Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review - Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

What can I say about Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”? Firstly, beautiful world. This urban fantasy of New York blending with the Shadowhunters, Downworlders, and etc. is completely captivating. The mythology, the imagery, and the story are all truly fascinating. But this book does have some character hiccups it needs to sort through. Firstly, our protagonist, Clary Fray. I cannot begin to count all the times I wish I had Clary’s powers so that I could reach inside my book and clock her over the head with my paperback! The way she treats Simon makes me want to scream, and her manner of handling things with Jace is cringing.

That said, the other characters... Epic! I’ve always been a sucker for the sweet, best friend-types like Simon, so I found him utterly adorable. Jace, hmmm…where to even begin? He’s awesome. Brooding, but not in the stereotypical “loner who sits in the corner of the room” sort of way, brilliantly sarcastic, a bit emotionally broken, and let’s face it, he’s a total badass. What’s not to love? As for the glorious Magnus Bane, not much needs to be said other than that he’s flawless. With so many authors out there trying to illustrate such a visually and verbally colorful character and failing miserably, I have to give it to Ms. Clare on this one. Nothing about Magnus feels forced or artificial. He’s lovely, and perhaps one of my absolute favorites. Isabelle, I wish there was more back-story or character building with her in this installment, because I couldn’t quite connect emotionally with her. She always felt more like a physical essence than an emotive entity. Her brother, Alec, on the other hand, had plenty of emotions, not always for the better. His expressed insecurities provided with him with empathy, but his explosive reaction, particularly towards Clary, had me tipping my scale of approval against him.

Cassandra Clare’s ability to have such a broad spectrum of characters on the same plane of existence and not have the story feeling convoluted is impeccable. Her handling of situations ranging from coming-of-age to teenage romance to even sexual orientation is flawless and never feels preachy like so many others seem to make such topics. Overall, this is a beautiful world with wonderful, yet believably flawed characters, and it is a must-read as the introduction to a captivating series.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The last installment of the Bourne franchise left with Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy exposing Operation Blackbiar to the public, jumpstarting Legacy with the CIA’s immediate action to eradicate their other black ops projects, including eliminating all the field agents attached to them. Enters Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the movie’s rugged leading man, emerging from the mountainous waters while on a training mission, ripped and steely-eyed as 007’s Daniel Craig. With the sharp, howling atmosphere of Alaska as the film’s opening backdrop, it sends its audience into flight response while still steadily pacing the plot and character introductions by cutting continuously between Cross’s expedition back to the shadowy conference rooms in D.C.

Edward Norton plays Retired Colonial Eric Byer, the head of special ops programs. Clearly a man who is consumed by his job, hence his prematurely graying hair, Byer will go to any length to stop his secret operations’ dirty little secrets from ever seeing the light of day. In an extremely refreshing take, Norton is not playing your typical sinister, mustache-twisting-villain, but simply a dedicated man trying to do what he believes is for the better good of the government. With Tony Gilroy’s screenplay, he constructs it so that everyone is morally compromised, so Byer being the antagonist is based more on the fact that he is simply the greatest threat to Aaron. Cross, who is effortlessly engaging in a wordless manner, finally comes across another field agent, Number Three (played by Oscar Isaac). As the two finally exchange dialogue, we discover that this particular program, called Operation Outcome, is made up of genetically enhanced super-agents provided with drugs concocted by biochemist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and others at a high-security laboratory.

After outlining the film’s scenario, Legacy shoots off into action mode with a massive missile explosion that wipes out the training cabin Cross and Number Three are taking refuge in. When Byer and the rest of his tech-savvy team are convinced Cross has been killed, they move onto taking out all the staff involved in Outcome as well, including Dr. Shearing.

The pace and action scenes are recognizably different in this fourth installment, some for the better and some not. What initially starts as an intriguing back-story suddenly inches its way to becoming the main plot. Identity worked with the audiences not learning a lot about the government’s secret programs, because we only knew as much as Bourne did at the time (consequences of amnesia). Unfortunately, everyone is now well aware of the CIA’s involvement, and we would have liked to know more on how Cross plans to remove this threat, but Legacy fails to deliver. It is primarily a survival film, a continuous struggle of Cross and Shearing being hunted with Byer’s men on their boot heels. And its final action sequence isn’t exactly climatic, not to say it isn’t well made. It simply just doesn’t leave the audience with that lasting satisfaction required to end the movie, but is better suited as a mid-film adrenaline shot. So when Moby’s “Extreme Ways” (the franchise’s theme) starts to play in the background, it’s clearly announcing the film’s conclusion, but it still feels all a bit too abrupt.

