Stranger Things TV Show Review

For those of you without Netflix or perhaps not that into pop culture, a new show was recently released on Netflix called Stranger Things. Now I know I said I was going to focus on movie reviews for a bit, but I decided to take a break from those and review this show as I just finished binge-watching it and I think it’s worthy of a review.

Broadly put, Stranger Things is about this boy Will who goes missing, a strange girl with powers named Eleven who appears, and the subsequent insane things that are revealed through efforts to find Will and figure out Eleven. I don’t want to talk about the plot-line of the show too much because I think it’s just absolutely fantastic and something people should experience without being spoiled by me.

From what I’ve been able to glean from the internet, this original series actually pays homage to the 80’s and references the work of a lot of people (Steven Spielberg (E.T.), Stephen King (Carrie), George Lucas (Star Wars), etc.). I’m not really an 80’s kid so I don’t have too much knowledge about those sort of things (aside from like the most obvious phenomena like Dungeons & Dragons), but even I could pick up some of the 80’s references. As a result, I think 80’s kids would really like this show. But honestly, even kids not of the 80’s would like this as I’m a kid of the 90’s and I really enjoyed this show, as did my younger brother whose a kid of the late 2000’s (is that even the correct term? LOL idk?). That said, I think it’s also important to mention the genre of the show as it makes an impact as to how you enjoy the show. The show falls into the supernatural, sci-fi, horror, mystery, thriller  genre(s) and hence the plot-line isn’t really what you’d call ‘real life.’ I personally enjoy that/ those genre’s (despite the fact that I’m a big scaredy cat and the horror genre freaks me out) and I enjoyed watching it. If you don’t like those genres, then I’d caution you when watching.

Anyways, since I already stated that I won’t talk about the plot too much, I’m going to focus on the other, more technical aspects like characters, acting, writing, directing, pacing, and music.

In terms of characters, I found that despite the fact that the series was only 8 episodes with a run time of about 45-55 minutes per episode, most characters were actually pretty well fleshed out and some even got to undergo fantastic character arcs. One arc that particularly stood out to me, was that of Steve’s, the boyfriend of the sister of one of Will’s friends, Nancy. Steve begins the story as the stereotypical popular, good-looking, rich guy. He charms his way into Nancy’s heart and then finds himself heartbroken and lashes out in some bad ways. However, near the end of the series, he turns around and redeems himself. He disassociates from his bad company, feels remorse for his actions, attempts to fix his mistakes, and even comes to help out the people he thought betrayed him. Personally, I thought it was a rather fantastic arc. In most typical high school stories, the character represented by Steve (mean top dog) usually ends up being unmasked as this asshole. Yet, in Stranger Things, Steve goes through character development and emerges a more well rounded character.

Similarly, his girlfriend Nancy also changes. From being the studious and preppy girl with a crush on Steve, Nancy transforms into a semi-badass with a vendetta to repay. She actually holds a gun and everything. It was really nice seeing that. One of my favourite parts about her story, was the way she did not pursue anything with the brother of the missing boy, Jonathan, and didn’t care about what Steve thought when she was on her mission of revenge. I just found it so satisfying that she was on a mission and didn’t let boys or love or any other sort of thing distract her. Yet, at the same time, she didn’t really lose her personality or femininity. I just really enjoyed watching that onscreen. I always appreciate it when girls are badass and still girly; I find it to be such a rare combination to appear on the screen.

On a different note, I also really enjoyed the characterization of one of Will’s friends, Lucas. Throughout the show, Will’s other friends, Mike and Dustin, seemingly come across as more likeable as they’re more willing to do crazy things to find Will and unflinchingly believe Eleven despite her elusiveness. Lucas, on the other hand, refuses to believe Eleven (until the very end) and remains very skeptical of her and other things. And I gotta say, I actually really enjoyed Lucas’s character. It was so nice to finally have a sane, skeptical friend onscreen; it sort of provided a seemingly realistic angle to the story. I mean, it’s always fun to watch people do crazy things like run from the police or telekinesis, but if that sort of stuff happened in real life, I feel like most of us would be skeptical and unsure about joining in. And to me, Lucas portrayed that hesitation and desire to follow the known perfectly. Of course near the end of the series, Lucas does finally accept that he wasn’t right to question everything and that Eleven was actually part of the ‘good’ guys. However, it was also really great to watch as he also evolves and goes through a great character arc.

Of course, it’s important to point out that not every character transforms and goes through a huge character development arc. For example, Jonathan, the brother of the missing Will, remains a wonderful brother dedicated to finding and protecting his brother from the beginning to the end. Similarly, after the major story ends, he also remains his quiet self, despite going on a huge journey with other people. And I think it was a smart move for the writers to have done this. To have every character go on some life-changing arc would be too much. Variety is always nice to see and sometimes characters don’t need to go through huge life-changing transformations in order to receive character growth. Also, I thought it would also be super unrealistic for the characters to have completely different personality traits after one week (the events in the show take place during one singular week). So I liked how the characterizations were balanced, with some character receiving huge life-changing arcs while others also had life-changing moments but didn’t completely change.

