Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lights Out

Rebecca left home as soon as she could because her mother was strange, abusive, and refused treatment for her mental illness. Now, her stepfather recently died and her mother's condition has worsened. She's called to her little brother's school because he's fallen asleep in class numerous times. After trying to reason with her mother, she takes the boy to her apartment where she's sees a dark figure in the shadows carving things in her floor. The memories as a child of her mother's imaginary friend Diana are real and she has to protect her little brother from her at all costs.

Lights Out starts out looking promising. The scenes at the mannequin warehouse are tense and creepy. However, having the lights go on and off with Diana appearing in the darkness gets old after the first couple of times. Because of Diana's aversion to it, light is used very purposefully in a variety of ways: candles, flashlights, neon signs, gunshots, car headlights, black light, and others. The gunshots were a particularly ingenious idea. Diana would disappear for the split second that the gun would flash and then reappear as soon as it was gone. I wish that attention to detail was present through the whole film. I grew frustrated that all of these characters had cell phones with perfectly good bright lights on them, but no one ever used them. Once, a character used the screen as a light, but it's so dim, why not use the flashlight on it?

The characters are much more interesting than I expected. I grew to like and respect Rebecca. Her chosen aesthetic of goth skulls and black clothing is a bit cliche and screams emo. I wrote her off early as attention seeking, but she really pulled through for her brother and her mother. When a CPS worker suggests that she would be an unfit guardian because of her style and the art she chose to have in her apartment, I was outraged for her. Her boyfriend Bret proved to also be way more endearing than I expected. As a love interest, he persevered in a cute way to establish them as a long-term couple. In many movies, this comes off as controlling and creepy, but he would ultimately stand by her side until she made the decision in her own time. He was also very understanding of her situation and went above and beyond to help her.

Rebecca's mother Sophie is incredibly frustrating because she doesn't see how toxic and deadly her relationship with Diana has always been. Diana is on obvious personification of mental illness and seeks to destroy anything that Sophie loves. She stood by for years while Diana mentally and physically abused both of her children. A few things annoyed me about Diana. She is a two dimensional character with one motivation. I was hoping for a heartbreaking backstory or at least some sort of sense that she's an actual person, but she was this way since childhood for no apparent reason. Diana is completely revealed near the end of the film and it would have been better if she was kept in shadow. Showing too much of the monster is never a good idea. Diana's rules never seem to be concrete. Sometimes she can make lights go out and sometimes she can't. Black light reveals her for some reason and keeps her from disappearing. Although she hates the light, she can sometimes grab people while she's fully in light. The ending is atrocious and the logic around it is dubious at best.

Lights Out demonstrates an interesting concepts, but has a lot of flaws that include inconsistent rules of their creature, revealing too much, ignoring ubiquitous technology, and everything about the ending. It was better than I was expecting, but my expectations were set pretty low. It's a typical PG-13 supernatural film that stays squarely within the conventions of its genre. I would say this is a good intro to horror, but seasoned fans will be bored and frustrated.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Don't Breathe

Rocky lives with her crude, drunk mother and dreams of taking her daughter away to live in California. To achieve this, she, her boyfriend Money, and her friend Alex have been robbing rich houses. Their final score lies in a humble looking house in a deserted neighborhood with a blind man. The job seems perfect from the victim to the setting to the huge amount of money, so they decide to go through with it. The situation takes an unexpected turn soon after they enter the fortified house as the blind veteran isn't as helpless as they thought.

I've been extremely hyped for Don't Breathe for months now and I wasn't disappointed at all. The film starts by introducing the main characters and their way of life. Rocky lives in an awful situation and just wants to get out of Detroit with her daughter. Alex is in love with Rocky and doesn't want to leave his dad. I find this ironic since he can get his dad in huge trouble since he's been using his father's security company access to get into each of the houses he robs with his friends. Money (what a dumb name) is simply an idiot who acts like a gangster and would rather look cool than stay safe when robbing houses. His relationship with Rocky isn't well established. It's clear he's there to show how dangerous the blind man really is without having much emotional impact to the audience. I was relieved to see him gone and to see his tough guy persona leave him before it happened.

