Blog Tour: Death in Smoke by Barbara Elle (Review/Giveaway)

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Death in Smoke (The Cape Mysteries #2)
By: Barbara Elle

Death in Smoke

Publication Date: December 5, 2019
Genre: Psychological Thriller

SYNOPSIS

*Each book in The Cape Mysteries can be read as a standalone novel*

A bloodied body buried in a snow bank on a remote island off Cape Cod.

A cold case in Kansas.

What’s the connection between two unrelated murders over a thousand miles away and decades apart?

In Death In Smoke, the thrilling sequel to Death In Vermilion, artist Leila Goodfriend unravels the truth about two brutal killings.

From Cuttyhunk Island to a Native American casino in Kansas, Leila tracks a trail of blood and revenge, littered with smoke screens and stone relics of a faded past.

Once again, Leila has to trust her instincts, which puts her at odds with Detective John Grace—a relationship of attraction that, in the end, reveals a tragic secret from her own past.

Despite the detective’s warnings, Leila puts her life at risk, obsessed with proving her friend’s innocence, at least of murder.

Death In Smoke, the new psychological thriller from acclaimed author Barbara Elle, takes readers on an inner and physical journey across clashing cultures and time, challenging assumptions about what is truth—what remains a mystery.

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REVIEW

Death in Smoke is the second book in the Cape Mysteries Series and yet, while the main sleuth carries forward from the previous book, this mystery is pretty much a standalone with only a little bit of reference to the previous book and it makes to effort to fill in those spaces for new readers (like myself). At least its the feeling that I got here which is always good to not feel like starting in the middle of a series is an intrusion and it stands alone as it promotes itself.

Psychological thrillers are always tricky business. Death in Smoke does a relatively good job. It starts off on a strong note in its set up its foundation with the discovery of the body and the well-described scenario and the forensic and detective work that follows. While the story does seem to a bit deliberate in some of its leads and the discoveries making it seem a bit predictable in certain plot progression, it does redeem itself in the second half when it shifts its scenario from the murders on an island, which is always an intriguing setting, to the link to another case in Kansas and brings in the Indigenous American elements. This brings in the unique angle for this mystery.

Looking at the characters of Death in Smoke, the main sleuth is an artist called Leila who has unexpectedly been around for this and in this story, feels the urge to follow the leads and help solve it as she finds the body and therefore responsible to follow through (or at least it seems that way). There’s a nice little bit of what would probably be a link to the previous book in terms of the little love tangent it goes on but done in a classy way. All these elements build up on Leila’s character.

Overall, there are some small pacing issues where with Death in Smoke. However, the book is well-written with some vivid descriptions and a decent main character Leila leading the mystery. The mystery itself also is well structured with gradual layers that eventually build up to the finale. The ending isn’t hard to completely figure out but it does redeem itself also with finding a unique twist. Plus, the grand finale shares a little on the origins of dreamcatcher which a lot of people know about but never the art of it or the different elements and the meanings. I’m not sure if it was meant to end to give Leila some more depth in its ending or to give it a little informative moment for the readers but whichever the reason, the ending does add to the experience.

Score: 3.5/5

Available on Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BARBARA ELLE

In her stunning debut thriller, Death In Vermilion (The Cape Mysteries Book 1), acclaimed author Barbara Elle paints a clever and twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a Cape Cod town. Who can you trust?

Now, Death In Smoke (The Cape Mysteries Book 2) asks what’s the connection between a bloodied body buried in a snow bank on a remote island off the Cape and a cold case in Kansas? Can artist and amateur sleuth Leila Goodfriend solve this new mystery?

Barbara Elle fell in love with books and writing at a young age, honing her writing chops as a copywriter at major publishers and as a freelance journalist.

Growing up in Boston, but she became a New Yorker as an adult. Her writing draws on people and places she remembers, setting The Cape Mysteries on Cape Cod, a place of memories.

Barbara Elle continues collecting characters and plots, often travelling the world with her touring musician husband, the musical director for rock and roll icon Cyndi Lauper. In her travels, Barbara has explored Buddhist temples in Beijing, crypts in Vienna and Kabuki Theater in Tokyo.