Coming to the next category, acting, I have to say and EACH and EVERY actor completely KILLED their role. I mean, seriously, I have not seen such a solid cast in a long time. Firstly, Winona Ryder was fabulous. I’ve loved her since I first saw her Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and have always thought of her as one of the most beautiful and fantastic actors around. So when I saw her name in credits I knew she would be wonderful, and of course she delivered. She was amazing as Will’s mother! She emoted helplessness, anger, hopefulness, confusion, sadness, and determination so wonderfully! There’s a few scenes in the movie where Joyce, her character, thinks that Will is speaking to her through the lights in their house and she literally grabs a ball of lights, cradles it, and talks to it as if it were Will. And I mean, when I was watching the seen, I 100% believed that she was talking to the Will and didn’t even think to doubt it. And then later on, I read an interview of hers where she said that doing that scene, talking to the lights, was one of the hardest scenes she had to do because it looked/ felt so dumb and I was awestruck because while watching that scene, I had no inkling that Winona felt dumb doing it or anything. She sold that scene across so well, it was insane. I believed it all. And she wasn’t the only stand out actor in the show!

The little girl who played Eleven, Mille Bobby Brown, was just fantastic too. In the show, Eleven is depicted as this strange girl with powers. She’s been locked up for years and doesn’t have much knowledge about the way the world functions and I thought Millie portrayed her wonderfully. I loved how Eleven would be so confused/ amazed at the things she saw, even if they were ordinary things. And I loved her reaction to having long hair for the first time. Even though Eleven didn’t say a lot of words, Millie emoted many emotions. Just great really.

On that note, I ADORED Will’s friends Dustin and Mike, Dustin especially. The actor playing Dustin, Gaten Matarazzo, was absolutely amazing! Dustin was seriously such a scene stealer! And Gaten played him super well, as this logical yet funny guy. My sister and I couldn’t get enough of him and it’s funny too because initially, Dustin comes across as kinda weird. Yet, as the show continues, he grows on you so much! Gaten did such a good job keeping Dustin the way he was. It would’ve been so easy for other actors to go crazy and make Dustin too outlandish or too boring. But he kept him reined it and wonderful. Same with Finn Wolfhard who played Mike. To me, it felt like the Mike actor was fearless. He played Mike with such abandon, as he was super passionate, open, believing of all of the strange things, and willing to do whatever to find Will and keep Eleven safe. And on that note, I have to say that all three boys, Gaten, Finn, and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), had amazing chemistry. It really felt like you were seeing three best friends on screen, rather than actors who had met a few weeks ago. Despite my love for Winona, I feel like the trio (well foursome with Eleven/ Will) were the real stars of the show. The chemistry between them felt super organic and was wonderful to watch. But I think that can also be attributed, in part, to the good script.

I found the writing for this show to be really wonderful. The plot-line itself was a mix of familiar and new items but the way it was presented onscreen felt quite fresh. There were quite a few scenes/ instances that I quite enjoyed. For example, I really liked the foreshadowing present in the first episode wherein Mike basically narrates the whole story in simpler terms while playing D&D with his friends. Subtle things like that made for a nice watching experience. And there were small funny scenes that I really enjoyed as well. For example, when the boys first come across Eleven, they aren’t sure that she can talk or hear. So to test her hearing, Dustin randomly begins clapping his hands together in her face to see if she flinches (LOL). While it’s not that funny written down on my blog, I can assure you that it was hilarious on TV. Similarly, I also liked the dialogue/ language used in the script. I especially found the language employed by the younger kids to be really well done and be age appropriate (LOL). It added a sense of realism that I appreciated. In general, I felt like the writing was fresh, funny, and entertaining. As I mentioned in another review, I feel like a good script can really elevate the show/movie and I think that it was the case here as well. 

And I feel like the directing also played a large role. I really enjoyed the way the show was shot. Despite the fact that there were quite a few familiar scenes that were intended to pay homage to older 80’s film, I felt like the directing helped with making the story-line fresher. The cinamatography in particular was quite well done in my opinion. The look of the Upside Down itself was quite interesting and I really appreciated how the monster and its surroundings were given a darker, bluish tinge. On that note, I loved how the show wasn’t too dark, in terms of lighting. I often find that in an attempt to be scary or mysterious, some filmmakers tend to darken their shots in an effort to create a dark atmosphere and heighten the tension by taking advantage of the fact that the darkness causes actions to appear unclear. However, in Stranger Things, the directors didn’t go down that route. To be clear, some scenes were definitely darker in lighting than others, but it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t see anything. Despite watching the show in darkness (all the lights were turned off), I could still see everything clearly and I think it actually made the whole viewing experience much more enjoyable for me.

That said, I actually did find the pacing of the show to be a bit slow at times. The story itself moved along at a relatively quickly pace, but there were definitely certain moments that could have been sped up. However, that’s only a minor complaint.

Finally, adding to the wonderful mix of elements already present, the music in this show was awesome. I LOVED the theme/ title song. I know other people felt like the theme song was more upbeat or whatever, but to me, it perfectly symbolized the creepy, unsettling, but not completely unusual tone of the story-line. I loved hearing it and would always listen to the entire opening just to hear the song. And the other songs played in the show worked really well too.

All in all, a pretty awesome show, one that I highly recommend to people with Netflix to watch and to people without Netflix to find online/torrent and watch.

My rating: Definitely watch it for the 80’s nostalgia, cliche good vs. evil/ students vs. the world plot, the chemistry between the leads, and the awesome overall experience of a creepy mystery show.

