NZIFF – Tale on Tales review

Caught Tale of Tales directed by Matteo Garrone during the New Zealand International Film Fest.

One may walk out of the Civic either wondering ‘what did I just watch?’ or ‘that was bloody well brilliant’. I went in not knowing what I was in for, my friend said spare NZIFF tickets to a fairy-tale horror and I thought, sure.

Here’s what I came out thinking, Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson would have loved it. I know now the narratives were based on three stories from 17th century Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone.

Super dark and super bloody, with no clear happy endings.

There were three narratives running throughout the film, a classic tale of a barren queen (Salma Hayek makes quite the overbearing queen, no?), the worst love game show since Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Don’t Phunk With My Heart’ (Toby Jones makes a great altogether absent father/king who cares more about a flea than his offspring), and the tale of the most coyote ugly one night stand meets Extreme Makeover.

One might say it’s pseudo-intellectual drivel, others might say it was a beautiful piece of work portraying different kinds of love and obsession in a dark fantasy setting.

You can’t deny that it’s beautifully shot, there are some rather stunning visuals of fantastical settings. Although watch out, they’ll catch you off guard and you’ll find yourself squinting a bit as the film switches from dark to light in zero seconds flat. The same could be said for the pacing, it’s slow before something happens at lightning speeds and before you know it you’ve killed your overbearing mum who’d turned into a giant mole-bat.

The story of the princess and the ogre is my favourite only because the princess got pretty badass by the end- sure it took a few unnecessary deaths (here’s a hint, to survive in this world don’t help others out), but she got through it. Like, heeeyyy- you survived! If anything it could have ended here and I would have been happy.

Three out of Five Silent (?) LOLs. Question mark because I laughed out loud at some things, as did the rest of the audience.

Honourable Mentions:

– The Queen of Hearts was sometimes every islander mum ‘I am your queen, do not forget that’ and sometimes not ENOUGH islander mum- I mean if Elias had made MY mum run through that maze looking for him let’s just say Elias should be glad his mum’s not Samoan.

– So much boobage.

– Also, there were some weird incesty undertones.

– “Flea”

Check out the trailer below:

The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki Are Epic

Miyazaki Set

Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli, one of the most famous directors in his field and a renowned artist has a box set of 11 of his feature films. At age 73, Hayao Miyazaki retired after stating that 50 years is a long time in his industry. So his films like Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro released in 1979 to The Wind Rises, his latest to date in 2013 can be found in his collection, which can be purchased here.

As expected of Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most admired animators ever, all his films were great with strong female characters that develop throughout the film which contrasts in comparison to other animated females who too often portrayed as weak, and one-dimensional with no character development.

And the absence of the typical “bad vs good” plot in his animations is replaced with ones that show characters surviving among the “bad” as realistically, the “bad” is not something that can be so easily gotten rid of.

The animations themselves were well done with it’s characters moving with human-like movements, and drawn either by hand with the use of water colours with little computer graphics used.

The environment in his films are always so detailed and they’re so beautiful, especially the sky. The sky in Hayao Miyazaki’s films are absolutely amazing.

And of course I’m being completely biased when I say that Spirited Away was my favourite film as it was the first animated film I ever remember watching. It made me want to be just like Chihiro, a strong and kind girl. I was in love with the colours and I never really understood a lot of the characters until now. The themes are so well thought out and carefully shown throughout the film. Hayao Miyazaki’s films always leave a strong impression and he more you think about the meanings of his films, the deeper they seem.

The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki is a box set that I’m super happy that we have and I’ve grown so attached to the characters with well thought out storylines. I highly recommend it and they’re never boring.

 

Book Review : The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent

Rachel Vincent’s The Stars Never Rise has all the makings of a promising series. It a wholesome and entertaining read that is a refreshing blend of dystopia and urban fantasy with a little romance to sweeten the narrative.

Summary

The-Stars-Never-Rise-

America has been ravaged by demons, possessing humans and reducing them to zombie-like creatures, paving the way for the Church to become the paramount governing body, obliterating the separation of church and state.

With demon possession rampant, souls are in short supply. The Church has introduced a brutally strict regime dictating how one leads their life with a particular restriction on who can be a parent and thus be worthy of soul for their new child. Sins are prosecutable crimes, enforced by the Church’s army of exorcists.

