Monday, July 17, 2017

Tales from the Crypt (1972) Part 2

The morality horror continues!

* Wish You Were Here

Failed businessman Ralph Jason lost all his money and is steeped in debt. He freely admits to being ruthless in his rise to riches and makes no apologies for it as it built his empire. To avoid declaring bankruptcy, he and his wife Enid will be forced to sell off their treasured antiques and items collected from all over the world. His wife finds a Chinese figure that has an inscription (of course in English) that grants 3 wishes, so she wishes for lots of money. Of course it doesn't go well. The montage of Ralph driving to his solicitor's house followed by the death motorcyclist backed by a jaunty jazz score is surreal, out of place, and a bit silly.

I especially enjoyed the meta commentary of remembering the story of The Monkey's Paw and trying to avoid the pitfalls of the old couple in that story. However, her husband still dies and, when she wishes him back as he was right before the accident, he's still dead because he died of a heart attack. The creepiest and palest funeral workers deliver his body in another surreal scene. Her last wish is the worst. Even as she says to be careful, she wishes him alive forever, putting him in pain due to the embalming fluid. Enid is a terribly written character namely because her hysteria and grief cause her to nonsensically try to chop him up even though he can't die. She is also the source of every problem except their initial financial situation.

Although I'm not a fan of the terrible portrayal of Enid, the image of Ralph writhing in pain with his intenstines exposed and hand crawling around on its own shocked and frightened me as a child. It repelled me but I was fascinated at the same time. Although it's nostalgic for me, the story is not the best. We never see his evil deeds and it doesn't really feel like a deserves a fate worse than death. It has odd moments and it doesn't seem to all fit together organically. On a sidenote, I noticed the similarities to Wish Upon and I wonder if the writer watched this as well.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Blind Alleys

Major William Rogers takes over as superintendent at the Elmridge Home for the Blind, bringing his dog, his militarisitic attitude, and unwelcome changes. Those changes include turning off heating at night during the freezing winter and lowering the quality and amount of food for the elderly men. He has no sympathy for the freezing, starving men and doesn't even seem to view them as people, making snide comments that they have no reason to stay up as blind people. Rogers stays in his luxurious office warmed by his fireplace eating steak, wine, and a lush salad while the blind men eat tightly rationed slop and freeze. Nigel Patrick portrays him as no nonsense, dismissive, and unaware of uncaring of his deep hypocrisy.

George Carter is the representative for the blind men who tries to reason with Major Rogers that the cuts to their care is harmful. He is rejected time and time again. Rogers isn't above siccing his dog on George for his insolence, which was beyond the pale. Patrick Magee, who I recognized from A Clockwork Orange, is a delightful character actor who infuses George with righteous anger and a stony visage. He puts such venom in his voice when addressing the Major for the injustices. After a man dies due to the inhuman treatment, all of the blind men band together to take care of their problem, collecting meat to lure the dog away, capturing Major Rogers, constructing the means for their revenge, and keeping people from informing the authorities. The only thing they do that I don't agree with is starving the Major's dog. It isn't his fault his owner sucks.

The ending is another instance of poetic justice. The Major is reduced to begging for food and water for himself and his dog, which they refuse. The blind men constructed a covered corridor from his prison to the room where they kept his dog. The end of the corridor too narrow to walk through facing forward and lined with hundreds of razor blades. His walk through is suspenseful as he and we don't know what lies in store for him. The music heightens the tension as he inches along, trying not to cut himself on the wall. When the dog is released, his realization of his doom is accompanied with a zoom out from the corridor to show the narrow space and the gleaming razor blades. His fate isn't shown, but we can imagine it so much more gruesome than it could have been shown at the time. This is another of my favorite segments because the slow walk through the corridor and the sight of him flinching at each small cut from his walk past the razors makes the endings implications even more horrifying.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

The ending of the frame story has the Crypt Keeper revealing that the stories aren't warnings, but events that have already happened. A door opens with a blinding light, but Carl goes through and falls to his fate. All of them are doomed to the literal fiery pit of Hell as unrepentent sinners. It ends with the Crypt Keeper breaking the fourth wall to warn the viewer against a similar fate. I love this film both as my gateway to the genre and as a suprisingly well made horror film.

My overall rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tales from the Crypt (1972) Part 1

I saw this film younger than I should have and it was one of my gateway movies to the horror genre. It still holds up even though its a little dated because it has the heart and soul of Tales from the Crypt with impressive performances. It starts with Bach's Toccata in D, an iconic horror choice, and pans over a beautiful cemetery. A group of people tour ancient catacombs. Their guide urges them to stay together as its a dangerous place, but 5 of them are delayed and get separated. They wander around until a door opens for them. The room is empty so they turn to leave when the door slams close. A man in monk's robes suddenly appears and tells their stories as if to warn them of the future. This Crypt Keeper has a scornful attitude towards his charges and a mysterious air.  

* ...And All Through the House

I love a lot about this segment. Everything is subtle and well crafted. The film doesn't have to narrate that the old man loves his family, but instead has an establishing shot of this man lovingly putting presents under the tree. The first indication that something is wrong is an amazing shot of blood splashing on the newpaper the older man is reading when he is killed. The woman, portrayed by Joan Collins, calmly goes straight for the safe to check his life insurance, showing that her main motivation is money. The chilling aspect of this part lies in the happy child upstairs waiting for Santa, unaware of the carnage downstairs, and the peaceful choral Christmas music that contrast with the violence.

