Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Even Aliens Have Showdowns in the Wild West

Today I'm reviewing the  2011 film Cowboys and Aliens. Directed by Jon Favreau and based on the 2006 graphic novel with the same name, written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.


Now the main plot revolves around a man (played by Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the middle of the desert with amnesia and has no idea who or where he is. All he has is a photo of a woman and a strange wristband (that all the characters call a "bracelet"). He then heads into the nearest town and meets the rest of the main cast, namely Ella (Olivia Wilde),  cattleman Woodrow (Harrison Ford),  saloon owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) and young boy Emmett (Noah Ringer). Then aliens show up and start taking people and those who remain go after the aliens to try get them back.

So, what did I think of the actual movie? Well to be honest, I think it was very flawed and not very interesting. There are so many plot holes and the film is pretty predictable. The characters are hard to identify with, as none of them seem to have much of a personality- especially our main man- who I swear only has one facial expression throughout this entire film. And the rest of the characters aren't much better. Scenes that you'd think would be filled with emotion feel lacking in it. You don't really care about ANY of the people at all. This probably isn't helped by the use of entirely generic characters. Seriously, there's the wealthy man who basically controls the entire town, who has a son whose far too big for his boots and painfully obnoxious. There's the kindly preacher, the mysterious love interest, a very brief interaction with the funny sidekick, an innocent young boy and even a dog whose sole purpose is to bark when an alien is near. I mean, one or two generic characters could maybe be forgiven, but the ENTIRE cast is just ridiculous! 

Speaking of generic- the main man has amnesia. That's right, it's an amnesia story. However, the main issue with his amnesia is not that the concept is overdone already. It's more that it serves no purpose to the story whatsoever.    
And there is no reason why he should have amnesia anyway. Why would aliens give people amnesia? Are they expecting them to escape? Do they not want them to tell other people about their existence? And, if that's the reason, why then immediately attack everyone in the area? Seriously, there is no point in him (or anyone else in this film) having amnesia.

Onto the aliens themselves. Sigh, I didn't think there design was awful, but it was nowhere near great either. There are very few shots where the aliens are stationary and in full view (as opposed to just their faces or upper bodies), but when they are, if you look closely, you can see that it almost looks like people in costumes or dummies. Maybe that's what they actually were, but the filmmakers could have made more of an attempt to hide it. All the fast action scenes are, of course, CGI, but (like I said) the stationary shots make the aliens look fake. Maybe that was just me.

There are also some weird script problems. An example would be when Emmett is calling for the dog the day after it ran off barking towards an alien, then we hear yelping and the dog doesn't come back. Surely, this means the dog died right? Otherwise, what? Did it just find the alien and run away yelping? It's just weird that he would call the dog when it would seem that it was dead, and the day afterwards as well. Not right after. Not at all during the night. No, just as they're about to continue on the journey. Now, I don't think this is really a spoiler, but skip this sentence if you don't want to know, but just before the end of the film the dog does come back. Or, rather I should say, we see it with a gang. Is this explained? Do we find out what happened or why it's with the gang? No. There is no explanation at all as to where the dog has been all this time. 

There's there the "romance" between the main character and Ella. If you can call it that. They barely say anything to each other. For the first half of the film he's telling her to go away. Also, he keeps having flashbacks of the woman that he obviously loves or loved. It's just weird. They have very little actual interaction, other than just riding horses next to each other and occasionally sharing a line.

I know I keep on knocking this film, but that's because there is so much to knock. Maybe I went into this film with too high of expectations. The trailer looked awesome and I expected the same out of the film. It's always sad when we find out the reality in a bad way. Oh well, on with the review. Another major flaw that I have with the film is that every time our main character/s get into trouble, either the mysterious "bracelet" on our main man's wrist or the aliens get him/them out of trouble. Fair enough the aliens aren't purposefully helping him/them, but EVERY time. Without fail. There are so many scenes where escape (and therefore life) seems highly unlikely, and then aliens show up and take all the bad people away or his wristband randomly blows them away. This means that the audience never really believe there's any threat to the main cast. So there's no tension and the film drops a few notches on the exciting and enjoyably scale.

The film is also painfully predictable at times. I guessed the entire ending down to almost every last detail and never had a moment where I was like, "What?!". Okay, once. But again, that plot point had no relevance whatsoever to the story. If you've seen the film, I'm sure you know which one I mean. I'll give you a hint, it involves fire and a character. Now think. Did it make any kind of difference to the story? Would the ending have been any different really?

And I have to mention it. The random "filler feeling" scenes, whose sole purposes are just to gather more people in one place, so that the aliens can come back and take them without further diminishing the main cast. No other reason. Speaking of which. At the start of the film there's some character development in some of the secondary characters, then a lot of them get taken and no further development happens during the rest of the film. To ANY characters. It's just weird. It's like, okay he's this person and his role is this- oh never mind, he's gone. Oh well. The rest of the characters don't grow. Yeah, some of them learn to use weapons and the wealthy cattleman learns to care about other people, but that actually happens pretty early on in the film. I mean, right after they set out, he's already giving the little kid a pep talk and giving him a knife that was his father's. Which reminds me, the saloon owner learns to use a gun throughout the duration of the film and the boy gets given a knife and told that in the moment, he should just kill and not think about it. (Is that a good lesson?) And you just know that at some point in the film, they're going to have to use these new skills. 