On a positive note, the casting in Legacy is a definite upgrade. Rachel Weisz’s chemistry with Renner seems far more realistic and believable than Matt Damon’s former interests, Julia Stiles and
Franka Potente. As for the skepticism concerning Matt Damon’s replacement, the truth is there’s no contest. Jeremy Renner is a far more natural fit for the role, looking much more at home with his physicality and demeanor. Damon’s boy-next-door appearance never quite captured the “super-spy” air that his alternate does. Also, in the big brother era with security cameras lurking everywhere, director Doug Liman’s approach to the first three installments always presented Bourne too conspicuously, begging the audience to ask the question, “doesn’t Bourne own a hat, or at least a hoodie?” Fortunately its new director, Tony Gilroy, still never disguising Renner’s appearance, somehow is able to give Cross a phantom-like presence, distinguishable to us as the viewers but never making him the spotlight to onlookers.

Despite my few criticisms, the good points outweigh the negative. Renner and Gilroy have established their mark on this chain, proving Damon’s presence is not essential or anymore relevant to keeping these films afloat.

Rating: B 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

True Blood: Final Season Review

What. Did. I. Just. Watch?
To say that we want to do “bad things” to the writers of the show would probably be an understatement.
Having been a loyal fan of the HBO series since first being introduced to Bon Temps, Louisiana in the pilot episode, “Strange Love”, I still held onto hope for a satisfying ending to this vampire drama. And let’s face it, this show was worth every bit of the praise and mania that accompanied it as we blissfully welcomed its fangs into our homes in 2008. True Blood used to be the Game of Thrones of Sunday nights. We couldn’t wait till the end of the weekend! It had us hankering for those accents, the blood, the fangs, that rich Southern atmosphere, and all the gratuitous sex. It was that ultimate guilty pleasure with fun, sexy, scary twists to wet your mind’s appetite, along with your eyes’.
With a great ensemble cast of characters that left no stone unturned in forms of diversity, strong storytelling, grade-A dialogue, and Nathan Barr’s gorgeously haunting musical score, it was hard not to love it. But somewhere along the line (probably season 4), the show jumped the shark. After that, it’s been a relatively painful viewing experience. Yet I continued to watch… I’m pretty sure that classifies me as a masochist for enduring the agonizing trek to the finish line. I’m just one of those people though that likes to give a show the benefit of the doubt, because it’s not unheard of for a series to hit a slump - only to recover. I hoped. I prayed. I hung in for dear life…with no reward. Full of campy and ludicrous scenarios, True Blood used to be the best television escapism, only to become one of those shows that makes watching it feel more like a chore.
The once-endearing telepathic Merlotte’s waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, became a Bella Swan wannabe who couldn’t seem to take care of herself with the help of some supernatural being. Just out of curiosity, what does Sookie do for a living now? It seems like she hasn’t worked in years. Bill went from a brooding romantic to a conniving, murderous, heartless ass-hat. Sam seemed to be neglected by the writers. His character slowly fell into the background and became of no real importance, which is a shame for me because his complexity earlier in the series made him a favorite of mine. Eric…well, he’s still perfect. Only gripe, Sookie and he had such a great rapport that culminated so wonderfully over the course of the first two seasons. By season 3, I was DYING for a Sookie/Eric hookup! Instead, we got teased a little while longer, and wound up with a puppy dog version of Eric via memory loss that seemingly left him without his gonads. REALLY?!?! Eric was already worthy of Sookie’s love in all his wicked, badass glory, so why? WHY?! Thereafter, their relationship never returned to the glory many were longing to see.
And the seventh season was a kerfuffle of a disaster. With a show that built its fan base on gore, suspense, scares, and sex appeal, it makes us scratch our heads as to why the show’s runners would abandon all those themes for the aimless melodrama that plagued the final season.
Take Tara’s death for instance. Honestly, what the H-E-L-L was that? For a main character who’s been in the series from day one to get killed off camera in the most disappointing fashion was the first sign for the catastrophe we were all in store for. Seriously, did anyone believe as a viewer that she was actually dead at first? How could you in a TV-MA series renown for its violence not let us see Tara go out in a blaze of glory? She deserved that much. On top of that, no one really seemed to care! Look at Sookie’s reaction and mourning of Alcide, and compare that to the loss of her best friend, the girl she’s known since she was little. Notice anything? She bawled her eyes out over the demise of the sexy werewolf, but didn’t really seem to give Tara that same respect, at all!
And that brings me to my next point of scrutiny. One word to describe the seventh season: LAZY. The romance was melodrama-galore. The storylines lost complete focus on the core main characters, giving useless back-story and development to side characters that we never really gave a hoot about from the get-go. And the deaths were about as climactic as sitting in a traffic jam in rush hour; there’s no advancement in the plot and it only makes you angry. Maxine Fortenberry was the only exception. That actually made the show redeemable…for about a minute, until Alcide’s untimely, completely dishonorable shot to the head. Not to mention, since there was no hint at a possible cure, Eric’s Hep-V diagnosis didn’t bring panic as much as it did an unhealthy bout of depression. Bon Temps lost all its southern charm. Sookie’s accent actually disappeared and Bill’s came and went from scene to scene. The whole Lafayette/Jessica/James love triangle felt about as true to the characters as a polar bear wearing a bathing suit. Nathan Parsons’s replacement of Luke Grimes’s original portrayal of James was so far off the beaten path of the kind, soulful-eyed James we were introduced to the past season that it was about as subtle as a kick to the shins that the show’s writers were more concerned with pushing an agenda than giving the characters the respect they deserved. I mean, come on! Lafayette is an awesome character, and he deserved better than some cheap melodramatic hookup with James that was only meant to ship Jessica out of the relationship. And where was Lafayette in the series finale? His absence was wrong on every level. Again, LAZY.
Then there’s Bill’s death.
Quite frankly, when he refused to drink Sarah’s blood, my first thought was, I don’t care anymore. His reasons for killing himself were in complete contradiction for his wanting to see Jessica marry Hoyt, and his request for Sookie to go all Dr. Kevorkian on him was just selfish. Suicide is never the answer. In reality, it doesn’t give someone closure. It only delivers pain to your loved ones, and asking her to do the deed only makes it worse. Bad, Bill. Bad.
Although, when Sookie could hear Bill’s thoughts at the wedding, did anyone else think that maybe Bill was possibly in transition to becoming human again? It didn’t seem too outlandish for how ridiculous the show had become, so it seemed like a possibility that Sookie’s Hep-V contaminated fairy blood was changing him. Maybe Sookie’s last use of her energy on him could have actually healed him and changed Bill into a real boy again.
Think about it. Bill’s human again, and now he’s capable of giving Sookie the life she deserves in the daylight with the prospect of a family of her own. Sookie’s fairy powers that have impacted her life in far too many worse ways than better ones would be gone, freeing her from ever being used again by other vampires. Problem solved.
We get a bloody, gutty stake to the heart, and so does Bill. Sookie refuses to rid herself of her fairy energy, leaving her with the exact same problem she had from the very first episode of the series. How can she have a relationship with a human man if she hates the fact that she can hear all his thoughts? Good question. But that apparently doesn’t anymore, at for the writers anyway, because she winds up being knocked up by some faceless shmo four years later.
The only upside to the series finale apart from Eric and Pam’s scenes was Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” playing as the concluding song. True Blood most definitely went out with a fizzle rather than a bang.

