Life and 100 Films: Charlie’s Review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

catwspHello everyone! It’s been far too long since we last talked. I apologize, my life has been super hectic but I have finally fulfilled my dream of working in the entertainment industry, hence why I have been away. With all that being said, I’m back to tell you about one of my favorite films of 2014, which just so happens to be a part of one of my most favorite things in the world, the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Without further ado, I give you Captain America: The Winter Soldier, sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. Obviously this film is based on the Marvel Comics character, Captain America. It’s produced by Marvel Studios, and is considered the ninth installment in the MCU. The film is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and stars an amazing cast including Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and last but not least, Samuel L. Jackson.

As a huge comics and Marvel fan, I knew quite a bit of what to expect from this film. However if you are just a casual fan, I only want to give you a gist of what the film is about, because if I told you everything there would be spoilers out the wazoo! The trailers may give a little away if you are observant, but boy are you all in for a treat! So, we pick up with Steve Rogers aka the Capt. right where we left off with the Avengers. He, along with the Black Widow and new buddy Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon), join forces to uncover a conspiracy within the beloved S.H.I.E.L.D., while also dealing with the mysterious assassin, the Winter Soldier (WHO IS HE?!?!?).

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I’m assuming that if you are going to see this movie, you are familiar with most of the characters as they have been in numerous MCU movies before this. So, I’ll comment on the acting instead. Chris and Scarlett are perfect in their roles, as is Samuel L., who has a HUGE part in this film. Robert Redford and Emily VanCamp are great attentions to the canon as well! Everyone involved in this film is great!

All in all, I think this is my favorite Marvel movie ever made, and if you know me that is a big deal! Right now the MCU really is dominating Hollywood, and they really can’t do wrong. I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon, as they have everything mapped out until 2026! Everyone else is just playing catch-up. Also, if you watch ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this movie is going to change it forever! GO SEE THIS MOVIE if you haven’t already, and if you have, go see it again! It really has something for everyone, and is a throwback to old school spy thrillers. As always with any Marvel film, stay through the end of the credits!

HAIL HYDRA…NEXT UP, Guardians of the Galaxy!!!

6 out of 5 Stars

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Marvel Studios
PG-13, 136 Minutes

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Page to Screen: Adam’s Review of The Great Gatsby

gatsby-original-cover-artWhat defines a book as a “must read?” Is it that regardless of how old it is, people still relate to the story or still care about the characters? Or is it that one influential person really liked it and proclaimed it a “must read” and people listened?  One such “must read” (which for me was basically a “to-read” until I saw a movie trailer for it) was The Great Gatsby. Once I saw the trailer for the Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, I couldn’t believe I had never read the book. It seemed like a giant party set in the context of the roaring 20’s (my favorite time in American history.) The complexity of the story seemed intriguing and I knew I had to check it out from the library. I read it in less than 48 hours and was obsessed with everything about it. I loved the characters, I loved the love story, I loved the symbolism, and I just loved the simple, yet complex feel of the work overall. I was told there was a movie version of it already made, but that it was not a great translation from page to screen. Even so, I wanted to try it out on my own and see if my new favorite novel could become my new favorite movie.

Sadly, for once I have to agree with the critics. From the moment I started watching the movie, I automatically felt a disconnected to it. Lost was the magical world Fitzgerald created, gone were the extravagant parties I wanted a time machine to witness, and sadly, most everything else special about the book seemed to be missing. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. How could this movie have gone so wrong? Francis Ford Coppola, the genius behind the Godfather trilogy, wrote it and was a huge factor in bringing it to the screen. With a cast like Mia Farrow, Robert Redford, and Sam Waterston in the lead roles, the characters should have jumped off the screen and been bought to life. Out of the three main actors, the only one I truly believed in his/her role was Sam Waterston as the narrator Nick Carraway. He was able to portray the every-man really well.