Much of the film has no dialogue because the woman is trying to clean up the murder while her daughter sleeps upstairs. So much of Joan Collins' performance is in her eyes and her facial expressions. When the psychotic Santa reveals himself, she reaches for the phone and you know by her glance at the body and her defeated facial expression that she knows she can't call the police until she cleans up. She works tirelessly cleaning up the blood, dragging her husbands body to the basement, and planting blood to make it seems like he fell. In addition to this, she has to secure the house by locking all the doors and latching all the windows before Santa comes inside. As she works, her face becomes drenched with sweat and she's visibly drained.

Unfortunately, all her hard work is for nothing because her innocent daughter let Santa in the house after she's been waiting for him all night. Overall, this film has everything I want in a Christmas horror film: murder, suspense, good performances, and a concise story told in just over 12 minutes. The only downsides are the dated decor and not very scary Santa. This classic Tales from the Crypt story combines elements of wholesome Christmas traditions with murder and mayhem and ending with the evil being punished.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Reflection of Death

Carl Maitland decides to run away with his beautiful girlfriend Susan and abandon his family with no word. It disgusts me that he wasn't even going to say good night to his daughter. He only felt obligated because his wife prompted him, but he was just going to pause in her room and leave until he found her awake already. It adds insult to injury when he knows he's not coming back. Ian Hendry does a great job making him as odious as he possibly can. Moving forward, Susan drives so he can sleep, but he has a disturbing dream that wakes him up screaming. Then a truck comes out of nowhere. Carl fights for control of the wheel and they crash. This is probably one of the cheesiest car crashes ever to grace the silver screen.

Carl awakens from the wreck and the rest of the segment is directly from his point of view. Each person he encounters him reacts as if they've seen a monster. A homeless man screams and runs. A motorist drives as fast as he can away. His own wife screams in terror and slams the door in his face, then seeks the solace of her new husband. The only person to treat him fairly normally is Susan, but she lost her sight in the accident that claimed his life. He glimpses his reflection in a table, shocked at his grey complexion and rotting skin. He awakens back in the car and the accident happens again. This story is the only one that has the feeling of purgatory because he's doomed to repeat both the pain and panic of the accident as well as the puzzling treatment and the horrific realization of what he has become. It's not the best segment, but it has its merits.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Poetic Justice

Grimsdyke is a dustman who loves his dogs, refurbishing toys for local children, and the home he made with his late wife. His neighbors Edward and James Elliot hate him for driving the values of the surrounding houses down with his "hideous" house and judge him for his profession. James hatches a cruel plan to drive Grimsdyke out of their neighborhood by systematically taking away anything that makes him happy or contributes to his livelihood. Slimy James uses every bit of his extensive influence and privilege in addition to underhanded tactics to drive Grimsdyke away. Robin Phillips makes James incredibly smug and snobbish with extreme arrogance.

Peter Cushing has his most sympathetic and soft role here that he's almost unrecognizable. Doing small acts of kindness like making toys for children brings him such joy. He has modest needs, contributes to the neighborhood, and keeps to himself. He only wants to live in the place he was so happy with his wife. Throughout his day, he talks to his late wife and practices Spiritualism to communicate with her using his spirit board and automatic writing planchette. His shock and sorrow at each of James' cruel plans is shown with stark clarity all over his face. His attempts to brush them off and keep his cheerful mood makes his suicide even more sad. This is the most heartbreaking story because he's so kindhearted and undeserving of such treatment.

The ending is my absolute favorite. No one in Tales from the Crypt stories has ever deserved an ending like this more than James. The zombie makeup is pretty good for the time (except the eyes look wonky), especially in the wrinkled hands and creepy nails. This story is exactly what Tales from the Crypt is about: evil people being punished in satisfying ways.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

To be continued!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Flame in the Mist

Mariko, 17 year old daughter to an esteemed samurai and a favored family, has no illusions that she is to marry the emperor's son to benefit her family and their position. Her convoy is attacked by a gang of thieves called the Black Clan leaving her the only survivor. After killing an assailant and stealing his clothing, Mariko chops off her hair and disguises herself as a boy  to investigate the Black Clan gang. She gets closer than expected when they kidnap her and recruit her into the bottom rung of their ranks with the abusive treatment and gruelling work to prove her loyalty. She takes to her new life, makes friends, and even falls in love, but it's all getting in the way of her one true goal: revenge.

Conceptually, a retelling of Mulan sounds like a great idea. However, the characters, the worldbuilding, and the writing are so uneven and inconsistent that it fell apart for me. So much about Mariko doesn't make sense to me. She feels like her potential is squandered as a woman only meant for the feminine arts, marriage, and raising children, which makes sense. However, she has disdain for her entire gender and sees herself as above it. I hate the "not like other girls" trope because it's meant to make the main character seem so special and also put down other girls and stereotypically feminine things. It's annoying, overdone, and a lazy way to make the character stand out. Mariko suddenly adapts to living as a homeless person and as a Black Clan trainee. I find it hard to believe that someone pampered their whole life wouldn't complain a little bit or not know what to do in that situation. She's also the inventor of the smoke bomb and the shuriken, which plays into her being super special. The smoke bomb is used in battle without even being tested first, putting herself and her crew at risk. Her skill with the shuriken is suddenly perfect with no training or practice at all. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough for a lot of her behaviors and accomplishments.