The house was hard to break into, but breaking out of it proves to be the hardest part for Rocky and Alex. They have to stay as silent as possible with their steps, their attempts to get out of the house, and even their breathing. I have never been so aware of every little sound in the film and of the people around me. The sound design is amazing and heightened the tension as it grew throughout the movie. The background music wasn't a conventional movie score, but ambient sounds heard in life like a low roar that's more felt than heard, high pitched whines, and other subtle sounds that highlight the silence and the noises the characters made. Even breathing or the sounds of cloth brushing on across a surface started to sound uncomfortably loud after a while.

The blind man at first seems like a tragic character: a war vet who lost his sight in a grenade accident and then later lost his daughter to a careless rich driver who never saw a day in jail for it. He rarely leaves his house and his giant doberman is his only companion. As the film goes it, the man shows he isn't as helpless as he looks and hunts the young thieves with the drive and energy of a Terminator. He predicts many of their movements with eerie accuracy, but he shows his humanity in small moments. The opening scene shows him dragging Rocky down a deserted but sunny street by her hair. There's something incredibly terrifying about being out in the open like that with no one to help and it brings to mind a scene in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface drags a girl into his house in broad daylight while she's screaming and struggling.

The only flaw with this movie (besides some characters being unnaturally hard to kill) is in one line. The blind man says, "There's nothing a man cannot achieve when he accepts there is no god." It's annoying because people will point to this line to reaffirm their belief that atheists are evil due to their lack of belief. Obviously the blind man's not the most mentally healthy person, but it's an annoying line nonetheless. It doesn't play a huge role in the film, but the blind man says so little that it's a significant line for him.

Other than one tiny flaw, Don't Breathe is a tense film with some unexpected twists and turns. Fede Alvarez takes the tension and terror of the scene near end of The Silence of the Lambs where Buffalo Bill is hunting Clarice in the dark with his night vision goggles and extends it to a feature length film. One scene in the film was so disturbing and disgusting that I could hear other viewers almost gagging. If you can see it in the theater, please do because the sound design won't be the same if you watch it at home. Seeing it in a sold out theater of people who were really into the film enhanced the viewing experience as well.

My rating; 4.9/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, August 27, 2016


On the Jump Station Heimdall. Hanna Donnelly is struggling to keep a social life. Most of her time is consumed with martial arts training, battle tactics exercises, and acting like the perfect Captain's daughter. Behind her prestigious father's back, she buys illicit drugs from a flirty Russian mob boy name Niklas and spends time with her boyfriend Jason. When the station is boarded by hostile but very organized military-like forces, only the teens caught outside of the main areas of the ship can work against this seemingly unstoppable force set on destroying them and their home.

Gemina starts where Illuminae left off, but with a whole different set of characters. Hanna Donnelly is amazing. She's a normal teenage girl with a boyfriend, a love for fashion, and a journal with all her thoughts and feelings. You would think she was a spoiled brat. She kind of is, but she's also much more than that. On top of that, she's trained in a variety of different martial arts styles, studied Sun Tzu's Art of War, and regularly works through war strategies with her father. Despite her looks, she can take of herself and employs her skills liberally throughout the novel. She takes advantage of the enemy's perception of her and uses every opportunity to her advantage. Despite her toughness, she's still a teenage girl with the same thoughts and fears. Throughout the entire novel, she's terrified and angry, but channels that in helpful ways. When she can, she takes time to rest and process her feelings by writing or drawing in her journal.

Nik is an unexpected character who belongs to the Russian mafia, shown through intricate and bold tattoos on his body. He just served a couple of years in jail and is on the ship to help his uncle harvest dust from parasites inside cows. It's more disgusting than it sounds and those parasites make a guest appearance when they are forgotten. Anyway, I would have thought Nik was a hardened criminal type, but he proves to be much more sensitive than that. His backstory is heartbreaking, but he hides his pain behind a sarcastic veneer to keep people at bay. The villainous characters invading the ship are interesting in their own right. They are all adults seasoned in the field of battle paid by Biotech to clean up their mess. They are all complicit in this murderous plot, but they have different motivations for being there, temperaments, and areas of expertise. The leader is a frightening combination of crazy, though, and dedicated.