Rating: D


Monday, July 14, 2014

CBS’s “Elementary” Review

One would think that producers and studios would shy away from the impulse to over saturate the airwaves with more renditions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character, Sherlock Holmes, but looking at the excessive use of vampires and reality television shows, it’s clear that they’ll simply attack the market with what sells. What CBS has so masterfully achieved here, despite cautious viewers’ preconceived criticism, is deliver something completely fresh and original.

Coming from someone who is a devoted follower of the Baker Street sleuth, I, too, was initially reluctant to give Elementary a chance upon its original airing in 2012, having come to love the most recent portrayals by Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. And after hearing rumors that it would take place in modern-day New York and Watson would be played by a female, I didn’t find myself anymore at ease.

My disinclination was lessened though after seeing the behind-the-scenes footage for the show. Having been a fan of Jonny Lee Miller since his days in Trainspotting, I thought I would give it a go. I cannot say I jumped into the water without hesitation, but after watching it, I was immediately surprised at just how much I truly enjoyed the pilot.

Anyone (which should be everyone, unless you live under a rock) who is familiar with Sherlock Holmes knows of his eccentricities and acute eye for detail, and Elementary provides us with a more back-to-basics approach of the renowned detective but with a much stronger sense of human vulnerability.

With BBC’s hit series “Sherlock” and Guy Ritchie’s wonderfully stylized “Sherlock Holmes” films, the 21st century has been presented with a more readily cocky and lively Holmes, which serves quite properly for each portrayal. And in that regard, this is where Elementary breaks away from the pack…on a particularly high note.