Mariko contradicts herself constantly. She's inept at so many things, but delusional about it. She claims to hate "feminine" emotions (as if boys aren't emotional), but her emotions control her actions most of the time. Whenever she feels self concious or judged by her appearance, she dismisses it as being weak and feminine. She puts on a calculated act that would work if every one of her later actions didn't contradict it, usually accompanied by explosive emotion of some kind. She pats herself on the back for "infiltrating" the Black Clan base when she tried to escape numerous times and only stayed because she was drugged. In her head, she strives to be samurai-like and virtuous, but she turns around and constantly lies and steals without recognizing how counter to her views it is. So many of her stupid decisions should have left her maimed or dead due to her lack of planning, emotional instead of intellectual motivation, or the need to prove herself. Mariko is definitely flawed, but she's also not likeable and not someone I would want to root for.

The world is set in rural Japan. For most of the book, I thought it was more of a historical retelling outside of fantasy, but there are a few instances of magic. The magic system is  never explained at all. I thought maybe she was mistaken or describing things weirdly, but the one character who uses magic seems woefully out of place in this otherwise historical setting. The Black Clan members open up to Mariko way too soon and don't guard against her despite being a successful and skilled gang that would know she might turn on them if given the opportunity. The writing is a bit clunky and tells a lot rather than shows, as evidenced by Mariko's behavior. She says and thinks so many things that are shown to be contradictory to what actually happens. The one part of the book I liked was how the two love interests resent their romantic feelings and try to work against them. Other than that, A Flame in the Mist was a chore to get through with the numerous problems I had with Mariko and her internalized misogyny plus the leaps of logic in the rest of the story. I won't read any more of this series, but I bought her previous series that I hope doesn't suffer from these same problems.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, July 14, 2017

Wish Upon

Clare Shannon's life hasn't been the same since her mother died when she was a child. Her father is a hoarder who openly digs through other people's trash in public and most embarrassingly in front of her school. She has a small group of friends, but the popular kids won't stop bullying her. One day, her father brings her an ornate Chinese music box that won't open with ancient script all over it. All she can make out from her understanding of high school level Chinese is 7 wishes, so she wishes for her rival to rot. It comes true, but her dog dies on the same day. As she makes more and more wishes without reading the fine print, bodies pile up around her. Will she notice the gruesome payment for her wishes and will she have the willpower to stop?

I went into Wish Upon looking for a fun teen horror movie and it delivered imperfectly. Clare seems like a decent person at first. She's an artist with a small circle of friends, an embarrassing dad, and a few shallow bullies. Her friends were honestly more interesting than she was, especially Meredith, who doesn't back down ever and loves her Pokemon Go style ghost game to a fault. Overall, Clare's life isn't that bad, which makes it hard to sympathize with her once she starts making wishes. The first few could have been coincidences with her wish coming true and someone around her dying, but after while, she seems to be willfully blind to the effects in order to improve her life. One of the victims wasn't discovered until weeks later, which seems pretty unbelievable to me since she wasn't a recluse. Some wishes go great like being willed all of her dead uncle's estate, becoming popular at school, and her father becoming someone who doesn't embarrass her on a daily basis. Other wishes don't go so well like her crush becoming fully stalker level obsessed with her. Some of her wishes were so stupid even for a teenage girl, especially after she realizes that someone will die for it to come true. Her mood swings gave me whiplash as she wanted to throw it away one minute and then wanted to keep it even if she lost her friends the next minute.

The music box has a gorgeous exterior with ornate carvings in red and black with small circular mirror on the lid. The inside is equally beautiful with whirring gold mechanics and a carved gold demon under the lid. I wish the song it played was a little more memorable, but its dissonant chromatic melody creates tension and unease. It has a history of vastly improving people's lives through history, but all of them end in suicide. Its origin dates back a bubonic plague infection in 1919 China where a woman prayed 7 days and nights until a demon came to grand her wishes. Of course it's done the same ever since. I though it woud be culturally insensitive since this Chinese box is ruining this poor white girl's life, but the Chinese people who inform her about the box are refreshingly complex characters, even more than Clare. Ryan, a boy from her Chinese class, is adorable and quirky while his cousin Gina is an artist with a modern loft and colorful style. I was afraid that they would be wise and mystic stereotypes like in 80's movies like Gremlins and Big Trouble in Little China, but this was firmly avoided.