But sixteen-year-old Nina Kane is too busy trying to actually survive to worry about her immortal soul. She has to watch over her rebellious younger sister, Mellie, and scrap together food and money to hide the fact that their mother is deadbeat junkie so the Church does not get control of their lives…more so than usual.

Just when Nina thinks she has found a way to end their daily struggles, Mellie reveals a shocking secret that puts them right in the centre of a demon attack. Suddenly, Nina is on fugitive, on the run from the Church…and the demons. Her only way out is to trust the green-eyed Finn and his rouge gang of exorcists.

What I liked:

Vincent’s take on dystopian fiction, a Puritan United States of America, was refreshing, considering how easy it is to imagine a dystopian future as one overrun by machines, aliens or oppressive technological advancement rather than soul-consuming demons. I found it quite plausible, that people would resort to seek spiritual shelter in apocalyptic times and their religious leaders taking undue advantage of this.

Further Vincent’s philosophy behind souls, demon-possession and exorcism is fascinating, particularly her wonderfully warped version of reincarnation.

Nina was a very likeable character. Flawed, beaten, traumatised and way in over her head but unflinchingly fierce. Her supporting characters, the gang of rouge teen-exorcists, were equally entertaining. The various dynamics between them were interesting, humorous and heart warming.

The narrative is a pulse-pounding ride, full of action, witty dialogue and well-placed twists/turns to make you gasp. It features one of the most uniquely interesting romantic sub-plots I have ever encountered and I am intrigued to see how Vincent develops this.

Finally, I liked how the book concluded, in that it was not exactly a cliff-hanger but rather a promise of frighteningly new possibilities. It certainly made deeply invested in the sequel(s).

What I did not like:

While did not fall madly in love with The Stars Never Rise, I was hard-pressed to find aspects of it that I did not like. Ultimately, I decided I am more invested in seeing how seeds Vincent has sowed in this instalment fructify in the sequel(s) rather than marvel their origins, thus explaining my less than ecstatic feeling for The Stars Never Rise.

In conclusion, The Stars Never Rise is a thoroughly enjoyable read with the potential to become a great series. I early await to resume this action-packed ride in 2016.

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I binge read Sabaa Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes, within hours of its release, but it has taken me a while to compile my thoughts on this brilliant read that is at once frightening, infuriating and heart warming.  I doubt I have done justice to multitude of feelings this book evoked in me but here it is nonetheless:

Summary

Laia is a slave.  Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy, Blackcliff.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

What I liked:

An Ember in the Ashes not only features a complex and fascinatingly scary setting/world building but also a complicated web of relationships that goes beyond that of the leading narrators’, Laia and Elias. Every character is well-drawn and multi-dimensional and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to define/simply them into the usual YA relationship tropes.

Laia and Elias share the alternating narrative. They have very distinct voices, distinct struggles and distinct relationships with the secondary characters, which makes the convergence of their narratives all the more exciting and thrilling.

Laia is not your typical YA heroine, in that most of the time she is scared beyond measure with no amount of resources/skills to ease her predicament. What she does possess is a fierce determination that overrides her instinctual doubts and fears and forces her to accept to spy on the brutal and feared Commandant from within Blackcliff in exchange for assistance to free her brother.

Elias is Blackcliff’s poster boy, the son of the brutal and feared Commandant of the academy. He is expected to be a violent brute and uphold the family legacy but Elias is disgusted with the violent and barbaric lifestyle and wants to escape it. Elias struggles are of an existential nature and battle of conscience is almost palpable given some well-penned philosophical musings by Tahir.

The dark and gritty setting is infuriatingly compelling without being overly graphic. Torture, abuse and rape are rampant to the point where it is expected, entertained and encouraged. The evil Commandant is at the helm of this hell mouth.  She is a stomach-turning sociopath and one of the most horrific villains I have encountered.

Finally, there is nothing like a good prophecy-plot to confuse and confound characters and readers alike and An Ember in the Ashes has a very gripping one at its core that facilitates and shapes the larger narrative into a compelling read.

