The Amulet of Samarkand: Book One of the Bartimaeus Series (Spoiler-Free Review)

I don’t have any recollection of people discussing this series in the early 2000s. I only have vague memories of Bartimaeus’s face leering at me from atop a bookshelf at our school library in middle-school. I chose to read it only because I discovered it among my fiancé’s books from his childhood home. It left enough of an impression on him that he had decided to keep it (along with the other two books in the trilogy) all these years so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say, I’m glad I did.

In spite of the fact that I’m obviously not in the age demographic this is targeted towards, I enjoyed this just as much as a child would. In fact, I think I enjoy it more as an adult than I would have as a kid. Much like Harry Potter, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I believe this is both to the book’s credit and its detriment.

The plot itself isn’t difficult to follow by any means, but some of the vocabulary used in this book might have gone over my head as a child and caused me to lose interest. Hell, I actually had to look up a few words up in the dictionary, especially the architectural terms, because I, a 26 year-old woman, didn’t know what a “cornice” was.

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Considering how much is going on in this story, the book handles world-building in an impressively clever way. Rather than doing massive exposition dumps, bits of information are sprinkled here and there, playing in the background of the bigger plot. It makes sense for this to be the case as Nathaniel, a 12 year-old boy, isn’t going to care about adult things that don’t directly effect him, and yet we, the readers, can ascertain what is really going on in the world these characters live in.

Speaking of characters, unfortunately, I found most them to be quite dull and one-note, especially those of the female persuasion. I’m not going to cry “sexist” because I don’t think this was done intentionally, but it’s worth noting. Mrs. Underwood in particular is criminally underdeveloped considering she has such a huge impact on Nathan’s life. I wouldn’t expect for her character to have an arc or elaborate backstory, but she seemed to have no personality outside of being a good person.

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That isn’t to say that all the characters were uninteresting, however.

I thought Nathaniel was a unique protagonist for a children’s book considering his moral code is significantly underdeveloped. While not a “bad person” per say, Nathaniel clearly has an ego and covets renown from his peers. He also falls prey to a lot of the same classist prejudices and narrow-minded beliefs many magicians hold. Prejudices he is not cured of by the story’s end.

It’s clear Stroud is playing the long-game when it comes to Nathaniel’s moral awakening and that suits me just fine. I always find it annoying when characters just intrinsically rebel against what they have been taught all their lives simply so the writer can portray them as being “special” right from the off. It’s much more realistic and cathartic for characters to change organically by having their beliefs questioned throughout the narrative.

As for Bartimaeus….I love him. I suppose the whole “sassy other-worldly creature” trope is old at this point, but dammit if I didn’t find him endlessly entertaining. His interactions with others of his kind are some of my favorite moments as you get a clear understanding of how “demon” culture works. I thought the bullet-points were a bit excessive in places, but on the other hand it gives the curious reader more insight all without bogging down the plot with unnecessary details.

I hope in the books that follow we will be able to dive even deeper into Bartimaeus’s past. I know that might slow down the plot a bit, but I found all the nuggets about his previous summonings and experiences to be interesting and I would love to hear more about it.

All in all, I enjoyed all the world-building, twists and turns, and spirit of this novel.

It leaves you with enough questions to keep you longing for Book 2, all without feeling like the entire things was just a set up for the sequel.

If you are looking for a fun, engaging read to ward off your quarantine blues, I highly recommend it.

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My Thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) Spoiler-Free

I would like to preface this review by saying I have absolutely no emotional ties with Sonic the Hedgehog in any capacity.

I did not watch the cartoon, I did not buy the video games, and as I child I had no interest in doing so.

The only reason I chose to see it was because it was an excuse to squeeze out some more girl-time with a group of friends of mine who had fond memories of the guy.

That being said…..I thought this movie was awesome.

No, really.

It was good.

I’m just as surprised as you are.

It didn’t exactly break new ground, but this was a well-written and fun movie.

