Saturday, October 31, 2015


To celebrate Halloween, I have decided to write about “Horns”, both the novel and the film, as I have wanted to do that for quite a while. I read Joe Hill’s novel “Horns” from 2010 at the time when it was announced that Daniel Radcliffe had been cast in the leading role as Ig Perrish in Alexandre Aja’s upcoming screen version of the book. My first thought was that Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, must be thrilled, because the character Ig had clearly been written with Dan Radcliffe or at least Harry Potter in mind.

There are a lot of clever - maybe too clever? – references to Harry Potter in “Horns”. In the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter is the descendant of and similar to one Ignotus Peverell, whereas the main character in “Horns” is called Ignatius Perrish. In the Harry Potter books, Harry falls in love with a redheaded, independent girl and in “Horns” Ig does the same. In the Harry Potter film series, the scores to the first three films were written by John Williams, in “Horns” John Williams is a friend of Ig's dad. In the last Harry Potter book, Harry turns out to be a new Jesus, whereas in “Horns” Ig is a new Satan.

There are some similarities between Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books and Lee Tourneau in “Horns” as well and to make absolutely sure that the readers get these hints, both the Harry Potter books and the films are mentioned in “Horns”. Still the narrator of “Horns” makes a show of his Harry Potter “ignorance” by calling Professor Snape Professor Snail and that is a common trick: feigning ignorance to hide an unhealthy obsession with a subject. The author does the same when in his “Acknowledgements, Notes, Confessions” in the back of the book, he doesn’t mention Harry Potter at all despite the many references.

When that is said, I must admit that I really like the novel. The narrator is one cheeky bastard, the plot is strange, surprising and one of a kind and then I love how the story is told. It jumps in time and between point-of-view and as a reader, you can see the full picture, whereas the characters can’t. This way “Horns” is one of the more exiting books that I have read this century and I couldn’t wait to see Daniel Radcliffe as Ig. The film premiered in 2013 and I waited and waited, but unfortunately it was never released in my country, Denmark, so I had to wait until I was able to get it on DVD earlier this year and boy, was I in for a big disappointment!

Let me make it clear right away: you should only see the film for Daniel Radcliffe’s sake. He is good. He always is. As awkward as he was in front of a camera as a kid, as professional he is these days. Totally believable even with horns. Apart from him, there is no reason what so ever to watch the film because it strips the story of everything interesting and turns it into just another who-done-it murder mystery added a few supernatural elements.

Of course I didn’t expect the film to be as candid as the novel. After all, its main theme is that the devil is more of an anti-hero than a villain and it claims that God is a failed character too detested by his own creations to appreciate them and only the devil loves humans for what they are. I didn’t expect that to sit well with American film production companies and it didn’t. Instead the audience now has to watch this guy Ig running around with horns for the duration of the film without the Satanism to back it up. That makes things pretty incomprehensible, but that’s not all.

What is much worse is, that the film is boring! The story is told almost chronologically and from Ig’s point of view and many of the characters and circumstances have changed to fit the boredom. I’m not going to give you any grave spoilers here, but I still want to show how things are in the novel as opposed to the film, so here are the ten most important things that you’ll find in the book, but NOT in the film:
  1. We know who the killer is almost from the beginning
  2. Glenna is Ig’s girlfriend (or rather roommate with benefits)
  3. Ig’s brother Terry is a sympathetic late-night TV star so Ig never harms him
  4. Lee is a mean, blond, juvenile delinquent, severely brain damaged and psychopathic
  5. Lee never pulls Ig out of the water – he just pretends to have done so
  6. Eric is not a police officer but a security guard for Lee’s boss, a Christian conservative congressman
  7. Eric is against Ig all the way, especially in the end
  8. It is not Merrin who wants to leave, but Ig who leaves for England
  9. It is not Merrin’s mother who has died of breast cancer, but her sister
  10. The treehouse isn’t really real, thus its name “Treehouse of the mind”
 All the spiritual, philosophical and religious elements of the novel have more or less vanished from the film along with the refreshingly new way of telling a story. That leaves us with the usual drivel of a girl being raped and murdered for the entertainment of the (male) film audience and Daniel Radcliffe having to bring the (female) Harry Potter fans into the cinemas to watch it. That kills me, because the novel is so much more than just the usual sexual exploitation and slaughtering of women in the name of entertainment and the glorification of an unlikely male anti-hero.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a big fan of the film, but that doesn’t alter the fact, that “Horns” is an obvious choice if you are in need of a novel or a film for Halloween. The novel is scary and strange and I’ll give it four out of five stars: **** whereas I can only recommend the film because of Daniel Radcliffe’s performance. Due to his acting with horns and everything, I’ll give the film three out of five stars: ***. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Harry Potter Festival 2015