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The magic aura and appeal of Gatsby and Daisy were lost in the translation from page to screen. These two characters are pertinent to the story, and if you miscast them you might as well not make the movie, as their story is the heart and soul of the novel/movie. Redford as Gatsby didn’t have any mystery to him. He didn’t seem like someone who was unattainable, and something about his character just was lost. He didn’t have that magic feeling about him, he just seemed like an average Joe with a really nice house. I’m trying to think if it was his acting or if it was just Redford in general, but either way he didn’t seem like the Gatsby I envisioned. When I was reading the novel, all I could think of was a young Warren Beatty or Marlon Brando playing Gatsby. They seem so clouded with mystery that I think they would have effectively portrayed one of the greatest literary characters ever written. Mia Farrow was also horribly miscast as Daisy, the lost love of Gatsby, who in a way is the original Kim Kardashian. She has no responsibility; she goes around from guy to guy, party to party, not caring about anyone’s feelings but her own. Mia Farrow seemed too white bread to play this character. In the book, she’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world, a Greek Goddess. Perfection. I couldn’t help but envision a blonde Natalie Wood or Faye Dunaway playing this character. Someone with a little bit more substance to them, but not Mia Farrow.

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One hope I have for the new Baz Luhrmann version is that the magic is ignited and visible throughout the story. There is something so classic about the story, yet it also feels so modern. I think the incorporation of modern music, modern themes, and modern special effects really do the original story justice. I loved Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo and Juliet as it was a fresh take on a classic story.  It still had the heart of soul of Shakespeare, but was a new and interesting way to present the story. I am already enjoying the trailers I’ve seen because it seems like they finally got it right. Gatsby seems like that mysterious figure, that person that no one really knows. I really hope Luhrmann is able to keep this mystery alive. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out a hot mess like the previous version.

Book: 6 out of 5 Stars

Movie: 1 out of 5 Stars

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scribner
Paperback: 192 pages
ISBN: 9780743273565

The Great Gatsby (1974)
Paramount Pictures
PG, 144 minutes

Adam’s Review of Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland

ttkr“Family always comes first, no matter the situation. Your loyalty lies here, in our traditions.” Many people growing up often hear those words and often times take them to the grave. The discussions and themes behind family ties are one of the many pillars discussed in Tragedy and Triumph, a historical fiction novel written by Kathrin Rudland.

Truman Haden is only a boy the night his world his turned upside down and changes forever. He is sent away from his home because his parents are suffering from yellow fever and are close to their deaths. In a letter he receives from his father posthumously, his father preaches to him that he must do everything in his power to fight for the values that the South was founded on, and fight to protect the way of life in the South. The novel takes place before and during the Civil War in America, so these values would be slavery.  His world is changed when as a young lawyer he takes a trip to upstate New York to the small town of Elmira, a town known for its anti-slavery stance. There he meets an abolitionist woman named Elizabeth, who proves to be the polar opposite of his own views politically, but is a worthy match nonetheless. He loves debating her, and they often argue. As time goes by, the issue of slavery further divides the nation. Incidents happen that make Truman wonder whether or not he can stay loyal to the pledge he took as a boy, or whether he should consider changing. What unfolds while making his decision is an epic novel of loyalty and historical facts.

I will say that as a history major and history buff, I LOVED this novel. From the first chapter, beginning with how Truman’s life was turned upside down, to the promise he made, and finally to reading about his journey overall, I was completely enthralled. I enjoyed reading it so much that often times I kept finding myself saying “five more pages,” which turned into five more, and ended in me finally forcing myself to go to bed. Ms. Rudland paints just a vivid picture that allows the reader to see the story unfold right before his/her eyes and feel the true emotions of the characters. In the section describing the different abolitionists and detailing Elizabeth’s first time helping out with the underground railroad, I felt my heart beat out of my chest because I was nervous that she would be caught. The details of how people would get their next assignment on the underground railroad and how they had to be careful to avoid being watched was something I was not aware of. I was glad that these facts were included because it made the story that more realistic and really drew the reader in. I felt like I was in the story with Elizabeth waiting to get my assignment, wondering if someone was watching me as a spy.

The way the novel was written is very similar to a film such as Crash or 21 Grams, where there are many plots that all collide into one central plot. Many times a new character would be introduced, whether it be a slave, abolitionist, or soldier. I loved seeing the connection of this new character back to the main plot line or to Truman. Every time a new character was introduced, I had an “ahhh” moment when I was finally able to relate the character back to Truman, which helped the story evolve and took the story telling to another level. I loved seeing the different characters connect at different times throughout the plot. It really made me think of six degrees of separation. The author did an excellent job of introducing characters and making you care about each character, whether he/she had good qualities or bad. I often think that we don’t care about supporting characters (or characters who only have a couple of chapters dedicated to them) because we’re so focused on the main characters around whom the story revolves. However, because this story was so character driven, without those supporting characters the novel would’ve fallen asleep.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is just getting interested in the Civil War or someone who has a serious interest in American History. Although the main story is fiction, the facts are very real. The author’s writing style and the characters will make you invested in this book, so be prepared for some late nights.