My main problems with the movie are in vapid Clare, who becomes increasingly hard to sympathize with as the movie goes on. Her dad isn't that bad. A few people at school don't like her and she's rich enough to have all the essentials plus a cute wardrobe, a nice bike, and a large amount of art supplies. Her "hoarder" dad had a cluttered house, but nowhere near the disgusting collection I was expecting to see like the Hoarders TV show. Another problem is in he people chosen to die by the music box. Why does Gina have to die when Clare knew her for less than a day? Why is a dog life equavalent to a human life? The people should have been closer to her instead of practically strangers, which would have had more impact as those characters were better written. The ending has all sorts of logical problems, but it was completely predictable and of course left open for a sequel. Overall, Wish Upon is a fine popcorn horror movie that delivered teen drama, decent PG-13 acceptable kills, and a creepy cool music box. I probably would see the sequel because Clare would no longer be the focus.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court after making Tamlin and the rest think she was under Rhysand's mind control. Her goal is to gather intel on her enemies, namely Hybern, and push his subjects into rebelling. Feyre has to find out who to trust and who to be wary of as the battle of the century looms close. The people if Prythian need to band together or the powerful King Hybern may prevail in enslaving humanity.

The previous two books in this series were amazing, so the third and final installment has a lot to live up to. For the most part, I was pretty happy. Feyre in particular impresses, especially as a double agent in the Spring Court. Tamlin deserved everything coming to him after his unrepentent abusive behavior, which continues in this book. Observing her as she undermined him at every turn and helped his court self destruct was incredibly satisfying. Outside of that, Feyre has some changes to adapt to. Her powers are well in hand, but her status as High Lady of the Night Court is brand new and she has to navigate how to be ruler to people she's also friends with. This is of course on top of trying to stop the most powerful being Prythian has ever seen. I especially love how she works with her friends and family to in order to achieve their goals using their specific skills instead of trying to be everything.

The found family she has built is stronger than ever with the addition of her two sisters Elaine and Nesta. Her relationship to Rhys' friends (now her friends) deepens more than ever as they get to know each other and share experiences together. Her sisters weren't very well developed before, but Nesta especially becomes a real person in this book. Although she hates being a fae, she eventually finds ways to be productive that don't involve sitting around, being rude to everyone. She directs her anger into understanding her new powers and researching. Elaine spends most of the book stunned that her whole life as she knew it is over, but her powers of precognition show themselves more and more as the book goes on. At first, her vague descriptions are taken as madness, but when they are revealed as visions, she starts to truly live her new life. The addition of her sisters proves to be integral to the story as well as to Feyre's journey.

Revisiting previous characters that weren't seen a lot in the last installment and meeting new characters ties everything together and fleshes out the world. Lucien more than redeemed himself for previous transgressions and grew to be so much more than Tamlin's puppet. Even Tamlin himself does a bit of good despite his abusive, controlling nature. (His previous actions aren't ignored or excused.) The rest of the High Lords have to choose a side and it was interesting to glimpse their personalities and the people in their Courts. It also shows how differently they run their Courts and interact with others. Cassian and Azriel are seen in their warrior capacities as usual, but when they become infatuated with Feyre's sisters, we get to see their slightly softer sides and explore their relationship with Mor. Where Rhysand's strength were shown in the previous book, his weaknesses are on display here, which I appreciated. He isn't perfect or an eternal font of energy, so it was good to see a powerful character worn down and devastated by war.

One big part of the novel is the war aspect. Many times they have to fight the forces of Hybern to protect themselves or their people. Unfortunately, this is the part that made this book the weakest of the series. On one hand, I liked how realistically war is shown to be in the trappings of this fantastical world. However, there are numerous small battles and one large one at the end. They start to blend together and I'm not a huge fan of books about war. The plot had many twists and turns, which made the book unpredictable. Another criticism I had is the ending, which feels a little too convenient all around. I'm hopeful that Sarah J. Maas will be continuing the series, so it's not a permanent ending. Overall, the series is enjoyable with a relatable protagonist, a worthy love interest, and nonstop action throughout.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Collector and The Collection

* The Collector

Arkin O'Brien is desperate to pay off his debts to protect his ex-wife and daughter from loan sharks. So he's forced to do one last heist with his lockpicking and breaking and entering expertise,  posing as a handiman to a rich family. The house has a huge, expensive ruby that will solve all his problems, but coincidentally, a masked killer with elaborate traps attacks the house on the same night of the heist. The killer doesn't factor in the thief to his plans. Can Arkin save the family and escape with his life?

The Collector is a fun, bloody slasher with traps similar to Jigsaw's in Saw without the faux morality reasoning. The only developed character is Arkin. We see his past and his relatable reasoning for his thievery. He's the most clever and catches on to the killer's ways the fastest. The rich family aren't portrayed as deeply and mostly act as fodder for the unique kills which aren't to be underestimated. The Collector is the best part of the film with his twisted mask, reflective eyes, and ominous silent presence. Nothing is known about him at all. It's even more effective that he could be anyone. His methodology is cruel. He captures someone from the previous kill and traps them in a red trunk. The opening of that trunk activates the horrific traps for the new kill, leading to the mental torture and probable death of the survivor who knows what's in store for the new targets and can't help them. There's honestly not much to this film beyond interesting kills, gore, and a tense cat and mouse game. It does fall into typical horror tropes a little more than I would like. However, The Collector is fun and unexpected, which is more than I can say for a lot of the more mainstream franchises that keep pumping out the same dreck year after year.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* The Collection

Elena Peters and her friends go to a party in a fashionable secret, underground club while The Collector continues to kill indescriminantly. The Collector coincidentally targets the club and kills all the clubgoers except Elena, who is trapped in the red trunk, and Arkin, who escapes from that trunk and out into the night. Elena is taken to the Collector's layer and Arkin goes to the hospital, where the police make a deal with him to lead them to the lair to save Elena. Arkin agrees only to lead them there, but they threaten him to continue inside to a madman's labyrinthine layer, full of victims, bodies, traps, and his collection.

