Tag: books

Flex Mentallo – Man of Muscle Mystery: Dynamic Tension in the Comics Medium

During the British Invasion of Comics back in the 1980s, one such writer who would gain prominence in the movement was Grant Morrison. His skilled writing has helped to keep him in the spotlight, but there are many parts of him that help him shine. For instance, there is his knack for writing bizarre, fascinating concepts. For example, his revamp of Doom Patrol as part of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint reinvigorated the obscure title with a fascinating and bizarre range of characters, such as foes including the Brotherhood of Dada (a collection of super-villains waging war against rationality) and the Scissormen (beings with scissor hands capable of cutting people out of reality). In addition to his out-there ideas, however, is his knowledge of the comic book medium’s history. It is something not just demonstrated by the variety of lesser-known figures he has plucked out from obscurity. He has also demonstrated this knowledge in works like Supergods, a non-fiction book that serves as both memoir of his life and an analysis about the history of superheroes and their impact. Both aspects of Morrison came together when he teamed with artist Frank Quitely for a comic book miniseries known as Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery. Centered around a character he had introduced in Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison takes this mind-bending miniseries and uses it to explore the development and change in superhero stories.

In the world of fiction, a strongman superhero named Flex Mentallo witnesses a potential bombing at the airport. He manages to intervene, but the bomb turns out to be the latest fake in a series of attacks designed to shatter people’s sense of safety. Orchestrated by a shadowy group known as Faculty X, the police seem to have no leads into why they are launching this bizarre crusade. The only clue that grabs Flex Mentallo’s attention is a single card, one that had belonged to a fellow superhero known as the Fact. Perhaps if he can find the Fact, then Flex can find the answer to this weird crime wave. In the world of reality, rock musician Wallace Sage has taken a bunch of pills in a bid to kill himself. Feeling his life slipping into the abyss, he gets a phone and calls up a good Samaritan. He spends what may be his final moments talking to this good Samaritan, discussing his life and his own interest in comic books. Though both threads seem separate, they will eventually wind together in a mesmerizing finale that brings a hopeful hero against a grim reality.

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is a good example of the sort of bizarre craftsmanship that Grant Morrison can deliver. In this case, he uses the multi-layered story to explore the history and then-current state of superhero comics. For instance, Flex Mentallo is a character very much rooted in the Golden Age of Comics (generally regarded as being the late ’30s through early ’50s). His Charles Atlas-inspired aesthetic and idealistic attitude work well to mark him as a figure of that time, especially in the fictional world he lives. It is a darker world than the one he knew, both figuratively and literally. Among the shadowy corridors and the cynical or corrupted figures he encounters along the way, he can’t help but think about how much simpler his life used to be. Likewise, Wallace Sage’s chat with the good Samaritan winds through his experience with comics and moments in his own life. He rambles and winds through the call, from writing and drawing childhood comics to letting his life fall apart as he wrapped himself in his work. Really, both threads are used as part of one united point: a strike against the Dark Age of Comics.

At the time of this comic miniseries’s original release, American comic books were going through the Dark Age of Comics. This was an age brought on by the success of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen, which is a well-crafted deconstruction of superheroes with mature themes. Unfortunately, that success led to a flood of poorly conceived comics that sold themselves on anti-heroes, brutal violence, and greater sexuality. It was an attempt to swing away from the silliness of older superhero tales, but it pushed the contents to absurd extremes of cynicism and grit. Essentially, those trying to make superheroes into more than so-called “kid’s stuff” merely wound up making immature brutes. It is that attitude which Grant Morrison challenges with this series, coming to the defense of the sillier side of superheroes. Sure, the adventures could get silly and there is something inherently absurd in a character like Flex Mentallo. However, what is important is what a character like Flex Mentallo represents: the light against the darkness, the idea that goodness and justice can prevail. They offer figures that can help to inspire us, to show a way towards a better world. In fact, it is even brought up that perhaps that is the reason why people write superhero comics: that the world does not have to be like it is, and that we can be like them.

Among the many works of Grant Morrison, his writing can demonstrate oddball ideas and a skilled knowledge of the comic book medium. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is a fine merger of these aspects, using big ideas and comics history to tell a tale that defends the somewhat goofy nature of superheroes and their optimistic core.

