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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Review Time


Lord Foul’s Bane

As engaging now as it was when I first read it forty – YES, 40 years ago – Lord Foul’s Bane set the benchmark for high fantasy.

Thomas Covenant is a man who had everything a man could wish for: a loving wife; a delightful son; fame and fortune . . . and loses it all when he falls victim to a terrible infection. Abandoned to a life of seclusion and strict discipline, Covenant becomes a pariah in his hometown, only to find himself suddenly snatched away to a world that can’t possibly exist; a place where the very air brings healing, miraculously curing his disease.

But such things cannot be. They are a delusion and a deadly temptation to someone who can’t afford to relax. Ever! And when the people of this magical land place all their hopes on his presence among them, he rebels, refusing to become their savior.

Thus begins the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, one of the most complex, involved fantasy epics you will ever read. Even better, it’ll be the start of a love-hate relationship, for Thomas Covenant is an anti-hero you’ll willingly slap into the middle of next week.

Try it – you’ll soon see what I mean.




Alita – Battle Angel
Based on an iconic manga Battle Angel series, Alita tells the story of a distant future – about five hundred years from now – where the Earth is still recovering from an interplanetary war known as “The Fall”. A disembodied teenage-looking cyborg is found in a giant scrapheap. Through an amazing set of high intensity action sequences, she sets out to discover more about the world about her; who she is; fall in love; and as the plot line develops, fight for justice.
But it’s not all plain sailing. Alita has a knack for finding trouble. And when she does, her instinctive combat skills are frightening to behold. But there’s a reason for that. As events unfold, others who hope to exploit her talents are drawn like moths to a flame.
I’d love to delve into certain aspects of the story, but doing so might give the game away for those who might not have seen it yet. It’s an ambitious, visually spectacular and enthralling production that enraptures you from the start and makes you believe what you see could actually be real.
While many have complained that it lacks the original depth of the manga series, that’s understandable. A lot has been crammed into a single film, and in my humble opinion, they did it rather well. I never read the comics, so I've not been influenced by comparisons. So, regarding the film itself . . . I loved it from the very beginning and think it’s one of Robert Rodriguez’s best films for years.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

My Thoughts On...



Moon Master

Vampire she may be, but if there’s one thing Samantha Moon cannot abide, it’s someone who hurts kids. When that “someone” happens to be a centuries old warlock – the Red Rider – with an affinity for dining on those youngsters who display magical talent, well, Samantha Moon takes umbrage and starts collecting information with the intention of doing something about it.

It’s when the Red Rider progresses to attacking 10 year old children that Samantha Moon goes nuclear. Determined to stop him once and for all, she sets off on the hunt of an unlifetime. As she does so, Samantha comes to appreciate that to achieve her heart’s desire she must do something none of the undead has been capable of before: mastering the art of traversing the higher dimensions. And it’s only when she begins to appreciate how seemingly impossible that is she realizes what’s truly at stake.

Yet all is not as it seems. Samantha is being manipulated, and the cost of achieving victory over the Red Rider will have implications she simply hasn’t considered . . .
. . . Not just for her, but for the whole of creation!

How far would YOU go to do the right thing?




Love, Death & Robots


In Love, Death and Robots, you get a serving of short animated stories centered on the theme of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. And boy, variety certainly is the spice of life . . . and love – death and Robots – as the title suggests. The recipe is varied too, from full-on space battles and carnage-wreaking robots, to sexually explicit mind-fxxxs that really strike a chord and make you think. There’s a tribute to the “Butterfly Effect”, cleverly disguised in slapstick comedy as to how history would have been affected if Hitler had died before coming to power, (ingenious). You even have a super-advanced form of yogurt that takes over the world. Excellent stuff!

But how to sum it all up without giving anything away?

Think of a selection of mezzes. Some are short, sweet and nasty. Others are daring, energetic and satirical. Several are poignant, thoughtful and heart-rending. Don’t get me wrong, I found some of the dishes a little bland, but as each dish rarely passes the 15 minute marker, you can put up with them while looking forward to the next course.