The Collection is a huge improvement to The Collector that keeps the first films innovative kills and unpredictable nature. It breaks out of a lot of the tropes it held in the first film. The beginning news montage shows the extent of the Collector's killings with hundreds of victims with no connection whatsoever and numerous people still missing. The people are terrified, but it doesn't stop teens from being teens. The mass club kill scene is one of my favorite in any horror film because it's over the top, impressive, and a little funny. Instead of the film taking place in one building like the first, it bucks tradition and takes it right to the Collector's doorstep. His place is a labyrinth of insanity and horror with a dash of culture. We get to see how he lives his day to day life torturing people, creating his works of art, and completing his collection in an almost banal way. His artwork is depraved and macabre, comprised of rearranged human bones, limbs, and skin in different combinations. He has people tortured so extremely that they either resemble animals more than humans to protect his home or are devoted to him over any sort of self preservation. Parts of his lair resemble a conventional collector's extensive collection with art, books, and animals, living and dead.

Arkin and the police team have to navigate the Collector's territory where anything could be a trap. Although the public places and house he rigs are impressive, it's nothing compared to his own home where he has had years to cultivate his traps. The police officers are mostly paper thin characters that are fodder for the traps and the Collector's creations. Arkin and Elena are the only characters to root for unless you prefer the enigmatic menace of the Collector. I'm curious about him because he's obviously educated with his knowledge of entymology and biology, but also knows how to fight when needed. It's smart to leave him mysterious, but I wouldn't hate it if they explored his life more. The ending is unexpected, but I wish more movies had been made. The formula lends itself to a variety of innovative kills, a deep rivalry between the hero and villain, and the decent writing to go at least a couple more movies. This series is so underappreciated and it's definitely worth your time.  

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


It's time for Roiben's coronation to be made the offical king of the depraved Unseelie Court. Kaye, who is just getting used to her pixie state after being raised as a human, is having trouble fitting in to the court. During the celebration, Kaye drinks more faerie wine than she should and drunkenly declares her love for Roiben in fae tradition. It's customary for him to give her some sort of trial, an easy one if the love is returned, and she can't see or speak to him until the task is done. His task is for her to find a faerie who can lie, which is completely impossible. Shocked and reeling, Kaye returns to her home and goes into a shame spiral, resulting in telling her mother that she is a changeling. When trying to retrieve her human counterpart, Silarial, queen of the Seelie Court, attempts to ensare Kaye into her plan to take the Unseelie throne from Roiben. How can Kaye hope to beat the ancient queen of the faeries at her own game?

I seriously love this series so much. I have no idea why I waited so long to read it. It combines so many things that I love: dark faeries, realistic characters, twisty plots, unconventional romances, sword fights, and games of wit. While there is one fairly one dimensional villain, both sides of the conflict are largely in shades of grey where both do good and evil for different reasons. How they appear is not usually how they actually are and it has led to many surprising and turns in the series. This installment also merges the characters from Tithe with those from Valiant, but I felt they were underutilized considering an entie book was spent building up their characters. I especially loved returning to Kaye and Roiben and seeing that the events of Tithe didn't magically make all of their problems go away.

Kaye is still lost as a newfound pixie and Roiben still holds all his feelings inside without sharing all of himself with Kaye. Now that Kaye knows what she is, she no longer truly belongs to the faerie world or the human world. Faeries view her as ignorant, socially inept, and someone to play tricks on, as close to human as a fae can get. She sticks to the human world most of the time because she can at least glamour herself to fit in even though she knows she doesn't belong there anymore. As before, she's prone to drowning her sorrows in booze instead of facing them head-on. This paired with her eagerness to be accepted into fae society as Roiben's mate drove her to declare herself to Roiben.

Roiben also has a lot of baggage. He feels similar to Kaye about the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. While the depravity and cruelty of the Unseelie Court disgusts him, he has found that the Seelie Court isn't much better after being blind for so long, especially since he has seen his former Queen and former beloved Silarial's true colors. Kaye is his escape from all of it and he didn't want to endanger her by putting a big target on her forehead as someone to torture or kill to get to him. While his reasonings aren't terrible, he doesn't share anything with Kaye. leading to her spiral after he very publicly and soundly rejects her declaration.

Ironside is an amazing end to a strong series. I was on the edge of my seat for much of the end since I couldn't figure out how Roiben and Kaye would get out of their predicament. The clever thinking and faerie logic that leads the story in unexpected places is unparalleled. Holly Black is the queen of faerie stories as far as I'm concerned and I can't wait to read The Cruel Prince when it comes out. She always writes unexpected stories with engaging characters and I will read every book she writes, especially if it's in the fae world.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Beguiled

It's three years into the Civil War and Martha Farnworth continues to run her school for girls after most of the students, staff, and slaves have left, leaving only Ewina Morrow and five students who have nowhere to go: Amy, Alicia, Jane, Emily, and Marie. Amy finds an injured Union soldier named Corporal John McBurney when picking mushrooms for dinner and helps him back to the school where they give him medical attention. He rests in a locked room while they decide what they want to do with him, but all visit him frequently and build a relationship with him. He fears returning to the war, but how far will he go to stay in the school?

