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: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Dir: The Russo Bros
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chrises Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Peter Dinklage, Tom Holland, lots and lots of other amazing humans, possibly some aliens, and one badass cape.
Runtime: 2hr 29min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, if any. No major plot points revealed.

At last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for since Iron Man’s debut film in 2008 has dawned. A decade in the making, those loyal to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe get to see dozens of superheroes (and a few villains) meet onsceen in what is being marketed as one of the largest collaborative efforts in film history, and the result is an ambitious and unrelenting crossover spectacle that is sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats until the lights go up in the theater and the last name ticks by on the credit scroll.

img_20180426_184828_4731152136814.jpgAvengers: Infinity War follows the fractured Avengers (and a ragtag crew of other heroes) as they attempt to stop the intergalactic threat Thanos from securing the all-powerful infinity stones and thus wreaking his judgment upon the earth. And… that’s pretty much all to be said without wandering into spoiler territory.

First of all, for those going into this film spoiler-free (as one should) I have only one word of advice: Forget everything you think you know. With a film series that now spans 19 installments, it’s difficult not to speculate and generate theories as to what will happen to the much-beloved characters fans have grown to know and become attached to over the last ten years. But I assure you, Infinity War defies expectations and unfurls enough twists and surprises to keep the most intuitive fans guessing until the final seconds.

This film features a massive cast, and while some faces do get more screen time and focus than others, no one feels shoved to the side or left out. The smaller story-lines are all connected by one major over-arcing conflict (named Thanos), which keeps the story churning ahead like a train barreling down the tracks, and prevents the plot from meandering too far off course. Several of the unorthodox pairs and groupings that come about in this movie are flat out strokes of comedic and narrative genius, with interactions and rapport that practically ooze chemistry. I never realized how badly I wanted a Thor and Rocket Raccoon team-up movie until now, but if it ever happens, Marvel has my money. Somehow, even in such a jam-packed film, several characters manage to undergo a decent and impressive amount of character development despite sharing the screen with so many colorful personalities. This film could very easily have felt like “too much,” but because the cast is broken up into different factions most of the time, it manages to escape coming across as bloated and bogged down.

The writing capably balances comedic moments (with several jokes that had me laughing out loud) and the heavier, more serious scenes that strive to yank at the heartstrings and appeal to the viewer’s emotional investment in the series. The result is a well-paced film where some of the smaller moments are more charming and evocative than the bombastic high-stakes events. A film of this magnitude also promises a wealth of action, and once the fight-scenes start, they hardly ever let up, except some breaks for exposition and banter. There are numerous instances of creative combat and fan-service that are certain to please and thrill, though fans who disliked the large cast and epic fight scenes in Civil War will possibly find little to appreciate about the action sequences in this film. Likewise, those who are looking for a more casual movie-going experience or have missed the major films in this series might want to skip this one until they’re caught up. Many of the jokes and references in this film will not make sense to those who have skipped a few chapters – in fact, the opening scene is proof that this isn’t a film meant to draw in new viewers and initiate fresh fans. The first seeds for Infinity War were planted ten years ago when Tony Stark first graced the silver screen, and for the nineteenth chapter, the Russo Bros and other hands behind this film have delivered an explosive, emotionally-jarring, and potentially scarring adventure that hardly takes a breather from start to finish.

On a visual level, the effects are of standard Marvel quality. Some CGI looks fake, other times it’s seamless… that’s more or less par for the course for these movies. Alan Silvestri’s score makes an excellent addition and expansion to the existing themes and music from previous films, and adds a bit of extra power to both the emotional scenes and the ones rife with combat.

Folks who have witnessed all or most of the eighteen films leading up to this one, who flock to early screenings and don their favorite character’s colors and symbols for premieres and eschew sneak peaks and early footage in favor of going in blind, will find a lot to like about this film, but might also find parts of it frustrating simply because there is such a great level of investment in the fan-base. This is a film with a lot on the line, and not everyone will be pleased with the result. Obviously, the most contentious and hotly-discussed moment(s) of this movie will mainly concern the ending… which is why I’m not going to go into it. But I will say that my jaw dropped more than once, there are some loose threads left dangling, fan reactions are likely to be split, and I’m already concocting theories as to what will happen in the sequel, which is an entire year away. It is frustrating to have to wait that long, but at least we have the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel to make it more endurable.

