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Instant Family (2019)
Instant Family (2019)
2019 | Comedy, Drama
Enjoyable and harmless comedy laced with a degree of sentimentality.
The Plot
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are focused and business-oriented home designers. They’ve talked about having kids “sometime in the future” but the years – as years are want to do – are motoring away from them. Pete is concerned that if they have their own kids now then he will end up being an “old dad” (cue very funny, black-comedy, flashback). This leads them into contact with the State’s fostering service – led by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) – and they progress into foster training. This introduces into their ‘perfect adult lives’ 15-year old Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). As these guys come from a troubled background Pete and Ellie find they have their work cut out. Who will crack first?

The turns
You’ve got to admire Mark Wahlberg as an actor. In the same vein as Steve Carell, he seems to be able to flex from dramatic (in his case, tough-guy action roles) to comedy without a blink. He’s nowhere near the calibre of actor as Carell, but he brings to all his roles a sense of menace – derived no doubt from his torrid criminal background in younger days. (His wiki page makes your eyes water: there’s a great biopic screenplay waiting to be written there! ) It must have made the kid actor who plays Charlie (Carson Holmes) actually soil himself at a key point in the film!

Wahlberg and the excellent Rose Byrne make a believable driven-couple, and Byrne has such a range of expressive faces that she can’t help but make you laugh.

Of the child actors, Nickelodeon star Isabella Moner shines with genuine brilliance, both in terms of her acting as the fiercely loyal Lizzy but also in terms of her musical ability (she sings the impressive end-title song). With Hollywood in ‘post-La-La-Showman: Here we go again’ mode, this is a talented young lady I predict might be in big demand over the next few years.

Top of my list of the most stupid “where the hell have I seen her before bang-my-head-against-the-cinema-wall” moments is the actress playing Ellie’s mother Jan. She is OF COURSE Julie Hagerty, air-hostess supreme from “Airplane!”.

Also good value, and topping my list of “I know her from lots of films but don’t know her name” is Margo Martindale* as Pete’s exuberant and easily bought mother Sandy. (*Must write this out 100 times before her picture appears in the Picturehouse Harbour Lights film quiz!).

A well-crafty script with some wayward characters
The script by director Sean (“Daddy’s Home”) Anders and John Morris zips along at a fine pace, albeit in a wholly predictable direction. It helps that I struggle the think of many films about the adoption process itself. Sure there have been lots of movies about children that have been adopted – Manchester By The Sea and Lion being two recent examples – but the only film I can immediately think of (and not in a good way) with foster care at its heart was the Katherine Heigl comedy from a few years ago “Life as we know it”. So this is good movie territory to mine.

There are some fine running jokes, notably young Juan’s penchant for constantly getting injured. However, the script also lapses as did Anders’ “Daddy’s Home 2” from last year – into moments of slushy sentimentality. (My dear departed Dad always used to affect an exaggerated snore at such points, and I could hear him in my head at regular intervals during the film!). I would have preferred a harder and blacker edge to the comedy: something that last year’s excellent “Game Night” pulled off so well.

There are also a couple of characters in the film that were poorly scripted and which just didn’t work. While Octavia Spencer was fine (channelling an almost identical version of her wisecracking and sardonic character from “The Shape of Water“), I just had no idea what her colleague Sharon (Tig Notaro) was supposed to be. The tone was all over the place. Similarly, who should pop up on a balcony in an unexpected cameo but the great Joan Cusack. And very funny she is too for the 10 second interruption. But the writers having got her there just couldn’t leave alone and we get a plain embarrassing extended interruption that strikes a duff note in the flow of the film.

Summary
The film is amusing and harmless without taxing many brain cells. Most notably unlike many so-called American ‘comedies’ it did actually make me laugh at multiple points. I should also point out that my wife absolutely loved it, rating it a strong 4* going on 5*.

But the really cute thing is that…
…the film is “inspired by a true family”: namely Anders’ own. He and his wife fostered three kids out of the US foster service, so the script is undoubtedly loosely based on their own experiences, which give it an extra impact for some of Peter and Ellie’s lines. In an essay for TIME (source: bustle.com) Anders wrote:

My wife Beth and I had been talking for years about whether we should have kids,” he wrote. “For the longest time we just felt like we couldn’t afford it. Then I sold a couple of scripts and was feeling like I might have a career, but we were in our 40s and worried we had left it too long. We knew kids would make our life bigger, so one day I joked, ‘Why don’t we just adopt a five-year-old and it will be like we got started five years ago?'”

It gives you a completely different perspective on the film knowing this. My wife after the film was saying “I’m not sure how accurately it portrays the fostering process”. But it clearly does.
  
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
2018 | Adventure, Family, Fantasy
A fantasy that’s glossy and beautiful to look at.
Before the heavyweight juggernaut of “Mary Poppins Returns” arrives at Christmas, here’s another Disney live action feature to get everyone in the festive spirit.

The Plot.
It’s Victorian London and Young Clara (Mackenzie Foy) lives with her father (Matthew Macfadyen), her older sister Louise (Ellie Bamber) and her younger brother Fritz (Tom Sweet). It’s Christmas and the family are having a hard time as they are grieving the recent death of wife and mother Marie (Anna Madeley). Like her mother, Clara has an astute mind with an engineering bias and is encouraged in this pursuit by her quirky inventor godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). At his fabled Christmas ball, Clara asks for his help in accessing a gift Clara’s mother has bequeathed to her. This leads Clara on a magical adventure to a parallel world with four realms, where everything is not quite peace and harmony.

The Review.
This is a film that visually delights from the word go. The film opens with a swooping tour of Victorian London (who knew the Disney castle was in the capital’s suburbs?!) via Westminster bridge and into the Stahlbaum’s attic. It’s a spectacular tour-de-force of special-effects wizardry and sets up the expectation of what’s to come. For every scene that follows is a richly decorated feast for the eyes. Drosselmeyer’s party is a glorious event, full of extras, strong on costume design and with a rich colour palette as filmed by Linus Sandgren (“La La Land“). When we are pitched into the Four Realms – no wardrobe required – the magical visions continue.

The film represents a Narnia-esque take on the four compass-point lands of Oz, and on that basis it’s a bit formulaic. But the good vs evil angles are more subtley portrayed. Of the Four Realms leaders, Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum rather steals the show from the others (played by Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez and Helen Mirren). Mirren in particular is given little to do.