Based on the advertising, I expected The Beguiled to be a thriller through and through. It turned out to be mainly a drama with a sprinkling of thriller in the latter half, so I was a little disappointed. However, the film won me over with its beautiful cinematography, gorgeous costumes, and nuanced performances from the actresses. So many screenshots were simply works of art that the slow pace was welcome to enjoy them. The costumes, while beautiful, aren't really realistic for the time. They would have had very few resources especially with very few if any paying students attending the school, so their beautiful clothing and full table don't seem realistic. Effort is made to show the students mending clothing, but even mended it wouldn't look that nice. It does give an almost fantastical air to the film and to the women with their similar blond hair and white clothing since they are so removed from the war that it rarely interacts with them directly at all.

Corporal McBurney's arrival is the most exciting thing to happen in the school in years as the sounds of war have become a dull backdrop to their lives. Not much is truly known about him since he puts on a different persona depending on his audience. Each of the women had a different type of attraction him based on their stage in life, which he is quick to exploit. Amy, the youngest of the main characters, has a bit of a crush and appreciates being spoken to as an adult and as a friend. He calls her his favorite and praises her whenever he can, making sure to be nonthreatening. Teenage Alicia lusts after him as her isolation has left her burgeoning sexuality with no outlet. McBurney is cordial to her in public and equally lustful behind closed doors. Edwina is an adult who wants romantic love and a husband to secure her future. She isn't able to achieve her ideal life with a family where she is. John plies her with romantic platitudes and promises of elopement. Martha is an older woman more interested in a worldly companion to share stories with, which John eagerly provides. He is a master manipulator and plies the women so he won't have to return to war.

As his injury heals, John tries to make himself indispensible to the household by working in the garden, an activity the women and girls don't have time for. His manipulations work wonders as the women make him fancy meals in their best finery and bicker with each other for his attention. His luck changes when he advances on Alicia and is caught by Edwina. A horrific accident follows leaving John with a leg severed at the knee. When he sees he can no longer get what he wants with flattery, he turns to violence and abuse. Most of the women reject him, but Alicia and Edwina still pursue him. They try to call for help, but John becomes more violent. The conclusion has all of the women (except Edwina) banding together to take care of their problem in way that John never expects. They take a stereotypically nurturing, feminine action/event and take the power and agency of themselves and their home back. I loved it and found it a powerful ending.

The Beguiled has a few flaws, but overall, it's a beautiful film that has two very different halves. The first is light and happy as John brings an excitement to the house that hasn't been seen in years. The second is dark as he turns to abuse to get what he wants after what he perceived as their attack. John would do whatever it takes to get what he wanted, but he underestimated the intelligence, ingenuity, and capability of the women who he masterfully manipulated. My only other criticism is that the story is pretty straight forward without any subplots to speak of that could have filled out the story a little more. Other than that, I would say it's a drama with a splash of thriller that is well worth your time.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Mini-Reviews: The Killing Lesson and Blood Rose Rebellion

* The Killing Lessons

Valerie Hart is investigating a series of murders where young women are tortured, raped, murdered, and then have an object placed in their bodies. The murders have been going on for years and Valerie isn't even close to any real leads which is wearing on her physically and psychologically. While going through footage of the zoo, she sees someone suspicious which sets off a chain of events that puts her hot on the murderers' tail when another woman has just been kidnapped. Will she save the woman in time or will she be too late yet again?

The Killing Lessons is a murder mystery thriller that has a dark and twisty protagonist, a disturbing killer, and some unexpected twists and turns. Valerie isn't what your typical female hero with her excessive drinking, obsessive nature, and tragic backstory. I appreciated her drive to do whatever she can even at the expense of her health and career. I found her backstory where she pushed her boyfriend away and made sure he caught her in the midst of cheating on him hard to relate to. I did like their relationship where they absolutely know the other person practically down to their thoughts. The killer has interesting motivation and a bizarre childhood of abuse. I found his methods deplorable, but kind of underwhelming as an actual character. The twists appear in the latest victim who has a few unexpected tricks to try to get free that I know I wouldn't have the awareness to even think of let alone carry out.

I didn't like that everything is spelled out for you instead of connecting any of the dots yourself. I also didn't like the weird rivalry between Valerie and a new cop Carla. It screams that Valerie isn't "like other women" as if she's somehow above others of her gender. However, she rises to Carla's bait far too often which hurts her credibility. Carla's reasoning for attacking Valerie and almost destroying her career is motivated by her love for the man who loves Valerie, which is so stereotypical. She also spouted misogynistic sentiments and made Valerie look amazing in comparison. The pacing is a bit too slow and each subplot is perhaps a little too detailed, but overall, it was a read that got me through my flight to Texas. I'll be reading the second book hoping for some improvements.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffinsa

* Blood Rose Rebellion

In a world where the elite and privileged are magic users, poor teenaged Anna Arden is left out in the cold. She never developed any magical powers, barring her from much of the rich society she grew up in. Few if any suitors will ask for her hand, leaving her future looking pretty desolate. When she effectively ruins her sister's coming out magic demonstration and party, all eyes are on her, including those of the council that effectively rules all of England. What will the future hold for Anna?

