Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy, #6) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I took some time after reading this book to write the actual review. It's difficult to write about a book that is the ending to a sequence that was six books long. I feel that I invested into the series a piece of myself as well. 
The story itself was exciting. I actually didn't guess all of the ending, just a few pages before it was actually revealed. In a way, I thought that it was a bit mad, but it's not something I find wanting to argue about. The most important thing about closing a series like this is that you tie up all the lose ends. They did all come together in a neat little bow, and the one that didn't got its own series, so that's fine. If anyone is interested, I am going to read that one as well.
The title did throw me a little, and I'm still not sure exactly why this is it. There was an intent for sacrifice several times in the story, but none of them felt like a last or final one. It could have been given for dramatic effect maybe.

Rose has come so far since the first book. I really had to check the time, and the six books take place in less than a year. I guess it could be called "the year that changed everything". By the end she had found herself, and was able to define who she was away from Lisa, and what place they had in each others' lives. While throughout this book I was worried about her, I was satisfied with how things ended.
Lissa, on the other hand was almost an open question for me. While the book did leave her in somewhat of a good place, I still can't help but worry about her. I am hoping the the other series will have enough of her in it to see where she goes from here.

Overall, a good ending, even though I wasn't a fan of the Rose pairing they had, but that was my own personal preference. Hey, I hated the Harry/Ginny pairing in Harry Potter, but that didn't bring the end of the series down for me. The series stayed true to itself until the end, and that's what really matters. I do recommend that people who like vampires, moderate romance, girls looking after each other, and some action in their books, check this series out. It was fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) * * * * *

I've been anticipating this movie for some time. From the previews it looked fun, sci-fi, action, the good stuff. I'm happy to report that it was real sci-fi, had a lot of funny moments, and the action was great.

The story isn't huge. It kinda reminded me of Star Wars with the face on the big screen partly veiled as the big evil guy, then him having an evil front man who does all the actual stuff. Then there was the usual personal tragedy bits, etc. I didn't expect the movie to invent the wheel though. The story itself was entertaining enough to keep me interested until the end. In fact, there was an episode I wasn't expecting, and the whole bit with the escape was really great. However, the "out in space" scene was very awkward and forced. It came out of left field, and felt like a clumsy solution to a problem in the story.
I watched it in IMAX, so the 3D came in wonderfully. I enjoyed the different worlds and environments we got to see. By the way, I want to move to Xandar. That place looked gorgeous. The planets were different enough to make me want to explore them all. Okay, except for the one with all the men with makeshift knives. The spaceships looked unique too, and you could feel that there was more behind it. I want to read more of this world now, because it looks rich and exciting.

The characters were interesting. They were a bit unlike the usual heroes that they were a makeshift group.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) obviously has some backstory going on that will unfold in future editions. It seems obligatory to make trilogies nowadays, so we may be looking at something like that. Hey, I'll watch two more movies like this one any day! The acting itself was really good, Chris became Peter in a believable way. So much so, that I couldn't remember that I've seen the guy in Bride Wars, when I've watched that movie at least 6 times. It's my go-to movie for "girly, light-hearted fun with cocktails".
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) was probably my least favourite one of the lead. She just didn't feel real enough. Sure, we got to know a bit about her back story and all that, but it was very cliché. I wanted to know more about her connection to the big bad. Not that Zoe did a bad job with her. She seems to be the resident sci-fi girl now. She was really great. I just think the writing let her down. Like she was the female in the boys club who is obviously meant to be the romantic interest to the lead guy. I usually don't bring my feminism into the reviews, but they could have really done better by her. I can't even say that male writers didn't know what to do with a woman, because the movie had a female writer as well. I hope that in the future they'll do better.
Rocket and Grot are also reminiscent of Star Wars. They are a lot like R2-D2 and C-3PO. The comic duo that has one that talks a lot, the other hardly ever does, one is crafty, the other one not so much. However, I did like Rocket, and Grot at the end was so cute. It helped that I happen to love that Jackson 5 song myself.