As with Illuminae, the story is told in chat messages, dossiers, descriptions of video footage, and court transcripts. I could easily see this as a suspenseful siege film. The variety of different media used to tell the story lends a cool visual quality. I expected the book to more horror based like the last one, but the parasites were the most horrific thing and didn't play a huge role. The tension of hiding in a ship trying to avoid well trained soldiers was very suspenseful and thrilling. Gemina is in a way larger than the last book because of a discovery near the end of the novel. It provided a unique opportunity for unconventional storytelling that I greatly enjoyed. Although I thought Illuminae was a teensy bit better, Gemina is a suspenseful, exciting science fiction tale that continues the story and leads into the third novel in the series. It also subverted my expectations time and time again, making it fun rollercoaster ride of a book. I'm cursing myself for reading the book so early because now I have wait even longer to read the conclusion.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Diabolic

Nemesis is a Diabolic created to protect the child of a powerful senator named Sidonia at all costs. Although they've grown up together, Nemesis isn't treated as a person as Sidonia is offered every luxury in life. Sidonia's father is something of a revolutionary and seeks to give forbidden knowledge to the lower class called the Excess. The power hungry Emperor hears of this and demands Sidonia's presence at the Galactic court. Since it's probably for nefarious reasons, Sidonia's mother creates a plan where Nemesis will go in Sidonia's place to face the consequences. Will Nemesis fool all of the officials and will she succeed in protecting Sidonia from the Emperor's violence?

The Diabolic has a lot of unexpected science fiction and dystopian elements. A diabolic is an engineered person training from creation to be a killing machine. An artificial connection is made to a person who they protect at all costs against any foe even at the cost of their own life. Of course this doesn't work out well for some as they end up killing family members or friends when they are perceived as a threat. Nemesis is treated as less than human by everyone except Sidonia. She insists upon loudly acknowledging her as a person with a soul even when society looks down upon her and Nemesis fights against it. There are other artificial people that serve different functions and sometimes purposefully don't have full mental faculties like servitors who live to serve and

When Nemesis goes to the Galactic court to pose as Sidonia, she's then treated and viewed as person, which changes her perception of herself, the way she acts, and the way she presents herself. It's kind of a reversal of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which examined how a person treated as inhuman will become inhuman. In this, it's someone treated as inhuman and then by being treated as human becomes human. Nemesis' journey came with a lot of character development and surprising events. Looking through her eyes was different than other teen protagonists because she pushes the emotion she does have down and denies it, leaving the predatory thoughts at the forefront to protect her charge.

The world building is impressive and takes place in the far future. Mankind built crafts to travel across the galaxy and live in space, but knowledge is suppressed. Only robots fix technology. No new technology comes out. Everything is falling apart. Ships can tear holes in space that eats everything around it. The upper class ignores it to keep their position of power. This is all motivated by their Helionic religion. They believe the universe and planets are divine and bestowed their spark upon mankind. Things mankind makes don't have that spark and thus don't have souls. Trying to learn about science is blasphemous and punishable by death, leading eventually to their demise since most don't live on planets anymore. This interested me and I definitely saw some parallels religious fanatics in the present.

The Diabolic is an enjoyable science fiction novel that includes a lot of subjects that interest me: the definition of humanity, crazy zealous fanatics, artificial intelligence, and assassins. When the romance is introduced to the story, I thought it took away from the story since it took precedence for the last half of the novel. It made Nemesis act in uncharacteristic ways that I didn't appreciate. A love triangle appears out of nowhere and is dealt with predictably. I thought this was the opening to a series and I'm disappointed it isn't since the world is so well written. I recommend the book despite my annoyance at the romance.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trigger Warning


I usually am not enthused about introductions, but I love all of Neil Gaiman's writing. He defines and discusses trigger warnings, seeing them as good for people with PTSD  that would be harmed by some material and also seeing them as an overprotective measure that keeps people from experiencing things that both make them uncomfortable and allows them to experience things outside of their worldview. He never falls on either side. I love his discussion of the phrase "secure your mask before heading others" that extends beyond airplane oxygen mask to  He also lists all of his stories and poems with the inspirations and stories behind them which I would flip back to before I started each one.

