Quick and Lazy Review: The Infernal Devices Series (2010- 2013)

Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angel – ISBN: 1416975861

Clockwork Prince – ISBN: 9781406365276

Clockwork Princess – ISBN: 1406321346

This series forms a prequel trilogy to Cassandra Clare’s YA series The Mortal Instruments (now inspiring the TV series Shadowhunters). It is set in London in 1878 and follows Tessa Gray a seemingly normal American girl who comes to London and who’s life – surprise, surprise – gets turned upside down when she gets mixed up with creatures she never knew existed.

If, like me, you read The Mortal Instruments first, this series is a familiar route of a girl who grows from being ignorant of the this ‘Shadow world’ to becoming a heroine in her own right. If you were to come to Clare’s imagined world for the first time through this series, I think it is almost a better introduction than City of Bones (the first in The Mortal Instruments series).

I have to say from the off that I was a fan of TMI and so I expected to enjoy this, which I am happy to report that I did. I would honestly say that I preferred this series. It is a more contained story, beginning and ending over the course of three books rather than the six (arguably three too many) of TMI. It is a fun series that didn’t take me too long to read, it flowed easily and was effortlessly engaging.

Tessa is a good main character though her flitting between moments of female empowerment and internalised misogyny occasionally gave me whiplash. The almost inevitable love triangle felt reductive not just for her but for Will and Jem, both of whom have really interesting arcs of their own. For the last two books especially I felt a bit frustrated by the way the romantic drama seemed to form the climax of the stories more than the drama of, I dunno, confrontations with villains that would see their destruction. This is also very possibly the easiest story to say, “hey I’m pretty sure polyamory is something y’all should seriously consider.”

These are not groundbreaking books in the YA genre. They are a little formulaic and predictable but somehow still fun. I didn’t find myself begrudging the fact that I had been able to see the end coming but rather I was able to enjoy the way we got there. Overall I enjoyed myself with them which is the most important thing. It takes the right amount of time to tell the story properly, and, even though I personally found it a major cop out, has a fairly satisfying ending.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a bit of sneaky fantasy YA lit.

 

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Quick and Lazy Review: All the Light We Cannot See (2014)

Anthony Doerr

ISBN: 978-0-00-813830-1

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

This book was given to me by my Aunt to read, in the hopes that I would be able to gauge whether her year 11 English kids would get into it. First of all, I’m no longer 17 so I’m not sure what the logic there was. Secondly, its over 500 pages, I don’t know why she was even asking me this question. As I read it though, I began to think, or at least hope, that maybe her kids would appreciate it because it is a truly beautiful book.

All the Light We Cannot See is part young adult, part historical fiction and it works well on both counts. It is the interwoven stories of German boy Werner, and blind French girl Marie-Laure, before, during, and after the Second World War, particularly the occupation of France. Told largely through their unique perspectives it is a powerful book about innocence and war.

This may sound a bit dry and, to be honest, it does take a little while for the action to pick up, but stick with it because its really worth it. The story unfolds across two timelines, the main plot beginning in 1934 when the two protagonists are just young children. This is intercut with events taking place in 1944 when they are young adults caught up in the occupation. These timelines steadily converge which, as they get closer and closer, allows for a slow but effective building of tension. The structure really worked for me, it has a nice set up for a really good payoff.

The characters are well written and I found myself genuinely caring about what would happen to them. I don’t often get overly emotional in books but I teared up in this one. It is often confronting and intense but it can also be fun and sweet. The historical fiction element, although the occupation of France is not my particular area of expertise, seems well thought out and researched.

I don’t know if my Aunt’s kids are going to respond and engage super well with this but I really hope they do and I do believe, for some, this will win them over. If not at school and not just for school students, I do think this is a must read.

 

Quick and Lazy Review: The Punisher Season 1 (2017)

Showrunner: Stephen Lightfoot

I was both very excited and very skeptical when this spin off from Marvel’s Daredevil was announced. Excited, because I like The Punisher as a character and felt that Jon Bernthal’s portrayal in Daredevil was exceptional. I imagined that if that quality could be maintained we might be in for the adaptation we deserve. Skeptical, because this is, after all, a man who has decided that him and arsenal of guns are more effective than the judicial system. Dangerous territory. This had all the potential to turn into a white man with a hard on for revenge shooting up a bunch of people with reckless abandon. Luckily for everyone, this series took a far more interesting and nuanced route.

This series sees Frank Castle apparently trying to live a normal life under an alias following the events of Daredevil season 2. Of course this is short lived and soon enough he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy, trying to avenge his family. This show quickly evolves into a tense thriller that deals not just with the idea of Frank being wronged but with the experience of veterans returning home and attempting to integrate with society again, PTSD, and the sins of the government.

Jon Bernthal continues to excel in this role displaying both the immense brutality and vulnerability of the character. Amber Rose Revah as Homeland agent Dinah Madani is brilliant and I adored her character. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is good as former NSA analyst and general tech dude Micro and the relationship between him and Frank is a sometimes sad, sometimes angsty, occasionally hilarious unwitting friendship. Ben Barnes is also delightfully smarmy as Frank’s army buddy Billy Russo. It was a pure delight to see Deborah Ann Woll reprise her role as Karen Page and the continued exploration of the odd understanding between her and Frank.

The series flows relatively well though it perhaps wasn’t quite as gripping as I had hoped. The build up to the exposure of the villain and the ensuing confrontations were well executed. I was both horrified and glad at the lack of restraint with the violence in the show. It is often incredibly brutal but that is far more effective both for the story and the character than if it had pulled its punches.

There were elements that I felt didn’t work as well. For instance, there is a subplot involving Micro’s family that, while charming at times, didn’t feel 100% in place for me. The more political aspects of the series, most obviously the gun control debate, were handled rather sloppily to me, as though they realised they would have to address it but were not completely committed to doing so.

Overall, I was impressed with the series and felt like finally there was a screen version of The Punisher I could absolutely get on board with.

 

Quick and Lazy Review – Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder

I do not enjoy writing about how I didn’t like something. It brings me no joy. I will preface this then by saying that I sincerely hope that those that are fans of these films and who had been looking forward to it enjoyed themselves and liked the film.

The DCEU thus far has a short but dogged history. It’s films have, with the exception of course of the remarkable Wonder Woman (2017), not been met with great critical acclaim (not that that necessarily means anything) nor the success that may perhaps have been expected. It’s dedicated fans will apologise for it and with good reason, one thing I will gladly give the DCEU is that it caters to its fans with more easter eggs, in jokes, and delightful fan service than can be said of any Marvel film.

Unfortunately the inevitably comparison to the MCU has, in part, formed part of the DCEU’s downfall and of this, Justice League is perhaps the clearest example. The decision to have the big team up at this point, having only released four films and with only three of the main characters introduced to any great extent was met with immediate criticism. It was considered too early and too rushed. I had hoped that maybe this film would pull through in the face of all that. For me, it did not.

This is a swiss cheese plot, with a shonky almost incomprehensible villain, and a third act that completely fails to deliver. There is unforgivably bad CGI, which I just cannot comprehend given the budget that this film must have had. There are about five beginnings because three crucial characters must be introduced, something the film almost entirely fails to do. I saw this with a friend who knows very little about the DC universe and at the end asked me to explain to her exactly who Aquaman and Cyborg are as well as what was up with Flash’s backstory because it seemed vague as hell and not in a good way. After the success of Wonder Woman the last thing I expected here was more gratuitous shots of Gal Gadot’s chest and butt but what do you know?

I personally have long had quibbles with Snyder’s style so I didn’t necessarily expect to like the form of this film but I can honestly say I would much rather see Snyder’s fully formed version of this film. Firstly, because it is an awful tragedy what happened to his family that forced him not to be able to complete it in the first place. Secondly, because Joss Whedon (who came on to the project to aid its completion) makes the film so much worse. He has elbowed in jokes that either don’t land because they are a completely different tone to the rest of the film, or are just downright offensive.

There were things that weren’t awful about this film. Ezra Miller is perfectly lovable as Flash and I enjoyed Jason Momoa as Aquaman. I can only cross my fingers for his stand alone film.

It was not a pleasant time at the cinema for me. I was entirely unable to even lose myself in the story because I kept being pulled out of it by how much of it just didn’t make sense. It’s a genuine shame.

Quick and Lazy Review: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

Dir. Taika Waititi

I’m not a fan of New Years Resolutions but I am aiming to get better at updating this blog with reasonable frequency and stop posting reviews of films that came out months ago.

Anyway, Thor Ragnarok. I saw this film four times in the theatre because it was the most fun thing I could think to do. I’m a huge fan of Taika Waititi’s work, his previous films Boy (2010), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), and The Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016) all have a place on my list of all time favourite films. I was not let down by this film.

Whilst I would certainly not put this film on par with Waititi’s independent work, Thor Ragnarok is a wonderful addition to the superhero genre at just the right time. Perhaps this is not the case for everyone, but I was becoming incredibly tired of superhero films. They have felt formulaic and frankly, awfully dark, for quite some time now. There is a certain appeal, and perhaps even necessity in this climate, to this but too much of anything can begin to irritate. In their approach to this film, and particularly in hiring Waititi, I think Marvel has proved sensitive to this (though both Spider-man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 this year have felt like steps in the right direction).