For me, Sonnie’s Edge, Beyond the Aquila Rift, The Witness and Lucky 13 stood out above the others. I’m sure you’ll find your own favorites among a diverse, violent and often humorous smorgasbord that portrays a dark and demented view of the world as seen through the eyes of those who have peeked through the veil and realize how tenuous reality is.

Great entertainment. I can’t wait for the second coming.

Friday, May 3, 2019

This Week's Review of. . .



Bright Ruin

Under Lord Whittam Jardine’s rule, conditions in Britain go from bad to much, much worse, and he goes out of his way to inflict tyrannical penalties on those – gifted or not – who oppose him. Yet for all his efforts, the call for revolution gains momentum and rebels resort to ever more spectacular means to drive their message home.

Both sides refuse to compromise, leading to ugly, well reported incidents they’d rather not be associated with.

Yet something stirs in the land; something ancient and long forgotten, involving memories of a former time when a wonder king, magically gifted, was thought to rule. Why? And why now? Is he a creature of myth and legend, or does his reemergence into the hearts and minds of a special few bode well for the future?

One thing’s for sure, the truth – when it’s revealed – is cataclysmic, and will change the world forever.

Full of deliciously detailed historical parallels, compelling characters and moral dilemmas, “Bright Ruin” is an absolutely superb conclusion to a stunning series. You will immerse yourself in its pages and end up rooting for your personal favorites. I know I did.




Split
M. Night Shyamalan is renowned for his psychological thrillers with a twist: The Sixth Sense; The Village; Unbreakable and Signs to name a few. It’s what he does best . . . he keeps you guessing until the very last minute, before pulling the rug out from under your feet.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that in Split, Shyamalan is on top form.
The film follows the exploits of James McAvoy in the character of Kevin, an odd-job worker who suffers from dissociative personality disorder. You see, Kevin is also Barry, Dennis, Miss Patricia, and nine-year old Hedwig, a rather charming little boy who has to share his “time in the light” with twenty-three other personalities.
And not all of them are nice.
It would seem the obsessive-compulsive Dennis and passive-aggressive Miss Patricia have staged a psychological coup in order to prepare the way for ‘The Beast’, a brand new 24th identity with a fetishistic hunger for innocent flesh. (Think Hannibal Lecter meets Mr. Hyde and you won’t go far wrong). This helps you understand why the film begins with Dennis kidnapping three teenage girls out from under the nose of one of their parents and imprisoning them in a hidden lair until it’s time for them to appear on the main menu.
Do the girls just give up and die?
You’ll see. But to highlight one of the trio – Casey, superbly played by Anya Taylor-Joy – who’s clearly a loner with gargantuan reserves of pluck hidden away behind those gothic layers of dark-eyed vulnerability. Now she’s rather good fun to watch, and turns out to be a dark knight in shining armor.
You might sense I’m beating around the bush a bit? 
You’d be right, as I’m being darned careful NOT to give away too much of the plot. Needless to say, there’s an element of “is this 24th character really as bad as the other personalities say he is? Can he actually do the things they hint at?"
That’s the fun thing about a M. Night Shyamalan film. You won’t find out until the very end. But boy oh boy, will it send chills down your spine.
I rather enjoyed this film and will gladly watch it again.

Friday, April 19, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .

Vampire Sire

Angels, demons, witches, ghosts, vampire hunters and the demon possessed. You get all these and more in “Vampire Sire”, the latest action packed escapade featuring former federal agent and ultra-protective mom, Samantha Moon.

Sam thinks she’s seen just about every weird and warped thing there is to see in the twelve years since she became a vampire. But when a representative from a renowned attorney’s office arrives on her doorstep, she brings news that helps Sam realize how little she knows.

Yes, out of the blue, Sam is provided with an eyewitness testimony of the attack that changed her life all those years ago. And more importantly, she is given the identity of the beast who carried that attack out, and why he did it.

