"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reading: THE TURN OF THE KEY - Ruth Ware

Twenty-something nanny Rowan Caine hadn't even been looking for a new job when she came across the ad seeking a live-in nanny for a well-to-do family in Scotland. Applying out of curiosity, Rowan finds herself no less than astounded to suddenly be standing, weeks later, in the entry hall of Heatherbrae House, way out in the desolate Scottish Highlands, for her in-person interview with mother Sandra Elincourt. The home itself - an odd juxtaposition of half Victorian architecture forcibly conjoined with modernized technology by Sandra's absentee husband Bill, turning the house into its own app-run "smart home" - is beautiful yet oddly unsettling at the same time, as are the rumors that the reason the last four nannies either fled or left their posts with no notice is because the house is haunted. Rowan is too sensible to believe in ghosts, the pay is ridiculously good, and she seems to mesh well with the children - eight-year-old Maddie, Ellie who's five, and infant Petra - right off, so is nothing less than thrilled when, a few weeks later, she lands the job and permanently moves into Heatherbrae House with the help of the hunky handyman staying above the defunct stables. But almost soon as she's installed upstairs, Sandra and Bill leave town on business and the children start to show very different sides to themselves than they displayed the night Rowan met them. Worse, each night Rowan is now kept awake by the distinct sounds of someone pacing upstairs, the floorboards creaking to a rhythm Rowan is soon will surely drive her mad. The problem? Rowan's room is on the top floor of Heatherbrae House, with no attic and just the tiled roof of the house above her; there is no room above her for anyone to be pacing in. Over the next several days the strange incidents will only increase in the house, Rowan seeking to connect with the children even as she leans more and more about Heatherbrae House's sinister history, and grows increasingly alarmed for her own safety, as well as that of the children. The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware's fifth novel - though my introduction to her work - and opens with Rowan in prison for murder, one of the children (we don't know who) dead, the novel told in letters she's desperately writing to a high-profile attorney Rowan is hoping will take on her case. And while for me there were times when the story kind of bogged down in the middle third of the novel, with not a lot going on (though Rowan's growing paranoia does keep the suspense building, in a passive sort of way), the last third of the novel ... particularly the last few pages of the book, where the loose ends of the story are tied up in a manner that literally had made my jaw drop open and my chest hurt ... are some of the best, most perfectly/deceptively simple writing I've ever read; even guessing what was coming a couple pages prior, finishing the novel just left me sitting there stunned, as if one of the fuses in my head had blown and I had to wait for some back-up generator to kick on. A four-star book, just because of the slight lagging in the middle, easily bumped up a half-star by that unexpected, haunting, brain-slayer of an ending.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Reading: AQUAMAN VOL. 1: UNSPOKEN WATER - Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Robson Rocha (illustrator)

Following the events of Drowned Earth, this graphic novel combining Aquaman comics #43-47 opens with the hero of the sea washing ashore of the strange community of Unspoken Water - a small village of older adults barely surviving via what they can catch in their fishing nets - with absolutely no memory of who he is, or his past. Donned with the nickname "Andy" by the villagers, Arthur Curry - the Lord of Atlantis - befriends a young woman named Caille who seems obsessed with the sea, otherwise seeking help from the villagers to find out who he is and why he's there (the villagers are sure the sea gave him to them for a reason) ... while at the same time there seems something hidden, almost wrong, with the very people Andy is trying to befriend. Remaining spoiler-free, that's about as much as can be said here ... except that Unspoken Water just might be the most sumptuous, beautifully-illustrated graphic novel this reader has ever read. DeConnick's story, as well, doesn't miss a trick, the mystery of the village and what's really going on building suspense perfectly - as well as playing in a big way into the mythology of Aquaman and his history - before an enemy comes forward and some pretty hard battle lines are drawn (and fought). The strong story and characters only help the reader buy into what's going on, emotional investment in the characters guaranteed - but truly, beautifully, nearly every page of this lush graphic novel is a sensational work or art, doing Arthur Curry's alter ego total justice; whenever water/the sea appears on the page, it's as if it's a separate character of its own, fully come to live. I can't even remember how many times I must have said "Wow" under my breath, turning the pages of this gem, and with a brilliant story and plenty of action and a major super-villain to back it up, Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water may well be the best DC graphic novel I've ever read.  5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book vs. Kindle: Okay, We Can Stop Now

To this day, with all the book-chat I find myself reading or engaging in online (particularly social media), I am still (though don't know why) surprised and a bit annoyed when someone brings up the Kindle - or Nook, or e-reader in general - like it's some evil harbinger of doom determined to bring about Armageddon for the printed book ever since Oprah introduced the world to it years ago. Each time I hear this argument I am reminded of my mother, even many more years ago, who wouldn't touch the first microwave oven (about the size and weight of an air conditioner) brought into our home by my father, because she was sure it would give her cancer.

I've been reading since childhood, say 150 years or so now, and even as fascinated as I was, watching Oprah unveil Kindle to the world on one of her Christmastime "My Favorite Things" shows back in the day - newspaper and magazine subscriptions at your fingertips in seconds? you can finish the first book in a series and be reading the second one a minute later?? - to me Kindle potentially signaled the death knell of my beloved bound books as well, and it would take a few years (plus over a year of debate and research, trying to decide between Kindle and Nook) to finally invest in one. Now, maybe ... nine years later? ... I own three Kindles 9with somewhere around 2,000 books stored on them. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ahh, but here's the kicker - and what most people still treating e-readers like leprosy don't seem to understand: YOU CAN STILL READ REAL BOOKS. Yes, that's right, you can have BOTH in your life, and quite frankly most e-reader owners do! Unlike what many Kindle haters suggest, you do not have to choose between them; like children, you can love both equally. And I won't go into all the conveniences/advantages of owning a Kindle, because most people know them already and doing so usually sends Kindle haters into fits.

But I wanted to do this post to share something I recently learned. First, I have never, ever thought books were in danger of extinction because of e-readers. That's simply not true, and while my heart breaks for every brick-and-mortar store that's closed up, hard-copy books still sell like crazy and independent bookstores are enjoying a resurgence. So no, no matter what the witch hunters shout, THE BOOK is never going to be threatened by e-readers.

What I wanted to share is that quite recently I learned - by accident - a very important reason why. 