What age kids would this be suitable for? Well, probably a good judge would be the Wizard of Oz. If your kids are not completely freaked out by the Wicked Witch of the West and the flying monkeys, then they will probably cope OK with the scary bits of the “Realm of Entertainment”. Although those who suffer from either musophobia or (especially) coulrophobia might want to give it a miss! All kids are different though, and the “loss of the mother” is also an angle to consider: that might worry and upset young children. It is definitely a “PG” certificate rather than a “U” certificate.

Young people who also enjoy ballet (I nearly fell into a sexist trap there!) will also get a kick out of some of the dance sequences, which are “Fantasia-esque” in their presentation and feature Misty Copeland, famously the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. (I have no appreciation at all for ballet, but I’m sure it was brilliant!)

As for the moral tone of the film, the female empowerment message is rather ladled on with a trowel, but as it’s a good message I have no great problem with that. I am often appalled at how lacking in confidence young people are in their own abilities. Here is a young lady (an engineer!) learning self-resilience and the confidence to be able to do anything in life she puts her mind to. Well said.

The story is rather generic – child visits a magical other world – but the screenplay is impressive given its the first-feature screenplay for Ashleigh Powell: there is an article on her approach to screenwriting that you might find interesting here.

The film is credited with two directors. This – particularly if there is also an army of screenwriters – is normally a warning sign on a film. (As a case in point, the chaotic 1967 version of “Casino Royale” had six different directors, and it shows!). Here, there clearly were issues with the filming since Disney insisted on reshoots for which the original director, Lasse Hallström, was not available. This is where the “Captain America” director Joe Johnston stepped in.

The turns.
I really enjoyed Mackenzie Foy‘s performance as Clara. Now 18, she is a feisty and believable Disney princess for the modern age. (If, like me, you are struggling to place where you’ve heard her name before, she was the young Murph in Nolan’s “Interstellar“).

Another name I was struggling with was Ellie Bamber as her sister. Ellie was excellent in the traumatic role of the daughter in the brilliant “Nocturnal Animals“, one of my favourite films of 2016. (Hopefully the therapy has worked and Ellie can sleep at night again!).

A newcomer with a big role is Jayden Fowora-Knight as the Nutcracker soldier: Jayden had a bit part in “Ready Player One” but does a great job here in a substantial role in the film. He stands out as a black actor in a Disney feature: notwithstanding the Finn character in “Star Wars”, this is a long-overdue and welcome approach from Disney.

British comedians Omid Djalili and Jack Whitehouse turn up to add some light relief, but the humour seems rather forced and not particularly fitting.

Final thoughts
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one much, but I did. Prinicipally because it is such a visual feast and worth going to see just for that alone: I have a prediction that this film will be nominated for production design, costume design and possible special effects.

I think kids of the right age – I would have thought 6 to 10 sort of range – will enjoy this a lot, particularly if they like dance. Young girls in particular will most relate to the lead character. For such kids, I’d rate this a 4*. The rating below reflects my rating as an adult: so I don’t think ‘drag-a-long’ parents in the Christmas holidays (if it is still on by then) will not be totally bored.
  
The Post (2017)
The Post (2017)
2017 | Biography, Drama, Thriller
Landing the Hindenburg in a Thunderstorm.
What a combination: Streep, Hanks, Spielberg, Kaminski behind the camera, Williams behind the notes. What could possibly go wrong?
Nothing as it turns out. After, for me, the disappointment of “The BFG” here is Spielberg on firm ground and at the height of his game.
It’s 1971 and the New York Times is in trouble for publishing what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”: a damning account of multiple administration’s dodgy dealings around the Vietnam War, put together by Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, “Star Trek: Into Darkness“) and meant for “posterity” – not for publication! Watching from the sidelines with frustration at their competitor’s scoop are the Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies“, “Inferno“) and the new owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins“, “Suffragette“). With immaculate timing, Graham is taking the paper public, so needs the newspaper embroiled in any sort of scandal like a hole in the head. But with the US First Amendment under pressure, will Graham and Bradlee put their business and their freedom at risk by publishing and being damned?

Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Graham (Meryl Streep) in the Washington Post’s newsroom.
Both of the leads play characters that are quite strikingly out of character from their normal roles.
In a seamingly endless run of ‘kick-ass’ women in the movie driving seat, here I expected Streep to be in full “Iron Lady” mode, but in fact she starts the film as quite the opposite: nervous, timid, vascillating. For although the story is about “The Washington Post” and “The Pentagon Papers”, the real story is about Graham herself (Liz Hannah’s script is actually based on Graham’s autobiography). In many ways it’s about a woman, in a male world, overcoming her fear and finding her own voice. As has been demonstrated in many recent films (“Hidden Figures” for example) the working world for woman has changed so markedly since the 60’s and 70’s that it’s almost impossible to relate to these chavenistic attitudes. Graham is repeatedly downtrodden as “not good enough” by her underlings within earshot, and then thanks them “for their frankness”. When the women folk retire at dinner, to let the men-folk talk politics, Graham meekly goes with them. Even her father, for God’s sake, left the newspaper not to her but to her (now late) husband! It’s no surprise then that she is coming from a pretty low base of self-confidence, and her journey in the film – as expertly played by Streep – is an extraordinarily rousing one.

The real deal: Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham.
Hanks, normally the guy you’d most like to invite round for dinner (@tomhanks if you happen to be reading this sir, that’s a genuine invitation… we make a mean lasagne here!) also plays somewhat outside of his normal character here. As Bradlee, he is snappy, brusque and businesslike. Although I don’t think he could ever quite match the irascibility of the character’s portrayal by Jason Robards in the classic “All the President’s Men” – who could? – its a character with real screen presence.

The similarities with Alan J Pakula’s 1976 classic Watergate movie – one of my personal favourites – don’t stop there. The same sets that were once populated by Redford and Hoffman are gloriously reproduced with Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski delivering great tracking shots through the newsroom. (Watch out for Sacha Spielberg – daughter of Stephen and Kate Capshaw – who also turns up there delivering a package).

