23 March 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful - Film

*Beware the spoilers*

The prequel to the classic 'Wizard of Oz', based on the books of L. Frank Baum, is now in our cinemas, and what a prequel it is. With stunning visual effects with a nicely thought-through plot, the film is sure to please any audience.

Oz (James Franco), otherwise known as Oscar Diggs, is a small time magician at the Baum Brothers circus. He is a womaniser, a crook and a liar. Of course, we expected that. The wizard calls himself a 'humbug' in The Wizard of Oz, and we all know that is who this man will become. After causing a fiasco by flirting with the resident strong man's wife/girlfriend, Oz steals a hot air balloon and rides it straight into a tornado which, like Dorothy, takes him to the land of Oz. (The tornado ride is pretty intense, I loved it). He meets a witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), there, who realises that he must be the Wizard from the prophesy, come to banish the evil witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), from their land and take the throne. Oz, ever the opportunist, decides to follow the Theodora to the emerald city and become the great man he thinks he should be.

The one thing,in my opinion, that could have been improved was the acting. James Franco's 'unconvincing smile' was driving me insane, while the wicked witch of the west was a little too shouty and cackly to be convincing as a character. Although this was a clear nod to the original film, I felt that perhaps it would be better to make the evil acting a little bit more subtle.

And there were a few more nods to the original film, as well as the books. Glinda was the witch of the South in the books and this restores her to that role. The little China girl has been taken from 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz', the first book. The film begins in black and white, and then changes to colour when the wizard arrives in Oz. This was a particularly nice touch. Also, characters from this world are transferred to Oz, as in the original film, such as Glinda and Frank (Zach Braff). Frank is a little harder to notice, but he is the flying monkey who ends up travelling with them. There is a nice reference to the cowardly lion, as well as the methods that Oz uses in his tricks and the way the witches travel.

So, all in all, this film is about the journey that Oz takes to become the man we see in The Wizard of Oz - a great man. Though this Disney film isn't a direct prequel to the MGM film starring Judy Garland, it conforms extremely well to the plot. We learn how the Wicked Witch of the West comes into being and how Oz gained the throne. I like the way it wasn't as straightforward as it could have been. At first, we wonder why Glinda is described as evil and why there isn't a green witch. Well, all will be revealed. The ending is nice and, in some places, quite unexpected. But it ties everything in well and doesn't leave you with any questions.

Stunning landscapes, character design and a good, sturdy plot, but it could have done with more realistic acting and maybe a bit more depth. 4 out of 5. The kids will love it.

16 March 2013

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion

The film has been plastered everywhere, but how does the book compare? That's where I come in.

So for those of you who aren't that into YA fiction, or Zomromcoms, or Nicholas Hoult (who was great, by the way), Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet with a twist. Ever wondered what it would be like if Romeo was already dead and Juliet was the daughter of the human leader? Well, wonder no more.

The book opens nicely, with a nice description of how the zombies live, how they act, and why R (that's our Romeo) is a little different to the rest of them. Kind of like the film, but in a slightly less amusing way, we are put directly into R's mind. The first person narrative from his point of view is lovely. His thoughts and descriptions are vivid and produce wonderful images for us. The reason for his lack of words as a zombie is also nicely explained.

As always, there is more to the book than there is to the film, but here we see this in a very different way. R has a little zombie family, and the rest of the zombies are not quite as gormless and unthinking as the film suggests. They have classes for the children (macabre ones, but still, classes) and even (loosely speaking) a church. Thankfully, the Boneys were not made up, but there is a little more to them too. They are almost otherworldly beings with a faint, menacing hum emanating from them.

So, anyway, on with the book. The plot is good, it never stutters and never stops. It keeps you reading on, wondering what is going to happen. The relationship between R and Julie is not quite as obvious as it could be. I like that, as it does keep you guessing. Perry (Julie's boyfriend, who is killed by R at the start), keeps making appearances that are really interesting to read and give you more to think about. In fact, this book really makes you wonder about what happens when you die. It leaves you with philosophical questions about what happens to your soul if you were to become a zombie, or a Boney. Even the most high-brow of adults can get a kick out of this YA book.

I do feel that the ending was quite predictable in terms of what happens to R. Even the names of the parts in the book do their best in giving it away. However, it is a drastic change from the film. I don't want to give too much away, but in a way, it was a slight let-down for me about what happens to the Boneys. The climax was there, and someone dies who doesn't in the film (this part is actually really cool) but then it all kind of peters out.

Discard your preconceptions of zombies, folks. This a good read and really makes you think. Read this first, then see the film.

Three stars I'm afraid. The film just flowed better for me.

The prequel, The New Hunger, is out on Kindle now.

10 March 2013

Enchanted - Alethea Kontis

This is the story of Sunday, the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter, doomed to be blithe and bonnie and good and gay. She is the daughter of a woodcutter, and spends all her time in the woods, writing stories. One day, she meets a frog in the forest, and soon they become great friends. What she doesn't know is that her frog is actually the hated Prince Rumbold, who, by way of his fairy godmother, killed her eldest brother.

And it gets more complicated. When her kiss turns him human again, Rumbold goes straight to the Palace, leaving her to think that her beloved Grumble is dead. Meanwhile, Sunday finds out that there is more to her than she thought.

This story is a masterpiece. It spins together the threads of several fairy tales to create something that transcends them all. You will see Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, The Princess and the Frog (of course), the Princess and the Pea and many others subtly, and not so subtly, filtered into the story. The writing style is good, it draws you in with lovely descriptions and fun conversations. The characters are well-built, and there is a reason for the way each of them are.The books narrative flows perfectly with the character it is focusing on, and it is nice to see both perspectives.

There is a even a little bit of mystery, with strange voices in Rumbold's head that leave you to wonder if he's crazy, or if there's something more magical involved. And then there is the ghost, and the King, both of whom are woven into the plot wonderfully.

This is no ordinary take on a classic fairy tale, this is a wonderful new story of the likes of Reckless and Wicked, both of which are highly recommended.

If you love fairy tales, or just love a good read, this book will make you cheer for joy. It was a pleasure to read.This book is also part of a series, though it can be read as a stand-alone book, The next book, Hero, is out on the 1st October 2013.

Five stars. You can't put it down.