I did not finish this book, which is rare for me. It did have some interesting aspects, but once I hit page 50, I didn't see any need to go on. The world's magic system is interesting with only the rich and powerful even being allowed access to magic due to a spell called the Binding. There are four types of spellcasters: elementalists manipulate nonliving elements and light, coremancers read and influence thoughts and emotions, animanti influence living things perhaps talking to animals or healing, and lucifera shape forces such as gravity and electricity. My confusing is that animant seems to be to close to coremancers considering people being living, but I didn't read far enough the differentiate the two more.

My main problem with the novel is Anna and her love interest Frederick. First, Frederick is obviously stringing her along and kissing her in secret while courting her sister in a more public way. In addition, he's incredibly condescending, treating her like she's stupid. How is he attractive in the least? Anna seems to be fine with this, convinced that he will choose her eventually. The kisses are discovered when Anna lies about who got her into the party she ruined and the council views the events through magic. Of course Anna is pretty much ruined even more than not having any magic, but she only cares about losing Frederick. I just can't support a character who acts so stupid and puts her infatuation for a boy above concern for her own life and future. I don't recommend the book based on what I read.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Bay

* spoilers *

A news team led by an inexperienced reporter named Donna went to Claridge, Maryland to report on the 4th of July festivities. All seemed to be going well with a crab eating contest, dunk booths, parades, and the like. Then people start to get sick in droves until the majority of the city is infected with a mysterious disease. The Bay is a found footage film that compiles news coverage, personal videos, facetime conversations, surveillance footage, hospital documentation, conversations with the CDC, and oceanographer's video report to create its narrative. Donna in the present (three years after the events of the film) comments over the footage she took along with all the other compiled videos to get the full picture of what happened. It took three years to get this footage out there because it was confiscated by the governement until an anonymous hacker group released it online.

Underneath the prestige and success of the idyllic looking town Claridge is a seedy underbelly of sacrificing the environment for financial benefit. The most lucrative businesses in the town are the chicken industry, restaurants, and tourism. A large chicken farm dumps over 5 million pounds of chicken waste into the bay each year doing untold damage. The water is full of bacteria plus all the pills people take every day which then is desalinate (but not filtered) and given back to the townspeople. Although people have protested the pollution, the drive of the mayor, good old American capitalism, and tradition keep those opposing voices to a minimum.

The real trouble starts when thirty people exhibit extensive boils over large parts of their bodies. Dead people are found disemboweled with tongues missing that are assumed to be murder victims. Things are still generally normal while these people suffer. The mayor condemns any reports of toxic water as fearmongering and stresses personal responsibility for safety. The public call in to a radio show with huge amounts of outlandish theories from biological warfare to vaccines. The makeup effects make the rashes and boils look absolutely disgusting and lend a sinister tinge to all the lighthearted celebrations of the town and its use of water. It's crazy, but realistic to see how so much can go wrong without any real response or effort to protect people. As the film goes on, more and more people get sick with increasingly terrible symptoms.

The film follows a few people intermittently through the story which include the oceanographers studying the polluted water, a teenage girl facetiming at the local ER, the doctor in the ER, Donna the reporter, the mayor of the town, cops patrolling the neighborhood, and an oblivious couple with their baby coming to visit family. Donna is the main person connecting all this together, but I found her annoying especially when she cared more about her naivete showing in the video over the devastation. My favorite was the doctor in the ER who worked with the CDC to find out the cause of the outbreak. He works tirelessly interviewing, treating, and operating on people plus giving all the information to the CDC despite the people's growing panic and pain in the ER plus the risk of infection for himself. He prompts a girl facetiming with her friend to record what is happening in order to garner more evidence.

The culprit turns out to be a mutated type of parasitic isopod paired with a bacterial infection. The natural type of these parasites target fish, get in through the gills, remove the tongue, and then replace it with their bodies. Other than that, it doesn't do any other harm besides sometimes causing them to be underweight. These mutated ones attack humans, fill their stomachs with larva, burst out of their bodies, and remove and replace their tongues. This is the perfect movie to watch for the 4th of July considering the current political climate. Those in power are actively shutting down the EPA and other restrictions that protect wildlife and the environment in favor of businesses, drilling, and jobs in defunct energy sources. This film is frightening because it shows an extreme version of what could happen if we refuse to take a good look at what is being done to the environment. The only flaw of the film is the annoying reporter Donna and the terrible CGI effects, usually with fast-moving isopods. The Bay takes a water creature feature similar to Jaws and adds an additional aspect that makes all of the water, not just the ocean, dangerous.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, July 3, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Blackcoat's Daughter and The Bad Batch

* The Blackcoat's Daughter

February rolls around at a Catholic all girls boarding school and parents are set to pick up their kids. All except Rose and Kat whose miscommunication with their parents left them stranded at the practically deserted school. Rose is dealing with her own pregnancy scare drama while Kat's behavior becomes increasingly erratic as time goes on.