The scoop revealed: Odenkirk, Hanks and David Cross get the low-down.
The supporting cast includes Sarah Paulson (so memorable in “The Trial of O.J. Simpson”) as Bradlee’s wife Tony, Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”, “Get Out“) and Tracy Letts (“The Big Short“) as two of Graham’s board advisors and Jesse Plemons (“The Program“, “Bridge of Spies“) as the lead legal advisor. Particularly impressive though is Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) as Ben Bagdikian, Bradlee’s lead investigative reporter on the case: all stress, loose change and paranoia in his dealings with the leaky Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).

Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) ordering a drink for himself and his travelling companion.
In a memorable piece of casting Richard Nixon is played by…. Richard Nixon. Although a silluohetted Curzon Dobell stalks the Oval office, the ex-president’s original phone recordings are played on the soundtrack. (There, I knew those recordings would be useful for something… thank heavens he kept them all!)

The film also demonstrates in fascinating style the newsprint business of yesteryear. When I click a button on my PC and a beautifully laser-printed page streams out of my Epson printer, it still seems like witchcraft to me! But it is extraordinary to think that newspapers in those days were put together by typesetters manually building up the pages from embossed metal letters laboriously slotted into a frame. Brilliantly evocative.

Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) takes a risk.
If Spielberg has a fault, it is one of sentimentality – something that is pointed out in Susan Lacy’s superb HBO documentary on Spielberg (something I have yet to write a review on, but if you like Spielberg you should definitely seek out). Here he falls into that trap again, with an unnecessary bedroom scene between Graham and her daughter tipping the screenplay into mawkishness. It’s unnecessary since we don’t need the points raised rammed down our throats again. It’s something repeated in a rather bizarre final scene with Graham walking down the steps of the supreme court with admiring woman – only woman – watching her. These irritations tarnish for me what could have been a top-rated film.

But the movie is an impressive watch and older viewers, and anyone interested in American political history will, I think, love it. The film, especially with its nice epilogue, did make me immediately want to come home and put “All the President’s Men” on again… which is never a bad thing. Highly recommended.
  
Where Creatures Hide
Where Creatures Hide
PJ Sheperd | 2017 | Science Fiction/Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)
10
10.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
Mysterious and tons of twists that will make you want more of this story!
My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Review:
I was sent Where Rogues Hide to read and review for my honest opinion but I only got about 20 pages in when I realized that I needed to read Where Creatures Hide (which is book 1 of the series) and Where Puppets Hide (book 2 of the series). So I rented them off of Amazon so I can give them a quick read through and review. Here is everything that I have felt throughout my read through of Where Creatures Hide.

The story starts by introducing the "Chant of Creatures." This then leads to the opening of the story where there are a bunch of lab technicians doing tests on a girl that is frozen in a tomb of ice. They decide to melt the ice so they can carry out other tests that would lead to the girl's puppet soul being released.

A note on puppet souls:
Puppet souls are the darkest part of a creature's mind. The part of the mind that tells you you're not good enough. That voice that can break you down until you're nothing. They are extremely dangerous because they are numb beings that enjoy killing for pleasure, even if it costs them their own life. "Now what I mean here is that when you give into your dark thoughts, you forget about everything around you. Your family, your friends, the people who love you, the people who matter most. You don't see them, all you see is a shadowy haze of darkness, nothing else. The sun doesn't shine, rain pours thicker than it ever has before but you don't care because you're falling. Falling into that endless bottomless pit of ebony nights. You're not scared because everything you see means nothing. Everything you hear means nothing. The people who call your name, mean nothing... Falling into your puppet soul is like ecstasy. You crave for silence, bliss, happiness and you think the only way you're going to get it is if you truly allow it to overcome you. Even if it means hurting the people around you, and yourself."

The girl's puppet soul ends up releasing for only a short moment before she passes out. This is where Alex comes into the story as he was the only one to survive the release of the girl's puppet soul. Where Creatures Hide follows that girl's story. Her name is Dawn, she is a creature with a puppet soul and has no recollection of who she really is but she's determined to figure that out, even if it means hurting others around her.

"Because love thrives so much more than fear and darkness. Loyalty lies so much deeper with family than it does an army."

Characters:
Alex - the leader of Europha and one of Titan's sons. He is light in a dark and cruel world.
Dawn - the main character with a puppet soul. There is a twist that I can't reveal about her because it's a spoiler, but it was amazing!
Xavior - my baby, my smol cinnamonroll, my love. Xavior is by far my favorite character. He's just so innocent and loves to eat - I can get down with that!
Aziel - a god sent from higher up gods to find and protect the princess, eventually he must... wait, I can't tell you that cause it's a spoiler!
Luna - this little girl right here has my heart wrenched into a million pieces. I want to smother her into my arms and protect her from the world but at the same time, she's strong and independent and doesn't need any protection as long as she has her violin.
Titan - Alex's father. A gruesome man who wants to control all
Inaya - the princess that is to save her people from Titan's grasp
Tremayne - a phoenix lady who is cursed with not being able to touch anybody. Raised Alex after he lost his mother.
Ava - a vampire who doesn't come in until roughly the halfway mark of the book. She ends up standing close with Uma and Susi to protect them.
Uma - a bad ass little cat girl who I just wanted to cuddle in my arms!
Susi - wolf sidekick and protective of Uma

Reasons why I rated it 5 stars:
1. The plot:
I've never read anything by PJ Sheperd and I honestly have no idea why. PJ is an amazing human being with great storytelling skills. Where Creatures Hide packed a punch that I was not ready at all for. I bawled my eyes out, I fell in love, my heart raced at the twists and turns that littered throughout this breathtaking novel. There was an aura of mystery across the entirety of the novel and it honestly added such an appeal to the plot that left me craving more.

2. My enjoyment:
I absolutely 100% enjoyed reading Where Creatures Hide. The execution of the writing was amazing and the amount of background, development, and story that was packed into this little novel was a whirlwind of a roller coaster ride that I will gladly take over and over again.

3. Character and story development:
Guys! The character development within Where Creatures Hide is some of the best I've seen. PJ Sheperd does an amazing job and it was honestly a lot better than quite a few popular authors that have great editors. The story development was a little slow at first but with how the story ended up laying out, it made total sense the way that it was written.

4. Grammar and spelling:
PJ Sheperd has had a lot of hardships finding a good editor as each one has screwed her over. So I am not rating her on grammar and spelling as she is a new-ish indie author. There weren't many grammatical and spelling errors, just a few that could be overlooked but I happened to notice. She knows all about them already.

