Black Butler – “One Hellish Butler”

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I’m going to be straight with you, I haven’t seen the anime or read the manga which the live-action Black Butler film is based on. I know next to nothing about the anime or the manga, save for fanvids I’ve watched on YouTube, and will be basing this review solely off the movie alone. So leggo!

Black Butler is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while now after stumbling across a fanvid of it in my search for kdrama fmvs. After witnessing some badass action scenes in the fmv, I was hyped for some kickass fight scenes with scary, brooding characters and a whole lot of blood. But here’s the trailer, which definitely (okay, probably) contains less spoilers than this review.

Directed by Kentaro Otani and Keiichi Sato, it’s a live-action adaption of the manga Kuroshitsuji by Yana Toboso, with Ayame Goriki as the female lead Shiori Genpo and Hiro Mizushima as the demon butler Sebastian Michaelis. Set in the future, year 2020, the plot follows the story of a young girl out for revenge after witnessing the murder of her parents. She disappears, and returns later as a boy with an entirely new identity, and alongside her, a butler. In exchange for help in her plan to take revenge against those who killed her parents, she offers her soul to the demon, Sebastian, which he’ll consume after aiding in Shiori’s revenge.

Sure, it has a pretty cliche and overdone storyline, but it was well executed and didn’t come across too predictable. The gore was okay, it freaked me out a little (especially the scene where that guy gets mummified), but it wasn’t so bad that I was afraid to leave the room without all the lights on. What originally sparked my interest in this film were the fight scenes, which were very nicely choreographed and edited just as well.

Especially in this fanvid, which omfg slaaayyyyssssssss!

Although this is my absolute favourite fmv for this film!

But on a very serious note, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS MOVIE AND THOUGHT ABOUT IT DAYS AFTER WATCHING IT. Hiro is bae (hella), Ayame is bae (double hella and she looks like my other bae, D.O Kyungsoo), and although I’ll forever have nightmares about being mummified, I’d rewatch this without a doubt. Also considering this is based off the manga and anime, I think I’ll be checking those out, too!

He’s so attractive. She’s so attractive. This was actually one of my favourite scenes, and I just think they’re precious little babies who need to take over the world and consume a bunch of souls and rid this universe of all evil while at the same time being the most evil (and sexy) beings around.

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I must admit that the reason I continued to refuse The Winner’s Trilogy a second glance was because of its overly gorgeous covers. Covers with pretty girls in even prettier dresses have seldom ended up as my favorite or even decent reads (with the exception of Kerstin Gier’s Girl About Time Trilogy, but time travel is always the exception to the rule).

Picture Credit: themidnightgarden.net 

Fresh off The Orphan Queen, I was looking for another nice fantasy to delve into and the Winner’s Curse and/or its sequel kept being thrown in front of me by Goodreads and Amazon. But what really sealed the deal was running into it at a local discount book sale. I took it as fate and reluctantly opened the first page and did not stop until I had finished The Winner’s Crime. And so, never judge a book by its cover, remains good law.

Summary

The Winner’s Curse introduces us to world of Valorians and Herranis, amongst others, where the former, a proud warrior class of people, have conquered the artistic and god-fearing Herranis, just because they could. To survive, the Herranis surrendered, only to be enslaved by the Valorians. Kestrel is the 16-year old daughter of a Valorian general, who has been given a choice to marry or join the military, like all young adults her age. However, she is a lousy combatant and wants no part in Valorians’ thirst for war, much to the dismay of her father who believes she is a brilliant strategist and will prove beneficial to their war efforts. She also does not want to get married. Rather, she wants to be free of her society’s encumbrances and be a pianist, a quality frowned upon by the Valorians. She soon meets Arin, a Herrani slave put up for auction, who she impulsively purchases for a high (and scandalous) price. She sees a kindred spirit in Arin and eventually finds herself struggling to hide her feelings for him. But Arin is hiding something as well, something that will not only change the landscape of his relationship with Kestrel but also the very landscape of the world they live in.

