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.

Paper Towns Trailer

John Green’s teen romance/drama The Fault in Our Stars did so well last year, the powers that be decided to adapt Paper Towns (Green’s best-selling, award-winning, 2008 book of the same name) with Nat Wolff (who played comic relied Isaac in TFIOS) and Cara Delevingne as the leads and directed by Jake Schreier.

Quentin Jacobsen (Wolff) is rather enamored with his neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman (played by Cara Delevingne) and after years of barely even talking to each other Margo sneaks into Q’s room one night and asks him to help her on a special mission. She then goes missing the next day, leaving behind nothing but a trail of cryptic clues that Quentin and his friends set out to decipher.

While the trailer seems to play up the quirky romantic teen…liness of the film the book is slightly more complex.  I can’t say Paper Towns was one of my favourite Green novels but it wasn’t a disappointment. The trailer showcases the chemistry of the cast and what is probably going to be an excellent soundtrack.

Set to hit New Zealand Cinemas July 16th.

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Movie Review: Insurgent

This review is spoiler free for those who have not read and/or watched Insurgent but assumes the reader has read and/or watched Divergent.   

It felt like only yesterday that I was speed-reading Divergent to make it to the silver-screen adaptation of same in time. Yet I was doing the same again, having impulsively booked tickets to an advanced screening of Insurgent last night. I had commenced reading Insurgent immediately after watching Divergent but left the final 10 chapters unfinished as it was getting a little repetitive and slow paced for me. Insurgent, the movie, is anything but slow paced but do not let the shiny imagery fool you.

Summary

Insurgent plunges audiences back to dystopian Chicago where society has been divided into factions, Dauntless (enforcers), Candor (judiciary), Amity (agriculture), Erudite (knowledge) and Abnegation (piety). The Divergents belong to two or more factions like our protagonists, Tris and Tobias (Shailene Woodley and Theo James). They are branded a danger to the society and hunted by the likes of Jeanine Mathews (Kate Winslet). The audiences are also introduced to the faction-less (self-explanatory) led by the enigmatic Evelyn Johnson (Naomi Watts).

The film opens with Tris and Tobias taking refuge of the Amity grounds. Meanwhile Jeanine has a retrieved a metal box seemingly created by the founders of their society that holds a secret about their very existence. The box can only be opened by a Divergent and so begins Jeanine’s ruthless hunt for Tris and others like her.

Analysis

The film cleverly compresses the book by employing a fast paced narrative, thrilling action sequences and sleek CG imagery to boost. It does so without dismantling the principle defining moments in novel even if it tweaks it a bit to simplify it for a wider audience. For instance, in the book Jeanine already knows about the secret and wants to protect it by experimenting on and executing Divergents. In the film, she is unaware of the secret and incessantly tries to uncover it by experimenting on and executing Divergents.

In its bid for simplification the film does away with the underlying political tension between the faction ideologies and the over arching issues of loyalty, betrayal and trust. Unfortunately, in doing so, it also does away with the beautiful complexities of the characters, the dynamics between them and the world they live in.

We meet a reckless, guilt-ridden and grieving Tris in Insurgent and while the film does not demonstrate her broken psyche as expertly as Roth did, they still do a pretty good job of it. That being said, the ill-effects of Tris’s battle with her inner demons on her relationship with Tobias are more or less non-existent, which was particularly disappointing because I felt their struggles distinguished from them other couples in YA fiction today.

Tobias’ has very little to do in this adaption, a sore point for me because while being a titular character in the series, he is also Tris’s voice of reason on her path to self-destruction in Insurgent. Their dynamics are portrayed as being far too rosy and simple in the circumstances. Any dialogue scenes appear short and rationed, relegated to being mere stepping stones for the next action sequence, further stunting any character development.

Enormous liberties are taken with the simulation sequences but the stunning imagery is undeniably cool and makes for a great watch on the big screen. The production design is rich and sleek. The Amity, Erudite and factionless compounds were straight out of my imagination so it was brilliant to see them come to life. I particularly enjoyed that the Candor headquarters was made to look like a court house/law library with the residents’ dresses fashioned after barristers’ robes.

I did feel that the cinematographer could have gone easier on the close ups of Woodley which were too close for comfort and unnerving to watch on the big screen. Some of the slow motion actions sequences were similarly ill-advised.

