Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2018

Book VS Series: Sharp Objects

Gillian Flynn's novels are easily some of the most difficult contemporary stories to adapt. She's one of the most hardcore voices out there that dives deep into her anti-heroines' psyche, often weaving their experiences into a disturbing, no-holds-barred thriller. Even after the successful adaptation of Gone Girl (and the forgettable flop Dark Places), one never knows how her rage-filled worlds will come to life. With three generations of complicated female characters tackling everything from misogyny to self-harm and abuse, her original debut novel Sharp Objects becomes a damn fine mini-series.

This post deals with themes of the book and show - self-harm, abuse, rape, etc - and contains spoilers - you've been warned.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Velcro: Polluted War by Chris Widdop

Velcro The Ninja Kat series by Chris Widdop
One of the great joys of watching a series evolve is the growth of the story, characters, and worldbuilding. Every addition reveals where the journey is going to venture. When author Chris Widdop announced the fourth installment Polluted War for the Velcro series, I was excited to receive a copy to review.

A masked vigilante feline Velcro begins her adventure in Velcro: The Ninja Kat, righting the wrongs in the Country of Widows when villages across the region are attacked and the activities of a military organization The Devil Corps becomes increasingly suspicious. As the series moves along with The Green Lion and The Masquerade, Velcro begins to understand her connection to the land's magic,  and just how deep the corruption with her enemies runs. Her strength helps win allies to join her cause but also the attention of those from the other side who want to stop her. Now, in Polluted War, the stakes are at their highest as Velcro delves deeper into a war that continues to unfold.

Since the beginning Widdop has created an imaginative world filled with anthropomorphize animals who are a vessel in telling his story. Full of charming and complex worldbuilding, I was wondering what Velcro's magical abilities meant and how it was used across the world; what was the history of magic that made the Devil Corps want to remove it from the world and how those who wield magic might use it to defend themselves. Between Velcro and the villages who are ready to stand up for themselves, The Devil Corps willing to do anything to win, and The Masquerade who want to protect magic, there's a lot of conflict brewing at the forefront and Widdop breaks it down in a unique way in a manageable pace. Slowly but surely, the direction Widdop has taken with Velcro comes together from revealing pieces of the story and letting them fall into place.

The previous books showed that war affects everyone, and that the supporting characters have their own personal battles or reasons for justice which makes them want to fight. While Velcro is still the leader of the pack and drives the story, Polluted War feels much more like an ensemble piece. Her brother Charlie, close-by comrades, and leaders vying for the Devil Dogs are on their own arc of self-discovery and are challenged to choose which side they're on. Behind the use of magic and the villages vying to protect each other is a real sense that every piece adds up to the whole of the battle. It's easy to become invested in Widdop's variety of friends and antagonists because they are not one-sided or weakly written. Outside of his spirited, determined, and empathetic heroine are sidekicks and advesaries with their own motivations and create a genuine atmosphere of sacrifice that the war is producing.

In terms of the writing and world-building, the attention to detail is as strong compared to the previous books. While in my last review of the first three books I nitpicked about the geography, that slight issue still arises here and there but not as much as it used to. His attention to his characters isn't missing in his worldbuilding, but in terms how the characters travel from place to place rather frequently, it's a little confounding to figure just the wide scope of where going or leaving. But again, that's nitpicking. Widdop has a great sense of who his characters are and the conflicts that they are imbued in, which reflects in his engaging style as the story goes deeper with familiar and new characters.

So far, the Velcro series continues to be charming and action-packed. Polluted War maintains that same sense of adventure as it did in the beginning, just fuller and rounder as the books continue to grow. This series is a wonderful start for fans of action mixed with fantasy who enjoy an engaging quick read filled with complex animal characters. I'm excited to see where Velcro and the revolution heads to next!

Rating: ★★½☆
Have you checked out the Velcro series? What are your thoughts? 

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince by Serena Valentino

The Beast Within book review
In the right hands, Disney villains can be a fascinating source of storytelling for so-called bad guys. Fans can learn more about antagonists on a deeper level that's often lacking in the animated movies. While I wouldn’t consider the Beast / Prince from Beauty and the Beast a villain per say, an intriguing potential backstory can be explored about his value towards superficiality versus true inner beauty.

The Beast Within changes quite a lot about what we know of Disney’s the Prince. For one, he’s great friends with Gaston. Hunting animals and looking down on others, especially women who don't meet their standards, is primarily what they have in common. When the Prince falls in love with a woman who is beautiful, but nothing more than a farm girl, it’s just about the worst thing that could happen. But not in the way he assumes. After a humiliating breakup, she and her sisters reveal themselves to be Enchantresses. Out for revenge, they place a curse on him by turning him into a Beast. He can only break the spell by falling in love, receiving love in return, and the union must be sealed with a kiss before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls.

Something fans don’t quite get in the original movie, and only teased in the recent remake, is what a genuine cad the Prince must’ve been to be turned into a monster. Author Serena Valentino has a competent grasp on what makes him ugly on the inside and outside by focusing on his limited attitude towards women and his material needs. His blatant selfishness and lack of compassion is quite overbearing and exudes off the page. You manage to dislike him but also recognize his fears as he's physically morphing from a human into a beast. At times, he's not necessarily likable, but from the nature of the story and his fate, gives him room to change his ways.

By fleshing out The Prince, the story starts out admirably. But beyond fleshing out The Prince's ego, The Beast Within feels very limited in taking an interesting start and turning into a compelling journey.