The Blackcoat's Daughter is a beautiful film with good performances and a decent twist. So many of the scenes and camera angles are striking and the main strength of the film. Oftentimes, the scenes are monochromatic with a splash of color. The performances are spot on. Kiernan Shipka stands out as deteriorating Kat, showing that she can be incredibly eerie. Emma Roberts delivers an unexpectedly subtle performance. Lucy Boynton's performance as Rose is more straight forward and conventional than the others, but it's important to have a character for the audience to relate to. The ending is the best part as something gruesome and shocking actually happens.

The film's flaws are in the slow pacing and the parallel story lines. I don't mind slow pacing, but it took until the very very ending for anything remotely exciting to happen. The atmosphere held up and the plot didn't. It stagnated somewhere in the middle and lost me. Both stories had a similar interesting ending with a long, boring build up. The Blackcoat's Daughter is worth a watch, but it's very light on plot and goes a long way with no payoff to speak of. Much like I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, it's a beautiful, well acted, atmospheric film with not much substance.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* The Bad Batch

Arlen is tattooed with a number and dropped in the desert outside Texas that lies outside of the United States and all its laws. She is captured by cannibals, who eat her arm and leg, but she manages to escape with the help of a strange drifter to safe haven Comfort. From there she gets into so much trouble of her own making that it's ridiculous. The beginning sets up the world and has the best parts of action and horror. Criminals of all types are thrown into a lawless wasteland outside the US instead of being jailed. We are never told why and never see what the US looks like in this world, which would have been interesting. The cannibal society that captured Arlen seems to be made up of mostly body builders. The only sympathetic cannibals are Miami Man played by Jason Mamoa and his adorable daughter Honey, who are just trying to make their way in life by eating tons of other people. Miami Man provides the most horrific scene when he kills and butchers a pleading woman, which was probably my favorite. He is the  most sympathetic and dimensional characters in the film with both his ferocious, violent side and his artistic, caring side portrayed.

The rest of the film shows Arlen's moronic antics and unnecessarily drawn out scenes. Arlen still manages to be worse than cannibals by constantly wandering out into the desert with absolutely no supplies. While she does this, she happens to stumble on people all the time even though it looks like a giant wasteland with no landmarks to speak of. It's way too convenient for these people with close ties to be finding each other as often as they do. Then she kills a woman in front of her daughter Honey, takes Honey to Comfort, and then completely forgets about her until Miami Man shows up to find her. I don't think Arlen ever makes good decisions as if she's allergic to them and her attitude brings to mind pouty children. Many scenes are way too long and don't bring anything to the story, for instance the extensive drug trip scene, Keanu's lengthy speech on shit, and lingering shots on pretty much every actor no matter the situation. These scenes and practices made the film seem so much longer than it was and made the pacing terrible. I had high expectations since I enjoyed Ana Lily Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch a messy, unfocused film with a terrible main character. A lot of the concepts have promise, but the execution left a boring, drawn out plot with a plot hole-filled happy ending.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Ten years ago, Warcross took the world by storm and became a way of life for many. As time went on, the game and its hardware became more sleak, more expensive, and even more immersive than ever before. This game can be entirely in the virtual world with the mind or overlaying the real world in enhanced reality. Emika Chen struggles in this world with very little money after her father died, leaving her with mountains of debt. She dropped out of school and turned to hacking and bounty hunting for those playing and gambling on Warcross illegally. When her latest target was stolen out from under her, desperation takes hold and she successfully exploits a weakness in the code and steals a very expensive item while an official player of the opening game of the international Warcross Championships. This maneuver puts her in the game in front of millions of people and she expects to be arrested. Instead, she's recruited as an undercover player to discover who has been hacking into the game.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the world feels realistic and Emika is a main character to root for. Warcross is an interesting concept that would be hugely popular as we see in real life with games like Ingress and Pokemon Go. Enhanced reality would make a huge splash if it could be done in a realistic way, which is vaguely figured out in the book by using the power of the brain to visualize the virtual world. Like the real world, impoverished people don't have easy access to this popculture movement monetarily and also having available time to play the game. They are essentially removed from a huge part of this society. Emika copes well with poverty, but the need for money to survive and keep a roof over her head takes up her whole life and ultimately what pushed her to steal ingame, setting everything else in motion. I wanted her to succeed when it seemed like the whole world was working against her.

Where the novel falls apart for me is in the gameplay and Hideo Tanaka. Regular MMORPG roles are as follows: tank to take damage and protect others from taking damage, healer to keep the group alive, and damage dealing (or DPS) to kill the monsters or opponents with powerful attacks. There are other roles as well, but these are the main ones that make a group successful. Warcross plays lip service to these roles, but then doesn't have these roles act like they should at all. Another team is known for being versatile, but there were no examples of their team following their chosen role. Emika's class was an architect, which didn't really make sense especially when she carried tools on her belt (including an unwieldy chainsaw for some bizarre reason) that she never used. Then, Hideo is an awful character from the beginning, cold and emotionless. Later, he out of nowhere admits his love for her which commences a relationship built on absolutely nothing beyond him being a genius and rich. By the end of the novel, I didn't care about their relationship which was pretty central to the whole thing.

Warcross had a lot going for it, but the stilted romance and nonsensical gaming roles that are central to the novel made everything fall apart for me. I could predict exactly what would happen by about half way through the novel so nothing was remotely surprising. I most likely won't be continuing with this series, but I could be convinced to give the second one a try since it was a fast read.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins