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.

Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon (uncredited)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr
Spoiler level: MAJOR.

***I AM NOT HOLDING BACK, THIS ENTIRE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING; MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!***

This review will be a bit more rant-y and personal opinion based, so the thoughts expressed might contain some bias.

MV5BYWVhZjZkYTItOGIwYS00NmRkLWJlYjctMWM0ZjFmMDU4ZjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Coming on the heels of 2016’s Batman V Superman and Superman’s demise, Justice League follows Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) as they attempt to recruit new heroes and “unite the league” against the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. Though they attempt to convince Aquaman (Momoa), The Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher) to go all in and save the world, simply coming together might not be enough to prevent the doom of the planet.

As a big JL and general DC fan, I’ll start with what I liked, then go into a bit more detail. I will say, though, that I did enjoy the film, and I think it is a better film than the RT score would indicate. No matter what the reviews say, it is worth seeing, especially because the divisive reception makes it all the more important for people/fans to forge their own opinions about it before taking someone else’s interpretation as law.

*Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen / The Flash. He injected some much-needed comedy and I enjoyed his running scenes.
*The new cast-members are all great, as are the returning cast.
*The humor in general was a VAST improvement over previous films. Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso was especially hilarious.
* Seeing the team together, onscreen, and with such an amazing cast, is a big thrill, and they have a great team vibe.
*Hearkening back to the “Lois is the key!” Flash scene from BVS. I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, anyway.
* Green Lantern Corps Easter Egg!
*Themiscyra.
*Both post-credits scenes. I am sooooo ready for Deathstroke.

I think it is important for me to admit that Zack Snyder is one of my favorite directors due to his incredible vision, his great passion for his projects, and the fact that he always seems to want to do justice to the material he is adapting while also inserting his own ideas. His visual style is absolutely stunning, he knows how to frame a shot, and I always enjoy the color choices for his films. Though he does over-rely on slo-mo, his style is incredibly distinct, so it’s also clear (to me, at least) that both Whedon and Snyder had a hand in the final result of this film, and the contrast in style led to a disjointed tone throughout. The scenes between the two directorial styles weren’t seamless, and if two folks are going to be behind the camera, it shouldn’t feel like there are differing visions grappling for screen time. That said, I completely understand and support Snyder’s decision to leave the project, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing so, but it does make me wonder what a total Snyder film would have looked like. I think, watching the finished project, that it’s pretty obvious that there were issues during post-production and after the re-shoots. The CGI is just one example –  I’m usually pretty forgiving, but it’s jarring in some scenes.

Fortunately, Whedon inserted some much-needed humor into the film, which helped lift the grim tone of its predecessors and present more lighthearted, enjoyable moments into what has been a fairly bleak series thus far. Humor, and coherency, are the two things the DCEU films seem to be lacking the most (with the exception of WW) and while JL picks up some laughs, the plot is still thin. Also, the dialogue in general comes off as so clunky to me a lot of the time; I had the same issue with BVS. A lot of “comic-booky” dialogue does not sound good when voiced aloud, even though it is passable in speech bubbles on a page. Some of the one-liners in this film are a total “cheese-fest” and made me think, “Oh…. no.”

I’ll also admit, as blasphemous as it is, that I am one of the folks who prefers Snyder/Cavill’s portrayal of Superman. I like the dark tone, the disconnect/conflict with humanity, and the fact that he doesn’t always pull punches. I enjoyed Man of Steel quite a lot (except the final fight with Zod was WAY too long) though I wish he’d had more screen time in BVS. But in JL, the only Superman scene that stood out to me was after his reawakening, when he forgot who he was and attacked the JL members. That was excellent. But the CGI mouth was atrocious, and it was present in nearly all of his scenes, which means that most, if not all, of his spoken scenes were from re-shoots. Most of his dialogue (especially in the field with Lois) was cringey and uninspired, and very different from his previous appearances. I did like him coming in to save the day at the end, as predicable as it was, and enjoyed his new rapport with The Flash, but could have done without the “I’m a big fan of justice” bit. It’s like Superman came back to life with a sudden 180-turn in sense of humor and demeanor, and although he might be more like how Superman is “supposed to be,” he doesn’t feel like the version from this universe, and the change is too abrupt. I’m okay with the changes in general, and I look forward to future Superman appearances to see where his character goes, but I think it comes off as a total upheaval instead of a gradual shift. Then again, he probably should have had another solo film before all of this, to allow his personality to develop more, and shoving his resurrection into a 2 hour movie made it feel rushed and lacking in emotional depth.

