Await Further Instruction (2018)

Director: Johnny Kerorkian

Starring: Sam Gittens, Grant Masters, Neerja Niak

Rating: NR

Genre: Horror

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

While I watched this movie on a Friday, I wasn’t quite confident enough to write a review for it until the following Monday. Not because I found this film so intellectual or amazing in some other way that I needed time to understand it; but because I needed time to figure out what exactly the film was trying to. It is evident from the beginning the intentions of the film, but it simply falls short of actually doing achieving what it wants to.

When the ominous message “stay indoors and await further instructions” appears in the television of an already torn family, tensions rise as no one can agree on what to do next. As the promised instructions start to appear, the (already horrible) family dynamic is thrown out the window as what little bit of familial trust that may have existed is quickly dissolved. As characters trust each other less and less it becomes evident to the protagonist that an there is something potentially otherworldly going on.

Now, first of all, it was so refreshing to see practical effects! Though at times this seems to be occasionally augmented with some minor bits of CGI, the fact that the film uses this now archaic technique is quite a breath of fresh air. For many horror film purists, practical effects might as well be the modern day holy grail with the power to save otherwise dull movies. Which, when it comes to horror films, this film did, in fact, feel quite dull. Aiming for more nuanced psychological horror the film definitely fell short, succumbing to its overdone themes and failing to present a truly unique story.

With themes of corruption and cult-like devotion, the feel doesn’t do a very good job at presenting these in what should have a character-driven plot. From the very beginning, the characters were unpleasant and in their own ways corrupt. Noone truly changed, for better or for worse, everyone was just insufferable (with the exclusion of maybe the protagonist’s girlfriend).

For this film to have worked it would have likely needed to present a family dynamic much more healthy than the one in the film. Allowing for otherwise good characters to surrender to their inner demons and not-so-perfect beliefs. Even though the antagonist in the film is an omnipotent alien, it may have been in the interest of the filmmakers to research the dynamics of real-life cults, where the corruption of vulnerable individuals is common.

Honestly, I can’t think of very many people I would recommend this film to. Though on paper the concept seems interesting it simply isn’t well executed. I had to take a break while watching the film simply because I was bored out of my mind. In the end, I have to give the film a final rating of 25%.

If, for whatever reason, you’d like to check out this film feel free to do so through Amazon, or, more conveniently, Netflix, where it is currently available.

The Hunger Games, Revisited

By Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Science-Fiction

Avg. Rating: 4.33/5

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Do I really need to write a synopsis for this book at this point? Whatever… Let’s get this over with!

In a post-civil war United States now called Panem, a battle royale is held among 24 children between the ages of 12-18, chosen in pairs at random from twelve districts. The titular Hunger Games is used as a form of propaganda to remind the citizens of Panem what would happen if they revolt against the countries capital. When a young woman named Katniss finds herself in the arena she is forced to make some hard decisions in order to survive.

When I first read the Hunger Games I was starting middle school and preteen me loved it! Me now– who is not only an adult but a writer– found the book mediocre at best. My primary complaint, which seems to be common, is regarding the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. While rereading the book I found it hard to understand her and her overall personality. It seems as though her personality changes for the convenience of the plot. Though acting differently was crucial for her survival, her mental commentary was inconsistent in its representation of her true personality. She seems to constantly change her mind for the sole purpose of progressing the plot when it starts to fall a little short. Additionally, the use of dues ex machina was often obvious, and could leave the reader thinking: Well that was convenient.

I have to give the book credit, though, for being a good battle royale. It introduced many to the concept for better or for worse, as well as sparking a mass interest in YA fiction and dystopian settings. Additionally, the world is well developed and even with the relatively minimal introduction, it is easy to understand. Part of this may as well be due to the fact that Panem is a post-civil war United States– this fact may not always be obvious to younger readers. Character-wise, secondary characters were handled very well and were well written as well as consistent. In fact, I can’t help but believe the book would be overall better if it had been written in some interaction of the third person.

