Ever since they revolutionized animation with Toy Story — the very first fully computer-animated feature-length film — back in 1995, Pixar has been a pillar of creativity. With twenty-two years and nineteen movies under their belt (not counting shorts and spinoffs), they haven’t been perfect every time, but even their worst outing tends to be better than the majority of films that hit the multiplexes these days. Aside from pushing the boundaries on photo-realistic animation and their incredible consistency (kudos to keeping John Ratzenberger employed!), the one component that makes Pixar such a powerhouse in the animation world is their insistence on telling a good story above all else. To do this, they populate each and every story with strong characters and an amazing heart, allowing them to pull at your heartstrings like a master puppeteer. Not only that, but they aren’t afraid to take risks. A kids movie with an old man at its center? A space opera where two words take up the bulk of the dialogue? A tasty treat about rats in Paris? A colorful tale dealing with death and protecting your heritage? Read Full Review
Feel-good movies always walk a fine line between inspirational and exaggerated schmaltz. On one level, they present a rosy picture of the world, a near-utopia where nothing too terrible ever happens, and when it does, it’s resolved rather quickly, and on another level, they do everything they can to motivate you to be an overall better person, but try do so without sounding intentionally preachy. This mix often leads to over-the-top sentimentality, or pushes the film to become so unrealistic, you just can’t buy its sincerity. When done right, though, they leave you emotionally cleansed, joyous and hopeful for the future. With Wonder, the newest entry into the family-friendly inspirational drama based on the novel by R.J. Palacio, this line is extremely thin, yet expertly teeters on both sides without ever going too far one way or the other. Read Full Review
Disclaimer: I have not seen any of the previous iterations of Murder on the Orient Express, nor have I had the pleasure of reading Agatha Christie’s novel on which the films are based. This review is based solely on Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation.
What makes a good mystery? First and foremost is a great lead detective who an audience can relate to, have fun with and feel invited in to join them on their quest to solve the puzzle. Second is an eclectic cast of suspects; each one with their own distinct personality and secrets lying in wait to be discovered and move the detective closer to his final revelation. Third is a bevy of overt and subtle clues and misdirections strewn about that help guide the detective through the case. And finally, there must be a great reveal, one an audience doesn’t see coming but should have with all the clues and information that have been openly provided for all to digest. Kenneth Branagh, director and star of the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder on the Orient Express, does everything he can to include every one of these pieces, yet forgets one very key ingredient: a blanket of intrigue. Read Full Review
There’s been a debate among authors and readers of independent books for quite a while in regards to the etiquette surrounding a book series. As more and more authors choose the independent route over traditional publishing, there seems to be a mindset that you can’t be successful unless you’re writing a book series. One of the major points of contention is how to end the initial book in a series. Some say that if it’s a series, then we should know that everything may not wrap up properly; others will say a first book in a series should stand on its own. If you look at some of the more successful book series, such as Harry Potter or The Dark Tower, the answer tends to be the latter — the first book in the series may have an overarching goal that isn’t necessarily reached, but the book itself has a complete story. Only in the later books do the stories start to intermingle and become less structured, but by then, we’re already heavily invested. A lot of times, having a first book in a series that doesn’t have a complete story makes it feel as if the author opted to divide their story in two because they feel it was easier to sell two 300-page books as opposed to one 600-page book.
I’m not sure what Christa Yelich-Koth’s process was as she wrote Eomix Galaxy Books: Illusion, but even before you begin reading, you already know this is only the first book of at least two, so either it was planned that way or it was split for the sake of, in my opinion, an arbitrary word count. Either way is fine, so long as there is a complete story arc that doesn’t make the novel feel incomplete. Sadly, Illusion feels more like a movie studio splitting a novel into two parts simply to extend a series past it’s expiration date. Christa slowly and expertly leads her story on a path to a specific destination, but then pulls the rug out from under us by providing no closure without spending more money on the next book.
