Movie Review: Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness (2022)

TL;DR – a film about differences and how those differences are what make us interesting.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Chickenhare, as the name suggests, is half-chicken, half-hare and he has no idea why he was born this way. He is found as a baby in a boat by two hare brothers, Peter and Lapin, who are adventurers trying to find the Hamster of Darkness (a mythical sceptre that can summon an army of ghost hamsters). Raised by Peter, Chickenhare idolises his adopted father and wants to become an adventurer as well. However, he is teased incessantly for his appearance and tries to cover up the chicken parts of him so he looks like a hare only.

He wears fluffy rabbit shoes over his chicken feet and a fedora hat to cover the chicken feathers that grow between his large rabbit ears that would make Dumbo the elephant envious. While Peter expresses a love that accepts all of Chickenhare, Chickenhare hates that he is different.

Bubbling beneath the surface is a rivalry and feud between the two hare brothers that reminded me a lot of the relationship between Mufasa and Scar in “The Lion King”. Peter is anointed the King of Featherbeard, and Lapin attempts to overthrow his brother for the crown but fails. Stuck in a cell, Lapin is allowed to access books and continues to research the Hamster of Darkness, which in his mind if he can obtain he will become ruler of Featherbeard.

When Chickenhare comes of age, he undertakes the trials set by the Royal Adventure Society to become a full fledged adventurer. Unfortunately, he fails the obstacle course due to the gear he is wearing that covers up his chicken features. Down but not out, Chickenhare endeavours to secretly find the Hamster of Darkness to prove his ability as an adventurer. He goes to meet his Uncle Lapin in jail to obtain a book on the Hamster of Darkness and in doing so, Lapin obtains one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock to escape. Thus begins the race to find the Hamster of Darkness first.

Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness takes a lot of inspiration from other films. As mentioned above, there is “The Lion King” rivalry between brothers Peter and Lapin. And Chickenhare is a character like Dumbo the elephant, who is shunned for his appearance. There is even a scene later in the film where Chickenhare finally accepts who he is and his enormously large rabbit ears sprout chicken feathers allowing him to fly just like Dumbo. But the inspirations don’t stop there. Others that I picked up include:

  • The adventure scenes are all influenced from “Indiana Jones” movies with booby traps and even a giant rock wheel that slowly rolls down a hallway threatening to crush Chickenhare and his friends (just like Indiana did running away from the giant boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).
  • Lapin’s imprisonment down the bottom levels of the dungeon reminded me of Tai Lung the snow leopard in “Kung Fu Panda”. Lapin even escapes using one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock, just as Tai Lung escaped from his shackles using a duck feather.
  • The obstacle course set out by the Royal Adventure Society uses dangerous contraptions to test the dexterity and skill of the wannabe adventurer. It reminded me a bit of the training arena in “How to Train Your Dragon” minus the dragons.

With all the above elements, does the movie work? Surprisingly yes. Though there are clear tributes to other films including a moment where Lapin reveals that he is Chickenhare’s father (actually he’s not, but they had to do an ode to “Star Wars”), the movie works because the characters are engaging and the story of accepting one’s differences, and it is these differences that make us interesting and unique, is a message that all audiences young and old should hear and embrace.

Chickenhare is supported through the film by Meg (a skunk who faces her own issues of discrimination) and Abe (a pessimistic tortoise that is so droll in his delivery that you can’t help but chuckle).

And then there is the scene with the “pigmies”. A tribe of pig-like critters that see Chickenhare as a god that they provide a banquet for and then subsequently will sacrifice in a volcano. These pink little dudes stole the show. They can turn themselves into cube building blocks and essentially build one on top of each other into transformer-like structures. They’re hilarious and quite alarming when a tidal wave of them come at you.

And did I mention that the when the Hamster of Darkness is used to summon the ghost hamsters they reminded me of the green ghost swarm in “Lord of the Rings”?

I mean do I need to go on? It’s an enjoyable ride.

8.5 out of 10

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Four) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick reaches Australia after three years since the plague hit. Will he finally find Beth?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Having arrived in Sydney aboard an Australian submarine, Yorick is determined to find Beth. Though Agent 355 accompanies him and tries to watch his back, he’s found by a reporter who takes a photo of him with all his man bits on display so she can publish the news to the world and win a Pulitzer.

Agent 355 finds the reporter but fails to retrieve the film. Yorick is able to convince her to let the reporter go and allow the photo to be published because it’s a tabloid paper as opposed to a ‘real’ newspaper, and no woman will believe the tabloid photo.