The first thing I think of with this film is how colourful it is. This is a comic book movie that looks like a comic book. It is bright and has a clear sense of fun alongside the seriousness of the main narrative. The score, composed by former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh, is on point throughout, and the use Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song is possibly the single coolest employment of a tune in a film I have seen in a long time (save perhaps Baby Driver‘s use of Bellbottoms). Waititi’s sense of humour is plastered all over the film and his approach of improvising around the script is a huge benefit to this film. It’s hilarious. Genuinely ugly laugh in the theatre funny. Being Australian (and for Kiwis too I imagine) there is an extra thrill to the jokes because there a quite a few that feel just for us. This almost feels like an independent Australian film but on a budget that just wouldn’t happen here.

The real master stroke of this film for me is that it is has taken possibly the two most boring main characters in the MCU thus far, Thor and the Hulk, and turned them almost into new characters, characters that arguably they should have been from the beginning. They are fun and relatable and actually, very good at their jobs. Some of the best stuff in this film is Hemsworth and Ruffalo riffing off each other, their knacks for comedy finally being exploited. Tessa Thompson is perfect as Valkyrie despite what some angry white men on the internet might have had to say about it. She is strong and capable but also allowed to be vulnerable. I would have liked to see her backstory a bit more.

Cate Blanchett is also on fine form as the villain, Thor and Loki’s long lost evil Goddess of Death sister Hela, and Jeff Goldblum is a true delight, essentially playing himself. Loki also gets an interesting arc that makes this film as much about the relationship between two brothers as it is about saving the day. Waititi himself as the helpful aspiring revolutionary Korg is an absolute scene stealer.

None too concerned with the earthly politics and intrigue of the rest of the MCU, this film is plain and simply, a fun ride.

Quick and Lazy Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms (2016)

Wr. Matthew Reilly

ISBN: 1743534957

This series, Reilly’s Jack West Jr. Series, is one that I didn’t really expect to like when I read the first book, Seven Ancient Wonders. It’s also one that whenever I read the next book, I half expect that this will be the one where it gets bad or it pushes too far and I’ll stop enjoying it. This has yet to happen and I continue to get a sense of pure joy from reading these stories.

This book, the fourth book in the series, continues to be a little far fetched, a little bit of a mix between a Dan Brown novel and an Indiana Jones movie, but its a real testament to Reilly’s writing that it never feels so absurd as to drag you out of the story.

This novel sees Jack West Jr., now veteran Australian special forces soldier and archaeologist, in another pickle. This time he must compete in an ancient ritual of deadly challenges, in order to save the lives of his daughter, and his usual motley crew of companions.

I always find myself so engrossed in these books whenever I sit down with one because Reilly’s real strength is in making the story so ridiculously compelling whilst also being incredibly easy to read. I breeze through these books, mostly because it is so easy to get swept away with the story and the characters that Reilly has developed so well over the course of the (so-far) four novels in this series. I enjoy that each book, whilst obviously building upon the events of the previous ones, feels like its own contained story that I could pick up and read regardless of whether or not I had read any of the others.

I honestly just have so much fun with these books and I’m very much looking forward to the next one!

Quick and Lazy Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Dir. Denis Villeneuve

First of all, this is a film for film fans. This is not to say that only cinephiles will find any enjoyment here but I would say that the reason that it has amassed such critical acclaim is because it is cinematic art. Its not necessarily a lazy sunday at the movies, have a laugh, have a cry kind of film.

That being said, I did really love this film (I am a cinephile to be fair). Like many I’m a big fan of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece and, like many, I was a little worried that this film would not be able to step into those shoes. Denis Villeneuve, however, has once again proven why he is one of the most exciting filmmakers currently working.

I felt that the story, that of K, a blade runner operating 30 years after the incidents of the previous film (which is about all the plot I can give away without spoilers), was a decent continuation and addition to the first film and I thought that Ryan Gosling played his part exceptionally well.

The plot though is not the strength of this film. It is a beautiful film, one that has the potential to earn cinematographer Roger Deakins a long deserved Oscar. The production design is astonishingly good and the score is impeccable. It all blends into this incredible depiction of what you feel would be the natural progression from the future of both our contemporary world, and that of Blade Runner (1982). The visual effects, particularly in regard to the character of Joi, are also an achievement.

I wasn’t as impressed by certain elements of the plot that I felt weren’t well explained (or perhaps I just didn’t get it). The character of Wallace was also a bit of a let down for me and for all of Jared Leto’s supposedly wonderful method techniques, I found his performance underwhelming. I also felt the length of film a bit but I’ll put that down to being fairly tired when I saw it.

Overall I think its a really wonderful piece of cinema that was an experience. I also am 100% down for angsty old man Harrison Ford in all capacities.