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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).

Versusyours (757 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
10.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
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My rating: ?????

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."

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.

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
8.0 (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.
The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
2016 | Hip-hop
6.3 (4 Ratings)
Album Rating
Kanye West is an iconic rapper from Chicago, Illinois. Not too long ago, he released his seventh studio album, entitled, “The Life of Pablo“.

The opening track functions as a Sunday-morning church revival, where Kanye is the ordained minister. He’s standing in the pulpit, preaching a time-sensitive sermon to his loyal congregation.

His message: God over Satan, keep the faith, pray for Paris, pray for parents, and we’re living God’s dream.

West sets the tone and declares where he stands on religious and socially-driven issues.

A Gospel choir emerges. The Dream and Kelly Price reinforce West’s message by singing verses of encouragement, leading to a heartfelt testimonial by Chance The Rapper.

While the collection plates are being filled with hopes of a better tomorrow, Kirk Franklin concludes the service by praying for everyone. He uplifts those who feel they are not good enough or have said, “I’m sorry,” too many times.

Father Stretch My Hands (Pt. 1)
A spiritual figure, Pastor T.L. Barrett, ushers in the second track with praises to The Most High. Future appears for a brief moment and Kid Cudi delivers a stunning chorus.

A liberated West returns to the pulpit and gives a brief, but somewhat explicit testimony of his past and present relationships to Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian.

Father Stretch My Hands (Pt. 2)
West continues his testimony and raps about his personal experiences. He speaks on the importance of returning his wife’s phone calls and not wanting to make the same mistakes his father made. Also, he mentions the passing of the mother in Hollywood, being broke, and the reason why he broke his jaw.

West’s words hit home, making room for another liberated soul to tell his story of triumph.

Desiigner, a newly-signed artist of G.O.O.D. Music, emerges from the underbelly of the ghetto. He raps about getting money illegally, drugs, and violence-familiarized by urban-street hustlers.

Though his grim subject matter contradicts the song’s hopeful message of liberation, it somehow adds mysticism or substance to Kanye’s brutally-honest testimony.

Desiigner, blessed with a futuristic flow, highlights a few things that West’s congregation needs to examine in order to be totally liberated.

Whenever an important event occurs in an urban community, an after party is sure to follow. And a host of celebrities are always on standby to attend it. The Life of Pablo is no exception.

The fourth song features Rihanna and legendary-producer Swizz Beatz. Also, it contains timeless vocals from Sister Nancy and Nina Simone.

West, no longer in church clothes, stands out lyrically with witty, braggadocios lyrics.

Whether that statement is factual or not, it’s doesn’t really matter because West believes it is.

The fifth song serves as a transformational period, where West shows signs of the old Kanye.

West doesn’t need a psychiatrist to diagnose his problems. He does that himself by wearing them on his sleeves.

On the sixth track, West wrote via Twitter, “I put Low Lights on my album just thinking about all the moms driving their kids to school, then going to work.”

Listeners can now relate to the everyday struggle that mothers endure.

The song features an acapella sample from “So Alive” by Kings of Tomorrow.

The woman gives a grateful-testimony of God’s graciousness over a laid-back, simple piano groove. Her honesty is felt. Also, she sounds liberated because her Creator has accepted her for who she is.

From lows to high, the seventh track is in direct correlation to “Low Lights”.

West and Young Thug put on their festive robes because it’s time to celebrate life. El Debarge and The Dream chime in, and West addresses a lingering issue.

But this is only the beginning. West finishes strong with more thought-provoking lyrics.

The eighth track features Desiigner. Again, when he and West are together, all hell breaks loose.

The once festive scene transforms into a grimy underworld filled with a prostitute that West is explicitly lusting after. The temptation makes it difficult for him to stand on his opening statement of Jesus over Satan. But the power of darkness is more powerful than West thinks. So, he subconsciously indulges in sexual misconduct.

On the ninth track, West realizes that he’s at war with himself. The old Kanye, known for chopping up soul records is fighting against the new Kanye that everyone hates. But Kanye wants to go back to being sweet again if that’s even possible. His multiple egos are fighting for control over the ‘real’ Kanye.

West doesn’t stare in the mirror for too long. On the tenth track, redemption happens. Chris Brown, disguised as an angel, comes to West’s aid by providing much-needed light.

Miraculously, the sun emerges from the shade, a bird flies out its cage, and a nostalgic feeling is felt.

West realizes that nothing is impossible because waves don’t die and feelings don’t really go away.

On the eleventh track, West realizes what’s really important to him and that’s his wife. Someone he won’t jeopardize for no other woman. Also, his children are all layers of his soul.