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Check it out here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f129/?

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Double Feature: Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (1987) & Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)

So…I lied in the last double feature (HERE) about being the last Christmas lineup because we decided to watch another Alternate Christmas horror film on Shudder on Christmas day. Oops…haha! Pairing with this 80s slasher is this year’s uber cute movie, Pokemon Detective Pikachu. Lets check it out!!

Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

silent night deadly night 2

Director: Lee Harry

Cast: Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jean Miller, Ken Weichert

The now-adult Ricky talks to a psychiatrist about how he became a murderer after his brother, Billy, died, which leads back to Mother Superior. – IMDB

I have never seen the first film so we could only hope that it would work out, seeing as Shudder only has Part 2 and not the first, it must work relatively well as a stand-alone. Starting from a sequel, no matter how much it doesn’t really need the first film’s knowledge and still is easy to follow is not too easy to accomplish but I wonder if some of the little questions of the character here would make more sense with knowledge of the first one.

Silent Night Deadly Night 2 is not too good. Maybe as a lets all sit around and make fun of it deal, it did have that entertainment purpose. The dialogue was pretty bad and then you pair it with the very exaggerated and trying really hard to be villainous acting of Eric Freeman with the furiously moving eyebrows and big eyes and that really did make it all the more ridiculous altogether. It didn’t matter that the movie went along to tell the story of how it began with the brother and that made more sense than how he had those triggers that made him vengeful because it wasn’t really about the brother more than it seemed like he also was triggered by certain elements that changed him. Some story elements didn’t make a ton of sense.

Overall, Silent Night Deadly Night 2 was pretty meh. I mean, it was pretty mockworthy fun as we sat around repeating the dialogue and the crazy eyebrows which sometimes were quite hard to do in general in its frequency. It did add a twist that we didn’t quite see at the end although how it was done is quite a mystery.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)

pokemon detective pikachu

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Josette Simon, Rita Ora

In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective. – IMDB

I am going to be straightforward that I am not as big of a Pokemon fan as others. I know the basics and pop back into Pokemon Go every once in a while but I don’t think qualifies me as a “fan”. Detective Pikachu did some great promotional efforts though, with Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu and the trailers being so much fun to watch that it sold it to me right away. Plus, Pokemon is cute, REALLY cute so here we are…

Pokemon is Pokemon, its not meant to be deep or have some mega unexpected moment. In fact, keeping it simple might be its best execution and that is what this movie does. It blows you away with its comedy and the little bits of mystery and witty dialogue and just the sheer ability of being able to implement a variety of Pokemon types so well is quite the accomplishment. Its a fun time from start to finish. The ending did manage to squeeze in a little twist (about the father) that makes sense why something wasn’t done during the movie. Its a clever detail.

I didn’t have particularly any expectations for this one except to have a cute and fun time and I had that in spades. It was all that I had wanted and a lot more. Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu is brilliant. The dialogue packs in a lot of memorable moments. Plus, its all very witty and awesome. Sure, the danger of the whole situation and whatnot was pretty easy where they were going with the villain twist and who is behind the whole deal but I’m sure no one expected this one to be some deep story. Its simple and straightforward mystery and it ticks all the boxes of what you’d want from a Pokemon story. In fact, it does it a lot better than most video game inspired stories.

And for fun, here’s one of my favorite parts:

That’s it for this double feature! 
Have you seen these two films?

Love Potions and Other Calamities by Charlie Laidlaw

Love Potions and Other Calamities
by: Charlie Laidlaw

love potions and other calamities

Rosie McLeod, pub proprietor and a gifted herbalist of local renown, is thirty-nine and holding, but only just. The talons of her fortieth birthday are in her back and her bloody, bloody husband hasn’t laid a lustful hand on her for months.

Rosie sets out to discover if her husband is having an affair, using deductive powers based solely on the careful preparation of plants and herbs. But as her well-laid plans entirely fall apart, the sighting of a large black cat sets off another chain of events.