Returning to his search, Yorick discovers that Beth has left for Paris to search for him. Paris is meant to hold some special meaning between the pair, but Yorick has no idea what that might be and why she would journey to France in search of him.

Meanwhile, Ampersand the monkey has arrived in Yokogata and managed to escape from the clutches of Toyota, a Japanese ninja (never thought I’d write a sentence like that…)

Review

Conflicting agendas are the name of the game at the start of book 4 of Y: The Last Man. Agent 355 and Dr Mann want to head to Yokogata to rescue Ampersand. On the other hand, Yorick has finally reached Australia and wants to find Beth. Agent 355 agrees to giving him 24 hours to see what he can find about Beth and her location and then it’s destination Japan.

Though he ends up getting photographed nude and published in a tabloid newspaper, he discovers that Beth has left the Land Down Under for the lights of Paris, which makes absolutely no sense to Yorick.

A lot of threads continue to get tugged as we follow Yorick’s journey. As the reader, we get to jump all around the world and see what is happening to the various people Yorick has interacted with previously. A number of surprises include:

  • The Beth who lives in Cooksfield, California that seduced Yorick is now pregnant with a baby girl. She is visited by Hero and joins her. Together, they head to Kansas to meet up with the Hartle twins.
  • In Washington, Yorick’s mother, Jennifer (aka Secretary Brown) discovers the tabloid and photo of him and realises he is still alive. Unfortunately, she is visited by Alter, the Israeli rebel, and is murdered.
  • More backstory on Agent 355 and how she came to work for the Culper Ring. The surprise being that she ended up killing her teacher, who attempted to assassinate the president after joining the splinter group, Setauket Ring.
  • The origins of Ampersand and his immunity are shown. He was a test monkey and injected with mysterious serum and was meant to be shipped off to Dr Mann’s laboratory. In transit, however, he ended up escaping and getting mixed up with another monkey that was destined for “Helping Hands” (an organisation that trains monkeys to help disable people). When Yorick applied at Helping Hands, he was assigned Ampersand.
  • Alter interrogates the Hartle twins and finds out that Yorick is making his way to Paris. We learn more of Alter’s origins, and there’s small surprise that she joined the army not to seek revenge for her sister’s death (who we thought was killed by Palestinians) but because she believes the world will always have war and operates on bloodshed. We discover that Alter’s sister was actually killed protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer.

However, the juiciest pieces of the puzzle come forth from Dr Allison Mann as we get several flashbacks to her upbringing. As a child, she learned her father, Dr Matsumori (a radical bioengineer) was having an affair with his research assistant, Dr Ming. We also learn he and Dr Ming were also studying cloning.

It then jumps to when Allison was a young adult, living in America with her father and falling in love with another woman named Mercedes. When her father announces that they will be moving to China, Allison refuses and accuses her father of wanting to get back together with Dr Ming. The dissolution of her relationship with her father leads her to move in with Mercedes. However, their relationship does not last, which leaves an indelible mark on Allison.

Jumping forward to where she is now a lecturer in genetics at Harvard, she receives the news that her father is a few years away from cloning himself. Refusing to allow her father to achieve such a scientific breakthrough, Allison seeks to clone herself and dangerously self-impregnates with the help of her assistant Sunil. This then leads into the events we see in book one where she is rushed to hospital because something is wrong with the baby and then the “instant” plague hits killing every man on earth except Yorick.

These flashbacks bring us full circle to the present where Allison is back on the submarine in her cabin and starts haemorrhaging. The complications of her failed birth to her clone has clearly left damage that is now coming back to haunt her.

If there are any shortfalls with book four, it lies in a feeling of repetitiveness. There is even dialogue between Yorick and Agent 355 that reflects that they just seem to jump from one dangerous situation to the next. Agent 355 is at wits’ end and lets out a number of expletives at how hard it all is, while Yorick tries to console her. However, when you you’re the last man on earth, there were always going to be several countries of women looking to find him. You can always trust politics or misplaced religious beliefs to ensure little agreement as to who should “secure” Yorick.

With only one volume remaining, it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of Yorick, Ampersand, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

4 out of 5.

Anime Review: Sol Levante (2020)

TL;DR – 4-minute experimental anime that should be viewed only through that lens.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Production I.G has created a number of excellent anime over the past decade include Psycho-Pass, Guilty Crown and hands down the best volleyball anime ever in Haikyuu!!.