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Quote of the Week

I’ve debated over whether or not to share a quote of the day/week/month/year on this blog for a while now. Firstly, I wasn’t quite sure exactly which time frame I wanted to apply to the quotes. Secondly, as this blog is more about writing, I thought it would be weird to just post a quote that I hadn’t written. Thirdly, in order to remedy the prior thought, I briefly contemplated writing a post regarding the quote and why I liked it, but then I thought that it would be too pretentious to do that. Fourthly, I decided to abandon the idea in general, as I couldn’t come to any sort of decision. Fifthly, I repealed that last decision rationalizing that since I already spent so much time thinking it over, why not think over it some more. Sixthly, I decided to ask a friend and she said to go for it and hence I’ve come to a (tentative) decision. I’ve decided that I shall share a quote of the week. And my mood will determine whether or not I write a small blurb. Anyways, onto today’s quote, since I already wrote so much in this introductory paragraph, I think I’ll refrain from writing a blurb and just let you all enjoy the quote itself. I hope some of you can relate to it like I can.

I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.”         —The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield 

Proof Movie Review

I came across the synopsis for Proof back in 2008, three years after the movie first released. To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure how I came across it. I’m assuming that it has something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow because of her connection to Coldplay (I was a really big Coldplay fan a few years ago). Anyways, despite the hazy memory of my discovery, I do remember being intrigued by the synopsis and wanting to watch the movie. However, as the movie had come out a few years ago, I wasn’t quite sure where to watch it. I tried youtube, online websites, etc. but I couldn’t find a clear copy of the movie. I gave up and put away the movie into the recesses of my mind. So imagine my surprise when this movie popped up on my Netflix this year. Naturally, I watched the movie and I’ve decided to review it, as I’m currently trying to do movie reviews.

Proof begins with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Catherine, watching TV at night and being surprised by her father (played by Anthony Hopkins) with a bottle of champagne. Turns out, it’s Catherine’s birthday and the two talk about her father’s insanity. However, it turns out that this entire scene itself is a dream as Robert, Catherine’s father, died last week. Catherine wakes up after she comes across Hal, one of Robert’s graduate students, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Apparently, Robert was a mathematical genius who had been suffering from a mental illness that caused him to go insane. Hal had been going through Robert’s journals and books in hopes of finding some new mathematical proofs (Hal would be able to get some credit). Hal and Catherine get into an argument that culminates with Catherine calling the cops on him and him leaving.

The next scene introduces us to Claire, Catherine’s older sister, who arrives from New York (the movie is set in Chicago). Unlike messy Catherine, Claire is an incredibly organized, neurotic person and the two sisters do not really get along. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that before Robert got very sick, Catherine had inherited his mathematical genius. Just as Claire went off to work in New York, Catherine also left to study graduate level math at Northwestern. However, as Robert’s condition deteriorated, Catherine left her studies to come live with their father in order to care for him full time, while Claire continued her career in New York. As a result, Catherine remains bitter towards Claire and other people who knew Robert but never showed up to help him. This is especially evidential during Robert’s funeral, held by the University of Chicago as Robert was formerly a math professor there, where Catherine interrupts the orchestra playing and proceeds to berate all the people present, accusing them of not being there for Robert and only coming to pay their respects after his death. She continues her tirade by delving into some of Robert’s insane activities and then ending her speech by stating her happiness at his death and leaving. This scene also serves to illuminate Claire’s worries that Catherine might have inherited more than just her father’s genius, i.e. Catherine might be susceptible to Robert’s insanity.

After the funeral, a wake is held at Robert and Catherine’s house, wherein Hal and Catherine bond, leading the two to sleep together. She ends up giving him a key. In the morning, Hal realizes that the key unlocks a drawer in Robert’s desk that contains a notebook with a new mathematical proof. Understandably, he’s very excited and brings it to the two sisters. However, this happiness does not last long as Catherine claims to have written the proof, rather than it being written by Robert as everyone else assumed. Claire is of course skeptical, believing that Catherine’s remark is the beginning sign of her descent into insanity. Hal is also disbelieving of Catherine as he believes the proof contains math too complex for her, although he attempts to be diplomatic. Catherine is devastated with this betrayal and breaks down. Hal takes the proof to be examined by the mathematics of UChicago while Claire uses the opportunity to convince a vulnerable Catherine to leave Chicago and move to New York with her and get therapy.

As Catherine and Claire get ready to leave behind Chicago, Hal comes running and reveals that evidence seems to suggest that the proof really was written by Catherine, as it employs newer mathematics that Robert could not have known. Unfortunately, Catherine does not want to talk to Hal and Claire is set on taking Catherine to New York, so the sister’s leave without actually talking to Hal, forcing him to run after their car to toss the proof into Catherine’s lap. The movie then delves into flashback, showing how after moving in with her father, Catherine was challenged to do math together with him. The two worked on math all day and night, as math was one of the few things that kept Robert sane. In the midst of this math writing spree, Catherine writes the proof that Hal eventually discovers. Excited by her discovery, Catherine takes her proof to her father. Upon meeting her, Robert too joyfully tells Catherine that he’s discovered his own new proof. Excited, she begins to read his proof, only for it to be gibberish. She realizes that the mental illness has basically taken over Robert. Saddened, she takes her proof and locks it in a drawer in Robert’s desk, with the flashback ending.

At the airport, Catherine begins reflect on herself. She comes to terms with herself. Throughout the movie, its hinted that Catherine struggles with herself a lot. She wants to be a great mathematician, but not at the expense of her father. She wants to remain connected to him, but she doesn’t want to be continually in his shadow. She wants to move forward but she can’t figure out how. In fact, the movie also points to the parallels between genius and insanity (Catherine and Claire worry over this in regards to Catherine). Bolstered by Hal’s confidence in her, Catherine decides that she does not need to go to New York with her sister and can manage well on her own. Hence, she leaves the airport and goes to the UChicago campus to find Hal and explain the mathematical proof to him, ending the movie.