Valentino's version ultimately becomes is a little too mixed up in plugging in staple scenes from the original movie while tapping into different backstories that seem cool but aren't well-rounded. Her additions to the story like his friendship with Gaston is a creative place to drawn on as to why the Prince might act the egotistical and conceited, but the story backs from fully committing to the idea. Even romantic relationships with a woman who turns out to be a witch, and another socialite whom Beast prematurely uses to outsmart the curse with, offer interesting twists to female characters other than Belle. But then their unique motivations wear off to reveal the writing and construction is very basic. And, the iconic heroine herself Belle is ultimately used as a bookend and doesn't hold any significant bearing or involvement in Beast recognizing how to be a kind, compassionate human.

Sometimes villains can't be redeemed by their corrupted ways, but for a character who has that room for growth, it's disappointing when re-tellings don't capitalize on exploring the full spectrum. Unfortunately, the story and book are just too small, only a quick 200+ pages with fairly short chapters. If the length and size of the book were bigger, or the author worked with a wider scope, the story had potential to be more detailed. How the Prince acts like a monster is just as important as to the Prince recognizing the error of his ways. The book never aims to accomplish both.
Rating:★☆☆

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Velcro: The Ninja Kat series by Chris Widdop

With a harrowing protagonist and imaginative setting, Velcro: The Ninja Kat by Chris Widdop brings a fun twist to the vengeance-driven hero.

This spirited adventure centers on The Ninja Kat, a feline who's vowed for vengeance and justice against the Devil Corps, a military organized that's waged war against its own people. For what reason, only the Ninja Kat knows. In a bid to stop the carnage before it's too late, the masked vigilante thwarts their evil schemes and infiltrates nearby regions to make alliances with survivors and give aid to prisoners. The tale's sequels The Green Lion and The Masquerade ventures further along Velcro's journey as the world becomes more aware of the Devil Corps. In this strange, new world, a hero and fellow inhabitants are pushed to join in the fight or succumb to evil.

Even though I'm not a seasoned reader of action/adventure, and couldn't remember the last time I've read a series with anthropomorphic animals, Widdop's trilogy was so engaging, it was easy to leave my bookish genre preferences behind. His cast of characters, who exhibit human intelligence and emotions as well as animal traits, are distinct from each other as they uncover dark, magical secrets.

That is most obvious with Velcro. The crusade to bring peace throughout the Country of Widows clashes with morals on how to do it. Obstacles along the way aren't just physical like combat, they're emotional. Every book guides Velcro to keep to the course and also look within. Being a warrior isn't just about combat, but coming to terms with a deeper meaning of revenge and justice, when to refrain or use the skills that have been learned, and the importance of family and sacrifice. From discoveries of magic, infiltrating the government, and providing help to flailing survivors, a moral compass lends itself to explore compassion, regret, frustration, impatience, and most of all, ambition and determination.

War affects everyone, and each supporting character has their own personal battle too. Velcro leads the revolution in an animated world populated by hamsters, bees, spiders, dogs, and rabbits - to name a few. A variety of personable and fun supporting characters are delightful, creepy and whimsical like Honey, a sassy and determined friend of Velcro's, to an evil scientist Spider. The Devil Corps may be attacking their own people, and the damage they cause may be their downfall. The victims they manage to leave behind turns many into fighters or allies, each one having their own distinct personality and motives.

The enemies Velcro duels against are clever and fascinating. In terms of world-building, if there is something that could be improved, it might be geographic details, but that's honestly just nitpicking. Every place Velcro treads are notably different by its culture and how Velcro is treated by enemies or allies, but it was a bit difficult to grasp where Velcro was at times without backtracking the story a little. Widdop's use of world-building gives villages and characters enough contrasting personalities where all of his threads tie together nicely.

Velcro: The Ninja Kat series offers thrills, humor, and heart. Widdop's adventure is perfect for readers looking for an enjoyable, short set of books to dive into. He's an engaging writer who comes into his own and improves every book. He has a true keen sense of describing what his characters are doing in bite-sized details.  Each installment picks up where the last one ended and takes you on an action-packed, offbeat journey with unique characters.  (And has inspired me to get a cat to call Velcro too!).

Rating: ★★½☆

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Vs Movie: The Martian

Book Vs Movie The Martian Review
When I saw The Martian out of the blue earlier this year, I really didn't expect it to be an instant fave. I hadn't heard of the book at the time, and being all out of energy for people-stranded-in-space movies, director Ridley Scott's film didn't hold a lot of interest. But when I saw the flick in theaters, finding the book became one of my biggest missions of the year. After a desperate search through two lost copies, I was happy to finally see if the book lived up to the movie and vice versa.

As the story goes, a violent storm forces the Ares 4 crew to evacuate their mission on Mars. During their departure, biologist Mark Watney is lost in the chaos and deemed dead. Unknown to his crewmates on their way home to Earth, he's very much alive and must forge survival with scavenged equipment on a desolate planet.

Friday, August 5, 2016

(Book Review) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book cover
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is finally out. It's the official eighth installment of J.K. Rowling's fantastical world as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger pass the wand off to their children's experiences at Hogwarts. The book is a companion script to the play that will be begin on the London West End.

On Harry Potter's thirty-sixth birthday, the special rehearsal edition of the play was published. Of course, I lined up for the midnight release party and was super excited to be apart of the phenomenon once again. Even though we're encouraged to "keep the secrets", the play is public now and I couldn't help but want to share my thoughts.

WARNING BEYOND THIS POINT - this review contains spoilers.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Allegiant (2016)

Imperfect human nature resorts to chaos. Chicago's remaining leaders Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Johanna (Octavia Spencer) wage war to protect the remaining population's best interests left behind by Jeanine's violent ruling. Tris and her co. venture outside their city's barricades and discover the truth behind the faction system: the Bureau of Genetic Welfare uses pure test subjects like Tris to correct human weaknesses and fortify a perfect genetic disposition. All is not what it seems in this "safe haven".