6 out of 5 Stars

Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland
iUniverse (2012)
Paperback 244 pages
ISBN: 9781475921700

Special thanks to Courtney at Author Solutions for my review copy!

#107 A Review of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

Back in May I had the absolute pleasure of reading Lucinda Riley’s debut novel, The Orchid House (my review is here).  I still find it hard to explain the complete spectrum of emotions I experienced while reading that book.  Not only was it exquisitely written, but it took the reader on a journey of unimaginable proportions.  When I was offered the opportunity to read Riley’s newest novel, The Girl on the Cliff, I JUMPED at the chance.  The story is pretty complex to explain, so I’m going to let Goodreads do it for me:

The mesmerizing story of two Irish families entangled by a tragic past that seems destined to repeat itself. To escape a recent heartbreak in New York, Grania Ryan returns to her family home on the rugged, wind-swept coast of Ireland. Here, on the cliff edge in the middle of a storm, she meets a young girl, Aurora Lisle, who will profoundly change her life.

Despite the warnings Grania receives from her mother to be wary of the Lisle family, Aurora and Grania forge a close friendship. Through a trove of old family letters dating from 1914, Grania begins to learn just how deeply their families’ histories are entwined. The horrors of World War I, the fate of a beautiful foundling child, and the irresistible lure of the ballet give rise to a legacy of heartache that leaves its imprint on each new generation. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and spirit may be able to unlock the chains of the past.

Sweeping from Edwardian England to present-day New York, from the majestic Irish coast to the crumbling splendor of a legendary London town house, The Girl on the Cliff introduces two remarkable women whose quest to understand their past sends them toward a future where love can triumph over loss.

Where do I begin?  Let’s start with the story.  The Girl on the Cliff is a fairy tale, and we all know how much I love them right now.  Now it’s not the stereotypical type of fairy tale where a prince rescues a princess, but one that shares the lessons of living in the now, living with forgiveness, and living wholeheartedly with love.  Choosing Aurora as the narrator was a perfect choice.  She’s an ethereal creature that is above the world of mortals, and she is fortunate enough to understand events and life’s lessons way ahead of her time.  When the story begins, Aurora is still a child dealing with the blow of losing her mother.  By the end of the novel we see a woman with knowledge and grace way beyond her years.  The lessons we’re taught are rough and aren’t dealt with in a “pretty” way.  Real life can be ugly so why shouldn’t these lessons reflect that?  All of the characters are extremely well-developed and are mesmerizing to follow.  Grania and her strengths and weaknesses make her so relatable.  Her hopes and dreams, wishes and fears are so similar to the ones we ordinary people feel everyday, that it’s impossible to not relate to her and become entranced by her story.

Also, the pace of the novel was tastefully done, and it progressed in a manner that was not too fast and not too slow.  It flowed gracefully, much like the changing positions in ballet (which is a major theme in the novel).  I’m still at a loss for adequate words to describe this work, as it was just as enchanting and amazing as Riley’s first work.  Her ability to draw the reader in to a world that is totally unique and such a great story is unparalleled.  I wholeheartedly encourage you to read her works, I guarantee that readers of all types will enjoy what she has to offer.

To learn about Riley’s inspiration behind this novel, click here.

6 out of 5 Stars

This is my forty-third completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2012)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781451655827

Special thanks to Atria Books for my review copy.

#58 A Review of A Million Suns (Across the Universe Trilogy #2) by Beth Revis

Todd and Kim here!  Back again to continue our joint reviews of the Across the Universe trilogy! (Book 1 review is here).  Picking up shortly after the end of book 1, Revis takes us back into space aboard the Godspeed.  Unfortunately, the ship, which was once governed by lies, is now fueled by complete chaos.

At the start of A Million Suns, we pick up soon after the death of Eldest and the beginning of Elder’s rule as the leader of the ship.  Phydus use has been discontinued, and Elder and Amy have agreed to keep the population Phydus-free in order to preserve everyone’s sense of individuality and commonality.  You’d think we were at the dawn of a new and happy age for the people of Godspeed.  Unfortunately, however, this cannot be further from the truth.  Once the workers of the Feeder Level realize that they can get away without coming to work, or relying on others to do work for them, discord begins to spread.  Fights break out, and many doubt Elder’s leadership.  Bartie, once Elder’s friend, has now risen to an almost cult-like status, with many viewing him as the face of the revolution that seems to be building momentum.  Adding to this, Elder and Amy discover a series of clues that Orion left behind that lead them to a secret so huge and unthinkable that it will change the face of life of Godspeed forever.  Will Elder be able to keep control of the ship’s population?  Will Amy still want to be with him after he has to make unpopular decisions for the good of the ship?  What is this massive secret that Orion has alluded to?

Kim: I seriously have never been so angry at myself for picking up a trilogy before it’s been completely published.  Revis is a mastermind at making the reader CRAVE more.  There were so many twists and turns in A Million Suns that as Todd was reading the book I’d grab it out of his hands and count the pages until the next “big event” happened so we could discuss!  I was so antsy reading the entire second book!  Following the scavenger hunt all along the entire ship and trying to decipher what all of the clues meant was absolutely riveting.  I haven’t been glued to a book series like this since The Hunger Games!  

Todd:  I definitely agree with Kim!  I cannot wait for the final book in this trilogy to come out.  Revis has written an amazingly good follow-up to Across the Universe.  The character development of Elder and Amy is fantastic, as Elder is thrust into a job that is made for someone with a lot more experience, all genetics aside.  The interplay between his character and Amy is really interesting, as they represent such polar opposites that it’s so cool to see how they interact and bring out different parts of each other.  Adding to this the backdrop of the HUGE secret that comes out towards the end of the novel, and I was flying through the pages trying to finish reading.

Kim: When I was reading the tag line for A Million Suns about how the ship was run on lies and is now fueled by chaos, I couldn’t wait to see what that all meant.  The transformation of the ship’s passengers from one book to the next was really well done.  Imagine finding out that you’ve been drugged and lied to for years…of course you’re going to start rebelling and mistrusting everything that you’re being told.  I found the deeper character conflicts taking centerfold in A Million Suns vs the individual conflicts that occurred in Across the Universe.  We’re treated to the bigger picture this time, and it’s just as hectic and chaotic as the relationship between Elder and Eldest was in Across the Universe.  In Suns we’re offered an opportunity to learn more about the ship, its history, and the other people living/working on board.  By taking this route Revis has made Godspeed its own character – complete with secrets and stories still waiting to be told.

Todd:  I agree completely.  I happen to like this work better than the first based on the inclusion of more “big picture” events.  I don’t want to downplay the importance of the relationships between the characters, or the fact that the first novel had to spend a good amount of time introducing us to this whole world of The Godspeed in the first place, but I kept thinking about what all the lies in the first book were actually covering up.  After I finished it, I was so excited to start this book as it’s really the “meat” of the story.  We find out that lies that seemed big in the first novel are minuscule compared to what Elder and Amy find out about the ship in this novel.  Revis’ writing style is great because she is slowly leading us to the big reveal: her third work.  The scale has increased from book to book, and she’s definitely set us up for an amazing story in Shades of Earth.  I don’t know if I can stand the wait!

Kim: I know I am DYING, waiting for Shades of Earth. Anyone else out there read this series and losing the will to wait longer?!?

So there you have it, both of our takes on Beth Revis’ wonderful second book in the Across the Universe trilogy.  If you haven’t read the first one yet, go get it.  And if you have read Across the Universe, why are you wasting time reading this review?  Get reading!

Kim’s Rating: 6 out of 5 Stars

Todd’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Penguin (2012)
Hardcover: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781595143983

#56 A Review of The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

Every so often a book comes along that is so lyrically and beautifully written, that it changes you a bit.  The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is one of those novels.  Taking the reader on an unforgettable journey through England, Thailand, and France, The Orchid House will make readers question how far they’d be willing to go for true love.

World renowned pianist Julia Forrester has returned to her home in England to mourn the loss of her young son and husband in a tragic car accident.  While home she visits Wharton Park, the estate in which her grandparents worked as servants in the 1930’s.  While visiting, she is reintroduced to Kit Crawford, the current Lord of the manor, and long ago childhood friend.  During Kit’s renovations of her grandparents cottage on the estate, he finds a diary that chronicles time spent in the Changi POW camp in Singapore during World War II.  When Julia approaches her grandmother to find out whether or not the diary belonged to her grandfather, she is treated to a tale of love, betrayal, deceit, and loss that in its own way helps to begin her own healing process.

We come to find out the diary belongs to Harry Crawford, former heir to Wharton Park.  Julia’s grandmother tells her his story, stuck in a world of responsibility and expectations that he never wanted to be a part of.  Throw into this his wife Olivia and her unfortunate plight of being married to a man who doesn’t love her, as well as Lydia, the beguiling woman he meets in Thailand, and you’re in for the story of a lifetime.

I’m completely blown away that this is Riley’s debut novel.  Her writing is so fluid and beautiful that it reads like the work of a seasoned author.  She intricately and expertly weaves a plot filled with mystery and intrigue over three generations.  She unveils secret after secret in perfect succession, adding to the stratagem of her storytelling.  Riley’s characters are mesmerizing and captivating and are each put through their own form of hell to test what they are truly able to face.  Not everyone is given happy endings, which adds a realistic feel to the story.  As I said earlier, The Orchid House will definitely question how much you would be willing to give up for the love of a lifetime.  Not only that, but how far and how long does the feeling of true love last in the face of a lifetime of despair?

The Orchid House’s main heroine Julia is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Her life has been filled with many tragedies that she’s let cast shadows on the relationships she holds with her family.  She’s also allowed the recent tragedies of her husband and young son’s deaths darken her life into one that she doesn’t think is worth living.  She lives in a constant state of pause –  not moving forward, not moving backward.  It’s a state that most who have lost love ones can relate too.  Not only this, but she feels guilt at the thought of moving forward and at loving and living again.  Julia’s story has made me realize (more than I already did) that life is precious, a gift that can be taken away at any time.  Not only has Julia’s story taught me this, but Lidia’s, Harry’s, and Olivia’s stories as well, all speak to this simple teaching.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for fans of the hauntingly beautiful gothic writing styles of  Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Rachel Hore’s A Gathering Storm.

6 out of 5 stars

This is my thirty-first completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2012)
Paperback: 464 pages
ISBN: 9781451655780

Special thanks to Atria Press for my review copy!

Life and 100 Films – Charlie’s Review of The Artist

The Artist is a 2011 French romantic drama directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. The film was nominated for six Golden Globes (the most of any 2011 film), and won three: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score, and Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Dujardin. It’s currently nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Hazanavicius, Best Actor for Dujardin, and Best Supporting Actress for Bejo. It has also been nominated for/won a slew of other awards, but there are just too many to name.

Many “casual moviegoers” are going to be (or already are) skeptical of this film. Why, you ask? It’s a silent black-and-white film, making it a love letter to the olden days of Hollywood. Taking place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, it focuses on silent film star George Valentin who was at the top of his career, but then fades into near oblivion as silent film falls out of the limelight and is replaced by talkies, which are emerging in popularity. Valentin is unable  to make the transition due to his stubbornness, which opens up Hollywood to new and fresh young talent, particularly for Peppy Miller, who idolized Valentin. Interestingly, it was Valentin who helped her get her big break. The Artist is a good ol’ rise and fall story, and is beautifully shown through the relationship between the two.

The performances in this film are OUTSTANDING. Jean Dujardin is a shoo-in to win the Oscar come Feb 26th. His ability to portray every kind of emotion humanly possible without saying a single word is AWESOME. It really makes you think about how much acting has changed over the years due to technology. Bérénice Bejo, who (fun fact) happens to be married to the director, Michel Hazanavicius (lucky!!), gives an amazing performance as well, and I will definitely be rooting for her at the Oscars. Did I mention she is stunningly beautiful? There are also many other great members of the cast who you will recognize, as the leads are the only relatively unknown actors in the film. Additionally as a side note, Uggie the dog is AMAZING as well!

