Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Title: Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 127 minutes
Classification: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy

This movie has received quite a few negative reviews and it is not hard to see why. I mean, I knew before seeing it that
Snow White and the Huntsman didn't exactly receive glowing accolades, but I wanted to give it a chance anyway, especially since my taste is questionable. Sadly, it proved to be a mess of a movie, and not in the enjoyable way either.

So it's a dark and gritty retelling of the Snow White myth, where Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is transformed into an action girl who escapes the evil queen (Charlize Theron) with the help of an Oirish Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and eventually leads (?) an army to reclaim her throne. There are some pretty interesting concepts at play, the evil queen's back story and the magic of the fairest being the most intriguing. Unfortunately, most of these are never properly fleshed out; you have a sprinkling of great ideas, but they never
go anywhere. It even feels as if there is no depth beyond the surface, that all we see is all that has been conceived. So much potential, wasted.

The original story has been tweaked to give it an epic scope, but the film never lives up to its lofty ambitions. Too much happens, and not enough. Events keep piling up, one after another, and the whole thing feels rushed. There isn't enough time for things to sink in, or for you to care about the characters. Case in point: I can't even remember how many dwarves there were, and I just watched this film. I also didn't buy the idea that Snow could lead an army against the queen – being locked up for long, she has no military or combat training and there was not enough build up to make me believe that she could inspire such loyalty in the people. The plot, as it is, would perhaps have been better suited to a miniseries or a book; a two-hour film is not enough time for this retelling to achieve the impact it deserves.

These problems carry through to the script as well. Between the unbearably corny parts (looking at you, Mr. Old Dwarf) is the occasional heartfelt speech. However, given the pacing of the film, it's difficult to agree with the sentiments expressed – you're just not as invested as the characters are and their strong ~feelings~ seem to spring out of nothing. The actors do alright, given what they have to work with, so sure, you believe that
they care, but it's hard for you to do the same.

Snow White and the Huntsman
is a nice looking film, though some scenes do little more than highlight how attractive Charlize Theron is (looking at you, milk bathing scene). But despite this and some cool ideas, the film manages to be kind of boring. It's a little like Wrath of the Titans in that regard; it's easy to disengage with but entertaining enough to endure.

Alex's Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Book Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

Title: The Girl in the Steel Corset (first book in The Steampunk Chronicles)
Author: Kady Cross
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Historical fiction, Science fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

The concept here is essentially steampunk teen X-Men, with a side of Final Fantasy-esque costumes and girly wish fulfilment (Masquerade Ball! Hot Dudes! Fighting Heroine! Love Triangles!). My thirteen-year-old self would have exploded in excitement over something like this, but now that I'm old and jaded, I can't muster up the same enthusiasm. Sorry about that.

The story starts when Finley, a girl with a violent alter ego, runs away and joins a bunch of young people with superpowers – one of whom, of course, is very handsome and very rich. Together, they investigate the crimes of the Machinist, a villain who uses robots to commit nefarious deeds.

Though it's set in an alternate Victorian period, the novel doesn't read like a historical at all. The writing is more neutral or contemporary, which makes it easy to read, and it is the narration that clues us in to the social etiquette of the times. This decision is particularly understandable when you consider how the clothing and technology described take the story away from historical fact and into the realm of fantasy. Personally, I would have liked a bit more of a historical
feel to the prose, but as written the language is very accessible to younger teens.

The novel was a lot more plot-driven and action-packed than I expected it to be, which was a surprise. To be honest, I expected more introspection and whatnot, but there were plenty of fight scenes and lots of stuff actually happened. Less
Twilight, more Vampire Diaries – but with an added bonus of an action girl for a heroine.

The book itself is like fairy floss or popcorn: fun, addictive and fluffy.
It's a girly action movie in book form, enjoyable but without too much depth. Like many action movies, the plot is rather predictable and it isn't particularly original either; I would say it's more of a mish-mash of various beloved tropes and concepts than an entirely new creation. Only very few things did not make logical sense to pedantic ol' me but it's fine if you don't think about it and just let yourself get carried along for the ride.

