The Jasmine Throne

In the court of the imperial mahal, the pyre was being built.

The Jasmine Throne, Natasha Suri, Hachette Book Group 2021

Honestly a little bit surprised by how much I didn’t care for this book. It has fantasy with a non-western background, gay women, and attempts some world-building. Why so demanding, brain?

Because all of it feels like it’s been generated instead of created. I didn’t care for any of the characters or what they went through. Childhood abuse? Oh. Your brother trying to sacrifice you? Okay. Fighting for independence? Uhuh. Fighting a disease that turns you into a tree? Are there images?

None of it touched me because there’s this weird imbalance of continuously adding new characters while trying to flesh out previous ones. And the plot: it felt like I was reading a game concept, not a novel. Like someone wanted the epic world-building of a Tolkien, a Martin, but forgot to put the silly, appealing and terrible in.

And of course; it’s a set up for sequels. I might catch up if it’s ever turned into a TV-show.

Nine Days

124 min.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Someone somewhere gets to decide who gets a life on earth. Something that could have turned very philosophical (“are they souls?”, “where are we before we’re born?”, “who deserves life?”) is kept very approachable — probably because of the two main characters.

Will and Kyo are very different from each other. Kyo thinks that is because Will used to be alive once, while he never lived. Will doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, as he is wont to do with almost every subject.

He judges, though. Judges and tests to see who’s the right fit (“good enough” is another discussion). Again, I’m aware that none of this sounds very enticing, but this is actors showing their skill through emotions, text and body language. And do so without things becoming “floaty”.

Of course there’s something between Will’s very tough exterior, and it’s a cheeky-to-annoying young woman to get to it, but that’s about the only cliché this film offers.

Night Teeth

108 min.

Talking about lost potential.. here’s a prime example. We have snappy, chrome/neon looks, youths that can be considered attractive and vampires – a genre that never needs much to still deliver.

So to not do that could be called impressive. Almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. Bad acting? Could be saved with okay plot. Corny, cringe-worthy dialogue? Could be accepted with some smooth (action) scenes. But in the story of a cab-driver driving around vampires on a rampage it’s error on error. Bad decisions are made without any back up to make it slightly believable. Plot motivations are thin. Acting is bored or over-done. It’s vampires! Any kind of nonsense lore would have sold this film!

But no. It seems like they went for a music video with a bit of blood and fangs and forgot about the rest – ending with a whole lot of nothing.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

108 min.

Another retro-rewatch review. Okay, it’s impressively white, but whew it also might even hit harder when you have experienced the urge to erase people/things from your life. While knowing that it won’t work, anyway.

Also, who still uses that kind of colouring/lighting in films these days? I felt the room around me turn more sepia by the minute. Did this film always have that home-recording quality? And I really thought that the viewer gets a moment to take it all in, but we’re just running along as stumbling as Joe does. Will he make it, will that creep keep his girlfriend, is it really better to suffer than forget?

I love it, I’m keeping it on my Netflix list.

Firedrake: the Silver Dragon

93 min.

After nixing some too-kiddy-looking animation from my Netflix list, it was Firedrake‘s chance to prove me wrong.

It ticks all the (recent) animated films boxes: intro in a different animation style (which is always prettier than the main one used), goofy, too rounded characters (literally, definitely not characteristically – was Antz really the last film that dared to use angles?), and a Life Lesson plot.

Sadly, that also mean it’s riddled with clichés. Overly angry female sidekick. Annoying male sidekick viewed as heroic and wise. Only other female character? Old. Although this at least saved me from a dragon with fake eyelashes. Just as with The Harder They Fall this plot could have been tightened up: the entirety of Ben drags things down just to add that Life Lesson.

Honestly, I’m still shocked by how ugly the animation is. You have dragons and turn them into boulders. Who will stop animated Hollywood?

Prince of Egypt

99 min.

A shorter animation, also to be found on Netflix, and possibly with an ever better soundtrack than that of my previous watched film, but it would be a close call.

I watched Prince of Egypt before, possibly even in the cinema. I can remember it being an Event and through the years it’s always (online) been a classic or at least the favourite of a generation. To watch it with older eyes is a risk, but I did it.

It still works. The animation is more beautiful than the C+P of today’s productions, the soundtrack is intense, the story is – even for heathens like me – appealing. I honestly don’t understand why the Vatican didn’t finance studios to do many biblical stories like this; I wonder if people turned to Christianity after watching Prince of Egypt.

Anyway, just telling you it won’t disappoint. I’m sure you still know the lines of When You Believe.

Princess Mononoke

133 min.

Princess Mononoke has it all: horror, fantasy, beautiful shots, an epic quest and a sincere romance. Why didn’t I watch this sooner? I mean – I could have: it’s from 1997.

Probably because – and I know it’s risky to admit this – I like the idea of Studio Ghibli films more than the products. Sometimes it’s just too long, too vague, beauty over substance. It’s probably telling that one of the more kiddie ones caught my fancy most.

But Princess Mononoke pulls out of the stops: a cursed prince has to save his village (probably the world) from human evilry influencing nature and turning animals into demons. There’s a wolf princess but human, talking swines and weird little forest creatures that are simultaneously adorable and terrifying. The Life Lessons come at you fast, but not in the sanctimonious Hollywood way: what kind of person would you be if you weren’t touched by the fight of nature versus destruction?

I’ll admit that I still took a few short breaks, but this time it was more about being overwhelmed than suffering my short attention span.

Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild

58 min.

I almost definitely picked this film because it was just two minutes short of an hour. Okay, I’m always up for trying something animated, but a film that’s called Monster Hunter and created by CAPCOM (so probably based on a game)? Let’s not expect too much.

It turns out to be a very sanitised version of a Hollywood fantasy (no blood, dancing around violence and maiming, no naked boobs). Except for the statistician monster hunter. And a talking cat, and fun looking monsters – whom I rooted harder for than any human character.

It’s clear that I out-aged the demographic for this, but the potential is there. Right now it’s just cheap (looking) Saturday morning entertainment for cool kiddos, but imagine if the people behind Witcher ran with it. Or a young Tim Burton. You might have to see to see it.

The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.

The Witch’s Heart

Long ago, when the gods were young and Asgard was new, there came a witch from the edge of the worlds.

The Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec, Penguin Random House 2021

I love a good retelling. Mythological, it is. Madeleine Miller did it with Greeks, Genevieve Gornichec goes way up North with Loki’s story from one of his wives’ point of view.

Angrboda is much more than Loki’s wife: she’s a powerful witch, a threat to the Norse gods (mostly in their eyes, she just wants to be left alone), and a calm soul. She wants to live her little life, but mythologies aren’t build on that. So there’s an unfamiliar feeling (love) for an unreliable person (Loki), pregnancies, children and terrifying visions about (growing) threats. As it goes.

Gornichec doesn’t attempt an old-timey tone that will assure you this is a myth: she tells it like one. There’s a clear chronology, little side steps, lovely visuals. A novel like a comfortable sweater — if you manage to ignore the several deaths, abuse and apocalypse. It’s still a myth, after all.