Tag Archives: Fantasy

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

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. 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 ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

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 the real world.

This movie is a reboot of a franchise that began with the original Jumanji in 1996. According to my spouse, there were multiple Easter eggs from the first version of this tale tucked into the storyline, so keep an eye out for them if you’re already familiar with this franchise.

With that being said, I’d never seen the original and had no problem figuring out what was happening in the plot or who the characters were because everything was explained clearly.

Some of the secondary characters had too many spoilers wrapped up into their backstories to be introduced in this post, so I’ll stick with the four protagonists in the character section of this review. They will be described both as their game world avatars and real life personas.

Characters

Game World

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone

 

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

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon

 

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

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin
Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin.

Alex was nerdy and sometimes socially awkward student at Brantford High School.  He and Fridge were childhood best friends, but now he feared he’d been left behind.

Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker
Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker

 

Bethany was a  popular, pretty, and self-centered student at Brantford High School. She spent a great deal of time taking selfies and posting them on social media as shown in the photo above.

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

 

Anthony was a strong and athletic student at Brantford High School. He was proud of how much work he’d put into his body and enjoyed showing off his strength.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

 

Morgan was a quiet, shy, intelligent, and cynical student at Brantford High School. She struggled with letting people get close to her, especially if she thought they wanted something from her.

My Review

My characters descriptions were more negative than usual in this review. The beginning of this film made it a point to hammer home each character’s flaws, how aware they were of them, and how those problems were affecting their lives.

The four main characters moments after they were transformed into Mouse, Dr. Bravestone, Ruby, and Shelly.

Since the four teens the audience were just introduced to were about to be transformed into video game avatars, getting to know them was crucial.

One of the things this film did incredibly well was to show how each character’s tics and habits carried over into the game. All of the adult actors mimicked the teens they were playing so well that it was easy to forget they were acting!

I loved seeing all of the little ways they reminded the audience of their teenaged selves. This was especially funny when it came to Shelly because of how she’d been transformed from a beautiful young girl into a fairly average middle-aged man.

Yes, the storyline did address the gender flip there, but it was done in a very respectful manner. Gender and gender identity was never the butt of the joke in this tale which was refreshing. When the storyline gently made fun of Shelly, it was for her self-absorption and other character flaws, not the fact that she had no idea how to properly urinate standing up. (Although there was a hilarious scene involving just that early on in the plot!)

What I would have liked to see was more attention paid to the character development. The four protagonists were all written in pretty stereotypical manners as you might have gathered from the descriptions of them above. While I understood that much of it was written that way to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous – and even sexist –  tropes in video games, I think more time could have been spent developing the main characters and showing how they were different from typical video game avatars.

As entertaining as the plot was, there were times when I was honestly a bit bored with the characters at times because of how easy it was to predict how they’d behave. I’m saying that with the understanding that a casual video game player like me probably isn’t the ideal audience for this sort of film at all. People who immerse themselves in that hobby may have a very different reaction to it, so I don’t want this criticism to dissuade anyone from giving it a try if the trailer grabs their interest.

Just remember that there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff going on here. The less seriously you take it, the better.

The cartoonish violence was a lot of fun, though. I’m the sort of person who looks away from the screen or TV when a violent scene pops up, and I was able to handle the fight scenes without a problem. Characters certainly get thrown around a lot in all sorts of ways that are only possible in a virtual world, but there was no blood or gore to make my stomach turn. That was definitely something I appreciated.

All in all, this was an amusing way to spend a couple of hours. It was a light, cheerful storyline that didn’t require the audience to do much analyzing at all. You just had to sit back and enjoy the show. There’s something to be said for movies like that!

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available on Netflix.

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Film poster for The Shape of Water. It shows the two main characters embracing.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 held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.

This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.

The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.

Characters

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito

 

Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.

While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.

 

Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man

 

The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.

 

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.

He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller 
Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller

 

Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.

 

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

 

Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler

 

Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.

 

David Hewlett as Fleming 
David Hewlett as Fleming

 

Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.

There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.

The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background.  They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.

Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).

With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).

The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.

This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.

I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.

The Shape of Water is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Beyond Death - Tales of the Macabre by Sophie Duncan and Natashan Duncan-Drake book cover. Image on cover is of silhouette of woman's face at dusk. She's standing in front of a house that has a few lights on in it's ground floor. But the second floor is dark. 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 Natasha Duncan-Drake
You have been tempted into places unknown and there are things lurking in the shadows.
The Promise by Sophie Duncan
When a person makes a commitment, they should stick to it. Carol is determined to stick to hers no matter how scary it may become.

Review:

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing it in my review.

February is the perfect time to read something scary.

“The Cup Runneth Over” followed an unnamed narrator who was given a few odds and ends as a reward for helping their aunt pack up boxes in anticipation of a big move. One of the items they took home was an antique gold-inlaid book. The plot twists from this point forward made it hard for me stop reading. I was intensely curious to find out what the narrator had found and why it was so out of the ordinary.

It’s hard to discuss what happened next without spoiling anything. What I can say is that Ms. Duncan-Drake kept me guessing until the end. There were a couple of different times when I thought I had the next scene figured out only to be surprised by what actually happened. The author was certainly aware of the tropes in the genres she was writing in, but she used them sparingly in the very best sense of that term.

One thing I would have liked to see done differently in this tale had to do with the identity of the narrator. Not only was their name hidden from the reader, all other other identifying details like gender or race were skirted around as well. It would have been nice to know at least one or two of these facts about them. It was obviously impossible to imagine what they looked like in the absence of any details about their physical appearance whatsoever.

Carol made a promise while handing out treats at a Halloween party to the children of the community she’d recently moved to in “The Promise.” I thought it was quite interesting to see how the narrator juxtaposed the innocence of a children’s party with the darker hints about what was happening in this community. It was easy to leap from logical explanations for all of these weird coincidences to theories that required a strong belief in things that science can’t explain.

While I did come up with a fairly accurate guess about where this story was going, I still had a wonderful time following Carol’s adventures as she chaperoned the children. She was genuinely concerned about making a good impression on her new neighbours and helping the little ones have a spooky – but not too scary – Halloween. I liked her quite a bit and didn’t want it to end.

This was a short but satisfying collection that horror aficionados should try for themselves.

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

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

  Title: The Raven and Other Tales Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 132 pages Source: I received a free copy from Joy Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young… Read More

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question: Should I read science fiction or fantasy? I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian,… Read More

18 Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I Can’t Wait to See in 2018-2019

Last year I blogged about the fourteen science fiction and fantasy series I was looking forward to watching during the 2017-2018 season. Wow, that was a lot of shows! Somehow I managed to continue watching almost all of them, though. Today I’m talking about the shows I’m currently watching or will be watching during the… Read More