The entire cast ensemble was quite impressive, Miles Teller more so than others. The chemistry between Woodley and James was underwhelming this time round. In theory Tris emerges a different person in Insurgent but Woodley, who starts off strong, eventually just opts for more the same expressions and mannerisms which becomes tiring. James felt too stiff (no pun intended) and distant, but in his defence there was a very limited scope for him to perform any kind of histrionics.

In conclusion, Insurgent proves to be more engaging than the book but propels the narrative forward a little carelessly for my liking, choosing style over substance. That being said, I believe the film works quite well on its own. It has the makings of a decent action-thriller and if that is your thing, I highly recommend it.

‘Home’ Review – It’s In The Out Now In NZ Cinemas

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Dreamworks Animation’s newest film ‘Home’ directed by Tim Johnson invaded NZ theaters today.

Introducing an alien race known as the Boov, one of the two protagonists, Oh, is a funny little character who’s constantly making mistakes. The Boov, led by Captain Smek (aka Captain Smack because he talks a whole lot of it) are constantly on the run from their mortal enemy, and escaping to Earth, they think that what they’re doing is okay and is even helping those already inhabiting it. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the case, but the Boov are blind to that.

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So moving to Earth, all the humans are gathered up and placed in one section on Earth, all of their belongings left behind and no way to get out of where they’ve been left. But a young girl (the other protagonist) named Tip wasn’t taken with everyone else, most importantly, her mum. And so she waits, and she looks for her mum only to come across Oh who’s in a similar (sort of, not really) situation to hers. Tip is running from the Boov, fearing that if they find her, she won’t find her mum whilst Oh is running because he’s messed up yet again, and this time he was going to face some serious consequences.

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One of the best things about this movie were the characters. The cowardly Oh and brave Tip’s relationship just further showed us how different they were, and as the film progressed with more feels and more dilemmas, you begin to see changes in Oh and see how much he’s learning and growing. He becomes more considerate over time, begins to realise that there’s more to life than just yourself, like family and friendship. It’s pretty cute, really.

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But one of my faves was Captain Smek. Y’all shoud all look forward to him. I disliked him so much, I loved him.

Talk Smek, get Smekked.

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Another great thing about this film is how despite it being aimed for quite a young age group, a lot of the humour fit well with an older audience, and when we attended the screening, the teenagers laughed so much harder than the kids. The voice actors were also perfect for the characters with Jim Parsons as Oh, Rihanna as Tip, Jennifer Lopez as Lucy Tucci (Tip’s mum’s name hahahahahahaha), Steve Martin as Captain Smek and Matt L. Jones as Kyle.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, I, grudgingly do admit that the plot’s been rather overdone and the misfit’s angle isn’t an original concept.

The soundtrack was simply perfect for the film as well and I could see myself jamming out to those tracks outside the cinema. If you enjoy a lot of Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez’s music, then you’ll enjoy the soundtrack because a majority of it is them, otherwise, you might not like it as much or at all.

They matched the scenes of the film, and when good music is matched with the right scene, everything is so much more enjoyable. Did I mention that Rihanna’s voice gives me life and so when her tracks started during the film I was so just so happy about it. Also our fellow Boov Oh sings a lot like our beloved Jess, the similarities were uncanny.

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‘Home’ came out in New Zealand cinemas on the 19th March so definitely check it out. It’s worth the watch and you won’t be disappointed.

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Book Review: Split Second by Sophie McKenzie

I am a big fan of Sophie McKenzie. I thoroughly enjoyed her Blood Ties duology, the first instalment of which I discovered it while stocking YA as a staff member of Angus & Robertson many moons ago. The second instalment, Blood Ransom was my very first e-book purchase. In other words, there is a very special place in my heart for Ms Mckenzie.

Summary

Split Second is about Nat and Charlie, based in futuristic London when poverty, unemployment and terrorism is at an all time high.  Nat and Charlie meet 6 months following a bomb blast at a popular market place that kills Charlie’s mother and puts Nat’s brother in a coma. After an initial misunderstanding both join a secret vigilante army to seek vengeance against the extremist group responsible for the blast and this forms the crux of the book.

The Good

Nat and Charlie are good characters with strong voices.  Their emotions, relative to such a tragic incident in their lives, are more or less spot on. Charlie’s tendency to hide behind anger is believable if not frustrating, while Nat’s cautious determination is endearing. The dual perspectives makes for a great insight into both psyches.

It has fantastic premise and the blurb certainly reflects that much. I would have just as easily picked this up even if I was not a Sophie McKenzie fan.