What I did not like:

While I found Elias struggle between his feelings for Laia and Helena understandable, I found Laia’s similar predicament with respect to Elias and Keenan slightly less so. I might even go so far as to say it was unnecessary, because the foundation on which Elias’s and Laias’s relationship developed was far more superior to that of Keenan’s and Laia’s. That being, said An Ember in the Ashes is hardly about these triangles, they are but sub-plots to the greater narrative and aptly interwoven so at to not be overpowering. Ultimately, it was not as bothersome as I expected.

In conclusion, An Ember in the Ashes is one the most compelling YA reads of 2015 if not, YA history. It is a stunningly imagined high fantasy with an evocative narrative and well crafted characters. Get yourself a copy now! You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Minders by Michele Jaffe

Michele Jaffe’s Minders was a great follow up to S J Steiger’s Mindwalker and now I am struggling to find another read that is just as psychologically thrilling and stimulating and failing miserably. Please do not hesitate to give any recommendations.

I had previously read Jaffe’s Bad Kitty series and was thoroughly underwhelmed but after Minders I will undoubtedly be adding Ghost Flower and Rosebush to my to-be-read list.

91Et8+vrcdL._SL1500_

Summary

A high concept, cinematic read with a surprising twist, MINDERS asks the question: who is really watching whom?

Q: If the boy you love commits a crime, would you turn him in?

Sadie Ames is a type-A teenager from the wealthy suburbs. She’s been accepted to the prestigious Mind Corps Fellowship program, where she’ll spend six weeks as an observer inside the head of Ford, a troubled boy with a passion for the crumbling architecture of the inner city. There’s just one problem: Sadie’s fallen in love with him.

Q: What if the crime is murder?

Ford Winters is haunted by the murder of his older brother, James. As Sadie falls deeper into his world, dazzled by the shimmering pinpricks of color that form images in his mind, she begins to think she knows him. Then Ford does something unthinkable.

Q: What if you saw it happen from inside his mind?

Back in her own body, Sadie is faced with the ultimate dilemma. With Ford’s life in her hands, she must decide what is right and what is wrong. And how well she can really ever know someone, even someone she loves.

 

What I liked:

Minders is set in a futuristic, and to an extent dystopian, world and revolves around new science but Jaffe spends minimal time on world building. I could complain about not knowing the year and the series of events that lead to Minders’ dystopian-like condition but ultimately it made little difference to me as a reader. When reduced to its core elements, Minders is basically a contemporary novel within a sci-fi/dystopian concept. And that is part of the reason why the little/absence of world building/setting did not bother me.

Jaffe’s narrative is like no other, her depiction of Ford’s mind as witnessed by Sadie, unbeknownst to him, is unique and fascinating. I found her description of Ford’s thought process, his sub-consciousness, repressed trauma, memory recall, and day-to-day experiences to be quite impressive. Further, her emphasis on the dichotomy between reality and internal perception was brilliant. It is apt to describe it as a cinematic read because the imagery Jaffe employs bring Ford’s tumultuous head of emotions to life is nothing short of outstandingly creative.

The reader gets a surprisingly immersive experience into the life of 19 year-old Ford Winter and for this reason I could not decide who the lead of the narrative was, Sadie or Ford. I loved them both, albeit for different reasons.

Ford

This observation of Sadie’s succinctly sums up Ford:

one moment he has you swallowing back a lump in your throat, the next he’s making you roll your eyes.

He comes off as stupid, impulsive and evasive most of the time but as Sadie delves into the grief, hurt and insecurities underpinning his decisions/actions he suddenly takes your breath away.

Sadie

In contrast, there is very little to know about Sadie that is not relative to Ford. We know her life is planned to clinical precision, filled with passionless ambition and pretentious affections of her supposed loved ones. She is perceived to be cold and driven but is harbouring feelings of loneliness, abandonment and self-doubt. As the reader accompanies her journey within Ford’s mind, you discover she is deeply compassionate. She is moved by Ford’s predicament and quickly resolves to empathise with him and aid him against her better judgment.

I initially decided that Sadie’s feelings for Ford developed rather rapidly, but then realised that maybe getting front row seats to his inner-psyche would that to you. Ford compels her to feel as well as think, an attribute that she severely lacked before descending into his mind.

Aside from Ford and Sadie, the plot is intriguing, entertaining and compelling. The mystery of Ford’s brother’s death and the criminal underbelly of his city is edge-of-the-seat stuff.