The Weeknd appears in the form of West’s conscience.

West remains focused and listeners can feel the positive aura of God surrounding him. He is determined to remain faithful to only Kim, no other woman.

West continues his introspective outlook and raps about trust issues that everyone can relate to. His honest, down-to-earth lyrics, mixed in with Ty Dolla $ign’s vocals, paints a vivid picture. Also, it forms a collectible souvenir that hangs nicely in listeners’ collective memories.

The thirteenth track provides a cooling effect with wild emotions and bizarre-sounds.
The setting, maybe an extraterritorial realm in West’s subconscious mind. Perhaps, it’s the Milky Way Galaxy or a dream-state of Saturn.

A time for relaxation, preparing listeners for a surprise guest.

The fourteenth track features a phone conversation between incarcerated Max B and French Montana. Also, Max voices his gratitude to West for showing him love.

On the fifteenth track, West takes a trip down memory lane and raps about an ex-girlfriend that he used to drive 30-hours to see. He used to drive from Chicago to St. Louis, St. Louis to Chicago. He recalls the good times they shared. But unfortunately, her infidelity was the reason why they broke up.

The sixteenth track will go down in history as a legendary bar-fest between two elite emcees. Kendrick Lamar and West rap with dope punchlines and clever metaphors over a Madlib-produced track. Once again, West is flowing like the old Kanye that people love.

The seventeenth track is a standout anthem where West brags that Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman. He’s in boss-mode, talking that big-money talk.

The final track features Post Malone and Ty Dollar $ign. The song has a reoccurring sample from Rare Earth, “Your love is fading/I feel it fade.”

The Eli Linnetz-directed video shows Teyana Taylor explicitly dancing.

Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” is a memorable hip-hop album with solid content and heavy replay value.
Bram Stoker, Ang Lee | 2016 | Fiction & Poetry
8.1 (48 Ratings)
Book Rating
Dracula was written by author Bram Stoker during the late 1890's and is set around the character of Dracula and his attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he can spread the curse of the undead (I.e. the creation of more vampires). English solicitor Jonathan Harker who'd originally gone to Transylvania to be legal aide for Dracula stops him with the help of Van Helsing and others which ends the life of one of them – Quincey-, the book ends with a note from Jonathan Harker that several people lived happily married and Jonathan has a son nicknamed for Quincey.

Dracula was published in London in May 1897 by Archibald Constable & Company and was later copyrighted in the U.S in 1899 and published by Doubleday & McClure of New York. Despite having decent praise form reviewers it wasn't an immediate bestseller. Although the English newspaper the Daily Mail ranked Stoker's writing prowess in Dracula above that of Mary Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Bronte's Wuthering heights. Unfortunately it didn't make Stoker that much money and he'd had to petition for a compassionate grant from the royal literary fund. When he died his widow was forced to sell his notes and outlines of the book at an auction in 1913. It was the unauthorised adaption of Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau in 1922 and the resulting legal battle made when Stokers widow took affront that the novels popularity began to grow.

Before writing Dracula Bram Stoker had been researching European folklore and stories of vampires having been most influenced by Emily Gerard's “Transylvania Superstitions” 1885 essay...which included content about the vampire myth. Some historians insist that Vlad iii Dracula (More commonly known as Vlad the impaler) was the model for Stokers count but there's been no supporting evidence to make that true. According to one expert Stoker only borrowed the barest minimum of information of the Wallachian tyrant and he's not even mentioned in Stokers notes. Stoker was a member of the London library during the 1890's where books by Sabine Baring-Gould, Thomas Browne, AF Crosse and Charles Boner are attributed to Stokers research. Stoker would later claim he'd had a nightmare caused by over-eating crab meat about a “Vampire king” rising from his grave. Whitby on the Yorkshire coast contributed its landscape since Bram Stoker often holidayed there during the summer.

Dracula wasn't Stokers first choice as title for the story since he cycled through The Dead Un-Dead then simply the Un-Dead the count wasn't even supposed to be Count Dracula having had the name Count Wampyr for several drafts before Stoker became intrigued by the name Dracula. After reading “An account of the principles of Wallachia and Moldavia with political observations relative to them” written by author William Wilkinson (Published in 1820). the descendants of Vlad ii of Wallachia took the name Dracula or Dracul after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the old Romanian language the word Dracul mean “the Dragon” and Dracula meant “Son of the Dragon”. Nowadays however Dracul means “the Devil”

Whilst Dracula is known as THE Vampire novel its not the first. Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe had his book the Bride of Corinth published in 1797, 1871's Carmilla (a story about a lesbian vampire) was written by Sheridan Le Frau and James Malcolm Rymer's penny dreadful series Venny the Vampire was a product from the mid Victorian period. Even John Polidori created an image of a vampyric aristocrat in his 1819 story The Vampyre when he spent a summer with Merry Shelly (creator of Frankenstein) and her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelly and Lord Bryon in 1816.

