I was pleasantly surprised with Jack the Giant Slayer. Despite starring my new actor husband, Nicholas Hoult (see Warm Bodies), I hadn’t had high expectations for the film, but I was wrong in my assumption. Strangely enough, as I have read and re-read my review, I keep finding that it sounds more negative than I meant for it to. I really did enjoy this film even though it may seem like I am being overly critical. Jack the Giant Slayer places a modern twist on a classic fairytale. It infuses a fair amount of humor into some of the otherwise nightmarish scenes (warranting its PG-13 rating). There are numerous murders committed by Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and his evil henchman Wicke (Ewan Bremner), a touch of cannibalism (the race of giants have an appetite for normal size humans), and the film depicts the violent deaths of both humans and giants, leaving little to the imagination. Jack the Giant Slayer includes all of the typical elements of a fairytale from the princess in distress, to the overbearing King forcing his daughter into a loveless marriage, to the underestimated farm boy who ends up saving the day.
One of the obvious themes of the film is forbidden love. There are many parallels drawn between the childhoods of the main characters, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), and it is evident within the first few minutes that the pair are destined to be together despite their incompatible social statuses. Their major connecting factor is their mutual fondness of the legend of King Erik saving Cloister from the race of giants. After a brief run-in in the marketplace during their teenage years, the pair reconnect in Jack’s highly-in-need-of-maintenance house just before the rain hits and causes one of the magic beans to spout a stalk straight up into the sky. After many valiant attempts at rescuing the Princess, who is trapped in Jack’s house, the pair become separated, Jack slips and lays unconscious in the human world, while Isabelle is propelled by the rapidly growing beanstalk into the giant world above. Jack, who is terrified of heights, eagerly volunteers to climb the beanstalk along with the King’s royal army, and Isabelle’s betrothed, Roderick, on their search for the Princess. The film is titled for Jack and rightly so because, Princess Isabelle only proves to be a strong female lead for the beginning half of the film. Ever since she was a child, Isabelle had a strong desire for adventure, and she would sneak out of the castle to learn about the people she would eventually be leading. When she is separated from Jack, she ventures off into the new and mysterious world on her own to explore her surroundings. But once she enters the giant world, she quickly morphs into the stereotypical princess who needs saving. And while we’re on the subject of women, female giants, and all women in general aside from the Princess and her deceased mother were noticeably absent from the film.
Elmont, played by Ewan McGregor, is arguably the best supporting character in the film. He truly has the Princess’s best interest in mind, and while he reminds Jack before their journey that he is unfit for Isabelle, he recognizes how much the pair care for each other and gives them his blessing so to speak. Elmont is a strong leader, has a good judge of character (he immediately distrusts Roderick), and stays in the giant world to complete his duty without any regard for his own well being. Also admirable is Elmont’s second in command, Crawe, who is played by Eddie Marsen. As always, Stanley Tucci nails his role as the evil power hungry Rodderick, even though we are unable to clearly determine his motivation behind ruling the giants.
Three quarters of the way through the film, there is a false resolution set forth, but fear not, the battle scene you’ve been waiting for is still on the horizon. Originally it seemed disappointing to be subjected to so much fight scene build up, only to be let down by the false resolution. Once I came to terms with the lack of action, I realized I had been tricked and the battle was just beginning. While the film overall is interesting and exciting, it seems to run a little bit longer than necessary. Not that I’m complaining at the prospect of seeing more Nicholas Hoult on the big screen. It could’ve used a bit more focus and development, but as I stated before, despite my many criticisms, I did find Jack and the Giant Slayer to be an enjoyable film. I remember loving it in the theater, and it wasn’t until I began writing and analyzing everything that my opinion was slightly altered.
About a year ago it became my monthly tradition to attend the Midtown Comics book club which is hosted by my good friend Thor Parker. The comic book club convenes on the last Friday of each month at the Downtown location on Fulton Street in New York City. It’s a really entertaining gathering of people who enjoy reading comics and each month there’s a special guest (usually the author, artist or editor of that month’s selection). Thor moderates the discussion and the rest of the group listens attentively as we become privy to the anecdotal behind-the-scenes type stories and experiences that went into the creation of the book. Did I also mention that there are donuts? The discussion usually runs for about an hour and afterwards the guest will stick around and sign your book. If you love reading comics, meeting creators, and collecting signed trades, you should definitely check out the Midtown Comics book club!