The next leg of the Divergent franchise journey plants us further way from the prequels than anyone could've imagined. Unlike the first two series where Tris was challenged to find out what it means to be Divergent and how it's a blessing, here she simply lacks drive. More incited wars don't outrage her. A new nemesis's dubious priorities fail to illicit alarm. She's more inviting to settling down outside of Chicago without real motivation to do so. Tris has suffered and sacrificed in the face of her city's adversity. Yet in her own biggest hour of need, she surprisingly isn't passionately engaged to the outside world or its lasting ramifications. Shailene Woodley doesn't do a bad job, but she is capable of giving a deeper performance. Considering the premise hinders on her to look beyond what society expects, the film's fault is Tris not conquering anything memorable.

While Tris isn't the starring player in this third installment, her counterparts are. Four is the one responsible for all the action and emotional turmoil. In recognizing his home falling apart at the seams and knowing instinctively the Bureau is not what it seems, he goes on his own quest without Tris (but for her) and it's still interesting. Theo James has natural charisma and turns a typical muscle head/love interest into a vulnerable and bad-ass male lead.

In addition to Four's solo mission, family, friends, and rivals gain more layers too. Though Tris isn't a force of nature like she was in the past, her friends have room to seek redemption, deepen friendships, or lead a revolution even if it's not the best choice.

Allegiant isn't all bad. Even in favoring the films much more than the books, major plot threads were mashed together with successful pacing. The script may not satisfy book loyalists. But I was surprised by how much of they original material was kept in tact. The film seamlessly splits between two main characters and locations, which keeps the story refreshing. Like its predecessors, the production design remains inventive. Utilizing special effects to tie the futuristic Chicago to its deserted surroundings, the film is still eye-catching.

As much as I liked Allegiant, it does suffer the same fate of many young adult first-parters. One book provides enough material for one adaptation. But the studios are obsessed with making a cash grab and split a book into two parts. Like The Hunger Games' Mockingjay, they want to lure audiences to wait for the "good or better stuff".  It would be best if studios utilized all of what a book offers and throw it full force into one worthy epic conclusion. Ultimately, we have one more movie to go. Ascendant is completely unknown yet exciting territory. Hopefully the series rises victoriously over the finishing line, not limping across it.

Rating: ★1/2☆

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Fandom Struggle is Real with Divergent

The Divergent Series Books Movies
Since the epic finale of Harry Potter and Twilight, several young adult franchises tried to compete against the next-best phenomenon The Hunger Games. The list of franchises failing to get beyond a first installment is insane: Beautiful Creatures, The Golden Compass, The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, Ender's Game, The Host, The Giver - to name a few.

A lack of interest by movie goers matched with negative reviews by critics is what has killed these potential series. Except for Divergent - the young adult series authored by Veronica Roth. Successfully making its way into a third installment despite less than favorable reviews is a major feat. Though it's not a universal favorite between reviewers and fans, and reached the same phenomenon level as Hunger Games or Potter, it's survived somehow.

I, for one, love the Divergent series. With the three-quel on its way to theaters, I realized how much my fandom for the series is quite ambivalent; a mixed bag of feelings towards the books and their adaptations.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fancasting: The Choice By Nicholas Sparks

FanCasting The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
One of my favorite summer reads used to be Nicholas Sparks' books. I say used to because when he was served with a lawsuit in 2014 claiming racist and homophobic behavior, my hobby was somewhat buzzkilled. It was hard to separate the claims from what he was writing. Not only that, but every adaptation following The Notebook sizzles out into the Blandlands.

A lot of people will say his books are virtually the same and I'd agree: they are all about pretty people who are shot with a love-at-first-sight arrow by a North Carolinian cupid. Two people spend two hours or 300 pages in love with each other and don't face the obstacle challenging their true love until the third act. Despite reading the same thing over and over again, there were adaptations I looked forward to - Safe Haven, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John. Yet every time, something fell flat - either the direction, the acting, the script, or all three.

When I heard last year that The Choice was going to be Hollywood's next victim, my inner fangirl spazzed. Typically, when an adaptation is made, the casting doesn't bother me. I'm all for whoever is chosen 'cause my imagination rarely matches up to how I picture characters or a setting. As far back as I initially read The Choice, my fancasting was finite. It's the type of casting I just can't accept otherwise. So no disrespect to the actors in the film but the trailer makes me shudder. (The cinematography is all over the map. What is up with the black-helmet wigs? And, why does he get all creepy-stalkerish at 1:16?) No - just no. That is not my idea of The Choice.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

2009 took a turn for the unexpected for books: a mash-up of classic literature and the supernatural sprang up in publishing. Author Seth Grahame-Smith mixed Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with zombies, which was followed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Back then when I saw the parody novels in bookstores, I didn't know what to think - was it a joke? were classics so uninteresting they had to be remade? Fast forward five years I couldn't wait for this movie, and now I'm jumping on the book as soon as possible.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hollywood has done its fair share of Pride and Prejudice adaptations. In its most recent version the Regency era is an alternative world where England is coming under siege by zombies. A class system breaks out between the wealthy who can afford to learn defense skills, and those who cannot, as well as humans and zombies. Out in the open countryside where families and villages are overrun with the undead, Mr. Bennet ensures his daughters survival by having them trained in the fine art of war agianst zombies. Meanwhile Mrs. Bennet is up to her usual match-making, ensuring marriage and a safety net for her eldest daughters. Col. Mr. Darcy makes it his number one priority to rid the earth of the undead, especially when his heart is captured by Elizabeth Bennet.

When a movie like this has been done so many times before, it's difficult to not compare new versions to the others - like the 1995 made-for-television version with Colin Firth, or the beloved 2005 version with Keira Knightley. However, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does a consistent job of not forcing the newer story and its performances into the past.