The obvious reasons to love a real book, of course, are known to any book lover: the heft of holding a real book, the smell of a new book (is there ANYTHING like it in the world?!), the opportunity to lose yourself in the tranquility of your favorite bookstore - even being able to annotate or take notes right there in the margins (though you can do this with Kindle in digital form, many people LIKE the intimacy of note-taking, etc. in their beloved book). But as I recently have begun to pick up hard-copy books again, as well as reading on Kindle, I am reminded of how since childhood, whenever I put my bookmark in after reading for the day, I would also check out the part of the bookmark sticking out of the top, turning the book this way and that and noting with pride that heck yeah, I made progress today. Can't do that with Kindle (you can bookmark your page, but obviously no visual). 

Even more importantly, I realized that with Kindle, the simple fact is that every book you read looks exactly the same. Assuming you have the font size/style set to what you like, every single book you read on Kindle (and when I say Kindle in this post, I mean any e-reader) looks exactly like every other single book you have on Kindle. No variety, like you get with real books, where you might read a 300-page book now but then a 550-page chunker after that, the margins and font style/size varying, hitting home the fact that book's an all-new reading experience. Maybe it's me, but I found that's what I miss right now with Kindle books over hard-copy ones: the variety. The feel that, each time I finish a book, that adventure is over and I am setting sail on a new adventure ... as opposed to just swiping to another page that looks exactly like the last 3,000 pages I read.

So no, real books aren't going anywhere. And the Kindle haters need to stop hating as hard as they do when they even bring up the subject. To me, we bookaholics should always be celebrating reading, period, no matter in what form someone is doing it. Especially here in the U.S., where so many don't even read a book a year, and illiteracy remains an issue. Bottom line: you do you, long as you keep reading - share that love of reading with anyone around you who will listen (kids/young people especially) - and never criticize someone for what they are reading (or how they're reading it) so much as praise them for taking that adventure.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

July Wrap-Up: Closing in on 10K!

Some genuinely good reading for July, including three novels that debuted just this month (reviews for these get priority, as they are time-sensitive, but you can always check back for more content). Eight books logged for July,though two were children's books easy to breeze through in a day (both very good), as I also continue to become more and more enamored with manga and especially graphic novels; truly, volume one of Lumberjanes Vol. 1 was one of the most fun reading experiences I've had in some time, Mamma Mia! full of both charm and genuinely funny. As always, click on any image in the post to enlarge.
Only one film for the month, the low-budget horror film Slice! starring Chance Bennett - aka Chance the Rapper - so reading definitely took precedent for the month, when the time was there, and am actually glad for it though continue to battle time management issues I need to work on (such as curbing all the scrolling I do through Facebook and YouTube!).
Most of all, am so, so grateful to be fast approaching 10,000 pageviews for this blog! Since starting it there have been time periods when I didn't even post, thinking my voice was too small to be heard; so much so, I never really thought to add an option to follow my posts via email (only added that very recently). But 10K pageviews is pretty cool, inspiring me to go for 10K more.
Meanwhile, hope your summer winds up warm and sunny and full of great summer reading, whether at the beach or curled up in bed or on the front porch with a glass of wine. And thanks for visiting here, fellow film lovers and bookaholics; please continue to help spread the news if you like what you read, and I promise: WILL CATCH UP ON REVIEWS THIS MONTH, at last!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Reading: THE CHELSEA GIRLS - Fiona Davis

This was my first time reading bestselling novelist Davis (The Address, The Dollhouse), known for centering complex fictional stories around iconic addresses or buildings - her newest novel wonderfully showcasing the infamous bohemian haven for artists known as The Chelsea Hotel in New York City. The Chelsea Girls opens with Hazel's arrival in Naples, Italy in what would be the final months of WWII. A young woman from a theatrical family trying to find her own place in the theater, Hazel has joined the USO tour to escape the understudy hell she found herself trapped in, in New York - and soon meets the loud, flamboyant leader of her small theatrical group of USO ladies, Maxine. Hazel resents Maxine at first, even while sort of envying the woman her boldness and seeming lack of fear, and the two become friends, Maxine soon regaling the more naive Hazel with tales of her stay at The Chelsea Hotel back in her own New York days, making the place sound almost magical to the girl. Flash-forward to post-war New York in 1950, and though Maxine has ventured to California Hazel finds herself a little smothered by the memory of her more outgoing, talented older brother - killed during the war - via her mother, who always favored Ben. After an argument with mom, Hazel decides to break away for a few days' reprieve, remembering Maxine's story of the infamous Chelsea - and indeed, Hazel's arrival there, the reader's introduction to the hotel, is so beautifully written the hotel becomes a character in the novel, as well. It's no wonder that, even though Hazel does make up with her mother, she remains where she is, calling The Chelsea her new home even as the hotel seems to direct Hazel- at last - to her real passion: writing. But things are not entirely at peace in New York - in America - as Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for communist sympathizers grows in momentum from Los Angeles, eventually heading east as Hazel's hard work pays off in her play's mounting of a Broadway production ... just as Maxine, now a fairly famous film star from Hollywood, arrives back in New York and into Hazel's life as its potential star. Much of The Chelsea Girls deals with the blacklist and its aftermath; the lives, careers, and artistic works destroyed by the winds of fear-mongering and hate in the wake of the red scare. And while my own love for New York made the city and The Chelsea leap from nearly every page in this well-written novel, I just couldn't seem to emotionally connect with either Maxine, or especially Hazel, on a level necessary to be fully engaged in the story - which, I think, is why I was unable to fully suspend disbelief enough for certain twists and turns in the plot that (at least initially) seemed too convenient or unrealistic. As the story builds toward its climax, however, I was able to "buy into" the plot points a lot more (thanks to Davis's strong writing skills), by the end coming to a better understanding of the complexities of the friendship between Hazel and Maxine - but still wish I'd felt more bonded to either/both of these women, who for me never fully leapt to living, breathing life off the page. A wonderfully-written, meticulously-researched novel - also a worthy homage to New York City theater and The Chelsea itself - where maybe some more backstory, or time spent with Hazel and Maxine in their earlier years, might have left me more emotionally invested in their story.  3/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Reading: THE ODDMIRE, BOOK 1: CHANGELING - William Ritter