Infinity War has had an entire decade of build up, and though it’s not a definitive conclusion to the current phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is apparent that the end is nigh, and this war might exact a greater toll than fans are prepared for. But overall, Infinity War is a wild ride that Marvel fans absolutely should not miss.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

5 Favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In the lead up to Infinity War this Thursday night, I thought I’d list my favorite films in the MCU thus far! Though, bear in mind, this is a list of my favorites, not what I consider to be the best.

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_5.) Ant-Man (2015)
I know this film doesn’t feature on many top Marvel film lists, but I thought this adventure, which feels like a fun side quest instead of a direct installment to the main, over-arcing narrative, was an absolute blast. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice for the role, combining humor and a sort of “every man” affability that made him both likable and relatable as a character (despite his prison record). It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed in the midst of intergalactic wars or cities and planets in peril. I laugh every time I see the Thomas the Tank Engine scene, and for some reason, the size-changing hi-jinks don’t get old. I look forward to even more hilarity in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, dropping this summer.

MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_4.) Black Panther (2018)
This film (coupled with the preceding Thor: Ragnarok) was the perfect installment in the MCU to set up Infinity War because it defies several of the common superhero tropes while still adhering to Marvel’s standards in quality and entertainment. Much like Ant-Man, this film is a palette cleanser, a nice break for those suffering from the “Marvel fatigue” as it helped rejuvenate a genre that sees more and more repetitive installments every year. T’Challa’s journey to assert himself as both an individual hero and a true leader to his people made me excited for superhero movies again, and it also has what is probably the most well-developed and exciting villain in the entire MCU. Plus, this film gave us Okoye and Shuri. Need I say more?

MV5BNjgwNzAzNjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ2NjI1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_3.) Doctor Strange (2016)
Alright, alright…. maybe I just really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch with a beard and a snarky attitude enough to see this film twice in IMAX 3D. But Doctor Strange is a unique character with a level of sarcasm and ego to rival Tony Stark, and his transition to the big screen was a refreshing trip into the world of illusion and different deimensions, as his story focuses more on the abilities of the mind and “magical” manipulation, which provide for absolutely stunning visual segments and complex, entertaining fight scenes. The final confrontation in this film also features a unique twist that is a nice change-up from the standard “hero must beat the big bad” recipe. And the cape is easily the best sidekick in the entire MCU (sorry, Falcon).

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_2.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I knew nothing about the titular characters going into this film, and came out of it blown away at how hilarious this motley crew of space adventurers could be. This film is a visual and auditory feast of bright colors, unique characters, and 80’s and 70’s jams coming together for one epic and laugh-out-loud romp across the galaxy. And while Groot is an absolute delight, and one scene in particular makes me tear up every single re-watch, Rocket Raccoon and his foul mouth will always be my favorite member of this ragtag squad. Plus, this film has the great distinction of being the only MCU film to feature a final confrontation that contains a dance-off. And that should be enough to convince any one to see it, if for some reason they live under a rock and haven’t watched this MCU gem yet.

download.jpg1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
From the moment I saw Chris Evans in Captain America: the First Avenger back in 2011, his position as my favorite Avenger was sealed… and that conviction only grew stronger with the sequel, which I still consider to be one of the best all-around films in the whole MCU. Winter Soldier is equal parts political/espionage-laced thriller and action-packed superhero movie that blurs the line between right and wrong and good and bad, with an impeccable focus on character development and a lot of build up to future movies in this series, especially Civil War, which only narrowly missed this list. The Captain America-based storyline is (arguably) the most integral in the entire MCU, as his actions and decisions bear so much weight on the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. For me, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the easiest character to feel attached to, to be inspired by, and his journey and development as an individual and as a member of the Avengers is the one I am most invested in, and his portrayal in Winter Soldier is him at his finest and truly coming into his own, learning that his shield cannot only be used to defend, but it must be a weapon too. Plus, this movie gave us Bucky/The Winter Soldier. Enough said.

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