The Bad & The Ugly

Maybe I have become too old and jaded but I found Nat and Charlie to be very naïve. Nat was a bit cautious but Charlie took things at face value and jumped into situations unquestionably. She had a fierce way of doing it so the naivety was not as apparent at first. Then again, if I was a young individual reeling from family tragedy brought about by unnecessary violence, I maybe naïve and devoid of caution as well.

The fact that Nat and Charlie tend to make googly eyes at each other despite being in life-threatening situation after life-threatening situation was also particularly off putting. Unless that is also something I am misjudging due to being old and jaded. Maybe you do have the time to notice how hot someone is when you are racing against the clock to stop an explosion.

I read split second almost immediately after Genevieve Valentine’s Persona (review coming soon) which was wise beyond its genre and may have also doomed Split Second’s fate.

Finally, what really made me decide to leave this book unfinished was the fact that I guessed the bad guy from the first few chapters. I could not resist a quick perusal of the final chapters and my suspicions where confirmed.

In Conclusion, I was convinced of my forthcoming love affair with Split Second (and its sequel Every Second Counts) given how much I enjoyed McKenzie’s Blood Ties and was looking forward to it. Therefore,  it was with a heavy heart that I had to leave it unfinished. That being said, if you consider yourself young at heart or literally have a younger heart that is unpolluted by the world, by all means, give Split Second a shot and let me know if I have been unnecessarily harsh.

Book Review: All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter

All Fall Down is the first in the Embassy Row series from Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girls and the Heist Society books. This was my first encounter with Carter as her former books’ premises did not seem to engage me. I have since reconsidered my position on that and have added the Heist Society series to my to-read list.

I recently rekindled my love for young adult contemporary thrillers with Sarah Alderson’s Conspiracy Girl and James Patterson’s Confessions series (reviews coming soon), so when I came across All Fall Down, I did not blink before hauling it into my non-virtual shopping basket. That’s right! It is my first physical read in what felt like eons! The fact that it was available at my local Big W in a gorgeous hardback at a great price helped.

Summary

All Fall Down is the story of Grace Blakely, a 16-year-old army brat/serial troublemaker, sent to live with her grandfather, a US ambassador stationed in Adria. The relocation follows the death of Grace’s mother, which Grace does not come to terms with quite well, insisting it was murder when people around her insist it was an accident. The US Embassy resides at Embassy Row adjacent to all the other embassies. Immediately upon arrival Grace learns that the place operates under strict if not practical rules of conduct and that a slight deviation can result in an international incident, ranging from collapse of fragile national ties to war! As if that is not enough, she discovers that her older brother has tasked his once best friend and boy next door Alexei (son of the Russian ambassador) to keep an eye on Grace, much to her annoyance. She also reluctantly forms a friendship with Noah, son of the now divorced Israeli and Brazilian ambassadors, Rose (Germany) and Megan, daughter of a CIA operative working for the US Embassy. Things turn from bad to worse when Grace spots the man she believes killed her mother in Adria and embarks on a mission to find him and make him pay thus proving to those around her that she is not crazy.

The Good

Grace is a great character to root for. She is deeply broken but is stoic to a fault. She is also quite witty and sarcastic, so it was great fun to see her interactions with the secondary cast of characters.

The secondary cast of characters, with the exception of Alexei, are very well developed. Noah easily became my favourite as the adorkable best friend a la Xander Harris. Meagan and Rose came a close second.

The political backdrop for the story was refreshing and gave the mystery that tension that is exclusive to political thrillers. Also, it was a great departure from First Daughter/Chasing Liberty type of storylines, which is as political as YA gets.

Finally, I did not see the big twist coming! After sitting through countless seasons of Law and Order: SVU, Bones, Criminal Minds, NCIS and other crime procedurals, I can easily predict 90% percent of mystery-thrillers but Ms Carter sits firmly in the 10%. As if that was not enough to tarnish my ego, she ended it on a pretty good cliffhanger as well.

The Bad

I felt that after a while, Carter tended to repeat herself. Grace does are lot of tailing, and exploring hidden tunnels and this takes up a good chunk of the book to little to no avail. All major plot twists happen in the final two or three chapters, slightly rushed and to an extent, incomplete. While I appreciate the need for cliffhangers as incentive to make readers invest in the forthcoming installments, I did not care for such a big revelation to be dealt with so loosely.