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It: Terror at the End of Innocence

Stephen King is an author that is often regarded as a modern master of horror. Among the works that have helped him earn such a title is his 1986 novel, It. Telling the story of seven friends reuniting in their home town to battle a cosmic evil they had previously fought as children, the book is dense but gripping with every page. It captures well a lot of recurring themes in King’s writing, such as childhood trauma and its impact on adulthood or conquering evil through mutual trust. In addition, the novel gave the horror genre a great new boogeyman to fear with Pennywise, a creature capable of forming itself to look like the things people fear but whose most prominent form is a clown. It is no wonder how the book became so popular, even getting a television miniseries adaptation in 1990 that starred Tim Curry as Pennywise. Now, at long last, It has been brought to the big screen. However, it would seem difficult to adapt such a dense novel into a single movie. As such, this film instead focuses on those seven friends when they were kids, with a sequel planned to cover the portion of them as adults. The result is a really good coming of age story with some good scares as well.

In the town of Derry, kids prepare for fun as the summer of 1989 rolls in. However, one child does not have fun on his mind, and that is Bill Denbrough. Ever since the disappearance of his younger brother Georgie on a stormy day back in October, Bill is convinced that Georgie must still be alive somewhere. With the help of his friends, like the motor mouth Richie Tozier, hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak, and shy Stan Uris, Bill intends to find some evidence that Georgie is still alive somewhere. Along the way, they end up adding more friends to their numbers, befriending new kid Ben Hanscom, local girl Beverly Marsh, and home-schooled outsider Mike Hanlon. However, there ends up being something that unites them more than just friendship: they all find themselves terrorized by personifications of the things that they fear. Realizing that they are the targets of something that can shape itself into what people fear (with its most recurrent form being Pennywise the dancing clown), they learn that whatever this thing is might just be responsible for the decades of missing and dead children that plague Derry’s history, including Georgie. With no adults doing anything about this deadly history, these seven friends decide to step up and try to stop this creature, and just maybe find the truth about Georgie.

Plenty of adaptations have been done of Stephen King’s work, but It ranks among the better attempts to bring his writing to the big screen. Certainly, it does deliver on some strong jolts of horror, in particular thanks to Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise. His turn as Pennywise is one that captures the sense of a starving predator, one that relishes his meal as his prey feels fear. From his teasing and at-times puppet-like movement to the soft-lilting voice that can effortlessly shift to a growl, Skarsgard brings this classic monster to life with a seeming ease. However, there are moments with scares that don’t land quite as well. Occasionally, the film leans a touch too often on striking with a jump scare or having Pennywise rush his target with a yell. The stronger scares come through more in the surreal torment that Pennywise performs on the children or in scenes when Skarsgard gets to carry through with the creepiness, such as when he lures Georgie from the shadows of a sewer drain. Even the normal lives of these children capture some of that horror better, such as the psychotic bullying from Henry Bowers or the creepily possessive nature of Beverly’s father. In fact, that leads me into what helps this movie shine like it does: the coming-of-age story.

In attempting to adapt such a dense novel, one whose story unfolds during childhood and adult years, the choice was made for this movie to put the focus on the main characters as children. By making this choice, the story for this film is one about these misfits facing the darker edges of life that can emerge as one grows up. True, they do face certain terror from the hands of a shapeshifting creature responsible for a history of horrors. However, their fears stem from more than that. They emerge from the horrors that haunt their everyday life. Sometimes, it comes from bullies like Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter, who torment them and see them as misfits. Other times, it stems from adults like their own parents, such as Eddie’s mother constantly needling him with health concerns or Beverly’s father displaying an unsettling attachment to his “little girl”. Life offers plenty of things for these kids to fear. However, it is with their mutual friendship and trust that they can grow, facing the things that they fear and not giving in to the terror. Thanks to strong writing, a good dose of humor to lighten up between the scares, and a cast of child actors who deliver some excellent performances, the coming-of-age story captures the feel of similar tales from the 1980s. For some, the result might seem slightly jarring when it shifts hard between these portions and the more overtly horror sections, but the whole film is still a good piece of work. To borrow a reference to another King adaptation, it is as if Stand By Me periodically swerved hard into a horror story.

Among the many works of Stephen King, It is often regarded as one of his best novels. Now, It has arrived on the big screen as a terrific coming-of-age story that shines even if a few of the scares might not land.

