Favorite Books and Films 2018 Edition!

Favorite books (in no particular order!)

1.) Nine Coaches WaitingMary Stewart
I cannot believe I knew nothing about Mary Stewart until this year. Set in the late 1950’s, this particular tale is about a sharp young governess named Linda who must protect the life of her charge Philippe, and how she becomes entangled in the dark secrets of an affluent family. Stewart is the master of the romantic mystery and this story is packed with suspense that kept the pages turning. I was engrossed in The Moon Spinners and The Ivy Tree, also.

2.) My Best Friend’s ExorcismGrady Hendrix
I… honestly, don’t even know how to describe this book except that it’s NUTS in the best way possible, so you should absolutely read it. Need something totally off the wall? Read it. Horror touched with drama touched with comedy? Read it. Frequent 80’s references? Read it. Just read it, okay?

3.) EligibleCurtis Sittenfeld
Of all the Pride and Prejudice re-tellings I’ve read – and there are many – this is my favorite. It gives the timelessness of the Darcy/Elizabeth relationship a unique, modern twist, though the development of their feelings for one other feels just like it does in the original, which is why it held such charm for me. It captures the same feel and hits the same important beats, just in a different setting and time period.

4.) The Black WitchLaurie Forest
I’m a sucker for a unique, fleshed-out fantasy world with believable characters and fresh ideas. And this series has all of that, plus some cool ideas about religion, faith, and race relations. You get fantasy, prophecies, and mystical beasts with a side of realistic, timely issues. What more could a reader want?

5.) NoteworthyRiley Redgate
This books is about a girl who masquerades as a boy in order to infiltrate an all-male acapella group at her boarding school. And it is fantastic. Unique characters with strong personalities, friendships and relationships you want to root for, an awesome and totally likable protagonist… this book is a whole lot of fun, and it explores interesting questions about gender and sexuality in a way I’ve not read before.

6.) The Midnight DanceNikki Katz
This book – about dancers caught in a wicked web, and a brave girl who wants to free herself from it – feels like a fairy-tale. It’s equal parts creepy, charming, compelling, and harrowing, and the protagonist, Penny, overcomes a lot of doubt and fear to uncover the mystery behind the boarding school she attends. I got sucked into this story quickly, and almost couldn’t put it down.

7.) The Walls Around UsNova Ren Suma
Another book that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let it go. Ghosts, delinquents, ballerinas, murder, psychedelic plants… and a twist ending that I did not see coming. If you need the taste of a little something different, I highly recommend this book. The writing is gorgeous and I read the last half of it in a straight-shot, I was so involved.

8.) Mortal EnginesPhilip Reeve
So… obviously, I was late to this party. But this story – about a futuristic world where cities move and devour one another – was a fantastic read. The characters are a high point, as they are well-developed in both their flaws and their strengths, and the adventure is exciting and unique. I live for a nice steampunk-esque tale with high stakes, high drama, and robotic bounty hunters.

9.) Radio SilenceAlice Oseman
A quirky contemporary YA tale that explores sexuality, friendships, loss, doubt, and the various trials of teen angst… all centered around a podcast. I hardly ever listen to podcasts, and yet, I was utterly charmed by this novel. Nuanced characters, clever dialogue, and timely messages.

10.) The Princess Diaries SeriesMeg Cabot
Again… late to the party. Especially considering Meg Cabot is one of my all-time favorites! I can’t believe I waited so long to read this series, because it is so, so good. Reading Mia’s story from beginning to end, all her angst, her triumphs, her spectacular wins and crushing failures, was the most rewarding reading experience of the year, for sure. Cabot’s writing is sharp, witty, evocative, and charming, as usual. I was genuinely emotional when I finished the last book; sad the story was over, but thrilled that I finally read it.

Favorite films (in order from least to greatest!)

*I am not including the first 6 films I saw, because one was included on my 2017 list (I saw TLJ twice) and the last five were all Oscar films that I saw too early into 2018. However, if they were included, Call Me By Your Name would still be the top!*

Honorable mentions: Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, Christopher Robin, Annihilation, and Love, Simon.