Also, the reason why the aliens are taking people? What they want? Truly awful. I don't understand it at all. You may say, fair enough what they were after was a valuable resource, but my point is more, why do they have to even involve humanity in their quest? Seriously? Nobody knew where their lair was- they could have just stayed there and taken what they wanted without anyone ever knowing. They didn't need people for that.

On a side note, a lot of the plot holes or character issues are never explained or gone into. The scene I mentioned earlier involving fire. Why aren't any of the other characters interested in it? Why don't they want to know more? Why is it never mentioned again? You'd think it would be a big revelation, but the film just passes it off like, yeah, that's right, and now it's irrelevant. And one of my major plot holes? How did our main man escape in the first place? What he just managed to elude every single alien on his way out? Had he already lost his memory? How did he come to be lying in the middle of the desert with no memory? Surely he must have remembered escaping?

Like I said, the ending is predictable, right down to individual battles and the death of one particular character with their predictable cheesy death speech. And the battles with our main man are done in a very video game like way. He just points the wristband and shoots and something dies. And that's the whole battle. I will admit that when he fights other humans it's pretty cool. Daniel Craig's James Bond training really comes through and it looks great. But there's very little of these scenes once the wristband takes over as weapon of choice.

And one final plot hole. It is implied during the film that the aliens have attacked other places in the universe. Wouldn't this mean that there's probably more than one spaceship? The universe is a big place and you'd think you'd need more requirements- but maybe I'm just over analysing now.

Overall, I think the plot was predictable, the ending anticlimactic and the characters underdeveloped and hard to identify with. It's a shame because I think they could have done so much more with the characters- what with the amazing cast they had to play them. Instead we have emotionless and almost irrelevant seeming characters. I didn't hate this film, but it's doesn't score very high with me. Maybe 4 or 5 out of ten, just because the sets do look amazing. Being out in the West, they do have a lot of big landscapes and amazing scenery, but I'm not sure this is ever going to be a film that I'd have no reservations about re watching. Obviously, I can't say never, but I don't think my life would suffer at all if I never got round to watching this movie again. I haven't read the original graphic novel, so I don't know what there was for the filmmakers to work with, but you'd think that even if the graphic novel wasn't that developed the film writers could have filled those holes in. As it stands, I'm going to stick by my theory (and feel free to tell me otherwise if you've read the book) that the book is usually always better than the movie. At least I hope so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And That Was When I Knew, It Was Already Too Late (The End of Everything)

So, my next review is of the book,  "The End of Everything", by Megan Abbott (not to be confused with Meg Cabot- who wrote the "Princess Diaries" series). "The End of Everything" was published this year, 2011.

   First Paragraph:

"She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye. It's that game, the one called Bloody Murder, the name itself sending tingling nerves shooting buckshot in my belly, my gut, or wherever nerves may be. It's so late and we shouldn't be out at all, but we don't care."    

In its most basic form, it is a coming of age story, mixed with a young girl's disappearance and the aftershock that follows, all told from the point of view of 13 year-old, Lizzie. Now, the book is all in 1st person, so normally, as readers, we would connect ourselves with the storyteller and become the main protagonist, taking their place as the story unfolds. But with Lizzie, I always felt a distance and -even though every page is filled with "I's" and "me's"- I felt like Lizzie was exactly what she was, another character. It felt very much like reading about some one's life in the newspaper or a magazine. Your presence is non-existent. 

Now, for those of you who enjoy knowing (as I most certainly do) here is the blurb from the book:

"In a placid 1980s suburb in the Midwest, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable, best friends who swap bathing suits and field hockey sticks and between who there are, presumably, no secrets. They live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister, Dusty, who, at seventeen, gives them a glimpse of the exotic, intoxicating life that might lie ahead. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's bighearted father, is the world's most perfect place.
And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a dark car Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the quiet community, Lizzie finds herself in the spotlight, surrounded by those who want answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car with a stranger? Would she have gotten into the car with a man?
Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth, spending her days with a shell-shocked Mr. Verver and her nights prowling through backyards, peering through windows, and pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Tormented by dreams of her lost friend, titillated by her own position at the heart of the disappearance and its investigation, Lizzie begins to wonder if she knew anything about her best friend at all. Haunting, vivid, and utterly unforgettable. "The End of Everything" explores the mysterious, powerful pull of young girls discovering their sexuality, and its reverberations in the world around them."

Right, now that you know exactly what the book is about, onto the review. It may seem obvious after having read the blurb, but right from the very beginning there is a strong sense of impending doom that is never shaken. A large part of it may be the subject matter, but I think it's also very much connected to Abbott's writing style. It all seems very bleak, like the atmosphere in a Tim Burton movie. You can't help but feel that something is very wrong. Another reason behind this may also be the description of every child in this book as a sexually frustrated teen or tween. I know thirteen is the beginning of the teens and all the changes that come with it, but usually it'll take the form of an innocent crush (at least for most girls) on a classmate or a member of a boy-band. But in this book, Abbott expresses her characters as almost sex-starved. Getting horny at every little thing and touching themselves at night. Maybe it's just me, but this seems a little early in their lives. I can't speak from a male point of view, but the behavior of the girls seems more fitting with girls who are a couple of years older. I know from my view, they will seem so much younger than they are. And at thirteen you do feel grown-up and life full of possibilities, but some girls haven't even hit puberty at this point. To me these scenes of the book just made me cringe. It seems wrong for it to put scenes in your head of a thirteen-year-old girl pleasuring herself. And no, it's not because I have anything against somebody masturbating or having sex (I have no issue with it in other content), but purely because of their ages. Yes, a coming-of-age story is about discovering your sexuality and noticing those of others around you, but it's the age of innocence still as well. Isn't that why they call it "Puppy Love". It should be love in its purest meaning. Or maybe I'm just being overly naive. 