Secondly, Alexei, who was given a prime spot in the blurb and introduced to me almost simultaneously as Grace, disappears for 80% of the book. I found this to be entirely contradictory of the character because he was charged with being Grace’s bodyguard of sorts and the guy is not even there to do so. He is also clearly the love interest so the disappearing act was doubly disappointing because how I one be interested enough to love when he is absent all the time.

The Ugly

I believe it is premature to denote the book’s cons as ugly because at the end of the day it is only the first book of the series and I trust Ms Carter will aptly deal with inefficiencies outlined above in the second book.

In conclusion, All Fall Down was a refreshing read with great twists and turns and a strong female lead at the centre of it all. It has set a solid foundation for its future installments so I am eager to see what it develops into. Needless to say my expectations are running high.

Book Review: Descendants Series by Melissa Wright

If you have the time and patience,  it pays to browse through the infinite sea of smut that is the new adult genre, because you just might find something as good as Melissa Wright’s Descendants Trilogy. 22879444 (1) It is imperative you do not judge the Descendants by its covers, two of which feature a couple straight out of the next CW network pilot, but instead, skip straight to the blurb. The Descendants is a paranormal thriller that sits comfortably between the young adult and new adult genre and I fell head over heels in love with it at first chapter.

Summary

Aern is descended from a long line of supernatural beings with the power of compulsion or sway. His brother, Morgan, by way a prophecy has gotten it into his head that he can be the ruler of world if he gets hold of Brianna, the chosen one. So of course Aern in an attempt to stop his brother and save the world in the process, hides Brianna. Aern then meets Emily, Brianna’s twin, in less than pleasant circumstances. Emily just wants to find her missing sister and initially believes Aern has kidnapped Brianna. Their unlikely team-up forms the crux of the first installment of the series, Bound by Prophecy. The 2nd book, Shifting Fate, follows Brianna journey as the chosen one as she teams up with Aern and Emily to thwart Morgan’s ongoing attempts at world domination. The third book, Reign of Shadows explores Brianna and Emily’s origins and their link with Aern’s world.

The Good

Firstly, Aern and Emily. Aern narrates Bound by Prophecy in first-person and Wright manages to convincingly write from a male point of view. To me, he came off as an understated version of Dean Winchester and Harry Dresden and shortly after I decided that, Jensen Ackles became the voice of the narrative.  We only see Emily through Aern’s eyes. On the outset she is a strong warrior, wise beyond her years. However, quickly we see that she harbors the anxieties expected of a young and confused girl in her situation searching for her twin sister in a world she barely understands. I appreciated that while Aern was the one with superpowers and forethought, Emily was the physically stronger one. They had a weirdly sweet dynamic that I eventually came to adore. It was refreshingly subtle and far from the melodramatic relationships usually featured in this genre. Secondly, the length of the individual novels, I read a book a day to finish this trilogy and if I did not need to earn a living all three books could have easily been devoured in a day. Finally, the price for the books on Amazon Kindle is next to nothing. The audible counterparts are similarly priced and the whisper-sync feature makes for a great way to keep on reading while attending to the more mundane tasks of laundry and dish washing.

The Bad

While I appreciated that Wright did not over do the supernatural lore or world building, her tendency to offer snippets or unfinished pieces of information about the prophecy and the characters’ roles in it was frustrating at times. It felt like I had missed a chapter, or prologue or a whole prequel! I did get a larger and fuller picture of world in the final book but a little more detail would not have been a miss. That being said, the lack of information did provide an incentive to keep reading so maybe Wright had me exactly where she wanted me. There is minimal dialogue, more so in the second and final books. As someone who likes a lot of dialogue in her novels, I found the second two books a tad bit tiresome. I missed Aern and Emily greatly in Shifting Fate and Reign of Shadows even though they are both present in the later books and Aern’s POV returns in third book. Brianna just was not as enigmatic as Emily. Further, Logan, the other male lead, barely appealed to me and Emily and Logan’s relationship was no where near as interesting as Aern and Emily’s.

The Ugly

The audiobook narrators leave much to be desired, especially Kirby Heybourne as Aern in Bound by Prophecy. His voice has the tone and depth of a digital answering machine to an offshore call centre with an emotional range of a teaspoon. Emily Rankin as Brianna in Shifting Fate was infinitely better than Heybourne while Katherine Hvam was strictly okay for the final book.

In conclusion, The Descendants was a quick and fun read. It plunges into the action from the first page of the first book and does not stop until the end of the last page of the final book. It can be annoying if you like to know every single thing about the world the characters in it, but other than that it makes for an enjoyable ride. Give it a go and let us know what you think.