What made the movie so great in particular was how well the titular character was handled. It would have been so easy to make him just another annoying, migraine-inducing yapper that spouts out cultural references at every given opportunity. Instead, they brought a real vulnerability to the character that I had not anticipated. He’s a lonely guy that finds solace in observing people around him. When it finally dawns on him just how alone he is in the universe, it’s genuinely heart-breaking.

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Jim Carrey was….Jim Carrey. While I don’t know much about the lore of Sonic The Hedgehog (yes, there is lore), it seems to me that casting anyone else in the role of Dr. Robotnik would have been a misstep. Jim Carrey was more like a cartoon character than the actual cartoon character and never did it feel out of place. I wonder if the director actually gave Jim Carey any direction in these scenes, or if they just plonked him down in a room with a camera and space mech and said “go for it.” Either way, the end result was a masterpiece of cheese.

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That being said, I was caught off-guard by how well the jokes landed in this film It’s a kid’s movie so I was expecting low-brow humor, but this movie was funny for everyone. One gag in particular had me laughing so hard I went into a coughing fit.

What worked in this movie’s favor was it was self-aware without being ashamed of itself. It knew it was a movie about a blue hedgehog so it didn’t take itself too seriously, nevertheless, it never insulted the audience. It didn’t feel like it was another cash-grab from an idea-starved industry. It was a true love-letter to the fans of the franchise and it seems to be profiting from

I’m pleased to hear it had the best opening to any video game movie in history. I personally think I liked Detective Pikachu a bit more (come on, Pikachu is voiced by Deadpool), but this was still an incredibly fun movie.

If you are a fan of sonic, you will love it.

And even if you are like me and have no pre-established connection with the character, I’m still confidant you will enjoy it anyway.

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Thanks for reading!

Why the Aladdin Remake Is Frustrating

I was coerced into seeing the 2019 Aladdin remake by a group of friends who promised it was good. Even though I tend to be against remakes on principle, I tried to keep an open mind and allow the experience to shape me in whatever way it chose.

To be fair, Will Smith did a phenomenal job. He achieved what no one thought he could and was a powerful successor to Robin William’s Genie. Rather than attempting to replicate Genie’s character from the original, he provided his own entertaining interpretation that wowed me.

The musical numbers were all visually captivating and well choreographed, enhanced by the Middle Eastern aesthetic. I loved watching the bollywood-style dancing and listening to the gorgeous music.

This was a very attractive film….

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But it wasn’t good.

Why?

Because it exemplified all the things that make reboots and remakes so frustrating.

Reboots are notoriously guilty of scrapping plot-points that are perfectly fine and keeping ones that are arbitrary. Or, as in some cases, they will change things for the better, but won’t alter the story to accommodate the alterations they made.

The most obvious example of this in the Aladdin remake is Jasmine.

Jasmine’s character went through a major make-over with this movie. Gone was the idealistic and naive teenager, replaced by a much more worldly and tenacious young woman determined to succeed her father as sultan.

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Personally, I didn’t dislike this change. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Jasmine’s original character, but the alteration wasn’t unwelcome.

The issue was they did not adjust the story to suit this new personality makeover.

Because they made her into someone far less naive than her older counterpart, pivotal scenes no longer make sense.

In both versions of Aladdin and Jasmine’s first meeting, Jasmine steals an apple to give to a group of starving children she sees in the marketplace only to be apprehended by the proprietor. The cartoon Jasmine is so sheltered it doesn’t occur to her people have to pay for food, making her actions believable. The live-action Jasmine is way too smart to do something so mentally bankrupt and we never see her do anything this absent-mindedly dumb ever again.

Then, they change the scene where Jasmine thinks Aladdin is dead and replace it with Jasmine getting shot down by Jafar, prompting her to sing her live-action film original song Speechless. 

No joke, they spend so long on this scene.

I get that they are trying to make Jasmine her own person and everything to placate the modern feminists, but guys, the movie is called Aladdin.

It’s supposed to be about Aladdin.

No one cares about this stupid country.