Illusion follows Daith Tocc, a normal girl living a quiet life until she’s abducted and has her memory completely erased by Trey Xiven, commander of the space vessel, Horizon. It’s quickly learned that Trey believes Daith to be the daughter of his former commanding officer, Jacin Jaxx, a very powerful being in the universe, and is hoping to use Daith as a weapon to secure peace in the Eomix Galaxy. To do so, he recruits his brother, Dru, to run several tests on her in order to find out if she truly is what he thinks, and whether she harbors the same power her father did.
The reason I felt there wasn’t any closure is because there aren’t any full character arcs. As Daith goes through her trials and discovers a few breakthroughs in her powers, nothing actually happens to solidify a change in her or any of the other characters. In other words, she learns how to tap into her skills, but with the exception of a few smaller moments and revelations, she doesn’t ever have a chance to utilize them the way I hoped she would (or in the way she eventually will in the next book).
That aside, the book does have some intriguing concepts and a few interesting characters. Both Daith and Dru are extremely likeable; together, they have some of the best parts of the book. Whenever Christa stepped away from them to focus on Trey, I wanted to get back to Dru and Daith and their budding relationship. For whatever the reason, Trey never really connected with me. I’m not sure if it was because of the character, how he was written, or because most of his focus was on the life of Jacin Jaxx, most of which fell a little flat for me. I was much more interested in Daith and how she was going to handle her newfound gifts than I was in learning the history of Jacin Jaxx and how he handled his powers.
Which brings up another interesting topic in the structure of the story itself. In the first chapter, we’re introduced to Daith before she gets her mind wiped, which is all well and good, but with a story like this, a lot of the intrigue comes with not knowing who she was before her memory was erased. By this I mean, the urgency of Daith’s predicament isn’t as strong as it could have been. Had we, the reader, woken up with Daith on the ship without knowing anything about her or her past, and were able to learn everything right alongside her, we would have been able to connect with her more than we already do, heightening an air of mystery that is non-existent since we already know why everything is happening.
Don’t get me wrong, the majority of Illusion is well-written (there are some moments that feel a little stale and dialogue that gets a little stunted), and Daith’s storyline kept me interested, I just wish we would have seen a better, more developed arc that led Daith to examine her powers beyond the mere accident or test that fill the majority of the book.
My Grade: B+
Christa Yelich-Koth is an award-winning author and graphic novelist, and co-founder and head of submissions for Buzz & Roar Publishing. Born in Milwaukee, Christa graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, which helps her when writing creatures and worlds in her science fiction. She writes because “I love creating something that pulls me out of my own world and lets me, for a little while, get lost inside someone or someplace else.”
Check out all of Christa’s social media platforms:
If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.
Marvel will go down in the history books as having the most ingenious, self-sustaining film franchises in movie history. Since starting their “Cinematic Universe” back in 2008 with the introduction of Nick Fury and the Avengers Initiative in the post-credit scene of Iron Man, people have flocked to the theaters to get a taste of all the interconnected stories that have since built this magnificent universe. Several other companies have tried to start their own universes to muddled results because what they don’t seem to understand in building a world like this is that you need the trust of the audience to make it work. DC and Paramount have yet to earn any confidence in characters that an audience cares about and a story that doesn’t reek of desperation. Marvel’s universe was grown organically and they built a fan base before connecting their films outside of the mid/post-credit scenes. They respected their audience, hired a team that understood the source material and loved the characters to a degree that would ground the ideas in a realistic shell, but stay true to the heart of what everyone expects from a comic-book. Read Full Review
Films that are “Based on a True Story” are made for one of three reasons: 1) they have a clear message that someone feels passionate about; 2) they tell an unbelievable or truly remarkable story; or 3) they uncover and/or showcase incredible tests of strength, honor and heroism. Going into Battle of the Sexes, I knew nothing about the events that transpired between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). To be perfectly honest, like a lot of people, I’m sure, I didn’t even know who these people were. Because of the subject matter, I figured Billie Jean King would be triumphant, but the actual match happened before I was born, and I don’t watch tennis, so there’s really no reason why I would know what transpired between these two stalwarts of the sport. After seeing it, it’s clear that directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris had something to say with Sexes, but the execution of those messages — including equality for women in all aspects of life as well as equal rights for the LGBT community — got a little lost in translation. Read Full Review