Needless to say, the details presented to her turn her world on its head, opening doors of opportunity she never thought existed.

Vampire Sire: Take a bite from one of the best vampire series in existence.



The Umbrella Academy

Until Netflix thought to introduce me to the Umbrella Academy, I’d never heard of the comic book series created by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.
My Bad – I’ve missed out on some quality quirkiness!
Thirty years before our story begins, the world is stunned by the birth of forty-three babies to women who weren’t even pregnant moments before! Seven of those babies are subsequently purchased by an eccentric member of the aristocracy, Sir Reginald Hargreaves, who promptly takes them home and turns them into something rather special.
Special? Oh yes, it seems the children have been endowed with remarkable gifts: Number one, Luther, is super strong; number two, Diego can hold his breath for an exceedingly long time as well as control the blades he throws so that they hit any target he desires; number three, Alison, can coerce people into doing what she says; number four, Klaus, can speak with the dead; number five, “the boy” can teleport through spacetime; number six, Ben, can unleash supernatural horror on his targets; number seven, Vanya, can play the violin. (seriously) – and that, it seems, is that!
Growing up, they formed the “Umbrella Academy” – a crime fighting super elite who were renowned throughout the earth. In latter years, however, they went their separate ways and didn’t talk to each other much. It’s not until Sir Reginald dies that the former team have a reason to get back together. Assembling back at the manor where they grow up we find things have radically changed.
For one thing, Luther has been on the moon for years and seems out of touch with society. Diego is now a vigilante, as much in the cells as he is putting people there. Alison became a filmstar, married, had a child then got divorced for daring to use her skill in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Klaus is so high or drunk, it a wonder he hasn’t pickled himself to death. The boy is missing, presumed dead.  Ben IS dead and has been for some time and is the only one Klaus can relate to. And Vanya? Well, she still plays the violin.
Everything is morbidly awkward, until the unexpected return of the boy – now a world-weary time traveler who has spent decades in the future and is trapped as his 13 year old self with bad news. Humanity has been destroyed, and they need to do something about it.
And THAT my friends, is when things start to warp into a splendidly bizarre adventure featuring temporal assassins; talking apes; robot protectors; sugar-coated donuts and wry, self-depreciating humor backed up by great tracks.
(Wait until you see the mansion wide dance sequence at the end of episode 1 and a later department store shootout. You’ll see what I mean.) Brilliant!
This is caped crusader meets John Steed & Emma Peel of the Avengers while visiting the Royal Tenenbaums and getting home in time for tea kinda stuff.
Delightful. Distracting. Dark and despicable. A fantastic way to spend your evenings.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

This Week's Reviews of. . .


Tarnished City

Carrying on from the aftermath of Gilded Cage, “Tarnished City” reveals how things take a turn for the worse after the terrible events at the Jardine’s family estate at Kyneston.

Consigned to Millmoor slave town for a crime Luke didn’t commit, his family must now suffer the full force of an unjust system that sees them as nothing more than chattel to be used and disposed of as the Skilled ruling elite see fit.

And nowhere more so is that imbalance exposed than in Luke’s fate. Coerced into committing a murder he had no hope of preventing, he is hung out to dry, condemned to a life sentence of imprisonment and foul experimentation in one of the harshest places thought to exist. And the worst thing of all is that there are those in power who can prove his innocence. But what would be the point of that when the Jardine’s are out to serve their own aspirations?

Yes, their insidious grip on power tightens with each passing day.

What to do, then, in your darkest hour? Give up and accept your fate or fight until the fighting done? As Luke and his sister, Abi, are about to find out, nothing is as it seems. And your allies can be those you’d least expect.

Imaginative; intelligent; barbaric and compelling. “Tarnished City” is all this and more, revealing just how rocky the road to liberty can be, and why you should never give up!




Russian Doll

Before I sat down to watch this new series, I have to admit, I was preparing myself for a kind of “Groundhog Day” reunion. I didn’t know what to expect . . . and boy, was I surprised. This is far, far better than the film everyone keeps referring to.
Natasha Lyonne plays Nadia, a chain-smoking, booze swilling, substance chuffing independent girl about town who’s enjoying her 36th birthday party one moment, and rolling across the bonnet of a taxi not fifteen minutes later when she’s killed for the first time.
She promptly regains consciousness back at the party, and everything starts to unravel exactly as it did before . . . or does it? (You get a clue from the title)
Nadia sets off again, bewildered and disorientated and wondering what the hell is going on . . . then BAM! She’s dead again. And we’re off, on an existential unmerry-go-round of her trying to sort through whether or not she’s actually dead – and being punished for something she did or didn’t do in life – or high on one of the many substances she likes to abuse in a party environment.
Her subsequent deaths are handled amazingly – and hilariously well (Those damned steps outside her friend’s apartment proving a tremendous hurdle to relife and limb) and every time she meets a grizzly end, something changes. Those changes are slight to begin with, but as the episodes progress, the differences become much more pronounced . . . as does the reason, explaining why the show is called, “Russian Doll”. It peels back the layers surrounding Nadia, and helps you see what went wrong in her life and how it’s scarred the way she avoids dealing with certain problems.
She doesn’t have to endure this nightmare alone, however. During an elevator plunge (a particularly wonderful event, superbly presented) she meets Alan, someone else who, like her, seems to be afflicted with his own version of the same cyclic dilemma.
Of course, they team up, and what follows exemplifies the title even more, as each character has to strip away the weight of their hang-ups to get at the root cause of their predicament. (That’s all I’m going to say. I hate giving away plot points, and I’ve already done too much of that).
But what I will emphasize is that you get a great little show (each episode is only half hour long) where each of the cast members interrelate in a manner that would normally indicate they’ve known each other and all their little quirky foibles for years.
It’s brutal, it’s blunt, it’s raunchy, it’s downright hilarious too, and thought-provokingly poignant (Just wait until the part where Alan realizes why it is he’s stuck in the loop) – and most of all, its great entertainment that’s refreshingly different from most of the other shows out there.
Natasha Lyonne is one of the co creators of this show along with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland. If this is indicative of their work, I want more :)
What a shame it came to an end so quickly.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .


Illusion (Dark Musicals Book 5)

It’s been a while since I read any of Laura DeLuca’s work, the last time being the final book of the original “Dark Musicals” series.

The first Dark Musicals are a clever play on genres. Think of a murder-mystery-whodunnit based around the theme of well known theatrical productions; in particular, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “Jekyll and Hyde”, and “A Christmas Carol”.
What makes them more appealing is that each story follows the lives of two high school sweethearts, Rebecca and Justyn as they meet, fall in love, and grow into accomplished performers in their own right. Of course, being a murder-mystery series, their life’s course is rather eventful – and entertaining – to say the least, and helps you involve yourself with the characters from the outset.
(I would recommend you try those earlier stories before delving into “Illusions”, as it will allow you to appreciate what this couple have been through together, and how they’ve ended up where they are.)

Now to the current book.

Rebecca and Justyn are married. Not only are they Broadway stars in their own right, but their eight-year old son, Erik, is a musical savant with prodigious talent. When they are invited to perform their new show, “Phantom Returns”, in Australia, Erik joins them, using the occasion to make his professional debut.
Alas, the rose-tinted tides of fate begin to stir, throwing up warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. For one, Erik suffers a nightmare – something far more powerful and profound than a simple bad dream. In it, he is snatched away from his mother and father. A premonition perhaps?
Lo and behold, the family arrives in Australia to find a young boy has gone missing. What’s more, the bodies of women who have been strangled to death are turning up in one place after another. Putting these events down to unhappy coincidence, the Hope-Patko family forge ahead, determined that the show must go on.
And it does, in the face of increasing danger that I won’t reveal in detail here. After all, you need to read the story yourselves. Suffice to say, you’ll be glad you did, for DeLuca skillfully entwines the lives of Broadway’s favorite couple into the exploits of the characters they play: betrayal and misunderstanding; sabotage and threats; revelations and tragedy. It’s all there, and more, in an adventure that also weaves YOU into the plot and holds you there until the final curtain falls.

An entertaining and enjoyable romp across the boards. Don’t miss it.





Unbreakable
I first saw Unbreakable, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, over ten years ago and thought I’d treat myself again. The story is rather compelling, and revolves around the lives of two men: David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a down-on-his-luck married man from Philadelphia who, returning from a job interview in New York, becomes the sole survivor of a devastating train crash; and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a rather obsessive, comic book oriented individual suffering from a condition that makes his bones as fragile as glass, who contacts David and offers him a rather wacky explanation as to why it is he survived.
The thing is, as far out as Elijah’s theories are, they might just be right!
What we get is a superbly presented buildup, where a modest, self-depreciating guy comes to a gradual realization that – yes – he is different from other people. So different, that what he can do, what he can achieve, are feats well beyond what might be thought of as “normal”.
And the great thing about this M. Night Shyamalan film is, we’re not inundated by your usual crop of flashy, overly confident super heroes wearing figure-hugging suits. Oh no, our guy hides his identity by slipping on a plain green poncho.
However, I jump the gun a little, for the story arc is superbly crafted, tugging you along on the slow slide toward an inevitable revelation. Then, just when you think you can relax, you get an extra twist regarding a sickening link between the disaster that started it all and Elijah himself.
An excellent film that – despite its subject matter – is hauntingly believable. Treat yourself and see it as soon as you can (and definitely before “Split” and “Glass”)

Friday, March 8, 2019

This Week's Reviews Of. . .


Gilded Cage

In Gilded Cage, we are introduced to two British families living in an alternate timeline where society has become divided between those in the minority, who are magically skilled, and the vast majority who aren’t.

The thing is, the ‘Skilled’ retain all the rights and privileges and rule the country with an iron fist. The powerless serve them, and are not granted full citizenship until they complete ten years enforced labor in one of the many ‘slavetowns’ dotted throughout the country . . . IF they survive ten years, that is, for the rules are there to be bent, broken, and twisted to serve the ruling elite as they see fit.

In place for centuries, the ‘system’ is corrupt, inhumane, and unfair. It has to end.
The people want change. The Skilled, however, have every intention of keeping things the way they are.

Or do they?

As pressure grows in a boiling cauldron of dissatisfaction and dissent, it’s obvious something’s got to give. Secrets are uncovered. Schemes are plotted. Promises made and broken. Yes, hope and betrayal go hand in hand. You need to pick a side. But the consequences of choosing the wrong one could be disastrous.
“Gilded Cage” – a superbly written tale of magical misadventure that will have you rooting for the underdogs from the outset.




The Equalizer 2

Hailing as I do from the UK, I grew up with Edward Woodward’s portrayal of the original Equalizer. A guy who evens the score for those in desperate need of help, but who don’t have the resources or skills to manage themselves.

When the newer version came out, starring Denzel Washington, I was a little apprehensive of what we were going to get. No need to worry there, though! I was pleasantly surprised, and enjoyed his portrayal of Robert McCall in a more up to date setting.

Now to the sequel.

 I desperately wanted to enjoy it. I really did. However, I found my enjoyment spoilt by the fact that things got a little ridiculous. It misses the “believability” factor the first film captured so well. Yes, we’re talking about a work of fiction here. The portrayal of primitive justice meted out to much deserving bad guys. But the idea of a group of highly trained mercenaries running around a town – abandoned temporarily – during a storm, who kill anyone in their way to get at McCall . . . I don’t know. It just stretched it little too far to retain the credibility that the first film managed to achieve.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great fun. Denzel delivers a robust performance that starts pulling you in the moment the action starts, But . . . well, you’d have to watch it for yourself to see what I mean. The film lets him down.