The Marvels Review

I first found out about Brian Selznick from, like a lot of people, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. That was one of the most creative books I’ve ever read in that it has pencil images that tell a story combined with traditional novel writing. It was also an excellent story. He followed it up with Wonderstruck that was not as good as Hugo but was still interesting. His most recent book in that style is The Marvels and it doesn’t live up to the previous two books.

Joseph Jervis has run away from his boarding school to stay with his uncle Albert Nightingale in London during Christmas. It’s here that Joseph discovers The Marvels, a family of stage actors who started in 1766 but it all ended in the early 1900s. Now Joseph thinks these were his ancestors and is trying to find out the truth from his uncle.

The thing that made the previous two books great was that Selznick knew what the perfect balance of drawings and writing was. Here, we get almost four hundred pages of drawing and then nothing but text for two hundred pages and then fifty pages of drawings. Yes, I admit that this was done deliberately as explained by the ending, but it kills the pacing of the book.

Not to mention that Joseph isn’t really that interesting of a character, nor is his story. Hugo had a kid trying to not get arrested and Wonderstruck had a kid finding his dad my going to the Museum of Natural History. This is just boring.

The Marvels themselves are an interesting family as is their story, Joseph’s just doesn’t cut it. In fact, all the characters here aren’t that interesting. It’s a shame since Selznick does have talent.

The drawings are still amazing, so that’s something. Selznick has the talent to use drawings to tell a compelling story that doesn’t need words to describe what’s going on. I may go so far as to say that Selznick is a better story teller using art than with words.

I’d still read any further Selznick books. I do enjoy his imagination and artwork. It’s just that this book was a letdown when compared to Hugo and Wonderstruck.

 

 

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The War of the Worlds (book) Review

Ah, The War of the Worlds. This is the defining invasion from Mars novel that sparked a whole bunch of them in the forties fifties. Since it is the first, it must be the best, right?

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it’s a Londoner’s account of an invasion by aliens from Mars and its aftermath. That’s pretty much it. The story is basically the narrator going from one place to the next while the Martians decimate everything.

This style of writing is why there has been a ton of adaptations for screen, TV, comics and radio. It’s just non-stop carnage and then the narrator hiding from the aliens. That’s why it’s not that great of a book. Yes, it is influential in that it spawned an entire genre and was one of the reasons why space travel exists, but it’s more along the lines of popcorn summer blockbuster movie.

While there has been some debate about the philosophical meanings in the book, it all boils down to the strong will destroy the weak. This may have been scary and shocking for people back in 1898, today we’ve already seen a ton of these types of stories. Hell, the movie Mars Attacks makes fun of this idea. We as a people have stopped being scared of Martians attack that we’re making fun of it.

That’s not to say the book is crap, oh no. It’s well written and an interesting read. Wells does a fine job of putting us into the head of the narrator and we do feel whatever emotion he’s going through. When he’s scared we feel it. When he’s pining for his wife, we feel that too. This all gets buried in a plot that, to modern readers, is something that’s been done to death.

Does that mean that nobody should read The War of the Worlds? Of course not. The impact it’s had is too high to dismiss it as something that should be forgotten from a bygone era. Just don’t expect to be blown away by it.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Do you remember many years ago reading the first Harry Potter book? Do you also remember one of Harry’s textbooks was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Do you also remember buying the actual book along with Griditch Through the Ages? Well, there’s a movie called just that. Now, the problem is, how do you make a movie out of a book that’s nothing but 70 pages of magical creature information? Simple: make it a prequel about the author, Newt Scamander, researching the book.

Newt Scamander has found his way to New York City with a magical case filled with magical beasts. While there, something is causing destruction to New York and the American version of the Ministry of Magic (Magical Congress of the United States of America or MACUSA) is investigating it.

All of this I had to look up because the movie is pretty forgettable. Most of the movie is just Newt and other forgettable characters screwing around New York looking for his escaped creatures. Oh, and then there’s this one magical evil that’s basically a kid creating evil magic from sheer will or something going on. It really goes nowhere until the third act where we get a huge battle scene taking place in the subway.

The best part is I also read the script for this movie which you can buy in all bookstores. Even after reading that I still can’t remember much from this movie.

At least the acting and creature designs were great. Eddie Redmayne is great as Newt. He pulls off the awkward person with some kind of weird hobby character nicely. Although props have to go to Don Fogler as Kowalski. He does everything he can to put on a great performance even with all the stuff hey have him do. The creatures do look nice and the CGI is spot on. The only downfall if that one creature that looks like a rhinoceros. It was boring beyond anything and the scene dragged on too long.

So, yeah, only watch this if you’re a Harry Potter fan who wants everything Harry Potter. Just don’t expect anything too memorable to come out of this movie.

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Batman: Year One Review

My Readers: “Where have you been?”

Me: “Family issues.”

Right, now that that’s out of the way, time to get to business. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and art by David Mazzucchelli. Just say that to any comic fan and you’ll hear nothing but praise for it. Hell, it’s even considered to be the definite Batman origin story. I’ve had the comic collecting dust on my shelf for a year now and recently said, “right, time to read this.” After reading it, my thoughts can be summed up as, “really? This is a classic?”

So the story is about Commissioner Gordon, who was Lieutenant when this comic took place, just arrive in Gotham City and is trying to do everything to prove himself. His big chance comes when a vigilante dressed as a bat comes along and the city is starting to sing Gordon’s praises.

Notice how I barely touched on Batman? That’s because he’s a second fiddle character here. Yeah, a comic called BATMAN: YEAR ONE, the majority of the focus is on Gordon. It’s like those Star Wars novels where they have a character from one of the movies displayed prominently on the cover and when you read the book they’re only in it for, like, ten pages and the rest of the book is some new character that 9/10 dies at the end.

Oh, and Catwoman is in this comic. I can’t tell you why she’s in it because she really serves no purpose at all.

As for the story itself, it’s nothing special. It’s just a cop trying to be a good cop taking place in the DCU. The biggest problem is the pacing is all over the place. It’s either too fast or too slow. Not to mention Miller’s penchant for having his characters narrate. If this was a gritty noir story that’d be fine because that’s the genre. In a Batman comic, it feels off.

Another thing is the events that unfold just aren’t that interesting or are resolved too easily. I felt like skimming most of the story I was falling asleep.

The art is fine..for its time. While, yes,  when this comic came out the art was brilliant because there wasn’t anything like it at the time. Then every DC comic started looking like that and it got old. If anything, the art makes this comic look dated. It’s not terrible, the Batman outfit looks nice, but it’s just not that interesting to look at.

In all, yeah, Batman: Year One may have pioneered the Batman mythos back in the day, but so much has been written about Batman and a ton of origin stories written that this feels like a relic from a dark past. The story isn’t that great, Batman isn’t the star, and it’s not paced well. Just play Batman: Arkham Origin if you want a better Batman origin story.

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1984 Review

Yes, I am aware that 1984 is the go to book now because of recent events in the US, but I just want to make it clear that this review is for entertainment purposes only. This review will NOT contain any political talk or any of my political views. Everything written here will be about the book, George Orwell and Orwell’s views only. I would never put y political views in my reviews because I know better. Also, any comments that do not pertain to the discussion to the book or attacks on anyone will be deleted. I don’t want this to be a political discussion that will get out of hand. With that…

1984 is considered to be George Orwell’s magnum opus with some even saying Animal Farm is. For those who don’t know, 1984 is about Winston Smith who lives in what used to be London, England but now called Airstrip One in a mega country called Oceania ruled by a man named Big Brother. In this new world, there is only one government called Ingsoc that watches over everything people. Basically, a totalitarian state. Winston, a lower level party member, is having doubts about his government which is a crime called “thought crime.” His life changes when he meets the beautiful Julia who only strengthens his hatred for the government.

As a book, for the most part, the writing keeps the reader interested and the world is well developed. Winston is an interesting character and Orwell does a fine job of showing how scary this world is. There are TVS called telescreens that basically allow Ingsoc to see and listen to your every move and there’s the fear of being taken away as a thought criminal.

Orwell makes these characters interesting is how he shows how each character can be a potential thought criminal, even Syme who is fanatical about Newspeak (the official language of Ingsoc.) It creates tension in that Winston can be taken away and killed at any minute.

The big negative of this book is when Winston gets ahold of Goldstein’s book (Goldstein is basically the bad enemy and the leader of an underground rebellion.) While, yes, it does go into more detail about the world, it comes across as a massive info dump written in the dryest, most boring language you can think of. It’s a huge tonal shift that takes the reader out of the story and will make some people skim or quit outright (I quit the first time I read it.)

Now the hard part: Why has this book lasted so long? Simple, Orwell made it abundantly clear here, in Animal Farm and all of his writings that he hated communism. He also lived in a time where the threat of communism taking over was a real threat and he feared for humanity’s future. In the afterword of the Signet Classic edition of 1984 by Erich Fromm, one of Orwell’s fears was that people will basically become like mindless robots and just do what the government tells them to do.

Basically, this is a political doomsday essay written in the form of a novel. The difference here is that Orwell knows how to write a story and make an entertaining one. He also doesn’t become preachy like some stories of this kind do.

Sp. should you read 1984? Yes, but not just to quote from it but also read it as any other literature. Yes, it has a massive downer ending, but once you think about it that’s the point.

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Let’s Talk About Winnie the Pooh

Ah, Winnie the Pooh. That lovable silly bear who loves honey so much he even got caught in a tree filled with honey. Don’t forget his friends Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore and Christopher Robin. All owned by Disney and their many movies about them. What many people don’t know is that, like a lot of things, these stories were originally in book form written by A. A. Milne with art by Ernes H. Shepard. It’s a good thing these stores have been rereleased in The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh.

Thing is, only the first two parts are Winnie the Pooh. The other two are poems where a handful has characters that look like Winnie the Pooh characters but are not named.

For those who don’t know what Winnie the Pooh is, what rock have you been hiding under? Basically,  it’s a bunch of stories about the stuffed animals of a boy named Christopher Robin and one of them is a yellow bear named Winnie the Pooh who isn’t that bright and loves honey. This is the imagination of a six-year-old.

Now, the reason why these stories have lasted so long is because we’ve all had favorite toys as little kids and came up with little adventures with them. These stories are pretty much that. Yes, they were written at a different time and most kids won’t be able to identify most of the stuff here, but overall they will find themselves in Christopher Robin.

Then there are the poems. The only word to say about them is cute. There’s one where Christopher Robin is just hopping. It’s a kid talking about hopping. Just imagine any six-year-old saying this poem and you’ll see how brilliant it is.

For adults, this is one of those examples where you’ll think you were a kid again. Come on, read any of these stories/poems and tell me you weren’t six years old again. That’s another reason why adults will enjoy Winnie the Pooh (besides “aw, how cute.”) Adults, please, talk to your kids about what you just read with them. You’ll be surprised with what they have to say you may even learn something from then.

Yes, I just advocated bonding with your kids by reading. I don’t have kids, nor am I a teacher. I just think bonding over kids books is a great idea and will help with imagination and emotional growth. I’m no expert, so take what I said with a grain of salt. It worked for me, anyway, but everyone’s different.

So, Winnie the Pooh will be with us for a long time because of how it resonates with everyone. Get the book, get the movies from Disney and just enjoy them with the family.

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Why Do People Love A Charlie Brown Christmas?

‘Tis the season for non-stop Christmas specials, and there’s no way of escaping them. One of the more popular ones is A Charlie Brown Christmas. This special has been aired on TV since 1965 and practically everyone is obsessed with it. I’m obsessed with it. Hell, I even bought the tree Charlie Brown bought. Here’s the real question: Why DO people like it so much.

First, let’s look at the plot. Charlie Brown is sad because he can’t the true meaning of Christmas, so Lucy tells him to be the director of the school play which will boost his confidence. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

There really isn’t that much of a plot here. The conflict is easily settled, and most of the cartoon is just the Peanuts gang dancing or playing in the snow.

On top of that, the animation isn’t all that great, even for 1960s standards. The later Peanuts specials and even the series was drawn much better. Hell, sometimes the characters look like they’re staring into the abyss and a lot of the animation is reused (look at the dancing scenes.)

Also, the voice acting, though not bad considering these were kids, sometimes sounds awkward.

Even with all those flaws, it’s still worth watching. The main reason is because this special has a lot of heart and soul to it. It makes you fell things. Happy things. You want to see Charlie Brown happy. You love the tree he buys and you get angry when the kids laugh at him. It’s a story that many people can relate to because there are people who are sad during the holidays.

The best part of the special is the music. The second you hear any of the songs you instantly start smiling, singing or even humming these songs they are that memorable. The music sets the tone for each scene perfectly that it just sucks you in.

While the plot the basic, there are a ton of memorable scenes. The ice skating scene at the beginning, the dance scene and even the tree buying scene many people can recite by heart. And that ending, man, if you don’t cry or start singing along in that ending you’re dead inside.

While the later Peanuts specials are better on a technical level to A Charlie Brown Christmas, this is a classic that gets air time every year for a reason. It has heart, it gives you happy feelings and gets you into the Christmas mood better than anything will. So go out and buy that little tree and put it right next to the big tree just to show that this special does matter.

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The Haunted House Review

Charlies Dickens is famous for writing books about 19th-century poor people dealing with the 19th-century way of life. The last thing you’d expect from him is horror. A Christmas Carol had ghosts, but they weren’t scary (except the Ghost of ChrostmasFuture.) If you’re in the right bookstore at the right time you’ll find A Haunted House and think, “hey, something scary from Dickens. And it takes place during Christmas!” Alas, there is nothing scary here.

The setting is interesting enough: a man rents out a supposedly haunted house and invites a group of people to spend Christmas Eve there. The next day each person recounts the spirit they encountered during the night. Too bad the stories are just each spirit’s life and how they died. The deaths aren’t scary; they’re more somber than anything else.