Roald Dahl: Macabre Sensibilities, for Young and Old

Plenty of children’s stories tend to be thought of as light and fun. In truth, they are not all fun and games. There is normally some darkness that lurks within these stories, darkness that helps to make the light and its messages shine brighter. Even the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, regarded as some of the original tellers of children’s stories, contain plenty of mentions of cruelty and violence. Now, some might feel that this could be too intense for children, that these should be scrubbed clean according to a certain set of standards. In truth, there is a certain value in not talking down to children about this. One such author who understood this was Roald Dahl. His stories for children, remembered for whimsical touches and adapted in plenty of media, also possess plenty of darker elements. Perhaps it might be worth looking at what inspires an author to not shy away from these darker elements.

Born on September 13th, 1916 in the town of Cardiff, Roald Dahl was the son of Norwegian parents. When his sister and father had both died when he was three, his mother had the choice to remain in Wales after their passing, even when she had the option to return to Norway. Dahl first began the life of a schoolboy at the Cathedral School in the district of Llandarff. It was that time that he and his friends had gotten into trouble for putting a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers) owned by Mrs. Pratchett, a local sweetshop owner who was mean to the boys. He would go on to be transferred to St. Peter’s boarding school, where he and other students endured a fierce faculty. However, the school which would be a pivotal place to Dahl was Repton School in Derbyshire. Beginning his time there at age 13, he endured cruel treatment at the hands of both students and teachers. From the brutal corporal punishment he suffered and witnessed dealt out by the teachers to the demeaning work of having to serve senior students, Dahl’s experiences there would develop a definite cynicism in him about humanity. His main joy in that time were the candies and chocolates that the chocolate company Cadbury would send to the school for students to test.

As Roald Dahl got older and World War II began to roll in, he would come to join in the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Among the many missions that he flew in, one flight would bring him to Libya. Having trouble finding the airstrip as night approached, He was forced to make a landing in the desert. The result was a crash, one that landed him in the hospital with a fractured skull and blindness. Eventually, he would regain his sight and continued to serve as a pilot, until he was grounded for suffering from a series of headaches serious enough to cause blackouts. After that, he was made an attache to serve in the British Embassy in Washington D.C. From there, he would come to serve in the intelligence division alongside such noted officers as David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming (best known as the creator of James Bond). During this time, Dahl would come to meet the famed novelist C. S. Forester. Forester had been approached by The Saturday Evening Post with writing a story, and he in turn wanted to write a story about Dahl’s experiences as a pilot. Dahl wrote and compiled a number of anecdotes from that time, then provided them to Forester to work from. Instead, Forester provided the story exactly as Dahl wrote it. Thus was born Roald Dahl’s first story, “A Piece of Cake”, which The Saturday Evening Post had published as “Shot Down Over Libya” in order to have a more exciting title. It was also the story that would go on to launch Roald Dahl’s writing career.

Before he became renowned as a writer of children’s stories, Roald Dahl first began as an author for adults. Most of his early work came in the form of short stories. Plenty of these stories concerned deadly gambles, acts of revenge, and bitter spouses. Most of all, they frequently came with endings that served as a macabre punch line to the proceedings. There is no doubt that Dahl’s more cynical view of humanity comes through in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, about a wife who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and tries to cover up the deed, or “Parson’s Pleasure”, about a deceitful antiques dealer who poses as a clergyman for his cheats. However, it is actually his children’s novels where Dahl really cranks up this cynical attitude. While a few stories concern monsters like witches or giants, nearly all of the villains in his children’s novels are rotten, vile adults.

Sometimes they may lord their wealth over others, sometimes they may be verbally abusive to those they see as weaker or lesser, and sometimes they may simply be sadistic with physical cruelty. In any case, these parents are the sort of commonplace evils of which even children are familiar. As dark and imposing as such cruelty may seem, Dahl balances things out with how he presents goodness. The children that serve as the heroes in his stories are not generally portrayed as extraordinary. In fact, they frequently are presented as rather average. Instead, they possess an innate goodness, recognizing the wickedness around them and rising above it. In that way, Dahl offers a way to challenge and overcome the commonplace evil in their own lives. He also delivers it in a more playful, slightly morbid manner than the squeaky-cleaned stories that some believe children should be given. The result is a more naturalistic approach to teaching children about the cruelty of the world and preparing them for it, treating them with respect and understanding they can grasp it without being directly moralized.