Rosie now realises that a psychopath is on the loose and that she’s been selected as his next victim. – Goodreads

*Book received in exchange for honest review*

After reading two novels by Charlie Laidlaw, there is no doubt that he is a writer with a lot of creativity as he mixes genres and adds in very unique twists. It is usually those sharp ideas that makes his books such a pleasure to read and also why Love Potions and Other Calamities was one that I wanted to read. Blending mystery, romance and humor is a risky move especially the last third of the equation as humor is such a subjective element. Luckily, the humor does deliver most of the time especially with some of the outrageous things that do happen and the fact that a lot of the doing wrong things with the best intentions actually do backfire a lot and ends up creating some right especially as it highlights some of the elements of mystery.

Let’s start with the positives! Love Potions and Other Calamities is a charming little book. One of the main elements of charms is the characters that truly do come to life through the words. There’s a heavy focus on Rosie, a woman awaiting her 40th birthday like its her death bed and really having a heavy hit of self-esteem issues about her attraction to her husband Jack due to lack of intimacy. Her solution is to make him drinks and food that she believes that he likes to build up the urge and motivation at the very least. However, things go awry when he doesn’t really like those things and it ends up somewhere else and consumed by someone else. As we read these parts, its truly a “Oh no” moment over and over again as things go really awkward and at times bad, creating situations that eventually have more misunderstandings and it all propels to have even more funny and awkward and weird moments.

On the other side, the story also focuses on another couple with Mara being a younger girl and waitress at Rosie and Jack’s pub (I think, its a pub) and the events ends up turning out better for her as her relationship with her cop boyfriend Richie improves. Richie becomes the center of the mystery as he starts working hard to connect the dots of the mysterious events happening. Richie and Mara bring in some elements of intimacy and younger relationships but also bringing forward a character like Richie from outside that helps have that connection to explain some of the beliefs and history that hangs in this town.

While at the same time, there is some political issues with voting around the corner and all kinds of characters that pop in the scene. They all have their own charm and intrigue as it all adds to how the situations are blown up to incredible proportions and Rosie starts to wonder whether what she did is right and the issue with the black cat being a sign towards witches and bad omens. There’s a lot of little bits and pieces that work well together. The little description of different types of herbs at the beginning of each chapter actually did bring a lot of fun elements to this as it was the extra bits of knowledge and gave it a lot of substance.

With that said, one element that wasn’t done was well was the execution. The pacing was a bit odd at times. At the same time, the separation of chapters and the abrupt jumps from one scene to the next sometimes made it slightly hard to follow especially as the situation got more complex in the middle section. Its really the one issue that was a tad annoying but as the characters became more familiar, the issue in the second half becomes less of an issue.

Overall, Love Potions and Other Calamities is a pretty decent novel. The idea of using potions and witches and a little town with their own beliefs and history gave it a lot of character. Not to mention the characters here were also rather charming and had its unique elements that made them a lot of fun to read. Sure, there’s some execution issues but its still a fun book with some unexpected twists to the outcomes of the misdirected potion (or poison?) attempts, misunderstanding and other sudden scenarios. This one is a fun read.

Check out reviews of other books by Charlie Laidlaw:

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead
The Space Between Time

BITS 2019: Majic (2019)

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Majic (2019)

Majic

Director (and co-writer): Erin Berry

Cast: Paula Brancati, Richard Fitzpatrick, Marc Hickox, Michael Majeski, Debra McGrath, Paulino Nunes, Anand Rajaram, Michael Seater

An anti-conspiracy video blogger thinks she is slipping into an alternate reality after being approached by an old man claiming to have worked for the legendary Majestic-12 (aka majic), the covert US spy agency, created after the UFO incident at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. –IMDB

Majic is a mystery science fiction thriller that lands a lot of its punches. In the field of anti-conspiracy and research regarding secret agencies, its hard to be certain what side of it is real even what evidence can be trusted. This is what Majic does exceptionally well. As it dives into the world of debunking conspiracies, we follow a video blogger on a secret meeting with an old man claiming to be part of the Majestic-12 or as he calls it, Majic. As she follows the path he offers her, she ends up going on a road that ends up messing up her timeline. The reality she knows has suddenly slipped into an alternate reality where she struggles to find what is the reality and what is the cause. Is it related to UFOs? What is the truth?

