Archive for November, 2017
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.”
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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