When studios decide to make a sequel to a beloved (or financially successful) movie, they are walking a fine line. To make a successful sequel, you not only have to bring back all of the elements that clicked with audiences to begin with, but to keep it from feeling stagnant, you have to up the ante by delivering bigger and better ideas, struggles and character development. Often, these decisions fail — either the movie doesn’t go far enough and the film feels like a repetitive money grab, or they go too far, and it doesn’t feel anything like the original… it becomes too over-the-top or silly for its own good. But when you’re able to find the right balance between heightening the story, expanding the lore, and giving fans what they liked with extra bite, fans will continue to follow the characters wherever you take them. Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls into the latter category, as it brings back everything we loved of the original in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a tedious retread. Read Full Review
I’m not quite sure what to make of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. On the one hand, I was intrigued by what the writer/director was attempting to do and how he navigated the first half (or two-thirds) of the film. On the other hand, the last third is so bizarre and so disjointed and removed from all semblance of sanity, it’s hard to understand the point of the whole thing. To say the end comes out of left field would be an understatement; it felt like an abandoned child who appears out of nowhere and claims to be related to someone who just won the lottery. Aronofsky has the right to make whatever movie he likes, and he certainly has pushed the boundaries over the years with bizarre, sometimes sickening character studies. This time, though, he may have gone a bit too deep into his own head where he wasn’t quite able to find his way back from the edge of his own self-indulgences. Read Full Review
Best Cross-Over: Supergirl/TheFlash/Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow
Now this is how a crossover is done. Taking the kernel of an idea, Greg Berlanti and his team developed a four-hour (well, technically three-hour) mega-episode that gave us some incredible new team-ups and fresh interactions between characters that may never talk to one another again. Though the episode of Supergirl can’t really be considered a part of the crossover (since the part that included Barry and Cisco arriving on Earth 38(!) was only part of the last two minutes, and then repeated in The Flash), the other three episodes took the crossover idea to new heights, doing its best to include everyone while building on the mythologies of each individual show. Though it could be argued that the episode of Arrow diverged a little too far out of the crossover aspect, taking too much time inside the “fake” world and not enough time showing the team attempting to get them back, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow shined bright with action, intrigue and enough comic relief to leave you in stitches. With Cisco providing Kara a way to jump back to Earth 1 whenever she needs to, and each major character having gone through some transformation by the end of the event, we could already see what the repercussions of this major battle would take on each series moving forward, setting up not only future major crossover events, but mini one’s as well.
This season’s most noticeable trend: Movie to TV Adaptations
Television adaptations of movies is hardly a new concept. But over the last few years, it seems to have grown into a normal form of inspiration, one that will churn out half a dozen new shows based on movies every year. And just like any idea, for every adaptation that builds upon its source material in a terrific way (12 Monkeys, Bates Motel), there’s one that fails to come even close to living up to its predecessor (Rush Hour, Minority Report). Unfortunately, the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, what with there being around 35 adaptations currently in the pipeline, even though the statistics continue to hold true. Four new movie adaptations hit the small screen this fall and all three were executed with just the right amount of flair. Lethal Weapon was the leader of the pack, doing what Rush Hour couldn’t — teaming two great actors to build on the mythology set up by Shane Black. It doesn’t try to be the movie; it just borrows the best ideas and runs with them in a funnest, most emotional way it can. Frequency also took this route, using the first half of the film to set up the show, then diverting quite well into it’s own must-see mystery. The Exorcist was at first an adaptation in name only… until they revealed that Geena Davis’s character was actually Regan from the original film, which only added some great dimension to an already scary, riveting show. And on cable, Shooter showed its might by staying true to the essence of the film while providing some good action among the mystery and intrigue. Alas, on the other side of the spectrum we had Taken, a feeble attempt at giving us Brian Mills’s backstory; Training Day, where, aside from the late Bill Paxton, the acting was mediocre at best and the vibe was completely lacking in energy; Uncle Buck, which never found a stable voice; and The Mist, which yes, is also another adaptation of the Stephen King short story, but never manages to find any semblance of the claustrophobia of either the book or the much superior film.