With Lily James as the helm as Elizabeth, she is such a ferocious and exciting new star. Her emergence in the live-action tale of Disney's Cinderella, a heroine who was delicate as a flower and taught to be kind to all, put her on the map as a soft and charming actress with plenty of potential waiting to unfold. As Elizabeth, she completely turns heads with not only her characters' sword skills but also stubbornness, passion, and charm. When matched with the Sam Riley as the intense Col. Mr. Darcy, her spirited nature is not confined to a knight-in-shining-armor. One second she's reluctant to speak out, and the next she's striding into action on a white horse. It's kick-ass.

Like James who will surely be another favorite to long list of actresses who have portrayed Elizabeth, Sam Riley's Darcy is rugged and dashing. The loving and quiet nature of the most recent Darcy played by Matthew McFayden still lingers, but Riley exudes his rigid exterior a bit more strongly. His Darcy is a militant skilled and focused to slay. Burdened with heavier measures than what his heart desires, he's rugged and carries a gentle nature a bit more quietly. Instead restricted by their pride and prejudice as know them to be, but turned on by each others' agency to kill, they become another lively, memorable reiteration of this timeless couple.

Given more ample liveliness to the classic romance between Darcy and Bennet is other awesome and impressive list of characters: lady boss Lena Heady as Lady Catherine, one of the best trained zombie killers with a crew of ninjas, the charismatic Jack Huston as the dubious yet charismatic Mr. Wickham holding a grudge against Mr. Darcy, the innocent-yet-not-to-be-underestimated Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet, and handsome Douglas Booth as the shy, clumsy Mr. Bingley. And, there's a special mention for Matt Smith whose transformation as Mr. Collins brings humor and quirkiness as the misplaced and unwanted pastor with his sights marrying one of the Bennets.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a great mix of Austen's story we all know so well, just with an extra splash of blood and guts. Director and writer Burr Steers handles what Austen fans love of her famous work and brings a modern twist. Though it might feel strange at first that these two genres have been paired together, Steers doesn't go for the campy route or a straight-up parody; he gives both male and female characters agency to their own destinies, to defend themselves and their loved ones. The action and zombie kills moves seamlessly in the middle of the romance and comedy. As the Bennets and Mr. Darcy manage the threat of zombies at every turn, we're put right into the middle of their relationship and the action. It feels like we're right on the battleground with them; we're allowed to watch some kick-assery unfold as well as a timely courtship. It's one wild ride I can't wait and hope to see again!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Lacks That Something Special

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Review
Photo Credit: Fifty Shades of Grey / Universal Pictures
One of the most negatively panned and yet most talked-about series ever should have nowhere to go up but up when it's adapted to the big screen. Of course, pun implied, we're talking about Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James, the literary, erotic, and controversial phenomenon. And yet for all the anticipation both by legions of devoted  haters and fans, the highly anticipated adaptation manages to coast between the lines to lack that something special the books achieved.

BDSM billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) recruits a young virginal graduate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) into "his red room of pain", aka a sexual contract where she becomes his submissive. He has rules. If she follows them, he'll reward her. If she fails them, he'll punish her. A chance encounter sparks a torrid relationship between the two, one that leaves Ana questioning if she wants a relationship where pain is a part of the package and forces Christian to confront his emotional limitations.

Despite its reputation as an erotica and a relationship that's supposed to jump off of the page, the movie doesn't offer much in terms of an actual story. Ana meets Christian and is propositioned to be his submissive, but for reasons that are continuously glossed over (probably to save for the sequel), we just don't understand why they're attracted to each other. If the movie is trying to explore a young woman discovering her sexuality, Ana's struggle to decide whether or not to sign the contract comes in last to pushing and failing to break Christian out of his shell. And to be honest, as Grey, there's not much there in terms of actual brooding you'd want to know more about. In-between the awkwardly male-gaze sex romps, you just can't help but realize that in place of what could be an interesting romantic drama, the characters just go at it all the time because they can.

While there is no grand love story in the first film, it's admirable that this is not a straight-up porno. Though it has its fair share of inserting a sex scene just because there's a lot of them in the books, the erotica is still surprisingly tame. (Johnson physically bares so much more than Dornan, it makes one think: wasn't this supposed to be for female audiences?). Even if it's all there in terms of going at it like rabbits, the film is nowhere near the taboo adult world people can find and already enjoy online or the real world. So critics might imply that the sex was too safe, but a lack of gratuity set a refreshing pace for the never-ending honeymoon-mode lifestyle.

What ultimately saves the movie is how it translates the books, especially for the haters who ripped it apart for grammar and narrative issues. The movie aptly removes the ridiculous first person perspective of Steele invalidating herself with inner goddesses and forty sub-consciousnesses to elevate her as much as possible. And because the film relies on the headlining stars to make the story shine, credit for making Ana someone worthy to watch goes to Johnson who brings a smoky humor, sass, and confidence to a role that you didn't know had that capability to shine. And for Christian, though Dornan wasn't everyone's first pick, he manages to make Grey charismatic enough to wonder if there's more to him than meets the eye. Together, especially since Dornan was cast at the last minute, make a decent pair for what they have to work with.

No matter the creepy logistics that Grey continually shows up wherever Steele is, and every important conversation of getting to know each other is unevenly shelved for awkward sex scenes, director Sam Taylor-Johnson does her best with what she wanted to achieve. She manages to bring  tangible aspects of the books to life through the cinematography, costume, production design, soundtrack, actors, etc. while a smarter tongue-in-cheek script can be found underneath a story that jumps all over the place.  If you are a fan of the books, Taylor-Johnson makes it possible to want to watch the movie over and over, and I dare say, she gave the film more consideration than many probably would've. And her foundation is surely something the sequels will miss out on if she isn't there to helm Darker and Freed.