As she falls down the rabbit hole of what is real, all she has left is herself to figure it out and yet, in a story that flips back and forth in what is real and what isn’t, Majic executes its mystery so well that its hard to not sucked into it and get our own minds boggled as well. It remembers that its story is where the complexity lies and keeps the rest of the elements simple and straightforward.

MAJIC

Other than having a well-built mystery, what lifts Majic is a clever script. Its dialogue between the characters leave a lot of room for the suspense and mystery to build. It adds questions on top of questions and doesn’t leave a lot of answers lying in the open. Each encounter is slightly cryptic and yet the back and forth never drags and keeps it intriguing. With a clever script, you also need a great cast to execute it. Paula Brancati plays as the central character Bernwood who does an incredible job in capturing the many states of the character, right up to the big final twist which pulls the whole story together. At the same time, she is faced against two strong performances by Anderson, who is played by Richard Fitzpatrick as well Specter who is played by Paulino Nunes. The latter actually almost feels like this confusing verbal spar that is so satisfying to watch.

Majic

There isn’t enough great things to say about Majic. Its a film that will become a hidden gem of this year (or at least I hope so). It keeps a lot of the other elements simple to boost up the fantastic performances given here especially with a strong female performance by Paula Brancati. Its been a while that I’ve watched a mystery that truly boggles the mind right to the very end with a rather mind-blowing ending that pulls it all together and adds substance to the little detail that ties it all together. Its bit wordy and packed with a lot of quick dialogue for some but this one was a surprisingly great film and one that shouldn’t be missed.

Double Feature: Murder on the Orient Express (2017) & My Teacher, My Obsession (2018)

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My Teacher, My Obsessions (2018)

My Teacher My Obsession

Director: Damian Romay

Cast: Rusty Joiner, Lucy Loken, Laura Bilgeri, Jana Lee Hamblin, Alexandria DeBerry

Riley struggles to meet friends after transferring to a new high school where her father is an English teacher. When she meets Kyla, a fellow loner, they become close friends until Riley learns that Kyla is obsessed with her father. – IMDB

I had zero expectations when I started up this one. Frankly, this whole subgenre has me quite sad that there aren’t better films and My Teacher, My Obsession is no exception. It had a lot of bad dialogue and that really does make it hard to digest the whole thing better. Not to mention the execution is not too good either. Its hard to understand what movies, especially thrillers try to achieve in starting the film from a scene from the finale and then going back in time to meet up with there and then make the big reveal. There is no reveal when its already obvious from the start who is doing the obsessing and how it will get worse and worse. Not only that but the teacher in question is a rather well-built good-looking gentleman who happens to be the father of one of the girl characters that gets befriended by the girl who is attracted to the teacher and the daughter.

There’s just a lot of hard to understand decisions here. However, I am not one to only talk negatives so to wrap this up on a positive note, the cinematography was actually pretty good here and some of the scenes with Kyla, the girl obsessed was also done pretty well plus she did pretty good with the material she had to work with.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on Orient Express

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench

When a murder occurs on the train on which he’s travelling, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case. – IMDB

Murder on the Orient Express is a great choice among (the few that I’ve read) the Agatha Christie books to adapt. Kenneth Branagh is a director and actor that I have alwayd rather appreciated. He can usually put together very competent pieces cinema and while we can all complain about all the adaptations being done nowadays, this one is really good. It has a stellar cast with some biggers stars like Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad. Then Hercule Poirot is played by Kenneth Branagh who does capture the role so well.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries (probably much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes) has so much depth and big twists that make them almost perfect for adaptations. However, it has those moments of whether these stories are as thrilling for those who have read it and how it executes it for both connoisseurs and those who are new to this character. It was one of the few concerns I had before I started up this film to be honest. However, the characters each played together so well and the experienced cast brought of them to life in turn so did the mystery. It had great visual style and lovely cinematography. There’s a lot to love here. It set the tone right from the opening act right to the end. I honestly can’t wait for the next movie, Death on the Nile.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen Murder on the Orient Express & My Teacher, My Obsession?