If it’s not evidential right away, this movie had a really great script. In fact, the movie itself was based upon the Pulitzer Prize winning play, written by David Auburn, and then adapted into the movie. Hence, the plot and dialogues within the movie are actually really great and help the actors. I often find that outlandish or simplistic scripts can really take away from the ambiance of a movie and also cause actors to look foolish. Conversely, a really great script can also really elevate movies and actors. And I feel the latter was the case here. Because the script was so solid, the actors were able to connect and put in a solid performance. Of course I’m not an actor so my opinions have no viable proof (lol) or prior history I can base them on, but from my perception, I think its the case.

Hence, onto the performances in the movie. The movie is obviously centered around Catherine’s character and thus the bulk of the movie relied on Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance. She was actually nominated for an award for this movie too. Personally, I believe that while her performance was definitely really, really good, she wasn’t the only actress who could’ve pulled this off. I think other actresses could’ve definitely acted just as well as her in the movie, if not better. In fact, I kind of felt like that while Paltrow did a decent job, she was lacking gravitas in some scenes. It’s difficult to articulate properly, but in terms of math (lol), when rating her acting on a scale from o to 100, wherein 100 represents her completely disappearing into the character and engaging the viewer completely (i.e. Amy Adams as Giselle from Enchanted), I felt like she was around 80. Definitely not bad, pretty good actually, but as I said earlier, another actress could have perhaps done it just as well, if not better. Nonetheless, she did manage to carry the movie on her shoulders.

Coming to the other actors, Jake Gyllenhaal was good as usual. His character actually did not have much to do but he was good in the scenes he was in. I surprisingly kind of liked the chemistry between him and Paltrow, I thought they acted well across each other. And Anthony Hopkins was great as always, as was Hope Davis as Claire. The combination of a solid script with some solid actors yielded good results, as was expected. When talking about directing and cinamatography, the two were decent as well. Nothing ground-breaking per se, but still enjoyable. I kind of enjoyed how the movie was shot in this very somber sort of manner. There were no outlandish, crazy shots (okay maybe some shots of moving scenery but I think those worked really well) and there was this general sort of serious vibe in the movie. I quite enjoyed it and thought was really good because although the script was solid and contained good drama, any director could’ve gone overboard with trying to present drama through shots rather than letting the script take center stage. Luckily though, that didn’t happen and everything combined to make for an enjoyable viewing experience.

My ratingwatch it to witness a wonderfully complex character and enjoy the absolutely wonderful script. Buy it if you’d like to be able to return to the character and script at any time.

 

Room Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for the movie Room, my interest was immediately piqued. However, as people who know me understand, immediate interest does not generate into immediate action. As a result, despite my desire to see the movie, I didn’t actually get around to seeing the movie until a month ago, months after it was first released in 2015. For those unfamiliar with it, Room is actually a film based on the book Room, which itself borrows its premise from the real life Fritzl case. In the Fritzl case, Austrian Josef Fritzl kidnapped and confined his daughter Elisabeth in a basement under their house and kept her there, hidden for 24 years. During those years, he repeatedly raped her and fathered around 7 kids. When Elisabeth was found and freed in 2008, one of her children, Felix, was only 5 years old when he was released — he discovered the rest of the world. Room tells that same story, except some of the details are changed. Instead of a father kidnapping his daughter, a stranger kidnaps a young girl. However, the premise of a 5 year old being released from a prison and discovering the world remains the same.

I had actually heard of the Fritzl case when the story first broke and part of my interest in the movie was actually because of this connection. However, as I had not really read the book, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect from the movie. The trailer seemed really promising and I remember seeing all the hoopla around the film during awards season. In fact, Brie Larson, who plays the young kidnapped girl/ mother in the film actually won an Oscar for her performance. With all this history behind my initial viewing of the movie, I had pretty high expectations and to be surprise, the movie actually delivered pretty highly. So here’s the review (spoiler-filled as always).

The movie begins with an introduction to Joy and her son Jack. The two live in a dirty and tiny little shed. The small shed is lined with a bathtub, toilet, small sink and stove, a single bed and closet. Joy (Ma as Jack calls her) and Jack share everything and are given sustenance by ‘Old Nick,’ Joy’s kidnapper and Jack’s biological dad. Old Nick brings the two food and other supplies and routinely visits Joy at night, while Jack supposedly sleeps in the closet (Joy is very vocal about refusing to let Nick and Jack interact). Despite her own obvious depression and their filthy living conditions, Joy tries her best to keep Jack happy and healthy. She makes him exercise daily and even bakes him a cake — the movie starts with Jack’s 5th birthday. As Jack’s only companions are Joy and their television set, he believes that the only real things in the world, are in the room; the rest are not real. Joy allows him to believe this as a way to keep him content. Hence, he addresses each thing, i.e. the bed, as if it were a real person/ thing with feelings. In fact, when he sees a rat for the first time, he is completely taken aback and wants to keep it as a pet because its the first breathing thing he’s seen, besides himself and Joy.