Anyway, the start of the novel is a little confusing. There are a lot of ideas and fragments of stories darting around the place, never settling. Frequent flashbacks make it a little difficult to tell which parts of the story are taking place in the present, but once the first few chapters have passed, the flashbacks get less frequent and the story starts to take shape.

As I stated earlier, there is an ominous feeling to the whole novel, with the ever so slightly creepy writing style and the speculations that the characters make. How some of the girls just look at the disappearance as delicious gossip and a way to slander their missing friend. One girl even mentions a snuff film, which takes the book to a whole new level of unsettling.

I do have to say though that, even with all the theories going on and whichever one you choose to believe, the story is told in such a way that -even when all evidence points to one fact- there is always doubt. The truth dangles just out of your reach, occasionally throwing little pieces of the puzzle at you, but never letting you get enough of the picture to see it for what it is.

Another aspect that I found uncomfortable was Lizzie's relationship with Evie's father. Yes, I know this is the time when girls get their crushes, and it's not uncommon for it to be a friend's older brother, father or even a teacher. But the way her feelings for him are entwined with the disappearance of Evie and discussions of pedophilia, well, your brain can't help but connect the two. And I started to wonder why she couldn't see the similarities. Lizzie describes why she thinks someone may have abducted Evie, says she could understand how he must have felt, describing it as an all-consuming love. But in our present, it is so deeply ingrained in us that this is wrong. The feelings alone are wrong. The word 'pedophile' often seen in the same sentence as 'sick' or 'twisted'.  So how could the love be anything but? True, it's different when a young girl has a crush, but the way her feelings are described, paired with discussions of what could be happening to her friend, mix together in a way that is the epitome of "uninnocent" and disturbing.

As well as this, we see the tragic remains of a family torn apart by loss. It is raw and it is painful. There are scenes that make your heart ache. One instance in particular, where the characters are hoping that Evie has been abducted when the body of a young girl is found. I cannot even begin to imagine the frame of mind someone must be in to see abduction as a better alternative. I know the saying goes "Better to be alive than dead", but to actually get to this point, especially in these circumstances, can be nothing but heart-breaking.

On a different note, one thing I did notice about halfway through the book, was that there is very little actual dialogue. We get a few conversations with various people Lizzie meets, but almost all of the story is told through her innermost thoughts and feelings. And to do this without the readers even noticing is no small feat.

The way the tale is told draws you slowly towards what can only be described as an inevitable ending. It's almost like, somewhere in the back of your mind you knew all along. You get little whispers of it, but maybe your mind blocks you from the truth, maybe hope clouds reality, but for whatever reasons, the book could never have ended any other way. And the writing is so raw and uncompromising that you can't shield yourself against the gritty reality that is thrown at you, leaving you exposed in the dark. Never at any point in the book do you really get a sense of hope. Even if there's a break in the case, even if anything positive happens, it all feels overcast by the imposing sense of dread that never leaves, from page 1 onwards.

The book in itself is quite short, at only 246 pages, and could easily be read in a day or so. Not that this can be viewed as a criticism. In fact, the book gets across exactly what it needs to. There is no rush, no sense of urgency. The ending isn't cut short. It doesn't feel like a 250 page book. Whatever the case may be, the tale is told very well. I'm not sure if it's a book that will change your life, but you'll certainly look at the world differently once you've read it.

The ending itself is more of a conclusion in its most basic form. It answers any remaining questions, ties all the threads together and puts the last couple of pieces in the puzzle. But for me, there was no great reveal. From the very beginning, you feel like you already know the answer to the ongoing, unanswered question. Yes, there are some gaps that need filling in, but there was nothing unexpected about it. From start to finish. It's not that the book is predictable, but more that the story is told in such a way that there could never be any doubt as to how it would end.

However, apart from what I've already mentioned, while there are no real criticisms for this book, there are also no added compliments. When I think back on the text as a whole, I can't think of anything I didn't particularly like, but then there's nothing I particularly enjoyed either. It's not that the writing's bad- which is definitely isn't. Or that the story wasn't interesting. But, this book doesn't really stick out to me. It's a book that I've read, will probably reread at some point in the future, but I wouldn't feel that excitement I get when I know I'm about to read a really good book. I'm sure others will disagree and that's fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But for me, I don't feel like I've gained anything from reading it, but nor have I lost anything. I'm not going to say it isn't worth the read- even if I did hate it or think it was terrible in every way. I don't think I'd recommend it to a friend though. But, to be fair, I couldn't put the book down. It is definitely a page turner. Maybe, what I should say is- if you are at all interested in the story (as I was) go and get it out of the library before you think about buying it. That way there's nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's Green, Mean and Wildly Obscene? (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

That's right, it's that time of year again. When a mixture of amazing Christmas classics and truly terrible specials make their appearance. But try as I might, I simple can't hate my TV during this time. Even if 9 out of 10 movies and specials make me want to grab the writers and shake them until they tell me why they wanted to try ruining Christmas. The few gems that we find are entirely worth it and keep me browsing my guide for those yearly pleasures that make me feel like a little kid again. I've already mentioned how much I love the movie "Elf" and how it's become a Christmas tradition for me. Today, I'm going to review another Christmas film, because hey, why not? 'Tis the season after all.