The Good

Kestrel

She is a refreshing YA lead, if there ever was one. It was nice to read about a heroine that is dreadful at fighting and a warrior princess is the last thing she wants to be. That being said, she is by no means a naive socialite only concerned with dresses and dinner parties. She is a brilliant thinker and strategist and harbors a deep love of music. She questions her society’s stubborn pride and narrow mindedness with the same hard determination that underpins her people. And while she has a compassionate side, Rutkoski balances it realistically with her dispassionate upbringing. All in all, she is incredibly well imagined, her qualities set her apart from the crowd but also seem like logical digressions for someone from that particular environment, thus not making her the clichéd ‘chosen one’.

Kestrel and Arin

The start of Kestrel and Arin’s relationship almost gave me a sinking feeling about the future of the series. They fall in love, quick and hard, despite being two very different people from opposing sides of a terrible war. However, the first book takes a dramatic turn at half-time, transforming their seemingly benign relationship into their wonderfully complex thing. They have a good understanding of what a Valorian means to a Herrani and vice versa but unlike their brethren the understanding is not a blind one. The alternating POV, albeit in third person, facilitated this quite well.

The Setting

The Winners Trilogy, for the lack of a better comparison, is Downton-Abbey-meets-Game-of-Thrones. The historical setting with ball gowns, tea/dinner parties, honor duels and societal manners makes it for a fun read. The fantasy is confined to Rutkoski’s brilliantly imagined empire with the Valorians at the forefront with their mad obsession to violently conquer it piece by piece and a cull any insurgence swiftly. The political dynamics of the empire and its shrewd underpinnings are flushed out more so in the second book, transforming the trilogy into not only a breathtaking romance but also a no holds barred political thriller. It reminded me very much of Panem’s somber  situation and the tyranny of President Snow.

The Bad

Arin

Admittedly, bad is a particularly harsh take on Arin. He is a relatively good character with just a few traits that did not agree with me. I found Arin to be very sentimental, recklessly so and often just plain reckless. Given the significance of his agenda, I expected him to be a lot more subtle. I was surprised that with the way he went about things that he was not caught out at the outset. That being said, it was still not enough to resist liking him. Like Kestrel he has this unwavering commitment to his cause which he balances quite well against his feelings for Kestrel. Kestrel, arguably correctly, does not share this sentiment and feels Arin has a blind spot for her to the point of recklessly endangering his life if not their nations’ life. An illusion of self importance, you say? Maybe, but Arin gives her little reason to think otherwise.

The Ugly  

The Winner’s Crime

The Winner’s Crime, the second installment, carries on like a tragedy of errors for the most part. I expected the misconceptions, mostly on Arin’s part, to last well into the novel but not until the very end. That made matters a little repetitive and frustrating. That being said, it also served as a brilliant setting to delve into the angst and tension between Arin and Kestrel, something Rutkoski penned very well.

The Cliffhanger

After a teasing pace, Rutkoski ends the novel with a gut-punching cliff hanger, leaving me with not only a killer good-book-hangover but also a torturous wait for the final book in the trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss, which is expected in early 2016.

In conclusion, the first two installments of The Winner’s Trilogy were a delectable read, a clever combination of heart-wrenching romance and heart-stopping political intrigue. Rutkoski’s overall focus on brains over brawn particularly resonated with me because while I love my divergents and mockingjays, the protagonist who brings down a draconian empire via mere words also needs to be aptly represented. So, if you enjoy historical dramas, political thrillers and/or forbidden romances, give The Winner’s Trilogy a go. You will not be disappointed.

Game of Thrones 5×01 – The Wars to Come Review

Game-of-Thrones-logoTyrion summed it up rather nicely when he said, “the future is shit, just like the past.”

The first episode caught us up with some key players, the mourning Lannisters, the murdering Lannister and the Spider, the Highgarden (Tyrell) siblings, the mother of (two locked up and one missing) dragons, Littlefinger and Sansa, Night’s Watch patrollers with Stannis & Co. Am I missing anyone? Oh yeah Brienne of mother-effing Tarth and her squire who’s not really a squire, because Brienne’s not a knight. Her words, not mine. But that’s all we get from them as she’s not sure what to do at this point having lost Arya and still not found Sansa, Brienne’s sulking in abeyance.