10.) Hereditary
THIS IS HORROR DONE RIGHT, PEOPLE. I went into this film expecting it to be centered around symbolic, more realism-based horror, but… well… I don’t want to spoil it, but the premise blew my expectations out of the water, then beat them with a baseball bat, then set them on fire. This film subverts genre expectations and kept me on the edge of my seat. Toni Collette’s performance as a struggling matriarch is absolutely brilliant and I am really pulling for a Best Actress nom come Oscar season.

9.) A Star is Born
I went into this drama flick with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen any of the previous incarnations. And I came out of it with teary eyes. Gaga and Bradley Cooper turn in stellar performances and manage to make a tired and overdone plot seem bright and new and full of emotion. And the new songs are fantastic – the reason I had misty eyes at the end is because of Gaga’s final song.

8.) Black Panther
Black Panther flipped the script on many a superhero trope and breathed new life and energy into Marvel this past year, and added major hype to Infinity War, which came out soon after. This film gave us Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye, three of the most badass Marvel women. Plus, it delivered the most impressive MCU villain to date in Killmonger, with the possible exception of Thanos himself. Wakanda Forever!

7.) BlackKklansman
I’ve been a fan of Spike Lee since Do The Right Thing, so I wasn’t about to miss this film when it was released this summer. This film is not only a stylistic triumph with an incredible soundtrack and brilliant performances, it is also able to blend the true story of Ron Stallworth – a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK in the early 1970’s – with themes that still exist in the world today. Lee is not afraid to make a point, and this film certainly proves that.

6.) First Man
I always appreciate a good biopic that doesn’t rely on sugarcoating and looks at all the tough parts of a person’s life instead of just the triumphs. First Man is a look into all the factors that made Neil Armstrong’s first miraculous step onto the moon possible, and an exploration of his occasionally turbulent personal life as he sought to touch the stars. The cinematography is striking – especially near the end of the film – and the performances are powerful.

5.) Ant-Man and the Wasp
I JUST REALLY LOVE ANT-MAN, OKAY? These are, without a doubt, the most underrated films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now I love Wasp, too – she is so, so cool and I want to see her more in future films. This film harnesses the ridiculous, over-the-top fun of comics with the dramatic high-stakes that has come to define the MCU. And the giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser will never not be funny to me.

4.) Green Book
Based on the true story of an unlikely friendship, Green Book is an emotional, though at times humorous and heartwarming, exploration of race relations in the 1960’s. Though some might contend that the levity in this film is ill-placed when discussing such a serious topic and part of history, but there’s plenty of drama to balance it out, and an honesty to the film that keeps it from teetering too far in either direction. It helps that the two lead actors – Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali – have a fantastic chemistry when onscreen together. I could watch Viggo eat friend chicken and spew obscenities all day long.

3.) Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for me! A creative look at a future where dogs are exiled to an island of a trash, and the story of a young boy who wants to find his beloved friend, stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs shouldn’t be flying under anyone’s radar. It’s funny, original, and gorgeous to look at. Though, if you aren’t a fan of quirky films, you might want to skip it.

2.) Aquaman
I am a big sucker for fantastic visuals… and damn, this film was gorgeous to look at, especially in IMAX 3D. Overall, this film was a cross between Tron: Legacy, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Little Mermaid, and Pacific Rim. Black Manta is so cool and I now want a Mera/Diana team up movie to happen. Though some of the plot gets muddled by too-lofty ambitions and the humor is hit or miss (bro humor and one-liners fall flat, at times) Aquaman is a wild ride and will hopefully play a key role in steering the DC universe back on track. And, no spoilers, but the final showdown is phenomenal! And if anyone was going to make Aquaman cool again, it was definitely Jason Momoa.

1.) Avengers: Infinity War
I mean…obviously.

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Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Dir: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, etc.
Runtime: 1hr58min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there. One tidbit beneath the read-more.

I am a big fan of 2015’s Ant-Man, to the point where it’s in my current Pantheon of great Marvel films, so I’ve been eager about the follow-up ever since the post-credits teaser of the original. Like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a departure from the typical superhero formula and the high-stakes, dire nature of most Marvel films, and the result is a humorous palate-cleanser and a much-needed dose of levity with just enough heart and conflict to connect it back to recent installments in the MCU.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAnd-Man and the Wasp follows our hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who seeks to repair his fractured relationship with Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Hank Pym (Douglas) as they team up once again in order to save Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife Janet (Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm while also fending off a mysterious enemy named Ghost (John-Kamen) who wants their technology for herself.