At the end of the day, I have to give the first book of this series a lower rating than the average. After some consideration, I have decided to give this book as solid 3/5.

If, for whatever reason, you have yet to read this book, it is available on Amazon; as well as your local library.

Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

I try my best to be as objective as possible when reviewing books and films, but sometimes my subjective opinions make it hard for me to do so. This is one of those time where I found myself struggling. Technically this is a very good film, and I definitely see why it has performed so well, but personally, I’m not the biggest fan.

My grievances come from the fact that I can’t relate to the main character, Nadine (Steinfeld). I find her to be an annoying and self-centred teen with often times toxic behaviour. For most of the movie, she was her own worst enemy— which I realize is an aspect of the plot but still. Her mother definitely doesn’t help, and honestly, I think she’s just the worst. When it comes to the supporting characters, I don’t have much to complain about though. The highlight characters of the film (for me) being Mr. Burner (Harrelson) and Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto).

When it comes to plot this is your classic coming of age story and shows not only the main character but those closest to her, growing in some way. This was definitely a good part of the film. I admit, in the end, I found Nadine had really learned a lesson and therefore liked her much more. The only shortcoming would be the way the mother changes, which seems more abrupt than anything.

Would I recommend this movie to people I know? Sure. When it comes down to it I feel like I’d give the film 82%.

Would you like to see the movie? Well, you can rent and buy it through Amazon, or watch it on Netflix.

Annihilation

By: Jeff VanderMeer

Genre: Science-Fiction

Average Rating: 3.67/5

“‘We all live in a kind of continuous dream,’ I told him. ‘When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.’”

Annihilation is an interesting examination of our world evolving into something new, something rarely seen by modern eyes. This series seeks to answer the question of how the world would look and how it would affect us as industrialized beings; introducing us to key characters as well as the surreal version of our very own world. Strange things occur in the pristine landscape dubbed Area X. We follow the protagonist, the unnamed biologist, as she and her team explore the alien terrain.

I knew before I even picked up the book that it wasn’t going to be one of those books you simply just breeze through. Even with a pretty good understanding of many of the concepts explored in this book, I found myself still having to pause to contemplate what I had just read. Whether it be for reasons of reflection or comprehension, I feel this book would require occasional breaks for even the most advanced readers. For me, this is the primary negative of this series thus far.

Nevertheless, VanderMeer creates a vibrant world with characters capable of showcasing its mystery. Often time the book is somewhat poetic in its execution and very thought-provoking as a result. Character development among the voyagers we follow is exceptional, as we watch them become overcame by the power of Area X, and in some instances overcame by nature itself. The objectivity of the author of the world outside her mind is just as interesting as her personal opinions regarding what is going on around her.

In the end, I find this to be a good introduction to this world, as well as a good introduction to a character we will hopefully be seeing more of. I give it 4.3/5.

If you’d like to get a copy to check out for yourself you can get one here.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Staring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

Rotten Tomatoes: 60%

It’s not every day that a film introduces its titular character in what may very well be their lowest of lows. When we are introduced to the cyborg Alita she is, for all intents and purposes, long discarded trash. Regardless of this her brain, as well as her core power source, are still in prime condition. It takes the work of one Dr. Ido to restore her into working order. With a new body and new life, Alita, who remembers nothing, is forced to adjust to her new surroundings while trying to remember her obscure past. Dr. Ido, who becomes a father figure to Alita, and a young man named Hugo, her love interest, help her along the way.

I didn’t know what to expect from a movie based off of a manga, let alone a film based on such an extensive and well-written manga. When the trailer first came out, I must admit I was concerned; especially since it follows the disappointing 2017 Ghost in Shell adaption. Like most viewers, I was taken aback by Miss Salazar’s exaggerated eyes. When first exposed to the imagery, I admit that the effects of the uncanny valley were strong. This detail can be somewhat ignored after you take into consideration that the manga makes a point to give Alita exaggerated features, though, if I recall it was originally her “large” lips. This detail would prove to be the only character design decision I found myself continuously questioning.