After a massive reading slump of nearly two years, in late 2014 I happened across William Ritter's Jackaby - which would end up my favorite read of the year even before spawning three sequels ... so to say the least this reader was eager to get his hands on the first book of Ritter's new fantasy series for middle-grade readers. Changeling opens with the nicest, perhaps most inept goblin ever, Kull, as he slips into a home in the middle of the night to swap out a newborn baby. See, the magic of the surrounding Wild Wood, which Kull and his fellow goblins (and many other creatures) call home, is dying out, but good fortune has brought a changeling to the goblins - a baby that can transform itself into a duplicate of any human baby, so that Kull can steal the human baby and give it to the faeries to raise, securing some magic restoration for the goblins. But when Kull gets distracted in the dark and suddenly finds two identical human babies lying in the cradle in front of him, he's forced to run away empty-handed into the night upon hearing the mother approaching, leaving Annie Burton - after a mild freakout - left to raise both boys as her own, regardless of the town gossip saying one of them is a goblin in disguise. Flash-forward almost thirteen years later and twins Cole and Tinn are irascible pre-teens of their own, living a normal life getting into typical boyhood trouble ... neither of them even knowing if the old tales are true (or which of them is the goblin), even as Kull watches hidden from nearby. Because this time, the goblin has no room for error; if he doesn't get his changeling back in time, it could mean the end of the entire goblin horde for good. Problem? Kull doesn't know which of the very human-looking boys is the precious changeling, either! Ritter's strength as a writer has always been in creating believable, sympathetic characters and infusing even the darkest situations with humor; he did it brilliantly for Jackaby, for older readers, and here gives twins Cole and Tinn their own distinctive voices and personalities as well as we follow their journey into the Wild Wood as they search for answers while going back and forth in our own heads wondering who is the human child and who is the changeling. As if this weren't enough, what no one knows is that with all the creatures they could potentially cross paths with in the Wild Word, beyond the Oddmire, its The Thing who sits in wait for the boys. And the closer they get, the hungrier it gets. Thrilling, complex, mysterious, funny, and even worthy of a tear or two by The End, The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling brilliantly opens this suspenseful new middle-grade series by a terrific writer for young people.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reading: HOPE - Corrinne Averiss (writer), Sebastien Pelon (illustrator)

This wonderful, inspiring picture book for children follows Finn, a small boy with a very big dog named Comet. Finn and Comet are best friends, playing together, running in the park together; Finn even grudgingly allows the over-sized dog to sleep in his "den" (tent), though Comet is way too big. But one morning the normally boisterous, highly-energetic Comet won't leave his bed, and a hurried trip to the vet confirms that Finn's best friend is quite ill. Saddened beyond belief, Finn must leave Comet behind at the animal clinic overnight, with the vet's promise to do his best. That night, alone in his den where he can release the tears he'd been holding back, Finn notices a flashlight playing on the walls of the tent. It's Finn's dad, who joins him inside, telling Finn he is very sad too - but, using the flashlight as an example, advises the boy that "Hope is keeping a light on, however dark things seem." It's advice Finn takes to heart in bed that night, his flashlight burning for his best friend before Finn notices the second source of light filling his room as well; the full moon outside, huge and seemingly keeping it's like on for Comet too. Hope is simple in both writing style and its lovely illustrations, but still packs an emotional impact with its message to children that you must always have hope - find your light - even in the darkest of times. Of special note, I absolutely loved the relationship shown between Finn and his father; often in such stories it's the mother who presides as the main parental figure there to help the child, if the father is even around at all. Here, the father-son relationship was a genuine cherry on top of a very tasty sundae. Truly charming, with a powerful, positive message that shines through via terrific writing and art.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Reading: MAMMA MIA! 1. JUST THE GIRLS - Lewis Trondheim (writer), Obion (illustrator)

This short graphic novel, with artwork worthy of an animated series, follows a single French mother named Aurelie and her little girl Emma, both of whom move back in with Aurelie's grandma Marie until Aurelie can find a steady job and get back on her feet. An agreeable temporary situation, as all the ladies get along ... until moving-in day, when Aurelie's "free spirit" of a mom Sophie shows up also needing a place to stay, Marie unable to say little more than okay to her own daughter - and suddenly four generations of women, all very different from each other, must learn to share conversations and meals and even adventures together, if they don't kill each other first! I just loved this characters - the sarcastic, irascible but lovable Marie (think Sophia from "The Golden Girls"), naive and upbeat Aurelie, too-smart-for-her-own-good Emma (along with Kim, Emma's best doll and best friend) .... all of whom clash wonderfully, laughably, with the man-crazy Sophie whose head remains stuck forever in the 1970's. Beautifully drawn - again, in a manner befitting television animation as much as a too-brief graphic novel - I can only hope that the "1" in the book's title means there are more volumes in the series to come, because I could hang out with these ladies forever!  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Reading: LOCK EVERY DOOR - Riley Sager

This was my first Riley Sager novel, but when Lock Every Door came across my radar sounding like Rosemary's Baby directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it was a done deal to read it. In his third thriller, we find Sager's main character, Jules, a kindhearted young woman with a lot of baggage (an older sister who disappeared eight years back, no parents, the recent breakup of a relationship with a cheating boyfriend), who's interviewing for an amazing short-term job as an apartment sitter at one of the oldest, most prestigious addresses in Manhattan: The Bartholomew, a twelve-story obelisk overlooking Central Park where the very rich and very private lead their lives out of the public eye. Jules is doing a tour of (and interview for) apartment 12A at the top of the building, a three-month gig that will net her twelve thousand dollars cash. Yes, there are some strange rules to follow - no guests, no staying a single night outside the apartment, don't bother the residents - but those are mostly for the protection of the very private Bartholomew residents, anyway. The apartment itself is two stories of decadent beauty (even if that blood-red wallpaper is a bit sinister), with a view of Central Park and the city few in her income level ever see, so Jules is ecstatic to get the job and moves right in, meeting another apartment sitter named Ingrid and brushing up against a few of the residents her first day. But almost immediately a few strange occurrences and creepy vibe to the building starts to make Jules feel like something's not quite right here. And when a suddenly timid, seemingly-frightened Ingrid vanishes from the building overnight, not answering calls or texts, Jules doesn't buy the story that the girl just decided to leave because the job wasn't for her, and starts digging into the colorful, sometimes violent history of the building - in this case, perhaps not the smartest thing to do. For the first third of the book or so, there were times when I found Jules a bit too naive, thinking "Man, hasn't she ever seen a horror movie? Why would she just do that?" But then, even before the halfway point, the book yanks you in by the short hairs and won't let go anymore; seriously, I soon came to learn that every time I had to put the book down it stayed with me anyway, pulling me back like a magnet to read more even as I tried figuring out in my own head what exactly the hell might be going on along with Jules. And when you think you have got it all figured out, suspense building to a choke-hold as you stick by Jules to learn her fate - the book takes a hard right turn with a twist that you won't see coming, turning The Bartholomew's story darker than ever. Been a long, long time since any book - even one labeled a thriller - grabbed me by the cajones like this one.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