This is also not really a novel but a collection of stories by different authors that Dickens collected in the Christmas issue of his journal All the Year Round. This is more than enough reason to read the introductions to these old books.

The quality of these stories, like any other short story anthology, depend on what you take out of them. I personally wasn’t really interested in any of the stories. Now, that doesn’t mean that this book has any merit. This book is an early example of a short story collection that has a story within it. While today these are a dime a dozen, this was pretty groundbreaking stuff back in the 19th-Century. It may not be widely read or even known even to literary scholars, but you have to admire what something like this did to create for future writers.

On the other hand, these stories are dry as all hell. Yes, they are tragic and show a tragic side to humanity, but the writing makes it slog to read and many modern readers will just quit. This isn’t something you read for fun, this is something you read to do research and write thesis papers on.

With that in mind, this will not replace A Christmas Carol nor will it come close to its success. It’s an interesting piece of literary history, but not so much something you’d read willfully unless you were suckered in by its title.

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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

Danganronpa is one of these newer visual novel games that have exploded in popularity. I have seen pictures of Monokuma (the series’ main villain) all over and Loot Anime even gave out a the same tie one fo the characters wear in the game. Of course, being a cat with high curiosity, I decided to test fate and get the first game, Trigger Happy Havoc, from Gamefly and give it a shot. There’s plenty to like and plenty to hate.

First, the good stuff. The plot and background are amazing. A bunch of teenagers who are “the ultimate” in a certain field is sent to this prestigious school because of their talents. In reality, this school is actually a prison set up by a bear named Monokuma who tells them that they are here forever and the only way to leave is to kill one student and not get caught.

That right there is intriguing. There is so much that can be done with that idea. There are some points where we do see some good stuff come out of it. The characters, for the most part, are interesting. The best of the lot are Sakura, Aoi, Kyoko and Hiro. There was a lot of thought put into these characters that you care a lot about what happens to them.

Sadly, the other characters aren’t as interesting. The majority are killed off before they get any kind of development whatsoever. The absolute worst  is Byakuya. I don’t care what kind of half-assed development he got; I just wanted to see that stuck up, egotistical little shit get killed in the most horrible way possible.

Visually, the game looks unique. Each character has a unique, memorable look to them, even Monokuma who’s just a black and white teddy bear. Sadly, the school itself looks generic. Nothing about it stands out which is sad because you will be doing a lot of exploring around. You will forget where everything is because these locations don’t stand out at all.

This is also the game’s biggest weakness: the gameplay blows, especially the trail portions. There are three parts to the game. The first is exploration where you have free time to talk with any character to gain new abilities and SP. You can even give them gifts to increase your relationship with them. If you’ve played any dating sim, you know how this goes. The second part is investigating each murder where you’re being led by the nose to each location to find clues (or “truth bullets” as the game calls them.” Finally, there’s the trial. This part is just one gimmicky mini-game after another. All of them suck. Why is there a rhythm game  in a trial? Hell, once you get a certain skill this rhythm game becomes a no-brainer.

The worst part is the twist at the end that explains why they’re trapped in the school. I don’t care what anybody says, I did the Nostalgia Critic’s “this is stupid” bit when I saw that. It’s not just normal stupid, it’s so stupid for words that I just stopped caring about the story after that. I just wanted the game to end. Now.

While the  story and setting are great, the ending ruins it. Not to mention the horrendous gameplay isn’t worth your time. Just watch the anime, you’ll get the same experience without the gameplay.

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Spooksville: The Secret Path Review.

It’s my favorite time of year: Halloween! I don’t care that some Halloween traditions are corny, I like them. One of them is diving into horror anything. This time, I found a book series called Spooksville by Christopher Pike and after reading the first book The Secret Path it’s not that bad.

Adam has just moved to the small town of Springville-or Spooksville as it’s more commonly known as because of all the scary stuff that happens. He meets two of the town’s kids: Sally, who has a massive crush on him and Watch who’s called that because he wears four watches. Watch decides to drapAdam and Sally on an adventure to the find The Secret Path, but that then leads them to some scary events.

First off, I will admit that this book series is the typical young adult horror book series. It’s a basic storyline with some basic situations. The reason this one stands out is characterization. All three main leads are likable and their personalities don’t come off as forced (except Sally. She’s a bit too quirky.)

Yes, a spooky town has been overdone (Eerie Indiana, anyone? What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? Look it up) but the first book does make this town out to be a little different. There’s a lot to be explored here and the next few books do sound like they will expand on it.

Will I continue this series? Yes, because this is like Goosebumps but with the same characters. I’m not expecting much from this series, but it does have promise. It’s not a phenomenon like Goosebumps is even with a TV series, but it’s still worth what some people call “light reading” or something quick to read for Halloween.

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