More than anything else Fifty Shades of Grey aims to please fans and author. Surely, hardcore fans will be satisfied with the results and the studios who scored on curious moviegoers. Everyone wins except for those who fall outside of those two circles. But to rise above its hostile criticism already, the film doesn't or can't strive to raise a bigger discussion about Ana and Christian's relationship. It skimps along the surface of its inspiration because if it delved too deeply into James's world, it could be one huge joke (an even bigger one to those who hate the series). What remains is a well-intended production trying as best as possible to get out of the grasp of the inner circle of the author and the mind-boggling success of her story.

For book fans: ★★
For me: ★¾☆
For everyone else: ☆☆☆
Have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FanCasting: The Birds Remake

{ source }
Hollywood has been circulating a remake of director Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for more than ten years. Every time a director and a writer commit to the overhaul, the project inevitably falls apart. It's seen its fair share of possible leading stars like Nicole Kidman, George Clooney, and Naomi Watts, hinting that it would be a retelling of his specific version (rather than a take on the actual novel). Most recently Michael Bay's (eeeek!) re-imagining has scored a new writer whose only credit is Firepussy. Let that just sink in for a moment...Being a big fan of not only the original film but also Daphne DuMaurier's short story, I finally felt it was time to let go of how I've always imagined the original source material translating to the big screen.

The original 1963 film was a cinematic introduction to model Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels, a complicated young socialite who meets a charismatic lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop. Traveling to his hometown island Bodega Bay, she aims to surprise his younger sister with a pair of love birds. During her trip flocks of birds attack the residents where she, with the Brenner family, are striving to survive into their home.

With the realistic special effects of using real birds and captured footage, Hitchcock's version doesn't variate drastically except in characters and storyline. As a leader of killer plots, he translated the book with an original vision in mind - one that holds up decades after the film's initial release. Even with The Birds being on of my favorite films, sometimes I feel the movie can be a bit melodramatic in portraying the attack of the birds and the aftermath they leave behind.

{ x and x }

Mixing romance, suspense, and feathery gore, the movie is drastically different from DuMaurier's prose. Shortly after the end of World War II, Nat Hocken (Joaquin Phoenix) is a disabled war veteran residing in a small Cornwall seaside town with his family (wife played by Rebecca Hall). Due to a sudden change of climate from fall to winter, thousands of birds attack the coast. Over the course of several days, Hocken tries to protect his wife and children in their small cottage as the birds invade their home and the neighboring farms.

A good three-fourths of DuMaurier's story is far more claustrophobic than what Hitchcock showcases in his version. When I first read the book I often imagined it as a gruesome play that has yet to be taken advantage of by theatre companies. It's difficult for me to pin on who I would like to see direct a remake since most modern suspense movies lean towards blockbuster horror flicks. Having liked the direction of The Awakening by Nick Murphy, the slow-suspenseful ambiance he brought to that 2011 movie would serve well here too.

{ source and source }

Since the story is set and written in 1952, I wander when the remake will be set and what special-effects will be used. Like the Brenner family, the Hocken clan is cut off from the outside world. Birds brutally attack neighbors and invade their home from the attic and children's bedrooms. Since Hocken is the main character we really only glean from his assumptions about the birds that they are not co-existing well with gathering food and are heading inland; but it's the violent attacks over people and homes that makes the suspense worthwhile. It's like slowly waiting for another war to go off, except we're facing birds and we have no real defense against them. The ending itself leaves us questioning if they or anyone survives.

As a novel it provides far more scientific information as to why the birds attack (it mostly has to do with the ebb and flow of the ocean, tides, and the moon). This may not interest many movie goers but I find the added information gives a whole new meaning to nature being a threat to humanity. We're so under the guise of living our lives routinely and that we have the environment under control, we forget how easy we can be picked off the top of the food chain - even if it's just by "a few" birds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Set in a futuristic Chicago, a city is made up of five factions based on various virtues. As teenagers, your rite of passage into society is to take an aptitude test which shows you which house you belong in. If you're brave or smart you belong in Dauntless or Erudite, respectively. Or you may belong in Abegnation or Candor, if you're selfless or honest. And, there's Amity, which stays out of the conflict by holding onto peace. If you don't belong in any faction - which holds more value than your own family - you are Divergent.

Veronica Roth's series follows Beatrice Prior, a young woman who grew up in Abegnation and choose to join Dauntless. Her reasons, however, are skeptical. After her own aptitude results, she discovers that she is Divergent. The true faction that she belongs to is one that can't be controlled by the government, where its people live on the outskirts of the city, homeless, jobless, and without a respectable place in society.

By choosing Dauntless, Beatrice tries to form a new identity - changing her name, making new friends, and doing her best in her faction. Her odd position in-between factions leads her to discover secrets about the entire society and it functions.

Told in first person from Beatrice's point of view, it's hard to recognize the differences between characters and the factions. To be honest, the world-building is a mix of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and its writing blurs together. Despite the story centering on drastically different virtues, the characters from alternating factions sound and act alike. Fellow Dauntless initiates Christina (from Candor) sounds like Al (from Candor) who sounds like Will (from Erudite) who sounds like Beatrice. They try to be "brutally honest" with each other, yet are just throwing melodramatic insults and comebacks back and forth. Their tones rarely vary nor do their sense of humor or emotional responses.

And, there's also Beatrice's love interest - Four. In this new surprising world of pulling knives on each other and getting drunk (a lot), Four is the brooding mysterious leader of the initiate's training. Tris feels a connection to him yet can't pinpoint if he really likes her or not. She becomes his undoing of not playing everything close to the chest anymore, and he wills her to be strong enough to take care of others and lead a revolution. It's not a particularly engimatic romance, but it's just okay as far as young adult relationships go.