 The 13th Harry Potter Festival in Odense, Denmark, took place Friday the 16th and Saturday the 17th of October. Odense Central Library, Odense Municipality and Odense City arranged the festival that usually lasts a full week, but not this year.
Originally, the festival was all about Hogwarts. During the week, kids were able to attend classes in Hogwarts (Odense town hall) and in the weekend, there was a Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade market for everyone in the town hall square. Then five years ago, J. K. Rowling visited the festival and since then Hogwarts has been closed and the market activities scattered all over town, so that you no longer get the feeling of entering a magic world as you have to travel through the Muggle world to get from location to location. Furthermore, most of the events are now aimed at the three to eight year olds and some like the Hogwarts Express ride are totally off limits if you are over fourteen. It seems weird as the Harry Potter core audience consists of youngsters aged eleven to seventeen and it also prevents the original Harry Potter fans who are now in their late twenties in participating.
When that is said, the Odense Harry Potter Festival is probably still the biggest and the best in the world with over ten thousand visitors and more than thirty events and activities in thirteen different locations all over town. Although Hogwarts, the core and heart of the festival, is gone, I must admit that I still find it difficult to keep away, even when I want to! As you may remember, I swore last year that from now on I would only visit a single one of the festival locations, as the festival as such was drowning in age limits, long queues and steep prices. Still I was back this year, this time with my daughter and her friend. The locations were too far apart for us to visit them all and we were all too old to visit many of them anyway, so we ended up going to only six locations in all.
We started out in Diagon Alley in Vintapperstraede (Tapster Alley), but that was a bit of a disappointment as most of the shops had moved away. The only ones still left were Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. We couldn’t get into Gringotts or Madam Malkin’s as both places were too crowded and WWW was just pathetic. George was alone in the shop, as we have never had a Fred at the festival, but instead of doing tricks, he operated a Wheel of Fortune and organised ring toss and hit the can for children who could then win prices. It had nothing to do with Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes at all.
The rest of the shops in Diagon Alley were occupied by the Care of Magical Creatures class, the Mirror of Erised and a small Maze. There were also a Tipsy Toad Pub, a Merlin’s Workshop and a Pumpkin Workshop, but of course, these places had as little to do with the Harry Potter universe as George’s Wheel of Fortune! Apart from George, we ran into Luna Lovegood, Kingsley Shacklebolt and quite a few dementors in Diagon Alley instead of the usual baddies like the Malfoy family or Bellatrix Lestrange who are known to hang out there.
We left Diagon Alley quite early and were lucky to find an affiliated Gringotts bank in the nearby Jernbanegade (Railway Street). Here we bought five hundred Galleon for DDK 30/£3 each from some rather intimidating goblins before we headed towards our next destination, Madam Puddifoot in the Brandts 13 Museum a little further down the street.
First I said hello to my friend Minerva McGonagall who ran a Harry Potter quiz for kids at the museum and then we went to see the two Hogwarts rooms on the ground floor. One was a room with an amazing Goblet of Fire complete with an Age Line. It was by far the most stunning thing at the entire festival.
The other room was called The Fat Lady’s Room and here the Fat Lady resided with Dobby, who apparently is now her house elf! There was a toilet on the ground floor as well, boasting that this was the home of Moaning Myrtle, but if that was the case, she wasn’t in when we visited it.
Upstairs we finally found Madam Puddifoot’s, a very big and pink three-room tea salon where we bought a glass of lemonade and a chocolate biscuit for one hundred Galleons. We were lucky to get a table as the salon was well attended and even the Fat Lady came by to stuff herself with cake while we were there.
Leaving Madam Puddifoot’s, we ran into Professor Snape and as always, he was rather sinister, but also strangely kind. At least he posed for me for a photo and gave me a thumbs-up afterwards! We then went to the Magic Market in Graabroedre Plads (Grey Friars Square) and on our way we meet several groups of pretty Beauxbatons Veelas.
When we reached the Magic Market, our third destination, it was so crowded that we could hardly move. Most of the shops from Diagon Alley had relocated to the market square, so Eeylops Owl Emporium was there along with the Daily Prophet and Ollivanders. St. Mungo’s had also moved to the market and so had The Forbidden Forrest and even Snape’s Potion class! We didn’t see any of the usual good guys at the market like Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid or Mad-Eye Moody, but instead there were several trolls and Death Eaters and even Lord Voldemort who ended up posing for a selfie with my daughter!
Because of the crowds at the market, we hurried on to the fourth location, Smedestraede (Blacksmith Alley), where both The Leaky Cauldron and Honeydukes were situated. It was a bit of a walk and it felt very odd having to go through the ordinary Muggle world to get there. In any case, we paid one hundred Galleons for a glass of butterbeer in the picturesque Leaky Cauldron and as we were the only ones in the pub, we sat down at the long table to play a game of Kalaha and read the Daily Prophet. It was quite nice, but unfortunately the butterbeer was no good. The Leaky Cauldron usually has the best butterbeer, but this year it tasted of cold apple cider with caramel and whipped cream. Yuk! My daughter and her friend couldn’t even finish their glasses.
Opposite The Leaky Cauldron we stood in line to Honeydukes for quite a while. We have never had a Honeydukes at the festival before, so I was curious how that would be and let me tell you straight away that it wasn’t half as magic as in the Harry Potter books and films! Four teenage girls stood behind a table and sold candy at fifty Galleons a piece and then there were tables where you could sit and manufacture your own wrapping for your Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs. Honeydukes also sold Liquorice Wands, Exploding Lollipops and some kind of toffee, but the toffee was sold out when we arrived, so I’m not sure what it was.
From Honeydukes we had to enter the Muggle world again to reach the fifth location, the Library of Local History on Klosterbakken (Monastery Hill). Here the Whomping Willow was placed in the courtyard and the kids were able to play Magic Minecraft featuring the Triwizard Tournament Maze on the ground floor of the building. Upstairs was the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts Library along with Flourish & Blotts and a toilet with some fancy Harry Potter graffiti. The Restricted Section was a bit boring, but in Flourish & Blotts we met a young, handsome Gilderoy Lockhart and his two giggling, blonde assistants.
Behind the library building, I was sorry to see that what used to be Snape’s dungeons had been turned into a haunt for dragon handlers. Both my daughter and I have spent many happy hours in the dungeons with Snape, chatting and making potions, but now the potions were replaced with a dragon tattoo shop and Snape with a dragon skull!
From the haunt, we were able to see the sixth and final location, Eventyrhaven (Fairy Tale Garden), with its usual Quidditch pitch and Quality Quidditch Supplies, but as nobody was playing Quidditch when we were there, we took a free bus back home. Even the busses seemed to be in Harry Potter mode as the back of the bus was decorated with the Hogwarts crest.
All in all, we spent three hours going to the six locations, but if we had been allowed to visit all of the locations and events, we could probably have spent a lot more time (and money) at the festival. The things that we missed out on this year due to the age limit were the Hogwarts Express, the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, a Daily Prophet journalist school and a Madam Malkin’s Robes workshop. We didn’t get to attend the Harry Potter film marathon at The Great Hall or the Harry Potter Concert with Odense Symphony Orchestra either, as both things were too expensive and finally we didn’t get to go to the Hogwarts Ball for students aged 16+ as nobody asked us. It was billed as the event of the year and I think it was. At least the original Harry Potter fans were allowed to attend this ball along with all young and old adults and they had dinner and drinks (alcohol if you were over eighteen only) and danced until 2 a.m. It sounded magic. Therefore, if you’re a Hogwarts guy (preferably Ravenclaw like myself or maybe Gryffindor?) and you need a partner for next year’s ball, you now know who to ask!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” or “Maze Runner 2” as it is commonly known, is Wes Ball’s screen versions of James Dasher’s second novel in his young-adult, post-apocalyptic, science fiction “The Maze Runner” book series. My teenage daughter accompanied me to the cinema to see this 132 minutes long, PG-13 rated film like she had done last year with the first Maze Runner-film, but this time our roles were reversed. Where she had loved the first one and I had been a little reserved, I loved this sequel whereas she was not impressed.