My main qualm with the film is that there were often times the CGI was poorly executed. As a result, there were scenes in which I found myself being pulled out of the film, solely due to the poor integration of computer-generated backgrounds with the live-action actors. Additionally, the digital augmentation of Alita’s face often came off as awkward, most notably in the scene in which she tries chocolate for the first time. Otherwise, the film was beautiful and fully embraced the cyberpunk aesthetic.

For the most part, I have minimal complaints with the film. I was pleasantly surprised by the character development as well as the overall execution. I wouldn’t call the film your run-of-the-mill origin story. For what it’s trying to achieve in regards to its source material, I would call it successful. Many may say there isn’t really a plot, but as a introductory film to a potential franchise, the film gets the job done. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, which was not what I expected.

With all considered, I find myself giving the film a very good rating of: 4.1/5

Writing After a Long Haitus

So, I’ve pretty much been on hiatus since the end of November 2018 and only really got back to work the last week of February 2019. I can’t remember the last time a took such a long hiatus where I didn’t do any writing. Even during my prior lulls, I wrote something.

I admit I was a much more organized writer when I was in high school, often writing instead of, well listening (this never affected my grades and that’s probably why teachers just let me continue doing it…); then at the beginning of 2018 I not only became an organized writer but a prolific one. I wrote every day, even if was just some sort of horrible flash fiction, but I wrote. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ray Bradbury and took his advice to write every day to heart. But then, well life happened. And even though life didn’t really stop me from writing– in fact, I still managed to write during the early days of that period– I eventually stopped. It would be months before I picked up the pen again and wrote something I felt to be substantial. Something that made me feel as though I had written something.

There are two things that really helped me get through this period, things I feel still preserved my love for writing while making sure my “writing-muscle” didn’t wither away to nothing (it atrophied, but not to the degree it could have).

The first of these things has to be I got back into reading. I never stopped reading, but I was reading substantially less than I’m proud to admit. I still feel I sort of am. Only now am I really catching up on what’s going on in the traditional literary world (last year I tended to spend more time on independent literature, which isn’t bad but I believe in diversifying as much as possible). I hadn’t read a physical book in a long time I forgot how good it felt. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle but sometimes you just need to feel those crisp pages and smell the ever-enchanting new-book-smell. I’ve read ten books so far this year and am currently reading My Hero Academia, Vol. 6 by Kohei Horikoshi and Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. Both of which I am very much enjoying.

The second thing that helps is actually writing, but not in the literary sense (at least I don’t consider it literary). Recently I’ve gotten back into writing in a journal consistently again. In the past, journalling has been my primary coping mechanism when things got hard; and even when things aren’t that hard I find it simply helps me get out all those negative emotions that build up inside. Because, let’s be honest, no matter how hard you try there is always some sort of negativity trying to make its way into your mind. Everyone has ways of dealing with it, and currently, the healthiest way for me to get it out is writing it down in a stream of consciousness style. These journals will probably never be put in a memoir or something because of the way they are written; because if you know me then you know I am a scatterbrain so most of what I’ve written doesn’t quite make sense. Even now, in this more formal format, I am finding it difficult to write coherently, because apparently my ability to do so is reserved for when I’m working on a literary piece. (And– this being totally off topic– but is literary the right word? For some reason, it sounds pretentious to me but, like it just means “pertaining to writing, studying, etc.”)

Anyway… I’m writing again! Currently, I’m not particularly proud of anything I’ve written but I feel as though I’m simply just getting back into the groove. As of right now, I am working on Pixie Dust which I’m hoping will become available in July this year, though may actually be coming out earlier. Please note that the original NaNoWriMo version was scrapped due to my disdain for the original. When I picked it up to write again, of course, I changed it quite a bit to fit what I currently feel like writing. As usual, aspects of the original were not thrown away, but are being set aside for potential “recycling.”

Hopefully, I can stay at the pace I’ve been working in for a while because it has definitely helped my moral substantially. I’m not going to lie though, I’m definitely addicted to caffeine again as a result…