Archive for February, 2018

Movie Mayhem – Game Night

GameNight

Game Night — 2018; Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein; Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury and Billy Magnussen

The fear for any new comedy opening in multiplexes these days is the question of whether the trailer revealed too much — especially when it comes to the comedy itself. A lot of times you’ll hear someone say all the best jokes were in the trailer, which is understandable, because studios want to draw people in, so they have to put their best foot forward. But if all the best humor is in the trailer, it means the film as a whole can’t be very good, since there’s no substance left to keep you interested. The greatest achievement a broad comedy can have is to keep you laughing and smiling as you leave the theater because the elements in the trailer were no match for the stuff that wasn’t. Game Night sits on the fence between these two extremes; though most of the really good stuff is in the trailer, there’s still plenty of laughs to keep you smiling past the end credits. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Black Panther

BlackPanther

Black Panther — 2018; Directed by Ryan Cooglar; Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michale B. Jordan, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett

Bilbo Baggins, meet the man behind your nemisis, Gollum!

That’s what I kept thinking when CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, first introduced in Captain America: Civil War) bags the nefarious Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, last seen tormenting the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron). This time around, Ross goes undercover to purchase an artifact made of Vibranium (the storngest metal in the world, found only in the African nation of Wakanda) to lure Klaue into the open. But what’s that lurking in the shadows? Why, it’s T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), crowned king of Wakanda after the death of his father in a massive explosion at the U.N., who’s also out to stop Klaue once and for all. Both men want him for different reasons (Ross because he’s a federal criminal; T’Challa because he stole several pounds of Vibranium), and neither wants to give him up. What they don’t know is there’s a third player in the mix who also wants Klaue for his own purposes. Who will triumph? Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The 15:17 To Paris

1517ToParis

The 15:17 To Paris — 2018; Directed by Clint Eastwood; Starring Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer

Clint Eastwood has been a Hollywood icon for a very long time. I can’t say I’m a big fan of his older material (or his acting, in general – I know; blasphemous, right!), but I am a fan of his directing, especially in the past decade or so. Eastwood has the ability to find the richness, compassion and fear of everyday life without coming off preachy, tedious or boring, allowing the characters and the journeys he develops to be relatable in a small, subtle way. Which is why his newest film, The 15:17 To Paris, is so disappointing. The true story behind the film is a testament to our everyday heroes — those who find the courage to do what’s necessary in a moment when most would run and hide — however, Eastwood can’t seem to find a way to tell the story with enough power to imbue the audience with the power necessary to care. Read Full Review

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IndieBooks Review – Tomoiya’s Story: Escape To Darkness

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Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness; Written by C.A. King

When telling a story, there are a multitude of things to think about, the main ones being the main plot, subplots, character development, relationships, tone and themes. One that is just as important is the relationship between the narrator of the story being told and the reader. For most writers, this connection is ingrained in the art form. In other words, they don’t have to consciously think about it as they write; they simply understand what type of relationship one is looking to have with the reader, which could be anything from trust to ignorance. C.A. King’s novella, Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness, is a story within story, so the challenge of building a relationship with the reader is two-fold — there’s the overall narrator who is telling us the story of Tomoiya, and then there’s the secondary narrator conveying a story to Tomoiya. Because of this duel narrative, I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing something, even though the characters have some interesting layers and the ideas throughout are solid.

The Tomoiya of the title is a young girl who wants to know more about her favorite book, one left behind by her mother. We’re told through her eyes that the book ends with the wedding of its protagonist, Princess Allaynie, to her chosen suitor, Mijellin. But according to “the man” (our secondary narrator), the story itself is incomplete. Just before the wedding, a trader known as Wodon arrives and quickly finds out that Allaynie has a secret — she’s what’s known as a vampire. And not just any vampire, but a very rare breed that has special powers that can benefit Wodon greatly. He kidnaps her for his own nefarious purposes, but when she escapes, he becomes hellbent on destroying all vampires in the universe.

What’s inherent in this scenario is whether or not we can trust the man who tells the bulk of the story. What we’re getting is what amounts to a second-hand account of history, so it’s very hard to know how much is fact and how much is fabricated to enhance or alter the past in the man’s favor. Which is fine, however, without knowing who this person is, we’re never clear as to what motivates him, so to a degree, we can’t decipher what’s happening, or for what purpose, and so it made me feel as if I wasn’t in on all of the King’s secrets.

This isn’t just in regards to the narrator, either. Because of the nature of the format, we’re thrown into this situation without truly knowing who all of the characters are, and because of the length of the book (a quick 98 pages), King doesn’t allow us to spend the time with these characters to become familiar enough to understand and empathize with their motivations, forcing the reader to follow the actions of characters through ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out. And when one of the more interesting characters disappears half-way through the book and is never heard from again, it’s a bit off-putting.

I did find the changes to the vampire lore that King creates to be very interesting, however, it’s hard to follow as they seem to be some contradictory ideas as to where and when the lore started and/or evolved across the universe. Is this meant to take place close to Earth, where most vampire lore has seen varying iterations, or is this in a galaxy far far away, where this type of idea wouldn’t be known? Or is this the beginning of the lore, which would eventually expand across the universe to where we see it today? This confused me and drew a disconnect with the overall flow of the book.

The pace, though, is swift, which makes the story an easy read. But because of this, there are many holes where large chunks of time are omitted, forcing King to simply tell us what happened — sequences I wish we could have seen play out to some degree. I understand why it works in the context of the man’s story, but without being immersed into the visuals of these moments, we’re left with dry exposition, inevitably leading to moments that have no real impact because they happen so abruptly.