At the end of each club, Thor announces the next month’s selection, and Midtown Comics always offers the book at 25% off the cover price from that night until the night of the next book club. I was absolutely overjoyed when I found out that February’s book club would focus on a Spider-Man graphic novel entitled Kraven’s Last Hunt. And even more exciting, the guest speaker would be Jim Salicrup, who edited the series! I really enjoyed reading Kraven’s Last Hunt several years ago and I found it to be an even more enjoyable read this time around, especially considering the recent direction that Dan has taken Amazing/Superior Spider-Man in. (I wrote a post a little while back about Dan’s Amazing Spider-Man run which you can read here.)
Kraven’s Last Hunt (written by J.M. Dematteis with art by Mike Zeck), is one of the few Spider-Man tales where the reader gets an in depth look into the mindset of the lesser used villain, Kraven the Hunter. Kraven successfully ‘kills’ Peter Parker and begins parading around New York City in the black Spider-Man suit armed with the demented notion that by imitating Peter and embracing the spider, he will somehow master him, and become a superior Spider-Man (No really, he says that! See page 37!). Hence, one of the intriguing parallels between Spider-Man now and Spider-Man then. A fair portion of the story is also devoted to Peter’s new wife, Mary Jane Watson. Part of Peter’s motivation to overcome the handicap that Kraven has imposed upon him is the prospect of spending more time with MJ. While I have always and will always be a Gwen Stacy fan, I have to admit that Mary Jane’s vulnerability caused by her fear of losing Peter is quite endearing. She even considers confiding in Peter’s boss at the Daily Bugle but she thinks better of it because she realizes that she’s been entrusted with Peter’s secret it’s her responsibility to maintain it. There’s a scene where Mary Jane thinks she has found Peter, but she quickly realizes that it’s not her beloved in the suit after she witnesses the masked Kraven’s overly violent crime fighting techniques. When Peter returns he is forced to deal with the repercussions caused by the havoc that Kraven has been wreaking. The ending of Kraven’s tale is shocking, but you’ll just have to pick up the trade if you’re curious about how the story unfolds.
Jim told us all about how Kraven’s Last Hunt was one of the grittiest and darkest Spider-Man tales ever told, especially at the time of its publication in 1987. The story was originally shopped as a Batman/Joker story, but was transformed into a Spider-Man tale before it was released. It was originally titled “Fearful Symmetry,” but the name was changed to Kraven’s Last Hunt in trade. Jim was one of the first editor’s to attempt to streamline all of the Spider-Man titles under the Marvel umbrella instead of selling each title as an individual story. This is why Kraven’s Last Hunt collects Web of Spider-Man #31-#32, Amazing Spider-Man #293-#294, and Spectacular Spider-Man #131-#132, yet when read together, the issues form one cohesive story arc. I always love to hear stories about the inside workings at Marvel, and about the great comic legends who paved the industry for today’s writers and artists so I found Jim to be a particularly interesting speaker. He touched upon his interactions with Stan Lee, and John Romita Sr., and several other Marvel bigwigs. We also learned that Jim had originally gone by ‘James,’ until John Romita Sr., had dubbed him ‘Jim.’ While Jim’s time at Marvel has ended, he is still actively contributing to the comics industry. Jim is currently the editor in chief of Paprercutz which publishes graphic novelizations of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and one of my childhood favorites, Tales From the Crypt.
I spent a bunch of time in January and February hemming and hawing over whether I should read Beautiful Creatures before I ventured out to see the film. Beautiful Creatures is based on the young adult novel of the same name, written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. After careful consideration I decided to see the movie first because I knew that I wanted to write a review of it, and I didn’t want said review to turn into a comparison essay between two pieces which should theoretically be viewed as separate entities. For what it is, Beautiful Creatures is an entertaining and intriguing film. Just to preface that statement, I am in no way trying to demean the film by phrasing my overall opinion with the “for what it is,” disclaimer. I have no shame in admitting that I have quite the soft spot for young adult fiction and films (sans Twilight, ugh, which I won’t even begin to rant about here), but let’s face it, when someone chooses to attend a film in that genre, they’re not expecting to see the next Annie Hall.