Things are sort of in limbo for everyone right now, Cersei and Jaime are trying to hold off the noble folk after the death of Tywin- that scene beside Tywin’s body gave us more of the same with both characters. Jaime defending Tyrion, Cersei reprimanding him for it. The problem is Cersei is still coming off as less of a multifaceted character and more of a jealous queen trying to keep her title. The prophecy flashback, while brilliant, didn’t help. Mostly because Maggy the Frog’s prophecy to little Cersei, who was just as haughty then as she is now, was incomplete. They cut a potentially crucial element out but I think it’s slightly spoilerous, so thoughts on it below in the Book Spoilers Ahoy (BSA) section. How about that child actor though, she nailed her adult counterpart’s characterisation.

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Tyrion is understandably jaded, he escapes from prison and his looming execution to find his dad (who’s never loved him, apparently) had taken up with Shae (who he thought had loved him) so he kills them both and is squirreled away on a ship (forced to stuff his shit through holes- hopefully not the same holes his food would have been stuffed through) for weeks. Yeesh, that’s enough to turn anyone into a drunk. The show really cut down the traveling time for him- cutting out a good few hundred characters (just kidding, or am I?) along with it. I liked that they sent Varys along for the ride, it makes for an interesting change and gives Tyrion more direction than just ‘anywhere far far away from King’s Landing’. Varys, up until this point, has been rather cryptic in his purpose, ‘spymaster for the good of the realm but more to save my own hide’ is the vibe I initially got off him, but he fully laid out his intentions to Tyrion this episode. Dany fans would be inclined to back his campaign 100%.

Daenerys Targaryen seems to be the right candidate for the Iron Throne, no? She has the lineage, the right entourage (maybe) and the swag. The falling statue scene was powerful, it easily set the tone for the goings on in Meereen. Dany seems compassionate but is not a pushover and has shown the strength to do what needs doing. What she’s lacking right now, however, is a hold on her dragons and the complete devotion of the people she’s freed. She’s also in a state of limbo, it seems, because of this. Her growth will surely be linked to the ability to rein in her dragons. Right now Viserion and Rhaegal are losing their minds being chained up and the monstrosity that is Drogon is still at large, wreaking havoc no doubt.

Littlefinger and Sansa may not be in limbo per se but Littlefinger’s plans take time and there are so many things a’brewing. Sansa’s getting smarter but she’s not at ‘master manipulator’ just yet and I like her slow- but sure- development. But her storyline’s already a huge diversion from the books and it looks like it’s going to keep changing. Depending on how they continue to develop her character this can be great, or flop-central.

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And at the wall I knew Mance was a goner but damn burnt at the stake like a witch? Ouch. Also, Melisandre’s invasive questions were a bit rude. But perhaps she can’t sacrifice virgins? We’ll see what the show does with that, yikes at him training the little sprite that shot and killed Ygritte. The ending of the episode was striking. His respect for Mance won out over his care for anything Stannis said. Jon knows (funnily enough) what’s up with needing to put aside petty throne grabs for the bigger problem at hand. Imminent Whitewalker danger, yo. There are wars brewing from every direction, Stannis doesn’t quite see it yet. He may have his current war with the Lannisters over the throne but the unknown war coming at them from North of the wall isn’t something to laugh off. Dany’s fighting a war in Meereen, subterfuge from the Sons of the Harpy who oppose her and internal conflict regarding her dragons, but Varys and Tyrion are looking to bring her into the messy war for the Iron throne- the very one she seems determined to keep putting off.

No Arya or Sandsnakes yet, but they are on their way. Along with other key players mentioned but not shown in the first ep back. Introducing the concept of Dorne through Loras’ Dorne-shaped birthmark tho’. Really? It was all for the man-on-man action, for sure. However Margaery and Loras’ relationship is weirdly awesome. Natalie Dormer is sass incarnate and with more moments of sassery to come I’m definitely hyped.

Oh what a season to look forward to.