The irony is they could have developed Jasmine and kept the central focus on the titular character at the same time. Speechless would have been much more emotionally impactful if they had kept the scene where Jafar lies to her about Aladdin’s demise. Because she stayed “speechless” an innocent and wonderful dude was murdered. Isn’t that way more emotionally investing than hearing about some random country we literally never see or learn anything about?

To make matters worse, Jasmine and Aladdin have zero chemistry in the remake and it’s  obvious why.

In the 1992 animated film, we could see why Jasmine would fall for Aladdin. He was a smexy street-wise guy with a heart of gold that filled her dull, pampered life with action and adventure.

Now that she’s a m-fing woman that actually wants the throne (unlike in the original where she outright states she has no interest in being royalty) and is perfectly capable of navigating the streets of Agrabah all on her own, why does she need Aladdin?

What does he contribute to this relationship?

That isn’t to say Jasmine is the only issue, however.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the live-action Jafar was less intimidating than Yzma after she’d been turned into a cat.

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Yes, Jafar was a one-note villain in the original, but he was a fun one-note villain. Jonathon Freeman obviously had a blast in this role, going from underhanded and cunning to full-blown bombastic evil mastermind.

But this guy?

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I don’t know what his other credentials were but he just looked bored the whole time. His line delivery was more underwhelming than a prepubescent boy at a school play.

It’s frustrating that at one point they actually tried to make him more interesting by revealing he used to be a thief like Aladdin. If nursed enough, this could have made up for his lack of intimidation and made him a memorable villain. Instead, it’s unceremoniously dropped and we never learn anything else about his past again.

What a wasted opportunity.

Oh, remember that awesome scene where Aladdin fights Jafar as a cobra?

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Well, in this movie Aladdin and Jasmine fly away from Iago as Jafar morphs him into a large…parrot.

Yeah, instead of a giant cobra, it’s a parrot that chases them around CGI Agrabah.

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Isn’t….isn’t that so much better?

Aren’t you  impressed?!?

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I could go on in further depth if I wanted to.

I could talk about how the guy they cast as Aladdin is only a passable singer and actor.

I could talk about how unnecessary Jasmine’s handmaiden was, or why it makes no sense that Jasmine is apparently the sultan now even though her father is still alive.

But those things aren’t what bothers me most of all.

What vexes me so much about this movie is the same thing I find so offensive about every other remake:

It doesn’t need to exist. 

Tell me, apart from making money, what was ever the point of re-making Aladdin? It’s one of the most beloved animated films of all time, receiving critical and box-office success and is forever slated as one of the best films ever made.

There’s this bs comment floating around that “kids these days” don’t want to watch “old cartoons” and we have to preserve these stories for the next generation.

So…..you are telling me kids will watch cartoons that look like this-

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And this-

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And this-

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But they won’t watch something that looks like this-

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Or this-

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Or this?

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Well, let me tell you-

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There is a reason films like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and all the rest are considered classics.

People still watch them. 

I didn’t view most of these films when they first came out because I was either too little to comprehend the plot, or I wasn’t born yet.

My childhood favorite, Snow White, was made a whopping 49 years before I was born. I didn’t care that it was old. I liked it because I thought it was good.

It doesn’t matter that kids have iPads, or that streaming exists, or that Twitter and Instagram are a staple of modern society. These stories are strong enough to withstand the test of time.

That is what made them good in the first place.

I will no longer endorse the “fixing” of things that aren’t broken.

There are so many other stories out there that deserve funding, why should continue paying people to make crappy Xerox copies of films that have already been made and made better?

You’re welcome to keep shelling out your hard-earned dollars for stuff like this, but I prefer to sit them out from now on.

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Unpopular Opinion: Peter Rabbit and the Food Allergy Controversy

Disclaimer: I have not seen, nor do I plan on seeing Peter Rabbit. My opinions are entirely based off of information I obtained from reading articles online detailing the scene and it’s execution (no pun intended). If you have seen the movie yourself and would care to share your opinion on how this particular instance was portrayed in the article I have linked in this blog post, please feel free to do so and correct any misconceptions I may have. 