A joint project with Netflix, Sol Levante uses hand drawn constructs with 4K HDR (high dynamic range) technology. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a 4K HDR television (like myself) then you can’t fully appreciate Sol Levante‘s four minutes of animated brilliance.

The making of video by Netflix is longer than the anime itself, but it will give you an idea of what anime production companies like Production I.G are seeking to do.

For four minutes, you can’t tell much of a story but Sol Levante is meant to be about a warrior searching for a sacred place that fulfils wishes, but the warrior upsets the guardians that watch over the place.

In truth, it’s more an animated experiment than a proper story. And from an enjoyment factor, you’ll forget it immediately after it’s viewed.

I debated whether to do a review on something like this, but seeing the making of video helped me appreciate what animators are trying to do.

Anime traditionalists will likely hate everything about Sol Levante. But I’m a little more open to seeing different styles. I appreciate variety but not at the expense of story. At the end of the day, no matter how pretty it looks, if the story is not told well (or in this case there isn’t really a story) then it’s a wasted effort from an entertainment perspective.

I’m not sure why they released Sol Levante other than to act as a showcase or stepping stone of what is to come. But as a piece of entertainment, it did not do much for me.

2 out of 10

Movie Review: Persuasion (2022)

TL;DR – against her own judgement, Anne breaks off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth. Eight years later they meet again. Let the mind reading begin as they both mis-read each other’s feelings entirely.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Is chivalry dead? Not in a Jane Austen adaption. Persuasion, based on Austen’s last novel of the same name, examines and often repudiates the social codes of its time for which Austen was renown for.

While chivalry and social class of landed gentry is not dead in Austen’s novels, she goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that you can only go so far in sensing another person’s emotions and trying to read into what they are thinking and feeling without crumbling into a tragic mess. Especially when that emotion is love and it is a battle between the heart and head.

To point, the film begins with Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson) very much in love with Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) but has been persuaded by friends and family to break the engagement she has with him because he is of no notable name or rank (a mere sailor) and thus no suitable social status.

Eight years later and she hasn’t got over Frederick, and they meet up again through extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances being that Anne’s family is in financial trouble and they need to rent out their lavish estate, Kellynch Hall, and move to the less “lavish” town of Bath. Turns out Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia (Frederick’s sister) will be the ones moving into Kellynch Hall. And Anne meets Frederick once more who is now a decorated captain and is with considerable coin and social standing.

It’s as plain as day that the love between the pair has not waned. If anything, it has only grown stronger. And now that Captain Wentworth is higher up the rung on the social ladder, there should be no reason why he and Anne confess their love for one another once more and wed.

However, that would be a very short movie.

Instead, we have a lot of forlorn looks, uneasy chatter, and a surrounding cast that either treat Anne with tolerated disdain (i.e., her own family) or are making their own moves on Captain Wentworth or Anne respectively.

The humour is generated primarily from Anne’s narcissistic family who are all caricatures of the privileged social class (their fortunes obtained through inheritance or marriage as opposed to an honest day’s work). They’re a double edged sword that will either turn you off the film because they’re so annoying, or you’ll laugh out loud at how ridiculous they are as attention seekers.

Dakota Johnson carries the film well as the central character Anne, and her breaking down the fourth wall scenes about her thoughts and observations engage the audience.

However, for all her efforts, it’s not enough to carry a film that lacks any real drama. Though both she and Frederick capture the eye of interested others, which is meant to bring tension between the pair, there is never a sense that they won’t ever end up together.

All attempts at depth and being astutely scathing toward the upper class social structures of its time are filled with the hot air of its narcissistic supporting characters. And any insights about unrequited love and hope for a love that is found then lost then found again ends up being banal rather than thought provoking.

But perhaps that’s the aim of the film. In which case, enjoy the gorgeous cinematography and Dakota’s performance.

7 out of 10

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Three) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – The answers to saving humanity rest on the shoulders of one man, Yorick Brown, or so we thought…

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann reach San Francisco to Mann’s backup lab where they hope to finally get some answers as to why Yorick was the only man that survived a mysterious plague that wiped out every other man (and mammal with a Y chromosome) on earth simultaneously.

He and his pet monkey, Ampersand, are the only males known to be alive after this apocalyptic event.

While they undergo tests, Yorick and Agent 355 explore what has become of the city. They eventually are found by three different parties, all with different motives.

There is Hero, Yorick’s sister, who has been deprogrammed and is battling her brainwashing as an Amazon (a group of women who believe men were the oppressors and the world is better without them) and desires to find her brother to seek his forgiveness for killing a woman Yorick cared for in Marrisville (refer book two).