For those who have never read any of Roald Dahl’s stories, there are two avenue I might offer, depending on if you wish to try his adult work or his children’s stories. For those who wish to explore his more adult-oriented work, Tales of the Unexpected is an anthology that collects some of his yarns of the macabre. With such stories as “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Man Down South”, and “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, this collection will help to show how Dahl’s writing career was launched thanks to his clever writing. As for his work for children, the best example I would guide new readers to would be Matilda. Centered around an intelligent and kind-hearted girl named Matilda and her challenges overcoming her obnoxious parents and a cruel headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull, this novel stands to me as a great example of the kind of whimsical yet morbid stories that he crafted for children.

Things I Can’t Explain: Growing Up Darling

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon first began to explore having their own original live-action shows in their line-up, alongside their cartoons. Among these shows was a series known as Clarissa Explains It All. Starring Melissa Joan Hart, the series follows Clarissa Darling as she navigated the murky waters of adolescence. Along for the ride were her eccentric parents Janet and Marshall, her scheming little brother Ferguson, and her easy-going confidant Sam Anders. The series struck a chord with audiences, offering a fun take on a teen sitcom with a style that incorporated fourth-wall breaking and info graphics, while also dabbling in a subtle touch on more risque subjects like sex and teen partying. In fact, the show’s popularity even proved that a series with a female lead could garner a male audience, paving the way for numerous Nickelodeon shows which would be centered around female protagonists. In the many years since, the show’s creator Mitchell Kriegman has decided to revisit his old creation. In this case, it is not with a television series. Rather, it is with a novel. With his new novel Things I Can’t Explain, Kriegman gives a look at Clarissa’s life that feels like a natural progression from his show.

Though she has left her hometown in Ohio for the energy and excitement of New York City, Clarissa Darling is finding that life is not quite as understandable as she expected. Her parents are exploring the realm of a separation, an aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Her brother Ferguson is in prison, the result of insider trading and messing with Russian mob money. Even her dream of being a journalist has hit some snags, as newspapers have begun to fall out of prestige. Still, she has managed to find some positives. For instance, she finds herself with a golden opportunity at an internet news source known as Nuzegeek as a potential financial reporter. She has also met a local guy named Nick who shares a spark of desire with her. Unfortunately, even these perks have their hurdles. The financial editor is a snobbish jerk who looks down upon Clarissa, while Nick is plagued by a punk rocker ex-girlfriend who knows just how to sink her claws into him. That is not even mentioning Clarissa’s ex-boyfriend, a slacker named Norm who insists that they are still together. Even with all of life’s hard curve balls, Clarissa sets out to persevere and achieve her dreams.

Mitchell Kriegman’s new novel makes for a fun read. Even for those who might not have seen Clarissa Explains It All, the book works well in hooking readers with its world and characters. There is a sense of history to Clarissa, whether she is talking about her old newspaper internship or when she is hanging out with her group of friends. The lived-in sense is also complimented by the novel’s breezy prose, which does not drag on and allow the pages to flow by for the reader. The result is a novel that is easy to pick up and get into, something to enjoy. Now, there is the occasional reference or character that is made to be topical that comes off a little rough, such as a friend of Clarissa’s who speaks largely in abbreviated words. These moments come off as more stereotypical and cartoonish of current-day elements, but such lapses are generally outweighed by the positives over the course of the story. As for people who have seen Clarissa Explains It All, then the novel will make for a fun return for that familiar audience.

Even as the novel works for those who have not seen the original show, the novel works well as a continuation of Clarissa Explains It All. Stylistically, it carries over a lot of elements from the show. For instance, the info graphics return with their familiar appearance. The writing and presentation of Clarissa’s challenges are also akin to the approach to the show, which had a more irreverent take on teenage issues than most teen sitcoms of the time. That slight irreverence is now used to examine the hurdles of adulthood, from romantic relationships to workplace struggles. Along with that, other characters from the original series turn up. In addition to her family members, the book also explores the unsteady relationship history between Clarissa and her confidant Sam Anders, which traveled an unsteady path between friends and something more. In fact, that is part of what works well with this novel. It feels like a natural progression from the original series. The strengths of the show are allowed to bolster and develop, thanks to the room of a novel. It allows itself to explore more mature problems for this older audience, while still maintaining the spirit and voice that had made Clarissa Explains It All such a hit. In essence, the audience for the show has grown up, and Clarissa Darling has gotten the chance to keep up pace.