What I did not like:

I did not dwell much on the fact that the resolution of the mystery was predictable, but I found Sadie’s knowledge of how events/facts connected to the ultimate culprits was unnecessarily rushed and borderline inexplicable. The clues were definitely set throughout the narrative and Sadie at some point collated/connected them but this was never demonstrated. Sadie simply communicated her conclusions and that was that. At the end of the book, I found myself thinking, well, she must connected those two dots, and in light of her being aware of this piece of information, she must have come to that conclusion and so forth. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that Jaffe did not spend some extra time (a chapter at the least) on tidying up her conclusion, particularly when the rest of the book was so well done.

I also felt that the culprits were not sufficiently dealt with at the end. That being said, it was certainly refreshing to have a battle of wits as the climax and a less-naive conclusion to the good v/s evil dynamic.

In conclusion, Minders is an un-put-down-able read. After a while, my body simply when into over-ride mode and shut down without my knowledge (literally, I would be reading and then I am waking up with a sleeping iPad next to me, now that I have mastered how to position it so it does does not fall forward on my face and split my lip) because I kept reading it when I should be sleeping. It is a stunning psychological thriller, equal parts heart-pounding and heart wrenching. If you are looking for something that is just that little bit out of the ordinary, look no further than Michele Jaffe’s Minders.

Paper Towns Film Review – For those who’ve read the book

Paper Towns - Margo and Q

Paper Towns, directed by Jake Schreier
Quick thoughts: Teen-drama, a pretty close adaptation of the novel by John Green with a great OST and a good cast, the coming-of-age film has a nice balance of humour, drama and a hint of mystery.
Cast: Nat Wolff (Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen), Cara Delevingne (Margo Roth Spiegalman, Halston Sage (Lacey Pemberton), Jaz Sinclair (Angela), Justice Smith (Marcus ‘Radar’ Lincoln), Austin Abrams (Ben Starling)
Opens: July 16th (NZ)

Because this review comes from someone who’s read the book, know that there will be spoilers. 

Part mystery, part coming-of-age and road film wrapped in a teen-drama with witty retorts and a pretty realistic outlook, Paper Towns doesn’t try to be too many things at once. Although the Paper Towns book took me a little longer than The Fault In Our Stars to get into, it gave me something TFIOS did not- a slice of life storyline about somewhat ordinary, (let’s contextualise this) middle-class American, teenagers. The film adaptation was nicely done, and it stayed pretty true to the book.

margo

Margo’s character was tweaked, and I think I liked the tweaking. She was less wordy in the film version, although it dawned on me why I didn’t like Paper Towns as much as I did John Green’s other work- I couldn’t quite put my finger on it while reading the book but it occurred to me during the movie that Margo was a very selfish character. But that is also so realistic, because what teenager isn’t ego-centric? Although, not every teenager will just disappear for days on end.

It isn’t a groundbreaking film but it’s a good flick to catch.

I liked the pacing of the film, even though it slowed a bit towards the middle- but most films do. The characters were well portrayed by their actors, Wolff made a good lead as Q, the boy-next-door who needs to learn how to let loose a little and Delevingne was every bit the mysterious Margo. More so in the film than in the book. Ben was just as annoying in the film as he was on the page, although Abrams made him less grating than I was expecting. I liked Radar, the deadpan way in which Smith played the character was understated. Sage was adequate as the like-me-for-me-not-my-looks-please hot (but cool because smart and secretly nerdy) girl. And Sinclair as Angela was nice, the character itself didn’t stand out but the cast worked well together.

The ending was good, every bit as anticlimactic as the ending in the book, and I’m glad that it didn’t differ. I can’t say the storyline is too realistic, but there are aspects of realism present that I appreciated. Both the book and film are about letting go of certain ideals about things, like shallow fantasies about a person you’ve never spoken to before. Also, learn to enjoy life now. Don’t wait for everything to go according to plan before you can start enjoying your life.

Some differences from the book just quickly off the top of my head:

Radar’s not bespectacled in the book- he’s supposed to be taller than Q and have contact lenses and his computer nerdiness comes out in his behaviour notsomuch his outwardly appearance. In the film there’s no mention of Radar’s omnictionary fixing obsession- but he does use it.

