Double Feature: Star Trek: Beyond (2016) & Baby Driver (2017)

double feature

We are nearing the end of the year which means I’m going to try to get a lot of these backlogged movies reviewed. While I did write a review over on Weibo for Baby Driver already, I haven’t done one here and I’m not going to lie that Star Trek Beyond was a few months ago so its starting to get a little blurry.

Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim

The crew of the USS Enterprise explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy, who puts them, and everything the Federation stands for, to the test. –IMDB

After the last Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness (review), I had my reservations about this one. For one, the first and the second had this conflict in tone and humor. There was this narrative that worked but the villains felt underused or not quite as effective. Thinking back now, it felt like a fairly unsatisfying and forgettable movie experience save for some of the returning cast who had roles which were quite fun to watch. Star Trek Beyond however takes a different approach. It may have to do with the fact that Simon Pegg doesn’t only appear in the film but also does the writing for this one. It also helps that Justin Lin, a director that I like a lot in the Fast and Furious franchise takes the helms of this sequel. A lot of the factors makes this one such a fun and entertaining movie experience that reminds me a lot of the fun I had in the first Star Trek film.

Star Trek Beyond resumes the familiar roles. Its a good thing because for those who have been following the franchise, its a nice little team that we know the personality of. There is this well-oiled machine dynamic despite the issues they encounter. Everyone delivers it very well. I completely had forgotten that John Cho was in this as well especially since I had just seen him in Searching (when I saw this movie in August or something..Searching review here). Then of course, we have Anton Yelchin that is still such a huge loss in my heart because he is so incredibly talented. However, I think what deserves a mention here are the new additions. The first is the girl on the planet they land on called Jayla, played by Sofia Boutella who has such a fantastic character design appearance wise and her weapons and Sofia Boutella does a great job. On top of that, mostly unrecognizable except for his voice is Idris Elba who plays the villain, Krall. He still feels a little underused but the presence is very much there.

Baby Driver (2017)

baby driver

Director (and writer): Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Kevin Spacey

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. – IMDB

Every once in a while we get a new gimmick and it works for some and doesn’t work for others. Baby Driver utilizes the constant soundtrack in Baby’s life to  work around it. It starts off fairly fun and charming, if a little odd especially when he turns on the wipers for no reason but to match the lyrics or sounds or something. There is a charm to it all. However, Baby Driver reminds us how sometimes soundtracks are used sparingly for a reason because it accentuates a scenes. As clever as the idea itself and how the execution works in some parts, it doesn’t translate to everything. There is no doubt that the soundtrack is really good, except I would have liked to not be overloaded with music so much.

Baby Driver

As charmed as I was with the use of music and soundtracks and how that was executed well enough, the story here is fairly basic. Its actually not even very fleshed out for any of the characters. Its almost like the gimmick is the reason for the whole thing. The action sequences are done pretty good though and the bombastic characters played by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx all are quite memorable. When things get dicey though, the characters are really just shells and the story is pretty much on rails following everything as expected and predicted.

Is it as awesome as it seems to be for a lot of people? For myself, I don’t really think its that well-rounded. There are aspects that stand out and as much as I like the music and cars and this one delivers two things I love, it somehow outlived its hype. Its not a bad idea and its a fun little experience but somehow it just lost its charm in the second half.

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Blog Tour: The Harbinger by Candace Wondrak (Review & Giveaway)

Blog Tour

The Harbinger (Book #1)
by: Candace Wondrak

The Harbinger

Genre: Reverse Harem/Fantasy
Expected Publication Date: November 5, 2018

Synopsis

The rules of the Second, a list by Faith Blackwell.

One: technology doesn’t work. The Second doesn’t need electricity when it has magic. Two: don’t trust anyone. The Second’s races—the Elven, the Malus, the Ulen and the Dracon—are way too pretty to trust. Three: when someone tells you you’re the new Harbinger, believe them. Bad things happen if you don’t.

Back in the sixties, the last Harbinger permanently opened the gateways between Earth and the Second. Humanity grew accordingly. Faith is in her fifth year at the Academy, with her sight set on joining the Division, the branch of government that enforces what most law enforcement can’t, like smuggling goods between worlds. Following her mother’s footsteps has always been the plan.

