to characters that hadn’t been introduced previously. With that being said, I still enjoyed Frozen II and do recommend it.

Olaf was by far my favourite part of this film. Just like in Frozen, he was a regular source of amusement for both the audience and the other characters. His understanding of how the world works was childlike in certain ways and yet quite mature for a snowman of his age in others. I desperately wanted to include one of his jokes in this review, but I think it’s best if you discover all of them for yourselves.

If you need a lighthearted distraction for viewers of all ages, Frozen II is a good place to start.

Frozen II is available on Netflix and Apple TV. It is no doubt quickly attempting to catch up with Frozen and become available everywhere else in the known universe as well.

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Title: Everfair Author: Nisi Shawl Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk Length: 384 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power… Read More

A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to… Read More

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review. The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being… Read More

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Title: Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre Author: Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan Publisher: Wittegen Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal Length: 27 pages Source: I received a free copy from the authors. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Two tales that look past death into the terror beyond. The Cup Runneth Over by… Read More

Sleeping Beauty Retold: A Review of The Spellbound Spindle

Title: The Spellbound Spindle Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Retelling, Historical Length: 345 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4.5 Stars Blurb: A misguided elf curses a baby to die on her sixteenth birthday. Gem elves alter the curse to one of… Read More