Book Margo had 11 things she wanted to do, while Movie Margo only had nine. Movie Margo accompanied Q into the store to buy the supplies, book Margo sat in the car and gave Q the list.

If I try to list out all the differences I’d never finish this review, however despite the amount of differences- none of which were deal breakers for me- the film was a good yarn.

 

 

Book Review: Mindwalker by A J Steiger

A J Stieger’s Mindwalker gets off to a slow and almost reluctant start, in that the narrative comes off as a little middle-grade-like rather than YA. However, it eventually picks up speed and plunges you into a heart-pounding bittersweet journey of mind, heart and soul.

Summary

At seventeen, Lain Fisher has already aced the Institute’s elite training program for Mindwalkers, therapists who use a direct neural link to erase a patient’s traumatic memories. A prodigy and the daughter of a renowned scientist-whose unexplained death left her alone in the world-Lain is driven by the need to save others.

When Steven, a troubled classmate, asks her to wipe a horrific childhood experience from his mind, Lain’s superiors warn her to stay away. Steven’s scars are too deep, they say; the risk too great. Yet the more time Lain spends with him, the more she begins to question everything about her society. As she defies the warnings and explores Steven’s memories, it becomes clear that he’s connected to something much bigger…something the Institute doesn’t want the world to discover.

Lain never expected to be a rule breaker. She certainly didn’t plan on falling in love with a boy she’s been forbidden to help. But then, she never expected to stumble into a conspiracy that could ignite a revolution.

What I Liked:

Lain is very sympathetic and compassionate lead, so much so that her incessant need to help people overrides her sense of self-preservation. That does not mean she is not cautious, she simply looks at the reasons underpinning the risk of danger/threat to her and attempts at deconstructing it with compassion and understanding.

She quickly becomes quite taken with Steven, but once the reader understands the above traits, her attraction to him is reasonable if not ordinarily reasonable. She does not even register that he is physically attractive until the later portion of the book.

Steven on the other hand, is impulsive, erratic, suspicious and deeply traumatised. I loved his quietly flirtatious sense of humour. His nervous energy was infectious and working through his dark and painful past and the influence thereof was heart-breaking. His fierce protectiveness of Lain was well-qualified and not arbitrary like the more generic YA male leads.

Their relationship was beautiful, in a bittersweet way. It was subtle yet fierce and built on a foundation of trust, understanding, unconditional loyalty rather than animal magnetism. Although, there is a bit of that too.

Ian was another good element to the narrative, a decent supporting character whose dynamics between Lain, Steven and him was well depicted. It was realistic yet unpredictable and I would love to see more of him in the future.

Steiger does not shy away from realities of severe trauma. While some YA novels may lead you to believe that finding that special someone, confronting your demons, finding the truth behind it and/or even punishing those responsible, frees you of your trauma, Steiger posits, that it remains with you. It is simply a matter of having an anchor/reason that helps you manage it, eases its crippling hold and make the exercise worthwhile.

The world building was fantastic, very Spielberg’s Minority Report, which is one of my favourite futuristic settings so I was a happy reader indeed.

The language is quite understated and does not bombard you with traumatic imagery given the circumstances. However, that does not mean that the very honest and raw experiences of the leading characters is in anyway insufficiently depicted.

Finally, Steiger’s takes on mental disease was confronting and arguably not a large departure from reality. Mindwalker introduces a world where people are classed according to their mental stability, the shrinks are in charge. The stable hold positions of power and prestige and the unstable are relegated to menial jobs. Where the trauma is minimal and one has the financial means, one can go through conditioning or erase their memories of it. Where the trauma is extensive and manifests in self-harm or harming others (actual or risk of) individuals are treated to a law-ordered mind-wipe or strongly advised to commit suicide by way of a simple pill. But for the impoverished and diseased there is little choice. Prevention and rehabilitation has been substituted for avoidance.

What I Did Not Like:

I have mentioned the lack-lustre start already and I cannot emphasize enough about being patient during those initial chapters because the narrative, once it embeds into your head, will blow your mind! So all in all, there was absolutely nothing I did not enjoy about this read. I eagerly look forward to the next instalment of what I believe may be a duology or trilogy.

In conclusion, Mindwalker a quietly strong and thought provoking YA psychological thriller from a debut author to watch out for. It is unique and riveting page turner and I highly recommend it.