The Dragon Head of Hong Kong: An Ava Lee Prequel (#0.5) by Ian Hamilton

Ava Lee Series – previous book reviews

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3
Book 4
Book 5
Book 6

The Dragon Head of Hong Kong: An Ava Lee Prequel
(An Ava Lee Series #0.5)

The Dragon Head of Hong Kong

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Young Ava Lee is a forensic accounting who has just opened her own private firm. One of her clients, Hedrick Lo, has been swindled of more than a million dollars by a Chinese importer named Johnny Kung. Desperate, Lo persuades Ava to find and retrieve the monies owed. Ava goes to Hong Kong, where she plunges into the dangerous underground collection business and meets a man who will forever change her life . . . – Goodreads

It always seemed a possibility to go back to the beginning. As Ava Lee Series step into a new era for its series, it definitely is good to give a wave to the first phase (what I’d call it) and see how Ava Lee got started in this business with Chow Tung (aka Uncle). The Dragon Head of Hong Kong refers to Uncle and how they met through her first case doing forensic accounting and realizing that while she could hold herself in most scenarios. In some others, realistically, she still needed some support. While hesitant to deal with Chow Tung at the beginning, as you would with strangers, its about trust and connections in her business and how her business with Uncle starts as partners, based on mutual respect and business requirements.

In that sense, The Dragon Head of Hong Kong is done really well. We see a much more younger and perhaps, slightly more naive Ava Lee who goes into this tough but never quite seeing too far and taking a lot of it by chance. However, there’s still signs of her character having those traits that she still has in the current books but just less refined. Its still the tough Ava Lee at work. At the same time, this book is fairly short in comparison to the other books in the series and rightfully so, since the story isn’t too complex, at least much less complicated than the current ones and involving less people but gives a foundation of how everyone whether its family and business falls into place. Therefore, the book is fast-paced with a lot of action on the pages and still doesn’t forget a lot of the key characters in the main series that we’ve grown to expect and love.

Its a little backwards to do the prequel after the series turning point (or looking at the release date, right before the last book that leads there). However, it does work. The Dragon Head of Hong Kong shares not only a first look at Ava Lee and Chow Tung but also gives the basic landscape of how she came to those items that she holds preciously in her life and does a good job and giving those connecting points, giving the current series some more substance and meaning to little things that didn’t get explained (or if it was, never thoroughly). Prequels aren’t always necessary but in this case, it was a fun quick read and was appreciated (for me).

Fantasia Festival 2019: Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock

Director (and co-writer): Kwon Lee

Cast: Hyo-jin Kong, Sung-oh Kim, Ye-won Kim

Door Lock is a 2018 South Korean thriller about a woman who suspects that someone is trying to break into her apartment and tries to figure out who it is.

Door Lock is the South Korean remake of 2011 film Sleep Tight except taking it from the other perspective. If you haven’t seen Sleep Tight, you probably want to see it after this one, mostly because then the thrills of figuring out who is the bad guy will be taken away. At the same time, if you have seen it, then this one might just be an exercise of watching the story from a different angle set in a different city. Falling into the category of never having seen the original, Door Lock is a mystery thriller mixed a different twist on the home invasion genre.

Starting with the opening scene of a woman going home to her apartment and being attacked suddenly, Door Lock quickly changes to a woman who wakes up and has a certain routine that has set herself in almost an compulsive way so the little changes automatically spark her attention. Despite her safety precautions of moving to a big building with better security and installing an electronic door lock, she still feels unsafe however one night, she is woken up by the sound of someone trying to break into her apartment frantically. Except her suspicions aren’t enough to keep the police to investigate further so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Door Lock isn’t exactly a new idea and in the thriller department, it really takes noticing that one clue and that one dialogue in the movie to already have suspicions of the invader. However, there is some nice execution here. Right from the beginning, there is a sense of being followed as the camera will move from different angles and through surveillance cameras and from ceiling shots. Its quite creative and adds to the unsettling feeling of being observed. The sounds aren’t overpowering as well. It raises as the scene intensifies but also takes the care to focus on the little sounds in the surrounding like the clock ticking for example and isolating onto the everyday sounds amplified. There’s one scene that the soundtrack done really well where it follows two characters and there is a contrast on the soundtracks playing which was unique. The audience also gets a lot of the insider information, know more than the main character which works especially as the quick reveal of what is going on which leaves the rest of the story to question who, why and how.