Making a Chair poem

Only Neil can make a poem about assembling a chair that is funny, touching, and sad.

Lunar Labyrinth

This story features a Lunar Labyrinth that attracts and benefits different types of people during different types of year, including lovers, family, and the elderly. It exists, but was burned down. The labyrinth only stands shin high, which should be fairly unthreatening, but captures the wonder and terror of this labyrinth that can cure you ills or kill you based on your performance. This story is magical and atmospheric.

The Thing About Cassandra

This story has a bizarre setup where a man made up a first girlfriend named Cassandra as a boy, but discovers she is real years later. The finale is oddly sinister and weird, but keeps that magical atmosphere,

The Truth is in the Caves of the Black Mountains

A small man, the size of a child, seeks out Calum Macinnes to lead him to a cave said to be full of riches. Calum is a horrible guy who beats and (probably) rapes his wife for letting the man in. Their journey is filled with suspicion and begrudging trust. The ending has an interesting and satisfying twist that I never saw coming. There's a version of this in book form that has beautiful illustrations and an audiobook version with music composed by Fourplay accompanying it.

My Last Landlady

This is another atmospheric story, but the imagery makes you feel that you are on this dreary beach with horrible food and am equally horrible landlady. It has an undercurrent of unease beneath the dreariness and the ending is perfect.

Adventure Story

It starts out with a situation anyone can relate to: your mother is rambling on and on about inane things. Eventually, this mother nonchalantly talks about bizarre stories she only half knows involving her husband that are huge revelations to her son. Then she returns to her inane rambling as if nothing ever happened. I love this story because of that nonchalance and the relatable way something crazy is brought up and then repressed as if it never happened.


This story is told in a Q&A format where the Q's are absent, leaving only the answers of a teenage girl. It's kind of like listening to one half of a phone conversation. Some of the answers give no indication of the question, allowing my mind to go wild with the possibilities. It starts out fairly normal, but then it goes off the deep end when this girl's older sister takes her tanning to shocking extremes leading to weird twists, aliens, and mind control.

A Calendar of Tales

These are micro stories that feature all 12 months of the year. My favorite story is October. A genie appears to a woman, but she doesn't want anything. On the site for A Calendar of Tales, you can see all the art made by people, the questions Neil asked to people on Twitter that inspired the stories, and the audio and print versions of each story.

The Case of Death and Honey

This is probably my favorite story of the collection. It continues the Sherlock Holmes story and answers why he went into beekeeping. It seems that he wouldn't just want to do something mindless or relaxing. Even an aged Holmes would want to keep solving mysteries, but this one is a mystery that no one has been able to solve for the whole of human history. He goes to China to experiment with different types of bees to find his answer. This story is told out of time and shows how his brother is dying and everyone he knows are retiring or being ravaged by age. I love the added fantastical element that makes it fit in with the collection.

Click-Clack the Rattlebag

I love this story because it subverts every expectation and relies on the narrator and the reader underestimating the child in the story. It's very creepy and perfect for a sleepover, a campfire, or a bedtime story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bonus: San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Sea World

I went to the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Safari Park, and Sea World all in the 6 days I was in San Diego. All of the parks were awesome, but the Safari Park was the best by far and shockingly far away from everything else.

* San Diego Zoo

I just visited this park last year, but it was a delight to come back. I was sad I wasn't able to see the red pandas or the regular pandas, but I rode the Sky Buckets and the tram that goes around the park to get a great view of all the different animals.

* Sea World

I know Sea World can be controversial because of documentaries like Blackfish, but I've never been. As a teacher, I received a free year pass plus some extra day passes to take people. It was a lot better than I was expecting. I watched their awesome Cirque de la Mer show which featured Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics and dancing in water. I also watched the Seal and Otter show, but I thought the otters weren't in it enough. We circulated the animal habitats and they were all adorable.