Coming Into Her Own Award: Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), Scorpion
Three years ago, when Scorpion first premiered, I commented that Happy Quinn was the worst character of the new year. I’m happy to say that over the last season and a half, Jadyn Wong has finally won me over. The more the show has come into its own, the more each character has found their place on the team, and the chemistry between everyone has become so easy and relaxing. But more to the point, Happy’s story arc involving her false pregnancy, her fake marriage to Walter (Elyes Gabel), and her real marriage to Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas), though somewhat contrived for drama’s sake, truly took Happy’s character in a new direction, one that helped her evolve into someone I could get behind.
Creepiest New Character: The Tooth Monster (Channel Zero: Candle Cove)
When he first appeared, I wasn’t sure what to make of the this thing. Then you realize the creature is made up of human teeth. And I thought the Candle Cove puppet show that mesmerized (hypnotized) the kids was the creepiest thing on this show. Nope. Then to find out this is how Mike’s (Paul Schneider) twin brother Eddie (Luca Villacis), who Mike killed when they were kids, is able to manifest himself in the real world until he can take over his brother’s body, the whole scenario is just one big weird and bizarre experience.
Characters in need of a spinoff: Castiel (Misha Collins) and Crowley (Mark Sheppard), Supernatural
Supernatural has tried to do the spin-off thing before without success (and will try again soon with their planned Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) spinoff). One reason being, Supernatural stems from the chemistry between Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles), so without them, it’s hard to watch another generic Supernatural copy. However, if there was any characters that could be viably spun-off into their own show, it would be Castiel and Crowley. I know it was only a few short episodes, and the ramifications of the recent season finale would keep it from happening, but their team-up to search for Satan throughout this past season has turned out some of the funniest moments on the show. It would be a hoot to watch them become the new Sam and Dean, and because they are already established favorites in their own right, fans would no doubt tune in to see what crazy, scary and ultimately obnoxious cases they would take on. Heck, I like the idea so much, I made a poster.
Actor who’s better than the show: Barry Watson, Date My Dad
You know an actor is good when they leave a show and the quality sharply declines. For example, when Barry Watson left 7th Heaven, the show became so much soapier, it was immediately apparent he was the glue that help the sacchrine in place. After battling — and beating — Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I’ve wanted him to make a great comeback in a show worth his talents. Alas, when Watson returned to television, he’s strandled with a show that’s so over the top and pathetically lazy that you can’t help but feel for him. Whenever he’s on screen, there’s a quiet energy and lightness about him and his surroundings; whenever he’s not, everything feels forced and hits with the thud of an anvil on Wyle E. Coyote. The overall writing and acting isn’t much better, cramming messages down our throats with labored performances and setting up situations even Lifetime wouldn’t touch. Barry Watson deserves so much more.
Best Halloween Episode: Last Man Standing
Holiday episodes can either come off extremely cheesy are become instant classics, especially on a sitcom. Usually, holiday episodes for a long-running show start to get tired (see Roseanne), as all of the best jokes are utilized early in the runs and the writers don’t quite seem to know where to go with them after a time. However, in its sixth season, Tim Allen and his team of writers came up with a Halloween idea that could have went horribly wrong, but was ended up being executed perfectly. As each member of the Baxter family dressed up as someone else in the family, it was clever to see each of the characters portray another in a cool meta sort of way, giving a fresh perspective on the characters while not overdoing the parody.
Most Surprising Death: Heather Pinkney (Jillian Murray), Code Black
Aside from The Walking Dead, most shows refrain from killing off their major characters unless their a sci-fi show where no character death matters because they always bring them back to life (and why Alice’s death, though surprising, isn’t at the top of the list). So it was very surprising to see one of the main doctors on Code Black succumb to a major outbreak at Angels Memorial. In a show like this, you tend to believe that any main character will be miraculously saved by a last minute realization of a cure. but Heather Pinkney became a major casualty when the virus took her before a cure could be found. Completely shocking, yet so in tune with the overall vibe of the show. RIP Dr. Pinkney. You will be missed.