This world of Joy and Jack is seemingly cracked when Old Nick reveals that he has lost his job and hence supplies will be low. The crack is deepened when, out of curiosity, Jack attempts to interact with Old Nick, only to have Joy get violent and shove him away and Nick beat Joy. As punishment, Nick cuts the heating and electricity in the shed. Fearing the worst, Joy makes the decision to attempt and escape the room with Jack. She attempts to tell Jack about the real world, which he violently rejects. She then tries to have Jack fake a fever, in hopes that Nick will take Jack to the hospital. These scenes are actually so sad and so well enacted. Brie Larson is brilliant as the mother determined to protect her son and escape. And Jacob Tremblay is amazing as Jack. Jack’s revulsion at Joy’s attempts to fake his fever (Joy fake vomits to make it look real) are incredibly realistic and believable. However, the fever ruse fails as Nick decides to buy antibiotics instead of taking Jack to the hospital. Joy then practises faking death with Jack. She rolls him up in a carpet and has him practise rolling out of it, until Jack is in tears with frustration at his situation. Nick returns the next day and Joy pretends that Jack has died — Jack is actually wrapped in the carpet. She convinces Nick to take Jack’s ‘dead body’ away. Nick falls for the ruse and starts driving, with the alive Jack wrapped up in the carpet, in the trunk of a pickup truck.

As Nick drives his pickup, Jack is amazed at seeing the outside world for the first time. However, he gets over this excitement and unrolls himself and jumps out of the truck, into the arms of a passerby. The passerby shields him from Nick and the police arrive and after a trying time, Joy is rescued as well. The two are taken to a hospital and Joy is reunited with her family. However, she discovers that things have changed with her time in captivity — her parents are no longer together and her mother has a new partner. Joy and Jack move in with her mother and her mother’s new partner, Leo, while her father refuses to see Jack. During this time, Jack struggles to adjust to this new world, wanting to go back to the room and only speaking with his mother. However, gradually, he begins to open up and get comfortable with his grandmother and Leo. Joy, on the other hand, begins struggling with anger and depression, lashing out at her mother and getting angry with Jack for his slow progress. Things deteriorate to the point where Joy tries to commit suicide. She is sent away for treatment while Jack stays behind with his grandmother and Leo. Yet, despite their separation, Jack still continues to thrive and adapt and when Joy comes back, the two go and visit the room at Jack’s request. However, when they arrive there, Jack is surprised to discover how small the room is and how he no longer feels any attachment to it. The movie ends with the two saying goodbye to the room and walking away.

Story-wise, the movie is actually pretty great. But honestly, in my opinion, what makes the movie so brilliant and amazing and award-worthy, is the acting. Brie Larson, as mentioned before, is just amazing. You really feel and sympathize for Joy. She comes across as so real. Her depression, her anger, her hopeless, her happiness with Jack, all wonderfully enacted by Larson. But the real shining-star, I have to say, is Jacob Tremblay. He’s honestly a revelation in this film. If it wasn’t for him, I’m completely sure that the movie would not have been so engaging. Tremblay breathes such life into Jack. From his initial happiness and ignorance in the room, to frustration and anger with Joy’s attempts to escape, to fear and confusion in the real world, to his eventual acceptance of his current life, Tremblay shines in each scene. He puts forth such a wonderfully simultaneously delicate and strong performance. Perhaps it’s because he’s a fresh-faced actor or perhaps because he’s just a really strong actor in general, but the entire time I was watching the film, it felt like I was watching Jack onscreen, not Jacob. He dominated each and every scene he appeared in. I’m kind of peeved that he only got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in some awards to be honest. I think he was honestly the Best Actor or Leading Role Actor rather than supporting. If anything, I’d argue that Brie Larson was the supporting actress, rather than Tremblay, because most of the movie was from Jack’s point of view too. But, even then, it doesn’t take away from her achievement because she was also really good in the movie.

My only complaints with the movie, if any, would maybe be the script as I found it a bit too simplistic. I think there could’ve been more dialogue, but that’s a minor issue anyway. All in all, a really good heart-wrenching and heartwarming drama.

My rating: Go and see it for the revelation that is Jacob Tremblay, and be prepared to be blown away.

American Ultra Movie Review

Although I’ve been doing book reviews for the majority of this blog, I think it’s time to switch it up and put out some movie reviews. As such, let’s talk about a movie I watched recently, American Ultra. To be completely honest, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of Kristen Stewart or Jesse Eisenberg. I remember first seeing Kristen Stewart in Zathura and finding her annoying. This annoyance grew and morphed into dislike after I watched her in the Twilight movies. I just found her so incredibly awkward and lifeless and her acting came across as so one dimensional and flat. With Jesse Eisenberg, on the other hand, I initially really enjoyed his acting, but over time, I began to grow bored of his roles. It seemed like that he always played some awkward, neurotic person, although that may just be because I haven’t seen much of his filmography, only a few select films. Hence, when I first saw my Netflix suggesting American Ultra, I found it really amusing. Netflix would suggest a movie that contained two actors I didn’t really like. However, with nothing else to do and no inclination to spend more time choosing a movie, my sister and I decided to take the plunge and watch American Ultra. So imagine my surprise as I wound up enjoying the movie and actually improving my view on the two actors. Therefore, I decided this movie was worth a review, spoiler-filled of course (as is my style LOL).

The movie begins with an introduction to Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart’s character’s, Mike and Phoebe. Mike is a seemingly low-functioning stoner who has major travel issue, i.e. he finds it incredibly difficult to leave his small hometown and travel anywhere else. Phoebe is his supportive and loving girlfriend who understands his struggles. The movie actually begins with Mike and Phoebe attempting to travel to Hawaii, only to miss their flight after Mike begins experiencing intense panic attacks at the thought of leaving. Phoebe is understandably upset but tries to cope. The next day, the two continue on with their life together as normal; Mike goes to work in a convenience store and Phoebe goes to work at a travel agency. It’s quite apparent from this initial introduction that while the two do share a really loving relationship, their lifestyle is also incredibly mundane with no real prospects of improving.