What Divergent struggles with the most is its own world-building. The reasoning behind why Divergents are so dangerous binds the book for its nearly 486 pages. A mysterious unrest within Erudite is slowly unravels as its leader Jeanne is raising an army of sorts. The motivations of which are skewed - she wants order and control among the factions, but she does it through brainwashing and chaos. Besides turning portions of society into mindless drones, she's not much of a villain.

Additionally, it was hard to take the baseline of what makes the factions work together and fall apart seriously. Dauntless members test themselves by  hopping on moving trains, physically beating each other to a pulp, perform through hallucinatory tests where they experience their greatest fears, get tattoos...and so on. There's no real line drawn between forcing yourself to be an adrenaline junkie or showing true bravery.

As an author, Roth is admirable for creating a series that has hit it big. While reading Divergent, I questioned which faction I'd fall into naturally and which one would I choose to join. On the same level of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, her book contains unique interactivity between the words on the page and the reader.

Overall, looking at the writing, I found it to have poor world building, cliche prose, and a mix of popular aspects that worked for other series. I felt like the book was trying to push this idea of a personality divided society with very little to go on about why we should care about Abegnation, Amity, Erudite, etc. besides their individual traits - which made it hard to relate to the characters.

Perhaps if this book was the second of the series, where the first developed a relationship between the people and their factions I would've been more intrigued. Otherwise, it all feels a bit forced and not a strong debut  considering it's a literary young adult phenomenon. I think I'll be waiting for the movies to find out what happens.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you read Divergent? What did you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a memoir of the author's hiking quest along the Pacific Crest Trail. At age twenty-two, the young woman Cheryl Strayed had lost her mother Bobbi to cancer, who she considered to be the love of her life. Her brother, sister, and step-father essentially drifted apart after Bobbi passed away and was essentially the glued that held them together. Strayed became an heroine addict and cheated on her husband with multiple partners to the point where her confession led to their divorce. The trip alongside the West coast is one of purging her spirit of things that had happened to her, and understanding how she ended up where she is by taking one long physically-emotionally exhausting and torturous path to do so.

Strayed provides a wonderful narrative of her life that is both broken and solid. There is a trend in Hollywood and literature that females are not considered adults, therefore have to baby up their language, sexuality, brains, and humor in order to gain a wider audience. This book, along with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (at least of recent memory), is refreshing in the sense that the female narratives are no holds barred. Strayed needs help and doesn't know how to ask for it, sees her value through the eyes of being an imperfect daughter, and learns to equate her life by what she deems it to be.

This woman had so much baggage it almost felt like you were wearing her overstuffed mountain gear along with her as she shares her experiences of cheating, her mother's death, and her family's undoing. So many of her passages emanate the loss of what she went through, and Strayed doesn't glamorize her experiences or push specific spiritual lessons for the readers. It's her journey and we're along for the ride. There is no beating around the bush with her blunders nor her desires or dreams, and I liked that Strayed's voice is one of that as a young adult woman's voice is; honest, frank, tormented, humorous, grateful, and enlightened.

Way back when in the early eighties when audiences saw Top Gun (starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer) and immediately wanted to become an Army pilot, I read this book and won't be ashamed to say that I am inspired to do something similar - to take a trip somewhere and sort myself out. It is not to replicate Strayed's experience nor to see if trekking solo lives up to the idyllic poetic imagery this book served but more for my own sanity and thirst for adventure/self-reconciliation too.

Such a major attraction to this memoir is the search for discovery through a singular experience with yourself, and not allowing obstacles in the form of addiction, broken family relationships, etc. stop you. Nature has a way of enveloping us into its arms, if we allow it do so, and Strayed's experience is one that allows us to see the possibilities of what a trip like this can offer us - the solitude, the resolutions, the inner reckoning. Going through a ton of shit myself, I envied and was emboldened by her choice to deal with her demons in this way. To be ignited enough in her life by her mistakes, the grief of her family, and emotional pain of her past to gain a clearer understanding of who she is.

One thing should be of note with this book is that Strayed's experience is extraordinarily rare. Using guidebooks and having zero experience to hike, this woman completed her mission entirely underplanned. Her boots were too small. She arranged for a friend to send her care packages with twenty dollars at different rest stops; often leaving her with only a few cents in her pocket to get between towns. It's easy to read this and think that she should have been more prepared, but we are living in a different age of technology with cellphones at fingertips. I can't criticize the choices Strayed made, but I think it's a fair warning to those who might be encouraged to read this review to consider your full range of options before trying a trek of this magnitude on your own or with friends. She made plenty of friends and acquaintances along her trip that helped her but many of them are occurrences where her life and physically well-being were in danger. To read her journey from beginning to end, it's almost unimaginable to comprehend how she survived.

The most poignant aspect is how Strayed deals with her mother's death and how it led to her abandoning herself through addictions to companionship, sexuality, drugs, and validation. Far from chick lit, or even chick flick, this book is a refreshing memoir and story of a woman who has muddled big time and needs to reconcile all the parts of her life that has become brutally undone. The story is as much as an adventurous trek as it is deep spiritual or personal reflection for Strayed. It easily became one of my favorite books of the year.

