16 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

We all know the story. An evil queen looks into a magic mirror every day and asks it if she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and one day it says her step-daughter is more beautiful than her. The queen has a hissy rage and orders a Huntsman to kill the girl, but he doesn't. She then runs away into a forest and lives with seven little men before being found and poisoned with an apple. The prince wakes her up and the queen mysteriously disappears. The End.

There have been loads of adaptations of this story, but something about this version had me intrigued. The film flows rather nicely in with the original telling, but there is something much more haunting and fantastical about this version.

The characters are multi-faceted and realistic; something that a lot of adaptations of the fairytale fail to do. Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is the evil queen with destructive powers to match, and though she does want to kill Snow White because of her beauty, there is a lot more riding on it than we first suspect. Her powers weaken as Snow White becomes more beautiful - a side affect of a piece of magic from Ravenna's youth. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is a much more ballsy (can I say that?) character than her insipid Disney counterpart. She even rescues herself. And she has excellent reasons for being terrified of the forest: it is really, really creepy and has a rather nasty defence mechanism. Oh, and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) comes complete with his own history and motives.

The second thing that is exceptional about this film is the effects and the overall look of the film. The costumes are exquisite and perfect for what seems to be a medieval time frame with a modern twist. The landscapes are flawless, right down to the trees in the forest and battlements of the castle. But the effects... Ravens turning into queens, apples rotting away, hands melting, fairies and rather well known actors playing dwarves. It is a feast for the eyes.

The acting was excellent, but I think I was most impressed by Sharlize Theron, whose depiction of the easily angered queen was both convincing and a little scary. I love the way that she also made her more human. We can see that she fears for her life and that she still wants revenge for her past. The dwarves were amusing and interesting at the same time. They were acted well and even they weren't one-dimensional.

One or two things bothered me, though. Firstly, I didn't think Kristen Stewart suited the role too well. Snow White was being described as life and as a thing of beauty (more beautiful than Charlize Theron, who is stunning in my opinion) that everyone would follow. While she is a very pretty girl and her acting has certainly improved, I feel that she didn't quite fit with what they said about her. Another thing is the Prince-like character, William. I really didn't think that the story really needed him at all. He was only used for a couple of things that could have easily been changed slightly so he wasn't in them.

Despite that, I think that Snow White and the Huntsman is an excellent film, and I will definitely be buying it when it comes out on DVD. So I'll give it a 9 out of 10.

12 June 2012

0.4 - Mike Lancaster

'My name is Kyle Straker, and I don't exist any more.'

It was a normal day in Kyle's village. Up until the point where everyone stopped moving except for Kyle and the three other people who had been hypnotised. Sound intriguing? I certainly thought so when I had a quick read of the reviews on Amazon.

The plot is a little slow at first, but soon picks up when our lead characters find themselves in a predicament. And it gets more exciting. But I mustn't ruin the plot for you! There is a giant element of danger that is slow in coming at first, but gradually increases during the read. However, I found that the end simply petered out. Maybe this sets up a second book, because if I were Kyle or the other three main characters, I wouldn't leave things as they were.

What I like the most about this book is the way that it has been set out. The tapes that Kyle records his story on are very much in the fashion that 'The Handmaid's Tale', by Margaret Atwood, is written. And yet the reason for the use of tapes is so very different to anything I was expecting.

The entire concept is a very clever one, and I love the Sci-fi element to it all. But I don't dare say anything else, for fear of giving up the plot again. Oh, and 0.4 is a very clever title too. I love how that little number keeps you guessing!

     (This is a tough review to write.)

So, I think all I can say is that if you like Sci-fi and you like a puzzle, this is a great book for you to read. Adults don't have to worry too much about the Young Adult tag. There isn't too much teenage angst in here, though if there's a second book, there could be more.

It's a sturdy 7/10.

The second book, 1.4 is out now.

6 June 2012

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known for writing Stardust (made into the 2007 movie of the same name), Coraline (also made into a film) and Good Omens, which he collaborated on with none other than Terry Pratchett. While these books are both absolutely brilliant, Gaiman's other books also have so much to offer you as a reader.

The Graveyard Book starts with the murder of a family by a mysterious man known only as Jack. But Jack isn't entirely successful, and the baby escapes to the nearby graveyard where two ghosts decide to take him in and protect him. Bod grows up with the ghostly residents of the graveyard, playing with the ghost children and learning the tricks of the trade. But soon enough the graveyard is too small, and Bod wants to explore more of the world around him. Meanwhile, the man Jack has been biding his time, and he still wants to finish what he started.

This book, first and foremost, is a ghost story and a tale of revenge. It features a host of paranormal characters and includes a few creative concepts that children may find a little disturbing. So although this is a children's book, think of it as similar in scaryness to Coraline (which features people with buttons for eyes). I love the way that Gaiman has written the reasons why we do not normally see the dead or feel them, and how he has integrated these ideas with Bod's story.

The characters are numerous for such a small book, but Gaiman does an excellent job of developing each one as much as he needs to according to their role. Bod, however, is quite a strange protagonist, as we cannot easily understand him. I think that this adds to the story rather than takes away from it. After all, wouldn't you be odd if you had grown up in a graveyard?

Gaiman's style of writing is good in the way that it keeps the reader so effortlessly entertained. At the beginning the writing style is a little confusing where Gaiman uses grammatically incorrect sentences for effect. However, I feel that this keeps the reader on their toes, which can be difficult for an adult reader with a children's book.

As for the plot, it is an entertaining and dramatic ride that is never dull. I have come to expect this from Neil Gaiman after reading a fair few of his books. There are a couple of nice twists, albeit one that an adult reader may see coming.

An excellent piece of storytelling. 9 out of 10.