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon had a hit on their hands when they began airing Clarissa Explains It All. Now, the show’s success is continued with Things I Can’t Explain, which ages up and tackles more adult issues while preserving the winning voice and spirit of the original show.

A Christmas Carol and Endless Adaptability: The Hallmark of Humbug

When it comes to stories involving Christmastime, no story has had quite the impact as that of A Christmas Carol. Who hasn’t heard the classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich man visited by three ghosts of Christmas who help him to see the error of his ways and become a better human being? Not only is this classic piece of literature still remembered, it has become fodder for numerous adaptations. From films to live theatre, television shows to comic books, nearly every medium has had some take of A Christmas Carol. Of course, with all of these numerous adaptations, there is something interesting to consider: why? After all, there are plenty of great works of literature that only possess a few adaptations to their name, or even none at all. What inspires people to turn to the story of Scrooge and craft a new telling of the familiar story, when plenty of other storytellers have trod down the familiar path? Before I discuss the elements of the story itself, I feel it would be worth discussing the world from which this story emerged. After all, context can offer an interesting viewpoint.

In the early 1800s, Christmas was not the widely celebrated holiday that it is today. In fact, it seemed to be on its way out. The Puritan era had possessed a displeasure in Christmas, seeing it as a Pagan holiday due to the elements that had been incorporated into the holiday. Likewise, Protestant reformations shared a similar dislike in these Pagan elements, leading to infighting among how best to handle the holiday. As for Christmas itself, it was seen as a secondary holiday, merely a religious celebration for churches and communities that was second to Easter. That would change in 1843, with author Charles Dickens. Horrified by the reports of the conditions endured by children in factories and mines, he sought to write a story that would serve as a sledgehammer to the public consciousness. To that end, he had turned to nostalgic thoughts about the past of Christmas and its traditions, merging them with his concerns for the poor. With this combination, he crafted a narrative that not only moved the hearts and minds of his readers, it fundamentally reshaped how Christmas was seen. No longer was it merely a community holiday. Instead, it was reformed into a time about good will and helping out the fellow man. In fact, this story ended up inspiring a movement to revive Christmas, setting into place many of the traditions and philosophies that remain entwined with the holiday to this very day.

The impact when it was first written cannot be doubted, but there is still the question of why it is so adapted. Part of it, I believe, stems from its structure. The story is written in five parts, which can easily be translated into a three-act structure. Its first act lays down the introduction of Scrooge, along with the ghostly visitation of Jacob Marley. Its second act brings the visits from the Ghost of Christmas Past (who presents Scrooge’s past and shows how much he has changed) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (who shows the meager home life of Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit). Finally, the third act brings the Ghost of Christmas Future (who offers a haunting vision of a potential future) and Scrooge’s redemption into a more caring person. It is a lean structure, but an effective one. It offers a core structure that is steady in the trajectory of its character arcs, while offering plenty of room for tailoring and adjustments when it comes to exploring Scrooge. The story can be adapted into a darker tone that captures the ghost story nature of Dickens’s literary sledgehammer, or a lighter tone that leans into the heart and appeal for the betterment of humanity. Really, the overall structure and flow of the story is incredibly well-crafted. Paired up with the memorable characters and evocative imagery that flow from Dickens’s words, it is no wonder how it would catch the eye. However, the structure is only part of it. The other part is its heart.

Charles Dickens had seen firsthand how terrible life was for the poor. At a young age, he had to endure harsh working conditions to help his family survive. The harmful and humiliating conditions he had to go through planted that formative seed which would become a recurring theme in his work, namely the conditions and suffering that the poor endured. It was not until that report on labor conditions, along with witnessing conditions in a Manchester factory and a ragged school (a charitable organization that offered free education to poor children), that finally launched Dickens to craft this literary sledgehammer and swing. The passion in wanting people to look towards helping out those less fortunate can be felt all throughout the story, such as in Scrooge’s growing change as he sees the misfortunes that plague Bob Cratchit and his son Tiny Tim. In fact, that growing change is a fundamental key here. That potential of change, that idea that people can grow past their flaws and see beyond their selfish desires, is a powerful ideal. People want to believe that individuals can change for the better. Whether in the bitter stings of the past or the concerns of the present, they want to see things improve. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his change from cold miser to big-hearted gentleman is a powerful story that takes this nebulous idea and paints a very personal picture of it. It offers a face to this idea, giving it life and a tangible form. In that way, a general desire to see things change for the better is granted a sharper clarity and thus makes for a stronger impact.