Then there is a splinter group known as the Setauket Ring that is looking to obtain the Amulet of Helene taken by Agent 355. There is a myth around the amulet that should it ever be removed from Jordan, a catastrophe would befall the world (refer book one). The Setauket Ring believe it is this amulet that caused the plague to occur.

Last, is a Japanese ninja named Toyota. She has been following the trio for some time but her target is not Yorick, Agent 355 or Dr Mann. She’s after Ampersand and has been hired by a mystery person named “Doctor M” to retrieve the monkey.

When Dr Mann finally obtains what she believes is the reason why Yorick survived the plague, it coincides with the above three groups colliding into them and not everyone coming out alive or unharmed. Dr Mann believes that Ampersand has some sort of mutation in him, and the monkey has a penchant for throwing its faeces at Yorick, who in turn obtained protection from the plague.

Toyota successfully captures Ampersand and heads to Japan, which results in Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann boarding a cruise ship that supposedly is transporting medical supplies but turns out is tons of heroin, and they end up in a sea battle with an Australian submarine. In book one, it was revealed when 2.9 billion men were wiped out, Australia, Norway and Sweden were the only countries that had women serving on board submarines at the time.

Through all of this, we see flashbacks of Yorick and how he came to fall in love with Beth.

Speaking of Beth, we finally get to see what she has been up to in the Australian Outback since the outbreak. Suffice to say, she is going through her own trials.

Review

The third volume in Vaughan’s series is chock full of plots and sub-plots that examines the multitude of perspectives from characters living in a world where all men except one have been wiped out.

It should be noted that while Yorick is the last man, the future of humankind does not rest solely on his shoulders as it is revealed that the female astronaut (from book two) has successfully given birth to a baby boy in a hot suite (basically, a medical bubble that provides protection from all external germs). However, the boy will most certainly die if it steps outside the hot suite, thus the need to find a vaccine.

A lot of themes continue to be examined including religion, sexuality, identity and purpose, and gender roles. One of the more interesting examinations is at the beginning of volume three, where Yorick enters a Catholic church in Cooksfield, California, and encounters a woman named Beth (no, not his girlfriend Beth who is stuck in Australia but a ‘new’ Beth). It seems Yorick wants to confess his sins but Beth reveals technically it’s no use because only auricular confessions (i.e., confessions made to a priest) can be heard and thus forgiven. This dilemma is short-lived, however, as Yorick’s conscience mustn’t be too heavy cause he ends up being seduced by Beth.

While a lot goes on, thankfully, it appears a number of sub-plots also get tied up. The Amulet of Helene turns out to be just a sandstone figurine with no magical powers. It gets smashed by the Setauket Ring who blackmail Agent 355 into giving it to them.

Hero achieves forgiveness and reconciliation with her brother, and she even manages to get over the mind games of her deceased Amazonian leader, Victoria. She ends up heading back east to tell their mother that Yorick is safe.

Ampersand is revealed as being the ‘miracle’ (not Yorick) containing a mutation that protects mammals with the Y chromosome from the plague. But the celebrations are short lived as Ampersand is monkey-napped by Toyota the Japanese Ninja.

It becomes clearer that Agent 355 is harbouring feelings for Yorick. Things get complicated when she ends up sleeping with Dr Mann because she thinks Yorick is sleeping with the captain of the cruise ship heading to Japan.

All in all though, the most interesting revelations in book three revolve around Yorick’s supposed true love, Beth (yes, the ‘Beth’ that is stuck in Australia). For the first time, we get to see her side more and the memories she has of her relationship with Yorick. These flashbacks lend much needed depth to her character, which up until now was only portrayed as an attractive blonde who looks good in a bikini and hiking boots (yes, in book one she is shown to be an anthropologist studying Aboriginals in the Australian outback, but really all you get is a character that is good-looking with a pretence at depth).

Will Yorick and Beth reunite? Only two volumes remain to find out.

4.5 out of 5.

Anime Review: The Cat Returns (2002)

TL;DR – Haru saves a cat from getting hit by a truck and triggers a journey into the Cat Kingdom where she unwittingly discovers cats that act like humans in more ways than one.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The Cat Returns (aka Neko no Ongaeshi) sees the return of Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, a handsome cat that dresses up in a suit and uses a cane. The Baron is a cat figurine that is used to inspire the main character in Whisper of the Heart to write a novel. In The Cat Returns, the Baron comes to life to help a young girl named Haru trapped in the Cat Kingdom.