This is also one of few Snyder films that I think would have benefited majorly from about 20 extra minutes, at least. Back when BVS came out and viewers got their first glimpse of Wonder Woman, her brief appearance did an excellent job of setting up and building interest in her solo film, which went on to be both a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, JL introduces three new characters, and that feeling of “gosh, I can’t wait to see more of *character*!” is also colored with a feeling of “I wish we’d seen more of ‘so-and-so’ before this.” While I’m excited for Aquaman next year, and am doubly excited for a Flash solo outing after Miller’s stellar portrayal, I think Cyborg’s development suffered from being crammed into a movie with 2 other newbies. Ray Fisher was great as Victor, but trying to shove three new characters with elaborate backstories into a 2 hour film does not work and did Cyborg no favors. Aquaman also suffered a bit – the Atlantis reveal is kind of underwhelming, and Aquaman has few opportunities to really show off his water-based skills. Ultimately, it leaves more unanswered questions and rushed exposition instead of creating intrigue, which is a shame because although the glimpses we got of these new additions were good, they were not fulfilling. I almost wish we’d gotten at least a couple more of the solo movies out before this, so the exposition and setup could have been trimmed down for this film, as audiences would already be more familiar with these characters. The only character who really didn’t need a solo film prior to JL is Batman, and I think Affleck has performed the role extremely well thus far. Apparently the strict time restriction is due to studio interference, and this time around, I genuinely believe it was a misstep. However, a 2-hour runtime would have likely worked had we been introduced to all (or most) of the major players before this film. Also, some big names (J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred) are given virtually NOTHING to do but be around for a couple of scenes, and it’s a damn shame. In trying to do too much on restricted time, the film ended up doing too little.

Though I’ve seen a lot of criticism levied at the villain, I didn’t mind Steppenwolf that much. Critics and reviews made him out to be the worst CBM villain of all time, and he certainly wasn’t great, but I’d rank him above a few of Marvel’s more forgettable villains. Justin Hammer, anyone? Malekith? Ultron? CGI dodginess aside, Steppenwolf, his massive hammer/axe, and his dramatic monologues were par for the course, and no worse than the underdeveloped baddies from other films. However, I do love Ciaran Hinds, so maybe that’s my bias speaking.

In additional terms of directing, I’m not sure who we have to thank for the upskirt shots of Wonder Woman (I have my theories), but they were about 10000% unnecessary, considering her outfit is plenty short already. An absolute disservice to the character and her solo film. On the other hand, I don’t think the Amazon midriff outfits were nearly as bad as social media made them out to be, though the way they were shot was pretty pervy. Several had armor similar to their attire in WW, though the more revealing versions are definitely deserving of some side-eye. You could play devil’s advocate and say that Momoa as Aquaman fought Steppenwolf shirtless, which is equally as impractical. I, for one, was certainly looking forward to shirtless Momoa, and was not disappointed.

Unfortunately, the first phase of the rushed DCEU has tried too hard to keep up with Marvel instead of establishing itself as it’s own universe and has fallen short of the finish line. Though I enjoyed several moments of Justice League, the disappointing aspects ultimately left this viewer with a longing for “what could have been,” though a flicker of optimism remains for the future of the franchise. If you want these films to succeed, go and give JL a shot in theaters – it has a lot of box office ground to make up. I do have faith that the DCEU can turn it around, and I’m still “all in” if it means we get to see these compelling heroes onscreen for future movies. I just hope that the ensuing installments can do these characters and their evolving personalities the justice they deserve with more well-developed plots and compelling narratives.

 

Overall Rating: 7/10