Overall, this film is a wild ride from start to finish – a well-balanced comedic action film that is relatively self-contained while also tying into the MCU as a whole. Folks might be quick to write off this film as “disposable,” since it doesn’t feature any of the “big,” Avengers, but I’ll attest that it’d be a crime to miss out on this little adventure, especially if you find yourself needing a laugh or two after Infinity War.

The cast turns in great performances all around, from returning crew and newcomers alike. Rudd and Lilly, our titular heroes, play off one another even better than the first film, with Hope’s more straight-laced nature providing a superb contrast to Rudd’s humor and allowing for memorable banter between the two. Lilly’s first official outing as the Wasp is also totally badass as the first officially “titled” female hero in the MCU. The two of them truly carry the film as equals, but the remaining roster isn’t slouching. John-Kamen is intriguing as Ghost, though the character doesn’t quite reach Vulture or Killmonger or Thanos level of development. Douglas is delightfully grumpy and gruff as Pym, Pfeiffer charms in her role as the long-missed Janet, and Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder-Forston are wonderful as Scott’s family and loyal support squad. Walton Goggins also appears as the skeevy secondary villain, who is essentially a hammed up version of his role in Tomb Raider.

The appeal of Rudd as Ant-Man is not only his stellar comedic skills, but also his relatability – Scott Lang is the best example in the entire MCU of what would happen if an ordinary man was suddenly thrust into the role of a hero. He messes up, he has real-life issues to deal with, he has a daughter he loves and doesn’t want to disappoint, he’s trying to pick his post-convict career off the ground, he doesn’t know what he’s doing about 48% of the time, and he wants to help the people he cares about save the life of someone they love. Though he pitched in to help Cap in 2016’s Civil War, this film never reaches “save the world” level stakes, but the film still resonates, which is proof that the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man to ground it, and to allow audiences some breathing room after watching characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor grapple with intergalactic threats who seek to bring doom upon the world.

Reed masterfully maintains a swift pace (when was the last time a Marvel movie was under 2 hours?) throughout this film without dropping the ball on either humor and action – in fact, the elements of both genres are seamlessly intertwined thanks to the performances of the actors and the nature of the size-changing hijinks that occur throughout the film. No matter the context, a giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser taking out a bad guy on a motorcycle is hysterical. And even though it relies a lot on comedy, there’s plenty of emotion to be found, especially in the way the film portrays familial relationships, such as the father/daughter bonds between both Hank/Hope and Scott/Cassie (and perhaps another similar bond between two others, though I won’t spoil that). Though the action and fight scenes are great, I will say that a significant portion of them are featured in the trailers, so that was a little disappointing. Maybe they should have saved the giant salt-shaker for the film instead of revealing it beforehand, but regardless, the stunts are just as brilliant as the epic Thomas the Tank Engine scene from the first film.

Arguably, this film feels more “comic-book”-y than lots of the other Marvel titles, due to a combination of a fitting score, jokes and silliness aplenty, unbelievable science, insane stunts, and larger than life characters. Neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp are trying to save the world – nothing as big as that – but the conflicts they face are that much more easy to relate to because of it. Scott doesn’t want to disappoint those he loves, Hope wants to rescue her mom – and even the villain motivations are not as lofty as other MCU baddies. And this film totally delivers on the comedic front, especially thanks to Rudd, Peña’s return as Scott’s best pal and quick-tongued, loose-lipped business partner Luis, and Park’s performance as FBI agent Jimmy Woo, who desperately wants to catch Scott violating the terms of his house-arrest.

Ant-Man might not be the most thrilling hero to grace the silver screen, and, in the wake of April’s Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems downright unimportant in the grand scheme of the MCU. However, much like the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man, the MCU needs films like Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide audiences a break from such drastic peril and potentially world-ending battles. Sure, this film might be relatively small in scale, comparatively speaking… but that’s exactly why it packs such a big punch.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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