As I mentioned earlier, this film may not sound appealing to the masses because not only is it in black-and-white, but it’s silent as well. Don’t let that fool you. This is a special piece of cinema that EVERYONE can enjoy. The beautiful music, dance numbers, and heartfelt performances will make you feel moved and keep your eyes glued to the screen. You will forget that there is no dialogue. As a major film fan, as much as I wanted to see this film I was afraid that it was going to be over-hyped, but boy was I wrong.

With all that being said I highly suggest you check this film out and see what it is all about. You have been warned though: the film is shot in black-and-white and it is silent. Some people have demanded refunds because they didn’t know this. (Are they living under a rock?) I am happy Michel Hazanavicius followed his dream to make this film. It is a true homage to old Hollywood, and I hope it inspires other storytellers to do the same thing. I know this is a bold statement, but this is one of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe because it’s something different, something original, and from an era I’ve never known, but everything about it spoke to me. I am by no means saying that I only want to see silent films from here on out (as you won’t find a bigger fan of big budget franchise films than me), but boy did I love this piece of film making. The title for this film truly is perfect, as this is “art” at its finest. Nothing will get in this film’s way from bringing home the little gold man!

6 out of 5 Stars

The Artist (2011)
La Petite Reine
PG-13, 100 Minutes

Todd’s Review of World War Z By Max Brooks

Have I mentioned that I like zombie books?  Ever since being introduced to the genre while watching Night of the Living Dead at a high school sleepover, I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility that one day we could find ourselves facing an army of rotting, shuffling, undead monsters.  Ever since the genre has exploded in recent memory to include numerous movies, tv shows, and books, I’ve reinvigorated my dedication to all things zombie by watching and reading as many of these books and movies as possible.  That being said, you would think that I have a pretty good handle on what to expect when it comes to a book about zombies.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

World War Z begins with the revelation that what follows is part of a report written by Mr. Books, who is a member of the UN Postwar Commission, detailing the events of a worldwide war against the outbreak of a contagious agent that causes humans to turn into zombies.  It appears that the UN omitted much of the report, focusing on facts and figures instead of many of the personal stories that Brooks included.  He therefore decides to independently publish many of the missing stories and details that were left out.  Brookes begins by including interviews of many of the survivors of the initial outbreak of the virus, which was thought to be somewhere in the rural, mountainous interior of China after a zombie of unknown origin bites a young boy.  The virus begins to spread, helped by international travel and a black market organ trade that plagues mainland China and surrounding countries.  A large outbreak of the disease in South Africa finally brings the event to the world’s attention, and ironically, brings about a strategy that helps to bring back the population from the brink.  The “Redeker Plan”, instituted by ex-aparthied official Paul Redeker, consists of creating small safe zones that are naturally easy to defend.  Outside these zones, larger populations of uninfected individuals are gathered to act as bait for the horde of zombies, effectively keeping them away from the safe zones.  Although incredibly immoral, the plan works, and most of the world’s countries are able to save a percentage of their population.  After a demoralizing defeat in Yonkers, New York, the United States establishes its safe zone west of the Rocky Mountains.  After this initial period known as “The Great Panic”, a UN conference aboard the USS Saratoga decides that the world’s remaining human population must fight back and destroy the zombies instead of waiting for the pandemic to pass.  With a new sense of purpose, the United States and other countries poise to take back their land from the zombies.  Will they be able to do it?

I think one of the reasons that I like zombie-related media so much is that it is just as much a commentary on our society as it is a piece of exciting entertainment.  The outbreak of a zombie infestation makes every other piece of our lives instantly insignificant next to survival.  Your job, salary, car, house, etc, are all a nonentity when you’re up against an enemy that won’t stop until they devour your flesh.  It’s both terrifying and uniting.  Brooks writes an amazing story that tells this tale from multiple angles.  Military, political, economic, and social themes are weaved into the stories that are recounted in chilling detail.  Brooks writes with such passion and precision that at times I forgot I was reading a work of fiction.  His words are not only a call to action to wake up to the social and economic injustices in the world, but a sharp rebuke of government bureaucracy and the actions of those who attempt to capitalize on the population in a time of crisis.  His words are a playbook for survival during a time of great uncertainty and fear.  They can be applied to any time where panic is widespread and survival is uncertain.  They show how the lowliest of workers in our modern society can become the greatest leaders in a postwar world as their knowledge of valuable basic skills to maintain a population and become self-reliant are placed above the “headhunters” and “corporate job trainers” of this world.  This ironic twist where the previous heads of society are replaced with those who do the “real” work of continuing our existence is the kind of irony that the zombie war brings about.  It is a return to a time when hard work and contribution to the whole instead of contribution to self was valued.  All in all, Brooks writes an excellent fusion of social commentary and amazing horror story.  I have never given a book 6 out of 5 stars before, but there’s always a first.  I truly believe that World War Z is it.