Ever since Charles Dickens first crafted his immortal tale back in 1843, A Christmas Carol has found its way into nearly every form of media with a multitude of adaptations. With its well-founded structure and a powerful appeal to helping others, it is no wonder why the story still moves the hearts of many to this very day.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Here There Be Franchise Building

In recent years, one of the biggest new franchise to emerge is Harry Potter. With its tale of a young boy learning of witchcraft and wizardry while faced with a major destiny before him, the series of books clicked fast with readers and made a household name of J.K. Rowling. That fandom grew even more with the film adaptations, which managed to largely capture the spirit of their source material with a skilled cast and crew. Even though the series has come to a close, the wizarding world still enchants its fans. It is only natural to revisit this world with a new line of films. After all, the world that J.K. Rowling had created has so many nooks and crannies to explore, so much history to examine. Of course, sometimes the potential for fascinating stories can risk the chance of being corrupted by the desire for steady money from a franchise. Such feels like the case here, unfortunately, for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What could have been a fun film is instead hampered down by building blocks for future films in the line.

The year is 1927. The Wizarding World finds itself embroiled in the rise of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, whose series of attacks against non-magic people threaten to expose the Wizarding World’s existence. In particular, the American wizarding community finds itself teetering on the brink as a mysterious force causes incredible damage in New York City. It is this world where Newt Scamander finds himself, as he travels the world writing a book about magical creatures. During his stop in New York City, he ends up crossing paths with an aspiring baker and non-magic person named Jacob Kowalski. An accident causes the two of them to mistakenly take each other’s suitcases, with Jacob ending up with Newt’s magic suitcase. This suitcase is far bigger on the inside, serving as a personal zoo and transport case for all sorts of magical animals. Unfortunately, some of these animals manage to get loose and bring havoc to the city. Desperate to protect these creatures from potential harm, Newt brings Jacob in tow as they set out to reclaim the animals, with a pair of sisters named Tina and Queenie Goldstein joining them along the way. Unfortunately, their activities have caught the attention of an auror named Percival Graves, who believes that Newt’s animals might have something to do with the series of destructive attacks around the city.

Now, there are some good points to this film. Eddie Redmayne does a fine job as Newt Scamander, capturing his somewhat eccentric feel along with his deep compassion for the natural world. Dan Fogler is a real delight in the film, working well as the audience surrogate in Jacob Kowalski. He is by turns shocked and amazed by the wonders of the Wizarding World, but he embraces this newfound world with a twinkle in his eye and enthusiasm in his action. Unfortunately, the film itself is really hampered by its muddled approach. In addition to the main story about Newt reclaiming his animals, there are subplots that explore a variety of elements. From the anti-magic activity of the New Salem Preservation Society to the growing threat of Grindelwald and his followers, the plot is muddled up in so many strings that serve only to be explored in later films. This desire to set up all of these threads is done in a way that also robs the film of room where it could have explored and developed its characters, leaving plenty of them feeling rather flat and under-developed. When added up with sequences that do not have that spark of real fun and inventiveness which the Harry Potter series had possessed, the result is a film that had honestly bored me at points. Perhaps this might have been avoided if there were more of a focus on this film, rather than trying to cram in the building blocks for a whole franchise.

As I mentioned before, the Wizarding World offers plenty of strong material that could be explored and examined in future stories. For instance, plenty of the threads in this film could have been their own films. A tale of Newt having to reclaim his animals would have worked fine on its own. The story of Grindelwald’s rise to power and the eventual war that encircles it could make for ripe material for perhaps a trilogy. Even a story about the New Salem Preservation Society could offer an interesting springboard, looking at persecution and hate which can arise against witches and wizards. However, these strands have not been given that breathing room. Instead, they have all been crammed together in one film as a means of propping up a line of movies. I feel that this is a mistake, for it means putting all of these eggs into a singular basket. If the basket breaks, then so do all of these eggs. What would have been better would be to have given these different aspects their own films, allowing them room to breathe and grow. In essence, it would be a Wizarding World Cinematic Universe. With such an approach, Warner Bros. could have been able to continue making movies in the world of Harry Potter while allowing for films tailored with different styles and subjects. Instead, these separate pieces have been crammed into a dull mixture.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could have been an interesting film, had it kept itself more focused on a singular story. Instead, it has been hampered by being made into a  hodgepodge of threads solely there for later movies.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Page is More Peculiar