Drax (Dave Bautista) I didn't really like. He was the source of some really great humour, but he was annoying sometimes in his idiocy. Though I did love the pattern on his skin.
As a huge Doctor Who fan, I also have to mention Nebula (Karen Gillian). She's evil, but I liked her. She also looked pretty cool all blue like that. I thought her character wouldn't have much of a role. She really didn't, but more scenes than I thought she would. Therefore, other fans can relax.

Overall, really great movie. A lot of fun, great sci-fi environments, promising main character. If you love sci-fi, you really have to watch it, even if you're not into superhero movies. This really is more like a sci-fi movie than a superhero movies. I gave it 5 stars, because I want the sequel to come out like... yesterday.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Maleficent (2014) * * * *

Besides superhero movies, the latest trend seems to be fairy tale retelling. Maleficent tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy's perspective. Even just reading that, it's obvious that she's not as evil here as she was in the original story.
I like these sorts of retellings. The "evil" characters become three dimensional, instead of just the two dimensions that we used to get. Most of the time in real life people have their reasons for doing what they do. Also, sometimes the real villain is not the one you would first pick out to be. Without spoiling too much, I liked her reasons for doing what she did, and I also liked the way they resolved it.

Angelina Jolie was of course great in her role as the title character. She could be great in her fury, and in her soft moments. I didn't expect anything less of her.
Elle Fanning I haven't seen in many things before. Looking at her list of appearances, I saw a lot of shows that I watch, but she wasn't memorable to me. In her role as Aurora she takes a bit of a back seat, since this Sleeping Beauty version isn't about Sleeping Beauty, but I liked her as Aurora. She had genuine smiles and laughter in her eyes.

I like how they did the kiss. Without spoiling the story, I'll just have to say that I never liked that in the original story. In most versions of the story the Prince either only sees her once, or never until he kisses her. He doesn't know her very well. He may feel that he loves her, but it doesn't feel deep. Also, romantic love can fade. However, there is one kind of love that once is born, never goes away. That really is true love.

Overall, 4 stars. I'm tempted to give 5, but the reason why I'm not is that on the one hand it's too short. Maybe because it's meant for children, and they figure that without singing that's the only amount of time kids can sit still. I would have also liked to see more story. However, great movie, definitely recommend it to adults as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy, #5) by Richelle Mead * * * *

A lot of things happened in this book, and I'm kind of at a loss trying to gather it all in my head. The end of the previous book made some of the events in this one obvious. What I wasn't prepared for was what happened in the middle, and towards the end. In a way, this could be called a "bridge book" in the series. It's not very focused, because it has the events that take the reader from the previous book, to what happens in the last book. I often see this in book series with 6 books. They are really two trilogies, with the first three books having one story, and the second three having the sequel story. Therefore, this book felt a bit incomplete, and I had to move onto the next one right away. Good thing they are all out.

At this point in the series, there aren't really many new characters, it's mostly the old ones doing more things. However, we do see some new minor ones that push the story along, though their appearance is in part sought out, and at other parts make sense in the world.
The main characters don't change much at this point. Okay, one does, but I'm keeping this spoiler free, so you'll just have to find out for yourself. Let me say that our two girls are still best friends, still help each other, and the revelations in the previous book still motivate their actions. In a way Lissa is even a better friend than she ever was before.

It is hard to talk about this book in detail, without giving too much away. At this point the series is kind of like a familiar chair that I can sit into, in a world that I understand, with people I know. Sure, it's not Harry Potter. I won't be seeking out fanfiction. However, I'll be sad to see it end, and will have the book hang-over, which I'm dreading already. I suppose the good thing at this point is that I'm not feeling cheated, I don't think this book is worse than the previous ones, I'm enjoying the story. I have seen people get further in a series and feel cheated that a book didn't live up to the standard they have come to expect. Maybe those were kinda force sequels, written because there was money to be made, not because the story could still go on. This book isn't like that. Every book in the series in fact has felt as a needed continuation of what the author had been building so far. I just hope that the next book will bring about a satisfying ending to the series, marking that the author knew when to stop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Yama Onna Kabe Onna (JDrama) * * *