Coming to theatres in December 2014 starring Reese Witherspoon, I am so excited to see the adaptation of Wild in the coming months.  Directed by Jean-Marc VallĂ©e (The Dallas Buyers Club), and premiering during the Toronto Film Festival, has already garnered the movie rave reviews for Witherspoon. It's coming out on my birthday week, and I can't think of no other way of being excited to see it and go on the quest into the wild...except to plan my own excursion to take one day too.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) demands to be felt

Book vs Movie: The Fault in Our Stars
Photo Credit: The Fault in Our Stars / 20th Century Fox
Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley)'s thyroid cancer has progressively grown into lung cancer. For the time being her condition is stable when she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a support group. Accepting her limited lifespan which has no specific expiration date, Grace tries to limit the relationships she's involved in by not wanting to hurt the people she loves. As she and Gus become friends, her will to avoid his attempts at wooing fail. The typical young adult genre of "love worth dying for" transforms into a story of love worth living for.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green was originally published in 2012 and has managed to stay atop bestseller's list for the past two years. The story of teenagers falling in love despite facing the inevitability of oblivion has become a cultural phenomenon. Millions of readers dote on how the novel captures a voice of a generation, a relationship centered around realistically grim circumstances, and characters facing mortal affliction. Adapted to the big screen, The Fault In Our Stars is an endearing emotional fixation and success.

A book that offers a sarcastic and teenagerly-honesty perspective could have had big mistake written all over it when Hollywood knocked on Green's doors. Riding on the wave of failure or success, the movie truly rests on Woodley and Elgort - not just for meeting reader's expectations but also how their characters could've been performed by other actors. On their own, and as a pair, both are charming and tender delivering a right balance of endearing comedy and heartbreaking drama. Its supporting cast, which includes Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, and Sam Trammell, also deliver entertaining and subtle performances. With the right guiding and attentive hand, the production captures the love that emanates from readers to author, and character to character.

A polarizing aspect of this adaptation, which has held a stronghold on the media and internet for most of 2014, is the overwhelming praise the book has earned. Despite my blog's appearance, I cannot call myself a Nerdfighter; a hard-earned label Green fans call themselves. I read the book cover-to-cover more out of curiosity than any buzzworthy acclaim. I fell in love with his realistic yet all-too-optimistic world and had high aspirations that it could be a good adaptation, but I didn't harbor intense passion like many fans.

Respectfully, I was able to have some emotional distance. The movie was enjoyable for watching scenes from the book come to life and still look at it from a perspective by someone else who might be watching the movie out of curiosity. For the latter, I won't refrain from saying that in very few scenes did I feel like the camera work or pacing could have been improved. The actual romantic themes in the film are formulaic; the novel and book are not typically daring in terms of boy and girl meet and then fall in love. What is different about the pairing of Grace and Waters from other couples is how these characters handle life's most difficult crises and still come out the other end hopeful, loving, and vulnerable. There are degrees of relativity in this movie that most people might not suspect either having personally dealt with cancer/family member with cancer or falling in love for the first time. It's the emotionally rousing delivery of youth in love with all its euphoric highs and soul-crushing lows that continuously makes these characters and their dynamics so beloved.

During the production of the film, Green was given slack for crying on-set because he was emotionally compromised watching his novel being adapted. I can't say that I blame him. The story is the stuff of movie magic where as a reader most of the details you pictured were depicted straight from your own imagination. For such a big movie with unbelievably high anticipation riding on the book's coattails, the film experience is surprisingly intimate. During the three-month press tour of the cast and crew sharing praise and dedication for the movie's release, the gratitude everyone had for the material shows in all the right ways with the best cast, script, and studio for the job.

As much excitement has set the world on fire as this being a box office breaker or a love story of the decade, The Fault In Our Stars is able to come alive just as a good movie and adaptation; it's not entirely faultless but definitely funny, uplifting, and lovely.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen The Fault In Our Stars? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Life in France by Julia Child


With the help of admirer Alex Prud Homme, six-footer Julia Child recounts the several years she and her husband, Paul Child, spent together in France where her cooking ambitions began in her autobiography My Life In France. What began as a passion towards the French cuisine grew into a cooking empire, and still one of the most influential and iconic cookbooks Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Every chapter is simple and easy to breeze through. Once in a while, I'll come across an autobiography where the content is so detailed it seems the author is suffering from the classic celebrity syndrome of an unbearably huge ego. None of that can be found here.

The Californian-native is detailed about her relationships with fellow Gourmettes and her ventures into the publishing and television world without long-winded stories that finish in a dead-end. Child's descriptions of the scrumptious foods she made are absolutely mouth-watering. The deeply devoted Democrat leads us through the years of her life with wit and a notable zest for life in general. Her enthusiastic curiosity to embark into every world, culinary or otherwise, no doubt leaves an impression that she must have been a terribly fun person to share food, wine, and conversation with.

"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!"
Julia provides the main narration, but the journey is as much of hers as it is Paul's. In the modern world where many celebrity marriages seem like almost a joke where shameless tabloids exploit divorces and affairs, it was heartwarming to read how a couple supported each other when delving into unknown territories, especially fame.

Paul had Julia's back 110% with her cooking aspirations and often encouraged her to continue cooking and writing when she felt like throwing in the towel. He also used his passion for photography to snap photos of his wife cooking for her books and put his U.S. government experience with the media to work when Julia dealt with her first rounds of book signings, magazine interviews, and television appearances. As the couple lived abroad, they aimed to enhance each others' lives and their relationship is overall exceptionally loving.

My Life In France is such a delicious read and made me want to hop on the next plane and relocate across the pond to follow in Child's steps. After some consideration the idea wasn't very practical, this yummy autobiography did jump start my own interest in cooking. With the picturesque and romantic life Julia and Paul lead, this book left me with a bigger appetite to experience life with more vivacity.

In 2005, Julia Child's life was merged Julie Powell; a blogger turned author who cooked her way through Child's famous Master the Art of French Cooking. The novel was eventually adapted to the big screen in 2009 with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, respectively playing Julia and Paul, with Amy Adams fronting as Powell.