It is however, pleasantly surprising to see how well the film conveys the good versus evil theme. Lena (played by Alice Englert), a castor, has recently relocated to live with her Uncle Macon in Gatlin, Georgia just before her sixteenth birthday when it will be revealed during a ritual whether she will be claimed by the light or the darkness. There is a constant struggle throughout the story in which Lena flip flops from the light side to the dark side. Lena is not inherently good or inherently evil, instead she rests somewhere in the morally grey area, which affords her character to be more relatable (especially to us mortals). As much as humans would love for everything to have a black and white definition of what constitutes good and what should be condemned as evil, it is an unrealistic expectation, and there are always outside circumstances that influence an individual’s decision-making process.
Another major factor that contributes to Lena’s inability to control her emotions and her powers, is her love of Ethan Wate (played by Alden Ehrenreich). Ethan has lived in the small sheltered town of Gatlin for his entire life but he has been itching to get out, that is, until Lena shows up. (Side note: One of the best lines in the film is when Ethan’s bitterly overbearing ex-girlfriend tells him that she prays he doesn’t go straight to hell. Ethan’s response is “Oh I won’t go straight to hell. I’m going to stop in New York first.”) But alas, the exposition between the pairs love affair is slightly lacking and the viewer is expected to accept the concept of destiny in order to understand how their relationship develops so quickly.
The standout performances in the film are by Jeremy Irons, who plays Uncle Macon, Emmy Rossum, Lena’s cousin Ridley that was claimed by the darkness upon her sixteenth birthday, and Emma Thompson, Macon’s sister and Lena’s mother who is another dark castor.
The scenery is delightful to view, and there were several shots, and costume choices that seemed to be inspired by The Craft. Between the woods, Macon’s luxuriously modern and out of place mansion, and the secret castor library protected by the Seer Amma (Viola Davis), the film has its fair share of pleasurable aesthetics. The ending of the film doesn’t tie everything together which is to be expected since Beautiful Creatures is the first in a series of four books. It was obvious that the filmmakers tried to cram as much information into the first movie as possible (the book is over 400 pages!), but it still seemed as if some pertinent information was missing in areas. This helped affirm my confidence in the decision to read the book post movie because I am now curious to see which parts were cut out, if perhaps the connection between Lena and Ethan is built with a stronger foundation, and what exactly was altered to adapt the book to a film friendly screenplay. If you’re looking for a film that’s a little bit heavier than the typical light entertainment supplied by a supernatural rom-com, but will still satisfy your desire for a guilty pleasure, you should definitely consider seeing Beautiful Creatures.
Since The Walking Dead is finally back, I decided that it would be an appropriate time to recap one of my favorite Walking Dead related events I have ever attended. Last Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Atlanta for Dragon*Con with my lovely On Wednesdays We Wear Pink co-creator, Kristin, and her husband Patrick. In addition to our con-going we were also invited to attend “The Big Zombie Tour,” a tour created by Atlanta Movie Tours, which turned out to be my favorite part of our entire trip. Anyone who has visited our site knows that we are both huge zombie fans, and more particularly, Walking Dead fans. This bus tour takes you throughout Atlanta and brings you to all of the places where memorable scenes from The Walking Dead were filmed. Atlanta is such a beautiful city, mixed with both urban and suburban areas which made for an unique and gorgeous experience. Throughout the tour, there are trivia questions being asked with prizes for correct answers, photo-ops in all of the locations you visit, and anecdotes from The Walking Dead set. “The Big Zombie Tour” was hosted by a fellow named Charlie who played a zombie on the show with a featured kill, and an awesome tour operator named Patty. Charlie is the zombie in the beginning of season two that Daryl shoots in the eye with an arrow and guts in order to determine if he had eaten the missing Sophia. It was evident that both Patty and Charlie love what they’re doing, and their enthusiasm and knowledge of The Walking Dead truly enhanced the tour. Other Kristin also wrote an in-depth article about the specific places we visited which you can read about here. If you’re interested in attending The Big Zombie Tour, you can book your trip on Atlanta Movie Tours website. Trust me, if you love zombies, this is a tour that you cannot miss! Below are some of my favorite photos we took during our trip!