Following a beautiful, cinematographically sharp opening sequence in its pilot episode, we begin with Dr. Joan Watson’s (Lucy Liu) early morning activities on the day she is set to meet Miller’s version of Holmes, who has just abruptly escaped from rehab for an unspecified drug addiction. Watson has been assigned to be Sherlock’s sober living companion for a scheduled six weeks by Holmes’s father, and upon their greeting, the pair share an appropriately awkward introduction.

Covered in tattoos and displaying far more recognizable signs of Asperger's Syndrome, along with his recovery from addiction, the show’s creators clearly paint Sherlock Holmes as a deeply flawed individual who just so happens to have a remarkable talent, instead of the more frequented vision of a genius with a few quirks. These personal defects make Holmes a much more relatable character, since everyone has their own crosses to bear, and it’s in that regard that his intelligence doesn’t make him full-blown arrogant. Perhaps his bluntness makes him a potential loose cannon, but the delicacy he shows in regard to Watson’s haunting past proves he’s every bit as compassionate as the next guy.

The dynamic between Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu is wonderful, their platonic relationship having a great loving-bickering, brother-sister feel to it. This reinvention, despite obvious changes regarding gender and location, is every bit as impressive and sensible as the other current adaptations. Yes, there are those diehard fans of Downey, Jr. and Cumberbatch that will always curse out the show’s new concepts, but for anyone with a genuinely open mind, I give Elementary a high recommendation. Solid “A” rating, and trust me, I don’t throw out such commendations lightly. Catch up on the past two seasons before the third premieres in October on CBS. You won’t be sorry! J

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Stigma of a Young Adult Reader

Young Adult books are my favorite. They have pretty covers, are awesome reads, and they bring out my inner fangirl. They keep me up till three in the morning, they have me counting down the days to the newest release, and they provide me with wonderful escapism. But there is also a stigma when it comes to this category that tries its hardest to make readers of this category ashamed for loving said books. But why?

Ever been scoffed at by the guy carrying Hemmingway while you’re browsing the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble? You know what I’m talking about. He’s toting a literary classic, meanwhile you’re holding the latest young-adult paranormal romance in your hands. There’s evident condensation. He finds your reading taste to be silly, because as the standard says, “Young adult books are for kids.” You may have even been given that judgmental once-over by the cashier as you’ve taken your book up to the register. They’re thinking the same thing.

When most adult readers hear the words “Young Adult,” they immediately assume the worst. To these pretentious folk, YA is the Cartoon Network of the book world and “Adult” lit is the equivalent of HBO. Our books are the things that merely keep kids entertained, and their books are where all the substance will be found. We’re Scooby Doo, they’re Game of Thrones. It sucks, but that’s just the way things go. Again, if you’re a YA reader, you know what I’m talking about. When someone says that they just finished reading Homer’s The Iliad, and you reply, “I finished Twilight last night,” you’re bound to get looks like you just said, “I watched an episode of The Teletubbies.” Adult readers see a young adult cover, and they look down their noses at us as if we’re still reading those big cardboard children’s picture books. You know, the ones where there’s only one line of writing on each page like, “The dog barked.” (Turn page) “The dog barked louder.” Yep, that’s what they see us as. Overgrown children.

To make matters worse, it’s not particularly easy to sway someone afflicted with this mindset to see the light. I love the fact that Twilight started the tread with younger audiences to start reading again. We were admittedly trapped in a world where browsing through CliffsNotes was actually considered reading a book. Unfortunately, Twilight isn’t the greatest example of how outstanding the YA category can be, but it is still to this day the epitome of “Young Adult,” which means that’s what everybody considers every other book in this field to be, just another Twilight.

Plus, trying to verbalize what you love about a YA book without being laughed at by these people can be daunting. Let’s face it, explaining the plot to Pride & Prejudice or My Sister’s Keeper is a bit easier than trying to tell someone what a Shadowhunter is, who Downworlders are, and what runes do. Typically by discussion’s end, the other party will be gawking at you like you’re on crack.

There’s also age discrimination. When you’re a teenager reading YA, it’s perfectly acceptable. Adults are general pleased with this, because they’d rather see you with a book in yours hands than a cell phone. Apparently though, after a certain age, usually around 18-19, you’re supposed to move past your love for young-adult lit. Everyone expects you to grow up, to start reading “grownup books.” But why? Despite being plagued by condemnation by older readers, young adult books do in fact appeal to all ages. Whether you’re a teenager going through the highs and lows of adolescence right now or an adult whose already gone through the whole rigmarole, you can relate to the problems presented in YA literature. And there are so many great reads spanning from dystopian, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, fantasy, contemporary, horror, fairytale retellings, and so on. With The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and The Perks of Being A Wallflower, it’s hard not to find at least one book in the bunch that will appeal to any reader out there.