5. The overall story:
I absolutely am in love. I cannot express how much I've come to love this story-line just know that it's a lot. I can't wait to get my hands on some physical copies so I can reread the story. I'm already ready to do it!

"When you have strength, you fear nothing, and when you fear nothing you overcome the darkness with a blazing beacon of light."

There are three (3) different covers for each book in the Where Creatures Hide series. Each cover has a bit of extra stuff added to either the story or at the end of the book.

OG paperback cover - original PG-13 storyline
Special Edition paperback cover - smut filled storyline
Hardback cover - smut filled storyline + artwork
  
Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a collection of short stories or novellas that delve deeper into the Shadow World. It follows Simon’s time at Shadowhunter Academy but is rife with additional fascinating information. Overall, it is a highly entertaining installment in the Shadowhunter Chronicles and I would definitely recommend that you read it prior to the Dark Artifices series. Please do not read this review if you have not yet read the Infernal Devices or the Mortal Instruments series as there will be plot points mentioned.

The first novella is Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, where Simon decides that he wants to become a Shadowhunter. After losing his memories, Simon must decide who he wants to be – a mundane that does not remember the Shadow World or a future Shadowhunter that may regain some of his memories. He meets a collection of students, both Shadowhunter and mundane that will be with him for the next two years as they train to become proper Shadowhunters. Although we know these characters for less time than those we’ve grown to love in the other series, they are still likable and well-developed. Over the course of the two years that the novellas take place, each character learns what it means to be a Shadowhunter, to be loyal to their friends, and to not always take the Law at face value (thanks to Simon’s incessant dialogues that Downworlders are not lesser people.) Of course, we’ve loved Simon since we met him in the Mortal Instruments but this was a great series of stories that allowed us to get to know him better (even though he was missing his memories).

The second is The Lost Herondale, in which we learn more about the beliefs of the Shadowhunters. Deserting your fellow Shadowhunters is considered the worst thing that you can do – so the punishment is severe. This novella tells us the story of Tobias Herondale and shows Simon that not every story is as black and white as it may be presented. We also learn that Catarina Loss, Magnus’ friend and current teacher at Shadowhunter Academy, saved Tobias’ child – which means that there may be a lost Herondale in the world. This plot line is mentioned first in the Mortal Instruments and pursued more in the Dark Artifices, so that is one reason why I believe this series of novellas should be read prior to beginning Lady Midnight.

The third is the Whitechapel Fiend, in which Tessa comes to Shadowhunter Academy to teach a lesson. It was lovely to see more of our favourite characters from the Infernal Devices, especially because this was a later period in time than the books so we got a glimpse into their future lives. The fourth is Nothing but Shadows, which chronicles James Herondale’s time at the Academy. It made me miss the Infernal Devices and impatient for the next series that Cassandra Clare will be writing featuring the children we got glimpses of.

The fifth is The Evil We Love and a tale from the time of Valentine’s Circle. The Circle’s history is considered a dark time and infrequently talked about in the series. Most Shadowhunters who were involved are either ashamed of their actions and largely refuse to talk about it, or dead. It’s always fascinating to see what the power and influence of a charismatic leader can get people to do. Simon learns that he knows better than to just go along with the crowd and speaks out against ideas that he doesn’t agree with. It makes him even more likable as a character because I’m sure we all have experienced times when we disagreed with someone we cared about and how difficult it might be not to just follow their lead.

The sixth is Pale Kings and Princes, which creates some foundation for the world we will experience in the Dark Artifices. We learn how Mark and Helen Blackthorn came to be, with their half-faerie lineage. It is a heart-wrenching tale and makes you question the harshness of the Cold Peace. Helen is no longer trusted, and essentially banished, because of her heritage and that action fractures her entire family – as the Blackthorn parents were murdered during the War. Helen was willing to take care of her family, but she was torn away and those kinds of wounds will certainly affect the characters of the Dark Artifices in the future.

The seventh is Bitter of Tongue essentially just reiterates the point that Downworlders are not lesser beings than mundanes or Shadowhunters. We get to see more of the Blackthorn clan, the utterly repulsive treatment of the half-fae children Mark and Helen, and a lovely wedding.
The eighth is The Fiery Trial, in which Simon and Clary are asked to serve at witnesses for Julian and Emma’s parabatai ceremony. The story focuses more on the relationship between Simon and Clary than Julian and Emma but it was nice to see the ceremony. Jace and Alec became parabati prior to the Mortal Instruments, so until now, we had not seen the ceremony performed. It also made Simon and Clary evaluation their own friendship and the depth of their connection.

The ninth is Born to Endless Night and revolves around the beloved Malec, as well as Magnus Banes short tenure at Shadowhunter Academy. The character development shown in this novella was a culmination of Alec’s experiences throughout the Mortal Instruments and how he grew as a person. While not confident and cocky like Jace, he had become secure in his own skin and learned to love (romantically). It was the most normal of the novellas, showing a behind-the-scenes type look into the lives of our favourite Mortal Instruments characters.

The final novella in the collection is Angels Twice Descending in which Simon and the other mundanes of the Academy have their Ascension. Simon must decide whether he is ready to face the risks, to give up his mundane life and embrace the dangers and responsibility of being a Shadowhunter. It was a beautiful wrap up to the series, allowing Simon the time to explore the life he was leaving behind and the family that he was gaining. As I mentioned before, I would highly recommend reading this series of novellas as it only enhances the Shadowhunter experience (and deepens the world).
  
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Versusyours (743 KP) rated The Karate Kid, Part III (1989) in Movies

Nov 7, 2019 (Updated Nov 7, 2019)  
The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)
The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)
1989 | Action, Drama, Family
War on bonsai and sporting decency
Contains spoilers, click to show
I remember this film from a trip to the cinema on its release in 1989 and I recall fly kicking my way out of the cinema and into the mean Scottish streets. I am now at an age where fly kicking would be an effort in itself I decided to review it from my older and more critical eye.

 

It begins with a return to Part 1 to re-establish the bad blood Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and his aging sidekick Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) have with John “I saw things in Vietnam” Kreese. This part I couldn’t let slide with me this viewing as the attempted punches by Kreese to contact Mr. Miyagi were as expected as Xmas day falling on the 25th of December each year. One failed attempt was followed by the same type of punch and the same outcome of bloody and smashed knuckles and an insurance claim for the car owners. After this we return to the present and a skulking and hobo like Kreese seeks the refuge of his ponytailed, rich and so 80s stereotyped “you know he is evil due to his involvement in toxic waste” comrade from the past Terry Silver.

 

Possibly due to giving him his shampoo and conditioner in Vietnam to maintain his ponytail or his heroics in battle, this remains unknown at this time.

 

What about Daniel and Miyagi you may ask well they are in for an unwelcome surprise when the housing complex they live in has been earmarked for redevelopment. To make matters worse unbeknown to Daniel his Uncle is ill and his mum must have been too busy with this to let Daniel know he is homeless as well as heartbroken after his holiday romance turned sour. Great use of a sentence to end a previous films love interest and subsequent relationship, one of films greatest tricks. At least he has a wad of money for college in his pocket to repair his broken heart. Spoiler alert neither the wad of money and the broken heart are the same for long.

 

So as it stands not much karate from Daniel but the use of Mr. Miyagi’s subtle use of Daniel as a glorified maid still exists as they branch out in the cutting world of Bonsai. Remember that college money well now its rent and utilities money after luckily realising there are no more Bonsai shops in the street and even luckier there is a pottery shop with a young lady for Daniel to obsess over and fight for her honour as he shows a propensity for in the previous films. The fact that she has a boyfriend only spurs Daniel on like the initial film in the series and makes her more desirable in his lusting eyes.

 

Enter the 80s Dragon it a supped up Zach Morris Karate Bad Boy, Mike Barnes who is wearing black to dictate his evil intentions. This guy could spell trouble for Daniel as he has links to Silver and thus the plot to ruin Daniels life and happiness for winning a local karate competition the year before takes seed. As someone who has played sports the format of the All Valley Karate Championship, which has been inexplicably changes to allow the defending Champion to only fight in the final where his battle wary and exhausted opponent will be easy prey for a crane kicking Daniel, makes no sense. Maybe Daniel is sick of being typecast as The Karate Kid but this area of the story annoyed me more than a grown man should as initially Daniel can’t even be bothered to sign up for this one fight but after some lying and coercion and some innocent Bonsai paying the price for The Karateless Kid.

 

More pressure from Barnes and his goons and more Bonsai casualties before Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are split between the tournament and after Daniel decided he will fight that 10 minutes if his life for another sweet trophy. With his training regime disguised as housework and child labour now running low, Miyagi wont train Daniel and thus pushing him into Silvers ponytailed clutches. The once meek and defensive Daniel learns that attack is more effective than Miyagi’s training and with another wooden victim (a repeating plot line in this film) being pummelled and the wax punched off it, Daniel is ready to be the badass he always threatened to be. A night out ends in a broken nose of a Silver bribed punk, Daniel questions who he has become and changes his mind about the tournament once more, only for Silver to admit his true intentions to ruin Daniel as a human being and to avenge John Kreese who is not dead as first explained but high on revenge and the smoking of broken kids karate trophies. They give the new and improved Daniel a beating until appearance of Mr. Miyagi, who may or may not be stalking Daniel, who uses his small but deadly side step and legs to defeat the 3 grown men with ease. There is nothing like a good beating to mend a relationship and together the Bonsai Brothers are back and for the umpteenth time Daniel IS going to defend his title and we all hoped that Barnes would make it through the many rounds to get to the final. Hollywood prevails and after relaxing and watching his potential opponents tiring and having their face smashed in, Daniel like and later day Elvis gets on the stage for a quick round of his greatest hits. In Karate Kid tradition Daniel is good and Cobra Kai are bad, he has honour they are sneaky, they will cheat Daniel wont. Daniel wins as usual and takes his hollow victory and Cobra Kai is no more or until the invention of YouTube at least.

Overall this film fondly remembered until I watched it again. The lack of new ideas left me disappointed and broken like the cliff Bonsai and like that tree I will heal and grow but I will be left with the scars of the better and simple life I used to live. The inclusion of Glen Medeiros on the soundtrack was almost enough to save it and keep it respectable but alas it was not to be, this film is the 80s ponytail of memories; best left cut off.
  
Where Creatures Hide
Where Creatures Hide
10
10.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
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My rating: ?????

Review:
I was sent Where Rogues Hide to read and review for my honest opinion but I only got about 20 pages in when I realized that I needed to read Where Creatures Hide (which is book 1 of the series) and Where Puppets Hide (book 2 of the series). So I rented them off of Amazon so I can give them a quick read through and review. Here is everything that I have felt throughout my read through of Where Creatures Hide.

The story starts by introducing the "Chant of Creatures." This then leads to the opening of the story where there are a bunch of lab technicians doing tests on a girl that is frozen in a tomb of ice. They decide to melt the ice so they can carry out other tests that would lead to the girl's puppet soul being released.

A note on puppet souls:
Puppet souls are the darkest part of a creature's mind. The part of the mind that tells you you're not good enough. That voice that can break you down until you're nothing. They are extremely dangerous because they are numb beings that enjoy killing for pleasure, even if it costs them their own life. <i>"Now what I mean here is that when you give into your dark thoughts, you forget about everything around you. Your family, your friends, the people who love you, the people who matter most. You don't see them, all you see is a shadowy haze of darkness, nothing else. The sun doesn't shine, rain pours thicker than it ever has before but you don't care because you're falling. Falling into that endless bottomless pit of ebony nights. You're not scared because everything you see means nothing. Everything you hear means nothing. The people who call your name, mean nothing... Falling into your puppet soul is like ecstasy. You crave for silence, bliss, happiness and you think the only way you're going to get it is if you truly allow it to overcome you. Even if it means hurting the people around you, and yourself."</i>

The girl's puppet soul ends up releasing for only a short moment before she passes out. This is where Alex comes into the story as he was the only one to survive the release of the girl's puppet soul. Where Creatures Hide follows that girl's story. Her name is Dawn, she is a creature with a puppet soul and has no recollection of who she really is but she's determined to figure that out, even if it means hurting others around her.

"Because love thrives so much more than fear and darkness. Loyalty lies so much deeper with family than it does an army."

Characters:
Alex - the leader of Europha and one of Titan's sons. He is light in a dark and cruel world.
Dawn - the main character with a puppet soul. There is a twist that I can't reveal about her because it's a spoiler, but it was amazing!
Xavior - my baby, my smol cinnamonroll, my love. Xavior is by far my favorite character. He's just so innocent and loves to eat - I can get down with that!
Aziel - a god sent from higher up gods to find and protect the princess, eventually he must... wait, I can't tell you that cause it's a spoiler!
Luna - this little girl right here has my heart wrenched into a million pieces. I want to smother her into my arms and protect her from the world but at the same time, she's strong and independent and doesn't need any protection as long as she has her violin.
Titan - Alex's father. A gruesome man who wants to control all
Inaya - the princess that is to save her people from Titan's grasp
Tremayne - a phoenix lady who is cursed with not being able to touch anybody. Raised Alex after he lost his mother.
Ava - a vampire who doesn't come in until roughly the halfway mark of the book. She ends up standing close with Uma and Susi to protect them.
Uma - a bad ass little cat girl who I just wanted to cuddle in my arms!
Susi - wolf sidekick and protective of Uma

Reasons why I rated it 5 stars:
1. The plot:
I've never read anything by PJ Sheperd and I honestly have no idea why. PJ is an amazing human being with great storytelling skills. Where Creatures Hide packed a punch that I was not ready at all for. I bawled my eyes out, I fell in love, my heart raced at the twists and turns that littered throughout this breathtaking novel. There was an aura of mystery across the entirety of the novel and it honestly added such an appeal to the plot that left me craving more.

2. My enjoyment:
I absolutely 100% enjoyed reading Where Creatures Hide. The execution of the writing was amazing and the amount of background, development, and story that was packed into this little novel was a whirlwind of a roller coaster ride that I will gladly take over and over again.

3. Character and story development:
Guys! The character development within Where Creatures Hide is some of the best I've seen. PJ Sheperd does an amazing job and it was honestly a lot better than quite a few popular authors that have great editors. The story development was a little slow at first but with how the story ended up laying out, it made total sense the way that it was written.

4. Grammar and spelling:
PJ Sheperd has had a lot of hardships finding a good editor as each one has screwed her over. So I am not rating her on grammar and spelling as she is a new-ish indie author. There weren't many grammatical and spelling errors, just a few that could be overlooked but I happened to notice. She knows all about them already.

5. The overall story:
I absolutely am in love. I cannot express how much I've come to love this story-line just know that it's a lot. I can't wait to get my hands on some physical copies so I can reread the story. I'm already ready to do it!

"When you have strength, you fear nothing, and when you fear nothing you overcome the darkness with a blazing beacon of light."

There are three (3) different covers for each book in the Where Creatures Hide series. Each cover has a bit of extra stuff added to either the story or at the end of the book.

OG paperback cover - original PG-13 storyline
Special Edition paperback cover - smut filled storyline
Hardback cover - smut filled storyline + artwork
  
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
2019 | Horror
In the early 1980s, author Alvin Schwartz created a book of short horror stories titled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that would go on to terrorize a whole generation of curious young readers. Combined with its morbid and ghastly illustrations by artist Stephen Gammell, the book would serve as an introduction to horror for many. Over the next ten years, Schwartz wrote two more books in the Scary Stories series, and now, nearly forty years later, it has finally been adapted into a major motion picture. Produced by Academy Award-winning director Guillermo Del Toro and directed by André Øvredal, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film constructs a new narrative around several of the iconic short stories from the book series, and brings them to life to haunt the movie’s teenage characters.

In Mill Valley, Pennsylvania in 1968, a group of teenage friends fleeing from a band of bullies hide out in an abandoned haunted house on Halloween night. They know the story of this house well, whose folklore is rooted in the origins of their own small town. It was once owned by the wealthy Bellows Family, who according to urban legend, locked away their own daughter, Sarah Bellows, inside the cellar of their home. Sarah had been accused of killing the town’s children, and so her family kept her hidden away and attempted to erase her from existence, even removing her from their own family portraits. According to legend, Sarah wrote a book of horror stories and would read them aloud through the walls of her room to frighten the local townspeople.

While inside this haunted house, our group of protagonists; Stella (Zoe Colletti), Ramón (Michael Garza), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur), discover the room Sarah had spent her life trapped in. Stella, an amateur horror writer herself, finds the rumored book that was written by Sarah. Upon opening it she sees that a new page is somehow being written in blood right before her very eyes, and it happens to be about the bully that chased them into the house. The next day, they realize that it seems as though the story actually came true, and that the book itself may be haunted. This establishes the basic premise of the film, in which new stories are being written in the book and they appear to be targeting Stella and everyone else that entered the Bellows’ house that night.

It’s an interesting set-up that cleverly mixes horror with mystery, as the characters are not only trying to survive these stories as they come to life, but are also trying to figure out how to stop them from happening. The film features five different stories from the series, most of which come from the third and final book, and a sixth story centered around Stella and Sarah Bellows that is at least in part inspired by one of the original tales. To give an example without giving too much away, one story for instance, involves a haunted scarecrow, whereas another is about a walking corpse in search of its severed big toe. The stories themselves are much more dark and grotesque than I had anticipated. I was expecting something more along the lines of Goosebumps, which was a series of children’s horror books that I personally loved and grew up with as a child, but these are much more disturbing than that. While I only found the first story of the film, “Harold”, to actually be scary, I do imagine this movie might be a little too frightening for some teenagers.

I should clarify that I’m not familiar with the original written source material of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and I had truthfully never even heard of the books prior to the movie’s announcement. I don’t have any personal stake in these stories, but I do admire the thoughtfulness and creativity that went into building the film around them. I thought the film started out really strong with a likable cast of characters, and with most of its best moments featured early on. I loved the introduction to the haunted house and the legend of the Bellows Family. I enjoyed the playful nature of our group of young protagonists, who in the beginning felt reminiscent of the fun and crazy kids you might find in an 80s movie like The Goonies. Additionally, I liked the mystery of Sarah Bellows that the kids were trying to uncover, all the while struggling to survive the dangers of her haunting stories that had come to life.

Unfortunately, as the movie went on, I found myself less and less invested in it with each passing story, all of which I would argue are weaker than the previous one before it. The Pale Lady storyline was particularly dull and underwhelming. The final act itself, although smartly designed with its use of parallels, wound up feeling poorly executed and unsatisfying overall.

Similarly, in regards to the acting, I liked the performances even less by the end as well. Early on I had been impressed with Zoe Colletti as Stella, but I found her to be annoying in the later parts of the movie. The same goes for Austin Zajur as Chuck. The cast for the most part was decent, but everything about the movie began to drop in quality as it dragged on, which is especially unfortunate given how well it starts out.

The special effects are mostly quite good and adequately disturbing, but on the same token, I wish they were more clearly visible at times. A lot of the horror settings take place in dark rooms, so at times it can be hard to see the monsters with much clarity. Still, I love the design of Harold the Scarecrow, as well as The Jangly Man, who is played by contortionist Troy James whose extreme flexibility allows the character to move in unnatural and disturbing looking ways.
To conclude, I’m left with some mixed feelings on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. For me, it almost hits the mark, but unfortunately it isn’t a movie that I think I’d bother to watch again. It made a solid first impression with its rich atmosphere and creepy first act, but it failed to maintain its momentum and level of quality. In the end, my favorite thing about the whole movie is actually the excellent cover song of “Season of the Witch” by Lana Del Rey that plays during the credits. However that’s not in any way to say the movie is so bad that the credits were my favorite part. It’s just a great song by an artist I very much enjoy. If you grew up with the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, then by all means, I recommend that you at least check it out. If you like horror and have any troublesome teenaged kids, this may be a perfect opportunity to have some fun scaring the heck out of them.
  
40x40

Bob Mann (459 KP) rated Roma (2018) in Movies

Sep 28, 2021  
Roma (2018)
Roma (2018)
2018 | Drama
“Siempre estamos solas”
Alfonso Cuarón‘s “Roma” has been lauded with praise and award’s hype, and I must admit to have been a little bit snooty about it. A black-and-white Spanish language film with subtitles that – to be honest – looks a bit dreary: can it really be that good? Having now (finally) seen it on Netflix I can confirm that’s a big YES from my point of view. It’s a novelty of a glacially slow film that grips like a vice.

A primer on 70’s Mexican History.
This is a film about ordinary life set against tumultuous times. Set in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City (if you were puzzled, as I was, where the title came from) it is an “Upstairs, Downstairs” tale of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid and nanny to a middle class family in the early 70’s.

There are two intertwined stories here: Cleo’s personal story and that of the family background in which she works.

Cleo has a pleasant enough life working as partners in crime in the household with Adela (Nancy García García). Life is about getting the work done (well, more of less), keeping the four children happy – to who she is devoted – and scraping enough by to spend her downtime with her martial arts boyfriend Ramón (José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza).

Meanwhile the lady of the house Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) has an affluent and cosseted lifestyle amid her loving family.

But times are about to change for all of the players, as events – not just the events of the ‘Mexican Dirty War’ of 1971 going on in the background – transpire to change all their lives forever.

A masterclass in framing.
It’s criminal that I wasn’t able to get to see this in the cinema. Since every frame of this movie is a masterpiece of detail. There is just so much going on that your eyes dart this way and that, and you could probably watch it five times and see more. Even the opening titles are mesmerising, as the cobbled floor becomes a screen and an airliner lazily flies across it.

Even major action sequences, that other directors would fill the screen with (“Do you KNOW how much this scene is costing for God’s sake??”), are seen as they would typically be seen in real life – second hand, from a place of hiding. This is typified by the depiction of the Corpus Christi Massacre of June ’71, where the military, and more controversially the elite El Halconazo (The Hawks) of the Mexican army, turned on a student protest. Most of the action is seen as glimpses through the windows by the characters during a shopping trip to the second floor of a department store. How this was enacted and directed is a mystery to me, but it works just brilliantly.

A masterclass in pacing and panning.
One of Cuarón’s trademarks is the long take (think “Children of Men”) and here he (literally!) goes to town with the technique. An incredibly impressive scene has Cleo and Adela running through the streets of the City to meet their lovers at the cinema. It’s a continuous pan that again defies belief in the brilliance of its execution.

Even the mundane act of Cleo tidying up the apartment is done with a glorious slow pan around the room. Some of this panning is done to set the mood for the film (“Get settled in… this is going to be a long haul”) but others manage to evoke a sense of rising dread, an example at the beach being a brilliant case in point.

The cinematography was supposed to have been done by the great Emmanuel Lubezki, but he was unavailable so Cuarón did it himself! And it’s quite brilliant. So, that’s a lesson learned then that will reduce the budget for next time!

A personal story.
Cuarón wrote the script. Of course he did… it’s his story! He’s the same age as I am, so was nine years old for the autobiographical events featured in the film (he is the kid who gets punished for eavesdropping). Numerous aspects of the film are from his own childhood, including the fact that his younger brother kept spookily coming out with things that he’d done in his past lives! It’s a painful true story of his upbringing and of the life of Liboria Rodríguez: “Libo” to whom the film is dedicated.

Where the script is delightful is in never destroying the mood with lengthy exposition. Both of the key stories evolve slowly and only gradually do you work out what’s really going on. This is grown-up cinema at its finest.

It’s also a love letter from Cuarón to the cinema of his youth, a passion that sparked his eventual career. We see a number of trips to the local fleapit, and in one cute scene we seen a clip from the Gregory Peck space epic “Marooned”: the film that inspired Cuarón’s own masterpiece “Gravity“.

A naturalistic cast.
Casting a large proportion of the cast from unknowns feels like a great risk, but its a risk that pays off handsomely, particularly in the case of Yalitza Aparicio, who is breathtakingly naturalistic. Cuarón withheld the script from his cast, so some of the “acting” is not acting at all – specifically a gruelling and heartrending scene featuring Cleo later in the film. That’s real and raw emotion on the screen.

Marina de Tavira, although an actress with a track record, is also mightily impressive as the beleaguered and troubled wife.

Final Thoughts.
This is a masterpiece, and thoroughly deserves the “Best Picture” awards it has been getting. It’s certainly my odds on favourite, as well as being my pick, for the Oscar on Sunday. Will it be for everyone? Probably not.