The movie then switches to Connie Britton’s character, Lasseter, a CIA agent. She gets a call informing her that her last surviving ‘super-soldier’ will be killed. This super-soldier, it is revealed, is Mike (go figure LOL). Feeling a duty to protect him, she goes awol to try and protect him. The person in charge of killing Mike, is her rival CIA agent, Yates (played by the hilarious Topher Grace — I think he excels at playing asshole-who-gets-his-butt-kicked roles). Yates, it turns out, has created a successful super-soldier program (Lasseter’s program had failed and Mike was the sole surviver) and believes that killing off any remnants of Lasseter’s program is necessary for his success. Anyways, Lasseter goes off to find Mike and tries to warn him and activate him, using a bunch of words. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t seem to work and she leaves.

After she leaves, two of Yates men come into the store to kill Mike, but his training kicks in (the words did activate him!) and he kills them. Mike, who has no idea about his past as a super-soldier, is horrified and quickly calls Phoebe. She comes to the store to try and figure out what to do, only for the two of them to be arrested by the local police. Thinking that jail would be an easy place to complete a kill, Yates sends in two of his super-soldiers to kill Mike. But of course he and Phoebe escape from the soldier, although one soldier does die and so does everyone else at the station. The two then run to the house of Mike’s supplier, in order to hide and evade capture. Yates becomes annoyed at his soldier’s failure and decides to place the city under quarantine, using the excuse of a virus and places Mike and Phoebe’s pictures on the news as wanted fugitives. Mike’s supplier watches this and freaks out and locks Mike and Phoebe in his trippy basement. Yates quickly tracks them down and tries to kill them by incapacitating the two with a gas while his men kills Mike’s dealer and his friends. Instead of Mike coming to the rescue, this time, it’s Phoebe who comes to the rescue and gets them both out of the gas and injects Mike to remove the gas from his system. And the truth comes out.

Turns out, Mike was a delinquent kid with not much going for him. Lasseter found him and made him a deal, in which she’d turn him into a super-soldier and his previous charges would be dropped. The program, called Ultra, functioned as a sort of mind control program wherein subjects would basically become mindless, trained, soldiers who could be relied upon to finish jobs. This is the reason why when Mike’s training kicks in to rescue him from the killers, he’s able to evade, overpower, and kill them in a manner of minutes. It’s all like second nature to him. But after the program failed (the other subjects killed themselves I think), Mike’s memory was erased. This is the reason why he is slow-functioning, because the mind erasing drugs dulled his brain. Phoebe, it turns out, was a CIA agent assigned as Mike’s handler. Mike is crushed by this revelation, allowing one of Yates soldier’s enough time to kidnap Phoebe.

Lasseter meets up with Mike again, saving him after one of Yates men tries killing him and Mike decides he wants to go home. Lasseter also reveals to Mike that while Phoebe was initially assigned as Mike’s handler, she fell in love with him and left her job with the CIA to come and live with him. Mike feels a bit better and after a fight out with some of Yates men, he communicates with Yates to get Phoebe back. Meanwhile, on the other side, Yates attempts to get a drone to completely wipe out Mike and Lasseter, but Lasseter’s former assistant at the CIA reports Yates actions to the Director of the CIA. The drone doesn’t work out and thus begins a huge fighting scene wherein Mike takes on many super-soldiers in order to get Phoebe back. The movie ends [SPOILER ALERT] with Mike and Phoebe living happily as CIA agents/ operatives. Some other stuff happens too before this ending, but I think it’s important to leave at least some things for movie-goers to watch, instead of me spoiling LOL.

Anyways, while the movie isn’t a great masterpiece or anything, it’s definitely quite fun to watch. Director Nima Nourizadeh actually had some great shots and I really enjoyed some of the trippy sequences. I especially thought the fight sequences were interesting, as Mike literally just fights with whatever he can find, i.e. using a spoon as a knife. And while the script wasn’t award-winning, it definitely had quite a few lines that I just found hilarious. For example, when Mike is talking to Yates in order to get Phoebe back, Yates demands that Mike surrender and Mike agrees. He then wonders how he’s supposed to surrender and proceeds to ask Yates if he has to wave a white flag (he actually does wave a white tissue paper in one fight LOL) or if he has to sign something to make it official (LOL). Of course I realize that not everyone would find such humour appealing, but my sister and I quite enjoyed it. However, I think it’s also worth while to point out that the movie did have some drawbacks. Some of the fight sequences were gory to the core, and kind of disgusting at times. And while there were definitely some really, really funny lines, there were also some lackluster moments in the movie. The script wasn’t necessarily buzzing with laughs. And the plot-line of the movie is fairly predictable. So I caution against watching this movie with high expectations. My sister and I watched it without any expectations. Actually, if anything, we watched it with extremely low, perhaps even into negative territory, expectations. And maybe perhaps that’s why we enjoyed the movie so much; we found it to be much better than expected. Which brings me to the actors.