June Wrap-Up: Slight Summer Slump/Quality Up

Lots going on in June, leading to a slow-down in the reading - though the quality definitely went up as the month went on, and considering it's only July 1st and I've already started the new month with Riley Sager's newest - Lock Every Door - am crossing my fingers the quality remains high (as always, click on any image to enlarge).
Overall the crop of films watched in June improved, as well; while my much anticipated Always Be My Maybe was just slightly disappointing, as someone who can't stand Adam Sandler I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Murder Mystery (reviews to come on both; please check back). As always, Netflix remains a mixed bag.
Still have to fill in a few May reviews before tackling June; again, please check back at your leisure for them (as well as new posts) and may your summer reading take you to worlds far beyond the beach!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reading: THE WEDDING GUEST - Jonathan Kellerman

This was only my second foray into Jonathan Kellerman, after reading Breakdown a few years ago. That book was a bit of a disappointment, too slow and meandering at times, but with enough ... oomph? to the writing to make me try again with The Wedding Guest. Here, we once again follow Los Angeles homicide detective Milo Sturgis, along with his long-term best buddy/Watson, psychologist Alex Delaware, as the pair show up at a wedding reception gone bad. As if not bad enough that the reception was held at a low-end, overhauled former strip club, upstairs in the bathroom one of the unluckier bridesmaids has discovered the body of a beautiful young girl, dressed to the nines in red haute couture that extends to the dark red gash across her throat. No ID, no witnesses, and with a hundred wedding guests (plus staff) downstairs who swear they've never seen the girl before, Sturgis - the muscle - and Delaware - the intuition - glean right off, from questioning the bride and groom and their families, that something isn't quite right. It's there, with the very dysfunctional families, they start the laborious, sometimes seemingly fruitless task of not only identifying their mystery wedding guest ... but also, in Alex's mind, the kind of murderer who would have taken the time to kill in such a brutal way. I learned with Breakdown that an Alex Delaware novel can be a slow burn; like a modern-day Holmes and Watson (although without nearly as many brilliant deductions from Sturgis, and Watson being the insightful one), Milo and Alex go very much from point A to point B, questioning suspects and working leads, each new contact hopefully sending them further along the trail of the murderer as new clues, motives and suspects are revealed. But whereas I got impatient with Breakdown's slow-moving caravan of action, the secrets of The Wedding Guest, as meticulously as they evolved, felt like comfort food for the detective soul. The friendship between Sturgie and Delaware is deep-rooted, their banter real as they continuously lobby suggestions and theories around like tennis balls, and while it's Alex's genius that generally carries the day, his friendship with Milo Sturgis - the least stereotypical gay cop you're ever likely to meet - keeps the pages turning as much as any action sequence.Every time I had to put this book down, when I picked it up again I felt like I was getting back to old friends, following along with them on the hunt for a killer, and if that's how the other 32 Delaware novels I haven't read yet are, I am in for a treat.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

May Wrap-Up: Graphic, and Graphic-er(?)

Whether graphic novels (which I am trying to get through, as most of the ones I have are e-ARCs I received in exchange for review) or some films graphic in their depictions of violence, May saw an upswing in numbers - though for June am already working on finishing up a few traditional novels I'm reading, as well - but, especially in the films I saw, May was not such an upswing in quality. Also apologize for this late wrap-up post, but May also saw me leaving a job that was literally making me sick to go to, and it took a few weeks to find a replacement (fortunately, one I like and am looking forward to starting). Job hunting BITES, but it keeps you busy.
I've also begun, as of an April post featuring the TV series "What We Do in the Shadows", to do reviews of new television series I "discover" (or at least am finally catching up on). There is still a phenomenal amount of crap on TV, but thankfully cable and streaming services have helped to really upgrade the better projects to a level of quality never seen on the idiot box before. Though I rarely watch television, when I find something good the urge to tell everyone I know how great it is - well, you'll find those here, too. 
Reviews running late, as always - have vowed to catch up in June! - so please check back for write-ups of any titles you see here (as always, click on either image to enlarge) where a review isn't currently posted. Back to chipping away at the TBR Mountain, and I hope your reading/watching month of June is terrific!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reading: MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND VOLUME 2 - Gengoroh Tagame (writer), Anne Ishii (translator)

The conclusion of the story of what happens when a divorced, single, stay-at-home dad (Yaichi) in contemporary suburban Japan, raising his smart, high-spirited little girl (Kana), is unexpectedly visited for a few weeks by the spouse of his recently-deceased twin brother - a big, burly, happy-go-lucky Caucasian Canadian named Mike. Volume 2 of this highly-regarded manga set continues Mike's first-time visit to Japan, trying to learn more about his dead partner's old life and past, while Yaichi - mostly through Kana's loving, accepting eyes and personality - comes to realize that, though he never fought about or disagreed with his brother's homosexuality before his twin relocated to Canada, maybe their estrangement/lack of communication cost Yaichi more than he's realized until now. As Yaichi witnesses prejudice against Mike, symbolic of today's climate toward homosexuality in Japan, his eyes are opened more and more to the fact that we are all human first, everything else secondary, and as the date for Mike's departure back to Canada looms closer - his visit nearly over - Kana's heart grows heavy with the idea of saying goodbye to her new uncle as Yaichi tries to learn to say both I'm sorry and goodbye to a brother - a twin brother - he'd once known as well as he knew himself. My Brother's Husband, Volume 2, even after the brilliance of reading volume 1, hit me with an emotional impact I was not expecting. It also makes you think - about mortality, what we as people have in common more than what our differences are, and the importance of appreciating who (and what) we have while they are there. Keep a few Kleenex handy, this is a keeper. Also one of those books that, once completed, will leave you with that "book hangover" feeling of, somehow, wishing you could continue to follow the lives of these very-real characters you've grown to care so much about. A truly wonderful duology.  4.5/5 stars

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Watching: ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE

Year: 2019
Rating: PG-13
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) had been next door neighbors and best friends since childhood, even losing their virginity to each other as teenagers ... before a heated argument causes a rift in their friendship, the two not speaking again for fifteen years. By then, Sasha has long left San Francisco and become a big-time celebrity chef in Los Angeles, engaged to a handsome and wealthy man and seemingly with a perfect life - until the opening of a new restaurant in San Francisco takes her home again, where she accidentally stumbles across a Marcus who seems to not have changed in all those fifteen years. Still in a fledgling band, still helping his father out with his construction/handyman business, Marcus has stalled in life, seemingly going nowhere - yet for Sasha, the feelings are still there. The spark still glows, however faintly, for them both. Starting up their friendship anew, just while Sasha readies her new restaurant, both Marcus and Sasha continue to struggle with feelings of something more even as they know that - now - they are way too different to make it work. Always Be My Maybe plays out its romantic comedy tropes in a fresh-faced way, thanks to Wong and Park in the leading roles, though the humor, particularly through the first half of the film, feels on the light side. Thankfully, the bizarre, unexpected entrance of Keanu Reeves later on, playing himself, only adds to and ratchets up the comedy to the higher/randier level you expected from the beginning. But while the ending is terrific, very sweet but no Hallmark Channel sugar coma, Keanu's role in the film goes on for far too long first, almost a distraction/intrusion to Sasha/Marcus's story and pushing them a bit out of the spotlight. A good, well-acted and funny film that just - sometimes - felt like it was playing things a little too safe (though yes, Keanu can do dialogue-heavy comedy; quite well, actually). Oh, and special kudos to Michelle Buteau, who plays Sasha's assistant/best friend Veronica; already blowing up in all things comedic on film and TV, this talented and hilarious lady's star has still only just begun to rise.  8/10 stars

Watching: CAPTIVE STATE

Year: 2019
Rating: PG-13
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Where most alien-invasion films start off with the attack, Captive State - after a very brief attack sequence in a tunnel - opens on a gray, desolate Chicago ten years after the aliens have landed, where now the "Legislators" are in control, pretty much letting humans have their normal lives back in exchange for understanding who is in charge - even as they suck whatever resources they can from our planet to help themselves. The Legislators aren't playing - just one rebellion could bring about the planet's destruction - which makes the job of law enforcement officer William Mulligan (John Goodman) that much harder, as he's sure such a "terrorist attack" on the Legislators is coming fast, led by a revolutionary named Rafe (Jonathan Majors) - the one man who could possibly pull it off - supposedly killed during a previous uprising but whom Mulligan believes is still alive. So much so, he's gone to the effort to bully Rafe's younger brother Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) into helping him keep the neighborhoods in check, in exchange for limited protection, hoping Gabriel will eventually lead him to his older brother. Though Captive State starts off a slow burn, with heavy foreshadowing that, after awhile, becomes a little annoying, it doesn't take too long before the film transforms into a suspenseful political thriller, as viewers are privy to the upcoming plot and attack on the Legislators in nail-biting Mission: Impossible-like detail (by far, the best sequence in the film). And while the film, overall, remains as cold and detached as John Goodman's character and the aliens he's protecting, Ashton Sanders (Moonlighting), as Gabriel, injects some much-needed humanity into the story, shedding some light into all this darkness as Gabriel himself is drawn into the revolution, as well. The quiet "You go, boy" ending, which should leave a smirk of satisfaction on the faces of most viewers invested in the film by then, is worth watching Captive State for alone.  7/10 stars

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Reading: ALTERED CARBON: DOWNLOAD BLUES - Richard K. Morgan & Rik Hoskin (writers), Ferran Sellares (illustrator)

Though I have the TV series saved snugly on my Netflix queue (the concept was so intriguing), I've yet to watch it or read any of the other stories from the Altered Carbon universe, so Download Blues was my introduction to a futuristic society where - when you are old, ill or otherwise have no more use for your body - you can simply, for a fee of course, swap it out for another, much younger and healthier model, or "sleeve," reinventing yourself over and over again every time. Download Blues follows series protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, former stormtrooper for the Envoy Corps and a certified bad-ass, as he's pulled in by local police and questioned about a seemingly-routine murder ... that Tak soon realizes, barely in time to save his own life, is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg; a conspiracy involving amped-up sleeves and interstellar smuggling/shenanigans that will grudgingly drag the world-weary ex-soldier into learning the truth - no matter who stands in his way. The artwork here is dark and sinister as the story, action sequences played out in broad strokes and terrific aerial depictions of the city, and Tak is an appealing if way-too-hardcore-for-his-own-good bad cop whose conscious always pulls him to the side of doing right. All the noise and visuals, regrettably, somewhat overshadow a story/plotline that's just not that interesting, by the end leaving this reader little more than in a rush to just finish the book. Good, not great, but Tak is awesome enough I will be pursuing more stories, as well as the Netflix series!  3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Reading: PRINCESS NINJAS - Dave Franchini (writer), Eduardo Garcia, Robby Bevard, and Maxflan Araujo (illustrators/artists)

Princess Ninjas is the first of a projected series of graphic novels, this one containing three loosely-linked stories all set in the kingdom of Chiyome, which is currently enjoying years of peace and prosperity after the king long ago vanquished an ancient evil from the land. Sadly, before said evil was banished, other nearby kingdoms fell and the Chiyome king and queen had suddenly found themselves raising three baby girls as their own - the first-born princesses of the fallen kingdoms, as well as the last of their people of survive. Flash forward to the three foster siblings in their tween/teen years, the princesses laughing and playing and squabbling like any other set of sisters, not knowing of their true powers or destiny as the Prince Ninjas ... until pushed into service when its learned the ancient evil formerly driven from their land is growing stronger and about to make a comeback - the Princess Ninjas, along with their sidekick Turtle-Bear, in his sights. Princess Ninjas was a cute, fun read with strong messages about acceptance and family love and sibling loyalty (especially when your siblings aren't siblings by blood, though family nonetheless), but overall the three individual stories weren't exceptionally original, at times the dialogue so long and intrusive it felt the words were smothering out the images fighting for space in the same panel. Am wondering if perhaps my disappointment came from expecting, maybe, a slightly darker or more sarcastic vibe from something entitled Princess Ninjas; if so my bad because this is strictly for younger kids, who should definitely enjoy it. Princess Ninjas isn't bad, by any means; you just get the impression, reading it, that it could have been so much more.  3/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Watching: "Years and Years"

Forty minutes into episode one of the six-episode British limited series "Years and Years", I was thinking the story of the Lyons family of Manchester - starting in the near future and moving forward - was interesting, though was wondering where all the hype for the series, as it was blowing up over in the UK, was coming from. Then the episode dropped its bomb - literally - and from that moment until the final minutes of the episode-six finale, "Years and Years" became one of the most compelling, fascinating, suspenseful - even prophetic - television series I'd ever seen. Not always the most uplifting, but certainly vital; fact is, everyone living in today's world owes it to themselves to watch. The series begins in 2019 and follows the various siblings of the Lyons family: Stephen (Rory Kinnear), his wife Celeste (T'Nia Miller) and their two children; Rosie (Ruth Madeley), a single mom whose recently had her second child by a man who bailed when he learned she was pregnant; Daniel (Russell Tovey), an openly gay man who works for the British government; Edith (Jessica Hynes), the far-left protestor/activist always fighting a battle in a war-torn country; and their mother, Muriel (Anne Reid), the widow who acts as matriarch over her children and grandchildren, hosting family get-togethers at her rambling old home in the country. It's 2019 and with Trump decimating the United States and Brexit doing pretty much the same in Britain, the Lyons watch from their TVs as a radical new politician, Vivienne Rook (an incredible Emma Thompson), rises swiftly up the ranks with her outlandish behavior and soundbytes, fueled by a population tired and angry and growling louder each day for change. At first seen as a buffoon with no political experience or connections, as time passes and the chaos of the United States and the UK spread worldwide like a cancer, the wild-card politico gains a firm toe-hold in her country, creating her own "Four Star Party" and aiming for the office of Prime Minister even as it grows increasingly obvious there is something ... "off" about her. What "Years and Years" is, essentially, a series about what happens to the world if the situations currently in place (particularly here in the States and in the UK) go unchecked. It takes place over quite a number of years, during which you see how these events effect the various members of the Lyons family - from the bizarre to the devastating - as they would yours or mine; truly, what the world will become if the path we are on now continues. It is chilling, it is crushing, and many times this limited series comes off more a documentary of our future than fiction - it feels that real. Talk about must-see TV.  9.5/10 stars

Friday, May 31, 2019

Watching: RIM OF THE WORLD

Year: 2019
Rating: TV-14
Director: McG
Even after reading a number of other reviews, I don't understand the animosity - even hatred - some people have toward this film. Unsure of what to expect, other than a sci-fi comedy, I went in with little to no expectations and found myself having a pretty decent time with a film that in some ways reminded me of The Goonies. No, nowhere near that classic as far as script, cast or production values - but a fun, even funny misfit-kids-who-band-together-on-a-quest buddy film,with the occasional "holy crap!" moment from the aliens also on board for the ride. Rim of the World follows four loner kids - Alex the nerd (Jack Gore), ZhenZhen the too-serious quiet girl (Miya Cech), Dariush the smart mouth (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and the streetwise Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto) - who are away at summer camp when an argument drags them all away from their campsite ... just as an alien invasion strikes. Rushing back, the foursome find they have been left behind by the fleeing camp counselors and their fellow students, but they're far from alone when part of a space capsule crashes nearby, the astronaut inside providing them with the key to stopping the invasion - if they can get it to the proper authorities in time. The arrival of a seriously large, pissed, and hungry alien prevents the kids from pondering more than running, and after their initial survival with the other-worldly creature, the rest of the film follows the bickering foursome's more than reluctant quest to save the world. Of course Rim of the World has its hokey moments (and ending), and the inevitable (not to mention unfair) comparisons to "Stranger Things" that have come up definitely haven't painted this film in its best light. But between the four young actors in the leading roles (roles that are, essentially, stereotypes helped tremendously by this cast), along with the film's often snarky and cynical humor, I stand in my shame and admit I really liked this one; going in with zero expectations left me pleasantly surprised.  8/10 stars

Watching: MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Year: 2018
Rating: PG-13
Director: Ol Parker
Having been listening to the music of ABBA since 8-track tapes existed and the only way to record songs was off the radio (cursing when the deejay would talk over the intro music), when Mamma Mia! was released in 2008 watching the film was almost two hours of nothing but blissful memories for me. I already knew the lyrics to every song, singing along to myself like a kid, and the presence of Meryl Streep (one of my favorite actors, and perhaps one of the few actors working today still deserving of the moniker "star") was only putting chocolate syrup on the sundae. Engaging, fun, lighthearted and endearingly goofy, Mamma Mia! was the ultimate summer film, and I loved it. Flashing forward nine years, I hadn't read much about the sequel going in - maybe giving a cursory look to the trailer, which appeared to be more of the same cotton candy from the first film, plus Cher (!) - so my disappointment was nothing less than bone-deep to discover a joyless, boring, unoriginal, corny, B-side song-filled mess I found myself barely able to sit through until the end. The sequel, set five years after the first film, follows two timelines: Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is frantically prepping for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna, her mother's pride and joy ... and, in flashback, the story of a young Donna (Meryl Streep's character, here played by Lily James in the past), who - after graduation (and a horribly uninspired musical number revolving around the graduation) - decides to chuck it all and travel. See the world, find her destiny - and of course, boff three guys in a short enough span of time, any of them could be Sophie's daddy. There's very little going on in the present (Sophie and Sky's marriage may be in trouble, yawn), which exists only to frame the story of Donna's past, and how alike she and Sophie supposedly are. The dance/musical numbers, meanwhile, all come off lifeless or as if staged by a high school drama teacher, many of the ABBA songs used being lesser-known or B-side tunes that make the film feel even more off-kilter than it already does. Not even the presence of Cher, brief as it is, saves things, and to keep this post spoiler-free I will just say don't even get me started on what the filmmakers did to Donna/Streep here; let's just say that finding it out early on in the film is what let me know I was on a slippery slope to Disgustedville from scene one. To me, the more you liked the first film - its sense of joy and fun and unashamed cuteness - the more reason to steer very clear of this one, which has little to none of those qualities.  2/10 stars

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Watching: OVERLORD

Year: 2018
Rating: R
Director: Julius Avery
On June 5, 1944 - the eve of D-Day - a handful of American paratroopers, after being discovered by the Nazis, barely survive a drop into enemy territory in France. Their mission: to destroy a radio tower the Germans have set up in an old church in a small French town, which they plan to use to communicate with Berlin for the attack on Normandy. The main/point of view character of the film is a young, naive recruit named Boyce (Jovan Adepo, in a terrifically understated performance); it's through his eyes we witness the horror of their plane being shot from the sky (an awesome opening sequence) and the survivors finding each other on the ground (those the Germans don't find first), as the small group of men come across a young Frenchwoman in the village, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who gives them shelter due to her own axes to grind with the Nazis. Already, by the time the soldiers are safely ensconced in the home of Chloe and her kid brother (as well as a grandmother, who has taken ill to her bed upstairs), the film has had several harrowing moments that already make it feel like the opening of a decent war picture. But when Boyce finds a way into the centuries-old church itself, part of the team trying to take down the tower, the film quickly shifts to horror when it's slowly revealed what the Germans are really using the church for - and how it all could drastically change the course of the war in favor of the Nazis. Overlord is a bloody part-war, part-time zombie film that balances (for the most part) both genres well, with a good cast and surprisingly good CGI/special effects. Scary, gory, and a lot of fun, the film's only disappointment is that it does fall into some cliches/tropes of the genre later on, making for an ending that feels less than fresh. But more than worth a watch, well-acted and well-written and with standout performances by Iain De Caestecker ("Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") and especially Jovan Adepo, heading up an already-strong cast.  7.5/10 stars

Reading: UNDER THE MOON: A CATWOMAN TALE - Lauren Myracle (writer), Isaac Goodhart (illustrator)

Forever my favorite Batman villain, Catwoman - in various incarnations - has remained a woman of hidden depth and mystery. I was anxious to start Under the Moon as it seemed like an origin story not really covered before - Selina Kyle from the age of fourteen, living with her mother and mom's current boyfriend Dernell. Unfortunately, from the beginning this beautifully-illustrated (artist Goodhart really incorporates black, blues and purples to great effect throughout, emphasizing the "moon" theme of the book) graphic novel, the cliches run rampant as Selina is forced to deal with unpopularity at school, verbal and physical abuse by her mother's redneck boyfriend, and a love-hate relationship with fellow classmate Bruce Wayne in which Selina comes off weak and tongue-tied. Selina only becomes interesting as a character, in fact, when she flees her abusive home and, after struggling with life on the streets, meets Ojo, another runaway who teaches her parkour, inadvertently beginning Selina's transformation into Catwoman. Or Catgirl, as Selina dubs herself in this story, before finally agreeing to join Ojo's gang for a big heist - which instead finds Selina's newly-minted, hard-as-nails exterior tested when she comes across one of the gang members in the form of a young girl who refuses to speak. Under the Moon is average at best, presenting (at least for me) a not-very-likable Selina Kyle and a dour, uninteresting origin story more filled with tropes than trauma. Not horrible, but to me Catwoman certainly deserves better.  2.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reading: ONE OF US IS LYING - Karen M. McManus

Entertainment Weekly's description of "Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club" was enough to get my attention and start reading this YA mystery-drama in which five high school seniors - Bronwyn (the smart girl), Cooper (the athlete), Addy (the looker), Nate (the bad boy), and Simon (the geek) all find themselves in afternoon detention for having been caught with cell phones on their persons (though each of them denies the phone was his/hers). One hour later, one of the five is dead - and suspicion falls to the other four, their lives forever changed, as author McManus spends the rest of the novel casting suspicion in various directions and peeling away the layers of secrets and lies each of the four suspects hides behind. Sometimes the suspense feels like too slow a build, the novel in need of tighter editing, but overall things stay intriguing as the four suspects at first fight the accusations on their own but then band together to try and solve the crime - even as they don't absolutely trust each other. Things pick up though, building nicely to the big reveal, but when that came, while it was still a surprise the solution did feel a bit of a "cheat" to this lifelong mystery fiction reader - though didn't by any means ruin the book for me, as the tension built nicely with a few surprises, and the ending made sense considering the characters and their motivations. Beyond that, McManus even wraps things up nicely in the aftermath of the truth, her characters experiencing growth after of all they've endured. Hard to say too much without giving away spoilers, but for sure worth a read, big-time, if a bit over-hyped overall.  4/5 stars

Monday, May 27, 2019

Reading: QUINCREDIBLE VOL. 1 - Rodney Barnes (writer), Selina Espiritu (illustrator)

Quinton West is a smart high school kid in New Orleans, handy with gadgets and trying to get by without getting beaten up by bullies in a city that's grown tough in the wake of Katrina and its aftermath (including lack of government support), not to mention all that's come since. One of those other disasters - a strange meteor shower - has imbued certain citizens of New Orleans with various superpowers, and now these extraordinary individuals work to make the city a better place ... while Quin has remained silent about his own experience with the meteor shower which, since that night, has left Quin has been invulnerable to pain. No matter what he does or who beats him up, Quinton can feel it but none of it causes him any harm. Problem is, how to turn this into a superpower worthy of him taking his place among those protecting the city? Because Quin loves his city, and hates what it's turning into; the sinister, politically-motivated machinations that oppress the average citizens, making them angry to the point of being oh-so-ready to strike back - often at each other, and in violent ways. Finding a mentor in local superhero Glow, Quin slowly learns how to use his assets with gadgetry, along with his invulnerability power, to help take down those oppressing his city, not realizing that the more visible he is, the more he puts himself in the sights of those with the money, power and lack of compassion to stop his noble quest. Quincredible Vol. 1 weaves important social commentary into the story of a young African-American man wanting to tip the scales back into balance without anyone shedding blood to do it, and while the story and its political leanings sometime overshadow its main character, there is so much to like about Quinton West, one can hope he's allowed to shine even more in future volumes. Having gotten strong Peter Parker/Spider-man vibes while reading this graphic novel, I for one am really hoping Quin gets that chance; have already grown to love the guy.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Reading: HOTEL DARE - Terry Blas (writer), Claudia Aguirre (illustrator)

The first thing I noticed upon starting this graphic novel was the artwork worthy of an animated television series. The characters, backgrounds, colors, all vividly come to life on the page - even more so once you are start reading, and realize how inclusive the book is. Race, family, adoption, the LGBTQ+ community, spirituality, ageism, all and more are touched upon in this story of three siblings made a family via adoption - Olive, Darwin, and Charlotte - who are all sent to live for the summer with their estranged grandma who owns and runs the Hotel Dare (and could use their help in cleaning and fixing it up). But chores grow old fast, and one day youngest sister Charlotte gets inquisitive, leading her siblings into a private office while Grandma's out ... a move that leads to each kid, as he or she is cleaning a room that morning, to discover a portal into different worlds where Charlotte finds new purpose, Olive helps a fledgling wizard, and Darwin meets a blob-like friend. But when Charlotte - always the loner, though her outward toughness hides a much softer center - decides to stay behind permanently in her world, Olive and Darwin can only keep things secret from Grandma for so long before learning that the three worlds they've all visited are now on a collision course with each other - and that Grandma has some long-held secrets, herself, that may threaten them all. Hotel Dare is inventive and colorful storytelling (am totally in love with the sassy grandma, who I think deserves her own TV series) that builds to a very busy final battle between good guys and bad - "busy" also being the one negative I could hold against the book. Hotel Dare is very heavy on action, characters and even dialogue that, at times, makes for some convoluted storytelling; a lot of ideas and storylines and people/creatures fill these pages, which works on one level because the characters are well-written and well-drawn, though on another level may make you double back a page or two at times, to remind yourself or where you are and whose story you are on. And though that may occasionally make it feel like a novel's worth of story packed into a graphic novel's page count, Hotel Dare remains a boisterous, exciting tale of family - whether a family by blood or love or circumstance - and how strong those family ties can be.  3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Reading: GREEN CLASS 1. PANDEMIC - Jérôme Hamon (writer), David Tako (illustrator)

After studying the ecology and nature of the American south for a few weeks, a group of young Canadian students find themselves leaving the Louisiana marshlands only to have their bus stopped on the way to the airport as - in the time they were away - a deadly virus has broken out all over the world in epidemic proportions, highly contagious and turning its victims into hideous, mindless creatures of superhuman strength when angered. With the military already beginning to build a wall around the infected area they are in, the young students are checked and cleared to depart ... until it becomes obvious that one of their own has become infected, and therefore must stay behind. When the infected youth's sister chooses to stay with him, a chain reaction of emotions among the group ends with all of them remaining with them (some more willingly than others), waiting to see how a new treatment works on their friend in the hopes they can then find a way out with him when he's cured. Green Class 1: Pandemic is just the beginning of what happens when this group of friends are shut off from the rest of the world, surrounded by either the infected or the monsters the infected have become, all of whom are their enemies even as they wait to see if one of their own turns on them as well. Beautifully drawn and colored, the characters in this graphic novel come off as individuals with backstories you do care about, trapped in this zombie world surrounded by a wall seemingly without end as they try to find a way out. And while the story itself doesn't bring anything really new to the table, the people who populate it - these young students who risk themselves to try and save a potentially-doomed friend - made me freaking irritated as heck when book one ended on a cliffhanger and I couldn't find out what happened to them next. And that is a sign of a decent ride.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Watching: SKYLINE

Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Directors: Colin & Greg Strause ("The Brothers Strause")
Boyfriend/girlfriend Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) fly across country to Los Angeles to help celebrate the birthday of Jarrod's buddy Terry (Donald Faison), whose made it big and is living the life with beautiful wife Candice (Brittany Daniel). A night of partying ends in Terry making Jarrod a job offer, something Jarrod has little interest in - especially when he learns that Elaine in no way wants to relocate, and is also pregnant. The couples wind up a late night crashing in Terry's highrise apartment, along with Terry's female secretary and another male friend, and all is peaceful until 4:30 the next morning, when bright blue lights permeating the blinds throughout the apartment wake up the guy friend ... and the secretary, in time to see the guy sucked right out through the closed window. The aliens have landed, they ain't friendly - and this is pretty much the plot of Skyline, the rest of the film concerned with the characters trying to either hide out in the apartment, or find a way out when up against aliens who can practice mind control or just snatch you up whenever they find you. While the special effects and aliens are pretty impressive, sadly the same can't be said for the acting and especially script, and with the film only focusing on the main characters in the apartment, until the military shows up viewers are given no viewpoints of other characters, or even of what's going on throughout Los Angeles itself, outside of the wide-angle views of aliens jacking up the city itself. Even with that, the film focusing on just a handful of characters, you're never given enough time to know anything about them so that they come off as very stock alien-invasion-film characters - and though Jarrod and Elaine evoke a bit of sympathy, it's not enough to work up a sweat as the number of human survivors dwindles around them. The ending, convoluted as it is to try and set up a sequel, remains as run-of-the-mill as the majority of the film itself.  4/10 stars

Watching: PET SEMATARY

Year: 2019
Rating: R
Directors: Kevin Kolsch, Dean Widmyer
In 1989 one of Stephen King's most disturbing horror novels was released as a film, the screenplay written by King himself. While definitely lower in budget, featuring actors in the leading roles who had a stronger TV than film following (Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, and the outstanding Herman Munster himself, Fred Gwynne), all of these points added to the film's gritty, claustrophobic feel that was so prevalent in the book - because while it contains horrific elements, Pet Sematary remains first and foremost a novel about grief, and while not perfect the essence of the book was preserved beautifully in the 1989 film (a fan-favorite to many, to this day). That mood - that grittiness - is hopelessly lost from frame one of the 2019 remake, as the story of Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and their two children - pre-teen Ellie and three-year-old Gage - opens with the Creeds relocating from Boston to rural Maine, where Louis is opening a new practice and the family has come for a new start. Their new home - already kind of creepy, even on first sight - borders on a huge forest out back, and almost immediately the family - thanks to across-the-street neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, good but nowhere close to Gwynne) - learns of a pet cemetery that exists in the woods, where kids in the neighborhood gather for a full ceremony whenever they need to bury a beloved dog, cat. etc. (in this version, the kids wearing creepy handmade masks for the burial ceremonies). But when the family cat is struck by a car and killed, Ellie's grief pushes Jud to privately tell Louis of another cemetery, far beyond the pet cemetery, where - if you bury someone, or something - it doesn't stay buried. And things go bananas from there. At first I rejected the idea of seeing this version because the filmmakers chose to change a HUGE plot point from the novel (that the 1989 film retained), and to me (without giving spoilers) this would've completely change the depth of loss and despair in the story. Even worse, with a bigger budget and access to better special effects, 2019's Pet Sematary is still devoid of real scares, the CGI nearly laughable in places, the big plot change does weaken the tone of the story ... and you can't even connect enough to the characters (especially Louis, sadly) to care much about what happens. I tried to approach this update with an open mind, loving the original novel and its themes, but from the family's arrival to one hell of a depressing ending, this remake of Pet Sematary does not disappoint; it was as bad as I was afraid it'd be. (WARNING: The trailer below - no idea why Paramount did this - gives away nearly the entire film, complete with spoilers; watch at your own risk!)  3/10 stars

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Watching: THE QUAKE

Year: 2018
Rating: PG-13
Director: John Andreas Andersen
More a companion film than sequel to 2015's The Wave (in which a long-threatening disaster unleashes a tsunami on a small, scenic Norwegian town), The Quake parallels the first film's premise only this time set in big-city Oslo, which in 1904 was struck by a major earthquake that now threatens to happen anew. Kristoffer Joner again stars as geologist Kristian Eikjord, the man whose warnings no one would heed in the first film (until it was too late) - though this film opens with the man only a shell of his former self, still so affected by the events of the first film he's even separated from his wife and children, living alone in isolation in body, mind and spirit. That is, until it all begins to happen again when the death of one of Kristian's old friends - a man who was trying to reach him about something before he was killed - pulls Kristian into the research his friend was doing; research that proves another major earthquake is about to devastate Oslo. True to any sequel, The Quake tries to ratchet up the special effects and terror (especially to Kristian and his family) higher than in the original, only here said terror comes across as almost over-the-top; an escape from a collapsing office tower, in particular, while cool to watch visually, takes so long it strains both patience and any believability the viewer might have left. This is also one of those disaster films where some of the characters do really stupid things, often putting themselves in deeper peril instead of helping them to escape, that no one in real life would do, as you want to yell at the screen for them to get it together. Good, with some great special effects, just not as compelling or heartfelt as its predecessor.  6.5/10 stars