Oddest threesome: Eliot (Hale Appleman), his Fillory wife (Brittany Curran) and a one-night stand, The Magicians
It may not sound odd on paper when Fillory’s newest high King, Eliot has a threesome with both his arranged wife and some new hookup he met when returning back to Breakbill’s. Here’s the rub: Eliot can’t physically leave Fillory now that he’s high king, so his fiendish friend, Margo (Summer Bishil) helps create a doppelgänger for Eliot that can travel back to the real world, one in which Eliot can control, but only when his other body is asleep. So, when he decides to hookup with some random guy at a party at his dorm in the real world, his Fillory wife decides to have some fun at the same time. As Eliot’s consciousness jumps back and forth between bodies, the man enjoys a threesome that the other two participants are unaware of. Yeah. That just happened.
And with that, we close out the 2016-2017 season. Come back next year for more chaotic television awards.
You’ve seen some of the more prominent awards (read Part 1), now let’s move onto some of the specialty awards.
Best Twist: This Is Us
This Is Us spent the summer months advertising a new drama that revolved around four people who happened to share the same birthday. How these characters would be connected, if at all, was still unknown. As the premiered episode progressed, and we grew more invested in each character’s emotional baggage, we learned Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) were twins and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was adopted. That in and of itself would probably have been enough to keep you interested for at least a few more episodes as the character’s grew. But it wasn’t until that last five minutes, when a firefighter joins Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who earlier lost one of his triplets, at the baby viewing window in the hospital saying he brought in an abandoned baby, and then they cut to some random dud hangin’ out in seventies clothes and smoking inside the hospital that everything came into focus with a twist this side of Lost, — Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are everyone’s parents!! — sealing the deal that this show was going to be must-see TV.
Best Non-Series Finale: Once Upon A Time
In what probably should have been the series finale of Once Upon A Time, everyone got their happily ever after: Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) are happily married, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) have a happy family, Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) finally finds happiness with Belle (Emilie De Ravin)…. heck, even the evil queen (Lana Parrilla) gets to run off with Robin (Sean Maguire). The end was also a nice nod to the opening scene of the series when the little girl (Alison Fernandez) who’s been tasked by her father to protect the storybook finds her way to now older Henry’s (Andrew J. West) apartment, claiming to be his daughter and saying his family needs his help. It’s a terrific close to the loop of a fantastical series. But no, even with six main departures, the show will continue with this new story line. Where it goes, how they explain why Belle and Emma aren’t around even though Hook and Rumple are still regulars, I’m not sure. But my guess is, it would have been a much happier ending the show where they started instead of trying to milk some final cash out this waning property.
Best Milestone Episode: Arrow
Arrow‘s 100th episode had a goliath task: not only did it have to appease fans of the series by delivering the right amount of nostalgia and call backs to what made the show so good from the start, but it also had to bring in elements from the super CW-Arrowverse crossover. In writing the episode so that the team members that were all originally from Arrow (including Oliver (Stephen Amell), Thea (Willa Holland), Diggle (David Ramsey), Sara (Caity Lotz) and Ray (Brandon Routh)) were abducted by the Dominators, the team behind Arrow was able to accomplish both quite nicely — although it could be argued that in relation to the crossover, the episode felt more like a distraction. For fans of Arrow, it was great seeing all of the characters from the past in what amounts to Oliver’s own Flashpoint, in which he got to see life as it would have been had he and his father were never shipwrecked. It gave us all enough callbacks to the first few seasons with quick flashes from different characters as they learned they were being manipulated, and moved the show forward at the same time it settled into the crossover and pushed toward the conclusion in Legends of Tomorrow.