The best thing about this movie, in my opinion, was probably the acting, especially Kristen Stewart. She was really great in this movie. She presented a wide array of emotions and emoted so well. There was none of that awkward, lifeless performance I expected of her, which it a bit surprising since her character was definitely presented as a little bored and tired. I found her so engaging on screen and despite the small-ish role Phoebe occupied, I always enjoyed seeing her on screen. My view of her as an actor has definitely improved after seeing this movie, she’s quite good at comedy (and personally, I think comedy is one of the hardest genre’s to master acting in). Even Jesse Eisenberg was pretty good. The stoner, anxious parts of his character were enacted well by him, but that’s to be expected. He also did surprising well in the action sequences. And the rest of the supporting cast was good as well. Connie Britton and Topher Grace were great, as was Walton Goggins who played one of the super-soldiers. If it wasn’t for them, the movie probably would’ve bombed harder than it did.

My ratingWatch it with no expectations in order to have a decent time and to discover that Kristen Stewart has legit acting chops.

The Immortals of Meluha Book Review

Okay, so my initial reason for reading this book was pretty stupid, I’ll admit that. The reason was, I liked the way it sounded when the title of the book was said in a fancy British accent. I know, its stupid, but the word ‘Meluha’ is so interesting phonetically, at least for me it is! But, once I got past that (okay no, I didn’t get past it, I still say it in a British accent for kicks), I thought the premise was also pretty interesting. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with Hindu mythology, but this book imagines that the Hindu gods in religious books were initially humans who turned into Gods through their amazing feats/ lives. Accordingly then, this book assumes Shiva, a powerful Hindu God, was once a human and proceeds to tell his story. I’m actually not very familiar with Hindu mythology so I’m not sure if the story the book tells is accurate or not. But, it was pretty entertaining so I enjoyed reading it and hence will review it. Again, spoiler-filled review (I feel like that’s my style now) below.

The book begins with the introduction of the main character, Shiva. He’s the leader of a small tribe, the Gunas. These tribes live in difficult circumstances as they are often required to protect themselves in violent ways in order to survive conquest. Hence, when Shiva receives invitation from the Meluhan Empire to establish base there (i.e. move the Gunas to Meluha), he agrees in order to ensure the protection of his people. On their first day in the Empire, the Gunas fall quite sick. The Meluhan doctor assigned to them, to ensure that the Gunas have proper vaccinations so they don’t contaminate the rest of the Empire with their foreign diseases, attends to them and eventually everyone heals. However, in this chaos, another interesting and important development occurs, Shiva’s neck turns blue. This causes joy for many Meluhans and especially the ruling family, the Suryavanshi’s, as for them, the blue neck signified their fabled warrior. According to Meluhan legend, while the Empire was founded years ago by the great Lord Ram, it had eventually began to fall into despair as its water source, the Saraswati River, was beginning to dry and they were falling under increasing attacks from their neighbours, the Chandravanshi’s and the cursed deformed Nagas. The legend posited that a blue-necked individual would come and save the empire and restore it to its glory days — the individual being Shiva in their eyes.

Hence, Shiva’s life changes, he stops being the leader of his tribe and instead becomes a de-facto leader for the Suryavanshi’s. Throughout his stay in Meluha, Shiva meets and becomes enchanted with a solemn looking beautiful woman, Sati. Sati, is it revealed, is not only the daughter of the Suryavanshi king, Daksha, but she is also a part of the Vikrama, untouchables who were expected to suffer due to their past sins. As a result, despite Shiva’s desire to marry her, she is unable to as her social status as a Vikarma makes it so that she cannot accept his proposal. In order to combat this, Shiva fully and publicly accepts to being the fabled warrior — the Neelkanth, and decides to destroy the concept of Vikarma, allowing Sati to marry him (before the Sati revelation, Shiva was actually quite hesitant about the whole Neelkanth thing and wasn’t sure if he wanted to take up its mantle or not).

Shiva’s time in Meluha also alerts him to the existence of Somras. The Somras, it is revealed, is a liquid made from the Saraswati River that allows individuals to receive partial immortality. It is through the Somras that the Suryavanshi’s have been able to live for so long and that the Meluhan Empire is so successful (hence why the drying of the Saraswati River is so bad for them). In fact, the Somras was what actually turned Shiva’s neck blue — again pointing to his Neelkanth persona. Manufactured on a mountain, Shiva and the Suryavanshi’s check out the Somras and Shiva makes a good friend, the scientist Brihaspati who helps with Somra production. It is actually Brihaspati’s body’s absence and the Naga insignia that appear after the Somra-making mountain is bombed, that causes Shiva to wage war against the Chandravashi’s. Shiva begins believing in the Meluhan idea that the Chandravanshi’s and Naga’s entered an alliance to vanquish the Suryavanshi’s and take over the Meluhan Empire. As Shiva has prior fighting experience due to his previous position as tribe leader, the Suryavanshi’s are able to easily win over the Chandravanshi’s.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. After being captured, the Chandravanshi King’s daughter reveals that they too had heard of the legend of the Neelkanth. In fact, according to the Chandravanshi’s, the blue-necked Neelkanth was supposed to be their saviour against the warring Suryavanshi’s. In other words then, both ruling families had heard of the Neelkanth and both expected the Neelkanth to save them from the ‘evil’ other. Of course, this quandary troubles Shiva greatly as its unclear exactly who the evil is. The Suryavanshi’s claim that the Chandravanshi’s are evil due to their attacks and wild way of life, whereas the Chandravanshi’s claim the Suryavanshi’s to be ‘evil’ in their restrictive lifestyle and attacks. In order to clear his head, Shiva heads to Lord Ram’s famous temple in Ayodhya, conveniently based in Chandravashi’s land, Swadeep.  In the temple, he talks with a priest over the importance of karma, decisions, and fate. The book ends with a cliff-hanger, as was expected as this book is a part of a trilogy.