I really love Dracula. It showed the madness, the ethereal quality and the ultimate danger of what a vampire could do. Like many other goth inclined teenagers trying to find their feet in the world Dracula definitely added its two cents to my self worth and love of all things macabre. The fact it was written by a Victorian writer has added a unusual depth to the story as only a Victorian writer could. The culture of the Vampire has become deep rooted and wide spread in its acceptance and Dracula has definitely spearheaded such a phenomenon.

Abraham “Bram” Stoker was Born in Dublin, Ireland on the 8th of November 1847, He was the third of seven children born to Abraham and Charlotte Stoker and was bedridden with an unknown illness until he recovered at seven. He started schooling at a private school run by the Reverend William Woods and grew up without serious illness. Stoker excelled at sports at Trinity College Dublin having graduated in 1870 with a BA (Bachelor of Arts). He was an Auditor of the College Historical Society and the president of the University Philosophical Society where his first paper was on Sensationalism in fiction and society.

Thanks to his friend Dr. Maunsell, Stoker became interested in the theatre as a student and whilst working for the Irish civil service he became a theatre critic for the Dublin evening mail where he attracted notice for the quality of his reviews. Stoker gave a favourable review of Henry Irving's adaption of Hamlet in December 1876, this prompted Irving to invite him to dinner where they ended up becoming friends. Stoker wrote The Crystal Cup which was published by the London society in 1872 and The chain of Destiny which was released in four parts in the Shamrock. Stoker also wrote the non-fiction book the duties of clerks of petty sessions in Ireland which was published in 1879.

Bram stoker married Florence Balcombe the daughter of a lieutenent-colonel in 1978 and they moved to London. Where Stoker ended up the Business manager of the Lyceum theatre as well as manager for Henry Irving- a position he held for 27 years. Despite being a very busy man Stoker ended up writing several novels (as well as Dracula) Including The Snakes pass in 1890, the lady of the shroud in 1909 and the lair of the white worm in 1911. when Henry Irving died in 1906 he published his personal reminiscences of Henry Irving. Stoker also managed productions at the Prince of Wales theatre.

Bram stoker died after a series of strokes in London on April 20th 1912, the cause of death is split between the possibility of Tertiary Syphilis or overwork. He was cremated and was placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in North London, he was later joined by the ashes of his Son Irving Noel Stoker in 1961, his wife Florence was meant to join them but her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of rest.

Stoker was honoured with a Google Doogle (the banner on goggles homepage) on November 8th 2012 commemorating the 165th anniversary of his birth. An annual festival in honour of Bram Stoker happens in Dublin, its supported by the Bram stoker estate and was/is usually funded by Dublin City Council and Failte Ireland.

My opinion of Bran stoker is that of a decent hard working man who loved life. Stoker epitomises the phrases of “a man on a mission” and “a man who hussles”. Having worked extremely hard both creatively as a novelist and business wise as a theatre manager Stoker pretty much showed that if you work hard you could pretty much do anything you set your mind to.

And there you have it a book for all the ages, definitely under the banner of AWESOME!!!.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Cloud Atlas (2012)
2012 | Drama, Sci-Fi
While I am not familiar with the novel, I was not excited to review the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Though the Screenplay was written and directed by the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) I did not know exactly what I was getting into. The trailer shows it as an epic sci-fi film crossing the time and lives of several stories and how everything and everyone is connected. Needless to say my curiosity was piqued. But I was nervous because I knew it would take a grand effort to keep this epic and ambitious project from falling flat. And well, I can honestly say that I am not quite sure if the combined effort succeeded.

Allow me to explain. About an hour into the film I had a young film reviewer to my left and I noticed he started to nod his head in approval at each new developing story throughout the film. To my right was a friend of mine, I would consider as an average film viewer, who at this same time I could tell was counting the minutes till the lights came up but felt trapped with nowhere to go but forward. And for me, I can see both sides of these reactions.