This may sound like an awful pun, but I had been *dying* to see Warm Bodies since I first saw the theatrical trailer debut during an episode of The Walking Dead a few months back. Many people had been making fun of the idea of a zombie love story and I had heard many remarks about this film being a “zombie Twilight.” Regardless of the comparisons, I knew that I had to see it. In fact, I became so obsessed with it, that I convinced myself I loved it before I even had a chance to see it. Usually this kind of behavior doesn’t bode well for films because you end up having such high expectations, that the actual movie itself can only be a disappointment. Fortunately, this was not the case with Warm Bodies.
Here goes a sentence I never imagined I would say in my entire lifetime: R is one hot zombie. Played by Nicholas Hoult, our main lovestruck member of the undead, goes by the name R (since he is unable to remember his real name), and he is a self aware zombie who seeks more out of, er… consciousness. He saves a beautiful human girl Julie (played by Teresa Palmer), from being eaten by his hoard of zombie friends by masking her in zombie blood so they would be unable to smell their potential meal, but only after first eating her boyfriend. Warm Bodies used one of my favorite zombie-isms, a factor which I first read about in Chris Roberson’s iZombie, in which a zombie is subjected to all of the memories of the human they’re devouring once they eat said human’s brains. The film, adapted from the young adult novel of the same name, written by Isaac Marion, puts a modern post-apocalyptic day spin on Romeo and Juliet (I mean, the main characters names are R and Julie, it doesn’t get more obvious than that). I mean think about it, a zombie and a human, it is the ultimate in forbidden romances. Besides the obvious theme of young love, the film also managed to be an inspiring piece about craving more from life, and doing whatever is necessary to achieve it. R is one ambitious zombie. He convinces Julie that it would be unsafe for her to leave his zombie confine for a few days because his zombie neighbors and friends would notice, allowing himself just enough time for his endearing groans and choppy sentences to charm Julie into loving him. As if the life barrier wasn’t enough, R’s next conflict is winning over Julie’s less than reasonable father. But that’s a whole other story. Another notable character is R’s best zombie friend M, played by Rob Corddry. M and R share a the most adorable zombie bromance.
As I may have mentioned earlier on Twitter, a major reason this film works so well is because it is so self aware. From noting ironic music choices, to R commentating on his hopes of not coming off as a creep because of his zombie stare, to an almost romantic scene in which R relays to Julie that, yes he must in fact eat people in order to survive. The film did a fantastic job of humanizing zombies which is something you don’t see in many zombie flicks despite the fact that zombies are just dead humans. Instead, the film’s characters demonize a different breed of zombies, called Bonies. Bonies are zombies who have completely given up. R describes them as eating anything with a heartbeat and not feeling bad about it. With their disgusting skeletal frame and lack of skin, the Bonies also gain the ability to run at some serious speed and focus on their potential targets.
Overall, I loved Warm Bodies so much, that I decided to pick up a copy of the book which is currently sitting on my bedside table just begging to be read (okay fine, I picked up the book a few days before I saw the movie because I was anticipating loving it so much, but it all worked out in the end!). If you’re interested in zombie films, star crossed lovers, young adult fiction, or simply entertaining self aware comedies in general, you should definitely check out Warm Bodies while it’s still in theaters. I cannot praise this film enough.
*Side Note: One of my instagram followers pointed out that Nicholas Hoult who plays R, also played Tony in the British television show Skins, and now I can finally stop wondering why I felt like I already knew and loved him before this role. Evidently, he also played the child in the move adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. And Beast in X-Men: First Class!
When I heard that Ni No Kuni, a new video game with animation by Studio Ghibli, was being released, I knew I had to pick up my copy on the day it came out. And considering that so far, the game is only for PS3 (my game system of choice), I seemed destined to own this game. (If you haven’t already, you can pick up a copy on Amazon). The game itself is more like a movie than a game, but in the best way possible. It tells the story of the cutest little animated boy ever, Oliver, whose mom passes away just after saving his life. Shortly after his mom passes, Oliver’s tears break a curse that was placed on his toy, Drippy. Drippy, who turns out to be a fairy with a fun accent from the parallel reality of Ni No Kuni, comes to life and gifts him with a book all about the wonders, rules, and techniques of magic. Since the parallel reality is a sort of alternate version of Oliver’s current reality, he (reluctantly at first), decides to venture to Ni No Kuni, help Drippy free his world from the White Witch, and save his alternate mother. Below are some brief character bios from a site that my friend Dan (@Darkflight) was kind enough to send to me before I purchased my game!