Inspiration can strike a storyteller from anywhere. Such was a case for author Ransom Riggs. For him, his inspiration came from a hobby of collecting old and odd photographs. One day, he approached a publisher with the idea of creating a book of these pictures. His editors suggested taking those pictures and crafting a narrative from them, using the pictures as his guide. Using these old pictures, Ransom would come to create a young adult novel known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Telling a delightful tale of adolescent adventure and morbid curiosities, its story was heightened by the use of these old photos to give an added depth of realism to its world. Of course, with the book and its sequels gaining popularity, the eye of Hollywood certainly caught sight of the work. Now, the book has been brought to the big screen, with Tim Burton leading the project as its director. Though the film does offer some inspired moments and fun performances, it loses a bit of the spark in the adaptation process.

Jacob Portman has faced a harsh turn in his life. Once, he was entertained by his grandfather’s stories about monsters and a home for children with unique gifts, until schoolyard mockery led him to stop believing in those tales. Now, he has witnessed the death of his grandfather and, for a brief moment, saw a glimpse of the monsters that his grandfather had described. Of course, most people believe that it was just a hallucination, an image conjured by the mind from the stress of seeing his grandfather die. When he finds a postcard in a book left for him by his grandfather, though, he remembers his grandfather’s dying words to “find the bird” and convinces his parents to let him journey to an island from his grandfather’s past. On this island, Jacob finds out that his grandfather’s stories were true. Though the home is destroyed in the modern day, there is a portal to the past where the home still stands. It is through this portal that Jacob meets Miss Peregrine, a sharp-minded shape-shifting woman who protects children with “peculiarities”. These peculiarities grant the kids unique powers, but having these gifts has put a target on their head. Monstrous, tentacled, invisible monsters known as Hollowghasts seek to hunt them down the kids and feast upon their eyes, led by the villainous Mr. Barron. Now, Jacob must take up his grandfather’s work and help protect the peculiar children from these monsters.

The film itself is alright. Though there are some flaws, there are still some strong elements to the film. For instance, Eva Green makes a wonderful pick as Miss Peregrine. She captures the playful brilliance of the character, displaying her keen wit and mind along with her concern for the peculiar children. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson turns in a fun performance as Mr. Barron. Though there is definitely a threat that he presents, he plays Mr. Barron with an almost self-aware sense of his villainy, noting the tropes and realities of their situation with a sardonic flair. Aside from these performances, the film best shines when Burton is able to play around with the morbid elements of the story while using a playful touch. For instance, one of the peculiar children is a boy named Enoch, who possesses the power to bring dead things to life. Though it is displayed at a few points, there is a scene where he uses his power to revive a gang of skeletons. The result is a delightful sequence of Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons doing battle with the Hollowghasts, all in a carnival location. However, there are some definite flaws in this.

For one, Asa Butterfield does not turn in that good of a performance as Jacob. He comes across as rather wooden in his delivery, almost feeling like a blank slate in his approach. More than that, however, is in how standard parts of this film feel. Ever since the success of the Hunger Games franchise, studios have been looking for that next hit based on a young adult novel. However, the process that they take also changes the work along the way, trying to make a story fit into a formula that might lead to success. The result is the tropes and standard elements feel magnified, while the more unique components are not always given their due. Things like Jacob’s relationship with his father and his falling in love with a peculiar girl named Emma Bloom are familiar tropes for these stories and given focus, while some of the mythology and world-building of the story feels underdeveloped at the risk of the audience not totally understanding. That is really the biggest issue with the film: that it files away some of the uniqueness in favor of familiar formula. What made the original book special was not just its well-written story, but the unique idea of incorporating vintage trick photos as a part of the narrative. As for the film, it is able to shine when Burton can channel his unique approach in tackling the macabre with a playful tone. It is those moments that are the strongest, amid plenty of pieces that feel made to fit a checklist of young adult expectations.

Though there are some good performances and some delightfully morbid sequences, the film as a whole feels hampered and filed down to cash in on the successes of other young adult novel adaptations. The film can still offer some fun, but I would recommend more to check out the book.