Haru is a quiet, unassuming girl who often sleeps in, is late for school, and has an affection for cats. She has a good heart though is a bit unlucky in life and secretly pines after a boy named Machida in her class even though he already has a girlfriend.

One afternoon, while walking home from school, she spies a cat carrying a little gift box in its mouth. The cat attempts to cross the road, but Haru sees that an oncoming truck will run the poor feline over. Spurred into action, she rushes over with a lacrosse stick, scoops up the cat, and scrambles over to the opposite side crashing into the bushes. There she watches amazed as the cat stands on its hind legs and brushes himself down with his paws and then thanks Haru using human words for saving his life.

The cat she has saved is Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom, and later that evening, Haru receives a visit from a progression of cats (all walking on their hind legs) down her street carrying the Cat King who gifts Haru with a program as thanks for saving his son. The program will bestow upon her unlimited happiness, but Haru discovers the next day that happiness is all relative.

She wakes up with her front yard overgrown with cattails, and receives gifts of catnip and mice in her school locker. All this would be heaven if you’re cat, but for Haru it’s nothing but trouble. She is visited again by one of the servants of the Cat King and is invited to his kingdom along with a proposal to marry Prince Lune.

She, of course, expresses that she can’t marry a cat but briefly ponders the idea of living a life as a cat and thinking it would be much easier than being a human. This is interpreted as acceptance of the marriage proposal and leads her down an Alice-in-Wonderland type adventure into the Cat Kingdom.

Thankfully, there are those who are willing to help her return to the human world including the Baron and Muta (a giant fat cat with a penchant for eating everything in sight). Though Haru slowly begins to transform into a cat, she escapes with the aid of the Baron, Muta, Prince Lune (who didn’t realise that his father had tried to arrange this marriage) and Yuki (a white cat that Haru saved from starvation when she was a little girl).

The Cat King reminded me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. A rambunctious and volatile character that doesn’t hesitate in having any cat in his court kicked off the highest balcony in his castle. His attempts to prevent Haru from returning to the human world include a maze that gets Haru lost and a tower that has a portal to the human world loaded up with explosives.

In the end, Haru succeeds in persevering through her transformations and returning home. She learns to stand on her own two feet, which is the key transformation that sticks with Haru. By story’s end, she has grown and understands who she is better.

When she is told that Machida has broken up with her girlfriend, she reacts nonplussed and you realise her transformation is complete.

Not necessarily as impactful as other coming-of-age Studio Ghibli films (e.g., Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away are two masterpiece coming-of-age Studio Ghibli creations that come to mind), it still ticks all the boxes and is a delightful journey into the discovery of one’s self.

7 out of 10

Movie Review: The Gray Man (2022)

TL;DR – when the CIA seeks to disband a program of government elite assassins known as “the Gray Men” in order to retrieve stolen intel damning the agency itself, they put in charge a mercenary with sociopathic tendencies. Really smart move…not.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) has been incarcerated since he was 15 and is serving a 36-year prison sentence for killing his father.

Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) waltzes in, gives some watermelon bubble gum to Court, and tells him he’s there to commute his sentence.

The catch? Court has to come work for the CIA and be part of a black ops unit called the Sierra program and “exist in the gray” serving his government masters indefinitely but at least free to move on the outside instead of being stuck behind bars.

Fast forward 18 years and Court (aka “Sierra Six”) is in Bangkok at a raucous party of the rich and criminal kind and assigned a job to assassinate a bad guy. Things go sideways when Court refuses to fire because of collateral (a child is near the mark). Court is ordered by his Center Chief, Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), to take the shot and permitting him to incur collateral damage, but Court feigns his gun jamming. He pulls the fire alarm and in the ensuing chaos, attempts to get close enough to his target and kill him direct.

His target turns out to be Sierra Four. Sierra Six is never told the identity of his targets, and so Sierra Four tells Court that he’s been sent to kill one of his own. The ensuing fist fight among fireworks going off leads to Four being killed but not before he hands Six a pendant containing a USB stick with sensitive information showing the agency has corruption within and that he’ll be targeted next.

Sure enough, mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is hired by Carmichael and sent to take Sierra Six down. Chris Evans plays the sociopathic mercenary with relish, but it is a challenge to see him as anything other than an evil Captain America. The character Lloyd is a sick, torture-loving, rack up the body count as much as we have to, kind of guy and Evans delivers this role with guns blazing and biceps flexing in the kind of one-dimensional way that is sadly lacking any depth or complexity.