Overall, King’s ideas are good, and I liked a few of the characters, but would have liked to have had a much stronger relationship with the narrator, both from the author and the man within the story, so that I could connect with the characters on a deeper level and understand the difference between what was truly important and what was simply being told for effect.

My Grade: B

Born and raised in Halton County, Ontario, Canada, C.A. King is proud to be among the list of Canadian-born authors. King wasn’t always a writer; it wasn’t until her husband and both parents passed that King found her passion for the written word. After retiring from the workforce to do some soul searching, she found she could redirect her emotions onto the page, and in 2014, decided to follow that passion and publish some of her works. She hopes her writing can inspire a new generation of Canadian authors and add to the literary heritage and culture Canada has to offer.

Check out all of C.A.’s social media platforms:

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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.

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Movie Mayhem – Winchester

Winchester

Winchester — 2018; Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig; Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Bruce Spense and Eamon Farren

Horror films are one of the most lucrative genres in film. Not only are they relatively cheap to produce, but people as a whole love to be frightened, a combination that inherently make really good bedfellows. What’s even better — the film as a whole doesn’t even have to be that good to get people interested. In fact, people expect some level of corniness, whether it be in the acting, the plot or the deaths. This isn’t to say people don’t expect a level of sophistication, but as long as the movie is sincere about it’s intentions, it’s not necessarily required for entries in this genre. When producers do decide to elevate the material, such as in last year’s Get Out, it can add a new sense of pathos to the quality of the viewing experience. Then again, trying to add too much results in a oddly-psychedelic experience like mother!.

The newest entry on the horror block, Winchester — the story of the supposedly most haunted house in North America, once owned by Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), the wife of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company owner, William — wants very much for you to believe that it’s more than your average horror flick. After all, it secured the likes of award winning actors Mirren and Jason Clarke as its leads. But that’s about where it ends, as it seems the budget for the cast was used to secure those two actors, leaving hardly anything for the rest, who by comparison, make it clear they aren’t nearly ready to appear alongside these well-known stalwarts.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a psychologist hired by the Winchester lawyers to evaluate Sarah’s mental capacity before ousting her as majority shareholder in the company. The reason they don’t believe she’s of sound mind and body is because of her penchant for continuously building on her mansion twenty-four seven. But is the reclusive woman truly unfit, or are there other reasons for her quirky behavior? Eric agrees to stay in the house during his evaluation, but what he finds is far more than what he expected.

Aside from its stars, it’s clear directors Michael and Peter Spierig want to elevate the material beyond a simple haunting. They do what they can to subvert the most popular haunted house tropes — person moves in; person begins to be haunted; person goes to the library or finds a box of old news clippings; person hires a priest to cleanse the home; supernatural beings are vanquished (and sometimes they come back) — by keeping the spirits from playing games with its inhabitants and giving good reason for why supernatural phenomena happen gradually throughout.

As the story goes, Sarah Winchester built the “mystery mansion” to house vengeful spirits who were shot and killed by the Winchester rifle. To do so, she built rooms that signified or recreated the place of death and locked the spirits within these rooms by a piece of wood with thirteen nails. But there’s one spirit waiting for his room to be completed, that seems to be much more powerful than the rest, gaining the ability to possess Sarah’s great-nephew (Finn Scicluna-O-Prey). This concept is interesting, and plays nicely into the overall ideas, but once again highlight the issues that resonate within the film.

Not a lot seems to happen here, but that’s about par for this genre; they’re meant to scare you, not preach a life lesson. Winchester, though, has a nagging atmosphere without purpose. Not only do they do hardly anything with the possession aspects, but Sarah’s niece (Sarah Snook) and great-nephew have almost nothing to do with the overall story other than to pad the run time of the script, making it more a distraction than anything else. Then there’s the neglect to focus on the more intricate, maze-like quality and oddities of the mansion itself. They mention the fact that it’s not your ordinary house and there are a couple of moments that lend themselves to the plot, but the Spierig brothers never really utilize this aspect of the home, which keeps the viewer from truly investing in the abnormal bizarre that’s been constructed.

The Spierig brothers do, however, offer up a quiet message dealing with loss, letting go of the past, and having the courage to move on after someone you care about passes on. In that way, Eric is very much like the spirit that haunts the family, they just show their grief in very different ways. This juxtaposition does add a little depth to the characters, and Clarke does a good job of showing a deep, ingrained pain without hitting you over the head with it. With that said, the climax doesn’t quite feel as powerful as it should have. All of the elements are there and everything is set up nicely for a powerful moment of clarity and release, but something is still missing. We’re not told enough or given enough information to truly connect with Eric’s past, and therefore when the climactic moment comes, I know what I was supposed to feel, I just couldn’t find a way to ingest it.

Whether the events of the film are true or not is up to you to believe, but as a horror film, Winchester does what it can to elevate itself among your typical haunted house movie but can’t keep from feeling like a run-of-the-mill haunted house flick with top-tier actors. Then again, isn’t a simple story with a strong spirit who wrecks havoc on the lives of the living exactly what the general horror fan expects?

My Grade: B+

Bonus Review:

For a movie that is full of the three C’s — coincidence, contrivance and convenience — Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fun escape that does what it needs to entertain fans and close out the intriguing  trilogy with satisfaction. A-

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Next week, new movies include Fifty Shades Freed, Peter Rabbit and The 15:17 To Paris. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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