The site also includes a link to all of the games trailers, but the one below is my favorite. The other trailer is a bit on the sadder side, and while that part really did get me in the beginning (don’t judge me for crying OKAY?!), the game overall is much more upbeat and fun!
Obviously notable is the Studio Ghibli animation. The game is gorgeous and movie-like and overall the scenery and characters are very enchanting. Adding to whimsy is the serene soundtrack performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus. I particularly enjoy reading The Wizard’s Companion that Drippy gives you immediately prior to the commencement of your quest. The companion is full of magical guides, information, how-to’s, and a language decoder. If you take the time to decode the language throughout the game you will find a bunch of easter eggs hidden within.
Kotaku put together a very helpful post with tips about Ni No Kuni before you delve into the game. So far, the most helpful that I’ve found are to 1) use L2 and R2 in combat, 2) don’t get too attached to your starters, 3) do side quests, and my own personal addition to their list would be to utilize the map in the top right corner if you’re unsure where you’re going.
One thing I haven’t yet done, but I think I may once I complete the game for the first time, is to play it again but set the language to Japanese. Studio Ghibli films are meant to viewed in Japanese with subtitles, but for my first time around I wanted to focus on all of the images without having to worry about reading subtitles. Overall, I’d say that picking this game up was a win-win situation. If you’re on the fence about buying a copy, I would encourage to you to take the plunge because it is well worth the money. In case I’ve convinced you that you need this game, the link to Amazon is below :o) I can definitely see myself coming back to this game after I’ve completed it, the same way I am drawn back to certain movies. The story is heartfelt and resonates in a way that only Studio Ghibli films can.
5. #693-#694 – One of Dan’s most recent story arcs about Spider-Man’s accidental sidekick, a tween named Alpha, comes in at number 5 on my list. After a school field trip to Horizon Labs, a previously unnoticed kid who was in attendance acquires superpowers. Peter is tasked with mentoring and training him. The boy is given the name Alpha because he is the only “Alpha-level” superhero on the planet. I really enjoyed this story because it was interesting for Peter to see a kid who was in the same situation as him royally screw up and use his powers for selfish reasons. It served as a kind of affirmation that Peter’s life choice of fulfilling his potential and taking responsibility, was the correct one to make. Seeing Alpha act as a self centered teenage heartthrob who books an appearance on The Vampire Diaries was in a way, like seeing Peter through the looking glass if he hadn’t had Aunt May and Uncle Ben to instill such noble values in him. The trade for #693-#694 isn’t out yet, but check with your local comic book store about obtaining the issues! (Update: You can buy the trade The Amazing Spider-Man: Danger Zone on Amazon!)
4. #648-#651 – Dan’s first Spider-Man story arc after Brand New Day ended and the page count per issue increased, ‘Kill To Be You,’ is one of my favorites because it lays the groundwork for the Spider-Man universe we were to expect as Dan’s run continued. It’s the perfect jumping on point for anyone who is interested in reading Spider-Man comics. Peter finally obtains the coolest job ever as an associate at Horizon Labs, a job that allows him the flexibility to fulfill Spider-Man’s responsibilities as well as pay his rent. Basically, Peter is a little older, a little wiser, a little smoother, and a whole lot cooler than his previous incarnations. The story is quite eventful and includes the reintroduction of the Hobgoblin, finds Spider-Man in a new suit, and has Peter team up with Black Cat to face off with Kingpin and Montana. You can read the full story in Spider-Man: Big Time.
2. #678-679 – Time travel is my favorite science fiction topic to read about. Because there are so many rules, time travel is a difficult topic to tackle, but when it’s done correctly, the result is something so intriguing, that I am barely able to express my love for it in words. The time door arc is one of those very stories. Grady, a co-worker of Peters, creates a time door which allows the person who enters to step one day into the future. There’s no problem when Grady steps through it, but when Peter does, we see that New York is completely destroyed. Peter must go back to the previous day to try to stop his ‘day off’ from resulting in the future he foresaw. With only the help of Grady and the next day’s newspaper, Spidey must heed Madame Web’s warnings and race against the clock to save our city. Plus there’s a bunch of sweet Doctor Who references. You can read the story in Spider-Man: Trouble on the Horizon.