Okay, so without further ado, today I'm going to review "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". And just to clarify, I'm not talking about the original animated childrens' classic. I'm talking about the live-action film starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch. 


Now I know immediately some people will be put off by the mere mention of Carrey, but personally I believe that he can be funny if you don't look into his roles too seriously and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that. He can be a little over the top (perhaps an understatement) but sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. It depends on his particular role (though I know they are usually pretty similar) and the plot of the film. For me, Carrey will always be a comedian, pure and simple. I know he's done other work, like his role in the thriller "The Number 23" (which I have seen- perhaps a review for another day?), but, in my opinion, he sells because of his overacting and when he tries to be serious there's very little demographic for it. His fans love his exaggerated portrayals and that's what they want to see when they go to one of his movies. Non-fans probably dislike his acting style and won't see any film with him in anyway. And everybody else just puts up with him. So, when we have a film that doesn't cater to any of these people then it isn't likely to be that successful- unless it's an absolutely amazing, change your life kind of film.

Whoo, so onto the actual review. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is obviously an adaptation of the original Dr. Suess picture book. So already most people will know the story and the demographic it's aiming at, ie. younger viewers. Though I do think that Christmas movies or books from an individual's past are never going to be disliked by them- if only because of the nostalgia factor. I personally did grow up with the Dr. Suess book and original 1966 TV special version, and so I went into this movie already knowing what the plot was and what I wanted out of the film.

Anyhow, the film was made in 2000 and directed by Ron Howard. For those of you who don't know the basic plot, the film is about the citizens of Whoville and the ex-whovillian outcast, the Grinch. Obviously, the film is set at Christmastime, when all the Whovillians are getting ready for yuletide celebrations. The film is told from both the point of view of the Grinch and also from little girl who, Cindy Lou. So we have on one hand, a cruel and mean prankster, the Grinch and on the other, the innocence and kindness of Cindy Lou. It's a nice little contrast, especially since the Grinch is so hard to dislike. Maybe it's because we can tell he's not so bad at heart or because (in this film at least) we get a little background info on the Grinch, and find out why he hates Christmas and all the Whovilles in the city. Basically, the Grinch tries to destroy Christmas, while Cindy Lou tries to get people to understand the real meaning of the holiday and make the Grinch happy by getting the Whovillians to accept him.

In terms of the Grinch's background, it was neither here nor there for me really. I don't think it really added anything to the film, but nor did it really have a negative affect either. It was just part of the plot. One thing I really did enjoy in this film was that the narrator and the Grinch together quote the book throughout the movie. I'm not sure if it's the whole book (I think it is), but it's definitely a hefty chunk, just wound into the story really nicely.

I also think that (especially considering this film was made 11 years ago) the makeup and effects are very well done. When you actually pay attention to all the little details, you start to realize how much time and effort must have gone into it. All the actors have prosthetics on (in the form of their noses and teeth) and of course, Jim Carrey is covered head to toe in the Grinch costume. Then all their hair and outfits. There was a point in the film where I noticed that Cindy Lou's father was wearing a bowl of actual eggnog on his head and both her mother and herself were wearing teacups of eggnog. I'm not sure if it was a sealed container, or whether they had to keep refilling the receptacles, but there was definitely liquid in them. And it's these little details that make the film so fun to watch. You notice something new all the time.

If you can't tell by now, I do like this film, not gonna lie. Of course, there are some criticisms. Carrey as the Grinch does work well. Considering how much prosthetic he has on his face, it was definitely necessary to have someone who could still get all the facial expressions across- and who better that the over exaggerated Jim Carrey. However, sometimes it can be a little much. But it doesn't happen that often, so it's easy to ignore. Another issue I have is actually the songs. Sometimes they just appear and just seem added in last minute a bit. But then you think that there's only one original song and I guess they had to add more to make that one fit in better with the film and, let's face it, you can't really out-write Dr. Suess' original "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", which does make an appearance in this film, sung by Jim Carrey- who is actually a pretty good singer and does it very well. I really enjoyed his version.

There is a weird little love triangle sub-plot that goes on throughout the film and ties in with the back story, and is kind of fun, but basically irrelevant.

Overall, I do like this film, but there are others out that I enjoy far more. If it was on TV (like it was tonight) then I'd watch it, but it's not at the top of my list. Given the choice between the two, I'd have to say I prefer the original 1966 2D version. Maybe it's just because that one was just an animated version of the book and nothing more and this version tried to have more of a story. It's not that the story didn't work, there's just something more charming about the original. For anyone wondering, I'd also prefer to watch "Elf" than this film. I just find it more enjoyable. 

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is worth at least one watch though, and it is only on once a year. Overall, if I were to rate this film, it'd get 6 and 3/4 of a star out of 10. I want to say 7 out of 10, but I feel like it's not quite there. It's not really that memorable in it's own merit. Obviously, you remember the basic story and a few jokes, but a lot of them are just background. If this puts you off this movie, let me just say I laughed a lot while watching this film and so did the rest of my family. So even if it's not an incredible Christmas classic, it's most definitely a fun one to watch and worth a try. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Charming Journalist, Corrupt Corporations and Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Series)

Okay, so by now I'm sure that everyone has heard of the phenomenon that is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". The new film has recently been released and there have been multiple discussions about the series.

                             Amazon /                                  Amazon /

So, the series contains three books; "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest". They were written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and were released in 2004. Unfortunately, Larsson never got to see what a huge success his books became, as he passed away in 2004 at age 50 of a heart attack.