Directed and written by Nora Ephron, the film splits time between Child and Powell's trials and tribulations in both their professional and personal lives. The performances by the trio are exceptional, though I found the characterization of Powell to be quite unlikable and catty. (Adams managed to make her character more charming than Powell's persona). Though the Julie and Julia novel is not as enjoyable as Child's autobiography, the adaptation gives a brief biopic of the couples' relationship intermixed with Powell's journey through cooking, and it's a fun Friday night movie for fans of the unforgettable culinary duo.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Insurgent by Veronia Roth


By the looks of my previous review for Divergent by Veronica Roth (the predecessor to this book), it would seem that I would not touch the rest of the series with a ten foot pole. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, because a girl crush for Shailene Woodley commenced followed by a decent adaptation, I somehow felt compelled to put myself through continuous torture. So, here is my review of Insurgent.

Picking up where the last book finished, our heroine Tris and her beau Four have ended the first round of drug-induced simulations where Dauntless (brave faction) were brainwashed to commit mass genocide against Abnegation (selfless faction). On the run from Jeanine Matthews, head of the Erudite faction (intelligence), the lovebirds and company escape to Amity (peace faction). Their next move is to discover why Matthews is hellbent on capturing the Divergent - society members like Tris and Four with special traits that make them immune to her mind-controlling substances. (Go with me on this!)

In a future dystopian world, Chicago is the main setting for Roth's story. Fenced in to incorporate five dramatically-different factions, the personality traits seem straight out of Harry Potter Sorting Hat with the characters' adventure taking notes from The Hunger Games. Part of me was grateful that my wish was fulfilled for the sequel to develop it's worldbuilding. Understanding how the science of the technological advancements, and a few of the actually unexpected plot twists, was by far the most improved aspects of the book. By far this was the best improvement to the story (as well as the necessary character development included below).

However, the other part of me wished the writing technicalities lived up to the worldbuilding.  Most of all the prose seemed to repeat itself. I can't count how many times Tris was at "the edge" of crumbling to pieces to symbolize an emotional breakdown or a stone sat in her stomach to emotionalize guilt. Dangerous situations in which the characters found themselves on the "brink of new information that could solve everything" usually lapsed into a catch-up meet and greet in every faction. New characters were often introduced within a few pages that would go on to reappear later to help out Tris in some way. The story would pause, let Tris break down, reignite her fears and determination - then presto, the goal of discovering why Matthews was trying to implement the serums would be back on track.

A major issue I had with Divergent was the dialogue which was cringe-worthy and the inability to tell characters apart - because of the lack of diverse communication. All of the characters' personalities ranging from younger teenagers to adults continued to collide into snarky sarcastic behavior. For a series about intrinsically different personalities, everyone sounded the same. A rolledex of the same insults and comebacks seemed to appear every other page. "Whatever" signified the end of a cutesy quarrel. Two characters that came from the same faction would mock each others' similar traits - repetitively. Tris and Four would gravitate towards honest believable exchanges before the dialogue would return to mush. Relating back to the prose, which did provide more than several chapters of substantial consistent storytelling and exposition, the written tone felt like Roth was capable of accessing deeper material but didn't or wouldn't flush out.

What made the story perhaps the most beneficial was Tris Prior continuing to be a truly refreshing dystopian leading character. I can often see Prior verus Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) are the subject of debates for best leading heroine of the modern YA age. For me, Tris wins hands down. Inhabiting three of the five personality traits that make up the futuristic Chicago; selfless, brave, and smart, Tris is multifaceted in that she makes her own decisions by her own emotions and doesn't do so with the hopes of gaining her loverboy's approval. For the strict confinements that are offered in the setting, it's pretty awesome that she is capable of being more than a one-dimensional character - which everyone else seems to be. There's a constant struggle of standing up for herself and being brave for others in the most dramatic of crises.

Furthermore, I found Four to be a well-developed boyfriend/leading male character. What I find most frustrating in YA fiction is that couples run together on the same dependence trope; giving each other ultimatums, making it seem like the other person's love is all they have to live for. Sometimes they are forced to be so in love they lose their own identity. With Four and Tris, there is a magnetic friendship that blooms into an adolescent romance. Tris is not constantly wondering if what she does or says will lose the attraction he has for her. Four and Tris' emotions and decisions are separate, and where they collide in understanding each other's motives and their violent, chaotic circumstances. But rarely does Four hold Tris emotionally hostage, which makes their relationship an even better partnership.

Divergent was by far one of the most challenging reads to undertake in a long while. Its story and characters seemed so foreign to me, the mega-phenomenon this series has grown to be failed to live up to the hype. With Insurgent, and now thoroughly engrossed with the movies and characters, the world-building factor and main character's evolution was satisfying, even if the writing failed on so many levels. Perhaps even moreso, the material made me question if this story was worthy of three books to reach its conclusion. Is the material strong enough for me to sit through a reading of the third and final book Allegiant? Unlike my first review I truly may just wait for the movie.
Rating: ★ ★

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book vs Movie: Divergent

book vs movie divergent by veronica roth

Set in a dystopian Chicago, the city has been broken up into factions sparked by an old war. The separation of society based on different virtues - Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (kindness) - is meant to be the new world's pathway to peace. At the ripe age of sixteen teenagers must choose an official faction and leave their old life behind. Beatrice Prior, the main protagonist of the series, is a member of Abegnation navigating her way through the Dauntless world. However, there is more to her selection ceremony results that force her to realize she doesn't belong in this new compartmentalized society. She is Divergent - a member of the factionless that can't be mindlessly controlled by the government.

Based on the worldwide phenomenon by Veronica Roth, let me be the first to say that I didn't have high expectations for the film adaptation. My book review can be read here, however, let me summarize that I thought the film wouldn't be worthy of anything except to see Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. However, my expectations were proven wrong. Director Neil Burger (of the forcefully cerebral Limitless) accomplishes a fun entertaining young adult flick.