In South Korean films, there’s always a notion about things being too slow because of its lengthy run time. In this case, it actually is the opposite. Its shorter run time actually deters it a little. It does give it a good pacing and the plot moves forward fairly quickly however there’s a lot of shallow characters especially the main girl who only gets caught in all the mess but feels never gives enough to be invested in her safety to begin with. Plus, the predictable misdirection to suspect other characters are fairly easy to see through as well. Perhaps the one thing that gets to be taken away from this is the concept of safety in the society and the false pretenses of it whether its the people around our everyday lives to the bigger buildings feeling more secure or the fancy gadgets to ensure safety all seems to have the loopholes that can be broken especially because they are also involving humans who might not all have the right intentions.

Overall, Door Lock is a decent thriller (from the opinion of someone who has never seen the original Spanish film). It has a few flaws to it but also has some tension and is fairly well-paced. Its cinematography and background sound design and soundtrack does it a lot of favors to build the atmosphere. Even if the characters are fairly shallow, the message it conveys is an important one.

Double Feature: Perfect Stranger (2007) & Red Riding Hood (2011)

Welcome to the next double feature. Still braving through some Netflix titles as we head into the P and R selection, well, the first R selection, it would seem. The alphabet thing is more of a guideline at this point. This time, we’re heading into two thriller-esque movies. The first being Halle Berry and Bruce Willis’ Perfect Stranger which I remember I had wanted to see when it first came out but never did until now. The R selection is also a movie that I had wanted to see even though it looked like it was not going to be good which is Red Riding Hood. The result of both of these films were fairly similar, to be honest.

Let’s check it out!

Perfect Stranger (2007)

perfect stranger

Director: James Foley

Cast: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Portnow

A journalist goes undercover to ferret out businessman Harrison Hill as her childhood friend’s killer. Posing as one of his temps, she enters into a game of online cat-and-mouse. – IMDB

With a pretty great lineup of cast playing a tight knit group of characters, Perfect Stranger definitely feels like it could be a winner. While I can’t truly fault the acting or the roles here, its the final moments that somewhat break the film a little. Plus, some of the roles are a tad over the top. The story does make the effort as a thriller to keep you guessing while giving you a few suspects to consider but as experienced viewers now know to question whoever is the most obvious in movies, it creates those smokes and screens fairly well.

Perfect Stranger is one of those films that I really want to like. Bruce Willis is pretty good in his roles. There some issues with Halle Berry’s character and then, the best role here that really delivers has to be Giovanni Ribisi who brings up a lot of question marks. Deal is, the story feels really choppy and the ending is one of those trying too hard to give you a surprise endings and it thinks its more clever than it actually is.

Red Riding Hood (2011)

Red Riding Hood

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Lukas Haas, Julie Christie

Set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf, a young girl falls for an orphaned woodcutter, much to her family’s displeasure. – IMDB

Red Riding Hood has a decent idea behind it. Its a bit been there done that. Which is also why, it hasn’t been too long since I saw it and I already don’t remember too many of the details. So, let’s get the good things out of the way. This one was alright in the acting department, not so much in the dialogue department though and its one of those things that feel very much one way that it could all go. Plus, its one of those easy to figure out twists because its not exactly far-fetched and it doesn’t help that its a re-imagining of Red Riding Hood which doesn’t seem like the Red Riding Hood elements make a huge difference to the outcome. The ending is pretty meh and honestly, the film wasn’t so bad at the beginning but falls apart as it goes along.

Overall, Red Riding Hood was kind of a lot of weird bits added together. Nothing felt really necessary but it felt like it needed to add those elements of love to give that spicy edge, the vengeance to give the revenge and hatred edge and then the reveal being the surprise element except nothing seems like it works long enough to make it have a truly lasting effect. Its not exactly a bad film but then its not exactly anything special either. I mean, to make things better, I went ahead and watched Hoodwinked which is a much better twist on the Red Riding Hood story.

That’s it for this double feature!
I’m indifferent regarding these two films so its a bit harder to write about.
Have you seen either of these films? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Eloise (2017) & The 5th Wave (2016)

Time for the next double feature.