First Paragraph: (From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

"It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off the wrapping paper and then picked up the telephone to call Detective Superintendent Morell, who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarna. They were not only the same age, they had been born on the same day- which was something of an irony under the circumstances. The old policeman was sitting with his coffee, waiting, expecting the call."

It should be noted as well, that the Swedish title for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is translated as "Men Who Hate Women". Sure it's less prose-like, but it fits the series better in my opinion. Although, I do have to agree that the English title is just a better hook. Though, my problem with it is:
1. It is not the original title (but fair enough) and
2. The dragon tattoo is never explained and is in fact not a core part in the books. It's just a tattoo that Lisbeth has. We never find out when she got it, whether it represents anything or anything about it at all. All we know is that it hurt to get and is on her back/ shoulder blade. But hey, it makes for good cinematography.

Now, this is just a little side note, but I absolutely love this version of the cover art. All the details in it are amazing. For those who own these books, have you noticed that on the back covers at the top it says, "Issue 1 (or whatever the book number is) Millennium Magazine"? Great little detail.

Okay so some background on the books themselves. Well, they're predominately crime novels. The best of the best. In terms of what kind of crime novel they are? They're a mix of murder mystery and corporate and government scandal. Describing what the books are about is hard, as there are so many different story lines going on that it would take a while, but in the most pure terms of description then
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is about: (courtesy of the blurb)

"The Industrialist
Henrik Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger Corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed murder.

The Journalist
Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vangers' past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restrictions placed upon her by individuals, society or the law."

Okay, so I'm not going to put the blurbs for the other books up because they might contain spoilers, but onto the review.

So, just a little bit about the flow of the books and the time frames that each of them are set in relation to one another. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is the first and most unrelated to the others. It's more of an introduction to the characters and their relationships. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book in itself and is definitely going to keep you hooked and wanting to read the next two books, but the plot line isn't really carried on into the next books. Elements of the first book are brought into the next two, but only little things.
However, I do think that the first book is the best in the series, just in terms of the ending. I'm not going to give it away to those who don't know, but I will say that the ending is amazing. Larsson has an incredible ability to be able to start with several seemingly unconnected threads, that he slowly brings together into one story. It's fascinating to watch as the connections are made. Some are ones I guessed were coming, but others were almost out of nowhere, and the ending definitely keeps you guessing till the end.

" The Girl Who Played with Fire" takes place a year after the end of the first book. So a large portion of it is catching up with our characters, as well as the introduction of new ones. This is the book where I would say the actual story begins. The first book is almost like a one-shot and the next two are where the mysteries start to get explained and we find out how many bad men there really are in the world. And in Larsson's books it is always men. He very much plays the women as victims, which may be a reason why he has so many powerful female characters in his books. To be fair, he was very much trying to prove a point, and it may be of interest that when he was 15, Larsson witnessed a gang-rape of a young woman, who interestingly enough was called Lisbeth.
And finally, the last book in the trilogy is "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest". It takes place right after the end of the second book, which ends on a cliffhanger. And of course, this is where we finally get our answers and discover the entire truth.

Now onto the characters. I thought they were very well rounded and intriguing. And I made that all important connection with a lot of them, that makes you care about their fate and upsets you if they suffer or die. However, I didn't feel that with all of the characters. There are a LOT of them, and it would be hard to get us to care that much about each and every one. There are also a lot of deaths in these books, which are shocking, it's true, and I did feel bad that about some of the deaths- but that may have been partly down to how violent and brutal they are. I cannot think of a single death that wasn't. Well, except for one, but that was a long drawn out death that can't have been pleasant.
Personally, Larsson did a great job at getting us to care about the pivotal characters, but more than that, he made us want them to care about each other. Not necessarily in a romantic sense, but there is a large amount of the story where the two main characters have no interaction at all, and I missed them playing off each other.
I'd be interested to know whether Larsson himself was anything like Blomkvist. Larsson was a journalist himself (at a magazine called "Expo") and the magazine was in the same financial crisis as "Millennium". So, I'd like to know what other similarities they had, if any.
I know that Lisbeth has been described as a unique character and indeed she is, at least in terms of any heroine I've read about or watched. She is a little hard to relate to, simple because her personality is on the extreme side, but for good reason. But I think what works best about the characters is that they are flawed. They are in no means perfect and are indubitably human. They are believable characters, which is definitely saying something in Lisbeth's case.

I did, however, have a few criticisms. Like others have said, the books can be a bit slow moving and there are long pages of description about Sweden's past that can be a little confusing for those of us who don't know much about it. Now, I do think it works in this book, just because there is so much going on that it needs a lot of description, but it can feel like overwhelming. In one of the books, Lisbeth is in hospital and remains in the same bed for 500 pages. But, on another note, the last 100 pages of each book is always very fast-paced and will have you on the edge of your seat, unable to sleep until you reach the conclusion.
Another criticism is that there are a lot of names- be it places or people- and it can be hard to remember them all, especially from the point of view of someone who has never been to Sweden and doesn't speak Swedish. But, even if they were all in my first language, I still think I'd have trouble remembering them all. And in each book more are added. You do get to know what the recurring characters names or place names are, but I found myself often confusing them, and thinking that it was a different character or place.
My last one is Camilla. She is mentioned quite a few times, but never really explained. And in the end, we never really find out anything about her except that she is "listed as living abroad". I don't know if Larsson was perhaps planning to write another series or book about Camilla, but it would have been nice to learn more about her.
But these criticisms are pretty small compared to all the ways I can compliment this series.

Now the overall ending. I think it was very well written. I will say that (for the most part) we know how it's going to end on the whole. Maybe not what will happen with all the characters, but the main plot line is predictable- although Larsson pulls that off as a good thing. If it had ended any other way, the books would never have been as good as they are. The ending, afterall, is all about justice and there was really only one way to achieve that. And the way it's told is so satisfying. As the net is slowly tightened and the "bad men" start to realise what's going on. And if you're worried that not all the questions will be answered, fear not. All the loose strings are then explained and tied up with the rest.

I do have one more thing to add. This is one of those series where having read the series really makes a difference to the way you view all the characters if you re-read it. Knowing everything about each individual and exactly what's going to happen brings a new light to it and you notice little things and hints that you missed the first time around. I know that's true of pretty much everything, but I think it's especially true for this series. Maybe because we know so little about our main character that, when the blanks are finally all filled in, she almost becomes a completely different person.

I would absolutely recommend this book. I think it caters to a wide range of wants, and it can be enjoyed by people of all personalities, both men and women alike- which is hard to do. I will say that there should probably be an age restriction though, just because the content is not really suitable for younger readers and there is a lot of violence. Other than that, read these books. I was introduced to them by my cousin, read the first book and instantly went out to buy the series. You really can't not get hooked by it. And the books raise an interesting question. If you were in Lisbeth Salander's place, what would you do?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Will Ferrell is a Paradoxical Elf


Yup, so we're getting to that time of year again. I know we've only just gone into November, but already I've seen tons of ads and stores displaying their christmas treats. In fact, just the other day I actually went to the Nutcracker Christmas Market. It also means that it's the time of year when we start to see christmas films turning up on our tv guides, and today was a double feature of Elf.
Now, I'm just going to say this now. This is one of my all-time favourite christmas films. It just makes me happy and puts me in one heck of an xmas mood. You can watch the trailer below:


Okay, so lets get onto the review. By now, I'm sure that most people have- at some point- seen this film. But for those of you out there who haven't, here's a little background info.

So, the film came out in 2003 and is basically the tale of a human named Buddy (played by Will Ferrell) growing up in the North Pole with Santa and his elves. Ergo, this makes him believe that he is also an elf, despite some obvious differences, the most obvious one being his size. An average elf is, I would guesstimate, about 3/4 the height of the average human. Then we have the elves next to Will Ferrell, all 6ft 3in of him. Anyway, so the film is basically about Buddy finding out that he was adopted and traveling to New York to find his real father, and all the shenanigans and trials that comes with him trying to deal with our very real, very un-sugarcoated  world, as well as trying to connect to his new-found family- mostly his "naughty-listed" father (James Caan) and getting the girl of his dreams (played by Zoooey Deschanel).

Now, I'm not exactly sure what makes this film so funny for me. I know a lot of people don't like Will Ferrell, and therefore any films he's in. With Will Ferrell, I always feel that his film is either going to be a hit or miss. Either very good or truly terrible. This was definitely the former. The childlike joy that he brings to the characters view of a new world is impossible to not get caught up in. When I watch this film, I want to sing christmas songs really loud, walk out in the snow, make a lot of christmas decorations and eat cotton balls. I also love the humour that we get just from watching him play an elf. To have this ridiculously tall man playing what is essentially a child, adds to the movie from the second it starts.

 I know a lot of people might not like this film, but for me it's a christmas staple that I look forward to every year. It's like About a Boy. It is on EVERY christmas, usually more than once, without fail. But this film is just so childlike and joyful and brings a kind of glee and christmas spirit that can be shared with all the family and is rarely found. Whatever your age. It's just like a Charlie Brown Christmas Special. You can't help but feel a little better after watching it. And I just love all the little details that make this film the xmas gem that it is. From a mini scale model of New York made purely out of lego to the strange alien puffin at the beginning of the film. The movie has a variety of humour, so there will be at least one joke that each viewer will like. Ranging from crude and pretty un- pc to jokes made purely using a child's innocence. For me, my favourite scenes are the ones inside of Gimbles. I can't help cracking up at the joy on Buddy's face everytime he yells, "SANTA!! I know him, I know him."And at the end, it all ties together as we get to watch Buddy grow. He cheerfully struggles through the gigantic culture shock, of not only no longer living in what was, in essence, "Candyland", but to then go into what is one of the most notoriously, unfriendly places, New York. And on top of that, everyone thinks he's crazy and nobody believes that his family or upbringing is even real. AND, his birth father seems to hate him, even going so far as to get a DNA test. Yet, through it all, he never stops smiling or wanting to bring happiness to other's. But, it is his father who grows the most. Going from a workaholic who never has time for his family and has very little christmas spirit, to the caring man he is at the end. His character may be a little cliche, but it still works. And at christmas, I feel like we're not looking for a brilliantly put together film, just a simple one that will make us happy and take us back to our childhood- when we'd try to stay up all night trying to get a peek at Santa.  The film also offers amazing sets and a ridiculous amount of christmas joy.  A treat for the whole family, young to old. Whether you watch it alone, or with a huge group of friends or family, I guarantee this film will have to looking forward to christmas the way only a child can.

Friday, October 14, 2011

One Boy, Seven Keys and a Whole Lot of Nothing (The Keys to the Kingdom)


Okay, so today I'm doing a book review on the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. There are 7 books in total (one for each day of the week and each of the seven sins) and they are;

1. Mister Monday (Sloth)
2. Grim Tuesday (Greed)
3. Drowned Wednesday (Gluttony)
4. Sir Thursday (Wrath)
5. Lady Friday (Lust)
6. Superior Saturday (Envy)
7. Lord Sunday (Pride)

Now I'm going to review the series as a whole, as opposed to each individual book, just because I think this method works better for series. I mean, if you read one book in the series and really like it, it can be annoying to find out that the others are awful.

First Paragraph: (From Mister Monday)

"They had tried to destroy the Will, but that proved to be beyond their power. So they broke it, in two ways. It was broken physically, torn apart, with the fragments of heavy parchment scattered across both space and time. It was broken in spirit because not one clause of it had been fulfilled."

Anyway, I started this series I think when it first came out in 2000. I was a pre-teen and probably just a little young for the demographic, but I loved it. I found it at a school book fair and went back every year to get the next one. I recently went back to my bookshelf and decided to re-read the series, as I had never actually finished it. The last book came out in 2009 and I only bought it about a month or so ago, just because I hate having an unfinished series on my bookshelf.

Okay, the plot. Basically, the story revolves around our protagonist- Arthur. In the start of the first book we are told that he has pretty serious asthma and (due to an overexerting gym teacher- isn't it always) he nearly dies. But he is saved by some mysterious characters who pop out of thin air. Now he's been chosen, whether he likes it or not- which he doesn't. So the series follows Arthur and his Piper's child friend Suzy, as they try to defeat their enemies and typical other hero stuff. Along the way, they (of course) make friends, are betrayed and have genuinely terrifying obstacles to overcome.
Garth Nix has always, and will always, be one of my favourite writers. This series was part of my pre-teen childhood, The Old Kingdom series was part of my young teen years and I still love them to this day, along with his many non-series books.

Now, this series is aimed for young teens (I'd say from about maybe 11 or 12 till about 15 or 16ish) but if you're a fan of GN's books, then you'll probably love this. At times, I feel like it can be a little slow, but each book is about 400 pages or so, and I think can be read in a day if you're part of the older audience. You could probably even read 2 a day if you skim read- but I really hate doing that. So, one week out of your life to read this series isn't so bad, is it?

I think my favourite book of the series is maybe Mister Monday, because that's when it all starts, everything is introduced and we really feel like we're learning about the world as Arthur does. I might also say Lord Sunday was my favourite as well, depending on my mood, just because it's the end, everything gets wrapped up, but also, there is a slightly darker note to this (and I'd say the last 3 or 4) book, as we see arthur struggling to keep his humanity precedent over the power of the keys.

All in all, I'd give this series a 4 out of 5. It's a classic of my childhood, that has followed me into adulthood and I find the characters charming and pretty well thought out with enough background info to keep us happy. I also really liked the way that each of the 7 "Trustees" were denoted a Deadly Sin. And it really shows. Each one is different from the next and have their own story and reasons behind what they do. Arthur as the unwilling protagonist has to deal with being forced into situations that he would rather no nothing about. And the little touches that Garth Nix adds to the story, such as paper wings, everyone loving tea and diseases being a highly coveted product, that can easily be removed as easily as a hat, make this a very enjoyable read. There is also plenty of magic, though it's not described as that. Which definitely makes this a fantasy, adventure story. There is also the constant threat of Nothing in the book, which is used in some dark ways by some of the characters, as well as some creepy contraptions.

In conclusion, I would say that this series is a very good story about a boy who nearly dies and this leads him into a world that he's forced to save, whilst just wanting to go home and be a normal boy. In the last 2 books, I think Garth Nix adds a very good discussion that our protagonist has with himself about no holding back anymore, as he realizes that if he hadn't been pulled into this world, he would have died and that would have been it. So instead, he focuses all his energy and power into saving the people he cares about and trying to do what is right. For a 12- year old boy, I think he becomes very grown-up and we are shown the aging process. The things that make it no longer the boy he was, and that is a journey I'm sure many people will enjoy in years to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cruel Jaws Has an Apt Name (Review)


Okay, so basically this film is about:

"A tiger shark bred by the Navy as a killing machine is wrecking havoc in the sleepy tourist town of Hampton Bay! In the meantime, the mafia is involved with sleazy real estate investments, and send their thugs to keep a lid on the fact the residents are destined for clam chowder... Sea World owner, Dag, and his dolphins come to the rescue to save Hampton Bay from both the mob and military covert operatives!" - Humberto Amador

The plot summary courtesy of IMDb. Okay, so basically this film was made in 1995 by Italian director Bruno Mattei. It was a TV movie and came out at 93 minutes. You can watch the trailer below:


Yeah, i know.....Okay, now onto the review. I can honestly say with absolute confidence, regardless of whatever I may see in the future, that this is the WORST film I have EVER seen. EVER. A little background info on it. First, there was Jaws, and it was amazing. Sure, there were flaws (as there are in everything), but it was an all round really great film and happens to be on my all time favourites list. Next, there was a huge amount of shark b-movies that (maybe) included "The Last Shark". Now, to me, this may have been a c-movie, but anyway, The Last Shark was pretty much a rip-off of Jaws, with the script following the EXACT plot of Jaws. It became known as "Italian Jaws" in fact. Oh, and it was so much the rip-off that Universal Pictures actually filed a law suit against them, and won.
So then there's Cruel Jaws. Now this film rips-off the rip-off. I'm not even kidding. They do pretty much the same thing, with even less structure, acting and clear plot, and actually take EXACT scenes from The Last Shark and re-use them in a slightly different, very incoherent way. I actually watched Cruel Jaws before The Last Shark and literally yelled out loud at my computer when I saw the duplicate scenes , outraged that anyone would steal scenes from something that was awful to begin with!
Okay, okay. Just to put into perspective just how awful this film is, there is a line in the film where an actor yells, "We're gonna need a bigger helicopter". I mean, come ON!! WTH?!
Overall, I give this film less than half a star. I mean it's really god awful and not even in an amusing, you can laugh at how terrible it is way. Thinking you could watch this film with friends and mock it- WRONG. Seriously, take it from me. I love to mock films with friends, just as much as I love finding a hidden gem, but watching the film makes you want to kill someone and just yell at the next person you see. Looking back on it, I really just want to tell people how bad it really is. I actually want it to come up in conversation so that I can put it down. And I don't say that often. It was a waste of 93 minutes of my life, but at least I can stop others from ever making the same mistake. Good luck to you.
Oh, and I try never to give spoilers, because I know how annoying that is. So, if you want reviews on the endings of anything I've done or haven't done, then just let me know and I'll create an add-on kinda thing.

Here are a my Top 20 Thoughts when watching this sorry excuse of a film:

1. Why must everyone keep INSISTING that it's a tiger shark, when the only footage they show us is of a great white?

2. Can nobody show ANY emotion in this film?! also, why does the "hero's" (and how loosely i use that 
word) girlfriend not care that if this guy doesn't do his job, people will DIE?!

3. oh GOD!!! i may have to find and KILL whoever wrote the script for this film! I mean "daddy, why do sharks kill people. because they're hungry. they're always hungry." WHAT THE HELL IS THIS CRAP?!

4. They've sunk to a new low, i didn't think it was possible, but when you hear "bob, let's run away together" you know it's only going to get worse.

5. I know the film was originally in Italian, but why is there a random 5 second segment in Italian?

6. Ooh, a shot of a mako shark! Hmm, is that closer to a tiger than a great white?

7. And now there's child abuse. What WAS this man thinking?!

8. *Shark on the ground in front of the actors* (Very obviously a great white) Man: " Well, it's a tiger shark alright." WHERE DID HE LEARN SUCH CRAP?! YOU DON'T NEED TO BE A SHARK EXPERT TO KNOW THAT A GREAT WHITE IS NOT A TIGER SHARK!!!

9. "Don't talk rubbish boy. This is not the place or the time." Oh, I'm sorry. When IS a good time to discuss whether this is actually the rogue shark that's killing people?

10. *A buoy pops up that we know is attached to the shark, and then slowly moves in between some racing windsurfers. A guy picks up some binoculars and (after a few seconds) spots the moving buoy* MASSIVE OVERREACTION TIME. "OH MY GOD!!!!! GET THEM OUT OF THE WATER!!!"
Ha, really film, really?

11. NARM!!! NAAAAARRRRRRMMMMMM!!! This film is nothing but awful, awful NARM!!

(for info on NARM, please follow the link :

12. BWAHAHAHA! *Lots and lots of people, repeatedly screaming, "GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE WATER! GET OUUUUUTTTT! GET OUT OF THE WATER!!"about 50 times. Massive panic follows. Many people get eaten or trampled. Then another, "GET OUUUTTT!!" Silence and a pause, then, "Stay calm" is said ridiculously quietly.* If you wanted people to stay calm, you shouldn't have started screaming in such a loud and panicked way, should you?!

13. Wow. Standing still making over the top arm movements, while screaming the name of a loved one, about to die, repeatedly, throwing in a NOOOOOO for good measure. We all know how effective THAT is.

14. Ah, finally! A reasonably good message (for this film anyway). *Little girl (after the attacks) is in the hospital.* "Daddy, sharks are really bad." *Father looks over at the man who INSISTED the beaches stay open * (JAAAAAWWWWWWWWSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!) " There are far worse animals out there." Yay, a slightly redeeming feature!

15. And now it's terrible again. Sigh. 1995, you will forever be tainted with the fact that this movie was made in the same year as you.

16. Oh look. A map conveniently marked "It's Here" in big letters for the bad guys to find. 

17. Woman: "Be careful." *Starts to cry* Man: "Whatever happens, remember I love you." All said in monotone voices with NO emotion. And I mean less than ROBERT PATTINSON AS FREAKING EDWARD!! urge to kill RISING!!

18. And now there's star wars music. But I've come to expect this obvious ripping-off and complete randomness of this film.

19. Hmm, he says light the fuses. How do you light dynamite fuses underwater? And there is NO way in hell they would be able to get out of the water in time to not be killed. Unless they were fuses that reached Cuba. At least, I think that would be far enough. I'm not exactly sure where this is filmed. I mean they're all Italian, but Italy isn't once mentioned. Nor is any other place for that matter.

20. All I can say now is, thank GOD that's over. 

Very First Post

Yes I too have succumbed to the "new" trend of writing a blog. And, as unoriginal as it is, I decided to go with a book and movie review blog. Well, that's what I say, but if I have any strong feelings about something else ( no matter how unrelated it may seem) it will no doubt make an appearance.
If you want to ask me to review anything, be it book, movie, tv show, audiobook or some other category that deals with words or pictures, let me know. It can even be a simple comic book or manga.
Ah, I'm so excited I think I'm going to do a review right now!