There are some scenes which feel slightly ostentatious. A forest fire scene is brilliantly done (“Put out the small fires kids”), but then a guy in a monster suit pulls off his head-wear and starts singing a long and mournful song. Sorry?

There will also be many I suspect who will find the leisurely pace of the film excruciating; “JUST GET ON WITH IT” I hear them yelling at the screen. But if you give it the time and let it soak in, then you WILL be moved and you WILL remember the film long after you’ve seen it.

I remain cross however that this was released through Netflix. This is a film that deserves a full and widespread cinema release in 70mm format. It’s like taking an iPhone snap of the Mona Lisa and putting the phone on display instead.
  
The Book of Kings
The Book of Kings
Robert Gilliam | 1995 | Science Fiction/Fantasy
8
8.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
Shelf Life – The Book of Kings Has a Few Gems and a Few Warts
Contains spoilers, click to show
Unlike other short story anthologies I could mention, this one wasn’t mostly horrible. Instead, the stories inside run the gamut from stupid to brilliant and from annoying to nothing special to fun and memorable. A little something for everyone, then.

So since I can’t review it with one blanket sentiment, let’s instead take a quick look at a handful of the 20 all-original stories inside. The following are the tales that most stood out to me during my reading, for better or worse.

“The Kiss” by Alan Dean Foster – A woman walking through a snowy city finds a frog who says he’s a prince, so she kisses him. He turns into a guy and stabs her to death.

Oh boy, we’re not off to a great start here. This story could have been told in a page or so and been an interesting twist on the old tale, but instead the author drew it out over three pages by choosing the absolute most pretentious choice of words for every damn sentence. The guy doesn’t stab the woman, his “knife describes a Gothic arc.” She doesn’t shout or whisper or ask what’s going on, she “expels a querrelous trauma.” It’s not snowing on her face, “trifles of ice as beautiful as they were capricious tickled her exposed cheeks, only to be turned into simulacra of tears as they were instantly metamorphosed by the bundled furnace of her body.”

Yes, really.

The sheer purpleness of this prose might be excused for a deliberately lofty and overwrought tale, but it absolutely does not fit a story about a girl getting shanked by a frog on the street. If the contrast between what’s happening and how it’s presented is supposed to seem absolutely ridiculous, then it’s a success. This reads more like a writing exercise for seeing how unbearably melodramatic you can tell a simple story that the author went ahead and published anyway. I only read it last night as of the time of this particular bit of review, but I still have a headache.

“Divine Right” by Nancy Holder – A king grieving for his recently passed daughter and only heir tries to figure out how to keep his legacy from dying out and eventually decides on a way to choose a successor, sealing his decision by making a pact with God.

I really liked this one, partly for the great characterization of the king via his priorities. He’s not a bastion of righteousness or a tyrannical despot. He might be a pretty decent ruler, or he might not, depending on your priorities and the angle from which you view him. Mostly he’s written to be believable for his position and time period, pride and failings and all.

But what really sealed this story for me was the ironic bent of the plot that I can’t really discuss in any more depth without spoiling it except to say that it definitely fit with the tone and left an appropriate message. So let’s just give it a thumbs up and leave it at that.

“In the Name of the King” by Judith Tarr – If you know the story of Hatshepsut, an Egyptian queen who ruled as Pharaoh, then this is an extra interesting story. It follows both Hatshepsut and her lover in the afterlife and the legacy they’re leaving behind after their deaths, in which they take a surprisingly active interest for dead people.

If you know your history, though, you know where this is going, and it’s very touching as it gets there. It’s also character-centric in a way that makes its dead cast members seem very much alive. This one’s a good contender for my favorite story in the whole anthology.

“Please to See the King” by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald – A small glimpse of about one evening each into the lives of two seemingly unrelated, seemingly unimportant men against the backdrop of the battles being fought over a vague and distant rebellion against a vague and distant crown.

To say more would be to spoil the story, which is short, sweet, and interesting. It gives you just enough details, and no more, that you can piece together a much deeper story with room left for speculation about who certain characters really were and what exactly just happened. I’ve spent more time thinking about how the ending may be interpreted than it took me to read it, which is a good sign of nuance done right.

“The Name of a King” by Diana L. Paxson – This’n c’n rightf’ly b’ put in w’ th’ other st’ries I woul’n’t oth’rwise b’ther t’ mention ‘cept fer th’ o’erwrought dialectic style o’ nearly all o’ th’ dialogue, whut c’n git on yer nerves right quick-like whene’er any’ne op’ns their mouths. An’ while I’m ‘ere, th’ settin’ w’s rife wi’ plen’y o’ hints at deeper d’tails whut was ne’er sufficien’ly delved into or whut impact’d th’ actu’l plot much. Felt like part o’ a fant’sy series whut I was ‘spected t’ b’ f’miliar wit’ but wasn’t, an’ whut di’n’t give me ’nuff t’ git f’miliar wit’ just fr’m this st’ry.

Oth’rwise, t’w’sn’t t’ b’d, I s’pose. Bit borin’.

“Coda: Working Stiff” by Mike Resnick and Nicholas A. DiChario – This one was just fun. Again trying not to give away any twists or revelations, this one follows a journalist interviewing a bus driver who used to be a big, famous king back in his heyday but is now content (or so he says) with his obscure life of working a simple job in the day and drinking in his spartan home at night.

Who this ex-king really is probably isn’t who you think it’s gonna be at first, but the story does still technically, and cheekily, fit in with the premise of the book overall. It reminds me very much of something Neil Gaiman might have written, or maybe Terry Pratchett if he’d decided to tackle the kingly premise from a more modern and realistic approach.

There are still 14 stories left in here, many of which are also good reads, or at least decent. In fact, looking back through it again, the only real dud that stands out to me is “The Kiss.” The weakest of what’s left are either adaptations of stories that didn’t really do it for me (“The Tale of Lady Ashburn” by John Gregory Betancourt) or weird original works that weren’t really memorable in what they set out to do (“A Parker House Roll” by Dean Wesley Smith).

Overall, The Book of Kings is a fun and interesting romp through a number of royal worlds, themes, and tones. As such, anyone who gives it a look will probably have the same general sentiment I did at the end, with a few things to like and a few to point to as examples of what doesn’t work for them. Me, I got a bit of the inspiration I was looking for and a few memorable tales out of it, so I’ll forgive the warts.