I started watching this drama not sure if it would be work, romance or comedy. It's a bit all three of them, but most of it is actually a comedy. The breast jokes would be a bit too much if it wasn't.
The story itself revolves around a "Kabe Onna" (Wall Woman). She's a woman with very small breasts. She's the type who is bothered by it, but won't wear extreme push-up bras to compensate. While breasts are a central theme in the story, it's more about what she goes through with work, her love life, her family, and the people with whom she interacts. The story does lack a focus, and most of the time I was wondering where they were going with it. It felt more like a jumble of short stories with the same characters than a coherent thing. There were some other funny moments though, aside from the breast jokes.

This drama starts out a bit offensively, and I did almost stop watching at the beginning. The new employee at the store has exceptionally big breasts, and the female employees can't help but stare and take notice. Though I have to admit, I have been known to check and compare. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Though not so blatantly. Then the male staff comes around, and things get really offensive. However, it's a comedy, so this shouldn't be taken seriously. Still, it feels awkward at times.
I've been several different sizes in my life. From the regular B to a large C and back to a smaller B cup. Though I have to say that in today's clothing options, having big breasts is certainly a disadvantage. To this day I don't own a shirt, and had to have all the suit jackets adjusted at the back. It often seems like the fashion industry forgets that women's backs are narrower than their fronts. Luckily, I never had to wear a uniform. The "Yama Onna" (Hill Woman) doesn't have that luxury, and part of the comedy comes from her popping button. I didn't find it funny really, but maybe some people do.

I always look for things that I can learn about Japan in a series. It's interesting to watch customer service in this drama. I live in a country where most of the time when you go into a store, the sales people try to avoid you, or watch you like a hawk in case you're trying to steal something. They rarely offer to help you. In the drama they speak about representing the department store, and acting accordingly. Well, here they do a very bad job of that. Maybe the sales people in my country should watch this and learn.
Another aspect that I always look for in a drama is what sort of serious question it discusses. This drama often brought up the question of marriage or work. In a way that isn't completely relevant in my culture, since most people keep on working after getting married. It's partly cultural, but also financial, since wages are so low most of the time, and there is so little job security, families need two incomes to get by. However, people generally don't focus so much on their work, and don't put in as many hours as is expected in Japan. I've heard that 12-hour workdays are the norm there, and no wonder people have to choose. It also came up a lot that if a woman works, she can't pay that much attention to her husband. I thought this was a bit archaic, though it could be another cultural difference. In Europe, where I live, marriage is considered more of a partnership, and the husband is generally expected to do his share at home, since they are both working. Therefore, it was hard for me to consider the different mind-set.

The people in this drama mostly work at a department store called Marukoshi.
The male characters were all a bit strange. Aside from most of them seemingly being obsessed with staring at the Yama Onna, they were often over the top in their behaviour. I'm sure it was because I haven't watched a lot of Japanese comedy, and that seems to be the norm in these.
The three main women in the series I really liked. Aoyagi Megumi (Ito Misaki) is the hard-working Kabe Onna. She's the perfectionist I can relate to. Her job takes centre stage in her life, and she only reluctantly lets men in. She wants to move up in her job, dreaming of becoming a store manager some day, and therefore has an internal struggle between the need to find a mate, and her professional desires. She is quite envious of the Yama Onna, but can't help liking her, in spite of everything.
Mariya Marie (Fukada Kyoko) is the Yama Onna. She transfers from another store, and provides the starting point of the drama. The Kabe Onna doesn't seem to like her at first, but her sweet and quirky attitude warms everyone towards her. She is also hard working, but instead of wanting to be a manager, she wants to open her own little shop. She also has a strong connection to food, and her large appetite is a source of some of the jokes.
Oyama Haruka (Koike Eiko) is sort of an antagonist for most of the drama, but I warmed to her in the end. She clashes with Aoyagi because she is as driven in her profession as she is, while being a Yama Onna herself. They clash because both are trying to be better than the other. Once she takes herself out of the equation, her demeanour towards Aoyagi changes as well.