Of course, she doesn’t want to follow them to a T. Her mother had awful luck with men, as did her grandma. Faith wouldn’t mind finding out what’s so special about a man that it has her quirky grandma swearing at them constantly. A field trip to the Second is just what she needs.

Being the first female Harbinger in the Second’s history and having to face down the realm’s most dangerous Dracon, also known as the ridiculously-named Dread King? Not what she needs.

Faith isn’t a hero. That sort of responsibility is not what she wants. The perks that come with it—like a sexy but infuriating Elf, a flirty Malus, and a quiet and pensive Ulen—well, maybe for them she’ll make an exception to her grandma’s no-man rule.

Maybe she’ll have them all.

The Harbinger is the first in a slow-burn, reverse harem fantasy series. Expect eventual hot and steamy scenes, coupled with the Chosen One trope, and a heroine who will reluctantly try to save a world that isn’t hers.

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Review

The Harbinger takes on a fairly familiar setting in a fantasy novel. There are familiar elements that was noticed from something like The Mortal Instruments and other similar stories however, that isn’t saying that there isn’t something unique here. The Harbinger has its own set of story with its own heroine and back story. Being the first book, there is a lot of setup for both bringing in the characters and setting the stage for everything we need to know. As slow-burn as it claims to be, there is still a decent amount of fantasy to create a good bit of intrigue especially with all the different fantasy races to discover and a good contrast of characters that were introduced. It sets up a lot of potential for the following books, while still being a competent first book.

My main deal here is that the dialogue here sometimes didn’t really work as well for me. I’m fairly selective about fantasy and writing style so its something I’m a little more nitpicky about. Most of the writing style is pretty good, but its mostly the actual dialogue. However, I did like how the chapters would, albeit in third person, still change the angle of which character’s point of view we are reading from. Aside from that, putting the romance aside, which I’m not sure that I’m completely on board with, my favorite parts are the mysterious bits that are written exceptionally well when we start getting introduced to the Dread King. We’re keeping this spoiler free so nothing more than that.

Overall, The Harbinger is a really good fantasy book with a lot of creativity and its first book sets up a lot of intrigue especially in bringing in this new world and their clans while giving the characters, especially the heroine’s quest and her depth to make me look forward to what else this series has to offer.

Goodreads score: 4/5

About the Author

Candace Wondrak

Hey guys! I’m a writer, an office worker, a wife, a mother to two dogs and two cats, and half of a strange pair of young adults who flip the houses they’re living in with the goal of having no mortgage (so that I can eventually focus on my writing career!). Needless to say, I’m busy.

Still, I somehow find time to write, to read, and to enjoy life. Wish there were more hours in the day, really!

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Giveaway details: $10 Amazon E-gift card and a digital copy of book two, The Fellowship

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Halloween 2018: TV Binge: The Haunting of Hill House (Season 1, 2018)

We are back with the horror marathon continuation. Some of you know that I am a huge Mike Flanagan fan. I think that he has a lot of skills as a director and delivers some great atmospheric horror. When I saw that The Haunting of Hill House is created by Mike Flanagan, it went to the top of the pile right away. And here we are…

The Haunting of Hill House (Season 1, 2018)

the haunting of hill house

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Michael Huisman, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti

Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it. – IMDB

The Haunting of Hill House is adapted from a book which I haven’t read before so no comparison from me on how closely or loosely adapted it is. However, as many great reviews as there are out there, there were some pacing issues here. Some scenes were drawn out but I won’t get into which to keep this spoiler free. If you disagree, you can send me an email and I will tell you which and you can tell me why I am wrong. One of my biggest comments about almost all Netflix series is pacing, it always has his first half slow development and halfway point has this turning climactic point that changes the game then the second half of the series is mindblowingly awesome. Same applies here. Pacing doesn’t equate execution completely because in terms of creepy and atmosphere, this one delivers them in great beautiful haunting degrees and while there are some jump scares, they have this lingering effect. I say this because I had one scene that startled me and I had a delay in reaction from screaming really loud because I was terrified.

the haunting of hill house

As much as I think the pacing for the first half doesn’t match the second half, I can’t exactly dismiss it either because it gave us a one on one time with each of the Crain kids and their views on Hill House but more importantly, their personality and relationship with each other. It told us a story from each of their lives and we can see the impact that their childhood at Hill House had on them as we alternated masterfully between the flashbacks to the present. Its this part that subconsciously gives the connection to the characters. Of course, some of the stories are stronger than the other ones but thinking back, it fits together with the end game. Talking about character, Hill House is a character by itself. The layout and the decor to its past and its previous inhabitants. There is a lot of mystery behind it.

the haunting of hill house

As much as I felt that I am not as excited about The Haunting of Hill House as everyone else seems to be, Mike Flanagan does deliver on the atmosphere and giving legit jumpscares that were effective and fitting. This series is in its details. The ghosts are probably more than you can see unless you observe really carefully. However, the feeling that something is lurking or something doesn’t feel right or how the ghosts appear are all done really well.

Halloween 2018: Annihilation (2018)

Continuing on with the Halloween movie watching, we’re back to something a little more current with a 2018 film. While a lot of people got this on Netflix, Canada got the theatrical release and therefore only just got it available on Netflix now. I remember watching the trailer for this and being incredibly interested in it. It felt like it would be a horror thriller with science fiction and such. Honestly, at this point, I don’t remember much from the trailer except the general storyline.

Annihilation (2018)

annihilation

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Benedict Wong, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply. – IMDB

As usual, I’m going to be clear that I’ve never read the source material so this write-up is based completely on the film itself.

Annihilation comes as a midway point  for myself. I had some high expectations for it when I first saw it announced but somehow that feeling has gone away a little. As for whether it met my expectations, I’d have to say that it did in one way and then it didn’t quite reach what I had expected it to be completely. A part of me also thinks that this isn’t quite horror. Its more of a scifi/fantasy thriller with horror elements. With that said, Annihilation is visually very pretty. The creativity behind the world that the five scientists go into definitely was an eye-opening experience just to see the ideas behind it and how it was executed. The execution itself is a recount of events from Natalie Portman’s character and with that centers her as being the main character which makes it out by all means but then it jumps from mostly in the past rundown of events but jumping back to the present as she is being questioned.

Annihilation

The creatures in this world and the flora and the colorfulness that covers all over the world has this sinister yet mesmerizing sort of effect. The world creation actually is the plus in Annihilation. Its the mystery that surrounds it which makes it so intriguing to keep watching just to see what more there is around the corner. There is this creeping feeling of something bad always going to happen because of the little that we know especially with the history of no one making it back from this area. At the same time, there is a lot of genuinely dangerous moments that happen at fairly unexpected moments. There are some that pack in quite a lot of atmosphere building tension.

Annihilation

As for the cast itself, I haven’t seen Natalie Portman in too many movies so I’m not sure that I’m exactly impressed with her performance. To be honest, everyone does a well enough job but nothing really does standout because it becomes fairly obvious that the scientists here are only half developed especially with anyone outside of Natalie Portman. Everyone seems to have some past that gives them some form of weakness but its never given enough attention to make them memorable. Some of them seem to fall a tad flat. For anyone back in the facility with Benedict Wong who only plays as a tough interrogator while Oscar Isaac is a survivor that pretty much that falls into a coma after the events and is the main reason behind the mystery and why Natalie Portman’s character goes into this area. His parts are best described as powerful because of what the scene delivers but its Oscar Isaac and he always has some presence but he’s more of a supporting leaning into cameo part. However, there are some familiar faces like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson.

Overall, Annihilation is visually very impressive and the story and execution uses ambiguity to create mystery and suspense and that works especially with the beautiful world they have created. However, there’s something lacking about it that makes it hard to really be completely memorable and that probably gets down to lack of character development. There has this effect of giving the story something to think about at the end but then, I’m not sure it actually lingered that long in my mind.

Double Feature: Lifechanger (2018) & Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

double feature

And you thought Fantasia Festival stuff was over, right? Yeah, this double feature comes as something of a surprise as the reviews posted when the movies showed at Fantasia were reviewed by David. I managed to be able to check them out also back then but just kind of needed a break from Fantasia for a moment so here we are, a month after Fantasia closes, to clear out the overdue stuff and get some quick thoughts in for them as these are two selections that are very unique.

Lifechanger (2018)

Lifechanger

Director (and writer): Justin McConnell

Cast: Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako, Rachel VanDuzer, Steve Kasan, Bill Oberst Jr.

A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves. – IMDB

If you haven’t seen or didn’t check out my Poor Agnes review HERE, Lora Burke is a fascinating actress to watch on screen particularly in that role. When I knew she was attached to Lifechanger, count me in. Lifechange isn’t really about Lora Burke’s character in fact, our main character is narrated and keeps changing lives as the title implies. The idea of this character and who he is looms throughout the film as he goes from one body to the next. His situation becoming more in danger than the next as he starts being able to choose his victims carefully until his situation of the body he carries running out of time makes him having to make desperate choices.

Lifechanger

Lifechanger is a unique angle to take especially as it seems to challenge the deeper notion of survival versus living. Our main protagonist changes lives so quick and in turn, lives the life of this new person temporarily without any way to settle into anything that makes him truly enjoy life. When does it become all worth this trauma? Is it perhaps asking the deeper question of what we do this for and to what ends?  As much as this movie is fantastic at being this horrifying gruesome experience of the transition and the notion of what this man is about as he filters through all kids of lives in just the short span we were watching, there is an urgency and tension and with that, the film also ramps up the pacing as well in a tight little run time package.

Lifechanger is unique to say the least. Its packed with some pretty impactful moments and strives this balance between some horror elements in a thriller-esque and kind of dramatic story. It works really well and honestly, a great idea in itself.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director (and writer): Issa Lopez

Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez, Tenoch Huerta, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas

A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. – IMDB

If you don’t know me, you put tigers in a title and I’m in or at least I’ll watch the movie. I actually totally missed this one in the first rundown of the tentative scheduling but saw the poster during the festival and added it on. So lucky that I did because Tigers Are Not Afraid is an exceptional film. Its one of those hidden gems that I’ve heard some people draw comparison to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. I can definitely see how there is a sort of link to it.

tigers are not afraid

Using five children who band together, specifically four boys adding in a girl who comes home and finds her mother missing, is a really broken group in itself as we learn a little about the background of the kids. You can also see how mature especially the leader of the pack, Shine, is in terms of his cautious nature as well as the way he chooses for her to be a part of the group. At the same time, there is a vulnerability to using kids as the main lead because it gives us these kids stuck in a very dangerous situation like living in the cartel and drug war and being caught in the crossfires to make them have to defend themselves in these drastic ways with no one to really turn to. What makes Tigers Are Not Afraid more special is that it never forgets that we are dealing with kids because they still have hope. They believe in the tales about the tigers who protect the neighborhood and draw inspiration from that, we see this with this animated tigers throughout the film in the arts on the wall moving around and even at the scene above with a plush tiger coming to the rescue. And the kids also being still innocent, they bask in the moments they can enjoy being a child again like celebrating their successes and playing when they believe they are safe in the moment.

tigers are not afraid

Being able to bring in this dark material and yet feeling so real in what the kids trapped in the drug war go through in this story (and probably drawing from some reality as it does feel plausible and genuine) and also bringing in those hints of innocence makes this movie so effective. Its has these adorable childlike moments that elevate this movie and make it unique while also ramping the tensions in the movie as the kids try to survive and navigate through this world as they get involved and end up getting dragged into a bigger cartel secret they were never supposed to know in the first place. Its violent, brutal and so very dark but the director never forgets to give this a childlike fantasy touch to pair up with maybe the remaining hope that these children have in their minds, making Tigers Are Not Afraid an outstanding movie and quite the gem that you need to check out if and when you get the chance.

Fantasia Festival 2018: A Rough Draft (2018)

A Rough Draft (2018)

A Rough Draft

Director: Sergey Mokritskiy

Cast: Nikita Volkov, Severija Janusauskaite, Yuliya Peresild, Evgeny Tsiganov

A video game designer is stripped of his identity and recruited by a mysterious force to be the gatekeeper of a multi-dimensional portal. – IMDB

A Rough Draft is based on a Russian novel of the same name by Sergey Lukyanenko. Kirill (Nikita Volkov) is a genius video game designer whose new idea has set him apart but suddenly, he comes home to find it taken over by a mysterious woman (Severija Janusauskaite). In the following hours, his life as he knows it disappears as he soon realizes that he has been wiped from the memory of everyone that he knows. With no job, homeless and accused of murder, he soon gets a message to go to a location which turns out to be a customs office to other realms and he gets introduced to his new job as interdimensional guard. There are many rules to this job but he now has abilities and is immortal. On top of that, he also meets his ex-girlfriend Anna (Olga Borovskaya) who doesn’t remember him either and decides to try to reboot their relationship. Of course, things go array as this new job and the life he wants doesn’t align and when Anna is taken away, he goes off to find her through the realms.