* San Diego Safari Park

This park is amazing and giant. It's in a very remote area, but the animals live as closely as possible as they would in the wild. I signed up to do the Raptor flight where we would interact with birds pf prey, but the 90+ degree weather was too dangerous for them. So we signed up for the Trike Safari and the Zip Lining. Both were very enjoyable.

The Trike Safari was about an hour trip on motorized tricycles (motorized trikes the size of bikes) in the Africa area where the grazing animals live: bongos, giraffes, rhinos, antelopes, camels, and various others. It was awesome to see the animals up close and to bike ride through these areas. The guides stopped every so often to allow trams to pass while informing us about the animals and answering any of our questions. The Safari Park has done so much to save endangered animals and now they are trying to save the Northern White Rhinos. Only 3 are left living, all past breeding age. Southern White Rhinos will eventually be surrogates for Northern White Rhino embryos in the coming years once they establish the method can work with their own species.

The Zip Lining was less informative, but crazy fun. First, we zipped 400 feet just to get used to it and then a short bus ride back to the African area for two thirds of a mile. We were instructed to stay quiet as rhinos are sensitive to noises. The rest of the park has the animals much closer to people than in conventional zoos. The most impressive animals I saw (not including the two events) were cheetahs, bats, lorikeets (who sat on my head as I fed them), and lions. I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked there, but I will definitely be returning next year for a longer stay.

Pokemon Indigo League #ReadThemAllThon

I saw this 3 week Pokemon themed Read-a-thon and I had to join because I've been playing Pokemon Go nonstop (Team Valor, level 23). It starts August 14 and ends September 5. Join at Read at Midnight! Choose a Pokemon and then build it up with reading, reviewing, and completing badges. I'll update my progress below. Some books I will be reading for the read-a-thon are: Enclave by Ann Aguirre, Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and ??????

The Pokemon I've chosen is Happiny! It's one of my favorite Pokemon and focuses on caring for eggs (or rocks if it can't get eggs) and healing.

To start, it has 10 CP.

* Finished Enclave by Ann Aguirre for the Pewter Gym badge
     + 28 CP for 288 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     + 20 CP for reviewing the book here (I'm saving it for September Zombies)

* Finished The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid for the Fuschia Gym badge
     + 41 CP for 416 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     + 20 CP for reviewing book here

* Finished Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Koffman for the Vermillion Gym badge
     + 65 CP for 658 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     + 20 CP for reviewing book here

* Evolution to Chansey!!!
     + 50 CP

* Finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes for the Cerulean gym badge
     + 40 CP for 409 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     review to come!

* Finished The Double Dead by Chuck Wendig for the Cinnabar gym badge
     + 41 CP for 415 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     review to come!

* Evolution to Blissey!!
     + 50 CP

* Finished Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake for the Saffron gym badge
     + 39 CP for 395 pages
     + 20 CP for completing a book and earning a badge
     review to come!

* Finished The Living Dead Boy by Rhiannon Frater for the Earth badge
     +23 CP for 232 pages
     +20 for completing a book and earning a badge
     review to come!

Grand total: 587 CP

Monday, August 15, 2016

SDCC 2016: Rest of the Haul and Final Thoughts

I bought and received some other things at Comic Con that I'd like to share.

* I added to my Skelanimal collection with Panda Green Lantern

* Hasbro's Magic: the Gathering exclusive Planeswalker set

* Loki hoodie for my fiance

That's it! Comic Con was a blast and I can't wait to go next year. It was like coming home after not attending for 3 years. I'm hoping to volunteer, but even that gets very impacted. One more bonus and then I'll shut up about San Diego.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

SDCC 2016: Favorite Cosplay Part 3

More awesome cosplay!

Spiderman, Captain America, and Tony Stark from Captain America: Civil War

Vanellope Von Schweetz from Wreck It Ralph with her car

Lure module from Pokemon Go (not a great picture since I saw him from across the street)

Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones (with an beautifully embroidered gown and intricate hair she called hair torture)

Boo from Monsters Inc.

Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas

Bonus cosplay which I did not see in person, but it's too amazing not to mention.

Tara Strong as Harley Quinn from the Batman universe (picture from her Twitter @tarastrong

That's it for cosplay, but more SDCC 2016 coming up!