Honourable Mentions:

– “I am not a politician, I am a queen.” YASSS DANY SLAAAYYY

– The unsullied visit them brothels to be the little spoon. Plain and simple. It isn’t, really, but if I think about it too much it’ll make me so sad.

– Ah here be Sparrows! (Introduced through the atoned Lancel This is good, setting us up for what’s to come that has a lot to do with religious beliefs and the consequences of certain actions.

– Yikes, four episodes leaked before the premiere- much to the delight of pirating fans and chagrin of the producers.

Book Spoilers Ahoy:

– THE VALONQAR?! Maggy the Frog (Maggy being a nickname that refers to what she is, which is a ‘maegi’) doesn’t make any mention of the valonqar (High Valyrian for ‘little brother’). It’s important element. Like, we get it- Cersei’s wary of Margaery (seeing her as a threat, even without the added element of a prophecy about it). And while we know she hates Tyrion but at least this would have added another facet to the reasons behind her detestation. An element of fear to her hatred of Tyrion makes her hatred far more complex than ‘he’s an imp and his birth caused our mother’s death’.

Book Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Jodi Meadow’s The Orphan Queen is the first of a trilogy and conveniently released around the same time I emerged bruised and battered from finishing Allegiant. This YA High Fantasy seemed like a nice and much need break from Roth’s dystopia so I plunged into it head first.

 Summary

The Orphan Queen is the story of Wilhelmina (“Wil”), a young girl with many faces, a princess in hiding and a spy among the paramount few. She and her band of orphaned children of nobility, the Ospreys, hatch a scheme to reclaim her throne, long ago brutally conquered by the Indigo Kingdom, involving infiltrating the enemy’s castle and igniting the rebellion from within. However, once Wil penetrates court life, things do not seem as black and white as before. To make matters worse, she keeps running into the Black Knife, a masked vigilante hell bent on bringing the likes of her to justice. What ensues in a tale of magic, mayhem, court espionage and intrigue with a smattering of romance and stunning sword fights.

The Good

The characters of Wil and the Black Knife are the crowning glory of The Orphan Queen. A reviewer aptly described their dynamics as a 19th century Batman and Catwoman and I could not agree more. Their sharp banter and dance-like interactions were very well penned and fun to read. Their relationship grows at a charmingly and refreshingly slow pace, completely in sync with their cautious characters.

I also enjoyed the fact the Wil knew her own mind and constructively scrutinised her surroundings and ensuing events. She did not let her traumatic past blind her and that was very big of her.

The Bad

The secondary characters, especially Tobiah and James, felt to be created to confuse the reader as to the identity of the Black Knife. However, if you, like me, have grown up with a particular affinity to masked and not-so-masked vigilantes, his identity is an easy giveaway. After I had made that early discovery, Wil’s interaction with these characters seemed pointless but ultimately interesting.

Also, I would have preferred more scenes with Wil and the Black Knife, given how well these were done and how much I enjoyed reading them.

The Ugly

If the events leading up to it were not sufficiently heart wrenching, the cliffhanger more than makes up for it. It was also far from foreseeable. Ms Meadows definitely secured my spot in the queue for the next installment of this series. I only pray that no annoying love triangle(s) emerge, mainly because I see an abundance of eligible avenues for same.

In conclusion, The Orphan Queen is a solid start to an interesting YA fantasy series that strongly holds my investment. It is a quick and thrilling read. I highly recommend this one.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Summary

Persona is a YA eco-techno political thriller which also caters for fans of dystopian fiction.  Despite featuring the said variety of themes,  Persona delivers on all fronts and is a refreshing reprieve from the general YA populace.

The majority of Persona covers events spanning over just a few days in the lives of Suyana and Daniel. It is set in the near future against the backdrop of a global entity called the International Assembly akin to today’s Commonwealth. The countries who make up the Assembly have representatives or Faces to cast votes on international matters and so on. The catch: These Faces are mere figureheads, glorified spokespersons cum celebrities with absolutely no say in the matters they vote on. Their handlers make the decisions for them. Their presence is more in demand by the lucrative tabloid industry built around them, analyzing their their outfits and ranks on the popularity pyramid. In doing so the tabloids serve as the only means of seeking the truth about the inner workings of the Assembly.