Most Insane Producer: Max Landis
If you have ever seen Max Landis in an interview, no explanation is needed for the ideas that seem to generate in the man’s head. With being a co-creator and occasional writer on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and a producer on Channel Zero: Candle Cove, Max Landis brought the weirdest, creepiest, most bizarre characters to life this season — and it was mesmerizing to watch. He may seem like an odd duck, but his imagination is one magnificent, original hell. I can’t wait to see what genius he has in store for the future.
Most Sentimental Moment: Gibbs (Mark Harmon) hugging Palmer (Brian Dietzen), NCIS
Leroy Jethro Gibbs has never been the sentimental type. Yes he has shown his affection in different ways, such as kissing Abby (Pauley Perrette) on the cheek like a daughter or slapping DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) upside the head like a son, but he’s never shown true, loving affection. This revelation came out during the episode titled, “Keep Going”, which focused on lovable Medical Assistant Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen). When Palmer attempts to talk a kid who just lost his father from jumping off the ledge of a building, insights into how Jimmy sees all of his co-workers, including the harder than nails Gibbs, come to light. Palmer even goes so far as to talk about Gibbs’s wife and child, still a sore subject for Gibbs even after all this time. At one point he mentions that Gibbs has never hugged anyone, even when they sort of expected or needed one. But that’s Gibbs. So what a powerful moment it was when Palmer tries desperately to apologize for some of what he said, and Gibbs in true Gibbs fashion doesn’t say a word; he just pulls Jimmy in for one of the most sentimental hugs on television.
Best Homage: Joe (Jeremy Maguire) Modern Family
In an episode that saw little Joe trying to prove he’s just like his dad, Jay (Ed O’Niell), we also get a very subtle, blink and you miss it homage to another long-running Ed O’Neill sitcom. Sitting on the couch, watching television with his hand in his pants, little Joe just may have some Al Bundy in his blood as well.
Best Cameo Appearance: Lucille, Supernatural
Fans of Supernatural have been clambering for the return of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s John Winchester ever since his final passing in season 2. Fans got a small taste this season as the actors payed homage to not only the character but the actor this season when a very special guest showed up for a quick scene. Ever since Morgan took the reigns of Negan on The Walking Dead, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padelecki and the producers of Supernatural ribbed Morgan by claiming that Big Daddy Winchester has used Negan’s most prized possession — his barbed-wire-laced bat, Lucille. On episode 15 of season 12, Lucille made her first appearance on the show, where Dean (Ackles) and Sam (Padelecki) come home after a battle carrying the bat. “Dad would have loved this thing,” Dean says. Ah, the metaness of it all. If we can’t have Morgan back on the show, this little wink was a nice surprise.
Too Soon Award: Michael Weatherly, Bull
Michael Weatherly’s departure from the still hit show, NCIS, hit a lot of fans hard. After all, what’s Gibbs without DiNozzo? I understand that actor’s sometimes need to move on. Just like any ordinary job, spending over a dozen years on the same show can become rather stale, and if you’re starting to phone in a performance, it might be best to move on. But to know that Weatherly already had a new show lined up even before the dust could settle on DiNozzo’s story was a little jarring. Had he taken a year off to revitalize his energy, I could see it; jumping right back into a hour-long procedural seems a little excessive, and didn’t allow viewers to properly say goodbye to such a beloved character. Because of this, although his new show was another winner for CBS, it was hard to distinguish Weatherly’s Bull from Weatherly’s DiNozzo, and that may have done more harm to the show than good.
Most Devastating Tribute: Nashville
If the death of Rayna James (Connie Britton) wasn’t enough, Nashville took her mourning to a whole new level. After frenemy Juliet Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) passes her tribute song over to Rayna’s daughter Maddie (Lennon Stella), the young rising star breaks down after seeing pictures of her and her mom on stage. Rayna’s husband Deacon (Charles Esten) and youngest daughter Daphne (Maisy Stella) run to her aid and immediately begin singing the rest of the haunting “Sanctuary” to a standing ovation by the hundreds of fans, relatives and friends in the audience. If you weren’t crying, you have no heart.
Come back tomorrow for the last of the 2017 television awards, including the creepiest character, the most noticeable trend and the oddest threesome. (Check out Part 3)