6 out of 5 stars

World War Z by Max Brooks
Crown Publishing Group (2007)
Paperback, 342 pages

Harry Potter Blogsplosion Day 10: Adam’s Film Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix + GIVEAWAY

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was praised by the critics as the best of the series and I have to agree with them.  The film shows a different, more complex side to the world of wizardry that gave viewers a new refreshing look at the film franchise. 

The film starts off in the muggle world, with Harry and his cousin Dudley in a pedestrian tunnel near a playground when they are attacked by Dementors, the soul-sucking guards of Azkaban.  Harry uses his magic to dispatch them, and is subsequently expelled from Hogwarts for using magic in front of a muggle.  While at the Ministry of Magic for his hearing, Harry learns that the Ministry is trying to deny that Lord Voldemort is back, and that it was in fact Harry Potter who killed Cedric Diggory!  Fortunately, Harry is cleared of all charges and he gets to go back to Hogwarts, where students start treating him differently due to the divide of whether Voldemort is back or not.  The ministry hires Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but the real reason she’s hired is to keep an eye on the students and Dumbledore for the Ministry.  Harry, with the help of his faithful friends Hermione and Ron, form “Dumbledore’s Army”, a group of students who want to learn how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts.  Together, this underground army must convince everyone that Voldemort is back or else the world of wizardry will be forever changed for the worse.

This film was perfection. It was perfectly paced and combined great special effects with a great story.  It made Rowling’s story come to life, and really made the world of wizardry come to life as well.  In this film you definitely get to see some of the turmoil and the under-workings of this magical world.  The characters were excellently developed and definitely seemed like people whom you could meet on the street.  I can’t really put into words why this film felt more special than the others, but it definitely had a different feel. The pacing was perfect, and the interludes with the newspaper headlines really helped move the story along.  A lot of times book to film adaptations cut huge amounts out due to time constraints.  The newspaper headlines were a way to keep those pieces of the book in, while keeping the total film time at a manageable amount.  The headlines reminded me of old films where the flipping newspapers introduced scenes.

Just when I thought a character couldn’t get any cooler and more badass than Lord Voldemort, the introduction of Bellatrix Lestrange happened.  Lestrange, one of the female Death Eaters, was played brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter: adding another level of evil to the Death Eater persona.  Once again, I pictured a perfectly nice actor doing terrible things in order to get into the mindset to play a character like this.  Helena Bonham Carter is a brilliant character actress, especially in this role.  You really feel her evil-ness coming through the screen.  (It almost making the viewer want to root for the bad guys so that they could be on-screen more)   However, her acting is triumphed by Ralph Fiennes, who returns as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I kept pestering Kim as to when he would return to the screen, and when he finally did, I was at the edge of my seat.  He is pure genius in this role, and really defines this evil being that is part devil, part wizard.  I really can’t wait to see what happens in the next three films with Voldemort and look forward to many more scenes with Ralph Fiennes.

All and all this was by far my favorite film so far.  The story moved at a really good pace, and it contained details that were both visually stunning and important to the series. The special effects were amazing and the acting was really strong.  I look forward to seeing what happens in the next chapter of the film and see how the story ends.  Like always, I leave you with a question: do you ever root for the bad guys?  Deep down is there ever a time where a bad character is written or portrayed so well that you can’t keep yourself from rooting for them?

Until next time, happy viewing.

6 out of 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Warner Brothers
PG-13, 138 Minutes
 
Giveaway
 
One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on DVD.  For your chance to win simply leave a comment in the thread below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Saturday July 30, 2011.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday July 31, 2011.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!!