Suyana is the Face for the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation, a struggling nation that is no match for the likes of the bigger nations such as United States. While on her way to secure a secret alliance with the Face of United States for the sake of her country, she barely escapes an assassination attempt…with the aid of Daniel, an aspiring paparazzi from Korea who gets caught the cross fires (literally) whilst trying to land the scoop of the century, a snap of Suyana and US Face together. What ensues is an edge of the seat ride through the lanes of a futuristic Paris with countless plots twists to keep you on your toes.

The Good

Persona was either incredibly short or I just could not wait to absorb it, because I finished it in one sitting, more or less. The backdrop of the dance between the enigmatic International Assembly and the relentless paparazzi was rife with tension. The dynamics between Suyana and Daniel encapsulated this quite well, their agendas to their factions in constant conflict with their personal feelings, not necessarily only about each other but also about the system they existed within.

Despite the heady themes, the plot was not very complex to follow and the poignant and refreshing conclusion summed up the lessons contained therein perfectly.

Sure Persona has been categorized as YA, mostly because of the lead characters’ ages but it could just as easily been about an older set of characters. Daniel and Suyana were beautifully crafted characters, thanks to the alternating POV . So much so that my subconscious casting director immediately went to Daniel Henney and Gugu Mbatha-Raw or alternatively, Supernatural’s Osric Chau and The 100’s Lindsey Morgan.

Finally, it was refreshing to read a stand-alone novel among all the serials and trilogies. That being said, after closing the book, I found myself hankering for a just a few more moments with Daniel and Suyana.

The Bad and Ugly

There was nothing bad and/or ugly about Persona. Readers of Valentine’s prior work have suggested that Persona is not up to the standard of her former novels but this being my first encounter with Valentine, I had absolutely no complains.

In conclusion, Persona is definitely one of the better YA releases for early 2015 and a definite must for your bookshelves. If you loved the political underpinnings of The Hunger Games, Persona will not disappoint.

Film Review: The Longest Ride

This review is based on the film adaption of Nicholas Sparks’ book ‘The Longest Ride’, and not on the book itself. Please note that therefore this review may contain spoilers.

“Love requires sacrifice… but it’s worth it… always.”

The Longest Ride tells the tale of four people – Ira and Ruth, Luke and Sophia. Two separate love stories, and two different times – the 1940s and present day. It highlights that although time and people change, love never does. The story of how people fall in love, and love itself will always remain the same. It’s a film that makes you laugh, and makes you cry. It reaches out to the audience, and in a way it touches your heart.

We meet Sophia and Luke, who come from completely different worlds. Sophia is about to graduate and head off to her dream job in New York City, where as Luke is steadily climbing back up the board to be a champion bull rider (after a serious accident).

Sophia is talked into attending a rodeo event by her friend, Marcia. In her own way, Marcia is the enabler, who pushes Sophia out of her comfortable square box to try something different. It is all thanks to her that Sophia and Luke meet. On the first date, we see the gushy romantic view of how a guy should be. But, let’s be honest, it’s always nice to see a Southern gentleman come out. On the road home from their date, they come across Ira, who had crashed his vehicle. Luke saves his life, and Sophia saves his box of letters from the burning car. Once at the hospital, we see the beginnings of the conflicting paths and ideals surface between Luke and Sophia. They end up going their separate ways.

Cue the old man, with a lifetime of experiences under his belt. Ira wakes up to find that Sophia has saved, and read one of his beloved letters. They form an agreement where Sophia will read his letters for him. We are introduced to the love of his life, Ruth. From here on out, we are shown the struggles of loving someone. That sometimes life just gets in the way. When an opportunity to love, and I mean really love, comes along you need to take it. As Ira says, “I wish I could tell you that it will all be happily ever after. Not everyone gets that.” At the end of the day, The Longest Ride shows us what true love is. That love requires sacrifice. There is always something about overcoming the odds that speaks loudest to us, and I think this is where this film stands out.

“Love changes everything.” 