On that note, I actually really enjoyed reading this story. The story itself was pretty engrossing with all the twists and turns. And I think it actually functioned really well as the beginning point for a trilogy. The reader is given an introduction to this world and its characters, and I think Amish did a great job at making the characters. I enjoyed reading Shiva’s perspective. He’s depicted as a human in this book and hence I like how he struggles often and has flaws. He has his own backstory and often deliberates about his decisions, unless his anger takes over and causes him to act impulsive. In general, I think Amish did a really good job depicting a future God as a human. Similarly, I also enjoyed Amish’s writing style. The book was written in a relatively clear way with some nice imagery. That said, some of the language in the book was definitely kind of weird and awkward and I actually found myself rereading quite a few passes in order to ascertain that I interpreted the passage correctly the first time. But, I think that perhaps might just be my bias rather than actual criticism. Ehh, not really sure. And I actually would’ve liked to see more insights into other characters and their thought processes as well, not just Shiva. But, it was still a pretty engrossing read.

My ratingRead it to go on a pretty cool adventure and familiarize yourself with some fascinating Hindi mythology.

In the River Sweet Book Review

I’m not sure what really compelled me to pick up In the River Sweet. I hadn’t really heard of the author, Patricia Henley, before and the blurb in the cover pages wasn’t all that captivating to me either. But, somehow I picked up the book anyway and began reading. And I gotta say, this book was actually really nice to read. I’m kind of a sucker for family drama stories. Actually, I just really like drama in general. And this story had plenty of that. That said, despite my like for this book, this review will probably also be very short and shallow like the previous review because I actually read this book months ago and hence am a little vague on the details. However, as with other reviews, this will also be pretty spoiler-filled.

So the story is about a middle aged woman named Ruth. She lives a pretty chill and happy life. She likes her job at the community library, her husband adores her, and she has a wonderful daughter. However, this idyllic world of hers is shattered when she receives a mysterious email and when her daughter comes out to her as a lesbian. She has a bit of trouble adjusting to the latter, due to her religious beliefs, and her fear increases after the appearances of some hate crimes. The former however, troubles her for a long time and very greatly. The email is revealed to be from a man who claims to be her son. And then the story flashes back to Ruth’s youth.

High school sweethearts, Johnny, Ruth’s fiance at the time, goes off to fight in the Vietnam War. Growing concerned about him and fed up of living with her rude-ish aunt, Ruth decides to follow him and lands in Saigon. Unlike Johnny who fights (and actually, I don’t think he even knows at this point in the flashback that she went to Vietnam), she ends up working for French nuns and comes into contact with a blind Vietnamese boy, Vo. Ruth is hired to read to Vo and over time, the two’s friendship grows greatly. It eventually culminates into a relationship, in which a son is bourn. However, despite her happiness with Vo and her son, her presence in Vietnam continues to be dangerous and after the fall of Saigon, it comes very difficult. So with an extremely heavy and sorrow-filled heart, she makes the decision to go back to the USA alone. When she comes back to the USA, she is eventually reunited with Johnny and they marry and have their daughter Laurel.

The single email changes Ruth’s life and she decides to contact her son with Vo. She doesn’t really tell Johnny about this and kinda does this behind his back. It turns out, Vo and her son also eventually made it to America and that the only reason the son is contacting Ruth, is because he’s curious about her genetic background, i.e. he’s getting married and want’s to make sure that he hasn’t inherited any genetic diseases or anything. Ruth herself is kinda at odds about how to behave with him and so is he. Vo got remarried upon entry to America and his new wife really, really, REALLY dislikes Ruth and isn’t happy to have renewed contact with her (she’s never even met her). In fact, the son doesn’t tell his mother that he’s meeting Ruth until they’ve already met a few times. Eventually, as the novel progresses, the son invites Ruth to his wedding and she meets his bride and she meets Vo. Turns out, there’s not any romantic feelings lingering on their part and she eventually returns home to her husband, who himself was feeling super lonely and sad while she was gone (Ruth told Johnny that she went to visit the ailing aunt who raised her, which she did, but she spent most of her time thinking about her son and meeting him).

The story itself is okay. What really caught my attention, was the writing. It’s written in this very soft sort of way with no quotation marks. While I’m usually not a fan of that, I think it worked really well here. And I actually also enjoyed being inside Ruth’s mind and seeing her thought processes. I found her to be an engaging, albeit annoying at times, character. The emotional journey she goes through is really nice. I really found myself connected to her and into her story. However, I didn’t really like the small Johnny POV’s we got. I guess the Ms. Henley thought they were necessary or unique and hence added them. Idk, they just showed how dependant Johnny was on Ruth. I didn’t particularly care for them. I actually wished we had access to Vo’s POV. I really wanted to hear what happened to him after Ruth left and how he and his son immigrated. Speaking of which, I was also pretty let down at the ending. I wanted the book to continue. I mean, the ending emotionally makes sense because Ruth did reach the semi-end of her emotional journey. She learned to accept her daughter’s sexuality, her daughter’s girlfriend, their decision to move away from home to a more accepting state. And she eventually came to terms with the her time in Saigon with Vo and the son she left behind. But I just, I really wanted to read more. What happened later on, at the wedding? What was Johnny’s reaction to Ruth’s past (I don’t think she actually ever told him tbh and I don’t think he was interested in learning either)? I don’t know, I guess I found myself so invested in the story and characters that I was a bit sad and taken off guard when the story ended so soon. I really liked reading it.

My rating: definitely read it if you like reading about compelling emotional journeys.