It is clear early on that Denny Carmichael is the corruption within because no sane person would utilise a loose cannon like Lloyd unless they had no scruples themselves. When Six eventually is able to decrypt the USB stick, it is shown there are videos of all the corrupt dealings that Denny has been involved in and the kills he has committed (or got others to commit) in order to further his own ends.

Through flashbacks, we discover that Court committed murder because his father abused him and his brother. This includes his father dunking his head in a tub of water and nearly drowning him along with using a car cigarette lighter and burning his arm. The breaking point is revealed when Court has to stop his father from killing his brother. It’s not any more layered than Lloyd’s character, but Ryan Gosling does his best to portray some level of complexity to his character in flashback scenes where he is assigned to look after Fitzroy’s niece earlier on in his career as Sierra Six.

The film is jam packed with action sequences that show why The Gray Man is the most expensive film ($200 million budget) ever produced by Netflix to date.

But does combining cash-draining action with a star studded cast equate to a great film? Or even an enjoyable one?

The answer is no. The problems lie in the plot. Even if you accept both Carmichael and Lloyd’s carte blanche power to seemingly be able to do whatever they want, which results in kidnapping, torture and murder of high ranking officials, destruction of cities and enough civilian casualties that you think that countries have somehow declared war on each other without knowing, there are huge problems by film’s end.

For example, when Lloyd and Court face-off in one final macho fist-fight, Lloyd actually has Court exactly where he wants him. Prior to said fight, Lloyd has Fitzroy’s niece at gun point and forces Court to lay down his weapon. Lloyd should have shot Court at this point and that would be game over. But instead, he goes on a short monologue about how he wants to test himself against Court in a fist-fight. After spending countless resources, hiring numerous hitmen, and causing death and destruction, Lloyd finally has the upper hand on Court and instead decides he wants to go toe-to-toe with him instead. Inexplicably, he lets Fitzroy’s niece go, lays down his own weapon and essentially challenges Court to a UFC match to the death. It’s moronic and silly.

And then in this same scene, Court (who has an earpiece and is working with non-corrupt CIA agent, Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas)) is told by Dani that she is in sniper position and can take Lloyd out. Why she didn’t do this once Lloyd willingly releases Fitzroy’s niece is baffling. Court actually accepts Lloyd’s UFC death match challenge and tells Dani to stand down. Idiotic.

The film also suffers from this sense that the story moves for the sole purpose of jumping from one action scene to the next. It is almost as if the Russo brothers who directed this film couldn’t care less about a coherent story and just wanted to show off how they could do these eye-watering action sequences. “Forget plot, more action!” I can hear them shout.

This could have been the next Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that reveals conspiracies in a genuine mysterious and gripping way rather than this over-the-top bombastic affair.

When Court and Lloyd duke it out, I was exhausted by all the previous action and numb from any sense of gravity of the situation. Not that any of it made much sense anyway.

If you’re after a mindless (or mind-numbing) action fest with no need for depth then The Gray Man will be right up your alley. Action without the thrills.

5 out of 10

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

TL;DR – a companion piece to Rowling’s hugely successful Harry Potter series.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

A collection of short stories that have been passed down through generations of witches and wizards that demonstrate that for all the benefits magic can bring, it can also cause just as many problems.

Review

I have been debating for some time whether to write a review of each of Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Their success and reach worldwide (along with the multitude of reviews already written on the series) has held me at bay. I devoured the seven-book journey of young Harry when they were first published; the first book alone I have read at least eight times. But venturing into writing a book review seems somewhat superfluous when I’m sure millions have already dissected the series.

So, while I continue to have this inner monologue with myself, I decided instead to write a review on The Tales of Beedle the Bard which is a collection of short stories written from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The introduction outlines its genesis. The collection was read at bed time to young witches and wizards as often as fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have been read to Muggles (i.e., us non-magical folk).

For centuries they have been told and re-told, and this latest incarnation has been “translated from the original runes by Hermione Granger” and has the added benefit of having additional notes written by Professor Albus Dumbledore himself.

One particular distinction between Muggle fairy tales and The Tales of Beedle the Bard are that in Muggle fairy tales, magic is usually the source of the hero/heroine’s problems, while in Beedle the stories tell of characters that can perform magic themselves but discover it is just as hard to solve their problems with magic as we do without magic.

In this way the morals in The Tales of Beedle the Bard are similar to parables and cautionary tales that have been written and shared through human history.