Overall, interesting drama. I would have liked the story to have more of a focus. Sometimes the events felt random. A bit like real life, actually, but in a story that's not what can be expected. However, I had a good time watching it, even though some moments were cringe-worthy. It's worth giving a shot to, even though it may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Divergent (2014) * *

I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch this movie. The book is on my "never read" list, mostly because I heard it has a lot of romance in it with insta-love, which I can't abide. I was afraid that the movie would be like that as well. However, I have had a movie change my mind about reading the book, twice actually. Therefore, I decided to give this one a shot.

I've heard the story compared to The Hunger Games more times than I can remember. Funny thing was that it reminded me of a whole lot of other dystopian novels, and even some non-dystopian ones, but not The Hunger Games.
The factions remind me more of the houses in Harry Potter. Especially because the houses seemed to stay with them even after they left them. The difference is that Hufflepuff is divided up into three aspects of the Hufflepuff mentality, which in a way doesn't make sense, but it does if you think in the terms of jobs. The only people we're missing are the Slytherins.
The problem with factions and houses is that no one fits only into one category. You may be more like one, you may want to be more like one, but no one can be defined by just one trait. Houses have been criticized because of this, but people eventually leave school, though the house they were in remain as a part of their identity. Factions you can't leave, therefore they are worse.

The world building really doesn't make sense in some ways. I'm not sure if it's better explained in the books, but there are definite holes. So my questions within the first 10 minutes of the movie were:

  • What is the wall for?
  • What is the rest of the world like, and why isn't anyone trying to find out?
  • Why are there still so many houses with holes in them? Shouldn't they have been repaired by now or torn down?
  • How long ago was this war thing, and what are the general facts about it?
  • What are the Gryffindors, sorry, Dauntless protecting people from? It feels more like they're trying to control the people who like to climb on walls for no apparent reason, and don't know that there are mountains in the world.
  • Later, one thing that I didn't get in the last 40 minutes of the movie was Tris' mother. Was it better explained in the books? The movie made no sense.

The beginning was actually quite good. While the world wasn't established well, the personality and life of Tris was. Then it got boring really fast. The whole training, the drug induced illusions reminded me of Ender's Game. I was equally bored there as well. Good thing that this time I had cooking lunch to occupy the 90% of my mind the movie wasn't engaging. Things only started to pick up an hour and a half into the movie.
Some aspects also reminded me of 1984. While the threat from outside wasn't specific, it's not unlike the war in 1984, which I always thought didn't actually exist. Also the whole drug thing, that I won't spoil further.

The ending itself was kind of anti-climatic and annoying. I am half tempted to pick up the second book just to see where they go from here, but I was so bored for most of the movie, the jury is still out on that.

I almost forgot to write about the actors and the characters. That in itself speaks volumes. While Tris was well established, I didn't find her someone I could cheer on. I'm not sure if it was the actress, or just the character. Shailene Woodley I've never seen in a movie before, therefore I would not be able to judge her acting. However, as Tris she just didn't feel much engaged in the whole story. It felt more like she was stumbling from one event to the other. Her smiles felt lukewarm. Kind of like Kristen Stewart, which is not a good thing. However, it could just have been a bad director, or the story itself. I would need to see her in other things as well to see if I like her as an actress.
Theo James is hot for sure. If he was my instructor I would have wanted to get into his pants too. But love? I didn't feel the love connection between the characters. I generally don't like mushy romance, but a bit of building up would have been nice. The character of Four didn't feel well-rounded either. He was more like the convenient guy that can be the love interest.

Are the books coming off my "never read" list? Not sure at this point. I may find my curious nature not being able to let go of wanting to know how this thing ends. This is partly why I tend to go for finished series. I hate waiting.
The movie itself gets two stars for interesting beginning, boring long middle, kind of picking up ending.