We see a cross over between Sophia and Ruth, as both are passionate lovers of art. Both Ira and Luke don’t understand the “Art World”, but they are willing to step outside of their comfort zones for those they love. In all, art and love is what ties the two stories together.

The Longest Ride is a romantic film, which draws attention to the challenges of love, and that in the end, it’s worth it. Here is the trailer for you lovers of romance to see, and it hits NZ cinemas on Thursday 9 April. 

Please note that after the trailer there are spoilers, so proceed with caution. 

I did, however, find that the ending was quite predictable (albeit I have not read the book). Both Sophia and Luke are informed of Ira’s passing and requested to attend an auction for Ira’s estate. The first listed item in the auction is that of the portrait of Ruth, which told me how everything would end. It didn’t let the film down in any way. It’s kind of reassuring to know that everything works out how you imagine it would do. The Longest Ride is a lovely film, that fills you with hope. Maybe someday, if not already, a love worthy of sacrifice will find you.

Film Review: Cinderella

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This review assumes the reader is familiar with the fairytale of Cinderella, and therefore may contains spoilers if not.

“Have courage and be kind.”

Cinderella is a wonderfully magical film, for all ages. Ranging from the excellent acting performances from the cast, through to the extraordinary costume designs, to the breathtaking set designs. It is definitely a well rounded film, which offers droplets of hope to viewers.

The film centres on a young girl, by the name of Ella. Her mother taught her from a young age to “have courage and be kind” in all that life has to offer her. Her words of advice do, however, prelude to the mistreatment shown to her by her stepmother and stepsisters. It is, most importantly, a film about self discovery – that of both Ella’s and the Prince, Kit’s inner strength, along with the fact that kindness will always win out in the end (and get you the prince / girl). You feel Ella’s pain with the lost of her parents, and the treatment inflicted on her by her stepmother and stepsisters, and can only wish for wonderful things to happen to such a kind spirited individual.

The storyline is familiar, and does not veer from the fairytale. However, the set and costume designs are superb. The detail of the sets, transports you into the film. The buildings, and – oh my – the gardens are truly exquisite. For me, they make the film. It would definitely be on my travel list for places to visit if they existed. The costume designer, Sandy Powell, is a true genius and master. Each dress was so powerful, and reflective of the character who wears it. The stepmothers’ sharp tones reflected her attitude, especially towards poor Ella. The stepsisters (inner) ugliness can be reflected in their outrageous colour contrasting dresses, and Ella’s innocence is shown through the simplicity of her dresses. Sandy truly out did herself in the ball room scene, with each dress being a piece of beautiful artwork in itself.

The film does have some quirky moments to it. With the appearance of Helena Bonham Carter, it caused quite a stir in the cinema. She is a truly wonderful actress, and as the Fairy Godmother, she offers some delightfulness to the film. The Fairy Godmother is a played with a certain “dottiness” as described by Kenneth Branagh, which adds to her charm. I think Lily James makes an incredibly majestic Cinderella. She portrays the innocence so well, and with the scene where she sweeps into the ballroom, one would believe she is already a princess. She walks with just the perfect amount of modesty and confidence expected in royalty. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Lady Tremaine is callously brilliant. The “shade” she throws Ella is pure magic in itself. The stepsisters, just got on my nerves with their childish ways, but I have never been keen on them in the original fairytale, let alone any other adaption. They portray the types of people you wouldn’t want in your life, as they are filled with an air of ‘fakeness’ and selfishness. The Prince, otherwise known as Kit, is charming as ever. He is a boy we see turn into a man through the influences of Ella, and her view on the kindness in life.

My favourite scenes of all were the ballroom, and escape from the castle. The changing of the footmen, coachman, horses, and carriage (which is a piece of beautiful artwork and craftsmanship) back into their original form was brilliant and magical to watch. I really appreciated that the lizard footmen and goose coachman retained some characteristics of themselves when changed to a “human” form by the Fairy Godmother.

Cinderella is a heart-warming film for all to see, and if you are interested in seeing the film – which I recommend you do – here is the trailer for a bit of a magical taster, if you will.

Now, please excuse me whilst I run off into the woods in search of my very own Kit.