What makes this read a little different are the added notes by Albus Dumbledore after each story. He provides insight into how these tales link to the world of Harry Potter, Voldemort, the Malfoys and other famous witches and wizards and the historical prejudices that exist between the magical and non-magical worlds. It also underpins the division between those witches/wizards that believe they are superior and should rule over Muggles versus those who believe they should co-exist with Muggles.

Of the tales themselves, “The Fortune of Fair Fountain” is probably one of my favourites along with “The Tale of the Three Brothers” which is prophetic in nature and will be familiar to those who have read the Harry Potter series.

For die-hard fans who can’t get enough of all things Harry Potter, The Tales of Beedle the Bard will be a necessity for answering those obscure Potter trivia based on Rowling’s creation.

3.5 out of 5.

Anime Review: Tales from Earthsea (2006)

TL;DR – in a land where dragons and magic exists, there is a delicate balance. A balance threatened by a warlock seeking immortality.

Review (warning: spoilers)

When sailors aboard a ship witness two dragons fighting in the sky, it is an omen that the balance is being attacked. When one of the dragons gets killed, misfortune begins to fall across the land of Enlad. Crops fail, livestock die, and a disease starts plaguing the country.

For Prince Arren, he is also being plagued by some unseen shadow. It causes him to be possessed by a violent spirit, leading him to assassinate his father, the king, and stealing his sword.

Arren flees from the castle and ends up crossing a desert where he is chased by wolves. He is saved by the archmage Sparrowhawk, and together they journey to Hort town ruled by Lord Cob, a powerful warlock that has historical animosity towards Sparrowhawk.

In Hort, the prince and archmage briefly part ways. Arren discovers the inhumanity of the town. Slaves are bought and sold; a drug called hazia is peddled to the desperate; and most of the market stalls sell weapons. When he encounters a girl named Therru being chased by a slaver, Arren intervenes and saves her but reveals he does not care whether he lives or dies (guilt riddles him for murdering his father, and he doesn’t see the point in living), which upsets Therru who doesn’t want to be around someone who doesn’t care about life.

Arren later gets ambushed by the same slaver who wanted to capture Therru and ends up chained in a wagon with other slaves. The prince is saved by Sparrowhawk and taken to a small farm outside of town owned by a woman named Tenar, another mage who has worked previously with Sparrowhawk. It also happens that Therru is under Tenar’s care, and it is here that Arren reveals to Therru that he killed his father and stole his sword because of this shadow that pursues and possesses him.

Existentialism comes to the fore as the twist is that the “shadow” is the true Arren. What the prince is afraid of is living a life that will eventually end in death. Arren’s greatest fear is mortality.

And it is this fear that is used against him by Lord Cob who seeks to open the door between life and death and obtain eternal life. Lord Cob convinces Arren that Sparrowhawk has been manipulating him and wants to achieve immortality by using Arren for his own ends.

Lord Cob also kidnaps Tenar and uses her as bait to lure Sparrowhawk to his castle. There Cob unleashes Arren to fight Sparrowhawk, and though the archmage is able to save Arren and disarm him, the archmage is captured.

With the execution of Sparrowhawk and Tenar at hand, it ends up being Therru that saves the day. She manages to reach Arren, give him his father’s magic sword and convinces him that life is worth living because of its mortality. That’s what makes it precious.

The climactic scene sees both Arren and Therru defeat Cob and revealing that Therru is a dragon.

The wonders of Studio Ghibli animation are on full display and every scene is filled with sumptuous detail, and the characters animated with love and care.

The story itself is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. There’s a lot of stuff that gets mashed together that doesn’t quite make sense. For example, both Arren and Therru have ‘real’ names that if known can be used to evoke power or be used against them by a mage. This is never clearly explained but that’s how I interpreted these scenes where Arren reveals his true name to Cob, and the warlock is able to take control of him.

Then there’s the fact that Therru is a dragon and a princess, yet at no point does she reveal her power or royalty when she’s attacked by slavers. It’s kind of illogical and how and why she is with Tenar on a farm is a mystery.

Another mystery is why does Arren kill his father in the first place? Initially, I thought it was because he was possessed by some sort of evil spirit but that’s not the case. Loosely one can infer by film’s end that he killed his father to obtain the magic sword that might somehow grant him access to eternal life because Arren feared death. But I can’t help feel that that is a stretch because at no point does the sword display anything other than being… well… a sword. Sure when Arren finally unsheathes the sword, it displays a magical light but otherwise all it’s used for is slicing and dicing.