The plot is comprised of a multi-narrative of six stories, each with a complete beginning, middle and end. These stories are told from different timelines following a group of souls throughout the ages to show how everything is woven together and the connection between them; From the 1849 slave trader, to a young composer in 1936 Britain, to a 1973 journalist attempting to uncover corruption of the big business ruling class, to a 2012 literary publisher who’s life becomes a daring escape from a geriatric home, to a 2144 Neo-Soul synthetic learning to become human, to a post-apocalyptic tribesman trying to save his world and family… Lost yet? Believe me you will want to focus during the first hour of this film as we are introduced to the sudden shift of timelines. All of the main actors appear as varying characters of significance in every narrative, each with different accents and types of language. It is a bit of an unexpected bother to keep everything straight at first, however if you pay attention it is fairly easy to follow. This first hour is where I feel the film becomes a make or break for those actively thinking about what they are watching and the average movie viewer who is just there to be entertained and see the new Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) or Halle Berry (Perfect Stanger) movie. For those who make it through that first hour still engaged, the film moves along at a steady pace and provides everything from romance to action that keeps you guessing and intrigued at what is next to come.

The Wachowskis and Tykwer do an outstanding job of visually fleshing out each timeline in its own visual style, especially the futuristic ones, which subtlety organize each narrative for the viewer. Additionally, there are so many talented actors in this film and it is somewhat fascinating to try and pick them out throughout the film. It is almost like a giant game of Where’s Waldo on screen as the makeup and special effects artists do a fantastic job of making the actors fit each character in every timeline. In fact, during the fourth or fifth timeline a lady in my row asked her partner if the man on screen was Forrest Gump, which was surprising because Hanks was the easiest character to pick out among them all.

Tom Hanks delivers one of his better performances in years. We watch his character’s soul transition from a sinister and vile doctor to a tribesman making the righteous choice while struggling with that inkling of evil that is the devil within us all. It was refreshing to see Hanks play parts that were not just an “everyman” that he has played in recent years.

Halle Berry’s performance is mostly average in her parts with the exception of 1973 journalist role where she is the main protagonist. Hugo Weaving channels a bit of his Agent Smith role from The Matrix as he plays a villain throughout the timelines. Hugh Grant (Love Actually) makes unexpected soild appearances throughout the timelines. With Jim Sturgess (One Day), James D’Arcy (Mansfield Park) and Ben Whishaw (who is the new Q in the upcoming James Bond film Skyfall) rounding out the cast with a young contrast to the already heavy acting handled by the bigger names of this film. Each of these young actors hold’s their own against their older more notable counterparts. Whishaw’s performance as the lead in the 1936 composer role is especially noteworthy.

The other stand out performance in the film comes from Jim Broadbent best known in the states as Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter Films. His performance in the 1936 composer and 2012 literary publisher are excellent. The Publisher story was my favorite timeline throughout the film. Not only did it deliver some much needed comic relief to an emotionally engaging and heavy film, but it also made me care the most about the elderly characters trying to escape the clutches of the geriatric prison of a nursing home. Unfortunately, other than the aforementioned comic relief this timeline seemed the most unnecessary to the overarching story at hand.

When I left the film and talked it over with my friend I was indifferent to the film. It was not great, it was not bad either. As my friend described it, it was a movie that was trying too hard. We agreed that somewhere in the six storylines there may be a great film, but we were not sure if we watched it.

However as the days have passed I have found myself thinking about the stories constantly. More specifically about how the main protagonist played by a different actor in each narrative has the same birthmark of a shooting star that in some way symbolizes some universal soul encompassing a new shell of a body in each timeline. Like some kind of reincarnation of that soul is fighting the same revolution throughout the ages against the powerful class and illusion of natural order. Additionally how each of the central characters found themselves connected with the main characters in the stories that preceded them through some kind of medium; whether it was by an old journal, or love letters, or a written story, or film, or message of hope. These subtle insights of growth and change for this main soul leaping into a new life in each timeline has caused me to examine our world and how we as people can be truly connected to one another not only today, but throughout the ages. I want to view the film again and am inspired to read the novel in some sort of effort to better understand these concepts.

Nevertheless as a film that is almost three hours long it does its best to be an epic sci-fi film and give something for everyone. And while it succeeds in many aspects of feel, it also falls short in aspects that are probably best accomplished in a literary form. As I said above, somewhere in the six storylines there may be a great film, but I am not sure if I watched it. Or maybe I am not intelligent enough to comprehend it. Because of that I can only give it an average score. Though I believe if you ask me after a second viewing, I may be inclined to raise it.
Neon Knights: 2086
Neon Knights: 2086
2018 | Modern Warfare, Racing, Sports
Some of us actually lived through the 1980s. Just barely, but I certainly remember the neon stylizations, the hair, the tight-rolled pants. It’s not a look I ever hope to reincarnate. However, what if the style of the 1980s reappeared in the future? Like in the 2080s? That would be kind of awesome, actually. Or maybe it would be more bodacious or tubular. In any case, some things never go out of style. Things like attacking your fellow racers as they try to pass on the left with their NOS and dangling repair arms. Just me?