The story begins where we left the six surviving Gladers in the first film, in a helicopter on the way away from the maze. The six, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Winston (Alexander Flores) arrive at a mysterious facility run by Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen) in the deserted outside world called the Scorch. Here Thomas makes a horrifying discovery with his new friend Aris (Jacob Lofland), so our young heroes escape the facility and have to survive the trials of the Scorch in the attempt to reach the resistance group The Right Arm in the mountains. The trials include troops from the powerful organization WCKD run by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), the zombifying Flare virus, the Cranks who are people zombified by the Flare and then of course thunderstorms, drugs and bounty hunters! On their way, they meet Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) who help them along and there is a wonderful although short appearance by Lili Taylor as Mary.

I found this second instalment in The Maze Runner film series much more thrilling and action-packed than the first and to me there wasn’t a dull moment. I also really liked the acting of especially Giancarlo Esposito and Thomas Brodie-Sangster and to be honest there was hardly anything I didn’t like. Maybe our young hero Thomas has become a bit too heroic and too much of a superman and maybe the title “The Scorch Trials” is a bit misleading as the youngsters seem to spend less time in The Scorch than elsewhere and the trials are few and repetitious, but these are minor objections. I guess what annoyed me the most was that the zombified Cranks were able to screech and run very fast. I am from a time when zombies only groaned and walked very slow so you could always outrun them, but that is not the case anymore, my daughter assured me. And that brings us back to why our roles as viewers were reversed this time.

You see, the first film “The Maze Runner” was more or less a rip-off of “Lord of the Flies”, Nobel Prize-winning William Golding’s brilliant 1954-novel that has been filmed several times. I know and love this book (and the early film version), but my daughter does not and that made “The Maze Runner” new and exciting to her. “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” on the other hand is a rip-off of the American TV-series “The Walking Dead” (2010- ) of which my daughter is an avid fan, but as I have never seen it, the Maze Runner sequel was exciting to me.

I’m not sure if it is a good idea to rip-off other people’s work instead of stay true to your source, but that is what Wes Ball does in this film. The action has very little to do with the plot in James Dasher’s novel, but a lot to do with “The Walking Dead”. It is up to you if you take this as a warning or a recommendation. It worked for me, so I’ll give “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” three and a half out of five stars: ***½. 


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