And the battle between the two dragons at the beginning… what was the point of that? Are we to infer that Therru is the dragon that got supposedly killed? That she somehow resurrects herself in human form and doesn’t reveal her true self until Cob tries to kill her?

It’s all a bit convoluted and messy. Add to this that the only well-rounded character is archmage Sparrowhawk and the film struggles. Cob is one dimensional with only glimpses of his own fears about death and his desire for immortality. Why he didn’t just open the door between life and death first before trying to kill Sparrowhawk is a real puzzle. He even tells the archmage that he’s found the key to unlock the door but doesn’t obtain immortality straight away. Instead he wants Sparrowhawk dead first. Bizarre move.

Tales from Earthsea was directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. I really feel for him. The expectations of trying to live up to a man who is a master storyteller and created a canon of brilliant and magical Studio Ghibli films would be daunting to say the least. As his first film, Goro probably bit off more than he could chew.

On the flip side, Goro Miyazaki didn’t give up and subsequently directed From Up On Poppy Hill which is a far more effecting and moving story. I highly recommend watching that one over Tales from Earthsea. This film could have been much more than just being visually stunning, but in the end it’s a disjointed affair that loses its magical lustre.

6 out of 10

Movie Review: The Sea Beast (2022)

TL;DR – “How to train your dragon” for sea monsters.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Little Miss Maisie Brumble is an orphan. Her parents were monster hunters but perished out at sea, and she now lives with other orphans in a home funded by the king and queen of the land. She’s a plucky soul, tells tales of famous hunters at sea to the children and makes several attempts to escape the orphanage.

Her latest escape sees her stowaway the ship “Inevitable” run by Captain Crow who has been hunting his whole life for his “Moby Dick” (a giant sea monster they call the “Red Bluster”).

Maisie convinces the Captain to allow her to stay aboard and develops an unlikely bond with Jacob Holland, who has been anointed by Crow as the next Captain of the Inevitable once they capture or kill the Red Bluster. Crow wants the legacy of the Inevitable to live on, and he sees Jacob as the most suitable to take over once he retires since Jacob displays the leadership, courage and charisma to handle his crew.

When they finally encounter the Red Bluster, the battle is fierce, launching a number of harpoons to hook and reel it in. The Red Bluster, however, is smarter than it looks and swims in a circle causing a whirlpool that threatens to sink the ship.

Against Crow’s instructions, Maisie cuts the ropes that connect to the harpoons, thus freeing the Red Bluster, but also preventing the Inevitable from going under. The ship is released but Maisie and Jacob are thrown overboard.

This is when you realise the Red Bluster is like “Toothless” the dragon in How To Train Your Dragon. The Red Bluster saves Maisie and Jacob by holding them in its giant mouth and swimming to an island. Though Jacob initially denies that the Red Bluster might actually not be evil, he soon comes to realise that the creature has only been killing hunters because it is being hunted.

All the stories that Maisie read about sea monsters raiding coastlines and destroying villages are false. Myths written by the ruling king and queen’s ancestors to generate prestige and wealth through the destruction of sea monsters and the lives of past hunters to create safe trade routes across the ocean.

Though Jacob and Maisie attempt to convince the Inevitable crew that they’ve been wrong about sea monsters all along, Captain Crow refuses to believe them.

The eventual capture of the Red Bluster and the bravery of Maisie and Jacob to reveal the lies of the king and queen to the people of the kingdom in order to save the creature are straight forward story telling.

The strength of the film is in its gorgeous animation and distinct character designs. Every character is engaging and some of the funniest moments come from the Red Bluster itself with dour and deprecating expressions at Jacob’s shortcomings.

The animated battle scenes at sea are stunning, and the detail from the ocean waves to the sky and every little bit of the Inevitable is pure eye candy.

And while the story will engage younger audiences, adults will likely be left with a feeling of wanting more.

The climax fizzles because when it becomes obvious even to Captain Crow that the Red Bluster is not naturally bad, the Captain’s reaction is one of stupor and there’s no resolution for Crow’s character. His lifelong “Moby Dick” nemesis is nothing more than a giant red fish wanting to live out its existence undisturbed.

While Jacob and Maisie embrace their new lease on life, we never find out what happens to the Captain, who arguably is as much a main character as the other two.

Story with a simple moral that holding onto hate and anger is not a way to live, The Sea Beast will delight young audiences and is a marvel in beautiful animation.

7.5 out of 10