Continuing with the alphabets, we’re at E & F. I picked two movies that has been on my list for a little while but I kept passing over it for other things. The first is horror thriller Eloise set in an abandoned psychiatric hospital and well, the only reason that this movie is on my list is because Eliza Dushku is in it and I like her from Dollhouse. For the F selection, I picked The 5th Wave. We’re finally expanding alphabets to their numerical counterparts. Either way, I like Chloe Grace Moretz and I enjoyed the novel (review) well enough that I wanted to see how they’d execute it.

Eloise (2017)

Eloise

Director: Robert Legato

Cast: Eliza Dushku, Chace Crawford, Brandon T. Jackson, P.J. Byrne, Robert Patrick, Nicole Forester

Four friends break into an abandoned insane asylum in search of a death certificate which will grant one of them a large inheritance. However, finding it soon becomes the least of their worries in a place haunted by dark memories. – IMDB

The best way to talk about Eloise might be to say that its a little more water down version of Session 9 (review) because there are a lot of similarities in how its executed but then the back story of what happened is different. While I don’t think that Eloise was as bad as I’d thought it would be, it actually has some pretty well-executed moments here and there and the characters are done well enough, of course with a relative dose of stupid decisions in the process. There’s one line that resounds as the central theme of the film throughout that when its said, it highlights the presence of the location itself and also, foreshadows the ending as well. Of course, if its a first viewing like myself, then I wouldn’t have really thought about it too much and thought only the ending as a possibility which makes the final act of the film have a nice twist to it.

Talking about the characters, they make sense pretty much although some parts are fairly obvious where its leading to. At the same time, it tries very hard to go on the psychological thriller path because it is set in a psychiatric hospital. The story actually isn’t too bad. There are a few things that are questionable. The final bit is a bit of a head scratcher even if the basis of it makes sense…kind of. The part that did actually make this not good was the pacing. The beginning to get to the psychiatric hospital takes too long and then there’s a lot of parts in the dark so a lot of scenes are pretty unclear and its probably to avoid too many torturous scenes or whatnot. Other than that, the setting and the context that is pretty overused. I’m half and half on this one.

The 5th Wave (2016)

The 5th Wave

Director: J. Blakeson

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Liev Schreiber, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe

Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother. – IMDB

Based on the novel of the same name by Rick Yancy (I linked the book review above), The 5th Wave is another one of the YA novels adapted into a movie. The 5th Wave is a mesh of alien invasion story wrapped up in survival and romance. With YA adaptations, its always about the execution as long as the source material is decent, in this case, other than bad writing which shouldn’t affect the movie part, this one was all about how it was executed. The 5th Wave does a decent job and keeps the first person narrative of Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) who narrates the film and the beginning is done really well as she sets up the foundation of how it started and what happened to date and the things that they knew. Of course, as the story diverges apart from its characters, the story shifts between more locations. What works here is that the story follows one character in their location and keeps the characters fairly limited. The pacing here works and the alien invasion story works also. I think what really  helps here is that exceeding my expectation, the romance parts are actually lesser than the survival and alien invasion part which I like a lot because that just makes more sense (although there is a part where its a bit ridiculous). However, its hard to not notice some of the really badly executed effects as well as some of the movement choreography doesn’t flow really well.

Moving along, Chloe Grace Moretz is pretty good here. She’s always been a pretty solid actress even if she sometimes ends up in some lackluster movies. She plays opposite Alex Roe and Nick Robinson, two guys in her life that fulfill different parts of the story especially as Cassie and Alex Roe’s Evan looks at what has become of the world on the outside and then Nick Robinson’s Ben Parish and a rebellious girl Ringer, played by Maika Monroe looked at the military base setting from the other angle. Its a pretty nice set-up to be honest. On top of the that, the military base itself has Liev Schreiber as the lieutenant and Maria Bello as also one of the key figures at the base. Everyone does a decent job with what they have on hand.

Its no doubt that they expected The 5th Wave to be more of a hit so that they kept the ending open-ended so a second film could happen since the book is part of a series. In some ways, with the set up of how it was done and the premise, it would be nice to see where the story would go especially with the sci-fi alien invasion elements.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen either of these films? Thoughts?