Also, though the plot is resolved by the book's end, the last pages comprise a cliffhanger for the sequel, which I know can be annoying for some people.

The book is great if you're after something girly and easy to read that's neither dull nor silly. Best enjoyed if you don't expect too much and just sit back and enjoy the fantasy.

Alex's Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, 8 June 2012

Book Review: Daughter of Siena

Title: Daughter of Siena
Author: Marina Fiorato
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Historical fiction

Though it has a romance-y cover,
Daughter of Siena is actually a tale of intrigue. The setting is Italy, 1723, and the novel is about Sienese contrade (districts) plotting to overthrow their Medici duchess. Now perhaps I've been watching too much Game of Thrones, but I found all the scheming in this book to be rather underwhelming, to say the least.

The story centres on a horse race and three characters who try to thwart their enemies. The way it all pans out is rather contrived. Myths, symbolism and literary allusions are in abundant supply, beloved by author and character alike. Whilst poetic at times, it ultimately got a bit much for me, especially when
the characters themselves insisted on using such symbolism as part of their intrigues. But hey, if you like the thought of riddles actually being used in political schemes, then this could be the book for you.

This wouldn't have been so bad if there wasn't so much repetition in the book. For example, we are constantly reminded that Pia is beautiful and that black and white are ~meaningful colours~. Things are both told and shown; there were many instances where the narrator tells us something, only to explain it all again when another character mentions it indirectly. It was very frustrating.

At other times, I could do nothing but wait for the author to reveal the answers. Solutions to certain problems depended on knowledge about the city, so it wasn't like I could guess for myself what the baddies were up to. However, for someone who knows Siena, figuring this stuff out could end up being a really enjoyable part of the book, so yeah, good for you I guess. I don't know how much artistic license the author has taken with this though; for example, while most of the things she mentions about the Medici are based on real life, I do know that she has tweaked key facts for the sake of the story.

To add to my list of complaints is the intelligence of the schemers in this book. If you're going to play at politics and wax lyrical about how you're moving chess pieces, then I expect you to know what you're doing. You shouldn't need to “suddenly” think of such-and-such and you shouldn't be surprised at the possible direct consequences of your actions – rather, you should be clever enough to have thought of these things all along!

Alright, pedant alert for my last complaint, which is about fact-checking. At one point, a curtain is described as “dark red as arterial blood” (p129). Arterial blood is not dark red, it is bright red. Venous blood is dark red. I suppose arterial blood would be dark red if it's in the dark, but really, come on. One more thing that I found jarring was when the narrator casually draws an analogy involving “satellite planets around the sun” (p255). I am nitpicking here, and the scenario is possible, but I'm not sure if an uneducated horseman in 1723 would have been aware – let alone so accepting – of heliocentric theory, particularly if the Church was against it. I know these are minor things, but they really did jolt me out of the story.

Now, despite my complaints, I could not leave the book unfinished.

The writing has a rich, pillowy quality that makes it easy to read, and the book is littered through with many a pretty phrase. I have mentioned the (over)use of symbolism above, but I should also say that it was at times also rather pleasant and charming.

The non-intrigue aspects were also nicely done. The book was strongest when it dealt with the characters' personal issues and histories, rather than the plot. Pia's married life, the duchess' children and so on – these were all human and believable and interesting to read about. Also well written were the descriptions about horses and riding and the
Palio. These aspects took up a good portion of the book, yet sadly for me, they are overshadowed by the main plot because of what it was. If the intrigue had remained in the background, or if some of it had been left to the imagination, I would have really enjoyed this novel.

My ranting makes this book sound worse than it is. Think of it this way: it was engaging enough that it got under my skin and I was still enraptured enough to want to find out how it all ended. If you like a historical tale rich with lyric symbolism, you may very well like this book. If you're the cynical pedantic type, avoid this book lest ye froth at the mouth.

Alex's Rating: 3/5