A Rough Draft

There are a lot of imaginative and unique elements in A Rough Draft.  Looking at the world through Kirill’s point of view as he goes to the different realms crafts a great fantasy and sci-fi element. The world itself or the different realms is filmed so beautifully and meticulously to show its different environments and a different era in time. Each realm have their purpose. Similar to  District 13 of The Hunger Games, it also has the unknown mystery realm that has lots of rumors. The contrast of the brighter realms versus the more sombre ones  makes for some unique moments. One of the most outstanding parts of the imagination is watching the Matryoshka dolls turn into violent drones. Now, there’s some next level creativity of blending in their own culture.

A Rough Draft

The downside of A Rough Draft is in the story. Perhaps  because it is an adaptation that it needs a little more detail because of the complexity of the world and the realms and simply how everything works. The movie didn’t completely demonstrate the world-building enough to make how even the simplest things of why and how Kirill got his powers suddenly or how certain things somehow turned out well when previous situations proved otherwise. There is a lot of discrepancy here and it creates some disjointed and confusing moments that disconnects the story from the audience who hasn’t been exposed to the novel.

A Rough Draft is a creative world full of fanciful ideas. Visually, it is a beautiful film. However, the execution does leave something further to be desired in terms of world building context. For fans of the source material, the ending does hint that the movie will have a sequel.

Mermen (The Mermen Trilogy #1) by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Coming off reading The King Trilogy by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff, I decided to just go ahead and wrap up any other books from her in my Kindle. I believe I had gotten this one in a deal on Amazon or free offer or something. I can’t remember anymore but its how I came up on it.

Let’s check it out!

Mermen (The Mermen Trilogy #1)
by: Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Mermen

SOLE SHIPWRECK SURVIVOR LIV STRATTON had been adrift at sea for ten grueling days when salvation miraculously appeared: an uncharted island. Only, the deceivingly beautiful men who live there aren’t interested in saving her. No, not at all. Because they somehow believe she is their property, a gift from the ocean to do with as they please. This is not good.  Her only hope? Billionaire Roen Doran, of all people. A man who’s said to care for nothing and no one. But if he’s so heartless, then why is he about to risk everything to help her? – Goodreads

There are days I start off this genre of books and I get worried. I only read on trilogy from Mimi Jean Pamfiloff and honestly, I enjoyed it fairly well. If you didn’t see the reviews, it was something of a slippery slope as it fell into some aspects I didn’t like but what I enjoyed about this author was her dedication to making her characters (all of them) not feel disposable. I’ve never read anything about mermen so I don’t know what is expected about it. My vision of it is still from movies like The Mermaid and The Little Mermaid, so when her plot is about these men without tails on this hidden island, well, it sets up quite an intriguing premise.

If I’m being completely honest, the world-building and lore behind the mermen was much more fascinating than any other part of the book. It sounds harsh but its really not cup of tea. The characters here were pretty generic. The rich billionaire Roen was quite one dimensional. The only reason he seemed more than that was because of the effect of the mermen lore and that doesn’t contribute back to who he is. Then we have Liv who turns into this exactly what you’d expect sort of damsel in distress. She tries to keep herself up for a while but essentially just breaks down into the ladies in this genre that I really don’t like, like falling for the man..but then maybe it had to do with the lore a little.

Either way, I don’t have an incredibly huge amount of things to say about Mermen. It was pretty disappointing see as King trilogy had some really strong aspects to it. You probably can guess that I’m not going to continue this book series. I’m just not really a fan even if the potential for the mermen back story could have had a lot of potential if it wasn’t in this genre. I’ve been watching a lot of cool movies lately and in a fairly decent mood from all the sunny weather and loving the summer, so I don’t feel like ranting more about this one. If I was you, I’d stay away from it. The only reason I gave it 2 stars out of 5 was because I saw some potential in building the mythology of this tribe of Mermen and having some interesting creations on the island itself. Everything else, I honestly could care less about.