Double Feature: The Cave (2005) & Death Note (2017)

And we’re moving right along to the next double feature in the random Netflix alphabet. I’m starting to see a pattern already of movies that I feel didn’t really get great reviews but I’m willing to take a chance on regardless. I didn’t actually research how well they did but still, its how randomness works, right? 😉 The next two films is 2005 creature feature The Cave which I never heard of before but I was craving something of that subgenre so here we are and followed with the 2017 Netflix Original American adaptation of Death Note.

Let’s check it out!

The Cave (2005)

the cave

Director: Bruce Hunt

Cast: Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith

Bloodthirsty creatures await a pack of divers who become trapped in an underwater cave network. – IMDB

The Cave passed right under the radar as it probably got overshadowed by the success of The Descent (Review) which was always cave exploration, creature feature and had garnered quite a good bit of positive reviews, myself included. With that said, The Cave does have quite a few good elements. While it merges together spelunking and creature features, it also adds in the not really completely confirmed idea of going to hell (much like As Above So Below (review)). It had a short mention with the religious background in the beginning and then as we dive deeper into the cave as the group heads towards the exit and fights for their survival, the cave takes on various transformations which can only feel like the different levels of hell (at least to me, maybe I’m overthinking it as I always do).

The Cave isn’t executed too well. It has some issues of pacing and some of the acting bits aren’t exactly great. It also had an issue of being quite predictable as to when would happen what which cuts out some of the tension it could have had. However, The Cave is quite unique because it adds in the water and diving exploration element. A new layer of adventure adds in its own set of challenges. Plus, the creature design here has a nice slow burn reveal throughout the film and its pretty bad-ass and impressive.

One of the final points to mention here is how Lena Headey always ends up in these movies and in this one, she pops up as a scientist. She delivers a great performance and one of the best throughout this film, not only because her character carried quite a bit of depth but also the changes for this character and her interpretation of it.

Death Note (2017)

death note

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Nat Wolff, LaKeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe (voice), Jason Liles, Paul Nakauchi

A high school student named Light Turner discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within its pages, and launches a secret crusade to rid the world of criminals. – IMDB

Having never seen the original TV anime series (not even one episode) and only saw the Japanese adapted film back in 2000s, Death Note is one of those animes that is rather unfamiliar to myself however, I remained skeptical but interested in watching how it would be interpreted especially in the hands of Adam Wingard. A good and bad thing here because for one, it had the same feeling in this one as in the Japanese one years ago that a series with the depth of Death Note in its content shouldn’t and can’t be made into a film. There are plot holes and unknown parts and a lot of it is expected to be brushed away and accepted as correct because the movie constantly reminds us that Death Note has a lot of rules, so if it didn’t make sense that you can say that its just a rule that we didn’t know about. That is just lazy but then adapting Death Note into a film is a mammoth task. Second though, the good thing is that Adam Wingard took helm of it because he gives it atmosphere and style and even implements a great soundtrack to make it stand out.

Death Note had its issues, no doubt. In fact, it had more issues than its massive style could help mend. It still had some thrills and it still had some events that does work in the movies favor in terms of the sequences. However, as I sit here, I’m still thinking about the cast itself. The best part of the casting was having Willem Dafoe voice Ryuk because he does such a stand-out bad guy. To be fair, I think its more a script problem than anything when talking about Nat Wolff as Light or LaKeith Stanfield as L because they had some wonky dialogue bits but their characters still were portrayed well enough in the context of this story. While I think that finding Asian-Americans in this day and age to do this adaptation would have been easily accomplished, I’m choosing to not discuss that and evaluate this in the context of being an American film as it is set in the US to make these characters relevant to the story.

Is Death Note good or bad? Its kind of half and half. On one hand, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t quite accept because of the execution and the fact that its not the fault of the movie but the fact that Death Note is more complex than a movie can embody. However, Wingard does the best he can and delivers a decent film with a great soundtrack and a load of style.

That’s it for this double feature!
A bit of a meh pairing… some pros but some cons

Have you seen The Cave and/or Death Note?