I never thought I would write about Sony’s ‘Peter Rabbit’ movie simply because nothing about it intrigues me. It seems like just another paltry cash-grab from the perpetually idea-starved Hollywood. The jokes are flat, the demeanors of the rabbits are nothing like their book counterparts, and it is doubtful the production team have any interest in giving the classic story the dignity it deserves.

And yet here I am writing about it, not in order to give my opinion on the film itself as I still have no desire to watch James Corden and his ilk leave rabbit pellets on my childhood, but to give my two cents on the latest controversy.

Yep, that’s right.

A movie about Peter frigging Rabbit has a controversy. 

One revolving around a scene that transpired between the bunnies and Mr. McGregor.

“A human character named Tom McGregor is allergic to blackberries. In a quest to gain access to his garden, rabbits pelt him with fruits and vegetables before using a slingshot to send a blackberry flying into his mouth. It works. Mr. McGregor struggles to inject himself with an EpiPen and then has anaphalaxis and collapses”

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And, for once, I can sort of get behind the whole outrage machine. I should likely reserve judgement until I’ve seen the film myself,  however from what I’ve read it seems pretty clear.

Peter Rabbit is a a goddamn psychopath.

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He essentially tried to murder a man onscreen.

Of course people are angry about this. It makes complete sense why so many would want to see this pulled out of cinemas. If I was a parent, I-

“I’m pretty sure Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave about now,” Ms. Rose, who lives outside Guildford in Surrey, England, said in an interview on Facebook Messenger. “Allergies are often not taken seriously enough anyway. To have them trivialized on the big screen by such a popular character is immensely disappointing.”

….Wait…what?

Mr. Mendez said in an open letter to the moviemakers that they should not mock food allergies, which are often life-threatening.

“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger,” it said.

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So let me get this straight….people aren’t angry that a beloved bunny from a timeless classic tried to commit homicide to raucous applause by his peers. They are mad because it trivializes food allergies…..

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THAT is what you took from that scene? Not the fact that it grotesquely depicts a man’s air passages slowly constricting until he collapses from lack of oxygen and is presumed dead?

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The would-be murderer in question

An adorable bunny in a blue waistcoat with an English accent attempted first-degree murder in a kid’s film and it’s portrayed as a joke! Get some perspective!

Would you feel better if he’d used a garden hoe to decapitate McGregor, or would that be offensive to the children of impoverished farmers?

Seriously, it doesn’t surprise me so much what offends people so much as why it offends them.

People being white middle-class women with a “can I speak to your manager?” haircut.

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I understand food allergies should be taken seriously and to be complacent with a sufferer’s diet could have disastrous consequences. Nonetheless, the way these women carry on about people with food allergies make it sound like they’re some sort of protected class that has endured centuries of persecution.

Was there a food allergy holocaust I wasn’t aware of?

Were children with food allergies sent to do slave labor in peanut butter factories until they swelled up like Viola Beaugarde?

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I realize I’m being flippant here, but it just fascinates me that people can stray so far from the point. They have something they could be justified in having a problem with, and they focus more on the method in which the attempted murder was carried out than the fact that a murder was attempted at all.

Or at the very least they could make an argument that what he did was very mean-spirited and shouldn’t be praised as being funny. That line of thinking actually makes sense and argues that it’s teaching kids to be dicks to one another. At least that’s a somewhat reasonable claim.

But nope, it’s aaaaall about the food.

There’s even a hashtag circulating meant to bring awareness to food allergies as a result of this film.

Look, we get it. Food allergies are serious. But not everything needs an awareness campaign.

Yes, they made light of something horrible and I would argue that it may have been misplaced in a kid’s film.

However, if you’re that worried about it, I don’t know, maybe talk to your children about it instead of getting into fights with random strangers on the internet.

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At the end of the day, it’s just another pointless cog (or hashtag) in the outrage machine. We can only pray that this movie scandal, like many before it, will be quickly overlooked in favor of another overblown whine-fest courtesy of the maternal internet users of the Western World.

Article: Sony Apologizes for ‘Peter Rabbit’ Movie’s Allergy Scene by Jacey Fortin