Neon Knights 2086 (here forth known as NK) is a car racing game of customization and street battle. The game essentially takes place over three race weeks (rounds) with each week being divided into a preparation period and then the race day itself. The winner of NK is not necessarily the driver who crosses the finish line more often, but rather the driver who wisely invests in upgrades and tempts Lady Luck to be on their side during crucial dice rolls.

DISCLAIMER: We were provided a copy of this game for the purposes of this review. This is a retail copy of the game, so what you see in these photos is exactly what would be received in your box. I do not intend to cover every single rule included in the rulebook, but will describe the overall game flow and major rule set so that our readers may get a sense of how the game plays. For more in depth rules, you may purchase a copy online or from your FLGS. -T

To setup, separate and shuffle each different-backed deck of cards, set them on the board in their places, and display the number of cards equal to the card spaces on the board. Give each player components in their character color, the matching play mat, and starting car parts to be tucked under their mat. Determine the starting player who will construct the first race course out of the provided map chunks and the game may begin!

Again, I will not be explaining every rule in the game as there are just too many to cover, but the game is played over three weeks. During the preparation days leading up to the race on day 7 (Sunday I guess), players will be taking actions to draft upgrades to their cars, or implants into their driver’s BRAIN, getting themselves sponsored so they can make bank come pay day, and also accepting bets on how each driver can earn a little extra on the side come race day.

Each day leading up to the race will allow players to complete one action, and pay day is on Day 5. This is when players will be paid out by their sponsors thus allowing players more spending power at the various upgrade shops. However, Race Day looms ahead and drivers will be making sure they have the best car they can afford because racing is a matter of life or death.

During a race, players will be choosing their initial speed and traveling the course attempting to finish first to gain points, but also to inflict damage on opposing cars and trying to complete their bets they’ve made. Cars will typically travel the number of spaces that the driver has chosen as the speed for the turn, but along the way the cars will be passing over neon lights in the street that are colored according to the suggested speed to overcome them. Go too fast and players will need to roll damage dice to simulate clipping a curb or smashing into a building corner. Go the correct suggested speed or less and pass over the lights no problem and with no damage dice to roll. Of course, car upgrades can assist with this.

When cars end their turn on a space with another car, a battle ensues and damage is calculated. Also, either before or after movement a car can decide to use a weapon on a rival car in range of their weapon to inflict extra damage. After all, a well-damaged car must screech to a halt and possibly use precious resources to repair the damage. Races are flat out bonkers but are the crux of NK. The winner of NK is the player who can amass the most VP at the end of the game and will be able to run a victory lap in the streets.

Components. This game is one of those hefty 12×12 boxes that is packed with goodies. The board is huge. The player components are beautiful and amazing. The player mats are great and laid out really well. The big chunky street map tiles are big and chunky. The colors are perfectly ’80s and perfect for a board game. I have no issues at all with the components. Oh wait, just one little eensy weensy complaint. I wish the font in the rule book was something of the serif variety instead of block all-caps. I felt as if I were being scolded for reading the rules.

All that said, I find Neon Knights 2086 to be a beautiful and relatively quick-playing racing game with the added bonus of car customization akin to that of creating an RPG character (and everyone knows that’s the best part of RPGs). The prep days are super fast to play through because you are basically just taking cards from the offers or drawing cards from the face-down decks to improve your ride, or repairing your car from previous races, and negotiating with sponsors to get those sweet gigs.

The racing, however, is where the game play takes off. It’s here that all the planning and optimizing is put to the test. It’s here where you discover that some of your “upgrades” just ain’t cuttin’ it, and need to be upgraded further. Hopefully a new sweet (and affordable) weapon will come out during the week. Maybe a new sponsor will enter and entice you with tons of money. And then it’s Race Day and you can take your rig out to demolish the competition. Ahh sweet demolition.

This game was a big surprise for me for several reasons. First, I didn’t realize how much I actually enjoyed some of the things from the ’80s. Those colors are just so dang beautiful. That design. So good. But also I just don’t play a lot of car racing games so I was skeptical at first. I’m not a fan of NASCAR so obviously I won’t like any car racing game, right? At least that was my initial thought. Neon Knights 2086 may just have piqued my interest in trying out some other racing titles in the future. For these reasons, Purple Phoenix Games gives this one a bruised 8 / 12. If you are aching for a racing game with battles in the streets and customization in the sheets, check out Neon Knights 2086. I am now a believer, and can’t wait to play this one many more times.