So, long story short, don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge it by its category either. You just might be happily surprised by what you find inside. :-)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Girl’s Guide to First Dates: EPISODE 2 “Cautionary Measures”

One rule every girl must abide by, no matter what, is to have a source of transport of your own when going on a first date. I don’t care if your date looks like Johnny Depp, has Colin Farrell’s sexy Irish brogue, and has more money than Bruce Wayne. Under no condition do you ever get into a car with a stranger, EVER! I can speak from my own horrifying experiences with stalker-ish guys that this is one pitfall you need to avoid at all costs.

And I hear my friends always say, “Yeah, but I was afraid of sounding rude when he asked if he could pick me up for our date.”
Really? For one, if the guy isn’t supportive enough to appreciate that you exercise caution and decent commonsense, you shouldn’t feel too bad about disappointing him. Two, you don’t KNOW him! Is the fear of being considered ‘impolite’ really worth potentially being bound and gagged in the trunk of his car? I’d rather risk letting a guy get away than risk ME not being able to get away from a possible psychopath!
Now, granted, the likelihood that your date is Patrick Bateman isn’t very strong, but let’s face it, not every guy out there is Prince Charming. If you’ve accepted to let him escort you around town for the night, it means you’re now WHOLLY DEPENDENT upon him. He has the keys, therefore, he decides your fate for the evening. So unless you have friendly backup awaiting your word to save you from a dreadful date, you’re going to be trapped with no chance at escape if things go sideways. 
And by letting him pick you up, you’ve also given away something very personal. Your address. He now knows where you live. Ever seen “Fear” or “Cherish”? Trust me, there’s nothing fun about having a stalker. Surrendering your address is pretty much an invitation to be potentially harassed.

Lesson learned: BRING YOUR OWN VEHICLE TO THE DATE! Saves you from being chained up in a psycho’s basement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Girl’s Guide to First Dates: EPISODE 1 “What to Wear?”

This week I’m going to be giving a breakdown of dating rules that should be essential for every girl out there. Let’s kick things off and start with THE PERFECT OUTFIT. For some, this isn’t a big deal. It’s the mere matter of scoping out the contents of your closet and tossing on whatever feels right. Others, this can be made out to be a Broadway musical. Every girl wants to look good for a date, especially when it’s with a guy you may really like, but when it comes to clothes, it the one thing that doesn’t have to be so complicated.

Whenever in doubt, ask a male friend for advice. I know what some of you girls are thinking right now, “What do guys know about fashion, let alone girls’ fashion?” Yeah, I’ll admit, this may sound weird, given that I’m accrediting the same individuals who think their favorite sport jerseys, with their hideously clashing color schemes, work with any outfit.

So what do men know about fashion? The answer: Nothing. Why ask them then? Well, if you’re going on a date with a guy, why not get the perspective of one of their very own?
All men know is what looks good, and that’s all that counts. Men don’t care if you’re toting a Prada bag or a $5.00 clutch you picked up on clearance at Wal-Mart. They don’t care if your heels are “soooo last season.” They don’t care that your nail polish matches perfectly with the shade of your blouse.

All they care about is if you look attractive. Sexy. Confident. No, I’m not saying you should give your guy friends the licensing to dress you like a Playboy Bunny. But more often than not, women are more focused on keeping up with trends than dressing in what men generally perceive as ‘sexy.’ Following whatever that Big Fashion Craze is at the moment will rarely ever play out in your favor with guys.
Don’t believe me? Well, just think about it this way. Ask any man what he thinks/ thought about a present/past fashion trend. Here’s the consensus:

You remember Uggs? Men hated them, still do, and always will HATE them!
Oversized purses? Reminds them of bag ladies.
Oversized sunglasses? Can you say “Alien meets Bug.”
Wedges? Eh-eh!

Big hats? “Leave them to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.”

High-waisted pants, skirts, and shorts? Men are rarely ever fans of this one.
And don’t even get them started on Crocs!
Result, ask any guy out there, and they’re 95% guaranteed to tell you that they hate every single last one of those at-the-moment trends.

There’s a reason why men ogle at women like Mila Kunis and Eva Mendes. And trust me, it’s not because the prints on their dresses are all the rage. It’s because they know how to dress sexy. So don’t be afraid to consult your best bud and ask him for his input. They’re more perceptive to fashion than you may think.